July 31, 2006

Top 10 Anime/Manga

For people who like lists, here's ICv2's top 10:

Ten Most Powerful People in the American Anime Industry

1. Gen Fukunaga, President & CEO FUNimation Entertainment
2. John Ledford, CEO of ADV Films
3. Kim Manning, Programmer Adult Swim
4. Katsuhiko Tsurumoto, V.P. Business Development, Geneon
5. Anime Buyer, Best Buy
6. Hayao Miyazaki, Founder Studio Ghibli
7. Arthur Smith and Shin Ishikawa, Gonzo Digimation
8. John Easum, Executive Vice President Viz Media
9. Ken Iyadomi, Bandai Entertainment
10. John Sirabella, CEO Media Blasters

Top Ten Anime Properties

1. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
2. Howl's Moving Castle
3. Dragon Ball Z Movie #12: Fusion Reborn
5. Full Metal Alchemist
6. Naruto
7. Samurai Champloo
8. Whisper of the Heart
9. Samurai 7
10. Inuyasha

Top Ten Manga Properties

1. Naruto
2. Fruits Basket
3. Kingdom Hearts
4. Full Metal Alchemist
5. Loveless
6. Tsubasa
7. Death Note
8. Negima
9. Rurouni Kenshin
10. Bleach

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July 30, 2006

Part 19 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

雲橋 [うんきょう] lit. "cloud bridge," a siege tower
叢雲橋 [そううん] lit. "storm front bridge," a really big siege tower (I call it a "thunder bridge," short for "thunderstorm bridge")

The chapter describes three basic types of military vehicles: the smaller assault wagon (戦車 lit. "tank" or armored personnel carrier), the siege wagon (填壕車 lit. "trench warfare vehicle"), and the siege tower. Siege towers (or "bridges") come in two varieties: big (雲橋) and bigger (叢雲橋). Based on the literal kanji readings, the siege wagons would be used to breach the trenchworks that constituted an castle's outer defenses, and then would haul the siege towers up to the castle walls. The "bridge" kanji (橋) suggests they would be tall enough to deliver troops directly onto the wall walks. The anime seems to only depict the siege wagons.

This is model of a traditional medieval European siege tower, but I think it approximates the form and function of the "cloud" and "thunder" bridges.

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July 25, 2006

Koukou Yakyuu

A compelling POV documentary about Japan's annual national high school baseball championships, known as Koushien, the name of the stadium where the finals of the single-elimination tournament are held. 4000 teams participate, though only 49 actually go to Koushien. That number comes from the 47 prefectures (roughly equivalent to U.S. states), plus the two metropolitan areas, Tokyo and Osaka.

The documentary focuses on two schools, Tennouji and Chiben, playing in the Wakayama and Osaka regionals. The former was a pleasant surprise. After living for a year in Osaka, I actually know where Tennouji is (though I've never been to the school).

More than anything else, the film emphasizes how the pedagogical relationship between high school and college is exactly opposite in the U.S. and Japan. In the U.S., the purpose of high school is to prepare a student to get admitted to the college of his choice. In Japan, college entrance exams determine whether a student would hypothetically be capable of graduating from the college of his choice.

This means that once a student matriculates, the worst is over and that high-intensity ganbaru spirit takes a breather. Correspondingly, there are no university sports competitions that can approach the importance of Koushien. As Bobby Valentine observes, "It's Texas high school football combined with the NCAA [basketball] championship, as far as excitement and passion and commitment are concerned."

And not surprisingly, star high school baseball players get the kind of preferential treatment typically associated with college jocks in the U.S.

Even though neither of the schools profiled makes it past the preliminary rounds, this is definitely a case of too little time for too much material. I'd like to see the subject get the Ken Burns treatment: following a more diverse collection of schools—including schools from places way out in the sticks like Tottori—all the way to the Koushien finals.

The supporting cast also deserved more screen time. The teacher/coaches seemed straight out of central casting. They can't all be that perfect, can they? Or maybe they can. On the other hand, what's with the yell leaders, who are so intense—way more so than the players—that it's scaaaary? And what's with the managers, who are usually girls? How does that work? I want to know more.

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July 19, 2006

Votary theory at work

My sister Kate is finishing her master's program and is posting chapters from her thesis online. It's well worth reading--not at all ponderous or dull or "academic." By "votary theory," she means literary criticism that "focuses on the creativity within artistic works" rather on their political implications. "Artistic works," she argues, "should never be subsumed by signifiers, ideologies or political labels." Rather, literature should be appreciated in terms of the

internal delight which a reader/spectator feels towards a work--the enthrallment, the self-forgetfulness, the merging of the reader with the author's world.

Such that the reader feels compelled to entangle her own creative impulses with those of the author/artist. Unless the reader is able to willingly insert herself into the world created by the artist and imagine or visualize herself within it, the work of art will not find or grow its audience. Simply put, Stephen King wouldn't sell zillions of books if his readers treated his characters as completely "other" and beyond projection onto their own lives.

I recently stumbled across a similar line of commentary, on a quite different tangent but aimed at the same target. In his scathing critique of Garrison Keillor's Good Poems, August Kleinzahler observes that the overarching intent of art is to entertain, and that artistic talent tends to go in the same direction that the media and remuneration are headed. Meaning that the "next Mozart" is probably composing film scores and the "next Shakespeare" is probably now a showrunner for a syndicated television drama.

Are we not yet adult enough as a culture to acknowledge that the arts are not for everyone, and that bad art is worse than no art at all; and that good or bad, art's exclusive function is to entertain, not to improve or nourish or console, simply entertain. And in this, Moby Dick or Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" are not different than the movie Cat in the Hat or Britney Spears wiggling her behind on stage; the former being more complexly entertaining and satisfying, but only for those who can appreciate the difference, and they are the minority . . . .

Just as the new genre of the novel drew off most of the brilliant young writers of the nineteenth century, movies, television, MTV, advertising, rock 'n' roll, and the Internet have taken the best among the recent crop of young talent. Do you suppose for a moment that a spirited youngster with a brilliant, original mind and gifted up the yin-yang is going to sit still for two years of creative writing poetry workshops presided over by a dispirited, compromised mediocrity, all the while critiquing and being critiqued by younger versions of the same?

Kate followed up my recommendation of the above with a supporting quote from Camille Paglia:

English has evolved over the past century because of mass media and advertising, but the shadowy literary establishment in the United States, in and outside academe, has failed to adjust . . . . My attentiveness to the American vernacular--through commercials, screwball comedies, hit songs, and AM talk radio (which I listen to around the clock)--has made me restive with the current state of poetry. I find too much work by the most acclaimed poets labored, affected, and verbose, intended not to communicate with the general audience but to impress their fellow poets.

Or as one of her English 101 students put it: "I don't like Shakespeare--well, I don't like how we were supposed to take him apart. He wasn't fun that way." Too much of modern education is like that, unfortunately.

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July 15, 2006

Batman Begins

It's no Spiderman, but Batman Begins certainly belongs in the upper echelons of comic book adaptations. It's a movie that surprises you by getting so many things right. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are pitch perfect. Christian Bale is plenty good enough as Batman (Michael Keaton does remain the definitive Bruce Wayne).

Liam Neeson reprises exactly the same role he played in Star Wars, and it's a revelation to see what a decent actor can do with exactly the same (hackneyed) material when it's NOT written by George Lucas. Rutger Hauer certainly deserved more than minor minion status. The one big casting mistake is Katie Holmes, who looks like she skipped cheerleader practice to make it to the set. Kirsten Dunst she ain't.

The Batmobile is the best ever, but what really makes the whole thing hum is Gotham. Finally, a make-believe city that looks like a real live city, sort of Manhattan crossed with Sydney. Tim Burton's manic-depressive art deco gloomscapes really did get old fast.

There is still a dumpster-sized hole in the plot, though it's easy to ignore given the movie's other merits. Still, it's annoying. It's the perpetual problem with the superhero narrative: coming up with a plausible supervillain. And worse, coming up with politically-correct supervillainy. Anthropologists in the distant future examining our time will no double wonder why we Americans so feared guys with British accents.

At least in Die Hard 1 & 3 and every other Bond flick, the guys with the British accents were doing plausibly villainous things, like robbing Fort Knox or stealing nuclear weapons. But when it comes to dark forces fanatically aligned against and dedicated to the downfall of western civilization itself, guys with British accents are not at the top of my paranoia list.

There are real villains out there. Yet, despite it featuring the superhero-supervillain face-off most germane to the real world, I doubt True Lies could be made today. And when the Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan, it was up to Rambo to stand cinematically alone against the red tide. Good grief, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the moral centers of the geopolitical universe?

So Liam Neeson went over the dark side of the Force and, lacking a Death Star, settled on destroying Alderaan Gotham, instead, with some kind of way-too-complicated nerve gas. That makes more sense than whatever he was up to in Batman Begins. But it was far more enjoyable watching Liam Neeson battling Batman in Batman Begins than watching Liam Neeson playing Batman in Star Wars. Go figure.

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July 09, 2006

Part 18 (A Thousand Leagues of Wind)

Chapter 71

陽子 [ようこ] Youko or Youshi
太陽 [たいよう] sun (taiyou)
子孫 [しそん] descendant (shison)

Ko (子), meaning "child," is the most common suffix in Japanese girl's names. The most common usage is "kodomo" (子供), or "children."

I just made a minor but global correction to both Shadow of the Moon and A Thousand Leagues of Wind. The first time I wrote out Kinpa Palace (金波宮), I misread the handaku-ten (半濁点) for a daku-ten (濁点), rendering Kinpa (ぱ) as Kinba (ば), and never revisited it until now. Hey, and those furigana are tiny, and that was before I got bifocals!

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July 06, 2006


The English edition of the Mainichi Daily News (which, by the way, translates as the "Daily Daily News"--love that) is publishing an online version of the manga "A Six Feet [sic] Girl" ("Manglish contents are run strictly in their original format, which occasionally includes incorrect use of English"), rendering the translations as mouse-over popups. The story, of course, is about a Japanese high school student who's six feet tall--and worse, has no interest in sports. A perfect sit-com setup. (Average female height is 62 inches in Japan and 65 inches in the U.S.; for males it's 67 and 70 inches respectively.)

Perhaps the only drawback to the presentation style is that at one page a day, the story proceeds at a measured pace (a good example of "decompression"). You might do better to read it once a week. But this is such a good idea that I'm surprised more American magazines haven't done the same. TokyoPop has struck a deal with United Press Syndicate to publish serial manga in the daily and/or Sunday editions of newspapers. Yet Japanese publishers have such huge backlists of manga titles that it would be easy to find audience-appropriate titles for publications such as Seventeen and Boy's Life.

("Decompression" in manga essentially applies the "show don't tell" rule to the comic format.)

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July 04, 2006

Haruki Murakami

A fascinating interview with Japanese author Haruki Murakami. I particularly like this quote, arising out of his interviews with individuals involved in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system:

Murakami came to empathise with the work-obsessed salarymen and office ladies whom he had previously felt were not worth writing about. "Many people expected that I would be sympathetic to the cult people because they're outsiders. But that was not the case. They're shallow, but the common people have the depth of real life."

Turning Tolstoy's famous quote upside down, crazy, wide-eyed fanatics all tend to be crazed and wide-eyed in pretty much the same way, while the rest of the mostly normal, mostly happy population can find an almost infinite number of ways to remain mostly normal and mostly happy.

And this one:

[Orpheus] goes to the underworld to look for his deceased wife, but it's far away and he has to undergo many trials to get there. There's a big river and a wasteland. My characters go to the other world, the other side. In the Western world, there is a big wall you have to climb up. In [Japan], once you want to go there, it's easy. It's just beneath your feet.

I would amend that last part a little. Rather than "in the Western world," I would write, "in the world of Western literary criticism." Literary criticism, after all, invented the oxymoronic (though admittedly taxonomically useful) genre called "magical realism" to describe those anointed authors who strayed too far from the "realism" reservation. Heaven forefend, as Stephen King discovered, they should write, without apology, plain, unadorned fantasy.

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