The Fall of BLEACH and the fate of the Big Three Millennial Manga

YouTube user Super Eyepatch Wolf posted a fascinating video last year about how the manga/anime BLEACH went from being one of the big three to cancellation. It’s a sad but fascinating story that tells you a lot about the manga industry in Japan, and is worth watching even if you don’t like BLEACH. (I’m not a BLEACH fan myself, I tried but never cared for it.)

I’d have to say the reason BLEACH died sounds like it was just a case of Tite Kubo just plain not being a good writer. When you combine that with being forced to serialize a story for over a decade on a weekly basis, and not being able to actually enjoy any of the money he was raking it, it’s not hard to see why the project collapsed. BLEACH just didn’t have a core concept to carry it through and give it direction, and that’s ultimately why it couldn’t sustain itself.

A fascinating follow up to the above video was this one the same creator did on the recently finished Naruto franchise, where he goes into good detail about how and why Naruto may have managed to keep itself going while BLEACH fell into a death spiral.

Both videos are worth the watch both as a study in the Japanese anime/manga industry and from a storyteller’s perspective.

Oh, and since both videos do extensively refer to One Piece (perhaps the best anime/manga ever made) here’s his intro to One Piece video as well to round out the Big Three!

China makes a play for the Teen Anime market

One interesting development which has gone somewhat unnoticed during the first half of 2017 was China’s streaming media companies entering the teen animation market. While Chinese companies have for a long time been providing animation services for the Japanese market on the production end of things, China is finally making an effort to turn some of their more popular Young Adult properties into animated series.

One of these is Full-Time Mage (Quanzhi Fashi), which is based on a popular webnovel series and would be best described as “In a world where magic exists alongside technology, a poor teen is given the chance to go an elite magic high school where he tries to improve himself despite barriers of class and status.”

Note: I’ve included two episodes because the first one was done by one subber (who only did the first episode) and the second one (and the rest of the series) by another subbing group. You need to turn on the Closed Captions option to see the English subtitles.

The animation is still a bit rough, as is the storytelling. You can tell this is a cut-down version of long serial story which is just hitting the high points, but that does make it move at a brisk pace. It is very simple, and lacks the storytelling refinement you often see in the better Japanese anime, but the main character is likable, and the Chinese cultural elements bring something new to the mix so I enjoyed it overall. It’s a little bit like Final Fantasy meets Harry Potter.

Another series which got more attention (deservedly, if for nothing except the gorgeous animation) was The King’s Avatar (Quanzhi Gaoshou) which is basically the story of a professional Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game player who loses everything and has to start again from the bottom. It’s not bad, story wise, but if you’re not into MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, I think you might some of it hard to follow. Then again, I’m not a gamer, but still enjoyed reading a manga version you can find kicking around online.

What both of these have in common is that they originate from the Chinese Webnovel world, which has basically turned into the Chinese counterpart of the Japanese manga industry. It produces massive amounts of stories across all genres in the form of serialized online novels that people can read (mostly) for free, and which are written by the users as well. The best of them get promoted, printed, and monetized by the webportals they’re hosted on, and prior to now they would also get turned into comics. Now they have a new goal to aim for- animation!

Of course, just like anime, webnovels have their own tropes and storytelling styles that will work for some and not for others. If you read enough of them on translation sites like Wuxia World and GravityTales you’ll pick up the patterns pretty fast. For example, boys webnovels (and some girls) have a very standard trope where the main character was switched from our world to the body of another person in the story setting. Even Full-Time Mage implies something along those lines in the first episode, but they just gloss over it. It’s a fast way to write a fish out of water story, but the Chinese webnovel writers tend to overuse it.

In any case, check out the above shows if you’re in the mood for something a little different in your animated entertainment. I think they’re the first in a wave of Chinese animation we’re going to be seeing more and more of in the future.

We’re stuck in a long distance relationship with copyright.

 

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Here’s a thought:

Copyright Laws are putting us in a long-distance relationship situation with media, and hindering creativity.

In a long-distance relationship, what happens is the couple communicate in a superficial way most of the time, and only see each other occasionally as their life/work situations allow. This creates an odd situation where the relationship is stuck in a kind of dating limbo- where the couple don’t see each other enough for the relationship to progress to the get-together stage or the breakup stage. As a result, the relationship lingers on and on, because they never get sick of each other, but aren’t satisfied with the relationship either. It creates a situation where they are constantly hoping that the next meeting will be awesome, remembering the meetups that were awesome, and forgetting all the meetups that sucked. Preventing them from moving on and finding new and possibly better relationships.

Ever-extending copyright laws are doing the same thing to our relationship with media. Instead of letting us fall in and out of love with a media property (like Star Wars), the long-term copyright laws keep us exposed to only a drip-feed of that media property and keep us from getting sick of it. We remember the good times, but not the bad, and keep coming back to it. As a result, a few mega-properties (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Marvel/DC Superheroes, etc) are able to suck up all the media attention (and money) and hindering the growth of new media sources because they never quite go away.

If we had shorter copyrights, then after a certain point properties would enter the public domain and everyone could make their versions of those media properties, which would have two effects- 1) it would “burn them out” of the collective consciousness through over-saturation and overexposure (everyone would get sick of them and move on), and 2) it would create opportunities for new material to move in and grow, resulting in newer media that suits the current generation and offers new ways of thinking instead of the old stuff being recycled endlessly. (Or, to continue our relationship metaphor- it would force people to break up and find new partners.)

My friend Don often comments that “nothing goes away anymore”, and I think this is a piece of that. Nothing is going away because corporations are extending out franchises and copyright keeps the public from running wild with them and burning them out. You might say that’s just fine, since it keeps the companies in business, but it also prevents them from innovating, since all their energies are focused on the old and not the new. Just like it keeps the public’s attention on the old instead of the new, preventing the innovation which happens every day from rising up into the public’s awareness and changing things for the better (or worse).

Just an idea, anyway.

Rob

 

Magic Leap Concept Explained

YouTuber Vance Vids has begun doing a series of video explaining what is probably the most exciting Augmented Reality technology on the horizon- Magic Leap and what we know about the Florida-based company that Chinese and American corporations like Google and Baidu are dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into. Everyone who’s seen it says this technology is the future, so how does it work? Vance Vids explores what we know so far:

 

DNA Podcast 021 – Interview with Tim Eldred

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In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with comic artist and director of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble animated series Tim Eldred to discuss his career in the comic book industry and how it led him into the world of animation. Along the way, they discuss Tim’s advice for aspiring comic book artists, why getting your work done on time is crucial for a career in the comic book industry, and why the secret to successful media production is to have a really big raft! All this, and a look at Tim’s new project Pitsberg, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

The Kung Fu Puppetry of Taiwan

Pili Puppet show at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan

Pili Puppet show at Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan. Picture by Harris Tsam

 

As far as I know, Taiwan is one of the few places where puppetry is not only appreciated, but where puppet shows are shown on national television. In particular, the Pili programs of gloved puppetry shows have continued to capture the imaginations of young Taiwanese with their creative and colourful puppet storytelling.

The credit for upholding the long lasting popularity of Hand Puppet Shows in Taiwan, no doubt, belongs to the Huang family. Through their creative performances and their skillful management, they continue to find new ways to evolve the Hand Puppet Shows. Ultimately, the Huang family had developed the famous PiLi Dynasty with the PiLi Puppet Theatre. Following the current trends of modern society and the technological media- television became the new performing stage of the Puppet Shows and delivered this theatrical artistry to even a much broader audience. In its effort to attract the young viewers of the new generation, PiLi Puppet Theatre continued to create new and interesting concepts in their stories, including- illusionary time and space themes and action-packed Chinese kung-fu sequences. Now, the Puppet Show’s stage and presentation techniques can now expand to a different level of possibilities.  From e-pili.com.tw

During my own time in Taiwan, I have seen first hand how popular these shows are, as there are specialty stores selling copies of the puppets and related merchandise and even a Pili-themed museums. The puppets themselves are so beautiful, I was tempted to buy one just for display.

How beautiful are they? Watch this amazing 2010 opening for one of the Pili TV series:

 

There have been several attempts to bring these shows over for English audiences as well, the first was an international release of Legend of the Sacred Stone, a somewhat rare film that has garnered a 7.3/10 rating on IMDB and a small cult following for it’s crazy-ness. You can see a sample here:

 

The other was in 2006, when Cartoon Network took one of the Pili series and dubbed it into a show called Wulin Warriors. Sadly, as is often done with foreign non-animated properties (and some animated ones as well!) the dubbers decided to have “some fun” with it, and “liven it up”. So while the visuals might still give you some of the spirit of the original, the dub itself and the creative changes seem targeted squarely at 8-10 year old boys. Someone has put all 13 episodes up on YouTube, if you can get through that many…

And that character that rambles on about pizza and makes bad jokes? In the original show, he’s a deaf mute. (I guess now we know why!) I haven’t seen the original, but I imagine it’s a heck of a lot more watchable. The only redeeming thing about this one is the beautiful puppetwork.

Anyhow, if you happen to come across one of these Pili productions or characters, now you know what they are. Unfortunately, there’s no fansubbed versions of the shows out there, and unless you speak Mandarin you won’t be able to follow the originals well. My own Mandarin isn’t up to the task, yet, but maybe someday.

More about Taiwan puppet culture in this short 5 minute documentary:

Rob

DNA Podcast 017 – All About Ultraman

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In this episode, Rob and Don do an overview of the Japanese media titan Ultraman, delving into the concepts behind the series, doing an overview of Ultraman’s long history, and talking about their personal connections to the character. All this, and a trip into the world of 80’s independent television, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs

DNA Podcast 016 – Exploring the Pulps with Gregg Taylor

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In this episode, Don and Rob are joined by Gregg Taylor of the Decoder Ring Theatre podcast to talk about a subject that’s near and dear to Gregg’s heart- Pulp Heroes! We talk about the original Batman v. Superman- The Shadow and Doc Savage, how a pulp hero is made by their choice of hats, and why the world of pulp hero The Spider would be an awful place to live! All this, and a discussion of what’s next for Decoder Ring Theatre, is waiting for you in this, the 16th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!

Note: I want to make a special thanks to Gregg Taylor for being a complete gentleman through what turned out to be a very difficult recording session. You went above and beyond the call, sir, and even The Red Panda himself couldn’t have done better!

Hunter x Hunter (2011) Anime Review

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The manga Bakuman is about two young manga artists (Takagi the writer, Mashiro the artist) who work their way up through the manga industry at it’s top selling publication- Weekly Shonen Jump. Written by two veteran manga creators, it’s a masterpiece on many levels, and at its core it’s both a critque of the industry and a how-to for those who want to become future manga artists. Another way to describe it is if Scott McCloud made his incredible Understanding Comics as a story about a young pair of creators working their way up through the ladder at Marvel Comics instead of in textbook form.

In chapter 8 of Bakuman (“Carrot and Stick”) there is a scene where the two young heroes first meet their editor Akira Hattori, and he tells them that there are two types of manga creators- “the Genius type” and “the Calculating type”. The Genius is the natural creator who draws comics they love and because of their natural talent and passion for their subject matter is able to come up with a hit manga that blows the audience away. The Calculator, on the other hand, looks at it from the audience’s point of view and tries to make something that will appeal to the greatest number of people regardless of their actual feelings about the subject matter.

In a lot of ways, through Hattori the creators are talking about classic writer dichotomy – the Pantser who makes it up as they go along and the Plotter who plans it all out – just taken to an extreme. And, of course, in reality just like that classic writer dichotomy, it’s rare for any writer to be a Genius/Pantser or Calculator/Plotter alone as almost all creators are some mix of the two extremes. Even a Panster will usually at least think about what will appeal to their audience, and a Plotter will generally pick subject matter they’re naturally attracted to and passionate about to some degree. (Few people are good at writing things they honestly hate or dislike, especially if they have any choice.)

As a result, it’s uncommon that you can look at any work and say “that was created by a Genius” or “that was created by a Calculator,” because after all, any work is normally a mix of the two and it’s hard to tell how much of each is involved. There are, however, exceptions to this, and one of those exceptions is something I came across on Netflix a few weeks back when I was looking for something to watch which I exercised- an anime called HUNTER X HUNTER (2011).

Hunter x Hunter is a manga/anime about a stubborn 12 year old boy named Gon who leaves his home village to become a Hunter- a person who travels the world seeking whatever it is they’ve chosen to seek. In his pseudo-modern fantasy world, there are Treasure Hunters, Monster Hunters, Bounty Hunters, Delicacy Hunters, and many other kinds, who brave dangers to find their targets. All of them, however, much first pass the Hunter Exam, which is where the story starts, and get a Hunter License that gives them free access to the world and status as members of the elite. Gon’s (missing) father was one of these great men, and through following his footsteps, Gon hopes to find him and experience the world himself.

Hunter x Hunter (2011, because it’s the second attempt to animate the Hunter x Hunter manga), which can also be read as “Hunter Hunter,” is perhaps the most calculated anime/manga I have ever seen in 20+ years of anime fandom. It started in 1998, and it’s like someone took all the popular elements of the hit manga of the previous two decades, disected them, and then based on extremely careful analysis produced the most planned piece of storytelling I’ve ever seen. I’m not just talking characters and plot elements, I’m talking story, pacing, backgrounds- you name it, there is not a single original element in this story- none. It’s like they had a computer analyze the history of manga and this was the end product.

Yet, and this goes to the skill of the creator Yoshihiro Togashi (creator of the also hit anime/manga YuYu Hakusho back in the 1980’s) I don’t mean that it’s unoriginal in a bad way. In fact, for what it is, it’s actually very well done, and in fact is almost perfect in a textbook sort of way. Whereas most manga are a rough exercise in creative serial pantsing, with the creators only thinking a few chapters ahead, Hunter x Hunter is extremely well plotted and thought out. Everything happens at a carefully measured pace, everything is introduced at exactly the right time in the right way. The humor is in the right spots, the chapters all end on cliffhangers of sorts, and there’s no sense of it being rushed, it’s a piece of art without a line or comma out of place.

Well, calling it a piece of “art” might be pushing it, it’s really a machine designed for maximum appeal and marketing potential. And, like any machine, there’s a certain cold, mechanical nature to it that keeps it from being in the same class as stories like Naurto, One Piece, and even Bleach, which are also top series from the same era. The creator definitely reaches to those levels, but he doesn’t quite make it because of the calculated nature of it all. It’s like Hattori says in that Bakuman chapter- the Calculator has the greatest potential for a hit and long-term success, but they don’t have the same potential as the Genius has for creating a true smash hit story that excites the audience.

In any case, I’d definitely recommend Hunter x Hunter (2011) as a watch, whether just to enjoy it as a well-told story, or to take it apart as a creator and see how the whole thing was so well put together. Either way, it’s time well spent.

Rob

Everyday Augmented Reality

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One of the issues with running a general blog like this is that is has no real focus. It serves as a catch-all for whatever I feel like writing about or talking about, but it has no real direction to it. That’s one of the things that’s made it hard to write for on a regular basis- when you can write about anything, you tend to write about nothing.

However, something I’ve always been fascinated by is the power of Augmented Reality, and with the recent release of Microsoft’s new Hololens system, I’ve come to believe that we’re on the cusp of seeing this technology literally transform our lives and the world around us. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this:

As a result, I’ve decided to start a new blog centered around Augmented Reality and how it’s both developing and transforming people’s lives. If you ask any of my media studies students, AR is something I won’t shut up about, and have been talking about for years, so I thought “why should just my students suffer?”

Everyday Augmented Reality will basically be me collecting news about Augmented Reality and things related to it and occasionally commenting and sharing my own thoughts and ideas on this next stage of media evolution. Everything the Smartphone did to society will be nothing compared to what AR will do, and Everyday AR will be where I watch it all happen.

Come join me and watch the show. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, and we’ll definitely wonder why!

Rob

P.S. This blog isn’t going anywhere, and will still be updated from time to time. I need to talk about non-AR things sometimes too!