Ghost Hunt

I just finished watching Ghost Hunt on Netflix, and I have to say I’m really sad there’s only one season. In addition to having one of the coolest opening songs of any anime (see above video) it’s a really unique series- a semi-realistic ghost hunting TV series. This is likely because it wasn’t conceived as an anime, but a light novel series by author Fuyumi Ono, and as a result it’s more grounded than most anime. (With the exceptions of File #4 and File #5, which are radically out of place with the rest of the series, and were likely written as filler episodes by the anime production staff.)

For those not familiar with the series, Ghost Hunt is a supernatural thriller anime about an extremely mixed group of spiritualists who are united by their employer, a science-based spiritual researcher who goes by the nickname Naru. Each story is a multi-part supernatural mystery (a novel broken into parts) with twists and turns and unexpected surprises. You can never be quite sure what the real culprit is, and this gives the series a fresh and creepy feeling that most supernatural shows lack, much less anime. The combination of reading on actual psychic research the author has obviously done while mixing it with just the right amount of fantasy helps heighten the realism of the show and makes it feel more solid. This, in turn, makes the whole thing creepier and more thrilling at certain points, and I have to say that it’s one of the very few anime that have ever given me chills.

Anyhow, if you get the chance to watch it, it’s highly recommended. It has its silly points, but they’re really outweighed by the quality of the series. It’s too bad the author didn’t put out enough books for them to do a second season (although rumor has it she might be returning to it soon), especially since the mystery of psychic dreams of the viewpoint character, Mai, isn’t answered during the run of the series. I had to read the comic adaptations of the further novels to learn the answer to that particular mystery.

Give it a look, it’s the perfect Anime for Halloween!

Rob

Benshi and Macross 7

Silent films were an international language. Taking advantage of the fact they had no natural soundtrack, they were designed and produced to be understood through purely visual storytelling. Even when dialog cards were later introduced to add key pieces of dialog, the core of the films were still visual. This allowed them to be watched and understood by audiences the world over, or world audiences which lived right next door, since this was the great age of immigration and your neighbour may not speak the same language you did.

When these silent films were exported to other countries, they were adapted to the local customs, and in the case of Japan they took on narrators who were there to help the audience with the points of the film that local audiences might not understand. These narrators, called Benshi, would introduce the film to set the story and context, and then narrate the story as needed for the audience to help them get over jumps or occasionally missing pieces of film. While in the Western tradition, organs were used to accompany silent films for music, the Benshi worked alongside traditional Japanese Kabuki orchestras to produce a very Japanese movie-going experience from 1910 until the mid-1930’s. It worked so well this system was also adopted into early Taiwanese cinema, with the narrators called Benzi.

water-magician-benshi-poster-

The Benshi also shaped Japanese cinema, as the producers of Japanese films of the time knew that a Benshi would be there to narrate their films and so they started to script their films with the expectation that the Benshi would not only narrate, but do all the voices for the characters (of both sexes) as well. This made the Benshi truly part of the drama, and different Benshi became major stars based on their styles of acting and narration. People would even go to see the same film again if narrated by a different Benshi because it was said that in the hands of a different Benshi the same film could become a comedy, a romance, a thriller, or take on different levels of drama as the Benshi would add their own improvisations and style to the film’s story. You might even say that the Benshi became the reason people went to see the performance, and that the films themselves become a backdrop for the Benshi!

According to Wikipedia, “in 1927, there were 6,818 benshi, including 180 women.” This was likely their peak, as it was around this time that the first American “talkies” appeared and sound was introduced to movie-going audiences. So, while Benshi did continue on for a time as translators for foreign films, their services were less and less required, and they slowly became a rare cultural tradition. Today, there are still Benshi like Midori Sawato who do performances when silent films are played in art houses and on special occasions, but they are a rare experience.  Here is a series of short clips showing a Benshi in action from the above performance at the Sydney Opera House:

I personally find Benshi fascinating as a concept, and think it would be amazing to watch one perform, although technically I already have. Back when I was the president of Anime London in the 1990’s a group of us would meet on the second and fourth Monday of every month and watch anime from my fairly large (at that time) collection. One of the shows we watched was a series called Macross 7, and I had the whole series on videotape with only one problem- it was still in Japanese and wasn’t subtitled after the first two or three episodes. This was in the days before internet video was really big (or possible in any quality), but I did manage to find translation scripts for subtitlers to use online. However, I didn’t have the equipment or ability to subtitle all 49 episodes of Macross 7, so what to do?

My not-all-that-innovative solution was to become an audio subtitler, and read the scripts alongside the dialog while the rest of the group watched the show. (Holy Benshi, Batman!) However, after a few episodes one of my friends, a talented young man named Glenn Jupp offered to take over audio-titling for me for reasons I’ve forgotten. (I think I couldn’t do it one week for some reason.) Glenn was a natural Benshi, and would have done these Japanese masters proud. I never did it again because Glenn spent the next 44 episodes giving Macross 7 his own personal spin by doing his own inflections to all the voices, and showing incredible timing and dramatic flare. It worked perfectly, because Macross 7 is an over-the-top mecha anime musical, and having a wild dramatic reading of the lines just fit perfectly.The highlight of each meeting became watching Glenn perform, and while new members to the club took a bit to get used to our unusual way of doing things, they soon came to appreciate Glenn’s talents.

It made watching Macross 7 a unique experience that took the show to a whole other level, and even today I can’t watch it subtitled without hearing Glenn’s voice narrating the character lines. (“Listen to my song!!!”) The day we finished the series, I think we gave him a well-deserved standing ovation, and when they released some direct-to-video episodes of Macross 7 we got scripts and asked him to narrate once more. Watching it without Glenn just wouldn’t have been the same, and I can appreciate how audiences in Japan felt about their Benshi, because Glenn was ours.

Arigatou, Jupp-san. You would have done the masters proud!

Rob

Heroes of IP Theft

A slightly amusing and sad situation has popped up surrounding Syfy’s new series Heroes of Cosplay (see above trailer), mostly due to a misunderstanding of copyright law on the parts of several parties.

It seems that the show contains numerous still shots of the cosplayers mixed in with the video, and this is a bit of an issue since those shots are legally owned by the photographers of those shots, who were neither paid nor credited for them. The producers of the show acquired these shots from the cosplayers, who it seems were under the mistaken assumption that because they’re the stars of the pictures they have co-ownership rights. However, unless releases are specificically signed saying so, or the pictures are commissioned and paid for by the cosplayers, this isn’t true at all.

So, the owners of at least one set of pictures are demanding payment from the show’s producers, who are reasonably freaking out. According to the linked article, they’re trying to blame the cosplayers, but the cosplayers did give them the contact information for the photographers in question as well, it was the producer’s fault for not actually following up on things.

I said I find this sad and amusing. It’s sad because with a little bit of homework and effort, this whole mess could have been avoided. (I see someone getting fired in the near future…) It’s amusing because Cosplay itself is a giant exercise in intellectual property theft, and technically the rights holders to the original characters being cosplayed would be within their rights to demand similar payments from not just Syfy, but also the cosplayers and the photographers (should these photographers actually get the money they’re demanding). Anyone making money from their intellectual property should be giving them a cut, and all these people are. Luckily the rights holders seem to still see this as free PR, so they’re letting it slide- for now.

It’s also amusing because apparently cosplayers regularly get mad about the idea of photographers selling images of them without giving them some payment, but don’t seem to feel the need to pay the original IP owners a penny for the property they’re borrowing themselves.

Then again, if you read the comments under that article, it seems that the one thing most people seem to agree on is that the photographer has no rights to demand payment for their works, and that the corporations and cosplayers do. Sigh.

Rob

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) Review (Spoiler Lite)

So, I finally got around to watching Attack on Titan, one of the new hit anime of the current season, and I’d have to say my feelings about it are mixed.

For those not familiar with the story- in essence, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where an army of semi-indestructable giants called Titans appeared and killed off most of humanity. What’s left of humanity lives in a walled-off territory preseumably somewhere in Europe. Since most of the Titans only operate on the level of a typical zombie, the wall strategy worked pretty well, and things have settled down into a natural stalemate. That is, until the Colossal Titan appears, and begins knocking down the walls, throwing humanity into a desperate fight for survival as their walls are being slowly breached.

The main character is Eren Jaeger, a young man who is determined to avenge his family and joins the military to fight against the Titans. Aided by his childhood friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlart, and the other members of their squad, they struggle to fight against an incredibly tough foe. The only way to kill the Titans is by making a deep incision at the base of their neck, and so they must master the 3-D Maneuver Gear which basically lets them move around like Spiderman. (And allows for some visually astounding fight scenes.)

Despite this, the situation looks really bleak for humanity, unless a miracle can happen…

So, my thoughts.

On the plus side, the animation and presentation of the whole thing are just spectacular. Like really spectacular. The thing looks like a film, and it really raises the bar in terms of dynamism- expect a whole lot of other shows (and American movies) to be copying the hell out of this series in the years to come. The world is also incredibly well detailed and presented, and it seems like a place more than just a generic setting.

I wish I could say the same about the characters, but I find them to be pretty generic overall. I know some people love them, but I think that’s because they’re so generic you can pretty much project anything you want onto them. The three leads are the classic spirit (Eren), body (Mikasa) and mind (Armin) dichotomy, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, they don’t deviate much from those roles. Most of the story is around them dealing with their own weaknesses in the face of overwheming odds, which seems to be a running theme of the show, but its done in a really standard fashion. Every show about teens struggling against overwhelming odds does this, from Ashita no Joe, to Naruto, or even Aim for the Ace and Gunbuster. It’s an anime standard, and they’re not doing anything new here.

I find the dialogue pretty stilted, and people tend to do what they always do in stories like this. It’s all very by the numbers.

The story itself is fine, and well presented, although it mostly feels like method for getting the characters from one epic action event to another. (It’s based on a manga, so I can forgive it for this.) It has just enough mystery and intrigue to keep you interested, and it rewards you for your interest. It also goes from happy to astoundly bleak and horrific at the drop of a hat, so if you can’t handle horror and gore, this is abosolutely not the show for you!

That said, having watched the first Nine episodes, I have to say I like it overall. What’s not to like about watching a team of young Spidermen fight an army of Hulks?

I give it 7/10.

Oh, and a few major-spoiler-heavy thoughts below…like really major spoilers….

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Okay, sadly I was spoiled before going into it by accident, but what we’re watching is essentially a post-apocalyptic Ultraman. We have our team of anti-giant fighters, and our hero who discovers he can turn into a super-giant when the chips are down to fight the other giants one-on-one. It’s a super-dark take on Ultraman, but at heart that’s what it is. Not that this is a bad thing (I love Ultraman), but it does take some of the drama out of it when you realise this.

Wolf Children Official Trailer (English subtitles) – YouTube

Well this looks beautiful. 🙂

Wolf Children Official Trailer (English subtitles) – YouTube.

Perhaps one of the coolest car commercials I have ever seen.

It helps if you understand the cultural obsession Asia has with food and food stands, but anyone can appreciate this beautiful piece of animation.

Project Play- Aftermath

Today I attended Project Play, London’s first (or is that most recent? not sure) gaming convention of the universal sort. What I mean by that is that there wasn’t just Role Playing Games, or Tabletop Games, or Electronic Games, or Console Games, or Mobile Games, or Tablet Games or Classic Games or even Card Games- there was all of them! And more!

Fanshawe’s Student Union building was filled with game sellers, producers, and players. It also played host to Doll fans, Cosplayers, and Anime fans, who each had their own little areas, and other oddities like the Personal Computer Museum. (Which made me feel quite old as I looked at all the consoles I used to play as a kid, like the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and the Commodore 64. I remember when the Vic 20 was new!) A nice collection of different smaller fandoms all under one roof that wouldn’t normally have enough people for a con, but could collectively benefit from being together.

I arrived about halfway into the event and I spent my time flitting from place to place and visiting with different people I knew, but mostly I spent time at the Forest City Go Club table playing teaching games of Go with Matt and Mark (who were kind enough to give up their day to man the table). When I first got there the club had been relegated to a back room, but eventually we managed to get moved to a more central location between a number of video game producers and things really started to hum! Quite a few people were interested in learning about Go, and with luck we made a few new Go fans. (And maybe club members! We’ll see in the coming weeks!)

I’d say somewhere between two and three hundred people came out to Project Play today. That’s just a guess, but by the afternoon that place was really moving, and it was a joy to see. There have been attempts to hold Comic and Sci-Fi conventions in London before, with varying degrees of success, but none of them really brought together so many diverse groups and done it so well.

I hope that there’s another Project Play next year, and that it’s bigger and better advertised than this one! I think they’ve only tapped their potential, and will just get bigger and better from here!

Rob

Novelty – Visual novel maker

Ahh, the things I would do if I had the time. 🙂 Especially with Daz Studio still being free, it could be a lot of fun to make a visual novel. Not that I’d expect to make money, or that anyone would play it, but I think it would be a fun and challenging exercise.

I discovered this program today- Novelty.

Novelty is a free game maker tailored for making visual novels. Contrary to most other visual novel makers, Novelty is designed for people without any experience in scripting or programming.

As a designer you have a lot of artistic freedom in Novelty. There are no templates or presumptions on how your game should look. The visual tools that come with Novelty enables you to give your game a unique look that will stand out.

via Novelty – Visual novel maker.

Here’s an example of someone using the software, which looks pretty easy to use, actually.

Flashback! Revenge of the 80s: It’s All In The Reflexes

I’ve fallen out of love with anime over the years, but during the late ’80s and early ’90s I lived and breathed anime. (I even started London’s first independant anime club- Anime London.) So when I heard that the Anime News Network podcast was doing a “Top 10 of the ’80s” anime review show with a couple of old-timers (ie people slightly older than me), I was so there!

The show(s), which in total are around 3.5 hours long are totally worth listening to if you want to learn about what anime was like during what’s often referred to as being its “golden age”. The panel have a lot of different perspectives to bring to the table, and they do a good job of explaining their choices in detail. Even I learned quite a bit, and it inspired me to seek out a few old gems I think I missed or dismissed back in the day.

Part 1: Revenge of the 80s: It’s All In The Reflexes – ANNCast – Anime News Network. (Numbers 10-6)

Part 2: Revenge of the 80s: You’ve Got to have Power! (Numbers 5-1)

Enjoy!

Rob

Live Action Ranma 1/2 Special will Air in December!

Akane Tendo

Apparently someone had decided to do a Live-Action Ranma 1/2 show in Japan, probably out of a mix of nostalgia and lack of ideas. I used to be a big Ranma 1/2 fan once upon a time, until it turned into an endless boring repetition of the same jokes and ideas, but it does have a great cast and fun core premise, so I look forward to seeing what they do with this. The actors look great for their roles, and I will definitely give this a look!

More information can be found here and more cast pictures here.

 

Boy-Type Ranma

Girl-Type Ranma

 

Mr. Tendo!