In this episode, Rob and Don journey back into the past of Japanese comic books to explore it from its roots 1300 years ago until the great experimental manga age of the 1970s. They explore the European roots of Manga, how the medium was shaped by the winds of Japan’s history, and the major figures who helped make manga what it is today. All this, and how Go Nagai brought sex and violence to Japanese children’s television, is waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
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!
In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with guest Jack Ward to discuss what it means to be a nerd. The trio discuss exactly what nerds are, where they came from, and whether nerds as a concept is even still relevant in modern culture. All this, and why The Nutty Professor was the great nerd hero of the 20th century are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
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
In this episode, Rob and Don sit down with former Comics F/X magazine founder and editor Jeff Wood to talk about the West Coast independent comics scene of the 1980’s. The three discuss the origins of Comics F/X magazine, MU Press, the small press black and white comics explosion, and how “three adjectives and a noun” comics and anthropomorphic smut crashed the industry. All this and the story behind Jeff’s own legendary comic Snowbuni are waiting for you in this, the 14th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms has captivated me ever since I tore through my copies of the Moss Roberts translation (so long, they split it into two volumes). Part history, part mythology and part fiction, Luo Guanzhong’s epic has been a staple of Chinese culture since the 14th century, and is one of the four must-read books of Chinese literature. This epic story covers the breakup and subsequent reunion of China during the Three Kingdoms period from 169 AD to 280 AD, and is a story of heroism, tragedy and political maneuvering that would make George R. R. Martin weep.
However, even though Moss Roberts translation is excellent, the story can be a little dense for non-Chinese and intimidating to get into, even though comics and video games based on it have been quite popular in English. This has been a problem for some English speakers who want to read the book, but aren’t sure they want to invest the time or will be able to keep up with the Chinese cultural aspects. This is a true shame, since it really is one of the great literary works of the last 2000 years.
Now, Podcaster John Zhu has set out to change that. His Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast is designed to make the story fun and accessible, and is a bit like being told an epic story by your favorite High School history teacher. He not only reads the story, but annotates it and does his best to provide context for the reader as he works his way through all 120 chapters of the book. Part audiobook, part history lesson, the ROT3K Podcast is your chance to sit back and experience this amazing story for yourself- so what are you waiting for!
P.S. There is also a Youtube Channel version here, for those who like their audio from YouTube for whatever reason.
Tonight I stumbled across the amazing collection of videos that is Extra Credits, specifically their excellent short video series summarizing the events of the unification of Japan at the end of the Warring States period. Six very entertaining videos of 5 minutes each that are totally worth your time if you have any interest in Japanese history.
Then, once you’re done those, start to check out the other Extra Credits videos on a wide variety of topics. I’m astounded I never noticed these things before, but that’s the nature of the Internet!
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.
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!
Grab Mary Jane and prepare to ride the Galaxy Express! We’re going back to the 70’s!
I’ve always had a fondness for oldschool horror, especially the Hammer Horror films from England of the 60’s and 70’s. They used to show them on Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, and I found them annoying because they were displacing my favorite movies involving giant monsters. However, as I’ve grown up, I’ve also grown to appreciate the contributions Hammer made to horror and film in general. If for no other reason than bringing Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into the popular culture!
Today my friend Richard pointed me in the direction of not one, but two documentaries on YouTube about the history of Hammer. The first is written and hosted by Sherlock writer/actor (and Hammer Horror fanboy) Mark Gatiss, and is from a BBC documentary series on horror he hosted.
The second is an older documentary on Hammer Horror called Hammer- The Studio that Dripped Blood!, which was done by the BBC in the late 80’s. The quality isn’t the best since it’s transferred off videotape, and it’s been chopped into parts, but if you’re interested in the subject it makes a nice companion piece to Gatiss’ show.