Archive for 2008

CJAS Alums Mentioned in Anime World Order Podcast

Saturday, December 27th, 2008 CJAS

CJAS alums Lawrence Eng and Mari Morimoto (both official guests at SITACon last October) were mentioned in last week’s Anime World Order podcast.  The shout-out is at 6:22/-55:41.  For those who do not know Lawrence or Mari, they are quite active in the anime community.

Lawrence Eng (‘98) is a social scientist specializing in otaku studies.  He received his Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2006.  His doctoral research examined the ways in which anime otaku and related subcultures engage and appropriate science and technology.  Currently, he is the Product Research Manager for Opera Software.  On the web, he is known for his “thought experiments lain” site and his “lainspotting” blog.  He is also founder of the Anime and Manga Research Circle.

Mari Morimoto (‘96, DVM ‘01) is a veterinarian who has been freelancing as manga translator for the past 14 years.  As this ANN page will attest, she has quite a few big-name titles under her belt, including Dragon Ball, Inuyasha, Maison Ikkoku, Naruto, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

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Seeing Ourselves in Their Eyes; Japanese Visions of the West

Saturday, December 13th, 2008 Japan

One of the many interesting things I notice about anime is how they see us. Just as Americans have stereotypes of Japanese (and just about everyone else), the Japanese have stereotypes about us. This doesn’t show up a whole lot, but every once in a while the viewer can see a flash of the West. Now I don’t mean Western influence in terms of Disney or anthing; I mean the tall, blond character who speaks bad Japanese and seems to carry a lot of guns for no apparent reason (sound familiar?). There are a lot of flashes of American culture that appear in Japanese anime, good or bad, but the two that always stick out in my mind are the sterotype of the loud, violent American, and Christianity being used as exoticism.

Mr. K, in all his American glory

The Japanese sterotype of an American is pretty involved. The American is often tall and blond – makes sense, more or less. The constant carrying of guns is a little bit odder. Japan has a complete ban on guns, unlike America, and they seem to think that just because it is possible for someone to own a gun, they do so, and they use the gun at any possible oppourtunity. Mr. K, the absolutely ridiculous American from Gravitation, once forces the main character out of his apartment (or something like that; the setup is rather irrelevant) by going to the opposite building, going out onto the balcony, and sniper-rifling at the main character. This is also while the family who own the balcony look on in absolute horror. Granted, this is a comedy show, but even then, none of the Japanese characters would ever do this. The last part of the Japanese sterotype, and this is rather subtle and rarely shows up, is that Americans cannot work with anyone; they are incapable of caring about someone else. Keep in mind that this is a very rare aspect of the sterotype. From what I’ve read, this part of the sterotype comes from a fundamental difference between Japanese and American culture. Japan is incredibly group oriented, with limited tolerance for people who are unique or different. America, on the other hand, is incredibly geared toward individuality and personal freedom, occasionally at the expense of the group or community. This translates, in the Japanese mindset, to Americans being completely individualistic, and thus utterly selfish.

Lilith, and the spear of Longinus, courtesy of Neon Genesis

The second Western item that seems to appear a lot is Christianity. By that I mean not someone being Christian, but when ‘mythology’ of Christianity is used in a story. Ironically enough, it is often used in the same way that a Western writer would use Buddhism or Hinduism – simply to make the story exotic, without paying all that much attention to what the religion is actually like. The best example of this would be Neon Genesis Evangalion. Putting aside whether or not this is a good show (I’m not even getting into that) the use of Judeo-Christian elements is interesting. The Angels, Adam, Eve, the Spear of Longinus, even hymn music during fight scenes, Eva uses all of these things and more. And oddly enough, it works. It makes the story seem to be even more of an epic than it is. However, this show uses Judeo-Christian ideas outside of any sort of context; if you try and understand them and try to apply these ideas into the belief system, you will fail. This appropriation of Christian ideas without context happens a fair amount; Cross is built around it, with slightly more coherency than Eva. Yami no Matsuei uses this trope in places as well, and lets not even get started on Angel Sanctuary. It’s too easy.

Now, I take no offense (usually) at either the sterotype of Americans (being an American) or the use of Christianity for flavor (as a Roman Catholic). I simply find it fascinating to learn how other people think of us.

Note: this article was written with no research or authority. In addition, just as the views and ideas expressed may not be characteristic of Cornell University, they may not be characteristic of some members of CJAS. Ja ne!

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CJAS Marathon December 6

Monday, December 1st, 2008 Announcements, Events

With the end of the semester just around the corner, what better way to unwind before finals start than to enjoy CJAS’s end-of-semester marathon! Come Lewis Auditorium and enjoy the plethora of anime we have lined up to show.

12:00 - Detective Conan 1-2
12:50 - Fire Tripper
1:40  - Break
1:50  - Victorian Romance Emma 1
2:15  - The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
3:55  - Break
4:05  - Ouran High School Host Club 1
4:30  - Code Geass 1-2
5:20  - Dinner
6:20  - Claymore 1
6:45  - Hellsing Ultimate 4
7:35  - Break
7:50  - Welcome to the NHK 13
8:15  - Kino's Journey 13
8:40  - XXXHolic 13
9:05  - Twelve Kingdoms 13
9:30  - Break
9:50  - Mushishi 12-13
10:40 - Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann 15
11:05 - Giant Robo 7
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Movie Review: Detective Conan: Full Score of Fear

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 Movie Reviews
I’ve been a fairly ardent Detective Conan follower ever since the first movie came out some 11 years ago. I was actually younger than Mouri Ran back then. But now, I’m much older. I am proud to say that I have experienced almost all 12 Detective Conan movies in one way or another—either by watching it in the theaters, watching it on home video, or reading the cine-manga.
As the movie’s subtitle suggests, the theme of this latest installment is classical music. Compared to past Conan themes (e.g., skyscrapers, amusement parks, virtual reality devices), I find the classical-music theme to be a little underwhelming. I suspect they’re just reacting to Japan’s Nodame Cantabile-inspired classical-music boom.

The movie starts out with a bang (literally) when two students die and a third is injured in a bombing at a prestigious music academy. This sets the ball rolling on a series of murders, all revolving around students of the school. When Conan is invited to a concert starring a singer with perfect pitch from that very academy, it falls to him to protect her and catch the killer, before the concert can become a stage for tragedy.

What I liked:

  1. The soprano, Akiba Reiko, is an energetic supporting character. The brilliant voice-acting by veteran voice actress Kuwashima Houko almost had me thinking that it was Hirano Aya voicing the character. Reiko is a rare movie-only supporting character in that she basically drives the plot forward. She’s always going around doing something and getting involved with Conan & co. At first she felt like someone very repulsive and I thought she might fall into the typical category of “supporting characters who die because they’re assholes.” But I was wrong – it seems that she is just not very good at expressing herself. Instead, she chooses to shut herself off from others. After repeated pestering from Conan, they had some very good interaction throughout the course of the movie. It almost felt that they shared a special connection, a role that’s usually reserved for Ran. Perhaps the good point of this movie is also a bad point too because Reiko has essentially stolen the main female character spotlight from Ran.
  2. Lots of nice, very technical details on classical music, e.g. grand organ performances. If you’re a fan of classical music and loved Nodame Cantabile, then you’ll appreciate all the performance scenes. Oh yeah, lots of “Amazing Grace” in this movie.

What I disliked:

  1. Flat supporting characters (apart from Reiko), who have names but end up having no plot role. Rather, they become stock character who either just “die” or serve no particular purpose. Sometimes they’d say something or do something, and you’d think to yourself, “Oh here’s a sub-plot!” but the sub-plot ends up not materializing.
  2. The “trick” used by the murderer was extremely boring. Deaths are quickly skimmed past and treated as something of a newspaper report. In previous movies each murder would be carefully scrutinized by Conan, who would find some evidence. Eventually Conan would connect the dots and figure out the murderer’s true intent. That’s lacking in this movie. I feel this is one area that Conan movies are regressing considerably since movie 9 Strategy Above the Depths. This became more obvious in movie 10 The Private Eyes’ Requiem. (I have not seen Jolly Roger, so I cannot comment on that)
  3. Boring culprit/murderer. He lacks that “murderer” atmosphere – too “simple” to be a mass-murderer. This has also been happening for the past few movies too.
  4. There’s no big climax! I was very disappointed in this. Usually there’d be something like something blowing up, placing the lives of hundreds of people in jeopardy. Then it’s up to Conan to prevent a tragedy from happening. Not this time. I mean, people’s lives are in danger this time and there are buildings getting blown up, but the tension was lacking. There weren’t people screaming in horror and clambering for their lives. There’s no climax to display the strong bonds between Shinichi and Ran, which leads up to my next point…
  5. Shinichi and Ran’s “connection” felt EXTREMELY underwhelming in this movie. It felt like a throw in just because they had to do something about it every movie. Ran actually served NO purpose in this movie. It was only minimally related to the case and had no direct consequence to Conan solving the case or averting disaster.
I do not regret seeing this Conan movie because I like seeing Conan movies, but I seriously feel that the movie director and storywriters have lost their edge. Basically everything that has made me enjoy previous Conan movies so much is missing from this movie – contrived murder plot, big explosions, emotional climax. It ended up feeling rather hollow and underwhelming as a Detective Conan movie and it isn’t something in particular I would recommend to non-Conan fans. If you like Conan, then by all means you should watch it. Otherwise, perhaps it’s not quite worth your time. One exception is that people who loved Nodame Cantabile and/or classical music might want to check it out :p

Side note 1: The ending theme of this movie is Tsubasa wo Hirogete by ZARD, which has produced many Detective Conan OP, ED, and movie theme songs (OP4, OP15, OP21, OP22, ED17, ED24, Movie2, Movie9, Movie12). This song is actually the posthumous release of a previously unpublished recording Sakai Izumi made over 10 years ago. Sakai Izumi, ZARD’s vocalist, unfortunately passed away last year from a fall while getting treatment for cancer.

Side note 2: Did you know that Shinichi knows how to play the violin and has perfect pitch? Shinichi has this much to say about his new talents:

Clearly Shinichi learns everything in Hawaii.

Summary:
The good: strong supporting character in Akiba Reiko who steals screentime from Ran
The bad: lack of tense life-and-death moments
The ugly: emotional climax showcasing the connection between Shinichi and Ran non-existent

If you like Detective Conan, you might want to try:
For nice big explosions and exciting action scenes, see Movie 5 Countdown to Heaven
For a great emotional climax between Shinichi and Ran, see Movie 4 Captured in Her Eyes

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Manga Review: X|1999

Friday, November 7th, 2008 Manga Reviews

X|1999
Author: CLAMP, 1992 – 2003
Volumes: 18 (of a potential 21 if ever finished)

The year is 1999, and the millenium is coming to an end.

So is the world.

The seven Dragons of Heaven are the champions of humankind; while the seven Dragons of Earth fight for the planet, for the destruction of mankind to allow the Earth to live. Kamui is the key; he must choose between these two groups. But whatever he chooses, his own world will be torn apart…

X|1999 (X in Japan) is perhaps CLAMP’s most unrelentingly dark series (though Tsubasa’s giving it a run for its money). Most everything in this manga is top-notch – the fight scenes, the plotline and magic, and especially the characters. This entire series is fascinating, but it is not for the squeemish. There is more than a little gore and violence. Still, the art is beautiful; heavy and relentlessly detailed.

The manga isn’t finished, and isn’t likely to be, but it’s beautiful even in its incompletion, rather like cherry blossoms in bloom, but soon to fall.

Shonen-ai Note: Some shonen-ai is present (two pairings in particular) but even these tend towards unhealthy obsession (in the spirit of the manga) rather than actual romance.

Continuity Note: Sequel to Tokyo Babylon and CLAMP School Detectives. Careful, though, because CLAMP School Detectives is as light as X|1999 is dark. (Emotional whiplash, very much.)

Anime Adaptation: Though I’ve never seen them myself, I believe that there are two different anime adaptations: OVAs and a series. I’ve heard mixed reviews, most probably stemming from the fact that the animes had to write thier own endings for the series. Also, I’ve heard that the anime and the OVA have completely different endings. On the other hand, the art seems to have transferred well from the clips I’ve seen, and the action scenes are a bit more dramatic with motion.

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Halloween Fun!

Saturday, October 25th, 2008 Announcements, Events

Halloween is always a blast at CJAS, and this year is no exception!

This Saturday, the 25th, is Masquerave, an annual costume dance party at Risley. A group of cosplayers are going at 10:00pm, and you’re welcome to join us.

Next Friday, Halloween night, is a CJAS karaoke night. Come in costume and sing your heart out! We’ll be in Cascadilla Dorm’s 2nd floor lounge from 8pm until approximately 11pm.

Finally, Saturday, November 1st, is CJAS’s cosplay contest. Come to our regular showing meeting in costume and compete! Prizes are awarded to the top three costumes. Dress up even if you’re not competing!

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Why You Should Come to E-Board (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Meetings)

Friday, October 24th, 2008 CJAS

Every Friday (well almost. We don’t meet during the summer, etc.), an almost important group of people meets in room 158 in Goldwin Smith Hall at 5:00pm for an hour or so.

Who are these people? (Why do they have no lives?)

They are CJAS’s E-board!

E-board (technically, Executive Board) runs the CJAS you have come to know and love (fear). And you know what? You should join them!

Joining E-board gives you the opportunity to submit and vote on future anime series we show during the semester and marathon, lets you offer ideas for events, and allows you the opportunity to shape CJAS.

Well worth an hour of your life once a week, hmm? There are a few restrictions – you have to show up for a certain number of meetings before voting (no stuffing the metaphorical ballot box, please), and you have to be an official CJAS member.

The benefits are obvious, the drawbacks slight, and you get to meet such interesting people!

Come to E-board!

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Cosplay 101: Shaman King Oracle Bell

Friday, October 24th, 2008 Props/Accessories

This is the first in a series of cosplay prop tutorials I will be giving as I progress with my props for costumes. As a note, I try to keep costs down, but if I need to, I will spend the money necessary.

For those of you unsure what I am talking about, please note the below picture.

This is the Oracle Bell from the anime Shaman King. I will be teaching you step by step how to make one from “common” household items. (more…)

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Anime Music

Thursday, October 16th, 2008 Music

I’m starting this article out with a disclaimer: I am not a music major. I cannot play an instrument. I am a tone-deaf civil engineer.

That being said, if I can appreciate the music in anime, then its gotta be good.

While there are some (alright, a lot of) anime shows where the music is forgettable, there is still a large number that are worth watching at least in part because of the music. Why is this? Music for Western TV, and in particular Western cartoons, is rarely worth noticing other than as a cue for emotion. I can only think of one or two Western TV shows where I actually noticed the music for its quality. (In case you were listening, this includes Firefly, which has very good quality music. However, the music is almost entirely supporting. It also includes Cold Case, where the music is very noticeable. For the latter however, the music is pre-existing, taken from whatever time period the episode’s crime took place in).

Gundam SEED

Gundam SEED

And yet anime – a weekly, serialized cartoon show – consistently turns out series with amazing soundtracks. Gundam SEED, Rurouni Kenshin, anything by Yoko Kanno—even people who hate the series will admit that .hack//SIGN has amazing music. An amazing amount of effort is put into the soundtrack of anime shows; it is made to fit the type of show. Gundam SEED’s music, for example, is notably militaristic. Themes are composed for particular characters, for battles, for showdowns, even just for a particular moment. Anime music is also far more likely to have voices in the background music than Western soundtracks. This is especially noticeable in .hack//SIGN, where a good third to a half of the music has vocals.

Finally, and perhaps most interesting, is the theme songs for anime shows. Where Western TV shows tend to either acquire their themes from an already existing song (CSI) or write 30 second or a minute long song byte (Firefly, Psych) for their themes, anime shows have full length songs written for their themes. That means people can listen to the song on the show, and then go enjoy the full version, or vice versa. The themes are also often performed by famous and professional contemporary bands.

All in all, a lot more effort seems to have been put into anime music than is existent in Western entertainment for anything less than a Hollywood blockbuster. This is a pity, since at least part of the reason I’m still watching .hack//SIGN is for the music. Maybe if CSI had some interesting background music, I’d be watching that instead.

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Manga Review: Legal Drug

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008 Manga Reviews

Legal Drug
Author: CLAMP, 2000 – on hiatus
Volumes: 3 (of 15)

If xxxHOLiC is a full-course Japanese meal and Cardcaptors is cake and ice cream, then Legal Drug is a tantalizing appetizer… for the right kind of reader.

Currently unfinished at three volumes, Legal Drug is predominantly episodic, with hints as to the back story of the two main characters. The story follows the Green Drugstore’s two employees, who bear a striking resemblance to the boys of xxxHOLiC. Kazahaya is essentially Watanuki with blond hair, and Rikuo is Domeki with moderately more expression. They tend to fight like cats and dogs (or rather, Kazahaya fights, while Domeki—er, Rikuo—winds him up). But there’s more to the story than meets the eye, and each of the boys has a special ability, which they use when their pre-cognative boss sends them out on “special errands.”

Despite the characters’ resemblance to those of xxxHOLiC, the story is well worth reading for its own merit. In particular, the reasons for the constant conflict between the two characters is different, and what slight information we have about the two’s back story is extremely interesting. Though it’s currently on hiatus until CLAMP finishes xxxHOLiC/Tsubasa, it may not be too long until more volumes become available.

Shonen-ai Note: Much more prevalent than in a lot of CLAMP’s other stuff. Kazahaya and Rikuo have more than a few “moments,” and the drugstore owner and his friend act like a married couple. Make sure you can handle shonen-ai before you read this manga.

Continuity Note: Legal Drug is in the same world as Suki (some of the characters are the same) and xxxHOLiC. At one point, Watanuki from xxxHOLiC enters the store to get a hangover cure. There’s another link, but it’s more fun to find out for yourself.

Anime Adaptation: None.

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