Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

How we are becoming a Goblin Economy

Saturday, September 8th, 2012 Culture, Other Articles, Video Games

At the outset, let me say that I am not an expert in any of these things. Also, this is a discussion of ideas, not a search for problems nor solutions.

All right, so J. K. Rowling is notorious (at least to me) for bringing up a lot of controversial topics and then proceeding to ignore them completely. (I’m looking at you House Elf Rights Activists!) One of her most interesting ideas was the goblin opinion on ownership. In the book, it is a small matter that acts primarily as a plot device regarding the sword of Gryffindor. Basically, the goblins want it back because they believe that ownership of any object belongs to its creator.

(more…)

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CornellCon 2012 – April 28

Saturday, April 21st, 2012 Announcements, Culture, Events

After not having an event last year, we’re back this year to host a night of all manner of nerdy crap happening on at once, CornellCon. Whether you like Magic the Gathering, trivia, video games, live performances or anything else, we will try to have something to keep you occupied. As seen above, the event will take place in RPCC starting at about 8pm.

Our full schedule of events will be posted at a later date.

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Capcom Booth @ NYCC

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 CJAS, Culture, Reviews, Video Games

As soon as someone entered the southern show floor, they would be greeted with the massive Capcom booth, home to heavily advertised Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 demo stations. While the majority were there to play either the aforementioned UMvC3 or Street Fighter X Tekken, I went to check out two new properties they will release next year: Dragon’s Dogma and Asura’s Wrath.

Taken from http://www.capcom-unity.com/snow_infernus/blog/2011/04/12/captivate_2011:_asuras_wrath

The first up was Asura’s Wrath, a beat-’em-up developed by CyberConnect2 (known for their work on the .hack franchise) for the XBox 360 and PS3. There were two different demos set up at the booth detailing what appeared to be two different boss battles from the game. As I waited in line to play, I examined the two different scenarios, one on the moon, and the other against what appeared to be a large flying beast. My turn finally came; it was time to kick some demigod ass. (more…)

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A Second Glance

Friday, April 24th, 2009 Culture

Anime Characters Don’t Really Look Western

The above video clip was recently posted to the forums. It is an odd music video mini-rant about how people keep saying (and writing, and discussing) how anime characters look Western. She (he?—for ease of discussion, let’s assume it was a she) brings up and refutes the biggest arguements for anime characters being Western, and its worth looking over her shoulder at the original arguments and her reactions.

Big eyes. Apparently the arguement goes, that since anime characters have large eyes, and Westerners have large(r) eyes, anime characters are Western. However, there are a couple problems with this. One point the YouTuber brought up was that Westerners don’t actually have bigger eyes, and to some extent I agree with her. While her juxtaposition of squinty white men next to wide-eyed Japanese girls was a bit anecdotal (men generally have narrower eyes, don’t they? Especially in anime) it is true that the size of Western/Eastern eyes doesn’t differ much, though the shape does. Besides, NO ONE has Fruit Basket sized eyes.

The YouTuber also brought the good point that eyes are big because bigger eyes express emotion better. This is born out by the fact that the biggest eyes occur in the girliest manga, where it is considered strange if the main character isn’t functionally manic-depressive. The more realistic an anime’s art style – Ghost in the Shell, Grave of the Fireflies – the more normal the eye size. Also, large eyes are used for girls and girly manga because our brains are wired to think of large eyes in small faces as cute – it is the same proportions as puppies, kittens, and human children.

Hair color. Anime is known for having absurd hair colors. Since Northeast Asians all have black hair (which they don’t, actually. Shades between red and black are all possible, though the former is unlikely) , anime characters must be Western. WRONG! Even ignoring the fact that Japanese kids often dye their hair kinds of crazy colors, it’s not like Westerns have pink hair either. Also, as the YouTuber points out, hair color and style is often used to help identify characters, especially in shojo manga where most characters are pretty and thus look remarkably similar. Plus, it is also possible to get anime without funky hair colors – Maison Ikkoku comes to mind. The craziest hair is usually connected to fantasy and sci-fi.

Light skin. Now, I’m willing to concede the fact that Northeastern Asians generally have slightly darker skin (though their standards of beauty have them bleaching it while we tan, so it’s all relative) but there’s more than enough variation that seeing a lighter skinned character in an anime doesn’t say much about their race. The YouTuber also brings up the point that pale skin is prized in Japan, and has been so for centuries. Light skin is a sign of beauty.

The YouTuber also give the somewhat related point that the profile of Westerners is very bumpy (eyes, brow ridges, etc.) while Northeast Asians have much smoother profiles with picture evidence. And, since anime characters have smooth edges to their faces, they are clearly Japanese. There is some merit in this, though there are also problems. Anime characters’ faces are probably smooth to make them easier and faster to draw. Also, Western standards of beauty prefer much thinner faces, which means more prominent facial structure.

She also mentions that fact that the Japanese generally find it easier to cosplay and that their idea of beauty, for both men and women, differs significantly from Western standards. In Japan, men are perferred to be slight and a bit delicate, while in the West the ideal is very masculine. Women in Japan’s ideal is the idea of kawaii – very youthful, almost childish, with light skin, while women in American are tanned, busty, and unhealthily thin. Both of these ideals are very obviously bourne out in anime. In the showing this semester, even the “manly characters” (e.g., the King of En, Kamina) are still much prettier and slight than they would be in a Western cartoon.

The YouTuber brings up a few more minor points, but this is the bulk of her argument, and it is a good one. I’ve definitely heard – from my father no less – that anime characters look Western. But, the more you think about it, the less they look Western and the more they look…like anime characters. Nothing more, and nothing less.

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His and Her Romance: The Difference between Male and Female Geared Romance Animes

Friday, March 27th, 2009 Culture

A question I was asked recently got me thinking about the difference between the love anime directed towards boys versus girls. Now, this is by no means exhaustive, but the breakdown seems to be as follows:

Boys: There seem to be two basic types: Harem and otherworldly girlfriend (and sometimes they merge). The harem genre ranges from the blatant (Familiar of Zero, Love Hina), to the mildly plot driven (Tenchi) to the very well hidden (Utawarerumono). Now, there is nothing wrong with harems: I like Tenchi, and there are certainly reverse harems; Ouran High School Host Club is very popular. There are also females-geared animes that have elements of the harem. xxxHOLiC actually fits this, but for the fact that it’s not a romance. (Also, for this to work, the female audience has to identify with the male hero rather than the female love interests, which is a bit hard to pull off, as that mostly means the male hero can’t be hentai at all.)

The other type of boy’s romance is the otherworldly girlfriend. The first one to come to mind is Oh! My Goddess, but many other fit as well, such as Video Girl AI, and parts of Tenchi and even Familiar of Zero fits in a backwards sort of way – it’s a normal male in a magical world.

Girls:  girls’ anime seems on the surface to be both more varied, but it really only has major reoccurring trope. It is the “girl is fish-out-of-water”; or at the very least, something drastic has changed in her environment. There are two (sometimes more, and very occasionally one, but most common is two) boys competing for her affection/attention. Important in this is that she needn’t like both of them; both of them just need to draw her attention. Actually, the less the girl likes a boy at the beginning of the series, the more likely he’s the final love interest. The two boys are often extreme opposites; one is blond/brunette, one has black hair; one is cold and distant, one is very kind (which is often taken to ridiculous levels or is a complete act); one is brand new and one the heroine has known all her life. Not all of these dichotomies exist in every anime, but several generally appear in each one. However, and this is important; both are very protective of her, even if they don’t seem to like her. Also, if either has athletic ability, either both of them do, or the one she finally chooses is better at sports/whatever. In Mars, Tatsuya is good at skateboarding, but Rei races motorcycles; in Marmalade Boy, both boys are good at tennis, but Yuu is better.

It’s interesting that while boy’s anime generally has one (otherworldly girlfriend) or many (harem) girls, girls’ anime has a duality. While each subgenre uses stereotypes (and the very best of all of them have the most realistic characters) in harems, each girl has a different personality on the surface, but all of them are devoted to the boy; he just has to chose which girl he like best. In magical girlfriends, while there is sometimes the girl next door character, more often the only real viable love interest is the magical girlfriend, who is utterly devoted to the boy. The conflict comes more often from making the mechanics of the romance work (e.g., there are time limits on the girl’s magic, the robot’s batteries are running out, in Chobits, the …unfortunate placement of a certain switch), while in a harem it comes from the girls competing with each other.

The girl’s animes certainly have stereotypes, but there is a bit more variety, and the boys are more likely to be nuanced than the girls in a harem: aside from being opposites and protective, the boys can have almost any type of personality and quirks. And the duality setup isn’t unique to anime. Various other stories from other mediums follow this pattern as well. The best example I can come up with off the top of my head is Pride and Prejudice. (Spoilers coming up: if you’ve not read Pride and Prejudice, go get a copy and read it. Now.) The main character, Lizzie, has to choose between Darcy and Wickham. The two of them are complete opposites – Wickham is blond, charming, lighthearted, and a complete bastard. Darcy is dark, cold, stand-offish, and surprisingly noble once he takes the stick out. In the first part of the book, Lizzie prefers Wickham and dislikes Darcy, which of course means that she’ll pick Darcy in the end.

Another difference between quality and generic romances besides the reliance on stereotypes is the focus of the story. The best romances have the plot move the story forward, ala Pride and Prejudice, Much Ado About Nothing, and Red River. In each of these, the plot drives the story and is interesting in its own right, but the focus and point of these stories are the emotions and how the plot sparks and changes the emotions of the characters.

These types of stories are more common in girls’ romances (I’m not biased, no not at all) while boys’ animes seem to be more plot driven, with the emotions of the characters feeding the plot, rather than the other way around.

A side note, because it wouldn’t be one of my posts if I didn’t mention shonen-ai; an odd side thing is that a lot of the non-one shot (i.e. porn) shonen-ai stories have many, many similarities with girls’ romances. This is because they’re written by girls for girls, more or less. Often, the two boys who would be romantic rivals in a romantic shojo manga are each other’s love interest. One theory of why this might be is because the drastic differences of the boys make the story more interesting and more romantic. CLAMP’s shonen-ai pairings are a good example of this. Fai and Kurogane; Watanuki and Domeki, Kazahaya and Rikuo; Yukio and Toya; the first generally lighter – either a spaz, or easygoing, or lighthearted, (more emotional, in other words, though not necessarily the same emotions a girl would have), generally slighter, smaller, and usually blond. The second is taller, dark, if he has a sense of humor it’s a bit sadistic, and very solid. Very much opposites.

Romance is messy indeed.

Once again, this is written with no research and less forethought. If you disagree, write a comment or something.

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The Friendly Neighborhood Otaku – The New Face of Japan

Friday, February 13th, 2009 Japan

Before the 21st century, first impressions of Japanese culture or identity were more likely to be ethnic stereotypes.   Most Japanese were either honor-obsessed, anachronistic samurai-archetypes or extremely shrewd businessmen.   The extent of the country’s influence was thought of as purely economic.  To most Westerners, the Land of the Rising Sun was where sushi (read: California Rolls) and the latest gadgets were born.  Japan’s only real marks on the face of the Western World were Sony Corp. and that messy business back in the 1940s.  Needless to say, quite a few things have changed about the Western perception of the Japanese in the 21st century.  The most remarkable of these changes is the rise of Otaku culture in the International media and its propagation to other First World countries.  Literally, otaku means “neighbor” or “another’s household.”  In its current usage, the word is used to refer to anyone with an obsessive interest in something, anything that can be idolized.  Otaku types range from the Military Nut to the Goth-loli fashionista (a style that focuses on Victoria-style clothing and elegant mannerisms) to the most ubiquitous type: the anime/manga/video-game otaku and its many subtypes.

Historically speaking, the otaku culture represents several turning points for Japan.  First, the country has its latest cultural movement attracting the attention of media and industries alike.  Second, the development of the otaku culture has led its further diversification into sub- or countercultures.  Finally, the otaku culture and its derivatives have proven marketable (to an extent) in international markets, especially the immensely popular anime/manga/video-game following.

The growth of Japan’s latest cultural phenomenon is not to be underestimated, nor should its impact on the entertainment industry.  As early as 1995, series such as Neon Genesis Evangelion went beyond what their predecessors had accomplished in terms of generating a fan community.  Whereas earlier programs such as Uchusenkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato) generated a cult following amongst existing anime fans, Hideaki Anno’s Evangelion was nothing short of a national craze.  It created new fans of what was once “cult” anime and manga, spawned a sea of merchandise, two movies, spin-off videogames, and a fresh wave of doujinshi or “fan-works.”  To this day, the character archetypes in EVA continue to be copied relentlessly, some as a nod to the original work and others as a way to make a quick 100 yen.  None of this was new or unique to the industry, but EVA’s multi-genre appeal made it one of the first series to make an actual impact (excuse the pun) on Japanese pop culture as a whole, not just as another footnote in the annals of Yamato fans.  It is ironic, perhaps, that one of the most marketable series in Japan today features the psychological breakdowns of ¾ of the main cast and a version of the Apocalypse.

The reason for its marketability, however, is clear: Amidst all of EVA’s talk of Freud and free will are very attractive, very troubled, and very pitiable characters whose traumatic, even horrifying roles in the story never detract from the merchandise in their (impressive) likenesses.  The amount of merchandise of the character Ayanami Rei alone is enough to dwarf that of whole series.

This leads me to my next point.  Once created, multi-genre series like EVA and (more recently) Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion tend to spawn their own subcultures after they have made their mark on the face of pop culture.  These derivatives can center on the specific merchandise or spinoffs or cosplay (masquerading as a favorite character), but more likely than not, center around the doujinshi published by the most avid fans.  While the works are not actually part of the series themselves, they are typically produced with the blessing of the company (usually freely given in exchange for a small royalty fee).  The appeal of the doujinshi stems from the amount of freedom the author has.  Many of the works are pornographic in nature, but what separates doujinshi from mere fan-fiction is how they can actually be self-published for a regular audience willing to buy the volumes in print.  The nature of a doujinshi lets the fan be an author as well.  The subculture has grown so huge, that the largest anime and manga convention in the world is also the world’s largest doujinshi market, called Comiket.  Even the industry pokes fun at this with series like Genshiken, which contains a self-portrait for just about every brand of anime otaku imaginable. Lucky Star’s Izumi Konata even plays the role of a female anime otaku, much to the delight of her mostly male audience.  This is serious business in Japan, and the works often have a kind of universal appeal to a wide audience.

It was inevitable, then, that the hottest properties in Japan draw a crowd on this side of the world, right?  After all, didn’t that Miyakazi guy win an Oscar or something? Despite how the Media play it up, anime and manga hold only a niche market in the States.  The following (although very small when compared to Hollywood numbers) is vocal enough to ensure that for every cash-cow franchise like Yu-Gi-Oh! or Naruto that arrives, there follows a Welcome to the NHK or Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Although not as lucrative as it was in Japan, a major series brought here will still garner plenty of cash.

Thanks to the ubiquity of the Internet, the anime and manga otaku culture has spread quickly.  Now, even those with even a passing knowledge of Japan may automatically associate the country with big-eyed school girls as often as they would samurai, sushi, and really useful hybrid cars.  For better or worse, otaku are now a new face of Japan.  Time will tell how the country’s new visage fares on the world stage.

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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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