Review: Gundam Build Fighters

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Mobile Suit Gundam and its tie in line of model kits have always marched in lockstep. If the anime gets a cool new giant robot it wasn’t long before you were able to buy a kit and build the model of it. At this point Gundam has been around so long that the models, now being sold under the unified “Gunpla” brand, have taken on a fandom all their own independent from the anime franchise. Gundam Build Fighters is a transparent method to get kids and fans of Gundam anime into the culture of Gunpla and it certainly worked on me: after watching build fighters I’ve spent almost $300 on Gunpla.”

In the world of Gundam Build Fighters a new technology was created that reacts with the plastic in Gunpla and enables a person to control their plastic model with holographic controls. The Plavsky particle changes a flat service into one of a number of battlefields and gives power to the Gunpla’s weapons and propulsion systems. So when the Gunpla battle is occurring it’s no different from when mobile suits fight in the regular show… except in Build Fighters they are made of plastic and four inches tall. These particles have real effect on the world and Gunpla that loses in battle are physically destroyed.

The main protagonist is Sei Iori whose father took second place in the Gunpla Battle world championship five years earlier. Sei is an expert model builder but is horrible at battling. This is illustrated in the first episode when a punk kid who brings his own poorly made model into Sei’s store and is able to defeat Sei’s custom, beautifully built Strike Gundam. The kid wants to fight for Sei in the upcoming world tournament but Sei doesn’t believe that he will treat his Gunpla with enough respect. So there comes on final challenge, if Sei loses to, he has to let him fight for him in the tournament.

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I must destroy that which I love

Honestly, when I started my anime blog and podcast in 2010 I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought I would write about Cartoons, then talk about them on the Podcast. I figured people who liked anime would listen, everyone would get along great. It was extremely quickly that I realized that it wasn’t that simple.

There is an underlying problem in anime fandom: There is so much anime. I’ve written about this a hundred times but I keep coming back to it because it remains a barrier to new fans who attempt to come into the medium. Fans looking for an action show, they get turned off by the fans who watch high school romances. Fans of high school romances quickly get turned off by the people who are obsessed with science fiction. The fans who skirt the line and try to be “anime fans,” fans of the medium at large, are few and far between. I remain one of those fans, I simply watch the things that look interesting to me. I go from Kill la Kill, to Cowboy Bebop, and back to Toradora. I did not expect the in fighting and drama that followed.

The biggest was the complete paranoia of Moe fans who, at the time, were just coming up as the most vocal group in the fandom and many of them fight attacked from anime fans who didn’t like little girl cartoons. There were thousands of words written about how Anime News Network was a biased cesspool that wanted to destroy Moe because they prefer other shows.

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Food Wars: Why can’t anime be accessible?

I decided to watch the first two episodes while on the treadmill in the gym. I thought it would be safe, an anime that I might not be embarrassed to watch in public. But the trend of shocking the audience to grip them with the first episode has entered an exaggerated stage with Food Wars. Only a few minutes into the episode Soma offers a disgusting dish he created, Peanut Butter octopus, to one of his friends. The visual representation the show uses to describe the feeling is the woman girl being raped by tentacles. Almost immediately a show that’s presence should help break into mainstream made itself completely inaccessible. It took minutes.

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Video Game Review: Wonderful 101

Japanese games used to dominate the western market. There was a time when Nintendo, Sega, and later Sony were the only names in mainstream games. As the PS2 and Xbox era matured Western games quickly overshadowed their Eastern counterparts and since then they have not been able to impact the market like they had in the past. In ways, Wonderful 101 is a beautiful reminder of why Japanese games are fantastic and at the same time why they will probably never have the impact in the west that they used too.

 

Wonderful 101 has its roots in a Super Sentai style aesthetic and narrative. A group of normal citizens transform into powerful Super Heroes called the Wonderful 100. Each individual hero has their special powers and weapons but when they come together and unite their powers multiply and lead to more powerful and effective attacks. The game starts you off with “Unite Hand” and “unite sword” but as the game goes on they add whip, hammer, bomb, boomerang, and more. Specific abilities are required throughout the game to defeat monsters and solve puzzles.

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The Problem with Fandom: Cultural Echo Chamber

Culture is a word I haven’t used much when talking about media, which is odd because no better word exists when discussing art and entertainment. We are all consumers of culture. We all give back to culture. Culture is defined by what people choose to consume and what they choose to ignore. It is used to define groups of people who consume a certain type of media that detracts from the mainstream: sub-culture. These are cultures that exist inside the larger cultural body. They are in ways isolated from normal culture but what they consume and create also gives back to the main culture as a whole.

Members of subcultures become blind to the fact that they are part of a subculture. There are a couple of key factors that lead into this kind of thinking. The chief among them is they start spending so much time and energy living in the subculture that they start to believe that everyone else thinks like they do. This happens, especially in the age of the internet, because the deeper they dive into the subculture the more they find and interact with people who think the way they do. This cements them into the subculture, gives them a feeling that they belong, and establishes a world view based around the subculture. Giving people a sense of community is great! But what this breeds is group think; the community becomes an echo chamber because the members of the community are surrounded by the people most likely to agree with them.

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Con-vergence reflection: The Internet Generation

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Charles Dunbar’s Con-vergence panel at Otakon Vegas, in which Charles addresses the issues around why other fandoms seem to be taking over anime conventions. Charles’ conclusion is that anime conventions are more welcoming places, that the anime fandom is just more accepting of other fandoms. Then there is the more bleak side of things, the theory that anime fandom is just a secondary or lesser fandom than some of the more prevalent media represented.

The chief cause of the weakening presence of anime at anime conventions is that anime is a medium, not a genre or a single show. So where a group of ten thousand people may not have that many shows in common, three thousand of them have all seen Doctor Who and the other seven thousand has seen the Marvel film adaptations. So the Iron Man cosplayer is going to have more positive attention than the Lupin cosplayer sitting in the corner. Anime is a unique beast in this respect. Single media conventions, like a Star Trek convention, assume that all attendees share at least a common cannon. Even the old school science fiction conventions were dominated by the mass media properties like Star Trek, Battlestar, and the like. With anime there can be almost zero connection between the forty year old fans drinking in a bar discussing the tape trading days and the fourteen year old girls running around in Hatialia cosplay.

The element that made anime so appealing was that it was an entire world of media waiting to be explored, but that allows individual fans to go off into a million directions. This issue can be visibly seen at conventions. There are people who go to the conventions just to cosplay, play dress up and hang out with their friends. There are people at the same event who want to seek out academic programing in order to learn more about the medium they’ve come to celebrate. The latter is a much larger and younger group, one that may never make the transition to going to panels about anime. So if their friends shift over to dressing up as a non-anime fandom that is where most of the group will go. Anime fandom on the Internet is similar. I can write my essays all I want but the mass of people looking at screen caps and writing fan fiction isn’t going to care.

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Top 5 Anime of 2013

This was a difficult year to nail down a top five list because I’ve been watching less anime, but the anime I have watched has all been excellent. Years where I watched a ton of shows allowed the gems to really stand out, but it is much harder to pick out gems among gems.

I wonder why 2013 was a year I watched only a handful of good shows. Am I becoming a better judge or more careful of what media I consume? Was the gap between excellent show and bad show wider this year with no middle of the road shows to buffer the extremes?

Whatever the reason: We got a lot of good anime this year. Here are five you should definitely check out.

5. Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan has the potential to be one of the biggest anime in a long time, mainly because it constantly remains interesting. Every few episodes it tosses in a twist that reinvents the entire show; twists that lesser shows would run with for season long arcs.

It’s exciting, has good characters, a solid premise, and a great pace that makes me want more almost constantly. More importantly: The anime greatly improves on the art of the Manga.

We still have a long way to go before the end but Attack on Titan is a solid first part of the story and I can’t wait for the next season.

4. Watamote

Billed as a comedy, Watamote is more of an extreme character study of a person with severe social anxiety. We follow Tomoko as she attempts to live a normal high school life but constantly fails and falls deeper and deeper into her shell.

There are some moments of dark comedy in the show but, frankly, anyone who would laugh at most of the show is cruel. It turns into a depressing look at the life of a person who just doesn’t know how to relate to other humans. We’re locked inside Tomoko’s head and forced to go along with her as she deals with and sometimes justifies her isolation.

There is a deeper connection the show makes with anyone who has suffered from social anxiety. Few people in the world are as bad as Tomoko but with her problems being so numerous it serves to cast a wide net and allows for the maximum percent of the audience to relate to at least parts of her problems. I loved the show as a way to dive into these issues but be warned, the second half of the series becomes extremely uncomfortable to sit through.

3. From the New World

Taking place in a post-apoctolyptic world where a much smaller human population has learned to live with psychic powers, From the New World is a compelling narrative that keeps the audience guessing. It features weak characterization, which kept it from claiming the top two spots on the list, but the moral questions the show deals with forces the audience to constantly struggle with that they would do in the character’s situation.

As the narrative develops the characters, who we follow from childhood, they slowly learn how their society works and things that seem horrifying become an understood part of their society as they grow older. This structure makes From the New World into a twenty-five episode long course in relative morality.

It’s an accomplishment that will haunt the audience long after the credits roll on the finale.

2. The Eccentric Family

The first episode of Eccentric Family almost turned me off from the entire show. It features a very slow, expository narrative style that establishes the key characters and setting of the show. After that first episode we’re trust into the world of Eccentric Family where we get to live with the characters and watch them deal with their everyday conflicts. The show tackles issues from the necessity of keeping up appearances to the feeling of living on after a family member has passed.

The Eccentric Family is a triumph because of how much fun spending time with the characters ends up being. I could watch these characters do anything. Combine that with a simple mixture of mystery, conflict bxcetween rival families, Japanese mythology, and an exploration of personal life philosophy and Eccentric Family is an obsolete joy that also deals with some serious life issues.

1. Chihayafuru 2

So maybe I’m cheating a little bit. Maybe I just want more people to watch Chihayafuru. Well, more people should watch Chihayafuru. Season 2 picks up where the first one ended and features more detail on the characters experience going through a Karuta tournament series.

While I think this second season is less of the perfect blend of popular anime tropes that the original exceled at, it digs deep into the core themes it wishes to explore. Chiefly: the difference between individual accomplishment and ability against working in a team. Though this theme we get to see the talents of all our favorite characters explored in depth, we get into the heads of the untouchable Karuta champions, and we see our heroine strive to reach the peak of her ability in two very different competitions.

Chihayafuru 2 is half just more of what was so good about the first season and half going so much deeper into all of the characters while they are in some of the most stressful and intense moments of their lives. Everyone should watch Chihayafuru, if not for the characters or the strange thrill of a Karuta match than just to explore this odd bit of Japanese culture not often touched upon outside of Japan.