Archive for June, 2009

More conventional wisdom

June 30th, 2009

Today’s Cel Shaded was one of those columns that definitely benefits from having Otaku Ohana around to back it up. Before this humble l’il blog existed, I probably would’ve had to significantly lop off whatever was printed to fit in the points I didn’t have room for, completely eliminate some of the points I would’ve wanted to make, or extend the subject over several columns. And given the nature of the biz, there’s no guarantee that I’d have room to continue my thoughts in the next week’s column without another bigger story knocking it out of consideration. (I’ve had that happen far more often than I can count, believe me.)

So let’s continue our discussion here of trends and news to watch for at the big three conventions — Anime Expo, Otakon and Comic-Con International — with the points that I couldn’t fit into Cel Shaded:

Will Hayao Miyazaki’s trip to California be enough to boost mainstream U.S. interest in “Ponyo”? The Oscar-winning director for “Spirited Away,” also beloved for Studio Ghibli creations like “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” has several events planned in advance of his latest movie, “Ponyo,” opening across the U.S. Aug. 14. While the exact date of his Comic-Con visit has yet to be announced, it’s known that he’ll also visit the University of California-Berkeley on July 25 to accept an award and participate in a discussion. He’ll also be at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Academy Awards people) on July 28 in Beverly Hills for a tribute with Pixar’s John Lasseter.

But while the accolades are nice, they have yet to translate into piles of money at the box office. Sure, die-hard anime fans like you and me will see “Ponyo” because it’s a Miyazaki film, and Miyazaki films totally rock. But “Spirited Away” won an Oscar, yet only earned a shade over $10 million over an 11-month U.S. run, according to “Howl’s Moving Castle,” which rode on the coattails of “Spirited Away’s” Oscar-winning success, made only $4.7 million over its four-month run, but at its peak played in fewer screens than “Spirited Away” (202 for “Howl” versus 714 for “Spirited Away”). By contrast, Pixar probably could have released just the flashback sequence of “Up” and made more than those two films combined in a matter of days, if not hours.

Which brings us to “Ponyo.” Disney’s promoting it harder than it has any Studio Ghibli film, sending it to 800 screens nationwide. Miyazaki’s coming to America — he didn’t even do that to collect his Oscar. Lasseter’s always been a fan, bringing into play the “everyone loves Pixar, Lasseter loves Ghibli’s stuff, therefore everyone ought to love Ghibli’s stuff as well” factor. And early reports indicate that “Ponyo” might be one of the most accessible, child-friendly films Miyazaki’s made to date. Any good will and exposure that Miyazaki can bring to “Ponyo” likely will be a bonus.

Who can emerge as strong second-place contenders in the anime and manga industries? It could be argued that last year around this time, ADV was the most visible publisher behind Funimation in the anime industry, and Tokyopop was the most visible behind Viz in the manga industry. Then financial problems hit, and ADV and Tokyopop either lost series to rivals or put decent series on indefinite hiatus. ADV seems to be taking the slow, deliberate approach to recovering its former status in anime, while Tokyopop appears content to continue its transition from leading manga publisher to an all-purpose comic company that uses “manga” as a springboard for comic artists from other parts of the world.

This all means the second-place position in the anime and manga industries is a bit more wide-open than it has been in the past. In anime, Viz, Bandai and perhaps even ADV have a chance to seize that spot … but all of them have something holding them back. While Viz has been savvy in leading the manga industry, the publisher hasn’t done as well in anime, tending to take series that could be popular on DVD — “Honey and Clover,” “NANA” and “Monster” come to mind — and, aside from letting them out to play every once in a while online or on the Funimation Channel, generally sitting on them. Bandai could be a player if their release dates didn’t keep slipping like they have in recent months. And ADV … well, one hopes that the hard lessons learned in the past from overenthusiastic expansion will help them be more responsible in the future.

The manga side is a bit easier to predict, but no less tricky. Del Rey would seem to have the inside track, given that it’s a division of publishing powerhouse Random House and it has a strong stable of continuing series. But Yen Press has a legitimate shot as well, with its monthly Yen Plus anthology providing more exposure for some of its titles and its stable of original English-language manga like Svetlana Chmakova’s “Nightschool” and the James Patterson/NaRae Lee collaboration “Maximum Ride.” And then there’s the Kodansha factor, which I discussed in Cel Shaded.

We’ll see how this all plays out in coming weeks. Enjoy the ride.

Bargain booking

June 25th, 2009

Local bibliophiles know that this week is THE week to search for hidden treasures as the annual Friends of the Library of Hawaii book sale takes up residence at McKinley High School. I finally had a chance to check it out on Wednesday, and while there are certainly bargains to be had no matter what kinds of books you like, this otaku managed to pick up a few cool things during his hunt through the aisles. The highlights, as well as how much I paid for them:

mari iijima

Assorted Mari Iijima CDs ($3 each)

Voice of Lynn Minmay from Macross. Singer. Former Kawaii Kon guest. What more can be said about Mari Iijima … except, perhaps, the fact that I have never run across her CDs out in the wilderness of secondhand retail. (Of course, part of the problem may have been that I’ve never actually actively looked for her CDs there … but anyway.) That is, until Wednesday, when I scooped up her debut album Rose, third album Midori and sixth album Miss Lemon in one fell swoop.

Assorted Maki Ohguro CDs ($3 each)

Unless you’re an ardent student of the contemporary Japanese music scene, you probably have no idea who singer Maki Ohguro is … and up until a few years ago, I would have been among you. And then I learned about a song she did — her first single, if Wikipedia’s to be believed — called “Stop Motion” … which I believe to be the most upbeat, peppy-sounding song I’ve ever heard that includes the following lyrics:

Stop motion, stop emotion
Oh please kill me, atarashii watashi de

umm, yeah. Glad you’re feelin’ so chipper there, Maki.

For the longest time, I’ve had only her greatest hits CD from 1995, BACK BEATs #1. So to pick up two of her other albums, Love and DA DA DA, was a bonus for me.


Blip: The Video Games Magazine ($1)

A Marvel Comics publication, dated April 1983. It’s a safe bet that this will merit its own Otaku Ohana entry in due time. I’m an old-school OG (original gamester) like that.


Assorted manga ($0.25-$0.60)

Okay, so it’s not exactly the rarest stuff to grace my shelves (I await — likely in vain — the day the library system decides to withdraw from its collection its copies of Tezuka’s Adolf to sell at these prices), but hey, most of that stuff fills holes in my collection … except for Ashen Victor, which at 25 cents was more of a curiosity piece for me.  And for those of you who have yet to go to the sale, there are still some Viz first-edition copies of One-Pound Gospel available for cheap. Maybe.


Golf Comikku ($1)

It’s golf! It’s manga! It’s … umm … something that I can’t really read, aside from the fact that it looks like there are several series about golf, golfing tips, and (in this particular issue) pictures and a profile of recent U.S. Open second-place finisher Phil Mickelson! Why I bought it, though, is as a reminder of how diverse and specialized manga can be in Japan, where entire magazines can be devoted to a single topic. Like, say, golf.


Iron Chef: The Official Book ($2)

Because hey, I have to like SOMETHING outside of anime, manga and video games, right?

The book sale runs through Sunday. Happy hunting!

#mangamonday Profile: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei

June 22nd, 2009

#mangamonday is a weekly feature on Twitter in which people plug their favorite manga in 140 characters or less. Of course, we’re writers by nature, so we usually can’t keep our thoughts under 140 characters. Thus, we’ll present our expanded views here. This week’s feature: Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei is one of those series where you look at it and think, “Okay … so what exactly compelled a U.S. publisher to pick up this license again?” Culture-based humor can be incredibly difficult to translate for a foreign audience, and when the manga contains references to female wrestler Kyoko Hamaguchi, the Rakuten Golden Eagles pro baseball team, the feud between sumo wrestling brothers Takanohana and Wakanohana and the 1971 film Throw Away Your Books, Go Out Into the Streets! directed by Shoji Terayama, among many, many, many, many others, the task becomes nigh impossible. The last time I remember seeing cultural references laid on this thick was with the ever-changing chalkboard scribbles in the anime series Pani Poni Dash … which, coincidentally enough, also featured classes full of students with strong individual traits that were taught by rather unorthodox teachers.

Any series featuring an ensemble cast often relies on the strength of its individual characters to carry it; Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei has quite a few memorable ones. Among them are Nozomu Itoshiki, the titular “teacher of despair,” fatalistic and often suicidal; Kafuka Fuura, the girl who sees the positive side of everything, even when there clearly shouldn’t be a positive site to a given situation; Chiri Kitsu, the girl convinced that everything must be in a precise, neat order; Matoi Tsunetsuki, obsessed with stalking her targets of love from afar; and Meru Otonashi, the girl who is quiet in real life but voices her wrath and other unkind thoughts through constant text-messaging. These characters are placed in situations that are rather absurd at times — take, for instance, one chapter in which a man the others refer to as “Commodore Perry” wreaks havoc on the school by going through and opening everything, from books to lockers to gas taps, on the anniversary of his arrival to open Japan to the rest of the world.

Del Rey, much like ADV and its AD Vid-Notes on Pani Poni Dash, has tried to make the experience a bit more accessible through the use of extensive translation notes. Those notes are a big help, even if the net result leaves one flipping between the story and the back of the book with every other page. There’s no denying that this manga takes quite a bit of effort to get through because of this, and not everyone will enjoy it. It’s okay. I won’t think any less of you for thinking that. Slog past the layers of cultural references, though, and what you’ll find is some insight into the wit and wisdom of contemporary Japanese dark satire — great for serious students of the culture.