Anime California Winner – Best Individual Craftsmanship

Alright!  Been a busy few days.  Zenko entered her Miko costume from No Game No Life in the Anime California Masquerade (costume contest).  She won Best Individual Craftsmanship!

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Here is the official description of the costume that Zenko put on the entry form:

Kimono: Made from satin, custom-printed with a design I created in Photoshop to look the most like her kimono pattern in the show.  It is fully-lined with all enclosed seams and brown velvet ribbon trim.  The sleeves hang open via a hinged construction made from belts and attached to a modified purchased bustier.  The body portion of the kimono also attaches to the bustier with velcro.  The floating ribbon is plastic boning enclosed in the velvet ribbon.  The suzu bell is an authentic bell from a Japanese shrine (purchased on Ebay).  The pleated skirt was purchased. ~56 hours to complete.

Tail Fur: The fur itself is hand-made from acrylic yarn, combining 4 colors of orange and 3 colors of blue.  To make each of the ~1500 individual wefts of fur, the yarn was measured, cut, tied together, unraveled, straightened, brushed out, and straightened again.  These were then tied onto a mesh “sock,” which was dyed brown.  The left-over fur brushed out from these wefts was then re-brushed into tufts.  The tufts were then melted on one edge to seal them, and then hand-sewn into the mesh sock to create the under-fur layer.  My husband helped unravel and brush out a few of the wefts (amounting to probably less than 5%).  ~260 hours to complete.

Tail Structure: The tail structure is fully collapsible for easy travel!  The structure is made from spring steel taken from several pop-up hampers purchased from Walmart.  Each spring steel ring is enclosed in bias-tape and sewn together at only key points.  The other connecting points are attached with snaps so that it can be disassembled and folded down when necessary.  The tail fur sock slips over this structure.  ~24 hours to complete.

Tail Harness: For each tail, the tail structure rests on a cushion to give it volume and avoid any one point of stress on the structure as it attaches to the harness.  This cushion itself is attached to a large plastic plate with a slip-cover that has sleeves for the harness to fit into.  The harness is comprised of a garden tool rack from a hardware store with a small metal plate to fit the belt.  From there, the tool rack is then bolted onto the plastic portion of construction-type kneepads, which rest on the kneepad foam.  The main belt is a purchased webbing tool belt.  The additional custom webbing belts replace the kneepad straps and give extra support.  The harness attaches to me through slits in the kimono.  ~7 hours to complete.

Ears: The ears are made from leather, formed after soaking in water.  The interior is spray-painted white.  The outer fur comes from some of the wefts made for the tail, which were then glued and trimmed to fit the ears.  The inside fluff is by the same technique as the under-fur.  The ears attach to the wig with a bobby-pin and giant snap that connect to a plastic card (that hair ties come on) on the inside of the wig.  ~14 hours to complete.

Wig: The wig was purchased and trimmed by me.  The blue addition at the end of the ponytail is another purchased wig deconstructed and glued over a Styrofoam ball, which ties onto the orange wig via yarn ties hooked on in the back with bobby-pins.

Hair Ornament: Ribbon tied into a bow and attached to a paper-covered chopstick adorned with beads.  The bell and paper cards hang from this.

Accessories: The pince-nez monocle is a vintage piece from Etsy.  The whiskers are stripped feathers attached with eyelash glue.  The geta sandals were purchased.

Overall total hours to complete: ~375

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Cosplay Update – Miko (No Game No Life)

EDIT:  This costume is already complete and won a best individual craftsmanship award.

Alright!  Zenko’s 90% done with her Miko cosplay from No Game No Life.  So far, she’s approaching 350 hours spent on this.  The tails are painstakingly made by hand – she had to make the fur.  They are fully collapsible and have great movement.  Not long to go until Anime California!

If you want to see more about this project, visit our Instagram or our Facebook page!

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Very Good

This is what I had hoped Kantai Collection would be like.  It’s quite similar in concept – girls are the personification of a particular ship of war.  The glaring difference between the two is that this is stronger in every way.  It has a much more serious tone and they actually depict the ship of war itself.  This makes for some really interesting naval battles.  I am a fan of naval combat (or battles, in general… I just realized I sound like a certain Major and his war speech…).  This is a notable anime both for its characters and its action sequences.

Purpose: Very Good.  This is primarily an action-focused anime with a strong amount of character development.  The overall goal for the characters isn’t very lofty and this anime doesn’t really break ground in where it goes, but what it does, it does quite well.  Much of the anime is actually pretty limited in scope to the action and events surrounding the main characters.  Interestingly, the focus shifts to the Fog, the story’s enemies.  Actually, it’s as if the camera is following the “main characters” but the story is about everyone else.

On a broader note, the anime is initially action-focused.  However, the action focus slowly gives way to a character drama.  The character drama adds a great deal of intensity to what’s going on and helps put an extremely interesting spin on the finale.

Characters: Very Good.  The character development was very different from what you’d expect.  Actually, our main cast was relatively flat and un-developed.  The main development came from the Fog, the enemies in the series.  The Fog, being ships of war, make a very interesting and continuous journey as characters.  Essentially, they’re built from scratch.  Once they are distinctive enough characters, the focus then becomes how they interact with each other.  Several characters’ development is extremely subtle and difficult to recognize how the characters have developed, except when directly brought to our attention.

World: Good.  Not a whole lot is explained, but it isn’t really necessary for the story.  By that I mean that it would be really interesting to know all the ins and outs of the world, but it would probably be distracting from what they were trying to do.   As it was, we got to learn enough about the world through the characters interacting with it.  That created a very interesting dynamic between the viewer and the anime.  Everyone else seemed to know what was going on, so the viewer was treated almost like an outside observer.  Then again, this anime wasn’t so complicated that things really needed to be explained.

For the specifics, we don’t know much about the threat facing the world, where they came from, what they are, and why they act.  We don’t know how the societies developed apart from each other.  We don’t know a great many other things.  Not to say that it detracted from the anime, just that what we learned about the world did a sufficient job, but had a much greater potential to grow.

Plot: Good.  The plot is also relatively uncomplicated.  Generally, it was “defeat the enemy.”  That’s perhaps putting it too plainly.  The enemies have to be defeated within the context of some other goal going on.  Thus, their defeat is merely incidental to the main plot.  However, the plot itself shifts focus from world events to character events.  What essentially happens is that we get a very generic overall plot of “deliver the item,” which effectively stalls it out.  Then, in its place, we get the character plots that involve a great deal of inner and relational conflict.  In other words, characters have difficult decisions created by their own turmoil and their relationship to other characters.

Storytelling: Very Good.  There are two main areas affected by the storytelling – the battles and the character development.  For the battles, they were done in a very skillful manner.  Many of the battles had a great deal of cleverness to them.   The cleverness added to the tension by making it a battle of wits, rather than firepower.

The storytelling involving the characters was also quite skillful.  Many of the character developments were quite subtle.  Based on the character development, they managed to build some really excellent character scenes.  The stand-out would have to be the main antagonist of the show.  The way her story is told makes for a really poignant finale.

Pace: Good.  The pacing was solid throughout.  There were some areas that hiccupped slightly, making it feel slower.  For the most part, the action sequences had a pretty strong pacing, which helped keep the tension moving throughout.

Free Spirit Award

krystallina of Daiyamanga kindly nominated me for the Free Spirit Award.  

The Rule:

The only rule for this award is that you have to write a post about whatever topic the person who nominated you gave.

The topic I’m to write about: Karma.  

Honestly, the first thing I always think about when “karma” is mentioned is this song:

That aside, I’ve encountered and discussed the concept of karma in the context of one of my undergraduate majors.  It’s a fairly interesting concept as an idea.  I’ll go into it in broad terms.

There are several different ways of thinking about karma, but many focus on the effects pre-death and post-death.  Pre-death karma is more like a cosmic cause and effect – you do good, good happens to you (happiness happens) and vice-versa.  Post death karma can extend to your future lives on rebirth or even affect your “status” of rebirth.

It’s never really clear of the full impact of karma.  For example, you do a good deed, you feel good – that’s an example of immediate karma.  But no one really knows that act’s impact on the immediate future or future lives.  That’s why some schools of thought seek to “act without acting” – act in a karmically neutral way.

There are a variety of criticisms of karma that are also thrown at various religions.  I won’t bother to cover them here.  The problem I will address is the knowledge of karma itself.  Since karma is affected by act + intention (generally) then knowledge of karma may skew the intention.  For example, if you act to avoid karmic punishment or in light of karmic reward, it’s a selfish motive.  That would then have some impact on the karmic outcome of the action.  This is very similar to the psychological challenge to altruism – can someone really act with pure altruism?  They posit that helping someone and feeling good is a selfish motive – you act because you feel good in exchange.  The theory goes that this negates the “altruistic” intent.

All told, that’s a really fancy and unnecessarily complicated way of saying, “I really hope karma doesn’t exist, or I’ll be in a bad sort of way.”

My Nominees:

I like picking blogs I follow that don’t seem to have done this award too many times. Your mission, should you choose to accept it,  is to describe what anime means to you.  This can be anything from how it affected you, to life choices, to how much fun it is.  Those are just some starter examples – feel free to take it wherever you want it.

AikaFlip

The Anime Analyst

Otaku Gamer Zone

twosensei

Mistakes Cheerio for Chesto

Magi – Kingdom of Magic (Season 2)

Weak

Now to be fair, if this anime were to be evaluated on its own, it would probably be Good, if not Very Good.  Honestly, this season had the tone and feel that I expected from the first season and, had they just chosen just one tone and stuck with it, it would have been fine.  Unfortunately, this anime isn’t a standalone – it is a continuation from the first season.  As a continuation it is Weak.  The problem is that they decided to change what kind of anime this was mid-stream.  This resulted in something of a disappointment, especially in light of how good the first season was.

Purpose: Poor.  The main problem is that it’s clear that the author changed what he wanted to do with the anime.  It changed from an intense character drama to a fairly standard action anime.  In order to effectuate this change, the first handful of episodes were dedicated to stalling out the momentum that built in the first series.  Essentially, the first handful of episodes worked like OVAs.  What they did was convert our characters’ personality growth and development into physical strength development.  After those episodes, the anime basically re-started itself in a different course by following Aladdin to magic academy.  Once there, it started building into a fairly solid action anime.  Make no mistake, eventually, there was some pretty cool stuff going on.  One last problem is that it tried to return to its season 1 roots in the last half of the last episode, with some fairly strong character drama.

Characters: Poor.  Since our “main” characters had their development stalled and were effectively out of the story, they needed to create some new “main” characters.  The new “mains” were really fairly under-developed throughout and ended up being fairly incidental for the large part of the story.  Amusingly, one character mirrors the same sort of journey made by the season 1 main character, although to a much weaker effect.

A large part of the problem is that the story follows the most weakly developed character, Aladdin.  In other words, it changed main characters in this season as well.  The reason this is a problem is because it is at odds with Aladdin’s place in the world, as described in the first season.  Even so, we see no real personality development from him throughout the anime.  Yet another problem is that they tried to bring some moral ambiguity into the equation that clearly had very little impact.  Sure, it had impact for the viewer and for another character, but it represented little more than a physical threat, rather than a challenge to Aladdin’s character.

World: Good.  While not as strong, they still managed to pull off some very interesting things.  Unfortunately, most of the stuff that had the most potential, more in line with Season 1, was barely touched on and, ultimately, ignored.  We got very little world development other than the magic academy and the little bits of scattered information about the areas our Season 1 heroes were journeying in.

The strongest aspect of the world was its occasional dabbling in the gray morality of certain issues.  This was brought to light through a couple of characters.  Dabbled is certainly the right word because they were set up as rather basic villains or antagonists that were later developed. Part of the strength of Season 1 was that it tied emotion to the struggle through our main characters.  Without that tie-in the “moral dilemma” became rather academic in nature, since it had really nothing to do with our main characters, other than something to be stopped. It was always presented in a way that made it clear they were bad or wrong, which rather dismissed the quality of their decisions.    As an aside, since these characters weren’t main characters or supporting characters, their place is in World, rather than Characters.

Plot: Weak. This anime continues in the tradition of artificially de-fanging our (previous) main characters.  In this case, 2 are sent off on training or discovery journeys, while the third is limited in power.  Sure, it got them out of the way, only to re-emerge at a time convenient to the plot.  The main problem with the plot is that it was trying to rebuild after a change in direction.  Much of the plot was absorbed with explaining and learning.  This presented a huge problem because it prevented forward momentum. In fact, the plot had a very, very short trajectory.

Storytelling: Good.  They did a good job of building some scenes so that they had the appropriate emotional impact.  They did a fine job of reversing the course and building up the action.  However, it was never particularly strong, which is partly the Plot‘s fault.  Since they didn’t have very far to go, they had to spend a lot of time horizontally – not moving the story forward.

Pace: Poor.  This was bound to happen when you halt momentum gained from a previous season.  The problem was that the pacing was crippled by the change.   Unfortunately, this robbed many scenes of their appropriate impact because the development couldn’t reasonably be accomplished from a dead stop.  It took a while to get going again, and still longer to match the quick pacing that an action anime requires.  Once they did, it was a pretty strong pace.  To give some perspective, it took roughly 18 episodes to accomplish this.

Magi – Labyrinth of Magic (Season 1)

Excellent

This anime was slightly misleading, though I’m not really complaining.  At first blush, it seems like a rather campy, fun action-adventure anime.  It turns out that it’s really an intense character drama with some action components.  While the action is cool and interesting, it’s ultimately somewhat weaker when the anime focuses on it.

Purpose: Very Good.  The anime is oddly middle-loaded.  The beginning and ending “arcs” are weaker in comparison.  This means that the real powerful climax hits a little bit early, leaving room for another arc behind it.  It seems to have gotten a little absorbed in the fighting nearer to the end and only superficially developed characters.  In other words, it altered course from an intense character drama to focus a little more on the action side.  That aside, this anime deals with some pretty lofty concepts, including human slavery, national affairs, and a little bit of economics, to name a few.  That’s not to say they get in the way – they do set the stage for threats that are different from what you’d normally encounter in anime.

Characters: Masterpiece.  The main characters get their turn with development.  The main two characters are pretty exceptional examples of fully developed characters.  They have many different internal forces weighing in on their decisions.  They have a believable “pull” in different directions.  They are affected by their strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws.  The characters struggle to find their own answer to the problem, rather than being fed one because the plot demands it.  On a side note, many characters, including many villains, get a good bit of depth to them too.  They get more complex motives and reasons for doing what they’re doing.

In the last arc, the main character development essentially stops.  Instead, they start to develop some side characters.  In part, this is done to show us how far the main character has come.  The side characters are somewhat interesting in their own right, but they don’t go too far into those characters’ backstory or really explore their motives, goals, etc.

World: Excellent.  A fascinating world, to be sure.  The world has a great deal of consistency in both action and reaction.  Aside from our heroes, there are a great many different moving parts, lending to the feeling that our heroes are a smaller part of a bigger world.  But what is interesting is how even the magical elements fit perfectly.  They are made so that they are included in the world instead of having a “tacked on” feel to them.  By that I mean that magic has its own rules and acts in a consistent fashion.

The theme of the world is really interesting.  This story spans a from Middle-Eastern setting,  to Steppes (probably Turkey-ish), to a coastal trade hub, with dealings from a Far East nation.  Each has a distinct feel to it – everything from the dress to the food, to how the people act are different.  Setting aside, the magical elements put an interesting extra element into the world – the dungeons.  They are a unique and odd place, very different from anything else.

Plot: Good.  The overall plot is Very Good, however, however, they use certain parts of the plot in ways that ended up weakening it.  Part of the problem is that you have exceptionally powerful characters that would probably easily overcome certain challenges.  Thus, in a handful of occasions, they use the plot to artificially de-claw those characters, limiting their involvement for the time being.  While it’s not necessarily a bad thing since it allows the appropriate characters to actually face a challenge, it ends up feeling somewhat contrived.

With that aside, the character-focused plot points are many and varied.  Each point represents a rather solid step towards the resolution.  What is interesting is that the plot moving forward represents more of a factor or force of influence on a character.  This ended up creating a powerful story because there was ever greater weight placed on the characters when making their decisions.

Storytelling: Excellent.  The anime really shined in how it was delivering information.  Lots of character development happened through flashback, albeit to information the viewer hadn’t experienced yet.   Part of the interesting thing of flashback storytelling is that it accomplishes forward progress by explaining the characters behind it.  They would slowly reveal bits and pieces as the story moved forwards.  Those pieces helped explain reasoning behind certain actions by giving insight into the forces that made the characters act as they did.

Other interesting aspects of the storytelling included their handling of some important conversions.  While generally in the context of a fight, these scenes were handled in a very strong fashion so that they also felt like it was a fight.   It wasn’t really physical, but left the impression that characters, ideas, even beliefs were clashing with each other.  That served to provide both the proper stage and attention to make the character drama extremely powerful.

Pace: Very Good.  Generally strong throughout.  It does shift gears on the second and final story arcs.  Those are by far the slowest part of the anime, but they aren’t really slow enough to be a problem.

Varied Villany – What Makes the Bad Man Tick?

When you set out to determine what a villain is, you’ll inevitably hit on the “classic villain” – one who is the nemesis of the hero, representing evil to combat the hero’s good.  The villain is resoundingly evil or bad or wrong, or dastardly, or any of another dozen or so words.  The problem in defining villainy based purely on bad traits is that it tends to dilute the meaning of a villain.  In doing so, many authors have, perhaps knowingly, or not, caricatured villains into something laughable, easily dismissable.  Rarely, will you find yourself intrigued or fascinated by these, to borrow a term, “bargain-bin Nazis.”  No, a real villain is something more than just an evil character, a “bad guy.” They are full characters in their own right with ambitions, personalities, challenges, and goals.  They are the hero of their own story.

Before we go much further, we have to distinguish a villain from another type of character, an antagonist.  These two are often mistaken for each other and the terms are used interchangeably in a frustratingly imprecise way.  An antagonist is a character defined entirely by his relationship to the hero.  Without the hero, the antagonist doesn’t really have a place in the story.  These characters oppose the hero in some way, either his ideals, goals, or personality.  Antagonists are actually plot devices rather than independent characters.  They are effectively speed bumps on the hero’s path – they exist to provide a challenge the hero has to overcome.  Many authors expand the scope and scale of an antagonist to use as their “big bad guy,” mistaking it for a villain.  The best examples of antagonists can be found in comic book so-called “villains.”

Villains are more than antagonists.  A villain will act whether the hero is there or not because he is a character on his own, rather than a foil for the hero.  These characters are trying to accomplish something, that must be stopped.  Actually, if you look at a story from a villain’s perspective, the hero is the antagonist.  In a broad sense, the villain is acting against the world, to reshape it or change it in some way that is undesirable to the hero.  In contrast with antagonists, villains are characters in their own right and are subject to the same kinds of development as normal characters.

Of course, there are a great many different kinds of villain, some better than others.  Some are klutzy, some are pure evil, some are misguided, while others are just pests.  But what makes these villains tick?  There are three different broad categories of villains that are broken down by the same “dimensional” model that applies to characters.

One-dimensional villains are extremely shallow.  You can usually sum up these characters with one negative adjective.  These are the “bargain-bin Nazis.”  These characters are usually the personification of one negative trait driven to the extreme.  They are usually one of the 7 deadly sins – wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, or gluttony.  The development of these characters is strictly limited to increasing the scope of their evil acts and magnifying the negative traits they possess.  These villains act solely for the goal of being more evil – it’s an end rather than a means.  At this point, the villain is nothing more than an idea that the hero must stop because it is evil. In many ways, these are exceptionally lazy villains because they require little thought to use.  Just add water and *poof* insta-villain.  The problem is that these villains are often so weak, they are so very close to, and can easily be indistinguishable from, antagonists.  Of course, the hero has to oppose evil, so by its nature, the evil has to oppose the hero.  This doesn’t make them poor villains, just limits their role in a story.

Two-dimensional villains have a little bit of depth to them.  These are more like cardboard cutouts.  In contrast to the one-dimensional villains, these have thoughts  and feelings that are not something to the effect of “how can I commit still more evil?”  These villains are still generally evil, but have more complex (at least two or more) motives that help drive the character.  Two dimensional villains may feel for their comrades or have a sense of honor or duty – something that may conflict with their obviously evil goal.  Even so, they are still undeniably evil.  The best way to think about these guys is that they are either a more nuanced use of the 7 deadly sins, or combine several different ones in addition to one or more positive traits.  What this does is give the impression of character depth because it represents different forces pulling the character in different directions.  We still know that evil will win out with these guys – they are evil, after all.

Three-dimensional villains are very nuanced.  They break away from directly representing the 7 deadly sins and take on the feeling of a flawed character.  These villains can often be sympathetic because they can be perceived as reasonable.  The key to the best villains is this reasonable quality.  What is fascinating about these characters is that it almost engages the viewer in a dialogue – we can understand how and why the villain made those choices, but we disagree with them.  Perhaps the character had flawed judgment or a flawed character or made bad decisions or is so well thought-out such that he’s not wrong, just going about it in a wrong way.  They have feelings and character flaws.  Most importantly, they learn.  They change and grow and develop as characters, not solely in evil ways.  They can have many positive traits and even do positive things.  For these villains, doing bad things isn’t their goal, but it is one means of accomplishing what they want to do.

The funny thing about villains is that many authors and anime often malign them – they don’t do villains justice (pun intended).  A well done villain represents a genuine threat to a hero, not because he could blow up the world or kill millions of people, but because he has the possibility of persuading you, the viewer, to feel something for him.  When done well, they are an extremely powerful character that can challenge and test the very core of our hero’s beliefs, thoughts, and actions.

(Update: Thank you @rogueyoukai for your excellent point.)  With all that in mind, just because a villain is one or two-dimensional, doesn’t mean they’re not good villains.  They certainly can have a very powerful place in the right kind of story.  Not every story needs a villain.  For that matter, not every story that needs a villain needs a three-dimensional villain.  The wrong kind of villain can change the impact of a story;  if the villain is too well done, he could even end up stealing the spotlight.  Conversely, a villain that’s too weakly done doesn’t even really present a threat or challenge to a hero.  The right kind of villain in a story makes him almost the ultimate supporting character because he sets the stage to highlight our hero’s best traits.  He makes a hero the hero.  For a villain to pull that off, it requires a careful selection of a villain that’s fits the story.

As you can tell, I appreciate a good villain because I love to see how they make other characters respond.

KanColle

Poor

KanColle is another anime that follows the recent trend of making weapons of war “moe.”  In this case, Kantai Collection is based upon a free-to-play online game.  The basic premise is that these girls have the soul of a warship.  I found it difficult to watch more than two episodes at a stretch because it made me want to play World of Warships instead.  This show is probably of a very limited appeal.  If rather uncomplicated “moe” is your thing, with little bits of action and drama thrown in, then this’d be for you.

Purpose:  Poor.  What were they doing?  At its very basic level, it’s either an advertisement for the game or more of a fan-service aimed at fans of the game.  I’m leaning towards latter.  The overall feel is something to the effect of, “hey, watch the girls/ships you’ve already gotten to know playing around!”  They throw in many concepts and situations that are clearly from the game, but, without that context, are pretty meaningless.  I’m not arguing that they failed at their purpose, quite the opposite.  The premise itself is weak.  What is odd is that they do manage to create some dramatic sequences and have bits of darker drama hinted at in there.

Characters: Not Really Good.  There are quite a bit of characters to keep track of.  Unfortunately, it really only limits them to occasional cameos.  The characters themselves are fairly nonexistent, more like very one-dimensional set-pieces.  If you think of the “one-gag character,” the character that you know for a singular response or way of acting to everything, that’s just about each and every character in the anime.  There are little bits of character development for the main character that ends fairly quickly.  Similarly, there are glimmerings of potential behind other characters that only show up for a moment near the end.

World: Bad.  The problem is that it’s not a standalone world.  It requires a familiarity with the concepts in the game.  They don’t really explain anything at all.  Even if you accept the basic premise of girls as warships and even if you accept the basic purpose of fighting an undescribed enemy, it still doesn’t amount to much.

Storytelling: Not Really Good.  It’s not necessarily the storytelling’s fault here.  When there isn’t much more than scraps of a plot, you can’t really tell the story.  That said, they did a fine job when there was a definite story to tell.  They made some good emotional moments and occasionally conveyed a sense of danger for the girls.  That aside, much of the storytelling was absorbed in random frivolities.

Plot: Poor.  What plot?  There was a vague overall purpose – defeat the enemy.  That aside, the plot was shattered into more episodic arcs – one or two at a time.  Most of the plots can be described as “here, watch these girls be silly.”   When it did have plot, usually involving naval combat of some sort, it was quite empty.  Rather, there were more holes than plot.  Things just happened.  It was done in such a way that there was no appropriate buildup or trajectory, really nothing to indicate that the events were happening for any reason other than just because.  The result is that it seems like the situations were thrown in at points to create situations, rather than situations naturally evolving based on previous events and the world acting.

Pace: Weak. Surprisingly slow, both for its “moe” moments and its action sequences. Pacing was broken up in odd ways that ended up tipping over itself.  It really gave it a stop-start feel that ended up looking like an obnoxiously played game of red-light green-light.

Pacing – The Unsung Hero of Storytelling

You’ll often hear things like, “man, that was slow” or “it took a while to get into.”  Pacing is something that is often invisible if done well, but extremely obvious when it goes wrong.  Sadly, pacing is only touched upon in western disciplines.  Often, it’s considered merely a part of storytelling, but only as something to keep in mind.  It really is only somewhat a discipline within the context of film editing, for example.  Even then, it’s done as something that “looks right” or “feels right.”  It’s a blend of patterning and intuition.  Japan is a little bit different.

But what is pacing?  Pacing is the art of regulating the speed and quantity of information that is presented to the viewer.  It usually develops into a rhythm, almost like the “heartbeat” of a work. If you think about it objectively, certain works will be “faster” or “slower” paced, overall.  However, variation from the internal rhythm, either speeding up or slowing down, will affect the viewer in different ways.  The thing is, pacing is extremely fluid, ever-changing.  Think about the pace like a stream or river – it is overall pretty consistent, but can change based on the various contours.  The pacing is like the contour of the river that makes the water flow faster or slower.  

Pacing’s internal rhythm is something that is works-specific and highly varied.  Different kinds of works, even different kinds of stories, plots, and even scenes require different pacing to be effective.  Something that works for a light novel or manga may not work for a game or an anime.  When converting one medium into another, pacing becomes particularly important because you often have to make difficult decisions what to use or what to omit.  For example, is it better to start with a 5-minute flashback to quickly lay the groundwork for the next scene or do we space out the flashbacks over 9 episodes, so the viewer slowly builds to the 10th episode?  It depends.  How long do we linger, building the framework for a particular plot point?  If we spend 5 minutes vs 15, can we make the scene have the appropriate impact?  For that matter, if we do go for 5 minutes, how do we present it in a way that has the most impact?  Are we going to condense an entire plot arc to 15 minutes?  If so, how and what do we omit? It’s constant and delicate balancing act, divvying up the allotted time.

In Japan, they have effectively codified a powerful pace, calling it 序破急 (Jo-ha-kyū).  If you were to translate it, it generally means “prelude, climax, rapid resolution.” Jo-ha-kyū means a constant steady build into an explosion of action or intensity that ends quickly.  The most interesting thing about this pacing scheme is that it applies to everything internal to the work as well as overall.  In other words, it’s both the overall “heartbeat” and the internal variations to pace within the storytelling ideally follow this pace.  It’s at its most extreme in Noh plays, where it dictates the pace of each act of the play, each scene, each dialogue, and even each hand motion.  It is very difficult to explain it in the abstract.  However, the best way to think about Jo-ha-kyū is to think of it like waves at the beach.  You’ll have the basic ebb and flow of waves, with each wave getting a little bit higher, until a larger wave breaks.   You can also think about Jo-ha-kyū like a fractal.

Anime is well suited to this kind of pace because, like Noh, everything is scripted.  Everything in anime has to be placed there intentionally – it normally won’t be there unless you draw it in.  To illustrate, you have the overall story, spanning 12, 24, or more episodes.  You further break down those episodes into plot arcs of several episodes.  Then you break plot arcs down into individual episodes.  The episodes then are broken down into scenes, and so on.  Under ideal circumstances, each of the elements described would have Jo-ha-kyū applied to it, creating a powerful, ever-growing force.  Once the overall “heartbeat” is established, an excellent director can create some immensely powerful scenes by manipulating the anime’s pace to work at odds with the pace the audience is at.  If you’ve watched Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance, the scene with the dummy system is a stellar example of this.  The pace was modulated to be at odds in such a way that it created a feeling of extreme wrongness and even horror. Unfortunately, not all directors are classically trained, and their level of skill with this varies.

I’ve been talking about what pacing is, structurally, but what does it do?  It’s responsible for modulating the mood and feelings of the viewer.  Think back to times when you’ve watched a scene that you know was supposed to be sad, but you felt nothing.  Conversely, think about a scene that you know is supposed to be exciting, but you felt, “meh.”  Improper pacing will sap those scenes vitality and strength, making it far weaker than it should have been. Without the proper pacing, scenes won’t build properly and lose their impact as a consequence.  That’s why Jo-ha-kyū is an extremely powerful, if not ideal, pacing format.  Part of what makes it so strong is that it creates seamless movement between elements, especially plot points.   Perhaps its strongest point is to present everything in an optimized way so that the viewer isn’t exhausted.

One of the problems with intensity is that it tends to numb people if it isn’t used properly. If there’s constant hyper-violence without rest, people become desensitized to it.  Similarly, if something is tragic, or even really happy, it will lose impact if dragged out.  What Jo-ha-kyū does is twofold.  First, if you’re following it closely, you will keep the climax and resolution short.  This actually increases the impact because it’s very pointed, literally and figuratively.  Dragged out climaxes are extremely mood-killing (3 episode power-ups anyone?)  Second, it allows for a break between each element – the prelude phase of the next element.  A fantastic example of Jo-ha-kyū in action is Grave of the Fireflies.  What makes it so exceptionally depressing is it follows this pattern very closely.  Thus, the viewer’s emotions are “reset” to a certain extent after each “act”, which paves the way for ever greater tragedy.

Make no mistake, Jo-ha-kyū is only one way of using pacing.  There are probably as many effective, yet different uses of pacing as directors and editors.  It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many other elements of storytelling that work together to make something great.  Just remember, if you don’t really notice the pacing of an anime, it’s doing its part – an extremely important part.

Why I Refuse to Watch a Series Over 100 Episodes

I was looking back through my anime list adding episode counts (yes, yes, I’m a riot at parties.  I know.)  I realized that roughly 2/5 of my entire anime watching hobby was consumed by series that broke 100 episodes.  Naruto Shippuden (@350), Bleach (@301), Dragon Ball Z + GT (291+64), Naruto (220), Inuyasha (167), Dragonball (153),  Zatch Bell (150), One Piece (@150) Yuyu Hakusho (112), Slayers series (104).   An astounding amount of episodes to be sure.  That’s roughly 83 24-episode series or 167 12-episode series.  When I think about it that way, it’s an odd sort of feeling, though, somewhere in between regret and nostalgia.  I can’t help but think, “how many new worlds and new ideas did I not get to explore because I was wading through those?”

It’s not to say that the series themselves are necessarily bad.  At the time, I absolutely loved them.  Even now, I don’t exactly regret watching them because when I watched them, they seemed absolutely amazing.  It’s just in retrospect, that was a huge time investment.  I can’t say for sure, but part of the allure of these big-name long series seems to be that they don’t end.  The characters you’ve gotten to know have new adventures and challenges and have fun in different ways.  But for me now, that’s the problem.  It feels more like a sitcom rather than the anime I fell in love with.  They keep going forward on the weight of their own momentum, becoming essentially formulaic in execution.

I can actually remember my breaking point – the point where my attitude towards those anime irrevocably became tainted.  It was Bleach that did it.  I was fine with the random Bount Arc.. and I think there was another random filler arc somewhere after that.  But right in the middle of the action… right where things got really, really good, it jarringly substituted yet another filler arc.  I was so confused, thinking I had skipped an entire season.  “Where was the end of that awesome arc?,” I angrily thought as I searched in vain.  In a rare jaunt onto forums, I finally learned the truth – the manga had run out and the anime was just treading water until it caught up.  That was the beginning of the end for me.  I stuck with it a while longer, but I ultimately couldn’t deal with it.  That also marks the end of when I watched an anime before it was done airing.

“But that’s not like Fairy Tail or Gintama or Hunter x Hunter!”  True.  But to keep an anime that long, there has to be filler.  Part of what makes those big long series captivating is that you don’t really remember the filler.   “That’s okay” some have told me, “just watch the really good parts.”  But I couldn’t do that  – it’s like taking something out of context.  Especially for those large anime, many scenes are really good because you’ve been with those characters for dozens upon dozens of episodes.  You’ve spent 2 or 3 or 4 seasons with a character, only for them to die.  That adds to the impact and strengthens the scene far beyond how the scene would be if you just saw a clip on Youtube or just watched the “highlights.”

When I tried to evaluate those series, I hit a problem – how many episodes could I consider really good?  And I’m not talking about pieces of episodes, I mean whole episodes.  I’m really not sure.  When I thought about Naruto I wildly guessed that 50% was really good.  But that’s 110 episodes – “No way,” I thought.  To me, maybe 30%, 66 episodes, sounded about right (I’m being somewhat speculative… memory is fuzzy after all).  Yuyu Hakusho?  Maybe half?  Sure, there were some funny things and entertaining things in those anime, but I can’t really say that they were resoundingly strong throughout.  No way I could recommend something like that to people I knew.That’s when a realization struck me.  I wouldn’t rate a 12-episode series very highly if 50% of it were really good, but the rest was weaker.  That would mean that 12 episodes of a 24 episode series weren’t “up to snuff.”

But not all of those episodes were merely not as good, there was a ton of filler throughout.  No way I’d tolerate that kind of filler in a shorter series.  It’s not to say I’m anti-filler.  Of course you regularly have fluff.  But they’re often 1 or 2 episodes per 12 – hovering around 10-16%.   Actually, recently watching Full Metal Panic, I noticed they had 1 episode of filler per 3 or 4 episodes of plot – roughly 25%.  And that was probably what I’d consider toeing the line of acceptable filler.  But that’s just it, “fluff” varies so much in the larger anime.  Sometimes it’s an entire filler season, sometimes it’s a filler story arc, sometimes it’s a filler plot arc.  At those episode counts, things get magnified in scale.  Even if we assume Naruto was at 25% filler, that means it’s 55 episodes of fluff.  One Piece, now at 708 episodes, would have 177 episodes of filler.  When I began to think about filler in those terms, I couldn’t really convince myself to start another long series.

With that said, all it means is I’m done with them.  I wouldn’t really recommend someone watch those anime, but at the same time I wouldn’t warn them away.  Now, I prefer more succinct stories that have a definite end (ambiguous endings are okay too).   I want to see new worlds and concepts and ideas each time I start a new series.  Series that span 100+ episodes were part of my formative years of anime-watching, but I’ve moved on.  I’m looking towards new shows and new possibilities.  Still, I’ll never forget those long anime.  I’ve learned some valuable lessons from them that I still carry with me.  For example, never, never watch long series on Toonami.  Part of my anime “trauma” comes from having to re-watch entire seasons of reruns of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z there… the horror…the horror…