Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Reflections On the Craft of Reviewing Fiction and Anime in Particular as Well

27. August 2017

“He is a man of thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak he will be suffering from a hangover. At present it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up and down the stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post, which brought him two circulars and an income-tax demand printed in red.” – Confessions of a Book Reviewer, George Orwell

What is the point of book/anime/game reviews? Well, they are recommendations (i.e.‘read this book, don’t watch that anime for it is trash’). The reason people read reviews at first is just because they want to know what to watch and what to not watch to save their time as well as their patience. The obvious danger of relying too much on reviews and on other people’s opinions about fiction is that you will effectively have your opinion about fiction dictated to you (Examples of this include the visceral hatred many seem to display for the Twilight saga and the Transformers films). Another more subtle issue is that the relationship between you and that work of art ceases to be purely personal and it instead becomes communal. This has been made worse by the internet I think as you are only a google search away from other people’s opinions about fiction, even obscure fiction. There are many advantages of course to this communal environment for example if you use a listing website with user reviews like myanimelist or rottentomatoes you can quickly gauge if a title is so bad that it isn’t worth checking it out and for the more creative souls there is an audience to display their fan creations on websites like fanfiction.net, youtube, archiveofourown etc… I think that perhaps what push people to take this extra effort is not just the work of fiction by itself but the opinions surrounding it, one way to judge a piece of fiction is to look at its fandom, this is rather unfair I think because the work of fiction should be able to stand on its own. For example the rampant speculation and fan theories in the Evangelion fandom perhaps reveal that the show was not clear enough on its themes or plot (Don’t crucify me I love Eva but I don’t like how one has to look at outside sources from the series to understand what is going on). All of this said I think that the biggest thing lost by reading reviews is that element of surprise, of opening a book and not knowing whether you will like it and then being pleasantly surprised, of starting to watch an anime without knowing what it’s going to be about, not a single plot point and then being mesmerized by a beautiful story, of picking up a manga just by glancing at its artwork etc… I have personally gotten used to reading reviews and do not watch anything unless it has been recommended to be by at least a half decent source like a MAL rating a few months after a show has aired. I have a low tolerance for trash shows, eight years ago I watched and read anything that I could get my hands on and I enjoyed it but now my tastes have become much more restricted after watching too much anime.

So far I have only talked about reviews from the perspective of the reader but what about the reviewer? I think that writing a review, just as writing in general, helps to cement a certain a view about a piece of work and also other similar works although at other times reviews are nothing more than bookmarks in time as your opinions may vary over time out of your control (the scary thing about changing your mind, as Peter Hitchens puts it in a different context, is that often you can’t stop it,). I have seen people regret their opinions in reviews they wrote a long time ago (e.g. Gigguk on his negative Evangelion review although I am not certain of this, I am basing this on some comments on his video about saying that on a Podtaku podcast).

Should you read reviews of the stuff you are going to review?

Well that is a tricky question, reading reviews can lead to simply restating other peoples opinions in your reviews, in which case – what is the point(unless you are getting paid for it)? So I would like to say no but it is very tempting as you are sitting there wrecking your brain unable to start a review to do a simple google search to ‘look’ at what others are saying and then be disappointed that what you thought was your own original insight has already been pointed out by many before you even set it down in ink on paper or in pixels on a screen. I think it is alright to read some reviews before you watch something but not as you write the review, unless of course your review is a reply to someone else’s review.

Some people have different criteria like ‘sound’ ‘animation’ ‘plot’ ‘characters’ as a sort of guiding checklist to keep your review on point, I think MAL does have such a criteria which is regularly ignored and I can see why – I don’t really know that much about ‘sound’ or ‘animation’ and so on so my anime reviews often read like book reviews only concerned with the themes and the characters and plot unless the animation and sound aspects are so spectacular or so bad that even a lay person like me has something to say about them – this ‘book review’ effect is exacerbated by the fact that I am almost invariably reading subtitles when I watch anime because I do not know Japanese and I would rather listen to the saccharine squeaks of Japanese anime voice-actors rather than to Americans speaking in American (I am British), I am joking of course it’s just that the English dubs are not always available and they are not just translations but also adaptations of the Japanese source material, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Japanophile (as I am primarily interested Japanese anime/manga/LN/VN/WN otaku culture and a little about the post-war politics, economy and the current demographic crisis and the geo-politcs brewing in the background or is it the foreground of it all?) but I guess I am otaku enough to want to know the untranslated references in anime, if it’s a series that I particularly like I will watch both the dubbed version and the subbed version provided they are both good (like the Steins; Gate dubs and subs) in some cases I also prefer dubs but I will address the old dubs vs subs debate in a separate post (although I admit I have nothing much to add to it but just to be thorough and for the views I will probably write about it). Any way the point is that ‘pre-set criteria’ approach to reviewing doesn’t work for me although I can see it works for reviewers like ‘GRArkada.’ I prefer a more ‘review based around one or two main themes of the work of fiction plus some comments about the characters and plot’ kind of approach – following my A-Level literature teacher’s advice to write a lot about a little – this can of course degenerate into pretentious overthinking where the reviewer/critic uses the fiction as a prop to talk about whatever he likes but if he keeps in mind that he is trying to tell someone whether to watch something or not I think that can lead to a more honest assessment of the fiction rather than a detailed checklist-like assortment to see whether a work of fiction meets certain ideological requirements of the reviewer.

Finally I would like to talk, well write about the ‘leach’-like nature of the reviewing business. When it comes to the internet and blogs in general the bloggers are leaching off some other ‘real’ medium, for example like how most internet alternative news outlets use traditional news outlets as their sources for information, a very similar thing can be said about the craft of reviewing as the reviewer in effect acts as a publicist for the shows he likes by recommending to the audience as a sort of middleman sorting out the good from the bad which is something useful but this doesn’t change the fact that they are not producing anything other than analysis and critique, and the question as to whether they would be able to create something that they could objectively exalt according to their own standards remains open, i.e. unanswered. I wouldn’t exactly call this hypocrisy but something less which I don’t have a word for but which is embodied in the thought ‘If you know what it takes for a great story then why don’t you make one? Oh is it because you can’t.’ Perhaps it is unfair to ask them this for it is not their role and so I haven’t but I can’t say I haven’t thought it and asked it from myself (which resulted in that dreadful novella I wrote and posted on this blog a few months ago and which perhaps for the best no one has read – no I am not indirectly asking you to read it using reverse psychology- don’t read it and don’t accuse me of asking you to). As you may have noticed all anime reviewers I have mentioned above (GR Arkada, Gigguk) are video bloggers on youtube rather than bloggers and that is because most popular anime reviewers are youtubers, this isn’t surprising given the visual nature of the anime medium and of course it is much more comfortable to listen to someone than read small text on a blog like this. Mother’s Basement(another anime reviewer on youtube) recently made a video noting how illegal anime streaming services like KissAnime are leaching off of the anime industry and I think he is right but in a way I think that bloggers and reviewers who depend on the anime industry are also in a way leaching off of it just like Journalists could be said to leach off of miserable events for their ratings and views. Of course it is different – anime reviewers are publicists for anime while illegal streaming websites… well they are popularizing anime as well, in effect a significant portion of Mother’s Basement viewership would be gone if websites like KissAnime would be gone because that is where his viewers go to watch anime. I guess then that it would be fair to say that Mother’s Basement and all other anime reviewers are leaching off of the illegal websites he was lambasting – KissAnime being the main one. But what is the point of this all? Well, I was watching a Japanese drama series called ‘Starblazers’ about Hideaki Anno et Gainax and a mangaka who saw himself as Anno’s rival when he was in university and I have read some interviews given by the self-proclaimed ‘Otaking’(not Anno but the guy who directed Otaku no Video) at the MIT website (Just search for ‘Rei anime MIT’ and you will find a page with all the links to the interviews), I guess it could be classed as an ‘inspirational story’ I mean the story of Studio Gainax rising above from nothing amid innumerable financial and other hardships and what struck a chord in me was his comments on how otaku in the age of the internet and computers feel that it is enough to create websites and create commentary because they can easily get that communal aspect of their hobby without exerting themselves to create original creations themselves. I think he was spot on, I do not deny the hard work done by the youtube reviewers sinking hundreds of hours into their work to make anime more accessible to mainstream audiences but are they really satisfied by being publicists for other people’s work? And secondly I don’t really think that video reviews which are time consuming to make really add anything substantial that is not present in written reviews except of course the ability to reach a larger audience which matters of course but just like modern anime the only thing that cleaner animation has provided only a shinier surface to the same(or worse) scripts.

The next paragraph is a short run-down of the deviations of my opinions about anime ‘classics’ and ‘masterpieces’ from the majority of critics I have read. I suggest you to skip it if you don’t know that much about anime.

My tastes are pretty conventional although there are times when I do disagree with the majority of the anime ‘community’(that is one word I hate) for example ‘Your Name’ (and for that matter ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) are both silly simple romantic comedies with cute girls and with time travel as an unexplored plot ‘convenience’ device and nothing more (Watch ‘Steins;Gate’ one of the only good time travel anime which bothers to conjure up some sort of explanation and agency other than time travel for plot convenience) and most of Hayao Miyazaki’s works are to be blunt either environmentalist propaganda (even at his best I think in Princess Mononoke) or plainly boring ‘pretty colours’ like Spirited Away and lets not talk about his later bland works for which reason I think he retired. Or that ‘Ping Pong The Animation’ was aside from its unusual style was just the usual low stakes sports anime that has been done and redone worse since that baseball anime called ‘Touch.’ Finally ‘Kaiba’ is just another one of those shows that puts style over substance to mesmerize the senses of its viewers with its weird minimalistic cartoonish visuals in contrast with its ‘edgy’ ‘mature’ themes who will be distracted by how ‘forward looking’ ‘avant-garde’ it is to hide the poor boring characters, the quick and vague explanations etc… And let’s not even talk about that awful romance anime about cannibalistic monsters where the world was ending but the tension felt more fake than when watching a Hollywood blockbuster as I didn’t care about that fake world and even less about its two main characters. I think the problem that this director (and Miyazaki too to an extent) has is that he makes his characters run around too much to explore the weird settings which overshadow his characters whereas when he deals with a small cast in a confined setting he is much better like in the ‘Tatami Galaxy’ which for me was only rescued through its excellent ending(the last two or three episodes). Akira was just beautifully animated shock factor, to be frank it felt like an advertisement to read the much superior manga from which it was adapted from – but that’s not even an excuse, there just wasn’t enough time and the movie felt too long. The second Ghost in the Shell movie was just an exercise in quote mining different philosophers for a substitute for a proper script and some pretty colours, it wasn’t even that pretty.

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Tylor’s Plan: An Analysis of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor; or the Japanese Diogenes

14. December 2016

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Can’t you see, this is all part of Tylor’s plan? – Captain Don, The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, episode 23.

“Tylor, what is your plan!?”(angry) Captain Don

“Do your best and believe in your destiny.” – Tylor

“It was fun”- The Empress to Tylor

A lot of truth is said in jest in this show. I like to see it as a parody of Legend of Galactic Heroes, I mean what if the genius tactician was just a lucky idiot who was irresponsible enough to do his best and believe in his destiny. It’s as happy go lucky as Gunbuster though it doesn’t quite catch There isch Gunbuster’s scale. There is too much irresponsibility and too much luck to take the show seriously but the show is self-conscious of that, to the point where characters themselves point how much dumb-luck they have had. And the fact that it does so in my opinion places it a bit higher than Great Teacher Onizuka in the scale of honesty, in that it doesn’t pretend that what happens in the show is plausible in any way and so doesn’t become what it makes fun of.

So what was Tylor’s plan? Tylor often confidently says that he has no plan. Was he deceiving everyone while secretly being a genius? Unlikely. I don’t think the point of the show was that stupidity is a virtue. The protagonist reminded me a lot of Onizuka from Great Teacher Onizuka. Onizuka and Tylor do not try to hatch little plans to get near to other people, they wear their emotions on their sleeves and honestly pursue their desires. Tylor’s actions do not have negative consequences and neither do Onizuka’s however The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is more honest than the Great Teacher Onizuka because Tylor is not presented as a saint while Onizuka most certainly is. GTO preaches responsibility but doesn’t practice it. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor doesn’t preach responsibility and doesn’t practice it.

What if Tylor is deceiving everyone including the audience? However unlikely this may seem it is worth considering. The whole point of the show seems to be honest expression of one’s feelings is more effective to touch people’s hearts than hatching plans and playing by all the unwritten rules of social ascension. One of my favourite moments in the show was when Tylor looked disappointed about the medal he was awarded by the military for destroying an enemy fleet but exalted about the hot nurse that became part of the crew. Tylor could see the medal for the chunk of metal that it was. I confess I know little about Diogenes beyond what I read on reddit on a thread about “Who is the Greatest Troll in History” and some articles I read on Wikipedia. Tylor doesn’t care about rank, he only cares about substance.

 

“What is the captain thinking?”- Mr. Yamamoto. The captain thinks about what he wants and tries to get it, the plot works so that he will get it, that is all there is to it.

Tylor’s first order to his crew is “Do whatever you want” shows just how irresponsible he is. But is he really wrong? There is a basic principle that Tylor follows which goes along the lines of, people should be free to do what they want: Even an enemy Empress who has been captured should be allowed to go if she wants. Tylor seems to believe that people will act reasonably morally if only there wasn’t any overarching authority to dictate to them how to act and live. It is a principle worth defending at least some of the time.

“You only live once, so live the way you want to.” I think that the aim of this series is two-fold: make the viewer more proactive and warn them about the danger of living vicariously to someone else and their rules, “life will seep through your fingers” is Tylor’s warning. What I don’t find convincing however is the assurance implied by the improbable events in the plot that things will be all right if you do what you think is right, isn’t the whole reason that we tend to depend on other people’s morals as a reference for our own because that is the most convenient and risk-free? “When it’s time to lose, you will lose no matter what” is Tylor’s answer to that.

“Do your best and believe in your destiny” It is because of simple certainties like this that make The Irresponsible Captain Tylor easy to be dismissed as blindly optimistic and indeed this is where the show lacks substance, it doesn’t show the grimy parts of life enough, if it did so the show would suffer from some kind of personality disorder (which is what happens in the sequel OVAs). However many of these phrases are platitudes and since we live in a world of platitudes they will seem right at least some of the time. Take Rudyard Kipling’s “If” poem for an example of this.

“Rules are not everything” Freedom is, for Tylor. Ultimately there is something that makes the show feel very human, even when it’s characters are borrowed from many other sci-fi anime. It resonates a lot with me and I think it will resonate with other young people too. It’s a masterpiece to me, and Taylor did not “fool us all” we did that to ourselves. As Taylor told his crew “snap out of it life is seeping through your fingers.” Plans are useful but at some point someone has to do something, Taylor took the initiative and as he would say- everything else followed. I think that people are too obsessed with tactics and trinkets when it comes to human relationships, too obsessed with the strategies and rules to follow which they believe will get them to their desired outcome, human relationships are not IKEA furniture that you can build by following an instruction manual and IKEA furniture is never as good as it looks in advertisements. The trinkets they are too obsessed bring no pleasure in and of themselves and therefore have utility or substance in and of themselves, they are merely symbolic like the military medals Tylor couldn’t give two shits about.

In episode 25 and 26 when Tylor leaves the military, Tylor’s first order as Captain’s final order “Do what you want, the way you want to.” echoes his first his first order, actually it is pretty much the same.

The direct lesson of The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is “Don’t live according to someone else’s rules” but the indirect one is not to live vicariously through someone else’s life. I think this was also the point of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the mood in both series is very different because while in Eva everything that can go wrong goes wrong, in The Irresponsible Captain Tylor everything goes right. Tylor claims that once he has abandoned something(or someone) he will have no regrets whatsoever, when commander Yuriko questions his decision to leave his crew, this is not due to a lack of attachment, after all Tylor came back to his ship the Soyokaze whilst having this conversation, it is a lack of neediness that underpins Tylor’s behaviour, he loves himself already so he has no need to put down, or to put anyone up on a pedestal in order to worship himself. When people worship someone else- the military in Mr. Yamamoto’s case, the Empress in the Ralgan Empire’s case- they are really just worshipping themselves, when the object of their adoration is respected by others it brings them prestige. However this has as much to do with the plot as it has to do with the characters, just try imagining the characters in Eva being replaced by those in TICT the whole mood of the series would be inversed. The same goes if the characters in TICT were to be replaced by those of Eva, just imagine Tylor piloting Test-type Unit-01. One of the good things about TICT over Eva is that it is devoid of the constant whining of characters. At some point the characters must realize that their whining is useless and annoying but instead the whining intensifies as the life of the characters lives seep through their fingers. Tylor is not afraid of rejection and he is not afraid of love though I am not sure he is not afraid of death, he just goes for what he wants believing truly that “things will work out” somehow. There is certainly a lot contrived in The Irresponsible Captain Tylor but so it is in Evangelion. They are two extremes, most people’s fortune lies in between. Sometimes more towards one side than the other and at other times… so it is is possible to accept both.

The opposite of a Tylor would be a Tobe (from Oregairu) – A loud mouthed moron whose only talent is to make noise in the hopes it may get him some attention. Tobe is a failed Tylor. He acts like he is a fun-loving, social person because he thinks this will get him some social currency. Tylor doesn’t care about any kind of social currency, he just does what he thinks is right and what he wants to. Another failed Tylor is the protagonist of American Beauty, life had already seeped through his fingers.

Yang-Wenli from Legend of Galactic Heroes is the first character that comes to mind when I watch TICT. Yang-Wenli is just more responsible than Tylor but their belief in human liberty and trust in the individual over authority makes them virtually indistinguishable at heart. I think that Tylor’s existence begs a very important question: What is the point of living a responsible life? Yang Wenli is correct on many of the political points he made, but in the words he himself considers to be the most powerful in the universe and history, “So, what?” I am not complaining about there not being a reward for doing good, this is clearly not always the case, the right thing is often though not always done in informed self-interest. I am not saying that good things ought to be done because they are self-serving rather than because they are good (although good deeds are often done because they are self-serving and there is nothing wrong with this as long as people are honest about their motives). What I am trying to point out is that once people have done what is right there needs to be something else for people to live for, or in one word their needs to be pleasure, fun and happiness. Doing what is right will not always stove away pain, boredom and sadness and this is why people ought to have something to live for beyond doing what is right. Of course what is right comes first because it is what ought to be done but their needs to be something that comes second and that thing is what people want. Otherwise you will get sad people whose only pleasure is to convince themselves that they are always correct, self-righteous, illiberal saints who cannot see any value in Liberty. After all if man is a fallen creature, if this world is nothing but a vale of tears, if man is not a noble creature neither are any of his wants good or worthy of consideration. If this is so, then the only thing that would make sense would be to create a totalitarian theocracy where everything is prohibited unless it is mandatory. The only way to make sense of a need for human freedom is to accept that his pursuits can be neither evil nor good but merely for his own satisfaction. Anything less than this will negate human freedom and remove any moral agency by removing choice.

This something that we must want has to come from within ourselves and not from other people’s fickle approval. Or in other words this thing must not be other people. Other people include women too obviously. Tylor is a case in point, he didn’t hesitate or have any regrets about leaving his crew, his ship, the women who were fawning on him and all of the status he had gained within the military. The only thing that can come true trying to live vicariously through other people is that you will treat them like objects or put them up on a pedestal or worship them or all these things at once and maybe even hate them for not granting your wish. Tylor is vulgar and materialistic and greedy but not as much as those who present themselves as the opposite; just like people every material in this world is temporal, every talent, everything that is pure and lovely, therefore it is those who are not satisfied with this and seek and hunger for something that is not there and therefore settle for nothing who are the ones who more self-indulgent, more greedy and more vulgar. Irony abounds when it is those behaviours of those who seek and hatch plans to gain others approvals that make them nay, us, shifty, dishonest, manipulative and ultimately as Mark Manson is so fond of saying in his book Models, “unattractive” and boring. There needs to be something else, not an obsession, but an easy going, irresponsible, natural, active, honest and therefore healthy willingness to fall into decadence. Decadence in itself is an evil thing. The platitude that it is always easier to do evil than to do good can be easily disproved by looking at the lives of the most infamous tyrants in history but I shall not go into that. Evil is a petty ambition (and so are happiness and pleasure) but the loneliness it brings to its pursuers is a symptom of the sad truth, the sad but alas true condition of all of us – we each and one of us are alone. So what does this mean in practice? Well it means giving up on all those little schemes at appearing good, cultural customs and rehearsed propriety both in our personal and political lives.

Most of the other characters are passive and only the villains and Tylor seem to be doing something, though Tylor’s unusual reaction to everything is the attraction to the show, just like many find Diogenes reactions to everything hilarious. The luck that Tylor has on the battlefield is a breath of fresh air from the simple military tactics in LOGH where everyone’s intelligence needs to be lowered in order for the genius main characters to show off their brilliance and the seriousness of Battle Ship Yamato (I wonder whether I have done too much name dropping in this essay but they are all relevant points). Captain Tylor An Exceptional Episode is an excpetion because it contains the necessary cynicism which if it wasn’t there, then sooner or later the viewers will infuse it into the series in excess. It’s true if there was too much cynicism in the series it wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the series but given that the series is over and that An Exceptional Episode is as long as a full feature film it worked. It was not nice not to see Tylor succeed through sheer luck but some suffering too and a lot patience. My favourite scene in this OVA was when Tylor showed that he is self-conscious about his personality by demonstrating how out of character he would be if he had been angry at his crew. He may have fooled us all after all. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is first and foremost a comedy that makes fun of Japan’s values before and after the war but it has also got an anarchist/libertarian strain that I wouldn’t trust any person if they did not have it. It isn’t an ode to hedonism because it assumes that most individuals will act morally when left to their own devices because they care about another and that authority is sadistic, hypocritical, hedonistic in its enforcement of kindness and therefore finally unnecessary. Tylor’s western name (well ostensibly American) is essentially an individualistic simple-minded American stereotype set against the Japanese Empire inspired social order. Most of the other human characters are Japanese. If you are going to watch this, do yourself a favour and watch the English dubbed version.

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