Tuesday, April 18, 2006

New Lain PVC Figure Announced

For those of you who have been reading lainspotting since the early days, here's some actual lain news for a change.

A new 6 inch PVC Lain figure by Vice has been announced, scheduled to be released in late May. It is already available for pre-order at various online retailers.

Check out the official website for the figure. On that site, the figure is listed as costing 6510 Yen.

Here is an image of the figure (taken from the official site) followed by the original source image (from an omnipresence in wired, image courtesy of Per Hedbor's Serial Experiments Lain: Root)

lain figure
original source image

I'll post better pictures of the figure in May.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Pair of Otaku-related Podcasts

I'm not a regular listener/watcher of podcasts, but here are two that recently caught my attention.

Anime for the Lazyman

Actually, I first heard about "Anime for the Lazyman" on G-pen.com several months ago when I was asked whether or not they could link to some of my otaku-related essays in the notes for Episode 4. I gladly gave permission, but due to laziness on my own part combined with a lot of other stuff to do, I put off watching the episodes for quite awhile. I finally did watch them, however, and was really entertained in the process.

The video podcast is hosted by Chi, a graduate of USC's film school and currently a graduate student at the Tokyo University of Technology. He is also currently working at an anime company in Japan. Most episodes of "Anime for the Lazyman" so far have featured three people--Chi, a company employee, and "The Boss"--sitting in front of the camera talking about anime, the anime industry in Japan, and otaku culture. Chi considers himself a mid-level otaku, pretty knowledgeable about the most popular anime titles, but not the type of fan who watches everything and anything just because it's anime. The company employee is usually a woman who offers her perspective as someone who knows a little bit about anime but isn't really a fan, and certainly would not consider herself an otaku. "The Boss", even though he doesn't necessarily identify with the current generation of Japanese otaku, is the most otaku of the bunch in the sense that he knows the most about anime and strongly believes that it is important to learn more and to spread awareness of anime around the world in order to encourage a free flow of ideas that will result in more creative anime productions in the long run.

Chi and the company employee (different episodes feature different employees) have interesting thoughts, but it's "The Boss" who really steals the show with his humor and manic energy. You don't ever get to see his face, but you can tell he feels strongly about anime and improving the state of the industry. If we are to call him an otaku, it's because he's creative, passionate, and critical like the protagonists of Otaku no Video as opposed to the laid back and middle-of-the-road protagonists of Genshiken. Maybe he's not always right about everything, but he puts forth his opinions in such a straightforward, convincing, and humorous manner that it's fun to listen to anyway, and his insights open up many avenues for further thought and discussion. Poor Chi, though, after being lectured and needled by "The Boss" for not knowing enough and not having the right attitude about learning more, is often left with nothing to say. Chi is a good host and brings up interesting topics, but I found myself tuning in to find out what "The Boss" was going to say next.

You'll need to register an account to download the videos, but I think it's worth it.

Weekly Anime Review

I heard about "Weekly Anime Review" very recently when a new internet friend of mine, Kevin at Burn DVD Burn, told me I was mentioned on it. The good folks who produce "Weekly Anime Review" attended Anime Punch where I was a guest, and their latest episode is a review of the convention. They gave my panels positive reviews, so I'm more than glad to give them some free exposure here ^_~

Regarding Crispin Freeman (who is mentioned in the podcast), I want to note that I didn't mind the question he asked during my otaku panel. While I don't necessarily agree with his opinion (regarding the value, or lack thereof, of creating art that is derivative), I'm glad he asked his question because it prompted a heated discussion amongst the audience members, many of whom were artists themselves. Crispin, Lillian, and I had a pleasant dinner that same night, so there weren't any hard feelings. After all, people challenging our ideas allows us to learn and make progress, whether by changing our ideas completely, refining them, or finding better ways to articulate them. The next time I give my otaku talk, I'll try to more clearly explain my thoughts regarding otaku culture's postmodern creativity.

That said, I'd like to thank "Weekly Anime Review" for attending and covering two of my four panels at Anime Punch. I enjoyed the rest of the episode, as well. ^_^

Here is the aforementioned episode: http://www.weeklyanimereview.com/index.php?post_id=80162

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tori Miki Visits Cornell (Out of the Archives 5)

Tori Miki is an award-winning manga artist and writer. In the anime community, he is known for having penned the screenplay of Patlabor WXIII, the third Patlabor movie. Many years before that movie was finally released, Tori Miki visited with a group of CJAS members, and we spent an afternoon hanging out with him. The following article and interview (from 1996) used to be featured on the CJAS website, but it's not there anymore (probably because it's so old). I didn't want it to vanish forever, so I contacted Jerry (the original author) who gave me permission to republish it here.

Tori Miki Visits Cornell

by Jerry Hsu

TORI Miki visited Cornell University right before the start of the Fall '96 semester. While at Cornell, he spoke with a small group of CJAS members. He discussed his work on a new Patlabor movie, his thoughts on anime, and some of his manga works for which he had recently won two major awards in Japan.

CJAS members with Tori Miki

Front row, from the left: Kisu Sung, Jin, John Garza, Tori Miki (centre), Cedric Banker, Jerry Hsu, Lawrence Eng.
Back row, from the left: Kevin Sung, Charles Chen, Sen-Fai Lee, Michael Yang, Lilian Olsen

(Click on picture for 469KB version.)

Patlabor 3

Of course, one of the first topics discussed was the third movie of the Mobile Police Patlabor series. This movie will be set in Tokyo between the times of P1 and P2.

The first revelation was that director OSHII Mamoru and screenplay writer ITOH Kazunori are not working on this film. For them, P2 was their grand finale. Thusly, the door was opened for TAKAYAMA Fumihiko and Mr. TORI to step in as director and writer, respectively. Remaining from Team Headgear are IZUBUCHI Yutaka and YUUKI Masami as producers. TORI Miki's involvement came through his friendship with YUUKI and IZUBUCHI. (The character and mechanical designers, as well as the soundtrack composer have not yet been chosen.) With the new production staff came the desire to try something different with the Patlabor universe. The second revelation was that while Ingrams will be present, the SV2 will not be the main characters. Instead, the main character will be a detective (not Matsui). SHAFT and the Griffon will not be involved. The story is based on a manga story involving a man-made monster created by biotechnology, called Waste #13. The mood will be along the same darker, less comical mood of P1 and P2. The story is set in Tokyo between P1 and P2. Some of the new mecha designs will be underwater labors. Further Patlabor movies could still involve the SV2 in pre-P2 time.

P3 Quick Facts

Title: Waste #13
Budget: Unreleased
Unofficial Producer: IZUBUCHI Yutaka
Director: TAKAYAMA Fumihiko (Directed some original Macross TV eps and Gundam 0083 eps.)
Screenplay: TORI Miki
Mecha designers: Undecided
Character designer: Undecided
Soundtrack Composer: Undecided
Tentative release date: Winter 98/99

Question and Answer with TORI Miki

On Anime

Q: Who do you like more? Miyazaki or Oshii?
A: He liked Miyazaki more when he first started, but not as much now. People are stating to grow more distant from Miyazaki's anime. Current anime is starting to oppose Miyazaki's style.

Q: Who would you like to work with on an anime?
A: He doesn't know yet because this is his first anime job.

Q: Do you think that Takahata and Miyazaki are pompous for setting up an animation school? (question posed by Cedric)
A: They have the experience to do it.

On Manga

Q: How did you start in the manga business?
A: He submitted work to a contest (judged by Tezuka) and was accepted.

Q: How many volumes of manga have you completed?
A: 50 short series/stories.

Q: What is your work schedule like?
A: He pretends to work but just sends email five days a week. He actually does work 2 days before his weekly deadline.

Q: Are there any American cartoons that you like?
A: Tex Avery cartoons (Droopy Dog). He doesn't think any of the more recent American animation is interesting. (except Simpsons!)

Q: Do you watch Sailor Moon?
A: He watches it because his daughter watches it.

Q: What anime do you like?
A: He likes Patlabor 2. Evangelion is not his taste, but he is deeply interested in that TV series.

Q: What do you like about Evangelion?
A: He has interest in serious human interaction. It takes a lot of ideas from classic anime (like Gundam), 60s' Japanese SF TV series (like Ultraman) and other many movies.

Q: What new anime are you looking forward to?
A: P3 of course and the Evangelion movie.

Q: Do you think there's a reflection of society in manga? i.e., manga becoming really violent.
A: He believes it's actually not as bad as it was before. Japanese society is going against extreme violence and so more recent manga is less violent in general than older manga.

Q: What trends do you see in anime and manga?
A: There's a trend to having not just one main character, but a group of main characters (re: Gundam Wing).

Q: Do you feel that Japanese society limits your creativity?
A: Writers want to write but editors won't let them.

On Otakus

Q: What do you think about people that meet to watch anime?
A: He knew that there were fans in the US, but was surprised at how in depth it (the interest and knowledge) was.

Q: How do you think otakus in Japan differ from American ones? Do they make things like music videos or parodies?
A: He thinks there are the same otakus in both Japan and US. There are lots of people that can talk amongst themselves about anime, but not with others. Being an otaku is useful for making music videos and things like that.

Q: What is your opinion on the illegal nature of fansubs?
A: He thinks it is okay to watch but not charge money. It is better for a fan to make a sub than a person who doesn't care about anime.

Q: What do you think about foreign companies producing anime like Ghost in the Shell?
A: Ghost in the Shell was made to be released internationally so he doesn't care. He personally noticed an overemphasis of Oriental culture.

Q: How do you feel about dubs for foreign release?
A: He realizes that fans like subs more than dubs. However, he thinks there are cases when dubs are better than subs. In Japan, films are usually subbed, TV is usually dubbed. There is actually such a thing as a dub otaku. He thinks that Serena matches Usagi.

More on Patlabor

Q: What is your favorite Patlabor episode, character, and mecha?
A: The first OAV series, Goto, and Griffon (Bad guy mecha are much cooler). Izubuchi was always drawing weird stuff like that since school.

Q: What did it take to prepare to write the script?
A: He's watched the previous anime and read the previous manga to maintain continuity. But he doesn't want to be too tied down because the movie is intended to be a little different from the current story.

Q: What will the mood be like?
A: It will probably be darker because the original manga episode is not a cheerful story. The SV2 lightens the mood but they won't be present in P3. He doesn't want to make it too dark, but the director (TAKAYAMA) is probably darker than he is.

Q: What is going to be the message in P3?
A: People interaction is going to be the focus. No central message.

Q: What is your dream project if P3 is successful?
A: He'd like to work on an anime based on his own manga or an original story written by himself. He'd direct himself. Patlabor is an established series so it was easier to get started and get funding. A new anime with no known name recognition is harder to get funded.

Questions in Reverse from TORI to CJAS

Q: Do we want to make anime?
A: You bet we would but we lack the skill.

Q: What do you see as the difference between anime and American animation?
A: People die in anime.
A: The scope of anime is huge compared to American animation which really is just for kids.
A: It seems that for American animation, marketing (toys) is more important than the story or the animation itself.

Sketch of CJAS Members

It's here! The long awaited sketch of the Twelve Headed Ingram Known as CJAS, by Tori Miki!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Otaku Unite ! : Film review

(adapted from a review I posted on Anime Grapevine on 1/27/04)


Star Trek fans have Trekkies and Star Wars fans have The Phandom Menace, and now anime fans have Otaku Unite!. There have been a few anime fan documentaries that predate Otaku Unite!, but those have tended to be limited in scope and/or production value. Otaku Unite! is probably the most ambitious American anime fan documentary project to date, and I happen to like it a lot.

Please note: I am not exactly a neutral reviewer. Before the film was finished, I happened upon its official website, and I submitted some of my otaku-related essays for publication on that site. I was excited by the project, and it looked like the makers were taking it seriously, so I offered to help out in any way I could. During the making of the film, Eric Bresler (the director) contacted me, and I did some research for him and provided some historical materials (from the early days of fandom) for inclusion in the film.

That said, I was only indirectly involved with the making of Otaku Unite! When it debuted at Anime Weekend Atlanta 9, it was my first time seeing it. I thought it was excellent, and the audience appeared to get a big kick out of it as well. I was proud to have my name appear (ever so briefly) in the credits.


So what's it about? Here's what the official website has to say about it:

Otaku Unite! is an independent, feature-length documentary on the history of Japanese animation fandom in the United States. The title refers to the anime fans ("otaku") whose combined efforts have enabled fandom to thrive for over 25 years. This sense of unity is apparent at any given anime convention, at any of the multitude of anime fan clubs and organizations, at any online forum. Otaku Unite! illustrates this sense of unity by covering the evolution of fandom from its former state of scattered pockets of avid fans to the current high in both the visibility and popularity of anime in the United States. Whether you're a die-hard anime fan, a casual cartoon-viewer, or an unknowing movie-goer, Otaku Unite! will be sure to both entertain and inform.

I think that's a pretty decent summary, but let me paint a more detailed picture of what the movie is like.


Otaku Unite! relies heavily on interview footage. The makers of OU! traveled all over the place, including 9 conventions, to interview con-going anime fans, celebrity fans, artists, anime experts, and members of the American anime industry. There is no director's voiceover; Eric allowed the otaku community to speak for itself. I was pleased to see anime fans being portrayed respectfully--all the interviewees were intelligent, articulate, and interesting people--and with a sense of humor, making it clear that anime fans are fun and irreverent people who do not take things over-seriously.

OU! addresses several issues, including (but not limited to):
  • What do different people think of the term "otaku"?
  • What makes anime interesting to fans?
  • What do fans get out of conventions?
  • What is the appeal of cosplay?
  • How did anime fandom evolve in the United States?
A large part of the documentary focuses on the early history of fandom in the United States and how it has changed into what we know today. OU! contains quite a bit of anime footage. Some of it (from Otaku no Video, for example) is used to humorously illustrate some facet or other of anime fandom. Most of the anime footage, however, is used to highlight the classic anime that old school anime fans used to watch. OU! also features a lot of convention footage. Fans of cosplay will not be disappointed. Even yaoi fans will have something to cheer about, since Yaoi-Con was one of the nine conventions that OU! visited. One very interesting piece of con footage featured the marriage of Robert DeJesus (American manga artist) to Emily Brown at Anime Central 2001, which was most likely the first (and only?) wedding officially held at an anime convention. Conclusion Overall, I feel that Otaku Unite! did a good job looking at the (more-or-less) current state of anime fandom, especially in relation to fandom's earlier days. It is both an historical document and an exploration of a contemporary social phenomenon that is really quite fascinating. The scope of anime fan activities is far too large to be fully covered in a single feature-length documentary. For example, Otaku Unite! did not discuss online anime fandom in much detail. The film definitely could have covered a lot more material, but what it did cover, it covered well. As such, I highly recommend Otaku Unite! to both fans and non-fans of anime. Open-minded non-fans will find this portrayal of anime fandom intriguing and entertaining, and fans will feel proud as they see their own culture being faithfully represented on screen. Otaku Unite! is now widely available on DVD.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Anime Punch : Post-Armageddicon

I made it back from Anime Punch this last weekend, and spent most of Monday making up the sleep deficit.

As one of the invited guests of the con, I signed up to participate on a number of panels, so while Friday and Sunday were spent relaxing and enjoying the convention atmosphere, I was really busy on Saturday. Here are the Saturday panels I sat on:
  • Anime, Manga, and Fandom in Academia (I was also the moderator)
  • Gainax (from Daicon to Evangelion and beyond)
    Gainax characters
  • Shounen Manga (I hosted a conversation with my friend Lillian Olsen, a veteran translator for Viz)
  • Otaku Studies (I gave a talk, "The Importance of Being Otaku", followed by discussion)
Lillian OlsenI was also supposed to be on the Anime Roundtable (discussing various issues relevant to anime fans), but that was cancelled (maybe next year). Also on Saturday, Lillian and I had a nice dinner with fellow guest Crispin Freeman (who went to the same high school as Lillian). On Friday, I helped Lillian during her kimono panel, but I was more of an audience member than a panelist. (see image on the right) Even though Saturday was hectic, I really enjoyed myself at the con. Anime Punch, put on by members of the OSU anime club, was open to the public for the first time last year. This year, to accomodate larger numbers, they decided to expand to a hotel. What the con staff lacked in experience, they made up for in enthusiasm. The attendees, knowing it was a new and small convention, were generally forgiving of minor hiccups and made the best of things. If the convention web forums are any indication, people had a lot of fun, and even the con staff seemed to be in better spirits as the weekend progressed and things fell more squarely into place. On Friday, I arrived before the con officially started, and my hotel room wasn't ready for me yet (nobody's fault; I just got there early), so I had nothing to do, and the con staff was scrambling to get things started on time. As such, I volunteered to help out. As a last minute volunteer (for about an hour), I helped move stuff around and put together registration packets. It was only a tiny fraction of work compared to the herculean effort shown by the real con staff (who were seriously sleep deprived), but it felt nice to help out, and it reminded me of the good old days of being part of an active anime club. Anime Punch was small, but it had a lot of good things going for it, things you don't always see at bigger and higher profile cons. The schedule was packed with things to do, even in the very early hours of the morning, so one had to prioritize carefully in order to make the most of their con experience. Different fans do different things at cons. For convention planners, the trick is to offer a wide variety of programming so fans of all stripes will always have something to do. Here are some of the many things I liked about the con:
  • Unique video programming that featured cult classics, rare titles, staff picks, and documentaries. At most anime cons I attend, the video rooms are totally uninteresting, but Anime Punch had me repeatedly looking at the video schedule to make sure I wasn't missing anything special.
  • The con was very open to panel suggestions, and as such, there were a ton of panels covering a wide range of subjects.
  • Con Suite! The last time I was at an anime con that had a con suite was Otakon '97! Free soda and snacks are always a plus.
  • In addition, there were great local food options. Usually, I spend more money in the dealers' room than I do on food, but this con had plenty of good restaurants nearby, whether you wanted fast food, casual dining, or really expensive steaks. Next year, even if the hotel changes, I hope the con stays in the same general area.
  • Really nice con staff. As a guest, I was treated very well, and from the looks of it, the staff was just nice in general. I've been to too many cons where the con staff (volunteer or otherwise) were rude to attendees. Even when they were spread thin and lacking sleep, the Anime Punch staffers managed to stay friendly all throughout the weekend.
I'd like to thank Anime Punch (especially Michael Beuerlein and Chris Johnson) for inviting me and putting on an excellent event (I'm already looking forward to next year). Thanks to everyone who attended my panels, and for those of you who I met for the first time, I hope we can keep in touch!