Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Fifteen Best Anime Openings/Endings of All Time

If there's one thing I've learned from watching Internet review shows (and I watch FAR too many Internet review shows), it's that if you're stuck on content or the things you're working on are taking too long, that means it's time to do a Top 10 list.

I'm also a firm believer that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, so have a Top 15 instead.

Now, just to be clear, I'm using the word "best." That means "most good." Goodness is a value; by definition, any measure of how good something is is inherently going to be subjective. I love these openings, and I'm sharing them because I love them; if your particular favorite opening isn't on here, or you disagree with my order, that doesn't mean I'm saying you are wrong about your favorites, and it doesn't mean I'm wrong about mine. It is the nature of the beast; it's like getting upset because I love my significant other more than I love yours.

Also, I apologize in advance; some of these videos have slightly fuzzy quality, some have the lyrics subtitled in languages other than English or not subtitled at all, and so on. I grabbed what I could off YouTube; I own most of the series that had problems, so when I have time (next weekend, possibly) I may rip better-quality versions to replace them.

I do not own any of these videos and did not make any of these videos.

Number 15

Now, I specifically picked the English dub of this opening--one of four where I did not use the Japanese version, and I'm sure you can guess at least one of the others--because it is, quite simply, a more energetic and exciting song coupled with action-packed, cool-looking imagery. It is, in another words, the opening to the show Dragonball Z thinks it is: an action-packed science-fantasy adventure serial packed with epic action sequences and some of the most badass characters in history. The Japanese opening, on the other hand, is the opening to the show Dragonball Z actually is: a generic, brainless action-comedy that goes stupidly over the top, made worse by utterly horrendous pacing.

Ultimately, that's why this opening barely scrapes its way onto the list: it's a truly great opening, but it just doesn't fit the show. This is a fun, exciting, fast-paced opening, and to go from it to the twenty-third consecutive episode of Goku charging up to attack Frieza is a huge let-down.

Number 14

 Well, everyone who I didn't piss off with my criticism of Dragonball Z is now pissed at me for picking this opening. Purists are angry because this arc of Robotech is a horrible bastardization of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, probably the best anime of its era, and Robotech fans are mad because I'm using the 2012 remastered version of the opening, which dares to look different from the show they remember.

I offer an olive branch to both: the original Macross opening would have been Number 16 if the list went that far, and the only reason I used this version of the Robotech opening and not the broadcast version is that it's available in higher quality.

Anyway, what makes this a truly great opening is mostly the music. Almost all anime openings are pop songs, so any exception to that rule is a breath of fresh air, and this is some really good science fiction-y music, similar to the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme but actually predating it by quite some time. The visuals are quite good too, with the fighter plane launching in what looks to be mostly a contemporary military action setting; then, as the fighter transforms into its mech mode, the opening transforms into a science fiction setting. Good stuff, and it fits the show well.

Number 13

This is all about the song. I freaking love this song; it's creepy, unsettling, and has a great beat. They even managed to use autotune well, which I didn't think was possible! Image-wise, it's pretty good, especially the beginning with the kaleidoscope and the flowers and, most importantly, the lamp with the butterfly. That image--a fragile, beautiful creature, drawn towards the light that will destroy it, but locked out by a cage--goes beyond intriguing and manages to be downright haunting.

Unfortunately, instead of sticking to its guns and depicting similarly haunting images, the opening instead shows all the main characters (with the notable exception of Keiichi, the only male character in the group) sad or in pain. It gives up on being the opening to a smart, highly original, and deeply creepy horror story and is instead the opening to a show about voyeuristically watching cute adolescent (and younger) girls suffer. Unfortunately, both of those are accurate descriptions of the brilliant but deeply problematic Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.

Fucking moe fans ruin everything.

Number 12

Weren't expecting a German dub, were you? The Japanese and English versions of the Sailor Moon opening are also brilliant, but for me the German just barely edges them out. Visually, it's pretty much the same as the Japanese opening, which is to say very good, with some surreal dreamscapes slightly reminiscent of Windsor McCay scattered amidst fairly standard Main Characters Posing and Zooming Around shots. What makes it stand out is the music, which discards the central theme shared by the Japanese and English openings in favor of a great techno beat coupled with surprisingly gentle vocals and piano.

That works really well with Sailor Moon's place in the history of the genre. Prior to Sailor Moon, most magical girl shows were about celebrating the traditional Japanese feminine virtues; with the exception of some of Go Nagai's work (which was years ahead of its time), most magical girls were gentle and sweet young adolescents who used magical powers based on their feminine virtue to overcome evil from a safe distance. That's all still present in Sailor Moon, and the piano and vocals reflect that. The brilliance of Sailor Moon, however, was to combine that formula with elements of the sentai genre (most familiar to Westerners by way of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers). In Sailor Moon, the traditional magical girl main character is part of a team of similarly-empowered girls, and they have to fight the monster's minions--often physically and hand-to-hand--before they can use their magic to save the day. This much-needed injection of physical action and energy revitalized a flagging genre and made Sailor Moon the template for a new subgenre, magical girl sentai teams, that continues to this day--and only the German version, with its driving techno beat underlying soft piano and vocals, does something similar with the opening.

Number 11

Fullmetal Alchemist is my favorite manga, and the anime based on it, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, is one of my favorite anime. However, taken on their own, none of the openings are particularly great. The first opening has a really good song, but it takes way too long to build up (if you only have a minute and a half, you can't wait until fifty seconds in to get going) and a couple of the images near the end (Scar sitting under the tree, Pinako on the porch) really don't fit the music at all. The second opening has an extremely generic song and, except for being the first time we get to see the Xingese characters in an opening, pretty boring visuals, too. Credit where credit is due, though: the shot of Wrath, sword in each hand, fending off Ling and both his retainers simultaneously is downright stunning. Too bad it doesn't fit the music at all.

The third opening is by far the worst, bordering on being actually a bad opening. The music is utterly wrong in every conceivable way; funk does not belong anywhere within a million miles of FMA. Visually, however, it's a tour de force; in particular, the transitions from shot to shot are among the smoothest and most natural I've seen in an opening. It doesn't feel like a clip show or a trailer the way most openings do, but rather like something intentionally produced as a work in itself. Unfortunately, the song just drags it down.

Finally, the fourth opening isn't the best, but it feels more mature than the others--the singer sounds like a grown-up, the tone of the song is a little bit more reflective, and the imagery is much more symbolically charged. I particularly like Ed and Al running through each other and turning respectively red and blue, and the two of them rising up the Tree of Life together followed by the glaring Eye of Truth just as they reach the top. (The opening succession of black, yellow, and red alchemy circles would have been brilliant if they'd just added in a white one as well, but more on that in a moment). After the song picks up and the action sequences kick in, we get a lot of great, short action scenes that fit well with the frenetic Day of the Eclipse arc that this opening corresponds to; the fight scenes with Pride are particularly brilliant.

But none of the openings are Top 15 material, so why are we talking about them at all? Basically, because I'm cheating. No one of these openings is truly great, but taken together they do something completely brilliant that even justifies that terrible, terrible third opening song. Consider them in sequence. The first opening song is a child in crisis, and visually it's dominated by images of disintegration and flame. The second opening is extremely generic and has a lot of pale, washed-out or monochrome images. The third opening is visually brilliant, but has a crippling flaw in its music. And the fourth opening is fully mature and more symbolically and spiritually resonant than the others.

Put another way, the sequence of openings is crisis/decomposition/burning, blankness/lack of identity/paleness, glowing-but-imperfect, and mature/spiritually awakened. Nigredo, albedo, citrinitas, rubedo: the stages of creating a Philosopher's Stone.

Well, I thought it was awesome.

Number 10

This is mostly here just for having a seriously awesome song, which is why it isn't any higher on the list. Visually, it introduces us to the cast of Fushigi Yuugi, shows a bit of action, pretty standard stuff. I really love the way it just exudes mystery in the first part of the song, fitting for a show called The Mysterious Play, and then Tamahome shows up and it's all action romance time. You have to admit, for 90s anime the animation is pretty fluid; I particularly like the part with Tamahome and Hotohori at about the one-minute mark.

Also, you should read Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden. It's like Fushigi Yuugi, only instead of being a wimpy moron who depends on her reverse harem to protect her, the Miaka-equivalent's immediate response to finding herself stranded in mytho-medieval China is to invent the naginata. Also the Tamahome-equivalent is magically transsexual. Fun stuff!

Number 9

I've only just started watching Vision of Escaflowne (yes, I know, I'm decades behind, but there's a LOT of animation out there to watch, and sometimes I have to do things like eat, or sleep, or go to work, or acknowledge the existence of friends and family...),  and I already know I freaking love this opening. It's just beautiful. The song is absolutely wonderful, one of the very few on this list I will happily listen to just for the sake of listening to it, and while I don't much care for the character designs in the show, the framing of the shots is perfect.

What I mean is that this is a very wistful song, and virtually every shot is a character alone in a wide space. Despite that, it's a hopeful song, too, and subtle relationships between successive shots (for example, having a character on the right side of the screen facing left, followed by a character on the left side of the screen facing right) create a feeling of connectedness, implying that all of these isolated individuals are meant to be together and will find one another. Nonetheless, the only characters we see interacting are fighting one another; this will not be an easy road.

Basically, the song and the visuals tell a story together, and it's a story compelling enough to make you want to stay and watch the show. That's everything a good opening should do.

Number 8

This is one of those ones that you just have to have on the list. I suspect I put it a bit lower than a lot of people would, but frankly, while a very, very good opening, it's not the best ever. It's not even the best opening of 1995-6; that first aired a month after Neon Genesis Evangelion ended (we'll get to it).

But it is still a very good opening. The song is iconic, and another one I can listen to outside of watching the show. Listening to the music and looking at the lyrics, it's an upbeat song exhorting a young man to come of age and ascend to heroism in a classic Campbell-style hero's journey, which goes well with the Qabbalistic imagery early in the opening, particularly the Tree of Life. As the song goes on, however, we see a lot of quick cuts between images of bloody violence, the three main women being sad when they're not reduced to sexualized one-dimensional monochrome sillhouettes, and a whole lot of contextless information flung at the viewer very fast.

In other words, the song is ironic and this opening is a deconstruction of the super robot genre as much as the show is. That's actually a pretty neat trick, to deconstruct an entire genre in what amounts to a ninety-second music video. Also, you might notice as we run down this list that I'm a sucker for shows that hide subtle spoilers in the opening credits, where they're invisible until you've watched the events spoiled. So, of course, I love the sly placement of a countdown timer starting just past the halfway point of the opening. Evangelion was thus always going to end apocalyptically; that was inevitable from the opening credits of the first episode.

Number 7

(Note: This video defaults to 480p even though it's available in 720p. I highly recommend you fullscreen the video or click the link to open it in YouTube so that you can watch it in the higher resolution, it makes a big difference.)

Another of my all-time favorite anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena is quite possibly the most symbolically dense, richly packed idea-feast in all of anime. (Yes, more than Evangelion. Much, much more than Evangelion.)

The opening is no different, bursting with yonic and phallic imagery, suggestive poses for Utena and Anthy interspersed with swordfights, showing them as dress-clad maidens (well, Anthy anyway) and knights on horseback. It's all about colliding gender roles, a sleeping prince who needs to be woken, the essentially wrong fairy tale fantasy (its wrongness is why the castle's upside-down) crumbling as Utena and Anthy rise... and yet at the end of it Utena is alone and asleep and Anthy has been replaced by a hollow space.

It's another of those openings that is absolutely chock-full of spoilers if you know how to read it right, but the only way to know how to read it is to watch the entire show. And it's one of those openings where I can and do listen to the song on its own; seeing Masami Okui perform it live was one of the surprise highlights of my 2012. And it's an opening where the visuals match up perfectly with the lyrics of the song, about pride and love and loss.

The only flaw in this otherwise brilliant opening isn't really a flaw in the opening itself, so much as a flaw in the show: the horses. The horseback-riding scene in the opening is awesome, and it's tragic that we get no such scene in the show. We get an equivalent with the whole "car" arc, but horses are always cooler than cars.

Still, a great opening to a great show, and we're only at number 7. Life is good.

Number 6

The only ending on the list, and the reason I included endings at all. I couldn't not put this in; the ending sequence of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of the great credit sequences of all time, anime or otherwise. There's a reason this is the film clip I use in my Analyzing Anime 101 panel.

Like many of my favorite openings, it's a subtle retelling of the story of one of my favorite anime. There's a code to all of it--the different positions of the figures around Madoka in the first part correspond to their roles in the story, as does the fact that only one of them moves. The brief transition from cold to hot colors just as Madoka starts running, the way the light fades and she becomes more and more isolated as she progresses... it all tracks brilliantly to the show, as does her fetal position in the eye of the mask at the end--a mask worn by the actor playing Mephistopheles in a German stage production of Faust in the early 1940s.

If you've seen the show, that's all deeply significant, a symbolic retelling (well, except the part about it being specifically a Nazi production of Faust; I have yet to encounter anyone able to put together a convincing theory about that); if you haven't, it's meaningless, but still interesting to watch. The song works exactly the same way; it's a great song, and it's likely that you'll be near the end of the series or even on your second or third viewing before you realize that it's specifically being sung about the protagonist by the deuteragonist.

Dark, distressing, and strangely energizing, this ending is the condensed essence of Madoka Magica, and that's a pretty awesome thing to be.

Number 5

Prepare for extensive mood whiplash in the next couple of videos, we're going to be all over the emotional map.

This is Phoenix, the magnum opus of Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga, the primary creative influence through whom all modern Japanese comics and animation descend, and my fellow Carl Barks fanboy. (No, seriously. Look at the Good Duck Artist's work, and then look at Tezuka's. Heck, read some of the things Tezuka had to say about Disney and Barks. All manga is descended from Scrooge McDuck.)

While there are other anime openings I like better (four, to be precise), this is by far the most beautiful on this list. It's the only word to describe it. That orchestral score (courtesy of the Czech Symphony Orchestra) that blends Western and Eastern sounds is heartbreaking on its own, but combined with those visuals... the only word for it is "wow."

Just in the first thirty seconds we have something that is simultaneously an annular eclipse (that ancient symbol of celestial perfection, the sun-moon, the union of yin and yang), an egg, and an eye, before we realize it is the Cosmic Egg of myth, from which the stars erupt, until out of the chaotic fires of creation emerges the elegant figure of the Phoenix, and all of this then becomes the wheel of dharma--fate--shining down upon a statue of the Buddha.

In the rest of the opening, the Phoenix then flies through Buddha's eye into an ultramodern, borderline futuristic cityscape that gives way to an army of robots that become the dream of an ancient Japanese haniwa statuette (a symbol of death, and an implication that the proto-Shinto grave marker and the Buddhist idol are in some sense one and the same); soon after we are treated to the Pioneer plaque or something similar and young flowers growing, blooming, dying. An endless stream of animals march in the circle of life, and once again we return to the eclipse.

A perfect eternal circle that embraces past, present, and future; a song of life and death and rebirth; a unification of all cultures and ultimately all life; Phoenix.

Also, it's not a j-pop song and it doesn't show any of the characters (unless you count the Phoenix itself; I see it as closer to a plot device, personally). That's major originality points.

Number 4

I did warn you about the whiplash.

Why is this here? The song, mostly. Admit it: If you are less than 30 years old, and possibly even if you are older, the instant you heard the song you wanted to sing along. It's a damn catchy song, and in a fun, rather than ear-wormy, way.

Also, the first season of Pokemon is, unquestionably, the single most-improved English dub over the Japanese original of any anime, and the song is a huge part of that. (Most of the rest is Team Rocket.)

The other thing I like about this opening is that, while the human characters (especially Ash) do appear in it, the focus is undeniably on the Pokemon, many of which appear to have been selected at random rather than chosen for significance to the show. I mean, Dratini? Sandshrew? Not exactly big-name mons. The reason they're here is because this opening is all about celebrating the variety of Pokemon, the breadth of this world rather than its depth (which is good, because it has no depth to speak of). That's the essence of "Gotta catch 'em all"; Ash cannot and will not ever come anywhere close to catching 'em all--if I recall correctly, he peaks at less than twenty percent, and falls further behind with each new generation--but that's not what's important. What's important is seeing 'em all, and acknowledging that they exist.

But mostly I just like singing along. There's not many openings that can get me to do that.

Number 3

(Note: The small size messes up the annotations the person who made this video used to transcribe and translate the lyrics. Open in YouTube or fullscreen it if you want to read the lyrics.)

Like a lot of my favorites, this is another opening that serves as an encapsulation of its series, but it is more like Phoenix or Utena than the Madoka Magica example; it does not state the plot (even in a coded way) but presents the themes and characters of the show. In this case, we see people of all ages and all different walks of life happily laughing, apparently blissfully unaware of the doom that surrounds them or the way the world is racing toward destruction. That's... pretty much Paranoia Agent in a nutshell. The only other thing that would make it perfect is some clear indicator that this is a criticism of the viewer as much as the characters--and then it ends with Shonen Bat smacking the viewer over the head, so that's taken care of.

This is a brilliant song, too. Deeply weird and unsettling, but fun and energetic, rather than creepy. It's a wrong sort of fun, a fun that isn't quite going how its supposed to go, and thus fits well with the maniacally laughing characters and apocalyptic imagery.

The lyrics are great, too--utter nonsense about birds and sunlight and happiness. There's a mushroom cloud on the horizon, by the way, but the important thing is to be happy and enjoy life.

This opening is a work of genius, and Paranoia Agent is an even greater work of genius, arguably the greatest work of the sadly late Satoshi Kon, snatched from us at the peak of his skills and career by a blend of cancer, alternative medicine, and painful irony--if he'd only sought treatment that stood a chance of working instead of treatment that did nothing but felt good, he might have lived. Probably not, though; it was a nasty cancer.

Regardless, this is a brilliant opening. It's not at number one for a single reason: Irony. Specifically, the fact that it (like the rest of Paranoia Agent) is bitterly sarcastic, a hateful jibe at a society depicted as unsalvageable and not worth salvaging. It's not 1990 anymore; it's time to get over the fact that we were supposed to have a nuclear apocalypse by now, quit whining about how terrible everything is, roll up our sleeves and embrace and expand the good. I'm sick of irony; give me some sincerity.

Number 2

Surprise! No, it's not surprising that this is on the list. It's on everybody's list. Odds are pretty high that if you are the appropriate age and physical location to have watched late-night American television within a two-year radius of 2000, this is your favorite anime opening ever. I most definitely was, so it's actually pretty odd that this is "only" at second place on my list.

It's a great opening. The visuals--lots of sillhouetes, strong contrasts, people smoking, typing, firing guns--combine with the jazzy music to powerfully evoke the film noir aesthetic and era, but with spaceships. At first the visuals are straightforward, static geometric elements overlapping with moving images of characters and ships. However, as the song picks up, the images jazz it up with slow glides to one side of the screen (usually the right or bottom), and then the frame/figure binary erodes with a ship exhaust that becomes the frame of the next shot. (According to the series' creator quoted in the art book, this is a world where ships travel faster than light by moving between loops of film on the reel, instead of being forced to move frame-to-frame along the film. The opening is hardly the only place this binary is played with, is what I'm saying.)

Most of all, despite seeing them throughout the opening, its rigid, geometric framing prevents us from getting any sense of the context of the characters' movements, and thus the opening gives us basically no idea of who they are. It's almost like they are enigmas, constrained by their world to act in ways that do not reflect their inner natures--a major, albeit frequently subtle, theme of the show.

Number 1

So... I've done Cowboy Bebop. I've done Evangelion, Pokemon... what could possibly be left for first place? What opening claims my heart and owns my eternal allegiance as the greatest anime opening of all time?

I've already given you a clue, way back in Number 8: April 1996. Specifically, Friday, April 5, 1996, the first broadcast of this:

Yep. Slayers Next, the second season of the animated adaptation of Hajime Kanzaka's cute, fun, funny, but ultimately frothy light fantasy novels. And, as far as I'm concerned, it has the best opening of any anime ever.


First of all, the song. It's Megumi Hayashibara's best song, which is the rough j-pop equivalent of being the most athletic Olympian: it's not automatically equivalent to being the best in history, but it is automatically in the running. It's fun, energetic, adventurous, everything a good shonen theme should be, and it's pretty obviously being sung by Lina herself, given that Hayashibara voiced the character and how well the lyrics describe her motivations, which of course are also the motivations of every shonen main character ever: to grow, to unleash the power inside them, and to find their purpose.

That's what makes this the best anime opening ever, above far more original and, for lack of a better term, artistic openings like Phoenix, Paranoia Agent, or Cowboy Bebop. This is in many ways an ISO 9000 standard anime opening. Where other shows seek to redefine what an anime opening can be, and by so doing become less like an anime opening and more like some other, unnamed-yet-awesome thing, the Slayers Next opening hits all the standard notes of an anime opening and does them perfectly.

J-pop song sung by the female lead, who has a dual voice acting/singing career? Slayers Next has the best song by the best dual voice actress/j-pop idol.

Quick vignettes of the characters wandering the world or facing off with their enemies? Done, with some jokes worked in, like Lina pulling out some weird kabob-thing instead of a spell, Xellos doing his signature "That... is a secret" gesture just as the song mentions seeking for "the answer.

In-jokes for the fans and hidden spoilers? Luna, the best character never to appear outside of credit sequences. Also, the main villain shows up in the intro, but until episode 22 or so you won't notice him, and possibly not even after. We also get to see Lina casting Ragna Blade and the Sword of Light disappearing into darkness, both of which look like they're just symbolic until they happen in the show.

Evangelion-style mystical diagrams? A quick flash of a diagram from the Ars Goetia, which actually means something within the context of the show! Although you'd have to be a seriously hard-core fan to know that, even if you recognized the diagram.

Basically, this opening is a solid j-pop song with appealing images of the characters posing in a way that suggests their personalities and roles and hints at what the show is about. It's a bog-standard opening, but a bog-standard opening that no other bog-standard opening has ever surpassed. It is to anime openings what Chronotrigger is to JRPGs, and that 's a darn good place to stand.

Also, Lina has a realistic figure for someone in her late teens with a very active lifestyle. Let me reiterate: A female anime character has a realistic figure in a show intended for male viewers. And she's the main character, to boot! Okay, that's praise for the show, but it carries over into the opening, and it's rare enough to be awesome.

So that's my top picks. What are yours? Strenuously disagree with my opinions or justifications? Leave a comment, let me know, we'll have a conversation!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Disney Buys LucasArts

So the big news of the moment is that Disney has bought LucasArts, makers of classic games like Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion/Day of the Tentacle, and Full Throttle.

I've seen some people express concerns about this purchase, though they seem to be mostly focused on some other property Disney picked up in the deal. Apparently there's a movie studio attached to LucasArts? I dunno, it doesn't appear to have been involved with much of anything interesting.

Anyway, back to the important part of the story, there's a lot of potential here that I don't think people are seeing. Here's a short list of awesome things Disney could do with these properties:

  • Sell Monkey Island back to Ron Gilbert. He's already asked for it on Twitter, and a few people are kicking around the idea of a Kickstarter to buy the IP and fund a new game.
  • Give Monkey Island to the Epic Mickey team. I don't know whether the results would be good, mind you, but they would definitely be interesting.
  • Green and Purple Tentacle as recurring guest stars on Phineas and Ferb. I would never stop watching that.
  • A new Full Throttle cartoon from the makers of Gravity Falls.
  • A Maniac Mansion 3D CGI movie. Preferably Tim Burton directing, but there are other possibilities too.

Seriously, the ideas write themselves! There is no end to the awesome things that Disney could do with this IP they just picked up.

Or hey, I bet you could make a good movie set in the world of TIE Fighter! Just as long as they don't muck it up and add a bunch of Disney-fied crap like space wizards or heroic teddy bears or something.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guest Post: Convention Bestiary: “That Guy- Actually Guy”

This post was written and sent to me by Charles Dunbar of Study of Anime, who is awesome. I, being significantly less awesome, then proceeded to sit on it for several months. Sorry!

That Guy isn’t a single entity or person, but rather an entire genus of congoer that is seemingly everywhere, and nowhere, at the same time. Owing to a very powerful camouflage that shields them most of the time, it isn’t until That Guy is upon you that you actually see/experience their attack. But fret not- most of These Guys can be easily dealt with.

 Today’s “That Guy” is kith and kin to Conversation Guy, but his method is a tad different. 

Identifying Features: None, which is how this one gets the drop on you. While there have been attempts to single out this particular type of congoer, most of them are either Conversation Guys or socially awkward Basement Dwellers. Actually Guy can mirror the above congoers, but likely will be unidentifiable until he springs into motion.

Habitat: Like Conversation Guy, Actually Guy makes his home in panel rooms, but will not hesitate to insert himself into random conversations in hallways or the Dealer’s Room, or anywhere really, that congoers congregate. 

Notable Behaviours: Again, like Conversation Guy, he will attempt to speak with you during panels. But that is where the resemblance ends. Actually Guy will often attempt to display his “superior” knowledge of the topic at hand by talking over the panelist, interrupting everything they say with an “actually...” followed by his own explanation of the topic at hand. Attempts to shut him down are either met with awkward silences, or with him repeating his “information” and occasionally expressing his disappointment that “he knows more about the topic than the panelist,” but never actually attempting to either host his own panel or contribute to constructive dialogue. Post-panel, they are often overheard to repeat their dissatisfaction loudly to anyone in the room or outside it before vanishing into the crowd without providing tips or helpful pointers. Many a novice panelist has decided to quit paneling because of Actually Guy, at which point he will move on to a different panel and repeat his tactics. 

Effective Countertactics: Few that actually work. Most of the time Actually Guy is also a Troll, and will relish any attempt to shut him down. Unless the complete room rises up against him (at which point he will often make snide remarks about the “ignorance” of the audience) or a staff member intercedes (again, making snide remarks about said staffer) there is no effective way to shut him down.

That said, any panelist well versed in debate will have a solid chance to strike back. It should also be noted that Actually Guy also possesses strong arrogance and a powerful ego, which fuels his motivations (which often lie in the realms of self-gratification through trolling inexperienced panelists and attendees). This will also cause him to make mistakes during the course of dialogue, which any skilled panelist can take advantage of. Puncturing holes in his arguments, or disproving them outright, can potentially turn off all future “contributions” to the panel.

Cautions: There are Actually Guys who actually DO mean well. These will often be less abrasive, and genuinely willing to assist the panelist after the panel with plugging up holes in the material. Normally they can be identified by responding to polite requests to save comments for the end, or even through observing methods of polite interjection (like raising a hand and waiting to be called on), followed closely by comments phrased as questions. These types of Actually Guys should be treated respectfully, because they might actually know more about the topic at hand, and are in the panel for perspective’s sake. 

It should also be noted that some Actually Guys have the potential to either turn hostile or become Panel Jackers. These must be dealt with swiftly, or the repercussions will be dire for all those involved. This subtype of Actually Guy is also far more likely to engage in conversation crashing than other types.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Brave Princesses, Avatars in Refrigerators, and the Trouble with Tomboys

So, I watched Brave last night, and the season finale of The Legend of Korra this morning. Both were pretty good (Korra was better), but both made me a little uncomfortable when I thought about them from a feminist perspective.

Here's the problem. The kyriarchy tells us that there are two gendered sets of virtues, and that masculine virtues are better than feminine virtues. For example:
  • Masculine: Strength, Courage, Honor, Determination, Combat Skills
  • Feminine: Compassion, Prudence, Negotiation, Calm, Emotional Intelligence, Domestic Skills
The kyriarchy wants us to believe that men are more inclined to have the masculine virtues, and that the more masculine virtue you have, the better a man you are, while women are more inclined to have the feminine virtues, and the more feminine virtue you have, the better a woman you are. This is a lie; virtue is virtue, variation within a gender is greater than the differences between genders, and there aren't two and only two genders, anyway.

The plot of Brave is, in large part, about exposing and rejecting this lie (within a nice safe distant-past-foreign-country-fantasy-world, so that we can pretend it's not a lie our culture tells, too). Merida has the "masculine" virtues in great measure--she's pretty much your classic generic-issue Spunky Tomboy Princess Cliche--while her mother Elinor is a font of "feminine" virtues. Of course Elinor is trying to stamp out Merida's tomboyishness and teach her feminine virtues, and Merida rebels, and so she runs to the Sea Bear Witch and makes an ill-advised bargain and yeah we've seen this movie before. But it's pretty!

And yeah, okay, kudos for exposing that half of the lie, but... ultimately, Merida very slightly for one moment adopts a couple of "feminine" virtues to resolve the main subplot, but the climax of the movie entails Elinor needing to take on and learn to appreciate "masculine" virtues in herself and her daughter, and the ending shows Elinor embracing and joining in Merida's wilderness romps. Which is fine and all, but it's still saying that the "masculine" virtues are better than the feminine virtues. It's not saying "Be yourself," it's saying "Be yourself as long as you display traditionally masculine virtues; if you have traditionally feminine virtues, change."

But the movie has a much bigger example of genderfail: Every single male character, without exception, is a violent, idiotic slob, and it is always up to women to reign them in. It's Sitcom Sexism, right down to the fat unkempt slob of a husband with the slim, perfectly groomed, conventionally beautiful wife. By Sitcom Sexism, I mean misogyny disguised as misandry--look at pretty much anything by Stephen Moffat or Seth MacFarlane for some great examples. Men are depicted as buffoons with no control over their lives and no capacity for self-consideration, either barbarians or henpecked wimps, while women are depicted as controlled and controlling, civilizing influences that bring order to masculine chaos through their negotiation skills, emotional intelligence, and outright manipulation. On the surface it seems to depict women as superior to men, but note what it adds up to: Men can do whatever they want, without consequences, because no one expects anything better of them, while women do all the work of maintaining relationships, homes, and in this case kingdoms, and get nothing for it, because they're expected to do it.


And then there's Korra. Korra has not lived up to the depth of characterization of its predecessor, because it has a lot less room to do so--twelve episodes to tell a complete story with a large cast, instead of the 60-plus of Avatar the Last Airbender. Korra herself is the only character who's had any real development, and she's... well, she's strong, courageous, moderately honorable, and an incredible fighter, and admittedly fairly compassionate toward allies and bystanders (but most definitely not enemies), but she clearly doesn't possess much in the way of "feminine" virtues. Her lack of emotional intelligence is even a major element in the two biggest subplots, the love triangle and her struggle to master airbending and the spiritual side of being the Avatar.

But there's two major differences from Brave in Korra's tomboyishness: First, no one ever presents her with a gendered notion of virtue. No one ever says, as they do to Merida, "Your behavior is acceptable for a boy, but you're a girl." Some people are trying to teach her the "feminine" virtues, but not because she's a girl; they are depicted as things everyone needs to learn. The second is that, because "masculine" and "feminine" virtues are not presented as opposites (because they're not--you can be both courageous and prudent, determined and capable of negotiation, and so on), she does not have to choose one set over the other and one set is not depicted as superior to the other. Instead, there aren't two sets--just a bunch of different virtues she needs to acquire.

The bigger problem in Korra is the Women in Refrigerators issue. For those unfamiliar, Women in Refrigerators is a term coined by comic-book writer Gail Simone to refer to the frequency with which female characters in superhero books are killed, maimed, or depowered. Among other things, Avatar and Korra are superhero stories; Korra is a legacy character, the Silver Age Flash to his Golden Age Flash (or perhaps more appropriately, the Renee Montoya to his Charlie Sage).

And what happens when we switch from a male hero to a female hero? The old villain's goal was world domination through genocide; the new villain's goal is stripping everyone of their superpowers.  And surprise surprise, Korra gets depowered. And then a man saves her. And then another man kills him. And then a third man gives her her powers back.



I'm inclined to be charitable to Korra. Yeah, the depowering thing is pretty fail-y, especially given that the skill used to depower her is also a specialty of the woman who fails to heal her, but because she didn't yet have one of her powers he wasn't able to take it. Reaching rock bottom enables her to tap her spiritual side and airbend, and then later it enables her to summon Aang to restore her bending.

More to the point, these are people who gave us Toph. And Katara, and even Azula in her own way. They've earned it.

Brave, on the other hand? It would take a lot of charity to get the taste of Sitcom Sexism out of my mouth, and frankly, Pixar hasn't earned it. Try again, guys.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Katsucon 2012: Analyzing Anime 101

I think I still owe some AUSA panels, and I will try to get to those soon. In the meantime, here is one from earlier this month at Katsucon 2012 in National Harbor, MD.

This was an experiment, blending panel and workshop elements. I think it was pretty successful, but needs more audience action at the beginning. Below is the first part; click to go to Youtube and you should get a playlist with all four parts.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Convention Bestiary: The Glomper

While glompers have become rare in recent years due to cons increasingly cracking down on over-exuberant behavior likely to cause injury, they still occasionally turn up. Of all creatures in the Convention Bestiary, the glomper is among the most physically dangerous, so vigilance remains important despite its increasingly endangered status.

Identifying Features: Glompers are typically younger and female, but both older and male glompers exist. Identifying a glomper by site is extremely difficult, but they are easily identified by their behavior.

Habitat: Convention center and hotel hallways; anywhere that cosplayers congregate.

Notable Behaviors: Upon sighting a cosplayer dressed as a favorite character, the glomper will immediately emit a high-pitched squeal and attempt to hug the cosplayer, without regard for personal space or safety. There is at least one documented instance of a glomper tackling a cosplayer at the top of a staircase, throwing both of them down it.

Effective Countertactics: The only certain way to avoid glomping is to not cosplay. However, if you still wish to cosplay, your best option is vigilance. If you hear the distinctive shriek of the glomper, locate the glomper, wait for them to start their attack run, and then step out of the way. If you're lucky, they will go down the stairs instead of you.

Cautions: Do not attempt to use poor hygiene or direct violence as a defence against glompers. Poor hygiene is simply not effective; anyone unobservant enough to tackle-hug someone at the top of a staircase is not going to notice even the most powerful con-stench. Violence has a tendency to get one thrown out of cons, even when in self-defense against random glompings.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Katsucon Post-Coma Report

I think Katsucon may have been the most tiring convention I've ever been to. I slept for fifteen and a half hours after I got home! I don't think I've ever slept that much straight through without chemical assistance or being seriously ill.

Anyway, Katsucon was fun, but had serious flaws. Let's start with...

The Good

Some of the good things at Katsucon were the typical good things at any con: Seeing con friends like Charles and Aaron and Tom (no Jeff, bastard went to the Doctor Who con instead), feeling like an accepted member of a community even when surrounded by strangers, not feeling threatened when people I don't know start talking to me and I don't know why, all that stuff was out in force. Also, I don't think I heard any meme kids all con--the only time anybody tried that obnoxious call-response shit was when Charles did it to make a point about fan culture.

Some high points specific to the con:
  • I never went to the video rooms or manga library. As I believe I've mentioned before, I don't go to cons to watch anime or read manga, because I can easily (and much more cheaply) do that at home. I will only go to a video room or manga library if there's nothing else to do, and that never happened at this year's Katsu.
  • We Con, Therefore We Are: A debate of sorts between an elitist jackass who was offended that anime cons don't consist entirely of scholarly gentlemen sipping tea and smoking fine cigars whilst comparing and contrasting Tezuka's linework to Miyazaki's, and Charles, who argued (rightly) that cons are and should be more about the fandom than the anime itself. Very entertaining, and the elitist jackass argued his point well despite being massively wrong and facing quite a bit of hostility from the crowd.
  • My Panels: All of my panels went off really well. Analyzing Anime 101 was a resounding success, despite the terrible time slot, and I am immensely happy with it. I am already making plans for a less anime-focused version to pitch to multi-fandom cons. Judaism and Anime went well, but still ran a little short even with the new content. I will have to add still more before I try again.
    As for my panels with Viga, the Madoka panel was immensely successful but we were unable to film it. We promised we would record a version at home and put that up on YouTube, but we will probably not be able to until some time in March. Anime of the West managed to blow some minds and hopefully help people understand that animation is animation no matter where it's from. Finally, My Little Panel: Friendship Is Magic went amazingly--our revised material was strong, our discussions of pony biology and the Cutie Mark Crusaders generated a lot of response, and the audience was extremely enthusiastic (some of them waited in line for two hours)!
  • Charles' and Aaron's Panels: I finally got to see Charles' Pokemon panel after missing it two cons in a row, and it was everything I had hoped for. He even gave Vanillish some much-needed love! I also finally managed to catch one of Aaron's panels (two, actually, The Life and Works of Hideaki Anno and Evangelion, WTF) and both were quite good.
The Bad

Despite having a lot of good, there were some serious issues with Katsucon this year, and they pretty much sum up to one word: Scheduling. A lot of people (including at least one guest I know of) had complaints about the scheduling of their panels, which seemed to be done without any regard for when might be an appropriate time (the middle of the night is not a good time for any panel that expects its audience to think!) or the effects on panelists and attendees. For example, my panel schedule was:
  • 2 a.m. Sunday: Analyzing Anime 101
  • 7 a.m. Sunday: Judaism and Anime
  • 9 a.m. Sunday: Madoka
  • 11 a.m. Sunday: Anime of the West
  • 1 p.m. Sunday: MLP:FIM

Kindly explain to me when the hell I'm supposed to get some sleep while giving those five hours of panels? And seriously, Analyzing Anime at two in the morning? What were you thinking, Katsucon!? I basically had to miss busiest part of the con because I spent Saturday afternoon and evening asleep in preparation for this absurd schedule.

The Ugly

Yes, there was worse than the scheduling fail. Much worse, and like the bad, it all comes down to one word. In this case: Communication.

Katsucon staff failed, hard, at communicating even basic information to the people who needed to know it, right from the start:
  • Panelists were not informed of their panels until two weeks before the convention. E-mails to con staff prior to this received no response or unhelpful responses. I understand that this was because they had not yet completely nailed down the guests, but there must have been some point well before the two weeks mark at which they were sure that they would have time for at least X panels, and they could have accepted that many panels while waitlisting an additional Y they hoped to have room for, like Anime Boston is doing this year.
  • The printed schedule handed out at the beginning of the con was an unreadable mess. Every con I have ever been to uses a grid layout: one axis shows the rooms, the other shows the time, and at the intersection you find the name of whatever event is in that room at that time. Katsucon has always had particularly unreadable grids that make it hard to tell whether a panel is on the half-hour or the hour, but this year was worse by far: There was no grid at all, just a list of panels organized by room.
    A list would be bad enough, but organizing it by room elevated the schedule from hard to use to impossible to use. People use the con schedule either to plan their day in advance or to decide where to go right now. In either case, the question is "What is happening at a particular time?" Only after you make that decision do you then want to know what room the event is in. Organizing by rooms makes answering the second question much easier, but at the price of making answering the first question a ton of work. I am quite sure I missed out on panels I might want to see because it was too much work to figure out when they were and whether they conflicted with other things I wanted to see--not that it matters, because thanks to my ridiculous schedule, I probably couldn't have seen them anyway.
    There was an online schedule using the grid format, but as the hotel did not have free wi-fi, it was only accessible to people with smartphones. There was no other attempt to communicate the schedule: No schedule grid posted as a sign at the information desks, and no signs in front of rooms showing the individual schedules for each room. Which leads to my next point...
  • Con staff did a woefully inadequate job of communicating schedule changes. The print schedule did not reflect changes made even before the con started, but they didn't actually tell anyone that unless they asked. They updated the online schedule with any changes, but did not provide updated print schedules at the information desks, which most cons do. Schedule changes during the con were not announced in any form except online--since there were no schedule signs, those could not be updated, nor did anyone post signs on room doors, as I've seen other cons do. Our My Little Pony panel was rescheduled from noon Sunday to 1 p.m., and not only did no one tell Viga and I, no one told the 60+ fans waiting in line for it until Viga and I saw them and started making noise. The former is an annoying oversight, but not disastrous. The latter is completely unacceptable. Oh, and when I asked why we were rescheduled, I got either the blatant lie or the egregious error that it was to give us a bigger space, even though we were still in the same room!
  • The convention did not have a feedback panel at the end. Apparently, buried in the unreadable mess of a schedule, there was one on Saturday afternoon at some point, which is just absurd. How can people give feedback on the con when half of it hasn't happened yet?

I'm still mulling this one over. Viga and I are seriously considering not coming back to Katsucon next year. She wants to make MagFest her winter con, and I am frankly fine with having one fewer con to pay for. On the other hand, if not for the shit-tacular scheduling that forced us to get a room for the weekend, this would have been nearly as cheap as AUSA, so the cost savings wouldn't be that much if I felt reasonably confident that I wouldn't have such bad scheduling. So it's up in the air right now.

Convention Bestiary: Meme Kids

Identifying Features: Meme kids have the same distribution of gender, class, ethnicity, and clothing styles as con attendees in general. However, they are nearly always in the 14-21 age range and without adult supervision. Often they can be identified by their dead, lifeless eyes, manic grins, and slight drool, indicative of their lack of capacity for original thought or anything resembling normal human conversation.

Habitat: Convention center and hotel hallways, as well as the streets immediately surrounding the convention.

Notable Behaviors: Shouting out call-and-response memes is the only form of communication of which meme kids are capable, and they indulge in it continually. Their cries have been theorized to be a form of asserting membership in the herd, or possibly some sort of echolocation. Suggestions that it may be a mating cry have been met with horrified outrage, as it implies the possibility of meme kids reproducing at some point.

Effective Countertactics: There are only two known ways to stop meme kids, and both can only be accomplished by convention organizers and staff. The first is a zero-tolerance policy: Anyone caught shouting memes has their badge taken away and is immediately expelled from the convention. The second is to simply price the convention out of meme kids' range, either by making tickets very expensive or by holding it at a very expensive location. The second strategy has the unfortunate side effect of preventing lower-income fans from attending, so the first is heartily recommended.

Cautions: Despite all indications to the contrary, meme kids are still considered human beings by most jurisdictions, and so indiscriminate slaughter may result in arrest, jail time, even execution or expulsion from the convention! Even in those few jurisdictions that rightly classify teenagers as wild beasts, animal cruelty laws may still apply. Above all, do not try to make meme kids or point out that they are incredibly annoying. If they were capable of reasoning, they would not need to constantly parrot memes, and the entire point of their behavior is to get a response--yelling at them is simply rewarding them.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Convention Bestiary: Conversation Guy

Going to be starting something new. It is, perhaps, a little mean-spirited, but very cathartic. I am going to start chronicling the... let's say "less than perfectly socialized" people you tend to meet at cons. Since I mostly go to anime cons with the occasional cross-geekery or sci-fi con thrown in, the list will be skewed in those directions. For our first entry, let's all meet...

Conversation Guy

Identifying Features: Conversation Guy is always a white male in his 20s or older, usually bearded and overweight, and always poorly groomed. There is no particular reason why these features should be so, but I have encountered many different Conversation Guys, and the patterns are consistent.

Habitat: Any panel, but especially ones to do with a technological or science-fictional topic.

Notable Behaviors: Conversation Guy's primary characteristics are a total lack of consideration and an inability to distinguish between a panel and a personal conversation. Conversation Guy will thus respond to every single thing the panelists say as if the rest of the audience were not in the room and instead he and the panelists were hanging out together, shooting the breeze.

Effective Countertactics: Snark. Conversation Guy is typically desperate to prove his knowledge of the panel topic, so puncturing his fragile little ego is a great way to shut him down. If you are in the audience, and Conversation Guy is disrupting the panel, ask him why his name isn't in the program, since clearly he thinks he's on the panel. If you are a panelist, try pointing out that you don't go to his panels and talk over him.

Cautions: Do not set your Conversation Guy sensors too high! Bearded, poorly groomed, overweight white dudes and people with poor social skills are both fairly common at cons, and so is the intersection. Don't immediately jump down the throat of anyone who, in a moment of passion, responds to or corrects a panelist, especially if the panelists seem okay with it! On the other hand, if an audience member seems to be talking more than any of the panelists, you have a case of Conversation Guy on your hands. Shoot to kill; you are doing everyone a favor.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Analyzing Anime 101 Notes

Below are my notes for my upcoming Analyzing Anime 101 panel at Katsucon 2012. The aim of the panel is to provide an overview of the techniques and approaches of textual analysis as applied to anime. It assumes a level of knowledge equivalent to a high school education, which is to say no prior knowledge of textual analysis (hence the 101).

I welcome comments, suggestions, and criticisms, as I want to do the best job I can of presenting this. In particular, if anyone can suggest good introductory books or books for laymen on general analysis, film criticism, or anime criticism in specific, I would be most appreciative--all of my knowledge comes from the textbooks I used in college, which were expensive to begin with and now mostly out of print.

Warning: Major NGE spoilers, minor spoilers for Madoka, Cardcaptor Sakura, and Slayers.

Analyzing Anime 101

What is Analysis?
  • All art is collaborative process: Even when there is a singular artist, there are still two people involved in the experience of art: the artist and the viewer.
  • Most viewers usually are passive consumers of art, with the interpretation occurring mostly automatically and subconsciously. Few works provoke the general viewer into actively trying to construct meaning, usually by aggressively posing questions and providing ambiguous answers.
  • Analysis is the active, conscious participation in art. It consists of taking conscious control of the process of interpreting art, observing one's own automatic interpretations and subjecting them to test or intentionally trying different interpretations.
  • Analysis begins with "close reading," the careful and attentive study of a text with a focus on identifying what is actually in the text itself, rather than what is constructed by the viewer.
Why Analyze?
  • Because it is fun: the more effort you put into the things you enjoy, the more you enjoy them. Good art becomes better; bad art becomes tolerable, or at least instructive.
  • Because it adds depth to your experience of works: The passive consumption of a 22-minute episode takes 22 minutes. The analysis can take as long as you want it to, which means you get to enjoy it that much longer. You can also discover things to appreciate you never knew were there.
  • It gives you new things to think about, talk about, and explore: Analysis can lead you down new and interesting paths to learn about things you never thought you would be interested in, and give you insights into other works. For example, I learned about Kabbalah primarily because I wanted to understand Neon Genesis Evangelion. I learned about Jung's use of alchemical symbolism because I wanted to understand Xenosaga. And when both showed up together in Fullmetal Alchemist, I understood.
Basic Concepts
  • Art as Process, not Object
  • Multiplicity of Perspectives
  • Close Reading
  • Pattern-Forming
  • Interrogating the Text
Art as Process
  • Any work of art begins as thoughts, feelings, images, and concepts in the mind of the artist(s).
  • The artist expresses these thoughts, feelings, etc. through some sort of medium, for example a painting, a book, or film.
  • The chosen medium informs and contains the expression. There are things a painting can do that a film cannot, and vice versa. This is why, when a film is based on a book, adhering too closely to the book often results in a bad film, even if the book was good. Because the artist's expression is filtered through the medium, the text is already moving away from being a pure expression of the artist's intent.
  • The viewer experiences art through the medium.
  • The viewer interprets and filters the art through their own ideas, experiences, and current state.
  • As time passes, the viewer's imperfect memory further distorts the text, while at the same time the viewer continues to interpret and re-interpret it each time they think about it. The viewer constructs an interpretation and understanding of the text, forms opinions and emotional responses, and creates the final form of the experienced text in the viewer's mind.
Perspectives on a Text
  • Doylist vs. Watsonian: Who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories? In real life, Doyle did. But in the stories themselves, they are accounts by Watson of his adventures with Holmes. The Doylist perspective on a text looks at it from outside, as an artificial work created in a real-world context, and all the characters and events are creations of the author. The Watsonian perspective on a text looks at if from within, as a reality of its own, and all the characters and events are real, with motivations and causes. For example, a Doylist explanation of the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion might be that they were a cost-saving measure forced by the studio's near-bankruptcy. A Watsonian interpretation might be that they represent Shinji's attempt to interpret events beyond human comprehension. A spectrum, rather than a binary, and most of the following perspectives can be placed on that spectrum.
  • Psychological Perspectives: Focus on the characters. What drives them? Why do they make the choices that they do? What are their personalities, and how do they reflect the way real people behave and think? For example, one can view the magical girls in Puella Magi Madoka Magica as exploring different responses to child abuse: Kyoko oscillates between acting out and denial; Homura detaches and tries to shut down her emotions; Sayaka becomes violent and self-destructive. A mostly Watsonian approach.
  • Historical/Cultural Perspectives: Focus on the time and place in which the work was created. How does the work reflect the concerns, ideas, and controversies of its time? Does it embrace any trends in other works from the same time/place? Attack such trends? For example, Sailor Moon blends the traditionally feminine maho shojo genre with elements of the traditionally masculine sentai genre. One can argue that this was a trend in the 90s of adding shonen elements to shojo series and vice versa. A mostly Doylist approach.
  • Social/Values Criticism: How does the work reflect the social and political structures and conflicts of its time/place, or how can it be applied to the social and political structures and conflicts of the viewer's time/place? What values does the work express and explore? For example, one can explore Cardcaptor Sakura from the perspective of queer criticism, and look at how it depicts both a romantic reciprocal relationship between two young men (one clearly bi and the other gay or bi), and a one-sidedly romantic relationship between a lesbian or bi young woman and her apparently straight friend. Tends to blend Doylist and Watsonian perspectives.
  • Death of the Author: Not a perspective per se, but a concept which cuts across and influences many perspectives. The Death of the Author is the notion that, since the work in the author's mind is not the same as either the text or the final product in the viewer's mind, statements by the author about the meaning of the text carry no more weight than any other person's statements. More broadly, the only facts, as far as analysis is concerned, are the contents of the text itself. Everything else is interpretation. It is a historical fact that Hideaki Anno said that the Christian and Jewish symbols used in Neon Genesis Evangelion were just thrown in to look cool and exotic to Japanese audiences, but the only fact as far as interpreting the series is concerned is that they are there. They may be meaningless in the NGE in Anno's head, but that does not necessarily mean they are meaningless in the NGE in yours.
  • No perspective is the best one. If you have a particular perspective you find you prefer, by all means go for it. If you find different perspectives better for different texts, go with that. If you find mixing multiple perspectives most rewarding, go with that.
Close Reading
  • "Reading" a "text": Despite the terms, any human creation can be viewed as a text, from a novel to a film to a painting to the back of a cereal box to a garbage can lid. Any text can be read, which is to say, viewed and interpreted in order to construct and assign meaning.
  • Close reading is mindfulness. It consists of paying close attention to the text, looking for details and patterns, and noting anything that stands out.
  • Close reading is about the text and only the text. It is not about what you think of the text, how the text makes you feel, or anything else about you. It is not about where the text was written or what it implies about the author. It is solely and entirely about getting as clear a view of the text as possible, both as a unified whole and on a reductionist level. It is objective, not subjective.
  • [Example: Show the ending credits sequence of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, guide audience through a brief attempt at close reading.]
  • Humans are pattern-making machines, so sophisticated and powerful we can look at two dots and a curved line and turn them into a face. Pattern-forming consists of finding patterns within the text and fitting the text into external patterns.
  • Patterns within a work can include repeated motifs, parallels between elements, contrasts between elements, and implied comparisons between elements. For example, NGE has a repeated motif of bad things happening to people's left arms, especially Shinji's. It parallels Shinji's troubled relationship with his father to Misato's troubled relationship with her father. It contrasts Asuka's bright colors and brash persona to Shinji's more neutral color scheme and extreme doormat tendencies. By presenting both as possible love interests to Shinji and as pilots, it implies comparison between Rei and Asuka.
  • External patterns a work can fit into include the use of common structures, tropes, and motifs; generic elements that place it within a definable genre; and references, allusions to and parodies of other works. Slayers uses immediately recognizable tropes such as its anti-hero main characters and Manichaean fantasy setting; its story structures, character archetypes, and themes are typical of the shonen fantasy adventure genre; it includes references such as a character in Utena's costume proffering a rose to Gourry or Lina wearing a dress reminiscent of Alice and Wonderland while lost in an absurdist dream world, and explicitly parodies (among other things) sentai teams, the movie Shane, and old Merrie Melodies shorts.
  • [Example: Ask audience to describe patterns within and external patterns influencing the Madoka ending credits.]
Interrogating the Text
  • Does the text ask any questions? A text may explicitly or implicitly ask questions of the viewer, as simple as "What just happened?" or as complex as "Who are you?" or "What does it mean to be good?" These are often a good place to start in asking and answering your own questions of the text.
  • Does it answer its own questions? Most texts will pose and then answer at least some questions, such as "And then what happened?" Some texts will do likewise for more difficult questions. The text may also answer a question, but then call that answer into question. For example, early on NGE poses the question of whether human science can win against a force of nature, and points to air conditioning as proof that yes, it can. Later, however, when the Eva breaks free of its binding this conclusion is denied.
  • Does the text take a stand (implicitly or explicitly) on any controversies? What political positions does it support or treat as true? For example, Hayao Miyazaki frequently depicts anti-war and environmental themes in his films. In Princess Mononoke, the three-way war between Iron Town, the Imperial forces, and the boars accomplished nothing but bringing destruction and suffering to all sides, and the elimination of the industrial Iron Town and restoration of the natural environment it damaged is treated as a happy ending.
  • What does the text have to say about the big questions of life, the universe, and everything? Bakurano depicts a universe that is bleak, hostile, and hopeless, and human existence as tiny and meaningless. Gurren Lagann, by contrast, depicts humans as beings of immense potential to affect change, who can transform portions of the universe to be friendly spaces full of hope.
  • What is the viewer left wondering? Does the text give any clues? NGE's final episodes are notoriously difficult to understand and stylized, but they contain tantalizing glimpses of what is "really" happening and interstitials suggesting a possible interpretation.
  • [Example: Ask the audience to interrogate the same Madoka clip.]
Further Reading (TBD)