Ebert's review of The Last Airbender (they hastily dropped the "Avatar" from the title after you-know-what) strikes blows for good animated features and against the misuse of 3D.
Other people have documented in great detail how M. Night botched the casting to make the movie more Peoria-friendly, and how he squirmed on the hook when confronted with this, with various dodges about racial ambiguities in anime. But in the end the casting doesn't even seem to have been the movie's biggest problem, which is (based on this review and others I've seen which leaked beforehand) that the movie just plain sucks.
Several takeaways for me from all this:
I still can't talk publicly about the Potentially Great Thing that may or may not be happening — both because I'm not sure I can, and because I'm kinda anxious about jinxing a good thing. All I'll say s that if, if, this goes through, it'll mean I'll be getting paid cash moneys to do something fandom-related.
Some updates in the meanwhile.
(Title is a Controlled Bleeding reference.)
I'm nearing the home stretch on my most recent book, The Underground Sun. If it's news to you that I was even working on a new book, I'm not surprised.
See, I don't tend to talk a lot about what I have under wraps. I'm also discovering that tendency towards modesty might not be doing me any favors, much as I hate to admit it.
Most any day of the week, I can open up my web browser and see a fistful of tweets, Facebook status updates, LJ posts and blog articles from other authors I know. They're only too happy to tell me their wordcounts, chapter milestones, and so on — all forms of self-promotion that I have traditionally avoided.
I don't like doing such things, as far as my own work is concerned. Part of it is that I've been leery of stumping for things that are not finished yet, simply because they're not finished. It smacks of promising something that for all I know I might not be able to deliver as described. (What if I have to ditch the project? What if it's substantially rewritten? Etc.) That's the last thing I wanted to do: advertise for goods that would never be for sale.
But I'm also discovering that such honesty comes at a cost — the cost of not maintaining mindshare. One of the reasons authors talk up their work is because it reminds everyone, however subtly, that there's more stuff on the way. It's too easy to not follow an author's site religiously. The more you talk about what you have on the various burners, the easier it becomes for people to get back in the habit of staying in touch to get the latest updates, which are days rather than months apart.
To that end, look to this space in the coming days for some (literally) eye-opening Underground Sun news.
... ad invoke whatever good fortune you can to send my way to ensure that I get the damn thing finished by August 15th!
First, a note about my revised convention schedule:
MangaNext is of course the sister convention to AnimeNext, and the more I hear about it the more I like it. It's smaller, friendlier, more "bookish" (perfect fit for me), and they have a swap meet. Expect a closet-cleaning to take place well in advance of that.
Also, a discussion at GigaOm about why the Kindle will win the e-book wars: 1) Amazon has a buy-once-read-anywhere system in place that supersedes the Kindle device itself; 2) Amazon is a brand that is trusted with both books and technology; 3) Amazon also "gets" software, and should do all it can to foster and nurture that.
I agree with about 2 1/2 of these three points, and the only place I really dissent is in that Amazon may "win" but that doesn't mean I feel the battle will end with them — no more so than, say, HD's evolution ended with Blu-ray beating HD-DVD. There's a lot of work to be done with e-books that Amazon hasn't even started to touch yet. What will they do about books that are heavy on visuals (e.g., comics)? Will they allow Kindle productions to be automatically translated into print-on-demand items as well? (It would only make sense.) Will they eventually allow books to be loaned, traded, resold? Even if they're still copy-protected at every step of the transaction?
In theory, I already own a Kindle: I downloaded the PC app and bought several books in the format. I'm interested in seeing if the long-vaunted Kindle app for Android changes my reading habits. But the vast majority of what I'm interested in reading still isn't offered as Kindle product, and so for me the incentive to make the Kindle that much more a part of how I read is low. Maybe next decade.
Attempts in Japan to overturn the dominance of newspapers via digital media have largely stiffed:
Ink Gushes in Japan’s Media Landscape (New York Times)
The article talks about how online journalism in Japan hasn't yet done much to displace conventional printed news.
Not much mention of 2ch-style anonymous boards as an influence. Which isn't to say they are, just that I do have to wonder how much of that sort of thing has already acquired a sizable (if practically untrackable) audience of its own that more conventional, upscale sites can't steal away.
AnimeNext 2010 was a great success. I sold out all but two copies of the books in stock, met some great new friends, saw some also-great existing ones (you know who you are!) ... all around, a terrific show. Even the round-trip travel time from the convention center to the house where I was staying wasn't that bad — and this is the New Jersey Turnpike we're talking about, so I was prepared for a four-lane parking lot in both directions. It was only going back through the George Washington Bridge that was bad news, especially since my car's A/C had konked out several weeks before. Ouch.
Even better was a stroke of luck where one of the artist's alley tables went vacant, and my good buddy Dave McCrae helped snap it up for me on the morning of the 2nd day. Said table turned out to be right in front of the main artist's alley exit; I couldn't have asked for better placement.
Yes, I'll be back next year — most likely splitting a spot with Dave (who I'm also sharing space with at Otakon this year).
On my shelf of Good Stuff, within reaching distance of me as I type this, are two small manga anthologies by Yoshiharu Tsuge — he of the famously-weird Neji-shiki, among other things. I bought them for $3.50 each from the Strand in New York City. One of them still has the obi strip; the other has a dedication written in black-fading-to-brown ink on the flyleaf. They are physical artifacts. I imagine that long after I have sold off or given away many other books in my library, I will still have these.
By the time that happens, I worry that I might not be able to have comics as physical artifacts anymore.
For a while now I've been trying to write an essay about e-publishing and manga — or, more generally, comics — and I keep running into the same problem. I don't believe, in the seat of my funky soul, that comics deserve a fate like e-publishing. I worry that the rush to electronic publishing is destroying the idea of bound printed matter as an end in itself. I worry that swapping pages for screens is not and can never be a one-for-one, or even a one-for-many proposition. I worry a lot.
I know, I sound like a Luddite. Worse, a fretting and potentially hypocritical one, since I'm typing this on a computer (gasp) with two monitors (double gasp) while my Android-powered smartphone remains within reach as well. But I will also say that familiarity breeds contempt, or at the very least skepticism.Read more
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence will include a new and restored high-definition master, The Oshima Gang (an original making-of featurette), new video interviews (with producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, actor Tom Conti and actor-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto), Hasten Slowly (an hour-long documentary about author and adventurer Laurens van der Post, whose autobiographical novel is the basis for the film), the film's original theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by film writer Chuck Stephens and a 1983 interview with director Nagisa Oshima by Japanese film writer Tadao Sato.
Follow the link in the movie title for my review. There's no Amazon product link yet but there should be before long.
I've spent the last few days running a fever and coughing my eyes out, so I haven't had much of a chance to post anything. Now that the cough has leveled out a bit and I'm no longer feeling like there's a layer of sweat between me and everything I touch, I can post some news:
First: I'm at AnimeNext this coming weekend! Look for me there in Artist's Alley under the Genji Press banner.
Second: The next book from the GP imprint, The Underground Sun, is finally nearing the completion of its first draft. It has been a long and painful road to get there, and the book will need major editing before it can be released. And once it's done, it'll represent a certain personal milestone, which may have major significance for the future direction of other work.
In short: this may be the last book I publish under my own imprint.
I've been doing the self-pub thing for a few years now, and the amount of work required to get even the most minimal amount of attention paid to anything is exhausting. I enjoy it, but at the same time I have come to the conclusion I'm shortchanging myself entirely too much. After Sun is finished and released, it'll be time to take whatever comes next and market it a little more conventionally.
It hasn't been a total waste, and I don't mean to imply that it was. I've learned a few things about how to package and market my own work, and I think that's the single biggest lesson learned — and the most valuable, since having those skills is critically useful to any writer trying to draw attention to their work. I just now have to learn how to do that for the sake of an agent or editor, instead of just fans or random folks passing in front of my sales table.
Next, I have some shorter fiction that I've dived into and started working on for the sake of a couple of markets that were passed my way. I've avoided doing shorter fiction for a while now, if only for a fairly spurious reason (marketability). But negative feedback is better than none, and it's about time I took the lessons I learned in the past few years and aimed them in another direction.
The way I put all this, in a conversation with a friend of mine, could be summed up in four words: Do the next thing. It's time to play that much further over my head, and see what happens.
Here's an exercise for the reader. Take the word "horror" in the linked article and swap it for the word "anime" or "manga.
Horror has its share of detractors. More than its share, really. There are a lot of people out there who think it's trash, that it's lame and stupid. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, these folks aren't the genre's worst enemy. They're not the reason we get tons of terrible horror movies every year. Instead, they are reacting to those same terrible movies and painting the entire genre with the same brush as a result. Who can blame them for thinking horror is lame when 90% of the horror movies released every year really are lame? No, the real enemy of the genre is undiscerning fandom, people who are perhaps like Skullfucker and think any horror film should be above criticism. That it's "pretentious" to want more than tits and blood.
I have, as you can probably guess, run into my local version of this phenomenon plenty of times. I stump for a show like Tatami Galaxy, or House of Five Leaves, and the most coherent feedback I get is "That was weird." Hello, Irony Dept. calling: do you not realize that "weird" is the exact same catch-all epithet that has been flung at manga/anime for decades now by those outside the fandom!?
"Pretentious" is a tougher one to choke down, because it's usually thrown around by people who are neither straightforward fans (e.g., they just wanna have some fun, nothing wrong with that) or people with ambitions to develop a critical eye for what comes their way. They're stuck somewhere in the middle, and they sneer both at the guys below and above them. For folks of that caliber, I have nothing but contempt.
People who just want to have a good time, I can at least respect their wishes — heck, I have more than a few recommendations for them. That doesn't mean I'm going to ignore my urge to give them more than what they ask for. If they like Boys over Flowers, then I have an obligation to point them towards Nana (a far more intelligent and satisfying series); if they were raised on beat-'em-ups like DBZ, then I'll point them towards more complicated but still viscerally-satisfying stuff like Darker than Black.
I feel obliged — not because I'm a snob (at least, I try not to be one) but because I believe any fan worth his salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce deserves to have the broadest possible appreciation for his fandom, and that the less fans we have who think criticism is snobbery, the better.
Some of this falls to the critics as well. There's no end of critics' blogs, but they often fall into one of two categories: they're either way too analytical and academic to be interesting to anyone except, well, other similarly-minded folks (who are few and far between);or they're one step above a rolling diary of "here's what I saw last night" entries. The best ones are just fannish enough to be enjoyably enthusiastic, and just analytical enough to get a few synapses firing. They need to be partners to their fans, not parents.
On a whim: five manga, from my previous reviews and my own personal-faves shelf, that I think would make good candidates for animated productions.
Kurohime. The first few volumes of this were rough going for me, and I confess I didn't see the appeal of the whole thing at first. But then it settled down into a story that was less tail-chasing and more relentless forward evolution, and I got pretty hooked. An animated version could clean up the mess of the first few books, tighten the chronology a bit, and give us a pretty wild ride.
Ochō the Ear-Cleaner. Another as-yet-untranslated series I need to discuss when time permits. It's part romance, part history lesson and part frothy comedy, all set in during the latter Edo period and revolving around a woman with a skill-set hinted at in the title. It's nowhere nearly as silly as it sounds, and in fact quite a bit endearing. Think of something halfway between Oh! Edo Rocket and House of Five Leaves, if that doesn't sound like too perverse a description.
Kataribe. I was very impressed with this Masayuki (Moyasimon) Ishikawa title, a single volume not released in English but with the scope and fierce energy of a Miyazaki production like Nausicaa. A movie version would be a knockout; the manga's imagery gives only the barest hint of how this could look as a fully-animated production.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi's shorts. An anthology production of his shorter works, recently reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly, would be a neat project. The artwork doesn't have to be faithful to the original, if you ask me; this would be more of a showcase for his storytelling as filtered through the sensibilities of different directors.
Red-Colored Elegy. No deep review of this has been forthcoming from me if only because it's been difficult to describe without lapsing into a fanboy gush that serves neither you nor me. Imagine an Art Theatre Guild film (something of the same lineage as Throw Away Your Books And Go Out Into The Streets) rendered as manga, about the pain and ambivalence of being young, in love and futureless. [And so imagine my astonishment when I found it was, indeed, made into an OAV.] [Update: AniPages Daily talks about the OAV here.]
I tweeted about this earlier, but since both Twitter and Tweetdeck are being unreliable pieces of junk (trying to access the MT online editor in Chrome isn't much better; the rich-text editor doesn't even come up when I select it from the dropdown ostensibly because something refused to finish loading; the concept of a "robust web application" grows ever more idiotic with each passing fail) ... here we go in detail.
An international coalition of Japanese and American-based manga publishers have joined together to combat what they call the “rampant and growing problem” of scanlations, the practice of posting scanned and translated editions of Japanese comics online without permission of the copyright holders. The group is threatening legal action against 30 scanlation sites.
Cue the inevitable flailing and screaming, plus various misguided comparisons between the music industry (discussion of which has been hopelessly muddied by so many levels of misplaced indignation and moral posturing).
First, I have zero sympathy for people who post scans of existing licensed titles (or later volumes of same) and get yelled at for doing so. I do have sympathy for those who fan-translate unlicensed titles, and who remove their work when licensed editions become available. I've read far too many of those exact things to not be sympathetic.
That said, I've begun thinking it might be at least as productive to write about the best untranslated manga out there and stump for its licensing whenever possible, rather than do an end run around conventional licensing and release it samizdat-style.
I don't expect a lot of people to agree with me on this point. No, reading someone else's notes about a comic is not the same as reading it for yourself. But I feel increasingly less comfortable with assuring myself that those reading those things are just as ethical as the ones producing them, when I have plenty of evidence they're not.
I do agree that yes, the way manga is licensed can be terribly hidebound. To that end, I'd like to see more work done to make fans understand why things work the way they do — that it is simply not possible to give them everything. I have myself entertained a number of what amount to Utopian themes for accelerating the licensing and publication of titles that have less-than-stellar commercial prospects — e.g., pay-as-you-go, fan-funding, that sort of thing. I doubt those plans can work, simply because the amount of money that needs to be spent upfront to bring any title to the table, and the resistance that might be encountered from Japan over something that unorthodox.
So what would work? Well, I'd bet that once Japanese publishers start getting more on the ball about digital distribution (which is already gaining momentum), it might be that much easier to see manga directly cross-licensed for the U.S. in that form. That wouldn't reduce the time needed to translate and edit it (that's always going to be a bottleneck), but it would be one less roadblock. But I know better at this point than to assume there's going to be any magic bullet solution.
Belinda (S1E1) posted her own mixed feelings about Queen's Blade, to which I replied, "It's the best-written bad show I've yet seen." That really does encapsulate so much of what's wrong with it: the storytelling (which is not bad at all) is at such odds with the visuals (which are deeply sleazy) that the show pulls itself apart. The writing of QB makes a stab at elevating the characters above the level of sex objects; the visuals of the show undo all that good work. Most bad shows are uniformly bad, but this one's such a disarming mixture it's hard to appreciate how the two halves were joined.
So far I haven't received much in the way of mail along the lines of "What's wrong with a little stupid fun?" Nothing, except that everyone's sliding scale of stupid spans different lengths. Mine tops out when I start feeling like I'm having my face rubbed in the material. Agent Aika had the same problem: it was like the filmmakers had a running bet with themselves that they could include panties in every single shot. (One shudders to think what the drinking game for this show consists of.) I felt less unclean watching the intimacy in In the Realm of the Senses than I did anything in QB, because the characters in that movie were responding more to each other than anything else.
A friend of mine has commented on how Japanese media seems to have this obsession with sleaze. That led into a discussion about the country's contorted censorship laws, and which seem to have simply produced a whole subculture of titillation based on end runs around actually showing anything. Hence the way most every major character in QB is a fetish object of one kind or another. And because there's almost no male characters of consequence anywhere in the show (Aika was like this, too), it's all the more about what's being paraded in front of the camera for us. You'll forgive me if I didn't feel blessed.
Orac has a problem with the concept of freedom of speech getting historical exceptions, as do I:
I find myself far more in agreement with Salman Rushdie than with Elie Wiesel. Rushdie points out that laws against Holocaust denial turn evil little racist twits into free speech martyrs and allows the most vile and despicable of morons to wrap themselves in the mantle of free speech.
Personally, I say: Let them have their free speech. Then bury them with refutations and ridicule.
A while back I had a parallel discussion about the banning of Mein Kampf. A friend of mine was of the opinion that censoring the book would do nothing but good. Aren't there some ideas that simply don't deserve to be circulated, because of the danger they pose? Aren't some things best left alone?
I said no, because:
There's more points, but those are the most crucial ones. I'd formed my feelings on the subject back when I had first been introduced to Holocaust denial as something a bit more than just an abstract issue of debate, and saw that while you can't change the minds of the worst offenders, that's not the point: it's to document for others, both now and in the future, why their arguments are worthless.
Free speech is something where you have to give as good as you get, and the way to get the best out of it is to use it to refute it at its worst.
Well, that was short-lived. After barely three weeks of use, my brand-new Motorola Cliq XT Android phone decided to turn into a desk paperweight. A service call to T-Mobile ended with "Let's cross-ship you a new phone", so I can't fault them for being customer-friendly.
What does it say that in the space of three or so years I've gone from a phone that survived a face-down trip on my driveway and ran for days at a time on a charge to one that had to be treated with the reverence of a holy relic lest I mess up the touch screen — and died of its own accord anyway? And that took longer to boot up and make phone calls than my desktop computer?
If this is the future of telecommunications, I'll go back to tin cans and strings.
At least I had the sense to save the old Nokia, which despite its cosmetic damage and relative lack of snazz is still a functional little warhorse. And gets better reception than the Moto did. Oh, irony.
Bits and pieces from this week's AICN Anime, including a couple of shout-outs to yours truly (thank you, Mr. Green).
Somerset, New Jersey's AnimeNext will host Kenji Kamiyama, director of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex and the to be released by FUNimation Eden of the East ... Black Lagoon creator Rei Hiroe (also known as doujinshi artist Tex-Mex) will be at Anime Expo for the premiere of the new anime OVA Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail.
Catsuka reports Studio 4°C has developed a short adaptation of Masamune Shirow's battle of religions, Orion to be shown at the Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo this June. Batman: Gotham Knight's Yasuhiro Aoki directed the 3D work.
Orion (see the link above for a review) was not one of my favorite of Shirow's works, but it at the very least stands out by dint of being so impossible to follow and insanely over-designed that you can't help but marvel at it.
Kinji Fukasaku's son, and director of Battle Royale II will be supervising a 3D converted re-release of original Battle Royale movie.
A UK DVD of live action Sleeping Bride has been released Synopsis: From Osamu Tezuka, godfather of manga, and Hideo Nakata, godfather of J-horror, comes this quirky romance between a boy and the comatose girl with whom he falls in love.
Tezuka + Nakata = sold. Any chance of a US release?
DC Comics has announced that it will be shutting down its CMX manga division
Part of me wants to tag that #andnothingofvaluewaslost, but I know better. CMX had some good titles in the middle of a great deal of dross, although I hope with them out of the picture the more dedicated players like Dark Horse and Del Rey will step up that much more.
Remember when I said I'd discuss the "Creator Doesn't Always Know Best" issue in another essay? This is that essay. And I'll start with the most blatant and obvious example that could ever be coined.
(Put gold stars up next to your names if you saw this coming.)
It's almost mandatory, in fandom, to rag on George Lucas for taking a dump on his own work. Not just for following up a paradigm-shifting piece of work with, decades later, movies that barely qualify as bad knockoffs of the original and don't have a third of their spirit or wit. A big part of that I blame on him not working with people who had the nerve to say No, George to him and get away with it. Brian De Palma had the nerve to tell George that the opening crawl to Star Wars was crap; it looked like it had been scrawled on someone's driveway with the camera on a trash barrel, and it read even worse. Plenty of other people in the original Star Wars team pushed back at George and forced him to play that much more over his head. When he was surrounded by nothing but yes men, the evolutionary pressures on Star Wars were relaxed, and the end result was dismal.
But the biggest thing that ticked people off wasn't just that he'd gone and made markedly inferior movies. It was the historical revisionism he'd practiced on his own work — not just changing things, but making it effectively impossible to see what the changes had been made from. I didn't mind the digital Jabba or Han Shot First so much as I minded the notion that the original version had to die an inglorious death to make room for George's Master Vision.
Most of the discussions I've had about Lucas tend to come down to this stance: Yes, it's his work and he can do what he likes with it — but I reserve the right to call him out on it and insist he's doing terrible damage to his own legacy.
The problem with using George Lucas as an example, though, is that (to borrow a phrase) he makes for bad case law. He's an extreme example — maybe the most extreme example of what, if anything, a creator owes to his audience. What about situations like translation or localization, where it might not always be clear if the person being translated is having proper justice done to them?
This is where things get touchier, and where I don't think you can do anything other than go case-by-case. I'll cite some examples I've used before.
In all of these cases, the creator had a specific vision for how things were meant to be. And in the vast majority of them, there was consent on the part of the creator (or his representatives) as to what was to be done. In some cases the butchery meant the withdrawal of consent: viz., the way Nausicaa was hacked apart and stitched back together for its original U.S. release, which meant a whole library of films from one of Japan's most important animation houses was not seen in English for nearly a decade and a half. Or the English translation of Keiichi Sigsawa's Kino's Journey, which was reorganized against his wishes and resulted in the author pulling future installments of the series from being published here.
And that's what it really comes down to for me: informed consent. The other guy, to the best of everyone involved, has to know what's going to happen to his work. As long as he's making reasonably informed choices, and those choices are respected, it's not something readers can grouse too loudly about. It's the Sigsawas and the Ghiblis of the world we should be fighting harder to defend and have justice done to — provided we know that they have been screwed over in the first place.
Publishing manga in English — in fact, publishing at all — involves compromise. The history of manga publishing in the U.S. now has a whole library of examples for how to choose wisely or poorly. And given that those in charge of hustling the books out the door have to pick all the more carefully, let's hope they pay attention to what's worth it, what's not, and why.
I'll have some more to say about the "censorship" side of this issue in a future post.
An interview with producer Richard Zanuck, mostly about Jaws and Alice in Wonderland, sported this incredibly telling phrase:
We had a date long before we started, a release date. The picture was actually booked in thousands of theaters long before we started, so my aim obviously was to make that date and it was very close.
Emphasis mine. The pipeline wins yet again.
How soon before Best Buy or Wal-Mart call the studios and demand something to fill six inches of shelf space for the 2014 Q2 season? Doesn't matter what it is — it's all interchangeable, isn't it?