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My Issue with Yuri on Ice

Let's rip the band-aid off. I'm severely disappointed with Yuri on Ice. Every week I come back with a glimmer of optimism hoping that something good will happen, but after 10 episodes, it's safe to say the investment hasn't paid off. Before some blithering idiot reads this and thinks I'm a homophobe because I'm not showering the show with compliments, let me state my positions clear. I WANT to like Yuri on Ice, but its technical incompetence creates a rift between me and the anime from meeting on the same page. I've been following figure skating since the Yuna Kim and Mao Asada days in 2009 when they set the skating world and their respective countries on fire, and stopped following it in 2014 with Yuna's subsequent retirement (a special thank-you to Russia for tainting the integrity of the sport with their questionable scoring at the Sochi Olympics). However, I can't bring myself to like a show where an activity that prides itself in pushing and perfecting the technical and emotional conditions of the human body get deformed into oblivion every single episode.

If you want to see the epitome of figure skating, watch anything by Yuna Kim, she's on a whole new level compared to other skaters. The way she dances to the notes and moving so effortlessly on the ice is unmatched. Most competitors look stiff and robotic but Yuna is like a reed, constantly adjusting according to the music and all of her moves feel natural.

For a male counterpart, try Alexei Yagudin.

As you can tell, figure skating is an expressive sport, arguably the most out of all the athletics. It's a performance piece that requires the cooperation of both the small and large muscles of the body to bring out every minute emotion of the skater through the music. It's a dance that represents the psychical prowess disguised with the sensitivity and artistic beauty through their interpretation. Watching Yuri on Ice... I get none of that. Sure, we have the context behind the feelings of the characters through showing personal events and commentators, but on the ice... it's like watching a rag doll flail about with no beauty or grace whatsoever. It sure doesn't help when some of the frames look like it's been drawn by CLAMP with their needlessly elongated limbs.

(Image above) Didn't know Pichit-kun is part T-Rex.

It's bothersome watching one art form mangling another. The weird compromising camera angles, the close-up shots to relieve the amount of drawing that's required, and the lack of frames evident when the skaters are doing spins. The jumps have no life to them, it looks like they're floating awkwardly mid-air until someone up above suddenly remembered gravity existed and applied it at the last minute. Not to mention the step sequences look like a wooden board with twigs could compete on the ice and get a similar score. Basically, it looks like they're thrashing every part except for the torso like helicopters, which is hilarious because it's ignoring a critical part of the body when it comes to capturing natural movement. If you've taken figure drawing classes, the most important part to draw first is the torso/spine because you're jotting down where the movement originates from. After that, the legs and arms, followed by the fingers and toes. Think of the process like a tree. You draw the trunk first, followed by the branches and twigs.

When Viktor decided for Yuri to focus more on his artistic side than his jumps, I thought that was a great creative decision made on the staff's end. It gives the animators the opportunity to pull off some stellar animation and step sequences instead of going with a program that's jump-intensive like Miki Ando. However, this meant that the animators would be put under enormous strain... and it was evident.

(Image above) What is even colour correction? It's not like settings have different colour temperatures and the hue of correlating objects change according to it.

Before you bring up the "animation is difficult" stance, I'm aware of the current circumstances with the industry and the uphill battles of working in a TV anime format. Yes, people should be aware of the sometimes horrendous conditions animators are subjected to, but ignoring bad aesthetics when it's obvious I argue, is coddling. Crap animation, in the end, is still crap animation. And when you get rid of the subtlety and the minute movements the body makes in Yuri on Ice, you're missing out on the integral chunk on the immersive factor. If you've seen figure skating on television or even real life, every small mannerism of the athlete is magnified as soon as they hit the rink. The way they skate on the ice before the music starts playing, the audience can tell whether they're nervous or not, or the brief moment of disappointment on their faces when a jump isn't executed properly.

If you like Yuri on Ice and its progressive leanings, that's great. It's obvious why it's garnered such popularity with their loveable cast and their meme-able antics, and kudos to the staff for shining a light to LGBT subject matter without falling into conventional tropes. However, when every supposed "performance" in the show is poorly done with little to no artistry emanating from these characters during their routine, I think the staff took a swing and struck out big time. I want the choreography to do the explaining instead of outside dialogue doing the work for them, which they needed in the end because of how god-awful some of the segments looked at times. After all, why are figure skaters silent during their performances? Because they let their dance do the talking for them.

A part of this problem stems from me being having too high of an expectation for the show. Of course, the quality's not going to match that of real life, but I expected better after watching the OP because it showed how much potential it had, and I'm constantly reminded what it could have been. Before anyone asks, some technical mistakes will more than likely be fixed in the Blu-rays, but with the plethora of technical screw-ups and recycled footage used, it's highly doubtful all of the mistakes will be fully corrected.

To end it on a somewhat fun note, here's Tonya Harding skating to Jurassic Park, because dancing to dinosaur music is amusing to me:

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Runaway Thoughts on the 3-gatsu no Lion Animed

Disclaimer: Quick blog post. Expect a lot of spelling and grammatical errors.

3-gatsu no Lion (or Sangatsu as I'm going to refer it to as throughout the post) is a manga that I love and have been following for a while well before the anime was officially announced. Honey and Clover is one of my all-time favourites, and Chica Umino's thoughtful presentations of subtle human drama is a talent that has rightfully been recognized by fans worldwide. With such a critically acclaimed series it's only natural that her next work will be handled with the love and care it rightfully deserves... right?

Yes. Yes, it did actually. To put it bluntly, I adored the first episode. This came as a surprise to me when I've voiced previously on how terrifying it felt upon learning that Shaft was selected to helm the adaptation when a slew of other studios would've been the ideal choice. Why wasn't Ken'ichi Kasai and J.C. Staff selected for his phenomenal job with Honey and Clover, or Morio Asaka of Madhouse, or even Tatsuyuki Nagai? Why weren't the slice-of-life/drama heavyweights ignored and instead the wild child of the industry chosen? According to sources, Umino stated she didn't want anyone else but Shinbo to direct the adaption of Sangatsu as she herself is an admirer of his works. Concerning his amount of input in the anime, we don't really know. Kenjiro Okada's mysteriously been listed as the "series director" recently, but it's safe to have some skepticism as Shinbo's name is as marketable to Aniplex as fujoshi are to the vaseline-encrusted lips of the men in Yuri on Ice. Slap his name on anything and it's bound to sell by the boatloads while Aniplex laughs their way to the bank. Personal feelings aside, I put my faith in Umino's judgment and hoped for the best.

Thankfully, that's exactly what happened.

Shaft, as we all know loves to amp up their visual intensity regardless of the source material, take Mekakucity Actors and a generic harem like Nisekoi for instance. I told myself if I ever see a single head tilt throughout the episode I would flip a table. No tables were harmed (yet). Oh don't get me wrong, it's still undeniably Shaft with their usual suspect list of visual quirks but they're not being obnoxious with it to the point where I'm rolling my eyes in annoyance. At least the most Shaft-esque parts were reserved for the internal bits, where elements of surrealism are actually appropriate for those moments.

Sayonara, Kiriyama-Sensei. Ya couldn't help yourself could ya, Shaft.

Maybe it's just me refusing to take off my rose-tinted glasses, but this time, I tried to view it from the perspective of someone who hasn't read the manga. From the first six minutes, we're given a clear picture of who Rei is without any dialogue. His empty room, his plain attire, the lonely commute to the shogi hall, and the default expression of sadness he wears. It's those small communications of seemingly mundane activities where we can immediately discern this 17-year old lives in isolation. Yes I agree that the loner archetype is overplayed in anime, and Sangatsu's first episode did little to set it apart from the crowd of mediocre characters who possess similar traits, but at least Shaft opted to tell the story visually than outright saying it. Apart from those gestures, the painterly backgrounds was definitely a highlight. The rich saturated colours with a texture layer are reminiscent of the night skies that 19th-century artist Vincent van Gogh was so fond of painting. It really injects some personality into the series, consciously choosing to go for a stylistic approach than photorealism.

Image above: Rei's slouched posture as you can tell is shy and uncomfortable around others, preferring to stand by himself than sitting beside others.

The best part about the backgrounds is the haphazard hatching done around the moon you see on scratchboards or silverpoint. It's mostly the little details that really makes a piece of work stand out.

I understand the main criticisms centre around the tonal whiplash between the introspective Rei and the bubbly Kawamoto sisters, but I think it reinforces just how decrepit his life is in comparison to everyone else's. Besides, it's not like the rest of the cast are all happy-go-lucky with no worries, but the way these characters go about their daily lives to their fullest serves as a realization to him. Rei one could argue can come off as being selfish, choosing to be independent and stuck in this rut when he could easily surround himself with the Kawamotos (who also have their fair share of internal struggles), but that's the difficulty with overcoming loneliness: it creates a rift between others and only been deepens with the forceful independence he imposed on himself. Umino is not one who dwells on sadness too long, and while her manga certainly does have its soul-crushing moments, Sangatsu gently nudges Rei outside of his comfort zone without dragging the story or feeling that events are progressing too quickly. 

As of right now, my only real concern is how Shaft can continue to maintain the quality it released on its premier. They've demonstrated numerous times of getting carried away with their visual spin to the point of alienating the source material. Of course, artistic representation is important, but concerning adaptations it's about finding the equilibrium between your style and the mangaka's. The manga to put it lightly... is dense. Plenty of dialogue peppered throughout the page, not to mention Umino's paneling can downright be confusing at times.

To those who are left undecided whether or not to continue, clearly I'm biased in telling you to keep watching to the end. If you expected a sports-heavy anime on the lines of something like Hikaru no Go or even Chihayafuru, obviously you're gonna have a bad time. Sangatsu as many could tell by the first episode is a slow-burn series. It rewards the patient and discourages instant gratification, preferring to unfold its secrets in tidbits. The sport of shogi is more of a platform for Rei to rediscover the life he has been missing out on from the years he spent as a full-time professional, and don't worry, his life isn't nearly as boring as his name or appearance deceptively shows. Do not fret, there are plenty of dark mysteries that have yet to surface in Sangatsu.

Also, if you're one of the people who keeps commenting Rei looks like Arima from Your Lie in April, remember that Sangatsu premiered 4 years before. Just saying.

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It's Time to (Actually) Decompress

Approximately 5 weeks ago I decided to take a "hiatus" from my channel which wouldn't make sense to many since my rate of uploading has been so sparse. The purpose behind this choice was so that I don't mentally punish myself for not working on my script. While I thought this would impact my life little to none, it was quite surprising how liberating it was and haven't felt that way since the beginnings of my YouTube "career".

But I realized it's not enough.

My overall workload hasn't increased much, yet I felt more burdened than ever and am accomplishing less with more time. I'm fully aware how detrimental it is to not being constantly updated with current events, trends, topics, etc. especially when in a career path that requires you to be aware and predict, "the next big thing". However, the gradual increase of information intake over years of accumulation has led me to believe that this was the root cause in slowing of productivity. So many videos to watch, so many articles to read, and so much anime to consume and roll my eyes at the sheer volume of it churned out every season.

Fun fact: the average anime fandom only lasts 2 years. If you want a hobby to last take it in moderation, just like other facets of life.

While being constantly active on social media certainly has its perks, even the occasional memes, you can't deny it's a time waster (various sources report that people spend on average 3 hours a day on social media alone). That's not to say I'm completely cutting myself off from the online world, rather limiting myself to the essentials that actually requires my attention. As my mind stretches across thinner and thinner, the less time I have to dedicate to tackle projects and more of an excuse to feel overwhelmed.

I think it's safe to say disconnecting from all social media is on the impossible in this day and age, but decreasing the rate of consumption is a good starting point.

Firstly I'm taking a break from Twitter and YouTube, specifically the cesspool known as "the anime community". With the boom of "analysis", topic-oriented, and industry videos it's always been interesting to keep up with and know what other content creators are releasing. However, the double-edged sword with this is me resulting in being disappointed because another channel released a video that I was working on and scrapping whatever I had. It's alright the first time, but when it becomes a common occurrence it's the equivalent of a crushing, yet dull pain knowing that whatever your version turns out will never come to fruition.

Ideas are not original particularly on the Internet. There will always be another who makes content in a similar vein as ours and maybe even upload it days, even hours before you do. To continue to thrive in an ecosystem where on is surrounded by- even encouraged to borrow and take concepts from other creatives, this really shouldn't be new for me. But I realized if I want to make videos that I'm happy with while leading an overall more productive lifestyle it's better not to know and frequently be bogged down with disappointment.

Call it blissful ignorance, if you want. I prefer "efficiency".

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Of New Projects and Personal Motivation

So... something neat is going to come up in the next few weeks or so. It's a project that was basically conceived out of the blue, but the process behind it has been meticulous but grueling in the best way possible, a motivation that I felt hasn't sparked in a long, long time. My channel has been feeling more free in a while, and one of the best parts about having a small "fanbase" (if you can call it) is that my opinions hold no water, which means my voice and reach is technically white noise, and I prefer it to stay that way since I can take it to any direction without much #effort. See what I did there? Ha.

Not going to spoil you with too many details, but here are some progress shots of the upcoming project (you can also see some on Twitter as well):

Excited? Because I am.

But straying away from this for a short while, apologies for the lack of videos (oh look at that asshat Sooin, being sorry about something for a change), though you probably don't care about waiting for a 7-10 minute video on Cantonese cave paintings, which brings me to the second topic of this post that I touched on earlier: motivation.

This has admittedly been something that has been affecting me, and it's always been a bit of a struggle after every upload to make content that I feel is up to standard and have at least some pride in, a feeling that I'm sure every video maker both on YouTube and outside of it is very familiar with. After all, we're our own worst critic, aren't we? Good news is 2 videos will for sure happen soon, at least one will be released before the end of summer before thesis year hits me like a crashing plane and I've no time for anything. But the bad news is I'm not sure what's going to happen to the channel after I graduate. Video production will certainly be at a standstill for a while I make my full transition into the trials and tribulations of working as a starving artist, and I have no plans nor an inkling whatsoever to work on YouTube full-time.

Well, this has gone quite sombre, hasn't it? In the meantime to my loyal subscribers, be on the lookout for new videos and projects, this is not a goodbye, rather an awareness of what to expect in 2016. No, I don't plan to stop making videos, but real life is something all of us have to face and grab by the horns and control it to the best of our abilities.

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On the (Slight) Topic of Being Wrong and My Writing Process

Happy belated Mother's Day. Why not have a better way to celebrate than talking about being wrong? #MumsTheWord

Concerning the process of reviewing or making a video, the chunk that consumes the most amount of time for me is by far the scripting, the process of making sure my point comes across to people in the clearest way possible. The following statement I'm pretty sure is speaking for most people who strive to make top-notch content but constantly struggle to meet the equilibrium of consistency: it's really time-consuming to make videos.

Some complete tasks faster than others, some might not, but speaking strictly for my case, it takes a considerable amount of hours and #effort (aha, see what I did there?). I'm sure most anime reviewers initially assumed it would be a breeze, only to be sorely mistaken when you began the shuddering process of putting clips together... We've all been there.

In short, I have an unwarranted fear of being wrong. Then again, who doesn't? The unease of being called out on something on public domain, the mental downward spiral as you tumble to the depths of failure as your mind begins to conjure hordes of faceless heads laughing behind your back, the moment your life flashes before your eyes only for your worth on this planet to be tested through this one video you toiled over.

Yeah, that feeling. Sorry, was that too extreme?

We've all been in that situation before and wholeheartedly wish not be forced into that scenario, even if the experience can better you while building character. So in order to prevent this from happening on any one of my videos in the future, I obsessively loom over and constantly rewrite my scripts to make it water-tight, to ensure myself that there are no visible leaks. To give context, my Psycho-Pass 2 video I've re-watched season 1 of Psycho-Pass twice and it's sequel four times so I don't overlook anything. "Wait, I didn't catch that part earlier, I need to see that scene again", "Anything else I missed?", or even, "Did the director's vision pan out successfully in my eyes?", and the list continues as I furiously ask myself ceaselessly.

Can it be pointless to re-watch a series that many times even though your opinion's already solidified after the first time? Absolutely. However as long as it contributes to becoming better at what I do, then by all means I'm prepared to buckle down.

So... what's the thesis of this blog post, exactly? Quite frankly, there is none. Maybe it's a sub-conscious way of relaying to my followers/subscribers on why my Zankyou no Terror video's taking an obscene amount of time. Early on when tackling this project I promised myself if I'm going to face a controversial subject head on, I want to make sure I bring all of my ammunition to the table. After all, one can be never too prepared, and nothing's more disappointing when revisiting an older video and feeling the torrential wave of regrets wash through as you begin to point out every single thing wrong throughout the duration, big or small.

However if there's one thing to take away from this writeup, it's to not shy away from being corrected, as much as I'm contradicting my earlier statements. It's perfectly alright to trip and falter as we catch our balance since everyone has their fair share of embarrassments littered all over the Internet (thanks, Facebook). But if you're an incessant paranoid like I am, the best way to counter it would be to create content that you feel will leave you with no regrets. Feeling slightly unsure about your next script? Let a friend take a look at it, you never know what a different lens can bring insight into. Uninspired and stuck? Close the window, do something else than staring at your screen wishing that the wisdom of Athena will strike upon you any second.

Nonetheless, this is a process everyone must eventually overcome.

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The Style of Mamoru Hosoda and "Wolf Children"

A short post on Mamoru Hosoda (hopefully a more in-depth version will come in form of a video, don't guarantee me on that, though).

 

"Wolf Children" is something we can all agree is a feels-heavy film, and it's no surprise that it's on the top list of many avid and non-anime fans, and it's evident why. After all, this is the director's most personal work as he recently became a father and jointly wrote the screenplay to the point where you can see the emotion dripping from the screen. While there are those who find that off-putting (including myself to an extent), the most common complaint regarding the portrayal of Hana as a supermom and the overall lack of focus on who really the protagonists are. I can certainly appreciate the intention and the genuine respect he had for the role parents play to their children and the never-ending tribulations of raising one.

There's one reason why it works: simplicity. This is followed up from all aspects of production, from the intentional absence of technology in the story all the way to the OST; the intentional minimalistic approach translates back to the story which is why it feels more unified. Hosoda's approach is simple and backed up by a single theme that resonates throughout the film, which may also be the reason why Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's designs are much more rounded and gentle compared to his usual style (see "FLCL" and "Evangelion 3.0"). If there's anything that the release of the movie solidified, it's the director's storytelling style. If "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time" was the proverbial foot that got Hosoda through the door of the circle of directors, "Wolf Children" was the stamp that put his name on an international level.

Ever since the release of "Summer Wars" and the recent PV of "The Boy and the Beast", there have been discussions of him being the next Miyazaki, and while it's understandable behind this assumption, I can't help but laugh at the comparison. Just because his movies are G/PG-rated and was originally assigned to helm "Howl's Moving Castle", people automatically point him as the successor, but not only are the two's styles completely different, but the depth of the other's artistry is incomparable. I'm assuming that's the case for a lot of people since he's the first anime director outside of Ghibli to break into the international market outside of Japan with his family-friendly movies. Hosoda is not a world builder, nor do you feel his artistic imagination is as breathtaking and contagious nearly to the extent of Miyazaki; the closest he was to achieving this was in the technologically fascinating realm of "Summer Wars", but that world was never the sole focus to begin with. Miyazaki likes the sense of wonder, has a knack for the enchanting, a phenomenal world builder, the high-level fantasy is synonymous with every aspect of his movies, yet feels slightly disconnected compared to the emotionally attached Hosoda, as he won't (or doesn't intend to) as he is already comfortable at the home front: a much more grounded man with flecks of supernatural elements sprinkled in between his films.

In other words, when you watch Hosoda's films, you feel you know him as a person, but with Miyazaki... well, let's just say that any newbie to the medium could be shocked that their hero responsible of creating some of anime's best heroines is capable of saying such harsh words to their newfound hobby.

  "Anime was a mistake."

 

"Anime was a mistake."

This might make me sound negative of Hosoda, but I'm not. He is a wonderful and talented director in his own right responsible for some amazing anime, however I feel it isn't correct to try and compare two people when their philosophy and artistic approaches are entirely contrasting. As of right now, Hosoda seems to be of one strongly influenced by the emotions of current events in his life, as his father died he was in his thirties while his mother was hospitalized for 8 years when she too passed away right before production for "Summer Wars" wrapped up (you can tell by how strong the importance of familiar bonds resonates throughout it).

So in the end... what was the point of even mentioning "Wolf Children" earlier? I guess it's to point out Hosoda's style and the direction he's been going towards as of late. Admittedly, I'm not too hyped about "The Boy and the Beast" as I'm generally not entirely interested in his work and fear he's beginning to run out of material to write about if his scope continues to be that small. But who knows, maybe his upcoming work might stray away from his typical formula and completely blow us away.

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Composers - Don't Leave Them Behind (A Very Short Drabble)

First weeb blogpost. Oh, goodie...

When one makes an analysis/review of anime (or any work in media, really), it's usually easier to talk and evaluate the story and characters than the art, animation, and music simply for the reason there's supposedly more to talk about (I'm guilty of committing this as well). However, there's always been a lack of discussion regarding music and overall sound design, sometimes completely missing out (or in extreme cases, disregard) one of the most important aspects of a work of media, in my opinion.

I've wanted to make a video (though there are some who are much more qualified than I am) outlining the importance and how much of an impact a good OST contributes to an anime, and quite frankly, it's a bit discouraging when you watch/read reviews of people just simply waiving them off as either "it was good," or "I don't remember the tracks, ergo it was bad". (Note: ambient music isn't inherently bad, nor is a composition good just because of its bombastic nature). To put it briefly, sound is one of the many factors that makes up the product that is anime. An art form. It has the ability to immerse people into the experience while providing a metaphorical voice to an environment that a script and visuals can't provide alone (at least, that's what a good soundtrack is supposed to accomplish). In other words, think of it as adding a key ingredient to a dish that elevates the taste from generic to great.

So I guess the overall lesson/forcing my opinion down your throats is: the next time you're listening to an OST that you somewhat like, give it some more love. Google the lyrics or attempt to get the feel of it. Have a good listen. Look up the recording process if you can. See if you can pick up their musical style (except Hiroyuki Sawano, he's too easy to tell at this point). Try and understand the emotions they tried to convey. Like writers, they have their own story to tell, just through different means with lyrics and the arrangement of various instruments. Who knows, you might end up learning something new.

I've also compiled an ever-growing list of OST selections that I regularly update on my channel, which you can click here (don't worry, it will take you to a new tab/window for the über paranoid). This post could have also been an elaborate ploy to plug my playlist, hurrdurr.

 

Yoko Kanno is love, Yoko Kanno is life.

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Transit Sketches - An Intro

New entry series - Transit Sketches (An Intro)

In a nutshell, an artist needs to practice their craft frequently, if not every day. A great way I've found to practice figure drawing (without paying for expensive models) is to sketch those who use the transit system to improve both my sketching skills.

When I usually sketch people, I always start out with the easiest pose I can find, usually those in deep sleep because they’re relatively still. After that, I move on to more difficult poses, whether it be the person (or victim) be sitting on a weird angle, moves occasionally like scratching his/her head, tapping their fingers, etc. While admittedly I started this thing as merely an alternative to improve my drawing skills, it began to become an extension of my body to the point where it feels alien when I’m not doodling away at some poor human immortalized in my sketchbook. To those looking to improve their hand stability and speed while drawing, this is literally the perfect way to do so.

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