When Music Videos Don’t Work For You

A lot of the time, our impressions of music are related to the visuals they come with. I don’t mean just music videos. For instance, during a movie, when a certain soundtrack starts to play at the climactic scene, you’ll always associate the music with the feeling of titillation you felt when watching the scene. Just hearing the song afterwards will bring to mind once again the scene, and you’ll feel more favourably towards the song than if you hadn’t watched anything.

Sometimes the associated video dictates the mood of the song, and different videos present the song in different, even contrasting, lights. A very good instance is Burst the Gravity by Altima. It is the opening song of Accel World, and if you watch the Accel World opening, you’ll find it reflects a typical anime mood — fighting, pensiveness, working together as a team, cool mecha. However, if you watch Burst the Gravity’s PV instead, the entire video is a comical, slightly unpalatable twist on gym exercises. The word to use here is “corny”. In an instant, the dance beats of Burst the Gravity take on a different significance, and you can’t help but bop about good-humouredly when listening to the song. The visual elements play a larger part to music appreciation than one may realise.

Which brings me to the point (which I’ve already introduced with Burst the Gravity) of terrible PVs that destroy a song. I am particularly moved by this sentiment when I discovered that I had not yet watched the video of Flow’s Ai Ai Ai ni Utarete Bye Bye Bye. The song itself, I thought, had been pretty okay, just something fast-paced. The video, however, was pretty painful to watch. Many of Flow’s videos tend to border on the extraordinary (such as Hey!! and to some extent, Colors) but this one was probably one of the worst. Basically everyone was in a suit, and this cute young woman was some kind of baseball player who was for some reason very furious with their singing. I’m not sure what the lyrics to the song are, but from her reaction they couldn’t have been very polite. And so what does she do? Throughout the video she throws baseballs at them as they sing. The balls hit various body parts. Kohshi falls to the ground.

Seriously, the “people being slapped in the face by a woman” part has been done in Nuts Bang! and more importantly, Kohshi crumpling to the ground while singing has been done in Re:member (which, by the way, was also an example of a weird video destroying an otherwise great song; but at least that video was hilarious). So, no, people being hit is not funny. Flow being hit is even less funny. Flow has had some pretty awesome videos (notable ones being Word of the Voice and Days) but somehow their video quality has deteriorated in the past few years. Fortunately the songs themselves are still good to listen to so I shall turn a blind eye to these silly videos.

Another kind of videos, while not silly, that I dislike as PVs are concert footage. Flow has also shown me those examples nowadays (in fact the PVs of Tokonatsu Endless and Cha-La Head Cha-La were of the same concert). Concerts are cool when you’re watching them live (or it’s SID) but otherwise they’re just footage of people perspiring on stage, with insufficient lighting to see anything properly, and boring scenes of audiences waving lightsticks. Yes, I do not take kindly to shoddy PV filming.

Which PVs have you watched that were particularly bad, and ended up lowering your impression of the song?

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We Are All Doujin Around Here

I realised that yesterday’s entry seemed to overlap a lot with today’s. I started off talking about a derivative of novels, which seemed to weave itself into an anime route. To make up for it, I shall talk today about a kind of anime-inspired material that can also be literary (but is still mainly on the anime front, unfortunately).

Doujin, when taken literally, means “same person”, meaning people who share the same interests. In anime culture, however, doujin refers to self-published amateur works, which can be manga, novels or even games. If you’re a hobbyist who just created something to sell, you’ve just made yourself a doujin.

Most doujin products that you see outside are fan-made products, or derivatives from existing anime. All the anime posters that you buy in the Creators’ Corner at Anime Fest Asia are doujin, because they weren’t produced by the company as official merchandise. They are also produced in relatively low quantity, to avoid charges of litigation. Yes, I bet you were wondering why these people don’t get sued for profiteering off established fandoms. They probably earn so little that the organisations turn a blind eye.

On a literary bent, fanfiction can also be sold as doujin. Authors will package their stories nicely into a book — probably 10 in stock — with perhaps their friends doing cover illustrations, and sell them. Amateur music can also be sold, perhaps recorded in store-bought CDs. The most popular is still probably the doujinshi, the doujin manga. However, the first doujin were poetry and novels, during the Meiji period, and published in literary magazines.

In Japan, the biggest doujin convention is undoubtedly the Comiket (Comic Market). It is, I believe, held twice a year in Tokyo, and various creators set up booths selling their wares. Some artists use doujin as an opportunity to make a professional debut. In modern times, doujin circles also arise in schools as student groups. For instance, FantaisieNocturne Productions is a local doujin circle. Its head, as well as some of its members, are in the NUS Anime Club, which is how I know of them. They produce works of excellent quality, and the head really is a great artist, and knows how to earn money out of popular fandoms.

Their site looks just a bit glitchy to me, but it has some of their written works, and the art is pretty good.

http://fnpro.tk/

However, the magic of FNP lies in their ability to make fan art look so real, as you can see on their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/fnp.sg

Enough advertising. At any rate, the doujin community is steadily gaining ground, with people blowing hard-earned money in the Comiket. And most of these fan art are so much like the real deal (or sometimes even better) that some people feed off their otaku obsessions entirely off doujin. And with doujin being such a cheaper and more personalised alternative, I completely understand why!

Light Novels

Light novels are the new “in” thing in Japanese pop culture, ever since hit anime like Sword Art Online, Haruhi Suzumiya and Kara no Kyoukai. But some of us (the less hardcore ones, that is) may not know just what precisely is a light novel. Are they novels? If they aren’t, then how do they differ with ordinary manga?

Well, light novels are akin to pulp fiction, in a sense. It mainly targets young adults (middle to high school students) and rarely exceed 200 pages — making them a novella by US standards. The text are often serialised in anthology magazines, much like how manga stories begin. A collection of chapters will then be collated into books, published by labels like Famitsu Bunko or Media Works Bunko. Like manga, light novels are often published as a series, also with quite a tight publishing schedule.

The main difference is that light novels are said to have more text but with accompanying illustrations, so not fully telling a story in comic form. Other than that, there’s nothing much separating them from manga nowadays. They are sold as cheap paperbacks most of the time. Most of these stories come from competitions where cash prizes are given to winning stories, and of course fame and the chance to see your light novel developed into an anime, if it becomes a bestseller!

And now light novels have really broken into the anime scene. Not only are more light novels being turned into anime, it is sometimes the other way around. Popular anime like Death Note and Fate/Zero have light novel adaptations, as part of the companies’ efforts to go “mixed media” in this era. Basically every successful franchise should have manga, light novels, anime and games to draw in all types of crowds.

Currently I have found no difference in the anime that result from light novels and those from manga, maybe because light novels tend to be written with a certain target audience in mind (cough the word chuunibyou comes to mind). However, perhaps things like Natsume Yuujinchou more obviously come from light novels (it has, to me, a certain literary flair).

The demand for light novels has increased outside of Japan. English publishers like Tokyopop and Viz publish light novels translated into English. Not many have travelled to Singapore yet, but I know many Singaporeans who have read light novels of Sword Art Online and Mahouka Koukou no Rettosei, so this shows that there is a consumer base — just that they have found their channels on the internet. I do hope to see more light novels in Comics Connection though. The idea of reading your favourite anime fantasies in words should be a novel experience!

TalenToday

Everyone loves personality quizzes. They get to tell us all about ourselves (our favourite topic) and also provides a basis for comparison with other people, so we know for sure who is more superior in which ways. Talentoday is the new hit app among Singaporean Facebook users. It uses a hundred or so “would you rather” style questions to determine our relative scores on certain work-related strengths. It is slightly unnerving, though, that there is a Merlion-looking logo at the bottom, seemingly hinting that the government is also very interested in our scores.

If you’re interested, you can visit the website at talentoday.com and try out the profile. You’ll always be good at something so there’s no fear of turning in a profile announcing to the world what a good-for-nothing otaku hikkikomori you are.

Of course, there are a lot of drawbacks relating to this style of questionnaires, which are probably plainly obvious to you as well. For one, it only compares your relative score within the items, but doesn’t actually show how you fare with other people, or in absolute terms. Furthermore, a forced dichotomy where sometimes both choices seem to talk about the same thing means people may end up choosing the slightly better of 2 bad options.

Do you know that when you read a personality profile of yourself, you subtly change yourself to suit that profile? This is why astrology descriptions continue to be “accurate” to this day. The ones who believe it gradually change to become like it, thus making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can be sure that I will be more likely to organise and take responsibility in my work from now onwards.

Knowing about your strengths is also one way of making yourself happier, according to personality psychology. Of course, all the strengths in TalenToday are work-related, so they do not form the exhaustive list of possible character strengths a person can have. However, simply knowing what you’re good at increases your mood and self-esteem as you reflect back on the times when you have acted according to these strengths and perhaps achieved something as a result.

Some employees give psychometric tests to prospective employees as part of the job interview process. I believe I’ve mentioned this before in a previous entry about industrial and organisational psychology. Such tests, though, can come in 2 forms, Self-Report or Behavioural data. S data, the more common kind, would ask questions where the employers accept the answer at face value. Things like “I am prudent in my work”. B data, on the other hand, which is more often used by real psychologists to test for things like mental disorders, ask questions where they interpret the participants’ answers. For instance, things like “I am the best person in the world” isn’t the sort of question where employers believe the rating at face value. It may indicate narcissism, or lack of modesty, or some other things, depending on what scales they design.

I doubt Talentoday would have that big an impact on your working life or job prospects in the future, but it may give you an indicator on what you might want to do in your career.

Blowing Things Up, Legally

They say that boys like destruction and girls like creation, and this is embodied in their choice of toys. Well it seems that boys, even after they’re full grown, still like seeing things shattering to bits, even buildings. I’ve just come across an article listing the top 10 Building Implosion Videos on YouTube, which are basically videos of buildings being demolished by various explosives, such as the Metrodome in Minneapolis, which was imploded last week with 80 000 tons of material left over. Apparently it was rated as the worst stadium in the USA by Time magazine, so it was probably about time.

There are really all kinds of “top 10 YouTube video” lists around, aren’t there? Also, I didn’t realise Time magazine goes around doing things like rating stadiums.

I haven’t seen any of the videos yet, because as a representative of the fairer sex I don’t particularly fancy seeing buildings blow up. However, do tell me if any of the videos are particularly good!

I do wonder, though, why people get all psyched over demolitions and large explosions in general, and also gunshots. They’re probably loud and smoky, and don’t often result in a beautiful sight. And yet so many video games and movies feature these violent elements. And the bigger the target is, the better it is to blow up.

My blog entries lately are getting shorter and shorter. Perhaps you can replace your blog reading time today with watching those videos.

http://architizer.com/blog/top-10-building-implosion-videos-on-youtube/

Alaska

When I think of Alaska, I think of Huskies. Or Alsatians. Or any of those big hairy dogs. I think of snow-capped hill slopes. That’s the limit of my imagination when it comes to that place, which is situated at the northwest of North America. Did you know that Alaska used to belong to Russia? The Americans bought it from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million. Alaska is also the largest state in the United States by area, but the fourth least populous. It seems to be a place mostly consisting of nature, basically, untouched by human hands.

Despite the image we get from the movies about the place being snowy and a paradise for dogs, it actually does get warm sometimes, though by warm it means about 16 to 21 degrees Celsius. Not only that, it’s also a good place for travel. There’s something to be said about viewing scenery that comes about in places with cold weather. Tropical places do not usually have much scenery to speak of — no fjords or glaciers. We do have sparkling seas by the beach, of course, but so do temperate countries in summer. So when one goes to Alaska, one must appreciate the “misty fjords”, “ginormous pansies”, seaside towns and the popular Mendenhall Glacier. And the most awesome part is that you get to play with Alaskan Husky puppies at the Skagway Mushing Camp. Yes, those same faithful canines you see in movies like Snow Dogs!

Speaking of movies, there is an entire list of movies set in this special place, whether in part or in full, including things like The Simpsons Movie and Resident Evil: Afterlife. After seeing some of the pictures taken in this article, maybe you’ll come up with some inspiration for a film there too.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/24/summer-in-alaska_n_5191652.html?utm_hp_ref=travel

Nostalgia

Once in a while I’ll find myself humming some tune from the past, and I’ll take some time to remember just where the tune came from, and when I do remember, it brings back memories of the first time I heard it, how old I was then, and various other things that happened during that time period. It happens a lot for UVERworld and LM. C, 2 bands that have seen a dip in activity these few years (LM. C, for example, only released 1 album and 1 single last year, and released 1 album this year). Usually at such times, I’ll lament how their recent songs sound like sub-standard versions of their songs in the past, and then I’ll start to wonder, do all bands inevitably face a drop in quality after some time?

It seems to be some kind of pattern with me. I’ll discover a cool band, listen to their past songs and think they’re awesome, look forward to their next single or album, think it’s the greatest thing ever, and then somehow the subsequent songs seem to drop in quality. Flow’s latest album seems to be a drop in quality compared to their previous one. UVERworld’s Life 6 Sense seems to be a drop in quality compared to LAST. And the recent songs by LM. C sound terrible compared to a few years ago. Do they honestly think that they have changed for the better, or that they didn’t really change at all? Is it a problem with me instead?

I’m a faithful fangirl type. No matter how sucky a band I like becomes, I find it hard to tear away from them completely. But it’s hard to continue being a fan when their new songs fail to excite me anymore.

Most Japanese bands have a “best of” album, where they basically insert tracks over the years that have been popular. UVERworld had a “Neo Sound Best”, Flow had one storing all their anime hits, SID had 2 albums of all their best B-side songs, and LM. C has one too. I never appreciated the value of these “best of” albums before, because why pay for a new album that has only old songs? As the years go by, though, I realise the potency of nostalgia. New songs may be good in their own ways, but they simply don’t match up to the epicness of the old ones. And having 1 album that conveniently collects all your favourites is convenient when you just want to spend an hour or so listening to the good stuff, the tried-and-tested, the proven hits.

Another fact I must learn to accept is that the celebrities I like will fall out of favour someday. I have reached the stage where my favourite people are slowly fading out (Irino Miyu, Koike Teppei etc) and it’s time to be open-minded and look out for new celebs to support and look forward to. However, it’s just as important not to forget the people I used to like. After all, every one of these celebrities has played a part in one stage of my life. They had occupied my thoughts, been proudly paraded, and have provided solace when I needed it. Fangirling is never about replacement, but addition.

And now I shall embrace a new generation of people to add to my life story.

Anime Sexual Deviations

Following on from the topic I was talking to my friends about today, anime does have a lot of sexual deviations. It has been said that the amount of sexual fetishist material is so high that Japanese men are now de-sensitised to them. Lolitas, cross-dressing, boobs, they have seen so much of them that they aren’t even affected anymore.

In every anime nowadays, it seems necessary to include fanservice segments, whether for male or female audiences (well, even in live action dramas the same principle applies, really). Many anime now have a perverted man (or sometimes many perverted men) who makes sexual innuendoes and is constantly trying to look up a girl’s skirt. Imoutocons, or “little sister complex”, where male leads fall in love with their sometimes not-blood-related younger sisters (increasingly this has reached a point where siblings are allowed to fall in love even if they’re blood related). Traps exist for the bisexual or sexually confused. And the amount of boy-love or girl-love connotations has reached an all-time high, especially with Free! and some more explicit modern yuri anime.

If there was ever a stark example of the collective representation of women in the media, the anime industry is one. I cannot wait to take the Media & Representation module and see what they have to say about anime, because I can assure you that girls who watch anime are being blatantly socialised into some demeaning roles.

First of all, there is always the traditional subservient girl model. Granted, there are a lot of anime that showcase girl power, but most of the “powerful” ladies aren’t the taken ones. Just looking at Mahouka Koukou no Rettosei is enough to convince me that the stereotype has far from abated. Look at Miyuki. She is gentle, quiet, shy, and extremely compliant to Tatsuya, and she doesn’t voice her opinions aloud. The typical ideal Japanese lady.

Secondly, there seem to be certain expectations anime women have to fulfil, one visible one is breast size. If you’re to be a woman to be respected, you must have a decent breast size. No proper anime female lead is ever flat-chested (even poor Mayuri has got to undergo some implants). If she is flat-chested, she is most likely to be prepubescent like Shana in Shakugan no Shana. If a girl is not prepubescent and is yet flat-chested, she is guaranteed not to have a boyfriend. Comedies would take delight in poking fun of this trait.

Thirdly, there is of course the obsession with cuteness. If you have seen ladies fascinated with Japanese culture, you will know what I mean. They wear coloured contact lenses, cut their hair into a doll fringe, wear pink Hello Kitty hairclips, a flowery dress and sometimes high socks. This is the epitome of an anime girl, in the flesh. What this also looks like is a girl who has strangely not grown up. And that is really the point. Anime girls have wide eyes, small noses and faces, and look pretty much like a little girl’s face with a hot body, not to mention a babyish high-pitched voice. They also dress in school uniform, not unlike the idealised costume I mentioned before. So basically what anime wants is for women to be forever young, even when they’re growing older. Think about it. Isn’t it just a tad creepy to expect a woman to dress, look and act like a kid, and then men get all turned on by these “moe” ways?

This, I think, is the most entrenched fetish of all, and the scary part is that it has become internalised in both its male and female audiences.

How To Write An Ending

I don’t often talk about endings, mainly because they’re the hardest to get to. Some stories stop halfway, so there is never an ending to speak of. Others drag on so long that the end is never in sight (I’m looking at certain manga and comics right now). And if you think about it, the ending is really the least important part of a story, right? If you can’t even nail the beginning and the middle right, readers won’t be bothered to read through to the fantastic end.

I agree entirely with that argument (it is my own argument after all). However, there’s what they call the divide between the good and the great. Good stories have a good beginning, conflict, climax, etcetera. Great stories follow that up with a good resolution.

Resolutions can be really hard to write. You may think that your tale has ended, but how do you express it to your readers? Traditional fairytales use “and they lived happily ever after” as a cue to close the book. J K Rowling used “His scar had not hurt for nineteen years. All is well,” the well-known ending that finished off right at the corner of the last page and left readers flipping bemusedly expecting more. Sure, no doubt that small confusion over the ending did nothing to lower the quality of the smashing Harry Potter series. 1 sentence can’t erase 7 books’ worth of goodness. But what if your story isn’t as popular or well-written as Harry Potter, and then you end off this way?

Anne Tyler, my favourite author ever, was interviewed before on when her stories ended, since she writes realistic fiction and real life doesn’t always have a very clear full stop, does it? She said that she ends a story when she feels that her characters are able to get by on their own now without her. In a sense throughout the book she had been hand-holding her characters, telling them what to do next, and the end comes when the characters are able to face life on their own, when she can imagine how their life will turn out without needing to intervene.

I’m writing this entry for 2 reasons. First, I’ve just written a roleplay post that kinda sorta ends off a big chapter of the story — the remaining portion is more of an epilogue than anything. However, I didn’t think that I ended it perfectly, though I was conscious of making it look like a resolution. And this is important; many stories have endings that don’t seem like convincing endings at all. You almost wonder if the author’s going to plan a sequel.

Second, I was learning about life narratives in Personality Psychology, and endings is one element of our life narrative — the way we weave events in our life into a coherent narrative and make meaning of them. Our life narrative may be characterised by a redemptive sequence, meaning that past negative experiences are re-constructed into positive lessons where we derive meaning in our lives. It can be simplified as the “it was all for the best, as it turns out” line. Redemptive narratives are also powerful in writing, because they show a character’s maturity, and help all the events in the conflict and climax fall into place.

I think the simplest element of a good ending is that something has got to visibly change. It could be the character’s life, or some aspects of his personality, or his worldview. It could be for the better or for the worse (in the case of tragedies). Of course, if you intend to write a cliffhanger, that is another skill entirely which I may go into in a future entry.

Ironically, I spent a few moments pondering how to end off this blog entry. Maybe I should just go with something like…

“The End”.