Yoshiyuki Tomino

Yoshiyuki Tomino is a revolutionary, not in the classical sense of course, but a power of change within the Japanese animation industry. One might know of his magnum opus, the world famous Mobile Suit Gundam series.

He goes by many nicknames, the most commonly known is “Kill ‘Em All Tomino”, and in China, he is known as “Black Hearted Tomino”. Indeed, he has a strong tendency to kill of his animated characters in cold blood and with pure emotionless logic, and it is this exact strict logic that introduced the “semi-scientific/relistic” category into Japanese animation mainstream. This is seen especially in the conversion of the super robot genre into the real robot genre.

A war is not fought and won by a single insanely powerful weapon and the raw emotions of one person, you need both quantity and quality, and a common faith to rally behind. This is one of the new and important realistic concepts that Tomino introduced into Mobile Suit Gundam. No more were the dominant days of invincible superheroes and ultra-weapons, and no more were there a pure black and white world of good and evil. Japanese animation started to change more … realistic.

In Mobile Suit Gundam, nearly every piece of sci-fi technology have some sort of realistic background that can be explained logically through scientific means. Maybe not all of them tend to be cost effective or completely reliable in real life, but they do work. Some examples would be that the mobile suits utilise AMBAC combat maneuvering, explaining their humanoid shapes apart from aesthetics. Huge orbital space colonies are designed with the O’neill colony cylinder plans in mind. Minovsky particle physics is based upon the muon, a real world subatomic elementary particle. It must also be mentioned that many military strategies, doctrine, and technological advancements shown in the anime are, on a military standpoint, completely logical given the situation. Tomino started a trend to give animation, manga, games, and novels of such genres a heavy realistic background setting of some kind.

In this aspect, Tomino is a revolutionary. It was even said that he was absolutely pissed when toys and models producers came to him asking to change his mobile suits to larger, huge robots. He envisioned smaller exo-skeleton suits, the most logical design of mechas on the battlefield.

He is also revolutionary for … speaking out vehemently against his audiences, fans, media, etc.

“You must be shitting me, my work has no problems at all.”
“Like it then watch it otherwise go fuck off.”

Then we have stuff like: “Only when an animation work succeeds in slapping the audiences faces hard does it become an eternal classic.”. The old dude is pretty brutal.

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M.M.D – 3D Animation Freeware

MMD, also known as MikuMikuDance, is a free 3D animation software born from the VOCALOID Promotion Video Project (VPVP) in 2011. Its original and primary purpose was to create music videos of Hatsune Miku in tandem with VOCALOID.

However, otaku’s soon found that the software was extremely simple to use, and with its convenient plug-ins that allowed realistic representations of movement and facial manipulations, it became a popular platform for creating MAD‘s and recreations of various Japanese anime, manga, and games. Just search MMD on Niconico, Youtube, and Bilibili, and you will find plentiful of MMD anime ranging from all works and genres. There are also an abundance of free user created content one can download around the net as well, so you don’t need to create everything on your own.

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Recently, presentational method pioneers in the Japanese anime industry have been experimenting with MMD, in 2013 the first anime created using the software was released … and nobody knew it even existed. It was called Straight Title Robot Anime (直球表題ロボットアニメ Chokkyuu Hyoudai Robotto Anime).

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Hatsune Miku Expo 2016 North America

Hatsune Miku is a Japanese virtual pop idol originally created as an avatar/humanoid persona for the voice synthesizing software series Vocaloid. Introduced in Vocaloid 2, she quickly gained massive popularity and now she and her “family” of related humanoid personas as well as the software itself are big hits and representational elements within the otaku subculture. At SAIC, we even have a dedicated course for the software.

In 2016, Miku toured across the North American continent with what was reported to be “holographic technology”. Although not Star Wars hologram levels of technology, all attempts by the media to gain access backstage to get a view of the hardware was denied, so whatever tech they used may be unique. Overall, it felt as if Miku was being projected onto air, however there were still minor perspective and depth perspective problems with walking front and back. Nevertheless, this hardly diminished her popularity, but dramatically increased it instead. The specialized lighting system above stage and lighting physics involved with the CGI played a large role in trying to make Miku as realistic and 3D as possible.

The introduction of holographic technology for virtual idols and divas ushers in a new age for virtual humanoid creations to be more recognised and “human-like” by increasing interaction. Perhaps there will come an age where virtual divas will be widespread and mainstream.

Below is an official video of the earlier Japan tour, utilising identical technology.

Live2D Technology

Live2D is a “new” technology created and first utilised as early as 2010. It was developed by a company named Cybernoids in Japan. Recently it has become widely used in the Japanese and Chinese gaming industry, especially mobile based games.

As long as you have a traditional 2D character design in the manga/anime style, you can animate the character without rendering a 3D model or drawing a few hundred frames. It is extremely economic and doesn’t feel uncanny, as 3D character models often give off. Unfortunately, the major problem with this technology is that it cannot show the entire body front and back, the view angles are limited.

In the Japanese gaming industry, the first major use of Live2D can be traced back as early as My Little Sister Can’t be this Cute: Portable Edition on the handheld PSP in 2011. It was a major success and selling point that eventually it spread to many games that based and sold itself upon vertical character illustrations. These mainly included character collection games, visual novels (galgames), and JRPG games.

Although the original intention is to provide and introduce new incentive and innovation into the game industry, i cannot feel that this is another struggle to advance in a design dead-end. Similar to the Japanese anime industry, they are still limited by 2D tradition.

Official site: http://www.live2d.com/en/

Makoto Shinkai – Cultural Barriers in the Evolution of Anime

Makoto Shinkai is a Japanese animation producer that has recently gained popularity worldwide for his most recent animation movie Your Name. His extremely detailed and breathtaking scenery style when combined with a semi sci-fi and romance plot creates animated works that, although confined in setting, feel grand.

The most interesting fact though, is his view on technology in Japanese animation. The Japanese are very conservative people in culture, society, and even just how you act. If something has been done with the identical method as generations before and is still proven to be effective, it stays. According to Shinkai, Japanese animation in all modern forms are still spiritually in the old analogue age. People prefer hand drawn frames rather than 3D rendered because they stick out like a sore thumb with the surrounding scene. Sure, we have arrived at the point that modern computers are able render objects and people as realistic and integrated as possible, however there will always be that uncanny feeling with the fluent frame rate of the rendered models, impacting the harmony of the entire scene. Even when using 3D renders and CGI, it is a common protocol or dogma in the Japanese animation industry to make it mimicry 2D animation as much and close as possible. Modern, digital age technology and media representation methods barely have a foothold in the industry, and even if they do, it’s short lived even if its cheaper.

Because, well, the paramount importance of tradition, ingenuity, and inherited wisdom apparently. As I said, the Japanese are very conservative.

Perhaps a quote from Miyazaki would be more convincing.

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Japan Animator Expo 日本アニメ(ーター)見本市

The Japan Animator’s Exhibition is a weekly updated, original net animation series that was streamed worldwide in 2015 on Niconico, the Japanese equivalent to YouTube. The series consisted of 35 episodes, was directed by various famous studios and producers across the Japanese anime industry, and varied greatly in plot, theme, and style. Some were experimenting with orthodoxical world settings and plot, while others experimented with new methods of media presentation. New technological media techniques were put to the test of practicality, conveying abstract themes that addressed current, and possibly future issues. And yes, there were episodes that were plain normal in presentation and had no deep theme at all, existing only for comedy relief.

The Expo logo and opening animation was designed by the famed producer Miyazaki, while the entire series was planned by Hideaki Anno, another famous producer that directed the world known Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series.

Below is the magnum opus of the series, a MV named ME!ME!ME! Do note that it is kinda inappropiate … for the easily offended people, that is.

A more representable episode is Evangelion: Another Impact.

Perplexing Use of 3D Technology within Anime Industry

The older generation of works from the Japanese animation industry were known for their significant plot, vast amount of frames per second, and attention in detail. However as the human race entered the 21st, Universal Century, it was inevitable for the industry to eventually develop a different strategic approach in terms of utilizing technology in production process. All this was for survival; the industry’s status as a major cultural and media export of Japan ensured that it must survive at all costs. Such was Social Darwinism.

Given the ever dynamic economic environment and human taste, attention to detail and the plot of the animation were redirected to other elements and/or factors. Some of these strategic decisions were to reduce cost of production, while other decisions were to increase production rate. The number of original works also plummeted compared to animation based upon light novels, games (usually visual novels), or manga. Overall, the industry preferred quantity over quality, and good quality works mostly turned out to be animated movies or SP/OVA’s.

One big factor in this trend is the introduction of 3D rendering technology into the industry during the 90’s of the Old Century. Originally it was utillised to experiment with new media methods within animation, to give the audience more realistic immersion with the animation itself ….. similar to what extended media wanted to achieve. Alas, nothing escapes human exploitation, and thus over time 3D rendering technology became advanced to the point that it would be riduculously economic to 3D render most things within the anime, compared to hiring an entire room of animators drawing everything from charactor to background frame by frame. This situation continues to this day, causing Japanese animators to become mostly economically unstable. Although this is also related to the profound influence of the moe trend within the subculture, most of the funds go to the voice actors and producers.

The use of 3D technology is currently widespread in Japanese anime, heck, just pick any new anime this season and you’ll be bound to find entire crowds of 3D rendered people on the streets, or cars on the roads. The last Japanese anime media franchise that went viral in Asia was named Kemono Friends (けものフレンズ), and it was almost entirely 3D rendered. In conclusion, the use of 3D technology in Japanese anime has, in a general sense, shattered the harmony between the different production classes. Though one can also say that it has achieved its strategic objective of creating new and/or extended media, if one thinks about the success of anime titles such as Kemono Friends.

Written in 1970, Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema had a point: eventually old methods and job posts had to die out whether they like it or not. 3D technology eventually replacing animators within the industry seems inevitable for the continued existence of the subculture.

Neta’s used in this post: Mobile Suit Gundam series, UC timeline.

Valley of Terror and Character Design

Character design within the otaku subculture share a similar style. More precisly explained, a common set of cultural genetic traits exists within the subculture. Even if an artist decides to create their own style/design, it will still retain and/or be based upon those same traits, and therefore will be highly identifiable and categorical. People often call it the “manga style” or “anime style”. This particular style, in contrast to its usual Western counterpart, is based upon extremely flat, minimalistic and idealist/perfectionist ideals. Its history can be traced back to traditional Japanese art such as Ukiyo-e, and family/clan emblem design.

According to the Valley of Terror Effect, also known as the Valley of Uncanny, these character designs (especially the face) ought to be psychologically and cognitively repulsive when converted to a three dimensional euclidean platform, such as a 3D render or figurine. They were, after all, designed to be the ultimate and most perfect representation of humanity. Yet, these three dimensional platforms fail to elicit a repulsive response. Examples such as holographic idols and the majority of anime figurines are testimony to this. Back in China I have entire shelves stacked with anime and manga figurines of all sorts and sizes, but I have never felt psychologically repulsed ever. On the contrary, I am often attracted to the figurines, and even feel prideful.

Many reasons may be accredited to this … large scale phenomenom (to be honest, good character design in the manga style is what supports the modern otaku subculture in the first place). Maybe the style is too minimal and idealistic to the point of abstraction. This abstraction is what fails to communicate with the audience, therefore not initiating the valley effect. However this theory fails to explain the … massive sexual attraction that is included within the subculture towards these character designs, especially towards female designs. If we cannot even comprehend the abstraction of these character designs, how are we supposed to feel sexual attraction in the first place?

Eh, regardless, the recent moe trend completely destroys the Valley of Terror with moe elements anyway. Maybe it all just boils down to personal preference.

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