Blog Update

caffeinated-telescopes-logo-5Hey everyone! Here’s a quick update on what I’ve been working on this past week.

The Winter 2017 anime season is well under way, but I still haven’t gotten over all the shows from last Fall. Presently, I’m working on four posts: three are anime analysis (two from last season and one older show), and one is a topical analysis (on a show from last season). I’ve been working on these for a little while and am having fun refining and polishing them for the world to read.

Additionally, I already have a couple ideas for posts on shows from the current season, so I’m excited to wrap up the projects I’m working on right now so I can focus on formulating my thoughts on more current series (although I doubt I’ll be moving on from Fall 2016 completely, as there’s a lot of good stuff from last season that I still want to explore and discuss).

There’s also a couple ideas floating around in my head about a couple live action shows I’ve been watching lately. I’m not sure if anything will come of them any time soon, but the thoughts are there, and I’m starting to get a clearer vision for a couple of them (stay tuned!).

Finally, I’m working on transforming my blog posts into video essays. It’s a lot of hard, tedious work, but I’m feeling really optimistic about it and can’t wait to release my projects. Hopefully it’s something I’ll be able to continue to do in the future (it’s a hell of a lot of fun, just time consuming).

That’s it for this past week! As always, thanks for reading! I’m excited to get back to releasing new content.

 

Yuri!!! On Ice: The Power of Delivering to Your Audience

Introduction:

Ask yourself: what do you you want to get out of your entertainment? If someone were to ask you to make a detailed outline of everything you want to see in any television show, movie, game, book, album, or other form of media, what would be on your list? Not what type of genres, settings, characters or stories you would prefer, but what themes, qualities and values would you look for? When you go into a movie theater, pick up a book, put a disc into a console or reach for the remote, what is it you hope to come away with?

One thing I’ve noticed from personal experience and from spending time with other fans is that sometimes recognizing everything we want in entertainment is difficult to do. We might prioritize things like good writing, representation, a unique concept or a story that wraps up all it’s threads, but all of those things can be present in a piece of entertainment and still leave us underwhelmed. In cases like this we often discover that we have more expectations for entertainment than we originally thought. While we receive everything we thought we wanted, we walk away disappointed because it wasn’t everything we internally craved.

There are some critics who have large, specific lists of things they look for in media, but generally, that’s not the case for most casual fans of entertainment and storytelling. Our mental list of things we want out of a story is constantly changing as we grow and develop as people and as society changes around us. If we knew what we wanted to see all of the time, we’d never get excited or surprised or disappointed by anything. We’d never have that inexpressible feeling that leaves us with nothing else to say except for, “I don’t know what I just witnessed, but I loved it.” We may not be able to point out everything that needs to be included in a story for us to feel satisfied, but when we receive something that speaks to and connects with us in a surprising and personal way, we realize that it’s exactly what we’ve wanted all along.

It turns out it’s just as difficult for creators to understand what their audience wants to see as it is for fans. While a lot of entertainment is about creating art for the sake of art and telling our stories through media, it’s also an industry in which creators hope to appeal to general audiences to make a profit, which is a lot harder than it might seem. We see tropes and trends in entertainment that people are generally dissatisfied with and bored of, but we don’t see them disappearing. At least not quickly, because its just as difficult for creators to recognize the growing trends and wishes of their audience as it is for the audience to recognize their ever changing expectations.

Hayao Miyazaki, the critically acclaimed anime director and founder of Studio Ghilbi, recently made some bold complaints about Japan’s current anime industry. “Some people spend their lives interested only in themselves. Almost all Japanese animation is produced with hardly any basis taken from observing real people…it’s produced by humans who can’t stand looking at other humans.” (Source) While Miyazaki takes a very cynical approach, I think he may be onto something concerning how many creators, not just in anime, but in all entertainment mediums, don’t seem to know how to connect with their audience.

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Scattered Thoughts on Bakemonogatari

Well, I just finished Bakemonogatari for the first time and have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it. The problem I’ve been experiencing since the final ending theme has been making those thoughts and feelings cohesive, even to myself. Since they’re all still too scattered in my mind to make a full article out of them (for now), I thought I’d just offer a few of my initial thoughts upon completing one of the best selling anime series of all time.

If I were to attempt to describe Bakemonogatari in a single word I’d have a difficult time deciding on one that completely sums up the shows intentions and impressions. Intriguing comes to mind, as does fascinating. I’ve heard it described as a bit pretentious, and although I’m not really fond of that word, I can understand where they’re coming from. I suppose I’d probably end up summarizing it as innovative. From the direction to the soundtrack, the editing to the flow of the story, and the characters to the art and color design, this show broke boundaries. One of the things I find most interesting about Bakemonogatari is that none of its individual facets are original by themselves. The show combines bits and pieces from the horror, romance, harem, drama, suspense and thriller genres, all of which have been done extensively in anime. What makes this series so fresh and creative is the way in which all these individual parts work and flow together. I can name many, many shows with colliding, conflicting genre conventions, but none that work nearly as well as Bakemonogatari does.

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Hibike! Euphonium: Character Analysis

Introduction:

Character development is a term thrown around a lot in discussions on storytelling. It’s often a sizable factor in how many critics view whatever media they are reviewing. Briefly, because I don’t feel like doing a full article on it at the moment, character development is important to me because while we, the audience, are viewers and observers of any given story from the outside, we also vicariously live out the story through its characters. A great story does more than look pretty from an outsider’s point of view, rather, it drags its audience kicking and screaming into it, forcing us to experience the characters’ emotions first hand as we find ourselves desperately wanting them to succeed in their goals. When a lead character never changes or develops, the audience can’t experience that because there’s nothing to experience. As humans, we are constantly changing and being changed by our experiences, so seeing a character change and develop only feels natural. When it doesn’t happen, it feels dull and even unnatural, causing me to feel like I’m being ripped out of the story and forced to be an observer again. A great story uses its characters to keep the audience thoroughly engaged and immersed throughout. The line between good and bad character development, however, is extremely subjective. For me, when I think about anime with great character development, a few immediately come to mind, one being the extremely popular high school music drama Hibike! Euphonium.

Whatever your opinion of the show, it’s not difficult to understand why it’s popularity has exploded within the last year. Kyoto Animation (Free, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!) are masters of what they do, specifically slice of life and drama series. From a production standpoint, Hibike is, as the kids are saying these days, on fleek. The animation, soundtrack, voice acting and directing are all top notch. However, while production quality is an important part of how I rate the media I consume on it’s own, we live in a world in which technology is developing so fast that high quality production values have become standard and are no longer a guarantee of a worthwhile story. Anime such as Sword Art Online, Guilty Crown, and more recently Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress have flaunted impeccable production values but still failed to capture the hearts and attention of a widespread audience. This isn’t only true of animation, either. Television, film and literature can all be perpetrators as well. A skilled team of artists doesn’t necessarily guarantee an equally complex product. The way I see it, Hibike is a solid seven out of ten in production alone, but what is it that has caused me and many others to give it an even higher rating? You guessed it: the characters.

A better reviewer than myself could write a massive article detailing why each character in this show is intriguing and important to the story in their own right. However, right now I’d like to examine one of the most obvious and interesting character arcs, that of Kumiko Oumae, the lead character, and a couple things I found interesting about it that weren’t immediately apparent to me upon my first viewing. I’ll be diving into some spoiler territory for season one so if you haven’t watched it, I’d highly recommend it if you don’t mind a bit of musical melodrama. It’s currently available on Crunchyroll for free. Let’s get started.

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Air For Free: Lyrical and Musical Review/Analysis

Introduction:

Relient K is a difficult band to summarize in a few sentences. In the eighteen years that these Christian punks have been rocking and writing, they’ve changed, evolved and matured with each new release. When the wave of punk-pop began to recede in the ocean of Christian contemporary music and many of the bands that were once at the forefront of the movement began to fade into obscurity, Relient K remained, continuing to change and experiment while staying true to their original creative spirit. Not many of their contemporaries can claim as much.

When Relient K first got their feet off the ground with the help of Toby Mckeehan, I’m not sure anyone was entirely prepared for what their first few albums would bring to the table of Christian music. What the industry gained were songs about Marilyn Manson, Matt Theissen’s fictional crush on Nancy Drew, comparisons between a car and mental breakdown, college life and, as the band would later title their debut book, The Complex Infrastructure Known as the Female Mind…Oh, yeah, not to mention Jesus and church and stuff.

While their songs were goofy, ridiculous and reminiscent of nineties punk-pop acts such as blink-182, the brutal honesty of their lyrics and catchy melodies caught the attention of many listeners early on. Over time, their lyrics continued to mature, and with their gradual changes in sound and style the band begin to tackle bigger, more philosophical questions in their lyrics, climaxing in their albums Mmhmm and Five Score and Seven Years Ago, with tracks such as “When I Go Down”, “Devastation and Reform”, “Let it All Out”, and the eleven minute epic, “Deathbed”. However, after their 2013 album Collapsible Lung, a conceptual pop album about growing old and reminiscing in which Theissen brought in a team of mainstream songwriters, many fans were concerned about the future of Relient K, some going so far as to say that they had “sold out” to the mainsteam music industry. Three years later, Matt Theissen and Matt Hoopes, the two original and remaining members of the band, announced that they were working on their eighth studio album, Air For Free. Right now, I want to try to flush out some of the core themes and ideas behind this album by analytically examining the lyrical and musical content. Let’s do this.

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