Welcome to the NHK: Satou in the bushes with a camera

This was originally part of a “top 10 manga” post (like my top 20 anime post), but it got too long and sort of off-topic so I’m making it a standalone post.

Welcome to the NHK is a franchise that started with a depressing novel in 2002, a raw story written by a hikikomori for hikikomori. A manga adaptation followed in 2003, and the anime was made in 2006. While the anime is in my top 5 and the novel is a phenomenal read, I consider the manga the definitive version of the story.

The novel is just too dark. While Takimoto clearly tried to make the humor stand out, it just doesn’t work when the novel is in first person. Satou’s thoughts make me cringe and feel worse and worse as more and more depressing things happen until there’s nothing left to laugh about. On the other hand, the anime isn’t dark enough, straying a bit too far away from controversial subjects. The manga isn’t as faithful to the novel’s plot as the anime is, but has a much better blend of black comedy.

The differences are best shown in the most iconic scene of the series: Satou hiding in the bushes outside an elementary school, camera in hand. Takimoto talks about this scene in the postscript to the manga:

But the more realistically you write about a hikikomori, the more you lose the image of a hero. […] Back then, I spent a good two or three weeks straight worrying about it on my futon. Suddenly, a scene of Yamazaki and Satou snapping peeping shots of grade schoolers flashed before my eyes. I’d found my suffering hero, crying and disgusted at himself while simultaneously getting off on those photos. With that vivid image in my head, the images of Yamazaki and Misaki gradually began to take shape…

This scene was clearly central to Takimoto’s novel and subsequent adaptations, so I think it’s worth taking a look at how it turned out. It also happens to illustrate exactly what I like about each version.

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thoughts on the AniMetacritic, five years late

I just found out about the AniMetacritic (version 2) today, a sampling of the anime scores of aniblogging’s finest. As a physicist, I naturally found myself drooling at the very thought of this sort of data. It’s kind of like why graph.anime.plus appeals to me: despite its limited functionality, it offers something as simple as standard deviations on my anime scores, scores vs. year, vs. genre, etc. The very act of working with this data to extract something as basic as like “elitist anibloggers believe Legend of the Galactic Heroes is the best thing ever” just sounds so exciting.

At the same time, I’ve always wondered where I could find the definitive list of “good” anime…

MyAnimeList, ANN, Anime Planet, etc. all have userbases that have grown too large, and it becomes a sort of popularity contest (for the ultimate version of this, see the complete joke and shitfest that is Crunchyroll’s “Anime Awards”). While Legend of the Galactic Heroes is top 10 on MAL, a lot of well-regarded shows are stuck with low popularity and low scores. For example, ranking by {scores, popularity}, the divisive yet famous Revolutionary Girl Utena has a {#306, #830}, the original Gundam series has a {756, 1202}, and Satoshi Kon’s trio of Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, and Tokyo Godfathers all sit at around #230 in scores and >#400 in popularity. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a show that single-handedly defined modern anime, yet it features a score rank of #555.

Without knowing anything, the only way to find out about these shows is, I think, through word-of-mouth. Data-driven lists like MAL’s top anime page pale in comparison to the words of a few experts who’ve gone through the slow process of learning about what’s important and what’s not. And while everybody has gone on and on about their own top 10s, 20s, and 30s, it should have been obvious to make something like the AniMetacritic long, long before 2013. It’s a list of the shows that all of us in the blogging community already knew were considered “good”, but to see it all laid out in a ranking is so… satisfying.

Of course, it’s obviously another popularity contest, but that’s something bloggers are all too familiar with. And it’s equally obvious that this list is idealized by anibloggers, for anibloggers. It was made by a very specific subset of anime fans: people who were most active around 2006-2010, not too long after small-time personal blogs took off, and not too long before other social media took over. But because I fall into that category, I feel validated looking at (most) of this list. It verifies the tiny voices in my head…

Aria the Origination (AMCv2 #2) is top tier? I knew it all along!

Infinite Ryvius (AMCv2 #57) is an amazing show? Sure, I guess!

Nobody else liked Nichijou (AMCv2 #247)? …I knew that.

Anyway, this list doesn’t meet my expectations for a definitive list of “good” anime. It’s five years old, which in anime terms is an entire generation and a half of anime fans. Remember – Sword Art Online and Attack on Titan came out only a year before the AniMetacritic! It also doesn’t hit some of the older stuff (pre-Bebop), because people like me in 2008 didn’t want to watch 1980s shows. There’s no Ashita no Joe, not even on the “obscure” list. And those small sample sizes? That’s an error bar away from a score of 0.

All that said, and even trying to account for my bias as an anime blogger, I still think that this list is the best data-driven option around. I’ll be using it to fill in the (many) holes in my anime history.

P.S.: somehow I got onto the second version of the AniMetacritic along with a bunch of my fellow retired anibloggers (thank you for remembering me, kadian), though not under this name. I’d also like to point out that that account was made before Nichijou, and my (probably lone) 10/10 score would have shot Nichijou up from #247 all the way to… #241.

P.P.S.: with two seconds more time to investigate, I found out that I’m actually NOT counted as part of the ratings so I guess.. uhh .. whatever

“How much did you like this show?”

A month ago, there was the “Anime of the Year 2017” vote on reddit. At the time, I (obviously) voted for Made in Abyss, but there were many people out there trying to drum up support for a handful of other shows (Houseki no KuniRakugo S2). One comment in particular really stood out:

Rakugo [for anime of the year], and it’s a testament to the quality of some of the other shows that this is even a bit close. Houseki and Shoujo Shuumatsu are my second and third favourite anime of 2017, but Rakugo was the first anime in a very long time that legitimately scared me. There were several times while watching Rakugo that I thought to myself “this might not only be the best show I’ve watched, but it might very well be the best show I will ever watch.” I think that great yet terrible realization is the dream of any dedicated anime fan – I can’t think of any higher praise for this show than that. (source)

In all the tens of thousands of blog posts, reddit comments, and MAL reviews I’ve read, I’ve seen the same few phrases fans use to describe good shows (and I’m no exception!!). Words like “masterpiece” are thrown around and beat up like a punching bag. There’s always people writing disclaimers (relevant? post) about how “harsh” their scores are, or how few 10/10s they give out.

But it’s understandable, right? While a bit of thinking and a lot of writing can answer the question “why did I like this anime?” (and thus propel you to the top of the MAL reviews), it takes different skills to answer the question “how much did I like this anime?” It’s a never-ending search of synonyms like “great”, “fantastic”, “amazing” to “masterpiece”, “magnum opus”, and the worst one of all, “classic.” But do you see what I’m doing? I’m trying to hype something up here, exactly like the people who say how “harsh” their criteria are. I’m no better!

But this guy on reddit is going a little too far, I think.

As I’ve watched more and more anime, I have come to believe that “the best thing I’ve ever seen!” is not at all good praise (though I always end up writing it, even recently). The effectiveness of this statement scales with how much anime I’ve watched, and how varied my anime history has been. Unless I’ve seen everything to date, saying “Nichijou is the best thing I’ve ever seen!” may only say that I haven’t seen much.

Going one dozen steps further is “the best thing I will ever watch.” Not only does this carry the same implications that I said about “the best thing I’ve ever seen,” but it confidently says “there’s nothing else out there that’s better than this, and there never will be.” It sounds good — like the redditor said, it’s the highest praise possible — but it also sounds naive and arrogant. I don’t think I would ever be able to write this, because I know it can’t possibly be true.

It’s not that “the best thing I will ever see” is not high praise. It’s just not good praise.

All that said, Rakugo was really, really good.

Differences in Translating Eyeshield 21: Viz Media vs. Amateur Scanlations

Preface: I cleaned and typesetted five pages of manga for this post. Read it, damn it.

Eyeshield 21 was one of the first manga I ever started reading, and I own 36 of its 37 volumes in English. That’s a price tag of over $300 for one single manga series… why? Why not just read it online, where I wouldn’t have to spend a cent? Well, initially the reason was that I didn’t know about reading manga online. I was in middle school when I got into Eyeshield 21 – gimme a break.

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Anime Expo 2014

I didn’t go. Instead, I went to Japan.

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