Talk about artistic license! A conversation with the director and writers of Sengoku Collection

2012 September 22
by Jaren L

Translation of a recent interview with the director and three of the writers of Sengoku Collection, posted September 20. All material in (parentheses) is editor’s notes from the original article. This is part 1; I have no idea how many parts there will be.

TV Anime Sengoku Collection began airing this April. The warring generals from the Sengoku world (all of them ladies) star in this omnibus of one-episode stories, but…

The protagonist, Oda Nobunaga, in order to return to the Sengoku world must go on a journey to gather the secret treasures of the other generals; Tokugawa Ieyasu becomes a modern pop idol; and Uesugi Kenshin flourishes as a model. Date Masamune is tricked by the Yakuza and sent to prison. Toyotomi Hideyoshi gets lost in a rice wonderland while freeloading at a farm. Takeda Shingen isn’t lost in Japan, or even on Earth, but on a space station where she battles an aggressive artificial intelligence!

This compilation of crazy artistic license packed obsessively with historical references is Sencolle. Ekirebi! Anime Division (tentative name)‘s Tamago Mago and I have both actively pushed it.

So now, with two episode remaining until the finale (episode 26), we sat down to talk with director Keiji Gotoh and the writing team. Of the five scenario writers, we were able to gather up Go Zappa, Teru Arai and Shintaro Kanazawa. (Arbitrarily) representing Sencolle fans around the world, we asked them questions about everything from the show’s inception to our excitement about the finale.


——— Gotoh, when you were offered the position as Sengoku Collection‘s director, none of the contents or staff had been determined?

Gotoh: Correct. I did get the normal “Can you direct this for us?” call from Brains Base (the animation studio). But none of the staff or script had been decided at all. The original work is a social game. So they gave me a bunch of pictures from the cards (used in the game) and just said “use these…”, it had that sort of feel.

——— The original game has lots of characters, but essentially no plot.

Gotoh: It really doesn’t. It’s a work unlike anything I’ve done before. While that was worrying, I also wanted to give it a shot.

——— So, the basic idea of Sengoku generals coming to the modern world and living among normal people, how did that come about?

Zappa: I think that idea came from the director.

Gotoh: Yeah. So many other Sengoku Whatever works, relatively speaking, have already dramatized the Sengoku era. If we had done that, I doubt it would have stood out very much. Bringing them to the modern era, it’s a bit original, it makes it stand out more.

Zappa: The three of us joined (the staff) at the same time. By then, the setting had already been decided. Also, rather than having one story, Nobunaga being the protagonist but each episode having a different general with a different flavor, that had been decided as well.

——— What was the reasoning behind the omnibus format?

Gotoh: I think I recall that suggestion coming from the client. After I decided to have the Sengoku generals in modern times, I thought “well, so what next”, was around when that came up. Oh, and it seemed like it would be easier to do, so I went with that.

——— Oda Nobunaga as the lead part, was that decided quickly?

Gotoh: Konami gave us some data on which cards were the most popular in the game. According to that, the “Sweet Little Devil” Oda Nobunaga was the most popular card, so we made her the lead part.

——— After the basic setting was established, when it cametime to decide which characters to include or what kinds of episode to write, Zappa, Arai, Kanazawa, were you brought in for that?

Gotoh: That part was sort of just (turns to them) “write whatever you like”, you know? (laughter)

Zappa: To start, we made a list of the most popular characters from the game, along with the generals that you just think of whenever you think “Sengoku era”. Myself, I was in charge of Nobunaga. I tried to slowly build a story from the beginning to middle to end through all 26 episodes. Also, the director would say “this episode should have this kind of motif”, and we could use that. Then we’d get together and decide which character would work for that.

——— So, the shape of the whole work settled into place as you worked on it?

Gotoh: Sort of. If I had to specify, yes, we just wrote one episode and then the next. It sounds bad if you say we did it without any planning, though. The series composition wasn’t very firm, either. Though since Nobunaga is the main character, Zappa wrote many of the key episodes. Other than that, we just looked at the list of characters we chose and thought “we haven’t put this one in, we should probably put them in pretty soon” or so. That was why Takeda Shingen’s appearance was so late.

——— She’s a major general, but she wasn’t in the show until episode 21.

Arai: Zappa wrote Kenshin in episode 3, so we thought she could be in that episode, but it didn’t happen. (laughter)

Zappa: Ahh~.

Arai: She came up in episode 20 as well, so at that point we had to put her in.

Zappa: She’s kind of the highlight of the second half (laughter). Who wrote what character, it was just sort of who raised their hand and volunteered, right?

Kanazawa: I asked to write Tsukahara Bokuden (episode 5). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who picked something that way.

Arai: Ieyasu (episode 2) being an idol was a request (from the client), I think…

Kanazawa: That was because her card in the game said “idol”, wasn’t it?

Zappa: Oh, you’re right. That was one rule, they wanted us to stick to the flavor text on the cards. In Ieyasu’s case, the card said “Sengoku idol”, so we expanded that into being a modern idol.

——— So you were able to use the setting of the game to help. Personally I had no knowledge at all about the game when I started watching Sengoku Collection. The first episode is Oda Nobunaga and some guy in a “boy meets girl” thing, the second is Tokugawa Ieyasu’s idol debut. The third is Uesugi Kenshin and Naoe Kanetsugu being all lovey-dovey, the fourth has Date Masamune in a prison movie. The fifth has some suspicious guy making an example out of Tsukahara Bokuden to complain about the danger of the Sengoku generals and swords. Each episode is so interesting, but also so varied, that it really draws you in.

Zappa: It sort of felt like a rule that we shouldn’t repeat what another writer had already done.

Arai: Definitely.

——— So you all gathered regularly for scenario meetings?

Gotoh: Yes. Along with the producers, we met once a week.

——— Was it ever like “Aw, you took that one!” or anything?

Arai: But never like “Oh, you ended up with that genre!”.

Kanazawa: Yeah, not really.

Zappa: Mmmm.

——— You each got to write the material you wanted to write?

Arai: We all have different tastes, so it wasn’t too painful.

Zappa: No, you guys just wrote whatever the hell you wanted. (laughter)

——— Zappa, you had to consider putting it all together as well, right?

Kanazawa: We were all working under pressure, too! (laughter)

Arai: Yeah. We weren’t completely oblivious. (laughter)

Zappa: Oh, is that so? (laughter)

Arai: The only one I was really free with was episode 4 (Date Masamune) with the prison movie style. After that, everyone else burst forward so fast that I had to rush just to keep up.

——— But was episode 4 everyone’s cue to burst?

Kanazawa: It did become like, “Oh, we can go that far?”

——— So, now I’d like to turn to the writers, and talk to each of you about the episodes you were specifically in charge of. Particularly difficult episodes, or ones that surprised you when you saw the finished product, talk about the process with those.

Zappa: I think the episode that most felt like my own work was 13 (Sugitani Zenjubo). Even if it’s not an episode where anything really exciting happens. I just wrote it normally, and thought it was kind of a fun episode, but ended up giving it one last push in the portrayal of the characters. And it turned out great. That and episode 19.

——— That’s Akechi Mitsuhide’s episode, right? It continues into episode 20, and it points toward the climax, it’s an important episode.

Zappa: Within a framework with no real connecting strand (like Sencolle‘s), it felt like I had found a way to run one strand through it despite some absurd constraints. The script itself was a pain to write, but the way it came out is interesting to watch. The explanation isn’t too hard to follow, either. Plus, as dense as it was as a script, they packed even more into the final episode.

——— As both a story and an episode it’s very dense, but then unrelated to anything you have things like that black cat slipping off the side of the house…

Zappa: Yeah, that. Like they didn’t need to go that far.

Gotoh: All that extra stuff, all of it, that was the storyboarder and episode director (Shingo) Kaneko. I didn’t do anything. I actually reeled him in a bit.

——— A bit ago you mentioned episode 13. The character Ageha, who grows close to the main character Sugitani Zenjubo and Oda Nobunaga, was really something. What was it like developing this original character from the modern world?

Zappa: Well, Ageha was mostly developed from my own tastes (laughter). From a composition standpoint, Zenjubo and Ageha’s relationship is sort of connected to Nobunaga and Mitsuhide’s relationship in some ways. Also, I thought it would be fun to pit Nobunaga’s constant “me first!” attitude against an opposing force.

——— Nobunaga gets forced into buying her food, right?

Zappa: Plus, Sencolle and its characters are a derivative work. It sounds like we can do whatever we like, but there is a limit to how much we can play with the characters. On the other hand, you have a lot more freedom with an anime-original character. Running into a unique character gives the Sengoku generals something to play off of, too.

——— Arai, Kanazawa, did you have any worries about how to deal with the Sengoku generals, too?

Zappa: Oh, these guys don’t care about that. (laughter)

Arai: If I remember right, I tried to do a lot of unreasonable stuff.

Kanazawa: At first I didn’t know how much wiggle room we had, so they got mad at me. In the second half I’ve toned it down some.

Zappa: You haven’t toned down at all! (laughter)

(By: Daisuke Marumoto)

 

(Continued in Part 2)

 

First Impressions: Mysterious Girlfriend X

2012 April 13
by Jaren L

An exquisite corpse by 8C, Scamp, processr, SeHNNG, lvlln, emperorj, bitmap, Kylaran, bobbierob, R1CK_D0M, ghostlightningvucubcaquix and uncreativecat

How far can curiosity take us? What does a single, absent-minded moment weigh? The decisions we wear can alter our lives in ways we can’t imagine. Bringing us to locales we never fathomed, consequences we never considered, love we never expected. Just a single moment, just a puddle of spit, and your life, too, could change, just like that. Tempted?

Well, maybe not quite. But for Akira Tsubaki, your average high school student who’s a bit of a sci-fi movie nerd, it’s not surprising that he decides to go for it. The mystery that Mikoto Urabe has to offer provides us a number of options to consider. Is she the source of the substance dependency? Or is it all in Tsubaki’s virgin psyche? Let us rule out the latter because, well as boys we’ve all been there… virgins and we didn’t turn into saliva junkies after our first kiss.

So in a sense, Mysterious Girlfriend X takes place in an idealized world. The elevation of not just sexual but emotional attraction to a unique physical response seems to speak to the uncertainty which can accompany a first love. This plays into the work’s larger themes regarding the ritualization of the taboo into the mundane. What society sees as strange behavior is realized in a sort of microculture containing just a few people, but is it valid to dismiss a culture merely out of an argument of numbers? As ritual becomes culture it becomes what society expects from normal humans.

Dutch anthropologist Johan Huizinga once wrote that our modern institutions are born out of a ritualization of basic human behavior. The centrality of drool in NazoKano deconstructs romance as standardized ritual, and, by association the standard notions of stereotyped romantic relationships in media in general are a target for critique. The general media perception is that anything beyond normal must come from characters who defy social norms. No normal person could be in that kind of twisted relationship. Here, we have a normal teenage boy entering into the most important relationship of his life in the most abnormal of beginnings. Urabe’s declaration of sexual intent jars the audience in its straightforward ripeness, as does Tsubaki’s ripping of his old crush’s photograph.

Both actions teem with an eccentric dramatic flair – and yet, seem natural in their own strange right. They over-brim with the budding sincerity of young love, the kind look that shone through Urabe’s eyes as the safety scissors stab-… No just kidding that didn’t really happen. But that does bring up largest mystery in my mind right now: what is with those scissors? Past the lol erodrool aspect the first ep of nazokano is actually pretty normal, and yet stands out from its genre peers with its bizarre and rather gut-turning use of metaphor.

Not that metaphors aren’t a staple of anime romcoms, the most obvious case being the nosebleed symbolising the rushing of blood to somewhere else. But the gushing of saliva to represent ‘extreme happiness’ is perhaps too obvious a metaphor for sexual excitement, but it’s not like the show is going for subtlety anyway. It reminds me of FLCL and KareKano which beat us over the head with their metaphors and ended up better thanks to it.

I suppose the old school aesthetic dovetails nicely with the occasionally seedy mood of the show, but said mood is often nullified by the extraneous amounts of sexual innuendos mainly perpetrated by the female lead. Most risque of all these situations has got to be, of course, Akira’s constant drinking of Mikoto’s drool is being played off as some kind of glorious, heart-fluttering moment in Akira’s life, reinforced by the recurrence of the subtle-like-a-badger-to-the-face flower and nectar imagery. Mysterious Girlfriend X’s grasp of subtlety is tenuous at best, and the drool-licking is a little icky, but its first episode is excellent.

Secret Santa – The heavy-handed satire of Excel Saga

2011 December 24
by Jaren L

This post is a part of the Reverse Thieves’ Anime Secret Santa project.

“I, 8C, hereby give my permission to turn the Girl Cartoons blog into an episodic anime blog!”


EXCEL SAGA 26 (END)

This episode was pretty crazy! But it was a lot of fun, too!

Synopsis:

The episode opens with a letter from “Mitsuishi Kotono”. I don’t know who that is but her Anime News Network page says she’s been in a lot of old animes nobody cares about! But anyway, she asks for them to turn Excel Saga into a musical – LOL, pretty random.

There’s over 9000!

But then they really turn it into a musical! Excel starts singing, then Rikudo and the afro guy, THEN EVEN ILPALAZZO-SAMA! This whole scene was actually

pretty funny! And then they decide to really make it a musical episode.

This OP is always so catchy

But that was really just a false alarm because then Ilpalazzo-sama is just talking to them. Aww. Anyway Ilpalazzo-sama is still mad that the world is corrupt, so he tells Excel and Hyatt that they need to try harder.

I didn’t really understand this part. Who’s Spielberg?

Then Sara Cossette comes in! Long-time readers will know that I thought Cossette was both hilarious and really moe in episode 08, so I was excited to see her come back.

And she’s just as sexy as before! (^_^)

Ilpalazzo tells them to execute Operation H 3223223 (it’s over 9000! LOL) and says he will see them in three days. Then

OMG! A naked hottie! No Fapping guys, LOL.

there’s a scene of Misaki taking a

OMG! Loli Nipple! Really guys no Fapping okay LOL!

shower! It turns out the old guy is spying on them, though. What a pervert! Not that I can blame him though, LOL!

This show is so random!

Then we go back to Excel and her nakamas looking at a bottle of “Mystery Medicine”. Sara offers Excel and Hyatt a cake that she secretly put the medicine in.

This cake looks really good. *drools*

There’s a random trippy scene where everyone is ghosts and then it cuts to Watanabe having a flashback about Hyatt shooting him, when suddenly Hyatt walks by his window. But it’s not really Hyatt, it’s Excel inside her body!

I would choose all of them. LOL!

Excel-Hyatt beats up Watanabe and dances away singing about vomit, when suddenly she sees her reflection in a mirror, and notices she looks like Hyatt.

What are those mannequins doing? LOL

She stares in the window for a really long time, then plays rock-paper-scissors with herself, then says “naha-naha”, then stares in the window some more. I almost fell asleep! (LOL j/k)

Excel-Hyatt runs to a bathroom, where she freaks out and then strips naked in the bathroom stall.

Fweet fweoo!

Suddenly she starts puking blood everywhere and turns into a skeleton. Excel-Hyatt screams for Ilpalazzo-sama’s help…

Free Bird!

…but he’s too busy rocking out! And telling you to watch the commercial for Puni Puni Poemy which is some dumb magical girl thing or something. I dunno, Ilpalazzo-sama, it doesn’t look that great.

On the other hand, it does have a mecha…

Anyway, after the commercial we come back to Hyatt-Excel (Hyatt in Excel’s body!) jumping off of a balcony and then running around.

And then back to Excel-Hyatt!

Excel-Hyatt goes to a hospital to get better, the doctor shoots her with a bunch of syringes and then with electricity and she’s all better! Cossette is on the phone with Ilpalazzo-sama telling him about all that happened.

But Ilpalazzo-sama is too busy rocking out again!

Then it goes back to Watanabe thinking about Hyatt, and he imagines her wearing a Hadaka Epuron (That’s Japanese for “naked apron.” Like wearing an apron and nothing else! Only in Japan LOL) when suddenly Hyatt-Excel shows up.

LOL, Watanabe!

Watanabe suddenly asks Hyatt-Excel out, and she says okay, and then they go to a hotel. Cossette was secretly watching them, and suddenly the scientist guy pops up and then they go to the hotel too.

Ew Menchi, that’s gross! LOL

Suddenly Excel-Hyatt shows up and decides to follow Watanabe and Hyatt-Excel inside. She started bleeding again so she crawls inside and throws up on the hotel woman.

LOL!

Then Watanabe is waiting for Hyatt-Excel to get out of the bath, and can’t wait so he sneaks in on her. Then Cossette walks out of the shower to science guy and opens up her towel.

OMG Loli Nipple…?

Scientist guy is mad that she has boobs (Your loss dude! LOL) so he walks out but she grabs on to his leg. Then Excel-Hyatt wiggles under the door to Watanabe and Hyatt’s room where Watanabe is humping on Hyatt-Excel! But when they notice Excel-Hyatt Watanabe starts talking to himself and Hyatt-Excel starts making sexy poses for Excel-Hyatt.

LOL Fan Service!

Then Excel-Hyatt and Hyatt-Excel bump their heads together but that doesn’t work so they do a fusion move. Then they turn into a weird robot Power Ranger thing but they don’t know how to split back apart. Then Nabeshin’s car turns into a plane and he fights some things and flies to the hotel and shoots at some ugly people and uses his arm cannon on the That Guy clones and breaks through the wall to the room with Excel and Hyatt. Then the hotel blows up.

I agree, Nabeshin! LOL

Then Pedro and his wife and son are walking around in Japan when they run into Excel, Hyatt and Cossette. Then Hyatt starts throwing up blood and it drowns the whole earth. Gross LOL! Then Ilpalazzo-sama does a thumbs-up sign.

Then Nabeshin is getting married, but the preacher is Rikudo! And he’s mad about how weird the ending is, so he and Nabeshin kick in mid-air.

Sequel?!

And that’s Excel Saga 26!

OMG! Why wasn’t this the normal ED! LOL

Opinion:

There’s over 9000!

This show was really wacky but also really funny. The first cour was a little boring but overall it was really funny!

Today’s experiment…… uh, yeah, failed.

Argotaku: An introduction of sorts

2011 October 9
by Jaren L

argot. n. An often more or less secret vocabulary and idiom peculiar to a particular group.

otaku. n. A fan of Japanese-made visual products such as anime, manga and the like. Borrowed into English from the Japanese おたく, which can more generally refer to a fanatic in any given field, such as trains or pop idols.

Anime-otaku subculture, like any sufficiently large group of like-minded individuals, has a vibrant and complex vocabulary associated with it—pages have been written on the workings of the word “otaku” alone. Here I’ll be using a dictionary-like format to explore the stories behind some of these words. Maybe this will shed some light on the workings and growth of the subculture as a whole; hopefully it’ll at least be an entertaining read.

hentai. n., adj. A Japanese-borrowed English term with an infamously complex past. Refers primarily to Japanese-made comic or animated pornography. The Japanese 変態 [hentai] is a common word meaning, variously, “transformation”, “abnormality”, “pervert” and the like; this last usage, the one most relevant to the English borrowing, is actually a shortening of 変態性欲 [hentaiseiyoku] meaning more literally “abnormal sexuality”. It is rarely used in Japanese to denote pornographic material per se, though it may be used to describe a given pornographic work as particularly outside of the norm.¹ Knowledge of this etymology, and particularly insistence that the word’s English definition is invalid in light of its divergence from the original Japanese sense, is a common means of showboating in online otaku communities.

winterj. Japanese abbreviation of 笑う [warau] “to laugh”, by way of ワロタ [warota], a corruption thereof. Perhaps related to the rural Kansai dialect わろおた [waroota], the plain past-tense form of “to laugh”. Expression of amusement, essentially parallel to English “LOL”.

oldfag. n. 1. An individual whose tastes in the medium developed at an earlier time than my own, and therefore could not possibly understand the artistic validity I see in what the industry is producing right now; 2. Absolutely not what I will be called in ten years when the medium’s trends have moved on from what they were when my own tastes developed and I can’t understand what these kids see in the crap being churned out lately.

-fag. suffix. Absolutely not homophobic. I promise. Really.

glomp. v. To hug aggressively or enthusiastically. Online fan usage dates to at least 1994. Perceived to be largely used by female fans, in contexts such as fan fiction. Sufficiently infamous as to have been banned by name at some anime conventions along with “yaoi paddles”. Has acquired a certain stereotypical connotation in some circles, emblematic of overzealous “fangirls”. One plausible but unconfirmed etymology attributes the coinage to Viz Media’s 1992 translation of Ranma ½ which used “glomp” as an onomatopoeia for overzealous embraces.

cours/クール. n. A “season” of Japanese television. One cours is approximately three months; a given program may be more than one cours long. Borrowed from either the French “cours” or the German “Kur”. The “kur” spelling in English is uncommon, but not unheard of; a more common alternate spelling is “cour”, likely a reanalysis of the French form’s final -s as a plural marker.

on “on Narrative”

2011 September 7

It finally occurred to me how exactly to explain  what my problem with “On Narrative” is, having recalled an argument I presented to Owen which was remarkably similar. That argument, briefly, was that “storytelling” is a key metric in judging the quality of eromanga and other erotic works, because even a plain vanilla sex scene with no dialogue requires solid arrangement and pacing in order to be effective and engaging. It was all, if you may, very “a fart is a plot”.

But, as I can’t help but see it, all of “On Narrative”‘s objective, evaluable, relevant rhetoric hinges on words having specific meanings. A fart is only a “plot” if you agree with Michael’s (very generalized) definition of the word—which I can’t bring myself to, given he makes no effective argument in its favor.

Moreover, even if you do accept this definition, we’re still playing a game of polysemy: granting for the sake of argument that plot₁ is defined exactly as Michael outlines, there is no reason for that definition to exclude the existence of plot₂, which we may define for our purposes here as “a word referring to anything which Michael believes others to believe ‘plot’ to refer to, but which hepersonally believes ‘plot’ does not refer to”. Given this:

i. “A fart is a plot₁”
ii. “A fart is a plot₂”

The truth or falsehood of i. is in no way relevant to the truth or falsehood of ii. (well, given our exact definition of plot₂ it could be tangentially relevant, but again that’s irrelevant since we could easily propose a less-sarcastic plot₃ and repeat)

In more pragmatic terms, this means that statement i. is only actually relevant to a consideration of the value of the word “plotₓ” in a wider critical landscape if you accept, unprotested, Michael’s definition of plot₁ as not only subjectively the best definition of the word, but objectively the most prevalent.

Conversely, I would argue, my own use of “storytelling” was already motivated by a desire to build upon and outside of the existing critical framework, rather than attempt to overwrite any labels which were already in place. Had Owen protested to my use of the word “storytelling” (let’s say storytelling₁) because of the existence of a much more commonly-used storytelling₂ or storytelling₃, resulting in unneeded rhetorical ambiguity, I could have easily found another label for the concept which I was attempting to communicate—say, “blick₁”, defined as “see storytelling₁”. “Blick is a key metric in judging the quality of erotic works” is certainly a bit cumbersome and opaque, but arguably loses no logical, rhetorical relevance to the discussion at hand.

In On Narrative’s case, I would propose that the preceding, more true-to-rhetoric “A fart is an event”, while true, and perhaps insightful in its own manner, is quite distant from the point Michael was attempting to make by conflating the definition of plot₁ with the prestige ascribed to plot₂.

Of course, “On Narrative” hardly hinges upon that one sentence; I only single it out because I see it as prototypical of the sort of problems I had with so much of what followed. “Everything as either good or bad is subjective/Criticism is the search for the objective.” Is it? Again, we’ve hardly even established that Michael believes this, much less that enough others believe it for the statement to have any meaning as a logical premise. “Objectivity means, as I would like to see it:” is probably the most elegant demonstration of this—what is being offered here is far less an overhaul of art criticism at a fundamental level than it is a revision of the vocabulary used in approaching it. Which he acknowledges in the formatting of section 2, but still presents no cogent justification for.

As a manifesto it’s certainly entertaining, even invigorating if you happen to agree with his conclusions (and I do, quite often). But as argumentation, as anything but placation of those who do agree with it, I can’t help feeling it falls short. It doesn’t communicate its conclusions in an at all convincing way—the words “sound” and “fury” come to mind.

I might go into how I dislike Michael’s penchant for disregarding existing (esp. postmodern) theory and argumentation on the grounds of common sense and prosaic convenience, but that would just be pedantic.