Time to give some modern anime the treatment it deserves.
Anime as an art form is a concept that many people have heard about, but not many have actually thought about. Sure, you could watch anime for the cute girls, for the voice actors, for the plot, for the plot, for the visuals… There’s a whole bunch of reasons why people watch anime as enjoyment for the brain, eyes, ears, etc. But anime can be so much more than that, given the right lens. Instead of looking at anime as entertainment, looking at it as a medium to be analyzed through the lens of academics and via critical analysis can open new outlooks on both the specific anime under analysis, and anime as a medium.
This type of criticism has a lot of basis in the academic world, which should come as no surprise, considering this type of analysis is common-place in higher-level English courses. Most modern literary criticism takes a poststructuralist approach to deriving meaning, and this is easily applicable to anime. It’s not about what the director, the studio, the voice actress meant; rather, it’s about us, the viewers, the culture, even the medium and media itself. Culture in this case obviously being anime culture, which I think is best described via Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Go give that a read if you haven’t already. It’s about nationalism, but nationalism, anime… Same thing, really.
Critical analysis of anime isn’t a novel idea, and in fact, many people are proponents of the idea. Take this post from a blog called “Fantastic Memes”, or this AnimeSuki thread pouring mostly positive support behind anime critical analysis.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of actual critical content; there’s been groups like Anime and Manga Research Circle that are now mostly defunct and a number of papers that analyze anime as a culture/medium, but don’t go into individual series, let alone modern series. You think people care about Ghost in the Shell anymore, Sobieszek? Miyazaki movies are sooooooo 2006, Cavallaro.
Well, today’s the day to change that.
My name’s puddi, and I’m going to be setting a new standard of critical analysis by using poststructuralist techniques on one of the newest anime as of this time of writing. Who says academics are stuck in the past?
Ready? Let’s go. We’re going to be looking to episode 1 of Kochinpa!, which you can watch on YouTube here.
The first frame of this anime is already packed full of information, setting the tone for all future seconds of the show. There’s a lot going on in this one frame, so let’s digest it bit by bit. In the forefront of the frame, we’ve got what looks to be two vehicles, a bus and a car, starting from the left and driving to the right. Both have a slight blurred effect on them, resulting focus being drawn away from them and to the main characters placed in the center of the screen. This also helps give the illusion of depth to the viewer (in tandem with the 3D models), as well as draws attention to where the focus actually is; on the main characters. But more on that in a bit.
In fact, this entire scene draws a lot of its style and makeup to the actual physical location of the Pachinko Slot Island that this series is based on. I’ve included a screenshot of the Google Street View of the location, and you’ll notice a lot of similarities. The poster on the right of Aira is the same, the monitor on the right is the same, the sign is the same, the style of railing is the same, the board with the “いつでもそばにいるよ” text is the same (albeit slightly hidden…). Even the sign of the neighboring store is accurate. That’s dedication to ensuring physical similarities, and we can be sure that the rest of the series is going for full 1:1 realism. This is a key takeaway here.
Which brings us to the characters. They’re cute and chibi, and they all have unique coloring schemas, to help the viewer separate the three of them. However, that’s not the real kicker here. Since they’re included in this movie, by the premise we drew from the realism of the scenery, we can make the logical leap and conclude that these characters must be real; or at least, have some basis in reality. Everything else has that basis. So must these characters.
The scene proceeds and we’re given a nice logo. This logo is visually clashing with itself, with the seven different colors used and the multiple languages, but that’s all very intentional, because it needs to grab your attention. With a full 40 frames of screentime and a VFX of the logo popping out of a green balloon and shaking side to side, it’s going to grab your attention. This shows that the utmost care was put into this logo, and it’s one of the major drawing points from here. It also can be inferred that because of the amount of effort put into making the viewer be aware of the logo, anime viewers are part of a viewing culture that doesn’t normally care about the work that goes into making a show, and rather the show’s characters, voice actors and actresses, etc. This point will be reinforced later on, but is also evident from the fact that the staff of the show are listed here in the opening scene (near the bottom), instead of by themselves during an opening or ending sequence where there’s literally nothing else going on except a song and some visuals that an intern spent time on, where they might actually get some recognition.
It’s hard to show you this over a post like this, but while the logo is showing a character in the background faintly says “Episode 1!”. This is a novel technique that I don’t think has been used anywhere else. Just goes to show that even now, anime creators are finding ways to break new ground and compressing multitudes of information into a small, consumable package.
The next big scene focuses solely on the three characters that we saw in the previous scene. While the models are as they are described above, there’s something more important that I want to draw attention to; the inclusion of hard-coded subtitles. This is something we don’t see very often in anime nowadays; most subtitles, if they exist, are broadcast over the air and are able to be toggled on and off. The only records I’ve found of hard-coded subtitles belong to children’s shows, where the point of the subtitles is to help with both hearing and reading comprehension for those kids who need it. The inclusion of these subtitles is not by chance. The exist solely for the sake of the viewer, because anime viewers need additional help in hearing and reading comprehension, and most likely have the brain of a five-month-old baby.
In fact, if we assume that anime viewers are as stupid as this anime would suggest, then a whole lot of other tropes being used here make sense. The dynamic hair and costume colors seek to separate each character from the other because viewers aren’t smart enough to draw other separations based on their style of speech, character, or any other non-apparent factors.
Within this scene, the camera shifts to the left and to the right, and we get to see another tactic in use here: subliminal messaging. By relying on the stupidity of its audience, we see a lot of things that normally feel out of place, but wouldn’t even be noticed by the average dumb anime viewer. Those posters on the left? That’s not just any old manga. Those are pages from the official Pachinko Slot Island web comic, called 3LDK -LOVELY DEVILS KINGDOM. Take a look of the page closest to the camera, and compare that with this screenshot from the official website, http://aira.moe/:
That’s the same thing. It’s subliminal messaging to get you to buy more of their product. Their real product, which you can physically buy. Remember when I said how everything in this show was based in reality? I meant it.
Oh yeah, and the text at the bottom, too. “Pachinko And Slot Akiba Island”. The link at the top? Links to their website.
Quod. Erat. Demonstrandum.
I could go on about the characters and how they are also appeals to the idiocity of the expected audience and the relative lack of intelligence in anime culture as a whole, but that’d be just beating a dead horse (let’s just say that it’s no coincidence that they’re showing the character names and CV with the same effect that they used for the logo.) Let’s cut to the conclusion.
Kochinpa! makes strong statements about anime culture, even though it masquerades as a funny, childish show that wants to advertise some pachinko parlor. It calls anime viewers dumb and ignorant about the staff of a show. And at the same time, it takes advantage of this fact in so many different ways, with the primary purpose of getting people more aware of the company and characters, and incentivizing you to buy more of their products and goods.
But we, the anime viewers… We’re smarter than that. We can still make things right. We can redeem the trainwreck that is the perception of anime culture.
And it starts with us.
This article was brought to you by Pachinko Slot Island. Check out the website at http://www.akiba-island.com/. You can find more information about the characters at http://aira.moe/, and find Aira, 3LDK, and Kochinpa! themed goods at http://aira.moe/goods/.