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Yet the Town Keeps Going 8 – Live Alive This Isn’t

Well, this one was a bit of a misstep. It wasn’t bad, it was amusing enough, but the style of humor was very different from the norm, resulting in something decidedly more run of the mill and boring than usual.

The first half turned out to be more about wacky vending machine food than anything else. Which was certainly quirky, but not all that funny. It was just cute girls doing cute things, without any hook, and that has already been done to death in the anime world. It’s not fun anymore. The faraway and silhouette shots, which Shaft usually uses to good effect, were actually kind of ugly and only served to remind us of how much money they must be saving. And I don’t know what to make of Harue’s surprise appearance at the end of the segment, other than that maybe they wanted to get their money’s worth from Ryoko Shiraishi, as she had to be in the 2nd half of the episode.

Seriously, this was this show's Chocolate Cornet Moment. I was impressed that Hotori knew what Esperanto was, though.

And no sooner than I start drawing comparisons to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does Yet the Town Keeps Going bring out a concert-at-the-culture-festival episode. I appreciate that it didn’t go the Haruhi/K-On/Angel Beats route of having (what’s supposed to be) a normal, poppy rock song, but rather stuck with the old timey whimsical tune similar to the ED. The peculiar collection of instruments certainly fit well with the whole off-mainstream feel of the song.

But they could have milked this culture festival concert story a lot more. I don’t even mean stretching it out over more episodes or even to a full episode, though either would certainly work given that over a month passes through the course of the half episode. I mean using the story to show us more interesting interactions between the protagonists. They are what have made this show entertaining, after all. Instead, the sequence of events was surprisingly straightforward. Futaba wants to perform at the culture festival. She gets a time slot at the stage. She recruits Harue on drums (with some manipulation using table tennis), learns that Toshiko and Hotori play instruments, recruits them, then they perform. Not much else.

The pan-up of Futaba before this scene was great. If Shaft still did the still-pan-ups that they used to do so much of in the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei shows, I would've had a great stitched shot of her.

There were many chances for humor that were simply missed or glossed over. How about that whole month when the 4 had to learn the song and practice? When did they choose to go with the maids theme, and why? Who made Futaba’s stunning outfit? Then what about the days of the actual festival? How did they spend their time? What sorts of fun misadventures did our unique heroines run into? They’re not for us to find out.

I did like how the ED sequence ended up being genuine; just as Futaba had been revealed to play the bass a couple episodes back, Hotori does play the accordion – an instrument that fits her eccentric nature, taught to her by the head maid – Toshiko does play the violin, Harue does play the drums, and they all do perform together in maid outfits. But then again, this sort of gag had been done before, in Lucky Star, with the OP sequence. Except that Kyoto Animation is much better at animation than Shaft is. As cute as the concert was, the fact that the instruments didn’t exactly match up to the music was a huge distraction. That’s just one of those things that I’ve come to expect in this post-Haruhi anime world.

This should look familiar to anyone who's seen the ending to Lucky Star. I am unfortunately one of them.

So this week’s episode was lackluster, especially after the both hilarious and powerful episode it was following. In fact, it was the worst since the bland first episode. The show bounced back strong after that initial misstep and kept going to this point, so I’m hopeful that it will start hitting its marks again next week and continue on to the end.

Yet the Town Keeps Going 7 – Arashiyama Hotori no Yuutsu

One thing Hotori certainly doesn’t lack for are males in her life. We had both parts of an entire episode focusing on her relationship with her math/homeroom teacher, and now we get to see her interacting with her classmate-cum-secret-admirer Hiroyuki Sanada, then with her little brother Takeru. We’ve passed the halfway point now, and the show has hit its stride, as this was the best episode yet, giving us plenty of its distinct brand of humor while also hitting us with heartfelt and emotional content.

One thing I haven’t touched upon or really paid much attention to is the non-chronological order of this show. Part a of this episode was based off of the 5th chapter of the manga, and thus it took place before most of the events we’ve already seen. At first, I thought it as being inconsequential, much like in Hidamari Sketch, a function of its “slice of life” and “gag comedy” nature, but part a has me questioning my initial reaction. That is, Yet the Town Keeps Going just might have some grand narrative underneath all the gags, specifically relating to the specifically relating to the love triangle that had been referred to in the very first episode.

Of course, it’s not like this segment with Sanada shot the romance story forward by any stretch of the imagination. After all, we know he and Hotori have yet to get together. But if you weren’t hit with warm and fuzzy feelings from watching this segment, you truly have no heart. Watching Sanada struggle and fumble and endure through all the embarrassment and awkwardness to get what he really wants was both hilarious and heartwarming. The calculated call back to the morning horoscopes that got Hotori into so much trouble a few episodes ago and drove the plot in this segment was much appreciated. Both for the touch of humor it added and its effect of showing us something that these two have in common. Maybe all this will lead nowhere, but the insertion of this playing-hooky day into the time line of the story makes me hope that this is just a step in a longer journey with a set destination.

Shaft has a knack for selectively using exaggerated faces for comedic effect and to properly portray emotion.

And that’s where the consideration of the narrative comes in. I see potential for this show to tell a high school romance, paced in a way that makes sense for a show such as this, mixing in different bits from different times yet maintaining a continuity that not only works in this non chronological format, but exploits it to make the story even more compelling than a standard one. There’s one show that the previous sentence should remind you of, and that show is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Comparisons to that show may seem rash at this point in time. To be sure, it would be unfair to expect any show to live up to the quality of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. And Yet the Town Keeps Going has not even proven itself to have a central narrative, much less one as excellently conceived and told as the one in Melancholy. But at the surface, the formats of the 2 shows are similar, and I can definitely see a path that this show can follow to become a show like Melancholy.

That I’m even entertaining this thought should tell you volumes about how well executed the first segment of this episode was. Again, it’s not that Sanada hit a home run. The satisfaction of the nothing that was accomplished that day was part of the charm and, more than anything, it was wonderfully sweet.

What a great moment of role reversal here, as Takeru almost ends up teaching Hotori something about love.

But as sweet as the first segment was, the second might have been even sweeter, just because there is something more innocent about sibling love compared to romantic love. Of course, given shows like My Sister Can’t Be This Cute or Yosuga no Sora this season, you would be excused if you thought the two were one and the same in the world of anime. But no, Yet the Town Keeps Going keeps things classy, and even as we watch Hotori and Takeru in the bath together, the only thing we find disturbing is the idea that we might have seen this as anything other than wholesome.

I can think of no better word to describe this segment than that. It was good, wholesome fun, giving us another slice of the lives of a couple of the Arashiyama siblings. The way Hotori and Takeru acted toward one another was natural, in a way that only siblings can be to each other. Hotori’s previous interactions with her younger siblings did not paint her in a good light, and this segment showed us the other side of the coin, that she is actually a very considerate and caring older sister who can go out of her way to help her little brother. She was clearly proud to play the role of the older sibling, showing him around the after-dark hangouts and fascinating him with something as simple as a convenience store or the moment when tomorrow becomes today. The aforementioned bath was a great way to cap off the night and to emphasize the skinship they share as siblings.

Nowadays, it seems like the exception for a bath scene in anime not to be completely tasteless. This is one of them. From Shaft, no less.

All in all, this was the best episode of this show yet. It was undoubtedly the sweetest and most emotionally affecting. Part a has me speaking of it in the same breath as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and part b provided great moments of sibling love made all the cuter by how matter of fact and innocent they were. I’m nothing if not skeptical, but I’m hoping that the best is still yet to come and that this episode was just a glimpse into the deeper narrative that drives this show. As I wrote at the very beginning, this show has hit its stride. Even if the story doesn’t end up playing out the way I’m hoping, if Yet the Town Keeps Going can keep up the light but meaningful humor of these past 2 episodes, it will be remembered as a great show.

New York Anime Festival 2010 – Friday

This past weekend was the New York Anime Festival, which was combined with New York Comic Convention. Being located about 4 hours away in Boston and hearing that The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya would be playing, I decided to make the trek down. Here is a chronicle of what I saw and experienced there. I originally intended to make one post, but the post on Friday alone was getting too long, so I’ll split this into two parts. Saturday and Sunday were much less eventful than Friday, so the second post may end up shorter than this one.

Table of Contents

Getting There

First of all, getting to the place was pretty hectic. Not crazy, but I had to get up at 5:30 in order to get to the train station to catch a 7am bus from Boston to New York. The trip was supposed to last 4 hours 15 minutes, so with an arrival time of 11:15, but the actual arrival time was 12:10. Also, wifi on the bus wasn’t working, so I was limited to using 3G on my phone instead of wifi on my laptop. Here’s a tip: never use Megabus.

This is me on the bus. Pretty ridiculous, with the cocked cap and the large earphones, no?

The bus dropped us off at West 28th and 7th, and with my hotel on West 39th and 9th, I hurried to get there. I ran with my suitcase rolling behind me on the New York City streets, to check in so that I could get to the con in time for opening at 1:00. Why did I want to get there so soon? Bandai was giving out tickets for autographs by Minori Chihara to the first 100 people to buy Haruhi related products at their booth, and I wanted to be one of them. I’m actually not a fan of Minori Chihara at all, but, what the hell, she’s the only actual Japanese voice actor to be at a convention I’m attending, so why not get her signature, right?

Yes, that is exactly who you think it is.

Once at the con, the line to get in was huge, but it moved very quickly, only taking maybe 20 minutes at most. I snapped a photo of my first cosplayer there, a great Rena Ryuugu who was a little in front of me. I also got to shake hands with Stan Lee as he passed by. I’m no US comic book fan, but it was Stan. Fucking. Lee.

The line led to the entrance to the show floor, and, wouldn’t you know it, Bandai’s booth was right at the entrance, and they still had tickets left! I bought the first season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya collection on DVD – I actually didn’t own it before – and collected my ticket. The festival was off to a good start.

Let me make a note about the layout of the place. The Jacob K. Javits Center is a big place, and the entire 3rd floor was divided into 2 huge show floors. There was a section with vendors on the right side, and an area for smaller vendors, gaming, and artists on the left. These were all Comic Con related stuff, except for a small corner on the right where there was the Bandai booth, and another small corner on the left with a stage. At the beginning of the convention on Friday, there were girls dressed up as the K-On girls and playing those songs. One of them was Mio’s dub voice actor, I believe.

The actual anime festival part was at a small basement area on the lower left of the building. An escalator led straight down to the anime artists’ alley. To the right was a “maid cafe,” which was just a bunch of tables and chairs in front of a small stage where some singers performed. Past those were 4 rooms for panels including 1E09, which was 3 times as big as the others and used for the main events. This was the room in which the Minori Chihara panel and the Disappearance screening were held.

Minori Chihara Panel

The first actual event I went to was the Minori Chihara panel that went from 3:15 to 4:15. I’ve never been to a voice actor panel before, but I’m guessing this was a pretty standard one. A translator and a handler was up there along with Chihara, and no photos or video were allowed until the end. There were some brief comments by Chihara, mainly about the trip to New York, and then Q&A for the rest of the time.

Some fan decided to take this puzzle and have people sign it as a gift to Chihara. I signed it, of course. I decided to write in Korean because, what the hell, she probably won't even look at it anyway.

(Occult Academy spoilers below)

Chihara herself did an amazing job selling herself. She was absolutely adorable, both in looks and in voice. She spoke in a way very similar to how she played Mikaze in Occult Academy, which is fitting, because that was all just an act as well, designed to lure in the audience with a false image. Speaking of which, one of the questions that I considered asking was on how she decided to play Mikaze, knowing that she would ultimately turn out to be a villain. I decided against asking it, because it contained spoilers for a show that had just finished airing, but someone else went ahead and asked it anyway. And although the cat was out of the bag at that point, the handler decided against answering the question because of the same reason I didn’t ask it.

(end of Occult Academy spoilers)

I also wanted to ask her if she was afraid of being typecast because soon after playing Yuki Nagato, she had played similarly monotone characters in both Lucky Star and Minami-ke, but we ran out of time before that.

Anime in Academia Panel

Next was the Anime in Academia panel, a discussion panel run by Alex Leavitt, and featuring 3 panelists, Casey Brienza, Mikhail Koulikov, and Jennifer Fu. You can read about who these people are on Alex Leavitt’s own blog, Department of Alchemy, on which he also posted the audio of the panel. I’ll note that I had actually met Jennifer Fu before as well, at the MIT anime club, which is open to students outside of MIT. I found most interesting the parts when they discussed how to actually find research material, as well as the ethical dilemma of using pirated material. The difficulties of getting published and the extremely high quality of writing expected in academic journals, well, I think anyone who’s done research in college must understand that. I was mainly a math/science student in college, and even in those fields, the quality of writing has to be top notch, so I can only imagine how stringent the quality must be in softer fields like sociology or Asian American studies.

Minori Chihara Autograph

Front of the cover only had Haruhi, so I had her sign the back instead.

Next was the actual Minori Chihara signing at the Bandai booth upstairs. That was at 6pm, and I was very paranoid about missing the 8pm screening of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, because I assumed that people would line up for it around this time (turns out, my fears were unfounded, and I ended up getting a front row seat). Anyway, I was the last person in line, but Bandai did a great job moving the line quickly, each person only getting like 15 seconds with Chihara. I decided to get the cover of the DVD set I bought earlier signed.

I gotta admit, even if it's all an act, she's physically very beautiful at the least.

So yeah, I then rushed back downstairs to room 1E09, only to find it mostly empty, and no one lined up. Across the hall was a Hatsune Miku panel, which featured guests from Crypton Future Media Inc, the actual company that created the Vocaloid software and characters. It was absolutely packed, and I could only stand at the doorway, but that worked for me, because I was keeping an eye out at room 1E09, in case too many people were going in. It was pretty cool to see the actual creators of Hatsune Miku and friends, and they mentioned that if 39,390 fans “like” their Facebook page, they would create an English speaking Vocaloid (3-9 is a pun on the name Mi-ku). Now, I’m sure they’re counting on the fact that there won’t be that many fans signing up, and at last count, it was only around 18,000, but what the hell, if you have a Facebook account, do it anyway and try putting them in a tough position.

And finally, to cap off the day at the convention was the screening of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Disappearance Screening

As expected, there were plenty of Haruhi cosplayers at the screening.

I was lucky enough to find a single seat at the very front of the room. The Miku panel was over at 7, so I waited for about an hour in the seat, and I met a couple of friendly guys from Maine who were into some of the same things as myself, namely, Type-Moon and Vocaloid. One of the two had even dabbled in making songs using Megurine Luka. Jay and Colin, if you’re reading this, you guys were a couple of the best single-serving friends ever!

When 8 o’clock rolled around, Minori Chihara appeared once again, along with her handlers and a representative from Bandai. There were just a few brief forgettable comments, and then the movie began.

Left to right: Translator, Minori Chihara, Bandai representative, one of the English dub voice actors

It was a lot of fun watching the movie in a large room full of fans. Everyone laughed along at the in-jokes, cheered at the cute moments, and there were audible gasps at the truly OH SHI- moments. It was basically what I expected; a lot like watching a movie at a theater, just where everyone was a fan. There was a hitch in the reel switching midway into the movie – yes, this was shown from a full 35mm reel – but it caused us to miss only about 5 seconds, so it was no big deal.

As for the contents of the movie, well, you can read my full review of the movie. I will say that I went in extremely skeptical. I loved the first season to death, but I’ve hated everything else Kyoto Animation has done since, i.e. Kanon, Lucky Star, Clannad, K-On, and, yes, the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I had also already read the novel on which this movie was based, and I hadn’t thought too much of it. But everyone who had seen the movie had raved about it, which is why I was so dead set on watching it in the first place.

There was a dumb grin on my face all the way back to my trip back to the hotel. Day one of NYAF was over, and it alone had been worth the price of entry.

The Evening Afterward

The movie being 2 hours 40 minutes long, it was 11 by the time I got back to my hotel. I was pretty exhausted from the extra long day – even on workdays, I generally get up past 9 – but hey, I was in New York City, the city that never sleeps! I decided to take a walk outside, find a bar with some food, because I hadn’t had a proper meal all day (I did have a horrible convention center cheeseburger, but that was neither tasty nor satisfying). Unfortunately, even in New York, it seems bars close their kitchens for the evening, so I ended up walking a while before finding a nice Italian place called Mercato, on the corner of West 39th and 9th. I spent $47 on a lasagna and 2 mixed drinks. The first drink I had was called the Singapore Sling, and it was absolutely wonderful. And Mercato itself is great if you don’t mind paying the premium. Check it out sometime if you’re ever in the area.

If you like fruity drinks like I do, this is definitely one to try out.

A more interesting thing happened during my initial walkabout. I had my phone out, search on Google Maps for a place nearby that might be open, when a limo driver (he was standing next to an open limo) came up to me and asked me to use my phone. His phone battery was dead, you see. I’m usually very skeptical in situations like this, but I was feeling pretty good – probably a high from having just watched Disappearance and the sleep deprivation – so I offered to dial the number for him and to put him on speaker. There was a brief scuffle when he tried to grab the phone, but I held a firm grip and insisted that I’d be more comfortable holding it. Everything went smoothly, the dude made his call, and I walked away feeling a bit weird but good about myself, too.

It was about 1AM by the time I got back to my hotel room, and I probably fell asleep at around 1:30.

So that was the first day of New York Anime Festival for me. To be honest, I could’ve gone home happy at this point. But there were 2 more days, so stay tuned. And if you were also there, please leave a comment! Especially if you saw an Asian dude with glasses, a grey FLCL cap and a large camera bag slung over his shoulder.

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