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The Glassy Ocean, Ursa Minor Blue and A Piece of Phantasmagoria: The Magic of Shigeru Tamura and Jon Spencer Reviews’ Christmas AnimeXchange

“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

Christmas is a time of sharing and being with important people. This year, I participated in Jon Spencer Reviews’ Christmas AnimeXchange, a community event where participants are randomly assigned a partner, and then we recommend one another anime based on a list of shows we’ve seen. I received, from Lys (@Submaton), a set of three unique films from Shigeru Tamura, a Japanese manga artist and illustrator. I was initially surprised: I am renowned in the community for being a procrastinator, but as it turns out, Tamura’s movies are short animated features, perfect for the blogger with a propensity for taking too long to pick up and enjoy shows of interest. I thus began watching Lys’ recommendations, opening the party with Glassy Ocean, which follows a fisherman travelling over a glass ocean, where time has frozen and where a breaching whale presents incomparable beauty that is to be admired. Having now a sense of what to expect, I began Ursa Minor Blue. This story presents a boy and his grandfather who take on a magic harpoon from a wizard and hunt down a monstrous fish. As ocean and sky merge, the boy and his grandfather are whisked on a fantastical, mind-bending journey where reality and dreams blend together. Finally, in A Piece of Phantasmagoria, fifteen short stories set on the fantastical world of Phantasmagoria are presented, detailing the everyday comings and goings of its inhabitants with a surreal whimsy that is evocative of Dr. Seuss’ great works. Altogether, Tamura’s works are a highly unusual, eccentric and cathartic collection of animation, far removed from the usual materials that I would write about. Tamura’s works certainly do appear to be perplexing at first glance: in a world with glass oceans, walking buildings and towns made of bread, the stories of Phantasmagoria are small, seemingly disjointed vignettes that do little more than indicate the unusual nature of Phantasmagoria. However, this collection of stories from a surreal world conceal a pleasant and meaningful message: what appears strange to us viewers is common, everyday life on Phantasmagoria, and consequently, the viewer’s mind is allowed to wander as they take in the sights of Phantasmagoria.

Thus, through A Piece of Phantasmagoria, Ursa Minor Blue and The Glassy Ocean, Tamura uses surrealism to accentuate the idea that the world is vast. Every location has its unique features, and every feature has a story behind it. While people often travel to explore different cultures and regions, even this is merely scratching the surface: there is depth well beyond what can be initially seen, and this depth is what gives the world its beauty. A Piece of Phantasmagoria sets this mood by sending viewers to many different locations. From a massive coffee pot-shaped coffee house, to a unique island where cacti can dance, and a factory that collects rainbows, Phantasmagoria is a world that is very much different than, but also similar to our own. Every vignette elicits a few smiles, the occasional bit of sorrow and the persistent feeling that it was too short, rather similar to how travelling only yields a brief glimpse of a world that is unlike our own. Tamura would later return to Phantasmagoria in The Glassy Ocean, where the story of the area’s inhabitants are presented in greater detail. Both Glassy Ocean and Ursa Minor Blue take advantage of their runtime to present a matter-of-fact story in a surreal setting; for their inhabitants, what we count as fantastical is a part of everyday life. Both films thus suggest that sights and sound we consider unusual and extraordinary while travelling, are those that an area’s inhabitants find mundane, unremarkable. Taken together, then, Tamura’s three films can be seen as a metaphor for travel; through our screens, viewers are taken on a journey to a world quite disparate from our own, and allowed to observe a different way of life in style. In a time where real travel is not recommended, Tamura’s works offer viewers a chance to explore something different.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Being unfamiliar with Tamura’s works, I watched them out of order. A Piece of Phantasmagoria was the first of Tamura’s works, released in 1995. Then The Glassy Ocean and Ursa Minor Blue came out in November 1998. To keep things simple, I’ve chosen to write about the works in the order that I watched them in. I started with The Glassy Ocean, which I immediately took to enjoying: the film’s soundtrack is particularly good.

  • The distinctly crystal-like ocean surface creates a unique environment, and for me, the audio components of The Glassy Ocean particularly stood out. There is something immensely satisfying about how true-to-life the audio effects in this movie are. The Glassy Ocean and the other Tamura films make extensive use of sound, which feels much more tangible than in most series that I watch. The simple visuals accentuate this: since the mind is not so busy processing visual information, it leaves one to listen more carefully, as well.

  • I ultimately found that The Glassy Ocean actually shared a tone similar to Hong Kong’s McDull: McDull originates from Hong Kong, following the life of an anthropomorphic pig who might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but whose actions are done out of kindness towards others. McDull’s stories deal with the various life lessons he experiences throughout his life, and as an adult, he often reminisces about things he picked up while growing up. Part humourous and part sentimental, McDull is very popular in Hong Kong. The simple art style of McDull brings to mind the artistic style seen in The Glassy Ocean.

  • As the whale breaches the glass ocean’s surface, beads of glass rise up with the whale. I’ve always wondered, since existence as we know it can commonly be defined in four dimensions (three physical dimensions and time), if we could have an environment where time was stopped, would physical interaction with the world still be possible? In the case of water, the combined interactions of gravity overcoming hydrogen bonds and Van Der Waals forces between water molecules is what separates water, causing us to sink into it. If time were ignored, then the water would not separate, since movement can be seen as a function of time, creating a world where it might be possible to walk on water.

  • To further compound things, it looks like in The Glassy Ocean, time isn’t stopped, just slowed, allowing the world’s inhabitants to watch in great detail the whale breaching, an event that occurs over the course of a day. When physics and the like are applied to surreal work, they very quickly break down, and it is for this reason why for me, realism in a work of fiction is always secondary to how well a particular theme or idea is conveyed.

  • In The Glassy Ocean, the messages are not immediately apparent, but they’re simple enough to pick out: what people take for granted in the real world as being mundane can have a beauty to it that we never notice under normal conditions. Conversely, when given the chance to enjoy something in full, people will jump at the chance to do so. Here, an artist manages to capture the whale as it re-enters the ocean surface, capturing an impermanent moment forever on canvas.

  • While the probability of enjoying a world frozen in time is next to zero, the existence of things like photographs and paintings allows people to capture special moments and record them for posterity. This is the reason why for as long as there’s been people, written communication, both in language and artwork, have existed. The desire to record fleeting moments and communicate them has endured to this day, and with things like smartphones, moments can be captured very easily. With this being said, there is something romantic about a painting.

  • For my second film, I watched Ursa Minor Blue. The film was originally called Ginga no Uo (銀河の魚, literally “Galaxy Fish”) and depicts the story of a boy and his grandfather. While opening in a seemingly ordinary manner, like The Glass Ocean, Ursa Minor Blue is anything but ordinary: after coming home from a successful fishing trip, the boy heads into a backroom for some tomatos, and this back room turns out to be an open field of sorts.

  • As the grandfather cooks (and burns) dinner, the boy heads up into the observatory and photographs the sky. The resulting photo reveals that Ursa Minor has an extra star, and the grandfather asks the boy to continue with dinner. Ursa Minor, more commonly known as the Little Bear, from which the Little Dipper is a part of. This constellation has been known since antiquity, and navigators used Polaris, the north star, to help them navigate. The constellation is only visible in the northern hemisphere.

  • The next morning, the boy and grandfather set off to investigate the unusual appearance. It’s a beautiful sunrise: despite the simple visuals, Ursa Minor Blue manages to convey a great sense of beauty nonetheless. Along the way, the pair pass by talking trees and a vast building shaped like a man. Elements from A Piece of Phantasmagoria return in both Ursa Minor Blue and The Glassy Ocean, hence my remarks at having watched the films out of order, but fortunately, this did not impact my viewing experience to any extent.

  • As the boy and his grandfather travel over the ocean, an entire world can be seen underneath, from rail lines to entire towns. The entire scene conveys a sense of fantasy that brings to mind the world seen in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. The idea of an entire world concealed by the ocean is nothing new, however: it is estimated that humanity has only charted and explored around five percent of the world’s oceans. As such, with so many questions remaining unanswered, it is no surprise that the ocean commands such a sense of mystery.

  • After arriving at the Wizard’s quarters, the grandfather greets the Wizard. He has two stone giants hard at work forging a magical spear, and explains that the unusual phenomenon affecting the world stems from a mysterious fish. Because the boy has exceptional skill with a harpoon, it is fitting that he be tasked with taking this fish out: the Wizard entrusts the boy with this magical harpoon, and both the boy and grandfather set off in pursuit of their quarry. They encounter a damaged robot along the way, who explains that he was attacked, and that the fish destroyed an entire planet.

  • The robot is kind enough to point the boy and his grandfather in the right direction before powering down from damage. The two thus heads towards M81, a spiral galaxy known as Bode’s Galaxy. M81 is famous for its visibility, and its relative proximity to Earth makes it a popular subject amongst both amateur astronomers, as well as astrophysicists. As the massive fish nears, the boy takes aim and strikes the fish as it breaches. However, the boy and his grandfather are sucked in to the core of the nearby whirlpool, landing in a lake.

  • After destroying the fish, they learn that Ursa Minor is back to its regular self, with the mysterious star gone. Their task complete, the pair row off into the night skies on a mirror-smooth lake. This brings Ursa Minor Blue to its conclusion, and like The Glassy Ocean, I found myself greatly enjoying this short, and its wonderfully relaxing soundtrack. With two of the three Tamura works in the books, I turned my attention to the fifteen shorts that were gathered in A Piece of Phantasmagoria.

  • With a runtime of an hour and seventeen minutes, A Piece of Phantasmagoria was the longest work in the anthology. Right out of the gates, it became clear that this work was very clearly a precursor to The Glassy Ocean and Ursa Minor Blue, featuring shorts sent in the fantastical world of Phantasmagoria. The film opens with a peaceful portrayal of a very distinct-looking coffee shop whose location makes it a wonderful place to be. Adding to the place’s charm, the lid bobs, as though the pot’s interior was filled with fresh coffee rather than an establishment.

  • The different vignettes in A Piece of Phantasmagoria remind me of the places that Dr. Seuss explored in his books. The reason why Seuss’ books are so successful are because they apply familiar and relevant lessons in an unfamiliar context, separating out the lesson from the people who experience them. In this way, the morals are more easily presented. A Piece of Phantasmagoria does not have the same aims as do Dr. Seuss’ books, and instead, the wide range of locations visited throughout this collection of shorts serve to show that Phantasmagoria is a beautiful world with plenty of distinct features.

  • Stories in A Piece of Phantasmagoria sometimes have narration, and sometimes, are presented as a silent film. I found that the vignettes with narration were particularly soothing; the slow, reassuring voices reading the story out creates a sense of tranquility, and this suggests that Phantasmagoria is a peaceful world. This little planet is not rife with the same issues that afflict our world, and the inhabitants, although possessing a wide range of sights to see, have their own challenges.

  • Travelling about thus demonstrates that sometimes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. While visiting other places, we often find ourselves wishing to make a home there, all the while, failing to appreciate the things about our own homeland. I get that people move all the time, and there are numerous, legitimate reasons for doing so. However, moving elsewhere on a whim, purely on impressions gained from travel, might not always be the best idea in the world, and such decisions should always be carefully considered before any sort of execution can occur.

  • Nowhere in A Piece of Phantasmagoria is this message more visible (and amusing) than in the town where bread factories are made of bread. Despite producing bread for the world, the factories’ unique construction render them susceptible to being eaten by birds and rats, forcing the owners to attempt and dislodge said birds and rats. I got a particularly good laugh out of this story: Phantasmagoria does seem like a pleasant enough place to visit, but as A Piece of Phantasmagoria continues, it becomes clear that their world certainly has their own troubles to deal with, such as walking skyscrapers that can reduce other buildings to rubble.

  • I’d figured I should close off with a still of Phantasmagoria itself, which brings this discussion to a close. Altogether, I had a great deal of fun watching the three Tamura movies, although I will note that writing for it proved to be a little tricky: this is the sort of work that is better seen, rather than being read about, and so, I do hope that this post adequately captures what I made of the three works. While it happens to be Christmas Eve today, this year, it feels like a night like any other. With this being said, I do have a wish to take Christmas Day off from blogging and relax properly, so I am going to wrap this post up, finish off the post on Star Wars: Republic Commando just in time for the one-year mark to the day that I beat the game, and then return on Boxing Day to wrap up (pun intended) my talk for GochiUsa BLOOM.

Watching through each of The Glassy Ocean, Ursa Minor Blue and A Piece of Phantasmagoria, it becomes apparent that these old animated works will not be competing with visual behemoths like Makoto Shinkai or Studio Ghibli’s works any time soon. The minimalist and simple animation was a consequence of Tamura experimenting with purely computer generated visuals. At the time, this would’ve been cutting edge, and indeed, computer animation has advanced considerably since these early shorts. However, The Glassy Ocean, Ursa Minor Blue and A Piece of Phantasmagoria all have a much more dated feel to them. It is not in visuals that these three films excel in, but rather, the audio. Where visuals alone do not tell the story, the sound engineering does, and each of these three films are particularly standout when it comes to audio. The clanking of a metal pick on the glass ocean, bubbling of a coffee kettle boiling over, whooshing from passing vehicles and crumbling of stone buildings all sound compelling. Moreover, there is a gentle melancholy within the incidental music itself; the soundtracks for The Glassy Ocean, Ursa Minor Blue and A Piece of Phantasmagoria each have a fantastical, mystical character to them that is simultaneously evocative of a world different than ours, and creating a sense of calming. Altogether, the worlds that Tamura envisions in these three shorts is conveyed through sound as much as it is the highly minimalist, distinct artwork and animation. These films may not have the same traits as a standard film might, but through a highly artistic presentation, Tamura manages to tell his stories in a highly distinct and noteworthy style, perfect for wrapping the year up. In the event that it were not clear, I had fun watching these three films from Shigeru Tamura; the sum total of a distinct approach towards storytelling, minimalistic artwork, detailed and powerful sound, and manageable runtime makes this the perfect series to sit down and enjoy during the final month of the year. Lys’ recommendation was a solid choice, and before I head off and tend to a few things for this Silent Night, I hope that Lys had fun in equal measure with my recommendation: Sora no Woto.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part IV), On Handling Critique, Criticisms and Controversy Fatigue

“A person who was demoralised is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his balls then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralisation.” –Yuri Bezmenov

We’ve come to the last item in Moyatori’s Controversed: as a short refresher, it’s a bit of a special workshop Moyatori’s been hosting to understand how peers become versed in maturely and expertly navigating controversial topics. For this final week, the name of the game is handling criticisms and feedback from readers – up until now, the topic has always been how we wrote about difficult topics. However, the readers’ inputs are also a key part of the process: they may offer insights to augment our own, challenge us with different ideas or, my personal favourite, swing by with colourful insults, never to be heard from again. The comments are thus a necessary part of any discussion involving controversy, and Moyatori’s questions this week deal in some of the more memorable experiences that we’ve had in the community with bad comments, specifics behind how everyone handles feedback, and the sort of things I do to combat fatigue amidst flame wars. Thus, for this post, it’s time to go storytelling for the first item, spend some time explaining my own comments policy and style, and then wrap up with another story. Before I begin, I will note that all comments here, and most other WordPress blogs, are moderated automatically by a tool called Akismet, which automatically filter out spam comments from bots looking to sell essays or Sildenafil from dubious, malware-infested sources. New comments that are not determined to be spam are pushed to a queue that I personally review, and only after being cleared, will comments become visible to all readers. As far as my WordPress comments experience with this blog goes, a vast majority of readers, I am happy to report, are civilised, well-mannered and rational people who have interesting and valuable things to say. By speaking with them, I learn or have a good time in considering different points of view. Over this blog’s nine year history, I have only ever deleted a single comment from a user who clearly had nothing of worth to add to my discussion of the Kokoro Connect Incident, and in general, I tend to keep even the ad hominem comments, if only so I can make an example of those who are unable to have a civilised discussion. In short, my WordPress experience has been very smooth sailing, and I have no horror stories to report here.

  • It is a bit surprising to see that the end of November is already upon us, and that this is the fourth Controversed post. Because Moyatori indicated that the deadline was going to be the upcoming Sunday at noon Pacific Standard Time, I figured that I should get this done as soon as possible. This event has been quite fun for pushing me to explore directions that this blog wouldn’t normally explore, although I do get the feeling that far from helping readers to understand how I do things, I’ve only really succeeded in dropping my follower count.

Because my blog has been around for quite some time, it’s drawn readers who have found the content here to be enjoyable or relevant to them, and some of these readers have been courteous to spread the word by sharing links to my posts elsewhere online. Most of these conversations use my materials as a starting point for their own discussions, and I do not begrudge people for doing that in any way. However, it is also off-site where almost all of the criticisms are levelled at this blog. There is a recurring trend in that some readers find my style to be very dense, dry and difficult to read. I find this to be perfectly valid: I have a particular style, but I don’t find it easy to write in a conversational manner. I try to address this with my figure captions, where I do get to be more informal. Beyond this, I’ve been accused of being self-aggrandising, writing to “listen to the sound of my own voice” and the like, as well; again, had these folks decided to leave the feedback here, it might’ve been possible to query them and gain insight into what precisely they were looking for: it could be the case that I am being pedantic for readers, but it is equally possible that I happened to disagree with them and found a way to so thoroughly shut their argument down, that their only retort amounted to naught more than a juvenile insult. If folks insist on making their criticisms in their own venues (Reddit and TV Tropes are where most of my critics congregate), then there is no opportunity for conversation or understanding, since I don’t make it a point to ensure a hundred percent approval rating from websites that I am unrelated to. The goal of this blog is certainly not to appease Redditors or Tropers to validate their egos, and with this being said, I typically find that the off-site criticisms about this blog remain relatively mild compared to the story Moyatori’s looking to hear for this Controversed. In response to whether or not I have a horror story about feedback, I do happen to have such a story, and it is a thrilling one.

  • The page quote is sourced from Yuri Bezmenov, who spoke of the “active measures” that the Soviet Union had employed to undermine the foundations of western civilisation. While it seemed improbable that generations of people would suddenly stop believing in facts, what I’ve seen around the internet has indicated that, foreign influence or no, the western world does seem to be trending towards a lack of respect for facts and science. Some nobody with a Tinder-style Twitter profile picture is more trustworthy than an expert in the field, and in their minds, should be afforded equal respect.

This story deals with K-On! The Movie, which follows Yui and her friends as they travel to London after a miscommunication results in the group setting up a graduation trip to cover their actual goal of writing a song for Azusa. During the course of their travels, Yui sees what Azusa means to her and the rest of Houkago Tea Time. With Naoko Yamada directing, this movie was a smash hit by all definitions. However, the series’ success has also been viewed by a small, but vocal group of people as being detrimental to the industry. In the summer of 2012, shortly after K-On! The Movie‘s home release had become available, AnimeSuki’s Reckoner (a writer at Behind the Nihon Review) published a lengthy harangue about K-On! The Movie. Behind The Nihon Review has had a history of criticising K-On!, and while Sorrow-kun, the site’s lead writer, always maintained that they were a bastion of intellectual discussion, the reality was that they had used academia and intellectual methodology as an immature (but effective) cover to complain about genres that made anime look like anything other than intellectually stimulating treatises on philosophy, sociology and politics. Ten days after the movie came out, I awoke on Saturday to find this atrocity of a “review” in my list of subscribed threads:

K-ON! has always been one of the most disingenuous anime franchises of all time to me. If there is any big reason why this movie ultimately falls flat on its face it is because they try to strike a sentimental chord about the nostalgic high school years in a franchise whose sincerity has gone completely bankrupt a long time ago. Not to mention the amount of distraction that is caused by what ultimately felt like a minor side point to this story, their trip to London.

Seriously what was the point of this movie in ever venturing off to London? Half the movie, if not maybe a little more actually takes place back in Japan. The time they do spend in London is just waltzing around random parts of the city and hardly utilizing any elements of the culture and setting for the purposes of the movie. When they did their little performances, one was at a sushi bar and the other was at a Japanese cultural fair. Home away from home? Give me a break. This movie never needed to go to London to do what it did because it never actually really used the goddamn setting in anyway meaningful. The focus here is completely off.

I also have to note why people in London were portrayed like the biggest weirdos ever. I mean c’mon now, I know Japanese people tend to not be very good with foreign countries but this sort of ridiculing portrayal of foreigners has got to stop. I usually forgive TV more for this since well they don’t got the budget and stuff, but this is a goddamn movie and they can’t actually do a better job here? Worst the engrish still exists and they can’t get proper english speakers? Give me a break.

If this movie was supposed to be about how they wanted to say goodbye to the their good friend, then good grief did they go about in the most roundabout manner possible. It does not help that most of movie is pretty much recycling the same old jokes and personality quirks that have long since gone past their life time of freshness and amusement.

And like always this franchise hasn’t been about music. That became very clear in its very first season and it still is clear now. I never got the impression that the music was something deeply important to the character, rather it was the experience with themselves as friends that they seemed to value more. Essentially the hobby didn’t matter, it was just that they all interacted with this hobby. To the very end this permeated the show, and I still have to ask the question here, why music? If K-ON!! ever truly sent the message here about why music was here in the first place, I never got it. It had about as much purpose as it did in something like Angel Beats, it’s just sort of there. This franchise is still completely false advertising in this regard.

I also do not like how they always manage to play so damn perfect in their songs. Oh we wrote a song, we don’t really practice it and all of a sudden they’re on stage and the whole crowd eats it up. Great. It’s a disservice to the process of music completely. The only time they did any different was the very last song that they prepared for Azu-nyan, but these scenes were far and few in between through this entire franchise and even in the movie.

In reality this didn’t need to be a film. The pacing throughout was completely off and very uneven. The production values were honestly a bit disappointing for a Kyoani effort. A lack of a cohesive narrative structure plagued the film all throughout because of two completely different focuses never meshing together. The sentimentality doesn’t work because it never properly built a base by distancing itself from its obvious 4-koma roots in the first place. When most of your show consists of eating cake and drinking tea with 4-koma styled humor and interactions throughout, it just does not feel sincere. The film wasted too much time in an ultimately pointless side adventure to make up any ground here on this front.

I hope this is the last we ever of the K-ON franchise. This film was extremely, extremely poor.

Within moments of finishing reading this that morning, counterarguments began racing through my mind: if anything, it was Reckoner’s “review” that was extremely, extremely poor. Reckoner was wrong on all counts about K-On! The Movie. This “review” demonstrated his emotional bankruptcy, as well as small-mindedness and inconsolable envy at the fact that a series with a theme on something that wasn’t “intellectually stimulating” could perform well. The London trip in K-On! The Movie was an accident, a consequence of the girls trying to conceal their graduation gift to Azusa, and that the fact it happens shows that Houkago Tea Time is very much a go-with the flow band. The movie also used native English speakers, and I felt it reasonable to suppose that Reckoner is probably a non-native speaker if he had trouble with comprehending the dialogue. The series has never been about music, and instead, was a story of discovery and appreciation, as well as expressing thanks through music. Houkago Tea Time’s consistently high standard of performance comes from the fact they’ve been playing for three years and know how to put on a show. Reckoner’s dishonesty was disgraceful in his “review”, and calling the movie out for poor production values is to be outright lying: the film looked and feels sharper than anything seen in the TV series, making use of sophisticated lighting and camera angles. Behind the Nihon, if anything, was false advertising, claiming to have “intellectual” discussion when all they did was complain about moé anime. It was fortunate that beyond AnimeSuki, Reckoner’s “review” never made it anywhere else, as it represented an unsatisfactory effort based on emotion rather than well-reasoned thoughts. Amidst this jumble of thoughts, I knew that Reckoner was entitled to his opinions of the film, but as I’ve continued to maintain, being entitled to an opinion does not mean one is entitled to an audience, or entitled to having people agree with him for free.

Thus, rather than counter-argue against the “review” directly, I attempted to probe further and see if I could get Reckoner to rationally justify why he had watched the movie if he’d never been a fan of the franchise. If people were going to agree with him, I felt that Reckoner would really have to earn this right. However, I never got any further: back in those days, AnimeSuki possessed a reputation system that was originally intended to show which forum members had anything useful to say. Naturally, Reckoner, being a longtime user of the site, had a much higher reputation score than myself. When I asked why people were agreeing with Reckoner despite his rant being contributing nothing of value to the discussion, this prompted people in the discussion to dole out negative reputation to my account. Over the course of an hour, I’d gone from being reputation positive to being very reputation negative, which resulted in my being totally ignored in all parts of the forum. All of this resulted from challenging a longtime member to really justify their conclusions properly in the spirit of discussion. Because Reckoner had completely convinced his arguments were indisputable and counting on his reputation rather than merit, to defend his position, he resorted to crude means of closing the discussion, expecting that people agree with him simply because he’d been around at AnimeSuki for longer. At Reckoner’s request, for months afterwards, all of my posts were completely disregarded, which completely defeated the purpose of participating in the forum, and my blog even experienced a significant drop in traffic as Reckoner asked in the Behind the Nihon Review community to boycott me for challenging his authority.

The lesson learnt from this incident was that there are people with frail egos who do not like to be challenged, and on virtue of their reputation, demand agreement from others. Were I to go back and do things over, per Moyatori’s question, I’m not sure if there is anything I could’ve done differently to have a conversation with Reckoner directly – this writer from Behind the Nihon Review had a large, but fragile ego and had been utterly convinced that K-On! was something no one should watch. I imagine that had I continued, I would’ve simply been banned. In retrospect, while attempting to get a rational answer from Reckoner was impossible, I could’ve turned the entire situation around by re-writing Reckoner’s review from a completely positive standpoint and made a more concerted effort to gain the support from the other forum goers, to prove that the positives in K-On! The Movie far outweigh the negatives. I never did get around to doing this, however: in the end, I ended up speaking with the admin, who noted that, while Reckoner’s actions were in the wrong, reputation was not something they preferred to deal with (if they allowed me to reset my reputation, it would set a precedence where people could also ask for the same). However, they did permit me to deactivate my old account and spin up a new account for a fresh start. Since my old account was deactivated, I was not violating any rules with the new account. Since then, I’ve been rocking this new account. Further to this, AnimeSuki did away with the reputation system as a result of this incident, and with reputation gone,  all of the forum members were now on equal footing, and I found it much easier to properly have discussions with people when I did rejoin. While it created new problems, allowing Sumeragi to hijack threads and flood them with lies (I’ll discuss that in a few moments), removing reputation was largely a positive move for AnimeSuki: without reputation, Reckoner had to defend his opinions on merit alone and began posting with a dramatically reduced frequency. Finally, as for Reckoner’s efforts to boycott this blog, people soon forgot about things: today, this blog seems to be doing well enough, and dare I say, considerably better than Behind the Nihon Review, which gets as much traffic in a year as I do in a day now.

  • I absolutely stand by my assertion that the hostility towards K-On! stemmed from the fact that the individual had saw himself as being above the creators. This brand of thinking has since permeated the world, with people believing their own knowledge supersedes expert opinion. This is because if their truth is overridden by the truth, the foundations of their world no longer make sense to them, and further to this, the instant gratification afforded by the internet, and social media in particular, mean that highly specialised, technical disciplines are not worth pursuing to them simply because they take a great deal of time to cultivate. Patience and social media do not align: if it takes years to acquire the expertise and skillset needed to understand a topic, it won’t help one get retweets or upvotes, these people reason.

On the matter of how I address my critics and criticisms, I start by noting that there is precious little I can do about discussions that happen off WordPress, and I suspect that my most vocal critics deliberately choose to attack my blog off-site for this reason, likely fearing (non-existent) retribution. However, they are mistaken in their assumption that I censor everything the same way Sony NA does, and in fact, I count this blog’s commenting policy as being very open. Further to this, I strive to be fair to readers who take the time to comment: assuming the comment has cleared the spam filter, is relevant to the discussion and is free of prohibited materials, I always aim to ensure my reply to a comments are close in length to the original, and I strive to answer the commenter as best as I can if they have a question. Readers who leave a sentence and a reaction will likely get a smiley face with their light-hearted reply, and commenters who take the time to write paragraphs will receive a paragraph back in response. The goal here is to foster discussions from across the spectrum: if users are looking for a quick reaction, I can accommodate that as readily as I do lengthier conversations. All sorts of comments are welcome here, and I usually make an effort to reply to comments as soon as possible, usually before I publish my next post. There is only one exception to this rule: I have a zero tolerance policy for memes because of their repetition, which is wasteful, and in particular, the so-called “pepega” meme is outright prohibited here. Posting that hate symbol is the fastest way to be permanently banned from commenting. Beyond this, I welcome comments from readers – besides offering insights I may not think of, there are the occasional comment where a reader writes about how my posts have helped change their lives in a tangible, positive manner, and those are always a joy to read and respond to.

  • Consequently, there is decreasing respect for the scientific method, experts and facts, and this means that controversies become more common. When there is no foundation to build discussions off of, people only have their subjective experiences and emotions to argue from. I call these “feels” in a derogatory manner, and my participation in Controversed found that a lot of misunderstandings in controversies happen precisely because of these so-called “feels”: without context and facts, some people fall back on a knee-jerk reaction to simplify complex issues into a us vs. them debate. In a proper discussion, this does not happen because there is context, and a common ground to build arguments from.

The last item on today’s itinerary is how I handle the potential exhaustion that may result from discussing controversial topics. We suppose that avoiding them is not an option in this case, since my nominal answer is to simply sit them out while they’re raging: a few years ago, a forum-goer calling themselves “Sumeragi” was arguing that Miho was not justified in saving her teammates in Girls und Panzer, and claimed that his own personal views were the correct way of living out life. This resulted in a massive flame war, and while other forum members attempted to counter with logic and reason, Sumeragi insisted on how his beliefs and backgrounds proved that all other arguments were void. This is something straight from the playbook of extremists who’ve rejected reality and replaced it with their own delusions. Against a foe of this sort, it is simpler to not participate. In the case, however, where one is entangled, I would suggest disabling notifications to posts and replies in the social media environment, and for forums, using submit-and-forget approach. The key to avoiding fatigue is understanding that a constant presence in the debate and a swift reply is not worth the stress it introduces. For social media, disabling notifications means not being constantly bombarded with updates, while on forums, writing infrequently and only responding periodically reduces the amount of effort one has to spend replying to people who may not be arguing in good faith. In both cases, the idea is to make the person on the other end of the screen endure the deluge of notifications and refresh their pages anxiously. Even with this approach, heated discussions can get very tiring, and in this case, my favourite course of action usually follows: head offline and do something fun, whether it be going for a walk, grabbing a beer, or unwinding with a good film. There is a price to “winning” online arguments, whether it be suffering from anxiety or, in Sumeragi’s case, a permanent (and well-deserved) ban from AnimeSuki. I remark that there is a difference between a spirited discussion done with folks one is familiar with, and arguing with anonymous people who are convinced they are in the right: with people where a mutual respect is shared, discussions happen at a casual pace, and there is never any exhaustion.

  • To undo demoralisation, then, people must look to accepting that there are other people in the world who specialise and excel in different areas, and that it is the sum of this knowledge that progress is built upon. This means having faith in a physician’s diagnosis of a patient, an engineer’s designs for a building and the software developer’s explanation of how an algorithm works, rather than deciding that one’s own access to Wikipedia makes them equal to an expert. These are my closing remarks for Controversed, and I assure readers that December will be a lot more conventional in nature, as I focus on my usual topics: perhaps then, the readers I’ve frightened off may return.

I believe that with this post, I’m now finished Controversed. I’m not too sure how useful my content has been for Moyatori, and if anything, participating has helped me to recall why I prefer to avoid online controversies altogether – a recurring phenomenon in controversies is that people are often unwilling to listen. Even when presented with the facts, people will cling to their ideology and emotions until the bitter end. A computer program or mathematical proof is insufficient to convince these people of reality, and they stubbornly insist they’re correct even in direct contradiction to empirical data. In this situation, we speak of the demoralisation that Yuri Bezmenov warned the world of decades earlier: when facts fail to be respected, and argument boils down to “feels”, there is nothing to be learnt, and no discussion to be had. Social media exacerbates this, and it gives the terrifying impression that rational, logical thought is rapidly going the way of the dinosaurs. Logic and reason are the sole tools in ensuring that in a controversy, people find the willingness to listen to all sides of the argument. In an age where this is often forgotten, complex issues are reduced to matters of black and white, where all context is stripped from the argument. This accounts for why controversies continue to erupt over every trivial thing in anime and other matters. While knowing how to navigate controversies and discuss these topics is doubtlessly important, the topic Moyatori chooses to close off Controversed is equally important – in a world where every debate is potentially black and white, and where neither side refuses to yield or concede that the other side has merits, knowing precisely how to handle difficult individuals and situations is vital in keeping one from burning out. As long as there are enough people who adhere to civility, logic, reason and a willingness to listen in their arguments, interesting discussions will always be had without getting out of hand, and within the circles I’m a part of, I’ve had no trouble asking difficult questions of my peers, who’ve given me insights I certainly wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part III), Considering What Lies Beyond Existentialism in the Execution of Sora no Woto

“I’ve never been a stickler, certainly not Latin names [for plants]; I’ve never known the Latin names, but even just general names, even if it’s good to know. I’ve never been a stickler about it because, in the end, in a survival situation, it doesn’t matter what it’s called. It only matters whether or not it’s poisonous or edible, or useful.” –Les Stroud, Survivorman, Director’s Commentary

Before delving into the third round of Controversed, for readers who are coming in for the first time, this is a special community project that a handful of peers are helping Moyatori of The Moyatorium of with – the aim is to gather a wide range of perspectives on controversy with the goal of inviting discussion and becoming familiar, versed, with controversial topics and criticisms being at the heart of the conversation. In this week, Moyatori has set us up with three prompts this week, all of which are driven by literary criticism rather than controversy – for this post, I’ll be returning to one of my favourite anime of all time to look at where the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre fit into a series that followed a girl and her journey of learning about music’s impact in a world devastated by warfare. The first prompt had been to examine a work using a critical theory of some sort, and admittedly, I found myself having a bit of trouble with this one initially. Fortunately, something has come together in this post, and I hope that it is up to satisfactory standards. In addition, Moyatori also poses the question of whether or not all art is inherently political, a very touchy subject that has seen its share of debate on social media, and lastly, I consider the question of why anime isn’t scrutinised the same as something like literature or film. It’s a wide range of topics this time, and I’ll start with tackling the place of existentialism in Sora no Woto, as well as how this illustrates the need for some practises in the anime community to be adopted such that more interesting and meaningful discussions can be had. Without further delay, then, we delve into Sora no Woto, an anime dating back a decade that was created as a part of the Anime no Chikara programme, which sought to create new and exciting anime not based off any manga or light novel.

  • Initially, I was contemplating sitting this round of Controversed out: upon reading Moyatori’s prompts, I realised I was out of my depths with the topic of choice: while I’ve taken literature courses during my time as a university student, my preference was for courses that focused on literature as a representation of society, and how interpreting a work gave insight into technology and science during that work’s period. As such, critical theories, the so-called –isms, were not those that I learnt to wield in great depth. However, while out on a stroll, it hit me that I had spoken of such a topic previously, albeit in more casual terms.

Sora no Woto follows a young girl named Kanata Sorami, who transfers to a remote outpost in a town called Seize. Besides dealing with themes of self-discovery and optimism, Sora no Woto caught viewers by surprise at its halfway point: on the eve of a festival paying respects to the dead, squad leader Filicia Heideman recalls the horrors of losing her original squad-mates during a brutal engagement: these were fellow soldiers that had mentored her and trained alongside her. When an enemy tank managed to flank them during combat, Filicia was the sole survivor, with the remainder of her squad blown to bits. Filicia subsequently wandered the battlefield aimlessly and fell into a subway line. Here, she began to feel the hopelessness of her situation, and succumbed to despair – delirious, Filicia hallucinated a conversation with the corpse of a fallen soldier, who had believed that the world was inherently meaningless, and that all human actions would be futile in the long term. In the black pits of her despair, Filicia even contemplates suicide, wondering what good was left in the world that would be worth protecting. However, in the darkest of moments, she hears a trumpet, and after calling out, finds herself face-to-face with Princess Iliya, a member of the royal family and an active soldier. Filicia is saved, but since then, suffered from the post traumatic stress disorder of losing her old squad and coming close to death herself; every year during the festival of the dead, Filicia becomes quiet and withdrawn. When Kanata arrives, the sheer joy and energy she brings helps Filicia to understand what makes life worth living – the world might’ve been intrinsically meaningless, but it is up to its inhabitants to inscribe meaning unto the world. Thanks to Kanata, Filicia is able to accept her past and honour her fallen comrades without breaking down. This episode completely took viewers by surprise: Sora no Woto had been, up until that point, a light-hearted series resembling K-On! more than Saving Private Ryan.

  • I’m not quite sure where the original assertion, that existentialism is Sora no Woto‘s main theme, came from. I believe it began when an anime blog, whose name I cannot recall, wrote that it existentialism was a central piece of Sora no Woto a year after the anime ended, and then someone at TV Tropes took this to mean that existentialism was the main, overarching theme of Sora no Woto and moreover, this was supposedly not a matter opinion because Filicia’s words is, word-per-word, the definition of existentialism. While it is true that existentialism exists in Sora no Woto, the anime’s emphasis on music means that the story is by no means purely about existentialism, and moreover, many attempts to analyse Sora no Woto, especially at 4chan, were unsuccessful because they never explain why existentialism enhances the Sora no Woto experience. With this in mind, I now had the perfect Controversed topic.

The brand of philosophy that Filicia voices in Sora no Woto is existentialism, a form of thinking characterised by the belief that the individual holds the responsibility of giving meaning to a world that, in the absence of a human observer, lacks meaning. Existentialists believe that the world does not naturally have any values or definitions we would be familiar with; that is to say, existence precedes essence. The premise, then, is that by default, nothing has meaning, and that the human consciousness is what creates this meaning as a result of existing in the universe, giving it an essence. In Sora no Woto, both existentialism and nihilism are juxtaposed: in the subterranean halls, Filicia succumbs to despair and wonders why anything exists at all if suffering is the end result – seeing the horror and desolation of warfare, the lack of meaning in her fight, causes her to lose all hope. The despair described in existentialism might be seen as a form of existential nihilism, in which one believes that what qualities make up the individual (and by extension, the universe) have no intrinsic worth. Consequently, in the presence of hope, something to look forwards to, the existentialist necessarily believes that intrinsic meaning or no, the individual has the agency to define the meaning of something for themselves, and this counts for something. Sora no Woto has Filicia subscribe to an existentialist point of view to emphasise its message of optimism and positivity. She had lost her way after her squad perished in battle, and even now, still feels guilt and anguish at their untimely passing. However, with Kanata, Rio, Kureha and Nöel, Filicia begins to appreciate that as long as there are people in her corner, there will be hope. Per the role of hope in existentialism, then, where there is hope, there is meaning and value in living.

However, while existentialism is a means to an end in Sora no Woto, it is by no means an end-all: after the seventh episode aired, anime critics immediately jumped to the conclusion that Sora no Woto was solely a tale of existentialism. The world Sora no Woto is set in is decidedly grim, and while Kanata and her squad manage to find the cheer in the most mundane of things, their world is suffering: global devastation wrought by the last war is eroding the arable land, oceans are devoid of life, and the planet’s capacity to support life is falling. In spite of this, Kanata and the others carry on, resolute in doing what they can to give their lives, and world, hope. It therefore seemed logical that Sora no Woto was indeed an existentialist story. However, this conclusion has long been something I counted incomplete. In a vacuum, existentialism only supposes that the individual has agency in determining their development and actions. This agency exists, but by those terms, it means the individual also has the agency to choose whether or not they end up taking the path to advance themselves. Thus, a purely existentialist theme in Sora no Woto would leave discussions open to the implication that it is sufficient to find meaning in one’s life, but then it is not necessary to act on the meaning:

“It’s the difference between us thinking we are paper-knives, made with a predetermined purpose, as opposed to us actually being bits of flint on the beach which can be MADE into something useful and purposeful in reality.”

This is quoted from one of the earliest, and most well-known assertions that Sora no Woto is purely an existentialist tale: I always found this to be an irresponsible way of thinking, as it implies that people are shaped by their external environment. Further to this, the quoted passage above actually deviates from the definition of existentialism, which requires that the individual be the agent shaping their course. The latter, of course, places responsibility on the individual to make of life what they will (and correspondingly, accept the consequences of their actions). Consequently, to remove this ambiguity, I stepped outside the realm of existentialism and looked to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to clear things up. A quick glance at Sora no Woto, after Colonel Hopkins is defeated, all of the girls’ basics are secured. Rio begins setting her sights on bettering the world, and the first step to accomplishing this is to rebuild a hot-air balloon that will allow her to travel to previously uncharted regions. Rio has not only found her meaning in the world, but she is taking the initiative to actualise her vision and act on her goals. By drawing on a concept completely unrelated to existentialism, I conclude that it was insufficient to merely find one’s meaning, but one must also do something with that knowledge in order to leave a tangible, useful legacy that indicates their agency was one with value. This is what conclusion can be reached about the role of existentialism in the execution of Sora no Woto. The point of extending the discussion was so I could be explicit about where existentialism fits in with the series’ theme: existentialism on its own is not a theme in Sora no Woto, but rather, a part of the theme. The series leaves viewers with the optimistic, hopeful message that through people, hope is rekindled, and through hope, there is meaning that makes pursuit of one’s goals worthwhile and valuable. Themes in a story are nuanced, complex topics that speaks to the author’s views on an idea, and as such, it is rarely the case that an author will merely draw from one critical theory to guide their story. As such, anime critics must also be able to discern the idea that a single theory cannot neatly encapsulate all of a work’s themes into one particular critical theory. I’ve noticed this to be a recurring theme in anime discussions, where individuals oftentimes will only ever reach the comprehension stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where they are able to identify a principle or concept by its traits, but fail to do more with it. For the individual quoted above, they’ve demonstrated an understanding of what existentialism is, but do not go beyond this. To really make an insightful statement about existentialism, one must go further and synthesise the observation with other events in Sora no Woto to create a new, noteworthy perspective of it, and then evaluate how successful Sora no Woto was in its execution. Through this examination, my aim has been to illustrate how to effectively bring a critical eye to anime in such a way as to synthesise and evaluate different critical theories as they appear to in works of fiction in general to create a novel idea – the entire enjoyment of reading what others write about anime lies in gaining insight into how they see the world. Simple identification or regurgitation of knowledge does not allow for these more engaging and meaningful discussions to be had.

  • If there was a take-away from this post, it’s that attempting to fit the theme of a fictional work into one critical theory is usually doomed to failure, since authors often draw from multiple viewpoints, and correspondingly, multiple theories, to craft their themes. In Sora no Woto, looking at existentialism in a vacuum is not particularly useful, but seeing how existentialism inspires the characters to do something more with their lives creates a much more exciting discussion. As it stands, I find anime analysis to only really be useful if one can draw conclusions from what they look at in a work, and the best discussions occur when folks begin discussing things like how their experiences impact their perspectives of a given series in the context of a critical theory.

The matter of existentialism allows for a curious segue into the next of Moyatori’s prompts – if we were to extend the ideas in existentialism to literary discourse, that meaning is dependent on the individual, the debate of whether or not all artwork is intrinsically political would be reduced to a matter of personal preference. There are no correct answers for which side of the coin holds true, since whether or not one views a work as political is governed by their experience and background, and so as long as the decision was made by an individual with agency (obtusely, anyone who does not draw upon retweets and upvotes to shape their world views), both perspectives are potentially valid. Some works are naturally more political than others by definition: Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, for instance, can be seen as a commentary on whether or not governments can be trusted in times of crisis, whether or not individuals should act in collective or individual interests and understanding the motives behind our opponents is critical, especially if one does not have a full picture of whom they serve. While it is perfectly fine to approach The Division 2 as a game where the object is to blow stuff up and collect increasingly cool toys to play with, the setting and topics of The Division 2 naturally invite political discussion. Similarly, anime such as GochiUsa are inherently difficult to draw politics into – Cocoa and Chino becoming closer to one another as a result of their adventures is far removed from topics of ecological responsibility and whether or not social issues are a valid reason for imposing sanctions on a nation’s economy. For this particular issue, I fall back on an old classic that my instructors and PIs in the Health Sciences programme stated to be valid: it depends. Here, the outcome hardly matters – whether or not art is inherently political is secondary to how thoughtful the discussion is, and whether or not discussions can remain civil by steering clear of ad hominem attacks, as is usually the case when upvotes or retweets are involved.

  • There’s a reason why I’m not insistent on using the –isms of the philosophy, psychology and sociology worlds in all of my talks: in a conference for academics, using the terminology is critical because it streamlines communications; here on a casual anime blog such as this, there is not such a need. Being a good communicator means knowing the audience, and knowing what level of detail one should go into depending on who’s listening. The page quote is from Les Stroud: like Stroud, I’ve never been a stickler for the fancier terms for something because I’m not writing for a specialised reader who’s got a background in philosophy or psychology. I’m writing for any reader who is looking to know what I thought of something and what I got out of it. Sounding impressive isn’t half as important to me as being clear, and if being clear means keeping my concepts simple and cutting down on jargon, then that’s what I’ll do. For instance, if I said I optimised a networking call to ensure that two blocking-operations are not synchronous, that wouldn’t mean much to someone who isn’t a developer. For someone who isn’t familiar with programming, I would simply say I made a function run faster by making sure the screen isn’t waiting for two things to load before updating by reloading the screen whenever one thing is done first. Yes, that takes longer, but now, I’ve become very clear on what I’ve accomplished, and that clarity is worth it.

Finally, on the question of why anime does not invite the same breadth or depth of critical analysis as other works of fiction, such as literature and film, I do not believe that accessibility or popularity is the issue. The reason why we don’t take a philosophical hammer or psychology axe to works like GochiUsa, Girls und Panzer or Strike Witches is because those works do not naturally invite such discussion. Most anime is produced with the intent of entertaining its viewers, not creating a commentary on society or the human condition, and as such, finding any philosophical conversation or psychoanalysis on some series, especially slice-of-life and military-moé anime, is tricky because the work was not aimed at making a statement. Anime conducive towards such discussion do exist, and when properly written, can be as insightful on society as something like Charles Dickens, H.G. Wells or Leo Tolstoy’s novels. The reality is, however, such works are inherently fewer, and there are similarly works that may appear to utilise deep, complex themes and ideas, but utterly fail to adequately (or even correctly) wield them. With this being said, a good analyst can find meaning and insight in almost anything they watch: even if one does not have a particularly strong command of the different theories and principles behind philosophy and psychology, it remains more than possible to write about and participate in discussions on the less obvious facets of a work. The point of critically evaluating a work is to see what the work’s aims were, and how well it conveys its messages, rather than demonstrate one’s familiarity in principles taught in undergraduate courses, and as such, I’ve seen and participated in discussions where folks without a formal background have brought insightful, meaningful thoughts to the conversation. The take-away message here is that critical thinking and literary analysis can occur in all forms, and just because someone does not have a grasp of the terminology does not mean that they understand something to a lesser extent than someone who is happy to throw around –isms all day. Folks who keep an open mind and appreciate that analysis can be conducted in more informal terms will find that critical analysis of anime does exist, having the additional benefit of not requiring the same academic rigour as something like a term paper.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop (Part II), Remarks on Style, and A Case Study Using Operator Precedence

“The thing I hate about an argument is that it always interrupts a discussion.” –G.K. Chesterton

We continue with Moyatori’s Controversed programme, and this time around, I am actually on time for once. This week’s prompt deals with the non-trivial matter of how I approach controversy, whether or not my style is conducive for discussing polarising topics, and how I strike a balance between being clear and reaching the depths needed to adequately cover a topic. In a curious bit of coincidence, I will be able to do a live demonstrate the approach I take for this week’s Controversed, which is exciting: a few evenings ago, order of precedence, the order in which arithmetic expressions are evaluated based on the operands, began trending on Twitter after a user submitted the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” and claimed that such an expression was unsolvable on account of ambiguity. In this post, I will step through a justification of the answer, approach it from a computer science perspective and explore the problem in Moyatori’s context to reflect on how my experience, and style, impacts the way I solve problems (and by extension, how I deal with controversial topics). The aim of this exercise is to give readers a sense of how I ensure my posts can cover the details that I aim to, while simultaneously remain accessible for readers from a range of backgrounds. In today’s discussion, the versatility of my style will be put to the test as I strive to explain why the approach I have taken towards solving the semi-viral expression is appropriate.

  • This post is a little long, so for Moyatori’s Controversed, I’ll answer the questions here, elevator-pitch style, for visibility:
    1. I write very nearly the same way I used for for my journal publications and thesis paper. My blogging voice varies: in paragraphs, I aim to be neutral and stick to what I see in a given work. In the figure captions, I have a little more fun and speak more casually.
    2. My bias depends on what I’m writing for. If I’m writing about anime, I’m going to be biased: my goal is to have fun, and therefore, I tend to accentuate the positives. I’ll still try to explore all sides of the arguments where possible and mention any merits they may have.
    3. My approach in 2) ensures I cover both sides, although I will spend more time presenting evidence for the side I am on. With this being said, I have changed perspectives as I do more reading before; a well-written piece can and has persuaded me to see other perspectives previously.
    4. I use visuals and lean heavily on my screenshots/figure captions to help me out. Words alone are dense and can be very dry, but captioning a picture can help people gauge my reaction to something more readily.
  • With the prompts answered for folks in a hurry, I can almost delve into an example of how I handle controversy. Before I do, I would like to extend a special thanks to Rose of Wretched and Divine and Nabe-chan of Geek Nabe for encouraging me to do something a little more exciting, and fun, for this post.

The Matter of Order

In mathematics, operator precedence (or order of operations) is a method used to determine which operands are carried out first in a given expression. Such rules exist precisely to eliminate ambiguity: broadly speaking, mathematics is a discipline that deals in quantity, structure, space and change. To ensure consistency, students are taught a set of rules to help them compute the value of an expression earlier in their education: brackets are calculated first, followed by exponents, and then multiplication or division follow, with subtraction and addition last. This is a relatively simple rule set that ensures students understand operator precedence, and in the case of carrying out order of operations, a one-line expression such as “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” can be evaluated as follows:

The explanation is simple enough: we execute the sub-expression in the brackets first. The sum of 1 and 2 is 3. Subsequently, using the operator precedence, which states that multiplication and division are carried out in the order that they appear in, we evaluate the 6 ÷ 2. This results in 3, as well. The resulting expression, 3 x 3, is computed as nine. The only assumption here is that we are dealing with a one-line operation, and this is where the alleged ambiguity comes in: are we supposed to interpret the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” as a rational expression? Suppose that we do interpret the original statement as a rational. Then, evaluating it yields the following:

One seemingly simple expression, represented in a different manner, yields a completely different result when evaluated through. This is where the crux of the controversy lies: which of these final values are correct? Basic mathematics is, after all, deterministic: given that we hold the parameters consistent, the result should always be the same. In this case, ambiguity has seemingly created a situation where mathematics is open to interpretation. To remove this ambiguity, mathematicians define what is called a “symbol of grouping”, in which certain symbols, such as the horizontal fraction line, create distinct groups that can be solved. In the case of our expression here, assuming it is rational (a / b for any integers a, b, and b ≠ 0), the numerator and denominator can be treated as a group. The numerator is evaluated separately from the denominator, and the final value is the quotient of the numerator and denominator. The horizontal fraction line is critical: its presence clearly indicates that we have two groups of operations, and as such, the final value, 1, is correct provided that we did, in fact, have a horizontal fraction line. However, because the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” was displayed on one line, there is no symbol of grouping present. Mathematics is about being explicit, and there is no symbol to make it clear that “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” was in fact the rational expression with a numerator of 6 and a denominator of 2 (1 + 2). As such, if it is not a rational expression, “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” is a simple, one-line expression to be evaluated left-to-right, exactly as it appears.

A Swift Solution

To verify this is the case, I implemented a simple evaluator in three different languages: Python, Java and Swift. The complete code is provided below, and I invite readers to give this a whirl. The code for Python can be copied to a .py file and run with the python command in the command line (e.g. python MathSolver.py), while for Java, the code will need to be copied to a .java file, compiled using javac (e.g. javac MathSolver.java) and then run. Finally, I’m writing Swift code for Playgrounds, which provides a Python-like way to run code without requiring one open a new Xcode project. As an aside, everything I’m running has a time and space complexity of O(1): it runs in constant time, and everything is guaranteed to halt once the expressions are evaluated.

Python Example

def solve():
  result = 6 / 2 * (1+2)
  print(result)

solve()

Java Example

public class MathSolver
{
  public static void main(String[] args)
  {
    int result = solve();
    System.out.println(result);
  }

  static int solve()
  {
    int result = 6 / 2 * (1+2);
    return result;
  }
}

Swift Example

func solve()
{
  let result = 6 / 2 * (1 + 2)
  print(result)
}

solve()

In each language, the result was the same: the expression “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” evaluates to 9. The reason this is happening is because the compiler (for Java and Swift) or interpreter (in Python) is reading the expression as a single-line expression and is following operator precedence to compute the final result. Compilers tend not to make decisions about more complex operators and in languages like Java, Swift or Python, simply evaluate expressions left-to-right. It is the case that different programming languages may interpret the same expression differently depending on how it was designed, and so, it is the programmer’s responsibility to write out the expressions themselves in the correct order if they intend for an expression to have a specific meaning. This is no fault of the engineers who designed the aforementioned programming languages: the goal of a high-level programming language is simply to allow the programmer a means of providing instructions to the computer in a readable manner (low-level, or assembly languages, provide much more control at the expense of readability and ease-of-use), and as such, programming languages will interpret instructions exactly as they are provided. As such, if one intended to indicate that “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” was, in fact, a rational expression, it would be necessary to write the line as “6 ÷ (2 (1 + 2))”: the additional brackets eliminate any ambiguity and clearly denote that we intend to treat the “2 (1 + 2))” as a denominator. Unsurprisingly, all three of Python, Java and Swift evaluate “6 ÷ (2 (1 + 2))” to 1. Below, I provide an example of what clean code looks like if one were to write a function evaluating 6 ÷ (2 (1 + 2)) in Swift. While less concise, every line clearly indicates its functionality.

Swift Example of Good Practises in Readability

func solveRational()
{
  let numerator = 6
  let denominator = 2 * (1 + 2)
  let result = numerator / denominator
  print(result)
}

solve()

I further remark that a good programmer wouldn’t just write out the expressions on one line: readable code is critical for maintenance and extensibility. While it may require more lines and come at the expense of conciseness, readability has numerous benefits. In this example, to make it explicit, beyond any debate that I was dealing with a rational expression, I would express the rational expression with separate variables for each of the numerator and denominator, and then return the quotient. Otherwise, in the case where no other context is given, the compiler does not make any assumptions about the expression and simply evaluates it. In the example above, I’ve not passed in any parameters or done any work to allow for the evaluation of an arbitrary rational expression. That is simple enough, but outside the scope of this discussion. Computer programs are only as good as the programmers that write them, and as such, a faulty program is inevitably the responsibility of the individual who write the code: if one wished “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” to evaluate to 1 in a programming language which handles similarly to Swift, Java or Python, the expectation is that they, at the very least, add the additional brackets to clearly indicate their intentions; otherwise, what the programmer has on their hands is a semantics error, in which the program produces an output contrary to what was expected because said programmer did not correctly communicate their intentions.

Handling Controversy Elegantly

I have now roughly defined how I reached my solutions, my understanding of how the alternate solution is reached and provided justification for why the alternate solution requires a massive subjective leap that renders it incorrect in the current context. Upon posting this to Twitter originally, I was met with resistance. From an explanation of why the computer is not correct, to a poorly formed proof and even ad hominem attacks, it appeared that people were insistent that their calculations were correct, often-times without adequate explanation. The best effort was an attempt to prove that “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 1”, where the individual worked their way to a solution, but had a converse error in their reasoning. A converse error occurs when, given ∀x, P(x) → Q(x), one assumes Q(a), which gives them P(a). In the attempt at a solution, the individual here supposed that since, they had Q(a) (i.e. 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 1), therefore, they had P(a) (6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 6 ÷ 2 [(1 + 2)]) as well. This is an invalid mode of reasoning (one that I informally call “supposing what you want to prove is true”). I have a counter-proof using one of the more fun forms of reasoning, called a proof by contradiction. Here, let’s suppose that it is the case that 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 1, such that 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 6 ÷ [2 (1 + 2)]. Through the use of algebra to simplify both sides, we end up with the following contradiction:

Since it is clear that 1/6 is not equal to 6 (which is absurd were it to be true), we’ve established our contradiction, and therefore, the premise is false. I have shown that the two expressions are different and therefore, not equivalent. Proof by contradiction is one of the most amusing and powerful forms of reasoning there is, and this is a clean, elegant way of showing my point. The other arguments were that Apple’s engineers are wrong, that I’m living a “sad life…trying to work out this problem like an 8 year old but it’s[sic] actually much cooler than that” and I “litteraly[sic] changed the equation…[because I’m] trying to seem smart but that took pre calc can see you’re wrong”. On Twitter, I’m unable to reply to those owing to the character and formatting constraints, but here, where I have all the space I need, I’ve concretely and decisively demonstrated in not one, but two different ways that there is no ambiguity here. Certain results come from how clearly defined one makes their expressions, and there is one reality: if one does not have an eye for detail and pay attention to things, they will inevitably get results that seem correct, but are in fact erroneous. Such mistakes can be fatal in a system: individual errors may not seem like such a big deal, but in a complex system with many equations and many computations, error propagation means that the more errors there are, the worse a system will perform. I will leave it to the individuals above to decide whether or not this makes me as being equivalent to an “8 year old” who apparently had not taken pre-calculus.

The takeaway lesson here, then, isn’t that mathematics is open to interpretation because there can be ambiguity, but rather, that in mathematics, and computer science, there are specific symbols and syntax that is used to define semantics. The compiler, not being human, will not infer the user’s meaning, and as such, it is the writer’s responsibility to make clear their meaning. Consequently, the entire Twitter debate only served to illustrate one thing: that there is a non-trivial belief that mathematics can be regarded as one might a liberal art: open to debate, semantics and interpretation. The origins of this belief are outside the scope of this document, but I hold that the reason why mathematics, and science in general, can be counted upon is because it is a discipline dependent on quantitative measures. Unlike the liberal arts, where personal background, beliefs and other intangible elements come into play, there are some things that simply cannot be argued against in mathematics: these laws and theorems form an indisputable framework that can be used to solve more complex, sophisticated problems. If these fundamentals cannot be agreed upon, there would be no foundation from which to explore increasingly exciting solutions for handling challenging and relevant problems.

  • The short version of this post, pertaining to the “6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2)” problem, is as follows: the answer is 9, and I’ve offered my reasons for why this holds true. Given what I have presented above, I can conclude that 6 ÷ 2 (1 + 2) = 9 with a quod erat demonstrandum (the mathematician’s equivalent of a mic drop; more formally, it is Latin for “that which was to be demonstrated”). I personally feel that Twitter’s limited character count really prevents discussions such as these from happening, and this could be one reason why controversies seem to be happening every other day now: without enough space to establish context, things get misunderstood more often. There is one more remark I have about this post; it took a total of around an hour to forumate the ideas, and then an extra four hours put it the actual post together, including the equations and code snippets; the tricky part was formatting the post so everything looked nice for the readers. With this post in the books, I’m going to return to doing what I do best: relaxing with the anime community on Twitter and gear up for Kanon, which we’re revisiting, as well as blasting bad guys in The Division 2, which I’m sure my opponents would find more agreeable than if I were to give them a personalised demonstration of what graduate school makes of their foes.

For this week’s controversy, I have presented a discussion that roughly indicates how I’d resolve a polarising question outside of the realm of anime. In this case, I feel that I am not biased, having analysed both sides of the argument to reach the conclusion that I did. In something like computer science or mathematics, bias can be detrimental, so I always strive to ensure I understand what the other side is saying, and why they are saying it: there are circumstances where I am confident in my position, and there are others yet where the other side is correct because of a misunderstanding on my end. I do not believe in defending something incorrect, and I can be convinced to accept the other side’s statements if there is a well-reasoned and evidence-based explanation. In anime discussions, things are more subjective, and I admit that I can grow attached to my own theories. However, even here, I am not above hearing other perspectives: the point of being in an anime community is, after all, to see what others are saying. The merits of this is being able to see what different peoples’ experiences are through how they watch, and enjoy their anime. Finally, Moyatori’s discussion raises the question of how I ensure people walk away with a good idea of what I am saying, even if I do venture into the realm of the arcane and begin drawing terminology and phrases from my old textbooks. The solution for this is simple enough: I use a lot of screenshots, and I tend to be a little more casual in the accompanying figure captions. Here in the figure captions, I crack jokes, explain myself in more conversational terms and use the screenshots as a context for what I’m saying. For this post in particular, I’ve used visual examples to demonstrate my thought process (i.e. show my work). I believe that over the lifespan of this blog, is one that has allowed me to cover a variety of topics, from anime, games, films and all manners of topics in between without creating inconsistency.

Controversed: Moyatori’s November Workshop, The Kokoro Connect Incident, Unseen Japan versus the Red Cross and Remarks on Anime Controversies

“When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.” –William Hazlitt

Before delving into the core of this post, I will briefly introduce Controversed, a special workshop fellow blogger Moyatori is hosting for this month. The objective of this programme is simple enough: to consider the matter of controversy, its matters and implications on the anime community, in such a way as to understand controversy. It goes without saying that this programme is not intended for courting flame wars or espousing particularly touchy perspectives, but rather, to understand different perspectives around topics that are polarising. The topic for this first week deals in controversies in our chosen field of interest. Per the prompts Moyatori has defined, I will address two aspects of controversy, specifically my thoughts on controversies surrounding anime, and also explain my preference for steering clear of these topics. In the realm of anime, it should be unsurprising that controversies exist: as a form of entertainment with a large viewer base, it is inevitable that occurrences, either in the industry producing these titles, or within the work themselves, can result in discussion that produces different conclusions. Where these conclusions differ wildly and clash with the individual’s values, disagreements can result. While conflicting values and conclusions are a natural part of human interactions, so is the journey towards understanding another side. The latter is often forgotten, and exacerbated by a persistent, deep-seated belief that one must stick to their guns and defend their position unto death. The end result is inevitable: a flame war lasting weeks, or even months at a time. These are exhausting events to deal with, and rarely yield any meaningful conversations. The fact that emotion, rather than reason, drives controversy means that as a blogger, my initial inclination is to steer clear of active controversies, and only make passing references to them if they are relevant to a topic that a given post discusses.

Of course, I didn’t always have this mindset, and back when my blog was still relatively new, I wrote about the venerable Kokoro Connect Incident, where voice actor Mitsuhiro Ichiki was deceived into auditioning for a non-existent voice role for the anime Kokoro Connect and was humiliated when the recorders were taken into a different context at his expense. While the event disappeared from public eye shortly after, it was referenced during a talk show, and netizens, outraged at how the industry handled things, organised a massive Twitter campaign with the intent of punishing Kokoro Connect‘s producers, going to lengths such as online harassment, issuing threats to the studio and the like. While I found the Kokoro Connect Incident unfortunate, I also felt that the choice of actions netizens took to be more deplorable than the original incident itself. This stance evidently put me at odds with the online community; as I was not espousing extreme actions despite disagreeing with the studio, I was not “on their side” enough. Redditors soon found my thoughts on the Kokoro Connect Incident and began vilifying my blog far and wide; their intention was not to understand or have a conversation, but rather, to bolster their own credibility and reputation online by means of upvotes. To this day, my post on the Kokoro Connect Incident remains the only time where I’ve scrubbed comments from: none of them were conducive to good discussion. The Kokoro Connect Incident was a reminder of the depravity some sections of the online community would go to stand above others, and furthermore, gave me a first-hand demonstration of what wading into a controversial topic is like. While I may be able to coherently, and clearly argue my points about a controversial topic, the same cannot always be said about those who had more time to expend than I did: after the Kokoro Connect Incident, I concluded that discussion of controversial anime topics would, at best, be a challenge, and opted to avoid controversies in order to stave off the necessity of fending off folks disinterested in discussion.

That approach has served me well enough until this year, when Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! began airing during the summer anime season. While the anime itself is quite unremarkable, a bit of background reading done to gain a measure of the series uncovered one of the most petty, ill-conceived controversies of all time. As it turns out, the Red Cross had used Uzaki’s image during a blood drive event a year earlier, and one Jay Allan of Unseen Japan took personal offense to the advertisement, feeling it to be exploiting “sex appeal” to drive up interest in the blood drive. Allan subsequently wrote a Tweet decrying the practise and sent it to prominent social media activists with the aim of utilising their outrage to increase Unseen Japan’s visibility. This was successful: within a day, the original post had received two thousand likes and a thousand retweets, along with an outpouring of support. However, not all of the reception was rosy, and Allan took advantage of the more adverse responses to “prove” his point that anime fans were immature people lacking any sort of understanding of social issues in Japan. This much is fact, and anything pertaining to Allan’s motivations and objectives reside in the realm of speculation, which I will not delve into. However, I did find it petty to instruct others not to watch a series based purely on controversy, and consequently, I wrote about Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! with the aim of making it clear that whether or not the anime adaptation was worth watching was to be determined purely based on the series’ merits (or lack thereof), rather than the opinions of someone whose credibility in anime and manga was dubious at best. By writing this post, I ventured again into the realm of a controversial topic, but by focusing purely on the outcomes for the reader, I was able to have a more productive conversation about the issue that mattered to readers: whether or not Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is worthwhile, rather than whether Jay Allan’s personal opinions hold any weight.

Additional Remarks

  • The short version of this post is simple: my least favourite anime controversies are the Kokoro Connect incident and the trouble the Red Cross had with Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out, primarily because I saw for myself how the anime community handles controversial topics. Honourable mentions include whether or not Miho’s decisions in Girls und Panzer were justified (she’d abandoned her tank to save classmates, costing her the champion ship match). While the community would likely count The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s Endless Eight, Legend of the Shield Hero‘s portrayal of victim-playing and Isshuzoku Reviewers‘ upvote brigading at MyAnimeList as being larger controversies, I never wrote about those as they happened, and so, I never experienced the exhaustion of having to endlessly discuss them.

  • As to my own stance on writing about controversial topic, the rule I follow is that I won’t write about it unless I can do the topic justice, and it is relevant to my readers. I certainly don’t like writing about things just to pull a few extra readers in, and find that this approach is typically counterproductive for a blogger; if I were to rush blindly into a topic, as I did with the Kokoro Connect Incident, the results can be troublesome to deal with in the aftermath. The practise of starting a controversy for views, retweets and upvotes is even more dishonest: while no doubt effective, it brings the sort of attention that typically isn’t wanted, and even where that is avoided, comes across as being a means of begging for attention.

  • The key to dealing with polarising topics is simply to listen, and in this day and age, not pay any respect or attention to those who would respond to controversy with memes. One of the reasons why controversies become viral is because when context is lost, things can become more black and white, and as such, are capable of evoking stronger emotional responses. If one were to then throw a few memes into things because they thought it amusing, they run the risk of giving all of that anger and hatred either a symbol, which conveys a sense of legitimacy, or target. The reason this happens is because memes are inherently context-free, and as such, can miscommunicate intentions.

  • The state of politics and journalism in the world in recent years, then, can be thought of as a consequence of taking memes too seriously and giving them an undue, inordinate amount of attention, giving the incorrect impression that memes are not just a form of reaction, but an acceptable method of responding to someone. The most damaging memes are created by bad faith actors who are aware of the ramifications of their actions, although the amusement-seeking individual can also find there materials misappropriated for memes. Webcomic author Matt Furie found this out the hard way, when his creation became used as a symbol of hatred, intolerance and racism. Today, the symbol is further used to indicate disdain and sarcasm; that people have accepted such symbols as a valid form of communication means that it is impossible to hold a conversation with them.

  • Altogether, I find that while controversial topics can be safely discussed, it demands that all sides of an issue be willing to listen, first and foremost, and that individuals communicating must make an active effort to make themselves clear. I’ve had healthy disagreements with people, and they certainly didn’t see it as a “us or them” deal; we left the conversation with a better appreciation of the issue at hand. Listening and being clear are essential for good communications, and this bit of common sense is how prickly topics can be approached. However, until the world rejects memes as a valid form of response to others, I imagine that polarising issues will be tricky to discuss, simply because individuals holding various perspectives are unwilling to listen to one another.

Both the Kokoro Connect Incident and Unseen Japan’s battle with the Red Cross represent two controversies I am not fond of, and also represent two different approaches I took towards handling things. By the events of the latter, I framed my discussions around the merits of the show itself and reiterated that I was not here to talk about identity politics. Through the post on Uzaki-chan Wants To Hang Out!, I found that there was a means of smartly addressing controversial topics without opening oneself to endless harassment. The key here is to clearly define the impact of a given controversy on one specific area and my specific stance on things. I cared whether or not a work was worth consuming on its own merits, as well as what extent the controversy had on my decisions. Even though I’ve established an approach for discussing controversies, it is not my preference to write posts surrounding polarising topics: there is a sense of being disingenuous and dishonest when one exploits a controversy for views, retweets and upvotes, and similarly, because controversial topics move very quickly, one could find themselves on the receiving end of considerable trouble if they accidentally (or intentionally) offend the wrong people (especially those with the dangerous combination of rudimentary technical knowledge and unlimited leisure time). Building up a readership around polarising topics is always a gamble, and while it can yield a large reader base at best when done properly, it’s also a delicate balancing act where the price of making mistakes can become heavy. I certainly do not like to participate in controversies, and in general, prefer keeping opinions to myself: I am of the mind that, unless one were qualified to fairly, and critically consider a controversy, they should not act as though their opinions hold any more opinion than those of the next individual.