asiascape vistas

Techno-Culture, New Politics, and Philosophy in East Asia



Asiascape Vistas is a forum for discussion about the many and various dimensions of cyberculture found in or originating from East Asia. Its focus is on the interplay between these media and questions of politics & philosophy. Contributions are from the academic collective responsible for the core project, but other contributions will also be considered by that collective.
If you wish to contribute to Asiacape Vistas, please send an email using the form on the contact page.


Gamification and the Japanese LDP


Image source: Internet Watch News

After some very busy months, I finally got round to writing about a fun game the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party officially released for smartphones this past summer: あべぴょん (Abepyon) is a casual jumping game in which the player has to swing the device left/right to jump from one platform to the next and climb the ladder of fame towards the top: the prime minister’s rank. And the best thing is, the character you control is no one else than Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō in various outfits. Before I say more, check out these links to get an idea of the game, or simply download it for your smartphone if you have one (careful, its addictive).
applink
youtube video 1

youtube video 2



Abepyon is surprisingly fun and addictive, because its mechanics are simple and rewarding. You climb, receive points for each meter you elevate the character, with which you can unlock new outfits for the PM. More importantly, your achievements are signaled by displaying known buildings which match the current height of your climb, and a rank in the party/government corresponding to the height you achieve before falling, from “member of parliament” over “leader of a parliament committee” to “cabinet minister” and, finally, “prime minister.”

If you are not content with simply enjoying it, you might want to ask 1. what it communicates, 2. what it wants to achieve, and 3. if it is effective to this end. However, I’m not entirely sure about 1., so 2. and 3. are even more difficult to evaluate. Let’s start with the obvious. The game creates sympathy: it’s fun, addictive, and not lacking self-irony, featuring a cute and modifyable character and a playful overall design. Maybe I should stop here. This is enough and I think the LDP PR office has done a good job in this sense. Everything else is pure speculation...
But let’s speculate for a moment. In his book Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost (2007) shows how rule based gameplay can be used to represent or evaluate simple or intricate systems by making the player part of the system and granting him or her the ability to influence it. In one of his examples, Bogost discusses the U.S. Republican Party’s 2004 campaign game Tax Invaders, arguing that by replacing the aliens in the original Space Invaderswith John Kerry’s taxes and by positioning the player as the defender against this assault, the game successfully turns the player into an active part in the campaign against Kerry and the Democrats, which are at the same time framed as alien intruders (103-109).
Whereas Tax Invaderscharges the player with defending the country against a threat, Abepyon offers a quite different message . The game prompts us to help Abe(chan), the game's character, climb the career ladder. Although one could say that this contributes to the awareness that our individual actions (votes) count, this message is weakened considerably by the fact that the ascent leads no-where, at least in terms of political direction. (By the way, I’m not sure where the comparison with all the buildings fits in, beyond its feedback function. Maybe the LDP thinks of hierarchies in architectural terms?)
But maybe that is expecting too much. What do you think?

The Digital Comic in an Increasingly Portable World

Back in 2000, comics artist Scott McCloud wrote Reinventing Comics, wherein he gave ideas for where comics could go and would go as technology improved and the means for both creating and distributing comics changed. Taking the computer into account, McCloud proposed the concept of an "infinite canvas," stating that the screen could act like a piece of paper without borders, and thus the conventional dimensional restriction of the comics page need not apply. In practice, the truly infinite canvas turned out to be extremely unwieldy and impractical in most instances, and the act of putting comics on computer screens turns out to be not so much a matter of "unlimited potential" but of understanding the screen as something with its own restrictions and particulars that have to be overcome. Nevertheless, as more and more people use electronic devices to look at images and comics, the adaptation of comics to screens, especially portable ones, becomes increasingly relevant.

There are two rough categories when it comes to the adapting of comics for digital screens: converting a paper comic to a digital form, or drawing the comic from the start with the intent of having it viewed on a screen. In both cases, part of the challenge comes from the fact that, even as visual clarity continues to improve, there is a limit to physical dimensions of the device itself, as there will likely people who prefer to view things on their phone, rather than a larger tablet or something similar.


For the once-paper comic, one of the most prominent ways of handling the physical dimensions of smaller devices is through what is called "guided view," shown above. Utilized on sites such as the digital comics distributor Comixology, guided view zooms in on one panel or element (certain faces in a large crowd shot for example) at a time, and removes or cuts away anything deemed at that point in the comic "irrelevant." Essentially, the view moves your eyes for you, telling you what you should be looking at. The drawback of the guided view, in turn, is that it mostly relies on comics which do not prioritize the panel so heavily, and therefore becomes a problem for comics where whole-page composition is especially important, such as most manga.

Indeed, digital manga sites such as jmanga or j-comi do not even try to provide a guided view, despite the option being supposedly available on jmanga. Just the same, however, by keeping the page intact and whole, the act of having to drag and pull through the comic is itself a different and awkward experience. At some point, the physical dimensions of the device become too much, and such whole-page comics will most likely forever require a certain minimum size + visual clarity combination. Even putting computers aside, attempts to convert paper manga to tiny, thumb-sized books, such as the example of Tezuka's Black Jack below, have been an eye-straining novelty at best.



That leaves us with the other route, that of creating the comic for the screen, and the area which McCloud was trying to address the most. Again, however, the "infinite canvas" turns out to be almost anything but, because of a combination of the existing habits of users and different priorities for comics in how they present themselves. The full-range infinite canvas is, perhaps ironically, best suited for images that are more murals of visual information. In "Click and Drag" from the webcomic xkcd for example, the infinite canvas acts as a way of exploring that space where a reader can discover small details on characters or get a sense of how visually dense the image is, but for comics that are visually less dense or less vast, it becomes a potential hindrance.

One effective compromise between the finite screen and the infinite canvas has been to restrict the image horizontally to the sides of the screen while allowing the comic to progress vertically. This takes into account the fact that horizontal scrolling is much more unwieldy on screens compared to vertical scrolling, at least for horizontally written languages such as English or Korean, and it is actually in digital manhwa, Korean comics, where this appears to be utilized most readily. In these digital manhwa, such as the title Tower of God seen left, there are at most two panels horizontally adjacent, making the progression somewhat like seeing a scroll or a film strip continuously unravel, and panel composition takes this into account. These comics thus become easier to read on phones and tablets, and I would suspect that the fact that South Korea is one of the most wired (and wireless) nations on Earth means that this is probably not a coincidence.

At least, that is what we see at this point. If ever physical media disappears entirely and the tablet or similar devices (or perhaps even a "tablet" without a physical presence itself) becomes the primary method for reading comics, then I would have to think that the form of comics would change accordingly, just maybe not as quickly or as drastically as one might expect

Dissociative Identity Artists


After resisting the temptation for quite some time, I finally decided to give it a try. AKB48. Artists of the year at the 26th Japan Gold Disk Awards in January 2012. On stage every day. Even more present in all kinds of TV commercials. A planned, exploitive and devastating blow against Japanese music culture, according to David Morris and his comparison of the group with the Wu-Tang Clan. Although I agree with David in many ways, I have to admit that I almost admire the producer Akimoto for creating something far too forceful to ignore.
As David says, AKB goes one step further. As far as I can tell, Akimoto has created his own charts within J-Pop, a self-contained world staged as an internal, never ceasing adaptation of “Popstars.” Because the group can draw on 48 carefully selected girls who, in combination with their various outfits, are able to answer to a wide variety of female and male, old and young preferences and desires, AKB48 never fails to stay novel and attractive, at least for those who conceive of these terms as a set which is based on appearance. No question, there are many victims of this production, and, mocking such sacrifices, they are incorporated into a narrative that depicts the group as heroines who overcame many tough struggles in the past, as the lately released second “documentary” of their making, “Show must go on”, with the Japanese subtitle saying something like “while getting hurt, the girls withstand the pain and hold on to (or pursue) their dream” shows. (See) But this kind of exploitation, in combination with a large pool of dreaming girls, also allows Akimoto to create a kind of on-going game, in which the front girl is repeatedly selected in various ways. The two most striking examples of this I know of are the general election in June, in which fans could vote to determine the leading member for the next single, and the second “rock paper scissors tournament” in September 2011, where the members competed against each other for the pole position in the next single. To me it seems quite cynical that, with many 100000 votes in the election, and, if I remember correctly from the many TV news reports about the event, between 10000 and 15000 fans visiting the tournament, AKB48 may be said to draw more participation than the anti-nuclear protests in Tokyo, most of which were reported to draw together some 10000 demonstrators. Combining “the people's voice” and “luck” in this way and making both huge media events, to me seems like an intriguing new way of producing idols, that goes way beyond “old-fashioned” TV formats like Popstars and other similar shows.
In his observations on television, Adorno somewhere said that creating statistically “average” idols is the most sophisticated way the culture industry employs to uphold the belief that everybody can be a star, which, inquired with the same statistical methods, turns out to be no more than an illusory, minimal chance. The production of AKB48 adds to this initial selection process two new elements I am in my cynicism tempted to call participatory culture and explicit randomness, which seem to contradict each other but both share the intension to replace the common “experts” selecting the winners by some universal criteria. The winner of the latter event, shortly afterwards, had a TV commercial advertising a candy of some kind as the secret to her success in the tournament, with the ad ending with herself crying „lier!“ It might be interesting, maybe crucial, to ask what the intentional strategy behind this ad was. But not now. I'd rather finish this section with a toast to Akimoto, who seems to have taken the culture industry to a new level, and managed to develop a group mostly known among Japanese otaku or extreme fans of manga, anime, idols, etc., into a country-wide popular brand. Is this the dawn of participatory culture-industrial randomness?
This is not the only interesting thing about AKB48 and their sister groups (lately, JKB48 was born as an Indonesian copy of AKB, also produced by Akimoto). Although I do not think that there is anything to say about the music, I would like to mention two of the various interesting effects and side-effects of the concept. First, AKB48 can be anywhere. That is, since neither TV appearances nor live performances have to include all members (or are capable of holding them all, for example in the case of small TV studios, etc.) they technically are able to appear in different places at the same time. Furthermore, if for example 6 members have contracts for TV commercials (I haven't counted, but there are a lot of spots with AKB 48), you might end up seeing them ten, twenty times within 1 or 2 hours. This practice is, of course, not limited to media appearance, but may also be applied to stage performances. Arguably, AKB48 bends the limits of time and space.
But this is only possible, because they do away with any (traditional? Old-fashioned?) notion of the “group” or “band” as one more or less coherent unit of artists with some kind of “image” shared by the fans. In order to address many different audiences, AKB 48 members not only represent very different types of “girl,” they also are placed into very different contexts. Thus, AKB at more or less the same time promotes a chain of convenience stores, a chain of lunchbox stores (at both of which you can buy lunch), a chain of real-estate agencies, but they also advertise insulting web-services like AKBabywhere members of the AKB web-services (1480 Yen or 15 Euro per month) can create “virtual babies” with the AKB members by uploading a picture of themselves, in an even more ridiculous ad. This clip, in my view, seems to nurish associations with sex ads (“Would you like to make a baby with me?”), but the idea also mocks all those who really want to have children but are unable to do so. While drastic expression has always been an important part of literary fiction and its critical potential, and is particularly vivid in Japanese anime and manga, this clip is so disturbing because it depicts real people, namely an AKB member and a real child which she pseudo-breastfeeds smiling into the camera. I may be very old-fashioned, but I do believe that there is a line which many people are not willing to cross, but which is crossed here. But I'd be happy to hear other opinions on this clip.
To return to the earlier discussion, it seems as if AKB48 has many faces and very differing appearances according to the respective context. They could even be called dissociative identity artists. In times of “patch-work identity, contemporary psychologists emphasize the importance of the work the individual puts into making this patchwork coherent as crucial for her or his well-being. At the moment, the seeming incoherence of AKB48 may be met by a similar incoherence of the fans and of their distinct media consumption patterns. But in the age of the internet and youtube, it will be for the fans to decide how long AKB48 (and other similar groups) can manage to maintain this coherence in incoherence. Or maybe the fans have already reacted to this problem by developing not only preferences of specific members, but also consumption patterns by which they are able to ignore the unlikable aspects and focus on the likable ones, something like an art of dissociative consumption.

Streaming for Profit: Crunchyroll vs. GOMtv.net

In the age of streaming media, entertainment companies of all varieties are wracking themselves trying to figure out ways to monetize internet video, or at least to recoup the expenses required to run a stream. While the most common method is to utilize some sort of ad system, some sites come out with paid subscriptions. The content is free, up to a certain point, but if you want more you have to shell out some cash. Among these sites are the anime/j-drama/k-drama resource, Crunchyroll, and the center of the Korean Starcraft II scene, GOMtv.net. Both sites use ads, and both sites have subscription services which can remove those ads, as well as give access to higher-quality video, but Crunchyroll and Gomtv.net take two very different, almost opposing approaches to their subscription services.

When you pay for a Crunchyroll subscription, you're paying for speed. Crunchyroll's game is simulcasting. Shows that air in Japan are on Crunchyroll mere hours later. However, in order to see the shows as soon as possible, you have to pay for it. The content eventually becomes available for the non-paying viewers, but it requires a 7-day wait, and for those who thrive on discussing the latest, greatest(?) anime with their friends, that waiting period can become a death sentence for their social life among fellow fans by forcing them out of the loop. Crunchyroll provides a service for those who can't simply can't wait for even fansubs to appear online, drawing power from the "I want it right here, right now" attitude common to anime fandom.

But when it comes to GOMtv.net, you're paying for flexibility. Showing primarily competitive Starcraft II with both English and Korean casts, the stream during the live broadcasts of matches are free. Anyone can tune in around the world, provided they've also downloaded the proprietary "GOM Player," which could be much more of a hassle if it weren't for the fact that the Gom Player is designed much like VLC to be an all-in-one media player. However, once the matches for the day are over, they now become paid content, aside from a handful of previews. GOMtv's subscription gives you the ability to view recordings of the matches after they've happened, which allows you to watch them at your own leisure, rather than having to watch its tournaments during their designated times, which due to varying time zones can be as bad as 4am in the morning or at 10am in the middle of a busy work day.

 

One area that I think is worth analyzing is the value of an instance of the product put out over time, that is, given a single unit, either an episode of a show or a full set between two players, what happens when someone sees it the day it's out, then a week later, then a month or year later, and so on. By value I don't necessarily mean monetary value, but just more generally, how willing are people to watch older instances of a product as more and more time passes? What I am about to present is just my own conjecture, so feel free to correct me if any actual information has proven me wrong.
While Crunchyroll and GOMtv.net differ in that the former provides a wide variety of entertainment choices (dozens of shows are available) and the latter has essentially one long-running show in the form of Starcraft II tournaments (or two, if you want to count the Team League as a separate thing), but to make comparison easier I'm going to say that there's a Single Entertainment Product X, which has the primary trait of being designed to go on for years and is a serial product, so the results of older "episodes" directly affect newer ones (which also creates the possibility of spoilers). For the sake of convenience you can think of it as either Naruto (which is by far the most popular show on Crunchyroll) or the Global Starcraft II League (GSL). I'm also going to simplify the Crunchyroll and GOMtv models to just "starts off costing money, becomes free later" and vice versa, and not deal with the nuanced differences between the fact that "new" in Crunchyroll terms means watching it the first week and for GOM it means watching it live as well as ignore the difference in actual cost of subscriptions.

 

So let's say that the very first episode of Product X has hit Crunchyroll, and that there's already a fanbase for it, due to whatever reason such as anticipation or hype. Crunchyroll banks on the fact that people want to see it as soon as possible and charges them money for it. The people who pay to watch it are essentially saying that Product X, brand new and delivered as quickly as possible, is valuable. Once the episode is over, it becomes background knowledge for the next new episode, which also carries the same viewership value. In time, for those who have already seen these episodes, any value in them would come from how much they are worth rewatching. But while Crunchyroll decides that money is to be had in being first, this concept of "rewatch value" appears to have more cache with the GOMtv.net system. By asking you nothing for the initial viewing but putting a price tag on subsequent viewings, GOMtv.net prioritizes not just convenience and flexibility to watch it at your own leisure, but that returning to past instances of the product is also very important.

But not everyone is already a fan. For people completely new to the product, it doesn't necessarily matter that Crunchyroll gets it faster than anyone else, and over time it matters less and less when exactly a given episode was made. There is nothing necessarily stopping someone from paying for the Crunchyroll subscription, but they would probably need a reason to do so, and while it is certainly possible to ignore the previous content, the fact that Product X builds upon past events means that it engenders a potential feeling of "missing out" unless one watches the back catalog. For Crunchyroll, because the entirety of this back catalog is free (ignoring instances where streaming rights fade), it becomes easier for someone who is not interested in watching to start watching. GOMtv.net and its free initial stream can attract people, but for those unfamiliar with the product being put out, it requires the idea that, while what happened in the past is important, it's not vital to enjoying it. At the same time, it does not offer much reason outright to subscribe to someone who isn't already a fan, and the preview it provides is rather sparse. If they do become a fan however, those older episodes may rise in value, as they help explain how the product arrived at its current, presumably enjoyable point. Here, GOMtv.net would have the edge, provided that accessing that history is considered worthwhile. However, deciding to watch the new material despite having not seen what came prior does not necessarily guarantee that the older episodes will be visited in retrospect, especially if the viewer prioritizes "what happened" over "how it happened."

Of course, despite the fact that I actively ignored the subtleties in each model to give a rough idea of how a product is handled, the difference between solvency and net loss or moderate and high success is probably in the details. Going back to the difference between "new" as defined by Crunchyroll and GOMtv.net, I think that GOMtv.net's model could be better served by having the live broadcast re-streamed two or three times that day or perhaps even re-run for 24 hours to compensate for the enormous time zone differences that can exist between Korea and the rest of the world. I also think GOM's system might be more attractive to old-fashioned companies who may feel afraid to just give the viewer total control of their entertainment product. In time, I think things will shift closer to the Crunchyroll model, but that method also makes it difficult to make a profit off of older material. While perhaps it gains value in becoming a free resource to entice new customers, it does leave the impression that these products are not inherently valuable but rather have value applied to them through their consumers.

Otaku-culture on public display

Last week, subculture made news in Japan, when an exhibition of subculture art at the Seibu department store in Shibuya (Tokyo) was suddenly cancelled in reaction to claims from customers. According to NHK and JCAST, several visitors found the displayed artworks to be improper for a department store. Although the organizers have not made the claims public, it seems that they were not related to any particular works. Since the problem could not be identified, Seibu decided to cancel the exhibition, which was originally scheduled to be on display until the 6th of February, on February 1st.
This seems odd, as Japanese subculture, especially the so-called otaku-culture, which is associated with the works displayed in the exhibition, is more popular than ever before. During the past years, Japanese manga, anime, videogames, etc. have gained increasing attention around the world and especially in Japan itself, where today, their global popularity attracts the economy, politicians, and academics.
According to Nihon University professor and subculture expert Nakagawa Hideki, who is quoted in the JCAST article, the otaku-culture is not a subculture any more, but rather part of the mainstream. He argues that the claims are motivated by an understanding of subculture, that is shaped by the experience of "anti-social elements" in the 1960s. This seems to suggest that it was not the content of the exhibition itself, that caused the problem, but a general caution against everything that is associated with subculture.
While acknowledging the strong impact the aftermath of 1968 had in Japan, I would still suggest that this is only part of the problem, the other part of which is hidden by the terms mainstream and subculture. I do not want to get into discussions about the various definitions of these concepts, but I think that the example above shows that the acceptance of art forms and contents is not only a question of popularity or economic success within a society (as mainstream vs. subculture might easily suggest). Rather, it might be helpful to think about the situation in the old-fashioned terms of high culture and low culture and their hierarchical relation in specific spaces. While the case of the Seibu exhibition indicates that the otaku-culture moves towards public awareness and maybe even partial acceptance, it also suggests that figures, cosplay fashion, and the wide variety of illustrations, amateur manga and other elements of the otaku-culture are still the "uncanny" in the sense of the German word "das Unheimliche" introduced by Freud, literaly meaning something that is not homely. In other words, I would argue that the reaction to the exhibition can be read as an indicator of the anxiety such artworks trigger in some people (with a certain power or status that allows them to speak up in this environment) due to their difference from the familiar in a particular environment, in this case a prestigious department store that has a long history as host for cultural exhibitions.
While the otaku-culture may be one mainstream or part of a certain mainstream in Japan (I have doubts about the analytic viability of these concepts today), it seems striking that, given the volume of this culture today, it’s display is still strongly confined to certain areas (like Akihabara and Ikebukuro, the private spaces at home, rental video stores, pachinko and slot machines) and temporal events. One might argue that this is partly the source of its attractiveness (individuality, temporal, non-binding engagements). But it also means that such “mainstream” culture can go unnoticed if one chooses to stay away, or at least be received very selectively - until it "goes public". It might be interesting to look at these processes of private and public selection and their effects more closely and to understand the power relations and evaluations at work in the case of manga, anime, and the otaku-culture in general.

Towards free manga and richer artists

A few weeks ago, I attended the conference “INTERCULTURAL CROSSOVERS, TRANSCULTURAL FLOWS: MANGA/COMICS” in Cologne, at which the well-known pioneer translator of many famous Japanese manga and anime, Frederic Schodt, gave a keynote speech. He introduced his work and addressed several issues in the process of translating, layouting and publishing Japanese manga in the US. He identified the increasing amount of illegal scans and so-called “scanlations” – scans of manga with text translations made by volunteers – that circulate among fans As one pressing threat to professionally translated and published manga.
Schodt seems to be not alone with this concern, as an article on the Japanese page of Yahoo from Nov. 17th shows. Acoording to ITmedia, well-known manga artist Ken Akamatsu has had mixed feelings about fans who value his work but don’t want to pay for it for some time. Now he has decided to act and “turn the whole manga business upside down” by creating a company that offers free downloads of manga online. According to the article on Yahoo, Akamatsu’s business model is to collect scanned manga from fans and make them available for free online in combination with advertising. The revenue of the advertisements will be distributed among the artists, who have been asked for permission in advance. The Yahoo-article remarks that Akamatsu's company will only deal with out-of-print manga, and therefore won't be a threat to the interests of other publishing houses. He himself sees the aim of this effort in “protecting the manga culture Japan takes pride in, and conserving it for future generations in a proper way.”
Rhetoric aside, the idea sounds very interesting and, if it works, it might be a way of using the economic potential of the internet to the benefit of both the creators of content and its users (as opposed to many cases in which users are allowed to create content for free but the respective company profits alone). Akamatsu’s model, rather than simply giving the users free content at the cost of the artists, introduces a third party (the advertiser), who might benefit from the fact that the site attracts a great number of people with some shared interests. Since the productive process is long complete and future revenues are probably insignificant, this seems to create revenues for the artists where none can be expected any more. But of course, there are a lot of “ifs” here, and the list is far from complete. As digitalized content, once circulated, cannot be banned or withdrawn from the net any more, one of the challenges will be, whether the site attracts enough people who care enough for a free but “legal” way of acquiring such works (and are willing to skip though advertising pages).
In any case, if this is a serious attempt, it might be worth having an eye on in the future. In the meanwhile, more information on the idea can be found on Akamatsu blog.

Comipo! and the Constructed Definition of “Manga”

Comipo! is a recently-released Japanese computer program advertised as a tool that allows people to create their own “manga” even if they cannot draw. While I have not sampled the program myself, the promotional materials for Comipo demonstrate how this is achieved. Using a wide selection of pre-existing templates for backgrounds, word bubbles, characters, effects, and other visual elements, a user drags and drops these elements onto a page layout (for which there are also templates), and essentially “model” their comic pages. Characters are 3-D models, which allows them to be placed and viewed at any angle within each panel. Photos can be imported as backgrounds and filtered so as to make them more in-line with the characters.

Given this idea of “instant comics,” what I find particularly interesting about Comipo! is the pre-set library of “manga-like” features itself. The second promo shows samples of effects that can be utilized, such as where multiple sharp lines populate the inside of a panel border to emphasize that something dramatic is happening, or when a similar effect is used on the outside of a word bubble to express that the words inside the bubble are an intense inner thought. As manga are printed in black and white, the third promo goes out of its way to point out that the full-color imagery used in Comipo! can be turned monochrome. The character models themselves are also indicative of this manga-centric angle. Instead of allowing the user to pose the models themselves, the program has a list of pre-defined physical behaviors.

Through these effects, Comipo! seems to imply that there are indeed recurring visual elements that can be seen as “typical” of Japanese comics, with quite a discrete definition of “manga” (or at least “the average manga”) emerging out of the rigidity of the templates used. While some of these elements could be said to be “comics elements” in general, when compared to a similar program in the form of the “Create Your Own Comic” feature at Marvel Comics’ “Superhero Squad” website, very immediate differences can be seen. Despite the greater simplicity of the one provided by Marvel, the differences in how the two programs treat the concept of drag-and-drop comics is evident in what they choose to include am emphasize. For instance, instead of the “intense inner thought” effect used in the Comipo! promotional material, the Marvel online creator showcases a variety of cloud-like “thought bubbles.” Whether or not Comipo!’s implied definition of “manga” or the Superhero Squad’s definition of “superhero comics” are accurate is not a subject I want to address at this point; instead I just want to consider the fact that these definitions exist at all.

Perhaps the most noticeable visual elements of Comipo! are the pre-existing character designs themselves, which are firmly planted within the “moe” (a sort of cuteness which promotes strong empathy and desire) aesthetic that has come to the forefront of manga and particularly anime over the past decade or so. Generally targeted towards males already familiar with anime and manga, the decision to feature moe character designs in the program in lieu of others is a decision which seems to say that this is the face of manga today, or at the very least the face of manga for people who would buy the program and use it. Obvious technological impossibilities aside, I have to then wonder what a program such as Comipo! would have looked like if it had existed in decades prior, say, in the 1980s when the influence on character designs by artists such as Mikimoto Haruhiko (Super Dimensional Fortress Macross), Azuma Hideo (Nanako SOS!) and Takakashi Rumiko (Maison Ikkoku) could be seen in their peers? What would the implied definition of “manga” have been then?

What is tech-now?

This section will comment on recent developments in the field of East Asian cyberculture. While this implies a rough limitation of topics, we have no intention of limiting perspective and background of the contributions as such (editorial bias aside). Rather, we hope that this section creates a space of political engagement that brings together scholars and non-scholars with different perspectives on contemporary cyberculture and the politics related to this field.
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