A Random Thoughtdump on Understanding Art from New Mediums and the Importance of Context

Earlier today I was thinking about how great I think Umineko is and considered what would happen if I tried to show Umineko to someone who doesn’t read any visual novels or watch any anime. My first thought is that they wouldn’t appreciate it to the immense degree that I do, simply because I don’t think they would really get it. And it’s not because they aren’t smart or that it’s “too deep” for them. It’s also not a matter of having received education and knowledge of the higher level academic concepts that can be used to model and put names to the ideas presented by the story. While I do think my appreciation of the story is enhanced by the research/education/thinking I’ve done in philosophy, metaphysics, and epistemology, this is not the dividing factor that makes me think I can understand much better than newcomers to the medium would.

I believe that by far the most important aspect to understanding any piece of art is context. If you no nothing about the context that an artistic work was created in there’s no way you’d be able to even comprehend it. If an alien never exposed to our art came down to earth and presented its own “movie”, it would likely be nothing like any movie ever created by humanity. Of course this is never the case in the real world as there is some context that is consistent between basically all art and can be generally be assumed intuitively by all audiences. If you watch a movie you can probably assume it was created on Earth by at least one other human who experiences and utilizes many emotions and basic thought process that you can relate to. Additionally, in our interconnected globalized world it’s likely that anyone making a movie will have, to some degree, the same general idea of what a “movie” is. Because of this we can always take away something from most things we watch/read/play etc.

I see this as one of the main distinctions between arthouse media and media that is attempting to appeal to the widest audience possible. Mainstream media will generally try to focus on making its intrigue understandable through this assumed context so that anyone can enjoy it regardless of their age, knowledge, or experience with media. However, arthouse works, which are typically characterized by their heavy use of symbolism and their niche appeal focused towards academics and those who consume a lot of media, will often assume that the audience has a far greater understanding of the context behind the artist and the medium as a whole.

That being said, even for the most mainstream pieces of art there is a great amount of context beyond the assumable that shouldn’t be ignored. Even if we all have the same general idea of what a “movie” is, this perception is likely heavily derived from the movies we have seen, and will as such differ from person to person. It’s fair to assume that the average American will probably have seen a very different set of films from the average Japanese person, and as such the average perception of what movies are in America and Japan are likely different to some degree. Additionally, our culture and structure of society will also affect the way we look at, think about, and create movies, resulting in further incongruities between what “japanese movies” and “american movies” are.

As a result of this phenomena, it’s essential to understand context when trying to experience and understand art. I don’t think someone who hasn’t seen any anime or japanese media would be able to very easily understand everything about Evangelion due to a lack of understanding of the context. While this understanding could be enhanced by studying psychology, the history of anime in the 90’s, and the career of Hideaki Anno, I think it’s just as important, if not more, to have watched some early 90’s anime, any mecha anime, and some of Anno’s other works. By actually experiencing these things yourself you will slowly gain an intuitive understanding of Evangelion’s context by understanding the lineage of the ideas that influenced it, the unique ways that Anno expresses things in his shows, and where Evangelion stands in the overall history of anime. Sure, you could read about these topics through summaries and analyses created by researchers and fans, but in order to truly understand this context as best as possible you should strive to actually experience it yourself. You can read about “what anime is” in books all you want but unless you actually watch it your understanding will be inherently limited.

What I’m really trying to say here is that the most important factor in understanding a piece of art is knowing about its context. Its creator’s style and worldview, artistic medium, purpose, country of origin, language, and many other factors come together to make up the greater context that ultimately greatly influences what made the piece of art the way it is, and the best way to understand this context is by seeing it in action. By its very nature, art is best understood through consuming art.

Top 10 Dogs in Anime

#10 – Alexander (Fullmetal Alchemist (and the Brotherhood one))

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A meme dog. It even has a knowyourmeme article about it. Many wacky hijinks occur leading this dog’s character arc to be one of the most memorable parts of the story as a whole. A true goofball through and through.

#9 – Pafu (Go! Princess Precure)

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Wow~~~! A top tier dog already! This is as cute as you can get in anime dogs. Some may argue that she is not actually a dog  because she is a fairy but no.

#8 – My Dog (Real Life)

I don’t actually have any pictures of my dog and I’m too lazy to walk two rooms over to take one so you are going to have to imagine this dog. She is cool and I pet her and it feels nice but sometimes she barks and it is loud and in conclusion she is my dog.

#7 – Pafu (Go! Princess Precure)

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You know that meme about a perfect cinnamon bun being too pure and good for this world? That is this dog. She even had a whole episode all about her winning the hearts of everyone living in the school dorms including a girl who was previously scared of dogs. Now that is an excellent hound.

#6 – Ulric (Glitter Force!)

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You are probably thinking “hey that’s not a dog that’s a wolf!” but you see, domestic dogs and wolves are actually very closely related. The species of canines we refer to as “domestic dogs” is Canis lupus familiaris or Canis familiaris. I was going to write like 2 paragraphs about dog and wolf evolution and morphology as a joke but after looking at the wikipedia articles for like 3 minutes I remembered that biology is the most painful thing in the world and nobody should ever have to read about it. Being one of the most charismatic, goofy, and soft looking antagonists in anime, I would say Ulric is an all around great canine. Also Glitter Force is a fantastic anime please watch Glitter Force it’s really good.

#5 – 5 Centimeters Per Second (Makoto Shinkai)

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5 Centimeters Per Second is one of my favorite movies of all time. Through breathtaking background art, fantastic directing, and a great soundtrack 5cm/s tells the story of love and how hanging on to our lingering feelings of past happiness can prevent us from moving forward in our lives. It also features my favorite ending sequence to anything ever with a ~4 minute musical montage set to One More Time, One More Chance by Masayoshi Yamazaki. This is a truly amazing film that I believe anyone interested in the medium should definitely see.

#4 – Clifford (Clifford the Big Red Dog)

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No land animal should be this massive. He could crush the white house along with the US president with those massive paws. If this beast walked the earth it would be like that anime with the big naked people and the walls except there would be a dog in it. Extremely dangerous. Threat level: red.

#3 – Pafu (Go! Princess Precure)

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Coming in at 3rd place, Pafu is undeniably an exceptional dog. From her cute voice to her aesthetic color palette you will surely find something to love about this wonderful canine.

#2 – Dark Souls (FromSoftware)

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Dark Souls is one of the best dogs I’ve ever played. If you are at all interested in video games you have most likely already heard of this monumental title. It has some of the best level design, boss encounters, music, and multiplayer implementation in all of gaming along with rich thematic depth and a unique integration of narrative and gameplay that even provides an in-game explanation for what it would mean for your character if you give up on the game in real life. This dog is most certainly deserving of the title “man’s best friend”.

#1 – Cure Chocolat (Kira Kira Precure A La Mode (I think there is a star in the title somewhere but that’s really annoying to do so I’m ignoring it))

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The best dog. Every time she shows up on the screen I just want scream the lyrics of love songs because nothing else could possibly express how beautiful this dog is. By far the best character design I’ve seen in any precure season along with one of the nicest transformation sequences. There is nothing in existence that I want to touch more than that massive fluffy tail. A 10/10 dog that stands out even among the greatest of hounds in the history of japanese animation.

Heartcatch Precure! Review

Heartcatch Precure! is a japanese anime by Toei Animation about a team of young girls who transform into magical heroes called “Precure” who protect the world from a group of villains who summon a monster in each episode which is defeated by the precure’s combined strength. Any seasoned anime fan, especially those who are fans of the magical girl genre, will instantly be able to recognize that this anime is a shameless ripoff of the beloved Saban Entertainment anime Glitter Force. From general episode and plot structure to the specific story beats of the first few episodes, Toei didn’t even bother trying to mask their blatant theft of a multitude of elements from Glitter Force. Just like in Glitter Force, the first episode of Precure introduces the main character, a normal young girl with pinkish hair, who then meets a fairy searching for the precure while running from a villain by having it fall from the sky onto her face. The fairy then gives the girl a magical item which allows her to transform into a pink-themed magical girl following the naming scheme of “Cure (word)” via a stock animation sequence in order to fight the monster summoned by the villain. The staff at Toei even goes as far as to directly steal the sequence where the girl, not used to her new power, accidently jumps high into the air and, while freaking out, is informed by the fairy that it’s because of her powers as a “precure”. If you still don’t believe that Toei made this bootleg anime in order to cash in on the success of Glitter Force, you need only look at their 2012 film Pretty Cure All Stars New Stage: Friends of the Future which directly features Glitter Force characters as “precure” alongside their knock off characters from the Precure TV series. They may have changed their names and voices but it is immediately obvious that everything else about these characters are identical to their Glitter Force counterparts. Even the ending theme of Heartcatch Precure, while not taken from Glitter Force, is a clear copy of one of the beginning sections from the 2011 episode of the annual anime film series Gachimuchi, indicating that Toei had no desire to put even an ounce of originality into this anime. Despite Japan’s strict laws about copyright and intellectual property, Heartcatch Precure has somehow been met with extremely positive reception and has never been officially called out for ripping off nearly everything from Glitter Force. Looking at reviews for the anime on MyAnimeList, it seems that none of the series’ fans even recognize that what they are watching is a flagrantly illegal cash-grab that would deeply sicken any real anime fan to the core. Toei has truly dropped to rock bottom trying to stay afloat in the modern age of anime, and if Precure is any indication, I think it’s about time for the behemoth of a studio to lay down and die. As a disclaimer I would like to note that I was only able to make it through about an episode and a half of Precure before my rage overtook me and I wrote this post so maybe it goes in a different direction later on, though this wouldn’t change the fact that the series is the Fruit Rings to Saban’s Fruit Loops and flies in the face of copyright laws and basic human decency. Overall I give Heartcatch Precure a 10/10 for featuring some of the most expressive and unique character designs and animation I’ve ever seen along with possibly the best aesthetic in all of anime.

On the lack of “animatedness” in the discourse of animation

I feel like when anime is discussed in some circles people have a tendency to equate “good animation” with “animation containing many nice looking stills”. I do believe an animated sequence can be aesthetically pleasing or artistically intriguing primarily on account of the merits of its still image quality, for example, a simple panning shot of a sufficiently well drawn background can certainly be considered beautiful. However I take issue with the fact that some will specifically praise such shots as “good animation”, when, in actuality, the aspects of the shot which they are attributing its “animation” quality to have little to do with the “animatedness” of the shot. The term “animation” specifically refers to the process (or result) of creating the illusion of continuity and motion by sequencing static images over time. When one treats “animation quality” as a term that simply refers to the quality of the stills used in the sequence, the fundamental part of what makes it “animation”, the illusion of continuity and motion, is simply ignored. If you were a person who, rather than watching animations normally, stepped through the sequence one frame at a time and judged each still distinctly on its own merits, you wouldn’t be able to come to a conclusion about whether the sequence is animated poorly or not because what you are analyzing at that point is, by definition, no longer animation. By extending this logic you can see how ridiculous it is when people present a single frame from an animation and try to use it as evidence that the sequence as a whole is “poorly animated”, as they aren’t actually discussing animation at all. In cases like this if you really wanted to you could use this kind of evidence to claim that the sequence has “ugly stills” or “bad character/background art”, but even this type of argument typically won’t be very useful or interesting to most people, as when consuming animation very few people will spend much consideration on individual frames, as it’s their relationship, flow, and collective presentation that make the animation what it is.

Fundamentally, an animation is not simply a set of distinct frames, but a narrative formed through the continuity of relationships within a sequence of frames, and should be judged as such.