Hey, Read This! #2

The Economist just dropped a 14 page special report on the current state of robotics in their March 29-April 4, 2014 issue. This is a plain-English overview on state of the art models like SCHAFT, robot ethics, drone concerns, military uses, and home care uses.

Although I find the header section titles just a bit creepy and right-wing dog whistle, the information in the article is solid. The article is not so much for tech-heads, though; it doesn’t get into well-worn problems known within the field such as:

We’re a long way from true AI, and still even a long way from self-directed drone-level humanoids in the home, but what was that saying? “The future is not set?”

Hey, Read This! #1

An occasional series of link roundup of interesting stuff I’ve discovered or had submitted to me recently! If you want to send me links or ideas, please do so through my Google + account. I love hosting guest posts too!

Hey, Read This!:

Japanese Animation Guide: The History of Giant Robot Anime in Japan – by Ryusuke Hikawa and Koichi Inoue of Sunrise

This is one of the few instances I’m aware of right now of Japanese people writing about the cultural underpinnings of Japanese robots. It’s even rarer that it is actually in English. The points Hikawa makes are absolutely correct. There is a lack of scholarship, cohesion and continuity between previous generations of fans and current fans. There are a lack of reference points: no easy access to the ‘secret language’ of anime, 50+ years of in-jokes and back-dating references that directors draw upon when creating new works (you want to talk about a closed-loop medium, anime is IT)

There’s also a lack of broader understanding about the subtle distinctions and transformations that occur when countries adopt “anime” ideas into their own cultural stews  – for example western feminist takes on magical girl series based on severe cultural misinterpretations of the base texts. (read that, too!)

Japanese anime series are not ‘universal content’; they come from a particular stew of background beliefs and cultural assumptions unique to Japan.

Too often we forget this, because hey, everyone loves robots, right? And our general attitude in the US is one of happy assimilation – we tend to look for the commonalities and then assume the points we find are the whole work. Too many countries and non-Japanese designers just take the art style and run away with it, and while stylistic appropriation is part of the natural process of creation, a little more understanding never hurts.

Finally, there is, right now, very little access between non-Japanese-speaking fandoms and the Japanese directors, writers and producers of anime, and yet Japanese anime culture now dominates a significant chunk of the globe, especially influencing children through cross-promotion with toys and comics brought over by local companies eager to find ‘the next big fad’ (see: Pokemon).

I’m not saying that fans outside Japan “deserve” access to creators, any more than they “deserve” access to American celebrities on Twitter, but without accessible commentary tracks, interviews and supplementary materials it’s hard to fully understand a work – where it came from, why it came to be, and what its goals might be.

We need more Japanese people’s voices in international anime fandom, and we need to support them when we find them.