2049: Dear Diary

0049_001There are times when I wonder whether this blog is the best way to handle getting thoughts out of my head in some form or another.

I used to keep a diary when I was younger. I’m not really sure why; I think it was partly due to the fact that I very much enjoyed the Adrian Mole books and fancied myself as being a similar sort of person to him in some ways. (I later realised that Adrian was a bit of a twat — or at least became a bit of a twat in the later books — and rescinded my earlier appraisal.) Mostly, though, it was about the fact that I enjoyed writing and found it cathartic, particularly if there were things bothering me.

I remember my first diary. It was a really nice leather-bound book with lovely paper, and it said “Journal” on the side of it. It was a souvenir from somewhere or other; I forget exactly where, but my first entry recounted a trip with my parents to the thrilling-sounding National Stone Centre, and subsequent entries had a touch of the “scrapbook” about them, with bits and pieces stuck in and all manner of things.

Then one day I decided to change things up a bit. I decided to use my diary as something a little more personal. Rather than effectively doing what I would do in a school English class — “today we went to [x] and did [y], it was [z]” — I decided that I would use the diary as a means of expressing the thoughts, feelings and emotions that I felt unable or hesitant to talk about with anyone, be it my friends or relatives.

My mental state throughout my school years was a little turbulent, to say the least. I suffered dreadful bullying at primary school, and this continued in secondary school until I punched my main tormentor in the face just as the school principal was coming around the corner. (I largely got away with it, because frankly he had it coming.) Although the instances of outright bullying calmed down somewhat after this watershed moment, my social awkwardness and inability to understand the concept of being in any way fashionable — a trait I maintain to this day, though it matters a bit less now — meant that I was occasionally still the butt of jokes, even from people who were my friends most of the time. If the cool kids were around and there was the opportunity to make a joke at my expense, people normally took it, and this didn’t do much for my self-confidence.

I learned quite early on in my life that I was the sort of person who was prone to falling for people pretty quickly. My crippling self-doubt meant that I was ecstatic anyone would even give me the time of day, and even more so if said person was a girl. Having little to no understanding of relationships, though, I didn’t really know how to approach girls and try to take things anywhere beyond friendship; this was about the time Friends was airing on TV, so I found myself relating very much to David Schwimmer’s Ross character, and would watch the episode where he and Rachel got together over and over again while fantasising about one day being in that situation myself.

Anyway. The upshot of all this is that I found it difficult to express my feelings about people that I found myself liking. I was embarrassed if anyone found out who I “fancied”, and my friends would often take advantage of my squirming by hijacking the middle pages of my exercise books, scrawling my beloved’s name in huge letters and decorating the page overly flamboyantly. I’d protest, but secretly I actually quite appreciated the fact that they were acknowledging my feelings, and in their own strange, mocking way, I think they were trying to make me feel better, because it almost certainly became clear to them over time that regardless of my feelings towards any of these girls that I fell for during my time at school, I would never, ever do anything about it.

It’s not that I didn’t want to, though, and that’s where the new part of my diary came in. I would use the diary to express myself and try to figure out my feelings about the people that I liked. I’d even — and I realise that this is probably depicting me as a weird sort of creepy psycho — plan out how an “ideal” encounter with my beloved at the time would go. I’d script a conversation — like a play — as if everything was going exactly the way I would want it to, and on one memorable occasion I even drew diagrams of how I’d get my friends to occupy my beloved’s friends so I could get her by herself and talk to her alone. (I actually followed through on this on one occasion of uncharacteristic courage; it didn’t work, though I did get a hug and a “let’s be friends” out of it.)

None of the romances I dreamed of in my diary came to fruition — I had precisely two girlfriends in secondary school, one of whom I became involved with when I was actually trying to get it on with someone else, who cheated on me at the school prom (and is now, so far as I know, married to the dude she cheated on me with, so, err, good job, I guess?) and another with whom I got together during a recording of the BBC’s Songs of Praise at the local animal shelter, kissed precisely once, didn’t see for three days and then got dumped by proxy because she “wanted things to go back to the way they were before”. And, at times, this lack of “action” got to me a bit, particularly as I saw some of my friends getting started with what would turn out to be pretty long-term relationships. But the diary helped. In some ways, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t muster up the courage to go and talk to these people that I was attracted to, because my diary provided me with a means to express myself without having to put myself on the line, without risking humiliation, and without threatening my real-life friendship with the objects of my affections; my greatest fear was telling someone that I liked them, and them promptly never speaking to me ever again after that. In retrospect, this was a silly fear, but it was a big deal to teenage me.

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day I looked back over my diary and I suddenly felt ashamed of myself. It was a fantasy world, I knew; these conversations I’d script, these scenarios I’d describe, these fancies I’d indulge — none of them would ever be real, and that got to me. I also became absolutely terrified at the prospect of my diary ever being found by someone I really didn’t want to read it, so one day while I was alone in the house, I took one last look through that lovely leather-bound journal’s pages, stared at it for a few moments, then took it outside to the dustbin and buried it beneath a number of stinky, empty cans of cat food. I can only assume it ended up on a rubbish dump or landfill site somewhere, but occasionally I wondered if anyone would ever actually find it and read it — and what they would think of the clearly troubled mind that scrawled in its pages on an almost daily basis.

To my knowledge, though, no-one ever did read it. And for that I’m sort of grateful, because it would have been mortifying; but at the same time, I wonder if I might not have been able to make myself a little more understood if people had read it. And I guess that’s partly what this blog is about; it’s not quite the same as my diary and I’m certainly not going to start scripting fantasy conversations between me and people I fancy (largely because I’m married to the person that I love and thus have no need to), but it lets me get the weights off my mind at times, and, since it’s public — the journal left lying open on my desk, as it were — I hope it makes me at least a little more understood to others.

And if not, well, you can have a good old giggle at how messed up I am, huh. Either way, thanks for reading.

2048: You’re A Monster

0048_001As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I’ve been reading the Monster Musume manga as well as keeping up with the anime adaptation, and I’ve been enjoying both a great deal.

While Monster Musume is, on the surface, a somewhat pervy ecchi harem series with all the requisite sexual tension plus copious boob and panty shots (albeit attached to non-human girls with “monstrous” features), at its heart beats a heart of gold and a number of positive messages: accepting people for who they are without judgement; not relying on first impressions to figure people out; standing up for what you believe in; and forgiving people when they make a mistake, particularly if they make it while they’re trying to learn something new.

I find the monster girl angle particularly interesting. As I noted when I first started checking out the anime, I’m unfamiliar with the monster girl trope in general, so it was somewhat jarring to see these obviously non-human girls initially; they’ve clearly all been designed with traditionally attractive anime/manga character visual tropes in mind, but in most cases there’s just enough of the monstrous to make you feel a little uncomfortable if you’re not already au fait with taking a walk on the wild side.

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In the case of Monster Musume, we have Miia’s extremely long snake tail, its companion clumsiness and her specifically snake-like characteristics such as her fangs and the fact she sheds her skin regularly; we have Papi’s bird legs and wings instead of arms attached to a distinctly young-looking body; we have the fact that Centorea’s arse is a horse (and her knockers are enormous); we have the fact that Suu is a slime girl who initially is completely unable to communicate through any means other than mimicking the things she has observed others doing; and, of course, we have Rachnea the spider-lady.

It’s interesting how the sequence in which these girls are introduced goes: although Miia is one of the more “monstrous” girls in a visual sense, in terms of character she’s probably the most “normal”, albeit rather more lovestruck than your average young woman. Papi is naive and innocent — considerably more stupid than her supposed actual age, with her intelligence and common sense more appropriate for her somewhat childlike appearance — and doesn’t quite fit in to “normal” society as a result, but is still reasonably recognisable as acting somewhat “human-like”. Centorea lives by some distinctly “fantasy world”-style values — all “honour” this, “my lord” that, plus her arse is a horse. Suu is in many ways the most “alien” of all the monster girls, at least in the early chapters; she has no idea that she regularly puts poor protagonist Kimihito at risk of drowning every time she embraced him a bit enthusiastically, and her initial inability to communicate puts her at a distinct disadvantage compared to the other girls (while also providing plenty of comic relief, as you might expect). Mero — who, so far, has been the least interesting, least developed character to me — presents an interesting take on attitudes to folklore by being obsessed with the tale of The Little Mermaid, but for its tragic angle rather than its romantic aspects.

In many way, though, Rachnera is one of the most interesting characters. In terms of visual design, being a spider woman, she’s the most obviously “non-human” of the lot; while Suu acts in an alien manner, she at least takes on humanoid form at the best of times. Rachnera, meanwhile, is quite literally an enormous spider with a woman’s upper half, and is consequently quite frightening to look at, particularly given how she’s introduced in some delightfully creepy scenes. Kimihito is true to his values, though, and doesn’t judge her by her appearance at all; when he first encounters her, he even appears largely dismissive of her monstrous nature and fetishises her spider legs, being a self-confessed “leg man”.

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Rachnera is one of the most grounded, honest characters in Monster Musume, as it happens. She arguably acts in the most “adult” manner of the whole lot — though this can be taken in several ways, since not only is she mature in her attitudes and responses to situations, she’s also very sexually aggressive. More importantly, though, she’s completely at ease with herself, accepting both her monstrous nature (and all the difficulties that can sometimes cause) and her sexually adventurous side, particularly her predilection for bondage play, which a number of different cast members end up on the receiving end of with varying degrees of willingness.

To me, Rachnera was the most initially jarring monster girl to make an appearance — largely because I still haaaaate real spiders — but from what I’ve seen of her so far, she’s also one of the most likeable. She’s not necessarily the one I find the most attractive (I think that dubious honour goes to Miia) but, well, she does have a fine pair on her, and she’s an interesting character whom it would probably be fun — if, at times, unsettling — to hang out with.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series and seeing how these characters develop. It’s easy to dismiss Monster Musume as cheap fanservice — as it is with many things that initially appear to be cheap fanservice — but as I’ve said, beneath the boobs and lamia panties (they’re stick-on!) and sexual assault by slime girls, it’s a delightful series with a wonderfully positive message.

I’m glad my friend Chris convinced me to check it out for myself, because without his wild enthusing about monster girls, I would have probably thought I’d be too squicked out by the girls’ more monstrous aspects to enjoy it. But, as it turns out, it’s not at all difficult to start accepting people just as people, regardless of what their extremities look like…

2047: Until Dawn, Some First Impressions

0047_001I grabbed a copy of new PS4 game Until Dawn today. I haven’t been following the development of this game at all, but what little I had heard of it sounded enormously intriguing, so I decided to give it a shot.

For those as yet unfamiliar, Until Dawn is an interactive movie-type game in the vein of David Cage’s works Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls in that it’s heavily story-based, extremely linear and the decisions you make throughout are extremely important to how the whole thing concludes. Like Cage’s work, too, there’s absolutely no guarantee that all the cast are going to make it to the end, either.

Unlike Cage’s work, however, which draw influences from noir and a few other sources, Until Dawn is very much designed in the mould of ’90s-era teen slasher horror films. This type of movie is something of a lost art these days, with modern horror films tending to adopt more of a “horrorporn” approach with lots of gore and sadism, whereas teen slasher films were often witty and incisive as much as they were scary and horrific. (This isn’t to say that modern horrorporn films don’t have anything to say, of course — quite the contrary — but teen slasher films were very much their own distinct subgenre.)

The game opens with a bunch of teenagers spending a winter retreat up at a cabin in the mountains. Before long, Bad Shit starts happening and two of the party are dead — though their bodies are never found by either the authorities or their friends. The story then jumps forward to a year later, where the same group are revisiting the cabin on the anniversary of the two girls’ disappearance, and it’s clear that something odd is going on — though the early hours of the game are somewhat slow-paced, with only a few cheesy jump scares to keep you on your toes.

One interesting aspect of Until Dawn is its structure. While largely chronological and episodic in nature — each episode even starts with a “Previously on Until Dawn” recap — the game is punctuated by some interesting fourth wall-breaking sections in which a psychoanalyst appears to be speaking directly to the player. Whether or not this is actually the case remains to be seen, but in the same way that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories made use of the psychoanalysis session as a narrative framing device, so too does Until Dawn use your answers to the frankly rather creepy shrink’s questions to subtly tweak and tailor the experience. Often, these changes aren’t even commented on, leaving you in the distinctly uneasy position of wondering if you were imagining how you thought you remembered things from before, or if the game is just messing with you.

To say too much more would be to spoil it — and anyway, I’m only up to the third chapter so far — but I’m very, very impressed so far. It’s by far the most “next-gen” game I’ve seen so far with regard to graphical fidelity and particularly facial animation. It’s also nice to see other developers experimenting with the interactive movie format as David Cage has done in the past; Cage’s work often draws heavy criticism (though I’m very fond of both Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls) but the underlying principles of making meaningful narrative choices and interacting with the on-screen action are sound. I’m very intrigued to see where it all goes, and can confidently already recommend the game to anyone out there with a PS4 who enjoys a strongly narrative-driven experience.

2046: Reading Material

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Since my post a few days ago about getting into manga, I’ve been well and truly bitten by the bug, as it were, and I’m also about to branch out into my first light novels, which we’ll come onto a little later.

So far, I’ve read the first volume of Monster Musume, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?  (better known as DanMachi) and High School DxD, and have subsequently picked up the subsequent five volumes of Monster Musume and two more of High School DxD. (The later volumes of DanMachi have proven surprisingly difficult to track down, a fact not helped by the fact that Amazon has its listings for the light novel and manga versions all squished together into a not-particularly-clear form.)

Longtime readers or those who know me will recognise all of the above titles as series that I’ve watched the anime of, and this was a deliberate choice. I was initially hesitant to do so, but it turns out that reading the manga having seen the anime (or, I imagine, vice versa — I haven’t done this way round yet) doesn’t particularly diminish the experience any. In fact, in many cases the manga, being slightly longer in form than your typical anime’s 13 20-minute episodes, goes into more detail than its animated counterpart, often with new story threads, deeper exploration of characters and sometimes even a different overall tone.

Light novels, meanwhile, are something I haven’t explored at all, and until recently I wasn’t even particularly sure if there was a distinction between them and, you know, just a plain ol’ novel. “Light novels” are very much a Thing in Japanese popular culture, though, with many popular series starting as a light novel and subsequently being adapted into other forms of media such as manga, anime, video games and visual novels, so I was curious to investigate this particular part of culture.

I haven’t read any yet, but I have picked up two volumes of Sword Art Online: Progressive, a retelling of Sword Art Online’s original Aincrad arc, focusing on more personal stories and a single “floor” of the game at a time. It’s an ambitious project, considering the Aincrad arc supposedly unfolded over the course of several years and 75 floors — the first two volumes just cover floors 1 and 2 — but I’ll be interested to see if it comes to fruition, plus the Sword Art Online anime drew some criticism from certain quarters for rushing through the narrative of the original light novel it was based on, so I’ll be interested to see the story retold (and tweaked a bit, from what I understand) from a new perspective.

Anyway, if you were wondering, a “light novel” appears to be the Japanese equivalent of young adult fiction: relatively short works, often illustrated, but primarily text-based rather than the visual nature of manga. I’m interested to dive in; it’s actually been quite a while since I’ve read any book (i.e. one with words rather than one with pictures and speech bubbles — not that there’s anything inherently “inferior” about that format) so this will be a nice return to form if the Progressive novels prove to be a compelling read; I used to absolutely devour books, but for one reason or another, I’ve not really found a lot of time for reading in the last few years.

Ironic, really, considering the number of words I’ve typed on this here blog over the last few years — including a substantial number of fiction prose — but perhaps this will give me some ideas of my own!

2045: Pondering Localisations and Translations

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There was a bit of salt being spilled earlier today on the subject of translations and localisations. It’s clearly a topic that people feel very strongly about so I’m not going to give a “judgement” one way or the other on it, simply share my own thoughts.

The discussion surrounding this issue came about as a result of Gaijinworks’ recent release of Class of Heroes 2 on PSP. Gaijinworks is a company that specialises in localisations of Japanese games, and is made up of, among other people, former Working Designs staffers. Working Designs was a company from the PS1 era who also specialised in localising Japanese games.

The use of “localisation” rather than “translation” is important there, because the two terms refer to two distinctly different schools of thought on what to do when bringing non-English material into English-speaking territories. A translation is exactly what it sounds like: it’s taking the original text and, as literally as possible, reproducing it in another language. A localisation, meanwhile, takes the essence of the original text but takes varying degrees of artistic license with it in order to make it more accessible to people outside of its original audience.

The furore over Gaijinworks’ localisation of Class of Heroes 2 largely stems from the fact that, in the eyes of many people who prefer more literal translations, the team had taken unnecessary liberties with the original text, even going so far as to put in completely incongruous ability names for certain character classes — the most egregious being the Samurai class’ use of “Pimp Slap” and “Hammer Time”. The whole thing would have probably died down a bit quicker were it not for whoever runs Gaijinworks’ Twitter account turning on the snark and speaking to disappointed customers in a tone that… wasn’t entirely appropriate, shall we say. Consequently, the company has done a bit of damage to its reputation among fans of Japanese games; on the one hand, both Working Designs and Gaijinworks are known for their talent in localisation rather than translations, so people should have perhaps expected something like this to happen; on the other hand, however, responding to criticism with snark and the suggestion that people learn the original language (sure! It’s just that easy!) isn’t the best way to recover an unfortunate situation.

But I don’t want to dwell on that too much, because I’m sure there’s still plenty more arguing to do there — and anyway, to be perfectly honest, localisation that takes some liberties doesn’t really bother me all that much, so long as the essence of the original text and characters is left intact.

A good example is the Ace Attorney series by Capcom. In Japan, these are set in Japan, known as Gyakuten Saiban (Turnabout Trial) and star a character called Naruhodou Ryuuichi. In the West, they are set in the USA (albeit a version of the USA where there are traditional Japanese villages randomly scattered around the place) and their protagonist is called Phoenix Wright. There are all manner of other changes around the place — and the games aren’t any weaker for it. In fact, Westernising it made it a lot more accessible to a much wider audience — so much so that it’s widely renowned as one of the best mainstream adventure game/visual novel series in recent years.

The reason a lot of companies choose to localise rather than translate is to do with things that… well, simply don’t translate. In the cast of Ace Attorney, the protagonist’s name “Naruhodou” is based on the Japanese word “I see” — something that your average, non-Japanese-literate Westerner wouldn’t know. Making his surname “Wright”, though, opens up all sorts of potential for punning fun — potential that the games seize at every opportunity. Right, Wright? Or should I call you Phoenix Wrong?

Then there’s things like the fact that Japanese puns work in a completely different way to English ones; take Squid Girl, for example. In the Japanese original, Squid Girl ends all her sentences with the words “de geso” instead of the more common “desu” (roughly, “it is”), the former being a bastardisation of “desu” that incorporates the Japanese word for “squid legs”. Likewise, all the episode titles are expressed as questions, only using the word “ika” (squid) at the end of the sentence rather than the particle “ka” which denotes a question. Because both of these puns rely on Japanese grammar and particles, which are very different to English, it’s simply not possible to translate these things directly. So instead we get a localisation, where Squid Girl speaking in English instead takes the English approach to punning, shoehorning in references to squids and ink at every opportunity. Squidn’t that ink-redible?

Ahem. Anyway. The point is, in some circumstances, localisation works well and helps to expand the audience of something beyond what it would have if it remained more true to the original. This is particularly true when it comes to cultures that are very different from one another — such as, say, Japanese and American or English cultures. People like to be comforted by the familiar, and making something more comfortable is a sure way of getting people who might not have otherwise given a particular game a chance to actually try it out for themselves.

On the flip side, localisation loses some “authenticity”, and consequently isn’t entirely appropriate in all circumstances. Take the Persona series, for example; its third and fourth installments in particular are heavily based on Japanese culture, particularly surrounding teenage and high school life. While there are similarities between Japanese and Western high-schoolers, there are enough differences — particularly with regards to things like how people address one another — to make it worthwhile using a more literal translation. Not only does it make the experience more authentic for those who wish to use it as a means of immersing themselves in a culture they find fascinating, it also provides a very effective means of learning about that other culture from scratch.

Some games take this idea of education and really run with it. Visual novel Steins;Gate, for example, includes an in-game glossary that explains everything from otaku terminology to Japanese cultural norms as you work your way through it — the first instance of a non-English term or reference is highlighted, providing the player with the opportunity to look it up, and from that point on, it simply uses the term as it would be used in Japanese. In this way, you familiarise yourself with everything from elements of Japanese popular culture to ways in which people address one another — and again, it’s a fascinating way of learning something while you enjoy the story.

And then there are situations where either approach could work. A good example would be something like the Hyperdimension Neptunia series, whose English scripts over the years (initially by NIS America, now by Idea Factory International) have had a somewhat mixed reception from longstanding fans — particularly those familiar with the original scripts. There are some changes that just seem to have been put in for the sake of a quick pun that wasn’t present in the original — the English version’s use of “CPU” (Console Patron Unit) instead of the Japanese version’s “megami” (“goddess”), for example, as well as Neptune’s use of distinctly Western-style slang. Personally speaking, this sort of thing doesn’t bother me too much — it works as a pun, although arguably it’s making a bigger deal of the whole “look! all these girls are games consoles!” thing than the original Japanese script did — but there are some people who get pretty upset about this sort of thing.

I guess what we can conclude from all this is that, unfortunately, there is no one single optimal way to handle these things. Localise things too much and you risk alienating the purists who want something that is as true as possible to the original text. Conversely, translate something too literally and you either get something that reads very awkwardly in English, or something that isn’t entirely accessible to someone who isn’t already familiar with various aspects of Japanese culture. The ideal situation would appear to be somewhere in the middle, but very few people seem to get that balance absolutely right, and doubtless we’ll continue to see salt being spilled any time things tip a bit too far in one direction or another.

Me? I really don’t mind either way. I relish the opportunity to learn more about a culture I find fascinating through more literally translated works, but equally I very much enjoy a good localisation that remains reasonably true to the tone and intention of the original; in the latter case, it might perhaps help to think of it as a “remake” of sorts rather than a translation. Or it might not, in which case you can feel free to rant and rave about it as much as you like on social media. More often than not, though, I’m simply happy to have these games (and anime series, and manga series, and visual novels…) brought to the West in my native language so that I can enjoy them in some form, even if it’s not always quite the exact same as the original.

2044: No, Thank You

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In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No, Thank You.”

If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?”

I’m going to cheat a little here and not talk about a specific word, but more a general style of communication. There are numerous words that could be used to represent this style of communication, but not one that particularly stands out more than others, so I’m going to talk in more general terms.

As most of you know, the rise of the Internet over the course of the last few decades has made it easier than ever for people to communicate with one another. And with that ease of communication has come a relaxation of the rules of formality when communicating. In some ways, this is a bit of a shame, because the distinction between formal and informal use of language can often send implicit signals to the people in an interaction as to what is and is not appropriate to talk about. But in others, I’m actually very much relieved about this, because formal language is so mind-numbingly impersonal it’s borderline offensive to be confronted with.

I’m thinking particularly in terms of “professional” email messages here, and I’ll give you an example of the distinction. I’ve been doing some freelance work for a company for a while. When I started, the company was very much in its infancy, with relatively few employees and a single point of contact for the work I was doing. Said point of contact was a delightful young woman who was always chatty, helpful and charming whenever we spoke to one another. It was a pleasure to interact with her, even though for the most part we were only ever exchanging standard pleasantries and details of work assignments. But just little things like her squealing enthusiasm for me when I told her I was getting married, or chats about the extremes of weather we’ve seen this summer — all of those things were nice, and gave me a feeling of being “connected” to her and, by extension, a feeling of “belonging” to the company as a whole, despite simply being an outside contractor.

A few weeks ago, my former contact was replaced as she (presumably) moved on to other duties in the company as it has started to grow. She’s still with the company and tends to get copied in on email messages, but I haven’t heard a peep out of her since. Her replacements are like robots. And I mean that pretty much literally — every message I get from them absolutely stinks of copy-and-paste, email-by-template communication… largely because they clearly are copy-and-paste emails-by-template, and it’s easy to tell this due to the fact that there are the exact same words in each one.

There’s a good reason for this sort of thing, of course; as companies grow and have to communicate and collaborate with more and more people, it’s not considered to be particularly efficient to manually type out each and every message. So in come the templates, the form letters, the copy-and-paste boilerplate text.

Efficient it may be, but that feeling of “connection” is gone as a result. I don’t know these people, and even having sent messages to them in the same tone as I spoke with my previous contact, they’ve made no effort to engage with me in any way; I may as well be downloading assignments from an automated message board.

This is frustrating enough by itself, but combine it with the passive-aggressive tone that business communications tend to take — all “gentle reminders” and “looking forward” to something you haven’t done yet — and it’s not something that I feel is particularly conducive to a good working relationship.

It doesn’t really bother me all that much, to be honest; the company in question is a means to an end (said end being “getting money”) for me right now, and ultimately a personal connection with it isn’t all that important to me. I just find it a little sad that what was once friendly, personal interactions between two people now feels like sending commands and requests to an automated system. You’re human beings; act like it!

So, to (sort of) answer the original question, then: I would ban business-speak, form letters and email templates from general usage and insist that everyone communicate with everyone else as an individual. It would help make the world just a little bit friendlier as a result, and I feel that would work wonders for making people feel more positive about all sorts of things.

2043: This Would Go Great with Cola

0043_001One of the highlights of the current anime season is Himouto! Umaru-chan, a rather odd little show that takes the Squid Girl approach of splitting each “episode” up into several shorter little vignettes in which nothing really happens, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

Umaru (as I shall refer to it hereafter for simplicity’s sake) is a show that exemplifies the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae, these being a person’s “true feelings” and their “public face” (or, literally, “facade”) respectively. Title character Umaru is the very model of beauty and respectability when she’s out in public: she’s the darling of her whole school, always gets the best grades, is good at sports and is respected by everyone. Back home, however, she’s a lazy slob who sponges off her long-suffering brother and sits around in her hamster hoodie playing games and drinking cola all day.

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Umaru highlights this contrast by literally changing the character’s appearance when she switches from one “face” to the other. When she’s out in public being the beautiful and respected Umaru-chan, she’s the epitome of moe — long, flowing hair; big, sparkling eyes; a calming, gentle voice — but when she gets back home she immediately becomes represented by a short, aggressive, chibi character that is cute in an entirely different way to “full-size” Umaru. Her behaviour and mannerisms are completely different, her voice becomes louder and more forceful, but it’s abundantly clear that this is when she’s at her happiest.

As the series progresses, Umaru reveals a third persona: that of the elite gamer “UMR”. UMR is something of a balancing act between the two extremes she had previously exhibited up until this point; she’s realistically proportioned and acts like a normal human being, but is passionate and enthusiastic about gaming — not to mention in possession of some serious skills. UMR is by far the most naturally likeable of all Umaru’s personalities since she tends to keep things fairly low-key — she even dresses considerably more conservatively than her “ideal schoolgirl” persona — but is also a lot more honest about who she really is.

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The idea of the necessity of putting up a facade for the rest of the world to respect you is a defining characteristic of the series, and it’s not just Umaru who exhibits this. Umaru’s friend Ebina, for example (above), is an attractive, busty young girl who draws the eyes of everyone around her, but she’s afraid to open her mouth in case her country bumpkin dialect slips out, as it occasionally does when she’s feeling at ease and comfortable. Likewise, recurring character Kirie is completely unable to approach moe Umaru at school, despite wanting to, but she manages to bond with lazy slob Umaru — whom she actually believes to be Umaru’s younger sister, just to complicate matters — over games, cola and laziness.

Over time, these characters all become better defined, and their different personas start to merge into one another. I’m interested to see whether or not the series intends to “say anything” with this concept by its conclusion, or whether it’s simply going to continue using them for comic effect. Either way is fine by me; Umaru is not the kind of show that particularly feels like it needs to have a strong moral message — though I won’t deny it will be somewhat satisfying to see the precocious little slob version of Umaru get her comeuppance for taking her poor brother for granted by the end of the run!

Regardless of how it ends, Himouto! Umaru-chan has been a really fun series so far, and I hope there’s more in the future.