Billy Bat

Naoki Urasawa never fails to entertain me, and Billy Bat is no exception.

The series, which he co-writes with Takashi Nagasaki (the art is by Urasawa), tells a story that starts off following a cartoonist, Kevin Yamagata, who finds out that there’s more to the creation of his Billy Bat character than he first thought. As you’d expect from an Urasawa series, it strays very far from the initial premise, heading into directions that you’d never expect. Set in the 50s and 60s, it also incorporates many historical happenings — like the JFK assassination — direclty into the storyline, and it’s a joy to see how the conspiracy grows and entangles so many interesting characters.

I’ll readily admit that I’m a huge fan of Urasawa’s work — he is in fact my favorite mangaka — and I haven’t read anything by him that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. I was slow to get to Billy Bat, but once I started reading the scanlations that are out there, I feverishly raced through the 74 chapters that have been released so far, at a pace that I would describe as unhealthy.

If this is your first time hearing about Naoki Urasawa, then you’re in luck, as you have some amazing series to dig into. Monster tells the story of a Japanese doctor in Germany whose decision to save the life of a young boy has consequences that form a hell of a ride — I’d also recomment watching the anime series, which is fantastic. 20th Century Boys is another sprawling storyline that reveals a worldwide conspiracy that was born out of a group of childhood friends, and Pluto sees Urasawa adapt one of Astro Boy‘s classic storylines, “The Greatest Robot on Earth” — it of course ends up coming out as pure Urasawa, in both pacing and atmosphere.

Do yourself a favor, hop on the Urasawa Express and enjoy the ride.

Indie Game: The Irresponsible Movie

I watched Indie Game: The Movie last night, and it made me furious.

I should start by saying that I knew I would have some major issues with the film, but what I saw was even more shocking than what I expected. The thing is, that “business partner” that Fez creator Phil Fish refers to — and ends up slandering throughout the film — is one of my very good friends. I won’t name him here, since he’s had to suffer through enough of late over this, but I couldn’t stay silent about the documentary (or Fez).

I won’t go into details of the whole story behind Fez (it’s not my place to do so), but I have had a very close ear to the entire process of making it. When it was still an early prototype, my friend — who was still based in Tokyo at the time (he returned to Canada to work on the game) — shared video of it at one of my very early editions of PauseTalk in order to get feedback. Three years ago, when I was unable to move because of my spinal injury, he came to my home — he was in town for the Tokyo Game Show — and let me play the current build of the game at the time. Following that, I’d hear countless stories on how his partnership with Phil was going — the bad and the ugly, there really wasn’t much good — and in a way I was relieved when he finally broke free from the project.

In the film, Phil is one of the four main indie game developers who are featured throughout, and in countless scenes you see him not only commit what amounts to character assassination, but he flat out tries to justifty his incoherent ramblings by setting himself up as a victim — and nevermind the fact that he threatens to kill said “business partner,” which can’t be taken lightly considering his apparentfragile mental state.

But more than just being upset by what Phil had to say, I’m shocked at how irresponsible the creators of the documentary were in portraying a situation that was far more complex than what was shown, not even trying to give a full picture of what was happening, thereby turning my friend into a villain.

To add salt to the wound, after he became aware of the way he was being portrayed — the film had been screened at a few gaming conferences — my friend asked the creators to add a note in the credits that would indicate that he had never been asked to participate. The result? The film was released two weeks ago with a note in the credits that indicates that it was Phil’s “business partner” who had asked not to participate. What?

To their credit, after they were approached about this, they did change the note and re-release the film, but just the fact that something so careless was done just adds to the already careless job they did of portraying my friend in the film, allowing Phil to try and destroy my friend’s reputation.

Shame on you Phil Fish, and shame on you Indie Game: The Movie.

Update: I’ve written a follow-up post, to respond to the feedback from this post.

Indie Game: The Follow-up

After Wednesday’s post on Indie Game: The Movie and the incredible response it got — surprising even me — I’ve decided to write a follow-up post to respond to the main feedback I’ve gotten (most of it through Twitter, although I received a few emails as well). These are not direct questions I was asked, but just a way for me to frame all of the clarifications.

Aren’t you just being vindictive?
Vindictive? I’ve remained quiet about Fez out of respect for the privacy of everyone involved, but after seeing the film, I couldn’t let this one-sided portrayal — which is being seen by tens/hundreds of thousands of viewers — be the only thing out there. I wanted to make a public show of solidarity for my friend, especially since I felt there was nothing being said publicly on this — I later found out that Shawn McGrath (Dyad) has also spoken out, and you can read what he had to say here and here.

Isn’t Phil just telling it like it is, as seen from his perspective?
Yes, absolutely. What I feel is unfair is that he uses a public — and I mean very public — forum like this to disparage someone, and there’s no effort by the filmmakers to try and put things in perspective.

What else could the filmmakers have done?
Whether my friend would or wouldn’t have wanted to participate, they could have easily interviewed dozens of people in the indie dev scene who could have commented on the situation. Many also suggested that since that portion of the film focuses on this one man, there’s no need to look at all angles of the story, since it’s supposed to be subjective. In theory I get that, but unlike the Super Meat Boy guys and their beef with Microsoft — a corporation — the result of this subjective coverage is to have put one person in an extremely bad light, possibly damaging his reputation and ability to work in the industry.

Aren’t you being one-sided too?
Please keep in mind, this was a post written by one person, on his personal blog, about something he felt was done unjustly to one of his friends. That’s how that post should be read. Yes, it’s one-sided, it’s a reaction — a public comment, if you will — to the film I had watched. It was not my intention to write a proper article on this whole situation. I was contacted by one of the major gaming sites about republishing my post, but I preferred it not to be, because I didn’t think it would be appropriate.

Who says you’re right?
I don’t really care if you think my take is the right one or not, my purpose in writing what I did was mainly to bring up the fact that the story behind Fez is much more complex than the way it was portrayed in the film.

So why don’t you tell the whole story?
It’s not my place to air other people’s dirty laundry. My purpose here was just to say that there’s another side to this story.

Shame? Really? Isn’t that a bit childish?
Yes, and it’s the only part of my post that I think was a bit over the top, but I wanted to end things on a note that summed up my feelings on what I felt, emotionally, coming out of watching the movie.

Don’t you think the audience is smart enough to understand there are two sides to this story?
A lot of commenters told me they actually never really had a bad impression about the “business partner,” and that they clearly understood that they were being presented with just one side of the argument. That makes me happy, and relieves some of the concern I had after my viewing.

On Design for July 2012

120626_on_design

Today is “On Design” day (the last Tuesday of the month), and that means that my monthly column is in today’s edition of The Japan Times, and online here.

What’s “On Design”? It’s a column that I’ve been writing for the JT for seven years now (this September will mark the true 7th anniversary). It has a pretty simple structure: each month I highlight — or recommend, if you will — five products. I have occasionally ventured outside of that template, but not often. It seems that people prefer a “buyer’s guide,” instead of a look at the design scene, which is in part what I originally envisioned for it.

Something that a lot of people don’t realize — and to be honest, that means that they don’t really read it — is that I only cover Japanese design. That means the product (or line) that I include is either produced by a Japanese company, or is created by a Japanese designer (it was possibly then produced by a non-Japanese company). Some would say that it limits me to do it that way, but Japanese design — specifically — is what got me interested in design in the first place, and I always felt that there wasn’t enough coverage in English — which I don’t think is the case anymore, what with the explosion of design blogs we’ve seen over the past few years, all hungry for content.

But despite that, I continue to do it, and it’s the only regular piece of freelance writing I still do (because of my full-time engagement with PechaKucha). I think there’s also a sense of “loyalty” or “duty” I feel in doing it, for whatever that’s worth.

Now go and get something nice for yourself.

ON/OFF

Hit the camera, edit, repeat.

I received a link today from Roman Burch about his video “ON/OFF: SHANGHAI TOKYO.” It’s a fun idea: use your hand slapping the lens as an excuse to create cuts, which also ends up creating a satisfying rhythm.

I do really like the idea of making videos using simple constraints like this. A few months ago I started experimenting more with video, and the first thing I started doing was a series of “1 Minute” videos — shoot something for 1 minute, no edits, no artificial sounds. I did quite a few of them — see my Vimeoand YouTube channels — and there are still a few I recorded during a recent hiking trip that I’ve yet to share (and they were shot this time with my GX1, not my iPhone 4). I got the idea for it from this poston Vimeo, and the idea has always been to then try something else.

Hit the camera, edit, repeat.

Superbrothers + Capy

If you’re at all into indie gaming, then you know there’s something special happening in Toronto.

I don’t know why that is, but there’s a fantastic community of game developers doing very interesting things in that city, and you of course need to mention Superbrothers and Capy when this topic is brought up. What has me happy is that Superbrothers’ Craig Adams and Capy’s Kris Piotrowski are both in town because of today’s release of a Japanese version of the Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP game — localized by my good friends at 8-4 — and I’ll soon get to meet them.

There’s a get-together happening tomorrow night (Friday, June 22, 20:00-23:00) at SuperDeluxe — as far as I know it’s open to the public, which is why I’m mentioning it here — to celebrate the release of the game, and it also acts as a replacement for the regular gaming industry drinkup that usually takes place on Thursday nights in another part of town.

If you haven’t experienced Sword & Sworcery EP yet because of a lack of iOS devices in your life, the game was recently released for both PC and Mac. There’s also the new remix album for Japan.

We got The Megatome & we are the smartest.

Codex 56

The latest episode of the Codex (56) will not be for everyone.

In general, I think listeners have come to expect a certain type of music selection on the show — for the most part, going from indie rock to alternative to electronica, and whatever other genre falls through those cracks — but I do have a pretty wide range of taste in music, and I think the only genre that I truly can’t stand is country music. I’ve had one themed episode in the past that explored a different kind of music genre — Codex 30, in which I played some of my favorite classic jazz — and this time I go to the opposite end of the spectrum.

I don’t know if I can really describe all of the music on Codex 56 as “hardcore” — maybe it’s more punk, post-punk, or whatever other derivative you can think of — but basically, this latest episode is a collection of some of the tracks that I fondly remember listening to when I was much younger (I still think it’s great stuff though). This is a mix that should be taken in when you need a hit of speed and agressiveness, and as you’d expect from the genre, it ends up being the shortest episode yet, at just 20-25 minutes.

Pay no mind to us. We’re just a minor threat.

Saigon-Hanoi

There’s something really special about the European graphic novel Saigon-Hanoi.

Originally released in 1999 by the author Cosey — using a one-name monicker in the world of bandes-dessinées is quite normal — it tells a strangely intimate tale that takes place on New Year’s Eve, as a Vietnam vet receives a random phone call from a young 11-year-old (she’s randomly calling people, to chat with while her mother is away). They end up having a long conversation, with the drawn imagery tying into a documentary about the Vietnam War — a documentary in which the man participated — that is airing on TV.

What I loved the most about it is how the parallel narratives — the phone conversation between the man and the girl, the imagery of the war from the documentary — combine to form a whole that if taken apart, would barely have any link to each other.

I couldn’t recommend it enough, and although only availabe in French, you can buy or rent it digitally from Izneo (or if you prefer a print edition, there’s always Amazon France).

Now time to try and dig up more work by Cosey.

Tweet, Tweet, Twiddle, Twiddle

There’s only one candy with a hole in the middle.

Apologies for the unnecessary callback to a long-forgotten 80s TV commercial, but this is my clever way (I try) of bringing up the topic of Twitter, and why I suddenly fell off the Twitterscape a couple of weeks ago.

I tweeted a lot, too much really. The number of tweets I’ve tweeted, as of today, is 28,641, which is a ridiculous number. I would just tweet all day long, tweeting idle thoughts, interesting links that I dug up — or that were sent to me. I liked reading tweets too, and started every day with a cup of coffee and my iPad on my lap, going through the overnight tweets I had missed, and then continuing to check in throughout the day. Then I had a shit week.

When things just don’t go your way, that can be a sign that you need to withdraw for a bit — or else you’ll just start spreading and oversharing that negativity. So what started as me just not wanting to be social — and not really wanting to read about the trivialities (and I’m the first to admit that all my tweets are trivial) of what others were up to — ended up with me realizing that all of that time spent around Twitter could be better spent. Instead of writing a constant stream of ideas that are lost in the Twittersphere, why not spend that time instead developing those ideas, and sharing them somewhere that has more permanence and archivability to it. You know, like a blog.

And that brings me to where I’m at now. I’m still tweeting to signal things that I’m up to — like a newCodex episode or a new post on this site — but I’ve stopped reading other people’s feeds. I’m trying to blog more too, which is something that had fallen by the wayside over the past couple of years.

Writing is fun, and I’m starting to like having more than 140 characters of space to do it.