…So I said last week if I had a Thursday Lab Report this week, then I guess this segment’s back. Well, I guess it’s back! In the end, I do have a lot of fun doing these, so I will make more of an effort to do as many interviews as I possibly can, and hopefully you’ll gain a thing or two you might not have before. I’m expecting any who reads this 28th edition will get a lot of things out of this interview as I bring in Miguel Douglas of iSugoi to this week’s lab report! He shares how he got into Japanese animation and films, how reviewing has changed in the past 5 or 6 years, and his best and worst anime of 2012.
Justin: So talk a little about yourself and how you became interested in Japanese animation and films.
Miguel Douglas: When I was in middle school, I stumbled upon the first VHS volume of Ranma 1/2 at my local Hollywood video and decided to rent it. I had absolutely no idea what it was, I just knew that the cover looked like a cool cartoon and that it would have martial arts in it. This was well before I knew what “anime” actually WAS, just thinking that other series like Ranma 1/2 were just really, really stylish and made by American animators. Around this time I also watched Sailor Moon and the original Dragonball on television in the morning before heading off to school and really enjoyed them. I’m still a fan of Sailor Moon and Dragonball to this very day.
But back to Ranma 1/2, which is where I would place my origins as a fan of Japanese animation. After watching the first volume, I found it absolutely hilarious and needed to seek out more. I rented volumes two, three, and so forth. One day I was browsing at my local Barnes & Noble store — I was still in middle school at the time — and I ran across the first manga volume of Ranma 1/2! I was like, “Awesome, I didn’t know Ranma 1/2 was a comic too!”–of course, this was well before I even knew what “manga” was. I took the first volume home, read it, then brought it to school the next day to share with friends. I also noticed that the author, Rumiko Takahashi, had a very “weird” name to me, so I searched her name on AOL search one afternoon and discovered some fan sites dedicated to her work that really opened my eyes to the world of Japanese animation — which I found out was called anime — and I’ve been a fan of the medium ever since. So I have to thank Dragonball, Sailor Moon, and Ranma 1/2 (more importantly, Rumiko Takahashi) for introducing me to anime!
As for my interest in Japanese cinema, anime was the medium that eventually led me towards watching Japanese cinema. My initial experience can pretty much be traced back to my watching of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (The Ring). This eventually led me to watching films such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (Pulse), Kinji Fukusaku’s Battle Royale, Shunji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-Chou, and Fumihiko Sori’s Ping Pong. Like anime itself, Japanese cinema was very unique to me and I just fell in love with its maturity, creativeness, and topical range. I started to watch Akira Kurosawa’s works and many other older Japanese films, totally enjoying every viewing experience.
You have a varied background in all sorts of fandom (from Midnight Eye to Manga Life to JapanCinema.net). I’m curious, did you plan to be writing so much about this medium, or did it gradually develop by consuming media?
I think in my case, I found myself in a very unusual position in which I had seen so many anime series and Japanese films that I thought to myself, “Why don’t I just start writing about the stuff I’m watching?” I never really planned to be writing about anime and Japanese cinema, it just sort of developed through my love of both mediums. Most of my writing or contributions have all pretty much centered around Japanese entertainment in some fashion, so it gradually developed to the point where I find myself today, enjoying both mediums regardless if I wrote about them or not.
How did the idea of starting iSugoi come about?
iSugoi stemmed from the now closed OtakuCrave.com. OtakuCrave was my first venture into reviewing anime titles (mostly through video reviewing), but it was essentially a fun side project more than anything. With iSugoi, I wanted to get more serious about my writing, so I decided to start anew with a site that not only explored anime but also my love for Japanese cinema as well.
Starting from how much you have watched, what have you continually learned from watching so much for a long time?
If there is one thing that I noticed throughout my years of watching anime and Japanese cinema, it is that the premise of a series or film should not be the way in which one judges that series or film before viewing it. There have been countless times in which I read a synopsis that sounded absolutely generic or uncreative, but I ultimately discovered that it is truly in how a series or film explores its ideas or topics that count. Judging a series or film based upon reading a synopsis is NOT the way to go!
Now, starting from how much you have written, what have you continually learned from writing so much for a long time?
That if you are going to seriously critique a film or series, you need to provide genuine evidence to support your critique. I find this to be increasingly important in an age where so many anime series are released, that taking the time to think and then write about it is crucial in thoughtfully expanding the dialogue surrounding a series.
How do you write a review in 2013? What do you consider to be a well written review?
A well written review to me covers mainly the structural elements of a film’s narrative more than anything. Does it have adequate characterization? Is there any considerable plot holes? Do the characters interact with one another in a believable fashion? Are the choices a character makes supported by something reasonable or understandable? I also like to contemplate on the themes present within the film or series as well, which I think are incredibly important towards fully understanding a series or film.
How much do you believe that reviews have changed from maybe 5 or 6 years ago as opposed to today?
Hmm, I would have to say that they have evolved in a sense, so yes, they have. There are a lot more people doing reviews nowadays on practically every new anime series released, so anyone can search, find, and read a review on a series they like no matter how niche that series may be. 5 or 6 years ago, anime reviews were mostly directed towards the most popular series, often leaving the minor series to fall to the wayside. I think with the influx of bloggers, a niche community can now have a voice somewhere out there on the Internet!
Any advice on what to keep in mind when writing a review?
Even if you absolutely hated the film or series you are reviewing, try to elaborate on some of the aspects you enjoyed. You are always going to have people who disagree with your stance on a film or series whether you gave it a glowing review or not, so if you can remain somewhat objective in your review people will appreciate the effort you took in doing so. I often find that writers will trash a series while not really pointing out any of its strengths, but I have also found writers who will highly praise a series while completely ignoring some of its issues, so it can go both ways. Remain as objective as possible.
Do you have any tips on how to manage your time writing and keeping yourself motivated?
For me, I always like to designate a day of the week where I’ll watch a film or episodes of a series, then wait a day to actually start writing about it. I like to keep things as orderly as possible this way, just because it helps me get stuff done a lot easier and I don’t get stressed out or have to rush myself. So I would say structure your time! It will allow you to better think about what you just watched as well.
The Golden Ani-Versary is such a great project. I got to give credit to Geoff for presenting such an audacious platform in which a multitude of writers can come together and express their love of anime and its historicity. I’m a big history buff as well, so writing about 1964 was really awesome due to all the connections to WWII that a majority of the anime series had. Once you start writing and reading more about anime on a year-to-year basis, you really start to see the rich history behind the medium. I found my year to not be too challenging due to the limited amount of series/films that were released, but it was great fun exploring those series in better detail and their connections to real world events.
Tell me the best anime that you watched in 2012, and name the worst you watched in 2012.
The best series would have to be From the New World (Shin Sekai Yori), which began airing in 2012 and will finish up this year. A fantastic show with a very interesting narrative and characters. For the worse, I would have to say La storia della Arcana Famiglia. That series just never went anywhere in terms of narrative and I was happy to finish it.
Finally, tell me the best Japanese film you watched in 2012, and name the worst you watched in 2012.
I would have to say for the best Japanese film, it’s a tie between Himizu and Rurouni Kenshin, two great films! As for the worse, well, I honestly didn’t see a film I really disliked in 2012, which is rare indeed!