Into an anime chumbucket: succumbing to clickbait and breaking my heart

Your ads dare obscure even a part of my silver queen, *the* Masuzu Natsukawa?

[Chum is one of the sexier words in the English language… dead fish eyes glaring out of blood and guts. Oi, a weird start to one of the weirdest posts I’ve ever written…]

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times… uhhh why am I covered in blood and fish guts? Where am I?

I stumbled into an internet chumbox the other day. You know, those 6-square ad spaces hosted by Taboola or Outbrain with clickbait titles like:

  • <popular television show> stars [sic] net worth? #<prime number> will shock you!
  • Doctors hate him! <target demographic> discovers one neat trick to <desirable health outcome>!
  • You won’t guess what <celebrity fleeing paparazzi> got caught on camera doing Again [sic]!
  • Grandma from <your IP-determined area> discovers disastrous flaw in Social Security!

Number 1 might have a photoshopped thumbnail of the sexiest cast member in a revealing pose, Number 2 some gross trypophobia-inducing body horror garbage, Number 3 an unrelated mugshot that looks nothing like the target celebrity, and Number 4 a stock photo of an old woman in front of a clip-art financial chart with some gold coins or something. Who knows, who cares.

Or at least, I didn’t care. Before last week, chum-ads had almost never captured my interest except to sneer at their exploitative badness. Ah, but this time I took in a mighty breath through my nostrils to hock up great snob and instead caught an irresistible scent in those blood-clouded waters: anime, “Neo Yokio Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot” from an entertainment news website called The Cinemaholic

Oh, I like Neo Yokio… did Netflix announce a second season to continue the Pink Christmas special? And next to it “Gakkou Gurashi Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot.” Oooh, yes yes yes, I love Gakkou Gurashi! After the live-action movie, will they adapt the rest of the series? But wait, huh? From Cinemaholic again? What’s going on here? Oh my god, oh my god, hold that thought: “Oreshura Season 2: Premiere Date, Characters, Plot” aaannnddd oohoo a picture of the Masuzu Natsukawa, my devilish queen. click click click.

No. A mistake. ‘twas but a mirage borne of the blood-haze! The Cinemaholic had a harpoon waiting, ready to break my heart: “It is highly unlikely that Netflix will renew the show,” “We can’t guarantee anything,” “At this point, ‘Oreshura’ season 2 … seems like a distant dream”

Dearest Masuzu, I’m sorry — thrice pierced!

Continue reading “Into an anime chumbucket: succumbing to clickbait and breaking my heart”

Ineffective Altruism? The Japanese charity that trades bottle caps for polio vaccines

Those bottle caps aren’t even worth a penny

[I left most of the numbers in yen, but since the recent exchange rates have hovered around ¥107 to the dollar, just divide any yen value by 100 to make a rough conversion. And sorry, most of the links are in Japanese… I couldn’t source any of this in English.]

Last week, a student gave me an essay about the “EcoCap Movement,” a Japanese charity which collects and recycles bottle caps in order to exchange the plastic scrap for polio vaccines (among other causes). As she tells me, she has started collecting caps with her friends on the volleyball team so that she can “save the life of a child.” Because a polio vaccine costs ¥20 and 430 bottle caps scrap for ¥10, she just needs to gather 860 caps. The team goes through dozens of sports drinks at practice every week so they should reach their goal in just a couple months. A solid charitable effort by middle schoolers, right?

But woah woah woah, back up. 860 caps means 860 bottles of water, tea, soda, or other soft drinks. How much did those cost? At Japanese convenience stores, most plastic-bottled drinks retail for between ¥100 and ¥200 — enough to buy 5 to 10 vaccines for the same price as one cap. Why not just skip the sports drinks for a day and bring tap water in reusable bottles to practice? The whole team would save a couple thousand yen, which they could then donate for the purchase of over 100 vaccines, thus “saving the lives” of dozens of children without waiting months to accumulate 860 caps.

I don’t want to criticize some feel-good altruism by a bunch of children too harshly but um… this might be the most absurd charity I’ve ever heard of. Yugh… too harsh. Let me explain with some middle-school grade math and a bit of behavioral economics…

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How to read Leopardi? No, seriously, I’m asking! The paradox of choice in translation

Who’s that clever boy?
Image source: Wikipedia

[I am not a scholar or anything close… instead just a confused consumer trying to read the 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi in English and finding that it is much harder to choose a translation than I ever expected. But, I hope this post can maybe function as an un-academic bibliography of Leopardi translations, and for my own purposes, a purchase guide for leisure reading.]

Have you heard of the paradox of choice? The concept comes from the 2004 book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by psychologist Barry Schwartz, who popularized the idea among casual audiences with this 2005 TED Talk. It proposes the counter-intuitive behavioral economics hypothesis that consumer welfare might decrease when the market presents them with too many similar products because the costs of choosing the utility-maximizing option between those products will increase.

…or to eliminate the economics jargon and talk like a normal person, trying to pick the perfect product out of dozens can become stressful, especially for anxious people with what Schwartz calls “maximizer” personalities who fixate on ideals and feel prone to regretting their choices.

Of course, the concept has faced some substantial criticism by economists and the early experimental results have failed to replicate like so many other psychological studies popularized by TED (and then even if it did replicate, I’m not sure how much choosing between 6 jams or 24 can tell us about more serious decisions like purchasing a car or health insurance plan).

However, despite the weakness of the empirical results, I think Schwartz does propose a subtle insight that can apply to our most complex, difficult choices: in economics jargon, taking the time to consider the opportunity costs of a complex decision itself carries an opportunity cost. And in ordinary language again… instead of agonizing over a tough choice by trying to find the best one, you could just make a quick pick and go on to enjoy your day (the easy-going “satisfier” personality type identified by Schwartz).

Simple everyday experience can probably provide better examples of the idea than any experiment every could. Most grocery shoppers won’t worry much about grabbing one of the 175 varieties of salad dressing mentioned in Schwartz’s TED Talk, but they might have trouble choosing which of the 80 Vanguard ETFs they should invest in when planning for their retirement (if they’ve even settled on Vanguard out of dozens of investment companies!). Or to use an example from my own life abroad in Japan, I spent hours researching different remittance options to send money back home to America. But when I finally committed to one, I regretted my choice within a few weeks after I discovered that I could have saved money with a different company. It was the paradox of choice in action: the large number of complex options confused me, and when that confusion produced a suboptimal decision, my nagging “maximizer” personality dragged on my guilty conscience.

For the purposes of this post though, I have a much more trivial example of the paradox: which of the 40-some editions of Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi’s translated works should I read in the office between class periods? The question sounds simple, but then my “maximizer” personality strikes again; I’ve spent the last week reading about how to read Leopardi …instead of, you know, actually reading him. And then as I re-read this post before I hit “publish,” I can’t help but wonder if all of that choice hasn’t driven me insane…

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Why has anime fan fiction invaded my Google News feed?

Is this news? Fan fiction and an adverticle? Seriously?

[Something very different this week: an app review, or perhaps an algorithm review!]

I found the first one sandwiched between a New York Times book review and a Wall Street Journal productivity hack for beating procrastination. The next day I found another, this time hidden among a pile of financial news websites still trickling out missed-the-rush Jack Bogle obituaries after his death last week. And I found another today, under a set of lifestyle articles and Trump fact-checks grouped into a quasi-advertisement encouraging me to “read more stories from the Washington Post” even though I’d already hit my monthly non-subscriber limit.

Why has anime fan fiction invaded my Google News feed?

For the past week, while scrolling through the morning headlines, I’ve been treated to a steady stream of stories from the esteemed muckrakers over at webnovel.com. For example:

The Ninja-verse’s Immortal Cultivator… The story of an oddly feminine male immortal cultivator in Naruto, and his adventures through the ninja-verse

Pokemon: Journey Towards Greatness… A war veteran and an anime fan as well, … now our MC has turned 82 years old … and waiting for death to take him away but will death be is [sic] end or will it start a new beginning, a new legend.

My Life With An Overlord And Anime System… *Ding- You have been selected to receive the Anime System. Please Think “Kono Dio Da!” to receive Hamon Beginners Pack or “Jajanken!” to receive Hunter X Hunter Beginners pack…*

Lovely little reads all, I’m sure, but do they really belong in a news feed amongst the Times, Post and Journal, Chronicle, Globe, and Tribune? Oh, what algorithmic hell hath I unleashed?

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Rem is objectively superior to Ram: evidence from some Akihabara window shopping

Emilia threads the needle

[ ~ objectively superior, but for what objective? ~ ]

It is (was) Christmas, so what better (worse?) time to celebrate some excessive commercialism!

I’m on vacation in Tokyo this week and decided to stop by Akihabara to see capitalism in action… just a weird capitalism catering to a niche set of hobbies all assembled together into a giant tourist trap. It’s a lovely place, but given the tight spaces and crowds, it’s perhaps more interesting to explore as living museum to gonzo commercialism than as a place to actually shop.

With the eye of a tourist rather than a shopper then (half the people there must have been tourists), it was fascinating to take Akihabara as a vast sample of what’s new and popular in the anime-mangasphere. On that, one thing stuck out to me after cycling through a few shops: the uncontested ubiquity of Re:Zero’s Rem and Ram.

Oh, but it’s mostly just Rem. And boy is she expensive.

Continue reading “Rem is objectively superior to Ram: evidence from some Akihabara window shopping”

Procrastinating a good thing: Why I can’t finish .hack//Sign

This is not a review but rather a lament. I have been watching .hack//Sign recently and like it well enough. But for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to finish it. (I’ll use the shorthand “hack/sign” because I don’t want to deal with Microsoft Word’s blue-line accusation: “Change punctuation placement”)

hack/sign is one of the most interesting anime I have watched this year. Other writers have called it boring for the slow, conversation driven plot, but for me it finally approximates the “MMO myth” I have sought and failed to find in this season’s video game isekai (I challenge you: what is more essential to the MMO experience than AFKing in a transport hub while chatting with friends?). Sure, the art is ugly, but given the age of the show (2002), whatever, I don’t care. I would even argue that the weirdly static movements give the show a welcome bit of that old-school RuneScape charm (Subaru holds her axe like a dragon battleaxe!). And of course, it would be criminal to not mention the gorgeous if slightly overbearing soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura of Puella Magi Madoka Magica fame. The music alone could almost carry the whole show. It’s fantastic.

I give that short review not to convince anyone else to watch, but to demonstrate that there isn’t much reason for me not to. Though I have only watched half of it, I am enjoying it very much (For the first time ever, a recap episode didn’t feel like a bucket of cold water to the face!). Of all the media I am consuming at the moment, hack/sign holds my attention the best if not for one little problem: I can’t find the motivation to keep watching.

Continue reading “Procrastinating a good thing: Why I can’t finish .hack//Sign”