Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hello Kitty, Child of the Netherlands?

Japan has had great success in marketing its characteristic and simply-drawn "characters" throughout the world, especially in Asia (such as Hong Kong and Taiwan). These characters are perhaps best epitomized by the arguably most famous of them all, Hello Kitty, who was created by the Sanrio company in 1974, leading way to even more characters of the same sort of aesthetic. It is this sort of aesthetic that is often seen as"Japanese" now, especially that other companies in Japan have also created similar characters (such as San-X's popular Rilakkuma, created in 2003).

However, it is important to note that Miffy, a rabbit character very similar to Hello Kitty, was created in 1955, 19 years before Hello Kitty, by Dick Bruna in the Netherlands (Miffy's Dutch name is Nijntje). Dick himself thinks that Hello Kitty is a clear copy of Miffy, as he noted in the July 31, 2008 edition of the British paper The Daily Telegraph:"'That,' he says darkly, 'is a copy [of Miffy], I think. I don't like that at all. I always think, "No, don't do that. Try to make something that you think of yourself'.'"

Perhaps it is important to give credit where it is due - Japan owes its current character aesthetic to Dick Bruna,whose Miffy is often mistakenly thought of as a Japanese creation today. (Japan has, however, characteristically worked very hard to mass-produce a huge number of characters based on this aesthetic, though, which has ironically ultimately resulted in the very misconception that that aesthetic is natively Japanese.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unwritten Rules for Casting Asians in Hollywood

I've already posted about how the (Chinese) main character of Dragonball Evolution (my title: Dragonball Retrogression) was given to a Caucasian actor, but apparently almost all of the main roles of another clearly East Asian-derived fantasy movie, The Last Airbender, have been given to Caucasian actors as well. This brings us to the Unwritten Rules for Casting East Asians in Hollywood, as follows:

1. (East) Asians may not be cast as leads in any movies, even specifically Asian ones, unless they are Jackie Chan or Jet Li (other Asians who happen to know kung fu unfortunately do not count). This is good because Caucasians with hair dyed black look exactly like Asians and can hardly be differentiated (pure genius!) - so basically, we don't need Asians in movies (except for Jackie and Jet).
2. Asian males are not allowed to have kiss scenes (or (gasp!) love scenes), ever, even if they are Jackie Chan or Jet Li, because that would be offensive. (Asian females are allowed to have kiss scenes with Caucasian males, however, because, you know, that's cool.)

Basically, this means that Asians may only be cast as:
1. Kung fu masters (but only Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or a few others. Being Asian (even Chinese) and learning kung fu does not give you this right. Females get it a bit easier here).
2. Yakuza/Triad members or otherwise shady characters
3. Dorky/horny/harmless buddy-type character

Now, I know that Hollywood is afraid that casting Asians in its main roles will make its movies automatic failures - this is understandable, as Asians are of course lacking in attractiveness and coolness and all that; I'm not blaming anyone. Heck, I've never even watched the Avatar TV show even once - although I am glad that they based the main character's martial art on my own favorite martial art, baguazhang. I do think that they could have at least given a few of the main characters' roles to Asians (heck, the usual rule is that Asian girls get roles while Asian guys don't) and helped a few starving actors break their fasts and get some roles for once.

These last 10 years or so, I do think there are slightly more Asian actors in movies now, but only a little - it would be nice to see more progress soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Benefits of Dungeon Craft

I admit that I have never actually tried Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventures (FRUA), which Dungeon Craft is based on (and emulates). In general, I have mostly avoided it because I do not want to work in DOSBox or use palettes. The low resolution of FRUA is both a strong and weak point, though, as although it seems a bit too retro for my tastes, it does mean that I would be able to finish the graphics for a game much faster than for Dungeon Craft.

Dungeon Craft, although as yet still incomplete, has quite a few things going for it, especially in terms of graphics creation - some of these points I will go through below:
  1. Dungeon Craft allows any size of combat icons, as long as they are in some multiple of 48 pixels (i.e., the smallest icon will be 48 x 48 pixels, which is twice the size of the typical FRUA icon (24 x 24 pixels)). This means that I can draw all monsters (even huge ones like dragons) to a constant scale, which tickles both my amateur biologist tendencies (I can draw all sorts of existing and extinct animals to the same scale) as well as my RPG nerd tendencies (I can also draw dragons, trolls, and so on to the same scale for comparison). The size is also a fairly reusable one - I can use these same images as 2-frame animated gifs, or just line them up together to make a cetacean sizes chart (for example - this is one of my "secret" dreams) - the ability to reuse images is always nice.
  2. Dungeon Craft allows various resolutions, but I use the 640 x 480 one. 640 x 480 is nice, because it is smooth and detailed enough that creatures look fairly realistic, but it is also easier to realistically achieve than higher resolutions such as 800 x 600 or greater. As I basically use pixel art as my method for creating graphics, higher resolutions means much more work, and so it is always nice to be able to find a good compromise between smoothness and workload.
  3. Dungeon Craft does not use palettes, meaning that artists can freely create PNG files as they like (well, except for alpha transparency). Palettes are a headache to play with, and it is always nice to be able to ignore them (I have used them in other game maker engines and found them a headache in general).

On the downside, all of this means that I tend to spend more time drawing animals and such than working on my game... but hopefully it will culminate with my game being more detailed and interesting in the end.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Liu Dekuan (1826-1911)

Liu Dekuan (劉德寛), whose style name was Jingyuan (敬遠), was born in Cangzhou, Hebei Province (河北滄州). In Cangzhou, Liu Dekuan learned Six Combinations Boxing (六合拳) from Li Fengyan (李鳳崗); in Beijing, he learned Yue Family Free Fighting (岳氏散手), today known as Eagle Claw Overturning Boxing (鷹爪翻子拳), from Liu Shijun (劉士俊). In the south, he also learned six lines of halberd (方天劃戟) methods. In Beijing, he also learned Baguazhang (八卦掌) from Dong Haichuan (董海川) and Taijiquan from Yang Luchan (楊露禪) (via Yang's son-in-law Xia Guoxun (夏國勛)).

In addition, in the 20th year of Guangxu (光緒二十年) (1894), Liu Dekuan, Liu Weixiang (劉維祥) (Guo Yunshen's (郭雲深) disciple of the Xingyi school), Cheng Tinghua (程廷華) (Dong Haichuan's disciple), Geng Jishan (耿繼善) (Liu Qilan's (劉奇蘭) disciple of the Xingyi school), and Li Cunyi (李存義) (also Liu Qilan's disciple) met in Beijing to combine the three families of Taiji, Bagua, and Xingyi into a single family, removing stylistic boundaries to study together and improve the arts. Through these exchanges, Liu Dekuan was able to further his study of Baguazhang and learn Xingyiquan as well.

As Liu Dekuan was well-versed in many styles and methods, he is an enigma in that a great many schools of martial arts are connected to him.

Liu Dekuan taught his taijiquan, which in modern times has been called "baguataijiquan" (八卦太極拳), to Cheng Youlong (程有龍) (Cheng Tinghua's eldest son), Guo Gumin (郭古民) (Liang Zhenpu's (梁振浦) disciple), and Wu Junshan (吳俊山) (Shi Jidong's (史計棟) disciple). Cheng Youlong taught Li Cunyi's disciple Guo Zhushan (郭鑄山) in his father's name. Guo Gumin taught Wu Yue (吳岳). Wu Junshan taught Zhang Xiangwu (張驤伍) of the Baji school, Fu Shuyun (傅淑雲) who later emigrated to Taiwan, He Fusheng (何福生), and Zhang Wenguang (張文廣) of the Cha school.

Liu Dekuan taught Six Combinations Boxing to Liu Caichen (劉彩臣) and Zhao Xinzhou (趙鑫州); Liu Caichen in turn taught Ma Yuqing (馬玉清), Wu Zizhen (吳子珍) who later founded the Simin Martial Arts Society (四民武術社), and Yin Ruchuan (尹如川) who later emigrated to the United States. Zhao Xinzhou taught Wan Laisheng (萬籟聲) who later learned the Natural Style (自然門) from Du Xinwu (杜心五) (who was famous as a bodyguard of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山)) and Liu Hongjie (劉洪傑) who later joined the Bagua school.

The Bagua school in particular benefited greatly from Liu Dekuan's efforts, absorbing Liu's qinna (擒拿) methods, spear skills, halberd skills, and the 64 hands (六十四手). The 64 hands are a linear Baguazhang set of 8 lines of 8 techniques, based on Liu's rich experience in baguazhang as well as his experience in the other arts outlined above. Another method that is often attributed to him is the fighting body spear (戰身槍), a well-known Bagua spear set. Liu Dekuan taught his baguazhang methods to Guo Gumin, Cheng Youlong, and others, who in turn passed them on to others in the Bagua school.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dragonball Evolution - Or Dragonball Retrogression?

Well, I feel a dire need to complain about this lousy attempt at an adaptation of one of the world's most popular and famous comic books, Dragonball. Why is Toriyama Akira even allowing this to happen (oh, yeah, the money?)? Anyway, let's go through the main problems one by one, then.

1. Why is Goku not Asian?

Specifically, Goku should be Chinese, as "Goku" is just the personal name part of "Son Goku," which is the Japanese pronounciation of the Chinese name "Sun Wukong" (孫悟空), which is, as we all should know, the name of the protagonist of the famous Chinese novel "Journey to the West" (西遊記), sometimes known as "Monkey" in the English world. Yes, Dragonball was a very loose adaptation of this story, which is obvious to almost anyone familiar with it! "Goku" (what ever happened to his surname, anyway?) should most certainly NOT be a Caucasian high school boy who is being bullied at school, or whatever.

2. Why does this movie seem so much like a gazillion other Hollywood movies?

Specifically, the movie seems like any other superhero movie, where an all-American kid gets superhuman powers (rather easily), and then beats up the high school bully (yes, high school bully) with his newfound powers, and then goes and saves the world! It just seems weirder with the strange, orange uniform and stretchy staff that he has to carry around.

3. Why is Goku so old already?

Hollywood has always loved having their heroes be aged around 16-20 or so. Japanese comics prefer their heroes being aged around 10-14 or so. This is not as drastic a change as the above two points, but this also reeks of Hollywood standardization (i.e., the inability to make movies besides the ones one already has made). I also wish they kept the talking animals... Oh, and Krillin, too...

4. Why is "Roshi" Chow Yun-Fat?

Sorry - but where's the beard? And why is he so young-looking? I hope that they at least kept him a pervert... It would also have been nice if Chow Yun-Fat actually knew some kung fu...

5. What is with the "standard girl kung fu pose" that Chi Chi is flashing? (You know, front first low, back fist high and next to the cheek - check Charlie's Angels posters for other examples of this.) I wish that they would look to actual kung fu styles for better (or just alternate) poses...

I am sure that there are more problems with this movie that I will think of later...