If I didn't know True Tears was produced by Bandai, I would have assumed it was a Kyoto Animation production, many scenes sharing the same "look and feel" as Kanon and Clannad, plus a similarly (de rigueur) eccentric character.
Though the anime owes little other than the title (and the same writing team) to the visual novel, the story follows the structure of a visual novel (or dating-sim) more closely than Kanon and Clannad, which also evolved from dating-sims.
In the case of the latter two, the story quickly focuses on a single boy-girl pairing and explores the developing relationship, which is far more interesting and dramatically rewarding.
The running question in True Tears concerns which of the girls in Shin'ichiro's orbit--Hiromi, Noe or Aiko--will end up as his girlfriend. Although this creates enough tension to maintain interest, ultimately the choice is too arbitrary, and the stakes too low, to hit home emotionally.
In the end, it's the kind of series that mostly inspires me to think of ways to improve it.
The more compelling conflict is Shin'ichiro's desire to become an illustrator, which means not joining the family business. Whisper of the Heart strikes the right balance, subordinating the teen romance (though it's still very much there) to the artistic challenge Shizuku faces.
I would make Hiromi and Aiko his younger and older sister, respectively, and focus on his relationship with Noe, who has appointed herself his muse.
Hiromi wants to get out of this hick town; Aiko is happy to stick around; Shin'ichiro wants to figure out how to not be his father without rejecting his father. These elements are all there but are swamped by the dating-sim aspects, which get rather tedious after a while.
Like any normal teenager, Shin'ichiro's basic criteria for paying attention to a girl starts with the girl paying attention to him. Even smart teenage boys aren't that deep when it comes to romance. In this respect, True Tears ends up being very--and rather dully--realistic.
In fact, perhaps the most interesting thing about True Tears is how "uninteresting" it dares to be. There are no surreal or fantastical elements, not even as metaphors. And aside from Noe, who is odd but not outrageously so, the characters are incredibly normal.
True Tears is what Ordinary People would be if the people in Ordinary People were actually ordinary, and not Hollywood "ordinary." Shin'ichiro's mother is a lot like Mary Tyler Moore's Beth Jarrett, except, as I said, for actually being ordinary.
Watching True Tears, I imagine adults looking wistfully back at high school, though with the clearheaded recollection that being a teenager sucks. Not in any earthshaking way, but simply because most teenagers haven't figured out what they want to do with their lives.
And even when they do, they don't have the tools or maturity to do anything about it right then.
This essential truth ends up making True Tears worth watching for the sum of its parts; the "whole" is disappointingly anticlimactic. And as far as that goes, "disappointingly anticlimactic" describes the typical life of the typical middle-class teenager too.
A comment in Robert Cringely's history of the first decade of the PC revolution points to this account by an IBM contractor during the development of OS/2. IBM's OS/2 was going to be the next Windows before Bill Gates realized that IBM was, as Clayton Christensen describes it in The Innovator's Dilemma, unwilling to "disrupt" its mainframe business. And so hobbled what was a breakthrough product.
Both Cringely and Connor describe IBM as a behemoth incapable of getting out of its own way. Or as I would sum up the problem: All big bureaucracies behave like big bureaucracies. It doesn't matter how pure their motives, how righteous their leaders, or how hardworking their employers. Managing large organizations is hard, one reason CEOs get paid so much money for doing even a mediocre job.
Another classic from the early high-tech era, The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks, addresses the fallacy that magical economies of scale can somehow solve all of society's problems. Brooks observes that throwing twice as many people at a problem doesn't mean it will get done twice as fast. Often it means that it doesn't get done at all.
This is not to say that small is always beautiful. There are very real economies of scale. But it's easier to launch a revolution with a small "band of brothers."
Marvel, for example, at Steve Wozniak's floppy disc controller that made the Apple II the first true personal computer, and the disc operating system he and Steve Jobs commissioned from another teeny-tiny company for a microscopic fee of $13,000. It's easy to forget that behemoths like Apple and Microsoft were once run out of not-metaphorical garages. A handful of people changed the world.
Governments as well are corporations, gigantic corporations, and every weakness inherent in the former is doubly so in the latter. Governments can deploy all the police powers available to the state to enforce their own cartels and monopolies, no matter how corrupt or inefficient, against any private-sector competitor.
The solution is federalism, which is less a political philosophy than a recognition of how the world--and human nature--works. All it really means is chopping the Leviathan into digestible pieces.
The invidious nature of "too big to fail" just doesn't come down to the pernicious political corruption it spawns. Why bother investing in people, plants, and products when "investing" in politicians yields a better return? More importantly, allowing oversized companies to disintegrate through the bankruptcy process whittles them down to a size that normal human beings can again begin to comprehend.
We find here a good example of ingrained class differences expressed in language. Rikou, Gankyuu, and Kiwa don't use honorifics with Shushou, but Shoutan (a middle-aged man) addresses a twelve-year-old using "sama," a high honorific, because he's reflexively placed her in the same social caste as his employer. Nor does Shushou object to this.
Youko, though, grew up in modern Japan and gets so annoyed at constantly being kowtowed to that she bans the practice. Rikou remarks about this unusual change to the accepted rules of imperial etiquette in "Kizan."
When Shushou says to Kiwa, "If you don't have the courage to go back for your own" (page 263), she uses the pronoun anta, an informal reduction of anata applied only to social inferiors. Everywhere else, she uses "Shitsu-san."
In Japanese, common personal pronouns are never used to address social superiors (unless to insult them), so this starkly reveals Shushou's contempt for the man. A paragraph later, she again refers to him as "Shitsu-san."
Nighttime satellite pictures of the the north-south divide in Korea reveal the stark contrast between a first-world, technologically-developed country and a medieval totalitarian state.
On the other hand, this ISS photo of Berlin tells an interesting story of technological choices. In this case, sodium vapor street lamps in what was East Berlin versus mercury vapor in what was West Berlin.
According to a commenter on Tyler Cowen's blog, after reunification, the existing lighting infrastructure was maintained (quoting from a German government website) "to enhance orientation by neighborhood."
Japan, on the other hand, uses a lot of fluorescent street lamps in residential areas. They don't so much light up a street as keep it from being pitch black, a commentary on expectations of public safety, perhaps.
Although these quaint fluorescents are giving way to LEDs (scroll down to the bottom here for a comparison). In Clannad: After Story, Tomoya's first job as an electrician is repairing fluorescent street lamps.
I totally identify with this sentiment: "The sheer amount of luggage alone set her nerves on edge." The best way to travel anywhere is with a single duffel bag that can be comfortably slung over the shoulder. Just big enough for your important stuff and nothing more.
And to press home that point, the AP reports that "[U.S.] airlines took in more than $6 billion in baggage and reservation change fees in 2012."
The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) will be required both to enter public universities and to graduate from them if the policy recommendations adopted Monday by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's education reform panel are formalized.
In terms of evaluating real-world communication, the TOEFL makes for a much better yardstick than the esoteric nonsense that worms its way into the entrance exams required by Japan's universities. A connection to the real world is sadly lacking when it comes to English instruction in Japan.
It's a curious paradox in a country so infatuated with American and British culture and the English language. But the sad fact is that in 2011, Japanese students taking the TOEFL ranked third from the bottom out of 33 Asian countries and came in dead last on the speaking section.
Of course, to have any effect, such reforms would have to permeate the entire educational establishment. I'd bet on that happening never than anytime in the foreseeable future. In any case, the rest of the article is worth perusing if only for this politically incorrect nugget:
The proposals, including introduction of the TOEFL, are also designed to correct the "excessive egalitarianism" at schools and to nurture the abilities of top-level students, Endo said. "Japanese education has sought for equality in (student academic achievements). Because of this, it has failed to offer education that capitalizes on (their individual) characteristics," Endo told reporters.
It's nice to see that somewhere in the world there is an educational apparatchik not beholding to the cant of "equal outcomes." Japan never stopped believing in the bell curve, it's just that they've always explained it as the sole product of strenuous effort.
Keep on scrolling down to the bottom for this juicy tidbit:
Japan spends 3.6 percent of its gross domestic product on public education, while the United States spends 5.3 percent.
Ever notice how advocates for government managed healthcare like to cite lower spending/better results when comparing other countries to the U.S., but not when it comes to public education spending?
(Though I doubt the numbers for Japan take into account the huge fees parents have to cough up for "free" public education in Japan, true of healthcare spending too.)
The successful implementation these reforms aside, they'll give a much-needed boost to Japan's ESL industry, floundering since the economy went off the rails in the 1990s, precipitating the catastrophic bankruptcy of industry-leader Nova (along with the school I worked at in Osaka).
Hmm, maybe if Social Security goes bust, I'll retire to Japan and pretend to teach English to students pretending to learn (let's be honest: that's what most English instruction in Japan boils down to).
Plus, a rekindled interest in Eikaiwa (English conversation) could give all those Mormon missionaries in Japan something productive to do with their time. It was certainly the most productive thing I did with mine.
That line from Hamlet actually refers to death. And speaking of Star Trek titles, the year 2012 again had Japan boldly going where no man has gone before. Literally, as it turns out. Where it's going, there's nobody there. Because they died.
Japan's population fell by over 200,000 in absolute terms. Near-term projections have it falling from 127.5 million to 116.6 million in 2030 and 97 million in 2050.
For some truly disastrous numbers, The Economist gets the heart of the matter with these projections of the net labor force demographics:
But they remain projections. After perusing popular projections about the shrinking length of the Mississippi River, Mark Twain calculated that
Seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen.
"There is something fascinating about science," Twain wryly concludes. "One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."
A century later, apocalyptic group think, once the province of the crackpot right, has come to dominate the intellectual left: "If we don't do X right away we're doomed! Doomed! Take rising sea levels: it's not as if the ocean's going to save it all up and surprise us one morning.
In The Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders coined the appropriate term in this case: "We have entered the age of fertility panic."
Journalism long ago abandoned actual reporting and now functions as the official teller of ghost stories around the campfire. Except we're supposed to believe them. Hence the mindless repetition of the supposed solution to this supposed disaster: immigration!
In the case of Japan, that's a cure worse than the disease, which is why it's never going to happen. Besides, if labor availability is the problem, it's a lot easier to move to where the labor already is. That's why most Toyotas and Hondas come from factories here in the U.S.
Although some Japanese are choosing to retire to Thailand the same way Americans do to Mexico, the elderly can't be exported like cars. Here I think Michael Cucek has ferreted out the real reason for Japan's recent forays into government-sponsored daycare:
How then is the government to allocate resources in carrying out this project, where Japan has no models to follow because it in the vanguard, the leader because it has the most aged society on the planet? It turns out that the Japanese government has been running a pilot project for the coming eldercare explosion--its child daycare program.
People adapt and muddle through. Japan is the third richest country in the world. Sectors of its economy--agriculture, in particular--remain incredibly inefficient. There's a considerable amount of low-hanging economic fruit to be plucked before donning the sackcloth and ashes.
Already curious counter-trends can be observed. Coco Masters reports in Foreign Policy that
A poll conducted by the Japanese government last December shows that 51 percent of respondents think women should be stay-at-home mothers. That figure is up 10 percent since 2009--with the increase most notable among people in their 20s [emphasis added].
And in a New York Magazine article, Lisa Miller documents a similar trend in the U.S.:
The number of stay-at-home mothers rose incrementally between 2010 and 2011, for the first time since the downturn of 2008. While staying home with children remains largely a privilege of the affluent (incomes of $100,000 a year or more), some of the biggest increases have been among younger mothers, ages 25 to 35, and those whose family incomes range from $75,000 to $100,000 a year [emphasis added].
So maybe the problem is getting ready to correct itself, the same way the population was once going to explode us all out of existence--right up until it didn't.
The word I translate as "Miss" is o-jou-sama (お嬢様). It can be used as a straightforward honorific or as a slang term like "princess." Toss in the kanji for "school" (学校) and it means "preppy." In the first sentence of chapter 23, Chodai appends the diminuative suffix o-jou-chan, which could also make it "young miss" or "little miss."