USC Digital Folklore Archives / December, 2015
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“Fate/stay night: Unlimited Budget Works”

Ever since its initial airing in October last year, ufotable’s anime TV series Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works has remained as one of the most popular and highest rated series of all time, having found critical and commercial success in both Japan and elsewhere.

Somewhat amusingly, however, is the fact that much of the western anime community’s attention is not on the more traditional aspects of the show. Most praises are centered on the series’ jaw-dropping and breathtaking visuals.

This is not surprising, for here’s where anime greatly differs from live-action movies and TV shows: where we have witnessed many low-budget films that have achieved a beautiful look that’s virtually indistinguishable from blockbusters, an anime’s visual production value is directly proportional to its budget. After all, it’s simply that the more money you have, the more you can draw.

Considering this, you can imagine the audience’s delightful shock when they come across a TV series whose visuals are on par with, if not better than, theatrical films. Hence the anime community has given it a new name – “Unlimited Budget Works”.

THE INFORMANT

The informant has just finished his undergraduate studies. He would consider himself to have been an avid fan of Japanese anime, manga, and games for 6 years. More than simply watching and consuming, he also actively contributes to the community, in the form of reviews, articles, discussions, and translation works. He told me of this folk nickname as a part of his collection of interesting facts/tales from the anime community.

When asked why he decided to select this piece of folklore, he replied simply that it was one of the most popular and enduring jokes/nicknames in the western anime community

THE ANALYSIS

This folklore serves as an interesting demonstration of the marketing value of nicknames. There’s no doubt that the original series is popular, but it is this nickname that propelled its popularity to a new level. Many audience members, including myself, have not previously heard of the show itself save for this nickname.

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From Urobuchi to “Urobutcher”

Japanese screenwriter Gen Urobuchi made a name for himself (literally in this case) in the anime community when the 2011 series Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica became a smash hit in both Japan and the West.

The show shocked international audiences as it appeared to be – and was marketed as – a stereotypical, innocent and feel-good magical girl anime, but reveals itself to be in fact a dark and mature story about death and responsibility. Particularly renowned (or, as others would call it, infamous) is the show’s surprising and cold-blooded murders of its beloved characters.

As such, anime fans awarded a new name to Urobuchi, a pun that only western anime fans would understand as it combines English and Japanese: “Urobutcher”. Out of half admiration and half-joking resentment, anime characters who die in a particularly tragic fashion are now no longer “killed”, but “butchered” or “urobutchered”.

THE INFORMANT

The informant has just finished his undergraduate studies. He would consider himself to have been an avid fan of Japanese anime, manga, and games for 6 years. More than simply watching and consuming, he also actively contributes to the community, in the form of reviews, articles, discussions, and translation works. He told me of this folk nickname as a part of his collection of interesting facts/tales from the anime community.

When asked why he decided to select this piece of folklore, he replied simply that it was one of the most popular and enduring jokes/nicknames in the western anime community.

THE ANALYSIS

Cross-cultural folklore continues to fascinate me immensely. It’s curious how exclusive this kind of folklore can be: in the case of the nickname “Urobutcher” it not only requires the reader’s understanding of both Japanese and English, but also a familiarity with Urobuchi’s anime works. If anything this kind of folklore serves as a great example for Holton’s thesis of hybridization – and at the time of his writing in 2000, the power of the Internet wasn’t even evident yet. Now it seems only ever so obvious that global trend in culture has far transcended homogenization and polarization. Perhaps the word ‘hybridization’ is no longer enough – perhaps the Internet deserve a more powerful thesis.

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The “Montage Parody”

There certainly seems to be an increasing distinction between videos and the cinematic art. Just as web novels were initially ruled out of literature, much of online videos are believed by many to “bear no resemblance to the art of the cinema”, to use Hitchcock’s phrase, despite the same fundamental medium of motion picture that they both rely on.

A newly-developed genre – if we may indeed call it that – in online videos: the montage parody. It’s hard to really put into words, the informant says, but the genre’s style is instantly and unmistakably recognizable. A few characteristics: an extremely rapid, almost epileptic style of editing, the rampant use of “epic” soundtracks and dubstep music, an absurd amount of random inserts of viral internet memes and videos. He warns, however, that even though these three traits are iconic in montage parodies, they can certainly be altered. The essence of the genre is comedy through an extremely over-the-top, faux-epic use of visuals and sound.

The informant believes that there probably is an origin – an earliest video that uses these montage parody techniques – but he thinks that the origin of the genre hardly matters to the community. Most people who create these videos are just as indifferent to and ignorant of the origin of the genre as most people who watch these videos.

The informant also comments that the name of the genre is very telling of its intention: the montage parody aims to parody the classic Hollywood montage that condenses a long series of events into a short, fast-paced and action-packed sequence of epic images and music. The community believes that the montage parody was created as a response and by-product to the earlier video montages of online shooting games such as Counter Strike and Call of Duty. Those montages were created to show off a user’s skills and accomplishments in the game, and the montage parody is to make fun of users who create these videos to show off themselves.

THE INFORMANT

The informant is currently a student in university. He would identify himself as having been a gamer for the past 6 years.

When asked how he came across this new genre of “montage parody” videos, he replied that considering the genre’s viral popularity, it was simply not possible for a gamer to have not seen these videos. I mentioned that as of recently the community seems to have finally become tired of montage parodies, as increasing negativity can be seen among gamers towards these videos. He replied that he believed the novelty is wearing off – but that didn’t really prevent him from enjoying this kind of video any less than he did before.

THE ANALYSIS

This is a case where a high-culture art form has given birth to a folkloric genre. Traditionally cinema has always been a vertical communication: the elite industry produces and the public consumes. Unlike literature where anyone can be a writer as long as he/she has a typewriter (or even just pen and paper), cinema was always a more expensive, more elitist medium. As cameras became cheaper and lighter, amateur filmmaking became a possibility. But amateur films could never become popular, since the theatres were the only distribution platform.

But Internet, of course, changed everything. This type of montage parody video making was never the creation of a single author; it was at first, but it was the folkloric distribution of this genre that gave it its widespread popularity. One audience would show a montage parody to his/her friends. One creator would mimic one another. Then, suddenly, it became a thing.

ANNOTATIONS:

A few examples of montage parody

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2wyWPBRfxY
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBbSUw27js0
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5X0Q3SG6v0
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The use of “8k MMR” as an insult in the DOTA 2 community

In matches players would often comment “you must have an 8K MMR” or “you must be from reddit”, when a certain player (or players) act especially arrogantly.

Again, as seems to be the case with all jargons or phrases in the gaming community, no one is truly sure of its origin. However, it is easy to understand the meanings and intentions behind these two phrases.

“MMR” is the acronym for “MatchMaking Rating”, which is a number assigned to each player that reflects the player’s relative skill level. It’s calculated from the player’s performances in matches and in turn used to calculate the skill bracket the player should be placed in when he/she attempts to find a match. Most players have an MMR from 2000 to 4000. Professional players on average have MMRs around 6500. Naturally you can now see that an “8k MMR” – which refers to an MMR of 8000 – is virtually impossible. Henceforth it has become a phrase and insult reserved for those players who act as if they have already mastered the game beyond anyone’s level.

The connection to the reddit community stems from the fact that many reddit users act incredibly arrogantly in their comments when discussing strategies, players, heroes, or items. Also in the mix is the fact that reddit users love to boast of their skills.

THE INFORMANT

The informant is currently a student in university. We were teammates together on our DOTA 2 team. As of now he has been a player and an active participant in the community for 3 years.

He learnt of this folkspeech through in-game experience as well as the chatters on reddit. Later in one our team’s matches he told us about this folkspeech – all the while he was making fun of a player on the enemy team with this phrase.

THE ANALYSIS

It almost feels as if a piece of folklore cannot become popular were it not to contain an oddly specific element. Why “8k” and not any other ridiculous number? There’s also the device of synecdoche (or is it metonymy here?) at work: “8k mmr” or “reddit player” as a substitute for the entire population of arrogant DOTA 2 players.

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The joke of “322” in the DOTA 2 community

“322” is a popular joke and insult in the DOTA 2 community, used to often criticize and more often make fun of players who are performing so badly that one might suspect they are bribed to deliberately do so to undermine their team efforts.

No one is sure who or even which group first started using the phrase in matches. But almost everyone agree, with slight variations, on the origin story: in 2013, a professional Russian Dota 2 player “Solo” committed fraud against his own team zRage. He betted against his own team on the promise of $322. To ensure the success in his bet and, henceforth, the failure in his team’s performance, he played particularly badly. Ironically, he never even received the $322.

THE INFORMANT

The informant is currently a student in university. We were teammates together on our DOTA 2 team. As of now he has been a player and an active participant in the community for 3 years.

He learnt of this folkspeech through in-game experience as well as the chatters on reddit. In one our team’s matches, he explained to me about this folkspeech as he was laughing hysterically at my Kill/Death/Assist ratio – which at the time was 3/2/2.

THE ANALYSIS

“322” serves as an interesting example of how a popular folklore can often come from an oddly specific event – sometimes so specific that it may easily seem random or illogical to people outside of the said community. It is tempting, for example, to wonder if the phrase would ever be just as popular if the number of the money “Solo” was promised isn’t something that sounds as catchy as “three-two-two”.

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“Excuse me, excuse me, the son of God wants to be pee.” – An Indonesian Tradition

The informant wishes to empathize that despite how ridiculous this tradition may sound to foreigners, it is not only completely valid but also almost universally practiced.

If an Indonesian has to pee in the wilderness, he or she must perform a chant beforehand. The chant goes –

In original Indonesian: Pang numpang numpang anak tuhan mau kencing

English translation: Excuse me, excuse me, the child of God wants to be pee.

The reason behind this ritual, the informant says, is out of a fear for ghosts. Because ghosts are unseen and unseeable, it is possible for a person to unintentionally piss on a ghost when he or she pisses in the wilderness. And the consequence can be dire. There are stories, the informant assures us, of people who were two days later found dead in car accidents as a result of pissing on (and off, I guess you could say) a ghost.

THE INFORMANT

The informant has lived in Indonesia all of his life up until his current studies in the United States. When asked about how he came across this tradition, he points out that everyone in Indonesia does.

THE ANALYSIS

It’s very amusing – and telling – seeing people’s reaction to this folklore. The informant is too very amused by how difficult it is to convince anyone that this is a legitimate practice in Indonesia. What one culture finds to be perfectly serious, legitimate, and widely accepted and practiced, other cultures might find it to be completely ludicrous and unbelievable.

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A Brief Collection on A Few Variations on A Few Common Words in English

Canadian, American, and British English are all recognizably similar – and different. So here follows a few phrases the informant has collected through his travels and studies.

Canadian: “washroom” vs. American: “restroom/bathroom” vs. British: “the loo”

The informant even has a story illustrating the difficulty for a Canadian to live and study in America: when he first arrived at his university in New York and asked for directions to the washroom, a kind-hearted schoolmate led him to the laundry room.

Canadian & east coast U.S.: “bubble tea” vs. West coast U.S.: “boba”

To this day the informant expresses supreme confusion over why this is so.

Canadian: “First Nations” vs. American: “Indian/Native American”

The informant draws upon his high school experience and hypothesizes that this is due to the Canadian government’s greater efforts at restoring and preserving its native culture, as well as the education system’s greater emphasis on teaching Canadian citizens of the aboriginal people and culture.

THE INFORMANT

The informant has had an international experience that allowed him these fascinating observations. He is currently a student at Parsons, New York. Prior, he spent most of his life in Vancouver, Canada. He has also travelled extensively – one of the destinations, of course, was England.

THE ANALYSIS

Considering our reliance on language, it is perhaps not surprising at all that the specific term we choose for an object – or anything – reveals our deeper understanding of the object – or the anything. It may be argued that folkspeech reveals a folk belief, and a folk attitude.

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To Catch the First Year

“To catch the first year” would be the literal translation of “抓周”, a ceremony that takes place when a new born child turns 1 year old.

In a very traditional (and privileged) Chinese family, the ceremony would be very elaborate: rituals and sacrifices for deities will be made; many relatives would flock to the house with gifts; the grandmother of the child (on the mother’s side) would be the host of the ceremony.

But the essential ceremony is the same in privileged families as well as non-privileged ones: a variety of different items would be laid out in front of the child, and he or she will have to choose one object. This object would be more or less a prophecy on the child’s future career.

The objects that are to be laid out can vary greatly from family to family. In our case, the informant recalls the list in her household, which includes:

A book – which, if picked, would indicate that the child is fit to be a scholar.

Pen and paper – the child would be a writer or a painter.

A seal – the child would hold power.

A Chinese abacus – the child would be fit for business or accounting.

A chicken wing – the child would be very fortunate, he/she would never be hungry or miserable.

A ruler – the child would be fit for architecture or engineering or design

A leek – the child would be very smart.

A garlic – the child would be meticulous and great at calculations

A celery – the child would be diligent

A straw – the child would be a prosperous farmer.

A sword – the child would enroll in the military.

This ceremony is still practiced by a considerable number of families, but more and more families (particularly the more educated population) are putting less and less stock in the ceremony, and either dismiss it completely or use it only for entertainment.

THE INFORMANT

The informant is my mother. She knows of this ceremony because her family has been an active participant of it. She refuses, however, to tell me of either her pick or mine; she does not believe that its right to attempt to look at a child’s future through a random act at the age of 1.

THE ANALYSIS

Chinese tradition has always been very restricting – almost to the degree of oppression – when it comes to a family heir’s future. This tradition of 抓周 serves as yet another example of it. It is a relief, nonetheless, to see how many modern Chinese citizen are now abandoning the tradition.

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The Maple Syrup Festival in Quebec, Canada

It feels amusingly stereotypical to be writing about maple syrup as a Canadian citizen. But, besides all the joking around, maple syrup truly is one of the most important components of Canadian economy. After all, the maple leaf is at the center of national flag.

One of the informant’s fondest memories of her time in Montréal, Quebec was the maple syrup festival.

Canada is reportedly responsible for 85% of the world’s production of maple syrup, and Quebec is responsible for most of Canada’s production. Considering this it is perhaps not surprising at all that there is such a passionate love and celebration of maple syrup in Quebec.

The festival takes place every year in March and April. As it turns out, Easter is not just about rebirth and bunnies and chocolate – it also coincides with the most productive time of the year for maple sap. During the festival almost all Sugar Houses, or “cabane à sucre”, are open to public, providing not only candies and desserts and condiments made from maple syrup, but also an opportunity for the public to witness and participate in the extraction and refinement of maple sap into syrup, butter, and sugar.

Beside the pure, bottled maple syrup and the common dishes served with syrup – waffle, ham, pancake – a famed delicacy of the festival is the maple taffy, or “tire d’érable”: candies formed when boiling hot maple sap cools as it’s poured into fresh snow.

Another famous practice that shows off the esteemed Canadian nice-ness lies in the sugar houses. Since sugar houses are technically nothing more than production housings, they are mostly not equipped or meant to be restaurants. Hence the common practice – which as it turns out adds a marvelous sense of homely comfort and intimacy – is to have nothing but a long table in the middle of the sugar house, and the owner would serve the guests whatever they desire, as if it’s simply a house party.

THE INFORMANT

The informant is my mother. She took a special liking to the maple syrup festival when she spent two years in Montréal. Most of these details she recalls from one visit she took to the festival while I was 7 months old in her womb.

 

THE ANALYSIS

The maple syrup festival serves as a nice opposite to many of the other pieces of folklore that I’ve collected. Certain communities’ folklore (like those of the Dota 2 community and the anime community) may feel more or less a little exclusive and inaccessible, referencing several pieces of existing information at the same time. A festival such as this, however, is a very much inclusive experience; anyone is welcome to participate and anyone can, without having any prior knowledge about anything. It is, in a sense, a folklore as an exhibition.

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“Doing smartly is better than doing early”: a Traditional Chinese Proverb in Honor of Procrastination

The original proverb: “干的早不如干的巧。”

A phonetic transcription: “gan de zao bu ru gan de qiao.”

Direct, word-for-word translation: “do early is not as good as do smartly.”

Translation: “doing smartly is better than doing early.”

I suppose you might look at this and think that procrastination is the soul of Chinese work ethics.

But in all seriousness, given the context of the traditional work ethics, this proverb is almost necessary. The traditional Chinese philosophy towards work – and, one might say, life in general – is as the informant puts it, “about diligence and nothing else”. The informant speculates that this might have to do with the Chinese people’s early development of and dependence on agriculture – after all, there really were no alternatives for early farmers but to work as hard as they could and for as long as they could. Diligence and industry, it has always been believed, are all it takes to produce results.

This mind set was applied to virtually every aspect of the Chinese culture. Workers in every trade and scholars in every field and poets in every art are all encouraged to start work as early as possible and for as long as possible.

So here be a much-needed proverb that recognizes the importance of inspiration and methodology over a rudimentary notion of diligence.

THE INFORMANT

The informant is my mother. She would know of this tradition because, well, she’s Chinese. I certainly wouldn’t say that this is a favorite proverb of hers, but she certainly does enjoy reminding us of it whenever my brother and I are visibly stressed from work.

THE ANALYSIS

To me this case demonstrates what may be the most essential function of proverb: to remind of simple truths that are often forgotten because they run contrary to our intuitive beliefs. This particular case is especially interesting as the proverb counters one of the oldest and most prized Chinese virtues.

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