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A Silent Voice shows why Kyoto Animation is one of the top animation studios

Kyoto Animation’s work isn’t quite like anyone else’s. The style of its animation and storytelling separate the studio from the majority of other Japanese companies. It’s known for high production values compared to its contemporaries; Kyoto’s smooth, intricate animation is used for both subtle and spectacular sequences while having very stylized, but realistically detailed backgrounds.

Kyoto Animation (often abbreviated KyoAni) gets more distinctive results than most studios in part because unlike in much of the Japanese animation industry, its animators are salaried employees. Japanese animation studios typically hire most of their artists as freelancers and pay them a rate for each frame they produce. That incentives speed over quality. Being salaried means KyoAni’s animators can spend more time on each drawing while still earning the same salary as a freelance animator who’s cranking out more pages.

From Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid.
Coolkyoushinja/Kyoto Animation

KyoAni also tends to adapt stories that let it focus on characters’ personal aspects, with big emotional climaxes rather than action-focused ones. Shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-on!, and Free! Iwatobi Swim Club let KyoAni’s artists focus that animation detail on conveying characters’ expressions, hand gestures, and body language. That lets directors tell more nuanced, character-driven stories that aren’t often told in animation.

A Silent Voice is a perfect example. The 2016 film, which is getting a limited theatrical release in America starting this weekend, adapts a comic by Yoshitoki Oima about a high-school boy, Shoya, trying to make amends with a deaf girl, Shoko, he once bullied in elementary school. It’s a harrowing but hopeful story about social anxiety, depression, and suicide told deftly and beautifully.

A Silent Voice didn’t necessarily demand to be an animated feature. But because KyoAni’s creators are able to put so much expressiveness into the characters, it communicates much of what they’re feeling without words.

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That happens literally, in the ways Shoko has to communicate with others through sign language or writing. But it also comes across in the way characters change their hairstyles to be more confident and more appealing to their crushes. Or the way Shoko’s younger sister takes pictures of dead animals and puts them up all over their shared apartment. That initially just seems like a weird personality quirk. But it brings across something she’s trying to communicate to Shoko without actually coming out and saying it.

While those are explicit examples, KyoAni’s animation lets director Naoko Yamada accentuate subtler moments, like how Shoya’s hand twitches when he’s learning a handshake. This small moment of reflexive reluctance is the kind of thing that sticks with audiences long after the story ends. Animation can get away with exaggerating things in ways that would feel unrealistic with real actors. And that allows many of the emotional beats to hit harder.

It’s a bit of a surprise that this is KyoAni’s first standalone film. The company has produced other feature-length stories, but they’ve consistently been sequels or retellings of existing television series. As long as the studio’s formula lets it operate on a different basis from the rest of the Japanese animation industry, it has the opportunity to produce distinctive, memorable features, capable of playing to international audiences. A Silent Voice clearly shows that if KyoAni keeps on its present track, it has the potential to be spoken of in the same way we talk about Studio Ghibli — as a source of outstanding work, telling stories in ways no one else can tell them.

Uber now wants some drivers to pay it money—and there’s no guarantee they’ll benefit

Sounds like a perfectly upstanding deal.
Sounds like a perfectly upstanding deal.

Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Pay now in order to potentially earn more later. It may sound like something straight out of a marketing scheme, but it’s in fact the latest promise from Uber to a subset of its drivers.

However, according to the ride-hail giant, this is not the latest revenue play from a company losing hundreds of millions of dollars a quarter, but rather part of an academic study with the goal of determining what value its drivers place on that gig economy-defining buzzword known as “flexibility.” 

The promotion was picked up by Alex Rosenblat, a researcher at Data&Society, who detailed the specifics in a Medium post. The offer, sent to drivers in the Houston area, promises the chance to bump up earnings by 33 percent — with, of course, a catch or two thrown in. 

“Buy a week of accelerated earnings for $115,” reads the message. “Opt in below by Saturday, October 21 at 11:59pm: $115 will be deducted from your pay for the week of October 16, and you’ll earn 33% more on every trip between Monday, October 23 and Sunday, October 29. As long as your weekly earnings exceed $349 you’ll come out ahead!”

The tricky part, of course, is that rides are assigned by Uber. So a driver’s ability to hit a certain number of trips — and potentially benefit from paying the company up front — is at the complete discretion of Uber itself. 

So what is Uber actually doing here? Could this be an attempt by the company to better predict future driver supply by locking its non-employees into driving the week before Halloween? Or is this, in fact, just another way the number one ride-hail provider in the world is attempting to figure out how to best squeeze every possible penny out of its drivers? How about both?

Neither, at least according to an Uber spokesperson in a call with Mashable, who insisted that this move is not indicative of any large-scale change the company intends to make. The spokesperson further noted that this study is being done in collaboration with MIT, and, for good measure, that it was approved by the university’s institutional review board. 

“Drivers tell us that they value the ability to choose when, where and how long to work,” the spokesperson told Mashable. “This academic study is part of broader efforts to better understand the extent to which drivers benefit from Uber’s flexible work model in quantitative terms.”

The study, which according to the spokesperson currently involves less than 1,000 drivers who have opted in, is focused on the city of Houston. However, it follows on similar research conducted in Boston. Obviously, whatever it is that Uber is trying to learn here, they’re attempting to get a wide and diverse sample. It’s almost like Uber has plans to roll this out on a larger scale — despite the company’s denial. 

And, well, what that says about the future of the gig economy is not so inspiring. Paying for the opportunity to work is some depressing shit, and just like the company’s self-driving play, Uber appears to be positioning itself to dominate whatever particularly dark future comes out of that. 

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If you’re hoping for an iPhone X at launch, get ready to wait

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Apple’s upcoming iPhone X has reportedly been plagued with production issues — but the company’s manufacturing woes might finally be over.

KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, a respected supply chain source, claims that Apple and its partners have ironed out the problems that have hampered the initial production. Kuo wrote in an investors note he shared with Macrumors that the worst of those challenges have been solved, clearing the road ahead for a ramped up manufacturing schedule. 

Kuo identified three major problems Apple and its partners faced that were causing the production headaches. The most challenging of these was likely the flexible printed circuit board (FPCB) for the iPhone X’s antenna. Original supplier Murata couldn’t meet Apple’s demands, and the parts had to be sourced entirely from a second supplier after manufacturing had already begun.

Another prominent issue was much more widely publicized recently: the infrared dot projector for the new TrueDepth front-facing 3D camera system, aka Romeo. The wide-angle lens for the rear camera also reportedly suffered from quality issues at the supplier level, which have now been resolved.

Apple’s main manufacturing partner, Foxconn, reportedly shipped out the first wave of iPhone X devices earlier this week, presumably after the supply bottlenecks were solved. A Taiwanese publication claimed that the manufacturer was just starting to pump out about 400,000 units per week. 

Apple overcoming its production bottlenecks is exciting for everyone eagerly waiting for the iPhone X preorder period to begin on Oct. 27, but there’s still some bad news: Kuo downgraded his projections for how many devices Apple will be able to ship before the end of the year. 

He thinks Apple will only be able to bring 25 to 30 million units to market before 2018, down from his previous estimate of 30 to 35 million, which isn’t great news for consumers as there are expected to be around 50 million preorders alone for the X. 

Kuo only expects that Apple will be able to ship two to three million of the devices to its distribution channels for the Nov. 3 launch, well under the massive demand. That means that most people won’t come close to one of the new smartphones, at least not right away.

If you’re hoping for one of the deluxe new phones, get ready to wait. Apple has a ton of new phones to make.

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Razer made a webcam with a selfie light for streamers

Razer launched two new products today for streamers: the Razer Seiren X portable microphone and the Razer Kiyo webcam with a selfie light. These two products are Razer’s latest attempt to become the popular choice for microphones and webcams, which people normally don’t go to it for.

The Razer Kiyo webcam comes with an adjustable ring light with twelve white LEDs, which you can control to twelve levels of brightness. It has a four-megapixel camera that can record up to 1080p at 30 fps or 720p at 60 fps, and it’s compatible with popular streaming tools XSplit and Open Broadcaster Software. The Kiyo comes with a 1.5 meter braided cable terminating in a USB 2.0 connection. It’ll sell for $99.99.

The webcam looks good in theory, but it faces an uphill battle for adoption, as most popular streamers don’t seem to have any major lighting problems and therefore, might not need a selfie light. A lot of Razer’s older streaming equipment, like its original Razer Seiren Elite microphone, don’t have the best reputation for quality either. Many gamers prefer the Blue Yeti for a microphone but still get Razer mice and mechanical keyboards.

The Razer Seiren X microphone, beside a Razer keyboard and mouse.

Razer’s newest attempt at breaking into the microphone market for streamers is the Razer Seiren X, a USB microphone that’s mechanically fastened to dampen vibrations. It has a removable desk stand and zero latency monitoring to remove audio lag. The Seiren costs $99.99.

In developing the two products, Razer says that it sought top streamers from Twitch and YouTube for input and to test out early prototypes. Both are designed for portability so streamers can travel and game. The two products are available for purchase on Razerzone.com and in stores worldwide by the end of the year.

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How I broke Instagram Stories

Hi, my name is Ray Wong and I have a very, very serious Instagram Stories addiction. There, I said it. Don’t judge me.

But I’m not your usual junkie. I posted so much on my IG Stories during my recent vacation in Japan that I broke it (well, sort of). And boy, was I pissed.

I had this crazy idea of my very first trip to Japan being free of social media. I wanted to visit the Land of the Rising Sun with fresh eyes, free of the pressure to post anything and really disconnect from this perverse “pics or it didn’t happen” culture we now live in.

I was on track to commit to no social media as I boarded my flight. I deleted Slack once I was seated. Twitter was next. I’ve long stopped checking Facebook (are you still on Facebook?). And I rarely post anything to Snapchat anymore; I mostly use it to message friends.

But I couldn’t delete Instagram. If I could only pick one social media platform to use forever, it’d be Instagram. I created an account on the very first day it went live in 2010 and I hope I’m there on the last day if it ever closes down.

Almost as soon as I landed in Tokyo, my Instagram Story became a torrent — and I mean that — of video clips. 

I’ve been to other Asian megacities before, but Tokyo was so different. The people, places, and sounds. It was all so infectiously wonderful. To the point where I couldn’t resist documenting it all.

I felt compelled to share, share, and share. And share, share, and share some more. 

By the end of my first real day exploring the city, I had posted over 100 video clips to Instagram Stories. You know how there are little lines on the top of a person’s story that tells you how many clips are in their IG Story? Mine weren’t lines. They were dots. Really, tiny dots.

Here’s what a typical Instagram Story looks like with about a dozen or fewer stories:

See the lines at the top?

And here’s what every day of my trip in Japan looked like:

Dots. Tiny dots.

Dots. Tiny dots.

I didn’t want these “vlogs” or memories to disappear, so I decided to save them at the end of every day so that I could watch them again later.

But when I went back to my Airbnb after an incredible first day out, my heart sank. 

I discovered all of my clips from the first 2-3 hours in Shinjuku were gone. I panicked. I thought it was a bug. It had to be!

But no, it turns out that 100 clips is the maximum number of clips that can be posted to Instagram Stories within 24 hours. Post more and it deletes the ones from earlier. I literally had to manually tap on my screen and count the number of clips Instagram Stories allowed to figure this out.

Instagram has confirmed to Mashable that 100 clips (photos or videos) is indeed the maximum number of Instagram Stories that can be posted at one time.

Sigh.

People even joked on Twitter about my Instagram Stories problem:

I lost who knows how many memories — the rawest, most genuine first thoughts on Japan and the city’s many pachinkos and arcades — but it’s OK. I’ll live.

I realize that I’m in the extreme minority where 100 clips isn’t enough (I don’t share anywhere near this much on a daily basis), but I would like to see the cap increased. It opens up the potential to some real long-form storytelling or vlogging on Instagram.

The 15 seconds people record here and there everyday adds up quickly, and at 100 clips, it can total up to about a 25 minute story. I never had a story longer than about 15 minutes, but if I were to guess, I probably had over 30 minutes worth of  video on that first day. 

I don’t know anyone who posts as much as I do to Instagram Stories, and maybe that’s a lesson in itself. Should I post less? I could, but I could also use YouTube for vlogging. YouTube’s great, but when I see how frictionless it is to string together a daily “vlog” on Instagram, it only makes me want more from the visual platform.

But maybe I’m asking for too much. The beauty to Instagram is that it’s short and to-the-point and you’re constantly browsing new content from people you know and don’t know. YouTube’s for longer videos. Instagram’s the king of short-form. Different platform for different lengths. It’d just be nice if Instagram Stories would let me record a little longer.

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