Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pre-OVA Maria-sama ga Miteru: People watching

Marimite Haru episode 13: In front of Sachiko's door
September approaches, so it's as good a time as any other to get through some older series, and what better way to face the prospect of school with a series about school? Granted, there is little in common between Lillian and wherever I'm off to, but they are both almost self-sustaining environments, more or less closed off to the rest of the world, and fed by a never-ending supply of new students and relationships.

If the OVA is about the unfolding of process, then its predecessors are about the unfolding of people. I realize now that the OVA's seemingly goal-oriented structure [1] is a partial result of a normalizing of relationships, as well as the cast coming into their own as administrators. Prior, such tasks were left to their seniors, out of view.

While not dealing with weighty or even relevant issues, the unfolding stories and character interactions are compelling to watch, particularly the story of Shimako. She comes across as having a lot of baggage, and just how much isn't revealed until halfway into Maria-sama ga Miteru ~Haru~. It's also then that parallels and and the perceptiveness of past observations come to light, and despite the claim that only Sei knew Shimako's story among her peers, one has to wonder at just how much the other Roses knew.

Mis-communication runs rife in many of the drawn out conflicts in the series. As per her hair style, it allows Touko to turn the screws on Yumi and to a lesser extent, Noriko. Most misunderstandings are actually pretty straightforward situations, with the exception of Shimako's, stretching into the second season the way it did.

Back to people watching. Witness some conflict, develop some insight into a character or two, push the reset button after the resolution, next please! I don't mean to imply that either season was devoid of commitment, not at all. The focus on the characters is clear, the interactions flow well, and an excuse (like WAR) isn't necessary to have interactions in the first place.

Maria-sama ga Miteru's setting is like a casual (but not too casual) sidewalk: comfortable, moderated spontaneity, mostly non-threatening. A fine place for observing the ordinary aspects of life.

* * *

[1] At least for the first three episodes. Many thanks to Otenba / Lililicious for their progress thus far.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Zero no Tsukaima: Futatsuki no Kishi

The first season of Zero no Tsukaima started strong, but the story really began to drag after the Staff of Destruction arc. The second season, now at the halfway point, just continues the aimless wandering with war as a backdrop.

Kirche and Tabitha continue to be conveniently timed assistance, reduced to bit roles following the RPG [spoilers!] arc. To some extent, the Valliere sisters are their replacements. Saito's lecher act has gotten old since he never gets away with it, nor does he try to stand up for himself like he did earlier in the first season.

As far as actual events go, they are all related to the pending war, but they could be related to anything. Add to that the isolated feel of each episode, and you get a show that makes for disengaging viewing. I don't care for the war because it's so distant. I don't care for the events themselves, since they are generic situations where war and other related words are thrown in because the writers think that the viewer will automatically start caring.

If they had a longer episode run, could they have done a better job adapting the source light novel series? Perhaps. But as it stands, ZnT II is just like any other predictable sitcom, with magical elements, and the word war thrown in as a value-add. At the end of each episode, the writers push the reset button, absolving themselves of the need to write effect since it took so much effort to write cause in the first place.

Zero no Tsukaima II episode 8: One of many conveniently timed flashbacks
I totally don't know who the Flame Snake is. Every time Colbert-sensei has a flashback involving a village, and fire, I stick my head in a conveniently placed hole in my floor.

In the first series, we all knew that the secretary was the thief, that Wales was sketchy, etc. Only the first example was forgivable because it was an excuse to deploy a rocket launcher. I don't think anything Colbert does, now that he's gone from badass mofo to pacifist zen master, will quite live up to the satisfaction of seeing an RPG applied to a sand golem, but anything less will only solidify this series' mediocrity.

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Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Our cruisers can't repel awesomeness of that magnitude!

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Moon lasersNow witness the full power of this fully armed and operational battle station!

This is the Death Star that the Empire only wished they had built.

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Death Star
I think the above screen capture seals the deal.

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Moon core
Thermal exhaust port access to core? Check.

And now it's time for my favourite Return of the Jedi line!

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Last episode's ambushIt's a trap!

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Moon firingIt's a trap!

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: CagedIt's a CAGE!

Gurren-Lagann episode 22: Stalled in front of the moon's control portIt's a stick up!

It feels almost unfair that carbon-based life (necessarily) prevailed against a much more prepared enemy. They camped out space waiting for the appearance of Genome's dreadnought, they built the Death Star III on Genome's moon, and they installed a hostage in front of the moon's control port. They knew everything.

But once again, it's really hard to convince life to stop living. Except for Rossiu. He's been their tool ever since Genome's fall and at the end, and he looked ready to slash his wrists.

Call it evolution on steroids. Blizzard Games, take note. Terrans can evidently out-evolve the Zerg.

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That is all. Visit U.Blog for some more pictures!

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ulrich Schnauss talks to his feet

But fails to shoot it. I think.

Warning! This is not really related to j-pop or anime, other than a brief reference to Nodame Cantabile. This entry does feature more of my scatterbrained listening habits.

Following on from Martin's comment mentioning My Bloody Valentine, I thought I'd mention Ulrich Schnauss' latest, Goodbye, which arrived in the mail the other day.

Preliminary reading: interview, and Pitchforkmedia review.

I don't come down as hard on Goodbye as the reviewer does, but I do have my own misgivings. For one, it's not the Ulrich Schnauss of Far away trains passing by, which I encountered one sleepless night by randomly tuning my clock-radio to the now defunct Brave New Waves program on CBC Radio 2.

Shoegaze is the name of the game here, a far cry from the warm, uplifting, and very tuneful lines of two albums prior. You might say that he's seriously returning to his roots. If you do happen to be a fan of shoegaze, Goodbye may be worth saying Hello to, but I say preview first before committing.

The review brought up a term that I forgot to include in my entry on Megumi Noda but mentioned in another: self-consciousness. That is to say, Megumi Noda is not self-conscious at all; not about her appearance, not about her playing style, not about the things she says. That's about as close as this entry is going to get to anime.

That Ulrich is being too self-conscious when it comes to shoegaze just doesn't compute to me. If one takes the claim to the other extreme, then any fool or two can just stand there with a few guitars and set up this giant wall of sound for a few minutes while muttering into their microphones, and call it shoegaze. Wait, maybe they do, and it would be called bad shoegaze if anyone did see what they did there.

Shoegaze at its best is meticulously layered. Ulrich notes that tracks in Goodbye may have about 100 elements running at the same time. The man deserves some praise for effort.

I can't just like something because of the amount of effort that went into its production, though. I suppose that means I will never rise above the practical listener, who can't or won't appreciate effort for the sake of effort. There may be beauty in these tracks, like tantalizing but microscopic portholes in the sonic wall, but I'm of the opinion that beauty be emphasized and not buried. As such, I find little resonance in shoegaze.

Reviews have generally been positive, though, so this may be an excellent addition to the genre. I don't know enough about what makes good shoegaze to say.

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Summary Burner switched off!

By popular demand!

In another of those, never-spot-the-obvious-until-it's-brought-up moments, it finally occurred to me that the Antenna automatically summarized entries anyway. So now there is choice! Summarized feeds via the Antenna, or full entries via FeedBurner or Blogger. Having Blogger redirect to FeedBurner for stats is a nice touch.

While not the impetus for switching off the Summary Burner, I also get the vast majority of site updates via Google Reader, using it more as an update notifier with varying amounts of latency up to a few hours. If the headline is intriguing, I'll read the summary, and if the content is promising, I'll head to the site.

I'm subscribed to few actual blogs, anime related or otherwise, and prefer to go through aggregators, which all summarize entries. So I sort of grew into feeds with the summary mindset, and haven't quite turned Google Reader into my primary reading pane.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

A drill that will consume the heavens

At this point I'd hesitate to consider Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann's Anti-Spiral faction as being explicitly anti-life. Maybe they're silicon-based life. It would go some way towards explaining Nia's SHODAN makeover. Even if they were, we're almost obligated to support Spirals, DNA, and other symbols associated with carbon-based lifeforms. Not only are they ridiculously cool, we also happen to not be droids.

Although if you are, that's cool too.

One can't completely write off the Anti-Spirals as generic bad guys, as SHODAN Nia offers an interesting, if brief, commentary on carbon-based life. It was probably brief because it's depressing to contemplate the big picture. Spirals are viewed as this grave threat to the universe because life does what life does: consumes and multiplies without consideration. It thus fell to the Anti-Spirals to put carbon-based life in its place, which is to say, in convenient and easy to manage boxes, with the threat of complete extermination to keep them from expanding outside of their boundaries. Eventually, in theory, the molten crust of the respective planets would cool, and they'd all die anyway, causing minimal additional damage to the cold and austere beauty of the universe.

It's a situation that plays out all the time, with humans in the role of Anti-Spirals, and weeds, pests, and even other humans in the role of Spirals. Trying to stem the vicious rampancy of growth and consumption sounds like a just and responsible thing to do, especially when described with terms like vicious and rampant, until the realization hits that doing so may involve some messy details, like inducing resource starvation or just plain death.

Beyond that, Spirals are also agents of chaos. It's evident, even now. We like to burn our dinosaurs fossils, kill animals, kill trees, kill each other, dig stuff out of the ground, and generally engage in the very clean practice known as industry. What would happen should humanity ever escape its current confines and run amok throughout the universe? We'd be like this unstoppable force of entropy, vacuuming resources from planets and asteroids, gobbling energy by creating our own stars or just subjugating existing ones, and generally accelerating the level of decay all around us.

Spiral power is the desire to survive, whether that involves fighting, consuming resources, or multiplying. It exists even while doing so means that the necessities to that existence are slowly eroded. To an entity like the Anti-Spirals, Spirals are just out to consume the entire universe, and then die out when the job is done.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Megumi Noda: A for Amateurism

As Chinese parents, it seemed only natural to attempt to force music upon their child. Not the seemingly logical Chinese music that is their heritage, mind you, but Western-European music. This is not a general truth, and I don't mean any offense. But for me and those around me, it's true enough, and we all find it slightly amusing.

I was an odd case, in that I more or less said I wanted to try piano, without quite knowing what I was getting myself and my parents - who had to buy a piano, pay for lessons, and chauffeur me once a week year round - into. Early on, I wound up not liking the instrument very much, and it wasn't because I wanted to play whatever I wanted however I pleased, like one Megumi Noda from Nodame Cantabile. It was precisely because I wanted to play things right, and my parents wouldn't let me.

And so I suffered from a kind of reverse-Nodame complex - a Chiaki complex, then? - which wouldn't actually be a problem if my parents saw things the way most people saw so-called "Classical" music. An example situation is at the very bottom, for those interested. I'm not trying (too hard) to blame anyone. Things got better later on. And then university happened so they never had to hear me again.

:D ?

Nodame Cantabile episode 20: There isn't a single wasted note.
Strictly speaking about music performance, I, like most others, take (or took) a fairly professional approach. In preparation for a performance, you rehearse, and if everything goes the way it's supposed to on performance day, things will sound exactly as they did in rehearsal. Each section, however one chooses to define it, must be played in a certain way. How fine grained (block, phrase, chord, notes) and the style (staccato, semi-detached, legato, cantabile style), is up to the performer or performers or the conductor, but once decided, any deviation is a step away from perfection, a scratch in the otherwise flawless orb.

That's what classical performance boils down to: a shiny object. It is music objectified. Music professionals deliver a product, and they are expected to be pretty consistent about it over the course of a tour or concert run. People pay money to hear what the audience heard the night before, the night before that, and the night before that. That's not to say that performers don't love what they do. It's just that everyone, everyone has their off days, but they are still expected to deliver the same results regardless of their personal situation.

Nodame Cantabile episode 20: Just not her day
This is why Nodame is different, and refreshing to watch while she necessarily infuriates the bookish and/or stuck up characters around her. Despite her sudden change in her work ethic and performance style, she is still very much on the amateur end of the performance spectrum. If she's burnt out, it shows. If she doesn't feel like performing, she will do so only begrudgingly. On the other hand, she can be brilliant when in the right mood. Through it all, her odd and very unprofessional facial expressions indicate exactly what she is feeling.

Professionals leave their personal lives (or maybe just the bad bits) in the car, in the dressing room, or at the door. Nodame takes her baggage wherever she goes, and it both helps and hinders her.

Notice, too, that no one really cares about her per se. She is viewed only in the context of her performance and talent. The real question is not, "Did she sleep well?" or "Did she burn herself out?", it's "Was the performance any good?" There are no mitigating circumstances. The human element is abstracted away, and just as the performance is objectified, so is the performer. Performers are really cogs that produce the finished product.

Nodame doesn't agree with that sentiment, refusing to let conformity be beaten into her. Her amateurism, however, goes beyond her inconsistent performance. Not only is she not necessarily note perfect, she also insists on adding her own embellishments, going so far as to improvise out the rest of her Petrushka performance in the final round of the Maradona competition.

Improvisation is the exception, not the rule. The bulk of Western-European music does not contain soloing sections like jazz. In the subset that does, usually concerto pieces with cadenza sections for the soloist, there is usually little actual improvisation as the cadenza is written down, many times by the composer (as opposed to the performer), and performed as if improvised. Everything is scripted, even the parts that aren't.

What all this comes down to is that Nodame's choice to leave music and go be a teacher is not nearly as crazy or comedic as it first seems. For her, music is not Serious Business, but something she does out of love. She is thus an amateur in the true spirit of the word, i.e. someone who does something out of love, and is not necessarily a n00b. When she falls out of love with music, she stops. If she thinks that a piece is somewhat lacking, she'll add her own details to spruce it up. Music was never a profession, hence her decision to look elsewhere for a real job.

To go to Europe and continue her studies would mean experiencing the inflexible world that she is so at odds with. It would be a titanic struggle, the kind of conflict that sells, no doubt.

* * *

The example: Richter playing Appassionata, third movement [YouTube]. Even at 58 kbps, it's still pretty awesome. If you like Beethoven, that is. If I were to even attempt to play like this (I don't even have the sheet music), I'd be called out for a) playing too damn fast, and b) playing too loud and "angry-like" (I was hitting the piano and damaging it, apparently).

Were it Bach or some Romantic piece, add option c) playing too many incorrect notes in passages with really chromatic harmonies and "strange" intervals. That they sound wrong to uninformed ears doesn't make them so. It would take me a number of years before being able to articulate and define the issue, and yet more to argue why it wasn't an issue in the first place. It's hard to convince people that "it's written that way" when they can't read music in the first place.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Nodame Cantabile: Raw notes

Waiting on Froth-Bite to complete the series. I'm in no particular hurry, otherwise I'd have finished the last episode using speed subs. I've already read a bit about the last episode so I have a vague idea of how it's going to end, even if I don't know the minute details.

While not as consistent in production as, say, Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile was a much more enjoyable watch for me because it speaks to something I relate to. It's a self-serving reason, but if people are told to write about what they know, then I'm going to watch what I know. Rest assured, though! I do have a frustration/boredom threshold, and the only series I have dropped happens to be La Corda d'Oro, another music type series.

One of the elements I have the most mixed feelings about, which goes beyond the frequent still shots and CG, is the large blocks of time devoted to concert performances. On one hand, I want to listen to the music, but on the other, it exposes the disadvantage of trying to package a music setting into 22 minute episodes.

I have no doubt that anyone who has no interest in classical music will be bored out of their minds watching several minutes of still shots and CG instrument playing, all without dialog. I also understand that quite a bit of the source story was cut, probably as a result of the episode length and series run time. What remained, though, was still a serviceable story with what looks to be a solid finish, although at several points it felt rushed, such as the bit with Chiaki's family and various confrontations between characters.

As per the title, the rest of this entry doesn't have much in the way of discussion about What It Means To Me. When I'm done the series proper, I may be able to attempt to write about something to that effect. The notes are compiled in more or less chronological order.

Nodame: Vicious!
I really like Ayako Kawasumi's evil/dark/angry mode. There was a teaser in one of the earlier episodes where she expresses jealousy, but a dry spell quickly hit and I've been disappointed until episode 15.

Nodame Cantabile: reed discussionLIES!

Hardcore woodwind players will make their own reeds out of blanks, not unlike carving sculptures out of blocks of wood. And for noobs like me, we can buy Rico Royal 4's. Woodwinds, by definition, is a superset that includes clarinets, saxophones, bassoons, and oboes.

In the immediate aftermath of the introduction of the second OP, it came off as a poor choice. We've only reached the halfway point. It's a little early to say goodbye, isn't it? And that is exactly what Sagittarius feels like. It was only with the conclusion of the RS Orchestra arc that it began to fit the context of the series.

I was kind of weirded out by how Chiaki's consistent abuse didn't break Nodame, but one infraction by Eto made her murderously grim. I suppose there was some give and take when it came to Chiaki. Plus, Chiaki isn't strictly her teacher, and as hinted in episode 21, she might have a fear of piano instructors. Just noting this in case I find myself wondering all of a sudden in the future.

Nodame Cantabile episode 19: Standing ovation?The only person unable to give a standing ovation

Episode 19 was really powerful. The Rising Stars Orchestra arc that it concluded had some good momentum through its goal orientation, or maybe it was because I had begun my Froth-Bite catchup marathon around that point. We see a shift in thinking from Nodame which was very selfless.

Nodame Cantabile episode 19: One unhappy photo
Nodame has not deviated from her attempts to keep Chiaki close to her, but before, she endeavoured to fit their relationship within the context of her own ambitions, which were landlocked. In episode 19, she decides to lay her future on the line, just as Chiaki did conducting the RS Orchestra, so that she might fit in with Chiaki's dreams.

Nodame's competition failure was inevitable, having been a miracle that she even made it past the round that occurred on her off day. But consider the message being sent were she to have won, or even placed in the competition. It's the dream of every talented student no matter what the subject of study: to cruise through school/work/life based on innate gifts.

Talent can only take you so far. If the commitment to practice and memorize isn't there, a performer can never be the complete package. It's a lesson that isn't restricted to only the performing world. Nodame lacks discipline, and her passion for music is only an indirect consequence of her love for Chiaki. In her current mindset, she could never succeed as a performer on her own.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Sky Girls episode 6

Some quick points worth mentioning. Maybe.

* * *

Sky Girls episode 6: Beaten in simulation
Nice stunt pulled during episode 6. The progression from drill practice to combat went too quickly to figure out that they were doing more simulator work. The very real opponent and live-fire weapons only added to the confusion. That the rifle Eika used was different from the ones used during the shooting demonstration didn't register until after the fact.

Sky Girls episode 6: Superior estimating skills
Karen is the quintessential nerd as she picks Nanae apart. When she applies her talents to more useful pursuits, it's taken for granted and even somewhat dry, but when she goes estimating other people, it's unintentionally funny, like the surprise that follows discovering an unintended use for some skill. Lucky Star's Miyuki would never apply herself to such nefarious purposes. If you enjoy fan service, there's plenty of that this episode.

I looked up the cast for the first time today and was surprised to see Ayako Kawasumi voicing Otoha. Now I can't watch this episode without hearing a less insane version of Megumi Noda on numerous occasions.

The writers belabour the point of the Sonic Divers with Captain Togo. He doesn't come across as dense or so kind as to be naive about why the military takes an interest in these things, so his surprise concerning the weaponization of the Sonic Divers is completely unbelievable. If you went in with no idea that there would be fighting involved, which would entail ignoring the OP and Eika's dogfight in the first episode, you might just be inclined to feel sorry for him. But as it stands, he's just there for the sake of being the token gruff guy.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei: Target China

If blackboard musings are any indication of what the SHAFT team finds interesting, then China must be their current whipping boy. It's not wholly undeserved, especially when absurd things like meat buns, cardboard, and toothpaste are involved. With the Mattel recall involving miniature magnets and lead paint, China is like the laughingstock of the export nations. Well, with markets way down on account of stupidity and greed (aren't they always?), someone needs to play the village idiot for comedic relief.

Zetsubou Sensei Episode 5: Chinese toothpaste
Zetsubou Sensei: Beijing 2008
Zetsubou Sensei Episode 5: Chinese meat buns redux
On a totally unrelated note, I am a stats whore. I have yet to reach that transcendental state where it matters not if anyone reads this. I figure, I might as well be talking to a blank wall, right? If the blank wall talks back, then you've arrived at Enlightenment. Or you're crazy.

Zetsubou Sensei Episode 5: Blog hits

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Zipang: Future Sight

Zipang: Hangar control
So I'm stonewalled for the next two months until the final release arrives. Still, with a DVD titled Return to the Future, we might suppose that there may yet be some time travel involved. I'm a bit displeased that the final two DVD's have three episodes each, are devoid of extras, yet cost the same as all the others. It's a reality of the cost of physical media that will have to be tolerated for a while yet.

Update: I went ahead and got spoilers. There is no definitive ending, and it's not a life goes on kind of ending, either. I despise you marketing people.

With the last three episodes, it's hinted that war becomes more of a setting for an adventure story and less of a theme or message, should there ever be a sequel. Zipang could certainly use one (manga is still ongoing, too), perhaps in a shorter 13 episode run or OVA.

A lot can happen in the last three episodes and if warranted, another entry will go up after finishing the series.

Zipang: Control roomThis control room is pretty. I'd reuse this shot, too.

First off, this series exposes the thinking and military doctrine of Japanese World War II commanders. Suicide instead of accountability; human spirit instead of superior numbers, logistics, and firepower; over-extension and inability to consolidate gains; bickering between the army and navay; these are a few of the elements that contributed to the unraveling of Japan's military machine.

On the flip side, the Americans are portrayed as brash (but there are mitigating circumstances) but invariably confused by the presence of the Mirai and its equally un-orthodox (for the time) threats.

What Zipang is not, is a recognition of Japan's mistreatment of everyone not Japanese. Saying that "all blood is red" and other positive sentiments is great, but there is little depiction of anyone other than Japanese and Americans. Zipang does well to ignore those messy bits, keeping the action focused on the conflict between Japan and America and the avoidance of conflict. And to end the war, Kusaka is willing to give up the colonization of much of south Asia because the crucial resource, oil, can be found - where else? - in China. No sir, Kusaka's ideal Japan is not devoid of imperialist ambitions.

The driving force behind most of the character and story development is the conflict between war-time sentiment and the ideals that followed 60 years on. The crew of the Mirai are frequently held hostage by their mission of self-defence, rescue, and initial struggles to keep history unchanged. Their reluctance to have anyone killed lets them be manipulated by Kusaka, leading directly to the events surrounding Guadalcanal, and they take casualties in a forced demonstration of their anti-air capabilities during an American air raid.

I have the least sympathy for Kadomatsu. He's a tool, basically Kusaka's lackey for the first half of the series, followed by poor decision making in the latter half. Yanagi was evidently unfit for ground operations; his tubby look might have had something to do with that but that was conveniently overlooked. He decided to board the "escort" submarine fully aware that Taki was sketchy as hell, and that the plane must have taken off from a carrier. Even though the crew of the Mirai are continuously burned by their willingness to trust, Kadomatsu is the lead lemming, and should have been overruled by the demonstrably wiser captain on multiple occasions.

The right way is not always the easiest, but while it's commendable that the Mirai adheres to its guiding principals when at all possible, they refuse to acknowledge that they are in Rome. World War II personnel do not know the definition of deterrence, which necessarily grew out of the Cold War's policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. Related to that, no one knew what peacekeeping was, which was only introduced by post-war Canada.

Having never truly appreciated (and mostly never witnessed) the accuracy, range, and destructive power of post-Cold War armament, it's no surprise that the Americans do not back down, and it is only because Kusaka has seen an ASROC launch up close that the Mirai can bluff their way out of a confrontation with the Yamato.

What should you expect to see in Zipang? You get to witness an anti-war message, conspiracy plot, and the success and infuriating mistakes of an inexperienced (and naive) crew aboard a destroyer that should not be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The self-defence imperative is there but is not used as a stick with which to beat the viewer over the head. It's woven into a fairly engaging story, treating all combatants involved with respect.

Just don't expect the Korean labourers at Guadalcanal to receive any love.

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Zipang: Reconnaissance

Zipang Episode 1: Lightning strike
The last DVD came in shortly after its North American release but I only got started yesterday. The gist of it is that the Mirai, a Kongo class guided missile destroyer, goes back in time, arriving on the eve of the Battle of Midway. For more detail (and spoilers), there's always the Wikipedia article.

I'll spare notes about the actual content for another entry. This one will be on the technicals and goodies. Essentially, there are no extras worth mentioning, unless you count the mouse pad that came with the collector's box. Each DVD comes with OP, ED, and DVD production credits and Geneon previews, and that's it.

No problems with the artwork and animation. There are no pretty characters; it's war after all. CG for ship models and other war pieces blend in well. There were some instances where footage was reused, like in search light signaling, but it wasn't detracting.

Background music either stands out (in a good way) or doesn't. Zipang has one standout theme, played by a saxophone wailing in the night. There's also a strings variation, but the saxophone is most prominent and occurs during combat.

Zipang: Isoroku YamamotoI just thought this image was kind of badly pasted in.

I don't watch with dubs, so no comment there. As for the subtitling, well, I don't know what's par for the course, but I estimate there were more nitpicks than I'd find with a fansub released by the likes of a.f.k, and one would think that no one pays their quality check members.

I've listed the minor annoyances below. I'm not out to be Geneon USA's QC; these were things picked up during a first pass.

Well snap. I seem to be missing one DVD that will be released October 16, 2007. Quite the lack of due diligence on my part. See you in two months!

"Your father was in the marine." — Episode 1. Did he actually say, "in the marines," or mean to say, "in the navy?"

"I'm am no god." — Episode 8. Fail.

"It's name is Zipang." — Episode 13. Its versus It's, but technically both are correct and it is a matter of preference.

Episode 15 intro on fast forward. Not a subtitling problem, but it was kind of awkward. It was a conscious decision, since the audio was in line with the scenes and not fast forwarded.

Near the end one of the scenes in Episode 16 (not the last scene) the subs drop out. Sometimes they do that if what's being said is a recent reiteration, but it's still annoying. There are also some timing errors (I think) where the line may follow before or after it's spoken.

"...the Mirai can still avoid them easily with her speed superior mobility." — Episode 20. Missing an "and."

Episode 21 featured two glaring omissions of subtitles: during a scene involving a prone body, and during the next episode preview.

"Make you get back before curfew, alright?" — Episode 22. Make sure…

"It too late." — Episode 23. There's something missing here, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Nanoha StrikerS: Midchildan markets tumble. Towers, too.

Episode 16/17 was a grim day for The 6th MS Team (as well as Web 2.0, Sesame Street, and the Beastie Boys).

Nanoha StrikerS is in large part about growing the cast company, or just plain growing up. For the cast, there was plenty of growing up to be had by way of a thorough beat down. But continuing on with the corporate analogy, the startup days are over.

Non-stop confrontation is over. Do or die every episode, as a general rule, is over. Other people give the orders and impose crippling limits on their subordinates. A lot of the episodes have this comfortable, laid-back, secure desk job, feel. This might actually be because there are actual desk job scenes. Lots of them.

Training is just that. It's repetitive and progress is generally measured over weeks, if not months. I can appreciate training, but it's hard to make training scenes compelling to watch. Invariably all such scenes have, "Do this. Do that. Do this again. Here's a tip. Here's a new ability" ad nauseum.

When the characters involved in training don't totally suck but aren't absolutely brilliant either, it's doubly hard to watch with interest. There are no antics or mishaps from newbies, nor are there personality conflicts between n00bs and l33ts alike. Limbo characters just follow orders, over and over, and steadily get better. Their continued improvement is as assured as paint drying.

StrikerS episode 17: StradaAn elegant weapon for a more…civilized age

No doubt more consideration will be given to the replacement of our modern weapons with magical ones. It would have been nice if more information to that debate was offered up front in place of some of the training scenes. If nothing else, more office politics would have sufficed. Those teaser discussions between Gaiz and Auris brought nothing to the table, other than maybe Auris having a crisis of confidence (or conscience) in an elevator.

And finally, just some musings specific to episode 17.

Nanoha StrikerS episode 17: Choking in progressChoke MOAR

Okay Vice, I understand that you might be high off the fumes from burning plastics, asbestos, and stuffed toy rabbits, but real snipers shake off the hallucinations. Are you not a pro sniper? Apparently, not pro enough. I suppose when you're washed up, you're washed up, damaged goods, etc.

StrikerS episode 17: haxLocked on? Screw the rules, I have technology!

It's not quite aimbot, but just who is in charge here? How good of a sniper are you if you need your rifle to tell you when to fire? But still, they should have had a better reason for deploying a sniper. The dude was holding a knife. For mages with barrier jackets, what is a knife going to do? And there are people who can hover! Rappel (or hover) down from the side, swing in, apply a barrier to the kid (or apply flash bang), kick butt.

If Vice doesn't pick up his sniper rifle again or if Teana doesn't receive pointers, I'll be disappointed. It means a scene was wasted talking about his past, which could have been easily inferred from his conveniently timed flashback.

StrikerS episode 17: Thrust vectoringThis thing can turn on a dime, Macross Zero stylez!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Theme and non-variation

I'm not going to lie. I finished the last 8 episodes this afternoon and feel slightly ill. But in the end, it didn't matter if it was 8 episodes in one sitting, or one episode at a time, as Azumanga Daioh generally failed to hold my interest.

Maybe if taken one episode a week, things might have changed, but that's because one week gives you plenty of time to forget that you're really watching the same episode with some scenic or situational adjustments. I do have a soft spot for penguins, though, so episode 16 was like an oasis in a desert.

While on the topic of episode specifics, re: 10 km marathon. Just because you get good grades doesn't mean you're not a lemming. Nor does it mean you do your research before taking in a wild animal and leaving it alone with your pet dog. One of the few moments of justice occurred when said wild animal bit a certain aggravating character, who proceeded to be red-carded by the token jock.

Unfortunately, for me anyway, Tomo was never ejected from the series. Upon a bit more consideration, I wasn't bothered so much through watching the same interactions over and over, it's because those interactions were so antagonistic. Sure, she was full of it for the sake of being full of it, and if you could blow it off then power to you. I was unable to get past that, and the rest of the flatly characterized cast comprising the Loser Brigade let her walk all over them, and her treatment of Chiyo bordered on the verge of bullying.

Going back to still shots for a moment, include slow motion gestures and group them under the generic category of Moments with Zero Dialog. I agree with Owen's opinion that they are present for the sole purpose of forcing humour (maybe) down your throat, sort of like, "Look, look! Isn't it funny? Nothing more will happen until you agree!" In other series MZD is used in a more natural and benign manner, such as atmosphere or stunned silence, which is a shade different from awkward tolerance for the sake of being polite to the inane.

I don't know what it was like during 2002 so I lack context. Maybe Azumanga Daioh was brilliant for its time and I've just been spoiled by the present. I've seen better high school graduations and partings from the likes of Hitohira and Manabi Straight. And despite the wackiness and sometimes alienating humour, Lucky Star has dialog that flows much better than Tomo's one-sided brow beatings or Sakaki's social awkwardness (she's no Chikane). Sure, conversations between Minano and Yukari flowed like conversations, but those instances were rare, and it's hard to compare all the time with some of the time.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sky Girls: Aren't you a little short for a test pilot?

The catchy chorus in the OP sounds remarkably like KOTOKO, with its distorted vocals, or is that just because everyone wants be like KOTOKO now? Could do without the engrish.

I've never seen the OVA, and my decision to start watching was based pretty much on the fact that it involves flying. Flight animation is nice, better if it's reasonably detailed. I'm not expecting crazy logistics defying variable fighter missile shoot-outs, but I have no doubt there are one or two of those scenes in the pipeline.

So far, there have been non-flying episodes and episodes with some test flying or simulator work, but it's pure build-up. Hopefully it builds up to something interesting. Like a thrust-vectored, logistics (and physics) defying, missile shoot-out.

Sky Girls episode 4: conical meatIn the future, meat grows in conical form around a stick. Cylindrical is so uncivilized.

Episode 5 of Sky Girls continues to reinforce the ranks of those who see references to Evangelion. The smoking gun will, of course, be that Otoha's Sonic Diver is a capsule for her dead brother's soul.

Sky Girls episode 5: No gun?  No problem!ZEROOOO. No really, that's its name.

Projectiles versus sword. Because increasing the odds of death is the honourable thing to do, as well as being a vehicle for awesomeness. Fortunately for Otoha, the flying discs aren't rigged with explosives. The OP did feature her taking down a WORM with that blade, so I guess this is expected.

Sky Girls episode 5: Lt. HizukiGendou Viral

I have nothing to add to the above.

Eika's change toward a more active leadership role came across as forced. That's not to say that she is insincere, because I do think she wants everyone to do well, just not for the sake of having everyone do well. We all know she has that Ryu (Street Fighter) mindset: be the best for the sake of being the best. It's hard to see her being genuinely helpful (nice != helpful), as I do like characters who are Tall, Dark and Bishoujo, although she doesn't quite live up to the height part.

Sky Girls episode 5: Synchronized swimmingSynchronization exercises for killing an Angel a demonstration? Where have I seen that…

If all synchronized swimmers were this good after one training session, it'd cease to be a sport. Maybe they're just leading on the rest of us.

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Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS: A press release

Capital City, Midchilda, April 1, 2007 - The Time Space Administration Bureau Inc. (MSAQ: TSAB) announced today that it has agreed to acquire Nanoha Inc., responsible for such successful outcomes like Nanoha v0.1 and Nanoha Beta A's, for an undisclosed sum. Following the acquisition, Nanoha Inc. will be renamed to The 6th MS Mobile Section 6, operating under the close scrutiny of the TSAB Ground Forces, its new parent division.

"We have had a good partnership in the past with Nanoha Inc. and have noted their continued cast growth and success in this very competitive market," said Regius Gaiz, Chief Tyrant of TSAB. "This is a mutually beneficial transaction, allowing us to impede the progress of Nanoha Inc. as well as keep tabs on some of its less desirable elements."

"I truly believe that this is a historic milestone for the company," said Nanoha Takamachi, CEO and co-founder of Nanoha Inc. "We have entered a new chapter where others choose our battles or prevent us from acting at all."

When the acquisition is complete, Nanoha Inc. will move to a permanent facility situated within firing range of the TSAB's Capital City Defense Forces. Bolstered by the recruitment of other suspicious elements into its front line staff, the newly christened Mobile Section 6 will provide token assistance in such areas as child assistance and lost and found, under the close supervision of high ranking inspectors of superior judgment and moral fibre.

About The Time Space Administration Bureau
The TSAB provides an ideal sandbox for playing politics and establishing shady connections. Founded in time immemorial, the TSAB enjoys frequent internal power struggles and grudge matches between its ground, naval, and air forces.

About Nanoha Inc.
Founded in 2004, Nanoha Inc. acquired Wolkenritter Intergalactic (Planetary!) to become a multi-faceted security Contractor organization. The company prides itself on its clear-cut battle lines even if the opponents are not. By capitalizing on this combat innovation, the company has brought WIN, EPIC, and the letter J to its myriad fans around the universe(s).

Caution Concerning Forward-Looking Statements
Some assembly required. Actual results may vary. Past performance is no indication of future returns. Correlation does not imply causation. Warranty void if seal is broken. No purchase necessary.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Tripping over my shoelaces

I tried to marathon Azumanga Daioh the other day. This turned out to be a grave mistake as I was in dire need of a break just two episodes in. The next day went a bit better, clearing 10 episodes, but by that point I had come to the conclusion that Azumanga Daioh was one series for which more than two episodes at a time was simply a bad idea.

While slice of life and high school randomness, Azumanga Daioh is certainly not a sitcom. There is no problem that is resolved in the span of an episode, nor is there any ultimate goal other than graduation, which is a pretty automatic process. This early into high school, it's not yet time to stress over university admissions and the general future.

There may be some over-arching theme for an episode but, probably as a result of its 5 minute segment roots, there can be no expectation of continuity within the episode itself. I'm not bored unto passing out, as I have this unreasonable attention span for pretty much anything except lectures, but I begin to get fidgety after continuous exposure.

Lucky Star is structured in a similar fashion, but many of its scenes and gags can be measured in tens of seconds. It's not quite a punch line Gatling gun, but it is a better approximation than Azumanga Daioh, which has a tendency to rely on relatively lengthy still shots to emphasize the point. I think this is the source of my discomfort. Awkward silence is effective only when used sparingly, while abusing it evolves comedic awkwardness into nervous fidgeting or other irritations.

I realize now that there are plenty of other series I've seen that can only be consumed in one or two episode doses, but I have never had cause to try otherwise, seeing as how they're currently airing. If nothing else, it's a garish display of neon green on my part.

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Monday, August 6, 2007


So, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei episode 4! Some authors find it easier to write (melo)drama than it is to write comedy, but similarly, I find it difficult to write about comedy. Perhaps I lack the necessary vocabulary to articulate a humourous situation.

Humour can elicit uproarious approval, a chuckle, a smirk, a facepalm, or nothing at all. I just can't tell you why. Even describing the gag is usually inadequate, as to port comedy from one medium to another usually involves nothing less than a complete reinvention of the wheel. The extent of my description may as well be approximated along the lines of,

It was funny. Go watch it and see what I mean.

And so it is with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. It's fairly grim humour, but it works. So go watch it.

The rest of this post is a collection of a few points that I found interesting.

If you check out the WTF section of your favourite news site or sites, you may have come across a story about cardboard being mixed into meat buns in China. While a hoax, it came at a time when China's problems with quality control for agricultural exports gained mainstream attention in North America. It's probably going to be one of those simmering problems for years to come.

Surprisingly not random or flippant flavour text. Nothing like a healthy dose of pessimism to put overachievers in their place. Likely to find better application with something like the economy though. Economy expands too fast, raise interest rates. Economy goes into a recession, lower interest rates.

It's coming down to at least one Gurren-Lagann gag per episode, but this one was strangely appropriate to the scene.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Byousoku 5 cm: Giving up, but unable to let go

Physical distance. Emotional distance. Temporal distance. Too enthusiastic with the rush of scene cuts towards the end. I think that about covers the more apparent things. If you have yet to see it, read no further. For everyone else, read on.

* * *

Most people consider Byousoku 5 cm to be bittersweet. I found it much more bitter than sweet. Tragic, even. Part way into the first installment, Oukashou, I kept wondering about what kind of possibilities awaited Takaki had he not been naive, or was not punished for being naive. But then, this came along:

Akari's letter to Takaki
Did she forget? Or, like Kanae, did Akari come to the realization that there was no point? Takaki felt that something had changed between them following their kiss. Perhaps Akari felt something too: a sense of finality. She did not look nearly as anguished as Takaki at the train station.

At the end of the final installment, however, Takaki and Akari take turns telling the same narrative, and she got to say that they had promised each other with so much certainty at that train station so long ago. It punches a big hole through my hypothesis.

Still, I can't help but feel that Akari came out the better of the two at the conclusion of this movie. I found the following shot to be particularly painful.

Akari and her fiance
Akari's wedding may be scheduled within the next six months, but there's no way Takaki is receiving an invitation. For one, there's no way she would know his mailing address. For another, most would have second thoughts inviting someone like Takaki after seeing his present condition. He's in a pretty bad way, drinking and smoking, possibly freelancing from home or even unemployed. His place is a mess and he lives about the same.

Sadness piles up just by living. So does the trash.

And that's what is probably eating me the most about Takaki: his inability to pitch the emotional baggage. I only look upon Akari with a bit of hostility because Takaki is so much worse off, and it has come about as a result of his own machinations. As evidenced in the second part, Cosmonaut, Takaki has given up yet can't let go. I'm loathe to speculate as to who stopped sending messages first, but I can't imagine Akari being so insincere and just severing ties. Regardless, Takaki continues sit in limbo right to the end of the movie.

Byousoku 5 cm: Science!
Perhaps it's why he seems to identify with the space probe, superimposing its noble cause onto himself. Like a program (a not very robust one at that), he will pursue a path that will ultimately see him stagnate and loop endlessly. This opens up the whole, man vs machine can of worms. The result, though, is that Takaki does become a shell of his former self, something that he acknowledges before noting that he resigned from his employer.

I do take issue with the whole, "I can't tell you how I feel because what's the point" mode of thinking, especially after having come off the "No regrets!" charge that was Hitohira and Planetes. We can now count Kanae, Takaki, and probably Mizuno(?) among its victims. It happens all the time, in art and real life. It doesn't make it any less depressing to watch.

There's a ray of hope at the end. Were Takaki a real person, I'd wish him the best. Oh, who am I kidding. I wish him the best, anyway.

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Blurring fantasy

This has been a trend in progress for a while, and I wonder how everyone feels about it. I speak of what appears to be a movement towards an increased sort of hyper-realism. Maybe we should just call it Shinkai-ism, since he has been this towering figure as of late.

Come to think of it, Voices of a Distant Star was what got the ball rolling for me, followed by The Place Promised in our Early Days. I saw a reference to Chiaroscuro in a comment, but I can't remember where (doh!). And lest we forget already, trains and train stations have never looked so good.

Byousoku 5 cm
But the emphasis isn't purely on visuals in Byousoku 5 cm. The sound effects, when present, may well have been enhanced audio recordings of the real thing, from the Doppler effect as a train moves away from a crossing signal, to the distinct tone of a cell phone on vibrate.

Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo makes use of filtered photographs, as does at least the ending to Manabi Straight. Less extreme might be Kyoto Animation, but do we not laud the studio for its attention to detail precisely it looks so realistic? Is the concept of quality in anime, in the current vernacular, linked to how closely animated entities resemble their real world counterparts?

Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo
Anyone with more viewing experience should feel free to contradict me, but my impression is that this obsession with realism is beginning to pick up steam, whether it be filtering a photo or meticulously drawing scale models of the here and now. Dennou Coil is also insanely detailed, and even Sky Girls is getting more detail than the premise deserves.

You may feel that it cheapens the viewing experience, i.e. "If I wanted a dose of reality I'd just leave my basement house", but the plausibility and consistency that these constructs lend generate a lot of goodwill from viewers with less sophisticated tastes in art (i.e. me).

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An infectious jam session

I only recently got on to the LP bandwagon. Well, only really Your Song, again via U.Blog, which from my limited Love Psychedelico sample size, remains my favourite track. Still, there are any number of solid, laid back jam session tracks. It has all the common traits: catchy guitar riff, plenty of texture in the riff, snug backing vocals in the chorus, strong rhythm everywhere. So why Your Song in particular?

The vocalist is bilingual and really sounds like she has an english inflection in her japanese singing. While intriguing, it's only a point for novelty. The real answer, is this:

There's just something deal sealing about an awesome live performance. I've been sold on Hikki's Distance/Automatic work when she went Unplugged. Ditto FictionJunction YUUKA when they performed in a studio session. Basically the artists that have received the most play on Winamp are solid live performers.

This Budokan 2005 performance of Your Song features a sharper guitar, an extended solo section to close off the song, and the obvious enthusiasm of the audience. The vocalist sounds strained and nasal, especially after the first verse, but the song isn't really about her. It's a jam session, after all. Nor does her singing take anything away from the fact that the band is having a blast.

This isn't a song about perfection. It's about performance. And what a monstrous performance at that.

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Thursday, August 2, 2007

New Evangelion Footage with Beautiful World

Via U.Blog. I'm still trying to sort out how the music fits with Evangelion as a whole. I'm learning toward the side that says that it doesn't really. Both are epic, but Beautiful World's ethereal atmosphere is at odds with the grim war being fought on the ground.

Combat is shaping up to be pretty intense.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Utada Hikaru - Kiss & Cry

Kiss and Cry PV
Lyrics translation and DDL, if it's still up.

I don't suppose the PV was included in that promo package sent out, because it has leaked as well. See jpopsuki. The PV itself is pure footage from the Freedom OVA, which is partly an advertisement for Nissin. The only modification to the animated scenes were split mirroring and applying component R/G/B filters. It appears that quite a bit of effort was put into synchronizing the mouth flaps with the lyrics.

As for the song, it's a throwback to Hikki's Automatic and Distance days. The opening, with its brass fanfare, muted and old (as in analog old), is reminiscent of the bold days of experimental remixing. It didn't quite matter if the spliced in material was at odds with the main body of music, it was the point. Ditto the bridge, which contains the chorus material from Hotel Lobby.

Kiss & Cry sounds early 90's. It just has that classy, glamorous and bold feel of rappers and R&B singers living it up and "featuring" on each other's work. The brass fanfare and interjections help, as does the shiny synthesizers and strong, if minimal, rhythm support.

Looking at both A-sides, Kiss & Cry tops Beautiful World as the better written and produced track. Hikki is very much in her element with the former; she even sounds stronger. Kiss & Cry also benefits from being much less ethereal. It's brash, it's in your face, it's got attitude.

Still, this being almost a period work, I'm not too big a fan of Kiss & Cry just like I tend to prefer ULTRA BLUE/Deep River Hikki to Distance/Automatic Hikki. I'm enamored by the fact that it's well written, but that doesn't necessarily endear me to it. I still have my electronica leanings.

For me, the single is shaping up to be a bit inconsistent, but at least it'll have something for the experimental/electronica fan, the R&B/Hip-hop fan, and the Evangelion fan.

I can't really comment on Fly me to the moon. It's been done to death, and Hikki's R&B cover of it is a radical departure from the original as well as the Evangelion version. The ballad style introduction is fine, if standard, and the jump to the R&B part is somewhat sudden.

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Why take pride in anime?

When you can take pride in Popeye?

How timely. Via BoingBoing.

For the record, I am fairly indifferent when it comes to pride. I am of the view that enjoying anime is something that is a part of me, and I feel no particular pride or shame in what is basically a fact. It's a weak, fence sitting position to take, sure to draw fire from those who fear being looked down upon, and those who think fans are clearly not hardcore enough.

Does it make sense to take pride in other people's work? Or the talents of others? To take pride in something that is not you or not created/accomplished through some contribution by you, is not unlike propping yourself up. And so it is that while the anime studios and their staff may take pride in anime, I merely like watching it and respecting their work.

Another related notion that I do not subscribe to, although maybe I should if only slightly, is pride in country. Why should I be proud of my nationality? I am certainly not ashamed of it, but I refuse to exist vicariously through the great deeds of others. On the flip side, I do not wish to be viewed as someone greater or lesser for being from some country. Nationalism's flip side is racism.

Pride is also exclusive. If you take pride in some sports team, can you objectively watch a match in which they come out the loser? Can you honestly watch such a match for what it is, a display of talent and organization, as opposed to some affront or vindication of your very existence? It's just not healthy. Sometimes, it leads to riots. Combine nationalism with soccer sports, and…

But by extension, I have a dislike for this Anime-ism; the implication that others may or do look down upon you, and for the backlash that in response, one must be a fan unto hooliganism [I know, the entry was in jest]. It engenders dishonest notions that one form of art and entertainment is superior to all others. It makes people want to keep anime to themselves, where it can remain in the hands of those with superior intellect and moral fibre.

This is not the first time that this closeting effect has come up to haunt the anime fan. Perhaps it's a common symptom with movements that have not (yet) gained mainstream acceptance, a collective self-consciousness among its many constituents.

The world doesn't need more silently oppressed people any more than it needs hooligans and soccer riots. Anime is not such a big deal that you have to keep all to yourself, nor should it be rubbed into the faces of everyone you come across. Be passionate, be dignified.

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