Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Nanoha StrikerS: Wins tricks but who's keeping score?

Nanoha StrikerS episode 26: Someone is about to be pwnt
Solid snipers win games, or can just ruin your day if you're on the wrong side of that scope. They sit in the back, don't make much noise, and hand you a one-way ticket back to your respawn point only after you've fought past a host of obstacles. That little sniper rifle icon in the corner with your name to the right of it feels completely arbitrary.

At the same time, the stereotypical sniper is underutilized, precisely because they choose to sit around waiting for enemies to round that fateful (and fatal) corner. When they add to their points column, it is a result that was a split second in the making.

Vice is that stereotypical sniper, by coincidence more than choice, but that coincidence was fabricated by a story writer. His situation is merely one coincidence in a battle marked by numerous arbitrary moments that seemed written with, what else, a split second's worth of consideration.

Playing trump does happen, especially in Euchre, but:

a) The universe, and by extension, Life, may be deterministic but since we can't compute the universe's interactions in general, we'll live with stochastic processes and random variables (that are neither random nor variables).

b) Since Life is random for all that we know, bad things can and do happen to everyone and everything, you included.

c) On the bright side, you might just be misfortune incarnate to your opponents, and will derive much hilarity when you dish out the pain. The probability of this event occurring is non-zero.

In a story context, it's a one-way street, which usually manifests as a I Am Not Left Handed scenario. This is convenient for writers, and not so interesting to viewers. Specific to StrikerS, we are teased with the use of never before seen abilities from almost every Section 6 combatant, abilities which basically win games, and then the series is over. I feel like I missed the PWN train and had to settle for the Half Decent bus.

At least we caught a glimpse of said train as it left the station.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sky Strings

Sky Girls episode 13: Stop feeding the fishPro tip: Stop feeding the fish

(Progress: 15/26)

Stripey pointed out the music behind Sky Girls. Indeed, it's been a while since I've seen a series whose incidental music goes beyond just that — incidental. Nodame Cantabile had music as its focus, but there was a time for music, and there was a time for dialog with music in the background, like most other shows.

A lot of the time, it's a simple matter of repetition (once or twice per episode is sufficient) and upping the volume. The balance can be shifted to favour music over speech, since (for me) the viewer is going to selectively amplify dialog. Consider it as a form of pre-emphasis to compensate for the inherent bias of the receiver.

Novelty helps, too. While it may not be as sweeping as Midway March, as performed by the Boston Pops Orchestra, it's been a while since I've heard a fanfare march anywhere, and Sky Girls delivers a pretty decent one. I find that it's worth sitting through something like the Sonic Diver launch sequence just to hear it.

The light march and the soaring, bittersweet strings in the segment that Stripey posted give off a World War II vibe. The image of that era and its planes, compared to a post-apocalyptic world with fighter jets and Sonic Divers, can be jarring. But as pieces that embody the military spirit in the former, and the human spirit in the latter, they are not unwelcome in the least.

The pensive piano figures heavily elsewhere, and is inevitably viewed in a positive light by me. It can indicate the dredging up of the muddy past, or the troubled mind beneath a stoic visage. While the pensive piano does not necessarily herald additional exploration of the world and the characters, for the time being I'll take comfort in the possibility that it may. And if, eleven episodes later, it doesn't, at least the music is pretty good.

Sky Girls episode 15: The seventeenth angelThe seventeenth angel

They appeared, they blew stuff up, humanity develops giant robots to counter them. I suppose that Sky Girls, like Evangelion, needs no justification for its antagonists.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Was Zegapain really that cheesy?

Following gia's post about the dubbing over of God Knows led me to a certain trailer. Well, two trailers, but first things first.

Yet another reason not to like dubs aside, this is not the Zegapain that I remember. Zegapain's fights were never the hook, yet it's this aspect that they chose to play up. And what was spoken made it sound as if Zegapain had the worst premise in the world. Like, whoa.

Thumbs up to the FLAG trailer, though. It captured the sentiment, and the orchestral piece used just reinforces it. This is one release I'm looking forward to picking up.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Budget humour

Doujin Work episode 11: Awkward
(Progress: 12/12)

Looking at the line again, it's funny if taken out of context, but for the record, I wanted to state that Najimi was the unwitting benefactor of lulz, like, oh I don't know, William Hung.

Doujin Work has appeal because it's outrageous. Perhaps it's not outrageous as it could have been, but there's still plenty of shameless elements. It's outrageously cheap looking for one (and a show stopper for many), with just enough drawn (and animated) to support the dialog that carries the show. The screws of misunderstanding are turned in over the top fashion but generally manage to remain fresh given that an episode is half the typical length.

Doujin Work episode 11: Behold! The PowerBanana H5
The series stumbles at the end, trying to connect back to the (ludicrous) premise that got everything started in the first place. Najimi was in it for the money, and then over the course of the series began playing for pride, although she never admits that it's nigh impossible for someone of her skill level to earn a living. When confronted with the unlikely possibility, she rejects it and we are treated to a short statement about work ethic. Morality tales may be meaningful, but they certainly aren't outrageous.

I won't be taking anything away from Doujin Work except the ED, but there's something endearing about something so ghetto looking, for mostly nostalgic reasons. And because it may have inspired the following:

Zetsubou Sensei episode 7: Cheap animation has left me in despair!
For comparison,

Doujin Work OP sequence

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Gurren-Lagann: Closing remarks

Gurren-Lagann episode 27: Nia's Memorial

Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our abilities did not exist. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

There are any number of motivational quotes that would crystallize Gurren-Lagann, but I happened upon the above candidate in the latest (September) issue of IEEE GOLDRush, but that's not very important (I mean, it's IEEE). So here's to the kid's show that wasn't, and the affirmation that cool needs no other reason.

* * *

There's an innocent-looking tree sitting in the kitchen. You look at it one day and see a shoot. Two days later, it's completely unfurled and the thin base stem looks as if it's gotten that much taller. Pretty soon, it'll be screaming for increasingly larger plant pots. At long last, it will be planted outside, where it will continue to grow faster and taller than I ever did.

When I spot yet another shoot appear, I think about Gurren-Lagann. Plant you now, dig you later.

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Friday, October 5, 2007

"The Agriculture Ministry is not in charge of Gundam"

It belongs to the Ministry of Cartoon Robots.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

As if millions of physicists suddenly cried out in terror

Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, wherein humanity discovers the Unified Field Theory and in return, agrees to discard the laws of thermodynamics. For the sake of a pretty fight of course. A solution to the inevitable destruction of the universe continues to elude the species as a whole.

(Progress: 27/27)

Gurren-Lagann episode 27: Simon who?In an era of peace, there is little room for heroes

Old soldiers never die, but they may undergo puberty a second time. Even Yoko's jaw is squared at the end. I quite like my voice as it is right now and I'm not sure how I would feel were it to drop another octave over the course of 20 years. Perhaps this voice deepening was done to emphasize the time skip to kids, Gurren-Lagann being a kids' show and all. Right?

After seeing The Incredibles, a friend remarked that it had a foundation for children, with layers that would only be picked up by older people. It was entertaining for kids and their handlers, a very rewarding quality for those who managed to achieve that balance.

Gurren-Lagann episode 27: Subtlety
Subtlety was never a strong point of this series. Viewers are whacked over the head with the theme on at least four occasions:
  1. The encounter with the isolated village
  2. Lord Genome's stated motivations following his defeat
  3. Rossiu and his Red Star leftists (trying to pick up where Genome left off but things quickly spiraled out of control)
  4. The Anti-Spirals
It was always about population control and the problem of finite resources, played out on an increasingly larger scale. And each time the answer was to kick reason to the curb and break out of the limits imposed by others. Alone, the sentiment is inspirational and is a large factor in the feel-goodness of this series. Underneath that, though, spelled out in no uncertain terms by the Anti-Spirals on numerous occasions throughout the multi-episode battle, is how ugly breaking out can get.

Infiltrate, assimilate, consume the wreckage of the fallen, repeat. Friend or foe, it matters not and indeed we see Simon taking control of and absorbing things from either side throughout the series. It can be clever and heroic like his commandeering of the Daigenzan, but it can also border upon the horrific. Seeing Genome's head mounted to the base of a giant drill that gets consumed has hallmarks of the latter.

There's this sense of fatalism, depending on how far you want to push the symbolism. Even if all life were wiped out, entropy happens. You can try to reduce entropy in localized systems, but at cost to the larger whole. In other words, the universe, as far as we know, will burn itself out on its own. With our entropy producing ways, we would merely accelerate the process.

Gurren-Lagann episode 27: The evil eye
The eyes. Or just the eye. He's clearly half human, half Contractor. Wait, wrong series.

Is this how Simon spent his time to defending the universe? As a sage? It might not be a bad idea, for what steps should be taken to keep the resource party going for as long as possible? Forcefully take responsibility away from individuals and dictate terms? Or, as Simon advises the child, less force and more suggestion?

Gurren-Lagann is at turns cartoony, over the top, yet quite serious if you dare to venture beyond the fun factor. There's a lot to like, unless you're a physicist. Then it may just leave you in despair.

Lastly, I don't even remember what the first ED song and sequence was, but I always stick around and watch the Minna no Peace sequence in full. Loud anthemic rock, and Gurren-Lagann is definitely a better package with its own anthem.

Simon losing Nia and leaving everyone else mirrors the ED imagery. Usually the hero re-integrates into society after completing the last stages of his quest alone. Simon has always had support, and with his job done, heads out on his own. One last twist to a well-executed series.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Darker than Black shareholder applauds Serious Business

Darker than Black episode 25: The killing fields of South America
(Progress: 25/25)

But disapproves of child labour soldiers.

Darker than Black episode 25: Unmasking Hei
Of the mysteries surrounding Hei, be it his lack of a payment scheme although he ate a lot, or his un-Contractor-like irrationalities, it never occurred to me that he is the only Contractor in the series to wear a mask. I shrugged it off for the usual reasons, like he might be recognized by the authorities, but he didn't commence operations starting episode one, and no other Contractor took measures to hide their face.

In the beginning, there was a clear distinction between Hei as a regular person and Hei as a Contractor. The lightning bolt on the mask isn't some dishonest bluff. When he puts on the mask, he puts on lightning, on at least two levels. Later on, we see that he uses his abilities without the mask, a symbolic blurring of divisions.

People have long feared corporations. Images come to mind of mindless drones, the stereotypical company man defined only through his work, labouring under the equally dispassionate leadership that rules with an iron fist and is concerned only about its immediate interests. What is a Contractor if not a model cog, supposed to carry out orders unquestionably and without regard for the effects it may have on others?

How ironic is it then, that the reaction against Contractors is embodied in a group that is organized and called the Syndicate. With that knowledge, many of the missions that take place can be framed in the context of dealing with rogue Contractors or any objects related to the Hell's Gate.

Darker than Black has been open-ended on a number of items, one of them being the Syndicate/Organization/Illuminati. It is claimed that they essentially own the world's intelligence agencies, and yet the Russian FSB had sent out two Contractors to gather intelligence on the Syndicate.

What was the Syndicate attempting to accomplish by smuggling Dolls? When would this supposedly all-powerful organization resort to that kind of means for fund-raising?

The series concludes with an incomplete view of the world and its major players. Partial pictures have a disadvantage to more fleshed out views, partly because there is the suspicion that even the writers don't have a definitive idea of where things are going. It also allows such things as the springing of arbitrary surprises at the last minute, like Hei's sister's full abilities and the mechanism behind the disappearance of the Heaven's Gate.

At the end of the day, Darker than Black is not a series with instant appeal. There are no broke bounty hunters to instantly relate to (the broke part, of course). Its subject matter touches upon issues that can hit a little too close to home at times, pointing out things that we may not wish to acknowledge - let alone discuss - about ourselves or others in general. There isn't much in the way of answers, either, just a push to consider and compare their world and ours. I think I did see one message, which may or may not have some relevance outside of the series:

Behind every Contractor there is a human. One only has to afford them the dignity of being one to see that.


DtB 25 was the first episode watched on my new system, in a resolution exceeding 704x400. I could get used to this. When in doubt, just throw more hardware at the problem.

Or new hardware. I witnessed first-hand the bursty activity that compressed video can generate when trying to watch video sourced from external storage over USB 1.1. In scenes with either lots of movement (Gurren-Lagann ED) or localized high-speed motion (Gurren-Lagann OP with the circling Mugans) over many frames, the USB 1.1 connection is saturated.

The high-level reason is that something like DivX is unable employ large amounts of prediction between frames. The other extreme is a still shot, with will compress much better. It's easy to predict the position of a motionless object.

704x400 can still saturate the poky USB 1.1 connection on occasion, but in general it requires a pause to fill up the buffer and clear the bottleneck, so I've generally stuck to 704x400 resolution in the past. Of course, there's no problem with USB 2.0.

What about moving higher resolution media to internal storage for playback? I had never de-fragmented my old hard drive, and since it is more or less at capacity in addition to being almost four years old, it can have a hard time serving up the necessary bandwidth for stall-free playback. Yes, it was that fragmented. Playing back live performances, at relatively uncompressed 10,000 kbps MPEG-2, was not a good experience, if it could be called even that.

On the topic of new stuff, this current theme is broken in my latest installation Firefox, with grey flooding into the sidebar. It looks like the hunt is on for something different, unless I can get this resolved.

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