Saturday, June 30, 2007

Oh dear, Kyoshiro to Tora no Sora licensed by ADV

No good can come of this. Really. Is there some mecha show annual license quota that has to be filled? I hope they're not banking on support from KnM purchasers.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Utada Hikaru to sing in Evangelion movie

From the U.Blog.

I do believe it is time to fanboy.

I hope the picture in that post makes it to the cover art. The Flavor of Life cover art had her looking…stressed.

I don't think her cover of Fly Me to the Moon ever appeared in any of the ending sequences for the Evangelion series, which is what the entry implies. If it did, this is news.

It seems like Fly Me to the Moon is just there to capitalize on the connection Evangelion fans make with the song and series, especially if it's just a re-mix, which requires minimal to zero singing on her part. If she does the re-mixing herself, then power to her.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Well then

Installing HaloScan amounted to nothing less than a hostile takeover of the Blogger feedback system. In addition to losing a grand total of 2 comments, I toasted my backlinks. I don't suppose it's worth my while to go around replicating backlinks using TrackBack pings, but I did a few of the ones I could remember.

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Utada-Online is back, but...

The community forums are gone in favour of a blog. Given the bandwidth and moderation hassles of running a full-blown forum, this was a good move on the RetroJapan's part, but I'll miss the forums as a source of lyric translations and live performance recordings.

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For the love of it

While we're all playing purist, as inspired by the tenth episode of Lucky Channel, let's talk about another term that has been butchered modified due to the passage of time. While there are plenty of terms that have changed throughout history, this one has the benefit that it's in the language that I'm writing in, and one that has some bearing on what (and how) I write.

* * *

That term, is amateurism. The opposite, of course, is professionalism. I generally have a disdain for -ism's, as usually any -ism has a polarizing extreme opposite. While I've forgotten the first place I read about -ism's, Beware of isms because they very quickly move to schisms by Huston Smith will suffice. In this case, I aspire not to amateurism, nor professionalism, but some data point in between.


From 08th MS TeamAnyone who can take down a Zaku with a compact grenade launcher is PRO in my books.


That amateur and its derivatives are frequently used in a negative tone, while professional and its derivatives are generally referenced positively, reflects heavily on the kind of society that most of us live in. The general consensus is that professionals make lots of money. They're lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, and various other licensed occupations that traditional Asian parents want their kids to become.

By contrast, amateurs are unskilled n00bs who are generally unemployable.

Money is but one view. At its root, amateur means to be a lover of. Whether or not you make a living out of doing what you love is a different issue entirely, although those who can are often the subject of much envy.

Just because you love whatever, be it music, or games, etc. does not automatically mean you are bad. Nor does the fact that you do whatever for a living make you good. Digitally re-mastered, heavily marketed pop acts are professionals in every sense of the world: they sing for a living; multiple studio sessions and a mixer ensure that every song is error free and extremely shiny; public perception is key, with the hype machine and marketing department being indications that such perception can be easily bought. Believe it or not, some acts are quite good, and others not so much.

Most of us, and I suppose I mean those who write about anime and related sundry topics, are amateurs, hopefully. We love to watch anime, and want to talk about it, choosing a written medium to do so. At least, that's the plan.

Although I can be inconsistent about it, I try to be a bit self-conscious when writing. More than mere polish — writing technique is on a continuum orthogonal to content — to be self-conscious is to be aware of others and concerned about how others view you. Most times, people want to be viewed in a positive light and I'm no exception. I don't want to be thought of as having shoddy writing, so I edit my entries, although I'm still working on those skills. If I have to censor myself to head off disrespect, so be it.

Some people have no self-consciousness, using their posts to vent, to lash out, i.e. to cry, in game parlance. That's fine; it's up to each individual to figure out where they're comfortable at, how they wish to be viewed by others. At times I wonder if some have given any consideration at all, or whether such soul-searching is some triggered event, scheduled to fire off around middle-age. I look for meaning all the time, sometimes in the silliest of places. But that's just where I stand.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Happy pride day



To those contributing to the already poor traffic situation that is downtown Toronto. We salute you!

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KOTOKO on YTV

A bit of a promotional appearance in advance of AnimeNorth 2006. Once again, KOTOKO re-affirms her status as a great performer by giving it her all on a children's channel.



Had I known that KOTOKO would be appearing at AN'06, I'd have skipped class and dragged my carcass down to see her perform. At the time I had yet to have discovered Re-sublimity, but I had encountered Second Flight (ft. Hiromi Sato), the famous (although not so great) Shooting Star, and various other image songs from Onegai Teacher/Twins and Triangle Heart ~Sweet Songs Forever~ OVA.

For anyone interested in a bit of trivia, Triangle Heart (based on a game of the same name) featured a Takamachi Nanoha, but not as the incarnation that wound up in MSLN, MSLN A's and now StrikerS. Likewise, none of the other Triangle Heart characters make any serious appearance in the MSLN series.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Sudden Shock: Baldr Force EXE Resolution

I have a lot more time than most, what with being unemployed (or unemployable), yet I am mostly behind. Chalk it up to a pre-obsolete laptop and what passed for state of the art laptop storage oh…5 years ago. I've had to resort to borrowing a desktop for good and for awesome, but only on condition that I be removed should that PC be required for actual work.

Despite gasping for disk space, I did manage to free up about 250 MB by disposing of a few game replays and highlight reel AVI's, although I will miss some truly golden moments. Incidentally, 250 MB is enough to fit the concluding episode of Baldr Force EXE Resolution as subbed by Kiss-Sub.

* * *

I was initially holding out for Megami subs, and then proceeded to forget Baldr Force in its entirety because, well, Megami stalled. I was reminded by a little note in my head, as if forwarded to my future self, only that it was delayed by over a month, kind of like those pathological cases back in the old days of ICQ (and SMS today). I'm getting old.


Episode 4: Remnants of the FLAK ForcesEpisode 4: Remnants of the FLAK Forces

What's disconcerting at first is the mecha design. More functional than pretty, simulacrums look and sound clunky. Primary surface movement is accomplished by sliding around, not unlike roller skates. However, there is little combat, and battles are not of the epic, pitched variety. Rather, they are brief skirmishes. That's not to say that actual tactics get employed; firefights are won by simple means such as enemy incompetence and vastly superior firepower.

Soukou no Strain demonstrated the effect of a first episode body count consisting of potentially significant characters. While Baldr Force doesn't kill off such characters, the first episode is graphic in terms of how they die. In the first noticed inconsistency, exploding heads don't make an appearance in the last episode.

In another hand-waving moment, it seems that the Big Bad can be selective in who it kills. The problem is, it spares the lives of characters in an inconsistent, but very convenient, manner.

Onii-chan! He's so going to die. I mean, people who turn Shinji in the last episode are asking for it. Right? Right?!

The story is pretty simple. See if you can take a guess as to what transpires from the following list: rebels, a conspiracy involving child experiments, virtual reality. What's more interesting, and unpleasant is the world. The four episodes give a tour of the slum living that results when most of the population decides that it's too hard to clean up after themselves, and since the wired world is arbitrarily clean…

Expanding upon anything is a tall order when only given four episodes, so it's not really a surprise that Baldr Force relies on shock value. Shocking things happen, and then…what? If said shocking thing happens to be part of a plot, side or main, then it gets wrapped up, which is better than leaving things hanging, in this case. If it's something like exploding heads, then nothing happens. As a matter of fact, as mentioned before, it doesn't come up again.

Overlooking convenient plot devices and inconsistencies, episode four as a standalone unit was intense. When KOTOKO's Face of Fact opened for other episodes, it was some dreamy, watered down version, and watering down an already average (for KOTOKO) song just isn't right. Face of Fact appears in its original mix in an epic (and lop-sided) large-scale engagement. It's like flipping on God Mode: you know it's cheap and gratuitous but it doesn't matter, because KOTOKO is singing in the background.

It's also not every day that you see something like in that picture above. Sharp rows of teeth and blood make me squeamish. Never mind that the whole sequence was oddly irrelevant and even the scenes afterward made no sense (how does touching an artifact revert a monster when it's stated that they have to be stabbed in order to have any effect?), I don't do well around horror scenes, so you can guess what I'm really not watching from this spring season.

Because of drive constraints I don't have the first three episodes anymore, but I wouldn't keep the series anyway. There are better series with virtual reality settings, but Baldr Force might be of interest if you've played the game(s?).

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

KnM has moved to a new label!

See the Kannazuki no Miko label.

I should have thought of this earlier. This could have been a redirect and a smooth transition.

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Chikane Himemiya - character notes

Episode 8 Chikane laying down the LAW
Episode 8 Chikane laying down the LAW. She's actually saying How rude! Kneel! to Souma's mech, while Souma is currently doing the kneeling.

Chikane is a polarizing character, sparking her own share of disputes even among fans of Kannazuki no Miko. Still, chances are that if you don't feel strongly about Chikane, then you can't get into the rest of the series. Love her or not, her presence defined each episode, as well as all related KOTOKO songs. What follows is essentially my shrine to one Himemiya Chikane, the tragic figure who deserved, if not a happy ending, then at least more than 12 episodes of fighting robots.

Spoilers will follow, obviously.

* * *

Before I start out at all, I make reference to a TV Trope below, one that deals with the actions of episode eight, and the trope offers two ways of viewing rape. At this point in time, I continue to sit on the fence. I don't support what happened, it's not okay, and yet I have to accept it because the scene is there, sitting on my DVD. You just don't look cover your eyes when there's an 800 pound gorilla or elephant (take your pick) in the room, beside you, taking up your oxygen and possibly stealing your tunes. So let's talk about it, and what does it say about Chikane. How you feel about the whole thing says more about you than anything else, including the series.

Chikane is in an awkward position. In a lot of stories involving mystical elements or just combat of any sort, the lead characters are gifted with relevant abilities right off the bat. In Kannazuki no Miko, the most immediate powers are in the hands of the evil doers and one good guy, at a ratio of 7 to 1. I'll overlook the fact that the good guy was supposed to be an evil doer.

It's made clear that Chikane and Himeko should be the most important characters in the second episode, but in the overall scheme of things, other characters — the evil doers — continue to carry the initiative until the eighth episode. In each encounter, Chikane and Himeko are no match for the Orochi, and have to be bailed out by Souma, in possession of powers that (more than) match those of the Orochi members.

While Himeko has no distinguishing abilities, Chikane does. Himeko is nothing but a normal high school student with the ability to summon a giant fighting robot, which passes as the currency of power in this series. She lacks any athleticism, which might aid her in fending off an attack (but not by a giant robot) and if nothing else, in running away.

Chikane, on the other hand, has demonstrated athleticism and a sense of marksmanship. It's just that these abilities are totally irrelevant against superhumans and robots alike, and episode after episode demonstrates that no one feels this more acutely than her.

As noted by Souma in episode eight, Chikane is competitive but not for the sake of winning. I should clarify that statement; there are some things that one can be good at with a bit of practice and discipline, but I think what the scenes during Souma's passage wanted to make clear was that in other activities, she would succeed at cost to her own well-being. There are battles that are chosen for her, all of which are in a school setting and only do require some practice and discipline, and then there are battles that she chooses to fight.

This dedication plays into a sense of chivalrous love for Himeko. Chikane pictures herself as what can only be the idealized image of a knight: protecting her loved one, not only physically but guaranteeing her happiness, even if that means Chikane would forever sit on the sidelines, at best a good friend. You could argue that she's not being totally honest with herself, given her various actions (the stolen kiss, the hairpin), but I will give her the benefit of the doubt.

See, Chikane always operates alone, away from others, in the dark, in situations of uncertainty. I think in her pre-episode seven mind, which was unaware of the consequences of defeating Orochi, Souma's and Himeko's relationship would be official and in the open, denying her of the unofficial (read: uncertain) environment. She could live with that; she is aware of her actions in public. As a side note, it's only in episode eight that she loses her sense of social propriety, or actively disregards it, and only in the archery scene.

Chikane isn't quite Batman, and I'm not about to get into a pissing contest as to who would beat who in a fight, but Chikane does approach something like a dark knight.

Against Chikane's sometimes desperate desire to be the protector crashes wave after wave of humiliating failure. What was probably once a spotless record of success is now marred by numerous defeats. She deals with the adversity with much grace, allowing Himeko to cry enough tears into Chikane's shoulder for the both of them. Inwardly, she grows that much more desperate until, well, the end of episode seven.

Chikane's penchant for acting independently, in the shadows, gets her into a lot of trouble, but her actions are commensurate with her motivation. By doing what she did in episode eight, she accomplishes a number of short-term goals:

  • Clearly power flows from the joints of a giant fighting robot, and only incidentally through the barrels of some robots' guns and cannons should they have them. Chikane has no such robot, but obviously the next best solution is to take someone else's, and since of none of the evil doers appear unless it's to kill her or Himeko, Souma will have to do. She could track down Souma and defeat him with ease, as is demonstrated, but her actions have the indirect effect of drawing him to the mansion.

  • Chikane works best in the shadows, and the Orochi power base is not sun-kissed.

  • This is something she has to do alone. Chikane attempts to cut ties with the only person who can summon an answer to Orochi, although we know how that turns out. She also really cuts ties with the only guy who would and could protect them, and takes that power along with her, fused with whatever was gifted to her as Priestess of the Moon.


At some point in time, Chikane should also have turned Souma into stone. This could have the effect of obliterating any faith left in Himeko. Then, Chikane and Himeko could have had their confrontation without the initial robot fight. Why didn't she do it? Perhaps because Souma was not really the enemy, not in the rather short timeframe of the story and not in Chikane's mind, either. She didn't need to protect Himeko from Souma but those out to kill her. In a tragic twist, that group included Chikane, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

There's no defence like a good offence, so what better way to protect Himeko from her attackers than to kill them all? The outcome couldn't have been better, for then she would be the lone evil doer, her working environment of choice. On top of that, since Chikane was out to kill Himeko herself, she was going to have to die as well. The pieces of the puzzle come together in this neat and ordered fashion, completely aligned with Chikane's perception of herself, and the idealized role she was to play in Himeko's life.

KnM is unusual in that the lion's share of screen time goes to Chikane, when it can be argued that the character who changes the most is Himeko. Coincidentally, there was a recent thread on the Yuricon Yahoo group about why Strawberry Panic was being given such a bad rap, and one message compared both SP and KnM to MariMite. Chikane got compared to Sachiko, and obviously Sachiko is a better(?) character because she develops over time, especially, apparently, in the OVA. Sachiko gets three seasons to evolve, but I digress. I think the big picture view is, Chikane is a tragic character, and her flaw is a fierce independence that is only conveyed in her actions.

Tragic characters don't change, which is the point. Their flaws directly bring about their own demise, which they realize only when it's too late. In a variation on this premise, Chikane, quite aware of what it means to be alone, and to act alone, plots her own demise. This kind of self-awareness and discipline is generally regarded as a good thing, but really it is only strength of character, and strength can either help or harm. Chikane has done both, but what we see most viscerally is her ability to harm.

Because one can generally argue any point by heaping on sufficient support, I conclude with this one: Chikane personifies the moon. It isn't so much that she looks the part, which she does. In episode eight, chibi Chikane sits on that tree, reading, quietly observing the world alone. She is that solitary beacon in the darkness, and people do not hang around her to bask in her warmth, as the moon doesn't illuminate the land like the sun does. People look up to her like they look up at some towering figure. Himeko, despite treating Chikane as normally as she has ever been treated, continues to view her as the voice of reason up till the end. It is in that end that Himeko finally places herself on equal footing with Chikane, essentially climbing onto the pedestal that she continued to place Chikane on despite the latter falling back to earth, and then some.

Is Chikane a beautiful character? Of course. Her story is beautiful just like puzzles and tragedies can be beautiful. I hope I've gone some way to argue or re-affirm that for skeptics and fans alike.

If nothing else, there's beauty in the breakdown.

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Bizarro

I realized that I had two labels for essentially the same thing: knm and kannazuki no miko. Merging them into a single label causes all of the affected pages to be issued new publishing dates, it seems, which wreaks havoc with the site feed. So for those who visit this site through the feed, and are seeing all of these old pages, my sincerest apologies. I'll try not to make such radical changes in the future.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 14. About me

Notes on the final track. The shift to a darker theme in the bridge reminds me of the introduction of foreign sounding material in the bridge for Keep Tryin'. There are probably other examples, but it was the first one to come to mind, and the contrast in Keep Tryin' is very apparent.

Given that she's divorced now, it's hard not to look at this song (and others, like Flavor of Life, YMMWTBAM) in a different light.

* * *

Simple acoustic guitar song, for the most part, with typical light R&B accompaniment (snare/cymbal, some piano, bass drum) in later sections. The guitar section sounds like something that Maaya Sakamoto might do in a quiet, introspective piece.

It's pretty and picturesque, and very honest. I keep thinking that this would be a perfect moment for Hikaru to totally own the listener with the power of her voice, but after some more listening, the accompaniment creates too light of an atmosphere to do some serious vocal work [this doesn't make any sense, really]. I think that the lightness of the moment is good fit with the honest simplicity of her voice and lyrics.

She speaks of her fears of marriage, perhaps. She questions whether either party is ready, whether the relationship has advanced enough, whether either side is open about their thoughts, if the trust is there. She doesn't speak in figurative terms, these are direct questions. And she fears that the image that she puts on is giving the wrong signals.

I suppose she'd have the experience, given her status. I'm sure many people have tried to ask her out.

I'm trying to search for a message hidden in the lyrics, but I'm not really finding any. At best, when she admits to being prone to dishonesty, being crazy, and not being cute, it's like she's telling her crazed fans that she's not who we think she is, that she has a dark side [Devil Inside :D?]. I don't dispute it, there are small pieces during the Budokan concert and Making of Utada Unplugged that capture her in a less than positive mood.

To a new listener, it could be advice to not form any preconceptions based on her music. It's a much weaker proposition, admittedly. I've got nothing.

It's a fitting end to Exodus, a change in many ways from her previous style, musically, lyrically, and culturally.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 13. Let me give you my love

Notes on the unlucky track follow. If only the music were as progressive as the lyrics.

* * *

A song about interracial relationships. Sort of. It starts off like that, and then just sort of goes into regular relationship type stuff, as things should, as opposed to having your parents beat you over the head and move out of town. As expected, it's sexually charged.

It's got a casual, sensual feel to it. Lazy synthesized minor descending chords, warped synthesized bass, that kind of atmosphere. It's pretty standard stuff, apart from the subject matter, which quickly goes from out of the ordinary to something closer to ordinary. There's not enough said concerning social acceptance to read into these lyrics, it's just implied.

Some comments about choruses for these types of songs in general. Why the high, thin, register? Is it because it makes the female vocalist sound submissive, weak, or maybe just breathless and willing? It doesn't sound inviting to me, rather it sounds depraved.

Again, generic, not too bad, typical R&B. It's just not something I appreciate except from its interesting subject matter. Upon repeated listens, though, she doesn't develop the ideas enough to warrant this single track looping I'm doing.

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Reason to actually go to the theatre

But probably only in America. Praise to Google Reader for coughing up this entry in a timely manner. Root source here. ADV hasn't yet updated their own page with the news.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 12. Wonder 'Bout

Washing dishes, Watching baseball matches. Are these references to the Deep River era songs Hikari (specifically the PV) and Play Ball? If so, this is a lot more tongue and cheek than I had previously thought, with Parody vibes.

Fans of the Distance era should have had a blast. This is one track where the lyrics flow well, and she really sounds true to Distance form.

* * *

Wonder 'Bout is another typical R&B/hip-hop (I'm no good at distinguishing) track, about, well, wondering about what an ex-boyfriend is doing. Nothing shocking, except where she says, I don't give a damn about you, or I don't f***king give a damn, in the second chorus. It took me a while to catch this, even though it
was pointed out in a forum thread called, Sailor mouth (hah).

It's got the usual instrumentation, including the wah wah muted trumpet, except it's sampled; electronic E piano (the soft sounding piano mode for those old Yamaha Clavinova electronic keyboards); the bop hollow percussion (name escapes me) [maybe they were just wood blocks]; and sampled clarinet (at least I think it's clarinet…I should know since I played it, but eh). The setting evoked is late 80's/early 90's, very old school.

I've heard one person call this track absolute crap, without giving any reason why. It's pretty generic, but it's fun a track. It has a jazzy slant, laid back and cool, as in restrained, cool jazz styles. Hikaru flips the rapid fire lyrics over with ease, with slight blue note rises/leans at phrase openings. She really sounds like a different kind of singer. If that's her intention, to play a jazz vocalist for one track, she's done an excellent job.

I think this is the one situation where her lack of richness becomes an asset, because you have to dispense with sonority and replace that with snappiness for this kind of music.

Generic, nothing special/spectacular, but well done. Fans of retro hip-hop will like this one.

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Utada Hikaru, Exodus - 11. You make me want to be a man

Notes for the track with the really long title follow. YMMWTBAM, even the acronym is unwieldy. The golden touch that was Utada United didn't really help, even with a pounding - and I mean pounding - bass drum. It just goes to show that some songs are beyond salvation.

* * *

Because guys can't communicate well with women, but guys can communicate among each other. That about sums up the lyrics.

The erhu kind of chinese stringed instrument riff at the opening is beginning to get on my nerves. Ok, so quarter tones are fine even though they may sound out of tune, but after being beaten over the head with it for the umpteenth time, it begins to sound old, and flat [har har].

As a matter of fact, it's something I can't get out of my head, and it absolutely dominates the chorus, which drives me insane. In the end, this is about on par with the Workout in terms of dislike-ability. It's like the Exotic Asian card was extended, rolled into a cardboard tube, and used to beat the listener over the head. The wailing section and erhu-like instrument are just over the top, with everything else being generic and mediocre.

Hikaru doesn't do a bad job singing the verses, but they're short and undeveloped one or two-liners.

Everything is so contrasting, there's no blend. There's the annoying stringed instrument, or the annoying melody. That's all there's to say.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 10. Kremlin Dusk

I disagree with my previous self. Kremlin Dusk and Animato are at each other's throats for best track, with Hotel Lobby a close second (or third?). Right now, Kremlin Dusk edges out Animato only because Animato hasn't been given a crazy live performance like in Utada United.

* * *

Claimed by many to be the best song of Exodus [Ed: see summary at top]. I think it's a toss up between this and Exodus '04. KD is ambitious in its scope and breadth [Ed: aren't these the same thing?], claimed by Hikaru to be something like Bohemian Rhapsody. I wouldn't go so far as to say it sounds like BR, but it does share some similarities with OK Computer or something that X Japan might do.

It's a fight to reach that status, though. She walks on thin ice in the first half. In the Calling you bridges, it sounds like she's fighting for air even as she hits what sound like high tones at the limits of her range. Call it wailing, call it caterwauling, it's something that I thought only bad pop artists or beginning vocal music students could only get away with it.

The second half breaks into fast rock, and there's a sense of epicness about it, and it kicks everyone's ass, and all is right with the world. There's not much else to say about the rock session, except it's rocking, and that it's epic, and that it kicks my ass. There's are phrase interjections that add to the ass kicking factor, as she slowly sings amid the swirl, thunder, fire, and brimstone.

The speed transition is typical, is pretty standard, but never ceases to impress me. Maybe I'm just a sucker for plucked strings in consonant intervals with lengthy gaps between, in a alternating descending pattern (sort of like dah…duh, and then another dah…duh at a lower tone). They also make an appearance in the beginning. There's also a male voice that says something like, Bjork repeatedly during the transition. Makes you wonder.

It's up in the air as to what the lyrics are about. The opening suggests that she's lost a partner, given the reference to Lenore, which, after some Googling, is an Edgar Allan Poe poem [The Raven] about the death of a loved one [the simulated raven croaking was a nice touch]. The rock half is probably related, but the entertainer references that are interleaved in the lyrics suggest some sort of private conversation with the listener. Consider the line where instead of saying, I'm a natural entertainer, she says, I promise secret propaganda [I think it's now generally agreed that she says run a secret propaganda]. It's a bit distorted, and might be missed amid the busyness of the band. Then there are lines asking if you've liked this and would you come back? The last two lines:

If you like this. Will you remember my name?
Will you play it again, if you like this?


The persistent guitar that kicks in, I initially thought as cheap MIDI fit for Street Fighter 0.2, or Tetris (she says she plays Tetris. Hm…) [She owns at Tetris. True story. YouTube it]. I still think that it is, but it's not as bad as it was, say, 12 hours ago (yes, I was up till about 3 am). Consider the following, pulled from utada-online.net from translated from Hikaru's liner notes:

She felt that only live drums would do this song justice, so she
asked Jon Theodore from the Mars Volta, since she was very 'into'
their music at the time.


If the song's good enough for live drums, then at least that guitar could have been switched for an electric guitar for the rock session [I disagree with such a move now]. Better yet, put in a harpsichord for the opening half, switch to electric guitar for the rock session, and close with the harpsichord. There'd be a more clockwork, mechanical, tension.

Anyway, theory about why she sounds like she's absolutely suffering during those wailing bridges in the opening half. She performs the same passage with better results during the lead up to the rock section. I think it's because it's the dynamic is a little louder, and the tempo a bit faster. I figure if she can hit that high tone in Kettobase (live!), or even in the coda of Deep River (live!), she can hit the notes here [studio recording!]. I don't think she's necessarily writing out of her range, although I think I'll have to go check now.

The problem happens when she has to sing high and quietly. It's going to require quite a bit of air, and I think she's letting her tone quality smear in order to not suffocate. But I just heard the passage again, and on the way down, she's flat on a tone. Flat! Why couldn't they have raised the pitch in post production? …

Anyway, very good music, good vocals in the second half. Intriguing lyrics. Someone has to analyse them.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 09. Crossover Interlude

A summary of this really short ninth track follows.

* * *

Essentially opens like in Opening, but maybe with the tempo raised, and a drum beat. She sings the exact same lyrics, but some instrumental accompaniment pits her against some dissonance. I'm not sure what to make of this, except maybe it serves as a reminder to the listener. I should add that it's like she's looking for support and
faith in her new style.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 08. Animato

Notes on lucky number eight. Taking these albums out for another spin, I can't help but think that Hikki needs to write lyrics that flow with the music. A lot of the lines sound disjunct and consequently juvenile. Part of it is also delivery, as just having attitude can polish seemingly un-salvageable songs. Case in point: Devil Inside at Utada United 2006.

As usual, square bracket comments are meta-comments.

* * *

The track ends with the kind of air-burst effect used in Galerie Stratique's Soleil Levant. I don't mind it, it's like adding white noise for added contemplative effect. A background chorus kicks in and for a moment it sounds like it might be something Enigma might do, sampling from O Fortuna. It turns into a bit of an upbeat march, with textures being added every so often.

I like the electronic background used in this. This is the track that is sufficiently experimental to warrant such accompaniment. Hikaru's voice is light and easy, and I don't think in this case her voice is the feature attraction. Rather, it's the background, and her vocals are but another instrument in the fabric.

I thought that I'd have more to say about the music, but really that's about it. It's layered and experimental, and it's still accessible [i.e. it doesn't sound like garbage] which is a bonus for these kinds of tracks. Listen to it.

I get the sense that the lyrics are autobiographical, another one-sided conversation with the listener with asian music stereotypes ingrained in their brains. The verse lines are pentatonic once again, but the track as a whole is not. In her verses, she asks why her music has to be classified. She makes a reference to hip-hop, and her abilities to do (I'm guessing) hip-hop/R&B. Instead, she says that she does what she does best. It's another remark about transcendence and the [sp3, haha!] hybridization styles. The track closes with some of the artists she's listened to: Elvis (early rock), BBC recording sessions with Led Zeppelin (metal), Fred Mercury (of Queen, also metal).

There's a remark about diamond shoes and being on time. I wonder if it's a Cinderella reference.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 07. Hotel Lobby

Terse pseudo-technical commentary continues with notes on the seventh track. Incidentally, the melodic structure of Hotel Lobby's verse appears in the bridge of her latest single (available for download on iTunes in Japan). Square-bracket comments are new.

* * *

Whoo, Latin styles. Hikaru should've dragged in a steel drum band [maybe she did, now that I think about it]. The electronic clipped piano thingy (I can't identify what kind instrument plays that introductory motif) is not too intrusive.

I might as well get through the lyrics. At first I wasn't sure what was going on since I couldn't really make out the lyrics. But after hearing [I'm kind of slow that way] that it's about a prostitute, everything sort of clicked, and I could make out the lyrics. It's amazing how well your hearing improves once you have a framework to work with. The lyrics are descriptive of the situation and thoughts of the character. Who knows if they're realistic. They're brief enough to say that they're representative.

This is another of those tracks that is executed well. The verses are sort of quick, and the high register that they are sung in, combined with the high register harmony, can lead to a bit of distortion, but again, after knowing what's going on, it's a lot easier to pick out the words. I think the higher register is appropriate given the style and character of the track.

The really engaging part is the chorus. The underlying harmony swells and drives the harmonic progression out of sync [colloquially known as call and response] with the main line, and it's like the two are racing. They quickly swell and peak in sync, before falling and doing the same thing again. It's really chant-like, and chant is usually energizing [I do like the choral elements of Yuki Kajiura's works]. There is some solo chanting in between verses and chorus as well.

Upon listening to the chorus again, the dramatic swelling is only done on the first pass. The second run is a bit sparser. I wish that there was a greater dynamic change at the top of swell relative to the bottom. It would have added that much more energy.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 06. Tippy Toe

The stream of consciousness continues with notes on the sixth track. Tippy Toe is like a guilty pleasure. I'm too modest.

* * *

Whenever I listen to this track, I'm reminded of the MTV Unplugged performance of Addicted to You. That's a good thing. Actual similarities are non-existent though.

This is a coy track, and is pretty typical pop R&B, except that the verses use some pentatonic scale, in a bit of an Exotic Asian twist. At the end of the verse it concludes with a proper Western cadence. Insistent bass drum generates a good forward movement. The rest of the instrumentation is pretty standard for an R&B track. The pentatonic percussion makes brief entrances in the verses, nothing prominent.

There's the addition of this droning electronic bass effect, which is pretty strong. During the chorus, I hear either that, or her. The one not being paid attention becomes muddled in the background. More often than not, it's the bass that takes centre stage. It's annoying.

The combination of a high register chorus and fast lyrics creates this slurring effect. I have no solutions, but she can sing Kettobase verses cleanly, and they've got fast jumps, albeit it's scored for a mid to high register. Anyway, the chorus takes several passes (song passes, not chorus passes) to get a sense of what she's saying.

I think what reminds me most of Addicted to You is the lead up to the chorus. In both there's a bit of transition and tension leading up to the real chorus, and all the while bass drum is motoring things along. It's a nice effect. Beats the stuffing out of the Up-in-Heaven mix.

At the end of the first verse, when she says you in a high range, she clips it off, maybe due to shortness of breath. People complain about how whenever she says ooh! in such a high register it sounds distorted. For them it was a show stopper. For me, it's a minor issue. It sounds smeared, yes. If the main voice and harmony voice were clean and short, it would have resonated, like the ooh! in Kettobase Unplugged. Missed opportunity, but it doesn't break the song.

Same complaints about her voice lacking any interesting qualities, yada yada. I shouldn't say anything unless she does something special, or especially bizarre.

I'm not paying attention too much to the lyrics. In the second verse the backgrounds drown out some of her fast lyrics. Extra-marital affairs, but from what I can tell it's not really insightful, just viewed through romanticism-tinted glasses.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 05. Easy Breezy

Notes on the head-scratcher of a fifth track follow. The second radio single never appeared in North America, as far as I know.

* * *

I'm going to try and write this with a straight face, although I'm already biased, and when I showed the PV to a friend, he went into wtf mode.

The chorus that opens evokes images of summer, and the track has a strong bass beat. The dinky synthesized piano that opens and persists throughout the chorus passages is cute, but it's not endearing, and quickly becomes old. Combined with its insistent rhythm, it gets irritating.

The chorus is in an upper register that is executed in a rather tinny fashion, almost like that synthesized piano. Hikaru has a nice low range here in the verses, but again it has no colour. It sounds dry and airy, and the expressiveness sounds forced.

Speaking of forced, the Konichiwa/Sayonara line sounds pretty forced, like it just *had* to have been put in somewhere to play the Exotic Asian card. The lyrics are bland, and pointless, sometimes superficial, sometimes degrading. Everyone's jumping on this, but it just has to be said again. Japanesey sounds a lot like Japan-easy, which given the subject of the track, makes a lot of sense.

In the coda where she's pseudo-improvising, the ah-ah's that get interjected are clipped and seem to have been added as an afterthought. If they were more fully developed it sounds like a decent addition, but at the moment it strikes me as gimmicky.

Even if it's supposed to be a gag song (or so she claims), it could have been executed with a little more discipline. Parody [the Distance-era song] is, well, a parody of celebrity life, but it was done in a classy and clever way. This is just sort of half-assed.

In the end, it's generic. I can see why it would be released as a single. Play it safe. Given the extremely mixed reactions by fans and some reports of people listening to radio stations, this was a bad move. The next single they release to US radio stations has to do better. They've got 10 choose from (Opening and Interlude are a tad short).

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 04. The Workout

Notes on the fourth track follow.

* * *

Bizarre, experimental. I use more adjectives below.

Instrumentation is pretty sparse. Mainly percussion during verses. There's a bit of noise distortion, and hissing fades in and out during the chorus. There's also dissonance, almost an atonal background during the chorus, produced by a sustained electronic piano. There's an atmosphere of chaos. It's pretty abstract/avant-garde/modern/minimalist, like Boards of Canada with some semblance of recurring melodic elements. BoC is/can be pretty sinister. The chorus sounds sinister, or carnal.

It sounds like people stamping their feet slightly out of synch, lending to the sense of chaos. It sounds ritualistic, if sex can be considered ritualistic. Maybe it can. There's no doubting the subject matter in the lyrics. It's blatant and smeared all over the place, like SMAP. So much for being coy. Meanwhile, I'll just stick my head in the sand and pretend she's singing about chin-ups or something.

Her voice is strident, bordering on shrill, with matching octave voicing in the chorus. It fits the mood, so I guess it's appropriate. It's original, but I'm thinking that the only reason it would appeal to most is because she's talking in thinly veiled terms about sex, and it's pretty charged. Some speculate it'll be remixed for the (hot and sweaty) club scene. Seems like a no-brainer, although the original would probably do fine as well.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 03. Exodus '04

Notes on the third track follow. The irony of putting the track number beside the song title is not lost on me. I also note that I have this running gag of criticizing her voice, and I even issued a warning in the original entry. Truth is, it's a lot less prominent in anything past the Distance era, with Deep River as kind of a borderline case. Somewhere it's stated that she wants to be more of a producer now, letting the music do the talking as opposed to the vocals.

* * *

Many believe this to be one of the best tracks. I'm not about to disagree.

Hikaru showcases her low range, but the richness has evaporated. As opposed to "fat" tones, they're just tones that any alto might sing. There's no special kick.

I'm not enthralled with the end of the chorus. It's good up to the end, when she just has to append "oh-four", and it sounds hugely out of place, and breaks the flow of the language.

The major selling points of this are lyrics and backgrounds. They're enunciated clearly, and describe the process of leaving behind Japan to start something new, stylistically and physically. It's pretty brave.

The background makes for good accompaniment. The synthesized elements don't really intrude, and it sounds like there is actually a stringed bass to bottom out the chords. The most alluring section is the violin loop and the airy voice, which evokes the Middle East. Along with the minor scale, maybe harmonic minor, to sound more like Middle East styles, this track is pretty impressionable. Anything foreign sounding instantly grabs my attention, but Exodus '04 has yet to lose its novelty.

Single material? Definitely. It trumps Easy Breezy, but I'll get to that.

Clean lines, excellent execution. The only quibble is that Hikaru's voice isn't as magical as it used to be, but that's something you'll hear me complain about for the rest of this.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 02. Devil Inside

Notes on the second track follow. It's a shame that it would take two years to get Devil Inside right for Utada United.

* * *

A bunch of you guys know my opinion of this track. In brief, the Richard Vission remix is better than the original. I think she played the Exotic Asian card too frequently. It's in the tonal percussion, it's in her melody, it's in the insistent guitar riff in the chorus, it's everywhere. Lyrics and vocal contribution are pretty thin in this one, so it lacks content in my view, and the backgrounds are a cheap gimmick. I suppose it was meant for remixing for playing in clubs. When there are lyrics, it's not-so-subtle implications of sex.

The moment the track begins, you're greeted with what sounds to be an electronic organ, or some electronic water instrument effect. Whatever it is, it sounds like it's from out of the Bowser levels in Super Mario Brothers...1. That's right, the first game to come out for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. It could have been replaced by a real sustained organ, or electric bass. The pentatonic percussion sounds real enough. Why not use some bassy wind instrument?

I'm actually partial to the codetta featuring the pentatonic percussion.

It's pretty mediocre by Hikaru standards, in terms of content and technical demands. It's listenable, but drags. It's probably going to bore most potential listeners out there.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, 01. Opening

Notes on the first track follow.

* * *

Ok, something easy. The opening is appropriate titled, Opening. It starts off a bit quiet some white noise, and grows slightly. She cuts in a bit abruptly but smoothly, and as quickly as she enters, she disappears. It's a short track, and it also ends abruptly. The melody, if you can call it that, is nothing to write home about. What's interesting is the short lyrics.

This is the first time in Hikaru history that you actually want to listen for what she says. The fact that you can actually understand it is a contributing factor, but it's also an almost direct message to the listener. It's not a bad assumption to expect that the listener has probably heard of her as some exotic Japanese singer, so they'll be expecting something with a stereotypical polyphonic "asian" style. The lyrics set the tone for the rest of album, and denounce that kind of stereotypical thinking.

As a Hikaru fan, it has a little more meaning. What else are you going to expect, going in, except more of that same Distance/Deep River style? The words hit home a little more, that it's going to be nothing that you were expecting. She outlines her goals, sort of. I have to wonder about her milestones a bit after hearing what she has to say. She states that she wants to cross between the expectations of the listener, and I'm guessing herself. Transcendence, essentially. In retrospect, that explains the experimental nature of album.

To be experimental, be different, yet still hope to appeal to the masses. Ambitious indeed.

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Utada Hikaru - Exodus, Overview

Way back in the day (2004), Hikki unleashed Exodus upon the western world, the irony being that it eventually wound up selling better in Japan, likely due to brand appeal. It caused a bit of an uproar on the now defunct Utada-Online.net forums, and I wanted to clarify my own feelings about the album as a whole.

So I did, sharing some notes with a few of my peers over GMail. I probably expended a lot more effort than I should have, but I was in one of those productive zones, and the alternative was to be completely unproductive in something else, which I noted in my opening e-mail. Given the ridiculous amount of verbiage used, it's a shame to have it all locked up.

I should have done this earlier, when I was transferring all of the old content. Now, things aren't going to be quite as tidy, but better late than never. One reason I was sort of against the idea was that I made notes for each track in a separate message, most of which are entry length. But there's really no way around it.

So, what follows is the posting of the introduction and overview section. There is a bit of a time gap — after all, these notes are almost 3 years old. Also, in the past I insisted on using the given name Hikaru, instead of say, Utada, or her nickname Hikki. These days, I've caved in and admitted that Hikki just sounds less awkward than Hikaru, and it's odd to refer to any western singer by their last name, even though that is how she markets herself outside of Japan.

* * *

I suppose this is going to be a bit of a spoiler, so I'll pad this introduction with sufficient verbage to fill up GMail's preview pane. I guess first off, what did I think of the album? Up to this point, it's ok. That's the reaction I typically give, though, especially after looping every single track for at least 10 minutes after the first pass. I rarely feel too strongly about albums, unless they're extremely good (which in my eyes would be something like Robert Miles' 23am or Ulrich Schnauss' Far Away Trains) or extremely poor (I've yet to seriously condemn anything). The rest is, meh. This is sort of a meh album. It's not spectacular. I will give it that it is ambitious in scope and style, and could represent a major shift in her direction. To me, it doesn't really matter where she goes, stylistically, as long as she does it well. The execution is not done
so well here, and for me that stops it from being an amazing experience.

The album is not without controversy on the Utada-Online.net forums, at least. I share many of the criticisms levelled against Hikaru by the more outspoken members. I differ in that I'm not going to be condescending, asinine, beat people over the head with attacks, and I'll actually try to give examples from the tracks. The criticisms don't break the album for me, but I'm pretty resilient, maybe due to a bit of bias. They have certainly broken the album for others. First off, her previous style is almost non-existent. If you're expecting to hear slow movements like Deep River, or Final Distance, think again. There are none. Everything is more or less moderate tempo. Hikaru has adopted a much more rockish/rawkish style. It'll be interesting to see if her next Japanese album (if there is one) will return to her more conservative roots.

With the more Americanized style, perhaps born out of necessity, or perhaps because she really is an insane party animal and she can run amok outside of Japan, comes sexually charged lyrics. Her classy image has kind of been thrown out the window, which irks me. At least she's mostly coy about it. It's not hard to get the lyrics: they're pretty accessible, and descriptive. They cover some interesting topics, to say the least.

For the record, Easy Breezy is not representative of the entire album. That should come as a relief. Each track is pretty encapsulated, with styles sufficiently different that the atmosphere from one track won't carry to the next, and there is no strong sense of unity. We're into the age of single track downloads and sales, so I'm not too concerned about it. Pitchforkmedia.com said that OK Computer was the last album that had to be treated as a cohesive whole.

Ok, on to the technical bits. The background is heavyily synthesized. Cheaply synthesized. It's not impossible to inject some warmth into digital samples - Ulrich Schanuss does it all the time - but I think that the current backgrounds, when they're not playing more prominent roles, don't back up her up, and don't really blend. On a lot of the tracks, I can choose to hear backgrounds, or her voice, but it's hard to do both. Some tracks are experimental enough to warrant the electronica invasion, but when they sound like the backgrounds for Super Mario Brothers...1 (that's right), or Tetris, or some other 8-bit MIDI, they're better left out. This isn't a question about style. Previously a lot of her tracks blended well, were supported, were rich and organic. This is case of poor arrangement and choice of instumentation. It's not hard to replace some of the effects with live instruments since some try to mimic live instruments anyway.

So if style and image don't carry over to Exodus, the very least that she can take with her is awesome vocal talents, described as a rich, mature, alto. She does for the most part, but it's definitely not as strong as it could have been. Seeing her perform in MTV Unplugged and Budokan 2004 (Hikaru no 5), there's no question that she can hit the highs and lows, preserve her tonal quality, and make it look so easy. Kettobase demonstrates that she can perform some vocal gymnastics, as well.

So this is probably the most perplexing element of Exodus. Where did that strength go? She hits the highs and lows, yes, but the highs are strained, bordering on shrill and ear bleeding with these headphones. I have a theory about that, which I can elaborate on when I get to Kremlin Dusk (remind me if I forget). When she hits the lows, they've lost their richness. Maybe she turned in a half-hearted recording session (doubtful), or maybe she's jumped the shark (over the hill, past her prime, also doubtful, and believing that will probably get me, or you, lynched), or maybe all that tonal quality was sampled away, evaporated by the synthesizers and the mixers (likely, at least I hope so). That was a disappointment, the biggest let down. If that's the case, then that's a poor choice of production values (or where the production chooses to place their values). I'd choose vocal ability over shiny production values.

I think that about covers it. I'm thinking of splitting this thing up, one track per message, since I have to get lunch. This is more interesting than writing my work term report.

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KOTOKO - Kirei na Senritsu single (B-Side)

Initially, my KnS and rush notes were going into the same entry, as would be expected, but it was as if the two songs couldn't be more different. Plus, I like rush much more.

I really enjoy listening to rush. We've seen KOTOKO rock out pretty hard before, with Hane and Uzu-Maki coming to mind as having some stand-out rock songs, but it seemed back then that whenever KOTOKO rocked out, it was almost a given that it was by order of the forces of darkness.

Not so with rush, and maybe the song title is a point in irony, because the music is contemporary easy listening. Were it not for KOTOKO's brand appeal (and the not-so-significant fact that it happens to appear beside the title track), I'd have never actively come across something like this, but I like it all the same.

There is motion, but it's laid back. There is dynamic contrast, with KOTOKO being almost drowned out by the backgrounds in the verse passages (that old mixer/balance problem?), but there is no drama. Like KnS, rush is uplifting, but does it from the ground up, not being all flighty. It is rustic with its sparse, strummed guitar accompaniment in the verse, and modern with strings in the chorus and elsewhere.

The first few times through the Winamp loop, I was enamoured by the outro. It was assertive, it had attitude. My only wish is that KOTOKO rock out more at the end. In the chorus she has wavering lines which she delivers with plodding detachedness, like a march. She should have cranked up that level of detachedness, giving her last lines a truly head-tossing (or biting) edge.

Instead of witnessing a marshaling of the hosts of despair, I see sun-kissed fields rolling by from the car windshield, or the train window. I could be walking the concrete jungle, or sitting in some terminal waiting for my flight. rush combines jet-setting anticipation with lazy summer days.

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KOTOKO - Kirei na Senritsu single (title track)

Kirei na Senritsu, second ED to the MariMite OVA, is one of those uplifting, tender tracks that's too quick to be a ballad. In the opening bars, with only piano and strings, it's quite possible that it could have been a slow paced love song, and the lyrics (partial translation) do lead you on if only you could understand them, but the instrumental break gives no doubt that you are on familiar I've Sound territory. Incidentally, KOTOKO is not the composer for either of the two songs, although she might have had some input in the creative process.

Epic-ness is striven for with strong bass and an upper-range line in xylophone, but fails to transcend the ordinary. What would have been nice is if chimes were used to carry the line. It's hard not to feel empowered at the sound of chimes ringing out, especially with this kind of song. Using chimes over something sparkly like a xylophone is also in keeping with the setting of the series. A harpsichord or clavichord, recognizable as sounding like a piano with plucked strings, makes an appearance, so why not chimes?

KOTOKO's voice sounds a bit strained (but not on YouTube, where the high-frequencies tend to be rounded off), and in the parts where there is little accompaniment it is particularly noticeable. This stands in contrast to the B-side, wherein she returns to her usual tone. I don't think it's a question of register but more of trying (too hard) to inject emotion. The effort is noted, although it sounds out of place.

To me, the song speaks of bittersweet wistfulness more than raw emotion. The drum claps in the verse passage are like echoes in time; the melody is free-flowing in line and rhythm, lost in thought. It's too bad that it's all cut short with the unconventional decision to only have one main verse.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

FictionJunction YUUKA - Romanesque single

Yakusoku is dominantly rock styled with choral splashed in. In the middle break the same harmonic progression found in Honou no Tobira is present. Kind of cute. The chorus has a nice hook, but it doesn't make the song. Overall, Yakusoku is average for a FictionJunction YUUKA track, and I have to wonder if this and others suffer from the deliberate distortion at the mixing stage, eliminating any contrast by making everything loud.

The title track (yes, I'm too lazy to write about the tracks in the order that they appear) is also average. Latin influenced, accompaniment is moderate in terms of the number of instruments used, but it doesn't sound that way because of the texture provided by the guitar and percussion. Yuuka demonstrates good control (but this is a studio recording, after all) in dissonant and disjunct figures, but I don't find any hook in the melody to latch on to.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

MariMite's Dream

I'm watching the third season of Maria-sama ga Miteru, consisting of 5 OVA-length episodes, without having watched the first two seasons. I thought I ought to reduce any semblance of credibility before anyone takes me seriously.

As of this entry, I've finished the first three episodes. After a long gap, I watched the latter two consecutively. It may have had something to do with an inkling I had, but it was KOTOKO's second ED for the series, Kirei na Senritsu, that sealed it. A higher quality Stage6 version of the sequence may be found by Googling the the song title.

All episodes are self-contained with persistent characters, but with no continuity in the story, releasing the viewer from the duty of having to rewatch previous episodes in order to regain context. As I understand it, each episode corresponds to one novel, which is convenient.

This OVA offers something for the classicist and the control freak. Not much separates either of the two, and I have been known to exhibit signs of both extremes depending on the situation and how much sleep I've gotten in the past week. I thought that perhaps there was some element of romanticism as well, but the setting and the characters don't have romanticism so much as they romanticize the school and school themes, specifically private school.

I'm more jaded now, but as a kid, this is what I'd have liked at least my high school years to have been. In this self-contained environment, there are rules and procedures. Even outside the school, that same formality dominates the thinking and actions of the characters. The world, not just the school, is thus neat and ordered, and all actions are initiated by a plan. Watching the second and third episodes back to back, I was acutely aware of the feeling that I was watching the unfolding of process, and even though most stories are about progression in a general sense, a story based around meetings and the organization of events drives home a point otherwise taken for granted.

In the back of my mind I'm thinking, this is a classicist's dream, going beyond, say, the proper organization of events and human interaction. That's just how business proceeds on a good day. More than professionalism, there is also a sense of reservation. Discretion does play a role in being formal, but one does not need to be subtle in order to have discipline and good time management skills.

Dialog is not gratuitous; few characters speak for the sake of speaking. Just as muted is the art, eschewing bold colours. Some scenes feel like memories: visible but too ethereal to be tangible.

Against the Real World, this setting comes up short like all self-contained environments have a tendency to do. The activities the characters organize and take part in, the kinds of social circles they partake in, the necessary mannerisms, all have little correlation to what I've seen. Everything that I identify with aligns with the ideals in my head. To me then, MariMite is a beautiful dream, an acceptable substitute for those nights where there won't be any sleep.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

(Pointless) Speculation!

(Originally 13 April 2007)

After reading the first chapter, I speculate that there is no war with the humans, and that Orochi is just out to destroy the world, as per usual, using falsified history as a pretext.

(Later)

Having finished the eighth chapter today, coincidentally, I've abandoned that theory and am just along for the ride. I do smell a reincarnation theory going, though. Two things don't sit well with me, though. If you're not reading this fan-novella, the following won't be relevant.

First, the author's style is verbose, maybe more verbose than in his previous KnM work. This kind of repetition and excessive description was necessary in epic poems such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, because they were passed down by rote, and repetition makes memorization easier.

My second gripe is related to the first, in that this style is necessary because it's written from Chikane's point of view, and since she is supposedly all star-struck, must resort to using lots of words to describe her lovely Himeko. I always viewed Chikane as someone who used words when she had to communicate, and even then, was pretty efficient in getting her message across. So right away, I and the author are looking at things from conflicting perspectives.

Come the eighth chapter, though, there is some justification for Chikane's behaviour in that she's never had a friend and doesn't know how to deal with friendship, let alone love, and thus she resorts to describing what she sees and feels in immaculate detail. This is a setting issue, and my issue with it is a matter of ideals.

Even though the story is arguably set in a separate universe from KnM, I am disappointed by what I perceive as an essential re-inventing of the wheel. Chikane's character, Himeko's character; they are no different than from when KnM proper started. Their promise at the end of that series — to defy fate, defy society — has been eviscerated in favour of re-telling their love story.

My feelings on the matter speak more about me than anything related to the story. I'm just tired of seeing the two characters go around in circles. For me, the bittersweet sentiments that well up after completing an immersive and powerful story, in any medium, are driven by a desire to know what happens after. Consequently, Jen-chan's post-reset stories are interesting in that they continue the development trends present in the series.

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Archiving complete

All old posts have been mirrored and touched up. I also added some shorter posts on more current events.

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Recently completed series

(Originally 3 April 2007)

I can't really think of anything in depth to say about the following, or it's been discussed already and I've missed the boat.

Kanon 2006 was extremely well executed. Animation quality, dialogue, scene framing, all thoroughly considered throughout the entire series. OST wasn't very memorable, but it didn't seem needed except for a few key moments where the music was appropriately poignant. Yuuichi for the most part was quite ordinary, not some arrogant prick, nor a loser doormat. No one was over the top really, just ordinary personalities in extraordinary situations and, occasionally, with extraordinary powers.

The story wasn't very cohesive, highlighting the difficulties that arise when trying to port a medium where multiple paths are the norm to a single-pathed one. Characters just arbitrarily show up or get sidelined, not just in terms of screen time, but also in their effect on the story, making cameos in both kinds of contexts. It didn't bother me too much, because the execution was doing a fine job compensating, but the disjointedness was apparent nonetheless. For that, Kanon 2006 didn't leave any sense of fulfillment or nostalgia because by the end, most of my trust was placed in the execution as opposed to the story.

When you see a fireworks display, you say it's perfectly timed, the light display was pretty, but if there's no orchestral score to move you, it is merely a great display of execution, nothing more.

Likewise, Asatte no Houkou is also a fine display of execution up till the last third or so. Great atmosphere, not much needed to be said and so not much was said. I wonder if it's inevitable that, for me at least, if there isn't a compelling driver in the storyline, I begin to watch almost exclusively for execution. I'm still debating whether to keep this one, as I began to lose interest around the point that Karada ran away to the city and got herself into some truly cringe-inducing moments. The angst was also cringe-worthy, not moment-worthy.

Welcome to the adult world, Karada. She got pwnt, I suppose it only makes sense to let her cry over it. I'm kind of torn. On one hand I think kids shouldn't have that red button that they can press to get away with being dumb (and their parents shouldn't have one to justify treating them like dumb kids), but on the other hand this series just shows that kids will cry when treated like adults. I'm not liking that precedent, but now I have to consider how applicable that precedent is to kids in general.

I have no strong opinions with respect to Soukou no Strain. Its story developed with a one themed mind. Sara Werec was not Ayako Kawasumi's greatest role, given she didn't say much at all throughout the whole thing. The body count of characters had initial shock value, but it quickly wore off when their deaths had no real significance, except to traumatize Sara more, but even that wasn't conveyed in any strong way, with the exception being the Gambee pilots taking their revenge of sorts on Sara around episode 5 (don't remember, don't have references, can't be bothered to find them). Oh shoot, another character with an actual name got sliced and diced. Meh.

Obligatory note of Lavinia's episode 7 debacle. Pure filler episode, and more fan service than comedic value.

The launch music, a kind of march form, was the stand-out piece for the OST. Bearing the long-winded title, The Decisive Battle of Fate, it matches the tense pre-combat atmosphere. The OP and ED drew zero interest; the vocal timbres were too thin for my liking.

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Bartender

(Originally 3 April 2007)

Bartender delivered bite-sized modern day fables with various analogies to bridge cocktails and their history to everyday problems. Ultimately feel good in nature. I didn't mind it, and there were some individual episodes that are keepers. The female vocalist in the OP and ED (I believe they are both from the same artist/group) is terrible. She doesn't have the chops for swing or jazz ballads, or maybe most other music for that matter. Her voice was dry and flat, maybe in a pitching sense, too. How can anyone get away with singing out of tune when the song's not being performed live?

The second last episode featured the stereotypical nerd in the form of a fluid mechanics professor (he even broke out the Navier-Stokes equation), but his behaviour made for great contrast with respect to the constantly serious atmosphere throughout the series. This was the only episode to feature intentional comedy (you can likely find humour in anything if you look hard enough).

The last episode was philosophical bordering on the abstract. It seems that a bartender in Eden Hall is only a temporary position, which is puzzling seeing as how the place is not the kind of venue to practice in. There's not really that much to dwell on that is specific to the finale.

A significant draw to the series are the small moments of epiphanies received when stories and drinks come together. They do so in a very poetic sense, and a decent amount of screen time is devoted to romanticising tragedy, triumph, adversity, or even the job of a bartender. It's accessible enough that you don't have to think too hard to get the point.

Relatedly, the atmosphere is very relaxed. An episode has a mostly clean slate, with two consistently recurring characters, and some brief appearances by others. Episodes naturally take place during the night, the bar itself has low lighting, and scenes focus almost exclusively on two people at a time, with no extraneous action. There's not a lot of detail, but that's not a negative given the setting and context.

Lastly, I liked the artsy-ness exemplified in the first episode, with a single conversation thread or telling of a story carried by different characters in different locations in a serial fashion, and the transition of scenes through traditional cinematic or theatrical techniques (dark suddenly illuminated by a single spotlight on a character, merging of labels to scenes in history). I never thought it to be pretentious, though; the atmosphere was always too low key and comfy.

Bartender won't draw much attention, being a downbeat kind of series, but were it to try to be anything more it would ruin the good atmosphere it had going. I think it accomplished being the series you could stretch out and watch to unwind, a testament to its consistency of execution. It set out to do one thing and do it well, and I appreciate that.

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Perceived pettiness

I have seen all of one episode of Negima?! whereas I've seen Nanoha, Nanoha A's, and am currently watching StrikerS, and so while I have no other reason to vote otherwise, my feelings are muddied by the perceived slight earlier.

Still, better to fight over some insignificant online poll than to fight over some insignificant patch of land, right? So people shall, and they'll hopefully walk away with no physical injuries. If this is what generally passes for conflict these days, I think humans have made some modicum of progress.

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melody. - Finding my Road, and Love Story

Late to the bandwagon as usual. I don't follow melody (I'm dropping the period after her name for posting) much, but I think she can be a fine singer ever since hearing Miss You. She established herself as more than capable of pulling off a casual, fast-talking style of performance.



Since then, I've only been interested in Believe Me, a more contemporary, laid-back work. As a general rule, her songs are upbeat but don't stand out. Indeed, Believe Me is only stand-out in the sense that it's not like her other songs. It's not a song I would usually seek out, as I could just switch on the radio and listen to something similar from Nelly Furtado's earlier stylistic period.

Finding my Road is not any faster than her other upbeat songs, nor is it necessarily carrying a better melody, no pun intended. What it has going for it is its ambient club feel, which automatically screams cosmopolitan to me. Still, the deal sealer is the video itself.

Comparing her moves to Tamaki Nami is a bit of a stretch, because when Tamaki Nami wants to dance, she can dance. However, melody doesn't appear to be a slouch in her own dance PV's. In Finding my Road, though, she's absolutely smoking in her silver outfit with what looks like CG'ed glow lights (as opposed to glowsticks) flying around.

If it wasn't evident by now, I'm not so much a fan of the music behind the video so much as the video itself.

Her newest single, Love Story, is currently charting on Oricon. It's a sparkly ballad that she executes well on, although she could have gone for a fuller voice in the chorus, where it counts. She's a bit too casual early on, choosing to go along with the music rather than drive it forward. Still, she finishes strong at the song's climax to the end.

More than her voice, the music sounds like it's been done before. All aspirations to epic-ness are for naught when you realize that so many others have done the same thing. She needs a better composer, someone who can give her a song approaching Believe for dance, or Final Distance for ballads. She needs to stop being safe and take some risks.

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Sakamoto Maaya - 30 Minutes Night Flight

(Originally 28 March 2007)

Jeff is right. 30 minutes night flight is the stand-out track. The rest are of a generally slower pacing, which isn't necessarily bad, except they don't really have any direction and no stand-out characteristics, leaving a flat and uninspired impression.

30 minutes starts quiet and atmospheric, and my immediate impression was that it was opening like Ulrich Schnauss in open ambiance. This was followed by the impression that it had transitioned into Utada Hikaru's Keep Tryin' opening with the addition of a bit of dissonant noise-like effects. The fog clears with a consonant flourish, and a guitar motif is introduced thereafter, rhythmic and insistent. Maaya's vocal line mirrors this motif in rhythm. The bridge leads into the chorus with a ramp in strength. Throughout the song every point has a smooth transition and subdued, shimmering intensity is pervasive.

At the outro, distant modulated voice enters, saying "30 minutes, night flight." The introduction of this and the synthesizer in the instrumental passage add to that kind of flighty, refreshing, transcendental feel that is simultaneously intimate. I couldn't imagine this representing a red-eye flight unless I was one of 10 people evenly distributed along the plane (and man, that red-eye flight was sold out). This song is too cozy to be shared with so many other passengers, especially screaming babies.

Maybe not such an excellent choice for a night flight, but night train, night drive? All perfectly acceptable.

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Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora - complete

(Originally 28 March 2007)

I'm going on Ayako subs on this one, which are…maybe not the greatest (an understatement), but they have first mover advantage. Maybe I'll reconsider my lack of opinion if I get Static-Subs or WinD subs, but that's only if I feel inclined to take another run at this series.

I don't despise KyoSora, not on any kind of scale approaching Saikano, but a root cause of detachment in both was on account of their lead(s). Saikano had a loser for a male lead and a crybaby for a female lead, and all the good characters were secondary cast and thus cannon fodder. KyoSora has a cry-bigot for a female lead, and some attempt at a callous persona for a male lead. Good characters were not developed to their full potential. If the characters aren't compelling it's hard to earn that trust necessary to suspend disbelief. Following that, the lack of backstory, poor dialogue (which also strongly contributes to character), and irrelevant events, not only become less forgivable, they become irritating.

The other gripe was there weren't any powerful moments. There were decent moments towards the end (i.e. the last episode), but they were the result of either knowing the story of Chikane and Himeko from KnM, or the fact that I find non-casual goodbyes (even really long drawn out ones) generally touching. Love confessions over the course of the series were trite. The Kaon x Himiko confession scene against the same kind of gold background in KnM had zero effect on me. The dialogue just wasn't there, and neither was there any build up. All it was was an event, which is to say, an unmemorable scene among a sea of other unmemorable scenes.

I retract my earlier statement about moments. There were also decent moments elsewhere, except they just happened to involve either Kaon and/or Himiko. Did those particular moments have any real impact on the story? Not really, since there wasn't much of a story to begin with.

I'm done with the criticisms. In the character department, Kaon/Chikane wins, again. I suppose that means Himiko wins by association, but I was embarrassed at having to bear witness to her having to play a magical cello. It brings back not-too-distant memories of La Corda d'Oro, which is totally eclipsed by Nodame Cantabile. Mika was relatively compelling compared to everyone else only because she had the most contrasting flashbacks, or maybe even just the most flashbacks. Having a quarter of a backstory, even if only hinted at in scenes, is better than having zero backstory summed up in two lines of dialogue.

The OP is acceptable, light and energetic, with a vocalist who isn't overly cute. I'm fond of the ED, with its forthright lyrics (as far as Ayako's translation goes) and arcing melody. It's a strong ballad, and very loopable. I didn't give much attention to the OST, but the violin piece used throughout the series wasn't nearly as strong as Chikane's theme from KnM, and that violin piece is the only memorable bit.

I considered saving the last episode for no reason other than to hear Kaon speak in Chikane's voice, but for now, off it goes. I can tolerate YouTube if I need a fix.

Edit: Out of morbid curiosity, I did dig up the last Kaon/Himiko scene on YouTube. At first I thought Kaon's dress in the portrait might have been Chikane's dress at the end of KnM. It was not to be, but would have been awesome.

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No one likes a cry-bigot

(Originally 4 March 2007)

Hearing anyone cry is hard on my ears, and reactions range from awkward silence to cringe-inducing irritation. Nothing pushes buttons more than hearing screaming babies, losers complaining about getting pwnt on TFC, the horde of emo kids lining the halls of my old high school at lunch time when I visited during reading week, and dumb anime characters.

Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora experienced a high point of irony when Kuu, the totally useless character who seems to enjoy wallowing in said uselessness by creating pools of tears to drown in, loses the one comfort she seemed to have: even though she was useless, she was at least a useless human. Anyone paying even the slightest attention to the story (as opposed to just watching for Chikane/Himeko, who clearly need more screen time) could have seen what was coming since episode one.

If you had any faith in humans (or anime characters?) then you might not have expected the reaction, but it makes perfect sense. I don't like it one bit, because there are tons of people with similar mindsets, that being the asshat mentality, and you should all by now what I think of asshats.

Here's the setup: Kuu is depressed (or emo). She's not good at anything, zero effort being a pretty plausible cause. Anyway, throughout the first half of the series she props herself up by pitying the Absolute Angels, because they are weapons, and since she's human she is by default better than them even though she can't (or doesn't try to) do anything, let alone blow up buildings.

Kuu is incapable of doing anything, so she props up her self-esteem by pitying those below her, and they are below her for no other reason except she's human and they are not. I suppose it's a notch better than wanting kill those below you but not by much. I despise those kinds of people, because they walk around all cocky and condescending, be it because they belong to some religion and you don't, or they went to some private school and you didn't, or they're rich and you're not, or they're poor (and thugging it, yo!) and you're not, whatever. Neither of these things are bad on their own, but when these become reasons for claiming some sense of existential superiority, then a serious smacking is warranted.

You could be smarter, you could be more cordial (you probably will be by default compared to such company), you could be more athletic, more musically inclined, more motivated, it doesn't matter, because their deity is better than yours (or they have a deity to your atheism), or their school has a better reputation than yours, or you just happen to be a cheater at TFC (because they said so), and therefore they will always be superior to you (even though they suck at sniper…and life).

Maybe it bothers me because I have an inferiority complex. Usually you can't actually take a swing at anyone lest it land you in jail and then they laugh at you more, so you just ignore it, and they sit smugly and inflate their own egos. Short of gagging them, banning them, or killing them, they will never shut up no matter how much you try to humble them, because they can never be humbled when God is on their side or something stupid like that. It's fortunate they live in this time, as opposed to the past, when such fervour would be rewarded by a position in the front lines, and they'd like it.

Just to drive home the point one last time, here's an extreme analogy. Joe Six-pack's a loser, dropped out of school because he was just too damn lazy. In effect, he's pretty worthless, lives in the basement of your parents' home, and can't be bothered to even write a resume, let alone apply for jobs. He sucks at life and may or may not know it, but it doesn't matter because at least he's not Chinese. Or Jewish. Or Black. Or handicapped. But he might just be retarded. I digress.

Kuu begins to bawl her eyes out, screaming that she doesn't want to be this. No name, no description, because, you see, to be an Absolute Angel is to be some abhorrent thing that defies qualification. One would think that this would be gratifying to watch, seeing her emotional prop kicked out from under her. It would be have been, if the irony was demonstrated in any other way. Instead, she drowns herself in more self-pity, which continues into the next episode.

Depressive paralysis is about the closest thing to suicide as you can get without actually trying to kill yourself. It's hard to see someone actively trying to not live, be it through self-pity or otherwise. At some point the hands just get thrown up, and I say fine, go hang yourself, just stop wasting my time by attention-whoring yourself out, because you just know that those people don't really do anything with help, or advice, or support. You can give it to them, but it will never change them because all of those things have the one thing that they do crave: attention. I stop caring and actively encourage self-destruction. Maybe that's just the biologically competitive side kicking in at the potential for resources (space, air, reduction of noise pollution) to be freed up.

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"On the market"

(Originally 4 March 2007)

So Hikki's divorced, and it was made official Friday. I wasn't expecting it, there was no smoking gun from what little news about her gets out (she values her privacy). That said, I'm not shocked or stunned. Perhaps being so far removed from situation and receiving the announcement in the most non-personal way possible (written text over the internet) might have played a part, but more importantly I don't really care. And neither should most other people.

Oh for sure, I am slightly disappointed that things didn't work out for her, but if it's some big train wreck then it's being covered up really well. From the joint statement, it seems that things have changed, and they've grown apart over their four and half years together to the point where they are likely back where they started (or have always been) — good collaborators. But a companionate relationship is lacking two other components of the love triangle, if you believe in that theory. At any rate, if a relationship defined more or less through work — and it's not as if they work exclusively with each other — was what it came to, and with her still being pretty young, it's not unreasonable that they should split up.

I received comments from two people along the lines of, Well now she's single again maybe you/I have a chance. This is true, in that anyone can take a shot at her. I'm sure that whoever handles her mail (could be her come to think of it) will notice a sharp increase in marriage proposals. I don't like to think of it in those terms; it's a bit insensitive even for a subject I'm not moved by. It's probably one of the first things that come to anyone's mind, because we're all human and Hikki is a j-pop idol, but it's a belittling and opportunistic take on the situation. At the end of the day, better not to say anything at all about it other than to wish for her continuing success despite a stressful period (whether it's in the past or ongoing, it was stressful at one point in time) in her life. She still has her health and plenty of time and resources (she doesn't need to write to pay the bills) to pursue her career and maybe another relationship, eventually. Life goes on.

And because internet dorama is funny, trolls and self-righteous posters collided on the U-O thread devoted to the divorce announcement. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the moderator stepped in and put everyone in their place. For now.

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PV for Mosaic Kakera

(Originally 11 February 2007)

I prefer the shortened version found in the Code Geass. I think the novelty kind of wears off over the full length. The PV tries to capture the fragment theme in the song lyrics and the title, and as such is kind of artsy-abstract.

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SunSet Swish, FLOW, Tokitou/Tokito Ami

(Originally 7 February 2007)

Instead of studying for midterms, I'm bumming around on YouTube. Inspired by the realization that I kind of like the second ED for Code Geass, I ran off to try and find it. One video was taken down on account of copyright (infringement), but another one is available for the time being. The biggest appeal for me is the casual swing feel, with enough push into the next phrase to keep things moving along at a good pace.

Anything Code Geass inevitably brings up the first OP as well, Colors by FLOW. I watched a couple AMV's, one of which was an overdubbing of the Eureka Seven OP with Colors, the other was more of an original production with scenes from the series itself. Apparently FLOW songs are similar enough in structure and timing that slotting in another of their songs synchs up with the same animation.

Somehow, probably by looking for other videos uploaded by one of the users, I wound up at the PV for the School Rumble OP. I eventually settled on a subbed version. The song itself is typical high energy, pretty catchy. The vocalist is a model who can sing decently live as well, although her live performance (from the clips) seems too casual and she has trouble with either air control or just lower range pitching. I suppose the model thing is apparent by her stage presence.

The video itself is just hilarity. Any time there is random and senseless violence (at times obviously fake, though) it's worthy of a chuckle. First off, if everyone wants in on that sandwich, why do they stick around to fight that guy? After defeating the first class, the second class confronts the guy. It seems they might have gotten lost on the way to the snack/lunch counter. The guy then makes a detour into a class room, and beats up a bunch of people wearing air filter masks. He is finally stopped by a bunch of geeks. This isn't so much a battle as a cheap, if funny, setup to beat up lots of guys.

Throughout this the vocalist is along for the ride, making cute but unintentionally (or intentionally) hilarious poses when juxtaposed by the freeze frame of males in various states of physical abuse with exaggerated expressions written on their faces.

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Kyoshiro to Towa no Sora - the first third

I might as well have titled this post, "Why I keep hurting myself."

(Originally 29 January 2007)

So I've seen the fourth episode of the twelve episode series, and I have to admit to myself at this point that I'm really only watching it for Chikane and Himeko. I mean to say, Kaon and Himiko. I do feel a bit shallow, but not too badly since it seems a lot of people are just watching it for those two as well.

I like the OP and ED, although I've yet to hear the full length version of the ED track. Both don't really match well to the show, since there aren't any weighty themes (or themes being given any weight/screentime) thus far, but they do hold up pretty well on their own.

I'm in a sentimental mood at the moment, so I'm eschewing the faster and upbeat OP for the moderate-tempo ballad that is the ED. And I'm all for declarations of love and longing in a strong chorus line.

But on to the series itself. Basically there's not much happening, which is not that good a sign. Yes, KnM only picked things up in a serious way starting around the halfway marker, and the same thing might happen. This does not mean that this lack of development is a good thing, though, and lessons should have been learned from KnM. If the animators (hell, or the manga team from which the series is based on) could have evened out the pace a bit more, it would have been a vast improvement. It's disappointing that thus far they've reserved all episodes for moments of randomness and heavy-handed explanations in the form of idiot lectures.

I see some people thoroughly enjoying the randomness as unintentional comedy and blatant fan service. I don't really notice the randomness until it's pointed out, but I do recognize when time is being wasted. Fan service, I don't really care for, particularly when it's Kuu, and yes this character grates on my soul.

There is not much of a plot to speak of, the most powerful moment thus far being Kaon getting "tempered" much like a blacksmith strikes a sword on top of an anvil. So here's a run down of some characters.

Kyoshiro — the series' namesake. As of episode four he's established himself as a tool, or an asshat, or both. Nothing out of the ordinary with his motivations since it's the typical avenge a loved one who may or may not be dead because of some giant explosion. He's an asshat, though, because he's initially set up to be the nice guy hero, and then that's arbitrarily turned on its head and now he might be some anti-hero, although at this point it's hard to tell if we should even root for him. I'm going to go out on a limb and say no, because you can't be an anti-hero and a hero at the same time.

Setsuna — Kyoshiro's tool. Literally does all the bitch work. Somewhat stiff and robotic. Causes Kuu much teenage angst. Seems at a slight disadvantage when fighting Tarurotte.

Tarurotte — Magical neko (cat). 'nuff said. Oh, and is Sojiro's tool, but you wouldn't know it by the way she beats him down in episode 3.

Sojiro — Kyoshiro's brother. Not a tool, yet. Also not a main character, yet.

Jin — Souma clone, talks less, therefore thumbs up from me. Although why he has teal hair (and blue-ish eyes) and doesn't talk more and do stuff is beyond me. The blue ones are always the trouble-makers.

Kozue — has like two lines, then gets hit by a car. Oops, wrong series, but the effect is about the same.

Himiko — Himeko clone, talks less, emos less, therefore thumbs up from me. If she develops a backbone later on in the series, two thumbs way up. It's only fair. I mean, Chikane has always carried the team, and a sense of confidence would be a nice continuation from the ending of KnM.

Kaon — Chikane clone, not focus of series, therefore thumbs down! I like her dark blue eyes (they're closer to her hair shade), in contrast to those who prefer the lighter marine ones in KnM. I don't have a preference, and upon closer inspection the differences aren't that great. Inconsistent character design/animation in KnM is mostly responsible for the differences. Currently waiting for her to snap again and kick everyone's ass, because c'mon, it's Chikane, and Chikane is no one's tool. Speaking of which...

Mika — apparently Kyoshiro's sister? This hasn't been borne out in the series yet, but I read it on Wikipedia/the internet, so it must be true. Time for a family feud, huh? It seems everyone has their own tool (until Chikane flips out and kills things with real ultimate power), and they're all related. In my view she's the most interesting character because she actually does stuff, and lets her actions speak as opposed to rambling on and on. Possessive, radiates the eeevill, a straight-up no-nonsense (or shades of grey) villain.

Kuu — save the worst for last! I read the claim that she's an awesome character, but wouldn't work at all in real life. I agree with the latter, but maybe since I like a bit of realism so I can buy in to a series, I fail to understand how she can be an awesome character. Maybe it's because I want to slap her around so badly that it rips me away from the suspension of disbelief (and there's a lot required). Even her character design is beginning to get on my nerves. It crossed my mind somewhere during episode four that her face is a very irritating cross between moe and emo. There might be some merit in accomplishing such a feat, such as best rage-inducing figure.

Some complain that Himeko was spineless, but Kuu puts Shinji Ikari to shame. I was hoping for a bit of trope subversion in a scene where Kuu stands over a possibly dying (but it's a shoujo series, no one ever dies! Or something) tool Kyoshiro, crying out his name over and over again. That sounded dirty, but it's not. I half-expected Kyoshiro to wake up and smack her upside the head, and scream, Get me a (censored) medic! Alas, it did not happen. How disappointing. Shell-shocked people might experience bouts of paralysis, but if there are any people who stand around calling out someone's name hoping they'll wake up, they ought to be smacked silly for being totally incompetent. Or being a Kuu.

When she's not being extremely emo (she needs a boxcutter. A box of them, ho ho ho), she's narrating to her imaginary friend (although signs point to this friend being dead) in the form of a letter. Writing imaginary letters on sites can be pretty funny, and even more amusing if they're sent and a reply comes back, but it requires a minimal amount of effort to write a good letter. Writing a letter detailing your emo thoughts and activities does not make for a good letter. It makes for a pretty terrible, fast forward moment, though. Like I said, it seems quite a few people are enjoying the unintentional hilarity in it all. I find it pretty pathetic, and I've seen enough pathetic people (i.e. Shinji) that it's as if they're filler. Time wasting not only has filler moments, but filler characters. The irony is that Kuu's name translates into empty or shell. There are situations where time-wasting is acceptable, usually if it goes unnoticed because the writers are marginally clever about it. Active time-wasting deserves some kind of penalty, like in sports.

Probably the worst that could happen is if Kuu fails to grow a freaking spine, and gets entrusted with a giant phase-shifting robot, since it's pretty much guaranteed she has that power. Anime would then bear witness to the creation of a female Shinji, no Shinji trascended, like a version negative 2.0, and then a trainwreck of epic proportions. Who wouldn't want to watch an emo girl with a giant robot getting beaten down by Chikane Kaon?

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