Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Code Geass note list

  • First OP: Good
  • Second ED: Good
  • Irrelevant school drama: Bad
  • Recap episodes: Cheap
  • Combat tricks: Clever

For someone who wants to take over the world, Lelouch's life has had little in the way of politics, at times arbitrarily so. But even glossing over that little incident where diplomacy just kind of failed because The Writers Said So, talking with people just isn't how Lelouch rolls. He's great at talking to and talking at people, but when it comes to mutual exchange of ideas, drop the mutual.

If actions have consequences in Code Geass, and there's some indication that they do most of the time as opposed to when it is convenient, then Lelouch cannot possibly win with his current angle of attack. But is it ever a great vehicle for rousing the rabble. Nothing unites the masses quite like a series that says, Screw the rules, I've got hax. I myself will confess to having fallen victim to God Mode Syndrome on numerous occasions. If that term hasn't yet been taken, it's mine. You read it here first.

There is something incredibly satisfying with watching God Mode in action. Perfect situational awareness? Wall hax. Firing on a patrol group through the wall? Typical Counter-Strike highlight reel clip. Large Hadron Collider Cannon and various one-man army robots? Cheap, but effective when used in moderation. They're pushing the boundaries a bit there.

I can hear the horn of an oncoming train in the distance. My feeling is that the writers wrote themselves into a box, and any continuation into the second season will either be utterly brilliant, like two Shanghai maglev trains passing each other at 300+ km/h, or it will be, well, yeah.

Best moment of the two episode finale? Seeing what was arguably the underdog defenders rally and counter-attack across no man's land. The Empire proved to be the better belligerent of the day, able to regroup despite a fallen commander. Where the Black Knights' centralized hierarchy fell into disarray following the flight of their leader, Britannia's forces had capable commanders who took the initiative when orders from the top ceased to trickle down.

Random moment of the two episode finale? Ougi being shot. Villetta goes all ninja to escape/kill some rioters, infiltrate the school, just to shoot one guy whose incapacitation is nothing compared to having the Napoleon call a snap vacation. One scene that could have been done without.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Hitohira: Of drama queens, dreams, and partings

All good lies contain a hint of truth. Hitohira weaves the stage into the world outside of it that simply pulls in the viewer. It's not surreal so much as it's reality exaggerated. And sometimes, there is no suspension of disbelief required.

Hitohira episode 5: The Risaki Strikes FirstPresenting Exhibit A

Even if it was brief, Nono's indiscriminate use of her acting skills to bring terror upon her foes friends others was a great tie-in. Contrast this to Mugi's inability to act her way out of having to go to practice.

Hitohira episode 4: Nono goes Evil Psychotic...Introducing the N-1000

Structurally, Hitohira could have, should have, ended at episode 11. The series isn't worse off because of episode 12, but episode 11 was a high note whereas episode 12 meandered and felt awkward, especially in the second half.

On dreams

First Planetes, and to a (much) lesser extent Moonlight Mile, and now Hitohira. Moonlight Mile is actually pretty pragmatic, with little in the way of moral dilemmas, while Planetes deliberates much upon the cost of dreams from the perspective of the dreamer. Hitohira is all about how to come to terms with the dreamer and the hurt that they cause, real or imagined.

The Mirei-Nono dynamic is more straightforward to comprehend than Mugi-Kayo, partly owing to the fact that it's much more severe. Mirei acts partly out of guilt — even though the cause of Nono's condition is never known — and partly out of fear of the unknown. Nono will likely require surgery in the future, as her condition worsened prior to the performance. She could wind up with a breathing tube in her throat for the rest of her life.

Who is being inconsiderate here? Nono, who would and does lay it on the line for one last shot at stage acting? Or Mirei, for interfering in Nono's business and attempting to deny her free will?

The series has an answer, and it's an unsatisfactory one to me, in the case of Nono, but one that is perfectly fine for Mugi.

Not everyone can be a Hachimaki or Locksmith and put their own dreams ahead of others. Kayo apparently struggles with her dreams throughout the series, and perhaps Hitohira warrants a re-watch in some key sections to see if there are signs of this.

I found it a bit trite that Kayo would draw support from a Mugi, on a stage, who didn't believe the words she uttered then and doesn't believe them in the immediate aftermath of the play. That aside, the problem lies with Mugi, who eventually comes to terms with the situation and lets Kayo go.

The answer, which was also embedded in the play, is common enough. Tough times are inevitable, but everyone rides them out. By extension, there's no point in hiding from them, and trying to only aggravates the pain and regret. Consequently, you should support yourself and support others.

Does it make sense, then, only because Kayo has less to lose? She's only going abroad to study; it's not as if she will never come home. She will probably do fine regardless. But what about Nono? Her scenario has more grim outcomes, and it could be (or could not be) aggravated by her acting.

Is it better to go out like a meteorite then? Live briefly but brilliantly? There is no middle ground when it comes to Nono. To go out with no regrets is great, but it's as if she has decided her voice is terminal. It's strange to think of Nono as simultaneously courageous and dignified, yet defeatist, but that's because she's so extreme in her thinking.

You may not agree with Nono (and I do not, if that wasn't clear), but she does get things done. She is better at apologizing later than seeking permission first.

On partings

I wonder at times whether the amount of emotion involved in saying goodbye is proportional to the strength of bond between those parting. Or is to be emotional just a sign of weakness and, in Mugi's case, selfishness? I should preface this question by saying that I ask about casual partings. No one's being sent to a war zone, no one's leaving a war zone.

Being the most recent, and thus most relevant, I offer the reader my university experience. I can say that it doesn't particularly pain me to part with my classmates. I made some good friends, some who will be in town, some who have had to move back home, and some who have plain left the country for work or school. I shed no tears, and I doubt they did either.

A shaking of hands. A hug. A promise to keep in touch. That's all there is to it.

What good does it do anyone to cry? It's bittersweet, yes, but is it sad? Are we all gathered on the last day of class, or the day of convocation, to mourn the passing of our undergraduate lives? No! It's a time to celebrate new beginnings, to wish others success and exchange contact information.

I will say that I have cried when my parents told me how proud they were. It happened on two occasions, but for convocation they just wanted to know if I was going to find a job for the summer. We've all become a bit more pragmatic, I think.

Perhaps Hitohira's message is lost on myself and those around me, but I think I will be touched by the sometimes brutally frank interactions of the characters for a while to come. I'm not sad to see it end. Rather, we'll keep in touch.

Edit: Most of the above was written having not finished the final episode. Seeing the rooftop scene made me think that perhaps Mugi did finally understand what I felt about partings. It's a big world out there, willing to accommodate everyone with a dream. It's an optimistic world, yes, but one that anyone that holds hope must believe in.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Beautiful World at 192 kbps

Beautiful World cover art from AmazonUtada Hikaru enters the teens in her twenties. For more of Hikki's rebellious look, see U.BLOG

Thanks to Kuroshiro for the lyrics translation. Definitely written about Shinji, but from someone else's perspective. It's a bit too solemn to be from Asuka, though, and Rei is just this black box.

So! A few days have passed since a full length, non-radio rip version leaked. There's no sense in delaying the inevitable, so I am here today to answer the $11.99 question (plus shipping and handling) question: How does it loop?

* * *

As Beautiful World opens with ethereal synthesizers and echoing percussion, anything can happen. When the piano chords enter like it's 1996 at the height of the dream music craze, the realization hits that it's going to be pretty good.

Beautiful World has elements in common with both This is Love and Keep Tryin'. Like Keep Tryin', Beautiful World opens with atmospheric ambivalence before getting into the song proper with the chorus. In between the verse and chorus, there is a distinctly contrasting bridge in singing style, key, and harmony.

Structurally, both Beautiful World and This is Love have no significant instrumental breaks until the end, although this is a bit of a tenuous connection given that This is Love has a second verse section in the middle.

In the lower range there's this earthy, tribal feel to the song. It's a good foundation for the lines that float gracefully above. I have heard quite a few good piano parts as of late, and Beautiful World just adds to the collection.

There's just one aspect that prevents Beautiful World from topping best atmospheric electronic track, Making Love off ULTRA BLUE, but it's a big strike.

There isn't enough contrast.

There is a lack of a range jump between sections. This is Love had a brief break right before the chorus, Keep Tryin' breaks into the chorus with a bang, and Making Love experiences its own dramatic register shift.

You could argue that Beautiful World is a lot more dignified than either of the above three, so register skips would contradict its character. Fair enough. There are other ways of generating contrast, and the first one I can think of is change in texture.

I suspect that Beautiful World suffers from a lack of sufficient texture primarily in the chorus. The verse is actually pretty spare in terms of accompaniment. The chorus needs some serious bulking up. It should be like some gigantic steamroller of a chorus, with bottomless bass support while Hikki belts out her alternating low and high register lines.

Beautiful World sits in an awkward place. It's supposed to be more energetic than Keep Tryin' but fails to top Making Love for intensity. As a result, it doesn't loop as well as either of the above. It's also not a ponderous work compared to the 800 pound compositional gorilla known as BLUE.

Last criticism, honest. Why does Hikki's voice crack during her final lines before the outro? It's likely deliberate, but it just reeks of a mistake.

The extended outro is probably the other best part of Beautiful World. I can never return to the days of Dreamland without feeling that it's just a bit hokey, but this outro section fills in the gaps while retaining the dreamlike core. The continuously running piano, the ghostly backing voices, and the synthesizers are pure ambiance.

If Beautiful World/Kiss & Cry ever made it to iTunes outside of Japan, I'd probably cherry-pick this track from the single, although I don't hold out much hope since the current iTunes selection is all album material. The other tracks are blah, but I can elaborate later.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tsukiakari GET

Someone at the mixer board must have adjusted the balance in the two most demanding passages of the full length version [YouTube], but the change in dynamics is only slightly perceptible. I don't think it's a range thing, but more of a conscious decision to not step up, which I don't understand. Those two sections are the worst points of the song to take a backseat to the backgrounds. If you've got it, belt it out!

Her live performance was pretty [YouTube]. No pitching problems, but still her upper register is muted. She also clipped her phrases short. Still pretty though.

For reference, I commented that the TV version was weak. Not fragile, weak. I extend that opinion to the full length version.

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Latin is back, in black

In keeping with anime as a gateway to music that I wouldn't otherwise listen to, most of the instrumental stuff I have comes from OST's. Still, I haven't given an OST serious consideration in ever, and to be honest I wouldn't have given the Darker than Black OST a spin were it not for the enthusiasm of an early adopter.

From the 15.24 km view, Darker than Black's soundtrack is another dominantly jazz themed score similar to Cowboy Bebop. I didn't ever see Cowboy Bebop to its conclusion, but all of my friends liked the soundtrack even though, as noted before, they wouldn't normally listen to jazz. They liked it, then, for the novelty factor. I didn't find it as awesome as my peers did, with really only Tank!, Piano Black, Blue, and Green Bird being stand-out pieces, and even Tank! was pretty dry for a big band jazz work.

If nothing else, Darker than Black's original soundtrack is a better effort by Yoko Kanno, sticking closer to some of the influences that define the pieces. I'm not a student of contemporary music and have nothing to back that (or the following) up with, but I think that most of the pieces don't suffer from the cookie cutter effect that Tank! did.

Still, most of these tracks are necessarily pure exposition, and generally aren't allowed to go anywhere throughout their mostly less than 3 minute windows. The reality is that an OST is not a score, just a collection of incidental music that is taken for granted even when consumed with the animation content.

Specifics after these messages.

Update: For a third opinion, see A Gabriela Robin Site.

Update 2: Another review, off Anime Nano.

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GO Dark is pretty straightforward jazz rock (fusion) with a few standard hooks. Trumpets feature prominently, whether they're wailing in the commotion or punctuate the sax solo.

Howling is, well, Howling. It's dark, it's hard rock, and it's got a decent amount of contrast packed into 1.5 minutes. Heck, it's even got vibrato. It's not written by Yoko Kanno, so I'm not going to add anything further.

High heel Runaway is probably an Afro-Cuban jazz form, maybe a fast rumba. I can't pick out the rhythm on the high hat, but it would probably yield a good indication of the style. Prominent piano with stylistic runs and improv section. Nice fade (to black!) tricks the unsuspecting first time listener. There is no back beat — most Latin jazz is played straight up — but energy is derived from syncopation heavily laced throughout the piece.

Tenderly sounds like Take Five. It's not quite quintuple-time (it's phrasing in two major groupings of triplets), but it's got that light, game show music atmosphere. Subtle back beat due to emphasis on the second group of triplets.

Sid is…I won't even try to guess. It's rustic and does not conform to any Western music scale. I suppose that in keeping with the Latin music trend it could be a Latin rustic style, maybe a flamenco derivative. Oh, I did say I wasn't going to try to guess. I'll stop now.

Was — the great urban jungle. Opens with a line sounding like Morse Code, the symbol for all things that beep electronic. Even though there's a wistful guitar line, it yields to the genre that holds greatest influence on this piece: drum and bass. It's hard to mess up drum and bass since it's just pure atmosphere. It's also why drum and bass tracks tend to be insanely long and it can be hard to tell one from the other.

Since Ulrich Schnauss is epic unto himself, I will gratuitously throw in two of his drum and bass pseudonyms, Ethereal 77 and View to the Future. Moving on.

Outside — standoff-ish reverb in chords, with periods of "dead space" (stop time) where the percussion fades out and the guitar is allowed to drift, but where meter is never lost. Problem is, I don't know what the meter is. My best guess is a use of two or more odd-numbered meters that are always in flux. Polyrhythm is always disconcerting and puts the listener on edge because it's an unstable and thus tense temporal situation.

No One's Home is a jazz ballad, and a fairly straightforward one at that. It's not Blue epic because it's not as ethereal and has less build up. At only 2 minutes 43 seconds, length might have something to do with that.

Guy is a typical detective funk theme and gives the character more coolness than he deserves. That sax has way too much real guts for a guy (hah!) who just bumbles around. Nice pentatonic twist gives this piece an asian flavour. It's too bad that the sax doesn't get to expand on that pentatonic rift in the beginning.

ScatCat features, what else, scat singing. Usually scat singing is much faster, using the voice as an instrument in its own improv section. In this case, it's transplanted into a much more laid back blues, hearkening back to the days of the traveling solo performer. Can you picture it? He's muttering in a raspy voice to while sitting alone outside a deserted train station.

Keiyakusha is another big band piece, this time a tightly performed samba. Characteristic bass and percussion patterns provide most of the drive. That energy is counterbalanced by the somewhat uninspired and hollow harmonies of the trumpet line leading into and out of the trumpet solo. Nice bridge, though, which serves as a small modulating playground over sustained trumpets.

Good dancing music, and by extension, fight music, as attention is usually on the participants of either. If everyone's watching the band, there's something wrong.

Shadow is likely Afro-Cuban influenced, given the clave rhythm. The simple intro, outro, and middle passages are present to serve up and round off the two solo sections, the first for piano and the other for guitar. Overall, muted and lazy. Feels like being in a darkened bar in the middle of the afternoon, staring out at the beach.

Kuro reminds me of Hitomi no Theme, one of my favourite pieces from the Escaflowne OST. Both have that cool night atmosphere, and the guitar plays a role in both, Kuro being the more prominent employer. The opening bars gave the impression that it might have been Hitomi no Theme ported over to Latin instrumentation and composition. This isn't as sparse or fragile but it's just as solitary.

Deadly Work — dark, distorted, with vocals. Didn't find anything of interest. Kanno's English vocal work has always been a mixed bag for me. This one is going into the "nothing special" bin. It's better than the "abusing Maaya's upper register and making her sound like a nuisance underneath Steve Conte" bin.

Tentai Kansukou features cavernous piano, ethereal and haunting. Typical stargazing music, if a little short.

BlueCat — cautiously optimistic, like watching dawn break after pulling an all-nighter. That you're not holed up in your room by that point either means you're done whatever it is, or you're slacking, in which case this is the wrong music to be listening to.

Eclectic mix of instruments, keeping the Latin percussion.

Tsukiakari is more to my liking than the OP. It starts off like a casual folk song with warm piano and vocal, builds towards a high point with increased layering of strings and backing vocals, and drops out suddenly leaving Rie Fu alone in the spotlight for a brief moment before closing out. I only wish that the layering didn't dominate her upper register. She sounds so weak in the build up.

Maybe it's worth looking into the full length version.

Water Forest — urban electronica, hazy and open-ended like the future. Brings back memories of Miles-Gurtu. It's a good fit for the preview scene.

Blend in — another victory(?) for adult contemporary. Also going into the "nothing special" bin.

In no Piano is a Romantic era influenced piece with rolling arpeggios and a singing style after Chopin. Decently played, although a bit light on the touch.

Continue Entry......

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Doujin Work drives a hard bargain

Shamelessly cheap on the art. Sets up a misunderstanding and rides that pony for all its worth. If the writers have really hit gold, like in episode 3, they can carry it for the entire 11 minutes.

I liken it to some of those less than 10 minute shorts that appear on YouTube. Most of the time the production values aren't there — other than some dude with a camera and a shaky hand — but it doesn't matter because it's YouTube. Just saying the name automatically sets expectations (toward the basement end). But if there's anything to be learned from YouTube, it's that content doesn't have to be pretty to be profitable.

Doujin Work is probably going to net someone a decent reward given the amount of effort involved. It does what it does well, which is to deliver one or two moments per episode with minimal effort. Whether the venture is jaded or gutsy, I can't decide, but I'll respect both.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fire those retro rockets

There are some things I wouldn't willingly listen to, like atonal music and by extension most pop music. Oldies are included in that list and I've only ever wanted to listen to that stuff due to purely academic reasons, like passing a contemporary music history course.

It's not that old music is strictly bad, but I am not a child of that era or, it seems, any era at all, so I feel this generational disconnect. Although digital recovery from analog sources has worked wonders, it's a strike against me for not being able to shake off the stigma that songs still sound old even if they are light years better than before.

It is probably also a strike against me for using anime as an excuse a gateway into the past. Well, whatever works. I know of several people who would never in their right mind listen to big band jazz, but for whom the jazz soundtrack contributed to Cowboy Bebop's appeal.

So far Doujin Work's ED is the only stand out feature amid a standard OP and mostly mindless content. Mai continues her fun retro schtick in Yumemiru Otome [320 kbps], hauling in a Dixieland band, walking bass, and backup vocals. Jazz clarinets defy classical conventions perhaps solely because they're not played in a classical fashion. Thin reeds, bright sound.

The rhythm section keeps things on a pretty even keel. Only the clapping falls on the back beat. There isn't much in the way of typical jazz syncopation other than in the instrumental breaks, and Mai's accents tend to fall on all of the beats. This is written like a march, something that most songs try to avoid if at all possible. But, as Yumemiru Otome proves, marches don't have to be dry and boring affairs. They can be, dare I say it, fun.

Nakashima Mika is listed on her profile as one of her favourite singers. That's hard to see, as the two seem only connected through the very large umbrella known as jazz. Within that sphere, their singing styles are polar opposites with Mai so far being much brighter and upbeat.

I'm still impressed that she is only 15. She carries a maturity and understanding usually possessed by singers at least 3 years her senior, although whenever I think this I should remember that Utada Hikaru and Tamaki Nami, among others, hit it big at 15. Miracles seem to happen more often than I'd like to think.

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Utada Hikaru - Beautiful World on radio

128 kbps

Cross This is Love with Making Love, and splash in a modulated bridge the likes of Keep Tryin', and you get Beautiful World.

In other words, it's great. I can't wait to get the single.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

They said rock and roll was dead, too

That didn't stop the US from exporting it around the world and establishing cultural hegemony. Along with Cher. And hip-hop.

As stated before, if you want to pick a new term, go with genres or other catchy and marketable names for anime's derivatives. Why should we be tied to saying, "That's anime" and "That's not anime" when it would make everyone's lives easier to narrow things down a bit and say, "That's a kid's show" and "That's slice of life."

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Moonlight Mile: X-68 Lift Off

Moonlight Mile 12: X-68 switches in the scramjetsScramjet, GO!

Conspiracy, engineering eye candy, a brief "good luck ritual" scene that was too dark to see on my monitor? This was a fine conclusion.

Not to put down the previous three episodes, but this one was most refreshing. There was no one in need of saving, we are perhaps one step closer to seeing what the US is up to, and China is brought in with a coy little scene. Like the Moon Walker arc, technology is front and centre, but unlike the Moon Walker arc, nothing goes wrong.

Usually technology is in the background and taken for granted as it should be, like in Planetes, but when it's not and doesn't manage to blow up or otherwise embarrass itself with all eyes upon it, truly it is a glorious day.

Moonlight Mile 12: Take downChest shot! That ought to slow him down!

Yes, I still play a (one) game, and snipers are still a royal nuisance, and being shot in the leg doesn't slow anyone down despite messages stating the contrary.

They didn't have to be so heavy-handed about this shot. Targeting lasers aren't as thick as some dude's finger, and people like infrared sites nowadays because they have this neat property of being outside the visible wavelength range. At most, a tiny red dot would have sufficed, like they did for the first episode.

Moonlight Mile 12: Stealth helicopter pilotI chuckled

At first I was going to say he looks like the guy on the Tiberian Sun box art, but the target finder is on the opposite eye and the finder's support rises from the bottom instead of dropping down from the top. In reality, this one just looks like a guy with a monocle. Cue annoying social laugh.

While Goro's path is interesting in its own right, Lostman's military path is much more in line with what I was expecting, ever since watching the MM preview trailer. While the realistic physics and technology were cool, conspiracy and conflict were the main selling points, and they were almost non-existent for most of the series.

The ISA is also a work in progress, while the US military is already there. Having an established power base is much more in line with expectations of a showdown of epic proportions.

Thrust vectoring owns the starsThis baby can turn on a dime, Macross Zero style!

Another exemplary display of technology. Still darker than black (ops).

At the end of the day, the preview mismanaged expectations, but even taking it as it is, Moonlight Mile's mostly "Problem of the Week" structure did not cover the same amount of moral/philosophical ground as Planetes.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Steampunk eye candy

A lot of the time it's hard (on the wallet) to go back and watch older series but I was fortunate on this occasion, so thanks for the recommendation, necromancer.

With ZetsuSensu making one the more prominent impressions as of late, Gankutsuou just continues the surrealist bent with its disconcerting mix of dadaism, expressionism, and most of all, steampunk. I wasn't really drawn into the world, but was quite content to stand on the outside looking in, thinking, Damn, this is a nice work of art, a sentiment I've seen expressed by no small number of commentators elsewhere.

The world of Gankutsuou isn't something that is possible to immerse yourself in, anyway. Those mechanical spheres and rings charting out orbits, an eye embedded in the ersatz sun, even the skull on the real moon. All reminded me of those absurd little shorts that I'd occasionally see on television as a child, commissioned and maybe produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Incidentally, take a guess as to where Boards of Canada, who take surrealism and put it on crack, got their name from.

Then there was that little inconsistency where, in a world that turns your hand into a mouse, Danglars had a typewriter for a keyboard. And apparently you have to destroy a painting in order to access a giant fighting robot, or maybe I just got the wrong impression there.

No, despite being pretty as sin, it's hard to get into a world that you can't take seriously at all.

I couldn't really take the ending seriously either, but the build up was intricate. Actually, the ending proper didn't make sense. A hug is all you need? Or does it have to be a hug from some incorruptible innocent. Or is a teenage boy okay too? None of these options are satisfying given that the enemy is some demonic power whose removal ought to be accomplished through means more in line with an exorcism.

And once again, a bad message is sent in the form of Fernand. When you decide to stop running from your past, you don't go kill yourself, you atone for your crimes. Wise words spoken by Tanabe in Planetes episode 24.

The characters are really just there as chess pieces. They all have the usual functions, they all get pushed around the board, and no one is actually interesting other than Bertuccio for his gangster appearance, the Count because he holds the initiative, and Eugenie for not being the typical sappy girl and being able to play a Rachmaninov piano concerto. Incidentally, it's the second piano concerto [YouTube], which Chiaki plays in Nodame Cantabile.

Unfortunately, to associate her with the OP does a disservice to her composition skills. Too bad that had to happen.

OP and ED: English lyrics, badly written English lyrics, ruined both. Sometimes it's just better to not know what's being said. The OP deserves an added kick in the pants for ripping off and butchering Chopin's Etude in E Major. Most beautiful melody made not so beautiful. For shame.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Anime is the new rock

God KnowsOn the left: Guitar Hero v.314159

Or perhaps I should say, anime is the new rock n' roll. Now wading in to spread disinformation, sow confusion, and stir the pot.

To claim that anime is even remotely related to rock and roll is to imply that anime will become as dominating an influence on animation as rock and roll was on popular music. And yet, there are signs that this may be the case, although that's beyond the limited scope of this entry.

Just as rock and roll arose out of the confluence of African-American and Western-European musical styles, anime (in a modern sense) arose out of the confluence of Japanese art and American animation, specifically Disney. While there was animation ongoing in Japan prior to the rise of Disney, it wasn't until the 1960's that anime achieved a modicum of international success.

Rock and roll exploded into the global (or just Western industrialized nations) mainstream in 1956 and from it came just plain rock, acid, folk rock, art rock, punk, Merseybeat, metal, death metal, emo, the list goes on. Not all of these derivative styles originated in the United States: punk is distinctly British and there's a reason there's the Mersey in Merseybeat.

The different flavours of rock are so many that we cease to lump them into one category known as rock and roll. Without a passing interest in musical history, rock and roll's connection likely doesn't even enter into the mind.

Anime's explosion was much more muted in that it was localized to Japan for much of the intervening years, but I think that the case also applies. Defining anime as a general category will only aid in identifying the small subset of commonality between derivatives, and as such will only have passing historical interest.

I think that one day, maybe even in my lifetime, people won't speak of "anime" any more than they would speak of "rock" in general terms. Instead they will talk about "mecha" as its own entity just as others speak of "punk" as its own entity.

Oh wait, they already do. What were we debating about again? I suppose I agreez. Anime is a style and aesthetic and influence. Just like rock and roll.

P.S. In response to Maglor: In keeping with the spirit of the English language, we must not only assimilate words and terms from other languages, but we must also bastardize evolve their meanings beyond their initial roots and combine them or just plain make up our own definitions! I leave that as an exercise to the reader.

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Planetes: To Jupiter, By Jove!

Planetes is the only series I've just upped and purchased without having seen any sort of preview or fansub. I'm not out to make recommendations, and I think at this point you've either seen it or you won't, so I'm not going to try to hide the story. Proceed at your discretion.

* * *

Tangent: I'd rather be a space tourist

Because really, working conditions are little better than being in a mine, just with a better view. If you want the view, capitalism may one day let you buy a glimpse aboard a space station or scramjet plane. That's not to say that astronauts are uncool and neither are miners, since both risk their lives doing their job.

Mission commanders, many of whom start off as test pilots and/or fighter pilots, have risked their lives just to get to where they are. Everyone else is saddled with huge amounts of training and a gigantic manual in the hopes that they will mitigate factors that lead to death.

Viewing experience

I made the order amid the brief flurry of Planetes posts earlier this year, and pretty much marathoned it in two sessions that were a couple weeks apart, so the experience wasn't as cohesive as it could be. Being episodic until the end, I don't think cohesiveness was a factor here.

My DVD subs have some grammatical errors and a few awkward timing moments. That disappoints me, as I've mentioned before.

The detail is intricate, and the commentary track, especially in the last episode, pointed out several insights that I had really just taken for granted on the first pass.

World building

The technology is there, but the series doesn't try hard to draw too much attention to it. It's just there, and it works. If you want to scrutinize it, you can with the pause button, and if you don't, there are no long idiot lectures to fast forward through.

The cast is varied and their flaws and eccentricities are not sugar-coated. At no point are you compelled to like anybody, although it would be difficult to appreciate some of the over-arching themes and storylines if you really disliked the two protagonists. I do think Tanabe is unrealistically unaware of herself and those around her, and it's something that doesn't improve at all.

Etcetera

That's it for technicals. As for the content of the series, I will do one better than Soda, who declared that Planetes is not either of two extremes (i.e. masterpiece or disaster). Rather tell you that it's not white or black, I'll tell you what (I think) it is.

It's grey!

Alright, put that knife down.

In all seriousness, Planetes is a complete package. It is a package in the sense that most of the stories are resolved in an episode, like a sit-com. It is also a package in that even though earlier stories wrap up neatly, the consequences of actions continue to play out. Prominent themes, like loneliness and the cost of pursuing dreams, are ever present. Conversations are relevant to more than just those immediately present.

When Yuri is talking to Kyutaro about his late wife's (now destroyed) compass, he mentions how he is now able to let go after accepting that there are no absolutes — that in some respects, there is no point where the atmosphere ends and space begins right after. There are only gradations, and everything is connected. By extension, no one is alone, even in space.

It is this same epiphany that Hachimaki makes, which allows him to reconcile his desire for going to Jupiter and his feelings for Tanabe. Connection is what redeems Claire in the end.

This is solid writing. Everything is connected and it is also because everything is connected that we get the "unsatisfactory" arc to conclude the series.

In reality, it was a 2-episode arc, as the final episode was an epilogue, and the episode before that was the thematic conclusion. Perhaps the resolution was a little too swift for some, but there was a time skip, and the supporting themes have always been there.

As for events aboard the Von Braun, was the SDF really going to remain in the background till the end? That would have been fine, I suppose, if you were looking for an open-ended ending. But in the context of the finality of the ending, the SDF and Hakim's escape had to be dealt with some way or another. The writers just chose to deal with the issue over two episodes as opposed to one. I don't feel that anything was taken away by this approach.

Considering the Von Braun and the cost of dreams in general, I'm reminded of Hikki's Dareka no negai ga kanau koro. The song's zero-sum sentiment — that one dream is crushed to make another come true — is one that dominates the political and relationship landscape. Don't explore space until you can feed all of the planet's citizens. Going to Jupiter comes at the cost trillions of dollars and the destruction of the fusion drive's test facility. Joining the Jupiter crew means severing ties.

That's life, really. It's one of the more pessimistic points in the series, although it is a wholly pragmatic one. The real question is: How does an individual, or a nation, come to terms with cost?

Hachimaki's answer is his spiritual connection to space and all that it encompasses. INTO's answer was to (attempt to) address the human cost of its own making, although the ethics of how such a decision came about are thoroughly distasteful. Locksmith declares that cost is no object, be it in lives, money, or time ("I can always build another spaceship if I survive"). Claire's answer is the common "benefits outweigh selling soul" line, at least until she hits her limits. Lavie has his children. Edel lived through the alternative and decided it was much worse than being a temp. For Nono, the cost of colonizing the moon and growing up in low gravity doesn't even enter into her mind.

Against the sweeping backdrop of space and the unstoppable march of technology, the characters are almost tediously normal. The same conflicts and insecurities play out in a different setting. Maybe the only fundamental difference is that technology has expanded the possibilities and with it, the extremes.

I didn't take much away in terms of lessons, as it is generally expected that life in the future will be much like life today. Ultimately what was engaging was watching everything fold together into the polished work that sits before me. That includes observing the acceptance process that many characters go through, with varying degrees of success.

The future may not be all shiny and monolithic, but Planetes most certainly is.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Speaking practice

I noticed the a e i u e o a o, ka ke ki ku ke ko ka ko drill in Hitohira but didn't give it much consideration beyond that it might help stage actors speak clearly over a large distance, sans amplification. In keeping with her character it might have been a well known beginner's exercise that Nono picked up from her Drama Club days, which she was now imparting with the efficiency of a drill sergeant.

Of course that doesn't preclude it from being useful to children. Well now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Have pause hot-keyed, will read chalkboard

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei ep 1Is this really a Baywatch reference? I've never watched Baywatch but the scene aligns well with my uninformed stereotypes.

There are probably a lot of references in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei that I don't get or have missed in their entirety, but I accept it like I accept not comprehending most of the Lucky Star references. However, there was one that was sufficiently long and surreal to warrant curiosity. Trailhead provided by GNU which lead to the following:



I don't even know where the original sequence was from and what it's about, although answers will probably be forthcoming.

Hm, what else. Most times, maybe all the time, when Nozumu moves, the patterning on his kimono(?) does not. He's almost like a walking windowpane. Surreal.

Also,

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei ep 2Two pairs of feet don't have a legitimate reason to be here

There wasn't a dead body underneath Nozomu's bed when he went to lie down, so Gsus' hypothesis is convincing. I didn't even catch it the first time around. It was discreet, as dead bodies are wont to be, and the shot was short.

These short visual non-sequiturs is giving me ARG vibes, which is no great surprise as the ARG as a genre and something like Zetsubou Sensei both endeavour towards the surreal. Static background is subverted with hidden and changing content. In an ARG those tend to be puzzles that need to be solved, or require some action like answering a pay phone. The constantly changing chalkboard and signs don't serve such a greater purpose, but their presence does add to the atmosphere.

The potential drawback I see is that unlike an ARG, where searching for subversion is the whole point, repeatedly hitting pause in Zetsubou Sensei disrupts the flow in a very direct way (I mean, you've paused the video!), and more so when you're compelled, at that very moment, to go on a potentially fruitless search for what exactly is being referred to.

For now, props for effort. That much is evident. Hopefully it develops into an experience beyond watching for execution (I know nothing about the source manga), but watching for execution (Air, Kanon 2006) is not a bad thing at all.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Hitohira OP/ED

Hitohira is indeed a gem, but you don't need me to tell you that. I am once more behind the curve, but the OP and ED tracks are so refreshing to listen to that I am compelled to mention them.

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Part of the reason why opinions on songs can be so subjective is that I as a listener have a memory. Call it baggage, if you will, which stems from the atmosphere, emotions, even memories, invoked by whatever is loaded into WinAmp. Since I have this high tendency to loop single tracks for hours and days at a time, those sentiments are highly reinforced.

Having most recently had the dignified composition and performance of Yuki Kajiura and Yuuka Nanri ingrained in my mind, the effect of Yume, Hitohira and Smile is not unlike stepping out of a darkened concert hall and into a breezy mid-afternoon day with clear skies, as if attending a lunchtime concert was not unusual on its own.

Both tracks are distinctly relaxed, which is an odd thing to say of the much faster ED. Yet both draw inspiration from the days of a more spontaneous sound, where people were mostly comfortable with blues but there was still treasure to be found.

Yume, Hitohira [full length, washy audio] recalls a time when it was perfectly acceptable, even expected, to have a string ensemble in a pop song, of casual conversations with an enameled piano. The whole thing smacks of jazz, from the odd (but cool!) sounding intervals in the melody, to the trumpet interjections that punctuate the chorus. The only thing I didn't much like was chorus, which sounded a bit washy. I don't know if it was from the strings being a little too loud, possible pedal in the piano, ringing that didn't fade fast enough in the bells (xylophones) in the final chorus, or some combination thereof.

I am even more taken by Smile. It hits the ground running and never lets up. The short passage that is the intro and outro borrows a page from hyper-active Broadway musical numbers. It's in the same vein as nowhere and Silly-Go-Round — high energy, tight vocal lines — but it's not as dire as nowhere and it's not as reserved as Silly-Go-Round. The piano that audibly keeps pace with the vocalist throughout is a joy to listen to. Sunny synthesizers are, well, sunny synthesizers.

I was surprised that the vocalist for Smile is a mere 15 years old. This was a performance on par with Tamaki Nami, who debuted in her mid-teens as well. Mai Mizuhashi's style seems distinctly retro, judging from Smile and Yumemiru Otome, the Doujin Work ED. Her collaboration in the Kamisama Kazoku ED, a classic rock song, just reinforces this stylistic image, although the OP for the above is an exception.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Utada Hikaru - Beautiful World 45 sec preview

Once again, via U.Blog.

Impression? Mixed. 56k streams from the likes of RealPlayer aren't a solid foundation from which to form any sort of opinion, but for what it's worth Hikki's voice sounds like it cracked at one point, and her upper register is tinny, but that could just be the 56k talking. The trailing edge of the preview had some nice atmosphere, though.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dennou Coil: Brats always interfere

Marathoning anime has its advantages, such as having a fresh impression of the previous episode or more to reference against. At the seventh episode, the opener and fourth have made the strongest impressions. What sets these episodes apart from the others?

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It's not that these two episodes are the only ones with any action. Yasako had a couple heart-stopping moments while on the run from one, and then two, pursuing Satchii's in episode three. A Satchii makes an appearance in most episodes, with ensuing hijinks. Episode seven may not have had a Satchii chase scene, but it had its own share of running and then a rescue sequence, although its effect was diluted by who the rescued was. It's not that there's no tension in the other episodes.

The first and fourth episodes feature the most world building. Related to that, they're also the most compelling. The premiere should necessarily introduce a significant amount of combat mechanics and demonstrate their utility. But in the fourth episode, the mysterious Isako and her dominant abilities demonstrate even more potential in explosive (literally!) conflict. We get to see what kind of damage can be inflicted, as well as the arsenal of combat tricks available, in all of its meticulously animated glory.

So much detail has gone into constructing the setting that it is easily the primary draw for me. It is thus disappointing when kids get in the way, although I suppose we are supposed to forgive them because they're kids. I will not, of course, because there are two fine examples of how to be a kid and not be stupid. Sadly, Yasako is neither of them.

Dennou Coil, episode 7Stop baby-sitting your sister and start being useful, Yasako!

Yasako makes for a weak protagonist at this point, although with 19 episodes to go, there's plenty of time to turn that ship around. She is weak because she functions as an observer. Fumie drags her around, she's an unwitting impediment to Isako who proceeds to bully her in a more malicious manner than Daichi seems capable of, and even Yasako's younger sister somehow manages to outrun her. We see the world through her eyes, which is great for world building, but everyone but her holds the initiative, which is bad for watching.

That Yasako starts at such a disadvantage to everyone, even her sister, can only mean that she's been set up for the obligatory, I'll get stronger before this is all over, style of development. We've all seen it before, and we all know that one of three things will happen: 1) her growth is well executed and thus compelling, 2) her growth is not well executed and thus arbitrary, 3) her growth is non-existent and thus viewers don't notice or complain vocally.

Mojos have been awesome in all of their appearances. Just thought I'd throw that in.

From a thematic standpoint, Yasako is being used in a heavy-handed fashion to exemplify the theme of distance, although more generally it is all about contrast. Satchii has this sinister air about it borne out of the dichotomy between its public image and its functionality. The Wikipedia article notes the gap in understanding between the adult regulators and the kids. The implications of Daichi's actions are lost on Fumie, although not on Yasako. The cold machinery of the virtual world is at odds with the children who run amok in it. As Yasako grows, she will likely begin to bridge some of those gaps, even between the virtual and physical worlds, if there is any significance behind her mysterious dream.

I'm not liking Kyoko at all. Sure, she's a brat just like Daichi and his clowns are, but Daichi is clearly set up as comic relief who may or may not betray Isako in the future if she's not careful. Kyoko isn't comic relief so much as she is irritating, while doing double duty as a walking plot device. Need to develop Isako's character? Have her bail the munchkin out! Need to set up a chance meeting with Satchii's administrator? Have her nearly get run over by a truck! And on, and on.

I have no doubt that she acts like any three or four year old might act, but by extension you may infer that I have a dislike for small kids. I won't deny it. Someone, and Yasako isn't one of them, needs to keep a tight reign on these little humans lest they be eaten alive, or wrecked by a Satchii.

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Code-E premiere episode: awkward and unamusing

You can get screen caps if you'd like at Moe Moe Rabu and Tenka Seiha, since I deleted the first episode immediately after watching it. Suffice it to say that it was extremely disconcerting, and I'm trying to articulate just what about the past twenty some odd minutes made it so. Diagnosis follows.

* * *

There's a lot of screen time given to (I think it's safe to assume) the lead character, with a lot of head-on perspectives. The first thing that I picked up on was the fact that from that angle, there is no nose! Maybe I'm just spooked at the sight of a missing facial feature. It's a phenomenon not limited to just her, and every time I saw that angle — which is to say, a lot — I felt like I was looking at convenient caricature, a cheap attempt at being cute.

Case in point, image 47 from Tenka Seiha is like flood fill using MS Paint.

But it's not just the lack of a nose on Ebihara. Her glasses are so far down her face that they become an accessory to her face, as opposed to her eyes. It's not so much that it looks awkward, which it does, but she looks dumb, something only reinforced by her behaviour.

While Yomiko Readman was naive, she wasn't hopelessly inept at speaking, and she had a grip on her abilities. I could see Code-E spending over a third of its series length on frivolous gag moments involving awkward situations in the vicinity of electronics. Sketchy looking characters will probably be after our hopeless heroine but someone else will always have to bail her out because she's, well, dumb. But at least she's good at making nervous squeaks and various other irritating noises that may be construed as cute.

It's not good to make predictions on the first episode alone, which was nothing but awkward situations in the vicinity of electronics (plot-what-plot?), and it could wind up making interesting use of the world and its combat mechanics, but a lot of goodwill was lost in that first episode.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Gurren-Lagann: Fine subversion

Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann is a lot of fun. Part of the amusement is derived from the fact that the series is just a vehicle to do cool stuff, and it's all good because expectations were set when plausibility was thrown out the window in a very clear, unambiguous manner in the opening episode. There are two examples that stick in my mind at the moment.

* * *

Want to demonstrate 1337 $n1p3|2 $k1llz? Make sure that Yoko's depleted uranium rounds have only knock-back (or devastating high-explosive, take your pick) effect on enemy armor until she's confronted with a hostage situation. Only then does an armor piercing round actually, uh, pierce, as opposed to pack several pounds worth of plastic explosive.

Out-gunned or lacking superior firepower in advance of an epic battle? Reinforcements have arrived! I think this needs no further elaboration.

Other things are just shamelessly dumb, like turning a destroyer into a giant kayak. But it was pretty convenient that the Daiganzan looked sea-worthy to begin with. At the time I kept thinking, it's a ship on legs. Cue stunned silence at the development that it can't cross the sea without hax.

The other part of the fun comes from embedding subversion into several aspects of the series. Subversion of authority is a given. There is also the very obvious aspect that Simon's first occupation was that of a digger. And then, how does he discover his power? By digging. How does he get out trouble? By digging a hole and running away. How does he achieve victory over his enemies? On several occasions, dig a hole and attack.

The subversion goes beyond just subverting ground. Inevitably the major battles are won through a bit of dishonourable conduct. Dislodging Guame the Unmovable (the irony!) was a sneak attack. Disabling the Daiganzan was accomplished by luring it into a trap. The Helix/Spiral King was defeated by feigning defeat and then engaging in some unsportsmanlike conduct not unlike a certain infamous head-butt. Enemy armor is commandeered by breaking out the spl01ts and getting r00t. Once the good guys are in the b0x, they then proceed to kill d00ds.

While the series adheres to some conventions, it goes about poking fun at others. Lampooning the ability to use firearms correctly on the first try is now common enough to expect it, but the trick is still worth some comedic value. It's common knowledge that the man without a (coherent) plan will inevitably to win battles because he's got hot blood and burning passion. Usually there's no particular reason, but that was easily remedied in the first episode. Kamina is more honest than most when he freely admits to making up the name Lagann. No secret meanings (that we know of yet), no strange acronym behind some hidden project. It sounded cool, full stop. Or what about the transformation technique that was sufficiently imperfect the first time that Kamina has to align the Lagann? And it's not every day you come across a female character more interested in surviving/winning a fight than getting upset at some furry creature feeling her up.

Lucky Star is all about these Ah I see what you did there moments, but Gurren-Lagann is more productive with its time, although by combining (mind-numbingly straightforward) plot with humour, it's not hard to be more productive than a series with no inter-episode continuity.

Side note: If the population exceeds 50, the lot of you will die. Later, if the surface population exceeds 1 000 000, the lot of you will die. The parallels are self-explanatory. Use subversion to keep the population in check, or use it for the purposes of awesome. Clearly only one choice makes for an entertaining show.

Continue Entry......

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Blue-skying anime ownership

AIR TV Prelude
This crackpot post was motivated by another industry panel where piracy was brought up. It's a discussion of what amounts to a business model that is currently not possible for a variety of reasons. From a content production view, it calls for anime licensing companies to integrate with anime licensor companies at an unprecedented level, an effective amalgamation in all but name. On the technical side, much of the technology already exists. What's lacking is the will. Brace yourselves, this is a bit of a head-scratcher, after these messages.

* * *

Problems with personal storage of any kind

The problems associated with delivering the so-called R1 release are numerous and ought to be well known by this time. First, a licensing company has to step up to the plate at all, and take on the risk of licensing a work. Following that, the script has to be translated, voice actors hired, recording studio time put in, post-processing and disc stamping, promoting the work in the target market, the list goes on. A frequent complaint among anime buyers is the giant time lag between licensing agreement and first volume release. Even then, there may be spelling errors in the subtitles, or the video quality may be inferior to their R2 counterparts.

A personal quibble for me is that DVD (english) subtitles are inevitably yellow and single-line. Maybe it's because I use MPC as my DVD player as I haven't tried others. Regardless, it's ugly.

No matter what, you've bought the product and you're stuck with whatever problems are present. Then there is the problem of storing them. For one thing, if you really want to go all out to support a series and get the collector's box, it takes up more space than just the regular box. For another, the discs may not last forever.

I am hesitant to store anime these days. I may be technically inclined, but that doesn't obviate the fact that I'm also lazy. Burning DVD's is time consuming and they may not last forever (we'll see). Hard drives, despite being cheap and plentiful as external drive solutions, fail and you're not about to try and recover that data. I'm also not desperate enough to construct a RAID system out of multiple drives to back up my anime. What I want, and I suspect a lot of other people would like this as well, is someone to store my stuff for me.

Outsource your storage!

A trend today is that we want to, at least physically, own less and less. Pictures? Put them on an image host. Who needs CD's when that same music can go on to a bit of storage that may or may not have a player with it? Some things we don't even want to keep on our own computers now. Like images, we put our e-mail, our calendars, our feed readers, etc. on servers.

In a roundabout way, I have just cast my vote in favour of anime streaming. I won't have to back up episodes. I don't have to use up existing hard drive space or obtain new drives. Better yet, streaming is flexible. If the player application supports soft subs, I won't have to see ugly yellow subtitles. Video and audio quality can be broadcast grade or better.

There are caveats, though. Obviously I'm going to have to pay money. The question is whether such a service is worth the money as-is. The answer is no. While the service is nice, I want to own the series and all the rights that go along with it. If I want to download it to watch on the airplane, I should be able to. In short, no DRM. If I decide that I want to sell the series, I should be able to. That one's a little trickier to deal with.

Content production

This topic is a bit easier to deal with. Companies with already established licenses for long running series (Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, etc.) would probably have a much easier go at this. To reduce the time lag between japanese release and, say, english release, translation has to start as soon as possible. The shortest time reasonable is only attained if translation commences as soon as the script is released.

Close proximity to the source is also beneficial. Put translators in the same time zone as the original script writers. If they can be put in the same building, on the same floor, even better.

Use soft subtitles. In addition to the flexibility gained by dictating position, colour, font, and special effects for text, they do not force the video to be re-encoded, preserving the original video quality. Any errors can be quickly corrected without a re-encode as well.

Like the current trend in software development, emphasis should be placed on putting out an initial product first and then adding features and even subtitle corrections. Subtitles are all that is required first, followed by dubbing at a later point, and then special music videos and the like. Any consumer who purchases the initial release should be entitled to these future updates and features.

Content protection

While there can't be any DRM, there can be digital watermarking. Watermarks will probably find most success embedded in the video content itself. They must not degrade video quality, and must be robust to attacks via video filters. Such developments are now in progress and may be ready for commercial use.

Content delivery

Any of these companies will either have to retain the services of a content distribution network like Akamai, Limelight Networks, or Google (lol?), or develop their own distribution network capable of providing high, sustained, bandwidth, like a much speedier incarnation of Stage6 if they want to stream HD resolution. The need for a one to one correspondence between watermarked video and owner necessitates the need for individual video streams. That is to say, multi-casting at the router node or using peer-to-peer networks, in their current stage, will not work.

Watermarks will be generated and inserted into the video content on the fly, so the host will not need as many copies of the video as there are owners. However, there is no escaping the need for an incredibly large pipe. Bandwidth must be dirt cheap, and to maintain the streaming experience, users should probably have downlink speeds at or better than DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem standards.

Fibre-optic would be nice, in other words.

The user may opt to download an episode and walk away, or stream a lower resolution version which can be generated on the fly using a hardware rescaler. Modifications to the existing TCP/IP protocol, or the development of a completely new standard, would be desirable in order to maximize the payload bandwidth.

Distribution costs could be decreased via the use of next-generation codecs such MPEG-4 AVC, packaged in a subtitle-friendly video container such as MKV. The processing demands on the user would increase, but tough luck. The world is moving to 720p and 1080i anyway, and will require either dedicated hardware such as graphics cards, or processors with SIMD/vector processing instruction sets.

Bridging ownership in the physical and digital worlds

I forget where I first saw this, but it must have been from one of the figure collectors such as TJ Han or bj0rn. Rather than support a series by buying the DVD's, they preferred to buy figurines. They're more compact than a DVD set, you can take photos of them, and they're probably marginally less fragile than a bunch of DVD's.

Why not implant a security token in each figurine?

Each figurine would contain a private key — a digital certificate. The token could also be implemented using a pseudo-random number generator with a secret seed, but a private key coupled with wireless USB, Bluetooth, or RFID would probably be more seamless. In conjunction with an account number or password, the user would use two-factor authentication to access an anime series.

An example scenario

Suppose I want to buy Code Geass (I'm just throwing out an example. Don't brick me if CG is not your cup of tea). Because the licensing company put their translators in the same room as the script writers when they were still writing the script(!!), an initial, english subtitle only, release for the first four episodes is available for streaming or downloading. I go to the purchase page, where a number of character figures, as well as Knightmare Frame models, are on sale. I select one and pay for it. In doing so, not only do I get the figure of my choice, I get access to all episodes and any bonus features once they are released.

A couple days later, my figure arrives in the mail. Using my account number or password or whatnot, and the figure (via RFID), I gain access to the streaming site and player. The video is mine. I can have the player save the video container file instead of deleting it once another episode is run or the player closes. If I so choose, I can back it up to hard drive, or put it on my portable video player.

What if I want to sell the series?

So you want to sell the series, or give it to someone else. The first step is to actually hand over the physical figurine. This might be a sore point for collectors, but hey, if you really didn't like the series you ought to reconsider collecting figures from that series in the first place.

The second step is to transfer access ownership. The buyer will have to have their own account. A possible method is to have the buyer provide you with their account information, a publicly exposed piece NOT used to authenticate. Through an update page, the seller can inform the company that ownership has changed to a different account.

Note that these two steps may be performed in any order. The seller would probably want to confirm receipt of funds before transferring ownership of either the access rights or the figurine. Escrow services and the like exist today to provide seller protection.

I want to share my anime / Thwarting the evil-doers

Share away. Just make sure your buddy doesn't get caught with your video, because that watermark can and will be traced back to you. Consumers will not be treated like criminals, but discovered criminal actions will have a trail. As noted before, the robust watermark will discourage piracy to some extent.

If you have not willingly lent out your copy of the video (i.e. your account and your figurine were stolen), the situation should be treated in the same way as if you've lost your credit card. Your existing account will be suspended and a new one issued. Unfortunately, you will likely be responsible for the cost of replacing your figurine, although maybe the company will give you a break and strike the cost associated with the access rights.

Challenges

In this current legal (copyright) climate, one would have to be crazy to trust any company with their property, especially property that they'll likely pay in excess of $10 for. For this to work, the consumer must trust the company not to be evil and won't one day change the terms of the agreement to extract more money.

On the content provider side, they would have to accept that most of their customers are not crooks, and that they are willing to pay for convenience and timely delivery.

On the technical side, a lot more people have to be willing to make online purchases. The bandwidth must be there on both sides. Everyone needs contemporary systems to play the video. Companies must have a the necessary infrastructure to manufacture or order these figurines, and any manufacturer needs to be able to embed a digital certificate into their products. I think RFID would be the way to go, although that necessitates the use of an RFID reader. Current secure authentication RFID tags are expensive, although their cost should come down in line with insecure RFID tags.

I want my pencil board!

Who's to say that RFID tags, which are flexible, can't be embedded into the middle of a pencil board? But the point is well taken. With the disappearance of DVD's, physical bonus features will for the most part disappear. That is the disadvantage of jumping into a series early, as variety will be limited. A possible solution would be to sell non-RFID versions of those items at a reduced price. I don't think most companies would let you trade up to a newer item.

Conclusion

Large pipes and peering agreements. Advances in digital watermarking. Advances in strong authentication. Advances in RFID technology. Advances in video encoding, decoding, and production. Secure transaction frameworks and fraud mitigation systems. All of the components exist if even in a limited form, today. Technically, this system is possible. The real question is, can both the consumer and producer come to an understanding of what it will take to move into the next phase of media distribution?

Continue Entry......

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lucky Star - Episode 13

This episode deserves special mention because it stands out, which is ironic but only if you ph33r the 13. I think it was loaded with more ah-ha! moments than any other episode that came before it, or it might just be that I understood a higher proportion of what was there. A few of what I picked up on after these messages.

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Beyond the usual rapid word-play and smack talking, and the universal kinds of send-ups that don't require much prior background (such as having to play a dating sim) to understand, there were references to more recent series such as:

Lucky Star episode 13, PokemonJigglypuffed? (Could be anything, though)


Lucky Star episode 13, Yu-Gi-Oh!Yu-Gi-Oh


Lucky Star episode 13, Uguu!Kanon (Uguu!)


Lucky Star episode 13, Ichigo jamu?Kanon (Ichigo jamu?)


Lucky Star episode 13, randomedlol? I just threw this one in


Lucky Star episode 13, HaruhiHaruhi (obligatory)


Lucky Star episode 13, Code GeassGeass hax


Lucky Star episode 13, Gurren-LagannTengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann

Continue Entry......

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Moonlight Mile - Lift Off

Moonlight Mile is dark. The in-capsule scenes from episode 9 expose the weak contrast ratio of my external monitor, and I have to turn to my laptop, which is situated off-angle, to get at the outlines.

Moonlight Mile episode 9Darker than black. Seriously.

Even though at this point I still have two more episodes to go before finishing this first season, it has been evident for a while now that Moonlight Mile wasn't going to meet expectations, and maybe it's partly my fault. Elaboration after these messages.

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When Moonlight Mile was first announced, comparisons were immediately drawn to Planetes. By now it's apparent that Moonlight Mile is weaker than Planetes. A large part of that disappointment, for me, was caused because I fell into the OP trap: that the scenes from the OP sequence might actually take place at one point or another within the following 12 episodes. What I realized too late was that they might take place in the second season.

The first episode only reinforced the belief that we'd see some real conflict break out and the exposure of a conspiracy. All evidence of a conspiracy vanished in subsequent episodes and when they eventually surfaced, there wouldn't be nearly enough time to pursue that story, pre-occupied as the series is with resolving the current cover-up plot.

In terms of actual comparisons to Planetes, the two series share an episodic structure. Related to this, obviously, is that you can't expose a space conspiracy and resolve it within the same episode. Where the two differ is how they use this structure. Moonlight Mile takes the tried and true shounen, We Are Training/Leveling Up path. In Planetes, there is a minimal amount of training and then we're into the fray.

Where side characters in Moonlight Mile are generally an impediment to the protagonists' progress, mainly Goro's, or are in need of rescue to drive the story forward, Planetes features side characters with somewhat more fleshed out back stories. They either have an effect on the main cast, or pose moral questions to the viewer. Either way, their interactions with the main characters are generally not hostile.

Moonlight Mile episode 9Bailing out in progress.

You could say that Moonlight Mile, as it currently stands in its first season, is a really typical shounen dressed up with sex, hints of more mature themes, technological plausibility, and GAR-ness. Here's hoping that the second season does one better.

Moonlight Mile episode 10Riyoko chokes on her LIES.

For those who have seen episode 10, Riyoko's actions seem to be inconsistent with previous behaviour. There's only really one way to reconcile it, which is to say that she's being insincere. This, despite little hints to the contrary throughout the series. There just wasn't enough screen time given to support this turn of events.

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Music as an evolutionary product

melody.'s latest, READY TO GO! is pretty forgettable, I won't dispute that. It reeks of cynicism to say this, but melody. and her production team are just doing their job. That there is a market for this kind of music must say something. Whether that something is positive or negative I leave up to you. Speculation as to what that something is, after these messages.

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Memorable were the last two tracks, Shine and Dangerous, the former a decent upbeat pop track, the latter a stronger dance offering than Finding my Road. But in general, this album is safe, capable of being mindlessly consumed.

You can rag on people and the music they listen to until you're blue in the face, but the truth is some people just need something to consume, like food. I can and have eaten instant noodles for lunch for a week or two straight and haven't given it a second thought.

With the advent of epic quantities of disposable income following World War II and the subsequent baby boom and sharp rise in post-war standard of living for countries who weren't bombed back to the stone age, comes all these neat things such as disposable cars *cough*GM*cough*, disposable clothes (but only in the sense that they're unfashionable; few actually try to keep a lid on the size of their wardrobes), disposable technology through built-in obsolescence and making gadgets as fashionable (or unfashionable) as clothing. Why couldn't the western industrialized nations have disposable entertainment? And so they did, and through cultural hegemony, the rest of the world embraced the concept.

Disposable entertainment is not new, as evidenced by the likes of the Brill Building and its predecessor Tin Pan Alley, but it's only been recently that people have thought to link it to, say, capitalism, or the ruining of modern society, and then complain bitterly about it.

Nodame Cantabile episode 10For those who like their music only semi-dignified

So, about that something, maybe it's as mundane as evolution. We may complain about how pop music all sounds the same, but we really just see the trees in the forest. The revolution may happen overnight, but it's decades in the making. In that time span, people need something new. It doesn't have to be different, it just has to be new.

Some things just don't change. It's a sore point among classical (era) music lovers to claim that all of their music sounds the same, but in many ways it was just as predictable as today's pop structure. When the predominant structure back in the day was the Sonata-Allegro form, you really did know when the performer was modulating. This distressed Debussy to no end, and breaking away from that form was a hallmark of Impressionism.

As with most other things, it is technology that is the great differentiator. Where there was only one Haydn or Bach capable of cranking out prodigious amounts of music, a few stars like Lizst or Beethoven, and the obscure guy like Franz Schubert or Mozart (he died broke), there are any number of cookie-cutter producers, great live acts, and obscure indie bands. The music video has displaced the live concert as a promotional tool as well as an experience mechanism. Accurate digital audio synthesis has replaced sheet music, which had varying quality directly proportional to skill and orchestral organization. Back then, sometimes it was literally only possible to listen to music when the composer themselves delivered a concert, because it was just too hard to play.

If anything, technology is accelerating the progression of musical styles. Consider yourself back in the 1800's. You would have heard classical music your entire life. Full stop. In this day and age, we've had a jazz revival, a latin fad, a classical blip (in the form of Celine Dion and Titanic), the age of boy-bands and girl-bands. This all occurred in the span of just over 10 years.

I myself want to experience the music I listen to. Experiencing is a lot like going to a concert, and it takes a bit out of me, and so I don't listen to as much music as the average consumer. But I have no overriding disdain for the average non-fanboy or non-fangirl. Yes, mainstream music continues to sound the same at the same time, but take comfort in the knowledge that it does not progress at a glacial pace.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

FictionJunction YUUKA - circus album redux

I never mentioned which tracks I prefer. I had completely forgotten, actually, but the truth is I will prefer different styles at different times, much like most people. What I can say is, there are definitely some tracks I will only listen to on occasion, if at all.

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Kouya Ruten has really nothing to gain by the extension of the song. I would stick to the single version if I need an epic cowboy Japan dose. yorokobi is worth the occasional listen if only because it's eclectic, but the contrast is so strong it can be jarring. I think I made it somewhat clear that I'd be avoiding the likes of romanesque and angel gate, and rokugatsu ha kun no eien requires a very specific mindset, and specifics generally don't occur all the time.

At the moment, I like aikoi the more I listen to it. Yuuka's voice has a really nice punch in her accented attacks, in particular to bridge into the chorus. It's emphasized by the elimination of everything but the beat leading up to the accent, the synth interjection in sync with the accent, and then only the beat in the accent's aftermath. What results is a vocal and instrumental rimshot effect that's a staple of genres like big band jazz.

This is not earth-shattering in its originality, but it's been a while since I've heard this technique pulled off with such clarity. You may chalk that up to me not listening to much new music from any genre, so I have a limited sample size.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lucky Star - Drinking the Kool-Aid

Lucky Star QUALITYLucky Star QUALITY

KyoAni is still executing, just on their terms. The animation can be fluid and detailed, but only when they really want to make a point, as in the car chase, MariMite parody, the sprint-video game analogy, etc.

Just as the source material has no continuity, the series doesn't either. Each episode is like an anthology of gag scenes strung together by a sometimes jarringly minimal amount of transition time. Episode structure accepted, moving on.

I like trainsI like trains

Lucky Star has its moments. I suspect that the older you are, or the more series you watch from back in the day, the more moments there will be. I think comedy is generally lost on me, with the exception of really stand-out acts, like Russell Peters, and even those are funny only because they're just crazy and offensive (to the politically correct) enough to be true.

Lucky Star's moments are not crazy nor offensive, but they are true, and they elicit that kind of warm smugness that you get when you share an inside joke. It's as if the hook offered by the series is along the lines of empathy: We've all been there and done that, too, gotten the shirt while we're at it.

Lucky Channel is more of the same. Most of the (attempted?) humour was lost on me after the subversion of moe via Akira was reused over and over again. Then again, Lucky Channel is all about showing Akira's two faces, and incidentally commenting on the show itself, or promotional events on websites or magazines.

Lastly, the karaoke credits, like much of the episode content, is a salute to veteran watchers.

Kommander KonataKommander Konata

In terms of characters, I find a bit in common with perhaps their sorest points. I'm skeptical like Kagami, absent-minded and prone to losing things like Tsukasa, slack and play games but not nearly as many or as well as Konata, and know things that no one really cares about like Miyuki. Yep, you're reading the writings of one of the finest specimens humanity has to offer.

I freely admit that I'm watching as a mostly clueless observer, given that I'm essentially green when it comes to number of shows watched, and most are recent shows at that. But for veteran watchers, this is a perfectly fine show to rally around and reminisce about the Golden Age.

Static shock obsessionAdmittedly, this was pretty awesome

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