(ZnT II complete)
I suppose it's easier to non-fatally deter an army of 70,000 as opposed to an army of 7,000,000 . It's also a lot harder to pick out commanders in such a crowd. Sometimes, one just has to kill a bunch of Red Shirts. Or put them to sleep. Who knows. I've stopped caring.
An otherwise powerful finale ruined at the end, etc. I have nothing further to add.
 Maybe it was a typo on the translator's part. What's two zeros anyway? Myths tack on a zero every time they're past from one generation to another. Enron did it for lulz.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
(Progress: Complete, 12/12)
Eleven episodes later, I still can't let go of the fact that I'm watching a puppet show a good amount of the time. And people complain about Escaflowne noses. Try no noses.
There are two somewhat major components to Code-E's story. The first is coping with being different (an understatement). The second is a typical love triangle with teen angst which, when combined with being
different, leads to cheap special effects attempting to depict the disruption of anything that utilizes electrons.
Notice how neither of the above include anything remotely cool or novel. Sure, being a walking EMP weapon is kind of neat in a sadistic sort of way, but the number of instances where it was used for neat is exactly three, all of which involved restoration of well-being. Last time I checked, electromagnetic radiation may or may not increase the risk of developing cancer, so even that is a bit of a stretch.
This is hardly a comparison, but two things that Read or Die (the OVA) and Code-E have in common, besides being produced by the same studio, is that they have glasses-wearing female leads with special abilities. And maybe a spy-type soundtrack. The similarities end there.
Yomiko Readman manipulated paper for seemingly mundane uses like making a paper plane. Did I mention it was a giant paper plane? Capable of supporting two adults, one of whom was carrying a rifle? Now that is neat. Also neat is creating a blade out of paper currency, and a crowbar to swing around pipes. Paper kills people! Who would have thought?
Chinami Ebihara is insecure but not so easily pushed around, because anyone putting the screws on her backs away when they see every single electronic device around them go haywire. Unless you're the resident stereotypical socially inept science nerd. Intense electromagnetic radiation disrupts electronics! Who would have thought?
Sorry, but watching a weak lead freak out and create QUALITY sparks day in and day out gets old fast.
Love triangle. Awkward adolescents suffer copious amounts of teen angst. QUALITY sparks! Behave immaturely. Incredibly juvenile. Running out of synonyms. Repeating self. Moving on.
If there was a second season and if that second season gave some answers and background on a slew of mysteries, then go watch this series. There is no closure at the conclusion. Chinami is pursued by shady foreigners and…? Some guy sabotages (my own impression) a new town development because…? The development had a violent resonance response to E/M because…? And so on.
Code-E just leaves viewers dangling. It could use that second season, but I question whether it deserves one.
Monday, September 24, 2007
(Progress: Episode 26)
Some people have a fear of clowns. Me? I get weirded out when seeing the PBS logo, especially when set against a black background like in the above. I don't have any bad childhood memories of PBS programming, although I can't say the same for the National Film Board of Canada (and Boards of Canada seem to agree); it's just the logo that I have always found disconcerting.
Maybe it's the notion that I was bearing witness to a severed human head, or rather, the suggestion of one. At the age of 4 or so, it was hard enough trying to deal with the latest virus or bacterial infection, and now I was multi-tasking trying to make sense of vaguely humanoid outlines. It had the components of a face, but it lacked emotion. Having only seen human faces with expression up till then, it was something that I struggled to reconcile. I may or may not have curled up into a ball and started muttering to myself.
The Anti-Spiral figure elicits a similar response. Instead of muttering to myself, I'm writing, which is basically the same thing. Its design is generic, yes, but just like the PBS logo, I find its genericness to be disturbing. There's something sinister, not elegant, in the simplistic design of both.
Animated as a sketchy outline, the Anti-Spiral goes one better, hinting at an unknowable, unseeable, pulsing chaos. It is an entropy that defies current understanding, the same random movement that gives rise to quantum mechanics.
Emotions that are unknown, a form that is unknown, and mastery of the unknown. Anti-Spirals keep me awake at night.
On a marginally related note
The entire last half of episode 27 was quite surreal. Seeing the first channel surfing scene, I thought I might have been watching an episode of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Of the several references Gainax got in, I only picked up on one, much to my chagrin.
Who knew that Yoko dreamed of being a bounty hunter with a jazz background?
Channel surfing part two, the drastic shift in dress and scenery, Yoko's discarding of her alternate reality was wonderfully wtf. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, but I get the sense that what she wanted was avoiding coming to grips with Kamina's death, so it was necessarily Kamina that held the TV showing her all these happy scenes. The one scene that she finally returns to, though, is not bright and clear, but the muted and smoky site of Kamina's death. This is her reality, the one that she accepts before rejoining the fight.
Simon's scene was much more straightforward, with a weak Kamina targeting Simon's insecurities. A parallel is drawn between a fictional outcome of the earlier war and the battle going on now. It's okay to stop fighting, as long as a simple life can be made out of view of the ruling class. Beastmen and Anti-Spirals alike are merciful so long as their power is not challenged.
In the end, Simon reaffirms that he does things not for Kamina, but for himself. Problem solved, for the second time. He then proceeds to turn into Megaman, assimilating all of his surviving comrades. When the next episode preview features a familiar looking sniper rifle, what other explanation is there?
Sunday, September 23, 2007
(Progress: Episode 24)
In addition to Tensai Okamura and Yoko Kanno, add Bones and falling stars to the list of things that Cowboy Bebop and Darker than Black have in common.
Maybe I'm a little late in making the connection — the South American entity was called Heaven's Gate, after all. In my defence, 10 years ago is a long time, and I had a narrow(er) world view back then.
Budget cuts and
teacher's strike were terms that were infinitely more relevant at the time, as they lead to
The term works on a couple levels, like how there was a cult, the fact that millions died (although who knows if that's the case if they can't set foot in the area around the gate), and how a war was fought around and possibly over Heaven's Gate.
Contractors are an odd sort. They are generally described in the vaguest of terms as self-interested and having no conscience. Neither trait is special. One would have to have no conscience to take on killing people as a job, and being self-interested and apathetic to most other things unrelated to survival comes with the turf.
What is curious is how Contractors have continued to put up with killing each other and important people for over a decade. I'm not quite sure how risking one's neck to kill someone else serves one's interests better than, say, a cushy desk job. I suppose being in essence a mercenary does have a pigeon-holing effect.
The fact that there's a chicken and egg problem — that if you just quit then others Contractors will come after you, so no one is particularly inclined to leave — may also have something to do with it. And if nothing else, non-Contractor special forces teams have proved perfectly capable of taking their marks to the cleaners, although those can turn into messy affairs.
It seems that the amount of free-will that a Contractor exercises is proportional to their effectiveness as a killer. Wei is so bad-ass that he develops pride and ambition. The irony is that like Maki, that ridiculously powerful bomber kid, the human flaws he exhibits
on the job lead to his downfall.
Hei's situation is blurred by the possibility that he may have inherited his powers as opposed to being arbitrarily assigned them along with a shiny new star, and thus may not have signed the boilerplate employment agreement (unless his payment is to eat a ton and never get fat), but he's still one of the best Contractors in the field. How does he demonstrate his free-will? By rescuing his teammates, because he can.
I don't think that most of the sub-ordinates of Evening Primrose have free-will so much as they are rational people acting on the information given to them. If someone went up to Mai and told her,
That accelerator you're defending will kill you if switched on, she would surely think twice about toasting Amagiri and Brita. Enlightened self-interest does have enlightenment as a prerequisite.
As the show gets set to conclude, we see Contractors serving their true employer. They may do so only reluctantly and without the zealotry one might expect of a cult, but they are inextricably bound to its existence. It's the worst kind of working relationship.
Friday, September 21, 2007
When Zero no Tsukaima's first season was still airing, I stumbled across a thread that summarized events in the light novel up to its seventh volume. Since they never took place in the first season's run, and with no guarantee of a second season at the time, I proceeded to forget about most of it.
What did stick with me was the underlying conflict that pervaded the later volumes, which boils down to pacifists against warmongers when set in a comparatively backward and primitive era. This may or may not sound something like the premise of Zipang.
In other words, Zero no Tsukaima Futatsuki no Kishi could have had a promising, coherent, plot, except J.C. Staff has generally chosen service over serious, backing away from the darker undercurrent that began to take hold in the later episodes of the first season.
Sure, service sells and trivializing the overall story with undeveloped side plots has probably turned out to be pretty profitable for all involved, but I do get a sense of frustration having seen even a high-level view of what things could have been. I think I understand a bit what it must feel like for a fan of the source material to watch such a gutted adaptation.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Kyoto Animation takes the season off, although if one only had the above screenshot to go on, they might be inclined to disagree. Why must they tease us so? They're KyoAni: It's because they can.
Likewise, they were (rightfully) confident that their random Shiraishi endings would be mostly tolerated, being no worse than the terrible singing or fireworks kicking found on YouTube, and people watch that stuff in droves.
Lucky Star is easy: easy-going given its slice of life nature, probably easy to produce given KyoAni's magic, and easy like taking a picture given today's digital cameras. The series as a whole is a well-executed snapshot, of the lives of the characters over the course of a year (or two?), of (Japanese) fandom, even the state of technology, although Blogger and other publishing systems now have caching mechanisms so timeouts don't toast a post.
It seems incredibly convenient, art imitating reality in a more extreme sense, but I welcome it as it speaks of and points out things that I'm aware of but wouldn't usually speak to others about, much less form a conversation around. It need not be about geeky things, although a lot of them are. For example, I personally wouldn't feel comfortable talking about how much of a slacker I am (and hearing about how much of a slacker the other person is) with just anyone. I also can't get away with a thirty second rant about how difficult it is to crawl out of bed in the morning. Even though many would nod their heads in agreement, what follows from such a declaration?
Where one can get away with this, though, is stand-up comedy. Punchlines are expected to be copious and frequent, and there are many instances where situational jokes are short, to the point, and have little to no correlation with the one that came before and the one that will follow.
Lucky Star only has some structural and pacing similarities to stand-up, so the comparison is somewhat superficial. For me it's not even funny most of the time, although what many find at least chuckle-inducing I just find clever or amusing. At the end of the day, Lucky Star dares to codify many observations into scenes and dialog that are not totally absurd, and for that it was an interesting watch.
So will Lucky Star stand the test of time? If nothing changes in a decade or more, perhaps. More likely is that years from now, it will be watched like one would watch archival footage: with merely academic interest. What was it like to be an otaku, Japanese or otherwise, circa 2007? More to the point, what were we like? Lucky Star would shed some light on those questions, covering such topics as the popular character tropes, series, gaming habits, food, and the immense response to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.
The last item on the list may suffer from bias via conflict of interest. Just a tad.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
For completeness. It's been a bit over a week since it first aired, but it completely escaped my notice. Thanks to DarkMirage for the heads up.
There are at least two versions floating around on YouTube. Both have sequences or scenes that have been recycled back in, too. The first one bears a broadcast station's watermark up to the length of the short teaser version of the PV. Given that the title screen appears twice, it seems less
authentic than the second one, which DM linked to, although I'm still skeptical that they'd be so cheap as to recycle stuff in a real PV release.
For the time being, yesy has turned into this serial subbing machine. I am not complaining.
I think I've seen more blood in episode 21 than in the first two seasons combined. Ironic, then, that fighting was really all the first two seasons were about, and it continues to be the main strength in this latest run.
Blood drives home the fact that, unlike the battles of old, people are really out to kill each other this time around. In the past, all the good guys did was get in the way of bad guys intent on accumulating stuff. Now, they have an objective to take, and the bad guys aren't accumulating trinkets (anymore) so much as endeavouring to hold the planet hostage and blow stuff up.
Nanoha StrikerS is worth following now more than ever (due in no small part to yesy), as the battle that was prompted by the events of episode 19 is going to round out the rest of this series. Mistakes under fire have already been made. Being shot in the leg (and the other incident in episode 21) is just the beginning of a very unclean day. This is definitely not the kid's show of the past two seasons.
I think the above about sums up most of my ramblings concerning the series to date. Props to Froth-Bite for their efforts!
The last episode was a lot of flashback with some inspirational splashed in, but didn't carry the same finality as the episode before it. This is really not the end for these characters, so jumping up and screaming
There! It's done! would be inappropriate. I'm not even wistful at all about it. What partings there were, were devoid of tear-inducing moments, as most partings are or ought to be.
Visually, the series does come off as cheap, although there's nothing terribly exciting about watching people playing instruments in general. The CG, despite all the work that probably went into it, never captured the flare that virtuosos possess in their movements. If you can get beyond that and listen to the music, the dialog, and interactions, I think you'll find a consistently decent series that really delivers towards its conclusion.
Being a former student of music probably disposes me towards something like Nodame Cantabile, and your mileage may vary otherwise.
Many years ago, I saw a block of three episodes in the middle of Cowboy Bebop, with one or two scattered episodes towards the beginning, and then I just stopped and walked away from it. I wasn't bewildered at the start of this mini-marathon of sorts, and felt nothing at its conclusion. Cowboy Bebop is the kind of series that doesn't require any prior history or emotional commitment to get into the more advanced episodes, but that makes it easy to stop watching. Like the ending quote of one of the episodes,
easy come, easy go.
Over the course of two days, I think I now understand the appeal a bit better than with my previously limited sample size. My eyes also itch a bit, but I chalk that up to autumn allergies.
It's not the characters, at least for me it's not. None of the main cast were engaging. They're not unrealistic, but there was nothing special about their portrayal. Spike can fight, has a death wish, has some baggage that is nicely animated but plays little part in the day-to-day activities of the group. Jet is the bruiser, voice of reason, all-around handyman that everyone else takes for granted. Faye is typical all talk but insincere about her own feelings, plus unsympathetic money whore. Ed is like an Osaka given hax, but stripped of the skillz is just a dumb kid. The dog is, well, pretty remarkable for a dog, but not really a character.
The writing, while generally solid, can also be hit and miss. At times the dreaded idiot lecture was resorted to, or the story was neatly wrapped up for the sake of containing it in an episode. Episode 6 combined both, with the long pseudo-scientific explanation and the instant fabrication of a silver bullet, so to speak. There are also a lot of convenient coincidences or ironies that make the outcome obvious early on, which takes the fun out of watching sometimes. Points, though, for the parallel situations between the first and final episodes, as well as the fatalistic symbolism in that last episode.
Chessmaster Hex is a clever name. Old school rappers liked to prefix their names with Grandmaster, which is an actual chess rank. Just thought that it was something worth mentioning.
Cowboy Bebop is interesting to me mostly because of the sheer scale of its vision and its slick execution. Intense fight scenes, thrust vectoring with a pistol, the gritty depictions of
Hong Kong urban living, the imagined renditions of surfaces on other planets, the series was a vehicle for cool and its animation quality easily holds its own to this day, over nine years since the first episode aired. That this quality was achieved in conjunction with several in-between studios is a testament to their co-ordination.
I actually wound up watching most of the series with the english dub (but with subtitles to cross-reference), the first time I've ever done so. At times the dialog was verbose, just stuffing words in to fill mouth-flap time, and the side-character voices could also be ridiculously flat, but the use of a variety of accents did give scenes more colour. Mushroom Samba was fun to watch (minus Ed) with African-Americans giving one another attitude, and the actual use of cantonese and cantonese-accented english, particularly in episode 2, was priceless, hence the title. One chinese phrase that didn't make it over to the english dub, though, was the first episode's sliced beef dish. Subtitles confirmed that it was mandarin. Also in mandarin was Pao's name on his gravestone.
That they threw in random stuff like a news report about the Israel-Syria conflict (in english on both language tracks!), and naming a space shuttle after the Columbia, was bonus. Whether that thing can actually go into orbit with only its main orbital engines and some puny looking, nose side mounted rockets, is up in the air. I'm leaning towards no, but this is a series where fights in vacuum make noise, so hard science fiction fans look elsewhere or otherwise put up with it.
I guess no discussion about this series is complete without at least some mention of the soundtrack. The jury's still out, although I've revised my opinion toward the positive side. Yoko Kanno gets points for the sheer volume of output for this series. I suspect, though I'm too lazy to find out, that it easily tops Escaflowne in number of pieces.
But as for greatest soundtrack for an anime series? I would stand by that only if I were willing to say that all other soundtracks suck, and I'm not quite ready to do that. Certainly the music integrates well and colours some poignant moments, and if that were the only metric, then yes it may very well be the best soundtrack for an anime series.
As for how the music stands by itself, it's mostly jazz, which is the one component of the soundtrack that many rave about. Is there anything particularly special about Cowboy Bebop's jazz? Not really. Take Tank! as an example. Yes, I'm walking on this ice with many. In its full-length incarnation, Tank! is a standard intro-solo-outro structure. The motifs, or licks, scream stereotypical, one of the first patterns that come to mind when jazz, as a general term, is brought up. Oh yeah! Jazz is all about saxophones and trumpets doing that cool descending thing all day. Clearly a watershed moment in the history of jazz at large.
Sure, there is a bit of fusion with other styles, like in Space Lion, and the Mai Yamane songs are strong, but I can go cherry-pick good material from soundtracks for Escaflowne and Darker than Black as well. It proves nothing about the overall offering.
I suspect that most diehard fans are because of sheer novelty. If nothing else, a heavy jazz component in a soundtrack for an anime series was novel for its time, and to be different is cool, after all. These are the people who go around saying
Jazz is greater than thou without having ever owned such a CD in their lives. I'd want to call them Bebop-tards, but Bebop is pretty intellectual so the term would just cancel itself out.
I wouldn't look too deeply into Cowboy Bebop. It's best enjoyed with the brain on auto-pilot and a tolerance for silliness, which I seem to lack. For Serious Business (but with less fighting), consider its spiritual successor: Darker than Black.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Taken alone, Oukashou may have been a typical romantic short, if only because it had a
proper end, which is to say that the two characters actually see each other off. But with respect to the second question, a confusing story with an extreme adherence to
show don't tell is not in anyway unique to anime. In that sense, Byousoku 5 cm does fall into the general art film category.
What may be particularly head-scratching to the viewer, though, is that they aren't really watching the usual kind of story that has a beginning, middle, and end. There's no villain, no mystery, barely a whiff of a definitive relationship by the end of it all. The only time anyone says goodbye to anyone else is in Oukashou. To many viewers, what exactly is an ending that features no partings?
Having never seen something quite like it before, it may take some time to get comfortable with watching life, and not the reality TV kind, either.
Nor is Byousoku 5 cm life caricatured, exaggerating personalities and situations for dramatic and comedic effect. Here, the characters don't blow up or melt down in spectacular fashion. They let fear eat away at them, paralyze them. People are put on pedestals. Characters burn out. Regret does not lead to action, it leads to lingering bitterness. Unrequited love goes unrequited.
These three short stories are polished into a mirror-like finish. I suspect that gazing upon it necessarily means reflecting on your life up to that point. To take an extreme example, you can't show this to a 6 year old; they'll haven't a clue that what they're witnessing in the last short is a hollowing out of the human soul.
Perhaps one might say that if you derive nothing from watching Byousoku 5 cm, then you truly haven't lived yet. But all are welcome to join the club in due time. At the end of the day, you get what you put in.
Monday, September 3, 2007
It's kind of neat how an OVA follows Aria the Animation and Aria the Natural, hence the somewhat similar title structure. Well, it's not especially unique nor particularly significant, but it's a coincidence, one of those fleeting sparks of recognition. And if you were Akari Mizunashi, you would pronounce it to be good, and so it is.
Aria's setting is a city and world of small miracles, its story an adventure per episode. The main cast is, for lack of a better word, reasonable, even the alternate faces used to indicate annoyance/shock/embarrassment. Athena is a dignified sort of spacey, the kind you wouldn't mind meeting in real life, as opposed to the stereotypically exaggerated spacey character that is only tolerable when observed from the comfort of a video display.
The undine is a perfect vehicle for exploration and discovery. On one level, Aria is tourist marketing for a destination that doesn't exist, but it also captures the wonder of yesteryear, of fables, fairy tales, and adventure novels. It's not traditional fare, though. There are no villains, no pirates (or ninjas!) and such consequent battles. There isn't even much tension, merely mystery and wonder. The Alchemist is a good approximation of Aria's feel. For a similar anime series, comparisons to Bartender aren't unwarranted, but where Bartender concerns itself with personal stories, Aria has a much larger scope, balancing the cast with the city at large.
For a series that places the focus on trainees, there is very little in the way of training scenes, and they have this tendency to go on adventures instead, which is fine by me. The difficulties in being an undine are glossed over, and various potential mishaps — such as spills, colliding with a bridge (with your head), or colliding with another gondola — are only depicted in flashbacks or in a controlled environment such as during the training day episode in Aria the Animation.
The sacrifices made to terraform Aqua, nee Mars, are similarly obscured, such as the sunken base, and it is only implied as to what has befallen
Earth Man-Home, where it's no longer safe to swim in the oceans, and one must go off-planet to see cultural landmarks.
But I'd prefer that such things are not brought up. It would defeat the purpose of watching Aria in the first place. On a related note, I would have preferred not to have seen stuff like the following:
There are some things you just shouldn't do, like hanging scissors from the ceiling, trying to electrify a bus using a hydro pole, and creating a fire hazard by lighting lots of exposed candles in a house. Miracles, coincidences, time travel, I can deal with for some strange reason. But getting away with not setting the house on fire? Not so much. It brings out the jaded cynic in a hurry, who, I have on good authority, is quite the party pooper.
More bizarre is my dislike for stressful moments in something like Aria, specifically anything that places stress on Akari's simple mind. Whether it's being taken advantage of by a ghost in a black dress, or going around in circles and having a brain freeze [that was a convenient episode to animate, eh?], situations that exploit simple people and have nothing else to offer are generally dissatisfying to watch. It's all very predictable, but ruins the mysterious atmosphere that pulls the viewer along.
Aqua and Neo-Venezia is a vision. More morality tales and magic, less dependence on technology, a rejection of many of the objects that have a heavy environmental footprint. Given a clean slate, this is a wish for a return to innocence, of which Akari the Eternally Surprised is its personification. Anything that detracts from that view simply feels out of place, even if its inclusion adds to realism.
Hope. It's what I felt most watching the idyllic lifestyle, the tidy surroundings, the past woven into the present, and heartwarming moments. Strange how coincidences tend to cheapen plot when abused, but I have no qualms with heaping them on in the absence of plot. Perhaps when watching a series that filters its characters, story, and environment through rose-tinted glasses, I can't help but ask for a matching pair.
After watching this, her CDTV performance went right out the window. Stronger voice, nitpicks that were more along the lines of,
could be improved as opposed to
that's just outright wrong and I'm cringing now, and generally not flat and not uninspired.
I also like the hair, a bit of a return to her old style. Then again, I always thought bangs in front of forehead to be out of place.
[YouTube] for those who don't have 490 MB to spare.
Update: Her Utaban performance is incrementally better, with Music Fighter up there as well. Still has range trouble, though, and she cuts her phrases short compared to her album version. Her return to Music Station was a nervous one. While the added echo/reverb from the stage setup was neat, she showed nerves and was uptight, plus she clearly mis-pitched on a couple occasions.
While I'm at it, I thought her Music Station performance of Kiss & Cry was quite good, although we're going to have to disagree on this one. I suppose she's unhappy because nothing special came out of it, but there's nothing wrong with a perfect textbook performance, either.