Archive for December, 2007

New Year's Greetings from the SOS Brigade.

And so, on the last day of the year Two Thousand And Seven of our lord and saviour Sephiroth the Pretty Kefka the Disturbing, I have once again engaged in Deep Dental Diving and ingested my daily dose of painkillers, hopefully for the last time, if only because I have a limited supply of brain cells teeth.

Being that I am mentally unsound to provide a post of actual value, I shall instead provide you with one picture from what I believe to be Comp H's 2007 calendar, one year late.

If it helps, imagine the female three-fifths of the SOS Brigade giving the year a send-off, instead of welcoming it in.

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More quickly than any other test subject on record.

Occasionally I wonder if some of the references I toss out here and there in my loquacity is too byzantine for the casual reader to truly connect to, in the manner of one speaking in tongues as yet unknown to the rest of the civilized world. I cannot even claim the defense of Pop Culture, since it is such a miniscule and mildly eccentric corner of aforesaid Popular Culture which may not fit the definition of Popular, much less being Cultured. It is the corner occupied by the sort of person who is far more interested than is psychologically sound in the little details of a given setting or lore, even if he completely misses the point of the story in question.

It may well be the case that the only person who gets all of my references is myself, since it is not a given that the various interests and fandoms being alluded to will overlap with the average reader's experiences. I try to explain these as best as I can without spoiling the joke, mainly by linking to the Wikipedia article or some such. For some, like the more esoteric discussions about my MMORPG of choice, I reword and rephrase until the sentence is structured to my satisfaction, for the balance of impact and understanding. For others, like a mention of some game mechanic in a Final Fantasy game, I just leave it as it is, since such things are ubiquitous, even if one does not personally partake of the fandom in question (for example, I do not even like the Harry Potter books, but I do recognize a fair number of references from it), and it is an educated guess that a reader is likely to recognize that offhand comment about One-Winged Angels accompanied by Ominous Foreign (generally Latin, being Foreign to everyone still reading it, effectively a dead language) Chanting.

And yet sometimes, explaining the joke in any way would ruin it, which is why I doubt anyone not already in the know can truly comprehend the amusement I obtain from the confluence of Portal and Eddie Izzard.

Therefore (using this convenient segue), like the events in the Enrichment Centre, further passageways and links are made in these labyrinthine Walls Of Text and the reader is led through logic-defying apertures and might very well end up upside-down or inside-out or whatever orientation is the most inconvenient for figuring out where one needs to go next. The best way to deal with times like these, I find, is to jump right in, after quicksaving.

The analogy could use some work, I admit.

On a side note (pun unintended), thanks to what may possibly be overuse of the theme, or perhaps simply a leitmotif for a character with much screentime, I cannot quite think of Kotomi without hearing "Etude pour les petites" (literally, "Etude for children") in my head. For those wondering, it's that chamber music-style melody which plays whenever Kotomi appears, and probably a few other occasions.

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Nanaka Flanca.

I am doped up on painkillers at the moment, so do forgive any ramblings lost and occasionally run aground in the sea of logic. Celebratory holiday eggnog has nothing on this.

While other bloggers are doing some sort of summation of the anime which aired this year, or perhaps a deconstruction or conscious parody thereof, I have opted not to join in, largely because I am lazy. It should probably come as no surprise that my constant sin against which I battle is that of Sloth, and that bit of irrelevant persiflage should probably fulfil the requisite religious (to make a hollow laughter) quota for this Christmas post.

(Rant excised For Your Convenience.)

So we shall look at how anime celebrates Christmas. This is related to how Japan celebrates Christmas, but seen through a technicolour lens, akin to how Christmas might well be observed by watching television specials. We have the mandatory mention of the Christmas Cake, both in the literal sense of a cake bought and presented on the twenty-fifth, leading to many adventures regarding the delivery of said cake, as well as the metaphor of the twenty-five-year old unmarried woman, which has always struck me as being a little unfair.

Christmas in anime tends to be a romantic occasion more than anything else, although this may be observational bias in action. Being alone during Christmas is seen to be unfortunate, as seen in Lucky Star (even though I actually spent my last two Christmasses doing exactly what Kuroi-sensei does, namely playing MMOGs) and Love Hina's Christmas special. In fact, the theme of romance is strong in anime Christmas specials in general, unlike in Western Christmas (or "holiday") specials which concentrate largely on (or mercilessly satirize) believing in Santa, with varying degrees of commercialization. Witness, for example, Di Gi Charat: Winter Garden, or the one-shot Itsudatte My Santa manga by Ken Akamatsu, which later spawned a two-episode OAV of which the second episode is inexplicably a summer beach episode.

Speaking of Itsudatte My Santa, Santa Claus has a greater chance in anime of appearing as a somewhat attractive female character, even if just in bit parts like Chocotto Sister, where Biker Chick Santa delivers unto the male protagonist a little sister. If nothing else, the viewers get a nice Christmas present in the form of fanservice and the kind of outfit which would certainly not be suitable for high-altitude sleigh-rides, what with windchill and all.

Personally, I have nobody (speaking romantically) to spend my Christmas with, and I am not especially religious, save in the sense shared by proponents of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Invisible Pink Unicorn, the sort which compels people to put "Jedi" under the Religion field, which I have expounded upon before. Like Miyuki from Lucky Star, my childhood belief in Santa Claus was shattered when I innocently researched all that I could about this mysterious being who can manage to deliver presents down chimneys all over the world, even in the absence of chimneys in tropical Singapore. And so I have to come up with something else to believe in during Christmas, which is actually quite easy to do.

As holidays year-round are boiled down to be more or less excuses to party and eat lots of good food (I wholeheartedly approve of this), I've taken Christmas, or the Winter Holidays, or Hogswatch, or whatever you want to call this time of the year, as an excuse to be, well, more generous. I could treat myself to a little present, or I could put it off for another year, and give it to a charity instead. At any other time, that little doubting voice would caution me against profligate spending even in a good cause, but now is the tail end of the year, and there's nothing else this year I can spend it on. It's an excuse to give spontaneously to others, and instead of being met with suspicion that I would want something back (save in actual commercial transactions, I never do), there is merely generic gratitude and the understanding that it's Christmas, so of course I have the Spirit Of Giving. The lack of inconvenient questions is reward enough for me.

And it's also an excuse to be nice to people, to complete strangers, to friends, to family. Spend time with your loved ones, and if you're separated by insurmountable distances, give them a call or email, through the MAGIC of global communications. Smile a bit more, even if the holiday itself is leaving you frazzled and stressed; remember why you're doing all this, and forget about trying to impress other people. If anyone gives you a hard time, well, it's the season to give, and you might as well give them your patience and forgiveness. It's amazing how many people's tirades falter in the face of a serene smile, although this may be because of the general creepy factor of such.

I've preached quite a bit in this entry, it seems. Maybe I'll edit it later, maybe not; the post has strayed quite far from my original intent of… whatever my original intent was. In apology, have the attached pictures of vague Christmassy happenings to put you in the festive mood.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Hope you have a good one.

Miyuki does believe in Santa.

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Yoko's arsecrack.

Brought to my attention first on the City of Heroes forums, although I'm sure that this is probably from ANN's article on the matter, we now have ADV's The Anime Network's streaming service joining the Internet distribution fray.

Other blogs have already noted the primary draws: it's free (as in beer), it's subbed-only, and it has Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann as the chiefly promoted series of this venture, which has been said to be Awesome and Manly and all sorts of superlatives. I have yet to watch this series myself, although I have been Meaning To.

However, I find myself completely unable to recommend or even comment on this service. Not because of anything bad, as such, about the video stream or site, but entirely because of the following message:

Sorry guys and gals! This feature is only available to US and Canadian residents at the present time. Please check back soon as we continue to strive to provide you with the best anime available online for free. If you have additional questions, please check out our FAQ.

Regional licencing restrictions, you are my bane.

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Somewhat happy Yume in snow.

I am, as has been mentioned before, not a particularly stoic sort of person when it comes to emotional moments in my entertainment. Basically, I'm a weepy-feely crybaby who's about as impressionable as soft-serve ice cream, and considering that I've been this way for as long as I can remember, I see it as an inherent personality trait rather than a character flaw to be excised like some socially-unacceptable wart.

Mind you, I don't actually like crying to my entertainment. There might be something off with my brain chemistry or some such, but when I start really crying about something, I become pretty much useless for the rest of the day while I wallow in misery and self-pity (and, for some cases, self-loathing). That final bit of closure, the part where, from what I hear in a theoretical manner, lets people feel all better after a good cry, never does come around for me. It's filed away in my mind along with the other stuff which I kind of understand the basic concepts of in a detached intellectual manner but which I cannot truly grok for myself, like American football or female menstruation.

I've cried at plenty of anime. (Duh. My entertainment options at this point are books, anime, and video games, in that order. Nothing else.) We'll just put aside the obvious gags about crying MANLY TEARS or crying because it's that or punch the screen in frustration, and focus instead on the occasions where tears are what the show wants to evoke. As is the nature of the really powerful scenes in fiction, spoilers will unavoidably abound, and until I get around to reinstalling that spoiler plugin which I never actually did use (and which I think was discontinued due to the plugin author losing interest), I'll just couch everything in terms as non-spoilery as possible.

There are obvious culprits in various anime like Gunslinger Girl or Neon Genesis Evangelion, where the entire purpose of character development appears to be an exercise in seeing how much the plot can thoroughly screw over every significant character. Slightly less inimical to my tastes are the Key stories of Air, Kanon, and Clannad, where the screwage has been prepared earlier offscreen according to the cookbook, and the consequences of said screwing are explored in the series.

And then there are the less objective moments which strike a chord close to home, which I would say is, in the main, a common source of passion for an anime fandom. It's the kind of thing where, in its milder form, one can go "I know what they mean", or perhaps "OMG that is so true". A friend of mine loves Neon Genesis Evangelion because the last two episodes of the anime hit his state of mind at the time dead on; I often wonder if my own (less than celebratory) views of NGE would be more charitable if it did not appear to be speaking in alien tongues compared to my worldview of the time. I know I've made more than my fair share of comments on how, for example, Lucky Star might be a lacklustre series if one does not Know What It Is Talking About.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that four years on, I am still incapable of watching Someday's Dreamers. I borrowed the series from a friend back in 2003, and I watched it once, returned it, and have decided never to watch it again. Not because it's bad; in fact, I can't even decide on an opinion about it overall. I can look at the rather pretty art style as much as I want, I can listen to the soundtrack (very good, I must add) without much emotion other than standard approval and enjoyment, but I cannot rewatch the series; I am literally not able to, without encountering the above problems with regards to crying at my anime.

There is one scene, somewhere near the beginning of the series, where Yume has just moved into her tutor's house in Tokyo for her summer break apprenticeship. Yume is alone in the kitchen, since her tutor is busy with something or other, and she has had pizza ordered for her. While eating the pizza, Yume remembers the first time her family had ordered pizza back home in the country, and the exclamations of surprise and wonder at this strange new-fangled food: "How do you eat this with chopsticks?" "Don't be silly, you don't eat pizza with chopsticks." Family, eating together. Yume, now alone in the kitchen, stares at the pizza in front of her, and breaks down and cries.

At the time, I was in my first year in university in the US. It was just a Fact, a Thing Which Is, like gravity or tables. I didn't really think about it that much, and I had lived away from home for extended periods before, so it wasn't that big of a deal at the time.

Watching that scene, suddenly the feeling of being halfway across the world from my family and the place I called home slammed into me. Imagine a year's worth of homesickness, saved and stored and bottled up, unleashed all at once. There was no reason or logic behind it, since it wasn't as though I would never see my home again (indeed, right now I'm back for good in Singapore and with my family and learning why we can't really stand each other for extended periods of time), or that family was never more than a phone call and either twelve hours' worth of time zones (for Singapore/Jakarta) or about four hundred kilometers (for my sister in Pittsburgh). There was nothing but emptiness, depair, loneliness.

I missed all my classes that day and the next. When I recovered, it was like a bad dream I had no intention of revisiting.

No other anime has yet caused me that sort of distress again, mainly because since then, I have been actively avoiding any anime which is supposed to "make you cry". I inadvertantly watch a few, but for the most part the depressing parts come from empathy with the characters, rather than personal experiences. I don't know what else might set off yet another bout of emotional crippling, but based on some timid poking of mental depths I'd rather not explore too deeply, I'm keeping away from anime which deal with loneliness, broken friendships, or lack of self-worth.

This is why I always give people a strange look when they tell me that my refusal to watch sad anime (or, to be specific, sad parts of anime) means that I am "missing out". Better for me to miss out on an outstanding anime, I feel, than to lose hours or days of my life in catatonia.

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From Koharu Biyori.

In what may well be the beginning of the inevitable downward spiral into creeping featurism upon this blog, I've installed Gravatar support into the comments. For those as yet unaware of gravatars, and I admit to some ignorance myself as to whether it is a Proper Title which should be capitalized or merely a common noun undeserving of such, they are, according to the site, globally recognized avatars which presumably can be viewed on any blog which supports them.

I have to confess to some bias in this matter: I started out blogging, in the Public Diary kind of way rather than any actual intention of providing useful information to the masses, on Livejournal, and the second best thing about Livejournal in my rather subjective opinion is the availability of user avatars, which I have grown used to in a manner which is completely removed from any actual tangible benefit of the feature. Commenters transform from arbitrary names in my mind to equally arbitrary and yet reassuring images, tiny rectangles of indistinct colours and shapes recognizable at a glance.

The downsides of this arrangement are immediately apparent, of course: first on my mind is site load, which I have no way of checking in a systematic manner, and even if I did get some hard numbers out of it, playing MMORPGs has proven to me that numbers are insigificant compared to the User Experience of "it just feels weird somehow…" I am not expecting major issues to erupt due to gravatars, but I will probably be watching comments about it very closely, and I might pull the plug on gravatars if it comes to that.

And of course, to get a gravatar, one has to sign up for it. The inertia of apathy is difficult to overcome, and I've had several opportunities pass me by because I am just tired of having to register for yet another site or service of limited scope and use. Nobody is, by any stretch of the imagination, obliged to get a gravatar; this is mostly for those who have already obtained one prior. I signed up for one only very recently, mainly because It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.

For now, the actual gravatar support has been implemented somewhat haphazardly, due to a severe lack of any sort of design sense on my part. I've provided a very standard default avatar for the gravatar-less, all while taking no responsibility for any headaches incurred from unravelling 436 petabytes of the non-reversed SOS Brigade logo squeezed into an 80×80 square.

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From Clannad episode 11.

It's probably a sign of how technically desperate I am to seek out any form of plot which has a noted success rate of entertaining me that when I encounter some mere hint of it in an unrelated show, I fixate upon it to more or less the exception of everything else in the show.

Take the most obvious case, bandied about whenever the conversation comes around to the series in question, when I was watching Neon Genesis Evangelion. After all the mind-bending and heavy concepts thrown at the viewer throughout the show, the little school days comedy bit near the end of episode 26 was my absolute favourite sequence of the entire anime, including the movie. That's right: after twenty-six entire episodes and the movie filled with allegory and angst and insights into what it means to be human, after the oceans of digital print spilled about what it all means, the only part of the show which I can be fairly said to like was that ten-minute sequence wherein Shinji bumps into Rei rushing to school and sneaks a look at her panties. A man of simple and low-brow tastes am I, apparently, easily fulfilled later with the Angelic Days manga which explored this alternate reality in slightly more depth, but I digress.

I've made mention before, to varying amounts of howling protest, that I'm not actually that interested in Clannad. Yes, I know that it's by Kyoto Animation, and after Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, Lucky Star, and very definitely The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (I was iffy about Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, and I have few recollections of Munto), they deserve more or less an automatic pass on principle, assuming the work in question contains what has been labelled as "moe-blob" characters. (Mind you, if you haven't yet realized what the point of this entire blog is about, I may have to be uncharitable.)

And the Key trio of Air, Kanon, and Clannad are already praised unto the heavens by fans, made even more so when the legendary KyoAni deigns to animate them, despite inexplicable complaints. By all rights, I should be all over these shows, right? These cute girls in summer/winter/spring are exactly what I want to watch, right?

Well, not really.

Let's plunge into the murky depths of fan-definitions and pull out what can be considered the basis of the moe appeal, which has a strong emphasis on the protection of the pure, shielding it from any possible sullying influence. For now, we'll keep that in mind while considering the Key anime from another angle.

The three KyoAni-ed Key works (simplified for convenience; I didn't actually dislike the Toei adaptation of Kanon back in 2002, but we may as well concentrate on the common ground of the KyoAni adaptations) have a fair mix of humour, usually done in the quick-witted bokke-tsukkomi style of verbal or situational sparring, as well as a substantial dose of drama, which invariably deal with some aspect of human emotion and relationship, as well as the trials and tribulations of going through life in general. Key's works have the added motif of the supernatural which is oddly both prevalent and yet understated: we have all sorts of scientifically implausible circumstances and much made of "miracles", but nobody actually bothers to sit down and ask "wait, why?" The supernatural aspects are a narrative device to tell a (moral?) message via a romantic tale, and we are apparently not expected to look into this too closely.

And so, to tell a story to tug at the heartstrings and perhaps provide catharsis via tragedy, Key has the heroines go through hardships and difficulties which may be familiar to reality, but seldom as pronounced.

Translated into the skewed worldview which I possess, this means that Key's stories are full of sad things happening to cute girls.

That, in and only itself, is why I am reluctant to watch (or rewatch) the KyoAni Key anime. Sad things happening to the characters implies a failure of protection, and thus a breaking of the moe feeling which the art and character designs evidently try so hard to instill. I admit that I watch anime as a sort of escapism, with flippant remarks that if I wanted depressing realism, I'd pick up the newspaper. Watching lives being broken down with only a chance, by no means certain, of hope being restored and everyone getting a happy ending, always strikes me with the same sort of uncomfortable voyeurism as watching divorce proceedings in reality.

Tangentially related is the fantastical element involved in many of the "paths" or "arcs" of the heroines, for the game and the anime respectively. Taken in the anime, each one alone is enough to create a complete story, and all of them together makes for a somewhat surreal world unlike our own, where strange happenings are commonplace and hardly remarked upon (albeit angsted over). Taken in the game, each one is a complete story, and is probably meant to be seen as such… but the knowledge that there are other stories out there remains niggling in the mind, and while the path currently being chosen may or may not be a happy ending for the heroine in question, it does mean that the endings for everyone else remain completely tragic. For those who understand Kanon spoilers (five years since the Toei anime came out), imagine that if you went for the Makoto path, and then consider what that would imply about what happens to Shiori, Ayu, and Mai.

Air was depressing. Kanon was depressing. Clannad, from all accounts, will be just as depressing. This does not fill me with much enthusiasm.

But once in a while, I see episode commentaries on various other blogs about the funny portions of KyoAni Key, and I take them and carefully construct a fantasy far removed from the actual anime, where everyone is happy, or at least as happy as they can be in the circumstances, always looking on the bright side of life (da-dum, da-dum da-da da-dum). Sad things do not happen here: bickering and banter, yes, but nobody will ever sink into despair and hopelessness, waiting for someone to drag them out back into the light. A sunny, cheery, unrealistic world, where Everything Will Be All Right.

And so I make up my own stories about Magical Twins Kyou and Ryou, defenders of justice, love, and peace, along with the appearances of President Nagisa and whatever amusing cultural emasculation one can render from Kotomi's invocation of the Great Old Ones. Of such things are fanfics written.

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Surprisingly, this is not an actual official lifting of the two-posts-a-week restriction, as much as a warning that my posts from here until several weeks later might be a tad more surreal than strictly normal, due to influences from assorted painkillers and local anesthetic.

What may be of greater concern, or at least relevance, would be that I'm planning on upgrading the WordPress installation of this blog. Site strangeness may or may not result; I've done all I could to back up everything, but These Things Happen.

Also, I wanted an excuse to use this picture, because like Miyuki, I'm really scared of the dentist.

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This entry is part 16 of 20 in the series CCS Episode Summaries

Title Screenshot

I will dispense with the uncomfortable delaying tactics often used when one is about to say something unwelcome, save for the perhaps rather obvious build up to what might be interpreted as a desperate plea for mercy upon my somewhat suspiciously sincere person, and say that this episode summary will not be up to the usual standards of the former ones, and admit with all celerity that this is entirely my fault for not actually having anything to say about this episode.

I could give a variety of excuses for this. For one thing, there is a distressing lack of Tomoyo, and thus I am unable to dole out the CHECK!Points as freely as I used to, since we cannot bask in the presence of Our Slightly Creepy Goddess if she is not there to bask in. Also, no Clow Cards are captured in this episode, to the great disappointment of any wannabe mentions of the violations of physics as enacted by the MAGIC of the Clow Card du jour.

Instead, episode 16 of Card Captor Sakura, "Sakura and the Rainbow of Memories", deals with nothing much in particular in terms of action or character development, choosing instead to focus on a certain aspect of character backstory. It's a quiet, touching little episode, the perfect way to relax after a long day in the Real World.

But there's very little to say about it.

And so I must ask for the indulgence of any and all readers to bear with me until we get to an episode where I can once again release my full, if still rather meagre, capabilities of commentary, without feeling guilty about making fun of something which the series treats with respect, or descending too far into the depths of 4chan-induced memetic parody.

Mind you, before I can do that, I do need to figure out where the rest of my DVDs went. I know where they are in theory, but they're all messed up in order, thanks to a hasty job trying to rearrange my bookshelves into some ironic semblance oforder. The books and DVDs are already three deep; I think I need more shelves.

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Miya Gotou in a cafe.

Wow, the grammar on that post title really sucks. I'll refrain from making "BOST Of Me" puns.

IrishNinja informed me (well, his friendslist in general) about BOST TV, and I had a look at what purports to be a site dedicated to streaming subbed anime, because "We want to bring you anime more quickly than before and titles that see little chance of a DVD release". The article on ANN adds… not much more detail, come to think of it.

As far as I can tell, yes, this is legit, in the sense that they actually did licence the series they offer.

I shall try to summarize what I see to be the salient points which doubtless everyone is agog to know. Knowing myself, this will probably take longer than simply going to the site and checking it out oneself.

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