Archive for December, 2008

Konata logs onto her MMO.

Because I have nothing remotely resembling a social life, I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself fighting snow monsters and rescuing disturbing infants.

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From the Kon Neko HCG set.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
On the aniblogosphere
When I look at the calendar date
I think of events of late
With no idea what I'll blog about next year

It's beginning to get quite close to Christmas
You can plainly see
I've filked this song today
Because everyone runs away
When I sing off-key

Posts like Twelve Days of Christmas and I'm frankly remiss in not starting one of my own
Or Year in Review if I had something new to say apart from what is known
There are so few good anime this year, we whine
Let's hope things get better for year 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Even if we have no snow
And yet I have to seek
My quota of two posts per week
A pretty pic is all I have to show

I'll continue to watch a lot of Christmas
For that delicious festive mood
It's an easy choice to make
When I see that Christmas Cake
She makes Christmas all good.

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Akane Aikawa, from Magic User's Club.

Now that I have actual Free Time that does not need to be taken up by worrying about what I should be doing instead of what I actually am doing, I am burrowing through my anime collection to rewatch the shows I keep meaning to rewatch. This is because if I don't take advantage of this now, I may never be able to do so, and my anime collection ceases to be of any use other than as collectors themselves, this time of dust.

It's also a good way to realign my memories of what I remember an anime to be with what it actually is. I rediscover things that I've forgotten, both good and bad, and the results can be surprising. For some reason soundtracks tend to be easier on the ears on older anime, compared to the somewhat forgettable BGMs of many (but not all) anime today. This could be sample bias at work, of course: the fact that I own these anime to be able to rewatch (and have not, say, given them away) means that they have some quality which makes them Worth Having, and good music might as well be one of them. After all, newer anime which I also own on DVD (Lucky Star, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya) also have great soundtracks.

Of course, older anime also fails in terms of technology, with bad transfers, horrible picture artifacts, indistinct and warbly audio, and the evils of Scanavo cases.

In terms of character designs and plots, I… don't see much difference, honestly. Advances in animation have let studios tell flashier stories, yes, but that's just fluff. For what really matters, I don't see any hidden and common trait to older anime which makes them inherently superior to newer ones. If it's good, it's good. If not, it's not.

Again, though, this could be sample bias. I may not be seeing much difference in, say, the amount of moe-ness, because I only collect anime which have a given amount of moe anyway: my gateway anime was Ranma 1/2, and my gateway manga was Love Hina, so I know what I like.

Nostalgia tends to exaggerate emotions and opinions in odd ways. This has also convinced me that anyone who says that anime is unconditionally So Much Better Way Back When has no idea what they are talking about.

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This entry is part 29 of 43 in the series Nanoha GamerS

Just a teaser image.

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This entry is part 28 of 43 in the series Nanoha GamerS

Just a teaser image.

Read the rest of this entry »

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From the H-game Kon Neko.

I didn't really take notice of the ruling on cartoon depictions of questionable acts involving underage characters, mainly because we had just encountered another one a few months prior, and that's still going on.

In any case, I really only noticed it after Neil Gaiman pointed out that the ruling, at least as described in the article, would give fictional characters the same rights as Real Life human beings, a situation shared by the average corporation. (Yes, I know about the differences between the concept of a Legal/Juristic Person and a Human Being. Still doesn't make it any less amusing.)

No longer can we maim, murder, and otherwise mutilate our fictional creations, which is one reason why I'm not too concerned over this, since the bizarre precedent is likely to get overturned in (relatively) short order. In the meantime, the possibilities are endless. Apart from the obvious link back to a familiar issue, of course.

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From Koihime Musou.

I'd link to a Mary Sue Litmus Test, but considering the sheer variety of these out there, I doubt that any one of them is truly representative of all the rest. Considering how much they've been copied-and-pasted, I suspect that while there may be an original (for the Gargoyles fandom, I believe) and several generic ones, they all strive for some strange Platonic ideal that can be viewed, however dimly, only by taking these in aggregate. Some questions are fandom-specific, and some are not. Even those that appear out of place may need to be asked anyway, to account for the stories where the main character is a fan of some contemporary pop or rock group while simultaneously being a native of some fantastic time, be it in the far future or distant past.

I should probably mention here that I don't actually have anything visceral against the Mary Sue. I believe that all the accusations thereof can be boiled down to simple Bad Writing, which is too general a thing to be confined to a single cause. Besides, I used to be a member of the Mary Sue Appreciation Society (RIP Kielle), primarily for the reason that writing, or at least amateur writing, should be fun, and if a Sue is involved, so be it.

Anyway. The main reason I brought up the Litmus Test is that their degree of usefulness can be determined by reversing the purpose, and testing the tests themselves. The example character to put through the questions is not some canon or well-accepted character, but yourself. As in, your Real Life self.

If you've existed for a sufficient period of time (late teens or so) and had a somewhat varied life, chances are you'll score at least in the "Danger" section, and very likely in the "Outright Mary Sue" category. The (un)luckier of us might even reach "Uber-Sue", the highest goal that may be achieved. The points come from surprising places: for example, if I discount my scattershot knowledge of Japanese (as well as my efforts at Klingon), I am still relatively fluent in three languages (English, Mandarin Chinese, Bahasa Indonesia), which is apparently a Sue trait, despite also being part of my cultural heritage. In fact, simply being Asian (the tests seldom distinguish between East Asian or South Asian or whatever) is worth Sue points. Considering the overall population of the world, this has always struck me as odd.

On an intriguing tangent, anime fanfiction fandom in general reverses this: in a standard Japanese setting, a "foreign" character (often labelled "gaijin", or "outside person"/"outsider", which is one of the many Japanese terms made popular in Anglophone communities by anime fandom, despite the more appropriate "gaikokujin", or "person from another country") has the same connotations as "Asian" characters in more Western fandoms. Exotic, different, special… basically a "look at me!" attention-grabber, which is, at base, the point of a Mary Sue.

I've always held that the Litmus Tests are originally meant to be jokes. Unfortunately, I've met both creators and takers of the tests who treat them with the utmost seriousness, so apparently I am mistaken.

The point of all of the above ramblings is that as an audience, we tend to have strange definitions of "realism" when it comes to characters. I submit that we do not, as such, want "realistic characters". Instead, we want simplified versions of what we believe to be realistic characters. (Yes, I know about exceptions. I'll get to them in a much later post.)

A passage in The Science of Discworld II alludes to the idea that while we place our own freedom of will pretty importantly, socially we don't expect anyone else to have any. This can be seen in the phrases "not himself" and "out of character", which we often apply when a character is acting in an unexpected manner, and our reactions and expectations of the reasons behind those actions. We're happiest, the book notes, when the explanation turns out to remove the element of free will from the situation (doing it under duress, or doing it for a bet, or whatever). Of course, the question I'm interested in is not that we don't expect others to have free will, but whether we have free will in the first place, especially if we do have it, but our choices are constrained by what other expect us to act like, or just our own mental and moral boundaries.

Therefore, an actual "real" person would be far too complicated to present to the viewer. This is partly a limitation of the sense of narrative which a work of fiction has to establish: yes, I can speak three languages, but that is not always relevant to whatever story I might self-insert myself in. A viewer expects not to see a person, but a bundle of character traits mushed together, the same way we see everyone else around us.

And the average viewer will probably have some character traits they like, and some they don't. Thus, the more "complex" (ie the more character traits they have) a character, the more likely that one of these undesirable traits will sneak inside. Sometimes these are excusable, or easily overlooked in favour of the more welcome traits, and so they get filed away under "bad, but trivial, habits", or some such. After all, we do the same in Real Life every time we meet someone new.

A "realistic" character is thus someone who presents to us the right number and type of character traits, that we may assign them some convenient mental labels in the same way we do in Real Life. The difference is that the Real Life version tends to have more, while the character can be a mere hollow shell in comparison. There is, after all, no need for further expansion of the character, without going into irrelevancies: we know quite a lot about Nanoha's character, for example, but we don't know much about her opinions (if any) on the Hanshin Tigers. Mind you, our beliefs intertwine and affect each other to a large degree, so Nanoha's views on, say, the global economy may be influenced by her general political views, and knowing those would help us write her "in character", even in non-political situations.

So take a bundle of character traits, and make that bundle bigger. Add in more traits, more aspects, more personality parts… and you'll find yourself ticking off plenty of Mary Sue traits in a Litmus Test. Whereas if you have just a few character traits in that bundle, the character is accused of being "bland" and "cookie-cutter". Their bundle-ness becomes more pronounced and obvious, rather than hidden behind the mask of being a character.

This isn't a one-dimensional sliding scale, or any scale of any sort. The Mary Sue is unwelcome not so much because they can do everything (to exaggerate the position), but because they do everything, or at least the major stuff. It's possible to have an Uber-Sue according to the Litmus Tests and have a bland, cookie-cutter character who doesn't register on the narrative at all; if the character doesn't get a chance to exhibit all that competence, there's no spotlight to hog.

It's an interesting balance, different for every character and every viewer. This is why some characters can seem like two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs to some fans, and also well-defined, realistic epitomes of what a character should be designed as to others. If all else fails, there is always the equally human tendency to project our desires and hopes onto a relatively blank slate, writing narratives in our heads for what an ill-described character should be like. Frequently-encountered tropes help with this: recall Konata's insistence that the twintail hairstyle is a common feature of tsundere characters, and vice versa.

Or, of course, I could just be talking out of my arse.

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Kuyou, Sasaki, and Kyouko.

A great deal of virtual ink, which is nothing like actual ink save when used in a metaphor, has been spilled on the popularity of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. It is fast becoming a sort of shibboleth, to identify those who have crossed the threshold to become a hardcore anime fan, by which I mean the sort to attend conventions and spend actual money on merchandise, official or otherwise. Like Neon Genesis Evangelion, whatever your feelings on the show itself, at least you have heard of it, especially if you actually do attend a convention. Also like NGE, it is probably not a very good first anime to introduce to the non-fan.

One of the many criticisms I have seen levelled at MoHS is that Haruhi is Not A Nice Person. From the viewpoint of a person watching the show for the first time, she's selfish, she's rude, she's arrogant, and her actions either border on or cross said border into anti-social personality disorder, depending on how charitable one is feeling. Yes, she gets better over time, but that does not change the truth-value of that descriptor at the beginning of the series, and from certain actions throughout.

The question is then posed: "how can you like a character like that?"

The answer I always give is "I don't." Which often requires me to clarify the differences between "don't like", "dislike", and "hate" (a matter of degree, with "don't like" meaning a mere lack of attraction). And then I am asked why I love the show when I don't like the main character, which kind of leads to a rather longer answer.

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