Archive for May, 2009

Horo.

Spice and Wolf holds an odd place in my listing of Shows I Have Seen And Enjoyed. On the one hand, it has a lot of elements that would otherwise raise it to a Highly Recommended slot, shared by luminaries such as Princess Tutu. Horo is attractive, perhaps even cute, although in a more refined and less sugary way than that descriptor would suggest. The art is clean, and while I can see several occasions of slightly off-model animation, these are never jarring enough to bring me out of the story (unlike Seven Arcs's sins with the Lyrical Nanoha series and Asura Cryin). There are plenty of little touches which give me a little thrill of satisfaction every time they happen, like the way Horo's headwear twitches when she moves her ears.

On the other hand, after I finished watching the last episode, I had absolutely no desire to rewatch the show ever again. And I don't know why.

It took me a long while to craft together this blog post, since I didn't know where to start. (To be clear, however, it hasn't actually been that long; I don't have as much time as I did to watch anime, so Spice and Wolf had been my "I should watch this because of the anime blog" series.) I should be loving Spice and Wolf, but I don't. It doesn't have a lot of aspects I would actively dislike, such as crushing angst and long self-pitying soliloquoys, but I finished the show with an odd sense of discontent. It was as though despite the high production values, I found the show wanting, somehow.

I still don't know precisely why I feel that way, but I do have several ideas which don't seem obviously wrong. Chief of these is the assertion that Spice and Wolf did not meet my expectations.

Now, when people use that phrase, often they mean that it was not good enough, or it fell short somehow. In this case, however, the show may or may not have surpassed my ideas of quality, but it went wide off the mark nevertheless. I had a certain idea of what the show would be, or at least what I wanted to take from that show, but this idea was defeated.

This may be because Spice and Wolf is not, relatively speaking, a new show. Everyone I spoke to about it mentioned surprise at the heavy emphasis on economic theory, to the point of almost being educational. And so I went in expecting a lighter, fluffier, and certainly shorter anime version of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle with a cute wolfgirl. Obviously it would not be as grand in depth and scope, but the applied examples of currency speculations were a great deal more interesting when placed in the context of a society in the midst of a scientific revolution, despite the political upheavals at the time muddying the waters. (I realize that things have not changed much since then.)

What I got was a show which certainly tried to introduce a few concepts, but got sidetracked often by personal drama that seemed, to me, to be shoehorned in for the sake of some action.

It's weird: I could accept Horo's nature of being a wolf spirit taking human form as "normal", or at least normal enough not to interfere in the economic theory. Her superior (and supernatural) senses can provide more information than Lawrence would otherwise have access to, but that is fine, since a free market would theoretically work best with total knowledge of information. (This never happens in practice, which is one reason why economic theories never work as well when applied to real life. Ask ten economists, get fifteen answers…)

But when she takes an active hand in influencing the story by turning into her Big Bad Wolf form, or when her supernatural nature and background affects the plot significantly (the last couple of episodes, for example), it takes me out of economic theory and dumps me into a fantasy adventure. I would actually enjoy fantasy adventures in another context, but the transition here is a little abrupt.

It also felt a little odd that certain concepts, mostly to do with characterizations (how shepherds are used to fending off wolves, for instance), are repeated several times, presumably in order to hammer it into our heads, while others (mostly the financial stuff) are explained once and left at that.

I suspect that this is because the plot is not supposed to be about Lawrence and Horo's adventures in market theory, but more about the action and drama bits. It's certainly more interesting to the average viewer: a giant rampaging spirit wolf attracts more attention than haggling for clothes.

I also suspect that in the original source (light novels, if I'm not mistaken), the intellectual and emotional aspects are more closely integrated. Never having read them, I can't tell for certain.

All in all, Spice and Wolf deserves a rewatch, this time without any pre-conceived expectations. Honestly, I would not say that I have the time to do so, especially with so many other obligations that is Real Life. Perhaps I can put it off for a while, until my initial opinions of it have subsided into dim memory.

But to leave it at my current viewpoint would be unfair to the show, and any recommendations for anime I might make in the future.

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Cure BEAM

Recently I stopped by Kinokuniya to pick up the official English translation of the first The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya light novel, as well as Negima volumes 20 and 21 (translated by Del Rey, rather than the Chuang Yi Singapore version). Also, I picked up a not-very-good omnibus with three Hercule Poirot mysteries, and Neal Stephenson's Anathem, which garnered a "is that a book or a box?" from my father.

While looking for more frivolous items to fritter my money away on, I browsed through the stupendously immense collection of shoujo manga also on display. Most of these had been translated into Chinese; I think it's easier or perhaps cheaper to do so, compared to the licencing of manga in English by US publishers.

I'm not very good with my Chinese (especially traditional characters), so I was mostly skimming through the pages in search of something eye-catching. Now, I've always been of the opinion that, like moe bishoujo harem comedy anime and manga, the intricacies of a certain genre of shoujo manga is probably lost on the uninitiated. I assume there's a set of terms for this, since it's not like all bishoujo anime are harem comedies (Azumanga Daioh sort of leaps to mind; comedy, but not harem), and I'd certainly not want to over-generalize every shoujo manga in soft pink cover colours as the same sort of story. Rocks and glass houses, unclean crockery, so on and so forth.

Nevertheless, I did find it intriguing, or at least amusing, that there appears to be a sort of template from which the protagonists of these manga are produced. Consider the following traits:

  • Pretty, or at least cute.
  • Not particularly smart, and gets confused easily.
  • Clumsy, in that harmlessly adorable way.
  • Bullied frequently, but never lets it get her down.
  • Always tries her best at everything she does.
  • Is often in the presence of at least one blatantly handsome guy.
  • Grows up to be successful, competent, and incredibly attractive.

Now, which of the following comes to mind?

  1. A stereotypical shoujo manga heroine, of whom I read no less than thirteen of during my browsing session.
  2. Mikuru Asahina.

It is a mystery.

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Meido Mugi-chan!

Mugi-chan in a maid- wait, I think I've used this joke before.

The focus of this episode is the introduction (but not yet the personality) of Azusa Nakano, the new first-year member of the light music club. This means that the band has been together for about a year after eight episodes, which is a fairly brisk episode-to-time ratio. In all this time, it appears that the band's talents appear only during live performances, since their demonstrations sound rather sloppy (like an actual high school light music club, I'd think). I believe Azusa even remarks as much later in the story, if I remember the manga correctly.

This time, we remain in the auditorium while the band plays. I half expect complaints to arise that watching a band play on stage is boring and they should have segued into a music video or something, thus proving once again that it is impossible to please everyone.

What intrigues me most about this episode is that we hear two songs (well, one song and the tail end of another just before that) which are, thus far, not yet released. It is safe to assume that another single will be forthcoming. If you're wondering, the songs listed on the piece of paper Mio gave Ritsu are, roughly translated and in order: "Fuwa Fuwa Time" (which we've heard back at the school festival episode and which we've gotten a single of), "The Rice Under the Curry" (I think), "My Love is Hotchkiss" ("HOCCHIKISU", whatever that means apparently it means "stapler"; it's the song we hear the majority of in this episode), and "Calligraphy Pen Ball(point) Pen". Of these, only "Fuwa Fuwa Time" has gotten a single; admittedly, we also have "Please Give Me Wings" ("Tsubasa wo Kudasai", if you want the Japanese) as the B-side for that, as well as "Happy! Sorry!!" and "Sweet Bitter Beauty Song" as the B-sides for the opening and ending themes respectively.

I did expect an anime about a musical club to have lots of soundtrack albums and singles released. I am impressed at the band's expanding repertoire, although I'd like to see something written by someone other than Mio. Not that I dislike Mio's lyrical sense, but I do think it would be fascinating to see what Yui or Tsumugi would come up with.

Another thing which struck me as a little (not a lot, just a little) odd was Ui's clapping during the concert. Apart from being slightly off-time, I didn't expect that sort of song to be a clapping sort, like "Fuwa Fuwa Time" was. Admittedly, I'm not sure what sort of appreciative action the audience could have done to that song; probably clapping to the beat anyway, but only on the second and fourth beats rather than 4/4 time. Singing along, maybe? It's also not really the sort of song one would wave lighters (or cellphones or whatever point source of light one might have handy) to.

I wonder which rock concert movement number that would be.

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Mikuru-chan~

Yes, I know. Trust me, with Card Captor Sakura, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Discworld, just assume that the news turns up quite punctually in my brain on the dot by some form of MAGIC.

MoHS is an odd fandom to talk about. For one thing, it's quite difficult to spoil the show, or rather discuss the show without spoiling it. Quite apart from the now-famous revelation about Haruhi's powers, the way both anime and light novels skip around in the timeline (in the latter case, bringing a sense of reminiscence on Kyon's part) means that anyone seeking an explanation of some confusing minutiae would likely end up knowing the events of episodes yet to be aired or even created. It has all gone a bit quantum, really.

Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody was everything I expected, which made me happy. I am still basking in what a less prudish (and probably much more experienced) blogger would label the afterglow, but which I have no real term for. Everything is as it should be: god's in her heaven, all's right with the world.

It is probably a lost cause for me to glean any sort of coherent reaction from this, so I'm not going to try.

The reaction on the fandom has been intriguing to watch. I would even say that it was fun to watch the outpourings of positive emotions on various forums and channels in realtime, as the episode aired. I've always been happier being around other happy people, rather than the usual Internet pastime of complaining about more or less everything.

I've kind of fallen out of the whole TVTropes thing, mainly because while reading the articles on that wiki has not exactly lost its charm, I really don't want to deal with the whole rename wars anymore, and I'm reminded of it every time I see a trope page which is obviously named for humour value rather than clarity. Nevertheless, I have read complaints that KyoAni/Kadokawa/whoever is actually responsible is airing the episodes in chronological order without regard to which season they belong in, and this is very confusing or some such. Being that at least some of these people complained back in 2006 that the non-chronological order sucked for being confusing, I think I am justified in linking to this page, just this once.

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A vision of game data to come.

Perhaps late to the much-vaunted party, but I have been very slowly working my way through Persona 3 FES. I didn't exactly plan on it (I still have Freespace 2 to work on, courtesy of Good Old Games), but after spending a fruitless span of time attempting to articulate my thoughts on Spice and Wolf, I popped the disc into my PS2 for a break.

As the story usually goes, it became rather more than a break.

It's certainly one of the more anime-related games I've seen; now I understand the excitement among other, more timely anime bloggers, when the sequel anime was announced. (I don't remember what their reactions were after it aired; I need to start keeping track of that sort of thing, I think.) Even apart from the art style, there's plenty of anime-familiar dialogue choices, which would probably not make much sense to anyone who has never heard the "-tan" suffix before.

All the names are also in Japanese, and when faced with the Enter Name Here screen, I felt compelled to follow suit. So far, "Akira Hirazawa" (I wanted "Hiiragizawa" ie Eriol for various poorly-thought-out reasons, but the first and last names can only allow eight characters each; I hear his unofficial official name is "Minato Arisato") has struck me as the sort of laconic asocial JRPG player character (see: Neku Sakuraba) who probably has a snarky running commentary in his head on the various absurdities occuring around him. Since the game does not provide this, I've supplied my own.

The game is broken into two simultaneous phases, where the player party has to deal with school in the daytime, and fighting evil eldritch abominations in the night. Cram things together too much, and you get tired and sick, which interferes with both phases to a severe degree. Along the way, the player must deal with incredibly clingy friends, of whom one (of the females) will end up being the player character's girlfriend. Keeping everyone pleased will take up most of your time, and you'll end up actually grinding levels maybe once every two weeks in-game time or something.

Did I mention that you only have one year total to save the world?

Normally, I try to collect everything I can in a game, since I'd rather not have to find out three hours to the end that I missed a certain crucial item or procedure five minutes after the start. With P3F, though, I welcomed the news of a New Game Plus option which carries over at least all my non-combat stats, since grinding those have proven to be the most tedious part of the game. I would probably not mind as much if my goal were to live an everyday school life, or defeat the shadows and save the world. Both at the same time is a bit much, and my fellow NPC allies join me in bemoaning precisely that. I'm currently concentrating on Academics (for exams and such) and Charm (for a certain requirement), in that order; Courage can wait until the next playthrough.

And then there's the romantic entanglement aspect of the game. I kind of know how the main character in a harem comedy anime feels now; all (well, almost all) the girls are in some way desirable, in the sense that if they were actually in a harem comedy anime that I'm watching, I'd be switching loyalties pretty often. As it is, I'm probably going to stick with Yukari Takeba (the first girl you meet at the dorms and designated battle healz0r) this playthrough, if I can meet the minimum requirements; otherwise, Chihiro Fushimi (the shy bespectacled student council treasurer) seems like a choice I'd stereotypically make. I get the feeling that being greedy will likely result in what is generally known among certain anime fandoms as an ending worthy of a pleasant sea-going vessel.

The story itself is very… well, anime-serious is about the best I can put it. There's a great deal of introspective dialogue about the nature of self as we relate to others, as well as how Making Friends and Connecting With Each Other is the answer to all your stat-grinding needs, which strikes me as sort of a common theme among anime which purport to be "deep" and "complex". Maybe they're trying to tell us to stop playing games so much and go out into the world or something.

Of course, this kind of veers into surreality when the primary method of evoking one's Persona is to shoot yourself in the head. Repeatedly.

Being that I'm only a short way into the game, I have to admit that I'm enjoying it so far, but I'm well aware of the tendency of such games to turn out to be grindfests near the final boss. This is like stopping the plot just before the final episode, and inserting a 156-episode filler tournament arc. You'll eventually finish the story, but the payoff never seems worth it.

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Dynamic group shot.

Looking at the K-On girls' popularity as seen from blog posts, it appears that Mio's lead is still unchallenged, but there has been a growing contingent of fellow Mugi fans. Ritsu has a few die-hard supporters, albeit some who feel it necessary to proclaim Ritsu's superiority by flinging insults at the other girls for some reason. Yui, however, gets a lot of flak.

This, to me, is kind of odd.

I'm not a stranger to not liking a character, since it's quite difficult to love each and every single character in fiction, but the amount of active dislike I've seen makes me suspect that something else is in play. Yui, in herself, is not that offensive, at least in my view.

The most common reason I've heard is that she seems not quite right in the head. The word often used is "retarded", which means a great many things on the Internet, ranging from the broad medical definitions of developmental disabilities, to the perjorative sense that may or may not indicate an actual mental disorder.

Let's have a look at Yui's most prominent personality traits:

  • Easily distracted.
  • Usually has problems focusing on things.
  • When able to focus, concentrates on the subject nearly to the exclusion of all else. (May not confer hypercompetence.)
  • Forgets about everything other than what is focused on, thus requiring frequent relearning.
  • Starts high-maintenance projects on impulse that may or may not reach conclusion.
  • Sweet tooth.
  • Late sleeper.

Just taking these traits, it's a pretty accurate description of myself.

Oddly, this is why I'm not that interested in Yui. Yes, it amuses me to see my own foibles writ large on the screen, especially when performed by a cute anime girl, but since I deal with them every day, it's too familiar. I do get distracted in bizarre ways: I can space out in the middle of a conversation just in time to miss out on the middle two items out of a list of five. I've stopped in my tracks before just to observe the way a raindrop falls. And when I really wanted to, I taught myself Java in two weeks (with several applets to show for it), before being distracted by something else (the guitar, if you were wondering) and forgetting it all again.

The sweet tooth and late sleeper bits are fairly common in others, so it's not that significant. If there's any character trait I can call my own (as opposed to sharing with Yui), I'd say that I panic easily in pressure situations, so even though I may theoretically know everything about how to deal with a crisis, when the time comes I blank out and stare at nothing in particular. It is not such a large leap of imagination to picture Yui with the same problem.

Considering that I've managed to survive this far without being committed to a mental institution, I'd say that these traits are not especially debilitating. In fact, Yui does have the advantage of being hypercompetent when she focuses on something, possibly due to natural talent or something. Obviously I cannot claim to this myself. Seeing as Yui has garnered such hate despite being better than I am, I have to say that I've been examining my own interactions with others quite closely, since I must be annoying my friends to no end.

Now, let's take my favourite K-On character, Tsumugi. Mugi-chan is intelligent, polite, confident, talented, graceful, and delightfully enthusiastic about experiencing everything life as a Normal High School Student has to offer. (Also, she's very very cute.) If this were any other bishoujo anime, she'd be the school idol. Since she's next to nothing like myself but still full of all these positive traits, I can sort of place her as the goal of a change in personality for the better, and learn by observation. Failing that, I'd be happy to simply be the invisible observer in her group of friends.

Mio and Ritsu are just kind of there. I find Mio amusing but strangely not as compelling as Mugi, and I'm not really a fan of the hyperactive prankster type that Ritsu is based on. But then I've mentioned all of this already.

From what I've heard over the years, I should either be loving Yui for being so close to myself, or hating her for reminding me of my own bad parts. But she's just so familiar that it's like looking into a mirror or some such; there may be a brief period of introspection and self-examination, but after a while it's not very interesting.

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Mugi-chan in a nurse outfit!

Mugi-chan in a nurse outfit~

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From the Cagayake Girls single.

Like a more general anime blog, the sort that would hew closer to the stereotype, I have been keeping track of K-On as the episodes appear. Judging by the flow of messages on Twitter, this is Not A Good Thing. Mind you, it's not as though this anime blog is so well-known as to attract Twittered attention, but the messages are posted as a general rage against the blogosphere, and as such I am caught in the splash damage of the AoE.

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This entry is part 36 of 43 in the series Nanoha GamerS

Just a teaser image.

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Mugi around the corner.

Sometimes I wonder what my place is in the fandom. On the one hand, I'm part of the teeming masses who actually like this show, thus making me somehow defective in the eyes of those who have something against moe, or prize individuality for individuality's sake. On the other hand, while I appreciate that Mio is amusing enough to watch, Tsumugi remains firmly in first place for me, leading to a certain disconnect when discussing the show with others.

So it goes.

In the meantime, I've been idly updating the TVTropes page for the series for lack of any other way to participate in this fandom-ness. The scanlations for the original 4-koma manga have been floating around for a while, so the broad strokes of the plot or lack thereof is already known, but there have been changes from the manga to the anime, which is inevitable considering the transition from one-shot gags to a full episode. It is in these changes where my wiki edits live, skulking in the shadows where they justly belong, lest they be shriveled into ash by the harsh light of canon scrutiny.

Among them is the ramping up of Mugi's yuri goggles, from merely seeing Something There That Was Not There Before between Mio and Yui, to a more general pairing off of any two female characters engaged in close interaction, regardless of context. One speculates that this is a girl who thoroughly enjoys romance novels and possibly manga, and a sizeable portion of her family fortune is dedicated to collecting such reading material. Considering the casualness with which she provides the apparently expensive silverware and tableware for the light music club, her book collection must be impressive indeed.

Yamanaka-sensei is substantially scarier in her Wild Mode here, compared to the manga, which is probably limited by the panel layouts. There's also the revelation of why she has a Wild Mode in the first place, which is not in the original manga, at least as far as I've seen. Despite her desire to be a Quiet Character, though, she does seem to be in very good shape. I think part of why I like the humour in shows like this is because the context may make the action-packed bits ridiculous and over-animated, but the scene itself, shorn of said context, is still pretty fun to watch, instead of merely cringe-inducing.

Tomorrow, either a rambling essay-type post (which does touch on all these K-On posts I seem to be making), or more Nanoha GamerS, depending on how motivated I feel.

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