Archive for February, 2010

Sakon checks out a crime scene.

It's probably more than a little weird that despite my preference for stories to be light and happy and generally escapist, I have a soft spot for crime mystery stories. This could be because I like to try guessing whodunnit along with the characters, but in most cases the crime mystery requires, yanno, a crime. It doesn't have to; many of the Sherlock Holmes stories don't actually deal with crime in a legal sense (Watson makes a remark to this effect in one of the stories). And yet, without a suitably ominous consequence to not solving the mystery, it becomes difficult to build any tension.

As such, protagonists in such shows tend to encounter a great many unhappy people, since someone probably has to have a good reason to haul off and clock someone else over the head with a crowbar in the particle accelerator laboratory, or something. It's possible to not have a reason to do so apart from insanity, but then that is psychiatric, and the case takes on medical aspects, overshadowing the criminal. In other words, it becomes more of Watson's sphere, rather than Holmes's, and thus fails to be classified as a detective mystery.

Ayatsuri Sakon smooths over much of the DOOM and GLOOM of these unhappy lists of suspects by having Ukon be the sort of character Sakon can explain things to, despite technically being the same person, albeit probably not entirely normal in society. There is humour in unexpected places, even though most of the tone of the show is (literally) deadly serious. And Sakon usually doesn't let himself get too involved in the cases, which makes him a calming influence, a stable rock the viewer can latch on to in the midst of the multiple murders, grudges, and blood.

I suspect the reason Sakon gets to do what he does is because he does get results. And so he ventriloquizes to himself while investigating a murder case, bringing to mind the oft-explored concept in comics of Batman being just as loony as the supervillains he puts away.

As Holmes said, art in the blood is liable to take the strangest of forms.

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Mashiko-sensei enters the room.

One day I will be caught up on Hoshimittsu. Unfortunately, today is not that day.

It was strangely fascinating to watch the girls of Hidamari Apartments talk about whether or not they're popular with boys. Being in an all-boys school makes for a fairly stunted set of social skills when it comes to talking to girls, even ten years after the fact. Actually, being one of the nerd crowd in an all-boys school makes for a fairly stunted set of social skills period, so that's no help at all.

I understand, in a sort of Stating The Obvious way, that this is entertainment, and the way the talk went with Nazuna about other girls getting jealous of her through no real fault of her own may not be entirely accurate to life. The truth is likely to be far more prosaic, banal, and boring.

And yet, because it is entertainment, it is, by definition (or it should be, anyway), entertaining. It's a glimpse into the other side, another world of soft colours and quiet reminiscences and being able to talk about these sorts of things without being criticized for not being Manly enough.

Of course, since I've never had anything remotely close to a girlfriend myself, this is even more worthy of study. Relationships are a mysterious thing indeed.

Also, I like how Mashiko-sensei (the male teacher) just walks into the art prep room, with nary a second glance at the walls covered with posters of Yoshinoya-sensei in various cosplay outfits. Clearly the man is used to this.

He is to be saluted.

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Nori, if you did not know.

I wonder if it says something about me that the first thing I did upon seeing the chest shot of Nori was to check that yes, that did look like the Adidas logo.

In keeping with the theme of exercise, I don't know if I would have joined in the early-morning stretches that I think are pretty common in certain parts of Japan, if they had been available here in Singapore. For one thing, waking up at six in the morning means floundering around in the dark, with maybe ten to fifteen minutes to spare before I have to catch the bus to school. When the weekends come, I generally either have extra-curricular activities (school band; symphonic, not K-On), or I want nothing more than to sleep until noon.

This may be why I'm not exactly the healthiest specimen around, I suppose.

I do appreciate that Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu introduced Arisawa to us in an actual episode (well, half-episode), since she seems pretty interesting. This could be because Arisawa has no idea what to do with her life; despite being ten years older than her, I am still in the same situation.

Finally, Yoshinoya-sensei can apparently be squeaky without footwear. Fushigi mystery.

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Hinako, asleep.

I've not watched Sleeping With Hinako as such, although I've glanced at a few bits of it, just to see what it's about. I think it's supposed to be some sort of aid to sleeping? Or something. Watching Hinako sleeping might help cure insomnia, or some such. I don't know.

I have watched Training With Hinako, which is rather more obvious in purpose: Hinako exhorts the viewer to get off their computer chair and join in some exercises with her. It's an exercise video, made sweeter with anime style and the sort of camera angles that make moral guardians keel over in apoplexy, which I suppose defeats the purpose of being healthy.

Those who know me in Real Life also know that I'm… well, unfit. Unfit enough to have to go to the Remedial Training the Singapore Army thoughtfully provides, which does explain why I'm usually too tired to blog about anything of substance. (And my muscles ache.) And yet I've been wondering: if I used Training With Hinako as an actual exercise video, ignoring the whole ecchi angles thing (upskirt and down-cleavage), would this be seen as appropriate?

I'm not even considering how effective it is; when one leads a sedentary lifestyle, any exercise is usually good (assuming proper warmup and stretching, so you don't hurt yourself). But the idea of doing push-ups while the view on the screen is down Hinako's shirt makes it seem a little like I'm missing the point.

I wonder if falling asleep to Sleeping With Hinako falls along the same point-missing lines.

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Nazuna looking surprised.

Catching up on the episodes I got earlier, but didn't get the chance to watch until now.

When I was living alone, curtains felt unnecessary. Yes, privacy and all that, but I figured anyone who wanted to peek into the life of a random guy was welcome to, especially since I believe that a place can only be called "home" if you feel comfortable enough walking around it in your underwear. (Too Much Information, I presume.) And I was fortunate enough not to get a facing with direct sunlight, so it wasn't too bad.

Watching the Hidamari Apartment residents spend so much effort to pick out pretty curtains and treat it as a matter of course makes me feel even more of a dame-ningen: a worthless person, as far away from the life of bright happiness and sunshine and normalcy as can be. A sad deviant, the stereotype of the lurker in the basement, even though there is no basement. No doubt I will be expected to find a basement to lurk in.

This is why I tend not to apply my entertainment too closely to my actual life. Escapism is the key, here.

I do have to say that I can see the fascinating with shopping for furniture, though. Every time I end up at IKEA or some such store with my friends, we end up gawking for hours at the utterly weird accessories and gadgets people come up with just to spice up, say, an alarm clock.

I was going to mention how it seems like the newbies are paired off with each other, apart from the original four residents, but further thought made me realize this was already happening, since the beginning: Hiro and Sae are one set, as is Yuno and Miyako. Presumably by the time we are comfortable with Nori and Nazuna, there will be a whole new set of Married Couple jokes.

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Yui on guitar.

The strange thing is that I might have to place K-On as one of my top anime if I based it on my previously-stated metric, which measures rankings by how much the anime has influenced me and my way of thinking. This applies to Cardcaptor Sakura, which taught me that Everything Will Be All Right; The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which taught me that with the right mindset, every day can be a great adventure; and Hidamari Sketch, which taught me about the beauty in simple things.

(Before anyone accuses me of having a narrow reference pool, I also consider, say, the Discworld series of books on the same tier, by teaching me the value of a good laugh. My writing style is directly descended from my attempts at trying to write like Pratchett. I only mention the anime series just now because this is an anime blog.)

With my top three anime as mentioned, I have no problems with their rankings: they have indirectly changed my life, entirely through changing the way I see the world. (I suppose I'm easily impressionable.) And yet, I hesitate to put K-On in my pantheon of greats.

It's not that I don't like the show. Indeed, I love it; it's fun, funny, and great entertainment, especially whenever Tsumugi appears onscreen. I don't mind rewatching it, and indeed do exactly that. And yet, I cannot quite class it as having "changed my life", since it approached the ranking system from another angle, quite unexpected. I have been remiss in not being clearer in my criteria. Cardcaptor Sakura, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Hidamari Sketch have altered my view of the world in some deep, fundamental way.

K-On altered my experiences in listening to any song that consists of guitars, bass, drums, and assorted stuff that could conceivably be synthesized on a keyboard, by making me picture the K-On girls performing that song. Hardly something so earth-shaking.

It's not as though After School Tea Time fits the music, which can range from "Kimi ni Fuku Kaze" (Full Metal Panic Fumoffu) to the later rock guitar segment of Final Fantasy 6's "Dancing Mad". It is more along the lines of a sort of earworm, except for mental images: you cannot quite get rid of it, despite your best efforts. It just happens. I just see Yui in my mind's eye, flawlessly executing "I'll Face Myself" from Persona 4.

I suppose it's a side-effect of my belief that as long as there is good music and cute girls, I'll be able to enjoy an anime. Therefore, when listening to good music, my mind supplies the cute girls. The thought of the girls of K-On rocking out to something impressively complicated (while in their school uniforms) is also amusing enough to fix that mental image quite firmly.

It helps that a lot of the songs I see the K-On girls play have a lot of what some friends of mine like to call "guitar spam", where the lead guitar gets to show off for pretty much the entire song. I can imagine Azusa staring incredulously at Yui's sudden burst of skill, silently lamenting its ephemeral nature at the next exam.

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Sketch Switch, creditless version.

Since my fellow AnimeNauts co-blogger (who is, I admit, making the vast majority of the posts there, because he is some sort of blog-posting machine) was ordering stuff from Amazon (if you're wondering: the Blu-rays of Ghost In The Shell 2.0 and The Sky Crawlers, among other things; on a completely unrelated note, he does not own a Blu-ray player yet), I piggybacked Hidamari Sketch season 1, licenced by… Sentai Filmworks, it says on the case, and distributed by Section23 Films. Never heard of them, to be honest.

See, I do buy anime I like.

The DVD came in a case the same size and shape as a single DVD, except this time containing two DVDs, with all twelve episodes and two specials. Extra features are the usual DVD credits which I assume nobody watches, the clean opening and ending animations, various Also Available From The Same Distributors, and a downright bizarre ad for The Anime Network, which I will leave to people actually inside the US to bother testing out. Curse you, region-locks.

Subs-only (using the same yellow font that's been on every R1 anime DVD I've watched recently; seriously, is it a standard or something?), and the picture quality looks a little… low. I'm not sure how much of it is due to the originals, and how much is due to having to fit fourteen episodes onto two DVDs.

Well, at least it's widescreen.

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Vanishment OST cover.

I've obviously not seen The Vanishment of Haruhi Suzumiya yet, since it's, yanno, not released. (Well, I suppose it's technically released now in Japan, but I am not in Japan. More's the pity.) I have been listening to the soundtrack, though.

It is amazing.

I don't know how much of it is my bias in viewing anything related to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya favourably. And yet, while listening to the soundtrack, I can imagine the whole thing in my head, which I admit is likely to pale in comparison with the actual movie. (I blame this on a lack of imagination.)

The themes behind the tracks flow together very well, and so I cannot quite section them off into distinct segments in a mental timeline, but taking the broad view, I can vaguely picture the performance in five acts:

ACT I: Kyon wakes up, has fun with the SOS Brigade (even though he would never admit it), and things are normal, in its abnormality. It's strange and exciting and tiring to keep up with all the wacky hijinks, but Kyon is used to it. This is normal for him.

ACT II: Kyon wakes up, goes to school as usual, and… something is wrong. Something is just so slightly off about everything, not quite the same sort of normal he is used to, and he heads to class, and why is she there. And perhaps more importantly, why is she not there.

ACT III: Kyon struggles with what he believes to be the truth, and the evidence around him. Is this a dream? Was the life he knew a dream? Is this "normal"? What is normal, anyway?

ACT IV and V: I don't know how many people have read the story in its light novel form (translated or otherwise), so I'll just leave the rest unspoken for fear of spoilers.

Perhaps this is what is meant by a musical narrative.

There's also a bonus collection of Erik Satie's works, which appear to have been further injected into the anime fandom consciousness due to his first Gymnopedie being used in the trailer. I like listening to them (I have a CD or two somewhere of various Gymnopedies, although I can't remember where they are), but honestly my love goes out almost entirely to the first and last tracks: arrangements of "Itsumo no Fuukei", which I consider to be the unofficial theme of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

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