Archive for the “ramblings” Category

Koumei the Strategist.

Despite theoretically having had more free time, life tends to get in the way, as this abundance of copious free time is seen by others as an opportunity for me to get out into the fresh air more. Or something. I'm not begrudging them or anything; it's just a Thing. I am easily amused.

It did surprise me quite a bit when I realized that for the last anime season, I really could only follow a very few shows with any sort of regularity (Kampfer and A Certain Scientific Railgun), while trying to track down several other older shows that I've taken a renewed interest in. I just did not have the time or energy to do much more than that; I can watch the anime, but to blog about it requires me to devote brainpower to the matter at hand.

It's an interesting problem: here is an anime title. We don't know much about it. We can check reference sites like Anime News Network, but the summaries may not tell us enough about what the show is about, especially if it's a new show. The tags can be useful, but "comedy" can mean anything from Excel Saga to Pani Poni Dash to Negima. Just because I am in the mood for the fanservicey laughs of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu doesn't mean I can settle for the black humour of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, or the mood whiplash of Kanamemo.

And summary blurbs often try to avoid spoilers, which, to me, reduces potential interest value. What is considered a spoiler, anyway? Would the primary revelation of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya be considered a spoiler? I've heard arguments either way; revealing it would spoil the surprise, but not revealing it has made people dismiss it as Just Another School Days Comedy.

Additional interest in the franchise or the subject matter is another factor. For example, I ignored Persona Trinity Soul the first time it came out. Now I'm working my way through it, although I have to say that I don't think my initial assessment of it was all that incorrect: if it wasn't for the Persona link, it's not all that good a show.

So now not only do I have to watch the shows I missed in the last season, I also have the shows I missed in the last last season, and any shows I picked up based on new information on whether I'd enjoy it.

Backlog is a harsh mistress.

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Consider every joke made.

I've never liked Neon Genesis Evangelion. This isn't to say that I hated it or anything, but more that it failed to fully elicit any sort of severe response in any direction. I didn't hate it, and I didn't like it; I was just not interested in it.

Which, I suppose, is sort of the problem, and worse than active dislike of the series: Evangelion failed to interest me, and so the only emotion I drew from the series itself (distinct from the emotions I have towards the fandom, which ranges from polite attention to eye-twitching irritation) was boredom. The series failed to engage me at any level. I've been classified as a hater of the series because of this, which I think kind of misses the issue: I don't have the passion to hate Neon Genesis Evangelion. It's just there. You may as well ask me what I think about the cultivation of yams.

From conversations with people who are fans of the series, it appears that a common thread (but by no means universal) is the ability to identify with the main characters, most often Shinji. (Occasionally Asuka is held to be the identifiable character; sometimes Misato.) They see themselves in Shinji, and they can empathize heavily with what he is going through.

Or maybe not, and I am completely misunderstanding the situation. I can kind of see it academically, but I cannot quite grok it to the fullness of understanding. This is because the three main characters, Shinji, Asuka, and Rei, are thoroughly unidentifiable for me. About the closest character I can empathize with is Rei, since she's quiet and unassuming, but I hear that she's not supposed to be empathizable, so I apparently have been suckered in or something.

I'm pretty sure I was never like Shinji or Asuka. This is not a boast, since it's entirely likely that I was in some way worse. But I didn't have parental issues, and I grew up in a happy home environment. There is just nothing connecting me with people who went through what Shinji and co. did. It's kind of like a cultural gap, except not exactly cultural, but more circumstantial. I recognize that it is a valid personality type; it's just not mine.

I think the character who would have the same sort of reactions I would might be Maya Ibuki. Her actions seem kind of natural, at least.

And since I can't empathize with the main characters, my other option was to watch them from the outside, seeing how they act from the viewpoint of an invisible observer. Considering my usual tastes in comedy and lighthearted fun, however, Evangelion held no joy for me.

I can understand that it is significant to the culture of anime, as well as its enormous influence. But I just don't like it. This has no bearing on its quality or its importance; just my personal tastes.

I should probably be spending more time on this topic, but not only do I not have the time or inclination to do so, I also don't think there is anything more that has not already been said by many others far more eloquent than I am.

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A Long-Expected Party.

As I grow farther away from what is known as the Youth Market, I realize that technically I should not be as obsessed with all these things which are meant to appeal to a target audience about a decade younger than I. Still, I react to that assertion with the sort of indifference which marks either acceptance or escapism: being grown-up does not bring with it maturity as much as greater disposable income.

I realize that I'm certainly not the oldest anime fan around, or even near to that qualification. I am still in the generation of Newfangles, and our Snappers are Whippered. I have had occasion to hastily remove myself from a surprising variety of virtual lawns.

And yet, it is a minor shock to realize that it is possible for a young anime fan to ask me "so how long have you been watching anime?", and thanks to a relatively early start, I can honestly reply "longer than you've been alive". (If you're wondering: counting only the time I was aware that it was anime and not just a random cartoon, about fourteen to fifteen years; I forget exactly.)

Anime fans above the target age of the Youth Market tend to have a certain reputation, deserved or otherwise: curmudgeonly and crotchety, liable to express views along the lines of "in my time". To be fair, this applies to more or less every community that is predominantly under the age of 25: I've seen it in all sorts of situations, and the flamewars start to look the same after a while. I suppose this is also something that comes with age, in the sense that it is more rightly associated with experience; age merely provides more time for this experience to happen in.

But age seems to be of great concern in certain discussions, especially in touchier situations. I have been told that my habit of rambling on in complete and complex sentences is a sign of some elemental concept of Maturity lacking in Young People These Days. Few people seem to believe me when I point out that I've always communicated like this on the Internet, ever since I found out about the Internet in the first place. (Which was, incidentally, around the time I discovered anime as anime. Figuring out what these strange cartoons were categorized under helped immensely.) I'm not sure how it happened; it just turned out that way.

Conversely, I've also been accused of being far younger than I am, or at least more immature. I cannot comprehensively dispute the "immature" label, since it's not something I can self-diagnose, but the chronological aspect is easily disproven. From context, it appears that I am part of the Newbie group entirely because I like current anime. These anime are not targeted at my age group, I admit; perhaps this is why I am assumed to be of the age the anime are targeted towards.

It's a little odd to make such assumptions, I think. After all, just because I like Card Captor Sakura doesn't make me a ten-year old girl, as novel as that would be.

A common analogue I've seen would be a certain sort of gamer decrying people who like Final Fantasy 7 or later, claiming that they Have Not Experienced Better. They point to the Super Nintendo era as the True Classics; seeing as I started gaming on the old Nintendo Game And Watch and Atari 2600, I think I may be misunderstanding the criteria for "True Classic". I like Final Fantasy 6 more than Final Fantasy 7, but I still like Halo more than Doom. When people say "remember the time when games were better than today's" I have to honestly reply "no, I don't remember, sorry."

Nostalgia is perfectly acceptable, and reminiscing about stuff I've seen before in happier times is not an activity that is inherently deplorable. However, saying that they are objectively better because of their age, occuring in some sort of Golden Age of Anime, is simply incoherent and bizarre. I recognize that the whole "moe" thing may not last, and if everything swings towards a Darker and Edgier and Angstier style, I'd probably stick to my happy shiny fluffy moe bishoujo harem comedies. But that is preference by genre, not by age, except by coincidence.

After all, it's not like I can claim Ranma 1/2 to have any objective superiority to To-Love-Ru.

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Since I don't rightly know if putting the actual music onto my blog will make Maestro yell at me, I'll just use the Youtube versions for now.

There's something about the simple, catchy tunes in a certain sort of anime BGM that appeals to me in a deep, primal way. They would probably not win any music awards, and bear more similarity to muzak than anything else, but it's the happy, bouncy sort of backgound noise that sticks in the mind as indelibly as the girl from Ipanema.

I suppose I noticed it first with Azumanga Daioh and "Saa, hajimari yo", which later acquired vocals in "Kaze no Iro March". It's the sort of BGM which fits a slice-of-life series, and I admit that I only use "slice-of-life" as a convenient well-recognized term to differentiate from, say, sports or action anime. What I mean by "slice-of-life" is the sort of story which does not focus on being the strongest or the classical Hero's Journey or some sort of dramatic revelation or other. Rather, it's the quiet, everyday, unremarkable happenings of the characters going through their daily routines. A group of friends, being friends.

This can obviously be present in an anime of another overall genre, since character interactions are an important part of almost every story, apart from the more Artsy (or grandfathered) sort. What I speak of are the moments where sweeping orchestral scores or ominous Latin-esque chanting would be out-of-place, as are delicately sorrowful strings or lonely soloists. Moments of simple happiness, the sort we can experience ourselves in our own lives. I'm a great believer that life should have its own soundtrack, and these tracks make it all worthwhile.

Admittedly, I usually have to have seen the source anime before the full impact of the BGM can be felt. This may be why I tend to mentally recite the spiel about the nonexistence of Santa Claus whenever my mp3 player turns up "Itsumo no Fuukei".

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From Chocotto Vampire.

Through no real deliberate intent on my part, I seem to have drifted away from what I suppose could be broadly called "the anime blogging community". I suppose I'm technically still a part of this "community", in that I am blogging anime, and thus I can be considered to be part of the anime blogging community by default. And yet, I don't actually participate in any of the activities that would make me a Part Of The Community beyond that which is conferred merely by existing.

I suspect that a part of it is due to Real Life. The pace has either stepped up, or my brain has stepped down; both possibilities are equally plausible and disturbing. Apart from the obvious side effect of leaving me with less time to enjoy my hobbies, anime watching and blogging being among them, it does mean that I cannot quite eke out the mental fortitude to engage in the spirited volleys that passes for conversation among fandom.

Very few blogs, this one included sometimes, actually want to engage in discussion. Most of the time, it's just a venue to air our viewpoints, however we see fit to do so. In many occasions I've tried to be patient and rational in a debate with someone who is clearly not interested in dialogue, a fact which is borne out when the other party says in effect "actually I don't care what you or anyone else says, I'm just venting". I have no inherent objections against venting if it is made clear that the rant is not a topic to be discussed in depth. Otherwise, the failure in communication just wastes time.

This gets even worse when it comes to the statement of opinions. One thing I learned to do is to make sure that when it comes to touchy topics, it is abundantly clear which parts of what I am saying is fact, and which parts are opinion. The rule of thumb is that if it's not firm enough to be printed as a reputable source (ie "go to press"), then it's opinion. It's a little like that quote about journalists calling murderers "the alleged murderer" and the King of England "the alleged King of England" to avoid defamation suits.

What it all boils down to is that I have the option of Participating In The Anime Blogging Community by sparring with the people involved, or staying out of it all and spending my time watching anime instead. I simply do not have the Copious Free Time or emotional willpower to engage in both activities at once on a regular basis. It's difficult enough to come to terms with my own unpopular opinions, such as with the run of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's "Endless Eight" (summary: I really liked it), but when I see another post bashing it (fine) with incorrect language (not fine), I have to hold my figurative tongue rather than get into an argument I know I cannot finish.

So it goes.

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From the Hidamarble song collection booklet.

For some reason, once you become an established blogger who does okay-ish in terms of site hits, nowhere near the Big Guys but still kind of ego-boosting, a great many people start wanting to recruit you into their blogs.

I'm not entirely certain why. Maybe it has something to do with having developed your own style, or showing that you actually know how to spell, or something along those lines. Why I was not so scouted a few years back when I was blogless (well, I had and still have a Livejournal, but it's more for slice-of-life) is a mystery.

I turn these invitations down. The chief, primary, and overriding reason is because I have enough trouble writing my requisite posts on this blog, much less come up with something new and different for someone else's. It's the time factor, mostly: so many things are happening in Real Life that require my attention, largely because they tie kind of directly into being able to eat, preferably while watching anime with an Internet connection. I have this chunk of hobby time which looks substantial, but quickly gets consumed by all sorts of things, mostly due to stuff I agreed to do during the less hectic times. They're still technically hobbies, but being responsible for them turns them into obligations which I have to do, whether I continue enjoying them or not.

Blogging about a subject in general takes up more time than simple typing speed would indicate. For one thing, I have to keep up with both the anime I want to blog about, and the anime that everyone else is blogging about, and the anime that may or may not be blog-worthy. (These may be the same thing.) While I am doing so, I also have to find something to say about them, rather than the usual "eh, it's good" or "eh, it's not good".

Other stuff like GamerS I treat as a test of my improvisational abilities. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. So it goes.

All this has left me surprisingly little time for my other hobbies; I've been meaning to continue my long-abandoned Card Captor Sakura fanfic, but unless I can justify it by posting it in instalments on this blog (which I doubt will be welcome by anyone), it will have to wait. And then there's the whole genderbending thing to work on, sometime.

I mention all this not to whine, but… well, maybe just to whine a little. But the original intention was to illustrate why I always seem to be posting Things Of No Substance every week, both sometime on Saturday evenings.

I have also received a rather more compelling offer to write for another anime blog; the extra compulsion is because the offer was extended by Real Life friends. In the fevered contemplation that ensued, I was wondering what the reactions here would be if I moved all my standard anime reviews there, and kept the "side" stuff like the CCS episode summaries and Nanoha GamerS here. I could link or crosspost the review-type stuff back here, as a lazy shortcut. There shall be the place for the more respectable face of anime blogging (relatively speaking); I am quite certain that nobody else on the Internet is going to want to host these weird screenshot comics of questionable legality.

Knowing these guys in Real Life and interacting with them on a regular basis allows for some extra accountability: if someone seems to be slacking off, we can commence with the "wtf mate" and smacking each other upside the head, like a peculiarly injokey Stooge troupe.

Honestly, what I'd really like is a year off from all obligations, so I can work on what I want to, when I want to. There's a zillion stories I want to write, but life is not so easy. I should have called this an anime and creative writing blog. I'm still tempted to do so, but the decision never seems to stick, especially in the cold light of dawn.

Time shall tell how it will all end.

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Especially if it comes with the girl.

I need to start balancing out my reading habits.

If I were to be categorized into a broad fan archetype, I'd most certainly be in the "fanfiction writer" class, albeit dabbling into "blogger" (quite obviously). I've been thinking about it for over a decade now, about as long as I've been an anime fan (actually rather longer, since I started writing non-anime fanfics), and I still can't figure out if my writing of fanfics can be considered to be by choice. Blogging is most certainly a choice: I have lots of things to say about various stuff related to anime, but actually taking the time to type it all out is something that is a conscious decision. In fact, my actual posting schedule (the two-posts-per-week turning up both on Saturday at the last possible moment) might indicate that it's become a sort of self-imposed obligation, a challenge to see how long I can keep this charade up.

Writing stories is another matter: I am forever struck by the impression that if I don't write out the plot ideas that swirl around in my skull, my head will explode. It will be messy.

Currently I'm hammering out yet another story that involves Magical Girls. I've started and abandoned this genre so many times that it's more like I'm waiting for an extended period of maybe a year or so where I can really get to work on just writing, without all the bothersome Real Life stuff getting in the way. Maybe after I've written my mandatory million words of crap in this genre, I can start turning out something of actual substance and value.

The problem I'm facing now is not the old one of cultural bias. I figure that I may as well write everything with Westernized names, and call it "localization". Any complaints that I should have used Japanese names and cultural situations I shall weave together into a banner of I Told You So.

Rather, I am having difficulties in thinking in prose.

Manga, or at least the manga that I read, has an interesting visual flow: the situation is presented to us by means of the panel layouts and their contents, with the text reserved for dialogue and offhand explanations when absolutely necessary. The bigger text boxes and balloons seem to be largely for infodumps, which complement the action on the page. Compare this to many modern Western superhero comics (I have to qualify all of that because invariably someone will probably come up with something beyond my experience), where the panels contain the characters in some dramatic pose or other, while the page is filled with text. The characters just kind of stand there, letting the exposition flow around them. The same amount of dialogue in a single comic book panel will likely be spread out through several much smaller panels in manga; I suspect that the black-and-white nature of most manga has something to do with this.

In any case, I find myself thinking of this story in terms of manga. Here, we have a beat panel, to set up a gag about how the viewpoint character is tailed by his rather odd girlfriend. (Yes, it may be considered a wish-fulfilment story. So it goes.) There, we have a jumpy sort rant about soemthing or other, while another deadpan character does something nonchalant and decidedly bizarre in the background. It's not easy to translate imagery like this into prose, where just about anything that is pointed out in the text should have a reason for being there. Hanging a great big neon sign saying "HERE IS THE JOKE, LAUGH AT THIS" kind of kills the humour.

But since I've run out of shelf space to buy more books, and I've read most of the local library's selection already (not that they have that large a selection), my fiction reading material these days is limited to scanlations and such, which take up little physical space. (I do buy the manga if I like them; I'm waiting for the next Negima Del Rey release, for example.) This may be the source of the problem.

To attempt to correct this, I've been digging out all my old books from dusty boxes to figure out why they're in dusty boxes instead of on my shelves. A cursory reading often reminds me why, as with E. E. "Doc" Smith's Triplanetary:

While not essentially bloodthirsty — that is, not loving bloodshed for its own sweet sake — they were no more averse to blood-letting than they were in favour of it. Any amount of killing which would or which might advance an Eddorian towards his goal was commendable; useless slaughter was frowned upon, not because it was slaughter, but because it was useless — and this inefficient.

And, instead of the multiplicity of goals sought by the various entities of any race of Civilization, each and every Eddorian had only one. The same one: power. Power! P-O-W-E-R!!

I realize that styles have changed over the decades and the Lensman saga is a classic, but it's kind of hard to read something as overblown as that and maintain dramatic tension. Then again, another Dramatic option I seem to have unearthed is Tolkien's Silmarillion, which would probably finish off what's left of my writing style.

Strangely, my current habit of thinking in manga panels does not help me with GamerS: for a gag to be pulled off, the scenes need to be set exactly, with little deviation. Since I am working with pre-existing images, I find that my ad-libbing abilities have been getting the workout more than anything planned. All the GamerS jokes, funny or otherwise, are almost always conceived of about ten to fifteen minutes after I browse through the screenshot collection. So much for planning.

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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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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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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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