Lightning and Serah.

My entertainment options for the past week or so has been hijacked by my first foray into the present generation of consoles, which explains my general lack of updates or even noticing what has come to pass in the world of anime.

I got the Playstation 3 essentially for two games: Final Fantasy XIII and inFamous. With the discovery of Recettear and its subsequent devouring of my life, I added on Atelier Rorona onto the pile, and topped the list off with Bayonetta and Valkyria Chronicles. I am appalled at the amount of willpower it took me to pry myself away from my new toy.

This thing is dangerous to my productivity.

So far I've been enjoying Final Fantasy XIII. It simplifies the systems of the previous FFs, and distills it to its core essence. And while I miss the familiar tunes and themes from the earlier games, I can find no fault with the ones here. (Of course, I have the version with the Japanese voices and the English subtitles, which may be a factor.)

It even has an in-game encyclopedia/codex, with the Datalog. I'd prefer a lot more background info on the setting, but what's already there is fascinating enough.

Unfortunately, it also continues the trend of the Final Fantasy games of the recent years in being really, really depressing. I find myself gravitating to Vanille entirely because she isn't caught in the throes of despair… okay, let me rephrase that. Vanille doesn't act like she is caught in the throes of despair. I know the characters have had really bad things happen to them, but honestly it's a little difficult to handle such GRIMDARK all the time.

And Vanille looks like she has some Deep Dark Secrets of her own. I actually like the Yuffie-Selphie-Rikku type characters, which I keep feeling puts me in the tiny minority of the subset of the fandom who discusses these things on forums.

As in anime, I like the actual material, but the fandom seems to hate me. So it goes.

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Recette, master of disguise.

Yes, I'm still playing Recettear. And enjoying it immensely; it seems to have just the right amount of cheery optimism and anime cuteness and Just One More Timeslice gameplay that pushes all the right buttons, although I'd have to be distressingly vague on exactly where these buttons are.

I've even been chronicling my adventures in Pensee on my Livejournal, no doubt to the irritation of my friendslist. For a game that purports to be about a little girl trying to pay off her father's debt in a RPG-stereotypical fantasy town, there are some deep spoilers in there. There is an actual plot going on here. It is surprising and awesome.

I keep talking about how I think Recettear would make a good anime, although to be honest the actual game mechanics would probably have to be relegated to the background after maybe a feature episode or so, because the real meat is in the character interactions and events. Elan and Caillou, Tielle and her sister, Alouette and Prime, Louie and poverty, Griff and his hamminess… even stumbling-block character Euria has her own backstory happening, and we can orbit endlessly around the hilarity of most of the cutscenes. The ones which aren't hilarious are heartwarming, which is just as good.

Wild speculation has been made. We know it will never come to pass. We know it is just idle rambling. We know it's essentially fanfic. We don't care, because the idea is captivating. Fanfic it may be, but it is fun fanfic.

One thing I think would work exceptionally well is a little post-episode bit, drawn in a simpler style, of Charme dispensing mildly-inebriated advice in the Pub, which can be applied to Real Life. Have confidence in yourself. Don't worry too much about the future. Don't be reckless with people's hearts. Do one thing every day which scares you. Respect your elders. Wear sunscreen.

Things like that.

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Minette tries puppy-dog eyes.

Working through my backlog from the past season. It is strangely liberating to watch the deadlines for posting on this blog whiz by with nary a fare-thee-well.

I find that I'm far more likely to be favourably inclined towards an anime if it has little bits and sequences of cutesy art. These are usually signs of some sort of comedy happening, with the flailing arms and the blankly-panicking eyes and the snarking from the sidelines.

Shukufuku no Campanella is not going to be a contender for intellectual comedy, nevertheless, but at least it's fun. I admit this is a nebulous term defying easy description, but I can watch this show for the antics of the Tortilla sisters, or the bright and happy world Minette seems to live in, or the running gag of Chelsea's sense of direction (or lack thereof), or the various romantic misunderstandings Carina has over Leicester.

It's a good show to relax to. The artstyle is clean and bright and cute, and the characters are easy on the eyes. The setting is fascinating enough, with potential for exploration and elaboration, particularly with the various inventions Leicester produces which mimic modern-day devices, although I think a hedge clipper with a beam cannon might be a little further in the future than our present technology would allow.

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No idea who this is.

Where did the idea of magical girls being ultra-violent battle-happy beamspammers come from? This is distinct from merely being inclined to fight first and Zettai Daijoubu later; to qualify, the magical girl in question has to have their abilities occasionally defined in terms of "blast radius" and "ground zero".

The obvious source that comes to mind is Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, but like all obvious sources, it feels a little too obvious. I'd accept Nanoha as having popularized the concept into the mainstream, but I'm interested, in an academically-fascinated kind of way, if there was something earlier.

Despite my love of the genre, I don't actually know a lot about the history of magical girls. My interest can be traced quite directly from Card Captor Sakura (the best anime of all time, OF ALL TIME), and then expanding silently and insidiously to other examples of the concept, such as Minky Momo and Akazukin Chacha and suchlike. I suspect there may be an element of wish-fulfilment in these shows for their target audience: wouldn't you want to be someone with Special Powers just for a while? And since anything in life that comes free is viewed with perhaps justified suspicion, the price is having to keep it secret, or having to fight against the forces of darkness. Good, clean motivations, without much moral ambiguity.

Gigantic energy beams of annihilation might fall under the Special Powers category, but I'm not sure if they're as clear-cut in wish-fulfilment. This seems to be more or less the domain of action-adventure stories, particularly since these beams do damage; a lot of "classic" magical girl deals with "purification", rather than "beating the stupid out of". Here is an Enemy: would you rather use your powers to make them a Friend, or to blast them into the bedrock?

(Yes, I know Nanoha and others of her stripe tend to do both at once.)

Interestingly, apart from Nanoha herself, I haven't seen many straight examples of the beamspammer magical girl, and certainly none that come to mind right away. Most of the examples I've seen are one-off parodies in other anime, which focus both on the damage potential of the character of the show-in-a-show, as well as the fanservice and its effects on fandom demographics. The male late-teens to early-twenties anime fan is a frequent target of derision, particularly if they're seen to be interested in a show that is meant for a "purer" class, like the actual preteen girls the shows were originally said to be for.

Which makes it all the more stranger when the show is deliberately aimed towards these male anime fans, often to the direct detriment of the preteen girl demographic, and yet makes fun of its fans. Maybe we are assumed to be able to take a joke.

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Gendou in his trademark pose.

I'm back from Reservist training, and have been for most of a recuperative week. Part of the recuperation is in finding out what I missed in the two weeks I was essentially incommunicando.

Apparently a new anime season is starting up? This is not news, to be sure, but it does place me in a strange position: an anime blogger who has no idea what the new season brings, and is finding it increasingly difficult to care.

Which isn't to say that I have suddenly burned out on all anime ever, of course. Rather, I'd like to just pause the world for a week or two (perhaps to make up for the time I was gone), in order to catch up on the last season's anime.

Blogs have certain expectations of them, if they want to retain interested readers. If we blog about the latest and newest anime, it's understood to be our raison d'etre, and will obviously raise no commentary and eyebrows. If we blog about older anime, perhaps those of a few years past, it's "rediscovering" or "rewatching" or whatever. Slightly more unusual, but also no big deal.

But a blogger who goes through an anime series episodically one or two seasons behind the curve is… slow. Focusing on olds, rather than news, which in the case of a new media outlet like a blog is a cardinal sin.

Admittedly, this focus on the Newest And Latest can be waived to a certain degree: one aspect which differentiates a blog, particularly a hobby blog, from an actual Serious New Site is the element of activism that underlies everything we do. We post because we want to get our opinions out there, and because we think what we post is worth posting, by the low pandemonic standards of the Internet. We say what we say in front of an audience, however silent and unresponsive and imaginary.

And I keep thinking that I'll have things to say about the anime season that has already passed. I didn't get a chance to do more than a cursory glance at the first few episodes of Shukufuku no Campanella and Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi and there's even Amagami SS which I've only seen the first episode of, and already now there's The World God Only Knows coming out and dammit I just want to watch anime, is that so hard.

It's getting harder and harder for me to start caring about keeping up with the new anime coming out in Japan, but increasingly I want to watch the anime which I already have but haven't had a chance to go through. I wonder if lagging behind the curve by a season or two is acceptable.

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Also, I'll be taking a break from the blog, and indeed the Internet as a whole, for two weeks until the week of October 2nd.

This is not entirely by choice, but since I have to do this sort of thing every year, I might as well suck it up.

Apologies for the terse announcement. Lots of things happening in my life; apart from this Reservist call-up, it's mostly good, but it has kind of reduced my mental processes to a kind of soft mush.

And I'm still too overwhelmed by the K-On finale.

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I can't think of anything to say. I can't even decide which screenshot to use.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Nodoka blushing.

Mio's right: blushing Nodoka is kind of rare. And kind of cute, too.

They've really been pushing the whole "this is the last time we'll be together" thing these past few episodes. All Good Things and all that, which kind of reflects my last year of secondary school. (The less said about my years in Junior College the better.) We've also been with the girls of After School Tea Time for so long that it feels like we're approaching the same conceptual barrier of Graduation and Leaving, no matter how long it was since we were last in school ourselves.

I wonder what's going to happen to the Light Music Club now that Azusa is the only official member. I suppose we'll have to wait for the final episode to find out.

I also wonder if Nodoka managed to pass on the leadership of the Mio Akiyama Fan Club to the next Student Council president.

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Recette and Tear.

There's something fascinating about watching the Internet pick up on this strange little doujin game from Japan that got released on Steam/Impulse/GamersGate.

Obviously, I love Recettear. It features lots of cute girls, including a cute girl as the player character and another cute fairy girl as her advisor. The art style of the character designs is almost calculated to grab me right there, although where there is I shall leave to your fertile imaginations. The music is happy and cheery, and the tinny retro MIDI nature adds to its charm, because sometimes I just want to listen to something that reminds me of the bright happy games and colours of the games of my youth, ie the SNES era. I'd willingly fork out money for a soundtrack.

The dialogue and much-vaunted translation is amusing, which add points to its favour, but it is not a multiplier per se. I mean, I like it, but it does not loom as large in my estimation of the overall package as the characters and the way they're drawn and the way they act and the catchy music that plays in the background when they do what they do. The gameplay does not take away points, but it's actually not really my main draw towards the game; it's not something which annoys or frustrates me, but it does not add value as such.

Based on the commentary I've seen about this game, I actually like it for the aspects which many others see as a disincentive.

"Too anime", they gripe, and I have to mentally adjust my filters to allow that they do not like anime in the way I do. They do not obsess over anime as I frequently do in my blog postings, and the fact that I even have a blog dedicated to the cute girls in anime sets me apart from these people.

But anime is more of a collection of styles than a specific genre, and further complaints about Recettear include it being "too cutesy". Again, this is contrary to my tastes: I like cutesy. I like sugary sweet, I like high-pitched voices squeaking and gasping and cheerily greeting me "good morning~" and burbling about how they had a wonderful dream about having all the sweets they could eat. I don't cringe from it like many do; I actively seek it out, because I think it's cute, and I like cute.

And to turn this standard rant about liking what I like and how there's no accounting for my tastes into another direction, I found myself wondering why I am different.

Except it's not a good idea to pack all the meaning I intend into such a short statement. What I meant was that yes, I'm free to like what I like… but I'm told this in the same way I might be told that I'm free to not like chocolate (this is true, by the way; I don't like chocolate, although I don't hate it). Or that I don't use Facebook (too many other social networking update sites for me). It sets me apart in a "well, there's no accounting for taste" kind of way, and I wonder why my taste has to be accounted for in the first place.

Who decided, for instance, that "cutesy" was bad? Where comes this social expectation that I am not allowed to squee over cute girls and cute clothes and cute music and other "childishly cute things", just because I happen to be a guy in my late twenties? I am not demanding an answer in the fist-shaking placard-waving manner of the Truly Righteous, but this is not a rhetorical question. I would indeed like to know.

There is this perception that people who like the things I do are… well, less than commendable. Why? What is it about the nature of the things we like that are unacceptable for the greater social (whether Real Life or Internet) milieu? They tell me that moe is killing anime, and I simply do not see it, any more than mecha was killing anime, or shounen fighting series was killing anime, or the shoujo that inspired quite a lot of the moe aesthetic. It's a trend; I happen to like this one, but it too shall pass. Just because there are bad shows cashing in on the trend doesn't mean there weren't bad shows cashing in on other trends. It seems unfair to single out "moe" and "cute" as some sort of disgustingly perverted villain.

Yes, I spend lots of money because of the cute anime girls, although it should more properly be for the cute anime clothes being worn on cute anime girls. This has never struck me as being bad; I spend money on what I like, since it's a drop in the ocean beside the vast fortunes spent collectively on, say, Gundam models, or Apple merchandise, or sports memorabilia.

I get the odd feeling that people try to categorize me based on my interests. I do fit into a category; it just isn't the category people think I'm in. This dissonance is frustrating for me, since it's not like those who categorize me with sweeping generalizations actually care about me and people like me enough to amend their statements.

I am not like what I am accused of being, but neither do I suggest that I am better (or worse) than that. This sudden unspoken and unlisted hierarchy of fandom is mysterious and opaque to me, as are its point and purpose.

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An interesting situation that arises in anime with that odd label of "slice of life" is that during a Valentine's Day episode, not much is expected to happen.

Now, if it was labelled with "romance", then we may see sparks. But here, in an all-girls' school, in a series that doesn't quite have much to do with the increasingly-parodied relationship between a girl and another girl in a politically-dubious way, we mostly just have comedy.

This is understandable, of course. Otherwise, there would be a question of who the recipient of Valentine's Day Chocolate would be, and the show would have to introduce a brand new character. It is the nature of blogs to wonder innocently why these girls don't seem to have picked up boyfriends, while also providing commentary on the less salubrious aspects of fandom threatening grievous harm at the thought of these fictional characters being in a fictional relationship.

Of course, since I've never had a girlfriend ever, it's not like I'm one to talk.

One idea which keeps popping into my head is some sort of fanfic (or other fanwork) with one of the K-On girls introducing her boyfriend to the others. It doesn't even need to be naughty; I can already imagine the all-too-awkward conversations as the other girls try to figure out just what this strange creature possessing a Y chromosome (and the heart of one of their own) is actually like as a person.

For some reason, I picture the one most likely to have a boyfriend to be Azusa, entirely because she will probably have the most normal reaction to the bizarre actions of the others.

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