You are currently browsing the Obsessivity weblog archives for October, 2006.

28 Oct 2006

Discovering Noir

Anime

It wasn’t long ago that I had no clue what anime was.

Well, I knew it was a Japanese cartoon form. My kids have watched the various duelling animes over the years, Pokemon and the like. I never considered it as an entertainment medium that could do more than replace American-style animal cartoons with badly drawn kids yelling at each other.

I think it was in 2004 that Cartoon Network showed .Hack//SIGN. I caught a little of it. Not enough to understand what was going on – but enough to find it beginning to hold my interest. I rented the series one DVD at a time from GreenCine. In fact, I think it was the reason I opened my GreenCine account.

When I started to understand the story, I found it fascinating. When I realized that it expanded into a PS/2 video game, I played the game through. I watched the four episode OVA that is included with the game.

All in all, the whole .Hack multimedia experience is highly absorbing, especially for someone who was a massively multiplayer gaming addict. All of the components bind together and build on each other, which is something I’ve never seen elsewhere.

I realized that there was something to anime beyond cute monsters beating the snot out of each other. I watched other series, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, which almost cured me of ever wanting to watch anime again. Fortunately, I also saw enough of Cowboy Bebop to know that there were series with interesting, ideosyncratic characters and plots, with stories that could be light-hearted or deeply moving.

I listened to soundtrack music, which can be extremely good. From the .Hack series, and especially .Hack//Liminality, the OVAs that accompany the game, I discovered the music of Kajiura Yuki. I bought the soundtrack CDs, and am still enthralled by them. I wanted to hear more, and I’ve made a point of seeking out series that use her music.

One of those was a “girls with guns” anime named Noir. It didn’t look especially interesting, but it was Kajiura’s first major anime, so it seemed to be a good place to start. And GreenCine is ideal for movies that may or may not be of interest.

I’m not sure that the anime itself had me hooked immediately. I think it took a couple of episodes for that. Actually, I think it was the “popcorn” scene in episode 3. But the music – from the moment the haunting music box theme morphs into the backdrop for a high-energy dance of death, with Kirika killing everyone in sight, without losing the mystical feel of the music box – you know that this is something special. Those Noir tracks are still those I like the best among my Kajiura collection.

It doesn’t take long before the emotional impact of the series catches up with the effect of the music. I didn’t rent more than three DVDs from GreenCine, because I had already decided that I needed to own them. It didn’t matter that I half-expected to hate the ending; I had to buy the set, and I’ve now watched it many times, dubbed and subtitled.

I doubt that I will ever find a series that I enjoy more than Noir, or that has as much of an impact on me. If I were to define what I believe to be the best show I’ve ever seen, I’d have a hard time choosing between: the BBC production of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Babylon 5; and Noir.

Though I don’t expect another anime ever to topple Noir from its top place in my personal listings, the series showed me that it’s possible for the medium to transcend the kids’ cartoon – in many ways.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
(writing) “Skeptics” project

28 Oct 2006

The “skeptics” project

Writing

So, I’m not really sure what I should say here. Obviously, when it gets to The Book, I’m not going to mention plot, if for no other reason than I don’t want it stolen.

This “project” is a little different, though. If it’s going to work, I’ll eventually go public with it. Sooner or later I’ll have to give details. And right now it’s a major obsession, so I can’t really avoid it.

I’m not a fanfic writer. Fanfic has improved over the years, and it’s often a high-quality fictional product these days. For me, though, I wouldn’t want to work with someone else’s characters. I can’t do justice to another writer’s canon. I might possibly be able to set stories in another’s world, if I avoid their primary characters, but then it wouldn’t be as interesting. And there aren’t that many world settings outside of CJ Cherry’s merchanter space that would support disparate storylines.

So I started thinking about a setting that could go beyond a single storyline, and came up with something I think could work quite well. It’s a contemporary fantasy, centering around a group of rational skeptics who aren’t quite what they seem. The ground seems to be sufficiently fertile for several threads of stories, with comedic possibilities. I’m working on an episodic story as a starter. I’d see it primarily supporting episodic or stand-alone short stories.

What I’d like to do, after I finish this story, is open the world up for development, and solicit stories from others. I’d ask other writers to contribute to shared background in a wiki, and publish any stories online. I’m not sure whether the background itself is robust enough for that, but I think it’s an interesting concept, and I’d like to try.

My own series of stories borrows heavily from anime clichés, and would probably be better expressed in manga-form, if I could draw. And, yes, one of the clichés is yuri, and it isn’t comedic. I like it well enough so far to want to see it published online, so I’m hoping I can make the project work.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
(writing) “Skeptics” project

26 Oct 2006

Elfen Lied – Complete

Anime

[spoiler /Moderate spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] Alright, I like ambiguous endings, but – good grief! Still, I’ve invented one I like, and given that, I think it was quite satisfying.[/spoiler]

Looks like this won’t drop off the obsessions list for a few days, anyway. Definitely recommended – if you don’t mind nudity and extreme violence in anime, and if you can tolerate a fair few anime cliches.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied
(writing) “Skeptics” project

23 Oct 2006

The not-so-private blog

General

I lurk in the #simoun IRC channel (waiting for episode 17 still – it’s a release candidate now! And others coming up quickly…). In trading information with one of the channel operators, I gave him the email address that I use, plus my main email address (which is currently unusable, since I’m over 10,000 spam messages out of date). He said “oh, yeah, I think I was reading your blog recently.”

My response: “Oh, god, how?”

I know that this blog isn’t private. That’s why there’s nothing personal in here. But I didn’t expect it to be “discovered” for any reason so quickly. I guess the automated updating tools that keep blog space current work efficiently. Plus he was looking for entries about Simoun on Google’s blog search, which narrows the field significantly. Still, it was a shock.

I have two goals for this site: 1) my own amusement, and 2) a way to outline my thoughts as I head into version 3 of The Book. It seems (and has been, so far) useful to me to lay out the obsessions that have led to where I am, and that will both feed and distract from the process of creating the story I want to tell – and to do that in a sufficiently public way that I really have to think about what I’m doing.

That’s the main point to a blog, as such, rather than a diary or private text file. I wouldn’t bother to keep a diary up to date. I’ve tried it before, and it just doesn’t happen. After a few entries I’m bored, and what I do write is clumsy and self-centered. That may also be true here, but there’s a constraint to make my thoughts presentable, if not interesting.

So, yes, I know that this is public, and it’s true that the selection set that led to discovery was small (i.e. it’s not that small a world, still). Nevertheless, it’s a surprise to learn that it is so easy to be found.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied

22 Oct 2006

The Book, version 1.5

Writing

Continued from The Book, version 1

EverQuest consumed my free time from 2001-2004. Well, there were plenty of other things, obsessive and otherwise, but when it came to a choice between thinking through an alternate strategy for The Book and levelling up my bard, Caetherne won every time.

Taking a break from EQ in 2004 didn’t help much. I still didn’t have a fix, and EQ2 was just around the corner. Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 were in there somewhere. I’d rank FFX alongside the the best emotionally involving animes, so that one kept me hooked for multiple reasons, and I’m sure I’ll come back to it in these notes.

The biggest problem I had with The Book was the way that Andy had taken over. Which was bad for the story I was trying to write, but suggested something more interesting, with Andy as the protagonist. So I contemplated rewriting with her as the lead. That caused me problems with the plot, since Malcolm, as the older, more experienced partner, would be the one who knew what was going on. So a lot of my thinking was about a whole new storyline.

The problem was that whatever plot I conceived ran into a roadblock when I considered the romantic aspect. As the junior partner, I couldn’t see her as the dominant partner in the romantic relationship between them. But even less could I see her being submissive. It just wouldn’t be Andy.

If I stayed with convention, Andy would be the lesser partner, and that wouldn’t be interesting. I could certainly make her the dominant partner – especially with Malcolm, as I envisioned him, being something of a burn-out – but that ran the risk of distracting from the rest of the story. It wouldn’t be a romance, and I couldn’t afford for the romantic subplot to interfere with the story.

I played with the idea of Malcolm not being her love-interest. That had possibilities. I liked the idea of her being more independent of Malcolm. He would lead the investigation-related aspect of the story, but there’s no need for the protagonist to be in charge. In fact, it would give me another source of friction.

But I came back to the same issue. What would Andy’s boyfriend be like, if I added a third main character? If he could act as a foil for a strong-willed sardonic girl, he’d likely start taking over the story. If he couldn’t, I’d be back to the distracting idea of the submissive male. I’d want them to be more balanced than either, for the sake of the narrative, and I just couldn’t see a good way to do it, or a good role for him.

I didn’t feel that I could build a good plot until I understood how the characters related, but whatever I did wouldn’t allow either the two or the three to relate in a way that made for a good story. So again, I put it aside. It would take a new obsession to suggest an alternative to me.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied

18 Oct 2006

Trivia

Anime

I’m rewatching Strawberry Panic!. On second viewing, I see that there’s foreshadowing. Not subtle (which would be unexpected for this series), but moving nonetheless. [spoiler /Foreshadowing – ending spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] Suzumi Tamao’s poem about hopeless devotion to an unreachable rainbow is clearly predicting her unrequited love for Aoi Nagisa.[/spoiler]

I found a review of Erementar Gerad at the Anime News Network. No, I’m not still obsessing, but I am trying to find details of the soundtrack, and I stumbled across this. It’s a good review. Basically condemns the show – for all the right reasons – and says why it’s still so much fun. It’s true. This is definitely not one of the world’s great series, but it’s surprisingly enjoyable to watch. I’d also agree that while Ren is cute, she really is far too withdrawn to be an interesting lead. She acquires something of a personality later in the series, but good grief, let her at least open those unfocused eyes occasionally. “Coud” is sometimes the only word she seems capable of saying. [spoiler /Mild spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] And both she and Coud give up on each other far too often. Happening once is required by the cliché, but this gets old.[/spoiler]

All things considered, it really is surprising that Erementar Gerad is fun to watch.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied

17 Oct 2006

Erementar Gerad – Complete

Anime

Postponing the last four episodes was definitely a good idea. It would have been hard to take a break between them. Yeah, okay, it’s mostly been done before, but it was still a good story.

I did mean to mention the reason I watched it in the first place. Reading the description made me think it may have been a source that Simoun copied, but there’s no connection. Simoun’s mystical skywriting may have been done before, but it wasn’t here.

Also – one major defect in Erementar Gerad was the narration. We didn’t really need a recap at the beginning of each episode. But far worse were the interruptions to explain technical points. If they can’t be done in context, the storytelling has failed. That was mostly confined to the early episodes, fortunately, but it was still annoying. There was too much monologuing in the last two episodes, too.

Still, they’re fairly minor problems in a decent series. Probably not one I’ll watch again, but you never know.

Edit: I’m already finding myself slightly depressed that I’m no longer part of that world. That’s one of the marks of a good obsession. I guess I’ll leave it on the list for a day or two. I’ll especially miss the opening – though I now have the song on my current playlist. It’s a high-energy techno track that sounds completly typical of an anime opening piece, but it’s highly catchy. I don’t think I’ll be letting go of it anytime soon, either. (Forever, by Savage Genius.)

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied
Erementar Gerad

17 Oct 2006

Erementar Gerad

Anime

I’m a little surprised that Erementar Gerad / Elemental Gelade (which is a more accurate transliteration) made it to my list of current obsessions. When I started watching it, I didn’t think of it as much more than a fighting anime with interesting touches.

What keeps me interested in a story is not generally events but relationships. A strong romance can cover a weak story – so I loved Kannazuki no Miko, though I dislike mecha in general, “mecha from the gods” in particular, and found the entire evil crew to be completely without merit.

Erementar Gerad is the story of Coud, a (obligatory “of course”) teenage boy, a very typical scruffy fighting anime / video game anti-hero, who discovers a girl among stolen loot. She, Ren, is a member of a race known as the Edil Raid, who have supernatural powers – including the ability to bond with a human to give him a greater power than either alone. For self-preservation she “reacts” with Coud in the first episode.

Since the bond of a true Edil Raid is for life, this makes Coud a target of everyone who wants to use Ren for their own purposes, and involves Coud in Ren’s quest to join with her people.

The growth of the relationship between Coud and Ren is the backbone of the story, though the plot also takes some unusual twists, keeping it interesting. (Some stupid / inexplicable inconsistencies, too, but that’s fairly normal.) As with most anime boy-girl love stories there’s far too much denial and embarrassment, but the pacing is good, and the affection between the two is well-handled.

(The relative weakness of boy-girl romance in anime is the main reason I find myself drawn to yuri stories. It isn’t that they’re girl-girl, just that they’re usually more compelling.)

So, early on, I had no problem just watching a couple of episodes and moving on. But at this point, four episodes from the end, I had trouble last night convincing myself that it was better to postpone the finale until I was awake enough to appreciate it. About the only thing that would interfere with me finishing Erementar Gerad is if I could pick up those last two DVDs of Elfen Lied… or more Simoun. So it’s definitly sneaked onto the obsessions list, for now.

(Good news. Simoun 17 has moved up from “QC4” where it has languished for a long time to “QC5” at simon-fans. Whatever the heck that means…)

Erementar Gerad music is by Kajiura Yuki, which ought to make the series an automatic favorite of mine. That’s going to take some re-watching, I guess. The incidental music seems quite understated, which is unusual for her.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied
Erementar Gerad

16 Oct 2006

Elfen Lied

Anime

There are times when I’m very ambivalent about contiuing a series. A number of episodes of Maria-sama ga miteru were that way. When the seniors were graduating, or something really traumatic was happening.

Elfen Lied isn’t quite the same. but I have a lot of trepidation about continuing.

If this were purely a horror show, I wouldn’t have a problem. It’s extremely violent and gory. Since it isn’t really a spoiler to talk about the first few minutes, I won’t wrap this in a spoiler tag. The first episode opens with twenty one people being killed by being ripped limb from limb, or rather head from body, sliced in two, squished and splattered all over the walls… All of the killing perpetrated by a woman who’s naked but for a helmet, and not drawn with any attempt at modesty. There’s a lot of nudity – and a lot of splatter violence – through the series. (Or the first half, which is all I’ve seen, but it’s hardly likely to change.)

That’s fine. This is clearly an anime for adults. What makes it hard to take is that bad things are happening, or are constantly on the edge of happening, to people we care about. This is also a romance (/ harem) anime, with typical comedic touches, which is happening surrounded by the gore, and the sympathetic kids and their fragile relationships are being drawn into the horror.

At the mid-point, we have three cute girls and one guy, in a typical harem anime setting, with one of the girls being a part-time mass murderer. Which doesn’t begin to describe her brutality. [spoiler /Moderate spoiler about one of the others./ /Hide spoiler/] The youngest girl is a runaway. After enduring several years of child sexual abuse, shown barely off-camera. When we meet her, she’s alone and homeless – hardly a typical harem anime figure.[/spoiler]

These kids are on the edge of something really bad, and I find myself wishing I could put the series aside and not know – but, of course, needing to continue. As anyone would who’s made it this far, because it really is an excellent anime. The horror and evil play off the romance and innocence in a way that diminishes neither. So I have to go on. At the mid-point, at least, I’d recommend this – for anyone with a stomach as strong as the recommendation.

The opening is perfect, with the (mainly) latin song, Lilium, sourcing a pathos that carries throughout the show. If I’m not mistaken, there is no music other than variants of Lilium within the series – I’ve been too absorbed much of the time to pay attention, but when I have noticed music, it is Lilium. Other than the bizarre switch to the ending theme, which seems completely out of place – except that this is exactly what the anime is like. (Both opening and ending include nudity.)

Most animes have ambiguous episode previews at the end which are interesting, but tell you little about what will happen. The previews at the end of Elfen Lied episodes are heavy spoilers, and I need to stop watching them. I keep doing so because I want to be prepared for whatever the next horrible event is, but watching them has harmed the story.

The problem I have is that I’ve now watched the first two of four DVDs – and the other two are already checked out at the rental place. I have plenty of Erementar Gerad to watch – I didn’t expect to add that to the obsessions list, but it seems to be there now – but I need to know what’s going to happen in Elfen Lied. Even though i don’t really want to.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied
Erementar Gerad

14 Oct 2006

Simoun

Anime

Fansubbed at simoun-fans.

If the premise of Simoun isn’t instantly obvious, the instructions to the writers seems to be. “Create a yuri-based story that’s accessible to all. Twist the plot and setting to make this work.”

Okay, maybe that’s unfair, since the anime is based on stories published in Yuri Hime, but it seems to have been the original writer’s primary motivation. The rest had to be made to fit.

Thus we have high-school-age (of course) girls (of course) piloting fighting aircraft (known as Simoun). Thus each craft requires a couple to pilot it, with a requirement of affection (or more) between the two.

As for “acceptable to all” – it’s hard to argue that the girls are violating any norms by being intimate with other girls, because… there are only girls. Everyone is born female. At age 17, they choose what sex they will become.

If a couple appears to be growing too close, one of them can claim “It’s okay, I’m going to become a man.”

Contrived? Hell, yes.

However…

Given that bizzare context, the series takes the idea and runs with it proudly. The pain of choosing a gender is dealt with in the first episode. After a calamity, several pilots (which isn’t a role they would claim, at least early in the series) want out. Since they were allowed to postpone their choosing only because of their position, they now have to journey to the place of choosing, the Spring, and become male or female. Eri, unable to make up her mind, steps into the Spring – and is heartsick to discover that she – he, now Erif – has become male.

Or Wapourif, a fairly recent visitor to the Spring, having been male for only two years – still has a smooth face and breasts. Older men are much more clearly male.

The girls’ vocation was never military. They are priestesses, and their craft perform rituals which invoke an apparently divine power. As they’re called on to use this power to kill in the service of their country, they react in different ways; some abhorrent, some welcoming, others just wanting to fly. The head priestess, Neviril, the Sybilla Aurea, loses her lover and partner in the first episode, and has an especially difficult time accepting her new role as a warrior.

Enter Aaeru, gung-ho pilot from a military cadet group, who is so much the typical fighting anime teenage kid that I find it jarring whenever someone refers to her as “her”. She seems another “make this accessible” prop. (This may be an unfair accusation. I looked over the artwork for the Yuri Hime stories, and she hasn’t changed much. I doubt the original authors had this motivation. However, in the comic she does seem subtly more feminine. Although she’s pushy in the comic, it’s telling a different story, and there’s no way to know from issue 1 if she’s really the teen brat that she is in the anime.)

The girls’ growing into their new roles is compelling. A very good balance of friction, cameraderie, angst, hardship and happiness. I’m definitely hooked at episode 16, and impatient for the next few episodes.

Though I haven’t seen enough yet to know many serious spoilers, this is one. [spoiler /Moderate spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] I claim that the writers have worked hard to make the yuri content inoffensive, but there’s a surprise there. We know indirectly that Neviril and her partner were lovers, and there are clearly others, but there’s only one relationship that we’re explicitly told was sexual – and it’s between sisters. The two have wildly different views on their relationship: while Kaimu hates her sister Alti for what has happened between them, Alti is planning to become male so that she can stay with Kaimu, apparently having no qualms at all about incest. Because of their differences, the two can’t form the bond needed to pilot a Simoun craft together, so they can not be paired.[/spoiler]

So, as far-fetched as the concept is, it’s effective ground for a whole lot of dramatic tension, and the series works well as character-driven, romance or action / adventure.

The weakest point for me is the music. Plinky accordion music works well for Mireille and Kirika sitting outside of a café in Paris, but it absolutely does not fit a battle of a handful of Simoun against a couple of hundred machine-gunning fighter planes. There are times that the music is okay, but at other times it destroys the tension, making the action seem quite bland. This series cries out for Kajiura Yuki – and it’s ironic that the opening theme is by her partner Ishikawa Chiaki. “Utsukushi kereba sore de ii” is among the finest songs ever used as an anime theme. If the rest of the score lived up to the promise of the opening, this would be an even more powerful show than it is.

As I say, I’m stuck at 16. I’m following the simoun-fans sub; there is another that is slightly further ahead, but simoun-fans have produced the highest quality fansub I’ve yet seen. I can’t switch. I do hope that the impetus to complete the sub hasn’t diminished since the series is complete, and all the subbers have seen it. I really, really hate having to skip 10 episodes’ worth of discussion threads. Even “non-spoiler” threads rely on events that have happened before, and as such are spoilers themselves.

I wish I understood at least a little Japanese. Just enough to get the gist of an episode…

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun

Elfen Lied