Obligatory NaNoWriMo Post

National Novel Writing Month approaches, and while I’ll be participating I’m not really looking forward to it.  I want to do it, and will do it, but I am completely and utterly dry in terms of creativity.   It’s always easier to react to other thoughts than have ones of your own, completely sui generis; hence the recent spate of reviews. 

For NNWO06, I’ve got a paragraph, a vague notion and not much else. 

Of course, I started out with a lot less than that last year, and I managed to run the course.   But that might have been the secret, then; it’s easier to jump off the high dive if you simply decide in one moment, climb in the next, and jump in the third.  Any moment taken to pause and reflect will reveal the foolhardiness of the endeavor at hand, and the doubts are allowed to creep in.  It’s awfully high up there.  Maybe I should work my way up to something like that.  Maybe I should stay in the wading pool.  The spirit of the endeavor may be lost. 

I wrote my initial paragraph some months ago, so its moment may have long past.   Still, it’s what I’ve got and we’ll see where that goes.  It will be interesting to see if I can write something that isn’t simply made up of whole cloth in the third moment–something that might have the value that a fourth or fifth moment may bring to it.

The first moment comes on November 1st.

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With My Eyelashes All in Curls

Which Happy Lesson Teacher Are You?

You are Ninomai Kisaragi. She is the school’s Chemistry teacher. She may seem like a loner, but, she just actually locks herself in her lab most of the time. She is kind, quiet and calm. She likes to try out her experiments on Chitose. She works her hardest to try and be a good mother for Chitose. She’s not weird, just extermely cool if you put it that way!
Take this quiz!             

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Hands up everyone who was surprised by this result.  Of course, Kisuragi has a fabulous wardrobe, and all I have is this old kimono and a minisukarto that’s totally old school.  I can’t be seen in those!  I just can’t!  (Bursts into tears.)

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about the folks on Happy Lesson, especially my two favorite teachers.  The most favorite, of course, is Kisaragi, so I’m really glad I’m her.  I feel that I have a lot in common with her.  Now, don’t get your hopes up, I’m not a genius and can’t invent anything (though I can take things apart with élan) but I feel uncomfortable among people, have difficulty expressing emotion properly, and tend to keep apart. 

Unlike me, though, everything Kisaragi does raises questions.  Why doesn’t she eat with the others?  Why is she seen in profile so often?  (In the OVA end credits, all the teachers look at us, while Chitose is turned away—except Kisaragi.  She’s seen from the side again.)  Steven Den Beste left an informative comment in my last Happy Lesson post, so I considered asking him some more about Kisaragi, but that email remained unsent.  Most of the questions about her are probably unanswerable.  After all, and this is key, she’s not real

How is it that some characters take hold of our imaginations and continue to live on, long after the vehicle that “holds” them is over?  What makes one character “gel,” while another remains interesting but uninvolving?   Especially someone who’s not a real someone, but is a combination of pencil, ink, computer data, and film, wrought before us by hands, camera, microphone and voice. 

Part of it, I think, is that life is messy and unfair.  We live day to day, in chaos and uncertainty.  What happens today may matter, or it may not.  Whereas the world of our chosen entertainments have an order and even a grace to them.  Things wrap up.  Things get resolved.  Questions may remain, but the main arc, what is important to the characters—and to our entertainment, and thus, us-that gets solved.  And that’s what we care about when we plop a disk into the player.  We want closure, we want the folks dangled before us to have the happy lives that we cannot.  When they do, we’re happy for them and, by extension, ourselves for backing the winning team.

And if we’re lucky, and open, the folks dangled before us are released, while we watch.  And they go on to their own appointed lives, without us. 

But we can’t stop thinking about them.  What are they doing now?  (Ed’s note:  this is probably where “fan fiction” comes from.)

It’s long been my opinion that creating such a character is the greatest achievement for a storyteller.  There are, after all only a limited number of plots around—problems are myriad, but solutions tend to be of a type–and while these plots can be embellished and fleshed in the details, and made sort of new, it’s the characters that drive these plots.  People who’ve never read Cervantes know who Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are, even if they’ve no idea of what sort of things the two of them faced.  (A vague idea about windmills would be a best hope.)  But we know how Don Quixote and Sancho Panza would face a problem, how they would react in a given circumstance, even, again, if it’s only a vague notion that Don Quixote would charge on in while Sancho Panza would wearily try to save his master’s face.

It’s my hope that they’ll also know, someday, who Kisaragi was, and is.  And maybe, at some point, they’ll know who I was.  In a way, I’m a form of entertainment after all.  A not very entertaining bit of entertainment, yeah, but stranger things have happened.  Some day there might a contest to look like me!   (Stop scowling.)  And the losers would be losers, and the winners…well, they’d be losers too.  Be fair. 

PostScript:  My second favorite teacher was…Satsuki.  Yeah, the jock.  In contrast to Kisuragi, with whom I do share some characteristics, I’m not really anything like Satsuki.  So, what’s her appeal?  Well, various factors.  One, I’ve always had a thing for women who could beat the daylights out of me at a moment’s notice.  Dr. Who’s Leela, Futurama’s Leela, Emma Peel, Mireille Bouquet, Lyar Von Ertiana, Filthy Rotten Angel, Misato, Ryoko…the list goes on, farther than I, well,  really ought to be admitting in public. 

Secondly, in the English language OVA Christmas episode, she gives this wonderfully exuberant cry of “Let’s get drunk!” that just sounds perfect and has a great echo.  And it is a hobby I share with her!  All right!  Let’s get drunk!

Finally and most importantly, I think it’s her introduction in the TV opening credits.  She’s swimming underwater directly toward the camera, in an incredibly gorgeous shot.  It really is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.  Over and above the character itself, that shot shows that the makers of Happy Lesson know how to present their creations.  I keep thinking, I can swim like that, but the chlorine would kill my eyes. 

But then I remember, she’s not real either.  No matter.  She can arm-wrestle me any day!

 

Nine Days Later

Well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?   The reason for light posturing here hasn’t been anything as exciting as overwork, travel, lack of sleep, casual drunkenness or saving the Crown Jewels from the Evil King (though all those things were involved, usually all at the same time).  I just haven’t had anything to say, really, and I really want this…this…this thing to have some kind of content to it, something of (possible) value whereby the passing show can pause, ponder, and proclaim: “This guy can’t write.  Let’s go somewhere else.”

Haven’t done any painting since the last bit.  I do have—sorry—a couple more anime reviews in the works.  Three, to be exact, all dealing with series starting with the letter “N” for some reason.  Perhaps “No” reason.   I enjoy writing about anime, just as I enjoy a reading good, non-spoiler review like those at Chizumatic or Twenty-Sided.  Leaping into an unknown realm is always a daunting thing, and I never would have stepped in anime if I hadn’t had some nice guideposts.  Reviews like Steven’s and Shamus’ are good because they come in the middle of posts about other things, so you’re not just reading snarky put-downs in a vast sea of similar, but have a sense of who the person is and why they responded to something the way they did, and whether or not you’ll respond in the same way.   I don’t think my own reviews are anywhere near as good, because I’m rarely as autobiographical (and don’t write as well) but they’re fun for me to write and that’s all I really care about. 

There was also this long essay on humor that I started about two years ago and never finished; well, I’ve been thinking, lately, about not finishing it again.

By the way, did you know Microsoft Word knows “anime,” “Darth Vader,” and “Elvis” are correctly spelled, but it’s never heard of  “Sinbad,” “Manet,” “Van Gogh,” “Magritte,” or “Dali”?  What’s it got against painters and legendary sailors then?  

PaintBlog: Project Telephone Girl, Part 7

Well, we all learned a valuable lesson last time, didn’t we? If I use cadmium red, you’re going to get anime reviews until it dries.

Well, no use crying over spilled ink, so let’s move on to the latest episode of Me Versus Paint.

The first thing I want to do is add some more shelving behind the figure to expand the background area. So we apply some tape:

Tape

That’d be pretty nice if that was all there was to it, huh?  It isn’t, though.  So we apply paint:

Paint

The above photo was taken when I started to remove the tape (visible to the left of her face), then I remembered to photgraph it. Next, we add more tape so we can put the other dimensions to the shelves. I’m starting to get impatient, so I’m just going to use it to make the bottom border and trust myself to go the right amount without overpainting the shelf front:

Tape

And let’s see how that goes:

Paint

Now let’s remove the tape, and add some shadows below the new shelves.

Shadows

Since the shadows turned out a bit bigger than the shadows from the first shelves, I thought I’d expand that first set. It adds a nice sense of deepening space. Speaking of portraying space, let’s add some dimension to the up-and-down bit of the shelving. First, a bit of tape, once again just on one side (because of laziness):

Tape

And here’s what we have for the evening’s work:

So far

We’re pretty close to having the background done, which means we can move back to the figure “shortly.” The real relevant area is the background right next to the figure, obviously I can do what needs to be done in the area removed from her.

I’m pleased with the progress so far, but the difficult part is still to come. As always, thanks for visiting.

Two Word Anime Review Theatre: Excel Saga

——————————Introduction—————————— 

A thorough yet concise review of “Excel Saga” in only two words, actually only two syllables, both broken up into separate paragraphs so as to facilitate ease of comprehension while also adding a certain visual panache (you know, like Mondrian) as well to these somewhat routine proceedings, thereby allowing the masses to easily and readily bathe in the grand and glorious story of how the wondrous Il Palazzo allowed Excel and Hyatt to act on his behalf to bring his dreams of order to fruition over the course of some twenty six episodes, though they never actually succeeded too much and naturally I have to point out that it was usually quite hard to watch more than two episodes at a time (I am rather frail), since the result of such astonishingly energetic activity tended to leave me spurting more blood than Hyatt while I collapsed, dying…well, yes, I exaggerate a bit, it wasn’t that stressful or frantic for me, not as much as for Pedro for example, but let me tell you, the night I watched four episodes in one evening was a lot like drinking eighteen cups of coffee in one sitting or perhaps only sixteen, I don’t drink coffee so I wouldn’t know the effect to be honest, my caffinated beverage of choice is Dr. Pepper, not because I like the taste so much as because it’s hard to drink and thus a dollar spent on such a bottle lasts a whole workday morning, not like Mountain Dew which I’ve already half drunk before it even leaves the vending machine, which reminds me, why are vending machines called “vending machines” and not something shorter and more modernly compressed like “venders,” or “vendroids,” the way “motion pictures” is compressed into “movies” or “television” into “TV” or (you can insert other examples here, I’m sure you can think of lots, that’s a good bit of entertainment for an evening, compressing words) something else, but if you’ll let me return to the subject at hand, “vendroids” would save a lot of time if you were going to complain about how one took your money and vended nothing though I suppose on the other hand having to write out all those extra syllables might give you time to cool your anger (or ardor) and prevent the vending (ha ha) of harsh blows against authority which makes everyone sad, though not as sad as I was during the last moments of episode 23 and the first moments of episode 24 (of “Excel Saga” I remind you) when characters who moments before had been basically props like matches in a fireworks factory or dog food in an orchestra pit suddenly became all too human and all too frail and I could see how their simple dreams of acceptance were so beyond their reach, well, I like to tell you some people who weren’t me were tearing up like little girls but that wasn’t me you think you saw posted on YouTube, that was a digital lie, it was an actual little girl who, uh, came over to use the phone and happened to see those sad parts and then tried to use her sad anime eyes to make me buy some toothpaste, yes, she was young and already on her way to being an entrepreneur which is quite admirable, but much as I think dental care is important—you only get one set of teeth after all, two if you count baby teeth, three if you count dentures and four if you count an extra set of dentures for travel if you want to eat Region 2 food—well, the truth is I had just won a radio contest and received 400,000 tubes of toothpaste which, coupled with the 100,000 I habitually own anyway, would last me far beyond my normal lifespan so I built a house with the rest of them (there was a brief moment when I considered using them to fight crime but that lasted only until I realized that it would look stupid and “Fllllossssss!” wouldn’t work as a battle cry and didn’t involve toothpaste anyway, oh and can you imagine how mad Trapster would be if his original villain name had been Toothpaste Pot Pete, he would never live that down) COUGH and SNEEZE so I had to send her away with her toothpaste unsold, but I tried to tell her to take heart, that with a song on her lips and greed in her heart she would continue onward and upward and finally she would choose her path, marshal her talents, and wherever she chose to apply herself, she would always excel, and, and…and…that word, “excel” reminds me of something, what is it, come on, brain, smudge those glasses, what is it, oh yes, now I remember, it’s the very subject of today’s Two Word Anime Review Theatre, well, if you add the word “Saga” and don’t consider that either “Excel” or “Saga” is part of either of the two words which comprise the review which is probably pretty easy if you don’t really obsess over the details like I pretend I do, all those unfinished paintings to the contrary, yes, yes, thanks for asking, they’re constantly moaning about being unfinished, always and forever and villains!  Dissemble no more!   Here, here, it is the rustling of their unfinished brushstrokes!  Then I wake up in a strange motel in a pool of blood and no memory of how I got there, other than I’m sure I don’t have A) fangs that large or B) a series in development.  Also, don’t let them kid you, cadmium red takes forever to dry, I’m sure you’ve all learned that to your peril by now.    And speaking of now (and peril), it’s time for Two Word Anime Review Theatre’s review of Excel Saga!

——————————-Review——————————-

Ber

ZERK

—————-Afterword——————

Today’s Experiment….Failed.

The Reason I Jumped Out The Window

I can’t blame this one on Steven Den Beste, not much anyway. After all, while he liked the show, he gave Happy Lesson an average review and hated the ending enough to recommend it somewhat half-heartedly.

But it sure seemed that many, many times when I’d visit Chizumatic, the images at the top were from Happy Lesson. And those images really intrigued me, especially the images of Kisuragi (the science teacher). (Note: I know the image display order is random.) So when the opportunity came, I bought the show.

Fair warning: Mr. Den Beste would have rated it higher if it hadn’t been for the horrible ending. His review forewarned me of that, and I think I was able to enjoy it more because I knew it was coming. So thank you, Mr. Den Beste.

In return, I will now warn you, my loyal reader: the ending of Happy Lesson, literally the last minute, is horrible. It’s a very bad ending. If you know it’s a bad ending a-comin’, a-yup, you may like the show as much as I did.

And I loved it.

I think I know what they were trying to do with the chosen ending—it’s a clear case of Twin Peaks Syndrome, the idea that, Hey, if we don’t wrap this all up, maybe we can get another season out of this! If it didn’t come right after a truly mature realization by two of the main characters, well, they might have pulled it off. But it did, so they didn’t. Instead, it was a really clumsy example of Kanna-ex-machina.

Still, as I said, I loved the series. Damn, I loved it. I want it to move in with me and beat the crap out of me on a regular basis. No wait, I didn’t mean that—ow! Stop! AAAHHH!! NO!

Ha ha, I kid of course, and as usual get ahead of myself. First, here’s the set-up. High school student Chitose is an orphan who lives in a big house by himself. He gets in fights, gets failing grades and, thus, gets in the sights of five of his teachers, five beautiful women who decide that what he needs is mothering. So all five of them move in with him and become his mothers. Wackiness ensues, because while they all care for him, they also have to keep this arrangement secret for obvious reasons (“Hey, Chitose got an A again! What the hell?”)

The series is a sentimental comedy, and the comedy part is largely of two varieties. The first, most common form is Three Stooges type mayhem, usually directed by the Moms toward Chitose, but also by class president Fumisuki against Student B and Student C. The last two exist only to be thrashed; they might as well be inflatable with sand in their shoes. With Chitose, the various beatings are always done with love. Tough love, I guess…but love nonetheless.

Call me sentimental, but…make sure you raise your hand first. For me, this series had just the right amount of honest, pure sentiment, never descending into maudlin mawkishness or the crass artificial “heart-tugging” of something like Spielberg’s ET. I really enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t wait to watch the next episode and I was sorry when it was over.

And (thank you again Steven), Kisuragi was my favorite Mama, though I had to wonder about her (and Uzuki, the arts teacher). Specifically, why were they here?

The other Mamas could be understood in terms of motherhood and their own personalities. Mutsuki (Classics) is the most “mother-like” of the Mamas, she does the cooking and cleaning and many of the things we typically associate with moms, and her efforts toward Chitose are aimed at making him a better student, much to his irritation.

Both Yayoi (the nurse) and Satsuki (PE teacher—we in the US got Bradley Buzzcut) see their parenting duties in terms of extending their own interests, which is what a lot of parents do one suspects. Episode five, which really turned off Mr. Den Beste, I found quite touching in that Satsuki learned that parenting isn’t simply a matter of physically plowing through life’s obstacles. Strength isn’t everything, it has to be tempered with heart and the willingness to acknowledge that other people are different from you, and see things in a different way. You can’t bluster your way through being a good parent. I think she learned a valuable lesson in that episode and was a better parent because of it.

Yayoi’s episode was cut from a similar cloth; she was going to “Shinto” Chitose to happiness if it killed him, which it sure seemed was going to happen. But she too learned (thanks to Kisuragi) that while one can hold strongly to one’s beliefs, others might not, and one needs to temper relations with them accordingly. (She never did put that sword away, though, did she?)

Uzuki was the one I never understood. I found her the most grating of the Mamas, though I liked her nonetheless. I did consider it significant that her “starring” episode was all about her; Chitose was barely involved and her parenting abilities were never, ever put to the test. Why did she sign on to be a Mama? The world may never know.

Kisuragi, too. Why was she there? Chitose even point-blank asks her in one episode, and I was saying, “Yeah, I’d like to know that, too.” But her answer was such a non-answer I can’t even quote it directly—it was something along the lines of “One has to experience the unknown.” Uh, yeah. Sounds good. Okay. Uh, what?

Kisuragi eventually reveals that her need to be Chitose’s mother is perhaps the deepest of all the Moms; she even gave up world conquest to be a parent. She is certain her own abilities are sub-par…but her inhibition and her need to see everything in terms of science—if A then B, etc–keeps her from expressing this need properly. The depth of her love is exceeded only by her inability or fear of expressing it. Despite all the hints, she plays her cards close to the vest up the end.

Though really, she’s mostly tech support for the other Mamas in the series. She’s frequently facing away from everyone else, and never eats with the family—she sits at a little tiny box with her back to the others. (Of course, she may be feeding her pet piranha.) I think the whole idea of human interaction confounds her.

Which is why her starring episode is perfectly in keeping with her character. She sees motherhood in terms of what she feels she can’t do, and she envies the apparent ease of the other mothers. Being a technical genius…well, I don’t want to spoil it. Though it’s to Chitose’s credit that he tells her he values her as her, despite all those electrocutions.

Oh, the electrocutions. As mentioned, the series has two main forms of humor. Three Stooges type mayhem (watch Fumitsuki punch Student B and Student C into the stratosphere! Watch Satsuki give Chitose Dutch Rubs and claim he’s tougher than he looks!). The other type of humor comes from Kisuragi’s weirdness. She keeps a piranha and an anaconda as pets; she’s riddled the house with secret passageways; she’s constantly inventing things and setting off explosions. She’s like Batman without the angst—she even has an underground lair. She’ll frequently pop in from the ceiling, hanging upside down, to comment dryly on the action, then scoot back up again.

But her weirdness also extends into the Three Stooges routines: Kisuragi seems compelled to hand Chitose a pair of electrodes at every opportunity, with predictable results. A-yup, Chitose gets electrocuted. Laugh, damn you, laugh!

This sort of humor does get a bit tiresome–there’s a reason the Stooges’ shorts were around fifteen minutes in length–but that’s okay, it isn’t what really drew me to the show. It’s the characters, all of them, and the way they truly do care for each other. Aside from a couple of slimy businessmen who show up in an early episode (and never return), all the characters here are nice, caring, loving people who want the best for everyone (in their own way).

The one exception might be Kanna, a childhood friend of Kisuragi who is even more clueless when it comes to human relations—or anything, in fact, other than world domination and technology. But even she had a very sweet episode with a puppy which seemed to change her, to bring her a little closer to humanity. I say “seemed” because when she next showed up, she appeared to be back to her old self.

So yeah, overall, I loved this show. It’s not perfect because there’s too much mayhem and it has a really bad ending. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted.

Incidentally, I thought of a much better ending. Hidden below to prevent spoilers. Click if you want to see how my mind works, especially if you’re an anime producer who is in danger of contracting Twin Peaks Syndrome. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by!

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