The Barrier in the Center of the Room

I hate snow.  Sure, it looks pretty, but I typically have to drive through it, and I can’t think of a more anxiety-producing activity.  Snow, snow, go away, come again never.

In the meantime, I’ve finally put the Noise page back up.  These are a number of experiments wherein I try to create my own musical grammar–but be warned, none of these are musical and you won’t like them.  Most of the ones I wanted to put up are up, but there are a few still to be added.  Recording is always a fun activity, though I say that having not even switched the VS on in months.

I’m banking into another stretch of depression, it seems, so posting will probably be lighter than usual.  No one wants to read about that!

Thanks for visiting, as always.

Retained a Sense of Theatre

In the past five days, I’ve submitted over 40 cartoons to the Spamusement Forums.  Some of these are multiple-panel jobs, some are comment drawings, and some are remixes, but still–over 40 since the 16th.

That’s about eight a day.  Let’s not even talk about creative work–I don’t think I’ve ever done forty things in five days, except maybe “take breaths.”   What is it about drawing cartoons that’s so attractive?   

Well, they’re quick and they spark the imagination, without taking themselves seriously.  I can draw one, submit it, and that’s the end of it.  There’s no pressure.

But there are nice rewards.  Several folks have made comments that add to the idea, and one fellow forum member consistently–and I mean every time–takes an idea of mine, no matter how mediocre, and turns it into something incredible.   I think I’m seriously in love, man.

Plus I’ve learned what V1agra really looks like.  I had no idea.

Anyway, here’s a bonus drawing that shows how I get my ideas for the silly things.  You’re the only ones who’ve seen this, so feel special, damn it!

Merry Christmas to you all, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then Happy However.  Thanks for visiting!

(PS: I’m out of town, using my laptop with the iffy keyboard, so I can conveniently blame any misspellings on it.  Works like a champ!)

As Dreamers Do

Someday’s Dreamers seems to be another example of a trend I’ve noticed in a couple of other anime series that I’ve seen recently.  Before I detail that trend, I’d like to say a bit about the show first.

Yume is a “mage,” a person who, for want of a better term, can do magic.  Mages can change physical reality (what they do most often), or they can create a mental realm for people (a sort of parallel dream-world that to all intents and purposes, is real to the experiencer).  This is not an uncommon talent (indeed, during the course of the series, it seems like almost everyone we meet either is, was, or will become a mage) but given the vast power a mage can summon, society has very carefully created a beauracracy to deal with the licensing and training of mages.   Can’t have superbeings running around doing what they like, can we?

The story we’re told here is of Yume’s training, over the course of a summer, to become a licensed mage.  She’s already got the power–in fact, a huge amount of power; when she’s nearly hit by a car in the story’s opening minutes, she sends all the cars nearby–dozens of them–about two hundred feet in the air.  But she also has pretty good control over this power; she’s able to bring all the cars gently back down to earth without so much as nicking a fender.   The training she needs is not developing her power, but putting it to appropriate, i.e. licensed, use. 

Anyway, she meets her teacher and begins her training, and over the course of the first two DVD volumes she learns how truly to be a mage, as well as what that will entail in terms of how she can act–what she’s allowed to do and not do, despite what her feelings tell her.  The series has a gentle, lolling pace which makes it just sort of so-so as treadmill food but it’s otherwise engaging without being vital.   Everyone we meet is an interesting, likeable character and there’s a fair amount of hot mage action

Because it’s so unhurried, it took me a while to go through volumes one and two, because there weren’t the kind of hooks that a more pace-oriented story leaves in the viewer.  In a way, it’s like the music of Erik Satie (which the soundtrack strongly resembles)–very pleasant, fun, likeable and well-crafted but not leaving much visible trace when it’s over.

Ah, but that was volumes one and two.  The third volume is where it exhibits the trend I mentioned earlier–I can’t think of a good phrase for this, and I hate to think that “Third Volume Notch-Kick” is what I’ll end up using.   (Hell.  That sounds like something a giant robot pilot would scream before punching an alien monster.)  The last volume begins with what Yume thinks is a botched request (a “request” is when a normal person asks a mage for some magic).  The request itself goes perfectly, but the reaction from the requester casts doubt on everything Yume has done over the course of the series.  The story then becomes far more emotional, far deeper, far more riveting, and I watched it with rapt attention. 

Yume wonders what she’s doing, and questions if she really wants to be a mage.  (She never doubts her power, only the usefulness of it as applied to others.)   After spending a very sad night in the rain, knowing she’s forbidden to act, and meeting an old friend the next day, she knows what she has to do. 

And she does it–magnificently.  With a such a mature grasp of the situation that you know the “simple country girl” Yume began in our eyes is truly, now, one of the great mages of the world.

It’s a wonderful story and recommended.  Just don’t let volumes one and two lull you into a false sense of expectations.  But don’t let what I tell you here make you impatient during those episodes–they’re very important to the ending.

The only question that still nags me is Master Ginpun.  He looks like a woman but talks like a man.  I kept waiting for somethng to be revealed about him…but it never was.  Luckily, it isn’t important anyway.

Another series watched because of Steven’s review.  And well done.

As mentioned way up there, this is a trend I’ve seen in other series.  This Ugly Yet Beautiful World also had a pretty lax pace during volumes one and two (the title should tell you why that was appropriate, though), with only hints of the darker story to come in volume three.   Najica Blitz Tactics and Hanaukyo Maid Team La Verite followed the same plan. 

So if this IS some kind of storytelling trend, I really need to come up with a better phrase than “Third Volume Notch-Kick.”  Damn it, you see?  Even when I typed that, I looked around for an alien monster to punch!  Good for them they were in hiding!  Or I would have punched them.

As for Someday’s Dreamers, I’m sure you don’t have to ask what I did at the ending, with all my precious feelings.  We’ve all been over that, right?  No need to go over that again, okay?  Please?  Now that I have the soundtrack CD (on sale for $5 at Bob’s Anime Corner Store) the same thing happens when tracks 2 and 12 play.  (Good thing I’m a pretty good driver.) 

It’s times like these I’m glad I don’t have a job as a paper bag–I’d barely be able to hold any jelly beans.

And Sow The Ground With Salt

I think I need to be depressed.

Like most people, there are some things that I learn right away, and others that I seem incapable of learning no matter how many times I slam into their circumstances.  One of the things I need to really keep in mind, always, is that if I’m happy the alarm klaxons are about to sound.  Or they should.  Because shortly thereafter, something is going to trigger the floodgates and I’ll descend to a very deep state of depression.

I think I need to be depressed.  But not as some psychological facet of self-loathing (necessarily); instead, it seems to be a needed physiological condition.

The brain is basically an electro-chemical processing plant, and like any such machine, it can’t operate properly if it doesn’t have the right raw materials fed into it.  Which is why we take Prozac when depressed, Valium when anxious, and maybe alcohol when both.  “Happy” seems to be the state the brain is in when all the chemicals are there in the right amount; so far as I know, no one has to take any medication when they’re feeling happy (except maybe more alcohol).

In my case, “happy” is pretty rare, but it seems to be a brain-state which is incorrectly wired; for most people it’s a state of balance, but in my case, it triggers when the store of some chemical reaches a critical low.  Depression apparently allows the brain to continue operating while I accumulate enough of that chemical to resume a normal state.  A “normal state” for me is depression anyway, but there are depths and variations to any emotion—from “vaguely” to “profoundly.”  (“Depression” is like “food”—there’s a lot of different kinds, some better than others.)

Last Wednesday and Thursday should have set off the alarms.  I got a lot of very nice feedback on my long-winded anime piece, a nice note from a friend on a forum, some work stuff cleared up, and I noticed that my drawing skills were getting much better. 

I was pretty happy about all that.

Bad move.  Later that night is when depression hit me with its full strength.  It’s still around, but I’m getting used to the feeling so it’s not quite as “bad” as it first was.  All I can think of, is what I fool I was for not seeing it coming.  Yes, that’s right: my mutant power is being able to predict when I’ll be really, really depressed.  I tend to ignore my power when it triggers.

Happiness is a nice feeling, I won’t deny that.  Even the founding fathers thought highly enough of it that its pursuit was considered one of the cornerstones of liberty.  But I’m just not wired for it.  I need to recognize that and act on it; I’m tired, very tired of these dramatic plunges.  The thng about happiness is that it feels good.  It’s an emotion that exists on a non-sentient level.  The conscious mind recognizes this (on some level it doesn’t allow itself to see) and doesn’t really want to examine the state for fear of bursting the bubble prematurely.  So we just bathe in it and, in my case, slip on the tiles and crack my head on the sink.  But before that, it feels really, really good.  But then, so does alcohol, and we know where too much of that leads.

Somehow, though, I’ve got to seize happiness when it appears and look at it rationally.   Not let it take over the system and crash the brain out.  Perhaps it’s possible to enjoy it, a bit, but I have to be ready to burn it to the ground.  On a moment’s notice.

I should be downgrading the current storm in a couple of days or so, and we’ll resume a more normal level of posting here—minus all the self-pity.

Well, minus some of the self-pity, anyway.  Where’s the fun in blogging if you can’t indulge yourself?  As always, thanks for visiting.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder”

I tend to think that most of the made-up psychological diseases you hear about these days are just that:  made up.  They all sounds like impressive excuses to avoid dealing with the occasional harshness of reality.

The thing is, I’m not sure how I can hold an attitude like that when, every December since time immemorial, I get a case of the heaviest depression imaginable (by me). 

This year I thought I was going to be spared, because the beginning of December punched in and I felt okay.  (I’m normally depressed anyway, but usually functional.)   All that changed last night, around midnight or so.  It literally was like a light switch being clicked into the ON position, though at the time I didn’t know what was happening. 

And since then I’ve been working and doing whatever under this incredibly dark cloud.  Which is why there aren’t any jokes or clever sayings in this post.  (Yes, I know, there seldom are, but every now and then I get in a good one.  Remember a couple of Junes ago?)

On top of all that, I’m on call, too.  (Cue: Frenzied moaning.)  Hurry up January!

I’m sure I’ll post more over the course of the coming weekend.  And I’m sure it’ll be similarly bitter and joyless!

Adventures in Anime

(Warning: This post is far too long to read, so thanks for stopping by!) 

Just because this is my blog and I can do whatever I want, I thought I’d detail my introduction to the world of anime. 

When you see a new realm of artistic endeavor, one that’s existed for many years and has built up a considerable body of work, it’s always intimidating wondering where to put that first step.  It’s an ocean of choice—what if the water is cold, or too rough, or full of biting creatures?  If I stick my foot in there and it’s uncomfortable and I say “Ow,” everyone will know I’m a newbie, and they’ll all laugh at me.  It’s much easier to forego the experience and move on to more familiar territory.  This tends to be the case no matter what the field; someone who has listened to nothing but rock and roll, but decides on a whim to investigate country/western, or classical, or jazz, where does that person start?

One avenue is to find some guidebook or other compendium of expert opinion.   This can lead one to the classics, after all.  The problem with these is that they tend to focus on works that have achieved a high level of general critical consensus; there’s no real room for personal taste, personal idiosyncrasies, “hey I like this,” which is where art lives anyway.  So in the case of jazz, you’ll probably be told to buy “Kind of Blue” and “A Love Supreme” and a few other works that are listed on everyone’s top ten.  But what if “Kind of Blue” or “A Love Supreme” don’t “work” for you?  Does that mean you’ll never be a jazz fan?

Possibly, but more than likely it just means you haven’t yet found the kind of jazz that appeals to you.  In many cases, it depends on what direction you’re approaching jazz from—your starting point, as it were.   If you’re coming from rock, the Mahavishnu Orchestra may be more your style.  If you’re coming from folk, try Oregon.  From there, you can branch out, slowly, into more general jazz works like “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady,” by Charles Mingus, which I think is a pretty good starting point anyway. 

Well, we seem to have gotten off-topic.  Yeah, like that’s unusual here….

In my case, anime looked weird and incomprehensible.  There were these giant robots everywhere, and people who appeared to be extremely constipated screaming at each other while they hurled energy bolts in battle.  The other side of the coin seemed to be girls with huge eyes and weird hair colors making hearts at boys with rat’s nest hair…sometimes with giant robots around, too.  While I was intrigued, I was pretty sure I’d never understand it, and had no idea where to start, so “Anime” became just an aisle in Best Buy that I could pass over on my way to the “Horror/Science Fiction” section.  Had I bought a guidebook, I probably would have been told to start with an acknowledged classic like Neon Genesis Evangelion, and if I’d done that, that would have been the end of my anime experiment.  (It’s not that Evangelion is bad, necessarily; I would describe it as “off-putting,” though.)

What I really needed was a starting point that was tailored for me.  The best kind of starting point before putting the first toe into a new sea of art is to find a person who mirrors your taste in other areas.  Or, someone who’s taste and thinking you respect and can consider in context.  If you’re a big Stephen King fan, and you know someone else who’s a big Stephen King fan, and that person likes anime, and that person happens to say, “You know, Divergence Eve is a pretty good series…”   A lot of “ands,” I know, but you’ve got a starting point that will be more useful to you.

In my own case, the person most responsible for my wet feet was Steven Den Beste.  He ran a website called USS Clueless (and currently runs Chizumatic) and his writing on a great many subjects was intelligent, considered and highly readable.  So when he started investigating anime, I took notice and basically started walking where I saw his footsteps.

If memory serves (and it generally doesn’t), the first anime title he wrote about was Spirited Away.  So I bought that.  It’s one of the greatest movies ever made, in any genre, and I never hesitate to recommend it.  In fact, it’s about the only movie I can think of which I recommend with absolutely no reservations whatsoever. 

The first series I remember him writing about was Noir, so I went and bought that too.  And it remains the single greatest anime series I’ve ever seen.  (Note well:  the number of “anime series I’ve seen” barely extends into the double digits.)

The final entry of the Original Trilogy was Ghost in the Shell.  Well, Ghost is intelligent, thought-provoking and visually stunning, but it’s also superficial and in love with its own gee-wizardry.   I’m glad I saw it but that’s about the extent of my engagement.

So, two home runs and one bunt to first base; not a bad average.  So I followed Steven’s reviews pretty religiously and made buying decisions based on them, and I’ve yet to be steered wrong.  Of course, I haven’t exactly watched everything I’ve bought, so who knows?

Well anyway, once I got my feet wet, I started to branch out into unknown areas on my own.  I’d start to buy things based on whether they sounded interesting or not, or whether they had people working on them whose past works I’d admired.  I started to like things that Steven didn’t (he hated Gravion; I thought it was hilarious).  While I still read his page daily, I became my own animal, and started to make some choices that weren’t even mentioned on Chizumatic.  Some of these choices were very good (PreTear), some not so good (Neo Ranga, though to be fair the jury’s still out).

So now that I’ve become my own anime fan, what do I like?

Before I answer that, I’d like to point something out:  I’m probably not an anime fan.

Yes, shocking, isn’t it?  The reason I say this is because I don’t do a lot of the things anime fans do. 

1. Firstly, I don’t watch them in Japanese, I always watch the English dub versions.  Not to disrespect the Japanese or their language, far from it, but I have absolutely no facility with foreign languages.  (My abilities in English are bad enough.)  Yes, one can read subtitles, and that’s how I always watch live-action foreign films.  An actor’s voice is just as much a part of his performance as his face and the way he chooses to move. 

However, when watching Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson argue about who gets to commit suicide first, I can see them in a familiar environment—I don’t have to wonder what the fantastical device is that they’re sitting on, I know it’s called a “couch.”  Even in futuristic live-action films, I can still key in on what the environment represents to the characters and I don’t have to watch it continuously to figure out its nature.

In animation, however, everything is brand new.  It’s all been designed deliberately from the blank page up—everything has a choice behind it.  It’s also frequently imaginative and beautiful.  I don’t like taking my eyes away from it in order to read subtitles—I’d much rather hear the dialogue so I can keep watching.

2. Secondly, I don’t use any of the terms typically associated with anime fandom.  I don’t say OP, ED, kawaii, seiyuu, meganekko, eyecatch, mecha or any of the others.  (See above, about my abilities with language.)  The one exception is “fan service” because that’s an animal that’s fairly unique to anime.

3. Thirdly, I don’t treat any of this stuff with the kind of reverence one typically sees out there.  I don’t shoot dirty looks at people who talk during the closing credits, I don’t get into fights about which season of Wedding Peach was the better one, I don’t wear a kimono and light a candle when I take a new disk out of its case.  To me, it’s all about entertainment.  I watch them to have fun, maybe learn something, and perhaps see an interesting perspective.

So if those disqualify me from anime fandom, so be it.  I don’t consider myself a fan of a particular style of presentation anyway; what I am a fan of is good stories, told with interesting characters and creative ideas.  The fact that I’m finding a lot of stories with those qualities in anime doesn’t mean that I always will or that they’re absent elsewhere.  If I find stories I like in Zanzibar shadow puppet theatre, I’ll start watching those too.

So, given all that, what have I liked in anime?  Here’s a list of the series that have made a strong impact on me.  If there’s a review at Chizumatic, clicking the title will take you there; links in the descriptions are for my own writings.  (I’m only including series I’ve watched all the way through.)

Noir – the greatest anime series I’ve seen.  It’s harrowing and intense, but at its heart it’s a wonderful love story (no, not that kind).  Warning:  when I say intense I’m not kidding.  I recently re-watched the series and, at times, it was an effort to put the next disc in.

Haibane Renmei – the second greatest series I’ve seen.  Like a broken heart, you want to tell everyone about this, but also like a broken heart, it’s almost too personal to write about. 

Divergence Eve / Misaki Chronicles.- excellent horror/science fiction hybrid with great, likeable characters and some imaginative ideas.  It’ll never gain an audience above “minor cult” because of the incredibly stupid and distracting fan service. My favorite anime character is in this one.  Note:  Though they’re marketed as different titles, Divergence Eve and Misaki Chronicles are two halves of one story.  Get ‘em both!

Martian Successor Nadesico – comedy/science fiction/giant robots, set onboard a spaceship with a ditzy captain and the world’s most reluctant chick magnet.  To give an example of how bizarre this series can get, many of the Nadesico’s crew are fans of an anime series called “Gekkigengar 3.”  One episode of MSN was actually an episode of “Gekkigengar 3” in which those characters reveal that their favorite show is…Martian Successor Nadesico.  Because of its successful mixture of action, comedy, drama, science fiction and romance, this would be an ideal show to start with, aside from one little problem:  it’s apparently long out of print.

Sugar, A Little Snow Fairy – I’ve already written a lot about this one recently.  It’s a kid’s show, but wonderful nonetheless.  It would be a shame to pass it over just because it’s aimed at children; it’s certainly not dumbed down for anyone.  Everyone can enjoy this.

PreTear – I’ve already written recently about this one as wel.  Magical fighting girl, looming evil, comedy, lots and lots of fun.  Himeno’s determination is remarkable to behold and part of the reason this one’s so appealing to me.

Happy Lesson – another comedy that I really enjoyed a great deal.  I’ve written at length about this one too.

There are others I’ve enjoyed as well, but these were the ones that really came alive off the screen.

Well, I have blathered on for rather a bit, haven’t I?   Why, I hardly ever do that!  But guess what:  some of the series listed above have long essays in the works!  Remember what I said, it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want, and no one, no one can stop me!

I’d do the evil laugh thing, but that always makes me cough.  Thanks for visiting, as always.

 

UPDATE, Sept 6 2007.  Regrettably, I’ve had to close comments for this entry.  It’s become a graveyard of spam.  I want to thank everyone who provided legit comments, and to the spammers, go peddle your papers elsewhere.

PostTear

The more I think about PreTear, the more I realize how much fun I had watching it.  I still say that if you never see it, you can still have a happy, fulfilling life.  But it’s a blast, and I recommend it.  Definitely a re-watch candidate.

Some of the sniping between Himeno and Hayate got old pretty quick, but they did explain that pretty well.  And I liked how Himeno took the initiative to try and be the best PreTear she could.  I’ll probably rewatch that one in a couple of weeks, that’s how much I liked it.

Finished This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, which had an interesting premise and some nice concepts, as well as a whole sack of likeable characters.  Good comedy and lots of nudity are always welcome ’round these parts as well.  I never thought watching a robot get irked because people deliberately mispronounce his name would be so entertaining.  The character who really caught me, though, was Jennifer Portman.  Drunken slut AND brilliant scientist?  Sign me up!  I thought at first that she would turn out to be a Third Girl, but instead she’s just really, really smart and perceptive.  Get out the hose, boys, I’m in love again!

I still haven’t watched the Sugar Summer Special.  I really liked those characters and I’m reluctant to let them go, and once I watch the special there isn’t any more left.

Of course, in one sense I needn’t worry.  Sugar and Saga are always going to be around; heck, I already mentioned how the Leafe Knights from PreTear kind of reflect the Season Fairies from Sugar.  I also recently saw Hanaukyo Maid Team La Verite, and there were some parallels there.  It’s a fun but slight story about coming of age and taking responsibility, and episode five had a special treat for Sugar fans.  As well, two of the voice actors showed up again: Michelle Ruff (Saga) and Reba West (Sugar).  Ms. Ruff plays Konoe, the formidable head of security; the voice is quite different from Saga’s, and if it hadn’t been right there in the credits I would never have guessed it was the same actress.  Great work on Ms. Ruff’s part.

Reba West has a very distinctive voice, on the other hand, and she sounds just like she did in Sugar.  Here she plays Lemon, a maid assigned in a rather more personal capacity.  Let me tell you, hearing Sugar say how much she’d love to pleasure herself with the young master is so far into the “Wrong” Zone there isn’t even a button for it….

Well, I have to look for a PreTear so I can fight this damned illness with the power of the elements.  Thanks for stopping by!