Monthly Archives: October 2007

Weirdness for Weirdness’ Sake?

Happy 10/31

Yea it’s a post on ef. I can’t help it–this is the kind of anime that gets my mind going.

But what is there to say? Lacking the tools of someone who studied film seriously I can only say that much like Soul Taker, for once the direction speaks to the message of the story.

Imagine a pop-up 3d book with moving parts; or better yet, a simple illustrated book. The words of a book still carries the story in its entirity, but the visuals and the interactive parts of the book help tell it. The ef anime is basically a pop-up 3d version of a normal anime.

Allow me to run with this illustration for some significant lengths.

Last time I looked at a pop-up book, I was shopping for presents to give to kids at a community service function. Freeing my engineer instincts I would examine the book carefully to see how each piece worked–how it folds into the book closed, how each pull or push tab connects with a corresponding piece as a part of the panorama. On the other hand when it’s presented to the lucky (or not so lucky) child, they tend to look at it as-is–“wow this cool” or “bleh I don’t want that kiddy book.”

It’s something that you either get or you don’t get, I guess. Looking at an elaborate illustration can give someone the same effect (Escher anyone?), but having seen the same kind of illustrated stuff for many years, a 3d, pup-up version of the same illustrated stuff might just tug and push your sensibilities into curious mode, like how ef did for me. Of course, that’s where the illustration ends. The ef anime is like any other anime, but by heavy-handedly highlighting all the techniques it eliminates a lot of the directional magic that we are accustomed to because they’re no longer subtle, yet the heavy style creates another kind of subtlety. It’s the kind of subtlety that makes Soul Taker so good. That said, it’s a little early to say if ef has successfully done it.

Lately shows like Touka Gettan, Pani Poni Dash, and even Suzumiya Haruhi (and the list goes on) has gone above and beyond the call to differentiate themselves from the crowd through these kind of tricks. Clever or not I don’t know; and they get different mileages out of the different tricks they employ. And to be honest, I don’t know what we can draw as conclusions besides that more and more shows are getting more sophisticated. And that is likely a good thing….for people who appreciate sophistication in anime.

Seiyuu Moe Is LULZ

If you didn’t know, Hashihime is throwing a serious seiyuu poll. There’s even a photo index.

Well I did promise to study the list, so here’s my cheat sheet and starting point. The ones with a hash mark are the ones who will be considered for round two as I try to find that needle in this haystack of pictures, identities, subjectivity and human worshiping that’s worth my solitary vote. I think I’ve wiped out a lot of them who are just starters because their resume looked weak, and I think overall there is actually a bias of picking pictures. The ones Hashihime likes tend to get a better selection, lolz, at least that was my feeling while going through the list and looking everyone up. Plus, there are quite a few that were left out in the list that I thought was essential.

And if you want to know more, yes, there is a pattern to my madness. I did stick to looking at a set of criteria for everyone, and those who did well enough will qualify.

One caveat: considering that meeting Mamiko Noto had left such a great impression on me this past summer, I don’t know if I can at all objectively rank her. She’s got this awesome yamato nadeshiko aura around her that’s just enthralling. Maybe it’s just me, I guess. And yea, pictures do not do her justice.

Well she hasn’t made me feel like learning Japanese and get myself to Japan and work in a related industry, yet. Thank God.

The Melancholy of Kyousuke Tsutsumi or the Difference Between Normal and Ordinary

Lately I read a book that told the story of ordinary people doing radical things. They are not unlike you and I, with exception of their earnest belief that they are here to change the world in their ordinary capacity.

The fact that you and your neighboring commuter are traveling to work does not separate him or her from any other person commuting to work in the car or seat also next to you. What is different is beyond the ordinary–traveling to work–from the normal–that someone can tell all about you just by your commute. After all, if you’re reading this blog odds are you’re some crazy ass anime fanboy nut compared to the average person within a 50 meter radius of you. It’s not something you can easily discern usually. Yet,the cling to normalcy is a complex of an entire identity. A normal person is just that, normal. An ordinary person, however, doesn’t have to be.

Granted the distinction between ordinary and normal is nonsensical semantically, but it does serve to highlight the difference between something commonly seen versus the institution of conformity.

Ponder the following scenarios:

  • In Suzumiya Haruhi no Uuutsu, a girl who is fascinated with modern fairy tales of aliens, time travelers and ESPers, actually finds them hidden in plain sight, conforming to not just normal behaviors but stereotypes of aliens, time travelers and ESPers. Craziness ensues when male lead enters into the picture as a stereotypical, jaded audience of these modern fairy tales.
  • In ef – a tale of memories, the high school film club presses onward to produce a quality production, aiming to win a prize at a film competition. The main cameraman is seen as a person with some skill in the shots he take, perhaps impressionist, perhaps postmodern, but nonetheless draw fans and set the cameraman’s films apart from the common crop. However, rather than to be characterized through such distinctive streaks, the film club wanted to produce a popular hit with a film that conforms (realist?) to people’s sense of what is ordinary but yet captures the spark the star cameraman gives to his subjects. They are aiming for the grand prize, not one set for special but different films.
  • In Honey & Clover, an art prodigy escapes into secondary education to blossom under the care of her uncle in a university. She befriends a group of ordinary youth in a similar place in life looking for direction, for love, and for themselves.
  • In Kimikiss Pure Rouge, a 16 year old boy finds romance along with his wingman, a 17 year old girl, with another boy. Oh, the boy’s good male friend also finds his sister’s new friend somewhat cute? There be karaoke and giggles.
  • In Kamichu, an ordinary middle schooler is a Shinto deity in the flesh.

It’s ordinary, yet somewhat extraordinary. It feels attainable, its lure just within our grasp. For me it’s irresistible (at least when it’s done right).

There’s a thin line between what’s ordinarily extraordinary and what is just normal. I’m not sure where the line is, but you can tell when it stops being ordinary either by being just plain out there, or being just … a normal anime.

Capturing the tension that exists in the abnormal ordinary is a key element of a compelling storytelling style. Perhaps the biggest problem for the ef anime right now is that it is too odd to be ordinary, even if it is rooted so.

The Alien’s First Contact

Minori Chihara – Contact.

Minori Chihara (Minorin) catapulted onto the stage of otaku limelight with her role in the whirlwind of Suzumiya Haruhi. Like her youthful colleague, Minorin has taken this opportunity to hone her fan base and her portfolio.

You can watch the promotional video for her first solo album, based on track 2, Shijin no Tabi, here.

With many other seiyuu pop solo works, what matters the most is not so much who’s on the cover, but who’s producing and writing the songs. Elements Garden is behind Contact…and that means the music can’t suck that bad, right?

Actually, yeah, it doesn’t. I’m not particularly partial to either Minorin or Elements Garden (although I like their track record), and even I thought this first CD is categorically inoffensive, pleasant at parts, and generally passable.

But on the flip side, it might be a bad matchup. Minorin does not sing like Nana Mizuki and her voice just doesn’t land in a very impressive range, and it lacks impact. Unlike, say, Chiaki Ishikawa, Minorin’s ballad voice is passible at best even if it operates at the same range. It just doesn’t have the same depth. The weak, if existent vibrato pushes it beyond “irritating” into “passible” but that’s not at all flattering.

I guess the best litmus test of this CD for you is Shijin no Tabi. If you like that song for the vocals, then you’ll like this CD. Unfortunately for me I liked the instrumentation more, and while admirable, Minorin doesn’t outperform herself anywhere else on that album, making Shijin no Tabi pretty much the best track on the CD.

To put things in perspective, heck, that’s more praise than I can say for the likes Nana Mizuki’s, Saeko Chiba’s, and a legion of others seiyuu solo first-albums. But I guess she’s still a youngin with a lot of promise. There’s enough talent to do better, so please learn to sing better for your fans, Minorin-san!

The Balanced Diet – Sorely Lacking In Kisses

No, this has nothing to do with the blog by a similar name.

Chairwoman Mao Yoshino

But the idea behind this rant is the same: there are different stories out there; as a genre or a medium, anime offers some variety of themes and stories. Even more importantly, anime offers a wide varieties of storytelling.

Moyashimon is an inspiration of sorts for this post: The Eskimos cuisine, kiviak, was the center of a joke when Dr. Moleman came out and sucked the juices of dead birds, straight from a dead seal. The show went on and explained that as Eskimo cuisine started to use cooked meat instead of raw meat, the Eskimo then used fermented seabird juices to supplement their vitamin-lacking diet as heating the meat broke down some of the essential vitamins within the food. Indeed, it was not like taking a multivitamin pill in the morning as you rush off to school or work.

Point: all people enjoy a wide variety of stories, but delivered in a format that works for them.

A fine example of this is Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. To be honest the story behind it is pretty uninteresting once you know what it is, but because it’s packaged in a fairly fresh, layered and intriguing way, with a lot of superimposed and juxtaposing moe and gore, it works. Indeed, compared to shows like Shigurui, Higurashi is almost like an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

But I am not saying DBZ is bad. It is good, at times. It’s like while delicious steak is delicious, you probably don’t want to have that for breakfast everyday. It’s okay to learn about life through a kid’s dialog with a ghost while playing go. It just won’t have the same effect of learning about life through a kid’s dialog with her friends while planning a school festival. Or a kid’s dialog with his friends while riding on a giant robot. Or a kid’s dialog with her friends while riding on a dog. We need all of them, at different times in our lives, for different people.

The bigger framework here is simple: there are stories, and there are different ways to tell it. A character-driven monologue-heavy narrative will have different effects than a crew-gathering boss-fighting mecha show. Both kind of shows will draw different crowds even if the underlying story and theme is pretty much the same, with characters running on the same set of outlook and perspective, in drastically different situations

Problem: Perhaps you are like myself and watch a lot of new anime. If you follow what’s new and fresh from Japan’s airwaves then you are prone to not having a balanced anime diet. We are at the mercy of whatever delicious morsel of cartoons fansubbers, anime studios, and your preferred means of obtaining these shows, to deliver what captures your attention. Instead, we should also seek to watch some other shows to balance out of what you have seen the near past. Variety is a cure in of itself, let alone enabling a more balanced view of anime both as a hobby and as a medium. If all you watch is tentacle porn, I guess that’s fine too but that might be a bit Eskimo-esque, and you might want to look into something odd to keep your perspective fresh. Same can be said of people who watch mostly action anime, or mecha anime, or shoujo, or romance, or generally not getting a good grip of what it is like out there, what anime generally can offer to its viewers. A balanced diet is recommended, even if it’s in the form of a weird alternative. What’s key is with the right delivery. For example, Touka Gettan on DVD… or Colorful?

I jest.

Actually, I think I just wrote this up because I just can’t quite fathom my obsession with Mao and Kimikiss anime. After giving the weird impulse I had some thought, I think, besides the “hot for <insert chara name here>” factor, I have this deep craving for a good shounen/seinen pure romance story. I know there was a “Shizuka” thing a year ago, but that was no where near as … moe. The delivery didn’t work for me. I suppose the Ah My Goddess TV series counted too, but those are more like “old” stories rehashed. Shows like H&C and Nodame were great, but they’re incomplete substitutes as josei manga adopted. In other words, there’s just a lack in this category of anime in recent years. A bishoujo game adaptation just doesn’t work like that unless it’s rewritten alike to Kimikiss Pure Rouge.