Archive for April, 2008

Toshokan Sensou: The First Line of Battle is the Circulation Desk

Pic unrelated to title, but the expression on Iku’s fact there perfectly represents the feeling I get on a day when work is getting slammed with patrons who all want to find that one special book that got stolen two years ago and, not finding it, pick another book with an embarassing cover (which is 90% of the books in the library) and take it to the circulation desk whereupon they discover that they have a $0.50 fine and begin to argue with the circ staff about how unfair it is that they should have to pay a 50 cent fine, to which the reply is “Well, you turned in a book five days late” which elicits a “No I didn’t, that was on time!” and proceeds to defend their precious 50 cents while the guy down the line with the $50 fine writes a check while smiling and telling us to buy some fun books with the money. I know you guys like the library and all, but really, you don’t have to all come in and do this at the same time.

Er, sorry. Work rant. This series might prompt more of them.

Anyway, now that there are subs, Toshokan Sensou is still glorious and still everything I had hoped it would be when I heard about it months ago. It’s actually better–I didn’t expect Iku at all, and neither did I expect her to channel Ai Tanabe at the same time that Doujou was channeling Hachimaki, which makes this a quite fun series to watch. The premise of setting libraries at war against an independent team of media censors has been described as ludicrous by some, but these people clearly do not understand the awesome inherent in sticking guns into the hands of librarians. The command to shush while in the library sticks a bit better when we’re pointing a gun at you and telling you to shush, rather than just giving you a stern look from beneath our collective beehive hair (note: I have never seen a librarian, or even a non-librarian, with beehive hair. We all look as awesome as Nancy Pearl with her push-button shushing action).

Coming from my librarian background, the best part of the two episodes I just watched was the bit in episode 2 where Iku is performing library duties with varying degrees of success. I felt sorry for her when she knocked over the book cart (that happens every once in a while, and it’s never pretty, especailly when the whole cart tumbles over and you’re staring at a pile of books that were once in perfect Dewey order and are now sorted according to entropy), but nevertheless admired her plucky tenacity to learning the ropes of the classification system. I couldn’t help but notice that the Kantou Library Group uses those nifty shelves-on-rails things that we’ve got at the local university–those things are handy but annoying when you’re trying to shift the collection across the border and have to put books on a cart, get out of the aisle, push the button, wait, and then unload and do it all over again.

And my Expert Library Worker Eye spotted horrible inefficiency in the shelving process–I mean, really, Iku just grabs a small bin of books and whisks off to the stacks to shelve them. I don’t know what kind of circ Kantou gets, but it’s a huge library and that seems like a horribly inefficient way to go about the tedious process of putting the books back on the shelf.

I get carried away talking about the process of working in a library, so here’s something of actual pertinence to the anime I’m supposed to be discussing: I’m quite liking the blend of seriousness and lightheartedness. As mentioned above, the setting could be construed as quite ludicrous, but the series doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’d be a silly premise if this was a gritty war drama with death and blood and guts and courage, but with the mood of the series the way it is, the silliness of the setting doesn’t really bother me at all, and in fact actually adds to the experience. And, honestly, it’s no more ridiculous than Read or Die’s setting, where the British Library actually has a huge network of secret agents who all have supernatural powers who protect great literature the world over. And Read or Die is considered a classic of anime in general, so I see no reason why we should criticize Toshokan Sensou just because it isn’t snappy mad cool like Read or Die was.

I also love how they have to announce to each other over the intercom that they’re opening hostilities, and that the Media Enforcement Corps actually give the libraries time to evacuate patrons who might be caught in the crossfire. Then again, I’m sure somewhere in a later episdoe there will be a patron death and Iku will go on a rampage or something fun like that. But we actually haven’t had a death in the series yet, and I don’t think we’re going to. It’s not a kill-people-off story, especially as the librarians are quite content to shoot to disarm and not to kill. I think that’s the best part of the series, for me–they may now be soldiers trained in the art of war, but they’re stil librarians at heart.

Now if only libraries in our world could field their own army, and we could launch attacks on book burnings and similar nasty things. The right to free speech and freedom of information should be enforced with military might, thank you very much.

Soul Eater: OCD Symmetry & Patty’s Perfection

Oh, Patty, I knew you would be amazing just by glancing at your design.

Death the Kid is amazingly awesome. I think every person on the planet had OCD in some form or another, so there’s no way you can’t tell me that you didn’t see elements of yourself in him, Personally, I don’t have the ridiculous devotion to symmetry; although the concept is certainly biologically pleasing, there’s a certain kind of beauty in asymmetry with good composition. I have more issues with making sure that I don’t step on cracks or tiles of the incorrect color (watching me walk must be a laugh riot at times), so I certainly understand the need for things to be just so, or else you aren’t happy. It’s a primate thing, I think.

The absolute highlight of the episode, though, was the Thompson sisters, Patty and Liz. Mostly Patty. Oh god, Patty. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the “cute-yet-lovably-airheaded” type in anime, and she bowled me over wholeheartedly. Her seiyuu also seems to be new to the business, like Maka’s: I like Takahira Narumi’s voice better than Omigawa Chiaki’s (Maka), but I really don’t have an issue with Maka’s voice as she seems to be less about squeaky cuteness and more about raging power. All that screaming would give anyone a harsh voice, wouldn’t you agree? That and Chiaki’s originally a stage actress, so she’s not as trained in voice acting. I find Maka’s voice fits her character, and most of the hatred probably comes from people desiring a voice more like Patty’s than what they got.

Not only is Patty cuter than a button that has a picture of a kitten on it, but she’s dangerous. I think the single best scene of the entire episiode (and the series thus far), in terms of “you did NOT just do that” action was when they did the mid-air role swap. Patty jumps, transforms into a gun, while Liz goes from gun to human form, grabs gun-Patty, and blasts the mummy. The sheer creativity of that move shows that perhaps Death the Kid, for all the raging passion he exhibits when confronted with assymetry, would probably be useless without Patty and Liz (See, it’s that reversal of standard shounen gender roles again!). It’s also fun to note that it’s Patty who comes up with this move. Yes, air-headed Patty. With adorable poofy jean shorts.

The three prologues of the main characters have done an excellent job in setting up the characters of the series in a way which clearly defines who these characters are. It’s amazing how much detail they crammed into these three episodes, while keeping up the comedy aspect. It’s that comedy aspect that I think helps define these characters and makes them likable and memorable this early on, as humor is the best way to implant something in the human mind. Sometimes, I watch a series and can’t remember the names of characters until 4-5 episodes later, and even then, I’ll forget minor characters easily. Maybe it’s just the high volume of discussion about the series I’ve been seeing, but I have zero trouble remembering these characters’ names, despite only hearing them a couple of times each. When names and faces of characters stick this well, someone’s doing their job right.

I have no idea where Soul Eater is going now (the preview offers no clues); they may branch from the manga early and develop an anime-specific storyline, they may follow the manga until they run out and then do same, or maybe they’ll dispense with a plot altogether and just be manic fun for 51 episodes. The last one is the least appealing, but as long as the series stays this consistently entertaining I’ll stick with it. And it’s a 10th anniversary series for BONES, which is an extra incentive to see what’s up with it. But one never knows with these things.

Code Geass R2: Lelouch Lamperouge, Devious Mastermind

Quiver in fear, Rolo, for you have been destroyed by the brilliant intellect that is Lelouch Lamperouge. Feel honored, if your inferior intellect is capable of feeling honor.

So, yeah, this was pretty much the best episode of Code Geass that I can remember. Setup for R2 seems to be over now, and now things start in earnest. There is nothing I like better about Code Geass than Lelouch playing mind games with people, and Fukuyama Jun is so good at delivery that I half-believed what Lelouch was telling Rolo. Seriously. And then I had to slap myself and say “Wait, this is Lelouch, he’s just manipulating Rolo’s mind” and was seriously impresed.

Rolo seems to be a very interesting character, especially given the characterization he’s given in this episode. His usefulness extends only as far as his Geass power can reach, and that’s a pretty small radius to alter time perception. The meeting he overheard between Viletta and the other observers of Lelouch wherein they totally trash him served as excellent foreshadowing for Rolo’s later mindplay, and we didn’t even notice anything was up. It’s clear, in hindsight, that the casual “meh” attitude Rolo had was developed simply to cope with the crippling lonliness and lack of self-worth he possesses. We don’t see that, though, until after Lelouch warps Rolo’s mind enough to bring out his inner feelings. I, for one, didn’t see that particular plot twist coming, so kudos to Goro and Okouchi Ichiro for pulling that off and even foreshadowing it in such a way that you don’t even know it’s foreshadowing until you get to the end of the episode and think about it for a bit.

It’s clear, though, that Lelouch isn’t trying to win over an ally so much as bend Rolo to his means. He fully intends, as he said himself, to leech Rolo dry of any benefit he can, while still making him feel wanted and loved enough to keep him working for him. In the space of four episodes, Rolo has gone from being the BAD END of the PSP game, where he holds ultimate control over Lelouch’s life, to the exact opposite, where Lelouch holds Rolo dangling over a pit of snapping piranas thirsty for human flesh. He might as well be God in the Jonathan Edwards sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, and, worse, he’s quite enjoying himself as he torments others.

It’s interesting of Lelouch that he’ll forego the usual respect afforded to other human beings simply out of his desire to overthrow his father, Charles. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the little I know about Steven Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and as I haven’t seen that yet I can’t talk in clear specifics (I’m going to watch soon, though, a DVD of a recording of an actual stage performance with George Hearn in the title role, as opposed to the Tim Burton version, as I’d rather watch the unexpurgated version before the expurgated, but that’s just me), but I’m pretty sure there’s similiarities you can draw, such as using violent methods to exact your revenge upon cruelties performed upon you. The only difference is that Code Geass is successful and Sweeney Todd has never been a major success since its release in the 70s, so drawing comparisons will either make a small subset of the population amazingly happy, or draw the attention from one to the other, which is probably a good thing no matter which way it’s sliced. When I actually watch it, I might see if my notion remains valid, but I suspect it will.

But, yes, Lelouch doesn’t pull punches for people in his quest for revenge. He’s a clear anti-hero, yet, given how sympathetic his plight is, you can’t help but cheer (if that is the correct word) him on and marvel at his cunning intellect as he quashes everyone in his way and somehow has everything work out exactly as planned even when the plan came into being three hours ago. I kind of wish we’d have more anti-heroes in anime, but Lelouch is a fluke of Code Geass’s timeslot You can trust Taniguchi Goro to take advantage of whatever he can, when he can, and I can’t help but think that Code Geass was massively improved over the original concept due to the timeslot swapping. You both love and hate Lelouch as a character, or, at least, I do (much heavier on the “love” side though), which always makes for much more entertaining and complex viewing. After all, if you can’t cheer on a villain, who can you cheer on?

Mobile Suit Gundam 00: The Levithan of Character Development


My Custom Haro is preparing for battle. You would be wise to be terrified.

So after a protracted “discussion” with Owen S from Cruel Angel’s Theses he practically instructed me to write this post, so I am!

The most common criticism I hear leveled against Gundam 00 is the supposed lack of character development. Now, first, I checked Wikipedia for what is most likely intended by the phrase “character development” and, lo and behold, I was looking at it slightly funny. Character development, of course, is the procees of a character changing in some significant way over the course of a work of fiction. Which I already knew. However, I had somehow folded characterization into the definition of character development, as it makes more linguistic sense to me. If you are “developing” the characters, wouldn’t it track both a deepening of the personality and a change over the work?

Thinking about it, it’s probably somewhat accurate to state that Gundam 00 did not have “character development” in the sense of the actual definition. What happens to the characters, especially the Meisters, isn’t a gradual change in their personalities, but rather a deepening of the viewer’s understanding of their static character–the process of characterization. I posit two things: one, that it is most likely outside the scope of Mizushima’s intent with Gundam 00 to “develop” the characters as one might expect; and two, what we have at the moment is only half of the entirety of Gundam 00. We have no idea what’s going to happen in season 2, so it’s possible that all the change was saved up for then. And as for the first, as SDS points out, Gundam 00 is more like the original Mobile Suit Gundam than any of the other AU series, in the sense that it portrays how war affects people. Technically they should change, but what we have in season one is a 25-episode study in how war affects the human consciousness. Mizushima accomplishes this more through portraying the character’s emotional reactions to events in the series. A character having a strong emotional reaction to some kind of external event that they can’t control is valid characterization, as it shows you what they find upsetting; you may not like it, which is perfectly acceptable, but it isn’t invalid.

In conclusion, I guess, the main difference between fans of Gundam 00 and not-fans of Gundam 00 is a difference in how they wish to see characters portrayed in their anime. Characterization has a certain kind of style to it, and if you don’t like the style of a certain series’ charateriation, then you’re going to like that series less. It’s like how I’m ambivalent (or, really, downwright bipolar) towards Kaiba: objectively, it’s good; subjectively, it fails to grab me in any significant way that makes me appreciate it the way Yuasa intendts me to appreciate it. DIfferent strokes and all that.

I also notice that a lot of the criticism of Gundam 00 of this nature comes from those with limited exposure to the Gundam franchise, and so therefore they’re bringing a different perspective to the matter. Most people with more exposure to the Gundam franchise I’ve seen do one of two things: enjoy Gundam 00 wholeheartedly, sometimes with reservations; or watch two episodes of it and declare it Gundam Wing Part the Second and dismiss it out of hand. That’s not to say one is better than the other, it’s to say that there’s two ways of looking at the series: as an anime that started in Fall 2007, and as a part of the Gundam franchise. SInce I subscribe to the latter, the former is a mystery to me.

kure-nai: Level Up! Gained New Ability: Shampooing One’s Own Hair!

I cannot take any more Murasaki cuteness. First she can’t reach the button in the elevator (and complains about it and is summarily trapped in said elevator) and then she finally figures out how to shampoo her own hair. Badly, of course (you have to scrub the whole hair, not just the top, dear) but that’s Murasaki for you.

The reason behind the mysterious kidnapping of Murasaki by Benika at the start of the series is revealed, as well as Benika’s reasons for putting her in the care of Shinkurou. It’s a well-matched set of events, and I can already see that their plan is starting to bear fruit. Murasaki is quite different than she was in episode 1, where all she could do was talk down at Shinkurou. Shinkurou, for his part, seems to have grown a kind of affection for Murasaki as well. If he didn’t feel affection for her, he wouldn’t chastise and rebuke her as much as he does, let alone get into a shouting match with her like last episode. And his immediate shift from passive sackdoll to aggressive guard dog when Murasaki was theatened has much, much more of a parental nature than a business one.

Before I watched this episode, I got curious and looked up the definition of “kurenai” [紅] on edict (it means “crimson”, perhaps meaning blood) and discovered an interesting fact that you’d only get by looking at the Japanese names of the characters: Shinkurou’s last name is, of course, simply Kurenai (full name: 紅 真九郎). The “beni” in Benika, however, is the same kanji (full name: 柔沢 紅香) but an alternate reading. (The 香 [ka] part of her name, incidentally, means “incense, fragrance”; in keeping with the idea of 紅 as “blood” perhaps this could mean that her name literally means “smell of blood”, a charming name for a charming lady). It’s a silly little touch I noticed. I haven’t determined if it means anything or not. although I guess it could imply a sort of blood tie between them.

I’m finding it hard to figure out exactly what attracts me so much to kure-nai, aside from the Murasaki Moe Moments, which would be enough to carry any series. There’s something more than that, however, and the direction for the series absolutely shines in ways I hadn’t considered when I watched Rozen Maiden years and years ago. Matsuo Kou is truly a talented director, and just watching kure-nai I’m getting the urge to be the third person ever to buy Red Garden DVDs and watch them. I don’t know how much of this is the influence of him and the main screenwriter, and how much is the influence of the original author, Katayama Kentarou, but the series is extremely skilled on all three fronts in maintaining a sense that the characters who know each other, know each other well. You see this whenever Shinkurou is at school: the dialogue isn’t like most anime, where the characters dump exposition on each other in casual conversation; you instead get the feeling that these people have known each other for years and years and you, the viewer, can sense an undercurrent running under what’s actually being said.

It’s the combinatrion of the writing, both original and adaptation, and direction that turns kure-nai from “cute series about cute girl” to a strong followup to true tears. It’s always the case for me that whenever a season ends and a series I’ve grown attached to is over with, I feel strange, like nothing that’s good in that special way will come along again and the pervasive fear that I’ll mysteriously fall out of anime somehow creeps upon me, something always comes the next season and knocks those feelings away. It’s a necessary feature to being a loyal follower of anime, I find, this willingness to say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. If one dwells on one series too long, one forgets to appreciate series that one sees after it and finds that they are drawing comparisons between what they’re currently watching and what they’ve loved in the past, and these comparisons are always negative for the series more fresh in their memory. Not that you can’t have favorites (I certainly have mine, and I have quite a lot of them, so I have trouble with top ten lists), but nether does the quality of series from the past negatively impact the quality of series in the present, or in the future.

And now I step off the small soapbox I just got on and conclude with this thought: Murasaki playing Nintendo DS. I am now envisioning Murasaki trying to play Ouendan, and this mental image is wonderful indeed.

Itazura na Kiss: Slap of the Gods Part II: The Aftermath

This series makes it difficult to select just one screencap sometimes. This one won the contest hands-down, though.

So the turnabout that happened with the Slap of the Gods (it’s been almost a week and I’m still impressed by how epic that slap was. Yes, I know “epic” is a term applied to most anything these days; that slap, however, deserves the term) is still going on, with Kotoko mostly impervious to Irie’s general jerkery. I’m getting the feeling that each episode is cramming in as much manga content as they can before they hit the 26 episode limit and have to give an ending to the series. It’s not a problem so much as an observation–episode 4 seemed in particular as if they had taken three manga chapters and turned it into one episode.

It’s a testament to the strength of the direction, then, that this series avoided the fate of a muddled mess. Yamazaki Osamu proved adept at taking a three-volume work and crafting a 24 episode series out of it (Terra e…), and it seems he’s equally adept at getting a 24-volume work and getting 26 episodes out of it. I have the feeling, given the lack of experience of Shimizu Yukako, the chief writer, that Yamazaki is shepherding her through the process, but they’re both doing an admirable job. Despite the frantic pace, integrity and continuity is kept, without seeming too terribly jarring.

On the actual content of the episode, Kotoko is proving to the Iries that she, too, is quite a capable person. She saves Yuuki from certain death by drowning, and even invites him to (reluctantly) play with her friends a bit, which doesn’t seem to soften the snotty child much, but I think it’s evident that he’s got a bit more respect for her. Doubly so with Irie saving Kotoko when she gets a leg cramp (I hate those things)–there’s a clear sign that no matter how much Irie may dislike Kotoko, he can’t hate her. He even, by the end of the episode, seems to be doubting himself and second-guessing his reactions.

It’s interesting to note a small change in Irie’s personality–in the first episode, he was essentially dispassionate and remote from anything happening. He didn’t express much emotion at all, just apathy. Just four episodes later, he’s whacking Kotoko over the head when she gets a question wrong, but he’s not doing it in a cruel way. In fact, while he second-guesses himself in the study session scene, it’s clear that he has changed, and he notes this himself. Even if he’s only expressing negative emotions, he’s expressing actual emotions. For all his pretenses of distaste towards Kotoko, she’s got the power to affect him. The Irie of episode one wouldn’t have even apologized for teasing Kotoko the way he did (with rape–trust shoujo manga to bring this into play somehow), nor would he have offered her his notes.

I largely suspect that this shift is him grappling with complicated emotions rising within him (and perhaps less complicated and more primal urges rising as well). Most people get confused when someone brings out a complicated emotion within them, be it what Irie is feeling (I don’t think there’s a way to describe it, other than maybe “reluctant affection,” but it’s there) or a raging anger or something else entirely, often people don’t know how they should feel. They’re happy yet sad, intimate yet distant, and other juxtapositions of emotions. New emotions are always difficult things to deal with, and I expect this to be grappled with for the next 22 episodes.

This sense of the characters grappling with emotions is part of why I like Itazura na KIss. The other part of why I like it has to do mostly with cheering Kotoko on and booing Irte every time he steps onscreen. It’s like a different form of the excitement I felt while watching Rose of Versailles, although a 70s to 90s comparison isn’t quite fair to make for either side. When shoujo is done with the certain kind of dramatic flair that Itazura na Kiss is done with, it’s impossible for me not to love it, target demographcs be damned. And that’s what being an anime fan is about: damning the target demographics.

Moenetics: Hooray for Kadokawa Pictures USA!

So I have a certain unnamed series that was licensed for release in the US by Kadokawa Pictures USA sitting in front of me that somehow arrived on my doorstep a couple weeks before the street date. I don’t really have the slightest clue as to why TRSI does this, but it’s quite fun.

Anyway, in the liner notes of said unnamed anime, there is a defintiion of moe. It is as follows:

Moe is defined as a strong but innocent love of anime or video game characters based on their appearance and personality. To a hardcore otaku, moe is not about sexual attraction, but about looking at an idealized character that is so innocent and loveable to the point of triggering an emotional response.

Let’s look at a certain segment of that quote again:

[…]moe is not about sexual attraction, but about looking at an idealized character that is so innocent and loveable […]

Just to be absolutely clear that you’re se eing what I’m seeing:

[…]moe is not about sexual attraction[…]

Thank god the industry understands this. As a short, concise definition of moe (the actual definition would require a doctoral thesis, and at any rate that definition would simply belong to the author of the thesis and wouldn’t really apply to anyone else) that communicates essential fundamentals about the concept to an unknowing audience, it’s brilliant. The adjectives are perhaps a bit limiting, but I wholeheartedly endorse this official definition. It’s much better than Tokyopop’s as found in the back of Welcome to the NHK! volume 1.

If only I could find some way to send a message to every anime fan by generating subliminal messages that would be recorded onto every broadcast of every anime ever, so that all fans everywhere understand the concept of moe, even if they, personally, don’t like it. Maybe I should read more of The Mysterious Benedict Society, it might give me some important hints and tips as to this feat. Step one: find an island loaded with precious metals and gemstones that no one knows has precious metals and gemstones. Step two…


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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