Monday, June 28, 2004

Does Mashimo "get it"?

Subject: Noir
I posted this over on the Anime Nation forum, I figured I'd record it here for posterity (and probably edit it a bit as I re-read it to try and phrase everything better):

I finally caught all the way up to Madlax episode 12 over the weekend. While it's sometimes fun to draw loose comparisons with Noir ("and then Chloe, uhh, the chick from the jungle..."), I really can't discern any real resemblance except for the fact that the things that Mashimo and his team did well in Noir, he's still doing as well in Madlax. Sometimes better, but not always. There's still that excellent depth & expressiveness behind the characters' eyes, their story arcs are rich with detail yet still hold mystery, and the overall sense of place and presence and mood is very solid.

I'd score it better than Noir in some of the more nitty technical details like staying on-model with the characters (I'm at the point with Noir that I can tell which animator did which shot for which character -- not by name, mind you, just by style deviations) and an overall visual tightness and consistency between long shots and closeups (long-shots of characters with detail are tougher to deal with in cel, and Noir's celwork had other advantages that overshadow this nit anyhow). I'm sure I'll need to revise this when I finally get a chance to see a higher rez release in the coming years (keeping my fingers crossed for an HD release like Noir had!)

But I'm finding that Madlax is probably aimed a little bit lower on the "sophistication" scale as far as the overall story and dramatic direction than Noir is. Or maybe a better way to put it is that Madlax doesn't take itself as seriously as Noir. Which is absolutely fine; Madlax is a lot of fun!

Of course, before I go heap praise on Mashimo, I finally did manage to grab the rest of Avenger over the weekend too. This one seems aimed even lower on the scale, and looks like it's trying to appeal to a broader anime-fan audience, or at least trying to fit in to an established formula. There's still glimmers of the things I like about his characters, but the dramatic depth, the story arc, and the mood/place ingredients are all much, much shallower. There was way too much reliance on "WTF-for-WTF's-sake" going on, I felt; something I'm bit worried about with Madlax, but since Madlax still has another 14 eps to go, I don't think they're in as much of a rush to just drop these bombs on you to cover up for as much as Avenger was trying to cover up for.

I also can't say that the qualities I've liked so far in Mashimo's works can translate too anything done by Bee Train; I've tried to give Arc the Lad a couple of viewings, and I just don't like it. I found Avenger to be much better than most of the series I've sampled so far, because at least there's that "glimmer" there. But I guess overall that's not saying much.

Anyway, I've got to give .hack a try next before I put Mashimo after Miyazaki on my "gets it" list. As in "Mashimo gets it" (Miyazaki definitely undisputedly "gets it", in spades, upside down). And I'm about to give Cowboy Bebop a spin to see what all the fuss is about that Wantanabe guy. And I still have to get myself back to watching at least a couple of films that aren't animated (gasp!); this anime stuff can really skew a guy's perspective after a while!

(Ya think??)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Noir is coming back to INHD!

Subject: Noir
!!!!

I just noticed that on July 2nd, INHD is bringing Noir back from exile, and showing it at 7:30 in the morning during weekdays.

I just loaned the first few DVDs to some friends, thinking I needed a break from the girls for a while (not that I haven't been filling that void with episodes of Madlax, but...). Now, however, I'm tempted to pick up that DVHS deck and get Time Warner to swap for a Firewire-enabled STB. I can collect them all in Hi Def!

I'm not sure which is more weird: the fact that I'm going to go and spend $500 plus the cost of DVHS tapes for one show, or the fact that this is the happiest news I've had in a while.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Just one more geeky thing...

Subject: Music
...I found my very first post on the internet, ever.

Heh.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Okay, I'm not some fan-boy but...

Subject: Noir
...I actually have a long history of watching "animation from Japan". Since I'm now also hooked on over-encoded downloads of Madlax on top of my Noir obsession, and I filled out my weekend watching Kiki's Delivery Service (and, non-animated-but-still-Japanese, Kurosawa's last film, Madadayo), I think I'm going to indulge in a little tale of what I viewed over the years.

One of my earliest memories goes back to the turn-of-the-70's. I distinctly remember watching Speed Racer on my family's only TV. A black & white TV at that. I'd bet the screen was no bigger than 17". I had a Matchbox car that I named "Mark 5" that I'd race around the floor during the show. I'd doodle with my crayons a big #5 with a sort of big dot in front of it; a "mark".
I was even younger than this at the time. By the time this picture was taken (Xmas 1973), I had long moved on to more intellectual pursuits, like Bobbsey Twin books. You can tell I had taste.

If, by "had taste", you mean "was a total dork".

Anyway, fast-forward to the last half of the 70's, that magical time when a nerdy 10-year old still had Star Wars to look forward to, and took up the time building (and then destroying) plastic model ships, planes and cars. The after-school cartoon du-jour was, of course, Star Blazers. Soon my friend and I, instead of outright destroying our plastic model aircraft carriers and missile cruisers, spent time modifying them with battery-powered LEDs inserted into pieces from jet fighter models, and built our own fleet of Yamoto-inspired monstrosities.

Soon to follow was The Battle of the Planets. By then, Star Wars had come out and 7-Zark-7 was just an R2-D2 rip-off with a C3-PO voice as far as we were concerned. And we spent most of our time trying to make Star-Wars-figure movies. We spent a lot of time burning styrofoam to test the "special effects" until Mom caught me; that was the end of that. I had never developed the one Super-8 test reel I took, which is a real shame. But that moment in time was where my first inklings towards a film career gelled.

Enter the 80's, and I discovered computers. Then girls. I was a lot more comfortable with computers than I was with girls, go figure. But I obsessed over both equally. There was an aborted attempt at Dungeons & Dragons, but all that served was me buying a lot of crap and not really finding anyone at school who wanted to take the time to play anymore. No biggie.

Anyway, back to "Japanamation": senior year, after mostly breaking from my nerdly past (computers got boring though I was going to major in them in college, and I spent more time at basketball & football games than watching TV -- why, you ask? Drivers license!), and after a succession crushes on the prep girls, the lacrosse girls, and the "hippie" girls, I fell for the token "geek" girl. She was the type with her nose always in a Piers Anthony book and went to those conventions in full costume and whatnot. Anyway, she wasn't interested, either, but at least tolerated me hanging around. I learned about stuff like "Elfquest" and "Dune" and "Lord of the Rings", and pretty much spiraled right back into nerdiness by the time I graduated. I had a stack of sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks (of which half were probably Piers Anthony Xanth novels), and after her and I dated for a bit (and quickly broke up - turns out I can be a over-possessive arsehole or something), I had a lot of time to read them.

That's about the same time Star Blazers reruns returned, and something new started out: RoboTech! I was working the electronics department at a Zayre's most days it was on, so I'd always say "I have to catch my soaps" (it was quite a soap opera after all) and tuned in all the display sets so I could watch them.

Anyway, all that fell by the wayside as I was finally about to escape home and go off to college. On the day they introduced the various student activities groups to us, I made a fateful decision: Do I join up with the college radio station (I was really into dinosaur rock music and I thought I'd be able to play some of it there, little did I know), or sign on with the that "wargamer" group over in the corner that had all of the *gasp* D&D paraphernalia. And... oh my god... a cute girl!

(By this point you're saying "well, that was their only cute girl, you know", and I'd have to say you were wrong. There were 2; another one joined up around the same time I did. :) )

Predictably, the wargamers' "guild" took over my life, my studies sucked and I was no good at any of that calculus and physics and programming stuff. I had discovered that thing called the "male:female ratio" was tipped heavily against me, so what social skills I had atrophied right along with my grades. My increased alcohol consumption probably made up for both. Anyway, it was no big deal; my new friends (some of which are still good friends to this day) had all sorts of great stuff -- like comic books and every episode of Robotech on tape.

At some point in the blur of those years, but around the time I all but flunked out of engineering, and started the path to my new goal of film school (I realized I wanted to get into computer animation), there was one guy who wanted to introduce everyone to something called "anime". "You mean Japanamation, right?" was the response; I can't really remember if that irritated him, or just made him take on the air of "the one who knows better than you poor ignorant fools". Note that in the whole school, there was, pretty much, just this one guy. Anyway, he posts fliers inviting everyone to show up at one of the auditoriums to see an amazing new film from Japan.

Well, it was a 3rd generation VHS copy in Japanese with no subtitles using a crappy video projector and lousy audio, but, as you can guess, a film like Akira still made quite an impression. Over the next few years, I'd see it a number of more times, dubbed and subtitled. I'd even taken no less than 3 dates to see it (You'd think I'd have learned my lesson after the first try, but noooo...).

My friends and I would hungrily seek out tapes and laserdiscs (I had gotten a free ancient Magnavox player from the department I worked for) of anything we could get our hands on. I don't remember many titles besides Tank Police and Vampire Hunter D, but there must have been a dozen or so. They were scattered around the sci-fi section of the one place in town that had them; there was no such thing as an "anime" section then.

But, as fate would have it, I got more involved with film school, and less involved with general geekdom. My "film snobbery" blossomed. I wound up preferring my subtitled Japanese movies to be Kurosawa, not "cartoons". My animation tastes skewed towards independent, abstract, and those hilarious Canadian Film Board shorts (which, by the way, INHD has snuck a few Hi-def transfers of at various times to my surprise, but they don't have them on their schedule!). The International Animation Festival in Ottawa became a bi-yearly pilgrimage.

I know since then I've probably seen dozens of anime movies and individual series episodes as they popped up occasionally on cable, or showed up in the rental bin. Various housemates would pick them up because someone recommended it. Frankly, while I enjoyed them well enough, I really didn't remember any of them. And I was pretty aware that those were just the tip of a weird costume-wearing geeky iceberg that just wasn't to my taste. It was the realm of obsessive fan-boys and I was done with my time on the periphery of that world.

So major-league fast-forward 10 years or so... my film "career" ends when the video production facility I slaved at went broke. I had done a few cheapo animated shorts for the first season of a childrens' show called Pappyland (*shudder*) and a bunch of low-budget PSAs & commercials while I was there, and that was about the end of it. I wound up with a real day job doing "multimedia training" at Xerox. My creative skills started falling away to my need to lead the technical development and conform to corporate mediocrity and ever-tightening budgets. But, it was a good paycheck for a single guy. I bought a new car, and a fixer-upper house on the lake.

One day I caught Princess Mononoke on cable. I was impressed. Eventually I discovered that Miyazaki, the director, also directed the up-and-coming very-acclaimed Spirited Away, which I added to my "must see when it gets to DVD" list (I rarely make the trek into town to see movies any more unless it's a date). I bought my HDTV and a new 720p-upconverting DVD player right about when its DVD came out, so I ordered both that and Mononoke and broke the set in with a double-feature of both.

And then I stumbled on Noir. And here I am. But I've posted about that already.

So with me and film, it's "all about the auteur", so I'm now building up a Miyazaki collection, and looking into more and more Mashimo. I tried downloading the Avenger fansubs to fill in the time while waiting for the next Madlax episode, but I only could find a seed for episode 1, which didn't quite grab me the way Madlax and Noir did. I suppose I'll wait for the DVDs. Mashimo has also done .hack//sign, which is available on DVD, but I'm hesitating on that one, because it hearkens on that costume-wearing MMPORG weirdness that I, well... I'm too old for that shit. Anyway, when I finally sign up for Greencine, I'll probably rent it.

I'm pretty sure I won't descend into over-aged fan-boydom just yet, though. Another thing we have on cable is the Anime Network On Demand with that paltry playlist. Out of all of those series, I find them to be pretty much juvenille, wooden, flat, cliche-ridden, or otherwise not very interesting. I mean, what's with all the steam-driven gadgetry? And giant robots in the medieval past? *Sigh*. Oh, and I want the half-hour I spent watching Chobits back. :)

Oh, of course, I'm grabbing one of those "Best episodes of" discs of Cowboy Bebop, but I think I mentioned that already. Someone said I'd like it. And that I might like Lain. There might be a couple of others... Maybe I need to take a break and watch more movies with actual people in them first.

Movies that aren't in Japanese.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Life after Noir

Subject: Noir
Okay, I didn't want to get all crazy about anime stuff, but I'll just make one quick comment:

This Madlax is really quite good. I'm through 3 of the 11 available downloads, and I think I've been able to allay my subconcious fear that Noir might have ruined my ability to enjoy any anime (and many movies) ever again.

Now the question is, do I stop now and wait for the DVDs (low-res DIVX doesn't scale that well to my HD set), or do I cling to every fansub release as they appear, and then buy the DVDs whenever they arrive?

Guess the answer. Episode 4 is waiting for me as we speak... :)

The Library Grows

Subject: Cinema
Deep Discount DVD is having one of their infamous 20% off sales starting today. Note that the word is already out, and they have been slammed since at least 9:30 am.

I did a little pent-up box-set spree. I needed to expand the European side of my collection a little. I also indulged in the old Shogun series box set, because, as I recall, it gave a really good introduction to learning Japanese to the extent that you could follow the (very basic) Japanese dialog without subtitles towards the end. Not that I seriously believe that I'll be learning Japanese, but with the amount of Japanese films in my collection (or soon to be in my collection), I'm looking to add at least a little bit of dimension to my viewing pleasure.

No, really, it's not the anime! I mean, sure, I've added this to the pile to see if I like that series at all. And, well, okay, I'm downloading fansubs of a new series by the same studio & director that made Noir... But... I don't have a problem! Really.

(Did I just actually use the word "fansub"?)

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

So what is "Kineska" anyhow?

Subject: Soapbox
"Kineska" is a made-up word. If you Google for it, you'll find this site, and 5 trillion hits for Chinese food in the former Yugoslav republics.

When I made the switch from computer engineering to film school back in the late '80s, like any full-of-himself film student, I needed to come up with an unique, original production company name. No, I wasn't looking to make it sound Japanese; I actually had my sights on going to Eastern Europe at the time. Specifically Czechoslovakia, home of Jan Svankmajer, and where all the cool dark animation and film seemed to be coming from. "Kine" or "Kino" tends to mean "cinema" in various languages (I don't remember if I ever found out if it did in Czech), and the "ska" was kind of a eastern-bloc sounding suffix. I hadn't quite discovered Ska music at the time, so it was a coincidence that I wound up with a lot of that in my CD collection not long after that.

About me, when you Google my name, you'll find a one-time college hockey player from somewhere in the midwest, a supposedly-well-known champion dog-show personality who died a couple of years ago, and the name of a character in one episode of Babylon 5. Oh, and once upon a time I was part of the Draft Wesley Clark movement.

You see, politically, I'm a staunchly independent centrist. Not that wishy-washy non-committal swing-voter centrist, but a believer in a real principled center.

Joe Lieberman and John McCain are not part of this "center". Those who stick their fingers in the air to see which way the polls are blowing are not part of this "center".

Wes Clark was _exactly_ that center. And the funny thing was, on pure "issues", he was mostly "left" to everyone but Kucinich. The difference was that he was able to articulate those issues in true, principled form. In a way that evoked just why those principles spring directly from the founding of this country, from the Enlightenment that allowed Jefferson, Adams et al to even conceive of a nation like this. That's my center.

Anyway, with witnessing just how poorly the media handled the whole thing (because they needed to paint everyone by their broad-brushed labels and put them in neat little pundit-friendly boxes), which led to the eventual death spiral of the campaign, I've been pretty much burned out with politics. This site's title pretty much sums up November for me (though I can care less about his arguments right now), with the caveat that I will probably vote for Nader one last time (the 3rd time) if New York isn't going to be close. Not that I'm interested in Green Party issues or any fringe stuff, just that Nader has a consistent and simple and principled message that's worth shaking the system up for. And this system needs shaking up right now, seeing as the choices we've had these last couple of go 'rounds has been pretty pathetic, and there's no hope for a real independent voice to gain any traction against the entrenched machinery that the party system has tied up.

Enough politics; I will rarely discuss them again, as I'm back to preferring the realm of movies, books, and music.

Anyway, one last thing, about the photo in the banner: that's one of my shots of a bust behind the Highland Bowl in Rochester. I have a series of black and white photos of statuary that I took in grad school. All the statues are photographed without their base, as if they were the actual people standing there: looking, thinking, mourning, contemplating. A lot of somber & solitary poses these statues have (most of them were in the Mt. Hope Cemetery). This one struck me because of it's sort of "looking forward" determinism, the look of "it's been rough here and now, but things will continue onward, for better or worse".

Actually, it's kind of a blank expression, like most statues, and I projected a lot on to it from within myself. All the better!

Printed pages, or... There's nothing good on TV anymore...

Subject: Literature
As I suspected, I continued to read The Idiot all the way through to its, uh, gripping conclusion, inbetween shifts co-captaining the 44-foot English narrowboat from Macedon NY to Medina, and back to Spencerport. A fascinating and relaxing trip. My collection of pictures is very, very tiny despite the fact that I bought an expensive new camera; in fact, my friends were the ones who took most of the pictures when their memory cards ran low. (link pending once I find a place to upload)

Anyway, about The Idiot; I came up with a way to describe it: It's like a madcap comedy, but instead of "madcap" and "comedy", use the words "cruel" and "tragedy". Of course, there's been over 100 years of modern literature since this was written and a lot the themes, devices and other narrative elements have been re-used, re-hashed, or otherwise regurgitated such that it seems like nothing particularly shocking or new occured. I still needed to hang in there and read it through to find out what happened, which means that despite it all, it wasn't boring. It will be a while, though, before I pick it up for a re-read in order to pick at the deeper layers and try to see what I can deconstruct from it.

And needless to say, I identified a little too closely with the protagonist.

When I got back from the trip, I had one more day off before returning to the flourescently-lit prison of my office, and I spent it reading the one I probably should have been reading on the water, The Shadow of The Wind [Salon.com review]. This one was supposedly all the rage in Spain, and I found it quite enjoyable. It's literate and imaginative, but it's still light enough (at least, after a Dostoevsky novel) that I read it through the end before I went to sleep that night. Admittedly it was a very long day of just reading that book, but it captured me enough that I could do it. I had read Jennifer Government in a day, once, but that's because there was a power failure in the middle of winter and I needed to get it back to the friend who loaned it to me, and not because I particularly got dragged into it. That one was a bit too light.

Since then, I've started back into the heavier stuff, and am about half-way through Hemingway's Islands in the Stream. I guess I can't stay away from that tragedy and angst, can I? I've got a John Irving and an Umberto Eco novel lined up to follow, which will hopefully get me through July.

Of course, before I started in on Hemingway, I snuck in Marathon #7 over the weekend. I swear, I'm going to have to loan that box set out to someone to get it out of the house for a while! I haven't cracked open any of my other new DVDs, and can't sit still to watch much of anything else. Except the season-finales of the Sopranos and Deadwood. Now that they're over, and the sun sets so late, there's not much reason to even fire up the set for a while. Except to watch Noir. Over and over.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Vacation within the Vacation

Subject: Musings
Ahhh.

I didn't go for a #7! I spent a day reading and listening to music. In fact, I will likely not pick up a Noir disc until at least next Tuesday. I'm going along with some friends for a 4-day cruise in a chartered houseboat on the Erie Canal. No Internet, no Blackberry, no movies.

I've started Dostoevsky's The Idiot (Pevear's new translation), which is my only "transistion" from Noir to the real world. I've also got Carlos Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, which I may abandon Dostoevsky for entirely while aboard. I have the feeling that a dark & brooding Russian novel may be a bit over-doing it for a vacation.

To complement my reading, I also picked up a 30gb Nomad Zen MP3 player. It's compact, has a halfway-decent battery life, and costs a lot less than an iPod. The UI is a little less elegant, and the thumbwheel is a bit delicate, but it'll do the trick. I also grabbed one of those cheap Belkin FM transmitters, which seems to do the job in my car. I was getting tired of switching CDs, and the radio is pretty much useless to an obscure-music fan like myself.

I've only got it filled about halfway; pretty much all of my Stereolab, Zero 7, Thievery Corporation, Royksopp, and misc. "Buddha Bar" & "Cafe del Mar" compilations, plus a lot of Cuban/Latin, some pop/techno/alternative to mix it up, and some classical to help fall asleep if I need it. I think there's around 1500-2000 songs on there; that should be enough variety for a couple of days.

When I come back, I'll have one more day of vacation before needing to get at all the work I left behind. If my trip was successful, I won't spend that day on Marathon #7.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

#6

Subject: Noir
I'm on vacation. Another rainy day, and I've gone for #6. It's been less than a month.

Maybe it's the fact that while this show manipulates my emotions so deftly, it still leaves me wanting it to happen again. I've had my emotions manupulated by many movies, yet they've all been either transparent and shallow, or too harsh and I don't want to repeat the experience again. The movies I've latched on to in my collection, I think I've been able to maintain an intellectual distance from them -- deconstruct them before they destruct me -- that's why I'm still able to watch them over and over again.

But Noir. It's built of simple ingredients. The visual cliches of televised Japanese animation. A handful of musical scores in various combinations, not composed directly for any given scene or event. The camerawork & mise en scene of European Film Noir. There's not much that, in retrospect, couldn't be considered predictable, cliche, or otherwise style-over-substance on a cursorary viewing. But something about it is allowing me to project some of my self on to it. Something is allowing me to be drawn into it's little world, into the drama and lives of the characters, and it's leaving me a puddle of... tears. Tears, from me. Not hard for a manipulative movie to bring after a few drinks (the ending of "A.I." being pretty notable in that regard), but after repeated viewing... After feeling it as deeply every time I watch it...

What's going on? What is this show symbolizing in my self? Why do I always think about it? Why am I compelled to spend every spare moment watching it, researching it, seeking out any experience that can be associated with it? Close my eyes and it's "Canta per Me" and Kirika's sad, longing eyes.

Is it jealousy? I so very much want to be able to achieve this very thing. But I feel so lacking in talent; I recognize it so readily, yet know, to my core, that I can't produce such a thing on my own. Like the Salieri character envying Mozart in Amadeus. That's the only way I can describe it, even though I really felt no connection to that movie (Amadeus) in particular.

This is too much information. But, there it is. An answer to the question in my previous post: Is a "girls with guns" cartoon bringing on a premature midlife crisis? I guess so.

What talent I've been able to survive on in the "real world" has been to recognize solutions out of "big-picture" problems, and while I feel stymied by this crisis, I think part of it is that I really don't want to acknowledge the answer this time. I've been so "comfortable" with the lakeside home and the Jaguar and the Cuban cigars that my current soul-emptying career has bought for me that I have a hard time bringing myself to the possibility that I should just abandon it. Abandon it how? With what? For what?

I'm on vacation. And vacation is supposed to let me recover from these sorts of thoughts and let me get back into the mindset that makes me a well-behaved corporate drone. But they're just getting stronger, and I'm not coming up with any course of action to remedy that one way or another.

I just keep watching Noir over and over again, like some sort of descent into madness.