Saturday, December 31, 2005

Happy "Noir" Year, redux

Subject: Noir
As per my new tradition (started last year), I'm about to commence Yet Another Marathon of my dearly beloved "Noir".

I can pretty much replay each episode in my head at this point, so I don't expect to uncover any previously-missed details, or gain any brilliant new insights. But that's not the point of it anymore; the point is to have fun!

And so I shall. *grin*

Whether or not I post updates along the way, or even if I can make it all the way through in one night (it's 4pm now, and it'll take me nearly 12 hours... Yikes!) will depend on a number of factors -- if by "factors" I mean "bottles of Guinness". So I'll preemptively post my New Year's best wishes to all of you now.

Luck and peace in 2006!

Friday, December 30, 2005

The week in motion (pictures)

Subject: Cinema
More quickies to log:

"Shaolin Soccer" -- the predecessor to "Kung Fu Hustle", this one spoofs the kung-fu movie scene in the context of soccer. Duh. I watched the dub on my parents' "tiny" 32" screen (no surround-sound, either), and the beginning was really, really painful. I'm sure the dub was meant to be over-the-top bad, but it didn't make it any easier to sit through. However, once the zany soccer-playing action finally kicked in, it was quite amusing. It's not as all-out fun as "Kung Fu Hustle" turned out to be, but it's worth a quick watch.

"Mr. & Mrs. Smith" -- Married assassins (played by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) who don't know that each other is an assassin. For rival organizations. Obviously, hilarity ensues. Obviously it's a light bit of fun, grafting a typical comedy "relationship" movie on top of a spy movie parody. Fun action, the dialogue wasn't a total groaner, and, frankly, Brad & Angelina were waaayyy into it (go figure), and that enthusiasm was rather infectuous. Again, it was on the "small" screen w/o any surround-sound, subwoofery goodness, but it did alright for passing the time.

"War of the Worlds" -- finally, back at my "home theater", I decided to give this one a rent, even though I usually have a "wait for cable" attitude for any film with Tom Cruise in it. Honestly, the only reason I bothered was because Blockbuster didn't have any copies of "Serenity" handy; oh well, maybe next time.

That said, it wasn't half bad. The visuals and the atmosphere really pulled off a sense of scale of the invasion. Speilberg can really pile on the details when he wants to. But there were also a number of nagging inconsistencies that tended to pull me out of the story. Usually revolving around who had "power" and who didn't after the EMP pulses took everything out. The most notable being a bunch of dormant cars on a perfectly functional ferry. And then the very end; but I won't go into that here. Minor stuff, though.

It seemed to follow what details I know about the original story a bit better than the earlier Cold-War-era classic. But I only know the equivalent of the Cliff Notes version of it, so I can't vouch for it's authenticity in the matter. But it seemed to keep a few faithfully reproduced details.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A quick rewatch

Subject: Noir
I've been rewatching a couple of things this week since I got back, but I thought I'd comment briefly about the boxset of "Haibane Renmei".

I wrapped up my observations about the series a couple of months ago, and I don't have an awful lot to add; I think that post really summed it up pretty well. Additionally, there's a poignancy and authenticity to the feelings that are expressed. The authenticity is especially strong in the revelations about Rakka's & Reiki's past; an authenticity that belies some small amount of experience in facing the subject at hand.

The best part about that is that there isn't a trite, simplistic conclusion to be drawn from it. It's simple, yes, but not simplistic. Where redemption comes from, where forgiveness comes from, and the role that "asking for help" plays; the questions aren't explicity answered, but the feelings are true and simple, and ultimately satisfactory. The narrative "facts" and trivial details are small, secondary players in comparison.

Anyway, it's a contemplative work, for sure. I probably won't need to rewatch it for a while, but I'm glad I have it for when the mood strikes me.

Ex Post Holidus

Subject: TV
(Uh, okay, "holidus" probably isn't real Latin... And I've probably conjugated it wrong... but you know what I mean)

Just a quick rundown of the Christmas specials I managed to watch (after locating them on the Great Global VCR aka Bittorrent *grin*):

"The Boondocks: A Huey Freedman Christmas" -- a laugh-out-loud parody of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" if there ever was one, complete with a guest appearance by Quincy Jones, and a shopping-mall Santa getting smacked up the head with a chair. And, of course, some preachy elements, of which "Charlie Brown" was full of as well. All-in-all, a smart show -- not perfect, but still one of the best things on American TV right now.

The "Doctor Who" Christmas special -- speaking of American TV, this won't be found on it any time soon. This hour-long episode introduces us to the latest regeneration of the Doctor -- and a younger, smarmier regeneration at that. I'm not sure I dig it as much as the previous, but there's still hope that it'll be better television than most everything else that's on. All-in-all, the creepiest Christmas special ever.

"Robot Chicken" -- okay, yeah, they had a Christmas special too, with a "Dragonball Z" / "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" crossover. Funny stuff. I wouldn't say "brilliant", but with the shotgun approach of rapid-fire pop-culture references aimed at the 30-something demographic, I can't help but catch something to laugh at.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Missing the point entirely.

Subject: Noir
So I come home to this thread on AnimeOnDVD. And now I'm fuming angry.

If you haven't seen "MADLAX" yet, don't click that link. Because there's a huge spoiler for disc 6. I mean, the hugest of huge spoilers of one of the most brilliantly executed things in the whole shebang.

And if it was just some schmoe posting it accidentally, well, it wouldn't be a big deal, because someone could go back and wrap it in the appropriate tags. But what this turns out to be is an ADV rep posting a blurb from the official release contents of disc 6. Listing an extra that is going to be on disc 6. The title of which spoils the entire f*ing thing!!!

*sigh*

Okay, 6 hours on the highway stuck behind mo-rons who park themselves in the passing lane has me irritated enough as it is. But this... *grrrrr*

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Not that you'll really notice...

Subject: Noir
...but I'm going to be taking off to my family's house for the holidays, so I won't be posting much for a while. Yeah, I know, I haven't been posting much at all lately, but I at least do on the weekends; this weekend I won't be.

But I did accumulate a bunch of quick things to log on the ol' blog, so I'll leave you off with this.

"Mushishi" ep. 8 -- Again, this one was rather bittersweet. And still extremely sedate and contemplative. And there's not an awful lot more I can say about it. I love the storytelling aspect. I love the atmosphere. There's no particular hook that gets me all obsessive about it or anything, but it's a show I like a lot and I'm glad I have the opportunity to see it. That's about it, though.

"Blood +" eps 9 & 10 -- I'm still barely clinging to this one. Like I said last time, probably out of boredom. It's completely lacking in the "soul" department, but I guess the unique storyline and the details have me curious enough to try to keep up with it. It definitely doesn't have any of the lame cliche deformations or comedy attempts, but there are plenty of other cliches and rather shallow narrative crutches (pun intended) being used, so I really, really should just drop this and stop complaining.

"NieA under 7" disc 2 -- Speaking of lame cliche deformations, if it weren't for the fact that it switches between that and rather well-composed and strong character animation, I'd give this one up already. That, and the whole thread of mystery of the world this is set in -- though that was really only hinted at in the 3rd episode. But that little hint really picques the ol' curiosity. Anyway, disc 3 has already shipped from GreenCine, so I can't drop it now if I wanted to.

"Nadia, Secret of Blue Water" disc 8 -- Oy. I mean, okay, we catch a few miscellaneous bits of backstory about Nadia's origin, and almost get a taste of the original pre-island part of the series, but geez louise, there's a lot of childish nonsense to slog through to get it. And from what I hear, the "Africa" arc that has just gotten underway is just as forgettable. That said, that next disc is shipping to me as well, so I'm pretty much commited to riding it out in hopes of finally getting to the acclaimed end-game. *sigh*

"Cowboy Bebop" disc 3 -- Ahh, that's better. Of course, this is a repeat viewing, so no surprises, but I so very much enjoy this series and every aspect about it. There's not much more I can say about it that I haven't said; probably by the last disc, I'll try to go into more detail about some things I've been thinking about with regards to how this is constructed and why it's so outstanding.

"Noein" eps 7 & 8 -- So I'm still clinging to the characters a little bit, and I'm a bit curious as to where the story's going, but this show refuses to settle on what it actually is. It flits between different styles, different artwork, and different threads in a chaotic mess. Which, seeing as it's about a bunch of alternate dimensions in a chaotic mess of a universe, is probably fitting. Doesn't make it particularly profound or anything, though; it just makes it a bit distracting and difficult to latch on to. Still, like "Blood +", I'm latched on to it for a little while still.

Finally, "Kino's Journey" disc 4 -- I finished up my rewatch, and while I'm not as existentially rattled as I was in a previous post, I'm still experiencing that somber aftertaste and, instead of pulling out any particularly hopeful bits out of it, the sadder parts are setting the overall tone for my thoughts right now. Which is a shame seeing as I'm about to embark on a trip back home, but I suppose it was to be expected, seeing as I knew what was going to happen going into it.

Well, anyway, have a great holiday, everyone. I'll be back before New Year's, which, like I think I've mentioned, will be the continuation of my new tradition: "Noir" Year's Eve. Hooray!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The "Bored" Identity

Subject: Cinema
When I first showed a few episodes of "Noir" to my little brother -- including the "Intoccoble" double-feature -- he said, "Oh, 'Bourne Identity'".

Which was totally wrong, of course. "Noir" aired in 2001; the "Bourne Identity" showed up in 2002. And the only thing in common was the "skilled assasin w/o a memory", Paris, and the whole shooting-someone-while-diving-down-a-staircase moment. OK, the coincidence factor is pretty high, but since "Noir" came first, it's rather obvious who stole what from who.

At any rate, the film was kind of "yeah, whatever", as far as I was concerned. It did reinforce the whole "I want to go to Paris" thing I've been thinking about ever since seeing "Noir", but beyond that, it's just Matt Damon and a chick faking a Swiss-German accent and pretending to be in some sort of intrigue. If by intrigue you mean car chases.

Now I want to see "Noir" again. That'll have to wait until "Noir" Year's Eve, which isn't long from now. I can't wait. But this movie really didn't measure up to that in the slightest. I didn't really expect it would, but based on the reaction of my little brother and others, I figured I'd better confirm it one way or another.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Didn't suck as bad as the others...

Subject: Cinema
I just finished "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith". And, despite my figuring that it would suck like no other suck... It didn't quite suck.

Well good for it!

Towards the beginning, I was crafting a snarky comment about how my attraction to "attention to detail" really failed me for once. This show has it in spades, obviously enough. With enough cash thrown at it, anything can have an extraordinary level of detail applied to it. And the beginning sequence with the gigantic epic space battle and all that really did feel empty and, well, over-detailed.

But after a while, despite Hayden Christensen's sub-Hamill histrionics, I still found myself sucked into the story a little bit. A bit of me was still detached and cynical about the whole thing. But the obvious "this is a videogame tie-in", "this is a toy-sales gimmick" feeling that the first two installments of this Lucas-driven prequel pomposity oozed just seemed to be absent this time. It's almost like everyone did a "lessons-learned" meeting and tried to actually make a movie instead of a marketing event.

That said, with all the Joseph Campbell lectures I've been watching lately, all the plot-points here seem totally manufactured and a little less genuine than the first two installements. (And I mean the very first two, now known as "A New Hope" and "The Empire Strikes Back"). Campbell had a lot to say about the original, and Lucas definitely drew from that fountain of knowledge (along with Akira Kurosawa's parallel implementations) at the time. This time around, it's more like a post-modern deconstructionist interpretation of what made that so resonant with an entire generation of filmgoer. You could actually see the obvious plot-points resolve themselves around a Campbell-esque thesis -- "the protaganist reaches this point, and finds himself compelled to pursue this conclusion". Yeah, okay, we get it. Learn to write, already.

But like I said, it didn't entirely suck. The only dissappointment is that the whole prequel trilogy didn't live up to the expectation of some sort of grand transcendent epic fantasy that the first 3 (yeah, even "Jedi" to an extent) tapped in to. It's like everybody involved -- especially Lucas -- missed the point and went for the formula instead. In the case of "Sith", the formula mostly worked. It's only the loss of what could have been something truly spectacular which overshadows it overall.

The end of "Escaflowne"

Subject: Noir
Okay, I managed to finish up this series with disc 8. And I really don't have a lot to say about it, I suppose.

It's definitely a "girl's series" in a lot of ways, but that's most evident in the eyes and expressions of the various characters. An interesting point of study for me, but not really something that grabbed me at more than an observational level.

I liked the storytelling overall, and the characters and animation quality delivered that extra bit of "spark" I like, so that kept me with it despite the long gaps between short episode-count discs. But all-in-all, I don't feel the need to ever watch it again, thus I don't have any desire to buy it. It's still one of the few series that stands out above the majority, but it's not something that goes further than that for me.

In other anime-related watching activities, I finished my re-rewatch of "MADLAX" disc 5, and posted my observations over on Bee Train Fan. Besides what I said over there, I'm brewing another one of my "crackpot theories", but I really need to see the next disc to shape that one out a little. But a sneak-peek hint: it involves Friday Monday and Margaret's father.

I also rewatched disc 3 of "Kino's Journey". It has my favorite episode -- though they're all superb, this is the one I enjoyed the most -- the first one on the disc with the young lady who builds a flying machine. Her character is completely enthralling to me. That, and Kino's summation of wonder at the end: "It flies!". Fine stuff.

It also has what is probably the most mind-twisting (but in a good way) episode of the series -- the second one with the Library. And the Author. The stories fold into each other, and carry on a whole meta-discussion about books and creation and experiencing them, and make you question the "universe" of the entire series. The line that struck a chord, though? The one where the Author describes the confusion between the characters and the readers, and the solution to that conflict: become the Author.

Ahhh.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My brain is temporarily down, as well...

Subject: Musings
...or so it would seem.

I could blame it on a lot of things: the gray, cold, dark onset of winter, the chaos and stress of the holiday season, the last-minute end-of-year rush at work. Or abject laziness.

One way or another, it comes down to not having a lot that is worthy to report in blog form. The holidays seem to mess up the mail enough to break my GreenCine rhythm, so my progress in the series I get from there is stalled. With the few fansubs I still watch, barely any of them have been released of late. On TV, it's pretty much "The Boondocks", "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" -- all of which are going along fine, but aren't really worthy of posting about in and of themselves on a regular basis.

I've still got a stack of movies in my collection that I haven't watched yet, as well as a number that I wouldn't mind rewatching at some point, but I haven't been in the mood to make that kind of commitment.

And the Bee Train Fan site? I'm still waiting for long-promised enhancements to put the final touches on the environment that will let me pull everything together the way I envision it. Unfortunately, that means everyone is just kind of hanging around and waiting, too. Which makes it look kind of dusty in there.

At any rate, expect posting to be a bit sporadic from me, like it's been whenever I get into one of these "moods". And speaking of "mood", I'd better get back to work. *sigh*

Monday, December 12, 2005

BeeTrainFan.org temporarily down.

Looks like my webhost is getting slammed with a massive DDOS attack. Everything's pretty much ground to a halt there. *sigh*

Well, since the site's a little slow right now anyhow, I suppose the wait isn't going to hurt anyone.

Good thing the hosting plan was dirt cheap, though!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

And then the non-"MADLAX" anime of the weekend...

Subject: Noir
...which is to say, not very much.

"Escaflowne" disc 7 -- Again, only 3 episodes on this disc, so it went by rather quickly. The story is still hanging in there, building up to the end. But I really can't think of anything to say about it one way or another. Part of it may be due to my usual "post-MADLAX syndrome", and part may just be that I want to get this over with. And I'm almost there.

"Mezzo Forte" -- The edited version, of course. I'm not sure why I bothered with this one; I guess it showed up in one of the ubiquitous "girls with guns" recommendation threads on the AnimeOnDVD forum, so I decided to include it in my quest. And, while it was kind of clever and a tiny bit amusing, it was also kind of lame. I really couldn't get into it. Especially so soon after watching "MADLAX". *sigh*

"Uninhabited Planet: Survive" episode 23 -- with an episode released every, what? 2 months now? -- I have a harder time wanting to stick with this kids' show. The story and situation and characters were all interesting at first, but it's gotten a bit to cloying for me I think. A decent dubbed version would probably make a great series for pre-teen kids, but I think my interest in it has dried up. That said, by the next time an episode gets released happens, I'll probably find myself curious and will probably download it again. Such is life.

Finally, due to my "MADLAX"-induced malaise, I'm in the middle of rewatching disc 5 right now. It's going to be a while until I watch it again (yes, yes, we all know: "freakin' February"!), so I figured it would be just the thing on a cold snowy night.

So I guess this isn't an entirely "non-MADLAX" post after all... Go figure.

Quick movie rundown

Subject: Cinema
As a post-"MADLAX" break, I watched a couple of movies I had on the DVR.

"Logan's Run" -- the cheesy old time-capsule of a sci-fi classic itself. This time in a new hi-def transfer. I never really watched it all the way through before, and to be honest, I didn't really watch it all the way through this time either. I mean, I saw the beginning, and I saw the ending, but in between I wandered away a few times. Even though I had it on the DVR and could pause or resume at will. It's quaint, rather unintentionally funny in a "Mystery Science Theatre" kind of way, and it's really, really dated. So I guess I give it a "meh".

"Shakespeare in Love" -- I guess I was in a bit of a Gwenyth Paltrow mood this afternoon, so I finally forced myself to sit through this. I kind of lose patience with romantic films in general, but this had enough of an amusing twist to it to get me through some of the eye-rolling parts. And, of course, Gwenyth Paltrow. Heh. Pretty good attention to detail and atmosphere, and the characters were all rather good (except stick-out-like-a-sore-thumb Ben Affleck), so it wasn't a total waste of time in any way. But apparently my English Literature knowledge is even more lacking than I realized, because there were a lot of in-jokes that, while obvious that they were in-jokes, I didn't get the ultimate reference. Oh well.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Yeah, baybee

Subject: Noir
So it's been a very, very long time since I commented on "MADLAX" episode 20. And even then, I didn't have much to say besides the fact that the continuing episodes were delayed another two weeks from that point.

Rewatching the official R1 DVDs, disc 5 coincidentally ends at exactly the same time as that little gap from last year, which only brings back the memories of when such a delay made "MADLAX" all the more anticipatory.

The difference this time being, of course, that it will be freakin' February before we get to move into the total "pwnership" phase of the series. It really does turn all sorts of awesome starting with the next episode -- but the end of this disc makes it a little difficult to discern that.

Which is too bad overall, but I hope it results in more attention to "MADLAX" in the long run, because that's a title that I'm sure you can milk for years to come.



(EDIT: fixed a ton of spelling/typing/drunken-ranting errors. But this post is still a tad incomprehensable... Yikes!)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Oh for crying out loud!

Subject: Noir
Okay, I haven't quite started disc 5 yet, but I thought I'd check the latest "Conversations with SSS" extra. With disc 4, I said that it's time that they put that stupid piece of s* to bed finally and just cut it out. (Well, not in so many words.)

I guess they didn't get my message.

Funny, though, that way back then I noticed stuff that I hadn't noticed before. And this time, much of the same. I can't wait for future discs to find out just what I've been missing. Of course, that will be freakin' Feburary before that happens. *sigh*

Anyway, on to disc 5! For real! Huzzah!

Mr. F*ing detail-oriented...

Subject: Noir
...so I missed a few details in the earlier "MADLAX" discs...

I started tonight's mini-marathon with disc 3, and a couple of things leapt out at me that, out of all the times I've seen these episodes before, I never quite noticed.

At the beginning of episode 9, Madlax meets up with Luciano in the construction crane, with the blinking red light. For some reason, I kept thinking that it was at Madlax's apartment. The blinking red light, though... Watch it closely, and you'll see what it stands for. Never noticed it before.

Then there's the whole deal about just who hired Luciano to knock off Carrousuer at the hotel in the first place. I never quite thought about it before, but, dangit, it was Kuanjitta!! Just watch the whole end sequence of that episode; the whole business of "a light has gone out" or whatever the heck that was.

(Of course, later on, Kuanjitta seems a bit surprised about Carrousuer's identity as someone who has "the gift"... it doesn't quite fit. But after the event itself, it's pretty obvious who did it. Just watch and see.)

There was one more thing in episode 10 that led me to interrupt my little marathon here, but I can't remember. Oh well. I guess I'll have to share my insight next time. But I seem to remember that it was quite a startlingly interesting factoid. Oh well...

Now it's time to finally, finally start disc 5. Hooray!

Next Satoshi Kon project: "Paprika"

Subject: Noir
Just saw that bit on ANN.


Anime News Service has a few more details:


The next film project for Director Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers) will be an animated feature adaptation of Yasutaka Tsutsui's 1993 book Paprika. The author is known as a modern master of metafiction in Japan and many of his works are often said to warp the minds of readers, being heavily rooted in linguistic tricks and word play. For Paprika the story centers on a female detective who investigates criminal cases by entering the dreams of subjects. Script will be co-written by Seishi Minakami (Paranoia Agent / Boogiepop Phantom) and Satoshi Kon, Character Designs come courtesy Mashi Ando (Paranoia Agent, Spirited Away), Susumu Hirasawa (Berserk) will compose the music. Madhouse will produce the animation. The film is currently scheduled for release sometime in 2006.


I'm there!

Warm-up

Subject: Music
In anticipation of tonight's mini-"MADLAX"-a-thon culminating in the premeire of disc 5, I'm listening to my old Yuki Kajiura OST mix, which I haven't fired up in a while.

Damn, the association between those songs and the imagery in the series themselves is powerful! I've said before, and I'll say again, if I heard any of these songs without ever having heard of "Noir" or "MADLAX", I probably would have said "that's nice" and written them off as some sort of "Hearts of Space" generic New Age, and gone back to my lounge-pop and ska. It's the emotional link to the moments and total experience that makes them something more to me now.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"I'm a ramblin' man"

Subject: Noir
Restarting "Kino's Journey" last weekend had me thinking about travelling -- it's kind of obvious that I need a vacation, I think -- but a lot of my hesitancy comes down to "where do I go?" and "what will I do there?" Short trips (a week or less is all I can manage to get away for) by myself wind up being a bit pointless. Sitting on the beach, or wandering around some city, drinking in pubs; that's all well and good, but I can do that sort of thing here if I'm just going to do it alone. I keep thinking I'd at least need some sort of purpose to occupy my time at that destination. And then I put it out of my mind and went back to work.

Then I watched the latest sub of "Mushishi", and it got into a little dialogue about travelling and purpose, versus "flow". As in "going with the..." So now I'm thinking wistfully about it again. But a week or less is too short a time, I think. At least, too short a time to really get any meaningful value out of it, as it takes me a while to get my "flow" ramped up, as it were.

And I'm really not ready to ditch everything and pack up a motorcycle and wander around on my mid-life-crisis-inspired quest to find myself. As epic and classic such a quest as it would be, or so says Joseph Campbell in his "Mythos" lectures that I've been watching lately.

But I do find myself thinking about that a bit of late. Particularly if you replace "motorcycle" with "sailboat". Of course, then I wind up flashing back to that Geraldo Rivera "I sailed around the world" special from some years ago. *cringe*

Anyway, that was a really meditative episode of "Mushishi", and a simple one at that.

Oh, I also caught the recent subs of "Blood+" and "Noein" as well; I just couldn't quite bring myself to drop them yet. "Blood+" kind-of sort-of held my interest a little because the scenery and situation changed and that made me curious, but it's really lacking depth when you get right down to it. But since it's not totally immature, I seem loathe to actually admit defeat and get rid of it. And with "Noein", there too was a drastic change of scenery, and maybe even an inkling of what the story actually is about -- because it really didn't seem to be getting anywhere before. The art style is still all over the place, but there's just enough of a spark of life going on there that's keeping me hanging on.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"Tsubasa Chronicle" licensed by Funimation?

Subject: Noir
While it's not confirmed, all evidence points to it being true: "Tsubasa Chronicle" has been licensed.

I pretty much expected it would happen at some point, as it's a hot title in manga-land. Still, I guess I was holding out some hope that I'd actually get to see the 2nd and possible 3rd seasons sometime before I turned 40. That, and I get the feeling there'll be a lack of Bee Train titles to watch fansubs of. Well, besides the "Meine Liebe" sequel. It's just not the same... *sigh*

Monday, December 05, 2005

Holy Guacamole!

Subject: Noir
A total shock and surprise, but my copy of "MADLAX" disc 5 showed up in my mailbox today!!

It's not supposed to be out until next Tuesday, I believe, and I thought the mail would take a little while longer since it just shipped on Friday.

Wow!

Yet, seeing as I want to make an event* out of watching it, I think I still might not do so until the weekend. Hrrmm.




(* and by "event" I mean, of course: "marathon and beer")

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Nothing new...

Subject: Musings
I've had a touch of insomnia lately for various reasons, which has the combined effect of putting me in an irritable and impatient mood, and making me feel rather fatigued. So I haven't tried to watch anything new this weekend. To try and pick myself up a little, I tried to rewatch a bit of "Kino's Journey", but I couldn't really get in to it.

Oh well, by next weekend, I should hopefully have the next "MADLAX" disc, so that should cheer me up. In the mean time, I think I'll try to take a nap...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Quick fansub update

Subject: Noir
Just after I posted my quickie-update, I found out that "Mushishi" 6 and "Monster" 67 were released, so I snagged those and watched 'em last night.

"Mushishi" is still rolling along atmospherically. Very bittersweet with this particular one, but really, you have to see it. I can't really describe it.

"Monster", well, what can I say? A big revelation -- though, really, I think everyone figured that out already -- and basically the set-up for the "final arc". The rush to the end. The crazy conclusion. Yay! Can't wait.

Hooray!

Subject: Noir
"MADLAX" disc 5 has shipped!!

Now if it will only show up on time...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Forgotten quickies

Subject: Noir
Oops, I forgot to mention that I also caught the latest subbed "Mushishi"; episode 5, I believe.

Of course, there's not much more to say about it that I haven't already said. Atmospheric show. Good stuff.

Also something that I don't have any more to add to is a recently-subbed episode (15?) of Mashimo's "Popliocrois Story". Kid's show. But with a neat edge.

Otherwise it's been a light week so far. "Boondocks" (which I mentioned earlier) is rolling right along with a mixture of style, shock, and amusement. "The Simpsons" aren't faring quite as well -- and this week's football game delay screwed up my DVR recording, so I missed a chunk of it. And, oddly, didn't really miss anything. Oh well.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Promises, promises

Subject: Noir
Okay, after a bit of a break from anime this week, I had a little bit of catching up to do. Nothing was much of a breakthrough, but I'll take 'em in order...

"Blood+" ep 7 -- Hrm. Kind of dull. It's trying to fill in a little more backstory, and a there's a nearly-interesting layer introduced that re-visits Vietnam, but it's really lacking that whole "soul" business I keep going on about. I haven't quite dropped it yet, but I think that might just be out of sheer boredom in general. Not exactly a compelling reason to stick with a series, I suppose.

"Noein" ep 5 -- Well, I noticed another naturally-animated shot; whats-her-name kicking the soccer ball around while talking to whats-his-name. That was a nice touch. Beyond that, even though it's kind of neat, I'm finding myself not really caring about what the heck is going on all that much. And the mix of art/animation styles and story styles continues unabated. Will it pull together any sort of focus any time soon? I dunno.

On to the DVDs:

"Chrono Crusade", the last disc -- Yeah, the final episode was a bit of a tearjerker. I kind of resented it a bit, though, because it was manipulatively so, as opposed to feeling like it was a genuine outcome of the series as a whole. Like it was trying to play me instead of bringing me to that conclusion by myself. And then, it was like that moment happened about 12 minutes too early, because then the series seemed like it was meandering around looking for a place to end after that. So much so that the very last sequence was totally "WTF". And I don't mean WTF in one of those cool, surreal mind-blowing sorts of WTF ways, but instead, one of those "um, what does this have to do with anything that you just did for 24 episodes" WTF sorts of ways. I think it's exacerbated by the fact that I remember quite well the event in question, so it makes absolutely no sense in the context of the rest of the series. Or if it does, it's a pretty lame justification thereof. Oh well. Final verdict: Fun overall, but not worth buying.

Finally, "The Place Promised in our Early Days" -- Makoto Shinkai's first feature-length film that he got the chance to do after his impressive solo effort "Voices of a Distant Star". There's a lot of the same tone and style of that work to be found in this film. The primary crux being a sort of "normal" portrayal of life, but with a wierd, matter-of-fact, almost astonishing background element to it.

So in general, it's like the usual "slice-of-life" culturally-normal, simple relationship story, but the details of the setting and the world in general that surround the characters is a bigger mystery, and has the effect of transporting you to an alternate reality. My favorite "attention-to-detail" markers are quite well represented here, and, in fact, are probably the key to making the whole story work in the first place. Otherwise, it's rather simple, and it relies a lot on your imagination and interpretation to make more of the story than what's presented. Which is something I like a lot, especially if it's something that catches my fancy.

So despite the fact that I'm growing a bit weary of the omnipresent "Japanese school-age" kind of story, this one at least had enough going for it to let me overcome that predjudice and get into the texture and mood Shinkai set up.

Also, this is one of the few discs that I bothered watching an extra on; Shinkai's interview. He's got a few useful insights that I think are worth hearing if you're interested in the thought-process behind the creation of these kinds of programs. He's also got the advantage of getting "his own way" for producing this one, though with what he says and the evidence of what he put together is enough to prove that he was probably worth the investment on the part of the production company that gave him this gig in the first place.

Tastes great, not particularly filling

Subject: Cinema
Just a couple of quick summaries for my Friday lineup...

"Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" -- Eye candy. Tasty, tasty eye candy, all the way through. It had one of my favorite ingredients: "Attention to detail". But there pretty much isn't anything more to it besides a grand homage to the old serial. Clever, amusing, but otherwise light. Worth catching, though.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" -- Okay, I was a really big fan of the original BBC series back before I even knew there were books. And I was a bit hesitant to go for this DVD based on the totally underwhelming reaction it had with long-time fans.

And I suppose "underwhelming" would be fair enough. My own impression was more along the lines of "missing something". I really like how they portrayed a lot of the more "familiar" items and characters. It was a very good looking show (more eye candy). And there was definitely a low-key tone of British humour throughout. But it felt a bit sanitized & "Americanized", and a few of the "classic" lines seemed awkwardly chopped to the point that they didn't have any point (even though I could remember what the rest of it was supposed to be).

Oh well, again, I'm not sorry that I watched it. Could have been worse.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Turkey-day marathon

Subject: Cinema
Back when I used to live in an apartment in the city, I had started my own Thanksgiving Day tradition of cooking a turkey and the basic fixin's that my mom usually makes (simple, kind of bland, but comforting). My own special ingredient, though, was to get a bit intoxicated, and then rip into the turkey in a sort of primal kind of feast.

Lots of fun, really. Which I haven't really had since I moved into this house, because the oven never worked, and I didn't bother replacing it until my remodelling project back at the beginning of the year.

I've been looking forward to "Turkey Day" ever since.

Of course, way back then, "Mystery Science Theatre" was still on at a regular basis, and they would yearly have their "Turkey Day Marathon" (because the awful films they showed were "turkeys"... get it??? *ahem*). Now, I have a number of "MST3K" DVDs, but frankly, I wanted to try to get a new tradition underway. This time, with the three extended-edition version of "Lord of the Rings".

It's quite a lot of film to slog through. And overall, I can't say that it's my most favorite series of movies. But something about it make me associate it with a holiday feast like I'm about to partake in (another hour roasting in the oven... tick... tick... tick... mmmmmmm...).

I guess I'm also conciously trying to avoid anime at this point. At least for these couple of days. Because I think I've been overloading on it a bit, so I want to take a break with a range of the "real people" variety.

So, I'm about halfway through the trilogy at this point. But, I really don't have a comment about the films themselves. They are what they are. Maybe when I get through the whole thing I'll have an observation or two, but right now, I guess I'm just going to keep watching into the night, and chow down on turkey and stuffing like it's the last food on earth.

Mmmm. Stuffing.

UPDATE: Mmmm, tryptophan... I can't make it to part 3, I just can't. It's too much. I'm going to bed early (and stuffed!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"From looney to batty"... or "Less than the sum of their parts"

Subject: Cinema
Tim Burton is an imaginative enough guy. He's pretty much capable of painting some really oddball and unusual visuals on the screen that, with few exceptions, I find rather fascinating.

But in general, I find that he really can't keep a whole movie true to that quirky vision of his. It's like he caves too easily to the typical screen-tested, conventionally-wisdomic Hollywood establishment. That, or he pre-caves, and is the go-to guy for when the establishment needs to trot out their token "wierdo" for when they feel they need to prove they're more than just a bunch of mediocre hacks.

But it's not that convincing.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is definitely not deprived of quirky, oddball visuals. In fact, scene-for-scene, there's a lot to like about any particular shot or sequence. In fact, many individual parts, like the Oompa-Loopas all being the same guy, are quite hilarious. And the visuals are quite stunning and imaginative. They even got Alan Greenspan to play a role (*cough*). But when you try to put all this together in the context of a narrative, or even just a cinematic experience, it falls flatter than a 2-year-old bottle of RC Cola forgotten in the back of a Dodge minivan.

Which is a shame, but kind of predictable given his history. All his films tend to be that way ever since "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice". The turning-point in particular, in my opinion, was "Batman: The Movie".

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was so incredibly dissappointed in that first attempt at resurrecting the "Batman" franchise. I was a big fan of Frank Miller's take on "The Dark Knight", and eagerly awaited the movie's release in hopes of it capturing that dark, angsty spirit. I even had the leaked copy of the script that was going around my film school program.

And when I finally saw it, I was so extremely dissappointed that it completely ruined the franchise for me. And what Burton did with "Batman II" was so much worse that I didn't bother watching any of the others ever again.

Until tonight, when I watched "Batman Begins".

It was touted as "a good 'Batman' film". And, you know, in a lot of places, it was pretty darn good. It definitely captured a lot of what I had hoped for in the Tim Burton effort. But still...

I hate to say it, but even though individual scenes and moments did pretty well on their own merit, and had some excellent castmembers, the whole thing tied together fell flat. Yeah, that flat.

It could be that some of the key parts of the actual comicbook narrative were totally tossed. When Bruce and his parents were out on the town, they were supposed to see "Zorro", not some stupid opera with bats in it. The young Commisioner Gordon wasn't some nerdy wimpy guy.

And, the most heinous transgression -- the same transgression that Burton made in "Batman II" -- is that the "leading lady" is given Batman's identity as Bruce Wayne. I mean, really, WTF?? The whole point of being a shadowy costumed vigilante is that you have a dark secret that you can never share. Yet, in Burton's folly and in this one, you might as well tell the whole f*-ing world.

There are other flaws too. Enough that it kind of took me out of the whole story and made me think that this was just another "cave-in to the Hollywood mainstream" at the expense of what was really a pretty good story to start with.

So for both movies, I really did enjoy certain specific aspects, but as movies on a whole, they really fell short. Dissappointing, but not particularly surprising.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

When in Rome...

Subject: Cinema
...do like the Romans. Well, some Romans; others, maybe not so much.

The Romans to "do like": the ones who cavort all day with runaway princesses eating gelato on the Spanish Steps, buzzing around on a Vespa until stopped by the police, and dancing on barges on the river until a fight breaks out and someone gets dunked in the Tiber. Good times, I'm sure. At least, "Roman Holiday" made it seem that way.

Granted, all the principle characters weren't actually playing Romans, but hey, when in Rome!

I hadn't ever seen this quintessential classic proto-"chick flick", oddly enough. And really, the only reason I did finally get around to it is because it was specifically mentioned in two of Koichi Mashimo's shows, "Tylor" and ".hack//SIGN", which can only mean that he must really dig it. So, I needed to see what the fuss was about for myself. Especially now that I know the difference between "Holiday" director William Wyler, and same-era, similarly-named director Billy Wilder.

Wyler is apparently infamous for making his actors go through dozens of takes for particular shots, with precious few hints beyond "it stinks, do it again". However archaic that technique may sound today, it seems that he gets results from it -- I was able to get caught up in the characters, and actually be drawn into the story through them. It was all very basic, simple, and straightforward.

And, of course, the best parallel I could find for what I think Mashimo has been trying to do: the story that's being told with just the eyes, the facial expressions. In fact, with the whole climax at the end, on the surface is the scene and dialogue of a stuffy royal press conference. But the real dialogue was actually in the eyes of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. Good stuff.

In general, though, it is a rather dated bit of historical curiosity. There's a pacing and an overbearingly glossy sheen that are unmistakably 1950's Hollywood. And I can't say that I'm really the sort that takes to light romantic comedies very well, no matter what era they're from. But there's good things to learn from it, so I have no regrets with my purchase.

Now, on to the other kind of Romans. Or, at least a continuation of the Rome theme with -- go figure -- the season finale of "Rome". HBO's short "Sopranos-in-a-toga" epic finishes up with a bang... or, perhaps, a squishy thwump. In that the obvious historical climatic event was enacted in its full knife-wielding bloody-frenzy glory. Jealousy, betrayal, remorse and revenge are all packed together in practically every shot. Despite the series' slow start, and a few overall imperfections, it really did build up a nice bit of tension, bring a nice depth to most of the characters and to the world they inhabit, and it really played up the details to make for an involving texture and mood.

One thing particularly outstanding with the climax, though, was how it played out. We all know Julius Ceasar is going to get it. But in a lot of ways, we have a lot of expectations as to how that happens, mostly set up for us by William Shakespeare and Cecil B. DeMille. So when the actually flurry of flashing knives starts, the bloodlust of the conspiring senators overcoming their initial trepidation is shocking -- animalistic and brutal, even. Brutus, destined to play the role of his lineage as "Tyrant slayer", is palpably shocked along with the rest of us. When he's finally thrust forward to finish the job on a bloody, thrashing, desperately dying dictator, the two look each other in the eye.

And it's quite a powerful moment. I think it's made even more powerful by the expectation in the back of your mind for that one little famous line that everybody associates with the event: "Et tu, Brute?". But, obviously, Ceasar can't actually say it; he's gurgling and convulsing and staring Brutus in the eyes with a mixture of fear and shock and betrayal that's just heartbreaking. And the look in Brutus' eyes as he finishes the deed... heartbroken, horrified. The dialogue between them is all in the eyes. Brilliantly done. The entire sequence.

So there you have it! I actually managed to draw a connection between a 1950's light romantic comedy and post-modern graphicly-depicted shock-drama. Tune in next week when I expose the obvious parallel between Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life", and David Lynch's "Blue Velvet", just in time for the holidays!

*cough*

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Misc. Saturday

Subject: Noir
Just a few things...

"Twelve Kingdoms" disc 6 -- I really don't want to resort to calling this show the "Twelve Boredoms", but I think this set of episodes treaded dangerously in to that territory. It could have something to do with my moodiness of late, but it probably has just as much to do with the fact that it's starting another long arc, and I'm feeling like there's nothing really interesting happening. The machinations of the plot are getting a little too intricate and I'm really not hooked in to seeing where it's all heading. No biggie, I guess; I'm too far invested to drop it now, but I guess this is a warning to anyone starting: It gets slow.

(Thank you Captain Obvious!)

"Chrono Crusade" disc 6 -- the setup for the "final battle", I would venture to guess. The comedy is pretty much gone entirely now, and the show kicks into an insane jumble of magical battles, possessed characters, and "where the heck did that come from??" flashbacks. Don't get me wrong; it's lively stuff, but it's really pushing the absurdity envelope. Well, moreso than the show itself has been doing to this point, I guess. Again, maybe it was my mood, but it really felt all over the map. Almost like the writers were winging it by the time they got to this episode or something. The last disc will be coming soon so I can get it over with. We'll see how it finishes.

"Irresponsible Captain Tylor: An Exceptional Episode" (OVA disc 1) -- Yeah, I bought the OVA boxset that just came out. Despite my earlier dismay at finding out that the latter episodes weren't Mashimo-directed at all, the first OVA (2 45-minute episodes) was, in fact, his work. He even wrote and storyboarded it. And my original review of this one pretty much stands. Captain Dom was too emotional, and the beginning seemed a bit off, but overall, it was a far more "authentic" Tylor experience than the rest of it.

Oh, and in that old review, I made the mistake of thinking "Roman Holiday" was by Billy Wilder, when it was in fact by William Wyler. Quite a dumbarse mistake for so-called film-school grad. But in my defense, my professors were more in to the independent and experimental stuff, and so my knowledge of classic Hollywood is rather lacking.

Hmm, y'know, I actually bought "Roman Holiday" during the last DVD sale. *Looks at DVD shelf* Hmmm....

Friday, November 18, 2005

"This isn't baseball..."

Subject: Noir
"...this is madness!"

"Samurai Champloo" disc 6 showed up this week. So I dialed back to disc 4 for a bit of a mini-marathon. Made for a fun evening, for sure. I just wish disc 6 had more episodes, because 3 wasn't quite satisfying enough. And it'll be a couple of months before the final disc arrives. *sigh*

There's not a lot more that I can say about this series that I haven't said already. It's still really cool. There's a lot of great things going on under the popcorn-action exterior. Artwork, animation, camerawork, music: all the techniques are top-notch, even with the various shortcuts and budget constraints. But the gem of it all is the character performances. They're so alive, and that's really the core of the whole thing. Even a silly ninja-baseball episode can't derail the coolness that our trio brings to the screen.

I'm glad I pegged this one as a "buy" instead of just renting it.

Fansub roundup

Subject: Noir
A couple of releases this week in the fansub department, so I figured I'd sum up my status.



Eagerly watching:
"Monster" -- of course. Though it's been a little while since the last release.

"Mushishi" -- episode 4 this week. Somber mood, great storytelling.

Having second thoughts:
"Noein" -- eps 3 & 4 this week. The animation style keeps changing, the story keeps jumping around between bits of action/sci-fi and schoolkid/slice-o-life and "detective", and I'm starting to lose faith in the characters' possibility of having any substance under the surface. And I thought "Gankutsuou" was unfocused! In the "plus" column, though, there's still some bright spots in the animation, and a few of the scenes are done pretty well in and of themselves.

Drifting away from:
"Blood+" -- up to ep 6 so far, it almost hooked me despite my original "Sucksus Suck" observation, but it's losing me again. 6 was kind of weak. And I think I'm overdosing on "schoolkid" shows.

In limbo:
"Windy Tales" -- No new subs in a while, but that's understandable. I really think it's a charming show though, despite it being yet another schoolkid series.

"Popliocrois Story" (1998 version) -- Koichi Mashimo's kid show, also charming, though you have to skip the cloyingly sweet OP & ED. These get an occasional release, but it's been a while and I have no idea if there'll be more.

Dropping:
"Kamichu" -- I only started it because of the "HDTV" versions, and now it seems the fansub groups are hanging back to wait for the DVD versions before continuing. It was a cute & clever show, and if it's ever licensed, I'll continue it then.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A texture that might rub the wrong way

Subject: Noir
Yeah, I'm referring to "Gankutsuou" disc 1 -- big surprise.

I remember seeing the textured-clothing gimmick before. One of the countless dozens of foreign and independent short animations I saw either in a festival or in a lecture definitely used the exact same effect, only instead of using modern CGI, it was all done by hand. I'm pretty sure it was either French or Eastern European (though it could very well have been Canadian), and somebody on the Gonzo creative team must have seen it, because it was the same thing. Googling for it is proving impossible.

At any rate, that texture business really turns off a lot of people. Since I'd seen it used before (and remember people complaining about it), I was more prepared for it, and, in and of itself, knew I wouldn't have a problem with it...

...if there were more to the show than a bunch of disjointed artsy gimmicks.

Well, maybe not so much "disjointed" as "unfocused". It's like they're taking the old Disney/Pixar maxim of "overloading" -- where you keep adding elements and detail to the background of scene -- but instead of loading up with gags like Disney/Pixar does, they load it up with psychotropic cyberpunk. And then instead of just being the background, it kind of becomes the entire thrust of the image. To the point that whatever's going on in the foreground is often lost in the cacaphony of clashing color and clutter.

Which, I suppose, could be cool and all; I've seen plenty of that sort of thing in my day. But the foreground that escaped the clutter didn't prove to be much in the "compelling" department. The craze over Dumas' original novel was after my time, and I only half-payed attention to the movie adaptation from a few years ago, so besides knowing the general thrust of the typical "revenge plot", I didn't take any baggage or expectations about this adaptation in to it. And on the surface, it seems creative enough. But it falls flat for me. I don't hate it yet, but it's kind of reminiscent of how I perceived "Samurai 7" way back when -- having a "thin veneer".

But, it's the first disc, after all. We've only just set the ground rules for the universe, and introduced the characters and the targets of the "revenge" plot. Will it wind up being as predictable as I think it might? Or will it just throw around more funky hallucinations disguising typical anime character performances and veer off into whatever direction seems cool at the time? Or will I finally catch a glimpse of a spark of life or a genuine moment that escapes the oh-so-clever trappings it's gone and wrapped itself up in? We'll see once the next disc is out!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Last night...

Subject: Noir
...I didn't watch a whole lot. Got one more episode of the dub of "Avenger" out of the way so I only have disc 3 to go. I was supposed to have gotten my rental of the recently released first disc of "Gankutsuou" so I could finally see what the fuss about that one was, but it didn't show. I guess I'll watch it Monday.

In the "new-to-me" column was disc one of "NieA Under 7" -- another Yoshitoshi ABe work I'm trying in the hopes of "widening the net" for interesting series. Right off the bat, there was a lot of commonality to "Haibane Renmei" in terms of character and vibe. But then it also wound up throwing around a lot of silly, super-deformed hyperactive comedy into the mix. Which kind of annoyed me. It wasn't the usual immature stuff, but it wasn't exactly mature either. Still, there's that whole "discovering the rules of that world" thang going on, like what "Haibane Renmei" had, so there may be enough of a balance between the intriguing bits and the annoyances to get me through it. I'll give the second disc a go.

Finally, disc 2 of the "Cowboy Bebop" remix finally arrived, so I recapped a bit of disc 1, and got through part of disc 2 before I realized I was actually kind of worn out. So I'll have to revisit the episodes on disc 2 again later. It's a fun, enjoyable, immensely cool series; it's only fair that I watch it when I'm more alert.

Surprise!

Subject: Noir
"Meine Liebe" episode 13 is out!

Back in February, I posted my observations about the series. With the translations bringing the elusive explainations of the "motovations" (and "whatnot"), I can't say that I've gained any particular increase in satisfaction with the series. It seems to be another case of the literal narrative playing a secondary role to whatever else it was that Mashimo was trying to acheive here. I speculate that it's probably a character-study more than anything, and there's probably a bit of experimentation with technique.

But unlike my experience with "MADLAX" the other night, I'm not particularly hooked here at all. And with regards to the sequel, it's not even going to be Mashimo's, so my enthusiasm about it isn't entirely, uh, enthusiastic.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The failure of "Dub Night"

Subject: Noir
I tried to do a pure "dub night" tonight.

I started off with disc 2 of "Avenger", while I prepared a pasta dinner.

Yeah, the "pasta dinner" was for that reason...

I only got through 3 episodes before dinner was ready. But I really, really cringed a lot during the presentation. As little a role as the narrative and dialog play in "Avenger", the dub just makes it all the more painful.

But that's no match to the "MADLAX" dub. I've been in a cranky mood lately, so I thought I'd at least let myself watch the most recent disc (4) while indulging in a bit of a pasta dinner. And I thought, for experiment's sake, that I'd watch the dub this time, in hopes of being able to report on any insight or other relevation that it might help with.

That lasted exactly 5 minutes and 23 seconds before I switched it back to the Japanese track with subtitles.

I mean, really: the dub sucked. It sucked like no other suck. It makes the "Avenger" dub look like A-grade Hollywood actors coming together for a labor of love.

*Sigh*. There's a lot of people who actually like this dub. And from all anecdotal evidence, the talent involved are really into it and trying really hard. But I honestly, truly, sincerely can't get into it. In the slightest. I wanted to try and give the English V.A. talent some credit, but I just can't.

All that said, watching it naturally with the Japanese track made me very happy. It was such a pleasure. I wish that I went back to disc 3 to try this experiment instead of just settling for the scant few episodes of disc 4. But I'm glad to be reminded, at least, that there really are series out there that can make me fall in love with them.

"Noir" is set up to make you fall in love with the characters. "Madlax" has me falling in love with the whole freakin' series!

DeepDiscountDVD -- It's that time of the year again!

Subject: Cinema
DeepDiscountDVD's usual, occasional "20% off" sale is here again. Generally, these yield some of the better prices, so it's worth slogging through a slow site to get them.

Promo code: "SUPERSALE"

I'm kind of at a loss as to what to buy as I've gone overboard on previous sales, and everything else I'm buying has been pre-ordered already (and the sale doesn't count towards preorders). Maybe a couple more copies of the "Kino's Journey" box set for gifts... Hmm...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The other animation

Subject: TV
So a new TV season got underway, and that means more new American cartoons, for once.

I've been watching "The Simpsons" since day 1, of course. So, it's been a little hard to watch it these last few years. The rewarding moments have gotten fewer and farther between. It's still not an entirely unredeemable show yet. But I definitely just DVR it and watch it whenever; I don't wait anxiously for Sunday at 8pm like I used to.

And speaking of which, I've also been watching "King of the Hill" since it started. And though a lot of people don't like it, I really enjoy it. Though I also think it's getting a little long-in-the-tooth. Rather predictable. But it'll be on the DVR right along with "The Simpsons" until the day they give up.

I occassionally pick up, and then drop, and then pick up again, "Family Guy". There's some outrageously funny bits there, and then there's just some plain ol' stupid stuff. I watched this past weekend's "FCC" episode, the first one I've seen in a while, and, well, yeah. Some funny bits, some stupid stuff. But I'll probably let it start accumulating on my DVR again, at least.

Finally, an actual new cartoon for once: "The Boondocks". I've been reading Aaron MacGruder's comic strip for a while now. Growing up a white, suburban New Englander doesn't provide me with 100% of the context I'm sure would help me with some of the references, but I still find it pretty funny anyhow. And the cartoon has a lot of promise as well.

The style and characterizations are excellently executed; they're using a very anime-like shading which sets it apart from most other American work. The animation varies from really good to some slightly stilted "shortcuts". The acting will take a little getting used to, especially the boys' voices (both voiced by the same woman), and the grandfather's character isn't quite what I expected. And the writing? While some of it is a little surprising at first, and I'm sure some of it is more over my head than I realize, it really was very funny.

So I'm looking forward to where this one is going.

A couple of fansubs...

Subject: Noir
I caught up with "Blood+" eps 4 & 5. Not too bad; a little more watchable than the previous ones. Episode 4 in particular had the classic elements of "chase" and "ticking clock" which managed to hold on to my interest a little. So I guess I'm not quite dropping this one yet.

The highlight of this week's fansub downloading, though, was episode 3 of "Mushishi". Great show. Understated, kind of "sublime". Simple. I can't say it's entirely enthralling or mesmerizing or anything, but it's a nifty story. And it's different. I like that.

"Meine Liebe... wieder"

Subject: Noir
No, that's not about the boys from Kuchen eating to many of the pastries their odd little land tends to employ in their mapmaking -- "wieder" means "again".

As in, a sequel to "Meine Liebe".

According to AnimeOnDVD forum poster littleharlock, it will be, in fact, a Bee Train production, only this time directed by Shinya Kawazura, airing January 22nd, 2006. I've asked for a link to a source; I'm guessing it's over on Moonphase or some place that I can't read.

Oh my.

UPDATE: From www.animenewsservice.com --
Konami is cooking up a major cross media project called Ginyuu Mokujiroku Meine Liebe Wieder. This will be a sequel to the 2004 Meine Liebe fantasy genre TV animation. Broadcast has been scheduled for Animax starting January 22, 2006. Much of the staff and cast from 1st TV series will return. Directing will be Minako Shiba (Noir), Series Script is by Akemi Omode, Original Character Designs based on those by Kaori Yuki will be carried out by newcomers Shiba Minako and Yamashita Yoroko, Concept Design is by Koezuka Seishi and Mari Yuuichi. Animation Production is by Bee Train, Konami and Rondo Robe. Cast includes Takahiro Sakurai as Orpherus, Tomokazu Seki as Eduard, Toshihiko Seki as Ludwig, Souichiro Hoshi as Camus, Akira Ishida as Naoji and Takehito Koyasu as Sir Isaac. Game and comic adaptations of this same property will be forthcoming.


...as found on the LiveJournal Meine Liebe board...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ongoing...

Subject: Noir
Not much if any new ground broken this week in the "watching" realm. Which I guess has me kind of listless and irritated. Which is why I haven't been particularly inspired to write about it. So, at least, here's a quick run-down:

"Mushihi" episode 2 -- still good stuff, a neat exposition of another aspect of the story's universe, but overall, mellow and ambient as far as tone goes. In other words, I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat over it or anything. Still, it may be the only show this season I'll probably wind up sticking with.

"Escaflowne" disc 6 -- after the intial episode filled with excessive "bad guy" monologue to explain the crux of the conflict, it managed to salvage itself enough to keep some semblance of forward momentum. Though it did tend to go a bit more deeply into to the whole game of "who loves who" and the awkwardness that tends to go along with it, I didn't find it particularly off-putting like I normally would. In fact, I think the writing and the characters' performances really kept it from being entirely trite or boring. Still, though; no great breakthrough for me as far as developing any attachment for the show beyond just continuing to rent it.

"Chrono Crusade" disc 5 -- Not much more to say about this one either, except that it continued to tip it's balance from comedy to drama, little by little. It gets a little darker, and a little tiny bit more serious. But, as with "Escaflowne", nothing about it is particularly making me feel like doing anything more than renting it at the pace that I am now.

That's about it... I'm in the middle of going through "Avenger" with the English dub in order to try and hopefully inspire what I want to write about it a little more. But despite my previous "neutrality" about the dub, I'm finding that it's starting to grate on me a little bit. In a lot of spots, it's like the VAs were just phoning it in, so to speak. Kind of like "let's hurry up and dub this so we can release it and move on to the next thing". At any rate, I can only take that dub in small doses.

Or maybe it's just that I've been in such an irritated mood. Hmm, that may be more likely...

Friday, November 04, 2005

"Brazil" meets "The Matrix" meets...

Subject: Cinema
...well, "Labyrinth", I guess. But without David Bowie and all the clever Muppets...

Actually, "Dark City" is rather less than the sum of all of those; in fact, it's a bit less than any of those individually.

(Well, except maybe "The Matrix"...)

Still, this is an older film that I've finally gotten around to watching. I picked it up on a bargain sale at one of the online DVD shops I frequent. I rented it a long time ago, but finally watched it tonight. I guess you could say that I was in the mood for watching a little Jennifer Connolly. Pre-anorexia and pre-boob-job, that is. But post-jailbait; otherwise I'd have watched "Labyrinth"... *ahem*

At any rate, though, this movie really is rather fun, and quite captivating. Though entirely, obviously, staged. A big sci-fi stage-play, but with explosions. It's got a definite Eastern European feel to it, with a dash of the French "City of Lost Children", but is somewhat watered down by an American production's "sensibilities". Which makes it more accessable, but not neccesarily "artsy" like you'd expect an Eastern European flick to be.

Don't get me wrong, there are some very cool concepts in this film. My favorite is when Keifer Sullivan inserts himself into the memories of our lead; that struck me as a particularly intriguing sci-fi plot device the first time I saw this film. And overall, though it was a tad on the thin side, the sci-fi premise was still deeper than most to be found in television dramas over the last 20 years.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"I feel the earth... move... under my feet"

Subject: Musings
Holy crap, that really was an earthquake on Monday!

A tiny, silly, weak excuse for an earthquake. With weak sauce.

But, hey, that's a little unusual around here.

I know what it is, though! Someone's blasting out an under-sea grotto so they can dock their submarine for nefarious purposes and disrupt... uhh...

..oh, I don't know, whatever you can disrupt on Lake Ontario. Cement barges or something. *sigh*

A few quickies

Subject: Noir
Sorry I've been so quiet lately; as it turns out, I've been making progress on the code for Bee Train Fan, and I may be able to have the functions I want, and shiny new templates done, by next week or so.

At any rate, regarding my long-awaited, long-promised "Avenger" thesis -- I'm not ready. I'm going to have to give it another watchin', and try to collect a few links to stuff I found out that might be relevant. Not that the show warrants a lengthy dissertation, mind you. But I think there's something I could say for once besides "wow, that was cool"...

And with respect to my "watching" of anything else, there's only a few that I got to for me to comment on:

"Mahjong Legend Akagi" -- I grabbed a couple of raws for this one, because I was reading a few forum reviews that, for an anime about playing Mahjong, it had a unique style, interesting animation technique, and great writing. Well, the style is unique for certain, particularly the character designs. The animation technique, well, it's kind of static, though the camera flies around a lot a la my favorite Mashimo technique, though it's not entirely working for me. And finally, it relies a lot on the dialogue regarding the game-in-play, and despite the "great writing" aspect, I can't understand a word of it! So, obviously, it's totally lost on me. I guess I'd give it another chance if it's subbed, but overall, I'm really not going to be able to stand it.

"Blood+" episodes 2 & 3 -- I tried to give this another chance. I guess it doesn't entirely suck, but it's really not doing much for me. Kind of bland, and kind of "trying too hard". Yet, "not trying hard enough". I'll probably check back again on it, but won't follow it.

"Monster" episode 66 -- Ooh, more tension, more history, more answers, more questions! I really want the rest of these, and soon!

Finally, "Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water" disc 7 -- *sigh* more of the so-called "forgettable" episodes. Definitely the show takes on a childish, simplistic tone, and then, to pretend to be serious, it starts getting in to the whole "learning about relationships" kind of story. Bleh. That all said, there were a couple of mildly amusing moments that got a chuckle out of me, and while most of the animation tended to be obvious el-cheapo shortcuts, every now and then there'd be an old-skool well-done lively sequence of character animation that you rarely see in today's work. So I guess it wasn't a total waste of time. Hopefully, we move back in to the "interesting" part of the story soon.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Weekend update

Subject: Noir
I've got some "Avenger" commentary to work out. I couldn't resist making my way through the whole thing (go figure), but I still need some time to work out any "deeper thoughts" about it. Maybe with a little more caffiene...

I'm sure I mentioned that I had been watching (and had finished) the box-set of the "Irresoponsible Captain Tylor", which was my second time through the series. I finally took the time to finish up the "extras" discs that came in the set. Not an awful lot to say about it, except that most of the extras were pun-filled promo specials from Japan, and were thusly very, very weird, and somewhat incomprehensible. There was one brief on-camera interview with a (very young) Koichi Mashimo, as well as a couple of on-screen-text (translated of course) bits from him, and what was (implied, at least), a sequence of AMVs of the the OST that he supposedly presented. "Tylor", as I've said, is quite a remarkable, understated show, and I think what he accomplished there reverberates through his later Bee Train work. My "Avenger" commentary will likely draw from this experience. When I finally get to it, that is...

This evening, I watched my rented copy of "Otoshi Zoshi" disc 1. Based in classic Japanese history, and with a reputation of being a serious work, I'll at least agree with those two points. The story is rather rich and varied, and holds some promise for drama and intensity in and of itself. Production I.G. also provides some interesting compositing techniques to the animation, which helps it maintain some visual interest. But, overall, the characters are rather lifeless -- there's no spark or hook at all to any of them. When I went on and on about a lack of "soul" in other series, well, that's rather personified in this one. Like I said, the story holds on to enough detail and interest to make this something that I don't regret watching, but I find myself wishing that there was a little more to it to make me care about continuing it beyond this first disc. Because at this point, I'm in no hurry to.

Finally, I reprised my viewing of the short, independently-produced "Voices of a Distant Star", which I picked up during that ADV Labor Day sale. My previous review of it probably stands as the best I could possibly say. And I watched the short about the cat again as well; fine stuff overall. I'm pretty much drawn to the fact that both of these were more-or-less solo works. Because I'm really considering leaping back into that sort of thing myself, I guess.

I've still got his recent feature "Beyond the Clouds" in my rental queue, awaiting the time it becomes available, so I can see where he took it once he had the chance to break-through the usual wall between wannabees and professionals. It's a wall I've been pondering for quite a while now. So obviously I'm attracted to these sorts of efforts.

Friday, October 28, 2005

".hack" movie CONFIRMED! "Legend of the World"

Subject: Noir
[EDIT: Read the updates below. I'm wrong, there is no confirmation.]

Ah, breaking news! Thanks to BTF member Bulmafox posting news about the ".hack//FRAGMENT" MMORPG, I noticed on the Japanese ".hack" site the following little tidbit dated today:

10.28 .hack ポータルサイト「LEGEND」に新ムービーを追加

...which Bablefish interprets as:
Adding the new movie to hack portal sight "LEGEND"

...with further non-bablefishable info in the selector's images:


(anyone able to translate that for me??)

Anyway, combine that with the previous rumors, and it looks like we can expect a Mashimo-directed movie of all things in the not-too-distant future.

Any and all further rumors, please post them here or over on BTF!!

UPDATE: It looks like "Legend of the World" is the name of that section, not the actual title of the movie. *sigh* Maybe it's time for those Japanese lessons after all.

UPDATE (1:45pm): I submitted the "scoop" to ANN, and they've apparently looked in to it a little more. They just sent me a reply email saying: "Unfortunately its not half as cool as you think :-( Check out the site in 20 minutes." Oh well, another update in 20 minutes, I guess.

UPDATE (2:00pm): Okay, they posted it... *sigh* Jumped the gun. All over the place, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Avenger" review at AnimeOnDVD

Subject: Noir
As expected, it's time for the reviews to start rolling in, and I'm sure it will be interesting to see everyone's opinions of this, uh, unusual little space opera.

As for Chris' take on this, he's definitely of mixed mind. Here's his summary:
Avenger has left me with really mixed feelings about it. The first volume took some effort to get into it but ended on a strong high note which carried over into the remainder of the show and kept us engaged and interested to see where it was going to go. The show does fail strongly with a very weak ending that I've seen people say is just open for interpretation but that generally means weak in my eyes. There is an awful lot to like in here but they just couldn't figure out how to start it right or how to end it properly. The journey itself is very engaging however and with it being the entire series in one release at an extremely affordable price, I can't help but recommend checking it out and seeing what it's all about.


He's got a couple of little mistakes and preconceptions about Bee Train in the overall review (starting off in Volk City instead of Dome City, "other Bee Train productions haven't had a lot of strong prominent male characters as involved as" Speedy, etc.). But, overall, this is a pretty fair review.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

My "Avenger" order arrived!

Subject: Noir
...and I just quickly scoped out episode 1 to see how the disc was.

It looks pretty good. No obvious flaws, the picture quality holds up very well, and the sound is excellent. So far I haven't spotted any hidden visual detail that the fansubs were otherwise missing, besides some of the subtler color gradients and whatnot.

Oh, and apparently this is more "un-cut" than the TV version from the fansubs. In that the Layla Ashley "bath" scene (and the flashback therin) was a little more, uh, revealing. A bit of a surprise, but nothing particularly shocking -- the surprise being more along the lines that something that minor was actually cut for TV. It makes me wonder what else might have been trimmed or cropped along the way, though. I can't think of too many other opportunities for that, but still... an interesting difference.

Of course, I wanted to sample the dub as well. All of you probably remember my distaste for the "MADLAX" dub. And the "Kino's Journey" dub before that. Obviously, when I get used to a show's original soundtrack and the way the characters are vocalized when the director is directly involved, I have a hard time accepting the "interpretation" of it in the form of localized English performances.

That said, the "Avenger" dub wasn't too terrible. I think mostly it's because Layla didn't have much to say in this episode. Or most episodes for that matter. I think her English VA put a little too much emotion in it, but it wasn't entirely off-note like I felt Margaret was in "MADLAX". The dialog translations for the dub seem okay as well, though it conflicted in a few spots with my fansub-programmed expectations. I didn't get a chance to watch it with "official" subs yet to see how those fared, but I know I'll be getting to that soon enough.

Especially since I want to figure out just what the heck happened at the end.

Anyway, with another month-and-a-half to fill before the next "MADLAX" disc shows up, this should hopefully provide me enough of a fix for any Bee-Trainy cravings that might overcome me in the meantime.

"Tsubasa Chronicle" episode 26

Subject: Noir
Well, it's done. I was tempted to save it for Sunday morning, but I really didn't want to leave it hanging any more than I had to.

A good episode overall, if a bit predictable. And there really weren't any clarifications to the big mystery that's been lurking behind-the-scenes, except for a closer look at the spoiler that was all-to-evident in the episode preview seen previously. Still, a couple of well-animated moments and confirmation that we're pretty much tuned-in to our main characters by this point. Thus the "predictable" verdict, I guess.

Though the very last closing shot before the credits, that was a bit of a stab in the gut, if I interpret it correctly. I could be wrong; it could be referring to a time before Syaroan's flashback. But with the attention being paid to that particular scene in the various different shots, I get the sense that it wasn't. Which is pretty ominous.

There were a couple of other things about it overall that seemed a bit different than the previous episodes. Some of the closeup animation seemed a bit more, well, intense, I guess. Just a bit. The line-quality was a little different too. Not sure what to make of that besides the possibility that different animators got a crack at those scenes. Or maybe they were experimenting with a different technique. And the "incidental" characters, their style didn't really match the usual look that this show has; they were almost more... serious. Which made our fivesome's cartoony "landing" stick out all the more. Hmmm.

Well, enough about that, for 6 months or so. I'm rewatching them one-by-one for my morning workout. The early episodes are definitely as stiff and inactive as I remember them. But hopefully I'll pick up a new clue or two along the way.