Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year...

Subject: Musings
Well, I made it back without serious incident, though with lots of little annoying, delaying ones. Got back very very late, hit the sack, and slept 'til nearly noon. Ahh. Better.

I found the preceding post stuck in my edit queue -- I never could get posting-by-Blackberry to work right. I've decided to just let that one go up without further comment.

Looks like it's not going to be "Noir Year's Eve" again this year, though while I'm not sick, I'm not well prepared, and I've got to be somewhere somewhat early tomorrow. I'm still on "west-coast time" and will probably be up late anyhow, but really, I'm just not quite in the right frame of mind to watch "Noir" just now.

Besides, my subwoofer is dead. What fun is "Noir" without the house-shaking rumble of thunder during the "Final Guidance"? *grin*

I owe myself a marathon though. I'm thinking of upgrading my home theatre equipment, right down to the furniture, so I may just inagurate it that way. Sounds like a plan. A very expensive plan.

That said, good riddance to 2007, and welcome to the insanity of 2008. Huzzah and all that.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas

Subject: Musings
...But with slightly less BAC than Nicholas Cage's character...

Actually, far less. I'm sitting at the bar one last night, but only for a few brews to help relax a little. I haven't had much sleep this week. The walls are rather poor sound barriers. One couple on one side have been bitterly yelling at each other. In Chinese. The other couple are late-night partiers, and early morning fu... Err... Well, the are in Vegas. You'd think my turning up the TV would give them the hint, but I guess they just don't care.

I fly out in the morning, only to be stuck in Atlanta for 3 hours, then to land in Rochester at 11:30 PM. In a bit of a snowstorm according to the forecast. So I'll be lugging my suitcase across a snowy parking lot with inadequate footwear, and will need to scrape off the likely layers of ice and cruft that built up, all because I figured I'd save 20 bucks by not parking in the garage. Really thought that one through. *sigh*

I figure I could sleep for days after all this, but I still have a pile of work to finish. Not sure what I was thinking when I believed I'd make this a "working vacation". *sigh* again.

I had some fun and amusing moments, and I had more than a few minor dissappointments that have been over-amplified by my extreme tiredness. All-in-all, though, I'm sick of Vegas and I'm not in a hurry to come back. Or to gamble ever again. Or fly. Or sit by myself in a bar texting away on my Blackberry like the nerd that I am.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Viva Las Vegas

Subject: Musings
Tomorrow, Christmas Day, I fly off to Las Vegas for a few days with the family. Kind of a long story, but it's something my dad really loved to do, and I guess we're doing it in his honor.

"I guess", because it's really my two brothers who really want to go; my mom and I aren't entirely enthused. I like it well enough, but I've become a rather stingy fussbucket these past few years now that I'm finally earning enough that I can seriously save towards an early retirement.

Plus, to top it off, I'm actually going to have to work while I'm there. I was so overloaded with projects this month that I really have no other way to meet important deadlines. I'll make up for it, I'm sure, but that use-it-or-lose it week I took a few posts back is really biting me in the behind right about now. Oh well.

Maybe there'll be pics, but there's no free internet at the Luxor, so it's tough to say. I'm hoping to take a few short trips outside of town to the various natural splendors, weather permitting. Beats shovelling money into slot machines.

Happy Generic Winter Solstice Festivities to all! Be back soon.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Satoshi Kon-athon

Subject: Noir
...Well, not really a marathon as much as a double-feature, but I'm on the verge of also firing up "Millenium Actress" or the end of "Paranoia Agent" just to fit the mood...

Way back in the early days of this blog, I had rented "Tokyo Godfathers", and didn't have an awful lot to say about it. I guess I was taking a lot for granted at the time, and to top it off, I was in the midst of awaiting the climatic end of "MADLAX" at the time. This time around, besides being a little more seasonally-appropriate, I was in the right mood, and I enjoyed it immensely. The characters, the story, and the attention to detail made the whole thing such a simple slice of whimsy and life that it's really hard to believe that I missed that way back then. It gets a bad rap as one of Kon's "weaker" efforts, but considering how good his efforts are, there's a lot of room for it to still be a great little movie.

In fact, it seems to me that a "whimsical" air is actually more prevelant in what he's done than the darker, twisted psychological point-of-view most everyone ascribes to him since "Perfect Blue". "Millenium Actress", besides being a wonderful love-letter to cinema, is a bit of whimsy as well. "Paranoia Agent" is defintitely something to think of along those lines.

And now, "Paprika"... Oh, I think I love this film more than "Millenium Actress"! And not just because there's the same filmmaker-homage aspect to it. Okay, maybe mostly because of that, but really, it's so wonderfully intertwined with whimsy and subconcious and life that I'm this close to upgrading my home theatre to a Blu-Ray-capable setup just so I can see this in hi-def...

(Okay, I was going to do that anyway in the new year, but c'mon, what a great excuse!)

I've seen some overall "meh" reviews of it, and a general overall dissappointment, but especially after being warmed up by "Godfathers", I was more than receptive to go along for the ride. The wonderful title sequence, which was more or less that wonderful trailer I first saw way back when, sets the tone and establishes the magic. Sure there's a deeper angle of "what are dreams?" and "what if you're my dream?" and that sort of thing, but it's not really all that deep unless you want to pursue it that way. That may have been the story, but it really wasn't the point.

Not that I really quite grasp "the point" either, because I'm probably a bit too enthralled with the experience more than the literal narrative. Which maybe is the point after all?


Okay, okay, that's a little over the top. One thing's for sure, though; his love of film, his expression of what movies mean to him and what role they play, his realization of his own dreams -- those are things he's telegraphing in this, and his other works. That's probably why I find them so attractive. It's possible that once again I'm projecting my own desires on it, and if that's the case, all the better. If it's malleable enough that I can do that and still come away with it speaking to me, then I think it's done it's job quite well.

The last Roundup

Subject: Noir
...well, for 2007 at least. As much as I'd like to try and break away from the "roundup" form of blogging and start digging deeper into individual shows like I used to to more often, it's going to be a while before I can shake loose the cobwebs in my creative centers and get back into that groove.

I wanted to give "Dennou Coil" a full bit of praise on it's own, but by this point, everyone else has also seen the end and has blogged more or less the similar sorts of impressions that I had. I watched it using the downloaded soft-subs, but I want to give it another go with the fansub group's more complete version (with the signage & text translations and whatnot). Also, because things happened so fast, and there was so much expositionary dialogue going on, I may have likely missed a bit of the visuals here and there while busily trying to keep up with reading it. And vice-versa sometimes.

Plus, it's such a good, well produced story, I want to watch it again.

Even better would be seeing this licensed and in DVD form so I can share it with friends someday. But it seems the shows I like lately aren't high on any R1 company's list right now.

One exception I didn't realize about (because I hadn't paid any attention to it) was "Tengo Toppa Gurren Lagan", which ADV apparently had for a while now. I had already dug up the whole series after sampling a few episodes -- based on favorable mentions over on KT's blog and in the AniPages forum, and I got swept up in the energy and likeability of the characters. There's quite a lot of typical cliche fighting-robot weirdness that I would normally find either lame or cringe-worthy, but all told, it seemed like everyone involved was having such fun making the show, and making fun of all that lame cringe-worthy stuff, that I was hooked. Plus, a lot of the action animation, and the overall artwork, was lively and interesting and quite well done.

It hit all kinds of great mood notes, and had a great sense of scale and detail -- though by the end when the scale of things was so over-the-top and supposedly ridiculously huge, I don't think it quite pulled that off. It was fun, and you were rooting for everyone, but once things got "moon-sized", you really didn't get that kind of sense of huge-ness anymore, which it did a lot better early on. Also, I figure a lot of the "in-jokes" probably went totally over my head, but I could appreciate the details for what they were anyhow.

Anyway, for those of us in the US, ADV is experimenting with streaming it, subtitled, on their website, to try and fill the gap between the Japanese airing and their DVD/TV release. Since I did a no-no and downloaded the whole thing, I kind of want to support that experiment at least a little. But I find the lack of ability to watch it full-screen, plus the clunky low bitrate encoding messing with some of the better-animated action bits, and I'm not sure I'll keep that up. A shame.

I finally managed to dig up the finale for "Romeo X Juliet" a while back; for some reason it never showed up on my usual sources. Waaay back at the beginning, I had said that I sure hoped they didn't wimp out on the tradgedy factor of the original story, and thankfully (without spoiling anything), they most certainly didn't. But it was really quite clever how they were able to do it totally differently, yet still do it a bit of justice, as over-the-top melodramatic as it was. I think it was a suitably entertaining and thoughtful ending and I'm not disappointed. Strange how I wound up attached to the show, but I liked that it was different and a little bit creative in it's retelling, and that overall there was a good spark to the characters that got me through the rougher patches in the story.

As far as the current season goes, I'm pretty much only following "Ghost Hound", and only just sort of. I'm not that thrilled with the animation, but the overall design and art is reasonable enough. The story isn't as gripping as it wants to be, and it's almost borderline lame, but there's just enough of a little twist to it, and little bits of surprise reveal, that it makes me curious as to what's next. I also like how the soundtrack is mostly ambient sound, and I'd bet it'd great if I were able to watch it in 5.1 surround. But overall I'm not entirely enthused by it, and if it loses me, then I won't be disappointed.

"Future Police: Urashimon" is a much more, uh, challenging watch. Yeah, it's old-skool Mashimo-directed zaniness, but it's also old-skool Mashimo-directed inane-ness. It hasn't aged all that well. And it hasn't yet taken on any characteristics that would bring me deeper into it, and I'm not sure it will, despite the possible hints for it. It's mainly just a low-brow, mostly-harmless, 80's cliche comedy, with the occasional glimpse of the early Hand Of Mashimo. It's no "Captain Tylor", for sure. Or "Tank Police". Or "Dirty Pair".

To wrap up, I also rented an old OVA/movie called "Darkside Blues". It didn't start off in a particularly appealing manner for my mood, but I stuck through it. There wound up being a couple of enjoyable characters that helped with the matter, but there was nothing particularly outstanding there. It had all the typical elements of an old-skool dystopian sci-fi drama, right down to the "start the story in the middle, end the story in the middle" kind of meandering with no real conclusion. You're just witnessing one little snapshot in time in a bigger story. Which is fine, but ultimately with this one, it wasn't particularly rewarding. And by the end, even though it was still early, I found myself extra-sleepy and wound up turning in early instead of offsetting it with a more lively selection off my DVD shelf. Ah well.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Subject: Musings
As I figured, coming back to work was like walking straight into a giant pile of... oh, nevermind. Anyway, combine the resulting fatigue with my already-faltering motivation to write, and I haven't been on the internet much lately aside from scanning headlines, and have just vegetated in what little down-time I've had.

I've got great stuff to say about the endings of a few shows, especially "Dennou Coil", and, surprisingly, "Tengo Toppa Gurren Lagan". No, really! That one wound up kind of addicting. *grin*

More later? Hope so.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"You are the affection within madness."

Subject: Noir
One more disc to go with this round of "MADLAX", which will make it the one project I started these past 2 weeks that I actually finished. Well, besides cooking a turkey, but still...

I have to go back to work on Monday and I know that taking a vacation has just meant that I'll have a lot to catch up with when I get back. Not a good thing, and very similar to the last time I took time off and allowed myself the luxury to watch "MADLAX" all the way through. Only this time I didn't watch "Noir" as well, because I couldn't bring myself to go that far. Ah well. Hopefully, I'll be able to pull of a "Noir Year's Eve" when I return from my Very Vegas Christmas, but with the Super Secret Deadline I have at work, it's not entirely likely. I'll play it by ear.

Disc 6 of "MADLAX" is a bit of a crusher. It kicks off some of the most emotional and tragic bits that you'll see anywhere in anime, and everything about the production and animation are outstanding and top-notch, so it's no wonder that I think back to this year's "El Cazador" followon and feel slightly betrayed.

I enjoyed "El Cazador" and still think it's better than most everything else that's been aired lately ("Dennou Coil" excepted, most certainly), but "MADLAX" is so amazingly well-crafted, detailed, and multifaceted that the overly-simple, obviously-outsourced bits of "El Cazador" made it such a dissappointment to me. I was going to try to do the "trilogy marathon", but I can't bring myself to put Cazzy in comparison to my favorite 2 others. Maybe that's for the best.

"MADLAX" suffers from a bit of continuity issues (to say the least) and is far from perfect in 100 ways, but in terms of cinematic moments and pure emotion, it kicks my sorry arse every time. "Noir" even more so, even with it's artistic niggles and incongruences. Cazzy, though, is just kind of 2-D in comparison. (Yes, that's a bit of a pun).

*Sigh* I shouldn't be dwelling on this, as I have the big finale to go through for "MADAX", and I want to be particularly primed for it in more than just how much Shiraz I've been drinking. So I guess I'll leave it at that. I'll rewatch Cazzy soon enough (with tacos and tequila, probably) and find I like it well enough on it's own. For now, the "MADLAX" shadow is going to obliterate it.

UPDATE: "There's a me inside of you." -- said it before and I'll say it again. The key to the whole thing.

And that's it for a while. *sob*

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Zen of Yanmani

Subject: Noir
Listening to: "MADLAX OST 1"
Mood: Pins & Needles
In the kitchen: Pasta and pasta-related program activities

I've needed a smidge of a pick-me-up after beating myself up so badly earlier this week. For this "vacation" that I'm stuck taking now (while work piles up, according to the constant beeping of my BlackBerry), I was hoping to indulge in some sort of "Le Grande Retour de la Grande Rewatch" -- an uber-marathon to end all marathons. But aside from getting through a couple of discs of ".hack//SIGN", I just couldn't get my heart into it. .hack//*SIGH*

F* the rut, though. I'm gonna watch "MADLAX"! Maybe not all at once, but enough.

Why? Let's just say that this broke my brain:

UPDATE: "MADLAX" kicks "El Cazador's" arse six ways from Sunday. It's inescapable just how awsome it is.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Brad Bird iz in my base, killin my dudz

Subject: Cinema
Brad Bird is in my head and I can't stop feeling like he's lecturing me.

I've gone on a few times about "The Incredibles" and how it feels like the ultimate expression of midlife crisis for me, and just how f*-in' jealous I am of the whole Pixar experience that I wasn't good enough to join back in the day. As my Youtube demoreel so obviously illustrates.

"Ratatouille" showed up this weekend, along with the first anthology of Pixar shorts, so I was compelled to watch them right away. First, I unwrapped my copy of "The Iron Giant", which I hadn't seen for quite a while, but was glad to finally have an excuse to.

There wasn't as much there to make me feel like a personal failure like Bird's Pixar films do, but it's still a whole lot of awesome that is rarely seen in the American-produced 2-D animation market in the last 10-20 years or so. I could almost extrapolate a sort of "big, scary, nobody understands" relationship from it, but it would really be quite a stretch, so in reality, I'd say it didn't really apply to my thesis for tonight, and that I'd just plain recommend it for it's simple honest awesomness. Which is so rare in American animation.

The Pixar Shorts disc I immediately selected the Commentary track for, because I saw most of the classics back in the day when Pixar shorts were the ideal for which all of us animation students ascribed to. I've already mentioned that John Lassiter came to speak to my animation class right around the time "Tin Toy" came out (he co-won the student Academy Award with my department head some years previously), and that Craig Good, another old-skool Pixarian, personally slapped me down for one of my naive pronouncements in the old proto-Usenet newsgroups when I mouthed off about animation one time. So as much as I sucked, I owe a lot of what I learned to the early days of Pixar. The commentaries I guess brought me back to those days, and I guess I got more nostalgia than insight, though there can be a bit of insight in nostalgia if you think about it...

"Ratatouille" itself, of course, rocked. It had everything going right for it, and it kicked it up a notch (Emeril joke) by doing the details so incredibly well. And add the bonus of a beautifully rendered Paris, and it's no wonder I was captivated.

But of course, like with "The Incredibles", I couldn't help but project my own message on to it. The theme of "Anybody Can Cook", and the illustration of the complexities of the world of being a chef, was instantly symbolic of being an animator to me. There's absolutely no escaping that parallel. It could apply to any sort of artistic or creative imperitave, sure, but "animator" was screaming at me.

I kind of knew that's what it was going to do to me, so it took a whole couple of days before I could bring myself to watch it, but I was determined to. And surely enough, while the credits rolled, I broke down much like I did during "The Incredibles". Only this time not so much out of jealousy, as much as I feel like a bit of a failure for not being so capable of having taken to heart such simple, basic, ultimate truth as that silly little rat was told by his imaginary apparition of an obsurdly obese French chef told him. How crazy, yet how simple and how true. And how much I'm beating myself up over it again.

It's something to say that the techniques and style of the animation and storytelling didn't make me get all annoyed like "Crappy Feet" or other mo-cap films did. (Late in the credits, there was a little anti-mo-cap placard that whizzed by that was hilarious and I really need to get a screencap of), and inversely actually made me totally emotionally relate to what was being expressed (for better or for worse). In a lot of ways, it's kind of an obvious ploy -- fellow in the rat race wants to be an artist. How hard is that to portray? But I'm a total sucker for it, because it's real for me and I can identify with it.

As a one-off, it would have been just something I would have given a bit of snarky commentary towards and that would be that. But mixed with my reaction to Bird's previous mid-life-crisis-a-thon "The Incredibles", it's like he's been speaking to my psyche directly. And I wish I could say that's been a good thing. I love it a lot, but I'm totally distraught as an outcome, and I find myself feeling even more like I've missed the boat by not trying harder back in the day to meet Pixar's expectations instead of selling out to the corporate drudgery that pays the bills for me these days. *sigh*

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Super-secret hidden Mashimo!

Subject: Noir
No, I haven't been a part of the Writer's Strike, but I have had a strong case of writer's block. Ah well.

Like I just posted over on the 'Fan, I stumbled on an old-skool series -- "Future Police Urashimon" that apparently was directed by Koichi Mashimo, but ANN had incomplete information on and didn't have him in the credits at all.

It just goes to show that he's been at this for quite a long time...

UPDATE: Of course, trying to post to the 'Fan seems to have brought it crashing down. The webhost isn't responding right now... *sigh*
UPDATE 2: Okay, fixed for now, they must have rebooted or something...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Breaking news! New Bee Train anime for April 2008?!? "Lightning G"? Or is it "Future Diary"?

Subject: Noir
Gawd help me, I really can't untangle what the Google translator is telling me, but after doing a quick search of the MoonPhase domain for Bee Train, I found this blog entry that is totally making my heart race:

未来日記 アニメ化?







Google gives me this:
Future Diary anime?
Foul information Why creditworthiness is unknown, but the citation.

Lightning G `s out information.

In April 2008 from future diary stations nationwide U anime decision and announcement.

Major staff and cast just keep running.

Director: Koichi Mashimo / screenwriter: Yousuke Kuroda / Music: Yuki Kajiura / Manufacturing: Bee Train


Amano snow Bright: Swan Philosophy /我妻由乃: Rie Kugimiya /須圭come Satoru: Hino Satoshi / increase thanks佑: Aya Hisakawa / Kasugano Tsubaki: Mai Nakahara / rain flow it right there: Yukari Tamura / Tsukishima Hunter: Hitoshi Sunao Takiguchi / Ban Hitoshi Yomigaeri: Tomokazu Sugita / shoal or fall: Souitirou Yasushi / Hino in the sun: Ryouko Shiraishi / Ban Nono MAO: KOYAMA KIMIKO / Deus Exe Maki Na: Norio Wakamoto

Mashimo directing. Kuroda("MADLAX") writing. Yuki Kajiura Music... And so much more!

So what I can't tell is if this is saying that this was found in a "future diary" and it's called "Lightning G" -- or if it's called "Future Diary" and someone/something named "Lightning G" reported it... ??

There is a manga called "The Future Diary" (aka "Mirai Nikki")

Ah, I see, there is a "Lightning G's Magazine"... So "Future Diary" must be the title?

It seems like this is unconfirmed, though.

Discussion and further sleuthing in the Bee Train Fan forum, of course.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A rounder roundup

Subject: Noir
First a bit of an aside; my referrer stats tell me that, yet again, I must have pissed in somebody's unique and special cornflakes with my previous roundup snark about "Divergence Eve". *shrug* But, I suppose I should clear it up for the record: I said I actually did (albiet barely) make it through one episode, making an earnest 2nd attempt after aborting my first attempt early. And I said I specifically wanted to try it because of recommendations I read; I don't waste my time to go out of my way to find a show just to dis' it. But if I find something I don't like, I enjoy having a little fun snarking about it. *grin*

My perspective, "ungrounded" as it may be, is that of a cranky old film-geek snob non-fan who discovered late in life that there's actually anime out there that I enjoy. The qualities I'm looking for are rather divergent (hee hee) from what most "real" fans are looking for. Call it a western bias, call it cluelessness, whatever. What attracts me, attracts me. What repels me, repels me. Sometimes, based on reviews I read or recommendations from readers, I'll give something a chance to surprise me, because there are numerous shows that contain elements that I would otherwise find irritating, but make up for it with other qualities.

"Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars" was one of those. I finished up the last disc finally, and it's kind of surprising how many of my usual "negatives" are present in it -- the excruciating minutae of the Japanese schoolroom (and awkward schoolkid romance), the often blank & limited pallete of gestures and expressions, the overall "moving-manga" presentation. But, in those "limited" expressions, there was still a little spark of life and interest to the characters that gave them a bit of soul. There were little twists in the narrative outside of the schoolroom that grabbed my curioustity. The action sequences were well animated, and the overall timing, even in the more static shots, was spot-on. So, ultimately I was entertained by it -- though I admittedly fast-forwarded through a wee bit of the schoolroom stuff early on. But then I'd miss a twist and have to go back, so I got more patient with it as time went on.

Also added to my "finished-up" list is "009-1". What a hoot that show is! It digs up all kinds of dark cold-war-era tropes and paints them in a retro-mod pallete and a bit of sarcastic self-awareness and puts 'em out there with no apologies. It's a charming style piece with interesting, almost touching little stories which are surpisingly dark considering the campiness of the concept. I think I'm going to make this one a "buy", though I'm not going to get a lot of rewatch value out of it. But I'm looking for unique and stand-out work, and this is worth rewarding for that fact alone.

Speaking of unique and stand-out, "Dennou Coil" at episode 19 turns into a tense bit of supernatural thriller, as the girls are trapped in the house by ghostly zombie-like "illegals" from "the other side" who have just kidnapped the cyber-conciousness of the little sister. It's a brilliantly crafted episode, with just a little edge of humour, and a lot of payoff because of the amount life and soul breathed into the characters by the animators since scene 1 of episode 1 make it nearly impossible not to be carried along by their anxiety and emotion. And far and away this cements it as the Best Show of 2007 for me, which only goes to prove once again that excellent production qualities can overcome my irritation with "typical schoolkid" shows.

Finally, I've dipped back into the old-skool again and rented the first disc of the first "Mobile Suit Gundam" series from 1979 or thereabouts. I was slightly dissappointed that it was dub-only, but the era and style were much like my nostalgic teenage memories of "RoboTech", so I got over that quickly. Well, mostly, as I think the dub probably interfered with my suspension-of-disbelief mechanism and blocked me from getting too deep into the characters. Not a big deal, because like I said, the nostalgia, along with my appreciation of the old-skool production techniques were enough to carry me through. I'll probably keep working my way through this first one before I start peeking around looking through the rest of the insanely huge "Gundam" franchise for more options -- a task that I figure could keep me busy for years.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In the not too distant future... again! No, really!!

Subject: TV
By way of Slashdot, an announcement that's all sorts of win:

Joel Hodgson, the [Mystery Science Theater 3000] series creator, has announced that he will be launching a new venture called Cinematic Titanic. It will feature horrible movies riffed by the original cast of MST3K, including Josh Weinstein (the original Tom Servo), Trace Beaulieu (the original Crow), Frank Conniff (TV's Frank), Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester) and, of course, Joel himself. They've already got the rights to 12 movies, and will be releasing one a month starting in December for DVD purchase or download.

Win. Totally win.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Around and around the Roundup goes...

Subject: Noir
There hasn't been a lot to write about lately.

Yeah, I watched the end of "El Cazador" with subtitles, but I'm not entirely sure I have anything new to say about it that I haven't already complained/ruminated/speculated about. I'll revisit the whole series one more time soon enough, and maybe gel it a little more then. For now I'm trying not to think about it too much. *sigh*

More enjoyable, and getting into the thick of things by jumpstarting the plot again, is "Dennou Coil". All of the sub groups are way behind, but a couple of episodes showed up a little while ago, and they were quite excellent. We start getting into the deeper mystery and the suspense surrounding it. And as usual, the animation and presentation are top-notch. Can't wait to see how this plays out to the end.

Jumping out of series and into movies for a minute, I also greatly enjoyed the animation in "Tekkon Kinkreet", a full-length feature recently out on disc. The character animation is generally excellent and engaging, and the designs and art direction are quirky and fully overloaded with minute detail. However, from early on, the camera effects and manic pacing really made it hard to focus on any of that detail, which I suppose was effective as a way of evoking a bewhildering bit of confusion at the beginning, but I mostly found it a waste and wished for some focus already! Still, it evened out pretty quickly and it was possible to latch on to the characters and the storyline once it settled into it's bizarre little groove.

There were some aspects of the characters and their interactions that were bordering on annoying at times, but overall I was digging the fresh and energetic feel and how much it was finally different from everything else I'd been watching lately. A lot to like about it, and I'm looking forward to picking it up, once the HD format wars finally settle down and I jump into that game.

Another movie that I thought had great characters and a richly-detailed setting was "Junkers Come Here" -- a movie that is the exact polar opposite of "Kinkreet", of course. It's a sedate, calm slice-of-life with natural (though sometimes extra-low-framerate) animation style and accurate depictions of the surroundings and props. It seems to be a sweet portrayal of a young girl with a talking dog -- a secret talking dog, and a rather amusing one at that. However, even though it seemed to have all these nice qualities, I wound up stopping it about a third of the way through.

Because I was bored.

To be fair, I'm not the target audience (except in my role as animation technique-junkie), and I've been a bit irritable and short of attention lately. So even if the show does go on to be more dramatic, or more fanciful, or more endearing, or whatever, I really didn't have the patience to find out. Ah well.

Speaking of "bored", I'd read through the various summaries I could find of the new fall season, and wound up downloading a few just in case there might have been a "hidden gem" in there:

I was hoping maybe "Dragonaught" might give me a touch of the liveliness that was in "Romeo x Juliet" -- Nope. Cliche pile of dull.

"Rental Magica" had a bit of a Bee Train connection in the staff, but nope. Definitely nope. Don't know what I was thinking even attempting it.

"Moyashimon" (aka "Tales of Agriculture") was rather zany in the OP & ED, and the premise of these little cartoony microrganisms flitting about has the potential of interesting little bits of whimisical character animation, but I really don't think I can sit through the rest of it just for that. I might try a couple of more just to see, but otherwise...

Three that I barely got 5 minutes into were "Minami-ke", which I was checking to see if it was the next "Windy Tales" (totally nope), and "Mokke", which I was hoping might have more of a "Mushishi" vibe (also nope). Ah well, didn't hurt to check. The third was "Blue Drop", supposedly an epic shoujou-ai sci-fi, and while it did open with one of the characters by the voice of Vanessa Rene (!), the next scene betrayed it's ponderous weight, weak wooden style, and lame stiff character animation all rolled together in one introductory sequence, and I bailed out.

Still on my "I'm curious" list is "Ghost Hound". The production value and the style's okay, though it's a little bit stiffer animation than I'd prefer. A couple of characters are annoying right off the bat. And there's an unavoidable "icky" edge to what I assume is going to be the horror/suspense/mystery angle of the story. So we've kind of got a cross between "Kino's Journey", "Texchnolize", and the typical "clueless schoolkid" show. And not enough of the "Kino's Journey" part, either beyond some superficial aspects of the character design. So, we'll see.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The irresistable lure of Taco Night

Subject: Noir
So I'm in the grocery store looking for something to cook for dinner, and I notice tortillas are on sale...

...It just kind of took off from there. Cooking now, and will probably start a couple of episodes back again (puma hunting!)

More as it develops. *Heh*

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The rest of "El Cazador" is out!

Subject: Noir
I'm sure most of you who care already found out over on the 'Fan, but for those randomly searching, the final 2 eps of "El Cazador" have hit the torrents and are available to finally wrap things up.

I haven't had a chance to watch them yet, and I'm thinking that I might, just might, hold off. You see, I haven't done a good set of marathons in a while, and I'm thinking of taking next week off, and... Hmmm. *grin*

Surprisingly out there as well: another ep of "Romeo x Juliet" (under a slightly "anonymous" appelation), and another ep of "Denno Coil" as well. I'll get into those a little later with my next roundup -- which will include my judgement of the new fall season thus far.

Tee Vee nation

Subject: TV
I seem to have picked up -- or at least resumed -- a TV-watching habit, though really it's kind of small in scope.

I've been renting "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" discs for a while now, and I'm finally in that season where it 1) starts getting into more darker, better written plots, and 2) is about where I was unable to continue the show due to moving way out here outside of TV reception range and not being able to get it on the sattellite dish I was using at the time. It's good stuff, and probably the least annoying of all the Treks. I've really got to stop watching all 4 eps per disc in a row, though, and spread them out a bit over the week.

In the new season, I've decided not to bother with "Dexter", and even dropped Showtime entirely. It's quirky, sure, but it was kind of predictable and I really didn't think it could sustain it's gimmick beyond that first season. If I'm proven wrong, then I can always catch up again. No biggie.

I've picked up another quirky-and-predictable one for now -- "Pushing Daisies". A bit of an oddball show with an amusing presentation, but the dialogue seems to veer from moments of charmy wit to rough spots that seemed inserted after-the-fact to "punch it up a bit". The premise might possibly wear too thin too fast, though, and a couple of the characters will probably beat the premise to the punch in that respect. But for now, it's a good looking, quirky bit of different in the otherwise lame landscape, and it's worth giving a shot.

Speaking of "wearing thin", that seems to be the buzz about the second season of "Heroes". I don't exactly subscribe to that notion. Still, it's been kind of a jarring "reset" to have to work up building up the tension and layering the connections again. Though it's kind of beating us over the head with the sheer extraordinary ordinariness of those connections. Complete with product placement (that car in Mexico was Claire's lamely announced one, part of a dumb Nissan promotion). Supposedly this week there'll be a lot of new "twists", which was kind of the draw of the show in the first place, so hopefully they pull it off.

"Bionic Woman" is kind of hanging on by it's opening momentum right now, and that's mostly because of Katee Sackoff's totally over-the-top psychosis is keeping it interesting. The oh-so-special sisterly moments and valuable lessons and such are kind of draining the fun out of it otherwise. And, let's face it, it really is kind of a dumb thing to remake and the lack of plot depth seems to reflect that. But, like I said previously, there's a bit of ass-kicking to be had, and Katee.

Supposedly there's been a show on the BBC about Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane, but I keep forgetting to go looking for it over on the 'Bay or the 'Nova. That might round out the season for me if I find it (and it's watchable).

Friday, October 12, 2007

Roundup? Not much to round up.

Subject: Noir
I watched a tiny bit of anime that I haven't blogged, but there's not a lot to say about 'em...

Disc 2 of "009-1" was probably the highlight. It continues it's campy-retro spy-thriller fun, interjected with some really dark dramatic moments & situations that kind of surprised me by how interesting they were. Maybe I'll actually buy this one...

Disc 1 of "Divergence Eve" showed up too, and I figured I was going to use that & "009-1" for an opportunity to do a boobjoke-themed post, but really, I could barely get through 1 episode of that stinker. In two tries, having stopped it in exasperation about 4 minutes in on my first attempt. I really should have known better, but the Netflix reviews said something about it becoming a decent bit of sci-fi despite the rediculous chesty-ness of the characters. As of now I could care less if it turns out to be the most poignant observation of the human condition, there's no way I want to sit through that crap to get there.

...and, that's all?? Yeah, pretty much it since my last roundup. The last fansubs of "El Cazador", "Romeo X Juliet", and "Denno Coil" are MIA and presumed dead, now that everyone's attention is focused on the new season. BTF member Hayama posted a link to a decent summary of what to expect. I'm not entirely sure I'm interested in much of any of them at first glance, though I'll probably research a little more closely in case there's any hidden gems in there. Plus there might be some surprises lurking in my Netflix queue -- one that I'm keeping "secret" for the moment until I see it and decide if I'm going to complain bitterly about it or not...

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Subject: Musings
I feel like I'm perpetually busy, yet I'm unable to actually finish anything.

I managed to clear out over 10 years of junk and throw it in a dumpster to have hauled away, but never got to the point of fully cleaning up my garage. I had made a lot of progress painting my bedroom, but I still need to finish the trimwork before painting the walls (and frankly, by "painting", I probably just mean "smearing paint around with a brush" -- I don't think I have the knack for it). I need to get it finished so I can get new carpet installed, and buy a new bed with a super-premium high-end mattress (in hopes of taking a step towards solving my sleep problems that leave me exhausted and over-caffinated during the day).

I'd spent the summer trying to read the classic "Don Quixote", and despite its reputation and quality -- and finding plenty to relate to -- I've found it to be a tough slog, and have only gotten less than a third of the way through it. I tried a different tack and started the very short Dostevsky story "Notes From Underground" -- it turns out my little rant on turning 40 could easily be a short summary of how it opens -- plenty to relate to there, maybe. But I could barely get a dozen pages in before I found myself re-reading sentences and unable to quite latch on to it. Couldn't focus on the page. I should have picked a lighter read.

I was only watching 3 series from the last anime season, and they're all stuck. "El Cazador" may actually have the last releases appearing sometime soon, but I stopped holding my breath a long time ago. "Dennou Coil", stuck. "Romeo X Juliet", hit with a round of C&D orders, left with only a couple of episodes to go. And so far, there's nothing in the new season to attract me, and the DVDs for "009-1" and "Black Lagoon" are slow in coming.

I tried rewatching the HDTV version of "The Triplets of Belleville" last night, and though I was really enjoying the animation, I fell asleep! Gah! Admittedly, between early mornings at work and lousy nights' sleeping, I was pretty well beat.

So, no missions accomplished, no time to relax. Bleah.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Turning 40 sucks.

Subject: Musings
...No real reason, though. I just decided that it does.

...Onward to 50 though. Let's see where that takes me.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Some Heroes are..." redux

Subject: Cinema
I was on a bit of a "hero" theme this week, sort of by accident or coincidence, I guess.

I didn't quite finish up Ken Burns' opus yet, though it's been recording on the DVR. I had a few more items on the DVR I wanted to give a go instead, seeing as I figured they'd make for, well, a "hero" theme. Heh.

First up was the premiere of a new TV show this season. Go figure, it's Yet Another Remake Of A Cheesy 70's Show. It's got some production (and acting) crossover with "Battlestar Galact-oh-yeah". It's probably the least likely thing I should have found myself curious about this season, and that's saying a lot because there's a lot of crap out there.

Yes, I'm talking about the new "Bionic Woman".

Now that your eyes have stopped rolling to the back of your head and you're continuing to read, hear me out! *grin* It's not that bad. Like Galact-oh-yeah, it's supposed to be a "darker" (though not really that dark) re-imagining of the Jamie Summers "du-du-du-du-duuu"-athon spun off from the non-inflation-adjusted "Six Million Dollar Man". This time, though, she's been been suddenly thrust into a weird technological underworld (with some mild "Blade Runner" atmosphere homage) where she suddenly has cyborg super-powers and an obligation to "save the world".

Though she's going to have an opponent. Who's also probably going to be a bit of a mentor. Galact-oh-yeah's re-imagined Starbuck is playing the "first" bionic woman, who has become an evil, insane fugitive. And she's doing a rather marvelous job of that, I think. Quite a lot of fun, and an instant transfer of "oh-yeah" over to this one.

Of course, there's a layer of schmaltz, what with her superstar-surgeon boyfriend who bionicized her in the first place, her familial responsibilities for her younger sister, etc, etc. But if they can keep up a tone of conflict and bad-assitude (and a little nice-assitude doesn't hurt *ahem*), then this might be some fun popcorn to fill the time until the real return of Galact-oh-yeah in January.

Anyway, enough about that, on to the movies...

"Superman Returns" -- That one just kind of came and went at the theatres, huh? And I can kind of see why. There's nothing particularly bad about it; in fact, it was fun, well performed, and well visualized. A good escapist fantasy world with enough detail and design to help suspend disbelief. Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor was particularly fun, as he applies a great presence to what is otherwise a goofy role. It's got a smidgen less camp than the Christopher Reeve movie predecessors, though, and that's for it's benefit as well.

But it didn't really achieve much else beyond that. There's an assumption that you know the story and the major players because it jumps right in to a "story in progress", with is perfectly fine considering it's "Superman" after all. There was nothing particularly inspiring about the storyline -- just another kind of serial sort of plot, and despite the attempt at really making a personal "shocking" revelation, it never really connected on a personal "why should I give a shit" level. Not to say that they weren't enjoyable to watch. But it's pretty much just another bit of popcorn entertainment. Maybe the first of a recurring series, maybe not. I won't be holding my breath until the next one, but I'll probably watch it when it shows up.

Finally, "Hollywoodland" -- a 1950's period piece with some post-noirish overtones surrounding the investigation into the apparent suicide of George Reeves, the star of the old TV version of "Superman". Ben Affleck plays Reeves, and does a fine job putting a backstage face on an earnest (albiet cynical) B-actor trying to break through, but who got stuck (and ultimately typecast) in role that, while extremely popular with "children and shut-ins" (as one line put it), was a bit of a silly day-job that didn't quite take him where he wanted to go.

The events surrounding his death were a little bit sordid, as he was involved with the wife of the head of MGM Studios, and there was always a sort of dark underworld surrounding the efforts to maintain an "image" for the studio system and those involved with it. And the fact that it's a story that isn't particularly well known, and might even be a surprise to some, is probably the one thing that keeps any level of viewer interest.

Atmospherically, it's well done and captures great "period" details. Perfomances overall were fine and not particularly noticeable in either direction. But it's the slow reveal of the "behind-the-scenes" parts of the story that held my curiosity. Kind of like that one a few years ago about Bob Crane of "Hogan's Heroes", though nowhere near as wierd and creepy.

The attempts to tie together a broader story about heroes and fathers and dashed childhood dreams and whatnot were kind of transparent and not ultimately the sort of thing I connected with. I guess I must have been more interested in the gossipy aspects than the drama, which is a bit of a surprise, but then again, maybe it's all it really had.

The second-to-last "Taco Night"

Subject: Noir
"El Cazador" is over, and I've finally watched the untranslated end.

I was waffling on whether or not I'd do it now, or wait for translations, but then I told myself: "Self, if, on Friday evening, your friends want to go out for Mexican food, then it's fated that you should watch it." And lo, tasty tacos were to be had that night. So I dialed back to ep 21 or so and got through to the end.


Well, I'll need to see it again. With translation. Ep 25 is still untranslated as well, so I think when both are done, I'll do one last "taco night" and sum up then.

But my quick impression? It was nice. "Nice". Some very sweet little personal moments (which I've been touting as a positive thing for years, so yes that was a good thing). Also, some very funny, albiet eye-rolling moments. The return of the taco song was cute & silly. I was a little dissappointed that it wasn't the "origins" episode I was hoping for, which means there's quite a bit of unanswered questions still. But I'm not too concerned about most of them.

Except Nadie's. Which maybe the dialogue will help a tiny bit with. But those tiny little hints throughout the show not coming to any kind of conclusion or wrapup is a little dissappointing. There are so many episodes that I'd gladly trade for some better focus on Nadie, because I really enjoy her character a lot.

Still, much of the animation and design had a lot of attention paid to it, a lot of care, unlike a few of the notably frustrating earlier ones. And ultimately, the finale reflects the overall series -- it's the personal story of two girls, how they affect their surroundings, and have a few gags thrown in for good measure. Meta-humor, where they're meaningful (well, "meaningful") to the fans of the show, and the fans of its predecessor.

More later once the gaps are filled in, as this show still tends to surprise me now and then with what little gems get said.

Now to decide whether or not I want to watch the "other two" this weekend or not... I'm still undecided.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some Heroes are better than others

Subject: TV
I didn't realize that NBC's "Heroes" had started up again this week until I noticed it on my DVR. The season premiere managed to shake up a couple of expectations from the ending of the first season, and in some ways give a nice little twist, and in others, well, it twisted a bit more predictably. Or, I should say, a bit less interestingly.

Still, it's the same show that is somewhat addictive, mostly cheeseball, and otherwise entertaining. The new arcs for this season are mostly set up, most of our favorite characters are re-established (and our not-so-favorite characters show up in the preview), and we get a few new characters to round things out. I'm probably not as likely to be treating this as "appointment TV" this season, wherein I tune in when it's airing (after a 25 min interval so I can FF through the commercials on my DVR), but I'll keep with it. Fun.

Of course, the reason I missed it is that I'm watching the latest Ken Burns epic on PBS: "The War". "The" war is obviously World War II, which I've mentioned (probably a bit drunkenly) a couple of times after watching WWII-based Hollywood films like Clint Eastwood's. And at the time, I'm sure I've mentioned just how staggeringly vast and incomprehensible that even was to me, and how hard it is to project any tiny bit of the contemporary "real" world on to it, despite the violence and awfulness going on. World War II was different, the era was different, yet it's still such an ingrained part of us. And it still has a lot of fundamentals of human existence sewed up into it.

The style of this particular documentary (which is running 2+ hours a night for the whole week) is very, very Ken-Burnsesque. Folksy music, letters from various everymen being read by celebrities, slow pans on photos, and up-close interviews with eyewitnesses. It flits from strong-ish story to strong-ish story, sometimes repeating footage, sometimes repeating smaller facts, but ultimately trying to draw you into a personal eyewitness-level portrait of the humanity in the event, which tends to be missing in the endless cable-tv "Hitler-this" and "war-machine-that" kind of programming thrown together from public-domain footage and filling hours upon hours of repetitive airtime.

There's some serious shit that happens to a person in a war, sometimes heroic, sometimes brutal, sometimes incompreshensible... sometimes all at the same time. No new breakthrough there, and I'm not going to attempt to rationalize it myself, having no experience in the matter. The interviews with the various veterans who were there obviously show that what they did took it's toll, and even 60 years later they still break up over it. Many interviewees were never aired because they just couldn't make it through the interview, despite how hard they tried. 60 years later. It's unimaginable, even with the graphic footage and narrative.

The whole thing, though, does fall just a teeny bit flat and cliched. It's like there's not really much "new" information that hasn't already been covered by those endless technocratic hours of footage before it. It's just capturing as many individual stories as it can as it's primary goal, and trying to set them against the atmosphere of "life back home". There's a lot of exposure to the vast injustices of ours back then (Japanese internment camps, racial segregation, etc), and that's compelling, but again, nothing really new there.

Still, I'm watching the show nightly, enough that I've missed the comparatively shallow and escapist "Heroes", who's heroism obviously pales against those of the time. I'll get over it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Short Mashimo interview in October's "Anime Insider"

Subject: Noir
'Fan member ligbi helpfully transcribes the contents of a short article about "El Cazador" that's in the latest issue of Anime Insider:

Flash in Japan. Why overseas otaku dig El Cazador De La Bruja. By Andrez Bergen.

El Cazador De La Bruja may have copious gunplay, a murder mystery and a Spanish title that translates to "The Witch Hunter", but according to it's director, Koichi Mashimo, it's above all else a road movie in anime clothing- one that's headed straight to the border.

The highly respected helmsman of Madlax, Noir, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and most of the .hack outlings drove the notion home in a recent chat with Anime Insider.

"It's a road movie-style story in which two girls, Ellis- a target of bounty hunters- and Nadie- a bounty hunter- join up and then head south," he relates.

El Cazador ranges well into Mexico, where the amnesiac Ellis is hiding from some relentless bounty hunters until she can figure out just why she's been accused of a murder she can't remember. Even Ellis' array of unusual powers can't keep the feisty, self-assured bounty hunter Nadie off her tracks in a dusty Mexican township. But instead of turning in the girl for the reward money, Nadie joins Ellis in her flight south to uncover clues about her missing memory.

It's the setup for countless shootouts and general mayhem in the style of Noir, yet Mashimo believes that the locale, the character-driven plot and the quirks in the style of the unfolding tale are the real strengths here.

"The story itself is serious, but this time I took a more cheerful angle, with a consciously light and easy sense of taste, in order to avoid too much doom or gloom," he explains.

"Putting a little gag into a serious scene, such as Ellis' innocent regular line, 'Yes Sir', makes for a different approach from my previous two projects, Noir and Madlax. And the story in Latin America, which is unusual for anime, also creates a more open atmosphere than the previous two series."

While the series continues Mashimo's pension [should be "penchant" -ed] for gals with guns, even stronger character development is part of a newly baked approach here, taken in tandem with his co-driver, writer Kenichi Kanemki (Hell Girl).

"I think that Nadie's character, who is an ace gunslinger but has another side as a silly soul who pushes her luck, plays a big part in the outcome of this story," he muses.

The same goes for Nadie's would-be-sidekick, Ellis, in this murder-mystery yarn where nothing is quite what it seems.

"In Ellis' background, there's a big secret about her birth," Mashino says. "That secret relates to a key person in the large-scale Project Leviathan plot, and the friendship between the two girls undercuts the suspense surrounding the mystery of that project.

"Another key point is that the two heroines don't actively clear up the mystery very well, and they don't seem to care! Although they hook up for their own purposes at first, they unexpectedly get along with each other and start to think that it would be pretty nice to continue traveling together, so they enjoy the journey itself, without hurrying forward at all. I think this carefree abandon reflects the Latin setting."

Femmes and firearms aside, Mashimo sees a direct path between El Cazador De La Bruja and his previous series, Noir and Madlax, in part because of the principal producer he worked with in all three.

"I discussed the project with producer Shigeru Kitayama of Victor Entertainment, who worked on the other two titles with me, and we drew up this project based on his draft," he recounts.

The director says he can't single out one individual character for praise ("I love all of them," he warmly declares) but he is forthcoming when it comes to his favorite snack food consumption during and after the creative process.

"I often drink coffee, but I hardly eat anything during work because eating slows the tempo down," Mashimo declares. "Still, I like potatoes, so there's nothing better than drinking a beer with french fries after a hard day's work."

This is probably a heavily-condensed version of a fuller interview that's in a related Japanese publication, I figure. Still, there's not really any surprises or new information here. I've said many times that I would have preferred something more along the same attitude and intensity as the "other two titles", which has been my barrier to being satisfied enough with this show.

Still, I'm anxious about the impending downloadability of the raw for the finale, which is due any moment now. I'm so far behind on the translated dialouge, and with all of what I assume will be "tying up of loose ends" that will happen in this epilogue, I figure it'll be more baffling than satisfying as well. Maybe.

But I don't want to wait, I gotta have it! Heh.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Late roundup

Subject: Noir
The fansubs of series I've been following -- the very few series I've been following -- had kind of dried up for a bit, but it looks like I'll have a few built up for later now that there's some catching-up going on.

I did manage to see a couple of DVDs last weekend though. But I guess they weren't all that inspiring to write about.

"Shingu: Secret of the Stellar War" disc 2 -- I'm a bit worn down by the constant skoolkid typicality enough that the slightly amusing, kind of engaging undercurrent that reveals the broader universe bit by bit just isn't interesting enough anymore. 10-1 says that this is actually going to evolve into this "galactic federation" or whatever actually being just like that goofball spy planet, where they're unaware that there's an even bigger political storm surrounding them. Am I right? (no don't tell me...) I dunno, I guess I'll continue, but I'm in no hurry.

"Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society" -- A cool movie (OVA?) that makes up the most recent installment of the GitS franchise, picking up a while after SAC left off. The Major is "retired" and may be the "bad guy". Batou is all angsty. Weird cybercrap is going on surrounding missing children and abandoned elderly shutins. Lots of talking backstory about the political atmosphere (though slightly less expansive and slightly more on-topic than past installments).

Cool action though. Nice work overall. Strangley, the Yoko Kanno soundtrack was conciously recognizable as being hers; previous installments never really seemed to impose that identity and instead let the music just be part of the show. Or I just hadn't accumulated enough familiarity by that point. Whatever.

And, of course, I've been watching the raws of "El Cazador" as they show up on the 'torrent. Episode 25 was quite a maelstrom of bafflement in terms of what the dialogue was probably saying -- one that won't be cleared up until the fansub group catches up. But, visually, it was still pretty obvious what was going on. But what really surprised me is that it was, essentially, the end! As that was becoming obvious, I was starting to get anxious... "wait, what??" "But... but..."

Thankfully, there actually was a preview for a last denoument in episode 26. It looks like we'll either get to see origins (I hope I hope), or it'll be a "1 year later" kind of aftermath. Or both. After I finally see translations for the last of it (however many weeks from now that will be), I try to watch the batch of them together and try and come up with something to say about it all.

I'm not entirely confident there's much more I can say. Nice show, great characters, lots of rough and almost crummy patches in the technical and storytelling execution, and a far cry from what I was hoping for since I first read that there was going to be a "trilogy". Blah blah blah. I'm repeating myself, and will probably repeat myself again.

Next week is that time of the year again, and I'll be taking a few days off. It's a bit of a milestone, too, so I'm uncertain what I'm going to do to "celebrate". If all the fansubs are done by then, maybe something really extra-nerdy... (33 hours in a row of Girls with Guns... is that even possible without severe mental collapse?)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Clark endorses Clinton

Subject: Soapbox
I'm a fan of General Clark's, donated a lot of money to his '04 primary bid, and even volunteered a little time -- which is very unusual for me when it comes to politics. I would have probably done the same if he jumped in for '08 as well.

I figured he didn't have a chance, though. Not this time.

Mostly because of last time. The media narrative gets locked into a narrow, factless droning that tries too hard to perpetuate the notion of a "winner" of the horserace before they've even gone 'round the first bend. And that kills the buzz, which kills the funding, which kills modern campaigns. They have to start too early, grease too much of the existing local political machines (most who control ballot access), and somehow overcome a hail of ostensibly "friendly" fire in order to allow anyone who is outside of an established politically-connected dynasty with a giant cache of campaign funds.

Ever wonder why there's so many Senators running this time? A loophole in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" bill allows money to be transferred from Federal campaign committees. Not so for state officeholders or other notable citizens. So a sitting Senator can rack up millions of fundraising long before declaring. A retired General, not so much.

At any rate, it's not a particular surprise that he's backing Hillary. All Arkansas Democrats are, though I'm sure there are other reasons that haven't been disclosed. And it's just another tick in what I've been perceiving as a "Hillary inevitability".

I'm kind of ambivilent about her myself. I don't have any of the illogical issues with her that a lot of the passionate ranters tend to drum up all the damn time. In the "real world", away from the blogs and AM radio, she's genuinely liked by normal, everyday people who keep themselves reasonably informed (by ignoring blogs and AM radio, I figure). I'm uncomfortable with the thought of a "Bush - Clinton - Bush - Clinton" line of succession, because I think that indicates a seriously broken system.

And frankly, I've never been a fan of corporate, triangulating, polling-instead-of-leading Democrats. Like I've said before, I'm "independent". Though, like I've said before, I've glumly accepted that an insubstantial third-party effort is completely useless in the winner-take-all system we've had. Republicans are a complete disaster right now and need to be routed for a while, which is an easy choice because I think all of the candidates are useless or damaged or dangerous.

So, I guess I'm going to maintain my ambivilence through the primary. I'm not interested in donating, let alone volunteering, for anyone. I'll probably think more about participating more local races instead.

And if somehow, after the primaries are over and Gen. Clark gets chosen to run as the VP on the ticket... Well, maybe I'll start paying attention again. *grin*

Until then, meh.

Friday, September 14, 2007

As charming as it gets

Subject: Cinema
Studio Ghibli's "Whisper of the Heart" isn't particularly as well known as the flagship works from Miyazaki himself, but seeing as he wrote and storyboarded this one, I'm surprised I wasn't more familiar with it.

On paper, besides the Ghibli/Miyzaki imprinteur, it's got everything going against it in the annals of what I personally would be interested in. Schoolkids. Awkward first romance. "Let's just be friends." Learning a "valuable lesson". The uniforms, the concrete bulwarks, the trains, the cicaedas. The usual that seems to fill up so many drawn "cuts" (learning the terminology) of so many animators on so many shows out of Japan.

But this one has such a simple honesty and artistry, an attention to detail (one of my favorite things, of course), that it charmed the socks off of me. "The start of something stories are made of." I really do like a good, simple, honest story.

I'm quite a cynical curmudgeon usually, but these sorts of things bring out the big softie in me. Well done.

Favorite part, and the most simple: The cat, "Moon", when our lead's story was finished, had this subtle but very clear expression on his face -- a sort of "my work here is finished." Brilliant, and very satisfying. If you watch it, you'll see what I mean.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Best concise summary of Japanese vs. Western animation perspective

Subject: Noir
Over on AniPages, Ben has a forum (BBS, that is), where there's been a great discussion on Japanese Animation Theory. Peter Chung, of "Aeon Flux" and "Animatrix" fame, had wandered in and helped out a lot with some very detailed descriptions of the work process differences and what the various roles are, and other tidbits of perspective from his training and work in American, Korean, and Japanese variations of the industry.

Start at this post that I linked, first, and work your ways backwards and forwards to dig deeper. A key quote (that you really need to keep reading the thread to get context and perspective) that really illuminated things for me:

This is a broad generalization, of course, but Japanese animators animate drawings; American animators animate characters. It's one reason why the Japanese industry has not embraced CG the way the rest of the world has. (Let's be thankful for this.)

This explains why I've probably been stuck when it comes to most anime. I'm looking a bit too hard for the "spark of life" stuff and discounting a lot of content because of it.

Not that it's "wrong" for me to do that, as it's one of the things that I'm more interested in than not. But why my perspective is the way it is and why I keep seeing "moving manga" as a negative becomes more clear.

Anyway, go read that whole thread, and then start dabbling in the other threads.... there's hours and hours of great theorizing and details and such. Fascinating stuff, and a great resource!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Fellini meets Chaplain meets Desert Storm

Subject: Cinema
Latest on my Netflix delivery was Roberto Benigni's "The Tiger and the Snow". I figured that the guy who could do a poingant comedy about being a prisoner in a concentration camp could probably have an interesting take on the shit that we're inflicting on Iraq right now.

And really, it was okay. Not quite as compelling as the previous movie, by any stretch. But he once again makes a serious backdrop the vehicle for the absurd counterpoint to his simple, focused storytelling. In this case, he is an Italian poet who is madly in love with a writer, to the point that he has the same surreal dream about marrying her. Every night. The movie opens with that dream, and it's got a very strong post-Fellini sensibility to it.

When he finds out that she's been mortally injured in Baghdad while interviewing a mutual friend (played by Jean Reno), he drops everything and rushes off to find her. With an obsessive (and generally comic) purpose, he takes on any task he has to in order to try and get her the medicine and care she needs to pull through. Baghdad, of course, is a mess and there's no medical supplies. There's bullets and explosions and looting and flies and a lot of strife all around. But he's persistant and plucky -- and lucky.

If you don't pay too close attention to the details, it works out alright. It's kind of stretching the boundaries in a few places, and kind of having a hard time balancing a bit of preachiness with actual plot points. And I'm totally sympathetic to the message. Ah well.

Of course, there's a big surprise twist at the end, and I kind of smacked myself for not seeing it coming. But the fact that I didn't made up for a lot of the weakness otherwise.

On the whole, there's nothing profound or outstanding about it for me. But I did enjoy the contrast of story simplicity to setting. There were nice and/or interesting moments throughout. And Benigni is interesting to watch as a character. So, worthwhile overall, I figure.

The surprising return of Taco Night

Subject: Noir
I fell a bit behind with "El Cazador" during my absence.

Of course, it didn't seem to matter too much on the fansub side of things, because the group doing it fell behind quite a bit as well, so the raw I saw before going offline (episode 21, with the condor and all the cutey-talk and Jodie both wearing a cloak and wielding a sniper rifle) was all that got subtitled.

Still, I couldn't resist watching the two latest untranslated raws. Episode 22 starts the Final Arc, after all, and I really want to see it.

And even without knowing what was being said (and I'm sure there's a lot of miscellaneous "plot" exposistion going on there), I was quite entertained by it all. There are some wonderful moments throughout (even the preview for ep 23 at the end of 22... fantastic!), and I can only hope that the fact that it's been "kicked up a notch" lasts through the end of the show. By the look of the preview for ep 24, it's going to be quite a ride! Holy Guacamole!

Of course, I wish this kind of intensity would have been found throughout the previous episodes, but I guess it wasn't meant to be. That said, I watched a couple of more random early episodes, and still found things to appreciate about them. So, I guess I'll get over it and enjoy what's left.

I just hope the fansub group can keep up with it... (j/k! *wink*)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Subject: Musings
Well, that's over.

My mom was out visiting for 8 days. We worked on a bunch of projects around the house, tried a couple of new restaurants, and that was about it. No anime, no artsy (or action, or... good) movies, nothin'.

While shopping for miscellaneous stuff at a local Target, though, out of habit, I passed the videogame section. For some reason a while back, I got it stuck in my head that I wanted to try out that newfangled Nintendo contraption, but there was never one to be found in stock whenever I looked. But sure enough, for the first time, there they were. Yoink! Mine.

I haven't loaded up on games for it yet, and only had time to briefly try a few things that I rented, but it seems like a fun little bit of kit. On my big screen HDTV it looks a bit more blurry than I'd prefer, even with the component 480p cables. Oh well. The controller is kind of nifty, but takes some getting used to.

Could be amusing. Now to get back to hitting baseballs out of the park... *grin*

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Still gone...

Probably won't be back 'til Tuesday...

(...great, now that song is stuck in my head...)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Long-belated anime roundup

Subject: Noir
There hasn't been an awful lot for me to actually comment on lately, but I figured I'd go ahead and log it now, because I've got family visiting this week and won't get a chance to watch or blog much at all for a while. Not that the absence will be much noticed -- everybody's blogging seems to be in slow-mo lately.

"Shingu - Secret of the Stellar Wars" has been making the rounds of everyone's "gotta see" list, so I gave the first disc a try. Not too bad, but I'm really kind of sick of the schoolroom/school-politics stuff. The animation, characters, and overall story development are intriguing enough to hope that it might rise above it, but I'm kind of wondering if I can escape the setting enough to bring myself to try it. Dunno.

Of course, "Denno Coil" is very much a "schoolroom" show, but it's got a lot more going for it that lets it escape the usual. A number of these later episodes, while still maintaining an all-star animator lineup, have resorted to the occasional "static shot montage", where "time passes" by way of stills depicting whatever minor misadventure happened between key scenes. That's fine, but it kind of stuck out like a sore thumb these few times that it did it. The storyline is kind of meandering to a few sidetrips, but they've been quite fun, so I'm fine with that. It's on a brief hiatus due to baseball right now, so I figure by the time I'm back online, it should be picking up again.

Also very nicely animated was the movie "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time". I think it isn't quite licensed yet, but it's been making the rounds at film festivals worldwide. There's a great natural feel to the character animation, and an excellent attention to detail all around in the setting. The story moves along at a comfortable pace, and the characters are great and fun to watch.

The "who loves who" and the "going out of her way to try and steer a guy's romantic feelings away only to mess things up badly, not to mention changing her mind" (there's probably a one-word description for that sort of thing somewhere, but whatever) -- well, that was on the verge of getting on my nerves. But it managed to do pretty well to keep my interest despite that.

"009-1" disc 1 took me beyond the one episode I managed to see previously, and it continued to be an amusing retro bit of fun. The animation was kind of so-so except in key sequences, but the style and the characterizations kept the mood and atmosphere engaging enough. Enjoyable, not particularly deep, rather kitchsy. Nothing wrong with that.

"Romeo x Juliet" has been subbed a bit sporadically of late, so I'm having a harder time keeping the momentum through this sort of "middle arc" that's really just filling time before the march toward the end. This latest episdoe 18 was particularly spotty in animation quality, too. But it looks like things might start getting back on track, once the silly "play within an anime" bit is over with. I'm in no hurry, I guess.

A short review of "300"

Subject: Cinema

...Okay, a slightly longer one... Kind of a glorified stageplay. Very graphic-y (as would befit a Miller piece, I guess), and very obviously shot in a studio for most of it. Seemed kind of claustrophobic where it could have been epic, and kind of roomy when it should have been claustrophobic. The story was "meh", but the performances were fun in some parts, "meh" in the rest. The lead shirtless dude king-guy had a fun over-the-top intensity and an interesting fire in his eyes.

Otherwise... nothing special.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Taco taco taco-night

Subject: Noir
I've been randomly revisiting a number of "El Cazador de la Bruja" episodes, while thematically cooking up tacos for dinner. Actually, I've done this twice -- last week and this evening -- but I haven't quite come up with what to post about it.

Obviously, early on, "El Cazador" has given me a little bit of anguish. It's really not the kind of thing I wanted to see as the much-anticipated "third installment" of a "pistol-packing-babes" trilogy. But as superficial as it seemed at first, there's some subtle-yet-simple things bubbling under the surface that is helping me enjoy it more than I was earlier.

Or, a few of the "stinker" episodes have lowered my expectations enough that I'm more than willing to accept whatever tidbits it's throwing at me. Whatever. It's all good.

I dialed back to a few of the earlier episodes to see if they seemed different to me now that I'm more accustomed to the style. And sure enough, I liked them well enough. I couldn't bring myself to try and rewatch that awful episode 12 (the gun otaku), but even the convent episode with the nuns and the trannies was watchable, otherwise.

There are a lot of little in-jokes spread throughout. Most of them rely on an ability to recognize the "Special Guest" voice talent. I don't have a lot of ability there, but thankfully other memebers of the 'Fan do. But they still haven't reported all of them... for instance, the recent scene in the fancy restaurant where we see the sculpture from "Meine Liebe" in the courtyard -- I would guess that the two guest male vocals are from that series. But I can't really tell, and I can't read the credits. In the "kokopelli" episode, Makoto mentions the guest as having something to do with David Niven, which is kind of baffling to me.

But beyond that, there are a lot of little gags scattered everywhere else. I'm probably only spotting some of the. But there are a number of wonderful little visual touches that, though I miss them the first time around, come through quite loud and clear when I give it a quick rewatch or two.

Example: in episode 13, the destroyed "biohazard" town, there are crosses everywhere, like an awful graveyard. And 'Fan member Nae pointed out a shot where they drive through a noose, like a trap. Most of the weaker episodes don't quite have this level of symbolism, but more and more, the Hand Of Mashimo is more evident, and I find that quite satisfactory when it is.

Not perfect, though. There are some timing and pacing issues that still miss the mark, even in the latest episode 20. But there's still a lot of subtle, and not-so-subtle, humor and symbolism to be found scattered about. In episode 19, we leave the tattered billboard of "Amigo Tacos" behind in the rearview mirror -- that joke has been beaten to death and now we're leaving it behind. Awesome (I liked the joke a lot, obviously, but I've been ready for it to be over for a while now). The continued presence of Liliro and Ricardo are suggesting a lower- and upper-bound of Ellis' and Nadie's adolescence. Jodie fingering her Inca Rose a bit too much...


I've made a number of random observations over on the 'Fan, and my attitude has pretty much levelled out regarding the quality... mainly because the quality has been noticably better. And I've said all along that I enjoy the Nadie-Ellis dialogue exchanges quite a lot. I'm also liking Ricardo more and more, though I'm still a bit confused as to whether or not his role is more than just the symbollic "upper boundary" I mentioned before.

As much as I'm enjoying it though, I can't help but feel the tiniest bit cheated. I wanted more like "Noir" and "MADLAX". I still want more like "Noir" and "MADLAX". I don't think I'm going to find anything else like those unless Mashimo and Kitayama decide to go for it again.

Or if I make one myself.... Hmmm....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In the land before mo-cap

Subject: Cinema
Okay, okay, this is the last I'll mention mo-cap for a bit... In fact, I meant to include this quicky in the last post, but I got so carried away trying to figure out how to say something nice about "Renaissance", I forgot.

Back in the 2D painted-cel days, there was a technique that was just as prone to abuse and shortcutting, and that was rotoscoping. Actually, that's still going on in the digital era, and the term is also applied to any FX work where you go in frame-by-frame with the paintbox and manipulate a shot. But I'm particularly referring to the technique of tracing, frame-by-frame (or on 2's or 3's or whatever) previously-filmed live-action.

Remember that old 70's version of "The Lord of the Rings", with all the orc armies and such? Essentially high-contrast renderings of stock footage of marching soldiers with horns and stuff drawn on. That's one way it was used. And if you remember that, you might remember that it was done by indie animation legend Ralph Bakshi. Who, just before LoTR, did a little cult sci-fi/fantasy film called "Wizards". Which used a lot of the same techniques.

By today's standards, the whole thing seems kind of crude. Heck, back in the 70's, seeing as Disney's prime still predated it, it was crude then too. But he was kind of an anti-Disney, and his flicks have mainly been aimed at niches and countercultures. The sci-fi/fantasy thing wasn't nearly as mainstream as it is now, so it was probably a natural fit for the creator of "Fritz the Cat" to wander over to that realm.

On the whole, there's not a lot of special, lasting impact the show had, except for a couple of neat bits of character imagery. The animation is kind of raw and lacking in the refinement we're all too used to these days, which was kind of the point back then. But I don't think that any of it gave me much of a feeling of the soul of the characters or anything, it just said "low budget" to me more than anything else. It didn't quite hold up over time, I guess.

Still, it's one of those historical curiousities that every animation fan should see at least once, to gain some perspective on just how far we've come, if anything.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mo' better mo-cap?

Subject: Cinema
I got a bit too snarky a while ago with regards to the animation in "Happy Feet". Obviously, I've been outside the "biz" for a while, and likely don't have the skillz to actually get hired doing anything approaching it.

But I still think that, try as they might to put a "realism" edge on the modelling and environmental effects, that only served to make the attempt to load that up with anthropomorphic gags all the more absurd and empty.

In mild contrast, I recently watched an HD recording of "Madagascar". As far as I could tell from the credits, it was mostly lacking mo-cap. It was rather typical straight-ahead cartoon animation with predictable gag gestures and expressions and timing, with exaggerated cartoony characters and a look, when compared to "Feet", is almost a little bit crude (still way more advanced than what I had access to back in the day, of course). But, then again, it doesn't set up expectations for being anything but a straight-ahead cartoon comedy. It helped that the writing was simple and amusing and not particularly weighed down with any baggage. Nothing special, nothing groundbreaking, but entertaining enough for a short escape.

It's easier to engage the suspension-of-disbelief mechanisms when you're dealing with obvious abstractions, and crossing the line into attempted realism really challenges that if it misses the mark. And where that line is will be different for everyone based on their experience. And mood -- boy howdy, mood can make-or-break a borderline case, without question.

But back to the "mo-cap==soulless" thing for a moment. Another film I watched that was most definitely all about the mo-cap was the recent French release of "Renaissance". It's a starkly graphic, hi-contrast film-noir crime drama set in a wildly futuristic Paris. All of the characters are mo-capped and rendered into a 3D-yet-flat black & white (and no gray) world. The resulting technique is definitely interesting and provides for some unique visualization. The classic noir formula is well served by it. But I was constantly brought out of the whole "disbelief" thing and was ultimately disconnected from the whole thing.

There were two primary aspects of how the characters were animated that I think contributed to that, because it seemed that they were disconnected themselves. The mo-cap for the motion was one thing, but then there was a whole seperate effort to work on the characters' eyes.

The eyes, of course, are critical as I've said many times before. So it's definitely important that careful attention is paid to the eyes and how they communicate in each shot. And in this film, sometimes it worked reasonably well. But more often than not, there was a subtle sense that what the eyes were saying didn't quite match what the body-language was saying. It was a little disconcerting. Even if in fact the eyes tracked the actors' originally eye movements perfectly, the tweaking put it's stamp on it.

It may have been that the body-language acting was a little "off" but the eye cleanup was too good, if that makes any sense? And again, the approximation of realism in the one contrasted the by-hand efforts of the other such that the mind just has a hard time reconciling it.

Subtle stuff, though. I was probably attuned to it only because I was looking for it. It's still a rather neat and different show, and I'd recommend renting it at least once for the experience. There's some really cool sci-fi imagining going on, especially in the architecture and infrastructure. Fun stuff, and despite my distractions, it otherwise held my attention through the whole thing.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Unseen congrats

Subject: Musings
I was just at dinner with my best friends, and they proudly announced that daughter #2 is on her way. Daughter #1 is turning 2 next week, and she's quite a smart lil' cookie. Fascinating to see my former housemates actually try to figure out how to be parents, and just how great their first is turning out over these last 2 years.

They're my most favorite people, and I'm all kinds of crazy-proud of them, and happy to no end. #2 will be in good company, and the both of them are destined for great things in this world.


Subject: Musings
Long time, no post. *frown*

I've got three post-in-progress ideas percolating. Well, that is to say, I've got three snarky titles for posts, and a general idea of what I want to explore with each. But my attention is being pulled in a dozen different directions, and on top of it all, I'm a bit burned out.

Of course, I've been "a bit burned out" for quite a while now. *sigh*

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Netflix on-demand

Subject: TV
I was playing around with the Netflix "Watch Now" feature last night. GreenCine has something similar, though as I recall there was an extra charge to watch some or most of them. They had some seriously funky titles too. Netflix's offering is included in the normal subscription price, and their selection is a little tamer, and in some ways a little lamer.

Except when I looked at the TV shows... And there was a "BBC" section... And besides a bunch of classic Doctor Who episodes I saw... All of the ever-hilarious classic "Red Dwarf".

Every. Single. Episode. Of. Red. Dwarf.

It was all I could do to not just start watching each and every single one from the beginning right then and there. I haven't seen it in years, and I've missed out on the last half of the show entirely. Yeah, it probably gets progressively cheesier and less "classic" by that point, but still...

The video quality for their downloads in general is kind of mediocre, though due to be improved in the near future. I probably won't bother watching any movies that way. But to be able to watch a huge library of BBC programming... Yeah, it'll do. *grin*

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Crappy Feet", and Sodenberg does Fritz Lang

Subject: Cinema
Yes, I just called the popular computer animated film "Happy Feet" "Crappy Feet". Kind of an easy one, eh? Didn't take a lot of effort, huh?

I'm sure it's fine for kids and is otherwise entertaining. But I was totally "meh" about it. I didn't read up on any of the aspects of how it was produced, but when I saw the credits roll with all the motion capture details therein, I was like "yeah, figures. No actual animators were harmed in the production of this movie."*

I guess I have a bit of an anti-mo-cap bias. I'm all for shortcuts as a means to an end, but frankly, the whole exercise was a lifeless, overwrought ball of "ooh-this-will-be-cool", with precious little attention paid to making "life" out of a bunch of pixels. Pixar can do it. It's a shame that a prestigious company like Rhythm and Hues can't anymore.*

*[EDIT: Factual errors corrected in the comments]

Well, it had a few minor moments and all, but from the very first lame musical "mashup", I could tell that a committee was in charge and that any little glimmer of "soul" was going to be a total accident. It's true that technically, there's some extremely impressive modelling and motion and effects. But like I've said many times before, I would have been impressed 10 years ago. Nowadays, not so much. Money != storytelling.

Back to the total opposite of mo-capped computer-generated mediocraty, Stephen Sodenberg goes and proves that he's an even bigger technique whore than I am, and I'm loving every minute of it. "The Good German" is like a post-modern post-war pre-noir 1940's thriller kind of experience, where he gets his chance to put George Clooney in a sharp uniform and subject him to even sharper key lighting in a classic 4:3 high-contrast B&W homage to Fritz Lang and Casablanca and a myriad of old-skool 40's Hollywood post-war classics. The sets were soundstage or local, the lighting and lensing and recording was straight out of the era, and the cinematic tropes were classic and familiar.

Yet, they were twisted just enough to give it a modern edge. The message and the moral were classic, but totally antithises to the blissfull propagandizing of the time. The grim details and little touches of post-surrender bombed-out Berlin during the Potsdam conference spoke volumes to the fact that the end of that colossal conflict was quite a mess indeed. The sorts of things that were romanticized back in the day were turned upside-down a little; yet the core of the story was still classically romanticized in and of itself, but with a dark noir-ish sensibility.

Again, it comes down to the old-skool technique, and Sodenberg lovingly makes that one of the stars of his film, almost overshadowing Clooney, but totally glorifying Cate Blanchett's post-modern Marlene Dietrich resurrection along the way. It's a grand bit of geek-out that challenges you to name every single historical title being quoted (I'm not up to that task myself), and it's a heck of a bit of entertainment while it's doing it.

The Film Techniques of Koichi Mashimo?

Subject: Noir
I stumbled on a brilliantly concise summary of the various written insights on Alfred Hitchcock's techniques, and it struck me immediately that a lot of it described the cinematic techniques that I saw Koichi Mashimo using. I'll highlight a few key points:

2: Frame for Emotion
[...] Emotion comes directly from the actor's eyes. You can control the intensity of that emotion by placing the camera close or far away from those eyes. A close-up will fill the screen with emotion, and pulling away to a wide angle shot will dissipate that emotion. A sudden cut from wide to close-up will give the audience a sudden surprise. Sometimes a strange angle above an actor will heighten the dramatic meaning.

This one is a staple of Mashimo's, even in his earlier old-skool works. A lot of anime fans complain about all the closeups of eyes; me, I revel in them! *grin*

3: Camera is Not a Camera
The camera should take on human qualities and roam around playfully looking for something suspicious in a room. This allows the audience to feel like they are involved in uncovering the story. Scenes can often begin by panning a room showing close-ups of objects that explain plot elements.

While not exactly mapping to what Mashimo does, I've long noted that he treats the camera as another character, more than just a viewport on to the scene.

4: Dialogue Means Nothing
One of your characters must be pre-occupied with something during a dialogue scene. Their eyes can then be distracted while the other person doesn't notice. This is a good way to pull the audience into a character's secretive world.

“People don’t always express their inner thoughts to one another," he said "a conversation may be quite trivial, but often the eyes will reveal what a person thinks or needs.” The focus of the scene should never be on what the characters are actually saying. Have something else going on. Resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise.

"Noir" is famously light on dialogue, yet very strong on storytelling. And you can read a lot into the character's inner dialogue because of this technique. No need to resort to voiceovers or soliloquy.

5: Point of View Editing
Jimmy Stewart looks at dog and then we see him smiling. Jimmy Stewart looks at a woman undressing and then we see him smiling. Those two smiles have completely different meanings, even if they are the exact same smile.

Putting an idea into the mind of the character without explaining it in dialogue is done by using a point-of-view shot sequence. This is subjective cinema. You take the eyes of the characters and add something for them to look at.

- Start with a close-up of the actor
- Cut to a shot of what they're seeing
- Cut back to the actor to see his reaction
- Repeat as desired

You can edit back and forth between the character and the subject as many times as you want to build tension. The audience won't get bored. This is the most powerful form of cinema, even more important than acting..

6: Montage Gives You Control
Divide action into a series of close-ups shown in succession. Don't avoid this basic technique. This is not the same as throwing together random shots into a fight sequence to create confusion. Instead, carefully chose a close-up of a hand, an arm, a face, a gun falling to the floor - tie them all together to tell a story. In this way you can portray an event by showing various pieces of it and having control over the timing. You can also hide parts of the event so that the mind of the audience is engaged.

These two are really Cinema 101; it's why storyboarding is so important, and why editing is more than just splicing camera shots together.

7: Keep the Story Simple!
If your story is confusing or requires a lot of memorization, you're never going to get suspense out of it. The key to creating that raw Hitchcock energy is by using simplistic, linear stories that the audience can easily follow.

"Keep It Simple, Stupid". This maxim was boldly pronounced on the old original Bee Train web site (archived), and was another thing that attracted me to these shows. Complicated and epic stories can be fun to geek out to, but simplicity is often superior. And scratch the surface of something "epic", and you may just find a simpler core...

8: Characters Must Break Cliché
Make all of your characters the exact opposite of what the audience expects in a movie. Turn dumb blondes into smart blondes, give the Cuban guy a French accent, and the criminals must be rich and successful. [...] These sort of ironic characters make them more realistic to the audience, and much more ripe for something to happen to them.

Anime is so rife with cliché, it's no wonder that a lot of Mashimo characters leap off the screen as being "different". Refreshing.

11: Suspense is Information
Once you put tension into your scene, you build it toward something, creating suspense. "Information" is essential to Hitchcock suspense; showing the audience what the characters don’t see. If something is about to harm the characters, show it at beginning of the scene and let the scene play out as normal. Constant reminders of this looming danger will build suspense. But remember - the suspense is not in the mind of the character. They must be completely unaware of it.

They don't mention the role of music in this aspect, but otherwise, more Cinema 101 and a key ingredient in the best arcs of many series.

13: Warning: May Cause MacGuffin
The MacGuffin is the side effect of creating pure suspense. When scenes are built around dramatic tension, it doesn’t really matter what the story is about. If you've done your job and followed all the previous steps, the audience is still glued no matter what. You can use random plot devices known as the MacGuffin.

The MacGuffin is nothing. The only reason for the MacGuffin is to serve a pivotal reason for the suspense to occur. (Schickel) It could be something as vague as the "government secrets perhaps" in North by Northwest, or the long detailed weapons plans of Mr. Memory in the 39 Steps. Or, it could be something simple like the dog blocking the stairway in Strangers on a Train. Nobody cares about the dog. It's only there for one reason - suspense. It could have just as easily been a person, an alarm, a talking parrot, or a macguffin!

Heh. Another fun geek-out thing to do is to overanalyze every little thing in every little shot to see what it symbolizes -- and I'm very guilty of that. But I forget the "MacGuffin" principle. Honestly, in some ways, claiming "MacGuffin" is a bit of a cop-out; the situation or object in question must have come from somewhere in the writers' subconcious in connection to the rest of the story.

I'd like to go deeper into all of these and try to illustrate each "technique" with examples at some point. Seeing as Mashimo has mentioned that Hitchcock is one of his influences, it should be pretty easy to find a lot of them.

(also don't forget to read the companion article on Hitchcock's use of humor... it'll be a little tougher to fold these into a Grand Unified Mashimo Theory, but it's good stuff nonetheless!)