Saturday, April 28, 2007

Finishing up a couple

Subject: Noir
Last week I finished up the discs for "Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2". A lot of title, and a lot of f'in' talking. Which is really just the trademark of the franchise, I suppose. Just like that '80s band "Talk Talk" says, "All you do is talk-talk"...

I mean really, I go off about anime shortcuts, and here's a series that can do minutes of dialouge on end without a single character's lips moving, because they all communicate with each other over an invisible wireless network. Sure, there's some good drama and excellent action sequences, but sheesh! There are whole stretches where you wish they would just do something!

The last two discs did manage to kick ass and take names (lots of names), and it was pretty obvious early on the connection between Major-babe and the Charismatic Rebel Dude, and the politics behind the scenes (with the "American Empire") were very similar to an idea I had back around 1993, so that was interesting. In fact, the fact that this show is a lot more grown-up than most every other show was a big plus for me. I especially liked the episode where Batou is in Berlin up on top of a statue -- I said "Hey, just like 'Wings of Desire'", and guess what the episode title was...! It's not many anime series that reference a quality German art film like that. Still, there's some silly moments (probably not all that intentional) that kind of take me out of it a bit, and the overall stiffness at the expense of the narrative density is probably the overall negative about the show.

On a totally different note, I just finished up "Last Exile". I watched it a couple of years ago in a crappy TV resolution with the OK English dub; this time I rented the DVDs and watched it in subtitled Japanese. Which I liked a lot better.

The ending is very "feel-good", albiet a bit "WTF". The whole story reaches for a grand epic scale, and rightly acheives it. I really do love the imagination and uniqueness of the story, and the imagery and scope of detail are very transporting to the point of forgiving some of the weaker plot machinations. Of which there were very few, because overall the story was rather simple and effective and adequately cast against the scale of the universe it was set in. The characters were all particularly enjoyable despite the occasion lapse into cliche, probably because the environment was so novel that something familiar was welcome and appreciated. Plus they were well performed, at least in the animation, such that you could really bring yourself into their world and their feelings without too much effort to suspend disbelief on their behalf.

There are some technique-related blahs to be found (most notably the low-resolution digital line-art and sometimes-clunky 3-D integration), but it was in a lot of ways a grand experiment in digital techniques and I think it did a stunning job through most of it. I don't expect a hi-def version would make much of a difference, but I am considering picking up the DVDs when I have the chance. I think my friends would find it to be an accessable and interesting story, and it's certainly charming enough to find a place on my anime shelf.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"If it wasn't for dissappointments..."

Subject: Noir
"...I wouldn't have any appointments" ...or so the song goes. Oh, wait, I've used that joke before. *Sigh*

I'm talking about "El Cazador de la Bruja", of course. When I first posted the blurb from that interview with Koichi Mashimo back in 2005, I was shocked and pleased and excited to read:
Mashimo tells us that though the titles aren't directly related, he's always envisioned Noir and MADLAX as part of a trilogy of works featuring pistol-packing babes. He tells us that he already has a successor to MADLAX in mind. (Though judging by the double takes all around the table, it has yet to be confirmed -- you heard it here first...)

This one little bombshell was enough inspiration to spawn a web site and ignite two solid years of rampant speculation and unbridled anticipation.

Quite a lot to live up to, you think?

Now, I'll interject here to say that, in fact, I'm really enjoying "El Cazador" so far. It's fun, it's funny, and it's full of great little sparks of life and little touches of the kind of properly-crafted animation that is missing in most anime. There are delightful surprises in Yuki Kajiura's soundtrack so far, as well. And the OP and ED are endlessly fascinating and chock-full of little details that I'm sure will all seem so obvious when the show is over.

However, I can't seem to shake this little nagging feeling of dissappointment. I can't help but feel that, despite it's lineage, it's missing a vital aspect about "Noir" and "MADLAX" that attracted me to those shows and started these three years of obsession.

My little mental word-association game came up with "maturity". But it still seems kind of inadequate to just say that "El Cazador" lacks maturity. I still feel that the show is plenty mature compared to most everything else that's been recently broadcast. And since it's intentionally more "laid back" and comedic, it's too easy to write off "non-seriousness" as "lacking maturity", though it's not the case at all.

"Noir" and "MADLAX" were far and above more mature, however. There was a dry wit that kept them from being totally humorless, so it wasn't that they were always deadly serious. But there was something about the style and the storytelling that didn't coddle the viewer, nor did it disrespect the viewer either. There were multiple layers and facets and threads to pull on, and even thought they were shrouded in mystery (and Huge Teasing™) they were simple. Not simplistic by any means, but elegantly simple.

And I think that word gets to the root of my struggle with "El Cazador": "simplistic". I can't really say that it really does apply yet, however. But I think it's teetering on the edge.

All of the characters are introduced right up front and they all seem to be telegraphing their traits and personalities loud and clear. There doesn't seem to be anything left to discover about them as characters except their backgrounds and circumstances -- even the mysteries around those are plainly in view, telling us how to follow them.

The use of Jodie's voiceover as a prime exposition of plot points and narrative is chafing against some old predjudices of mine from film school. Episode 4 solidifies the reason why we're being subjected to them, but overall, I can't quite shake the notion that voiceovers are a crutch for weak storytelling. Again, simplistic sort of thing.

Also, while I find a lot of gems in the animation (Nadie has a great spark and expressiveness to her, and her movements almost always have weight and gravity and a hint of realism), there's some awful clunkers, too. There's definitely a "cheap" and "rushed" feel to a number of scenes, both in style and pacing. Episode 3 was particularly messy like that, which is what brought on this whole uneasyness in the first place. There were moments in the dialogue that saved it (the lines around "Who's Moses?" and "This isn't some samurai show" were brilliant and funny), but really, the dialogue shouldn't be the thing saving the show.

I'm being too over-sensitive to it, I'm sure. Both "Noir" and "MADLAX" had more than their share of shortcuts and "rushed" moments, and it's only due to the fact that I've been training myself these last few years how Mashimo works and what his techniques are that I see these details so readily.

Plus, my expectations were far too elevated going into this. When I first saw the character art samples that hinted that this would be a "comedy", and hearing about who was writing it, I really tried to make an effort to reduce my expectations a lot. But I didn't really succeed. I wanted more like "Noir", more like "MADLAX", and I guess I'm a bit greedy to think that I'm still not getting that yet. I need to kick back and relax and enjoy the show for what it is. And I know I can, like I said, it's a lot of fun! It's a lot like a "Cowboy Bebop" sort of show more than it is a "Noir", which is just fine.

But... when can I have more "Noir"? *sniff*

Monday, April 23, 2007

They're baa-aack!

Subject: TV
So "Doctor Who" isn't the only show that's back on my radar. Heck, it's not even the only BBC show!

Well, actually, the "Life on Mars" 2nd (and final?) season already came and went over there and I totally missed that it did until I noticed a blurb in The Independent about the finale. So a quick visit to a certain Swedish torrent link site and a few gigabytes of download later, and I have it queued up for watching. I've only gotten to the first episode so far, which seems to be sort of re-introducing everyone to the concept a little bit. It sort of made it seem like they were trying to re-establish the chemistry that developed, but started back a few steps or something. Kind of an odd rythym to it. Still, unless it totally turns stupid on me, I'll get through them eventually.

Of course, I already mentioned "Doctor Who" was back, and that it's still "got it", as it were, but even in the show, even the Daleks are back. So more on-the-edge-of-cheesy horror, and it's quite an entertaining little cliffhanger so far.

But back to what's "back"... "The Sopranos" has kicked off it's final season, and while it seemed at first that it was just languidly setting up yet more slice-o-ganster-life meandering, looking at it closer seems like it's setting up the pins for grand finale to knock down. There's a tension building that is going to be really interesting to see unravel. But I'm also glad it's finally over. The long waits between "seasons" and some of the aforementioned meandering has made it a little tough to maintain as much enthusiasm as I once had for the show.

Speaking of diminished enthusiasm, the hiatus that "Heroes" went on nearly made me forget that it was on tonight. Only when I looked up and saw that my DVR was recording something did it occur to me. And while I liked the cliffhanger episode just fine back then, there was a lot of time that passed and I just didn't think about it much any more.

Well, it came back with a vengance. An insane, extra-twisty WTF kind of return. A fun show to say the least, as long as you let yourself suspend disbelief a little more than you usually would. Comic-book fun. Next week we get to have a taste of the dystopian future, and I'm digging that possibility; I just hope I don't get my expectations too high, though. I've been having trouble with that lately...

Finally, "Stargate SG-1" is back for it's final set of episodes, but I haven't started watching that yet. I tried the "Atantis" variant when it started up on the HDTV channel, but have pretty much dropped it out of boredom. I'm not sure I'm that keen on resuming SG-1 either, especially now that we're actually getting warm spring weather and I'm able to go for long drives in the convertible and watch the sunsets again.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Misc. Bee Train roundup

Subject: Noir
I've been quiet again this week, though I've posted a few tidbits over on the 'Fan. Mainly, I've been struggling with my feelings about "El Cazador", and I plan on finishing up a little essay I'm working up on that front. Don't worry, it's not bad news! But it's interesting (to me, at least) just how self-contradictory I can be. Go figure.

One bit of "new" news is that Bee Train has redesigned their site. There's a few more bits of detail about various aspects of the company, and, oddly enough, a sort of blog where staff interviews are being posted. I can't read a word of it (well, except with machine translation), but I still figure it's of some interest.

"Spider Riders" is back on the air in Japan. I've been avoiding the annoying dubbed version, but I find I miss the Japanese version a lot, even though I can't really follow the dialouge. The story is pretty simple, though, and a lot is told very effectively through the visuals.

The rest of the news involves North American releases:

-- The "Tsubasa" release by FUNimation is set for the end of May, and there's a new site dedicated to it. Not a lot to it at this time, though there's the lure of potential merchandise.

-- ".hack//Roots" volume 1 actually got released by Bandai already, and I completely missed it. AnimeOnDVD has a review. I think I'm going to wait for an eventual HDTV version, once the disc format wars have settled out.

And like I said, more about "El Cazador" in a while. The fansub is now available in the usual places, but if you were following the show, you'd already know that. *grin*

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Why didn't anyone tell me "Doctor Who" was back?!?

Subject: TV
OMG, I'm 3 weeks behind on the 2007 season of "Doctor Who"!!

Admittedly, with the anemic and rather lame "Torchwood", I probably would have been a bit hesitant, or at least, not as enthusiastic, to start it. So I'm really not all that late.

But boy, howdy, it didn't dissappoint. The classic ingredients were all there, all waiting for a new companion, new aliens, new slightly-creepy-but-still-kind-of-goofy fun. David Tennant really is into it, and the new woman, whatever her name is, really gets into it to. It's like they boiled a pot of chemistry beforehand and slathered all over the show before they filmed it. I love it!

The "Christmas Special", which I don't remember commenting about, didn't quite evoke any of my glee like this season-opener did. So now I'm thrilled the Doctor is back, and that I have more quality (albiet totally geeky) programming to watch for the spring.

Hopefully, I'll catch up with the next two episodes this week. Yay!

Friday, April 13, 2007

A third group joins the subbing. And subs are out for episode 2!

Subject: Noir
"AonE" as released a torrent of their release of episode 1. Supposedly these guys are a more established group, so it's worth seeing what the differences are. Probably between the three translators, the correct one can be found.

But, more importantly, Starlight released torrents (avi and mkv) for the episode 2 translation!

...and I'm working right now and won't get to watch it until tonight. Or during lunch. Hmm, there's always lunch...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Another fansub group doing "El Cazador" as well. Plus, an English version of the official site!

Subject: Noir
I finished downloading another translation of episode 1 from another new group. Torrent file.

There's definitely some differences in the translation, many which I think are more clear, or at least more probably correct. The quality isn't quite as good (when blown up on my big-screen set), but I guess I'm fine with that, seeing as I'll be buying not only the DVDs whenever they come out, but any HDTV version that might arrive in the future.

And, at the link in the title, the official site has a partial English translation! Thanks to Makoto for spotting that for me.

Does that mean I'm being watched?? *looks warily back 'n forth*

Monday, April 09, 2007

"El Cazador" episode 2 raw is out

Subject: Noir
Link to torrent in the title; just hit my RSS feed seconds ago.

Discussion (and a couple of early screensnaps via member Warblade) over on the 'Fan as usual.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Post-"Noir" live-action

Subject: Cinema
I had a couple of DVDs in from Netflix, figuring for certain that I wouldn't be in the mood for anime for a little while after finishing another round of "Noir".

Amusingly enough, the first disc was "La Femme Nikita", Luc Besson's girl-with-gun post-noir action drama that played a big role in the inspiration of shows like "Noir". I had seen it in it's original French when it first made an appearance at the local art-house, and I really don't remember if I gave it much thought. I probably rented it again, dubbed, and again, it didn't leave much of a lasting impression beyond "yeah, that was cool".

And really, after seeing it again after all this time, I don't think I've gotten much further than "yeah, that was cool". I paid much closer attention to the details and performances and techniques (and, unavoidably, compared in my mind with those in "Noir"), and everything was, well... "cool". And that's about all I got out of it.

Finally, next up was "Frida", starring Salma Hayeck as Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. I never really knew much about her, and her style was never really the sort of thing that attracted me in general. And I don't expect that I've really learned any real details or experienced any breadth of her life and work. Instead, it was more a character-study and performance-driven period piece. A fine establishment of moods and attitudes, with a lot of little details in the settings and surroundings that really brought you into the piece. But beyond that, there wasn't much more to get out of it for me beyond the atmosphere and the details. Which is fine, I like that sort of thing now and then.

"El Cazador" episode 1 fansub is out, Bee Train Fan is down.

Subject: Noir
Well, this morning was kind of a "bad news, good news, bad news" kind of morning. I wake up, look outside, and there's 8 inches of snow on the ground. Yuck. I check my server that's running Azureus, and there's a fansub for "El Cazador de la Bruja". Yay! I go over to Bee Train Fan to see who's talking about it, and it's down. Boo!

The webhost says they're experiencing a massive DDOS attack, so who knows when that's going to be cleared up. It's been down for hours, it looks like, and I can imagine all the 'Fans over on the 'Fan are just rewatching episode 1 over and over again while waiting for it's return. Ah well. At least, that's what I'll be doing.

UPDATE: Bee Train Fan is back. Finally!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Le Grande Rewatch, part deux

Subject: Noir
My goal of Le Grande Rewatch was to get through both "MADLAX" and "Noir" before watching "El Cazador". Well, the raw came out before I was able to get very far with "MADLAX", which is fine. I enjoyed very much the opportunity to see the latest Girls With Guns installment mere hours after it aired in Japan.

But, it wasn't subtitled, and there's still no commitment from a fansub group that it ever will be.

But I managed to finish my rewatch of "MADLAX" (and you can read my comments over on Bee Train Fan), but I had been hesitating on starting a marathon of "Noir".

I've mentioned before (in my many drunken and post-drunken rants about the show) that I have a bit of disfunctional relationship with "my girls". And admittedly, the thing keeping me from commencing this round of rewatching was quite a bit of anxiety around that. If you dig back into my blogging, I mention that I was worried that the show wouldn't have the same impact anymore; that it would somehow blend in with all the other crap I've seen lately and not be quite so special anymore.

And once again, I've had to prove to myself that my worries are unfounded. This show rocks. It's so superior and beautifully constructed that I just can't begin to gush about it the way I tried to with "MADLAX" over on the 'Fan. I've taken a couple of notes, and I'll hopefully try to post something more substantial later, but when it comes down to it, I really would rather just watch it than talk about it.

I suppose one day I'll work on doing a "shot-by-shot" analysis like I've wanted to do back when I first started this blog nearly 3 years ago. Because there are a number of sequences that are very worthy of a close-up look and a lot of pontificating about. I'm such a technique-whore, I can't help but find the mechanics underlying it all worthy of my constant attention.

Anyway, will I finish tonight? I'm halfway through, and it's about 10pm. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. But I'm glad I managed to overcome my anxiety and finally get rolling with it. It may be many months, maybe even not until "Noir Year's Eve", before I see it again, and I'm glad I can do it now.

UPDATE: It's 2AM, and I'm about to start the final disc. My neighbors aren't going to appreciate the late-night gunfire, I'm sure, but I can't help but crank up that final battle. I'm probably going to go into "Post-Noir Syndrome" for a while afterwards, which is predictable, but rest assured, "El Cazador" will bring me back, one way or another.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"El Cazador" commentary

Subject: Noir
For now, what little I've managed to say has been over on the 'Fan; I hope to get more into it when the subtitled version comes out.

But I am totally cracked up over this:


Monday, April 02, 2007

And the 3rd era dawns...

Subject: Noir
"El Cazador" hits the airwaves in Tokyo in 3... 2... 1...

UPDATE: aaaand, at 4:10pm, the first raw hits the torrentsphere... Sporadic seeding, though, so keep looking.

There's also a trailer in 720p -- don't know if it's for real HDTV or an upconvert.

Finally, someone posted an initial round of screencaps on AnimeSuki, and I've mirrored it in the 'Fan gallery. Potential spoilers. Sorta.

UPDATE: ...aaaaand, I've watched it! Hooray! I've got a permanent grin on my face.

No, I didn't really understand a word of it. And in general, it's a rather light-hearted episode with some mildly dark overtones. But it's pretty darned cool so far. I'll work up more details later, I hope. I really should be trying to get through my "MADLAX" portion of Le Grande Rewatch...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Official TV Tokyo "El Cazador de la Bruja" site

Subject: Noir

Doesn't seem to be any new info (not that I'd be able to tell).

...Less than 48 hours... Oh boy oh boy!

Le Grande Rewatch

Subject: Noir
Over on the 'Fan, I had posted my intention to rewatch "Noir" and "MADLAX" before "El Cazador" got started, and invited anyone crazy enough to try and do the same. Then, of course, everyone started in, and I suddenly found myself without the time to do it myself. *sigh*

Well, I decided to take a full week of vacation, and I'm going to start tonight. I'm not going to make my goal of finishing before "El Cazador" airs, but I just might finish before the first fansub gets released.

I'm starting with "MADLAX" (so I can save the best for last *grin*), and I'll be attempting to post summaries over on the 'Fan as I finish each disc. But those of you familiar with my history of "PWI" can probably guess how well that will go as the night progresses. Oh well. *cough*