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*