Sushu missed out on The Eighties. So she doesn't get a lot of references to eighties culture. She didn't know why I was going around the house yelling "BY THE POWER OF GREYSKULL!!". So I had to show her He-Man cartoons on Youtube.
For whatever reason, I remember watching way more She-Ra than He-Man as a kid.
Remember: He-man says "By the power of Greyskull" and protects Eternia from Skeletor. She-Ra says "For the honor of Greyskull" and protects Etheria from Hordak. It's important to keep that straight.
In exchange, Sushu has been showing me Chinese cartoons of her childhood, such as Black Cat Detective and Seven Gourd brothers. The latter is fun to watch even if you don't understand a word of Chinese, thanks to its awesome shadow-puppet-theater-inspired animation style and mythological trippyness.
Wow, it really looks like Toph (Sushu) is sucker-punching me in this picture.
The girl on the left is Kitara in her Fire Nation disguise. Um, I don't know what her name is in real life. That's anime conventions for you: instantly bonding with total strangers just because they're dressed as characters from the same show as you are.
We found a lot of other people cosplaying Avatar. It's a popular show! (And nobody seems to care that it's "Not really anime". I'm glad; it's a stupid thing to care about.) Here's a group of us, including two Kitaras and two Zukos:
That one Zuko is shooting lightning out of his arm, in case you can't tell that's supposed to be lightning. It's made of clothes hangers. I thought it was pretty clever.
Here's what our characters Iroh and Toph are supposed to look like:
Sushu did all the sewing for both of our costumes. I just made my armor (cereal boxes, coat hangers, hot glue, paint), grew a beard and colored it grey, and bought an "Einstein" wig which I failed to completely get all the curls out of. Also I ran out of time so ended up not making any footgear, which is why I'm in those very inappropriate sneakers. Man, I could have done a lot better if I had more time, but it was a really busy week at work.
Non-Avatar cosplay that was cool:
This Jack Skellington had stilts inside his pants to get the proper proportions. He was like ten feet tall. It was freaky!
Other really cool cosplay that I did not get pictures of included...
A group of ALL THE BATMAN VILLIANS, in their old-school comic-book versions. They sang an a-capella version of "Never Gonna Give You Up" (a.k.a. "the Rickroll song") to passersby in the dealers' room.
An absolutely fantastic-looking Final Fantasy 6 group, which was all the obscure characters: Gogo, Relm, Setzer, and Gau. It warmed the cockles of my bitter heart.
Rorschach and the Comedian, from Watchmen. Later I also spotted a red-headed hobo-looking guy with a sign that said THE END IS NEAR, but I don't know if it was the same guy as the Rorschach mask or not. Spooky.
Here's us with Helena, who was the president of the U of C anime club way back in 2004 when I first met them all.
She's not in costume; she just always dresses like that. "It's not cosplay! It's fashion!" she likes to say.
From left to right are Kimberly and John and Cat, then Helena and Sushu. (Hey Helena, what are you up to with my betrothed?) John and Kimberly were in the club before my time, so I only know them from A-CEN. That's the main thing that's cool about A-CEN - meeting up with cool people I never get a chance to see otherwise.
It's pretty much a college reunion that just happens to take place at an anime convention.
Oh, you know what else was awesome? On our way home from the con, me and Sushu and Cat stopped by my parents' house to see Aleksa (who had her ninth birthday the same weekend). She had also been watching Avatar, borrowed on DVD from the library, and she had gotten almost all the way through the series. We sat down and all watched the last episode together, with us still in costume. Is that perfect or what?
Then of course she was all hyped up, and we had to go act out battles in the living room, where punching a pillow at someone is "earthbending" and whipping someone with a blue sheet is "waterbending". Ahhh, good times.
Cat has gotten me and Sushu into Avatar, the Last Airbender, a Nickelodeon quasi-anime serial adventure cartoon set in a pseudo-Asian fantasy world.
I'm generally skeptical of any Western production that tries too hard to be "anime"-ish. So much utter crap has been created by cynical types trying to cash in on the popularity of a visual style without bothering to learn anything from anime storytelling.
But on the other hand, I know Avatar has a huge and dedicated online fanbase of people who are way too old to be in its target audience, so I expected it to be of some quality.
Now that I've seen the first season, I'm happy to report that I quite like it. At first I was like "Hey, this is a pretty well-done kids show that doesn't insult my intelligence", but it gets better and better as it goes along. By the time I got to the two-part Season 1 finale, The Siege of the North (cool name!) I was going "Holy Crap, This Is AWESOME!"
Now that I think about it, Avatar has more than a little in common with The Mysterious Cities of Gold, a Japanese-French co-production that was on Nickelodeon when I was about 6-9. They're both epic adventure stories about a multicultural gang of children on a journey through an exotic land under threat of hostile invasion.
It's good to see Nickelodeon can still do good, original stuff once in a while.
In my first paragraph, I called Avatar a "quasi-anime". That's because it does such a good job blending the good stuff from Eastern and Western animation traditions that it's hard to classify. As influences continue to flow back and forth, I hope we see more high-quality melting-pot stuff like this, until we can just call good cartoons good cartoons without classifying them into boxes.
Anyway, the reasons Avatar is good include:
Way cool martial arts battles. The elemental manipulation powers which are the main fantasy element in the setting are not just used in crappy stock-footage attacks, but are organically integrated into realistic martial arts styles in all sorts of cool and creative ways. According to Wikipedia, Waterbending was based on Tai Chi movemens, Firebending on Northern Shao Lin kung fu, Earthbending on Hung Gar, and Airbending on Ba Gua. (No, I'd never heard of the last two either. Cartoons are educational!) The fights are surprisingly well-choreographed and well-animated.
Character development. Even the incidental characters get personality, and even the filleriest of filler episodes involve some issue-driven growth for the main characters. Sokka is going from useless comic relief to brave warrior; Aang is going from a goof-off kid who just wants to ride random animals to being an ambassador of peace; Zuko going from relentless antagonist to sympathetic villian to... not sure what yet. I mean, a lot of it is fairly standard adventuring party character tropes, but it's done well.
Culture. Westerners seem to have a hard time doing "asian"-inspired fantasy without resorting to stereotypes, exotification/fetishization, and general forehead-slapping ignorance. I'm happy to say Avatar does it right. They've got a lot of actual Asians and Asian-americans on the production staff, they get their Chinese characters right, they have a respectful attitude to the source material, and in general they did their homework. Almost every episode teaches us new things about the cultures of the places they travel through, which makes the setting come to life; each nation is a blend of imaginary bits with real-world inspiration. So for instance, the Air Nomads are sort of Tibetan, with flying buffalo; the Fire Nation is sort of Imperialist Japan, with giant steam-powered navies; the Water Tribes are sort of Inuit; etc. etc. Dealing with the beliefs and customs of each place they visit is often a major part of the episode plots. I like how each elemental nation is not a monolithic culture, but has all the variations within it that you would expect in the real world. (Seeing as how in most settings, all Dwarves are Dwarvish, and all Vulcans are Vulcan, etc... yeah.)
I wish Avatar had been on when I was in its target age range; it would have been My Most Favoritest Thing Ever. I bet the kids who are watching Avatar today will be super nostalgic about it when they get to be my age!
Animation: Way too much anime is made of non-animation: talking heads, pans across non-moving crowd scenes, stock footage, speed lines, etc. Gurren Lagann is clearly a show where the animators were in charge, not the writers, and they had the budget to do it right. Fluid, stylized, full of personality, fun to watch. It's not afraid to be cartoony, with giant sunglasses on a mech, and made-up goofy animals like "pig-moles". The mecha's mouths move when the pilots talk.
Pacing:Stuff happens, quickly. In the first episode they decide to drill to the surface, and they do. In the first episode. Most animes would drag that out to fill up a whole season. In most animes the hero is too shy to tell a girl he likes her without screwing his courage up for 26 episodes first. Gurren Lagann is not most anime. A main character proposes marriage to a woman, just like that, and it's not even the last episode!
Old-School Attitude: Everything is REALLY SERIOUS BUSINESS, but the show doesn't take itself seriously at all. It's a paradox.
Reconstruction: It's like, in superhero comics you had Watchmen which deconstructed the genre so well that it changed the face of american comics overnight. Then there was a whole period of obnoxious "darker and edgier" comics with sex, violence, swearing, angst, etc. because they were trying to be "grown up" but totally missing the point. But eventually you get stuff like Astro City or The Incredibles, which take the lessons learned from the deconstructionists and use them to create awesome new superhero stories, self-aware but played straight, with a deeper understanding of symbolism and subtext and plot structure the humanity of the characters. That's reconstruction.
For mecha anime, Evangelion is the deconstruction
and Gurren Lagann is the reconstruction.
It's hard to believe that they're by the same studio (Gainax), but so they are.
It's not hugely deep or anything, but as pure entertainment it can't be beat. There's very little filler. Almost every episode has at least one scene to make even the most jaded anime fan (that's me) say "WOW", to clap and cheer at the screen and laugh out loud with joy; most have *more* than one. It's a crowd-pleaser. It's just pure fun to watch.
I helped run it the first couple of years. This year I'm going to go as part of Artist's Alley / Webcomickers panel and make my first public attempt to pimp out my webcomic. Hmmm... I'll have to print up some business cards with my URL on them before Saturday.
A friend (who has requested to remain anonymous) sent me a very interesting email. I'm posting it here along with my response because I think it touches on interesting points in RPG design as well as Aikido philosophy.
Hi Jono! I have an aikido question that doubles as an RPG philosophy question. Naturally, you were the first person I thought of coming to.
I'm involved in a Narrativist-style message-board RPG set at Utena's Ohtori Academy's sister school in the Netherlands. There's a dueling game here too, though it's organized more informally, and run according to rules that haven't quite been revealed yet, if indeed they exist. The problem is that my character -- Taro Ichino, an exchange student from Ohtori -- knows a lot more about martial arts than I do; he's a good aikidoka and a fair karateka. As in Utena, you lose if your rose falls from your chest; you can also lose by drawing blood. Taro's opponent, a fop named Helms, has a combat knife and knows how to use it (though of course he can't draw blood with it). Helms knows about pressure points and has already used the hilt of his knife to strike the point near Taro's ankle to neutralize a kick. Helms has also shown a hesitance to attack; he probably knows that an uke who knows aikido has an advantage. The duel is taking place outdoors at night, and visibility is poor. There are bushes and a mansion nearby, but terrain has not otherwise been established. There are two spectators who aren't supposed to interfere. Helms is controlled by the GM, but apart from controlling the NPCs, the GM has no special rule-setting power; anyone can make something happen by narrating it.
So I have two questions.
First, if you were in this predicament, what would you do? My understanding of aikido indicates that it can't do much against an opponent who won't attack, and I imagine it's hard to use karate when your opponent has a longer reach than you, though I don't actually know anything practical about either of those martial arts.
Second, how should a friendly, narrativist, diceless RPG deal with this situation? Winning the duel is easy in theory -- all I have to do is narrate my victory -- but given that there are no dice or conflict resolution rules, it would feel like cheating to win without proving that Taro has "the moves" to deserve it. Does that mean that someone who knows nothing about martial arts shouldn't play a narrativist RPG that involves dueling? How do you solve this problem?
Here's my response.
> First, if you were in this predicament, what would you do? My understanding
> of aikido indicates that it can't do much against an opponent who won't
The Aikido response to an opponent who won't attack is,
"Good. You have already won. Walk away."
O-sensei was Not A Fan of dueling, or any activity whose purpose was
to assert dominance over or diminish another human being, and
intentionally made Aikido useless for that purpose. Yeah, he was a
great big hippie. That doesn't help your situation, though, does it?
So, I can think of three ways of handling this in-game.
One is actually to walk away. Just try to leave the arena and see
what happens. That's quite possibly what someone would do who was
really devoted to the aikido philosophy, (although it raises the
question of why he agreed to join the duel in the first place). That
might completely screw up the story and make everyone think you're a
jerk, though. On the other hand, it's an important part of the Utena
story-arc that at some point she starts questioning the purpose of the
duels and whether they can be stopped; an action like this might bring
down the wrath of End Of The World or his Norwegian equivalent, which
might be bad for your character but good for the story. Probably
discuss this out-of-character with the GM before you try it.
> As in Utena, you lose if your rose falls from your chest; you can also lose
> by drawing blood.
This suggests a second path: intentionally cut yourself on his knife.
Blood would be drawn, so that would be a loss for your opponent,
right? It's a cheap trick, but it's also a very "anime drama" kind of
thing to sacrifice yourself in order to win. It would have the fun
side-effect of convincing everyone you're a little bit crazy. The
word "kamikaze" might come up.
In practical terms, do you know how hard it is to attack someone with
a knife without drawing blood? Think about it -- what can he actually
do to you? He has to try to cut for the rose and that's it. Leave
the rose open for a moment to lure him in and then brush the knife
aside with your bare hand as it comes in. The visibility is poor so
the judges may not get a good look at exactly what happened; this
could work for you or against you.
The third possibility is to actually fight the duel using martial
arts, like you're supposed to do, which I would consider the most
boring option, but if you must... you're going to have to lure him
into attacking, by presenting a false opening. Maybe some taunting is
called for as well, if you think you know him well enough to say
something that will get under his skin. Suspecting a trick he will of
course try to feint once or twice with the knife before making a real
strike; remember he can't actually cut you anywhere except the rose,
so supress your instinct to react until he cuts at the real target.
You know how you grab a snake just behind the head? Dance to the
inside of his knife hand, moving in as close to him as you can, grab
his right wrist with your left hand (assuming he's right-handed) and
twist it out and up. Uppercut to the jaw with your right, get your
right leg behind his and hip-check him (this all has to happen at
once) so he trips over you and starts falling backwards. Snatch the
rose with your right hand as he falls, never letting go of the knife
Depending on what Helms does, that might have a 50% chance of working,
or it might not. Who knows?
> Second, how should a friendly, narrativist, diceless RPG deal with this
> situation? Winning the duel is easy in theory -- all I have to do is
> narrate my victory -- but given that there are no dice or conflict
> resolution rules, it would feel like cheating to win without proving that
> Taro has "the moves" to deserve it. Does that mean that someone who knows
> nothing about martial arts shouldn't play a narrativist RPG that involves
> dueling? How do you solve this problem?
This is why I wouldn't play an RPG that doesn't have rules. Even
something as simple as "you and the GM secretly flip a coin to see
who's going to win, then play it out through narration" is a perfectly
functional rule which would solve this problem. If you can't
introduce something like that, then I recommend talking
out-of-character to the GM in a separate channel and discussing what
the consequences to the story would be of Taro winning vs. Helms
winning, and reach a consensus about which would be a more interesting
direction for the story long-term, and then publicly narrate out the
fight to reach that conclusion.
I had an interesting discussion once with Rachel from UCJAS, where she told me about the diceless
message-board role-player culture and I told her about the diceful
tabletop role-player culture. Both of us were honestly trying our
best to understand an unfamiliar way of doing things, so it was quite
educational. From what she said, it sounds like diceless
message-board RPGs work great right up until the point where two
players have a head-to-head competition that they both want to win;
there simply isn't any way to negotiate an outcome for that within the
system. Rachel said it sometimes leads to either endless dueling
scenes or else drama spilling out of the game and turning into an
internet flame war.
The other possibility would be to get an impartial observer to listen
to the narration of both sides and declare a victor. Normally this
would be the GM, but the GM is already in the duel, so you'd have to
find a third party whose opinion in this matter you'd both respect
enough to bide by the decision. "impartial third party decides the
outcome" is also a perfectly functional rule.
Just keep in mind that it's basically impossible for anyone -- even a
martial arts expert -- to decide "who would really win" just by
reading a description of one side's tactics and the other side's
tactics. You might imagine that there's some kind of martial arts
"paper rock scissors" where one move defeats another but gets defeated
by a third, but it doesn't work that way. Fights are decided by
strength, speed, stamina, agility, and above all by psychology --
who's more confident? who's more determind to win? who's more
afraid? who gets distracted? who gets blinded by rage? etc.
Compared to those factors, fancy moves are meaningless. So even if
you have an impartial observer, you'll have to accept that the
decision is basically arbitrary and cannot in any way reflect "what
would really happen".
Bottom line is, you can't "prove that Taro has the moves" to deserve
victory. It's the wrong game for that. If you were playing Street
Fighter II you could prove that you have the moves because the game
programming is an impartial arbiter, and victory goes to whoever's
better at exploiting the game mechanics. Your RPG has no game
mechanics as such, so the system cannot arbitrate any real
disagreement between players. Which means that even though the
*characters* are at odds, the *players* must already be in agreement.
If everyone is really following narrativism as the creative agenda for
this game, then they should all see victory or loss in a duel as
simply being two different but equally useful opportunities for
character development. Therefore you should be able to reach a
friendly out-of-character agreement about story goals and work from
there. (Wheras simulationism would frown on out-of-character
discussion about outcomes, and gamism would demand mechanics that
could support a contest of tactics.)
Bliss Stage is an RPG made by my friend Ben Lehman. He was selling it at GenCon this year. In spite of my busy lifestyle and abundance of unplayed RPGs, last night I found myself hosting the second session of a campaign. I wonder how that happened?
(Toy robots were not on the table during the game; I added them in afterwards to make the picture a little more interesting.)
Bliss Stage is firmly in the "Giant Fighting Robots And Teen Angst" genre. Although it would be easy to classify it an "anime" RPG or even as "Evangelion the RPG", it is refreshingly free of awkward fanboyishness. (Compare to something like "Big Eyes Small Mouth", which I also got a copy of recently because it was $5. BESM is slightly embarrassing to read with all its wanting-to-be-Japanese-ness and fetishization of anime tropes.) Ben told me once that he wanted this game to feel like an original entry in the genre, not a pastiche.
I really like the rule (or strong suggestion) in the Bliss Stage book that you set your game in a postapocalyptic version of a familiar real-life place nearby. Our game is set in the Chicago Field Museum. This is one of several suggestions in the book which gently steer a group towards creating something based on their own memories and experiences, as opposed to just acting out something they saw on TV. In the same vein, you're supposed to name the "anchor" characters after people you had crushes on in high school (not people you still know) and you're encouraged to use your own nightmares as inspiration for the aliens that you fight.
The secret to the Giant Robots And Teen Angst genre is that the robot combat is not merely senseless violence, but is somehow an expression of the pilot's teenage mental problems. Bliss Stage makes this connection very very explicit: since the aliens live in the dream world, and you have to go there to fight them, your "mecha" are actually dream constructs, built out of your relationships with the people you care about in the real world. Yes, they're robots made of love. It's relationships that have stats in this game, not characters so much, and the stats of the relationship (Intimacy and Trust) become the power and the durability of the weapons and thrusters and shields and whatnot that you turn them into.
Clever bit number one is that this provides a huge amount of incentive to "power-up" your relationships by role-playing out all sorts of awkward interpersonal drama that you might never think of doing in a more normal RPG. "I'm going to go all the way with my boyfriend tonight, so my sniper rifle will be five dice in the next mission" is a statement that makes sense in Bliss Stage.
Clever bit number two is that damage you take in the dream world become stress on your relationships, and too much stress can reduce the Trust and eventually break the relationship. That is, the game mechanics are telling you that the relationship is going to break, but it's up to you to figure out how and why and then role-play that out. So you get ample excuses to role-play angry fights and weepy breakups -- all the fodder you need for your TEEN ANGST!
Clever bit number three is that the alien invasion from the dream-world permanently put to sleep every human over the age of 18 (with a very few individual exceptions here and there). All of the pilot characters are therefore teenagers, in a "Lord of the Flies" kind of world, which tightens the focus on relationships between teenagers.
Being a teenager SUCKS. Thinking back to that time in my own life, it seemed like every emotion was magnified hundreds of times, to cosmic significance (not least because of constant self-doubt and self-analysis). I never actually had any romantic angst until my 20s (I was a late bloomer there, I guess) but I can easily see how getting dumped or rejected when you're a teenager must seem like THE END OF THE WORLD. And in Bliss Stage, getting dumped or rejected -- since it directly impacts your ability to do missions -- actually CAN cause the end of the world! I thought this was quite a clever design.
Of course, with all this focus on relationships, you can't just create characters in a vacuum. The idea is that you come up with all the characters who are part of your "resistance cell" of survivors, figure out in general terms how they feel about each other, and then divide control of these characters up among the players. (In practice, control of the minor characters swaps around a lot.) So each non-GM player controls one pilot character, as well as an anchor for another pilot, and some miscellaneous character, and in each scene you might be called on to play any one of those characters. Below is the "relationship map" for our game:
Yes, we have characters named "Raggedy Ann", "One-Eyed Jack", and "Doctor Professor". Off-camera to the left are Maria and "The Twins" named Michelle and DJ. (I know, I know, I'm sorry.) Blue names are pilots, green are anchors, purple are characters who are neither, and red are the real-life names of the people who control the characters. I'm looking at this now and wow, we have way too many names that start with "J". No wonder we had trouble keeping them straight sometimes.
My intent here was not to write a review, but just to describe the game a little to provide background for the session report which is coming up. (Actually, if you read this site a lot, you know that I don't write reviews: I only rave about things that I love and occasionally rant about things that I hate. Writing reviews would require thinking about the boring stuff in the middle.) That's going to have to wait for the next post, though, because I'm tired and I'm going to bed now.
The anime club from U of C puts on its own mini-convention (in the biology building, since they have the best A/V equipment, for some reason). This is the fourth year of "Uchicon". Each year we get some local webcomic artists, we get some academic experts who have written papers on japanese culture to come give talks, we buy lots of pocky, we have a video game tournament (put on by the video game club, "Order of the Blistered Thumb"), show movies, and generally have a real good time. The attendance has hovered between 100 and 200 people, so we're still very very small, but it's a great time despite that (and despite some headaches this year when the school bureaucracy, funding committees, RSO advisors, and UPS deliverymen all dropped the ball really bad).
I wasn't involved in organization much this year -- all I did officially was interview some artists, talk on the skit panel, and bake Yakitate! Rice Cooker Bread. (I used live yeast this time and let it rise longer, so it came out all fuwa-fuwa and was a great big hit. Got devoured instantly.) Treated some of the webcomickers to Thai food after the con was over. Since I wasn't doing much organization, I was free to actually hang out and enjoy stuff. We got quite a few cosplayers this year so I went ahead and took pictures of them (all cosplayers love getting attention, right?)
This is one of the Spoony Bards, a local amateur band who play covers of video game music, and who provide the Uchicon soundtrack. They're really quite talented, and they know lots of songs -- you can yell at them "Play something from Chrono Trigger!" and they will, for instance. He's wearing the giant pink head of Maromi from Paranoia Agent which I helped make for last year's ACEN skit.
Rachel from the club cosplaying as Misato from Evangelion.
I don't know her name, but she was on the cosplay panel, and that's an original costume based on the J-rocker style. (If anybody knows the missing names, could they leave a comment and help me out?)
Lina (sp?) from club, as... some kind of maido-san? Wakaranai.
Some girls playing Naruto characters. I remember them from the skit panel, where they said they had seen our ACEN skits from previous years, and something about wanting to come to University of Chicago to be in the club that does the awesome skits (that's a good reason, right?) So I think they were in high school?
Um, I don't know who either of these people are in real life or in costume, sorry.
I don't know who this guy is either or why he's punching me.
This woman talked at the cosplay panel. She has the mad cosplay skills. Here she's San aka Princess Mononoke, but last year at ACEN she was the Great Forest Spirit from the same movie, who I think won the grand costume prize... and WOW she deserved it.
Here's a closeup of the mask from the great forest spirit costume. She told us all the steps she went through to make it, with clay and plaster and latex and power tools and a hair-punching thingy. Wow! Talk about almost-pro at the costume making.
Sunday, the day after Uchicon, I invited some peoples up to my apartment to play Twilight Imperium some more. Aza, Jim, and Phil all came, and by leaving out the special rules and hustling a bit, we actually managed to finish a game in a quite reasonable six hours (Aza, playing the L1Z1X Mindnet, beat us all.)
I guess it must be a week since my last entry, cuz here comes another entry about anime club!
HARUHI MAKES JONO ANGRY. I sit through three boring episodes waiting
for a plot to show up, and hating Haruhi (the character) more and
more, and hoping that she gets smacked down for her immature selfish
abusiveness, and now that we finally get a hint of a plot in episode 4, the plot is "We have to keep Haruhi happy cuz the world will be destroyed if she throws a tantrum?" In other words, this is a
series-length version of that Twilight Zone episode where they have to
keep Anthony happy so he doesn't turn them into monsters or put them
in the cornfield? Ten more randomly-ordered (but well-animated)
episodes of boring characters pacifying an obnoxious brat who abuses
them? Is that what I have to look forward to?
Yeah, my attitude towards this show has moved from bored indifference
into outright loathing. I'm seriously thinking of just leaving anime
club early instead of sitting through it -- or I would be except for officers' meeting, and the fact that my cousin says:
Next week's episode is the first episode in the series that's really honest and up front about what exactly the show really is, or at least, what the deal is with most of the characters.
So I will watch that episode. Haruhi, this is your final warning!
Twelve Kingdoms, though, just gets better and better. I love how
Yoko's character development was handled in these episodes. The
internal struggles represented by that creepy monkey dude with the
masks, and the cracking under pressure, and the gradually coming to
terms with the harsh reality of this world, and hitting rock-bottom
and going crazy, and the look on her face when she attacks those
birds, and then when she's trying to decide whether to run away or go
back and save mouse-man, and then when she finally decides to accept
that nobody loves her and everyone will betray her and she can choose
to do the right thing anyway... I was applauding by that point.
That's more character development than happens in an entire series in most anime! And it was all entirely believable! And there's probably more to come! And now that she's learned to accept the worst, the smallest act of kindness from a
stranger seems to mean so much. The writing in this show is
unbelievably good! I love it!
So, our new tradition of acting out anime scenes during officer's meetings continues. (Remember when you were seven years old, and after you saw a cartoon you liked, you really wanted to act it out? Anime club is a place where we can do that and not feel silly, even if we're 26 years old.)
There was an episode of Honey and Clover we saw last year where they played a homemade Twister game at a birthday party, but since they're all art students, their Twister didn't just have red/yellow/blue/green, it had a rainbow of subtle color and shade variations with fancy names. ("Which one's Lilac?") During most of the twister scene, you don't see the people playing the game, you just see the two girls spinning the spinner and calling out colors and looking increasingly horrified as screams of agony and the sounds of breaking bones come from off-camera. It's a really funny scene in context.
So yeah, we acted that out. Cat sent me to the hardware store to pick up some of those paint color samples they have there. "Paint color samples are free, right?" I asked. And then got two each of a couple dozen colors, which had names like "Chinchilla", "Apple Blossom", "Crushed Velvet", "Dried Tomato", "Cisco Spice", and "Lime Freeze". And she taped them down over the normal Twister circles, and we brought it out into the hallway and tried to play it. We got through a couple of rounds and attracted a little bit of a crowd. There were definitely some picture-phone shots which will show up on the Internet in due time. It's much, much harder than normal Twister. "Left foot, India Ink!" "Where the hell is India Ink? Is this it?" "No, you fool, that's Sea of Midnight!" "Screw you!" "Aaaarrgggghhh!!" Let it be known that the champions of each round, after everybody else gave up, were respectively Kat-with-a-K and Andrew.
At the end of anime club this week, we decorated cookies. Pres. Cat gave us all sugar cookies and frosting and sprinkles and candies and so forth and gave us 15 minutes to make "the best damn cookie I've ever seen!!!" while she acted out the role of the terrifying disciplinarian baking instructor from the baking school entrance exam scene from Yakitate! Japan. It was hilarious but we were all trying not to laugh because she would take points off. During the judging we all tried to explain the themes of our cookies in Japanese. Good times.
There is this show that we watch called "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya". I don't like it. I seem to be the only one who doesn't like it; the rest of the club is really into it, but I hate all of the characters and I see no sign of a plot after three episodes, and it doesn't even have a good theme song, so there's really nothing for me to like about it. Well, the animation is consistently above-average in fluidity and detail, but that's the only thing.
Trying to justify my position to Eric got me into a very interesting discussion of what makes me like or dislike an anime. It's true that I've gotten much pickier over the past several years. But he accused me of not liking anything wacky or postmodern. And while I do complain about a lot of series that could be classified that way, how do you explain my enduring love of Dragon Half and One Piece and Urusei Yatsura, which are nothing if not wacky? Also, two of my favorite series are Serial Experiments Lain and Paranoia Agent, which could both be described as "postmodern" in some way.
It's hard to make generalizations. I can tell you whether I like a given series or not, but I can't explain the overall pattern. It's like music: I hate "whiny white girl music" (my term), and yet I own six Ani di Franco albums. It's a paradox. I can't explain it. That little plastic castle is a surprise every time, if you know what I mean.
So, thinking about this kind of thing, I jotted down a list (on the nearest piece of paper, which was the back of the resume given to me by a street beggar named Clifton A. Jackson) of what annoys me about bad anime. Or, stated positively, they are the rules that good anime should follow, and bad anime annoys me by breaking them.
And then I realized that nothing in this list restricts it to anime. It's just a list of rules for good fiction. There are certain things that all good fiction has to do. No matter what a story is about, in order to make you want to keep reading/watching/listening/playing, the story has to trick you into caring about what happens to imaginary people. So it has to have characters who you can care about, and they have to be facing some kind of challenge. That's the basics of it. But to expound further:
Jono's Minimum Requirements for Anime
1. Must have at least one SYMPATHETIC character! Minimum requirements for sympathetic character are as follows:
NOT A SPINELESS WUSS.
NOT A HEARTLESS BASTARD.
SELF-MOTIVATED. Has an understandable self-imposed goal. Makes things happen!
It's best if the sympathetic character is also the main character. It's even better if most or all of the characters are sympathetic!
2. All characters must have PERSONALITIES. Whether they are sympathetic or not, characterization must be present for each one, and it must be CONSISTENT and believable. Even better is if somebody's personality CHANGES in a believable way during the story, but that's hard to do right, so I'll let you get away with just consistent and believable.
3. Show must have a CONFLICT to move the show forward. Something has to be at stake. Works out nice if the conflict is releated to the main character's motivation.
4. Something has to HAPPEN in each and every episode. There has to be something that has CHANGED between the beginning and the end of the episode. Climaxes of episode plots must focus on choices main character or characters make. Resolutions of episode plots must MAKE SENSE.
5. There must be enough believable details of everyday life present that I can imagine myself into the SETTING.
6. Show must have VISUAL VARIETY: give us interesting things to look at. (And if it's not a visual medium you're in: create visual variety in the reader/listener's head.) Don't have your whole story be some guys sitting in the same room talking!
7. Show must have EMOTIONAL VARIETY: convey strong emotions both good and bad. Preferably all in the same episode.
8. There must be SURPRISES and things that we don't immediately understand in order to create intrigue. But they must MAKE SENSE when explained and they must not render the main plot impossible to follow.
9. Show must offer something specific and UNIQUE that other shows don't.
10. Ending of show must MAKE SENSE and resolve main plot!
(I wasn't trying for 10 but I ended up with that number anyway. I guess I could rephrase them all as THOU SHALT and THOU SHALT NOT but that's even more of a web cliche than "You know you've been _____ too much when" lists and alternate words to "Twas the night before Christmas". Blah! )
Obeying all of these rules still does not guarantee that I will like your show, but for most shows that I don't like, I can identify which of these rules is being broken. Any kind of anime can fail at having sympathetic characters; I can't prove back this up with statistics, but I feel like modern anime has a higher percentage of protagonists who are spineless wusses or heartless bastards, compared to old-school anime. It's probably the result of a misguided attempt to add psychological depth. I guess that's what I like about old-school anime: that even if the characters were shallow, they had yaruki. Old-school anime heroes always cared very strongly about something, and therefore they made you care about it too. Some modern shows like Hikaru no Go and Yakitate! Japan have a bit of the old-school feel to them and I think it's because their protagonists have that kind of passion.
"Wacky" anime often do OK on the characters but fail and points 3 and 4, that is, they don't have a plot where it feels like something important is at stake, so either it seems like not much is actually happening in each episode, or else there's lots of stuff happening but it's all just random and pointless. When I say "something at stake" it doesn't have to be the fate of the universe or anything; the resolution of a love triangle is a perfectly reasonable "at stake" for a romantic-comedy anime, for instance. Also wacky anime often fails rule number 7 if there's never any other tone to break up the wacky once in a while.
"Postmodern" anime, even if they have a sympathetic character and they have something at stake, are often full of plot twists that come off like non-sequiturs, so they often fail rules 8 and 10 because things just don't make sense. A lot of those shows are stuffed full of illogical and gimmicky jumps in order to create artificial intrigue. Postmodern anime can also fail rule 7, emotional variety, by being all-angst-all-the-time.
Random thoughts from last night's anime club meeting, as I originally wrote them in an email to Googleshng this morning.
We're watching each week:
2 episodes of Outlaw Star
2 episodes of 12 Kingdoms
2 episodes of Yakitate! Japan!
1 episode of Haruhi
Since episodes are slightly shorter than half an hour, this works out to 3 hours total.
12 Kingdoms: It's cold, and there are wolves after me, and the sea is full of freaky glowing vortices, and Keiki died and turned into some kind of weird unicorn and another unicorn came over and made there be words on his horn, and there is a standard operating procedure for people who come through the Boundary from Japan, and Sugimoto is an awesome character who thinks she's the main character of an RPG and wants to steal from and kill old ladies. Oh wow Sugimoto, you're my anti-hero. And this show is throwing just enough confusing stuff at me to make me really curious about how this world works and what happens next, but not so much that I lose the thread of the plot. Oh wow GOOD WRITING.
I couldn't tell at all when Yoko's face supposedly changed, except that her skin seemed to get more red, but I don't know how that makes you not recognize somebody. It's like the script required a change of character designs but the animators forgot.
And Yakitate! Japan is AMAZING. This show really makes you want to
eat bread. And learn to make bread. And at the end of the show they
have educational bread facts. And the end credits have live-action
bread-making footage and then they break open the finished bread and
it's all crusty on the outside and steamy and chewy-looking on the
inside and it looks SO GOOD. This show is BREAD PORNOGRAPHY.
Also it's full of japanese puns which the fansubbers struggle
desperately to explain, like how Azuma Kazuma doesn't know what a
croissant is and he thinks they're saying "Kurowa-San" and so he's
going around asking everybody who this Kurowa person is. Also, Azuma
Kazuma (gotta love that name) bakes naan and there's this whole scene
which is just a series of puns on how "naan da" (it's naan) sounds
just like "nan da" (what is it). And then he doesn't know that curry
isn't originally a Japanese food. He just assumed that the word
"curry" must come from "karai", the japanese word for "spicy". Ok,
well I think it's hilarious anyway.
And there are major plot points that revolve around how many layers
you fold croissant dough into and how much butter and sugar you put in
it. And there's this sadistic and overly strict guy who runs the
baking examination that they have to pass to get into the prestigious
baking school, and he can look at somebody's bread and deduct 2 points
because he knows without tasting it that they baked it for 30 seconds
too long. And there's one guy who's like a baking samurai and slices
up his dough with a katana. OK, it all sounds kind of stupid when I
describe it, but belive me, this show RULES. I was laughing and
cheering and clapping through all of two episodes yesterday.
And then there's Haruhi... after the first two episodes, I still
don't get what the point of this show is. OK, so the characters made
a bad amateur film, and it's realistically bad in all the ways that a
real amateur film would be, and it makes fun of stupid anime cliches.
OK, I admit that this is kind of a clever idea, and that the animators
did a really good job of making it look like they took a handheld
camera to an anime world, which is quite an accomplishment. But it's
still a BAD AMATEUR FILM. Sitting through 20 minutes of camera
mistakes and bad acting and bunny costumes and dead air, um, dead air
is just PAINFUL. Again I must wonder, what is The Melancholy of
Suzumiya Haruhi about? Is it about tormenting the audience? Is the
whole motivation of the plot just that Haruhi is bored? I sure hope
this gets more interesting in later episodes.
And after we were done watching stuff, Cat, who is now our club
president, and who had snuck out during the show, came back in wearing
a full pirate-wench costume, with the stripy stockings and the bandana
and the lace-up bodice and everything. And she had a leather
cat-o-nine-tails and a book of pirate songs, and she made us all
gather round and sing pirate songs or she would whip us.
"Ha! You missed! And you won't get another shot! Certainly not during the time it takes me to speak all the dialogue in this panel!"
Yeah, I've been reading more Marvel comics. The "Essential X-Men" collection. This is the 1970s "reboot" of the X-Men -- so it's not the original version with Iceman, but rather the much better-known version with Wolverine.
So far I am not liking it as much as I liked the Fantastic Four. It's from that awkward time period in the development of superhero comics after they lost the innocence of the early stuff but before they gained the depth and self-awareness of something like Watchmen or The Incredibles. I would describe this particular version of X-Men as very adolescent.
What I mean is that it takes itself way too seriously, and it's trying to have more depth and maturity but it doesn't really know how, so it compensates with lots of violence and angst and cynicism and clenched-teeth attitude. Everybody either has no personality or they are a Bitter Angry Loner. (Just like Final Fantasy 7!) Whereas in earlier superhero comics, everybody either has no personality or they're Gung-Ho Defenders of the American Way. Which I find kind of charming in a goofy nostalgic way. Whereas the bitter angry loner thing has been done to death these days, and it just really gets on my nerves.
I've been having an e-mail conversation with my cousin about trends we hate in modern anime, and the Jaded, Sulking, Nobody-understands-me kind of hero is high on both of our lists. I'm not a teenager anymore, so I have no sympathy for characters like that. I kinda want to smack them around and tell them to grow up already.
Other trends that suck:
shows that try way too hard to be Edgy and Innovative (it usually backfires on them)
remakes and sequels and anime based on video games
shows that get so caught up in structural innovation that they completely lose the plot
heroines who are emotionless killing machines
comedies based on spoofing the cliches of a certain genre (this has been done so many times it is now a cliche in its own right)
shows that try to get your attention with outrageous nonsensical gimmicks
I really want to watch an anime that is an original story with no gimmicks. Something that's just based on quality characterization and storytelling. Preferrably hard science fiction, but any genre is OK, really. And with no panty shots or gigantic boobs. That's all I want. Is that too much to ask, Japan?
I'm really looking forward to seeing this Haruhi Suzumiya show. Everything I've heard about it has been very positive.
Anyway, back to 1970s X-Men: Cyclops is a tool. Colossus and Banshee are embarassing ethnic stereotypes. Wolverine is the aforementioned bitter angry loner. Thunderbird is both a bitter angry loner AND an embarassing ethnic stereotype, but he dies after like two issues. Nightcrawler is kinda cool but has no personality. So the only characters I like are Professor X and Storm. Storm is admirable. She is calm, collected, competent (all words that begin with C!), self-confident without being arrogant, and there is plenty of misfortune in her backstory but she doesn't feel the need to angst about it all the time. Although she's from Kenya she somehow managed to avoid the curse of embarassing stereotypes that afflicts all the other ethnic characters. Yeah. Go Storm.
Random point of continuity: the X-Mens' uniforms are made out of the "unstable molecules" invented by Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic). That's right. Different superhero teams share technology. Also, the scene in The Incredibles where Edna shows off the special properties of the costumes she made is clearly an homage to Reed Richards' "unstable molecules".
One thing that totally boggles my mind about Marvel universe is that it seems to have been officially established that artist/writer team Stan Lee and Jack Kirby live there. They appear in the background of a New York City panel in X-Men saying something to the effect of "Stuff like this never happened when we had the book". Stranger still is the scene in Fantastic Four where Lee and Kirby are hanging around their studio trying to think up new villians for the Fantastic Four to fight. They talk about how they never should have had Dr. Doom get launched into deep space, because great villians like him are hard to think up, and then Dr. Doom smashes his way into the building and kidnaps both of them. What the...?!?! It's like a self-insertion fanfic collapsed in on itself and twisted the fabric of the fictional universe into some kind of Moebius strip!
So, after ACEN I wrote about how I don't get excited about anime anymore. But man, I miss getting excited about it. I want to enjoy it, but most of the new stuff is cliche and boring, and even the older series that I like make me kinda bored. (Was watching the original Tenchi Muyo episodes at the club today. I used to love that show. I never realized how much of it was ripped off from Dirty Pair and Urusei Yatsura.)
Sigh. If only some brand-new anime would come out that is super-cool and unlike anything I've ever seen before!
As you've probably guessed by now, I'm writing this because my wish was just granted.
We have this rotating slot where each of the officers of the anime club gets a chance to show a single episode of a random show of their choice. Tonight Andrew showed us an episode of Yakitate! Japan. This is a brand new show about bread. Yes bread. I know how stupid that sounds, but just listen for a second.
Yakitate! Japan is about a boy named Azuma Kazuma (with a name like that you know the show isn't taking itself entirely seriously) who is moving to Tokyo to become a baker and dedicate his life to creating a new kind of bread which will be uniquely Japanese and will stand proudly alongside the best traditional breads of Europe. He has a rare power called solar hands which basically means that his hands are warmer than most peoples' and therefore dough rises better than normal after he kneads it. Yes, it's an extremely specialized superpower.
He refers to the bread of his dreams as "Ja-pan". This is a pun, you see, because the Japanese word for bread is "pan", and the Japanese word for Japan is "Nihon" but they're sort of vaguely aware that they are called Japan by other countries.
Just judging by the first episode, this is going to be one of those shows which is in the style of a sports anime, but instead of a sport the main character is devoted to perfecting a random skill. You know, kind of like Hikaru no Go. It's a genre with lots of possibilities and it's a good change from killing aliens or whatever. Judging by the first episode it's also going to be full of horrible cross-language puns. And good, cartoony animation, and crazy sight gags, and exaggerated patriotism. The way Azuma Kazuma wants to elevate Japan's cuisine has hilariously nationalistic overtones to it. Finally, there's this whole generation gap thing going on, because the older, more traditional Japanese people are portrayed as closed-minded because they only want to eat rice and not bread. Which is true, but it's hilariously exaggerated. There's this whole subplot in the first episode about how Grandpa will never give up rice and accept the power of bread unless Azuma Kazuma can bake a loaf of bread which goes as well as rice does with nattou and miso soup.
So yeah, Yakitate! Japan has instantaneously become my new favorite anime.
But wait a minute. Take a closer look at that photo of Mallahi.
(Image from the BBC website)
That face... it looks so familiar... where have I seen him before?
Well, there you have it, folks. Proof that Big Fire has joined forces with Islamic terrorism. They may say that Mallahi died in a shoot-out, but we all know that Mallahi -- or should I say, Shockwave Alberto -- has faked his death many times before. He'll be back!
I didn't get one good night's sleep during the week before the convention, because I was staying up late working on my costume and rehearsing our skit and editing the soundtrack for our skit. Thursday night I got maybe 3 hours of sleep, then had a full day of work, then went on a long grocery shopping expedition to get okonomiyaki and onigiri ingredients. Then came carrying many armloads of crap up to the 10th floor hotel room. So by that point I was dead tired, grumpy, and not in the mood to enjoy anything. The hotel room was a party atmosphere but all I wanted to do was sleep. I say this by way of apologizing for my grouchiness. I don't remember too clearly but I think that before I passed out on the bed I snapped at a couple of people who I really shouldn't have snapped at. If this was you, I'm sorry.
The group from University of Chicago was 35 people! Transporting us, our costumes and props, our clothes and toiltetries for the weekend, our food, and our cooking supplies, to the hotel, and getting rooms for all of us, and registering our skits with the masquerade people, and then getting everything cleaned up again and checking out and transporting everybody and all the stuff home: That was inherently a logistical nightmare. Many kudos to Sushu for pulling it off with style (she printed out sheets of who was sharing a room with who, and everybody's contact info) and for keeping everybody from killing each other!
Acen itself is also inherently a logistical nightmare. (So us going there as a group is a logistical nightmare within a logistical nightmare.) Acen has grown to almost 10,000 attendees who all descend on the hotel and convention center for a weekend. Events have to be organized, schedules prepared, guest celebrities flown in, dealers signed up, registration taken, hotel staff negotiated with, and so on and so on. There is a nonprofit organization called MAPS (Midwest Anime Promotion Society) which exists solely to make this one weekend happen, and it keeps them busy for most of the rest of the year.
Now that I've been a part of organizing a small one-day anime convention (Uchicon) at the U of C for two years, I have some appreciation of the massive amount of volunteer labor that must go into ACEN, and for the skills and patience of the people who run the masquerade every year and put up with our insane skit ideas and our last-minute changes and stuff. Every year they get better and better at what they do. This time they had a secondary badge for registered masquerade participants, which solved the problem of knowing who should be allowed into the Green Room.
Anyway, the ACEN people are so cool that I am seriously thinking of volunteering to help staff the con next year. The thing is, I'm not actually all that into anime for its own sake anymore. If somebody else puts it on the TV I'll watch it, but I don't go seeking it out. Most new series don't interest me, and even for the few that do, I feel no need to obsess over them or to watch every single episode. I'm old and jaded. But I still love cosplay and the con experience and hanging out with cool weird people and seeing the insane costumes that other people come up with. So staffing the con might be the thing for me.
My single biggest complaint about the logistics of Acen: the hotel really needs more elevators. There are only four. Our hotel room was on the tenth floor, the events were on the first and second, and I ended up taking those nine flights of stairs many, many times because it was faster than competing with the big clump of waiting cosplayers. At more than one point there was a huge traffic jam because the hotel staff had to commandeer the escalators and one elevator to bring somebody who was having a medical emergency down to street level. The elevator problem was exacerbated by this huge bar that we had as a stage setting for one of our skits. More on that later.
Oh, we usually share the convention center with some boring convention. We avoid stepping on each other's toes but it makes an interesting contrast. Like last year there was an Optometrists' convention. This time it was the Powder And Bulk Materials Expo, an industrial trade show which sounds like it must be the most boring thing on earth. Just imagine if you were a manager at some powder factory and this show was like the high point of your year. Scary thought.
The show is not in the showing rooms, the show is in the hallways.
I have this sorta love-hate relationship with american anime fandom. I love that the fandom is approximately 50% female, unlike American comic-book/sci-fi/RPG fandom where the gender ratio is still skewed. I love their passion, I love how crazy these people are and the amount of work they put into their costumes and their fanfictions and the way they chase after and hunt down their entertainment instead of just watching whatever's on TV.
But when they look back on their lives, this thing that they have poured all their energy into is, still, after all, a commercial, mass-marketed product. It's a passive form of entertainment. They're putting their energy into somebody else's creation instead of creating something of their own.
The anime fans I respect are the ones for whom anime was a gateway to something more worthwhile, like learning Japanese, or making their own comics, or their own animation, or learning to sew kimonos, or something. The people who discover that making is infinitely healthier and more fulfilling than watching.
But they will constantly be replaced by the influx of sparkly-eyed newbies for whom the cliches of anime are still fresh and exciting. I envy the fun these people are having, even as I roll my eyes at the stupid stuff they say. Like when a Vincent (FF7) cosplayer walked past and these two girls went "Vincent-san! Wai, wai!" Their bad and childish Japanese ("wai" is not even a real word, it's like a literal reading of a manga sound effect) is not as annoying as the affectation of it, like affecting a fake British accent or something. I know because I used to do the exact same thing myself.
Trends In Fandom:
Costumes that remain popular year after year include characters from Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy games,
and always, always, Vash the Stampede. Vash is a perennial favorite and if you counted the total number of costumes
over all the years that Acen has been running, Vash just might be the most popular cosplay of all time. Not hard to see
why. He's a character who everybody loves from a show who everybody loves, and his costume is cool and highly
distinctive. Even women like to dress up as Vash.
Hentai is mainstream now. I saw a car in the parking garage
had "I <3 TENTACLES" painted across the windows. It's no longer "you
look at hentai eewwww", now it's "Oh what kind of hentai do you
like?" It's quite clearly labeled in the dealer's room, and it's
advertised openly but tastefully. A very popular item for sale lately
is the "Yaoi Paddle", a wooden paddle proudly bearing the word "YAOI",
sometimes "SEME" and "UKE" on opposite sides (if you don't know what
"uke" and "seme" mean... don't ask.) Lots of people were carrying
these around. I met one guy who was collecting signatures on his yaoi
paddle of people who submitted to being spanked with it. He was in a
contest with a girl he knew to see who could collect more signatures.
There is also a "YURI" paddle.
More and more people are brining their kids to the con. There is a generation of anime fans who are now beginning to raise their kids as anime fans. I wonder if the kids will later rebel and become, like, huge Disney fans just to make their parents mad. There was a whole track of children's programming at the con. I saw all sorts of intergenerational cosplay -- like a teenage girl dressed up as that devil girl from Disgaea, with her 40-year old dad as her blue penguin sidekick, doing a skit together. Man. Talk about a cool dad. I hope I am that cool when I'm his age. I wonder what will happen when this trend and the previous trend collide. "Mommy what does YAOI mean?"
There were SO MANY KINGODM HEARTS costumes!!! What the heck? Every way you looked you saw those silly keyblades. Last year it was FFx2. There were like hundreds of FFx2 cosplayers. I think every job of every character was represented. I see why that game is a cosplayer's dream come true, since it's basically "barbie j-pop-star dress-up" disguised as an RPG.
Full Metal Alchemist, Bleach, Naruto. Super-popular new shows I've never seen. And I don't really intend to. (Maybe this is shallow of me, but seriously, what kind of stupid name for an anime is "Bleach"? Is it a story about a laundromat or something? And "Full Metal Alchemist"? Is that what you get when you cross Stanley Kubrick with Albertus Magnus? At least I know what "Naruto" means -- it's that pink spirally fish-paste thing used as garnish in bowls of ramen -- but it's still a dumb name for a ninja anime.) But because I've never seen these shows, I'm missing out on an awful lot of jokes. That kinda makes me sad. But not sad enough to start watching them.
Here's a practical joke I want to do sometime. Come up with a huge elaborate costume that looks like an anime character, and then make up some plausible sounding name for a character and a show which doesn't really exist. So when people ask me what my costume is, I would tell them it's character X from show Y of course. What? You've never heard of it? It just started playing on japanese TV last week, you must be behind the times. Come up with a plot synopsis that makes it sound like the most incredibly awesome show ever. See if I can start an urban legend about this amazing show that nobody has seen.
Then there was our very own Cat as Maromi from Paranoia Agent which doesn't count for the above list because I helped to make it. Well, I made the infrastructure for the head, Cat did the sewing and everything else. Inside that huge scary pink head there is a bicycle helmet attatched to a latticework of aluminum tubing held together with zip ties and covered with insulation foam. We're all proud of how this came out. Here's some pictures of Maromi from the cartoon show along with a good review of Paranoia Agent (the best new anime I've seen in years).
There was also Guy with huge foldable gun, I think he's from Trigun or something. He had a great idea making his huge gun foldable. That way he avoids inconveniencing anybody when he's carrying it around but he can unfold it to pose for pictures. He's obeying the letter and the spirit of the "4-foot rule" while also remaining true to the character design. That's called being a good congoing citizen, folks.
Sushu made a lovely Kenshin costume over the course of like two days with her amazing speed-sewing skills. This was to be part of the Pretend Robot Pants skit. Aza wore it and got mobbed by fangirls. We were both surprised by this. We thought that Kenshin cosplay must be totally overdone and boring and played out by this point and people would be like "bah, another Kenshin, why don't you try being creative". Nope. MOBBED BY FANGIRLS. Had to pose for pictures every five minutes. He had all these 14-year-olds asking him for his phone number. It reminded me of teaching junior high in Japan. My favorite phrase for situations like that is "juunen hayai" which is a bit of samurai-movie stock dialogue meaning "[you are] ten years too early [to be able to defeat me]". I did not see a single other Kenshin cosplayer at the con. I guess Kenshin is so old and played out that he was ready for a comeback!
I tried to like the Rurouni Kenshin anime. I really tried. The Meiji restoration is such a cool time period, rife with possibilities for nifty historical drama. And it has a really strong central character. And it had good animation and a sense of style. I remember renting episodes of it from the Japanese video store and watching them with a translated script from the internet. I remember getting about five episodes in and then realizing that it had already turned into a boring fight-of-the-week-against-villian-with-stupid-gimmick show, and there were no signs of anything else happening, so I gave up watching it. Some fans told me that I need to watch the Kyoto arc, or the OAV series. Well, I saw the OAV series and here's my impression of it:
The moon is pretty! STAB KILL BLOOD SPLATTER
The freshly fallen snow is pretty! SLASH STAB BEHEADING MORE BLOOD
The falling maple leaves gracefully alight on the still pond and are pretty! BLOOD BLOOD DISEMBOWLING STAB CUT POKE SLASH BLOOD
repeat for four episodes with a brief interlude about shacking up in an abandoned farmhouse
OK, so it was all artistic and stuff, whatever. It was boring. OK, I get it, I get it, every single character
gets chopped up with swords, how much longer does this thing go on?
So, I failed to become a Kenshin fan. Aza suggested that you have to
encounter it at the right point in the course of your Anime Fandom
Arc, as he and Sushu did. I understand. When I was at the beginning
of my Anime Fandom Arc I would watch anything. I was an overzealous
Sailor Moon fan for crying out loud. But now I am at the end of my
Anime Fandom Arc and 99% of anime shows make no impression on me.
Something has to be really oustandingly original and good to catch my
interest these days.
Wanna Try Some Okonomiyaki?
So in previous years I made onigiri for my friends as a way to combat the Con Hunger caused by lack of access to sources of real, non-Pocky food during the convention. This year I decided to go one better and make my specialty, okonomiyaki. I stocked up on ingredients at Mitsuwa and brought an electric hot plate to the hotel room to cook.
Wait, it gets better: I cosplayed as Ukyo from Ranma 1/2, who is an okonomiyaki chef in the cartoon. I sewed a two-layer kimono and painted kanji all over it (Satomi helped with that!) and made a huge 4-foot spatula and a rambo-style bandolier for normal-sized spatulas. Turns out the costume is extremely comfortable and practical for cooking in. And when I was done I stuck the dirty spatulae back into the bandolier, and the fact that they were dirty was part of the costume. In-character cooking.
Cat Nagle brought another electric hot plate and made pancakes and bacon for everybody in the morning. Aza brought a rice cooker and made onigiri. There was also instant ramen and PBJs. So all things considered we had a ton of food. We're still eating leftovers. Next time you go to a con you should do this. Ask the hotel for a room with a minifridge. It improves the experience immensely when you don't have to leave the convention to get food.
We had so much leftover okonomiyaki after lunch on Saturday that I decided to give it away to random strangers. This is an idea I've been toying with for a couple of years, and I finally got to do it. Chopped the okonomiyaki into bite-sized pieces, stuck toothpicks in them, put them on a makeshift tray, and carried them around the con offering them to everybody. Good times! Reactions ranged from "What the heck is this are you trying to poison me?" to "Oh my god that's really good thank you so much!"
I went to Artist's Alley and gave okonomiyaki to the people there, like webcomic artist Dirk Tiede. I've met him before at Uchicon, he is cool. The artists in the alley were more appreciative than the general public, maybe because they are stuck in booths all day and can't go back to their hotel room for ramen and PBJs any time they want, so they think that people bringing them food is a great idea.
Almost nobody recognized Ukyo. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since she's a secondary character from an older show. And I'm the wrong gender. A few people knew me after I dropped the name.
One person asked me if I was trying to be John Belushi as the samurai delicatessen clerk from Saturday Night Live. What huh?
Oh man am I sick of explaining what okonomiyaki is, over and over. It's not a well-known thing like sushi or tempura, it has no Western equivalent for comparison, and I don't even know of a concise way to describe it. I wish okonomiyaki would catch on and become popular in America just so I wouldn't have to keep explaining it all the time!
One girl was so happy about the gift of free okonomiyaki that she glomped me. Normal social rules of behavior are suspended at anime conventions, apparently, because people think it's OK to just go up and hug random strangers.
"Glomping" is named for the sound effect "GLOMP" used in some translated manga to represent the action of hugging someone by surprise. It happens all the time at anime cons. Some people wear shirts that say "GLOMP ME" even. (One could probably write an essay connecting the glomping phenomenon to anime themes of gender confusion and sexual repression and the kind of romantically confused individuals that the fandom attracts.) Glomping is generally harmless (it is meant to be friendly, not sexual) but I would just like to remind congoers that not everybody is comfortable with having their personal space violated, especially as the fandom expands into the mainstream. I understand now how women feel when strange guys come up and start hitting on them.
It would probably behoove the fandom to create an "opt-out", some easily-recognized symbol that means "no glomping". Something like the handkerchief codes the gay community used to have. Let's implement this before somebody gets sued for sexual harrassment. That would make me a sad panda. Hey, has anybody done a sexual harrassment panda cosplay yet? Dress up as a panda and go around telling ppeople at the con why they shouldn't glomp people without permission?
Tsushimamire and Corny Music
Tsushimamire is an obscure Japanese indie punk-rock band, three women, who played
a concert at ACEN. I didn't get to go to it because I was being Ukyo and
distributing okonomiyaki at the time. But later I met them and got their CD
and they signed it and everything.
I'm listening to Tsushimamire now, and maaaaan, I wish I had gone to
that conert. They are kind of like Shonen Knife but with way more
musical skillz. They are on Benten records, a Japanese indie label
specializing in girlie punk rock and named after the goddess of music.
Come to think of it, I actually downloaded one of their MP3s a couple
years ago when I was browsing Benten's
website and I wanted to buy the album but back then they didn't
take paypal so you have to write them an international money order
which is all inconvenient and stuff. Uhh, that was kind of a tangent
but anyway Tsushimamire is good and you should listen to them.
Tsushimamire is not corny. But I realized, on the way to the con, when listening to Kyu Sakamoto, that there is a common thread uniting the majority of my eclectic musical preferences, and that thread is corniness. I like really corny music. ABBA, Rush, Kansas, Yes, Styx, Queen, Frank Sinatra, Genesis, Kyu Sakamoto, Renaissance, swanky old jazz crooner tunes, lounge-lizard singing, showtunes, japanese enka, prog-rock, psychedelic rock, jazz-rock fusion, '80s synth-pop, Motown, anime theme songs from the 70s, Bollywood scores, funk, disco, the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, Simon and Garfunkel, and so on and so forth. They are all corny and I love them and I'm not going to apologize for it.
I am not one of the cool kids, with their "cool" genres of music, like rap, punk, metal, grunge, alternative, emo, and goth. These are all the genres I don't like. The cool kids are probably cringing with horror after reading the list of corny music in the preceeding paragraph. That's, like, stuff that their parents used to listen to, ewww. It seems to me that the entire driving force behind certain musical genres is "don't sound like your parent's music". Driven by rebellion above all, the cool genres avoid corniness like it's anathema.
(Do you know where the word "anathema" comes from? It's originally greek meaning an offering to the gods; in Greek translations of the Old Testament it was used to translate the Hebrew word "haram" which means something sacrificed to god which is therefore off-limits to the community; "haram" was also used to mean the extermination of idolotrous nations, i.e. anybody the Hebrews didn't like, because they were making those nations a sacrifice to their god. By association with the Hebrew, "anathema" gradually took on this meaning of "off-limits" or "extermination", quite different from its original meaning. In the fourth and fifth centuries "anathema" became the name of a ceremony the Catholic Church used to do, even more severe than excommunication, to banish heretics from the church. There's your trivia fact for the day.)
So many people from anime club have dated other people from anime club that there is a running joke about "animecest" (by analogy with "house-cest", referring to people dating people from the same "house" in the U of C dormitory system). If you actually dug up everybody's personal histories and drew a chart, you might find that nearly everybody in anime club is connected to everybody else via a chain of prior relationships.
I am no exception. At one point, during the convention, I looked around and realized that every person I've ever kissed or snuggled with was all in the same room (except Isaac, he wasn't there, but he doesn't count because the snuggling wasn't exactly consensual on his part). I am happy to say that I am still good friends with all these people. The breakups were all amicable. It could be a lot worse.
This got me thinking. Over the past few months I have given this "relationship" thing a few tries and I have decided that it's not for me. I mean, I used to say that before, but I was speaking from ignorance then. Now I am speaking from experience when I say that I have no interest in dating, sex, romance, etc. I think I just don't relate to people that way. If I like somebody I'd rather just have a good platonic friendship. A relationship is a lot of work, and it's not clear to me what the goals or the benefits are supposed to be. (Yeah, pretty cold of me, I know.) I don't want marriage or kids, and as I have recently discovered after some experimentation, I don't enjoy sex much either. Like, not at all. Also I hate sharing a bed with somebody. I can never sleep like that. It's hot and cramped and sticky and my whole body basically goes WTF THERE IS SOMEBDODY IN MY BED YO and I can't relax.
I do enjoy snuggling. Snuggling is nice, and I will miss it, but snuggling alone is not worth the aggrivation of trying to maintain a relationship.
I'm not looking for sympathy or pity and I don't want to hear anybody telling me "don't worry you'll find the right girl for you someday". No, I really don't think I will. I think romance is just one of those things that I have little or no use for in my life -- like religion, team sports, movies, parties, and TV. (And, as I said above, I am at the point of adding anime and video games to this list.)
This may sound sad, but I feel it's a positive development. The things that I really want to do are too much to squeeze into one lifetime anyway, so if I can cross another major category off of the list, it gives more space for the things that are truly important to me: aikido and electronics and physics and programming and drawing comics and traveling the world and hanging out with friends and family. And RPGs. And making award-winning ACEN skits.
Sweeping the Masquerade
So, the UCJAS (University of Chicago Japanese Animation Society) skit tradition is in its sixth year now. There were three years before I started going to this school when their skits won some prizes. The first year I came here, 2004, UCJAS proper did the infamous Sailor Gendo skit, and because we had too many people to all fit in one skit, we created a spin-off group Pretend Robot Pants, containing me, which did the Pocky-boxes-dancing-Yatta skit (judge's choice award). 2005 UCJAS did Towel Duel for World Revolution and Pretend Robot Pants did Lupin III: the Katamari Caper (first place!). This year UCJAS did Mario and Luigi: What Is Love? Pretend Robot Pants did a skit which has come to be known as Kenshin Matrix.
Our idea, partly inspired by the Matrix Ping-Pong video, was to do a really cool skit, with no dialogue, on the basis of having an extremely well-executed fight scene and a few cool stunts rather than the outrageous humor or musical numbers that most skits tend to go for. We planned it as just a fight between two samurai, and it was only later on that we chose Kenshin ( from Rurouni Kenshin ) and Jin ( from Samurai Champloo, which I haven't seen... man, what kind of dumb made-up word is "Champloo" anyway? ). There are some ninja who lurk in the background and help the samurai to do cool stunts, kind of like in kabuki theater. I was originally going to be one of the samurai, but since I am 1. heavy and 2. decently strong I decided I should be one of the ninjas instead, and have Marcel who is very light be Jin, and have me pick him up.
Every skit has to be presented to the masquerade staff at a special meeting Saturday morning, so the MCs can make sure the skits are following the rules and nobody's going to get naked or get hurt.
I was very worried that the MCs would not approve our skit, because it seemd kind of dangerous what with all the
rapid swordplay and jumping and tumbling and stuff. But we are very professional because we practiced it like a hundred times! So even though we knocked one of the ceiling tiles out during our demonstration, we were still approved. Those MCs are so cool. One more reason I want to volunteer for the staff.
There are certain things that are becoming part of ACEN lore. Like the "Dance" chant, and Stripper Vash. And those guys who dress up as dead presidents with hubcaps around their necks. I don't know what the heck is up with those guys. And the skits put on by UCJAS are becoming part of the lore too. Other skits are actually starting to reference and take influences from us. And I hear tell that this year when the UCJAS skit presented their skit to the masquerade MCs for approval, the MCs were like "Oh my god it's YOU! Nobody else would do something this weird!"
Mwa ha ha ha ha.
While we were waiting for our turn, we watched the stage on the closed-circuit TV in the Green Room.
I forgot how it got started, but between the skits the two MCs started
teasing each other about liking yaoi and the crowd was just eating it
up. "Who wants to write the first slash fiction about these two?"
All sorts of hands shot up in front of the camera. The comedic timing
was perfect. There was also a running joke that we must be on the South
Side since every skit involved stabbing or carjacking or drive-by shooting.
My sister's friend Kristin Stromquist did a very good belly dance (she has been studying it all hard-core lately and developed mad skillz.)
And then there was the skit with the transforming transformer. Sadly, it wasn't very good. There were characters from Saiyuki doing a Backstreet Boys dance, and One-Pound Gospel rendered as a Queen musical, and the Legend of Zelda rendered as interpretive dance, and a really quite well choreographed fistfight between the bald Shinra guy from FF7 and some character I didn't recognize, who obviously had some martial arts training. And the guy who did "Stripper Vash" got together a group and did a very high-quality comedy sketch based on mutliple mistaken identity based on video game character lookalikes. Most attempts to do dialogue-based comedy for Acen skits just flop miserably on stage, but the audience loved these guys and it was all because they had good delivery. There have been so many skits with great ideas which failed because the delivery wasn't good. The Stripper Vash group is one to watch for.
It turns out the masquerade staff is even cooler than I thought. I found out after the fact that roller blades, as used by the UCJAS skit, are so totally against all the hotel rules for insurance reasons that in previous years, people who wanted to rollerskate in their skits had been forced to just glide their feet along and pretend like they were skating and it was totally lame. But this one staff guy, who I think is named Jazz, called all the way up to the guy who owns the CHAIN of Hyatt hotels in order to get special permission just for us to do the roller blades just this once! Because he wanted to see the UCJAS skit in its full roller-blading glory! Wow!
Here is the video of the Pretend Robot Pants skit. (Man, I'm looking at that now, and I totally forgot to put my ninja mask up! How embarrassing.) There are also still pictures starting here. The crowd went wild over this. I've never heard them scream so loud and so long. We got a standing ovation. I was afraid for a second that the stage was going to be attacked by crazed Kenshin fangirls because we dared to have Kenshin lose.
The UCJAS skit was right after us. The gist of it is that Mario and Luigi get dressed up snazzy and go to a bar to hit on chicks, but it turns out to be a lesbian bar. There's a lot more to it than that though. Here is the video of the UCJAS skit. The still pictures start here. They executed it perfectly! All the timing was exactly right, the sound effects happened on cue, the audience laughed in all the right places... it was great! What did I say about the importance of delivery? They got a standing ovation too!
And we both won! We didn't just win, we swept. Pretend Robot Pants got first place and UCJAS got second. U of C dominated ACEN! It will go down in anime club history. When we went out to accept our prizes, Kenshin and Jin did a stage kiss (i.e. no actual lip contact) for the yaoi fans, and we got yet another standing ovation.
Let me tell you about the bar. For the Mario/What is Love skit, we needed some kind of stage setting to indicate that Mario and Luigi were at a bar. Geoff, a first-year in the anime club and a consummate Boy Scout (like, I think he's an Eagle Scout, he's really into it hard-core) volunteered to make us a bar. The thing is he want way overboard and made us this massive, solid, life-sized bar out of wood. It wasn't a prop, it was a real bar that we could have installed in somebody's basement and used to serve drinks for real. He made it with hinges so it could fold up for transport but it was still huge. We had a horrible time getting it up and down between the first floor and the tenth floor where our hotel room was. We had to commandeer the service elevator a few times, something the hotel staffers were not very happy about. That's the main thing I worry about: when we have huge props like that, we're not only inconvenicencing ourselves, we're inconveniencing everybody around us.
The worst part was when we were trying to get The Bar back upstairs after the masquerade was over. This meant we were fighting the post-masquerade crowds to get an elevator. Finally an elevator with space opened up and we bar-carriers yelled out our claim to it. Near the elevator was a girl in a Chii costume, in a wheelchair. I (holding the back end of the bar) yelled out "Let Wheelchair Chii go first!" but Jeremy (holding the front end of the bar) yelled out "No, we have to go now! Move move move!". I should have stood my ground but I gave in to peer pressure and we brought the bar on board the escalator. There was still room for a wheelchair so we thought we could still let her on, but then the doors started closing and we couldn't get to the Door Open button in time and...
OH NO WE STOLE A HANDICAPPED GIRL'S ELEVATOR!
Oh man I feel so bad about this! If I believed in hell I would be worried about going there. They would probably have some suitably ironic punishment, Simpsons-hell-style, where I would be tormented with wheelchairs and elevators for all eternity.
Jeremy said "sometimes when there's extenuating circumstances, you have to be a jerk". OK, maybe, but I don't agree that there were extenuating circumstances. We could have waited another ten mintues for another elevator and nothing bad would have happened.
I wish I had met Wheelchair Chii again so I could have groveled and begged for forgiveness. Anyway, if you should happen to be out there on the internet somewhere reading this page, Wheelchair Chii, please accept my apologies.
Went to Mitsuwa for lunch on the way back on Sunday. Mitsuwa was, as I expected, swarmed with ACEN people who had the same idea as we did.
Aleksa's birthday party was the Sunday of ACEN. I talked Jeremy, Cat, and Sushu into stopping by my parents' house on the way back so we could all say hi -- and because I thought the kids would love seeing Cat in the Maromi costume. I got us a bit lost trying to find my parents' house because I was unaware that La Grange Road is not called La Grange Road north of Roosevelt -- it's called "Manheim Road", so if you're on the Eisenhower Expressway, Manheim is the exit to look for. How confusing. Gradually I am learning my way around Chicagoland, but I am much more familiar with the mass transit than with the highways, for obvious reasons.
Anyway, we got to my parents' house after the party ended, and there were only three kids left, but they did indeed love the Maromi. Cat was pretty tired by that point, so I'm sorry for putting her through the little-kid attack zone. I'm grateful she agreed to it, cuz that's something Aleksa and her friends are going to remember for a long time. I also gave Aleksa a Hamutaro DVD that I picked up at the con.
If you haven't read enough yet, here are links to my friends' LJs where they talk about their ACEN experiences.
In stark contrast to Honey and Clover, there is a horrible anime called Gunslinger Girl which we have also been watching. It's about pre-adolescent girls brainwashed by the Italian government into perfect emotionless little killing machines. They have big guns (rendered in loving realistic detail) and go on missions to, like assassinate Mafia dudes and stuff. Also there are bars on the top and bottom of the screen the whole time. They're not just black like letterboxing, they have frilly scrollwork in them for no reason. So let's see, we've got:
Anime cliches and more anime cliches
Blood, blood, and more blood!
Hey look how cool we are, all our characters are jaded and emotionless and care about nothing, and gun people down in cold blood with no facial expression, that makes our show cool right
Wow, Europe, an exotic Western land full of intrigue and deadly assassins and frilly scrollwork and beautiful white people and badly mispronounced Italian words turned into katakana! (Kind of like how western movies portray Japan)
Really boring scenes where some girl takes her gun apart and puts it back together repeatedly, or practices the violin, because boring scenes = character depth (right?)
Pointless artsy pretentiousness (WTF is with those frilly bars on the screen?)
Bad anime no cookie! Gunslinger Girl reminds me of Battle Royale, or maybe Fight Club -- all part of a trend of completely amoral and nihilistic films that revel in showing cruelty and violence for its own sake. Maybe there's some kind of artistic point or social commentary buried in there, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Stephen has a thread about the Best Five Albums of the 90s. This thread also has some good discussion. I have a lot of trouble thinking of any albums from the 90s. Except for Weird Al, They Might Be Giants, Bjork, and Ani DiFranco, my music collection basically has a gaping hole between 1989 and 2000. I never liked any of the genres that were popular then. I'm sure there was plenty of non-mainstream stuff that was good, I just don't know how to find it. Now, if the topic was best five or ten or twenty albums of the 80s or, praise be to the God of Rock the 70s, that I could talk about all day.
At anime club we just recently finsihed watching a show called "Honey and Clover" I didn't like it so much at first but it really grew on me, and by the end I was hooked. It's hard to describe why it's good, because any description I can give will make it sound really boring. It's about art students. It's about the everyday lives of five students in Japanese art school. There's a little bit of romance and a little bit of comedy but mostly it's about them trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Yeah. Sounds boring doesn't it? But it's interesting because it's real life. It feels very honest and uncontrived, almost autobiographical. Characters have problems and relationships that don't wrap up neatly, they just keep going up and down, cuz in real life nothing ever really resolves. And the comedic incidents stay away from the typical anime cliches and are more like the bizzare and random hilarious things that happen in real life. Man also the backgrounds are really pretty watercolors that make me nostalgic for Japan.
Sushu wrote a rave about why it's so good and she does a better job of explaining it than I could.
I'm almost over a really bad sickness. I missed two days of work with a horrid stomach flu. Felt like a monstrous larva was crawling around in my abdomen taking bites out of various organs. Threw up a whole bunch and couldn't eat anything. It was unpleasant. I'm feeling better now, but my neck is really sore. And I'm in a weird place mentally, so if the content of this post seems disjointed, blame the germs.
Most of my other friends either have already had it or they are just coming down with it. The onset of this epidemic coincided with Isaac's arrival from Portland for a week-long visit. He himself was perfectly healthy and unaffected, and therefore the theory has been proposed that he is a carrier, a "Typhoid Mary" if you will.
I have this electric heater which I use to keep warm in my poorly-insulated apartment in the bitter Chicago winter, because gas heat is too expensive. Man, I hate this apartment. My hatred begins with heat not being included. The electrical outlets are really sketchy. Every time you pull a plug out of one it feels like the whole box and faceplate assembly is going to pull right out of the wall. The sink is hard to turn on and off. The kitchen is too narrow. And I sleep on a sunporch which doesn't retain any heat. I've learned my lesson. Next time I pick an apartment I am going to put way more time into examining the details and not just take the first place that looks kinda good and is cheap.
So anyway I have this electric heater, next to the living room couch, where I have been sleeping because my sunporch room is too cold. And when Isaac was here he sometimes sat on top of the heater to warm his bottom. Usually nothing special happens. But last night he sat on it and huge sparks flew out and the living room circuit overloaded and the lights went out. Not so good. We flipped the circuit breaker and tried the heater again, but it immediately sparked so we turned it off and are leaving it off. This heater was kind of a sleazy number we found when we moved in, and it makes me dehydrated, so good riddance. I'm just going to turn the gas heat back up and suck up the cost. Spring can't be too far away at this point.
A few nights ago I had this great dream that I was doing some stuff, and I found a really cute sailor-fuku to wear. It was navy blue with red trim. I put it on and then I was pretty and that made me happy.
Another night, I had a dream that there was a such a thing as a sex act called an "L-job", but nobody would tell me what an L-job was. They wouldn't tell me, dammit. I was really curious.
Last weekend was that Uchi-con thing, and it was totally rad. You could feel the love. No drama, no crisis, just really laid back and lots of people having lots of fun. We did (or rather, my crazy undergrad friends with the Copious Spare Time did) a better job of advertising this year, so we got more people coming from other universities. And we made a good decision to condense more stuff into fewer rooms, so we didn't have sadly underpopulated rooms like last time.
This amatuer band called "The Spoony Bards" showed up uninvited and set up their guitar and keyboard in the hallway and started playing famous video game music and taking requests. They were pretty good. Definitely added to the atmosphere. Next year we will definitely invite them back.
I played a little bit of Taiko no Tatsujin and DDR, but I spent the entire con hanging out with the webcomics artists who I mentioned in my previous post. They are such totally cool people. The panel ran twice as long as it was scheduled for, since we were having such a good discussion and nobody really wanted to stop. Everybody was doodling charicatures of each other and talking about dramatic pacing and characterization and what influences their drawing style and how often one has to update to maintain an audience, stuff like that. Good times.
I got so inspired to draw that I got back to work on a certain mini-comic that I originally started doing as a present for Aleksa. I finally finished it over my two sick days. After I'm done with this post I'm gonna go scan it in and put it up.
Speaking of webcomics, enough people told me to read Achewood that I was finally pushed over my "people-telling-me-to-read-stuff" threshold and read it. I do not regret it, for Achewood is a very good comic strip. The characterization through dialogue is very well done. After I read a bunch of Achewood I find that its writing style starts to influence my speech patterns. The humor can be absolutely filthy at times, so don't read if you don't like that kind of stuff. You have to start at the beginning; the beginning is not very good, but without it nothing makes sense.
After Uchi-con I went up to my sister Kristin's place on the north side for a bit of an anime party. Her apartment is totally crazy, with big naked fairies painted all over the walls and stuff. I guess they let tenants paint on the walls there because it's all artist apartments. Basically it's like Kristin took her room from home and made it into a whole apartment. It's so Kristin, you know? Saw some Chobits (we hates it) and Naruto (we hates it) and the dialogue-free experimental animation Cat Soup (quite good). I fell asleep on her floor and then went straight from there to work the next day.
Then I realized I had left my keys on her floor, so we had to arrange a morning rendezvous at the Dunkin' Donuts downtown where she works so she could return them. It was a logistical operation worthy of some spy movie, especially because this Dunkin' Donuts is inside a federal government building protected by armed policemen and metal detectors.
Tomorrow is the big day, Uchicon, the University of Chicago anime club's third annual mini-convention. My undergrad friends who have free time to spend on this stuff have been putting huge amounts of work into making it happen. It's got a sort of academic focus (no! really!). We invite people from "Asian Studies" and "Film Studies" departments at other universities who have written papers about Japanese pop culture to come and give talks. Pretty nerdy, eh? This way we can get funding from the student government. It also gives us a unique identity, which is what you need when you're trying to get a new convention started.
Last year I ran the "Old School Room" where I showed only pre-1985 anime. It ruled. But I wished I had gotten to hang out more with the webcomics artists downstairs. So I'm happy that this year Sushu has given me the job of hosting the webcomics panel! Huzzah!
So yeah, I love webcomics. I mean, most of them are total crap, it's true. Even more so than most anime is total crap. But so what? The good ones can be very, very good, and even when they're not, there's a certain sense of limitless possibilities to the art form which I love. It's an extremely personal and democratic form of communication; anybody can draw one and stick one up on the web, and no editor can reject you or tell you to alter your work so it sells better. So it's like a window directly into somebody's imagination. What we learn is that most people's imaginations suck, but it's still fascinating.
Nevertheless, I have tremendous respect for anyone who sets an update schedule and actually sticks to it, despite (usually) the demands of having a real job on the side. I also have tremendous respect for anyone who draws real backgrounds in every panel, cuz man, that's a heck of a lot of work.
So, our guests include:
Dirk Tiede, who does Paradigm Shift at ModernTales. This is an amazingly well-drawn manga-style police story set in Chicago. I love things that are set in Chicago. And his backgrounds are so realistic that i often look at one and say: Yup, I know where that intersection is.
Spike, who does a whole bunch of stuff at GirlAMatic. Her newest one is called Templar, Arizona. Spike is just really groovy. I fell in love with her instantly last year. Her work is full of "fat sassy chicks", wiggly organic shapes, bold inkwork, and dialogue that sounds like the way people actually talk in real life. Ever notice how rare that is?
Two other guests, whose work I haven't read yet ( But I will read every single page before the con, so we can have an intelligent discussion! ) are Caroline Curtis, who does Ninth Elsewhere, and Gerry Swanson, who does Biozoic, a kind of "nature documentary on an alien planet".
AMV Hell 3. This is a compilation of the hilights from about 200 AMVs ("Anime Music Video"). AMVs are where fans with twoo much time on their hands cut and paste clips from anime and set them to music. There is a contest for AMVs every year at ACEN, but I don't go to it, because AMVs get old really fast. I mean, usually you laugh at a clever juxtaposition of image and song lyrics, but the joke gets old after about fifteen seconds. Which is why this compilation is great: it shows you just about fifteen seconds of each one. Somebody could write an academic paper about this thing -- it's the ultimate short-attention-span, free-association, postmodern cultural blender. And about half of the videos are from Azumanga Daioh for some reason.
An awesome speech that Al Gore gave on Martin Luther King day. Really, read this thing, it's good. Tell it like it is, dude. Where was this fire during his 2000 presidential campaign? (Well, acutally I didn't see this speech, I just read it, so for all I know he read the whole thing in a dull monotone. But it sounds firey.)
The Loli Avenger to the rescue! Scroll down past the part about dresses to read about how Japanese kids were rescued from domestic violence because of timely intervention by my old friend Helena.
When I first saw the trailer for Dragonball: Evolution, I thought it had to be a joke. Like, a spoof of all the horrible Hollywood adaptations of beloved cartoon shows. No way could it be real, right? No way is Goku a white preppie suburban teenager with no tail. I mean, that trailer offended me pretty bad and I don't even like Dragonball that much.
Unfortunately, it is real. Is nothing sacred?
Above: A poster spotted in the Tokyo subway system. Notice how they show "Goku" from behind? Because that's the only way he looks anything like Goku. (And he only wears the kame-sennin gi for like the last ten minutes of movie, by the way). The other thing to note is that the words across the top and down the sides of the poster are fire safety messages reminding us to change the batteries in our smoke detectors and make sure the stove is off when we leave the house. I guess somebody thought the space given to this poster shouldn't go totally to waste.
Anyway, the airplane ride was really really long, so I ended up watching Dragonball: Evolution right after Matrix Revolutions, just to see how bad it is. Pure masochism, I know.
So, it was terrible, of course, but at least it was the entertaining kind of terrible. Entertainingly weird, that is. It's so disorganized as a film, so loopy and random, that it's hard to hate entirely. You can tell the actors are embarrassed about the whole thing, especially when they have to say their character names out loud. "Hi, I'm [bareley suppressed cringe] Chichi.".
The setting was really, really weird. Some scenes looked like they were set in modern America (or Hollywood's version of it) — where "Goku" goes to high school. High school!. Other scenes had everyone speaking Japanese. Still other scenes seemed to be set in a low-fidelity alternate reality at least somewhat similar to the Dragonball comics. It just went back and forth between mutually contradictory settings with no explanation or transitions or continuity. I think They Just Didn't Care. Yamcha is a frat bro with a truck? That can fly when the plot requires it? Sure, why not. Chichi goes to Goku's high school, but lives in a castle and regularly commutes to a lost temple in the middle of the desert for martial arts practice? Whatever. Piccolo is described as having been sealed away 2,000 years ago but starts the movie out flying around in an airship shooting meteors at people anyway? Meh, who cares. It's like they were just making up random crap to fill time as they went along.
Oh, and the Kamehameha is described as "the highest level of airbending technique". Airbending? Really?
I know I'm reading way too much into what was basically a feature-length Power Rangers episode, but this movie was in a really weird place culturally. Gohan (Goku's grandpa) is supposed to be Chinese, I think (he cooks chicken feet), but Goku is a white kid... but then his teacher asks him "what would your ancestors say about this eclipse?" like he was a marked ethnicity... are Saiyins a recognized minority at this school? Is Goku a perfectly reasonable name? Who knows, who cares. Then there's all the gratuitious Japanese-speaking in the background; and then, at one point Master Roshi (played by Chow Yun Fat, who is way too good for this movie) goes to consult his master, who is a black guy, and they say "Namaste" to each other, at which point I just gave up even trying to guess.
One last thing, then I'm done ranting. You know how there's a Standard Adventure Movie Plot Structure? This movie follows it religiously, to the point where you can guess what scene is coming next based only on how many minutes into the movie you are. "I think it's about time for the scene where the baddies wreck Goku's house and kill his granpa in an attempt to steal the dragonball, which will lead to the Hero's Call To Adventure.", I found myself thinking, and then a minute later it happened. "I wonder why we haven't seen any random mook monsters yet", I think, and then they show up. "It should be about time for the Designated Love Interest to offer her body as an incentive for the hero to train harder" and then she does (ba-arf). So the form was utterly predictable, even as the content was a bunch of crazy random crap and non-sequiturs. If it weren't for ripping off much better movies, the plot of Dragonball: Evolution would be pretty much incomprehensible. It just doesn't make any sense on its own.
So, all in all it's interesting as a kind of perfect example of the many ways that a movie can fail miserably. All it needs is a little bit of MST3K lovin' and it could be a cult classic.
I just saw Ponyo with Sushu. It was good! It's very cute and sweet. It's obviously a lil' kid's movie, like Totoro, but that's quite alright with me.
The story is kind of like a much, much trippier retelling of The Little Mermaid, set in and around a rural Japanese seaport town. I was wigging out on the natsukashii factor, because the backgrounds looked sooo familiar. The crooked mountain roads, the tunnels, the fishing boats, the grungy seaport machinery... It was practically "Kamaishi: the Movie". But a Kamaishi where prehistoric fish from the Devonian period swim through the treetops and where a freaky wizard with too much eyeliner commands living waves like giant blue amoebas.
And the colors, oh man, the colors! They're gorgeous. The backgrounds are all soft, inviting colored-pencil drawings full of verdant green, shimmering aquamarine, deep indigo, shocking crimson, and radiant gold. The animators were having way too much fun. Watch the way they animate liquid surface tension: it's completely wrong, but it looks awesome.
This is my favorite kind of anime: the kind with bizzare and intensely dreamlike goings-on are anchored in reality by the mundane details of everyday life in small-town Japan. It's something Miyazaki does very, very well.
The inspiration for Ponyo? Perhaps an explanation for why all the humans in that movie were so damn nonchalant about seeing a frelling fish with a frelling human face, holy crap, why aren't you people freaking the hell out about this.
Since Hollywood isn't involved, it might actually stand a chance of being decent, unlike say the Speed Racer or Astroboy movies.
This trailer set off an interesting discussion about the apologia-for-Japanese-fascism which lurks barely concealed in many scenes of Space Battleship Yamato. I get the sense that Leiji Matsumoto was a man who never got over the fact that Japan lost WWII, and was forever torn between wanting world peace everlasting, and wanting to rewrite history so Japan could win. Maybe that's why the stuff he writes is all tragic and "War is Hell" and yet at the same time it glorifies obedience and self-sacrifice and people who are willing to die for their country planet. It's fascist and pacifist, or "Pascist" as Ben called it.
Like the race issues in Lord of the Rings (fair-skinned men = noble, swarthy men = invariably in league with Sauron)? or the implications in The Incredibles that if you're not born a superhero you shouldn't try to become one? I can recognize the messed up messages in a work of fiction but still enjoy it for other reasons, right? I hope so.
Oh ho ho ho, I have founds some right here. There's a lot! What do you guys think I should learn to play on the accordion first? Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis? Some Final Fantasy songs? Or maybe the "Get Along" song from Slayers, that looks pretty easy?
I've been going to Anime Central for years but I haven't been buying anything or watching any anime, what with trying to conserve my money and free time.
But this year I was like, what the heck, there's a whole dealer's room full of Japanese cartoon videos, I bet I can find something fun to watch. Oh hello sketchy Media Blasters vendor booth, what's this you have here on the corner of your table of wares?
OH HELL YEAH!!
You're probably saying "What the hell is 'King of Beasts Golion'". But if you grew up in America in the 80s, I guarantee you know this cartoon. In fact, either you had the totally awesome toy or you were jealous of kids who had the totally awesome toy. You just probably know it under a different name:
That's right, "百獣王ゴライオン", literally "King of the hundred beasts, Golion" (because five lions = Go Lion, get it?) is the Japanese cartoon that became "Voltron: Defender of the Universe".
Much like Robotech, Voltron was a show made by taking two unrelated Japanese cartoons, editing them to hell to take out all the crazy violence, mashing them together to reach the desired syndication length, and papering over the whole thing with a brand-new plot and dialogue.
(Besides Beast King Golion, the other show that became Voltron was the little-remembered "Armored Fleet Dairugger XV", which became the little-remembered and generally inferior "vehicle Voltron" arc, where Voltron was made out of fifteen stupid vehicles instead of five awesome lions.)
But anyway. Started watching it last night, expecting it to be, you know, some dumb nostalgic fun.
I was in no way prepared for how TOTALLY FUCKING METAL this show is. It is a hundred times more hardcore than Voltron. Check out the following badass plot points which you were totally missing out on in the watered-down, "appropriate for children" American version.
1. In the prologue, GoLion is going on a merry rampage through the universe chopping shit up. He wasn't built by anyone or piloted by anyone, he's just a primordial, self-aware giant robot. He gets cocky and decides to take up arms against The Goddess of Space (宇宙の女神), who smacks him down for his hubris, Greek-mythology style! To teach him a lesson, she separates him into five parts and dumps him on a nearby planet.
2. There's no "Earth federation" or "galaxy alliance" or whatever those peacenik hippies were called in Voltron. Earth is destroyed in World War 3, which happens in the distant year 1999. We get to see a lovely montage of screaming women and babies dying in nuclear fire.
The five main characters are possibly the only survivors of Earth, and only because they happened to be out in space at the time. (Too bad all five of them are men - they're not going to be able to rebuild the human race. Bummer.)
3. The five main characters (how convenient that there are five of them, and that they already happen to wear colors matching the uniforms they're eventually going to get) are picked up by a slave ship from the Galra Empire which has a totally bitchin' giant demon skull on the prow.
4. They're taken back to the Slave Castle on the Galra homeworld in the Great Dark Nebula, where slaves from hundreds of planets are whipped mercilessly and forced to fight in a colloseum against giant purple monsters called "Deathblack Beastmen".
(Dude. If I ever start a trashy metal band, I'm totally going to call it the Deathblack Beastmen.) The citizens of Galra put on their poshest Sunday clothes and frilly collars to go down and watch the slave fights.
The losers are killed, butchered, made into stew, and fed to the Beastmen and the other slaves. The winners? Emperor Daibazaal's advisor, an alien sorceress, uses black magic to transform the winners into Beastmen themselves. How's that for damned if you do, damned if you don't?
5. Our heroes manage to escape by combining their skills (of course) to get out of their cell in the castle tower, and when the waiting "space vultures" swoop down to eat them, they jump up and grab on to the space vultures' legs and ride them to freedom "like hang-gliders".
They land on a fucking mountain of skulls of dead slaves, then steal a slave ship (which they somehow know how to operate) and fly away.
6. They're shot down and crash land on the planet Altea, a once-peaceful planet which somehow managed to exactly replicate renaissance Europe in its architecture and clothing styles, which was ruined by the attacks of the Galra Empire, leaving its surviving people to hide out in caves as refugees on their own planet. While wandering the deserts of Altea, the main characters all agree that their will to survive is so strong that they will do whatever it takes to stay alive. Which gives us the following unforgettable line:
So yeah. Nuclear war, slavery, torture, cannibalism, dismemberment, black magic, dudes getting stabbed and blown up, a giant mountain of skulls, a robot getting smacked down for challenging the gods, and a promise to kill and eat the deveil. And that's just the first episode. It's like, did Hieronymus Bosch write this cartoon?
They don't actually form Voltron, sorry I mean form GoLion, until the end of the fourth episode, because they have to do all sorts of fetch quests first (like getting the missing lion key back from the space nezumi.)
Dude, the space mice! You remember the space mice, right? Somehow, being able to form Voltron always hinged on the space mice in some contrived way in every episode. That's one of the main things I remember from watching Voltron when I was like 6 years old. In the Japanese version the mommy and daddy space mouse are named Platto and Chuchule and only the princess can speak their language.
There's this incredibly trippy, WTF-worthy flashback scene where the mice all put on little dresses and dance the can-can for the princess.
And seductively show off their little mouse underpants.
Dude. WTF. I did not need to see that. (My favorite part of this "big lipped alligator moment", as TVTropes would call it, is how the princess looks like she's totally into it the whole time.)
Backtracking a little bit here, the five pilots -- who by the way, are named Kogane, Shirogane, Kurogane, Seido, and Suzuishi, which mean Gold, Silver, Iron, Copper, and Tin -- how's that for a naming scheme? They find a giant castle on planet Altea inhabited by rejects from Rose of Versailles:
Who tell them all about the legend of Golion (they're like "What? You haven't heard of Golion? Noobs!") and give them pilot uniforms. I love how they just happened to have pilot uniforms lying around that were not only the right sizes, but matched the colors of what each character was wearing already.
Tin (Suzuishi Hiroshi) is the Green Lion pilot, the annoying little kid with the oversized glasses. You remember him, right? In the Japanese version the other characters constantly call him "Chibi", he claims to be descended from ninjas(!) and he is constantly taking out mooks twice his size by jump-kicking them in the face. He's actually kind of a badass in this version.
There's an utterly ridiculous sequence every time they get into the lions. First they go to the high-tech control room hidden inside the ruined castle...
They get in elevator tubes, grab onto handles and slide down into waiting rocket cars, which zoom out in different directions on some kind of underground highways...
and then get ejected up another set of elevator shafts into the cockpits of the lions, which are chillin' out in their respective biomes (forest, lake, desert, open magma pool, and the black lion is inside the statue in front of the castle).
It's like, how does a basically medieval planet build this whole underground rocket car delivery system? Why wasn't it destroyed when Galra attacked? If everything was still working, why did they wait around for five earthling pilots to show up? Why didn't they round up five Altea refugees and train them to pilot the lions? Come to think of it, how come the pilots from earth can operate the lions no problem without any training?
Orange dude (Seido, = Copper) looks a little confused about the whole thing too.
Everybody just remembers the part where they combine; they forget that the lions can kick a lot of ass individually, too. They breath fire and shoot lasers and missiles and shit, plus they're ridiculously huge and they can charge through, pounce on, claw, and bite enemies to death.
But by the end of episode 4, even all five lions together are not a match for what Emperor Daibazaal sends at them: a skyscaper-sized Deathblack Beastman which has giant drills for nipples.
It is launched through space from the Galra homeworld to the planet Altea in a giant space coffin with more bitchin' demon skulls on it.
I am not making this up. Drill. Nipples. Space. Coffin.
And that's when it's time to form Voltron Golion. And you already know how that part goes. He forms the blazing sword between his hands and then it's all over except for the chopping, screaming, and exploding.
And there you have it. Golion is totally fucking boss. All that and we're only through 4 episodes. 48 more to go! What kind of mayhem awaits?
Yeah, ACen was like two months ago, so sue me. Like I said, I've got a lot of blomiting to catch up on.
Me and Sushu decided to go as characters from Giant Robo. I'm Taiso (the dude who swigs sake from a jug and spits fire) and she's Youshi (the barbarian woman with the magic extend-o-pole), who are husband and wife in the cartoon too, appropriately enough.
Both of our characters are originally bandits from the ancient Chinese story of the Water Margin, better known to anime fans by its Japanese title, Suikoden. Sushu's character is a man in the original story, so, um... they took a lot of license with the adaptation, I guess.
One more cosplay pic: this is our friend Rachel from the U of C anime club. She's a character from Zeta Gundam (don't know anything else about her, never having seen Zeta Gundam). And her costume was so cool I can't resist posting it:
In the background on the right you can see the sheet music to Yakusoku wa Iranai, which my accordion teacher Denis helped me figure out and write down. (Yes, I brought the accordion to ACen. I'm not real good yet, but my goal is to get good enough by next year that I can jam out with The Spoony Bards.)
Denis was really amazing at figuring out the song. I had found some sheet music for piano on the internet, but I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to rearrange it for accordion. I brought Denis a YouTube video link and said "I want to learn to play THIS." He watched it, got a real strange look on his face, then started feeling it out on the keyboard, rewinding, playing again, feeling out the notes some more... then he turned to me and said "You picked a really good song! This is a beautiful chord progression. It's going to be really hard to play, though. Hear that? That's an inverted ninth chord... you don't have a button for that but you can fake it by doing this..."
Yeah. Yoko Kanno doesn't fool around. It is a hard song, but it's so beautiful.
I'm gonna miss him, since he'll be up in San Francisco where I'll pretty much never see him. I already barely ever see him even though we ostensibly work together, just because he's usually traveling or working remotely.
Anyway, this is making me think back to how we first met. I was taking his dad's one-time-only special guest course in UI design for the CSPP at University of Chicago; Aza was the TA for it. But we didn't really meet outside of a classroom setting until the Evangelion marathon that UCJAS (the University of Chicago Japanese Animation Society) hosted at Aza's apartment for Suicide Prevention Weekend 2004. We watched every single episode plus the movies, and celebrated with orange jello shots (thanks Jim).
A couple times Aza's roommate Andrew came into the room looked at the screen, looked around at us, made a face, shook his head, and silently walked back out of the room.
In between two episodes Aza called an intermission and put on the Shingo Mama O-ha Rock video. So of course I got up and started singin' and doin' the dance moves along with the video. And Aza looked me up and down and raised his eyebrows and said "How do you know this dance?" And I told him it was the big craze during my first year in Japan, 2000-2001. I used to have a programmable CD player wake me up with that song to make me extra genki on cold winter mornings.
And that's how we became friends. And that led to Aza inviting me to join him when he started Humanized. And the work we did at Humanized got us Mozilla's attention, which led to us moving out to California to start working at Mozilla. And being in the Bay Area led to me meeting back up with Sushu again -- Sushu, who I also met because of UCJAS. Which led us to eventually try dating again and then get married!
So that Evangelion marathon was responsible for not only lifelong friendships but also for my career and marriage. Deciding to attend that party was far more important than any class that I ever took in grad school. If I hadn't gone, my life would have followed a completely different and unknown course. Funny how life works out!
Friday night after my rpg group finished up our short campaign of Don't Rest Your Head, we watched three episodes of an anime that Ewen had brought over called "A Certain Scientific Railgun". Well, it earns points for the coolest name anyway. Apparently it's a spin-off of a show called "A Certain Magical Index". I'd never heard of either but that's cuz I'm, like, way out of touch with anime fandom these days.
The premise is promising - a whole city which is basically nothing but schools for ESPers; they have very strict training reg; the title refers to a girl with very powerful electrokinesis; she and Magneto were separated at birth or something. Her favorite trick is accelerating a coin to like Mach 10 to cause massive destruction, thus the series title.
It was alright when they were solving mysteries or having fight scenes or whatever, but Dear. God. The Fanservice. I couldn't take it. All these, like, panty gags, and the one lesbian girl is a creepy stalker who is always trying to grope the other girl, and I'm like, is that supposed to be funny? because it's not, it's really creepy. And the Gainax bounce, and the shower scenes and the short skirts and aren't all these girls supposed to be like 13? Gross!
Seriously I can't stand watching a show that directs that much lechery at adolescents, no matter what else the plot has going for it. I don't think it's that anime has gotten worse so much as that my tolerance for this creepy shit has gone way, way down. I mean back in the day I used to enjoy stuff like Tenchi Muyo! which was probably just as bad honestly.
It's not like I've turned into some kind of prude either. I like sex (duh), I like sexy artwork, and I think sexual subject matter is an entirely appropriate topic for fiction being as it is an integral part of human experience as well as something that reveals all sorts of interesting things about human nature.
Portraying sexuality in a mature way that uses it to reveal something about characters, relationships, human nature, etc: Good. Using female body parts for immature titillation and cheap ratings: No thanks. If it's the second one and the girls are supposed to be under 18? Get me the fuck out of here. Unfortunately anime seems to have a really hard time getting away from that mindset.
After I came home I had this conversation with Sushu and we talked about whether there was any good anime any more. We decided to check out a show called "Xam'd" that our friend Chris had recommended.
The first episode is pretty promising: the backgrounds are detailed and demonstrate that a lot of thought has gone into world building and mechanical design. The people are drawn realistically and graced with lots of incidental animation that makes them seem lifelike. The main character has a family - gasp! they're not just magically absent from the picture in that anime orphan way. His mother and father are separated and living apart but not enemies and he has believable relationships with both of them. That type of family arrangement can't be that rare even in Japan, but I can't even think of a single other anime that portrays it. The schoolgirls have reasonable outfits, are not grossly sexualized, and are drawn to look like real people! Amazing!
There's also, like, some kind of war going on in the background, and there are like steampunk airships and some kind of parasites that make people transform into weird-looking biological mecha type creatures, and mysterious plots and whatever. But at the moment I'm enjoying all the little stuff that Xam'd gets right.
The only "anime" I watched at the con was a an internet parody Stephen showed me called Girl-Chan in Paradise. It's pretty spot-on. The bad-dub voice acting in it is hilarious. ("Why's that Kotobaru-san-sama?" "I used up all my strength using the shi... shinkenpatsu bakumatsu hatsudatsu technique") Worth watching if you like stupidity-based humor, and pretty impressive that it was animated and voiced by like 3 people.
As I've said before, I go to ACEN because it's a reunion for my college friends, which just happens to be at an anime con. Each year it makes me think about anime and how I used to love it so much but hardly watch it anymore.
There's the obvious reasons - the anime industry itself going downhill since the 90s, me not having the free time I had as a teenager -- but there's another factor too: I no longer feel that completionist urge like I used to. Used to be that if I got hooked on an anime I just HAD to see every episode. Now I'm kind of like, watch four episodes, get the gist of it, OK that wasn't bad.
So many anime series, even the ones I like, can pretty much be broken down into formula plot plus high-concept gimmick. You know what I mean? For example...
Formula plot: "Shounen tournament anime"
High-concept gimmick: "They bake bread! (and make lots of puns)"
And it's like, I've seen enough tournament anime to know exactly how this is gonna go down. I don't need to sit through it again. Once I've seen enough to get the main jokes ("the bread is so delicious that when someone bites into it they are transported to outer space in a trippy animated sequence") and understand the character interactions ("this guy's a sidekick who's only in the show to watch the tournament and explain to the audience how amazing the hero's moves are"), a show often doesn't have enough like the characters and the gimmicks.
Especially true since many series have disappointing, inconclusive, or nonsensical endings. The payoff at the end is so rarely worth the effort of watching all the way through, and that makes me wary of getting overly invested in a show.
Is there a decent anime review website out there? Cuz I was thinking, I might watch anime more than like once a year if I had a source of reviews I trusted to tell me what doesn't suck. There was a site I liked back in like 2001-2002 called Anime Jump, but it's long defunct. I've looked at the top Google hits for "anime reviews" and they're all much too fannish and not nearly critical enough. You would think this is an obvious niche; shouldn't there be all sorts of Web 2.0 anime review sites with user-generated content and crap? Where like you can rate a few shows to give it an idea of what you like and then some algorithm recommends stuff?
Well, if I'm going to ask for recommendations... you know what I miss? Science fiction anime. There used to be a whole sub-genre of gritty near-futures, with those lovingly detailed drawings of cityscapes and mecha, with mindfuck philosophizing grounded in at least semi-believable settings. Stuff like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, the movies got me into anime in the first place; Bubblegum Crisis, Macross, the Patlabor movies, the original Gundam, Gunbuster... it's not so much the giant robots as the futurism. Serial Experiments Lain counts, I think. More distant futures, too, like Nausicaa, Galaxy Express 999, They Were Eleven (my favorite anime film nobody's ever heard of). I should probably give Cowboy Bebop another chance. The most recent thing I saw to scratch that itch was... Paprika?
Do they even still make that stuff anymore? I know that ambitious OAV series were a bubble economy thing, but where are all the neon futures, post-apocalyptic deserts, cool motorcycles, and neo-Tokyos? Have they all been replaced forever by pedophilia, shinigami, and goth-friendly lacy frills? Did Japan completely lose interest in The Future sometime in the 90s?
That reminds me of something John Lung showed me at ACEN 2010: the opening animation for Daicon 4, a convention in Osaka in 1982. This was a fan animation done by amateurs who would later go on to become Gainax. (It gets really good around 3 minutes. Electric Light Orchestra for the win!) This video reminds me of a time when anime fandom was a piece of science fiction fandom and you could fit the Millenium Falcon and the Space Battleship Yamato into the same montage. Not really true today, is it? The anime fandom self-segregates and I doubt many of the teenagers at ACEN have ever read an Isaac Asimov novel.
Maybe some of you readers can recommend a review site and/or a decent SF anime?
Cat and Kent were only moonlighting as part of our troll horde. Their main cosplay was Gurren Lagann.
Cat attracted a lot of attention dressed as Anti-Spiral Nia. These two couldn't walk ten feet without someone stopping them for a picture. (Cat, you're one of the only people I know with both the figure and the self-confidence to rock the latex bodysuit look. My hat is off to you.)
Here are some pics from a Gurren Lagann group photo shoot, which while not nearly as big as the Homestuck photo shoot, was pretty cool.
Some Kaminae punching some Shimons
Lord Genome! There's a cosplay I've never seen before!
Yoko flying the flag of the Dai-Gurren-Dan!
The supposed end-of-the-world date of May 21 came and went during the convention, and the wold stubbornly continued existing. There were a lot of jokes about that; my favorite was:
...Rorschach here updating his sign.
Once in a while I still see some old-school Squaresoft cosplay, which always makes me really happy:
Rydia from FF 4!
And Frog from Chrono Trigger!
Here's Helena, who was UCJAS club president back when I joined in 2004.
She's not in cosplay, this is just how she always dresses these days: Her own custom hand-made dresses, and a mohawk. She's kind of badass.
And now for random pics...
These guys just need a Goemon and a Zenigata.
Not just a Creeper, a Dapper Creeper.
The best use for Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
Kame Sennin aka Master Roshi from Dragon Ball. There's a nostalgia trip. (Keep this guy away from the Yoko cosplayers.)
See, we're not the only people who come to the con as non-anime characters. BUZZ LIGHTYEAR TO THE RESCUE!
I hear that tickets for the Stuido Ghibli museum are really hard to get. But one of the guys from the Mozilla Japan office, who goes by his IRC name "Dynamis", pulled some strings or something and got two tickets for me and another visiting Mozillian named Chris Heilmann. Thanks, Dynamis!
The tickets were for 4pm the next day and were covered with very dire warnings that they could ONLY be used to enter the museum at the designated time and if we showed up late we would not be able to get in. Many Japanese institutions can be absurdly strict about seemingly pointless rules so I figured we'd better take the warning seriously.
The museum's in a neighborhood of western Tokyo called Mitaka, and it looked like about three train transfers to get there from the Mozilla office, so I figured we should leave by 3pm at the latest to get there. However, Chris was off having an adventure of his own looking for a place where he could get cash yen with a foreign ATM card (there aren't many) so it was like 3:20 by the time we left. I didn't think we'd be able to get there by train in time so I suggested taking a taxi.
Big mistake. The taxi drove into a tunnel and immediately got stuck in a traffic jam. The driver estimated it would be at least 4:30 by the time we got there. Ugh. The train would have been better after all. I felt terrible that we were going to miss the museum due to my incompetence at trip planning.
When we finally got out of the tunnel, we passed Shinjuku station so I asked the taxi driver to drop us off there and we got back on the train system. It was about 4:00 already but we decided to press on; if we couldn't get in, then oh well.
It was drizzling cold rain and the sun was setting as we hustled down the sidewalk from Mitaka station and it was 4:30 by the time we got there. I was expecting to be rejected and had already apologized to Chris several times about it.
Turns out it wasn't even a thing. They let us in no problem. Huh.
They strictly disallow photography in the museum, so I don't have any pictures to show you. Except one: Chris Heilmann snuck his phone out and took a picture of me sitting in the life-sized Catbus. A uniformed attendent immediately ran up and started telling him he couldn't do that; I told him to put the phone away before it got confiscated. Later he put the one picture up on Flicker labeled "Illegal photo".
Anyway, the place is really cool. There are about seven short films by Studio Ghibli which have apparently never been released and can only be watched in the tiny theater at the musuem. The one we saw was called "Chuuzuumo" and was about mice doing sumo. A frog is the referee and the audience sits on shiitake mushrooms. An old man and woman stumble upon the ring and are upset that the mice from their house are losing to the visiting mice, so they prepare a feast for their own mice to bulk them up for a re-match. It was intensely cute and funny and well-animated.
The museum is clearly designed with kids in mind; most things are touchable and there are lots of tiny tunnels and walkways and staircases and child-sized secret pathways to explore. There are life-size reconstructions of not only the Catbus but the robot from Laputa, the cursed restaurant from Sen-to-Chihiro, etc.
There are plenty of interactive exhibits of old-timey animation technologies in action - zoetropes and illusions with strobe lights and hand-cranked film projectors and all that kind of stuff. Gorgeous watercolor background paintings and storyboards hanging up everywhere. Animator's desks on display with cells and light tables and stacks of tracing paper and racks and racks of different colors of paint, etc. Their deep respect for the craft of traditional hand animation really comes through strongly.
The other thing that was really interesting was all the inspirations they have on exhibit. I expected to see lots of old-fashioned flying machines, zepplins and biplanes etc. because it's obvious how much Miyazaki loves all that stuff. But there were also shelves and shelves of European children's picture books - Pipi Longstocking and Tintin and stuff like that. I hadn't ever thought about it before but the Ghibli aesthetic owes a lot more to that oevure than to anything from the Japanese comics industry. Finally there were tons of pictures of nature everywhere: books full of reference photos of deep woods, craggy beaches, moss-covered stones, insects, decaying old wooden temples, etc. Theirs is a culture that loves nature, and demands deep study of the reality of whatever it is they're animating.
Good animation is inspired by life and nature; mediocre animation is inspired by other animation.
Going to the Ghibli Museum made me want to catch up on the more recent Ghibli movies I never saw, so after I got back from Japan I watched Howl's Moving Castle and A Wizard of Earthsea.
Ugh. They were not good.
Howl's Moving Castle had a lot of interesting elements in it, but they didn't seem to add up to much. A lot of time was spent setting up the war and setting up The Witch of the Wastes and then neither of them did anything in the resolution. It felt like one of those roleplaying sessions where the players all lost interest in the original plot hook and focused on a side plot until it became the main plot. I haven't read the original book so I can't compare, but from Sushu's descriptions it sounds like they took a unique story and crammed it into the "generic Ghibli movie" mold.
I can compare the Wizard of Earthsea movie, though, and wow. As a huge fan of Studio Ghibli and an equally huge fan of Ursula le Guin's Earthsea trilogy, I was originally pretty excited to hear that the former was animating the latter. Then I heard it sucked. But dayum I was not prepared for this level of suckage. It was way beyond "disappointing". It wasn't just that it completely missed the point of the books (thought it did): it completely failed to work on the most basic level as a piece of narrative fiction. There are whole scenes where nothing remotely relevant to the story happens at all. Just beautifully animated scenes of dudes plowing farmland and eating stew, and plowing more farmland and eating more stew, for what feels like forever. I got so bored I started yelling at the screen, "Plot! Plot! Where did you go, plot? Are you ever coming back?"
The story, such as it was, is a fanfictiony mash-up that pastes elements of the first and fourth books onto the basic idea of the third (The Farthest Shore). This is an odd choice since it means Ged isn't the main character; he's the Wise Mentor Guy who leads Prince Arren around offering spiritual-sounding but extremely vague advice.
There's an intro scene where a king and some wizards fret about the magic seeping out of the world and the balance of nature and stuff, then we never see any of those guys again. Almost all of the movie takes place on land, which is a damn shame. Ged drags Arren to live in a farmhouse with a woman he knows from Book Two. They eat stew and plow fields for so long that this movie should have been called "Farmhand II: The Plowening". Ged goes off to do Wizard Stuff we never get to see. The standard Miyazaki tropes show up: Generic-faced destiny girl? Check! Viscous black goop representing black magic or industrial pollution? Check!
Finally about half an hour before the end the movie shifts gears and starts rushing towards what feels like the climax of an unrelated story. There's some fights and about three speeches in a row about how Death Is An Important Part Of Life And The Cycle Of Nature So Trying To Be Immortal Is Really Bad. This was a big theme in the book, but the difference is that good writers like Ursula le Guin express themes by having characters live them. The characters in this crappy movie just randomly decide to make heavy-handed philosophy speeches that come out of nowhere and have nothing to do with the story.
The only decent things about this movie are a well-animated midair fight between two dragons (which has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie) and a nice drum-and-flute song called Kachoufuugetsu -- which we're now learning to play in our taiko class.
My friend Ewen invented a card game called Channel A where you make up pitches for anime series. We played the new high-quality-printed prototype on Sunday. It is a ton of fun!
Each round, one player takes the role of a producer of a TV station. They choose two premise cards to make a bizzare genre/setting combination. Like "Cyberpunk dystopia + Time travel" or "Space Opera + French Revolution"; this is they type of cartoon that the TV station wants to add to their lineup. Everybody else is making up a show to pitch to the producer. They have a hand of word cards that they can choose from to create a title for the show, and then they explain to everyone what their show is about and how it fits the desired genre.
Of course your hand is full of crazy words that don't go together, so inevitably all the titles imitate the over-the-top word-salad style that anime fans know all too well. Your show is probably called something like "Keichi 120% Lucky Lingerie" or "Super Fighting Fight Fighters EX"; how are you going to convince the table that "Future Vampire Ultra Peach" is not only a show about "high school romance" and "race car drivers", it's the best freakin' high school race car driver romance they'll ever see? An ability to think on your feet and spout ridiculous bullshit with a straight face is essential.
I was surprised that I like this game so much, since I generally hate "LOLrandom!" party games. Channel A is almost identical in form to the game "Apples to Apples". But Channel A is lots of fun for me, and Apples is painfully boring. What makes the difference?
Here's my theory: the reason "zany" party games make me bored is that it doesn't matter what I do. In Apples to Apples I don't do any better if I carefully choose cards than I do if I choose cards at random. (Same goes for Fluxx and Munchkin.) I find that boring because it feels like there's no reward for effort or for paying attention to the game. I'm not hyper-competitive; to enjoy a game, I don't have to win, but I do have to try my best to win; that's where the fun comes from, for me. Games where trying harder makes no difference don't keep my interest long.
But Channel A works for me because it rewards effort - creative effort. The cards are just a prompt; over and over I saw the player with a more genre-appropriate title lose to the player who improvised a better pitch.
Channel A reminds me of Baron Munchausen, in that neither are role-playing games but they exercise a very similar part of your brain to role-playing. There's a similar performance anxiety when your turn comes around. Improv is a demanding activity!
I was amazed at some of the pitches people came up with during this game. With only seconds to think about it, they pulled the most fascinating stuff out of nowhere. Sushu joined our game halfway through and after about ten seconds of explanation she was winning hands with her pitches for "Little Monkey Bride" (Chinese mythology + catgirls) and "Ninja Hearts Z" (tournament fighting + shonen ai), either of which I would totally watch if it was a real show. I was also hella impressed by Ewen's ability to make up appropriate anime names for every character in his pitch without skipping a beat.
I like to think that I have especially creative friends, but I think the structure of the game and the words on the cards did a lot to pull our creativity to the surface. I felt like we could take any of the winning pitches from a Channel A game and turn them into role-playing campaigns or webcomics.
Anyway I highly recommend this game. Whenever the final version comes out I'm going to buy a couple sets to bring to anime conventions with me.
Last night was the final session of our Prime Time Adventures game in which we were playing a 1980s combining-robot anime series called Crystal Armor Resonator. Since it's an 80s anime, the cold war is still going on in the future. I was running. Sushu played Ken, the red pilot (half-American half-Japanese) and Chris played Dmitri, the blue pilot (Russian). This game started early this year, with a three-month hiatus while we were in China. I've almost never had a campaign survive a hiatus like that, but miraculously we managed to reconstruct what was happening from our notes and memories and finish up the series.
In last night's session, Sushu and I had a miscommunication which almost derailed the game. We managed to get it back on track and finish it, but we spent the whole car ride home talking about what had gone wrong and why that one miscommunication had been so awkward and frustrating. We worked through some issues in how we role-play together in general as well as in how we play this particular game that were quite illuminating.
It was Sushu's turn to start a scene. She had just resolved a fairly major subplot in her previous scene (taking down the evil alien clone that had replaced Commander McAllister) and she was at something of a loss about what her character should do next. So she asked me, "Where's Indigo/Zero right now?" (Indigo/Zero = the main villain at this point, a human terrorist leader who hooked himself into some psionic technology to try to gain control of the aliens' bioship larva and became a hideous fusion of human, alien, and machine.)
I thought for a second and said "After he fled the battle in the previous episode, he took off with the splinter fleet of aliens under his control and hid somewhere in the system. Nobody knows where he is right now."
(If you've never played PTA, you should understand this is not a game where the GM prepares the plot. There was no "real answer" to the question of where Indigo/Zero was; it's not like his location was marked on a dungeon map behind a screen, or even decided in my head. He could be anywhere. That's a baseline assumption of this kind of play.)
So, since I didn't know myself and I figured it was something none of the characters would know, I said his whereabouts were unknown.
I wanted that to be a prompt, not a roadblock. It's the last episode of the series, obviously there's got to be a final confrontation with the villain. I want the protagonists to find and defeat him! I don't even want finding him to be a challenge, particularly. This wasn't like a Star Trek type of game where we would focus on the use of science skills to track down the bad guy.
So by "nobody knows where Indigo/Zero is right now" I meant "He could show up at any time to attack you, or you could go look for him and fight him." If Sushu had said Ken wanted to go hunt him down, we would have done that, and we would have made up handwavy explanation for how the pilots find him. I would have accepted pretty much any plan either player offered, or I would have had an NPC scientist suggest one, or I would have had Indigo/Zero conveniently choose this time to come out of hiding and attack. Because the important thing is getting to the next cool fight scene, not the exact in-universe mechanics of how we track somebody through space.
But I communicated poorly, and Sushu heard "nobody knows where he is" as a roadblock: "Nobody knows where he is, therefore you can't go attack him" and she got frustrated. She felt like I was trying to force the game in another direction and steering her away from the plot she was interested in following. She got stuck trying to think of how to get Ken involved in the new plot direction she thought I was trying to push.
In a way this was a version of one of the oldest types of RPG "stalemate" situations - the one I first experienced playing RIFTS with Googleshng back in the 90s, where the GM is expecting the player to offer a direction ("What do you do next?") and the player is expecting the GM to offer a direction ("What's going on right now?"). Each person wants the other one to give them something to respond to, so play is deadlocked until somebody steps up.
PTA actually has a really good system for resolving this stalemate. It tells you exactly what each player is responsible for. In our case it was Sushu's turn to request a scene, so by the rules she was supposed to say 1. whether she wanted a plot-focused or character-focused scene, 2. where she wanted that scene to be set, and 3. what's the general sort of activity going on in that scene. Given those three things, the Producer (me) is then supposed to set the scene, narrating what the audience would see on screen, who's there, what's going on, etc. Then we start role-playing from there.
So by the rules I was expecting Sushu to say something like "I want a plot scene in outer space where we fight Indigo/Zero and his minions." Or, alternatively, "I want a character scene where Ken and Dmitri talk about how to unite the human nations against the common foe" (which happened later). Under the rules, she's got full authority to request that, regardless of where Ken is or what Ken does or doesn't know. It's then my responsibility to make it happen.
But there's a pitfall here. The scene-request system only works when everybody approaches it from the right stance, namely "What would be a cool scene to happen next in this show". It falls apart if you try to think too logistically, or try to think too much in-character. Trying to request a PTA scene from a "What SHOULD I DO next?" stance instead of "What do I want to SEE next?" leads to analysis paralysis.
Last night I think Sushu was constraining herself a little too much to Ken's point of view. She played Ken as a hotheaded, rush-into-things character (He's the Red Pilot, of course!) in contrast to our Star Wars game where Sushu's character was a tactical genius fleet admiral. She pointed out that since Ken wants to rush into things, it's harder to step back and think about the situation on a meta-level than it was when playing the Star Wars fleet admiral. It was easier for her to do top-down scene requests in the Star Wars game because it's closer to that character's head-space. But role-playing Ken, she really just wanted to be pointed at an enemy so she could go rock out.
Technically, in PTA it shouldn't matter if you're playing a genius or an idiot, because it's the player who requests the scene, not the character, and the rules grant all players exactly equal authority for scene requests. If your PC is a tactical genius then I'll narrate the scene you requested as happening exactly according to your plan, whereas if you're playing The Tick I'll narrate the scene as something you bumbled into at just the right time thanks to dumb luck.
But it's really interesting to hear about how the character's personality and your state of immersion can make it easier or harder to make use of certain rules.
Anyway, as producer I should have done more to recognize the in-character/out-of-character dilemma she was stuck in and help coax her out of it. I should have offered some more suggestions and tried to see what kind of scene she really wanted, then reminded her that we can always come up with a way to make it happen.
I know what this feels like; I've been on the player side of this in previous PTA games. E.g. that time playing Gruchakla the Wookie Jedi in our Clone Wars game two years ago. I was in that "I am Gruchakla, what should I do next in this situation?" kind of mindset, so I started thinking all strategically and logistically about what my next move should be to have the best chance of completing my misison. Which is the bread and butter of some role-playing styles, but PTA doesn't support it at all. Everything's way too hand-wavy; all the spaceships travel at the speed of plot. A strategic decision would depend on having solid answers for sorts of stuff that is just not defined solidy in a PTA game.
At the same time, you don't want to completely throw out the coherency of the fiction. You've got the freedom to request any scene, but you want to constrain that to respect what's already been established, otherwise your show becomes an incoherent series of vignettes. So the scene requester has to consider plausibility to some degree. And if you think that some scene clashes against a solid part of the fiction (like, if you think that "the fleet whereabouts are unknown" is a solid thing that you can't push back on) then you tend to self-censor about requesting scenes that would contradict it.
What's solid and what's flexible is highly genre-dependent. In an 80s combining-robot show, who forms the head might be an inviolable plot point, but alien fleet locations are highly negotiable. (Aliens can and should show up any time you need one for a fight scene!)
I think it's the Producer's job to clearly communicate what's to be treated as solid and what's hand-wavy, and I wasn't doing a good enough job of that last night. There was another example: A scene where an emissary from the aliens wanted to negotiate with Dmitri. I was playing this NPC as a someone who didn't understand humans too well, having only recently come to acknowledge them as sentient beings at all. He offered to not conquer earth in exchange for help killing Indigo/Zero (which the heroes wanted to do anyway) ... "Oh, and also we want your warp gate technology."
I didn't really have an agenda for how this should go; I was just playing an NPC. I was thinking of "this is his starting offer, he's asking too much, but maybe make a counteroffer?". Both Chris and Sushu seemed to interpret it as "the aliens will never offer you a fair deal, negotiating is a dead end."
And if that's their decision that's fine, but I think I need to do more to signal "This is a starting point for negotiating, not an end point." I'm the Producer so I have authority over lots of things. But "Authority" doesn't mean "my word is law", it means "the buck stops with me". Just because I say something doesn't mean it's carved in stone! This is an improv game; we're all making stuff up as we go along.
So, takeaways for improving my skills at running PTA:
1. Recognize if somebody is thinking too tactically and remind them it's a TV show. (Sometimes I need to be reminded of that myself -- like when I start trying to bring too much realistic physics into a giant robot space battle.)
2. If somebody's having trouble thinking what scene to request, offer some suggestions, and try to see if maybe they're stuck on something that they assume they can't do for some reason.
3. More clearly express when I'm stating something that's a solid fact in the fiction vs. when I'm offering something as a hand-wave or a starting point for negotiation.
MLK weekend I'm going to Chicago for Uchi-con, the anime/gaming mini-convention that I helped start back in 2004-2005. I'm quite pleased that the subsequent generations of anime club members have kept it going.
I plan to spend most of the time rocking out on the accordion, so I'm practicing the following anime/game themed setlist:
Legend of Zelda (overworld)
Super Mario Bros (1-1)
Yakusoku wa Iranai (from Escaflowne)
Zankoku na Tenshi no Thesis (from Evangelion)
Katamari on the Rocks (from Katamari Damacy)
Harlequin (from Homestuck)
Always (by Erasure - the song from Robot Unicorn Attack)
I could mayyyyybe learn one more in the next week, if it's not a real complicated one. What I know so far is mostly pretty old-school so maybe I should learn something from the last 10 years that college students of today would recognize. Any suggestions?
When learning this song, I watched the intro video on youtube a bunch. It sure brought back memories. Remember halfway through watching Evangelion, when it was still possible to believe that the story was heading towards some kind of resolution, perhaps including a climax and denouement? Ahh, those were the days.