Monday, March 6, 2017

Snark is not an umbrella

I am taking a belated day off. Most years, I take off a week in late February to kick back and start my household's taxes. However, household matters kept me from doing so this year. I worked until felt mentally beat up enough to say "no mas".

Nothing horrible had happened at work, it was the culmination of many little aggravations from a customer at work. But it was nothing worse than what I had faced before; in fact, it has been fairly smooth sailing as compared to some of the ugliness we've dealt with in the past.

So what changed? I did. At the advent of the Year of the Fire Rooster (AKA the flaming cock), I resolved not to be sarcastic all of the time. After a week or two of not snarking about my co-workers' work that I had to review, I had less to say and that it was easier to listen to others. I found that I had less patience for reading non-fiction and wanted to read more fiction. I found that not being negative by default made it easier to write, which is why I'm back here.

The author of "Writing Down the Bones" wrote about the stifling inner editor. The acerbic attitude that I had adopted naturally fed the sarcasm and the inner editor. I think that attitude became a shield, but I didn't realize that the barrier went both ways. I will try to explain what I mean.

There is the cliche about the optimist believing that this is the best of all worlds, and the pessimist fears that the optimist is right. When I was sarcastic by default about work and everything in general, I was able to focus on the task at hand and plow forward. At times that focus came at the price of being to see the other possibilities from side to side.

One of my professors, a true sensei, taught me that effective problem solving had an exploratory/broadening phase and a focus/narrowing phase. For larger scale and longer term problems, there was also an iterative loop to put new feedback to improve on the solution.

I had emphasized the focusing/narrowing phase until it became a reflex. When the challenging situations piled up, my exploratory/broadening phase focused on the steps that I could not control, because that was where the problems came from, so I was skipping that phase to go directly to the "embrace the suck" or "git 'er dun" phase, until it became a reflex.

Putting on the blinders let me push forward, but having them on too long stopped me from seeing the side paths & possibilities. The snarky mindset says to the rain "Of course, why wouldn't it rain?" It worked for a while, I did not loose to the metaphorical rain though there were many cloudbursts, but after an extended march there were times when I wasn't sure why I was trudging forward. Instead of trudging forward, sometimes I just have to get out of the rain.

Snark is not a shield, it is not really an umbrella. It is an anesthetic.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

FB: Your profile is the product

When Facebook's (FB) stock was publicly offered, I thought that the $104B valuation was insane. The profiles were free, so the the people who made the profiles did not pay. Where could the revenue possibly come from? If FB charged, then the number of active profiles would drop. FB advertised, but there was only so much advertising revenue that it could suck out of newspapers, radio, and TV. There were other advertising platforms, such as the behemoth Google that was competition. Only so much money could be made off of Zynga, since portable apps were exploding with their own micro-transaction models.

So, I thought that FB investors were delusional, until I read an article about bankruptcy trustees using trawling through FB for bankruptcy cheats. The trustees used FB to find out about assets that bankruptees hid from courts that could be repossessed. That was when the light came on. According to the revenue line, the trustee & anyone else looking, sifting, and analyzing the profile data is the user. More importantly to FB, Inc., they are the PAYING users.

The person who makes the profiles is providing free raw data for research. This is the data that companies pay pollsters and researchers to gather. While the data is disorganized, there is a lot of it & a significant portion of the available data is the sort that market, behavioral, and other researchers would never think to ask for, much less get. Right now, they are not exactly sure what to make of it. However, with powerful AIs like Watson, FB was not seen as a gold mine, but a virtual undiscovered country to be explored, cataloged, and developed like the Americas to the Europeans. Better than a terrestrial country, the virtual borders of FB's keep on expanding as social media-makers worked like busy little bees to share details of their lives in exchange for server space and connectivity.

You, the average Joe and Jane, create content for FB, Inc. The data miners and research marketers are the true users of FB, Inc.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Shakugan no Shana III

Warning: Spoilers

I thought that season 2 was uneven. The number of episodes they spent with Shana & Yoshida both loosing out to Hecate. Then in a moment, season 3 had the main character Sakai Yuji disappear and become the ultimate villain. Huh?

Part of the reason why I liked Shana was Yuji's transformation from helpless bystander and man-damsel in distress to a participant in the war between Flame Hazes & Denizens. Hopefully, the original light novels don't try to jump that massive gap.

Despite the jump that annihilated the cohesion of the anime's storyline, the third season is character driven. Instead of the usual planet destroying or conquering cliches, the story is driven by creation. Between the scope of the ending and the notes that they hit right, Shakugan no Shana Final is probably the worst series that I will like for a long time.

I won't be able to recommend it to other anime fans, but I have a feeling that I'm going to get Season 2 and watch it again soon.

= = =

I tried to listen to the Funimation dub. I think that it's good and manages to hit the right notes to convey the seriousness of the character's emotions, which is tough during a finale that had so many facets. However, the Geneon English version was nearly perfect and rivaled the original in quality.

This may be heresy, I couldn't tell you which I liked better between the Geneon US and the original Japanese.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chica x Ikkoku-kan Redux

{Spoilers warning}

In a previous post, I pointed out the influences of Rumiko Takahashi's classic Maison Ikkoku that showed up in Umino Chica's "Honey & Clover". The direct influences fade in her later work "March comes Like a Lion", but are still present.

The biggest similarity is the tragedy that pervades the main characters' pasts. While tragic pasts are a common theme in fictions of many types, it is a common thread that links Takahashi with her mentor Mitsuru Adachi. In Maison Ikkoku, Kyoko and Godai are continuously haunted by Soichirou's spectre. The main characters of Adachi's "Touch"are similarly influenced by the death on of the two twin brothers.

In "March comes like a Lion", the shogi [1] pro and protagonist, Rei was an orphaned at an early age by an auto accident. None of relatives are willing or able to take him in. A friend of his father asked Rei if he liked shogi. Rei lied 'yes' in hopes of being adopted by the shogi pro. After being adopted, Rei became stronger than his foster father's natural born son and daughter and became the apple of the man's eye.

The guilt of stealing their father drives Rei to live on his own while still in high school and reinforces his natural shyness toward and distance from his classmates. In Maison Ikkoku, Kyoko resists love in the present to preserve her love for Soichiro in the past. Both authors skillfully work the tragedies into their character's relationships and behaviors, showing the influence of the influences as opposed to merely telling. Successfully using tragedy marks Takahashi's positive influence on Chica's work.

The less subtle similarities lies with the characters' names. Rei's rival, intruder, and friend is named Nikaido, which is also the name of a resident of Ikkoku. Rei's own name connotes zero; Otonashi Kyoko's family name translates to "No Noise".

Umino Chica also gives the golden hearted hostess the name Akari, which has some passing resemblance to the ruckus raising hostess Roppongi Akemi in room 6 of Maison Ikkoku. Ironically, Rei's villainous is named Kyoko and is nearly the diametric opposite of the sweet Otonashi Kyoko.

[1] shogi is basically Japanese chess.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gosick - winded down

{spoilers warning}

Gosick started out with great atmosphere, lively character dynamics, and promising scenarios. However, it devolved into a cliched romance.

Gosick is set in the fictive country of Sauville, which emerged victorious with the Allied nations after WWI. The anime designers put a great deal of effort into bringing the Alpine beauty and charming capitol of Saubreme to life.

The series starts strong when Kujo and the mysterious genius Victorique get themselves tangled up into mini-Battle Royale aboard the ghost ship. From there, the pair grow closer as they explore Victorique's past and take on other mysteries.

Kujo is the earnest Watson to Victorique's Holmes. Unlike Holmes, Victorique's eccentricity is not entirely by choice, but enforced by the forced isolation by her father's orders. She is also part Rapunzel, living in her high library tower, far from other people. While she is mentally capable, she lacks Holme's physical power and accuracy. Early on, Kujo helps to compensate for this weakness.

This dynamic erodes as Kujo and Victorique becomes closer, and the the next world war looms on the horizon. As an alternate history, the Second World War is spurred sooner. The original story ties in Victorique's past and her father's obsession with Sauville nationalism, but washes the characters away with under the tide of history.

Perhaps that was his intent, but it reduces Kujo to clinging to Victorique, and Victorique trying to cling to Kujo. This is the helplessness of children in the world of adults. Again, perhaps this was the author's intent. However, I enjoyed the series, because the characters were engaged and were intimately tied to the outcome of the early story arcs. There were other ways for Kujo & Victorique to stay relevant. Several times, characters would mention Cordelia Gallo's (Victorique's mother) involvement during WWI. I think that Kujo & Victorique could have played a larger role in a smaller part of the drama, if they had been able to flee underground or gone to a neutral neighboring country and taken part in the Sauville resistance regime.

Instead of being on the verge of adulthood and grow up, Victorique relies on Cordelia's legacy, while Kujo marches off to war as an infantryman. The fall in the significance of the characters after the first half and the sudden jump in events between parts 22 & 23 resulted in having the characters struggle to survive, but by the end of the series, their story could have been the story of any earnest boy and beautiful girl. Maybe that's enough for some audience, but I think that there could have been so much more with the original setup.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pilot Responsibly: Mari^2, Miso Soup & Manvangelion 2

Impressions of Eva Reboot 2.22

The mood of Evangelion Reboot is markedly different from the series that first broadcast in 1995 (abbrev. Eva 95) [1]. The characters have fewer and less deep hang-ups. I actually loved the Eva 95 version of the cast despite and because of their deep flaws. I preferred the intensity of the battles against Leliel, Bardiel, and Zeruel. The music was amped up, the mystery thickened, and the protagonists moodily struggled against the angels and themselves. In the Reboot, childrens' songs make Asuka's fall to Bardiel more twisted and tragic than the spare battle music deployed in Eva 95.

Speaking of the red devil, Asuka's affinity to Shinji seems like a quick turn around from her prior footsweep. Asuka Sohryu was multi-faceted and more intense. Her berserker tendencies and grandiosity have been transferred to Mari Makinami, making Asuka a simpler and less expansive character. These steps were understandable, given the movie format. However, I still preferred many of the developments in Eva 95 over the Reboot.

For all these complaints [2], there was still a lot to appreciate in the Reboot. Hideaki Anno and company were not arbitrary in bringing on board Maaya Sakamoto [3] and limiting Asuka's role. Renaming her Shikinami actually helps to remind us that we have seen Asuka in her full glory back in Eva 95. Reboot covers new ground in many ways.

Beyond the first impressions, Reboot retunes the series into a more action packed, brighter, and more optimist adventure with a healthy dose of WAFF. To realize this new vision, Hideaki Anno & Co. employed two Mari's and miso soup.

Mari + Mari

I admit to being deeply suspicious of, in addition to being deeply appreciative of, Mari Makinami's addition to the cast. Before watching the movie, I thought that bringing on board another beauty was a transparent and successful ploy to add to the excitement of the reboot. After all, the American Rei versus Asuka conflict in Evangelion raged for well over 8 years and may still smolder to this very day in the deep, dark bowels of the internet.

After watching it, I realize that Mari Makinami plays a pivotal role in the Reboot's direction. Her primary function is to take Asuka's place in the battle against Zeruel, after Shikinami was defeated by Bardiel. The apparent reason for Asuka replacing Toji was Rei's get together. The destruction Unit 04 led to the sudden transfer of Unit 03 to America. The surprise activation test conflicted with Rei's party [4], which leads to the softer, gentler Asuka Shikinami to volunteer for test duty.

This still doesn't fully explain the use of Asuka over Toji. The answer lies in the other Mari: Mari Suzuhara. In Eva 95, Toji agreed to pilot Unit 03 in exchange for his sister transferring to a better hospital. In Reboot, Toji's little sister makes a full recovery. By making a full recovery, she frees Shinji to make a clean choice of whether or not to pilot Unit 01.

In Reboot 2.22, Shinji asks Asuka why she pilots an Eva. Rei tells Asuka that there is more to life than piloting an Eva. Mari Makinami tells Shinji that she is surprised that anyone would question piloting. The question was presented earlier in the story in the first scenes, when Shinji confronts his father before his first battle, after Touji socks Shinji over his sister's injuries, and when Shinji runs away from home. In all of the versions of Evangelion, this question is central to Shinji.

In Reboot, Shinji's responsibility to Mari is completely absolved by her full recovery. His is not burden's by Toji's fall as well. So when he decides to never pilot Unit 01 again, his choice is not clouded by the responsibility to the one he hurt. Recall that in Eva 95, Shinji pleads with Unit 01: "... If you don't move now, if you don't do it now, everyone's going to die! I don't want anymore of that..." The anymore refers to Toji and, perhaps, to Mari.

Also, Shinji never leaves the platform when Zeruel attacks in Eva 95. By contrast, Shinji distances himself from Misato's outreached hand and is in motion, leaving Tokyo-3, when the alarm sounds; these symbolize a cleaner break from Nerv. We do not need Misato's commentary to realize that his words are starkly assertive. And when the boy returns, it is for the singular reason of rescuing Ayanami Rei. He has taken full responsibility for his actions.

Miso Soup, the power thereof

In Eva 95, Rei remained moon distant and mysterious, especially after she goes kamikaze on the helical Armisael and has her memories wiped. One fanfiction reader once stated that Rei was emotionless. It is possible to have impression if one passively watches Eva 95. Rei seldom demonstrates emotions. A deeper reading reveals that she cares for the Ikaris (slapping Shinji, later protecting him from octohedral Ramiel, and glaring at Asuka during the battle against Leliel) and even Asuka (giving her advice in the infamous elevator standoff). Rei demonstrates her mastery of stream of conscience during her sync test with Unit 01. She has a strong dislike of meat and the color red. Rei lives as tightly introspective life that is largely, but not completely aloof from others.

This distance is temporarily bridged in the harrowing aftermath of Shinji's and Rei's battle against the octohedral Ramiel. In Eva 95, Sohryu the Red Comet strikes and drowns out Rei's presence for the rest of the series. Reboot sharply diverges when the gang visits to the eco restoration project. Shinji puts his culinary arts to good use by cooking bentos. Rei can't eat hers, because she can't stomach meat. Shinji comes to her rescue with a cup of hot miso soup.

The miso soup is a powerful gateway drug that leads Rei to accept Shinji's next bento, which leads the impression young girl to wonder why such a simple act makes her feel warm inside. She empathizes with Shinji and Gendou. We can surmise that from her earlier conversations with Shinji, she realizes that he wants to be closer with his father and tries to bring them together with a simple meal.

These small acts of giving are a sharp break with Eva 95. The pilots are forced together by battle and interact during these battles. Doing the chores for his wayward household comes from a sense of duty and a lack of jan-ken-po skills. By contrast making bentos and giving miso soup are all of his freewill. Similarly, Rei's reciprocation is a free choice. It is not an order from Gendou or an act led by desperation like her self immolation against Amrisael in Eva 95.

In short, Shinji does not stop reaching out to Rei even after she takes his hand from the wreckage of her entry plug. He reaches out to her once again with miso soup.

This Shinji that reaches out also pulls away when Misato wants to convince him to stay in Nerv and with her. While the pacing of Reboot 2.22 did not have the same climax and denouement of part 1, the details and scenes culminate in Shinji and Rei pushing forward and growing despite the harshness of war and the barren expanses that lie between the hearts of Lilim until they are pinned by Kaoru's spear and fulfill the film's subtitle: "You cannot advance".

= = =

[1] I am loathe to call it Eva TV or the original series. The movies Death & Rebirt and End of Eva finished the series, so TV doesn't exactly fit. Sadamoto's manga came out before the TV series, as the Rei-ists like to point out. I think that Eva '95 is non-controversial, accurate, and quick to type.

[2] As an original Misato-fan, I prefer the iron woman who continued to glare at Kagi until it was too late. The pseudo-rivalry between Misato & Asuka was also fun, but -ah- the limits of movie screen time.

[3] The idea of a berserk, be-fanged Hitomi fans my fanboy flames.

[4] Never thought that I would type those words this side of a fanfic.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Finishing Gilgamesh

Warning PG-13 for language. OK, that rating alone dates me, but, at this point, I don't care. Also, there is a heavy spoiler alert, since I was disappointed by the ending, and ranting would be pointless without referencing the worst of the work.

Gilgamesh follows the children of a scientist who destroyed the world in an event called Twin X, because it occurred on October 10th. The scientist Madoka discovered ruins in Mesopotamia that pointed to a complex and ancient civilization. The world beat a doorstep to the site, opened a lab called Heaven's Gate, and began making scientific discoveries at a dizzying rate. However, Dr. Madoka found that continuing research at the site would eventually destroy the world, so research was stopped. Just as the facility would be shut down, Dr. Madoka made contact with a lifeform Tear that originated with the ruins and initiated the Second Impact, I mean, Twin X.

During Twin X, all digital technology failed, and the sky became a vast mirror. The destruction of information technology caused widespread chaos. In the ensuing years, societies picked up the pieces, but could not put it all back together again.

It is in the milieu that Madoka's children, Kiyoko and Tatsuya, are on the lam from debt collectors on one dark and stormy night. They find a derelict mansion inhabited by three bishounen in dark clothing. The bishies are attacked by psychic delinquents who turn out to be the siblings' saviors. The bishies turn out to be monsters spawned by Tear, the being that caused the accident. 

The psychic delinquents work for a Countess cougar in black, who was at Heaven's Gate during Twin X. The children become entangled in a struggle between Tear's children, called the Gilgamesh, and the past.

I started watching the series last year. I was drawn in by the complex personalities and refreshingly realistic character designs. They pulled off the rare feat of pulling off sexy without resorting to caricature. The well done English voice performances were the final ingredient that brought the flawed cast of Gilgamesh to life.

For the first two-thirds of the story, the characters moved through a post-apocalyptic world colored with a moonlit palette and mirror for a sky. Combined with the character designs, these touches created a palpable moodiness that did not grate. Add in the mystery and action and there was plenty to like about the first two-thirds of this series.

However, there were definitely signs that all was after Twin X. The post-apocalyptic world, random crosses (despite the allusions to the Mesopotamian mythology), and unfolding mysterious past pointed to Evangelion influences and the strong possibility of an opaque Eva-like ending. In addition, the director unabashedly paid homage to the European art house inspiration that informed the mood. While some of these were draws, they pointed to some possible instability at the core of this production.

The biggest warning sign should have been the anti-matter, shape-shifting, psychic, kung fu hippies who were bent on the destruction of humanity and stole the wardrobe to the French remake of the Matrix. They are called the Gilgamesh. True to form, the audience finds out that humans must be cleansed and a new race reborn.

During the first third, Tatsuya joins the Countess' psychic kids in their struggle against the alien Gilgamesh. Then the Blattaria joint in the fight. These armored goons scream Establishment. In the end, they end up rampaging and killing civilians pointlessly and then getting the stuffing kicked out of them by the Gilgamesh. And the main characters attempt to stand up for mankind and don't succeed in deed or in word.

The writer runs through the entire argument of whether humankind is worth saving in less than five minutes, then kills off the main characters. The Countess, the last surviving protagonist, embraces the end of humanity. Hundreds of millions of years later, a new human hatches. Her first action is to kill her parent Tear with a tuning fork.

So the writer concludes that whether or not humankind is worth saving, it is screwed. By killing off any character who valued human feeling and emotion, he largely bypasses that conundrum. The birth and murder at the end affirms that humans are indeed a fallen species. The attempt at cleverness has been duly noted, but cleverness just doesn't cut it after the preceding buildup.

The pessimistic judgment passed on the characters' fates points to no redemption, no future, and no additional insight into humans. The ending turned out to be a sophomoric spasm of angst against humans, akin to what is felt by 99.94% of adolescents. The finale can be summarized as: humans suck and are screwed. This adds nothing new to the conversation.

I am quite good at doubting my fellow man and despairing, thank you very much. My first impression of the ending was that it was pretentious, presumptuous, preposterous bullshit, except that would be an insult to bullshit. Manure can be used as fertilizer. This ending was sterile and denuded of the human complexity that made the first part of the series so appealing.

Sample the first part series if you want appreciate good visual style and character creation. Skip the second half if a pointless ending ruins a series for you.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Taking a Bow

Many of my recents posts have been short, off the cuff impressions. I tried to keep going to get into a rhythm & practice. That didn't really happen. Also, other blogs summarized Lovely Complex when it was still running. In short, I was getting away from the idea that I started with: thoughtful articles about anime & media. Not that I really got started on talking about media.

I'm not quitting altogether, but I'm going back to some previous projects and starting a new one. Margaret Man is taking a bow from this blog and it's going on hiatus.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

State of the Manga Industry

Here are excerpts from the excellent retailers at the Anime Corner Store newsletter:

"This may be happening under the radar for many of you, but the US manga market is quickly transitioning into a 'rare' books model similar to what regular US Comic book dealers have been for decades. Hundreds of older manga issues have already gone out of print, and this year the process has been accelerated by a truly awful consumer economy. And a lot of this has been happening under the radar because past print runs were too large and the overhang of book inventory has remained in the supply chain for a long time, even after the decision as been made not to re-print them, at least until now. We, on the other hand, see the process in real time as every week manga volumes sell down and when we go to re-order some copies, that might have been available last week, are now sold out and listed as no longer in print. The manga publishers, for the most part, don't usually give us official lists of what's going 'out of print' either, they just decide not to reprint and once existing stocks dry up the books are no longer available for 're-order'. Tough luck Mr. Retailer if you didn't buy enough copies to begin with. Tough luck Mr. Customer if you didn't buy it when it first came out.

Now before you manga collectors out there start going crazy over this, let me remind you that there have probably been around 8,000 or 9,000 manga volumes published in the US over the last 10 years, and those backissues could not stay in print forever, so it was inevitable that the manga companies would eventually reach a point where they just start letting series go off the market en-mass as their sales cycles wind down. The process has really accelerated in 2009 though, and I'd guess that by years end there will probably be at least 1,500 older manga volumes that are no longer in print, and I would estimate by the end of 2010 fully half of the previously released catalog of English language manga will be out of print."
I guess that I'd better pick up the pace with collecting the Swan.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fool for the Old Skool

Hades: Project Zeorymer is the perfect name for this ode to bombastic mediocrity. Yet, it still tickled me to watch giant robots blast off with names like Zeorymer of the Heavens or Rose C'est la Vie of the Moon. That last one probably made me loose a few brain cells.

However, there is something about the character designs, the mecha direction, and the unabashed gung ho spirit. Zeorymer does focus on the villains, making them the protagonists of each episode and imbuing them with a spirit that is usually reserved for the heros. This role reversal is reinforced by Zeorymer's overwhelming dominance.

I also see strains of Raxhephon & Eva, but then they may just be tropes of the genre that first drew me into the madness: Giant Robots.