Perfunctory animation round-up

As regular visitors have probably noticed, I don’t often write about anime any more. This is because I don’t watch much these days. My interests run in cycles, and it’s been about 15 years since I discovered Serial Experiments Lain. Although I still sample many shows, I usually abandon each within five minutes. Steven’s gone, too. It’s time for fresh obsessions.

There are a couple of series I did keep up with this spring. What turned out to be just the first season of The Return of the Son of the Bride of Cardcaptor Sakura isn’t terrible, but it’s not in the same class as the original. It’s mostly filler. The makers focused on the incidentals, such as cooking and singing and being pathologically nice, while neglecting to tell a compelling story until the last few episodes. The sequences in which Sakura obtains new cards seem perfunctory, as if the CLAMP ladies themselves are bored with the story. Perhaps the next season will redeem the flaccid mess, but my question is, do they even care anymore?

The third season Nobunaga no Shinobi is hit-and-miss — making bloody battlefield deaths funny can be tricky — but sometimes it works, and the brief episodes don’t overstay their welcome. Knowing what the characters will do later in their careers occasionally makes the nonsense feel a bit off. Monkey-boy Hideyoshi, above, will later order the execution of the 26 Martyrs of Japan. All three seasons are entertaining, though the first is still the funniest.

Elf, dwarf

Crunchyroll continues to add older anime to its library. Record of Lodoss War, which I’ve been meaning to watch for 15 years, is a recent acquisition. I watched the first episode of the 1990 OVA; it really is animated Dungeons and Dragons. The story isn’t promising and the characters are all stereotypes, and I doubt that I’ll watch more. If you are a D&D player, you might get more out of it than I did. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to sample it for the pleasures of old-school anime, such as detailed hand-drawn art and characters with noses.

Another recent addition is Masaaki Yuasa’s wildly eccentric movie Mind Game. It’s difficult to encapsulate, and I’m not going to try, beyond noting that it ranges from claustrophobic noir to sheer goofy silliness. Instead, here are some screencaps from the first third of the film.

Continue reading “Perfunctory animation round-up”

Check

Chess was front-page news during July and August of 1972 as Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky to become the first USA-born world chess champion.1 (Or the second, if you count Paul Morphy.) Fischer didn’t defend his title, and since then no one from the USA has made it to the world championship finals.

Until now. This November in London, Fabiano Caruana, born in Miami, faces off against the current champion, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Caruana, the third-highest-rated player2 in chess history behind Carlsen and and the now-retired Garry Kasparov, is having a terrific year. After winning the candidates’ tournament, he went on to win the GRENKE Chess Classic and Altibox Norway tournaments over strong competition. In the latter, he finished ahead of Carlsen, though he lost to the world champion in their match. (He did defeat Wesley So, who had earlier defeated Carlsen.)

Caruana seems to be decent, likable guy, not a demanding neurotic like Fischer. His candidacy is an occasion for national pride. So why isn’t this front page news? The Wichita paper reports in excruciating detail about football players’ knees, yet there has been no mention of Caruana (or of Sam Shankland from San Francisco, who recently joined the 2700 club and is also having a very good year). I suppose that unless something is easily politicized, it doesn’t exist. The Cold War is over, and apparently to the media there is nothing interesting about white males3 who are merely among the best in history at a deep, fascinating game.

A little something extra

The Phalaenopsis orchids I got back in November have been doing well, so I picked up a few more at an auction yesterday.1 When I took some close-ups of the ones in bloom, I discovered that I had acquired more than just orchids. The plant below is in isolation until the insecticide arrives later this week. (Click to embiggen; right-click and open in a new window to see at maximum size.)

Look very closely

Continue reading “A little something extra”

Noise from the Balkans

Here’s the product of recent lunch hours. It’s a Bulgarian tune called “Maricensko,” which I found in an abc tune collection, arranged for the usual assortment of virtual instruments and effects.

What you don’t hear are the rhythm guitar tracks I discarded, and the keyboard accompaniment, and the many, many percussion tracks. Nearly everything I tried made it sound cluttered, and I eventually pared away all but the lead, bass and drums. Even now it still sounds busy to my ears, and if I weren’t so tired of the tune I’d fiddle with it some more, seeing what else I can simplify or eliminate. But I’ve had enough, and it’s time to move on to fresh disasters.

Purple dragon

Paeonia suffruticosa “Kokuryu-nishiki”

The botanical garden recently added a “Chinese” garden. It doesn’t look like much yet, despite the big ceramic dragon on the wall leading to the little pagoda, and the plants that catch your eye are as likely to be American as Asian. I did spot the tree peony above there yesterday, which is definitely Asian, albeit Japanese. It’s Paeonia suffruticosa “Kokuryu-nishiki”, first introduced at a Yokohama nursery in 1905. The name, according to at least two sources, means “Black Dragon Brocade,” though Giggle Translate says “Small clew nishiki.” More pictures from yesterday’s visit are here.

Surfin’ Suomi

Alfred M. Yankovic and Brave Combo have conclusively demonstrated that virtually any popular song can be improved by polkafying it. It’s also true that rendering a song as a surf instrumental almost always makes it better.1 Charles Hill posts a couple of surf transformations that are superior to the originals and links to a third. My favorite re-arrangement, though, is this one by Laika and the Cosmonauts, yet another eccentric band from Finland. They call it “Sauna Soul” for no obvious reason, but you probably know it by another name.

The samurai orchid

The Neofinetia falcata (or Vanda falcata) that I got back in November survived my inept care and is now in bloom. It’s a small plant, almost a miniature. The blossoms are about five-eighths of an inch across, and the length, including the spur, about an inch-and-a-half. This, I gather, is on the small side; an inch across and two-and-a-half long is more typical, according to what I’ve read. At night the flowers smell like vanilla with a slight hint of lemon.

I’ve mentioned before that the Japanese obsessed over these little epiphytes.1 Cacti, which would have been unknown in Japan until the later 19th century, turn up in everything from Martian Successor Nadesico to Elf Princess Rane, so there ought to be an occasional Neofinetia here and there in animated shows. But, as far as I know, there isn’t. Perhaps there’s one in the later episodes of Hyouge Mono, which I never finished, but probably not. I can’t think of any shows featuring orchidaceae.

Typical Kansas afternoon

Men at arms, with cellphone

Snapshots from the local renaissance faire on a dreary March day. (The calendar says “April,” but the thermometer doesn’t agree.)

Juggler
Big smile

Update: there are more pictures here.

Caution: if there are Scotsmen toting cabers in the area, make sure that they are heading away from you, not toward you.

Greenhouse in detail


Greenhouse at Southwestern College, Winfield, Kansas

I spent last Sunday afternoon at Southwestern College in Winfield, where there are a couple of humid greenhouses filled with orchids. Above is a panorama from inside the smaller greenhouse. It’s the largest panorama I’ve made yet, assembled from 37 individual pictures: 29,186 x 14,593 pixels, which works out to more than 400 megapixels. You can read the labels in the pots if you zoom in. It’s best viewed in full-screen mode.

If that doesn’t work for you, try the lower-resolution Flickr version below. (Panoramas in Flickr don’t work well in Safari, unfortunately.)

I also took some conventional photos in the other greenhouse, which you can see here. I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I had hoped, unfortunately. There was the inevitable society business meeting, which wasted half an hour. That was followed by a slide show, which wasted the remainder of my time there. Why would I want to look at pictures of orchids when I can see the real thing the next building over? Grrr.

Greenhouse at Southwestern College

Another minor anniversary

I’ve had some sort of presence on the world wide waste of time for about twenty years now, starting with a website on Geocities.com.1 Fifteen years ago today I launched my first solo weblog, after participating briefly in a group blog. I eventually abandoned it when the blogging software was abandoned by its originators, but not before starting a replacement on another host. There were further abandon-and-replace cycles over the years, but I’ve always had a weblog going since 2003. Nothing remains of the first weblog except the items in the “ancient texts” in the sidebar at right, but everything since then is preserved in the archives.2 I wrote a brief history of my blogging five years ago for the tenth anniversary, and there’s little to add to that.

Is running a weblog continuously for fifteen years a great achievement? Hardly. Just post something every once in a while, and you can call yourself a “blogger.” Keep doing it for years and years, and the word count will build steadily to a superficially impressive magnitude.

Maintaining one worth reading regularly is another matter. There are many bloggers out there who have written far more, and better, than me (though probably very few have as eccentric a range of interests). And then there’s Charles G. Hill, who makes all the others seem like beginners.

What I’m mindful of today are the many memorable bloggers who faded away or disappeared. Remember The Hatemonger’s Quarterly? The last post from the crack young staff is almost nine years old. How about Strange Herring? It’s gone, probably forever, and all my links to Anthony Sacramone’s wisecracks are dead.3 The Shrine of the Holy Whapping still exists but hasn’t been updated in years, as is the case with Quenta Nârwenion. I rarely suffer from nostalgia — I don’t have much to be nostalgic for — but I do miss these, and the many others who are no longer active.4

Snapshots from work

Over the years, we’ve acquired a modest collection of doorstops at the office. The above are currently exhibited on a shelf near my desk. The average price of each was around $25; none of them were of much use. I’d say that they illustrate my observation that the thicker the manual, the less helpful it is, except the thin ones were also pretty much useless.

This poster was taped to the elevator wall. Just wondering: do such posters actually do any good beyond making the persons who post them feel momentarily virtuous?

Kilts and daggers

It’s Tartan Day today, so here’s a Scottish fiddle tune, James Scott Skinner’sFingal’s Dirk,” in a not-quite-traditional arrangement.

Technical stuff, for those interested: This arrangement was assembled in Logic. The guitars are two instances of the AAS Strum GS-2, run through NI’s Guitar Rig; the bass is the String Studio VS-2; and, the percussion is Logic’s Ultrabeat.

(Want to make music on your own computer? If you have a Windows machine, you can download Cakewalk for free. Add a cheap MIDI keyboard (preferably velocity-sensitive, with pitchbend and modulation wheels) and download a few freebie VST soft synths (u-he has a generous selection, including Zebralette, Tyrell N6 and Triple Cheese), and you will have more more synth power at your fingertips than Keith Emerson could dream of during his glory days, for peanuts.)

Hanami II

The Yoshino cherry is coming into bloom now at the botanical garden. Unlike the crypto-British Okame cherry I photographed earlier, this one is a genuinely Japanese variety. (Click to embiggen and see with better color.)

Other colors on display include red-orange,

pink,

purple

and yellow.

There are many more pictures from yesterday’s outing here.

Real or not?

It’s hard to tell. The screencaps above I believe are genuine, but the pictures below might be fake. Then, again, perhaps London really is turning into an updated suburb of Scarfolk. In either case, it would be difficult to top these, and I haven’t had the time to work anything up.

Posts from previous years appropriate to the first day of the fourth month are archived here.

(I’m posting this a day early because tomorrow is Easter.)