The longest journey

Pioneer and Voyager, slightly altered

John Salmon mentions the Voyager spacecraft, which were launched 40 years ago in August and September. These, along with Pioneer 10 and 11, launched five and four years earlier, are four of the five spacecraft leaving the Solar System, and are the most distant man-made objects at this time. NASA is planning a quiet little celebration Tuesday.

For the future of the Pioneer and Voyager probes, see the fifth and sixth episodes of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, which reveal the true reason for the Pioneer anomaly.

Name that tune

Here’s a pop quiz for a Monday afternoon. How many riffs can you identify?

If you found that easy, try some classical standards, or Yes songs, or Black Sabbath or Mahavishnu.

When Tatsuya Yoshida isn’t compiling medleys, he plays a Japanese version of zeuhl. Here’s a concert by Koenji Hyakkei, one of his many projects.

*****

I’ve become quite fond of songwriter and composer 伊藤真澄, a.k.a. Masumi Itou (or Ito, Itoh or Itō), though her singing voice does take some getting used to. Tunes she’s written include the ending themes for Flip Flappers1 and Humanity Has Declined and the openings to Magical Nyan Nyan Taruto2 and Azumanga Daioh. A quick search on YouTube will turn up many more. I recently found some of her recordings on Amazon.jp. Her album Harmonies of Heaven is mostly of her own compositions, but she does include the traditional tune “故郷の空,” above. It sounds oddly familiar.

Roll with the crunches

Crunchyroll recently added Haibane Renmei to its listings. I have long counted Haibane Renmei as my #1 anime, and with it Crunchyroll now has four of my top five. The website these days is streaming much good Japanese animation and is well worth the membership price.

However, Crunchyroll also has tremendous amount of garbage, and even more that is thoroughly mediocre or just plain boring. An anime neophyte picking shows at random is likely to get discouraged. Therefore, I’ve compiled a list of what I think are the best offerings at Crunchyroll for those who are wondering where to start. My taste is impeccable, of course, and my judgement infallible, but some anime enthusiasts might find my choices to be quirky and eccentric. I urge those people to compile their own lists and post them on their websites.

The best

Haibane Renmei

Serial Experiments Lain — The series that convinced me that anime was worth taking seriously.

Shingu — There are aliens and robots and a town with a secret, but the ultimate appeal of this carefully constructed and highly rewatchable series is spending time with the characters.

Mononoke — Kenji Nakamura’s first full-length series, displaying both his eye for design and color and his stringent moral sense.

Lain and Mononoke are not for kids, and small children will probably not appreciate Haibane Renmei.

(Absent from Crunchyroll is my #3 series, Dennou Coil.)

Classics

Cardcaptor Sakura and Madoka Magica — Two very different versions of the “magical girl” story. The latter is not for kids.

Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill — Wild, over-the-top studies in heroism from Kazuki Nakashima and Hiroyuki Imaishi. Not for those with delicate sensibilities.

Shin Sekai Yori

Also by Kenji Nakamura

C-Control

Gatchaman Crowds

Tsuritama

Recommended

ACCA — 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

Alice to Zorouku

Flip Flappers

Hozuki no Reitetsu

Humanity Has Declined

Jubei-chan: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch — The official English-language title is stupid. Jubei is not ninja trash.

Kyousougiga

Mouretsu Pirates

Natsume Yuujin-cho

Un-Go

Other noteworthy shows

Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Assassination Classroom

GATE

Girls und Panzer

Inu x Boku Secret Service

Nobunaga no Shinobi

Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren’t They?

Ramen Fighter Miki

Soul Eater

Ushio and Tora

I could add more shows to the last category, but that’s enough to suggest the range of anime.

Want more information? Steven Den Beste wrote about many of the series listed above. His reviews are here, and you can search Chizumatic for his comments on other shows. Steven had his quirks and blind spots, but in general he was the most reliable guide to anime I’ve found.

Odds and ends, music edition

Non-traditional koto technique

I got curious about how affordable a koto would be, should I ever make enough room in my place to keep one and find time to practice. Not very, it turns out; prices range from $1,250 to $7,000 (sale price) at one source.

However, if you cross over to the Asian mainland, you can find similar instruments at more affordable prices. Chinese guzhengs start at $380. Here’s a Vocaloid tune played on a guzheng.1

There are also the Korean gayageum and the Vietnamese dan tranh.

If you can’t afford real instruments, there are always virtual ones, such as the Korean noisemakers that are available for free here, courtesy of Seoul National University.

Should you want to build your own koto, the traditional source for wood is Paulownia tomentosa, an attractive, adaptable and invasive tree.

Here’s something to bring to the next jam session:

Need an orchestra, but can’t afford to pay for pro-quality sample sets, let alone the real thing? Here’s a useful freebie. (If the complete instrument crashes your DAW, download just the sections you need. I’ve found the percussion to be particularly handy.)

What were the big hits in past decades around the world? You can get an idea with Radiooooo.

Those interested in early music might find this online compendium of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of interest.

If you are interested in microtunings, you might find this scala-to-TUN converter handy.

Linda Ronstadt, Frank Zappa, and the Remington Electric Razor (Via Dustbury):

Ronstadt:

It’s a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I’d rather not know.

Linda will be relieved to learn that I have formally disaffiliated myself from the Stupid and Utterly Useless Party, and describe myself politically as a Contemptuous Independent.

First look, last look

So it’s time for the summer anime season. Is there anything worth watching? Let’s see what’s on Crunchyroll.1

Abandoned in five minutes or less
Tsuredure Children — High school romangst. Bleah.
Aho-Girl — Really stupid girl likes bananas. Double-bleah.
Knights and Magic — Medieval mechas and really stupid punctuation (I corrected the title).
Fox Spirit Matchmaker — Just bleah.
Hina Logic — Cute yet boring girls do cute yet boring things.

Abandoned in fifteen minutes
Katsugeki Touken Ranbu — The staff spent more effort on the pretty scenery rather than the pretty sword-boys’ clothing and jewelry this time, and the action is grimmer, but it’s still pretty silly.

Not abandoned yet
Elegant Yokai Apartment Life — Something like Natsume Yuujin-cho-lite. Bland business major takes a room in an apartment building where all his neighbors are yokai or eccentrics. It could be fun, or it could be dull, depending on where it goes after the introductory episode.
Restaurant to Another World2 — Fine dining with dragons and demons. As with the preceeding, it could be fun, or it could be a waste of time.

I’ll give the last two at least one more episode. I don’t expect more than light entertainment from either, though. Perhaps something substantial will air this fall.

Update (July 10)
The new tenant in the yokai apartment building got a nosebleed nine minutes into the second episode. The hell with it.
The second installment of the restaurant stories was much like the first. Vignettes about the inhabitants of a high-fantasy world who visit the western-style restaurant serve primarily as excuses for food porn. The show remains pleasant and watchable, even for a non-foodie like me, but it’s not particularly memorable.
I sampled a few other new series, none of which are worth naming. This looks like a season to rewatch old favorites, work on your backlog, or do something else with your life.

Today’s idiot

I haven’t posted much recently, partly because I’ve been busy, but mainly because most of what I would post would be complaints. Right now I am irritated with Apple computers, my website host, Native Instruments, lawn mowers, the financial industry, pathogenic bacteria and viruses, idiots with drivers’ licenses, kids running amok, oblivious parents, the human race in general. Each of these is worth a lengthy rant — the last a lifetime of invective1 — but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll just mention The New York Times, which has discovered Crunchyroll.

Writer Glenn Kenny may be the world’s outstanding authority on Droopy cartoons, but about anime he’s an ignoramus. In “Boomerang and Crunchyroll: Of Old Cartoons and Fresh Anime,” he name-checks the movies Akira and Ghost in the Shell, thereby gaining negligible credibility as an otaku. He plainly knows nothing about anime series, which comprise the vast majority of Crunchyroll’s offerings, and he can’t be bothered to do minimal research. Of all the series, excellent and lousy, that Crunchyroll streams, the only one he mentions is Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor, one I had dropped in less than five minutes. I would guess he picked that one because it is in the top row of the “simulcasts” directory and features a character named “Glenn.” He writes that the first episode

“… features a scene in which Glenn walks in on a roomful of his female students in their underwear, yells that he is not going to give in to the “cliché” that says he is now required to avert his eyes, takes a good, long stare and then is thrown back by an unseen force, blood spurting from his eyes.”

I have no desire whatsoever to watch the rest of the episode, but if you have, please tell me whether the blood spurts from his eyes, as Kenny says, or his nose. I have a hunch that our expert does not know the convention of anime nosebleeds.

The other Crunchyroll title Kenny mentions is Fist of the North Star, which he describes as “gruelingly violent.”

So, according to the alleged Newspaper of Record, anime, as represented by Crunchyroll, is fanservice and violence. I never thought I’d be nostalgic for the irresponsible and wrongheaded Charles Solomon, but at least he knew something about Japanese animation.

A to Z

I sample new shows on Crunchyroll as they appear. Usually I lose interest within five minutes, but occasionally something surprises me, such as Flip Flappers last year or, more recently, ACCA. I found another surprise today, Alice to Zouroku, in which Sana, a young escapee from a nefarious research institute, meets Zouroku, a prickly old florist who takes no guff from anyone, be they yakuza, police or mahou shoujo.

Sana, called the “Red Queen” by the staff at the institute, has strange powers. She can teleport away from trouble, and she can look inside your mind. She has other talents as well, as do other young residents at the institute. She also has poor social skills and little knowledge of how the world works, consequences of never being allowed outside all her life until her escape.

Continue reading “A to Z”

Cigarettes and sweets

Advisory: ACCA features explicit scenes of cigarette smoking

There’s one episode left in ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department, which will determine whether the show is an analysis of federalism or the tale of a bureaucrat who would be king. It deserves more comment than I have time and patience for right now. For further information, see M.O.’s brief discussion of the show at its midpoint here (beware of spoilers). Here are few screencaps for the post I’m not writing.

Watching ACCA may cause weight gain
Fan service, for certain sorts of fans: a Nikon SP rangefinder camera
Political intrigue is for the birds

ACCA is the only series of the winter season I managed to watch more than a couple of episodes of (other than the short Nobunaga no Shinobi). Nothing announced for the spring or summer seasons has caught my attention. However, in October there will be a new series based on Keiichi Sigsawa’s Kino no Tabi books. The original series is a minor classic and is on the short list of anime to recommend to people who think they don’t like anime. Now, would someone please license the books for North America, this time for real?

Hozuki no Reitetsu will also return in the fall.

A book in the library

There will be a proper series of The Ancient Magus’ Bride starting in October. If it’s of similar quality to the OVAs (recommended), it will be worth watching.

Not an ordinary library

3-D music for 2-D girls and tanks

I recently found a recording of the music from Girls und Panzer by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The OST to the anime in its various forms was probably generated in a digital audio workstation with sample libraries. It’s quite listenable, but virtual orchestras can’t compare to well-recorded real instruments played by real, living musicians. The bass drum alone makes the upgrade worthwhile, particularly if you have powerful speakers or good headphones.1 The only disappointment with the TSO CDs is that they’re missing “Yuki no Shingun.” 2

Incidentally, I ordered the CDs from Amazon.co.jp on a Sunday, and they arrived the following Tuesday. If you want the quickest delivery from Amazon, forget Amazon Prime. Order overseas.

Continue reading “3-D music for 2-D girls and tanks”

Miscellany

I watched the first episode of Kemono Friends, the post-apocalyptic children’s show that allegedly is insanely popular in Japan. I didn’t dislike it as much as Pete did, but I doubt that I’ll watch more, even if it does feature baobabs (above) and tree euphorbias (below).

*****

Although there are innumerable Alices in anime, the most Carrollian show of them all never mentions her. Instead, we have Ami, who finds a door to “Animal Yokocho” in the floor of her new bedroom. Things are done differently in AniYoko. Animal Yokocho is nominally a children’s show, and it’s okay for kids, but adults will better appreciate the absurdities. This celebration of friendship, nonsense and emotional blackmail probably will never be licensed for North America.1 However, I recently discovered that the first third of the show is available subtitled on youTube.

*****

Here’s a helpful article that walks you through registering and making purchases at Amazon Japan. One important detail it omits is that you cannot download music to addresses outside of Japan.

*****

Saturday I placed orders with both Amazon Japan and Amazon USA. Which will arrive first? This is how matters stood at 7:30 this morning:

I expect both will arrive tomorrow.

Update: We have a winner.

Japan wins

Stopping by for a moment

I’m alive and more or less well (when I’m not coughing) but very busy right now, and I probably won’t post much for a while yet.

***

Many excellent older shows are streaming legally online. If, like me, you have no interest in the current crop of otaku pandering vehicles, you can skip them and watch something good. Here are four of my personal top five anime: Haibane Renmei, Serial Experiments Lain, Shingu and Mononoke. (Missing is Dennou Coil.)

If you found Mononoke intriguing, you can watch most of Kenji Nakamura’s other series: Kuuchu Buranko, [C] Control, Tsuritama and Gatchaman Crowds. (I’d be curious to see what Eve Tushnet would make of Nakamura’s work, particularly Mononoke.1)

A couple of under-appreciated favorites: Pupipo, Oh! Edo Rocket. The following is from the tenth episode of the latter. It doesn’t make any more sense in context:

***

Marie & Gali, one of Steven’s favorites, has finally been completely subbed. What I’ve seen of the second season so far is inferior to the first, though it may get better once the focus shifts from the new girl and back to the silly scientists. It’s unlikely ever to be licensed for North America, but it’s available through irregular channels.

Second warning

Tank girls

I couldn’t resist making my own 2048 game, using images from the Girls und Panzer movie. Beware: this can be terribly addictive, and if you have work that must be done, do not click here.

Update: I made another one using images from GATE and a different online game maker.

(If you are unfamiliar with this sort of game, you play it by using the arrow keys on your keyboard to push the tiles around. There are eleven (2,048=2^11) different tiles; revealing the last two is not easy.)

Update II: There are orchids now, too.

Update III: And ballet.

Pure confusion

Oopsie

Flip Flappers is the most interesting series I’ve seen since Kill la Kill and Shin Sekai Yori, conceptually and artistically. Each episode is different from every other episode. Much of it is pure fun, with frequent shout-outs and parodies, but there are depths and eccentricities and mysteries enough to inspire reams of speculation and analysis in the otakusphere. If there are twelve episodes, there are only three left to explain just what is going on. While the writers seem to know exactly what they are doing, I’m still concerned that it could fall apart at the end, or end with nothing resolved. We’ll see.

I reviewed the first episode, looking for Mimi. Do you see her in any of these screencaps?

Who?

Who?

Who?

Who?

Unexpected?

Wrong question?

Something else I wonder about: Is Cocona asking the right question above? Consider these names: Cocona, Mimi, Papika, Toto, Yayaka, Yuyu. One doesn’t fit the pattern. Throughout the show, Papika’s behaviour has reminded me of a playful Labrador retriever, sniff sniff. What is she? What would happen if the band around her ankle were removed? She and Cocona may be a complementary pair, but a pair of what?

Cigarettes and spiders

The first episode of Miss Bernard Said. mentioned Yasutaka Tsutsui, and I checked to see if any more of his books have been translated into English. A quick search showed nothing new. However, I did find translations of a few of his stories online:

Rumors about Me

The Last of the Smokers

Descent into Yoppa Valley

The first two are satirical; the third is strange.

I also looked for Henry Kuttner’s “The Twonky.” I couldn’t find the text online, but I did find a podcast. (Scroll down to the bottom.)

Memorial cheesecake

Wonderduck made a suggestion:

Those of us with blogs, we need to post cheesecake in [Steven Den Beste’s] memory. I think he’d like that.

Steven did indeed like pictures of pretty girls. However, I don’t share his taste for cheesecake. Instead, I grabbed several thousand of the pictures from the header at Chizumatic and assembled them into a slide show with music from Girls und Panzer. The pictures flash by at a rate of five per second; epileptics beware.

Biosemiotic footnote

Uexküll

Cocona’s green rabbit in Flip Flappers is named “Uexküll” in both the Crunchyroll and Viewster subtitles. That doesn’t seem like a traditional Japanese name, so I did a little searching and discovered theoretical biologist Jakob von Uexküll. According to Wikipedia,

Uexküll was interested in how living beings perceive their environment(s). Uexküll argued that organisms perceived the experience of living in terms of species-specific, spatio-temporal, ‘self-in-world’ subjective reference frames that he called Umwelt (translated as milieu, situation, embedding-lit. German for environment). These Umwelten (plural of Umwelt) are distinctive from what Uexküll termed the “Umgebung” which would be the living being’s surroundings as seen from the likewise peculiar perspective or Umwelt of the observer. The umwelt is composed of two parts, the innenwelt or self-oriented features, and the Umgebung, or world-oriented features. Together, they describe the individual’s subjective viewpoint, or embedding, which has the property of being ubiquitous, as compared to the observer’s objective viewpoint, which has the property of being universal.

Um, okay. Possibly Uexküll’s Umwelt and Umgebung lurk in Pure Illusion as Faust does in Madoka Magica, though it will take someone with more patience with modern philosophy than I have to explain it all.

Incidentally, Flip Flappers is the only current series I’m still watching, unless you count the shorts Miss Bernard Said and Ninja Girl & Samurai Master.

Flippity flappity

Flip Flapping

I checked out a few more first episodes.

In Flip Flappers, serious-minded student Cocona sees a red-haired girl flying on a powered surfboard. Later the girl pops up behind Cocona, sniffs her, and introduces herself as “Papika” before they fall down the rabbit hole concrete pipe into Wonderland “Pure Illusion,” accompanied by a small yellow robot/cyborg. There they find themselves in a winter landscape, but it’s apparently not very cold, and the snow is sweet. More odd things happen for no obvious reason. Cocona loses her glasses, which Papika retrieves with considerable difficulty. Cocona’s eye change color, her short black hair becomes long and purple, and she finds a glowing blue object in her hand. A variety of other characters are introduced, including some who observe Papika remotely through laboratory equipment.

Flip Flapping

Flip Flappers reminds me of Kyousougiga in its anything-can-happen eccentricity, but whether it’s as well thought-out as the earlier series remains to be seen. Masumi Itou is part of the music crew; her presence is clearly discernable in the ending theme. I’ll probably keep watching Flip Flappers unless it turns stupid.

Update: You can also watch Flip Flappers here. The translation is different from Crunchyroll’s and makes a little more sense in some places.

Tsutsui

Three of the students in Miss Bernard Said read a lot; the fourth one would rather talk about books than read them. It’s a flimsy framework even for a short, but it is about books, which compensates for a lot.

I know I watched Kiitaro’s Yokai Picture Diary, but I don’t remember anything about it — which might be all you need to know.

Against my better judgement, I tried ClassicaLoid but didn’t last long. It was a dumb as I had feared.

I watched three minutes of Drifters, which was a bloody mess, and I mean that literally. Ick. It seems that the gore might not be its greatest failing. Other shows that I quit in five minutes or less include Soul Buster and Occultic;Nine.

In Matoi the Sacred Slayer, men get silly when they see a little cleavage, and women take advantage of it. Meh. There might be a good mahou shoujo story beyond the fanservice, but I don’t have the patience to find out. (Steven has a more positive take.)

After I

The protagonist of Nazotokine is a flat-chested secretary at an advertising agency who finds herself trapped in a strange place until she solves some riddles. She’s no longer a kid, but she nevertheless undergoes a mahou shoujo-style transformation into a decidedly non-secretarial outfit. Suddenly she is no longer flat. Even though it’s another short, it felt stretched out. I might watch another episode to see if the riddles are of any interest.

Oda's new toy

Sengoku Chōjū Giga is yet another short. This one uses the style of the proto-manga Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to tell silly tales of Odo Nobunaga. Here Nobunaga is a cuckoo, and is cuckoo. The art is distinctive, but otherwise this is an ordinary gag anime.

Many more screencaps below the fold. Click to embiggenate.

Continue reading “Flippity flappity”