Calendars, again

New Zealand must have lax or poorly enforced copyright laws. An outfit called “Pixiluv” that ships from there advertises numerous calendars on Amazon.com. Many feature old art and advertisements that are, or should be, out of copyright everywhere, but quite a few others display recent illustrations, such as the Katanagatari calendar above.1

Continue reading “Calendars, again”

Rich and noble

Neofinetia (Vanda) falcata in a non-traditional pot

I foolishly attended the orchid show last weekend with my checkbook on hand, with the result that I now have half a shelf of mostly “easy” orchids under lights in the kitchen. Most were in flower when I bought them, and you can see them here.

However, the one that is not blooming has perhaps the most interesting history. That is the one generally known as Neofinetia falcata (recently reclassified as Vanda falcata), the “samurai” orchid. According to the Fūkiran Society of America website,

Furan or wind orchid, the Japanese name for Neofinetia falcata, started to be called ‘Fūki-ran’, which means the orchid of the rich and noble people. Many years ago, only the rich and royalty could own Fūkiran, and they searched the country far and wide for rare and unusual varieties. These plants were often covered by a gold or silver net in order to protect them, and people had to cover their mouths with Kaishi (a thin paper usually used for calligraphy) in order not to breathe on the plants while they appreciated them. This, by the way, is the same way the Japanese appreciate a great sword.

Although prices have come down over the centuries, some varieties can still be pricey:

In Japan at auction in 2005, bidders paid from $20,000 to $70,000 for rare varieties of fuukiran which seems a bargain compared to the $300,000 or higher often paid during the 1980’s to late 1990’s.

According to the dealer and most online sources, Neofinetia is fairly easy to grow, as orchids go. It blooms in summer.

Annual task

It’s the season when I search for calendars that I can stand to look at every day during the coming year. I recently visited a shop at a regional mall, where I was surprised to see not only a Hatsune Miku calendar, but also two of Sailor Moon, one large and one small.

I found a number of Japanese calendars online that might be of interest to some visitors here. Unfortunately, most listings don’t include a sample image. The calendars are probably like the ones I’ve bought in the past, with six poster-sized pages, each representing two months, rather than twelve foot-square images.

Hozuki no Reitetsu

Tanya the Evil

My Hero Academia

Made in Abyss

Natsume Yujincho

Gintama

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Madoka Magica

Hatsune Miku

Racing Miku

A curiosity: there’s a Crassula ovata calendar, though the illustrations displayed don’t much resemble a jade plant. C. ovata is an easy plant to grow, aside from being a magnet for mealybugs, but I wasn’t aware that it’s “lucky.”

Elsewhere, there are calendars of Edward Gorey and Heath Robinson, but none of Glen Baxter.

Miscellaneous notes, anime edition

Let’s see ….

I’ll probably watch Kino’s Journey II to the end, even though none of the three episodes so far have been memorable. The older series is not streaming legally anywhere I’m aware of, which is a shame.

I’ll probably also continue with The Ancient Magus’ Bride, even though the third episode, about the last flight of an old dragon, was disgustingly sentimental. It was set in Iceland, a land of glaciers and volcanoes where continental plates meet, but instead of Hekla or Bárðarbunga, we get a linden tree.1

Tilia sp.

Urahara is like a can of pink icing: sweet, with no substance. Recommended only if you like pastel colors.

I wish I could like Recommendation of the Wonderful Virtual Life. I gave the third episode a try after quitting part-way through the second, but it was no use. The main character is too clueless to be sympathetic. I can understand being socially awkward, but MoriMori-chan is just plain stupid.

I dropped A Sister’s All You Need in less than five seconds. That’s a record.

I would like to watch Hozuki no Reitetsu II, which is streaming on Hi-Dive. I’m also curious about Girls’ Last Tour, which is streaming on Amazon Strike, as is Made in Abyss, which apparently was the only series from last summer worth watching. Hi-Dive requires a paid membership. Amazon Strike requires an additional fee above that for Amazon Prime (which is less and less prime as time goes on; two-day delivery nowadays takes three to five days). There isn’t much else on these services that I want to see, and what they do have is mostly dubbed. I don’t have unlimited funds for entertainment, and anime is not a primary interest these days. (I’ve spent far more time recently comparing different recordings of Beethoven’s piano sonatas than I have watching animated shows.) It’s hard to justify paying for additional memberships when there are only one or two shows worth my time on each site. For now, I’ll stick to Crunchyroll.

Crunchyroll has been steadily adding older shows to its catalog, some of them very good. If you’re a speed reader, Masaaki Yuasa’s The Tatami Galaxy is worth your time. If you like vast international conspiracies but find Dan Brown stupid, there’s Koichi Mashimo’s Noir. The latter features a soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura; when Mashimo recycles animation (and Noir is partly an exercise in recycling), you can close your eyes and just listen to the music.

Haruhi greets the president of the computer club

Crunchyroll has also added The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, albeit in the wrong, chronological order. It’s also the wrong Haruhi. The right one is Haruhi Fujioka from Ouran High School Host Club, a much better series than its distasteful premise would suggest.

Batman Ninja sounds ridiculous, but the movie might actually be worth watching. The writer is Kazuki Nakashima, whose credits include Gurren-Lagann and Kill la Kill, and who wrote the play that Oh! Edo Rocket is based on. He knows something about heroism.

Believe it or not, the New York Times posted an article on anime that I partially agree with. Their top five are also my top five, though not in that order. (#6, though, is way too high.)

A wonderful country

Although the 2003 Kino’s Journey is a favorite of mine and the first series I would recommend to someone who thinks he doesn’t like anime, I don’t like all the stories equally. I occasionally re-watch “Land of Prophecy” for its blend of absurdity, whimsy and horror, for instance, but I’ve never much cared for the two-episode “Coliseum.” I was disappointed therefore when the New! Improved! Kino’s Journey remade the latter story as its second episode; I would strongly have preferred that all the new episodes be based on stories not previously adapted. Given that there are something like 20 volumes of Kino stories now, there should be plenty to choose from.

I notice that fans of the earlier series find the new version of the story, now called “Colosseum,” much inferior to the first. I recently loaned out the DVDs of the first series and therefore can’t compare the older episode with the newer. However, I do have the Tokyopop paperback of Keiichi Sigsawa’s Kino no Tabi, translated by Andrew Cunningham, that was available for 15 minutes in 2006. It includes the original version of “Coliseum.”

“Colosseum” (2017) is a serviceable adaptation of the original story, not outstanding but acceptable. It’s necessarily streamlined to fit within the limits of one episode, but the missing parts — mainly the details of the first four fights — are expendable.1 There are some inelegancies in Crunchyroll’s translation, e.g.,

Perhaps that’s accurate, but it’s clumsy. From the book:

Given their recent experiences, Hermes was not nearly so enthusiastic. “I hope you let me rest awhile when we get there,” he muttered. “Some place cool, dark and not too damp.”

Further comments will be increasingly spoilerous.

Continue reading “A wonderful country”

Three days in a polite country

Daily maintenance

If the first episode is indicative, Kino’s Journey II1 survived the loss of Ryutaro Nakamura, who directed the 2003 anime. It felt very much like old times, with a little more detail, and a little more blood. Once again, I was reminded of The Twilight Zone. This week’s thought experiment involved a country where murder is legal. It’s not necessarily a paradise for psychopaths. The story inevitably brought to mind a certain Heinlein comment. If the show maintains the level of the first episode, there finally will be something worth waiting for every Friday.

Watching Kino’s Journey has the unfortunate side-effect of making everything else seem trivial. Nevertheless, there are a couple of other first episodes I watched all the way through which deserve comment.

Urahara is yet another variation on the majou shoujo theme, this time set in a pastel version of the Harajuku neighborhood in Tokyo. Aliens, called “scoopers,” who have no culture of their own, invade the Earth and scoop up anything that interests them, such as the the Arc de Triomphe, the Statue of Liberty, or a pyramid or two. It falls to three girls in Harajuku, one with little horns, one with nekomimi and a tail, and one who sews, to defend their world, Harajuku style.

It’s a silly show. The counterpart of Sailor Moon‘s Luna and Cardcaptor Sakura‘s Kero-chan is a talking fried shrimp, for instance. Silly doesn’t mean stupid, though, and absurd though the episode was, it was always entertaining and visually playful. I probably will continue watching it. For a discussion of Harajuku and this episode, see Emily.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie concerns a young woman who drops out of society to play an online fantasy RPG game. Although it’s not explicitly stated in the first episode, it’s strongly implied that she and her online friends all visit (or work at) the same convenience store, though they aren’t aware of that yet, and that their online and offline lives will get muddled together. I might watch more to see how it develops.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride will have to wait until I have more time. Hozuki no Reitetsu II will have to wait until the discs are released in North America and I can budget their purchase. (Amazon Strike Hi-Dive, grrr.)

Continue reading “Three days in a polite country”

Frank and Miku, happy together

So, Frank Zappa’s kids are thinking of presenting holograms of him in concert, just like Hatsune Miku? Holograms of Miku are fine, since she’s computer-generated anyway, but re-animating Frank seems ghoulish to me. I doubt that he’ll ever dance as well as Miku, either, no matter how skillfully his hologram is programmed.

Speaking of Miku: While it’s not difficult to make songs with Vocaloids on your computer, it’s not so easy to perform with Miku live, in real time. Yamaha is making it a little easier with a new “keytar.”

There was also a Miku guitar stompbox released a few years ago.

And now for something completely different: The Lord of the Rings Silent Movie. (Via the Local Malcontent.)

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.