Fiddling around

Tomorrow is World Fiddle Day, or something like that. Here’s Roger Netherton with some fiddle music.

More of Roger and his friends here and here.

Update: Roger’s in Japan now. Here’s a video of the old-time session last night at the Armadillo Music Bar in Nagoya. After a bit of talking, Roger starts off with three solo pieces such as he would play in a fiddle contest. Then he is joined by several other musicians for the rest of the set.

Heroic links

The Greeks have Achilles and Odysseus; the Romans have Aeneas; the French have Roland; the Spanish have the Cid; the British have King Arthur. And, Americans have Batman.

(Illustration from here.)

And the Japanese have Utena Tenjou. Josh lists some possible interpretations of Revolutionary Girl Utena. (Caution: spoilers.)

e)Financial interpretation

Male uniforms have a tendency to suggestively come undone for no reason at all, a tendency which increases as the show progresses. This indicates that Ohtori Academy has contracted the production of these uniforms to a low quality manufacturer. Furthermore, the academy seems to be perpetually understaffed, as we rarely see any faculty, and indeed almost never see them actually teaching. All this suggests severe budget cuts. Meanwhile, the Chairman’s quarters has a projector which can physically manifest objects, while the Student Council is given an entire tower with a picturesque view. All this is obviously an indictment of how many educational institutions allocate funding in an inefficient manner, resulting in greater financial burdens on students and a lower quality of education.

Odds and ends: musical edition

The one memorable part of the otherwise disappointing series Ghost Hound1 was the opening theme, Mayumi Kojima’s “Poltergeist.” It immediately became one of my favorites. I don’t understand a word Kojima sings, but I don’t need to; the music tells me all I need to know.2 I recently came across a video of the song with the lyrics translated. Does knowing what the words mean add to (or subtract from) the value of the song? In this case, I don’t think it makes any difference. Judge for yourself.

If you want to hear more of Kojima, you face a challenge. Aside from “Poltergeist,” none of her most listenable songs are on YouTube. Your best bet probably is to locate a copy of A Musical Biography, a best-of compilation.

*****

I tracked down a couple of tunes mentioned in an episode of Hozuki no Reitetsu. Yutaka Ozaki’s “15 no Yoru” is probably best appreciated by adolescent drama queens, but the other, “Giza Giza Heart no Komoriuta,” by the Checkers, is not bad at all. (Epileptics beware: jerky video.)

*****

A long time ago, back before the last ice age, I received Malcolm Hamilton’s recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier as a Christmas present. I discovered a few days ago that most of the six-record set is now available as free downloads. The sound is very good for being digitized from vinyl. I can’t give the set an unreserved recommendation, though. At least two of the prelude and fugue pairs are missing, and there are occasional skips — true to vinyl, perhaps, but annoying. Still, the performances are good and the price is right. You can also listen to them on YouTube.3

If you prefer piano to harpsichord, Kimiko Ishizaka has released Book I of the WTC, completely free of any copyright and downloadable for any price you care to pay (including $0 if you’re a cheapskate).

*****

And now for something completely different: Jordan Peterson, performing with the Muppets.

The kawaii demon lord

Ken the Brickmuppet wondered a few weeks ago if there are any current shows worth watching. I’ve only found one tolerable this winter, Endro! The series starts with the hero and her companions defeating the regional demon lord. However, they bungle the forbidden spell and send their opponent back a year in time instead of sealing him away. There/then1 the demon lord finds himself in the form of a little girl, albeit one with horns and reptilian wings. She obtains a job teaching at the local school for adventurers, where she hopes to end the hero’s quest before it starts. Things don’t go according to plan. It’s silly, lightweight fluff — the hero reminds me of Milfeulle Sakuraba — but sometimes silly is exactly what I need.

Screencaps are below the fold.

Continue reading “The kawaii demon lord”

Looking back

So, were there any shows last year that were worth watching? Let’s see….

Laid-Back Camp — There’s hardly any story: high-school girls talk about camping and occasionally pitch tents. What makes it noteworthy is the solitary camper Rin, who is presented as a competent, personable, well-adjusted introvert who genuinely enjoys doing things on her own, and who is treated with respect by the other characters.

Cells at Work — The red blood cell focal character is overly ditzy, but otherwise this is probably the finest example of educational entertainment ever produced.1

We Rent Tsukumogami — It looks I’m going to have to sit still long enough to write a proper review of this underappreciated small-scale detective series, since apparently no one else has noticed it. Another time, maybe.

Nobunaga no Shinobi — The third season felt a little more forced and wasn’t quite as funny as the first, but it had its moments.

Hozuki no Reitetsu — I was about to cancel my Crunchyroll subscription, but at the last moment they added the second and third seasons of the series centered around Enma’s chief of staff, and I relented. The first season is still the freshest, but the newer episodes are nevertheless generally at least good and often very funny. Hozuki is probably the show from last year I enjoyed most. There are many more screencaps below the fold.

The above I can recommend. I also watched the rest of the much-praised Planet With, which I had earlier been unimpressed with. It turned out to be Gurren-Lagann-lite, watchable, but with preachiness instead of spiral energy. Cardcaptor Sakura: the Misdeal spent too much time being nice and too little telling a story. Possibly the eventual continuation might redeem it, but I’m not optimistic.

Continue reading “Looking back”

Girls, wolves, guns

Here is the true and proper retelling of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

The Little Girl and the Wolf
by James Thurber

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.

This story is presented as a service for those who watched the first episode of Grimms’ Notes: The Animation, an undistinguished recent offering from Crunchyroll.

(Boo)

A bit of music to set the mood. You can all sing along.

*****

It’s that time of year when I recommend that everyone watch Mononoke, unless I forget. So, if you want to view something appropriate to October 31 done with intelligence and artistry, watch an arc or two of Kenji Nakamura’s first and best anime. It’s not necessary to watch the stories in order. My personal favorites are Bakeneko (“Goblin Cat”) and Nue (“Japanese Chimera”), episodes 10-12 and 8-9, though all of the tales of the simple medicine seller are worth your time.

A couple of other possibilities:

Madoka Magica — Not for casual viewing. If you try to marathon this in one evening, you’ll be an emotional wreck at the end. You do need to start at the beginning.

Hozuki no Reitetsu — Something a little lighter, set in the Japanese version of Hell. The first episode introduces the main characters, but after that you can skip around. My favorites include the fourth episode, which introduces the demure rabbit Miss Mustard, and the eighth, which examines J-pop and modern art.

And there’s always Natsume Yujin-cho.

I have no particular taste for horror and creepy stuff. Although there’s plenty, most I’ve seen bores me. The shows mentioned above caught my attention for reasons other than mere “chills.”

Make me laugh

I’ve been sampling the new offerings on Crunchroll. As usual, most don’t pass the five-minute test.1 The few that I didn’t immediately abandon are mostly comedies of various sorts.

The best new offering is Cells at Work, which deserves a post of its own. Until I get around to that, see Wonderduck. There are more screencaps below the fold.

Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues is the mock-heroic tale of an upper-level executive in an organized crime syndicate. Through the first three episodes we see Tonegawa conduct grueling meetings, deal with his deranged, perhaps demonic boss, and broil Kobe beef for his underlings at a picnic. It’s laboriously funny, but enough of it works that I will probably continue watching. I’d probably get more out of it if I had seen Kaiji and Akagi.

Visualize whirled

Planet With, a tale of absurd planetary menace, reminds me a little of Zvezda, but it makes even less sense. As of the second episode it’s still not clear whether the forces the hero has allied himself with are good guys or bad guys. I’ll probably never know, since I don’t plan to watch more.

Late Night! The Genius Bakabon is a silly gag show. If you liked Osomatsu-san, you might like this, but two episodes were enough for me.

I almost quit Asobi Asobase – workshop of fun – in five minutes, but I stuck it out and watched the entire first episode. I should have trusted my initial reaction. There are three unappealing high-school girls, some mild gross-out humor but nothing really funny, and an opening featuring lots of lilies. No thank you.

Continue reading “Make me laugh”

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 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.

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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.

The vision of noses

The Vision of Escaflowne dates back to 1996, when animators understood the concept “nose.” Crunchyroll recently added it to their library. It’s allegedly a classic, but three episodes in, I’m not convinced. It seems to be an attempt to combine as many genres as possible. It’s partly shoujo, partly shounen, partly mecha, partly science-fiction, partly fantasy, partly romance, partly war story, partly whatever. Aside from the noses, the show is noteworthy mainly for the soundtrack, composed by Yoko Kanno and her then-husband, Hajime Mizoguchi.1 I may watch more, or I may not.

Continue reading “The vision of noses”

Count to twelve

I have two Japanese calendars this year. Hozuki no Reitetsu is the usual poster-sized six-pager (one large picture for two months, rather than one smaller picture per month). Girls und Panzer, however, is a single sheet about six feet long, larger than I had expected (when shopping on foreign websites, alway convert centimeters to inches before you order). Amazingly, it arrived uncreased, even though it came loosely rolled in a box rather than in a stout tube. I eventually figured out a place to mount it. Right-click and open in a new window to see the picture at maximum size.

Further views of Mt. Fuji

I’m down to two current shows. It’s still pleasant to watch Rin on her solo camping jaunts in Laid-Back Camp, and while the other girls are silly, they’re not insufferable, yet. Still, there is really very little to the series except camping, and I might get tired of it before the final episode.1 Wonderduck, whose taste is very different from mine, is also enjoying the show.

The Cardcaptor Sakura of 20 years ago came to a natural, satisfying ending, and I never felt that there was a need for more. Four weeks into CCS II: The Rehash, I’m still not convinced. Many of the characters in the new series show some degree of Flanderization — Kero-chan is almost intolerably silly-manic now. The structure of the episodes seems less like variations on a theme and more like plugging elements into a formula. I’m not sure that we need Yamazaki to demonstrate that magic-users are gullible in every single episode. There is so much background floral imagery that I doubt that there is any significance to it; perhaps one of the CLAMP ladies found a book of old botanical prints.

Despite my misgivings, I’ll probably continue watching. The fourth episode introduced the probable antagonist; we’ll see if her identity and game are as easy to figure out as Eriol’s were.

Continue reading “Further views of Mt. Fuji”

A whole lot of notes

Back in the 19th century, virtuoso pianists took themes from popular operas and arranged them into fantasies to showcase their pianistic prowess and dazzle audiences. These operatic paraphrases fell out of favor in the austere 20th century, and nowadays the only one you might hear is Liszt’s “Réminiscences de Don Juan,” based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s a shame. They may not be great music, but they can be fun.

In this 21st century, something similar is evolving in Japan. Here’s a piece based on Yuki Kajiura’s music for Madoka Magica, arranged and performed by “Animenz.”

Here’s a more ambitious piece, based on themes from Gunbuster, performed by Yui Morishita, a.k.a. “Pianeet.” (It’s not clear whether it’s his own arrangement, but I suspect that it is.)

And another theme from Madoka, arranged and performed by Morishita.

Morishita is particularly interesting. Besides playing anime music, he is also an Alkan specialist. The reclusive Charles-Valentin Morhange, who changed his name to “Alkan,” was of the same generation as Liszt and Chopin and wrote notoriously difficult piano music. Morishita has recorded three CDs thus far of Alkan’s music. I’d like to embed here the video of his rendition of Alkan’s “Le chemin de fer,”1 which has particularly good sound and shows the finger gymnastics from several angles, but for no obvious reason I can’t.

You can find more of Morishita performing both anime tunes and Alkan on YouTube. I think he just might have the chops to make proper Lisztian paraphrases of anime themes that any fan of piano music will enjoy, and I hope he does. I’d really like to hear a good “Noir” or “Cowboy Bebop” fantasy.

For those who are interested in extreme piano, there is an Alkan Society. Unfortunately, it’s based in Great Britain, and its events are a wee bit inconvenient for Kansans to attend.

Here’s a recent article on Jewish comedian-musicians, which oddly spends quite a bit of time discussing Alkan.

*****

Who am I?

You are Johann Sebastian Bach. The smartest person you know, you don’t suffer incompetence easily and are more than willing to tackle difficult projects yourself rather than trust them to others. Highly intellectual, you crave order, discipline and structure – let’s be honest, you probably have your picture next to “perfectionist” in the dictionary. Unfortunately, your brilliance is likely to go largely unappreciated by those around you, and you’re going to have to wait for future generations to recognize your genius.

Yeah, right. Who do you think you are?

(Via Robbo.)

*****

… and now for something completely different. Alkan didn’t just compose for piano.

Libretto:
As-tu déjeuné, Jaco? (The French counterpart of “Polly want a cracker?”)
Et de quoi?
Ah.

Plant identification

Cardcaptor Sakura is back. The first episode of the new series spent most of its time reintroducing the characters from the original, and I can’t say just how triumphant this return is likely to be until I see more.

There is a lot of floral imagery. Cherry blossoms, above, are inevitable in the first episode of any school anime. Others seem more arbitrarily selected, and are sometimes hard to identify.

Continue reading “Plant identification”

Ten years ago

I don’t call any work of art a “classic” until it is at least ten years old. 2007, which ended ten years ago today, was an unusually good year for anime, the best I remember. What 2007 shows merit the accolade?1

I hereby declare the following to be classics of anime.

Dennou Coil — The characters are mostly fairly ordinary2 and not punks at all, but nevertheless this tale of augmented reality and human connections is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in cyberpunk and related genres.

Mononoke — These spiritual detective stories, stylized almost to the point of ritual, remain Kenji Nakamura’s best effort, though everything he does is worth your time.

Oh! Edo Rocket — Sometimes utterly silly, sometimes dead serious. This wild hodge-podge is nominally set in 1842 Edo, but it’s an Edo with television, internet and blue beasts from outer space.

Seirei no Moribito — A fantasy adventure with well-developed, sympathetic characters and a good high-stakes story. It’s worthwhile for the art alone. It would probably be a good show to watch as a family.

Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann — It took me two tries to get into this ridiculous, bombastic, over-the-top extravaganza, but it was worth it.

There were a few that almost made the cut: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei, Hayate no Gotoku 1, Moyashimon 1. I might add Baccano! to the honors list, but I need to re-watch it first.

What series might I declare classics during the next ten years? Almost certainly Madoka Magica, Shin Sekai Yori and Kill la Kill. What else?

2008, 2009: Nothing.

2010: Probably The Tatami Galaxy and possibly Katanagatari.

2011: Perhaps Natsume Yuujin-cho 1.

2012: Mouretsu Pirates had a good chance, bolstered by its outstanding re-watchability. Perhaps also Girls und Panzer, Humanity Has Declined and maybe, just maybe, Joshiraku.

2013 and beyond: Maybe Gatchaman Crowds, Kyousougiga, Pupipo and Flip Flappers.

I haven’t seen everything, so I probably missed a few. I also watch much less nowadays than I did ten years ago, which is probably why so few recent series have impressed me.

Dianthus nergalis, and blogging in 1842

Ruri’s Law: the vast majority of people are idiots

Crunchyroll continues to license interesting older anime. Recent acquisitions include the willfully eccentric Oh! Edo Rocket1 and Tatsuo Sato’s first major series, Martian Successor Nadesico. There’s also the exceedingly odd Cromartie High School. In all three, anything can happen.

The very early days of the internet

I’ve compiled a short wish list of shows that the people at Crunchyroll might consider for future acquisition.

Dennou Coil — It’s available on disc, but I don’t think this classic Miyazaki-does-Ghost-in-the-Shell series has ever been legally streamed in North America.

Shounen Onmyouji — Protagonist Masahiro is the only shounen hero who doesn’t make me mutter “idiot.” The show was one of the last licensed by Geneon USA and was orphaned when the company went out of business. The later discs are virtually unobtainable.

Katanagatari — Also available on disc2, but I don’t think this eccentric and ironic chronicle of extreme swordsmanship ever been legally streamed here.

Crest/Banner of the Stars — Possibly the best thought-out dramatization of war in space.3

Pupipo — Short and funny doesn’t mean trivial.

Continue readingDianthus nergalis, and blogging in 1842″

G, D, A, E, sometimes A, E, A, E

Over the years I’ve watched my young friend Roger Netherton develop from a talented youngster to a first-rate fiddler. I’ve mentioned him numerous times, e.g., here, here, here and here; you can find additional mentions by searching here for “Roger.” He focuses on old-time music, but that’s not his only interest. He taught himself Japanese well enough that he was able to skip the first year of Japanese language class at college and start with the second year. He later spent a semester at a college in Japan. He did the translations for my notes on installing Hatsune Miku, which is the most-visited page on my website. Here he plays a melody from the anime Someday’s Dreamers, accompanying himself on piano.

Roger is finally ready to record an album. His Go Fund Me page is here. If you like old-time fiddle, you might want to check it out.