Archive for December, 2015

Hawaiian Oatmeal

December 31, 2015

We had duck for Christmas. Our traditional Christmas dinner is goose, but those are going for $75 a bird these days. More, I think, than an equivalent amount of prime rib.

MJ did it with a Hawaiian style sauce, essentially teriyaki with pineapple and orange juice, thickened with cornstarch and with onions and mushrooms to give it some bulk. We poured it over the duck, and over the sweet-potato/winter-squash mash. Of course, there were leftovers.

I tried it two ways. First using about a quarter cup of the sauce along with three-quarters of a cup of duck broth. The second time, I used a cup of duck broth and just reheated the last quarter cup of sauce and poured it over the oatmeal in the bowl.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of duck broth, one quarter cup of teriyaki-pineapple sauce, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: It was very good, and will be in the lineup whenever fine duck is served, or whenever we get a hankering for teriyaki-pineapple sauce. Of the two methods, I preferred the second one. The first wanted too much of itself.

Rating: *****

Twelve Days of Anime 12: GaruPan and Shirobako

December 25, 2015


Girls und Panzer
was arguably the best anime of 2012. It was an anime-original that was well-written, respected the topic, and devoted a lot of effort to obscure details instead of fanservice.* Unfortunately, it was beset by production problems that forced it to issue two “recap” episodes. True to form, director Mizushima dot-numbered them and extended the run time of the series, instead of trying to pass them off as real episodes. For the second recap, Episode 11.5, they actually had to stick in a three-month hiatus, which drove the ending from December of 2012 to March of 2013 (and incidentally made it impossible for it to gain the recognition it deserved, because it missed the deadlines for 2012 awards, and people couldn’t decide if they should list it as a 2012 or 2013 production). What was bad for the anime was good for the fans, because the director’s decision to honor quality over schedule ended up delivering an outstanding product.

GaruPanEp5.5

Part of the production problems may have been due to the failings of the studio. Studio Actas is evidently a small operation (they don’t even have a Wikipedia page), that had never before been lead on any big project. Their ANN Encyclopedia entry shows them acting mostly as an outsourcing studio, doing “In-Between Animation”, and “Production Assistance” and the like, admittedly on a long list of projects. Another part may have been a personal failing on the part of one individual. This was hinted at by some of the online discussion.

Skip ahead a year, and director Mizushima Tsutomu is working on a new anime original at a different studio: Shirobako, at P.A. Works. P.A. Works appears to be a much stronger studio than Actas. They are credited with such hits as Angel Beats!, Hanasaku Iroha, Another, and Eccentric Family. Their contribution to Shirobako was “2nd Key Animation, 3DCGI, Animation Production, In-Between Animation, Key Animation (ep 1-5, 7-8, 17, 19, 21-24), Production”. What links the two anime is that Shirobako is about the process of producing an anime, and the trials and tribulations involved, and GaruPan is a good example of what happens when production goes wrong. Evidently, two of the things that can seriously damage a production schedule are failure of the Production Assistants to do their job, and failure of the out-sourcing studios to deliver on time.

In Shirobako, the problems start out in Episode 1, when the obnoxious, loud-mouthed, Production Assistant Takanashi Tarō** admits that key frames for an upcoming episode are not finished yet, and that he has no idea when they will be.

...and there's no plan for them ever being finished!

…and there’s no plan for them ever being finished!

One can just imagine Mizushima rubbing his hands with glee at the thought that everyone in the industry will know just who “Taro” is, and how badly he screwed up. And the white-sidewalls half-Mohawk haircut is just a courtesy extra.

In the second cour of Shirobako, Mizushima takes on non-performing outsource studios, when the appropriately named Studio Taitanic (a stand-in for Actas?) fails to come through.

It's 11AM and why are you asleep on the floor?

It’s 11AM and why are you asleep on the floor?

Their work is shoddy, they are late on the schedule, and their episode director suddenly quit. Fortunately, Musashino Animation is able to place a key worker on location with them. All is well with Shirobako, not so much with Garupan.

Shirobako has been praised as an accurate, if rose-tinted, look at the anime industry. One reason for the accuracy is that the director had just lived through a gauntlet of industry pitfalls.***

——————-

*Two examples from episode 2: the school Headmaster’s car, which gets crushed by a tank, is a million-dollar Ferrari F-40. This is obvious to all Ferrari aficionados, but goes unremarked in the anime. Similarly, if you read Erwin Rommel’s book The Rommel Papers, his rapid advance across France at the start of WWII was almost halted because a Panzer IV got stuck on a bridge. In the girl’s first exercise, their Panzer IV gets stuck on a bridge. Nobody mentions Rommel.

** Tarō-san is a code phrase that restaurant workers use to reference cockroaches when the customers are listening

***Gauntlet of pitfalls. Yes, I know. Sad, innit?

Twelve Days of Anime 11: Fall Season Postview

December 24, 2015

Back in September I posted a totally subjective look at what shows I was considering for the Fall, 2015 season. Out of the eight I was planning on watching, with some level of confidence, three turned out to be movies (and not offered on either Crunchyroll or Funimation), two I dropped, either because of quality or boredom, and three I watched all the way through. What were the three?

Subete ga F ni Naru – Perfect Insider
A very European Art Film experience, with unlikable protagonists, stilted conversations, and inexplicable motivations. I probably won’t buy the DVD, but I may well marathon it next summer.

Beautiful Bones – AKA Bones-the Anime.
Contrived relationships and simplistic mysteries, so, not very much different from standard network TV. Last program was an unabashed setup for an as-yet second season. I’ll rewatch it sometime.

Owarimonogatari
Combined with Monogatari Second Season (which was actually about the third season’s worth of programming), this makes a fitting end to the series. All we need now is to have a season that shows how all this got its start.

Of the ten I swore I’d never watch, I actually tried watching six of them. Five confirmed my good taste. The other one was good enough in a better than marathoning Strike Witches way that I stuck with it.

Utawarerumono
So far, it’s a period costume harem anime, with a good-natured, laid-back hero and a bevy of nekko-mimi females to be entranced by him. It’s a two cour show, and this first season just laid the foundation. Pleasant enough, but not outstanding.

So that was it. Four shows. Two updated at midweek, two on the weekend. An exceedingly thin season, and hardly enough to keep me occupied. I filled in the time by watching Serial Experiments Lian

Twelve Days of Anime 10: Supporting Characters

December 23, 2015

A while back, I did an item on secondary characters, what Hollywood calls supporting actors — people like Walter Brennan, Thomas Mitchell, and of course, John Malkovich — identifying those I thought deserved a spin-off anime of their own. For this tenth of my twelve days I thought I’d bring the list up to date, with one entry from each year since I wrote the original, in 2012. Of course, there are some constraints. It had to be a show I watched. It had to be a character who obviously had a backstory, not told in the original anime, and it had to be a character who could stand on their own.

Beyond the Boundary 2013

Beyond the Boundary
2013

Ayaka Shindō: she’s a kitsone yomu who runs a photo shop as cover for her yomu-stone evaluation business. How did she get a job working for the anti-yomu Spirit League? What does she do when she’s not buying yomu-stones? Does she really do gravure-idol photoshoots on the side?

Kawai Complex 2014

Kawai Complex
2014

Nishikino Mayumi: a 29-year old office lady who has terrible luck with men, and who tends to get drunk every time she breaks up with her current boyfriend. What’s life like in a standard Japanese office? Where does she find all these losers?

Overlord 2015

Overlord
2015

Sebas Tian: the dragonoid butler and leader of the Pleiades Combat Maids in this trapped-in-a-MMORPG anime. What’s his relationship to all the other butlers named Sebastian in the BL literature? How does he look with his shirt off? What exactly do he and the Pleiades get up to when Heinz Own Goal is out of the castle?

Twelve Days of Anime 9: The incomparable Sawashiro Miyuki

December 22, 2015

MiyukiSawashiro

I first encountered Sawashiro Miyuki when she voiced Claire, the independent-minded high school senior in Red Garden. I was not into tracking voice actors at that point. In fact, I’m still not one who checks to see who all the seiyu are before deciding what anime to watch. But I remember being struck by Claire’s voice, a resonant contralto, and her control over the range and overtones. It wasn’t until I watched Bakemonogatari, and found myself impressed with Suruga Kanbaru’s voice that I checked to see who the seiyu was, and followed the notes back to Sawashiro. Now, one of the things I do at the start of every anime season, when I’m deciding what to watch, is go to her Wikipedia page to see what she is acting in. I don’t always follow up, but it’s one of my guideposts. Herewith, some of the characters she has voiced over the last ten years or so.

Monogatari series 2009-2016

Monogatari series
2009-2016

Kanbaru Suruga: one of the strongest characters in a long-running series replete with them. In any survey she’s likely to be in a three way tie with Hanekawa and Senjogahara for Best Girl, and a three-way is just how she likes things. Sawashiro turned in outstanding performances in Hanamonogatari and Owarimonogatari, capturing the strength of feeling and emotion of the character. Of course, none of those clips are available on-line, but here’s a clip that captures Sawashiro’s work today.

Wakakozake 2015

Wakakozake
2015

Wakako Murasaki: The only character in an ultra-short anime that shows her adventures in Japanese fast food restaraunts. The format won’t let us find anything more about her. What about the rest of her life as an office lady? What about the rest of her free time? Why is she still unmarried at 26, the dreaded christmas cake age that implies one is past one’s sell by date?

Blood Blockade Battlefront 2015

Blood Blockade Battlefront
2015

Vivian: A cheerful counter waitress in a fast food joint in Helsalem’s Lot. Every other episode her cafe gets destroyed by monsters or giant mechas or something, but she always drags herself out of the ruins and carries on. She watches out for Leonardo but doesn’t seem to have a boyfriend of her own.

Witch Craft Works 2014

Witch Craft Works
2014

Medusa: The original Medusa, whose glance can turn one to stone, so she’s been imprisoned in a blindfold for decades. Breaks free and comes to the Workshop Witches town. Very powerful but has very bad judgment when it comes to selecting her minions.

Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun 2014

Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun
2014

Seo Yuzuki: A hard-charging tomboy with a gorgeous singing voice, she’s aggresively oblivious to her impact on the world around her. What’s her home life like? Will she and the Theater Club president ever become a couple?

Maoyu Mao Yuusha 2013

Maoyu Mao Yuusha
2013

Female Knight: Once an adventuring partner of Hero, now she’s the head of a nunnery, with a part-time job of sword trainer for Demon Queen and the occasional gig as leader of national armies. Said she’s happy to be a simple, devoted, knight-in-service to Hero, but if that’s the case, why did she try to slip into his room late at night in her negligee, with a trayful of tea and cookies?

Kokoro Connect 2012

Kokoro Connect
2012

Himeko Inaba: Dominant character in the Cultural Studies Club. Provides confident leadership and advice, but all the while is beset with confidence issues. Steers Taichi into a relationship with Iori, until she realizes that she loves him as well. What changes will the OVA bring?

Lupin III 2012

Lupin III
2012

Fujiko Mine: Lupin’s romantic interest and rival in crime across decades of the franchise. If either is in trouble, the other will be glad to help, as long as they are the one to make away with the swag. The latest Lupin gives her equal billing and equal screen time.

Highschool Of The Dead 2010

Highschool Of The Dead
2010

Busujima Saeko: a slightly twisted swordswoman who enjoys the violence, but worries that it makes her less suitable as a wife. Her first name is pronounced ‘psycho’.

Durarara!! 2010

Durarara!!
2010

Celty Sturluson: a headless wraith from Ireland, who rides a horse/motorcycle steed through Akihabara, looking for her head, and a boyfriend. Hard job for a seiyu to pull off, because, you know, headless. First season ended with her finding that the head she found was not the head she was looking for. Move along.

Kannagi 2008

Kannagi
2008

Aoba Tsugumi: the traditional childhood friend of our harem lead Mikuriya Jin. She wakes him up in time for school, brings him meals, and clashes with shrine goddess Nagi. The one-season series ended before we could find out which girl gets him.

Red Garden 2006

Red Garden
2006

Claire Forrest: strongly independent girl (her family is rich, but she will have nothing to do with them). One of the dominant personalities among the Dead Girls. In the OVA, 400 years in the future, she’s still driving her ’88 Olds. Here’s a clip of Sawashiro’s work ten years ago.

Green Thumb Up My Nose: Winter Solstice

December 21, 2015

We are at the Winter Solstice. The Northern Hemisphere has tilted as far from the Sun as it planned to, and has now started back. Days are getting longer, and Spring is on the way. I went out at the last moment of Autumn and measured the soil temperature of the KHG. After ten days in the low thirties (with one clear night touching 13F), and with a six-inch blanket of new fallen snow (it’s still coming down), the temperature   one foot down at 8:48PST was 40F. A minute later, when Winter was well and truly started, the temperature was still 40F, so I can confidently say that the arrival of Winter had no effect on the deep soil temperature of the KHG.

Twelve Days of Anime 8: Will the real Oda Nobunaga please stand up?

December 21, 2015

Everyone with the slightest interest in Japanese history is familiar with the name Oda Nobunaga, the warlord who ended the Warring States period and started Japan on its way to unification. Even moderate otaku should also be familiar with the name, because the Japanese anime industry can’t seem to get enough of him. The problem is, no-one wants to base an anime on anything approximating an accurate retelling, everyone wants to tell their own counter-factual version of the tale.

Back in 2013, ANN listed seven Nobunaga-associated anime: two with space aliens, two gender-benders, one Pokemon, one Nobunaga-the-demon-king, and one Nobunaga as the boss of the main character, who is a politician addicted to tea. Since that list was compiled, we’ve added three more: Nobunaga replaced by a modern highschool boy, Nobunaga the soul inhabiting a modern highschool girl, and Nobunaga pals around with Joan of Arc while riding a da Vinci mecha and fighting Julius Caesar.

This one

This one

Not this one

Not this one

What I’d like to see is a straightforward period-costume piece. I’d even be happy with some fantasy elements, maybe a female childhood friend from Owari Province, and of course the many haremettes he meets as he proceeds with his conquests. You could even let him keep his hair.

Twelve Days of Anime 7: Subete ga F ni Naru, a Commentary

December 20, 2015

The Europeans don’t think like us Americans, and it drives us crazy. One area of disconnect is their reduced need for closure. Perhaps it’s because they’ve lived cheek-by-jowl on a tiny peninsula since forever, and they know that whatever happens between them and their neighbors, they will still be neighbors tomorrow, and so will their grandchildren. Associated with this is an ability to go inside themselves, to think deep thoughts and then to act, wisely or foolishly, on them. It’s not that Americans can’t do this, it’s that our culture doesn’t encourage it. We want closure, we want openness, by which we mean a direct circuit between a thought and an action, unmitigated by reflection. And if things don’t work out, well, we’re off to the frontier, or are neighbors are, and we are never stuck in an unchanging situation.

Living in the US, and then England, and then the US again (in a previous Century), I got to see this first-hand. Take television crime shows. The archetypal US show is the old Dragnet. At the end of each program Detective Joe Friday captures the villain, and the narrator tells us that they were tried and convicted in the Los Angeles County Superior Court in and for the county of Los Angeles, and sentenced to ten years in prison. All wrapped up. No loose ends.

What was English crime TV like? Not as many murders, for one thing, and the police would wax indignant over the injuries a victim had suffered from being hit with a club. More to the current point, there was less emphasis on closure, on justice being seen to be done. Many shows ended with the last bit of evidence being found, and Detective Chief Inspector Charles Barlow and Detective Inspector John Watt (Softly, Softly) putting on their hats and heading out to make the arrest. Roll credits. Or they might not even get their man. One program involving a series of furniture thefts (no murders, just missing credenzas) ended with the police car squealing to a halt at an intersection in order to set up a roadblock, just seconds after the loaded van went through.

Similarly with thoughts and introspection. There’s a whole class of European movies that have this tendency to pause while the protagonists stare off into the distance before having some massively important revelation strike. Characters are always having long, seemingly pointless discussions on the whichness of what. Films are structured around the complex interactions of complex, possibly unlikable, persons. Such things don’t resonate with Americans at all, which is why they are labeled “arty”, and shown only at local film festivals, or on college campuses.

As far as I know, Japan doesn’t do this so much, which is why we are always surprised when it happens. Take the anime movie Sky Crawlers, for example. At one point, the protagonists make out in the front seat of a rental car, while struggling for possession of a cocked pistol. The male lead has an epiphany while sitting in the BOQ, watching a squadron mate read the newspaper. It’s a movie about flying has about ten minutes of flying in it. The Yūichi, I am your father revelation is only hinted at, leaving Yūichi to deduce it on his own. All very arty, very European.

Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider (based on a book by Mori Hiroshi, who also wrote Sky Crawlers) is much like this. It’s a locked room mystery inside an isolated island mystery, with a touch of cyber-weirdness to add spice. But the mystery is really only a vehicle to display the characters and quirks of the people involved. None of them are very likable. One of them, the perpetrator, is made out by all the others to be a genius far beyond the ability of mere mortals to understand, but from where this mortal stands, she’s an asocial, psychopathic, schizophrenic serial killer with no redeeming values. To which the series would say, “So? What’s your point?”

I enjoyed much of this series. I was irritated by much more of it. I’m not sure if I’ll buy it when it comes out on DVD, but I might gift it to some of my more intellectual friends.

Twelve Days of Anime 6: Where are they now?

December 19, 2015

Go back ten to fifteen years. Think of some of the shows that got released that year. Ask yourself, what has happened to their characters in the decade or decade and a half since their story was told?

Naota117021 2000 – Naota Nandaba (FLCL). He was twelve when he met Haruko Haruhara, was run over by a yellow Vespa, and hit on the head with a blue Rickenbacker 4001 left-handed electric bass guitar. Then it got weird. He’d be almost 30 by now, maybe inherited his father’s bakery and married Eri Ninamori, and they had a child named Nagisa.
Tohru_Honda 2001 – Honda Tōru (Fruits Basket). High School girl in 2001, so she’s at least 30. Married former catshifter Sohmas Kyo and inherited a martial arts dojo. Had a son and a granddaughter, probably named Murasame.
OginoChihiro 2001 – Ogino Chihiro (Spirited Away). She was only 10 in 2002, so she’s in her early 20’s now, just out of college. Given her middle-class background, she’s probably an office lady somewhere in the Tokyo suburbs.
WitchHunterRobin 2002 – Robin Sena (Witch Hunter Robin). Another 15-year-old (around 30 now). She and her probable love interest, Amon, apparently survived the destruction of the Orbo factory. She is a witch, and carries the memories of thousands of years of witches, making her exceedingly boring to talk to at parties. Amon carries a copy of the witch gene, so they’ve had time to raise a number of witchy children with good memories.
FukuzawaYumi 2004 – Fukuzawa Yumi (Maria Watches Over Us). In her mid-twenties now, she was an entering freshman at Lillian Girls’ Academy when the anime opens. Maintained the discrete, not-quite-yuri relationships typical of all the cultured young ladies of the Academy. Probably moved in with Ogasawara Sachiko after graduation.
HanamotoHagumi 2005 – Hanamoto Hagumi (Honey and Clover). Eighteen and a new art student at the start of the anime, she is devoted to her art and is probably still unmarried at 28, living in a studio in suburban Tokyo. Probably still getting carded when she walks into bars.
TsuchimiRin 2005 – Tsuchimi Rin (Shuffle). For some reason (possibly because the anime is based on a harem game), as a 17 year old, he found himself pursued by a bevy of beautiful young girls, including the daughters of gods and demons. He eventually pairs off with Shigure Asa, a sickly half-demon. They’d be in their late twenties now, probably with a quiverful of quarter-demons, with names like Primula, Lisianthus, and Kaede.
Lain 1998 – Iwakura Rein (Serial Experiments Lain). She was just 14 when she became the omnipotent goddess of The Wired. Today she is in her early thirties, unless she wants to be a teenager. She’s everywhere and nowhere, and I’m not sure that putting tape over your webcam will help.

Twelve Days of Anime 5: Revisiting Haruhi

December 18, 2015

The Suzumiya Haruhi franchise is now 12 years old, and Haruhi herself is approaching 30: an early Millennial, soon to be middle-aged. It’s one of my favorite anime, and I thought I’d revisit it as part of my 12 Days essays.

Kyon, Haruhi, Time Traveler, ESPer , Alien

Kyon, Haruhi, Time Traveler, ESPer , Alien

For those of my reader born this Century, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a 2006 two-season TV anime plus movie, based on a series of ten light novels that started publishing in 2003. Haruhi is a high school girl only interested in the exotic — aliens, ESPers, time travelers and the like. She starts a club to search for these, roping in our POV character, Kyon (his nickname, which is the name of a miniature Japanese deer), as well as … an alien, a time traveler, and an ESPer. It turns out that Haruhi is some sort of goddess unknowing, whose merest whims can turn pigeons white, cause cherry trees to blossom in January, freeze time, and threaten to destroy and rebuild the universe; or call forth aliens, ESPers, and time travelers to play with. The first half of the first season is spent learning these things. The next season-and-a-half, plus movie, is spent with the members of the club frantically trying to head off her whims and keep her distracted.

The start of the second season was interesting, because KyoAni Studio tried something different: they reran the episode about the world being caught in an endless time loop eight times in a row — the infamous Endless Eight. They didn’t skimp on the work, however, because they animated eight different episodes around the same, or nearly the same, script. It was a bold artistic experiment, that didn’t work. Most fans hated it, and ragequit both the franchise and the studio forever. Or at least until Hibiki! Euphonium came out. The reason for the time loop, BTW, was that Haruhi was having so much fun with her friends that she didn’t want Summer to end. They could have called it Endless Summer, but I think that one was already taken. It took another three years before KyoAni was ready to reboot the franchise with the movie Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Time Loop 15,876

Time Loop 15,524

Time Loop 14,782

Time Loop 15,498

Now, about Suzumiya herself. Dangerous as it is to apply Western demographic labels to the Japanese, it looks like the Millenial label — in several of its different interpretations — might fit her quite well. According to Wikipedia, two conflicting descriptions of Millenials is that they are both civic-minded and narcissistic. I think this fits Haruhi exactly.

She is as self-centered as a gyroscope, interested in things that interest her, and totally oblivious to the rest. In the making of the student movie The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina, when Asahina’s Mikuru Beam slices a lightboard in half, she gets irritated with the film club (who she stole it from) for buying such cheap stuff. Later, when the beam chops down a chain link fence, she just assumes it was badly maintained. On the civic-minded front, aside from a personal desire to meet time travelers and aliens, etc, her life goal (as we learn in the later LNs) is to become a philanthropist and make lots of money so she can give it away.

Her oblivious enthusiasm was fun at the beginning, but got old after a while, and the series was right to center on the activities of the other members of the SOS Brigade as they worked to keep her both happy and in the dark. What saves the anime from becoming boring are the soliloquies of Kyon, the self-deprecating POV character and the only normal person in the group. In fact, the whole series should have been called The Melancholy of Kyon Haruhi’s-Helper.  Kyon isn’t particularly attracted to Haruhi, he’s more interested in Mikuru’s chest, and Yuki’s intellect. He’s there probably because goddess Haruhi wants him there, and she isn’t sure herself why that is (or why she gets irritated whenever he spends time with one of the other girls).

Kyon under observation

Kyon under observation

On the one hand, it’s unfortunate that the franchise hasn’t revived, because there’s at least one more season’s worth of material in the light novels. On the other hand, it’s not all that unfortunate that the franchise hasn’t revived, because the material in the light novels isn’t that strong. It involves an anti-Haruhi storyline, where alternative versions of all our characters appear to contest the validity of Haruhi as mediator of the universe. The story arcs are interesting, but the ending is unsatisfactory.

The animation was done with KyoAni’s usual insane attention to detail. One blogger has pointed out that items, like the Tanabata bamboo, were included (unremarked) in the background of Season 1, because they’d be important in Season 2, if there was one.

Checkov's Bamboo

Checkov’s Bamboo

All in all, I consider The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya to be a minor masterpiece, and I’m glad to have a chance to write about it again.

Twelve Days of Anime 4: TL:DR, Anime I never finished, 12 Days Edition

December 17, 2015

Most of my TL:DR’s are about anime that couldn’t pass the three episodes rule, ones that were bad enough that I didn’t want to watch a full season. What I’m writing about here are those anime that were enjoyable enough to watch the first season of, or the first cours, but not engaging enough to be worth watching the rest. Sometimes these are streaming anime, other times they are DVD’s that I bought but couldn’t be bothered to put in the second disc. All (well, most) are kirai jianai — I don’t dislike.

 

Twelve Kingdoms: A collection of stories. The first, and longest, is about a young girl who is kidnapped from the coast of Japan and ends up, not in North Korea, but in a different world. She has an extended series of tribulations, which she barely manages to survive (all the while crying the Japanese equivalent of Auntie Em! Auntie Em! There’s no place like home!). She is befriended by a large rat, who helps her be reunited with her kidnapper. Said kidnapper turns out to be a Kirin (Chinese dragon/giraffe hybrid that looks like a unicorn here), who has decided she should be the Immortal Queen of one of the Twelve Kingdoms.

It was a nice enough series, but it falls into what I call the costumed-period-fantasy category, and those have a hard time holding my interest. I stopped watching at the end of the first season/DVD.

Got to Episode 13 of 45

Got to Episode 13 of 45

 

Polar Bear Cafe: Slice of life about a slacker panda who hangs out with a love-struck penguin in a nice little Applebee’s-like cafe run by a polar bear. Gilligan does Friends. It’s very cute, and I enjoyed every episode, and I didn’t drop it so much as wandered off. It’s still in my Crunchyroll queue, but I haven’t touched it for months.

Episode 28 of 40

Episode 28 of 40

xxx-Holic: Spirit-bepestered student works for a witchy-woman. Slice of life/spirit of the week. No over-arching plot, so no reason to tune in next week, but unlike say, Non Non Biyori, most of the individual episodes are not strong enough to stand on their own. It does have its moments, like Episode 5’s description of Shiritori as a game you play to keep the monsters away. Like Polar Bear, it’s a wandered-away-from.

Episode 10 of 24

Episode 10 of 24

Sword Art On-Line: Trapped in a MMORPG. The art work was good, and the fights were interesting, but I had the same problem a lot of others did: the hero was too heroic. That is, the hero could never lose, except emotionally. I got surprisingly far into this one but didn’t bother to finish it.

Episode 16 of 24

Episode 16 of 24

Log Horizon: Trapped in a MMORPG. Better characters, better plot, more gaming-related lore. Still, it couldn’t overcome it’s costumed-period-fantasy core. I watched the first season, and bought the DVD, but didn’t bother with the second.

Episode 13 of 24

Episode 13 of 24

A Certain Scientific Railgun: Extra-special-talent girl at a school for special-talent students. Can accelerate metallic objects using her electric personality. Not exactly slice of life. Not exactly danger-of-the-week. Not exactly strong on plot. Did I mention that her little sister has a totally unhealthy obsession with? Kindof fun, but a little went a long ways, and I didn’t bother to follow up on the second half. I must say it’s a better series than A Certain Index — that one is awaiting a true TL:DR.

Episode 12 of 24

Episode 12 of 24

I bought the DVD, but that was more to show support for the industry than any desire to have a family treasure to mention in my will.

Twelve Days of Anime 3: The Roots of My Obsession

December 16, 2015

The roots of my anime obsession go back at least ten years. At least, that’s what Amazon tells me. My first Amazon anime purchase was Cowboy Bebop, in 2004, and my second was Porco Rosso, in 2007. My first aniblogging entry was about Red Garden, in 2010, and I’ve averaged just over one entry a month since then.

But that’s just the surface artifacts, as it were. The remains of threshing floors that say agriculture was practiced here, without telling us when the hunter-gatherers first settled down and subscribed to cable. To sift out these other dates we will need some indirect evidence.

The indirect evidence says it can’t be in an earlier century. Then, I was living in Northern Virginia, working in DC, and between work and commute, my hours were measured in the teens. Towards the end of the century I became a college student (again), with no TV, a slow modem, and a burning desire to finish my dissertation. Any spare time was spent drinking craft beer and writing equations at Portland’s Market Street Pub, the unofficial headquarters of the Systems Science grad students.

So that brings us up to late 2000CE, when I acquired a job and a house and was reunited with my wife and other household goods. At that time, my main TV fare was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I had been introduced to it by my niece when she visited from Georgia (yes, I have a niece, and a grand-niece as well). For the next five years or so I collected Buffy/Angel DVDs and books and, OK yes, graphic novels. Or at least, that’s what Amazon says. I also had time to hang out on the kinds of places on the Internet where Buffy-like things were discussed, and those were just a few IP numbers away from the otaku boards.

Unfortunately, I have slept since then, and have forgotten just where and how I started watching. Obviously I was interested enough by 2004 to buy Cowboy Bebop (and loan it to friends). By that time as well, Miyazaki Hayao had issued over a dozen full length movies, most of which had already been released in the US, so I was undoubtedly exposed to long form anime. Relying on Amazon, again (there’s no other source for anime in this one-Starbucks town), my next purchase was Porco Rosso (and some other Miyazaki,in May of 2007) and for some strange reason Moon Phase (in November, what was I thinking?). By the time 2008 came to an end I’d bought Wolf’s Rain, Whisper of the Heart, Cat Returns, Last Exile, Castle in the Sky, Ah, My Goddess, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The rest, as they say, is filmography.

Twelve Days of Anime 2: Rewatching Maoyu Mao Yusha.

December 15, 2015

Maoyū Maō Yūsha (Demon King and Hero) is a single cours 2013 anime based on a light novel series. I first watched it when it streamed on Crunchyroll, bought a cheap Malaysian ripoff when it looked like it wouldn’t get a US release, and just now got the official version off of Amazon. That, of course, required a rewatch. Like many anime, it doesn’t fare quite as well the second time around, but “not quite as well” doesn’t mean “not good”.

Demon Queen is hornier than she looks

Demon Queen is hornier than she looks

Wrong sword, Hero

Wrong sword, Hero

The story is simple: Demon Queen convinces human Hero to join her in a quest to end the interminable demon-human wars. They do so by bringing modern agriculture, education, and technology (all supplied by the Demon Queen, who is really a Scholar) to the humans, thus breaking down the economic reasons for continuing the war. Subplots include the Queen/Hero romance, the unrequited love of the Lady Knight, and the education and liberation of Big Sister Maid. Note that no-one has names, just job titles. Fortunately, the cast of characters is small, otherwise we’d be having to sort out who Head Maid of Another Minor Noble of Southern Mountain Country is.

The Queen is enamoured of the Hero, based, as far as I can tell, on magical images in her demon scrolls. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time away, troubleshooting, and is as nervous as a teen-ager when in her buxom presence. The Lady Knight (voiced by the incomparable Sawashiro Miyuki) is an old companion of the Hero. When he left her on his mission to kill the Demon King she was so distraught that she entered a nunnery. The Big Sister Maid was a serf who fled her abusive master, was hired by Head Maid, trained and educated, and who (disguised as the Crimson Scholar, which is the disguise the Demon Queen uses in human lands) gives an impassioned Rights of Man speech after being arrested by the Church for heresy. Is everything clear now? Good.

Head Maid can do everything from cleaning silver to leading armies

Head Maid can do everything from cleaning silver to leading armies

but Big Sis Maid can inspire revolutions

but Big Sis Maid can inspire revolutions

Why I like it: I’m a sucker for a good romance. I like anime that makes you think. I like the characters.

What’s wrong with it: It’s punching far above its weight, trying to fit two or three seasons worth of ideas into a single season anime, and trying to do it with a half-season budget. The animation was so-so at the beginning, and went downhill from there.

The Triune Mage

The Triune Mage

One result was that there was little time to devote to secondary characters. Female Magician, for example, appears to be three separate personalities, who devoted years to storing up spells to help Hero in his hour of need, but we never learn how her personalities work or why she stored the spells. Likewise, none of the demons gets much more than a walk-on part. The South Arctic General (a giant walrus), for example, takes half an episode to die of excessive speed-lined stills. The Princess Fire Dragon gets a few cameo appearances, and that’s it.

Pretty Dragon Princess

Pretty Dragon Princess

Finally, the ending was rushed. How rushed? Think of a history of WWII that starts out with a detailed discussion of the reasons for the war, a good discussion of the invasion of France and the Battle of Britain, and ends with the line: Then the allies prepared to invade Normandy and occupy Berlin, after which, they would drop a couple of bombs on Japan. None of the major plot lines, either personal or geopolitical, was resolved.

Maoyū is often compared to Spice and Wolf, with S&W being microeconomics, and MMY macroeconomics. If they’d had three times the budget, and better writers, they might have pulled it off. Arms, the production company, had done good work before (Genshiken), but I guess they were saving their budget for their masterpiece pair, Samurai Girls/Samurai Bride, and looking forward to this year’s Valkyrie Drive.

————————————

*The Japanese title (まおゆう魔王勇者) is a little confusing. As far as I can tell from the online dictionaries:

まおう = demon king
魔王 = demon king
勇者 = brave person = hero

So it’s demon king demon king hero? Like duck, duck, goose? There’s a lot I don’t know about Japanese.

Twelve Days of Anime 1: Anime Preview Winter 2016

December 14, 2015

Since last season’s Anime Preview went so well — eight views in ten weeks!! — and since the Twelve Days of Anime aniblogging Project is on again, I thought I’d try it again. Unlike other reviewers, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the studio previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on just the title and the cover art (with maybe a little bit of the blurb). Clickable details can be found here.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels to stuff I didn’t like before, kids stuff, movies and OVA’s, and anything I can’t tell if it’s a series, an OVA, or a short.

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps.

1. Gate Season 2 JSDF Invades Fairyland

1. Gate Season Two
JSDF Invades Fairyland.
Again.
.

2015FallHaruChika

2. Haruchika
Hibiki! The mystery

2015Fall-DagashiKashi

3. Dagashi Kashi (but however)
Aloof intellectual girl finds herself stranded at a candy store in decaying rural Japan

2. Musaigen (Colors of a Phantom World) Aggressive blond, thoughtful redhead, and witless brunette exploit male hero during adventures in DigitalLand

4. Musaigen
(Colors of a Phantom World)
Aggressive blond, thoughtful redhead, and witless brunette exploit male hero during adventures in DigitalLand

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

1. Kono Subarashii (Blessings of a wonderful world) Aggressive blond, loli redhead, and genkii blue-hair exploit male hero during adventures in an alternate world.

1. Kono Subarashii
(Blessings of a wonderful world)

Aggressive blond, loli redhead, and genkii blue-hair exploit male hero during adventures in FantasyLand.

2. Ajin: Clueless hero is stalked by insect collective fashion dummy

2. Ajin
Clueless male hero is stalked by insect collective fashion dummy

3. Boku Dake: Sad girl in snow forces mangaka to invent time travel

3. Boku Dake
Sad girl in snow forces mangaka to invent time travel

4. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo: Ex-con becomes a standup comic. Tragedy ensues.

4. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo
Ex-con becomes a standup comic. Tragedy ensues.

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

1. Mahou Shoujo: Grade-school-age magical girl has bikini for costume

1. Mahou Shoujo
Grade-schooler wears bikini-based magical girl costume

2. Ooya-san wa Shishunki (Landlord Puberty) I refuse to watch any anime with 'puberty' in the title

2. Ooya-san wa Shishunki
(Landlord Puberty)

I refuse to watch any anime with ‘puberty’ in the title

3. Kono Danshi (Men working magic): can two wizards see past their budding romance and stay productive?

3. Kono Danshi
(Men working magic)

Can two wizards see past the magic of their budding romance and continue to work in the Ministry of Counter-Magic Ops?

.

Can

4. Oshiete
(Tell me)

Can aggressive blond, frigid megane-girl, and idiot with money overcome their differences in bra size to bond in a high school with no boys in sight?

Chili Cheese Oats

December 10, 2015

MJ picked up a block of Grafton Village Raw Milk Smoked Chili Cheddar at Safeway recently (and the number of modifiers should tell you everything you need to know). We try a lot of different cheeses for snacking, putting them into the rotation if we think they are tasty. This one isn’t going into the rotation. It is something like a pepper jack, only Cheddar instead of Monterey, and red chili instead of green. Other than that, and the smoke, they are identical. For our tastes, there’s too much chili pepper, to the point that it’s hard to taste anything else. Yes, the smoke flavor comes through, but any cheese flavor is totally submerged. Wait a minute! Maybe it will work in oatmeal?

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth (beef, with mushroom), roughly a tablespoonsworth of Smoked Chili Cheddar  chopped, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the cheese before you add the oats, and add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Nope. Well, not for me. Still too much chili hot. Had to have a glass of dilute drinkable yogurt as a side dish. No smoke and no cheese flavor came through. Others might like it, depending on how much heat they like for breakfast.

 

Rating: *****

WWII in the Pacific

December 7, 2015

Herewith, in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, a list of every US aircraft carrier lost in the Pacific War, from the USS Langley (CV-1), the first aircraft carrier ever built, to the USS Bismarck Sea (CVE-95), which served for only 277 days.

The world's first aircraft carrier

America’s first aircraft carrier, and the first one lost in combat

In addition, here’s a YouTube animated map showing the ebb and flow of the Pacific War from December 7th, 1941 to September 2d, 1945.

High water mark. The day the Marines landed on Guadalcanal

High water mark. The day the Marines landed on Guadalcanal

Interesting to note that it was over a year after the landings on Guadalcanal before the front lines appreciably changed.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

December 6, 2015

Garden Report for 151207

This is more of a clean-up entry than anything. We are using up the last of the tomatoes this week. They were all green when picked, but as long as one can avoid them rotting they seem to ripen …. eventually. They do tend to dehydrate a little, and thus get wrinkly with age, but don’t we all.

Probably should do something with our Jack-O-Lantern this week as well. It’s almost ripe, but some parts look like they want to go bad. This is the one that was grown in the shade, and thus didn’t do very well. UPDATE: about half a cup of watery squoosh.

Shows you what lack of sun can do

Shows you what lack of sun can do

UPDATE: It’s warmed into the 50’s and I realized I hadn’t harvested the carrots. Got a pound and a half of nice-looking stubbies. There’s a patch of smaller ones that I’m going to leave for a bit.

Finally, on the 3rd of December, after a week of frosts as low as 18F, followed by a couple days of rain, the temperature 12″ down in the KHG was a toasty 40F. We’ll see what it’s like come February.

Cataract Surgery, Part 3

December 5, 2015

It’s now been almost six months since my first cataract surgery, and three months since I got my ‘final’ set of glasses. How have things gone so far? Turns out a lot of this writeup is a confirmation of my first impressions from Cataracts 2.

As I said then, cataract surgery shifts you from an infinite-focus biological system to a fixed focus mechanical-optical system. Most of the time that’s not a problem, but you do have to learn new techniques, like, focusing with your arms.

Keep in mind that my right eye is set for medium distance, say 10 to 40 feet, and my left eye is set for close vision, anything under about three feet. My regular glasses are designed to correct that vision (plus some astigmatism) for both eyes, and my computer glasses are designed to work best at about three feet, also for both eyes. I actually haven’t noticed the difference — I don’t find myself staring one-eyed at a page, like I was a character out of True Grit — but some of the issues I have noticed may stem from that. Here’s a breakdown

Long Distance. That’s everything over about fifty feet. With glasses on, no problems. With glasses off, not much of a problem. I can pass the WA state driver’s test without glasses, but my clear vision degrades noticeably beyond the 50-60 foot range. At night, there’s some glare from headlights. Left (near vision) eye has foggy glare. Right (medium vision) eye is more spiky, like you get on star photos with a Newtonian telescope.

Medium Distance. As in, walking around the house naked (well, naked eyeballs). No problems, except that I have to get closer to the bookcase to read the backs of the books. Before the operation I had to get close, even with glasses, and BC (before cataracts) I had to be right up against the bookcase if I had my glasses off.

PC Distance. About three feet. Ideal distance is 27″, but with my adjustable desk, 36″ is about as close as I can get. Comfort and clarity depends on the font, and on the size of the font. No glasses is more comfortable than wearing my regular glasses, and even with my PC glasses I sometimes have to bump up the size. I am thinking of getting remeasured at my next appointment

Reading Distance. Anything from 6-18″. Depends on the font and spacing. The bifocal part of my regular glasses is best at about 18″, but only in a very narrow viewing angle. Standard Dollar Store reading glasses work best at about six inches. Part of the issue is that I seem to have lost, not peripheral vision, but peripheral acuity. Reading now requires a certain amount of head movement, instead of eye scanning. The acuity itself seems to be variable — the same page can be clear as a bell, and then suddenly hard too read — but that might be a case of needing to train my eyes, or maybe problems that come when my eyes are tired.

My eyes get dry and tired more often, and I use a lot of eyedrops. I use a thick kind (Systane Balance) right before I turn the lights out at night (the bottle is next to the bed), and standard ones when I get up in the morning, and maybe a couple times during the day. The right eye is the one that healed more slowly, and it’s the one that dries out first. I have found that a more varied routine helps. I’m using a timer to limit my PC time (good for me in many ways), reading with and without glasses, doing things around the house with and without glasses.

One minor irritation of having my different viewing regimes overlap is that I’ll get up from the PC and wander about the house with my PC glasses on, and then complain about my vision. Or I’ll sit down at the PC with no glasses, and complain after a few minutes. In the old days, if I stood up or sat down with the wrong glasses on, I knew it immediately.

I’m glad I did it. My brain is still coming to grips with changing a half-century of habits, and that’s always a chore. I find I have new limitations, but they are better than the old limitations. At least now I can survive without glasses, if necessary, even if I have to have two pair to operate effectively. Yeah, I’d do it again.

KaliOats

December 3, 2015

I’m not a big fan of kale. Any food with ‘dinosaur’ in the name, and ‘massage well’ in the instructions is a little too far out for me. Besides, it’s just as hard to grow in the NENW as its other brassicaid cousins are (and infects the soil just as much), and it tastes like you left the harvest too long. Nevertheless, when a family friend brings some kale salad to Thanksgiving dinner, and gives you a small container of leftovers, you smile and eat and take.

And try in your oatmeal.

The salad was chunks of kale chopped very fine (the way the manuals say you should do with any field-gathered survival food), with some shredded carrots and a light touch of vinaigrette dressing. Nothing to get in the way of the kale flavor.

We had about half a cup of leftovers, just enough for two experiments: one where I rinsed off the vinegar and one where I didn’t. Didn’t make a difference.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth (I used beef), a scant quarter cup of chopped kale, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the kale at the start and the potatoes at the end.

Results: Extremely meh. If you like kale, you’ll like this. Kale flavor came through loud and clear. Didn’t overpower the oats and broth, but you knew there wes kale there.

Rating: ***** if you don’t like kale,  ***** if you do.