Here, have some text.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Blog...In The Rain...

The bottom of the water bottle was at the center of Rachel's vision, her concentration fixed as the water, gulp by gulp, disappeared.  "Now, what were you saying?"

Justin said the same words in the same tone as he did just a moment before.  "Postmodernism!  We're going to go for postmodernism!  And it'll be great!  And then..."  He had lost his words.

"Yeah, cool story bro."  Rachel stretched out on the couch.  "You realize I'll have no idea what I'm doing, if you just tell me to do something, eh?  You can't just tell me to go make something, and then assume it'll be brilliant just because I made it."  Rachel grabbed another water bottle.  "Besides, I dunno whose works you've been seeing, but I'm not actually that consistently good."

"But you do have an idea.  You may not like it, but in the back of your mind, you're already putting together the pieces.  Inception, eh?"

"That's not the point."

"No, but I know what your type is like.  If you get an idea, and you want to express it, you'll either produce a perfect expression, to your standards, or die trying."

Rachel took another very long sip of water, and again, her eyes were hidden behind the bottle.  "You really shouldn't have used that cliche: I don't think even you really know how real that possibility is.  That's the cost of being an artist, eh?"

"Eh?  Oh, no, that's not what I meant at all."  Justin's hand went into his jacket pocket.  "I meant we'll shoot you if you don't."

Rachel closed her eyes and smiled.  "You would."

What Am I Writing?
The above, in 15 minutes, because I was bored.  Instead of what I was supposed to be writing, which is the below.  I've also written the short story A Mage and her Friend, which is farther below, and isn't horrible.  Together with Two Hedgehogs Running and another story I'm probably going to write at some point, I'm going to call them the friendship trilogy.  D'aww...  No really, they're both kind of dark (nervous laugh), but at their heart, they are both about something far more optimistic.  It's just that people tend to die in horrible, horrible ways.  No hard feelings, it's just that as a writer, the easiest way to wrap something up is to kill off your characters.  I'm such a horrible person ^_^

Anyway, I kind of wanted to write more, but since my textbook readings wouldn't be too interesting to talk about, nor would Red Storm Rising (which I read almost a month ago now), and because it's getting late I have to choose between talking about something in detail, or a lot of things in a very vague and uninteresting way, I'll just talk about anime.

What Am I Watching?
If you saw my last post, you'll know I had been watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes.  I'm still, in fact, watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but I took a bit of a hiatus for a while.  Now that I'm settled in college, I think an episode or two a day sounds quite nice, even if I have more productive things I could be doing, like writing, or taking pictures, or drawing, or something.  Not that art isn't worthwhile, of course.

I'm also taking a bit of a hiatus from Tiger and Bunny, which I had been following as it was being simulcast, and I believe is actually just about to wrap up.  I say was, because it totally jumped the shark a bit I think two or so episodes ago, and that kind of shook me.  I still plan on finishing the series, because that sort of idea-centric mold-breaking show needs all the encouragement we the otaku can give it, even if it's not been exactly a classic.  It's still better than the indistinguishable harem and moe shows that still somehow make money regardless of execution.  What's more, I can easily see it being run here on Cartoon Network or something, and it'd probably be a success.  I mean, it's a superhero show, but with a really diverse array of interesting characters and a cool American-as-seen-by-the-Japanese art style.  Even better, it's already a very big success in Japan as well, so maybe the rooms full of Japanese businessmen will start to realize that sometimes the guy with the crazy idea sometimes comes up with something marketable.

Of course, if I got what I wanted, and Japanese studios let their directors try their own ideas with a freer hand, we'd end up with a similar situation to the OVA boom: a whole lot of very unique crap along with the good.  Still, I'd be willing to suffer many M.D. Geists for a single Akira.

Actually, scratch that, M.D. Geist is hilarious, give us some of those from time to time too.  What's that?  You'd do it for us anyway?  D'aww...

Anyway, just with Eden of the East, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Tiger & Bunny, and Ghost in the Shell (all of which I watched this past summer vacation), this would be a very good season for me and anime.  However, just about a week before I went back to college, I remembered this show that had a very popular run in Japan and with the American otaku just that previous winter, and that I had never gotten past the first episode on.  Puella Magi Madoka Magica, wasn't it?  Something about magical girls, and witches, and a cat-like thing called Kyubey.  Out of curiosity, I pulled up the second episode...then the third...then the fourth...

Yep, pretty much.

For those of you who are playing at home, this is what Madoka Magica is about: two middle school friends, Madoka Kaname and Sayaka Miki, find themselves offered a contract: to become magical girls and fight phantasmic witches for the adorable Kyubey, in exchange for having a wish granted.  Horrible, horrible things ensue.

I really want to write a full length analysis of Madoka Magica, which I will do eventually, but maybe this will do for now.  People seem to love comparing Madoka Magica to Neon Genesis Evangelion.  The main difference I see here is that Evangelion is a character study: a show about depression and the ways in which people relate to each other, and with themselves.  Madoka Magica, for all its deconstructive elements, is a tragedy first and foremost, albeit one that lives for its characters, and succeeds because of them.  Well, I say it's a deconstruction, and it is, at least until it at last, in a very literal way, become a reconstruction.  Which I love.  Still, while Madoka Magica may not plumb the strata of the human experience quite as much as Evangelion, for a tragedy to work, it has to have good characters.  It does, and more.  These characters are all unique people with their own motivations and arcs.  They are human enough that we can relate, and so that we can better understand their pain as these pretty horrible things happen to them and those around them.

Perhaps what makes the show so great can be summed up with one word: atmosphere.  Besides an episode or two of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, I haven't seen many of his other works, but I think I can safely say that Akiyuki Shinbo loves his superflat.  The nominal enemies of the show are these phantasmagorical, eldritch abominations called witches.  Each one of these witches creates around it a surreal maze and environment.  Now, I can throw around adjectives like "surreal" and "phantasmagorical" all I want, but the truth of the matter is, these environments the witches occupy are always drawn in art styles very different from the clean, digipaint, very cutesy style of the rest of the world.  The use of framing, color palette, sound, and juxtaposition here create some exceedingly creepy settings for the show's fights.

Of course, that's window dressing.  Some of the best use of atmosphere comes from the framing, coloring, and very uncanny-valley sort of architecture of the real world.  Everything is ludicrously clean and planned.  The school the main characters go to is a massive glass structure, its interior layout based on a prison in Australia.  There are a hundred little details in the cinematography that all point to the same conclusion: something's very wrong with this picture.

Unfortunately, this has the side effect of causing what I like to refer to as the Stanley Kubrick effect: the camera is so concerned with creating the atmosphere that it sometimes neglects characterization until it's almost too late.  By the time the series is reaching the middle, it's starting to do things that require us to be already understand and be attached to the characters, and though the writing is good enough and the cinematography not so negligent that it all comes crashing down, the show suffers a bit more than it should as a result.  Still, this seems a conscious decision on the director's part, so I can't really count it as a flaw, just an attribute.

I also kind of have to fault the series for having a rather useless first episode.  While it may have one of the most far out opening scenes I've seen in an anime yet, the rest of it doesn't do a whole lot.  We get introduced to the characters, but for the first episode, they get surprisingly little characterization.  They just...are.  This wouldn't be so bad - they do have some really witty conversations - if the first episode didn't also foreshadow or outright spoil a whole lot of things that would be much better off left unmentioned until later.  Most of these aren't even in the service of the plot, which doesn't hardly go anywhere either.  I watched it almost by accident from the second episode rather than the first, only later going back and watching it, and at the very least, nothing was lost.

One of the strongest aspects of the show, and one that contributes to its atmosphere and emotional weight is the brilliant soundtrack composed by Yuki Kajiura.  As I was watching the show, I noticed how well the music worked with the images, but besides for the wonderful closing theme, I more or less assumed that it would be like a lot of video game music: functional in the game, but meaningless to listen to on its own.  Of course, I listened to some of the tracks from the soundtrack on youtube, and they're almost all fantastic regardless of the context of the show.  When the soundtrack comes out in the US, I'm almost certainly going to buy it (but not before the soundtracks to Cowboy BeBop and Trigun, which I still haven't done).

In fact, I definitely plan on getting the DVDs when they come out here as well.  The unofficial fan subtitled version I watched is, after all, very legally ambiguous.  This is maybe my second favorite anime I've yet seen, right behind Evangelion, so to not get them would be remiss of me.

Which means I've had some good news: Aniplex has announced that they'll be releasing it in the US with an English dub.  To coincide with the announcement, they released this trailer.

Man, anyone buying the dvd after watching the trailer is going to be really in for it when they press play and this first scene starts rolling.

I can't wait.

No comments:

Post a Comment