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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weird People: Like Sorcerers, Vampires, and Musicians

Less than a month.  This has to be a new record for me.

But, I'm sitting here in the dark, earbuds in, on my bed, blocking out the world around me.  Perfect hikikomori mode.  I am the ghost without a shell, a construct of the internet, existing in the real world as only a server.

Someone should really tell Major Kusanagi about this.

Anyway, I've been doing quite a lot since my last entry here, but I don't have nearly the time and will to go into all of it, and I doubt that'd be interesting at all to read anyway.  Ace Combat Assault Horizon was cool, but if you want my full opinion, you can read it here.  I still haven't really had the time or will to play it much more, but I definitely will be.  I never did get that month of XBL like I intended to.  I've been watching online gameplay videos though, and it looks like it'd be pretty fun.  From the looks of it, my predictions about the piloting skills of the average player were spot on.  PositronCannon - a guy from ACS who seems to be about my skill level (at least, he seems to make the same mistakes as I do) - recently posted this rather...interesting...footage of him dealing handily with a bunch of Raptor and Pak-FA fodder in an orange and black F-14.  He's Spanish too, and his team-mates opponents seem to be American, so that's even with the lag disadvantage.  Full of lulz all around.

But really now, what am I doing?

You know what, screw the format.

Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil (Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb)
The last few posts I've made have talked a lot about Touhou fandom, but I had never actually gotten around to playing any of the Touhou games.  I never really even bothered to describe what they were actually like.  This was mainly because the games are a) for Windows and b) not available in America.  The latter turned out to be more of a problem, since coming across a download of the games from a not totally sketchy source turned out to be pretty difficult.

Then I came across this site.  Mac ports of almost all the Windows era Touhou games.  I'm tempted to embellish and say within an instant, I was simultaneously downloading all that was available, but no.  I figure I'll beat each one in sequence.

So, I downloaded the first of the Windows era Touhou games: Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil.  Here is told the story of how Remilia Scarlet - the 500 year old vampire - decides one day that she's tired of having to walk around everywhere with a parasol.  The obvious solution to her is to cover Gensokyo in red mist.  She sees no problem with this.  Reimu Hakurei - the incredibly lazy shrine maiden of the Hakurei Shrine - and Marisa Kirisame - the tomboyish ordinary human magician and kleptomaniac - both do.

And that's about all I can get, because the port is not exactly perfect: the dialog boxes are illegible.  As Touhou is known among other things for its witty dialog, this is a bit unfortunate, and I'm currently searching for a patch, and failing that, for the documentation so I can try and fix the problem myself.  It seems this is a common problem with WINE based ports (haha, port wines), so I'm guessing I'm not the only one.  At least it's translated, however dubiously; I certainly wasn't going to be able to try and figure out kanji while trying to walk through rain without getting wet.

Still, I don't mind too much: just playing the game is fun enough, and it is a very fun game.  See, you control your character - either Reimu or Marisa - as she flies through the wards and lesser beings blocking her way, investigating the cause of this rather disagreeable red mist, and encountering and challenging the denizens of Gensokyo who get in her way.  While lesser opponents and wards will just throw large quantities of magical "bullets" at you in vague patterns, the attacks of Gensokyo's more dangerous denizens are elaborate and beautiful patterns that must be studied and learned to reliably survive.  As you knock out or survive opponents (you are not fighting to kill, nor are your opponents), you collect power-ups to slowly improve the spread and power of your attack.  If you are on the verge of getting hit, you can use a sort of spell referred to as a "bomb" (also known as the "fuck-no-I'm-not-dealing-with-this button") to clear the screen of bullets and hurt any opponents in your way.  Marisa's signature master spark is one of many such moves (Reimu's counterpart being the less flashy but equally effective fantasy seal).

I'm not sure it's obvious from what I just said why one would need something like a bomb.  Well, when I said "large quantities of magical bullets" I did not mean merely "a bunch" or even "lots."  What I meant was this:
Yeah, it's not a game for people who haven't already developed the dexterity from playing games over the years to maneuver through the curtains of arcane power that descend down upon you on a regular basis.  Or patience.  If you're doing it right, you will be seeing patterns of glowing dots when you close your eyes.  I'm not even kidding.  This would have been totally the shit during the late 60s and early 70s.

Anyway, I'm good at seeing patterns, and I'm pretty good with delicate maneuvering, but even then, I'm still trying to beat EoSD on normal.  As of now, I can get through the first few levels (up to and through Patchouli) on normal, only losing a life or two, no continues.  Sakuya and Remilia, however, freaking wipe the floor with me.  Still, I did manage to clear Sakuya at least once (albeit using all of my continues), so I have her stage unlocked for practice.  Once I learn her patterns, I'm guessing it'll be much easier.  How does one fight against someone who can freaking stop time though?  Not even the power of Marisa's love colored master spark can deal with that.

My default excuse for getting hit by a really easy-to-avoid attack is "I got distracted by the music."  Of course, this only actually happened once, fighting Patchy Patchouli, enjoying her theme - locked girl - and drifting carelessly into a spoke.  It's said that ZUN makes these games in part just as an excuse for him to compose music, and I believe it.  The music is amazing (that's how I got introduced in the first place), but it's also your biggest enemy.

Well, Sakuya's theme in EoSD isn't actually that great, but her other theme - Flowering Night - makes up for it completely.  Can't remember which game it's from, though.  I guess I'll just have to beat them all until I get to the right one.

Anyway, here are some things I've picked up about playing Touhou:

- It may look random, but they actually are trying to hit you, so skirting the edges will never work. Stop trying.
- I don't know why Cirno gets all the credit for being an idiot: Rumia's spell cards are even derpier. This does not mean you get to try it pacifist style on your first run-through.
- Just because you've already memorized the pattern doesn't mean you don't have to look where you're going.
- Hong Meiling: the force is weak in this one.  No, you're still not allowed to blink, blinking is for the transient people weak.
- The small fry are often more dangerous than the bosses, if only because their attacks are more random.  At least the bosses bother to make theirs pretty.
- ZUN really does suck at drawing.  Great fashion sense though.
- And yet, Patchy's Patchouli's sprite appears to be wearing pajamas.  Actually, that makes sense, her being the shut in librarian of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and all.
- Potentially insane walls of doom can be pretty easily defeated just by quickly aiming for the load bearing enemy.  So stop bombing the small fry just because it looks scary.
- Reimu may be canonically the more powerful one, but Marisa is easier to play, if only because she doesn't blend in with the backgrounds as much.
- Speaking of which, attack power-ups tend to look a lot like bullets.  One will hurt a lot more than the other.  Do yourself a favor and don't try to pick up bullets or dodge power-ups.

Another Day, Another Doujin Album
Well, I took a break writing this entry, and I've come back to it the next day.  Apparently, it snowed overnight.  I should not have implied Cirno was an idiot.  Even though she totally i-*icicle comes crashing through window*

Did you know how brilliant Cirno is?  It's incredible, really.  From now on, all my math is on a nonadecimal base, in honor of the ⑨.  2+2=4.44 now.  A centimeter is 9 millimeters.  The ten commandments are now nine.  All will be ⑨.

Anyway, since my last post, I've downloaded and listened to way too many doujin albums to talk about every single one, and the problem is, some of them aren't really interesting enough to warrant talking about in full anyway.  I'll go ahead and mention the ones I didn't get to though:

Album: Ace Combat Assault Horizon OST
Composer: Keiki Kobayashi
Remarks: I forgot to mention this: I also found the OST for ACAH.  It's probably one of Kobayashi-san's better soundtracks, but so much of the album (all four disks worth) is filler that I haven't even listened to all of it yet.  The only ones you absolutely must listen to are White Devil, and especially Naval Warfare (for which it's officially mandated you turn up the volume for).

Album: Blue Constellations
Circle: Sound Online
Remarks: It's actually a pretty interesting pure electro sort of album.  It reminds me of the soundtrack to WipEout Pure.  Neither is it brilliant in the same ways as some other albums.  Tsukasa has a very direct, very pure sort of sound, and it comes through well here.

Album: The Garnet Star
Circle: Alstroemeria Records
Remarks: Minoshima at his least remarkable.  He goes for a different, almost trance sort of sound here, and it doesn't quite work.  It's nice and atmospheric, but really, besides for the afterwards often remixed Maple Wizen, I can't think of a single truly memorable track.

Album: Double Counterpoint
Circle: Alstroemeria Records
Remarks: It seems to lack the cohesive and pervasive soul an Alstroemeria Records album usually has.  There are some interesting ideas here, but none of them work, and none of it really feels right.  Ironically, none of the tracks even seem to use double counterpoint, at least not that I noticed.  Also, it has one of the most QUALITY looking covers on an Alstroemeria album I've yet seen.

Album: Trois Bleu
Circle: Sound Online
Remarks: More hard edged Tsukasa electro, this time with a fair bit more Minoshima and REDALiCE mixed in.  I compared Tsukasa's tracks to the sort of thing found in WipEout Pure earlier without realizing that the first track in Trois Bleu was named the same as the first track on the WipEout Pure OST.  Compare the style of the two for yourself.  Boot Up (Tsukasa)  Boot Up (Paul Hartnoll)

Album: Where Is Love
Circle: Syrup Comfiture (Syrufit)
Remarks: This album is never not interesting.  I'm not in love with it the same way I am with show me your love, but it's got a lot of really interesting ideas.  More so than show me your love, this is not a pure Syrufit album: there's a very wide variety of styles on here, and if I had more time, I'd like to go into some of the more stand out tracks.  Putting it shortly, it's an album with this, this, and this all at the same time.  That last one is really different even for REDALiCE.  Not all of it works, but it's kinda neat, even if I don't find myself listening to it as often.

Anyway, I guess I should stop wasting you guy's time and get to the main points.

Flowering ERINNNNNN!!
Pictured: Kaguya Houraisan, Erin doll,
stuffed rabbit.  Believe it or not, this
will kinda make sense to fans.
Oh boy, this is going to be an interesting one to talk about.  Everything else that's come before may be based on Touhou music, but none of it is inextricably tied to Touhou fandom.  For COOL&CREATE, this is not the case.  Almost all of the songs on this album are referential to things in Touhou and Touhou fandom, and though you need not understand these things to appreciate the music, talking about the music sort of requires it.

To start with, I guess I should say that COOL&CREATE is a band created by its main singer, BeatMario (ビートまりお).  I'd call them, if I had to, something like indie rock, but that's a very, very general sort of rule.

This album in particular starts out with two live recordings.  BeatMario asks the audience (in Japanese) "Say, do you guys like Marisa?" The answer is a resounding "HAI," and the band goes into a live version of LaserMari is not difficult, a song released under the IOSYS label, based on Marisa Kirisame's theme Love Colored Master Spark, and in reference to ZUN's infamous instructions on how to perform Marisa's master spark.  Next is a live performance of their version of Locked Girl, a song about the eponymous locked girl herself, Patchy Patchouli Knowledge.  This is not the only song on this album about her, so expect to hear this pretty often.  Hey, she's a cool character, and her theme song is awesome, so I really can't blame him.  The video I linked to is not the version on the album, btw, but it does include a short clip of BeatMario interacting with the audience, which is always funny, if you're one of those weird people like me who for some reason thought it'd be a good idea to study Japanese.

Anyway, next up is drizzly rain, or rather a studio, more traditional rock arrangement of COOL&CREATE's own drizzly rain.  Also about Patchy Patchouli.  Like I said.  All I could visualize when I first heard this song was a Pokemon game encounter:
-A wild PATCHOULI appears-
The "ooooooooaaaaaaaaaaa-PATCHOULI!" sounds for all the world like pokéspeak.  I'm imagining throwing a pokeball and this amiable asthmatic bibliophile who looks like she's wearing pajamas coming out.
-PATCHOULI uses Fire Sign: Agni Shine High Level-
*everything within half a mile is razed*

There are about a hundred different version of drizzly rain out there, if simply because it's a fun song to do karaoke style.  BeatMario himself has a vocal version, and it's hilariously awesome.  It's amusing what notes he can actually hit when he's trying.  Then, just to be totally inconsistent, a smooth jazzy version of Library Sounds, based on Voile, The Magic Library.  Yet another theme tangentially related to our favorite shut-in librarian.  Oh well, it's actually pretty cool.

Next is probably one of COOL&CREATE's more well known tracks, Help me, ERINNNNNN!  This is one of those lucky few songs where I can actually sorta kinda understand the lyrics, which are about the eponymous put-upon lunarian archer and pharmacist Eirin Yagokoro and her fellow denizens in Eientei.  It's got a catchy structure, based upon, actually, not Eirin's theme, but Kaguya Houraisan's.  The live versions of this song deserve special mention for being the only place you'll ever see a crowd of Japanese people shouting "oppai, oppai" (boobs, boobs).

What can follow something like that?  Of course, a version of UN Owen Was Her featuring BeatMario doing what many do while listening to UN Owen Was Her: going radadadaraaaradararada-raradaradadaradararadarada~  Why does this need to exist?  I dunno, but it's cool I guess.  Anyway, it's followed by a fusion sort of track called Re: The Title Lies In...You.  Not sure what it's from, but it's kinda nice.  After that is a bunch of bonus tracks, including a conversation among the band that my Japanese is not nearly good enough to understand, a Touhou parody of the Lucky Star theme, and a version of drizzly rain being sung at karaoke drunkenly by one of the non singing (for obvious reasons) band members.

Komachi Onozuka: slacker god,
boatwoman of the Sanzu River, and
now, really creepy pin-up model.
Fragment Reactions
Alstroemeria Records does not have a perfect track record.  Double Counterpoint is mostly a waste of disk space, as is The Garnet Star.  But, when Minoshima-san gets it right, he gets it very right.  For Fragment Reactions, he got it very right.

We get the traditional Alstroemeria opening with the short intro leading into the first track, and both have a heck of a lot to be said of them.  Riverside View/End of Daylight opens with the sampled loop "909, 009, 009, 003."  Oddly intense, actually.  The Riverside View part is based on Komachi's theme, which I actually didn't realize for the longest time: it sounds like Minoshima-san through and through.  It's cool and all, and it leads into the longish house track End of Daylight, a very atmospheric and yet melodic track with vocals from Nachi Sakagami.  It's very laid back despite its strong melody...but appearances are decieving.  Take a gander at them lyrics.  That's right, this is a song about the end of the world, and how hope at this point would only bring sorrow, so you should just embrace the end...set to a snappy dance beat (lyrics courtesy of kafkafuura: always a reliable source).  The thing is, almost all Alstroemeria Records songs are like this.  It's kinda funny, actually.

Anyway, then comes the more upbeat Syrufit track lure to me, in which Mei Ayakura proves yet again why she's the strongest singer in Alstroemeria (and Syrufit proves yet again why he's better at arranging vocals).  Minoshima-san takes it again for Scarlet Fogbound, a house track done in Minoshima-san's traditional high-range atmospheric style, and done quite well, with an interesting minor key segment leading in.  Eternal Dream is very similar in that way, though it's a ROSVIO track (not too familiar with his work).  Following that is Stitch'step, an (EastNewSound) track.  I haven't actually downloaded any of (EastNewSound)'s independent albums, but what I've heard of them has been good.  Stitch'step is a strong and melodic track, with some rather interesting things going on with harmony and instrumentation.  And they also know how to arrange for vocals.  Lunatic Princess, taking its name and being based (surprisingly loosely) on Kaguya's theme: Lunatic Princess.  It's pretty normal downbeat Minoshima, but quite pleasant.  Lotus Road is another sort of downbeat Minoshima track, this time with vocals by *mican.  Tsukasa makes an appearance in his customary style with Booster (just by the name itself, its sounds like a Tsukasa track), a non-vocal track with an interesting, modulated synth centered sound.  Volcano in CHINA is probably the closest you'll ever hear Minoshima come to dubstep.  It's different for him, and it works pretty well, even if it does take just a few too many direct cues from China's Hong Meiling's theme.  Fragment Reaction, the next to last and eponymous track, is another pleasant arragement by Minoshima-san, though really at this point, as good as he is, his work in between Plastik World and Haunted Dancehall kinda runs together.  The last track is a Syrufit arrangement: Saint.  Actually, it sounds quite a bit more like Minoshima than it does Syrufit, for some reason, but it brings the album to a nice close.

In all, I'd probably call this album at least as good as Plastik World, if not better in some ways.  I can't quite decide which I like better: they're different in tone and style.  Perhaps Plastik World has the benefit of being slightly more focused: less time to get bored of the bland vocals and more focus on the things that make Alstroemeria tracks actually special.

Wait, what?
METAL AND TOUHOU GO TOGETHER QUITE WELL, ACTUALLY.  A testament to this fact is the band Unlucky Morpheus (I assume this is a reference to Greek mythology and not The Matrix, but I could be wrong), and their album, REBIRTH, is as well.  Specifically, I'd have to call them a power metal band, akin very much to Powerglove.

Ironically, their album starts out in a manner very similar to an Alstroemeria album: an original intro into a longer song.  Specifically, the intro, REBIRTH, leads into their version of Faith is for the Transient People.  Which, you know, is actually kinda already metal-ish.  Anyway, it's totally awesome.  The next track, Missing Girl, is another fairly straight forward adaptation of The Primal Scene of Japan the Girl Saw.  It too is awesome, but at this point, it becomes clear that their drummer really doesn't have any ideas.  Really, good and creative drummers are harder to come across than people seem to realize.  So, once Unlucky Morpheus had a Missing Girl, they needed an Unknown Child: Unlucky Morpheus' version of UN Owen Was Her.  Few other Touhou songs save Lunatic Eyes have cried out for a metal version more than Flandre's theme, and though this is not the way I would have done it, it's still pretty awesome.  The one truly great feature of this song is how it handles the bridge section, with the call-and-response structure.  It does due credit to Flandre's mix of total creepiness and badassery.  This is followed by Kero⑨Destiny a short arrangement of Native Faith (which I cannot find, so enjoy that other, more well known, very much not metal arrangement), leading into their version of Autumn Waterfall.  It's pretty straight forward, but it's competent, and cool.  It also seems like even though good metal drummers are hard to come by, all the good singers flock to metal bands like iron to magnets.  Then again, having a powerful voice is a requirement if you're doing metal, just so the voice doesn't get overpowered.  Anyway, the next song is Heaped Heart, an arrangement of Mysterious Mountain.  The structure of this one feels different: there seem to be subtle time shifts here and there, and it works.  No Grudge Anymore feels different too: slightly more melody focused, that Pachelbel's canon? not quite.  Thank god.  It's an adaptation of Mima's theme, an important character in the early PC-98 Touhou games who kinda disappeared in the Windows era.  The final track is The Gensokyo the Gods Loved.  This is the name of the track in the Touhou games too: the name already has a perfect metal vibe, I think.  ZUN said that he wrote the original to be very melodic, and so is Unlucky Morpheus' version.  It's a good note to end on.  Unfortunately, I cannot find it on youtube, but I did find a version by Sonic Hybrid Orchestra.  With pretty clear English vocals, strangely enough.  I'm going to have to check these guys out later: they're pretty darn good.

Anyway, personally, I was hoping for something a little more like Wishmaster than Power Rangers.  Then again, what can you expect?  Nightwish not only has the awesome singers (both, none of this Tarja vs Anette stuff), but also the drummer, the guitarist, and the everything.  It's still a really fun album, and I'll be looking to see what else they've done.

Incidentally, I just noticed something in the Power Ranger's theme song: the lines "They know the fate of the world is lying in their hands.  They know to only use their weapon in defense."  To be honest, if the fate of the world is lying in their hands, I'd really hope they know that they may have to use their weapons for something other than defense.  Like saving the world.  But that's totally off topic.

show me your love
Not gonna lie: I want to be that
i gotta admit, i'm kinda in love with this album.  I love Syrufit's style, I love the album cover, and hey, Syrufit himself seems like a pretty nice guy.  He responded to my post on his FB page's wall, and in very good English too.  Could use some work naming his albums and finding the shift key though, but hey.

So on topic, the first track, Your Love, starts off sounding a bit like something on the Weather Channel.  And, really, stays that way through half of the song before growing into a stronger sort of vocal centered track.  For setting the atmosphere, it works well.  Of course, following it is the very un-Weather Channel like Wheel, an interesting, more traditional sort of danceable house track, with a strong central aesthetic and progression to it.  After this comes recollection, an interesting track with complex rhythms and vocal parts, creating a very nice overall feel.  It should probably be noted that both of these songs' vocals are performed by Mei Ayakura.  Syrufit understands vocalists and vocal arrangement quite well, I think.  The next track, Sweet sigh, is slightly less impressive by virtue of being a bit more of a straight forward house dance number, but it's still quite nice.  It's also not on youtube anywhere.  TAK-sk did the next track, liberate me, a very nice, aesthetic centered track with a nice progression.  Very good, and again, not on youtube, for whatever reason.  Syrufit returns for perhaps my favorite track, Hitokata (untranslated Japanese for "forms of people," or, alternatively, "humanoid").  It's got some interesting, almost modal sort of harmonies and aesthetics to it.  It flows extraordinarily well, and the vocal performance - by one SHIKI - is very genuinely done.  Something oddly ephemeral about it.  It's's turn for the next track: The world of noise, which, unlike what you'd expect, isn't all that noisy at all.  In fact, it's quite laid back, moreso even than most of Syrufit's generally laid back tracks.  Which I can't find on youtube either.  Uy.  I'd upload some of these myself, but then I'd feel ethically obliged to ask Syrufit himself for permission since I know he'll probably respond, and that would be really awkward.  Then again, it's technically not his track, so...  But anyway, speaking of which, Syrufit comes back again for Power of Wind, which sounds almost like an Alstroemeria track with the instrumentation, but still retains Syrufit's sensibilities in a higher sense.  By which I mean, the vocals - performed by this rather talented SHIKI girl again - actually work.  Which is odd, because it's not only not an arrangement of a Touhou song, it's a pretty direct remix of Power of Sound by Ace.  I don't really hold it against him: we already have plenty of proof he can come up with his own material too, and that it's pretty awesome.  It undeniably sounds like Syrufit anyway, so hey.  Of course, it's also hilarious that Power of Sound's lyrics are about finding love, and Power of Wind's lyrics are about the sorrow of being unable to realize the visions of the ego.  Existential ennui to a snappy dance beat.  Is Japan really that depressing?  Anyway, it's back to for AraHitoGami (untranslated Japanese for Living God), another really laid back sort of track, like The world of noise.  And, like The world of noise, not on youtube.  The well named outro side brings the album to a nice not-quite-close with a rhythm and pad centered aesthetic.  And yes, that was the only video I could find.  I say not-quite-close, because that's actually not the last track.  The last track is ren (I guess like the Confucian concept or something), another track with a very singular percussion arrangement, which really does bring the album to quite the nice conclusion.

Like I said, it's quite the album.  Syrufit also has a few other albums, most in cooperation with *poplica.  I hesitate to go ahead and download them only because even though *poplica is good, and there are a lot of tracks that are just *poplica or just Syrufit, there are also a lot of collaborative tracks, and the only people I know of who consistently do collaborative tracks well are Thomas Bangalter and Guy Homem de Saint Cristo of Daft Punk, and they can pull it off only because they more or less learned music composition together in the first place.  The result of collaboration in music is almost always a lesser result than if either of them had created a track on their own.  I'll still look into it though.

Other Stuff
I don't want to write full sections about any of this, because I don't think it'd be too interesting, and I don't really feel like it, so I'll just talk quickly.

Arase Kisama: Human female
wizard.  17, 6'2", blonde hair,
brash...she's trouble, man.
I joined a D&D Pathfinder campaign last monday as a female human wizard of the evocation school known as Arase Kisama.  Me and my fellow adventurers are to explore the island we're all on, and it seems like a dangerous but profitable venture.  Arase doesn't much like the whole danger thing, but it does seem like a good way to pick up some arcane knowledge (not to mention books and valuables), so she's pretty exited.  She and the half undead sorcerer Ackbar met up with the rest of the party in the light of a giant beacon at the top of an enormous Ziggurat.  The monolingual ranger was frustrated with the trilingual conversation going on in common, draconic, and tengugo simultaneously.  Arase saw this and threw in a clause or two in primordial just to screw with everybody.  The sorcerer also nearly got mauled by the Kobold when he tried to hug her, but everything got sorted out with only minor injuries.

As they meet, just what precisely the giant light is for worries Arase, but she and the party had other things to worry about.  For instance, the other wizard had run off into the woods never to return, and he had all the rope.  When the party had to climb the cliff to get back up - and eventually back to camp - there was no way of doing so.  Arase was the only one with rope, and she only had 50'.  So, the Tengu - Tetsuo - had to scale the cliff to find some vines to drop down.  Tetsuo nearly fell to his death, in fact, and it's possible that had it not been for Arase's feather-fall cantrip, he might not have made it.  As it was, he climbed back up, this time successfully, and dropped down some vines and Arase's 50' rope.  Arase herself had to try a couple of times to get started, but she managed to pretend to be all cool and stuff back at the top.

As they walked back, the ranger, sorcerer, and Arase noticed bear-like footprints. Confused as to why a bear would be in a jungle, and wanting to kill it so they could sell its skull to the goblins, they began to track them.  It was the sorcerer who realized that these were likely not the tracks of a bear but of an owlbear.  Still, they continued on to the owlbear's lair.  As the party drew near, there was a sound from the cave, and it became apparent that the owlbear knew they were there.  Tetsuo quickly darted to the flank.  Arase, pumped up on adrenaline and wanting to make a good first impression, raises her arcane bonded gauntlet and cries STELLAR RAINBOW as she casts evoke light, and a rainbow colored laser bursts from her palm.  Arase feels the power flowing through her, and for a moment, she almost grasps a power she had thought was unattainable, but it was not so.  The owlbear does not like this one bit, but he likes even less the half-orc smashing her giant hammer into its side.  The owlbear swipes with its giant left hand at the half-orc, who deflects the blow with her hammer.  She does not see the right hand as it rips into her side.  With this, the battle begins in earnest, the half-orc continuing to fight for a good minute before realizing how much stuff that should be inside her was now on the outside and fainting.  The ranger and tengu gunslinger pile on as well, dealing blows at close range.  Meanwhile Arase continues casting evoke lights and evoke force spells, as the sorcerer beside her casts evoke death.  Arase is impressed by the sorcerer's skill, but at the same time, "what's the point of magic if it's not flashy," she reasons, and evoke death is an ugly looking spell.  The owlbear continues to fight on, even after having most of its brain blasted away by guns and rainbow colored laser blasts, until in a last desperate effort to kill the ranger riding on its back, it digs its own claws into its spinal column and finally dies.  Nobody gets XP, not even the badass ranger.  The Kobold rushes forward to see what's in the cave.  Arase blows the faint smoke from off her gauntlet, straightens her hat, and follows.

I talked a few posts about Maikaze studio's A Summer Day's Dream, one of the two big doujin anime projects.  I mentioned that it was by far the lesser of the two, but I also said that I would be interested to see where it was going, if there was to ever be a second episode.  Well, as it turns out, a trailer for the next episode got released back late 2010.  With a promised release date for the next installment in late 2011.  Should be interesting.  If the trailer is any indication, the animation quality has improved, including, at least slightly, the facial animations and body language.  This is encouraging, but then again, this is only the trailer.  If it's still got the same questionable director attached to it, and the same questionable writer, then prettier is probably all it'll be.  But hey, for us Americans, it's pretty much free anyway, so I can't really complain about something I'm not actually paying for.  It's my choice whether I let something waste my time or not.

I gotta say though, as a trailer, this is actually pretty good.  So many trailers for both American movies and anime follow the same formula that to see a trailer do something even slightly different is pretty cool.  The last trailer I saw for a movie that I was genuinely impressed with was the one for David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Actually, that gives me an idea...

Okay, those sync up way better than they have any right to.

But anyway, I do wanna see a sequel to Memories of Phantasm too...

Speaking of anime, I'm still not quite done with Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but looking back on what I wrote earlier, I think I was way too harsh on it.  Yeah, it can get wicked cheesy sometimes, but for every bit of cheese, there actually is something of substance there too.  It's got some genuinely very interesting things to say about culture and war, about how culture is, in the end, a more powerful way to end war than military might, but yet how even in culture there will always exist war.  It's a nuanced view, and it's when the show explores these things that it becomes obvious that this is in fact the same executive director as Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

If I may touch on Touhou music one last time (I promise), I found a surprisingly cool German vocal version of Bad Apple!!  The lyrics flow very well (to the non-german speaker), and the singer is...well...actually better than nomico.  If she had been recorded in the same studio conditions, I'm thinking I'd actually prefer this version.  At least it's better than that really dire English version by Christina Vee.  I'm not even going to bother linking to that one.

Anyway, I really should be finishing this up now.
So now, for something completely different:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Warwolf, Tally Two Youkai, Angels High, Engaging!

I don't have anything new, but I needed something here.  Sorry.
So yeah, remember how I promised an update by the Thursday before last?  Yeah, didn't happen, and now I actually have some more Alstroemeria Records albums to talk about (but that'll be the last part).  No more Touhou otherwise though, I promise.  I still haven't found a not sketchy way to play any of the games anyway, and I figure I'd better at least beat one on medium, just so that it doesn't seem too ridiculous that I've read and watched so much about characters that I haven't even seen the original versions of.

Speaking of which, I went on out of curiosity, and browsed through some of their stuff, and man is everything expensive.  I don't know if it's just the dollar being weak against the yen or something, but wow.  I'm definitely not buying anything from there anytime soon, especially not with US shipping expenses, which I imagine must be enormous too.  Also, kanji, kanji everywhere.  There's a joke that four years of Spanish lets you read a novel comfortably, and four years of Japanese lets you barely stumble your way through a comic.  Except it's not a joke, it's probably just a fact.  How does anything ever get done over there?  Oh wait, it doesn't, their government is at least as inefficient as ours is right now.

What Have I Been Playing?
Next Tuesday, the answer is going to be Ace Combat: Assault Horizon.  I downloaded the demo last Thursday and I've been playing it, getting used to the new physics and mechanics.  Planes handle more or less the same as in previous Ace Combat games.  The yaw and roll and pitch are pretty heavy when compared to something like Ace Combat 5 or Zero, but it actually reminds me a bit of Ace Combat 04's more floaty sort of handling.  What doesn't handle like any other console Ace Combat game is acceleration.  Tap the right trigger, and all of a sudden you're going 1500 knots and about to overshoot the Flanker F you've been chasing.  On the other hand, tap the left trigger and you're falling out of the sky.  It's very weird to get used to, but once I do, I imagine it'll just make maneuvering into position all the more precise and swift.  Still, I'll often try to merge with too much energy, or start a series of high alpha maneuvers with too little, and end up dangerously out of position in a way that would cause me a lot of trouble if I were playing against a human opponent.

Maneuvering into position is at the same time more important and less important in Ace Combat Assault Horizon.  With DFM - dogfight mode - you can tap the bumpers and enter this sort of chase scene thing where the enemy is trying to shake your pursuit and you have to try and follow and get off missile shots.  It's the only way to efficiently take down some enemies, and it's actually very cool, but on the other hand, reliance on the new feature means that Project Aces has made taking out aircraft outside of DFM rather more difficult.  Missiles do not track very well at all outside of DFM, requiring very good timing, judgement of energy, and positioning to get hits on the more difficult enemies.  Normal aircraft in ACAH have very passive AIs that seem content to take it in the rudder while you sit behind them and shoot 20mm cannon rounds in their general direction.  This is probably for the better, since the cannon in ACAH does not compensate for lead outside of DFM, so getting a gun track on the target at anything except point blank range is very hard, and is not helped by the fact that it takes a lot more to take down enemy planes in this game than in any other Ace Combat game before it.  Missiles work just fine though, and I can take normal enemies out without any more difficulty than in any other Ace Combat game.

There are also so called "target leads" though, that are much more difficult to engage outside of DFM because the designers did not intend for players to engage them outside of DFM.  Their AI is pretty lackluster - about the same as a normal aircraft in any other Ace Combat game - but man, does the computer ever cheat.  Most of them are scripted to be invincible outside of DFM, even though you can still score missile and gun hits, and I always forget which ones are which until I'll be chasing one, maneuver into position, watch the plane disappear behind a wall of smoke and flame, only to emerge unhurt from the other side.  They also tend to spam flares if you get too trigger happy with the missiles, which can be very difficult to deal with, and will defeat even the most well positioned missile shot.  They're very much like the Yellow squadron planes in AC04's Lifeline mission, and like them, I can still score enough missile hits on any given target lead that I'm pretty sure it'd be dead if it weren't protected by plot armor without much of an issue.  On the other hand, they're very good for training, just scoring missile hit after missile hit in preparation for dealing with the AIs in the real game, and potentially for other humans.

See, my colleagues at Ace Combat Skies have come up with a master plan.  There's a game mode in ACAH multiplayer called world domination, where the player chooses a city to join, and compete to take control of all the other cities of the world by flying combat sorties on the offense to new territories and in defense of their own.  Most of the best and experienced Ace Combat pilots in the western world (my humble self included) are on ACS, so this is what we're planning: everybody on the forums joins a really unpopular city, like Dubai, so that it's mostly just us and whatever other people that region manages to get, and together we take the rest of the online community by surprise and conquer the world with our hundred-or-so player army.  First, we would take Tokyo for the sake of the Japanophiles, then we'd take Hawai'i to take control of the world's hula girl stockpile, and then, the world.  They will come to know and fear the ACS clan tag.  Or we'll start in Honolulu and work the other way around, but in either case, it'll be hilarious, this faction that has such a small percent of the online community taking over the world.

Or so we hope.  It's actually more feasible than it sounds.  From what I've seen, most people, even experienced gamers who play flight games on occasion, really don't fly very well at all.  Heck, the professionals that play for the previews, who you'd think would be pretty experienced with this sort of game, fly horribly.  What with the influx of new people drawn to the steel carnage of Assault Horizon, the average opponent probably won't be much harder than the average AI.

Of course, if I wanted to take part in this glorious battle, I'd have to get Xbox Live Gold.  Which sucks.  Maybe if I pay my parents back, I can get a one month subscription, so I can help my comrades for the majority of the fighting.

Life?  What is this life you speak of?

What Am I Watching?
Drunk people outside my window, but that's not important right now.

No, but really, I've been watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but as I've already talked about both on here, and I don't really have anything more substantial to say about them, I'll leave it at that.  It did occur to me, however, that Legend of the Galactic Heroes isn't a space opera after all.  What it really is, is a historical epic that happens to be set in the future.  As the show's tagline says: Zu jeder Zeit, an jedem Ort, bleibt das Tun der Menschen das gleiche - in any age, in any place, the acts of men remain the same.  Holy crap is this show awesome, all the politics and history and personalities, and stuff, but of course, that's exactly why it'll never see the light of day stateside.  So ist das Leben.

how do i facial proportions plz k thanks
SDF Macross is still pretty good, like a slightly less stupid version of the original Battlestar Galactica, but that's really not saying much.  The characters aren't great, and the plot is kinda stupid at times, but it does have some genuinely great moments in it, and it's still something cool to put on during dinner.  It's also kind of funny just watching to find animation errors...which isn't that hard, because if I had a penny for every time someone goes off model or crosseyed or there's a sea of elementary school drawings in the background cells, then I'd be able to pay my own way through college.

On the Theoretical Basis Of Anime Clubs
I've thought about it a lot, and I've decided that I'm going to consider thinking about trying to start an anime club next year.  I've never run anything like a club before, and I'm not sure how one goes about starting one, but with all things, one must start with a purpose, and for something like an anime club, which you'd think would be more or less straight forward, there are some odd anomalies and contradictions that have to be solved to form a solid operating principle.  Here is how I see it.

Premise 1) Anime as a blanket concept has fans because there are things going on in Japanese animation that simply are not seen anywhere else.
- Anime itself covers a very wide range of formats and topics.  This results in many subfandoms; many people attracted to the same blanket concept of anime with very divergent tastes.
- Animation has certain inherent filmic qualities to it that are present across subgenres that nevertheless lend it to certain types of stories (mainly those dealing with subjects impractical or impossible to do in live action).
- Animation has certain inherent filmic qualities to it that make certain types of storytelling, character development, and atmosphere possible, whereas in live action it would be impossible.
- Anime undeniably has elements highly influenced by Japanese culture that inherently cannot be found anywhere else.
       - Interest in Japanese culture is not endemic with interest in anime.

Premise 2) Anime fandom itself is very diverse.
- There are many ways to be introduced to anime that each have their own canon of anime titles the fan is likely to be familiar with, and each attracting a different sort of taste.
       - Those introduced from Toonami/Cartoon Network will likely know things like Trigun, Cowboy BeBop, and Gundam Wing.  If they stayed around long enough, maybe FMA, FLCL, and Death Note.
       - Those introduced from the internet will have a very wide range, but will likely at least include Suzumiya Haruhi, and may also include things like Fate/Stay Night and Azumanga Daioh.  Madoka Magica may be on the list too.
       - Those introduced from film theory or a preexisting interest in Japan will likely know things like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and at least a few Studio Ghibli films.
       - There are likely many fans who haven't seen much beyond Shonen Jump shows, like Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece, but are still undeniably part of anime fandom.

Premise 3) Anime fandom shares the uniting factor of being a fairly small community.
- Anime is largely accessible only through the internet.
- Anime fans are accessible and common only on the internet.
- Common interest in something uncommon is a uniting factor.  Anime fandom is quite uncommon.

Premise 4) Anime fandom is largely self sustaining.
- Anime fandom has its own reference pool, and therefore its own set of in jokes and memes.
       - Anime fandom also has the big three sub-fandoms: Vocaloid, Hetalia, and Touhou.
- Anime fandom is largely self-contained.
- Such a blanket sort of fandom inherently cannot be defined by a singular source material and therefore must be defined by the conception of its own fans.

Therefore An anime club must serve two separate imperatives.
1) An anime club must promote the concept of anime.
2) An anime club must promote anime fandom.

Things therefore entailed that an anime club must do.
- Meet.
- Watch anime.
       - Ideally, anime that exemplifies something inherently good about anime that all who appreciate anime can potentially enjoy regardless of what they're already familiar with.
- Discuss anime.
- Consume secondary media concerning anime.

Things therefore not entailed that an anime club do, but might be commendable.
- Hold events outside of itself.
- Attend events outside of itself.
- Collaborate with the Japanese club.
       - Anime as an interest is innately filmic rather than related to Japanese culture, but as the two are nonetheless interrelated, it might be in both our interests to occasionally work together.

Things therefore entailed that an anime club should never do.
- Promote ideals that are inherent to a specific subset of anime fandom but not applicable to a whole.  (in-joke focused shows like Lucky Star or any moe-for-the-sake-of-moe sort of shows fall under this category)
- Neglect moderation and leadership.
- Crossplay.

Practical concerns.
- We should probably not try to watch shows and OVAs longer than 15 episodes (so that they may be watched in three weeks or less).
- Unless it's unlicensed in the states, or unreasonably hard to obtain, we should only watch legal streams or DVDs, if for quality reasons alone.
- Meetings should probably be on Saturday so as not to conflict with homework or other clubs.
- Hentai would probably be a very bad idea.

First Three Things I've Unilaterally Decided We Should Watch
- Daicon IV Opening Animation (would make a good introduction on the first day)
- Ghost in the Shell (it's a truly great film with broad appeal that's not Ghibli)
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica (has things to offer to pretty much all types of anime fans, would introduce old school fans to what the new school has to offer, and fits perfectly into four episode arcs)

More Alstroemeria Records
Yep, there's more of them, and since y'all must have been so entertained by them last time, I've decided to do it again (don't worry, there's only two this time).

"Yeah yeah, talk to the butterfly; I'm
gonna go to the ghost disco, but
not before I strike an elegant pose."
Well, it's probably not the best Alstroemeria Records album out there, but it's probably got the most awesome cover art, or if not the most awesome, the most descriptive.  I'll give you a hint: it's not power metal.

Alright, first off we have...wait...this is the right album, right?  Did I just accidentally turn on some mid 80s synth rock?  I dunno, but whatever it is, Cheek Colors has a pretty epic, 80s-tastic opening section.  It's pretty sweet...right up until the vocals start.  As much as I may complain about Nomico, at least she's accurate and has an interesting voice.  Haruna, the vocalist for Cheek Colors, very nearly ruins it, with one of the least charismatic, barely on key performances on an Alstroemeria track yet.  Anyway, still pretty cool, even if it's pretty pop-like for Minoshima.  I just wish the idea were done better justice.  After this are three songs I've already talked about because they were on Exserens (the compilation album): Dark Road, Alice Maestra, and Voile, The Magic Library.  After those three is Wind's Believer, a pretty good down-beat song in the same vein as the previous three, though also a bit more groovy with its baseline and percussion.  Misato also proves again why she's probably the best of the vocalists who contributes to Alstroemeria Records with a surprisingly effective performance.  The eponymous Harmony follows.  I gotta say, the grooviness of the track goes so well with the cover art that it's not even funny.  I get the feeling that this exactly the song the artist had in mind when he created it.  Following it up is Interlude, a Minoshima original and by far the most interesting track on the album, with its variable tempo, unconventional, almost tape-loop like vocal sampling, and general contrast with the rest of the album.  The next track is Maple Wizen (2007AW Re-Master), a very good example of Minoshima in laid back house dance mode, which is good, because it's seven minutes.  The last track is Suwa Foughten [sic] Field, and holy crap, did Minoshima san just figure out how to use nomico?  I mean, I call her helium voice, but she's actually pretty good when used right, like on this track.  Actually, I'm not sure Yuki Kajiura might not have had something to do with it.  Hmm...

Trois Noir
The god of nuclear fusion still
has yet to discover the secret
of how to sit in a chair.
Alstroemeria Records is not the only Doujin circle that composes tracks based on Touhou compositions.  Two of the most prominent DJs besides Minoshima san to do so are Sound Online (Tsukasa) and ALiCE'S_EMOTiON (also known as REDALiCE), and fortunately for us, they all seem like pretty good friends.  In fact, they decided one day to do a project together: a three part album called Trois, that would be composed of Trois Rouge (ALiCE'S_EMOTiON), Trois Noir (Alstroemeria Records), and Trois Bleu (Sound Online).  So far, I've only heard Alstroemeria's third of the project, but maybe later tonight even, I'll check out Tsukasa san's.  I've heard one or two of his tracks, and they're pretty good, and much more trance like in style.  Should be interesting.

Anyway, just like most Alstroemeria albums, Trois Noir starts with an original Minoshima composition that leads into the first track.  This time, the opening is Showdown/For Lovers Not Fighters, which in true Alstroemeria tradition, features an English phrase (telling us, apparently, to "eat it") looped to a very deep electronic organ like synth riff.  It's an interesting track for its instrumentation, even if compositionally it's very much traditional PlastiQ World Plastik World era Minoshima, and it still features the trademark bland Alstroemeria vocals, though thankfully within a reasonable octave this ti...HOLY CRAP, DID MISATO JUST TRY TO HIT F7?  I would have forgiven Minoshima if he had decided to autotune that, but I guess he has standards too.  This is followed by Flight on Tears, which reminds me very much of something that might have been on Lovelight, with the synth strings and upbeat melody, and a this time quite good vocal performance by Misato san.  Next is 光の都 (City of Light), which...wait a second, this is adapted from the same composition as the opening to Memories of Phantasm.  This one is a lot less normal-anime-OP-style, which makes sense, since it's not from an anime OP.  Also, it's actually a Sound Online track, which would explain why it...well...doesn't sound like Minoshima.  After this is...wait...this is WAY the hell not a Minoshima or Tsukasa track.  Underground Bridge, REDALiCE's main contribution to Noir, is far more like something you'd hear at a rave than anything else on any other Alstroemeria Records, but for what it is, it's a very good track, and it definitely still has a place on the album.  Well, I say that, and the next track, Nuclear Fusion couldn't be any more different if Minoshima had been trying.  Nuclear Fusion is much more like alternative rock than anything else I've ever head from Alstroemeria Records, and it works quite well.  Following is Last Remote, a...the hell do you call this?  It's not house, it's not alternative, it's not tanzmetall, it's...really heavy alternative synth rock?  The vocals are by Ayumi Nomiya, and are actually excellent for an Alstroemeria track.  Why don't we hear her more often?  Then comes REDALiCE'S remix of everyone's favorite, Bad Apple!!.  Or should I say, Rave Apple?  It's not incredible, but it's pretty hard to mess up Bad Apple.  Anyway, Gallardo (I haven't the faintest), a pretty typical Minoshima original, comes next.  Fortunately, typically Minoshima original tracks are pretty awesome.  Finally, the last track is a Sound Online remix of For Lovers Not Fighters, which, well, sounds like Tsukasa's version of For Lovers Not Fighters.  Which happens to be pretty awesome, actually.  A very atypical album for Alstroemeria Records, but a pretty good one nonetheless.

And now, remember that thing called the conservation of energy?  Screw that, physics is for dorks!  This is what a world where car tires can have a negative coefficient of friction looks like.