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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Best of Year 23 of the Heisei Era

Well, I was going to make a best of 2011 thing, like every other blog or podcast out there, but I came to the conclusion that no, I don't actually want to.  It forces me to come up with interesting things to say about things that I don't really have anything interesting to say about.  What's more, I don't know what sort of best of list I would or even could make.  I don't watch enough anime, film, or read enough books, or play enough videogames, or really do anything that would warrant me making any sort of list, and as we all know, lists are a way of saying concretely and with finality exactly and precisely how much better one thing is than another in a quantifiable way.  Oh, how civilization as we know it would crumble if we hadn't any lists.  So instead, I guess I'll just talk about stuff...which is kinda what I already do, but I normally only talk about things that I only happened to do or see or experience since my last post.  Since this is an end of the year post, I thought I'd broaden my scope a bit to include the whole year's worth of crap.  Don't worry guys, I still have a doujin album review at the end of this.

To start things off on completely the wrong foot, I just recently saw three very good films: David Fincher's version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.  Each are good in their own way, but I have no hesitation in saying that the film I enjoyed the most and I thought was probably the better overall was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  See, I could talk about how great the screenplay, direction, and acting were, and it'd all be true, but the heart of the matter is, it panders almost uniquely to me: it's atmospheric, it's about broken people, and it has a strong female lead.  The characters and atmosphere worked so well that it could have just been about Lisbeth going about her everyday life and I still would have loved it.  This is a good thing, since the first act actually does have a bit of a problem with failing to explain things, but I have a tendency to overlook such things, since that's a very common problem in anime as well.  I would also be remiss not to mention the awesome cover of the Immigrant Song by Trent Reznor used in the opening credits: a fitting thematic introduction to the film set in the land of the ice and snow.

On the other hand, Hugo.  Which is a rather different film.  On one hand, Martin Scorsese uses 3D absolutely beautifully in the service of some truly spectacular imagery.  Were the screenplay only better, this would have been an instant classic on that alone.  As it is, the screenplay is the wrong kind of sentimental, and the wrong kind of sweet, and all kinds of badly structured and cliched.  I think Georges Milies' story is very interesting, and there's probably a lot that could have been said about that, but even though it did end up being mostly about that in the end, it still felt empty.  Were it not for the imagery, and were it not for the performances of the actors, this would have been a far, far lesser film.  It does give me hope though.  Asa Butterfield, who plays Hugo in the film, will be playing Ender in the Ender's Game film.  From what I've seen, he is definitely up to the task.  Were only Martin Scorsese directing that as well.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is another film that really didn't have any right to be as good as it was.  It starred Tom Cruise, was written by two rather blasé TV writers, and was about a Professor Moriarty archetype trying to launch a Russian SRBM at the US to start World War III.  What went right?  Brad Bird.  The guy who directed The Incredibles and Ratatoullie.  This was his first live action film, and looking back on it, it has a lot of qualities associated mostly with animation, but it does not feel like the product of someone inexperienced with the medium.  It's really fun.

Speaking of animation directors trying live action, I just found out that the director of that John Carter movie is the same guy who directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E.  I was totally uninterested before, but now I'm slightly curious.  It's probably still going to be dreadful, but perhaps it'll be an interesting dreadful.  That can happen from time to time.

It was awesome seeing The Hobbit trailer in the theatre.  I think that may be one movie I'll be seeing opening night, if I can get anyone else to go with me (it'll almost definitely be during exam week next semester).  One must have priorities, I suppose.

Speaking of up and coming films, there's a certain film coming in early 2013 about enormous, god-like robots piloted by neural link, defending against huge, relentless monsters.

It's not the first of the live action Evangelion films.

Pacific Rim is, more or less, Evangelion without the intimate character study, as written by the writer of Clash of the Titans (which, believe it or not, is getting a sequel).  What's more, it's actually being directed by Guillermo del Toro, a reportedly brilliant director whose films I've never seen, but who seems like a good choice for directing a giant robot film.  If nothing else, I expect it to be visually interesting, and not descend to the same level of banality as the Transformers films.  I haven't read the screenplay, of course, so I can't really judge it, but why does it seem like so many bad scripts nowadays are getting really good directors attached to them?  From what I've read, it seems like Del Toro has a very good idea in his head about how he wants to do this, so who knows where this'll lead.

Anyway, ADV/Section 23 is still bickering with Gainax over the rights to the live action Evangelion films, and at this point, I doubt the studio and director they were reportedly "with" and were exited about are still attached to the project.  It's probably just plain not a good idea to begin with, but I still want to see what'll happen.  The themes would be just as poignant to a present day America as they would be to a 1996 Japan.

Gainax and ADV/Section 23: one of the most dysfunctional studios of Japan and one of the most dysfunctional publishers of America, arguing over copyright law.  Levels of BS have never been higher.

I have a twitter account now, but I only use it to follow people and ask questions.  I'm sure many people would rather I didn't.  I'm surprised poor KafkaFuura hasn't blocked me yet for all the stuff I've asked him about Japanese.

I also now have Xbox Live Gold with the gamertag Daitenshi.  Cool stuff.

Anyway, here's some stuff I found in 2011 that I thought was cool.

- London.
- Virgin Atlantic first class.
- Being firmly in the first world.
- Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica
- Ghost in the Shell
- Eden of the East
- Legend of the Galactic Heroes.
- Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0
- Daicon IV Opening Animation
- The Touhou Project
- Alstroemeria Records
- Syrup Comfiture
- Röyskopp
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
- Demetori
- TAMusic
- Kkcwkoh
- Manpuku Jinja
- Mass Effect 2 DLC
- Garzey's Wing
- Red Storm Rising
- The Fountainhead
- Portal 2
- C&C Generals: Cold War Crisis
- Dungeons & Dragons: Pathfinder
- Moon
- Yuki Kajiura
- (re-discovered) Ace Combat Skies
- A curious ring of invisibility
- Starcraft 2
- ForceStrategyGaming
- Stuff

And other stuff besides.


Evaluating music is itself problematic.  Evaluating Touhou music, given its context as a fandom phenomenon, is also difficult.  It seems silly to hold Touhou doujinshi to different standards than everything else, and yet, a Touhou doujinshi can also be enjoyable for referential qualities, and so can be evaluated based on that as well.  This does not make it good music, but it may make it good Touhou doujinshi.  For instance, Convictor Yamaxanadu is only a decent arrangement of The Fate of 60 Years, but it's absolutely hilarious, and therefore good as a piece of doujinshi.  Some songs, like Cool&Create's ridiculously cute version of Locked Girl are both good pieces of music and good as pieces related to Touhou itself, and can be called good in both contexts.

Others, however, are simply excellent pieces of music in general.  These are albums that you could feel confident showing someone who has never head of Touhou, and reasonably expecting them to call it brilliant.  Albums like these are what bring many into Touhou fandom.

Nada Upasana Pundarika
Heck, Byakuren already looks metal.
Demetori's album from C77 is one of them.  The more I listen to this, the more I realize how awesome it actually is.  Demetori, like TAMusic or Alstroemeria Records, is one of those bands that would easily be notable if they produced entirely original material, and Nada Upasana Pundarika is arguably their best album.

It's rather remarkable how very fitting the names of Touhou songs are to metal.  Heian Alien ~ Crazy Xenomorph is the first track of the album, opening with an eery, atmospheric power guitar section, into an increasingly melodic take on Nue Hojuu's suitably alien theme.  It introduces the Demetori brothers' style of using atypical rhythm and (as far as I can tell) achromatic harmonies for an effect that still retains power and melody.  Flowering City in the Sky ~ Bridge of the Lotus is a much more traditional, slower piece based on PCB's stage 4 theme.  It reminds me, oddly enough, of the Terran music in Starcraft 2.  Young Girl Satori ~ Innumerable Eyes is a slightly faster, more powerful sort of track, with increased synth keyboard backing, and in which Tokunan shows off his considerable guitar skills more.  Now it's Chernobyl-tan's turn!  Contemplate in awe Wiz-Garage's incredible artwork and listen to Solar Sect of Mystic Wisdom ~ Nuclear Fusion, an incredible interpretation of Utsuho Reiuji's theme.  Context for the non-Touhou fans: Utsuho Reiuji is a hell-raven who obtained the power to control nuclear power.  She throws goddam miniature suns at you.  The Landscape of Japan the Girl Saw ~ Dance of puNDarika is a downshift in power, but not in quality, into a rather groovy take on Mountain of Faith's stage 5 theme.  It quotes the intro to Heian Alien, as if to signify a transition in the album, and I suppose you could probably divide the album into two parts this way, both equally awesome.  Their version of Emotional Skyscraper ~ World's End begins with a soft synth intro, then transitions into a very rapid, speed metal-y main corpus.  While I generally don't go for quite this speed-centric a style, Demetori still makes it an awesome seven minutes.  Somehow, I didn't imagine Youkai Jesus's Byakuren's theme quite this way, but musically, it works.  At the Spring Harbor ~ Silent Voyage to Eternity is also speedy, though more along the lines of the previous Innumerable Eyes in it's use of the synth almost as a basso continuo, emphasizing the lead guitar part.  Day of the North Sea ~ Flame for Puja is a very downbeat, atmospheric sort of metal.  It's hard to make overdriven guitars sound calm or atmospheric, but Demetori does it.  It leads into Higan Climate ~ View of the River Styx, also a very easy going sort of metal, despite the syncopated drum and guitar harmonies that form the core of Demetori's sound...or perhaps because of it.  Since it's based on Komachi's theme, perhaps it mirrors her ridiculously lazy easy going nature.  Perhaps she and Reimu slack off and listen to Demetori together on a boombox Yukari let slip in from beyond the barrier.  I've already looked, and surprisingly, there's no fanart of this yet, like there is for everything else you can possibly imagine.  I should probably make it myself.

Anyway, if you like metal or hard rock, or really, if you like good music in general, listen to this album.  It's great.  If you like it, I have good news: Demetori, after a several year gap, is coming out with a new album this Comiket (which will start December 29).  Called Begirde des Zauberer (Longing of the Magician in German, referring to Marisa Kirisame on the cover art), based on the short crossfade sample, this new album looks to be potentially just as awesome.

There's a lot of awesome stuff coming out this winter's Comiket.  Manpuku Jinja is putting out a new PV, Alstroemeria Records has a very interesting sounding new album, TAMusic will have some stuff, EastNewSound has an original album...all cool stuff.

Anyway, just 'cause, here's a day in the life of the Dovahkiin.

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