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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ender Goes to Ultrazone, Blue Team Found Dead

Been a while.  I guess I could say I've had stuff to do, and that would probably be true, but it would also be an equivocation.  Go figure.  Real life has been good and all.  Well, I say that, and I've not actually been doing much that I can really feel accomplished about.  I translated something for Japanese, I wrote stuff for playwriting, which I'm going to do a staged reading of, once I can find some available people in the drama department, or just people that seem like they can act with some proper guidance which I am in no way qualified to give.  It seems to me that the ideal scenario is finding someone who can not only understand the characters (*starts cracking up at the idea that there's anything to understand about them*), but actually likes them at a fundamental level and can get into the dialog.  See, my play's strength is in its dialog, not in its story, and I'd like to do all I can to make up for that.  Then again, that's the same thing hollywood studios do with special effect shots to cover up for insipid-ass screenplays and questionable directorial choices and editing.  The difference here is, special effects shots don't themselves constitute any sort of desirable quality: for a special effect shot to be effective, it has to be well conceived and storyboarded.  This is the problem with Transformers.  It has all these special effects shots, but you can't really storyboard any of them effectively, because they're just kinda thrown together in a way that isn't even very cool to watch.  There is an occasional well planned shot that works (I genuinely liked some of the scenes with that gunship in T3), but otherwise...

...Wait a second, I'm already starting to talk about film in my supposedly humanizing introduction?

Eh, don't care.

Ender's Game...The Motion Picture
Speaking of films, apparently it slipped by without my noticing that not only is the Ender's Game film going ahead, but that there's already been a casting call based on a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.  The film is still set to be directed by Sir. Gavin of the Hood, director of such well renown films as...X-Men Origins Wolverine.  Yeah, I'm a bit worried too, but apparently he's also director of a film called Tsotsi, a lowly-character's-life-gets-changed-by-a-humanizing-event movie that apparently won an Academy award for best foreign language film, so if one trusts in the Academy's judgement (which is questionable, but only within a certain tolerance), he's at the very least capable of making a good film.  I'm remembering Wolverine though, and I'm remembering some pretty not-so-great stuff, but I can't quite remember how much of it seemed like the director's fault.  So many problems are caused at a screenplay level that it increasingly seems to me that you have to be a pretty awful director to make a film genuinely bad solely on your own.  It seems to me a bad director can make a mediocre movie, but it takes a truly good director to bring something up to the level of masterpiece.  In that case, it seems that this movie will at the very least be decent, because the scriptwriters almost certainly know what they're doing.  Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were the scribes behind Star Trek, a film that may not have made much sense, but still had a good sense of its characters and some great pacing and momentum.  I can't say that anybody in Star Trek had the same emotional depth or level of drama as Ender's Game, but at the very least, I think we can count on a screenplay that at least attempts to do justice to the book.  Actually, I know we can count on that, because io9 was allowed to see the casting calls and some relevant excerpts from the script, and they posted about it September.  Yeah, I'm late for the party, I know, but I might as well.  From what io9 and I can tell, the script nails it pretty darn well, so the fact that the analysis to follow is going to sound suspiciously like nerdly nitpicking is unfortunate, especially since I fully realize I'm going off a summary of something the editor probably wasn't allowed to take notes on.

Ender Wiggin
So they seem to have the main character's character down pretty well.  He's 10 now, but that's pretty reasonable - any younger and you wouldn't have a prayer of finding someone who could effectively portray him.  I think this is a pretty good idea.
Just like in the book, he dishes out a rough treatment to Bonzo Madrid, his former platoon leader, when Bonzo tries to bully him too much. And then he feels bad about it.
Ender doesn't dish out rough treatment to Bonzo.  He murders him.  Brutally.  He doesn't realize it except in the back of his mind, but everyone else does.  And it tears him up inside.  But then again, I think that's the editor, not the script, so eh.
The screenplay also includes some scenes where Ender has weird nightmares about the buggers — and he tries to understand where the buggers are coming from, and what their children are like.
That's gonna be pretty hard to film without unconsciously falling back on well-worn and ineffective formalistic clichés, but it's not a bad idea.  It's important as a tangent to the main theme, but I think it's still probably a good idea to at least try and handle them.
Ender is pissed at Graff because he keeps changing the rules in the war "exercises."
I know it's just the editor, and technically this is very true, but man does this sound like Ender is being anal-retentive.
The scene where Ender finds out that his final victory was not, in fact, a game is pretty intense, and features Ender and Graff both trying to talk at the same time. Ender is saying "They came to establish a colony, we chased them away... in fifty years they have never returned," while Graff is saying, "It makes no difference now," and then Ender is saying "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds," at the same time as Graff is saying "What are you talking about?" Finally, Ender is saying "I will bear the shame of this xenocide forever," at the same moment as Graff is saying, "You will be remembered as a hero." It ends with Ender getting an injection, knocking him out.
I'm actually really exited to hear this.  I don't think the scene in the book was anywhere near to its most effective moment, but the way they describe it being written here sounds pretty much exactly how the scene should unfold.  I can imagine exactly how this would be lit and shot, and the image is pretty stark.  The dialog itself sounds a bit stiff.  This is one of those scenes that I think might be improved immensely with some well-played improvisation.  It's hard to write scenes like that, but I think they have exactly the right idea.  However, that's a misuse of the quote "now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds."  Lord Shiva says this to Arjuna, revealing his many armed form and showing him his true power, urging him on to fulfill his dharma as a soldier.  It occurred to Oppenheimer because of the power that mankind had just discovered it possessed filled him with awe and fear.  It does not have even the slightest to do with Ender's situation, and this isn't something that Ender would ever get wrong in a million years.  Also, that "I will bear the shame of this xenocide forever" is only going to sound not awkward with some really great acting and directing.  But like I said, this sounds pretty awesome, especially the description of Ender as "He's depicted as smart and sensitive, but also incredibly ruthless."  A more perfect three-adjective description could not be written.

Julian Delphiki / Bean
Not much is said outright about Bean in the article, but...I'm a bit worried, even though at the same time I really shouldn't be.  This is an adaptation of Ender's Game, and just Ender's Game.  Nothing of Bean's development in Shadow is being brought over.  While what io9 says about Bean is not necessarily inconsistent with the book...I read this and I feel...slighted.
We get to see Bean watching a heavily edited video of Mazer Rackham's famous victory over the formics, in which Mazer fires his nuclear warhead into the formics' exhaust system. And Bean is so thrilled he throws his hands in the air and shouts with joy — until Ender bursts his bubble, explaining that the video is edited so we don't see Mazer die.
Bean does not throw his hands up in the air and shout for joy while watching battle footage.  He just doesn't.  He doesn't watch the footage in the first place, because he knows it's edited and likely useless, and he wonders why Ender is always so intrigued by it.  He himself is more intrigued by Ender as a person.  I can't really complain though, because if handled right, this could still be a pretty interesting scene.
In another scene, Graff shows Bean and Ender to the famous zero-gravity training room, where they float around with a bunch of other kids. Ender explains to Bean that there's no "up or down" in zero-G, and then they discover their weapons actually freeze anyone they shoot at, by causing the spacesuits to swell up.
Okay, if Ender tried to explain that "there's no up or down in zero-G," everyone would laugh at him.  There is not a person on that station who didn't realize that the second they learned what zero-G means.  "There is no up or down in zero-G" is not only a lame response, it's directly in contradiction to Ender's doctrine.  See, Ender's revelation about combat in this non-orientable space isn't that "there is no up or down," it's that because there's no up or down, you need to give your troops an arbitrary set of directions to give orders properly, and you can make those directions any way you like.  Ender says that "the enemy's gate is down" because that way his own troops don't present a large profile, and if they get hit, it's only their legs they lose.

Peter Wiggin
The film's version of Peter seems pretty consistent with how he's characterized in the book.  In other words, more as a concept than as an actual character, but that's how it should be.

Valentine Wiggin
She also seems pretty consistent with how she is in the book.  When you look at her boiled down like that though, she does come off very much as "the girl," but then again, even I have to admit that basically is her role in the books as well.  That doesn't make her not an interesting character, after all.

Bonzo Madrid
Just like in the book, he's a swaggering idiot whose platoon has won most of its most recent battles, and he resents being saddled with a useless, untrained snot like Ender.
 Bonzo is swaggering, but nobody in battle school is anything even like an idiot.  No, nobody on the whole station is anything even like an idiot.  Col. Graff himself might have been a battle-school student if he were born any later.  The characterization sounds right though, so I'm thinking this is just the editor again.

Rose the Nose, Dink Meeker, Petra Arkanian
All of them seem pretty solid.  It might be hard to develop Ender's relationship with all of them within the span of a 2 hour film, but I think if they focused enough, they could pull off what they need to in order to make it work.

Who is he again?  *looks up on ansiblewiki*  Ah yeah, that guy.  Wait, he's an important character?  Really?
He's a heavyset boy who just wants to make it through this school in one piece and get home — and he's happy to help himself to other people's desserts.
He sounds like an extra in one of the Christopher Columbus directed Harry Potter films.  I hope to be proven very wrong.

Anyway, the release date is supposed to be some time in 2013, so that's not too-too far off, production speaking.  It sounds like it's going to be an interesting ride.  It also sounds like they're not shying away from the inevitable R-rating that'll come with Ender's murder of the bully and later murder of Bonzo, which is pretty gutsy for a studio trying to sell a movie about a bunch of smart kids who are going to save the earth from the bug-aliens by training with laser tag despite the adults who are trying to ruin their lives.  I'm thinking its the name recognition alone that ever got what sounds like "whacky sci-fi adventure with children...who are also slowly succumbing to stress and depression and kill each other in the showers" greenlit.

Come to think of it, Ender's Game sounds like a natural to be done as a 12 episode animated series.  If this were being made in Japan, I can tell you exactly who should write an direct it: Gen Urobuchi writer, Mamoru Oshii director (and animated by Studio IG, but that comes with the territory).  Urobuchi sensei can write very intelligently and isn't afraid to make his characters suffer, and I guess Oshii has some experience with action films with undercurrents of navel-gazing (though admittedly Ghost in the Shell, despite being an incredible film, is not in any way, shape, or form a character study).

Actually, it's plausible someone may make a deal to do shorts based on the side characters like that.  It happened with The Matrix, and with Halo, and now (supposedly) it'll happen with Mass Effect, so maybe a Gen Urobuchi / Mamoru Oshii short isn't entirely out of the question.  Hmm...

More Touhou Music
Yep.  You guessed it.  I actually have five albums, each of them worth talking about, but to save us all a lot of time I'm only going to talk about two of them: Metallic Vampire by SOUND HOLIC, and オトメキュート(Otome Cute) by ShibayanRecords.  The other three are 東方バイオリン3 (Touhou Violin 3)、東方バイオリン7(Touhou Violin 7)、and 「Scarlet」, all by TAMusic.  They're all very interesting albums by some very talented people, and in fact it'd make sense for me to talk about them, because that's really the only sort of music I really have a background to talk intelligently about.  But no, this night, we're leaving the string septette and blasting some metal and electronica!

Metallic Vampire
Flandre must be going through one
of those phases.
I don't actually listen to much metal, but I love the idea of it.  Good metal is full of soul and melody: it paints broad strokes like the best of the romantic composers of yore.  People say that Beethoven would be a video game composer if he were alive today, but I prefer to think he'd be leading a symphonic metal band.  This album is not by Beethoven.  It's by 8-Style, playing songs based on compositions by the enigmatic man known only as ZUN, but you know, I'm cool with that too.

The first two songs are non vocal tracks, and solely consist of 8-Style doing his versions of the menu and stage 1 themes of Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil.  The first track, R.E.D, is pretty much straight up the menu theme, arranged in the style of the album, giving a very good first impression that leads into the second track, Mystic Mistiness.  Neither track is particularly ambitious with being anything more than how 8-Style thinks the tracks from the game should sound like, metal style, but luckily this is in itself pretty awesome.  Metallic Vampire continues almost like a concept album based on EoSD, going onto Snedronnigen, a track based on the stage 2 theme, Lunate Elf, with vocals by Cordelia (eureka).  Generally, the tracks with Cordelia doing the vocals are the safer bets, and while Snedronnigen isn't her best song on the album, it's well conceived with its nice pacing and refreshingly creative drum section.  It seems SOUND HOLIC has some rather talented people on board, and the drummer isn't even credited.  Now that's a real shame.  Unfortunately, the next track, 荒野の黙示録 (Apocalypse of the Red Night), is a rather questionably conceived adaptation of U.N. Owen Was Her, with vocals also by Cordelia.  There are two things that keep this track from being awesome.  First, the drummer who was so awesome in Snedronnigen kinda loses it here.  More fundamentally though, U.N. Owen Was Her has several time shifts that the song tries to follow...and does not do well.  It opens with a rather atemporal chorus, before shifting uncomfortably to Cordelia's admittedly rather strong and suitably creepy vocals.  The refrain sections show what the song could have been, with its tightly timed and resounding melody that could have saved the song.  As it is though, it remains only a seldom-played curiosity.  The next track continues on concept-album mode to a very vocal-centric song sampling both the stage 4 and Patchy Patchouli's theme, Native Sage.  The track consists mostly of CALEN's vocals backed by pretty normal metal style drums and instrumentation.  As this is an aesthetic I don't find particularly interesting, I don't really have much to say here other than that this proves even more my theory that metal bands are stealing away all the best singers.  We come then to Scarlet Calling.  Screams.  With Engrish lyrics.  I cannot listen to this song without laughing.  For what it's worth, it's still 8-Style's arrangement, so it's not a bad song, but again, it's not an aesthetic I can really take seriously.  We're moving right along though, to Septour de Éclarte, which uses a German chorus interchanging at a down-tempo beat with Cordelia in a pretty straight, calm tempered version of Remilia's theme.  It's a change of pace from the rest of the album, and it works pretty well thanks to some nice instrumental accenting and Cordelia's excellent voice.  KafkaFuura has the lyrics translated except for the German choruses.  I might have to refer him to my German major friend and see if she can make anything of them.  We shift up in force a bit with an instrumental based on EoSD's extra stage theme: Lævateinn.  8-Style's instrumental tracks have a sort of western feel to them that I can't quite define theory-wise.  Fun stuff though, if not as interesting as some of the other tracks, like the one that comes next.  Sweet Dear Vampress is probably my favorite song on the album.  It features vocals by Nana Takahashi, tightly harmonized with the minor-key (I think), wide range baroque guitar and instrumentation backing, with very well timed out lyrics.  The lyrics themselves (as translated again by KafkaFuura) are based on a popular fan theory on the first meeting of Sakuya and Remilia: that Sakuya was a vampire hunter from some other plane that tracked down Remilia and despite her power was defeated handily, but in that defeat found friendship (or something more, as the song and I would think).  The next song is probably my second favorite on the album, A.D. 1884, a song with Cordelia vocals based on (and in fact directly sampling the in-game music) Shanghai Alice of Meiji Era Year 17.  Again, the lyrics and vocals are very well timed and harmonized, with the always interesting baroque stylings of ZUN's original.  The album comes to a close with Les Miserábles: an instrumental, sort of down-tempo, smooth rock version of Eastern Dream, the credit roll theme to EoSD.  It brings everything to a very nice and atmospheric close.

Anyway, it's inconsistent in its greatness, but I really like the album, and if you like a hard rock or metal, I'd say you should probably give it a listen.  Cool stuff.  What's also cool is that this write-up is actually somewhat timely: Metallic Vampire was only just released at the latest Reitaisai.  Hey, Comiket is just around the corner, so maybe I'll actually have some stuff up as it gets released.  I haven't read on either Syrufit's or Minoshima's sites about any new albums (well, Minoshima wouldn't, since he just released Haunted Dancefloor last August), but maybe there'll be something new by TAMusic or Shibayan or something.

Speaking of Shibayan,

オトメキュート (Otome Cute)
Marisa lost a bet...badly.  I have a
feeling there's a love-colored master
spark to the face in someone's future.
I'm not really sure how to translate the album title.  Otome means a young maiden (generally a virgin), and "kyuuto" is gratuitous English for cute, but does that make it Cute Young Maiden, Otome Cute, or Kawaii Young Maiden?  I kinda want to use gratuitous Japanese to match the gratuitous English and call it Kawaii Young Maiden, but something inside me cringes at that.

Anyway, the actual album.  Yeah.  The first track is Colorful Mellow Melody...which is a perfect name, because despite Shibayan being an electronica group, this is very much a mellow sort of track with Chie Fukami's vocals and trumpet and piano backings.  It's actually pretty bland stuff, but it's pleasant with its cute mellowness.  It's also not on youtube.  Guess what though, the next track - A Conversation Between Him, Her, and Myself - is more mellowness, this time with electric keyboard and the quiet, aspirated vocals of the one who goes by "yana."  Again, it's...pleasant.  And there's really not much there besides melody, which you can't really talk about.  For the next track - Dear Miss Daydreamer, we've gone up-tempo a bit, but we're still fully in easy listening mode, this time with even more cutesy lyrics.  At this point, I'm running out of things to say besides "it's pleasant," because it's all very competent but traditional electronic era easy listening instrumentation (which seems to include a Hammond B3, which I'll admit is kind of interesting).  We get to something that sounds slightly more like what Shibayan is known for with Cyclic March, an odd organ, synth, and piano arrangement of Immortal Smoke.  I don't really care for it, but it's an interesting idea at least.  Ah, but here!  Here's what Shibayan actually does best!  MyonMyonMyonMyon! (Japanese for MeowMeowMeowMeow!) is an electronica track based on Ancient Temple. It does some really nice funky rhythms and progressions with feedback noises.  It progresses quite nicely to some nice synth harmonies that all contribute to the general sound of the track.  There's a vocal version out there with 3L vocals (one of the few singers who can do high-and-cute and not make me cringe).  It's not as well paced out, but the "myon" chorus makes up for it.  The next track is FlipFlop, more electronica, this time with a more industrial, 90s sort of sound.  It's got a more consistent melody to it than perhaps Myon(4), but it's in a segmented, kinda funky structure.  Next is Interstice of Gams among other English words pulled out of a dictionary that make sense in context only to Shibayan (I dunno, it's Yukari's theme, so is Yukari supposed to have nice legs or something?)  It's got a nice, atmospheric sort of arrangement with a prominent synth accent underneath the combination of more naturalistic sounding synth instrumentation with more creative, feedback-y punctuation.  It works pretty well.  The final track, Dead Body's Voyage (which I can't find on youtube), is much more trance like, reminding me a bit more of Sound Online than Shibayan's normal sound.  The melody is that of Orin's often abused theme Be of Good Cheer, but this isn't a bad use of it, I don't suppose.  Not one of Shibayan's shining moments, maybe, but not a bad note to end the album on either.

Anyway, that's it for now.  I guess I'll just leave this here for you.

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