Here, have some text.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Resources

Also from my tumblr, a ramble-y thing that really should have gotten edited, but I'm not going to bother doing so even now.

So, a bit more than a week ago, I went down to gamestop to buy Halo 4. I’ve been a fan of Halo for quite some time, but you couldn’t actually call me a long time fan, even though that’s what it feels like. I remember very clearly, in eighth grade, before my parents actually allowed me to play them, Halo and its story was the shit. One of my friends told me the story up until that point (this was before Halo 3 came out) in installments during art class, and he told it well. I was captivated. This was really one of my first exposures to a lot of the pop culture tropes that contemporary gamers would have found common.

Since then, I’ve moved out into the gaming world, but I still defend Halo as still being perhaps the best multiplayer shooter franchise out there, even though the rest of the world either plays CoD and thinks Halo is for nerds, or plays TF2 and thinks Halo is for CoD kiddies. And honestly, TF2 is probably the better online multiplayer shooter, and certainly a lot of the audience Halo previously had locked has moved on to CoD.

So I went down to gamestop to buy Halo 4, but I wasn’t as exited as I might have been. I arrived, and gave the used games a look over while I was there, and one caught my eye. Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I had heard great things about this game, and it was only 17 dollars. This, I figured, was an excellent deal. What of Halo 4? I figured I’d buy it later. Deus Ex was cheaper, and probably a better game. So I walked out of there with Deus Ex instead.

And now, just recently, I beat it.

This is old news by now, I expect. People know about how cool the setting is, how smart the writing is, how dumb the boss fights and third act are, and all that. I agree with most of the common consensus, though I honestly did enjoy the fight against Federova, but by that point I had dermal and leg augs, which helped tremendously by allowing me to bunny hop and machinepistol my way to victory.

And I imagine that people are also pretty tired about hearing how interesting the commentary on transhumanism is. If I wanted to weigh in on this fully, I’d devote a whole post to it, and it’d go something like this. There is no real higher level ethical debate to be had about transhumanism. If you want to establish that it compromises your humanity, and therefore you shouldn’t do it, you must first establish two things. You must establish that humanity requires having flesh and blood and lacking these causes the rest to be irrelevant, and you must establish that this conception of humanity is in and of itself ethically valuable. Both of these are highly problematic, and I have trouble coming up with an answer to either that does not veer off into magical thinking.

Fortunately, Deus Ex HR Department does not focus so much on that. It at the same time acknowledges these feelings, creates characters with whom you may sympathise about, but at the same time, it does not force that particular issue. It’s used in a far more interesting way in a very memorable conversation with an injured and dying anti-augmentation detective you meet some way through the game.

Instead, Deus Ex HR focuses on the practical upshot of transhumanism: it costs money. Augmentation isgreat for those who can afford it and can also afford the neuropozyne to avoid rejection symptoms. But it deepens the disparity between rich and poor. Humans can still compete with transhumans for now, but the bar is getting steeper and steeper. Ignoring the social problems is difficult even for those who would normally not see it as a problem at all, as it’s possible society itself may not survive long enough for augmentation to become so cheap and practical that, as Edison put it, “only the rich will burn candles.”

And really, ethics does not concern itself nearly enough with road tests. In the traditional thought experiments, outcomes are epistemologically certain, always. If you don’t flip this switch, five people will get run over by the murdertrain. If you do, you will kill a man on a different rail, even if you yell at him to run. But few things in the real world are so certain.

This is why Deus Ex makes such an interesting case. You can augment humanity, make yourselves gods, but if you try, the world could easily destroy itself before that happens. You could regulate augmentations, but then you’d be regulating the human body itself. If you leave it unregulated, it may not change human nature, but it turns potential tragedies into potential nightmares. The consequences of your actions are amplified along with your abilities. Augmentation changes the premises.

For instance, in Deus Ex, you routinely come into situations where you are under fire and can justifiably call any killing you do as in self-defense. It’s an intuitive response. But you are playing as Adam Jensen, a transhuman man of the future, who can just as easily knock a guard out cold as stab him with an arm blade. Given that, is Adam in any way remiss for killing a guard in defense instead of simply subduing him, where otherwise, he might be perfectly justified in murder? Where is the threshold between feasibility of non-lethality and the justification of lethal force?

I think it’s difficult to ascertain any moral weight of the distinction (I’m actually not sure if moral weight should look quite how it does in modern ethics), but it seems to me that Adam, if he acts rationally, should prefer non-lethality.

But whatever. Adam has retractable sunglasses implanted in his skull, and that automatically justifies anything he does.
So yeah, Deus Ex Human Revolution is a really cool air vent crawling simulator, and y’all should play it if you haven’t already. The characters are very well written, the gameplay is solid, and the atmosphere is great.

Almost German Expressionism - The Romance Novel

Posting your thoughts on someone else's work immediately after posting some of your own is probably in bad form, but oh well.  I'm not claiming I'm any better or worse or anything.  Just a disclaimer.

I don't read nearly as much as I want to anymore. I suppose it's just a matter of priorities, but it's still rather unfortunate. Most of what I read I actually listen to on audio book traveling to and from college in the car.

Recently, I just finished a book by Erin Morgenstern called The Night Circus. Now, if I didn't know better, I'd guess that Erin Morgenstern were a pen-name. I mean, how awesome is it to have the last name "blackstar?" Erin Blackstar. German is an awesome language, isn't it? Damn recht es ist.

The story itself is a romance framed by a contest between the disciples of two magicians, who are out to answer the question of whether sorcerers or wizards are stronger once and for all.

Of course, the story has nothing to do with D&D, but the two magicians certainly lie on that dichotomy. Marco is the wizard, and his reliance on spellbooks (not in the traditional sense, mind you) and power sources gives him a large amount of control and autonomy, but little at-will power. Celia is the sorcerer, her power limited on the upper bound by raw force of will, and on the lower bound by self-control and self-knowledge.

Inevitably, they fall in a nominally all-consuming love, and inevitably, the plot comes in between them and happiness. I have no deep and abiding love for romance novels, but I appreciate the well done ones, and the Night Circus, hypothetically, has some interesting things going for it.

For one, I am a huge fan of stories that use magic thematically rather than solely as plot propellant or setting window dressing. Magic in this world is complicated and makes it much easier to make serious mistakes. It is a constant drain on both contestants to maintain the circus. At least, we're told this, but I don't think either of these points are ever driven home, even if the plot elements are there. The one time when magic amplifies ordinary drama beyond its normal scope, when the novel actually demonstrates how easy it is to mess up with magic, it feels very much like douche ex machina. We never are given a decent explanation for why a certain character incites another to go murder a certain other one. It's just something that happens.

And really, that explains a lot about how the characters act in this novel. For main characters who carry literal scars with them from their past, they've got themselves very much together, and aren't seen really doing anything that isn't required explicitly by the plot. You'd think they'd be full of wonderfully interesting quirks and insecurities and motivations beyond the challenge, but they really don't. There is extraordinarily little character drama going on here. It's just them versus the plot, and the plot inevitably wins.

All of this ends up with an author filibuster as delivered through a one-sided conversation between A.H. and Widge (not the Cyberchase character...oh god, why do I even still remember that show?). I really wish Widge had provided a more contrasting point of view in that tract. That would have made it a lot stronger, I think. As is, the story doesn't really have much in the way of commentary on anything except the context this final conversation gives, but what was there wasn't...bad...per se, but it was a bit hollow, and along with the unsatisfying love story with the unsatisfying characters, this only leaves the story one leg to stand on.

The writing itself.

Which is pretty awesome. It maintains atmosphere extraordinarily well. The surrealism of the circus is handled quite well, even if it does seem a tad obsessed with the smell of caramel (is it a metaphor or something?). The story is structured in a non-linear fashion that at first seems unnecessary but eventually becomes understandable as a creative choice. The world-building is convincing and sets a very interesting stage that deserved an equally interesting cast. I would love to see another story, written with these same premises, in this same narrative voice. I hope Ms. Morgenstern (power metal riff here) revisits this world at some point, maybe in a short story.

So I guess my overall reaction is that this isn't a really bad story. It's not, even if I'm critical of it. I'm critical of it because of how much better it could have been. I did enjoy listening to it very much, and I suppose I can still give it some sort of recommendation, just on account of its writing style. I just wish it did something more.

The Hunting Girl Stops For Tea

>Draft of a short story for my fiction writing class.
>...technically already turned in for a grade, but I can still think of it as a draft, right?
>Actually no.
>So what I mean is, this is a finished short story for my fiction writing class.

I open my eyes.

It's still dark out. Man. What time is it?

It must be early. I look up into the sky, and I see that it is still clouded over, with lots and lots of massive thunderheads, way off into the deep focus range. So I guess it'd be dark regardless, huh.

I don't mind the dark, I never have. I get up and start to grab for my clothes. I pause. I think, I don't need to put them on just yet. I'm out here in the wilds, I won't need clothes until I want to go anywhere.

So I just stand up and feel the air. My magic-tent-enchantment-thing is still going strong. Rain is streaming down the invisible planes. I'm actually not sure how I'm going to undo the magic, once I'm done with it.

I don't particularly care anyway.

So I grab my coffee machine lying over beside my coat. It's white, and it's laying on its side. I dust it off, put the old bag of pre-ground beans in, draw some water from the air (this is why I love humid days), and grab the end of the electrical plug. This is the most annoying part, see, standing there and pretending you’re a human dynamo (which is exactly what you are).

Mostly, I'm actually annoyed because coffee is one of those things I still haven't been able to finesse. I found an old book in a library back in the Nuremberg metro area. That book had magic in it, and they were all able to conjure things out of thin air. Like, with wands and stuff. Convenient. I wish real magic was like that sometimes.

Ah, but I still wouldn't trade away my godhood for it. So I’m sitting around, doing my whole dynamo thing, thinking about how awesome it is to be alive.

Hah. Godhood. The ol’ man back in the village would frown his frowniest of frowns if he heard me say that shit. He’d worry I was about to turn into one of those viajantes myself. A good man, he is, and I'm fine with it, but he could never understand this about magicians. Deus ex magica, man. Well, dea ex magica in my case. My tomboyishness only extends so far.

And then my coffee's ready, and that just makes my morning complete.


It feels just awesome yelling that. There are some birds - yeah, actual birds man, the Fulda Gap has, like, a ton of them - and they get all startled and tweet tweet off into the…oh, that's where the sun went. I couldn't really see it before, because of all the storm clouds.

I take my first sip of coffee. It's damn good coffee. I feel like magic, let me tell you.

So I pace around a little. There's an old tree - that's what I slept under. I walk around that, and I look at it, I regard it. It's bark is a sort of grey, not so much brown, I dunno why people think trees are brown so often. It's smooth-skin too. Maybe it's a cherry blossom tree of some sort. I dunno how it got there. But it's a damn nice looking tree, and I like the way its bark looks when it's wet. Which it gets wet, because it’s still raining. Which I remember as soon as I dispell the force-tent-thing and I realize I'm still not wearing clothes.

Oh well. I don't mind being wet. And for real though, clothes are for looser humans.

The rain does get in my coffee before I can stop it though. It's a sad thing. I manage to dehydrate it slightly, but it tastes funny.


So I decide, forget the coffee. I toss it out of the cup. Messily, I do a poor job of it. But I rinse it out and sterilize it and I walk over to where my bag is. And my clothes. I put the cup in last, on top of the books, which are on top of everything else. I put on my clothes. They're light clothes, summer clothes, even though it's winter or something (I honestly can't really tell the seasons apart anymore, to be honest). I like the cargo pants the most - they're roomy and good for storing random things. Good adventuring gear. I got them from Sñr. Fransisco Franco (no relation) a month ago. These things are damn useful, and with those sleek, crisp lines even despite the pockets, they look very nice too. Even without having been washed for who knows how long.

So I take off. The rain gets in my face, of course, but though I squint, I'm fine. I just fly along in low visibility. I'm not too concerned exactly where I'm flying. Mainly because I don't know where I'm supposed to be going. They said I'd find her somewhere in where Portugual used to be. Maybe somewhere towards Nazaré? It's been a while since I've been there, and I'm still working on my Portuguese. Não é dificil, mas não tenho tido a oportunidade de ler muito, sabes?

Mas, I'm getting distracted.

The storm is following me.

The storm is definitely following me.

No really, why is the storm following me? This is…peculiar.

I lick my finger and hold it up in the air stream. I get goosebumps. There's fire in the air. There's lots of fire, and lightning. She’s definitely around here somewhere.

I love it. I eat it up.

But I feel the current is ahead of me, not behind me, not within the storm, so I guess whatever is causing the storm to follow me is completely incidental. I have such bad luck with weather sometimes.

But anyway, it's a strong, strong current I’m getting from her, because as far as I can tell, it's still hundred miles off.

At least I know where I'm going now.

I feel good today, real good, I tell you. The rain isn't even touching me now, the air is getting displaced in front of me. I accelerate, and before I know it, I've graduated from the transonic realm into the supersonic university, and my skin is very uncomfortably warm. Shit. I'm not protecting against the heat from the air resistance. I read about that too. Humans used to have trouble keeping their planes from melting. Of course, flesh is even worse for that – that’s why most of them abandoned the stuff. Then magic happened, and…well…

But that’s depressing.

I love the heat though. I let in just enough.

I can barely see ahead now through the mist of air, and I'm finding it hard to breathe. The air feels so much less dense. I feel my feet getting swept with fantails of water flung far from the displaced air, in brilliant arcs. It feels wonderful.

I see a rainbow star up ahead, between the coastline and the clouds.

Ah. There she is.

I feel her very distinctively.  It's an interesting feeling, but most importantly, she doesn't feel crazy in the same way so many other viajantes do.  I'll talk to her.

Hell, something in me is actually exited about this.  What is this?  I never liked small talk.  I like reading and shooting things with giant lasers.  Who needs to talk with anyone when you can do that?

I watch her shoot pass to my left as I cross in front of her and pull high into a loop to burn energy. All my joints are being torn at by the massive deceleration. My intertia wants to go in a different direction entirely. Silly intertia.

“Boa tarde!” An uncanny but friendly voice.

“Boa tarde, meu amiga!” I respond. “Este tempestade é genial, não?”

“Yeah, é muito genial. Mas, quem é você?”

“Katrina Gallardo de Nuevo Barcelona, em tua serviço.” I slide into the air in front of her. She actually looks younger than me – something like a 17 year old human might, if she didn’t have this creepy depth to her eyes and her skin weren’t so pale. Her eyes are an ossified blue, she wears a frilly blue and white dress, and she’s drinking a nice cup of tea. Charming look, really.

“Ah. De Nova Barcelona? Podemos continuar en español, si prefiere usted.”

“English is best. Y sabes que puedes usar “tu” conmigo, ¿no?”

“It has been a while since I spoke with anyone. I feel the occasion calls for extra politeness.”

“Vaya vaya, encantada to meet you. Thank's for the welcome, but I’m afraid I should either get down to business or start shootin’.  I'm here on behalf of the people of New Barcelona, you see...”

“Oh.  Oh dear. You’re one of those mages.”

“Yeah, I’m ‘one of those.’ I still kinda sorta identify with normal humans, you know? I feel…obliged…to make sure the likes of you don’t go around accidentally irradiating the lot of them.  Or hunting and eating them.  Or carving lewd things in their wheat fields.  Or something.”

“Go away. If you’re just here to bother me about dumb petty things like that.”

“I was going to ask you to do the same thing. Perferably somewhere not near New Barcelona.”

“I haven’t been doing anything. If you notice, I’m sitting here in the air drinking some nice tea in the middle of this wonderful storm.”

“Well that’s all well and fine, buh-waitwaitwait, you can magic tea?”

She shrugs. “I’ve been around a long, long time, Señora Gallardo.”

“But I mean…I have been trying to years to figure out a way to synthesize coffee with magic. Shit’s impossible!”

“Oh don’t be silly. Everyone can do it, you just need patience – time to refine yourself. I am going to guess here, and I’m going to guess you spent all your life training how to blast things, right? Of course you did, you’re a hunter. A demon hunter. They call us ‘viajantes,’ but you know they think of us as demonios. You kill gods so they can feel better about themselves at night. So they don’t feel so insecure.”

“Well, yeah. But really I spend most of my time reading and experimenting with little things, and I guess coffee is only one of many so I can’t say I concentrated on it too hard, but I guess it's not that I really don't have the time, since that's really all I do besides travel and reading, and…well, that’s beside the point.”

She smiles and closes her eyes. “You remind me a little bit of myself, I think. Before I decided to leave all that nonsense.” She nods to herself.

“So am I going to have to fight you first? Before I get you to leave?”

“Where do you see yourself in fifty years?”

“Still floating here asking you to leave.”

“A serious answer, meu amiga.”

“I am serious, I’m totally serious!” What’s this lady getting at?

“Do you have no sense of self-awareness at all?”

“Very little, Ms. Viajante. Now I’m gonna a…”

“Do you know how much your quality of life would improve if you left and became a traveller like me?”

“Gonna take a wild guess that you think the answer is up.’”

“More than you know.”

“No way, tía. I have friends in New Barcelona. It’s where my life is.”

“You know full well you spend more time out around the countryside than you do there.  You ever think why?”

“It’s a place to come back to, you know? A touchstone.  More or less.  I...just do.  They're good people, you know.  I'm fine with it.”

“I don’t see why you couldn’t return now and again, if you became a viajante.”

“You said yourself, they’d see me as a demon. And what’s more, that’s exactly what I’d become if I stayed out here for too long, you know?”

“Well it’s their fault for not accepting it. Be the change, Katrina.”

“Lol no. We both know nothing of that sort’s ever gonna happen. I’d rather not become a monster to my own hometown.”

“You already are. How many friends do you have in New Barcelona?”

“Plenty! I have…Señor Fransisco Franco, the shopkeeper! He sold me these pants! He…uhh…actually decided to move to the new settlement, I think near León, but he’s still a friend! I just don’t know where he is. Is all. It's fine.”

“Can you talk to him about anything?”

“Sure. He’s very knowledgeable. I gave him some of the books I found in my holiday to old Nuremburg. Well, sold, technically.”

“About yourself?”

“With him? Why would he care about me?”

She smiles, sadly, a pressed smile. “And your parents?”

“Want nothing to do with me. But hell, I never was the sentimental sort.”  The hell is with this lady?  I'm fine like this.

“So who do you talk to?”

“Well…no one, really.”

“It must be hard. I know it is. All the looks of hate hidden with aside glances. All the aquaintences who never spend any but the most minimum of time near you. All the warm, friendly tableside conversations at the café that dim whenever you walk past.”

“Hey. Hey. Shut up. It’s not like that at all.” How in holy hell does she know about the café?

“You stare at them. You sit behind your book and your coffee and you stare at them, and you’re jealous. So jealous. And I’m very sorry about that.”

“Shut it! I’m fine, dammit!”

“Your parents want nothing to do with you, and whoever gives you orders is too frightened of what you might do if you ever go rogue. He sees past your guards too, I know it. He knows how lonely and bitter you are with them all. That’s why he’s scared. You must eventually come to realize this.”

Shit. She can’t be reading my mind. She can’t be. I’m too good for this. I’m too good for all this! “Imma ask you once and once only…”

“You only feel alive out here, doing this. This is all you know. Flying. Fighting. Letting yourself get swept up in magic – they don’t know, do they, that using magic on such a scale releases endorphans like that? But when you return, you have nothing. You walk up the street to your little house on the corner, you open the door, you take off your hat and coat, and you collapse on your couch, wanting to cry, and there has never been anyone there. There never will be.”

“I’m fine! I’M FINE!” I’m trembling.

I’m also releasing several megajoules of anger colored magic at her. Oh god, what am I doing?

The beam manifests at about 9000 degrees kelvin, and like most B-class stars, glows a white-blue. I cannot see this, because I cut the line between my optic nerve and my eyes so I don’t blind myself. It’s all instinct. All of this is instinct.

And I’m crying.

Why am I crying?

I can’t cry anymore. How is this?

Why did I let this girl get to me?

I feel a hand on my left shoulder. I look, and there is her face, sad smile and all.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“Fuck you.”

“I wanted to help you realize.”

“I was fine before, thanks. You fucking asshole.”

“Would you like some tea?”

“Yes. No!” I feel a glass of tea is in my hand. Now that I think about it, I seem to have floated back down to the ground.

I shoot the tea back like a fifth of vodka.  It refills.

“They don’t realize how dangerous it is to use us magicians as demon hunters. Using so much magic as you do in a fight releases so many endorphans that it’s only natural it becomes the one happy thing you ever do, and so when they shun you, they create a potential demon with not only bitterness, but a taste and talent for destruction. If time had been allowed to take its toal on you...well, you may have done something you’d regret forever on.”

“Cool story, tía.  You dunno that.”

“I know I would have, if I didn’t catch myself in time.”

“You dunno that either.”

The rain beats on over our heads. She’s using the same trick I do, for making a tent out of force projections.

I watch the planes of rain.  Sitting out in the rain on travel are some of my only best memories, and I feel a bit calmer now.  It's pleasant.

>Only best.
>Did you just think...


“Look,” I start,” you've given me things to think about. Okay? But I’m not going to do anything, anything, to risk hurting New Barcelona. They’re good people, they really are. I’ll protect them, even if I’m not with them.”

“I know. That’s a good thing, I think. If you ever need any help, call me.”

“Call you?”

“I am very much like you, I think. I enjoyed a good fight back in my day.”

I consider her. She managed to not get incinerated by the energy beam I shot at her, and that’s damn impressive.

And fortunate.

Oh fuck, I could have outright killed her, and I wouldn’t have…

“I’m sorry, Ms….I don’t even know your name.”

“Aline Sampaio. It’s quite alright.”

“I’ve killed viajantes before. But they were crazy, psychopathic, murderous. Hell, you’re just psychopathic. And an asshole. And you’re probably right – that’s worst of all, you know.” I sigh deeply. “So, what is it you do around here, anyway?”

“I drink tea. Sometimes I paint. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I work on my giant robot project.”

“Sounds like a good life.” It clicks. “Wait," I gesticulate, "giant robot project?”

“Would you like to see it? I’ve been working on the design for years. I call it the ASA-00 – it’s a prototype model, of course.” An edge of exitement lines her voice. Her eyes don’t seem quite so distant anymore.

Well, part of that is because she's sitting beside me now, and her hand is around my shoulder.

Am I really going to let this shit happen?

“Yeah. Yeah, that sounds nice.”

My hands no longer trembling, I take a sip of tea.  A considered sip.  A calmer sip.  An honest sip, and I can taste it with good clarity now.

It’s very good tea.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Almost Bodacious Space Pirates

I feel like I need to write this sooner rather than later, but Toonami is coming on in about an hour, so I'm probably going to challenge myself to keep this as concise as possible.

Ha. Ha. Ha. Lol.

Anyway, the next season of anime will start up in just two or so weeks from now, I believe. There's a lot of shows I'm looking forward to. Psycho-pass, with its combination of writer and director, can't help but at least be memorable, Dvorak's 9th would be interesting on pedigree alone, and, of course, Jormungand S2. Not to mention, I hear...interesting...things about Lychee Light Club, and when it comes to anime nowadays, different is almost always at least worth a watch.

But before the next season, I had a bit of a backlog of shows that I started but then neglected to finish from the spring, for various reasons. Specifically, I had yet to finish Bodacious Space Pirates and Kids on the Slope.

Bodacious Space Pirates I hadn't yet finished for a very simple reason: it had lost my interest. When the show started, it started strong. It was obviously a show designed to be a safe bet among otaku, but within that bracket, it was immediately apparent that quite a bit of thought had gone into the world building and the characters. It takes the show several episodes to even get into space, because it's concerned enough with developing the good captain Marika on the ground. Even the stock megane-tundere-whatever girl had some interesting moments that belied a deeper layer. When we did go to space, the mechanics were not at all arbitrary but well developed and well explored in a strategically limited scope.

But then the director's attention shifted to Lagrange, and all of a sudden, it stopped. The characterization stopped, the world building stopped, and the attention to detail stopped. It went from being an interesting take on a decidedly limited concept to an astoundingly mediocre show. It was never bad, and I kept at it for a while - until the end of the first season arc - but it almost never did anything even remotely interesting. It's like the show was in holding pattern, and actually, I suspect that was exactly the case. The director was working two shows, after all.

Eventually, I stopped watching it weekly, and eventually, I was barely watching it monthly. I just wasn't motivated to follow it anymore, and I hadn't dropped it yet only because I heard from people who did keep up with it that the ending picked up quite a bit.

But then just recently, still being on episode 19, I decided to go ahead and finish it. First was an arc about Ai-chan (yes, that's what they actually call her: "love-chan") which was pretty okay. I was wondering where everyone else was coming from, when all of a sudden, we're introduced to the final arc.

Now, let me set this straight. The final arc isn't super awesome. It's only about as good as the first part of the show, and it comes very close to feeling rushed. But it is several other things that the middle was not.

It's engaging, it has the same attention to detail as the start, and it picks up the same thematic thread as the start alluded to but never explored. Honestly, the thematic thread still isn't explored very far or very well, but it's something. The pirates in this show are more similar to the romantic Spanish conception of pirates, as you'd find in El Canción del Pirata. These pirates are about freedom in the unknowns of space, with power as a means to that. If that were what the whole show were about, I'd be a happy otaku, but alas.

Since it's still not a particularly masterful show, there's not much I can say about how it achieves what it achieves. The director has a set of preferred camera angles that he uses for different characters in different situations, so the style isn't particularly dynamic. Most of what makes the show work or not work is in dialog and pacing, I think. It knew - at least in the beginning and end - how to take a dramatic breath for the sake of getting us to care about the characters.

But in the end, it's not a terribly good show. It could have been, I wish it were, and other people seem to think it is, but it's really not. Watch the first few episodes. Then, if you progress through the series and find that the high school girl tropes are enough to keep your interest, then it'll probably be a worthwhile series. Otherwise, either drop it, or skip to episode 23.

At least, that's my take on it.
There are individual shots in this show that are cooler than the show as a whole ever was

(Kids on the Slope writeup to come.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


So yeah, posting.

That thing.

I’ve been pretty busy ever since I got back to college, but that isn’t really an excuse. I guess I never felt inspired to really write about anything. I never did finish talking about C82, but I don’t feel like doing so now either. Here’s the brief version:
  • 東方四重奏7 (Touhou String Quartet 7) - TAMusic: I think this is probably their best quartet album so far. TAMusic’s biggest problem is a lack of form due to their improvised nature, but that doesn’t seem to be present here nearly as much. If I were to give an example of what classically arranged Touhou should sound like, it’d definitely be from this album, and not, say, Adonis Enterprise or some other WAVE album. Not that WAVE is bad…more misguided. Touhou is not not not Hanz Zimmer material.
  • 12th Spell ~ Trick Shooter - Xi~On: It did not blow me away, but there’s nothing really wrong with it. I don’t remember any real standout tracks, and I don’t feel like listening to the whole thing right this moment. I should really do so soon though. It kinda feels like it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up: metal, rock, or synthorchestralthing.  Which is a shame, because xi~on normally has some pretty darned good power metal.
  • Blaze Out - EastNewSound: Eh. It’s a long album, and it’s filled with lots of pretty good songs. It’s hard to point to any specific feature of ENS music as “this is their signature sound,” but it’s nonetheless very particular and very strong in all their works. As a whole, it just didn’t feel like anything special.
  • Limited Dimension - EastNewSound: Their original album, however, is more interesting, though I still can’t think of any specific basis to recommend it on. Now that I think about it though, doesn’t a lot of their music feel like its from an anime ED sometimes? They’re kinda like fripside or something.
  • White Clear - Syrufit: In comparison to Blossom, it’s a bit disappointing, but anything would have been. All of the tracks work pretty well, and Shibayan and Nhato are always nice to see as well. Syrufit really is developing as a producer.

    Though incidentally, it really sounds like Syrufit is channeling Shibayan in Back Door.  He's done electro in the past, but I like where this is going.
Anyway, lately, I’ve not been playing too many video games or watching much anime besides what’s on Toonami (like the casual scum I am). I have been playing in two different D&D Pathfinder campaigns though. In one, I play an overpowered as fuck magus, and in the other, an overpowered as fuck sorcerer.

Since when did I become a powergamer? Okay, the magus (her name is Fern Hartmann) was a bit intentional, but the sorcerer (Catherine Hyland - I really do play too many girls) was mostly by accident. At least the DM put the kibosh on my idea for a spell that abused was perfectly in line with the whack-as-hell physics in Elements of Magic’s move(force) rules to do 12d8+1d6+17 damage at 30ft (read: will one-shot most enemies we'd encounter at this level on a low roll). I mean, really, the spell can put out several times the amount of energy in joules as the bullet from a Lee-Enfield rifle: did they really think about this stuff?

Oh well, playing that sort of character would be kinda boring, actually. I’ve always kinda hated rollplay in the place of roleplay, and while the move(force) railgun would actually rather fit the character, people don’t need the encouragement to see characters as an amalgamation of spells-per-day and BABs.

I’ve also been thinking of running my own campaign sometime around the ending weeks of the semester, in preparation for running something much larger the following one.

The small one I was thinking of is an excuse to a) get the hang of DMing and b) try out some ideas I’ve had for making Pathfinder more martial and deadly and d10 like. There will be crit tables, magic will have a tendency to literally blow up in your face, everyone will be rolling up NPC classes, and it will likely end badly for all involved.

The bigger campaign is going to be Adeptus Evangelion. We’re going to be operating from NERV Barcelona. It’ll be awesome. I’m kinda hoping v3 will be out in time, but I’m not counting on it.

Anyway, maybe now I’m settled in, I’ll have time to write more.

Oh, but as a bit of an extra something for people who read this and not my tumblr, here's a bit of archaeology I did.  If you look on the touhouwiki at Alstroemeria Record's discography, the first cd listed there is not ARCD-0001.  ARCD-0001 is actually arrangements of songs from Key visual novels, and it's very different from most of his later work.  It's very low key, not anywhere like his later trance and house.  There's only one track from this album on youtube.  ...the embedding of which is forbidden by the user, so:

(I think she's from Air or something, but I dunno shit about Key.  Just music.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Aggregation #02

Aggregate - Part 2

If M.D. Geist Were Emo: Deadman Wonderland

People don’t know what to expect from this strange thing called “anime,” but they do know what to expect from Toonami: accessibility and action.

Deadman Wonderland has plenty of the latter, added and stirred with a cup and a half of good ol’ fashioned manipulative nihilism. Bake at 400 degrees. Ding. You now have your very own incredibly dumb, barely competent, and completely enjoyable exercise in blood, half-way bildungsroman, and what the hell, here’s some more blood, because we’re cool like that.

Ganta is a nice little ordinary middle school kid. So naturally, his whole class is violently slaughtered, and he’s pinned with the crime. Innocent as he is, few judges are on the circuit who are inclined to believe testimony alluding to a murderous phantasmic “Red Man” who, according to Ganta, implanted a red crystal in his chest. The villainous DA, who obviously knows exactly whats up and further frames him for the crime, does nothing to help. So Ganta gets interred in a privately owned prison called Deadman’s Wonderland (and everyone’s okay with this, apparently) where everything is awful, and he meets a mysterious albino girl in a skintight body suit who immediately greets Ganta as her bestest buddy.

So basically, a not particularly unusual shonen adventure setup. The grownups are terrible, the girls are well endowed, and the kid is special. Why, then, is Deadman Wonderland as enjoyable as it is?

Not because it’s any good. A drama starts and ends with its characters, and Shiro and Ganta are flat. We never really find out that much about them, or why they are the way they are. They wear their motivations on their sleeves, and they seem to feel things out of habit than actual emotion. I seem to remember all of about three emotions from Ganta, and most of them have to do with the fact that the show is doing everything it can to make the guy miserable.

And the show goes out of its way to do so, to the point of completely, almost naively transparent contrivance. Why is the friendly, decent guy introduced? So he can get stomped on with a stiletto heel. Why must Ganta consume antidote “candy” to stay alive? Because it’s dramatic. Why does anyone do anything in this whole show? Because the director had one burning question he wanted answered during this production: how do we make it more dark?

Deadman Wonderland is a show that revels in its own nihilism, trying to one up itself at every corner. Yet in the end, the show reveals it actually has a theme.

What’s that theme?

You have to reject nihilism…to reject nihilism.

A theme that it states boldly and with supreme and utter self confidence, as if it were the most brilliant realization in all of human history.

And that’s what makes it so special. It has the audacity to be a stupid piece of crap. At no point did it feel like this was something that came out of a production committee. The director’s semi-competent fingerprints are all over this show, and while the result is intensely dumb, it feels like a special kind of dumb that will never be reproduced anywhere else. It is a show as written, it feels, by an edgy teenager, for other edgy teenagers to marvel at.

Miraculously, the show is also halfway competent on the technical side. It’s paced decently, the dub is just good enough to get by, and all the little filmmaking details are all there. All this helps make all that’s stupid with it watchable, instead of simply boring.

For the weapons that require you to cut yourself to use. For the dumb OP song. For Greg Ayres doing his best Shinji impersonation. For the complete tone-deafness to theme. For the complete lack of anything like self-moderation. For all those things, I loved this show, in spite of itself. It’s pretty hilarious.

Wargame: European Escalation

Obviously, by “one post a day,” I meant “one post after about a week of chilling with friends, drawing, and trying to decide how I feel about going back to college.”

Also, playing vidya.

Specifically, I’ve had a bit of a problem. I used to play a lot of a mod for the old game Command & Conquer: Generals called Cold War Crisis. As you may guess, it’s set during the 80s, and involves conventional warfare with the Soviets. Think Red Storm Rising.

In the real world, had the Soviets ever decided to roll across the Fulda Gap into West Germany, they’d be rolling in under a fog of deadly chemical weapons and would have likely trounced NATO forces in Europe in about a week. Assuming things had not already gone all fission-y.

Fortunately, as this is a game, NATO is strangely well-supplied, and the thousands of chemical and nuclear weapons have been thankfully ignored, allowing you, the player, to command your armored division with impunity.

Note how I use the past tense.

When I got my new laptop, it came with OS 10.7, a user friendly but problematic OS that, among other things, broke the Cold War Crisis mod. If this were merely a configuration problem, I could fix it myself, post the fix on the internet, and be a minor sort of hero, but alas no. The problem is with the launcher, which only the CWC team would be able to fix.

I enjoyed the style of game, and I wanted a replacement. Unfortunately, none presented itself on the mac, but on the PC, I found Wargame: European Escalation.

A game developed by people who hate the letter “s.”

Compared to the CWC mod, it’s a much more tactical game. You control objectives, earn points, and use them to bring in reinforcements. Vehicles use roads to move faster, tanks run out of fuel, and using transports to move around infantry actually makes sense on these huge German expanses. Given how much you’ll need to be shuttling supply trucks and reinforcements to and from the FOB, the game is as much about logistics as tactics.

It plays on very large maps, but it still conserves individual unit detail. Unfortunately, unless you’re running on a very good computer, you won’t see much of that detail. I’m actually experiencing some rather unfortunate texture glitches, but I think that’s the fault of something I did to the configuration.

With the added dimension of realism, I’m having to get used to thinking with practical tactics, and learn more about cold war era weaponry. For instance, hiding a squad of Panzergrenadieren with MILANs in the trees to fire on approaching armor is a good idea, but their missiles are manually guided. That means, even though they can engage at significant ranges, they will almost always miss even a sitting target, wasting all their missiles. You have to tell them specifically to hold their fire until the armor gets closer.

On the other hand, micro is more difficult to pull off. I have yet to be able to maneuver my tanks into a “hull down” position (stopped behind a hill so just the turret is visible over the crest). Though tanks have different amounts of armor on different sides, there’s not really much of a way to make sure they’re facing the right direction. Most tank battles seem to come down to who has the better tanks and crews.

Playing skirmish agains the AI is fun, though on easy, it makes some weird choices.

I once found myself moving up my armor to defend two middle objectives when all of a sudden the AI decided to bring out all the MI-2s ever. I had about three units of four Leopard L4s, and two of them routed under the hundreds of rockets that were coming down on them from all directions. It worked for the AI. But then my Gepards arrived and all of a sudden it was full of burning MI-2 wrecks.

Later, I was playing, and it decided to camp around…somewhere. I’m not sure where all its forces were, if it even brought any in, but I sent in a recon helicopter to scout their FOB. There was nothing there except the command vehicle, which got destroyed, securing victory.

Most of the time, it’ll simply bring up lots of tanks with scout vehicle support and some anti air in the back. Woe to any tank elements that get caught out of position, but with some scouting and good preparation, its armored pushes stall pretty quick by better quality tanks with infantry, helicopter, and logistical support. The first time it tried this, a unit of Leopard L4s and two of L3s got caught behind enemy lines with no support against about five units of T-55s. The tanks took more than 50% casualties, but the remaining tanks held out, because the AI didn’t stop to deal with them. So they followed them and took shots at their rear while two more units of Leopards came to reinforce the other side of a rather obvious choke point they were headed for while artillery fired ineffectually in the general direction of the advancing armor.

So anyway, it kinda sucks that it’s on the PC, but it’s a good game. I’ll definitely be playing a lot more.

Did I mention you’d be spending a lot of time watching tanks drive down the Autobahn?

Aggregation #01

(I recently made myself a tumblr to post things that I didn't feel warranted essay length entries here.  I have aggregated some of it in this article)

C82#01: 幻想郷茶房~tea for two~ - 10th Avenue Café

Sometime early this morning, the first uploads from C82 began appearing on /jp/, slowly but steadily. It will likely take at least a week for even half of the stuff I actually wanted to listen to starts appearing, but I am a patient fellow (though that cruel, cruel premature upload thread was hard to deal with). I have the Tokyo Active NEETs album downloading as I’m writing this, but for now, I’m trying out some stuff that went under my radar.

I had never heard anything by the 10th Avenue Café before, but there were some familiar names on the credits. Miki - the vocalist on Close to You - I seem to remember from somewhere. The mastering was done by Shibata Takahiro of ShibayanRecords, a very familiar name indeed. His Bossa Nova albums show an interest in lighter, jazzy music, in contrast to his very heavy electro that most know him for. It is not surprising, then, to see him working with the 10th Avenue Café.

This album is rather short, but I feel like a longer album would overstay its welcome. There is, after all, only so much smooth jazz you can listen to at a time and not become a little bit bored. As ambience though, it works wonderfully.

Unfortunately, smooth jazz is hard to talk about in any interesting way. The arrangement makes heavy use of electronic instrumentation for harmonics and backup, but the melodies are primarily carried by piano (or keyboard) and vocal. In terms of license, the arrangements take very little: it’s very easy to tell what songs are arrangements of what originals.

The mishmash of backup elements could, if handled poorly, end up sounding off, but as unchallenging as the arrangements are, they are also masterfully done. That the tracks sound like anything at all is impressive: for soft jazz, it has a fair measure of soul in it.

Mood stays more or less consistent across the album - another reason for it to be short. Albiet, the first two tracks make more use of funk guitar and harmonics than the last two. Forest Calling especially seems to be the most focused on rhythm and groove of them, containing a piano riff that covers an unexpectedly broad range of octaves for a soft jazz arrangement.

In the end, I’m not sure how much I’ll end up listening to this, but it’s eminently pleasant, if just as eminently unchallenging.
C82#02: Mythology - Sound Online
Remember Sound Online, guys? The guy who Alstroemeria Records and REDALiCE would team up with to make those triparte albums way back when? Fun times. He doesn’t seem to be doing all that much on his own of late. His last album was six tracks: three with vocals, three instrumentals. This appears to be his new business model, and it appears to be working out for him.

I keep up with his releases, but I really don’t get exited by his stuff. He had, back in the day, a very clear style. Very clean sounding instrumentals and ambient reverb were dominant. In the present day, his work seems to have taken on more rock influences than were present in his heyday of co-releases with RAMM. I do not care as much for this new direction, but he still has his moments. Perhaps Tsubaki is no longer hitting his stride as he used to, but he isn’t down for the count yet.

Since it’s a short album, I’m going to be all unprofessional and do a track-by-track. Sorry y’all.

We see what this new direction means in the first track - 春暁ストライド - with an arrangement that features prominently guitar backing and a rock style drum kit. In a way, it reminds me of a faster, less intense Cytokine, before he went heavier to the electronic side of things. 3L delivers excellent vocals, as always, but as a whole, it lacks progression, either rhythmically or melodically or in pacing. It starts off as it ends: rapid and with little in the way of tonal contrast. It’s okay at the outset, but it gets rather tiring quickly.

The vocal version of Borderland has some problems keeping itself integrated. The synth work does not flow well with Nachi Sakue’s vocals, which, because she’s Nachi Sakue, are in moé timbre. The combination of squealy dancefloor synth and squealy voice doesn’t work. However, the instrumental version largely solves this. We discover, in the vocal-less version, a throwback to SO’s older work. The underlying arrangement is actually both ambient and powerful, like his best days.

The third track - 白銀桜花 - handles its vocals far better. Aki Misawa does not sing in moé timbre, and mostly sticks to octaves she can reliably hit. It also helps that the background arrangement is more subdued, primarily consisting of continuo, piano, and placid electronic drums. On the instrumental version, this makes it a more ambient piece than the others. Some added electronic flute and synth work makes it work well enough, though at 4:23, it runs the risk of overstaying its welcome slightly.

So, just like his last album, we have two kinda passable tracks, and a pretty good one. Is it worth it? Maybe. Do I wish Tsubaki would pick up his game? Yes, but honestly, I know nothing about the man himself, or whether this is his full time job, or simply a diversion. If it is a diversion, it is a good one. If not much more than that.

C82#03: 東方爆音ジャズ3 - 東京アクティブNEETs
Okay, our first full length album!

As a fan of hard jazz and fusion, I am rather surprised I never came across these guys before. However, I am glad I did.

Despite being a fan of it, I am unfortunately not very well acquainted with the technical side of jazz, which makes it hard for me to talk about it very engagingly. Since the jazz almost writes about itself, putting into words that which comes intuitively from the music is impossibly difficult, so I won’t even try to do an analysis of any individual songs.

Instead, I do give a hearty recommendation just from the outset to go and check out the album if you like either hard jazz or Touhou. If you live in Japan, buy this shit.

I still have observations about it though. NEETs’ interpretations are excellent, but they feel very strange when they’re quoting ZUN directly. It encounters the same phenomena as Shostakovich’s singularly odd jazz album: the strong classical tendencies find their ways into the piece and end up overpowering the jazz-ness, converting it into some sort of hybrid. In some contexts, this would ruin the soul of the thing, but here, everyone’s playing with enough style and cohesion that it never feels like it’s departing the jazz envelope.

Still, the juxtaposition of ZUN’s neo-romanticism with the flow of the jazz itself means that this is a very, very different beast than, say, Kind of Blue. It’s melodic and tonal in ways that BeBop generally isn’t. Which is because, it’s not consistently BeBop. It falls into the softer end of the scale (though never into soft, and never at the cost of its complexity) from time to time, just as it sometimes treads the border of fusion. It brings variety, which is always a good thing. Never once was I anywhere even close to bored with this album.

I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed in their interpretation of Greenwich Upon the Heavens. In its original, it’s already a track highly suited to jazz arrangement, but the NEETs’ interpretation doesn’t really play that up. Though “this truly spectacular music isn’t as spectacular as it could be” is hardly a complaint.

So if you couldn’t tell already, this is a godly frakking album, and you should, like, listen to it right now.

So, all the albums I had assumed would be showing up last are the ones that were showing up at the outset. The Tokyo Active NEETs’ album, and ButaOtome’s Bowling both were on the first day, but Alstroemeria Record’s new album is still nowhere to be found.

On the other hand, this gives me time to enjoy each in turn, and even more time to write a short something about it here, before going onto the next thing.

C82#04: Crimson Tempest - REDALiCE
REDALiCE is one of those guys. Occasionally, he’ll have something really neat, and occasionally, he’ll just kinda…pass by. Back in the day, he and Minoshima of Alstroemeria Records would do a bunch of collaboration, but I haven’t seen them working on Touhou much together. What they did work on, however, was the ED to the spring’s Haiyore, Nyarlko-San, I’ll Absolutely Be With You (or something like that). Which, unfortunately, isn’t all that great (hey, kinda like the anime itself).
I wish I could say this album goes to show that REDALiCE still has it in him. It…kinda doesn’t. Admittedly, the style of most of the album is not one that greatly appeals to me, so I’m having a hard time separating the technical genius from my personal taste, but honestly, not a whole lot of it was particularly interesting listening.

The problem is mostly with his vocal stuff. A very (surprisingly) wide variety of vocalists show up on this album, from the familiar Nomiya Ayumi to the less familiar Rizuna. For the majority of the songs, REDALiCE has them sing in moe timbre. And honestly, that’s probably what, say, Nachi Sakue is best at. At the outset, this is unpromising for my own tastes, but it also seems that, on the vocal tracks, REDALiCE’s arrangements get a lot less interesting as well. Either that, or the mastering is such that they get overpowered by the vocals.

This is, of course, a generalization. Some songs work considerably better than others, and some are actually rather good. Your mileage will vary on which ones, but, having put the album on shuffle while writing this, the current song, Hungry Girl, is very nice in both how it phrases the vocals and the way it contrasts tones.

On the other hand, the two vocal-less, j-core oriented tracks on the album, are pretty neat. It is what he’s good at, and it’s what I listen to his albums for. If he delivers at nothing else, he delivers at that.

So far, I’ve talked only of REDAliCE’s own tracks, but he shares almost 40% of the album with guest arrangers: t+pazolite, ARM of IOSYS fame, and someone named Gennya, who is as of yet unfamiliar to me. t+pazolite has two tracks, similar in their flaws to REDALiCE’s own, and neither one of which I particularly care for. In truth, I have not heard enough t+pazolite to compare it to his normal, but I have not been too thrilled with his work that I have heard. ARM’s track is…well, he’s IOSYS, so that means crazy out-of-character humor. And indeed, that’s exactly what it is. At least, the fragments I actually understood. Gennya sounds like what I’d imagine Sound Online would sound like if Tsukasa did happy hardcore. Which isn’t terrible, but the track doesn’t really go anywhere either.

All told, I’m not really a fan of this album. A lot of the tracks don’t really go anywhere, and about 70% of it is rather underwhelming in general. I’m not writing off the whole album, but if you’re really interested, wait for some of it to get uploaded to youtube, then decide if you want to buy it/download it/get low quality rips of it from youtube.

C82#05: THE WORLD DESTINATION - Alstroemeria Records
I had intended on writing something about every album I listened to from C82. I had this notion that I’d just write brief blurbs about stuff I hadn’t been anticipating. How silly of me, I don’t do ”brief.” I only do long, convoluted, and flowery.

I listened to Bowling, but I want to make sure I can’t actually purchase it legally before writing about it. I’ll give it a while. Maybe do that one last. I’ll go ahead and say this though: it’s really, really good. As if that were ever in doubt.

So as of now, I have a few albums I need to write about:
  • xi~on’s 12th Spell Card 
  • EastNewSound’s Blaze Out 
  • TAMusic’s Touhou Quartet 7 
  • Unlucky Morpheus’s Parallelism α 
And this one.

More widely known as The Granite Countertop Album (Not really)

It’s actually a nice change of pace from tats’ normal covers, and it’s not just the cover that’s changed either. This is not one of Minoshima’s “Dancehall” albums (see Haunted Dancehall, Killed Dancehall, and Abandoned Dancehall, his previous three). Unlike them, it is separated into distinct tracks rather than a continuous play. Because of this, Minoshima has more freedom in terms of sound and tone diversity, since they need not lead into each other as smoothly.

He demonstrates this with his first track, an original. Brostep. I am not a fan of brostep (most of it has all the subtlety and art of a power drill), but I do not shun it, and this is a pretty good example of how to do it in a way that doesn’t get annoying fast. More importantly, I don’t think Minoshima has ever done straight up brostep before.

As a whole, the album is heavier than the usual for Minoshima. It sounds more like Plastik World than Abandoned Dancehall at times, though the electro and brostep influences are definitely still there. It’s definitely still nu-Minoshima, but I think he’s taking slightly more risks with this album.

Most of the tracks have something interesting in their conception, and though towards the longish side, none of them really and truly start to drag. At seven minutes, YOU’RE MINE almost runs into this, but it’s an improvement on some of his other longer tracks (like Plastik Mind).

Minoshima seems to have started working more with a producer called Camelia. He is not a Touhou arranger and does not have a circle of his own: he produces Vocaloid albums. Moreover, he produces pretty good Vocaloid albums, from the one that I listened to, but I’m glad to hear him use real people on Minoshima’s albums. A funny artifact of his background is that his vocals still sound like they were written for Vocaloid, a sense reinforced in his track - IN THE FLICKERING - from the processing he did to it. The vocalist, Takanashi Toriko, does well in following Camelia’s baroque and demanding score.

I honestly was rather skeptical of this album, when I heard the crossfade. I was anticipating it regardless because I trust Minoshima to, at the very least, fail in an interesting way, but I was only expecting maybe a few good tracks. THE WORLD DESTINATION, as it turns out, is not only pretty good, but very good. Recently, I’ve wondered why it is I still hold Alstroemeria Records in such high esteem, especially compared to Shibayan and Syrufit. I no longer wonder.

C82#06: Parallelism α - Unlucky Morpheus
I think I’m gonna make myself only do one of these a day. Otherwise I’ll burn out and start getting boring.

Well, more boring.

That, and I want to do at least some actual fiction writing this summer.

Today’s album comes to us providence of Unlucky Morpheus. My first exposure to Unlucky Morpheus was Rebirth, a 2009 album. Rebirth was primarily speed and power metal, with vocals. It was pretty okay, and I never listened to it all that much. I paid them no attention until last Comiket, when they released Faith & Warfare, a fusion album. It was surprisingly really good. I just assumed that they were better at fusion than they were at actual metal.

Still, they made me curious, so when this Comiket came around, I went ahead and listened to this.

What I got was this.

It seems that in the interim, Unlucky Morpheus not only got a hell of a lot better (providence of some roster changes, I believe), they morphed into Dark Moor: Touhou Edition. Specifically, Dark Moor when they had Elisa Martin, though they too brought on a male vocalist for a few tracks.

I am at a loss to provide much more criticism than that. The team of Fuki and Yuki have gotten better at making interesting arrangement, and the newcomer vocalist - Denshirenji “Most Dangerous” Takeshi - has a powerful and emotive voice (I…err…actually mistook him for a girl at first). The drummer, who previously on Rebirth did little more than a straight and tiring double base drum attack and was the source of most of their problems, has either gotten much better, or left. The percussion on this album is still not its high point - it’s a bit stiff and still pretty basic - but it’s serviceable and allows their high points to show.

That isn’t to say that the album doesn’t have one or two problems. Yuki makes the questionable decision to try to sing in English for Inside of Me. Yes, she still sings pretty well (if a bit too emotively), but I haven’t the faintest what she’s actually saying, and it does stick out to a native speaker. The album itself is also mastered rather poorly, though it is not too egregious, and a good sound system or pair of headphones will help.

But those things aside, if you like power metal, go for it. Demetori has the harder end of the spectrum filled out (here’s hoping to C83!), and xi~on has the progressive metal handled, but besides for Sound Holic’s two pretty-good metal albums, we’ve lacked a really consistent vocal metal act. Perhaps, until now.

Favorite track.

Wait, sorry, I meant this.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Scarlet Weather Rhapsodies - Part 1

So I've been considering whether I really want to write about the stuff that came out of Reitaisai or not, and truthfully, I don't think writing about music is particularly compelling either to the writer or the reader, and I don't think that I'm particularly good at even that.  I never write quite what I want to write about the album, and I'm never satisfied with the result.  Honestly, neither should you, if you know anything about music or writing.  Still, I might as well write something.

Reitaisai 9 was very successful.  I do not know much about the games that came out, nor the manga - that'll all be scanlated later (and my Japanese is barely decent enough to get through a four panel comic strip), but the music and PVs were almost invariably awesome.  I'm going to get to the music, but I really want to try something new here and talk about the PVs: two, specifically.

東方夢想夏郷 - A Summer Day's Dream, Second PV
Remember way back when, I talked about those two independent anime projects, both of which were flawed but progressing with new episodes, supposedly?  Probably not, unless you're a Touhou fan reading this, so here's the brief version.  The first project is produced by a studio called Maikaze, who released their first episode a few years ago.  It was...not very good, for a couple of reasons.  Maikaze hired big-name voice actors for their cast of not particularly well written characters, going through their not particularly interesting plot, in a singularly ugly looking world, observed poorly by a poor director.  Yet, a 30 minute Touhou anime episode is still a pretty cool thing, and it's a good thing that, now, we are still assured that progress is being made on the second episode!  What's particularly amusing about this is that they seem to be funding the production by selling the trailers on DVD.  It's a strange sort of crowd funding: produce a trailer, and if the fans buy it, then it gives them the money to follow through.  They're certainly taking their time with this one though.  I can't say I blame them either: they took the cheap route the first time and we ended up with crap.  And, from this new trailer, they seem to be in a good...ish way.

00:27 - Okay, Reimu's hand doesn't have one too many fingers anymore!  Good sign, good sign.
00:32 - *sigh* They're still going with little kid Suika.  These guys did play the games, right?
00:49 - My god, it even sounds like an anime theme song.  ...not a good anime theme song, but...
00:57 - "Aright so in this scene, you watch the moon dramatically, then turn!"  Looks like we got the same director alright.
01:10 - Sweet watch.
01:12 - Alice Margatroid's in this one.  Lots of weird looks of ennui in this trailer, but Alice makes it look awesome.
01:16 - No really, why is Youmu naked?  And have the body of a 12 year old?
01:20 - Ah, she was taking a shower before her fight scene!  I must say, this opening shot kinda impresses me.  They're definitely getting better at this.
01:27 - Not that their editing has improved by too much, but eh, it works.  You know, I just read a manga called Youmu vs Udongein.  An Imizu work, of course.
01:35 - Yep, the animation quality is definitely better this time around.  Now it looks like a low-ish budget television anime rather than a low-ish budget indie production.
01:39 - Player 2 Reimu?  Well, I guess she has to have other clothes.

So yeah, I'm exited.  It's going to suck, but I don't care, because cheesy bad anime is fun.  Honestly, this is what I imagine a real, professional Touhou anime would be like, not Manpuku Jinja's vision, as much as I may like to imagine the production committee would take the show seriously.  It's charming, in a way.

花鳥風月 - Fantasy Kaleidoscope PV
Manpuku Jinja were the other guys: the good ones, who produced the 15 minute adaptation of Perfect Cherry Blossom.  Manpuku Jinja has a good grasp on the feel of Gensokyo, and have far better production values in their work, both in pure animation quality, and in the quality of the design elements.  In fact, it's the charisma of the setting itself that sets theirs apart from anyone else's, I'm willing to say.  Characterization obviously doesn't happen in a PV like this, as it shouldn't, because the focus is Gensokyo itself, as we will see.  I hear they published an art book with this one, which I'd love to get my hands on somehow.

Anyway, they have stated that they are not, in fact, working on a second episode because of money and time, which is okay: they put out quality work anyway.  Their last PV, from Comiket, I did not particularly like for various reasons, but this new one is a return to form.

00:22 - Interesting image.  It's surreal, but it totally feels like something Marisa would do.  Also, maybe a Super Marisa World reference?
00:35 - I think this is the only major shot in the PV I don't really like.  Something is weird about the framing and colors and...well, I don't know.
00:58 - Dear god, I am just in love with this one though. The composition is perfect, the way it draws the eyes along the plane of focus across the shot, Yama's expression, the way the color changes with focal point...just, yes.
01:15 - And Yuuhei Satellite isn't a bad band, either.  The lyrics are pretty neat.  "Kachou fuugetsu" means "all that's beautiful in the world."  Indeed.
01:19 - The old maids of Gensokyo: Yukari, Yuyuko, Kanako, and Eirin.  All of whom are rather generously endowed, it seems.
01:26 - Manpuku Jinja really likes drawing Reimu with wistful expressions.  Huh.
01:29 - They also really like drawing boobs.  Well, who can blame them.
01:45 - We all live in a Lunarian submarine!  Lunarian submarine!  Lunarian submarine!  Seriously though, I'm really not sure what this is about.
02:16 - Yeah, I'll admit, Manpuku Jinja can be fanservice heavy, but at least it's really competent fanservice.
02:23 - Daily life at the Scarlet Devil Mansion.  I'm not sure why those characters have as many fans as they do, but this is a pretty well put together little vignette.
02:32 - Okay, Youmu's fight in Maikaze's trailer does look cool, but not anywhere as cool as this.  Then again, it's not actually a fight scene but a little vignette of her practicing her stuff.  That seems to be mainly what the PV is: a look at the daily lives of Gensokyo's denizens.  I like the idea a whole lot.  Montage theory is pretty great.
02:47 - That's another Manpuku Jinja trope: they love shots of people jumping and turning mid air.  I think there was one like that of Alice in the original Memories of Phantasm, and in their previous PV.  Not one of my favorite things in the world, but eh.
02:53 - Lewd.
02:55 - Reimu's hair ribbon looks like it's about to take off and fly into the porch light.  I like their character designs, but Reimu's really is kinda excessive.

Well, no guesses as to which one is the prodigal child.  Man, it'd really be a shame if these people never got to live up to their potential, because I see a whole, whole lot in these guys.  These PVs remind me of the Daicon III and IV animations by the group that would later become Gainax.  It's not as easy a market to get into these days, but man...what if these guys became a real thing?  Where's their Wings of the Honeamise?  Or are they content with this?

So anyway, the music.

11th Spell 〜 Overflow
Well, album art is not their strength.
I have never talked about xi-on (pronounced, she-on) on this blog before.  They're a metal and hard rock act.  They've got a nice sounds.  They're not as good as Demetori.  And that's about it.  I'd say that the variety in their instrumentation is a very nice feature.  Crow's Claw, Demetori, and Unlucky Morpheus are all very focused on the traditional metal arrangement.  While there's a heck of a lot you can do with that, and honestly, their guitarists can coax more interesting sounds out of their instruments than xi~on, but they don't have quite the aesthetic.  I can't compare this album to any of their previous work, since I haven't heard any, but I'll have to fix that in the future (and once I get a bigger hdd).

So, I won't bother going track by track, because that's boring, so here are my three favorites.  The album has lots and lots of Perfect Cherry Blossom arrangements, and is about 30 minutes, so it works as a nice little concept album.

Overflow is a nice little variation on Yuyuko's theme.  Mostly straight guitar and drums, but with judicious use of sampled strings and shakuhachi.  It's really a strange melody to hear in metal form.  It's nice though, very nice.

広有射怪鳥事 ~ Till When?breaks out the Hammond B3s!  I've honestly never heard a single one in any Touhou arrangement before this (though Crow's Claw's album has one later on, which we'll get to), so it's kinda funny finding it here now.  I feel like I'm listening to ELP, not xi-on.  It doesn't vary very obviously from it's source until the end, but passes through some neat places by the end.  It's not very heavy at all, either.  (track title in English: Hiroari Shoots a Strange Bird)

死霊の夜桜 has some more guitar work, this time, and a very nice drum accompaniment.  Drummers really are important, and they got it down well.  No really, go listen to it.  (English: Cherry Blossoms OF THE DEEEEAAAAD.  Emphasis mine.)

They didn't over-extend themselves with this one.  It's short, but it feels just the right length.  Quality stuff.  Not amazing, not really, but really great, even if just to have on.

Abandoned Dancehall
Guh, slutty bioluminescent Sanae.  Really, Tats?
Another Dancehall album is always welcome.  Honestly, I don't automatically associate Alstroemeria with quality, and I didn't care as much for Killed Dancehall, but I do very unequivocally love this one.  It plays like a very good house set.  A very, very good one.  Like, go find this if you like this stuff.

Integration under the moon of codes is a really great track not by Minoshima.  As it turns out.  It's a long and rather uninteresting intro, but when the song really starts, the brilliance of the way the atmosphere is maintained becomes clear.  Also, the lyrics are about physics.  Which is kinda awesome.

DREAM A DREAM really, really reminds me of Cheek Colours from Harmony, an old-ish school Minoshima album that I think I talked about at one point.  There's a certain dissonance between the synth and vocals at the chorus, and it works wonderfully.  It's pretty airy, almost disco-esque.  But better.

Necro Fantasia (ALR Rewind Remix) is a remix of a song from one of Alstroemeria's Lovelight-era releases, For Your Pieces.  Strangely, I do not have this album *goes to download it*  The original is a good song, and it has absolutely nothing to do with this one, so I don't know why he even mentions that it's a remix.  This song is much more dance oriented, but is no less good.  It's downbeat, but with a strong pace, and excellent feel to it.

Purdy.  Mokou's looking not so hot
though.  Huh.
Avidya was a bit of a surprise for me, in retrospect.  I ended up listening to that album more than I did Killed Dancehall.  Syrufit's got his own thing going on, and he does it more consistently sometimes than Minoshima.  He also works a lot with Mei Ayakura, who many artists use, but Syrufit moreso.  Linjin as well, but we'll get to him later.  On Blossom, he uses her exclusively.  A good decision: she's a strong vocalist.  Not the strongest, but reliable, and a friendly enough person, if the livestream a few months back is any indication.

Well, this time, I don't think he beats out Minoshima, but he does tie him for playtime.  Some really great electro here.

Monochrome is a really, really great track.  It starts off kinda low, which is not Mei's strength, but it gets stronger as it goes on, and boy does it have a great progression.  It's got that weird use of mora-phrasing that Syrufit likes to do, which in and of itself isn't remarkable, but overall flow is excellent, and the pathos is great.  I'm loving the instrumentation too.

R.I.N is a bit out of place, isn't it?  ShibayanRecords isn't billed on the cover, but nobody's ever going to mistake his style for anyone else's.  Even Mei sounds different when singing his track.  What sets this track apart even for Shibata-san is the industrial sounding accompaniment.  Also, "nyani ka," in an otherwise serious song.  Rofl.

Cloudy, later fair, reminded me a tiny bit of the Macarena at first.  But only a little, and only at first.  What's more striking is that it's much more house oriented than the rest of the album, and quite vocal-centric.  Strong sounding, I think, is how I'd describe it.  Very strong sounding.

Bossa Nova ToHo
Good to see Remilia getting out of the
castle now and then...I guess...
So yeah, ShibayanRecords doesn't just do electro.  He also does Bossa Nova.  He did some easy-listening-ish stuff before, and I believe that he had a similar album at C81, which I didn't listen to, but it's still kinda odd to think that they both come from the same guy.  I still think he's better at electro, but he's improved his Bossa Nova mojo as well, it seems.  This isn't one of my favorite albums from Reitaisai 9, and it's very telling that two of my recommendations aren't vocals at all, so only go into this if you have a) hdd space to spare or b) like breathy Bossa Nova stuff.  I guess those people exist.

I think it's good to note that the album gets progressively a lot better as it goes on.  Like, a lot better.  Like, I'd probably recommend almost anything after たまにはSUNを, but almost nothing before that.  It's a 36 minute album though, so eh, nothing lost.

Also of note is that he only uses one singer twice: Fukami Chie.  Huh.

たまにはSUNをis like the easy listening tracks of Shibata-san's previous albums, but good.  There's not as much remarkable about it, actually.  (English: Occasionally the Sun...)  Can't find on youtube.

Otemba de Jane-yo is very up-tempo compared to the rest of the album.  Everyone plays really well on this track.  It comes together really well.  Oddly, it doesn't sound much like Cirno's theme at all beyond the first few bars.  (English: I'll be Tomboyish, Then)

Shadow of the boundary has Engrish, I think.  Or maybe it's Flançais.  I honestly can't tell.  Can't find on youtube.

I'm okay with this.
So, Sound Online is a circle I haven't heard much of lately.  Tsukasa and Minoshima haven't worked on anything together in a while, so I guess that's why: I didn't pay as much attention to him on his own. It turns out that, in the mean time, his style has changed quite a bit.  Or, at least so it seems.  There are only three tracks on this album, both vocal and instrumental versions.  The first two are pretty okay.  The last one is actually pretty neat.

Mochi no Tsuki, Yoi no Utage is an arrangement of Mamizou's theme, which already reminded me a bit of Sound Online.  It's not surprising that this ended up good, both the vocal version and the instrumental, but I'm going with the vocal version, because nobody's uploaded the instrumental.  It's also a curse, because it does sound a heck of a lot like the original.  Still, if Sound Online made another album like this, it'd be pretty sweet, I think.

EastNewSoundBest Vol.2
Yuyuko is busy right now, it seems.
Let's not disturbing her.
So, I downloaded the first volume just before Reitaisai 9.  Didn't care for it too much.  Which is a shame, because EastNewSound is actually pretty good, for the most part.  I say this, yet, if that was their self-proclaimed best, then why did I not care for the album?  How can I say that?  Well, Uncanny Instinct was proof that they're talented, and I've heard individual songs on youtube.  That, and Vol.2 here is actually pretty good.  They've got their eurodance-y aesthetic to them, but after hearing a whole album of their original work, I can definitely say that they do their own thing more often than not, and it's not quite eurodance nor is it quite Touhou.

Compared to the other albums here, this one is pretty long: 58 minutes.

PiPiPiPARU feels like an iosys song, almost, with the lyrics and vocal register.  Well, except that it's actually a pretty decent song too.  Normally, this sort of vocal performance is offputting for me, but the delivery and metering actually make that into an asset, make it desirable.  Also, taught me the word ねたましい.

無炎舞踊≠循環 is basically for Nuclear Fusion what 緋色月下、狂咲ノ絶 was for U.N. Owen Was Her.  I find few other ways to describe it.  As it is the same arranger, from the same composer, this is highly unsurprising.  It is a Good Thing.  Listen to it.

I:solation is pretty much what's good about EastNewSound trance.  In that way, it is both extraordinary and unremarkable.  Huh.

Good cover art?  Good cover art.
I'm really not sure how I want to classify this album, if at all.  It's not big-band, it's not disco, it's not any sort of modern dance music. Not sure, and I don't particularly care: it's a really nice album.  I'm not very familiar with what precisely is normal for Pizuya's Cell.  I only remember them for working on a thing or two with MyonMyon - a metal act.  This isn't a lot of things, but it really isn't metal.  The two members listed on touhouwiki are the arranger - who plays the guitar and writes lyrics - and the pianist.  I don't have complete album information (and I'm too lazy to look it up on the site), so I'm guessing they do lots of collaboration, as their way of making a living.  This time, they've teamed up with the vocalist 3L. 3L is really good, and she sounds especially nice here.

A real class production.  I just wish I knew who to recommend it to, because it is definitely good, whatever it is.

DD -Instrument- has got some neat stuff going on, I'll say.  The flautist knows his stuff, for one.  It's not easy to get a flute to do some of those things.  The call and response is pretty exceptional, and the electronic components lend it a certain something.  Can't find on youtube.

Old Nezumy contains tape noises and an answering machine.  Also, really strong vocals and disco-like accompaniment, but also tape noises and an answering machine.  Because it's awesome.

Original -Instrument- is something I really have very little to say about.  For some reason.  Not on youtube.

Yep, this is a ButaOtome album.  Which means that it's awesome.  ButaOtome is another one of those bands I never really mentioned here except in passing (they had a piano album, which I think I might have mentioned).  They do lots of jazz fusion, blues, folk, and not-precisely-ska stuff.  They also have my favorite singer on the Touhou doujin scene: Ranko.  An amazing voice, and their arrangements (disproportionately from ZUN's music albums) are generally excellent.  Good musicianship in general.  This album, whose name in English translates to A Story of You, Whom are Actually Delicate, and I, Whom am Sometimes Bold, Making a Riot of Some Kind," is certainly well worth your time and hdd space.




Lightning Discharge
Marisa Kirisame: An Oriental Western
Magician Musician.
Crow's Claw is the good Touhou metal act (discounting xi-on) that's not Demetori.  And there, is the operative argument: not Demetori.  Nobody is Demetori but Demetori, but Crow's Claw does pretty damned well for themselves regardless, and they're certainly more prolific.  They went so far as to publish an independent album - a compilation of original works by themselves and a couple other circles, including Demetori.  Lightning Discharge is an arrangement album, however, and is quite superb.  It's pretty straight metal, and well conceived.  Crow's Claw is good, and this album is too, and I have very little to qualify that with.  Yeah, their drummer doesn't do much in one or two out of the nine tracks, but that's hardly anything.  It's non vocal, it's got pretty great musicianship, and both the arranger and original composer are pretty great.

The Third Eye has the misfortune of having to contend with Demetori's version.  Well, both of them are really good, so perhaps that language is too negative.  Also, I am incredulous that whomever uploaded the video I linked to couldn't find a more...fitting...picture of Satori.  Here's a better one.

Legend of the Great Gods is an incredible name, right?  It is also a great song, fortunately.  It's probably my favorite on the album.  The sense of rhythm is really quite nice.

Rigid Paradise is, basically, Crow's Claw playing something kinda like Rigid Paradise, and I have little more to say about it other than that: of course it's cool.

So anyway, great album, go listen to it if you like metal, but first, I feel like I did not do Demetori's Nada Upasana Pundarika any kind of justice when I talked about it a few months ago.  This album is really great, but if you haven't listened to either, listen to Demetori's first.  It's seriously amazing.

...dammit Crow's Claw, stop reminding me of other albums!

So, I'm going to make this a two part post, because it's already getting ludicrously long, and I still have Poptrick, Trojan Green Asteroid, ZEphyr, and 東方四重奏6 to cover.  I have other things I want to write, and this is taking a ludicrously long time for something that nobody is going to want to read in one sitting.  In the not-too-distant future (next Sunday A.D, let's say), I'll probably talk about Toonami, Sins of a Solar Empire, and a few other things.  If I'm not writing anything else, anyway.


I need to listen to more Fatboy Slim...