Sunday, August 27, 2006

Read the first volume of Drifting Classroom this morning. I don't think I'll be continuing that particular investment in historical manga-literature.

The art is extremely stiff, with characters who can't seem to run in a natural fashion, bizarre gape-mouthed expressions, and the designs in general give the impression of not particularly naturalistic drawings of dolls. Mind you, this isn't the sort of loose Disneyesque character design which Tezuka and his imitators used to produce - those are warm, charming, a little shabby at times, perhaps, jokey, yes - but not stiff.

The panel design suggests that the impression is intentional - very rigid, confined, ruled, patterned. Except when something violent or disturbing happens, then the gutters disappear, the panels fill up the whole of the page, and blood & violence is lovingly, delicately inflicted upon Umezu's doll-people, who suddenly come alive with fear, pain and horror.

I don't think that Drifting Classroom is my sort of thing. It seems designed to encourage all of my worst anti-social bordering on sociopathic inclinations. Not only could I not sympathize with any of the characters, but I found myself cheering up a bit when the little dead-eyed gape-mouthed doll-children started bleeding & wailing. That's not a good place to be going.

It's a little depressing that this is considered a classic.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Anyone have any idea whether this is any good? It sounds kind of generic, but my attention was caught by the Oz reference, which seems like a total non sequitor given the plot synopsis.
Drove over to Clem's in Bald Eagle Valley to pick up some T-shirts for the company just now. Remember what I was saying about the corn being high this year? Not so much in that chunk of Bald Eagle Valley. Wish I could say I was surprised. That valley really is the arse-end of creation.

Well, OK, the arse-end of Centre County. Swampy, trash-dump-ridden, pestilent, - trashy. Why do they *bother* farming that land? It always *sucks*.

Ugh. Should not have eaten those peanut-butter fudge "cookies". More like shapeless, tiny candy bars. Like a lead bar in your stomach.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

So this month was volume 20 of Kare Kano, and second-to-last volume to boot. That manga had a pretty good run from vol. 15 through 19, and the first half of vol. 20 continued that run - great, right? It kind of deflates a bit after that strong start, though. And by the end of the volume - what, Arima wants to be a beat cop? Where the heck did that come from? - you can definitely see the seeds of why my Japanese-reading, manga-importing friend Bill warned me to pretend that the twentieth volume of Kare Kano was, in fact, the last volume. 'Cause there really isn't anywhere else for this story to go, other than limp bathos. In fact, I'd argue that it went there right after the mangaka led up to Yukino's grand reveal of the hidden Big Deal... and it fizzles like a pissed-on firecracker. That is to say, it manages at the same time to fail to catch fire, and stink horribly at the same time.


On the other hand, I bought all of those volumes about the future pop-star siblings-by-marriage romance in the early teens, and those kind of stank in their own feeble sort of way. Kare Kano is definitely one of those manga that blow hot and cold. It's just that I've been warned that the end of the series doesn't really blow any warmer than this, and may in fact freeze solid before the pagecount goes to zero.

I will say that I liked the dead-trees ghost imagery in the first half of vol. 20. Stretching bare limbs across the characters, entrapped in the grasping deadwood tangle whose roots aren't visible, because the artist has only drawn the top halves of the scenery. Tsuda does have a way with subtle imagery. Or possibly the sort of blatant imagery which strikes clods like yours truly in a memorable way, I suppose.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Oh, BTW? The corn? In excess of ten feet in the fields around Governors' Park east of town. It might have been higher in places - I don't carry a tape-measure around with me on my walks - but it was hard to tell up around the soccer field, which is entirely surrounded by cornfield. Up there, wind gusts and the stalks' own inability to support themselves have caused large swathes of overtall corn stands to collapse in on themselves. I wonder if those are harvestable, or are they basically wastage? I think those fields are taller because they're silage-specific seed varieties - few if any had more than one ear, which suggests that somebody had been monkeying with the genetics to favour stalk and height over grain and volume. But, since that farmer didn't care to brag about whatever seeds he or she planted this year via the usual seed-sign-posts, I can only guess.
I picked up a pile of closeout-cheap DVDs in a just-before-opening raid on The Best Anime Dealer On The Circuit, dashing in and out quickly during the Con. That best dealer on the circuit? BuyRiteDVD, although they never, ever identify themselves as such. In fact, the only thing I've ever seen them post in the way of signs are these "$5 DVDs!" banners, which I do admit, is pretty nifty advertising, because - hey! $5 DVDs!

This year, they also had el cheapo box-sets. I went to the con looking for cheap Fancy Lala DVDs, after picking up a very cheap first volume of said Fancy Lala at a local Dollar General. BuyRiteDVD was selling the Fancy Lala brick for $15. Dude.

I should be ashamed to admit publicly that I bought & watched this series. For those not up on the details of Japanese girl culture - and I don't claim to be an expert, but - "Fancy Lala" is a sort of Japanese Barbie doll. I'm watching the anime equivalent of Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus. Or more accurately, Barbie Meets Jem. (How is it that they never did any sort of Barbie: Rock Star cartoon? Is it just that Amazon is letting me down, and I really ought to be searching elsewhere for my examples? I don't know, I'm allergic to polyurethane pink. I've spent more time semi-googling for Barbie crap than I wanted to already, give me a break, imaginary audience!)

Right. Back on track. Fancy Lala. It's an exemplar of the "magical idol" sub-sub-genre of mahou shoujo or "magical girl". Instead of prepubescent little girls transforming into various roles of adolescence and adulthood (traditional "magical girl", like Minky Momo) or into a fighting-hero (like Sailor Moon or Wedding Peach or any of dozens of similar bishoujo sentai), "magical idols" are little pre-pubescent girls who use their magery to become disposable entertainment figures, aka, in the Japanese parlance, "idoru". Nobody ever recognizes just how inappropriately childlike and callow these fake idols are, because one of the primary points of idolhood is the coy affection of aspects of childhood by adolescent or just barely post-adolescent girls who are themselves not all that far from the longed-for-state of innocence. If you haven't seen Perfect Blue yet, this is the point at which I urge you to go and see it, because it'll explain more about the "idol" industry than I could in fifteen paragraphs of tedious otaku blather.

Anyways, "magical idols". There are a lot more of these titles than you'd think. Fancy Lala is probably the best of the bunch, if only because it doesn't spend as much time on the main characters dreams and aspirations as is usual. In fact, the protagonist, Miho, never really wanted to be an idol at all. She wanted to be a mangaka, a comic artist. She gets the usual magical-pets and magical-tschoktes, turns into her grown-up self, and goes wandering around one of the trendier sections of Tokyo, where she's scouted as a model by a shoe-string production team who've just lost their model & were in desperate straits. One thing leads to another, and thus the accidental idol star, "Fancy Lala" is born.

But this accidental beginning isn't just contrivance, it is also theme. Miho's story is one of giri, of obligation and acquiescence. She goes through a lot of adventures more because it's what she's expected to do, or because of prior promises, prior obligations, and the natural logic of prior successes.

I suppose I'm making it sound a great deal more dreary and unpleasant than it actually is, so I should row back a few strokes at this point. Only about half the episodes are concerned with ldol-industry romping about. The show finds plenty of time for ghost stories, her school-friends, neighbors, and relatives, and all sorts of goofing around. Combined with the show's retro-Eighties charm - the character designs are by Akemi Takada, who was pretty old-fashioned even by the standards of 1998 - is a solid run of good writing and fine animation, by television standards.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Now that Ag Progress Days are behind us, it's time for Bellefonte's Arts and Crafts Fair, today and tomorrow. Unlike State College's Arts Fest, Bellefonte's emphasis is more on the crafts than the art. It's mostly tschoktes and the sort of pseudo-rural and actual-rural kitsch that some of my female relatives have been fond of.

Not really my thing, although I might toss the old wax-covered pinecone & get a new one.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Back from Ag Progress Days.

Talked to some seed company reps, and it looks like the avalanche of new seed traits may have slowed down - nothing really outrageous or novel in the works for 2007. For the years 1999-2006, it seemed like every year we'd get a new cluster of genetic modifications - first Yieldgard (Bt cornborer insecticidal) & Roundup Ready (herbicide product-specific resistant), then Liberty Link (another class of herbicide resistance), Clearfield (yet another class of herbicide-resistance), then Yieldgard-RW (Bt rootworm insecticidal), Herculex I (the next generation of Bt-like insecticidal, cornborer), Yieldgard Plus (Bt stacked both cornborer & rootworm), Herculex RW (see above, for rootworm), Herculex Extra (Herculex equivalent of Yieldgard Plus), and then more triple- and quadruple-stack varieties than you could keep track of in spreadsheet format.

It's getting increasingly hard to keep track of which varieties are trait-stacked with which varieties, as every company has its own nomenclature. But it seems to definitely be slowing down. No new traits, and the companies with Herculex are starting to retire their Yieldgard varieties. But that barely makes up for the confusion which is Garst. They started out with a slate of generic sort-of traits which mimicked the trademarked, IP-protected traits from Monsanto - Roundup Ready became GT, or Glyphosate Tolerant, Agrisure CB was synonymous with YG1, both of them being Yieldgard (Cornborer), etc. Then a bunch of company mergers brought the two lines of IP into corporate contact, and suddenly Garst is selling seeds for both sets of IP side-by-side. It's enough to give one a headache.

There was a stand selling Ribeye sandwiches and steak-and-egg sandwiches. The steak-and-cheese-and-egg was great, especially after an hour standing under the noon sun in a cornfield listening to a presentation on no-till & methods for measuring crop residue & soil field quality.

The corn and soybeans are doing insanely well here in Pennsylvania. I literally did not recognize the soybean fields at first - I've never seen them this high, this perfect-looking. Not only are the corn stands running between eight and ten feet, they're doing so uniformly. We didn't get all that much rain - Spring Creek is alarmingly low - but it all hit at exactly the right time for really, really pretty fields. Gorgeous.
Oh, great. Some Islamotard fascist hacker cracked the websites for AnimeNEXT and MangaNEXT. Until they get it cleaned up, two of the cons I volunteer for have had their advertising hijacked by semi-literate anti-Semitic agitprop.

Schweinehund scum.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It's Ag Progress Days here in the valley. We're sending people from work in groups today and tomorrow for "educational purposes", which I'm reading as organized tours, which is a bit of a shame, as Ag Progress Days is like a carnival, with tractors. I managed to talk them into letting me go along tomorrow, after promising I'd take it seriously and be a good boy.


Monday, August 14, 2006

They had a German brass band down at the gazebo in Tallyrand on Sunday. Boy, was that annoying. They were actually wearing lederhosen. I could have sworn that most Pennsylvania Dutch were from northwestern and southwestern Germany, not Bavaria or Austria. Lederhosen are an *anachronism* for Pennsylvania Dutch.

You know, Germans have one of the least amusing and most embarrassing agglomerations of low culture in the world. Other cultures might have bagpipes, fiddles, clever oddly-named pipes & quaintly-formed stringed instruments. What do the Germans have? Tubas.

At least we have chocolate.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Good God. I apparently had upwards of thirty heatstroke casualties on my prereg line at the Con on Thursday, which was a hundred-years record day for heat in Baltimore. The line control folks asked me for permission to open the doors early in order to get at least part of the line indoors - I can't fit the whole of a Thursdays' prereg line inside of the lobby we use, because said line might contain as much as four thousand competitive line-squatters, but we can probably get nearly a thousand in there - and I said "yes" as quickly as they would let me. For some reason, that decision didn't make its way back up the line of command particularly quickly, and since I had my own department to get organized and moved forward, I didn't personally move the line inside, as I might have if I'd had time.

But I did know there was some sort of a problem out there - everybody and their brother was talking about the heat wave, and every station on the dial was chattering about the heat advisories on the way down from central PA the previous morning. It couldn't have been any sort of surprise to anyone paying attention. Furthermore, my reg line is not a slow-moving one, nor does the Con have a reputation for slow Thursday preregistration - we have cleared our line by the end of the night every year for the previous three years on Thursday. There was no earthly reason for anybody to be waiting all day out there in the record heat and sun. Thirty-some sunstroke and heatstroke victims, and three who had to be hospitalized. Worse than I thought, but no great surprise. My people processed somewhere just south of nine thousand that night, and cleared the line before 9 PM. No reason whatsoever for people to be waiting on line all day. Good God Almighty.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Hey, back from The Con, apparently I worried some folks by not posting. Mostly intact aside from a minor scalp wound. Apparently my poker face doesn't survive exaggerated face-faults into hardwood table-tops after a particularly frustrating bad beat.