Friday, February 20, 2009

Quote of the day:
I suppose once you get locked into a serious sword collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

I guess there's just something about anime cons which invite Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas references.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

So, Herr Deutsches Finanzspam has prompted me to dig up my Haloscan account password and edit out his mindless comment spammery, something I haven't bothered with no matter how pissed off I've been on political occasions. Congrats, D-F! You've figured out how to fruitlessly spam a journal with a readership in the low dozens, all of them in a language other than German!

Bah! Europeans!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Some manga turn into a chore, or a slog, after a dozen volumes or so. Bleach, in particular, lost headway about volume nine or so, and degenerated into a flashy recitation of incomprehensible half-translated archaic-Japanese called attacks which was tolerable only because the layout and style is so slick and breezy that the story is over before you can really get up a head of "I don't care about these people", thus leaving *just* enough good-will to not take the next three volumes off the pre-order list.

Other manga go through phases of the moon, in turn bland, self-plagiarizing and repetitive, and light, airy & delightful. The Wallflower is my exemplar of this elliptical class of comic. Some of the mid-teen volumes were flat and undistinguished, but the latest, volume 18, has suddenly blown the doors off the morgue, leaving a set of wildly-swinging chrome hinges rattlingly metallically upon the door-frame. Suddenly Takenaga-the-dark-haired-bishounen is an actual *person* instead of a hair-colored cipher; the goth-loli tertiary characters return and prove that a "rule of four" works even better in comedy than hoary old "rule of three" gags, and Sunako returns to her proper central place in the chaos. The Wallflower is suddenly, giddily *fun* again. Wonderful!

Now, one can only wish that Skip Beat can pull off the same trick. Because I'm getting tired of the narrow rut that particular comedy manga has gotten locked into.

Meanwhile, on the anime front, I'm enjoying the early episodes of Shakugan no Shana. The first dozen or so episodes are gorgeous, beautifully animated, and dark, dark, dark. The show lives in an existential abyss, with an undead protagonist who's literally a thing (mono), a walking magical shell designed to keep the universe from imploding around the sudden absence after a monster ate the original person (hito) - devoured his "existence". Now he's watching his romantic interest fight said monsters. Said romantic interest is herself an emotionally undeveloped cipher who doesn't really think of herself as a person, having been Raised-by-Wolves to the point where she doesn't really have a name - just a sword and a mission. He names her after her sword. This is a strange foundation for what eventually turns into a tsundere love comedy, but there you are. It doesn't live up to the early episodes, from what I remember of the fansubs, and rumor has it that the second, unlicensed season is a trainwreck. Oh, well. The beginning is a gem, and the ending credits absolutely rock.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kessler Syndrome warning, part three. Although it sounds like this wasn't so much the *result* of incipient Kessler, as it is yet another contribution towards the eventual onset of Kessler Syndrome, namely, a chaos of untrackable self-propagating debris fields which makes the maintenance of any sort of useful orbital infrastructure impracticable.

It's a shame the Planetes anime was so annoying, because Kessler Syndrome was the core high-concept behind the story - the protagonists worked in a "debris section" which was dedicated to staving off KS by cleaning up debris fields before they start to cause chain-collisions in the first place. Manga was ok, but incomplete.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When I saw this 1/10 Gundam model, a small voice in the back of my head whispered "lawn jockey".

Although I'm not sure that the plastic or vinyl it's made of would be weather-resistant. Hell of a thing, to waste 3.3k on a five-foot-plus novelty lawn-jockey and then let it rot to pieces in the front yard.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Viz's Otomen is as inconsequential as everybody's been saying. The schtick is that the protagonist is a boy with a 'feminine heart' - likes cute things, has the skill-set and hobbies of a yamato nadeshiko, reads shoujo manga, etc etc sexist blah; his father abandoned his family to work in a tranny bar, so the protagonist has been emotionally crippled by his damaged mother & is fixated on being 'manly', largely through being stoic & mastering every martial art out there. It's bloody 'orrible. The author has absolutely nothing of interest to say, and everything done in the comic has been done better in School Rumble, Ouran, Gatcha Gacha or a hundred other high-school romantic comedies. The protagonist is a walking ready-made pansy-hardass cliche, his love interest is a tomboy cipher, and the loki character - a teenaged male mangaka writing award-winning shoujo manga under a feminine pseudonym - is an undermotivated, impossible contrivance who comes off less realistic than if he had been a talking dog or a magical girl's mascot. It's not worth another volume, series dropped.

Oshinbo, on the other hand, was a joybomb surprise. I bought the first volume mostly out of cultural obligation - it seems like it would be a weaboo check-point rather than anything particularly exciting in and of its own merit. Boy, was that wrong. I'm about the polar opposite of a 'foodie', one of those gastronomic obsessives who constantly go on about their cooking habits. I eat out of cans & a microwave. Still, Oshinbo makes a rollicking good time out of that exact sort of niggling technical obsession with food, food preparation, and presentation.

It's a series about cultural status anxiety, and how that false consciousness which comes with status anxiety wars with the actual authentic practice and experience of a practical art like cooking. The details of the art in question is a matter of execution & technique rather than essence, which is the constant struggle between wanting to do something, and wanting to show off how you do it. The stories picked out for the American edition of Oshinbo - the ongoing comic in Japan has been on-going for decades, and the publisher decided to just print highlights instead of pretending to print the whole massive series - are focused on what the writer calls 'washoku' - a sort of denationalized Japanese cultural/culinary spirit. The two antagonists of the story - the punk Yamaoka and his curmudgeon father Kaihara - are respectively a journalist and an artist-artisan who compete in a series of face-offs over the composition of an "ultimate menu" of the Platonic ideal of the Japanese culinary art.

It's *fun*, kind of silly, and very, very open-hearted. It might just have been the editorial choices made in publishing an American edition, but half the stories in the first volume are about Western weaboo types showing up snotty or arrogant or mistaken Japanese about this or that aspect of the true art, about foreigners being more open to washoku, being more willing to learn.

Oshinbo's art is very simple, but tasteful. The emphasis is on the food, and on things rather than people, who by and large are relatively simple cartoons existing to express attitudes, comedy, and passions in an efficient manner. I found myself regretting somewhat the choice to present high-lights, but I can see why they thought they couldn't get away with publishing 102 volumes of food-snob comics in the current market.

Friday, February 06, 2009

You know, unnamed webcomic artist, when you beg for money on your front page, and then I find that you've let most of your back-log go out of print, I suffer a sudden lack of desire to pay for your free ice cream, no matter how much I believe in the freeware concept.

The Long Tail helps those that help themselves, Mr. Unnamed Webcomic Artist. Maybe I ought to go help Howard Taylor, who *doesn't* waste my time with unfunny, labored, interminable Harry Potter parodies. And more to the point, is capable of keeping his overpriced comics in stock on Amazon.

On second thought, no. I've been seriously overconsuming on pop crap recently, and it sounds like I have to take my car into the shop again, for the second time in three months.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Read through Kyle Baker's Nat Turner last night. For those who have never heard of Baker, go read Why I Hate Saturn and The Cowboy Wally Show, they're two of the best books to come out of the Eighties indie comics scene. He's mellowed a lot since the cynical misanthropies of those two classics, but he's still an interesting and fearless artist. He went through a rather Chuck Jonesish phase in the late Nineties (You Are Here and King David are highlights, if seriously different in tone from each other.), and later kind of went avuncular, writing "life with the family" Dave-Berryish autobiographical stuff like the Bakers. So, I knew that a Nat Turner comic from Baker would be *interesting*, if nothing else.

It's certainly that. The book is more in the style of his Eighties indie stuff, all painterly sepia-tone browns and tans, more in the style of an illustrated chapbook than your standard gutters-and-word-balloons comic. The text is a series of excerpts or highlights of the pamphlet "Confessions of Nat Turner", published right after his execution & written in a typically turgid pre-Victorian style. Baker's native style was perhaps an unfortunate fit with the Nineteenth-century pomposity of the text, as the two tend to emphasize each others' tendencies into faults, inflating Baker's visual wit into buffoonery and the text's attempts at dignity into pretension and bombast.

But Baker doesn't try to sugarcoat anything, or make allowances, or excuses, any more than the original "Confessions" did. It's all there, in bloody, violent, merciless browns and tans. The second half left me wondering why anyone would find Turner an inspiration for anything other than regret and horror. The first half, on the other hand, almost elevated the subject into a religious figure. The text and the imagery lead me to compare Turner with his contemporary prophet, Joseph Smith, who was going through much of the same plow-side revelation at about the same time. The parallels are striking, if probably not intended by the author. Religious radicalism was in the air in the 1820s and 1830s, there's no doubt about that. He sort of steals a base by starting the book with the capture, enslavement, and middle passage of Nat Turner's grandmother, since it isn't covered, properly speaking, by the text, but it's some of the most compelling imagery of the book, and worth the diversion from the subject matter. It probably would have been more appropriate to a book on the Amstad mutiny, though.

What I kind of lost the track of in the course of reading was how the first half led somehow into the second half, how Turner's religious revelation turned suddenly into an exterminationist rebellion. Because that was, indeed, what the prophet Turner delivered - a determined slaughter of every white within axe-reach, from infant to invalid. Baker papers it over with some wordless montages of broken families, but there isn't enough middle here to satisfy my questions. This is the point where Baker's choice to rely on text and images rather than traditional comic-book stylings causes a narrative break-down. Who's that losing his children? Is it Turner? Was Turner married? Or was that a flash-back? Too many visual cues from traditional comic visual syntax are missing in the style Baker is using, when he needs to play these sorts of narrative tricks it causes confusion in the reader, or at least, this reader.

And when I said earlier that Baker doesn't paper over the bloodshed, he certainly doesn't. It occupies a good third of the book, and it's horrible. He doesn't shy from making the insurrectionaries look like monsters, and shows un-named whites suppressing the armed slaves in a fairly heroic light, which you wouldn't expect in a modern adaptation aimed at the guilt-industry crowd. He even throws in the old stand-by of post-bellum nostalgia, the faithful house-slave desperately trying to save his family, comically shucking-and-jiving for the bloodthirsty band while the whites run for it.

In the end, it's kind of chaotic, and mournful, and strange. Certainly haunts you afterwards, I'll say that much for it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Oh, BTW, my formerly-moonbat neighbors have finally taken down their Obama drapes. As an act of reciprocity, I vow to no longer call them "moonbats", "personality cultists", or "fascists".

I felt 35% less oppressed this weekend. Life's looking up!

*This* is why federal pig-slopping "stimulus" spending is INSANELY inefficient. What does a school district with sharply declining enrollment, recently constructed buildings, and a preposterous *FOURTEEN* unoccupied school buildings need? Eighty-some million federal dollars for yet more unnecessary and un-needed construction!

Maybe Milwaukee will import some career arsonists from Detroit so that they can collect the insurance on their new buildings, because I can't fathom any other benefit to this particular scheme other than keeping Wisconsin construction employees fully employed. Why not just go whole-hog and just start burying bundles of hundred-dollar bills for people to dig up again?
I ordered the first disc of Nerima Daikon Brothers to fill out an order the other month, having not heard much of anything about it - or at least, not much of anything which stuck. It was stuck in among a hundred other C-list titles that ADV dumped into the market like a freighter full of cattle in shark-infested waters - apparently on the theory that if you throw enough of 'em in there, the sharks will eventually get too full to eat at least *some* of your beeves.

Uh, anyways - Nerima Daikon Brothers. It's a Nabeshin late-night anime, and not one of his hack-work directing-for-some-studio-spark make-work shows, like the Wallflower or Tenchi Muyou GXP. Remember Excel Saga and Puni Puni Poemi? Yeah, that level of hyper bad taste. Except as a musical. A really sketchy, slapdash, cynical musical about the dreams of a suburban radish farmer, his host-club loser of a brother, and their gold-digging over-the-hill-former-idol cousin from Okayama. All of them dressed in a loose Nabeshin-eque approximation of the traditional attire of "Hassidic diamond merchants".

The show goes like this: introductory half-assed musical number in their daikon radish field. One or more members of the 'band' gets scammed by the bottom-feeding predator-of-the-week, via one or more short, hyper musical numbers; this is usually punctuated by a song-and-dance number from the loan-shark kanban musume dancers & their portable-shrine ATM of Doom. The Brothers escape, go to a back-alley pawnshop, to rent a preposterous weapon or device to defeat the villains (and rob them of all their ill-gotten gains), which they inveigle via song from "Oyaji", a shadowy figure with the traditional Nabeshin afro voiced by the director himself. One more violent song-and-dance routine later, justice is served, and Oyaji's pet "pandaikon" shows up with all the other victims-of-the-week, who walk off with all the Brothers' stolen wealth, leaving them destitute in their radish field to song-fight with their annoyed neighbors who probably thought that living next to a daikon field in sleepy Nerima would have been *quieter* than some more urban ward, right?

The songs aren't particularly brilliant - Sondheim isn't exactly quaking in his boots - but it's all delivered with a cock-eyed sloppy enthusiasm which makes it impossible to hate. The subject matter is pretty damned sketchy - the first episode is basically an extended homosexual casting-couch gag - which probably explains why it didn't get more notice back when it first came out. But it isn't all making-fun-of-teh-gheys, and the rest of the first disc mocks Korean pachinko parlours, predatory hospital operators, and mobbed-up cops. I was a little disappointed the Korean pachinko episode stayed within the relatively safe confines of "boy, the Koreans love their kimchee and cosmetic surgery, don't they?" and "housewives love them some Korean prettyboy actors", when I, personally, would have gone with the obvious North Korean commie-gangster line. But hey, it's still pretty funny, if kind of bigoted.

And damn, are there a lot of extras on the first disc. I started watching the disc, and just kept going and going until hey! Time to go to work! I'm definitely going to have to get the rest of the season the next time I make a TRSI order; we'll see what the next sale is coming up this Thursday.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Heck of a thaw on Sunday. Walked to the grocery store in a t-shirt, after turning back to leave my winter jacket at my apartment. Saw a woman up on High Street dumping salt on her sidewalk, and told her to wait until dark, because it was just going to get washed into the street-gutters without affecting the inevitable night-time ice-slicks that this sort of mid-winter thaws leave all over every down-hill flat surface.

Listened to the Super Bowl on the radio. Living without cable has a certain old-timey charm occasionally. You really do live in a different world when you interact with the polity via radio and print. Even if the print is online blogs instead of the daily paper...