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Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Somebody replied! A rarity indeed.

sjwalters replied to my last post, so I'll reply here. Blogger's comment system sucks, so there doesn't seem to be much point replying to comments with more comments ;)

I dislike how sacred Japanese culture has become to some people. If it's made here in good ol' North America, it's just a Cartoon, a comic book, a nerd. If it comes from Japan, it's Anime, a manga, an "otaku".

It isn't that Japanese culture is sacred, per se. Animation in Japan has a very different style, and so we tend to use the word "Anime" to refer to animation from Japan. It differentiates the content. Manga is, again, the japanese word they use for all comics. Outside of Japan, it refers to the particular style. "Otaku" is actually a derogatory term in Japanese that certain rabid fans in North America have adopted as a badge of honour. They're a bit too crazy for me.

In North America WE don't take anime seriously? There are tonnes of tentacle death rape lovers here. Thousands. They have conventions all the time. They aren't even a tiny subset of the population, anime is becoming a ridiculously well known, and has a huge fanbase. You really shouldn't ever say anything in general about "we North Americans" as if you can just generalize everything with this one, big, homogenous group.

Also, saying in NA cartoons aren't taken seriously is sort of stupid. What is the longest running prime time comedy show airing in North America? The Simpsons, seventeen seasons and still running... crappily, but running. Cartoons are a powerhouse in NA. Look at Fox's sunday night lineup and count the cartoons.

Of course, you're right in that cartoons are more popular in Japan, but that's as profound a statement as saying the Japanese take McDonalds way less seriously than us good ol' NAers.

No, we don't. There are apparently not enough fans for localization companies to take it seriously. Let me know when high quality actors start voicing uncensored Anime targetted at the older demographic and then I'll say we're taking it seriously. Go watch anything done by Viz or Funimation and say that they are taking it seriously compared to the original performance.

Comedy shows are, by definition, not serious. We don't take them serious, we laugh at them. That is the point. There is no (OK, an unsupported statement. There is little) serious cartoons targetted at adults. Nothing as epic and emotion-invoking.

How profoundly incorrect is this statement? Let me count the ways. It's really hard to make any statement that is absolute and all encompassing. Saying "all" cartoons made in NA are targetted at children means I can prove you wrong with 1 contradictory example. Wondershowzen. Family Guy. The Simpsons. Futurama. Aqua Teen Hunger Force. All of the Adult Swim lineup on Cartoon Network. American Dad. The list is bloody endless. See how many times you're wrong?

Sorry, yes. Let me amend my statement to "Most non-comedy" instead of "all". Careless of me. But, notice that you only named comedy programs. Not one serious plot-driven show.

You would? I wouldn't, and it's not because of my burning hatred of all things anime. It's because I've never once, never in my life, seen anything dubbed that was dubbed such that I couldn't tell. It's always painfully obvious that the syllables aren't lining up, whether live action or cartoons. It sucks balls. It's one more barrier to suspension of disbelief, which I believe is an important aspect of enjoying a show.

The mouths already don't really match up in the original Japanese. It's sort of hard to match when a character might only have three mouth positions. English translations often try to match the mouth movements, and I would contend that they match up as well as the original Japanese do.

However, I was very impressed with the lip synching in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within". I was amazed at how closely they matched, to the extent that for a while I thought they had re-rendered the movie for the English version. Only later did I realize that it was through modified script and actor timing that they managed to match up mouth shapes and movements so well. I'm hoping that "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children"'s english version has a similar level of english voice synch, but I'm doubtful, since the budget is but a small fraction of TSW.

It would be hard for me to be so critical if I'd never watched any animes and was totally uninformed. But, by jove, I'd been forced into it. I've seen Cowboy Bebop, every goddamn session, FLCL which was actually not too bad but I'd have been happier watching Arrested Development, Dragon Ball Z, and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

It come down to selection. If the only anime I'd seen were DBZ and Inuyasha, I'd have a very different opinion than after adding on Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach.

Part of what draws me to anime is the music. I've been known to play video games solely for the music. I download the soundtracks to videogames and anime. I enjoy them. I enjoy the intro and closing songs, even though I don't understand any of the words. They SOUND good, and so I like them. And darn it, a good orchestral score can make the difference between a crap show and a good show, or a good show and a great show.

Yeah, emotional music and a stirring plot can drive me to tears. And I like that. I like that a show can be so good as to make me feel for the characters. It is certainly more than I can say about a show like The Simpsons, which gives a quick laugh.



Note: This started as a simple observation and then turned into a comprehensive review of three shows. So it is a bit long. The key point of this whole post is, Fullmetal Alchemist is an incredible epic and emotional show, and you should watch it.

It is sad when I, as someone who doesn't speak any Japanese and has only heard about a hundred hours of spoken Japanese, can tell when a Japanese person just plain sucks at talking. There's this one ending song to the anime series Bleach where the first few lines are in English, and the rest is in Japanese. And the singer's English sounds better than her Japanese despite the fact that she's Japanese.

Anyhow, I've almost finished watching all of Bleach up until the current episode. I'm in the mid sixties out of 72 right now. Before that, I watched the entire 51 episode series of Fullmetal Alchemist. So, I've sort of been thinking about anime of late.

The first obvious observation is that they take it damned seriously in Japan. They air cartoons during primetime, garnering huge audiences. It is so popular that voice actors are as popular there as movie stars are here. Bands create modified versions of their songs for anime opening and closing songs (which tend to change every season), limiting the number of verses and even cutting out bars from instrumental parts to make them fit (They obviously do this because of the huge exposure they get). Many anime shows have full orchestral soundtracks that are as good as any blockbuster movie in north america. And the voice acting is, of course, of excellent quality.

And yet, in North America, we don't take anime (or cartoons in general) seriously. Locally (being this continent) produced cartoons are all targetted at children (with the exception of movies). And when Anime is translated here, it is censored to be targetted towards children, and amateurish voice actors are used that destroy the characters by removing the emotion from the performances while turning every character into an angsty teenager. We don't air anime in prime-time, we air it censored on YTV in the afternoon.

This is why I don't watch dubbed (officially licensed and translated) versions of shows, but only the original Japanese with subtitles. Many fans of anime would find this to be reprehensible. There is an understanding between the fansubber groups (the groups of fans that translate anime shows). The fansub groups stop translating a show when it is licensed outside of Japan, and in exchange, the companies producing the shows let them translate shows unhindered (It is very rare for a fansub group to get a copyright takedown notice for an unlicensed show). The Japanese companies know that they getting the better end of the deal, because they build up an audience for the show before it even makes it overseas. These fans then procede to watch the show and buy lots of English DVDs.

My problem is that a lot of anime in north america is translated by companies like funimation and viz. These companies are the ones that get the amateur voice actors and censor everything to hell. If the English voiceacting performances were as good as the original performances, I would have no problem watching the dubs. In fact, I'd prefer it to the original Japanese, if I could get the same emotion in my native language. But since that doesn't happen, I stick to the original Japanese.

So, at this point, I've watched three series seriously in the original Japanese. They are Inuyasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Bleach. The first, Inuyasha, I stopped watching at about episode 30 (out of something like 150). The show was an endless stream of one-off episodes with very little plot connection. After 30 episodes, nothing had really changed, and they were still where they were after the first few episodes. I understand that when they stopped making the show (without concluding it), they were still in about the same place.

The second is Fullmetal Alchemist. The show is bloody amazing. It was relatively short, at only 51 episodes (30 minute blocks, usually about 20 minutes of content per episode), but had a full and seemingly complete pre-planned arc. The best thing about the show was that it easily qualified as epic. And by this, I mean an epic plot. The plot was coherant, consistent, emotional, and arresting. The show made me cry on more than one occasion, and laugh on many others. I'm desperately hoping that they make a second movie, as the show had a theatrical movie done in Japan in 2005.

The third is Bleach. Less epic, some big inconsistancies, but the story arcs seem to be planned in advance, and it remains extremely enjoyable. The subject matter is very interesting, the story moves at an acceptable pace, and I intend to continue watching it every week. It is really quite good. Certainly not on the same level as Fullmetal Alchemist (Which was obviously a much higher budget show), but still excellent. I understand that Bleach is currently one of the most popular anime shows right now.

Music is very important to me. In videogames, movies, shows, etc. So, I'd like to talk a bit about the music of the three shows.

Inuyasha would have to be the most original score of the three, although a better term might be the best use of themes. There are several melodies, themes, and styles, that are use in many of the musical pieces. The score is all orchestral, like many anime shows, and the use of well defined themes lends the show a sense of having very dramatic music. The score is quite good, but doesn't always play to emotion very well.

Fullmetal alchemist also uses a primarily orchestral score. The style is essentially that of a movie soundtrack. It isn't so much about themes and recurring melodies, but about evoking emotion in the viewer. There is certainly a lot of music for the show, with something like 100 unique pieces of music for the 51 episodes (not counting the movie's own soundtrack). The emotion evoked by the music was a big part of why the show was so succesfull in producing an emotional response in me. One of the few non-original pieces of music used (I assume it was non-original, it could easily be that the show's composer produced a song in russian, like Bleach's composer has produced english songs for that show) was a russian piece called "Bratja". The name translates to "Brothers", and it is naturally the theme representing the terrible struggle of the Elric brothers (the two main characters) to restore their original bodies. It is an orchestral piece with a combination of a boys choir and a single boy solo in parts. The piece is incredibly emotional, and just hearing it alone makes me sad. When combined with the particular scenes in the series, it brings me to tears each time it is used.

The budget for Bleach seems to be much smaller than the other two shows. There is less original content per episode, after the intro/opening, recap, closing, preview, and short bonus end segment are considered. There is less animation, with single frames being used more often by panning or only changing a bit. This is reflected in the musical score, which is more limited than the othe two shows. While the score in itself is excellent, there are a limited number of pieces that are used repeatedly as themes. It isn't an orchestral score, but a more electronic type of music. The music fits well, though, so it isn't a terrible problem. One could say that the score, while not outstanding, is sufficient, and good.

Now then, I should probably talk a bit about each show. If you're still reading at this point, you might actually want to watch one of these shows.

The first, Inuyasha, is about a half-demon half-human living in feudal Japan. A modern teenage girl falls through time and becomes rather attached to the half-demon, who is named Inuyasha. The series follows them and their gang of people that they gather in Inuyasha's quest to obtain a jewel that can make him full human. It is an action-adventure love story. Unfortunately, the plot never really goes anywher, and it ends up being a monster-of-the-week type of show, which is why I lost interest.

The second show is Fullmetal Alchemist. This one had a very unique and complete backstory. It takes place in a country much like nazi germany, with a technological level akin to that of the early 1900s. Instead of technology being the dominant force, in this world, alchemy was real. Alchemists transmute objects through the process of equivalent trade, with alchemy amounting basically to magic with limits. The alchemist draws a transmutation circle, puts an object into it, and transmutes it into something else. The show follows Edward and Alphonse Elric. The two boys lose their mother at an early age, and try to bring her back to life via human transmutation. Human transmutation is a horrible taboo, however, and for good reason. In the process of the failed transmutation, Ed loses an arm and a leg, and Al loses his entire body. It is only by sacrificing his arm that Ed manages to seal Al's soul to an empty suit of armour. The series follows the two brothers on their quest to restore their original bodies by obtaining an item known as the philosopher's stone. I haven't spoiled anything here, since this setup is only the first two episodes.

The third show is Bleach. It follows a teenager named Ichigo who can see ghosts. One day, while an evil spirit called a hollow is attacking his family, a Death God shows up to fight it. The death god are spirits that send ghosts to heaven and hell, and fight against hollows to free their souls and stop them from harming both ghosts and the living. During the battle, the death god is gravely injured, and tries to transfer part of her power to Ichigo so that he might save his family. She accidentally transfers all of her power into Ichigo, and so he must act as a substiture death god until she can recover. That about sums up the first episode. The show follows Ichigo's adventures as a death god, among other things.

If you are looking for an anime show to pick up, start with Fullmetal Alchemist. As I've said, it is incredibly good, albeit a bit short. If you still want an ongoing show after that, look into Bleach. There are currently 72 episodes with new ones still airing weekly.

As a note, I really do suggest you grab fansubs of the shows and not the official english translations (dubs). There really is an enormous difference between them, taking a show like Fullmetal Alchemist from incredibly amazing to make "An OK show". For Fullmetal Alchemist, I like the dubs done by "KickAssAnime", or KAA. For Bleach, the best is Lunar. Unfortunately, Lunar is a "professional" fansub group, so they stopped subbing when Bleach was licensed. There are still other lesser quality groups subbing the new episods.

Saturday, March 04, 2006


LAN party time

Some of you at NITI might remember when I left early on a Friday to head out to a 48-hour long LAN party in June or July. Well, it is time for the big LAN party of 2006. Except, this time I'm on staff, so I would be remiss if I didn't try to spread the word a bit ;)

Here is a picture of the 2004 LAN (2005 was cancelled due to renovations in the hall):

There were actually about twice as many gamers as seen in that picture, because the LAN area extended to the right into the cafeteria, and a little bit further back behind the camera. In 2004 there was live coverage from MusiquePlus and CanalZ (Now ZTélé) for most of the event (they were airing live updates all day every 15 minutes for two days or so), and the other stations like TVA and such also showed up to do a bit of coverage. There was also a televised tournament between the casts of the two big competing technology shows on the two channels ;)

I don't think we'll have the same degree of TV coverage as last time, because that is a one shot deal. There will probably still be some TV coverage this year though.

This year, LAN ETS is actually the Canadian Electronic Sports World Cup Qualifiers. Yeah, that's mouthful. What it means is that the winners of the related tournaments get a free plane ticket and hotel room in Paris to compete in the world finals. LAN ETS is the qualifiers for Team Canada this year, so the whole country will converge on LAN ETS to compete for it.

So if you're a gamer in Montreal, or elsewhere in Canada but fancy yourself a professional player, then head over to the LAN ETS site and register yourself. Link to the site on this banner below:

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Applied to NITI

After a phone conversation with my Co-Op co-ordinator, I got the go ahead to apply to NITI. Woohoo!

I have started that process rolling, I think, so hopefully I'll have some good news soon. *fingers crossed*


Craptacular day

Today is going particularly crappy, so I'm going to vent here in my blog. Sorry. Maybe it'll make me feel better.

Coming back from my week off (reading week), things went really well. I got back my midterm for Political Science 204 (Essentially one discussion about what is wrong with the current government structure). I got the highest mark in the class, that felt pretty good. Next day, yesterday, I got back my midterm for COMP229, System Software (OS theory and how assemblers/linkers/loaders/etc work). Second highest mark in the class. A big surprise, but I was happy.

Now, today. I wake up a bit late, and miss the first bus. I arrive to class (Cal 2) 25 minutes late. They've started a new subject, integration of rational functions. I arrive in the middle of it and have no idea what is going on. The first full example I witness on the board takes up four pages in my notebook. Four pages. I'm totally lost.

Next, after class ends, I get to pick up my midterm and past assignment. The assignment was one that I ran out of time while doing, so I only answered about half the questions. Problem is, the Math department are cheap bastards and only mark 4 or 5 questions randomly on each assignment, even if there are 20 qusetions. So guess what? 4 of the 5 questions they mark are the ones I didn't do, and they gave me zero on the one I did do with no explanation of what I did wrong. Perhaps I could have got some marks if they'd ACTUALLY MARKED THE STUFF THAT I DID DO!

And then the midterm. The mark at face value wasn't too bad. 70%. That is significantly higher than my marks on the Cal 1 midterm or final. Except the last three questions on the midterm were based on eachother. At the beginning of those three questions, I made one very small mistake, confusing the graphs of sqrt(x) and x^2. IE, I drew the curve convex when it should have been concave (I think). This was a find-volume-of-rotated-function type thing. Fine, they say, they give me half marks on that one. Fair enough, stupid mistake, but whatever. Except then they bomb me on the other two because they're based on a false assumption. So one tiny mistake on the first question cancels out all the work on the other two. I probably would have scored in the mid 80s had it not been for the concavity of a one inch long line on the paper.

So, in a course that was going relatively well, I'm lost when it comes to the material, got zero on an assignment, and lost a huge number of marks on one simple mistake on the midterm. Great way to ruin a good week.

Oh, and while I really want to apply to NITI for the co-op work term, my co-op co-ordinator hasn't yet responded to the email that I sent three days ago. Nice.

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