Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The iPod revolution

I managed to sneak an internet connection long enough to post this to the internet. Hope you enjoy it, just four more days till AX 2006!

If you don’t have a video iPod already, this should convince you. One day, I was getting ready to embark on a fourteen hour plane flight to China (my third within the past year). I had finished packing my clothes, thrown some books into my backpack, and laid down for a good night sleep. Naturally, I wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of sitting through the drudgery of a fourteen hour plane flight. Then, like the bright light of Avalon, inspiration struck (obvious reference to Fate Stay/Night). I own a video iPod. I have a laptop computer with gig upon gig of fansubbed anime. I have a handy program called “3GP Converter.” And I have a lot of time until my flight.

That’s when the magic began. I immediately flipped open my laptop and began the “drag-and-drop” process to transform my fansub collection into a plethora (that dreaded middle-school word) of iPod friendly files.

So it turns out each file is around 50 to 60 megabytes, and is backed up with the original full .avi file on my external hard drive. The quality on that two inch screen? Amazing. Clear picture, good sound quality. So far I have transferred the following anime series onto my iPod: Ergo Proxy, Fate Stay/Night, Zegapain, and Nana, with more to come. I haven’t experienced any trouble with offset audio and visuals (a problem I’ve encountered while ripping DVDs), and while some of the subtitles are rather small to view on the screen, they’re all definitely legible.

The downsides to this amazing discovery (well, not really a “discovery,” but more a utilization of applicable technology)? The relatively short battery life of the video iPod is one (only a couple hours, or about four to six episodes worth of anime – I recommend skipping intros and endings). The amount of time it takes to convert the files to MP4 format (which is used for iPod video). Converting a series can take a good couple of hours.

But just think of the possibilities – long roadtrips (after you’ve used up all of your jokes, and you’ve told one too many stories), medium length plane rides (let’s face it, two hours of anime is only a band-aid on the gushing chest wound that is my fourteen hour plane flight), train rides…wow. That’s a good list right there. If you come stocked and prepared, you’re ready for action. So yeah, invest the $300 or $400 on a video iPod. You can get your anime fix anywhere.

And if you haven’t finished Fate Stay/Night, you should. It’s a darn good series. Start watching from episode 11, and go to the end. The first ten aren’t worth your time.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Still on hiatus...

Yep. I just got back today from Air Assault school (if any of you need something airlifted by helicopter, let me know), and tomorrow morning I'm off to China. If I can drag myself away from the sights of Shanghai long enough, I may throw out a quick post, but otherwise you won't be hearing from me until the 3rd of July (after I go to HYDE's concert and check out the Anime Expo in Anaheim).

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Friday, June 09, 2006

RSS mistake...

Okay, yeah, I screwed up and had my RSS feed supplying the entire post when called upon. Big oops right there. Now I've got my first post to appear on animenano...and when you expand's huge. I feel like an idiot.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

So you want to be a Japanese rock star?

Well, it turns out it's a lot more accessible than it used to be. Still not a walk in the park, but accessible to whoever wants to be one. The funny thing about the Japanese rock scene is that it didn't really kick off until the mid-90's. Not unless you count company-owned talent as "real" rock music. In the past, entertainment companies would scout out talent and then begin the corporate machinations necessary to turn them into a company tool for profit. Recently, Sony Music Entertainment Japan has even held a gaijin recruiting contest to increase its ranks (a while ago).

Nowadays though, things are a little different. No longer are musical artists the corporate tools they once were. Sure, there are plenty of those types still around, but they aren't bringing in the big bucks anymore. In one is. And who's leading the new generation of Japanese rock music? Well,'s people like the ones in Nana, Beck, and Aquarian Age.

All three series follow a group of young people, in their late teens or early twenties, as they take on the music scene and rise to conquer the Oricon charts. It's all, to a large extent, believable. Take, for instance, the use of soundproof rooms for practice. In the modern Japanese music industry, what we in America would consider garage bands have to shell out a good deal of money to practice together. The main reason for this is the close proximity of everything in Japan - no one wants to tolerate such a taxing level of noise. In order to overcome the obstacle of not being able to practice together, something that is essential for musicians, Japan offers many small soundproofed studios in which bands can practice - for a price. As seen in Beck, the prices can tax a band's financial resources, particularly when they're still not signed by a major company or don't have the fanbase to support themselves.

This is what some might call the primary obstacle to entry in the music market. Most high schoolers have to do exactly what you see in anime: make a decision about whether music or education is more important. In a society like Japan, where social standing is so coveted, and the primary means to that standing is education, that's a lot to swallow. It should shed some light on at why those people who do choose to enter the industry are at once so admired, but at the same time ostracized. In the States there is a similar level of distance between music artists and their fans, but in Japan the difference is even more pronounced.

Even if a group manages to overcome the required difficulty of finding time to practice together, there's always the more pressing issue of getting recognized. Many bands use the streets as a means of distribution. Pressing into the crowded, youth-centric areas of Tokyo such as Shibuya, they play in the hopes of attracting the attention of more and more people, and hopefully a major or indie label (in the past, a major label would have been by far the more desired route, but recently indie sales have begun to dramatically increase, making the options more viable for both routes). You see this happen in Aquarian Age, where the protagonist, Kyouta, get their first approach from a recording artist after a street performance. For some bands that can't get a spot at a LIVE (a performance at one of many small concert rooms - they're pretty much the size of a small club - scattered throughout Japan) this is the only option open to them.
For bands who can get spots for a LIVE, the key to success lies in presentation. At this point, a band faces fierce competition from all the other bands performing at a LIVE, and if they do well and continue to perform, they will find that by being the continual standout at these performances, they gain all that much more recognition - and hence a shot at entering the industry. Before Nana and her band Black Stones got a record deal, they first had to prove their worth by outperforming other bands during LIVEs. Nana deals with this issue quite well, and actually shows the coporate tool side of the coin as the show progresses, and the band goes from being an independent act, to a mega-corporate moneymaker. Beck, on the other hand, sticks with the indie formula and its characters continue on the route that many Japanese artists are choosing today - more freedom.

That freedom is doing great things for the Japanese music industry. We're starting to see an infusion of true, modern music. Acts like Plastic Tree, Dir En Grey, and Monoral, are catching up to the West in terms of quality faster than ever. Japanese musicians like Ryuusuke from Beck, whose idols include Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, are pushing Japanese music into the modern era. Unlike the older Japanese music - which tends to sound like a modern version of pretty much anything from the 80's - the newer music definitely has a much broader appeal. And with Sony Music Entertainment Japan recruiting gaijin, who knows? The next big act in Japan may not even be Japanese.

Note: I just joined AnimeNano, the anime blogroll. It's the newest one to hit the internet, and it's good. Much better, in fact, than either blogsuki or animeblogger, in terms of presentation and features. Check it out, sign up, and throw your own blog up there! And don't forget - three weeks starting on Sunday - and when I get back, I'm going to be posting my thoughts on HYDE's concert in LA (yes, I'm going), Anime-Expo 2006 (also going), and any anime I hopefully get to watch in between now and then. Take care everyone, I look forward to continuing when I get back. And as a complete and total aside, if you haven't seen the Nana live action movie - do. It's well worth it to see the characters on screen, and the movie for the most part does a pretty good job of staying true to the story and characters (although, except for Takumi, all the male characters are not nearly handsome enough).

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Inspiration Part Three: Jin-Roh The Wolf Brigade

Note: Before I get into the regular post, I'd like to take a moment and thank everyone who reads this blog. I put up a tracker to see how many people were dropping by, and more importantly, how many people were coming back. For the group of you who do keep returning, thanks so much, it really makes doing this worthwhile. I know my method of blog writing is not for everyone, and tends to focus on what some may consider overly "heady" topics, but I'm glad that I've tapped at least somewhat into a little niche that you enjoy.

Note 2: Before I forget - I'm going to be gone starting this Sunday for the next three weeks, so I won't be able to update the blog during that time. Once I return, I'm going to be doing a guest post for Open Journal on Indy Anime, along with my regular updates. Expect some more interpretations of classic series (I'll be tackling Kino's Journey along with the "legacy series," that have dominated the anime scene up till now).

It's a rare thing to find fairy tales transformed into anime productions. Even more so to find an anime that faithfully captures the original essence of that fairy tale. It's easy to forget, with all the Disney movies out there, that fairy tales like those written by the Brothers Grimm are not happy. The tales are filled with darkness, a compelling, mystical darkness that permeates their telling. Such a tale is that of Little Red Riding Hood.

I don't know about the rest of you, but the Little Red Riding Hood I heard about was a cute, colorfully animated picture in a storybook. Likewise, the wolf was an exaggerated, mischeviuos creature, not all that threatening. And no one was eaten.

What I loved about Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is that it captured the essence of the fairy tale - their dark, tragic nature. The story of Little Red Riding Hood, unlike the one imparted to me by my parents, is not happy, or uplifting. It is a story of a girl imprisoned, forced to wear iron clothes, and who then departs for her grandmother's house only to be devoured. No, not a happy story at all.

The funny thing is that, as optimistically minded as most people are, they are wont to turn the story on its head and change it into something that uplifts the spirit. Jin-Roh does not do that. What Jin-Roh does, is force man to see man for what he is, and that sight is not in the least bit beautiful.

By linking the characters to the story of Little Red Riding Hood, Mamoru Oshii (writer, not director) creates a semblance of familiarity that allows viewers to relate to the story in a way normally not possible for adults. By harkening to something tied to youth, Oshii's work attempts to create an entirely new framework by which to view the world. There are no rose-colored, Hollywood-perfect lines or endings here. What Oshii does, is open the eyes of the viewer to what life is.

From the moment the protagonist, Fuse, meets the girl, whose name is so easily forgotten (purposefully - in keeping with her role in the film), the wheels of tragedy begin to turn. The classic conflict between duty and desire rages forth, as Fuse finds himself forced into the position of having to kill her. But there is something deeper, and darker, that compels Fuse to act in the manner that he does. It is continually stressed during the movie, as character after character reiterates, "he is a wolf."

Jin-Roh won't win any awards for entertainment. My friends find it far too mundane. But to me, its slow pace builds the tragedy even more poignantly, to the point that it tears at the heart. Especially because the movie's message is directed at all people - at you and me. All of us are Fuse, all of us people are the wolves, beasts disguised as men. By repeating this over and over, Oshii points to a flaw in the human character that many recognize, but few will admit aloud.

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