Thursday, October 26, 2006

Addicted to the Internet (specifically MMORPGs)

Everyone has a particular area in which they tend towards obsession. For some it's cigarettes, for others food. Anime, girls, drugs, all of these can become the center of a person's world. And then for some, it's the internet.

I just finished watching the latest episode of NHK ni Youkoso!, in which Satou finds himself addicted to an online game loosely based on Final Fantasy XI (Red Mage, Vina Toole, the list of references goes on and on). This is actually a prevalent problem, as most of us who actually play games will know (who hasn't heard the story about the man in Korea who died from playing a game for too long?). Of course, like any other problem (crime for instance) it's not getting any better.

After checking around the net, I came upon the site, Online Gamers Anonymous, a "rehab site" of sorts for people addicted to online gaming, or gaming in general. While its religious basis may upset some people, it is a strong community of people dedicated to helping each other overcome what, for many of them, has become a problem. Reading through the site brought to mind conditions that affect a disproportionately large percentage of the population today. Too much time spent at the computer, too little time spent with friends and family, and way too little time applying him/herself to meaningful tasks.

It was interesting to see some statistics I found through a link to Ariadne at the Daedalus Project, an online repository of information concerning the MMORPG phenomenom. Nicholas Yee defines addiction as: "a recurring behavior that is unhealthy or self-destructive which the individual has difficulty ending." Out of a surveyed group of approximately 4000 people, 14.6% agreed or strongly agreed that they became "anxious, irritable or angry if unable to play." Luckily, of that 14.6%, only 2.9% strongly agreed (and thus fall into the danger zone for addiction).

The addiction that we see associated so often in the media with MMORPGs is not relegated just to that particular genre of games, as I expressed at the beginning of this post. Obsessive behaviour affects the most involved of the otaku ranks, as well as alcoholics, drug addicts, just to name a few of the more commonly known problem groups. Everyone suffers from obsession in one form or another, which hasn't yet been addressed in NHK ni Youkoso, which tends to portray the extreme problems of a minority group of people.

So far I've enjoyed NHK ni Youkoso! in a similar fashion to why I enjoyed Genshiken. It's indicative of the more extreme aspects of the NEET and hikikimori cultures respectively, and plays with them in a way that makes its characters endearing and human, rather than just the chopping block for the comedic executioner. Satou is not just a disgusting, perverted loser, but a man who fears failure and ridicule to such an extreme that he refuses to interact with people in general.

If you haven't had the opportunity to watch NHK, or like some felt that it didn't live up to the manga version, as someone who has both watched the anime and read the manga, I'd say that both bring separate visions to the table. The manga is decidedly darker, focusing on the more destructive aspects of the hikikimori lifestyle, as opposed to the anime with a slightly more upbeat tone (and as for television editing of the more racy portions of the manga). Overall, your choice of which is "better" will depend on your tastes - but give it a try, it's the best show of the last season.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Fate / Stay Night - the game -

Note: This may come as a shock to many people who have been reading this blog for a while now, but I have posted two posts on the same night. Yes, it's true. Two. This is the second one, so if you haven't already, check out the other post below (on the "Blogger Identity").

I bought the game version of Fate/Stay Night this past week, and received it via EMS on Thursday. There was no choice in my buying it, at least not in my mind. The series was one of the most intriguing of last season (at least next to NHK ni Youkoso!), and had impressive art and character designs. Lest we forget the story, it had some to spare, and we are left to wonder at the breadth of history that Type-Moon created for the game (it spans all the way back to ancient times, with detail to spare - a feat not accomplished since Rahxephon). And as for the music, its intro was by far the best of the assorted shows (save for Puzzle) that I've seen in the past year.

It arrived in a small package. Up until this point in time I'd never bought an eroge before, and certainly had never had the opportunity to hold one in my hands. In fact, the desire to possess one had never disturbed the solid refuge of my soul, until the beauty of the anime series tore into that barrier like grapeshot. And now here I sit, staring at this blog entry on one screen, and Fate/Stay Night - the game - on the other. Wow.

And then it hits me: this is a visual novel. Keyword there, novel. Not "novel," as in new and interesting, but novel, as in an extended work of prose or fiction. The second keyword here is extended. For all intents and purposes, extended here means: way more Japanese than I understand. And that's what hit me. With a game so focused on accompanying textual prompts, how am I supposed to slog through all the dialogue and descriptions (that I can't understand) to get to the good parts (by this I mean the fight scenes and dramatic pictures that accompany the text)?

So I give up. Like Nana, in Dan Kim's Nana's Everyday Life.

Note: The good news is that the translation group Mirror-Moon has finished translating the Fate scenario into English, and will likely have it done by the end of the year (crossing my fingers).

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The Blogger Identity

This post comes because of a long-running history of efforts to "individualize" myself on the internet. By individualize, I mean that I have made an effort for other anime bloggers to know me by the alias I use. It's not really all that difficult, since the only thing truly involved is making enough intelligent posts for the blogger to take notice and say, "hey, [alias] is involved in my blog and likes what I write - I'll return the favor." But there is a small problem.

Most anime bloggers don't have this problem because they either use a nickname (TJ Han) or a true internet alias (Bateszi, for instance). In my case, however, I settled for using my given name, Michael. This did not pose a problem in the beginning, as I was typically the only Michael on the blogs I frequented. However, over the course of time I have seen an influx of "other" Michaels into these blogs...and things have become a bit messy.

For the most part these "others" are harmless - just a reader posting a comment without the link attached to the alias. One case stands out alarmingly...that of Anime Otaku's Michael (hereafter referred to in italics, while my alias of Michael will be bold - after all, this is my blog, right?). It's too great a problem to ignore.

I suppose that I could give in and change my alias, from Michael to Samurai_Kenshin or something like that (in fact, Samurai_Kenshin is my typical alias in forums). But then what will happen to all the investment I laid into building up my original alias? Does it even matter? Will people just naturally accept it, and it'll be like nothing even happened?

This isn't an identity crisis, it's a crisis of practicality. When it's getting to the point where this Michael and I are both posting on the same blogs, on the same topics, with the same general answers (he even loves NHK ni Youkoso! as much as I do), well...what's supposed to happen?

A compromise, perhaps? I can change my alias to Michael B. and he can keep his as is? Or maybe he can add his last initial to his name? Just a thought. You people with the crazy names (Hige, Bateszi) have it so easy...Michael is such a gdf-ing popular name.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Episodes that Stand Out - Samurai X

So...more great episodes (well, one this time, at least). I have another entry that I'm dying to write (about the whole loli fetish thing) but for now this will do.

First, why am I devoting a whole post to just a single episode? Well, it comes down to a comment that J. Valdez posted on my last entry, saying that he was just waiting for the Samurai X episode to appear. And here it is. However, I'm doing this one a bit different, because I want to clear up something that I mistakenly wrote in a long-ago post I made about The Five Most Memorable Scenes in Anime. As first, I put a very good scene, the scene in which Tomoe first witnesses Kenshin's ability to kill. It's a great scene, but my description didn't do it justice, and in fact butchers the level of emotional depth contained therein. Having just rewatched the OVA for what is probably around the twentieth time, I want to rectify both my mistake and my insult to what is undoubtedly my favorite Japanese Animation work, ever.

To this end I've compiled a small list of scenes that I feel deserve title of "best scene," with the intent of weighing the pros and cons of each in order to come up with the deserved moniker of "best episode," not to mention recitifying my "best scene" flop many months ago. we go.

First, the scenes. I've provided a snapshot of each that I feel accurately captures the mood of the scene, as well as a brief description to get everyone reacquainted with what happened (following the basic layout of the last post).

Episode 1 / "The Bloody Rain"
It's a scene straight from a chambara film. Kenshin, a Choshu assassin, finds himself the object of an assassination attempt by a ninja hired by the Shogunate. Bound by the ninja's chain, Kenshin uses the ninja's own sword to slice him in half. The blood released by this act showers Tomoe, who happens to be walking by at this particular moment. "You caused the rain to bleed," she says, before drunkenness and shock catch up to her - and she collapses.

The scene's poignancy is due to the buildup we've experienced over the course of the episode. References to Kenshin's ability to kill without feeling have been thrust at us from Iizuka, Katsura, even Kenshin himself. However, the most important quote relating to this scene actually comes some time before it. Katsura, in speaking of Kenshin's inability to experience regret or guilt over his killings, says that "it [the guilt] will devour him." In fact, this moment is the first time that Kenshin shows emotion during the entire first episode. Add a rousing musical piece (which starts up whenever there's a grand finale moment in the OVA), and you have one solid scene overall.

But, it isn't the best one. Tomoe's lines are a bit overdramatic, and of course, the characters, while they have already been developed quite well, still need time to connect with the audience.

Episode 2 / "I am your sheath"
Another Tomoe line. This is actually the same scene as the one that I listed in my "Five most memorable scenes" post. However, there's a big difference between why I'm listing it here, this time, as opposed to in that entry. Up until now, I have always watched Samurai X dubbed. Practically treason, right? And I'm not the sort of otaku who watches things dubbed - the only series that I think the dub outdoes the sub is Cowboy Bebop - but for some reason (maybe an emotional attachment to the dub?) I've never watched it subbed until just a few days ago. The subbed version does shed light on some things, and brings more meaning to much of the series. This scene in particular benefits from the more true-to-the-original translation.

It all comes from what Tomoe is actually intending when she says, "I am your sheath." When she and Kenshin run into the first group of Shinsen-gumi, Kenshin (in the sub) orders her to move away so she will not have to watch him kill them. However, she says her aforementioned line, and then follows it up with: "I want to see you work." This is the key to the scene's drama, not the "You're all dead!" that I so sophomorically alluded to in my older post.

Even more compelling is the expression on Tomoe's face after she has watched Kenshin dispatch the Shinsen-gumi soldiers. I think it's the closest thing to hate we ever see appear on her face, as if she suddenly can see what Kenshin did to Kiyosato (Tomoe's former fiance, who Kenshin killed). In the end though, this episode also does not warrant the award of "best scene." It's very good, very solid, and serves as a great lead-in to the second half of the OVA. However, as we'll see, there is a scene with even greater power still to come.

I skipped over Episode 3, mainly for the sake of space (this is getting to be one of the longest posts I've written).

Episode 4 / "What is your name?"
That's it. The very last scene in the OVA. The similarities between the beginning, when Kenshin was first asked his name, and the end are striking. In the beginning Kenshin couldn't protect anyone, because he lacked the physical ability, and because of that three women sacrificed themselves for him. In the end, Kenshin couldn't protect his love, because he lacked the maturity to understand how to use his abilities, and because of that his love sacrificed herself for him.

Changing his name was his first step into the adult world, where people have the power to make their own decisions. But his adolescence was too much, and he was too inexperienced. At the end of the OVA, Kenshin is finally a man - and befitting of the name that his master gave him.

The Best Scene - and - The Best Episode.

I've never had a taste for the Rurouni Kenshin anime series, or the manga, because I saw Samurai X first. The level of feeling I experienced watching this has gone unmatched by any other anime film, OVA, TV series or otherwise that I've seen before or since. It's the greatest work I know, and I hope that you all, even if you don't hold it on the pedestal that I do, have had the opportunity to share it.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Episodes that Stand Out

I think we all have an episode or two from every series we watch that really stays with us, that personally hits home in some way or another. And in some cases, a particular episode from one series will resonate with many people. It doesn't always make sense why those episodes hit us so hard, but usually they speak to a universal human quality - true love, devotion, sacrifice - that epitomizes some emotion that we would like to experience or act out ourselves. What follows is a select list of episodes and their parent series that made enough of an impact for me to remember them.

Noir / Season of Hell (13)
This episode has such a ridiculous name. Honestly, for such a beautiful episode, the name doesn't fit at all. This episode is essentially a love story between Kirika and a man who was formerly in the French Foreign Legion. The two meet when Kirika happens to notice him painting alongside a river, and they quickly form a quiet bond. Kirika even begins to take up painting herself, a skill that doesn't fit her profile as an assassin. Of course, the love can't last (Mereille says so herself) and it ends in tragedy - Kirika's love dies, and she is left to regret the fact that she ever opened herself up to such weakness.

Of all of Noir, this is the only episode that really touched me at all. The others felt so contrived, so caught up in the "girls with guns" moniker that they couldn't breathe. But this one...there's real chemistry between our female lead and her artistic, romantic interest. Both are people of few words, who accept the other for who they are without question. On some level it's actually a very child-like love, an innocent pureness pervading the whole thing. Of course, that's why one has to die, because love like that can't exist in an evil world. But the man's parting words really hit home, his loving acceptance of Kirika even to the end really makes you wonder about him: "don't worry about it, it's fine." Even when everything obviously isn't fine (he's dying even as he speaks those words), he has the courage and discipline, like the soldier that he is, to put on a strong front.

Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight / Death...A Gentle Heart Passes On (7)
For a series with such lackluster animation overall, I don't think there's anyone who can forget the amount of money poured into this one sequence for a character who was, in the end, quite minor. Orson was definitely, as my friends call him, "a badass," but not one who necessitated such an expenditure of the tv show's budget (the animation in this five minute sequence is OVA quality, whereas the rest is so poor I'd prefer not to keep witing about it).

So what happened? Orson, a mercenary, sacrifices his life for his partner's - Shiris.

The sacrifice itself plays out in true dramatic form, with Orson going berserk (literally - he allows the God of Madness to take control of his soul) and wiping out a large group of Ashram's soldiers in order to save Shiris. The most dramatic moment comes when Orson has cut down the last of the Marmo soldiers, and the only person left is Shiris, who willingly offers herself to Orson.

Orson's sacrifice on its own is touching, but Shiris' utter realization of what it means for her is that much more dramatic. "Strike me down. Because it's my fault that you're going to die."

Karekano / Her Difficult Problem (4)
In every most memorable episode, music plays a deciding role in the emotions that we feel. However, in on other episode is music such a huge player as in Karekano. Yukino and Arima are in the "talking" stage of their high school relationship. Arima has already confessed his love to Yukino, and now it's Yukino's turn to respond. Does she, or doesn't she? Well, she thinks she does, but she just can't quite get around to responding. What follows is the most bizarre set of confession attempts ever in anime (but, strangely enough, quite true to real life). And finally, the climax.

You can't get the kind of climax that you have in this episode with still frames. You have to have some body, and the body for this episode comes in the form of the music. We all know how to feel when we hear certain kinds of music - feel happy, feel sad, laugh, cry - the emotions are practically mapped out for us. However, it takes a certain kind of musician to be able to tweak the emotions in a way that doesn't feel forced. And somehow Shiro Sagisu pulls it off. One moment we're laughing at Yukino's antics, the next we're feeling the soft strings of nostalgia pulling at our hearts.

That's what Karekano was for me - like a sweet memory of the past. And this episode crammed all those feel-good moments that I had during high school, and those pure, fantastic moments that I experienced with my first girlfriend, into thirty minutes.

Having already done three episodes thus far, I'm going to hold off on the rest till later (and there are plenty more to come). And the episode I wanted to do (one from Rahxephon, guess which one...) I didn't even get to this time. Oh well.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On Hiatus...again...

Well, I'm getting eye surgery tomorrow, so I won't be able to see for a while (at least not well enough to write a post). Probably a week, maybe more, until the steroids fix the cutting that's going to be done on my poor eyes. Not that this is bad news or anything, considering my sporadic update schedule. I've been trying to get some posts thrown together, but everything I write seems forced or contrived (or, even worse, like a copy of a blog post someone else has done). So for now the blog's going to stay as it is now - stagnant. Hopefully I can get in touch with my inner self enough to get back the motivation to get back on a regular update schedule.

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