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Archive for July, 2012

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Episode 14 of Accel World brought us a new ending theme for show, full of naughty butterflies and jealous girlfriends. Most people describe the ending with one word: cute. My gut reaction was to agree, of course, but is that all there is to the ED? Is the fight presented in the ending a comical fantasy, or is it actually taking place in the show itself?

 

Kuroyukihime and Haruyuki are one odd couple, to say the least. She is in love with him and quite open about it – enough to confess her love before risking her life to save Haruyuki from harm. Haruyuki himself would not mind getting closer to his sempai, as his occasional fantasies seem to imply. And yet the relationship will not budge, held back by the personal issues of the two. Under normal circumstances, they would have to grasp the nettle and sort those issues out or suffer endless awkward moments. (Un)fortunately, the two have the ideal excuse to postpone resolving the matters at hand – the Accel World.

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“I have to reach level 10 and learn the truth behind this world.”

“I have to become strong enough to protect her.”

Their alternate selves not only provide them with an excuse to forget about the real world, but even affect their relationship outside the game. Legion master and her subordinate. Parent and child. Those tags help them dance around the issue of their true relationship.

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As her avatar latches onto Haruyuki, the flesh-and-bone Kuroyukihime can only watch the two drifting away. The image of Kuroyukihime bound by chains, which we know from the first opening, returns here, reinforced. “Right now, you can still turn back.” The words of warning she once spoke to Haruyuki also show that she believes it is too late for her – she is prisoner of the Accel World until the realization of her ambition or utter ruin.

 

Which does Kuroyukihime desire more: the boy by her side, or the truth beyond the darkness? And could she force herself to choose between the two? Could she find the strength to smack her virtual self over the head, grab Haruyuki and walk away without once looking back? The answer remains unknown.   

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Tari Tari… not one of those shows that will get a reasonable title translation. What does tari tari even mean?

Well… “Doing this and that.”

Sounds like the start of a great adventure, doesn’t it? 

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When you come back home in the middle of the night, your relatives are likely to ask “What were you doing out so late?” If you had a run-in with the local gang after drinking suspicious liquids and waking up in an unknown place (like many young people do these days, I’m told) you might be tempted to just answer “Stuff.”

The Japanese love their vague answers, too, so they actually have a vagueness indicator, the tari in this show’s title. In the situation mentioned above, a Japanese kid could say they were having a walk, add tari to the end to imply there was also “other stuff” involved, and avoid the subject without lying.

While there are voices bemoaning the increase of “trash answers” using tari among young people, the short word also serves some important functions in the language. It can be used to imply that a list of actions or qualities is not exhaustive, or that the actions or qualities are not constant in nature… Basically, aside from “vagueness”, tari also implies “variety”.

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You can see this reflected both in the main title screen as well as the episode title screen, where a variety of hues is used to present the titular tari tari.

One of the main staff behind Hanasaku Iroha once described the main concept of the show as follows: “The girls haven’t yet achieved anything. Which means they can still become anything they want to.” It seems P.A. Works is not quite done with the theme.

Youth is the time when you only have a vague image of yourself.

The time to do as many different things as possible to discover who you are.

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Mankind has Declined – lovable fairies, simple character designs and vivid colors that bring both to life. The perfect packaging for a sugary fairy tale. Well, sugar is an important plot point, too…

 

But if you’ve seen the first episode or two, you don’t need me to tell you that what’s inside the package isn’t exactly your typical fairy-tale. The social commentary is harsh, the characters jaded. But it’s exactly because of the show’s cutesy style that it never feels gloomy or preachy. 

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The episode title screen shows how much though goes into maintaining this unusual balance. To create a fairy-tale like feel, we have:

  1. a fairies-and-sweets theme
  2. a rich and curly font style
  3. non-standard hiragana usage
  4. non-standard honorifics usage

The first two points are obvious enough. What about point three? We have three nouns that would be written with kanji in standard Japanese: fairy (妖精), secret (秘密), and factory (工場). Japanese children learn how to write the kanji for ‘secret’ in sixth grade and the kanji for ‘factory’ in second grade, but both are intentionally written with hiragana in the title, like they would be in a picture book geared towards young readers. The kanji for ‘fairy’ stand out here, especially since the first half of the word uses a kanji that goes beyond the basic schools curriculum entirely. But this, again, is common treatment for a select few keywords that will repeat again and again in a given picture book (usually with furigana to help the children out).

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The fourth point regards honorifics. The honorific –san is probably one of the best known among anime fans, often equated with the English Mr. and Ms. In this case it is attached to a plural noun, and a species name in particular. You’ll probably never see this usage in everyday Japanese… except in fairy tales and when speaking to children. Mr. Doggy and Ms. Sakura Tree are perfectly valid characters of a fairy tale, and the honorific helps distinguish those ‘characters’ from simple ‘creatures’.

Every part of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is packed with detail like this, and it will certainly be fun to look for those details in the episodes to come. Though to be honest, I was sold when I heard Nakahara Mai’s performance in this…        

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Some of you expected me to go gaga over episode 12 of Achiga, and I won’t disappoint. I don’t think a single post is enough to cover all the points of note, so I’ll start things off with the main character.

Onjouji Toki. It goes without saying that she has been overdoing things, taking crazy risks and turning a tile-matching game into a life-or-death ordeal. What I haven’t touched upon in previous posts is that everything she’s done in the Teru match is utter nonsense in terms of helping out her team win the match. Two teams advance to the finals, and there’s basically no way for Toki not to place second if she just bails all teh time. The other players get ronned from time to time, Toki doesn’t. The abysmal probability of her losing second place despite that disappeared when she won the first hand of the match and when Shindouji and Achiga ate one ron each, proving Teru was not aiming to knock out the no.2 seed Senriyama specifically.

The reason Toki’s actions were suicidal, in more ways than one, was because her fight was never about point totals to begin with.

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In the tournament one year ago, Eguchi Sera did not face Miyanaga Teru. But she ended up with a no less painful role. After all, “by the time it was their turn, the match was as good as over.” How did Sera feel, tens of thousands of points behind her opponents and unable to do a thing about it? The powerlessness she felt back then was like what Ikeda Kana experienced in her fight against Amae Koromo – forced to go for high-scoring hands against opponents who could not possibly play into those hands – a merciless quicksand dragging her ever deeper into despair. The existence called ‘Miyanaga Teru’ made everything meaningless – her effort, her determination, her dreams. And when Ryuuka tells Toki of Sera’s sadness, it is because that is easier than talking about her own memories and pain. After all, she went through the same.

Losing happens. They both knew this. They could get over it. There was just one problem. This.

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Osaka is huge. It is 2,871,680 people kind of huge. Those thousands of lights support the students attending Senriyama. The several hundred students take pride in their mahjong club. The several dozen mahjong club members come along for the Nationals to cheer on their regular team. The five member team based its schedule around supporting Onjouji Toki.

Tell those people that Miyanaga Teru is an absolute power and that second place is good enough. Tell them that it wasn’t worth trying. Tell them it wasn’t worth pulling out all the stops.

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Toki risked a lot. But as the champion draws the tile that will cost her 16 000 points, we see her look up. Miyanaga Teru and Onjouji Toki lock gazes – the first time during the match that the champion is forced to look somebody straight in the eyes, acknowledge them. Like Kokaji-pro right now, Teru will remember this match even after ten years have passed. She might not remember Toki’s name, and that’s fine.

Senriyama did it.

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Subara (a.k.a Hanada Kirame)

Exam time over, back to mahjong girls.

 

Saki 11 had more of Teru going wild, Subara’s ‘sacrificial pawn’ one-liner that had many Japanese fans swoon and Toki realizing that yes, the nationals make you do crazy things.

 

It also had Toki and Subara stopping Teru’s East 4 dealer turn.

 

How the two team up and give it their all for a common goal is nothing short of beautiful. First of all, Subara proves herself the best prepared for her match against Teru. Sitting as the next player after the champion, Subara decides to pon her way to victory. Of course, it’s not like she just got a hand full of pairs to begin with and went with the flow – she had to aim for pairs and triplets to begin with, throwing away her sequences. Why pons? Calling a lot makes both her hand and the general flow of the game easier to read for both Toki and Kuro, which is not without meaning. But more importantly, each time Subara calls pon, Miyanaga Teru loses an opportunity to draw a tile. If Subara pons on Toki’s discard, the order ‘resets’ back to Subara’s turn and Toki gets an extra draw. If Subara pons on Kuro’s discard, both Toki and Kuro get an extra draw. If you count in the discards Subara salvaged for her own hand, she gave team Teru Busters ten tiles of advantage while the champion was just sitting there, unable to do a thing. With four more draws to her hand, Toki is finally able to outrun Teru to a tsumo – this is what Toki refers to when saying that Subara ‘allowed her to win.’ And Subara knew this is what she has to do from the very beginning – as she says, she has no choice now that she’s South to Teru’s East. It’s not something you can do with every hand, not even something guaranteed to prove effective every time, but it was a tactic that a powerless human came up with against one of the most powerful probability manipulators of the Saki universe, and it worked. My respect, Subara sempai.

Of course, the reason the tactic worked so beautifully this time around was because Toki was out there being awesome, too. Playing into Subara’s pons while advancing her own hand could be compared to tightrope walking while juggling burning sticks, a feat so fiendishly difficult it seems simply impossible for an ordinary person to accomplish. Then again, Toki is not even close to being ‘ordinary’. Two turns ahead – the power that brought the Senriyama Ace to the brink of exhaustion ideally giver her pon / not pon information on eight different tiles ahead of time – that’s almost a fourth of the entire tile set! And all the while, Toki gets exclusive info about the tiles that will and won’t come on her draws, further accelerating her own hand. With the double boost provided by Subara’s tactics and her own ability, it is no wonder Toki was able to break through the stream of Teru’s endless strikes.

 

And yet, this victory was not what Toki really wanted. Sorry Shindouji, I couldn’t see your last tile. And what does Subara do in response? She flips her last remaining tile face down. It doesn’t matter. That was marvelous.

 

Now, hiding a losing hand before shuffling for the next hand is nothing uncommon. It’s often considered bad manners to brag about your would-be winning hands, and there’s usually little reason to give your opponent more info about your playing style than necessary. But just as discard do, this simple action can have deeper significance in Saki. Kajiki Yumi wordlessly hides her one-away from tempai kokushi musou hand that could have been the key to her victory over Saki and Koromo. Nearly winning doesn’t count. Hisa flips her tiles face down before Saki can draw her winning tile in their Individuals match, already knowing what’s to come and admitting defeat. That’s as far as I go.

Subara doesn’t know exactly how Toki’s ability works, but she understands enough – ‘Sorry, I couldn’t see your last tile.’ Onjouji Toki wanted to play into Subara’s hand, but couldn’t. Was one of the tiles in my winning hand the one Shindouji needed to go out? That’s the question lurking in Toki’s mind as she claims victory. Not her victory, their victory, even if the heartless point totals say something else. But Hanada Kirame understands. She flips her last tile down and buries the answer to the question in darkness until the match is all over and they go their separate ways. It doesn’t matter. That was marvelous.

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