Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Various’ Category

vlcsnap-2012-12-09-15h28m51s229

“You know, I thought the world ended right then and there. With that last blast against Black Forest Peak, I thought there couldn’t be something more exciting, more incredible waiting ahead. So I thought I would be satisfied, whatever the result…”

So yeah, when I started watching this show, I had no intention of shipping any of the characters together. Blame the people highlighting jealous Yukari screenshots and the like.

I have probably had more experience with writing “opposites attract” couples than similar people coming together, but I see Yukari and Miho as the latter. Both of them suffer from low self-esteem/self-confidence and need acceptance, a place to stretch their wings after a period of hardship. 

When taking on Girls und Panzer in general, and especially Yukari as the main pov of a story, I thought there were two basic rules to follow:

  1. No matter how serious the characters’ intentions, the execution must be sufficiently silly.
  2. The best way to express feelings is through a tank.

Other than that, the setting of Girls und Panzer offers a fun challenge in the often invisible differences between the common sense of its inhabitants and that of our world. The existence of a tank license, with separate rules and regulations, is a necessity brought about by the existence of sensha-dou. The south-east standard mentioned in the story refers to the south-eastern part of the city as seen on a standard map, which is drawn with the assumption that the bow of the ship is pointing north.

Here’s hoping that both of the girls find themselves stronger people after their adventure with this year’s sensha-dou tournament is over.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

People say many things about Kawahara Reki, but almost never that he is a good writer. This is quite puzzling, as we are talking about the probably most important light novel writer of 2012 – the author of two long-running light novel series (one of which took first place in this year’s "Kono Raito Noberu ga Sugoi!" ranking) that got turned into two equally successful anime series. It stands to reason that Kawahara is doing something right, even as he gets continuously bashed for his clichéd plots or simplistic villains. What is it that gets him his faithful readers?

Accel_World

First of all, Kawahara Reki keeps to a highly specialized topic matter – multiplayer game worlds and the people playing them. By this, he establishes a unique identity among light novel authors that allows his works to stand out in this highly homogenous field. His two series are different from most others but at the same time similar to each other. This makes it highly likely that supporters of one of his series will reach for, and find themselves satisfied with, the other one. Both of Kawahara’s series add to the other’s strength. The author keeps a delicate balance of familiarity and novelty between the two series – the topic matter is highly similar in both, but there are also at least two important differences. One of them is the main character. In Accel World, Haruyuki is the eternal underdog, easy to sympathize and identify with because of all his failings. In Sword Art Online, Kirito is the unmatched champion, vehicle of chuunibyou fantasies. Kawahara takes full advantage of those opposing character archetypes and thus caters to a wide range of needs of his audience.

Sword-Art-Online

Another difference is how while the characters of SAO slip into the world of online games, in AW it is the Brain Burst program itself that invades the everyday lives of its players. This slight difference is actually key to keeping the settings in Kawahara’s novels from overlapping. This in turn lets him give the stories longevity through constant exploration of the settings. The ability to churn out more volumes without losing steam is what makes or breaks a light novel series, but it is easy to see that Kawahara’s overarching plots alone would probably not be enough to glue his series together. In SAO, the characters’ only initial goal, getting out of the game alive, is accomplished within the first novel. In AW, Kuroyukihime’s crusade against the other kings seems at first to be the main plotline, but it soon enough takes a backseat to other developments. The novels maintain their continuity not through their conflicts, but the characters and the worlds they live in.

Shuraba ka yo?

Another case where Kawahara shows his understanding of the workings of a contemporary light novel is his treatment of female characters. One of the main reasons why recent light novel series are so alike is that most of them follow a tried-and-true formula of introducing a new potential love interest in every volume. This lets authors keep things fresh even without breaking new ground, takes advantage of the illustrations that go along with a light novel, fits right in with the semi-episodic nature of the genre and is an easy way to just go through most of the common character archetypes while maintaining a decent level of popularity. While this might be the perfect recipe to write a mediocre light novel, there is no denying how potent the pattern is. Here, Kawahara’s novels set themselves apart form the main trend by featuring clear-cut main couples that progress swiftly to the “official status”, with confessions in the initial volumes of both series. But even with an established main couple and a faithful protagonist, Kawahara does not turn a blind eye to the potential of the golden pattern, finding ways to create tender (if not necessarily romantic) moments between the hero and an ever-expanding cast of female characters. Which is not to say that Kawahara mistreats his female fans. Without spoiling too much, there’s even a scene in one of the later AW novels with Takumu straddling Haruyuki on a bed and demanding for Haru to “mess him up”. While the actual significance of the scene might not be exactly what it seems, it is not entirely impossible that this is Kawahara’s way of nodding towards the yaoi enthusiasts among his readers, showing the great width of his target audience.

3fe57903

If nothing else, Kawahara Reki knows exactly what his readers want, and he delivers. Critics might not see his works as worthwhile, but would the tens of thousands of his fans agree? 

Read Full Post »

The real-life town of Ooarai is currently cooling down from the recent Ankou Matsuri / Anglerfish Festival. Ooarai itself boasts a population of just a bit below twenty thousand, and in recent years the number of visitors for the festival has been estimated to total about twenty-five thousand. This year, however, the number of participants has suddenly shot up to around fifty-five thousand. I wonder why~

Tour around Ooarai (posted some time before the festival):

The Girls und Panzer crew can also be spotted on the Ibaraki prefecture home site and, naturally, on the Ooarai town home site. It should be no surprise, though, that those particular girls know how to carry out an invasion. Panzer vor!

Read Full Post »

Introducing an amusing pastime the Saki staff set up for us – Achiga’s What to Discard?

The basic idea is the same as the chess puzzles that sometimes appear in western newspapers. You pick one tile which you consider the best discard and click on it. You’ll be taken to a screen saying what tiles other players picked and what the author of the question suggests. And you can do it 6000+ times, or as long as you don’t run out of steam.

As long as you can recognize the tiles, you can have plenty of fun with this even with no knowledge of Japanese. The small tile above is the current dora tile (not the dora indicator, which would be one tile lower). The numbers after the question number are the hand and turn number, respectively. But most of the time, you can safely ignore those.

All questions are user-submitted and you can make your own question without registering. Which of course results in tasks like: Win with a baiman. Also, you’re Miyanaga Saki and a suggested answer based on anticipating a future closed kan. If the answers to some of the questions seem weirdly off, there might something crazy in the additional info box…

Have fun!

 

Read Full Post »

This will become the world's most powerful army...

Mahou Sensei Negima, the epic battle manga (sometimes dressing up us a love comedy) written by Love Hina author Akamatsu Ken has recently finished it’s nine-year-long run. The series got two separate anime series and a movie… but all of those have little to do with the manga, both in terms of story and quality. If you want to know what Negima is all about, the best way is to check out the source material, now that’s it’s all ready and just waiting to be read. If you need some incentive, here’s a small preview of what Negima has on offer:

  1. Do no evil.
    Cliche: No taking the wrong path for shounen main characters. It seems that whenever they are put in a situation where their only option is to choose the lesser evil, they will freeze up and do nothing or get a deus ex machina power up to solve the problem instead.
    Negima: A ten year old boy openly declares that he will get his hands dirty to save those he cares for, and has no qualms following through with his words.

  2. Know no evil.
    Cliche: To make characters easy to empathize with and prevent them from making the difficult choices mentioned above, it’s best to avoid having them think too much. The most common way to do that is just to make them stupid…
    Negima: By the time the story ends, the characters will have dabbled in everything from philosophy to politics. They might not be happy to learn that nothing is ever as clear-cut as it seems, but that’s also something they need to accept to make the right choices.

  3. Cause no evil.
    Cliche: Evil people don’t have families that will mourn after them. The main character’s building-smashing technique will never cause serious inconvenience to any innocent passers-by.
    Negima: If saving the world means starting a civil war, then so be it.

  4. Beat up the bad guy to save the world.
    Cliche:
    Beating up the bad guys causes candy to fall from the sky and flowers to bloom.
    Negima: Beating people up acts as a nice warm-up excercise. “Saving the world” is done through years of effort of thousands of people and some brilliant minds supporting it all from behind their desks.

  5. Line up according to power level, please.
    Cliche:
    Out of common courtesy, bad guys only pop out when the good guys are within a power-up of being powerful enough to beat them.
    Negima: Someone please tell me how Negi survived the first few arcs 0_0…

  6. A threat today, jobbing tommorow.
    Cliche:
    Power inflation. Expect most characters to become irrelevant an arc or two after they are introduced.
    Negima: We-can’t-even-scratch-him-let’s-drop-a-satellite-bomb-on-him-instead.

  7. Stay in the kitchen.
    Cliche:
    Women can be medics. Or they can make lunch.
    Negima: Don’t give up hope, guys! Your time to shine will come… someday.

  8. Stay at home.
    Cliche:
    If you want sceentime, learn how to punch first.
    Negima: Sometimes there’s nothing scarier than a non-combatant with a broken ability and enough guts to abuse it.

  9. Moral high ground.
    Cliche:
    See the cowardly bastard laughing evilly with a nasty grin on his face? That’s the enemy.
    Negima: You know there’s something going on when half the good guys willingly defect to the enemy’s side…

  10. ???
    Cliche: Hikikomori NEETs don’t appear.
    Negima: Hikikomori NEETs kick ass.

You’re sure to find more, so why not give it a try?

Read Full Post »

Inside my heart, I desperately try to recall Mami’s smile

The kind smile which has always given me courage and comfort

But what comes to mind

Is only the cruel image of a yellow dress torn into shreds…

Mami’s body with nothing above her neck…

Character relationships and scenes that benefit from insight into characters’ emotions are the novel’s strong points. But what the novelization cannot escape are the comparisons to the anime scenes made memorable by Shinbou and Inu Curry. The battle against the TV witch which takes advantage of Madoka’s guilt over Mami’s death is no less engaging in the novels thanks to the psychological aspect. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other scenes involving battles and magic. Descriptions in those scenes tend to be underwhelming, too short and simple to paint a vivid image. Mami’s “Gate of Babylon” barrage from episode one, for example, is described as follows:

“Suddenly, she released a great number of rifles into the air and fired them all at once. The projectiles rained mercilessly outside the ring of light enveloping us, blowing away all of the eerie things surrounding us.”

While there is nothing wrong with the description, it probably doesn’t measure up to the image conjured in the anime.

The battle against the garden witch, seemingly a golden opportunity to play around with the concept of a magic battle without the time restrictions of an anime episode, feels more like a laconic summary of the moves exchanged in the anime and does not attempt to create a true feeling of tension. Charlotte’s transformation scene also doesn’t live up to its full potential.

It could be argued that the simplicity and brevity of those scenes are a conscious decision on the author’s part, necessary to stay true to Madoka’s voice as the narrator. But it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the author takes magic, something incredible and unfathomable, too much for granted.

Other scenes where the anime remains ahead of the book are those where Shinbou shows us the power of detailed visuals. The restaurant scene where Homura recreates Mami’s final moments by twisting off the cover of her coffee, the incredible clash of the mundane with something cruel and macabre, is missing from the novel. Similar details in other scenes are also lost in the transition. Of course, those scenes are more proof of the anime’s quality than any particular fault of the writer.

Yet another similar issue arises with the lack of voice acting. While it is the advantage of a novelization that it allows the reader to find a new voice for the characters, this doesn’t work as well for characters we aren’t supposed to understand in the first place. It is a shame there is no way to transplant Katou Emiri’s stellar performance as Kyuubey into written form.

As the novelization is made up of two volumes, I’d like to applaud the way the material is divided. The first volume covers events up to episode six of the anime While this may appear as an obvious solution, splitting the story cleanly in half, the trick here is that the events of the last minute of the episode are left out along with everything Madoka doesn’t see for herself. Separated from her soul gem, Miki Sayaka collapses lifelessly to the ground. Akemi Homura disappears without a word. And finally, Kyuubey opens the jar of truth, his words slipping out like maggots starved for food, corroding hope with despair. The book closes with Kyuubey’s exasperated question “I don’t get you. Why do people care so much about the whereabouts of the soul?” This is the moment which transforms a world filled with danger and adversity into a cruel farce where despair was the only choice to begin with. A great way to end the volume.

On a technical note, this volume contains 291 numbered pages, including ten pages of full-color illustrations. There are also some extra pages with advertisements for Madoka goods and some other books. While text density per page is the same as in an average pocket-size light novel, the format is bigger and allows for a bigger font (making it easy to read, but difficult to carry around.)

The story uses little flowery language (due to Madoka’s narration), making the reading difficulty level quite low. On the other hand, it uses very little furigana, requiring a very solid grasp of kanji to be enjoyed.

The removable cover is beautiful but dark, showing the main characters on a black background with looks of worry, anger and yearning on their faces. This is a more honest approach to what’s actually inside than with the anime… but the contents page is as pink and kawaii as it gets. The inside cover is dark purple with a subtle pattern of Kyuubeys, soul gems and other symbols, and it displays the title proudly with large letters. Again, not something easy to walk around with and read on the train, but it looks great on the shelf.

Bottom line: The strengths and weaknesses of the novel are different enough from the original to keep things fresh and interesting throughout. While the novel can’t replace the wholesome experience the anime offers, it is not a bad read in itself.

(Review of the second volume to come sometime in the future. Also to all of you who have made it this far… have some chibi Saya and Madocchi. Sorry for the quality ;])

Read Full Post »

Do you remember this girl? This is a story about Kaname Madoka

A story that tells of her undeniable existence

How much of the impact of the explosive mixture known as Madoka Magica should be attributed to each of its components? Urobuchi’s devilish story, Shinbou’s artistry, Kajiura’s captivating compositions, Ume’s deceptively cute character designs… all of them fit together like puzzle pieces to form a single, bigger picture. But now, the novelization of the record-breaking anime series gives us the opportunity to isolate one of those pieces and judge it on its own merits.

The name behind this book is of course not Urobuchi himself, but one Hajime Ninomae, who’s famous enough not to have his own page on the Japanese wiki. The afterword says he is the author of Yuushiki and Kukurikuri, neither of which gives any good hits on Google… Research shows that the former is a fairly typical romance-and-ghost story, while the latter a love story between a stalker guy and a suicidal girl too unlucky to succeed in her attempts to ‘reach the other side’. Wait, that actually sounds kind of interesting!

So the quality of the writing is a complete mystery. Well, make way for the trailblazer!

It is so delicious, it makes me feel guilty…

And I realize once more that I am alive.

That I can taste something delicious…

What I took for granted was actually such a blessing…

The fundamental difference between the anime and its novelization is perspective. While the anime could be considered a recording of events revolving around Kaname Madoka, the novel takes things a step further by retelling those events through her eyes. This decision brings with it a challenge that needs to be overcome by the writer.

Copying the anime scene for scene would require a third-person omniscient narrator, as some developments take place without Madoka’s knowledge. One example is the entire Sayaka-Kyousuke subplot with its numerous hospital scenes. The novel deals with that part of the story through Madoka’s guesswork and observations, and sometimes even strays slightly from the anime script to add new conversations or slip the pink-haired heroine into some scenes she does not originally appear in. Ninomae manages to weave a sensible narrative without losing any key information in the process, and we get a fresh look on some of the scenes.

Once that difficulty is resolved, it is time to enjoy the benefits this kind of narration bestows on the story. With direct and constant access to Madoka’s thoughts, we always know when she notes a minute change in a friend’s expression and we can follow the reasoning leading her to make particular decisions. The author is granted the license to add any kind of new information at the drop of a hat, as long as it is at least peripherally related to Madoka. This is not to say that Ninomae goes crazy with reinventing Madoka, but neither is he afraid to develop some of the ideas presented in the anime.

Some of the themes Madoka’s narration allows us to better understand include:

  • The importance of Mami as Madoka’s role model. Madoka creates the magical girl version of herself in Mami’s image. But to Madoka, the magical girl persona overlaps with her vision of who she wants to become as a person, her ideal self. Fearless, invincible and infinitely kind to those around her… Through her meeting with Mami, Madoka finds a goal to strive for. The confident Madoka we see in the original timeline is probably the result of that pursuit.

  • Madoka’s relationship with Homura. The weak crybaby that Madoka is, she can’t help being afraid of the cold and silently angry Homura. But because she thinks about others more than about herself, there are also some things she notices. She doesn’t know why, but she realizes that her words often seem to hurt Homura, filling the girl’s cold eyes with flames of pain, anger and regret. Madoka helplessly tries to break through to the person she sees in those fleeting moments. In a way, Madoka sees a reflection of herself in Homura – it is revealed Madoka had had to transfer schools in the past, experiencing the feeling of being all alone in a new place.

  • Madoka’s relationship with Sayaka. Sayaka was Madoka’s savior when the latter transferred schools. And when the two became friends, Sayaka would always stand up for and protect Madoka. But Madoka’s gratitude is mixed with feelings of inferiority and guilt. If there is nothing she can pay Sayaka back with, can Madoka really call herself Sayaka’s friend? Madoka’s burden only grows heavier when Sayaka becomes a magical girl. Madoka’s greatest fear is coming true. She will be left behind, alone, because she isn’t strong enough to stand by Sayaka’s side when Sayaka needs it most. Because she never had the right to call herself Sayaka’s true friend to begin with…

(Continued in part two…)

Read Full Post »