elwen: (Default)
I just finished watching Kaleido Star, and I have to say:

Wow. What an amazing show.

It's still all sinking in, but I am just filled with this sense of happiness and satisfaction.

There are plenty of parts that aren't perfect, and believability is certainly not its strong point. But it forces you to forgive it all, because when everything comes together, it is just so beautiful and heartwarming.

I'm a sap, so lots of shows will make me cry, but I can't remember any other show that has made me cry nearly as much for things that aren't even sad. It just hits me before I realize it. Starts with a little smile, and then . . . release? relief? a surge of warmth and joy? I don't know.

Anyway, you should all watch it. I still have to watch the Extra Stage bonus episode OVA thing, but after that, my DVDs will be available for borrowing. ^_~

Or, you can now get the individual season boxsets from RightStuf for $20 each. Even the complete collection is less than the total I paid back when, I bet, and that's after I waited for each to be on Weekly Special. *mutters* But, if I had waited, I wouldn't have just finished the series, so I guess I can't complain.

Oh, and in case you didn't catch it last time because it was behind a spoiler cut:

Sakurai Takahiro as Leon = TRUE SPINZAKU XD XD XD
elwen: (reading)
I finished reading Doppelganger (a.k.a. "Witch"), by Marie Brennan. I've been in a mood for some good swords and sorcery lately, I think -- probably explains my rewatching Fellowship of the Ring the past two days and finally getting around to Netflixing Beowulf. (The latter movie is not recommended. Trippy! Bad CG! And not even in 3D!) But it's different when you already know the story, y'know?

Doppelganger wasn't the greatest writing in the world, but the plot is engaging -- even when you've accidentally spoiled yourself by reading the summary for the sequel. I couldn't put it down. [I figured I'd read about a hundred pages a day and finish it in four days, but I finished it in more like two.] And, most importantly for me, I loved the characters.

I guess I'm a teenage girl at heart, because I can't resist the protagonists of novels written for them. You know, the headstrong, stubborn girls who capture the admiration and loyalty of all the boys. Characters like Tamora Pierce's. It's not Mary Sue, but it's just as compelling of an archetype.

Oh, and I have a crush on Eclipse, which I knew would happen pretty much the moment his role was introduced. Similarly-skilled brother-figure with whom the protagonist can operate seamlessly? Sign me up.

One complaint about Brennan's writing: she doesn't do physical descriptions, apparently. I never picked up much about Miryo and Mirage's appearance except that they had red hair. I tried looking later, and I found nothing about Eclipse. I think the first physical description in the book, more than a chapter in, is about an antagonistic side character, and is limited to the color of her eyes, because of their poetic effect.

...in essence, Brennan writes the way I think -- in words, without much visualization. It's probably how I'd write, too, if I didn't force myself to try to give people faces. [To the extent that I write at all, of course.]

So it's unfair of me to criticize her, since I didn't even really notice that Eclipse had no appearance until my crush solidified. The other thing that helps is that I just finished FF4, so I basically picture Eclipse as looking like Edge in the FMV. Since the Hunters in Brennan's world are basically ninjas. She can call them bounty hunters all she wants, but they dress in all black and sneak around.

Her bio says she's an anthropology grad student, and it showed in the way she structured witch society: super-systematic, to the point of being unrealistic. [Again, much like I set up magic systems in my earlier worlds like Telarin and Icanthra.] She also used Japanese-inspired names, which was incredibly distracting for me. Maybe just because it made some of the names, like Tari-nakana, feel really clunky.

Anyway, those were my random babblings about the book. It was enjoyable, and kind of just what I needed. [And then I watched Aeon Flux just now, and the way Aeon ran around and fought people was just like Mirage and the fight scenes in the book, haha. Minus guns, of course.] Now my dilemma is whether to go borrow the sequel and read it before I leave for Japan. Considering I already have located the nearest branch with a copy, and have the page with its hours open in Firefox, you might guess how that is going to come out. ^_^;;

Story about the library, with lots of boring background. )

Oh yeah, so the way I discovered this book is that it was recommended to me at some point by PaperBack Swap. Somehow I found it intriguing enough to follow up on. And I'm glad I did.
elwen: (Default)
[This is kind of a booklog, written as dated. I figured it'd be easier to read if I kept it all together in one post.]


I've been reading The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. I read about the book in Newsweek a while ago and was intrigued by the premise: basically, what would happen to the planet if humans were to suddenly vanish, leaving behind all their edifices and environmental modifications? Cut for length. )
elwen: (Default)
I discovered Scrapblog yesterday. It's a site that lets you create "multimedia scrapbooks" with your digital photos and videos. The page transitions make me think of them as glorified PowerPoint presentations, although the individual pages are dynamic only to the extent of clicking on embedded video links, I think.

Scrapbooking is one of those things with which I have had many occasional flings but to which I have never fully committed. My various adventures in scrapbooking. )

That brings us to Scrapblog, which I started playing with last night. (And if my sleep schedule is still screwed up when I wake up for work tomorrow, it will be why.) I figured that since I never ended up posting about Mexico, because I spent all of January whining instead, I should gather up my pictures and give the site a try. Photography-wise, Mexico was a lot less exciting than Hawaii, but I think the scrapbook turned out pretty well. [I'll post it in its own entry after this, just to separate it from this flood of text.]

A Mini-Review of Scrapblog.com

Scrapblog is really, really addictive. All editing is done in a big flash applet, whose interface is pretty similar to PowerPoint. Scrapblog provides a lot of themes, which are collections of backgrounds, frames, and "stickers", which are basically clipart. Each theme also comes with a few pre-made pages, which are good for inspiration or cannibalization. Editing basically proceeds by drag-and-drop. The interface makes it very easy to achieve certain common effects: drop shadows, circular and star-shapped cropping, image borders, rotated elements. It's really very well-designed for the scrapbooking application. In addition, the thing ran very fast and stably on my computer, though I assume it's quite bandwith-heavy.

In sum, they make it very easy to make things look great. It took me about two hours to make my first three pages, but after I got the hang of it, things go pretty quickly. The themes are seriously a godsend.

The one major turnoff for me was that their borders extend inwards from the edge of the image rather than outward. That means the thicker your border, the more of the image you are obscuring. Given that there's a crop function, I don't see why they wouldn't have the border extend out. I guess it's so you can adjust the border thickness without the size of the image changing, which might screw up your careful placement of things.

There are some other minor things that bug me -- like the fact that even if you set the border to 0, images still have thin border, which can screw up use of sticker borders -- but overall I'm impressed. Scrapblog is truly an exemplar of Web 2.0. If you enjoy any kind of graphic-y endeavors (web design, Winamp skinning, etc.), you should give it a try.
elwen: (Default)
I finished Touka Gettan on Sunday. I guess in the end it was a good series, with a whole lot of complexity that flew over my head, and the ending sticks with me for some reason.

As is now widely known, the proper chronological order of the series is 26, 24-1, 25. I started watching while it was airing, and did not know about the reverse order, so I watched 1-7 while being very confused. Then I found out, and decided to wait until the whole thing came out so I could watch it from 26. Which I started doing, except 25 confused the hell out of me because it's an after-series recap, and then I gave up again for a while. So yes, the series has caused me a lot of headaches and confusion.

Looking back, I think if you like mysteries and figuring out what's going on in a series on your own, it's not too bad watching it 1-26 as intended. One of the AniDB reviews captured my experience very accurately: the first few episodes are confusing like crazy, but after a while, things seem to read a bit more smoothly. I can't decide whether it helps to know that it's running backwards, or whether that's too big of a spoiler. (If it is, I'm sorry. Maybe you should just watch it chronologically like I did, then.) But episode 1 is really confusing. After I got there again, I couldn't believe I didn't drop the series like a rock after it. I guess it's because there are so many tantalizing details in that episode. And such gorgeous art. And such a lovely soundtrack.

The other thing about which order in which to watch it is that I got the feeling that the creators really do intend for you to watch it 1-26, so that the early episodes (late chronologically) spend more time introducing the characters. Maybe. It's all too mixed together in my head for me to say for sure now. The other thing is that the chronological flow is not that smooth either way, because it's harder to have cliffhangers going backwards. (Although there are a few.)

In some ways, most of Touka Gettan is just a high school romance. But it spends enough time on the supernatural aspects to make things interesting. There are still many things unexplained at the end, but not in an unsatisfying way. [If you're slow-witted like me, it helps to read this page afterwards, which has a lot of "hints" that the show dropped that I missed.] It's not anywhere near the top of my list, but it was a fun and worthwhile ride. Also, it was impressive how the insane Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito crossover episode actually explained a lot more than the episodes around it. D:

Once I get the ending out of my head, the thing that is definitely going to stick with me from this series is the music. I just keep listening to the soundtrack on shuffle-repeat. Also, I decided finally to look into the vocal children's song that they use occasionally as background music and which is kind of catchy, and . . . it broke my brain. It's all in the notes here, so I won't repeat it. I guess it's appropriate for a series like Touka Gettan. Still breaking my brain even after I've watched it all.
elwen: (squee!)
The Black Mages III: Darkness and Starlight is out! (You can find the songs on YouTube.)

Like past Black Mages albums, it's a bit hit or miss, though the songs I've listened to so far are all more or less acceptable. The most notable thing for most people will be that it includes the full opera from Final Fantasy VI, which is its namesake track, "Darkness and Starlight". Personally, I was more excited that it had the final battle theme from Final Fantasy IX, a track I rediscovered when I started working through the Piano Collection for that game. It really doesn't get the attention it deserves, from the utterly chilling start (I always picture moaning souls swirling into the darkness) to the rock-ish main section, it's just a neat song. And the piano adaptation, like all of the best Piano Collection pieces, so perfectly captures the original while adding a whole new layer of interpretation.

Going back to "Darkness and Starlight": the track is undeniably neat. It's really weird but enlightening to hear the opera actually sung, in Japanese, where the syllables match the notes. (Whenever I play that scene in the game, I always try to squish the English lyrics into the melody, which works pretty well in some places but not so well in others.) The voices are jarring, though, both in narration and singing, maybe because I'm so used to the nonvocal version. The other thing I thought was kind of weird was that they didn't try to cut the song into the opera-only parts and they include, for example, the interlude where you have to walk as Locke over to see Celes. It works, just like it did in the game, but you'd think since they're redoing the song anyway, they'd give us the opportunity to hear one seamless opera, without the Ultros-chasing and all.

Right now, I'm listening to "Distant Worlds", which is from Final Fantasy XI, so I know nothing about it, but it's really beautiful. It's slow, with a Celtic flavor, and very unlike the rock songs that make up most of Black Mages' repertoire.

So, overall, definitely a winner. (Not that any of the Black Mages albums weren't.)

Here's a tracklist, FYI:
1. Opening - Bombing Mission (FFVI)
2. Neo EXDEATH (FFV: "Last Battle")
3. The Extreme (FFVIII)
4. Assault of the Silver Dragons (FFIX)
6. Distant Worlds (FFXI)
7. Premonition (FFVIII)
8. Grand Cross (FFIX: "Final Battle")
9. Darkness and Starlight (FFVI: "Opera ~Maria & Draco~")
10. LIVE ~in memory of KEITEN~

You think they've learned their lesson yet, to stop calling things "Final/Last Battle"? 9_9

ETA: Listening to "Darkness and Starlight" again, I realize that one of the reasons the vocals are so jarring is because the narrator's delivery is way overdramatic. "And then! A lone... wounded... HERO!!!!!!" Man. Oh, but I like the background chorus when Draco and Ralse fight. Also, I never realized it's ドラクゥ (comes out as something like "drakoo"). Sounds awkward even in Japanese. Also, I didn't notice they had the real ending (without Ultros and Setzer screwing things up), where Ralse loses. It makes it sound like Ralse really did love Maria and wanted her to be happy, which doesn't seem quite consistent with the game version where it seemed like Ralse just wanted a marriage of political convenience. Not that I'm going to overanalyze this, and I don't even remember the opera scene that well at the moment, but I thought that was interesting to note. I love that part in the melody, where they're singing "Oh Maria, beloved. Oh Maria, love me." <3
elwen: (Default)
Trying to savor the last bits of summer vacation, I've been marathoning a lot of anime and watching a lot of Netflixed DVDs.

I finished watching Cluster Edge, which was decent. Read more... )

And then I watched The Lives of Others. It did with the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, so I guess it's unsurprising that I liked it a lot. Read more... )
elwen: (bengopan)
[The GIP component of this post: [livejournal.com profile] nendil drew this for me a while back after seeing [livejournal.com profile] maruchan's 研究パン icon. I knew I wanted to icon it, but I didn't feel worthy of using it until I'd actually played Phoenix Wright.]

So I've been playing Phoenix Wright for a month or so now. Wow, way to have a lawyer game that was apparently never vetted by a real lawyer. It took me a while to realize that at least some of the oddness might be ascribed to the fact that it's probably based on Japan's civil law system -- it would explain why there's no jury, for example. But some of the other details are still pushing it.

More lawyer stuff. )

In more general gameplay terms, I really like how the stories get progressively more complex, requiring you to make creative use of more and more features. At first you're just impeaching witnesses with evidence [that's what it's called, y'know, when you "find contradictions"]. Then you start having to examine a room and collect the evidence. Then you start having to present different pieces of evidence to characters to get them to tell you stuff. And in Rise From The Ashes, and on into the second game, from what I can tell, [or not] it starts becoming full-scale detective work: dusting for fingerprints, spraying for bloodstains, and all.

Throughout, though, the game is still extremely linear. I think somewhere I read them described as "visual novels", and I think that's very accurate. You're not really playing the game for the sake of playing, per se. You're there for the story -- the interactive element is just an excuse for not having FMV graphics. :P

Actually, it really reminds me of the games made by Humongous Entertainment -- Putt Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam are the ones I've played. They were these semi-educational kids games that basically work the same way: you're clicking through screens that have interactive hot spots, but you can't unlock the next event until you've talked to people and done things in the proper order. In particular, when I had to go around trading Steel Samurai cards in Phoenix Wright, that was just like the part in Putt Putt Travels Through Time where you have to trade things from different time periods. I mean, you might find it worrisome that I'm comparing it to kids games, but seriously, some of those were hard. And I'd still play them today if we could find the discs, so.

Okay, that's all for the review. Now for fandom matters. :3

To slash or not to slash? )

P.S. I want to make my own Phoenix Wright moodtheme. The game has such awesome sprites.

New anime.

Apr. 11th, 2007 09:02 pm
elwen: (Default)
So as part of a campaign to remain sane and not dream about the musical last week, and to avoid outlining, I've been trying to sample more new anime than usual. I think there's more that interests me this season, too, maybe, but I've looked at a few series that were iffy enough not to make it onto my notify list as well.

I figured I'd start with what I've seen, and update this as I go:

Heroic Age, Touka Gettan, Hayate no Gotoku, Kamichama Karin, Seirei no Moribito, Claymore. )

So the theme of this season is amazing art. Either people suddenly learned amazing computer animation techniques, or budgets swelled massively this season, or they're splurging on the early episodes to attract an audience [and maybe by the end we'll have paper cut-outs like in KareKano, whee]. Whichever it is, I'm not complaining at the moment. *_*

Additions: Kaze no Stigma, Shining Tears X Wind, Darker than Black, Saint Beast, Romeo x Juliet, Kaibutsu Oujo. )

Whew, I think that's all.

And I'm definitely watching the second season of Saiunkoku Monogatari, of course. :3
elwen: (reading)
Last night, instead of reading a chapter or two before bed, I ended up finishing the second half of A Spell for Chameleon, the first book of Piers Anthony's Xanth series. It's good to be revisiting Xanth, and I'm hoping to get through it in chronological order this time, so that things make more sense.

Warning: spoilers for A Spell for Chameleon and vague references to stuff in later books.

First, a bit of fangirling. )
And now, a pseudo-review. )

ETA more fangirling. )
elwen: (reading)
I think this entry is child-safe, even though it talks about things that aren't. Just in case my cut titles make you squeamish. It's not as bad as it sounds and is really just me being mocking and/or overanalytical. :P

Very wrong manga: yaoi edition. )

Very wrong manga: shoujo smut edition. )

Very right manga: shoujo (smut?) edition. )
elwen: (Kamui)
I haven't done an anime post in ages, and I'm obviously not going to go through everything I've been watching since the last one, but I wanted to highlight a few series from recent seasons.

First, the three most highly recommended, which don't seem to have gotten the attention they deserve:

  • Shounen Onmyouji
    ["Boy Exorcist" (?) -- it doesn't translate very well, which is why no one tries.]
    The best series of the fall season, based on novels by Yuuki Hikaru. Set in feudal Japan, it's about a boy named Masahiro whose trying to surpass his grandfather Seimei, the greatest onmyouji alive. He's joined by a small fox-like spirit that he names Mokkun, and together they do their best to keep the capitol free of evil spirits.

    I'd classify it as shounen, but it's got great character development, and a good mix of humor and drama. Seimei is really quirky and likes to tease Masahiro a lot, so rather than your stereotypical "I'm aiming to be the best!" kind of plotline, it's more like, "I'm going to show that stupid old man!" ^o^ In addition to Masahiro, Mokkun, and Seimei, the major characters are Seimei's spirit summons, who have really bad-ass character designs and appear poised to contribute lots of complicated backstory. I won't deny that I started watching because some of the summons are pretty boys, but they run the gamut, including a cute little girl, a pretty priestess-like woman, a kick-your-ass-with-a-fan type lady, several kick-your-ass-in-general guys, and one or two old men. In addition, I'm guessing eventually there will be some cute kiddie romance between Masahiro and Akiko, the daughter of a government official who also has the ability to see spirits. [Masahiro's 13, I believe, so yeah.] The art always reminds me of reverse-harem shows like Harukanaru Toki no Naka de and Angelique, which I think might scare people away, but it's really not like that at all. Especially since, well, the main character's a boy.

    Oh, and since this seems to matter to some people on the flist: there's Chiyo dad as an evil gryphon demon thing. XD

  • Saiunkoku Monogatari
    ["Tale of Saiunkoku (Kingdom of Rainbow Clouds)"]
    One of the best series of the spring season, based on novels by Yukino Sai. Set in a land modeled after feudal China, it's about a poor noblewoman named Shuurei who hates poverty. She rashly agrees to help a government minister for a large sum of money, only finding out afterwards that what she's agreed to is to join the royal harem in an effort to reform their slacker of an emperor.

    As much as I tried to make it sound like Fushigi Yuugi (or even Twelve Kingdoms), and however much it may seem like a clone first blush, this series is quite distinct. Superficially, you don't have any of that "came from another world" dynamic, which is actually rather refreshing. There is a fair amount of focus on politics and sort of the workings of the capitol, which is reminiscent of Twelve Kingdoms, but overall it takes itself less seriously, and you don't have any cataclysms or rebellions going on. The story moves in arcs that connect to each other and continue to develop the characters, but make a concise summary hard if you want to be more specific than "It's about people doing stuff in Saiunkoku." So I guess the major difference between this and FY or 12K is that it's much more slice-of-life. I mean, Shuurei only agrees to join the harem for a limited time, and things quickly move beyond that premise. As with shoujo series of this type, there are a lot of pretty boys, and a lot of them inevitably fall in love with Shuurei, but there's enough other stuff going on that it never gets bogged down in the love polygon -- actually, it barely comes up most of the time; there are just one or two shippable moments every episode -- so I don't think that should limit the audience.

  • Ouran High School Host Club
    The other best show of the spring season, based on manga by Bisco Hatori. Ouran High School is for the children of the super-rich, but Fujioka Haruhi is there as a scholarship student and is actually quite poor. When she breaks an expensive vase, she becomes indentured to the Host Club, a group of boys who make a business out of entertaining female students who have time to spare.

    Perhaps I am just pathetically out of touch with prevalent social mores, but I don't understand why apparently male audiences find this show disturbing. Is it the concept of a host club? [They do exist in Japan, with separate ones catering to men and women.] Is it that they have Haruhi pretend to be a boy because she brings in business? Is it just too crazy in a shoujo way? For some reason I feel like this show would have general appeal kind of the way Azumanga Daioh does. There's just so much silliness. But in the end it seems like it's just for fangirls to squee over the different Host Club members and/or to ship Haruhi with any or all of them. Bah.

Courtesy cut for the rest. )
elwen: (Kamui)
After finishing Mirage of Blaze, I was craving more of the same, and somehow ended up reading Angel Sanctuary. It didn't satisfy any of the BL-craving, but if I was looking for more twisted love, I certainly got a lot of that.

[I also started reading Tokyo Babylon, another series on my "to read" list that's plenty dark and BL, but I think my brain is subconsciously rebelling against Japanese. Plus, TB Subaru is just too innocent for my taste.]

So. Angel Sanctuary. And I thought CLAMP was complicated. Even the OVA was enough to figure out that no one would be who he seemed, but I was still surprised by some of the twists. It was a bit too grotesque for me at times -- I don't mind blood and gore a la X, but huge disembodied heads with tubes coming out of the mouth and deformed babies crawling all over it will give me nightmares. After I finished around 3am, I went to the kitchen for water, and a white power cable in our living room that stood out in the dark scared the hell out of me.

Overall, I thought it was a pretty good series. The characters are all well-developed and the story is delightfully overcomplicated. The presentation is confusing sometimes -- I had trouble figuring out what was going on in a lot of fast-paced action scenes, and also when there was a lot of abrupt cutting from one character to another. But that can be effective, too. Unfortunately, the ending sucked. Up to the very end, it seemed like there would be something, but then it just fell apart.

Cut for spoilers, and excessive rambling. )

And, because I don't know how I'll ever work this into another entry... in an attempt to detox, I went and read all of the languishing drafts of stories and fanfics I have in progress, and I found a file called puns.doc in my Sailor Moon/Xanth crossover directory. There was only one line in it.

She criticized my apartment, so I knocked her flat.

Now, I have no clue whether this is a pun I came up with, or whether I found it somewhere and found it worth reusing. But oh, the groan-inducing-ness. I would be proud if it was mine.

The only potentially decent pun I've ever come up with was "sheets of rain", which is something I'd really wanted to submit to Piers Anthony for use in Xanth (because it goes perfectly in the Water Wing), but I never dared.
elwen: (Default)
So I finished reading Petshop of Horrors.

[If you don't know already, you probably don't care, but Petshop of Horrors is a 10 volume manga series by Akino Matsuri about a pet shop with everything from ordinary housepets to mystical animals, all of whom tend to appear in human form to the people who buy them. The pets tend to have a large effect on their owner's lives; as the title would indicate, a lot of times not in a good way. I'd say its genres are mystery, horror, and fantasy, and it gets more shoujo as the series progresses.]

I really, really liked the series. The early volumes were a bit more gruesome than is my taste, but the cynicism and themes on human nature were interesting. It really becomes a lot less horrific as the series progresses, though. There's more empathy in the stories, and they tend to have less tragic endings. And the art is gorgeous. I've become a big fan of Akino-sensei in general now -- since Night Exile is scanlating all her works that we can -- but one of the bonuses with PSH is when she illustrates the animals in human form. The costumes are beautiful and always so appropriate in subtle ways.

I was really sad when I found out the series had ended -- I guess it ended a while ago, but I'd never been able to find the Japanese manga, so this is actually the only Japanese series for which I read the English versions. [Which aren't that bad. I'm not so obsessed with the series that I want to know exactly what the characters are saying, like I insist for most of CLAMP's series. I'm sure if I read the originals I would be annoyed at the translation liberties they took, but I'm learning to be more flexible in terms of adaptations and not so much straight translations. Although there was that really wonky part when they translated mohawk (as in the hairstyle) as "Mohican". Talk about missing the point.] But yeah, so apparently there is a "Shin Petshop of Horrors" series now. [Must go look for it at Kinokuniya when I go home for break.] Night Exile released the first chapter, and it seems like it's in the same vein as the stories from the middle of the original series, when things were in their "groove" that I really liked.

More incoherent ramblings, with spoilers. )

Since I'm talking about Akino-sensei anyway, I read what is apparently one of her really old works, Reikan Shouhou Kabushiki-gaisha (what a mouthful), which is something like an agency that deals with spirits. Anyway, I just wanted to say that the art is so completely different from PSH and Elixir. The protagonist looks like Mamoru from Sailor Moon, especially his hair. And all the character designs are just very standard shoujo. And yet I can still sense her style in the series, maybe just through the story. It's kinda neat.


elwen: (Default)

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