Unnatural Unselection

Ladies, you probably have a differing opinion on this, so if you don’t mind, this post is strictly for bearers of a Y chromosome. I don’t do this often, but I think it warranted in this case.

We cool, gents? Okay. Go ahead and open up this link in another tab or window or something. Check it out, and come back.

I think we can all agree that there’s some gamers in Russia with some severely f$%#ed up priorities. Makes you wonder if that bit in Dr. Strangelove about the “essence” wasn’t quite that far off.

The Night Ends

So, Stellvia… wow. I did finish the last disc (of 8) tonight, just now in point of fact…

How do you really sum up a series like this one? When you know how it’s going to end, when you know that there’s going to be a tomorrow for you, and for the characters, what keeps you watching? It’s not the destination, but the journey; and for a series like Stellvia, it is all about the journey. The series’ primary conflicts are always there, hanging over the characters, but it is the characters themselves who drive the story. If the cast were not as developed as they are, I imagine that the show would have fallen apart before half the season had run its course.

But it continued on. And some days– some nights– it is all that matters, continuing on.

I don’t think there’s anything else, really, that I can say about it. Besides the obvious “go watch it now” and the lamentable “too bad they couldn’t arrange a second season”.

Just No

I did have a little I wanted to talk about tonight, actually. I got through Disc 5 of Stellvia, and the story is starting to get very, very interesting (though I wish the supporting cast hadn’t just up and vanished from the plot temporarily in favor of making an anti-war point).

All of the details of that got erased once I saw a picture of someone who carefully and lovingly skinned his own arm such that the scar would resemble Princess Peach. Complete with bloody towel beneath it.

The phrase “nightmare fuel”, somehow, just doesn’t cut it in this instance.

Shortening

Quiet day, folks… I watched through a bit more of Stellvia, not yet completing the fourth disc, but that’ll be a project for the weekend, I think. More than anything, though, I want to relax a little bit more before the madness of NaNo starts, and that probably means not accomplishing much of anything for the next couple days. It doesn’t make for good blogging, but them’s the breaks.

Sic Itur Ad Astra

Standing at a sharp, almost diametric, contrast to yesterday’s anime selection is Stellvia. Where To Heart was involved with a single genre which it handled poorly, Stellvia is a bit harder to pin down. The series revolves around young Shima Katase (it should be noted that I managed to remember names for this one), who is beginning her attendance at the space station high school aboard Foundation II, the titular Stellvia.

It has a strong similarity to something like Harry Potter, in that it’s about an unusual school, but the similarities end there. Where Harry is unsure of himself because he’s thrust into a world he knows nothing about, Shima’s insecurity stems from her lack of understanding about herself. Fortunately, she has an excellent cast of classmates and teachers to help her along, including the extremely boisterous Arisa and the enigmatically wise Kouta. She’s learnign her trade and her self quite well, but there’s a deadline– the second wave of a collapsing star, which devastated Earth two hundred years ago, is but two months from reaching the edge of the Sol system, and the Foundations are humanity’s only lines of defense.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Quite the contrary, the series is upbeat and cheerful, even when Shima is beating herself up for not being perfect (about the one flaw I can think of off the top of my head, because it would kind of veer her off into Mary Sue territory if she wasn’t genuinely trying to improve). In fact, the sense of impending disaster is shuffled to the background; it’s certainly a concern, but everyone seems just so confident that things will work out. Such optimism is kind of refreshing, in its own way. I’m sure that once I get more than about a quarter of the way through the series, it’ll start to be a bigger issue, but for now the series seems content to develop its characters more– and who am I to argue with that?

That’s probably what I like most. Rather than the flat, cardboard cutouts of To Heart, the cast of Stellvia takes those basic concepts– the energetic girl, the ingenue, the mysterious boy, the tragic accident girl– not as absolutes, but rather as starting points. Each character seems to have some room for growth, and in these early episodes they’re all showing it– not just the potential, but the growth as well. Haughty girl Akira has been taken down a peg or two but is softening up, learning to relax; Yayoi is letting go of the accident that set her so far back. If To Heart had managed to give everyone a little time in the spotlight, and give everyone a little room to breathe within the corsets of their archetypes, it would have been leaps and bounds better than it was. But still nowhere near as well-managed as Stellvia, honestly.

The fact that it’s at times laugh-out-loud hilarious does help, too. In the first two episodes alone, some of the most funny moments I’ve seen in a long time came about. Shima’s space suit seemed to be a little… tight on her, and she was less than confident about her figure; while it didn’t show any skin, it certainly left no curves to the imagination on the rest of her class, either. Her solution was to, obviously, wrap a bath sheet around her to hide her figure. That certainly got a chuckle out of me, but what crossed it into hilarity was that she was not the only one who did this. Even Kouta, a boy, did so (though around his waist).

Overall, though, it manages to understand something that I wish a lot more science fiction would get right, and portrays it well: life is not going to radically change in a mere three hundred years. There’s never going to be a point where people don’t wear slacker-type clothes, there’s never going to be food pellets replacing a full, sit-down meal with friends, and there’s never going to be a lack of need for shopkeepers and the basics of life. If you think about it, the world may have taken some pretty interesting and sweeping changes in the last two hundred years here on our Earth, but there are many things that we still do today that won’t ever change. When science fiction starts handwaving away the toilets, you lose my willing suspension of disbelief. (I was about to say that Stellvia doesn’t actually show a toilet on-screen, but then I remembered that it did, during a cleaning montage, which itself was greatly funny.)

I topped the night off by watching the first episode of Gurren Lagann again, though, and sadly it was still a little hard to get through. I’m more receptive to it now than when I watched it at Otakon ’08, of course, but after the subtlety and charm of Stellvia, GL wound up being like a screaming maniac getting up in my face. That’s kind of a bad simile, because Kamina is a screaming maniac who does invade the personal space of the cameraman. And he’s pretty much the main character. So yeah.

Anyway, it’s the last week before NaNo starts, and I’m more or less completely prepared for the thing. I’ve managed to get most of my outlining done, but there’s definitely some tweaking I’d like to do; I’ve also tinkered a bit more with a couple more Wii games, so I may do some writing on those later on.

Catch you tomorrow.

A Boy And His Moeblob

No, not that moeblob. This one. (okay, so you have to use your imagination on that second link)

After spending a little more time with the remake of A Boy And His Blob, I have to confess that I’m in it mostly for the puzzles. WayForward took a pretty straightforward PC-style adventure game from the NES and redid it from the concept stage on up; while it’s certainly different from the old game, the old game just wouldn’t work in this day and age. The NES original relied a lot on obscurity: you didn’t know where to go or how to accomplish getting off the planet. A quick trip to GameFAQs nets you a precise set of instructions, with sometimes video links to speed runs. So, instead of a single challenge, the new version presents the game as more of a puzzle-oriented platformer: Get both characters from the start of each level to the finish, using specific tools. It sounds like an oversimplification of the concept, but in all honesty that’s what makes it work; by removing superfluous elements, you give the player a bit more guidance without feeling like you’re hand-holding. (The numerous signs in the backgrounds of the gorgeous levels do offer heavy-handed assistance, but it’s not always clear how their advice could work, and nothing’s stopping you from trying something different.)

Oh, one word of caution. If, like me, you have a strong reaction to seeing hurt children, you may want to be very, very, very careful playing this game. Seeing the boy collapse after a hit will mash that particular emotional button. Hard. Like a frigging jackhammer. Fortunately, equilibrium is only as far as the “hug blob” button. Which will get a lot more use than you might expect.

On the other side of the emotional manipulation scale, we have To Heart. A ten-year-old anime series that seems at times to have been scripted by a ten-year-old, possibly one who has never left the house and isn’t allowed near sharp objects. I’ll grant that being old means you have to accept certain concessions to the state of the art, but honestly the visual aspect of the series is not at all what I’m complaining about– quite the opposite, I found it to be rather well-animated and with good character designs. It’s just that those character designs are completely wasted on lifeless, soulless caricatures whose approximations of living, thinking human beings are about as accurate as I would be with a longbow twice my size. There’s no character development, the conflicts are weak when they even exist, one episode was so mind-numbingly boring that the characters themselves made mention of it– and the sad part is, that episode was supposed to be dramatic evolution of the two characters supposedly at the center of the romance! Instead we got the twenty most inane minutes of homework-doing ever put to celluloid. There was a punchline at the end of the episode, almost as if the production staff wanted to apologize to the viewers for the preceding atrocities, but a gag about a sick girl wanting her friends to bring her pudding kinda works better when the ill girl in question isn’t an annoying, irritating bi*AHEM* I think I’ve made my point. I stopped watching after the series went the bog-standard “we have a robot girl now and she’s going to be deactivated and mind-wiped soon” route… even for 1999, the robot girlfriend was a little overdone.

Still, I have to admit, this is just an outlier on the whole scale of anime that I’ve watched and given up on. Certainly there’s series out there that do romance properly (any given Key series, Ai Yori Aoshi, etc), so this is just one of those ones that got hyped up a little too much and wound up falling flat. Anyway, next on the list is Stellvia, which I have it on good authority is far better (and not a romance, so double points already).

Your last thought for the night, and this is more of a weird dub-actor-following thing than anything else. I haven’t heard Lia Sargent doing much of anything since Xenosaga Episode III ended, which is a shame because I always thought she was a good actress on top of being a talented voice artist. Did she retire, or has she just not done anything because other people are doing stuff?

Is “WAAAAAGH!!” A Mantra?

A couple of you have been aware of my nascent foray into miniature wargaming, specifically Warhammer 40,000. It’s a pricey hobby, but I believe that if it’s always going to be as relaxing as it was tonight– wherein I spent two hours just pulling pieces off of the plastic sprues and organizing them, with but one test gluing out of sheer enthusiasm– this might be one of the more pleasant uses of my time than I had initially suspected. It looks very daunting at first blush, and to be perfectly honest I was hesitant to start it up for fear of it taking more time than I have. In a way it probably still will: I have yet to even purchase paints. But assembling them is, surprisingly, a serene experience and one I’m interested in continuing.

Plus, once it’s all done, I’ll have an army of bloodthirsty Orks at my sole command. Serenity now, power trip later.