Sunday, June 21, 2009

Goodbye, Blogger -- Hello, WordPress!

That's right. Blogger was nice for a while. It's integration into Google makes it handy for a lot of things, but it's still severely lacking in customization features and I figure it's the sooner the better for WordPress because the longer I stay here, the more posts I'd have to straighten out when I do inevitably move to WordPress. :P Besides, it's just so much nicer to host your own sites. Much more dependable!

So yes. Opinion Prone has moved over here!

Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds! (Unless you're on my Feedburner feed, in which case, you should have already swapped over.)

For the sake of not breaking anyone's links, I'll still keep all my old posts here, but all new content shall be over at the new site. I hope you continue reading~. :3

(PS. There is no "rest of this entry." That is just one of many roundabout hacks I had to install onto this Blogger because there's no native feature for cuts.) Read the rest of this entry...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nostalgia and Timelessness

So I started rewatching Gundam Wing dub last night. It's a special series for me since, like many others, it was my catapult into the Gundam franchise on the whole. It was one of my first major fandoms, and I'd seen it in its entirety two or three times back in glory days of Toonami, but it's been a good seven or eight years or so since I'd seen it last (and it feels much longer than that). Like some things I've revisited from the past, I was half-expecting it to be terrible, and to some extent, it was. The characters are hilariously unobservant and brash in ways that don't even begin to make sense. The dubbing also offers some choice lines in amazingly awkward voices. There are many logic and realism gaps. I laughed a lot.

And yet, even with all the lulz, it's still so epic when it counts. I'm still enjoying this way too much. Treize takes over the world in seven episodes in one of the most awesome coup de'tats ever. There are so many political things I'm noticing and understanding now that I didn't even notice the first time around, and it's just a lot fun to revisit something while simultaneously gaining a whole new experience. Nostalgia and sentimentality is undoubtedly what's allowing me to forgive all of the more blatant flaws -- I'd never accept such huge logic and realism gaps in a recent show, as evidenced by my dislike of Gundam 00, but for Wing, it's all right.

But I never feel as if the nostalgia factor blinds me. Forgiving the flaws isn't the same as denying they're there, and besides, most good things have their flaws. It's just your perspective that determines whether the good outweighs the bad, or if the bad outweighs the good. I'm only seven episodes into the rewatch, but right now, I honestly still think this is a great show. Wing's storyline is strong and clear, and has many interesting concepts. Its characters are varied and relatively engaging. I still think the music is amazing. I still think the mecha designs in this series are some of the best in the franchise. These are the things that won't change with time, no matter how many years pass. Good stories are good stories. Good art is good art.

The art and animation are a bit aged now, yes, but they still suit the story. That compatibility is much more important than the fact that it's not as shiny by today's standards. Of course it isn't as shiny; Gundam Wing debuted fourteen years ago. But that doesn't matter, just like it doesn't matter that Nosferatu is a black and white, silent, German film. The medium still fits the story, and the story is still good. In that sense, I think that most productions, whether movies or television shows or anime or manga, can be considered "timeless." It doesn't matter when it was made; if it had a good story and the medium suited it, then it can remain accessible to any subsequent generation.

But then, what about the things that don't hold up? Does that imply that they were never good stories in the first place, if the stories aren't as good now as supposedly used to be?

Actually, I can't think of many examples of (once) good stories that don't hold up against the test of time. Most of the stories I loved as a kid I either still love now or still appreciate as something aimed towards kids. Some stories with overt social or political commentary or controversy might be more popular in one century than another, but if there's enough story to go along with the opinion, I don't think it'd have trouble remaining accessible. Just look at The Sound of Music or the Watchmen comic or books like Number the Stars.

Stories grounded in a certain time period also aren't at a particular disadvantage either. As long as people have an understanding of the surrounding history and perspective, it isn't really a problem. Shakespeare remains timeless despite the fact that his plays are centuries old and in a dialect that died somewhere along the way. The language might turn some people off, but the core of the quality of the stories are unaffected by neither time nor anything else. Can the stories still appeal to people if the language was updated to something more modern? Probably. It's the same as when a popular novel is translated into several different languages, isn't it? The story is the same. The story is still good. Everything else is secondary.

It's kind of interesting to note also that there are a lot more things that I like more the second or third time around than things that I dislike the second or third time around. Second and third experiences allow for better understanding of the story involved, and understanding is essential to many experiences.

Many of the best anime and manga I've encountered are neither socially or politically charged or grounded in a specific time period, which will probably help them a lot. Some of them depend heavily on cultural quirks and current fandom (Ouran High School Host Club), and some of them are concentrated on ideas in technology that may well change in the future (Planetes, Ghost in the Shell), but as long as the people in the year 2500 take the time to understand where these stories are coming from, they can enjoy them just as we have. I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up still liking Gundam Wing a lot this time around, and if that's the case, I don't think that will change in another decade or two, or three, or four. Similarly, I probably still won't like Gundam 00 in however many years.

Final conclusion? All good stories are timeless.
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review: Gundam 00 (second season)

Three months after this series finished, and I've finally finished the review for it. Finally.

I had such a hard time writing this. It's hard to find a reasonable voice when all you can remember is everything that sucked. It isn't an objectivity issue since you obviously can't be objective writing something that's completely opinion, but it's still hard to fashion your opinion in a way that doesn't make you seem like some fanraging idiot. After all, reviews are also supposed to be subtly persuasive, and it's hard to be persuasive if you sound offended or butthurt about how terrible something is. It's the same reason people tend to take the opinions of fanboys with a grain of salt. Don't be overzealous. Write intelligently. Well, I tried.

Honestly, when this series first ended, I wanted to write a long, raging rant about how much I hated the ending and how terribly disappointing the entire thing was on a variety of different levels. But then I put it off and eventually didn't feel like it anymore. I got the urge again as I was writing the review, and subsequently, the review spiraled into a bunch of sarcastic remarks. Some of them got edited out. Some of them didn't. I guess I shouldn't worry too much about it.

I do this for fun! This is fun, see? Fun!
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Saturday, June 13, 2009

On Learning Japanese & My Japanese Coach for DS

I wonder if anyone's actually polled the percentage of otaku that have at some point tried to learn Japanese. I wonder what a follow-up of such a poll would reveal about the percentage that actually attain some level of fluency. Anyone who watches subs on a regular or even semi-regular basis will be able to pick up a wide variety of everyday phrases and a decent slice of vocabulary. The observant ones might even be able to pick up some simple sentence structuring, verbs, and grammar. It's a pretty awesome thing when you first realize that, hey, you know a bit of another language.

Undoubtedly, that's why a lot of younger fans will insert bits and pieces of what they know into their speech or text online. It's like a secret language, something esoteric to share between friends, and everybody likes thinking they're special. Like Pig Latin though, the language is actually not so secret, or at the very least, the popular tidbits of the language that young fans like to parrot are not so secret, and they tend to annoy everybody over a certain age. Ostracized and mocked by the rest of the community, the young fans reach a point where they stop tacking -chan and -kun after all their friends' names. There is a brief "maturing" period. And then they decide that they're going to knuckle down and learn Japanese... for real this time.

I imagine that most people will take a few shots at memorizing their kana and then give up. They'll retain all the romaji vocabulary and phrases they know, and maybe they'll still use it now and again in a mocking or less-than-serious manner, but that's about it. Some will succeed in memorizing their kana and master some grammar, but kanji stops them dead in their tracks. The last handful plow right on through, kick the JLPT's ass, and then run off to Japan to teach English because that's your stereotypical otaku dream. I wonder, are there any fans that listen to the language on a regular basis, but who have never had any interest whatsoever in learning it? Or is it just innate to want to understand something you find yourself so submerged in? The latter makes sense to me, but it'd be interesting to hear the answers to the contrary.

Being Chinese, I've always felt this persistent guilt for wanting to learn Japanese more than I wanted to re-learn Mandarin and Cantonese since I pretty much lost my fluency in both by the time I was eight. That guilt, for the most part, has kept me from seriously pursuing Japanese fluency. Now, it seems that I have a good chance of being able to go to Japan for two weeks in December as part of a college trip. I guess that's as good an excuse as any to get a move on, right?

So I got my hands on My Japanese Coach for the Nintendo DS because it was easy and convenient. It's far from the most sophisticated learning device in the world, but hey, I still don't know how serious I want to be about this. The game opens with a placement test, which aims to start you off in the right chapter based on your existing knowledge. I found that to be kind of iffy though. Since all the questions are multiple choice, lucky guesses will end up opting you out of lessons you might need. Yeah, I know a bunch of pronouns and the colors, but I didn't know any of the days of the week and I got out of that chapter with some lucky guesses. Not cool. I need to learn this stuff, man. (Still, you can go back and do the skipped lessons, so it's not a huge deal.)

Playing through it, the set-up of the game leaves a lot to be desired. Each lesson is fairly short and will either cover one new concept, like months, days of the week, colors, or a certain verb, or two sets of kana (I'm not that far in the game yet, but undoubtedly, later chapters will expand to include sets of five to ten kanji per lesson). The game won't let you progress to the next lesson until you've "mastered" all the new vocabulary or kana introduced in that lesson. You gain mastery points by playing through games. It sounds decent enough, but I found most of the games to be absurdly easy, thus making it way, way too easy to "master" things.

You can unlock new games as you progress through various lessons, but seriously, out of the seven or eight games I have so far, I only really like one of them, and that's the one that gives you a word or kana and makes you write it. It's useful for forcing you to memorize your kana, but it's pretty annoying for writing actual words (in kana) since you have to write each character one at a time. Longish words like げつようび (getsuyoubi, Monday) or じゅいちがつ (juichigatsu, November) really make me wish the kanji lessons would come up faster. The game also isn't all that great at recognizing mistakes in your characters. As long as you have the right number of strokes and the shape is kinda right, it'll count it correct. It bothers me immensely that it doesn't take stroke order into consideration even though it does mention its importance at some point. The other games are okay as far as drilling in meaning associations, but among other things, having to play the whack-a-mole game makes me feel like an idiot.

Currently, I'm just about done "mastering" hiragana, but honestly, I still don't feel very confident in it. Kanji, in all its apparent complication, makes a helluva lot more sense to me because of my Chinese background, but hiragana doesn't seem to follow any discernable pattern as far as I can tell. I mean, き(ki) and さ(sa) are completely different sounds, but their characters are so similar. ら(ra), ろ(ro), and る(ru) make slightly more sense. Kind of, except that れ(re) and り(ri) don't follow. Incidentally, Mandarin has a pronunciation aid system similar to furigana, but I never learned it, only pinying, which is comparable to romaji. My father says that both hiragana and katakana characters are based off kanji words that start with the sound they represent, but that doesn't really help me if I don't know those kanji words.

My Japanese Coach is an okay aid. It's easy enough to pick up on a daily basis, but you have to play back through old lessons pretty frequently to actually memorize things since you can "master" them so quickly. It's just as well though -- after all, you have to work at any language to learn it. No tool is going to just hand the knowledge to you. I might come back and write about the game some more when I've progressed further into it. At present, I don't plan on getting much else in the way of language learning tools because I'm poor and don't have a lot of time anyway. I would love to learn Japanese, but it's still not a real, hardcore serious goal yet. I really think I need to reattain some level of fluency in Chinese before that can happen.

In the meantime, it's back to the hiragana charts!
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Friday, June 5, 2009

First Impressions: Tommy Heanvely6's I Kill My Heart

I Kill My Heart
Tommy Heavenly6's 3rd album
29th April 2009

Tommy heavenly6 is my favorite of Tomoko Kawase's projects, followed by the brilliant green. I'm not all that fond of Tommy february6, though it kind of reminds me a bit of Nana Kitade. Sadly, all of Tomoko's projects were recently dropped by Sony, along with a few other artists like Sowelu. Doesn't make any sense to me considering the popularity of her numerous anime tie-ins ("Pray" for Gintama, "Paper Moon" for SOUL EATER, "Unlimited Sky" for Gundam 00), but whatever... business is business? Sowelu just signed with Avex, but no word on Tomoko yet as far as I know. I don't really doubt that she has a lot of options though. Regardless, this album was the latest and last released by Sony in late April. I only just got my hands on it, but here we go~.

TRACK 01: Wait For Me There (YouTube it)
Distorted, kinda dark sorta intro. Vocals start plainly, but it picks up nicely -- has a good beat. Some pretty awkward sounding Engrish, but Tomoko's voice is confident and smooth. Sometimes I like to just pretend that she isn't butchering a language she doesn't know that well. The words become less important than the sound and the emotion, and this song has a very relaxed, feel-good mood to be. Did she just say, "Let's have some tea"? Some interesting vocal overlaps in the bridge, though I don't think this is her best example of harmony. Song ends as smoothly and plainly as it starts. All around not a bad go, but not all that interesting either.

TRACK 02: Leaving You
Generic opening. Quiet, contemplative vocal intro. Feels very thoughtful. Percussion picks up nicely, if a bit simply -- really diggin' the melody here. Ohh... not too fond of the sounds in the chorus. The pitch on the high notes feel awkward and almost unintentional. Thankfully, the chorus is pretty short. Second verse has the same innocent, thoughtful mood as the first, but it's pretty short too. Back to the chorus... and a third verse? The mood the vocals make me visualize Tomoko strolling through a park or something. Bridge is really nice -- nothing amazing, but nice. Next chorus sounds quite a bit less awkward. There's minimal Engrish in this song; definitely feel like that's a plus. Smooth outro, fading distortion.

TRACK 03: Do You Know My Heart
Can an intro be calm and upbeat at the same time? Feels like another "stroll through the park" song to me. Vocals are very cheerful, maybe relaxing. Kind of like... the first day of summer feeling. Chorus has weird Engrish... most of it is pretty decipherable, and there are no "don't scary"'s at the very least. Mood doesn't really seem to fluctuate as we go though, and I'm starting to get tired of the carefree cheerfulness. Second chorus is just as awkward as the first. I have a hard time describing Tomoko's Engrish as anything other than "awkward," huh? Awkward Engrish leads into outro and it ends pretty quickly after that.

TRACK 04: Sad End To A Fairy Tale
A more sad kind of intro. Good. More of the thoughtfulness from "Leaving You." I think the guitar in this. Like the bridge from the first verse to the chorus too, though the chorus itself was kind of short and plain. Hm, as nice and calm as the music is so far, I'm really getting bored quickly -- there doesn't seem to be very much in the way of real energy -- just a lot of cuteness and coyness? Where is the forcefulness? Where is the spark? Bridge has more of the nice guitar and some pretty sustained notes. Bridge repeats the same kind of mood and lackluster energy; what I can understand of the lyrics are pretty uninspiring too. Slow outro, buzz out to end.

TRACK 05: Shut Up
More energetic energy... some more serious sounding vocals. Less cute anyway. Melody is catchy, but somewhat repetitive. Chorus brings back the happy j-poppy feeling. Second verse returns to the lower register, but it doesn't last long. Does "lower" mean "more serious"? Not necessarily, but all of her higher notes and melodies are starting to blur here. The best thing about this song is probably it's repetitive drill, which might get annoying after a while, but it's at least memorable. This is a really short song though -- only 2:36. Ends suddenly.

TRACK 06: Flower Crown
Neat bass intro. Another, kind-of-the-same-thoughtful vocal intro. Bass continues to be awesome. Vocals, melody, and mood, not so much. Well, okay, the mood is definitely darker than before. Makes me think we're sneaking up on someone. Chorus has some awkward hooks in the tune, like the pitch is off again. Some of the Engrish leading into the bridge is kind of lulzy. Man, this tempo is putting me to sleep. I want need some of the much more energetic stuff, c'mon...

TRACK 07: Surely
Upbeat, but not upbeat enough! Vocals are soft again, happy and contemplative. God, I just want some variation. T_T These vocals are really cute though... chorus loses it, but the melody is calming. More strolling in a park music. Perhaps playing frisbee. Really, this song could be an insert to any cheesy, happy montage in a movie or series. It's very charming in that way. I kind of wish it wasn't so late in the album -- I kind of think I'd be more happy with it if I weren't so worn with this mood already. The bridge is really sweet. Reintroduction of the vocals don't seem to fit that well, but gaw, Tomoko's voice is so cute. D: I don't even think she's trying to be. Ending is kind of awkward and sudden...

TRACK 08: Gonna Change My Way Of Life (YouTube it)
Generic kind of opening, though it does have some interesting buzzing. Chorus has a lot of Engrish -- automatically awkward sounding, though not too terrible, I guess. This song has a much more forceful melody, especially at the end. Nothing else to really say though...

TRACK 09: Playground (YouTube it)
Hm, immediate vocal intro. Much more energetic! The vocals still seem a bit on the tame side, but the emotion feels clearer. I like the tempo here a lot, and the lyrics string together very well! The Engrish is the best I've heard on the entire album, and for once, they aren't awkward! They actually work pretty well and integrate neatly with the Japanese. Some nice guitar and sustained vocals leading into the bridge -- bridge has a good guitar solo. Vocals ease back in nicely. Once again, the Engrish here is pretty decent. :O I think this is my favorite song on the album so far. Very well done. Sudden ending though.

TRACK 10: Things I Can Do
Seems like we're keeping the more upbeat tempo -- nice intro. Vocals come in rather energetically; tone is still quite upbeat and thoughtful, but she seems much more into it. The melody is pretty nice; Engrish goes back to being a little awkward, but there isn't that much of it. Really enjoying how the rest of the lyrics string together -- keeps a good beat. Verses meld into choruses really well too. Tomoko definitely seems more into this song than many of the others. Final chorus stands out nicely after the bridge; the energy remains steady... ending is again sudden though.

TRACK 11: You Should Live In The Sunny Light (YouTube it)
Dark, slow intro. Vocals seem haunting. Never really picks up though. Very steady and kind of boring. Feels like we're at a funeral service. Damn, it's been half a song already? Nothing ever seems to change, and the guitar is kind of boring too. On another day, I might like this a lot better -- it does have a very distinct mood, after all, and Tomoko's vocals seem sincere at least -- but after an entire album of less-than-stellar songs, I just kinda want it to be over. There's very little in the way of landmarks in this song. I'm not sure where the verses are, where the choruses are -- it's especially hard since I don't have lyrics in front of me. It ends like it begins, and I feel nothing.

OVERALL: This was a pretty disappointing album... I only really liked tracks #9 and #10, but even they're nothing super outstanding. The rest of I Kill My Heart just seems like the same thing over and over again, and none of the songs seem to have the drive and energy that attracted me to Tommy heavenly6 in the first place. I'm also not sure why "Unlimited Sky" didn't make it on this album. Instead, it was released with Tommy heavenly6's compilation album that released in February. I suppose it's a decent strategy to release new stuff on a compilation album to get more people to buy it, but at the same time, it kind of contradicts the definition of "compilation" album.

Then again, "Unlimited Sky"'s mood would have clashed a lot with this album since it actually has the energy I'm looking for. Tommy heavenly6's first, self-titled album is still my favorite. I'm not sure how well this album did on the Oricon charts, but if its performance reflects my opinion of it, then I guess that's at least a reason for Sony to let go. Disappointing.
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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pronunciations and Transliterations of Names

So in Code Geass, Emperor Charles zi Britannia is obviously British because Britannia is a glorified, alternate-universe Britain. Thus he has an English name. Makes sense. Since it's a Japanese show though, they have to transliterate the English name into Japanese, and Charles becomes シャルル (Sharuru). This has always bothered me. I just don't see the connection between "Charles" and "Sharuru." Of course I understand that many foreign words translated into Japanese sound strange because of their limited phonetic alphabet, and most of the time, I'd say they do pretty okay. But in this case, I'm thoroughly convinced that they could have picked a better transliteration with the sounds that they have. チャルズ (Charuzu), for example -- not worlds different, but different enough to be closer, right?

Further, "Sharuru" seems to be some kind of universally accepted Japanese version of "Charles" because Code Geass was not the only series where I heard the transliteration. Who decided that "Charles" should be "Sharuru"? If someone else decided that they wanted to transliterate it as "Charuzu," would they be wrong? Are there multiple ways to import a name into another language?

For the reverse case, Japanese names into English, the answer seems to be yes. For FUNimatioin's recent license, Spice and Wolf, they've decided to transliterate ホロ as "Holo" rather than the fan-preferred "Horo." Since the Japanese use the same sound where Westerners distinguish between L's and R's, either version can technically be correct. Nevertheless, the らりるれろ sounds are more often seen as R sounds (ra, ri, ru, re, ro) than L sounds (la, li, lu, le, lo). And for Horo's case in particular, I can't shake the idea that "Holo" will invoke "holographic" first and "awesome wolf deity" second. Meanwhile, "Horo" is kindasorta similar to "Horus" an Egyptian falcon god.

And then there is the fun thing they do when they have English names transliterated into Japanese only to be transliterated back into English. Except that the two English versions don't match. The best example of this is probably Simon from Gurren Lagann. The Japanese have no character for "si," only し/シ ("shi"), and so, Simon was pronounced シモン ("Shimon"). When Gurren Lagann was dubbed by Bandai, they kept that pronunciation, presumably because of perceived fan pressure. The same can be said for Viral, which retained the "vee-rall" pronunciation instead of "fixing" it back to "vhai-rul."

In Horo's case, fan preference may be more legitimate since the name isn't English to begin with, but in Simon and Viral's cases, should Bandai have given in? Would it really have been that weird to hear the names pronounced "correctly"? I don't really think so. And if they were going to play it the Japanese way, why didn't they go all the way with Viral and leave it as "V/Biraru"? That'd be pushing it too far with the lip movements, I guess? It can be debated whether or not Simon and Viral were intended to be English names to begin with -- even though they're obviously not Japanese, it's possible that they could be fantasy names instead. But they seem kind of plain for fantasy names, don't you think? After all, Japanese fantasy has come up with names such as Zelgadis Greywords, Filia Ul Copt, and Yozak Gurrier, and even those are Western-based. I wonder if there really is a "right" or "wrong" way to pronounce Simon and Viral since it's been passed through languages the way it has. I'm sure fanboys will swear to "Shimon" and "Vee-rall," but are they just subscribing to the Japanese's limited phonetics?

Still, as far as natively Japanese names go, I'm glad for the shift towards preservation of pronunciation. The Sakura in Card Captor Sakura was dubbed as "Sa-kuur-ah" with a long "u" sound. The more recent Sakura of Naruto has been dubbed more correctly as "Sah-kuu-rah" with a short "u." And yet, Akira was dubbed years ago correctly (with a soft "i" sound), and most people I know still pronounce it with a hard "i"?

One last thing... who the hell decided that they could name their child "Light" -- an obviously English word -- and then assign it the kanji for "moon"? (月 "tsuki") How does that even work?? Obviously, no one will intrinsically understand that "tsuki" should be read as "Light" (or ライト"Raito" since they can't actually pronounce "Light") because Misa didn't know offhand. So did Light just spend his life '"correcting" teachers saying, "No, ma'am, you're wrong, it's not 'tsuki' like it is in the dictionary, it's 'Raito'!"? Says who?? Your crazy parents?

Why do they get to decide that "Light" can be represented by 月 "tsuki"? Why didn't they just use 光 "hikari" which actually means "light"? Because Hikari is actually a legitimate name? (A female name, but a name nonetheless!) I guess they didn't want Light to go through life being mistaken as a girl during rolecall, so instead, they made him special by giving him the wrong character for the translation? Maybe that's why he turned into such a megalomaniac.

The mystery of Light Yagami, solved!

Then again, the forcing of kanji for an English word has happened for things other than names.
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