Monthly Archives: August 2007

I was planning on having a series of posts on my recent trip to the Ephing Anime Con, but the more I thought about it the less interested I thought you guys would be in that. Instead I’m going to just throw out a bunch of observations. If any of them interest you and you would like to see a post on them, point them out to me and I’ll be glad to extrapolate.

So without further ado:

Good grief, when did I get so old? I remember feeling very old at the last couple conventions I went to, but it got three years more pronounced since my last con. I’m getting older but it seems that the average con-goers age is, if not static, aging at a much less rapid pace.

I’m going to have to let go of some of my old standard jokes about anime conventions. It’s really not just for geeks anymore. There was an amazingly larger variety of attendees. There were actual black people. Not like a black person or two, but at least a couple dozen. In anime circles, 50 black guys out of 15,000 is called “diversity”. The Asian-American contingent, which was never close to a plurality but always significant, was almost unnoticeable. I actually think there may have been more actual Asians than Asian-Americans. I only counted two people that seemed to weigh over 350 pounds. That, too, was unusual. The gender imbalance does not appear to have improved, though the age of the average female attendee seemed to go up.

By far the most enjoyable thing about the convention was the costumes. I always considered it a fun part of it, but having been to all of the panels before and not even being able to find the video rooms (and not that enthusiastic about it anyway), costumes were the main attraction. Well costumes and the feel of the place. It feels a little like an amusement part, except instead of giant Micky Mouses and Goofies it’s giant Gontaku the Destroyer costumes.

I generally frown down upon outfits that young ladies wear that are too revealing and have ever since I graduated from college. This is triply true for girls that are not yet out of high school. What’s funny is that there were a lot of young ladies wearing very skimpy outfits to the convention and it did not bother me at all. I guess since it was actually part of a prescribed costume they weren’t obviously doing it to tittilate or show off their bodies so I didn’t consider it as demeaning. Then again, who am I kidding? The anime producers decided on those outfits and the young ladies chose them for a reason. Nonetheless, it was a weird feeling to see so much skin and not feel at all uptight about it. I was more likely to grab my camera than scowl.

There aren’t many places where a thirty year old man can walk up to a twelve year old girl and say “Can I take your picture?” But you can at an anime convention and I’m not sure that there is a level of creepiness a guy can have wherein she will not be flattered. And yet no one seems to take advantage of it for that purpose. The stereotypical smelly con-goer almost never has a camera.

Thinking of the above psyched me out while I was there. I almost never took pictures of unescorted young girls out of fear of coming across inappropriately. A completely groundless fear that would not even have crossed my mind had I not thought about how unusual such an arrangement is. I was always happier to take pictures of guys than ladies. The coolest picture I couldn’t quite get was of an entire family dressed in costume.

My friend Clint and I once had the idea of only taking pictures of young ladies that weren’t wearing costumes to see what kinds of reactions that would get. Both of us are risk-averse in that regard so we never actually did it. Now I’m way past the age where that would be considered even a cute joke if she were to alert the authorities.

There are a number of things that you can buy at these conventions and that includes rather dangerous weaponry in the form of swords and knives. The thing is though that if you buy them you have to take them to a rack and store them until you’re ready to leave the convention. I was passing by said rack in the hallway when a handful of police officers were quizzing a crying young woman. I couldn’t imagine what it might be about but when they said that they were going to have to take her to the police station they feared that perhaps she had been sold something that is illegal in the state of Delosa. I couldn’t believe that the PD would be such hard-asses about it since it was obviously some sort of misunderstanding. No misunderstanding, it turned out. She had actually gotten smacked pretty seriously by her boyfriend and they needed her to go downtown to fill out a report.

One of the biggest differences between a convention in 2007 and one in 1997 is the dealers room. In addition to the aforementioned swords, the variety of things sold at those things has increased fifty-fold. There were swords and shirts and costumes and comic books and robes and magic crystals. You want to know what was missing? ANIME! There were all of two tables that were actually selling anime. To compare, there were as many colleges that had booths trying to recruit arts students and branches of the military trying to sign people up for war than there were booths actually selling anime at the anime convention. This was not the case in 2004, when I attended my last convention. I guess that it’s become so easy to get the stuff over the internet that the dealers room was turned over to even more eccentric things than anime.

At a convention some time ago, a friend of mine kept a cooler and went around selling cold cokes for a buck a piece and made a killing. Maybe next year I will try to be able to bankroll my own trip by selling cokes and batteries. Though they restocked batteries every morning, the woman at the convenience store at the hotel said that the batteries never lasted until 10:00.

Though I was glad that I only got a one-day pass, I really had a blast. Though I make fun of my geeky cohorts and even though it was on the whole a lot less geeky than it used to be, I really had a warm feeling at the convention of being surrounded by my peeps.

Category: Downtown, Theater

So the latest word on the upcoming GI Joe movie (still very early in development) is that they’re de-Americanizing the Real American Heroes:

In a follow-up to their confirmation that Stephen Sommers will direct G.I. Joe, Variety offers this new description of the team: “G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer. The property is closer in tone to X-Men and James Bond than a war film.”

Leaving aside for a moment the development that Cobra will apparently be headed by Destro rather than Cobra Commander (or perhaps it’ll be a Cobra Commander with Destro’s backstory)… Brussels?! What the holy heck?

I guess I can understand the international danger in American armed services actually being the good guys and in that vein I’m actually not so much bothered by GI Joe being an arm of an international entity. For some reason it’s the whole Brussels part that bugs the living crap out of me. Why not just make them part of the UN and let them at least be based out of the US?

What’s interesting here is that for all the grief I’m sure they’ll be catching for this in conservative circles, they actually dodged what could have been a much more politically potent plot. In the comic books, Cobra actually got its start as something of a right-wing domestic militia. They could have made Cobra a secret, maybe Klannish, organization working both within and outside of our government. It could have all manner of irritating politically correct goodness.

But man… Brussels. What the holy heck is up with that? I’m actually wondering if they’re going to go through and start assigning different nationalities to all the old faves. Flint could be French, already wearing the beret and all.

Category: Theater

Category: Server Room

-{Warning: The conversation in this post veers into less than entirely pleasant, bathroom-related terrain}-

quinkyle: Hey, it’s been a while since we had lunch. Would you like to eat lunch this week?

trumwill: I try to have lunch on a daily basis, so I assume that I will eat lunch at least 5 days this week.

quinkyle: How about you and I eat lunch together. Like at the same time and the same restaurant. We can talk while we’re not eating. Is there anything I missed, Mr. Literal?

trumwill: Would we be eating at the same table?

quinkyle: It would make talking a lot easier if we were. And less rude to those around us.

trumwill: Sounds like a deal. Where do you want to eat?

quinkyle: A new Chipotle’s opened up near the town square. How about that?

trumwill: Oh yeah, I saw it. I ate the new Grande Quesodilla instead. That was a mistake.

quinkyle: Uh oh, did you outlay a brown waterfall, Cici’s style? -{ed note: CiCi’s pizza destroys my digestive system}-

trumwill: No, no. This produced very solid waste matter. It was more unpleasant going in than it was coming out.

quinkyle: I really could have gone all day without knowing that. At least the part of the day where I have food in my system that is digesting.

trumwill: You reckon I’m giving said food ideas?

quinkyle: Doubtful. Food can’t read. If it could it would probably be less complaint when directed into the building with the sign that says “Slaughterhouse” over it.

trumwill: True, and I suppose it doesn’t acquire the ability to read in between the slaughterhouse and your digestive tract.

quinkyle: That would be wicked-scary if it did.

trumwill: Indeed.

Category: Kitchen, Server Room

How ironic is this… I just wrote a post lamenting how impossible it is to discuss racial issues because both sides get so self-righteous and defensive, but the more I wrote the more I had to edit and the more I edited the less I could say and eventually I couldn’t say anything that wouldn’t get everybody self-righteous and defensive.

Category: Coffeehouse

When I was in the fourth grade, I had a hot teacher, Mrs. Nelson. She was under thirty, attractive, and very nice and warm. So was so nice and pretty that she had relatively few disciplinary problems with the boys because none of us wanted to make her upset with us.

On the first day of class she gave a speech that it was in the fourth grade that she started needing glasses and that she would be on the lookout for kids in her class that might need glasses.

I’m not sure there was any clearer way that she might have said “If you have bad eye sight, or at least behave as though you do, you will get extra attention from a very attractive school teacher.”

Suddenly I couldn’t read the chalkboard so easily. I had to squint. I had to raise my hand and ask about any writing that might have been the slightest bit smaller or less legible than other writing. In no other class would having been moved to the front a reward rather than a punishment. When Mrs. Nelson told my parents that I needed to get my eyes checked, I was in too deep to do anything but intentionally fail my eye exam.

My first pair of eyeglasses had big, giant, purple frames. I was not particularly averse to wearing glasses in the abstract (I knew my genes and knew I’d get them eventually), but the combination of the girliness of the glasses and the fact that it made my perfect vision blurry, I wore them next to never.

A couple years later I was stuck in the back of my Spanish class, where the ability to read a chalkboard was more crucial in others. I could not for the life of me read what was going on. I don’t know if it was the first time I’d been sat in the back of a class in a year or two* or if my eyesight had just suddenly deteriorated between the fifth and sixth grades, but it was harsh. Out of pure desperation I put on the Ole Purples. They actually helped!

Unfortunately, I had enough popularity problems without those things saddling my already unimpressive personal appearance. So once again I was pretending that I couldn’t read what was reasonably clear so that I could get another visit to the eye doctor and another pair of (preferably black or silver or brown or gold or anything but purple) glasses. When it was all said and done my prescription was… almost identical to the bad prescription I had faked two years before. “This is great!” Dad said, “no need for new glasses!”

Ole Purples met with their untimely demise a week later when Dad sat in them in his chair. “So strange,” he said, “you’d think I would have seen them there.” Somehow they’d ended up below the armchair cover, which had itself been placed on the seat of the chair, making it pretty difficult to see. I managed to convince Dad that my glasses must have been on the armrest and that they must have fallen onto the seat of the chair where he sat on them. The elaborateness of my explanation was probably the most suspicious thing about the whole affair.

* – I don’t believe this to be the case. My last name for whatever reason would usually stick me near the back of the classroom in any alphabetically-assigned seating chart and any time we were given a choice I’d sit as far back as I could.

Category: Ghostland, School

As with anime, my interest in comic books has also waned over the years. So… what exactly do I like about stories where guys and gals dress up in tights, fly around, and save people? What advantage to dialogue balloons, thought balloons, and sound effects written out have over the solidly written word or TV show?

I’ll tackle the first thing first. Why be interested in something as childish and unrealistic as superheroes? That very question assumes that comic books are childish and realism is something to be preferred.

When I was in high school, my theater teacher talked about “the illusion of reality” that the stage provides. It wasn’t supposed to be and look real. Everything needed to be exaggerated so that people in the back could see what was going on. Rooms needed to be bended outward to provide more room for movement. It didn’t have to look real, it just had to look real enough for people to understand and relate. Attempting to behave on stage as you do in real life would lead subtlety and nuance to be largely or completely missed. Just like you have to yell to produce a conversational volume to the guy across the room, you sometimes need to exaggerate things to portray common everyday things in new ways.

Many of the aspects of superhero stories are simply amplifications of everyday life. They’re a backdrop with which to tell a story in a new and interesting way. Secret identities often mirror the two faces we have during the work day and afterwards. In order to maximize our career opportunities we often hide our opinions and aspects of our personality. Superheroing is the opposite, where you hide your public life from your private friends. You also find yourself in situations like Batman and Superman wherein you are stuck working with someone that you have to respect, don’t particularly like, and almost never agree with.

My last couple of jobs in Colosse had me working as a (or the sole) network administrator. Whenever the network went down I had to drop everything and try to fix it. The first network outage we had in Deseret, I almost leaped into action before realizing that my employer had its own IT department and it wasn’t my problem. As I watched them scramble the thought that went through my mind was that I was like a retired superhero witnessing a crime. I even wrote a short story in that vein. A hundred thousand of my experiences have been outlined, in a more exaggerated and colorful form, in superhero stories.

The other big thing is that comic books allow for a comprehensive style of storytelling I’m not sure that I’ve seen anywhere else ever save perhaps for Star Trek. A Batman comic is not just a Batman comic. It’s a comic within the larger framework of a comic book universe. When Superman died, he did not only die in the Superman titles but the repercussions of which were felt in every other comic ever made. At any given time there are between 20 and 40 different comic book titles. They’re almost all written and drawn by different people. But together they weave a tapestry. They all become a part of one another as characters and stories cross over from one title to another.

Sometimes the writers differ from one another. Sometimes Bruce Wayne is portrayed one way in one comic book and then a different way in another. Sometimes there is a retcon where something in the past (like a supervillain’s origin) was retroactively changed. These sorts of things make a lot of fans mad, but I even like that aspect in me. The relativist in me says that the past changes all the time. What we always thought was actually was not. Sometimes perceptions of a person differ so greatly from one person to the next it’s like… they’re written by two entirely different people. I actually get a bit of a charge out of the ambiguous aspect of it all.

There are relatively few things that can compete with the comprehensiveness of a universe built on 350 comic books a year. Soap Operas can sometimes do it, particularly when they spin off and cross over with one another. Star Trek has sort of done it in between the various shows and books. The old overlapping stories of the Greek gods also did that sort of thing, with Zeus and Heracles and Agamemnon appearing here and there as part of some greater, mythical framework. But such things are very rare.

Superheroics, like Greek gods and science fiction, are very conducive to this sort of thing because it doesn’t seem to me that when a guy dies and comes back from the death a couple times it doesn’t matter whether he’s wearing a two-piece suit or underoos, you’re already outside the realm of possibility. I say you might as well have some fun with it.

Of the movie Troy, Roger Ebert writes:

By treating Achilles and the other characters as if they were human, instead of the larger-than-life creations of Greek myth, director Wolfgang Petersen miscalculates. What happens in Greek myth cannot happen between psychologically plausible characters. That’s the whole point of myth.

I appreciate the subtlety of a morally murky crime show or the philosophical pontifications of a courtroom drama, but sometimes stories are better told and ideas better presented with people that can fly or create giant green objects with their rings.

Category: Theater

The reason that posting has been light this week is that we are spending it in a condo on sunny Shell Beach. This is our first trip back to Shell Beach since it got nailed by a couple back-to-back hurricanes. So everything here is new. That includes the televisions, where the old school tubes have been replaced by new HiDef TVs.

As most of you are aware, the aspect ratio (AR) on HDTVs are closer to the 16:9 of movies rather than the 3:2 of regular television. This presents a bit of a problem because though more and more TV shows have gone “widescreen” most are still in the traditional AR. The most obvious solution to this problem is to have black bars running to the right and left (the same way that black bars run along top and bottom when widescreen is shown on regular television.

The television comes with a handful of options:

  • Normal – This is with the black bars running across the right and left, which can create the burn if used too much. It also is problematic when a 16:9 show comes on, because then there are black borders along all four sides becaue it’s a 16:9 inside a 3:2 inside a 16:9.
  • Wide – Everything is fat. The advantage to this is that everything is visible. This is the way to go with sports where being able to read the text (stats and scores) is important, but a slight distortion isn’t that big of a deal as long as it’s consistent.
  • Panorama – This takes up the extreme monitor by distorting the sides. It creates a glass type of effect, where everything front and center (which you would be viewing through glasses) appears nicely but the edges are grossly distorted (as they might look outside your glasses). This is a lot like “Normal” view but in a way that won’t create any long-term problems with the screen.
  • Zoom – This is my preferred one, where it just lops off the top and bottom of the screen Similar to how “full-size” movies lop off the right and left of widescreen films, though those movies typically do it tactically rather than right in the center. Zoom mode of live television obviously can’t do that (though a scroll feature would be awesome!). For the most part you don’t lose much from the top and bottom. I was watching Law & Order yesterday and I was wondering if they kept declining to show the top of Fred Thompson’s bald head in some conspiracy to prevent him from looking too old to be president. Then I remembered that I was in zoom mode.

The United States is supposed to cease analog television in early 2009, at which point HDTV sales will start to increase significantly. As they become more prevalent, I can’t help but think that some more permanent solution will have to be figured out. New programming that hasn’t already will start switching to 16:9 AP, but what about all of the 3:2 broadcasts in reruns?

It seems to me that the most obvious solution will be to simply come up with alternate content for the 15-20% of the screen that is unused. This would actually allow the broadcasters non-stop commercials. They would have to be subtle so that they don’t detract from the main programming, but having corporate logos wouldn’t be that problematic, for instance. In fact, this is so obvious that I could see them doing it for new broadcasts as well as older ones. More benignly, during sports news on ESPN or Fox Sports they could have the boxscore cattle call appearing non-stop to the right instead of in a crawl at the bottom. For news broadcasts they could sum up the news story in bullet points or provide geared ads (say during a story on house break-ins, show phone numbers of home security systems and whatnot).

For the past few years they’ve been showing more and more new content in 16:9 AR even though for most people that means unused blackscreen. It’s not hard at all to imagine that they would keep new shows at 3:2 so that they can run corporate logos and emphasize product placement (“that letter-opener that the character is using is available at Staples for $6.99!).

The alternative would be for them to go over all of the old shows and crop like they do in the movies, which is a lot of work, or add the black bars in so people don’t have to keep switching from video modes (which runs burn risks, but solves the bigger problem). For better or worse, though, I can’t imagine that they would fail to utilize the opportunity to sell more ads, though.

Category: Theater

Some people can’t stand anime and don’t see the appeal to anything animated at all. Some people aren’t into most animated things out there due to subject and content, but aren’t intrinsically against animated features. If you’re in the second category, you might appreciate The Wings of Honneamise

Honneamise is a fictional nation in a fictional world trying to embark on its world’s first space program. The nation of Honneamise has had a Royal Space Force for several years by the start of the movie, but it’s mostly manned by people without the skills to get into the traditional air force. That includes our hero, Shirotsugh Lhadatt.

Lhadatt is something of a well-meaning but unmotivated slacker at the start of the film. He’s been in a philosophical funk. A search for meaning after the death of a colleage has him turning up on the doorstep of Riquinni, a young religious fanatic that spends her days passing out pamphlets in the town square. Riquinni doesn’t realize that the Royal Space Force is something of a joke and expresses upmost admiration for Lhadatt and his organization. This in turn pushes Lhadatt into volunteering to be the country’s next astronaut (the previous being the now-dead colleague).

Most of the movie is following Lhadatt through his training, tracking the ebb and flow of the friendship and potential romance with Riquinni, and the technical and political challenges of the space program. That may sound tedious and boring, but the devil of the story is in the details. The visuals, to start, are phenomenal. The creators of this movie created a different-but-same-as-ours world with great care to detail. The people of that world created many of the same things we did, but in slightly different ways. One example is that their coinage are actually little rods, their formal soldier uniforms have poofy skirts, the dominant religion seems to take elements of Christianity and Prometheus, and the entire world has a slightly cockeyed feel to it but without the sense that the authors were doing it just to be neat or grab your attention.

The characterization is also stellar. Shirotsugh and Riquinni compliment each other very well, the former as someone that has seemingly lived his life as a pedestrian thinker suddenly pushed to contemplate the deeper meanings of life and the latter as a woman that has lived in utter devotion to her faith that has never bothered to think about the day-to-day things such as paying the bills or making friends. Unlike in many movies, the relationship between the two of them isn’t a seemless connection but rather a series of jerky motions where you’re going back and forth as to whether or not that’s where it’s headed at all.

The plot itself is mostly predictable, though with enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. The space project becomes something of a political football with an enthusiastic crown prince facing off against a cynical parliament. You don’t see any of the discussions, but hear about them in newsreels and the word coming from On High about the current direction of the program. The disconnect between those with the power making the decisions and the ones putting their lives on the line carrying them out is an interesting one. A constant message is to never believe in what you’re being asked to do. It’s one that resonated with me.

The movie is a touch over two hours long and the pacing is slow and deliberate. If you’re looking for something with great animated explosions and aren’t interested in much else, you’ll fall asleep before you get to them. What Wings of Honneamise does manage to accomplish, though, is to utilize the surreal nature of an invented animated world and sew it in with relatable, common characters wading through uncharted territory.

A few interesting tidbits:

  • The name “Honneamise” is mentioned only a handful of times throughout the film and has an unexpected pronunciation. I did not know that Honneamise was the name of a geographical place until my third viewing.
  • The nation’s rival is only referred to as “The Republic”. At some point in the past Honneamise and The Republic went to war against one another and there are allusions that The Republic is occupying portions of Honneamise. The only Republicans you see are the defense minister and his aides. In the original Japanese version, the Republicans speak English.
  • I saw both the dubbed and subtitled versions and either are worth seeing. There are only a couple major deviations. One philosophical conversation about right and wrong between Shirotsugh and his friend Mati is changed. The subtitled version of Riquinni is a little more evangelical in tone than the dubbed version. The dub voice actors are quite good, though.
  • This movie introduced me to the phrase “Before you were an itch in your daddy’s crotch”, which I’ve been using variations of ever since.

Category: Theater

Very few people I meet have neutral attitudes towards Japanese animation. It’s one of those things that you either “get” or one of those things that you stratch your head wondering why people who don’t look like children love such a childish thing. The only people I know that aren’t one or the other are people like myself that were very much into it at one point but whose interest waned with time.

As far as I know, most of my readership is not into anime. So, as a public service announcment, I will lay out what it is that I see in it.

American television (let’s leave animation aside, for a moment) typically follows certain story rhythms. We put shows into nice, neat little categories. We have family comedies with clueless fathers and goofy neighbors. We have buddy-group comedies about young singles on the prowl. We have office comedies that are generally unlike any office we’ve ever been a part of. In one-hour increments we have lawyers and detectives handling cases one episode at a time or civilians that shockingly have someone they meet that week die that week every week.

I’m not knocking American television. A formula does not generally make or break a show. The question of whether or not we care if Ross and Rachel or Sam and Diane or Niles and Daphne or Ashley and Pete get together are as interesting or boring as the writers make them. But by and large they work from a similar framework.

Anime, on the other hand, works from a very different framework. Because the animation is (generally) so unrealistic, they are free to incorporate wild elements into everyday life. Imagine Sam and Diane mixed with the outlandish martial art fights and a gender-bending curse. It may be utterly unappealing to you, but it’s not generally something you’ve ever seen before. Imagine a show wherein the End of the World is a subplot, simply the contextual backdrop to what’s really going on?

The more of it you watch, the more you start to recognize the anime story rhythms. The main reason my interest started to dwindle is that it stopped being original. The fifth time you see a variation of the same anime set-up (say a clueless guy surrounded by conniving female suitors) before the originality stops being interesting enough to keep your attention. But the great thing about anime is that it was like starting from a blank slate. Everything was new and original.

Some of the originality was based on the different things you can do with animation without breaking a budget or having it look too weird (particularly when the characters are markedly non-proportional, as is the case with most anime). There’s no reason that American entertainment can’t capture some of this originality and more and more it’s doing just that (Airbender – The Last Avatar being a stellar example). But there’s also the originality that comes with a foreign culture. They have different cultural norms and assumptions about how people act. This just adds some spice to the stew, in my opinion.

I’m the first to admit that it’s not for everybody. A lot of people used to believe that we were on the cusp of an entertainment movement (of, if anime, than animation aimed at non-children*). And in a way we worry as anime is so much bigger and more in the mainstream now than it was back in the day. But for the most part it’s still a niche programming, but popular enough to be lucrative and not anywhere near the source of embarassment it might once have been.

In some ways it’s interestingly become too big to be interesting. It used to be that there were comparatively so few releases that if you met an anime fan on the street there was reason to believe that you had seen at least some of the same things. There were so few voice actors that you got to follow them from one show to the next. Many shows had nearly identical voice casts, which was actually kind of fun. Now they’re translating and pumping the stuff out so fast and with so many people that some of the community and continuity seems to be lost.

* – The question of age-appropriateness is increasingly becoming moot (though I don’t think it will ever be entirely so). Barney and Power Rangers aside, a lot of the new entertainment aimed at kids is interesting and complex enough for adults. There’s no denying that children are the intended audience for Harry Potter, for instance, but it’s written in a way that parents and kids can read it together. It seems that less of the cartoons that I saw growing up are remotely interesting past puberty. I think that this is on the whole a good thing.

Category: Theater