Thursday, 29 March 2012

Parity Breaking

Sports breeds an innate desire for overreactions. Perhaps this is inevitable, a product of a game where the smallest of margins separates victory from defeat. Regardless, we live in world where every loss is grounds for sacking the coach, and every poor performance is cause for playing the backup. Or the addition of a star will render a team invincible. While this is generally reserved for the talking heads on ESPN or call-ins to the local AM station, even the smartest and most rational fall victim to this curse. I present this article:
In it, Herr Klosterman proclaims a Kentucky victory will result in the death of College Basketball within a decade. Success is never guaranteed, and entropy will bring about the end of everything, but 10 years is far to short a time to kill a billion dollar industry. Even if in the end, this predictions will be realized.

Consider a three dimensional plane of hills and valleys. Now place a ball in the plane. The ball will roll around and eventually reach an equilibrium point and rest. It could stop in a local minimum and reach a stable equilibrium. Or it could stop on a plateau, creating an unstable equilibrium that could be upset with a light touch. A force is necessary to shift the ball away from any of positions. Now imagine the ball is the sport of basketball, and the plane is defined through the system of College Basketball, the rules, money, and corruption inherit within. What Calipari (An unfortunate name, as I am always reminded of Shakespeare's Caliban) coaches is at the local minimum, College Basketball run as a proto-pro league. Given the current system, this is inevitable. The only thing that has been preventing such a case is the forces of 'Tradition' and 'Respect for the Game', holding the ball above the local minimum. Unbound by that force, the ball will return to a natural rest. If not Calipari, some other coach would institute this at another school. The only way to prevent this is to change the system of College Basketball, an unlikely proposition, given the money involved.

But remember the overreaction I mentioned. Last year, with a mid-major in the final for the second year in a row, we had reached a new ear of parity, where the elite programs would no longer enjoy a significant talent advantage over small schools. Just one year later, parity is broken forever and five schools will dominate basketball for all eternity. How did that happen?

In short, College Basketball is dying, but it has been dying since before Magic and Bird met on a court in Utah, and will keep dying long into the future. And the system will eventually change, as it always does, a new era will be reached, and one day we will look back with fondness at Coach Calipari and say there was a man of tradition, so unlike the coaches of today, and it is too bad the game is not like it was back in those days.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
There is nothing permanent except change.
Let us enjoy the present while it here, and let the future worry about itself. Besides,
The future will be better tomorrow.
Dan Quayle

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Codex Hermetica: Chapter 2

Codex Hermetica
Chapter 2: Elf 17

If there is one thing that Americans and Japanese share, it is an affinity for sport. Of course, baseball, “America's Pastime” is a bigger deal in the Pacific Rim than it is here, but it doesn't stop there – you can find manga and anime versions of every sport out there, even things that Americans ignore. I have heard rumours of the legendary curling manga, but I have yet to find proof of its existence. But, the one 'sport' that does surprise me is that of Pro Wrestling. I've always found Pro Wresting to profoundly stupid, a soap opera for men, rife with sexual tension and homoeroticism (not that there's anything wrong with that). Not only that, but the idea of a scripted sporting event is anathema to me; I watch sports precisely because anything can happen. Let me quote an exchange from the second episode of Galaxy Angel Z, one of my favorite franchises:
Normad: What a meaningless spectacle this is. That man thrown up against the ropes shouldn't bounce back that hard. It goes against the laws of physics..
Ranpha: What was that?!
Normad: I'm just wondering why, when one guy gets up on the corner post, his opponent comes right up to the landing spot...
Ranpha: I hope you understand the magnitude of what you just said!
In short, I much like Normad, fail to understand the draw of Pro Wrestling. But apparently, it has be present in Japan for a while. In an episode of Urusei Yatsura, Ataru watches some Pro Wrestling at dinner, so it's been around since at least the eighties. And there has been a merging of the ridiculous costumes and spectacle of Pro Wrestling with Japanese MMA (I recall a cosplaying fighter, but can't find the source right now). And so this brings me to an obscure little OVA, that opens with a mixture of Pro Wrestling and MMA – in space!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Review: Nisemonogatari

Wow. There were 52 March Madness games last week, and I watched at least some of all 52. And somehow found the time to repair, re-stain and re-finish one of the shelves I built myself. And finish up Nisemonogatari, and write a review of it. I also posted it on the AniDB, but here it is, in it's entirety.

Nisemonogatari: A Post-Mortem

People will be happy if they think what's in the museum is the authentic one. Delusions such as pictures and money don't have value. They're all illusions.
--Kyouka-sama, Kyouran Kazoku Nikki

What happens if you set out to tell a ‘fake’ story and succeed? Should a successful telling of fake story be rewarded? Well, let’s leave philosophical paradoxes aside, and discuss the truth: regardless of intent, Nisemonogatari is a weak story, and it is a disappointment. In short, this show fell flat. It failed to capture the magic of the first season, and spent too much time on character cameos and incest-ero and not enough actual story.

Before I start, I need to set the framework. I generally enjoy the work of Nisioisin. His style is somewhat esoteric, and he delights in wordplay and unusual diction, but I find these traits endearing. And I believe that Bakemonogatari is one of the best anime ever made. In my ‘Giant Spreadsheet of Doom’, there are 348 anime titles listed, in order of quality. Bakemonogatari is entry number 2. So when I discuss Nisemonogatari, keep in mind that I know full well what this franchise is capable of, and to what standards I am holding this show to.

The Good

Here is a case of when having too much of budget can be bad. The animation of Bakemonogatari was beset with Shaft’s usual budget crisises, and so a lot of the strange atmosphere and animation cuts where more forced than planned. However, somehow, they managed to turn this disadvantage around to Bake’s biggest strength, creating an eerily beautiful and surreal landscape and a truly unique animation style. In Nise, there is plenty of cash on hand, and therefore the animation is more polished, but it loses the sense of charm that original had. The animation is style very good – both fight scenes and landscapes retain the good parts of Bake, but there is no innovation, nothing new. And there the director fails to make good use of the Red Scene/Black Scene cuts as compared to the first season. It might be more shiny, but it is less filling.

When Nisioisin is on, he is on. The true greatness of Bake lay in its ability to weave an engaging story out of a simple conversation between two characters. Some of the best episodes of Bake are nothing more than Araragi trading sarcastic barbs with another character. These scenes return, and there are some notable ones, especially the opening episodes and every time Hachikuji appears. But they have a different feel to them than in Bake. In Bake, these scenes exist to provide information on the character, to define their personality or to advance a plot point. Here, they are more like slice-of-life comedy shorts, something that wouldn’t be out of place in Lucky Star or Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but are for the most part pointless. Their only purpose is to satiate the fans of these characters, to give them some airtime to please the fanbois of the original. Often, they feel more like cameos, or that they were wedged into the story to sell more character products. It creates and odd situation. The original five girls have the best writing, but they don’t advance the story, and so all this good writing goes to waste.

The one other place where the writing shines is the endings of the two arcs. The final showdown with Kaiki is brilliantly anti-climatic, and is supremely well designed. And the closing episode again shows off Nisioisin’s command of the written word. It is not a typical anime ending, nor is it expected. But it is a perfect fit, to both the tone and style of the show. This is a fake story after all, and it is only fitting that it receives a fake ending as well.

Again, we have one of the best vocal casts out there at the peak of their game. Take everything I said about the first season and at it in here. And there is a new cast member, one Sakamoto Maaya as the voice actress for the loli vampire Shinobu. Shinobu is a demanding role, but she gives a commanding performance. There is little more to be said about the cast, this is perfection. On the music side, the OPs exceed the already high expectations set by the first season, but the ED is a letdown. I found it to be a poor fit for the tone of the show.

The Bad

There are eleven episodes of Nise. These eleven episodes contain about four episodes worth of plot, spread between them. The remainder is filler. Now, in Bake there was a lot of sitting around and talking, but that those scenes meant something. They developed a character, or advanced a plot. Nise's scenes, as I said before, are more like slice-of-life scenes. Not bad, in their own, but pointless in the greater scheme of things. And there was no moderation to it. In a low point for the franchise, there was an episode devoted to Araragi brushing his sister’s teeth. It was truly bizarre, lasted way too long, and failed to have any meaning. It seemed as an attempt to create a fetish out of thin air, and the only thing worse than a fake fetish is a fake meme. And this leads me to the next subject:

The Chemistry
Or complete lack of it. In Bake, the strong chemistry between the characters turned potential filler into engaging and important episodes. But in Nise, the chemistry between Araragi and his sisters is near zero. Part of this is bad design—the relationships between Araragi and the five girls are new and therefore need to be established, but the relationships between Araragi and his sisters is old, and therefore already established—but the viewer does not know of this relationship. They don’t need to build a relationship, it already exists, but this negates Bake’s greatest strength. And no chemistry is generated with the sisters within the content of the show. A lot of this is due the character of Araragi—he remains stern and protective of his sisters, while friendly and playful with the five girls. The result is that the interactions between Araragi and his sisters often feel forced, while the interactions between Araragi and the original five remain natural. A similar problem happens with Shinobu. Again, her relationship is already established, in the yet to be animated prequel. However, this problem is overcome, mostly due to the fact Araragi treats Shinobu like an equal, unlike his sisters. However, the focus of Nise is on the sisters, and the failure to generate chemistry undermines the foundation of the show.

The Ugly

Bake had its moments of ero, but they did not dominate the show, like they do in Nise. And the ero is not necessary to the show. It is pandering for the sake of pandering. And that is insulting. I like ero as much as the next man, but there needs to be moderation. Most of the filler I mentioned earlier consists of ero scenes. And the really irritating thing is that these scenes are unnecessary. Generally, ero scenes like this are the last refuge of a failing show that needs to make up viewership at any cost. Nise is guaranteed to sell at least 50k, so that can’t be the reason. The original Bake was a well written show with deliciously subversive eroticism. It deftly wielded the ero to enhance the story. Nise’s ero has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It substitutes ero for clever writing and style, and that never works well. It is lazy writing, and that is polar opposite of what a Nisioisin story should be.

A lot of the reason that the ero fails is that it is incest ero. Not only is it completely unrealistic, but it is pandering to the otaku core. It is cheap, and completely stupid. The problem is that any time invested in incest ero scenes is wasted, since there is no possibility of the characters actually following through. You could imagine Araragi ending up with any of the five girls, but the possibility of the one of the sisters is zero. Yet, in the course of eleven episodes he kisses both and strips both. This cheapens the show and cheapens the character of Araragi. This franchise is good enough not to prostitute itself like this. It was highly disappointing.

Nisioisin must have some weird haircutting fetish. In Bake, Nise, and Katana, there are four separate instances of girls getting their hair cut. Stop this foolishness. The longer the hair, the cuter the girl. It is a fundamental maxim.

The Conclusion
Nisioisin sets out to prove a philosophical point with Nisemonogatari. Can a fake be more valuable that the real thing? The answer is left to the viewer, but it is clear that Araragi has made his choice. But while he succeeds at proving his point, the overall this story is not as good as Bakemonogatari was. Nise is still a solid show. If this was an original show, if it was not a sequel, I probably would have rated it higher. But I know what this franchise is capable of, and this is a disappointment. I expect quality, and I got average. Not good enough.

In Bake, things are gained. Araragi works to restore the girls to where they want to be. In Nise, nothing is gained, only preserved. Araragi works to prevent loss. Bake ends with an increase over the starting point; Nise ends at the same point where the story started. This fundamental difference in design prevents Nise from matching Bake’s greatness. But it did itself no favors either, with its flawed chemistry and ero-incest filler. As a sequel, it is acceptable. But it could have been better. It should have been better.

Plot: B
Art: A-
Sound: A-
Character: B-
Enjoyment: B
Value: {
Watchability: B+
Re-Watchability: D+
Historical Value: A }

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Watching Xanadu -- Ano Natsu de Matteru 09

In any sporting competition, there is often a point where the outcome of the game hangs in the balance. Causal fans assume this occurs at the end of the game, but the truth is this point can occur at any moment of the game. It could be a relief pitcher getting a bases loaded strikeout in the 6th inning, or a falling-down tray with the shotclock expiring. In the best of games, these points can happen multiple times, as the pendulum of fate swings back and forth. An experienced eye can see these moments, as if time itself slows down. You can feel the forces of destiny swirling as the ball hangs in the air, your heart in your throat as you wait to see whom fate has favored. There is nothing like in this world. Perhaps the popularity of futbol is due to its ability to measure these moments – a goal being the very crystallization of the idea itself. In these games and matches at last forty or sixty or ninety minutes or nine innings, these moments only take up a handful of seconds. Ninety minutes of futbol can be decided in twenty seconds of play.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Watching Xanadu

Watching Xanadu is a sporadic, less detailed column that explores a single episode or subset of whatever I'm currently watching. Today, I want to talk about a show that it could be argued isn't even an anime at all, and is not one you'd expect me to watch at all.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

And Zoidberg

My favorite sport is baseball.  I love baseball because it is boring, and therefore I don't have to devote my full attention to it.  I can watch a baseball game and at the same time read a book, or write, or draw, or do a million other things, and not lose any enjoyment.  With basketball, it is just the opposite, the action is so fast I have to give it my full attention.  With American Armoured Wankball, the action is too sporadic (10 seconds of action followed by 40 seconds of overweight men standing around catching their breath) I often quickly lose interest.  With futbol, if I watch with full attention, nothing will happen, but as soon as I look away, the only goal of the match will be scored.  But baseball is a perfect fit for me.

So, since spring training is starting up, you would think that is what I would be watching.  Well, you'd be wrong.  March is the greatest month of sports (topped only by the World Cup, and that only comes every 4 years), and that is because of College Basketball.  College Basketball is so great because of the sheer emotion -- unlike ever other sport, in college you only get four years to compete.  If you fail to take advantage, it is the end.  You may never be in this position again.  Pain, hope, despairation, euphoria -- every shot, every play, is full of all these emotions.  There is nothing in this world that matches the drama of the occasion.  And so I devote an inordinate amount of time to basketball this month, to pay tribute to fullest expression of humanity that exists.

Anyway, I'm going to really busy of the next two weeks, because I try to catch as much of it as I can.  Here is what my computer looked like most of Saturday
And yes, that is Zoidberg in the top left corner.  College fans are the crazy, another reason why this is the great time of the year.  Now, I must leave, for there are more games to been seen.