Saturday, September 20, 2014

writing ideas that never go anywhere

Recently on a sunday morning I've been lying in bed and suddenly these two characters came into my head. Since I've found some beautiful pictures on Pinterest, I've been interested in danmei (Chinese version of yaoi apparently) and wuxia (martial arts/fantasy hero stories). Well, out of that, half asleep, Han and Li were created. Those are just "working names" right now, actually they resemble the names of two co-workers which inspired their characters. Another inspiration are Shūei Ran and Kōyū Ri of Saiunkoku Monogatari. I made up the story of how Han and Li became lovers - and later that day forgot most of it.

I'm still keeping those two in mind and working on it (often as a distraction when I get depressed about my current work situation) - though most probably there will never be a story. I'm not good at stories. I can make up characters and individual scenes, but I can never think of a proper plot.
It's a bit of a shame, really. While cleaning up my parents cellar recently and sorting through my old stuff I found a folder full of material about the U.S.S. Phoenix: I made up a Starfleet ship, with the whole bridge crew, their backstories and even drawings. But I never could think of a good story, so that went nowhere.

This song kind of represents the atmosphere I'm having in mind for Han and Li:
(Love this song, but unfortunately it's not available as a download in Germany. It's the ending of the anime Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru.) Read more on this article...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What it all comes down to is that I haven't got it all figured out just yet.

I feel drunk but I'm sober, I'm young and I'm underpaid.
I'm tired but I'm working.
I care but I'm restless, I'm here but I'm really gone.
Alanis Morissette - Hand In My Pocket Read more on this article...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer season 2014 anime short reviews

So here's a roundup of the animes I'm watching this season (apart from Free! Eternal Summer). I didn't like last season too much, but this time there's a few good ones.

DRAMAtical Murder

This is a strange one.
I really like the setting, futuristic, people in gangs, personal assistants in the form of robot animals. I also really like the character design, very diverse, colourful, creative, a little crazy. My favourite is Koujaku - an adorable and sexy hairdresser (!!) and gang leader with an old-fashioned samurai-ish outfit, tattoos and long dark hair.

I've read that this is based on a yaoi game, but so far it's rather harmless; there's just one kiss and that was more of a WTF moment than romantic or sexy.
I can't say too much of the plot yet because DRAMAtical Murder is one of these animes in which you need a lot of episodes to figure out what's going on. But it's not confusing enough to make me drop it (like some others), but rather entertaining enough to continue.

The big problem DRAMAtical Murder has is the animation. I don't usually care that much about animation quality but here it's at times so bad that even I notice. I do hope the studio manages to improve.
I'm also not too fond of the opening and ending, especially the music, but that's not too important for me.

Cyberpunk and yaoi - sounds like a good mash-up. Kind of makes me want to play the game and read the manga.




Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Chiyo Sakura has a crush on her schoolmate Umetarou Nozaki but when she tries to confess... she gets mistaken as a fan. Turns out Nozaki-kun is secretly the mangaka of a popular shōjo series. And while Sakura tries to get closer to him, she somehow ends up as his assistant.

There's really not much more to the plot. But the characters are awesome.

This is a hilarious shōjo parody. Everytime it seems like it's turning into your typical romantic high school drama for girls - something wacky happens and turns it all around.



Ao Haru Ride

And here we have the shōjo Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is making fun of...
When Yoshioka Futaba starts High School she wants to change her image. She had been hated by the girls in her school because she was the cute type whom the boys like, so now she's going for a tomboy attitude. Then she unexpectedly meets her former crush Mabuchi Kou who had had moved away suddenly. But he has also changed a lot and while she tries to find out what happened, despite everything they become friends again. Prompted by Kous snarky remarks she tries to lead a more authentic school life with less shallow friendships. And so somehow an unlikely circle of friends forms. But things get complicated when Futabas new best friend falls for Kou.

It might sound weird but I kind of like how she likes his smell and how she's fascinated by the nape of his neck (a very intimate and sensitive area of your body) - it's those things that make it seem more realistic. And maybe somehow it makes me feel a little nostalgic. Also the pacing of the story is really good.

I know it's a rather typical high school romance, but I really quite like it. I even started reading the manga (which is also good).







Love Stage!!

Love Stage!! is a "gay" love story set in the entertainment industry in which an otaku from a famous family and a rising idol star discover that they are not as heterosexual as they thought they were.

I've read the manga before (and then forgot about it, like so often) so I started to watch the anime, too. I was a little surprised to hear of an anime adaption since the manga is quite explicit. In the anime there was ony one of these scenes so far and that one was of course heavily censored.

What I didn't like - in both manga and anime - was the sexual assault scene. I dislike how often these are used in manga/anime with a "I just couldn't help myself" and shortly after everything's ok because it was done because he loved her/him so much. I think that's a sickening attitude to spread. Sorry for that little rant.

Aside from that Love Stage!! is actually pretty funny and entertaining.





Barakamon

The handsome uprising calligrapher Seishuu Handa wins an important price but when he's critisized for being too conventional, his pride his hurt and he punches his critic, another famous calligrapher. As a punishment and to improve his art, the young man has to leave Tokyo and live on a remote island. As a city boy he's having a hard time dealing with the rural community, especially little girl Naru who is delighted to have a new playfellow available all day.
So we watch "Sensei"s (everyone just calls him that) quest to find his own style in calligraphy, which is sometimes heartwarming and most of the time extremely funny. The animation style is beautiful and the opening and ending songs are good and fit the mood.

Barakomon might be the best anime this season. I wasn't sure after the second episode because I felt it was too much slapstick with no good pacing, but the other episodes are great.


Read more on this article...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Crave

Your eyes, your ears, your mouth, your nose
Your arms, your legs, your heart, your soul
Touch me, touch me, touch me, touch me
My body craves your touch


Nuno - Crave


Read more on this article...

Monday, August 4, 2014

review: Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

It's summer. It's hot. In my opinion, it's way too hot (I hate global warming).
Thankfully the second season of the perfect anime to cool down is here: Free! Eternal Summer.
I really liked the first season and now the second season is there, it got me again. Badly. I even re-watched the first. Twice. I hope that with this review I can get some of that obsession out of my system, so I'm sorry if it's a little long and raving.
Spoiler warning: it's not really spoilers, but there's some screenshots from the second season, up to about episode 4 or 5.

Rating: 5/5 (with my current obsession, maybe a 4/5 in my normal state)
Volumes/episodes:
one light novel
anime: 2 seasons with 12 episodes each, season 2 ongoing at the moment
Mature content: only in your head
Genre: sports, slice of life

Haru and Makoto are best friends since childhood. In high school they meet with Nagisa, who used to be on a swimming team with them and decide to form a swim club at their school. They are supported by Gou, the younger sister of another former friend from their old swim club, Rin. Rin has recently returned from abroad but it seems like he's not a friend anymore. His character has changed a lot from when they were kids and the first season looks at why this has happened. Plus there's the struggle to make the newly-formed Iwatobi Swim Club into a a swimming team to be reckoned with.
I find it quite hard to describe the plot because outwardly there's not an awful lot happening. The plot is more of a coming of age story, a character development for both Haru and Rin.

Rin and Haru getting into a fight

I can, however, say more about the characters.
Haru loves water. A lot. He reminds me a little of that girl in the movie "Mermaids", played by Christina Ricci. Anything to do with water is serious business to Haru. He consideres water to be its own entity, so much that he goes to consult with it when he has problems or when prompted to tell his friends about a romantic encounter, he talks about seeing a waterfall. While he doesn't swim to win competitions or be the fastest, he does get jealous when he gets the feeling there's someone the water loves as much as him. I think being in water makes him feel at peace and "free". His natural connection with water makes everyone admire him when he's swimming, but he's not very good with people. He's an introvert and mostly only gets pushed into social interaction by his best friend Makoto (usually with the promise of a pool being involved). He doesn't show a lot of emotion and he sometimes seems to have difficulties to know what is appropriate to say or do, he's nearly Asperger-ish. He's very quiet and usually only talks when he feels he has something important to say. I guess to most people he'd seem weird and anti-social. Nevertheless he can form strong bonds with people important to him, like Makoto or Rin.

Makoto is gentle and kind. Even though he's friendly and often smiling, he keeps his worries to himself; I guess he tries not to bother anyone. Haru is probably one of the few people he sometimes confides in. He's a very caring older brother to his two siblings and he takes care of Haru, too (which got him the fandom nickname of "Mamakoto"). He's tall with broad shoulders and though he's definitely a looker, he seems shy about showing off his body (apparently the only one of the swimmers to feel that way). He's also easily frightened and suffers from thalassophobia (fear of the ocean) - maybe that's why he's swimming. His helpful nature makes him a good team captain, but sometimes there's a hint in his expression telling you that you do not want to make him get really angry. But maybe that's just my impression, he's been nothing but a sweetheart in the series. But I hope we get a little more character development from Makoto in the second season.

Haru playing games at Makotos

Rin's a "romantic swimming maniac" (a quote from his childhood friend Sousuke), he's very emotional, he laughs freely and he cries openly. He's the opposite of Haru: he's outgoing and he likes being around people. Rin is very disciplined and demands much of himself, his confidence is legitimate concerning his athletic abilities, but mentally he's not as strong as he likes to make people believe. He's handsome (he has that casual sexiness...) and can be quite charming if he wants to - or an annoying jerk. The change in his personality after coming back from Australia is so blatant that it worries his friends and family: he's gloomy, rude and he pushes people away, even his sister Gou. His relationship with his little sister is usually very good, even though they don't see each other often since he's at a boarding school. He's very protective of her and it's obvious they love each other very much (as siblings). His pointy teeth are a little weird though... In my opinion Rin has the most character development in the first season. I think he doesn't only love to swim relays because of following his fathers footsteps - I think being with his friends empowers him and gives him strength. He's a great swimmer, but he might actually be even better in a team. If that wasn't enough "Geschwafel" about Rin, for an amazing character study go here (it's way better than what I wrote, totally worth the time it takes to read, I promise).

Rin being sexy

I understand and like those three characters but I have a bit of a problem with the remaining two members of the Iwatoba Swim Club.
Nagisa is a very outgoing, happy-go-lucky personality. He seems very childish and unlike the others isn't prone to overthinking things - I mean that in a good way, his enthusiasm is very important for the team. But he can also be quite cunning, manipulating and maybe even a little sadistic at times. I think with Makoto and Haru being best friends and able to understand each other without words, he feels a little like the third wheel. That's why he's putting so much energy into finding new members and focuses so much on Rei after he joined. Rei and Nagisa often act like an old couple.
Rei - as the one wearing glasses (megane) - is a bookworm. If it's to be found in a book Rei will know it and if he doesn't, he'll find out. His obsession with comprehending the theory behind things contradicts a little with his more irrational obsession for anything beautiful. What made him join the swimming team in the end was his admiration for the beauty of Harus swimming. He wants to understand what's going on and feels left out as the only one who doesn't know about their past with Rin. Even though he could be seen as simply a substitute for Rin, he doesn't seem to feel that way. Maybe, like Rin, he's quite the romantic behind all that analytical knowledge. And I think that's why he's able to do what he does in the end...

I want to mention one more character, even though she's not exactly one of the main protagonists: Gou. First of all because I think she's a great character - which is rare, especially in reverse harem animes (yeah, I know, Free! isn't exactly one, but there IS only one girl among guys) - and because I think she plays an important role in forwarding the plot. Afterall, it is her who "arranges" the first meeting between Rin and his former friends. It's also Gou who's the fourth member needed to form the Swim Club at their school in the first place (before Rei came along). A lot of people only see her as the "fangirl representation" but I think that's not quite right. She's no fujoshi, she's a muscle fetishist; while she certainly enjoys the view of half-naked men, there's something more professional about it rather than just horniness. It's also not the reason she got involved with the swim club. She wanted to bring back the old Rin, to "heal" her brother and make him believe in his dream again, and she quite rightly guessed that Haru and his friends are the key to that. (I have a big brother, too, so I can really identify with that part of Gou. I think their sibling relationship is portrayed very beautifully.) But she doesn't only utilize the boys for her own purposes, she's actually a really good manager for them, too. She does her research to help improve their swimming, she makes up training plans, thinks up (wacky) ideas to recruit more members, she motivates and supports them. When she's not ogling at their muscles, she seems to be perfectly at ease with being the only girl surrounded by (half-naked bishōnen) guys. She doesn't make a big deal about it, but she's also not a tomboy either. I think her character comes across as very natural and normal. She's not stupid and not clumsy as females in anime often are and she's not reduced to being cute or sexy, and that's really refreshing. I wish we could see a little more of her.

Gou and her "swimmer harem"

Free! is based on a light novel by Kōji Ōji called "High Speed!". The plot of the novel is about the time when Haru, Makoto, Rin and Nagisa were kids up until they swam in a relay together and Rin left the country. In the anime parts of the novel are told in flash back scenes.

While Free! is nothing fancy, no exciting novelty, it is in my opinion a very good anime series. It is so well done in every aspect, its brilliance is very discreet.

First of all it defies gender-focused genres. Yes, there's fanservice and yaoi innuendos - clearly aimed at a female audience. But there's also subjects that are more typical of the shōnen genre, there's sports, rivalry, friendship/bromance, improving yourself, overcoming obstacles. There is no romance in there at all (except for what the fangirls' minds put in). Sometimes maybe the guys are a bit too openly talking about their feelings for a shōnen anime, but I actually think that's a good thing; we need more differentiated gender roles for boys, too.
So I think Free! is actually well-suited for both female and male audiences. It's a shame that many male viewers seem to shy away from it because of its "gay" reputation. Well yeah, there's a bunch of good-looking guys constantly taking off their clothes to do stuff together. They're also half naked most of the time. But what did you expect - it's an anime about swimming! If you can watch Phelps swim in the Olympics without questioning your sexuality then you can watch Free!, too. Besides, it might do boys good to see a normal female character like Gou in anime, too.

Rin hugging Haru

And that's something that's not so shōnen-typical: the female characters. They're not silly, have normal bodies and and most of the time are fully dressed. I really, really appreciate that.
The female characters aren't playing a very big role though, so it's a bit like getting the reverse harem anime without the annoying stupid female lead.

Another thing I like about Free! is that it's quite realistic. We all know what this would look like of the protagonists were girls... But, the swimming gear and the body types of the guys are rather realistic (with the exception of their Olympic-swimmer muscles during their untrained beginnings). Unlike Bleach they don't have sudden last-minute power ups and don't always win and unlike Kuroko no Basket one match/contest doesn't take 10 episodes to finish.

The animation is also well done from what I can tell. I'm not a big swimmer (I just like to soak in hot water), so I don't understand the details, but the way the swimming scenes are animated is simply beautiful. From what I've read around the internet it seems to be rather accurate, too. The motions look fluid and the water looks amazing. It really makes me want to jump in and swim, too.

Underwater

I also like the humour. There are several running gags like Haru taking of his clothes to jump into the water every time he sees a pool of water bigger than a bucket. There's the "professional swimsuit past" of their advising teacher. There's Gous muscle fetish. The boys are also colour-coded and all have their "totem animal". Maybe you could also consider the gay innuendos a kind of running gag.

It's not about what you think it is about...

Free! is generally light-hearted, but it has its angsty moments, too, especially concerning Rin (again I want to refer you to the character study of Rin I have mentioned further up). The two sides are very well balanced, another aspect of this animes brilliance.
For me one of the worst tearjerkers was when Rin screwed up a race and was so devastated that he couldn't even manage to get out of the pool. Makoto always reaches out to help Haru out of the pool, so you wait for someone to help Rin - but there's no one. He tries again... and fails again. One of the most heartbreaking anime scenes I can think of.

angsty Rin

Well, I can't deny that Free! implies homoerotic tendencies even though technically it's completely innocent and G-rated. All the yaoi only happens in the viewers mind. The tension between Rin and Haru, for example, is intense. It could simply be an awesome bromance/rivalry. Or it could be of a more sexual nature, depending on how you look at it (and how you want it to be).
As a fangirl you'd expect them to jump each other any moment - but they don't. Which in a way is frustrating, but on the other hand even more interesting. It's like the Wet Saree Scenes in Bollywood movies: on the surface harmless family entertainment, but if you watch it with the right mind, it's incredibly sensual.

We all know how fandom works and how the internet works. Every two guys who come closer to each other than a meter will be paired up. And so of course it was obvious that the internet would be flooded with yaoi fan art, fan fiction and all the like. And the makers of Free! are playing with this, dropping innuendos here and there. It's very well done and it's hilarious and quite often makes me go "Oh no, they didn't...".

I do watch and read shōnen ai and also yaoi, so "boys love" is fine with me, however I'm usually not a fan of the couples the internet creates from every friendship in other animes. I think that bromances should be appreciated for what they are and that their sexualisation might lead to a diminishing respect for true friendship. But with Free!... I just can't help but ship Haru and Rin, really. (Harus and Makotos friendship/bromance is awesome enough as it is.) It's really something that I do very rarely.

Bromance or romance?

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club (the first season) only has twelve episodes and I'd have expected to think that it's not enough. But somehow, even though I feel like I can't get enough of this anime, they manage to finish it in a way that feels good. The last episode is great, it wraps up everything nicely.

So in my opinion Free! is a great anime, the art is beautiful, the characters likeable, the storytelling well paced with light-heartedness and angst well ballanced.
As you can see I loved the first season of Free! Iwatobi Swin Club and I already love the second season, Free! Eternal Summer. I'm really looking forward to see where this is going.

Official Website
Free! on wikipedia
MyAnimeOnline: Free! and Free! Eternal Summer
Free! on TVTropes
You can find a translation of the light novel into English here.
50% Off -  Free! parody (Caution: strong language)

Haru taking to swimming like a dolphin to water


Did writing this blog post help me to get rid of my current obsession? Nope, it actually made it worse. Oh well. Read more on this article...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

On the issue of Fake Geek Girls, The Big Bang Theory, Legolas and the new Star Trek movies

I know I'm late to the party, but some thoughts about this came to my mind just now.

I do believe Fake Geek Girls exist. But: it's not just girls.
Girls are just more obvious, they get more attention. I'm not 100% sure why that is. I think it has to do with gender stereotypes. If a guy says he thinks a woman is sexy, it's like stating that it's going to be a warm sunny day. Everyone can see that, it's not worth mentioning, though nobody minds of you do. But women are supposed not to like sex, so they're not supposed to think of men as sexy, so if they do - they're fan girls. I think this is one aspect, but there's probably more aspects (like men often being able to hide their cluelessness better).

Anyway, so back to Fake Geeks. Yes, I think they exist.
Maybe it's since The Big Bang Theory has become such a big mainstream hit series. Maybe some mainstream celebrity mentioned that they're a "nerd" or "geek" or something. Suddenly being a geek is trendy. Look at all those fake big black glasses.

Take Star Trek for example. Fake geeks would say something like "I'm such a Trekkie, I saw both movies several times." The new movies are Star Trek for non-fans. They took the universe and made it into shiny, sexy action movies. Complete with "inside jokes" to make the fans happy. Looks good, enjoyable for everyone. Now everyone thinks Spock is sexy (not just Jadzia). But they left out some of the things that made Star Trek special - the philosophy, the ethics and morals. Aspects non-fans didn't know existed.

Fake Geeks are annoying.
I know I shouldn't say this. We should be happy that our fandom gets more attention, everyone should be welcome, etc. We should be happy that thanks to Sheldon Cooper more people know what the Doppler effect is. But it's annoying anyway.
I remember when the Lord of the Rings movies were made. You know, the ones by Peter Jackson. I love them, of course. I loved Lord of the Rings way before that. I was a big fan of woodelves and Rangers. My first Pen&Paper roleplaying character was a hunter because it was the closest to a Ranger I could get. My niece - born before the first PJ movie came out - is called Arwen. I knew the Bakshi movie and one of the only two poems I can remember by heart is the Ring poem. Hardly anybody knew what I was talking about - and then suddenly everyone did. Suddenly everyone loved woodelves and Rangers because Legolas was so sexy and Aragorn so cool. It was weird. And it was a little annoying.
It's happened to me again after that. It probably happened to X-Men fans, Sherlock fans, Dr. Who fans and others, too. I loved My Little Pony when I was a kid, but I still don't quite get the fad about them now. It's happening with Big Bang Theory. It will happen again in the future.

So what should we do?
We practice our patience. We're happy about the new fans it will bring to the fandom, the ones that will stick around and be an enrichment to the subculture. And we wait until the others leave again, run to the new fad that's coming up - and we hope they'll do it soon.
And, of course, we'll take all the merchandise we can get... Read more on this article...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Heimat

I think I'm getting old.

Lately I've been feeling very... I don't know how to put it..."heimatverbunden" - very attached to my native home.
Maybe it's because I'm getting older. Maybe it's because I'm visiting my parents more often. Maybe there's some other reason.

I grew up in the south-western part of Germany. I call it "The Shire of Germany" because it reminds me a lot of the Shire in Middle-Earth, home of the Hobbits. It's a very rural area, there are no big cities and no big industries. But it's so beautiful! There's a big river (the Rhine), there's valleys and hills and mountains covered with old, dark forest (the Black Forest). There is a lot of agriculture, viniculture, forestry and actually in the past there's even been the cultivation of pipe-weed (tobacco). The rest of the world generally doesn't care about this place, except for tourists maybe (plus there's a town with an old renowned university). The weather is rather warm, and the food - influenced by French, Austrian and Swiss cuisine and benefiting from the warm, nearly Mediterranean climate - is the best in all Germany.
It has been part of the area the Celts originated, later home to the Alemanni tribes but the Romans greatly influenced this area, too (e.g. with their love of hot springs and wine).
Every time I'm on my way home I look out of the train window and admire the landscape, the rolling hills and the mountains looming behind them.

Or well, maybe with the mountains and the university it's a little more like Rivendell...?


Anyway. I find I'm getting more interested in the traditional dishes (though I can't cook), fairytales, history and landscapes of the area. I enjoy the farmer's market and walks in nature. I take more pictures of things I wouldn't even have looked at when I was younger.


The place where I live now is nice, too. The flat is nice (although too hot in summer), there's bus stops just across the street, a big store a few minutes walk away and a mini town ceter a few more minutes walk away. Plus there's a small river with footpaths, trees, garden plots and playgrounds; the perfect place for a walk or Nordic Walking. It's my place, I can decorate how I want and I can clean up when I want. I can do what I want when I want to. I have all of my things there.
But I don't feel like I feel when I'm at my parents - I just feel happier there. I just can't seem to recreate this feeling of home and Gemütlichkeit at my place. Maybe it's because when I'm at my parents, I'm always there on holidays (or when I'm ill). Maybe it's because I get good food there. Maybe because I have company there; I never seem to be able to make friends, so when I'm at my parents' I have more company, more social life (outside work) and communication than normal. I often site in front of the TV in the evening with my parents and watch documentaries or concert DVDs. My parents often go for walks somewhere if time and weather permit, and when I'm there I go with them.
I often think how I could recreate that feeling at my place, but I don't really know how. Maybe it's not possible.

Normally it shouldn't be a problem, but it worries me for two reasons.
First of all, I had planned to live and work abroad, in UK or Ireland, sometime. But now I don't even feel like moving out of state. This, of course, limits possible places to work.
Then I sometimes feel like I'm too dependent on my parents. When I need something bigger my parents often buy it and bring it (I don't have a car), when I need help changing the light bulbs (I'm rather small) or with some other work around the home, with water-taps, etc, my dad does that when they visit me. I feel like at my age I should not depend on them this much. Of course I try to help them where I can. But what would I do without them, when they can't help anymore? I also often worry about them. When they drive home from visiting me, they have to call when they're home. I really don't have anyone else, so I'm afraid of losing them, I dread life without them.

The Shire - Tolkien Gateway
Alemanni - Wikipedia

Upper Rhine Valley - Wikipedia

To end this post on a more positive note, here are some pretty pictures of my home:


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