I went out with a zombie

July 24th, 2010

Recently I started reading manga again after rec.arts.anime.misc’s Dave Baranyi recommended Sankarea, a love story about hydrangeas and zombies by Mitsuru Hattori of Umisho fame. It’s horror, it’s comedy, it’s about bringing your dead cat back to life and how girls are much cooler when they’re dead. Or rather, undead. As long as you can stop them from decaying and keep their soul in their body… well ok in the end it’s just as complicated as having a living girlfriend….

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Akari Kamigishi’s cunning plan

February 26th, 2010

Continuing my retro look at the classic bishoujo-based series To Heart, we turn now to the main female character and narrator of the story, who was played by the famous seiyuu Ayako Kawasumi, who also played Lafiel in Crest of the Stars (a very different role!) and Mayuko in Niea_7.

Akari Kamigishi’s cunning plan

Akari, by Hiroyuki

She may not look much like Baldrick, but it’s clear from the outset that 16 year old Akari already has her life mapped out: she has A Plan, which she eats, sleeps and dreams.
The thing that puzzled me at first was that for such an intelligent and thoughtful girl, Akari’s goal in life seemed rather shallow, at least by the received wisdom of the modern age: all she wants is to spend the rest of her life with the boy she loves, Hiroyuki.

But there’s another way to look at it. Akari believes she has found her soulmate, and is determined not to let what might be her one chance for a lifetime of happiness slip through her fingers. Other people might waiver in the face of Hiroyuki’s obliviousness but Akari is resolute. Love is not a frivolous affair, it is a major undertaking (cf. Aleister Crowley’s view of marriage):

“Only the hero is capable of marriage as the church understands it; for the marriage oath is a compact of appalling solemnity, an alliance of two souls against the world and against fate, with invocation of the great blessing of the Most High. Death is not the most beautiful of adventures, as Frohman said, for death is unavoidable; marriage is a voluntary heroism. That marriage has today become a matter of convenience is the last word of the commercial spirit. It is as if one should take a vow of knighthood to combat dragons—until the dragons appeared.
[Absinthe: The Green Goddess , by Aleister Crowley, c.1917]

Totally focussed on her noble Work, Akari is the one who has her head screwed on the right way: it is those who consider Love to be a shallow goal and sideline it for the sake of a career, or fame and fortune, who have their priorities mixed up.

Akari is drawn to Hiroyuki by his selfless nature, which strikes a chord in her. She too is ever willing to help others, making new friends as she does so, but she lacks Hiroyuki’s more forward nature. In each episode we see how Hiroyuki initiates contact by unthinkingly jumping in to help someone, which opens the way for Akari to get involved too. By hanging out with Hiroyuki she constantly makes new friends and enjoys new experiences, which is exactly how she told us she wanted to spend her life right at the very start of the first episode.

But there’s more to it than that. Most of Hiroyuki’s new female friends show quite an interest in him, but simply by being there and joining in, Akari subtly gets them to back off. Some girls would get their claws out on sensing competition, but Akari achieves the same result by being friendly. Since he is totally oblivious to the interest the girls show in him (just as he is to Akari’s romantic feelings for him), Hiroyuki unwittingly helps Akari by always being so friendly with her that the other girls conclude she already has the dibs on him and that they stand no chance.

Indeed, in episode 6 (when Shiho warns Akari that she has just seen Hiroyuki out shopping with another girl), we see that even Shiho was under the impression that Akari & Hiroyuki were already an item. The discovery that this isn’t so ultimately leads to her making a play for Hiroyuki herself, at which point Akari has to resort to a (polite) confrontation for the first time so as to get her to back off. (Note that after the confrontation, Shiho says of Akari, “It’s just like you.” What did she mean by that? I think it meant that she was well aware of Akari’s determined nature, and of how Akari had been gently persuading other girls to back off by her simple presence.)

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Serika Kurusugawa and the Occult Research Society

February 23rd, 2010

As promised yesterday here are some long overdue pontifications on the 1999 anime TV series To Heart. Why is To Heart one of my all time favourite anime series? To find out, see this reprint of a diary entry I wrote in 2002: Extra Curricular Activities.

Expanding on the notion that the inscrutable Serika and her minimalist behaviour sums up the essential heart of To Heart, here are my thoughts on the “Serika” episode of To Heart (ep.3), originally published on the fansite Instant Heart. (Note that when I say “thoughts”, I mean something like what Salavador Dali called “Paranoic Critical Interpretation”, in other words microscopically analysing things to the point that the interpretation takes on a life of its own and the original work is left as behind as a discarded husk or shattered cocoon as the mad butterfly of hyper-rational thought takes flight.)

For those of you who are unacquainted with such things, you may also consider this article to be a slightly elliptical tutorial on the true nature of occult magick.

Serika Kurusugawa and the Occult Research Society

On the one hand she wears a witch’s hat and makes potions with ingredients such as lizard’s tails; on the other she performs incantations over pentagrams in a room bedecked with qabalistic charts. Clearly Serika is an eclectic student of the occult. But what work exactly is she engaged upon when we meet her in episode three? We see her performing some ritual in the prologue, and then the events of the episode take place.

It is my contention that all of her actions in this episode are part of a magickal working to catch herself a boyfriend, or at least a friend. Is it really just a coincidence that she bumps into Hiroyuki as he passes her in the school grounds at the start of the story? Or that a few days later she happens to be standing around outside the school gates when he emerges? Or passes him in the quad one lunchtime? Coincidences are funny things.

The important thing to understand about magick—one of the important things to understand about magick—is that it’s not about conjuring up things with a bang and a flash but getting things to happen naturally. To quote Aleister Crowley:

Perform an operation to bring Gold — your rich uncle dies and leaves you his money; books — you see the book wanted in a catalogue that very day, although you have advertised in vain for a year; […]
[Magick in Theory & Practice, ch.21 §3]

In other words it’s all coincidence. The trick is getting those coincidences to happen. Let’s consider the scene where Hiroyuki meets her for the second time. He emerges from the school gates and sees Serika standing there. When he asks her what she’s doing, she says she was waiting for him, and hands him an antique book on the Occult which she wants him to read. But she wasn’t looking his way when he turned up—he chose to approach her, not vice versa. Moreover, when her limousine arrives the chauffeur apologises for keeping her waiting, suggesting that she was after all just waiting for her lift. And yet… if that were so, how come she has a book ready to give to him? How come the car was late on this specific occasion, but only by long enough for her to get the chance to talk to Hiroyuki? We could invent all sorts of accounts to explain this scene away. Perhaps she has been waiting with a book every single day until Hiroyuki happens to turn up. Perhaps she has told her chauffeur to dally, or he was even instructed to wait round the corner until Hiroyuki emerged. The truth is, we don’t know how this incident happened. But it happened. As I said, the trick in magick is getting coincidences to occur. How this is achieved, is irrelevant.

Was Serika specifically targetting Hiroyuki, or was her boyfriend ritual more of a generic one? It’s hard to say. The crucial meeting of course was when she was meandering around the grounds and Hiroyuki bumped into her at the start of the episode. To my mind, the important thing is that she was searching for ingredients for a magick potion, and someone was sufficiently interested to offer to help. Once that occurred I think it’s safe to say that everything else she did in the episode was aimed at reeling in the specific person who had put themself forward. Perhaps it needn’t have been Hiroyuki. Perhaps even she had done this ritual before. But (provided she was discreet) it would always be the first time, a chance meeting, for the person who stumbled into her. It is the lot of the mage to labour in obscurity. (In alchemy operations are repeated not just once or twice but many thousands of times until success is achieved. We might also consider the film Groundhog Day as a similar exercise.)

Although Serika seems a rather quiet, diffident girl, her actions exhibit a great confidence in her own magickal abilities. The fact that she wasn’t even looking out for him whilst at the school gates, but just assumed he would approach her. And most notably at the end of the episode, when she was apparently willing to wait patiently for him for as long as it took until he turned up to her occult ceremony (he had forgotten all about it until Akari reminded him a couple of hours later). Even though the sun had set and everyone had gone home she didn’t give up, and in the end her patience was rewarded.

At the end of it all, Serika’s working has been at least a partial success. She has made two new friends (possibly her only friends at the school, or at all), and she did it on her own terms without compromising her true nature, without stooping to ‘being popular’ or anything. She was simply herself, and her new friends like her for who she is, not for pretending to be a ‘normal’ girl. She didn’t however get a boyfriend (if indeed that was a goal), because as usual Akari was there, and Akari is not someone you can just sweep aside with a wave of your broomstick when Hiroyuki is at stake. Yes, when it comes to magickal workings, there’s more than one way to skin a lizard’s tail …

… yes, don’t miss the next exciting installment of Instant Heart, when I reveal Akari Kamigishi’s cunning plan (der der der der!)

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Happy Birthday Akari

February 22nd, 2010

I just wanted to say Happy Birthday to Akari Kamigishi, my fabled sweetheart whose image graces the top of this buloggu. By my reckoning she would be 28 now, if To Heart had been a documentary series …

Here’s a piccy of me, Akari and Serika at the Callanish stone circle in the Outer Hebrides off Scotland:

I’ve just realised I’ve not written my thoughts about To Heart here, I will do so shortly.

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A different sort of quake

February 8th, 2010

Ririka quaking

Well anyhow, since no-one else is watching it (apart from, one presumes, the 794 people who have downloaded the entire series), I thought I’d enter Spoiler City and discuss the final episode of Nurse Angel Ririka a little more.

One of the notable things about the series is that the heroine is a normal happy well-adjusted girl, unlike many anime heroines, who all too often seem to come from dysfunctional families or have some kind of inbuilt weirdness. She never expected to be the saviour of the world, and she certainly didn’t expect to be dying anytime soon for some super-heroic cause. So when she’s told that the Flower of Life (which is needed to make the Green Vaccine to cure the world) can’t be found because the original Nurse Angel had absorbed it into herself, and that therefore she, Ririka, is the Flower of Life, you can understand her trepidation. To my mind this scene, and indeed the whole episode, is masterfully done.

As Kanon is explaining the back story to the missing flower, you can see Ririka’s eyes quivering in that time-honoured anime way. And when he concludes “…the flower of life IS YOU”, her hand starts to shake. She grabs it with her other hand, but that is shaking too. Cut to general shot: Ririka is quaking like a leaf as she querulously asks Kanon, “But if that’s so… how do you get the Flower of Life out?”

He answers “I’m sure that you must know”, and Ririka exclaims, “I don’t, I don’t know!” only to see a vision of the ritual she must perform.

Afterwards, Ririka goes through a succession of states: denial (“it’s a lie!”), despair (“senpai, help me!”), grief (“I don’t want to die”), resignation (“senpai, please wait until after my birthday party”), and finally arriving at an inner peace (“I’m so glad I was born”). This process of Ririka progressing from outright denial to stalwart acceptance takes up the middle half of the episode.

So, unusually for a “save the world from the forces of evil” type of story, there is no final battle with some nasty enemy. (Indeed the head baddie was killed in episode 26, nine episodes ago! Unfortunately this only made things worse!)

Rather, almost the whole of the final episode is taken up with Ririka learning her destiny, and then struggling to come to terms with the fact that she is the only one who can save the world, and that regardless of what she chooses to do, she herself will not be there to see it: she can either die saving the world, or die with it. So actually there is no real choice to make, it’s just a matter of finding the courage to do what must be done. In a way, this puts the series closer to Evangelion than Sailor Moon, since once she has overcome her inner terror, the end itself follows easily.

Finally, the little aside I made above leads us to an interesting question: during the course of the series, we assume first that the enemy, Dark Joker, is a person, but then when it seems there is no such character we conclude that Dark Joker is the name of the enemy organisation which uses the Black Vaccine as its weapon. But finally (not really finally—3/4 of the way through the series) the last enemy (Bros or Buros, the big boss) is killed. And yet this resolves nothing! Dark Joker persists. So who or what is Dark Joker? I will discuss this next time (please imagine ominous music at this point.).

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Anime resurrection and the colour of Ririka’s eyes

January 27th, 2010

Recently (by which I mean the last 6 months) I haven’t been watching any new anime. In fact I don’t think I’ve watched anything since K-On. Until now. By pure mixed-up hybrid chance I discovered that someone was torrenting the entire 35 episode Nurse Angel Ririka SOS series, the digisubs of which had stopped two years ago at ep21. Suddenly I felt like the universe had started to turn again.

To explain, Nurse Angel Ririka was the first anime series I ever saw. Back in the mists of time when download speeds were 4KB/second on dialup, fansubs were hard to come by and the typical episode was a 25MB realvideo file (and even so took 2 hours on a pretty expensive phone connection to download), you basically watched what was available, and for me what was available was what Jo-chan of Anime Episodes was serialising, one episode a week, on her ftp site. She made her own realvideo files from the VHS fansubs that she possessed, and what she liked was mainly shoujo. I picked up Nurse Angel Ririka 2/3 of the way through the series and was quickly hooked. Later I got hold of the first half of the series from another shoujo fansub promulgator, Terran Child, (who was mainly a Sailor Moon fan). But I was missing some crucial episodes in between.

Fast forward nine years slowly and finally someone put up the missing episodes on a batch torrent! Yes I’m talking about the time called now, present day present time. All of a sudden I could put closure on that series from the dawn of my anime experience, fill in the gaps in the story! But of course with fansubbed anime that is not enough. The world is more than watched anime, you need to discuss it too! Hence and therefore (or simply “so”), I started an ftv thread on the series in the hope that fifteen years after it was broadcast and nine years after I started watching it, I would be able to discuss this intrguing series with fellow humanoids or even real people. Vain hope? I will wait and see.

Here is one titbit from the final episode though. Ririka survives, but why? (I’m not going to explain this question, you’ll just have to watch the series!)

I used to think, well because it’s a children’s series and if you kill off the main characters you get complaints from parents about blubbing children (this is what was said about Sailor Moon, that the TV station got complaints from parents of grief-stricken children after everyone was killed off).

But rewatching the final episode (and I’ve watched it several times now that I have an AVI of it rather than a jerky realvideo file), a little detail struck me. The colour of Ririka’s eyes. After she transforms, but before performing her final ritual, Princess Helena combines her remaining powers with Ririka. Immediately after this, Ririka’s eyes are blue. But Ririka’s eyes should be brown! Helena’s eyes are blue. Have they traded places? What is going on? Rewind a couple of scenes. Ririka is fated to die. But Helena says to Kanon, “if there is such a thing as fate, I wonder if we humans have the power to change it.” Then later, despite being at death’s door herself she selflessly combines her own powers with Ririka’s, and then Ririka survives her ordeal. As Paul Atreides said, “Worms, Spice, is there a connection?” ISTM that the fact that Ririka’s eyes change colour means her survival may not be a deus ex machina by the studio after all, maybe Helena has shown that you can cheat fate!

So is this perhaps the new (i.e. old) Escaflowne? A world where fate can be altered?

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The Loopiness of Suzumiya Haruhi

August 10th, 2009


I just finished watching the eight endless episodes of the Endless Eight arc of the new Suzumiya Haruhi series. A lot of people were screaming with rage and frustration at seeing the same events unfold eight times over: after all, we’ve been watching the same things happen over and over since June!

Well not me, I really liked it. If I like an anime episode I usually watch it at least eight times anyway ^_^;

So in the end we saw eight out of fifteen thousand five hundred and thirty two repetitions of the same two week holiday period. As Kyon noted, they had lived through the equivalant of nearly six hundred years worth of days, doing (almost) the same things over and over!!!

My thought is, well, actually I want to know what happened in the 15,524 repetitions we didn’t get to see! No really! Like for instance, why does Kyon feel that he owes Yuki something? Something must have happened between them somewhere in the 2nd — 15,497th time through, since he didn’t originally feel this way, but from the 15498th time onwards he always felt indebted to her.

ISTM that this omission of so much story leaves enormous scope for fanfic authors! If all the Haruhi fans got together they could easily create 15,524 fanfics to fill the gaps. That would be so cool!

Of the missing cycles, we only have definite info on iterations 2391 and 11054 when we know the festival wasn’t attended. We also have general statistics on some other omissions and permutations. One of the curious things is that the part time work was only done on 58% of the occasions, and yet it was done on all eight of the ones we actually saw, which by my reckoning has a probability of only 1.3% if we were witnessing a random sample. Furthermore, there were six variations of work, yet we only saw one of these (the kero costumes), eight times, reducing the probability still further.

This leaves me to speculate that the eight iterations we saw were somewhat anomalous for their uniformity, and that many of the unseen ones were probably very different and some may have been even too bizarre and shocking to broadcast. For instance, supposing in one they gang up and murder Haruhi in a desparate attempt to end the cycle? Or what if they did suggest all sorts of bizarre extra activities to Haruhi to occupy their final day. Visions of Roman orgies, human sacrifice, etc are conjured up. (Remember how in the film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray, certain that the day will be erased, takes to punching people, throwing himself off high buildings to certain death, all sorts of things.)

Well, for the mega fanfic project, I bags the one which leaves Kyon indebted to Yuki…. hmmm… what could possibly have happened between them in that two weeks that is now lost forever except in Yuki’s labrynthine memories….

OK, so listen up folks, I will write the fanfic for iteration 12167. That leaves 15523 fanfics for everyone else to do. Are there 15523 literate Haruhi fans out there? If the torrent stats are anything to go by, I would say most yes certainly!

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Hot stuff

June 22nd, 2009

Here is a pretty picture I found. These days you just can’t be too careful so I’ve included the obligatory Health & Safety notice.
Do not touch the sun it is very hot

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Verifiable Anime

June 17th, 2009

In science we are taught to test the validity of theories by looking for verifiable claims and then testing them.
For absolutely no reason at all, I have decided to take the same approach with anime. Some anime takes huge liberties with scientific laws, whereas other anime, for instance Moyashimon, is packed with hard scientific fact which forms the basis of much of the story.

Anyway, here picked almost at random (other than for the common theme of centimetres), are two claims that have been made in anime which could be tested scientifically (one more easily than the other).

1) Cherry blossom petals fall at 5cm/sec. (source: 5 Centimetres Per Second)

2) If you shorten your skirt by 2cm then you can fly further than yesterday (source: K-On)

Let’s look at these claims a bit more closely.

In Makoto Shinkai’s stupendouse story 5 Centimetres Per Second, Akari states that cherry blossom petals always fall at 5cm/sec. Since she gives a constant speed, I think it is safe to assume she is talking about the terminal velocity of petals in still air. In principle this is easy to test, unfortunately cherry blossom season is now over until next year, so a proper experiment will have to wait. However there must be many videos which include the sight of falling cherry blossom so approximate measurements could certainly be made.

From the theoretical standpoint, one might produce a formula for calculating the forces on a cherry blossom petal, however this is not as straightforward as it might appear. In addition to the force of gravity acting on the mass of the petal, and the air resistance acting on the surface area of the petal, we must also consider that the petal flutters, spinning and see-sawing as it falls. This will use up a significant amount of the gravitational force, and the changing orientation of the petal will also alter the air resistance, e.g. when the petal is oriented vertically it will fall faster. So its motion is pretty hard to model! To understand the impact of such factors, consider that physicist Richard Feynman once said that a ball rolling down a slope will only accelerate at 5/7 of the speed that it ought to for that slope, since the other 2/7 of gravity gets used up making the ball rotate! So even if you ignore air resistance and friction it still makes a big difference! Unless you are a theoretician of Nobel Prize winning stature like Feynman (who even worked out the equations which explained the rate of wobble of a dinner plate spinning on the end of a stick!) you need to do the experiment first and worry about the theory afterwards (if at all!).

Anyway, next time I will report back on whether I have found any actual footage of cherry blossom falling, also on another question: does the cherry blossom in 5 Centimetres Per Second itself fall at the claimed rate or not? (Preliminary examination says: not!)

Let’s hurry on to Claim Number 2 which is made in the OP lyrics to the anime K-On. Well actually I’m out of time now but it looks to be somewhat tricky, since the obvious way of testing it is to get a girl wearing a skirt to take a flying leap and see if she goes further after trimming her skirt by two centimetres. Needless to say, the repeatability of such an experiment is somewhat problematic. Moreover the specific claim is “further than yesterday” which implies one must compare results of flights that were 24 hours apart, which introduces further variability!

Don’t miss next week’s exciting installment of verifiable anime tales in which I will attempt to recruit a statistically significant number of girls in short skirts to test the K-On claim! If you want to take part, don’t forget your scissors!

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Haruhi, Yuki, and Axiomatic Set Theory

May 24th, 2009

So finally the second season of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (or if you prefer, Suzumiya Haruhi) is being slipped out as extra episodes interspersed amongst a rebroadcasting of the first series. Or rather, series two is in fact a superset of the first series and the new episodes. A Venn diagram would make everything clear, WHICH IS WHY YOU WILL FIND NO VENN DIAGRAMS HERE! Instead lets look at the heiroglyphs that the young Haruhi of three years ago ordered Kyon to draw, compared to a slip of paper which had earlier been passed to him by Yuki, three years later. (Earlier? Later? It’s all relative.)

Of course when we talk of “Haruhi three years ago”, we might mean “Haruhi now, as broadcast three years ago”, or “the Haruhi being broadcast now, in events that happened when she was three years younger”. Is it a coincidence that Kadokawa et al waited three years into the future before broadcasting events that happened three years in the past? Or were Kyoto Animation just busy making Lucky Star, K-On and Clannad?
Of course, when I say “of course” it is just a rhetorical device. In reality (by which I mean, in fiction), there is of course no “of course” with Haruhi.
But on to the main point, which is Yuki’s cryptic comment about the antinomies of axiomatic set theory.

What Yuki actually meant to say was this (taken from The Mathematical Experience, p332, click for full size image if you can’t read it)

In other words (my own, in fact), what Kyon is saying is that Mikuru’s claim (in ep.3 or 5 of the original series (depending on whether you use Haruhi or Kyon ordering)) that people can be inserted into an alternate time frame without affecting subsequent time frames, is inconsistent with the “bamboo” incident where his meeting Haruhi three years ago has affected subsequent events, specifically it inspired Haruhi to come to North High School.

Yuki’s response essentially uses the example of mathematics to note that even in the most logical of all endeavours, things don’t necessarily add up. In mathematics, people always assumed certain fundamental principles were guaranteed true in themselves without having to refer to the real world. But then, things that had been seen as sacrosanct for over a thousand years, such as the principles of geometry, were one by one found to be dodgy (eg. due to the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry).

As a result, mathematicians cast around for new fundamental principles which might underpin mathematics before it sank into the mire of subjectivity and empiricism. One candidate for this was Set Theory. Sets are just groups of objects which can be defined by some common sense description, such as “girls with brightly coloured hair” or “numbers greater than zero”. As such Set Theory seemed a useful generalisation of logic, which is also built up from combinations of simple expressions.

Unfortunately there was a Boogiepop Phantom in the woodpile. Bertrand Russell realised (as any linguist could have told him) that it was possible to make a pair of seemingly common sense descriptions which contradicted one another or even themselves, such as a set of sets which contains “all sets which contain themselves”. When you then make the inverse of this, “the set of all sets which do no contain themselves”, you get a paradox, since such a set neither contains, nor does not contain, itself.

So in summary, when Kyon says “this doesn’t add up”, and Yuki says “Axiomatic set theory … contains antinomies”, she is saying “shit happens, even in pure mathematics”.

The End