Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Japan, Logic Uses You

I figured the best way to spend my winter break was shutting myself in my room and slaving away in Photoshop to bring you another anime wallpaper. Ok, maybe the shutting myself in the room part is a bit exaggerated, but I think I've spent more time in my life on Photoshop than all the time I spent watching TV.

The wallpaper is based on the anime series Macross Frontier, an awesome mech/sci-fi/drama anime that I found surprisingly good. I made it inspired by the Lion OP sequence for the series, which is among my favorite OP songs of the decade. Don't try to make too much sense of all the nonsensical things in the wall; trying to put logic to anime is like trying to put a cat to water. They don't mix.

They really should make all those 'In Soviet Russia...' reverse-logic jokes about Japan. Last time I checked, Japan is the only nation that worships a giant 18 foot high robot. In Japan, giant robot drives you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chang's List of Favorite Animes of the Decade

More lists, I know. But it's hard to resist, being close to the end of the decade, and I sincerely doubt any new anime that comes out in the next two seasons or so will change my mind. Since I haven't watched every single anime, I can't make a 'best of' list, but I can make a list of ones that have stood out ever since I got sucked into the wacky cell-shaded world of Anime. Of course, this list to totally biased. Hence why it's "Chang's List", not "BESTANIMUSOFTHEDECADE...PERIOD". So take it as it is. Now, in no particular order:

Favorite Comedy: Seto No Hanayome (2007) - Guy marries mermaid, hijinks ensue. Oh, and said mermaid is part of a merman Yakuza family, who is not too happy their heiress has married him. More hijinks ensue. Insert a character based on Arnold Schwarzenegger from Terminator, and you have comedy gold. This is the reason why I love you Japan; your parodies are hilarious.

Favorite Slice-of-Life: ARIA (2005-2008) - ARIA the Animation, ARIA the Natural, and ARIA the Origination all exemplify the best quality of the slice-of-life genre: Compelling characters and easygoing atmosphere. There are more interesting, faster-paced slice-of-life animes out there like Ichigo Mashimaro, but what made the ARIA series stand out was way it enveloped you in its warm, magical world and told a beautiful story at the same time. From the music, art style, characters, to the plot, there's a lot to love about the world of ARIA.

Favorite Sci-Fi/Action: Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002) - This series defines the genre of 'futuristic thriller'. There's a reason why the Wachowski brothers were inspired by the Ghost in the Shell movie in making The Matrix, and the first season of the anime doesn't disappoint either. I have yet to encounter anything else made by anybody, East or West, that has managed to combine philosophical questions on human existence with futuristic political-technological intrigue into something so compelling.

Favorite Mech/Sci-Fi: Macross Frontier (2008) - Despite the popularity of Gundam 00, the Macross series reboot Macross Frontier comes out easily as one of the best mecha anime this decade. From it's sprawling cinematic CG space battles that are breathtaking to watch, to it's unparalleled soundtrack (see above video), there's a lot to like about the series. It's truly a space opera, and it benefits from likable characters and a coherent plot, something that the Gundam series has been rather lacking in its recent iterations.

Favorite Romance/Shōjo: Aishiteruze Baby (2004) - I've only managed sit through a couple shōjo animes in the past nine years, but this one stood out for it's maturity, which is weird considering the genre is aimed at young girls. The plot, which is about a teenage playboy who has to care for his abandoned 5-year old cousin, explores social issues rather tastefully, and manages to be funny and genuinely down-to-earth at the same time. Labeling Aishiteruze Baby as a romance is a stretch, but there is a romantic plot in here. Definitely an pleasant surprise to watch.

Favorite Action/Thriller: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (2007) - Very enjoyable to watch, superb art direction, all with a unique premise to boot. It's one part mecha, one part sci-fi, and two parts edge-of-the-seat emotion. It's definitely a highly recommended anime to everybody, which can't be said for animes like Ghost in the Shell or Macross Frontier. There's really no other anime that has been able to harness and express emotion as well as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and it's definitely one of the most memorable animes of the 2000's. 

Favorite Japanese-High-School-Anime-Adventure: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) - Okay, I kinda made up the genre, but The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya does defy most rules of conventional genres. It's a well-made anime following a awesomely sarcastic narrator and the supposed 'god' who befriends him, with the catch being that this 'god' is a capricious girl who's unaware of her real identity. Even the structure of the episodes is unusual, with the official order of episodes being randomized chronologically. Long story short, this anime is a refreshing respite from the other generic high-school animes this decade.

Favorite Action/Shōnen: Soul Eater (2008) - Bleach and Naruto take note; this is how you do shōnen. Besides it's fantastic artstyle and animation (among the best fight animations of the decade, no doubt), it actually has a well-written story and main characters that aren't cardboard cutouts. It's doesn't pander to the fans, which is an unfortunate trend in the genre currently, and as a result it has more substantial character development and an more dynamic plot. Stylish with an attitude, it's a shame that it's been overshadowed by its older shōnen relatives in popularity.

Favorite Anime About Music: Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad (2004) - Not related to the American alt-rocker, this anime about the rise of a rock band from the quiet halls of a Japanese high school to the glamor of the American indie rock world is a definite treat for rock fans. With many references to past rock legends, and a very fitting soundtrack, Beck hits all the right notes you'd expect. It's a musical tour of the Japanese pop/rock world, and while it starts off slow, it definitely pays off in the end.

Favorite Fantasy/Adventure: Full Metal Alchemist (2003) - Sure, the original manga is better, and yes the ending was a horrible cliff hanger (something that the sequel movie Full Metal Alchemist: The Conqueror of Shamballa still failed to resolve in any satisfactory way). But for all of its drawbacks, it was well-produced and engaging to the end, which is hard to say for similar fantasy animes such as Samurai 7. It really was true to the definition of adventure, with interesting characters and edge-of-the-seat action sequences, and that's why it entertained so well.

Honorable Mentions:
  • Black Lagoon (2006) - Japanese business man tires of the corporate world, decides to join a group of misfit guns-for-hire in the South China Seas. Definitely plus points for interesting premise, and the characters are among the more interesting ones this decade. While the action is awesome (there's a character based off of Detective Tequila from John Woo's Hard Boiled if that tells you anything), the anime got bogged down in pacing issues in some parts. 
  • Nodame Cantabile (2007) - Semi-psychotic female pianist befriends uptight musical genius seeking international glory, comedy occurs and wonderful music is made. This anime is pretty close to my heart, especially thanks to my time in an wind ensemble, and it gets bonus points for being light-hearted. However, the series is still ongoing (the finale is set to be released in January 2010), so those who can't wait to find out what happens in the end can watch the surprisingly good Japanese live-action series.
  • Ichigo Mashimaro (2005) - A slice-of-life comedy about the lives of three primary-school girls, there's a ton of charm in this series, and it is guaranteed to make your day a lot brighter. It really plucks on the nostalgic heartstrings in all of us about our younger, carefree, more innocent days. 
  • Full Metal Panic! (2002) - One of my first favorites, this definitely set the tone for mecha and action animes for years to come. The comedy spin off of the series, Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu! earned the special distinction for being one of the few American DVD sets for me to buy. With a compelling story and great action, it's a fine example of the transition in anime as a niche market in the late 90's to a global phenomenon in the early 2000's.
  • Initial D: 4th Stage (2004) - Speaking of the 90's, the Initial D series has been popular among car enthusiasts since the first season in 1998, but it wasn't until the most recent 4th season that it broke away from its shambling romantic plot and engrossed itself in what it was best at: showing the sheer adrenaline of street racing and drifting. It's unapologetic-ally pandering to drift fans, and I love it for that. Also, it has the best techno theme song ever; Dogfight is awesome.
  • Eden of the East (2009) - Japan loves making anime about the near-future, and Eden of the East is definitely among the best animes to use that motif. I've reviewed it earlier, so there's not much more to say. One thing for sure though; while Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is philosophically deeper and more exciting action-wise, Eden of the East is definitely more entertaining.
  • Noir (2001) - Another of my early favorites, this anime about the Italian mafia hasn't really aged well, but whereas many other animes have tried the girls-with-guns formula and failed, Noir remains a much beloved classic that has strong influences from anime in the 90's. 
  • Gintama (2006-Present) - A long-running series, it's over 187 episodes of slap-stick humor, parodies of Japanese culture, and hilarious gags. A comedy set in an alternate future where the aliens have taken over Edo-period Japan, it's unique setting and unique characters have taken Japan by storm. Those who want an actual plot though, might want to look somewhere else.
  • Cowboy Bebop (1999) - Not in the decade, but it has to be mentioned because this famous anime set the bar for anime for the 2000's. An undisputed classic, we talk about the anime of this decade in the shadow of Cowboy Bebop.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Quck Look: Red Cliff (Chinese Version)

I must preface this review with a couple of disclaimers. First, Tony Leung (above) is one of my favorite cinema actors. Two, I also squeal with delight anytime anybody mentions John Woo in a sentence. Unless that sentence also mentions "Hollywood" or "Western." There's a reason why his most recent Hollywood efforts have been forgettable. But I'm not here to talk about Woo, I'm here to talk about his Chinese historical epic Red Cliff.

And oh my, is it epic.The battle sequences are intense, the special effects are awe-inspiring, and the action sequences are wonderfully choreographed.

That said, it's undeniably a summer blockbuster flick. The character development is sufficient, but hardly something you call satisfying. It's a solid movie, but it's hardly a movie that fits John Woo's trademark cinematic style. You'll find precious little of Woo's famed techniques and pause-burst-pause pacing here, and the plot pacing seemingly gets lost in several subplots, especially the romantic subplot near the end. As a result, the film sags noticeably when there aren't people dying or things aren't being blown up. Tony Leung does a solid job as the main lead, but he definitely isn't as dynamic as Chow Yun-Fat, who originally was supposed to play the role.

All things considered, Red Cliff is a better cinematic epic than 2004's Troy and 2005's Kingdom of Heaven, thanks to John Woo's expert hand during the battle sequences and a more cohesive plot. But like those films, Red Cliff can't compete with Lord of The Rings in terms of quality, writing, characterization, and plot. So don't watch it believing in the hype that this is "Asia's answer to Lord of the Rings". Asian cinema still has a way to go before it can match Peter Jackson's famed trilogy.

As for which version you should watch, if possible go for the Chinese version if you appreciate a more cohesive narrative. The American version is half the length of the original's 4 hours, and it cuts out almost all of the character development and political intrigue. But if you can only watch the American version (I ordered the DVDs from Hong Kong), by all means do so. It's a very solid film.

Finally, I arrive at the most important question that burns on the lips of all Hong Kong film fanatics everywhere; Are John Woo's signature doves in the film? Yup, they are. Rejoice Woo fans.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gran Turismo 5 release date CONFIRMED...not really

Man, this is getting really irritating. Even for someone who's not sacrificing carbon fiber to the Polyphony Digital gods, the constant "Did we say [insert date]? We really meant [insert later date]" is really annoying.

Anyways, date kinda confirmed. "Summer 2010" is the official word, which I put quotes around since whenever a game developer says something like that instead of an actual month, there's a very good chance it can change. I'm predicting if the date changes, the game will finally be released in the fall. The reason why I say this is because it's the end of 2009 right now, and the original predicted release date was early 2010 (Q1 2010). Pushing back the official guesstimate of the release date when the games supposed to come out in about four months only happens when there's some difficulties.

Just a friendly reminder, there were three full Forza Motorsport games since Gran Turismo 4 was launched in the US in March of 2005. By the time GT5 comes out, it would have been five years since the last game. Is this a result of the quest for perfection, or is the scope of the game getting too big to handle? We'll see if it comes out in Summer 2010.

So until then Sony fanboys, hang tight and keep on praying at the Polyphony Digital altar. Maybe the game will come out earlier if you pray hard enough. Maybe.

Friday, December 4, 2009

So, Facebook on the 360... extremely stupid. The only cool thing is that you can add people from your Facebook friends list to your Xbox Live friends list. The hitch is that you can only do that if they have already downloaded and installed the small Facebook addition on their 360...which none of my friends have. And I don't blame them, since everyone I know uses their 360 to play games instead of Facebook-stalking.

Unbeliveable, I know.

In a way, Facebook has become its own gaming platform. There are a ton of (rather shady) mini games and personality quizs floating around the social site, and then's there's "games" like Farmville and Cafe World. There's a lot of people that are happily distracted with these games, and companies have taken notice. Mark my words, there will be a Maple Story-esque MMO coming to Facebook soon. And it will be VERY popular.

Everyone is trying to integrate Facebook or Facebook-like social networking into their products. But Facebook is developing too quickly for companies to catch up. The PS3/360 Facebook addon would have been cool...a year ago. Now, there's a bunch of additional things on Facebook that both consoles can't really integrate.

The people behind Facebook and all the Facebook apps aren't stupid; it's only going to be a matter of time before we can share music clips/videos/playlists via Facebook music player, and I wouldn't be surprised to wake up tomorrow to find out that you can blog via Facebook. At this rate, Facebook will take over our Internet social lives.

As for the rest of our Internet time, Google has us covered. Hell, I'm posting from a Google blog (Blogger is owned by Google FYI). How we're going to spend time on the Internet in the near future is going to be interesting, that's for sure.