Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: Working!!

Only Japan could make the life of a part-timer look glamorous and exciting. If food services work was anything even resembling what Working!! portrays, then I definitely wouldn't have quit my old job flipping burgers at my university cafeteria. As you can tell, Working!! isn't exactly a show grounded anywhere close to reality, but what else can you expect from a whimsical slice-of-life anime?

Working!! does have one thing correct though; it's the people you work with that make work fun. There's a lot of unique and wacky characters that all work in the same family restaurant. From the lazy ex-delinquent manager Kyouko to the androphobic (e.g. man-fearing) Mahiru Inami. Amazingly enough, the character cast of Working!! avoid a lot of the generic stereotyping, making them stand out amongst the throngs of cookie-cutter anime characters this Spring season, which is a great thing.

But that's where Working!! starts to fall apart; there's really nothing else besides the characters. Being a slice-of-life, there's no real drama or plot, so all of the anime's charm lies in whether you like the characters or not. The gags are amusing, all of the wacky characters interact in ridiculous ways, and the laid-back pace of the show is great. But if you aren't even intrigued by the characters after the first few episodes, there's nothing in the rest of the short thirteen episode anime to really catch your attention.

If you do like the characters, you'll be annoyed at how incomplete Working!! feels in the character department. The writers don't bother to flesh out even the most suspicious of characters, which is frustrating since it would have given the show more substance.

Those looking for a easy-going anime will most likely enjoy Working!!, but those looking for a even a bit of suspense or tension should probably move along. Working!! is a show that soothes rather than a show that captivates, so if you want something light-hearted and laid-back, Working!! probably won't disappoint. Otherwise, you can move on without missing much.

At the very least though, it's better than K-ON!! this season. Take that for what you will.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Review: Angel Beats!

 Angel Beats! is like your favorite childhood book; fun and memorable, but ultimately very adolescent and somewhat simplistic. From the unique premise set in the afterlife to it's high-powered musical inserts, Angel Beats! is definitely the one of the most memorable shows of the past Spring 2010 season, but unfortunately some of the flaws are just as memorable. Angel Beats! doesn't deliver a masterfully-woven story on life and death, but it does manage to tell a tale that still resonates strongly.

There's really no beating about the bush about the main flaws; Angel Beats! is not very well written or very well directed. There's a lack of consistency since the rising action never gets properly set up, and as a result there's no overarching narrative flow between the thirteen episodes. Consequently, most of the characters never get a chance to really develop or stand out. Plus there's plot holes aplenty, almost all of which are ignored by the writers, which is a problem since some of the plot holes actually are more memorable than some of the characters.

Luckily though, in the places that Angel Beats! falls apart in delivery, it makes up for it in surprises. There's a solid number of memorable and emotional moments as the characters remember and come to terms with their traumatic pasts. Add in some nicely produced music and brief flashes of great animation, and you have some moments that you'll definitely revisit later on. When there aren't any emotionally-heavy set pieces, there's plenty of whimsical and funny moments to carry the story and characters along.

In the end, it's painfully clear that Angel Beats! could have been much better. There's too much pandering to popular stereotypes, a over-reliance on deus ex machina motifs, and no emotional roller coaster here. But even despite the flaws and wasted potential, Angel Beats! is still a show that I recommend worth checking out. Even though Angel Beats! isn't a great show, it still tells a unique story that has a chance to pluck at your heart-strings.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

E3 2010: Motion Control Madness

To be brutally honest, I find it hard to be excited by either the Microsoft Kinect or the Playstation Move. Thanks to the mediocrity of the Nintendo Wii, motion controlled gaming hasn't really been that appealing to me, and a good number of gamers have felt the same too. Safe to say, coming into this year's E3, there have been some fairly high expectations from Kinect and the Move

So were those expectations met after the Microsoft and Sony announcements? Somewhat. Both companies have proved that their ambitious technologies work very well, but they didn't prove that they could challenge the Nintendo juggernaut.

Monday, June 14, 2010

June Playlist: Alt Rock explosion

It's been a while since my last playlist, so I've been catching up on music that I've missed in the past couple months. First up is the title single from Relient K's latest album, "Forget and Not Slow Down" (embedded above). It's a solid song filled with musical and lyrical catches, a great example of Relient K's masterful composition of guitar, piano, and vocal sounds. If you're looking for something a bit more pop-oriented from the same album, "Candlelight" is a great fast-paced piano ballad that really showcases lead singer Matt Thiessen's songwriting talent.

Despite not being quite as solid as Relient K's latest album, Thousand Foot Krutch's 2009 Welcome to the Masquerade album still has a few interesting tracks like "Forward Motion" and "Fire It Up". While "Fire It Up" is a energetic headbanger that may please the punk rock fans, "Forward Motion" is a ballad that takes better advantage of the band's vocal strengths, and is just a more memorable song in general.

While B.o.B. doesn't really fit with the other alt-rockers here, his album The Adventures of Bobby Ray is still a great album that is worth mentioning. There are the hits "Airplane" and "Nothing on You", plus other great songs like "Magic" featuring Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo. A talented musician that can play multiple instruments, B.o.B. isn't your ordinary rap artist, and his collaborations with rockers Rivers Cuomo and Hayley Williams (in "Airplane") show just how broad his creative talent is.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Oil and dirty water ahead

The BP oil spill in the Gulf is the worst environmental disaster in history. The fact that it's still growing is baffling people. There's just one question they are asking right now; "We managed to put man on the moon in the 1960's, but fifty years later we can't plug a hole at the bottom of the ocean?" Working the phones at Senator Boxer's office, I had one constituent scream his disbelief that the U.S. government wasn't sending NASA to plug the leak.

Last time I checked, NASA specializes in rockets and spacecraft technology. They don't specialize in plugging a broken and brittle oil pipe 5,000 feet down that's spewing thousands of gallons of oil at 9,000 psi. Quite different from building a rocket to brute-force Earth's gravitational field.

In summary, the Gulf oil spill has been an act of technological arrogance, so it's not surprising that we have been trying to find technological solutions to help stop the leak and help clean up the devastated Gulf ecosystems. From smartphone apps to help chart the widespread damage to the Gulf coastline to massive supercomputers calculating fluid simulations in an effort to find a method to plug the leak, there's no shortage of tech that has been deployed.

But we always have to remember that technology isn't the be-all-end-all solution.

Those smart phone apps? It's useless if there aren't already people on the ground trying to clean up. Those supercomputers? Only tools to aid the engineering and scientific minds working to find a solution to this crisis. And let us not forget that it was human error that allowed the safety equipment in the oil rig to fail at that critical moment. 

So the lesson to this slightly rambling rant? Don't idolize technology. We can't brute force issues and problems with tech; it can only aid us in finding solutions to the various problems in our lives and in our society. It's made living our lives easier, but we shouldn't let it define our lives. This is a call of caution against the looming technology-dominated future, and a reminder that even our technological brilliance cannot save us if we lay waste to Mother Earth.

Rant over. While we're talking about BP, be sure one of the funniest twitter parodies I've ever seen.