Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Balance

So the big headline in Southfield this week is that after being pepper sprayed a a Ferndale man visiting Northland Mall died. On the surface there isn't much for me to say that hasn't already been said or pondered about this particular tragedy. The mainstream media are all over this one and I doubt that I can add any "facts" at least not to the incident itself.

But on the other hand this seems to me to be the culmination of years long trends at the mall and I do feel I am in a unique position to add some context, being that I observe a lot of the agents in this story.

So for the last several years a lot of people including myself have been lobbying (I hate to admit that's what I've been doing but it is, a duck is a duck) for more economic development in Southfield. At the same time the is a competing contingency who does not want any economic development near their homes.

Whenever a new business comes into town and one of these fights happens the following question always comes up.

"Why not open in Northland?"

There are reasons but for now they aren't important. The important thing is that all of this conflict focuses the eye of government on Northland mall. As a result the mall has been under increased pressure as local politicians call for them to "clean it up". It's getting awful crowded in my sky.

Northland is the closest shopping center to where I live and also since I don't have a car I tend to head to the bus stop, which is a hub for a good deal of the routes. I can personally attest there is a point to be made for safety. It was a while ago but I have witnessed drugs being used in the mall bathrooms, and I really don't like hopping a bus at night, but I'm also a hippie liberal bastard so I don't make a big deal out of drugs.

By the way that's not an endorsement. It's just that I believe people should be able to do what they want with their bodies.  I am a left leaning libertarian, at least socially. Guess what my view on abortion is.

While I'm all for mall safety I also view it as a public place where people should be free to gather and talk. I'm, aware it's private property and all but in this day and age, in this town it's the closest we have to a public square. When it comes to public gathering places my view is that there always has to be some leeway. Not enough to endanger people, but enough so that people can feel free to engage with one another.

For about a year or so there was a guy who would sell cigarettes, (to my knowledge they were nothing more than loosies) and water outside of the bus stop. Yeah I know it was illegal and all but I really felt taken a back and sort of sad when the cops took his bag and shut him down a few months back. Even now I hear people wondering where they can get a smoke between rides.

My point in all of this is that there has to be a healthy balance where the public can use the space freely and also be safe.

In a lot of these discussions I'm a bit disappointed in the tone. It sounds almost as if the people who use the bus shelter or currently patronize the mall are the problem. I suppose that yes there a few behaviors that can be a problem but these people have a right to be there. They spend money at the stores and pay fares on the buses. They or rather we are the customer base of that place.

If it's simply a matter of making the mall more safe so it can be better utilized that's fine, great even, but it does no one any good to shoo away the people who currently do use it and pay money to do so.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Southfield January 27, 2014 City Council Meeting

City Council Meeting held in Southfield, Michigan on January 27, 2014
Topics Include
  • A Moment of Silence and Words or Remembrance for The Late James Scharret
  • A Special Use Request to Convert the Service Bays to a Convenience Store at a Gas Station Located on Southfield Rd.
  • Changes to the Zoning Ordinance to Clarify What the City Planner Can Approve Administratively
  • Voting and Public Hearings Regarding Tax Abatements for Marsh USA and Mercer, US
An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Newbie Otaku Guide

Okay I did it for games let's try it for anime. You want to get into anime here are some tips.

What is Anime
The short answer is Japanese animation. And the long answer is I don't know. People tend to expand or contract that definition as they see fit. Stylistically Korean animation is similar so why not include it? Or what about shows just animated, but not primarily produced in Japan.

It gets weird, and there are disagreements. So I'm going to be relatively conservative, and stick to shows primarily produced in Japan.

Dub Vs Sub
OMG the internetz will xplodes. Yeah I'm not going to say which one is better, but like the video game guide I feel a good place to start is talking about how to legally get anime in the least expensive way and the distribution services out there that I will talk about later tend offer free subs on their websites.

What does that mean. Well anime is animation produced in japan, and as you would imagine that means it's made in Japanese. If you don't speak Japanese there are two ways to watch.  Three if you are rich and can hire a translator.

Damn crickets.

The first is to watch sub, or subtitled, regardless of the ensuing flame wars I would recommend this to someone looking to stick their toe in just because both Funimation and Crunchyroll two of the leading online distributors of anime offer free subs on their websites. Funi even also has a YouTube channel, making it easier on the Xbox crowd.

The second is to hear it dubbed over with English audio.

Online Distribution
Right now I would say the easiest way to get anime is through digital distribution. One bit of warning. There are lots of pirating streaming sites. Try not to go to those. Anyway, Netflix, Crackle and Hulu offer pretty good selections, but there are other specialty services out there.

I already mentioned Funimation and Crunchyroll. Both services are free but offer a paid subscription to watch things on television rather than computer and in Funimation's case watch their dubs. Manga Entertainment also has a streaming website and Xbox app.

It's Back

So Adult Swim and Toonami got me into anime. Toonami was canceled and Adult Swim was moving away from it towards their own comedy based shows. But they came back. Adult swim decided it was going to have a Toonomi block within a block devoted to anime. A lot of the anime is available elsewhere but if you got nothing going on a Saturday Night, check it out on Cartoon Network. They have a pretty strong line up.

So you want to break me huh.
You're one of those guys who absolutely positively has to have the DVD. Good on you mate. Anime DVD's tend to be pretty expensive.  On top of that a lot the good stuff is out of print.

To be fair the prices are down from the horridness of 10 years ago, and seem to be more in line with normal television boxset prices, and a lot of stuff is getting released in less expensive bundles, but they still aren't cheap.

If you are going to buy them do not buy single DVD volumes. You get maybe 4 episodes for $30. No. Wait and buy the box set which will run about $40 give or take but contain probably at least 10 episodes and for shorter series probably the whole thing.

Also I am not an expert on anime conventions, not by a long shot but they do tend to have flea market areas where you can get a lot of that older out of print stuff on the cheap. That said do not go unless you plan to spend money, between the tickets, and the swag its not unheard of the be out $200 by the end of those things.

Where do I get started?
So now we've gotten distribution out of the way let's talk which anime to watch. That is a hard question to answer.  If I were writing to a specific person I would ask what types of shows/movies you like and go from there.

But I'm not. Let's just say you want something to test the waters. Something objectively good. That doesn't exist but if you put a gun to my head I would say almost everybody loves Studio Ghibli movies. I would watch Princess Mononoke, their founder's Hayao Miyazaki's magnum opus and go from there.

Also you know how I talked about Adult Swim and Toonami. A lot of the anime cannon aired there so I would just go to a Wikipedia list of both of those.  A singular recommendation though would be Cowboy Bebop which for a long time (12 years, 2001-2013) anchored the block, for good reason. It is often held up as one of the best anime of all time. I absolutely love it, but some think it's overrated.

The guys who made Cowboy Bebop originally worked at Sunrise  but later went to form their own, Bones and generally have pretty laudable consistent quality making some of anime's most beloved works.

By the way Soul Eater and Space Dandy two of the videos I used in this post were also animated by them. They know what they're doing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Southfield Police Citizen Observer Crime Bulletin January 13-19, 2014

Newbie Gamer Guide

So my mom wants my little cousins visit more and decided to buy a new console for them so they something to do when they come over. I suppose they could use mine but I'm a stingy old rat who doesn't want them to have access to my accounts or have to start dealing with parental controls.

For whatever reason I'm the tech/gamer guy in my house even though it's been a while since I've really gamed seriously. That being said the last time my mom bought a surprise console was my original Xbox a decade ago.

In the discussion I just realized how much things changed and thought it might be a good idea to write some of it down for her. And then I realized it might make a good post so here it is. Keep in mind this isn't for the hardcore gamers who want to really compare specs and features, but mostly for people like my mom who want to buy a nice gift for the kids or maybe want to stick a toe in.

On Generations and Next Gen
My view was that my mother had chosen the worst possible time for this, because this is one of those weird periods in gaming where you have to decide to go with current or next gen.

Alright  for as long as I can remember video game systems have been decide to last about 5 years. In terms of physical lifespan, but more so in technological lifespan. After about 5 year mark the game developers start to hit a wall where they're being held back because there is better hardware technology on the market that the system can't use.  So companies tend to make new consoles every 5 years or so to solve this problem  The Xbox One, Play Station 4, and Wii U are the latest in the eighth generation.

That being said it generally takes a while for new games to be released for the next generation and initially prices for those brand spanking new consoles are pretty high.

You have to remember my mom was buying these for 11-year-olds and right now there just aren't a lot of good games on the Xbox One and PS4 that are "for kids" most of their launch lineups have been designed for guys my age.

In the end she decided to go with an Xbox 360 of the last generation.

Note: I've only played Xbox 360 so the idea of a PS3 didn't occur to me until like 3 seconds ago. Subjectively I would still go with Xbox 360, which feels like it has more games, though you wouldn't have to pay for online service with a PS3. 

If you are deadset on getting the latest though I would reluctantly recommend the Wii U. It's been getting a slogging in the press lately and it's rumored Nintendo is making another console but it does have some good games for kids featuring the Nintendo staples and since it came out about a year ago it has more games in general.  That said if you are going with it I highly recommend buying a pro controller I could never see myself getting used to the Wimote.

Mobile Console Gaming
Yeah it's been a while since I had the cash to dump on a Gameboy, but I've heard good things about the 3DS. It has a lot of games and is probably the best mobile console heck console in general if your looking for variety of gameplay options short of the good ole PC. Not unlike the Wii U it's been out for a while, a long while in fact so it's got something for everybody at this point, with the exception of first person shooters. Other than that, RPGs got them. Puzzle games? Got them. Strategy games. Got them. Platformers? Got them.

You might also consider the Playstation Vita, but I know next to nothing about the Playstation Vita so let's move on.

For The Kids
The industry as a whole has grown up with the guys who were loyal to the medium.  They're making fewer and fewer games targeted at kids. That being said there are still good games out there kids can play. Most people will tell you to just look at the rating. I am not. Getting GOOD games for kids means going in with a certain mindset.

Here's how I put it. You don't want a kid game, but a good game kids can play. What I mean by that is that the priority should getting something fun but safe. And I know people are looking at me crazy right now. Especially the hardcore crowd. Simmer down and let me explain.

Eventually mom settled on Lego Star Wars 2, a game that was in my list of games I personally wanted to play because it's good. It's fun; It's funny. But it's also something that's safe for kids to play.

Though I suppose even it is a little dated.  Well they were also nuts for Minecraft but do I really need to explain how good it is. It's the internet sensation across multiple nations.

Okay back to my point. You want to do some research. Don't just buy something because it has colorful box, or you get Borderlands. Good game by the way, just not for kids.

Here is a Quick list of Recommendations For Kids (Again for the Xbox:360)

Sonic: Generations
Super Meatboy
Castle Crashers
Rayman: Origins
Lego Marvel Super Heroes

Hard Drives and Downloads
Most all of that stuff was relatively easy to explain but Xbox Live, gift cards, and hard drive size were a bit harder.

Okay.  In the before time in the long long ago games only had enough memory to run.  If you lost the game you had to go aaaaallll the way to the beginning. Some genius thought this sucked and then programmed pass codes into the start of each level. But this let the unscrupulous gamer, those ne'er-do-wells cheat rather than, "save" so eventually we got memory in cartridges and eventually "cards".

Okay I'm not going go into the history of game memory. But I thought it would be a good idea if instead of buying a bunch of games mom just bought a gift card or two and let the kids download what they wanted of of Xbox Live Arcade, a service that allows people to buy and download games from home.  I can't really because I have an older Xbox whose 10 gigs are up. So I recommended she spring for the model with the 250 gigabyte hard drive rather than the 4 gig.

That said if you're going go that route you're also probably going to want Xbox live. It allows online multiplayer and the use of apps like Netflix. I don't trust those kids not to buy stuff and mom was lukewarm on the idea of giving her credit card to Big Willie Gates, so I recommended she buy an Xbox Live game code  and gift cards instead.

She took most of my advice except one thing. She didn't buy all of this stuff online.

Don't Get What's In The Store
Microsoft just released a new version of Xbox 360 that looks more like the Xbox One, but it costs more than older models, and comes bundled with games she didn't want the kids playing, Halo 4 and Tomb Raider. Now I'm okay with that because I get those games, but it was kind of a waste especially since Tomb Raider was a download code and I had to jump through some hoops to get it on my system (I needed to buy a format a flash drive).

On the one hand if you were just a gamer I suppose it might be a deal. Two 60 buck games plus the console at $300 sounds about right but I checked and Amazon still has the lower price by a pretty wide margin. The primary reason to walk into a game store is the secondary market. Used games and such. If you are buying new I highly recommend using a trusted online merchant, and that goes for both hardware and software.

However, if you do go into a game store ask the clerk to tell you exactly what you are getting. Did the game have any special codes you needed to play or access a level? Yes that is an issue now days.

Also walk into the store knowing exactly what you want. It's kind of like McDonald's except instead of a $2 drink they'll try to upsell you a $60 warranty, which is almost never worth it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January 21, 2014 Southfield City Council Meeting

Southfield City Council meeting held January 21, 2014

Topic Include

  • The Refinancing of McDonnell Towers and the need for a Payment In Lieu of Taxes Ordinance
  • An Upcoming Abatement Request for Marsh & McLennan Companies
  • Cable Franchise Renewal Negotiations
An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Southfield Police Citizen Observer January 6-12, 2014

Funeral Service of James Scharret, Southfield City Administrator

On January 14, 2014 a funeral service was held for City Administrator, James Scharret, who passed away on January 9, 2014.

The Funeral service included a recounting of his life by Reverend Tim Larson of the Peace Lutheran Church as well of words of remembrance by his colleagues, Mayor Brenda Lawrence, Council President Sylvia Jordon, Councilman and Former Mayor Donald Fracassi, and County Commissioners Nancy Quarles and Janet Jackson.

January 14, 2014 Southfield Board of Education Meeting

A meeting of the Southfield Public Board of Education held on January 14, 2014
Topics Discussed Include

  • Students Visiting the Elderly at American House, A Senior Living Community in Southfield
  • Technological Upgrades Including, New Data Projectors, iPad Airs, and Network Upgrades
  • Well wishing of David Turner, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources and Labor Affairs Who Has Resigned and Accepted a Position at A University
  • An Update on The District's Marketing

An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Anime Review: [C]

As I was writing this review I found out the Southfield City Administrator, James Scharret passed away. Part of me feels I should wait a while to post the review but there is really nothing I can do regarding his death. I am not the family though my heart does goes out to them. I might as well soldier on and continue to do what I was doing before the news hit me. That having been said he was a good man who performed his job dutifully and was honest, courteous and professional in all his interactions. I greatly respected the man and will miss him. This city was lucky to have him and I was lucky to have met him. Information about the funeral service can be found here

Okay here is the thing about [C]. It is an austerity/Austrian economics propaganda piece. From episode one it pulls no punches in what it's about. Its full title is [C]: Control - The Money of Soul and Possibility. It's a piece about regulation, central banking and more obviously a condemnation of bailouts and stimulus packages to stabilize failing economies. But here is the thing unlike most propaganda pieces this show is really trying to swing the opposition rather than just get it's troops and maybe a few undecideds to reaffirm their beliefs.

So many logical fallacies, too little time. What about the panic of 1837 damn it. 

Anyway this piece of economic propaganda really wants to lay down exactly what it feels the failures of Keynesian economics are and to do that it has to construct a scenario to adequately explain Keynesian economics. I consider myself a Keynesian but...damn  it I only scraped by with C+/B- (2.5) in macroecon and that was nearly 5 years back. But in order to wrap my brain around this one I'm going to need to break out the ole Phillips Curve and while I'm at it CPI charts. This is a long way of saying this review is going to play out like a econ class taught by a dumb-ass. Cola. I'm gonna need some caffeine for this one.

Importance of Credit, Leverage and Investment

In order to understand the premise of the show, which I will explain, I promise, you have to understand leveraged debt. Debt can be used by institutions to increase the cash they have on hand to make investments and gain larger returns, but leveraged debt also increases the risk that they won't be able to pay it back. All the same over the long term using loans to increase investments, such as land, buildings, employees, equipment and inventory amplifies POTENTIAL profit AND loss.

And on an aggregate scale we need the credit market. We need banks that will RESPONSIBLY loan out money to entrepreneurs so they will in turn spend it in the pursuit of profit. Of course the use of credit to expand the economy is where the two schools differ.

Note: I disagree with almost everything in that video, but I felt it was a reasonable representation the of the aesop of this morality play. I don't mind fiat money and the responsible use of credit fuels economic growth..

And damn it I'm turning into Gekko. Let's move on to the evil clown already.

Care to Leverage Your Soul?

So our protagonist, Kimimaro is a broke college student. So broke he can't even afford a cell phone. One day while in a mild funk after checking his bank account, Masakaki, our Mephistopheles proposes to loan him a small fortune in Midas money (500,000 yen/$4768), a currency indistinguishable from human currency in most ways, leveraged against his potential good fortune whether it be romance, wealth, or offspring.

We have economic risk and reward.

This is not the first time this fellow has made this deal. In fact one of the terms of the agreement is the the people who accept the terms entres (entrepreneurs) must participate in timed mon/asset battles/deals where the Midas money acts as their hp/mp with the winner making a net gain in Midas money.

It's a way of visualizing the concept of economic competition and the gains and losses that go with it. Going bankrupt sucks ass, while having cash rocks.

I love the idea but hate that some of the mons are fanservicey especially when they are  anthropomorphised representations of the entre's fate or in Kimimaro's case his future daughter/ foreclosed sister. I'll forgive it for it's brains in other departments.

When The Micro Becomes Macro
The entrepreneurs are free to use the Midas money in the real world, but if they go bankrupt in the financial district, the alternate plane where the deals occur, everything made possible with the Midas money will vanish. That might not seem so bad until you consider a lot of these guys are high rollers who used the money to fund companies, hire workers, and pay taxes.

The Midas money increases the potential of what they can do, but also increases the the losses when they do lose.

One entre has figured this out and is trying to rig the system so the financial district and Midas money affects the real world as little as possible by artificially limiting the risk in the deals.  Rather than going all out and trying to obliterate each other a he founds consortium of powerful entrees's who limit how much they win or lose by in an attempt to keep the entire system in stasis, so that no entre can lose enough money to damage the real world.

This sounds familiar.

That man, Souichirou Mikuni, is our sympathetic Keynesian. His goal is to use the money and the financial district for the betterment of mankind by carefully taking advantage of the credit opportunity while minimizing the risks to the real world.

In my book he kind of awesome, but you have to remember the show was constructed to disprove everything he believes in and the groundwork has already been laid. He's our antagonist. And the first half of the show seems like it's on his side. He's set to be the mentor to our protagonist.

Fiat Money and Cash Injections (Literally, What Is The Value of A Dollar?)

So the question I always ponder is what does money or rather currency actually mean. Since most of the cash I've held in my hand has had little if any physical value  I've always wondered why we're willing to trade it for things that we do.  We've agreed to use currency as a social construct to better facilitate trade.  The value of currency is nothing more or less than the what we are willing to trade for it. A pop is worth a buck fifty but conversely a buck fifty is worth a pop.

This series takes serious issue with that. Midas money isn't backed by anything real and that makes it evil. MWHAHAHAHAHA. Since currency is used as a medium of exchange it needs to have value. The show argues that since fiat money isn't backed by anything more than unicorn feathers it doesn't have a real value and the lack thereof makes it able to be manipulated in dangerous ways.  Don't you just miss the good old days of gold lire. Currency must accurately represent it's own subjective value and screwing with that via interest rates, the expansion of credit, regulation, or government stimulus screws with that by making it impossible to know how much anything is really worth and by extension consumer's abilities to make informed financial decisions, thus increasing overall risk in an economy.

I take issue with that because I believe that the value of currency is always fluid and never accurately represents past financial decisions regarding factors of production. The value of a dollar goes up or down based upon the subjective value of the goods and services it can be used to purchase and that is NEVER static.   I never fully bought into the price as as a knowledge surrogate idea. But let's do let the show continue.

Eventually our protagonist realizes that the little imp could print more Midas money lowering the value of the currency in a gambit to make everyone go bankrupt. Never trust clowns. Hell never trust anybody sounding too much like Mephisto. It's subtly hinted that Masakaki and his business associates are from down South, the deep South. God damn root of all evil.

But it's not actually Masakaki he has to worry about doing it. Demons tend to negotiate in good faith. We're the ones who always overextend ourselves.

Whenever an entrepreneur loses enough money to greatly negatively impact the real world, Souichirou swoops in using his Midas money, the stuff backed by unicorn feathers and dreams (all currency is backed by faith in my book but lets go), to limit the fallout, keeping the factories humming, public services going and people employed. He's slowly becoming the central bank of Japan, and when central banks fail countries fail.

As the bank grows more and more wealthy and powerful the potential fallout when it fails becomes greater.

The economy get's worse and worse and Souichiro pumps more and more money into it buffer the collapse, and our heroes take issue with it.

To them all that money isn't free and has to come from somewhere. Using it to prop up failing old ventures means that it can't be used on new ones. Moreover the debt will eventually need to be paid. Souichiro is protecting the present at the expense of the future.

Of course they aren't going to talk Souichiro into stopping because he feels if he does it would cause the economic collapse of Japan and possibly all of Southeast Asia. The second act is about his gambit to control enough of the economy to basically become financial God. He makes a deal with Misakaki to leverage the future of  the entirety of Japan!

Our protagonist as well as a few of his friends think that Souichiro has gone completely off the deep end at this point. They figure if the bank of Souichiro Mikuni fails, they can rebuild the economy without Midas money and the hidden risk that goes with it. To do that they concoct a willy scheme to undermine confidence in the Yen making Souichiro's wealth meaningless.  Well if you're screwed anyway.

In the climax we literally get giant mon battles representing the ideals of the Austrian and Keynesian schools. Guess who loses.

As stated I disagree with everything this show stands for but it was a fun, smart wild ride.

The Passing of James Scharret

According the Southfield city website City Administrator, James Scharret passed away on January 9, 2014.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Anime Review: Spice and Wolf

Who wants to watch an anime about the conflicts between the Keynesian and Austrian schools of economic theory with financial transactions literally represented as epic mon battles refereed by an evil clown Mephistopheles!?

I do!

And yes that actually exists. Shut up. This why I love anime!

I'm going slowly ease my way back into being boring Mr. Grumpy pants after my post holiday otakuthon and unraveling that giant economic allegory (dang blasted German austerity) is not the way to do it. I should probably start with Spice and Wolf which is much better, more interesting and allows me to talk about basic economic theory. And before we get started I have to admit I am not an economist. It's not my trade so if I screw up a little grant me so leeway.

Ultimately Spice and Wolf is about and takes it's names from out two leads. A wolf goddess in the skin of a young woman, and a pseudo-medieval peddler trying to earn enough money to open a nice shop in the city. Both of these characters are interesting. While I suppose there is a story the show is really about exploring each of it's leads.

Holo, the wise wolf is interesting and dynamic. This is a very slow talky show but she never has want of something interesting to say or do. It is very rare that television flirting can be amusing. Part of the reason why she's following Kraft Lawrence, our friendly peddler around is because she gets a kick out of toying with him. Being very adapt at his trade of being a merch... trader(God damn it), he tends to take things a bit too seriously.  They are both very charming characters, though I will admit Holo can get a bit fanservicey. This show to a degree is about a budding romance between the two that Captain Tightpants is blind to until ... stuff happens.

The series is basically just following them around around as Lawrence tries to make a profit on his various investments. He uses guile to get the lowest price on goods, transport them and then sell them at a profit. But sometimes things go wrong.

To get a feel for the show I'll explain the first real arc, which revolves around currency speculation. Lawrence gets a hot tip that a neighboring kingdom is considering increasing the amount of silver in it's coins. On sight the merchants won't be able to tell the current coin from the old and will lower their exchange rates for both. The idea is that if Lawrence can collect as many of the coins as he can in current circulation he can make a profit on the difference in value between the two versions of the coin.

The catch is he doesn't really know the guy who told him about it. Is it true and if it is how should he go about responding to this information? If it were a deception there was a purpose to it, some larger plot to game the market.

What Lawrence didn't realize is the opposite is true, there is actually less silver content in the coins and somebody out there is trying to spreed rumors to the contrary. When the merchants discover the deception they'll all dump the coins on the market (You live; You learn.) allowing a third party to trade for them at much lower than their normal market value even after the devaluation, then slowly trade them at a profit when things normalize, or even better still manage to sell them back wholesale to the mint to be melted down and reforged. Ingenious (Wouldn't all of that be considered insider trading by today's standards anyway. Our protagonist is not above petty blackmail either. Shut up.)

A bunch of other stuff happens but it's the scheme that set's the plot into motion the first few episodes. Apart from all the economics Holo and Lawrence have real chemistry both enjoying the game of wit.

Neither is above ribbing and needling the other. For instance Holo loves chastising Lawrence for always wasting the chance to be romantic and for his part when Lawrence catches her games realizing exactly what she wants to hear, he isn't above stringing it out and acting oblivious.

They both know the game and are willing to play it until the dark side of financial risk comes knocking on the door.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bureaucracy Can Be a Good Thing

So Zappos decided to restructure it's managerial duties in an attempt to curtail bureaucratic inflexibility. That's interesting. I don't really know enough about the company or even really business administration to argue if it's a good or bad move. But it does give me an excuse to talk about something that's been swirling around in my head for a while. Bureaucracy can be good!

Having become synonymous with red tape and warehouses of veteran applications i.e. a failure of bureaucracy. A lot of people don't see the benefits of bureaucracy, the reasons why millennia ago it was developed, information, accountability and process.

Information and Record Keeping
One of the great roles of the bureaucracy is to create records. Defending record keeping would basically mean defending writing, accounting, legal precedent, and the scientific method. Do I really need to do that. We've already figured that out.

Record keeping allows for the preservation of knowledge when the human origin of that knowledge is no longer on hand, whether it be through the failure of memory, geography, or even death. We have the ability to gaze into the past and make current decisions based on past events. My knowledge does not have to die with me.

When I say accountability here I don't mean the doling out of blame, I merely mean the ability to examine past mistakes and learn from them. General James Mattis said this in a letter
The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s
experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a
better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of
incompetence are so final for young men.
I would like to compliment his wisdom by saying that taking moment to create and preserve records of events allows for both you and your associates in the future to learn from them possibly even avoiding thier repetition if negative and recreating them if positive.

All of human history is trial and error. The first mistake is always unavoidable, but all others would not be if the first was able to be researched, analyzed, and dissected.

In all field decisions must be made and I have seen so many travesties because nobody had a clear plan as to who was responsible for what. The bureaucracy clearly delineates responsibilities and process so everybody knows what their role in the machine is. Nobody has to spend half a day guessing and then asking someone up the chain, "What am I suppose to be doing right now?" The plan has been laid forth clearly for all. Everybody is aware of the overall project goals, their specific role and responsibilities within those goals, as well as the most practical methodology of those responsibilities.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What Happened?

Okay so my anime extravaganza has really coagulated some ideas I've been meaning to talk about for a while. We are not in the Anime market of 2004 and I've been thinking a lot about why.  The big thing to point the finger at is the crash of the anime market, and yes it did crash. Companies like ADV films, and Tokyopop and Bandai Visual all having collapsed in some way or another over the last 5 years or so.  So let's run down some things.

The Rise of the Western Anime Market

Anime had been around for a while. Local affiliates would cut deals with international partners for this kind of thing. I actually saw both Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball years before they made it to Toonami. But anime in the eyes of the business were still considered nothing more than kids cartoons circa 1995. They were integrated into early morning programming blocks airing right alongside Power Rangers and Mighty Max on network television.

In the late 90's cable started to evolve these networks trying to find their niches. Cartoon Network was no different. Up until that point they mostly featured rebroadcast Hanna-Barbara classics. Basically think of a network devoted to Yogi and Scooby reruns and you have a Cartoon Network circa 1993. It was a place for Ted Turner to air his recently acquired cartoon libraries.

After a while though, the big wigs started to realize something. There wasn't really a lot of new content coming out. There are only 162 Tom and Jerry shorts then where are you?  So the hunt was on  to find and produce new Cartoons.

Allow me a mild animation aside.  In trying to seek out and foster new talent Cartoon Network created the What a Cartoon show which aired 71 cartoon pilots which included a pilot from a young Seth MacFarlane which looks a lot like Family Guy.

This show is the origin for a lot of the cannon of Cartoon Cartoons, Cartoon Networks brand of original programming, including Dexter's Lab, Power Puff Girls, Cow and Chicken, and Johnny Bravo, of course my favorite was a little short about a giant time traveling robot falling into the hands of a slacker.

Who digs giant robots?

Anyway after a while Cartoon Network decided to create an afterschool action cartoon block, but most of what they had on hand was more comedic in nature. They did air Super Friends, Johnny Quest and Pirates of the Dark Water, but those were a bit dated at least more dated than their usual stock which aged a little better. By the way Pirates of the Dark Water was axed way too early.

Remember what I said about anime being around for a while in the States, well that was true. A lot of the more actiony classic cartoons people remember even back then could be considered Anime. Thunder Cats, Transformers, Voltron. Heck Toei Animation was even behind "The Real American Hero". Yep G.I Joe is Japanese.

Anyway in trying to find content for their after school action block Cartoon Network eventually looked overseas and

If you are over the age of 30 or under the age of 15 you have no clue how big Dragon Ball Z was.  Nobody was fighting over Jordan's anymore. The quickest way to being the cool kid was being the guy who had the attention span to read the subs on the Asian networks. I wasn't that guy. Dragonball Z was so popular that the network was quickly trying to find stuff just like it to air, realizing the numbers weren't in old Super Friends episodes anymore.

For a long time that block which by now you should know as Toonami was the best place to get this stuff and it was massively successful. If you were between 9 and 15 and were in front of a TV you know what you were watching.

Here is the problem though a lot of these shows weren't created with American broadcast standards in mind, so Toonami had to cut a lot of stuff. Eventually they expanded a late night block to air uncut versions of shows like Yu-Yu-Hakusho, Dragon Ball Z and Tenchi Muyo. The Midnight Run.

Which eventually evolved into Adult Swim

Between Adult Swim and Toonami, Cartoon Network was more or less creating the western anime market. Even stuff that didn't air on it benefited from the network because it often served as people's first exposure to anime. People would look at shows like Cowboy Bebop and then head to their local DVD store.

The Problem of Merch
So what attracted a lot people to anime was the it's diversity, and I think that is owed to it's attitude. Anime was free to be targeted to any audience, including older audiences.

The problem is that older audience shows and kid shows are monetized differently. Adult shows normally get their revenue from advertising and occasionally post-broadcast syndication and sales, both of which depend on the quality of the show itself.

Kid shows on the other hand make their money back through

Seriously, outside of cons and die hard otaku how many people are going to buy a Spike Spiegel action figure.

With it's roots in kid cartoons it must have looked to the execs like they were missing out on all those toy dollars leading in 2004 to..eghhhhh Miguzi.

They shifted Toonami to Saturday evenings and gave the after school spot to Miguzi a block aimed at much younger audience.

CN keeps trying to climb out of the muck but each time the problem of merch arises and great shows get cancelled too soon.

But I'm not here to talk about Cartoon Network along with Williams Street and you know feeling on their turn from anime. They the wheel powering the western anime market and when they stopped licencing stuff the market crashed.

It's Japanese Duh
As much as I may harp on modern anime trends I have to admit something. With the fall of the western market they aren't making these shows for me anymore. Contemporary anime is more and more inclusive to the Japanese audience because they aren't counting on the international dollar for these shows.  So yaoi, fan service and moe while annoying the ever loving crap out of me may be a major driver for their actually intended audience.

And who am I really one to judge when I have such guilty pleasures as.

There is always a place for goofy cheeseball schlock no matter what your nationality or medium, but my big fear is that pretty soon anime is going to be known only for goofy cheeseball schlock when I've seen such wonders.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Anime Review: Tenchi Universe (The First TV Show)

So the second OVA was a mild disappointment for me but it did have it's merits. The TV show seems to be an attempt to bridge the domestic comedy of the second OVA and the narrative of the first, retelling the story. It's Tenchi Muyo but a different Tenchi Muyo.

Like I said there are a couple of differences in the set up but the largest one is the introduction of Kiyone a new character. Mihoshi's, the space cop's defining character trait was being nice but as dumb as a stack of bricks. Kiyone is a nice foil to her being smart and practical, acting as the sanest of the female cast.

Kiyone's addition makes it easier to map the characters. In most cases at least 2 of the girls share an origin. Kiyone and Mihoshi are space cops, Ayeka and Sasami are space princesses, and Washu and Ryoko are space outlaws. After that you have the Misaki's, Tenchi, his father, and grandfather.

After some thought I now realize the show can be split into three parts.

The Earth Adventures (Sitcom)
Like the first OVA the first few episodes are about establishing the female cast but rather than focusing on backstory like the first it, uses humor to explain their personalities, all of which are slightly exaggerated for the sake of the humor. The goal here is trying to get each of the girls stuck in the house where they have to deal with each other.  Someone will crash in Tenchi's yard changing the status quo, they'll have a space battle where both ships get so damaged that they're stuck on earth. Everybody has a well defined personality and those personalities conflict allowing for pretty good snark. Think a science-fiction Friends.

Once the status quo has been established the show settles into becoming a sitcom. You get the broke episode/new job episode and the festival episode and a few others. The point of these episodes are more or less the same as the second OVA giving the characters a place interact, but here is the difference. All of this stuff is early enough that it feels like they are still establishing the characters and they have enough time to do plot stuff later.

Time and Space Adventures/ AU Jumping
Every science-fiction show has one and Tenchi Universe has three. If you've seen Futurama's "Anthology of Interest" you know where this is going. Washu invents a machine that can warp time and space to it's user's wishes and the audience gets to basically jump around a bunch of Tenchi Muyo alternate universes.

These episodes pit the cast of the show, with their established personalities in other genres.each representing a character's ideal world. Despite being "ideal" nothing really changes and you get the same personality conflicts of the previous episodes.  No matter what genre they are in it is still all undeniably Tenchi Muyo, remaining pretty lighthearted.

From a character perspective we the audience get to see what in their minds ruins their ideal world.

The first of these is a traditional jidaigeki featuring Ryoko the "Demon of Rashomon" supposedly representing "Princess" Ayeka's ideal.

Okay the "Demon of Rashomon" bit was a brilliant inside joke and I feel the need to explain it. The Joker would not be amused. A running joke thus far in the series is that Ayeka and Ryoko's grudges stem from backstories that they remember or at least tell differently, which is the entire point of the 1950 Akira Kurosawa jidaigeki film Rashomon in which a Japanese court tries to figure out how the murder of a samurai was committed. There were a couple of witnesses but they all tell different stories. You know it's going on the list. Anyway back to our regularly scheduled programming.

For Kiyone's we get the opening scenes of a small town detective drama, which feels like Doc Martin

or since most of my audience is American Murder She Wrote, which is promptly ruined by Mihoshi.

If you read this blog at all you've probably guessed Sasami's is a magical girl parody, which got enough support to become a series in it's own right.

Mihoshi's is a lot harder to pin down, since it feels closer to the show's natural status quo. If I had to guess I'd say it's a more traditional domcom in the vein of the Dick Van Dyke show, except she's completely overwhelmed as a homemaker, it doesn't help that you have Ayeka playing the role the nagging mother-in-law.

Ryoko gets a nutty Bonnie and Clydeesk heist noir.

These adventures end on a bittersweet note as Ryoko has to forsake her perfect world. While running around knocking up banks was her idea of fun what she really liked was that she had won Tenchi in her world. After some thought she realizes the victory is entirely hollow if he doesn't choose her.

What's of particular note is that each of these worlds fit the character. If you stripped out all of the science fiction stuff each these characters feel like stock from those genres. Ayeka's a princess, Sasami's a girl, Ryoko's a crook, Kiyone's a detective, and Mihoshi is... needy.

Apart from being interesting in and of itself it serves as a tonal transition to the next part an action packed retelling of the last couple of episodes of the first OVA. Often times the Space and Time adventures get a bad rap being so different from everything else but within the context of the show they are absolutely needed. Tenchi Muyo is both a sitcom and a space opera and the show juggles to balance the two.

The Space Adventure (Tenchi Muyo! 2.0)
And they changed a lot. And you know what its actually more interesting in the TV show than in the OVA. The first thing you should realize though is the show has mostly segregated the dramatic and comedic, meaning they haven't yet introduced the any of the more any serious aspects of the OVA allowing them to change or ignore things while still having it make sense within the context of what we know about this world. This show is a new beast. The show plays with your expectations based on what they did in the OVA.

It all starts when Juraian military forces arrest Ayeka, Sasami and Ryoko. The audience has half been expecting "most wanted space pirate" Ryoko to get captured for a while, but the detainment of everybody else is a total surprise.

What the hell is going on?

 The legendary warrior Yosho who had previously renounced his claim to the throne of Jurai has comeback and decided "eh screw it".  After pretty much getting the Juraian government to just go along with it, (to be fair it would be as if John F. Kennedy rose from the grave and cast his hat in the ring for the presidency) Yosho's been hunting down all the other claimants Harod style,  and guess who's second in line. Ayeka. Well this doesn't sound like the Old Ben Yosho from the OVAs. Hint, it's not. The life of the villain would be so much easier if he could just resist the urge to kidnap princesses. Our heroes were in the butt end of galactic nowhere until this mope decided to pull a Bowser.  .

Our crew launch a successful rescue mission but are now intergalactic fugitives.

Just prior to all of this going down our two resident space cops were called back to headquarters and are now in the wolf's den, their superiors believing that they're still in contract with everyone else.  They're not, but Mihoshi who has crazy bad luck overhears talk of duplicitous traps. And then shit goes down!

Their bosses aren't going to just let them walk out of there to warn everybody so we get an epic giant space battle. Mihoshi and Kiyone who are still plugged into the com chatter decide to pull a Han Solo for their friends who are facing a space blockade after the breakout. The band is officially back together.

After that the show settles down for a while but with the stakes raised a bit. Not every episode can be that wild it would be exhausting. They're still mostly funny and charming, but these episodes can seem plodding and can make the moments when the plot does pick up feel a bit disjointed.

That said the changes to the plot are brilliant it feels like plot of the OVA but is different enough to be worth watching  along with it. You have to remember back in the day Cartoon Network didn't market these as two shows airing them as the same show so going into it as a kid it felt a little it like we were doing the same thing over until the plot picked up and did indeed became it's own thing in the last few episodes.

In terms of narrative craftsmanship the first OVA is a masterpiece with little fat and this one seems a little flabby in comparison, but it's only that way because rather than just trying to tell a space opera it's also trying to be comically amusing and in that way it works. In watching both it's clear the first one was written primarily as a space opera and the harem comedy angle everyone associates with the franchise was mostly introduced in the second OVA and perfected in this show as it tried to balance it and its space opera roots.

I Don't Want To Live in A World Where A Story Can't Be Told

Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar being a show who's entire purpose is fan service has stuck in my craw. I have very complicated feelings about the nature of fanservice, the most obvious one being that when the entire point of a show is fanservice it becomes bad porn. I don't have a problem with porn, but I do have a problem with bad porn, but alas talking about that would mean seriously examining the nuts and bolts of how I feel about know and I really don't want to do that in public.

So let's take another angle here. Anime along with video games and the internet are still very young media. There are a lot of people out there who believe that nothing produced through these media can be artistic or even of merit. And screw them! I have nothing to prove there.

I don't have to defend these media they defend themselves, the bloggers, vloggers, developers, pencilers, inkers, and animators through the history of these media have pushed themselves and on the whole have crafted visages of their spirits. That is enough for me.  I don't really care so much about my media of choice gaining critical acceptance and through it my own acceptance as much as I do about the lack there of closing the door on a particularly fascinating project. I don't want the next hungry Steven Spielberg, Shigeru Miyamoto, Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki, or Stan Lee to give up on a project because they never considered animation or sequential art as a visual media, the power of interactivity to create empathy, or the potential to use fantastical, humorous, kinetic, or melodramatic elements to discus larger scientific, historical, political or even philosophical truths.

But I feel I must point out that the the people behind the lens represent who kid in the front row chewing popcorn wants to be. He often wants to do what they do. He wants to surpass them. But more importantly they gift him with the toolbox of his expression, creating the language that he and we all have to communicate ideas that words alone may not.

I don't want people to ever be able to say this story doesn't have a way to be told or this idea doesn't have a way to be explored.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Anime Review: The Second Tenchi Muyo OVA

So after the success of the first OVA they did it again. Rather than a big overarching plot it's much more episodic, especially at first, mostly concerning itself with finding entertaining stuff for the cast to do. The opening episode serves to rejigger the new status quo after the last one's big giant space battle featuring stuff blowing up.  Yosho's been found and the villain defeated, now everyone is just chilling in a domestic comedy.

Overall the second OVA is nowhere near as good as the first, which felt like an legendary epic of old but it has it's moments. This show isn't really concerned about telling a story the way the first one was. It's more about giving the characters a space to play and interact with one another.

It's entertaining but also kind of pointless compared the narrative driven first one. The first one had a story to tell and knew what that story was this one not so much.

It does however have a lot of heart, everybody is likable and the tone is generally upbeat.  It helps that the show is actually funny, since the humor rather than the plot is the new purpose of the show. Both the voice actors and animation actually have pretty good comedic timing.

Still it's frustrating because it's clear the writers still had places to go hinting at various plot threads that seem to go absolutely nowhere. Most of these are brilliant and take off from the finale so let's do a run down.

  • So Yosho was more than just some legendary warrior he was second in line to the throne of a bunch of magical space elves. He's made it abundantly clear that he's content with the life he made for himself and just wants to do what he's been doing and lying low but the finale has blown his cover.  The fates have aligned to make Tenchi the guy who is to succeed him but to put it bluntly the dude is a country bumpkin. Most of the known galaxy doesn't know he even exists let alone that he's crown prince of Jurai.
  • So the Jurai Royal Power (the force) has basically been explained to be the will of the Juraian patron Goddess Tsunami. All of their tech is based off of this. If Ryoko could successfully attack Jurai it means that she has a power different from but comparable to Tsunami. What's up with that?
  • The quasi answer to the last one is Washu, who is basically Ryoko's mother. She was introduced mostly in the last episode of the first OVA so we know next to nil about her. What's her deal?
You want to know how I know all of these could  have been brilliant. Because of the one plot thread they did decide to tie up. 

So let me remind everyone of how the finale went down. Tenchi has the battle with the big bad and dies, or at least comes close to it. He's saved by the patron Goddess of Jurai who happens to reside in Sasami's sacred tree.

This takes some explaining.  Okay,  the Juraians are big on sacred trees everybody in the royal family eventually bonding to one as sort of a life pact. The trees then sustain their lives and allow them to travel through SP-A-A-A-CE.  Ayeka has one, Yosho has one. Them Juraians just can't get enough of those sacred trees.

For those who are not into anime think of this as basically being similar to the whole Athena olive tree thing except Athena turns herself into the first olive tree rather than just planting it. The sacred trees are what allow the Juraians to be magical space elves. 

During the finale Tsunami explains that she resides in Sasami's tree. At the time that's all we the audience needed to know because you know stuff blowing up. But it hints at something greater by panning the camera down to Tsunami's reflection and showing the visage of Sasami.

What's actually going on is explained in this OVA's second episode "Sasami and Tsunami".

Way back in the back story when Ryoko was laying waste to Jurai, Sasami was a tyke. Since everybody else as busy because you know stuff blowing up an unawares Sasami managed to make her way down to the Royal arboretum where she promptly fell and cracked her skull. Why don't aliens ever follow OSHA standards? She landed at the roots of Tsunami the ancient tree from which all others are descendants and it took pity. It or rather she bonded to Sasami. The show keeps it ambigous as to whether this was gated to happen.

All of this is a lot for an eight year old to handle. After the event Sasami's been thinking she's a magical clone. She's been doing a decent job holding it together because she didn't have to think about it, but the forced deus ex machina transformation last time around has made that roll around in her head again. For the last two episodes she's been walking around thinking she's Starman.

When the truth is closer to Princess Yue.

Since the first episode of this one didn't focus on it I didn't really notice it, but she's been brooding trying to gather the courage to tell everyone. The episode is heartwarming when her surrogate family accepts her as is even before everybody knows the full truth,

Tsunami appears and explains she didn't replace Sasami, but assimilated with her. Making the two destined to gradually merge and become one. Tsunami is what Sasami is destined to become and Sasami is basically a young Tsunami. All of this is echoed by Tsunami's design and voice acting.

And that sums up my duality of thought on this one. That one episode makes the entire experience worth it but it also hints at what the show could have been if there was actually a plot.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Anime Review: The First Tenchi Muyo OVA

So as hinted with in my review the most unforgivable sin of Tenchi Muyo: War on Geminar is that twice an episode it would remind me of other better shows I could be watching. It would remind me about something cool from Tenchi Muyo and then after I was done squeeing over jokes about how awesome Sasami's cooking was I would think, "Gee you know what? I could be watching all of the dinner scenes from Tenchi Muyo right now. Why don't I do that?"

So let's do this. While there is a plot the first two or three episodes are all about setting up the personalities and backstory of the main cast.

So the first episode in particular is all about explaining Ryoko. But also subtly the show's status quo. What life is like when there isn't some crazy crisis going on.  And it's pretty down to earth, taking place in modern day, well early 90''s, rural Japan.  Even then it hints at the more fantastical elements. Tenchi's grandfather more or less tells him the truth in the yarn he spins about legendary warriors, magic swords and demons in the opening moments.

Of course our young padawan, Tenchi Masaki doesn't believe him and unleashes the ancient space demon Ryoko. Part of what makes the show interesting is the characters and Ryoko is just plain fun. She's chaos, not exactly evil but an uninhibited hedonist with no impulse control. If she wants it blown up real good it will be blown up real good. You can see where that might be a problem. It's strongly implied later that her first episode appearance where she where blows up Tenchi's school (it was empty) was nothing more than her goofing around and blowing off steam after being trapped for so long.

The first episode ends with Ryoko realizing that figuring out Tenchi is her new ball of string when he somehow manages to best her in combat. Of course that whole demon thing isn't just for show. When ticked off or bored Ryoko tends to go overboard fueling the grudge of her primary foil Ayeka.

In the backstory Ryoko completely wrecked Princess Ayeka's home. Her brother/fiance (royalty are weird), Yosho left after her and has been MIA since. Once she came of age Ayeka's took up the search and blames Ryoko for her missing brother. Unleashing Ryoko brought Ayeka in pursuit. Ironically Ryoko has been trapped for so long that legally the galactic statute of limitations let's her off the hook, and it infuriates Ayeka. Ayeka is the exact opposite of Ryoko, reserved or at least always attempting to be. Her humor as well as her arc mostly comes from the massive stick up her butt. She starts the show as a pent up ball of repressed anger as she grieves. Tenchi empathizes with her, showing real compassion and they begin to care about each other.

That said Ayeka points out the driving mystery of the first OVA. What happened to Yosho. Between Tenchi's grandfather's stories, Ryoko and the weapon Tenchi used to defeat her Ayeka knows she's hot on the trail, but has given up hope of finding him alive.  But accepts Tenchi's aid in the matter.

I might have been a bit misleading while the second episode explains the basics of Ayeka's backstory it's actually fleshed out in the third the second mostly being about her little sister Sasami. All of that crap happened when Sasami was really young, or at least young by alien princess standards so her character isn't as driven by it. She functions mostly as the ego to Ayeka's super ego and Ryoko's id.

She has the benefit of for the most part not growing up on her home planet and doesn't take herself  or the princess thing anywhere near as seriously as her sister, yet she also has a pretty good head on her shoulders and knows when the fun has gone too far.

Not unlike Ayeka the space police have been after Ryoko. The heat is on because of the whole statute of limitations thing, but they put Mihoshi on it. Mihoshi comes from a long line of legendary space detectives but she's a complete ditz. She's pretty nice and all but just can't count on her

There Will Be Spoilers
The more I write the more I realize it's hard to talk about this show without delving into spoilers. Even explaining the characters and their motivations basically summarizes the first four episodes of a seven episode story.  I hesitate to go further but first of all what made me love the show was the last three episodes and how the show handled everything, and second of all the end of the first OVA pretty much forms the status quo for every other piece of Tenchi media save the first TV show which retells the story.

There were some real twists, yet everything was hinted at.

The Jurai Royal Power
While Sasami and  Ayeka are space princesses rather than Leia you should probably be thinking more along the lines of Arwen. In a lot of ways the Juraians are analogous to Tolkien's elves being responsible in some form or another for most of the society and technology in the show. And yes Earth is a long lost colony of theirs.

They can do this due to the Jurai Royal Power which is more or less The Force. It extends their lives, allows them to pilot space ships and use light sabers. Because of their status as the progenitors of all civilization in the universe, who runs Jurai is kind of important.

The Yosho/Ayeka partnership was going to secure the throne but Yosho being MIA has thrown things out of wack. The sword Tenchi's  (remember how I said that) been using up to this point is basically the sword in the stone declaring/choosing who is most powerful wielder of the Jurai Royal power is and who is king.

While Ryoko is the driver of the plot she is not actually the villain. She was made or rather commissioned by Kagato but is not him. He is much much worse.

Kagato created Ryoko as a tool to help him gain absolute control of the Jurai Royal power. Ryoko being Ryoko was like screw all that crap but became the terror of the galaxy not entirely of her own volition. Being created by him Kagato has certain mind control powers over her.

Kagato's goal is to find the sword and backwards engineer the thing thereby becoming the most powerful man in the universe.  But the sword and by extension the Jurai royal power has already chosen it's master.

Kagato's appearance is enough to make Yosho take up the sword once more.

What Happened to Yosho
You know how I keep comparing Jurians to elves. Well they generally don't like inter-species romances either, and Yosho was a product of one, being mixed race. The prejudice eventually got to him and he used Ryoko's attack as pretense to just book.

Since Ayeka was really young and hero worshiped the guy none, of this dawned on her. It was an arranged marriage and because she was massively crushing on the guy she was happy with it.

Yosho came to earth and made a life for himself getting married, having a daughter and eventually a grandson. You see where this is going. Yosho is and always was Tenchi's grandfather. Tenchi's grandfather officially passes the torch and sends Tenchi on a quest to save Ryoko before Kagato can reprogram her. Tenchi comes and it doesn't go so well.

Despite herself Ryoko had a soft spot for the boy and along with Ayeka vows revenge.

What is the Jurai Royal Power?
Ooookay. This is a doozy. In this story the universe was created by three goddesses. After creating the universe they went more or less their separate ways. Tsunami, one of the goddesses, eventually became the patron of the Jurai Royal Family. She's basically a benevolent Athena who literally resides in the olive tree.

The story doesn't actually explain all of this until the second and third OVAs but it helps to make sense of the ending.

The Jurai Royal power is basically her interference as she acts as mother to the entire universe. And do you really think she's going to let a bad guy usurp it?

This god is going to fix this machine.

Speaking of Mothers
Kagato didn't really so much  create Ryoko as commission her. He kidnapped the leading genius of the space science academy to create her. Washu used one of her eggs, yes those type of eggs, in the process making her literally Ryoko's mom. Even though she's pretty much impotent in this first OVA due to being trapped in a pocket dimension by Kagato for the duration, it's clear which side she's on. She uses her bag of tricks to help out where she can.

Sword Tenchi
The big explosive revelation is that the sword also called Tenchi isn't sword. Rather it's a tool to access Tsunami's power. It's actually not all that important in the grand scheme of things being only a corporeal manifestation of her will. For reasons, (second and third OVA stuff it's kind of unclear at this point), Tsunami takes a direct interest in Tenchi, loaning him a lot more of her power than anyone else in the known history of the universe.  This allows for an epic beat down. Kagato fatally loses but is satisfied actually figuring out what the sword is."

"Tenchi same name as the master key. Well done Tsunami. Tenchi can't be copied. Splendid plan. You've won boy.

There is a special that serves as sort of an epilogue but this is more or less where this story ends for me. The special is mostly just an extra episode for those who want to see more of the characters and their dynamic, though it does hint at the conflict of the next OVA.

What really strikes me about this show as a whole is how tight the narrative is. Even small character moments advance the larger plot and provide the mechanisms of the larger actions of the story.  For instance a hot tub argument creates an energy anomaly that leads to the introduction of Mihoshi. The reason why this review is almost a complete summary is because everything has importance here. The plot is a perfectly balanced Jenga tower.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Crazy World of Tenchi Shows

Okay so tomorrow I'm going to probably watch and analyze original Tenchi Muyo. But what is original Tenchi. Well I normally mean the Tenchi media that deals with the original characters but even that gets complicated.

Alright in 1992 the original OVA was released in japan. For non-otaku think of OVAs as straight to DVD animated miniseries. It was crazy popular so a second OVA was released in 1994 continuing the story. And that was insanely popular as well so in 1995 they decided to retell the story for a wider audience in a TV show. And by now you know the drill. After that there was a movie, another TV show, two other movies  and a second continuation of the OVA.

Most of this gets parred down to two continuities. The TV continuity and the OVA continuity (there was also a manga. They both tell similar stories but there are some minor differences. Here is the kicker. U.S. audiences weren't really told these were two different shows, U.S.advertising instead focusing on differentiating between the second TV show, Tenchi in Tokyo and everything else, largely because the second TV show wasn't all that well received.

When people think of the Tenchi cannon they're generally talking about

  1. The First OVA
  2. The Second OVA
  3. The First Television Show Tenchi Universe
  4. The Second Movie Tenchi Muyo Daughter of Darkness
  5. The Third Movie Tenchi Forever
Then in the hierarchy is
  1. The First Movie Tenchi In Love
  2. The Third OVA Tenchi Muyo-Ryo Ohki
  3. The Spinoff Tenchi Muyo GXP Galaxy Police
  4. The second TV series Tenchi in Tokyo
  5. Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar
  6. The Magical Girl Parody Pretty Sammy

That's most of the stuff I know of not counting manga. 

Anime Review: Tenchi Muyo War on Geminar

I really liked the old Tenchi Muyo series as a kid. My brain always wants to say it was Yu-Yu-Hakusho that wised me up to the story potential of Anime as a kid but if I'm really being honest it was Tenchi Muyo. But being considered one of the progenitors of harem anime I always felt people misunderstood why it was popular especially in the west. At it's bones it's a condensed rather charming version of the hero's journey, playing almost like a Japanese version of Star Wars, but different enough to stand on it's own, especially the TV show.  Well Jedi Knights are basically space samurai with the force being space Shinto. And yes, there will be a lot of space ______ talk in this review

But somewhere in there people confused the main draw for the male harem fantasies. Sure that was in the original but it was never really all that explicit mostly Tenchi for his part thinking of all the relationships as being platonic and being too oblivious or annoyed to realize how much the girls wanted him romantically. He just wanted to get his farm chores done without having to worry about spaceships i.e. the call crashing into his yard every other episode.

What made the romance work generally wasn't the wacky comedy, but rather the pursuit of the question, "What would you be willing to do for the well being of this person?" In the end Tenchi decides to save the space princess, and then and the space princess and the space pirate, and the space cop and the space professor, reciprocate together forming a surrogate family strong enough to hit the bad guys and save the galaxy. It had heart but more importantly brains.

This... this... this show just feels stupid. It lowers the bar in just about every way. The first half is entirely deplorable.

But after a while it reaches some sort of stupidity event horizon and becomes fun... and then I remember how damn spectacular the original was and want to beat it with wooden plank complete with jagged rusty nails.

I don't just hate this show, I absolutely loathe it for getting me in a brain space to forget that I hate it. After about four hours of nothing but toothless sex jokes my brain turned to mush. I heard that this originally wasn't a Tenchi Muyo spin off and I believe it.

The original Tenchi was a mild Marty Stu, but his temper and plot apathy kept him from being a complete tabula rasa. While generally a nice guy the craziness in his life would annoy him to the point where occasionally his top would blow and he could be a real jerk.

He had a distinguished personality.

This guy here though is not really a whole lot more than a walking penis the rest of the cast can faun over. Literally there are scenes that are as close to male prostitution as you can get without actually being male prostitution.

I've got X-2 flashbacks.

What happened to my space battles and space coup? There are always hints of an actual plot but it goes nowhere in favor of blatant pointless fan service. There are easier and less annoying ways to get T&A. Kenshi, the protagonist feels like a female fan service character but there is so much male fan service that the show seems like it would alienate both genders. The vast majority of women in this show are absolutely brainless. I'm a guy so I can't say that I know absolutely what women want in their media or as much as I hate to admit their mates, but Kenshi seems like someone's bad idea of what women want, and the show warps itself around that premise.

Look with all the cheesecake I've seen in male targeted media over the years I can't complain if women want the beefcake. If I can get Dracula 2000 lesbian vampires they can get Twilight sixpack werewolves, but once you cast the die in either direction you've made an assumption and choice about your audience.

The original did get a pretty large female audience, I know because a female friend was the one who turned me onto the show in the first place. In retrospect in a few ways yes it was targeted for a female audience largely due to the general "niceness" of Tenchi, but the dude also had enough juevos so that guys like me could look up to him. And I kind of think that the dichotomy between a nice guy who could and more importantly would put up a fight when the situation called for it is what actually made him a hero that girls liked. He was a decent Prince Charming, and well as froofy as it sounds when done right Prince Charmings can make for good and interesting role models for guys.

This mope on the other hand just lifts heavy stuff and gives back rubs. And I would be alright with that if he weren't a complete and total wuss. Tenchi Muyo was the first show I ever watched that took the concept of good is not soft seriously.  In other shows when the hero has to lay down the beat down his personality shifts, even Vash  the pacifist had a gameface when the going gets rough.

That's the same guy as this.

Not Tenchi, though. He acts heroically because he's a nice guy not despite it. That is something I needed to learn as a kid. You don't have to always choose between being nice and being strong.

Kenshi is a nonentity. If you asked my to explain anything about him I got nothing. He's the least interesting thing about this show but he's also the swirling vortex around which it orbits.

They keep hinting at a pretty interesting plot involving an invasion and some sort giant super mega robot or something. I don't know. This show made me not dig giant robots. I will NEVER forgive it for that! From Astroboy to Pacific Rim, short of sex, having a giant robot is the universal fantasy of every American and Japanese male! How many Gundams have we had damn it!? (By the way there is a reason for that comparison Gundam Wing is more or less the story of the second half done competently.) And this show manages to screw it up! How do you screw up giant robots!?

Well there was Trans...NO. It doesn't exist.

Even discounting the cool factor there are so many places a giant robot story can go. Heck there's even been giant robot noir. GIANT ROBOT NOIR!

The show instead chooses to go with the "Oh Kenshi's so hot thing". And while it's stupid I would go with if he had the personality to back it up but he is by far the most reactionary character I've ever seen in an anime. He does absolutely nothing without somebody else or the plot prompting him to do so. When he later has to give a speech proclaiming his free will to the villain I rolled my eyes through the whole thing.

Oh I get my giant robots  eventually but I have crawl through a seven episode river of feces to get there! And this is where things get weird, the last six episodes are actually okay, pretty mediocre and still stupid compared to the original but mildly entertaining. Kenshi grows a backbone and and stuff actually happens, but by then I was pretty numb.

Even then I had no clue on who's fighting or why? While the original Tenchi Muyo took awhile to get to its plot each of first couple of episodes were devoted to explaining the back story and highlighting the personalities of one of the female cast. By the time we get to SPA-A-A-A-CE we already know who they are, why and how they fight. You got Ryoko the pirate beserker, Washu the mad scientist, Mihoshi the crazy lucky ditz, Kiyone the beleaguered cop, Ayeka the princess, and Sasami the cute one (her actual deal is waaaaay more complicated). And all of them are related to the central conflict.

You know what instead of talking about Tenchi Muyo in passing it's next. I would much rather revisit it than this pile of crap.

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