You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

I’ve been a casual reader of Urb since 1998 or so. Perhaps too casual, as I only just found out that the magazine suspended its print operations earlier this year due to… well, you name it. It’s a nasty time to be in publishing, even worse, I’m sure, if you’re paid to cover the one field that no one wants to go out and spend money on anymore. That’s a gross simplification, but one that enough people believe to actually matter. The potential readership for Urb should be at its highest in 2009, although I’m sure that blogs and other free media have dug into Urb‘s particular demographics just like they did with Harp and No Depression last year (and let’s not forget Newtype USA and PiQ on the anime side of the racks). Then again, a dip in readership (assuming that’s even the case at all) shouldn’t be enough to derail a magazine by itself. A much more likely culprit would be a drop in advertising revenue, which in this economy has been an all-too common condition for countless publications. Consider the kind of companies that mail their checks to Urb every month (record labels, clothing and shoe companies, other businesses dependent on their customers’ regular supply of disposable income) and it’s easy to see why the once-thriving stream of cash has slowed to a trickle for so many in the industry.

I should have known something was up when I noticed the same issue sitting on newsstands for several months. It’s now nearly 2010 and the summer issues still await purchase at Barnes and Noble (top) and Borders (below). Hopefully they find a good home soon.

My last music magazine subscription was The Wire and I’m probably still in some kind of debt for it to this day. Would love to support a worthy publication but towards the end of my (unrelated) Wired subscription, I wasn’t even unwrapping the issues as they piled up on my floor. I want to say that I really do love magazines, honestly, but I can’t pay for the ones I want most and can’t be bothered to keep up with the ones I actually can afford. Will 2010 bring us the long-anticipated subscription model for the digital age that actually works for both readers and publishers, or would I be better off anticipating my new electric car instead?

I first got to know Fullmetal Alchemist during its original run on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim back in 2005. Airing on Saturday evenings sometime around 11:00 pm or midnight, it was a big hit, at least according to the regularly posted ratings in the much-discussed black and white “bumpers” that would air before and after commercials. As I understand it today, Adult Swim has shifted their programming away from anime, now opting for in-house productions much more often than imports from Japan. I haven’t been able to confirm this for myself first-hand, as I’ve been without cable for much of the past three years or so. I should be reconnected in a few weeks’ time, but I no longer expect to tune in on Saturday night and find anything like the InuyashaFullmetal AlchemistGhost In The Shell lineup that I could reliably look forward to after work in the past. Nor am I certain that I’d be able to kick back and enjoy it in the same way that I did back then. I’ve sworn off the kind of fast food I’d usually pick up on the way home to eat in front of the TV, and getting drunk by myself while watching English-dubbed anime just doesn’t hold much appeal for me anymore. I guess I’ve grown out of that part of my life, still a long way from giving up on anime but ready to take my life a little more seriously than I was back then.

I caught the first 25 episodes — the entire first season — as it aired in America, but missed out on the second half of the story when it finally ran in late 2005/early 2006. It wasn’t until this past autumn that I was able to revisit the show and see what I’d missed. Unsurprisingly, I found the original Japanese dialog to be a bit more engaging than the English voiceovers, though this tends to be my personal preference in most cases. Visually, the series is easy on the eyes, bold, bright and colorful, boasting wonderful character design and disparate detailed settings: the rolling green hills of the Resembool countryside, the barren browns of the desert surrounding Lior, the empty, white walls of central and south headquarters and the dark catacombs of the fifth laboratory. The blend of action and exposition with both drama and humor, as well as a rich and sizable cast of complex characters makes this a remarkably balanced series and one of the best I’ve ever had the fortune to watch. Plumbing the depths of existential dread, survivor’s guilt, traumatic regrets and general angst of all shapes and sizes, it’s surprising how the underlying tone of the series somehow remains positive and hopeful.

As fantasy adventure, Fullmetal Alchemist doesn’t toy with genre conventions or try to upset our expectations in any Eva-esque fashion. It’s just a traditional quest story, its villages resembling an early 20th century Eurasia, with only a few touches (advanced artificial limbs, modern handguns, villains with punk rock haircuts) of future technologies and culture thrown into the otherwise romantically simple and sometimes magical world (or as Clarke’s Third Law reminds us: any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic). Before we get too caught up in the other-ness of it all, there’s also the distressingly familiar themes of state-sponsored segregation and genocide, racism, radical religion, government cover-ups, and plenty of parallels to our own ethical controversies surrounding human cloning, stem cell research, and the limits of biotechnology. What makes a someone human? A body? A soul? Does it even matter?

While these kind of elements make for an intelligently layered and often poignant show, I’m drawn more to its less universal qualities, ones I identify with in personal ways that others may only casually acknowledge. I cannot remember viewing any series, let alone almost any movie (Gates of Heaven, After Life and the less-remarkable What Dreams May Come aside) that confronted death so boldly, not just imagining what might be awaiting us on the other side of the metaphorical/literal gate (hardly an original theme, but a frighteningly imaginative vision of it, nonetheless), but examining our attitudes toward death and the lengths some may go to escape or even embrace it. Since I was very young I’ve been plagued by these questions to a sometimes upsetting degree, longing for answers to the unanswerable and trying into make sense of what to do with a finite life within an infinite timeline of existence. Neither the church nor science has offered me any satisfactory consolation against this seemingly perpetual uncertainty, and even when I find myself at peace with this, I’m still left wishing there were other options, anything I could do to prolong my existence long enough to find answers or resolve. This same conflict drives the motivations of several characters in several different directions and to several different fates. Some realize their dreams, though often not as they expected to.

The bond between the two main characters, brothers Edward and Alphonse, is the central relationship in the series and a welcome relief from the theme of brothers-in-conflict so common in anime (Van and Folken Fanel, Sasuke and Itachi Uchiha, InuYasha and Sesshomaru, etc.). Their loyalty and devotion to one another total and complete, tested throughout the series but ultimately unshakable. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for my younger brother and myself while growing up, as we spent almost a decade and a half at each other’s throats, constantly fighting, never really communicating, and missing out on countless opportunities to help each other through difficult times. We’re on much better terms today, so much so that when I spend time with him I’m often astounded by how brilliant and generous a person he is. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder what could have been if we’d both grown up a little quicker and stopped taking everything out on each other like we did for so long. Watching a story like this only makes me more aware of the time we lost. I’ve accepted that conflict is an inevitable part of any siblings’ relationship, and so long as it’s followed by reconciliation, it’s a healthy way to learn about others as well as oneself. Give and take, forgive and forget, equivalent exchange.

I should probably write this after watching the Conqueror of Shamballa movie, which supposedly brings the story to a proper conclusion (and which I may see as soon as tomorrow). But even ending on a somewhat ambiguous note, Fullmetal Alchemist is a ridiculously entertaining and rewarding series, certainly one of the best of the decade, if not all time. How’s that for a hyperbolic first review?

Sesshomaru

Counting a Livejournal I had for a year or two at the beginning of this decade, and two other blogs over on Blogger that I’ve been involved in for about three years or so, this is the fourth blog I’ve ever opened and hopefully my last. I’ve enjoyed blogging immensely, but a few mistakes along the way have turned it into a difficult chore. So far as having a personal blog, I really want a fresh start, a chance to shake off the biggest hang-ups that made my last one an exercise in constant self-censorship. I’d like a chance to write about what’s really on my mind and not have to worry about who might read it or what they might think. Essentially, this is a break from my past and hopefully a chance to reboot my online identity, one that’s hopefully going to be more expressive and interesting than any I’ve attempted to “craft” before. Previously, I allowed myself to get caught up in the act of “performing” for my friends and online acquaintances in my weekly entries, usually omitting more than I was actually saying and rarely writing anything of interest or relevance, as a result. This time around, I’d like to avoid that tendency, even if it means writing purely for myself, or at least cutting off those people (for now, at least) which, in a context like this, I feel hesitant to really open myself up for.

Why should I feel this way? Getting down to it, I’m basically a huge nerd and feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing my interests and concerns with others who might not understand why a 30 year-old man is into anime and cartoons. I’m not deluded enough to think that my situation is unheard of, or even puts me anywhere close to the top 2% of Internet geekdom or what have you. But it’s a hobby that, outside of my fantastic girlfriend, I don’t necessarily share with anyone else online or off. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to — maybe part of why I’m writing this now is in hopes that I might connect with some likeminded readers/bloggers or even make (gasp!) some new friends — but for reasons both practical and slightly neurotic, I haven’t quite accomplished this yet. Anyway, most of my online acquaintances don’t have much interest in my thoughts on Naruto, Evangelion, AMVs, or any series or aspect of “anime culture” out there, and I’m a little hesitant to make any further attempts to push the issue with them for now. Being a nerd in the 21st century has become an endearing quality of sorts, but when it comes to the mild otaku-dom that I dabble in, I’m through testing the patience and tolerance of anyone who’s not already on board with this shit.

My first forays into blogging were largely focused on music, a topic I’ll likely try to explore here as well. As trendy and commonplace as it’s become this decade, I feel obligated to state that I tend to follow and listen to “indie” music (albeit, not necessarily the fashionably quirky kind now so particular to television adverts and hospital dramas), especially the murky, often ineffable worlds of dance and electronic music. I’d love to be content to passively enjoy music like most listeners but I suffer from a constant urge to analyze and attempt to weigh in on it. I’ve had several years to find my voice in this respect, but despite my passion for it I don’t know if I’ve ever had much to contribute to the ongoing discussion of this stuff online (or in print, an experience I may vaguely allude to at times but probably never fully reveal). I’ve found my niche on a few music-inclined message boards and I wish that was enough for me, but I’ll probably continue to pound out half-baked missives on whatever ambient, techno, or indie rock I’m listening to at the moment.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little to no overlap between these worlds, even on the internet. Urb magazine runs (or used to, at least) an anime section in its back pages, and the occasional editor at AMV.org will make a video with a dance track that’s not by Cascada. Otherwise, the average anime fan online sticks to nu-metal and 90’s pop of the most insidious strains, and pretty much no one who follows dubstep or any vaguely “underground” music will consider watching any anime that’s not Cowboy Bebop, if even that. Perhaps I’ve overestimated the gulf between these camps but nothing in my personal experience suggests that fans of either interest are concerned with or even aware of each other.

Beyond these realms, hopefully I’ll find some more consequential topics worth exploring as well. As much as I seem to lean on them as some kind of measuring stick to routinely judge others by, I know that people aren’t defined by their niche interests, so I’ll probably try to branch out from time to time and maybe even write about other topics or even personal issues. I’m a little weary of the kind of around-the-clock coverage that people offer of their private lives to the public in our Myspace/Twitter-afflicted age (or maybe I’m just too shy to compete with them) so I’ll probably keep the personal stuff to a minimum, but hopefully I’ll have more reasons than I’ve had in the past to want to share what’s going on in my life, while finding a way to make it worth reading about. And as much as I bitch about “internet culture” and the lack of easy-to-find people whose hobbies and personal persuasions I can strongly identify with, I’ll try to stay positive and to give the people and works that I get most excited about the credit they deserve.

It’s one day after Christmas. I was showered with gifts the magnitude of which I haven’t seen since I was a child, I have more than a week off from work, and I’m feeling better than I have in years, winter and post-holiday stress fully taken into account. I’ve been waiting to post this for quite some time, I’ve had my coffee and I’m feeling focused, motivated and suitably uninhibited, so let’s get started, shall we?

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