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Was I the only viewer who felt a little squeamish during the “midnight sale” scene in the final episode of Oreimo? I don’t think I demand political correctness in everything that I watch, but something about the way this played out just left a bad taste in my mouth.

To be fair, the dialog in this scene was probably an accurate depiction of how typical 17 year-old boys actually speak to each other. Then again, throughout Oreimo, Kyousuke shows himself to be anything but a typically judgmental teen. So his sudden violent rejection of his best friend, based on a short-lived misunderstanding, feels both out of character for him and somewhat against the very theme of the series itself. We’d already seen Ayase stubbornly reject her best friend Kirino simply based on her fondness for eroge games, only to come to her senses and realize that their friendship was too important to lose over such trivial matters. So it strikes me as odd how casually the series dismisses those lessons learned just for laughs in this scene.

I think what bothered me most in this scene was not the tone of the language, but the fact that its homophobic humor ultimately went unchecked. Kyousuke never comes to his senses to realize that the possibility of Agaki being gay, despite coming as a great surprise, might (gasp!) not implicitly be a terrible thing. The only “resolution” to the scene is the revelation that his friend is actually not at the sale to buy the “homo game” for himself, but for his sister, thus resolving any conflicts that would have otherwise destroyed their friendship. What a relief!

It just so happens that this week’s Entertainment Weekly features a cover story on “Gay Teens on TV,” which I haven’t read but presume to be a celebration of the burgeoning trend. Maybe our culture is finally open minded enough to acknowledge (and possibly even accept… er, maybe someday) the existence of gay teens? Unfortunately, the idealized tolerance presented on TV doesn’t quite reflect the attitudes of the average American, but at least it’s a start. If nothing else, I’d expect that a scene like this one would probably be met with widespread protests if it aired on television program in America. Are attitudes in Japan less tolerant of homosexuality than they are over here? A hundred and one “boys love” themed-series would suggest otherwise, but let’s not pretend that they represent the cultural norm, either.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with playing a misunderstanding like this one for laughs, but did it have to be so mean-spirited and driven by bigotry? Or am I being culture-centric in expecting Japanese writers and viewers to conform to my ideals of tolerance and sensitivity? And after 12 episodes that flirted with themes of incest and other social taboos, should I really be outraged by this, of all things?

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Might as well post this before January is over.

20. Antoine Dodson & The Gregory Brothers – Bed Intruder Song (feat. Kelly Dodson)
No other song last year made me smile as much as this one. It’s tempting to write it off as a gimmick or to focus on it solely as an “Internet phenomenon,” but every autotuned turn of phrase is inspiringly creative. How much positive energy and fun can you milk out of what could have been a complete joke (based on a potentially terrible event)? Turns out, a lot.

19. Digitalism – Blitz
Maybe I’m just desperate for some new Digitalism, but this really hits the spot. More satisfying than the latest droppings from Deadmau5, and maybe even Daft Punk’s “Derezzed.”

18. Pantha Du Prince – Stick to My Side
I never would have thought that Pantha Du Prince’s music really needed any vocals, let some from anyone in a (astoundingly overrated) band like Animal Collective. But hey, this sounds great.

17. Kelis – Acapella
A soulful disco turn from Kelis turns out this soaring track that was probably a hard sell for pop-R&B fans, but reveals Kelis as a bona fide diva. Leaves “Milkshake” in the dust and points to a boundless future, 2078 via 1978.

16. Factory Floor – 16-16-9-20-1-14-9-7
Industrial pulse meets minimal techno. Ten minutes of relentless throb. Somehow it’s not long enough. Great study music that helps me focus my mind. Probably not something most “normal” people would enjoy.

15. The Chemical Brothers – Swoon
A gorgeous return to form for Simons/Rowlands, putting their Britrock-bound past out to pasture and sounding more vital than ever. Their block-rockin’ past gives way to a new beginning that couldn’t sound any more fresh and vital.

14. Warpaint – Undertow
This dreamy, seemingly phoned-in jam might sound sound quaint at first listen. So why can’t you get it out of your head?

13. Four Tet – Sing
One of the most creative minds in music today? It’s hard to think of many other artists who sound less bound to our traditional notions of song than Kieran Hebden. Once again, he dissects and reassembles electronic music in a way that’s completely unique.

12. Azari & III – Indigo
House-influence Euro-dance of the early 90s was all over the radio when I was growing up, from Technotronic to Snap!,  C+C Music Factory and La Bouche. This was, with a lot of hindsight, a pretty cool soundtrack to growing up, but feels like music from a whole other world now. I didn’t think about this much until it suddenly reared its head once again with Hercules + Love Affair and Azari & III. Like 2009’s “Reckless (With Your Love), “Indigo” is a time capsule rich in spacious, vintage production and soulful vocals. The nostalgia this conjures up hits like a bomb.

11. Portable – This Life of Illusion
I haven’t listened to Portable (or Bodycode) in about two or three years, but even at the height Alan Abrahams fandom, I never would have guessed that he’d put out anything quite as epic sounding as “This Life of Illusion.” His use of vocals and spoken word is always hit and miss for me, but the positive message in this seems to fit his approach perfectly. Words to live by.

10. Oval – Ah!
Markus Popp’s reemergence a mostly-silent decade was enough of a pleasant surprise. But for Oval to come back with a viable single upon his return? The playful flickerings of melody play off the drumming perfectly. Not what we’d ever expect from the man who once brought us “Do While.”

9. Venom & Damage – Deeper
Love this track. Love this silly video. Some of the funkiest breaks of 2010 right here.

8. Blur – Fools Day
Fans would have gobbled up any new songs from these long-hiatus’ed Britpop heroes, but Blur’s return was especially remarkable in that they offered up one of the best songs of their career, and in the most casual, “no hands” fashion possible. Damon’s simple but descriptive lyrics fit the band as they settle into middle age, and make it sound like it’s nothing to be scared of at all. Graham’s guitarwork on this is excellent. Wonderful licks all over the outro, which often pull me back to the beginning for another quick listen.

7. Lone – Pineapple Crush / Angel Brain
Classic rave revivalism at its finest. Even better than the real thing?

6. Crystal Castles – Celestica
More gothic electro from the hipster duo you love to hate. These two are practically bringing the soundtrack of our dreams to life and all we do is skewer them for being trashy art students.

5. Bernard Sumner, Hot Chip, and Hot City – Didn’t Know What Love Was
This collaboration was apparently commissioned by Converse as part of some kind of Internet marketing project, and is probably the best argument I’ve seen/heard for shameless “branding” tactics between commerce and art. Then again, I’ve been on a massive New Order/Electronic trip for the past few months, and just love hearing Bernard working on something that sounds as new and exciting as this, so I’m more than willing to overlook whatever circumstances made this song possible. Also, unexpectedly redeems Hot Chip for me, who I’d give up on after the over the top, wacky antics of Made In the Dark.

4. Darkstar – Gold
Not really dubstep, but dubbed-out synthpop. Sparse and cold in a way that’s perfect for winter, and which I haven’t heard done this well since the first Junior Boys album. Just hits home for me.

3. Gorillaz – Stylo
Another half-decade, another ridiculous bounty of adventurous pop from Gorillaz. Does for Mos Def what “Feel Good Inc.” did for De La Soul. Bobby Womack bursting in at the halfway point sent chills down my spine the first time I heard it and still does.

2. Bag Raiders – Way Back Home
Expertly crafted dance pop from down under, the devil is in the details on this track. As if “Shooting Stars” wasn’t proof enough, these guys know their way around a chorus. I’ve probably played this song more than any other this year.

1. Underworld – Always Loved a Film
Underworld at their best since the mid 90s. This song is a massive anthem that positively soars. Maybe it’s energy was too sincere to catch on? I can’t think of any other reasons why this seemed to fly under everyone’s radar the way it did. At least it finally got them on TV. I played this so much in the car this year that I think I started to wear a laser groove in the CD.

If you’re reading this blog, maybe you stumbled in here from Anime Nano or a link from some other anime blog. If you’re on the hunt for more topical anime blog entries, then maybe this entry isn’t for you. But, on the other hand, I hope it still could be. I like writing about anime and manga. But those aren’t my only interests, and aren’t the only subjects I want to write about in this blog. I also like music, feel compelled to post about it from time to time, and feel really compelled to post something when a tragedy like this happens. So bear with me for a minute.

Broadcast have been one of my favorite bands over the past decade. So often compared to both 60s innovators White Noise and 90s heroes Stereolab, they slowly worked their way out from under the shadow of both of those bands to become one of the most creative bands of our young century. Over the course of four albums and a respectable number of other releases and collaborations, they excavated a glorious future-vision of 60s lounge and electronic music, and put a spin on old sounds that was all their own. Later albums, particularly Haha Sound and Tender Buttons, found them moving beyond simple pastiche and into bold, experimental territory, which was often anything but “pleasant” listening but still maintained their music’s pop foundation.

Earlier this morning, Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan passed away from complications with pneumonia. Many reports state that she had been battling H1N1. Either way, it’s a tragic loss for music. Radiohead aside, perhaps no other band today has continuously evolved and challenged themselves in so many big ways as Broadcast. Despite their growing fondness for recording instrumental tracks, Keenan’s cool but never quite “detached” vocals — which always carried a particularly comforting quality for me — were an irreplaceable part of their sound. Nearly any album would be a suitable starting point for a would-be fan, but perhaps Haha Sound best encapsulates the “Broadcast sound,” a document showing both where they’d been and the bold direction they were heading towards.

There haven’t been many Broadcast AMVs. In fact, the Org only lists one, that being Jnzk’s excellent “Trauma,” which is probably one of the top ten AMVs I’ve ever seen. The Paranoia Agent screencaps I’ve posted here are taken from the AMV, which isn’t posted on Youtube or streaming anywhere else online. To watch this, you’ll need to follow the link below and actually download it. I know that most people can’t be bothered to follow such a time-consuming, seemingly byzantine process just to watch a video anymore, but if Jnzk hasn’t put it on Youtube, then I assume it’s because he/she didn’t want it there, so I’m just respecting his/her tacit wishes.

It’s also been less than five months since Satoshi Kon passed away. If you enjoy his work (particularly Paranoia Agent) and enjoy AMVs, then this video is a must-see. Just in case anyone here actually does want to watch it, I’ll dump the link here so no one can miss it.

edit: Many, many years after writing this entry, I was able to get permission to share this AMV. I have no idea if anyone will ever read this entry again at this point, but the small chance that someone could is all I need.

When it comes to watching anime, I’ve long been content to wait for series to come out on DVD before committing myself to watching them. Heck, most series I own are either re-issues or used copies that someone else sold off (though this is slowly changing as the industry adapts to put out new series at a slightly quicker rate than in the past). I don’t follow what’s currently airing in Japan, don’t get excited over “Chartfag” posts, and certainly don’t try to torrent anime within hours after its television debut. I guess you could say that I’m an old fashioned fan, one of a dwindling number that anime industry probably looks upon like an endangered species. Then again, who’s to say that I won’t change my ways? After all, I just finished watching Oreimo (streaming on ANN), which aired its final episode in Japan just over three weeks ago.

Why did I watch this show? I guess the hype around it finally pulled me in, and I decided that this time I’d rather be in on it than feel left out of the conversation surrounding it. After the first episode aired, it seemed like half of the blogs I follow were enthusiastically weighing in on it, more or less crowning it the Series Worth Talking About of 2010. The premise seemed titillating in the best and worst ways possible; if anime fans only get excited about meta-anime series, what does that mean for the future of anime? Then again, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, “It’s not what a [series] is about, it’s how it is about it.” Even if it were the most otaku-focused title ever produced (it’s not), so long as Oreimo is creative, original and/or interesting, then it justifies its existence. And after watching all twelve episodes, I think it more than does.

So then, less about Oreimo the bellwether for the industry, and more about Oreimo itself. The main characters, high school student Kyosuke and his younger sister Kirino, live an ordinary life of mutual, passive disdain for each other’s existence. Kyousuke’s life as an ordinary high school student takes a turn for the strange the day he discovers a eroge game on the floor in their home, and begins investigating his family to find its owner. It’s not long before Kirino confronts him over the matter and, much to Kyousuke’s surprise, reveals her secret hobby to him. “Hobby” does not do Kirino’s interest in eroge any justice. Her expansive collection of anime goods and eroge games, kept hidden from her family and friends, would be better described as pure obsession. Oreimo‘s decision to treat this matter with great seriousness forms the heart of the series. Kirino’s love of eroge is commonly played up for laughs, but her sincere desire for her hobby to be understood and accepted, starting with Kyousuke, is no laughing matter. Kyousuke takes his sister’s revelations in stride and agrees, perhaps out of a newfound sense of brotherly duty, to accept her hobby, no matter how strange and shameful it might be. Kyousuke vows to help keep it a secret from their family. Little does he know, Kirino’s requests for help are only beginning.

The first few episodes of Oreimo hit the viewer with an unexpected poignancy, one that’s on par with Genshiken in their unique understanding of otaku self-identity and the personal issues that often accompany it. In episode 2, Kirino turns to the Internet to find friends who might share her interests. Her visit to a meetup-group of other otaku girls is, initially, a complete disaster. Despite the second half of the episode, which points to a more promising future with a pair of newfound friends, the sheer awkwardness contained in this episode is devastating. Yet, despite the less-than-ideal outcome of Kirino’s initial encounter with the group, I found the episode inspiring enough to do a search for a Meetup.com group of my own (which is actually active and seems to be attended by interesting-looking people my own age… curse this wretched second-shift job that keeps me from going out and having an actual life!).

The second half of the series focuses less on these kind of real-life, personal issues that we can all identify with, and drifts into some rather unlikely territory that’s less “real” and (in my opinion) less interesting overall. The same charges of “wish fulfillment” that people have levied against Genshiken could be applied here, perhaps to an exponential degree as Kirino’s adventures in otakudom progress from meeting friends and attending conventions to somehow, despite being her lack of talent, find her breaking into anime industry. That’s not to say that these episodes aren’t enjoyable, only that they lack the believability and emotional depth of the first half dozen episodes. However, I’m sure that most fans weren’t troubled by this shift in plot. Your mileage may vary.

Kirino’s relationship with her brother, her parents, and her friends (from both sides of her double-life) feel very realistic, and the series gives these relationships great time to grow and change in a way that feels very natural considering the weight of the secrets she carries into all of them. Even after Kirino’s confession to her brother, she often treats him with a tense ambivalence, which will feel familiar to anyone who’s navigated adolescence alongside a brother or sister who’s close in age. She’s far from the perfect sister or the perfect friend, as her squabbles with Kyousuke and her eccentric otaku friends Saori and Ruri show time and time again. Kirino embodies the hot-blooded tsundere archetype to a degree that could be troubling to some, but remains a likable character that the viewer will root for in spite of her emotional shortcomings.

Oreimo displays a bright color palate, very detailed settings and simple but attractively-designed characters, making it a series that’s very easy on the eyes and fun to simply look at. As if to show off their creative prowess or seemingly-endless budget, each episode boasts unique opening and ending credits animation, which range from simple artwork to completely unique, fully-animated sequences (I lament the fact that no one’s uploaded the opening to episode 11 to Youtube just yet). Each episode also concludes with a different ending credits song. I have to wonder how this will mold viewer expectations and whether more studios will feel pressed to follow suit for future series.

I found Oreimo to be a very entertaining series with unexpected emotional depth. Its creators definitely knew who their audience was, and crafted a series that, while probably isn’t going to rope in many incoming anime fans or much of the general public, will give its limited audience much to enjoy. Despite its depiction of eroge games (chiefly employing controversial, if not deal-breaking themes of brother-sister incest) and the culture of its fans, there were plenty of more opportunities for it to wallow in fanservice and to milk its controversial subject matter for cheap lewd humor that thankfully went untapped. If you can get by those themes, you’ll find a surprisingly sweet little series that has a lot to say about self-identity and interpersonal relationships.

After more than a year, I finally managed to finish another AMV. I don’t know if this one really represents the kind of step forward from my last effort that I was hoping to make, but I think it has its good qualities outweigh its bad ones. That’s not much of an enthusiastic endorsement, I know, but I want to acknowledge the fact that, despite my best efforts to correct it, this is still a flawed video. Lesson learned, don’t use bootleg DVDs as source material, at least not as long as you’re setting out to make a clean and professional-looking video. Then again, on Youtube, it’s not as bad looking as I first thought it was.

There’s a little too much “lip flap” then I’d like, which comes across looking like an intentional but very poor attempt at lip-syncing. And as far as beat-sync goes, I tried to edit to the music as best as I could, but since this isn’t a “dance” video, the cuts are on the beat for the most part but are kind of all over the place. I think I relied on the lyrics of the song to guide me along on this one. Maybe a little too much? Also, there are a few clips that go on for a second or two too long, and might have benefited from some trimming. But I gave this one my best and learned a few things from it along the way.

I don’t have much else to say about this one for now. Maybe because I don’t want to waste words on a video that, most likely, is going to be stripped of its music within hours or even minutes of being uploaded to Youtube. But I might as well upload it anyway and see what happens. You can always grab a copy of it at animemusicvideos.org, you know.

It’s been more than a year and a half since the first broadcast of “season 2” episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which debuted in the middle of a rebroadcast of the series’ original 14 episodes. Calling this a nontraditional way of rolling out a new season’s worth of episodes would be a drastic understatement, to say the least, but apparently the producers at Kyoto Animation and/or the broadcast affiliates had enough faith in Haruhi and her fans to debut these episodes in a way that (to my knowledge) had never been tried before. And as far as I know, it was a strategy that worked. It may have divided fans, but it also helped push the series into the realms of legend.

It began auspiciously enough, with the fantastic (IMO) episode “Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody,” which pushed the series’ sci-fi themes to new heights and contained some of its most mindblowing moments. This was followed by the curiously titled “Endless Eight part 1,” which played like a lightweight and fun counterpoint, a return to Haruhi‘s “slice of life” tones. No one who’s seen the series needs to be told what happens next. And no one who’s planning on viewing it needs to have it spoiled for them (at least not by me). So what’s the point of writing an entry on it?

I wasn’t there when this first aired, so I don’t recall what sort of reaction most viewers had as the arc slowly progressed. And I’m curious about how it was received by the series’ fans. By “fans,” I mean both viewers in Japan and in the rest of the world, which of course are two very different groups that could (naturally) react in very different ways. Were viewers in Japan outraged by it? Or did they actually lap it up, either out of a sincere appreciation for the premise or out of sheer devotion to Haruhi? What about fans outside of Japan? As fansubs spread across the Internet, did fans rush to praise the daring move, or was there a massive outcry against what was (probably) seen as a copout by the series’ creators? Were there many fans somewhere in between, simply willing to roll with the story and see where it goes? On the Internet, it’s always easy and tempting to only notice and remember peoples’ extreme reactions, but maybe the first season had prepared fans for this unexpected and somewhat provocative move. Like I said, I wasn’t there at the time, for I avoided any conversation about it to keep the series from being spoiled for me. After all, it sounded like the sort of series that I’d like to get around to, eventually.

Once the arc was finished, it seemed ripe for open discussion across the Internet, so despite my best efforts to avoid it, the plot was eventually spoiled for me before I had a chance to view the series for myself. This must have happened on a mass scale, for by the time the Haruhi season 2 DVD was released in America (September of last year), Bandai saw fit to reveal the “secret” of the Endless Eight arc right on the back of the DVD box. So much for surprises.

I’m sure it’s been discussed to death already, but what did fans (including you, dear reader) think of the Endless Eight? Did you even watch all eight episodes? I get the impression that many devoted Haruhi fans were content to skip through them. Did you enjoy them, or was it a palpably painful experience? How did Haruhi fans respond en masse to such an unconventional creative move? Now that the dust has settled, can we decide if this was a good move for the series, or a “jump the shark” moment after which the franchise can never be the same?

100 pixels wide, 100 pixels tall… not exactly a sizable canvas for any artist. That would be true for traditional artists who use paper and ink. So it also is for those who rely on the Photoshop and other graphics programs. When you’ve got such a small space to work with, “skill” is perhaps no longer the greatest asset for a digital artist to possess. Instead, the ability to accurately gauge that fuzzy visual threshold, beyond which even the keenest eyes can’t read or understand images or text, and to know how to fill it up to the brink (or when to keep it simple and hold back) probably takes precedence over one’s mastery of the whatever program they happen to be using.

That said, the business of making Livejournal icons has been an indisputably serious one for a long time now, and has been an unexpectedly interesting forum for burgeoning digital artists to show off their fine eye for details and mastery of the digital toolbox. I find this most surprising because Livejournal has never struck me as a platform designed to attract users particularly interested in time-consuming processes such as these. Rather, it’s always seemed to me that its primary function has been social networking (far beyond how sites like Blogger or WordPress have functioned in this regard, even), bringing together the solo blogging experience with the niche-friendly community-building groups function. I don’t think it was ever designed to foster so much content creation among its users, but so it has for quite some time now, to the point where its many unique users have seemed to agree on a certain aesthetic in the creation of icons and banners, no doubt determined by the strict size limitations they’re forced to work with.

Over the years, I’ve approached avatar and userpic selection on the various message boards and forums I’ve been a part of as a fine art of self-expression. But this has usually restricted itself to grabbing pre-existing images off the Internet, ones which usually require nothing more than a quick re-sizing or cropping job, if that. The art of building icons from scratch, using screenshots or fanart, is some next-level geekery that I’ve yet to take on, so I view it from afar with a sense of confounded awe. Over the years, the standard LJ icon has become cleaner and more sophisticated, from artfully-selected screenshots to elaborate icons containing animated images and text. There’s a surprisingly high level of quality in these; rarely will you spot jpg artifacts or overly pixelated text. Unlike AMVs or most fanart, there’s a certain standard that most users on LJ seem to hold themselves to, whether it’s in the creation of or in the selection of icons for use.

I originally planned on writing an entry on what a blogger’s choice of platform (Blogger, WordPress, or Livejournal) might reveal about how they use the Internet, but the more I look at Livejournals, the more they upset the stereotypes that I used to hold about them. I used to consider them an entryway into blogging, something a user might dabble in before they “grow up” and migrate to Blogger or WordPress. But its network of communities, the content and relationships they foster, and the ease of self-expression on the site seems to be above and beyond what I’m getting from the rest of the Internet lately. That, and the creativity-encouraging atmosphere, which feels more rooted in the classic ideas of “sharing” and “fun” than just about any other network I know of.  They’re ideas embodied in the “Livejournal icon,” which, in the hands of thousands of different users, can take on just about any form you can imagine, but still retains a certain quality that’s somehow unmistakable.

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