Friday, July 25, 2014

Still no Fiction Friday because books

Am I the only one who prefers the Earth Civil War arc of Babylon 5 to the Shadow War arc?

And Londo's story to either?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Favorite Novels

Since a while back I shared my favorite anime, and I just reorganized my bookshelves, I figured I would share my five favorite novels. Well, favorite this week, anyway; the number of novels I love is probably an order of magnitude higher than the number of anime I've seen, and so the category of "favorite" is ever-shifting. I am deliberately leaving out short story collections, novellas, short story collections disguised as novels by use of a framing device, and graphic novels; I may do other lists which allow those at some future date, but for now I'm sticking to clear-cut examples of prose novels. Also this is in no particular order; it's hard enough to narrow the list to seven, let alone rank them.
  • Foucalt's Pendulum, Umberto Eco: Everything you would expect a conspiracy thriller written by a Nobel Prize-winning author/world-renowned semiotician to be. Dense, convoluted, twisty, a glorious celebration of the twin facts that conspiracy theories are fundamentally silly and the mystical is fundamentally a conspiracy theory.
  • Desolation Road, Ian MacDonald: A bizarre, largely episodic history of a small town in the Martian desert, peopled by outcasts and oddities. By turns silly and profound, and sometimes both at once. But mostly it's just deeply, deeply weird.
  • To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis: Time-travel comedy of manners farce. In which two separate comedies of manners, one in the late 21st century and the other in the late 19th, collide gloriously. Nothing deep here, just a very funny and fun book.
  • Night Watch, Terry Pratchett: It was a very hard choice between this and Hogfather, the climax of which helped solidify a lot of my own worldview, but I think ultimately this is the better book. It's a fascinating inversion of Les Miserables, and without the interminable boring asides that prevent that book from being on this list. Like Les Miserables, it is ultimately an exploration of what it means to be good in a fundamentally corrupt world; this has better jokes and a less ridiculously uber-competent hero, though.
  • My Name Is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok: If you've read one Potok book, you've read all of them. This is that one. The story of an artist torn between the calling of his craft and the strict rules of his insular religious community, between his own integrity and what his upbringing and everyone around him tells him is "right."
  • VALIS, Philip K. Dick: A bizarre, hallucinatory journey, another conspiracy thriller (odd that there are two on this list; I don't usually care for the genre) caught in a complete psychotic breakdown, a narrative collapse par excellence that, ultimately, can only be resolved by the reader's own choices and interpretation. This is either an absolute masterpiece or a complete train wreck, and after three readings over ten years I'm leaning towards saying it's both.
  • Magister Ludi (a.k.a. The Glass Bead Game), Herman Hesse: I cannot even begin to describe this book. It is a living book, a growing thing that keeps changing every time you go back to read it, that writhes and shifts even in your hands. A slippery thing. It's about a guy that's really good at this very complicated board game. It's about academia. It's about life in a prison that isn't really there.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thoughts While Watching Sailor Moon Crystal: Episode Two

Aw, episode one was ad-free for whatever reason. This has ads.

Second year of middle school in Japan, that's roughly 13-14, yes? Same grade as Utena.

Um... an IQ of 300 is impossible. Like, literally impossible.

Um. Wow. Ami is uncomfortably hot in this art style. *reminds self she's 14*

What. the. fuck. Oh, commercial. The way the characters jumped out of the compact, I was a little confused for a moment.

When Beryl refers to "our great ruler," does she mean herself or..? (Don't answer that.)

Maybe the Dark Kingdom just isn't very creative with titles, since they have four kings overseen by a queen. Maybe every single rank of nobility is called either "King," or "Queen."

Seeing a small cat refer to "The Evil" is giving me Sluggy Freelance flashbacks.

Wait, is Sailor Moon not the princess? I'm confused.

I... what? Where is Luna?

Haha, the nerd girl is a Virgo. And by "ha ha" I mean "fuck you."

Crystal Seminar is a villain plot, I'm guessing.

Aw, Ami took her glasses off. She looked way better with them, as most people do.

Oh my god, does Usagi have a thing for Ami? I could get behind this.

Usagi: Horrible cheater at video games. Also, Ami's lucky she picked that game and not the one next to it, if she'd beaten the high score on that one she'd be recruited to pilot a starfighter against evil aliens.

Here at the Crystal Seminar, we like to prepare young people for their inevitable future of sitting quietly in cubicles, typing away at computers and having their life essence drained to feed a dark power.

Okay, so who is the dark-haired girl hanging with Usagi and Naru? Is she a plant?

Japanese print ads are so busy by Western design standards. Newspapers, too.

No seriously, who wears a tux just walking around the street?

I... what? How did Usagi activate the brainwashing without brainwashing?

Wait, the video game just had a power-up for Usagi in it? I'd complain that this is video game logic, but... video game.

Does Ami's pen have powers too?

I like to think Usagi just THREW Luna at evil teacher-lady.

I really do feel like this transformation sequence is a huge improvement on the old one, but at the same time, I don't want to see all of it every episode. I hope we eventually get a shortened version or it changes up or something.

Ugh, super-whining again. Seriously, WTF show.

Damn, only the second episode and already Sailor Moon's getting her ass kicked. But I guess that's necessary so the new scout can save the day.

Once again, I'd like to point out that Luna gives her recruits EVEN LESS information about what's going on and what they're getting into than Kyubey does.

Oh, interesting, Usagi is Justice and Ami is Intelligence.

Bah, stop upstaging everyone, Tuxedo Jackass. You're even worse than Angel.

Moon Tiara brutal murder count: 2/2.

Ami and Usagi want each other SO BAD you guys. They're all blushes and smiles and handholding, I flat-out refuse to not ship them.

This ad for Crunchyroll Devices is reminding me of the thing they keep showing at movie theaters from MPAA about how movies deserve to be watched on the big screen, not the little. It's an anti-piracy ad, but it makes me laugh because it works just as well as anti-paying for movie rentals, DVD purchases, and streaming services.

Ah, image of our next recruit. I have a feeling she is going to be one of the characters most different from the Abridged Series version.

This was rather spectacularly better than the first episode, but I'm not going to actually LIKE this show until they get rid of at least one of super-whining or Tuxedo Fedora swooping in to save the day.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I just realized a major upside to the end of My Little Po-Mo

Namely, I can skip Rainbow Rocks if I want to, without feeling the least bit guilty about it.

This isn't to say that I necessarily will skip it, just that I can feel free to wait and see what other people think of it. If the divide of people who did and didn't like it is more or less the same as for Equestria Girls, then I skip it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Images I really wanted to use for yesterday's post and couldn't

Usually, I'm fine working within my self-imposed rules. One of those rules, which I've never had any problem with before, is that I include a screencap from the episode with a funny (or "funny," depending on how much you share my sense of humor) caption.

But yesterday's post left me really, really wishing I let myself use images other than screencaps to illustrate an episode, because then I could have used one of these two:


Sunday, July 20, 2014

You turned into a vampire pony! (Castle Mane-ia)

Was anyone even a little surprised that she can just
spontaneously play the organ all of a sudden?
It's November 30, 2013. The top song is Lorde's "Royals," which I can't precisely say I enjoy, but at least it's interesting, the lyrics being readable as a rejection of the fantasy of class mobility used to trick the poor into voting against their own interests. The top movie is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which like the previous film in the series takes a book which had a strong premise and characters but workmanlike execution, and adds top-notch actors and cinematography to significantly surpass the book.

In the news, it's a relatively slow week. There are a few significant follow-ups to news stories from the 2012, however: four employees of Steubenville City Schools, including the Superintendent, are indicted with criminal charges for their mishandling of the Steubenville rape case; a report on the Sandy Hook School Shooting is released that finds no clear motive, though it does reject shooter Adam Lanza's mental health issues as a causative factor, and CBS suspends reporter Lara Logan and producer Max McClellan after Logan admits portions of her report on the Benghazi attacks were false. In news that will gain significance in the future, the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the Hobby Lobby case, which will eventually lead to their most spectacularly wrong-headed decision since Citizens United. And in news that was never and will never be significant, but is kind of cute, the American Thanksgiving celebration occurs during Hannukah for the first time in over a century and the last time in 70,000 years, which is to say most likely the last time ever.

In ponies, we have "Castle Mane-ia" by Josh Haber, which rather like "Royals" is more interesting than entertaining. The episode is more complexly structured than anything the show has done previously, even more so than "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," which had multiple short stories embedded within a framing device. Each of those short stories were components of a narrative, which they told nonlinearly, but they were also each able to stand alone. Here, however, we have three intertwining stories, none of which can really lay claim to being a framing device, and more importantly all of which interact in such a way that none functions as an entirely independent story.

Consider, for example, the scene in the "Hall of Hooves" where Rainbow Dash feels someone's leg around her in the Rainbow Dash/Applejack story, while Rarity panics because she touched something "alive" in the Rarity/Fluttershy story. The characters in the two stories share a physical space and interact with one another, yet never realize the others are there. Similarly, when Angel is separated from Fluttershy, he ends up with Twilight and Spike, twining their story together with Fluttershy and Rarity's. This is fundamentally unlike the common element of the Sonic Rainboom in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles," because here the only common element between stories is the castle itself. The interactions between them are more than sharing a common origin; rather, the three stories start out driven by different motivations--exploration, competition, and restoration--interact multiple times throughout the episode, and then ultimately converge on a shared ending and the reveal of Pinkie Pie as the unwitting cause of much of their troubles.

This relationship between "Castle Mane-ia" and "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" reflects the relationship of their respective seasons. Friendship Is Magic's first season did have a sort of emergent storyline in the form of the Grand Galloping Gala, but it was almost entirely in the background until the finale. By contrast, "Castle Mane-ia" immediately picks up where "Princess Twilight Sparkle" left off, with the question of how to open the strange box that sprouted from the Tree of Harmony. This will form an arc across the entire season, with each character getting a focus episode that involves defining their Element of Harmony and encouraging it in others, leading to the acquisition of a series of objects that become the keys to the box in the season finale. The result is a more unified season than any prior; interestingly, it is also slightly heavier on action-adventure elements over slice-of-life, closer to the ratio which Faust has indicated she would have preferred for the first season. In many ways, Season Four can thus be seen as the idealized form of the series intended by its creator--perhaps that kabbalistic read of the season premier wasn't so far-fetched after all.

Other than its beginning, "Castle Mane-ia" has two strong ties to the season arc. The first is the discovery of the Journal of the Two Sisters, which leads Twilight to propose that the Mane Six keep their own journal, which takes the place of letters to Celestia now that Twilight has graduated from her tutelage. The other is the reveal at the end of the episode that there were two shadowy cloaked figures lurking in the castle, Pinkie and an unidentified, but implied to be sinister, other.

This is where the dual pun in the title comes in. "Mane-ia" is, of course, a pun on "mania," consistent with Friendship Is Magic's fondness for horse puns. The title thus refers to panicked ponies letting their imaginations run wild in the castle. It is also, however, a pun on Castlevania, a series of video games in which the hero explores the titular malicious, ruined, haunted castle with, usually, the goal of reaching and killing Dracula. The setting of the castle, with its hidden passages, creepy statues, and ubiquitous and inexplicably lit candles and torches evokes the Hammer Horror-esque aesthetic of the games, though it lacks the undead creatures that normally stalk the halls of Castlevania.

Or does it? Dracula, in the Castlevania games, is reimagined as an ever-returning force of cosmic evil, as much a Satan-figure as he is a vampire, and frequently able to transform into an enormous monster when he is finally confronted. And, of course, as a vampire he derives his power by feeding on others, though once defeated he is reduced to a shadowy presence. The title thus evokes the notion of a shadowy being who predates the series, drains energy from others, and turns into a monster--in hindsight, it's a dead giveaway of things to come.

But that is a thread to be returned to at the end of the series. In the meantime, we have only an ominous shadow in the background; the foreground will be taken up by more familiar light and fun for quite a while yet.

Next week: At least for very small values of "fun." Every season's got to have at least one, right?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kill la Kill Liveblog Chat Thingy

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We'll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST.
Afterwards, I'll update this post with the chatlog.

Chatlog below the cut!