Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pixies - Doolittle

Doolittle is as good an argument as there is for simplicity in making music. They never get into complex structures or timing, they just make good rock music with a couple guitars, a bass, drums and a couple interesting voices. Kim Deal's pleasant femininity is a mellow counter to Black Francis' eccentric shouting, whispering, and laughing. He can still sing pretty normally when he wants too, though. It's a bit lo-fi, but better for it, as the lack of cleanliness in the production adds perfectly to the tone of the music. None of the songs are too long, with the 15 songs lasting less than a total of 40 minutes. They cut out all the fat and get straight to the essence of their sound, not a band for wasting time. It's definitely a strength of the album that it's so tightly focused. Deep, simple baselines and steady drums provide a backbone for alternating high-pitched and crunching guitar riffs. They often get into fast-paced, repetitive grooves that are as basely affecting as anything in music. They're usually a bit dark in tone, but can depart from that without sounding off. "Here Comes Your Man" sounds positively like surf rock, and "Mr. Grieves" has a reggae feel in the verse, but both still sound like Pixies.

"Debaser" starts it off perfectly, and is pretty much a microcosm of the band. "I Bleed" is slower paced, and uses Deal's vocals to great effect. Her voice has a haunting quality to it, and sets the mood for a lot of songs. "Monkey Gone To Heaven" has strange, spoken lyrics, string accompaniment, a great chorus and bridge, and might be the best of the album's many great songs. "Crackity Jones" is an awesome, very fast-paced song. "No. 13 Baby" is the longest track and given the most space to stretch out, which it manages to use well. "Silver" is another departure, which feels like a Western anthem. The dropping, picked guitar and forlorn vocals just brings the image of a duel with six-shooters in the dusty street to my head. "Gouge Away" is another nice song and brings it all home with the groovy verse and loud chorus. I didn't know music this old could be so kickass.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Gantz is a weird-ass show.

It's not very good, but it makes up for it on sheer entertainment value. The premise is pretty interesting. Basically, it hinges on people who live in a specific area. There is a room with a large black sphere in it, and when it wants to, it will start a game. The participants are those who die right when the game is about to start, and those who survived the last game if they haven't accumulated 100 points. It's unclear whether the victims are there by coincidence, or if Gantz chose them. Anyway, they are given access to special suits which greatly increase their physical abilities, and special weapons that can either trap or kill. They are given an image of an alien to defeat or capture, and are transported outside. They have a time limit and a certain area they cannot leave without their head exploding. If they survive, they receive points for how well they did, and may return to normal life until the next game.

The cool idea is tempered somewhat by the generally retarded nature of what they're fighting. As it goes on, it introduces some more interesting foes and scenarios, but they sure spend a lot of time fighting spring onion people and giant wingless birds. The animation is a bit cheap, with lots of zooming and amateurish looking moments. They sure put some time into animating breasts, though. The show is extremely graphic, both with violence and sexuality. Gantz, the entity controlling the game, refers to the female lead as "big tits". The show was heavily edited for airing in Japan, which should give you an idea of how over the top it is. Because they show everything in Japan.

They aren't afraid to kill off characters and have radical departures in storyline. Unfortunately, it ends in a way that doesn't resolve anything, just leaves you wondering what happened. The pacing is also a bit weird, with only 4 "games" taking place in 26 episodes. The characters aren't very good either, especially the protagonist, who's pretty selfish. He gets redeemed a bit, but not enough to make him likable. No one's going to convince you it's actually good, but if you're bored, it can be an entertaining show to watch for a bit.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Invasion

I didn't really expect to see this movie, I just sort of did. I wasn't totally against it, since I like movies about aliens, and if nothing else, there are worse people you could watch for an hour and a half than Nicole Kidman. I remember watching the 1956 version some time ago, and liking the idea. It was like a good, long episode of the Twilight Zone, focusing on an interesting premise and disturbing atmosphere in lieu of a bunch of special effects, and it worked quite well. The Invasion goes the same route, with a few good effects shots to set it up, but most of the tension and excitement comes from just watching normal people try to escape from emotionless shells of their former friends and family.

Most of the problems came from the ways they changed it from the original. They really avoided the whole alien aspect; the antagonist is an alien invasion in the sense that they are a form of life that was not created on earth, coming to take it over, but there are no pods or any of the other science fiction elements that make it a little more entertaining, in my view. It played a bit like just another thriller, when it could have been more interesting than that. With the horror/thriller angle comes the annoying flashes-of-images-with-loud-noises that masquerade as something actually scary and plenty of unbelievably dumb actions taken by the main characters. Kidman is a psychiatrist who holds her own intellectually at dinner parties, but still does things like just sit around when she's supposed to be avoiding sleep, as opposed to, I don't know, doing anything at all to keep herself occupied.

Daniel Craig is fine as the love interest, he's a good actor who can bring some respectability to any part he plays. He and his doctor coworkers are working to find a cure for the epidemic that's taking over the planet, which is explained much more scientifically than it was in previous incarnations. I don't understand the point of this, the audience is fine with the alien spore just working, we don't need medical terms we don't know thrown at us, and when they stumble upon possible cures quite easily it just seems less believable than if they never tried to justify it in the first place. This all leads to a disappointing ending which just isn't as effective as the original's.

The first movie used the premise to comment on topical issues like McCarthyism, and like other remakes, The Invasion updates it to say some things about Iraq. When they've taken over, the aliens bring peace to the world, ending wars and struggle, and it makes a point that maybe the world is better off with everyone turned into conforming, hollow citizens. The protagonists are trying to save the true nature of humanity, but is it really worth it? It's an interesting question which does a lot to make up for a lot of the movie's other deficiencies. It's reasonably exciting and entertaining throughout. There are some dumb moments, but you can just laugh at it and move on. If it's not the best movie in the world, it was at least enjoyable while we were watching it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Yankees Are Streaky

This has been a frustrating season for the Yankees. Since the last game I blogged, they went 10-6. They're within 6 games of the Red Sox and 2.5 games of the wildcard, after being so far from the playoffs for so long. 10-6 wouldn't be so bad in that period, if so many of the losses didn't come consecutively. Those 6 losses include 3 in a row against Baltimore and Detroit and 2 against the Angels, who last night thoroughly embarrassed the team with an 18-9 rout. 10 of those runs were driven in by Garret Anderson, which is disgusting. Garret Anderson is not a good baseball player, at least not any more. The man has 12 walks on the season, how on earth do you give him that many opportunities to hit the ball hard? The Yankees wouldn't be nearly this irritating if they weren't so streaky. They're prone to both long winning streaks and extended slumps. They're fully capable of scoring 10 runs in a game and then getting shut out the next day. The pitching is just as inconsistent as the hitting. Every starter has proven capable of being both great and disastrous, while the bullpen can either shut down an opponent for the duration of a series or get lit up every night.

Most of the players who were struggling early on have improved. Melky and Cano are both having fine seasons after dreadful starts, although they've both slumped lately. Abreu's also turned his season around after a bad start, and is making a strong case for having his option picked up. It's very fair in today's market, and there just aren't many possibilities out there, especially with prospect Jose Tabata's development being hindered by a nagging hand injury that now requires surgery. Johnny Damon still isn't near his expected production, although he's shown improvement in recent days. What's annoying though is Michael Kay being down on him for only having seven home runs, when he's a "20 home run guy". He's done that precisely twice in 13 big league seasons. After Matsui's huge surge in July, he's cooled off in August. Jeter's had a deceptively bad season. He still has a high batting average, but isn't driving in runs like he was earlier, he's not stealing bases like he used to, and his power continues to dwindle. He seems more like a non-factor in this lineup than he ever has, for some reason. Alex Rodriguez is still himself, with six homers since his 500th, although they still come in bunches, with three in two different two-game spans. First base is interesting. Andy Phillips was slumping again after being re-exposed to the league, and is showing basically no power, but has been better lately, maybe worried about his job since Wilson Betemit got here. Betemit is still prone to the strikeout, and really shouldn't be facing tough lefties, but he's still OPSing over .900 with the team. Jorge Posada is still amazing for his age, Jason Giambi has been good since returning, and Shelley Duncan hasn't stopped being a useful pinch hitter.

Mussina was going well for a while, but has been awful in his last two starts. Chien Ming-Wang has also struggled lately, but not as horribly. Roger Clemens has done well besides the bone-headed move to hit Alex Rios in defense of Rodriguez, which cost him a start and led to a brutal 12-0 drubbing by the Orioles when Jeff Karstens took the start in his stead. Whatever effectiveness Karstens had last year appears to be gone, as he's been demoted back to the minors. I still think he could be a useful long-man or back-end starter, but probably not on a team that intends to win. Andy Pettitte scuffled around the all-star break after a good-but-unlucky first half, but now he's rebounded and been on a roll, winning all four starts in August. He's been the Yankees' workhorse this year, and definitely who I'd want to start the first game of an important series. Phil Hughes has only had one good start since coming back, against Cleveland. He's been walking batters, which he doesn't normally do, and his command just isn't where it's been in his minor league career. He was doing well against the Angels, throwing four scoreless innings after a three run double in the second, but allowed two base runners in the seventh, both of which scored after he was taken out, making his start seem significantly worse. Right now, if they make the playoffs, I might make him the fourth starter instead of Mussina. His control has been an issue, but he still has shown flashes of his ability, and Mussina has really been terrible the last two games. By the end of the season, if they do make it, I hope Mike has things basically figured out, and I bet he gets the starts, with Phil going to the bullpen to help when he can. I think Phil has the potential for a Mussina-like career, which would be awesome. Right now though, he's been showing some rookie problems and mistakes, like not hustling off the mound to make the play on a grounder to first, which led to two runs and an eventual loss. Going by both the team's record in his starts (3-3) and his Win Probability Added (-0.02), he's neither helped nor hurt the team significantly. Also interesting is despite the fact that righties hit worse off him than lefties (normal), he's above average at striking out lefties while below average at fanning rightes (not normal).

Mariano Rivera's at that time of the year again where he struggles and we all question how much longer he can be good. I think he'll be okay for the rest of the year and hopefully will be effective through 2009 (he really wants to pitch in the new stadium), but he definitely shouldn't be leaned on as heavily as Joe Torre seems to like. He has other effective arms in that pen now, he just needs to mix them well. Edwar Ramirez has recovered after a disaster before his first demotion, and Vizcaino has been a pretty effective setup-guy. Kyle Farnsworth became a pariah, but after pitching some good games and striking out even-more-hated Gary Sheffield and ML-batting-leader Magglio Ordonez in a tight game, he's on the way to winning back some support. Ron Villone probably shouldn't be on the team anymore. I'd rather have another righty like Britton than an ineffective lefty.

You can't mention the bullpen without mentioning Joba. Since coming up he's lit the world on fire. In an obviously small sample size of 7 innings, he's given up no runs and struck out almost half the batters he's faced, with more than half of his outs coming on strikeouts. Obviously he won't keep this up forever, but it's raised an interesting question of his future role. If he can be anywhere near this absurdly dominant as a closer, some think he should stay there instead of moving back to starting. Having a good closer is important to having a good team. A pitcher with an average leverage index for a closer, who throws 70 innings with a 2.00 ERA, which Joba could very conceivably do, has the same VORP as a starter who throws 200 innings with a 3.69 ERA (Sorry about those nerdy, esoteric terms of discussion, you can ask if you don't get it). In a relatively pitching-strong season, that would qualify as 31st among this year's qualifying starters. That's a pretty good pitcher. The thing is, I think Joba could be that good without that much projection. He has a killer fastball and slider, and two more offspeed pitches with room to develop, which would be a very good repetoire. He could be deadly with just average command, which he basically has. He's also very good at maintaining his velocity deep into games, as witnessed in his minor league starts. A lot of the concern about his weight and injury problems has gone away. The fact is, Phil Hughes was the consensus best or second-best pitching prospect in the minors at the beginning of the year, and a lot of those same analysts now project Joba to be better than him. He could be dominant for years to come. A specimen with malevolent stuff, as Bill Simmons would say. I think a lot of people don't realize how many great closers were failed starters. Mariano Rivera is regarded by many as the best closer of all time. He was a bad starter before he converted to relief. You don't need an amazing, otherworldly closer to be a good team, just one who gets the job done. You should at least make sure Joba isn't your best starting pitcher (which he has the potential to be) before you make him your closer.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


The Judd Apatow Sex Comedy Train keeps rolling in good form with Superbad. Apatow didn't actually direct this one, he produced it. Frequent collaborator Seth Rogen wrote the script with his friend and is a featured cast member. The stars of the movie are Jonah Hill, another common fixture of Apatow's movies, and Michael Cera, most easily recognizable for his brutally awkward character of George Michael on Arrested Development. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is new to acting, and his character will probably outlive the rest of the movie. Everybody already knows about "McLovin". I didn't think he stole the movie as much as some other people did, but he was certainly likable. Greg Mottola is the director, and he does a good job of what he has to do with this kind of movie. Nothing fancy, just pointing the camera where it needs to be and keeping the movie focused. The whole cast and crew seems to work well together, and for some reason I just find Apatow and friends' movies better than the average comedy. It's a combination of good chemistry, sharp dialogue over pure gross-out humor (although there are plenty of dick and menstruation jokes), and some scenes that actually convey human emotion.

The two main characters hold the movie down well. Their banter and rapport is very entertaining, and they just seem like funny, likable guys. Hill can be kind of a jerk, but there are plenty of scenes that sympathize him. Cera's character is fairly close to George Michael. He's less completely sheltered and a bit more normal, but still the same kind of worried, reserved guy. Almost the entire movie takes place over the course of one eventful day, which gives it a different feel from a lot of other comedies. At times it can be a little straining, as there's pretty much something happening constantly, and it probably could have used a bit of dowtime. The pacing also seems a bit odd, with a large part of the movie taking place after school and before getting to the big party, wherein the main characters don't do a whole lot. There's a big subplot with McLovin driving around with a couple of seemingly dimwitted cops (one played by Rogen, the other by SNL star Bill Hader), attempting to get ahold of the booze for the party. The scenes are funny, but stretch the suspension of disbelief a lot and are maybe a bit distant from the real focus of the movie.

A few misgivings aside, Superbad is a very funny movie, with plenty of memorable lines and scenes. I'm not sure how much of the great dialogue was scripted and how much was improvised on set, but either way it's pretty smart. The goal of the two leads is to get to a party and hook-up with a certain girl, but the movie is really about the friendship between them. Over the course of the movie, they get angry at each other and have to deal with separation issues between them, and it's a movie that can really hit close to home for anyone who left or is going to leave close friends behind. It might not be as sentimental as some other stuff these guys have done, but it still rings very true. Superbad is one of the funniest movies this year, and definitely worth seeing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne movies have started a revolution in the spy/espionage subgenre of action movies, and they have been followed by the recent reimagining of James Bond. I'm all for it, as the intelligence of the plot and grounded, yet still exciting nature of the action scenes is more compelling than more unbelievable, over-the-top stuff found in lesser movies.

The first two Bourne movies were very good. The second was a little more confusing (both in plot and film style), but still enjoyable. The third is a little closer to it than the first, being directed by the same guy, but is easier to follow and has some of the series' best moments. It's still pretty unrealistic, with convenient new flashes of memory when it serves the plot and an at times overly-resilient hero. How many car crashes can you really walk away from unscathed within a ten minute period? Despite this, it's more believable, because he does things a person might be able to do. He's perhaps too clever once in a while, but it's a lot more fun to see someone take down his pursuers with household items than high-tech super-gadgets. Well, super-gadgets are pretty cool, but that's just not Bourne's style. And in his escapes, he's not running around dodging bullets, he's skillfully blending into crowds and outwitting his pursuers. It's just as tense while remaining possible.

The plot wraps up the main story and questions that have been following Jason Bourne since the series began while allowing room for further sequels if they want to make them. Nothing about it is terribly surprising, it's pretty predictable amnesia/spy stuff. It succeeds because it's well executed, with some funny moments and action scenes that have a purpose, without being pointless flash. The hand-to-hand stuff is as good as ever, but I was slightly disappointed in the requisite car chase. It was less of a chase and more of a collision-fest. It was well done and still pretty cool, but I kind of missed the maneuvering and driving that was found earlier. I have to take a bit of an issue with Greengrass' direction. Apparently he's not very good at handling actors, although that's not something that really comes across in a good movie. It's even irrelevant, because you don't need much direction to be a CIA guy who gives orders to lackeys or mess up fools. What annoys me is his persistent use of a shaky camera throughout the movie. It doesn't really make sense in calm scenes, but it doesn't obscure things either. It becomes a problem with things get heavy, and it starts flailing all over the place, making exactly what's happening difficult to determine. It's just distracting. It doesn't hurt the movie too much, it just lessens it a bit. Maybe the Director of Photography is more directly responsible for specific poor shots, but a film is supposed to be a director's vision, and if he approved the final cut, then he's to blame.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Rome - Season 2

Season 2 wraps up the series in satisfying manner. I wouldn't have minded the show covering a larger time period, or fleshing out the time it does cover, but there is something to be said for telling a story and then quitting while you're ahead. Rome is the kind of show that could easily get ridiculous in its debauchery if it went on too long, and one can argue it already started to by the end of this season.

There's a bit of a different feel to the show, as it covers a greater time period in a smaller number of episodes. The first season was a little more insular to the city of Rome, and more political. The second has a bit wider scope and has more true warfare happening, at least in the background if not on camera. They continue to avoid large scale battle scenes, as they're a bit difficult on a television show's budget, but they manage to work around it well and stay entertaining.

Rome should be credited for preventing stagnation. There's always something happening, characters change, move, age, and die regularly. Almost all of the featured cast is genuinely interesting, and there is always something significant happening. Lucius Vorenus' deteriorating ability to keep his anger in check and new role running the Aventine is always interesting, and his comrade Titus Pullo continues to be a very likable character. He usually has a friendly disposition, even when talking to an eminent assassination victim, and can keep Lucius in check, but when angered or in danger, he is prone to brutal, animalistic rages. Octavian comes into his role as the new ruler of Rome, and his development into someone much less kindhearted than he seemed initially is intriguing to watch. Mark Antony's descent into the decadence of Egypt continues to add to his already strange and attention-grabbing character. Women take less of a prominent role than they did in the first season, reserved more for fighting amongst themselves, although Cleopatra is still very important to the events leading up to the end.

There are a lot of creative liberties taken and historical inaccuracies, but I'll restate that that's not what the show is about. It's a general idea of what life was like at the time, with the major events intact, made to be entertaining as hell. It's well-acted, visually impressive, and often quite funny. It can get a little extreme with the violence and sexuality, but if you don't mind those things it's a really great watch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Fumito Ueda Is A Genius

Spoilers on ICO in the last paragraph.

If you don't know who Fumito Ueda is, he's the mastermind behind ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, two of the Playstation 2's most loved games. They are both similar, and yet quite distinct. They happen in the same universe, with Shadow's ending setting up at least one plot element that comes to fruition many generations later in ICO. They are both brilliantly and similarly designed visually, with distinct, saturated lighting, and gigantic, breathtaking architecture common in their settings. ICO probably looks better, since it's more confined, and the poor little PS2 struggles to make Shadow's huge environments and inhabitants run at a decent frame rate. They have similarly minimalistic stories.

The basic mechanics feel a bit similar, with lots of running and jumping and climbing with less than perfectly graceful protagonists, but the actual gameplay is quite different, with ICO having you work your way through a gigantic castle, solving complex environmental puzzles, with simplistic combat thrown in to balance it. Shadow on the other hand, revolves around its battles with the titular Colossi, with a good amount of searching in between. The boss battles are generally more cerebral in nature than's typical, but it is still relies much more on the player's twitch ability. It also takes a much different direction with the score, which is all about bombast and majestic, sweeping melodies, while ICO's audio is almost entirely ambient. The stories have similar tones, although ICO's is more self-contained and whimsical whereas Shadow's is more complicated, and less resolved, while also being darker in nature.

I beat Shadow almost a year ago and ICO way before that, but I bring them up now because I've been thinking and reading about them a lot in the last couple days. It started when Ueda was interviewed about his thoughts on God of War II and the differences between American and Japanese design philosophy. Cory Barlog, director of said game, responded by posting his own thoughts about Shadow on his blog. The translated interview and Barlog's response are here and here. It was interesting to see two different developers talk about each other's games, but it really just got me to think about Ueda's work. I gave his two games and Barlog's all 9's, but while God of War II is merely an extremely competent and interesting action game, ICO and Shadow seem to resonate much more and provoke more actual thought than games usually do. They are also both used, ICO especially, as Exhibit A in the case for Video Games As Art. I'm not sure how I feel about the subject, I can see why someone would say it's really no different than a movie, but just the fact that you control the outcome and the way it's produced more similarly to a tax application than a painting just says "product, not art" to me. I think games definitely contain artistic elements, and maybe some really are art, but as a whole, the medium isn't.

But I'm getting away from what I was talking about. Reading about the two games led me to two discussions by one guy, one, a still active forum thread on Colossus, and the other encapsulated in a GameFAQ about ICO. They really delve into everything about the mechanics of the storylines, and they're great reads, the ICO one especially. I had known of the theory that Ico and Yorda are dead at the end of the game, but it never sat right with me. It was conceivable, but I didn't see why it was a necessary conclusion. The FAQ breaks down exactly why it's less likely than the obvious conclusion that they lived, and really discusses story conventions themselves in great deal. I always though these two games were a bit overhyped relative to their actual worth (which was still high), but not many games really inspire this much pondering. Gameplay-wise, they're both quite solid, but what really gives them their worth is the stuff the player isn't directly in control of, and it really is what makes Ueda so good at what he does. He's supposedly working on his next game in the same mold for the PS3, and I cannot wait to see what it is.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Television Update 2: More Anime

So this is the rest of what I've seen this year. If it all seems like a lot, remember two things:

1) Anime series tend to end very quickly.
2) I am insane.

Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga is an insanely popular series among anime fans. I can see why it's appreciated, if maybe not why it's so revered. It's a cute, entertaining series, but rarely truly hilarious or interesting. It's a slice-of-life show with some wackiness thrown in, and that kind of show relies heavily on the quality of its characters to be successful. The characters are all pretty good, but they're not really funny enough to make the show really great. Without a real plot, the show just kind of wanders along, introducing some recurring elements and new information about their concerns and desires. It blazes through their high school years quickly, and then it ends. It's a likable show, but one of many I find to be overly loved by the community.

Big O

Big O is disappointing if only because it wasn't allowed to properly end. It has a nice style, it feels a lot like Batman: The Animated Series with giant robots. It's slightly obtuse and off-putting at times, but overall I enjoyed it. The characters and setting are interesting, and there are some really cool moments with the robots and different strange happenings. The story is a bit confusing, but interesting. Unfortunately, the show ends before the story does, and in the final episode about a hundred weird images are shown to completely confuse the viewer. It might have been an attempt to get another season greenlighted, but to this point it hasn't happened yet.

Excel Saga

Excel Saga is probably the funniest anime I've seen. It's basically a parody of the medium, with each episode basically representing a specific sub-genre or style. The main characters are likable and funny, and there's tons of crazy stuff happening all over the place, and a lot of smarter stuff to go with the generally goofy humor. There's a lot of fourth wall breaking, with the writer of the manga approving of the various episode ideas and the director making frequent appearances. It's just an entertaining show.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing + Movie

The art style is pretty simple, but the show is still decently animated and designed visually. There's so much Gundam in the world that it can get dull, but Wing has an interesting political story and some good characters, so it's pretty watchable. It's not as compelling as some better series but stuff's constantly happening and the show never rests on its laurels. It always pushes the plot forward. The mechs are pretty cool and while the action is often repetitive, with recycled animations, it's still a nice series. The movie is pretty slickly animated and does a pretty good job of introducing a new story, wrapping it up, and adding a bit of (but not too much) closure.


A really stylish and entertaining series. It's a little weird to see so much violence without any blood, but it generally works out pretty well. The two main characters kick a lot of ass, and it's a lot of fun to see all the crazy things they do. The story's a bit weird, and as the show goes on there's a lot of strange interactions, and the final episode has a very odd setting. Definitely a unique show that marches to its own beat.

Rurouni Kenshin

Not really nearly as interesting as the OVA's. It's a decent show, it's just too kid friendly to be really interesting. The main story arc is pretty cool, but the series way overstays its welcome after that ends. The first third of the show is just random events with some continuity, the second third is one big storyline, and the last third is a few shorter stories that just seem pointless. Oddly paced series. The protagonist is another that refuses to kill people, and that's fine, it just gets annoying when it's used so much as a plot device. The characters are generally okay, the show is just rarely truly intriguing.

Trinity Blood

Trinity showed a lot of promise, but didn't quite deliver. The main character is basically a complete copy of Vash, with a similar friendly personality masking his true power. The show has some cool ideas and characters, but too much of it focuses on the weaker, innocent people, and the end is completely unsatisfactory. I don't know if there are plans to continue it, but it really isn't an ending at all. This seems to happen somewhat often in anime, and it makes me wonder if maybe the Japanese culturally care less about closure than we do.


This series is the most obviously influenced by Nadesico that I've seen. Plotwise, it's pretty unique, but the general atmosphere and male-female interaction on the ship is very reminiscent. A lot of the characters are annoying, but it's usually a funny, interesting show. The central gimmick with the different ships somehow merging with each other is pretty cool, and there's more to the plot than it might seem at first. The romance stuff is a little too middle school for me, but otherwise it's entertaining.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Liveblog 6: Phil Returns

Since the All-Star break, the Yankees have been one of the best teams in baseball. They're definitely playing better. They're still not that close to Boston, but they're only 2.5 games behind the Wild Card-leading Tigers, who have been having another second half swoon.

A-Rod's been the center of attention since hitting his 499th home run. He's just one away from becoming the youngest player to ever hit 500, which until recently has made a player a lock for the Hall of Fame. That number has lost some luster since offense has gone up in the game from steroids and smaller ballparks, but it's still very impressive. Unfortunately, Alex seemed to be trying too hard, and went 0-21 after 499. He's played a bit better the last couple games, getting some hits and driving in runs, but the home run still eludes him. Maybe he'll get it out of the way today. I think it would be a bit easier since there aren't hundreds of flashbulbs distracting him during day games.

The trade deadline passed, and the Yankees didn't do a ton to improve. They picked up a solid infield bat for an ineffective reliever, trading Scott Proctor for Wilson Betemit. Proctor was a workhorse for the Yankees, but he was struggling, and Betemit improves the bench significantly. Unfortunately, the bullpen didn't improve overall, since terrible Kyle Farnsworth is still on the team and Eric Gagne got traded to the Red Sox instead. Help could still be coming, though. There's a chance they could still get rid of Farnsworth through waivers, and promising young guys like Joba Chamberlain and Edwar Ramirez could be coming up to fix some holes. I'd like to take credit for being high on Joba before everyone noticed him after the Futures Game, as he's now one of the most highly regarded pitching prospects in baseball. His future is as a starter, but he's been shifted to the bullpen and could be a dominant force to the end of the season. Also coming to help the team is Phil Hughes, who's finally returning after that hamstring injury ended his no-hitter back in May. I think he'll be great in the future, but this season all he has to do is be better than Kei Igawa, which pretty much anyone in the world could do. I still see promise in Kei, since he was the best starter they had at getting strikeouts, but he just couldn't stop giving up runs. They still have him for four more years, so we'll see what happens there.

In the meantime, Hughes is starting today, backed up by an offense that has been rolling through AL pitching. Everyone's been great, and most players numbers look way better than they did just a little while ago. They're back atop the majors in runs scored, thanks in part to Cano learning how to take a pitch and getting his average back over .300, and Matsui having a monster month. He hit 13 home runs and won player of the month honors, to go with A-Rod's two this year. A Yankee has won the award 3 of 4 months this season, and going back to May of 2005, they've won 9 of 15, including 5 by A-Rod.

Top 1 - Phil's on the mound. I'm excited. Wilson's starting at first for the first time in his major league career. I like Andy Phillips, but Wilson will probably produce more. Nice, crisp fastball to start the game. He follows with a disgusting curve. Three pitches later, he induces a groundout to Cano. He starts Grudzielanek with a ball, but strikes him out with three straight fastballs. Seven pitches later, Teahen grounds it back to Phil, and that's the first. Not great pitch count wise, but he did his thing.

Bottom 1 - Kyle Davies is a promising young talent, but he's been bad for the Braves this year. He was traded to the Royals for Octavio Dotel, who spent all of last year on the Yankees payroll doing Jack before jumping to the money Kansas City gave him. Damon works the count full. He may not be long for this team, although I'm sure he's there the rest of the season. He seems healthy and has been getting better with his job in jeopardy, Melky taking over center field and Giambi coming back from injury to hog the DH spot. He grounds out. Jeter singles to center. Abreu's been better, but I still don't trust him against left handers. He walks on four pitches. A-Rod has a chance right now to make history. And he does it! Three run shot is his 500th home run, giving Hughes an early lead. Awesome. Funny thing, that means that he had the exact same number of at bats between 499 and 500 as Mickey Mantle. Matsui doubles over the first baseman's head. Posada moves him to third, and Cano triples to right center. 4 run lead for Phil Franchise. Betemit is called out on strikes, inning over.

Top 2 - Hughes is throwing strikes but he isn't putting batters away quickly. He should be able to pitch at least 5 and get the win, though. He walks Butler after going 0-2. He K's Gload looking. That's a backwards K, for those who do scorecards. He finally throws a changeup, for a strike. If he can nail down that pitch, he could be awesome, but for now he can do well off just the fastball and curve. He strikes out fellow hyped rookie Alex Gordon as well. Gordon grew up and played in college with Joba. Ain't life interesting? Joba probably won't get called up in time to see him, though. Tony Pena Jr, son of the Yankees first base coach, looks at a called third strike. 4 strikouts in two innings, but he's thrown 39 pitches already.

Bottom 2 - Melky Cabrera has also improved much since a rough start to the season. He flies out to left, though. Damon grounds out again. Jeter works a 3-1 count before singling again. Abreu launches a fly ball that's caught in front of the warning track. Much better inning for Davies.

Top 3 - Gathright doubles on a botched fair/foul call down the left field line. The next pitch is wild and Gathright moves to third. If Hughes had gotten him and the next guy out, he would have pitched nine consecutive hitless innings. A faux-no-hitter, if you will. Posada blocks another potential wild pitch, and the hitter pops out. Next guy singles in Gathright, and the next grounds out to first. Teahen hits a duck fart double and there's another run. The curve is definitely going left. Might have been unnerved slightly by the bogus first hit. He really isn't commanding the curve, and they've avoided the fastball a bit since it's been hit. Another curve is swung at and grounded back to Phil to end the inning. Despite the runs, he's maintained the same pace of about 20 pitches an inning. Through 3 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 4 Ks, 1 BB.

Bottom 3 - A-Rod's first PA has a member of the 500 club. Even though he was the youngest, Ruth and McGwire did it in fewer games. He walks on four pitches and steals second. So many aspects to his game. I wonder if anyone else stole a base the same day they hit 500? Matsui works a long at bat before walking. Posada strikes out looking. Cano grounds out, moving up the runners. A couple runs would be nice here. Betemit delivers an RBI single. Cabrera pops up to end the inning.

Top 4 - Gload lines a single past Hughes after two strikes. The Royals seem to be seeing his fastball well. He gets a little pick up with a grounder for a double play. He strikes out the next guy for a much better inning, pitch count wise. I'm pretty sure Bobby Murcer said something monstrously stupid, but I'm looking up the numbers to make sure. Just this year should be enough evidence. Bobby called Hughes a fly ball pitcher. This season, in the minors, he has a 2.35 ground ball to fly ball ratio, and 2.83 in the majors in limited innings. He's known for a very low home run rate, partially because he gets so many grounders. Today, he's added six groundballs to one fly ball. I have no idea why Bobby would think he's a fly ball pitcher. He called the game against Texas, in which he recorded three GIDP and only one fly ball out that I can recall.

Bottom 4 - New pitcher for Kansas gets two outs quickly. Gordon snags a grounder from Abreu but he gets to first easily ahead of the throw. A-Rod singles through the hole in the right side. A third straight hit, this time by Matsui, and another run scores. Posada pops out to end the inning. Slow moving game.

Top 5 - Hughes walks Gathright on a very close pitch. The catcher flies out. DeJesus homers, 6-4 ball game. A bit of a disappointing return. People expecting him to dominate should cool off a bit, all he has to do is keep the ERA around 4 instead of 7. He really doesn't seem to have his customary command right now. The fastball's only around 88 instead of the 93 at the game's outset. Grudzielanek pops out to short right. Teahen singles up the middle. Butler doubles, Melky takes a bad route, and a run scores. Hughes is being taken out of the game, and he can't get the win. Disappointing return, although he did show some promise for the future. I'm running on fumes right now and not too interested to see Mike Myers, so I'm going to go hang out my cousins. I'll be back for the wrap-up.

Wrap-up - Myers got the win despite facing only two batters and giving up an RBI double to one of them. Win/Loss rules in baseball are so stupid. Anyway, after the Royals tied the game, the Yankees just kept scoring runs, beating up on the weak KC bullpen. The Yankees ended up winning 16-8. Everybody's hitting except for Damon. Abreu hit another home run, Cano picked up a couple hits, Betemit continued to drive guys in. Definitely another great game for an offense that is stampeding through the league. On the bad side, Kyle Farnsworth continues to be unable to pitch innings without giving up runs. His trade value is decimated and they might have to just cut him if they want to win.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Television Update 1: Anime Round-Up

I don't really have the energy to be too specific much farther back in time, so I'll just summarize the rest of what I saw in 2007. This is the first half.

Afro Samurai

This was a nice small collaboration between Japan and the US. It was extremely expensive to produce, but the results can be seen in the visuals. It's one of the most stylishly animated things I've ever seen. The action is pretty awesome, whether he's fighting an equal opponent or a large group. It can have some weird diversions, and since I usually watch anime with subtitles, it was odd to hear Sam Jackson's voice coming out of the character. He did okay in the role though, and it's a fun, quick watch.

Ah! My Goddess - Season 1 + Movie + OAV

The OAV and series are basically the same thing. They have different climaxes, but are the same thing, with a lot of shared elements. I preferred the series a bit, because it fleshed out the characters more, and too much of the OAV was spent worrying and waiting for the end. It just got heavy. The series was a little more light-hearted and enjoyable. The show is mildly entertaining, but it can sometimes get dull. It's another Magical Girlfriend show, and she is just a little too obedient and devoted. The guy is a nice enough character, and deserves a good life, but too much of her personality is just serving him. I thought the movie was great. The animation is excellent and story is intriguing. It doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the canon, but it's still quite good.

Gunslinger Girl - Season 1

Definitely a unique series. It's very short and has no actual storyline. There are events, but there's nothing driving it and no climax to come to. It introduces some characters, develops them a little bit, has them shoot at stuff, and then it ends. The animation, especially in some specific action scenes, is great. The premise of young girls without families engineered into super soldiers is an interesting one, and the show touches on some of the issues that would arise. It's hard for me to really dig something so lacking in point, though.

Love Hina + Specials

Another Harem show. It's kinda funny, with some decent characters, bu it gets frustrating with the girl's refusal for the longest time to admit she has feelings for the guy. He has troubles too, but he gets past them sooner. The art direction and all that is fine, and it's definitely a watchable show, considering the very compressed time span I watched it in. It's an extremely prolific show among anime fans, and I guess it's a good example of what this side of the genre is like.

Martian Successor Nadesico + Movie

A fairly influential sci-fi/mech show from the 90's. It didn't have as big of an impact as Neon Genesis Evangelion, which came out about a year earlier, but it was still popular. It can definitely be seen in a lot of newer stuff, though. It's interesting because it's actually willing to kill off characters and allow romance to develop. It's all a little goofy, which can be good or bad depending on what you're really expecting. The movie is a lot more serious. It takes place after the show, introduces a new conflict, and doesn't resolve it beautifully. It ties up some of the things previously left hanging, but the ending is another annoying ambiguous one with some seriously confusing actions taken by principle characters. I'd call Nadesico watchable but not essential.

Ninja Scroll

Now this is a weird series. It follows up the movie, which was a classic, full of violence and awesomeness. The show has some of that violence, but replaces the awesome with strangeness. There's a lot of new villains Jubei faces off against, although they're less interesting than the movie. Unless you count repairing your face with snake skin and replacing your missing limbs with those of a bear as interesting. There are some less than likable secondary characters. A lot of the episodes just have some weird thing happen, and it's all tied together by a loose plot, but it's just a sub-par show. There are some cool moments, but I definitely wouldn't recommend it unless you absolutely love the movie.

Read or Die

A nice, interesting little release. The protagonist is a little annoyingly naive, but she's still interesting and quite capable in a bit of a bumbling way. The animation is superb, with lots of great little touches and smooth movements. The story is strange, with resurrected famous people conducting a plot to kill lots of people, but intriguing. The whole thing is a bit off-beat but very enjoyable.

Rumbling Hearts

Definitely notable from steering clear of genre conventions and being willing to have a sad ending. It starts as a complex love triangle but it's a lot more than that, as tragedy strikes and the characters get older. There's a lot of heartbreak and sadness, and it can be quite depressing. The point is not to glorify relationships, but realistically depict how badly things can go wrong. There is happiness to be found, but it doesn't come without struggles. Besides some annoying comic relief, a well-written, good show.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Tenjho Tenge

Tenjho Tenge is a really weird series. If it was just a series of well-animated fights competently strung together by anything resembling a plot, I would have liked it more. As it turned out, it actually focused too much on story, to the detriment of the action.

Tenjho started out pretty promisingly. It wasn't exactly the most interesting premise and I wasn't a huge fan of some of the characters, but it was all right. There's an especially awesome scene where the cocky new guy gets his ass handed to him by the quieter supporting character. He's beating him, but when the new guy uses a cheap trick to get in a blow, he freaks out, goes into this weird rage with glowing red eyes, and viciously brutalizes him. It's a surprising, stylishly animated, cool scene. There's not much of that in the show, though, which tends towards more traditional martial arts with a lot of special anime techniques thrown in. There's a good amount of ecchi (T&A), but it's a little less enticing than intended because the character designs are a little weird for it.

What's really strange about it all is the constant flashbacks. I would guess about half of the entire series is the story of what happened a few years earlier, detailing the events of the villain's rise to prominence. It's weird since he doesn't really look like the same guy, and it's not that much of a time difference. A lot of the story revolves around a pretty crazy brother of the two female leads, and his death is what causes the riff between them and the villain. It's never adequately explained how things get from where they are at the end of the flash to the beginning of the show, and it's just a really strange way to do a story. The whole plot isn't really interesting enough to carry the show to the extent it does, and it seems like they didn't know what they wanted to do. There's some promising stuff, but it isn't capitalized on.

The movie is just a compilation/summary of the flashback storyline, and the OVA continues the story a bit without actually resolving anything. There's a build up to a final confrontation which hasn't happened yet. I don't know if it ever actually will. I'd like to see it, just so it's over, but it's honestly not keeping me up at night. Tenge is a decent show, but it definitely doesn't meet its potential.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ai Yori Aoshi

Ai Yori Aoshi and its sequel, Enishi, are somewhere in between the previously mentioned Harem and Magical Girlfriend subgenres. Aoi is the obvious love interest, and the male lead basically never deviates from that path. Still, he lives in a house with about half a dozen women who are in love with him, so it's sort of like a Harem show with a predetermined outcome.

Aoshi is a pretty pleasant show. Sometimes it's humorous, and when it isn't it manages to avoid being annoying. The characters are all pretty likable with one significant exception, and enough is done to keep the story fresh. They do a fairly good job of developing the side characters and showing their feelings without deviating too far from the root of the story, the relationship between Aoi and Kaoru. She's a little too subservient to be a really defensible realistic person, but that's pretty much par for the course with this kind of series. Their development as a couple is enjoyable, because they're both sympathetic characters you can root for. Plus the fact that they actually move forward and show some passion at various points is a pretty surprising and welcome spin on a genre that usually revels in stagnation and teasing.

Enishi is just annoying, though. Nothing about the series itself is really worse, the animation and art are at the same decent level and it's the same characters. But it's two years later in the story, and the relationship really hasn't moved forward at all. They're still not allowed to reveal it to others for political reasons, and it just becomes a tired excuse to prevent changes to the status quo. What really irks though is the increased focus on the secondary characters. It wouldn't be a problem if it was just telling some other stories, which is pretty common, but it focuses on their affection for Kaoru, which is just a dead end. He's in love with a nice girl who loves him back. There's no chance of anything between him and anyone else. But still time is wasted while they pine for him. I'm really not interested in the underage girl who has a crush on Kaoru because he cheered her up at a party. Enishi also seems less entertaining overall. It has many of the problems the original series avoided. It still does some things right, but it's a disappointment in comparison.