The return of Haruhi Suzumiya

Spring is here and with it the new spring anime. Today I come to discuss one series in particular – The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato.

It’s been quite a few years since we saw anything related to Haruhi Suzumiya, so you might be forgiven for not remembering that Nagato is the anti-social alien android pretending to be a high school girl to keep a close eye on God (a.k.a. Haruhi Suzumiya, a Japanese schoolgirl unaware of her position as the Prime Mover and the source of all Creation). The original show had all kinds of crazy stuff – time travellers, psychics, dream projection, and enough sci-fi cliches for a Star Trek series.

However, The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato is about a parallel universe where those things seemingly don’t exist. Specifically, it’s about an alternate ending to the movie The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya where the protagonist chose to stay in the universe of the ordinary people. So without the science fiction elements, what are we left with? A rather ordinary slice-of-life high school story about a girl, the boy she likes, and the literature club they belong to. Watching this premiere, I realized that there was a good reason that Nagato was only a supporting character in the regular show. Quite honestly, a quiet and shy wallflower is not heroine material. The conflict and forward movement in the plot was only able to happen in this episode because of the actions of two other characters who were more outgoing than the supposed protagonist.

There are encouraging hints that all is not as it seems. Nagato experiences a moment of deja vu when she spots the alternate Haruhi Suzumiya on the street, while Asakura remains disturbingly skilled with a knife despite being a regular student. And let’s remember that this world conforms too perfectly to a happy and idyllic story of teen romance for one Yuki Nagato. Anyway, I hope very much that these oddities are explored more in the rest of this season.

This is only the first episode, so I’ll stick with this show a little bit more. If I see any pocket universes or sandworms later on I’ll let you know.

See you later, boy

This weekend I realized I’m too old to play Jet Set Radio. I thought it was fun when I had the Xbox version quite a number of years ago but I never finished it before I sold my 360.

That’s why I snapped up this game when it arrived on PS+, but I’d forgotten how much reflexes count in this game. I did the tutorial and was fumbling like a jackass trying to make my cool sk8er boi do his sick tricks. Finally I gave up and uninstalled the game. I think I could have gotten my old skills back but I don’t have the time to be practising and I don’t really want to finish the game that badly. Ah well.

By the way, this is the trailer for the HD re-release in 2012, not the original trailer from back when.

You are winner

14 Game of Thrones Actors on Who Should Sit on the Iron Throne

Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth)

“Dude! I’m with Team Stannis! It’s got to be Stan the Man, doesn’t it? He’s the right man for the job! And I work for him. But if you go any lower, it should be Davos. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Mostly I’m perturbed at the image of Davos saying “dude”. Although Pod’s choice is exactly what my answer would be if I were him:

Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne)

“Brienne of Tarth, ’cause I work for her, and I need a job at the end of the day.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn

I finally got 100% completion on Dragon’s Dogma. More importantly, I managed to get a shot of my character where she looks like Che Guevara.

The Arisen, looking off into destiny.

This needs to be on t-shirts and posters everywhere.

Stranger in a strange land

Damn it, I have something in my eye.

Anthropology Professor Jack Weatherford Honored in Mongolia

Q: You and your wife, Walker Weatherford, spend your summers in Mongolia. What makes Mongolia so special to you both?

A: Walker and I are now legal residents of Mongolia and spend five months a year in our home there. I have learned more from seeing how the Mongolians deal with Walker, who has multiple sclerosis, than from all the books I’ve read. She is in a wheelchair, mostly paralyzed, and barely able to speak. Of course, in Mongolia there are no special facilities for disabled people; the streets and sidewalks are a jumble of broken cement and open holes. Yet when we step out of our building, hands always appear. No one says, “May I help you?” They simply do it and disappear, expecting no thanks. I never have to ask for help. Every week a few musicians come by to play the horse-head fiddle and sing for Walker, in the belief that music is the best medicine. Pop singers and hip-hop groups have come for the same purpose, saying that it will keep our home warm. One singer who spoke no English learned to sing “Only You” by The Platters because it’s a song Walker loves. People from all over the countryside send us dairy products. Our kitchen is usually full of yoghurt, hard cream, curds, mare’s milk, mutton, horse ribs, and wild berries. Lamas, shamans, and healers come by to offer prayers, incense, herbal teas, chants, massage, and other forms of traditional treatments. Even strangers send camel wool or cashmere blankets, shawls, and socks to keep Walker warm. Mongolia has welcomed us with a care and warmth I can scarcely comprehend. The greatest honor for the two of us is not any official recognition but these daily acts of concern, along with the young parents who have asked us to name their newborn children. Their request illustrates how much they want to keep the connection with their past and pass it on to their children. I feel that through these children whom we have named, Walker and I will be a part of Mongolia for another generation, long after we are gone.

The master of lying

I asked around a bit. Do you remember this book the protagonist of Your Lie in April was reading in the fifth episode?

Hero gets slapped, book goes flying

I’d mistaken it for The Little Prince, but my informants tell me that it’s actually Usotsuki no tensai (The Genius Liar) by Ulf Stark. It doesn’t appear to have ever had an English translation, so I’m not certain what the thematic significance of the book is, but the title suggests that the book was deliberately chosen to convey, well, something. I’ll do some more digging and see if I can find out more.

The festival of dolls

Hinamatsuri is a manga about a powerful young psychic who’s adopted by a yakuza gang member. You might think it’s an action series fill of violent battles, secret conspiracies, and barely disguised metaphors comparing child soldiers to the academic pressure placed on modern Japanese kids. However, it’s actually a comedy about the daily nothings in the lives of a group of slackers and screw-ups.

The main character mostly eats, sleeps, and watches TV, while she uses her powers to move her video game controller so she can keep her hands free for eating potato chips. Of the people sent to capture her, one ends up homeless and sleeping in the park, while the other almost starves to death in a crappy apartment because she ran out of money. Her adoptive yakuza father accidentally gets her to attack a rival gang, but otherwise the most he’s done to exploit her is to use her existence to elicit a sympathy date from a woman he was pursuing.

Wisely, the author knows how superb the side characters are and will not hesitate to shift focus to them. Over time, the series becomes more of an ensemble comedy. For instance, there’s a running gag about the protagonist’s 13 year old classmate that begins with her accidentally getting a job as a bartender and slowly builds up over time, culminating in the classmate being trained as a sniper at a Special Forces boot camp.

Continue reading The festival of dolls

Karma chameleon

I logged on to the Dragon’s Dogma website for the first time since August. Apparently one of my characters essentially won a beauty contest and was featured on the game newsletter by Capcom. On the one hand, yay me. On the other hand, that particular look is being copied by other players, judging from the screenshots being submitted.

What the hell, people? Get your own look. It took me hours to coordinate that outfit, not to mention the time I spent picking the hairstyle and fine tuning the bone structure and body type for that character. And I don’t want to think of how many goblins and bandits I had to kill for that cape.

Anyway, I’m thinking of playing this game for a third time and getting all the trophies. There are only three left and they don’t look that hard. One quick run should do it.

April showers and May flowers

I just watched all the episodes of Your Lie In April that have been broadcast so far. I rather liked this teen-romance-between-classical-musicians thing. At first I was afraid it would be too much like Nodame Cantabile, where a free-spirited pianist slowly teaches her fellow student how to appreciate music again, but this show is different enough to be interesting on its own (nice shout-out to Nodame, by the way). Anyway, I don’t really have a review so much as a bunch of scattered thoughts.

First, there’s a lot of crying on this show. Do classical musicians cry this much in real life?

Second, I had no idea that Peanuts was that widely read in Japan. Teenagers can actually quote Charlie Brown out of the blue without having to explain where the line is from? Although “I’m not always going to be around to help you” sounds more ominous in the show.

Third, I think the book that the protagonist is reading in one of the early episodes is The Little Prince. The illustration on the cover looks familiar.

And fourth, I can’t tell the difference between a good or bad performance in classical music. Well, maybe if something was egregiously terrible and dissonant, but otherwise I have no idea what the characters mean when they say one rendition is rough and another is full of honest yearning. This reaction is to be expected, of course, since classical music is an elite pastime specifically meant to exclude those without the proper background, but what that means is that I’m watching the show for the characters instead of the music. I do kind of want to take up piano again, though.

The gray world

Princess Ran in her Nike sneakers cutting her way through the vines to her sleeping prince

I’m currently reading Ran and the Gray World, which is a manga about a girl growing up in a family of sorcerers. It’s a whimsical and beautiful magical realist story, like one of the more child-oriented Hayao Miyazaki films. The manga contains scenes of childlike exuberance on the one hand, and scenes of terror and crushing sorrow on the other, but the tone never feels dissonant. Describing more of the plot would make the story sound nonsensical – like I said, it’s magical realist – but it does hold together with its own internal logic.

I think the series does a good job of showing how kids can handle more than adults tend to give them credit for. The art is wonderful, so the manga is enjoyable just on the visual level, but I do like how well it shows the eternal resiliency of children. I can see why it’s big in Japan.