April 19, 2011

Anime #6

It's been a while, so I hope I don't miss something. I've watched some random episodes here and there, but these reviews are only for series I've watched completely.

I'd seen the fansubs but wanted to watch the DVDs. The special edition box sets are fancy but overkill for most series. According to The Right Stuf, the special editions are going out of print (I suspected as much) but will be replaced by a normal DVD release, hopefully at a more normal price. Regardless, I really like this series so I wanted to get it with the extras. Watching it again, I was struck by how much the plot follows a "normal" romantic comedy arc, which I didn't notice the first time around. What sets this show apart are the characters, each unusual and with their own unique issues. One funny part of the book that comes with the DVD is in the cast interview: they ask the lead voice actor which girl he personally would like to date, and he said something like "uh, they all have their issues, do I really have to choose?" As usual, I'm all about the ending, and while this one isn't perfect, it's very good (and I think I read that the anime ended before the manga, so in that case they did a very good job). Highly recommended if you like romance and/or comedies with unique characters.

I'm really tired of the whole vampire thing, which is been done repeatedly in anime just like everywhere else. However, this show managed to set itself apart. The first episode reminded me a lot of Shimotsuma Monogatari, probably intentionally, but that was just a setup for what comes later. Despite the outlandish character designs, this show is actually a somewhat realistic take on what would happen if a group of vampires moved into a small town and started killing everyone. Since nobody really believe in vampires, the town doctor would try to figure out if there was some sort of epidemic, and everyone else would be mostly concerned about themselves and their family and friends. This show starts slow but it really evolves over time and rewards your patience if you watch the whole thing.

Blade of the Immortal
I've been a fan of the manga since college, although I haven't kept up with it recently. It was almost inevitable that it would one day be animated. However, I was disappointed with the result. Compared to the excellent art of the manga, the anime seems low-budget and rushed. Actually, "rushed" describes the whole enterprise, because the producers apparently felt the need to cram over 15 years of plot into 13 episodes. It just doesn't work. I was able to follow along because I still remember the main plot points after however many years, but I wish they had taken more time. Also, the violence from the manga is heavily censored, which is disappointing given shows like Berserk were able to make it on television. If I was unfamiliar with the manga, it would seem like a mediocre samurai fighting show. Hopefully it will be revisited someday.

If you set out to make a clone of the first Appleseed movie, this is probably what you would end up with. That was apparently the goal of the producers, and since Appleseed was such a great film, it's not that bad of a goal. The plot is a mess, but that's sadly typical of anime movies (I wasn't thrilled with the second Appleseed film either). Vexille is a decent movie, but it probably could have been better.

Highschool of the Dead
I typically stay away from popular harem shows, but when you add zombies to the mix, I had to check it out. The plot can be summarized as an anime take on a Zombieland prequel, with a little of The Walking Dead thrown in. I was fairly impressed with it overall and await the inevitable sequel. The amount of fanservice was a little surprising (to the point that some TV episodes were censored for broadcast) but I guess that's typical for certain shows these days.

Skip Beat!
I'm a sucker for shoujo, and this is shoujo done well. However, maybe due to the marathon session I spent watching this show with a friend, I can't remember much about it. (I'm reading Wikipedia now to refresh my memory.) I do know that there's no "ending" which is always disappointing, and the plot is rather contrived, but otherwise it was very good. It's more of a coming of age story than a romance, and the main character is quirky which leads to a lot of comedy. If you like shoujo, check it out.

Giant Killing
I like when anime focus on unusual topics, like cooking or sports, especially when it's something I know little about. That's what drew me to this soccer anime. The character designs are also unusual, mirroring the seinen manga rather than adopting a more standard anime look. The plot reminded me a little of One Outs, but this is a much more realistic take on a sport and what it takes to build a winning team. It's also unique in that there are a range of characters, from the players and team staff to fans both young and old. Despite the unconventional look, I thought it was really well done.

This show reminded me a lot of Soul Eater with more conventional character designs. The show was interesting and well done, and it has its own take on the supernatural. However, shows like this normally don't stand out to me, so I kind of watched it and moved on.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
This is an excellent movie, and any criticisms I have are colored by the fact that I'd already seen the director's second film, Summer Wars. I was able to see some themes common to both movies, and I feel the second movie is better. The one thing that is a slight annoyance in both films is the simplistic character designs which stand out against the complex, almost photo-realistic backgrounds. You adjust to it, but it's still a little strange. However, this is one of those films that every anime fan should see.

Hikaru no Go
Like the soccer anime above, I watched this mainly for the unusual subject, in this case the game of Go. It actually taught me how to play the game, and I've been trying it out with a Go app on my phone. At first, you wonder how they'll make an anime about people playing a board game interesting, especially when you realize they're going for realism rather than trying to jazz things up. However, this is really a coming-of-age story with the world of Go as the setting, and it has surprising depth. I can't think of any other anime where I've seen as many male characters cry, and it's a sign of the emotions that the characters are investing in the game. The anime does end before the manga, but the endings (the last couple episodes each feel like an ending) are very satisfying. There are some anime specials continuing the plot that were aired after the TV series ended, but I haven't seen those yet. I should mention I watched this on Netflix as part of their new deal with Viz. Thank you Netflix for adding subtitled anime! It's also available subbed on Hulu, if you want to sit through commercials.

Haiyoru! Nyaru-Ani
What if the Cthulhu mythos were turned into an anime? Well, apparently you end up with this. It's really impossible to describe, but basically gods from the mythos appear as anime babes (the main girl is Nyarlathotep, or in this case Nyarl-ko) and it turns into kind of a twisted harem anime. It just needs to be experienced. All the episodes are short, so it's easy to watch in one sitting.

Kimi ni Todoke
More shoujo! I really enjoyed this series. The plot sounds somewhat like Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge but it's actually much more reminiscent of Toradora. The storyline itself is a fairly standard high school shoujo romance (heavy on the romance -- there's some comedy but it's not the focus), but I noticed that it was treated very realistically. There are very few of the deus ex machina coincidences or awkward situations that typically pop up in shows like this, and instead the characters are allowed to act naturally and grow at their own pace. I also appreciated that the plot is kind to the characters, rarely putting them in painful situations just to extend the storyline. In that regard, the show is as much about friendship as it is romance. The second season was a little disappointing in that it tends to lapse into some of the genre stereotypes and lead to some impatience about when the plot will finally be resolved. However, the show wraps things up nicely and overall was very well done.

Miracle Train
The weird thing about this anime was that it was even made. It's basically an advertisement for the Tokyo Oedo subway line, where each of the bishounen characters is supposed to represent a train station. The early episodes are kind of what you would expect (if you expected this anime to be made) with the characters showing a female passenger around a particular location along the train line while helping her solve a problem. However, there is a little bit of a deeper plot, and the later episodes manage to play with the established convention a bit to keep things interesting, like when a male passenger boards the train by accident. If someone out there is both a train otaku and loves bishounen anime, this is probably their favorite show. For the rest of us, it's an interesting diversion.

If you think the previous list was long, you should see the list of things I've got queued up to watch. I actually got sidetracked for a while watching other shows, like the first four seasons of Dexter and all of Veronica Mars. My Netflix subscription is both a blessing and a curse. Lately I've been back in the anime groove, though.

April 18, 2011

Site migration update

The site migration went pretty smoothly, after a few initial hiccups. There are still some things that don't work, but I'm getting around to learning PHP5 so I'll go through the site at some point and fix things. There's a lot that needs to be cleaned up anyway.

February 28, 2011

Alert! Web site migration in progress

After having the same hosting plan with Superb Internet for about a decade, I finally decided to switch to a different hosting plan (still with Superb). Go figure, over the last 10 years hosting plans have added functionality while lowering costs.

Anyway, both the sazan.net and 3x3eyes.com domains are in the middle of migrating to the IP address of the new hosting account. I'm also in the middle of uploading my web pages to that account. Even after everything is uploaded, I'm sure many of the scripts, etc., will be broken until I can get around to fixing them. In other words, if something isn't working, don't panic.

January 04, 2011

Anime #5

Last year I started posting brief anime reviews to my blog. Since the year has ended, it's time for a final post to cover the remaining anime titles. I think I'll continue to do this though, since it gives me something to blog about, and I like to be able to go back and read my own reviews even if nobody else cares.

For a while, I've wanted to go back and watch this show for a second time. I love when someone makes a one-off anime series with a unique subject. This is definitely an anime for grown-ups, and the Japanese take on Western-style "bars" and the bartender-as-psychologist is interesting. I almost wish there was some greater plot or story arc, but it works well as a short episodic series. My only complaint is that a lot of the customers reappear as narrators and it's hard to keep track of who everyone is. I see that a live-action drama based on this series is coming in February, so I might have to check that out.

Continuing the trend of shows with exclamation points in the title, this was a neat show. I feel it's more than just a slice-of-life show, in that it has unique and interesting characters rather than just standard archetypes. It was also unique in that it features school kids but almost never shows them at school. It didn't blow me away, but I really enjoyed it. It's too bad it's rather short, but maybe there will be a sequel.

Moyashimon (live-action)
This show was an unusual choice for a live-action remake, but it's an unusual title to begin with. I'm generally not a big fan of the exaggerated style of Japanese live-action based on anime/manga (which is why Bartender may be a better live-action title), but the CGI was well-done and the actors were all pretty solid. The plot was somewhat different than the anime, which makes me think both were picking and choosing from the manga to find a storyline that would fit in the limited number of episodes available.

After watching the first season, I felt I had to watch the second. The all-girl slice-of-life formula is getting rather old, but this show held my attention. In a twist from the usual pattern, the second series is twice as long as the first, and I believe it covers less time as far as plot, so there is plenty of opportunity to flesh out certain characters and linger on particular moments. The leisurely pace really suits this show, and I thought overall it was really well done. One thing that always impresses me is quality; a well-produced show stands up a lot better than a show with interesting ideas but that seems rushed or slapped together.

Black Butler
I stumbled across this show on Hulu and decided to check it out. I used to be a huge fan of occult anime, and shows like this and Xxxholic are leading me back in that direction. This is another quality title, and the plot is also handled really well. What a concept, a show with a nice story arc and an actual ending! I don't know that I'll rewatch it but it was definitely entertaining, and in some parts extremely funny.

Black Butler II
Wait, did I say Black Butler had an ending? Well there's a sequel! I didn't know what to expect with this show, and wasn't sure if the "magic" of the original would be lost with a sequel. I'll say this to any doubters: watch the first episode. It's without a doubt one of the most amazing anime episodes I've seen. The series as a whole didn't quite measure up to the first, but wisely it was shorter so they could jump right into the meat of the plot and kept things moving along at a good pace to the end.

Pumpkin Scissors
This is a Funimation title but it's not on Hulu, so I think I first watched it as a fansub. Anyway, I liked it enough to buy the DVDs, and I recently watched them. I hadn't seen the show in a while but remembered it was somewhat similar to Fullmetal Alchemist. It definitely is, but it creates a unique world with well-rounded characters, and you never feel like you're watching some sort of knock-off. As usual, my pet peeve is that the anime ends before the plot does, since the manga was (and is?) still ongoing. However, there's enough story to provide some resolution at the end, and it's just a well-conceived show. If we're lucky, they'll make more anime.

Princess Jellyfish
I fell in love with this show as soon as I started watching it. That the opening theme is the new single from my favorite band Chatmonchy helped, as did the ending theme by nerdy rockers Sambomaster. Of course, I knew there would be a downside. Even before I watched the eleventh and final episode tonight, I knew the show would only cover a fraction of the ongoing manga. Still, as an introduction to the characters and their world, it's wonderful.

That concludes all the anime I finished watching in 2010. I'd have to go back and count to see the number of titles (I hesitate to try to calculate the number of episodes). There are several other shows that I started and am still watching, including Naruto Shippuden, The Tatami Galaxy, and Shiki (all on Hulu). I also made it most of the way through the Fushigi Yugi DVDs, but I got bogged down in the OVAs and never went back to it. For a show I hadn't seen since college, going back and watching it again gave me a different opinion. I'll try to finish it off soon.

I have a big pile of DVDs that I picked up during end-of-the-year sales from Amazon and The Right Stuf, mostly Funimation titles I'd already seen on Hulu or elsewhere. At the top of the list to rewatch are Toradora and Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. I've also flagged a few shows in Hulu that I want to investigate. Their anime library has really been growing. And of course, I'll continue to follow the Noitamina shows and keep an eye out for other shows airing in "real time" on Hulu. I'm still waiting for a fansub of the final Nodame live-action movie, too.

November 19, 2010

Computer reorganization in progress

This is become slightly more massive and time-consuming than I expected, but I'm close to finishing overhauling my computers. My Computers page has not been updated yet, but here's a quick summary, starting with the old stuff:
  • Amba: gone (we recycled some old hardware at work, so I took in my old stuff to go with it)
  • Parvati: gone
  • old Pentium II motherboards, processors, etc.: gone
  • all my old floppy discs: gone (trashed after archiving a few useful files) -- btw, the Abandonia site is awesome, and saved me from having to image a bunch of old floppies (which were typically corrupt on disc 3 of the set anyway)
  • four 9800GX2 cards: boxed and ready for eBay
  • Shakti: still hanging around, along with a box of old SCSI equipment and cables, so I'll go through it when I have time
  • Durga: phased out and stripped -- still need to decide what to do with the mobo/CPU/RAM and old video card
  • Aparna: no change yet, but it should be replaced with Kali in the next week or so -- I have plans for all the hardware
Newer hardware:
  • Kali: getting the case exactly like I want it has taken a long time, but the only thing remaining now is the arrival of some extra-long thumbscrews and getting everything installed -- got the mobo tray in the case last night -- OC tweaking is also almost done
  • Gauri: the big recent project -- the boot drive on Durga was giving me issues again so I went ahead and installed WHS on Gauri, copied all the data over to three 1.5TB drives, configured all the backups, set up the remaining software I had on Durga, and hooked up the external 8-drive cage -- I've moved the 5-drive bay, which just barely fits, and I'm waiting on an 8-port SATA card to arrive next week to hook up the rest of the internal drives -- the other change will be to replace the GTX 295 and 1250W PSU (overkill) with the vid card and PSU from Aparna
  • Bhavani: I haven't been happy with the overclocking of the 980X in this system, so I swapped the mobo with an ASUS Rampage III GENE -- the install was pretty smooth, but I still need to OC and then upgrade Vista to Win7
  • Chandi: this now has the DFI mATX mobo from Bhavani to replace the DFI that died, the PSU from Durga, the stock Intel 980X heatsink, and my parents' old Gigabyte video card which needs to be tested for RAM problems, plus a new Sony DVD drive -- everything's working but I still need to overclock -- this machine will probably inherit the vid card and PSU from Gauri, and be used as a test bed for some other equipment -- I may reinstall WHS Vail
  • Girija: not mentioned on the Computers page, but I reused this name for my second SR-2 system -- yes I bought another one, and ironically finished it before the first one -- its web page will be coming soon
Bhairavi, Lalitha, Shyama, and Uma have not been changed recently, other than to point them at the new WHS. I still need to update the Media Center shares on Lalitha. I also have one more machine that's going to be sold as soon as I verify everything's working. Right now it has BSOD issues that I'm pretty sure are due to the motherboard, so it will get Aparna's mobo (and probably DVD drive too).

Whew, that's a lot of stuff. The other news is that I'm finally phasing out my 19" CRT and replacing it with a Dell U3011 30" LCD. I don't know what I'll do with all the screen real-estate, or extra space on my desk. It went on sale at the right time, because I'm going to have to reorganize my desk to replace Aparna with Kali anyway.

October 11, 2010

Anime #4 Addendum

I did forget something.

This film kind of made me feel sorry for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. People go to see Miyazaki films with certain expectations. I felt Howl's Moving Castle was a little too derivative of previous Miyazaki films. On the other hand, if he tried to create something too different the audience might reject it. Ponyo seems to try to walk that fine line, combining a Western fairy tale plot based on "The Little Mermaid" with the Eastern/Miyazaki spin on nature, magic, children and the elderly, and so forth. For whatever reason, the story didn't grab me. I think the conscious decision to use hand-drawn animation over CGI may not have helped either, as the art style just looks "different."

I haven't watched the Blu-ray a second time yet, but maybe it will improve on repeat viewings. I wasn't a huge fan of Mononoke Hime the first time either and that's another Miyazaki film that pushes some boundaries for him (although admittedly I first saw it in the theater in Japan with no subtitles, so that was probably part of the problem). I actually prefer the dub on that film too, because it's complex enough that reading while watching doesn't work as well.

September 13, 2010

Anime #4

Catching up... hope I didn't forget anything:

Jyu Oh Sei
I feel compelled to watch anything that airs on Noitamina, and I had bypassed this title until now. It was good sci-fi, but wasn't anything groundbreaking. Still, it's a quality show.

Ouran High School Host Club
I think I first watched this a few years ago, and I wanted to go back and watch it again. Actually, I didn't like it that much the first time around, probably because I didn't know where it was going. It's not traditional shoujo, but it's also not full of weirdness like Shoujo Kakumei Utena. This time I didn't have to worry about trying to figure it out so I was able to just enjoy it. It's a really fun and funny series, and it plays with some anime stereotypes and conventions while still remaining a typical romantic comedy. Recommended.

House of Five Leaves
Another Noitamina series, this from the previous season. I had read some negative comments, probably because there is very little action for a "samurai" anime. Shows that take forever to initiate the plot annoy me too, but this show is different. It's basically a character study, so the mood is more important than any action scenes. I thought it was really well done. That said, it's probably not something I would watch repeatedly.

Fullmetal Alchemist
I was a big fan of the first Fullmetal anime, despite some logical inconsistencies because they ran out of manga and had to start making up the plot as they went. I even liked the dub, so much so that when I bought the movie on DVD I watched the dub rather than sub. That said, I can see why they decided to remake the anime (called Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in the US) to follow the manga storyline. This was a fantastic show that has everything you expect from a big-budget shounen anime: cool characters, a compelling plot (saving the world, of course), exciting action scenes, and funny moments. I watched this on Hulu but I'll probably pick up the DVDs eventually and watch it again.

Kiki's Delivery Service
This was the first Miyazaki film I ever saw (many year ago), and until Spirited Away it was also my favorite. It's still a close second. I hadn't watched it in a while so I pulled out the DVD. It's such a great movie, and the ending gets me every time. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it.

Yet another Noitamina series, which is currently being remade as a live-action series also on Noitamina. I decided to rewatch the anime, and I felt like I did when I watched it the first time. It's a well-done show, and I love shows about unusual topics, but it's just too short. The manga is still running, so maybe they'll revisit the anime at some point.

xxxHolic (season 1)
CLAMP shows can be hit-or-miss, but this one is a hit. It's been a while since I saw an occult anime that I really enjoyed, but this one is very solid. Even the things that could be annoying, like the high-strung main character, are handled in an endearing way. I really need to track down some more of the anime. For that matter, I need to check out the Tsubasa Chronicle anime too.

Boku Otaryman
This show is kinda like my life, except that if I really believed that, I would be too depressed to get out of bed.

Summer Wars
This was a fantastic movie. Some people are saying the director Hosoda is the next Miyazaki. I don't know if I'd go that far, but I'll definitely keep an eye on him. It's so nice to see a movie with an original story, and although the plot may not have been the most realistic, it was great entertainment.

Another show I pulled out and decided to watch again. After I first watched the anime a couple years ago, I saw there was also a live-action drama, and it become one of my favorite Japanese dramas (not that I've seen that many). Because the story is based in reality it's a natural fit for a drama. However, watching the anime again made me appreciate its merits as well. The pro and con to the anime is that it's short. Both the anime and drama have 11 episodes, but the drama episodes are twice as long. The anime can't cover nearly as much of the plot or provide as much depth the the characters, but I find the drama tends to bog down at certain spots while the anime plot always stays snappy. The anime also manages to have a nice story arc for the series even with the limited time available. None of the drama episodes have the type of inventive storytelling of the last two anime episodes. Plus the anime's opening and ending songs are great, and the use of Sambomaster for incidental music is also entertaining.

I've also watched some Japanese live-action movies this year, like Lock and Roll Forever (laughably bad, but I'm a fan of OreSkaBand), Kamikaze Girls (at least my fifth viewing; I love it), the first Nodame movie, and I think a couple of others. However, the highlight has probably been Golden Slumber, which was introduced to me by a friend recently. It has kind of a Hitchcock "wrong man" vibe. Initially I wasn't sure where it was going, but it turned out to be a very nicely done movie. If you don't mind subtitles, definitely check it out.

August 29, 2010

Quick computer update

I made some small changes to the computer pages for Bhavani (new CPU) and Durga (added hard drive). Durga's new hard drive is a 1.5TB Seagate that was free as part of a combo deal with the Sparkle power supply I got for Chandi a couple weeks ago. I had forgotten about it and found it still in the shipping box.

As I've gotten back into Folding@home, I decided to set up a web site to monitor my clients remotely. This is very easy given the combination of Windows Home Server, which has a built-in web server, and HFM.net, a Folding@home monitoring tool which can generate web pages. I set HFM.net to copy the web pages to a shared folder on WHS, and then configured a virtual directory in IIS that pointed to the shared folder. Voila! Now I can even monitor my clients from my phone. It seems like it's pretty easy to customize the XSLTs that generate the web site, too, so I might play with that.

Here's a quick list of my current plans for my various computers:
  1. Sell the 9800GX2 graphics cards in Gauri, replace them with the GTX 295s in Chandi, and RMA Chandi's motherboard.
  2. When Kali's case arrives, move my desktop software from Aparna to Kali (with a fresh install of Windows 7 Pro). Phase out and sell parts from Aparna.
  3. When the next version of Windows Home Server is released, rebuild my server using parts from Gauri. Sell Durga's CPU/mobo/RAM. Probably trash Durga's case and get a new case. Maybe move Gauri's dual PSUs to Kali.
  4. As soon as possible, get rid of all other old PCs and parts, including Shakti and Amba.
  5. Maybe next year, upgrade Lalitha with new Sandy Bridge hardware.
I don't plan to start on any of this for about two weeks.

August 24, 2010

More computer stuff

I made some updates to my Computers page to include some of the changes described in the previous post. I just realized I forgot to mention the 15" TV/secondary monitor, though. The big change is my new computer Kali which will be replacing Aparna as my primary desktop soon.

The Great Windows 7 Migration is almost done, and soon I should only have one Vista box and one XP box left. I wish Windows Home Server "Vail" would hurry up and release, because I'm getting anxious to move that machine to new hardware and I don't want to have to reinstall WHS twice. All in good time, though.

I need to make another anime post, but I've been watching a lot of other stuff too so I'm not too far behind.

July 20, 2010

Computer stuff

Here are a few updates on the computer front. I swapped Girija for my parents' old Celeron computer, so that they could have a decent desktop PC. I kept the graphics cards and blue LED fans.

I moved my personal email to Google, which makes life much easier with multiple PCs. It also will make it easier to change web hosting plans. I like my provider, but I think I can move to something cheaper.

I mentioned somewhere that I bought a little 15" LCD TV to use as a spare monitor, mostly for new system builds. Well, I hooked it up to Aparna as a secondary monitor and it's been pretty cool. I had tried dual monitors before and realized mixing CRT and LCD didn't work, but this is different. Because the second monitor is small and off to the side, I'm not constantly dragging windows from one to the other where I notice how different things look. Mostly I've been running Media Center on the second screen playing J-pop video playlists, and it's been working really well.

I've fired up the GPUs again for Folding@home, this time for team [H]ard|OCP. I'm trying to decide what to do with Gauri, though. It's still a powerhouse, but technology moves on and many people are switching to more power-efficient systems.

I think the Great Windows 7 Migration is about to begin. I've had Win7 installed on a few new machines and I upgraded the laptop a while ago, but I'm looking at the Vista HTPC and XP desktop and thinking it's time. The question now is what, if any, hardware changes should accompany the OS upgrade. For example, I like everything about my desktop except the motherboard, and I do have a better one available, but tearing everything apart just for that hardly seems worth it. The HTPC could definitely use some bigger drives and an HD tuner card.

Actually, I'm taking a second look at all my PCs and re-evaluating their roles. I think it's time to ditch not just the ancient Pentium boxes but also some relatively more recent hardware. It doesn't make sense having Core i7s sitting around underutilized while my critical Windows Home Server box runs on a single-core Athlon64, for example. One of the many benefits of having many PCs is that I can tear down a machine, or even strip two to build a third, while still keeping daily operations (email, backups, TV recording) running smoothly. However, I don't have the space to house all of my current PCs and parts, nor the time to manage those boxen that are up and running. Some consolidation is in order, and I think there are big changes ahead. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all the old stuff I don't need.