Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Damn you PA Works

Why is it that certain animation studios seem to produce initially interesting series which then turn sour after a few episodes?  PA Works is one such studio, having worked on a number of interesting concepts which quickly fell to pieces.  They're certainly very good at animation, but their projects nearly always seem to suffer from bad direction - which always seems to mismatch elements of storytelling that have no place together.

Angel Beats had the initially interesting concept of badassery and revenge, but quickly broke itself with derpy "humour" and a pointless ending that flew in the face of the initial premise.  Hanasaku Iroha was billed as a serious drama series but then started throwing in bizarre filler episodes about hentai and airsoft.

It looks like 1991 but it's really 1998
The latest series by PA Works - 'Another', had the unoriginal (but attention grabbing) concept of a boy who moves to some small town which is basically Hinamizawa with unexplained deaths happens.  This I would be entirely fine with, but the focus of the show is pretty much entirely on the unexplained murders - character development is entirely steamrollered to the point that conversations are always "hey do you know about the mysterious deaths?" "no... I can't remember anything about those".  Every conversation is like this, even when the MC's father calls him on the phone all they talk about are words to that effect.  I'm dying for some character development to happen (particularly between the MC and the heroine) but they just don't shut up about stuff they don't know.  Eight episodes in and things are still like this.

Apparently Axis logos are pretty popular in Asia @__@
There are other stupid things in the series I could mention too, like the horrible Ali Project OP or the ridiculous building of tension for non-events (in the last episode tension was built up for a truck overtaking a car.  That was it, just a truck overtaking a car.  Nothing happened aside from that).  When deaths do occur they seem entirely random and accidental - even when Higurashi had its mystery it still seemed like there was a point and direction to the deaths, but here they just seem to be for the point of gratuitous grimdark - well I say grimdark, the last two deaths were absurd to the point of being comical.

It's a real shame because I really wanted to like this series, but right now it makes Tsukihime look like a flawless masterpiece.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Slowpoknnnnging and Muppets

So I started watching Dragon Crisis the other day and good lord... my heart wasn't ready.  I was not in the least prepared for the most hnnnnnng Rie role I've ever seen, which contrary to Rie's usual typecasting is fully deredere from first appearance.  It's incredibly - dare I say it... cute.

In spite of the somewhat negative reputation the show has I'm really enjoying it, it'll take a lot to really destroy that enjoyment for me. I'm hoping it's just a marmite series which people either love or hate and not one with a bad ending as can sometimes be the case.

Anyway, some info about the show: a schoolboy by the name of Ryuuji steals some magical treasure from yakuza, which he accidentally opens it up to discover Rose (Kugimiya) a dragon which takes the form of a cute girl.  As stated above, she is deredere from the very second she appears and is quick to proclaim her love for the MC (reasons for which are explained as the show goes on, but honestly you shouldn't care - hearing Rie say "Ryuuji Ryuuji, ski ski ski" is a miracle of the universe).  Perhaps I should also mention that Rose is pretty badass, she can tear things up with relative ease thanks to her magical dragon powers; the MC also has some latent magical powers, but I should say no more for fear of giving away spoilers.

Prior to watching Dragon Crisis I was expecting it to be a generic harem with magical elements, but having seen a few episodes I'm glad to say that isn't the case.  Indeed there is a harem but it all takes back seat to Rose (who is pretty much the only love interest) whilst the story presents an interesting mix of action and comedy - I guess you could say there are many parallels to To aru Majutsu no Index.  The story isn't ground breaking, but it's fun.  It's not often you can honestly say that something is just that.

I'm only watching the series on my DS (the whole reason I picked it up was that it was one of the few series available in DS MPEG) but I can safely say the animation is fantastic: characters move smoothly, fight scenes are nicely animated with plenty of things going on.  Of course since I'm watching this on my DS I don't have any screendumps (the ones in this article are all google'd ones).

So there you go, my thoughts on Dragon Crisis.  If you haven't seen already it's worth watching the first two episodes to decide whether or not you'll like it.

On to my next topic then: The Muppets.  I went to see the new Muppet film the other day in the cinema, and it was pretty decent - much better than that last crap film they did about the Wizard of Oz.

The film starts out with that fat guy from How I met your Mother (prepare for cameos from fellow cast members) who does a great job of playing up the role of an innocent adult in a kids film, which is a nice return to the classic Muppet formula (recent films had resorted to pointless airheaded celebrity insertion).  Most importantly he has a good singing voice and sings some fantastic songs, which as always are a hugely important part of Muppet fare - get it wrong and you get a mess like... that Wizard of Oz one.  There's also enough humour to keep the musical pieces going, it was pretty amusing to see them quickly sweep aside what would otherwise be cumbersome aspects with visual humour.

Long story short, this is basically a Muppet version of the Blues Brothers with Muppets playing an extended role of missing cast characters.  It's a pretty simple and perhaps derivative story, but pleasantly there enough Muppety things going on to distract from that - essentially the story proper is just a loose framework to set up Muppet Show type scenarios.  Waldorf & Statler, Gonzo doing stunts, humiliating a celebrity multiple times, and other such elements from the classic TV series are all there.

There's something pleasantly nostalgic about the film - it harks back to an age when anarchic but innocent humour were the way to go, and brings back a pleasant cast of uncorruptable characters.  Since it is a trip in nostalgia, it certainly isn't going to appeal to anyone who isn't already familiar with The Muppets (which probably explains why everyone in the cinema were adults), sadly nowadays I guess The Muppets are sadly being overshadowed by those obnoxious and vacuous 3D CGI films which get churned out in depressingly high volume.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Posting posts no wood in sight

So yeah, first post on this blog I guess. I was going to post it on my other blog... but I forgot where I even had that or what it was even called, so yeah new blog posts for the first time in a few years for the people who care about whatever stews in my mind.

Lately - nay for the last few years - much of what has been passing through my frontal lobes has been to do with the mod For Hire. For those who don't know it's project I've been working on with Toadie since some time in early 2009, and during these last three years I have mostly worked on level design and occasionally modelling stuff like characters or props.

Why am I doing this you might wonder? Three years is a long time to sink into a project with no prospect of payment or profit, indeed lately I've almost been wondering if I've been diligently working to get magic beans. To be honest I hadn't expected the project would take up so much of my time, but I continue working on it because I do hope that my work on that project will prove to be a means towards employment.

Using a mod for prospective employment is something I increasingly worry about, partly because I look at other people's work and see a huge disparity between theirs and my own, and also because it seems as though employment in the games industry is shifting away from experience with modding as a prerequisite.

Whilst things like this do feel disheartening, I have to keep reminding myself that I'm working with Source. It's one of the hardest game engines to work with, extremely time consuming and has a terribly disruptive workflow cycle (trying to get original content into Source is extremely trying, so much so that few people have even bothered).
The other thing I need to remind myself of is that I'm only working with 3DSMax to produce models, whereas other people have more powerful tools for character creation. To be honest though, I doubt I'll ever pursue character modelling as a career point since I imagine you would need a solid art background to do so.

But yeah, all things considered I feel pretty pleased with what I've managed to do with Source, it's taken some real pig-headedness to work with but I'm almost finished now. Even if Source is a seldom used engine I have learnt a great deal about professional level designing, optimization, etc - all things which can be applied in other 3D engines without too much trouble (as always learning the interface of a new 3D program is the only tough part).

Phew, with all that longwinded stuff I feel as though it's time to talk about something fun. Typically fun for me right now consists of anime (feel free to stop reading from this point onward if you are sick of hearing me talk about it) which serves as a pleasant sort of mindless escapism when almost all my other waking hours are spent thinking about things.

Lately I've been greatly enjoying Mouretsu Space Pirates, which is sort of a slice-of-life space opera about a prospective space pirate (I am very much hoping it will start having plenty of yarr harr harr and plundering sometime soon).  The show is pleasantly slow paced, it's nice to see one that doesn't dive head first into a storyline to try and grab the attention of the viewer in less than half an episode.

It's still quite hard to judge where the storyline is going at this early stage, but suffice to say the first few episodes have been pretty good; characters are presented in an endearing and idealized way (which is to say, pure of heart and good natured without any fanservice or otaku pandering).

So yeah, Mouretsu Space Pirates is a good show.  Another new show I've been enjoying is one which is simply titled umm, 'Another'.  The initial setup was very much derivative of the horror genre (which this show belongs to) whereby a new guy moves to a new area, everything is not quite what it seems and no one will tell him anything... you get the idea.  But even if the initial premise is extremely generic, Another is produced extremely well: there is enough mystery each week to keep me entertained and wondering what is going on; the plot moves on at a reasonable rate; the animation and backgrounds are superb - some of the best I've seen since Gosick.  If you're looking for something vaguely like Higurashi or Shiki, this is worth checking out if only for the fact that it is a very polished horror offering.

Speaking of Higurashi, I've suddenly found myself hankering for DEEN shows, so I've been rewatching Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka. I'd forgotten how much I love that show, I'm glad I bothered to archive it.

So yeah, have some genius masou-shoujo.

Thats all for now (and really it must be) this has been a longer blog post than I intended.

Until next time!