Coldplay – Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends

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Coldplay never sounded big. Every time they made something that sounded big and ambitious, it was a failure. When they stuck to simplicity, they were pretty good. They’re the biggest rock band currently, but they’re the antithesis of that. That difference is how “The Scientist” is brilliant and “Fix You” is atrocious, despite being both ballads.

What’s shocking about Viva La Vida is not that it’s experimental. There have been wilder mainstream albums. What’s shocking is how it works while being the opposite of what made Coldplay good. This isn’t a band that’s working on their strengths, but improving on their weaknesses.

You wouldn’t know it by the first title track. It’s awful. Using strings instead of guitars doesn’t hide an annoying melody. It feels like they couldn’t care less about whether the melody is nice to the ear. Everything about it tries to be big and friendly for sport stadiums. If it had guitars and drums it’d replace “We Are Champions”. A Cazy Frog remix is probably in the works.

This is why “Clocks” was awful, and any other big Coldplay song. They were only about size and never did anything else. Here, Coldplay are doing something other than sounding important. Even “42”, whose beginning is one of Coldplay’s worse moments (Trite lyrics and musical backing that sounds like a demo from X&Y), has a constantly-changing structure. The song is still a failure, but it’s an interesting one that adds more to the album than it takes from.

Other experiments are far more succesful. “Yes” is a sex song which further proves that Marin can be a great vocalist and when he puts the falsetto away. The falsetto was often what made the difference between good and bad Coldplay songs. Here, it’s thrown away most of the time.

Since there is a clearer emotional core to these songs, Martin chooses the correct singing more often than not. A sexually-charged, but still gloomy song about sex fits perfectly with the lower register. When Martin delivers pieces of wisdom we all know on “Lost!”, he remains calm. We all know that losing doesn’t mean you’re lost, and it’s good that Martin doesn’t pretend otherwise. The calm singing style gives an air of friendliness to the song. It makes it sound intimate like “Shiver” despite the the drums banging along.

The album’s apex is in the last three songs. They all justify Coldplay’s popularity. “Strawberry Swing”‘s flirting with psychedelia are forgettable compared to the pure bliss of it. The second title track is everything “Viva La Vida” wanted to be. It’s huge, hopeful but beautiful. It’s not just the progressive structure that helps, but that then knows how to handle every part. When the song goes loud Martin doesn’t sound like he’s singing in a huge stadium. He sounds like he’s re-discovering hope after the gloom of “Violet Hill”. As for that one, it’s Coldplay’s most aggressive song so far. Oddly, it works and it sounds heavy.

Some have pointed out how the album isn’t very experimental if you listen to something other than the Top 40 radio. It’s true. There are even mainstream artists who made weirder albums, like Linkin Park. Nothing here sounds like a new vision, nothing like “Sail” or “Radioactive”.

That’s okay, because the focus isn’t on pushing the sound further. Coldplay are dominated by their melodies. Everything they do exists to serve the melodies and drive them, never the opposite. The ideas here are only new for Coldplay, but they make better work of the melodies than if the band chose their ordinary set-up. The contrast between the soothing singing and drums of “Lost!” makes it work. The psychedelic vibe in “Strawberry Swing” are better to express its bliss rather than some pianos and guitars. This focus helps even the songs whose melodies are weak. “Lovers in Japan” would’ve been a B-Side if it wasn’t for its energetic instrumental.

It’s no wonder Coldplay took a more electronic route after this. It’s a great album, but the band sounds like they exhausted this style of Artsy Stadium Rock here. Then again, I thought the same when I listened to X&Y. Even if you don’t take into account that Coldplay never sounded capable of making this album, it’s still great. It’s full of great songs with great melodies and structures that go somewhere, rather than just repeat what came before. The skeptics have a few points, but here they’re wrong.

3.5 violet hills out of 5

Tsuyokiss Cool X Sweet

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I’m often told I’m too critical, and that sometimes it’s okay to enjoy a simple, easy story. I understand why people think this way of critics, but just because something is lighthearted and easygoing doesn’t mean it doesn’t need effort put into it. If you want to watch a fun, light anime then the anime must use various methods to give yout this feeling. Comedy takes as much effort as any thoughtful story.

There’s nothing very brilliant about Tsuyokiss. Nothing about it stands out from its genre. If you have no interest in Slice of Life stories about school, then there’s nothing here for you. It’s not even an admirable failure, like how Date A Live has sparks of originality but holds itself back. The only purpose this anime has is to deliver a light story with amusing characters, but it’s successful in doing that.

Plenty of school life anime has been released since. Plenty of them tried to add craziness to make it feel alive, like Kemeko DX or Akikan. Nothing worked like this anime. Somehow, I found way back to this unassuming anime and rewatched it. That’s because Tsuyokiss doesn’t breathe life into its world by artificial craziness or just making everyone scream their lines. It does it by having a wide cast of characters, each with their own quirk.

None of them are deep or as memorable as Galaxy Angel, but they’re all branching out out from the archetypes they start with. They start as tsunderes or lolis or best friend or sexy blonde, but quicky get a bit more than that. It didn’t dawn on me that Kani is supposed to be the loli until very later. That’s because she’s defined more by her short fuse and simplistic worldview. Erika isn’t just the beauty. She’s a person who is so successful she’s bored of success, and is dying for someone to challenge her and stand up to her. Her stereotypically beautiful look is just a visualization of this nature.

It’s an anime that’s aware the characters need a life outside the plot. The romance doesn’t pop out of nowhere. Rather, it’s added smoothly like another aspect of everyday life. Romance in real life may be dramatic, but it’s rarely something that traps people’s lives. People keep meeting friends, going to school and do things other than fantasize about their crushes (or if they don’t, that’s a very bad sign and it stops being romantic). Showing Kani playing video games with the guys, Sunao’s fight to establish a drama club and attempting to get a day job are all here to show these characters lead an actual life and don’t just serve the plot. Everyone also seems to have hobbies or things they’re into.

It doesn’t always work, of course. An episode about Nagomi’s familiy problems is means well, but is out of place. It’s a series that creates unique characters with silly attributes, not deep ones. Such a story would be more fit for something like Mushishi (Actually, Mushishi would be a whole lot better if it had one). This stands in contrast to the part-time job episode. That one takes advantage of Kani’s and Sunao’s personalities – one is a self-absorbed actor and the other is childish and vulgar. Boring females with straight long hair seems to be everywhere for some reason.

The whole tsundere thing was supposed to be the game’s selling point, but only Sunao feels like an actual tsundere. Then again, she’s only the second girl to be involved in the romance. Sunao is another good example of using an archetype and playing with it. She’s not aggressive and hides her feeling for no reason. She’s a wannabe-actress with big ambitions and a big obsession. Her obsessive nature comes into play much more than the tsundere one, with Shizuka and Honoka acting as foils (althugh of different kinds). It’s these ambitions that drive most of the episodes, with Sunao trying to do everything in a gradnois way even when it’s not needed. Tsundere is also, in a way, an act – so it fits to make your tsundere girl an wannabe-actress. It’s the hobby and the obsessive nature that lead to tsundere-ness, not the opposite.

As always with these things, the male is competing against growing grass to see who’s more boring. The lack of effort put into such characters is astonishing. Just compare his designs to the other males, who do have a personality. Shinichi has big eyes that give him a soft look that goes well with he’s romantic but wimpy nature. Subaru sports narrow eyes and sleeveless shirts that show his confident, calm nature. These two act in unison.

What is Leo’s personality or purpose? He’s not even a voice of sanity, because that’s a role Subaru or Nagomi often take for that group of friends. Even if a character’s only role is to be a voice of sanity, the character it’s related to can affect how it’s done. Shizuka is the voice for Sunao, but she also acts as an admirer that goes well with Sunao’s view of things. Leo just stands there, doing what requires of him. There was no way to connect anything he does to a personality. When Kani thinks Sunao is sad for a silly reason, it’s because Kani has a childish nature. There is no moment like that for Leo.

That’s why the series loses steam when the romance kicks in. I could live with the switch in tone. These characters are alive enough to make me care about their emotional problems even if they overdo it. When one person in the romance exists so there will be the romance, it’s hard to care about it. A romance never exists alone. A romance always grow out of two people’s personalities. It’s not a mystery that can have no relations to the people involved.

Isn’t it odd that most romances directed at males have these terrible male characters? Look at a shoujo romance and there will be pretty girls and pretty boys. Look at a romance directed at males, and the male lead is so boring you run out of creative ways to say it. What does it say about viewers?

The art style is very simple and contains nothing flashy. There aren’t any unique character designs, except Kani’s braids (co-incidence? She’s the best character) and Yoshimi’s hair color. It’s weird how characters that aren’t very important like Yan, who becomes active only in the second half and Murata have more effort put into their designs than main characters like Leo or Yagomi. It understands its style, and everyone has a colorful hair and the simplicity of it all goes well with the story. If you look at the visual novel though, you’ll get something different. There’s something so lifeless and stiff in it. If they tried to replicat the visual novel’s art style I wouldn’t survive.

This flaw is all too common, but at least everything surrounding it is fun enough. Tsuyokiss has nothing to offer to those who don’t like the genre, but it does what a school anime does good enough. I could tolerate not aspiring to greatness, so long as the creators understand their style well enough.

3 tsunderes out of 5

Philip Pullman – The Golden Compass (Review)

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I was going to write how Pullman doesn’t fall to the bad tropes of Epic Fantasy. There are no pages dedicated solely to what food is being served. There are no hundred details that can only be useful in a crossword puzzle. Not everything is being described, only what is needed to set the mood. Saying something is not as bad as terrible crap though, is not much of a compliment.

Reading this again, there was a scene that nailed down what Pullman does best. Two side characters are having a debate, and Pullman makes both of them sound right. He managed to display two opposing views without degenerating one to a straw man, and they weren’t discussing just whether to bake the potatoes or make french fries. This extends to how, no matter how strange things get, nothing is portrayed as “That other, strange thing”.

It’s easy enough to see how the gyptians turn from these funny people into a culture as rich and interesting as the scholars of Oxford. While the bears do remain a bit undeveloped (He passes it off as ‘enigmatic’, but I’m not sure it cuts it), they are still displayed as serious sentient beings, not just slightly smarter animals. The best is when he portays his adult characters. Although they are seen as scary, alien and not having a single clue by Main Character, Pullman writes enough scenes to show us their point of view. The most telling one is at the end, where two important characters who are seen as pretty awful are given a scene to show them as more than two megalomaniacs. It’s a scene that tells us that just like children, they have their own ambitions, fears and passions. Mrs. Coulter is still the bad guy, but Pullman showed me it’s just a part of her character, not her whole.

His treatment of violence is also, by far, one of the more mature ones. Violence is not seen as sensational, and it’s ‘shocking’ not for how cool it is but how devastating it is. There are various descriptions of wounds and gore, and they always read like nasty stuff, even if the bad guy is wounded. There’s a very bloody character death that in any other book, we’d be encouraged to be happy about. The good guy won! The bad guy is getting dismembered! Only there is no joy in the ritual of plucking a heart and eating it. The frank and blunt description makes it sound ugly and sad, not glorious.

I wish this maturity also made it to the plot structure. Although it’s devoid of bullshit, the plot consists of Lyra moving from one place to another, with NPC’s telling her where to go to next, or offering her a ride to the next act. She’s given a little more to do than the protagonist in Diablo II, and she occasionally makes her own choices, but all she tends to do is keep moving.

It’s a shame because Pullman had a pretty good character in Lyra. Any criticism of her that she’s not a very unpleasant person misses the point. She’s supposed to be flawed. Children are flawed, and can be pricks. Her character shows, if anything, how well Pullman understands children. They get into stupid rivalries for the sake of it. They exaggerate already scary stories just to spook each other. Some things hold their curiousity and make them obsessed. Other things bore them to death. They view adults both as people to admire and people to fear, and they view some people as just ‘wicked’.

Most of the character moments though are in the beginning, where there’s less of getting to the Final Stage, and more of just exploring and doing side quests. There’s also a prophecy thing that doesn’t contribute anything whatsoever to the story. Lyra’s specialness of learning to read the aleithometer is good enough to make others take her seriously. It’s not like a skill Pullman landed on her, either. I kept forgetting about this prophecy thing, because Lyra kept making choices and doing things out of her own volition. Maybe it makes sense in the next books. In this one, though, it’s an attempt to give a motive to a character who already has one.

The Golden Compass avoids most of the cliches everyone hates about fantasy, and is more mature than not just children’s literature, but than a lot of adult literature. Children will enjoy its weird characters and busy journey, but there’s more to it, even if a good chunk is some unrealized potential due to a dull structure. I read this again becaue I put off reading the last one for too long, and it was even better the second time around.

3 Armored Bears out of 5