Ping Pong the Animation

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By the sixth time the characters talked about how talented and brilliant Tsukimoto is, I had to make sure I wasn’t watching a battle shounen series. At least the observers in Medabots looked anxious and worried. Ikki fought against tough enemies and had to find chinks in their armor. Here, Tsukimoto hits the ball a few times, push up his glasses and walks away. Not smiling did not add depth to the character.

There’s a brilliant story here somewhere. The story follows a cast that each has a different approach to the sport. This is an archetype that gives you so much do it never gets old. Often, the series understands how to use it. There are about five different viewpoints here. Each is unique in its way, and each is presented as reasonable. The creators never rely on caricatures. They rely more on super-talented protagonists and an unorthodox art style that adds nothing.

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No comment

Tsukimoto and Peco are both talented people who we are supposed to cheer for because they’re talented. While Peco’s lively energy is fun, it’s not enough to drive a main character. It’s barely a quirk for a supporting one. Tsukimoto is supposed to be unique with how he refuse to smile, but his character never settles on pretentious moron or angsty teenager. Both would’ve been fine, but at best the series makes him the former. It also takes his pretense seriously.

There is nothing exciting or valueable in being unenthusiastic about life. Tsukimoto walks around with an apathetic expression and doesn’t seem to like anything. His attitude towards life is the same thing that made Joy Division successful, but Joy Division didn’t just sell indifference. They explored that attitude.

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Color me unimpressed

People who reach such a state probably have something in the past that made them this way. They would also lead terribly dull and sad life. The idea that such a person can be so talented is far-fetched. Wouldn’t winning games require some sort of drive? People sometimes hate what they’re good at, but that’s at least an emotion. Ping Pong wants us to believe that a walking embodiment of Joy Division’s classic album is somehow a champion in table tennis.

A bullying story is tacked on at the end. It’s a predictible story that shows us that the kid was disliked, but never the horrible reality of it. Tsukimoto even gets a cheerful person to stick with him. Both of them turn out to be extremely talented in ping pong. Where’s the struggle?

Peco faces losing for the first time and gets bummed, but this is where their troubles end. They’re celebrities and heroes in the eyes of everyone, but not heroes that are uncomfortable in their position. They’re not like Kazama, who was driven to succeed to cover up his emotional troubles. Kazama is a champion who uses victories as a way to find happiness that he can’t achieve. His talent is part of his struggle.

Ping Pong also has a strange view of talent. Talent is something you either have or don’t, and no amount of practice can make up for it. It’s a fatalist view, and not a good one. It could be talent is something you’re born with, but how will you know if you’ll never try to prove it? Indifference like Tsukimoto’s rarely produces noteable people.

What’s thrilling in such stories is not to see the characters win. All the creators have to do is just write that the characters won. What’s interesting is their struggle, their view on victory and why they’re doing it. Their reaction to losing or winning is what makes things exciting. China, Sakuma and the long-haired dude all have such an arc. One uses the sport to return back home. One uses it to lift up his own low self-confidence. Another one is on an eternal search for meaning.

Their stories are far more exciting and humane than Tsukimoto’s/Peco’s. They are stories of people like us, rather than two people who found out they’re talented. It’s amazing how similar it is to cookie-cutter heroic stories. Substitute ‘talent in ping pong’ with ‘magic sword’, ‘victory’ for ‘saving the world’ and it turns out the anime isn’t so unique as it looks.

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Bruce Willis?

How it looks is a big discussion point, but not that exciting. The only good thing about it is how unorthodox it is. The character design is a weird take on realism that looks grotesque without bridging the gap. What especially sticks out are the lips, which look huge. The sketchiness also makes the character design inconsistent. In too many scenes, the characters look like blobs.

This is not minimalism. They look like shapes drawn in a few seconds. The roughness achieves nothing. It could be an expression of the character’s imperfection, but the story disagrees with that. Peco and Tsukimoto are heroic champions. It doesn’t achieve any type of warmth because it’s too stylized and distant. All the rough lines and emphasized lips don’t give it the elegant simplicity that saved Mushishi’s character design. Being different is great, but if it doesn’t contribute to the story it’s just a fancy cover. There’s nothing particularly unusual about it other than a sketchy look that achieves nothing.

The animation is different, and Ping Pong fares better there. The series overcomes one of anime’s main flaws – its static animation. Most anime are fairly static, with more focus on design rather than motion. While Ping Pong fails in design, it’s a total success in kinetic energy. The Ping Pong matches are stylized action scenes that rely on visual expressions, not coherency.

Animating a sports match as it looks in reality is pointless. If you want to watch a real game, you’ll watch a real one. The only reason we watch a sports story is because of what the sport means to the characters. Each match is animated with focus on its place in the character development. The matches are the same in what happens in them. They all consist of people hitting the ball. The difference between them is the meaning, and so every match is an engrossing action scene that leaves everything else in the dust. It doesn’t just set the blueprint for how to animate sport scenes but how to animate action scenes in general.

Ping Pong is not the peak of anime. It’s not even among the more unusual of its type. Despite trying to create its own rules, not enough of them serve the story and it falls back on sport prodigies. The exploration of that type doesn’t go deep enough. Still, it has a great cast of side-characters and fantastic action scenes. Its attempts at understanding its cast are admirable, and so it relies more on developed characters than emotional manipulation. It’s not a milestone, but there’s enough to enjoy here.

3.5 chinese people out of 5

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Isaac Asimov – Foundation and Earth

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If Foundation’s Edge sees Asimov diving into the Thriller genre, then Foundation and Earth is the complete opposite. Here, Asimov attempts something far more psychological and philosophical. These were things he avoided in previous installments. Considering how different Edge was in terms of ideas, the new approach isn’t surprising. Like a true intellectual, Asimov challenges himself and his thinking. Too bad this challenge was too much for him.

The first Foundation novels’ strengths was in knowing in their limits. Despite the huge scope, Asimov knew he’s not good at expressing ideas or psychology in fiction. So the whole series was just some cool puzzles and adventure stories. That’s also why none of them is truly brilliant. Edge only approaches that because it has a better understanding of the Thriller genre.

Foundation and Earth is supposed to be the series’ defining statement. It’s a slower, denser novel. It’s more concerned with the philosophical implication of Gaia than solving whatever puzzle Asimov came up with. Many are bothered by the trashing of the Seldon Plan, but that’s just Asimov replacing his old ideas with what he considers to be better one.

Asimov was never good at expressing ideas using fiction. He used them to make his stories look cooler, but there never was any deep exploration. He tries to do it here, and he always stumbles. The novel tries to tackle the community vs. individuality debate, and the only answer he can come up with is ‘let’s wait until we get to Earth’. The dialogues feel literally copy-pasted. The same phrases make an appearance, over and over. I don’t think people in real life say the same thing in the exact phrase.

We also get some cool set-pieces that feel like they belong in a different novella. An adventure consists of various stages, and each is supposed to both stand on its own and contribute to the whole. In general, they’re challenges for the characters to overcome and develop.

Since Asimov doesn’t develop characters, they all feel pointless. Killer moss could make for a fun short story. Solaria and their obsession with loneliness would be fantastic in the hands of a more philosophical writer, someone like Aldous Huxley. Here, all it gives is a plot coupon to redeem later.

Even the final conclusion is disappointing. For a novel so reliant on ideas, the conclusion should’ve been more than to reveal who was behind the scenes. We get no argument for Galaxia. All we get is that there was a person behind the velvet curtain and that we shouldn’t pay any attention to it. Such a conclusion would have worked in previous novels, but here Asimov doesn’t aim for a simple adventure.

There’s even rambling prose and lots of sex, which is new to Asimov. Maybe Asimov disocvered sexuality only at around age 65, which is great for him. I heard many men can’t get it up at that age, but it doesn’t make the sex any less out of place. At least Asimov is not as misogynistic as other authors. He writes like a person who doesn’t understand people in general, rather than just women. Even if we get a male character who has a lot of sex, at least the attitude towards it is positive.

The rambling prose is harder to forgive. Asimov’s strength was in how skeletal his prose was. There was nothing under the surface, but there was zero bullshit. Here, we get a lot of technobabble, including the precise distance between things (Did Asimov bother to calculate?) and meaningless descriptions of nothing. Rambling prose doesn’t make it seem like you got buried ideas. It makes it look like you’re trying to hide a lack of them.

The only idea that works is Asimov’s defamiliarization of Earth. It doesn’t get much deeper other than pointing out how unique Earth is, but there’s fun in it. His descriptions of musical instruments is especially entertaining. Asimov’s sense of fun and wonder at the universe also didn’t vanish. Despite the rambling prose, it’s still easy to follow and read. He doesn’t create a dense labyrnith where the content gets buried. It’s the same old Asimov, only with some extra unnecessary words.

It’s a fun adventure, but Foundation and Earth is an anticlimatic closer to the series. I appreciate Asimov’s effort to try out ┬ánew things, but none of it works. It’s still worth reading if you enjoyed the other Foundation novels. Asimov was a fascinating mind, and you can see his progress throughout the novels. It’s an average adventure that rambles a little too much, but I’ll give Asimov credit for how his ideas progressed. He didn’t call himself a rationalist for nothing.

2.5 galaxies out of 5

Veronica Roth – Divergent

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Hating the government is big business. Without a government we could hate, a lot of people will be out of job. I’m not just talking about scumbag officials. Imagine what Zack de la Rocha would do without hating the government. No one will listen to his pathetic attempts at rapping and lousy slogans. No one would buy his records. This is serious. Hating the government even mananges to pump some money into the publishing industry. Look at the Hunger Games.

Here we go. Here comes another review of Divergent that mentions The Hunger Games. I only do it because everyone else does, but that doesn’t make it right. The constant comparing of the two tells you more about how ignorant people are of the dystopia genre than about the books themselves. The Hunger Games was a heroic story about Defeating the Evil Government – no different than Star Wars. Divergent has little resemblance to it. It’s like a Young Adult version of Brave New World.

Roth wants to write about many things. She wants to examine ideas. She wants to write a love story. She wants to write an action-packed thriller. Sadly, she’s less successful than she deserves. There are plenty of moments where her approach to typical subjects are more unorthodox. Her love triangle, for example, is far more interesting and also tends to be more low key. Sometimes, she’s a carbon copy of contemporary YA. We’re talking about extended action sequences and love serving as deux ex machine.

There is potential in this premise. Roth wants to examine these ideologies. There is a satirical edge here, with how Erudite wear glasses to look smart or how the Dauntless try to look like metalheads. She manages to create distinct enough cultures that make us question and examine these ideas, rather than accept them as good or bad.

The Dauntless take the center stage, and this quality appears often there. The Dauntless are sometimes painted as unnecessarily cruel. At other times, the harshness and cruelty is reasonable. How can you become fearless without actually facing your fears? She doesn’t take the easy way out. She doesn’t separate the Dauntless to kindhearted people and to ruthless sadists, but presents that cruelty from two angles.

Divergent often reads like a critique of splitting into ideological camps. Anyone who talked with people who are proud of being left/rightwingers knows how damaging these camps are to good discourse. By choosing sides, you no longer have a mind of your own. You have to agree with everything that side says and disagree with everything the other side stands for. That’s why you get secular right-wingers who are hesitant to admit they’re all for gay marriage because they won’t want to come off as leftists.

It’s not a desire to destroy and rebuild. It’s a desire to improve what already is. Young people are often angry (which makes them appreciate rock music) and we want, to quote Fight Club, “to destroy something beautiful”. I appreciate this more mature outlook, but it doesn’t appear enough.

She tries to make ideologies clash, but her clash makes little sense. How does the desire for knowledge clashes with selflessness?

She paints the Erudite as hungry for power, but none of it comes naturally from their ideology. The pursuit of knowledge doesn’t automatically result in megalomania. Often, the more you learn the more you realize you don’t know. You end up feeling smaller. People who pursue knowledge are often too busy researching and learning than exercising control. Learning is receiving. There are studies that prove suicide is more common among intelligent people.

The Abnegation or the Dauntless faction are more fit to slide to megalomania. The ideology of Abnegation includes the suppression of the invidiual. The only way to do it is to exercise some sort of control over him so he won’t try to act on his natural impulses. Roth is aware of that. This is where Marcus’ character comes in, but it’s a small moment.

The Dauntless are less fit, but are a good possibility. The slide from testing bravery to needless cruelty is addressed, but it’s used more to draw lines between Good Guy Four and Bad Guy Eric. Eric’s ideas can have some merit. He can be a bit of an Antichrist Superstar, a rejected person who works hard to escape from failure only to end up in ruins. His main role degenerates to be the Bad to Four’s Good. Maybe it’s fine if you’re a woman and the romance speaks to you more. As a male, I’m more interested in Eric’s attempt to make up for his failures.

This is a big hole that’s hard to ignore, because that’s what instigates the climax. She doesn’t go full retard and claims the pursuit of knowledge is bad, in and of itself. It’s just the desire to overpower that’s apperantly at fault, or something. She never makes it clear enough. She just attatches a bland desire for power to create an enemy.

What came before swings from interesting to bland. The initiatition arc gives us a pretty ordinary high school story with a Bullying Gang that exists only so we would hate it. It’s a jarring transition from a variety of viewpoints to people who are cruel because they’re cruel. I have faced real bullies, the kind that did it only because they could and Roth’s portrayal is lackluster.

Since this is a world where everyone is driven by the faction’s ideas, senseless cruelty is out of place. Even as an exploration of senseless cruelty, it fails. What is frightening about bullies is that they’re sure they are in the right. When a teacher asked one of my bullies, he said he did it because it was fun. Yet there is no sense of fun in Peter’s bullying that should remind us of how we love to shoot heads in Borderlands. He does it only to move the plot forward and so we’ll have someone to hate. It’s like the corrupt businessman who we hate because he has more money than us.

There are sometimes glimpses into character development. Al’s arc is good and lifts up the love triangle a bit. He’s he typical good, but unattractive guy. He’s kindhearted and nice, but he also has no spark of sexuality in him. It’s a moment where Tris is allowed to be a dumb teenageer, and we’re invited to understand even if we disagree. Al is also not portrayed as just a Love Interest but a human with a separate life. He’s allowed to make choices, to be vulnerable, to show affection and to take matters into his own hands even if it’s a tragic ending.

Tris is also a far more interesting protagonist than Katniss. Roth actually makes her go through tough choices and question her worldview. She doesn’t give her too many shortcuts. It’s not like how Collins allowed Katniss to never kill an ‘innocent’ person. Tris makes plenty of mistakes. That’s a small improvement, but not enough. She lacks a defining feature. There is something about being Divergent, but here it’s hinted that it’s biological, so perhaps it’s external. It’s not something she acts upon. She just gets up one day and people tell her, whoa, you’re Divergent!

The copy I read also came with the manifestos of each faction. That’s the best part. They’re each written in different style that suits the ideology (Amity all have anecdots. Erudite have lists). They each make a convincing case, but they’re also very absolute and strict. They’re ripe of finding holes in them. This can be a fun exercise. This is probably what Roth wanted, but it didn’t turn out too well. Maybe the next go round will be better.

2.5 factions out of 5

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Everything you heard about Evangelion is true. It gets almost everything right. If you ever wondered what’s the big deal over anime, Evangelion sums it up pretty well. It’s an all-around great work of animation. It uses the strengths of the medium while not abandoning the old qualities that make for great storytelling. It also loses itself in the last two episodes.

It’s not the awful ending that Death Note has. It doesn’t make all the time spent seem fruitless. It’s an icarus kind of thing. The last two episodes are where the series gets truly experimental. It abandons traditional storytelling and tries using inner monologues. It’s a bold idea, especially in an anime that’s until then just upgrades the Mecha genre.

It doesn’t work, though. The monologues are not just about the characters but discuss the various themes that pop up in the anime. As the anime progresses, it makes it clearer and clearer that there’s more than well-constructed fights to this. Instead of using some creative method to wrap the themes, and maybe take advantage of all the symbolism they left lying around.

Sadly, they chose monologues. That’s just a way of beating the viewer over the head with your themes. We don’t need them. The 24 episodes that came after that make an excellent job of developing characters. The backstory of the Angels is barely revealed, and that’s great. The creators know that why things happen is less important than the reactions to the characters. We don’t always know why things happen but we always react. That’s the series’ greatest strength. Beneath the giant robots and the fighting, it’s an excellent chronicle of relationships and how they develop and change.

Not to say that it’s a pretentious thing that believes that great dialogue make up for anything else. Another reason why Evangelion is so brilliant and why it deserves its classic status is because it takes advantage of the format. There’s just as much effort put into the design. Developed characters aren’t an excuse to make bland looking characters. Rei, Misato, Suzuhara, Gendo, the Fifth Child each has a unique design that doesn’t try to be real but look cool. There is no excuse for bland character design. If looks aren’t important in your story, it should be a novel.

The Angels are where the design choices shine the most. They are unique at every aspect. Every single one has a distinctive look, and each one functions differently. The variety is so big that the idea that they’re of the same ‘race’ comes off as pretty far-fetched. Either way, they make for both cool-looking enemies and interesting ones. The unique attributes also means the fights aren’t just extended sequences of stuff exploding. There’s a problem-solving elements to it. Each battle is a puzzle the characters have to solve. It may be not as meaningful as the relationships between the characters, but it’s great that the series is also willing to have fun.

Evangelion is an anime that wants it all. The characters are both developed and good-looking. The battles are pure fun, but the drama is strong. Evangelion wants both the fun energy of Mecha and the qualities that make for any classic story. The last two episodes make for a very underwhelming finish, but they don’t undo the other 24 episodes. Evangelion is worth watching regardless of your opinions on anime. It’s a great piece of storytelling at all fronts.

XTC’s logo also makes a cameo appearance.

Bring Back the Woolly Mammoth

Scientists successfully splice Woolly Mammoth DNA into Elephants

Finally, after thousands of years (Or millions, depending which book you read) humanity has made its first step towards manifest destiny. No, America is not the final frontier. Space is also not the final frontier. Neither of these frontier solve the crucial problems that people have been unjustly forced to deal with.

Our world contains no Woolly Mammoths.

The fact that people aren’t even aware that it’s a problem is proof that it’s a problem. Since both thinking and not thinking it’s a problem constitutes as proof in this case, I declare the lack of Mammoths to be set as the top priority at the UN.

We have made progress regarding our recognition of the problem. Ice Age was a pretty popular series of animated films, which starred a Woolly Mammoth. Skyrim, a terrible game known for committing the crime of not having Turn Based Combat with Pause Button, has mammoths in it. It wasn’t enough, though. Ice Age isn’t recognized as the most important film series. People still think Skyrim is at fault for not being Icewind Dale. No one is discussing mammoths.

Scientists do, though. After doing some reflecting, here are a few of the problems that we will solve by bringing back Woolly Mammoths

No More Countries

There will be no need for countries. Every place will be recognized as to whether it has mammoths or not, and it will be desirable to be only close to mammoths. Anywhere that doesn’t have mammoths will be abandoned. There will be no need to draw lines between zones. Mammoths know no bounds

No More Religious Arguing

Everyone will convert to mammoth worship. Atheism will become irrelevant. Who cares whether there’s a God or not? If he exists, he also worships mammoths.

People Will Stop Breeding

We will voluntarily extinct. Once the mammoth is back in the house, our job is done. We were put here to bring it back. It’s time for us to leave the Earth alone and let the mammoths enjoy it, instead of clogging it with more babies. Competing against them for resources is a crime punishable by being exiled back in time to an era without mammoths

Veganism Dies

We will have to eat any animal that is making the mammoth angry. You might see a contradiction here. We’re supposed to die off, yet also serve the mammoth? Yes. So long as we’re here, we need to do our best by eliminating anything that hurts a mammoth. We need to kill any animal that competes with it. We should also eat it, so the meat won’t go to trash.