Sunday, 13 February 2011

Radio silence

You know something's weird when your mum gives you a Christmas present based on a side-interest you've only mentioned on your blog, and your dad calls you up and tells you you haven't updated it much recently (love you both, though, and I'm sorry I swear so much on here, I promise it's not your fault).

Yesterday I turned 25. This in itself is not a particularly relevant event, but I guess it made me feel like I should at least write something on here.

Life has felt very slow for me for the past couple of years. I've been living in the same house since I moved out of uni, and I feel like neither my career, skill-set, nor personal life have progressed in any meaningful way (not helped by how many of my friends seem to be getting married and/or having children). Over time I've come to realise that these two factors probably linked.
(Note: the following will be a familiar spiel by now to people I talk to often, sorry I'm boring)

While I initially moved into this house with people from my year at uni, over time they've all left for better things (marriage for at least two of them, christ alive!) to be replaced by randoms. Now, I have no issue with any of them, they're all lovely people, but got nothing in common with any of them. I'm happy to hold a conversation with somebody in this situation, but I find it hard to motivate myself to go out of my way to do so. Essentially, I really don't go out with the people I live with, so I stay in alot.

Another upshot of this, I've realised, is that I'm never motivated to do personal work in my own time. This is something I've spent years agonising over: I felt that I must be lazy and useless, and knowing that everybody I know is always doing incredibly awesome personal work just as a matter of course made me feel even more inadequate. More recently, however, a bit of logic started kicking in and it occurred to me that I can't really be inherently lazy, because whenever I have gainful employment, I happily work as hard as I'm asked and even harder. The same actually applied at uni: I'd work during term time, but during the holidays I'd just be lonely, idle, and depressed. Ultimately, I think it's just in my nature that I'm not very self-motivated: I need a surrounding of like-minded, hard-working, and talented people to push me along. It wasn't always this way, as when I was at school I would happily spend hours drawing pictures of Sonic the Hedgehog or Worms or Megaman or whatever videogame characters took my fancy (mostly Sonic), and I was a complete loner back then as well, but for better or worse this seems to be how I am now.

Having decided this helps me feel a bit less shitty and inadequate, but I don't really know what to actually do from here. Logic would state that I should move out and find a place with fellow animators. However, I haven't got a damn clue how to actually accomplish this. I certainly have friends who qualify on the "animator" front, but unless one of them just happens to be moving out of their current home at a convenient time it doesn't matter. In fact, there seems to be this sudden inclination amongst my friends (and apparently everybody, including David O' Reilly) to move to Berlin, but the reasons don't really appeal to me (I'm financially stable, somehow, so the cheaper rent is practically a non-issue, and there's no animation scene or industry there at all). (note that this is all a bit of an exaggeration: only one person has actually moved to Berlin, but one was considering it for a while, and it seems to be the general consensus that it's the place to be right now).

I suppose I could put an ad on Moveflat (not Bumtree), but the idea of actually meeting new people and having to live with them scares the hell out of me. However, maybe something that scares me is exactly what I need to do.

There's also a part of my brain wondering what would happen if I went the opposite route and  moved into a place completely by myself and got a cat or something. I would like a cat very much.

Image is from "Tonnura-san", an amusing little manga that's become a bit of a cult hit after only two chapters thanks to THAT FUCKING CAT. LOOK AT HIM.
 Without any current option to solve things with a change of environment, it seems I need to wage my battles inwardly for now, so to speak. I'm currently occupied with some work, but after this I've been telling myself, and other people, and now the small crowd that reads this blog, that I will give my showreel and website a much needed update. I've been entertaining an idea to incorporate a fairly substantial animation project into the website itself, one that I think will actually be fun for me to do, which I think will probably be far more important than any work that this initiative actually finds me. Last night, I had an amusing conversation with one of my "oh-my-god-I-literally-haven't-seen-you-in-almost-two-years" friends, Alice Dupre, about how actually trying to get work in this industry never gets you work unless you are literally annoying a studio with phone calls to the point that they give you some just so you stop bothering them. It's always recommendations from friends and people you've worked for before. So this will not be an initiative on the "advancing my career" front so much as the "making myself happy" front. Hopefully.

I'm not sure what I intended to say when I sat down to write this post, but I certainly didn't mean for it to become a giant wall of tl;dr. Again, sorry I'm boring. So, what have I been doing in between my current job and the last one?

I've been watching a lot of competitive Starcraft 2. I decided to plop down the $10 or so for a season ticket for season 4 of the Global Starcraft 2 League held in Korea (which allows full access to the livestream and VODs with english commentary, though I can only watch the latter due to timezones). It was honestly worth the price of admission. More recently I also bought the $5 ticket for the Team League, which, despite being much shorter, was actually even better, due in part to the higher emotional stakes involved in playing for your team (leading to much increased drama), but also a much improved map pool, as well as the expected improvement in the standard of play (as the metagame is still relatively young and evolving rapidly). I've never, ever been a sportsman, but I guess I can now understand why watching football/rugby/whatever is fun for people. I do also, of course, actually play the game as well, which is fun too.

Silly images follow.

I usually talk about anime so I guess I should talk about anime in this post a bit as well. I haven't actually been watching much lately though. Last season I let /a/ convince me that Invasion! Squid Girl! was something special so I started that. Unfortunately I should've just listened to my gut instincts as it turned out to just be another run-of-the-mill comedy manga adaptation so I sort of gave up after 4 episodes. However, I cannot bring myself to actually drop even a terrible series if it's only 13 episodes, so I forced myself to sit through all of it. Oh well. I've seen worse. Thing is, I've still got other decidedly mediocre series from earlier seasons that I got bored with and will eventually have to finish, including Hanamaru Kindergarten and Arakawa Under the Bridge. Damn my compulsiveness.
Sorry Squid Girl. You are occasionally cute but just not cute enough.
For this season, the only thing I'm following is Puella Magi Madoka Magica. The only real reason I decided to do so was because it's by SHAFT, who made Pani Poni Dash, Hidamari Sketch, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and other series of perhaps variable quality, but great distinctiveness and occasional real artistry and charm. More importantly, it's actually an original anime, rather than being an adaptation of a manga or light novel, which is remarkable because I've only known SHAFT to ever do adaptations because they're poor as hell (I think they've done maybe one original project before, but I cba to look it up). I didn't actually have high expectations for it, I just wanted to see how it would turn out.

As it happens, it's sort of living up to those low expectations. I actually like some of the underlying themes and ideas, and I'm curious just to see where the story's going, but there are so many massive problems of execution that I can't really forgive it for. It's written by Gen Urobuchi, whose work I'm not familiar with, but apparently he's known for basically making horrible things happen to all his characters. That's certainly the case for this series, as SHAFT were attempting to troll everybody by making it seem like a healing anime before airing, then dropped a big fat bomb a short way in, from which point things have gotten progressively darker and more depressing.
Even though I expect nobody reading this to actually watch the show, especially given my appraisal of it below, I still can't bring myself to give true spoilers. Instead you get to read me skirting around details for several paragraphs.
  However, I really take issue with some aspects of the storytelling, mosty the presence of what seems to be a common issue in anime where characters never ask obvious questions or take obvious actions, for no other reason than that the "story" requires them not to do so. For example, Homura (black-haired girl on the left in the top image) is completely intent on preventing Madoka (pink, second from left) from becoming a magical girl. However, Madoka has literally never even questioned her as to why this is. I'm fine with us, as the audience, not knowing, but it seriously undermines the believability of the character when she won't even try to find out something so important (and given some of the actions Homura's taken to achieve this goal, it's clearly extremely important).

Another example: a certain way in, someone dies. It's traumatic for all involved. However, the mechanic by which one becomes a magical girl in this series happens to be that you have to make a wish, which will be granted. At the end of that episode, I was thinking, "Okay, the obvious course of action here is for somebody to make their wish to have her revived and then become a magical girl, but this death was clearly far too important to be solved so easily, so how are they going to deal with this possibility in the next episode?" The answer was, "They're just fucking not". The possibility of wishing for the revival of this character was literally never, ever even mentioned or considered by the characters. That's just fucking shitty. This issue has been brought up in discussions on /a/ and the general defense I've seen used is that, having now witnessed first hand how being a magical girl really does involve risking a horrible and gory death, nobody involved wants to actually become one out of sheer fear. This to me is just a fanwanked cop-out. While that fear was given focus, no measures were taken to make me, as the viewer, believe that it actually overrides the grief at the loss of an important friend. So I don't find it believable.

I have a feeling this tendency in anime writing might reflect a real social tendency of japanese people in general. Two of the people I lived with in this house initially are japanese, and, while I never actually witnessed it, apparently they had alot of arguments. One of them told me that it was because the other didn't talk directly about problems, instead taking a more roundabout route, and that this was a stereotypically Japanese thing. Indeed, literally that exact issue is the explicit focus of several anime series I've seen, whether it's played for drama or comedy (Kimi ni Todoke, Mitsudomoe, and others). I don't always mind it in that context, but when it's just used as an excuse for avoiding problems in your storytelling, it's shitty.

I'm not a fan of the character designs either. Incidentally, they're by Ume Aoki, who is the mangaka for Hidamari Sketch, but as much as I've lauded that series, the character designs were never one of the things I liked about it. Anime is a land of blandness and flat, poorly constructed faces as it is, but Aoki's designs take this to an extreme. And for some reason, I feel like the animators working on Madoka con't deal with them as well as those who worked on the second season of Hidamari . They were still flat in that, but somehow I just felt like they were drawn and moved more confidently. Maybe I'm just nostalgic, though.

Is there a difference other than the size of the eyes or is it just me? Somehow the latter two faces just look fuller to my eyes.

I actually think SHAFT series in general have gone downhill visually after Bakemonogatari, which makes no sense as they made LODS OF EMONE off that. I often get the imperssion they just don't know how to spend it effectively, where before they came up with some very elegant tricks that almost took advantage of their budgetary constraints. Now we have shit like this all the time.
Static cuts and tweened graphics may be cheap, but I'd take those over this any day.
I think this specifically was a more severe problem in Arakawa and the third season of Hidamari, but we still have these unnecessary, awkward hand-animated camera moves that look very expensive, but that the animators clearly just don't have the skill to actually execute well.

(All this reminds me that I really should go back and talk about what I thought really made Hidamari's first two seasons clever, which wasn't actually the visual tricks I've always waxed lyrical about, but more the pacing and season structure. Another time, though)

I've got a huge stockpile of anime I want to watch and manga I need to read, but somehow I just keep getting caught up in one mediocre show with each consecutive season. Maybe I should just take a season or two off from current series and dedicate my "anime time" to getting through some things that might actually be good, like Outlaw Star or Space Pirate Captain Harlock or Kare Kano or Dennou Coil or Princess Tutu or The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer or Goodnight Punpun or any of the million other things on my list.

Oh, I could also finally watch Venture Bros.

I finished one of my Notessimo projects. Here it is, for the curious.

More to come?

Joe Sparrow commented last night that I've been posting less since I instated the "I will include something creative with every post" rule, which is true. I intend to stick with it, though. I can't really summon the energy to produce something specifically for this post, so here's a little something from a job I'm currently working on.

[EDIT] Eeeeeh, I don't usually censor myself, but I edited out some vitriol. I just don't think I want to be hateful and angry right now.