Posted on July 7th, 2019
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 11:14 pm
So, I’ve run into an unexpected side-effect of the renewed Evangelion discourse: kind of reconsidering Darling In The FranXX. I still think Franxx is quite problematic in how and what it tried to say; however, through one narrow angle, I can see better what it meant to reference/respond to in Eva but fumbled at best. Two of the big ongoing themes in Eva are the folly of man in chasing self-perfection to the point of losing essential humanity via exploitation of the young, and the value of continuing to live despite the massive pain of ego-distance that existence can incur. Those messages resurface in other Gainax works – obsessions with hyper-perfection are always folly when that gets in the way of embracing yourself for who you are at this phase of your life. It’s the same for Shinji, Noata, Sasshi & even Nadia, while their villains share that toxic obsession with their idea of perfection with different manifestations.
Which brings me to FranXX. Ultimately, it stands as a rejection of transhumanism as post-scarcity technological immortality when it also sacrifices (very traditional) relationships, the future of the youth & the Earth’s ecosystem as we know it. Missteps aside for a moment, it is trying to lift from if not comment on Eva: to save humanity, embrace flawed existence over the obsession with perfection. Where FranXX loses it, is that it heavily implies throughout its run that valid human existence has a very narrow definition. FranXX fails to get that the exploitation of youth Eva alludes to can include the narrow definition of validity that FranXX elevates at every turn, and that such narrow definitions of validity are in ways their own toxic obsession with perfection. This is to say, FranXX’s over-specific meditation on and response to Eva misses a key point that Eva, most other Gainax bildungsromans and most derivative works thereof make: it’s not the who, but rather the how of connection that matters. Further still, to make that connection, those works often suggest it requires a kind of self-embrace that often means rejecting some norms and/or letting go of the pursuit of those norms if they result in the destruction of self. FranXX implies the who and so dramatically narrows the how of connection throughout its run, then hurriedly tries to broaden its thesis at the finish line with a couple of wordless montages. Eva didn’t have to try to save it at the end because it never boxed itself in to start with & if anything broadened its scope as much as possible given the focus on a solitary lead character.
Ultimately, this doesn’t save FranXX much for me, and if anything, having a better sense of what it didn’t understand in the work it owes its greatest debt to is kind of a bummer, but at the same time, I better appreciate when other works with Eva in their genealogy manage to get it right even when not made by any of the same staff. The Big O, the FLCL sequels and SSSS.Gridman (to name a few) all got Eva‘s point and iterated on it more effectively than A1 did in FranXX.
Posted on July 25th, 2018
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 2:04 am
No trend in modern media can likely be said to be more hubristic, more self-serving than the conjoined twins of reboots and belated sequels. In an era where we constantly eschew truly new properties in favor of those that are at least hyper-referential to (if not fresh extensions of) things people had already grown up with, it can almost become frustrating to see the same patterns again and again, especially as the novelty of finally understanding media in some depth wears off. As a veteran media critic, it can feel like you’re left with nitpicking how cleverly a property wrapped the Campbellian Monomyth, or how neatly it fits into one of story circles so beloved of auteurs like Dan Harmon. This makes the few reboots and sequels that outrun just being a soft-retelling or fanservice-laden extension of their progenitor stories while also not losing what made them special, insanely compelling even when technically imperfect. This applies even more so when the original creatives aren’t intimately involved to lend a hand towards keeping the tone and energy. It’s that unusual achievement that brings me to FLCL Progressive, the first of two sequels/spin-offs that are born from FLCL, a high-watermark in anime.
Posted on May 6th, 2017
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 12:43 pm
So, why am I reviewing a cheap, 11.5”, 2-in-1/convertable Android tablet from RCA?
Well, one it’s a little test of whether it’s actually decent to type and do work on. So far, so good as writing this up on this was a breeze while I sat on the couch and watched TV. More importantly though, it’s a mean of expounding on something I sometimes forget and other times am in awe of: technology is now rather good even when cheap. I imagine other people sometimes forget that too, so maybe this little post might help other folks remember that even cheap tech is pretty good now.
Is the fit, finish, performance of this as good as a 2-in-1 tablet even 40 dollars more, let alone an iPad or a Chromebook? Of course not. However, would this have been a better device that any of the netbooks I got through school on, let alone my first notebook PC I bought when I was in community college? By leagues in all but screen quality, and at $80 US, it’s so hilariously cheap that I can let it’s basic screen slide (besides, it has a mini HDMI port and screencast function, so I could always just hook it into a monitor if I really needed to.) It even manages to recognize peripherals like USB microphones and sound cards, and while it won’t run any cool 3D games, it still runs my favorite mobile DAW software, Caustic, without a hitch. The keyboard isn’t the most luxurious, but it’s actually easier to use than my much better specced Surface Pro 1, and definitely better than trying to use 7-8” tablets with any OS to do some writing beyond a tweet. I think some activities on this would be a bit of a challenge due to a software gap (if there’s something as straightforward as Audacity that runs on Android, I’ve not found it, though I’ve not had the motivation to until now,) but the performance even on this cheap little 2 in 1 is just dandy. Streaming video, browsing the net, social media – all the usual to dos work just fine, and it’s nice to take a break from doing that on the phone without switching to the desktop (I get enough desktop computing at work 5 days a week.) It’s even decent machine to run remote desktop on, easily getting on my company’s VPN and into my Windows box at the office. The battery life is just average, but it’s the modern average of about 7 hours which clowns any of my old netbooks and my Surface Pro 1. It’s far from perfect, but, it really just doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to do the jobs I need it too, and it’s happily achieving that. Plus, some of the stuff that I’m sure some people would hate about a lot end device like this – the 1990s styling and plastics – are actually kind of endearing and keep it from being a theft target as well.
Now, I’ve only had it for about a week, so I’m sure some of my enjoyment of 2-in-1 is new toy novelty creating some rose tinted glasses, but if it’s anything like my other off-brand tech buys from the past couple years like my Blu R1HD Android phone, I suspect that months in this RCA tablet will still be doing the jobs I need and want it to do, all without soaking up a bunch of extra cash to get something fancier but that doesn’t actually do anything more in terms of function or reliability (after all, short of spending at least double to get into a chromebook or windows 10 device or double again that for an apple device, there’s no guarantee you’re getting updates anyway.)
Still, the next time you think need to get the super latest and greatest thing to do what you need, take a minute to really think about the jobs you need to get done on that device, and what tools you already have and whether they’re already covering your bases. You might find that where you thought you needed to make a serious and expensive purchase, something less exciting might easily handle everything you wanted.
If you’d like to pick up one for yourself, here’s a link: RCA Galileo Pro 11.5.
Posted on May 17th, 2015
For a computer scientist and a nerdcore rapper, I’m not terribly big on device upgrades. You’d think I’d always chase new gadgets, but I’m still using the same desktop computer I’ve been using since 2009 (barring a processor upgrade before the socket was discontinued and Black Friday SSD and RAM upgrades.) Had I not run into various problems with my previous phones, I’d probably still be using the Galaxy Nexus I was given at Google I/O 2012. It did everything I needed more or less until the screen cracked. From there I’ve been on a Lumia 521 and a Moto G, both of which were less than stellar with battery life, and both of became erratic after firmware updates (dialer crashes in the middle of calls on the Lumia, force closes due to bad memory management in Android 4.4.4 on the Moto.) Still, I would’ve kept them if they didn’t get weird on me.
My ideal solution: buy a phone with a huge battery built in, and while I’m at it make it a dual sim one since I’m currently bouncing between the US and Canada. Hopefully the firmware never goes sideways, but if it does, the phone should be so inexpensive so that I don’t have to worry about the cost of replacement. Previously, this would’ve been a tall, if not impossible, order. However, as it turns out, a phone was released this spring that fit that bill brilliantly: the BLU Studio Energy D810U, which goes for a mere $150.
This is the point where I expect you to be like “the what phone?” and really that’s quite justified. BLU is a young company out of Florida that more or less puts their badge on designs from various Chinese OEMs, then sells them unlocked directly via retailers like Fry’s and Amazon. However, BLU has been clever about carefully selecting and wisely tweaking the more interesting models from those OEMs, and the Studio Energy is no exception. With it’s outstanding 5000mAh battery, this phone can swing a couple days of reasonable use like it’s nothing, and even with brightness turned up fully and processor intensive work like writing and rendering multiple songs in Caustic 3 and streaming anime off Crunchyroll, I’ve never put it on the charger lower than about 40 percent. That means it’s gone from 8am to 1am (or later) with a workload that’s completely inconsiderate towards battery longevity. It’s not going to play the very latest 3D Android games, but it’s otherwise entirely functional, and most importantly, it’s functional all day long – no range anxiety, ever.
Sure, it’s not without compromises. Hardware wise, the massive battery life means it’s not svelte (though it’s thinner than you’d expect,) and that battery isn’t swappable. It’s only capable of HSDPA speeds, and it’s bands are so limited you need a different model to get those top speeds depending on your carrier. Further still, it only has a MediaTek MT6582 processor with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, half of which is soaked up by Android, though a MicroSD card slot alleviates storage concerns. Still, it’s not buttery smooth all the time, and that’s technically a trade off (though, it’s not like the Moto G it replaced never stuttered.) Those looking for top specs beyond battery will be let down. Software wise, it’s lightly skinned, but if you’re coming from stock Android, you might find yourself running to get everything as close as back to stock ASAP.
However, I think for most smartphone users, battery matters way more than any other consideration, whether they realize that or not. Besides, given it’s current competition in this price point, it easily holds it’s own on performance, camera and storage. I would take this over the current Moto E, Moto G or low-end Lumias any day of the week, and they’re really only phones that compete with this currently. More importantly, it’s worked great in real world usage as my sole phone for the past couple months. It does the jobs it should do, and it’s even changed my use behavior with my phone. Since I don’t worry about the battery life, I’ve already written a few EPs in Caustic 3 while commuting on the train using the Studio Energy (by the way, this means the DAC is alright too.) I wouldn’t do that on any other phone without having a charger at work if not an external battery pack. Even pounding the battery with GPS and high brightness are no longer worrisome scenarios. I haven’t taken the car charger out my car yet, but the only time I bother to throw it on is if I’m making a day long drive, and really, I don’t have to, I just feel like I should.
One day, this phone will come without its tradeoffs, but that goes for the flagships too, and until the day I can have no tradeoffs, I’m going with the phone that can still provide directions after a long flight or late concert. The fact that it costs a fourth of what a top flagship does is just a victory lap.
Posted on January 28th, 2012
I figured that after dragging myself unexpectedly through the ringer this last week with Katawa Shoujo, watching a movie might be nice break. It’d be some light mental junk food to cleanse my palette. At least that’s what I thought the opportunity came up to watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World with Nursehella. I mean, it’s based off a fairly cartoony looking comic I hadn’t read, and it was directed by Edgar Wright (of Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame.)
See article title.
Yeah, instead I was treated to an amped up version of some of my own experiences with surreal fight scenes interspersed. I could spell that out, but the people who know me probably get it, and the people who don’t know me aren’t owed details. A lot of the plot points and best lines might as have been shuriken or piano wire. When they hadn’t been said/done to me, I’m the one who had said/done them. It almost violated the film’s sanctity. I figured that at worst, my critical side would’ve been picking apart the special effects, and best I would’ve just been enjoying the story. Instead, I was pretty much just indexing actions and lines against my own experiences past a certain point. It was unnatural.
I wish I’d read the comic. I might have saved a lot of good people some trouble since my life isn’t as warm as the film’s end. The things I can take from it are lessons I was already taking from the rest of this week’s self-inflicted emotional roller-coaster. The good endings come from doing things for me while still being considerate of the perspective and feelings of others, even when I can’t fully fathom that viewpoint. It’s a pretty odd set things to take to heart in someways.
Might as well watch Ano Natsu’s second episode and see if that’s a kick in the ribs too.
Posted on January 26th, 2012
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 2:03 am
Frankly, I should probably go back and bundle this all up a little more cleanly as review for toonzone.net, but for now, I think I can indulge myself in some more relaxed writing. In fact, if only because I’m supposed to blog for my writing class, I feel I can voice my opinions here and then double dip later. Nobody really reads this page anyway.
Back on topic, I’ve gradually stumbled through some more of Katawa Shoujo. I’ve been playing it honestly, and rather than aim for a character, I’ve let the chips fall where they may and answered everything honestly. The result actually has surprised me. I completed the path for Emi Ibarazaki with the good ending, and that alone kind of felt unexpected. I am not an athletic person by nature, but I made the decision I would’ve made if in the same situation – if it’s run or die, I’ll get up and run.
The more richly surprising part is the extent that certain aspects of the Emi path have mimicked my own relationship history. I didn’t expect my responses in game to lead to a progression with parallels to my real world habits. I almost feel like I’m gaining new insight into my own behavior and choices. I’m not sure exactly what that says about the writing in a quantitative sense. If nothing else though, it has me suckered in. I want to play through another route, and see whether it’s just the nature of the game, or something deeper.
In fact, maybe the game isn’t good at all, and I’m just having too much fun thinking about the Lacanian aspects of the visual novel medium for the first time as I play. Is a visual novel only good so long as you see yourself reflected the visual novel’s Other? Does the player only feel like they been reflected because they want to believe their choices impact the Other? Does this mean the player will enjoy the game without regard to it’s objective qualities because of the very structure of the game? I mean, is it only good because it’s fitting what I’ve been led to believe are the patterns I’d fall into naturally? I don’t know because I’ve never thought about it before. I do think there is a certain rose tinting that comes into play here, but that’s the human condition to some extent. Where does one’s limited perception end, and the manipulation of that limited perception begin?
Of all the things I would’ve thought could engage my contemplative side, Katawa Shoujo should’ve been at the bottom of the list. Maybe that’s the best I can expect since the game probably wasn’t intended to spark these questions. I guess that constitutes quality.
On the flip side, it breaks up my over-intellectualizing up with some genuine humor in between the odd and possibly imagined parallels. Laughs are laughs, and even if some of them are a bit morose or surreal, they are there. How bad can a smile be?
Posted on January 21st, 2012
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 7:15 pm
So, like many other internet savvy otaku, I have long been aware of the Katawa Shoujo project. At least a few of my friends have cosplayed as characters from the title, and I had seen the little fan comics that have floated around the internet about it. However, I imagine that like most people, I figured nothing would really come of it.
After all, countless internet forums have had their goofy ideas for projects created by forum members, but usually you’re lucky if you get passed the idea and concept art stage. If that it doesn’t stop there, you’ll maybe see a very mediocre first level or some very rough animation at best. In fact, I can think of at least 2 or 3 I’ve been involved with myself in some small way. Usually, creative projects on the internet are most productive when one or two people do something with little-to-no external input.
Yet, here we are with a full visual novel game with good art and good music, all inspired by single page joke from a decade-old doujinshi. It’s a miracle that it exists at all. However, that won’t stop me from nitpicking.
While a lot of the aesthetic aspects of the game are remarkable for an independent, no-budget project, the writing starts off very, very slow. It’s vastly too wordy (perhaps like these blog posts?,) and the tone is a little too inwardly focused on the protagonist. To make matters worse, that inner focus is a bland self-loathing, the kind that you’d think an otaku-made project would avoid considering how commonplace that complaint is in regards to anime and manga. It’s also a bit inauthentic. One gets the feeling sometimes that the writers lack the life experience to communicate the right feeling in some of these scenarios. Maybe that’s to be expected a bit as well, but while it may make for an interesting meta-commentary, it’s a hassle to sit through walls of text that don’t really engage the player. To make matters worse, there are a lot of different dialogue options, especially early on, and that feels off for a game like this. Being able to take some ownership of the protagonist is critical in visual novels, and I wouldn’t have minded a bit more in Katawa Shoujo at all.
Troubles aside, I can’t seem to really let it go now that I’m into it. It’s clearly a little undercooked, but I still can’t help but marvel that it was served at all. There are also a few sharp bits of characterization and humorous dialogue that manage to string the player along in spite of themselves, and that’s quite impressive since those pieces have to override the drawbacks. I’m certainly glad that I did a little tribute track to the game which will turn up on my next record because, if nothing else, it’s a nod to the efforts of people who beat the odds for fan projects on web forums.
Posted on January 19th, 2012
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 8:00 pm
So, I have a new review up on ToonZone.net about Usagi Drop. It figures that long after I’d put the review to bed, it turns out the manga manages to have a bit of a train wreck ending, but the anime cuts it off while it’s still heart-warming and sweet. A rare moment where I really must say the show is better than the book.
Speaking of reviews, it looks like one of mine has been quoted on the front page of FUNimation’s site for Princess Jellyfish (screencap here.) I really do hope the title does well for them. It’s a bit of a risk since it’s a fairly offbeat title. I suspect if it doesn’t payoff, I may not be quoted on another FUNimation webpage anytime soon, as I seem to have a habit of latching on to the offbeat lately, and they did post my review of Princess Jellyfish to their facebook page as a means of gauging whether a DVD/Blu-Ray release should be done.
Posted on January 17th, 2012
This isn’t a political statement either (Baha’is are banned from participating in partisan politics after all,) it’s a simple application of the categorical imperative. If you can ban one type of speech from the internet because it threatens the livelihood or comfort of one group that is otherwise fully capable of protecting themselves, there is no philosophical reason that shouldn’t be applicable in any similar instance, and that seems intrinsically broken. The lack of due process in these laws only makes that worse as it’d be up to the accused to prove their innocence rather than the accuser to prove the guilt of the accused. The possibility for abuse seems close to limitless, and the odd splits between foreign and national websites seems entirely ignorant of how websites are hosted in the modern world. Thus, regardless of any ideology beyond reason and functionality, these seem like objectively negative and ill-conceived laws.
I should mention I say all of this in spite of the fact that people pirate my music constantly (and when no money changes hands, I don’t care much because I doubt I really lost a sale in that instance,) including for-profit Russian pay download sites that sell my music without paying me royalties. I would benefit in that one instance, even as an independent artist, from SOPA/PIPA/OPEN passing. Justice would be served if that site was shut down, and/or they were ordered to turn over any proceeds from selling music without my permission.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the internet would likely be so paranoid about linking to any content without explicit permission it’d grind to a halt. Getting my name out to people is difficult if the sites I post content to have to dramatically alter their operations to comply with these laws. Without a reliable way to promote myself across the internet, my ability to find my niche audience is dramatically injured.
Oh, and I know all the legislation acts in different ways, and there might even be enough exemptions that someone like me wouldn’t be affected in regards to my outward business. Alas, none of these laws can ever truly stop those who want to pirate media or counterfeit brand names, or rather, for them do so effectively might damage free speech in most instances. It’s a digital, democratized society, and we all have computers on our desk whose potential is effectively infinite in regards to creation and distribution, or at the very least, the only limit is the person behind the keyboard. It’s only going to be more intense as 3D printing gets cheaper and more precise. Want that that designer bracelet? Print it. Shoot, innovate on the existing design to make it more personal, cooler, better fitting and generally more useful. You can’t tell me that doesn’t sound radical yet exciting, and this is a world we are about to enter. Maybe there is even a market for selling branded designs for home recreation, but if there isn’t, that doesn’t mean the technology should be banned nor should it be ham-stringed by some kind of DRM-system that gets in the way of honest use.
To put it another way, I know the idea that I can sell music and perhaps one day even merchandise is a bit dated as we near an era of home replicators. However, I would never risk free expression on the off chance I make a buck off of it, and I certainly wouldn’t want such a thing to be law. Free expression is why I can write music, write blog posts, have interesting things to read online and so on.
Anyway, check in on Thursday for a decidedly fluffier and less weighty blog post.
Posted on January 12th, 2012
Filed under: Reviews — Karl Olson @ 10:00 pm
At the end of the last anime season, I genuinely pondered what I’d be watching next. None the titles really seemed to jump out at until I happened upon a forum thread about Ano Natsu De Matteru. Apparently, it’s from the same person who created the Onegai series, and that fact couldn’t be more obvious. The premise is virtually identical – a buxom, red-haired, alien girl falls right into the middle of a high school boy’s previous droll, pastoral life, much to the dismay of the boy’s childhood friend who happened to have romantic feelings for him.
There are some key differences: in Ano Natsu the high school boy’s parents are dead instead of his sister, the uncontrolled decent of the spaceship’s arrival on Earth kills the high school boy in the opening minute of the show, and now only the alien girl’s kiss can keep him alive. Additionally, the alien girl is only an upperclassman this time, not his school teacher, and it seems that the childhood friend is let in on the alien girl’s secret identity from the start. Those little changes amongst others may have a dramatic impact on the flow of the show, even if many of the other characters in Ano Natsu are near facsimiles of the characters in Onegai Teacher.
That said, while seeing an author who had previously breathed new life into the shonen romantic comedy genre simply phone it in should’ve left me bored, it’s actually really worked so far. The few bread crumbs that are different are so radically different that I genuinely wonder where they might lead. It doesn’t feel setup to reach the same finale either, at least in any obvious sense.
Besides, the series had sold me in it’s first minute before they killed the lead. Much like Onegai Teacher, Ano Natsu’s first episode opens with a monologue from the male lead, and those monologues sold me then and now. It was so simple, so eloquent and clear that from those words that the creative staff have set the show up for a very poignant yet sweet journey. Well, with any luck they should’ve; Onegai Teacher maybe a timeless anime, but Onegai Twins was slightly mediocre. Perhaps that risk makes it compelling as well – it’s a romantic comedy fused with NASCAR.
Anyway, I’m quite glad it’s been pre-licensed by Sentai Filmworks – I’ll probably be catching it on DVD or Blu Ray by the time CrunchyRoll finishes streaming it.