I’ve read this complaint in a few places; I’m not sure if it’s the opinion of several different people or just one nut who gets around a lot. Basically, some people get very self-righteous about novels, movies, etc. that disobey the vampire “rules”: vampires should not go out in daylight! Vampires should be allergic to garlic! Vampires should not sparkle!!!!!!!!!!ONE

The first argument against this attitude is that we are not talking about the laws of physics here, but about fictional, magical beings. It doesn’t make a vampire less believable to say they can walk in daylight than it does to say they live on human blood. All that is required is for the story to be internally consistent.

The second problem is the supposition that artists should subordinate their imagination to the rule of an external judge. That’s a sure way to kill creativity, especially if the imposed standards are essentially arbitrary.

The fact is that most conventions of vampire fiction were invented by writers over the last couple of centuries (as opposed to coming from folklore), and many are silly or at least outdated: Fear of crucifixes makes little sense in our irreligious age. And are you going to demand that vampires not be able to cross running water? In that case, that’ll pretty much put an end to the genre, thanks to modern plumbing and drainage. And then there is the lore that vampires have numeromania and if you throw a handful of wheat the vamp must stop to count the grains – a story that consistently enforced that rule would be a comedy, not a horror.

The best thing is to judge a work by its success or failure in dramatic terms, not by its adherence to formulaic rules. So I have no problem with any variation on the vampire myths. Sparkly vamps aren’t personally my thing, but whatever floats your boat is fine by me.

 

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I posted this in a forum, and thought I’d put it here as well….

As someone currently attempting to complete my first novel (after numerous previous attempts), I think I’m more aware than most of the mechanics involved. Yes, I said mechanics. Characters don’t always spring into existence fully formed, especially if you are dealing with a lot of them. This is where method and technique matter just as much as inspiration.

The first thing to remember is character=story. Plugging characters into a story that has no personal meaning for them usually makes for an unsatisfactory story. Ideally, the main character’s personality will relate directly to the themes of the story and goals of the plot.

Second is character depth. The more detail a characterisation has, the more real they seem. Think about their little likes and dislikes, their happy and sad memories, their individual ways of dealing with the world. Don’t be afraid to make heroes terribly flawed – but remember to give them some underlying kindness and desire for love, or else they won’t be sympathetic.

Third is character detail. Although some scorn them, character charts can be invaluable, not only for keeping a record of your main character’s, um, characteristics, but also for ensuring your secondary characters aren’t just cardboard cutouts. Here’s one I prepared earlier:

Summary: (Age: , Sex: )
Appearance:
Personality:
Likes:
Dislikes:
Greatest desire:
Surprising fact:
Traumatic moment:
As a child:

When you fill one of these out, you’ll often notice characteristics bounce off each other and produce more character information (which can in turn help develop the plot).

If you relate a character’s personality to the plot, a lot of character detail should emerge automatically through the narrative and action, but keep an eye out for important characteristics that don’t come out that way. In this case, you should (generally) show (not tell) this characteristic. E.g. if you decide that your character has a short fuse, it’s necessary to show this play out, which requires planning: what is going to anger the character? How exactly will they react? Ideally you’ll make this scene a part of the plot, or at least part of an ongoing process of character development. The same thing applies to character relationships. If, for example, you want two characters to fall in love, you’ll need scenes that specifically show (or imply) the characters transitioning from not-love to in-love – things like finding each other attractive, realising they have the same attitudes, the same life-goals, finding that they miss each other.

I hope someone finds this useful!

Despite the fact that I’m supposed to be saving to buy a flat, I caved in and ordered the following things:

ANIME [prices in US$]
First 5 items should be arriving soon.

Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars [series] $19.99
Moon Phase (Tsukuyomi) [series] $24.99
Hourglass of Summer Interactive DVD $14.99
Mobile Suit Gundam, Movie Pack $25.00
Comic Party [series] $14.00
FLAG [series] $23.99
Gundam 08th MS Team [series] $20.99

From Amazon.co.uk:

Lost In Austen [DVD] £7.98
The Mighty Boosh – series 3 [DVD] £5.20

Classic Frankenstein Triple – Frankenstein/Bride Of Frankenstein/House Of Frankenstein [DVD] £6.58
Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man [DVD] £4.98
Son Of Frankenstein [DVD] £4.33
The Ghost Of Frankenstein [DVD] £5.57

The Ligeti Project [5xCD set] £16.33
Hindemith: Orchestral Works [cond. Blomstedt] [3xCD set] £9.55

These are all bargains – but that doesn’t mean I can afford them!

I think they call it comfort-buying…

Details of What I’ve Bought

Shingu is a series about ordinary goings-on at a high school in a town where interstellar peace negotiations are happening.
Moon Phase is a story about an ordinary boy who gets involved with a super-cute (kawaii!) vampire.
Hourglass of Summer is a computer game/interactive novel adapted to be played on a regular DVD player. A schoolboy has no memory of the previous summer, during which his girlfriend died. If he can remember what happened, he might be able to save her…
Mobile Suit Gundam is the first series of the franchise, shortened into 3 two-hour movies. The series is alleged to be a classic, and supposedly the movie versions are good too. The movie Char’s Counterattack is also included, but this is related to the sequel series Gundam Zeta, which I don’t have and haven’t seen.
Comic Party has received mixed reviews. It’s about a manga fan club, so should be interesting, but probably not nearly as good as Genshiken.
Gundam 08th MS Team is often listed as one of the best of the Gundam shows – even people who disagree about Gundam Seed agree on this (but the opinions of people who loved Gundam Wing don’t count 😀 ). 08th Team is supposed to be more of a Real Robot show, which appeals to me.
FLAG is a gritty, realistic series about a photographer in a war zone. There is also a flag involved, apparently.

Lost In Austen, the fanfic version of Pride and Prejudice 🙂 , was surprisingly good, and emotionally affecting for reasons I don’t want to go into now. I worry the Australian release will have the problems of the early UK release (cut scenes, grainy picture) – plus it’s probably cheaper to get the import.
The Mighty Boosh – series 3. Got sick of waiting for the local price to drop to something reasonable. From what I’ve seen, this final series is superior to the patchy second series.
Frankenstein movies. I got the US complete set, but found the NTSC video quality really unacceptably poor (plus the disc programming was dodgy, and the flipper discs had some problems). I also wanted a copy of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, which wasn’t in the complete set. This purchase should mean I have the best of the 1930s/40s horror movies in my collection (inc. the wonderful Val Lewton films) (plus Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series – PAL format, of course).

Ligeti Project. I’ve been wondering about Ligeti’s music for a while now (he wrote the weirder stuff that was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey), and heard a bit of his Requiem on headphones at Fish records – extremely effective and surprisingly emotional. Compared with the 2001 soundtrack, I think these are better, more powerful performances, and certainly better recorded. Looking forward to five CDs of genius weird shit.
Hindemith Orchestral Works.
Hindemith is an acquired taste, and seems to be a mixed bag in terms of quality of work. His pre-1934 stuff, before Mathis der Maler, is clever but ultimately heartless stuff, and just not worth it IMO. I was disappointed by the DG set of music conducted by the composer, in terms of both sound and performance, and wanted better and more recent recordings of his symphonies, which I think are his best works (none of his concertos have worked for me so far).
I’ve been avoiding Blomstedt, after being extremely disappointed by his Dresden Beethoven set, but (a) his Hindemith set is widely recommended, (b) it’s much more cheaply available than Tortelier’s recordings (on always-expensive Chandos), and the Kegel recordings on Berlin Classics (plus, listening to samples of his Pittsburgh Symphony, the soft opening of the finale was mastered much too loudly). Also, I finally found some samples and was pleasantly surprised, particularly by the Swan Turner viola concerto, the Zimmerman version of which I find very unrewarding listening (thin tone; lack of feeling and convincing phrasing).
Seeing it so cheap on Amazon.co.uk, I had to grab it before the price went up again. Now I just need to find a cheap copy of the Symphonic Dances (Tortelier/Chandos).

I just had a big shipment of anime soundtrack CDs arrive, so I’ll be investigating them this weekend. I planned carefully and think I’ve made a very good selection. I may post some reviews later.

What I bought:

  1. Someday’s Dreamers [58m]
    Category: Quiet/poignant
  2. Haibane Renmei [52m]
    Category: Quiet/poignant
  3. Fruits Basket Four Seasons [40m]
    Category: Quiet/poignant
  4. Strawberry Marshmallow [42m]
    Category: Cute/kooky
  5. Chobits Soundtrack 002 [52m]
    Category: Cute/kooky
  6. Azumanga Daioh [46m]
    Category: Cute/kooky
  7. RahXephon Soundtrack 1 [21tracks]
    Category: Avant jazz/classical
  8. RahXephon Soundtrack 2 [63m]
    Category: Avant jazz/classical
  9. Serial Experiments Lain [50m]
    Category: Sparse electronic
  10. Texhnolyze Soundtrack 1 “Music Only Music But Music” [71m]
    Category: Sparse electronic
  11. Texhnolyze Soundtrack 2 “The Man of Men” [18 tracks]
    Category: Sparse electronic
  12. Lunar Legend Tsukihime Moonlit Archives [48m]
    Category: Sweeping gothic
  13. Lunar Legend Tsukihime Moonlit Memoirs [46m]
    Category: Sweeping gothic
  14. Neon Genesis Evangelion Refrain of Evangelion [74m]
    Category: The NGE CD with the least number of versions of “Fly me to the moon”.

*SPOILERS*

Thanks to a friend, I ended up seeing You Are [Not] Alone a couple of nights ago. It’s a good title, huh? It seems this may be an invention for the English-language release, as the Wikipedia page translates the original Japanese title as “Evangelion New Theatrical Version: The Beginning”.

I haven’t yet had a chance to revisit my DVDs of the previous releases, so I can only give a vague impression of what was different and what was the same. Others elsewhere may have posted more comprehensive comparisons, but this is for my own satisfaction, and, besides, will hopefully lack the adolescent pseudo-intellectual posturing that too often accompanies mention of NGE.

First, some have said that there are a few new shots added for the new film. Technically, I think it’s all new – to consistently match the high quality required by a modern cinema release, all cuts would have been newly generated and digitally edited and composited. So, in a way, the interesting question is: which shots did the director decide not to change? A detailed comparison will have to wait for a DVD release of the film, and a more patient reviewer than myself!

Generally, the film matched the look of the series closely. Explosions and other effects had the benefit of digital technology and big cinema sound, making the fights a lot more impressive than they had previously been. I noticed the use of a rainbow effect several times, and there was also a rainbow effect used on the text of the end credits, so it seems this will be a consistent motif through the new version.

New scenes: when Shinji runs away, there was a shot of him sleeping on the street, wrapped in cardboard, which I didn’t remember from the series. There was a shot of Rei’s blood on Shinji’s hand which I didn’t remember, though possibly it stood out this time because of its parallel with another “body fluid on hand” shot from End of Evangelion. A shot of Misato talking with blond whatsername on the escalator had an impressive CG structure scrolling behind them. In fact, the shots of subterranean transport were generally very detailed and atmospheric. The scene where Shinji opens Rei’s pod seemed more emotionally detailed than I remembered from previous; it seemed like both Rei and Shinji genuinely opened up, and a connection was formed. Hopefully this means the characters and relationships will be more realistic and developed than in previous versions.

A significant problem from the first version still persists: Shinji’s first fight with an angel still goes unexplained. Shinji is screaming, his EVA is disconnected from NERV operations, and then the EVA goes apeshit and kills the angel. What part Shinji played in that victory is never discussed or even referred to. Did he black out? Did he “merge” with his EVA? It’s bizarrely skipped over as though it’s not important, which is a shame, because I thought it was one point which could really benefit from revision.

I should mention here that I am not a huge fan of this series, nor of Hideaki Anno. Anno gets too much credit for NGE, which of course was created by a team, not by one man, but as Anno was already an iconic name, it was seen as entirely his creation. Doubtless he did have an important influence, but not always for the good. We can see his characteristic touches in the series His & Her Circumstances. The first half of this series is characterised by ever-lengthening episode recaps, long monologues, and animation more limited than any I’ve seen – most on-screen movement was in the huge reems of words scrolled upon the screen during the endless monologues. Anno was removed from the series halfway through, and, after an episode-and-a-half of recap to cover the transition period, the series continued in a much more conventional, and more watchable vein. This series is still often listed as one of Anno’s accomplishments, but the story and character elements that really save the show were carried across from the manga, and survived despite, not because of, Anno’s direction.

This talk of extremely limited animation, long monologues, and screens covered with text, will of course remind us of the controversial final episodes (25 and 26) of the original NGE series. The popularly accepted story is that Anno wanted to do something less obscure and more action-based for the finale, but was stymied by budget constraints. This is obviously untrue: (1) His & Her Circumstances was in the same style from the very beginning, and visual quality improved after he was taken off the project; (2) Shinji is constantly listening to tracks 25 and 26 on his tape player, supposedly a pointer to the final two episodes. They were obviously intended to be something other than a big physical conflict; (3) It would have been entirely possible to produce an acceptable action-based finale, by a combination of re-used shots, limited animation, visual effects, and hard work. The philosophical pontifications and pretentious symbolism of the finale episode were Anno’s choice, not something he was forced into. As far as his career goes, he made the right choice, as viewers were so mystified and intrigued that they were prepared to pay for another ending which made (only slightly) more sense, and now another version, which hopefully will explain the ending that was supposed to explain the previous ending.

Which is to slight what are NGE’s most interesting properties, its characters. Adolescents of all ages converge on the internet to discuss the virtues and foibles of Shinji, Asuka, and Rei. Part of the long-lasting appeal is that they are “unsolvable” characters; their personalities are rigid and unchanging, which is an intriguing conundrum, as we instinctively know that people do change, and do have more than one aspect to their personalities. My special peeve here is fans who praise Asuka as the best potential romantic partner for Shinji. If we judge these characters as real people, then, from what I know of people, Asuka and Shinji actually basically hate each other, mitigated in his case by burgeoning lust, and in Asuka’s by her desire to subjugate Shinji to her will. Yes, relationships like that happen in real life, but it’s hardly something fans should wish upon characters they are supposed to care about. As for Shinji and Rei, Rei is a clone of Shinji’s mother, so, er, no (shudder).

I should just mention two more points. The musical soundtrack was excellent, and I think my favourite parts of it were those that did not refer to the series music. I’m seriously contemplating getting the soundtrack CD when it comes out. Also, Pen-Pen the penguin is back. He wasn’t really used much in the original, and basically disappeared from the second half of the series, so I’m hoping he’ll have more of a role to play this time.

UPDATE 15/12/08:

I’ve gone back and watched the first half of the original TV series, and must say I am now even more impressed with the achievement of the film, in paring down the story, clarifying the emotions (especially when Shinji opens Rei’s pod), and improving the visuals. What I call the “blue diamond” angel is greatly improved, with its shifting CG-assisted geometry, and sudden crystalline growth when wounded.

I noticed a rainbow effect in the TV series, when Shinji ends up on top of Rei in her apartment – I wonder if there were other rainbows I missed?

Essential Anime Viewing

3 December, 2008

My definition of “essential” is “the best”. That is, not the series that the most people have seen, not even the ones recognised as widely influential, and certainly not the ones everyone loves because of nostalgia (I’m currently watching the Giant Robo OVA, which has brilliant production levels, but is pure nostalgic junk).

Keep in mind also that I’m a bit older than most anime fans, so have a bit less patience with the anime cliches.

To be fair (and get ahead of the critics), I’m going to mention the flaws that exist but I think fail to dent the shows’ intrinsic excellence. Except where specified, these shows have great character, story, graphic design, music, etc.

In NO particular order:

Fruits Basket – a reverse harem show that could’ve been trite, but had brilliant direction and wonderful OP/ED. Flaws: Gets a bit repetitive; ending doesn’t resolve the love triangle.
Azumanga Daioh – humour working on clever and dumb levels simultaneously; some great characters. Flaws: should’ve been longer.
Boogiepop Phantom – wonderfully grim and creepy; a horror anime that doesn’t resort to cliches (better than the book). Flaws: visually very dark; sometimes hard to tell characters apart.
Genshiken – yes, it’s set in an anime club, but this is brilliantly perceptive character-based comedy. Flaws: weak OP; waiting for the sequel.
Gunslinger Girl – from the premise, this could’ve been so bad, but the characters are detailed, convincing and touching, and you are carried along even though there’s not much of an “arc”. Flaws: ending feels inconclusive (I’m not counting the second series, which I haven’t seen).
Haibane Renmei – least pretentious of the ABe animes, because he directed himself. A great parable about life, set in a full-realised alt world. Flaws: None I can think of; maybe needed a punchier ending?
(Mobile Suit) Gundam Seed – brings together the best elements of the previous series, with fine modern graphics; a great space epic. Flaws: confusing in beginning if you don’t know the premise; padded in the middle; don’t remember how it ends.
(Super Dimensional Fortress) Macross – Still very original story. Fascinating characters. The last third, only produced due to unexpected popularity, really raises this series, showing the aftermath of war and how personalities and decisions affect destiny. Flaws: dated animation; takes a while to take off; OP/ED.
Wolf’s Rain – sustains a unique “end times” feel; good characters; plot well constructed; epic feel. Flaws: 4 recap episodes in a row due to strike?; art a bit drab; spoiler[everyone dies].
Planetes – creates a realistic future world, viewed from the bottom up. Terrific plot (takes a while to develop) that delivers at the end. Flaws: characters tend to stereotype; I didn’t think much of the OP/ED.

And I’ll sneak in a personal favourite at the end:
NieA_7 – a poignant comedy about a starving student in recession Japan, + there’s aliens. Fans of gentle nostalgic ambience will love. Flaws: OP singer; takes a while to get past the surface comedy.

There’s still a lot of anime to see, so this list is not exhaustive.

Wandaba Style
Giant Robo
Gokusen
Kamichu

wandaba stylegiant robo
gokusenkamichu

Wandaba Style was very weak. Gokusen was enjoyable, but I wish the ending had been stronger. Kamichu is okay but disappointing next to what I was expecting: the characters are too cute and the colours a bit dull and muted. Haven’t seen Giant Robo yet, but looking forward to it.