Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mai Otome: The Rambling Essay Pt. 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Mai Otome: the Rambling Essay. Though Zyl seems to think I should give it a more academic sounding name. His suggestion: A Speculative History of Earl’s Politics, Technology and the Otome System. Honestly though, I'm not sure this should be taken any more seriously than, say, your typical "zOMGWTFBBQ, SHIZNAT YURI FTW!!!!!!11111one", simply because I'm not a scholar of any sort. (Though I play one on TV.;) You can find my first post on the subject: here.

***NOTE: Part 2 includes information from all the currently aired episodes, including 15. Information from the last two episodes seems to suggest that perhaps the Otome system was imported during the migration, but I don't think that alters my reasoning or arguments against the system, just the timeline of events, if it turns out be true.***

Getting back to the discussion: after seeing, potentially, how Earl came to be prior to the start of the series, we can now start discussing events in the individual episodes and how they relate to the 'big picture." While, ultimately, MO is a coming of age story centering around Arika, Nina and Mashiro, it is also a story of tyranny vs. freedom. (No, really, I'm serious.) The Otome system is, by it's very nature, oppressive, both on a human and global scale, as we have seen in the show and as I have argued in my first post. And since oppressive regimes are eventually toppled, I expect the Otome system, as we know it, will be toppled as well. (I'm aware that, historically, oppressive regimes were usually replaced by other repressive regimes, but there seems to be a trend in latter half of the 20th Century toward to more free markets and free societies. And, I'm just projecting that trend here. It's empirical evidence of social evolution.)
So, we begin MO with an attack on Windbloom castle 14 years ago. Schwarz and their Slaves are there as well as the Aswald Knights. But, several mysteries still surround this incident, chief among these is: Why?
We know from the episodes that Rena, Windbloom's Otome, had retired and had baby, thus Windbloom's defenses were severely weakened, providing an opportunity to stage such an attack. If it's a sneak attack, which it appears likely, the first line of defense is ordinary soldiers which don't seem to match up well against either the Slaves or the Aswald cyborgs.
Guarderobe would, naturally, be slow to respond because of the 3 member approval requirement for all actions within a sovereign nation. It's probably safe to say that by the time Guarderobe could act, it would have already been too late.
But, we're still left with: Why? Why did they attack Windbloom castle? Empirical evidence from the episodes suggests that Schwarz and Aswald may have been interested in the royal child, and perhaps Rena's child. (I have long suspected that there may have been more than one child at Windbloom castle that night, and the old lady in 14 and 15 seems to have confirmed that.) Though, we could also say that Aswald's interest, Rad's in particular, might have been on Rena, but probably was more focused on the Harmonium.
I think we can infer that both Aswald and Schwarz knew of the Harmonium's existence and it's purpose, especially as both of their operating philosophies depend on despising and changing the way the world is now. In which case, both groups know of it's requirements: the Song/Singer, the Player, and the Protector.
Here we can surmise either a possible genetic requirement, a gender requirement, or some combination of the two. Any of one of these could explain the reason why Windbloom was attacked 14 years ago and why finding the "real princess" is key to Nagi's, Schwarz' and possibly Aswald's future plans.
I had up until now, believed that the search for the "real princess" was a red herring, given that I couldn't imagine how the search for the "true" princess would be of impact, since it's more than likely that Mashiro would remain Queen at the end of the series. But, if we surmise that a genetic (Fumi's master's descendant, perhaps?) or gender component is also needed for the activation of the Harmonium then the matter of finding the "true" princess takes on added weight. (It also explains why the Harmonium opened when Arika stepped up to it and partially activated when Mashiro hit a note, it recognized one or both as having the necessary qualifications.)
Speculation about the Harmonium centers on needing of 3 people, potentially, to activate it, but obviously it cannot be just any 3 people, or else why would the "true" princess have been targeted. And just on the empirical evidence, it would seem to suggest that one of the requirements for the Harmonium is the "true" princess, which implies the gender component I mentioned early may have been the deciding factor.
If Schwarz or Aswald knew about the requirements prior to the attack on Windbloom, why wait to move on that information if one of the necessary people was a Windbloom royal? No, clearly the birth of the a princess was prodigious for a number of reasons.
As a side note, I have been wondering if, indeed, 3 people are needed for the Harmonium's activation, certainly the evidence seems to suggest that, but still. . . . If I have surmised the Harmonium's function and Fumi and her Master's role correctly in Part 1, then who was the necessary 3rd person in the original scenario? And why are they and Fumi's master unknown. Given that SUNRISE has made Nina, Arika and Mashiro the main trio, much like Mai, Mikoto and Natsuki were the main trio in MH, it is not unrealistic to think that the ultimate resolution will depend on the relationship between two of the main trio, not all 3. (The relationship between Mai and Mikoto was key in MH.) But, unless we learn something in subsequent episodes I will take the 3 part requirement at face value.
Getting back on track: Having established that the "true" princess is, in fact, necessary for the Harmonium's activation then this gives weight to Nagi's assertion that controlling her, means controlling the world. Hence, a possible rationale for Rena's bait and switch with her own daughter. In this scenario, the need to protect the princess and her potential destiny may have overridden Rena's natural instincts to protect her own daughter first. (Loyalty and duty over self.)
But, it doesn't appear to have been a very effective bait and switch since Aswald seemed to target in on Rena as having what they sought. And here is where it can get confusing. ;) Having Rena protect the baby princess in the casket only makes sense if there was no baby switching, since the casket and Rena's protection of it mark it as being Very Important. So, if the intent was to mislead their pursuers then that should not have not been the princess in the casket Rena protected.
If we are to believe the old, dying retainer in eps. 14 and 15, then we can surmise that it was never their intention to mislead their pursuers. Instead they were solely focused on protecting the heir to Windbloom and key to the Harmonium. In which case, Mashiro may indeed be Rena's daughter raised as the princess when the "true" princess could not be found. And it may have been that the old retainer found herself in the slums, as someone who might have known the true identity of the baby, she could not be kept around, but had enough sense to avoid being "silenced."
But, this does not address why Rena gives the Souten no Seigyouku to, presumably, the princess. I think it makes a little more sense, given what we know of the Otome system, to give the GEM of a Meister to someone who may become a future Master, rather than someone who could become a future Meister. But, it may be more complex than that. If we suppose that the current speculation surrounding the Souten no Seigyouku is true, it is linked to both the Harmonium and the Blue Star in the sky, and that star may or may not be the Arc or Colony ship that transported their ancestors to this planet, then Aswald's presence at Windbloom 14 years ago becomes a little more justifiable.
In this scenario, Aswald is pursuing Rena for the Souten no Seigyouku and it's link to the original Colony Ship, as that would fulfill their desire to return to the stars and the technology available to their ancestors. Though, we also cannot overlook that Aswald may have just wanted to get their hands on a Meister GEM to reverse engineer it.
But, what if the Souten no Seigyouku is also a determining factor in the Harmonium requirements? The protector is frequently mentioned and the Souten no Seigyouku was in Arika's possession when they approached it for the first time. So, let's suppose it is a combination of these things: that one of the three requirements, the song/singer, the player, and the protector, has to be a female Windbloom heir, and another must be the Master/Otome contract using the Souten no Seigyouku. In this case, while Aswald and Schwarz joined forces for the attack they may have had dissimilar goals once the attack was under way. Each after a different part of the requirements for their own reasons.
If we presume that Rena's intention was to safeguard the princess and the GEM by whisking them away, then it may have also been her intention to do so personally. That may have been her final duty and why she entrusted the care of her own child to someone else. She may have sent the princess downstream with the intent of locating her once she evaded their pursuers, but it did not come to pass and the baby ended up in the care of Arika's baa-chan, hence the misunderstanding of the intent of having the baby with the GEM. (Arika's belief that her mother was an Otome.)
If we take my original theory that Mashiro has always been the true heir to Windbloom then I don't think much of the above changes, other than some intentions on the part of Rena of whom to safeguard and why. Schwarz and Aswald's motivations still hold, and we still end up in the same place 14 years later. In the interest of fairness, let's also discuss the possibility that Nina may be the "true" princess. At this point, the evidence for such is one scene in Episode 8 right before the eyecatch. An indistinct vision of an older woman, who could be Rena.
At this point, with the old lady's deathbed confession, this possibility is looking extremely unlikely, though it may be entirely possible that Nina may be Rena's daughter, since we still would not know whether Mashiro was indeed the other baby given to the old lady's friend. Though, being Rena's daughter would fulfill the "hate for the mother" aspect of Nina's Electra complex, quite nicely. ;)
Ultimately, I think this series will resolve with the conditions imposed by the Otome system being lifted, specifically the restrictions on the technology and knowledge, and the Harmonium is obviously key to that. What's left is: how do we get there?
We know that while there hasn't been a war between Otome in 50 years, but things are not peaceful or idyllic, as much of the tension and their underlying causes have not been alleviated, as evidenced by King Argoss' and Nagi's scheming and Romulus and Remus' Otome battling without an investigation or parlay.
And while Otome are not supposed to be considered weapons, but rather peacekeepers, possession of an Otome is politically similar to having nuclear weapons in our world. The point of having them is not so much using them, but rather being able to threaten to use them. This requires everyone to realize that the use of a weapon is too horrible to contemplate, but again, this presumes rational, reasonable, sane behavior. Very dicey that.
So, what will happen that might lead to throwing off the Otome shackles? Let's look at some of the factions present, and see where that takes us. Aswald and Schwarz are the obvious external enemies, each wanting to change the world for good or ill. Next, comes the 12 kingdoms themselves, including Nagi, each seemingly to use the system while looking for ways to increase their own power, stature and influence. And we have the internal factions from Guarderobe and Windbloom, Arika and her desire for no more war, Mashiro and her desire make everyone happy as Queen. Each of these will bring pressure to bear on the status quo, and faced with a multi-front attack, even the most formidable of fortifications will eventually fall.
It has already started actually, in 15, with Schwarz using their new Slaves to exacerbate and entice two countries with a long history of mutual dislike into a skirmish. While Natsuki and Guarderobe are distracted by the international tensions, an attack on Guarderobe would come next. (Which seems to be supported by future episode spoilers) Aswald seems to have some peripheral connection to Schwarz, either through espionage or a more direct connection, (an agent or sympathizer), so like the incident 14 years ago they might seize the opportunity to pursue their own ends in such a situation. And in the ensuing chaos, the next step is the manipulation of our 3 main characters into activating the Harmonium.
If the Harmonium was used as I surmised, then the fact that it was used to stop wars before would be enough incentive to get our trio to reactivate it. But, the key difference is that none of the new users would understand it properly, or else they would be given the wrong instructions and not know any better. Thus, the reshaping of the world.
At this point, I'm going to end this post, since I'm now at a spot where I have to address most of the major plot points in the episode one at a time, and try to keep up with the new information as it comes out week by week. So, stayed tuned for Part 3 for more run of the mill speculation as we go along.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Kashimashi Girl Meets Girl

While not as hyped as Fate/Stay Night this is another series with some buzz, though I'm sure the buzz is greatest amongst yuri fans. There was some anticipation on the Yuricon and Yuri MLs notably. Again, check the anime blog aggregators for screencaps, and commentary, and Damn The Torpedoes! FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!

Erica has done out of order reviews on the first 3 volumes of the Kashimashi manga, which is the basis for this series, here, here, and here. I'm up to the middle of Volume 2 of the scanlation, (you can find it on your own, I know you can) and it's one of the rare occasions I get to compare the anime to the manga.
I'm going to make this short, because I have another long MO post calling me, but overall it's pretty much like the manga, silly, but sweet. Guaranteed not to spoil your appetite. I spent the whole episode wondering why Kana Ueda didn't use her boy voice, until the end when she reverted to her girl voice for Girl Hazumu and I realized that was her boy voice. So, it's no wonder Hazumu was turned into a girl, clearly the aliens were just correcting the mistake Nature made. Also, all of the horrible English dub actors that used to dub anime have apparently moved to Japan to get jobs as token Americans in Japanese productions.
My only concerns are about the ending of the anime, since the manga is nowhere near complete, and whether or not Hazumu will turn back into a guy. Erica seems to think that is the most likely possibility, and I have to agree, (and not just because I'm her minion, though that is one of the reasons why I am one ;) but I hope they don't. Changing Hazumu back into a guy would be the equivalent of a reset ending, completely invalidating all the development that happened in the entire series to date, and that would probably ruin this series.
I guess we'll see in a couple of months.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fate/Stay Night

Before I get back to Part 2 of my MO ramblings I thought I'd share my thoughts on some new series that started airing this month.

Fate/Stay Night is probably the most anticipated series in recent memory, well, at least I think it is, given that it's talked about in most forums I've been to, and everybody seems to be blogging it. Don't believe me? Check out Anime Blog Toshokan or the Animeblogger Antenna and either scroll down for the past week or do a search for Fate Stay Night.
Anyway, SOP for this. SPOILERS AHEAD. Check elsewhere for screencaps, summaries and most likely, more informed commentary. (Hint: look at the last paragraph.)
So FSN started out life as a game by TypeMoon, the same people who brought us Tsukihime. Not being a gamer I don't know the proper terminology (eroge, H-game, visual novel, or ren-ai), but basically one of the selling points of the game, I presume, is that you get to have sex with the female characters along the way.
Which got me to thinking about this trend of making mainstream anime series from eroge. (I've decided I'm going to use this term, distinctions and subtle differences be damned. ;) As a corollary, Zyl and I had a brief discussion on a somewhat similar theme in the comments section on his post for episode 5 of another eroge conversion, Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito.
Often lost in the translation from one medium to the other is the sex, which for some games, just transforms them into run of the mill harem anime, so in a lot of respects it's a step down. For others, the story is usually strong enough to survive without the sex, but often doesn't live up to the hype that hardcore fans of the game promulgate.
I'm putting Tsukihime, Air and Kanon into this latter category, all the stories were entertaining and decent, but it certainly didn't inspire the kind of awe in me that Evangelion did, nor were they craptacular enough for me to rant about like GSD, or inspire the kind of over-obsession to write 3000+ word speculative histories like Mai Otome. (Though Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo fame clearly cites Kanon as inspiration for Megatokyo.)
So you can look at this in a couple of ways: 1) I just don't get it, (which is a distinct possibility, I admit) or 2) the stories just aren't as good as the fans think they are. (This second point would probably get me flamed if anyone actually read this blog, so I guess I should count my blessings. ;)
Anyway, getting back to FSN finally, my curiosity was intially sparked by the proliferation of RinXSaber doujinshi and fanart, so as the potential yuri angle is always a major draw for me, I downloaded the raw. The first episode was good, but it wasn't quite clear what was going on. So I did some research, first to Wikipedia, which lead me to The Moonlit World a fan site with synopses of the the different iterations of the game. Armed with my new knowledge, I realized that the yuri potential dropped considerably from what the plethora of RinXSaber stuff among the fans had led me to believe, but I'll continue to watch to see if the story sucks me in.
I remember thinking that Tsukihime would have probably been better served by being longer than 13 episodes, there was clearly more story than what they had budgeted for and I think the series suffered as a result. So, if FSN is similarly interesting and complex as Tsukihime, then I'm certainly open to watching the rest of the series, regardless of whether there is any actually RinXSaber, though that would make me happy.

(NOTE: Found the above image using Google Image Search on "Fate Stay Night." If it's yours and you don't want me to use it, let me know.)

Mai Otome: The Rambling Essay Part 1

Speaking of series that I care way too much about, let's talk Mai Otome. Again I'm going to presume that people reading this know what the series is about and what's been happening. For screencaps, episode summaries, and commentary see Zyl, Random Curiosity and, especially, Mentar. So SPOILERS AHEAD and all that.

I'm going to start with a speculative history of the Mai Otome world, based on what I know up to Episode 13, and work my way forward. (So I may learn something in subsequent episodes that renders all of this just an exercise in futility. It all makes sense in my head, let's see what happens when I have to articulate it. ;) WARNING: This is extremely long, so put on some coffee, you're going to be here a while.

NOTE: I decided that I had to probably split this post up once I reached 2500+ words and still hadn't reached the point where the series actually started. So here's Part 1, discuss amongst yourselves.)

At some point in the undetermined past, this planet, named Earl, was colonized by Humans. In a typical sci-fi story the colony ships represent a united mankind embarking on a bold new adventure, usually. Let's presume that this was the scenario. (I don't know if there is a scenario in which our nation/state system is transposed to a space faring future. I think even in the dystopian scenarios government is not very influential, unless it's tyrannical. But, I digress) at some point after landing, instead of working together to build a new world, balkanization occurred and the colony fractured into nation states that resembled those of the homeworld.
Why? Well, if we suppose that the planet was devoid of human life and we suppose that the number of colonists is only a very small fraction of the homeworld's total population, and given the pioneering and bold spirit of people necessary to colonize and populate an entirely new planet, then it seems likely that several groups would branch out from the landing site to stake their own claim, make their own way, especially given our own historical precedents. (Going back to the parenthetical above, if more than one colony ship landed each representing an existing nation/state then we'd have our international tension transplanted quite easily.) If we suppose that Earl is roughly the equivalent size of Earth, then even a million colonists would be able to put enough distance between them and their nearest neighbors for differences to arise over time.
Given that human irrationality and competition for resources are some of the sources of international conflicts today, that doesn't appear to change when the species is transported to a different planet. Though, I imagine it could be several generations before the cooperative pioneer bond disappears from the general population, perhaps even a bit longer if the technology remains to shorten the distance between settlements. (or it could be less, human nature can be unpredictable.) Which it appears to have been the case, given what we know of the more recent history of the planet.
Which actually leads me to think that either there used to be support from the homeworld or other colonies or that it wasn't a colonization it was a migration, because the level of technology seems to be a bit too high. Going back to the typical sci-fi story, even if there was sufficient technology to overcome the problems of the speed of light, the astronomical distances, and the fundamental physics and economics of such a venture, there's still the problem of trying to transplant an entire society on a single ship, or group of ships, which are a fraction of the size of the planet. You just can't bring everything with you, you only take what you need. If it's a colonization with pioneers, they usually understand that they'll be forgoing the comforts of the civilization they leave behind to make a new world, and most usually relish such opportunities. A migration implies an emergency of some sort, and in most emergencies you only take with you what you need, especially as space is usually a premium.
OK, getting back on track, let's suppose, instead, that it was more of a migration than a colonization, this would account for the seeming isolation of the planet and the references to the homeworld, and also account for the initially high level of technology and, most importantly, the balkanization of the planet into nation states. Typical of human nature, we band together in emergencies for survival, but once the crisis is over and some semblances of normality return we slip back into isolation and distrust. (When will we ever learn? ;)
Now we have our nation states, competing on a brand new world for resources, influence and power. War, unfortunately, is inevitable, as history plainly show us. Diplomacy only really works when both sides are rational and reasonable and willing to compromise to achieve a peaceful solution, otherwise diplomacy is just the art of saying "nice doggy" while you reach for a big stick. So, while some of these transplanted nations will start trading, form alliances, and general behave civilly toward each other, others will not. Thus, war breaks out.
So, supposing that humans have a very high technology level shortly after colonizing Earl, and presuming that they've brought with them all the national identities, and the resultant tensions, resentments and hatred that's endemic to human nature, war on this planet has a very high destructive potential. Now, supposing that the higher the level of technology means the higher the precision and accuracy as well as the destructive force of weapons, then I speculate that initial skirmishes on this planet may have been very surgical in nature, with very low collateral damage and low loss of civilian life.
However, this presumes short, quick battles (wars measured in hours, days and weeks, rather than months, years or decades); any protracted conflict, especially among military equals, will see civilian casualties rise for various reasons (siege-ing or blockading contested regions, insurgencies, ethnic conflict, etc) as the conflict rages on, and each side seeks an edge.
Let's skip ahead a bit, and presume that a few wars have marked the passing of time on Earl and get to the War of the 12 Kings that sets up the current situation on Earl. We can only speculate as to why this particular war started, but I imagine a situation much like the one in Europe prior toward World War I with tensions between nations at the brink, a powder keg ready to explode waiting for the littlest spark. Then much like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand sparked the First World War, there was a similar event at this time, and 12 nations of Earl were plunged into what I imagine was a long and devastating war.
Here's where we start getting to the meat of things. Let's suppose that technology and industry on Earl were at their peak, and every nation's economy was geared for war. We know that Science and Technology often make great leaps during war time, especially during a protracted conflict as each side works on developing a weapon or technology that will turn the tide toward victory in their favor. This is when the technology that led to the Otome's robes, Slaves/Childs was developed presumably, alongside other "lost" technologies.
Let's presume that the initial battles were incredibly brutal and horrifically devastating as each side tried to bring enough force to bear to insure victory, but since no side prevailed initially, we can presume near equality in terms of military strength on each side. So, now we have a protracted conflict and human suffering naturally rises (I don't really know, but I think exponentially is the right qualifier here especially for dramatic purposes, though geometrically might be more accurate) as it drags on.
Now, let's get to Fumi Himeno. Let's presume that this protracted War of the 12 Kings was a very long and extremely brutal war, long and brutal enough so that it gave rise to a general desire throughout the world to end the war. (I imagine it was more of "Please, just make it stop" sentiment than a desire for a particular side to win, as that attitude will become necessary for the premise of Mai-Otome to take hold.) Born into this world of war and despair, comes an idealistic, young maid presumably serving one of the 12 Kings. Extrapolating from how current Otomes serve their masters, we can presume she was also advisor, confidant, bodyguard, and probably friend. (In short, I imagine she's not very different from Mai-HiME Fumi.) Her devotion and love for her master is her raison d'etre and given their roles and stations she can only love him/her in this capacity, though I imagine they are close as two people can become platonically.
Let's now presume that Fumi's country (probably Windbloom, I can't imagine it being anywhere else, why else would Garderobe be there?) develops the nanotechnology that becomes the precursor to the Otome's robes as well as what I suspect is the true purpose of the Harmonium: the limitation and disabling of other technologies. We can safely conclude that this development would end the war, presumably in Fumi's country's favor, since, as history shows, when one side gains an edge, there will always be a victor and a vanquished. The characters in Mai Otome make reference that Fumi ended the war, implying single-handedly. Since, we don't know any further details than that, let's take that at face value. (Though, if we wanted to make an analogy, we could liken it to Truman ending World War II, but I don't think it works very well based on what we know, so I'll just take it literally.)
Presuming a young, idealistic Fumi who lives for her master's happiness makes more sense if we presume that Fumi's master was a kind, loving person, who wanted the war to end to stop the suffering of not just his/her people but all the world's suffering. So, let's project the same kind of idealism on Fumi's master.
Now, let's imagine that research scientists present to Fumi and her master this technology that they've developed that could not only end the war, but, potentially, prevent future wars. Or we could say that this technology was presented to Fumi and her master in such a way as to lead them both to conclude, naively, that they could potentially eliminate the capacity to wage war as they knew it, and everyone can live in peace. (I'm pretty sure that their intention was to prevent future war, especially after a long, protracted one, but I imagine setting up the Otome system was a compromise or concession to the possibility a war might happen in the future, however inconceivable it was to them at that point. **1/16/2006: In 14 it's mentioned that Otome are peacekeepers, and specifically not weapons, so we can draw a parallel to UN peacekeepers who are soldiers. And we all know how effective the UN is at keeping the peace around the world, but I digress, yet again.**)
We don't know exactly how Fumi ends the war, but we can speculate given what we know about Otome's and their power. Fumi is the first Otome, because her devotion to her master would, I think, compel her volunteer. (A "I will do anything to make your dream come true" sentiment) so, she was the prototype. I'm going to presume that Fumi could materialize at will, because of the nature of Fumi's relationship with her master, there was no need to limit her powers in that way. Why would there be, she was going to help her master realize their dream of making world a peaceful place without war.
So, in order to realize their dream, they would have to limit everyone's capacity to wage war and that would mean disabling technologies and knowledge of those technologies. Because, given human ingenuity and human nature, reverse engineering or industrial espionage would quickly eliminate their advantage and nothing would change. So, they would have to impose their dream on the world, but it's perfectly OK, because the war will end and everyone will live in peace. Hence, we get the Harmonium, which I think is a control computer for nanomachines, particularly the ones that limit certain technologies and the Forbidden Library in which all knowledge of dangerous technology was placed.
To end the war, they would have had to release the nanomachines all over the world before activating the Harmonium. (Why nanomachines, because not all technology was lost or disabled, only some, that kind of specificity can be easily achieved with programmed nanomachines I think.) I imagine that several warnings were made before the Harmonium was activated the first time, because Fumi and her master are probably the type of people that believe in the people's better nature, but their warnings fall on deaf ears. So they activate the Harmonium, and suddenly the more advanced technologies around the world stop working, and Fumi as Otome suddenly becomes the equivalent of having Fat Man and Little Boy.
There would be probably need to be a few demonstrations of Fumi's power as some countries would undoubtedly take some convincing, but eventually we can conclude that negotiations took place after the end of hostilities. Especially, if we consider the general fatigue for war among the people. Fumi's country has the clear advantage in the negotiations, and could have probably set themselves up to rule the world. But being idealistic and magnanimous, they instead create Garderobe, the Council and Otome to protect the peace. (Here I imagine the idea of giving each country its own Fumi is probably volunteered by either Fumi or her master, since they work so well, and would never act as aggressors, why shouldn't it be the model for the future.) The master activation limitation is agreed upon at this time, (just in case) as well as the creation of the Pillars who would protect Garderobe. (also just in case, you know, checks and balances for the future.)
So, now we have our new world order and I imagine it worked beautifully while Fumi and her master lived, as no one had a desire to engage in war again so soon, and Fumi's country dominance went unchallenged for a while. I imagine things were peaceful for a generation or two after Fumi. However, with certain technologies disabled or "lost" and the ability and knowledge to create new ones forbidden, this would have small economic impact during Fumi's lifetime, but an exponentially larger impact in subsequent generations as the knowledge and know how died out with each generation. Given that most people were eager to shift from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy the folly of banning knowledge and technology wouldn't become immediately apparent or a concern. Loss of technology probably hit the Information and Service industries hardest first, followed by Transportation and Manufacturing, and as all industry shrank to adjust to the new technology level, inflation and unemployment grew conversely, reducing overall quality of life. In essence, the artificial limits on technology, science and research really prevented world economy from completing a successful transition from wartime to peacetime and led to a great worldwide recession.
So, the peaceful and war weary attitudes prevalent in the immediate aftermath of Fumi's intervention and the creation of the Otome soon gave way to resentment and anger, as things seemed to get worse for subsequent generations. And, given the way in which peace was imposed upon the planet and it's price, it's only natural to presume that Fumi's good intentions would come back to haunt her descendants.
You can't fiat peace, people just aren't wired that way. And they wouldn't be people if they were, they'd be sheep. (Kira verbally stumbles his way to this same general point at the end of GSD.) There has never been a period of total peace in the history of our world, there's always some conflict going on. And until humanity evolves into a more rational and reasonable being, I don't think we'll ever be conflict free. (But, judging from the state of things in Mai Otome, it looks like we didn't.)
So, here is where Aswald and Schwarz come into play. The price to end the war was essentially the loss of knowledge, specifically science and technology, and by extension a certain amount of freedom. The Otome system seems to discourage representative democracy as a form of government, since Yukino seems to be the only elected head of state in this world. Would you vote for the guy with the Otome or the guy without? (I'm pretty sure that even a inept democratic government riddled with corruption is freer than benevolent monarchy/dictatorship, but I can't say for sure, since I've never experienced the latter.) So, while I'm sure it wasn't their intention, the Mai Otome world is a very oppressive one.
And oppression leads to desire for revolution and change. Midori's ancestors probably realized early on that the price for peace was more than they willing to pay, and refused to go along. But, since it was an all or nothing proposition, they couldn't say no and be left alone. Everyone had to play by the new rules or the new system wouldn't work and that probably meant forcible subjugation. Totally justified though, because if they weren't for this new chance for peace they could only be for war, since war was the direct result of all that knowledge. And this spin probably allowed for the violent suppression of Midori's Aswald ancestors. Hence, Aswald's hatred of Garderobe and the Otome. Essentially, they argued that the solution was a bad idea, too high a price, and were punished for not going along.
Schwarz, I'm not entirely sure about, but I sense their desires seem to lie in acquiring power and the Otome system is a burden that prevents them from using their power, so it must be removed. But, both groups essentially have the same ends, the destruction of the Otome system, and the return of the knowledge locked away in Garderobe, for good or ill.
So, ultimately the Otome system instituted actually starts to create conditions that will again lead to war, so in that sense, it fails, but it perpetuates in subsequent generations because it has momentum and the bureaucratic instinct for self-preservation and immutability that naturally arises.
Which I think brings us to the last Otome war 50 years before the start of the series. Taking my supposition that international peace only lasts a generation or two at the most, and given how the state of world starts to devolve because of the limitations on technology and forbidding of knowledge and the resultant economic impact, war again becomes inevitable. And while I'm sure the idea between the bond between master and Otome was intended to instill a certain amount of responsibility, based on the instinct of self-preservation and a person's better judgment, not all people will live up these ideals. (I can imagine the Fumi/Master ideal was akin to being a Saint, a living Buddha, etc., i.e. beyond the means of ordinary people, but something, nevertheless, to aspire to.)
War with Otome breaks out, but while war is now more formal, and less deadly, for those not directly involved, the artificial restrictions placed on technological and by extension economic growth still remain. So, essentially, things continue to get worse, (as evidenced by the seemingly epidemic poverty in Windbloom, supposedly the most advanced-read: prosperous- nation on Earl) and people fight more about it, or try to.
Let's suppose that the end of the last Otome War 50 years ago, was an agreement to restrict Garderobe and the Otome system to alleviate some of the pressures that were leading to conflicts. The requirement that 3 council members must approve Garderobe interfering in a country's affairs is introduced at this time, as well as council approval for any action they take. This helps to defuse tensions a bit, but still the underlying problem remains, the Otome system and Garderobe. And while some people may realize this, it is not something that can be changed overnight, but organizations like Schwarz and Aswald begin to gain more support, because in order for anything to get better things have to change, and these organizations are the only ones advocating change.
This brings us to the incident in Windbloom 14 years ago and the start of the series proper, which I'll discuss in Part 2

**UPDATE 1/16/2005: Fixed some grammatical errors, completed some sentences and added a couple of lines to clarify some arguments.***

Monday, January 09, 2006


So, ANN reports today that they've confirmed that Tokyopop has the license to the Crest/Banner of the Stars Novels. This makes me happy. I started watching this series on Anime Unleashed on what used to be TechTV, and watched the sequels Banner of the Stars I and II and the new Banner of the Stars III OVA that was released last year. And I really like this series, again it's the characters for me, there a lot of good developed characters. Lafiel is no bitch and Jinto is hers and I like watching their interaction. I also like Admiral Spoor, she's cool and unorthodox and I would gladly follow her to hell and back. ;)
I also like that Hiroyuki Morioka went to trouble of creating a language for his race, the Abh, which invites some superficial comparisons to Tolkien. I always thought that these series were too short, there was a lot of material that was left unexplored, and frankly I couldn't get enough of the characters or the world. So I'm glad that we'll be getting the original novels, since that should assuage my Lafiel/Jinto/Spoor jones.

Now, if only Viz or somebody would license the Marimite novels. (I say Viz, since Viz is partly owned by Shueisha who publishes the Marimite novels in Japan.) Here's hoping.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

So, Hayao Miyazaki is one of those directors that if you're into the genre, you have to watch his stuff, if for no other reason than nobody will take you seriously when you say you're a student of genre and haven't seen any of his stuff. It's like a film student having never watched a Kubrick or Scorsese movie.
Having said that, I like most of his stuff. Princess Mononoke was good, Laputa: Castle in the Sky was amazing, Spirited Away was fabulous, Kiki's Delivery Service was cute, My Neighbor Totoro was OK, and Howl's Moving Castle is on my "to watch" list.
I had seen parts of Nausicaa over the course of about 15 years, but never really saw all of it in one sitting, until last night. Nausicaa is Miyazaki's first film, and the story is based on the manga he wrote, though as I understand it, the manga's story is very different.
Anyway, one of the themes Miyazaki likes to explore is industrialization vs. the environment, and he usually sides on the don't-let-Industry-ruin-our-beautiful-world front, as Mononoke and Laputa have it as a central theme, though coming from opposite ends, Laputa is post-industrial and Mononoke is pre-industrial. Nausicaa is the one that started it all, literally, it was his first movie. Looking at how Miyazaki does movies, it was very interesting to see how his style has or hasn't evolved, though, honestly, the only keys to that I could find where in the animation. The storytelling is pretty rock solid across the board.
Anyway, I rank this one up there with Laputa and Mononoke as my favorites of his, and it all comes down to Nausicaa herself. She's definitely a girl's girl, but she's nobody bitch either, and I like those kind of girls a lot. So, naturally, Nausicaa appealed greatly to me.
Oh, the one thing that was a bit odd, was that thanks to my friend Geoff, I've had the Nausicaa soundtrack for years, and have listened to it a fair amount, so there was a lot of "Oh, that's where there this goes." Usually, the soundtrack is supposed to remind you of the movie, but not so in this case.
So, yeah, that was Nausicaa, it was good, I liked it enough that I'm going to get the manga, when I have some extra cash. So there ya go.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Gundam Seed Destiny Final Plus

So, honestly, this show is really what prompted me to start this blog: I needed a place to vent.
If you haven't been following this show, this probably won't make any sense to you whatsoever. Oh, and I suppose I'll just put a "SPOILERS AHEAD" warning here, because I'm going to presume that somebody somewhere may happen to stumble across this post and be annoyed that I had the gall to presume that they had already seen the series. So here you go: SPOILERS AHEAD.
The consensus is that this show is a (not so) glorious trainwreck (see here, here and here for examples.)
It's still a very much talked about series though, most of the characters are wildly popular, and it will probably end up making ass loads of money for Sunrise and Bandai, but all the faults of this series can be traced back to production, specifically direction and writing.
Somewhere along the line the decision got made to shift the focus back to the original Seed characters and leave the new characters dangling. If that had been their intention all along, it was executed really badly. R.O.D. the TV is, in my mind, the standard for mixing old and new characters. Fan pressure has been cited as a reason for the shift, (don't remember which forum(s) I read this in, but I'm sure a Google search will turn up something) but considering the production schedules, I don't know how much of a factor that really was.
This might have been forgivable if story was good, but it wasn't. I got the impression that they really didn't know where they wanted to go with the story, and they didn't really handle any of the characters well. (Plus having to come up with a scenario where all the main characters get new Gundams, because there's merchandise that HAS to be sold.) And while I understand that complex, sophisticated politics and international relations are of little interest to anyone except me, if you're going to use nation-state relationships as plot devices, I expect some coherence and believability.
Rather than rant on about the bad writing in general, which I could probably do at length, in the spirit of "I'd like to see you do better" I will share how I would have handled Cagalli's story, since that's where I think they got it the most wrong. (Which is actually the point of this post, btw, and by extension this blog.)

**Warning: If you haven't seen the show this you may want to skip this entirely.**

OK. I'm going to pick up roughly around the time Kira rescues Cagalli from marrying Yuna. Although, I'd like to point out here that if her father wanted her to take a leadership position, you think he might have had the foresight of having an advisor or two evacuate with the rest of the country way back in Seed. (Just because of the added tension it would bring, I would have made this advisor someone slightly older than Cagalli, with whom Cagalli's father was having an affair, but that's just me.) I find it hard to believe that with all the support she enjoys from the military and the citizenry that no one stepped up and tried to advise Cagalli in the interim between Seed and Destiny, she's pretty much left to fend for herself and as result gets herself caught in the Seiran's trap. Though, for my purposes, I'll suppose that the marriage/rescue was planned in advance as a way to expose the Seiran's naked power grab, and not the result of a leaving a lamb, unprotected, in the midst of a pack of ravenous wolves.
In this scenario, the first thing Cagalli does upon setting foot on the Archangel is call a press conference, declaring herself as the official Orb representative and a government-in-exile. (This also has the added effect of making the Archangel an official Orb vessel, which they essentially were anyway.) Since one of her sticking points was the treaty with the Earth Alliance, she can also declare that null and void, which will be important later.
This has the short term effect of splitting public opinion and weakening the Seiran-led government's legitimacy. Cagalli, then will have to keep herself in the public eye in Orb in some fashion, (weekly/daily press conferences, underground media campaigns, etc.), because the Seirans counter would be a massive smear campaign highlighting Cagalli's abandonment of the country, the razing of Orb under her father two years ago, and her obvious lust for power.
I'm going to presume that the Seiran's proceed to honor their agreement with the EA and send their forces along to hunt the Minerva, with Yuna as commander-in-chief as written in the show. Since it was a very unpopular move among the military as written, the divided loyalties we saw expressed become key when these forces encounter the Minerva at the Dardanelle straits.
The Archangel would be shadowing the Orb fleet in my vision and move to intercept just as the two sides are facing off. Cagalli appears in the Strike Rouge and makes a speech about her visions of and dreams for Orb and concludes with a command/plea that those who wish to follow her stand behind her and place Yuna under arrest.
This is where 90-95% of the Orb forces present defect to Cagalli, (since they weren't thrilled about fighting at the EA's (or Yuna's for that matter) beck and call, this gives them an out) thus effectively ending the battle before it really begins, and altering the course of the series dramatically.
Cagalli now has a fleet behind her, giving her government-in-exile a lot more legitimacy. The next step would be to return to Orb with said fleet and demand the Seirans step aside, in other words, stage a coup.
With the fleet behind her, and her popularity among the soldiers, sailors, generals and admirals, the rest of military follows Cagalli, which pretty much ensures the coup's success. Since Orb is not a democracy (it looks like a hereditary oligarchy to me) and probably doesn't have any guarantees for due process, I'm sure the Seirans will probably be spending the rest of the series under house arrest of some sort. (It may not be a completely bloodless coup, only because I imagine the Seirans will have at least a handful of loyalists, but given the sheer numbers amassed against them, any resistance will be extremely short lived.)
Cagalli again reiterates that all treaties and pacts negotiated by the Seiran government are null and void in her first press conference since gaining control of Orb. This removes Orb from the Alliance but doesn't ensure it's neutrality. (Djibril will be pissed.)
So, in the spirit of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" I would have Orb solicit PLANT for mutual defense pact or counter-alliance, and in another bold stroke have the real Lacus publicly support such a move with several public appearances and appeals to the people of PLANT. (Actually, now that I think about it, I would have Lacus endorse Cagalli on day one, which finally gives Gilbert a legitimate reason to assassinate her as she's more influential than he is and undermines his authority.)
Gilbert's refusal to negotiate such a pact with Orb would be political suicide, as he would be forced to explain convincingly why he refused help, when the rest of the world seems to be against them, (and Lacus-sama said it's a good idea). I can't imagine him not being removed as Chairman if he insists on going it alone after that. So this, in effect, puts him in check.
Orb allying with PLANT also opens the door for other countries that may have been strong-armed into the EA to break their agreements, especially if they also solicit an alliance with either Orb or PLANT, which they would be foolish not to.
At this point we could end up back at square one as there is an uneasy tension between the different factions but no one wants to get their nose bloodied. Or the tide could turn completely against Djibril and the EA much sooner than it did in the series, especially when news of the EA's brutality gets out.
I haven't thought out how the series would go from here, or if it even needs to, but you can see from just Cagalli's actions, how the rest of Destiny wouldn't happen in quite the way it actually did. For one, the political choices above have the potential to neutralize both Djibril's "final solution" and Gilbert's world domination desires. Thus, bringing the conflict to an end before it gets out of hand. Which I think satisfies the desires and aspirations of most of the cast, old and new.
Other differences, or observations: The hunt for Logos could still happen, but it would be clandestine, perhaps that's the task Minerva's given, which would still put them at odds with Neo and the druggies. (So, Shinn and Stellar's story could continue, though I'd probably drop the Neo as Mwu angle as I thought it was superfluous.)
There's little need for Meer in this version, as Lacus public appearances become key in securing Orb's and PLANT's safety, though Gilbert's desire to remove Lacus could lead to his undoing, if the plan to use Meer is discovered.
Once a mutual defense pact is signed, and Gilbert's secret ambitions are thwarted, there is no Minerva vs Archangel, no Kira vs. Shinn, and thus no Kira/Shinn flame wars on every anime forum in existence.
Shinn would mature, Rey would be forced to develop a personality. Kira would stay in the background, Lacus won't have to develop an army in secret, though she'll still probably end up in a leadership role in PLANT, since that's really the only way she can ensure her vision of the future. Talia wouldn't throw her life away for a man who was clearly delusional and leave her son an orphan. Lunamaria would develop into a great pilot on her own and discover the joys of yuri (remember, I'm writing this.;) and Meyrin would step out of her sister's shadow when she's promoted to XO. And finally, Athrun would develop into an effectual leader, as his thinking and logic is positively reinforced.
(I can't tell you how many times when Athrun would say or do something that I thought was totally right only to have the writers, through the rest of the cast, slap him around as if he were an imbecile. He was clearly the one-eyed man in the land of the blind and they made him suffer for it. Ugh.)
Of course, my outline here fails for the simple fact that it doesn't address the need to introduce new Gundams which is really the whole point of the series now, I think.
Oh well. If I didn't like these characters so much, I wouldn't have started this blog, so in a way I'm glad Destiny was such an horrendous mess of a story. Thank you Gundam Seed Destiny for sucking so much. Though I hope the rumored third Seed series will be better, I'm not optimistic. I'll still watch though, because as evidenced by the above, I obviously care too much.

NOTE: I found the picture for this post in the AnimeSuki Gundam Forum's "Ridiculous Pictures" thread a couple of months back. No idea who did it, but it, too, would make for a much better show than the one we actually got.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

December ended up being a stand out month of movies for me. I saw four movies (I'm counting HP, even though I did see it on the first day of the New Year) in the theater in a four week span, which is more movies than I think I've gone to in about 2 years. (Honestly, I can't remember the last time I saw a theatrical release every week.)
Anyway, my wife and some friends, mostly the girlfriends of my friends, originally wanted to make this movie the subject of a girl's night. But, it ended up being a mostly couples things, even though my friend, Matt, tried to see if we could go see Syriana instead. (Since that's more of a guy movie) No such luck, we'd have to tough it out. ;)
Anyway, the movie is awfully pretty, too bad it's awful everywhere else. The book is probably better, books usually are. There's been a lot criticism thrown its way for the international cast and crew Sony used to make the picture, and I did spend a majority of movie marvelling at how not-Japanese Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh, and Gong Li are, and how English is not their native language.
I wondered what would happen if this was a purely Japanese movie, replete with Japanese actresses and subtitles, but I can't say that it would be a better movie.
Oh, the highlight of the movie was this scene. I got excited because I was there. Clearly the highlight of the movie for me.
So there you go, Sony puts out an Oscar bait movie and will probably come up with nothing. (Maybe some nominations for set design, cinematography or art direction.)

Kaleido Star

So, I haven't really bought a lot of anime in 2005, there were other things I needed to spend money on: Tokyo, wedding, supporting an unemployed wife, (love you, honey.;), so my DVD collection has pretty much stagnated. Which I suppose is all right as we're starting to run out of room in our apartment.
Anyway, while, I haven't been buying DVDs, I have been renting them. I have accounts with both Netflix and This allows me to nominally support the domestic industry and not bankrupt me.
Netflix, obviously, has the better service, there's a Netflix depot in my area of the state, so I usually get movies a day or so after I send them back, so I go through my Netflix queue a lot faster than my Rentanime queue. Though, I may start to catch up, now that Rentanime has a 5 disc program, though it does take about 4 days via USPS from Florida, but that's a minor complaint, really.

I've had Kaleido Star in my Rent Anime queue for a while now, and the first five discs showed up within the last couple of days. I had put it in my queue because of some discussion on the Yuricon ML nearly two years ago now. The discussion centered on yuri goggle subtext, so, being a total yuri fanboy, naturally, I had to check it out.(Full disclosure: most of what I watch these days will probably have some yuri connection to it. I'm just that dedicated. ;)
The story is basically your typical sports anime plot: young person with aptitude goes through trials, tribulations, and rival collecting on their way to the top of their sport.
Whenever you see a show with an formulaic plot, the question always then focuses on execution, and the characters. Kaleido Star does well in both aspects. And the story really just sucked me and my wife in. We were both up way too late last night watching discs 3-5, because we both just kept wanting to see what happens next. So, obviously the story and the characters are compelling enough for us to keep watching.
Unfortunately, I only just sent back Disks 1 and 2 this morning, so we won't see the end of the first half until next week. Oh, the indignities!
Anyway, some observations: Anna and Mia definitely strike me as a couple. My wife, who doesn't wear the yuri goggles, well, at all really, started referring to them as "the lesbians" about halfway through the series. So, there's clearly something going on there. :-D
Koyasu Takehito is forever doomed to be Touga from Utena in my mind. Every character he plays is a just a variation on that cool red-haired bastard. Having said that, my wife liked the Fool, but then again she has a thing for perverted older men who occasionally say something wise and helpful. (Don't get it? Here's a hint: she married one.)
I would SO pay money to see any of the Kaleido shows live. Layla and Sora's swordfight on the burning, swinging ship tightrope FTW.
Layla's and Sora's rivarly/partnership has an intensity that I can only describe as HAWT!! once it gets going in earnest about half way through the first series. I suppose it could be also described as a form of shinyuu, a "friendship that goes above and beyond the bounds of sense and propriety" (Defintion cribbed shamelessly from Erica.) But I'm quite sure all they need is a little too much wine and they'd be all over each other faster than either of them could say "take me." Clearly, there's a need for each other percolating below the surface, but the opportunities don't seem to be there to develop it into a romantic relationship, and their only outlet for that seems to be performing together. I keep thinking of how half of the Olympic figure skating pairs end marrying each other, as a sort of template or guide to how a Sora/Layla relationship might develop.
I'll comment further when I get further along.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I feel absolutely no shame in admitting that I like the Harry Potter books, and even pre-ordered the Half-Blood Prince on Amazon when they made it available. I wouldn't say I'm a hardcore fan, I'm not on any mailing lists, I don't lurk on any forums, I don't write any Hermione/Ginny fanfiction or any fanfiction whatsoever, etc. I just like the books and think they are decently written.
Though, I will admit, I think the movies suffer in the way that most movies from books suffer. Namely that movies are generally too short a medium to do a novel length story justice, especially if said story has a lot of characters, a lot of subplots and a lot of character insight. Most of it gets lost in the translation from word to screen. While it would not have the same commercial potential (read: make less money) as a movie, a mini series or even full blown TV series might do the story more justice.
Having said that, I still liked GOF, the series is very well done, everyone is perfectly cast. And I like the fact that since it's a British movie, not everyone is cast for their attractiveness. I've always liked that about British productions, they aren't afraid to cast normal looking people in leading roles if they can act.
I didn't see any other of Mike Newall's other films, so I can't comment there, but I liked how there was continuity from Cuaron's movie in tone, if not in execution. The series gets more adverse and darker for Harry from here, so this is a good sign.
Still the movie needed more Alan Rickman and Gary Oldman and Miranda Richardson. But, I didn't mind so much since I got plenty of Emma Watson. Mark my words, she's well on her way to becoming a full blown, certified hottie. (Hmm, now that think about it, she might be already, considering the lag time of the movies. )
Oh, and it's slightly amusing that GOF's lesser villain, Barty Crouch, Jr., is now the new and improved Dr. Who. More on that later

Echo Chamber

I've decided that I needed to start a second blog, a pop culture (but primarily anime) blog, not because of a burning desire to create assloads of screencaps and summarize what I consume and evangelize it, but more as an outlet for my thoughts, observations and rampant speculation that nobody has ever asked me to share. So, yes, welcome to my Echo Chamber, pull up a chair, there are plenty available. ;)
So, what can you expect here? Pretty much what happens on my other blog: unoriginal insight, sporadic updates, and the occasional long winded diatribe.