Posts from August 2009

3 Episode Taste Test: Needless

The opening says all it needs to about the first three episodes of Needless: loud, brash, and utter nonsense. The plot, flimsy as it is, concerns a nefarious corporation called "Simeon"  who are brazenly chopping up the "Needless": a group of super powered twits cluttering up the Japanese post World War 3 landscape. One of these happens to be the sister of a small, annoying child who is saved by an outlandishly dressed, wood carving of a man known as "Blade". From there all semblance of continuity is lost and the episodes devolve into poorly animated fights with contenders announcing their attacks after which the names are emblazoned on screen, usually with flames coming off them.

While ludicrously oddball, the characters are stripped of any kind of detail or nuance

To call Needless silly would be doing it an injustice: it is so outwardly ridiculous that at times it feels like it's trying to be po-faced serious but failing miserably. The cast balloons outward to incorporate a number of noisy and paper-thin characters including: a scantily dressed brawler with a penchant for changing people's names and whose breasts are unsure of what shape or consistency to take; and a short-on words antagonist that has a collar so freakishly huge that one could hang glide with it. The character designs are fresh up to a point - obviously there are mixes of other similar characters, Blade for instance has a healthy dose of Vash the Stampede mixed in with some generic masculinity from the likes of Heat Guy J or Fist of the North Star. Unfortunately they are entirely wasted when given such protracted and atrocious dialogue that it becomes painful to listen, exacerbated by the typical shounen budget-saver of extending every scrap of action with an ongoing diatribe by each character on the vagaries of their fighting style.

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Sunday afternoon project: Conway's Game of Life in PHP

gameoflife-1 gameoflife-2

As a way of spending my bank holiday Sunday afternoon, I decided to embark on a small project; I didn't know what the project would be when I first began browsing through Wikipedia but eventually I ended up in's C++ challenge section, one of which concerned John Horton Conway's "Game of Life": a rudimentary cellular automaton which, after its inception in 1970, had immeasurable impact on fields as diverse as philosophy and theology. After toying with some ideas, I decided to build a script which automatically creates animations of a number of generations of the game. From that seed the project grew into the first steps towards an avatar system, much like the automatically generated Gravatars that currently adorn so many Wordpress based blogs.

I wanted something that was deterministic and identifiable
The first step was getting the algorithm working, and as I had already decided to make it web-based, that meant a PHP implementation. Using only the Wikipedia page as reference, I threw together a very basic script that allowed me to enter in some settings (grid dimensions, seed and generation limit) and for it to spit out the states between the seed and the generation cut off. After some wrangling with minor bugs (spelling errors, incorrect typing etc.) an unoptimised first version of the algorithm was complete:

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3 Episode Taste Test: Sora no manimani (At the mercy of the sky)

First episode event for Sora no manimani: tiny girl throwing golden stars like confetti from the school roof and proclaiming the existence of the astronomy club to all who have gathered below. As with so many first episode events, this dose of concentrated lunacy is quickly forgotten and its impact on the story only goes as far as introducing the fire-cracker Mihoshi to the more grounded Saku - reunited after an extended separation.

it's difficult to believe he's not the victim of a personality bypass operation

All of this has been roadtested before of course, neither the situation nor the character archetypes are anything new, Sora no manimani's mark is made in sporadically excellent comedy timing. Sharp cuts give enough momentum to keep the three opening episodes going, but each one quickly becomes a saga of different situations and storylines that it's almost a relief when the jaunty, lilting credits fade in. The hook for this series is the Astronomy club, and following such shows as the recent K-ON and more historically Genshiken, the first storyline involves coercing enough members to join to remain a club. Saku is emotionally bullied into it while the token infatuated love interest is next; like Genshiken this club also houses a gaunt, malnourished president - enigmatic only through their absence - his role being more to provide the occasional gag, to pad out the numbers and otherwise get out of the way. There is something very familiar and inoffensive about the entire set up.

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3 Episode Taste Taste: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

When Studio bones attaches itself to an anime, it is a mark of quality that transcends genre. Not one of bones's back catalogue can be claimed to be substandard in either animation quality or production. Common occurrences like a first episode budget-burn or compromising fidelity for fluidity so common to serialised TV anime are non-existent for a bones' creation. So it's with continued admiration and a sense of joy that one can approach Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 safe in the knowledge of bones's place at the pinnacle of production.

one can imagine this is uncomfortable viewing for residents of Tokyo

Beginning with stark sepia scenes of a ruined Tokyo, this tells the - currently fictional - story of a severe earthquake striking the Tokyo metropolis area. Focusing on the trials of Mirai and Yuuki as they try to find their way home, the first three episodes of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 are absolutely superb and are a masterclass in characterisation. Opening in rain drenched twilight then rolling back 24 hours, Mirai is portrayed as a typical urban youth: fractious, jaded and proud. Miles from their prototypical suburban home when the disaster hits, Mirai must first search tearfully for Yuuki but not before meeting the bike courier Mari; with Yuuki successfully located, the trio take flight from Odaiba and start the long journey back to their homes. Following such luminaries as Eden of the East with a diminutive 11 episodes, there is ample time to explore the meticulously researched devastation as well as forge the protagonists.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Princess Lover

Or to give its full, punctuated title: Princess Lover! The premise - once again - is to cram as many lithe, buxom females into as confined a space as possible and provide an empty husk of a male protagonist to catalyse their frequently outlandish but never overtly raunchy interactions. In short: fan-service romance comedy. The anime is just one of a number of media co-minglings, starting with the visual novel by newcomers Ricotta (as in the cheese) and followed by light novels, manga, this anime and a related radio show. What should be surprising is just how many different ways such a vapid and paper-thin plot can be told.

this is borderline misogynistic, reinforced by the profusion of quantum singularities where underwear should be

The lead character's parents are killed and while moping near their grave one day he gets embroiled in a scrappily animated chase between a horse drawn carriage and an open-topped jeep full of thugs. One tenuous event leads to another and the pink haired, well-endowed passenger is flung from a cliff into a thicket of trees where upon the protagonist wakes up and finds himself fondling her chest. This is all immaterial of course because he has been adopted by his immeasurably wealthy grandfather, ostensibly in order to find the people responsible for his parent's murder and subsequently avenge them. Instead though he spends time rubbing elbows with various females and partaking in the local school social club (by attending a party after etiquette lessons, naturally). That this feels so familiar is odd considering the set-up at least is superficially unique.

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