Posts from October 2009

3 Episode Taste Test: Darker than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini (Gemini of the Meteor)

Darker than Black asked more questions than it reasonably answered so a second season is welcomed not simply for the chance to tie up loose ends. Lamentably, as so far this sequel is as obtuse as the first and omits an overview of the first season in favour of a cryptic flashback, some light romantic drama followed by some out-of-character fan service. The first three episodes present a haggard, visibly scarred Hei with ill-explored traumas inflicted in the intervening period between seasons; an incessantly annoying teenage girl with a flying squirrel sidekick and a selection of Contractors with a variety of outlandish remunerations. So far so Darker than Black.

Russian tundras and snow scattered towns are wonderfully atmospheric

It diverges little in both pace and atmosphere of the first series with the animosity between humans and Contractors still prevalent and mention of a shadowy organisation that seems to exist only to be enigmatic rather than any pragmatic reason. The two episode per story is dropped in favour of a more straightforward linear narrative that sees the teenage girl witness her home destroyed by a number of groups searching for (what else) a meteor fragment; through this she meets Hei and experiences a number of her friends either killed or turned into glassy eyed Contractors. Were it not for the shadow cast by the first season this could well be an intriguing genesis for a new series, there is however an all too present fear that BONES will be miring the already labyrinthine mythos and the conclusion will perhaps give a character but not a story ending.

Read the rest of this entry

Bakemonogatari (Ghost Story)

It is easy to fall in love with Bakemonogatari when looking at screenshots because for the most part, a collection of screenshots is all you receive with it - the most recent studio SHAFT / Akiyuki Shinbo series. If phrases were associated to anime, Bakemonogatari's would be "style over substance". So far does it take this maxim that it's difficult to describe any point where one feels connected or even mildly interested in the glossy puppets that fornicate with the bold colour palette.

from ice-queen cynicism to obnoxious trollop without missing a step

The story, as much as there is one, concerns Araragi who acts as a paranormal busy body for girls - ranging in age from barely legal to certainly illegal - suffering from a plethora of supernatural ailments. To aid him he regularly consults a destitute punk living in a derelict school with a outwardly pre-teen female vampire. The mythos and character back-stories are the sharpest part of the series and the afflictions suffered by the protagonists are certainly above the usual monster of the week fare, although this is perhaps thanks to the light novel source material than the anime adaptation. SHAFT and Shinbo plot their usual course and drench the series in faux abstract visuals - implying there is more meaning than is available and consequently presenting something vapid and soulless more than modern and engaging. Sudden cuts to single colour title cards start off as eccentric but quickly become a crutch to prop up the wildly varying production.

Read the rest of this entry

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

Tokyo Magnitude is the antithesis of most modern anime: sedate, unglossy and resolutely contained within the present time period. A premise concerning the terrifyingly plausible event of a high magnitude earthquake in urban Tokyo, it follows the journey of a young brother and sister - Yuuki and Mirai - and their chance meeting with courier Mari; miles from home this is their quest to reach their respective families. A bildungsroman veiled as a disaster series, the protagonist Mirai is taken from bratty and misanthropic to tolerating and finally, embracing.

beyond mediocrity - it transforms the blandly coloured drama into an emotive barrage

It would have been easy for the series to cast a bleak and unforgiving picture of humanity during a time of strife, but whether through slavish optimism or a cultural stubbornness, this is a story about people: at its best when meandering. The cast collides with friend and stranger alike, chance meetings that rarely last more than an episode but carefully craft and evolve Mirai's character from the bluntly cynical figure she starts out as. It is this endorsement of mankind which creates a rare empathy with nearly everyone introduced from the tirelessly working old man who lost his grandchildren to one of Mirai's classmates, bereaved by the loss of a parent. It is also this which enforces the near glacial pace that is the series biggest weakness.

Read the rest of this entry

Using Microsoft MapPoint with PHP

The MapPoint service is a commercial offering by Microsoft which gives developers access to a wide variety of mapping functionality through a web service interface. Well that's how it used to be anyway. For a while MapPoint was just a web service and a technology that powered products like Autoroute, then for a while it became Microsoft Virtual Earth which did nothing apart from change what appeared on the map images that you loaded from the servers. Then Microsoft launched their Bing extravaganza which meant that it's now called Bing Maps - well it is when one logs into the control panel but the service is still called MapPoint. It's highly confusing and makes it intensely difficult to find what one wants on the Microsoft site, especially on plumbing the depths of MSDN. For the purposes of this diatribe however, MapPoint is a web service that uses the SOAP protocol.

the process could fail catastrophically, mostly due to the abject bloody-mindedness of the MapPoint service
SOAP and PHP have not always been the most accommodating of bedfellows, it wasn't until version five that PHP had the language constructs to support SOAP (namely XML and Objects) and even now they're not exactly seamlessly integrated. Version four of PHP relied upon pure-PHP to manage SOAP, while five introduced a dedicated extension and related classes. The classes themselves are basic, and lamentably the Zend Framework concentrates more on serving SOAP content than consuming. In short, talking to the MapPoint service using PHP is a pain and fraught with problems - most predominantly is that MapPoint is a service built with .NET in mind (indeed the service was originally called MapPoint .NET), PHP just happens to be supported through the open-standard nature of the protocol.

Read the rest of this entry

Work related: Little Chef site relaunch

Little Chef homepage

The longest running and most high-profile website I have the pleasure of working on is for Little Chef. With such a recognisable brand and in a period of increased company activity, the site is increasing its role as the primary communication with customers. With a recent aesthetic refresh which only select parts of the site were quick to follow, the remainder was still stoically in the old style - updating the rest was a deceptively large task and exposed the opportunity to rectify some of the niggling obstructions that had grown with the site. What on the surface was just a visual update was in a fact a more far-reaching upgrade.

if these were the most complicated aspects of the site the rebuild would have been simpler and drastically more straightforward.
Rebuilding an existing site always starts with the best intentions - glassy eyed optimism seeing only improvements and never pitfalls, but experience has taught temperance rather than ambitious extravagance. Ambivalence is quick to set in: on the one hand there is a full and detailed specification available in the form of the currently used site, while on the other it soon becomes rapidly apparent that with history comes refinement that may not lend itself to rapid reconstruction. Striking a balance between reconstructing for improvement and the silent threat of feature creep is the key to a timely and successful project.

Read the rest of this entry