Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 Anime Favorites

Just some quick thoughts on favorite 2018 anime.

Hinomaru Sumo

I've been dabbling in a modern martial art that might be described as a re-imagined Japanese martial art.  It started out as a re-imagined Aikido, with all Aikido movements distilled into five "great themes", but quickly evolved to incorporate influences from Judo and Sumo, so that the practitioner would, in theory, be comfortable with body-to-body grappling.  Aikido is typically practiced with one's partner kept about arm's length away, but in real situations, an opponent is likely to come into closer range than that.  Anyway, I've enjoyed a few sports anime, but the emphasis on sumo was a new one to me.  As is typical of sports anime - Chihayafuru being an obvious exception - female characters are kind of just decoration, but at least they're not subjected to fanservice.  The characters in general are a fun bunch.  So far, it's one of the better sports anime I've seen, with a better than average pace.

Ms Koizumi Loves Ramen

It's just like the the title says - about a girl so obsessed with ramen and antisocial that I wondered at times if she was autistic.  I'm kind of a sucker for foodie anime, so it was easy to dismiss the lack of character development, and the girl who has a mad crush on Koizumi-san provides comic relief.  My only complaint really is the one bit of fanservice in which Koizumi-san appears in a bikini for no apparent reason. Favorite scene: Koizumi-san tries Muku Zweite Ramen, as Kraftwerk-style music kicks in. The scene appears around 17 min:

Apparently, Muku Ramen might no longer be available at the ramen museum, but this article supposedly has the recipe.

Violet Evergarden

This might be the closest thing I saw this year to a true shoujo/josei anime, although it doesn't have the obvious tells like flowers appearing in the background for humorous effect, though comedy is decidedly not the focus of this show.  The titular character is a former child super-soldier who has been led into a new career as an "Auto Memory Doll".  Her new job is to type letters for clients, but unlike the old-school secretaries, "Dolls" are typically expected to assist in composing the letters, in accordance with the client's requirements, not just type what a client is saying word-for-word.  This sets up some scenes that are intended to move the audience, but the emotional connection isn't consistent.  That said, the episodes involving a child do tug at the heartstrings quite effectively.  The world setting resembles Victorian age Europe, but it's clearly not set in the past of our world.  This might very well be the most beautifully drawn, colored, and animated show this year, except perhaps compared to Iroduku,  which is equally stunning visually, but doesn't quite make my favorites list.

Laid Back Camp (aka "Yuru Camp")

This is what I believe anime fans would call textbook "moe" anime - aka Cute Girls Do Cute Stuff (for a male demographic), for better or worse.  But it's "moe"-ness is not an issue here, because our gals love cold-weather camping, and cooking mouth-watering dishes to enjoy at their campsites.  I had to look up the voice actress for Rin to make sure she wasn't the same one who played Koizumi-san (above).  Rin, however, is not a borderline Asperger's sufferer or anything like that - she's depicted as a mentally healthy girl who just happens to enjoy solo camping, and none of her friends make a big deal about it.  This quickly became my favorite show to watch before going to bed at night, because it's so relaxing and peaceful.  I absolutely love how the show ends too.  The music is quite wonderful as well. 

A Place Further Than The Universe (aka "Yorimoi")

Yorimoi is not only the best anime I saw this year, it's one of the best anime I've seen in my lifetime.  The premise sounds simple:  Four teenage girls go to Antarctica.  But just a look at the four reveals this anime is something different - each girl has a distinct face, unlike a lot of anime where everybody pretty much has the same face and is only differentiated by hairstyle and/or hair color.  A quick Google search will turn up tons of reviews, blog posts, etc. about Yorimoi, and some lively discussion of which of the four protagonists is the "best girl".  Some favorite articles:

Japan: Yorimoi vs. Real Life
Singapore: Yorimoi vs. Real Life
AnimeFeminist Winter 2018 Recommendations (includes Yorimoi) 
NY Times: Best 2018 TV Shows

A moving video love letter - but it does show some spoilers:

So there's not much I can add that hasn't already been said.  The NY Times comment is spot on: it’s an absolutely authentic depiction of how friendship can overcome adolescent anxiety and grief.  The show Violet Evergarden also explored grief, but I haven't seen an anime cover it as effectively as Yorimoi and the equally classic Maison Ikkoku

Why is has Yorimoi left such an indelible impression on me?  For one thing, it caught me at a point in my life where I'm mulling next steps - whether I should move to take on a new job, or stay in town; should I change my career, etc.  The desire to make a change in one's life, maybe even make a bold move is a big thing in Yorimoi.  If I do move to another place, the friendships I have would inevitably be affected, so Yorimoi's depiction of friendship, and the nature of friendship also connected with me.  The scenes of kids being, well, kids, was also quite enjoyable as well, as I was reminded at times of the goofy parts of my own childhood.  Before you can cry with a character or four, you need to be able to laugh with them first and this is a show that has the perfect balance between comedy and drama.  On top of all that are occasional displays of Studio Madhouse's stunning virtuosity as animators.

I wrote about some of the music here, which includes clips from the show that might give some impression of what the characters are like.  While there is some strategically placed monologue and no shortage of dialogue, the characters also say a lot without uttering a single word, through their facial expressions, glances, gestures, etc.  Oh, and Crunchyroll put up Episode 1 in its entirety for free on Youtube:

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Music Discoveries - Anime edition

Some anime series that were released on Crunchyroll in 2018 had music that caught my attention.

The Hinamaru Sumo end theme has high-testosterone feel befitting a show about a high school sumo team, making male listeners want to get up and shiko stomp.

Laid Back Camp, aka "Yuru Camp", has a pleasant, folk-heavy, somewhat Celtic-tinged soundtrack that fits perfectly with the theme of the show, which is, well, about camping and enjoying mouth-watering Japanese cuisine while chilling out next to one's campfire.  The Jackson 5-inspired opening theme is a bit jarring compared to the rest of the soundtrack, but has a feel-good vibe that fits.

A Place Further Than The Universe, aka "Yorimoi", is my favorite anime of 2018, and now sits in my personal Top 5 all-time great list.  I could clarify why it left such an impression on me, but it'll have to be another post.  I admit these insert songs are not typical of the music I listen to, but they fit the scenes in which they are used so effectively.  My Japanese comprehension isn't good, but the lyrics to all these songs have something to do with going on a journey, despite various obstacles and scuh.  So instead of posting the full versions of these songs, I think it's fitting to just post the clips where they're effectively used as part of the soundtrack.

Clip #1, Song:  Koko Kara,  Koko Kara ("From here, from here")

Inspired by her new friend Shirase, Kimari finally goes on her first out of town trip - a small step towards an even grander journey

Clip #2, Song: Sora Wo Miagete ("Lift up the sky")

The teenage would-be Antartica explorer group has grown to 3.  They run upon Shirase's command, despite not fully understanding why.  For Kimari, the experience quickly becomes a joyful celebration of youth rather than a fearful one.

Clip #3, Song: Sora Wo Miagete ("Lift up the sky")

Same song as Clip #2, but now used to set the excitement shared by the group, which now numbers 4, as they gaze at the sunrise after spending their first night together in close quarters:

Clip #4, Song:  Haru Ka Tooku ("Far Away")

The 4 girls introduce themselves to the Antarctica expedition team, which is in a somber mood for a reason that is revealed by watching the show.  Shirase overcomes her issues, not the least of which is stage fright, to cheer up and rouse the team:

Clip #5, Song: One Step

The girls have been seasick onboard the icebreaker, and are doubting whether they can really handle the challenges of an Antarctica expedition.  But then they spontaneously decide to do something a little crazy to snap themselves out of their funk - the timing of Kimari opening the door and the beat of the song kicking in as the air blows her hair back is one of the most beautiful sights I've seen in anime:

Song: Mata Ne ("See you again")

No clip here.  You'll have to watch the show to see in what scenes this song is used, though I suppose I can say it first appears in the scene in which one character tries to end her friendship with her best friend; and believe it or not, there's an even more emotionally devastating scene later on in the show that uses this song.  The emotional power of a couple of those scenes relies heavily on the character development and attention span of the viewer.  The emotional impact seems to be intensified by the sparse guitar-and-vocals arrangement.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Funtional Qi - aka "The Suit"

A recent explanation by Mike Sigman:

Generally speaking, the functional "Qi" or "suit" of the human body tends to be all of those things that are under control of the subconscious (or unconscious; it's just vague terms) mind. So your functional qi tends to be things like the involuntary muscles of the vascular system, the involuntary muscles of the skin (think of goose bumps and hair-raising) and subdermal layers, sheets of fascia that are connected to each other, to muscles, to bones, etc., by myriad small involuntary muscles, and so on. When you look at this whole involuntary system as a whole, it is a supplement that can assist your muscular strength, your physical structure, it can affect involuntary control of balance forces within the body, and so on. That's the functional "qi" and the more important qi because all the other things called "qi" tend to be what that functional qi/suit can do.
There is a belief in an etheric or energetic form of qi that travels through the body and that etheric qi is always related to strength and where it goes. The etheric qi was probably (IMO) postulated as a form of fudge-factor, long ago, to make up for incomplete understanding of physical and chemical processes within the body. The existence of an etheric qi is what a lot of people argue about ... but most people are simply unaware of the functional qi as an artifact/process within the body.
The functional qi (or "suit") can be thought of an overlay of the muscle-skeleton-organs-tendons of the body. For a simplified illustration model, let's think of a coherent (connected from end to end) "suit" as being like layers of Saran-Wrap (Polyvinylidene chloride wrap) that go length-wise through the body and which can stretch and also close/contract. So, in other words, imagine a muscle-skeleton-organs body which can Open and Close, but all the muscles, skeleton, organs, etc., are wrapped and connected by a "Saran Wrap" that can also Open and Close, if we take the time to train it and strengthen it.
Training it and strengthening the imaginary Saran Wrap and its association with the Subconscious mind is what qigongs do. Since good and complete 6H CMA's use the qi and 6H movement, such arts are technically just a "moving qigong" (a lot of westerners mistakenly translate that as "moving meditation", but it's really a qigong that involves, yes, the Subconscious mind).
If we go back to our visualization the functional qi as being in some respects like length-wise layers/sheets of Saran Wrap that interpenetrate and cover the body from head to toes, there should be a way to walk and move with the body that optimizes our ability to utilize the imaginary Saran Wrap that can Open and Close. That optimal way of utilizing the length-wise Saran Wrap is mapped in the channels/meridians of the body and the central control point is the main dantian just below the navel.
Secondary dantians and anchor points for the imaginary Saran Wrap are found at other points: the top of the head, behind/between the eyes, the juncture at the lower throat, the meeting of layers at the sternum, and also the nexus/junction inside the perineum between the legs.
If the layers of imaginary Saran Wrap are used most efficiently, the body must be re-trained to use as a unit and the muscles of the body have to be re-coordinated to move in that manner. Yes, you can move the body without so much patterning away from "normal" strength, but you will be leaving money on the table by not maximizing the available power in the head-to-toe imaginary Saran Wrap.
BTW, you should be able to extrapolate why doing the magical appearance and choreography of some form like Taiji, Xingyi, Bagua, etc., doesn't really do anything qi-wise. Doing a bunch of powerful and impressive martial techniques, etc., has nothing to do with qi-development, either. The whole of Chinese/Asian martial-arts is built around the existence and utility of qi and the subconscious ...