Sunday, August 29, 2010

Otaku-san : Part 3

A spoiler free description of some of the animes Nanga Fakir's been watching over the past two months or so follows.


Planetes : Planetes is about humanity in the year 2075. Efforts to colonize space are in its infancy and barring a station at Moon, much of the other heavenly bodies have not yet been molested. (Mankind plans to correct this mistake soon though.)

Planetes is also about space janitors. Waste management in space has become a big problem and previous missions' debris orbit the earth at various distances and are potential hazards for spaceships/stations/satellites orbiting/entering/leaving the earth. A collision will cause not only loss of property/human life but will also create more debris which if not cleared will obstruct even more space creating even more problems for future missions.

Enter the Debris Section - Technora Corporation's department responsible for clearing space junk and making the near-earth orbit a safe place for astronauts and space missions, the creation of which section was deemed necessary after an encounter with flying trash destroyed a passenger spaceship. The 26 episode anime concerns itself with the greenhorn Ai Tanabe who joins the ranks of debris-cleaners; her encounters with various members of the crew and the fate of her eventual love interest Hachimaki. (The second-in-command officer is an Indian called 'Arvind Ravi' - a very goofy, incompetent officer with hordes of children (seven actually) back home in India.)

The reason NF opines that this anime qualifies as a genuine masterpiece is the astonishingly high degree of realism, an attention to scientific detail generally not heard of, the socio-political ramifications of humans trying to colonize space (with the inevitable clash over the spoils of the aforementioned endeavors - the developed countries grabbing the lion's share and feeding the space-colonization machine while the developing/underdeveloped ones still mired in poverty and civil wars and therefore opposed to such ambitious ventures and demanding a more fair and equitable distribution of this new source of wealth - sometimes violently/resorting to terror tactics/sabotage); the effect such an endeavor in space must have on humans' psychology and their relationships and the long, arduous, lonely, claustrophobic space missions' fallouts on the human psyche and the questions it raises about what human communication/connection/love etc. is all about.

Basically an excellent, excellent watch. The only gripe NF had about the entire series was the sophomoric, mostly contrived humor that actually wasn't necessary and an ending that the feminists will not be really crazy about. But this very, very minor glitch shouldn't dissuade you from watching an absolutely awesome, wonderful series.

Neon Genesis Evangelion : To say that you're into anime and haven't heard of Neon... is saying that you're into Indian arthouse cinema and don't know what Ardhsatya is; or that you're into music and don't know what Pink Floyd is; or that you're into literature and don't know what Infinite Jest is. Basically we're talking of path breaking, forever-changing-the-course-of-their-field-after-they-come-along kind of works that in turn, have a major, polarizing effect on the audience.

Ever since its 1995 debut, the multiple prize winning series has been dissected, criticized, glorified, vilified, overrated, undervalued, and talked about in circles. On one level, it’s a standard mecha anime - the kind that the Gundam series had helped define many years before Neon... Basically your exact idea of giant robots with human pilots combating and killing the alien enemies of humanity after an apocalypse has drastically changed the nature of human existence on planet earth. But, as the director Hidaeki Anno would have it, the series nosedives into the heads of its fourteen year old protagonists, almost blithely giving up the affectations of having to deal with a story of giant robos trying to save humanity. The end result is a bleak, bleak series no fourteen year old can see without getting seriously mindfucked. Extraordinarily artsy, slow, brooding, (with long pauses and interminable silences at times) and grandly ambitious, the enigmatic anime invites comparisons to the works of David Lynch (talk of polarizing!) and can best be summed up as a science fictional Mulholland Drive. (Yes you have been warned!)

The beginning of the series itself lets us know that the pilots of the EVAs (who have to be fourteen year olds, we're told) are not in total control of the machines and that there's much more than meets the eye. Couple it with the most reluctant hero (in Shinji Ikari) ever conceived of, comparison with whom makes Humphrey Bogart's film-noirs'-reluctant-hero-character look like a self righteous white missionary in Africa; a memorable character in the tortured, enigmatic Rei Ayanami; the brash, insufferable (and German) Asuka and the cold, calculating, Machiavellian scientist Gendo Ikari (who also, almost incidentally, doubles up as the father of the hero Shinji) and you get the absolute best character sketch ever done in anime history.

The series starts off slow and ponderous. It picks up in the middle with some juvenile comedy and some attempts at utilizing some standard tropes of anime conventions - all this done somehow in a half hearted, lazy way, as if merely trying to keep up appearances. Complexity sets in the middle and the Angel-busting-mecha-action takes a backseat to give way to a plot that gets thicker. The final seven or so episodes however, send the protagonist kids through sheer hell, torturing their minds, crushing their souls and battering hard their already fragile egos with the touching delicacy of a blacksmith presiding over a neurosurgery.

Nanga Fakir remembers a quote from some writer who was once asked the formula for writing a good story. The writer's supposed to have replied something to the effect that one should spend the first half in trying to let the reader fall in love with the character and the second half in making horrible, horrible things happen to those lovable protagonists. Was this what Hideaki Anno had in mind? We can only guess, for the last two episodes happen inside the head of the hero, with the total abandonment of any kind of pretense of connection with what had happened in the past and we see the hero introspect and torture himself for over two episodes trying to come to grips with what his existence might mean. The series ends with the iconic scene in which all characters gather around Shinji and congratulate him on his victory over his inner demons. (<*NF in a very scholarly tone*>: See attached figure.)

You've been amply forewarned. You'll either love the series or totally tear it to shreds.


End of Part three; Part four to follow.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Big Picture

Alan Taylor's The Big Picture column for the Boston Globe does it again! This time's it's Russia, one century ago. Stunning pictures, breathtaking views and killer resolution color pictures from a hundred years ago.

Russia in color, a century ago.

If you're not following The Big Picture at Boston Globe, you're missing out on the big (and so beautiful!) pictures.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Burn bitches, burn.

August 19th, 2010, from Comedy Central's World News Headquarters in New York, this is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

With Nanga Fakir in attendance.


The guest was Jennifer Aniston. NF thinks he spotted Vatsa peeing in his pants a bit when she turned back and waved at us. Or maybe it was just tears of joy squirting from sundry tiny orifices all over his body. We don't know just yet.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Otaku-san : Part 2

It wasn't with a heavy heart that Nanga Fakir left the cosy confines of NIT S'kal, armed with the dubious distinction of being the worst Chemical Engineer the institute had managed to manufacture till then; having barely graduated thanks to jaded, world-weary and sick-to-death-of-NF's-shadow professors who let NF get the passing grade in all courses and a certain someone called AK whose lightning speed of effortlessly solving problems in exams would cause the answer sheets to burst in flames.

And so it was that NF's second stage of anime viewing began. Cowboy Bebop was watched next - another Watanabe masterpiece that featured his trademark use of soundtracks (in this case, Jazz) as a main, series-defining construct, featuring an assortment of characters - wild, unruly, laidback, quietly proficient lone wolfish men and women with mysterious pasts. Serial Experiments Lain - the short, cyberpunkish, a little surreal and very, very artsy anime series followed next, a blurbish introduction of which should be that it's the story of a little, lonely girl whose receipt of an email from a recently dead classmate turns her to investigate, the quicksands of which aforementioned investigation pull her deeper and deeper into the recesses of the Wired - an internet like communication system.

NF had also seen Ra sing praises of the series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya whose hilarious, wonderful theme song featuring the famous Mikuru Asahina and her Mikuru beam and an entreaty to 'c'mon let's dance baby' compelled NF to follow the non linear, bizarre, juvenile-yet-very-funny series. In fact, since he thinks the theme song is so incredibly funny, he has decided to embed it here itself. Watch it!

The last series that NF followed in his second wave of anime viewing was the killer, somewhat absurdist, somewhat blackish comedy Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei (which translates to "Goodbye Mr Despair/Goodbye Teacher Despair"). It features a school teacher Nozomu Itoshiki - a person so extremely negative and pessimistic that it's uproariously funny; his plans, attempts and eventual failures at committing suicide and his class of equally crazy-in-their-own-way girls most of whom end up falling in love with their teacher which leaves their object of affection totally baffled and aghast. A model for the protagonist is the legendary Japanese writer Osamu Dazai whose multiple, failed suicide attempts are the inspirations for the highly stylized, very funny antics of the school teacher. Anyone planning to start off on anime, this series is a very good place to begin things from.

Highly recommended!

It was after these two waves that NF sunk deep into anime anhedonia, a phase that lasted for more than a year. He tried to pick up an interest in the popular franchises Bleach and Naruto but after a long period of sometimes-interested-but-mostly-disaffected viewing, he stopped following the same and does not see himself following the never ending series anytime in the future ever.

However, all of a sudden, totally unanticipatedly, the last month saw NF take a plunge into what he now terms as the third wave of anime watch.


End of Part 2. To be continued in Part 3.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Otaku-san : Part 1

It was another arbit, nondescript final year evening/night when Rohan Choukkar approached Nanga Fakir in his final block abode (Room 188, H Wing to be precise) and convinced him to look at what he claimed was the next big thing in the not-to-be-taken-lightly business of killing time. Since killing time is the second name of Nanga Fakir and since Rohan was, notwithstanding his talents, a mere naïve junior, NF inwardly smiled and braced himself for a rather boring half an hour he would have to kill as a favor to this brat.

What he saw then however, was the first episode of Samurai Champloo - a 26 episode anime by Shinichiro Watanabe. By the end of the first episode, NF had been taken in by the totally slick style, wacky, idiosyncratic storytelling, dazzling visuals, a quirky, groovy soundtrack and an aestheticization of violence that seemed out of place in a mere cartoon - Japanese or not.

Unbeknownst to NF, the dark master of all arts and entertainments obscure and idiosyncratic - Ra - wielded considerable expertise in such matters. ("It's pronounced 'Ae-ni-may'", he jadedly answered NF's question: "Do you follow 'Ae-nai-ms'?") He smiled evilly and rubbed his hands in glee as he took NF aside and led him to his lair in the G Wing and exhibited his machine slaves downloading 'copious amounts' of anime. (NF doesn't know if Ra uses 'copious' copiously anymore.)

And so it was that NF found himself in the company of Ra, following his lead in finishing anime after anime, often teaming up with him to watch the following in either G or H Wing, high or dry: Elfen Lied (the much hyped first few minutes of awesome violence made way for a mediocre series featuring countless instances of totally gratuitous and sometimes unintentionally funny nudity), Ghost in the Shell - SAC and Second Gig (What a series! It remains one of the best anime series NF has watched ever) and Death Note which was airing during the final sem and every Thursday (or was it Wednesday?), courtesy Ra, the LAN would be aglow with yet another new episode for which NF would have waited with bated breath and barely concealed impatience the kind of which had not been seen since the end of The Jungle Book on Doordarshan's Sunday morning kid's slot.


To be continued in Part 2.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust???

Vinay Deolalikar of HP labs claims to have shown that P ≠ NP (no surprises there!). Apparently mathematicians and computer scientists are excited and this one seems to have some genuine chance of success.

Those with enough background/technical know-how and most importantly, enough time at their hands are encouraged to visit the following link: CLS Blog.


<*pops open champagne bottle in anticipatory celebration*>