Friday, May 23, 2014

Some anime recs: Fate / Stay Night, Fate / Zero, and Sword Art Online


すいません, one of the issues I encounter when I immerse myself in anything Japanese is my brain disconnects and starts thinking in 日本語. Unfortunately, since I haven't really been studying Japanese formally since 2004, that means that half the time my brain basically shuts off because I don't have the vocabulary necessary to think in language when I'm thinking in Japanese.

So I'm a bit behind in my reading list (ごめんなさい!), I have a couple books that were sent to me that I feel especially churlish over, but I've been unexpectedly swamped in my day job every single week, to the point that all I have the energy for is television. Hopefully, I'll rectify that sooner than later, so if you've been waiting on me to finish something, well, hang in there お願いします!

There are a couple anime I'd like to share with everyone today with quick impressions.

First, Fate/Stay Night (フェイト/ステイナイト) hits all of the right buttons for me. Legendary characters that are initially a mystery with named weapons and other hints to their identities fighting in a battle for the holy grail under the command of modern day mages. Shiro is a fantastic heroic spirit that is always willing to sacrifice himself (which is a good thing for my heroes IMO).

Note: the blu-rays are a bit overpriced and there are two of them, while the single DVD set is more than reasonable. Currently, I haven't seen this on Netflix or Crunchyroll. 

The prequel, Fate/Zero (フェイト/ゼロ), although possessing a great name is not as good as Fate/Stay Night, but has some excellent bits, shedding a lot more light into everything that came before (obviously) without sucking anywhere near as much as the other obvious prequels that explained everything in today's zeitgeist (*cough* Star Wars *cough).

Still, whereas I found myself loving Rin and Shiro a lot in Stay Night (ステイナイト), I did not fall in love with any of the "masters" in Zero (), even if they were sympathetic. The "servants" on the other hand were even better than in Stay Night (ステイナイト).

Note: Zero is currently on Netflix and Crunchyroll.

Sword Art Online (ソードアート・オンライン) is another series I've watched recently. The first season is a masterpiece. I could not possibly say enough positive things about it. I only wish we could have seen even more about their adventures.

They cover two years in 13 episodes, but it never seems rushed or lacking, it only seems like we are seeing the highlights and points in the characters' lives that develop them past what we know. Surprisingly, both the male and female leads are strong characters and their developing friendship is a true delight to watch. It was incredibly satisfying.

The second season castrates Asuna into a damsel-in-distress unfortunately, but it almost seems like this is meant for us to have a gut-reaction to it. Having such a strong character brutally stripped of power is abhorrent and certain scenes will have you white-knuckling in impotent rage. Leafa is the true female lead of the second season, although she is always inferior to Kirihito whereas Asuna always approached Kirihito as an equal from their very first battle in Season 1.

I don't know what the future holds (season 3 starts this summer), and I was glad to discover Leafa's story in the second season, but it is definitely a drop-off from the first. The first season is self-contained enough that even though there are lingering questions at its end, they do not need to be answered. By the end of the second season, and indeed, even with the "extra episode" "movie", the developments of the first season have backtracked somewhat. It's...unsatisfying.

Asuna doesn't even reclaim her role as a frontline fighter in the extra. One of the two instrumental characters in defeating SAO, and she's relegated to a support caster? WTF? I'm very concerned for the future and am currently wondering if it would not have been better to leave the series after Season 1. 

でも, that first season is amazing.

Anyway, please check these anime out!

Again, the first season of SAO is one of the best single seasons of anything, and it's only 13 episodes.
Next, Fate/Stay Night is really great if you're interested in history and myth.
After that, if either of these two shows have piqued your interest, then please consider the second season of SAO and the prequel to Fate/Stay Night.

I haven't gotten a chance to watch the movie, "Unlimited Blade Works" that goes along with Fate/Stay Night, and I also haven't seen the spin-off that follows Illya as a magickal girl.

Back to work for me. じゃあまた!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Spectacular Spider-Man

I admit to being pretty depressed after seeing the Amazing Spider-Man 2. Now, I don't get to say that I am a "huge fan" of Spider-Man because I don't collect comics. #1 the cost, #2 the neverending soap opera-esque storylines with characters being killed off and brought back all the time, and #3 I wasn't born in the 60s.

I mean, by the time I was born, Gwen Stacy had already become backstory like Uncle Ben, except she was the ugly backstory you never hear about in the light of day. She didn't have a great catchphrase "With great power, comes great responsibility," she only had guilt and shame and depression.

But well, I do love Spidey.

And I did love the Amazing Spider-Man the first. I don't really know why people don't particularly care for Andrew Garfield, although one I keep hearing is that he is too attractive to be Peter Parker. He was socially awkward and he definitely had the stammer thing going in the first one, and becoming Spider-Man actually caused him to put ON glasses, instead of take them off (I keep trying to tell everyone that glasses are cool).

But the Amazing Spider-Man 2. Ugh.

There was so much potential, so much amazing, and there's a lot to like about this movie if you saw it chopped up into its itsy-bitsy pieces.

It was so disparate and dichotomous and discordant. Most of the individual pieces were GREAT, but suffered from either too little screen time or not enough screen time. And nothing felt like it fit together. So rushed and railroaded to the what-should-have-been ending.

And the rubbish trailers and commercials, all of them, which gave away the ending everyone knew was coming.

Well, at least to anyone that knows the story.

But whatever. So, back to the present with the Amazing Spider-Man 2. The Amazing Spider-Man the First made me so happy. I was so thrilled to see Spidey in action with an actor that (I feel at least) does him and Peter Parker justice. Gwen was amazing with another great actor with great chemistry between her and Peter if nothing else. I was surprised at the omission of the Lizard's family and his working at Oscorp, but I can understand changes and accept them.

It IS fantastic. I've seen it at least half a dozen times. I really don't understand people that didn't like it and I have no idea what people are smoking that think TASM2 is better than TASM the first.

Here finally was the dream I've had since a child watching the steadily devolving Spider-Man the Animated Series on TV. A larger-than-life, heroic, representation of the character I angsted with before I had ever heard the word angst. The character I mourned with, that I grew up with, the character that I love more than any other hero in fiction. 

...and they dropped the ball.

They dropped the ball so fucking hard.

They dropped the ball with arms outstretched running to the endzone from ten yards out to have it recovered by the enemy and not carried to the opposing endzone, to have sex with that ball in the middle of the field for all to watch like your one-true love's new boyfriend screwing her in front of you on the 50 yard line in a football stadium and then disrespecting her BUT SHE LIKES IT.

It hurt.

I was in shock for hours after. What just happened? Did I really watch that? Why didn't they end it when they should have ended it? Why did they do that? Why? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? WHY? Do I have to lose you too? WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

And I locked myself away with YouTube to see if anyone could make sense of the trainwreck of my childhood dreams burning away on the screen.

And cries of Sony mismanaging, forcing the hand of not just Mark Webb, but also the motivator behind Sam Raimi's descent into madness with Spider-Man 3 of the Maguire era! Sinister Six and Venom movies already announced! The Amazing Spider-Man 2 more of a Sony presentation to stockholders about what the future of their movie studio looks like for the next 5 years. Mismanagement was the first word to come to mind when I walked out of the theater and apparently is the word of the entire future of this character.

Because really, there are three Spider related sequels on the way already. TASM-3, Sinister Six, and Venom.  THREE. Three Spider-Man movies that will take at least three years to realize, and, IF they fail, which I'm not sure they will in the strictest sense of "Sony will want to stop making Spider-Man movies after those disasters," then another 5 years before their contract reverts to Disney and then how long until Joss Whedon can finally make the Spider-Man we deserve? Will he even still be alive? Will I be alive to enjoy it? Is there any worthwhile Spider-Man fanfiction out there that isn't just shipping and more of the soap opera bullshit that I dread from the comics???

And then there was the Spectacular Spider-Man.

I'd seen a few episodes here and there over the course of the last few years, and I always enjoyed it, but I'll admit to not being able to keep the different animated webhead series in place with how many there seemed to be lately. Some of them were decidedly not entertaining, some of them on the other hand, were.

YouTube turned me on to the Spectacular Spider-Man yet again, one reviewer ("Sam's Review" had a ridiculous number of great things to say about Spectacular Spider-Man and the twisted downward spiral of a web I found myself caught in latched onto Spectacular Spider-Man as possible salvation.

I knew going into it that the series was already killed and there were unresolved aspects to it, but I dismissed those and actually went out and bought the complete series of the Spectacular Spider-Man.

I didn't watch it all in one go (because I have a real life and a job), but I did devour it in a couple of days.

It started good and it got way better. There were a couple parts that generated sincere emotional responses from my synapses, whether from Spidey being heroic or getting the crap beat out of him physically and emotionally and the end just left me wanting more and more.

It was therapeutic to get to experience Spider-Man in a way that was not just palatable, but in a way that the character deserves. It was extremely unfinished though. There's a lot more in front of the character that we will never get to explore.

Oh, and the reason why is because although Sony kept the movie rights, they lost the TV rights. So Disney screwed up the animated series with the Ultimate Spider-Man and Sony screwed up the movie series with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

It's still worth it though.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Most people know that there are two square roots for every number, but for some reason we insert a disconnect and start lying to students that there is only 1 root for roots with an odd index and 2 for roots with an even index. Why is that? Isn't the truth better? Doesn't it make sense that there are n nth roots for every number? Isn't that elegant? Isn't that beautiful?

Oh, it's harder and we like our students to be idiots. I keep forgetting that.

You're right, it's much better to have people learn mathematics as a series of abstract rules that make no sense because understanding was never valued in American mathematics classrooms. Let's approach mathematics the same way as we do the Ten Commandments (#HandedDownFromOnHigh).

So, every number can be visualized as a circle. Specifically, let's imagine the number 1 as the unit circle, the circle with radius 1 centered on the origin.  Then the second root (or square root) of 1 are the two numbers located on the circle, such that when we square them, we get back to one.  In this case, it turns out that -1 and 1 are the second roots of 1, and these clearly split the circle in half.

For third roots, these are the three locations on the circle that when cubed, get back to one.  We can easily visualize this by rotations on the circle.  If you travel 1/3 of a revolution from 1, you get to the first 3rd root of 1, another 1/3 gets to the second 3rd root of 1, and a final 3rd gets us back to 1, the third 3rd root of 1.

For fourth roots, we rotate 1/4 of a revolution, fifth roots, 1/5 of a revolution, and so on. This idea that we can visualize roots as rotations is beautiful in and of itself, but it gets even better.

In order to conceptualize this two-dimensional location as a single number, we need to append an entirely different dimension to our original numbers. We can do this by attaching an arbitrary direction variable, say i. If we let i be the variable that represents traveling 1 unit "up", then -i would be 1 unit down, 5i would be 5 units up, and we can immediately start talking about a two dimensional location with a single "number", say 1+3i, which would represent traveling 1 unit right, followed by 3 units up.

According to this then, the fourth roots of i would be i after one-quarter of a revolution, -1, after another one-quarter, -i, after a third one-quarter revolution, and finally back to 1 after four one-quarter revolutions.

If we wanted to find the values of the third roots of 1, we could turn to trigonometry to find values of the unit circle at any given angle. What? We're incorporating trigonometry into our geometrical discussion of the algebraic principle of roots? Oh my God, it's almost like mathematics is completely consistent and true, and yes, again, beautiful and elegant. Trig tells us that a 1/3 rotation would result in traveling 1/2 of a unit to the left, and \sqrt(3 / 2 units up (where "\sqrt(3)" means "the square root of 3").  Then the first third root of 1 could be expressed by the single number -1/2 + \sqrt(3) / 2 i.

You could plug this into any calculator that understands complex numbers (which is what these numbers I've sneakily described with vectors actually are), cube it, and the calculator would tell you that the result of your cubing is the number 1.