Into the unknown - Post-mortem

Well, had some time to think over what I did right and wrong for my first participation in LD, or any game making sprint for that matter.
The good :
  • I ended up with something playable. Sure, it lacks a lot of stuff, but considering I had to pretty much give up on more than half of the 48 hours thanks to "life", it's still a good thing.
  • I managed to learn pyGame. I had sort of glanced over the docs before, but getting down to programming with it really is the best way to truly learn how to use it.
  • I didn't spend a single second fixing 'code' problems. That's thanks to Python, but anyway the only bugs I had were logical ones, and not some weird case of the code behaving in strange ways. That was refreshing.
  • I had loads of fun, which I see as an important point, that means I'd do it again.
The bad :
  • I tackled problems in the wrong order. I spent a huge amount of time trying to fix my lighting system, and still didn't get it right on time for the submission deadline. As I was making a platformer, I should have concentrated on getting a platformer first, and then add the light stuff.
  • In relation to the previous point, I spent way too much time on a single problem. And by not changing and working on something else, I kept trying to push in the wrong direction. Case in point : on monday, I fixed my lighting problems in about 20 minutes, because my mind was clear and I could see the solution I'd missed (hint : I was trying to determine what areas were lit, I ended up computing the shaded parts instead...).
  • I didn't allocate time for packaging. I figured that Python and pyGame being cross-platform, it would work out, but I should have spent some time to properly package for MacOSX users and Windows users. I'm going to fix that as soon as I have some time, though.
So there you go, all in all I'm proud of myself, and I'll be sure to continue working on the game. I think it has some potential, even if it's very crude and barebones at the moment.

Thanks to those who provided feedback, it's really helpful! And stay tuned for proper exe and app executables in the next few days (busy packing as I'm going to Canada on friday, but I'll find some time...).


Version 0.2 already

Don't want to read ? Here's a link :

Of course, after having slept a bit, the solution to all my light-related problems appeared to me, clear and simple...

So I couldn't resist and implemented it, look how beautiful it is ! (Ahem, getting a bit ahead of myself...)

Anyway, enjoy "Into the unknown v.0.2". Next update will probably be about some kind of new feature. Like a start screen, or maybe some kind of story-related stuff. But it'll happen when it happens.
And it'll surely improve the controls, which are a bit hard to grasp at the moment...


And that's a wrap !

Thought I was never going to finish in time, but here I am, my 'game' uploaded before the deadline... It looks somehow like this :

But honestly, when it moves it's much nicer :)

So if you're feeling brave, install python and pygame, and enjoy ! Many things I planned to put in there were left out, and I'll probably do a proper post-mortem of my experience at a later time.

It was both very fun and a very good challenge, anyway. I'll probably come back to that project to properly finish it, I think it has some kind of potential.

Anyway, links !

Ludum Dare entry page
Actual file (source code, you need python and pygame to play...)

Of course, I'm very interested in any kind of feedback you could have... Comment away !


Hum, not much time left...

...and my lights still aren't properly working... *sigh*

That being said, I'm now designing levels, got 17 down, still need around 23, but describing them all by hand is quite time consuming. And with all that, there's still no music, no sound, no story, ...

I hope to have at least a basic "explore the labyrinth to find the exit" type of thing for the deadline, but a complete version will probably have to wait for after the end of the competition. Ah well, at least I'm having fun :p


And, ladies and gentlemen, let there be light !

Well, ok, it's not impressive as of yet, but my proof-of-concept jusing a bitmask works like a charm (just tested it in five minutes...). So I'm confident I'll have the kind of lights I want tomorrow...

This is looking very good this far...

And here's a screenshot (also, some kind of background :D)

Now, I need to compute the boundary of a weird polygon... Then maybe, soft shadows ?

Yay ! Levels can now be loaded !

I now have a pretty good grasp on the game I want to make (obviously, it'll be some kind of platformer...), and the code is coming along nicely.

This is what I've got right now :

This starts looking like a game, right ?

I will now start thinking about the biggest challenge : a dynamic lighting system. Got some ideas, but it won't be easy. Wish me luck !


Physical setup complete !

Ok, took me a bit longer than expected, but my room is ready !

Vignetting effect courtesy of my wide-angle lens.

Guitars are there, music is playing, I have fruits handy, desk is tidy, and the fridge is full of stuff... Now to the software part...


Ludum Dare #19

So, this weekend will be pretty busy. Between the Japanese class, the family reunion on saturday night, and some last-minute present shopping, I'm going to try and take part in Ludum Dare #19.

I mentionned Ludum Dare previously, but to recap, it's a competition where the goal is to make a game based on a yet-to-be-revealed theme in 48 hours, starting from scratch.

It's going to be tough, but I really want to try and get together something playable during the weekend. In my timezone, the contest will start at 3am on saturday, and end at the same time monday, so I'll still have a reasonable amount of time.

I'll (try to) blog and tweet regularly during the process, so expect things here during the weekend. For the curious, you can check what I'll be using there.


How to feel good about yourself today.

Who doesn't like feeling like a good person once in a while ? And who doesn't like getting something for it to boot ?

Well, guess what, for a little more than 6 days still, that's exactly what you can do !

Here's the deal : you buy 5 great games for any price you want, then decide who gets the money. Sounds good? Head over to the Humble Indie Bundle #2 page.

Still not convinced ? Then please take a couple of minutes to read about some specifics after the break...


Besoin d'un avis, les geeks...

[Note : Sorry for the post in French...]

J'ai besoin de votre avis à propos d'un projet en train de germer...
A savoir, une compétition de création de jeux vidéos.

L'idée est de proposer de créer, seul ou à deux, un jeu vidéo complet en 48 heures (pendant un week-end, d'un vendredi 19h au dimanche 19h, pour pouvoir quand même dormir avant la semaine :) ).

Après le week-end de création, les participants auraient l'occasion de jouer aux créations de leurs concurrents, et de voter dans différentes catégories (gameplay, graphismes, originalité, ...). Ensuite, le vainqueur dans chaque catégorie serait annoncé.

L'idée en est pour l'instant là, donc pas encore de dates, de règlement complet ou autre. Simplement, une envie de pousser les gens à concevoir des jeux, et à le faire "sous la pression" afin que quelque chose en sorte. Mais ce genre d'évènement ne pouvant se concrétiser que si des gens sont désireux d'y participer, je commence par voir si, autour de moi, certains seraient potentiellement intéressés.

Si ça vous tente "dans l'absolu", faites-le moi savoir (via un commentaire, par exemple, ou un mail), que j'aie une petite idée de l'intérêt que l'idée génère... Faites aussi passer l'idée autour de vous, avec mon adresse mail ( ou un lien vers ce poste si vous avez des amis, ou des amis d'amis, qui pourraient avoir envie de participer...

Merci d'avance à ceux qui prendront le temps de répondre !

Enfin, pour ceux qui connaissent, le concept est très visiblement inspiré de la compétition Ludum Dare (


What is he doing all the way over there ? [05]

And here comes the next batch of words mostly about a guy in a far-off country (well far-off, depends on where you are while reading this). Anyway ! Let's skip a pictureless day and go straight to...
Day 9 [07/05] : Saltwater

Another day at the beach !

This pretty much looks like the quintessential summer vacation picture from Japan in my mind. Maybe I'm weird, but it's like that.

We went to a nice small beach together with Takahiro and Pascale to enjoy the sunny weather. Nice and relaxed, even if uneventful for the most part (of course, I can't mention having to stay longer than expected because Takahiro managed to get water on his pants in a rather suspicious place... wouldn't be nice).

The beach in question. Beautiful AND without anyone else.

 We spent the second half of the afternoon doing some shopping and other mundane stuff, though we catched a glimpse of something unusual...

A belgian beer store !

And, as the evening drew closer and my stomach started growling, Pascale's friends from the International House took me to out to eat yakiniku. Don't know what that is ? There you go :

So. Good. Also, so. much.

The picture doesn't convey the main characteristic of this meal : during something like 2 hours, you're free to order as much meat (and drinks) as you want. And this meat being of the extremely tasty kind, you order a LOT, and end up completely full. For a meat-lover like myself, this was a real treat. Also, being in excellent company did help too !

Guess who's who : Alex, Toby, Bakari, Shin, Takahiro, Pascale, Robin, Claire, Manu, Sam, and yours truly. Thanks for the awesome evening, guys !

(Don't miss the second serving after the break !)


What is he doing all the way over there ? [04]

Well, no, you're not dreaming, this is finally the follow-up to my articles written when I was in Japan last spring. I'll try to dig up some of the more interesting stories from that time now almost lost in the mist of the past, mainly because SOMEONE is bugging me to see some more photos (also, sorry, but I'm going to skip a few days for which I don't have any picture)...

Anyway, if you remember, last thing I blogged about was going into Takahiro's family for a couple of days.

So let's start from there.

Day 5 [03/05] : Journey into the morn

We had a whole lot to do that day... After waking up quite early (for a vacation), we embarked, Takahiro, his mother, his brother, Pascale and I, into a car, a started our journey around the surroundings of Kumamoto by going to a viewing spot in the nearby mountains.

There were wind turbines there. Did I mention that I find those very pretty ?

Then, the next stop was at a spring. Photographs can't do it justice very well, but it was funny, as the water was coming out of the ground, through gravel. Bubbles ensued.

The spring was surrounded by a temple and a couple of buildings. Very relaxing atmosphere, and the weather was beautiful.

After praying at the temple, we were starting to get hungry. Not sure if there was a causality link, but anyway, we went to a nearby ramen shop where we had some finger-lickin' good ramen. We were told it was a "special" kind of ramen, but as to what made it special... That's still some kind of a mystery. But without delving further into the matter, we got into the car once more, for it was time for the "main event" of the day :

Yes, that's the crater of a live volcano. It's impressive. The smell is, too.

That was my first time seeing a live volcano, it's kinda humbling. That is, until the wind carries the awful smell towards you. If you're curious, take a sandwich with eggs in it, and leave it there for 10 days or something. It should give you a pretty accurate simulation.

Our noses (and lungs) were happy when we moved to another viewing spot, and then into a spa. Before you ask, no, I did not go to an onsen. That's just not for me... But walking around the complex, lost in a deep valley, between trees, was a very relaxing way to spend the end of the afternoon.

A view of the spa.

We had walked quite a bit during the day, and I must admit stopping for a while to dip your feet in hot spring water was a real treat.

Then, the time came to go back to Kumamoto, where Takahiro's family would join us for a supper in a nice restaurant. Well, to be honest, it was more us joining them seeing how we arrived late thanks to pretty hardcore traffic jams. The thing I'll remember of this supper is Takahiro's very extravert uncle, who amongst other things told me I used my chopsticks "in a very elegant way". Not sure it was a real compliment though.

Need I say I fell asleep pretty quickly that night ?


And amidst the void...

Well things are pretty quiet around here... Mainly due to the fact that I'm moving, so the past few weeks have been nothing but tremendous administrative fun.

Anyway, I'm not dead, and I look forward to having the opportunity of a fresh start to hopefully commit more to this blog. Stay tuned for more live reports, anime rants, video game thingies and whatnot.


What is he doing all the way over there ? [03]

Sorry for the belated, almost picture-less and short post. But I'm getting very tired, and unfortunately Day 5 is a event-heavy one, which means quite a bit of writing. So bear with me here, I'll try to get "episode 4" done quick snap.

Day 4 [02/05] : A prelude

So, I said something about a "more culure-oriented" day, right ? Well, this was because it was the day when Pascale and I would have the opportunity to attend the 50th anniversary concert given by the Fukuoka University's mandolin club.

One can ask : "But why ? You're not particularly known for your passion for mandolin.", which would be a valid point. But the thing is, I know two members of said mandolin club, which was more than enough of a reason for us to take this chance to try something new. Not to mention one of the two mandolin players had sent me two tickets for the event ! So sweet (and if you ever read this, thank you so much, Erika) !

The Fukuoka Acros, where the concert was taking place. Beautiful with all those plants, and the inside is just as impressive.

And I'm really glad I went. Even though I must admit, not all the pieces played were awesome, much of the concert was very good. It was also a very original experience. At first I thought it would be only - or almost only - mandolins, but it was a whole bunch of them, plus many guitars, and some other instruments (percussions, flutes, contrabasses, ...). That made for a very full sound. And at one point, a Japanese singer, Kazuo Zaitsu, came to perform some of song, backed by the orchestra. So, all in all, an impressive and memorable experience. Too bad I couldn't take pictures inside the concert hall...

But, but, BUT, that's not all ! After the concert, I was left alone by Pascale to wander through Tenjin while she went to meet her famed boyfriend before they would come and pick me up so we could go to his grandmother's house in Kumamoto.

Yeah, you left me alone, "bad sister" !

Saying that I was impatient to finally meet "the man" would be an understatement. I didn't even have the chance to talk with him on Skype like my parens did, so I really only had seen pictures of Takahiro, and of course the description from Pascale. But that wouldn't do anyone justice, now would it ?

Conclusion : a very cool and natural first contact. We readily went along, and the trip to Kumamoto ended up a very relaxed one, with us going to eat a ramen before leaving Fukuoka. We had fun watching the very scary ramen shop owner, who really didn't seem like the kindest person...

Kumamoto, here we come !

The end of the evening was spent a Takahiro's grandmother's house, among the almost non-english speaking family, and I must say I was really nervous at first. But then, as I discovered that not only could I pick up the general topic of what was being talked about in a satisfying manner, but that they all were very nice people, it was a bit easier. To give you an idea, there was a total of 8 people in the house : Takahiro, his cousin, his aunt, his uncle, his older brother, his mother, Pascale and me. Made me realize I really should take those Japanese classes I've meant to for so long...


What is he doing all the way over there ? [02]

So I heard I didn't put enough photographs in my first post ? I'll try to correct that with this one, then ! (But I want to keep some so that I can still bother everyone when I get back :D)

Day 2 [30/04] : Standing there

Well, seeing how late the previous day ended, we took it easy. And in fact, pretty much the only thing we did was going to the nice nearby supermarket, because Pascale wanted to cook me something.

Hey, don't laugh! It's quite tricky to make a "e".

Something, as in yakisoba (a sort of fried noodles). And it was so good ! She'll tell you that it was too "liquid", but I say it tasted very good anyway. And afterwards we spent the evening watching movies, a "serious one", Die Welle, and a more funny one, 2012. But do not think it was the start of a lazy period, because the following day was quite packed...

Day 3 [01/05] : Look into the air

As we were now well rested, we kicked the day off by going into Tenjin, Fukuoka's busy retail district. If you like browsing through shops - almost any kind of shop, in fact - it's those kind of district that you should go to. Everywhere, huge shopping malls that sell everything from the latest clothes to Hello Kitty spoons. It has, of course, a big Tower Records shop too, which is pretty dangerous for yours truly's wallet...

A rare sight : an empty walkway section in Tenjin !

What's even better is what you discover when you are guided by someone who had the time to look past all the flashy-looking stores to discover the ones filled with an incredible amount of random... random... stuff. I mean, there's no other way of describing the ginormous variety of things they sell in Village Vanguard stores. There's almost no room to move around the store, and you stumble successively on books about coffee, on NES controller-shaped bags, then on halloween costumes or math-rock CDs. It's crazy...

Lots of massive buildings in Tenjin...

Then, after all the randomness, we went to see some of the landmarks of the Fukuoka cityscape. First on the list was Fukuoka Tower, the tallest building of the city located just next to the beach. We didn't go all the way up because of the rather expensive admittance fee, but it was already impressive seen from the ground.

If this doesn't look like vacations, I don't know what does.

Of course (I was with my sister, after all) we ended up on the beach next. But that shouldn't make you think it was a totally ordinary one. It's Japan. So, one section of the beach was occupied by what is called "Marizone". And not "Mari" as in "Marine". No no, "Mari" as in "Marry".

Aaaah, Japan...

Yeah, yeah, that's right, a fake "European-like" church, and some "lovely" buildings all dedicated for marriage. It's awfully kitsch, but I guess it's kinda successful, or at least it attracts enough people to make selling hot-dogs a profitable business.

Just got married ? How about a nice hot-dog ?

You know, maybe the main attraction is in fact that hot-dog shop with its signs, and Marizone is just capitalizing on the crowd it attracts...

Before going back to the International House, we dropped by the Fukuoka Dome, or rather Yahoo! Dome, the baseball stadium of the city. Which is big. And has a dome on top of it, hence the name. There's a lot of baseball merchandising that's being selled and bought, and if you want you can shake hands with a lot of stars whose hands are replicated all around the dome. If you get the chance, I suggest checking those out, because some are accompagnied with words that will make your eyes sparkle with renewed ethusiasm.

Thank you Jon, now I know everything is possible !

So, I told you, quite a busy day... Before a quiter, more "cultural" one, who would also see me meet Takahiro, Pascale's boyfriend, for the very first time. Exciting, isn't it ?

Don't nitpick, it's somewhat dome-shaped.


What is he doing all the way over there ? [01]

Ladies and gentlemen, let me FINALLY welcome you to this first episode of my "Japanese Adventures". I know, I know. It sounds a little pretentious, and it's more of a relaxing vacation than a full-fledged adventure, but whatever.

So, what have I been up to ?

Day 0 [27-28/04] : Wanderlust

Before one can enjoy life in a far-off country, one first needs to get there. And oh boy, was this travel long... Just to break it down :

5 hours spent waiting in Zaventem Airport;
1 hour to fly to Munich
2 hours waiting in Munich before...
11 hours and a half to get to Narita Airport.

But Narita is still far away from Fukuoka, so you need to add to that more than 6 hours of train... So you can imagine how happy I was to FINALLY meet Pascale... Who didn't want her photo taken, apparently.

This one looks like a commercial picture

After that long-awaited reunion, we went to the the creepy building I would be staying in for a little more than 2 weeks. And it was really creepy, with the wind making strange noise with the windows, the eerie silence and the slightly run-down appearance of it all...

Okay, now you tell me. WHERE are the zombies ?

But, you need to know that I could have agreed on sleeping anywhere at that point, because I was hungry as hell. Because, you see, I was asleep when they brought the meal in the plane. Then, with all the trains and so forth, I didn't have the chance to grab anything to eat. So I put down my stuff, and we rushed to the nearest "Joyfull". Now laugh all you want, but the double "l" is not a misspelling on their part... It's some kind of 24h/24 semi-fast food that serves all kinds of hamburgers (not in buns like "typical" fast-foods, though), pizzas, and also some japanese dishes. And that double-hamburger with cheese was more than enough to fill me up. Not sure if I was full with joy, though...

Day 1 [29/04] : Past times with good company

The next day was the day my sister took me to what was supposed to be a ginormous electronics store with everything I could ever want in it. I won't comment on that, but let me say that she was "also surprised, [she] thought there was more in it". But anyway, that was cool because then we got to eat some Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. And even if that contained a lot of cabbage, it was still delicious. A little difficult to eat, but it tasted awesome.

This is where the delicious food gets eaten.

The evening of the 29th was something I couldn't wait for : I was to meet the group of students that came to Louvain-la-Neuve at the end of winter. This year again, seeing them go had been a sad moment, so being able to reunite with at least some of them was something I was really looking forward to.

And what a night it was ! First, we went eating in a restaurant where we had a reserved room, and where we could order as much drinks and food as we wanted to. I'm sorry, I can't remember what we ate exactly though, there was just too much different plates... Anyway, we moved around quite a bit, changin places so that everyone was able to talk with pretty much everyone, which was really fun.

As you see (maybe), some other international students where there too (as was my sister). The more the merrier !

Afterwards, we went - of course - to an arcade to take some crazy "Purikura" pictures, then off to the karaoke we went ! And seein as we (as in, Pascale and I, because she was falling asleep) left at 3:30 in the morning, you can guess how much fun we had !

And I sang 2 Backstreet Boys songs... Not alone, but still. At least I compensated with Stratovarius and Enter Shikari !

All in all, that was an awesome way to kick off this trip, I was so glad to be able to catch a first glimpse of Pascale's universe in Fukuoka, and of course to see everyone again ! Now, this will do as a first batch of "news", because the internet connection is acting up here, so I'll wait until later tonight when I can upload pictures more easily... Stay tuned for more news almost-live from Fukuoka !

...from this building, in particular.


Fly Away

Let me borrow this song title from THYME in order for me to warn you that I'll be in Japan for almost a month starting tomorrow.

I should have access to the Internet fairly often, so I'll try to report back here from time to time, but don't hold your breath... Me and regular posting, you know...

Anyway, see you as soon as possible !


Exploring the love-hate of new webcomics

Webcomics are good stuff. I don't mean that every webcomic is good, but rather that the general concept is pretty cool. Much like their printed counterparts, these weekly/daily/whateverly short strips are a nice way to start the day with a good laugh or a clever observation.

But, as we all know, the power of the Internet makes everything more awesome, so of course this holds for comics. The trick here is that whatever your center of interest, there's a comic that will appeal to you. There, let me show you...

You like geeky humour, mathematical/scientific references ? Try XKCD, Abstruse Goose or The Doghouse Diaries;

Or would you rather read stuff about video games ? There's VGCats or Penny Arcade for you;

And there's always bizarre stuff like Garfield strips without Garfield.

So that's good, right ? Well, yes, except no. Most popular or semi-popular have been running since quite a long time. So when someone tells you "Dude, you should totally check xyzwebcomic out, it's awesome!", chances are that you'll have to read several hundreds installements before catching up. And that eats at your free time...

So much, in fact, that sometimes it almost feels like a chore. Because on one end you cannot and don't want to stop reading, but on the other side you started 5 hours ago, and it's getting late. But one more strip, right ?

All in all, I now dread it when someones tells me to go read a webcomic. Unfortunately for me though, I'm curious, so I always end up reading anyway. That being said, I'm fortunate enough to have friends with quite good tastes, which leads up to discoveries like the one that happened this year.

And that is A softer world.

My friend Joan mentioned it in an email without further elaborating, but when I checked it out I was immediatly drawn to it. The idea of using photographs is great, and the whole "mood" of the comic is excellent. There's some dark humour, some sweet stuff, a handful of zombies. And Baby Doom.

I don't think throwing around words will do the comic any justice, so here are a few of them I especially like, hoping they'll get you to check out the rest !

Stepping unto the stage.

Next week, on the 24th and 25th of april, I'm going to do something I've been wanting to do for a long time : play on stage in a band.

Now, don't get me wrong, I already had plenty of occasions to play live with other musicians, but for the most part it was simply getting a few friends together, rehearse a couple times for a particular occasion, and do a quick set. Those weren't real bands. I must, of course, set what I did on countless occasions with that singing sister of mine. But then again when we're playing together, we're a duo, not a fullblown band.

So, I'm really excited ! The band I'm playing in, "Riding on a band with no name", is a celtic folk band. For now, we're doing covers of traditional and not-so-traditional material, but we hope to move on to compositions soon(ish). What's best is that we'll probably be playing outside, which is perfectly fitting for our type of music. Also, you do not want to have a bagpipe playing in a small room next to you. :)

Another thing that makes me love this quartet (for now, we're planning on adding at least one more member, but she's in Japan, if you see what I mean...) is that we switch instuments. I play the guitar and on some occasions percussions, we've got a harp player that also sometimes helps with percussions, a flutist/bagpipist(?)/guitarist, and a singer. In the future, I may start playing bass or something, and well, not being stuck with only one thing to do feels really refreshing.

If you happen to be in Belgium, not too far from Limal/Profondsart (near Wavre, Walloon Brabant), then come see us ! We play six times over the course of the two days, and you'll find all the relevant info on this website. Bring your friends, and be ready to clap your hands and sing with us !

Now, all I need to do is convince the members of the post-rock band I'm in to set a date for our first gig...


2009 in anime: The lost chapters

Hum. So I told you my last post was long overdue ? What about this one then ! But still, I feel the urge to express at least something for the remaining two moments of the 2009 in anime project, so I'm gonna write this post anyway, even if 2009 has now come to pass, and we are already well into 2010.

So let's get down to it.

At spot number 2, there's a rewatch. I know, that's cheating, but in all honesty the hour I spent watching Byousoku 5 Centimeters for the 6th or 7th time at the beginning of winter was just so perfect that I couldn't pass it up.

First, you have to know that 5 centimeters per second is still my favorite anime of all time. Makoto Shinkai's movie hit home the first time, and I don't think any number of rewatches could ever take away its magic. But this winter's watching session was second only to the first time I saw it.

The conditions were absolutely perfect : no one around, heavy snowfalls outside as the sun was slowly setting, and this warm fuzzy feeling you get at the end of a lazy winter sunday. I was recovering from a cold, and on I just felt like watching "the" masterpiece again.

And once again, it was perfect. Once again, that ending hit me like a punch in the stomach, and left me empty yet happy. I don't know if I really can explain that special feeling correctly... If you loved the movie, you probably understand, and if you haven't... What are you still doing here ?

Oh, right, you're waiting for the big winner ! Well, here it comes...

2009's #1 moment is one that probably stayed in the mind of many viewers long after the end of a seemingly generic harem/"slice-of-life" anime that aired in the winter of 2008. This was a series based on a visual novel, like many others. But strangely nothing in it beside the title followed the original work. It had a totally different universe, cast, and plot.

This was for the best.

This allowed for some true tears to wet the eyes of many.

The thing that drew me to True Tears was an AMV (Anime Music Video) titled "in watercolours" (found by Pascale, did I mention how awesome she is?). The character designs looked good, the animation too, it seemed sad and tragic, and the AMV was so expertly made that I felt the show would be good.

Then I read a review on Anime Diet titled "The Sum of All Tears" which pretty much sealed the deal.

And boy was I not disappointed.

The whole show was great, and felt quite "emotionnaly authentic", if that makes any sense. The drama didn't feel too contrived for the most part, and the characters behaved mostly normally. The show refrain from overusing misunderstandings - well, there are some, but it's not as over-the-top as it could easily have been - and concludes the love triangle in the most heart-rending way possible.

And if True Tears characters do cry throughout the series, it's at the end that the anime earns its title. In the end, our main protagonist has to make a choice, and, well, forgive me for quoting the review I was referring to earlier :

What impressed me even more than the choice Shinichiro made–it was the emotionally honest and clear thing to do–was how he expressed it. In a triumph of believability and emotional nuance, especially for romance anime, Shinichiro managed to demonstrate to Noe how his mind can be made up and can still be in such pain at their parting, to the point where he speaks what is perhaps the best line in the whole show: “But when I look at you, my heart wavers.” [...] That he is still able to move forward with his choice is a mark of his new maturity. It was beautiful to see how he realized that she can both be an inspiration and important part of his life and still not be his lover. He perfectly expressed this by singing Noe’s song, between sobs, as an ode to his true love Hiromi. If anything, it reminds me of the recent film Once, which also showed how the product of deep love need not be hugs, kisses, and dates; it can also be a song, which lasts even after the man and woman leave each other. Or it can be a picture book about a chicken who wants to fly.

Those words aptly relfect my feelings about the show's ending. Sure, it was painful, maybe more painful than ef - which is arguably more emotionnally taxing on the whole -, but it felt so right. I really can't say enough good about True Tears. It's a shame that such a wonderful show will probably stay obscure, because romances that ring so true are way too hard to come by...


Dreaming through the noise : StartOfTheDay - Melody Runner

It's long overdue, but here it is, my first "Dreaming through the noise" post. As I said earlier, I wanted to post some kinds of short reviews, and so here we are, you're about to read the first of those.

And the first album I want to share with you is Melody Runner, by StartOfTheDay.

StartOfTheDay is a Japanese band that does a strange kind of rock... I think that the best description of their music I have ever read of them was on the late unchained blog (which is now 23ji no ongaku, in case you still didn't know [also, go read it :) ] ), where StartOfTheDay was described as "Airplane Music". And honestly, it's exactly that.

Melody Runner is the most recent album put out by the band, if you exclude their best of. The disc features a collection of that, well, are perfectly suited to that time when you look through the plane's window to see the sun rising above the clouds in the distance, shedding golden rays of lights on the Earth. Sounds a bit grandiloquent ? Well, maybe it is, but that's really the best way I can describe how StartOfTheDay's music makes me feel. And before you ask, no, it doesn't get stale. The songs do sound different from each other, it's just that the uplifting factor is strong in almost all of them. But I guess I should let the band speak for themselves, don't you think ?

The song I chose to pick from the album is called "Whisper", and is a prime example of what StartOfTheDay does so well. It's uplifting, epic, yet delicate. For sure, the high-pitched vocals may take some time to get used to, but even if you don't like them, please take some minutes off what you're doing, lay back and close your eyes. Then tell me if the music doesn't prompt you to think of flying or at least something equally stirring.

The first time I heard this song, I thought at first that the intro was okay, very post-rockish in both mood and composition, and seeing how long it is I was prepared for a slow-paced song. But then, those marching drums kicks in, quickly followed by an awesome piano melody. By the time the first words were sung, I was sold, and Whisper has been my top StartOfTheDay track since.

It is really a shame that for now the future of the band is uncertain. They lost two members, and have been silent for months now, which is kinda worrying. I hope that, sometime in the future, we'll hear again from them and that they'll continue to bring us their special brand of "Airplane Rock", because bands that can match the uplifting power of StartOfTheDay's music are few and far between.

Links : Official Website - MySpace


Digital Rooftop: At the start of the dream

These past few months have been FULL of good games coming out : I still have to play Star Ocean (the PS3 version), I had a blast with Heavy Rain, I dived into Final Fantasy XIII as soon as it was available, I recently got Sands of Destruction on the DS, I've yet to complete Silent Hill Shattered Memories...

That's a lot to do.

Yet all those are going to sit on their shelf as I'm indulging in a game I've been waiting for since I first heard of it, more than a year ago. It's release date is this friday, but I managed to find a copy in a store where it had been delivered already.

So I put the disc in my console as soon as I could, but unfortunately only had half an hour to try it out. But even in such a short time, the game delighted me more than FFXIII's awesome graphics or Heavy Rain's realism could.

But which game is it, I hear you ask ? It's "Fragile Dream ~ Farewell ruins of the moon" on the Wii.

That game has it all : As Seto, you're bound to explore a derelict post-apocalyptic world from which humankind seems to have vanished entirely. Except for a silver-haired girl you meet at the start of the game, and who runs off just as quickly. And you guessed it, our brave young man will try to find her again, all the while traveling through an eerie abandoned Tokyo in the direction of the only place that shines in the cityscape : Tokyo Tower.

This plot looks almost like someone tried to make my perfect game! And seeing the beginning of the adventure only confirmed what listening to the soundtrack and watching the trailers indicated : the dreamy quest will be enchanting every step of the way. The setting oozes a strange kind of magic, the kind of which you can find in ICO or Shadow of the Colossus.

Fragile Dreams is at heart a "survival-horror" game, but from which you would replace the "horror" part with something far more dreamy and eerie (I'm gonna wear those two words out if I'm to write more than one post about this game...). And the "survival" part ? Well, looks like Seto's adventure will be more about exploring than surviving... So I guess the game is an "Exploration-Dream" after all ? Sounds about right...



What are your memories made of ?

Once all the photographs have been lost in a fire (or a hard drive crash), when there's no video on the Internet capturing the moment, what is capabable of evoking vivid images of days long past in your head ?

Figuring out the most common trigger for me isn't really rocket science : it's music. That's pretty common, but it's the truth nonetheless. Reading a post on the subject on Nicole (formerly pengie)'s "23ji no ongaku" (formerly "unchained") made me realize that, yeah, not only do I associate music with periods of time or event, but down the road even the best photographs aren't as powerful as said music in terms of evocative power.

At times, these links are so strong that unconsciously go back to a particular album when conditions match to some extent the "original" memories. A prime example of that is the soundtrack to the Escaflowne movie. I listened to it extensively during our trip to Tunisia at the end of my last year of high school. Now, it's really one of my "summer-only" album, and one that almost switch me instantly to "recollection mode".

Setting my portable media player on random is like taking a stroll through time, spending pensive summer nights with MONO, proudly leaving an exam room in the company of Kamelot, finishing reading a book crying to Chihiro Onitsuka, or learning to play the guitar with Metallica.

If Xenogears is my favourite game, it's for good reasons. One of these is this quote, taken from the beginning of the game :

" Music is a mysterious thing. Sometimes it makes people remember things they do not expect. Many thoughts, feelings, memories... things almost forgotten... Regardless of whether the listener desires to remember or not."

That is so very true. I cannot tell how many times I've been taken back by a song I hadn't listened to in months, or, on several occasions, years. The feeling is akin to vertigo, so sweeping that usually I have to pause for a moment and let the memories come back. In a way, music is not completetely unlike magic.

On the other side of things, another feeling I cherish is the one I get when I realize that a song/album is beginning to associate itself irrevocably to what I'm living. Because I know then that I'll be able to recover a big part of what made that moment special simply by listening to that song or album. For example, Eastmountainsouth is now permanently linked to my first trip to Japan last august, and more specifically their song "Still Running" is now synonymous with Kyoto in my mind.

People sometimes tell me that I spend too much time with my headphones on, especially when I'm visiting new places. I'm supposedly "missing out" on many things. And I can agree to some extent, as hearing the background noise of a place is part of the experience. Yet I don't simply listen to music to "kill the noise" or "isolate myself", but rather to engrave things into my brain.

To me, music is more than simply the "soundtrack" of my life. My identity is completely entwined with what I listen to, and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Whimsical pictures: Weeks 4-6 of winter 2010

Well, so much for staying on schedule... But no sweat, I'm just going to make up for lost time by posting my impressions for the past three weeks.

Sora no Woto - 04, 05 & 06

The last three weeks of Sora no Woto continued to delight me, yet it really needs to pick up now. There are way too many great things about the world that beg to be explored further.

For example, there is a scene at the end of episode 5 where the girls are showed an apocalyptic landscape, but like, really, destroyed skyscrappers and all. It hints at the timeframe of Sora no Woto being our future, but it still doesn't explain what caused our world to change so drastically. And that's probably the question I want answered the most : the past of the characters seem like good opportunities to approach this central question from various angles, but are not -as of now- enough to keep the whole series going.

But, well, it's still gorgeous to look at, and the opening theme by Kalafina is really an awesome song !

Verdict so far : Great

Ookami Kakushi - 04, 05 & 06

Things continue to fall into place, yet we're still mostly in the dark. Sure, everyone who's watching ought to have a fairly good guess on what is going on, yet I know I for one would be very hard pressed to find who is doing what exactly.

Except for Issei doing creepy things. That one's easy, as was forseeing the true identity of the scythe-wielding girl. And finally, the guy who is seen having bad dreams in several of the first episodes (and who was conducting the drugs deal, did you notice ?) is taking steps towards becoming a more important character. My only true gripe with the show is how passive the main character still is. But I want answers, so I'll bear with it.

Verdict so far : Pretty Good

Dance in the Vampire Bund - 04, 05 & 06

Incredible, those episodes were actually pretty good. I really hope it's finally Dance in the Vampire Bund showing its true colors. They don't have that much episodes left, but enough to tell a good story, if they decide to.

After the third week, I was almost ready to give up on my hopes regarding SHAFT's latest production, but I may have judged them too soon...

Verdict so far : Decent

Durarara!! - 04, 05 & 06

Oh, my. They did it again. And again, and then again a third time. I don't know how Brain Base do it, but it seems like that studio is able to pull any type of episode off with equal ease. Be it lengthy expositions, action-packed scenes, mystery-filled moment, it just works.

Frankly, I'm almost considering buying a thesaurus to help me find synonyms of "good", "awesome" or "great". Because honestly up to now I can't complain about any aspect of Durarara!!, and if it keeps its momentum, it's directly headed to somewhere near the top of my all-time favorite list.

So, well, if you're not watching this one, may I ask why ?

Verdict so far : Need I say it's still awesome ?

Baka to Test to Shukanjuu - 04, 05 & 06

The best thing about Baka to Test is that it REALLY doesn't take itself seriously. It's a show that you can sit in front of, switch of your brain and enjoy. Sure, some of the jokes are done over and over to the point where you see them coming from miles away, but on the whole they're still funny.

I really think of Baka to Test as the "shonen" counterpart to the "shojo" Ouran Host Club. Only maybe with a way higher level of fanservice. Yet, I suppose that's a pretty universal difference between shonen and shojo shows.

Verdict so far : Very good

Closing notes :

Well, the pictures are coming, but I wanted to have this out of the door in time. As I would have for the gazillion other posts that are currently half-written, or the ones still in my head. The next post will probably be about what's keeping me away from writing now (kinda ironic, isn't it ?).

Also, please please please go vote for the International Saimoe League ! The second phase of the preliminaries is starting today, and some characters need your support, badly. In particular, Shindo Chihiro, Senjogahara Hitagi, Miyamura Miyako, Isurugi Noe and Amamura Yuuko. There's no sign-up required, so don't be shy ;) And I swear I'll do proper posts explaining why I think those characters are worth voting for. As soon as I find the time and if they're still in the competition, of course.


Live report: Next Exit to Nowhere & Presence of soul

(Pictures -from a cellphone- by Laurie Delmer)

On the first day of february, something happened. For an hour, time stood still, my whole universe centered around what was happening a couple of meters before my eyes. Eerie guitar melodies filled the air, as if coiling around melodic basslines and the precise hits of a drummer. And on top of it all, a voice. Gentle yet powerful, aerial yet filled with feeling.

I was in the Spirit of 66 in Verviers on monday, and I saw Presence of soul work their magic.

This was a special night, that is sure. Arriving something like an hour early with two friends, we had the chance to chat a little bit with some members of the organisation (who were, let it be known, really nice people) about how we came to know about the show and the band. Because Presence of soul isn't really what you would call a "famous" band, though they'd deserve to be.

The Japanese post-rock outfit were concluding their first three-dates European tour, and were playing in the Spirit of 66, which is not a venue that's specialized in post-rock, unlike places like the Vaartkapoen for example. Rather, they usually host progressive/classic rock bands. So, the relative obscurity of the band and the unusual genre for the place unfortunately combined to reduce the attendance to somewhere probably less than 50 as far as I could guess.

The low attendance made me a bit disappointed for the bands, but I could do nothing about it, so I concentrated on the music when the opening act stepped onto the stage. During their show, they displayed a number of very interesting ideas, but unfortunately some playing mistakes and on the whole a lack of stage presence (the only word the band adressed to the audience was "Merci", which is nice, but they didn't even present themselves, nor say goodbye, and yet they speak the local language) prevented the show to move beyond being "good".

That being said, I'm not that familiar with Next Exit to Nowhere (excellent name, by the way), but what I heard of them before the live was very good, and in my opinion way better than the live versions. I do suspect some technical problems though, for example regarding the drums microphones.

Afterwards, it was Presence of soul's turn to step up and make some noise. And from the get-go, they showed they meant business. Even with such a small audience, they really put on an impressive show. And they confirmed something I'm starting to notice about Japanese post-rock bands : they look beautiful on stage. The way they move, the total abandon, the sheer energy, the obvious pleasure to be on stage are unparalleled. MONO, Presence of soul, envy... All these bands have something in common on stage, something that Explosions in the sky or Yndi Halda don't.

But aestethics asides, the music was jaw-dropping. Compared to the album, the drums and bass really shone and took a bit of the focus away from the guitars, which are more prevalent on the recording. YUKI's voice was every bit as good as on the CD, and on the whole, I'm impressed at how they manage to improve their songs live compared to the album. I honestly didn't think it was possible to such an extent.

I could probably go on for many pages about the virtues of the band, but I'd rather urge every one who has the chance to go and catch them live. It's more than worth it.

After the show, we even had the chance to greet them, and the impression they gave off from the stage wasn't proved wrong : they were happy to exchange a few words with those of us who approached us (in something not totally unlike English), and take pictures or sign CDs. It was a great way to finish off an amazing night.

As a closing word, a big thanks to all the people involved : to the management of the Spirit of 66 for hosting this show, to Higashi Music for making it happen (you deserve much praise guys, I'll continue to follow your activities from now on), and to Next Exit to Nowhere for taking up the difficult task of opening in front of so few people. And, of course, thanks to Presence of soul for turning a normal monday evening into one my perfect birthday present !

Some links :

Next Exit To Nowhere : official website - MySpace - GarageBand
Presence of soul : official website - MySpace - Facebook
Higashi Music : official website - Facebook


Whimsical pictures: ISML 2010 has just begun!

Do you know what "ISML" stands for ? If you do, then this post won't teach you anything new, but if you're like I was some months ago, you absolutely don't have a clue. And if I tell you that it means "International Sai Moe League", that doesn't really help.

Well, the ISML can be described as a sort of popularity contest pitting female anime characters that appearead on shows that aired last year against each other. And all around the so-called "anime blogosphere", or "otakusphere", you can see bloggers campaigning for their girl(s) of choice.

So what's the big deal ? Isn't the ISML like any number of tournaments that can be found on the internet ? Well, yes and no. While it's maybe a little less in the international version of the Sai Moe tournament (the Japanese one being even more extreme), this is a tournament that really seems to light up the flame of passion hidden inside many anime fans.

Some of the "official" coverage places become the center of heated debate on why did X lose against Y, or how come Z passed this round. Factions form, betrayal happen.

But what got me interested in Sai Moe is the way so many people seem to be passionate about their favourite characters. Sure, you may find the whole affair pointless and/or childish, but to me it goes to show something that sets anime apart from many entertainment media.

Anime characters have a way to be "alive" within you mind in a very peculiar way. Let me explain myself a little bit better by looking at other media.

- Books : Book characters are very much "alive" in your mind because when you read a book, you have to use your imagination to make up your own image of everything that's happening in the story. But, unlike anime, this is a vision that cannot be shared. That's a problem with book adaptations : often, you find the way a character is portrayed on-screen doesn't fit with your representation of said character, and that leaves you disappointed/angry at the filmmaker. So in the end, the character himself isn't "alive", it's your personal representation of him that is.

- Movies : Here, it's quite simple. Movies are short, thus the characters need to be as "to-the-point" as possible, and so usually end up being not as develloped as in a several hours-long show, that's almost a necessity. So yeah, some movie characters are indeed deep (just as many anime characters are shallow), but in general less time is spent examining who they are. Or in the case they are very well fleshed-out, they at best are alive only in the limited events of the movie.

- Live-action series : Here, it depends. But, most of the time, characters develop along the story, whose length is decided by how well the series is doing. And sometimes the characters change drastically over the entire course of the show, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how it's handled. But in the end, you're often left with characters so defined that they don't have any "blanks" for your mind to fill. So while the characters are vividly "alive" (ER is a prime example of shows that managed to make their characters feel like real people), they are so realistic that you don't "internalize" them at all; they live outside of you.

- Video games : There, the characters are either underdeveloped, or in games where they tend to be the focus of the game (mainly in RPGs), you control them anyway. Game characters are supposed to be avatars for the player that let them enter the game world. But can something that you control really feel "alive" ?

In contrast of all of the above, (good) anime characters strike a middle ground. You get to make up a personal representation of them as they're only drawings, yet in well-written shows the time you spend following their antics give you an opportunity to learn how they function. When combined with the themes often at the center of anime plots, it helps creating characters that feel truly alive.

Well, at least that's my personal opinion...

Now, back on track, I suppose it's my duty to get you to vote a little bit, isn't it ? Right now the preliminaries of ISML 2010 have started, so go on the ISML website and get voting ;) And you know who you should vote for ? Easy enough : Isurugi Noe (True Tears), Miyamura Miyako (ef), and Senjougahara Hitagi (Bakemonogatari). Help me get them to pass this first round !


Whimsical pictures: Week 3 of winter 2010

Guess what ? Yeah, you're in for another round of impressions, just in time before the fourth episodes start to pop up.

Sora no Woto - 03

Seems like my wish about this is about to get fulfilled. More than ever, Sora no Woto showed that it steers more in the direction of Haibane Renmei than K-ON!. I'm almost ready to bet that the ending will be sad, or at the very least melancholic.

Because that's really the vibe that this series is giving off. It's probably the sweetest post-apocalyptic world, yet its decay is everywhere to be seen. A lot of work went into establishing the universe as a credible one, and it really shines through, the gorgeous backgrounds aren't there just for show.

Also, this episodes shyly begun to shine some light on things that will probably evolve into the core of the plot. Honestly, this is a show that managed to completely free itself of its K-ON! clone image, and that's a good thing.

Verdict so far : Great

Ookami Kakushi - 03

In case you're watching this and have trouble picking all the subtle clues, let me lay it down for you : when the music is cheesy and the sun is shining, with people laughing, it means that everything is fine. Now, when things get darker, and there are creepy chords and mad-looking people, things are BAD.

Really, Ookami Kakushi continues to ask questions and provide little answers, but the directing could be better. I've seen worse, but if people aren't able to instantly tell when something more or less creepy will happen, they must be deaf and blind, and so why bother ?

As far as the plot is concerned though, we get some insight on what could be going on to some extent. Of course, things are probably not that simple, and maybe the "hints" are actually a red herring. Time will tell. I hope the main protagonist will show some courage down the road though, he seems a little too passive for my taste (especially compared to Higurashi's Keiichi).

Verdict so far : Very Good (except for the directing by Captain Obvious)

Dance in the Vampire Bund - 03

SHAFT, what on Earth are you doing ? This episode was better than the previous two, but still, things are moving forward as fast as a snail, the fanservice (worse of which, the loli-fanservice) is almost past my tolerance level, and well, on the whole I guess I was expecting too much.

The premises were good though, and maybe, just maybe, they'll bear fruits that don't taste so bitter.

Verdict so far : Bad

Durarara!! - 03

I don't recall when was the last time I anticipated the arrival of new episodes of a show as much as I do for Durarara!!. Granted, I marathon through most of the stuff I watch, but still. I thought that Durarara!! showed its best during the last episode, but guess what ? Yeah, this episode blew the previous one out of the water. How can this be ? How do they do that ?

Again, everything was perfect, but they added some more action and character interaction into the mix. Apparently Mikado (the country boy that came to Ikebukuro in episode 1) is special, and Izaya (the mysterious guy introduced in ep 2) and Shizuo (the man throwing vending machines around) are ennemies, yet both are connected to Celty (the headless biker). Simon (the black Russian sushi guy) seems to be as strong as he looks, and a romance between Mikado and one of his classmates seems likely.

And that's only a brief overview of what happens in the episode, I left out quite a bit. Durara!! is supposed to last 24 episodes, yet for nows it advances at breakneck speed. If they don't run out of things to tell and show (which seems likely, given the huge cast), this series is going to be so fullfilling... What's more is that they still manage, even with all those characters and their interwined stories, to make the setting play a big role in the story. It's not just a static background.

Durarara!! really is made directly out of pure awesomeness.

Verdict so far : Mind-boggingly awesome !!

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu - 03

Hmm, I have mixed feeling about Baka to Test's third episode. On one hand, you get some really funny scenes that had me laughing hard, while on the other hand, there's a little too much fanservice for my taste.

I still think the balance tips towards "good", but less so than for the previous two episodes. So beware, Baka to Test !

All in all though, there's not a lot to tell about the show if you don't want to spoil all the gags, dates from hell and scandalous statues in the background. The only thing I can say is that I really hope it'll stay on the "Ouran" side of things and stay tasteful.

Verdict so far : Very good