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


Live report : Epica & Krypteria

Last sunday, I went with a friend to something I hadn't been to since what seemed like forever : an Epica concert. This band is special to me, as it's one of the first band I saw live. In fact, it was my first metal gig. It was at the Graspop (a big metal festival in Belgium) some years ago, and they were playing the first gig of the first day on one of the two small sets. Not the most glamorous spot, but they were a young band, with only one album under their belt. Yet they delivered a performance I won't soon forget.

The following year, I went to see them live no less than 7 times, almost always getting there ultra-early to be on the front row. A true fan. Then the excitement somewhat vanished. I had discovered a myriad of other bands, and their second album was simply more of the same. By the time they released their third album, I was starting to lose hope of seeing them really evolve as musicians. Then the fourth album came. Having changed their lineup somewhat, they delivered a very solid album, which rekindled my interest in them. So when I saw they were coming to Antwerpen during their tour, I knew I had to be there.

And oh boy, what a night. The atmosphere in the room was electric, and it's been a while since the Trix crowd was so enthusiastic. You could almost feel the excitement in the air, and after each song there was a huge roar and a thunder of applause.

For me, after several years without seeing them, what struck me was how much their popularity had grown. "Back in the days" they were still a small band, but now, wow, they've become stars. But it's deserved, as they really have talent. Sure, they're not the most original band around, but they still have their distinct sound, and among the ocean of female-led gothic metal band, they manage to stand out and emerge above most.

The performance itself was very solid, with a long setlist which delivered all that one could have hoped, and then some. They didn't shy away from performing their longer songs (like "Design Your Universe", one of their best tracks ever), and they even did their cover of Star Wars' Imperial March ! Honestly, the song selection was top notch.

What was less awesome was learning upon arriving that the first of the two opening acts (Ocean of Sadness) had to cancel their show. Which meant we had to wait 45 minutes more for the second opening band to start playing.

Neither me nor my friend knew Krypteria, we just read that it was a German gothic/power metal band. Oh, and we also saw that they had awful review scores for their album. Of course, they were only rated by one person, but still, albums scoring 2% or 26% don't help building up expectations.

So we were a little bit wary of what was to come when the lights were turned down and the ominous intro started playing.

Then the musicians stepped onto the stage.

Then they started playing one of the most powerful riff that I heard in a while.

Then the singer came and we went "WTF ?"

A Korean girl singing in a German power metal band ? How can this be ? But at the first chorus all my doubts (well, doubts, not really, I have a good a-priori towards asian singers) were erased, and only remained the sheer awesomeness of Krypteria's music.

And the band went on to prove they weren't a one-trick pony with only one good song. They performed a superb song after another, each one having a crushing chorus. They were also very nice, smiling most of the time, and visibly enjoying themselves. Honestly, for an opening band, they delivered quite the show...

And Ji-In Cho, the singer, had a powerful voice. Moreso that, I would discover that later, on their albums. Weren't it for Epica's stellar setlist, they would have stolen the show. Yeah, they were that good.

All in all, that was a very, very good gig. Even better than the Stratovarius concert the week before, even though that one was very good. I know look forward to the whole bunch of lives I'll be going to in february : Presence of soul, Gamma Ray, Enter Shikari and The Gathering are bands I'm really looking forward to seeing perform.

(Pictures by Kevin De Cuyper)


Whimsical pictures: Week 2 of winter 2010

Hello again. So, another week has come to pass, and new episodes have been watched. Did they hold up to the openers ? Did a show betray all my expectations already ? Well, read on to know !

Sora no Woto - 02

This second visit to the five girls' base was just as pleasant as the first one. It helped introduce the character better, even though nothing moved forward too much. In a way though, it's a bit like the beginning of Haibane Renmei, so it's not bad per se. Though I hope the next episode will see the start of some kind of overarching plot.

There is a question that this episode really didn't help answering : why the military theme ? For now, it could very well be simply for the moé factor. Or, maybe it'll develop into something more, a deeper reflexion. I'm praying that it's the second option, as Sora no Woto seems clever enough. I was pleasantly surprised to see that even if Kanata, our main heroine, is the typical "genki-everything-is-wonderful" girl, she isn't a brainless moeblob. For one, she isn't scared of ghosts. Too many animes would have had their heroine squeal and make "cute" frightened faces, but Kanata seems to be above that. I still have great hopes for Sora no Woto, if only for the opening, which is intriguing enough.

Verdict so far : Very Good

Ookami Kakushi - 02

Ookami Kakushi 02 was a very good surprise. The mystery only thickened, with a new character having been introduced. As of now, it's still too late to draw any conclusion, but I'm guessing that things are not going to end up well for Kaname, the girl who's also kinda new in town, and is probably a little too curious for her own good. As for Hiroshi, our main protagonist, he's still weirdly popular, but it seems like he's going to go through some disturbing events, judging from the preview of episode 3.

And it's something that Higurashi did not do. For all its gory and unsettling moments, it didn't have characters that looked like they were sexual deviants. I hope it'll be handled well, because if it's the case it could make for a very disturbing show. I just hope it won't go overboard and into fanservice territory. But I have faith, the storytelling here seems pretty solid, and only two episodes in I'm already hooked. I need to know the truth.

Verdict so far : Very Good

Dance in the Vampire Bund - 02

This is shaping up to be the big disappointment of the season. Even though it got some plot going, this episodes still felt quite empty. Plus, friggin' werewolves ? Come on, are all vampires stories required to have werewolves too these days ?

Also, if at least it served an actual good plot, it wouldn't be such a big deal, but having the protagonist suffer amnesia is a cheap trick. Then there are the scenes where our main character outruns a helicopter machine gun, or avoids a missile simply by ducking. And still in his human form, mind you. Add to that the totally gratuitous "shadow gel" scene, and you get something that is easily the worst show I'm watching this season. I still hopes it'll get better, but I won't hold my breath.

Verdict so far : Bad

Durarara!! - 02

Durarara!! frightens me now. Honestly, I'm starting to wonder if the universe is suited to contain this much awesomeness. Maybe it will tear the fabric of space and time apart, I don't know. Because, seriously, if this show manages to maintain this level of quality, it's going straight into my top five animes of all time.

It's already showing signs of greatness, and it's only been two episodes. Already, the seemingly supernatural headless rider surprised me by actually being a character with a personality, and not just a plot device. Then Durarara!! does something that delights me to no end : it shows simultaneous events from the perspective of several characters. I cannot get enough of that kind of storytelling.

And it's plain gorgeous, artistically it's really top notch, both graphically and aurally. Really, words fail me, I cannot convey how much I love this series.

Verdict so far : AWESOME !!

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu - 02

This one is still totally crazy, and it's still funny, so it's good !

I suppose a special mention goes to the main protagonist who spends a big part of this episode with a table glued to his hand. I suppose this could be compared to a show like Ouran : crazy antics and pretty standard romance. I hope the crazy part will remain the main focus of the show, or that maybe it'll even turn into something more down the line, but anyway I'll still be going with the flow. A very light series, but one needs that from time to time, I suppose.

Verdict so far : Great


Digital rooftop: Prelude to the war (Tom Clancy's EndWar)

(Tom Clancy's EndWar review, Part 1 of 3)

So, today I bought Tom Clancy's EndWar on PS3 (found it for a tiny 15€) and invested about 45 minutes in it, just enough to see how it played like. To be fair, the test conditions where far from ideal: small SD screen, and much worse no headset.

Which is a shame, because I'm sure this is going to get a thousand times more awesome played with speech recognition. It will...

What ? What do I mean with speech recognition ?

Well, EndWar is a real-time strategy game, which is a genre that always struggled on console. So, as it became clear that a gamepad would probably never trump a good ol' keyboard-mouse combo, Ubisoft sat and thought about a new way to control the units on the battlefield. And they came up with a speech control scheme that, I read, works flawlessly. It's one of the two things that made me buy this game.

The other is the setting, World War III (well, more like Northern Hemisphere War III, but I guess it doesn't have the same ring to it). I must say the perspective of playing the role of a commander uttering commands to his troops on near-future battlefields sold me pretty fast.

And as I tried the first two missions, I quickly saw how speaking instead of navigating menus would make for a much more dynamic experience. It's a thousand time faster to say "Unit 5, Attack Hostile 3" than to click through 4 or 5 menus to achieve the same thing.

That being said, the game promises to be quite frantic, even a bit too frantic for me, but ultimately it promises a great deal of fun. The battlefields are large enough, the rock-paper-scissor mechanic for a relatively easy decision-making process, and everything looks rather good.

Should the speech recognition system live up to my expectations, this may very well become the first console game I try to play online. Its semi-persistant World War mode looks like a lot of fun. But first I'll need to invest quite a bit of time in the single player modes, and we'll see how it goes. See you for part 2 !

Part 1 score : 7/10

Whimsical pictures: The first week of winter 2010

So, this first week of the season was quite good. I had initially planned to follow 4 shows this season, but in the end I think I'll had a fifth one to the list, thanks to rave reviews it has had on other blogs and its first episode which did not disappoint.

Without further ado, here's what I saw :

Sora no Woto - 01

I was very hesitant about that one, because I'm really not into purely "moé" anime. That's why I didn't watch K-ON, especially when I learned it had not a lot of music in it (yet it's about a "light music club", go figure). But anyway, Sora no Woto was being foreseen as K-ON, but with a plot, so in the end I gave it a try. And I did well !

Tough the first episode wasn't spectacular, it set up a number of element that could steer the show away from the pure moé/slice-of-life routine and into more mysterious territories. Episode 2 should be out and subbed any time now, so I'm eager to know if it stays as good.

Oh, and the backgrounds look gorgeous. The characters are nothing very new or special, but they get the job done. Music also seems to play an important part in the show, so I'm paying special attention to that too.

Verdict so far : Very Good

Ookami Kakushi - 01

This one has a plot coming from the same guy that made the Higurashi no Naku Koro ni games, and that's why I'm watching it. Unfortunately, it seems like the same old drill: a town whose people are divided between those who embrace progress and those who refuse it, murders and mystery ensue.

Altough it's far too early to draw conclusion, as of now it looks like it'll be good, but nowhere as awesome as Higurashi was. It stills does that "innocent-looking while somewhat disturbing" thing very well, so if it's taken in an original direction, who knows...

Verdict : Good

Dance in the Vampire Bund - 01

I'm usually not particularly fond on vampire animes, but this one was by SHAFT, so I had to at least try it. Some people must have been relieved to see no walls of text and other bi-color shots so prominent in many SHAFT shows, but for me it was a bit too conventional.

Sure, for the most part the episode was supposed to be a TV talk show about vampires, but it maybe felt a little too mundane for its own good. And when the action picks up, it resolves pretty quickly, and the cliffhanger isn't really breathtaking. But it's SHAFT (and Shinbo as the director), so who knows how it'll turn out.

Verdict : So-so

Durarara!! - 01

This is this season's serious business. Probably the most hyped show this winter, and for good reasons ! Many people found the opener to be somewhat of a letdown, but oh boy, not me. It delivered everything it had promised, and then some : the trendy urban setting and characters, the mysterious headless killer, the edgy designs...

The first episode is packed with information, and at first the viewer can really empathize with the main protagonist who has some trouble adapting to the frantic pace of the life in Ikebukuro. But this show is sure to be a thrilling ride with its seemingly awesome cast, which include a big black russian sushi chef (yeah, yeah, really), a guy throwing vending machines around and all the trendy people we get to see in this first episode.

And of course there's the mysterious headless rider. So, well, basically this one can't go wrong. From the character designs somewhat reminiscent of Yozakura Quartet and the cool setting, it's bound to be awesome.

Verdict : Awesome

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu - 01

This is the fifth show I was referring to in the intro. I have seen my share of weird school concepts in drama and anime, but I guess this one tops them all. Can you imagine a school where student are distributed in the classes according to their grades, class A (for the best students) being incredibly luxurious, while class F being a dump, and where classes wage war on one another using summoned chibi versions of themselves ?

No ? Well, me neither, until I watched this. Then, add to that the fact that the chibi summons have stats which depend on their student's grades on the last test. Oh, and yes, to restore their energy mid-battle, the student can take "recovery tests" to boost their summon's stats. In the end, the class who wins the battle, defeating the other's class rep, can switch classrooms with the looser.

Yeah, this is insane. But it's very entertaining to watch nonetheless !

Verdict : Great

End Notes : I'm currently debating whether to add pictures to these posts... What do you think ? Comment and tell me. I don't wanna make those longer than they should, but maybe it's a bit dry without pictures.


A meta post is a free post

As I failed miserably at many of the goals I set for myself last year, I won't reiterate and fail again. If there's one thing I want to do though, it's giving this blog a little of the attention it so badly need. To do that, I've decided to inaugurate some "categories" which, because I'm a pretentious bastard, will have pseudo-artsy names.

So, here's a breakdown of what I have in mind at the moment :

- "Dreaming through the noise" will be a series of short reviews of albums I'm currently listening to and feel are worth sharing. Ideally I'd like to put one sample song in a streamable form for each post, but I've yet to find an easily manageable solution. Suggestions welcome, of course !

- "Whimsical pictures" will focus on mangas and animes. I think I may start blogging regularly about series I'm following, but there will probably also be a fair share of reviews of things I already completed. I will refrain from detailed summaries in the episodic posts though, and rather try to convey the general mood of the show/manga, and what makes it or breaks it.

- "Digital rooftop" will regroup game reviews. I'm thinking of trying three-folds reviews, with a post covering my first hands-on impression of the game, another post while I'm in the middle of it, and a final one after the deed is done. We'll see how it goes.

So that's it. Of course, I hope I'll be able to get myself to write outside of those three categories of course, because I'll really try to maintain specific format for those posts, to prevent them to simply regroup all my posts about anime, music and games. For example, those two last "2009 in anime" posts I still need to complete ? I wouldn't want them to fall in the "Whimsical pictures" category.

Anyway, I hope you all spent great holidays with your family, friends, significant other or even alone, whatever floats your boat. See you around for those two last "12 moments" posts and the inaugural posting for those three brand new categories, which will perhaps explain what the names are about.

Or maybe not. It's not like there's a deep meaning behind...