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 !