The Good, the Bad, and the Screwy

New to anime? Want a fresh take? Follow along as we explore the best and worst and most out there Japan has to offer.

New to anime? Want a fresh take? Follow along as we explore the best and worst and most out there Japan has to offer.

We have a new show here at Halfacre Pond.  It involves anime – a topic near and dear to my heart – and broadening my friend Max’s horizons in that regard.

We call it The Good, the Bad, & the Screwy.

If you’ve read some of my posts, you’ll know I’m somewhat of an aficionado on anime, and derive a lot of entertainment from it.

Not all of the entertainment is because it’s good.  Some of it is just so mockingly bad.  I like all flavors of anime because I appreciate breadth and variety of the offerings.  From the intense, gut wrenching action to the light hearted fun and joy to the absurd gags that tickle my funny bone, I like it.

Max is a Toonami kid.  He grew up watching the dubbed versions of the classics like DBZ, Sailor Moon, Gundam, Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Tenchi, Macross, etc, etc…but that was about it. He likes it, but never really got into it and had a few distasteful encounters that left him soured on it for a while.

Then peer pressure kicked in when I and a few other friends got him to watch Attack on Titan and he loved it.  The door opened a little and now we’ve come upon a grand experiment.

Up first.

Up first.

Max has agreed to watch the first 4 episodes of any 4 anime series I give him each month and give his reactions.

My challenge is to cultivate this list each month, and expose Max to many varieties of anime and gauge his reactions.  I’ve decided the best way to do this is to put a good anime, a bad anime, and some sort of screwball goofy comedy anime on this list…bonus, each month there will be a themed show on the list!

Here’s the kicker… Max won’t know what show is which.  Each month from now on he’ll go in blind and figure it out the hard way.

We’ll try to release a new episode each Friday.  All the series will be chosen from what’s easily available for streaming online.  Watch along with Max as we venture down this rabbit hole.

Enjoy this brief introduction and tune in next week as Max tackles his first challenge :)

How To Be Happier With Your Photos

How to be happier with your photos.

Tough subject.

There are many articles and posts and videos and tutorials about photographic techniques and how to improve and expand your skill set, but there are few that deal with the photographer’s mindset.

Clarity of thought and vision is the path that leads to creating better photos. It’s easy to get lost in the technique and rely on set patterns and caught up in gear and sometimes  you get just a little too comfortable.

When something works, we stick with it, blindly shooting away as we trust our standard settings to get an acceptable image. I’m guilty of this. There have been many shoots where I get things dialed in ‘just so’ to get a usable image and just blank. I press the button, the shutter clicks, the flash fires, things happen, an image is recorded. I’m barely registering the image though and am left wondering later during editing why I have so many of the same boring shot.

Conversely, sometimes the technique and the gear gets in the way. When the set up just isn’t working. For some reason your flash isn’t firing. The light balance is just all wrong and no matter what you do to fix it, things get so far slanted from normal that you feel lost in the woods, staring at the readouts of the back of your camera and the ugly image plaguing you, that you lose all connection with the subject and end up firing away at nothing because you’re so caught up in what’s wrong you can’t see what’s right.

Yes. That was a run on sentence. The reeling you feel in that situation is twice as fast and four times as breathless – seriously, sometimes I forget to breathe.

Neither of these situations is conducive to clarity or creativity.

How do you improve?

Step 1: Slow down and think.

Stop fiddling with settings and take a look around. Put the box down for a moment and really look. Notice shapes and lines and form in the subject of your intended photo. Sit with it a while and quietly observe. As one great article on fstoppers puts it, Linger.

You’re going to have to ignore the itch, the one that tells you you’re wasting precious light when you’re NOT firing away on a shoot.

I know it feels counter-intuitive to take a better picture by not taking pictures, but do it, it works.

Step 2: Breathe.

Sometimes you do forget to breathe. Steady, measured breaths are a good calming technique and helps you slow down and think. Breathing also is important for continued living and all, but more importantly, it helps you focus. Always shoot on an exhale.  You are more steady then and it will help you get the eyes in focus.

How?

It’s something I’ve noticed. I like to shoot hand held and I like to shoot with a shallow depth of field. No matter how good your eyes are, or your auto-focus is, you’re likely focusing on  your subject’s nose or forehead. If you focus on the inhale and release on the exhale, you’re going to sway just enough to compensate for the slight recess of the eyes. I noticed when I held my breath to take a shot, it was just out of tack sharp, but when I exhaled, I hit it.

So breathe, you stay conscious and tend to improve sharpness.

Step 3: Stop relying on gear.

The camera does not take the picture, you do. I hate it when people say “that’s a nice camera, it must take really great pictures,” or “I’ve got the latest greatest SuperSLR3500S, it’s mirrorless and takes the best pictures ever!”

-_-‘  Ignorant people irk me.

Point is, before the picture is ever put to the pixels, the image must be made in your brain. You don’t need a camera to make images. To see the world. To know what’s a great image and great composition.

You only need a camera to express to others what you see.

Do this. Walk around without a camera, shut one eye, look at something, and make a picture in your brain.  Do it everywhere you go. Train your eye and your brain to think in terms of those moments where you would take a shot so that when you do have a camera in your hand, the expression of your vision becomes second nature.

Enjoy living in the moment first, work on capturing the moment for others second.

Step 4: Get out.

This should be the most obvious part.

Get out. Get out. Get out.

Quit sitting around like a bump on a log and get to exploring. In fact, you don’t even have to get out, but for the love of all that’s good, get off yer ass and explore the dust bunnies living under your couch.

I’m absolutely shocked at the number of people who bemoan their lack of decent work when they never seek out new photo opportunities.

I’ve been stuck, and am still stuck in some senses, for material or places to shoot or people to work with, but things aren’t just going to fall in your lap.

One day, I was feeling particularly insipid in terms of my creativity and what I was photographing, so I went for a drive. I drove and drove and drove. Then I drove some more. Nothing came to me. I drove for a hundred miles up and down highways and back roads, and round about the one hundred and first mile, I glanced out the side window of my car and saw horses along a ridge in a pasture, with the light just right. I pulled right off the side of the road and snapped a few frames. Here are two.

Serenity Ridge

Serenity Ridge

Hundred Mile Horses

Hundred Mile Horses

 

Step 5: Get over it.

I think I suck. You probably think you suck. Get over it. I have.

It’s true. Most of the images photographers make are not good. It’s a leaden weight around our necks, the tens of thousands of shutter depressions that resulted in sub par images, that drags our confidence down. We only release what’s good or great and hope to goodness the rest stay buried.

It makes accepting praise difficult, actually. Really difficult. Someone says, “I’ve never seen you take a bad picture,” and my neck bursts into flames, and I feel a fraud. I know they’re trying to be complimentary, but all I think is “Yeah, because I WON’T show you the bad ones…they far outnumber the good.”

What I am good at is editing and filtering. I’ve made somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 photos in the last five years. I’ve seen every single one, you haven’t.

You just have to accept that bad pictures will be made, it’s part of the process, you aren’t a failure, your camera hasn’t betrayed you, it just happens. Just don’t show the bad ones.

Step 6: The hardest part.

Don’t compare yourself to others. No good comes from it.

You have to realize that you were not in that place at that time under those circumstances with that person’s particular skill set, history, and technique.  So you are never going to make that shot.

All you can do is make your shots. Learn what you like, why you like it, improve your skills, improve your situation, so that you can be in an improved position, to take a better shot. One that’s your’s.

The only person you should compete with is yourself. Progress, not perfection. Am I a better photographer than I was yesterday?

If so, you’ll be happier with your photos.

 

Winter Anime Forecast 2015

To be frank, the winter lineup has left me cold. I have little to no interest in any of the new titles being released, the only highlights coming in sequels to some fantastic series.

Up first: Durarara!! X2

I admit, when I stumbled on the existence of this in the lineup, I got a little giddy. Definitely fanboyed out a bit.  Baccano! and Durarara!! are some of my absolute favorite series due to their off the wall, extraordinary nature and the bat sh!t insane comedy they excel at. I was ecstatic to see the continuation of Durarara!!  

Celty Sturlson - Kubinashi Rider

Celty Sturlson – Kubinashi Rider

The first episode doesn’t miss a beat. It maintains the sharp, fast paced, disjointed storytelling style that I love so much and it starts right off with my favorite character, Celty Sturlson – the Kubinashi Rider.  That’s right people who didn’t watch the first series, the headless horseman is actually a woman and she’s been living in Japan working as a motorcycle courier while looking for her stolen head.

The motorcycle is a horse.

The motorcycle is a horse.

Her flight through Ikebukuro connects us back to the denizens of this strange city nicely, while allowing the story to jump back and forth through events taking place in the intervening time between the last series and this one.

Next up: Aldenoah.Zero2

I wrote about the first series back in my Summer Anime Offerings and it did turn out favorably.  It quickly lost it’s alt history feeling and moved in to an exceptionally well told story. I enjoyed every moment of it. The twists and turns and the struggle. Until the ending.  It was one of those moments all too common in anime. The moment of “WHAT THE F WAS THAT!?!?” that typically never get a follow through to find out what happened. Well this one did. The follow up turned a really depressing ending [HIGHLIGHT FOR SPOILER] where you’re left believing the two main characters died, failed, and everything is lost around into a nice hook for A.Z2.

Inaho in action.

Inaho in action.

Nothing is clean cut in this show and everyone has dirt and blood on their hands. To describe it as dark would barely suffice. These characters are broken mentally, physically, and morally in their journey toward their goals. The art remains gorgeous and the conflict between Inaho and Slaine is probably one of the best ever written. You never know what’s going to happen next between them. Taught with dramatic tension and a world at war, A.Z2 looks to deliver quite a few more gut punches before all is said and done.

Continuing Series: Log Horizon 2 & Cross Ange

The other two series I’ll be keeping up with over the winter are Log Horizon 2 and Cross Ange. Not really much to say about them except check them out if you aren’t watching.

Log Horizon 2 (Electric Boogaloo) is the second installment of a “trapped in a video game world” series which debuted in 2013. Players wake up one day trapped in the world of Elder Tale, a WoW-like MMORPG, and must figure out how their new home works. It follows the exploits of Shiroe, a top class strategist in the game with a someone nefarious reputation as “The Villain in Glasses” due to his cold, calculating, ruthless nature when it comes to game play, and the friends he gathers along the way.

Cross Ange is kind of your typical girls with mechs fighting anime. Highly ecchi, good conflict, and it turns out to be another spin on a post-apocalyptic world. There are also dragons.

That’s it.

I only have four anime on the schedule right now.  That’s appallingly short.

To supplement this shortfall of material though, I’m going to start a new project with my friend Max in which I teach him the ways of anime. He’s agreed to watch the first four episodes of four series I assign, and we’ll see how he likes them. We’ll watch what I consider a good anime, a bad anime, a screwball anime, and the fourth will be themed for the month.

Stay tuned for the debut of The Good, the Bad, and the Screwy right here on Halfacre Pond.

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner – directed by Wes Ball and starring Dylan O’Brien – is an adaptation of James Dashner’s novel of the same name.

I got a freebie offer from Redbox, so I thought I’d check this one out. It seemed to get overshadowed by some of the other young adult literature adaptations hitting the screen last year, and I didn’t hear much good or bad about it. But hey, can’t be worse than Hunger Games, right?

For what it is, it’s a decent film. It’s rather a standard survivor teen series which is far more literal than its ilk in that youngsters are actually thrown into a giant puzzle to be solved ‘for the greater good’ of humanity – no metaphor needed.

The Glade

The Glade

It’s got some good things going for it. The pacing is steady, the action and suspense are tight, and the characters are remarkably well dimensioned and developed. Though “greeny” Thomas, played by Dylan, may be the catalyst for all the changes in the film, I didn’t feel compelled by his character. Rather, I thought Chuck (Blake Cooper) and Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster, aka Peter Pan from Once Upon a Time and Jojen Reed from Game of Thrones) stole the show with their performances.

Banishment

Banishment

It feels most strongly influenced by The Lord of the Flies and the Forest Temple from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

For some reason, boys stranded in the middle of nowhere with no society to fall back upon will always make pointy sticks and end up re-enacting The Lord of the Flies. At least that’s what the movies tell me.

That’s fairly obvious.

Boy, I could use a Hookshot.

What I like though was the incorporation of the Forest Temple.

That’s how the Maze felt to me, at least.  Like running through one of the many puzzle dungeons from Legend of Zelda. Chuck even at one point tells Thomas it’s dangerous to go in alone. No lie, the maze walls are covered in ivy and he climbs up them to escape giant Skullutlas (they call them Grievers).

Forest Temple.  With HD graphics.

KILL IT WITH FIRE!

KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!!

MazeRunner_DungeonKey

Dungeon Key & Compass

After Thomas defeats the Giant Skulltula, he retrieves the dungeon key and dungeon map, which will lead them all to the boss room.

MazeRunner_MazeMap

We’ve visited all the rooms! Where’s the f-ing boss room!

Where they discover there are still more dungeons to conquer before they really get out.

 

All in all, it’s a decent movie. Could be better, but it’s not as bad as a lot of the YA Lit adaptations plaguing the silver screen these days.

This one has a good balance of mystery, heart, and adventure to it. I’d watch it again and I’d watch the sequel.

Next up, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials later this year. Fire Temple?

Okay, if the one after that is the Water Temple…might not watch it. Damn Water Temple…

Damn Water Temple

Damn Water Temple

Live Action G.I.T.S. ScarJo

Ghost In The Shell: GITS ScarJo

“Animated texts can represent to viewers not some stylized fantasy world, but reveal something about the world of actuality. The animated worlds depicted are, actually, part and parcel of our world”- Paul Ward (Animated Interactions: Animation Aesthetics and the World of the ‘Interactive’ , 2006

Too many times movies, comics, manga, and animation become part of our lives as memories we don’t want disrupted. Sacred. Immutable. However, the way Motoko Kusanagi was previously depicted is now being changed because the role will be played by Scarlett Johansson.  I understand the early uproar about it and the complaint, “Oh no! An American actress playing a Japanese character. Impossible!” but it happens in most adaptations or remakes. This complaint is the same as someone having a problem with Hugh Jackman, an Australian, playing the Wolverine, a Canadian.

ghost-in-the-shell-21

Ghost in the Shell we have many reflective moments of ‘stillness’ that draw attention to the Major’s preoccupation with self, the body and what it means to be human or not, in essence her ‘life’, soul or ‘ghost’. Her issues with who she is are made apparent with sequences where the Major is inanimate, and some of these sequences last for several frames drawing attention to her psychological state of mind. Ghost in the Shell’s preoccupation with identity and gender identity issues, as well as the use of reflective surfaces and images to depict fragmentary identity, is perhaps suggestive of the cross over of narrative theme and stylistics between cinema globally, but perhaps more importantly also the cross over of theme and narrative between anime and live-action which is arguably linked to generic traits- Caroline Ruddell – Breaking Boundaries: The Representation of Split Identity in Anime.

Take a look at the picture. Does she strike you as Japanese? The heart of the character really means anyone can play the role. She is manufactured, made to order just like a Realdoll™.  Of course when the news broke of the casting, the internet started demanding a recast. Yet, I believe Scarlett will do an awesome job, just look at her previous films. More than that, she brings a recognizable name and established fan base to the movie.

Next, we come to the westernization of many anime characters, specifically women. How many large busted, tiny waisted Asians are out there? How many blondes? While talking to a friend about this, he mentioned how in anime the popular girl normally looks American while the “friend” looks more traditionally Japanese.

Despite all the complaints about the casting we know how it will turn out – the people that took to the internet to vent their frustrations will still be the first in line. Meanwhile, I will continue to say that Scarlett will do a good job in the role.

–Max

The Equalizer

The day before New Year’s Eve, I rented two movies from Redbox. Both were movies I originally wanted to see in theaters, but hesitated because of mixed or poor reviews.

One of the two was The November Man, starring Pierce Brosnan and directed by Roger Donaldson. I wanted to like it, but did not. The story is a jumbled mess, lacking coherence and thrust, and Brosnan is left to carry the movie mostly by himself. I’ve already devoted more words than I should to the film – don’t waste your time.

The balance to this, if you will, came from The Equalizerstarring Denzel Washington and directed by Antoine Fuqua. After the first of my two rentals disappointed me, I was not very hopeful about this one. The trailers looked very good and Denzel is usually a good bet, but the only thing I heard about the film was that it was boring and it made very few waves upon its release.

I can see why it was received this way, and while I am glad I did not see The Equalizer in theaters, I unreservedly recommend watching this film.

Reality.

Reality. Ritualistic tea time.

Yes, it is beautifully shot and there is much for the eye to feast upon, but it is a film that necessitates pause.  It is a film that invites contemplation.  It is a film which tells you to be mindful within the first five minutes through the illustration of a thoughtful life that is Robert McCall. He seeks peace and calm through the power of ritual.

This humble, yet exemplary man of character demonstrates greatness in small capacities that eventually build him into a mountain best summed up by this: “Progress, not perfection.” A profound and thoughtful mantra espoused by Robert. Pause for thought, not what was advertised.

Expectation. Non stop action.

Expectation. Non stop action.

The film was advertised as a straight up action flick with Denzel kicking much ass. Now, there is plenty of action, and it is epic, but The Equalizer is far from your standard action flick. Rather the action comes as an aside to Robert’s own character development. His internal struggle with his mysterious past. His desire to help those who need it.  And the friction created as he goes against a Russian fixer by the name of Teddy, played to perfection by Marton Csokas.

Every lead role needs a foil, a nemesis, and the stronger the performance of the lead, the more substantial the foil needs to be. Csokas delivers hands down. The performance is spot on and again, summed up early on with Teddy’s introduction to the local cadre of dirty cops.

"I am all that matters."

“I am all that matters.”

It is steeped in language and storytelling and character and thought, using many classic narrative structures and devices.  For example, one device used comes in the form of the three books Robert reads in the diner. We begin with the Old Man and the Sea, which he illuminates the meaning of in the narrative. Second, Don Quixote – which is never named, only alluded to when he describes it as being “about a man who wants to be a Knight in Shining Armor in a time when there are no more knights.” At the conclusion, once he has come to terms with who he is and wants to be, we see simply that he is reading Invisible Man.

Equalizer

Robert McCall is a gentle man, a humble man, and as inexorable as a force of nature. He won’t solve your problems. He helps others to help themselves. He champions the betterment of one’s self and one’s position in the world, only stepping in when the odds are unfairly stacked against those he helps. Balancing the scales.

The Equalizer.

An excellent film that espouses more than anything what character and integrity are about.

And that home improvement stores are potential death traps…

Also, this guy’s mustache makes the movie.

Equalizer_Mustache

“Da.”

So if you feel the world is against you.  Look for the gentleman with the quiet voice sitting in the corner booth reading a book.

Equalizer_Help