Monday, October 28, 2013

Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan (Wit Studio, 2013)

I don’t usually write reviews, but in this dreadful new era, here’s the second in a row. Furthermore, though I’ve also touched upon my interest in and involvement with anime (Japanese animation) in the past, I haven’t written much about it. Recommended to me by friends and acquaintances, this example seemed worthy of mention for both enthusiasts and those unfamiliar with the medium.

Attack on Titan (Japanese: Shingeki no Kyojin) is a science-fiction/fantasy television series adapted from the ongoing manga (graphic novel) of the same name by Hajime Isayama. Thousands of years in the future, presumably, human civilization has been all but destroyed by the onslaught of a mysterious race of humanoid giants, the Titans, who seem to exist solely to kill human beings. The survivors eke out a kind of pre-industrial existence behind a series of concentric walls. These walls have kept the Titans at bay for a century … until that day when they don’t.

The protagonists then find themselves in a renewed fight for survival and soon realize that they must also begin to unravel the mystery of the Titans and their origins if humanity is to prevail.

Mikasa Ackerman executes her signature attack.

Like any other medium, anime ranges from the cheap and formulaic to the artful and innovative. Attack on Titan has proved to be an example of the latter. It manages to achieve unusually beautiful and consistent animation for an episodic television production with detail that is not too simplified to distract from the viewer’s enjoyment. The plot and characters are equally engaging. The ensemble cast carries the viewer through emotions that run from terror to courage and from grief to hope. The story is intriguing and engrossing, combining mystery, dramatic (and sometimes brutal) action, philosophy, and palpable dread. The viewer is always left eager for the next episode … or the next season.

Of course, the series isn’t entirely without flaws. Setting aside the central technological conceit that has the protagonists fighting the Titans in an entertaining but farfetched form of aerial, sword-based combat, the show suffers from some of the usual storytelling crutches. For example, the Titans almost always appear at the speed of plot, rarely interrupting important conversations between the protagonists. Many of the characterization clichés that often plague anime are avoided, but the seemingly obligatory scenes of angst and self-doubt are occasionally indulged for interminable moments. The computer-aided animation is very well done without clumsy CGI inserts, though still pans and other low-budget motion-avoidance techniques are employed with annoying frequency.

In conclusion, Attack on Titan is well worth watching and stands as a perfect example of what anime can be. It is currently available for subtitled viewing via both Crunchyroll and Funimation. A home-video release is expected next year … hopefully along with a second season.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The e-Book Revolution

2312 (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2012)

The e-book revolution has arrived! Actually, it arrived a few years ago, but now that I’ve purchased my first e-book, I can finally make this belated announcement with some confidence. Previously, I had been waiting to see how well the first waive of dedicated e-book readers (namely the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook) would fare in the marketplace. They did reasonably well, though the recent popularity of tablet computers probably deserves most of the credit for mainstreaming the e-book market.

Originally, therefore, I had thought to muse about the utility of tablet computers. However, while e-readers may well be the killer application for tablets, one rail trip was enough to prove to me that the portable convenience of the compact multifunctional device (namely the so-called smartphone) still trumps the comparative luxuries of the bulkier tablet.

For my first e-book, I selected 2312, Kim Stanley Robinson’s transgendered romp across the solar system of the 24th century A.D. I had enjoyed his Mars trilogy, which serves at least implicitly as the historical background for 2312, so I wanted to see Robinson’s vision for a fully fledged interplanetary civilization and all its political and economic implications.

However, instead of a realistic interplanetary economy, I found a fantastical iteration of centralized planning. Robinson himself seemed somewhat unsure how such an economy might operate in practice, and his protagonists apparently pay their way on interplanetary voyages by washing dishes. (Then again, perhaps Robinson had merely described the perfection of each-according-to-his-abilities communism.) He suggested that a socialist utopia could be achieved with advanced computers running the economy, if only capitalism would stop resisting.

Space travel would be easier, too, if only gravity would stop resisting our attempts to fly.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Avoiding the Question

It's time to raise the black flag of defiance.
The U.S. Supreme Court made an unconscionable mistake today. In declining to review the matter of Woollard v. Gallagher, which questioned the constitutionality of requiring “good and substantial” cause for the issuance of a permit to carry a handgun, the high court has signaled with dread certainty that it will do nothing to protect the civil right to bear arms for the nearly 100 million Americans who reside in prohibitionist states. Moreover, this shirking of responsibility will doom the nation at large to suffer the consequences of decades of frustration that must soon be released.

Though several right-to-carry challenges still remain active in the federal courts, we have no reason to expect different outcomes for these cases. Those subjects of California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, and the other gun-control bastions are now left with only two choices: flight or defiance.