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I am currently going through post-convention depression.  That pretty much means it was an awesome convention.  I enjoyed it more than I’ve enjoyed any Otakon in a decade.  I want to go again next year.  Here’s a quick summary of what I watched:

  • Rail Wars 1-3:  Student trainees join the Japan Railway Security Forces.  Its okay.  Probably wouldn’t seek out more of it, but I didn’t mind it.
  • Re:Hamatora:  I watched one and a half episode and bailed.  I have been hardcore watching anime for almost 25 years, and I can say without hesitation that this is one of the most incoherent pieces of crap I’ve ever attempted to watch.  Seriously, fuck this show.
  • Argevollon:  I only saw the first episode, but it seems to be a fairly stock mecha show.  I’d certainly be willing to see more of it to see if it develops into something beyond stock.  The mech designs reminded me of the old PC game Total Annihilation.
  • Sailor Moon Crystal 1-3:  A delight!  Sailor Moon Crystal takes everything wrong with the original Sailor Moon TV series and fixes it.  The original series had a lot of padding, this cuts all of that out.  The artwork is much closer to Naoko Takeuchi’s original manga style.  The only flaw, and it is a minor one, is that the opening theme is not the least bit catchy, where the original theme was.  I might have liked, perhaps, a remake of the original opening theme as well.
  • Dramatical Murder 1-3:  I had never even heard of this one until I saw it, and was pleasantly surprised.  This one is set in a really cool cyberpunk setting.  Its about a guy who does deliveries for a junk shop who gets sucked into a deadly game of cyber-duelling.  Afterwards, I noticed a few people dressed as characters from this series, so I guess this is just a series that I missed somehow.
  • Akame Ga Kill 1-3:  A young man comes to the imperial capital to join the military, but finds the capital is a corrupt mess.  Instead he winds up joining a group of assassins who specialize in terminating corrupt officials for rebel forces.  It seems fairly good.
  • Kill La Kill 1-6:  The fact that I watched six episodes of this should tell you a lot.  What it should tell you, and what I will tell you now, is that this is amazing.  This anime is a masterful blend of action, drama, and comedy.  It is set in an unusual setting.  It is presented in an insanely hyperkinetic retro style.  There is nothing here for me to not like.
  • Le Chevalier D’Eon 1-3:  Conspiracy and mercury-filled zombies in pre-revolutionary France.  Highly-detailed artwork too.  Pretty good stuff.

Panels were a more mixed bag.  We went to four of them.  Two of them were garbage, because the panelists were awful.

  • A panel called “Psychology of Anime” spent the first EIGHT MINUTES (as confirmed by the panelists themselves) just fucking around and joking with each other.  This may have been mildly entertaining if they were actually funny – they weren’t.  It was painful, but we were kinda stuck deep in a large crowd.  There may have been fifteen minutes of content.  Kiril used the opportunity to take a nap.  I wish I had too.
  • We bailed quickly on a panel called “Anime and the 1980s” when the fumfering panelists mumbled “Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs” 4-5 times in a row after showing us the intro to the same, which ended with the text “Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs.”  I mean, literally, they took turns doing that, and a handful of other meaningless words in-between.
  • We had MUCH better luck with Jed A. Blue’s two panels:  “Postmodern Anime” and “Break the World’s Shell.”  The latter is a quote from Revolutionary Girl Utena and was about apocalyptic anime.  I really felt like I learned stuff in those panels, and Mr. Blue actually knows how to speak and make a presentation.  I’ll give away the most valuable thing I learned:  Utena is heavily influenced by, and quotes, the Hermann Hesse story “Demian.”  I watched all of Utena and found it fascinating, but I couldn’t tell you what the hell happened in that show.  Maybe I need to read Demian!

Toto at the Keswick Theatre

Last night my friend and I saw the band Toto at the Keswick Theatre, right outside Philadelphia.

Maybe a year or two ago I got a random-ass text from my friend, asking if I had ever seen Toto in concert. I had not, I really only knew their bigger hits (Hold The Line, Rosanna, and Africa). I texted him back to say no, and why, were they coming around and did he want someone to go with? But no… he just heard Africa at a party and though it would be amusing if I had seen them live.

So then I began looking into Toto’s other music. I listened to a number of their albums.  I won’t go full Patrick Bateman here, but in summary:  They had some other good songs which I added to my mp3 collection. But most of Toto’s music is, to me, fairly bland. They are brimming with technical ability, but they suffer from being jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

Anyhow, they launched a 35th anniversary tour.  Though a lot of their music is kinda meh, they have more than enough to sustain a long concert after 35 years.  My friend wasn’t available to see them in Philly, and I thought our chance was lost.  But luckily, their tour has been so successful they actually came back around, though this time to a lesser venue outside the city.

The crowd was interesting.  The theatre was totally packed.  Most of the audience appeared to be my parent’s age.  There were a few others our age, like maybe 5% of the audience.  But these geezers were… I hesitate to use the word “dancing.”  “Flailing” might be a good word.  There were a few people out in the aisles dancing and everything.  Rather awkward to see, but they were into it, so good for them.  But God, these people also could not sit still!  I don’t mean the dancers, that’s the good kind of not sitting still.  I mean assholes were constantly getting up and walking in and out, which at the tightly-packed Keswick means everyone ELSE has to get up to let them out.  Aside from bothering everybody else, walking out in the middle of a performance like that strikes me as disrespectful, especially if you just want to get more beer.

The band played it on.  The band got down like a Magikist.  The crowd roared like a lion.  The jam session whipped the camel’s ass.

The sound was kinda muddy.  If I didn’t already know the lyrics, I wouldn’t have figured them out at this venue.  And it wasn’t the most visually dynamic show I’ve ever seen… not nearly as entertaining to watch as Gary Numan or Dead Can Dance.  I knew a lot of the songs they played, but not all of them.  I was a little disappointed they didn’t play “Stop Loving You,” but oh well.  They didn’t have an opening act, and they really didn’t need one.  Instead they played “Rosanna” as the second song in their set.  That surprised me, but it makes sense – that right there IS the opening act.  There were some fairly amazing guitar and piano solos throughout.

In short, the concert was good, but not great – right in line with Toto’s whole musical output.  Overall, I’m glad I got to see them.

Anyhow, here’s somebody else’s recording of (most of) Hydra from the show:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HobLU8XFk6A

Oh yeah. Tytania.

I never really wrote up any sort of final review of Tytania.  And its been like over a year since I watched it.  HURRRRR

I was pretty irritated with Irresponsible Admiral Fan Hyulick at first, but once you get a few episodes in, he begins showing more depth than that – thank goodness.  And he does have an arc.

Overall, I enjoyed Tytania.  It has elements in common with LoGH, but it distinguishes itself.  It doesn’t really “end” so much as it “stops,” but the original source material was, and is, unfinished as well.  Oh well.

Recent downtime

Otakubell went offline on my birthday (yaaaaay), 7/3/14, due to a security breach.

When you run a server on teh interwebs, there are hacker bots trying to break into it continuously.  Like, literally at all times, from every corner of the globe.  When I first moved otakubell.com from shared hosting to a VPS, I made sure I secured it as well as I possibly could.  And I guess I did a moderately good job, because it took almost two years before a break-in finally occurred – or, at least, before a break-in was noticed.

I’m fairly sure nobody broke into the shell, or the SFTP, those were nailed firmly shut with a 2048-bit RSA key.  But it appears a combination of bots finally brute-forced my Postfix password, and began using it as a spam relay.

I had fail2ban configured to ban IPs that attempted to access Postfix – but it only banned them for a month or so.  Clearly this was insufficient.  I also didn’t have a super-long password, and I never changed it.

Once ANYTHING is compromised on ANY computer system, you have to nuke the entire thing from orbit – its the only way to be sure.  I had no way of knowing what else had been compromised, and I wasn’t about to take any chances.  I wiped the entire system and used the opportunity to upgrade to Debian 7.5, which I had put off for far too long anyhow.  I had a recent backup of site data, so very little was lost, if anything.

There will probably be more downtime, as I am still performing various upgrades and tweeks.  Otakubell.com went offline for a few hours last night because it ran out of memory – I need to tweak my Apache2 settings a bit more, it seems.

Squeeze me ’till I’m Wheezy

I set up my server running Debian 6 (Squeeze), but it was nearing the end of its life at the time.  But Debian 7 (Wheezy) wasn’t ready at the time.  Now Wheezy is out.  I’ve made a few shots at a smooth upgrade – but it was a failure.  It broke email, and it broke web pages – you know, the two things I set otakubell.com up for.

I did successfully get a fresh install of Wheezy with web and email working in Virtualbox, so that’s a good sign.  I’m thinking at this point I might back up all of the data (compressed, we’re talking 3gb of web file and 8gb of database, plus a few hundred megs of email), wipe the entire server, setup up Wheezy fresh, and reinstall the data.  But boy is that shit ever time-consuming, and I do not have time right now.

Hotline Miami hurts my back.

I am having a ball playing Hotline Miami, but this game is making me feel old.  After an hour or two the top of my back, right below my neck, is totally stiff and sore.  Man.  Its still worth playing, so far, but it has to be in smaller doses, I think…

I have the same problem with this game as I have with the Hitman series – unless you are some sort of wizard or have read a walkthrough, there’s no way to know what to do without a lot of unrealistic trial-and-error.  But at least Hotline Miami is quick about it.  I found the one Hitman game I played to be a drag.

Now that I think about it, guard behavior isn’t terribly realistic in Hotline Miami either.  But I’m going to guess they toned it down a bit, because its already fairly tricky.

lol Australia

Otakubell.com has NOT been working well lately.  At first I thought it was my fault – I had made a change to my mail server configuration and caused a nasty sort of feedback loop, which I didn’t notice until my girlfriend showed me a bounce message.  I fixed the problem, and all seemed well for 2-3 days.  But then the server seemed to just keep timing out for no obvious reason, and I didn’t have time to explore the issue.  So, I rebooted a few times, and the temporarily fixed it.

Finally I had time to address the issue and looked at my logs – bingo.  Someone from bigpond.com.au was hammering one file over and over, like hundreds of times per minute.  Charming.  I had mod_evasive installed, but not activated.  Well, I activated it, and all has been well since.

5/9/13:  Well, not quite.  It turns out there was some database corruption going on as well, and pretty much every page on otakubell.com is database-driven.  I repaired the database, and optimized it while I was at it.

Now watching: Tytania

Does it count as a LoGH rip-off if its written by the same guy who wrote LoGH?

Guess I’ll find out over the next few weeks.

2nd day thoughts:  REALLY?  You’ve traded out Yang Wen-Li for Irresponsible Captain Tylor?  This might get pretty annoying…

5/1 – A third of the way through – the series has diverged from LoGH and isn’t as good, but that’s an almost impossibly high bar.  Its pretty decent, in fact.

Sweet Blue Flowers review

After slogging through Victory Gundam, a series that wasn’t bad enough to give up on but wasn’t good enough to enjoy, I wanted to watch something that was very different, and boy howdy did I ever succeed.  Victory left me wishing the show were 20-30 episodes shorter.  This series left me wishing it were 20-30 episodes longer.

A few months ago TRSI / Nozomi / Lucky Penny / Whatever-name-they-are-this-week announced they had the rights to The Rose of Versailles.  I could not thrust my credit card at them fast enough.  RoV is one of my favorites.  It is the only anime I own on R2 DVD, and the only reason I don’t own it on laserdisc is because the discs are insanely rare – those who already own it aren’t gonna part with it.

So I’m still waiting for that to arrive, but in the meanwhile I got a postcard advertising Sweet Blue Flowers, a series I had no previous awareness of.  The back of the postcard began:

Erik – “What if the one I love is a girl…?”

To which, I internally replied, “Awesome, let me watch.”  I meant it in the most perverted of senses, but my interests were truly piqued – its been a while since I watched any shoujo/josei works (does Madoka count?).  Well, those DVDs aren’t available yet either, so I downloaded it.  Don’t worry, TRSI, I already have the DVDs on my Amazon Wish List.  It isn’t an instant buy like RoV was, but few things are.  PROTIP:  Legend of the Galactic Heroes would be…

About the show itself:

Let’s start with the opening.  When I saw it, my first reaction was “OMG, fucking SPOILERS,” but as it turns out the opening is a total lie.  Maybe that’s the final outcome in the original manga, but it sure as hell doesn’t come anywhere near happening in the show’s brief run.

No, this is a prequel to what we are shown in the opening.  Our main character, Manjoume, is firmly in the closet and suffering from unrequited love for her cousin.  There’s no evidence she’s ever said anything to her cousin or made any moves on her, and vice-versa, but she’s fairly tormented over her cousin getting married.  Enter Sugimoto, who makes a move on Manjoume with little hesitation.  Manjoume has her first girlfriend, her first kiss, and comes out of the closet.

Now, Manjoume is, apparently, pretty much exclusively gay, and doesn’t seem terribly conflicted about it.   That’s still a tough position to be in when you’re young, since most people aren’t and might react badly to it to boot.  Kinda limits your dating circle (and maybe that’s why the attachment to her cousin formed).  Sugimoto is either bisexual, or she’s just experimenting, but either way she’s much more forward about it than Manjoume.  But while Sugimoto is very confident and intensely talented in everything she tries her hand at, inside she’s a bit of a mess, confessing, towards the end, that she doesn’t know herself very well.  That’s admirable – Socrates would be proud.  It give a little more meaning to her “prince” persona – one who does not know themselves may adopt any number of personas, and perhaps even sexualities.  In the last episode we learn she’s leaving to study in England.  Maybe she’ll find herself there.  Good luck, Sugimoto.

The really interesting part is that Manjoume’s brief relationship with Sugimoto really makes Manjoume a better and stronger person.  Sugimoto tries a passive-aggressive approach to getting back together with Manjoume, and Manjoume tells her she just isn’t interested anymore.  Its hard to picture Manjoume saying anything like that to anybody at the beginning of the series.

tldr version:  Manjoume is comfortable with her identity but lacks outward confidence, Sugimoto is the opposite, and it dooms the relationship.

Now, a brief series like this should not waste any time, but this show managed.  This is one of those shows where nothing happens in the first episode.  Okay, I can handle that so long as things pick up in the next episode (they do in this case), but at 11 episodes, come on, really?  Then there’s the last episode.

The last episode is the only episode where we have a solid idea of how much time is passing – its a frog-march through several months of time.  In a way it reminded me of the finale to Maison Ikkoku, of all things.  MI was 96 episodes long, but the climax was episode 92.  The final four episodes were a final tying up of various loose ends – a long farewell, excellently executed.  SBF tries to pull the same move in an 11 episode series in one episode, and it does not work nearly as well – episode 10 could easily have been a more “natural” ending to the series.  But it does give something of a sense of life moving on for Manjoume and the other characters.  She certainly seems happier.  Maybe I’m just projecting.

These are really the only negatives that jump out at me.  The artwork and animation is particularly beautiful.  I really like the narrative technique of conversations not happening in realtime, but overlaying with scenes after the conversation – even if we don’t see a character’s direct reaction, it really sets a tone.

This series was a little painful to watch, because it reminded me of my own feeble and douchey relationships when I was younger.  I used to watch anime like this all the time, as it helped me make sense of my pain.  I’m way past that point in my life now, so I think I might not appreciate a work like this as much as I once would have.

Now, a personal note to whoever subtitled this:  I have never read Wuthering Heights, BUT I KNOW WHAT ITS FUCKING CALLED.  And I know it isn’t “WITHERING” Heights.  You, apparently, do not.  I can understand a translator not knowing that, like if English isn’t their native langugage?  Maybe?  Even though its a really famous book that’s probably been translated into every language including Klingon by now?  But come on, unless Kira is a one-man operation, that really rustles my jimmies – probably more than it ought to if I’m honest.  Its the kind of thing that makes me question the translation of everything else, though I didn’t notice anything else glaringly wrong (I do speak some Japanese).

Mobile Suit Victory Gundam Review – It Sucks.


One of the advantages to taking public transit to and from work is I get to watch anime while in transit.  I’ve been slowly picking my way through Mobile Suit Victory Gundam.  Most of the reviews I’ve read have been glowing.  I’m here to tell you this is sub-par Gundam at best.

One of the DISadvantages, of course, is I can’t exactly take notes as I watch.

Anyway, that established:  Tomino is not my favorite director, and his biggest weakness, to me, is that he has a lot of trouble with beginnings.  Things just kinda happen “just because” and are never fleshed out (examples:  Dunbine, L-Gaim, Dunbine, and Dunbine).  But these shows tend to pick up once the initial situations are… well, if not explained, then just “established.”  Victory, unfortunately, never quite seems to reach that point.  This might be excusable if either the setting, or characters and their interactions, were at least interesting (examples:  Utena, Lain) – well, they aren’t.  I’m at the end of the series and find most of the character to be ciphers.

Let’s take Oliver as an example.  We have very little clue that he and Marbet have any sort of relationship other than Marbet being annoyed at the Shrike Team’s very existence until they get FUCKING MARRIED, very suddenly.  Then, a few episodes later, Oliver kamikazes himself and dies.  Why?  Beats the shit out of me.  As near as I can tell he did it because the script said so.  I guess we’re supposed to feel sad in the next 2-3 episodes, but I didn’t feel sad at all.  Why?  Because I knew next to nothing about the character, despite his near-constant on-screen presence throughout 2/3 of the series.

Let’s compare that with, say, Slegger from the original Gundam – Same series, same universe, same director.  We knew who Slegger was, we knew his personality,  he had established relationships with the other characters (Amuro, Sayla, Mirai, etc), and his death was actually meaningful.  Oliver can’t hold Slegger’s jock.  It would be too heavy for him.

Was Chronicle Asher supposed to be Uso’s nemesis?  He vanishes like halfway through the series and is mostly only mentioned by name.  They gave him that dumb facemask, so I guess he was supposed to the the Char-clone du jour.  But Char had reasons for wearing his mask – both the reason that was publicly given and his own secret reason.  Chronicle is all like “I don’t like Earth dust,” but then proceeds to wear the mask in space anyhow, and sometimes doesn’t bother to wear it on Earth either – so why bother with the mask at all?  It certainly can’t cover the fact that Chronicle is not a very interesting character.

Maybe Katejina was supposed to be Uso’s nemesis.  No, mostly we just see her tailing Chronicle around, sometimes, and then get in a few scraps midway through the series, only to vanish without further mention until the end, where she completely wigs out.    I despise Reccoa from Zeta for being a traitorous cunt, but Katejina was never really on the League’s side.  So was she always down with Zanscare and was just waiting for the right moment to join?  Was she abused and/or brainwashed?  Was she just fucking insane from episode one onwards?  Because she sure as well was insane by the end – we’re even shown a completely blinded and broken Katejina in the finale.

Hell, I’m not sure Nadia Shakti wasn’t Uso’s ultimate nemesis.  She’s either the most deceitful character in any Gundam ever or she’s pants-on-head retarded.  Sadly, I suspect the former was not the intention.  She defects to Zanscare at least three times that I can recall, and every time her lameass excuse is “Oh, they’ll TOTALLY stop the entire war if I tell them to!”  Yeah, likely story, bitch.  Is that why you crawled your ass straight into the Angel Halo, too?  I understand where she might have some conflicted motivations, but COME ON, Uso should have wasted her after the second time.

I will say I liked Cima Fualla, but she fakes her death maybe a third of the way in and we don’t see here again until near the end… eh.  But at least she’s entertainingly crazy at that point, and I at least kinda get it – we know she’s been through a lot.  Admittedly, I do like women with pink hair…

I also like the new enhanced Haro.  He’s awesome.

On the other hand, there’s Odelo – he starts out as highly-obnoxious “comic relief,” but becomes a pilot halfway through.  In fact, his death in the finale was the only death that had any effect on me, despite this show’s high body count.  I cared, because Odelo actually had an arc.  He actually changed and developed as a character.  In fact, now that I think about it, I think the only characters who really had any development was Odelo.

And what of our main character, Uso?  The only word that comes to my mind is “bland.”

On a larger scale:  We know next to nothing about the Zanscare Empire or BESPA, and we only vaguely know their motivations – their origins are just glossed over by a few lines in one episode.  Same deal with the League Militaire – where did they come from?  How did they form?  Who the hell is funding the creation of their units?  We knew a lot about the Zeons and Federation in the original, and plenty about AEUG and the Titans in Zeta Gundam, but Victory just doesn’t bother to explain itself, so I don’t really care.

So many missed opportunities:  The League Militaire uses child soldiers, including Uso and his little buddies.  You’d think a MUCH bigger deal would be made of this in terms of negative PR from Zanscare – you could show the League losing support from the people its trying to protect.  But no, other than a few throwaway lines here and there, its hardly mentioned.  We do see moments of Uso getting fairly traumatized and hardened, but these are never really followed up on, when they should have been a great way to grow the character.

The Angel Halo was a cool concept – too bad its just dropped in our laps, right out of the blue, ten episodes from the end.  By contrast, the existence of Gryps was established in the first five minutes of the first episode of Zeta Gundam, though its purpose was not.  Victory would have been SO much more interesting if the Angel Halo, along with Tasillo’s revolt, had occurred a full thirty or more episodes sooner.  Hell, Tasillo strikes me as far more interesting than Chronicle, and he has only a fraction of the screentime Chronicle has.  We could have learned a lot about Zanscare, about what made those characters tick, and in contrast learned more about the League and why they fight… maybe I’ve been spoiled by LoGH, I dunno.

As to the titular Gundam itself, I thought the Victory’s modularity was really stupid at first, and I think that’s because it was both introduced and used poorly in the beginning.  But it actually makes a lot of sense, assuming you have a situation where the enemy can’t intercept the parts before they arrive where they’re meant to.  The beam rotor concept is pretty cool, and I like the Zolo’s use of them for atmospheric movement in the early episodes.

As to the other mobile suits – the BESPA suits mostly have insect-inspired designs, and as mentioned above I rather liked the Zolo and its helicoptor/MS transformation ability.  Most of the other suits reminded me of the Zeon suits/armors in the original Gundam, in a BAD way.  The Zeon had some seriously fruity and unrealistic designs, but Gundam can be given a pass given that it was the first show of the entire genre and was made in the 1970s.  Victory should know better.  The Doggorla might have been the single stupidest thing I’ve seen in any Gundam, and it was used more than once.

Overall, I really can’t recommend this one.  Still, I’d rather watch this than Double Zeta…