Tuesday, May 27 2008

Aria: Final Exams

In my post on episode nine, I speculated we had three big events remaining spread over four episodes of Aria: the Origination.  Now, as we start episode 12 of Aria: the Origination, "Within that Blue Sea and Wind", we still have those three events left.

The episode opens with Akari picking up a visibly depressed Aika from one of the Himeya Undin Company offices for routine practice.  When Akari finally stops her blissful "while it's lonely without Alice, we've got to be haoppy for her and do our best" speech and realizes something's wrong, Aika tearfully says that they can't practice together anymore, and the camera pans down to reveal...
... Aika's already been promoted.  As usual for her perennially good-natured personality, Akari is happy about her friend's success.

We get to see snippets of Aika's promotion exam through a flashback that plays behind the opening credits.  (One of the nice touches with Aria is that the openings have always been pure new footage tied in to the upcoming episode.)  Because most of the emotional build-up to Aika's promotion occurred in the previous episode, this isn't a massive disappointment, but there is evidence of an emotional promotion, complete with synchronized waterworks from Akira and Aika.

The scene shifts to Aria company, where after Akari recounts the days events, Alicia announces that she will hold Akari's promotion test the next day.  Of course, this means Akari can't sleep, so she eventually goes out for an Undine-style all-nighter with a midnight gondola practice.  At this point, the animators must have realized that "it's the second to last episode, and we haven't seen some of the minor reoccurring characters since episode 1!  Let's put a few in!"  So, Akatsuki the Salamander weatherman, and Woody the Sylph delivery jetbiker just happen to be out for a night's stroll.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria1203.jpg

Akatsuki was Akari's first client as an apprentice Undine, and, though a self-proclaimed Alicia fan, shows that potential anime love interest antagonism towards Akari.  Akari does happen to mention her upcoming exam.

The next day arrives, and after a rain delay, Akari's exam begins.  We get to see more impressive Neo-Venezian scenery on the exam.


It's nice to see many of the characters in the series get there bit parts in cheering for Akari, as her friendliness and sunny disposition are her unique talent as an Undine.

I think that the details in showing the people Akari has met and helped along the way makes the whole exam as emotional as Alice's, even though we've seen the same formula now three times (even if Aika's was foreshortened).  The animation here, both in the detailed scenery, such as the Rialto bridge, the colorful crowds, and the animation effects, are more pronounced than the rest of the series, as befitting one of the emotional climaxes of the series.

As expected, Akari passes the challenges before her.  As with Alice and Aika, Alicia gently takes her hand and removes her glove.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria1208.jpg


Congratulations, Akari, you've been promoted to Prima and awarded the name Aquamarine.  We have one episode left, and at the very close of this episode, Alicia announces she as something important to tell Akari, hinting at the grand finale yet to come...

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 50 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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Tuesday, May 20 2008

Aria: the Beginning of the End

Episode 11 of Aria: the Origination, "On that Changing Day...", begins the closure of the series.  It's still filler, mostly, but it establishes an important detail for what lies ahead in the last two episodes.

The episode opens with some visually stunning shots of the building of the Himeya Undine company, the oldest on Aqua and the employers of Aika and Akira, along with Akira musing on some not-entirely-flattering titles as possibilities for Aika when she becomes an Undine.  Akira overhears that Alice has been promoted straight to prima, and that although Aika seems to be taking it well, the other Himeya Undines are worried for her.  It's odd for Akira, of all people, to be the last one to know, although she has difficulties with some of the other Himeya Undines.




After observing Aika on a training trip, Akira attempts to bring up the subject and is too nervous to do so.  Aika, suspecting that she's made some mistake in front of her strict instructor, is equally nervous.  The whole thing is a succession of distorted facial reactions. 

Akira eventually takes Aika out for ice cream, and the two walk along, Aika oblivious to her brooding instructor.  Aika eventually accidentally raises the issue by mentioning that she had seen Alice's unprecedented promotion.

Akira, worried about whether Aika is suppressing her true feelings, confronts her student, only to find that Aika is genuinely proud and happy for Alice, and at the same time, determined to catch up to her friend.  This relieves Akira, who then taunts Aika with the list of potential names, in part as her own encouragement.  Akira also mentally acknowledges that Aika may be about ready to assume her eventual duties as heir to the management of Himeya Company.

The story then shifts to Alice, last seen trying to adjust to life as a Prima.  She is more comfortable as a Prima.  We have some time to watch her at work, as she traverses more beautiful scenes from Neo-Venezia.

Alice is beginning to appreciate the life experiences she gets interacting with her guests as a Prima Undine.  She also laments the lack of time spent with her friends.  That is, until she returns to her apartment on a rainy night...
...to find Aika and Akari and the cats, happily eating more bananas as they wait for their friend.  Incidentally, I suspect this is another example of Athena working behind the curtain to support Alice.  The three enjoy a pizza and start to establish the same sort of friendship that Athena, Alicia and Akira show, that while they are no longer constantly together, the bonds that they have formed will remain forever.

Wonderduck has an excellent post up about his reaction to the final episode.  I echo his thoughts, in that for me a world or setting can have no higher praise than "I wish I could go there".  The visuals in this episode really exemplify what can be done with animation to craft a setting and flesh it out into a world that is real enough and yet wonderful enough that it has that attraction.  The animators really use light and shadow, water and weather effects, and layered scenery to create an illusion of reality that sucks the viewer in.  While the character development makes Aria a good series, the setting of Neo-Venezia is really what makes Aria great.

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 49 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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Thursday, May 08 2008

Aria: Once in a Blue Moon

I was debating which bad music pun to use for this episode's title.

"Filler!  Filler night!  You're fighting for you life inside of filler, filler tonight!"
"I will call you Aika, and Aika, when you call me, will you call me Al?"

After a long hiatus, the 10th episode of Aria the Origination, "That Moon-Gazing Night's Excitement" was released as a fansub.  Of course, two days later RightStuf announces that it has licensed the entire series for American release, starting with Aria: the Animation this September.  Thankfully, Wonderduck has indicated that the last three fansubs are available elsewhere.

I am immensely grateful to RightStuf for both licensing this excellent series and for licensing a number of other favorite series of mine.  One of the first series I truly enjoyed, one that remains one of my Greatest Anime after all these years, is Irresponsible Captain Tylor, one of their early releases.  I eagerly wait the first season box set release on September 30.  Preorder now!  I may end up doing an episode by episode recap once I get the DVDs.  I'm still going to finish the Origination, hopefully in the next week or so, and recap that now...

When we last left Akari and friends, Alice had been unexpectedly promoted to full Prima undine, and the pressure is getting to her at the beginning of this episode.  She's now the number one rising star Undine in all of Neo-Venezia, and that's pretty tough to live up to.

After getting caught spying on Alice with Aika, Akari invites Alice to a moon viewing party that evening to relax and eat Odongo dumplings.  This is a good excuse for the series creators to put the characters in casual clothes.
After some time has passed, and Aika and Alice have conflicted over the dumplings, Aika wonders where Al is.  Al is a Gnome, one of the other unique professions on Aqua.  The Gnomes are in charge of adjusting the planet's gravity to something approximating Earth normal.  Unfortunately, Al's appearance tends to herald the arrival of the series only use of hokey pseudo-science.  Aika has something of a crush on Al which is never properly explained.  Al, though he's small and looks young, is older than Alicia and Akira.  Aika sets off to find Al.  And then Alice notices that Maa has vanished as well.

Aika finds Al, and is giddy as a schoolgirl as she happily leads him back towards Akari and Alice.  She stops to pose on top of a well...
... but the wooden cover is rotted through, sending her falling inside.  Ever the gentleman, Al attempts to pull her out...
...but falls in himself.  Fortunately, somehow, with a city covered in canals and water, the well is somehow dry.  Where is the water table, people?

Fortunately, help soon arrives...
... but Lassie, she isn't.  Maa is referred to several times as 'she' in the translation, something I hadn't seen before.

Aika attempts to get Lassi... sorry, Maa, to get help.  So what does Maa do?



... Maa, predictably, jumps down the well.  Oddly enough, she doesn't land on all fours...
... she sticks the landing!  Perfect tens from all the judges, save the Romanian judge.

Aika, tells Maa that she is a smart Aqua cat (confirming my theories), and repeatedly attempts to send Maa back out for help, but Maa keeps jumping back in, until she finally gets the idea and heads off for help.  Or heads off somewhere...

We are then treated to the drama of two people trying not to admit their feelings for each other stuck in an embarrassing situation in tight quarters.  It's a good excuse to give us some up close character shots, http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Ep1010.jpg

...as well as having Aika running through the complete cartoony exaggerated emotional faces book.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Ep1011.jpg

Eventually, Maa brings help, which, by anime cliche law, must arrive at the most embarrassing possible moment.

With that, everyone is safe and all is well.

Some interesting things to note this episode:

President Aria finally manages to get some kind of positive reaction from President Hime.  Way to go, President Aria!  Suck in that flabby belly!

Right after Aika starts fretting about Al being late, Alice starts mischievously prodding Aika about her relationship with Al.  President Hime, who is Aika's cat for all practical purposes, can be seen mimicking Alice's expression.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Ep1014.jpg

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Thursday, May 01 2008

Lies, Damn Lies, and More Damn Lies

As Wonderduck has pointed out, Aria episode 10 has been released and downloaded, and I almost can't wait to start watching.  But first, some serious business.

My mother and I do not see eye to eye on just about anything political.  She's staunchly anti-war, and unabashedly so, and we occasionally end up verbally sparring over the news.  There's no bitterness about it when it happens, except perhaps from my father, who holds his political opinions generally very close to his chest.

Today, she had some questions for me as a representative of the other side of the debate.  At the weekly historical society meeting, a member had been passing around copies of an e-mail purporting to list military deaths by year since 1980, including a helpful total of 14,000 for the Clinton administration, and my mother thought that that number looked fishy.   She's a history major, and tends to approach her chosen interest with the same degree of obsession I show towards my interests, and is good at spotting unusual bits that don't fit together.

The number looked fishy to me, as well, as I remember some pro-military bloggers citing a number somewhere in the 7,000 range for the same statistic.  I suggested that she check the information on line, as there was a handy web page listed.  She was worried that if the web page was a far-right site that she couldn't trust the information from.  So I went and looked for her.

The domain for the address given in the e-mail, www.fas.org, looked familiar, and when I went there I remembered why.  It's the page for the Federation of American Scientists, and I'd used it to do research on Warsaw Pact military equipment for a wargame.  They seemed largely non-partisan and trustworthy, and were a good reference source for research on international politics and military affairs.  I then checked out the specific document listed in the e-mail, the CRS (Congressional Research Service) report on American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics, published in mid 2007.

And, presto, my mother's question was answered on the first page, with a warning about an e-mail containing bogus statistics purported to be from the report.  The real statistics themselves follow, with 7500 US military fatalities between 1993 and 2000, which is roughly Clinton's time in office, so the ballpark figure I remember of somewhere in the 7000s fits.  I showed my mother the actual statistics and explained why I trusted FAS based on my experience with them.

My mother's now going to take the e-mail back to the group at the historical society next meeting and (knowing her) loudly announce the false information in the handout, and while I disagree with the opinions she holds, she will be in the right, because the statistics given were wrong.  Whether the statistics are true or false doesn't change the situation on the ground, but it does affect the credibility of the people providing the statistics.

If you see a statistic and it's too good to be true, check it out.  Check the primary source, if listed, and check statistics you know are trustworthy to compare.  If it checks out, you've got more ammunition in your arsenal of facts.  If it doesn't check out, you've just avoided shooting yourself in the foot.  Know that facts and statistics presented my be inaccurate or distorted.

If you're the sort of idiot on any side that makes up statistics to bolster your side, stop.  You're not helping anyone, you're only making everyone distrust anyone that believes differently and any facts that do happen to be true.  If you're doing it for that reason, you deserve to have a saguaro cactus shoved... [my ideal fate of those that deliberately screw with statistics is best not fully described]

Now, back to watching animated gondolas...

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 07 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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