Tuesday, June 10 2008

Aria: Full Circle

It is fitting that the last episode of Aria: the Origination, "To that new beginning...", should begin with a flashback to the very beginning of the story. http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i01.jpgAkari Mizunashi, Aria company's new trainee Pair Undine, wearing her new uniform, sits down to her first breakfast in Neo-Venezia and the beginning of her new life, with Alicia Florence, her new mentor, gazing on.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i02.jpg
(Ironically enough, due to the changeover in production of the manga series from Aqua to Aria, which I understand is a change in production and not in story, the first episode of the actual anime takes place some time later than Akari's first day.  The actual first day is presented some time later as a flashback.  I also can't be the only one that contemplated that Alicia's interest in Akari might not seem entirely professional if some of the stills from this episode are taken out of context...)

When we last saw our protagonists, Akari had finally completed her apprenticeship and had been promoted to Prima.  Afterwards, Alicia had something important to tell her, but all we see is Akari's shocked reaction before the episode ends.  This episode, after being confronted by Alice and Aika, Akari tells them and us what's going on.  Alicia wasn't training a partner, she was training a replacement.  Alicia plans to retire, get married, and take a job at the Gondola Association.  There are surprises in anime, and there this is beyond them.  No hint of any of this until the final episode.  The intro gives us a glimpse of a lot of the significant locations in the series, plus a sense of the massive outpouring of well-wishing that accompanies Alicia's announcement.  Akari outwardly seems calm at her change of situation as she awaits the future.
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But, we get the sense that under the perennially bright facade, Akari hasn't yet admitted to herself that her world is about to change.
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Finally, with waterworks in full blast, she admits her sadness and fear to Alicia, who provides comfort and admits that she held off promoting Akari because she too was afraid of change.

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Akari recovers by remembering how everyone has grown and changed,http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i08.jpg

and all the happy experiences she's had since she came to Aqua...
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...and envisioning the wonderful future that they're all headed in to.  (Come on, Akari's got one of the biggest pairs of rose-colored glasses in anime, and it's the last episode!  Of course it's going to be sappy!)
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Anyways, the whole episode is another wonderful treat.  From the wonderful scenery to the smallest details changed just for the final episode, the animators went all out.  Aria company has always had a photo of its Prima Undine on the reception desk.  As we see our first scene of Prima Akari with client, we get to see that they've put her picture on the desk in the corner of the image.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i11.jpg

Her client is the mailman, who's name is revealed to be Anno.  He's shown up in a number of episodes.  More importantly from the standpoint of looking at this episode as the conclusion, he's the one that gave Akari her first gondola ride in Neo-Venezia and delivered her to Aria company.  Fitting that he should be Akari's first seen customer.The image “http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i12.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Finally, it's time for Alicia's retirement ceremony.
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Escorted by Akira and Athena, the other two legendary Undines who trained alongside her, Alicia takes out her gondola for the last time as an Undine, with Akari and President Aria as passengers.
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Waiting near the dock at San Marco Piazza are probably just about every other gondola Orange Planet and Himeya can put in the water. 
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Why would the other two Undine companies go to such lengths?  In addition to the fact that the companies seem to be on very friendly terms to start with, they must be ecstatic at the fact that the current reigning top Undine is retiring, and since she's taking a position with the gondola regulatory body, being on good terms with her as she leaves is probably a good thing.

A decent crowd of spectators turns out, including the Usual Suspects, Al, Akatsuki, and Woody.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i17.jpg

Alice and Aika have good positions in the ceremony as well.The image “http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i18.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

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Interestingly enough, the gondola animations are one of the few places in the series where the use of CG is obvious in the animations.  It does slightly spoil the moment.

Finally, the oar is passed to the next generation.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i21.jpg

Afterwards, Akari returns to the office, to reminisce about the past and look forward to the future, which she is now able to accept will be filled with more good memories.http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i22.jpg

We get to see the near future, with Aika and Al in a relationship, Alice continuing to grow and hold her friendships together, Athena retiring to join the opera, and Akira left to reign as the remaining great Undine of her generation.

Oh, and so as not to leave anyone out...
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Alicia with glasses for the win!

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Alicia and Grandma are fine, too.

The series then jumps a bit into the future one last time.  Akari is older, and has changed her hairstyle (it's a detail for the series that all three of the older characters in the series changed their hairstyles since they became Primas.)
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Furthermore, she has an trainee Pair of her own, Ai, her penpal from Earth that took a gondola ride with her in the first episode of the series.  Ai stopped by to visit several times in the course of the series, so this wasn't entirely unexpected.  Still, her appearance is used to demonstrate that the Kozue Amano knew how to write the series meaningfully and beautifully, as we watch Ai, Aria company's new trainee Pair Undine, wearing her new uniform, sits down to her first breakfast in Neo-Venezia and the beginning of her new life, with Akari, her new mentor, gazing on...http://dorkside.mee.nu/images/ariae6e7/Aria13i28.jpg

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Posted by: Civilis at 09: 05 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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Saturday, June 07 2008

Brand Identification

As a dedicated fan of old-fashioned tabletop roleplaying games, I had to pick up a copy of the new 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons just to see how much the game has changed in its new incarnation.
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Before I get to my thoughts, a little tangential story, which does relate back to Dungeons & Dragons.  Twice a week, I eat at Subway for lunch.  It's generally better quality and variety than other fast food restaurants, but I still lump it in the same general class with McDonalds, Burger King, etc., and not with more trendy quick-service establishments like Panera Bread, Quiznos, or Chipotle.  While all are not traditional restaurants, the differing price point and style is such that I view the latter chains as a separate class.  Having eaten there twice a week for years, I'm something of a regular, and on good terms with the manager.  At one point, I commented to the manager favorably on a new menu option, and was rewarded with the candid observation that the chain was looking to adjust the menu and correspondingly increase prices to be more comparable with places like Panera or Chipotle.

To me, this seems a major mistake.  Subway, for me, is the best of the fast food class of restaurants, which for me is defined by low cost, fast service.  When I go out for lunch at work, these are the two traits I am looking for.  That Subway has added quality and variety are bonuses and as such the deciding factors in my preference for Subway. They are trying to establish brand recognition in the more upscale trendy quick service restaurant class, which is defined by having better quality and more variety than the limited fast food menu, but at a higher price and with a longer wait.  Subway doesn't compare as well with the restaurants currently in this class on quality or variety, so I'm not as likely to think of going out to Subway when I could go to one of the other restaurants in the class, and its value over other fast food restaurants has lessened because they've increased prices.  Subway has traded established brand recognition away in one class for the hope of developing new brand recognition in another class.

Wizards of the Coast is likewise trading away the established brand recognition of Dungeons and Dragons among the general roleplaying game class, because the fundamentals of the game system has changed significantly from the previous edition.  That's not to say that the mechanics themselves are worse or wrong, but given the magnitude of the changes involved, there's no reason not to look into other systems at this point.

Specifically:

  • The game has gone to almost a purely board and miniatures driven tactical combat system.  If I want to micromanage combat that badly, I'll play a boardgame built for the purpose.  I want RPG combat to be quick.  I'd much rather say, "I attack the monster with my sword", roll to hit, roll to damage, then spend an hour pouring over the board micromanaging tactical combat.
  • With that being said, the addition of one hit - one kill minion monsters changes combat dynamics, in part in a good way.  I hate micromanaging hitpoints for monsters that won't last more than two hits anyways.  This is more of an odd change for some players than others.  I know one old school roleplayer that can't wrap himself around the idea that a monster fit for a high level party can have 1 hit point.  It is odd, however, as most of these high level minions should be suitable as boss monsters for lower level parties.  The whole minion idea makes more sense for more realistic genres than high fantasy where most bad guys only can take one hit anyways.
  • Likewise, the mechanics of the rolerplaying aspect of the game has been diminished in the emphasis on tactical combat.  There are fewer skills and non-combat abilities such as spells, and these are managed less and are built for "adventuring" in dungeon or wilderness environments, not roleplaying.  I like roleplaying my characters.  I find it fun.
  • In some respects, the game is more MMORPG like, with all characters having a number of spell-like powers they can use, these being the source of the tactical micromanagement.  All characters have elaborate power tables and so forth.
  • The combat system is changed dramatically, with the 'to hit' system combined with most of what was the 'saving throw' system to form a unified mechanic that, while it makes the general flow easier, requires more memorization of details for specific powers, and requires relearning the basic system.
That's my impressions of a quick run through of the Player's Guide.  Overall, there are a lot of changes, and the game is very different than 3rd edition D&D, so much so that it's an entirely different game.  Aside from the stats, everything you know is wrong and will need to be relearned.  While I won't go and say the game is not Dungeons & Dragons, it most definitely is not 3rd Editon Dungeons & Dragons.

Posted by: Civilis at 09: 47 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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Friday, June 06 2008

The Great Crusade

Today is the 64th anniversary of D-Day. On this day in 1944, nine divisions of allied troops landed on the beaches and in the fields of Normandy, France. I can think of no more fitting tribute than to include Gen. Eisenhower's address to the troops on June 6th:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!


You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, wellequipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats,in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Dwight D. Eisenhower more...

Posted by: Civilis at 10: 43 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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