Monday, July 16, 2007

July 2007 - What's on my mind now

Ho dear reader - I bet you thought this was another one of those 'four posts and it's over' blogs, didn't you? Well, since my blog subtitle includes 'life,' I thought I'd clue you in on a little of mine.

Old geezers like me have things like jobs and responsibilities. Usually I can reschedule this sort of thing around more important stuff like anime watching, manga reading, board posts, and blog entries, but sometimes life rears its ugly head and I have to pay attention to it.

In this case, Milady and I had decided that some basic things needed to change. The anime/manga chestnut about following your dreams and being true to yourself certainly figured in the reasoning, as did a recognition that we weren't very happy with the way some things were going, and that it was going to require some dramatic changes to alter this.

So, about a year ago, I started seriously considering moving from Western Pennsylvania, where the weather is cold and grey much of the year, people are old (the average age is among the oldest in the USA) and rude (Not as rude as further East, but not polite, either), taxes are high and ignorance and machine politics are bliss to someplace nicer.

Heightening this desire was the knowledge that the large multinational consumer electronics conglomerate that employed me was 1) going through some hard times financially, making my job less stable than it once had been, 2) making some really stupid business decisions that suggested that the hard times weren't going to get better soon, and 3) had failed to give me a raise for three years in spite of a steady increase in responsibilities and good performance reviews from all quarters. If a certain Welsh-born CEO wants to know what his company's problems are, and why they lost an employee like me, I'll be happy to give him a detailed list...

It was time for a change. I was ready for promotion, more money, and new challenges at work, and ready to live someplace less generally depressing with people who had more intellectual hobbies than morning radio shows and bar fights.

So I started looking seriously just after the new year, focusing my attentions on a particular town in a particular state on the eastern seaboard. Why that particular town? We had friends in the area, the countryside is beautiful, and the politics, while not wondrously pristine, at least sometimes benefit the many, instead of the empowered few.

Opportunity finally knocked...well, actually I kept beating on the door and opportunity finally answered after about four months. However, once the door was opened, I was invited in for the longest, chattiest job interview I've ever had. And a sequel a few weeks later. After some silly circumlocutory negotiations, I agreed to start work there in the beginning of July...which gave me about a month to give notice, pack, find some place to live, move several hundred KM, start work, and set up house.

It didn't all get done in the proper order. House still isn't moved. I'm staying with friends commuting an hour to work at the new job. Milady and e-chan are still at the old house packing things. I have no idea where they'll be living when they get here. But it's happening.

So what's going on with the interesting stuff? I've been downloading a pile to tide us over until we're settled with high speed in the new location. I also put in an order with when they had their geneon midnight-madness sale. They're slow to ship, so I may have to change the address...

I'm staying with friends in the new town, and have somewhat different media tastes than they. Accordingly, I'm reading a a fair amount of manga (Maison Ikkoku and Mirai Nikki lately). I've got a list of other things recommended by friends over at to download and read as well.

Maison Ikkoku is an interesting item. For one thing, it identifies the origin of the hot-widow-landlady trope in Chobits. Yup, the centerpiece of Maison Ikkoku is an off-again-on-again semi-harem romance between a mediocre college student (who is both more attractive than and not as big a loser as Keitaro in Love Hina) , and the hot landlady widow, who married straight out of high school and was widowed in less than a year of marriage. Result: landlady and college guy are pretty close to the same age. The supporting cast is the usual wacky assortment of characters who exist primarily to get in the way of the obvious-as-bricks-down-a-well romance.

The female lead (Kyoko) runs hot and cold - not in a tsundere way, really, but just in an insecure way, similar to Nagisa in Yume de Aetara. To her and Nagisa's credit, both have good reasons for their behavior - they're not arbitrarily tsundere like Naru in Love Hina.

The art is likewise interesting. Since we know that the author is the queen of manga - Takahashi Rumiko, and that this was a huge hit that pretty much established both the harem romance and the rooming house romance as genre staples in manga in the same way that Ranma 1/2 (by the same author) did, and since it's old (1980), it's logical to expect that the art is both dated and probably pretty good by the standard of the day. Right on both counts. It lacks the detailed perfection of Crying Freeman, but the facial work is actually a little better, and the character designs, while simple, are both expressive and identifiable (well, except for the male lead and his principal competition). One can also see how it borrows from the successful serial US comics of the 1960s and '70s. The art has a certain Archie and Veronica flavor, or possibly some Mary Worth about it. This is the first time I've ever looked at a manga and said - "yeah, I can see how the American dailies influenced the art here."

The only other Takahashi I've read in any detail was a one-shot (Vacation-in-law) and the Mermaid series (which I, and apparently the Japanese like a lot). The mermaid series, though, is one of her occasional special projects - it'd probably be a doujin if she weren't the queen of manga. She obviously puts a lot more art into it than into the potboiler stuff like this and Ranma.

This one is so interesting because it obviously has a lot of kids. Yume de Aetara borrows some character traits. Love Hina borrows setting, setup, and some character tropes. Virgin Na Kankei borrows the relationship dynamics of the characters and rips off some supporting characters (the chiisai cutie with a crush on male lead) wholesale. Even Mahoraba, dear as I hold it, has the same setting and a bereaved landlady.

None of this is a bash on any of the newer material, but it does point out just how influential Maison Ikkoku is.

Mirai Nikki (I carefully translate the title from the kanji as something like 'Future Diary' or 'Diary in the Future Tense') is a rather different kettle of fish. Shounen action-thriller. It's a slightly pedestrian storyline involving a modern-day schoolboy shounen who has to save the world (and his own life) and lots of badness and baddies trying to off him, along with the magical girl story trope of a special goodie given him by a super-powerful individual that gives him some special ability. The interesting spins are:
  1. He's not the only guy with a special goodie
  2. Everybody else I've seen who is special-goodie-equipped is mentally warped to some degree or other
  3. The most warped one of all is his dere-dere classmate who has a really sick dere-dere stalker fixation on him.
I've only read through the first volume - but it's a pretty good ride so far. I'm curious to see how the mangaka hopes to keep it fresh in future volumes.

Anime-wise, I'm down to what the slow laptop I'm using can cope with. Mostly stuff like Azumanga Daioh...

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