Serial Experiments: Lain

You know how so much of anime has a naïve teenage protagonist with a lot of school drama, who gets powers, and saves the world? Well, Lain starts there and then veers wildly off, into Internet Protocols, simulationism, UFO/Gaea/psionics conjectures, secret societies, radical home computer upgrades, and not only doesn't save the world but there may never have been a world to save. There's also a lot of really great music; the OST and Cyberia mixes are big parts of my Coding Soundtracks playlist.

What I'm Watching: BLAME!

BLAME! was a manga by Tsutomu Nihei from the late '90s/early '00s, like the result of listening to the Terminator soundtrack and Front Line Assembly and drawing that. A weird loner named Killy with an overpowered gravity gun, wanders an infinitely large ruined city, infested with Exterminators that want to kill all the unauthorized Humans, as he searches for someone with the Net Terminal Gene which would allow Humans to connect to the city again. It's bitter and mostly silent, harsh industrial lines and weird kabuki-masked spidery bots and fake people.

It's not quite "cyberpunk", because it's not the street finding new uses for (military-corporate) technology, but techno-savages trying to survive the street killing them. Cyber-apocalyptic, like Terminator's future, Screamers, or Hardware.

What I didn't know is there was a movie made, available on Netflix!

And, uh, it's the manga. The point of view characters are Human survivors in a village, and why they were mostly safe (but dying out) until Killy shows up is the main plot. The city is as brutal and unliveable as the manga, and the technical scenes are fantastic. Killy is quiet and blank, because he knows they're screwed and they don't have what he wants, but he'll help as long as it's practical and he might get some advantage over Safeguard. Very slight nitpicks: There's only a couple of bot designs instead of the rampant cyberization of Human and near-Human and the whole environment of the manga. There's a plot twist I didn't see any clues for, but I might've spaced out at some run-and-scream bit. There's a lack of discussion of the nature and motives of Cibo, that I think was also needed. Maybe the Man in Black Rides Off Into the Sunset ending and denouement is a little trite for the manga which is so harsh and unforgiving. But for anime adaptation of an impossibly harsh and inhuman source material, I've never seen better.

★★★★★

What I'm Watching: What Did Jack Do?, Isekai Quartet, Overlord

What Did Jack Do?: David Lynch sits in a barren room and interviews a monkey (with terrible Conan O'Brien quality fake mouth dubbing). What eventually comes out is a broken heart sob story, a mediocre lounge song, and an arrest on motive but no evidence. Jack won't be serving hard time on this. Dialogue's pretty erratic, long pauses and non-sequiturs, so I suspect Lynch was either on something or doing a cut-up or some other non-rational writing process. The setting is supposed to be a train station, but it looks like a disused back room with a white light panel, which is what it is; there isn't even any foley to suggest location. The waitress with their coffee is the only other actor, and has barely two lines, and neither touch their coffee. If it wasn't Lynch, nobody would watch this.
★☆☆☆☆

I've been pretty bummed out by recent anime and Crunchyroll in particular for the last couple years, there just isn't much new except slice-of-life-kiddies-with-powers shows. Anime can draw and be anything, but in practice much of it is garbage for teenagers so dull-witted they can't picture anything except themselves.

Isekai Quartet is a mockery of that. Chibi versions of characters of four isekai (Narnia type secondary worlds) shows, KonoSuba and RE:Zero (which are all but indistinguishable), Saga of Tanya the Evil (a good but very grim show), and Overlord (which I had not previously been aware of), all find a shiny red button with no label. Idiots push buttons. And they find themselves in… something like our world, but not. With a creepy harlequin teacher who says they must "experience school life" and "it'll be fuuuuuun".

However inappropriate for the characters, the classroom is a good structure for making these weird dumb characters interact. Tanya is paranoid but smart, Ainz Ooal Gown is a creepy lich but actually quite reasonable, and the idiots of the two dumb isekai wreak havoc and fail to play nicely with their classmates. I loathed Aqua in KonuSuba, and she's the whipping boy (however much the paladin would prefer to be).

As a dozen 12-minute episodes a season, there's no room for sitting around whining or complex arcs, only A-plot and parody of each show's tropes. Light and stupid entertainment, but less stupid than some of the source material. I'm less impressed with the first 2 eps of S2, with almost straight, "sincere" takes on some kiddie videogame anime.
★★★½☆

Overlord: Based on the previous, I gave this a shot, and it's going well. The guildmaster of a VR MMO guild for monster players, formerly dozens but now there's just this one lich, plays with the artifacts and NPCs of their fortress on the final night before shutdown. I know the feeling, I always ride servers down if I'm playing on maintenance nights, and join the final night parties when servers are shut off.

And then… it doesn't log him out. The game world is real. And the NPCs are real, and so very needy.

There's some fantasy adventuring business, but pleasantly different being the antiheroes, which I prefer. And the psychological profile of a man slowly going nuts in a new body with different needs than Human. When he abandons his Human name, Momonga, and takes the name of his magic artifact Ainz Ooal Gown, he steps over a line.

★★★½☆ Early to say, but enjoyable.

A Little More Magia Record

The JP site has little weekly update comics, which have mostly been translated by fans:

Mostly just gags about bad pulls and events after they're over (in JP timeline; the EN timeline should be following the same pattern eventually), but a few honestly great jokes about Madoka like the one above. (in case you didn't know, read right to left)

Two pulls got me a better tree AOE DPS ★★☆☆ (Hinano is a monster in combat, everything dies in explosions), a fire DPS ★★☆☆, a light support ★★☆☆ (totally useless because main is light support), and… dark vampire DPS ★★★★! Hooray! Not the one I want, but an acceptable start.

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Figured out where the equipment is, you get "Memoria" cards which give boosts and skills, assign them on the team screen, and eventually you can unlock up to 4 slots for these. I got a few ★★★★ cards from a free support pull (forgot to screenshot it) and they make a huge difference in killing shit above my level. Before, I near TPKd once, had a few HP left on one girl when I finished a fight, everyone else was dead (well, KO; you can't kill magical girls without SPOILER). Now nobody goes below half HP even fighting twice my level.

Tactically it's getting pretty interesting. I wish I had more combat layouts. The T-shaped one is more powerful, but gets me hammered by any AOE mobs. The X-shaped default only buffs one girl, and the main needs DEF UP to survive, but ATK UP is wasted on her. But I'm not willing to pay real money for the one I see in the shop, so it's grind grind time.

They really got the witch art style from the series into the game:

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The one complaint I have is there's not a lot of Energy. So it's back to playing for half an hour, putting it down for 12 hours. Which is good discipline but normally mobage give you a huge burst of Energy at the start of the game to draw you in, before hitting you with the hard reality of the money-or-time economy. I'm not buying Energy potions or whatever they're called. I miss DanMachi's near-endless supply of "potato snacks" to restore Energy, from just doing dailies. You could run out, but it took grinding all day to do that.

What I'm Playing: Magia Record

A Puella Magi Madoka Magica mobage!

It's very cutesy, aimed at teenage Japanese girls and horny otaku boys, so I'm not likely to play very long, but I really did enjoy the anime series. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch that at the very least up to episode 4. Then it flips from "magical girls" to cute Lovecraftian horror and you'll be hooked to get to the end.

You don't play as the main characters from the anime, but entirely new characters. The main is very Madoka-like, except she took her contract, and the Homura-like Yachiyo antagonist/rival is great, a menacing rational magical girl. Kyubey is not yet a terrible existential threat.

There's the usual very long tutorial where you hit the buttons they tell you to. Eventually it lets you use the menu and go home and play around with the app. I don't even mind doing a campaign, but I want the ability to jump to home and change things, which tutorials prevent.

It's gachapon, and I haven't got enough for a 10-pull yet, so I dunno what the other characters are like. My free pull was a ★★★ tree-element flower girl, who's fine as long as she's not facing fire, which is like 50% of the fights where she's useless. I could reroll, but I never do that, I just grind a bit more.

Combat is turn-based, with 5 elements: Fire beats Tree beats Water beats Fire, and Light beats Shadow beats Light. There's a random selection of maneuvers that affect parts of an enemy formation or give bonus magia or damage, plus skills, plus limit breaks Magia Specials.

There's no equipment? But you can power up your magical girls with various gems, which seems much the same. It's a rich character development system, for sure. There's a bit of cheesecake in the costumes, which verges on lolicon already.

It's free to play, just don't buy anything from the store if you're not into blowing money on this kind of thing; you can apparently grind out most of the content free.

Evangelion Session 4: E11-12

Almost normal mecha show episodes: NERV HQ is shut down by unknown attackers by unknown means so everyone has to infiltrate the base and do a launch manually. Security really isn't very good when the power's down, three children are able to break into NERV. And then the orbital bombardment… Accurately understands the kinetic power of dropping things from orbit. The "miracle" of holding your hands up and wishing (OK, with an AT Field) is a little cutesy.

Maybe the NSA shut NERV down with STUXNET. You know in this setting the US espionage services would be incredibly perturbed at Japan having such an essential resource, we've seen "UN" ships with very obviously US-supplied Naval officers being pissy about it.

Misato's backstory and damage, similar to Shinji's and Asuka's, leaves her easy prey for Gendo's schemes. All the awkward people are excluded at the party, while the noisy ones make a mess. The phone call with Shinji and Gendo is just terrible, "Don't put him through ". Then later, all Shinji notices is that this is the first time his father's ever praised him. He can't even notice Asuka's abuse. There's long stretches of Asuka screaming at people I just tune out (and I know perfectly well why I react that way from my own psychological damage).

The Angel designs in this one are very goofy, the Johnny Quest-looking spider with dripping eye-chor, and the orbital happy-face thing. As we'll see later, there's not a universal leader behind the Angels, Adamic life doesn't seem to be able to coordinate or communicate with each other (and only occasionally with the Humans), they're just trying to reach Adam or Lilith, so each one comes up with its own plan and carries it out.

While sailing to the Antarctic recovering the Spear of Longinus, Gendo & flunky muse that Humans survive because of Science. I think it's more that a swarm of Humans collaborate, which beats the vastly superior solitaire Angels.

Evangelion Session 3: E08-10

Asuka strikes! The terror of the show. The worst Human who could possibly be one of the Children. Great T&A fanservice as long as you don't mind her terrible shrieking voice or brutal abuse of everyone around. So, the kind any project attracts. "Why is she so bossy?" "Why are guys always so stupid and horny?!" Gee, Asuka, I dunno, maybe it's because you strip-tease in front of them and then get mad when they look? It's impressive how Rei just shuts her down, though: "I'll be your friend if I'm ordered to."

Once there's more than one of the Children, the expression "First Children", "Second", "Third" seems weird; it's literal English in the Japanese script, but should have been "Child" or "of the Children" and then you'd ask "whose children? Why Gendo's?!" And speaking of, Gendo spends no time in the base; Rei would be lonely if she knew what that was. Shinji's used to his absence.

Dance Dance Evangelion ep is ridiculous, reminds me very much of the comedy filler episodes of Slayers. Synchronized tooth-brushing and dancing just so they can hit a target at once. But it does start to humanize Asuka, which Rei still hasn't had.

Magma bath has Asuka behaving slightly less awful. She's still a bossy prima donna, and her crush on Kaji is ridiculous but nobody's yet called her on it, but she actually steps up and does her job for once with a minimum of screaming hissy-fit. It won't last.

But here and the first Asuka ep we finally get to see the lifecycle of the Angels, or more accurately Adamic life, starting as Human-like fetuses but almost instantly developing according to genetic programming. Interesting parallel to the Perfect Being in The Fifth Element; designed to look like a person, but she's far far more than that, and can be regrown from just a few cells.

Back in the day, this is where the first sequence of bootleg tapes ran out, and there was a long interregnum, I think most of a year, before we got more. So there was an over-analysis of these, which isn't really helpful because so much more backstory was written later.

(I got the toy in a LootCrate. Obviously, I would much rather have had Misato or Rei; this one keeps yelling at me.)

Evangelion Session 2: E05-07

Stopped just short of Asuka. That's too much to leave as a cliffhanger for one day.

Rei's early appearances are even more stiff and awkward with everyone except Gendo than I'd recalled. She is an utter robot, not even autistic or depressed and withdrawn, but just not there. That weird smile is almost worse than nothing.

Misato in a towel, and Rei in a towel or nothing at all, the fanservice was a little heavy still, but less than the first few eps. Misato's morning ritual is how I lived my 20s, too, but sooner or later that catches up with you. Just coffee now.

The "Human weapon" ep… if you wondered how cold and calculating Ritsuko and Gendo are…

If you're missing the old ED music instead of Rei's theme, because the songwriter and 26 artists couldn't make a deal with Netflix:

  • Every "Fly Me to the Moon": I recommend watching it now, maybe youtube-dl if you want to keep it. (minor annoyance: It's in webm, so I now have 4 CPU cores on fire[^1] trying to convert it to mp4)

The reviews are in!

Netflix isn't providing subs for some of the text screens, but they're usually duplicated later in English (at second commercial break?). I can read enough kana to recognize things like the roommate chore board being all シ (Shi, for Shinji) and just a few ミ (Mi, for Misato), which is funny because she won't even do those days. This is really motivating me to get back to learning Japanese properly, because just reading nonsense words is frustrating. I accept that my calligraphy will always be shit.

1:

Evangelion Session 1: E01-04

In the distant future of 2015… after the Second Impact in 1999… SIGH. Those seemed like plausible "future" times when this came out, really.

Netflix defaulted to JP/subtitles for me, but I tried the EN dub for about 15 minutes. It's OK, maybe better/more literal than the old one? Nobody sounds goofy, Shinji's very mild, as he should be. But I went back to JP, at least for this first time thru. Might do a dub watch second run.

This is the Netflix English dub actors list:

Looking some of these up, they're interesting choices. Several also appear in the new Gundam dubs. The Shinji actor Casey Mongillo being a transwoman is very appropriate, given Shinji's gender ambivalence.

It's weird that Netflix changed the "Fly Me to the Moon" cover from the end credits, it's just incidental music now. Rights problems? I never felt it was really appropriate, but I only sit thru the end credits to see the "next episode" bit, which is A) Not very spoilery, and B) sometimes contains in-jokes. "More fanservice" is not so much a joke as self-awareness; there's a lot of T&A from Misato and even scientist Ritsuko in early eps.

I am just as much in love with Misato as I was when I first saw her. When she kicks her clock and wakes up looking like a storm hit. Whoo.

Get in the damn robot, Shinji. And follow Misato's orders, ya little creep. I'd forgotten about the blackout/flashback structure of E01-02. The dumbass schoolkids are great for illustrating how weird Shinji is, but they're an annoying distraction the rest of the time, and they mostly get dropped later.

The constant SDAT rewinding of tracks 25 & 26…

Only goes up to 22, so I dunno how he's listening to the last two eps (yes, I know Shinji doesn't have the OST to his own show on his SDAT. OR DOES HE?!)

Neon Genesis Evangelion

There's lots of theories about what order to watch. Just watch it straight through, maybe no more than 2-4 eps per day because this is some heavy shit for what's ostensibly a "mecha anime". Definitely watch eps 25 & 26 and then the movie, End of Evangelion. Evangelion Death(True)² is a recap/remake which is entirely optional, but fine afterwards; I barely recall Death & Rebirth.

If you're very confused, that's fine, that means its working. Keep watching.