Moving Thoughts

So I’m in the middle of a move.  And moving sucks.  Everybody knows this.  Nobody likes moving.  It’s universal, like waiting in line.  It’s a pox.  A plague.  An affliction.

And yet, I enjoy it.

You have to distinguish between Moving the Activity and Moving the Event.  Moving the Event is a nightmarish gauntlet of too many loose ends that cost too much money.  Nobody’s ever said ‘this move is going according to plan’ or ‘wow, I was perfectly able to afford everything in that move’.  Nobody’s said that.  Or if they have, they were promptly burned at the stake lest they have the chance to take on other forms.

The big thing for me with moving, is the packing.  I hate packing.  There are never enough boxes, and there’s always little stuff left over that you forgot, didn’t notice, or couldn’t otherwise pack up.  That’s what sucks.

But the actual move itself, the actual loading the truck and taking stuff from Point A to Point B?  I actually like that.  It’s fun.  It’s like a sporting event.  Three, four hours of lifting semi-heavy stuff and carrying fifty yards?  That’s not a chore; that’s a strong-man competition!  Hell, if you think about it, all you have to do is put an ad in the local paper and give out a cheap statue and you could have a bunch of lugnuts from the local gym clambering to do it the fastest.

My athletic love of lifting heavy stuff aside, there’s something very cerebral about moving that I also love.  By moving into a new place, you have a fresh start that you can remake your life and your lifestyle.  Hate how your life revolves around the TV?  Put it in a corner, or in another room, or flatout don’t set it up at all.  Hate your wardrobe? As you unpack (or pack, if you have the forethought), weed through everything you don’t like.  There is a great purge and rebirth that goes on in a move that is wonderful.

And during the move, in the interim, you’re able to streamline your life.  You’re able to discover just how little do you need to get by.  And then you look at those boxes of all that stuff and you realize how much, or how little, it really means to you.

Look at moving as a chance to recreate yourself, not from outside in but from the inside.  A move is a wonderful thing; not a curse to be dreaded but an opportunity of rare proportions.

No Tools of the Imagination

Sorry, kids.  No ToI this week.  I’m afraid I’m neck-deep in a two-household move as well as in not-quite-negotiations to finally get my book off the blocks and out the door.  Yes, the book that was supposed to be out in June (thus, why everything’s getting backburnered until we get it taken care of).

I fear the next couple of weeks may see a few delays, but I’ll try to avoid that.  For now, just kick back and enjoy Pacific Rim on blu-ray or DVD, because you either own the movie or you hate fun.

Wooden Dummy

When I was sixteen years old, my father had a local carpenter make for me a Wing Chun Doll.  It’s used in training of trapping and striking, sort of a bridge between forms and actual sparring, not unlike a punch bag but for more complex technical work.  The doll cost a small fortune, but it was custom made, most notably to accomodate my six feet of height.  Most kids, if they’re lucky, get a car for their sixteenth birthday.  I got a sparring partner.  In the grand scheme of things, I think I came out better.

The problem is that, over a decade later, carting that dummy around has become cumbersome.  It’s big, it’s heavy, it takes up more space than it seems like it should.  It doesn’t collapse easily.  And worst of all, it’s not very well made.  Most traditional dummies are wooden posts with multiple supports built into the actual design.  The carpenter in this case elected to essentially screw half a telephone pole into a wooden platform and covered said platform with carpeting.  This means the dummy can’t sustain particularly severe blows, lest it rip away from the screws, and thus the purpose of the dummy is partially negated.

Despite most wing chun dummies costing hundreds, even thousands, of dollars and a fervent desire to have better equipment to train with, I know I’ll never replace this dummy and will likely hand it down to a nephew or niece.
For while it isn’t a well-made tool, it was made specifically for me.  And nothing could make me give that up.

Tools of the Imagination — Revolution Machine Valvrave

Revolution Machine Vlavrave
directed by Ko Matsuo, written by Ichiro Okouchi, released 2013, available on Crunchyroll

Model UN with mecha

Valvrave starts with a sentence that can really only be uttered in anime: so there’s this high school in space…

It gets a little more complex than that, obviously.  Sakimori High School is on the space station Module 77 of the neutral nation of JIOR.  The evil Dorssians invade JIOR without provocation and pacifist (and otherwise unremarkable student) Haruto Tokishima discovers there’s a giant invincible giant robot located under the school grounds, which he pilots against the invading army, forcing them back.

However, things quickly get complicated.  The Russian Soviets Dorssian military makes repeated attempts to conquer the plucky high school, despite catastrophic losses suffered each time.  Meanwhile, the American ARUS forces try to constantly force and coerce the newly founded JIOR government of Sakimori High School – they declared sovereignty (and it was recognized), thus forming a new government funded entirely by donations and Kickstarter – into handing over more and more of their power, until it comes out that both ARUS and the Dorssians want the Valvraves because…they do.  Of course, that’s the larger story that happens in the background while Haruto discovers that use of the Valvrave mecha seems to carry with it some sort of mutation into a semi-vampire, because Haruto begins randomly attacking people, often biting them to drink their blood but on at least one occasion, he rapes them instead.

Did that make sense?  No?  Well, that’s because very little of this show makes sense.
Story – 2 out of 5
Valvrave’s story is about as typical as it gets in anime: evil military attacks for no identifiable reason.  High school student with no training discovers a nigh-invincible giant robot and pilots its successfully, defeating hundreds of highly trained and experienced mecha pilots.  A love triangle.  One of the two teachers that survives the military attack on the high school turns out to be a highly knowledgeable government agent.  A nigh-omniscient enemy agent defects to the high school (being high school age himself) because despite a decade or more of intense training, he’s actually trying to take down the enemy army from the inside.

And then there’s the whole mystical element.  The Valvraves are sprinkled with – oh, yeah, there’s more than one Valvrave under the school, and each is a different color and has different powers, but can only be piloted by one person – various mystical and pseudo-religious elements that make no sense and offer next to know explanation.  A handful of people reference the Valvraves using biological terms (survived, grown, offspring, etc), and the highly colorful, cartoony sprites for the Valvrave operating systems are revealed in the last episode to be living entities that are related, referring to each other as brother and sister.

Worth noting is the abrupt injection of ‘grittiness’ that happens half a dozen times in the show.  The show feels like your typical superhero-style mecha show.  Things get tense, but the good guys always come out on top, usually because of pluckiness and a naive-like commitment to their ideals.  A great example of this is when the characters decide to sing a Christmas song to raise money for their fledgling nation and, somehow, it raises all the money ever.  Because why wouldn’t it?  In and of itself, that’s fine; that’s what happens in these kind of sparkly/good-wins-out shows.  The problem is that the show is occasionally injected with really garish, ugly reality (a supporting character dies a graphic and abrupt death, the main character rapes one of the other characters really vividly, etc).  But this isn’t like, say, Joss Whedon’s work where occasionally people die unexpectedly because it’s life.  These sudden bursts of grittiness really clash heavily with the otherwise sunny feel of the show, to the point that it feels schizophrenic or like a rogue author slipped these scenes in when nobody was looking.  It’s not jarring in the way real life is; it’s jarring in the way bad writing is.

All in all, it’s very trite, almost like a paint-by-numbers plot rather than anything resembling original.

Art – 4 out of 5
While the story is simultaneously trite and nonsensical, the art is really excellent.  Most characters aren’t too zany in their appearance, yet still are distinctive enough to have a personal feel.  The world is beautifully illustrated and nicely detailed.

The one except are the Valvraves themselves, which (when in motion) almost hurt to look at, they’re so visually busy.  Much like the insect-like designs of the Transformers from the live-action movies, the Valvraves have way too many components to be able to tell what is what when the mecha is zipping around the screen.

Animation – 3 out of 5
The animation is unremarkably good.  It does it’s job, does it well, but isn’t too outstanding.  The action sequences outside the mecha are fair to good, while the mecha squences themselves are mostly grandiose and over the top.

Characters – 2 out of 5
Anime functions on stereotypes to establish characters, and then begins to break their mold so as to develop them more fully.  Valvrave does this first part very solidly (establishes the stereotypes), but then never breaks the characters out of their molds.  There is no character progression or development at all.  The characters aren’t bad per say; just two-dimensional and uninspired.

Acting – 3 out of 5
Having watched the Japanese voice cast, I can’t speak for the English voices.  The Japanese actors were all thoroughly mediocre.  It’s hard to say what may have been acting and what may have just been the thoroughly unremarkable script and dialogue.  Whatever the case, the acting didn’t distract from the show.

Overall – 2 out of 5
Valvrave is an example of a really ‘okay’ show, with occasional flourishes into sub-par regions, but never without turning truly bad.  Nothing about it is awful, but nothing about it is particularly good.  It’s just sort of there.  No element is outstanding and worthy of mention, but nothing about it is poorly done or worthy of warning.  It’s a show that exists.  Sadly, that’s about the best praise it can deserve.

Tangible Goods

I own all of Robotech on DVD.

The whole collection, I own in the Legacy Collection that was released in 2001.  It’s a great set; I like it a lot.

I also have Netflix which has had Robotech every time I’ve checked.  And even if they take it off Netflix, it’s also on Youtube in its entirety.  And I’m sure if it were to disappear from Netflix, Hulu or Crunchyroll would snatch that up in a heartbeat.  Bottom line, not being able to find it streaming isn’t exactly a strong fear.

So the question kind of becomes, should I keep the box sets?  I like having them, but I find myself with precious little time these days to watch much of anything, much less something as long and as sweeping as Robotech.  And the bonus material is pretty much out of the question.  I’ve still yet to get around to watching the commentary tracks on the Extended Edition Lord of the Rings sets.  Yeah, the ones that came out a decade ago.

As I prepare to move to a new apartment, I find myself wondering about taking these sets with me.  It’s not necessarily that they take up that much space on their own, but when you factor in all the DVDs I own (yes, DVDs; don’t get me started on Blu-ray), it all starts to add up.  And since the vast majority of what I own is available streaming, I find myself wondering why I keep the tangible, hard copies?
Charles Dunbar once talked about how anime fans (and many traditional sci-fi/fantasy fans) see box sets differently than mainstream audiences.  He asserted that fans buy discs and box sets as a sort of investment in a series they love, rather than purchasing something with the express and sole plan to watch it.

That makes sense, and I think I agree with it.  But at the same time, I find myself looking at several hundred DVDs of movies and shows that are all available on Netflix, and I wonder about their role in the coming move.