Saturday, January 06, 2007

Present Confusion Awards 2006

Welcome back to the Present Confusion Awards!! It’s been a drought for me and cinema as a whole, having seen far less films over the past few months, but there’s still a measure of good films seen over the past year. Not much arty art films as last year, so there’ll probably not be as much a feature for that as before. The greatest disappointment for myself is the reduced number of local films seen. I’d have wanted to see something from the Philippines, but, alas, there was no time.

Best Watched Movie of the Year: Last Life in the Universe

sleeping on couches: bad for your neck...

I’ve been waiting to watch this movie for a very long time. When I finally saw it, what I saw was a revelation. Brilliant acting from both leads, and a great story that crosses the line between fantasy and reality. Plus, Christopher Doyle, which is pretty much icing on the very delicious cake. Shows us that cinematically Thailand kicks our ass.


Runner-up: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Last of the Park Chan-wook vengeance trilogy, and, in this writer’s opinion, a fitting thematic end to it. This deserves a spot in here. This is the most straightforward of the three films yet proves equally unsettling, and evidence of a maturing style from director Park. I hope to see more of his movies in the future.

Best B-Movie/Guiltiest Pleasure Award: Battlefield Baseball

Hmm...


This category had no contenders for a very long time, I admit. Who knew that at the very last day of the year this sprung up on me like a coiled viper. It has all the insanity of Japanese Comedy AND THEN SOME. Zombies! Characters reviving spontaneously AND changing appearance! An applause track walking in at inopportune times! RAMEN! Truly something that can only be made in Japan.


Best Romantic Film: Failan

Over all the formula and sugar of this year’s disposable romantic films comes this diamond in the rough. It is a story of two people, falling in love yet never physically meeting each other. It is a simple story, yet it can devastate you with the way it shows us its characters. Add great acting to that and you get a sure winner.

Asskicker Award – Tak Sakaguchi (Battlefield Baseball)

Who can kill a guy with a baseball pitch? He can. Well, in the movie, anyway.

Asskicker Award – Female Category: Lee Young Ae (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)

"Lord, please unglue my hands... they've been like this for months!"


She may not have the physical prowess of the others, but she does vengeance in style.


J-drama of the Year Award: Gokusen

kicking ass with style... and great hair

Sure, it’s formula all the way, but it’s pretty endearing and it teaches life lessons too. Plus it’s really funny. It’s easy to pick up and quite addicting once you get hooked. It’s an instant classic in j-drama and one that no one should ever miss.


J-drama actor of the Year Award: That guy who played the evil coach in Attack no. 1

I choose him because from the start you know he was really a creepy evil bastard, and he showed it every time he dragged some poor soul out of the training area. Plus, he’s unrecognizable from his other roles, specially with that beard on.


J-drama actress of the Year Award: Rosa Katou (Dance Drill)

Rosa-chaaaaaaaaaaannnnn!!!! \(^_^)/


Just because I can.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAerm…


Runner-up: Aoi Miyazaki (Junjo Kirari)

I guess the frazzled look is in this year...

Aoi Miyazaki is a phenomenal actress; she was in my favorite short this year from Inu no Eiga, and recently in Suki da. Her performance in NHK’s 2006 Asadora Drama (Daily Morning Drama, like for housewives) was so good it gave them their best ratings in a decade. I hope to see more of her in the future.


Manga of the Year Award: Death Note

we had to put in the title... you know, just in case you mistook it for shounen-ai between that guy in the middle and the freaky thing beside him... no that was a lie...


Quite well written and astoundingly clever, this manga is quite an addiction, although dreadfully short. Who knew that reading through lines of dialogue could be exciting?


Anime of the Year Award (Finished): Honey and Clover


This anime is the little surprise of 2006. It’s funny and heartbreaking and bittersweet all at the same time. The last episode of the second season broke me like a twig.


Runner-up: Mushishi

Although episodic, this fantasy/light horror anime is quite good and surprisingly deep, and asks a lot of questions about ourselves and why we are the way we are. This anime is different from 99% of the anime out there, a true gem in the sea of anime.


Anime of the Year Award (Unfinished): Death Note

Basically they adapted the manga faithfully – and that’s a good thing.

Well, that's about it. See you folks next year, hopefully with more movies!

Maybe on Earth, Maybe in the Future

Having recently finished Tsutomu Nihei’s masterpiece, Blame!, I wanted to talk a bit about the various aspects of the world Blame! takes place in. They’re just comments about the manga and are not necessarily part of the manga canon. The following discussion contains spoilers on the story of Blame, so if you wish to read the manga and haven’t done so, skip this entry of mine until you’ve read it.

Here we go.


Beyond people

In the lower levels of the City where people still live, time and physical constraints have separated groups of humans from each other. This has led to a branching of peoples and the creation of human sub-species, some so radical that they become transhuman, no longer attaining human form. Some radical evolutionary (or devolutionary) branches of the series may be the organic creatures we encounter later in the series, or in the spear-wielding ‘skivvies’ that we encounter in the earlier volumes.

Through centuries, maybe even millennia of natural selection, humans in different levels of the City develop different traits. The Electro-Fishers are noticeably short - a dwarf race of humans, while the race where Cibo comes from is noticeably taller than the rest of them (and even then, one of the races that Killy encounters earlier on is taller than even himself.) Varying levels of gravity in the City may have influenced this.

(Ironically, it seems that the Planters, people inside Toha Heavy Industries, were of normal height, indicating a possible Earthlike gravity inside THI and a higher gravitational pull outside THI, where the Fishers live.)

It can also be said that the Silicon Creatures are a special offshoot of humanity, breaking through the barrier of purely organic evolution into something techno-organic. In one of the alternate realities of Blame! the Silicon Creatures have evolved into newer models; it’s not a long shot that the Silicon Creatures of this world may evolve along the same lines.

And there is a third possible line of evolution – transcending physical form and evolving as data. Personally I cannot fathom to what lengths a data-form can become when it evolves, since I know data is currently static, non-evolving unless converted into something else forcefully. But maybe in the future the time will come where data itself can evolve into new data. Of course, I think that along with that, hardware and software will also evolve to adapt to the new data, or vice versa.


The Netsphere

In the world of Blame! the Netsphere is a utopia of sorts, a place for the chosen few – and also a place where one can control base reality. It is also a place where people exist as data, connected via some sort of interface. In the manga, the type of interface is uncertain, but it seems to be a direct link to the brain (with the Net Terminal Genes as a method of authorization) or a transference of one’s personal data.

The Netsphere is the Eden of the Blame! universe. The Safeguards prevent access to it; the Silicon Life have the same purpose, for different reasons (for a human in the Netsphere invalidates the Silicon Life) and some, like Davinelulinvega, wish to access it, even if it is forbidden.

It seems to me like the Netsphere is an insanely advanced version of the Internet. Virtual worlds like this have been postulated before in science fiction works.

What if the Netsphere is an Omega System, and base reality is merely simulacra nested within an even larger virtual reality, and our tangible reality may not exist anymore? It would explain a few things, namely how the Netsphere manages to control base reality and the immense logistical requirements needed to create something as gargantuan as the City. It would also explain how structure conversion towers and Safeguards manage to manipulate matter.

Well, maybe that’s thinking too much into it.


Megastructure

The structure where Blame! takes place is postulated to be a huge, layered Dyson Sphere, whose dimensions are approximated to take it to at least the level of the orbit of Jupiter (!) this fact alone makes the City hundreds of millions of miles in diameter. Some have thought that the materials needed to construct something of this magnitude would encompass several solar systems. The number of levels of the City may number in the millions, although as the levels go higher, the space it occupies also becomes larger, thus, only a few levels may exist. It has also been theorized that the construction of the Dyson Sphere has completely used up the entire planet Jupiter, if not the rest of the planets as well, including Earth.

It may be possible that the City is not a complete Dyson “Sphere” in the perfect sense; it may be that the sphere “grew” out of Earth and involved itself around the Sun in a different way, a Dyson “Wedge” if you may. That structure would involve considerably less materials than a full-fledged Dyson Sphere (although the amounts involved would still be pretty staggering.)

The Builders, whose chaotic actions made the City this way, create things out of seemingly nothing. The fact that the Builders have been known to teleport rooms or entire structures from one level to another may indicate that they may have some sort of transference or energy/data conversion technology we haven’t developed yet.

If base reality is a virtual reality, then logistics will not become a problem, only data handling capacity, and I think with the advanced computers of that time will be able to handle it.


The Passage of Time

Although you will probably breeze through all ten volumes in a few hours, the story of Blame! spans hundreds, if not thousands of years. Travel through the City takes enormous amounts of time, especially if one is on foot, and it seems that that is, for the greater part of the manga, the only mode of transportation Killy has.

Even with assistance, it takes months for Killy to traverse just one Megastructure. That’s one among thousands of Megastructures – and he has to go to the edge of the City, a trek millions of miles long. The other thing is, it’s not just a trek forward, it’s a trek upward, in essence, Killy is climbing upward slowly a structure millions of miles high.

Even the large storage room the size of Jupiter would have been a long, long walk (although the elevator ride up would have been much, much higher.

It is not known how much time Killy takes in traversing the levels between chapters 1 and around 7, before he meets Cibo. It could have taken him centuries before he reached Cibo’s level.

For civilizations to have developed at that level independently also takes time, and countless generations of people and memory would have evolved since then.

Memetic Degradation

With time, all memory fades. Like the Net Terminal Genes, the Memes of the Characters of Blame! also degrade over time. The first chapter of the manga is quite telling. Killy and the person with the dog (who we now know is Iko from an earlier age) do not know what a book is, much less what the “Earth” is. With the passage from time and mankind’s alienation from Earth, it seems that people have lost the memory of what Earth is.

Another form of Memetic degradation stems from the admission from some of the other human sub-races that they have lost the ability to read languages, simply because their ancestors had no need for the old language or they developed one on their own. From memetic degradation comes a reset of sorts, leading to the creation of new cultures. The Fishers have forgotten the purpose of Toha Heavy Industries (it was a ship carrying immigrants to space) after having lived outside for so long and have established their own culture. Also, there are no Fishers alive with the knowledge on how to make their weapons (probably carried over from the Planters)

It’s possible that after being separated, the Fishers went into a mode of pure survival, where their previous knowledge slowly died out after generations. When they were self sufficient enough to snap out of that mode, it was too late – their memes had already degenerated.

Only persistent memes remain strong; those that aren’t, and are not connected to tradition (in contrast to how the African Bushmen or any other ancestral tribe manages to keep traditions alive even by word of mouth) pass into legend, then obscurity, then memetic destruction.


Transcendence

Cibo is one of the most interesting characters in the series. She changes form and goes from body to body as the series goes on.

One can ask, even in the beginning the Cibo we know in the series was just backup data compared to the actual Cibo who conducted the Artificial Net Terminal Gene experiment. Is she the ‘real’ Cibo? Is the Cibo in Sanakan’s body still Cibo or a new being? What defines one’s ‘self’ in the world of Blame? How will physical bodies be of importance in this world? If one accesses the Netsphere, what will happen to that body?

Physical reality like ours and the 'reality of data' in Blame is still technologically far away, but in the future, who knows? We might find the secret to near immortality one day.


Living On

In closing, one of the essences of Blame! was the drive of humanity to propagate itself, to survive even in a cold and unfeeling world. All of the characters in the series were fighting for their own survival. For that, the Silicon Creatures sought Chaos, Cibo wanted escape. The Governing Agency wanted order. Who would survive till the end? Who will prevail? You'll have to read the manga to find out...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Ye shall be as gods, part I




A few years ago I picked up what would be my first Playstation RPG. Most people would tell you that for their first experience, they played one of the three Final Fantasies in the system, most likely FFVII or FFVIII. I however didn’t get to play this on the Playstation at all (I played both FFVII and FFVIII on the PC, so it really doesn’t count.)

It was a game called Xenogears. I had heard of the game before, but I had no idea what I was getting into. Soon I would be knee deep in what would be one of the best RPG experiences in recent memory.

The main draw of this game is the overly complex, multilayered story. When viewing the opening sequence, once you get into the game you wonder what the hell does this have to do with the story – soon, however, things get very clear. At first I was introduced to a conflict between two nations – Kislev and Aveh. Our protagonist, Fei Fong Wong, is a humble painter living in a quiet little town named Lahan. He has little idea of the things going on in the outside, and he couldn’t care less. But a series of fateful events would drag him into something much, much bigger than anyone would ever think. He would tap on an ancient mystery, a conspiracy lasting thousands upon thousands of years.

Once the story goes on, we are literally drawn into the world of Xenogears. Playtime usually takes 60-70 hours. I personally took 100+ hours to finish everything, a record matched only by Final Fantasy VII. And this is a game made on only two CDs – compare this to the sprawling epic RPGs that are 4 CDs long – and take only 50-60 hours to complete. Aside from the normal battles, the game also has extensive sections concentrating on Gears, large mechanical robots capable of dishing out huge amounts of damage. And even then, there is a level of strategy within the game regarding these Gear battles – they rely on fuel to work – and with only a limited supply of fuel, one has only so far to go in a dungeon before fuel runs out, thus battles must be fast and efficient.

The characters of Xenogears are memorable. Most of the characters, whether major or minor, each have their own issues, and are likeable or hateable in that respect. From Fei’s trusted companion Citan Uzuki to the Demon of Elru, each has their own quirks and qualities that make them memorable.

Xenogears delves into territories other RPGs shy away from. Existentialism, violence, the examination of one’s psyche, and some sex and violence are all thrown into the mix. Various references to Jewish and Christian mysticism are present, as well as references to various pieces of Science Fiction.

The game does have a few caveats. The gameplay changes drastically on the second disc, and certain secret materials suggest that the game was unfinished when it was released in stores – and that it may have been much longer had it been finished. Most players may be turned off at the way the plot is unfurled at this point, where conventional storytelling is replaced by a series of internal monologues with a dungeon inserted in between.

Even so, Xenogears is a rare gem in RPGs. It remains an RPG that will forever be the subject of debate between lovers and haters of the series for years to come.