Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Neo Ranga and Anime Theme Music

I just got done watching the anime Neo Ranga. Have to say it is indeed very intruging, from the aesthetic of Neo Ranga himself, to the pace the story unfolds at. With only 2 hours into the series so far, it's starting to throw philosophcal questions at you, and making you think. This is indeed a good thing, and one of the reasons I continue to explore and watch anime and forget about domestic TV. Although for every Neo Ranga there is a Dragonball Z, the gems are well worth plucking.

The purpose of this blog, however, is to discuss the use of music within anime. Over the years there's been a few theme songs originating from anime that I've considered top-notch, and indeed has encouraged me to watch the particular show not just because the show itself is good, but because the accompanying music is fantastic. The first anime that in my opinion had stand-out music was Record of the Lodoss War (opening theme "Sea of Miracles" can be seen here). Structurally interesting, it evokes an epic sense without being bombastic at the same time.

Another example is the short anime series Serial Experiment Lain. A bit of a reverse, it uses as its theme song a piece by the band Boa called Duvet. While this style of music is a huge departure for me (given that I am traditionally a hard-core metal fan), Boa has loads of talent, and really know how to both play their instruments, as well as compose musically interesting themes and songs. Such as it was, just by watching this anime prompted me to buy the album.

What has me excited now is the music from Neo Ranga (theme can be heard here). I think the thing I like most about it is that it is very different, in a way you do not often hear in the domestic music industry (or, at least, not that I've ever encountered). Digging up a bit of information, I found out that this style of music is based off of traditional Balinese styles of Kecak and Gong Kebyar. While reading the information on these styles, I've realized it has been incorporated into other forms of music, but the great thing about the Neo Ranga theme is that, again, it incorporates a sense of epic without at the same time being bombastic.

The fact that anime is a niche form of entertainment (even in Japan, where it is far, far larger than here in the US) allows for more interesting experimentation, not just in the themes and plots of the shows themselves, but in the music. I wish that domestically we could have a bit of this, but then that might mean anime loses its uniqueness...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Warhammer 40K movie

I recently found out that a Warhammer 40K movie might be in the offing!

See here for more information.

This bit is from the movie producers' website, Codex Movies:

Ultramarines is a 70-minute sci-fi thriller that will use CGI and state-of-the-art animation production techniques. Games Workshop is delighted to be working with UK-based production company Codex Pictures, who have the momentous task of bringing the Warhammer 40,000 universe to the screen.

Commenting on the news, Erik Mogensen, Licensing and Acquired Rights Manager for Games Workshop, said, “Over the years, we have been approached again and again by all sorts of producers and film companies wanting to take our intellectual property to the screen. We have always believed that, in the right hands, the stories, themes and characters from the Warhammer 40,000 universe would lend themselves perfectly to the movie genre. We’re working closely with the talented team at Codex Pictures, who have an excellent understanding of the Warhammer 40,000 intellectual property and an inspired vision for the movie. We can’t wait to see our universe come to life on-screen.”

“We’re hugely honoured to be making Ultramarines,” said a spokesman for Codex Pictures. “It’s taken a lot of research and development to get to this stage – and it’s such an exciting challenge to be able to bring the depth and power of the Warhammer 40,000 universe to a brand new medium.”

News of the production of a movie was unveiled at UK Games Day, the biggest event in the Games Workshop calendar, on Sunday, September 27 2009."

I have to say this is pretty exciting. Even though it is about the Ultramarines (for those not familiar, the Ultramarines are a Space Marine Chapter, which in my opinion is grossly overused, even if they're supposed to be representative).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tyrrany of a Construct, Pt. 5

A short one for now. According to this site, the cult classic movie Highlander is not only going to be "rebooted" but completely re-imagined.

I can't say it enough: it really seems like there are few original ideas out there anymore. The number of "reboots" or "re-imaginings" that have been either announced or have been released is legion. Furthermore, the intent of this reboot seems to be for establishing a franchise.

I'll stick with books.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


One of the latest books in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise, I had been looking forward to this book from Nick Kyme (also see his blog) for some time. Ostensibly about the Salamanders chapter of Space Marines, I have always been a fan of the Salamanders since I read about them first in the late '90s. So much so that when I decided to start a Space Marine army under Warhammer 40K 3e, they were without a doubt Salamanders.

This is the first novel featuring this chapter exclusively. Nick does a good job of describing the customs and beliefs of this chapter, based on self-sacrifice and the belief that people need to be protected, not just the enemies of the Emperor prosecuted. This differentiates the the Salamanders from other chapters, in which other chapters often willingly sacrifice civilians in order to destroy the enemy.

While Nick tries to integrate the beliefs of the Salamanders, I think he could have gone further to develop the Promethean cult, and actually define the beliefs more clearly. A novel centered around this would have really brought to the forefront the character of this chapter.

The book starts out with a bit of politics within the chapter, and more specifically within the 3rd Company. The two main characters, Da'kir and Tsu'gan, are at loggerheads. Both revered their previous company captain Kadai, and both feel guilt about his death. More, Tsu'gan dislikes Da'kir because of his rustic origins. When the new captain N'keln is appointed by Chapter Master Tu'shan, Da'kir supports the new captain while Tsu'gan feels he is inadequate.

Events come to a head when the Salamanders 3rd Company, in search of their nemesis the Dragon Warriors Renegade Space marines. There they discover an abandoned Mechanicum ship filled with Space Marine armor and equipment. Also exploring the ship is a group of Marines Malevolent. There to plunder the ship of equipment, the Salamanders immediately oppose this action and prevent the Marines Malevolent from plundering.

Meanwhile a box is discovered that may hold clues to the Salamanders' primarch Vulkan's disappearance, and the 3rd Company (reinforced with elite elements from the Firedrakes 1st Company) is sent to the world Scoria to track it down.

They discover the world is in fact inhabited, by a lost ship of belonging to the Expeditionary Fleet supported by Salamanders from the pre-heresy era. In addition, there is an outpost of Iron Warriors, and soon an invasion of Orks.

At this point the book descends into typical 40K novel format: lots of blood, guts, fighting, and not much else.

One of the big problems with military oriented SF literature is that it can very easily descend into "war porn" with little purpose. Equally dangerous in an escapist fantasy novel series is a lack of action. I think the fact that the book is light in the combat until perhaps the last 3rd of the book is a testament to Kyme's attempts to avoid the dreaded "war porn" syndrome. Still, if you have read any number of Warhammer 40K books, the combat scenes tend to get old in my opinion: there are only so many ways you can describe the "whirring of chainblades" or the explosive force a bolter can do to various parts of the anatomy.

One thing missing from these books that would be welcome would be a more "tactical" description of the battles, rather than a personal one. With the current format (reminiscent of the "swordplay" action of fantasy novels) tend to make battles last too long; a more tactical description of battles, with short, sharp and extremely violent action I think would go a long way to making these sorts of novels more interesting.

The cover of this book threatens to be the first in a trilogy. While there is certainly room for improvement in Kyme's effort, he certainly gets the job done as well. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

You can read more about the novel and see an extract here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I, Jedi

I never followed the Star Wars franchise very closely in terms of the novels. Like a lot, I read the Thrawn trilogy when the novel series was officially "launched" as a full-scale media tie-in (before this, although there were a few novels, as well as the movie novelizations, the franchise was far less organized, deliberate, or directed). Disappointed, I really didn't continue the series.

That is until Episode 3 came out. Disappointed in the "prequels," I went and picked up the Ep. 3 novelization, and liked that much more. This followed with some of the Old Republic/Clone Wars novels, and sort of spiraled from there.

Thus, I'll sometimes go back and "fill in" the collection. Just as I did with this book.

I, Jedi primarily focuses on the development of Corran Horn into a Jedi. Brought to us by Michael Stackpole (a writer I definitely enjoyed for his long years writing Battletech -- specifically the Warrior Trilogy, and the Return of Kerensky trilogy), the book sets off with the abduction of Corran's wife Mirax, and the Jedi training Corran receives in order to give him the tools to recover his wife.

I think the biggest problem with this book is one of pacing. Reading it, I also get the feeling the book was written from the periphery of larger events, and that I should have read those books instead first. Nonetheless, the first half of the book is about Corran and the new Jedi academy (established on Yavin 4, which we know as the Rebel base in "A New Hope") and their attempts to overcome the Force-ghost of Exar Kun.

This half of the book turned out to be a bit of a letdown. I'm not sure if it's because I didn't read the other books in this time period, but the defeat of Exar Kun seemed to be a bit anti-climatic. One would think more attention would be focused on Exar and his defeat, but as far as Darkside ghosts are concerned, Exar only really killed one person, seduced one other, and possessed one last. The Exar threat in other words seemed to be less prevalent than I think such a character should have.

The second half of the book deals then with Corran's attempt to recover his wife, primarily through infiltrating the pirate bands that have been threatening the New Republic's stability. Along the way, Corran discovers his Jedi heritage and of course rescues his wife.

Again, part 2 was a bit of a letdown, with lots of development of the infiltration, but with a little Deus Ex thrown in to get the plot to move, where it just so happens that Corran runs into the people he needs to reveal the location of Mirax, and just so happens that Luke shows up at the nick of time to save him, and assist on the rescue. Oh, and the random alien Corran runs into? Happens to be the nephew of the Jedi Knight that ran with Corran's actual grandfather. The actual rescue itself, as well as the confrontation with the Jenisaarai was anti-climatic as well.

It really feels like this book should have been 2 novels with two different focuses. Instead we get one novel that was a tad too long (only 450 or so pages, but too long in terms of pacing) and not as well developed as it should have been. Throw in a lot of Deus Ex Machina and I have to say this was not one of Stackpole's better efforts.

But I was entertained.

One comment sometimes see with regard to Stackpole and his character Corran Horn is that Corran is a bit of a Mary Sue. I think after reading this book, I can see the point of this. Throughout this book Corran doesn't really make any mistakes: he successfully determines the Force ghost plaguing the Academy is Exar Kun, successfully entraps him, and even after getting a bit of a throttling at the hands of Kun (and gets rescued at the last minute by a little Deus Ex), also infiltrates a pirate gang and successfully locates the Star Destroyer the pirates have been using, defeats the Jennisaaarai and rescues his wife. Along the way he learns the true meaning of being a Jedi.

Maybe I should go back and read Grave Covenant.