anime/Spring2013Brief written at 22:55:29; Add Comment
Brief impressions of the anime of the Spring 2013 season
As before this is my early impressions of the spring's crop of new shows, or at least the small number of them that I've bothered to watch. This time around I've been unusually selective about the shows that I've tried out, so I've rejected any number of things sight unseen based purely on premise descriptions and so on. This may have caused me to miss gems but I haven't really seen any sign of that so far.
(In particular there's a number of action and adventure series that I might normally have auditioned but that I'm actively skipping due to bad reports.)
Hits (so far):
On the edge:
Sadly a miss:
Not for me:
Other shows probably fall into the 'I read bad things about them' category mentioned above.
(This specifically includes Karneval, Mushibugyou, Crime Edge, Red Data Girl, and Arata Kangatari. As always, I may wind up checking out some or all of them out later due to future good reports, boredom with the shows I'm watching, or both.)
photography/DarktableVsRawtherapee written at 12:25:58; Add Comment
Darktable versus Rawtherapee
When I wrote my entry on Linux RAW processors I said that Rawtherapee was a better choice than darktable. I have to take that back because it turns out my quick tests weren't a good representation of using either program for real.
I formed my initial views after test-processing just a couple of photos with each program. Now that I've used both to process batches of photos for real (and in one case I've run the same batch through both), I've had to change my opinion. It turns out that darktable is what you want to use, not Rawtherapee. For all of darktable's irritations, it works better. I summarized the main reasons why in a tweet:
(I've since become more acclimatized (or numb) to darktable's interface issues.)
The first issue is that Rawtherapee turns out to be relatively terrible for sorting through a bunch of photos and figuring out which ones are worthwhile. I could do it, but it took too long and was a pain in the rear in all sorts of ways because Rawtherapee has fumbled multiple aspects of doing this efficiently. Darktable is not great at this but in practice I can go through a bunch of photos much quicker and more efficiently with it. Since this is a major part of my daily workflow, this matters a lot to me.
(For example, Rawtherapee has absolutely and utterly terrible downsizing of thumbnails in its directory overview, to the point where they are basically useless for telling you anything about the quality of the photos. Think of the most crude and jagged downsizing you've seen; that's Rawtherapee.)
The other part is that I get better processed photos with darktable, in that I like how they look and it's (much) easier to produce what I think of as good looking photos. Again, darktable is not perfect and there are some things that Rawtherapee unquestionably does better, but darktable wins overall for me. I find it very hard to argue with clearly better results, especially when I can get them surprisingly rapidly and easily.
Now I'm going to say something that may make people especially unhappy, because there's a third advantage to darktable. Namely, it's under much more active development than Rawtherapee (I track the source repositories for both and darktable sees multiple commits a day whereas Rawtherapee moves much slower). I know that development activity doesn't necessarily equal quality, but both programs are highly imperfect right now so the one that's under much more active development is much more likely to improve into something good (or at least have your favorite irritation fixed).
(Note that with either program you want to be using the latest version compiled from the project's source repository. Both are under active development and improvement and yes, it really makes a difference. Probably not as much a difference as in my initial tests (where the then-current release versions produced bad output), but you'll find that both are better experiences.)
(As before, you should pay attention to the publication date of this entry if you're coming here through a web search. It's quite possible that things will be different in a year or two. I certainly hope that Rawtherapee improves substantially over time and at least some of its issues should be relatively fixable.)
Sidebar: what happened to make me discover this
I didn't set out to try out both on a batch of real photos; instead, I set out to process a batch with Rawtherapee because I thought it was the program for me. After slogging through the whole process and getting a trio of processed photos that I wasn't really enthused with, I decided to re-run the same batch through darktable just to see. Much to my surprise I was able to do so much faster and I was uniformly much happier with the results, to the point where I immediately replaced all of the Rawtherapee versions I'd uploaded to Flickr with the darktable versions.
(The extra speed with darktable didn't come because I immediately zeroed in on the 'best' photos and only dealt with them. I reconsidered all of the batch from scratch in darktable, although I wasn't surprised to wind up with the same set of selects.)
anime/ShinSekaiYoriSquealer written at 13:19:45; Add Comment
Some words on Shin Sekai Yori's Squealer
It turns out that I have more to say about Shin Sekai Yori than I've already written. Today is some things about Squealer (aka Yakomaru).
(There are spoilers here for SSY's final arc.)
anime/Winter2013Retrospective written at 23:23:57; Add Comment
Looking back at the Winter 2013 anime season
It's time (and past time) for another look back at another season, following up on my early impressions and my midway views. In fact this is kind of a retrospective on two seasons, since so many of the Fall 2012 shows continued into this season; as such I'm splitting into two parts, one for a handful of this season's shows and the other for the big four heavyweights from last season.
For this season, in order:
In the end I tacitly dropped Hakkenden Touhou Hakken Ibun because I just felt no particular urge to watch any more. This is less a commentary on the show than a commentary on me; my understanding is that it was actually decently good, and it's getting a second season later on.
The fall shows, in order:
If I look only at the Winter 2013 shows, this was a good but not great season. If I throw in the four powerhouses that started in the fall, this is a stunningly excellent season, one that I have no complaints about at all.
anime/ShinSekaiYoriWords written at 20:54:04; Add Comment
Some words on Shin Sekai Yori
My overall summary of Shin Sekai Yori is that it's an ambitious show of an ambitious story that succeeded at delivering on both (although as an ambitious show and story there are bits that people feel didn't work). As a whole the show is a powerful, affecting work with a wide emotional range and a lot of things to think about. My personal view is that the show is very well directed and animated and that its periodic experiments don't take away from that, but I'm not a stickler for traditional animation.
(Shin Sekai Yori also had a great ending episode, one of the best that I've seen. It was surprising, powerful, and well directed all throughout, with pieces that people were quoting and alluding to from the moment it aired.)
I can summarize my overall views this way: if Shin Sekai Yori is not at the top of my 'best N in 2013' list, I'll be very happy because I'll have seen something even better than it in the rest of this year.
Liked: very much.
(There are spoilers from now on.)
One of the things that the show excelled at was taking people doing horrible things and showing us why they had to do them. Pretty much everyone in the show is trapped in situations with no easy or good answers. The result is that, as I wrote on Twitter (spoilers in that conversation), a lot of people in SSY deserve death to some degree and don't to some degree. There are no shining heroes, just people doing the best that they can in a terrible situation. To me this made the characters feel more like people than, well, the protagonists of an anime. Call it a feeling of realism.
One part of this realism is that Saki and Satoru never particularly overcame the fundamental prejudices of their society, even when they were slapped in the face about them. Here I'm thinking particularly about their attitudes towards the bakenezumi (aka the queerats). Even Saki never really treats them as equals or fully people; to me this is particularly striking in what she unhesitatingly and more or less casually asks of Kiromaru in the last episode. Although other people may read the situation differently, to me Saki acted as if she was entitled to Kiromaru's sacrifice.
One of the things I believe about the setting is that Cantus users are dying out over the long term because of what they're doing to their own population level (this may be good news). While their raw birthrate is probably at or above their replacement rate, the problem is that they kill a significant number of their children in childhood. There's no sign that they make up for this with either unusually large families or unusually long lives; if anything, things seem to tilt the other way. I can't remember many mentions of (surviving) siblings in the whole show and the primary cast all seem to be single children.
(In Saki's case it's a plot point that her older sister didn't surive and that this put a great deal of stress on her parents; they didn't seem inclined to have a third child under pretty much any circumstances. My best evidence for people's lives not being unusually long is that Saki initially guessed that the elderly-looking Tomiko was 62.)
Other people have said more about Shin Sekai Yori and done it more coherently than I. See, for example, shibireru darou on episodes 24 and 25 and their roundup. The Cart Driver has a somewhat different take because Inushinde sees more flaws in the show than I do (the flaws may be there, but if so they didn't bother me next to everything else the show was doing).
(I've written less about Shin Sekai Yori than I have about Psycho-Pass because SSY is a better and clearer show.)
Update: I wound up with some more things to say about Squealer, which I put in ShinSekaiYoriSquealer.
anime/PsychoPassNotes written at 15:38:20; Add Comment
Some rambling thoughts on Psycho-Pass and its ending
Almost from the start Psycho-Pass was clearly a show where the ending was pretty crucial and a bad ending would be a real problem for the show as a whole. Did Psycho-Pass come through in the end? My view is yes, although there are people who disagree. On the whole I consider the last episode a good ending although not a great one; to put it one way it was a well done and periodically exciting presentation of the last act of a play that we had all seen coming. There were no big surprises, no last minute shocks, simply well delivered story beats that we had already been (mostly) expecting.
(I'm now about to get into spoiler territory.)
The surface story of Psycho-Pass is the hunt for Makishima; apart from the first episode (which mostly serves as an introduction to the setting and the characters) the entire storyline is driven by his actions and revolves around them. But that's not really what the show's about and I think that how people feel about the ending (and thus the show) will depend on what they think the real story of Psycho-Pass is and that in turn depends on one's view of Sibyl. One view is that Sibyl is an inherently evil system and that the show should be about overthrowing it; this makes the ending at least a depressing one since the system survives and indeed co-opts Akane despite her knowing its terrible secrets. But I don't feel that way about Sibyl. Instead I've come around to seeing Psycho-Pass as fundamentally Akane's character arc, the story of Akane really growing up, maturing, and making her own decisions. This view makes the ending a powerful conclusion to the series because we see Akane come full circle to be a competent character and confident leader.
(I'll be honest; I'm biased towards this view partly because it makes the ending make sense.)
Having said that I don't know what the show really feels about Sibyl by the end. Is it evil but necessary? Flawed but necessary? There's certainly a lot of argument (tacit and explicit) in the latter parts of the show that Sibyl is now a necessity and society will fall apart without it. Also, part of my confusion is that the show and I clearly have rather different opinions on how horrifying the truth of Sibyl's deep secret is.
(This is serious spoiler territory now; I'm about to be explicit.)
anime/PsychoPassSibylView written at 14:26:41; Add Comment
My view of Psycho-Pass's Sibyl System
(There are spoilers here.)
The Sibyl System is at the heart of Psycho-Pass and so I think that how people view it will be at the heart of how they react to the ending of the show. Because of this I want to write up my thoughts.
There is no question that the Sibyl System is flawed; the show goes out of its way to show us that in the first episode. Nor is there any question that it's tacitly oppressive; again, the show makes that clear with things like pervasive surveillance, mandatory treatment if your psycho-pass becomes cloudy, and potential imprisonment if the (flawed) system thinks that you've become merely potentially dangerous. One character has lived his entire life from childhood onwards as what is basically a non-person prisoner simply because the Sibyl System thought he was too much of a latent criminal.
But this brings us to the big question: is the Sibyl System an actively evil thing, something built and operated with malign intent or as a conscious tool for oppression? My view is that it is not.
I feel that Sibyl is fundamentally benevolent and well intentioned. Its flaws are not the result of active evil but (mostly) from being built with imperfect and limited technology; these make it both simplistic and overly rigid and thus inherently flawed. While the system is dishonest about how well Sibyl works and its limitations (and exactly how it works), this stems from good intentions. And generally Sibyl actually works. For the most part it delivers on what it claims to and does so without abuse, and as a result it's welcomed by people. You can argue about whether or not this is wise of them, but to the extent that Sibyl reduces people's free will it's not because Sibyl takes free will from people but because people voluntarily relinquish their free will to something that will do their thinking for them.
(You can argue that some of Sibyl's goals are inherently bad, eg that even if it had certainty that someone would commit crimes in the future they should not be imprisoned now.)
We never see Sibyl make a clear false positive diagnosis of (dangerous) criminality; its bad judgements of that (starting in the first episode) are always rational and driven by clearly limited and rigid views (eg 'too much stress makes people dangerous'). I maintain that we also never see strong evidence that Sibyl is corrupt and is being used to enrich and empower particular people.
(Yes, Sibyl covertly holds important and powerful positions. But there is no evidence that these positions are being abused for personal or group gain; instead, they are simply being used as part of making the whole Sibyl system work.)
To me this makes Psycho-Pass a much more interesting show than if Sibyl was a clear tool for evil and oppression. As it is you can have a real disagreement over whether Sibyl is a good thing and whether its benefits are worth its drawbacks.
(It also gives the show a different perspective, less about outside oppression and more about what people voluntarily do to themselves both individually and as a society.)
links/ExUrbeMachiavelli written at 17:47:04; Add Comment
Link: A fascinating series of articles on Machiavelli
The historian Ex Urbe wrote a fascinating series of articles about Machiavelli and why he is such an important person in history. I found them eye-opening and very interesting; I commend them to your attention if things like medieval attitudes on morality and the birth of modern political science (and ethics) sounds at all interesting.
anime/KatanagatariEndingBit written at 14:19:29; Add Comment
A comment on Katanagatari's ending
(Warning: there are indirect spoilers here for the endings of both Katanagatari and Haibane Renmei.)
photography/SlingbagWhyNot written at 00:06:04; Add Comment
Why I have a camera slingbag but you probably shouldn't
Camera slingbags are inherently a compromise. Backpacks (and some belt systems and the like) provide better support, while shoulder bags and belt systems provide faster access to gear. This compromise nature is why I think you probably shouldn't get a slingbag since you can do better on either aspect and in the long run I think the compromises inherent in a slingbag will prove irritating.
(Especially I would not get a big slingbag because slingbags just don't provide enough support for carrying a relatively heavy load.)
Why I have a slingbag, and specifically why I have a Lowepro AW-series slingbag, is that I am an impatient bicyclist. As a bicyclist I need to carry my camera in some way that keeps it both stable and out of the way; this rules out both belt systems and anything like a plain shoulder bag. As an impatient bicyclist I want my camera to be relatively quickly accessible so there is not a big time-consuming production involved in stopping to take a picture; this rules out backpacks. So I'm left with the Lowepro slingbag; it's stable enough to stay in place even with relatively aggressive bicycling and being able to just unhook the stabilization strap and sling the bag around keeps the camera accessible enough to make me happy when I stop to take pictures. I live with the relative lack of support (which I can definitely feel on long days with relatively heavy loads) and the relative lack of fast access because I need the particular combination in the middle.
(Why the Lowepro specifically? Because it has a second stabilization strap that holds the slingbag firmly in place when it's clipped on to the main strap. I've been unable to find any other slingbag with such a stabilization strap, although I haven't looked everywhere.)
PS: in some ways I'd be better served by a handlebar bag that was big enough for my camera (and lens), padded enough so I could trust it to not rattle the camera too much, and detachable so I could take it with me when I get off the bike. Unfortunately you really want drop handlebars to create the cable-free space for such a relatively large handlebar bag and, well, I don't have them on my current bike.
(Update: it turns out that I'm wrong about the Lowepro being the only slingbag with a stabilization strap; they're actually reasonably common if you look around and read specifications in detail. Due to not having seen or played with any of the alternatives in person, I have no opinions on the relative merits of my Lowepro versus the alternatives.)
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