The problem with taking pictures of people bicycling
(Well, one of them.)
There are three shutter speeds for taking pictures of moving bicycles:
- too slow: the bicyclist and bicycle are motion blurred (useful
only for artistic effect).
- too fast: everything is frozen motionless and the bicyclist
looks like they are doing an unnatural track stand.
- just right: the rider and bike are sharp but there is still visible motion blur in the wheels (and perhaps the rider's feet), so the bike still looks like it is actually in motion.
The 'just right' shutter speed is a narrow zone and varies quite significantly depending on how fast the rider is going. (And it goes quite high; I believe I've seen visible motion blur in shots at 1/250th, and the bicyclist wasn't going particularly fast.)
So far my best results have come from cheating, in the form of panning with the bicyclist at 'lower' shutter speeds (lower being relative here). But this has its own problems; it's okay for shots of just the bicyclist, but it's not good for 'rider in context' shots, since the context is blurred.
(And you have to carefully match your panning speed to the bicyclist's speed in order to keep them sharp, which I am not yet all that good at.)
My feelings on Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo episode 11
(Spoiler warning, and in fact this is probably going to be incomprehensible if you haven't seen the episode or read a summary, such as here.)
Short reactions to spring 2009
Here are some quick (or at least short) reactions to all of the new shows of spring 2009 that I've watched some of, written down for various fuzzy reasons. I am not going to try to summarize or review these, just give some brief comments.
Rather than agonize over quality ratings, I've decided to rate shows based purely on how eagerly I'm looking forward to the next episode, from +3 ('want more right now') to -3 ('I should admit that I've dropped this'), because that's at least easy for me to figure out. Since I am a pretty undiscriminating watcher of anime this may have nothing to do with good or bad a show is, especially as I am happy to watch shows that are entertaining but unoriginal.
There are some moderate spoilers here for the first few episodes of things.
- Eden of the East aka Higurashi no Eden (1): +3
This has an interesting premise and a nice low key start, with characters that made me smile. And after Honey & Clover I am a sucker for the character design.
(This is foolish, because character design has nothing to do with the rest of the show. But I can't help but feel well towards something that sort of looks like H&C.)
- Basquash! (1): +3
The first episode was great; fast-paced, fresh and full of fun and amusing elements. However, this could just be the setup for what turns into yet another ordinary sports anime. But if it sustains the feel and the style of the first episode, I think it will be one of the standouts of the season.
So I'm cautiously optimistic and very hopeful. If it falls I expect it to be a very fast descent, so the next few episodes should tell us one way or another.
- Shangri-La (1-2): +3
It sure is pretty, or at least stylish. Time will tell if it's doing anything interesting. The fact that I would not be sad if several of the major characters got run over by cars may or may not be a bad sign, since I'm not sure that they're supposed to be likeable.
This has by far my favorite OP of the season.
(It's also this season's winner of the RideBack 'say WHAT?' award for implausible setting elements.)
- Natsu no Arashi (1): +2
I really liked the first episode, and I totally support just throwing us into the middle of things happening without explicitly introducing the characters and the situation. But the downside of a first episode like this is that it probably doesn't say anything about what the rest of the series will be like, although it does leave me wanting to see more.
I liked the art style, although it is a bit different and unconventional.
- Asura Cryin' (1-2): +2
I quite liked the first episode and thought it had a lot of promise for entertainment (if not necessarily originality). The second episode initially struck me as a bizarre letdown but it's grown on me since then and I have a more charitable view of it now, which leaves me actively looking forward to more.
(The first episode ends at a dramatic moment in a significant cliffhanger. The second episode starts the next morning and no one says anything about how things got resolved, although clearly something did happen.)
- Pandora Hearts (1): +1
Spooky supernatural stuff with ominous developments? Sign me up, at least for now. As usual with anything that starts this way, it could go horribly (or just boringly) wrong in future episodes.
- Fullmetal Alchemist 2 - Brotherhood (1-2): +1
I was all set to write a grumpy note about how I'd already seen most of this story once and I wasn't sure if it needed a do-over or if the do-over would be interesting. But then I watched the second episode, and it turned out that the first episode just kind of sucked and I'm feeling much happier now. The show may still turn out to have too many repeated things to keep me watching, but at least it's interesting now.
(And the second episode makes it clear that some things are significantly different.)
- Valkyria Chronicles (1-2): 0
Here is what I wrote after watching only the first episode:
I would be more interested if the lead protagonist was more competent, or perhaps if the whole thing was more clearly comedic. As it is, the hijinks of a mostly untrained group of militia that somehow manage to stand off a trained army are probably not going to be entertaining, just implausible.
(I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb in predicting that the motley band of protagonists are going to win against the invading army, although it would be much more interesting if they actually lost.)
In the second episode, they lost. I was pleasantly surprised.
It turns out that the entire first two episodes are a great big 'how we came to join the army' introduction. This is still probably going to be an ordinary 'life in the military' show, but at least it now looks entertaining.
(On a side note, I find its use of subtle patterned fills for things like hair textures to be surprisingly distracting. They make things look like drawings when my mind knows that this is animated.)
- Tears to Tiara (1-2): 0
The first episode was ordinary and slow, but the second episode made up for it, especially in the interplay between the three major protagonists. Also, I have a weak spot for spunky heroines and Riannon demonstrated plenty of spunk in the second episode; I have rarely seen a foot put down so hard.
- Saki (1): -1
I expect that I'll get bored with barely comprehensible mahjong action relatively soon, but in the mean time there is something oddly attractive and entertaining about this show and its over the top enthusiasm. And Crunchyroll means that it doesn't take much effort or energy to watch more.
- Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica Crimson S (1): -1
I saw most of the first version of this, and it was a much better introduction to the characters and setting; the only thing this version possibly has over it is some hints of an actual plot. I find myself grumpy and only my affection for the characters sustains my interest.
- Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ (1): -2
This has all the ingredients necessary for a predictable trainwreck (Bee Train doing yet another show about mysterious amnesiac killers in their usual style). The first episode did not really impress me, but it could just be a slow start and necessary background.
(Desperate optimism detected.)
- K-ON! (1): -3
Now I understand what people mean when they talk about moeblobs. The protagonist character at least has brutal honesty going for her.
Slow moving moeblob shows are generally not my thing, although I keep wanting to like them for some reason. Absent surprising acclaim, I doubt I'll go further with this unless I'm bored.
Pretty much not watching any more of:
- 07 Ghost (1-2)
I probably would not have stuck around for the second episode if the first episode had not had crazy people fighting each other with magic. The second episode delivered only exposition and angst.
(Yes, yes, I'm vastly optimistic; the series premise was not all that promising to start with.)
- Tayutama (1)
I am not particularly interested in harem anime, so I watched this in the hopes that the supernatural elements would be interesting and entertaining enough on their own. After one episode, they're not.
- Hanasakeru Seishounen (1)
I was optimistically hoping for something like Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge but with exciting high finance instead of amusing makeover attempts. I did not get anything close to it.
(Necessary note: I liked YNSH.)
(I am a creature of inertia, so writing this and assigning ratings has had the useful effect of making me decide to actively drop a few things.)
This isn't all of the summer 2009 shows; I'm not that masochistic. I've skipped entirely a number of shows with premises that sounded even less interesting to me than the ones listed here, and I may have overlooked some shows entirely. As someone I know says periodically, 'so much anime, so little time'.
My view of RideBack
(Warning: non-specific spoilers.)
I'll begin by saying that RideBack is one of those interesting animes that I think is good but that I'm not sure is enjoyable.
RideBack starts out as a goofy but promising sports anime with some implausible things lurking in the background, such as the conquest of Japan by some new trans-national military organization. But after a couple of episodes it becomes evident that its real focus is not the sports plot (that was just to introduce us to the characters), but those background things.
The show's strength is in its unflinching and sometimes brutal depictions of what happens to real people who get in the way of power structures and authorities, which is what most of the show is about. It did not pull many punches, and so this was not necessarily a very pleasant experience. During this, the core characters feel like painfully real people; they make mistakes (sometimes terrible ones) and have complex real reactions to what happens, reactions without easy pat answers. All of this is necessarily weakened by the last episode, which delivers the inevitable yet implausible happy ending instead of crushing everyone into paste.
(Mentioning this aspect of the ending should not spoil anyone who is awake; 'rocks fall, everyone dies' is, shall we say, not a popular choice in anime endings. RideBack's happy ending does stay true to the characters, which is most of what I could ask for.)
Apart from its genre, RideBack's major weakness is the huge amount of implausible things that you are required to swallow. But once you've done that, I think that it's a quite well executed show, and it avoids predictable cliches; I expected any number of obvious things, none of which happened. The show also consistently surprised me with its choices, including at the ending.
(And I certainly found that it was one of the shows that I compulsively had to watch this season.)
All of this leaves me feeling ambivalent. I think that I would have preferred to watch the goofy sports anime that RideBack seemed to be at the start, the story of an injured ballerina who discovers that her skills can be applied to RideBack races and blossoms as a result. But it would have been an ordinary show, one that was ultimately less interesting than the RideBack that we actually got.
In the Author style:
Liked: probably. I certainly don't regret watching it.
Rewatch: are you kidding? No.
My overall view of Toradora! (and some thoughts)
I've been mulling over this for long enough, so it's time to actually write something (warning, some spoilers):
Ultimately, I think Toradora! is a good series overall but not an exceptional one. In hindsight (and after Author spurred me into rewatching the first two episodes), I feel that it had a strong beginning, a good but relatively ordinary middle, and ended very strong with a powerful ending, partly because it was willing to have its characters grow and change and partly because it is willing to be decisive. In this it managed to be that rarity, an anime show that gets much better in its final stretch (I would say the last three episodes).
One of the interesting things about Toradora! is how atypical and oddly structured it is. There are no romantic complications that show up (Ami does not count, because everyone else is oblivious), and part of its strong and fast start is how it decisively disposes of the Taiga/Yuusaku issue in the second episode. In an ordinary romcom, I would have expected at least one romantic rival and for it to take ages before Taiga approached Yuusaku.
Another thing I noticed (due to rewatching episode 1) is the difference between the narration that opens the first episode and the narration that closes the last one. Based on the final line, it seems that over the course of the show Taiga and Ryuuji have gone from thinking of love as something that is found to thinking of it as something that is created.
(This fits well with their overall growing up and especially their decisions in the final episode.)
The case of the disposable first episode
One of the things that I've seen repeatedly in anime is what I call 'disposable first episodes'. The purest form of the disposable first episode is where nothing in the first episode is ever seen again; it takes place in a location that the story never revisits, involves characters (apart from the protagonists) that we never see again, and the events are never referred to or affect anything.
(The most recent pure form disposable first episode that I can remember is the first episode of D.Gray-Man.)
One common pattern I've seen is that a disposable first episode will be used in a shonen action series where the real start of the story has the protagonists looking wimpy or otherwise uninteresting. Here, the disposable first episode serves to have the protagonists show off and exhibit their trademark powers (which they may not use again for many episodes), instead of just having them look unimpressive for quite a while in the main story.
(I can see the appeal of this to the creators; it gives the audience some action to get them interested or to pacify them so that they don't get bored when you start in on the slower bits, like the character backgrounds.)
This was brought to mind by the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, which at least felt like a partial disposable first episode in that it seemed like it was there mostly to run us past a lot of important characters doing their trademark thing in their typical way. Personally, I prefer more leisurely introductions.
Narrative momentum: what I learned from Naruto and One Piece
Once upon a time, I started watching both Naruto and One Piece; since they were both well regarded shonen fighting shows, I expected to enjoy them more or less equally. Instead and rather to my surprise, I soon lost interest in One Piece but kept watching Naruto for much longer. Afterwards, I spent some time thinking about why and what the difference between the two shows was, because it was not as simple as disliking one set of characters while liking the other.
I eventually decided that the crucial difference was that right from the start, Naruto's story was always going somewhere, always moving forward. Naruto's desire to be Hokage drove him to action right from the first episode, and everything kept happening and developing from there. By contrast, One Piece's story seemed to be sailing around as leisurely and aimlessly as Luffy himself, and without the story going anywhere, the rest of the show wasn't enough to keep me watching.
(The breaking point for One Piece came when I realized that I actively didn't care about one character's heart touching background that was about to be explored. I just wanted something to happen.)
For lack of a better term, I've taken to calling this 'narrative momentum'; the degree to which things are actively happening, being reacted to, and pushing the overall story forward. Note that not having narrative momentum is not a bad thing in and of itself; it depends on the genre and the story that is being told. There are lots of stories (and entire genres) where narrative momentum would actually be bad, where things benefit from the story moving slowly and quietly.
(As Naruto demonstrates, you don't have to focus only on the main story to keep narrative momentum; you just do flashbacks and character backgrounds mostly as a consequence of them affecting the main story, so that they sustain the momentum instead of taking away from it.)
For me, lacking narrative momentum is different than moving slowly, as unfortunately demonstrated by Naruto (among others; it's a common shonen fighting show problem). One reason I stopped watching Naruto was that while it had narrative momentum, big events like fights just dragged on for too many episodes.