February 14, 2019

Harlock: Space Pirate

There is a category of movie (and television series) that is watchable and recommendable for pretty much everything but its qualities as a compelling work of cinematic storytelling.

Harlock: Space Pirate is a case in point.

To start with, made for an estimated $30 million, here is convincing evidence that the state of the art in motion capture 3DCG animation can be achieved for a fraction of the cost of the typical Hollywood blockbuster. Frozen (released the same year) had a budget of $150 million.

Frankly, it's mind-boggling how far the technology has come since Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001). The first "photorealistic" computer-animated feature film, it cost a staggering $137 million (staggering for a major motion picture based on original Japanese content) and bankrupted Square Pictures.

Director Shinji Aramaki brought in his first Appleseed film for a more reasonable $10 million.

Aramaki mastered the technical aspects of motion capture 3DCG animation at the helm of the Appleseed films, beginning with Appleseed (2004) and Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007). He followed Harlock: Space Pirate with Appleseed Alpha (2014). In that decade, a technology affordable by a few became truly economical.

But all the computers in the world still can't digitally render a decent script out of raw data. Once again we see on display Aramaki's penchant for overly complex plots that require a flow chart to follow.

Not to mention the overused trope that "profound" means "underlit and moody." Matsumoto's original Captain Harlock is an idealistic Robin Hood in an Art Deco world. But according to the backstory of Harlock: Space Pirate, he inflicted so much damage in pursuit of that idealism that he must now atone for it. Gloomily.

The problem this presents is that watching the protagonist mope around for two hours is no fun. So the until the big climax, our titular character has only a minor supporting role and most of the events take place around him.

Long story short, Captain Harlock must destroy the Earth (again) to save it (or something). Meanwhile, the "Gaia Coalition" is determined to stop him from throwing a big wrench into the gears of their fake Earth-worshipping religion (I liked that part). But I quickly stopped caring about the whys and wherefores.

Because all the movie needs is a MacGuffin to keep the story chugging along while we wallow in Leiji Matsumoto's steam punk space opera universe.

Leiji Matsumoto is one of the grand old dons of Japanese manga and animation. In 1974, he co-created the Space Battleship Yamato series, in which the WWII battleship is salvaged and launched into space to save the Earth from malevolent aliens.

Reasoning that it doesn't matter what a ship looks like in space, in 1978, he turned a 17th century Spanish galleon into a starship (Captain Harlock) and did the same with a 19th century steam locomotive (Galaxy Express 999). The latter was inspired by Kenji Miyazawa's Night on the Galactic Railroad (1927).

Alas, aside from the ship's wheel on the bridge, the Arcadia in Harlock: Space Pirate retains little of the original's retro features.

Except this Arcadia is powered by "dark matter," and dark matter, don't you know, is all black and sooty. This abject silliness does result in the delightfully iconoclastic image of Captain Harlock's hulking starship belching thick clouds of smoke like one of Commodore Matthew Perry's coal-fired "Black Ships."

"Pirates in Outer Space" has since become a genre of its own. Most notably, Firefly and Cowboy Bebop and all the Han Solo segments in the Star Wars films.

The former two series share a similar premise with Harlock: Space Pirate, positing that Earth has become unlivable and a bureaucratic hegemony rules over the scattered remnants of its inhabitants. They also heavily mine the traditional Hollywood western for iconic inspiration.

For Star Wars, George Lucas looked east. The "knights" in Star Wars are armed with "lightsabers" that are really electrified katana. Darth Vader's outfit (especially the helmet) closely resembles the battle gear of the medieval samurai.

Matsumoto's Captain Harlock, on the other hand, flies the Jolly Roger and wields an épée (that doubles as a rifle). Hey, "exotic" is relative.

Harlock: Space Pirate can be streamed for free at Tubi.

Related videos

Harlock: Space Pirate
Captain Harlock (CR) (Tubi)
Space Battleship Yamato (2012 remake)
Galaxy Express 999 (CR) (Tubi)
The Galaxy Railways
Night on the Galactic Railroad
Cowboy Bebop (Fun) (Tubi)

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February 11, 2019

"Angel Falling Softly" and "Twilight"

Doug Gibson recently reposted his critique of Angel Falling Softly and Twilight, originally written for the Ogden Standard Examiner.

In Angel Falling Softly, Rakosi, Milada's late creator, created vampires to satisfy his thirst, greed and loneliness. Twilight's patriarch Carlisle creates vampires to save a dying individual. Angel Falling Softly probes human society, with Milada's curiosity directed at her human, LDS neighbors.

Although Angel Falling Softly is written by a male, it is most interested in females. Other vampires are limited in character, and in the background. In contrast, Twilight's Bella is interested in her vampire friends, and later shapeshifters. Twilight's female writer is mostly interested in male "monsters."

And the humans in Twilight, including Bella's parents, stay in the background for most of the series.

Read the rest here.

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February 07, 2019

Seeing the supernatural

The ghost has been a stock character in spooky stories from around the world since forever. For the sake of this argument, I'm more interested in people who can see ghosts, and not because the ghost—Marley, for example—makes himself visible to a particular person with a particular purpose in mind.

I mean people who can see specters and spirits whether they want to or not. And given the choice, would often rather not.

The Sixth Sense set the contemporary Hollywood standard for seeing dead people. Its popularity spawned series like Ghost Whisperer and Saving Hope, which established the trope of dead people with "issues," who can't "move on" or "into the light" until they resolve whatever mortal problem is plaguing them.

This is "second sight" that requires a degree in psychiatry. (I'd love to see Niles and Frasier Crane tackle the job.) Now, in Kate's paranormal detective series, Donna can see the dead, but the dead have little interest in the living unless the living express an interest in them.

Yet despite being a trope so ubiquitous that it can be dropped into a story with little more than a hand-wave of an explanation, the Hollywood implementation is remarkably constrained in its scope and reach, both in terms of what sort of beings the unseen are and what they can do.

Even series like Buffy and Lucifer stick closely to Judeo-Christian folk theology and established mythological prototypes. This in marked contrast to Japan, where the genre is one of the most popular and expansive in Japanese fantasy, producing many identifiable genres and genres within genres.

My straightforward explanation is that, in Japan, there is so much more for those with "second sight" to see. That is thanks to a two-millennia long collision between Shinto and Buddhism, resulting in the theological school of shinbutsu shugo (神仏習合), the syncretism of Buddhist and Shinto belief.

This syncretism spawned several competing schools of thought. To grossly simplify, honji suijaku (本地垂迹) argues that the Shinto kami are manifestations of Buddhist deities. The contrary "inverted" honji suijaku (反本地垂迹) holds that the primal natural forces of Shinto gave rise to Buddhism and Confucianism.

And then there is a kind of compromise that recognizes the autonomy of the Shinto kami and logically asserts that they are thus in need of Buddhist salvation too.

The latter doctrine is favored in the Spirit World Warrior genre, according to which corrupt souls and delinquent kami require a swift kick in the keister to move them on down the road to reincarnation. Forget about talk therapy. Take off the gloves and blast them into another dimension. For their own good, of course.

To be sure, there are those like Inari in Inari Kon Kon and Yurie in Kamichu who take a kinder, gentler approach. But these exegeses aside, the wide-ranging taxonomy of the kami is what gives the trope so much creative depth. As manifestations of the "interconnecting energy of the universe," the kami

can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of venerated dead persons. Kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, and good and evil characteristics.

In platonistic terms, those with second sight can see what is casting the images on the cave wall. Every metaphysical thing has a physical manifestation, as in Princess Mononoke, in which corruption and pollution reveal themselves as slimy creatures and mad boars and infectious diseases.

One rule I would stipulate is that the magical world and the "normal" world must overlap. Narnia and Harry Potter mostly belong to the isekai ("different world") genre, as do anime like Kakuriyo. Even though Aoi has second sight in this world, the story takes place almost entirely in the "Hidden Realm."

By contrast, Lewis's That Hideous Strength takes place in this world. The Ancient Magus Bride is also set in the contemporary English countryside, where the old magic still thrives and Chise can see the sprites and spirits all around her.

Related posts

Pop culture Shinto
Pop culture Buddhism
Ghostbusting in Japan
The Passion of the Magical Girl

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January 31, 2019

Apps are where it's at (7/7)

After repeated failed attempts, an industry giant debuted a completely revamped operating system. The tech press was impressed across the board. With true multitasking, higher screen resolutions, expanded storage, and an innovative graphical user interface, this new OS, wrote Brad Molen, was "precisely what we wanted to see in the first place."

The new OS had only one—fatal—weakness: a lack of native apps. Concluded Molen,

It is going to take a fair amount of time for developers to push out enough earth-shaking apps to persuade the typical user that has already heavily invested in their ecosystem of choice. An OS is only as strong as its ecosystem, it's been an ongoing struggle to sell the platform to developers and attract popular titles.

A succinct summary of the challenges IBM faced trying to sell OS/2 in a world dominated by DOS and Microsoft Windows. Except the above excerpts are from a 2012 article in Engadget. Brad Molen is writing about the debut of Windows Phone 8. The struggle wasn't IBM's but Microsoft's. Microsoft came late the market with a technologically competitive product but failed.

In the words of the philosopher Friedrich Hegel, "The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."

As Jim Seymour explained in his 8 December 1992 PC Magazine column, "No one buys a PC to run an operating system. Good applications sell PC hardware; good applications sell operating systems. Every single dazzling PC program I can think of right now is a Windows app."

The "accidental" origins of the personal computer caused much of the confusion about the primacy of the hardware or the operating system or the software that runs on it. The hardware specs of the first IBM PC were pedestrian even by the standards of the time. In his 15 March and 26 April PC Magazine columns, John Dvorak recalled that

to move from a red-hot CP/M machine to an early IBM PC was a step backward. None of the purveyors of 8-bit microcomputers saw the utility in the IBM PC. Theirs was a robust and mature industry and the 16-bit upstarts had nothing to offer. The IBM, though, had more potential. None of the potential was apparent to the CPM-ers.

That was true of my father's Epson QX-10 CP/M machine. Dvorak correctly pinpoints the potential of the 16-bit PC and the standard-setting status of IBM as conntibuting to its success. But he drew the wrong lesson for the future, that "all we need is a platform that the core influencers all agree on and we're off to the races."

William Zachmann conceded in the 10 September 1991 issue of PC Magazine that "nobody is going to buy new hardware system or new operating systems is there is no software for them." But then he jumped to the same wrong conclusion.

It's the fundamental capabilities of a new platform—not applications—that determine its success or failure. If the platform has "the right stuff" it will succeed even if applications vendors are intially slow to develop for it.

The widely cited proof of this thesis is the Macintosh. Dvorak argued in his 29 May 1990 column that just as the IBM PC "had virtually no software when it arrived on the scene, the Macintosh also arrived with nothing but a word processor, an operating system, and a paint program." He thus concluded that "initial massive software support" was not important.

In fact, the Macintosh proved the opposite. It debuted with no development tools native to the platform. After a year on the market, it had a quarter of the applications that the primitive IBM PC had a year after its release. Apple only survived because the other Steve—Wozniak—returned to reboot the Apple II line that was keeping the company in the black.

Rather, the lesson is that if you are going to establish a new standard in a world not looking for one, you need a lot of patience and a positive cash flow. For his NeXT project, Steve Jobs had more of the former and less of the latter. The NeXT line of computers failed to garner any market share. The future of the NeXT OS was to be acquired by Apple.

Without an extensive library of software, NeXT never extended its market beyond a handful of vertical applications. Steve Jobs learned his lesson. Soon after returning to Apple, he buried the hatchet with Bill Gates. Along with a $150 million investment, Gates promised ongoing development of the hugely popular Microsoft Office suite for the Mac.

In his 29 October 1991 PC Magazine column, Michael Miller provided a better rule of thumb:

In order to be successful, a new operating system has to be both necessary and sufficient: necessary in the sense that it must give computer users a compelling reason to switch; and sufficient in that it must have enough functionality to do all of the things that a computer user would want to do.

In other words, the 8-bit computers of the late 1970s were better than nothing, only viewed favorably in terms of the the very low expectations of personal computer users at the time. But by the late 1980s, 16-bit DOS applications like Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect had feature sets more complete than the typical consumer even today will ever use.

Keeping the market alive meant selling consumers software solutions they could only imagine they needed, and often, as in the case of the graphical user interface, were sure they didn't.

To coax that customer to make that leap, Bill Gates resolved to maintain backwards compatibility at the cost of sleekness and simplicity. That ruled out the elegant "clean break" that Steve Jobs championed, also making it a more technologically challenging task. As Charles Petzold explained in the 12 September 1989 issue of PC Magazine,

A GUI that can potentially support every graphics video display and every graphics printer ever made for the PC is going to more complex than one needs to support only one video display and two printers, as was the case with the original Mac. I guarantee you, if Apple had put complete Apple II compatibility into the Mac, it would have lost a lot of its simplicity.

Microsoft's clunkier but open architecture solution pushed Windows forward on all fronts while generating the necessary cash flow from its legacy operating systems and applications. IBM tried to duplicate this model by building DOS and Windows support into OS/2. But if DOS and Windows were already good enough, why spend more to switch?

In his 31 October 1989 column about the downsides of RISC architecture (which also was supposedly going to conquer the PC world), OS/2 stalwart William Zachmann inadvertently explained why OS/2 wouldn't succeed either.

For users, the costs of moving from the Intel x86 family to an incompatible RISC-based microprocessor architecture, which would require new versions of every bit of software, are very steep. Users aren't going to make the move without a compelling reason, which RISC alone doesn't provide.

Bingo. OS/2 didn't provide a compelling reason to make the move. The default position for anyone not seeking an IBM-branded solution was to keep using DOS and Windows while waiting for the Microsoft to slowly evolve its product line. Which is exactly what the rest of the computing world did.

Jim Seymour observed in his 11 June 1991 column (and the same could be said about WordPerfect's OS/2 efforts), "Lotus spent a fortune developing 1-2-3/G for OS/2. It was released—and almost disappeared. No one was using OS/2 so no one cared about apps for it. You've gotta have DOS and Windows versions of your programs."

Perhaps nothing drove the point home more decisively than an article by Christopher Barr in the 12 May 1992 PC Magazine. Titled "Waiting for Godot," he summarized a report from the Software Publishing Association, according to which "OS/2 applications accounted for .03 percent of the market" in 1991. Not 3 percent. That's 3/100 of 1 percent.

The release of OS/2 2.1 (with Windows 3.1 compatibility) in the summer of 1993 finally propelled it onto the bestseller chart, debuting at number five in the 14 September 1993 issue. IBM had additionally come to its marketing senses and sold OS/2 at retail and via mail order in the same price range as Windows.

With IBM claiming to be moving 300,000 copies per month, Bill Machrone noted that "if OS/2 were anything other than an operating system, it would be a runaway bestseller." By contrast, in 1993 alone, MS-DOS 6 shipped a combined 5 million upgrades and 10 million OEM installs.

Two weeks later, OS/2 2.1 rose to number four, except those were upgrades from older versions. At number one was Windows 3.1, and those were new installations (everybody with Windows 3.0 had already upgraded). The 12 October 1993 chart showed Windows 3.1 slipping a notch to second place. OS/2 2.1 fell completely off the chart.

In one of those signs of the times, in the July 1993 issue, Charles Petzold switched the focus of his Environments column from OS/2 to Windows NT, calling Microsoft's new preemtively multitasking 32-bit operating system "what OS/2 should been in the first place."

Over the next five years, new releases of OS/2—such as OS/2 for Windows (ironically) and OS/2 Warp—propelled it onto the bestseller chart for several weeks at a time until it vanished once again, while DOS and Windows upgrades and Microsoft office applications dominated it issue after issue.

To see where things were headed, consider the bestseller chart following the release of Windows 95 in August of 1995.

Microsoft released Windows NT shortly after OS/2 2.1, though not as a consumer product. NT was a high-end workstation and server OS with far more functionality than OS/2. Both NT and Windows 3.1 could natively run apps that were Win32 compliant. OS/2 2.x ran Windows code licensed from Microsoft, a license that expired at the end of 1993.

As a result, OS/2 for Windows ran a separate copy of Windows in a virtual DOS machine, a cumbersome solution. In the run-up to Windows 95, IBM at first promoted OS/2 Warp, but ended up licensing Windows 95 on the same terms as Compaq. "IBM officials conceded that OS/2 would not have been a viable operating system to keep them in the PC business."

And so Michael Miller had correctly concluded in his 28 September 1993 column that

the desktop operating system standard for the next 12 to 18 months will be DOS and Windows 3.1. That's because I've become convinced that we've all understated the importance of compatibility. It's been clear for a long time that for an environment to work, we need great applications that work under it.

With so many applications available on the Windows platform, Microsoft eventually became a victim of its own success. Old luddites like me could put off upgrading their computers because what they already had was "good enough."

With an 85 percent market share, Microsoft still owns the desktop. But to gain a foothold in the portable environment dominated by iOS and Android, Microsoft has to make Windows software platform-agnostic. Instead of "Windows Everywhere," Microsoft is moving its software to the cloud and providing "Microsoft Services Everywhere."

And once again, against the odds, Microsoft appears to be succeeding. Abandoning Internet Explorer and adopting a Chromium-based browser is one more step along that path. Because no matter how they are delivered to whatever screen the user is using, the apps are where it's at.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)
The future that wasn't (5/7)
The future that wasn't (6/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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January 24, 2019


The anime Hinamatsuri is based on the manga by Masao Otake, serialized since 2010 in Comic Beam, an "alternative" manga magazine published by Kadokawa.

Comic Beam has a monthly circulation of thirty thousand (Young Jump has a weekly circulation of two million). Manga writers and publishers hardly ever turn a profit on first serialization rights. The manga has been collected in fifteen tankoubon compilation volumes to date.

Sort of like an art house film that hits it big in DVD/Blu-ray distribution.

The title is a play on "Hinamatsuri" (雛祭り). The traditional Doll Festival held on March 3, it's the second of Japan's five seasonal festivals. In the manga and anime, Hinamatsuri means "a festival for Hina," around whom the world must revolve because she'll destroy it if it doesn't.

Except the first episode begins with Mao, not Hina. Then we flash back three years and don't learn anything more about Mao until episode nine. Get used to it. I'd have to read the manga to see if this lack of continuity results from an attempt to condense a whole lot of plot into a dozen episodes.

Not every anime based on a manga has the budget or audience to step through each chapter in order. The plot compression can be handled well, as from the Chihayafuru manga to the anime to the live-action movies. Or it can be a disaster, as with the Ghost Talker's Daydream anime.

Despite taking in medias res to a bewildering extreme, Hina­matsuri works surprisingly well as a string of interconnected stories that could be titled "Down and Out in Tokyo's Red Light District." Though Hina is the de facto main character, she's more a catalyst.

Hinamatsuri is about the people whose lives and outlooks change after they come into contact with Hina, quite often for the better.

The first is Yoshifumi Nitta, a mid-ranked yakuza. In addition to the illegal activities they are infamous for, most yakuza organizations in Japan are legal corporations that own above-board companies. Nitta is in charge of several (real estate, in particular) and enjoys a comfortable lifestyle.

Then one day Hina drops into his condo through an inter-dimensional portal (also never explained). Nitta's first reaction is, "I'll pretend I didn't see that." But Hina is impossible to ignore.

Hina has about as much emotional affect as Robert Patrick in Terminator 2 and is no less destructive. Some sort of bio-engineered child assassin with telekinetic powers, she doesn't know what what she's doing there either, and assumes she's on a mission and Nitta is her handler.

As will become apparent, the technologically advanced society that produced Hina and her sisters has serious quality control problems.

This mistaken assumption quickly comes in handy when Nitta has Hina literally defenestrate an entire rival gang in one fell swoop. As best I can tell, Hinamatsuri follows the George of the Jungle rule: "In this film nobody dies, but they will get big boo-boos."

Except by that point, Nitta is stuck with her. After she demolishes his condo several times over (including his collection of porcelain vases), they come to a truce about when and how she can use her superpowers. He further buys her acquiescence with salmon caviar. She really loves caviar.

Hinamatsuri thus turns into a very odd addition to the "single dad raising a kid" genre. At first, Nitta tells people that Hina is his long-lost daughter. By the time he begins to grasp the repercussions of this handy explanation, the two of them have assumed their respective roles.

As a brand new dad, Nitta finds himself with the responsibility of turning his tiny T-1000 into a "normal" girl.

But Anzu has already been dispatched to "deal with" Hina. There's a whole squadron of these telekinetic pre-teens ensconced somewhere. Fearing a full-on fight could destroy several city blocks, Nitta convinces them to settle their differences with a powered-up version of rock-paper-scissors.

Which Hina handily wins. And then, while doing the laundry, Nitta accidentally tosses Anzu's inter-dimensional portal switch into the washing machine. (It does kind of look like one of those Tide pods.) Stuck here, written off as "missing in action," Anzu is taken in by a homeless camp.

Meanwhile, Hina starts attending school, but only because that's what she observes other kids her age doing. She sleeps through class. Otherwise she tags along with Nitta, plays video games, and eats caviar. Well-intentioned attempts at housekeeping only result in her wrecking the house.

Hitomi, one of Hina's classmates, takes it upon herself to make friends with Hina (to whatever extent Hina can grasp the concept). The problem is, getting together with Hina after school usually means meeting her at the Little Song Bar, where Nitto likes to hang out and hit on Utako, the proprietress.

One thing leads to another and Hitomi turns out to be really good at bartending. Really good at business, period. Unfortunately, the anime ends before we can watch her hit her stride as a young Warren Buffett.

So it's Anzu who ends up with the most compelling character arc. She starts out with nothing, at the very bottom of society, and slowly but steadily climbs Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to become an authentically good person with a strong sense of moral responsibility.

"Moral growth" for Hina means "no longer a cute sociopath." When her actual handler finally tracks her down, she is surprised that Hina hasn't demolished the city and is even more amazed to discover that Hina is a functioning member of society. Hardly self-actualized, but functioning.

Mao's story has the most complete plot, except she only gets a couple of minutes in the first episode, an episode in the middle (that's a dang good remake of Cast Away), and half of the last episode. Mao deserves a series of her own. Equally true of Anzu and Hitomi too.

The anime ran in Japan from April through June of this year. So it's possible we'll see another cour or two. One Peace Books released the first English-language volume (of fifteen to date) in September.

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January 17, 2019

The old brand new

AT&T CEO John Donovan recently announced that, going forward, DirecTV would be transitioning from satellite transmission to streaming technology for content distribution. In other words, depending less on outer space and more on wires hanging from telephone poles.

To be sure, in large swaths of the United States and the world, there are still no viable alternatives to satellite content delivery. But like a medieval circle of fate, technology is always circling around to where it began. The old becomes brand new again.

In terms of the large-scale infrastructure, the communications satellite was a simpler solution than the microwave relay stations that once dotted the land. In turn, those relay stations were a vast improvement over the copper wire telephone circuits they replaced.

Fiber optic cable wiped out the microwave towers and may soon do in the communications satellites.

Like the transistor, vacuum tube electronics, and the internal combustion engine, the amazing thing about television satellite service is that it works at all, let alone that it can be mass-produced as a consumer good.

A communications satellite orbits 22,236 miles above the equator, a tenth of the way to the Moon. And yet it beams a signal down to the Earth's surface that can be scooped up with an eighteen-inch dish on your roof and decompressed into 500 channels.

When I first got Dish, I was impressed at how "clean" the picture was. Completely static free. These days, it's ho-hum compared to free over-the-air HDTV.

OTA HDTV breathed new life into the old UHF broadcast spectrum. 5G networks promise to steal that precious "last mile" connection to the home away from fiber and cable.

Google's foray into the home Internet business ran into the buzz saw of regulatory capture, which lets cable cartels box out the competition. So Microsoft is going wireless instead, much as the smartphone leapfrogged the landline in the developing world.

The Microsoft Airband Initiative launched in July 2017 with the goal of working with partners to make broadband available to 2 million Americans in rural communities who lack access today and to help catalyze an ecosystem to connect millions more.

Radio really is all the rage these days. Smartphones are just smart radios operating at UHF frequencies. That microwave relay technology that got passed over by the telecommunications satellite and then buried by fiber optics? It didn't go away. It mutated.

Back in 2016, Ars Technica reported that some of those old microwave towers are being repurposed to augment fiber optic networks. Because it's cheaper than laying brand new fiber and because radio signals move through the air faster than light through fiber.

And let's not too hastily write off satellites either. Elon Musk plans to tackle the latency problem of satellite-based Internet service with a swarm of satellites in low Earth orbit (such that at end-of-life they'll simply burn up in the atmosphere).

Every time you turn around, another moribund technology is "not dead yet." The solid-state disc drive should have sent old-fashioned "spinning rust" into retirement. Except every time it's knocked to the canvas, the hard disk drive staggers back to its feet like Rocky Balboa.

For example, Seagate has successfully prototyped a 16TB HDD using HAMR (Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording). The heat comes from a laser diode attached to the read/write head. Western Digital answered that challenge with a 16TB MAMR HDD (Microwave Assisted Magnetic Recording).

In the steampunk space opera future I like to imagine, the only way to build a faster-than-light starship engine will be with old-fashioned vacuum tubes and analog circuitry. And thus technology from the 1930s will end up being the most modern thing ever.

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January 10, 2019

The last year of Heisei

Shinchosha's final press release of 2018 on the Twelve Kingdoms website included a nod to a fairly monumental political, social, religious, and cultural event commencing on 30 April 2019.

According to the Japanese Constitution, the reign of the new emperor begins with the death of his predecessor. The formal enthronement ceremony, including elaborate Shinto rites, takes place later at a designated date.

The Showa Emperor (Hirohito) died in 1989 and was succeeded by his son, Akihito. Thus 1989 was the last year of Showa and the first year of Heisei. Confusing, indeed, especially if you make calendars for a living.

This time around, Akihito will abdicate. After open heart surgery in 2012 and now in his eighties, he "worried that it may become difficult for me to carry out my duties as the symbol of the state with my whole being as I have done until now."

He means that business about "my whole being." Not only is he still the most active and engaged monarch in the world, the man is a solid mensch.

When he visits the site of a natural disaster (which Japan has plenty of), he doesn't settle for waving to the crowds from behind the tinted glass of an armored sedan. He sits down on the floor in the evacuation center and talks to people.

So 2019 will be the last year of Heisei and year one of—well, we don't know yet. The era name (nengou) is chosen by a convocation of scholars and is announced with great fanfare at the time of succession.

At the end of Shadow of the Moon, Youko chooses Sekiraku as her nengou ("red" + "Rakushun"). But back here on the other side of the Sea of Nothingness, we'll have to wait until April to find out.

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January 03, 2019

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (Happy New Year!)

Shinchosha posted its 2018 Year-End Greetings on December 28. A little news, a little marketing, and a nod to a big historical change the new year will bring.

We are coming to you for the last time in 2018. This year, with an enormous sense of relief, we were able to make the long hoped-for announcement that a new installment in the Twelve Kingdoms series is heading to publication. That announcement was met with a deluge of delighted voices through SNS. We thank you again for your warm messages.

The new novel is a sequel to Tasogare no Kishi, Akatsuki no Sora ("The Shore in Twilight, the Sky at Daybreak") and takes place in the Kingdom of Tai. How about reacquainting yourselves with the series during the upcoming holidays? For those of you new to the series, please take this opportunity to dive into the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and enjoy it to the fullest.

Shincho Paperbacks has now published new editions of all of the Twelve Kingdoms novels, including The Demon Child and Hisho's Birds. Available at a bookseller near you! You can find the eleven volumes on Amazon too.

Whilst coping with her long spell of ill health, Ono Sensei's unfolding Twelve Kingdoms drama turned into a massive epic! More than anything else, as we work towards the day when the book will go on sale, we pray for her continuing convalescence. Fresh information will be posted here in "Kirin News."

This is our last Year-End Greetings of the Heisei era. The New Year will also bring with it the first year of a new era, full of newborn promise. And so with that same sense of hope we shall continue to ask for and thank you for your continuing support.

Please have yourselves a Happy New Year!

I'll explain a bit more about the historic end of the Heisei next week.

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December 27, 2018

Squared (lined) paper

The Shinchosha press release announcing the new Twelve Kingdoms novel describes it as a "massive 2500 page epic." To be precise, the page count refers to the draft manuscript submitted by the author.

The actual text reads 「400字で約2500枚」 or "around 2500 pages of 400 characters each."

Kana and kanji fonts are generally not proportional. Characters of the same font size take up the same amount of space. This means that typeset Japanese naturally right-justifies. Or rather, bottom-justifies.

The equivalent of "lined" or "college ruled" paper in Japan is called genkouyoushi (原稿用紙).

The standard paper size is 400字 Japanese-B4 (14.3 x 10.1 inches). Each sheet is 10 by 20 vertically-aligned squares in two halves (designed to be folded down the middle), or 20 by 20 characters (字) total.

A typesetter's primary concern is avoiding widowing or orphaning punctuation marks, which usually get their own box. Word processing software handles this algorithmically. Wikipedia provides the following style guide.

The rules for handling punctuation marks in vertical text are called kinsoku shori (禁則処理).

Even in this computerized age, genkouyoushi remains synonymous with writing. The characters in Bungo Stray Dogs are named after famous authors. So naturally genkouyoushi is used in the title cards.

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December 20, 2018

The true believer (6/7)

In Silicon Valley, an "evangelist" shares many characteristics with his religious counterpart, preaching the good word of the new technological doctrine while demonstrating an unflagging faith in the utopia sure to come if only all within earshot would only convert to the cause.

PC Magazine columnist William Zachmann was one such evangelist, zealously devoted to the gospel of OS/2 as the one true software sect in the church of the x86 PC.

During the 1980s he was hardly a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Microsoft and IBM were working hard to make OS/2 the 32-bit multitasking operating system that would replace MS-DOS. In the 15 March 1988 issue of PC Magazine, Gus Venditto reported that while Microsoft CEO Bill Gates did not expect DOS

to give way to OS/2 for many years more, he outlined a timeline in which 15 percent of new PCs were running OS/2 in 1989, growing to 50 percent by 1991.

One can hardly fault Zachmann for agreeing with Bill Gates.

A month later, launching a new column dedicated to programming for OS/2, Charles Petzold predicted that "everybody currently using DOS on an 80286 or 80386-based machine will eventually consider upgrading to OS/2" for the simple reason that "Microsoft expects OS/2 to establish the foundations of PC operating systems for the next decade."

But a year later, convictions began to waver. In the 28 March 1989 issue, Gus Venditto counted up "2 million copies of Windows sold to date." In his 11 April 1989 column, Jim Seymour concluded that, a year after the introduction of the PS/2 and OS/2,

DOS is livelier than ever. And the original PC bus and especially the PC AT bus are robust and dominant in the market. [As for OS/2], it is mired in high costs and little value for the PC user—a fatal pairing.

But William Zachmann stuck to his guns, claiming in his 28 November 1989 column that the upcoming release of Windows 3.0 would "make the transition from Windows to OS/2 easier. The future lies with OS/2. And it is just around the bend." Then in the 16 January 1990 issue he predicted that

OS/2 will take off. By the end of 1990, many more users will be running OS/2 than most pundits predict. The speed of its acceptance is just as surely underestimated today as it was overestimated in 1987. Windows is strictly a transition product. Whatever Windows does, OS/2 will do better.

Released in May 1990, Windows 3.0 immediately raced to the top of the bestseller charts. In his August 1990 preview of the OS, Gus Venditto concluded that "A funny thing happened on the road to OS/2. Microsoft Windows has turned into the dazzling multitasking operating system that OS/2 is still struggling to become."

Countered Zachmann in his 25 September 1990 column, "Windows 3.0 will light the way to OS/2, not eclipse it. And that's really what Microsoft always wanted."

What Microsoft wanted at that point was to dump the whole OS/2 mess back in IBM's lap. The pair of September 1990 press releases hinting at but not directly announcing the breakup between the two companies had turned into a Rorschach test.

In the last issue of the year, Zachmann had to admit that the "smashing success of Windows 3.0 rolled mercilessly over my prediction [that OS/2 would take off in 1990]." And yet he remained convinced that "The renewed cooperation between IBM and Microsoft announced in September should help pave the way for OS/2."

In the same 15 January 1991 issue in which Ray Duncan methodically explained why IBM and Microsoft were not getting back together, Zachmann again miraculously managed to find the silver lining.

A significant number of desktops running Windows 3.0 will switch to OS/2 once 2.0 is first released. Windows and OS/2 will be made truly complementary to one another by both Microsoft and IBM. Windows will not compete with OS/2 but become an option on top of OS/2.

Even John Dvorak spent the first several months of the year dismissing Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft would indeed drop OS/2 development.

But by May, Zachmann was also reporting on Microsoft's System Strategy Seminar and its undeniable message: "Forget about OS/2 2.0 and stick with Windows." In June, Dvorak concluded that the feud between IBM and Microsoft was real. And finally, in his 29 October 1991 column, William Zachmann conceded the now obvious.

Microsoft and IBM aren't merely "divorced"—they are at war. What started as a difference of opinion escalated through growing levels of mutual mistrust and suspicion into what amounted, by the middle of the year, to overt hostilities. Microsoft has all but completely disavowed OS/2.

Somehow this was all the more evidence, as far as Zachmann was concerned, that IBM was destined to triumph. He warned in his 12 November 1991 column that

Microsoft made a big mistake going to war with IBM over Windows and OS/2. Microsoft could lose this war—and lose big. If OS/2 2.0 delivers as promised, Microsoft will be in tough shape trying to use the mere promise of Windows NT to hold the line with Windows 3.0. Momentum will shift dramatically away from Windows and toward OS/2.

In the meantime, the editorial board of PC Magazine was making its biases clear. The Letters editor in particular seemed to enjoy poking Zachmann in the ribs, and for the past four years had run letters every few months like the following from computer consultant Jim Barrett:

I would be on welfare if I were making my living on PM. While OS/2 and Presentation Manager articles abound in the industry journals, I wonder if anybody actually reads them! Never have I see so much written about so little for so few.

The editorial content of the magazine approached the issue with more tact but came to similar conclusions.

In their 30 June 1992 analysis, Bill Bettini, Joe Salemi, and Don Willmott concluded that "OS/2 isn't a better Windows than Windows, but it could be called a potentially safer Windows than Windows." And OS/2 was a "better DOS than DOS" only because of the caching software, an advantage that disappeared when using updated Windows 3.1 drivers.

Later that year, in a head-to-head face-off between OS/2 and Windows 3.1 published in the 10 November 1992 issue, PC Magazine gave its Editor's Choice to Microsoft Windows 3.1 "for its ease of use, solid performance, and rich selection of high-quality applications in every software category."

But William Zachmann was not about to abandon his 30 June 1992 prediction that OS/2 was on its way to being the software hit of 1992. "OS/2 2.0 is even better than I'd expected. Windows 3.1 is much worse. The result will be a more rapid "paradigm shift" from Windows toward OS/2 than I'd dared to expect."

Five months later, he was only more confident that the "shift from Windows to OS/2 that has already begun on a small scale will gather momentum." And in his 22 December 1992 column, his last for PC Magazine, Zachmann predicted "Growing success for OS/2 and the Macintosh and competitive losses for Microsoft and Windows over the next two years."

A true believer to the end.

In fact, OS/2 never gained more than a fraction of the market share of even the Macintosh. And Apple's share of the market declined over the next four years. Its financials were not reversed until Steven Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, accompanied by a $150 million investment by Microsoft in non-voting Apple stock and a pledge to support Office on the Macintosh.

But as a parting gift, in that same December issue, PC Magazine gave OS/2 2.0 its Award for Excellence. And perhaps for a short period of time at the end of 1992 OS/2 was the better operating system.

But OS/2 had few software solutions for the average consumer that didn't run better and cheaper under DOS and Windows. And with DOS and Windows pre-installed on practically every PC sold, the average consumer had no practical reason to buy OS/2. And so practically none of them did.

Related posts

The future that wasn't (introduction)
The future that wasn't (1/7)
The future that wasn't (2/7)
The future that wasn't (3/7)
The future that wasn't (4/7)
The future that wasn't (5/7)
The future that wasn't (7/7)

The accidental standard
The grandfathers of DOS

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December 13, 2018

New Twelve Kingdoms novel (it's official!)

Japanese publisher Shinchosha announced yesterday that author Fuyumi Ono has submitted her latest Twelve Kingdoms novel. As hoped for, the story takes place in the Kingdom of Tai. The draft manuscript is over 2500 pages long. ​The book will be published in 2019.

Here is the press release. (I didn't add any of the exclamation points but agree with them.)

The highly anticipated new work is finally here!!!

Today, on the 12th of December ("Twelve Kingdoms Day"), we have delightful news to share. A brand new manuscript has arrived!

The long-awaited novel has turned into a massive 2500 page epic. The setting for the story is the Kingdom of Tai. We are grateful to Ono Sensei for penning such a masterpiece in this 30th year of her career. We thank all her readers for waiting so patiently.

Now commences the business of making a book, such as copyediting and the illustrations. Though a publication date hasn't yet been determined, it is certain to debut in 2019.

As promised, we are posting important updates on this website. It was still an unexpected surprise that this news arrived on "Twelve Kingdoms Day." Going forward, we will do our best to point you to accurate information in a prompt and orderly manner.

To that end, we humbly ask for your continuing support.

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December 06, 2018

Sink or stream

TV Japan is a great service. It's the "Reader's Digest" of Japanese television, the only (legal) way to stay current with the best of scripted television (often rebroadcast within days), live and long-format news, and infotainment from NHK and the major commercial broadcasters in Japan.

But $24.99/month is a ridiculous price for a single channel. By comparison, HBO Now charges $14.99/month. And if you're going à la carte, you've got to fork out at least $25.00/month more for a "basic" package and additional fees. Even Xfinity Instant TV hardly saves you any money at all.

Fifty bucks for the one channel I want. And a couple dozen other channels I don't. Except they have me over a barrel so I just may cave. But I'll be grumbling about it the whole time (and get off my lawn!).

The thing is, we've been down this road before, paying through the nose for stuff we don't want in order to get the stuff we do want.

Let's stop and remember how the music business came up with the "cunning plan" of making its customers pay twenty bucks for the CD of an LP they already owned to get the two tracks they wanted. How did that work out? In the short term, like gangbusters. In the long term, it was a disaster.

According to the RIAA, American record industry revenues declined by two-thirds between 1999 and 2014, from an inflation-adjusted $20.6 billion to under $7 billion. Marc Hogan calculates that, in 2015 dollars, average per-unit album retail prices today are half of what they were in 1977.

It has not taken long for history to repeat itself.

The "bundle" is a plodding dinosaur designed to keep the cash-hungry cable model from going extinct. It's not working. As Luke Bouma reports on Cord Cutters News, in the third quarter of 2018 alone, Dish lost 367,000 subscribers, DirecTV lost 346,000, and Comcast lost 106,000.

While in its third quarter earnings report, Roku announced a 43 percent year-over-year increase in active accounts.

Granted, unless you are willing to rely solely on OTA content (which is a perfectly rational option), you'll need a broadband connection. Though these days, that's like saying you need electricity. Even calculating overpriced internet service into the equation, the savings are hard to ignore.

Compared to TV Japan ($24.99/month), Crunchyroll is $6.95/month ($59.95/year). Funimation is $5.99/month ($59.99/year) and HIDIVE is only $4.99/month ($47.88/year). On an annual basis, you can get all three—a gargantuan amount of Japanese-language content—for $14.99/month.

Toss in dLibrary Japan, TV Japan's archive service ($9.99/month), and you'll pay exactly what you would for TV Japan on DirecTV or Xfinity, minus all the fees. So about half. For four on-demand channels adding up to tens of thousands of hours of programming.

If you want to broaden your focus while keeping plenty of Japanese options on the table, Hulu's already substantial anime library (nearly 400 titles) just got bigger thanks to its tie-up with Funimation. Hulu's economy package costs $7.99/month ($11.99/month for a mostly ad-free version).

Not to mention that ad-supported streaming services like Tubi and Pluto are free. And for Roku owners, so is the Roku Channel. And NHK World is free as a public service. I mean, if you've got to watch ads on a cable or satellite channel, shouldn't it be free too? Like OTA always has been?

In any case, there is no way the average cable subscriber can consume even a fraction of the content in the typical cable package. If "all or nothing" is the only option, maybe "nothing" is the choice we ought to be making. It's a choice more and more "cord cutters" are actively embracing.

Which is no doubt one reason why, going forward, AT&T (which owns DirecTV, HBO Now, and Crunchyroll) plans to favor streaming for content distribution, with CEO John Donovan declaring, "We've launched our last satellite."

Donovan and other AT&T executives said the rampant growth of Internet-delivered video services that bypass satellite and cable networks is so significant that it is now the company's future.

A streaming version of DirecTV will reportedly be less expensive as "there is no need for crews to come to your house and install a dish." Hey, unless those cost-savings simply accrue to DirecTV's bottom line, how about knocking twenty bucks off the price of TV Japan? That'd get my attention.

On the other hand, perhaps this really is a "cunning plan." The argument here is that cable companies make better margins selling Internet service and would rather not be joined at the hip with the content providers. Though if 5G lives up to a fraction of the hype, that's no guarantee either.

Incidentally, Cord Cutters News and Cord Cutter Confidential are two good ways to stay up to date about the state of streaming services.

Related posts

Japanese media update
Streaming Japanese
Family Gekijyo

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November 29, 2018

Japanese media update

Two years ago, Funimation and Crunchyroll partnered up to cross-license anime streaming rights. A lot has happened since. Crunchyroll was acquired by AT&T (via Warner Media). Sony Pictures purchased Funimation. The joint agreement "ended amicably" in October. Annoyed anime fans will have to purchase two subscriptions for the same content.

At least anime streaming services are reasonably priced. Satellite and cable, not so much. But several new options have emerged, with Xfinity now carrying TV Japan nationwide.

Back in April, TV Japan moved from Dish to DirecTV. Dish handed the slot to Family Gekijyo. Family Gekijyo is Japan's version of channels like MeTV that rerun "classic TV." It's only as good as the shows in rotation. A mixed bag compared even to Family Gekijyo's home network in Japan, the content on Dish is a pale shadow of TV Japan.

If it keeps improving, it might become an attractive addition to (not a substitute for) TV Japan. But after almost a year, I don't see that happening. Mark it down as a lost opportunity.

Though priced the same as TV Japan on DirecTV and Xfinity ($24.99), as an à la carte channel, Family Gekijyo on Dish is the better deal on paper. "International Basic" on Dish is $15.00/month. "Limited Basic" on Xfinity is $20.00/month and "Basic Choice" on DirecTV is $20.99/month.

Which, purely in economic terms, makes TV Japan's exclusive deal with DirecTV (for satellite service) all the more annoying.

TV Japan has its own archive service called "dLibrary Japan" that reruns select programming from its cable/satellite channel. If you already have TV Japan, you will have seen most of the content already. And dLibrary Japan doesn't stream live or almost-live content like sumo tournaments and news.

But at $9.95/month, it's a great deal if you're not going to subscribe to TV Japan (I'm still waiting for a Roku app). NHK World carries (English language) news, NHK documentaries, and sumo tournaments (no dramas or non-NHK content) and can be streamed for free.

Speaking of NHK World, the Utah Educational Network now broadcasts NHK World in full on UEN 9.4. KUED 7.2 (PBS) and UEN 9.1 also carry half-hour segments from NHK World in their international news lineups.

Ideally, Family Gekijyo would join TV Japan and NHK World (already free as a public service) in a single Japanese-language package. Alas, that's not going to happen either. So I'll give Family Gekijyo another month or two, stream Crunchyroll, and watch NHK World the old-fashioned way (except when the reception is bad).

Related posts

Streaming Japanese
Family Gekijyo
Crunchy Fun and the Yahoos
Sink or stream

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November 22, 2018

The Ancient Magus Bride

My preferred approach to analyzing anime is to examine the narratives in terms of interlocking genres. Generally speaking, commercially successful art conforms to established structures and favors certain types and tropes. Storytelling no more needs reinventing than the wheel.

Structure presents no barriers to creativity. Rather, a foundation of the "same old" presents new opportunities to surpass the expectations of the audience in unexpected ways. A prime example is Madoka Magica, which discovered eschatological horror within the magical girl genre.

And invented a whole new way of telling an old story that soon took on a life of its own.

Take an archetypal tale like Beauty and the Beast, mix in western magic, eastern theology, Jungian psychology, and a bit of The X-Files (especially in the balance between the light and heavy dramatic elements), set it in England, and the result is The Ancient Magus Bride.

In his ongoing manga series and twenty-seven episode anime, Kore Yamazaki's unique approach is to mix and match the beastly elements. Aside from his height (six-foot seven or so) and the horned wolf skull that hides his demonic visage, Elias Ainsworth is every inch a proper English gentleman.

Although from all appearances an ordinary Japanese teenager, Chise Hatori is a psychological basketcase. Her mind is as much a beast as is Elias's appearance.

Driven half-mad by her mother's suicide and the second sight that allows her to see the yokai and ayakashi (monsters and magical beings) that populate the mortal realm, Chise resolves to kill herself as well. At the last minute, she is persuaded to sell herself to a trafficker in the black arts.

Elias Ainsworth brings the auction to a halt with an outrageous offer of five million pounds.

He takes Chise to his cottage in the English countryside, where he bluntly admits to acting with ulterior motives. He has identified Chise as a rare "Sleigh Beggy." This Manx term refers to a kind of fairy that once inhabited the Isle of Man. Chise turns out to possess extraordinarily magical powers.

But she has little idea how to use them and every attempt inexorably saps her strength. If nothing is done, she will die in a few short years.

Chise becomes Elias's apprentice and a member of his eccentric family. When not traveling about the British Isles solving paranormal problems like Mulder and Scully, Elias dotes on her and vows to save her life.

His "purchase" of Chise included a marriage contract. Elias treats the marriage as a done deal but doesn't act on it. He is, in fact, bewildered by his growing fondness for her. Like Data in Star Trek, his affection for Chise only heightens the differences between him and the humans among whom he dwells.

And when she leaves, he sits in the living room and sulks. At times like this, Elias is basically every overly-introspective introvert ever. But, of course, the Beauty returns to the Beast, in a stunning and exhilarating scene that casts even the Disney version into shadow.

Except there will be no neat resolution to their strange relationship. Elias has a beastly side considerably more untamed and dangerous than the fairy tale. And yet Chise will later formally propose to him, a scene made all the more poignant precisely because Elias is not a frog about to turn back into a handsome prince.

The second cour picks up when the first left off (the OVA exploring Chise's backstory takes place between the two cours) with little morality plays featuring characters that will play important parts later. And then The Ancient Magus Bride dives into the horror genre in a highly effective concluding arc.

The story of an immortal longing for death is a darker version of the 2017-2018 season of Lucifer. The immortal in Lucifer is Cain (of Cain and Able). In The Ancient Magus Bride, the immortal is Cartaphilus, the "Wandering Jew" of medieval folklore.

An Armenian archbishop, then visiting England, was asked by the monks of Saint Albans Abbey about the celebrated Joseph of Arimathea, who had spoken to Jesus, and was reported to be still alive. The archbishop answered that he had himself seen such a man in Armenia, and that his name was Cartaphilus, a Jewish shoemaker, who, when Jesus stopped for a second to rest while carrying his cross, hit him and told him, "Go on quicker, Jesus! Go on quicker! Why dost Thou loiter?" to which Jesus is said to have replied, "I shall stand and rest, but thou shalt go on till the last day."

The conflict here focuses on means and ends. Cartaphilus is fascinated by Chise, a magical being doomed to die while he is doomed to live. A supernatural Dr. Frankenstein, he schemes to graft her body into his and absorb its nature. He does not care how many innocents are sacrificed along the way.

Elias, likewise, will do anything to protect Chise, except Chise cannot allow him to do anything, to become a mirror image of Cartaphilus. Ruth (Chise's canine familiar) wryly observes that the relationship has shifted from Elias teaching Chise how to be a mage to Chise teaching Elias how to be an human being.

This is very intense stuff. Thankfully, the high drama is leavened by the use of comical double-takes in the chibi (super-deformed) style. Another constant delight is voice actor Ryota Takeuchi, who plays the part of Elias like a double bass. Visually, The Ancient Magus Bride is a treat from beginning to end.

It can seem at times that the entire budget for the anime went into creating the breathtaking background art, that often brings to mind verdant Turner landscapes. This is Merlin's Albion, the England of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fused with the Shinto cosmology of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

As depicted in anime such as Mary and the Witch's Flower, Witch Hunter Robin, Black Butler, and even Hellsing, Japanese fantasy writers are fascinated with the world that lies beyond the English wardrobe, and delight in fusing together two cultures a literal world apart.

For example, although she began her enchanted life as a banshee, Silky has become a species of brownie known as a silkie, a female spirit "associated with the house rather than the family who lives there. But like a brownie, she is said to perform chores for the family."

The silkie closely resembles the Japanese zashiki warashi, a house spirit that blesses the homes of those who treat it well. Silky is no singing candelabra but she does create a warm and inviting place where this strange menagerie endeavors to become better at being whatever species of the supernatural they happen to be.

The anime follows the manga through volume 9 (March 2018). Kore Yamazaki is still writing the manga. One of his clever touches is titling each episode with a well-known English proverb. (I did the same thing in Angel Falling Softly.)

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