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What I Learned From Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 21:38

The other night, I watched Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie (劇場版 カードキャプターさくら) for the umpteenth time since purchasing the Japanese DVD way back in 2001 (my very first Japanese media acquisition).

Then I watched the dubbed Cardcaptors movie, courtesy of Geneon's US DVD release.

First thing's first: the dub is bad.  It's pretty easy to find that much on the internet.  Mania.com (formerly AnimeOnDVD.com) begs us: "For all that's holy, do not listen to the dub of this movie. Dubs like these are the ones that keep Japanese language fans from giving credit when due that there are good dubs out there."  Like the many user reviews dotting the internet, I share the frustration at the dub's poor quality.  However, I'm equally frustrated at why it's considered so bad.

Mania.com's review, like others on the internet, focuses on things like the mispronunciation of Sakura's name and changing the subject of report card talk from math class to music class.  I can't help but think it's classic missing the forest for the trees, considering: the story is totally different between the dub and sub.

Cardcaptor Sakura: The Movie is a story of unspoken love transcending time to manifest itself among the heroes of the series, eventually recognized and placated through Sakura's near-superhuman ability to empathize with her adversary.

Cardcaptors: The Movie is the story of an evil magic student's vengeful spirit, seeking retribution against the "twisted" teacher who imprisoned her in a book to keep her from taking over the world.

Just a bit different, right?

I suppose I could go on about stuff like how American cartoons require the clarity of explicitly evil antagonists and simple relationships, but I also wanted to touch on the second part of this dub/sub discussion: the music.  Besides the easy gimme stuff like switching music styles from the original's jazz fusion to pop-rock with peppy vocals (jazz fusion wins, of course...), there's the issue of how and when the music is used.  Take the following scene taken towards the end of the movie.  First in English:



And now in Japanese:


As you can probably see and hear, there are some interesting differences between the two clips.

First: the instruments.  After the more ambient music ends, the English adaptation has some basic rock drums for the beat with middle of the road synth horns and strings on top: a fairly small virtual instrument ensemble.  The types of instruments are the exact same in the Japanese version: drums, strings, and horns.  However, the sound is drastically different.  Everything is much lighter, with the low-end de-emphasized and the high end active.  There's actually plenty of timpani and snare in the original, but they don't dominate the same way the rock kit does in the adaptation.

Second: the composition.  The adaptation features a relatively simple composition, with the beat in the foreground and the melodic instruments not executing much approaching melody.  Harmonically, it can be a considered a big ole V-i chord progression from beginning to end.  The original soundtrack is much more active both melodically and harmonically.  Despite the fairly short amount of time it had, the music established a rhythmic motif in the comping strings (one significant enough to warrant repeating toward the end of the piece) and a rather memorable melody in the high strings.

Third: the timing.  (This is actually the thing that made me want to write this post.)  In the English adaptation, there's a fairly long piece of ambient music that precedes the piece featured in the clip.  That piece of music ends and the new piece of music begins once Sakura's wand strikes the card.  In the Japanese, the music begins as Sakura throws out the card to be unleashed.

The following is kind of nebulous, but please bear with me.  I find it interesting the differences in how the event of Sakura saving herself from her watery predicament are scored.  However, I find it even more interesting how the event is cordoned off by the score.  In the English, the event is delineated solely by the physical consequence of Sakura's action of activating the card.  In the original, however, both Sakura's intent and its consequences were scored by the music.  This got me thinking about meaningful actions: actions that have sufficient intent and consequence, especially within a game context.  I've always found it interesting how Japanese game design enjoys playing with the concept of intent.  Compare the explicit obfuscation in the world of Japanese fighting games to the context sensitive face buttons in Gears of War.  The input into a BlazBlue arcade stick might seem crazy (it often is, from an abstract sequence perspective), but many can't help but look at the visual/narrative output as rather clear and considered.  Then you've got strategy games like StarCraft, where the consequences formed by layer upon layer of intentions can be absolutely bewildering... compared to Sega's Valkyria Chronicles, where the consequences are utterly predictable.

Okay, maybe it's not all that much, but I just wrote this post to say: Thanks, Cardcaptor Sakura.  I think you taught me something, even if I am stretching for it, and it's not totally clear what exactly it is.

(Also: I had no idea Kaitani Naomi (singer of the movie's ED theme, Tooi Kono Machi De) released a new album this year, and a remastered version of the movie came out in 2007...  ARGH!)

Random Bursts of Otacracy, Cosplay, and Photography PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Tuesday, 14 July 2009 23:13

SMJ CosplayDespite the name of the site, I'm just not THAT much of an otaku.  At least, not in the sense assumed by most internet denizens.

Nowadays I'm writing random music and working on lectures rather than watching the latest and (not necessarily the) greatest anime out there.  My overall video game playing skill has dropped precariously in the last year as I've focused more on things like: studying Choroscript and: washing dishes.

But then I do random and not so random things like take pictures of Magic Knight Rayearth cosplayers in a national forest and drive 2 hours to get to an arcade and play IGS beat'em ups and Puzzle Bobble 3 (since the Puyo Puyo Fever machine was out of commission).

In just under 48 hours I'm going to hop on a plane and hit Otakon... and quite honestly I have: no idea what I'm going to do there.

All right.  That's not true.  I'm pretty certain I'll do my fair share of people watching and hanging out with friends I've made over the years.  And I'm really looking forward to our pre-Otakon dinner plans at Obelisk.  But what of the stuff provided by Otakon?  What panels, concerts, events am I REALLY interested in?

At the moment the answer would have to be: none.  But that's mostly me being in teacher mode and splitting time between writing this quick update and writing a mid-term exam for my students.

So this makes now a good time to talk about the photo that heads this article.

This photo was taken just over 10 years ago and remains my favorite among all the photos of cosplay I've taken.  The cosplayers in the picture above are portraying characters from the Saber Marionette anime series as they walk the halls of Otakon 1999.  And they look absolutely fantastic.  Nevermind the fact that you really can't see that much detail in their costumes (the combination of a slightly crappy photographer dealing with a slightly crappy lens and relatively slow film)... but forget about that.  These girls are: having fun.  People around them are seeing these girls: having fun.

(And then there's the artistic aspects of the photo.  Lines and eyelines.  But I don't care about that at the moment...)

Otakon 1999 was a hugely fun experience for me, and this picture, more than any other picture I took, represented how much fun it was to be there.

I'd really like to take more pictures of cosplayers: having fun.  Allow me to go ahead and push that a bit to: I'd really like to take more pictures of cosplayers being people in costume, people having fun, rather than simply models struggling to reach the iconic ideals presented on dead trees and LCDs.

If only they'd allow me to do that!  Because: heaven forbid I catch them cracking an out-of-character smile or chatting with their friends who aren't similarly dressed.  If I had to choose between taking pictures of interesting people doing interesting things and the most utterly beautiful drop-dead gorgeous stylishly accurate cosplay ever made... I'd choose the pictures of people.

And please don't think that this means I disrespect cosplay; in fact, I love cosplay and would love nothing better than to show cosplay, the entire process of cosplay, in a really positive light to fans and non-fans alike.

Okay... I guess that's one thing I'm still incredibly otaku about.  I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures of people pre-con/at con/post-con, doing the con thing (aka having fun), and I look forward to seeing all the people that will be hanging out, rocking out, making out, passing out, and anything else you can think of at Otakon.

If you see a guy with a black photovest stuffed with camera equipment shooting pictures at Otakon, you've probably found me.  Feel free to say hi.  If you rock at Asuka 120% Limited or Garouden: Fist or Twist, even better.  I'm looking forward to hitting that game room as well...

(This was originally going to be a post about 2 cosplayers who screamed at me for a minute for taking their picture, but thinking about it just depresses and frustrates the hell out of me, so I'd rather not write about that.)

A Rayearth Photoshoot PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Sunday, 28 June 2009 13:39

Magic Knight RayearthMagic Knight Rayearth is: one of my favorite series ever.  When Alice asked if I'd be interested in being part of a Rayearth cosplay photoshoot, I broke into a big grin and said: "Sure!"

(Inside, my mind was thinking: "OMG AWESOME SO COOL RAYEARTH I LOVE RAYEARTH!!!@!@1!@11111!!!!")

Thing is, as the photoshoot date inched closer, I started to feel more and more nervous.  Performance anxiety, a relic from my serious pianist past which had started to crop up again in my video game career as well as my teaching career, was now rearing its ugly head with this relatively trivial pursuit of cosplay photography.  I suppose it was only natural; I would be the proverbial newbie in a group of experienced photographers shooting a trio of experienced cosplayers.  It didn't help that fashion photography and modeling was never what I concentrated on (always considered myself a documentarian since I started shooting back in the early 90s), and giving direction was far from my strong suit.  I must have imagined a Hollywood movie worth of embarrassment in the weeks prior to the photoshoot.

Thankfully, none of the horrible predicaments I was imagining for myself actually took place.

Why I Don't Like Motion Controls PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Friday, 26 June 2009 10:52

Op-AmpBehold: the amplifier. 

I like amplifiers because they take something and: MAKE IT BIGGER

I like that attribute in my microphone pre-amps and mixers.  I like to hear that in my sports radio talk show hosts. 

I also like it in my video games. 

I enjoy the way that video games take the little input I give them and explode it into cornucopia of heady ideals and intricate details.  If you watch me while playing some of my favorite video games, all I'm doing is twitching a few thumb and wrist muscles here and there.  From a distance one would wonder whether I'm doing anything at all.  But view the output visuals on that television screen and listen to the audio on those speakers!  One realizes how great the video game is, amplifying my small (if relatively synchronized) muscle movements into ballet, cinema, novel, and symphony.

Nowadays, however, there's this thing called the Wii.  I look at it and many of the games and I can't help but think that it's not an amplifier.  It's a band-pass filter.

Band-pass filterA little more complex, right?  Now, don't get me wrong: I like filters when I'm doing music recording.  I can take a sound that's full of stuff that I don't want and excise it, leaving the part that I care about.

In my video games, however, I don't want the game taking my rich, expressive, emotive input and turning it into an icon, which is what I see many Wii games do.  With the Wii, we see players gesticulating wildly with the wiimote and nunchuk in an effort to make certain that the video game properly filters the beauty that is human motion into: the iconic reduction necessary to make video games work as video games.

I like icon.  It's useful and effective and it's the way we humans appreciate and manipulate the world... and the fact that I can deal with icon is precisely why I don't want video games having to guess at the icon I wish to insert into the structure that is my video game performance.

No: I don't hate the concept of Wiimote.  In fact, I think it has the potential to be fantastic.  The rich input that the combination of the player and the Wiimote is capable of makes me think: OH MAN, NOW THE GAME OUTPUT COULD BE EVEN BETTER!  Alas, no game has made me think that, as game after game released on Nintendo's system has seen the player's input be reduced to output more befitting the series of 1s and 0s created by the lowly gamepad.  Swing sword or don't swing sword.  Throw item or don't throw item.  Toggle switch or don't toggle switch.  Despite the burgeoning popular success of the Wii, you cannot convince me that the variable swinging of a peripheral triggering an individual action can compare to the feat of translation that is: down, down-forward, forward + punch.

I guess all I can do these days is be thankful that the Wii and its design philosophy has not infected all the games that I enjoy.  Action games, adventure games, sports games, fighting games, racing games, even role playing games: you continue to have my respect as you continue to push what is created when the simple action of a thumb pushing a button is amplified..

Spectators and Gaming PDF Print E-mail
Written by Vincent Diamante   
Friday, 26 June 2009 04:31

Arcade InfinitySpectators are the driving force behind sports and music.  Why isn't this the case with video games? 

Back in my early college days, I was: a piano performance major.  Not that I really believed in the importance of music interpretation; I just happened to be pretty good at it!  (Really!)  Natural, then, that I hate what it is I’ve lived my life with, right?  So it makes sense that these days I’m wondering about the importance of video game player.  (Right?) 

Me, I totally believe in the importance of playing the game.  The game isn’t just some artifact that is to be observed.  It must be played.  How else would the message of the game be communicated except through the actual play?


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