Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Taiwanese Animated News

I've been lax in posting about Taiwan recently, so with that in mind I present a video spectacular blog entry. Not any of my own work, of course, but a primer in the news sensation that is Next Media's animated news reports. Delivering news to you in 1-2 min long animated truth bullets. Not hard hitting serious journalism, perhaps, but they don't pull any punches either. Here are a few of my favourite stories-

Ah, the Spider-man musical. I don't know what the awareness levels of this epic disaster in the making are back home, but it's something I've been following with an evil relish (which is amazing on hot dogs). Featuring music by professional shitehawks, Bono and the Edge, this 65 million dollar (!) musical just goes from one disaster to another. This video not only sums up the problems the production has had but also nails it savagely. The best bit is when a doctor uses a defibrillator on the script. Burn!

I'm assuming that somebody involved in making these is from the UK, with the Grange Hill reference, but this is another big story that is excellently summed up in just under 1 minute 30, mostly by making all the key politicians involved look like a pack of tools. I especially like Gordon Brown defusing the time bomb and the guy throwing darts at Nick Clegg.

Finally, good old Masheen, doing what he does best. Getting naked, trashing hotel rooms and threatening to kill hookers. All while on holiday with his family. Truly, this is the Hollywood life I dream of.

There are many more videos and most of them are worth checking out, but they can be hard to find with an English translation. Still, the video of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates cast as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader respectively is pretty self explanatory. I like it when Steve steals Bills Darth Vader helmet. Oh, how true it is!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

To Yaar or not to Yaar?

It's not exactly big news that movie and TV piracy is rife these days. All piracy is, really. Every one of us, no matter how much we try to avoid it, has probably either watched a pirated movie or tv show. It's just so easy. Piracy often provides quick and simple access to almost anything you could want to watch. How could that not be appealing? I'll be honest, it's appealing enough that I do it often and without regret. Yet conversely, it's not something I entirely agree with. So what should I do?

I think the main problem comes down to the industries inability to keep up with the digital age. Yes, I know services like Apple and Netflix offer TV shows and movies on demand. Which is great, of course, and exactly what I'm talking about. If you live in America, at least. I fully believe that if companies were able to offer the shows when they air to a worldwide audience and for a reasonable price, a large percentage of people would stop pirating. I understand that it's far from that simple, but it feels to me like a goal worth pursuing for all major broadcasters. You may say that it's unfair to demand access to TV shows as soon as they air when I should wait for them to be broadcast in my area or to be released on DVD. Perhaps, but clearly there is a more immediate demand for many shows, so why not cater to it? Also in my particular case, living in the East, many of the films and shows I want to watch won't even get a release here. So in order to see the shows I love, I pirate them and will continue to do so. At least until I'm given a better option.

What gets to me most about piracy is the number of people who do it constantly and then complain about shows being cancelled or the quality of TV going downhill. We're to blame! Partially at least. If you care about the quality of TV at all, you should at least pay something towards the shows you enjoy. If you want more good TV shows to be made, show the networks that you love them! Buy a Sopranos DVD, pick up a box set of The Wire or even watch an episode of Mad Men on TV (I'm slowly building a back catalogue of my favourites, sitting at home, still wrapped in plastic). I'm not telling you to stop, as I certainly won't, but do a bit at least. That way the best shows can continue to flourish or at least finish as they were meant to and we can continue enjoying quality entertainment for years to come. Just don't moan at me when you don't buy anything and we're watching endless reiterations of CSI. CSI: Belfast, anyone?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Maddest Man

TV is going through a revolution. Over the past 10-15 years, we've had some shows that have redefined the medium and really embraced the potential of the long form nature of a TV show. The Sopranos is probably the most famous breakthrough and the one that everyone has heard of. Rightly so, as it was a compelling, brilliant piece of drama. It's importance in shaping the high quality TV we see today is key, particularly in regard to HBO's output. It makes sense that one of the head writers (Matthew Weiner) of Sopranos would be driving force behind Mad Men - it feels like a natural evolution of that show in terms of pace and character.

An evolution, but a bigger risk too. The Sopranos had the appealing hook of the mafia lifestyle to draw in potential viewers and was able to carve an audience from those who tuned in for the tits and violence and those who watched for the characters and storyline. Mad Men is aimed squarely at the later, those concerned with character and story. Sadly regarded as the smaller, niche audience.

Anyway, Mad Men is about an advertising agency called, Sterling Cooper, set in the 60's, and deals with relationships of the people working for and connected to the agency. It delves into the issues and attitudes of the time, without focusing on them, using the whole setting as a springboard to tell a story about,well, people: Their fears, hopes, desires, relationships, problems and how they make their way through life.

The key to all of this is the characters. Don Draper is usually regarded as the lead, the marketing wizard who is the secret to much of Sterling Coopers success. Peggy Olsen, however, is just as important and it's her rise from secretary to copywriter that has really provided the whole show with much of its impetuous. If you could say this show had any sort of traditional impetuous. Which is probably both the best thing and worst thing about the show.

Because Mad Men is slow; very slow. It's not going to rush to get it's point across or to force a dramatic ending just because this weeks episode has finished. It's not going to hammer you over the head with large unsubtle hints as to peoples motivations or emotions. Which is what makes it so good. Mad Men wants you to get to know these characters. It wants you to understand their motivations and emotions for yourself. It wants you to pay attention! It's interested in what drives real people and how they deal with what life throws at them. Something you just can't say about the augmented reality that most entertainment provides.

Which is fine, of course. People don't want to have to deal with real life, for the most part. You get enough of that at work. Many, many shows cater for this way of thinking and will continue to do so. But they'll always be lacking. They'll never be able to tell a story with a sentence or make you laugh with look. They'll never be able to make you cry with a flawless moment of silence. Of course, it's difficult to adjust to something this subtle considering what we've all grown up with. We're used to our story telling in broad strokes, with easy to understand motives and clearly defined roles. Mad Men is told in fine, subtle brush strokes and is defined not by an ongoing narrative drive, but by the characters who inhabit it. Most of all, it requires an emotional investment, but it's one that you'll never regret paying.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I Am Otaku

For the uninitiated (you lucky people), I guess I'll start with an explanation of what an Otaku is, or at least what my perception of one was. On the forums I frequent, an Otaku was always thought of as the obsessive, normally Japanese nerd. The sort of guy who could tell you the name of the voice actor in that obscure anime or the release date of an early Final Fantasy RPG. For some westerners, it was seen as an ironic badge of honour. A way to climb to the top of the geek hill. Not something I ever aspired to, (if you could even call that aspirational) for me it became something I was aware of without ever really looking into it. I just laughed knowingly at the references I read in games and books. Only in recent years did I think about it again, when talking to Japanese friends of mine. I discovered just how negative a term it actually was in Japan, describing people who are mostly regarded as socially deficient oddballs. The sort of people who take their love pillow away on a romantic weekend.

However, in recent months, I've read two things that have really resonated with me. One became the title of this blog and the other, which I'll have to paraphrase, describes an Otaku in a different way. It talks about them as people who are only able to deal with and understand things by first researching and learning about them. They are driven by curiosity and often have a deep knowledge that serves no single, obvious purpose. Their curious nature leads them from one thing to another; with a lyric in a song leading to a book, which then maybe leads to a movie, which eventually points them to a new videogame and so on. A constant chain of discovery.

It was like someone was describing me. It made me realise, that perhaps, I had been an Otaku all this time. I've certainly always found it easier to deal with something by doing my homework first. I feel at edge if I don't know as much as I can about a given situation, area or event. I approach life in quite a logical, structured fashion and I think that this has been the only way I have ever been able to deal with things. And it helps. It allows me to build a nice shell around myself, and using this knowledge and research, better equips me to deal with the outside world.

It's far from ideal of course and often means that the things you can't learn about through curiosity and research, such as sports, relationships and life can all feel quite alien. All areas in which I feel worryingly unprepared for. I guess this is at the forefront of my mind as I struggle to make friends out here; something which is compounded by my inability to talk to new people. Again, it's not something I can prepare for and as such, will always be very difficult. It's not all bad, though. Part of me likes thinking like this. I love to learn and know about a wide range of subjects and I'm genuinely curious about other people. It also allows me to rationalise problems and situations, which I've always found useful when other people ask me for help.

I suppose I'm writing this as I wonder how many other people out there feel this way too. I know it's not easy for anyone in this big old world, but does everyone look at things the way I do? Would they admit it if they did?

Actually, while I was preparing this post last week, I read an article about geek culture which came to the conclusion that we are living in a world were everyone is an Otaku about something. The proliferation of the internet and the information contained within means you're a mouse click away from anything you could ever want to know. Instant Otaku's. I think the article missed the point somewhat and I don't think it comes close to nailing the true essence of what an Otaku is – someone who will forever be on the outside of everything, looking in.