Two Guest Posts, Story coming up, and Month of Letters 2014

I’ve been busy the past few weeks, and I’m about to get even busier. I’ll do another post about that, but real quick, here’s what I’ve been up to:

I did a guest post over at Bill Bodden’s blog about keeping yourself going when you’re in Revision Hell. Warning: I make a confession about Digimon.

I also knitted a Totoro hat, which I blogged about at Nerds of Color . I talked about cosplay, anime and connecting with other black geeks. It also got a mention over at GeekMom, so yay!

On February 3, I have a short story, "21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus 1)" appearing on Strange Horizons, and it will be illustrated!

Finally, in February, I’m planning to participate in the 2014 Month of Letters Challenge. You may remember I attempted the challenge a couple of years ago, but barely got into it before quitting. Well, I’m going to try it again, and this time, I’m going to be tracking my progress over at HabitRPG . If you’re interested in joining me, I have a challenge all set up at the Tavern. (Did I mention that you should check out HabitRPG anyway? They’ve really changed it the last time I posted about it, adding quests, checklists, pets, cool armor. Making a task list has never been so much fun!). nd if you’re not on HabitRPG, check out the Month of Letters Challenge anyway. It’s a fun way to get back into the habit of sending snail mail. And if you’re interested in getting a letter from me, leave a comment below and I’ll connect with you to get your address. I’d love to write to you!

How Anime Changed my Life (actually, not really, but I need a title for this Speak Out with Your Geek Out post, and this is all I can come up with on a Saturday night)

I never wanted to get into anime.

Anime was for weirdos. Perverts. One of the guys on my dorm floor had La Blue Girl and a bunch of people watched it, late at night. It was…pretty gross to watch. And then there was all the comic books he had. I remember taking one off the shelf and flipping through it. It had a little fairy. How cute, I thought, and flipped the page. The fairy had been caught in a spider web, and the spider was coming towards her with appendages that definitely wasn’t what you saw on a normal spider, uh-uh. Then to make it up, the guy showed us Akira. Which didn’t have sex. Oh no. Just an overinflated guy oozing pus and blood floating over Tokyo.

I decided not to watch anymore.

Being a good little Christian girl, I avoided anime as much as I could. Anime was nothing but porn, and if it wasn’t porn, it was violent. And if it wasn’t violent, it was weird. If you’re especially lucky, it was all three. So how did I get sucked into it?

Blame my youngest sister.

Sometime between 1993 and 1995, don’t ask me when because that’s all one huge blur (and no, it wasn’t due to partying–I was working full-time as a secretary and going to classes at night and then crashing to sleep, then work, class, study, sleep, work, class, study, sleep), my mother asked me to stay overnight at her house while she left to go to some seminar. She didn’t really trust my younger sisters (teenager and just-out-of-teenage-years) to behave themselves while she was gone, so I was to be "adult supervision". I didn’t really want to, since it meant me getting up at a god-awful hour to take the train into work, but somehow, she convinced me to do it.

So on Friday, I got up, groggy, and stumbled into my youngest sister’s room to let her know I was heading off to work. To my surprise, she was already up: and watching cartoons. On screen, a group of girls appeared to be stuck in a wall while a monster roared at them. Okay, weird superhero show, I thought. I was about to leave when one of the girls, a blonde pigtailed girl, raised something up and yelled "Moon…Prism…POWER!!!"

And there were sparkles. And lights. And twinkles. And make up. And as I stood there, slack-jawed, the girl twirled around as ribbons appeared on her arms and legs and she struck a pose. And then she proclaimed:

"I AM SAILOR MOON!" (arm criss-cross) "DEFENDER OF JUSTICE." (arm swoop) "I FIGHT WRONGS AND TRIUMPH OVER EVIL!" (turn, pose) IN THE NAME OF THE MOON…" (pause, weird point of fingers) "I WILL PUNISH YOU!"

And then she proceeded to fight. Not like a superhero though. No. Sailor Moon was a horrible fighter. She ran, she screamed, she wailed, she ducked. And when she finally did dust the bad monster (in a musical flourish that lasted at least a minute), it was more out of coincidence than skill. It went against every single superhero stereotype I knew.

"What a stupid show," I said.

The following Monday, I had to get up at another god-awful early hour because I had to go into work early. So because I wanted something to keep me occupied, I flipped on the TV, flipped through the channels and hey look, there’s Sailor Moon again…and they found the fifth member of the team, Sailor Venus. But was she the princess they were looking for? "Probably not," I thought, and went to work.

On Tuesday, I didn’t have to get up early, but at 6:30 I rolled over and turned on the TV just to see if my hunch was right. Of course it Sailor Moon was, which wasn’t all that surprising….I mean…I could’ve seen it a while away…

On Wednesday, I got up *before* 6:30 so by the time Sailor Moon came on, I would be eating breakfast and hey, look at that, Darien *was* Tuxedo Mask all the time, but now he’s being brainwashed by Beryl and…duuuuude….how could he be so mean to her? He and Sailor Moon were destined to be together…

By Thursday, I was hooked.

The following week, the Sailor Scouts stormed Beryl’s stronghold and one by one got "captured" by the Negaverse, which didn’t make sense because you never saw them actually captured. In fact there were some scenes that indicated something happened, but it got edited or cut. I became suspicious. So I went online…and discovered a whole slew of Sailor Moon information, including the fact that the Sailor Scouts weren’t captured. They died. And there were video clips.

…and I got hooked.

This was during the early days of the internet when webpages were still new and strange and wondrous.  The fact that I could *go* online and find out things about Sailor Moon was relatively new. It was like looking at a mirror that you see every day, then one day, getting the urge to take a coin and scratch off the surface, like those scratch and win cards, and uncovering a deeper universe. From my searching, I was able to see that the actual Japanese ending was more intense than the DIC English ending. I learned there were more seasons. I learned there were movies. And I learned there were fanfics.

Before forums, before Facebook, there was the Fanfic Mailing List. It was a community of people who loved to make up stories based on their favorite anime. And they didn’t put up with junk stories either. There were whole threads dedicated to grammar, punctuation, developing characters, making sure they remained in character, even how not to descend into Japanese stereotypes. It was our own writers group, and it was there I leaned the basics of writing story. You could even say that being on that list changed my life, because it was there that I got the courage to start writing stories. But that’s another blog post, which you can read some other time.

The FFML was where I learned about Ranma 1/2, another anime series. They had had several episodes at my local video store, but I had avoided it because on the back it had the blurb: "A romping sex comedy!" From reading the fanfics though, it didn’t seem to be the pornographic show I thought it would be. I finally gathered up the courage to rent it, and was delighted to learn it had nothing to do with sex at all (it did have nudity in it–granted, but more of the comedic kind.), but it had to do more with martial arts and engagements and two kids who liked each other but couldn’t admit it. Pretty soon, I was wolfing down every episode I could find.

It never bothered me that I was watching essentially cartoons. Having grown up with Saturday morning cartoons, I found that I liked the medium. It could be artsy without being overly cute, and you can do so much in animation that you can’t do in real life. Samurai Jack came out around that time and let me tell you, the animation, the storyline, the music, killed. In fact, in the 90s and early 2000s, that could be considered the golden age of animation, both in Japan and America.  I didn’t care I had no life in my college years, because Cartoon Network and Adult Swim was showing awesome anime and cartoons, and it was the bomb.

But for me, anime was what I geeked over. You see, yes, anime could be zany. It could make no sense. But there are other times when the story just sucks you in. I love shows that wrestle with ideas and philosophies and made me care about its characters. And it’s not just me, either. My hubby loves anime as well. We watched every single episode of Full Metal Alchemist on Adult Swim, probably the last great show they’ve done, and I still get choked up by the last couple of episodes. Every few months we host Anime Night at our house–although I’ve been instructed not to show Revolutionary Girl Utena anymore–there are still some weird anime out there.

They say the golden age of anime is over. It’s overgrown with tired schoolgirl harem tropes. And yeah, I’ve grown more selective of the type of anime I watch. It’s so easily accessible, I wonder if all the fun has gone out of tracking it down. I can go on Netflix streaming, or Crunchyroll. I can go to my library. What am I watching now? Ehhh…Deadland Wonderland is interesting, if not a little creepy. I’m watching Ganketsuou: the Count of Monte Cristo because I never saw it in English, and it gives me a chance to focus more on the dizzying graphics. I’ve been heavy into reading Nana.

But other than that–not much. I don’t cosplay, nor do I go to anime cons. I just really want to appreciate a well-drawn story. And with that, I’m happy. Well, that and the fact that I own the entire 18-volume manga series of Sailor Moon. In Japanese. I know more people have much more collections out there, but hey, I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of fine manga. And in my memory, there’s only been one series that’s been the best.

Tsuki ni kiwatte, oshiokyo!

More Friday Fun with Vocaloids

Moving back into my regular schedule of posting, I got some more vocaloid video fun. It’s Anime Music Night at the Cafe!

Miku Miku ni Shite Ageru

So ever since I’ve gotten into Vocaloids, I’ve been getting more into Miku Hatsune. There’s also a proliferation of 3D vocaloid videos as well which are fun to watch. This one, “Miku Miku ni Shite Ageru” is a promotional video that introduces Miku. No subtitles, but it’s fun to watch.

Do – Dai

Here’s Rin in 3-D! This happens to be one of Daniel’s favorite videos. And yes, Daniel watches Vocaloid videos. What’s it to ya?

I included the video above so the next video would make more sense:

Virtual Insanity

This is Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity“. The makers of this video using Jamiroquai’s original vocals, but they’ve done an awesome job of matching all of his movies.  There is a way to see a comparison of the two videos here. I particularly like what they substituted for the ‘bugs’ in the original video.

Baby’s Star Jam by De De Mouse

Pay attention to the shooting stars. This is my favorite Vocaloid video. It’s so beautifully crafted–wonderful use of light and percussive rhythm. It makes you feel like you’re attending a Japanese Festival.

And finally, because you can’t have Vocaloids without being weird:

Pylori’s song

The Japanese title for this is “Pirori kin no uta”. “Kin” in English is “bacteria”. “Pirori” refers to the Helicobacter pylori that resides in the stomach and has been linked to ulcers and cancer. And “uta” means “song”,  so what we got here is a “Pylori’s Song”, a cute little song about a stomach-eating bacteria.

I kid you not. I actually figured out the lyrics to this. Now mind, I’m not terribly good at translation, but the most I’ve figured out goes something like this:

Inside your body there is (a)
Pylo, pylo, pylo, pylo, pylori kin
A stomach eating bacteria
Pylo, pylo, pylo, pylo, pylori kin

But it has a somewhat cute name
The Fast name
“Helicobacter Pylori” kin
Pylo, pylo, pylo, pylo, pylori kin
Pylo, pylo, pylo, pylo, pylori kin…

But it has a somewhat cute name
The stomach eating, wonderful bacteria
“Helicobacter Pylori” kin
Pylo, pylo, pylo, pylo, pylori kin
Pylo, pylo, pylo, pylo, pylori kin…

Yeah. I know.

Have some Pop Candy to wash all that sweetness down.

Friday YouTube Fun with Vocaloids!

So now that things have settled, I’ve been catching up on Youtube–seeing what’s out there. I stumbled upon a very interesting phenomenon: vocaloids.

Vocaloid is a synthesizer program that creates vocal music. Simply put, it is a synthesizer for the human voice. You can program it to sing, talk, do anything vocally. In Japan, there’s a special series called the “Character Vocal Series”, where each voice is assigned a ‘character’, with a name, age, and “favorite” type of music it likes to sing. The voices are based on samples from Japanese anime voice actors. Just input the music and lyrics, and out pops a song.

vocaloid

What’s cool is that not only are people create songs, they also create music videos that are uploaded to the Net. Most range from flat, amateurish pap with only a crudely-drawn sketch, to beautifully-drawn moving portraits.

Below are a few videos that I thought was done extremely well. The music’s wonderful, and at times, you forget that it’s only a program that singing, not a real person (though the voice is based on a real person–aw, you know what I mean…) All the singing’s done in Japanese. And yes, most of the videos below are of the young blonde hair girl, because I like her. She’s called Rin. The boy next to her is her brother Len. Both are done by the same voice actress, Asami Shimoda.

This video is called “Salvage”, and it’s about Rin learning that her brother accidentally got deleted. So she goes into the Recycle Bin to save him. Yes, it sounds hokey, but it’s actually more moving than you think.

This one is called “Kokoro”. It’s subtitled in English, so I won’t go into details, other to say that KOKORO in Japanese means “Heart” or “Soul” or “Mind”. This one happens to be my favorite video.

This one is the same is Kokoro, except it’s done by the point of view of the scientist, using Len’s vocals. It’s not subtitled, but if you’ve seen the one above, you get the gist of it.

This one is rapidly becoming my favorite as well. It’s subtitled, it’s twisted, it’s demented, and it’s absolutely divine.

And just to show that I do listen to other Vocaloids other than Rin/Len:

You can find more vocaloid videos at YouTube. Just type in “Vocaloid”. Watch out though. You just might get hooked.

The Art of Writing Fanfics (Or whatever happened to Home/Heart, LaShawn?)

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from someone who liked to know if I finished a story I started years ago. She had all eleven chapters of it and wanted to know if I wrote any more.

The premise of that story? A girl named Lita accidentally gets zapped into another world, where she is mistaken for Ranma’s fiancée, Kane. Meanwhile, Kane, having been pulled into Lita’s universe, has to adjust to working with Serena and the other Scouts to find her way back home.

To a normal reader, the above will make little sense. To anime fans, however, not only does that make perfect sense, those fans will know exactly which version of Sailor Moon I’m talking about just by the names alone.

Fanfiction–fanfics for short–has always been around, but through the internet, fanfics have exploded into widespread community. You can type in any TV show or fictional character and find a fanfic based on it. You want to continue the story of “Lost” after the finale in a few weeks? Chances are, there are hundreds of stories out there presenting what happens after the story, alternate storylines, fanfics where the men shun the women and have orgies among themselves (Not that I ever read one–I missed the boat on becoming a Lost fan–but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a fanfic like that out there). Any scenario you can think of, a fanfic writer probably has already thought of it and written it.

Fanfic writers are unique creatures in that they don’t do it for money. They do it for the love of the character and worlds they’re based on. So in that regard, basically anyone can become a fanfic writer. And yes, there are thousands, nay, millions of badly written, misspelled, crude stories, mostly where the writer himself becomes the main character of the story and saves the day. (Those are called self-insert fics; stay away from those if you don’t want your brain to melt into gooey cheese.) But for all of those horribly written fanfics, there are many gems that are so compelling, so wonderful to read, that you have to wonder why the writer didn’t get paid for it. Then you remember the copyright rule and go, Oh yeah…right…

All this leads up to me admitting that, yes, I too was a fanfic writer. I started watching Sailor Moon on Channel 26 at 6:30am. That opened the door for other anime like Ranma 1/2, Gunsmith Cats and Slayers. Because video stores were limited in their selection of anime, I turned online to get my anime fix and stumbled upon the FFML, the Fan Fiction Mailing List. With all the stories written about anime, it wasn’t long before I was spinning out several stories of my own. This was during my college years, when I wasn’t so sure of my own writing, or what it meant to be a writer. I took a writing class, yes, but the stories I wrote were crappy, and I didn’t know what to do with them after I wrote them. On the FFML, I can write something up, post it to the list, and I got feedback, from grammar/spelling corrections, to if a character was OOC–acting Out Of Character.

Looking back on it, the FFML can be considered a predecessor to the online critique groups of today. It was an unofficial classroom where I could focus on technique without having to come up with made-up world. In a fanfic universe, all the characters were right there, with their own rules I had to abide to. I don’t think I stood out among the top fanfic writers–there were people who wrote far more epics than I did. But I did learn how to hold my own, and even got a small fanbase of sorts. And I got a chance to do things that I didn’t have the courage to in my own work. For instance, I wrote a fanfic based around the entire album of XTC’s “Skylarking”. Now that was fun!

So the question is, what happened? Why did I stopped writing fanfics?

Well, there’s the obvious reason. The more I grew into writing, the more I wanted to start working on stories of my own creation. Fanfic writing is beneficial, but there comes a point in time when you have to break out of the box of someone else’s world and start learning how to create your own. I had grown confident enough in my own writing skills to tackle that.

The changing of anime universe had a hand in it too. With anime more easily accessible, people no longer having to rely on fanfics to get their anime fix. They could just go online for fansubs. And even the fanfic content grew a little stale. The old standards of Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon got replaced by newer anime of Blood +, Full Metal Alchemist (which itself has grown old), and Bleach. Fanfics of all genres exploded everywhere, to the point where it got hard to keep up on new stories. Nowadays, people go to Fanfiction.net if they want to read fanfics. The FFML still exists, but it’s not the same list it was ten years ago. I have thought about putting my fanfics up at the Cafe where all can read. But why would I want to do that? Most of the writing in those fanfics was horrible…and unless you know the anime, they wouldn’t make much sense. I’m content in letting them remain out there in the Net. If you’re truly curious, just google my name–a couple of my fanfics that are decent enough to remain out there will pop up.

But let’s face it. I’m just not into fanfiction anymore. I just don’t have time. There are a few running stories that I still read when new chapters come out (Sailor Moon 4200 and On a Clear Day, plus anything released by Megane 6.7 or Zoogz. Their Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatments of bad fanfics are a treat in itself). I still watch anime, too. Currently, I’m watching Dennou Coil and Sister of Wellebar, as well as the live action of Honey and Clover. But I think my time of writing fanfics is over.

Which is a shame, because I always wanted to finish “A Humble Home for a Strong Heart”, my crossover Sailor Moon/Ranma 1/2 story. But even if I did, that story used such obscure information that only fans back in the day would know (the reason I wrote it was to spoof the English version of Sailor Moon against the Japanese version of Ranma 1/2). Sadly, the story is just not relevant anymore. The only reason I would complete it is for the sake of finishing it.

Of course…if enough people bug me about it, then, who knows? Maybe I will.