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The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

The SOS Brigade

After much anticipation, last night I was finally able to watch The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Kyoto Animation’s recent feature-length installation of the popular comedy/sci-fi/fantasy anime series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Set primarily during the last week of school before Christmas, the film sees narrator Kyon wake up one morning to a world that’s not quite right. At first he rationalises some of the minor inconsistencies he finds – but when his friend and leader of the SOS Brigade, Haruhi, is absent from the memory of everyone in school but him, he becomes more than a little disturbed at these peculiar circumstances.

Something about the series I enjoy in particular is the breadth of impact on the world that exists between episodes. Some are very personal, exploring the inner thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters – whereas in others, the fate of the world is at stake and its up to the SOS Brigade to save the day. The overarching events of this film are definitely of on the epic side of that scale of impact the series spans so well. The climactic final scenes had me on the edge of my seat, genuinely unsure about whether or not the world we’ve become attached to throughout the series would still exist following these events.

In addition though, we are presented with some important developments of a more personal variety. We are given some insight into feelings of Kyon and Yuki, about the what they’ve been through since high-school began earlier in the year, how it has affected them and what his friends and experiences are worth to Kyon. As a result, the tone of much of the film is rather dark, but there are still some classic outrageous moments to enjoy when Haruhi is given the opportunity to provide them.

The film provides some fantastic revelations for fans familiar with the intricacies of the preceding series. Due to the epic, multi-threaded plot that is woven throughout the 2 hours and 45 minutes of film we are treated to, I was left eager to go back to the TV episodes and watch them with a new perspective on some of the events that took place previously.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya renewed my excitement about the universe and its characters, and I’m very much looking forward to the next installment. It’s a must watch for any Haruhi fan.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

After an announcement on the Eidos forums that the PC versions of Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be region-locked, and the uproar by gamers that followed, Eidos has repealed its decision and announced that the PC version of the game in the UK, Europe, the US and Australia will no longer be region locked.

This is good news for gamers who don’t want to pay the heavily inflated retail prices we are subject to here in Australia. We again have the option of importing the game from retailers overseas, hopefully sending the message that game prices are simply too high here, to local retailers and distributers in the process.

The best option I’ve found for the Augmented Edition so far is at GAME.co.uk, where you can get the game for £34.99 plus £4.95 shipping, which works out to be about A$56. If anyone has found a better deal please leave a comment below.

Last week Nintendo of Europe announced some further details about the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program, including information about a tool they would be releasing on the website that allows users to confirm that their console has been registered. Nintendo Australia has now published the tool on its website, so Australian users that are interested can enter their consoles’ serial numbers and confirm their eligibility to receive 20 free downloadable games courtesy of Nintendo.

Cosmos Black 3DS

The Cosmos Black 3DS

It’s now been just over a week since Nintendo launched their new-generation handheld, the 3DS, in Australia. Delivered to my workplace on the day of launch, I was very excited to have one of my very own and spent my lunch break preparing it for use, which mainly involved applying a screen protector to the touch screen. I found it much easier to apply the screen protector to the 3DS’s sunken screen than to something like an iPhone, as it just slotted into place and there wasn’t much room to go wrong.

The unit itself looks like a beefed up DSi, with a whole lot of extra stuff everywhere you look. It of course features a 3D camera facing outwards, consisting of two lenses spaced slightly outside the unit’s centre. The power switch is now on the inside-top surface of the clamshell’s base. It took my a few moments to find it there, despite it probably being quite obvious to anyone who wasn’t used to switching a DS on from the side. It took me a little while to get used to the stylus returning to the rear of the unit, as it was with the original DS, but when I went back to play my DS Lite, I knew that I’d adjusted because I went to pull out the stylus from the back out of habit.

When I first tried to plug in my pair of Klipsch Image S4i headset, which was designed for iPhone, I was concerned that the plug didn’t fit. It actually took a little more force than I was used to in order to get them slotted in correctly, but once I did, they worked perfectly.

Despite the new appearance and layout of the unit, it’s the all new 3D games and applications that are the most exciting things about this launch. The 3DS comes loaded with a number of fun and interesting applications. The first one I tried was of course the obligatory Mii Maker. I wasn’t very happy with the Mii that was automatically created for me using the 3DSs inward-facing camera, so I created one from scratch and away he went to the Mii Plaza, eagerly awaiting to meet other Miis via the 3DS’s new StreetPass technology.

StreetPass is an interface that developers can use to exchange data with other 3DS consoles a user might happen to travel past while the system is in standby mode. It’s a step up from similar technology of the previous generation, where implementations were application-specific, and the application in question had to be running on both consoles as they come in contact for there to be any effect. On the 3DS the exchange can happen any time the unit is in standby mode, no matter which application is currently running (unless it’s a DS game for some reason).

Face Raiders is a fun little game where users can take a photo of someone and the game transforms the subject into a menacing head, set to a 3D, interactive background of the room the user is currently in. A series of similar heads then proceed to make an all out assault on the player and the player must defend themselves by aiming the console at the enemies and firing shots at them until the round ends. It really takes advantage of the 3DS’s features and is good fun to play.

AR Games is another interesting game that shows of the 3DS’s abilities. Using cards that come packed with the console, the 3D camera searches for card the player places on a surface in front of them, and then adds some amazing effects on the 3D screen, such as morphing the terrain and adding creatures and characters to interact with.

Even without any separate games to put in your 3DS, there are enough cool features right out of the box that you can show off to your friends and family, who will no doubt have a fantastic time, amazed at this feat of entertainment technology. I’m enjoying my 3DS a lot so far, and would thoroughly recommend anyone experiencing it first-hand.

Our day trip to Mount Fuji started with an early morning at Shinjuku Station where we looked around for the coach terminal and found it quite efficiently. It seemed as though we were getting pretty good at this Japan thing after surviving two weeks in the country. We bought our tickets, found the bus and settled in for a pleasant trip out of Tokyo and through the countryside. It was getting exciting when I started to see some snow-covered mountains in the distance. As our coach ride – the first leg of our journey – came to an end and we approached Fujikawaguchiko, we passed right alongside Fuji-Q Highland. This amusement park hosts the 79m tall Fujiyama roller coaster, which impresses from a distance and up close.

Icy Road at Fuji 5th Station

On the Icy Road of Fuji 5th Station

Fujikawaguchiko is a small lakeside town neighbouring Fuji-san. We arrived at its railway station and sought advice from the tourist office on getting to Fuji’s Kawaguchiko 5th Station, approximately 2300m high. A bus was departing from the station so we bought our tickets and hopped on when it arrived. The roads towards 5th Station were long and straight in parts and, as the climb became steeper, included many sharp turns. We also began to see snow and ice on the edges of the road. There were not many climbers around as it wasn’t climbing season, but there were still a number of tourists there looking around, at all that could be seen at least. The fog was very thick when we first arrived and visibility was limited to about 20 meters. Of course this allowed for a cool video of me disappearing into the fog. After visiting Komitake Shrine, which lies just beyond the shops and restaurants of 5th Station, and observing the trees by the lookout quickly fade into the fog, we went into a restaurant within the Gogoen Rest House for some lunch. The ordering process was a memorable experience. Instead of being served by a waiter or placing our order at a counter, we used a vending machine to select and pay for our meals. The beef bowl wasn’t quite as appetising as those from Sukiya, but were satisfying enough for a lunch at 2305m above sea level. Before getting the bus back to the railway station we checked out a souvenir shop. There was of course a lot of Mount Fuji-related merchandise, but the more interesting items included some Sake brewed in the area, and, to Alice’s delight, some tasty chocolate and vanilla biscuits. On our descent the fog began to clear and we experienced some views of the Fuji Five Lakes area and also got some glimpses of the black and white slopes of the mountain up close. While waiting for our coach home we ventured through the suburban area towards the outer edges of the town, heading for Lake Kawaguchi. Our route took us through the narrow pathways that separated residents’ yards, which were mostly used for growing vegetables. There were no large fences segregating the neighbours, and I found it hard to imagine one would ever see Today Tonight-style conflicts between them – the town seemed very peaceful.

Lake Kawaguchi

Exploring Lake Kawaguchi

Once we reached the lakeside, we walked about the nearby shops. As well as the interesting “Asian Restaurant”, we found a cake shop. It seemed like a great opportunity to enjoy some cheesecake by the lake. The lake area was serene, with orange and green tree-covered mountains surrounding it, and although there were a few bugs hanging around the water’s edge, they weren’t really interested in the cheesecake. After the enjoying our cheesecake, we headed back to railway station and hopped on a bus back to Tokyo. Alice slept and I played Peggle on her iPhone. Coming back into Tokyo I noticed how good the highway network there is, with the bus maintaining high speeds throughout the dense city as it drove along the raised roads. When we arrived back in Shinjuku we went to a bar for a drink and some dinner fit for mountain climbers. But in reality, it was a typical Japanese rice dish…and in reality, we didn’t do much mountain climbing, that was up to the bus. The cool part was that we could order it from a touch screen right at our table. In any case it was good to soak up bar’s atmosphere and enjoy some beer in amongst the Tokyo nightlife. It was quite a change of pace from our day of scenic mountains and sweets by the lakeside, and the fact that we could enjoy all of this within a few hours is a tribute to the incredible geographic diversity of Japan’s largest city and the surrounding prefectures.

I was in awe before we even touched the ground. The vast expanse of the Tokyo night disappeared into the limits of my vision. As the plane descended, foreign motor vehicles distinguished themselves, then did the many coloured lights of the Narita airstrips.

It didn’t take long for me to be impressed by cool Japanese technology. After we left the plane, an automatically operated light-rail shuttle was about to depart. Let me reiterate that this shuttle was automatic – there was no driver, this machine drove us on its own. Alice and I hopped on board and looked at each other in amazement.

The airport terminal was eerily calm and quiet as we approached customs. Every one of the airport staff wore protective face masks. These may be more prominent in Japan anyhow, but perhaps with the fear of H1N1 reaching its peak due to the approaching winter, their use could have similarly escalated.

After a random passport inspection from our friendly neighbourhood police, whose polite manner stood in contrast to some Australian officers I’ve dealt with, we collected our train tickets from the helpful JR staff person and quickly proceeded to the train platform. After confirming which train we were to board with one of the staff, who was calling out instructions in Japanese, we boarded the Narita Express bound for Tokyo, and we were on the home stretch of our long transit. As the train sped along, we watched the Tokyo lights become bigger and brighter, and arrived at the station about an hour later.

Busy Tokyo Station

Tokyo Station

Aside from the overwhelming feeling of being in Tokyo Station amongst the many people and tracks, it was easy enough to get where we were going thanks to the English translations on the signs. We found our way to the Yamanote Line, a city loop service that helps put the immensity of the city in perspective. It covers Tokyo’s inner wards and a complete loop of its 29 stations takes over an hour. Compare this to the 16 minutes of Sydney’s City Circle and its 6 stations, and you get an idea of the scale of the city. We rarely had to wait longer than 2 minutes for a local train in Tokyo either, which made getting around incredibly convenient.

We took the Yamanote line north a few stops to Ueno Station and followed signs to the Asakusa Exit where some slightly vague directions led us along Asakusa-dori towards our Hotel. While we walked along we scoped out various places where we might get a late dinner, but first, we had to check in.

The Oak Hotel was not the backpackers hostel we expected it to be. Although the room was small, it had everything we needed, including a TV for watching crazy Japanese game shows, a fridge and an en suite that looked like it was assembled before installation.  The bed and pillows were hard, but the vending-machine beer was big and cheap. ¥400 was all we had to pay for a 500mL Asahi. After the $8.50, sub-schooner of Asahi that I had from the Clock in Surry Hills the week before, $5.00  seemed so cheap for 500mL. Later saw them even cheaper elsewhere. We were to come back to those, but first it was time for dinner.

The safe golden arches of McDonald’s loomed nearby, but we dared not cop-out on our very first night in Tokyo – we knew we could do better than that. Our local section of Asakusa-dori featured a number of more interesting places to eat, including an Indian restaurant and a few Japanese outlets. We looked at the menus for something appetising and settled upon a gyūdon restaurant called Sukiya. The meals didn’t look scary and included pictures of the dishes, and the interior had a familiar style, somewhat like a western fast food restaurant.

Alice in Suikya

Mmm...Donburi

We thought ourselves lucky that the menu included pictures, had a look at it, and spotted some potential choices. Before long however, the lone-employee brought over an English translation, which was very much appreciated for our first Japanese dining experience, and an interesting cold drink that seemed like something between iced tea and iced coffee. It was good though, and I came to enjoy the complimentary beverages that often arrived upon taking a seat in a restaurant here.

I couldn’t go past the Triple Cheese Beef Bowl and Alice picked a pork dish, so with our first meals selected, we summoned the staff member back using a button on our table that alerted him we were ready to order. The meals arrived soon after and we shared the dishes between us. Both tasted fantastic. The rice was perfect, sticking together making it easy to eat, the pork had a nice strong flavour.

We keenly observed someone in the restaurant paying for their meal before doing so ourselves, so we knew what to do. This person took their money to the counter and placed it in a small tray next to the register – that seemed easy enough. Alice followed suit and our first Japanese dining experience was a success!

Crazy Japanese Game Show

Red Tracksuit Show

After dinner, we couldn’t help but try the vending machine in the hotel lobby. We picked up two of the 500mL Asahi cans and went up to our room to enjoy them in style while watch some crazy Japanese game shows. It was a fun challenge just to work out what was going on in the games we watched. Particular game show challenges of note included one where pulley systems were set up to fill buckets with water, which would be carried by the team to a water depository with a target level. The catch was that the system required one of the players from each team to insert a hook-like apparatus into each nostril and pull down, in order to keep the bucket, which was on the other end of the pulley, in place as it filled with water. As more water entered the bucket, it became heavier and subjected the players’ nostrils to more pressure. The longer the player could last, the more water would enter the bucket and more quickly could the team complete the challenge.

Another challenge saw contestants standing before a series of windows ready to throw softballs at them, hoping to choose the correct one. What I found interesting about this game and the others on the show was that a lot of the conventions we see in Japanese video games, such as character portraits facing off against each other, stylised displays of success and failure (e.g. GOOD! and MISS!) seem to be a part of other aspects of Japanese culture, and not solely of video games. The aforementioned GOOD! and MISS! would appear as each contestant took their shot at the wall of windows, as some of them seemed to contain gags and others would reward the team with points.

One of the most interesting games on another program, (it seemed, to our delight, as though 4 out of 5 programs on tv were crazy game shows), saw contestants getting up on stage and attempting to cause each member of a panel to break into laughter, as the panel attempted to keep straight faces. Indeed many of the attempts by the contestants showcased the Japanese capacity for silliness.

Still incredibly excited, and with a massive adventure ahead of us, we conceded that it was time for bed. The bed was hard and the pillows weren’t the most comfortable (in fact mine gave me a headache) but we made it through the night, and were doing it right!

At about 1:50 I got an SMS from Murray saying that Powderfinger were playing a free show in Martin Place, so I quickly got up and went on my second brisk walk for the day to Martin Place – the first being to the meeting with Ken this morning. That walk was a rush as Lotus Notes forgot to remind me 15 mins before like I asked it to. I walked along and saw the same Alpha Magazine promotion going on that was there in the morning, and there was some kind of dance performance happening on the stage. At first I thought this is where Powderfinger would play, but there was no sign of them. I tried giving Murray a call but couldn’t get through. I walked a little further and sat down to eat my lunch, but when there was still no Powderfinger as I was finishing, I thought something was up. I got another SMS from Murray saying he was sitting in the front row, and then I noticed a crowd of people up near Westpac and RBA at the far end of Martin Place. That must be them, I thought. I was thrown off because the Alpha event seemed much louder.

So I walked up to the end of Martin Place and there Powderfinger were in the middle of a large arc of business-type people. I assumed Murray was at the front somewhere. I circled the group and settled for a spot on the steps to band’s left towards the edge of the crowd. The music was authentic and of good quality, but the volume levels would have been barely noticable to a blind man. It was enough to know the song, but it was a polar opposite of many a rock show I have attended. Of course this was just a few guys with acoustic guitars and no sound system, so they were doing okay all things considered.

People came and went, some of them recognising the band, some taking a quick look to see what all the fuss was about. They played about four or five songs while I was there, enticing the crowd a sing-along of their hit My Happiness. It was worth the trip up there, although next time I’d suggest some amplifiers to enhance the experience. They were all done by about 1:30 and quickly dispersed, as they were off to the airport to do it all again in Melbourne.

After it was over I hung around the area for a few minutes, expecting to see Murray somewhere. I called him again but again it was engaged, so I started on my way back to work. As I was crossing at some traffic lights, I saw Murray and Dan on the other side of the road coming my way. At first I thought they must have saw me and were coming to say hi, but when I greeted them they looked surprised and asked me what was going on with the show. They were down at the stage watching dancing and missed the whole thing – oops! I understood their mistake because at first I thought it was there too, but it was a shame that they came and didn’t get to see. Daniel seemed the most disappointed. We walked back towards work and I told them about the show, and thanked Murray for telling me about it.

Bad Religion & NOFX

Bad Religion & NOFX

After work on Wednesday it was time to go out and see Bad Religion & NOFX. I went over to North Sydney to see Alice and give her some clothes I’d need for work the next day. We chatted until it was time for her to go and catch her ferry.

I went back into the city and waited for Joel to finish work. Around the time he arrived I ran into some show-goers from Windsor, which is way out west on the Hawkesbury River. They recognised my Frenzal Rhomb shirt and walked up to me. They were drunk and didn’t know how to get to the Hordern Pavilion, so they asked if they could follow me. I said that was fine and we walked along Chalmers Street to meet Joel. I think we went past each other because we ended up each on the other end of the road, but a phone call soon solved that.

We decided go to a nearby pub for dinner, so Joel gave the guys directions using his iPhone. When one of the guys pointed to the map and it moved he seemed surprised. I hope they got there okay.

The pub had some good pizza and we shared a couple and a jug of beer before continuing on to the show. When we arrived at Moore Park we went to a pub near the Hordern and met some of Joel’s friends for a couple more drinks. When someone said NOFX was starting soon, we may our way to the line. We took the line for people that aren’t suckers, but some of the group weren’t so lucky so we had to wait a while for them to come through.

We got to the floor just as NOFX were starting. Alannah was in there somewhere too but we didn’t run into each other. NOFX played an awesome set featuring back to back NOFX classics such as Dinosaurs Will Die, Linoleum, Bob and Bottles to the Ground. They even threw in the obscure Drugs Are Good, from the HOFX EP, which proved popular with many. At one point they told a series of jokes at the expense of the Jewish people, which I suppose was okay, Fat Mike being one of them and all. El Hefe also made refernce to some scratches on Mike during their on-stage antics. It probably goes without saying what they were from.

Bad Religion were on next and I had a wander around, seeing Frenzal Rhomb and triple j’s The Doctor talking to some people near the sound desk. I soon moved into a prime viewing position and felt excited when they took the stage. They played a tight set, with a decent selection of tracks from one of my favourite albums – The Empire Strikes First – including Los Angeles is Burning and Let Them Eat War. Greg Graffin did his usual “cheap seats” joke, which was wearing a little thin after hearing it for the third time, but I can’t help respecting such an influential and long-running band, despite a lame joke or two. Other favourites of mine featured on the night included Fuck Armageddon…This is Hell and No Control.

After a quick break due to someone in the crowd needing assistance of some kind, the band played an encore and brought a great show to a close. I followed Joel’s complicated directions to meet him outside, and we hung around waiting for the others and checking out the awesome cross-over shirts including one with the design of NOFX’s album So Long and Thanks for All the Shoes, but with the words NOFX replaced with Bad Religion; and one with the Bad Religion cross-buster logo, with the cross replaced with the letters “FX” – clever! We then went back to the bar for a final drink. It’ll probably be a while until we get two such amazing punk bands on one bill, so I was pleased to be a part of it, and enjoyed the evening thoroughly.

I’ve known of last.fm for a number of years and I always thought it was an interesting idea. I’d made a last.fm account and tagged some artists, but never went to the trouble of downloading the client and giving its scrobbling features a go. “Scrobbling” is a made up word for posting the music you’ve been listening to, to your last.fm profile page.

Recently I noticed that VLC media player could automatically post updates to last.fm, and as a regular user of VLC, I thought this would be a good way to try it out. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the updates from VLC didn’t find their way to last.fm from here in the office. So even though it didn’t work, I was interested – I wanted to get these songs up on my profile – so I turned to the last.fm client and Windows Media Player. After configuring the proxy correctly on my work PC, the client didn’t have any trouble getting data from Windows Media Player and scrobbling away.

I’m quite pleased with the results of all this. As well as recording the songs you play, last.fm provides a list of people with similar music tastes, called “Neighbours” and rates your musical compatibility. It also provides you with music recommendations based on your tastes. If you want to listen to music straight from last.fm, you can do that through the various radio stations, which compile music for you based on what you or your friends are listening to. After your 30 song trial expires, you have to pay a monthly subscription fee to listen to the stations. I don’t believe I’ll be doing that, but the recommendations are good enough for now. There’s also a decent selection of free MP3s to download, so that’s pretty cool.

If you want to see what music I’ve been listening to while I’m at work, check out my profile or the RSS feed below.

(500) Days of Summer

(500) Days of Summer

Last night I went with Alice to see a special preview screening of (500) Days of Summer presented by triple j, to which Alice won tickets through jmail. We met up for some dinner at 6 o’clock and headed into the cinema a little before 6:30. It was quite crowded by then, so we had to take a seat towards the front, as opposed to our usual rear/centre location, it wasn’t a problem though. We got to see a few trailers, unlike other preview screenings we’d been to such as Funny People, but no commercials fortunately. Thank you triple j!

I really liked this film. The love story between Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel) was believable and realistic. The film continually broke away from many established conventions of the genre and sought to highlight the contrasts in behaviour and emotion of the various stages of their relationship through its non-chronological delivery. One moment sees a euphoric couple enjoying each other’s company and the next, set months later, would showcase signs of their disconnection. Despite each scene being introduced with an indication of which of the 500 days it was set in, the jumping between time periods was at times confounding.

The chemistry of the two stars, combined with some competent writing, saw some memorable comedy, and Tom’s sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) provided some hilarious moments as she advised her brother based on her middle school relationship experiences without second thought.

Clever and fun techniques were used to delve into the main characters’ minds. Exaggerated imagery such as cartoons and drawings (connecting with Tom’s interest architecture) and a phenomenal, triumphant dance scene worked brilliantly, and on one occasion an alternate scene of Tom’s expectations was presented simultaneously alongside the painful reality, to great effect.

I didn’t go in with many expectations of this film, but it was definitely one of the best I’ve seen this year, with a killer soundtrack featuring The Smiths, Regina Spektor and The Temper Trap, the icing on the cake, I’d highly recommend it.