My R1 Utena DVDs arrived last night.

This is the last time I’ll mention Utena for a little while; I promise.

I’m pretty satisfied with the DVDs so I suppose I have no choice now but to buy the rest when they’re released. I think you’re supposed to take the paper stuck to the back off, since when I did I saw that there’s a beautiful illustration of Miki and Kozue underneath, but I’ve never been very smart when it comes to packaging: I leave the spine cards on my CDs.

The three DVDs come in slim plastic cases that fit inside a sturdy cardboard box with some very attractive illustrations on it. It also comes with a 46-page book that I haven’t completely read through yet, but it contains many illustrations, interviews with staff, translated liner notes from the Japanese LD releases and other interesting bonus material, including a feature on the appeal of shoujo anime and where Utena fits on that spectrum.

Not that I buy very many R1 anime DVDs, but there were a couple of things included in these discs that I did not expect, based on the justifications people use for preferring fansubs to legal R1 retail subs. There’s a strong belief out there, perhaps a misconception, that R1 DVDs contain neither sign translations nor song lyrics or karaoke. That was probably true some years ago, but I think it’s more common these days, it’s become an expectation that these things will be included. Nonetheless, it was slightly surprising for me to see that, based on my viewing of just two episodes, there appear to be both sign translations and lyrics for all songs, even the duel songs. Unlike the other songs, however, the duel songs don’t have romaji; the translated lyrics appear on the top of the screen while subs for dialogue appear at the bottom.

Make no mistake though: I don’t care if there are lyrics. I don’t sing along to these songs while watching; just in the shower. I do recognise, however, that there are many viewers who care about this quite a bit, so I commend whoever is responsible for the decision to include both translated lyrics and romaji in most places. Many people were surely very happy about that choice.

I’m no encoder, so I can’t say anything about the video quality. I also don’t have the R2J DVDs, so even if I were qualified to make a comment about the video quality, I still wouldn’t have much of anything to say without a reference point to contrast it with. It certainly looks good to my untrained eye though. Some screens from the first episode:

Finally, there are two more seemingly small, but ultimately significant, inclusions that I thought were great about these DVDs. The first is that the eyecatch in each episode is included. You know, this thing and the accompanying music:

The eyecatch is important for the mood. I can’t explain exactly how, but things would feel quite off without it.

There’s also the next episode previews, which are fully dubbed and subtitled in English. Next episode previews, if they exist in the original show, should always be included on a DVD. A show just isn’t complete without them. It recreates the experience of watching the show for the first time. DVD distributors, are you listening?

I enjoyed Fractale less than the first episode led me to believe I would

Although my knees are still shaking from the grandiosity and sexiness that is Utena, I figured I couldn’t dilly dally forever. The best thing to do to get yourself back into your typical rut after watching something that revolutionizes (no pun intended) your life like Utena is not to sit and ponder your navel, as you may be inclined to do, but rather, sally forth into something productive, like watching more TV. So that’s what I did.

Some time ago, when I watched the first episode of Fractale I noted that it seemed pretty watchable, or something to that effect. Well, as it transpired, I ended up stalling on the show until just now. I stayed current for only about two or three episodes until I got distracted by exams or another show or Clippy the paperclip or something. I watched the rest of the series today and was a bit disappointed. I thought it was going to be nice slice of life story. The first episode really sent me back to the first time I watched Yokhama Kaidashi Kikou many years ago, reviving a warm, moist, squishy feeling in my chest.

But no, that suishiness was all a lie, a nefarious plot to lure in people like me who don’t read plot synopses before watching shows. This show just had to turn out to be one of those things where the fate of the world hangs in the balance and there’s guns and killing and fighting. I hate strife. What’s with all the strife in anime these days? If the Fractale system had been working properly then everyone could have remained in that blissfully dull haze they were in and the show could have just remained at that nice, easygoing pace of the first episode that so misled me.

Many viewers would be familiar with the story from the manga because they’re not illiterate like me. If they were, they’d have known that the viewer basically ends up rooting for a group of fucking terrorists. Clein complains about that repeatedly, but in the end, he’s a terrorist too. I liked him in the beginning, but eventually, I couldn’t keep rooting for him. Phryne is likable enough, I suppose, but she’s a pretty flat character. I suppose that can’t be helped with her role as the “body” half of the “key”. If she’s nothing more than an empty shell then maybe I should be happy she’s lacking in depth; maybe I’d be disappointed or feel that it was too jarring if her character were more developed. I doubt that though. I think it would make the show more captivating. She’s certainly nice to look at though. Nobody can deny that that helps make more tolerable a boring character about whom the best you can muster up are lukewarm feelings.

『ウテナ』の冬芽のように「俺のハートに火を付けた」って言えるほど面白い性格じゃないが、やや魅力的なキャラクタです。

I suppose it’s my fault, as usual, for watching a show without knowing anything about it beforehand. This is the modern day equivalent of channel surfing and watching whatever happens to be on blindly. When I was a kid I’d sometimes choose a random number and tune to the TV station that matched or was closest to that number if there was no exact match. If that’s the level of refinement I have when it comes to determining which media to inhale, then it serves me right for being frequently disappointed.

The best part of the show is the music, particularly the Irish vibe of the music for those shots of landscapes, like the rolling hills and grass being blown in the breeze. Best of all is the Yeats song that serves as the closing theme. It is misleading though; that song just reinforces the initial impression I got from the first episode that this would be a nice, calm, battle-free slice of life anime.

Perhaps I’m a bit of an extremist

but Shoujo Kakumei Utena is the greatest show ever made.

On a kick I went ahead and watched the whole series in several days. I had started watching it several times before, but never got past the episode 12 to 15 area. The currently airing season is boring except for Ano Hana so I wanted to finally watch one of the various shows I had been meaning to watch but never finished. That meant I would either watch Oniisama e, Versailles no Bara, Sailor Moon, or Utena. Since watching any of those four shows would be a major time investment I knew I had to think carefully. Like everyone else, I loved Star Driver for inexplicable reasons, so when I heard about Ikuhara Kunihiko’s new project, Mawaru Penguin Drum, which will be airing in July, I knew I had to finish watching Utena before that. It didn’t hurt that I already knew that the show was ingenious, having watched the first dozen or so episodes in the past.

Now I’m neither a smart nor sophisticated person, so perhaps I’m at a disadvantage as a viewer. I know there were many references that went straight over my head. I had to look on Wikipedia to find out what a “Santa Maria della Consolazione” was. Nonetheless, I think this show hints at some universal truths which, if I could distill the material down enough to uncover them, would prove enlightening.

That’s both the worst problem about the show and its greatest strength and why I felt like crying on more occasions while watching this show than I would have expected: everything seems important and profound but the viewer never knows why that’s the case. I don’t want to use words like “Kafkaesque” to describe the show because I’ve not read enough of Franz Kafka’s work to talk about him or compare his style to Ikuhara’s. But when you read something that everyone’s read like The Metamorphosis, you keep saying to yourself, “Yes, this Kafka guy is saying something very adroit here about society or the human condition, or something like that. He must be. I wonder what it is exactly?” It’s like that. You’re moved but you don’t really know why. I’ll make no pretense of understanding anything that happened in the show. I will recommend this show to everyone I meet, but if they ask me, “Well, if the show is so great, why don’t you give me a plot synopsis?” I’d be at a loss. Let’s see, there’s a mysterious student council that secretly manipulates the whole school, something about the End of the World, duels, roses, princes on white horses, and arena rock. Sounds like a masterpiece, right?

Well, it really is. A good strategy to secure the viewer who is hanging on the threshold between “keep watching” and “drop” is to open with a bit of the meromero factor: i.e. make them turn to mush. That’s what this show does and it does it well. I wasn’t on the edge, but if I had been, introducing Utena to the viewer through the fairy-tale narrative of her meeting with her prince and vowing to become one herself following the deaths of her parents as a little girl, juxtaposed with scenes of her cleaning everyone’s clocks in basketball sends the viewer head over heels for her immediately. The viewer sees her in her boys uniform immediately, sees her get chewed out for it, sees her popularity with the other girls and hears her called “like a boy”. Introductions are accomplished succinctly. From here on out it’s a beeline for the surreal stuff that the viewers who weren’t on the fence came to see in the first place.

This is where it gets confusing though: within the first ten minutes of the show. It stays that way too. What’s all this “bara no hanayome” stuff? Who is Anthy and why is she “engaged” to Utena? I don’t know how to describe the feelings or thoughts that went through my head the first time I saw the stair climbing scene to the duel area and heard the theme “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku”. Every time thereafter that this imagery was repeated, however, it never failed to give me chills.

Again, it’s a mysterious effect that this show, the repeated imagery in particular, has on the viewer. The viewer starts to think, “Hmm, could it be, after all, that this show is…formulaic?

No. Well, not in a bad way, at least. I watch House on TV. House and Utena are two very different shows, but they have one important aspect in common. House starts at 8:00 pm. At around 8:30 Dr. House and his team think they’ve figured out what the ailment the patient suffers from is called and how to treat it. Of course, the viewer knows that they are wrong; there’s still 30 minutes before the show ends so he can’t be correct yet. At 8:48 House is in the middle of some unrelated task, stops, stares straight ahead, gets a funny look in his eye, the music changes and the viewer knows he’s figured out what’s really wrong with the patient. This happens in every episode but it doesn’t make the show any less fun to watch. Utena has this effect on the viewer as well, but it’s done in an even more satisfying way that in House.

In Utena the episode begins and we have some background story about whichever character is getting a turn in the spotlight today. The apprehension builds throughout the first half of the episode. Perhaps there are a few moments of comic relief, but the trend is mounting tension. In the second half the main conflict builds until it reaches a critical mass at around the 17 minute mark. At this point the silhouette “kashira kashira” chorus appears and says something that, like all of the allegorical and symbolic elements of the show, is both germane and yet somehow completely abstruse and never quite as decipherable as you’d like it to be

At this point your chest is tight, your knuckles are white, wrapped around the arms of your chair and your heart is beating so quickly you feel it’s about to burst through your ribcage. Just when you can’t take it any longer you see the forest behind the school, “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” begins to play, the familiar imagery comes out and you experience an unsurpassed catharsis.

This is all well and good, but what is the show about? Of course, I don’t really know. There are some prominent themes and maybe the case could be made that is has a continuous plot, but I can’t adequately encapsulate it in words. There are a lot of well-known anime motifs in this show, one of the most recognizable being the student council. They’re elite, they’re pretty, and they’re powerful. There’s also a characteristic absence of adults. Akio is an adult, I suppose, and there’s the teacher who scolds Utena for wearing a boys uniform, but adults don’t play much of a role in the overall story. In fact, I think that’s one of the themes. The prince that Utena looks up to tells her not to lose her nobility even when she becomes an adult. Akio loses his nobility when he becomes an adult. He seemed like an alright sort of person as a youngster. He saved Utena, didn’t he? Were the writers taking a page out of Wordsworth and saying that adults=bad, unimaginative, selfish creatures who have lost sight of the valuable things in life along with their sense of wonderment and innocence? Bah, that’s what happens when you think about any single phenomenon in the show; you thing you’re getting somewhere understanding the significance, the “message” behind it, but then things get muddled and you don’t know what’s allegory, what’s sarcasm, what’s satirical, what’s metaphor or what’s reality anymore. Perhaps adults just don’t understand. It’s even in the song. 「これ以上話をしてもあなたには見えない。昔の話にすがる大人には言い訳が似合う。」ってところ

A lot of viewers seem to call this a “yuri” show. I don’t know about that. I’m going to have to watch the series again one day for a better perspective, but I don’t think that lesbianism is such a big theme of the show itself. I think that viewers certainly like projecting lesbian themes onto the show and interpreting things as confirmation of those projections, but I just don’t see much of it. I think that what people are viewing as lesbianism is more about the seeming rigidity of gender role mores contrasted with the actual fluidity of gender identities and roles that constitute a continuum, rather than a dichotomy. The relationship between Anthy and Utena is not really lesbian. There’s nothing in the show that can’t be interpreted symbolically. In one of the songs played during some duel or other there are some lyrics referring to the anima and animus. I think it’s more useful to look at Anthy and Utena in these terms, respectively. The idea that Anthy and Utena are two sides of a single character is also conveyed, to some extent, in the bed they sleep in in Akio’s apartment and when they lie down in it, their silhouettes first melting into and then moving past each other. Of course, that’s about as far as I got in my thinking on my first complete viewing of the series. If I try to go any farther, such as wondering, “What is the show saying about gender? Is it saying the categories into which we assign people, without consent, are too inflexible? too proscriptive?” I end up losing track of my thoughts. One thing that’s made abundantly clear is that these categories do shape our social interactions and have consequences that are not always immediately apparent. I think this bit is symbolized by Anthy, Bara no Hanayome, being trapped in that sword-filled prison-ish thingy

Of course, if Anthy is the girly one and she’s imprisoned, as it were, doesn’t that mean that the show is making a normative statement? Don’t you then have to interpret her imprisonment as an indictment of Utena for not being “girly” enough? Of course, the show is certainly not saying that — all of Utena’s qualities are celebrated, both “feminine” and otherwise — but the anima/animus symbolism might lead you in that direction, which is just another reason why this show is so confusing. You can read anything allegorically, but even when you do, different people will come up with different allegories. I will watch this series again and I’m sure I’ll come up with some completely different ideas.

Speaking of watching it again, I will probably buy the DVDs. I’m poor and fundamentally a pirate; I rarely buy DVDs, especially anime. I don’t like buying R1 DVDs because I feel like it’s not much better than buying those Malaysian DVDs with English, Chinese and Malay subs. If I’m going to buy a DVD or Blu Ray I’ll buy the Japanese release. I buy media on disc not because I will watch from the disc — I rarely buy anything I haven’t seen — I buy it because I like it and will proudly put it on my shelf, rather than in a box in a closet, like I do with all the rubbish shows and movies I’m embarrassed I own. That’s why I feel conflicted about buying the new R1 DVDs that came out on June 7. But the Japanese DVDs are just absurdly expensive, even as far as Japanese DVDs go. If there are going to be three box sets of Utena released here in NA and each is about USD 40 it means I’ll be spending quite a bit of money for something that I only want to own as a symbol of how much I like the show. Still, I do sometimes buy multiple physical copies of novels if I like them enough. In other words, this is not completely out of the ordinary for me. I’m still not sure though that I want to spend up to USD 120 on DVDs of a show that I already have on an HDD. I probably will though. I’ll feel guilty if I don’t. At least I already own the R2J DVD of the movie so I won’t feel tempted to buy that over again.

This show is not as deadly serious as it can feel sometimes. There are moments of comic relief in most episodes and there’s even an animal mascot, Chu-chu.

There are couple of what can only properly be referred to as gag episodes. Luckily, they all focus on my favourite character, Kiryuu Nanami. Even these episodes are surreal and, though they are sufficiently different in mood so that the viewer takes them in a different light from the rest of the episodes, there’s still something very affecting about them. The episode in which Nanami, so entranced by what she mistakes for a fashionable brand name, prances about sporting a cow bell, ultimately turning into a cow in mind, body, and even speech is, admittedly, pretty silly, but I enjoyed it.

Nanami is my favourite student council member, followed by Jury and Miki. Jury should have gotten another episode. The only opportunity the viewer had to get to know her intimately were the episodes about the fencing captain Ruka. On the other hand, Miki was featured prominently in several episodes and so was Nanami. The cutest bit of the whole series for me was the episode in which Nanami believes she has lain an egg and secretly cares for it. I nearly melted when she realises that she can’t ask anyone for advice because it’s possible that all the other girls have already been laying eggs for a long time and that she, laying her first egg at this stage, would be made fun of as a late bloomer.

Ahhh ~ why can’t I have an imouto like Nanami?

I loved this show. They sure don’t make ‘em like they used to. Although my head is still spinning from the enigmatic plot and symbolism, one final thing that I can say with confidence is that the music is every bit as important a part of this show as the artwork, dialogue and voice actors. It’s got one of the most distinctive sound tracks of any show I’ve ever seen and, although I mentioned that the song “Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku” gives me the chills, many of the other themes also give me the goosebumps. The song called “Akio car” on the soundtrack is just great. This is the song played during the scenes in which Akio is driving that freaky sportscar, showing people the sekais they nozomu. Hearing it makes me feel like I’m in that strange, dark, streetlight-lined roadway that seems to continue forever but never gets anywhere. I’d buy the soundtrack collection as well if it weren’t USD1400.

I’m not sure I have anything more that I can coherently express in proper sentences about the show at the moment, so here are some more pictures of scenery and Nanami:

Best mouse in the world? Or best mouse in the universe?

The Logitech MX310 is, without any semblance of doubt, the best mouse I’ve ever used.

I’ve always had a problem finding mice I like. I think I have larger than average hands or something, since my most frequent problem with mice is that they have too small a surface area. If the body of the mouse is too small, what ends up happening is that the buttons are too close to where my palm would naturally rest, so I end up having to bend my knuckles at an unnaturally sharp angle, which is uncomfortable. I use my index finger for the left button and my middle finger for the right button, so the knuckles on these two fingers should only have to bend slightly to operate the buttons. The index and middle fingers should be almost straight. Ideally, if you ask me, the buttons on a mouse should be situated so that your knuckles bend at a very gentle 150 degree angle or so.

The Logitech MX310 is long enough so that this is exactly what happens naturally to my hands. It’s also got an attractive color scheme and six configurable buttons: standard right and left, one on the right side, one on the left side, one just below the scroll wheel and finally, the scroll wheel itself, which serves as a button.

I’m fairly certain that the mouse is no longer being manufactured. When it was still in production though, I believe it was marketed as a “gaming mouse”. The type of gaming I do on the computer doesn’t require a fancy mouse, so I don’t actually care all that much about the configurable buttons or how its precision will help me to get a headshot. No, what I like most about it is its weight. There’s just the right amount of resistance when you move it around. It has a very smooth feel when used with a mousepad. I’ve never used another mouse with such a satisfying degree of inertia.

How did I discover this unsurpassed mouse? By accident, of course. Prior to my discovery of the MX310, I had been using Dell 0D1161 mice. You know, these office surplus ones:

Despite their ubiquity, these are pretty good mice. As I said, I don’t actually care about the six buttons on the MX310 — that’s not why I love it so much — so the fact that there are only three buttons on the Dell mice doesn’t bother me. These Dell mice match the MX310 in every respect except for weight. The Dell mice are not too light, but, ideally, they should be slightly heavier. The MX310 is a bit heavier than the Dell mice and, in my opinion, the perfect weight.

Those Dell mice stop working after a relatively short while. I suppose they’re not really made to last. I’ve gone through four of them in as many years. I buy them on eBay several at a time. One day, when another mouse broke and I was down to my last spare, I placed an order for three more of those Dell mice so that I would have them in stockpile, ready to be swapped into service as soon as needed. When the package arrived, instead of three 0D1161 mice (or whatever they’re actually called) I found a single Logitech MX310. I contacted the seller, who acknowledged his mistake and immediately sent out the three correct mice that I had ordered. He told me not to bother sending him back the MX310. That was a fateful bit of apathy on his part, because if it weren’t for that eBay seller, I never would have had an opportunity to use the MX310.

Even once the three 0D1161 mice arrived I didn’t put them into service; I used the MX310 until it stopped working properly. After some time it would intermittently stop responding. Eventually it got to the point where I’d have to unplug it and then reconnect it every minute or so. In other words, it became unusable, as inevitably happens with mice. I didn’t get rid of it though; I just dumped it in my huge box of broken electronics and computer components that, for various reasons, I hadn’t yet disposed of properly.

Since then, I’ve been using those three 0D1161 mice. That is, until a week or two ago when the last one of them that remained stopped working. Since I needed a replacement, I decided that I would try to replace the beloved MX310. I bought one cheaply on eBay for USD20, compared to the USD40 to 50, which was the price on Amazon and other online stores at the time.

Ironically, shortly after it arrived I found this article about how to easily replace the USB cable in an MX310. I followed it and fixed the first MX310 that had been sitting around broken for at least a few years. Now I’ve got two and I couldn’t be happier.

How mortifying…

I never thought this blog would get “hacked”. It happened though. It’s irritating because I really don’t know exactly what happened. Thankfully my host noticed immediately and suspended the account, informing me that I had phishing files in it. That’s how I found out about it in the first place. They were very nice about it and reopened the account for me as long as I took care of the issue.

It was no fun though when the first thing I saw after coming home from a three hour class with a bunch of idiots in an un-air-conditioned room was the suspension notice.  There is no way to describe the sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you read the line “Suspension reason: phishing site”. At first I thought it must have simply been due to spam comments, which I didn’t think were such a terrible problem. However, once the account was reopened I saw that there were full-blown phishing files in it. That was utterly embarrassing.

I figured the issue was probably due to the fact that I had been using an older version of WordPress, on the assumption that upgrading it would be a hassle. All of my permissions were as secure as can be without breaking WordPress functionality…I think. So I upgraded WordPress and made a few more adjustments that are listed in this article on the WordPress website. I have no way of knowing whether the vulnerability that got me “hacked” –perhaps “exploited” would be a better word– was fixed by following that article, since I don’t know specifically what I did wrong in the first place. I’m crossing my fingers though. This was a horrible experience and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

I’ve been telling myself that this type of thing must happen to unsuspecting people all the time. Old grannies who can’t even configure an email client use WordPress. Not to say that I’m at all competent, but I know there are hoards of people even less competent than me who are using WordPress. They must get “hacked” all the time. It must be common. At least, believing that helps to mitigate my shame, if only a little bit.

Of course, what I’ve learned from all of this is that the only way they could make updating WordPress to the latest version easier would be if they harnessed Clapper technology to accomplish it. Short of that, it couldn’t be easier and I’ll be updating regularly with every new version from now on.