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I am a cat person. By this, I do not mean that I have the power to magically transform into a cat at will, because that would just be weird. What I mean is that I quite like cats. They’re cute, and I tend to have a fondness for works that feature them, such as the one I’m reviewing right now.

About a day or two ago, I found out about the director Makoto Shinkai. After looking at some of his artwork (and briefly confusing him with another film-maker), I decided to watch something of his as soon as I could. Luckily, his first film, She and Her Cat, is less than five minutes long, which suits my attention  span well. (I’m anxious to watch some of his lengthier creations, such as 5 Centimeters per Second and The Garden of Words, but now that I’m back in college it may take some time before I’m able to do so.)  She and Her Cat is a simple, sweet anime about a young woman, told from the perspective of her pet cat, who is infatuated with her. His love for her is fairly innocent, and his view of the world is pretty naive, though this is something he’s mostly unaware of. He is a well-meaning creature, though, and gently narrates to us their first year together.

While it does at some points look a little amateurish, She and Her Cat is a beautiful film, and any rough moments can be excused given that it’s Shinkai’s first release. On the whole, it’s gorgeous, with a muted aesthetic. Both the cat and his owner speak gently, and everything is coloured in soft shades of black, white and grey. I’ve mentioned before how I love stories that capture the strangeness of ordinary people doing ordinary things, and this film does so very well. The camera often lingers over mundane things, like the rooms and objects in the woman’s apartment, and makes them special and beautiful. (There is an achingly lovely depiction of a train ride through the city near the end.) I love the cat’s descriptions of how her apartment smells, and of how pretty she is just going about her everyday life; from any other perspective, that would be incredibly creepy, but here it works so well. In the final part of the film, it is winter, and the cat explains how his owner now starts each day in darkness, in a similar way to how the Earth spin through the dark. Just hearing that makes me envious of both of them.

Being so short, She and Her Cat is definitely worth watching, and its brevity works for the most part in its favour. However, I think it might have worked better if it had been a little longer- perhaps fifteen, or even twenty minutes could have worked. I don ‘t mean that Shinkai should have added more plot or dialogue or anything; I just think that the sparseness of the two would have been more effective if they’d had more time to sink in, and more room so as to come across as less rushed. Still, it’s a lovely film as it is.

Originally posted on The Weirdest Band in the World:

Bjork

I’m sure every reader of this blog is quite familiar with Iceland’s most famous musical export, the elfin creature with the powerhouse voice called Björk. In fact, I think a substantial percentage of you folks out there in Readerland have decried our failure to include Ms. Guðmundsdóttir on the Weird List. To which we say: Don’t worry, she’ll wind up on there eventually. We work in mysterious ways.

In the meantime: Since we live in busy times, we thought it was worth posting this video for “Mutual Core,” a song off her most recent album, 2011’s Biophilia, in case some of you missed it the first time around. Directed by an extremely talented young filmmaker named Andrew Thomas Huang, who has a genius for transforming the human body into inorganic materials and vice versa (his short film “Solipsist” is maybe even more amazing in this regard than “Mutual…

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Originally posted on The Weirdest Band in the World:

Doris Norton

We first learned about the pioneering synthesizer work of Doris Norton when we did a post last month about the Italian esoteric prog-rock band Jacula, for whom she played keyboards in the early ’70s. Turns out she went on to create even weirder and more cutting-edge music as a solo artist, always testing the limits of the available technology to create never-before-heard sounds. She even got sponsored by Apple in the early ’80s to create some of the first music produced using personal computers.

Over the course of the ’80s, her music evolved into what we recognize today as synth-pop and early techno. But her first three solo albums, Underground (1980), Parapsycho (1981) and Raptus (1981), featured some of the craziest synth experiments of her time (or any time, for that matter). Among other things, she tinkered with translating biorhythms, brainwaves and “psychic energy” into synthesizer music—hence the title of…

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A Softer World is a little bit different from the previous comics I’ve looked at here. Rather than being hand-drawn, it’s a combination of photography and text, much like Italian fumetti or photonovels. It’s also unique in that it doesn’t really have any main characters or plot. Instead, a disembodied voice narrates over pictures vaguely related to the subject at hand. While bemusing, it’s often quite funny, though it takes a while to get used to.

A Softer World is a webcomic with a tight-lipped sense of humour. Horne and Comeau both seem to be fans of bathos, dark comedy, morbidity and sarcasm, as all are to be found in the strip. In some ways, it’s similar to the cartoons of Edward Gorey, as well as the Lemony Snicket books, but with the macabre elements toned down. Its title is an accurate one, as despite its cold grimness, many of the jokes are delivered gently. It reminds me of the mockumentary or in-universe camera sitcoms that have become popular in the last few years, as it uses a combination of vagueness and awkwardness to create a sense of slight discomfort. You’re never quite sure what the narrators are trying to say, and you kind of get the joke, but it’s still not that clear. This uneasiness adds to the humour, rather than taking away from it. A Softer World relies a lot on anti-climactic third panels and subverted punchlines, and they often contain an extra hidden joke if you hover your cursor over the strip.

The comic is written by Comeau and the pictures are taken by Horne. While it’s mostly well-written and pleasant to look at, it does sometimes come across as a little bit too trendy, and while they seem like lovely people, I don’t agree with how they put down other types of comics. On the strip’s website, they describe it as “in the tradition of George Simenon’s ‘romans durs’ (or ‘hard novels’) and not in the lesser traditions of comics like Peanuts or anything else not French.” As always, it’s hard to tell how serious they’re being, I hope they’re not. It’s unfair to dismiss the work of other artists like that, and “lesser” isn’t a word I’d associate with Peanuts in comparison to anything. Still, I’m sure they aren’t too serious about that- as Winnie-the-Pooh would say, it’s hard to tell with webcomics.

 

Originally posted on The Weirdest Band in the World:

Photo by heikkituuli.kuvat.fi

Photo by heikkituuli.kuvat.fi

It’s Labor Day here in America, so to celebrate, we thought we’d play you all something that has the power to actually induce labor. Here’s “Insomnia,” nine minutes of crazy from the Norwegian experimental singer Maja Ratkje. Our thanks to our old pal Miss Hawkline for this one. Miss M, when you post stuff like in the comments section, that’s how we know you really love us.

To hear more of Maja’s unearthly shrieks and sighs, check out her website.

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“This is vengeance, and so I am to ferry you to hell.”

After finishing Hell Girl, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Even when I was halfway through, I found myself missing it. Fiction is what keeps me going, and when a story I love is over, I always feel kind of sad. It’s true that I can return to it whenever I want, but it’s not the same. I miss having something new to look forward to. Anime and manga often has this effect on me. I don’t know why, but there’s some quality to it that makes me kind of melancholy. I hope that I never become too old and cranky for anime. It gives me a feeling that nothing else can. By that, I don’t mean to say that it’s better than any other art forms; they’re all equal to me. (Or rather, they’re impossible to measure against one another.) All I mean is that it’s unique.

Hell Girl is haunting. Though it never goes as deep as Serial Experiments Lain (which has become the ultimate work of fiction in  my mind), they do share a lot of elements and themes. Even their protagonists are similar. Ai Enma, like Lain, is silent and self-contained. She seems emotionless, but her personality is not as still as it appears on the surface. She is a supernatural being for the modern age. Ai has no problem with using technology, and the series mixes the creepiness of the internet with the eeriness of ghost stories beautifully. Even Ai’s outfit shows this; despite being centuries old, she wears a school uniform, something associated with modern times. One of the reasons why Hell Correspondence, the website used to contact Ai, is such a scary concept is that it sounds exactly like one of those urban legends you come across from time to time. Hell Girl understands what makes stories like that so chilling and effective. In some ways they’re clichéd (Hell Correspondence can only be accessed at midnight) and over-the-top, but that adds to their atmosphere. It’s almost like they’re confirming why these horror tropes are used so often- because, according to such stories, they happen in real life. The thing about urban legends is that they should be laughable. They’re absurd, after all, and any sensible adult can assure you that they’re not real. But, they still scare us, because of how extreme they are, and because there’s the slightest sliver of a possibility that they might be true after all. (Being the sort of person who worries constantly about every little thing, they terrify me, though I can assure any other sensitive people reading this that they’re all completely false.)

And then there’s also the element of nastiness to them. Urban myths are mostly directed at young people. They focus on young people’s problems, on how petty young people can be to one another, and on what could happen when such pettiness is taken too far. In Hell Girl, people (usually teenagers) summon Ai Enma when they want their tormentor banished to hell. However, doing this means that they too will end up in hell, though only after they die. Many of the characters who choose to do this are otherwise sweet people who end up forced into horrible situations that seem impossible to escape from. I usually don’t like social commentary, but I have to applaud this series for showing that bullying is a disgusting, petty thing to do, and can easily ruin somebody’s life. The media often depicts it as something harmless, but as Hell Girl shows, it really isn’t. I found the first episode difficult to watch because it reminded me too much of my own experiences in school.

The main focus of Hell Girl isn’t really horror, though. Again like Lain, there’s a strong feeling of urban alienation to it, and a sort of melancholy. Its opening and ending themes are both mellow pop songs, and it contains as much slice-of-life elements as it does supernatural. Hell Girl is actually quite beautiful, with some gorgeous artwork. Despite her job, Ai always maintains a calm silence that comes across as more poignant than creepy, and her three assistants are almost like a family to her. The moments when they act like normal people, or show their concern  for one another aren’t done for comic relief, but are genuine and make their characters more believable. It’s actually quite touching, and is one of the reasons I feel so fondly for this series. (Though there was one moment in episode two where Wanyuudo and Ichimoku cruelly taunted one of their clients that made me extremely uneasy.)

It’s true that Hell Girl does have a lot of mediocre episodes, though. The exposition was often quite clunky, and the premise was worn a little too thin. A good few episodes were rather…episodic, and there were times when the characters didn’t act like real people would. However, I still couldn’t stop watching, because Ai herself is just so fascinating. I love her monotone, the mystery that surrounds her, and the eerie scenes where she calmly ferries a new soul to hell. Luckily, around episode eight, a plot begins to develop, rather than focusing on individual stories, and we get to learn more about her, as well as see some variations on the usual formula. The final three episodes were extremely heart-wrenching, and Ai’s back-story will not disappoint you. I can’t wait until I have the chance to see series two and three. Until then, I will have to be patient.

Review: Neuromancer

“The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

William Gibson writes about technology, the future and urban life in a way that is poetic and often quite abstract, enthralled with computers in the same way that others are by nature. He approaches these things from such an alien perspective that it can make his intricate plots hard to follow. (Not that it matters too much to me, though; when reading a book, I’ll always pay more attention to prose than plot.) He doesn’t give you a large amount of context or background information, as you’re expected to read his work from the perspective of somebody who is familiar with all of the technobabble and takes their world for granted. Neuromancer uses familiarity to make the reader feel like an outsider, and it’s all of this that makes it stand out from many of its imitators. The only aspects of it that feel dated are the surface ones, because those are the tropes that have been copied most often. (And Gibson himself copied some of those from detective fiction.) While the hackers, ninjas and fast-paced action scenes have become overused, the deeper aspects tend to be left untouched. Neuromancer might be a thriller, but it is one that is totally immersed in its world, to the point where it becomes disorientating. Like Jeff Noon’s Vurt series, it shows us just how weird the future could be, and how weird our present would be to somebody from the past.

There are characters in this novel such as Molly, Riviera and 3Jane (my favourite), who could easily have been introduced as individuals with unique abilities. Instead, Gibson shows how weird they have become, thanks to the technology that alters them. Molly has computer screen eyes, for instance. Her eyes aren’t balls contained in sockets, but smooth glass. She can’t even cry like a normal person does. Her tears come out through her mouth or something, so whenever she spits it’s a hint that she could be in pain. Case, the protagonist, uses his skills as a hacker to “jack in” and see things from her eyes, and, in a way, share her body. Doing something like that would no doubt be a dizzying experience, and while Gibson only touches on it lightly, he does give us some idea of what such a sensation would be like.

“Into her darkness, a churning synaesthesia, where her pain was the taste of old iron, scent of melon, wings of a moth brushing her cheek. She was unconscious, and he was barred from her dreams. When the optic chip flared, the alphanumerics were haloed, each one ringed with a faint pink aura. “

Neuromancer is like the result of a time paradox. It’s a book that seems influenced by itself, like Gibson from the past read it in the future or something. The descriptions of the arcade, the beach and the cityscapes  read like the creation of someone who has spent all their time reading the novels, watching the films and playing the video games that took influence from this. There’s something lonely about Linda Lee, who reminds so much of the people who love stories like this. As for Lady 3Jane, I read her as an anime character, mostly because she really does seem like one.  3Jane could have easily written the book herself, too, because her fascination with cyberspace leads to her dialogue being some of the most beautiful parts of Gibson’s writing. I could imagine 3Jane reading the whole thing out loud in her calm voice.

While it lacks the maturity of Pattern Recognition, this is still a brilliant work, especially considering that it was Gibson’s debut as a novelist. I usually don’t enjoy action novels, but this one is so well-written that it doesn’t matter, focusing more on the thriller aspects. The biggest flaw is his portrayal of Molly, who does end up being objectified. It’s a shame, because she’s otherwise an interesting character, and those moments leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Luckily, his later works seem to contain far less of that.) Aside from that unfortunate shortcoming, though, Neuromancer is a great book, with enough substance to back up its style.

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