Samurai Champloo and Beginnings, Middles, and Ends

Recently, my dad asked me about what would be a good anime to watch, out of curiosity since I’m watching them all the time. When I told him about how anime isn’t really just one genre but a medium that’s used for many genres, he asked for an action show to start with, so I recommended Hunter x Hunter. That didn’t end up working out particularly well; he watched the first episode and said he thought it wasn’t bad, but he wouldn’t necessarily be interested in investing a lot of time into watching the whole thing.

Now, I will stand by my judgement that Hunter x Hunter is a great show, but in retrospect it was a bad choice for a beginner because the plot takes so long to get started. While the show is always at least decently interesting right from the beginning, it doesn’t start really gaining momentum until the Yorknew City arc, which, according to Wikipedia, doesn’t start until episode 37. Then the high point of the series is in the chimera ant arc, which starts at episode 76 and continues until episode 136. So you have to have a pretty long attention span to be able to watch Hunter x Hunter.

So that got me thinking what would be a good show for a newcomer to anime, and my conclusion was that Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo would probably be the best choice.

I haven’t actually watched much of Cowboy Bebop myself, but I have watched a sizable chunk of Samurai Champloo (not all of it, for reasons I’ll mention later), which was directed by the same guy, and I understand the shows are pretty similar. So the following points were written with Samurai Champloo in mind, but they’re probably  generally applicable to Cowboy Bebop as well.

I think that of all the shows I’ve seen, Samurai Champloo makes the best use by far of the episodic storytelling format. A lot of serial TV shows use episodic storytelling in one of two ways. Either they make every episode end with a cliffhanger (e.g. pretty much any shonen series), or they end every episode right where it started so that the status quo never changes (e.g. Ranma 1/2, any harem series, or any sitcom). Either way, the shows are not making particularly good use of their medium. An episode is a division with a natural beginning, middle, and end. With the endless cliffhanger approach, each episode begins and ends right in the middle of some big event. Thus the episodes’ beginnings and endings are just formalities corresponding to nothing real in the story; in reality, each episode consists of nothing but middle material. With the eternal status quo approach, the bounds of the episode are respected, but the series of episodes as a whole goes nowhere. This reduces the value of watching the whole show; once you’ve seen one episode, you’ve seen it all.

Between these two, Samurai Champloo is closer to the latter approach. For the most part, each episode in the show is a complete story with its own proper beginning, middle, and end (though there are some story arcs that are split into two or three episodes). Once an episode ends, it doesn’t affect future episodes much, and apart from the protagonists, characters that show up in any given episode are pretty unlikely to return in future episodes.

But it also avoids falling into the eternal status quo trap. The story is framed by the main characters’ journey across feudal Japan to find someone known to them only as “the samurai who smells of sunflowers”; the division of the show into episodes reflects the incidents they encounter as they go. And as the show progresses you start to see subtle changes in the characters’ dispositions toward each other. At the start of the show, the three main characters are constantly at each others’ throats. Then in the middle, there’s an incident where one of them comes close to dying, and the others cry over him. And the progression from the start up to this point feels perfectly natural, precisely because you, the viewer, have seen everything that they’ve been through together up till then. The show uses the episodic format’s division and prolongation of the unfolding of the story to make the characters’ changing relationship believable. It’s a masterful use of the medium.

But of course, nothing is perfect, and this storytelling approach has one big drawback that I know of. The series of episodes as a whole feels like one long, well-written story, but each episode individually can feel pretty insignificant. That makes it hard to get back into the story after taking a long break from it, because whichever episode you left off on will probably fail to recapture your interest.

When I first started watching Samurai Champloo, I was hooked instantly; it felt like it was doing everything right. But then I had to take a break for school and whatnot. When I finally got started on it again, it was on an episode about a charlatan who poses as St. Francis Xavier’s grandson (which already gives him away right off the bat since St. Francis was a priest and shouldn’t have had kids) and tries to hoodwink a Japanese Catholic community into building guns for him to sell illegally. And it felt like the stuff I was seeing was meaningless. It came out of nowhere, and then suddenly it was over; that’s all I can really say about it. At this point, I think I might be better off starting over from the beginning rather than continuing where I left off.

Then again, I guess part of the reason I wasn’t sucked into it was because I was watching at a cousin’s house and there were small children present, so I was scared the kids would see something they shouldn’t (“Mommy, look! That person got cut in half!”). So maybe I’ll give it one more try in a safer environment before starting over.

(By the way, the aforementioned Japanese Catholics were portrayed as being good people in the end, which, as a Catholic, I thought was nice. They didn’t have any disillusionment with religion or anything like that either.)

Anyways, since I started on this train of thought thinking about what would be a good show for a newcomer to anime, one word about that. Samurai Champloo is set in feudal Japan, which might not be familiar to Western audiences, whereas Cowboy Bebop is set in a more generic sci-fi setting. On the other hand, Samurai Champloo often has a silly, humorous, maybe even flippant tone; by contrast, Cowboy Bebop… Well, let me put it this way: According to Wikipedia, it falls under the neo-noir genre, and its themes include existential ennui and loneliness. It still has its humor and whatnot, but it’s not as flamboyant as Samurai Champloo. So I guess all in all, Samurai Champloo is probably the more accessible option, whereas Cowboy Bebop would probably be a better example of what “serious” anime looks like.

Analysis of the Rhythmic Properties of “Ren’ai Circulation”

I. ABSTRACT

In recent years, thanks to Poser’s seminal 1990 paper, the two-mora foot has come to be recognized as one of the fundamental units in Japanese prosody, weakening the role of the syllable in the analysis of several accentual and other phenomena. In the wake of Poser’s paper, some linguists, such as Laurence Labrune, have returned to the traditional Japanese model of prosody, which did not recognize syllables as a category at all, but only recognized regular and “special” morae. However, while much has been made of the evidence for the existence of the two-mora foot and how special morae can be used as an alternative to a syllable-based analysis, I have yet to find any source that simply explains how feet are parsed in simple terms. Thus in order to glean as much information as possible on how morae are parsed, I elected to analyze a Japanese rap song, specifically “Ren’ai Circulation,” a theme song from Bakemonogatari.

II. BACKGROUND

The rhythmic system of Japanese is fundamentally different from that of English. Whereas the basic rhythmic unit of English is an acoustic unit, the syllable, the basic unit of rhythm in Japanese is a more abstract unit, called a mora, that may or may not correspond to a syllable in English. To be sure, most of all the possible morae are syllables, specifically syllables that do not end with a consonant. However, there are several types of sounds that occupy a mora rhythmically, even though they would not be analyzed as syllables in English. They are:

-the moraic nasal, written as n or n’; thus the honorific san would be analyzed as containing two morae, “sa” and “n,” whereas a native English speaker would analyze it as a single syllable.

-the second half of a long vowel; thus ookii, which begins with a long o and ends with a long i, consists of four morae, “o,” “o,” “ki,” and “i,” with the second half of the long o and the second half of the long i being separate morae.

-word-medial vowels without preceding consonants, particularly i and e; thus nai has two morae, “na” and “i,” whereas an English speaker would analyze the word as a single diphthong.

-the first part of a geminate (doubled) consonant; thus “yatta” (“[I/you/he/she/it/we/you/they] did [it]!”) contains 3 morae, “ya,” “t,” and “ta.” An English speaker would probably have trouble detecting the doubled consonant at all, let alone analyze it as a separate rhythmic unit.

These morae are called “special” or “deficient” morae by various authors; everything in Japanese that looks like a syllable ending with a consonant or vowel glide is actually a sequence of a normal mora followed by a special mora. Being less sonorant than morae that contain full vowels, they have some special restrictions on them. Most notably, in the Tokyo dialect they are not allowed to carry word accents, so that if a regular accentual rule would result in one of these morae being accented, the accent is pushed back to the preceding mora instead. (The only word as far as the author knows that is lexically accented on a deficient mora (not due to pre-accenting particles like tte or shika) is obaasankko, “gramma’s boy,” which is accented on the n.)

When several morae follow each other in sequence, they are divided into feet, which are units of two morae each, with the first mora in each foot being stressed. The first mora is said to be the “head” of the foot or to be in the strong position of the foot. (Which raises the question of whether the mora in the weak part of the foot is in the “foot” of the foot.) Here is where the situation becomes unclear. Some sources seem to suggest that feet are parsed from left to right, with the first mora in a word becoming the head of the foot, the next mora becoming the corresponding weak part of the foot, the third becoming the head of a new foot, and so on to the end of the word. Thus there might be a stray mora at the end if the word has an odd number of morae. Other sources, including Poser’s paper, seem to suggest that parsing goes from right to left, so that the last two morae in a word form a foot, then the next two preceding morae become the next foot preceding, and so on to the beginning of the word, so that if there is a stray mora it will be at the beginning of the word. There are also sources that claim that feet must always stay within a morpheme, so that e.g. “wakarimashita” would be parsed “(waka)ri(mashi)ta” rather than “(waka)(rima)(shita)” because the verb root “wakar(i)-” and the suffix “mashita” are separate morphemes. Laurence Labrune asserts that a word’s accent must fall on the strong part of a foot, so that e.g. “tokeru” would be parsed as “to(keru)” rather than “(toke)ru” because the accent falls on “ke” and so “ke” must start a new foot. Other sources suggest that foot parsing and accentuation are completely independent of each other. (Incidentally, based on my own subjective impressions from listening to Japanese, I would be more inclined to the latter opinion.) Labrune also asserts that special/deficient morae are not allowed to head a foot; thus e.g. “wakatta” would be parsed “wa(kat)ta,” because the “t” in the middle is not allowed to head a foot. However, while many sources make assertions about many individual rules of foot parsing, nowhere is there a simple list of rules of how feet are parsed. In order to take steps to remedy this situation, the author of the present paper decided to undertake a study of a Japanese rap song to analyze how feet are parsed in it.

III. METHOD

Being curious about the process of foot parsing, I decided to study one of the several Japanese rap songs I had heard in order to analyze its foot structure. “Ren’ai Circulation,” the fourth opening theme of the anime Bakemonogatari, was chosen for this purpose, for several reasons.

First, it was catchy and easy to memorize.

Second, it happened to be the first Japanese rap song I had heard.

Third, “Ren’ai Circulation” is the theme song used in the “Nadeko Snake” arc, and Sengoku Nadeko is one of the author’s favorite characters in the Monogatari series. He particularly likes the parts where (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!) Nadeko is revealed to have gone insane, with half the story of the “Nadeko Medusa” arc as she had narrated it consisting of outright lies; and where Kaiki reveals that he had seen the manga that Nadeko had secretly been writing (“And the plots were surprisingly perverted, too”), causing Nadeko to revert from a raging insane goddess to an embarrassed schoolgirl. (END OF SPOILERS)

Data collection and analysis proceeded in four steps. First, the author of the present paper listened to the song “Ren’ai Circulation” in the following video:

Actually, it was not this video, but the author does not think it worth the time and effort to find the first video.

He then looked up the lyrics at the following URL:

http://www.kasi-time.com/item-46321.html

Then he listened to the song again until he had memorized its rhythm and lyrics.

Finally, he went ahead and analyzed it.

IV. DATA

The lyrics of the rapping portions of the song are provided below in romaji for easy reference.

(Verse 1)
Kotoba ni sureba kiechau kankei nara
kotoba o keseba ii ya tte
omotte ta, osorete ta,
da kedo are? Nanka chigau ka mo…

Senri no michi mo ippo kara!
Ishi no you ni katai, sonna ishi de
Chiri mo tsumoreba yamato nadeshiko?
“Shi” nuki de―iya, shinu ki de!

(Verse 2)
Watashi no naka no anata hodo
anata no naka no watashi no sonzai wa
mada mada ookiku nai koto mo
wakatteru keredo

Ima kono onaji SHUNKAN
kyouyuu shite ru JIKKAN
Chiri mo tsumoreba yamato nadeshiko!
Ryaku shite? Chiri-tsumo-yamato Nadeko!

Figures 1.1 and 1.2 shows the scansion of the lyrics into two-mora feet.

renai-circulation-scansion-verse-1
Figure 1.1: Verse 1
Scansion of the lines “omotte ta, osorete ta, da kedo are? Nanka chigau ka mo” uncertain

renai-circulation-scansion-verse-2
Figure 1.2 Verse 2
Scansion of the lines “mada mada ookiku nai koto mo” uncertain

V. ANALYSIS

Several points stand out upon a first look at the data. For one thing, foot parsing seems to go from left to right starting with the very first mora of each line, with the first mora being articulated as the head of a foot, the next being articulated as the weak mora of the foot, the next being the head of the next foot, and so on. This process does not respect either word boundaries or morpheme boundaries, so that the weak part of a foot can be in a different word or morpheme from the strong part of the foot; for example, “Kotoba ni sureba,” “Chiri mo tsumoreba yamato nadeshiko,” etc. If the last mora before a pause falls in the strong position, then that mora lengthens to cover the weak part of the foot as well, and the next mora begins a new foot, e.g. “Senri no michi mo ippo kara,” “Watashi no naka no anata hodo anata no naka no watashi no sonzai wa”

There are several lines where deficient morae are consistently placed in the weak position of the foot. For example, “Kotoba ni sureba kiechau kankei nara,” “Senri no michi mo ippo kara!” etc.

However, what is much more interesting is that there are also many cases where a deficient mora falls into the strong part of the foot. This creates a syncopated rhythm, depicted in musical notes in figure 2. The most obvious case is the line “Ishi no you ni katai sonna ishi de,” where almost all the feet in the string “… no you ni katai sonna …” are syncopated. Other examples include: “… anata no naka no watashi no sonzai wa,” “… wakatteru keredo.” This syncopation flatly contradicts Labrune’s assertion that deficient morae are not allowed to head feet. More research would be required to determine whether this occurs only in metrical speech or also in normal speech.

A similar effect occurs when a devoiced vowel falls into the strong position, as in “yamato nadeshiko” or “ryaku shite.”

renai-circulation
Figure 2: Syncopated rhythm

Syncopated feet would also explain several loanword truncations that do not quite add up in either a syllabic analysis or a purely moraic analysis. In Japanese, words are often truncated into a two- or three-mora form; thus “animeeshon” is shortened to “anime,” “conbiniensu sutoaa” is truncated to “conbini” (consisting of two 2-mora halves) etc. But there are some words whose truncated forms are cut off in the middle of (what an English speaker would call) a syllable, for example “demonsutoreeshon” to “demo,” with the n of the second “syllable” left out of the truncation. This has been used as evidence against the existence of syllables as a prosodic category in Japanese. However, if, as Labrune holds, deficient morae are not allowed to head feet, then this truncation poses a problem under a purely moraic analysis as well. Going by Labrune’s analysis, the footing of “demonsutoreeshon” would have to be “de(mon)suto(ree)(shon)” (I’m not sure how she would treat the “-suto-” in the middle). The sequence “-mon-” forms a foot to itself, and so the truncation splits a foot down the middle―which, going by the logic used in arguing against syllables, would then constitute evidence against the existence of feet. On the other hand, if we allow for syncopated feet, the problem is solved: the footing becomes “(demo)(nsu)…,” which makes the truncation “demo” quite natural.

Another point (admittedly anecdotal evidence) that seems to support this conclusion is that the author has often heard voice actors lengthen the first mora in a word. As it would not make sense to lengthen a mora in an unstressed position at the beginning of the word (lengthening at the end of a word can be explained by an exaggerated or trailing-off intonation), this lengthening would imply that the first mora in a word naturally tends to be stressed, regardless of the morae, deficient or otherwise, that follow.

Labrune uses the idea of deficient (i.e. single-mora) feet in conjunction with her claim that accents must fall on the strong portion of a foot to explain the accentuation of loanwords. However, in view of the tendency of single morae to lengthen when placed in the strong portion of the foot with no mora following, I find the idea of deficient feet difficult to believe, as one would expect that in such cases, the single mora would lengthen to cover the rest of the foot. This phenomenon is not restricted to metrical speech; for example, it is found regularly when counting (e.g. in “ichi, ni, san, shi,” the monomoraic numerals “ni” and “shi” are lengthened) or when a monomoraic word appears in a sentence without a case-marking particle (e.g. hi tsukeru “set fire” is pronounced “hii tsukeru,” with lengthened i).

The claim that accented morae must fall on the strong part of the foot also seems dubious in light of the metrical structure of the song. In particular, in the line, “Watashi no naka no anata hodo anata no naka no watashi no sonzai wa …,” the lyricist seems to have gone out of her way to make sure that the metrical accents fall on the first and last morae of “anata” each time the word appears; the extra pauses inserted after the second “no” in “Watashi no naka no…” and after the first “anata” in “… anata hodo anata no naka no…” certainly have this effect. However, the accent of “anata” falls on “na.” Thus the lyricist has deftly avoided placing the metrical accent on the same mora as the pitch accent. Rather, it seems that she has prioritized placing the metrical stress at the beginning of the word rather than on the accented mora. Elsewhere too throughout the song, the placement of word accents with relation to metrical accents is regularly ignored; e.g. “sureba” and “keseba,” both accented on their second mora, are metrically stressed on their first and last mora. This situation is strikingly similar to that of Ancient Greek, another pitch accent language, which also disregarded word accent when assigning metrical stress.

Lastly, the singer’s articulation of the word “unmei” in the chorus of the song is also interesting. As I understand her, Labrune analyzes the mora as containing two “slots,” an onset position where a consonant would appear, and a nucleus position where a vowel would appear. Deficient morae are analyzed as having an empty slot in one position. Thus the moraic nasal would have an unspecified nasal consonant (articulation being determined by assimilation to the following consonant) and an empty vowel position, as shown in figure 3.

mora-structure
Figure 3: Internal structure of a mora

Now, in the song, the moraic nasal in “unmei” falls on its own note. In order to articulate this, the singer pronounces the word as “u-um-mei,” in IPA, [ɯ ɯm mej]. This does not seem to be consistent with the internal structure of the mora in Labrune’s account. If the moraic nasal consisted of an unspecified nasal consonant in onset position followed by an empty vowel slot, then one would think the singer would pronounce it more like [ɯ mm̩ mej], with a nasal in the onset rather than an epenthetic vowel before the consonant.

VI. CONCLUDING REMARKS

In conclusion, Nadeko is the author’s favorite girl in the Monogatari series. However, he must admit that although Nadeko is his favorite character, he actually likes Kanbaru’s  theme songs best.

Moreover, the concept of syncopated feet (feet with a deficient mora in the strong position, observed to occur in rap) seems to explain several loan truncations that at first do not seem to work under either a syllabic or a moraic analysis.

Metrical treatment of accented morae seems to suggest that accent and stress are completely independent, contrary to Labrune’s assertion that accented morae must start a foot.

Based on how the meter of Japanese rap works, the author is inclined to think that foot parsing begins with the first mora of the word and proceeds to the end. This process is not affected by deficient morae or accent, but the author conjectures that it is cut off by morpheme boundaries.

The author also thinks that the idea of dividing all morae, including deficient ones, into an onset position and a vowel position is taking the whole dividing-stuff-into-parts thing a bit too far.

Just a Few Kagerou Project Song Translations

I first found out about the Kagerou Project through the anime, Mekakucity Actors. Like I usually do, I decided to watch it just based on the thumbnail picture on Hulu:

Mekakucity Actors

I saw that thumbnail and, if I remember right, thought something along the lines of: “Well, what’s that girl so happy about? And what’s up with those blue lines on her cheeks?” So I got curious and watched it. And that’s basically how I got into the Kagerou Project. A lot of the anime I’ve watched, I got curious about for stupid reasons like that. Like the reason I got into A Certain Magical Index was because I saw the thumbnail on the Funimation website and thought, “What the heck kind of a title is that?!” (Well, technically I saw the title of A Certain Scientific Railgun first, but it’s the same idea.)

After seeing Mekakucity Actors, I tried looking it up on Wikipedia and found out that it’s actually part of this whole multimedia project called the Kagerou Project, which consists of a bunch of music and novels and manga as well as an anime. I thought it just sounded like a lame money-making scheme, so I didn’t bother looking into it any further. But then just a few weeks ago, out of curiosity I tried looking up the songs and actually ended up liking them a lot and buying both the albums. It’s funny because it seems like Jin (the guy who wrote the story and music for the Kagerou Project) wrote exactly the kind of music I like: most of his songs are fast-paced and in a minor key, with plenty of electronic sounds and dissonance; then there are some happy, bouncy songs, a disco-ish song, and a few relaxed songs with nice melodies. They sound earnest, but not sentimental.

Anyways, I just felt like translating a few of my favorite songs in the Project, specifically, “Toumei Answer,” the aforementioned disco-ish song; “Jinzou Enemy” representing the minor key electronics-heavy category; and “Yuukei Yesterday” representing the happy, bouncy category. Of course, there are tons of translations out there already, so if you don’t like mine, go ahead and find another one. Go ahead. See if I care.

I tried to translate literally where possible and non-awkward, but of course, there were plenty of places where I picked less literal, more elegant phrasings. When the lines were cryptic, I translated them cryptically rather than trying to interpret them. Like in “Toumei Answer,” there’s a part where a textbook, uh, talks. And another part where the narrator talks to his alarm. And the grammar doesn’t leave any other interpretation open. So I just left those parts as-is rather than try to layer some interpretation over it. I also generally tried to make my phrasing sound relatively colloquial.

I marked verses and choruses, but Japanese songs always blur the line between verse and chorus; what feels like the chorus never has exactly the same words each time around, and what feel like verses often have recurring phrases. The second verse is also often musically tweaked compared to the first verse.

Toumei Answer

(Verse 1)
In this not exactly dizzyingly fast
daily routine,
as if floating in it, I sit down in my seat again and again.

“So how’d you do?”
Again, as if testing me,
the textbook with no numbers in it says something.

(Aa-aah…)

If you’re asking about my test results,
well, I guess they’re on the good side.
I’d gotten a piece of recycled paper with a 100% on it.

In the next seat over,
laughing sheepishly,
you sit down; your score had been short on digits.

The reason I don’t look for anything outside the window
is because the answer always comes up right away.

“In that case, well, that’s just boring!”
You always look like you’re having fun.

(Chorus 1)
Don’t touch my heart that wants to disappear anymore.
I don’t see any earth or anything anywhere I look today either.
All alone I’m telling the alarm that went off,
“I’m such a cold guy, aren’t I.”

At this point, even if we checked our answers together as if it were a wonder,
for some reason I would understand everything through and through.
So it seems stupid even to whisper,
“Even if I died right now someone else would take my place.”

(Verse 2)
The days that seemed like they were floating
keep on repeating.
But to think you wouldn’t come to school… I feel some uneasiness.

Well, in any case
the test that comes back tomorrow
probably won’t be getting any better either, huh.

(Aa-aah…)

In that not exactly dizzyingly fast
daily routine,
something might already have been off.

Your hair’s color,
your smile…
Somebody might not remember them anymore.

I wonder, how do things look
from that empty seat on the inside of the window?

It seemed like I knew you,
but I didn’t understand a thing.

(Chorus 2)
Every time I stop my alarm I’m forced to notice
that those days that seemed like they would continue forever
if I had only understood even a little
are gone.

In the classroom you were laughing as a disguise again and again
while wounding your heart that wanted to disappear.
Now you’ve jumped down from here and gone away.
But I won’t forget your smile tomorrow either.

Jinzou Enemy

(Verse 1)
“There’s no point repeating a routine that has no dream in it anymore.”
Well, now isn’t that sublime.
You, too, say “I love the unreal” or some such thing with your finger,
though with your mouth you can’t say anything.

I can feel that “something” that connects people that have no face or voice.
I’m sure it isn’t love, though.
And so today, another day ends, but
you just pretend to live, pretend, pretend, and then go to bed.

Though you try saying, “Ah, so boring” and turning your eyes away,–
but you can’t close them–
Say, for someone who doesn’t acknowledge that at all,
today again you’re looking at me inside this screen with quite an unpleasant expression.

(Chorus 1)
I’m sure you know that that isn’t the best choice.
Wallowing in this withered, dark routine must be smothering, right?
If you don’t understand what a reality that isn’t a lie is,
then how about living with me in a world created by people?

(Verse 2)
There’s no point being in the kind of place that would deny you, is there?
Just say “no” to everything else and look at nothing but me.

Though you try saying “Ah, sublime isn’t it” and clapping your hands,
everything is a lie, and outside it’s littered with trash.
Say, after you’ve buried yourself in all of that so much that it hurts,
why are you looking at me out of the corner of your eye, wearing a cold expression?

(Chorus 2)
I’m sure you know too that that isn’t the best choice.
What lies beyond that is a bottomless loneliness.
In the room where you were repeating this routine that no light reached,
the noise of me starting to fall apart resounds.

To my shout of, “I don’t understand this at all,”
you replied, “I’m bored of this toy that does nothing but blabber.”

Yuukei Yesterday

This one came out a little rough around the edges. The words in the original Japanese have way more syllables, so a lot of the lines that sound rhythmically complete in the Japanese sound short and blunt in English. The original Japanese also has a lot of stammering in the choruses–e.g., instead of “mitsuketa taiyou niramitsukete,” they say, “mitsuketa-ta-ta-ta-taiyou niramitsukete”. I thought of writing out the stammering in the translation, but it looked kind of weird–the verses are all normal text, and then all of a sudden you get to the chorus and see, “I g-g-g-g-glare at the sun that I found.” So I took that out. Just know that when you hear the stammering in the Japanese, that’s the chorus. Try filling in your own stammering as you read the English if you want. Anyways…

(Verse 1)
The faces of people horsing around happily
bathing in the sunlight pouring down–
I cut across while glaring at them all
the morning after pulling an all-nighter.

Past all the people who dodge my frustrated, depressed eyes,
stands that guy, saying “Good morning!”
with his long bedhead
standing up.

Before I notice, I get the feeling our eyes have met.
I’m not interested in any sappy love or whatever.
But why could it be? I can’t look him in the face.
No, that has nothing to do with it, I mean… Augh, so frustrating!

(Chorus 1)
I glare at the sun that I found.
Though I try to put a lid on my beating heart,
I can’t push down this emotion–so uncomfortable
What can it be? Such a weird feeling.

Whoa, whoa, whoa–My attitude shows up on my face.
I get mysteriously tense and my voice cracks.
I don’t get this situation anymore! It makes me so mad!
You know, I’m kind of an idiot.

(Verse 2)
Today the classroom is quiet again. I yawn.
Alone with him at a table by the window,
I can’t help feeling self-conscious,
even as I listen to the radio acting bored.

Standing up, I let down my guard
and let my secret out into the open.
The headphones I had been pretending to listen to
had never been plugged in anywhere to begin with.

“As time passed, I feel like I must have forgotten;
that must be it!” (A bit stubborn, maybe.)
But why…? I can’t get the words out of my mouth.
I get frustrated, but not a word comes out.

(Chorus 2)
I decide, “I’ll get it across with my behavior.”
Closing words off, I spun my wheels again today.
You know, if this went on that wouldn’t be too bad…
Pretty lukewarm, huh.

Whoa, whoa, whoa–“You seem like you’re in a good mood today!”
“Don’t you see I’m mad?!” I pinch his face.
I can’t stand that dense attitude of yours.
What’ll I do? Today’s already going to end.

One more time!–I glare at the sun that I found.
“Wait, don’t set yet!” I take a deep breath.
My pounding heart hurts.
This is kind of a bizarre feeling.

“I want to get it across!” I break out running.
I don’t get this feeling anymore; it feels like I’m going to explode,
because before the sun goes down,
somehow, I want to get it across.

Do something, God!

(Pa-ra-ra-ra, pa-ra-ra-ra-ra….)


 

I used to think that music should be able to stand on its own, and music that goes with a story is somehow not as good as stand-alone music. But the Kagerou Project has made me rethink that. When I was first listening through the songs on the Mekakucity Days album, I didn’t really like “Toumei Answer” all that much. I mean, the disco-ish-ness was kinda cool, but it didn’t really stand out. Then I watched the video and found out what the song was about, and all of a sudden it was 100 times more interesting. Similarly with “Jinzou Enemy.”

Aristotelian Metaphysics: Per Se vs. Per Accidens Causation (With Guest Appearances from A Certain Magical Index)

I really like A Certain Magical Index. I’ve watched the anime, or at least the first season of it, three times (the second season didn’t quite sit as well with me), as well as the spinoff, A Certain Scientific Railgun, twice. I have two of its opening themes, “Masterpiece” and “No Buts!”, on my iPod, and I would have “PSI Missing” too if it was on iTunes. And lately I’ve started collecting and translating the original light novels.

But one thing I don’t like about Index is the main character, Kamijou Touma.

kamijo-toma

I like the concept behind him; a protagonist with the ability to cancel out other people’s superpowers rather than having powers of his own is a pretty cool idea. But Touma just doesn’t have any personality. He has no goals of his own; all he ever does is prevent the villains from achieving their goals. Nor does he have any funny quirks to make him endearing. The only really distinctive thing about him is his bad luck, and that isn’t a feature of him so much as of the world around him. By the end of the show, I felt like the only real incentive I had for caring about him was that Misaka liked him, and Misaka is actually interesting.

Actually, now that I think about it, that’s kind of fitting in a way. Instead of having his own superpowers he just cancels out other people’s superpowers, so instead of having his own goals he just cancels out other people’s goals. But still, it doesn’t make for an interesting character.

However, what I do like about Touma is that he is a perfect illustration of the Aristotelian distinction between per se causation and per accidens causation.

So what are per se and per accidens causation?

Well, go and ask any random person on the street what the temporal relationship between cause and effect is, and they will probably tell you that the cause comes before the effect. But according to Aristotle―and Aristotle is right, of course―cause and effect, in the truest sense, are simultaneous. So why do so many people say otherwise? That’s because they’re failing to distinguish between per se causation and per accidens causation.

A per se cause is one that causes its effect by virtue of itself, whereas a per accidens cause is one that causes its effect by virtue of something that belongs to itself. A per accidens cause generally exists before its effect, but a per se cause exists simultaneously with its effect, and once it ceases to exist its effect ceases to exist as well.

Notice that by definition, per accidens causes are not causes in the truest sense of the word; it isn’t so much the per accidens cause itself as a particular part of the per accidens cause that is a cause in the truest sense. It still makes sense to call it a cause, but this isn’t so much because it is the cause as because it contains the cause.

To see the difference, observe the effects of Touma’s superpower-canceling ability, called the “Imagine Breaker,” on Misaka Mikoto and Accelerator’s powers.

As was mentioned briefly above, Touma is unique among anime protagonists in that he has no superpower of his own. Instead, he has the ability to cancel out other people’s superpowers, on the condition that he touches the location where the power is operating with his right hand.

So let’s start with how Touma’s right hand interacts with Misaka’s ability.

misaka-mikoto

Misaka has the power to control electricity. As you can see in the anime, when she launches lightning bolts at Touma, Touma is able to make them disappear by touching them with his right hand.

imagine-breaker-vs-misaka

Nor does it make a difference if she doesn’t attack using lightning bolts directly. In the spinoff series, A Certain Scientific Railgun, she tries going for a different approach, using her electricity to generate magnetism and then using that magnetism to manipulate iron particles in the ground, which she uses to attack Touma. But here again, Touma is able to cancel out her ability by touching the iron particles. This is crucial because in the first case, there was at least a possibility that Misaka is generating electricity rather than manipulating electricity. The fact that Touma can cancel out her ability by touching the iron particles, which are definitely not generated by Misaka’s power, shows that the thing he touches need not be something generated by a superpower; it can also be something manipulated by a superpower.

imagine-breaker-vs-misaka-iron-sand

Now compare this to Accelerator.

accelerator-and-last-order

Accelerator’s ability is “vector manipulation.” A vector in physics and math is anything with both magnitude and direction. Accelerator has the power to arbitrarily change the magnitude and/or direction of any vector quantity associated with any object that touches his body, be it momentum, electric current, sound, or anything else. He can also set his ability to automatically reflect the vectors of objects the moment they touch him. This makes him practically invincible, since most attacks cause damage through momentum, which is a vector; all he has to do is set his power to automatically reflect the momentum vectors of anything he comes into contact with, and he has no need to worry about being shot, punched, or cut by anything. (Ok, I think bullets and bladed weapons technically use pressure to cut things, and pressure isn’t a vector. But still, in order to exert pressure a sharp object has to be pushing on something, which would require it to be moving, so he can always reflect it before it does any damage.) He can also use his power to create projectiles, as he can touch any old object and increase its velocity vector to send it flying.

Now, if you watch the fight between Touma and Accelerator, Accelerator uses his power to send a lot of objects flying at Touma. What’s interesting here is that this time, unlike in his fights with Misaka, Touma never seems to use his Imagine Breaker on Accelerator’s projectiles.

accelerator-projectiles(Not sure if you can see it well, but those things sticking out of the ground in the background are parts of train tracks that Accelerator shot at Touma.)

Why is that? We saw from the iron particle situation that Touma can cancel out the effect of a power by touching the affected object, so why can’t he just stop Accelerator’s power by touching the things he sends flying at him?

Well, look back at the condition on Accelerator’s power: Accelerator can only manipulate a vector if it’s touching his body. In other words, once an object leaves contact with his body, his power stops acting on it. So why do his projectiles keep on flying after they leave his body? The reason is Newton’s First Law: “A body in motion tends to stay in motion.” So Touma couldn’t stop Accelerator’s projectiles with his right hand even if he tried; once they’re in the air, they’re moving by their own momentum, not from the operation of any superpower.

Now let’s look at these situations in terms of what’s causing what. What is the cause of the electricity in the case of Misaka and of the motion of objects in the case of Accelerator? On the one hand, it would be perfectly reasonable to say that the respective causes are Misaka and Accelerator. But clearly Misaka doesn’t generate electricity simply because she is Misaka; in that case, there’s no reason why she wouldn’t be generating electricity constantly. Similarly, Accelerator doesn’t cause motion simply because he is Accelerator; in that case everything he touched would be flying around.

So what if we say that the causes are Misaka and Accelerator’s powers? This doesn’t work either, for the same reason as before; Misaka and Accelerator have their powers constantly, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be constantly generating electricity and constantly launching things around.

So what is there that is always present while the effects of their powers are observed and absent when they aren’t? The answer is the operation of their powers, as distinct from the powers themselves. This is the per se cause of Misaka’s electricity and Accelerator’s vector manipulation. The powers themselves, and the people who use them, are per accidens causes.

So now that we know the causes we’re concerned with, let’s go back the other way and consider the effects of the operations of their powers. In the case of Misaka, the answer is fairly obvious. The effect of the operation of her power is electricity, as well as whatever it is that the electricity does, since she manipulates the electricity as well as generating it.

But Accelerator is a little different. It might seem at first glance that the effect of his power is the new vector that it generates. But remember, the vector that Accelerator creates persists after his power ceases to operate. This means that it is not the per se effect of the operation of his power. What does begin and end with the operation of his power is the acquisition or alteration of a vector. This is why the nickname “Accelerator” fits him so well; his power is not to make things move, but to make them change their motion.

So this is why Touma’s Imagine Breaker works on Misaka’s electricity but not on Accelerator’s projectiles; it only cancels out the per se effects of the operation of a power, not the per accidens effects either of the power itself or of its operation.

Incidentally, this is also the reason why Touma is unable to heal the amnesia caused by the damage to his brain from the Dragon Breath spell; the brain damage is only caused by the Dragon Breath spell per accidens, not per se. On the other hand, the reason he is able to convince Index that he did heal the damage is that since the damage was caused by the spell per accidens, it seems believable to her that he was able to cancel it out. If Index knew the difference between per se and per accidens causation, she would have caught Touma’s lie and figured out that he really did have amnesia.

This idea that causes and effects are simultaneous is critical to our view of causality; if we think of effects as coming after their causes, then the connection between cause and effect begins to seem tenuous, and we may end up thinking that there is no necessary connection between them at all. Hume famously argued that causes and effects are not connected, and the only reason we think they are related is because we see the effect come after the cause over and over again. But if we have a clear picture of causality, these propositions immediately seem ridiculous. To borrow an example from Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition, when someone throws a brick at a window, the act of the brick pushing through the window and the act of the window giving way to the brick are one and the same act. Though we can separate them conceptually, in reality, there is no separation between them either temporally or ontologically. So to say that the window need not give way to the brick when the brick pushes through it is like saying that we need not get four when we add two and two. The obvious answer to that is, “But two and two just is four.” Similarly, the answer for someone who claims that an effect need not follow upon a cause is, “But the operation of the cause just is the generation of the effect”; these are just two different ways of looking at the same event.

The distinction between per se and per accidens causation is also one of the number one reasons people misunderstand Thomas Aquinas’s Unmoved Mover argument for the existence of God. Most people who read the argument envision the series of causes Aquinas discusses as a series of per accidens causes, but what he is actually talking about is a series of per se causes, which is completely different.

… So yeah. At least Touma is good for something.

Comedy in “Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan”

Since summer break started, I’ve been feeling less like writing than ever. I guess it’s because during the school season I had homework and classes to put up with. Since I couldn’t play video games or watch anime while there was work to do or a lecture to listen to, I would have to sustain myself by spending every spare moment (walking from class to class, flossing) thinking about things that were actually interesting, and that would give me ideas on what to write about. But now that I have anime and video games available 24/7, there’s no need to think anymore.

My plan was to write a post on the Japanese pitch accent before doing this one, but then my gosh-darn conscience started acting up and telling me to do more research before writing. So I discovered that my point was much weaker than I thought it was, and that post will have to be either edited to make less sweeping claims, or just indefinitely suspended.

Anyways, I’ve been learning Japanese, and since I’d been reading a lot lately, I thought I’d watch some anime to listen to Japanese spoken aloud for a change. This time, I decided to re-watch Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan. The first time I watched it, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d been expecting it to be corny and unoriginal just based on the sound of the title, but it actually turned out to be pretty funny and endearing. So since I’d already seen it once, I was sure that this time it would definitely be corny and unbearable.

But now that I’ve re-gotten to episode 15 of the second season, I have to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised again. In particular, there are three consecutive episodes around the middle of the first season that are comedy gold. The second season, unfortunately, puts less effort into comedy and more into action of the standard shonen variety, so I find that it loses some of its charm at that point.

One scene stood out to me as particularly well-written.

Nurarihyon and Yura
(SPOILER ALERT!)

The premise of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is that yokai, as the Japanese call the monsters from folktales (among other things), are real. The leader of the yokai, Nurarihyon, is the grandfather of the main character, Rikuo. Rikuo is one-fourth yokai, so he is split up into two forms, a human form and a yokai form. He can only take his yokai form for a fourth of the day at most, and that only at night.

nurarihyon-2 (Nurarihyon as depicted in the anime. Nurarihyon is actually a Japanese mythical creature.)

Rikuo has one friend at school who is completely obsessed with finding yokai. So he often forces his friends, including Rikuo, to go on yokai hunts. One day, an onmyoji girl named Yura moves into Rikuo’s town to hunt down the leader of the yokai―a.k.a. Rikuo’s grandfather. (An onmyoji is a kind of Japanese shaman. They’re portrayed in this anime, as in many other anime, as people who use super(natural) powers to fight yokai.) She transfers into Rikuo’s class, and soon she too is compelled to join the yokai-hunting club. As time goes on, the yokai-hunting club actually does run into hostile yokai several times, and Rikuo ends up being forced to take his yokai form―without revealing his secret identity, of course―to fight the bad yokai and save his friends. At one point he even gathers a band of his yokai underlings to help. Needless to say, this is very distressing to Yura. For one thing, she’s humiliated at being helped by a yokai, someone she sees as an enemy. For another thing, it causes some serious cognitive dissonance for her. She’s been taught from an early age that yokai are evil by nature. So why would a yokai save her life?

So one day, while she’s out shopping for groceries, she runs into Rikuo’s grandfather. She and Nurarihyon are already acquainted, since Yura has visited Rikuo’s house before, but Yura still only knows Nurarihyon as “Grandpa”; she doesn’t know that he’s a yokai at all, let alone Nurarihyon himself. So the two of them sit down to talk.

Yura tells Nurarihyon about how she is an onmyoji, and how she came to this town to get better at her craft. Nurarihyon compliments her bravery in coming all alone to a place she doesn’t know for the sake of improving herself.

Nurarihyon comments that it seems harsh that her family, the famous Keikain family of onmyoji’s, should send her here on her own. To which Yura replies that it was her choice to do this. She tells him that she wanted to come to this town in order to fulfill her ambition of defeating the leader of the yokai, Nurarihyon.

nurarihyon (“Hmm… Nurarihyon?”)

But since she came to this town, she tells him, she’s been in a rut, messing up left and right. She’s too embarrassed to actually say that she was saved by a yokai, but this has been weighing heavily on her mind, and she wants reassurance. So she asks…

yokai“Grandpa, yokai are bad creatures, aren’t they?”

In response to which, Nurarihyon laughs and replies, “No need to think hard about it.”

bad-creatures “Yokai are bad. After all, they are yokai.”

Yura is happy to hear Nurarihyon’s response and renews her resolve to exterminate yokai.

So here we have Nurarihyon, the leader of the yokai, having a friendly chat with an onmyoji―who came to this town specifically to kill him―reassuring her that yokai are in fact bad.

As Guy Hasson says in this Gamasutra article, the essence of comedy is to take a series of logical steps to a climax that doesn’t make sense. That’s exactly what we have in this scene.

Each step in the scene is logical. The two of them running into each other at a grocery store, their starting a conversation, the conversation turning to Yura’s onmyoji work, Yura’s doubts about her mission, her reaching out for reassurance from a kind grandfatherly figure, and Nurarihyon’s response that yokai are bad―which might be because he doesn’t want to reveal his yokai-hood by showing sympathy for yokai, or because he wants to cheer her up and doesn’t care much that he puts himself down in the process, or maybe because he just likes the incongruity of the situation. And yet, although each step makes sense, the final result is a person kindly reassuring someone that his race is evil, which ordinarily would be hard to imagine any reasonable person doing.

Note also how the situation escalates in absurdity, another feature of comedy that Guy Hasson mentions in another article in the same series. A yokai and an onmyoji having a friendly conversation is already a bit out of the ordinary. But then Yura actually tells Nurarihyon that she wants to kill him. And finally, going a step beyond just telling him that yokai are evil, she asks him to confirm from his own mouth that yokai are evil. And sure enough, Nurarihyon happily obliges.

So this is a pretty clever bit of comedy writing here. Not necessarily ingenious, not particularly revolutionary, but definitely clever. At any rate, it’s much more sophisticated than something like, say, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo (much as I love Bo-bobo). One thing I couldn’t help but notice as I wrote this is that the humor of this scene depends on the story as a whole. In a show like Bo-bobo, since the jokes stem from randomness, it doesn’t really matter whether you completely understand what’s going on or not. I first started watching Bo-bobo from episode 27, and I still got a big kick out of it. But in this scene, since the humor stems from the situation itself, you can’t really get the humor unless you understand the context of it. Heck, just look at the beginning of this section of this post. I had to summarize most of the story leading up to this point before I could talk about why this scene is funny. I think that’s another sign that this scene had more thought put into it than most comedy nowadays. It’s like this saying that I heard I-forget-where: “You aren’t done when there’s nothing else you can add, but when there’s nothing else you can take out.” This is in contrast to most comedy nowadays, which relies on isolated, atomic wisecracks, usually pop culture references, exaggerated reactions, or just plain snark. Such as in this little snippet from Black Butler, which almost single-handedly made me give up on the show:

sebastian

sebastian-2

ciel

… Haha. Sebastian said he hates dogs and Ciel said “woof.” Haha. What a knee-slapper.

I didn’t actually stop right at that moment; I finished the story arc I was on first. But as soon as that was over I was done with the show.

(That’s not the whole reason I gave up on it, though. More importantly, I just don’t see the point of it all. So we have our rich, precocious child earl with his super-powered butler. So what? What are they going to do with all their riches and precociousness and aristocratic-ness and super powers and butlering skills? Maybe they do find some purpose later in the series, but 8 episodes in (which is where I stopped) is way too late not to have an overarching point yet. Heck, ordinarily the point is revealed in the very first episode―like in Nura, where Rikuo’s refusal to acknowledge his yokai blood and Nurarihyon’s insistence that he succeed to the leadership of yokai make for an obvious source of conflict and change right from the get-go. Or in Psycho-Pass, where the very first episode introduces the Sibyl System as an efficient, computerized method of maintaining perfect social stability, but then casts doubt on both the justness and the reliability of that system. In the case of Black Butler, I guess Ciel wants to take revenge on the people who murdered his parents? I seem to recall hearing conflicting evidence about that. But if that is his goal, he hasn’t apparently made, or even tried to make, any progress on it by the eighth episode. To be fair, though, this might not be the manga’s fault, since apparently the Black Butler anime adaptation departs from the original manga for whole seasons of material.)

In conclusion, let me leave you with a line from Nura that, like the whole scene above, doesn’t sound particularly interesting by itself, but is hilarious in context:

“Don’t underestimate rabbits.”

If you ignored the spoiler warning and read all this without having watched Nura, why not watch it to see how this line comes up in context?

A Certain Magical Index: Theme Songs

If ever there was an anime I could have liked just for the theme songs, it was A Certain Magical Index. This is one of the few shows where I consistently sat through the opening credits just to listen to the songs. It’s probably not a coincidence that they’re all by the same artist, Mami Kawada.

1. PSI Missing

I like the techno vibe in this song. In case you didn’t guess, I’m a bit of a fan of techno music.

This song doesn’t sound particularly fast, but if you consider the number of notes sounding throughout each beat, there’s actually quite a bit of stuff going on. For me, that created an impression of hushed excitement. From the first time I watched this show, that caught my interest immediately. Just remembering it almost makes me want to go back and watch it all from the beginning again. It makes it sound like the show is all mysterious and stuff. Much more effective than an over-the-top hyped up song. Making this the first opening song in the series was definitely a good move.

This one is probably my favorite of these songs. So NATURALLY it’s the only one that isn’t on iTunes. Well, there is a sped-up version, but it’s just not the same.

You know, I think I have a thing for non-hyped-up theme songs, because two other anime theme songs I’ve liked a lot also weren’t very overtly exciting: “Pray” from the old pre-2011 Hunter x Hunter adaptation, and “Juukyuusai” (“19 years old”) from xxxHolic. Not that the hyped up songs are never good, but the ones that aren’t hyped up are always the ones I like best.

2. Masterpiece

This one has a quirk that’s kind of interesting from a music theory point of view; it’s in an unusual mode. A mode in music theory is a pattern used to divide the octave into a set of musically useful notes; basically it’s a template for a scale. Nowadays, there are only two modes in common use in Western music, viz. the major mode and the minor mode. In fact, this has been the case ever since the Baroque period or thereabouts. Before then, there were seven possible modes, all named after various Greek peoples; back then the major mode was the Ionian mode, and the minor mode was the Aeolian mode. This song, on the other hand, starts out in the Lydian mode. I’m pretty sure this song is the only piece of music I know of that uses this mode. There is some Gregorian chant that claims to be in the Lydian mode, but they usually flatten the fourth, which makes it equivalent to the Ionian (major) mode. Actually, I vaguely remember reading somewhere that “Lydian” in the context of Gregorian chant refers to what we call the Ionian/major mode, so I don’t know if they just never used what we call the Lydian mode, or what.

You can make a Lydian scale by starting at F on a piano and going up on the white keys to the next F.
masterpiece exhibit lydian scale
The most unusual thing about this scale is the fourth scale degree, which in this case is a B, the note on the middle line of the staff. Ordinarily, the interval between the first and fourth scale degrees is a perfect fourth. In this scale, on the other hand, the interval is an augmented fourth. Now, the thing about fourths is that whereas the perfect fourth sounds really nice, the augmented fourth, which is just a half-step wider than the perfect version, is perhaps the most dissonant interval in Western music. Try playing F and B on a piano, either at the same time or one after the other. Both harmonically and melodically, it sounds pretty terrible.

But this song is really friggin’ proud of its augmented fourth. Consider the electric guitar riff that plays pretty much right at the beginning of the song (transposed here to F Lydian):
masterpiece exhibit riff
The riff consists of a few notes of fairly similar length, followed by one noticeably longer one (made of two notes tied across the bar line in the picture). Guess what the interval is between the long note and the one immediately preceding it. Yup―it’s an augmented fourth. Actually, it’s an augmented fourth upside down, so that makes it a diminished fifth, but either way it’s the same two notes and the same dissonance.

Then the singer comes in with the actual melody (again, transposed to F Lydian):
masterpiece exhibit melody
(The rhythm is altered between verses, so this is kind of a compromise between all the rhythms.)

You probably noticed during the verse that some of the notes in the melody sound horribly dissonant. Well, if you look at the written notes, all but one of those dissonant notes are on the middle line of the staff. You know, the fourth scale degree.

Incidentally, I know of one other song by Mami Kawada that uses this same pattern of heavily dissonant verse followed by much more consonant chorus: “Break a Spell,” used as the second ending theme for Tokyo Ravens.

One other minor point. (No pun intended. Honestly.) There is one rhythmic pattern that recurs throughout this song:
masterpiece exhibit rhythm
The dotted quarter notes are often manifested as a quarter and an eighth, but it adds up to the same thing, and the placement of the accents clearly marks it as a variation on this pattern. “PSI Missing” also features this rhythm when the sine wave or whatever it is plays at the very beginning. Now, what I find funny about this rhythm is that I’ve heard it everywhere. It seems like almost any time someone comes up with a syncopated rhythm, it can be reduced to this. Recently I attended a performance of African folk music, and this same rhythm was there too. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s naturally wired into the brain or something.

3. No Buts!

I actually don’t have much to say on this one. It’s a fun song.

 

There was one other opening theme, “See Visions,” which I didn’t really care for. One of the two Kawada songs I’ve heard so far that I didn’t like particularly, the other being “Hishoku no Sora” from Shakugan no Shana.

So, yeah. A Certain Magical Index. The reason I started watching it was because the title sounded weird and that made me curious. I liked it up to episode 20, but after that it kinda went downhill. A Certain Scientific Railgun made up for it to an extent by having one of my favorite death scenes ever, though.

Why I Like Digimon Better than Pokemon (as far as the shows are concerned)

Right now, I have another post on linguistics and one on Aristotle in progress, but every time I open up my drafts to edit, I find something else I want to change. So then I thought of this, and I thought, “That sounds easy to write. Sure, why not?” I’m beginning to think maybe I should just post my drafts despite all the stuff I want to change. Maybe the problem is that I’m feeling too self-conscious because this is my first time posting my writing on the internet, in which case hopefully putting this up will make it easier to make other posts. So, sooner or later, I’m going to have a post on more linguistic stuff, as well as some stuff about Aristotle, along with whatever other stuff I feel like writing about. My next scholarly subject after Aristotle will probably be calculus.

But for now: The reason I thought of this is that recently, my brother told me that he’d tried re-watching the first episode of Digimon (I think he was referring to the first season), causing him to have one of those “How on earth did I like this as a kid?” moments. So that got me thinking about Digimon.

For  a long time now, I’ve thought that Digimon was much better than Pokemon. Don’t get me wrong; I do like Pokemon. Pokemon is a great franchise, but its strength isn’t in the show, it’s in the games. There’s a good reason why Pokemon is one of Nintendo’s biggest series. It’s a deep, interesting, and very strategic game. It very elegantly solves what I think are the two biggest problems of traditional turn-based RPG’s: 1. You don’t have to take your opponent’s actions into account when deciding your move; no matter what your opponent does, you always tell your fighter to use melee attacks, your wizard to use magic attacks, your cleric to heal, and your thief to steal. (Hey, that rhymed.) Sure, you might take an extra turn or two to use antidotes or something―if your cleric doesn’t already have a status-healing move―or you might have your fighter use potions if you need more than one heal in a turn, but generally you just stick with one pattern. With Pokemon, the fact that your opponent has the chance to swap out his active Pokemon before you can attack, effectively controlling which enemy you target, forces you to try to figure out what your opponent is going to do before you decide your move. 2. Fights are very static. If one side has an advantage, that’s generally going to consist of a higher level, better equipment, or stronger moves―something that can’t really change throughout a fight. So once a fight starts, the winner is already pretty much determined; the advantage never really switches between sides. But with Pokemon, if a player makes one bad prediction, he might lose a strategically important Pokemon, which might allow his opponent to use a previously unavailable tactic, which might lose him the game. Fights have much more potential to change, which makes them much more interesting. (If you don’t get what I mean by these two points, check out this guy’s channel. He does a really good job of showing the strategic element of Pokemon.)

Granted, these advantages arise largely from the fact that Pokemon is primarily a multiplayer game, not a single player game, so even though Pokemon has the same basic turn-based RPG format, you could argue that this is a case of apples and oranges. But then, if you can’t make an interesting single player game, why bother making it?

So, yeah. Pokemon is a great game. The show, on the other hand, is not so great. At least, I think Digimon is better. Which is why it annoys me when people say that Digimon is just a Pokemon rip-off. Even in this blog post editor, “Digimon” is marked as a misspelled word, while “Pokemon” is left unmarked. How outrageous is that?! Digimon was my childhood, man! You can’t mark my childhood as a misspelled word! But, first of all, Digimon originated as a masculine counterpart to the Tamagotchi virtual pet toys. So it had nothing to do with Pokemon. And second, far from being a rip-off, I think Digimon is better than Pokemon. Well, to be fair, I never watched Pokemon very closely. I just had a few episodes on a cassette tape (remember those things?) that I used to watch over and over when I was little. So maybe I can’t make a good comparison. But here’s what I thought Digimon did right:

1. Digimon actually has an ending

Multiple endings, in fact. Like the games in the Final Fantasy series, each season in Digimon is a self-contained story that shares certain common elements, but doesn’t continue off of any previous season. The only exception is season 2 (Digimon Adventure 02), which is also the worst season that I’ve seen. Even in grade school I could barely force myself to sit through the ending, it was so sappy. Although I’ve never watched season 6 (Digimon Fusion), which, from what I’ve seen, looks like the series’s rock bottom. But the point is, each season is a self-contained story, and therefore each one works towards its own conclusion. So by taking this route, Digimon gets the best of both worlds: it can go on forever, but each individual sub-story has a coherent plot with an ending specially designed for it.

Another nice thing about Digimon’s approach to new seasons is that each season introduces a whole new Digital World. So, the world of season 1 (Adventure) is completely different from the world of season 3 (Tamers), which in turn is completely different from the world of season 4 (Frontier), which is completely different from the world of season 5 (Savers). Each season has a whole new geography, history, and mood, on top of the new characters. Not to mention, Digimon isn’t bothered by those awkward questions like, “Why doesn’t the main character get any older?” Actually, there’s no reason why Pokemon couldn’t have benefited from this approach as well. Each generation of Pokemon games introduces a newly designed main character and a new region with new Pokemon. The show has been introducing the new regions and Pokemon by having the same old character they’ve used from the start travel all around the world. But they could easily have used new protagonists, new art styles, new moods, and so on if they had wanted to. Even if they thought it would have been too much trouble to make a new main character from scratch, they could easily have borrowed new protagonists from the games. It’s beyond me why they decided to stick with Ash with his annoying voice and his at worst shallow, at best not particularly interesting motive of becoming the Pokemon master. Well, I guess I can’t relate to that because I’m not particularly competitive; maybe people who are into sports can relate to Ash. But I sure as heck can’t.

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of comparing seasons, Tamers is the best season of Digimon. It has the darkest story and mood. The second to last scene is actually really frikkin’ melancholic. But I guess they couldn’t bear to end the story on that note, because the last scene is more hopeful.

2. Most importantly: Digimon doesn’t take itself seriously

As I once told my classmates in high school, the difference between Digimon and Pokemon is that if you watch Pokemon again after growing up, you’ll say “This is stupid” and turn it off, but if you watch Digimon again after growing up, you’ll at least get a few little laughs out of it before you say “This is stupid” and turn it off. See, Digimon has a constant atmosphere of flippancy about it. The generic, unimportant characters―you know, man-on-the-street 1 and 2 and all that―are always caricatures with comical voices and lines. The heroes make corny puns at climactic moments. The dialogue generally has the rhythm and feel of witty banter, not the slow, earnest cadence characteristic of most children’s shows. As an example of Digimon humor: In season 1, the following Digimon, Apocalymon, is revealed to be the final villain in the season.

287px-Apokarimon_(Creepy_Mode)_tApocalymon_b

At his big climactic entrance, the camera focuses closely on his face and pans down to reveal the rest of his body. Meanwhile, as the red and blue wires connecting the upper and lower halves of his body come into view, he declares, “I am the ultimate evil… complete with hot and cold running water!”

Later on in the final battle, Apocalymon explains that he originated as the amalgamation of the data of all the Digimon who failed to Digivolve and so were destroyed, their data then being scattered across the Digital World. Therefore, throughout all his existence, he has felt nothing but envy and sadness. And he questions the main characters and their Digimon: “Do you think it’s fair that I have to live in all this agony?! Why should you laugh when I am forced to cry?! Why do you taste the best life has to offer when all I do is choke on its leftovers?! Answer me this!!! Why do you all get the pizza… when I get the crust???!!!!!”

And the dialogue proceeds in this way. The climax ends up being both the tensest and the funniest part of the show. Well, of course, it is a children’s show, so it’s not like Shakespeare or the Marx Brothers or Monty Python or anything, but still.

At another climactic moment, this time in season 2, a villain, Oikawa, is about to scan some data from one of the main characters, Ken. To be exact, he’s going to “harvest” the “dark spore” that’s been implanted in him, whatever that means. The point is, he’s scanning data from Ken using a handheld device, and this is what’s going to allow him to complete his villainous plans. And he tells Ken, “Don’t worry, I promise you won’t feel a thing. It’s just a little data that will be transferred electronically. Just pretend you’re a cereal box… [camera shows Oikawa holding up his scanning device with a menacing look on his face] …and I’m scanning your barcode.”

This is the kind of atmosphere that pervades Digimon.

 

So I think Digimon is a great show in its own right. Not that I’m recommending that you go out and watch it now, of course; it is a children’s show. But I definitely don’t think it deserves to be written off as a copycat of Pokemon.