BLAME! — Quite a Meditative Manga

March 13th, 2018

On the manga and anime note, I have also been reading BLAME! by Tsutomu Nihei. Vertical’s release of the Master Edition has been quite nice. I am definitely glad that I am experiencing BLAME! for the first time via the Master Editions, rather than through the smaller volumes of the defunct Tokyopop. (Holy cow, did I just type Tokyopop? That’s something I have not thought about in a long time.)

After my previous Turn A Gundam retrospective, I am tired and have less to say about BLAME!. That said, it also brings out the inner child in me, and I find it to be quite the meditative adventure with its forlorn, cylindrical landscapes. I definitely love the buddy dynamic between Cibo and Kyrii.

I’m on Volume 4 of the Master Edition now. Eagerly looking forward to finishing up Volumes 5 and 6 when I get a chance. (By the way, as of the writing of this brief post on March 13th, 2018, the whole series is on sale at Rightstuf currently during Rightstuf’s Vertical sale.) Do consider buying your anime and manga from Rightstuf rather than Amazon, just so Amazon gets slightly less of your money and data.

Turn A Gundam Episode 50 and Series Review — Oh, What a Gorgeous Ending

March 13th, 2018

It has been a long time since I last wrote in my personal blog. A lot of things have happened in my life this past 14 months. I’ll jot down some staccato notes about that for my own personal benefit one day when I’m looking back on my 20s. Of course, I co-founded Qchain. Got my first bittersweet taste of entrepreneurship. Got seriously ill a couple of times. Went to China, went to New Orleans, went to Japan, all educational and substantive visits. Mortality and aging have now become things I contemplate daily as I have watched my parents grow older, walk slower and hear about deaths of friends and family friends at an accelerating pace. Life moves forward, and in spurts, I am able to admire the beauty of life in breaks from chaos and struggle.

A strange constant over the past few months has been my inconsistent and halting progress through Turn A Gundam. Well, I finally finished the show today, and it is definitely a special one. After several years in which I did not really watch anime or read manga, Turn A definitely reminded me about some of the imaginative and colorful magic inherent to the best of the medium. For sure, it is my favorite Gundam series. Some overall thoughts — the series was quite long, but I did not mind that. I really enjoyed the quieter moments in the first 40 episodes of the series, which really helped to endear the characters to me. Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim are wonderful characters. Loran is surprisingly not frustrating for a young male Gundam protagonist. Harry Ord is great. A lot of the more minor characters end up getting neat character arcs. The soundtrack is sweeping and gorgeous. The traditional cel animation warms the soul better than a fireplace.

[SPOILERS ABOUND FROM HERE ON OUT FOR THE WHOLE SERIES]

The scene of Loran Cehack helping Dianna Soriel with the field hospital laundry in the Turn A Gundam midway through the series was the most indelible sequence for me with its depiction of pure, unbridled joy. It will stick with me as an example of sublime filmmaking. This scene was enhanced by Yoko Kanno’s score. Personally, I feel that this soundtrack is among Yoko Kanno’s three finest soundtracks; given the relative obscurity of the show compared to some of the other series that Yoko Kanno has scored for, it is unfortunate that a lot of people have missed out on Turn A’s soundtrack.

So, I pointed the obvious that the series was long (50 episodes), but I actually wish the show was a little bit longer. As indicated by the fact that the second opening to mark the space-faring phase of the show begins in Episode 39, I think the show would have been better spaced out over 70 episodes. Or, even 52 episodes would have helped relax the final, rushed pacing a little. When the series ended, I felt that some plot and character movements could have been built up a little higher for an even better payoff; and part of me was not ready to say goodbye to the characters just yet, which indicates how much I enjoyed the character writing.

The show aired in 1999, close to to 20 years now. It is always interesting to hear voice actors at the start of their careers in late 90s anime that would go on to dominate shows throughout the 2000s. I cracked a brief grin when I heard Takehito Koyasu voicing Gym Ghingham.

Jumping again (exhaustion has made it quite hard to organize my thoughts on a daily basis), I absurdly enjoyed the switcheroo between Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim. Usually, switching causes me to lose my suspense of disbelief, because in real life for me, it becomes not too difficult to even tell identical twins after a short time, but the empathy of the characters made this work for me.

I did like the betrayal from Guin Rhineford at the end. I thought he was the most compelling antagonist. I do feel that Teteth Halleh was killed prematurely, as I thought she could have been a more effective voice to represent Moonrace dissent against Dianna, and I wanted to also know more about discrimination against Earthers on the Moon. Gym Ghingham was nonsensical, but Takehito Koyasu’s performance still made him entertaining, nonetheless.

Onto my thoughts about the final episode. For all my complaints about the rushed pacing of the last 10 episodes, I thought the relatively wordless epilogue was fantastic. I have become so accustomed to bad, wacky, tonally disjoint, Deus Ex Machina, sudden, exposition-heavy, and attempted-mindfuck-because-we-give-up endings in anime and manga, that I become insanely impressed with actual closure. I think the root of a lot of these bad endings is that the serialized nature of manga causes people to continue writing far after they have run out of plot ideas to advance character development, which can piss away even great characters as development becomes repetitive and circular. (People sometimes say a good cast of characters will write itself, but I am of the belief that that is just something good writers say when they struggle to describe their work process, and that effective character development requires thought in plot to earn and spur that development.) Turn A‘s epilogue was a wonderful case of show-and-don’t-tell, and there were enough visual details in there to give the audience a very neat closure and suggestion of events following the show.

Reading other people’s impressions of the episode on Reddit (see here and here on Reddit) and MyAnimeList, I was surprised by the confusion that people had over events that transpired. It is clear that Dianna and Loran did not get married, as some people seem to think. We are shown an blatant shot of Loran’s hand without a ring after we see the ring on Dianna, and with Dianna specifically correcting herself after saying “Willghem” and enunciating “Will Game” when talking about the ship (named the Willghem officially) in an earlier stretch of episode 50 or episode 49 to invoke the memory of Will Game (after his existence had become muddled and lost through all the dialog involving the differently pronounced name of the ship), I was expecting people to more universally make the connection between the silver ring and Will Game.

With respect to where the series leaves things off with Loran and Dianna, I think the visual of the cane clearly indicates that Dianna’s body is breaking down, and that she is approaching death. However, I disagree with people’s interpretation that the final shot of the series shows the death of Dianna. It could be that Yoshiyuki Tomino was trying to show Dianna’s passing, but I felt that a few too many cues were missing. We do not see the usual last breath, chest dropping, wistful look that is universally used across any medium to indicate death. Dianna does not respond to Loran, but with how she simply closed her eyes, I think the shot more illustrated a quietly dying Dianna who would still experience several more months or years, but had found peace.

Finally, I think the series clearly shows that Loran and Sochie ultimately do not end up together, even after Dianna passes. Sochie ending up with the fish and throwing it away makes it clear to me that while Loran cares deeply for her, he did not reciprocate her feelings romantically. Some people find this outcome too tragic, but I do not think so. Part of that has to do with the fact that either intentionally or unintentionally, it never felt like any two-sided romantic chemistry cropped up in the first place between Sochie and Loran. Sochie and Gavane Gooney’s relationship never got off the ground and felt “wrong” (and not just due to the age gap, but because of the circumstances in which it precipitated — Gavane feeling desperate in war, and Sochie feeling lonely and confused), but, it felt believable and natural to me with its “wrongness,” given the circumstances Sochie and Gavane were in. Following Gavane’s death, it felt to me that Sochie was desperate to fill a sadness in her heart, and pursued Loran to try to patch the pain. I found this to actually be a beautifully poignant ending for Sochie. We see that she grew to become quite a mentally tough and resilient person, and I feel that Tomino indicated that she would take time to heal after the war (still at a young age of 15) before moving on with her life.

There was a total lack of romantic chemistry in the last 20 episodes between Loran and Dianna. I do feel there was a missed opportunity there to create some emotion. Prior to their departure for the moon during the Earth adventures, I felt that some understated romantic chemistry had been built up between Loran and Dianna. The laundry scene and the scene in which Loran and Dianna dance before Dianna breaks off on her own to try to figure out a way to the Moon were very warm and seemed to point to their relationship deepening later in the show. This chemistry disappears when Loran and Dianna head into space and reach the moon (albeit not in a totally unbelievable way). Loran’s decision to retreat from Sochie and his friends and serve Dianna in her dying days still makes sense, even with the total lack of romantic chemistry, given his dutiful disposition. However, I felt that adding some romance between them could have made the implication of her impending death more wistful and additionally motivated his “rejection” of Sochie. Rejection was not the ideal word I wanted to put in the sentence, as it is a little too strong, but I could not find another more suitable word.

All in all, I found Turn A Gundam to be a wonderful series, Gundam or not, and am glad I watched it after first wanting to see it as a teenager. It is not very likely (as Turn A seems to be intended as the “concluding” Gundam show, regardless of how many future Gundam shows get made), but I do have a desire to see consequent Gundam shows set later in the Correct Century timeline.

I am always happy to see a work of art which gets me closer in touch with my inner child again, thirsting for adventure, empathy, and some loose notion of gentle justice. Consequently, I am very appreciative of Turn A Gundam‘s existence.

Cheers to 1999, what a year that was. Cheers to the privilege of being able to enjoy good art and cinema in a life.

A Recommendation for the Documentary Trophy (2017)

September 23rd, 2017

I saw Trophy recently at Osio Theater in Monterey. I found it to be a must-watch film. I went into it expecting for it to be hard to watch, and it was. I did not expect for it to strongly shift my viewpoint about using hunting to subsidize conservation efforts and motivating conservation through greed and capitalism. I agonize over animals being killed to satisfy the thirst for adrenaline dumps and completionist tendencies of hunters. There is an extended sequence of a young elephant dying a slow and painful death after being shot that viscerally depicts how much pain the hunted animals’ individually experience. The kin of the slaughtered also certainly feel terrible emotional anguish and stress, as family structures are chaotically shifted and depleted with every murder. However, just as John Hume, owner of the private rhino farm, says at one point in the film that if humans could get the opinion of rhinos, rhinos would probably prioritize their individual survival over having their horns, I think that these animals would probably value the increased probability of preserving the existence and survival of their families over their terribly unfortunate murders.

I was strongly against hunting-subsidized conservation at the start of the film. After its conclusion, I still don’t unequivocally think it’s the right thing to do. Lots of these animals are caged up, and with the prevention of animal interaction, the private land habitats featured in this film aren’t really restored ecosystems. Also, a tunnel vision focus on breeding of species and security against poachers alone risks missing tackling the matters of land use change and human development onto ever-shrinking habitats that factors alongside poaching in the extinction of animals (and the film certainly touches on this, as well).

Billions of more people to add to this planet. Where do we go next?

Qchain: Blockchain Advertising and Analytics Platform

June 2nd, 2017

I am presently working on a project called Qchain, which is focused focused on facilitating efficient and cost-effective transactions between digital advertisers and content publishers using blockchain technology, with a wonderfully scrappy and resourceful team. The development and rise of cryptocurrency has fascinating me over the past few years, and I am excited to finally be a part of it in a more intimate and front-line fashion.

Bitcoin started snaking its way into the global consciousness while I was in college. I remember chuckling about the pizzas being sold for $10,000. And then, from pizzas, we moved on to dark net markets, Mt. Gox, the rise and fall of a million microcosms in the mining scene, from CPUs, to GPUs, to ASICs. And where are we at now? Proof of stake, proof of importance, proof of contribution, proof of covfefe.

Increasing speculative awareness of cryptocurrency has certainly outstripped day-to-day enterprise and civilian use cases of blockchain technology, and I have my doubts about whether blockchain technology is good for certain things at all, given that the decentralization facilitated by blockchain tech is not a be-all, end-all. Indeed, certain things function better centralized; the spectrum of trade-offs on the decentralization-centralization scale varies for different things. However, there is no doubt that blockchain solutions will come to prove their use for several markets and industry sectors. They have already more than proved themselves for dark net markets. For all the joking about the impracticality and triviality of cryptocurrency, I’d say that changing how humans buy drugs is a massive feat.

I have no doubt that blockchains will (eventually) become used for the record keeping and resolution of insurance claims, the shipment and verification of goods, and the verification and tracking of tax payments. And perhaps (I and my team obviously hope), blockchain solutions could become useful for advertising. Let us see how this all plays out! I definitely welcome you to read more about the Qchain project proposal in our white paper located on our website.

LaTeX Poster — “Bayesian Evaluation of Earth System Models Using Soil Respiration Data”

January 28th, 2017

Download (PDF, 373KB)

Poster presented at regional conference today, SoCal Sysbio at my home institution, UCI.

LaTeX .tex file and beamerposter style file for the poster are included here. The template is based off of Philippe Dreuw and Thomas Deselaers’ original beamerposter template available at this link. Where my style file differs is that with some modifications, it no longer is limited to the Tango color palette and now also accepts dvipsnames and svgnames color names to increase the breadth of available colors.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with this project. Some details already on the poster, of course. An even briefer TLDR; of this is that I am trying to compare Earth System models (ESMs) in a Bayesian fashion to see which models are consistent with historical soil carbon dioxide flux data and are worth the effort to refine. I eyeballed some fits of the conventional and AWB soil carbon models under informative and realistic priors, and am proceeding to quantify the fits using Bayesian goodness of fit metrics. I will take a look at Bayes factors and posterior predictive p-values.