Monday, September 18, 2006

Welcome to the NHK

From AICN

excerpt from the review:


Welcome to the NHK is a brilliantly empathic yet unsympathetic look at geek life. It's geekdom's Requiem For A Dream, a look at the debasement, addiction and personal harm stemming from obsession with pop culture material, excepts it's hilarious.

Welcome the NHK makes a stark counter-point to the maybe-soon-to-ubiquitous Densha Otoko/Train. Already, three publishers have begun distributing three versions of Densha Otoko manga. The live action movie is similarly about to be released. Densha Otoko is the true/reputedly true/believed to be mostly true story of a geek who intervenes when a girl is being harassed in the subway and, with the help of advice from online compatriots, transforms himself into a person capable of dating the girl by conventional standards. It's probably a fair assumption that Densha Otoko hit phenomenon levels popularity in Japan because the culture is self conscious about its geek shut-in's, so a story concerning the nudge that could turn a shut-in into a conforming, contributing member of society was welcomed in open arms. In North America, not hugely invested in the shut-in concerns , the story comes across more as a fairy tale romantic comedy that in most tellings is a bit perfunctory and not terribly funny.

Welcome to the NHK is the anti-Densha Otoko since its geek responds terribly to its girl. It's convincing. It's depraved. It's hilarious because it is convincingly in its depravity. Its hikikomori, (shut-in) doesn't turn himself around when presented with the affection of a cute young woman. In fact, the meeting initiates a cycle of far worse degradation. Leaving his room just puts in into contact with people who provide him material that fuels his insular self-destruction. For the reader, this a blisteringly anti-cathartic journey. Because the depiction is bitingly self critical without being self loathing, for whatever degree you can see yourself in the character, you'll feel a bit dirty.

Uh, ok... I suppose there is a market for a manga like this. But that seems rather sad. One wonders what percentage of Japanese bachelors are "geeks," who lack social skills. I remember reading something in a book on Japanese culture that many Japanese men suffer from a lack of social skills and issues with women because of their relationship with their mothers, who often use guilt as a weapon against them.

For something more positive, there is this:

Prose Spotlight

Seikai 1: Crest of the Stars: Princess of the Empire

by Hiroyuki Morioka
Released by TOKYOPOP
Crest of the Stars, the anime adaptation of which has previously been released in North America, is the novel that introduces Hiroyuki Moroika invention, the Abh, a creation of genetically engineering managed divergent evolution: humans so physically and socially tailor for interstellar life that they might as well be alien. The thrill of the novel is its detailed and thoughtful construction of an interstellar society, as well as seeing this institution tried in the military and political conflicts of a large scale space-war.

Moroika does establish compelling character threads, fostering curiosity about the progress of specific individuals, but the currency of Crest of the Stars is ideas and Moroika is quickly able to sell the Abh as a strong, intriguing concept with the capacity for great amounts of detail. Crest of the Stars could be called cultural sci-fi. It is speculating on the path of the development in the evolution of human for a group whose selected niche was to constantly move about the stars, as merchants, then in a development of somewhat earned arrogance, masters.

The larger universe of the series similarly is shown to have plenty of ideas to offer. The work does rely on sci-fi conceits, but to a far lesser degree compared to Card's post Ender's Game books in that series. The wilder and more original of its concepts are given more thorough explanations, and they kindof work if string theory is accepted.

Crest of the Stars starts on Planet Martine, a colonized planet that did not need terroforming, which offered an exotic host of flora and fauna but no pre-existing intelligent life. The planet boasted slim, poorly maintained defenses when the Abh arrived demanding that the planet surrender to annexation by the Humankind Empire of Abh. Despite what would seem to be negligible bargaining tools Martine's president Rock Linn was able to meet with the Abh and negotiate a peaceful surrender in return for his family admittance into the Abh ranks of nobility and position as governor of the star system. After which, Rock Linn's young son Jinto is rushed off Martine to be trained for a position within the Abh bureaucracy.

The novel lays out that it will begin put its own intelligent twists on sci-fi with this invasion. Rather than War of the Worlds or simplistic alien antagonism, the Abh exercise is more akin to gunboat diplomacy. The Abh exhibit their power, demand capitulation, and promise autonomy as long as the planet submits to their largely economic interest and that the subject society restricts its travel and influence to within its own solar system. The situation doesn't map well to any exact historical instance, but it does mirror real patterns in the late 19th/20th century. While the warfare engaged in during the volume is more World War II navy engagements, on some level, the work seems to be a parable of modern hegemony.

The speech of the Abh themselves is a large aspect of interest for the series. The novel gives their language plenty of attention. As it progresses more Abh words are introduced. Initially the Abh words are accompanied by a translation. Later, if a translation is desired, the definition is available in the volume's glossary. The extent to which real insight can be gained from Abh phonetics is a bit questionable. What is offered is just vocabulary and not really an original idiom. Instead, what all the Abh language within the work seems to be offering is an ownable jargon, possibly similar to Klingon within Star Trek, and with less linguistic detail than something like Quenya in Lord of the Rings. Still, the language has already captured the imagination of some fans, evidenced in that several fan groups consulted on the books translation.

The amount of colloquial expressions is surprising. They are familiar and as such less forced than Farscape style pop culture inserts or the sort of invented alien metaphors seen in other sci-fi works (ie Star Wars' "just like shooting wamp rats"). There is talk of formality and etiquette among the Abh, but when these sort of off the cuff comments make their way into speech with ship captains, it makes the culture look very informal.

Something that wasn't captured in the anime, or at least Bandai's translation was the Abh's glibness. They aren't cartoonishly sadistic, but there is an edge There's a sort of half-self aware arrogance in their demeanor, where they know that they are operating on a different level than other humans, but they dismiss misunderstandings and impreciseness with a humorous disregard. This is very much in keeping with their behavior. There is an extensive conversation about the complex differences in Abh mating and reproduction explained to Jinto by Lafiel, a young Abh pilot in training who is the novel's second protagonist. The net of this is that Lafiel doesn't officially know the identity of her mother. As a child, her father responded to queries by showing her the family house cat and explaining that the cat was her mother, something that was theoretically possible given the Abh's technology, but morally outrageous. The Abh dialog is able and social acts demonstrate their mix of danger and charm. As a force that smart without outthinking the audience, they are a fascinating group to follow.

An issue that this first volume has is that the balance between exposition and storytelling is far from perfect.

The protagonist, Jinto is almost strictly defined by his relationship to plot and his explanation affording ignorance for much of the early stretch of the novel. When there narrative is light, this information stream can get a bit tiresome. However, after the novel allow its protagonist to get into the action, the mix of information and story movement is becomes more effective.
The Abh Nation
The Abh Language
wikipedia on Abh, Baronh (the Abh language)

I wonder how many Tolkien fans are familiar with the Elven languages...
Tolkien languages
So you want to learn Elvish?
Elvish Linguistic Fellowship
Ardalambion
A Tolkien Dictionary
some links
On Tolkien
another website titled Tolkien languages
Tolkien language comparison
Tolkien Society
Tolkien Wiki
Tolkien Gateway

Lastly, an AICN review of Eden

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