Friday, March 15, 2013

Short Stories

I made a list of (mostly free and online) short stories I enjoyed.  They're all in the science fiction/fantasy/speculative realm of fiction.  I'll try to keep it updated as I find new stuff.  The entries are listed by date added rather than title.  Since they're short stories (and all generally free), you can easily just step in and read without any synopsis.  Enjoy!

Pillowman -
Cambist and Lord Iron -
Impossible Dreams -
Eight Episodes -
Magic For Beginners -
Magic For Beginners -
Faery Handbag -
The Ray Gun: A Love Story -
26 Monkeys -
Exhalation -
Lost Odyssey -
Neal Stephenson -
Great Simolean Caper -
Occupation -
Orson Scott Card Short Stories -
Maps In A Mirror -
Sword of the Yue Maiden -
What's Expected of Us -
Understand -
The Last Question -
Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate -
The Last Wish -
Nanny's Day -

One Shot Manga: HotelIslandKoe no Katachi

Japanese Light Novels: Fate/Zero1/2 PrinceTora DoraHaruhiSpice and Wolf

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Manga In the US

So, I went on a myanimelist bender, obsessively creating manga/anime lists and eventually adding lots of titles to my plan-to-read lists.  So naturally that was followed by a manga reading bender.  It's been a long time since I'd looked for new series to read.  I normally read manga on my desktop computer using MangaMeeya, which nicely opens local archived files.  Nowadays, it's difficult to download manga, especially older chapter releases.  The easiest way to read manga is using an online reader, which I generally dislike because it slows my reading process down.  I use the "All Mangas Reader" plugin for Chrome, which keeps track of new releases and preloads pages.  Preloading lets you read a whole chapter vertically on one webpage instead of relying on paginating.  However, the plugin has recently slowed my browser down considerably, so I uninstalled it.  Even when it wasn't killing my browser, I didn't enjoy long reading sessions using the page down button.

I picked up an old iPad1 my friend wasn't using anymore and decided to try using it to read manga.  Using the safari browser was unpleasant.  So I tried two apps that provide a much nicer interface to online manga readers: Manga Storm and Manga Rock 2.  They were both awesome apps with very nice interfaces and both offered free versions with slightly limited features.  Using these apps really makes reading manga on the iPad easy and pleasant.  The size of an iPad suits manga much better than a smartphone.  I might even enjoy reading on a tablet more than reading an actual book.

The paid versions of those two apps allow you to pre-download chapters, which allows a smooth, internet-less free reading experience later.  Unfortunately, the downloads aren't perfect.  This was a critical problem for Manga Rock 2 because the downloads would often silently fail.  Manga Storm downloads were much more consistently successful and still let me read the successfully downloaded pages for chapters, even if some pages failed to download.  Maybe the problem was due to memory issues from using an iPad 1, but I was disappointed to have spent money on Manga Rock 2.  I recommend Manga Storm, even though its list of available titles is slightly smaller.

I fully expect these apps to be unusable some day.  Either Apple will take the apps down, the apps will cease to be maintained, or the websites these apps scrape will go away, by being shutdown or otherwise made inaccessible to the apps.  Note that neither app supports reading most licensed titles (which I 100% agree with.)  There's still plenty of unlicensed titles to read.

Anyways, this is all besides the point.  Manga is a huge hobby of mine and I prefer it to most other forms of solitary entertainment.  It was exciting to see its popularity surge 2000-2005, but a lot of that excitement seems gone now.  The manga sections in bookstores steadily dwindles and its not surprising to guess why.  Manga is a very niche market targeted largely to people without the money to buy it.  US versions are expensive and manga is easily pirated.  I've always believed in supporting the industries I love.  Manga is harder to support because books take up so much space and I feel really bad throwing a book away.  I've always been on the fence about purchasing manga that I'd never consider lending to someone or reading more than once, even moreso if I think the manga set looks ugly.  But nowadays, legal digital manga is an option and I loudly embrace it.  I think Viz is especially forward thinking.  The Digital Manga reader is nice, downloads are fast, and the prices are at least half of the printed versions.

I recently subscribed to Weekly Shonen Jump, mainly to read Rurouni Kenshin Restoration.  I think they're doing everything right with Jump.  The printed version always seemed wasteful, but the digital version is perfect.  New chapters come out at the same time as the legal release of the Japanese chapters.  There are lots of fun bonus one-shots, series that aren't being scanlated, and interesting interviews, so there's new content even if you prefer illegally obtaining manga.  Last of all, it's really cheap.  The only downside is that there's no way to get back issues. But that's a legal issue, not a technical one.  If you read Shonen comics, you should definitely subscribe.  If you have the money to spare and want to support the industry, you should consider it.

My main concern with Viz's digital manga isn't the quality of translations.  I'm not too anal about liberties taken in translations as long as I feel the spirit is preserved.  I'm concerned about what will happen when Viz either goes out of business or otherwise closes its digital manga division.  Will the things I've bought still be readable?  Or will it go the way of jmanga?  Secondly, I wonder about the fate of printed manga.  I love having hard copies of my favorite manga.  But if they end up being unprofitable, will will printed manga one day cease to exist?  There really aren't enough series I want to dedicate my space to.  Time will tell, but for now, I'm happy to be supporting an industry I love for a cost I find incredibly reasonable.

Lastly, I'd like to end today's meandering rant by providing a link to The History of Scanlation, which I found to be very interesting and personally nostalgic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Katamari Damacy

Katamari Damacy is my favorite video game franchise for mindless gaming.  The concept is really simple: As the early games were quick to point out, it's the video game version of rolling around a snowball.  Instead of collecting snow, you collect whatever you roll over: dirt, rocks, toys, animals, children, houses, continents, planets... The bigger you are, the bigger the items you can roll up.  Although the objective of each stage can vary, you're usually simply given a time limit to reach a certain size.  Each stage's layout is fixed, so the challenge is finding the most efficient path to getting big.  It's not very difficult to reach the target size, so the player is given a lot of freedom in whether they want to relaxing roll or intensely try to reach a huge size.  Lots of collectables, gameplay options (untimed mode, speed up mode), and stage mixups (become as big as possible only collecting 50 items, avoid this item) add a lot of variety.

The second aspect to the series, which in this case is just as important as the gameplay, is the presentation.  The graphics are purposefully blocky, which is probably primarily a performance constraint, but ultimately creates a distinct style.  Katamari Damacy relies on being goofy and absurd.  The story is generally your tiny character's father, the King of All Cosmos, rudely ordering you to do this or that.  The music is relaxing, kind of folksy, video game tunes that are a crucial part of the Katamari Damacy experience to most people.  To quickly sum it up, this is a game that personifies the eccentric, weird side of Japanese pop culture.

For me, I love the feeling of getting big enough to swallow the galaxy while listening to relaxing music in a cartoonish world.  And while the series definitely peaked early on, I still play through each incarnation of the game.  This post is really about providing a quick review each game in the series.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Projects

Well, I wanted an easy place to track all the random things I work on.  I was hoping to use, but it doesn't let me use enough characters.  So I'm just going to plop a full list it all here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Aivi Tran

I've been really enjoying listening to Aivi Tran (youtube channel waltzforluma) recently.  It's not a surprise, I'm a sucker for anyone who does Link's Awakening covers.

She recently released a new album with surasshu.  It's awesome and comes with a pretty comic.

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