Saturday, 23 May 2015

Over a Year

It's been over a year now since I started trying to teach myself Japanese using the resources available to me online. It's been slow progress, but very rewarding, and certainly my reading comprehension is getting better day by day.

Looking at my progress I have managed, in around 12 months, to reach p.144 in 「カンピオーネ!神はまつろわず」(about half-way through), which is the light novel which I chose as my first Japanese book to read. At the time people suggested that reading a full-blown prose light-novel as my first foray into Japanese reading was crazy. "Insane" was a word that was used. And they were probably right. Nonetheless I've persevered and my grammar and vocabulary are much better than they would have been had I spent the last year reading manga as in the usual recommendation.

Now, reading is quite different to speaking or writing, and my skill at those is massively inferior to my ability to read what is (after all) a relatively simple novel.

Still if I've progressed this far in such a short space of time I'm pretty confident of my ability to continue further.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The Humanian League (Space Opera Setting Idea)

The Founding of New Wellington

The HMNZSS Tasman departed Earth on April 17th 2147. Making use of a slingshot technology which allowed the ship to accelerate to a high fraction of light speed its destination was a star system some 53,600 light years away, which was known to contain a planet thought to have a high chance of being Earth-like. Cruising at an average velocity of 99.99995% of light speed the ship lost contact with Earth after a few hours of perceived onboard time, and the crew did not manage to regain contact during the 53 year flight time. When the ship did arrive, and the colonists were defrosted, the planet that they arrived at was not quite as they expected.

The New Wellington colony was established in the year 2200 by the reckoning of the colonists on a planet which was already very suitable for human habitation ... and in fact was already home to a population of around 50,000 humans living as hunter gatherers in its equatorial zone. Evidence suggested that their ancestors had arrived on the planet around two thousand years earlier and had begun a terraforming operation before something had caused their colony to collapse. A few tantalising hints buried in their language (which appeared to be descended from Mandarin) and myths suggested their civilisation may have been quite large and highly advanced, but at least this branch colony had not been for quite some time.

The Wellingtonians spread out and established their own colony, and fought a number of very one-sided wars with the "natives". By 2270 they had a working limited space infrastructure and had begun in-system mining ... which is how they came across the abandoned wreck of an ancient starship, still kept nearly intact by the vacuum of space, even after many centuries. It's data banks were long destroyed by solar radiation, and it would clearly never fly again, but the principles of its systems could be studied, and gave the colonists a huge leg-up in technology, including the essential principles of Faster Than Light travel.

(A native faction tried to make a claim on the ship on the grounds of it having belonged to their ancestors. The Wellingtonian courts found no merit in such a claim and the few native rebellions this spawned were quickly put down)

Expansion into Space

In 2291 the Wellingtonians were ready to test their own FTL drive, and by 2300 they had already begun exploring neighbouring systems.

In 2304 the Wellingtonians made first contact with another human colony: the people of the Vyasa system were a thriving interplanetary civilisation based on the terraformed moons of an oxygen/nitrogen gas giant which they called Meru. Their local date was 2532, and the mutual benefit which could be gained from an alliance between them and New Wellington was clear to both parties: two hundred years worth of technological development in exchange for the reverse engineered FTL drives.

By 2357 New Wellington Date (2585 Vyasan Date) the community of intercommunicating human colonies had grown to twelve systems, with local dates ranging from 2200 to 2760 (not counting the Wellingtonian Natives, of course), and levels of technological advancement to match. The newly growing community decided to come together to form a more permanent alliance, and so they founded the Humanian League, with the capital placed on New Wellington.

At that point no evidence had been found of intelligent alien life, nor of the original FTL civilisation from which the Wellingtonian Natives had sprung ... still Humanian exploration has been haphazard and there are still many systems left unexplored even within the reach of their drives. As they push closer to Earth they push further into the future and increase their chances of meeting other starfaring peoples.


In 2375 (NWD) the first Humanian Long Range Exploration Craft reached the Sol System itself. The expedition was achieved via a series of very long ranged jumps which would not be feasible for use in normal exploration, but were considered viable for an expedition to a known target.

There was some hope that the Earth might be home to a truly advanced civilisation. Many colonies had great hopes for the "Cradle of Humanity", but those hopes were dashed when the Star Forces reported that Earth was apparently gripped in another Ice Age. Human descended beings lived throughout the equatorial zone, most in hunter gatherer groups, a few in small cities using neolithic technology. All show signs of significant genetic engineering of their ancestors, to the extent that several distinct humanoid species are now present on Earth, with only limited inter-fertility between them.

Mars and Europa also showed signs of ancient terraforming, using technologies far beyond those of the Humanian League, but both had failed long ago, with Europa now uninhabitabel, and Mars supporting only a handful of small settlements clinging to the edges of the ancient canal network. A number of ancient asteroid habitats retained enough cohesion that future archaeological expeditions might well find great interest in their contents, but the initial explorers could do little more than catalogue and move on.


Saturday, 21 February 2015

Anime Series Recomendations

Ok, so every so often I'm in the position of wanting to recommend anime series to people, and each time I need to wrack my brains again to try and come up with a list, and inevitably I tend to only remember things I've watched recently.

So here's a list, categorised by loose genre, covering things I've enjoyed. The vast majority are available on crunchyroll, and links are included. A few aren't, and so no link is included.


  • Neon Genesis Evangelion One of the all-time classics, of course, and a personal favourite. It's dark and depressing, it's extremely psychologically complex, and it has both strong religious symbolism (Gnostic Christian) and some strong religious themes (Buddhist). One of the original genre-defining Mecha deconstructions, and likely to remain popular. HIGHLY RECOMENDED.
  • Bodacious Space Pirates is the story of Kato Marika, a teenaged girl who inherits a letter of marque from her deadbeat father and so is now the legal heir to a line of privateer captains going back over a hundred years. Lots of great world building, lots of great character work, lots of clever plotting, and loads of strong central independent female characters. Relatively little fanservice for the genre, and it keeps the balance of serious to tongue-in-cheek properly maintained (to my mind). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Campione! is one of my personal favourites, though the series is not as good as the novels it's adapted from. It's about a Japanese highschool boy who hunts and kills ancient gods using a set of powers which require him to know the god's mythology and history in great detail in order to use them, information he acquires via ritual magical knowledge transfer whilst making out with one of his four beautiful girlfriends. And described like that it sounds like the most absurd fanservicey rubbish around ... but it isn't. It's actually got strong and well written characters, clever use of obscure mythology, a well tempered and wry humorous tone, and a surprisingly nuanced view on the difficulties of a polyamorous relationship. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is the adaptation of one of the routes from the famous Visual Novel Fate/Stay Night. It features young, relatively idealistic mages dealing with the darkness and horror of an all-out mage war, whilst trying to make a difference and improve things. Also the best Tsundere ever. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Fate Zero is the prequel to Fate/Stay Night, though they can easily be watched in any order. It is a dark, violent, brutal take on a series of horrible horrible people fighting a magical war in a small city in Japan. Far and away the darkest entry in the Fate franchise, it's very enjoyable if you are into that kind of darkness. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (WITH CAVEAT).
  • Asura Cryin' is a pretty fun series of magical mecha battles and rival school councils. Kind of loses the plot a bit in the second half.
  • Blast of Tempest Two shakespeare quoting magnificent bastards take on the entire magical world by themselves despite having no magical talents of their own ... and win.
  • Sword Art Online of all the many "trapped in an MMO" series this one is probably the most popular. The first half of season 1 is essentially a fantasy sword hero story combined with a strong romance subplot with a "trapped in an MMO" gimmick as the establishing element. The second half is horrible in all kinds of ways which would really deserve a whole post to explain by themselves. The first half of season 2 is fairly generic but ok, even if the main character is annoying in his tendency to deprotagonise his female supporting cast. The third quarter of season 2 is a pretty generic fantasy quest story. The final quarter of season 2, on the other hand, is a great piece of character driven SF looking at the impact of VR technology on unexpected parts of people's lives. Over all it's hard to know where to place the series because of the highly variable quality.

World Building

  • Pale Cocoon the very best conceptual SF short film I've seen in a very long time. Only 25 minutes long. WATCH IT.
  • Crest of the Stars/Banner of the Stars (I, II, and III) is a slow-burn romantic space-opera set against the background of a galactic war. It features an extremely well developed and complex constructed culture, complete with its own conlang. The series is quite happy to take time just slowly dealing with social stuff rather than having to keep up with action -- though there is action. HIGHLY RECOMENDED.
  • Last Exile Diesel-punk drama dealing with the politics and warfare of a very strange society told from the perspective of a pair of young delivery pilots who get sucked into a major international conflict. HIGHLY RECOMENDED.
  • Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) is a piece of atmospheric post-historical science-fiction set in a transformed world of disturbing psionic powers, alien social structures, and inter-species oppression and politics. It's really very good, but pretty grim. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Time of Eve Asimovian Robots used to examine questions about personality and identity. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet In the far future a soldier from an omnicidal space war gets thrown through space to a planet previously only known of in myth: Earth. On Earth he learns to live, breathe, and eat freely, and possibly even to love, whilst we learn about just how dystopian his space-society is, and what the secret is which caused the start of the great war. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Yona of the Dawn is the tale of a once-pampered princess who is forced to wander the land in medieval pseudo-Korea with an assortment of bishie protectors, and in the process we get a lot of social commentary, politics, and not a little bit of romantic comedy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Log Horizon is another "trapped in an MMO" series, but this is the one which uses it as an excuse to get into heavy world building, economics, and political discussions whilst also engaging heavily with the nature of the reality the characters are in and the fact that a world that works according to MMO rules has some very exploitable loopholes in it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Humanity Has Declined A surreal black comedy involving the last generation of humans in a world now populated by incomprehensible post-human creatures.
  • Kamisama Dolls Wooden low-tech mecha, small village politics, very twisted and visceral violence (including references to sexual violence) and some extremely unpleasant people add up to a very dark take on hidden powers within the modern world in which those people with the power make use of it to abuse and belittle those who lack it.


  • Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a slightly weird mixture of ghost story (and really very creepy one in places) and romantic comedy hijinks (well done, for the most part) about a ghost girl who haunts a room in a school and the psychically sensitive boy who runs the supernatural activity club in that room. The creepy as hell anime-specific ending is actually toned down compared to the ending of the manga. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Mysterious Girlfriend X adolescent sexuality and coming to terms with your developing attraction to a member of the opposite sex told through the medium of saliva. No, seriously. It's really good and well made and stylish. But it's squicky as hell for a lot of people. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED (WITH CAVEAT)
  • Otome Yokai Zakuro during the westernisation of Japan a group of young male single military officers are paired up with young female single half-spirits in order to help police the spirit world and keep them in line. Romance ensues ;) HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Kotoura-San is the tale of a girl born with the power to read minds (and no power to not do so), whose life has been horribly messed up by the results of this psychic affliction which has destroyed all her friendships and familial relationships ... and then she meets a boy who is simple, straightforward, and really really nice and slowly her life starts to change for the better. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Say "I love you" a romantic drama in which a troubled isolated girl with trust issues falls into a romantic relationship with a friendly, popular, well liked boy who is far too accommodating for everyone and has a secret problem with self-esteem.
  • Fortune Arterial is a Vampire highschool rom-com with a male human protagonist and a female vampire love-interest. It's pretty decent, pretty amusing in its own way, and I rather enjoyed it, but it's very much a romance, if that's your thing.
  • Happiness! is what you turn to when you want an extremely generic rom-com with magic.
  • Myself; Yourself fairly standard, but well written, romantic story about a boy returning to his home town after years away and failing to recognise his old girlfriend immediately.


  • Chi's Sweet Home is a series of shorts cataloging the adventures of a tiny and adorable kitten. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Dog Days is an enjoyable romp of silliness in which a highly talented kid who's main passion is running assault courses (which he is a national-level junior champion at) gets sucked into a fantasy world which solves all its wars via the medium of assault courses. It's extremely silly.
  • GIRLS und PANZER is an epically silly cute girls being cute whilst doing sports anime in which the sport in question is riding around in tanks. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Hayate no Gotoku ! The world's unluckiest hyper-competent highschool student ends up massively in debt to the Yakuza, but works as a butler for a shut-in ultra-rich little-girl to pay it off. Hilarity ensues (and it really does). Extremely tongue-in-cheek comedy, with a strong element of fourth-wall-breaking meta-humour. Also delightful send-ups of clichéd romantic plots. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • My Ordinary Life Weird slice of strange whimsical comedy in which odd things happen for no real reason and nothing makes much sense, but who cares, because it's funny. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Free! - Iwatobi Swim Club is a tale of attractive young men with lots of loving animated muscles who are massively into swimming and homoerotic subtext, but mostly swimming. They're presented primarily as eye-candy for the female viewership (represented conveniently by one bland female student) but also as a source of humour as they engage in the kind of silly antics cute girls normally engage in in anime. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is about a girl named Sakura, who has a crush on a boy named Nozaki ... and it turns out he's actually a successful semi-professional shoujo manga writer/illustrator! Which is a good springboard for lots of humour poking fun at the conventions of shoujo manga. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Skip Beat! As motivations for getting into show business go "revenge" is not a common one, but it can be very effective. Kyouko is trying to succeed not for her own sake, but to get revenge on her horrible ex-boyfriend. That said, her adventures in the world of acting and modelling are lots of fun, and the characters are very well rounded. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • My Little Monster romantic comedy in which a neurotic and misanthropic girl whose life revolves around nothing but studying falls accidentally into that weird ambiguous sort of not-quite-romantic relationship you can get into as a confused teenager with a high-functioning sociopath. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Tsuritama fabulous highschool boys (one of whom is an alien)  bond through fishing. Mostly it's about the fishing.
  • Venus to Mamoru! A young spiky-haired boy goes to wizard school and immediately becomes the object of affections for the most powerful and terrifying young witch in the world. The student council (who are also a shady magical black-ops group) think it would be hilarious to play around with this relationship. Basically a very silly rom-com.
  • DENKI-GAI is the humorous and romantic misadventures of the staff of a geeky bookstore. They mostly have silly misadventures, and occasionally talk about erotic manga.
  • Polar Bear Cafe A Polar Bear runs a café. He likes making puns.
  • Poyopoyo the life and times of a spherical cat and the family that has adopted him.
  • Oreshura Also known as "My Girlfriend and My Old Childhood Friend Fight Too Much" is a fairly fun piece focusing on a put-upon male protagonist who is caught in the ambit of a manipulative girl who blackmails him into pretending to be her boyfriend.

Stuff Happens

  • Kokoro Connect five highschool students suddenly start swapping bodies without an apparent reason. The series acknowledges how creepy and traumatic this can be, whilst also avoiding playing the angst up too much. Those affected are clearly under psychological stress from what is happening to them, but are also not about to let it control their lives completely. In the end it's a strong story about friendship and unity in the face of externally applied difficulties, as well as about not judging others hypocritically when your own private life contains very similar issues. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Gingitsune is about a teenaged girl who is a shrine maiden and has the power to see the guardian spirit of her shrine, a silver haired fox named Gin. There's some supernatural stuff (obviously), but mostly it's a pleasant story about her making friends and being a normal girl whilst also having a close relationship with the gods. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Little Witch Academia Sadly only one episode yet exists of this delightfully whimsicle tale of young girls at a boarding school for trainee witches. Feels a lot like The Worst Witch, if you've ever read those books. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Occult Academy is a story about a highschool-aged girl continuing her Father's work in investigating the occult, paranormal, and weird, and also a time-travelling spoonbender from the future. It's kind of, but the pacing is terrible.
  • Soranowoto cute girls do cute things whilst in uniform, acting as the garrison for a sleepy little fortress right on the border in a weird post-post-apocalyptic setting.


  • Chihayafuru is a series about a teenaged girl named Chihaya who is completely obsessed with a traditional Japanese card game called Karuto. It's essentially a sports anime cataloging the trials of her and her friends as they work their way through the Karuto leagues and try to compete with the experts in this rather eccentric and old-fashioned game.
  • Wandering Son A romantic drama featuring a trans-girl and a trans-boy dealing with the difficulties of transexual identity in modern Japan.
  • Space Brothers follows a man who is trying to become an astronaut in the near future, following in the footsteps of his younger brother.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Japanese Numbers

So this is something that's been bothering me for a while. There are a lot of good guides to Japanese numbers out there, both online and in print, covering the various (eccentric) ways that you pronounce different numbers in Japanese, but they all seem to concentrate on the classic style of Kanji numerals. Some say that there are two ways you'll see numbers written in Japanese: place notation in Arabic numerals, eg. 1023,511,65535, and the traditional Kanji method, eg. 千二十三、五百十一、六面五千五百三十五. But more and more I'm seeing a different approach in actual Japanese writing, which is essentially place-notation using Kanji numerals, so:
I'm really not sure whether this is a new thing, or just something the available source material chooses not to pay attention to, but it certainly shows up a lot in books.

The character that's used for zero here is a Kanji circle character that occasionally shows up elsewhere as a marker for "unknown Kanji". On kotoeri (and presumably other waparu-roumaji input methods) you can get it by typing "zero" and choosing from the drop down.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Legend of Zelda Games

On Twitter recently I was having a conversation with a friend when it transpired that she's never played a Zelda game, and was put off the idea because she didn't want to start in the middle of an ongoing series! Which is quite a misapprehension to have regarding a series that is heavily designed to be stand-alone and playable in any order.

As a general rule most Zelda games are stand-alone stories: the same character names show up in all of them, and similar events, and they're set in a shared world (sort of), but each is set at a different point in the history of that world, and whilst the characters may have the same names they are generally not the same people.

With that in mind, and for the benefit of anyone who cares I thought I'd do a round up of all the Legend of Zelda games currently available to play on the current and previous generation of Nintendo consoles: which is to say the Wii, WiiU, New 3DS, New 3DS XL, 3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, DSi, DS-mini, and DS.  In no particular order, they are:

  • Ocarina of Time 3D is a remake of Ocarina of Time for the 3DS family (including 2DS, 3DS XL, etc ...). This game is entirely stand-alone. No previous Zelda game is needed to understand it, and any relations between it and other games are really in the form of Easter Eggs. It's generally regarded as one of the best videogames of all time, and certainly regularly gets voted best in the series (though I disagree).
  • Majora's Mask 3D is a remake of Majora's Mask for 3DS. Technically this one is a direct sequel to Ocarina, although the plot has little connection, it's just that the main character is the same. Still, the thematic similarities mean it's probably best to wait and play this one after Ocarina.
  • Twilight Princess is a Wii original title (though a version for the game cube was released) which will play on a Wii-U provided you have a Wii remote. It's likely the darkest of the series, with a strong theme of ambiguity and ... well ... twilight. It was my first Zelda game, and I love it dearly, it's also completely stand-alone except for easter eggs, theoretically being set centuries after Ocarina.
  • Skyward Sword is the only Wii exclusive instalment of the franchise, and requires the Wii motion plus or Wii remote plus to play (and will run on a Wii-U with those). It's an absolutely brilliant game, far and away my favourite computer game of any sort, and so I tend to feel quite sad that as a title released in the final days of the Wii it got very little attention. Unlike other games it makes extremely good use of the motion plus high quality accelerometers in the controller and maps sword movements directly to the movements of your hand. As a result of this it's one of the fastest and most dynamic games I've ever played: and one which very much rewards skill in the handling of the controls. It's also entirely stand-alone, theoretically being set centuries before any of the other games.
  • Windwaker HD is a Wii-U remake of Windwaker, originally for the GameCube (and playable on a Wii). It's a fun piratical game, quite different in setting and feel from the more Ocarina influenced titles. Again, except for easter-eggs it's entirely stand-alone.
  • Phantom Hourglass for the DS (and playable on the 3DS) is a direct sequel to Windwaker, and, to my mind, rather frustrating due to having to repeat the same dungeon multiple times in order to get through fast enough.
  • Spirit Tracks also for DS is based on the same engine as Phantom Hourglass but is more of a standalone title: in theory it happens centuries after Hourglass, and a few references are made, but nothing important relies on knowledge of any previous games. This one has trains ... which should really be enough to make you want to play it by yourself.
  • Link Between Worlds for 3DS is, technically, also a sequel, to Link to the Past, a very old game that is still highly regarded. I've never played Link to the Past and had no issues with Link Between Worlds, but I will caution any readers that it is a very old-school style of play. Still it makes extremely interesting use of the transition between 3D and 2D modes, which is pretty different, and rather cool, and probably means you'll be missing out on some things if you play on the 2DS. Its place on the timeline would theoretically be somewhere long before Ocarina, but still long after Skyward Sword, but as with most Zelda games this is not at all important.
In principle the whole timeline thing can actually get very complex, since technically the timeline branches due to time-travel shenanigans during Ocarina, but honestly it's of no interest to anyone whilst playing the games, and just a bit of a curious oddity to get geeky about elsewise.

Learning Japanese

So, I've been working on trying to learn to read Japanese for some time now. My motivation is a little hard to explain, in part it's because I consume a lot of Japanese media in translation and would like to be able to follow in the original language, in part it's because I'd very much like to visit Japan some day, in part its because I don't really speak any foreign languages and would like to correct that, and in part it's because when my brain's left to its own devices it spins in a way that's not conducive to my mental health -- keeping it occupied is generally good for me, and it takes a lot to keep it occupied.

Hence learning to read Japanese.

So, several months in how am I doing? Well, better than might be expected, but don't expect miracles.

There's a good few resources I've found useful in my learning, which might help other Japanese self-learners. I'll make other posts about other resources if I find more later, but for the moment:

  •  Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese is probably the best source on Japanese grammar I've found anywhere online. It's a pretty good step by step guide, but armed with only what it provides I think it's pretty doable to read the grammar found in most written Japanese sentences -- but it won't help much with the vocabulary or writing systems.
  • Aeron Buchanan's Japanese Verb Chart is the most useful resource I've found for verbs, and once you learn how to read it it is incredibly useful. I have a printed version which I use as a bookmark when reading Japanese books, and I think I've only once come across a verb ending which it doesn't cover (an archaic form, as it turned out).
  • Denshi Jisho is the best online English-Japanese dictionary I've found. It gives a useful guide to all the Kanji in the word as well as the word itself and supports multi-radical search (which is the most useful ever feature).
  • imiwa? is the best iOS dictionary app I've found. It has pretty much the same features as Denshi Jisho (above), but in an app which can be used offline and with an interface which meshes very nicely with the built-in OS support for Japanese entry.
  • White Rabbit Press Kanji Flash Cards: sadly there's no substitute for Kanji drilling, and if you want to be able to read without constantly using a dictionary you'll need to drill them over and over again. These cards help, a lot. I keep a small selection of them in a pocket of my trousers at all times and practice with them whenever I have a spare moment.
  • All About Particles is a book about particles -- small words similar to English prepositions (though most Japanese particles are strictly postpositional) which make up the vast bulk of Japanese grammar. Unlike English which uses word positioning for grammatical meaning, or Latin which uses noun declension for this, Japanese uses particles for almost everything other than verb conjugation.
  • The Japanese Amazon site is pretty much the best place for buying Japanese books: and for me being able to read Japanese books is why I'm doing this. My current reading material is カンピオーネ!―神はまつろわず the first in a series of novels I've previously enjoyed in translation.
My current progress is slow, but steady. I can read slowly with the assistance of a dictionary. I need to consult my verb conjugation guide only rarely, and my Kanji practise is meaning that I can occasionally read words without a dictionary.  I have a l long way to go before I'd say I can read Japanese, even a little, but I'm definitely progressing.