Pay For Anime?

Not me. Even though the title rhymes, no one wants to pay for anime when you can get them for free. Same goes for videos, music, movies. Most entertainment, really. And when Labour Day draws near, we’d much rather be spending our hard-earned money on other more important things such as clothes, and food.

There’re many ways to get free anime. The most basic way is to search for the anime on YouTube and rely on the kindness of other people to upload every episode in high definition. It used to be more likely for you to get what you want, but YouTube has stamped down on copyright infringements so it gets harder to find good anime in there. I remember back 6 years ago when a very nice girl uploaded D.Gray-Man episodes on the day she downloaded them, punctually every week, and in high quality too. All the fans loved her. Gradually there were more people who uploaded D.Gray-Man episodes, and I think she stopped doing it too. But I’ll never forget people like her who generously share what they have at the risk of having their accounts frozen!

Nowadays the recommended way is to find an anime streaming site. Most such sites start with the word “anime”, but the easiest is to Google “watch [insert anime here] online”. I personally like “” because it has a sleek design and less irritating ads, and also doesn’t have a stupid chatbox where people just troll each other. It doesn’t have all anime — especially the ones licensed by Funimation, such as Robotics;Notes — but it has enough.

For the more hardcore fans who mistrust video mirrors, downloading these episodes is also useful, especially when you don’t have an internet connection all the time. You must prepare a hardcore otaku hard drive and torrent the anime you want, all in one shot! I don’t torrent, so I can’t recommend a good place to do it, but many anime fans torrent, so your status in the otaku ranking hierarchy will be much elevated if you do — provided you use a trustable torrent, of course.

There is a fourth solution to anime woes, and that is downloads of software that contain every anime (and also every drama and film) under the sun. PPS, for instance, is used on computers and in phones and tablets to play anime or other shows on public transport. I personally don’t derive much pleasure from squinting at a small reflective screen, but it does relieve boredom while on the go. PPS also comes with Chinese subtitles, for those who know Chinese.

There is really no shame in buying anime VCDs once in a while. Granted, video shops in Singapore sell a very limited collection most of the time, but I did manage to snag Ookamikakushi, an anime I wouldn’t brand as good but did feature FictionJunction’s Toki no Mukou, Maboroshi no Sora as its opening. Watching VCDs on the TV screen allows a much wider view than even the computer, and sometimes you just need the sensation of width to immerse in a sense of awe at the battles fought and the epic stories told.

There’re many ways to watch anime, whether paid or unpaid. Most times it’s more worthwhile not to pay, as long as you don’t get caught. I’ve listed a few ways to consider procuring your new anime fix, so I hope it broadens your options now!

Clubbing, Literarily

Maybe you’re too busy studying for exams to know this, but we’re only 2 days away from Labour Day! It’s ironic every year that students will continue to toil away in their studies at home on this day, despite the dictum that it’s supposed to be a day of rest. Do adults get it any easier, though? I’m quite sure that in workaholic countries like Singapore, Labour Day is just like a weekend — you bring your work home.

In the spirit of no-work though, today’s entry is a suggestion of a leisurely recreational activity you can do on Labour Day as you get together with similar holidaying friends, start a book club! There’s nothing lonelier than staying in to read all by yourself on a day when everybody’s out having fun, so why don’t you mix your hobby with some healthy social activity?

But of course, not many of us have enough bibliophilic friends to have a club of our own, and book clubs are always a good way to know new people as well. To make a successful public book club, though, there’re certain difficulties to consider beforehand.

1. Plan what your book club will be like.

Before you even look out for members, you’ve got to have a good idea of what your book club will incorporate. You should think about any requirements you may have, such as whether you can meet only once a month, or you’ll only dabble in fantasy. These requirements should be made clear to prospective members right from the start. You should also prepare a location for the meeting. However, it’s of course fine to let your members make better suggestions or steer the club in a different direction. It’s a fine balance between member autonomy and control, and if there’re certain restrictions you must put in place, then state them clearly from the start, and leave the rest to discussion.

2. Advertise.

Advertising’s required in everything, not simply book clubs. Flyers are the most straightforward way to spread the word around, but you must be careful to distribute them to your target audience, whether it’s in schools, libraries or out on the streets. You can also advertise online, if there’s a website or forum that allows you to reach your target audience. But be careful of the kinds of people you’ll get from such blind advertising, since most of them mayn’t suit the mood you’re setting. Also be careful to specify that you’re discussing books, not ordering them at a low price.

3. During the first meeting.

Provided you’ve managed to gather a sufficient pool of people, your first meeting’s aim should be to make everyone feel cosy. Introduce yourselves over refreshments and set out expectations, such as the portion of time that should be spent on reading between meetings, responsibilities of each member, whether you can bring guests, etcetera. And during this time, you should also decide on your first book. You can always start off with a bestseller you like, or get everybody to contribute a suggestion and take a vote. And before you end the meeting, be sure to think up a name for your book club. It fosters a sense of belonging among everyone, and makes it easier to advertise in the future too.

Book clubs sound like a great way to learn of new books, but also a great deal of commitment to read them! I hope you’ve tons of fun building one though! After all, Labour Day isn’t for labour.

I… I Have News To Break

I’ve just been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Well, no I haven’t really. But I can understand how it must feel if somebody told me the precise same thing in my face. It’s probably on the same level as being told the person has cancer. Is it possible to do anything for the person or the situation at all? Just as it is for things like cancer, there’s really nothing much that other people can do, but similarly, just as it is with cancer, you can do your best to make things comfortable for the person. However, I haven’t met anybody who’s been diagnosed with a mental illness, and having yet to take Abnormal Psychology, have only a beginning Psychology student’s familiarity with them. What I do know is that mental illness occurs in degrees. There’re mild as well as severe cases of any mental illness. Think of it as the derangements found in World of Darkness. There’s the preliminary form followed by the severe form, and when one reads the descriptions of some of the preliminary forms, we may find that they aren’t so scary as the media makes them out to be. In fact, we may inadvertently behave like some of these derangements at times (or is it just me?).

In any case, mental illness is really a very broad umbrella, just as “physical illness” can be used to describe anything from fevers to heart attacks to diabetes. As the article recommended, you should read up on the specifics of the other party’s condition before jumping to conclusions that he’s schizophrenic and will attack you at the next moment. The thing about most mental illnesses is that sufferers are more at risk of harming themselves than others, and truly violent and aggressive people are at a minority.

Is it easy to tell if someone has a mental condition? I’m not sure, because any guesses I’ve made have never been verified. The definitions of most mental illnesses include a clause that symptoms have to last for a certain period of time, usually 6 months. 6 months is a long time, but what it represents is the idea of permanence. Someone with a mental illness must demonstrate symptoms quite continuously and persistently, such that they become “difficult to miss” to an extent. If you’ve a friend whom at times you think is simply crazy, but at most other times is only your average friend, chances are you’re abusing the term.

Unlike physical illnesses, the detection of mental illnesses isn’t foolproof. I concede that sometimes physical illnesses are also not foolproof, but there’re conclusive scientific proof at least that the body isn’t functioning as it should be. In the past, mental illnesses could only be detected by means of psychiatric scales and assessments by qualified psychiatrists, but with the help of brain scanning technology, it becomes slightly more reliable. However, psychology is ultimately a study of human thought and behaviour, and human thought and behaviour are both intangible concepts. We haven’t been able to map all the different parts of the brain to specific neurological and behavioural processes yet, which means we don’t know which parts of the brain are responsible for conditions such as multiple personalities disorder, for instance. MRI scans only tell half the story.

This is a pretty general entry on mental illnesses in general, but abnormal psychology is as always a flourishing branch of psychology (though its popularity seems to have waned a little in recent years). Most of the time, if you’re worrying that you’ve a mental disorder, chances are you don’t, and you’re just diagnosed with the problem of thinking-too-much!

The Mathematics of Art

I’ve heard about this a few times, but everytime I learn it again, it never fails to make me uncomfortable. Mathematics and art, 2 very disparate subjects (of which I am fond of neither), are actually quite intricately linked! You would think that mathematics, being all rigid and systematic, would have nothing to do with the fluid randomness of art. However, it doesn’t seem to be always the case.

If you’ve heard of the Golden Ratio, you’d know how it relates to beauty. The Golden Ratio relates 2 numbers such that the ratio of the sum of the numbers to the larger number is equal to the ratio of the larger number to the smaller one. So basically, for 2 numbers a and b, where a > b,

(a + b) / a = a / b

Quite a simple equation to grasp, but such numbers have far-reaching implications. Artists and architects believe that structures with such a ratio of length to breadth is aesthetically pleasing. Luca Pacioli himself wrote 3 books to show just how harmonious and pleasing golden-ratio structures are, but later on it was found that his interpretation was traced to an error, and that Pacioli actually advocated the Vitruvian system of rational proportions. Pacioli also found Catholic religious significance in the ratio. Even in book designs at the time, books produced between 1550 and 1770 had these “beautiful” page proportions. Even in music, Bartok and other musicians might also have used the Golden Ratio to compose their musical scales.

Another relation between mathematics and art is in the form of fractals, which is relatively related to technology. Fractals are “rough or fragmented geometric shapes that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole”. It’s hard to talk about this without illustrations, but basically it posits that fractal triangles may actually be made up of an infinite number of triangles, so minuscule that they form the shape of a line when zoomed out. Great shapes can be made when you invert 1 part of the fractal, or by magnifying it to show the complex little shapes that make up the final shape.

There are other stranger concepts floating out there about beauty in geometric shapes. Francis Hutcheson says that shapes have to have uniformity and variety in order to be most beautiful. For instance, among regular shapes, the hexagon would be more beautiful than the pentagon, which is more beautiful than square, because the more beautiful shapes have a greater number of sides. On the other hand, among shapes with the same number of sides, a square would surpass the rhombus, which is more beautiful than the trapezium, due to their irregular curved sides. Is this true or is it the theory of a 1726 old fogey?

But of course, who cares about shapes? When it comes to people, those with facial symmetry are more attractive than those who don’t. It’s in fact played on in World of Darkness’ Changeling: The Lost. Changelings, no matter how weird and boorish they look, always have a strange charm to them, which I think can be attributed to innate facial symmetry. In fact, facial symmetry has been suggested as a possible physical manifestation of the Big 5 personality traits, especially extraversion and openness. This is because hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen are associated with development of facial features during puberty, and are thus the cause for these individual differences. So not only are symmetrical people beautiful, they may also have a beautiful personality too — if you like extroverted open people, that is.

Wouldn’t you say mathematics and art interweave in many parts of our lives then?

When In Rome?

I think I’m really smart. Did you guys catch the layered meaning in the title? “when in Rome”, and “when in Rome?” One is the first half of the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. The other is “when?” as in “which year?”

Because both meanings have much to do with today’s entry. Wikitravel has declared Rome the Destination of the Month for April, so before April ends I shall talk a bit about this mysterious city.

First of all, the whole idea of “when in Rome?” comes in when most of us can only think of historical Rome, and find it hard to reconcile it with the modern-day world. Neither can we really think of Rome as the capital city of Italy because the old Romans didn’t speak Italian; they spoke Latin. I’m sure those gladiator soldiers didn’t eat pizza or spaghetti either. Just what’s going on?

It can be interesting that historical Rome was so popular. There’re countless movies and games based on this setting, and it often comes to mind when we think of rich European history. Roman architecture, culture and legends are what come to mind, along with lots and lots of sand and buildings and Roman bathhouses. Oh, and churches, of course, devoted to all manner of gods. Old Rome was bustling and economically successful. But what about Rome of today?

Apparently the 21st of April was the city’s birthday, so the city does still live after all! Its Historic Centre has been dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for good reason. Although you may have missed the city’s birthday, you may be right on time for La settimana dei beni culturali, which is a week in mid-May where every landmark, archaeological site and museum belonging to government agencies is accessible and free of charge! But in general, admission is free for places like the Pantheon or St Peter’s at the Vatican, which are most worthwhile places to visit as a tourist.

Rome also celebrates Labour Day, which they call Primo Maggio, or “day of the worker”. On this way there is a big rock concert in Piazza San Giovanni, which is probably ticketed, but there’ll also be big crowds in popular areas. The whole of Italy will be filled with parades and festivals so it’s well worth a visit to soak in the partying spirit.

Also, the Historical Group of Rome runs a gladiator school! You get to enrol formally as a gladiator and fight for your honour!

I know most of us will be looking out for alternative toppings on Italian pizzas, but pizzas tend to be served only in the evenings over there. Roman pizzas, unlike the pizzas of Naples, tend to have a very thin crust. They’re sold by the weight. After pizza, you can go grab some ice-cream — gelato! You get to choose if you want whipped cream on top of your ice-cream.

And if you’re a coffee addict, you’re in luck! Italian coffee is apparently much better than Starbucks fare, but you’ve got to note their usage of terms. Latte in Italy will just be a glass of milk (the one with coffee is called a caffelatte), and Romans scoff at having cappucino after 11 am, and especially after a meal, because it doesn’t help the digestion like an espresso does, and is also quite heavy on the stomach.

I wonder why I love writing travel entries so much. Maybe I love imagining myself in different places, seeing new sights and tasting different food. No doubt when I’m actually there, I’ll wish I could go home quickly. But that’s another experience of travelling, isn’t that? Homesickness.

Beat The Baybeats

The Esplanade in Singapore organises an annual large-scale musical gig known as Baybeats. It lasts 3 days and showcases local bands and is drummed up to be really hip and happening and a party for youngsters. This year’s Baybeats is held from 28th to 30th June, quite a long way away. I’m definitely not going to be there, because I frankly don’t like local music enough, but it’s quite interesting for music and concert lovers, especially the hype they’re generating.

Not only are they auditioning for bands to perform, they’re also recruiting gig photographers, music journalists, entrepreneurs to set up booths to sell their wares, and emcees as well. If you’re a teenager looking for a chance to make your big break and finally show the world that your talents are worth something, Baybeats is a large event that’ll look good on your testimonial.

In a way, I wish I were interested. I wish I loved journalism, and music, and emceeing or business, enough to take a stab at Baybeats. Sometimes it can be stressful, I’d imagine, for somebody to have no interests at all. For someone to have no passion for anything that they can spend their time on. Sure, you get more time and less stress this way, just staying at home and doing what you’re supposed to. I’m sure anybody would rather stay at home sometimes, or have the freedom to go out wherever they want, whenever they want, to relax, chill out, have fun, play. No need to put in continuous effort and fear failure. No need for commitment. No need to worry about falling sick and being unable to continue working.

On the other hand, as a child I’ve experienced what it’s like not to be involved in anything, and I wasn’t much happier than the involved and committed kids. I could go home on time everyday, but I couldn’t experience the delight of doing so. Going home early meant nothing to me, whereas it’d mean a great deal of relief to other people. Most importantly, I didn’t feel important. I didn’t have many friends, and I didn’t know where my talents lay — or if I had any abilities at all. In short, without challenges, one only feels incompetent. So Baybeats is a project that really builds competence into people. I guess the cliched phrase of “character building and development” really comes true here. What these stuff do is shape attitudes, be it towards life, work or self.

In any case, the line-up for bands hasn’t come up yet. I can be sure they’ll be singing in English, and banging lots of instruments around. There’ll be loads of rock music, but nothing like the kind I’m used to. Simply put, nothing for me to see there. But who knows, maybe I’ll simply hang around to soak up the atmosphere. The atmosphere, after all, is the main feature of any large-scale public event. And maybe I’ll be able to withstand a few minutes of loud drumming in my ears too.

Ratings and Rankings

I think that yesterday’s and today’s entries have something in common; they can both be applied to each other. Yesterday’s entry talked about finding the familiar from the new, which is something many anime fans are constantly staking out (and the “new” is displayed neatly for them in the form of anime seasonal charts). Today’s entry centres mainly on anime ratings, reviews and rankings, something that people often do for books too.

I remember coming across an argument between two anime fans about Psycho-Pass. One said it was great, the other pointed out that it wasn’t so. Both of them had supporting arguments and examples to show why the plot was well-written (or not) and the character development grand (or not). Ultimately, though, neither of them could go around to the side of the other, because there’s no objective standard to judge whether an anime is good or not. It depends on what you expect out of it. People are arguing because they don’t want to look like they’re giving in without a fight — because their point deserves to be explained and elaborated on in depth. They’re not arguing to get the other party to see things their way, because they know it’s impossible.

And this is why anime reviews and ratings mean nothing to me. I’ve seen rave reviews of anime that I simply disliked (think Sword Art Online) and mediocre reviews of anime that I found actually pretty good (okay I must say I can’t remember anything that fits in this category). In any case, the reviewer just has different tastes from mine, and if I want to know if I’ll like the show I might as well check out the objective facts — what can be found on Wikipedia. I’m sure the true anime fans stake out anime before they even air, which means they don’t consult anime reviews. Plus there’re so many anime reviews out there, and it can be difficult to find a reviewer with the same tastes as you. What you can do, though, if the reviewer includes it, is find similar anime just like the one he’s reviewing. Some reviewers draw parallels between 1 anime and others, and if you love that anime it can be quite reliable to use that guide to locate similar ones, though of course comparisons are also not foolproof.

Another thing that people like to do is have top 10 rankings. Top 10 favourite anime, top 10 favourite seiyuu, top 10 favourite characters. Rankings are, I must say, very fun to look up, and one gets to cheer when one sees one’s preferred anime up there, and also wait with bated breath for the anime occupying the #1 spot. While it seems easy, making a top 10 list can feel forced. First of all, there’re probably many anime that occupy the same spot on your list. I like XXX best of all, but I like AAA and BBB quite equally, though better than CCC probably. So both AAA and BBB will be tied for #2, but what about CCC, DDD and EEE then? It’s likely that the lower one goes down the list, the more anime one can imagine filling the same spot. Forcing them into a hierarchy is quite pointless.

Second, 10 is probably the worst number to use to rank anything. People either have fewer than 10 favourite anime, or they’ve so many they can’t narrow them down to 10. 10 is also too large a number to process in one go (I bet you won’t be able to remember my top 10 list in the correct order if I write it here). And is anime #10 worth watching at all? It’s hard to tell. I’d say most people have about 5 or 6 anime that made an impression on them, and the remaining 4 to 5 are there to fill the gap.

Of course, I’m not discouraging you from trying to write your own ratings and rankings, but I just want to remind you that not everything can be forced tidily in numerical or statistical form. So if someone point-blank refuses to name you their top 10, it doesn’t mean they’re any less of an otaku than you are.

The Conflict of Trying Out New Things

I think most people have a fear of new things. Look at a plate of food you’ve never tried before and you wouldn’t be inclined to taste it. If you had a choice between working with strangers or friends, you would most likely choose friends. But these aren’t really problems. We would never run out of supply of familiar food, just as how the number of friends we have won’t deplete after we’ve worked with them (provided the project doesn’t flop terribly). But when it comes to things like books or movies, it’s a different picture.

I’ve seen many times somebody writing on Facebook, “Just finished so-and-so book, is there anything you can recommend just like it?” or “I really like Book XXX! I’m trying out some of the author’s other works now.” Books, unlike food and friends, are limited. After you’ve finished reading a book, you can’t live out the rest of your life re-reading the same book over and over. Even for stuff like music, it’s still quite possible to live each day listening to nothing but Bach’s symphony or the Can-Can song. At least you can listen to those songs over and over again for some time. But when it comes to books, it’s got to be fantastic if it makes you want to read it a second or third time. Sometimes the act of re-reading the novel loses the initial feeling you got from it. And so we’re constantly forced to seek out new books, and yet I believe all of us have read at least one bad book in our lives, a book that left a bad taste in our mouths and which we couldn’t read all the way to the end. There is a fear in us that the new book is going to turn out like that. We’ve a belief that only 5% of the books in the world are good reads, and the other 95% simply don’t suit our tastes. We like to think that our favourite authors had a distinctive style that few can emulate, and therefore once we’ve read something of that quality, we can’t stoop to a lower standard anymore.

The truth is, no 2 books will ever be alike, and hence it’s fruitless to hunt for a book just like the one you read and liked. Because how much is “just like”? You obviously don’t want something precisely the same, or else you’re better off reading the same book again. If the book is even slightly different, you’ll most likely end up comparing the 2 and concluding that the first book was better, because you did declare to have liked it after all. It’d be so indecisive of you to like every new book you read better than the previous one.

So what I recommend is not to hanker after books of the same genre, unless you really love that genre and just can’t get past it (which does happen sometimes; people who love mystery novels simply can’t get themselves interested in romance or historical fiction). Try to read books that are as incommensurable as possible — for example, a fantasy novel with a collection of non-fiction anecdotes like Chicken Soup. You won’t feel dissonance if you love them both, because they happen in such different contexts. You can conditionally like them both in different situations — fantasy for when you’re feeling escapist and Chicken Soup to recommend to anybody feeling down. It’s not wrong to have a favourite book, but it’s even better to have a top 10 list, because you’ll have 10 books that you like then, rather than 1.

The best books I ever read were stumbled upon accidentally in the library. Try sourcing books from the library too. You’ll be more courageous to try new books when they’re free of charge. Just empty your mind of expectations and walk around the shelves. If a cover catches your eye, pick it up and plunge into the first chapter. You’ll find that there’re many hidden gems in the literary world that may not have had as much marketing as the bestsellers out there, but are perhaps even more precious to you because they speak to you in a voice that only you can hear and understand.

Kinda like this blog.

Autism and Aspergers Syndrome

Autism is one of those mental illnesses that’re favoured on TV, together with multiple personalities disorder, depression and brain damage brought about by some mysterious fever. Children, and sometimes adults, are portrayed as being autistic, and looking rather cute at it too. But does this really resemble autism in reality?

I’ve a cousin who’s been diagnosed with mild autism, I believe. I’m not too sure of the specifics, but he definitely doesn’t act like the kids on television. I’ve heard that some children with mild or even moderate autism get over it as they grow older, which I think he does. But when he was younger, he didn’t talk or socialise much with people and the psychologist said his learning progress was slower than others. And so he entered school a year later than other children. He liked doing things by himself and could get violent when he didn’t understand what others were saying, and his talking was also slurred. However, he’s really normal now and can chat up a storm. However, he doesn’t seem to like talking to people still in a proper conversation. Or rather, he talks but doesn’t really listen, so you can’t engage in a dialogue with him. And he’s 11 years old now.

The first time I learned of autism was probably after reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I forgot why I even started reading it, but I was about 9 years old when I did, I think. It was a great book, and I like the whole idea of a case being embedded in it. I liked mystery books then and having a case to solve made it sound even more appealing. But while there’re commercial stories and television programmes to teach us about autism, not much is known of Asperger syndrome.

Asperger syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder, which means it is a pervasive developmental disorder similar to autism. Sufferers have significant difficulties in social interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. It is different from autism because it preserves linguistic and cognitive development. Children with Asperger have no learning difficulty. People with Asperger syndrome will laugh at jokes that’re at the expense of others, because they lack social empathy, and say very awkward things. I’ve known somebody with Asperger for a short while on the internet, and he was already in his teens so his condition was quite under control. However, he still unnerved people by saying very inappropriate stuff and behaving a bit too affectionately with girls, which distanced him from everyone else and in the end he still could not fit in, try as he might.

Some of you may remember my having mentioned Asperger before, when I was talking about Big Bang Theory. People have commented that Sheldon resembles some symptoms of Asperger, though the show’s producers said they didn’t have any mental condition in mind when designing the character.

Nowadays, some people with Asperger syndrome have fought for the notion that they’re just different, not wrong. Some internet sites such as Wrong Planet are communities for Asperger syndrome people who refuse to be treated to get together and celebrate their difference. In a way, this also reminds us that mental illnesses do have varying degrees of adaptability to daily life, and that we shouldn’t practise discrimination on such people, just as we don’t oppress people of a different race or gender.

But if we accept them as being just as ordinary as we are, will this downplay the emotional difficulties they face from reduced empathy? Should we acknowledge their differences or respect them as one of our own?