Monday, 27 November 2017

Anime Review: Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘)

Funny how things turn out sometimes. I wasn't planning to watch this anime let alone review it. It all began with a search for Japanese high school uniforms with a pastel colour scheme. Google Images turned up nothing so I decided to scour through my other source of inspiration for colour schemes i.e. anime art. It was then that I chanced upon Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘) which depicted Japanese high school uniforms in a pleasing pastel colour scheme. What I ended up doing was watch the entire series of this romantic-comedy/drama in two marathon sessions.  

Your Lie In April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso / 四月は君の嘘)

What is the anime about? Well, it's a story of love, of suffering, of growing up pains, of friendship, of letting go, of music and ultimately of life. Former child music prodigy Arima Kōsei lost his ability to hear the piano pieces he's playing when his mother died. Two years after that fateful day he stopped playing music, Kōsei meets Miyazono Kaori - the girl who would forever change his life and the lives of his two closest friends Tsubaki Sawabe and Ryōta Watari. In essence, it's a romantic coming-of-age tale that both warms the heart and tears it apart in equal measure.  

Arima Kōsei is the main protagnoist and pianist who can no longer hear the pieces he plays
Miyazono Kaori, a free-spirited girl whom Kōsei meets under the full-bloomed cheery blossoms  

If you've read other reviews about this drama you would've quickly surmised that viewers fall into two distinct categories. They either love it or hate it. So you know, I loved it. Criticisms often revolve around the show being overly melodramatic; filled with monologues; and populated with characters mature and insightful beyond their age. While the first two are fairly valid observations, I felt both the melodrama and monologues were implemented adroitly within the context of a romantic sob story. Meanwhile, maturity and insightfulness isn't necessarily the purview of the old. Death and suffering can have a profound effect on teenagers and make them see things in a different light.

From the start, pastel hues overwhelm your senses in a beautiful kaleidoscope of colours 
It's April and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom

There is some slapstick humour thrown in which at first glance seems out of place in scenes that are unbearably sad and/or melodramatic. And true enough some reviewers felt them to have dulled the emotional scene. To me though, these comedic moments are badly needed emotional release valves that help mitigated the melodrama and sadness permeating this romantic drama. It turns your tears of sorrow into tears of laughter, recharging your batteries to face the sorrowful onslaught ahead.  

Romance is at the core of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso but music is what binds the elements together
Tsubaki Sawabe, the girl next door whom Kōsei has known all his life
Four fourteen-year-old high school students on a journey that will change them forever

For me, what stands out the most is the pastel colour scheme used throughout Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. It was the perfect choice which helps lightens the mood of a story that deals with tragedy and suffering. It was also an important story telling tool used to portray how the teen characters viewed the world around them i.e. either in colour or in monotone. And most importantly, the pastel hues allowed me to find the perfect Japanese high school uniform colour scheme for my project.   

Kaori and Kōsei play music together for the first time ... 
... with her on the violin ...
... and him as a piano accompanist

One thing critics and fans alike can agree on is that the music accompanying this anime is simply beautiful. Classical music and original compositions intertwine wonderfully to form the fabric that embraces this show in a symphony of sound. Add this to the already wonderful colour palette and you have an aurally and visually breathtaking story. Two of my favourite pieces of music from Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso are the original piano arrangement Kimi wa Wasurerareru no by Masaru Yokoyama and the classical piano solo Ballade No 1 in G Minor, Op 23 by Chopin.

There is certainly something magical about school during the night
Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are ...

I'm a big old softy but I still rarely cry when viewing shows. This one, however, made me bawl like a baby. [Minor spoiler alert] Although I kinda guessed how the story would end, I was still thrown for a loop when the lie was revealed. It caught me off guard. Not many shows can do that nowadays especially with viewers jaded with age. Just when you thought the show couldn't possibly be more heart-wrenching than it already is ... wham, the lie hits you, and hits you hard. [Minor spoiler ends] Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso has been one of the best anime I've seen in years. But it's not for everyone, especially if you aren't a fan of slow-paced romantic dramas. For me, it gets 9/10. 

When the lie is revealed, prepare to bawl your eyes out
Did I reach you?

And what, you might belatedly wonder, was the pastel hued Japanese high school uniforms research for? Well, there are some 1/12 scale resin miniature figurines of Japanese Kawaii High School Girls I've been eyeing for a long time now. They are expensive, really expensive. But I'm thinking to take the plunge and get a few of the figurines to paint. Here's hoping I didn't get ahead of myself by doing the research before even obtaining the pieces to paint. Being garage/resin kits produced in limited quantities they tend to run out of stock fairly fast. Now that would make me bawl like a baby too!  

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Star Wars AT-ST - Bandai 1/48 Scale Model Kit [Unboxing and Pre-Assembly Review]

Dubbed the chicken walker, the Imperial AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport) Walker is my third favourite Star Wars vehicle after the AT-AT (All Terrain Armoured Transport) Walker and TIE Fighter. So I guess my list is top-heavy with either Galactic Empire Imperial Navy Fleet Starships or Imperial Army Mechanized Vehicles. So much so that only two Rebel Alliance vehicles i.e. the CR90 Corvette (Tantive IV) and Millennium Falcon stand any chance of joining this Empire-heavy list. But I digress. My mind is wandering off-topic as usual. So here's the unboxing and pre-assembly review of the Bandai Star Wars 1/48 scale Imperial AT-ST plastic model kit.   

Bandai Star Wars 1/48 scale AT-ST (Imperial All Terrain Scout Transport Walker)
Side boxart of the Bandai Star Wars AT-ST scale model kit

Being in the same scale as my recently completed Snowspeeder, the AT-ST would make for an interesting vignette when paired with the modified Incom T-47 Airspeeder, especially in a Battle of Hoth scene. For now though, I plan to paint the AT-ST on its own and not as part of a vignette. As such at this point in time I'm still unsure myself if the AT-ST will be painted with winter weathering ala Hoth or with mud/dirt weathering ala Endor. Either one will be fine with me.

Sprues of the Bandai plastic model kit comes in the usual individually sealed wrappings

Simple, straightforward instructions are a prelude of what's to come for hobbyists new to Bandai's line of Star Wars plastic model kits. Snap-fit parts require almost no gluing (although some here and there would go a long way in making the overall structure stronger). Individually or in-pairs, the sprues are heat-sealed in clear plastic wrappings which is what you would expect from a standard model kit. A good look at the parts indicate highly detailed castings from Bandai's injection moulding process. Long story short, the materials needed to recreate a movie accurate AT-ST is all in the box.

AT-ST booklet was a combination of colour depicting a finished painted model and ...
... black and white diagrammatic pictures for the assembly instructions

Not everything is rosy though. Of all the Bandai Star Wars plastic model kits I've worked on so far, this one has the most awful looking figurines. Both Chewbacca and the AT-ST pilots look stiffly posed. From what I hear through the grapevine the award for worst figurine (if you could even call it that) belongs to Bandai's A-Wing kit. But that's a story for another day. And to be fair, the AT-ST figurines are still well detailed. So I can still get an okay-ish result from painting them. After all, a miniature painter is only as good as the underlying base sculpture ... most of the time. 

Sprue A: Chewbacca, Endor base, gyro, connective/leg parts, etc. 
Sprue B: Front hull, connective/leg parts, miscellaneous armour plating, etc.
Sprue C1: Main hull, interior, etc.

Based on the inclusion of the Chewbacca figurine and damage decals, I assume this AT-ST model kit is intended as the version found in the Battle of Endor. But that apart, the AT-ST can easily be build and painted to fit in a Battle of Hoth diorama/vignette. As I alluded to earlier, I'm still undecided as to which version I will be doing in this first attempt at the Bandai AT-ST kit. 

Sprue C2: Main hull, interior, power system, etc.
Sprue D1 and D2: Pilot figruines, foot joints/pads, connective/leg parts, etc.
Bandai water slide decals (left) and stickers (right) for the AT-ST; a fairly limited selection

Key to making the dull grey's of this AT-ST come to live is weathering. And therein lies the biggest challenge of this model kit. Most of my weathering paints and washes are enamel-based. Unfortunately, Bandai plastic is susceptible to cracking when exposed to thinners and white spirit, both of which are used extensively in enamel-based weathering techniques. However the time has come to take on this challenge. No more pussy footing around. Carpe diem and all that stercus. It has been a slow week for me hobby-wise. Hope yours was better. Until next week, stay happy and safe.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

T-55A Medium Tank [WIP - Tank Commander]

Painting black isn't easy. Prior to painting the T-55A tank commander's uniform, I haven't had any significant practice painting black apart from an Ork Warboss's loincloth. That was painted a long time ago i.e. three years ago to be exact. Since then, no opportunity has arisen until now to paint black. So it was with a fair bit of trepidation that I attempted the neutral blacks of this uniform.  

Tamiya T-55A Medium Tank work-in-progress: tank commander figurine

Three main types of black grace most of the painted miniatures I have seen - namely warm blacks, neutral blacks and cool blacks. The aforementioned loincloth was painted as a warm black. But for the commander's uniform I went with a neutral black. Paints used comprised a triad of Vallejo Model Color acrylics viz. Black (70.9550), Dark Grey (70.994) and Neutral Grey (70.992). By themselves, this trio of colours are dull and boring. Together though, they manifest a rather pleasing form of black. With the tank itself bathed in fairly warm hues, I thought that this was the best way to go.   

Scale comparison between the 1/35 scale plastic figurine and a paperclip as well as five sen coin
Not too happy with the way his mouth was sculpted but I did the best I could
Apart from the skin tone, the tank commander figurine offered a challenge in painting black clothing

Most of what is waist-down won't be seen once the tank commander is placed on the cupola. Despite this, I couldn't resist painting his trousers and boots as well. At the very least, it would've given me precious practice on painting black. Slowly but surely I'm getting a much better understanding of how colours such as black (and white) can be best represented through paint. From the headgear down to the trousers no washes were applied and the blacks you see consisted of only Vallejo paints. However, his boots received a wash of Citadel Shade Nuln Oil in order to differentiate its texture. 

Back of the tank commander's all black uniform ala Johnny Cash
Everything waist down won't be visible but they were still worked on as practice in painting black
Blacks on the uniform was neutral-ish and neither warm nor cool

Meanwhile, nothing overly complicated was attempted for his skin tone. A dilemma of whether to paint the tank commander's teeth arose as it wasn't sculpted on the figure. But sometimes it's best not to do something for the sake of it. And I ended up not painting in the teeth because I felt I would've made things worse. In hindsight, perhaps I should've tried sculpting s thin tow of teeth and painting it.

Staring wistfully into the distance, wondering if a tank commander's life was the life for him

It has been a while since I finished painting a figurine at any scale. And like the opening of the floodgates, I'm finding myself on a bit of a roll. I also finished Bronn the Sellsword (Game of Thrones) shortly thereafter and work is now finally resuming on Katana (Suicide Squad). My figure painting mojo is back so to speak. Now to find a sweet balance between figures and AFVs so as to keep things as fresh as possible hobby-wise. Thanks for reading and see you next week.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

400th Post Special: More Music to paint and draw to; My favourite live albums

Music is irrevocably intertwined into my art projects as they play in the background during my lengthy painting sessions. It seems only yesterday that I wrote my 300th post and now I'm already hitting the 400 mark. So bear with me as I do yet another vanity post to mark the occasion. This one's about my favourite live albums. Not many artists can pull off a live performance. Then there are those who can but for some reason or other have never made a good live recording. The following are some of my favourite live acts arranged alphabetically, first the soloists then the bands.

No.1 - Adele, Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Adele is a vocal talent who sounds equally at home live accompanied with either just a guitar or piano or neither or even with the full backing of a band/orchestra. That she can sing live effortlessly was already evident in the expanded version of her debut album '19' which included a live acoustic set recorded at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles. The Boston Globe said it best in their review when they wrote ... With the voice of an angel – and the potty mouth of a sailor – she's a force throughout.

No.2 - Diana Krall, Live in Paris

Diana Krall has toured Kuala Lumpur a few times but I never could afford the tickets to her shows. Me and the missus nearly made it to her concert once but then life happened and any excess budget we had was wiped out paying unexpected bills and such. So I settled for her first live album instead. Her vocals here are sublime as are her piano playing, both backed beautifully by her band and an orchestra. The DVD version of this album actually has more song performances in it and that one is worth getting just for her rendition of the classic jazzy blues ballad Cry Me A River alone.

No.3 - Eric Clapton, Crossroads 2 (Live in the Seventies)

Great as they sound, it is unlikely the jamming sessions found in this live album can ever be recreated. If I recall correctly, Eric Clapton himself said something to this effect in his autobiography. A combination of drugs and alcohol meant a lot of the guitar licks were likely played in a stupor and haze. In fact if you listen closely you might even catch Clapton forgetting the words to the lyrics a couple of times. Imperfection begetting a near perfect album for blues rock guitar aficionados.

No.4 - Gary Moore, Blues Alive

If there was only one a musical fantasy I could ever have come true, it would be to play Parisienne Walkways as well as Gary Moore. During the live performance, the sustain he manages on his electric guitar is simply unbelievable. This live album would've easily made my Top 10 on the strength of that song alone. But Blues Alive is more than just one song. It's electric blues at the top of its game.

No.5 - Joe Bonamassa, Live from The Royal Albert Hall

At the tender age of four, he was inspired to pick up a guitar after watching Eric Clapton perform at The Royal Albert Hall. At the age of 12, he opened for the legendary B.B.King. And at the age of 32, blues rock musician Joe Bonamassa recorded his fourth live album at the same venue on which Clapton first inspired him. Bonamassa's live performance in this album would undoubtedly inspire many other youngsters in turn. Oh, and that double drummers act was just wicked.  

No.6 - John Mayer, Where The Light Is (Live in Los Angeles)

In case you haven't already noticed by now, the electric guitar is predominant in my list of favourite live albums. Nothing is cooler musically to me than the solo singer songwriter blues rock guitarist. Before my time were greats like B.B.King, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Hendrix and Robert Johnson. In more modern times, you have Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa and of course John Mayer. While I'm not too much of a fan of Mayer's celebrity shenanigans, I am a fan of his music. His live album Where The Light Is showcases his talent and brings blues rock to the fore in a pop era.  

No.7 - Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour

Yet another Northern Irish guy with a guitar playing blues rock. (If you were wondering, the first was Gary Moore). And unless you are a blues rock fan you'll most likely never even heard of Rory Gallagher. A musician who was at his best only when playing live, Gallagher's mastery of the electric guitar is evident every time he's on stage fretting the guitar. He wasn't as commercially successful as other artists in this list but Irish Tour is to me one of the best blues rock live albums ever made.

No.8 - AC/DC, If You Want Blood

AC/DC live was a different beast entirely, especially during the Bon Scott years. The energy that projects through the speakers is so infectious that you want to strut around your room lip-syncing to the lyrics with a sneer in your face. Of course there is riff-master Angus Young backing up Scott's in-your-face vocals - a match made in rock heaven. AC/DC would eventually have critically-acclaimed commercial success with Back In Black and new front-man Brian Johnson. But for me, their best ever album would be their live effort If You Want Blood (You Got It). Bon Scott was one of a kind.

No.9 - The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East

Although I'm not strictly an Allman Brothers Band fan, their live album At Fillmore East is a must-have in any blues rock enthusiast's music collection. Some songs on this live show would turn into 20 to 30 minute jam sessions, all of it good.Technically they are a rock band but there are some elements of the blues and jazz incorporated into their music. Rock, blues and jazz ... enough said.

No.10 - Nirvana, Unplugged in New York

Nirvana Unplugged in New York is an emotionally haunting live performance. In retrospect when taking into account the fact Kurt Cobain wanted the set decorated like a funeral and was eventually found dead a year later, the pain and heartbreak that showed in his vocal performance was perhaps all too real. If melancholy made an album then this was it. Ironically this album got me out off some bad moments in my life as if it was osmotically sucking out any depression into its own black hole.

Honorable mentions outside my Top 10 Live Albums

Clockwise from left to right - Johnny Cast (At Folsom Prison), Deep Purple (Made In Japan), Eric Clapton (Unplugged), The Corrs (Unplugged), Iron Maiden (Rock in Rio) and Led Zeppelin (How The West Was Won)

Then there are those just outside my Top 10. They, to name a few, include live performances by Johnny Cash (At Folsom Prison), Deep Purple (Made in Japan), Eric Clapton (Unplugged), The Corrs (Unplugged), Iron Maiden (Rock In Rio) and Led Zeppelin (How The West Was Won). All good albums in their own right. And all part of what constitutes a good painting session. Normal service will resume in the next post with a figurine update on my T-55A project. If you had taken the time to read this post (or even parts of it), I thank you for your patience. See you soon on my 401st post.
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