Ryousuke and the real robots

Takahashi and one of his creations
Back in the 1970s, mecha shows were spinning their wheels. Essentially extended toy ads, they would follow the typical “monster of the week” formula with perhaps the odd four or six person team of heroes battling an alien invasion, mad scientist or long-slumbering band of demons resurrected from the depths of the earth. Apart from some stand out shows such as Mazinger Z, Combattler V or Voltes, the mecha genre was largely stuck in a rut.

Things began to change in 1979 however, with the premiere of Mobile Suit Gundam. With it’s character-driven stories, blurred lines between villians and heroes and robots that had at least some kind of “science” behind them. Despite being a commercial flop, it made a massive impression on the genre, much like Neon Genesis Evangelion would two decades later. Gundam would go on to become a juggernaut-like franchise, but what came in it’s wake was far more interesting. Specifically one creator, Ryousuke Takahashi and the genre he pioneered, real robot. And no, I’m not talking about this guy.

It’s quite easy to distinguish a real robot show from one of the earlier, super robot type shows. If the mechs are clunky, prone to breaking down and are mass produced like tanks for use in some kind of military context, chances are you’ve got yourself a real robot show. On the other hand, if the pilot is fond of screaming out every attack in a manner that makes their throat bleed, then you’re probably watching a super robot show.

Like so many creators who made big impacts on anime and manga, Takahashi cut his teeth working in Mushi Pro under that towering figure, Osamu Tezuka. After Mushi imploded in the mid 1970s, several of it’s ex-employees formed Sunrise Inc. – Takahashi soon joined his former co-workers. The massive bank of talent that Sunrise had at its disposal would go on to produce most of the shows that would define the next two decades of anime, including the Gundam saga. But the quality was really kicked up a notch when Takahashi was brought on board to produce some follow up series that were intended to ride the wave of Gundam’s popularity in the early 1980s.

Whilst he did work on various mecha shows that certainly aren’t in the real robot genre, such as the brilliant Panzer World Galient and the equally badass SPT LayZner – which I must talk about at some point – Takahashi is known for pioneering the real robot genre with two shows; Fang of the Sun Dougram and Armoured Trooper Votoms.

I just finished watching Dougram recently, thanks to the sterling work of X-Nebula. It’s quite a ride, Dougram is really unlike any mech show I’ve ever seen before and I’m surprised that it’s gotten basically zero exposure in the english speaking world, apart from some toys and model kits that briefly surfaced in the 1980s.

Die-cast Dougram

The setup of Dougram concerns one Crinn Cashim, scion of a very wealthy family who’s father is the head of one of the main political power blocks on Earth. In the future, Earth has some pretty serious overpopulation and resource problems and has become extremely dependent on one of it’s colony planets, Deloyer, for the majority of it’s raw materials. All the various Earth factions and corporate interests are playing some shady political games in order to control the lions share of Deloyer’s wealth and not surprisingly, the citizens of Deloyer would rather run their own affairs so various rebel groups have sprung up. Crinn, a very idealistic youth somewhat reminiscent of Che Guevara, encounters some young Deloyerans on Earth and is sympathetic to their cause, so much so that when he joins the Earth army and is posted to Deloyer, he hooks up with the rebels and steals a prototype mecha, Dougram, in the process.

Man, that’s only the first 3 episodes or so, before we even get into the various bits of drama that befall the Cashim family and the sheer amount of backstabbing that goes on between the rebels and the Earth governments. It’s not quite LoGH territory, but story wise it blows nearly every other mech show out of the water.

I’d hesitate to even call Dougram a robot show. Sure, Dougram itself is a central part of the plot but the show could nearly be described as a political or family drama that happens to have giant robots in it.

After completing Dougram, Sunrise commissioned Takahashi to produce another real robot show, Armoured Trooper Votoms. This really cemented the genre, gaining a loyal fanbase in the process. It also did away with most of the heavy military plot points that were present in Dougram, which probably made Votoms accessible to a much wider audience.

Towards the end of a centuries-long war, our main character, Chirico Cuvie – what is it with protagonists with the initials C.C.? – gets screwed over and left for dead by his army unit, a particularly nasty bunch who are out to steal as much stuff as they can in the aftermath of the war. He escapes and makes his way to a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” called Woodoo city – complete with its own band of roving biker thugs. There, he hooks up with bunch of people with questionable morals, fabulous afros and parachute pants, in order to take on his former commanders, some of whom are now in charge of Woodoo City, and find the answers to some strange things he saw right before he was betrayed and left to drift in space.

When you are used to the usual robot show protagonist, Chirico is a complete departure. Votoms continued and expanded upon, the political themes established in Dougram, being more focused and adding an element of a character driven by revenge but also the niggling feeling that there’s something not quite right about his existence.

The Votom robots themselves are interesting in that we normally see only one design throughout the entire series, perhaps one may appear with a different colour scheme, but they are largely uniform. There’s no “RX-ZZ-2000-Hyper-Votom”, success or failure is entirely up to the skill and wits of the pilot. Also, they’re prone to breaking down like a 1980s Alfa Romeo. Indeed, Chirico spends the majority of the first few episodes repairing one he found lying on a scrapheap.

After the original 52 episode run, Votoms ended up being a bigger hit than Dougram and continues to be popular to this day, with several movies, series and OVAs being produced including a spinoff show, Armor Hunter Mellowlink – the protagonist in this one is so badass he doesn’t even need a robot, going head to head with Votom suits armed only with an improbably-sized gun. A Korean animation company thought Votoms was so good in fact, that they lifted the suit designs for the eh, unique, Micro Commando Diatron V!

Takahashi would go on to direct a string of mech shows throughout the 80s and on into the 90s, right up until the present day. Some of these were a complete departure from the real robot genre, such as the aforementioned Panzer World Galient. He also worked on plenty non-mecha projects with a military theme, such as the OVA adaption of the submarine drama, Silent Service and an episode of the fantastic WWII OVA, The Cockpit. In 1998, he would revisit the real robot genre with Gasaraki, which is something I actually haven’t seen yet.

So what’s he been up to recently? Well apart from lecturing students on the business of making a successful anime series and directing lots more Votoms, he also worked on a 13 episode adaption of his old mentor Osamu Tezuka’s classic work, Phoenix, and most recently a collaboration with Space Battleship Yamato co-creator Leiji Matsumoto; Ozuma.

IPv6 address facts in older versions of facter

Facter is a companion tool to the puppet configuration management system that allows you to retrieve metadata about the system puppet is running on. This is then made available to puppet for use in config file templates or making informed decisions on how to go about configuring a system.

One thing I noticed when going through the list of variables output by facter was that no IPv6 address information was being reported. This was a bit of a roadblock as the majority of our systems are dual-stacked (IPv4 and IPv6), with many configuration files needing to know what IPv6 addresses to listen on. Whilst an ipaddress6 fact was added to facter 1.59, I’m working with a somewhat older version of Puppet (0.25) and Facter (1.56), these both ship with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS so I’d rather stick with them if at all possible, rather than resorting to a backports repository.

Luckily, the puppet guide provided a quick solution – custom facts. It was a simple matter of grabbing the relevant code from github and dropping it into a directory in the $FACTERLIB path. Running the facter command will now print out an ipaddress6 variable:

 $ facter ipaddress6
 2001:6f8:900:909::2

Of course, this only makes the fact available to the environment you are testing on. If you are running a puppetmaster server, you’ll need to follow the guide to distributing plugins as modules if you want to distribute the fact around your network. This can be done on a per-module basis, or globally as a top-scope variable by creating a skeleton module with a blank init.pp and the ipaddress6.rb file in the lib/facter directory.

To test if the variable is available, add the following to your site.pp manifest on the puppetmaster server:

 class puppet_v6_marker {
      file {
            '/tmp/puppet-v6':
            ensure => present,
            mode   => 600,
            owner  => root,
            content => $::ipaddress6,
            group  => root
      }
}

include puppet_v6_marker

Your puppet clients should now output their IPv6 address to /tmp/puppet-v6.

Odeeeeeeen!

Odin

This film has been panned by numerous reviewers, usually as the most boring thing they’d ever seen. There are stories of people at screenings of Odin writhing in physical pain on the floor after an hour, some anime cons have even run “I Survived Odin” events with free tshirts for those brave souls who stuck it out till the end.

So, naturally, I thought it would be great to watch of a Saturday evening.

The first thing that strikes you about Odin is that it looks really good. Superb, in fact. The animation was obviously high budget fare. They’d also assembled a great cast of voice actors (Norio Wakamoto, woo!) and some talented directors are involved. But, that’s where things start to fall apart; directors, plural. No less than *three* different directors are involved in this film and multiple scriptwriters each with their own visions, whims and style. Not good. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

The plot involves a new class of “photon sailer” (laser/light powered) space ship that will be exploring beyond the bounds of the solar system for the first time. With a crew of hot-shot, MacGyver-esque geniuses who seem capable of solving any problem but spend most of their time running around the ship high-fiving each other whilst hair-metal from 1985′s chart toppers, Loudness, blasts away in the background. Shortly into their maiden voyage, they receive a distress call from a space liner in the asteroid belt that’s under attack from some kind of robotic destructo-thing which is quite hostile to any form of life. The only survivor is a nordic princess who helps decipher a data crystal she has in her posession, which may contain a map showing the way to a civilisation called Odin…or, not. Christ knows.

It’s hard to recall exactly what happens in the 2+ hours running time of this film, because you start getting a mild concussion at the 00:30:00 mark. Then everything becomes a blur of the crew pressing switches, warping, running around the ship, running around an alien ship, pressing more switches and pulling levers, warping again, running around the ship again. Rinse, repeat.

Odin is very typical of the mid to late 80s anime boom, when every hair brained idea for an OVA or movie got millions of yen thrown at it. It was also, famously and quite obviously, part of producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s failed attempt to restart the Space Battleship Yamato franchise in various forms. It was even dubbed into english and released here and in the US as Odin: Starlight Mutiny, albeit with about 45 minutes (mercifully) removed.

So as a historical curiousity/train wreck, perhaps the anime equivalent of the David Lynch Dune movie, it might be worth a look. Otherwise, leave it on the shelf and back slowly away.

IPv6 addresses not available at boot

One of things that’s always bugged me regarding Linux and IPv6 is the
behaviour that’s exhibited during boot time. Specifically, the short delay before IPv6 addresses transition from their “tentative” state on an interface to being fully available for use by various daemons and services. With IPv4, you can be pretty much guaranteed that you can bind to any of the configured addresses at boot time, under normal circumstances.

With IPv6 on Linux, things aren’t so straightforward. Duplicate Address Detection (DAD), which basically does what it says on the tin, introduces a short delay before addresses are fully configured, the address has been added to the network interface, but not really.

I recently came across this whilst attempting to get BIND to listen on some secondary service addresses on a particular machine. BIND would not er, bind, to the IPv6 addresses at boot, failing with messages like this:

bind9 could not listen on UDP socket: address not available

Modifying /etc/init.d/bind9 to print the output of “ip addr show” to a file at the time BIND attempted to start up showed the tell-tale “tentative” flag on each IPv6 address being added to eth0. Since the addresses are in this state, BIND or other daemons will refuse to listen on them.

The problem has become very noticeable since parallel boot systems such as Upstart have become the default in quite a few Linux distros. Daemons will often fire up before the network is fully ready and in some extreme cases network filesystems that reference hostnames may fail to mount if you are using an IPv6 DNS resolver. Of course this isn’t the case across the board, some daemons and services appear to handle the unavailability of an IPv6 address somewhat gracefully, backing off and trying again a short time later rather than simply giving up on the first go.

Anyway, a simple “hairy hack” to get over this problem is to add something like the following to your startup script:

sleep 5

Yes, a one line sleep command to make the daemon wait a short while before actually starting. This seems to ensure that the IPv6 address has moved out of the tentative state, but it’s still somewhat silly..

Dubs From Hell

Techno Police

At Eirtakon this year I presented a panel on a particular interest of mine, awful anime dubbing. It’s one of these things that always gets a good few laughs, especially when you present clips of some anime dubs that, whether through accident or design, are just hilariously inept, completely nonsensical, or downright offensive.

Quite a few people approached me after the panel and asked could they have copies of the clips I played. Since all of them are actually available on youtube, I thought I’d post some of the highlights here.

So we start off with some of the attempts that companies localising anime made to translate the opening for a particular show. Some of these were valiant attempts, others were just epically bad.

So that about sums it up… or does it? If you find this kind of thing hilarious, I recommend you check out Bad American Dubbing from the Corn Pone Flicks guys, or Mike Tool’s Dubs That Time Forgot panels. I stole some of my funnier content from these guys ;)