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Robots, Robots and oh yes Robots...
The Science of Anime: Mecha-Noids and AI-Super-Bots
The Science of Anime: Mecha-Noids and AI-Super-Bots
Anime Book Review

One of the fundamental core concepts of anime is advanced technology and how it will affect the human race. Since the beginning of the anime revolution in Japan, series like Astro Boy and Gigantor have explored such topics as the importance of robots and androids in the world of the future and what it means to be human. Movies like Akira have touched upon the power of the atom, the advances and tragedies nuclear power will bring to the Earth. Equally important, stories like Ghost in the Shell explore the limits of human/machine interface and ask if there are any limits to the possibility of computer intelligence. More than any other entertainment field, anime deals with the future of science and technology and explores topics rarely dealt with elsewhere in fiction or film.

Big OWritten fairly recently (it mentions Big-O, Gundam SEED and Texhnolyze, for example), "The Science of Anime : Mecha-Noids and AI-Super-Bots" is the first book to look at the actual content and the scientific validity of anime.

To fully understand the science of anime, the authors first place anime in context, briefly covering the history of the genre as well as it's place in animated entertainment as well as in mainstream media within modern Japanese society.

Authors Lois H. Gresh and Robert Weinberg know their stuff, discussing piloted mecha such as Gundam or Evangalion, AI mechanisms that might exist in Chobits or Ghost in the Shell, space colonies, and even whether we are evolving as a species. Of course, as with any look into the future, extrapolation of existing technical and cultural norms always leads to some predictions being totally wrong (very few sci-fi films ever predicted cell-phones, VCRs, or the internet); but Anime generally gets more things right than wrong (which may be because Japan is leading the technical revolution). But it's also interesting to note how much technical innovation is based on pop-culture art (Motorola's popular "StarTac" phone for example is heavily based on the old Star Trek Communicator, and many Japanese are attempting to build their own homegrown giant robots), so is it life imitating art or the other way around?

Nevertheless, The Science of Anime is an interesting, lighthearted, easy read that seriously probes the plausibility of what you see in many popular anime films, and keeps you thinking about how to make that kind of stuff work in real-life. Get tinkering!

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, August 2006

Robo Pet
Robo Pet
Toy Robot Review

Welcome to the future, where we all have robotic pets and no longer have to care for the real thing! We still prefer the fuzzy kind that you have to walk, but, for those of you allergic or living in a small apartment, this is a pretty good replacement.

Robo PetMade by the same talented team of robotics engineers that created the RoboSapien, this 'version 2.0' robotic dog is more playful, more responsive, more lifelike and ultimately, more fun to play with. Not only can he perform some pre-programmed tricks (roll over, etc.), but this smart doggie responds to positive and negative reinforcement, so he can be trained to perform other tricks on command.

Okay, it's not like having your own Gundam, and this pup won't shoot laser beams out of his eyes (yet) like any good anime robot dog should, but, short of having your own Aibo, this is an insanely cool toy and will definitely provide a good time for a good long time.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, April 2006

Robosapien Robot
Robosapien Robot
Toy Robot Review

Mark Tilden used to build his own subtitling equipment to do fan-titled anime back in the days of Tomobiki-net. Now he's involved with projects to build semi-sentient robotic devices and one of the offshoots of this research is a toy robot that's much smarter than you would expect considering the price.

Features include real, multi-speed fast dynamic walking, running and turning; fast, full function arms with two types of grippers; 67 pre-programmed functions including pick-up, throw, kick, sweep, dance, fart, belch, rap, and half a dozen kung-fu moves. Robosapien speaks fluent international "caveman". Programmable "reflexes" to touch, pickup, kicks or sound; and up to 84 program steps, with 4 program modes for advanced operations. No computer required, all functions handled by an ergonomic remote control which runs on regular batteries for over 6 hours.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, July 2004

Robots and Spaceships
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Robots and Spaceships,
Edited by by Teruhisa Kitahar

Book Review

This book covers two of our favorite subjects, robots and spaceships! Taschen publishes some great art books, and this is one of them. This book is from the “Icon” series which focuses on topics ranging from Tattoos to Pin Up photos. The quality of the photography and printing is always very high, so these little books tend to make great gifts. This title will be of special interest to anyone fascinated by early space travel and technology, those who simply want to wax nostalgic about a bygone era of their youth, and of course to collectors and fans of 50s and 60s tin toys.

Didn't we see these guys in Star Wars?The attempt here is to give a reflective taste of some of the best of what was the golden age of space toys. Between the retro red covers you'll find your 1950s Smoking Robot, Thunder Robot with box, your Mr. Robot, and a couple of "The Gang of Five". The 191 pages, mostly with full single page shots of the toys, is enough to give the uninitiated a real appreciation for the talent that went into their creation. The roots of today's toys can be seen in these precursors, notably in the early transformer robots. Taken from collector Teruhisa Kitahara's vast collection, which is on display in many museums in Japan, the robots and spaceships featured here are quite rare and give a wonderful overview of this era in the history of toys.

Reviewed by Michael Pinto, April 2002

Robot Arena: Design and Destroy
Robot Arena: Design and Destroy
Software Review

When Gundam hit the airwaves back in 1997, it made the concept of battle mecha seem possible, but back then it was the stuff of science fiction. How times have changed! TV shows abound that feature real-life robotic creations duking it out in arenas, armed with everything from buzzsaws to flamethrowers.

Design and Destroy!Now you can enjoy building and fighting your own homemade creations without having to spend a fortune in servos and electric motors by using this software for your personal computer. This is really cool stuff for the tinkerer and anime fan alike.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, May 2003

Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kit
Robotics Invention System 2.0

Toy Review

Lego is for everybody, but this particular Lego is for those that want to start building their own real-life Gundam / giant robots, or at least get started in the wonderful world of robotics in general (personally we'd start crafting Olga from Phoenix 2772 - Ooh la la!). The enormous 718-piece LEGO Mindstorms Robotic Invention System lets you construct a variety of moving robot vehicles and then program them from your Windows 98 or compatible computer.

The entire kit...What's so freakin' cool about this set is that it's very versatile — like most Lego you're only limited by how far you can take your imagination, but at the same time, guess what, you're getting to learn mechanics, the basics of programming and a lot of other complex subjects the easy, fun and Lego way! Like the Media Lab's old Lego/LOGO project, this is something any 9-year old can tackle and 40-year olds will still think it's fun!

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, April 2003

Kraftwerk - The Mix
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Kraftwerk - The Mix
Music Review

Anybody with a technology, gadget, giant-robot fetish absolutely needs to own this album. The pinnacle of every techo-elite uber-geek, Kraftwerk represents everything we love about being cyberpunk. Although this album is more club-friendly, the remixes are sharp and play well.

Kraftwek: Music for geeky anime fans...You've probably heard their stuff before as background music, and never known it. You've probably heard homages to their stuff and never realized it. They were light-years ahead of their time and frankly, they still are ahead of everyone else with their funky-electronic sound that's often imitated and never duplicated.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, January 2005

The Iron Giant
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The Iron Giant (1999)
DVD Review

This is the finest anime film never made in Japan. It's not cheezy, it's not just for kids, it doesn't preach, and it doesn't have any stupid songs. It's a good, honest movie with a solid script, refreshingly intelligent dialog and likeable characters. You'd have to look far and wide to find a better animated-film made on this side of the planet. A loving attention to detail allows computer animation and traditional cel-work to be smoothly combined in this film, which gives the giant robot of the title a real mechanical feel particularly when he transforms (like a swiss-army knife!).

We love a good robot story...Regardless, you'll see the familar touches that render this to be essentially "Gigantor The Movie", except that it takes place in the "Cold War Hysteria" of the 1950's where things like "Duck and Cover" were a reality. In fact, the older you are, the more likely you are to get half the jokes in the film!

Overall, the anime influence is apparent, and yet, there's an impressive amount of originality, particularly in the humorous sequences where Hogarth must hide the independent bits-of-'bot that are all scurrying to get back to the head to rebuild the Giant after an unfortunate run-in with a locomotive. This sequence, made all the more hilarious due to the mother (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) and federal agent snooping around, is critical to the overall plot, as you'll see later in the film — it's not just "thrown-in" for comedy, as is often seen in films like this from other American animation studios. This ability to blend the comedy into the film in a way not usually seen makes this a prime example of how to tell a good story — it's just really an excellent movie. Watch it once and you'll treasure it forever.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, September 2002

Metropolis (1927)
DVD Review

No, this is not the Tezuka Manga, or the related Rin Taro/Otomo opus. This is the inspiration for them all - the greatest silent movie ever made, and certainly one of the best films of all time. There's not a Sci-fi film or anime that doesn't pay tribute to Metropolis in some way. And, while you might have seen it before, never like this — this is a digitally restored version, with scenes that were re-inserted after an exhaustive search through archives — containing bits and pieces of the film that never even made it into the film's initial US release almost 80 years ago!

Maria from MetropolisThrow away those public-domain scratchy and blurred prints and grab this DVD. After viewing this, you'll understand the influences in other films, from the neon-drenched Blade Runner to the dehumanizing-effect-of-technology theme prevalent throughout Galaxy Express. It all started with this single expressionistic masterpiece.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, July 2004

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