Cool summer

The weather this summer has been unseasonably cool in Hogtown, much like there hasn’t been anything that hot in this season of anime. And yeah, I’ve been watching Aldnoah Zero every Saturday morning, but normally I’d have more than one series occupying my viewing.

My malaise has been somewhat allayed, though, since I just saw that a new episode of Monogatari has come out. I think I’ll let the episodes pile up a bit before plowing through them, but I’d forgotten how much I liked this show. Yay for capitalism’s demand for constant production.

Japan circa 2013

Currently catching up with a whole lot of blogs, so I just read this retrospective on 2013 in Japan.

It may surprise some to hear that anime is a fringe interest in the country, but the blog mentions that Attack on Titan was – surprisingly enough – a mainstream hit. In fact, it’s mentioned that the sappiness and sexism of modern anime, which turns off many in the international audience, also does its bit in alienating the domestic audience

There are further hints that the impenetrable wall of the otaku cultural industry is cracking. Other subcultures seem to be disappearing and it may be that the Japanese Internet is soon to be taken over by normal people, instead of dominated by that misogynistic right wing cesspool known as 2ch (a message board which is essentially the 4chan of Japan – in fact, 4chan was modelled directly off 2chan).

Of course, who knows what the future will bring? Still, you heard it here first, gentle readers. Unless you also read Néojaponisme, then you heard it here second. But yeah, otaku – an endangered species? Stay tuned.

The names of fantasy

Just for the hell of it, I’m going to list as many names as I can remember from David Eddings’ Belgariad and Malloreon fantasy series:

  • Garion
  • Belgarath
  • Poledra
  • Polgara
  • Durnik
  • Torak
  • Riva
  • Sendaria
  • Ce’Nedra
  • Silk
  • Zandramas
  • Mallorea
  • Angarak
  • Tol’Nedra
  • Ulgo
  • Eriond
  • Barak
  • Mandorallen
  • Vo Mimbre

Play Akira for me

I don’t know what this is, but I like it.

Nova Prime

Nova Corpsman eating bread

I’m not a racist, but objectively speaking, Xandarians look weird when they’re eating.

Sword Story

I just finished watching Katanagatari. It’s about a pair of samurai with an odd couple relationship on a quest to collect twelve powerful swords from their equally powerful owners.

On the surface, one might think it sounds like Pokémon if Ash killed his opponents after taking their Pokémon in battle. However, the show avoids repetition in all sorts of clever ways. I mean, the third episode is about getting the sword from a shelter for battered women, while the episode after that is about a group of bad guys on a doomed mission to kidnap the protagonist’s sister (reminiscent of that issue of The Invisibles focusing on one of the jackbooted stormtroopers killed by the hero in an earlier story).

Based on the premise, one might also expect the show to be mostly focused on violence, but in reality perhaps 90 percent of each episode is taken up with nothing besides talking. Death and killing do take place, but the characters are so stylized that the violence is not gory. Perhaps the stylized aesthetics might put some people off, but if everything looked exactingly realistic then this show would be as bloody as a Sonny Chiba movie. If I had to summarize Katanagatari in one word, that word would be “surprising”.

The show surprises in small ways and large. In fact, everything is just slightly off. The background characters are straight from a samurai epic, while the ones with speaking lines mostly dress like cosplayers. Even the government of Japan is wrong. Everything about the show announces that it shouldn’t be taken as-is. There’s even an unexpected sci-fi twist and an episode examining the morality of revenge and violence before everything ends the way samurai stories always do – in an orgy of blood.

It should perhaps not be too surprising that the original light novel series the show was adapted from was written by Nisio Isin, who also wrote Bakemonogatari and the rest of that series. Of course, there’s an episode where the sentence “Don’t touch my woman” is uttered unironically, but there’s also a duel that resembles something from Samurai Jack so strongly that I have to wonder if it’s an homage or a result of parallel evolution of ideas. Everything in this show just looks incredible.

Anyway, apparently I like Nisio Isin’s stuff, which keeps attracting the right kind of people who end up making the exact type of anime that would appeal to me. I’m going to have to dig up the rest of his work.

God and my right

Many faux-medieval fantasy stories willfully ignore the overarching influence of the Church on European society. Knights were specifically said to be soldiers of Christendom and Christianity permeated every level of society, from the beggars who depended on handouts from the charitable orders to kings who had to be wary of excommunication. Medieval economics was also shaped by the Church, for it was considered impious for Chistians to charge interest on loans, which left moneylending as a Jewish profession. All these things and more made medieval Europe the way it was.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron avoids this ahistorical presentation. It’s essentially set in a parallel universe Middle Ages where magic exists. Sorcerers require a license from the Church to practise magic, dragons rule over large parts of the land, and the forces of Satan threaten humanity everyday.

The world, you see, is divided in a war between God and Satan. However, the forces of Satan are actually just the forces of Nature fighting back against human encroachment. Having legitimate grievances, though, does not preclude moral excess, and the intelligent creatures of the wild massacre entire villages in their fight.

The author is a re-enactor and a history freak, which shows in the level of detail he displays in his fictionalized medieval England. Fencing masters teach moves for fighting monsters, rebellious peasants bide their time in the shadows, and despite the state of total war people come to accommodations with their supposed adversaries.

Anyway, I liked the book. Read it if you want more history in your fantasy.

Fear of a blank planet

I recently saw the series premieres of Terror in Resonance and Aldnoah Zero.

It’s hard to say much about Terror in Resonance since its first episode contained nothing but opaque hints at a story that could equally conceal either complexity or shallow-minded literalness. There are these two teenaged boys, they’re mysterious, they forcibly recruit a classmate being bullied. Props to Funimation for the crispness of the HD streaming. That’s it, that’s the episode.

Oh yeah, they blow up the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which I mostly know from Digimon Tamers. Despite being a show with terrorist protagonists, the anime is very careful to show that no people were hurt in the attack. I suppose it’s so we can still root for the two heroes.

I dunno, terrorism is inherently a political act, the show better not end up spouting the rote cliches about justice and protecting your comrades that end up getting repeated over and over in anime. Though if the comrades aren’t nakama but are instead tovarishch and the two protagonists are actually part of some Baader-Meinhof communist uprising? That would be a pleasantly surprising twist.

And thinking about it further, it’s been a while since I’ve been wowed by an anime’s opening episode. They seem to be mostly slow burns. I think the last anime that I absolutely wanted to rave about after just one episode was Bakemonogatari.

Aldnoah Zero, however, at least manages to get to the fireworks factory. You see, human colonists of Mars, armed with superior alien technology, invade the Earth and bring the planet to its knees. Meanwhile, a plucky band of high school students use giant robots to defend their tiny part of the world. The anime is basically War of the Worlds with human invaders. In a later episode there’s even a boat full of refugees and a Martian war machine that Earth’s defenders have to hold off. I could almost hear Richard Burton narrating the last battle of HMS Thunder Child.

More deliciously, the tagline for the show is "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall". The self-serious connotations of using such a phrase – the Latin original is most widely misattributed as being quoted in the legal decision that found slavery insupportable in England – clashes so much with the subject matter that I immediately started laughing my ass off. Sweet crap, this looks like an awesome show to watch while drunk. This anime thinks it’s profound! Aldnoah Zero, your hubris is inspiring.

Old is new again

Somehow I’ve managed to get through life without ever seeing Groundhog Day. I never felt this lack until recently watching Edge of Tomorrow, the plot of which is similarly based on the protagonist reliving the same day over and over again.

I don’t believe Edge of Tomorrow is based at all on Groundhog Day, and in fact in reading the original book adapted for the film called All You Need is Kill (great title by the way), it’s clear that the repetitive nature of the story is based on the experience of dying over and over in a video game and not on any movie starring Bill Murray.

Still, comparisons were made, so out of curiosity I watched a movie that I’d avoided watching every time it was shown on TV – and I remember it was shown quite a lot.

Groundhog Day was okay. It’s pretty funny and enjoyable enough. Had I seen it when I was younger I might have enshrined it with nostalgia beside Home Alone, Ghostbusters, and Big. But that’s pretty much it. I think part of the reason for the regards it’s held in today is the fact that most people will have seen it multiple times over their lives. Nostalgia is built and rebuilt with each viewing.

But there are worse things to be nostalgic for. At least this thing is decent, unlike, say, Thundercats or He-Man or the like. Anyway, I can cross off another movie from my list.

Lens flare: the anime

Me watching the Original Video Animation TO Movie:

“There are a lot of lens flares in this anime.”

Five minutes later: “There really are a lot of lens flares.”

Five minutes more: “Good god, every light source has a lens flare. Did J.J. Abrams direct this?”