The Wasteland

Right now I’m listlessly looking through apartment listings online. I’d forgotten the mix of anxiety and self-delusion one feels when looking for a new place. Still, every now and then I come across gems like this review for an apartment building:

Great place to live if you want to be close to your crack dealer.

I guess that’s why the rent was so cheap.

Hits and Misses

In the name of efficiency, I thought I might just do a roundup of anime that I’ve recently watched and my reactions thereof towards them. I know, I seem to be talking about anime a lot lately. I’ll have to write more about communism or something, otherwise this will turn into just another anime blog, though perhaps that ship has already sailed.

Stuff I liked:

  • Guin Saga is basically Conan the Barbarian without the misogyny or the gratuitous sex, which isn’t exactly a criticism. The setting is essentially a fantasy version of the Silk Road. A leopard-headed warrior with amnesia becomes the protector of two royal children on the run from their kingdom’s conquerors. This series shows that the author has extensively studied the dynastic politics of medieval Europe and all the backstabbing feels like the Byzantine Empire with magic thrown in. It’s based on a series of novels, and the author clearly knows quite a bit about European-style dynastic politics (you know, marriage alliances and whatnot).
    • Furthermore, politics in anime tends to be weirdly bloodless, by which I mean the causes and motives seem too insubstantial to deserve all the violence the characters are enacting. Not so for this series, the backstabbing and struggle for power feels more real. I think the opening gives you a good idea of what the series feels like. I like how you can’t tell who the bad guys are, although there aren’t really evil people in the series per se — it’s all just politics and who’s on what side. Don’t ask me why the titles are backwards in the video, though.
  • Now, as for The Twelve Kingdoms, it’s basically The Chronicles of Narnia mixed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: a Japanese schoolgirl ends up in some weird kung fu fantasy version of China. It’s based on a series of novels as well, I think half of which have been translated into English. The fan trailer below does a fairly good job of showing the epic scope of the series, though the music is from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Granted, the main character is kind of whiny and homesick for the first three episodes, which is probably realistic for a proper Japanese schoolgirl from the late 80s who’s been dropped into fairyland, but it can get annoying. What’s amusing is that one of her companions is a genre-savvy fantasy fan who insists that she’s the Chosen One when all signs clearly point to the protagonist. Never fear, it doesn’t get metafictional and no 4th wall breaking occurs, it’s there so that fantasy girl’s unwarranted eagerness can serve as a foil to the heroine’s reluctance.
  • Shiki is basically Salem’s Lot set in a Japanese village, with a clear homage to Stephen King in one scene (the bedroom window scene if you were wondering). The series again is based on a novel and it’s also about vampires overrunning a small town. Unlike Salem’s Lot the series also shows things from the vampires’ perspective. King never showed his vampires hiding in terror from bloodthirsty lynch mobs or begging for their lives from their former neighbours as they’re dragged into the sunlight. There’s one particular scene where a vampiric little girl is being chased by a burly bearded vampire hunter shouting for her death which is just uncomfortable to watch. Although let me just say that the character designs are rather, err, unique in aesthetic. But the story is aces. And the book series was written by the same author of The Twelve Kingdoms.
  • Black Lagoon is a series about a smuggling crew trying to keep their company afloat in the South China Sea. Which makes it sound like Firefly on a boat but there are a lot more violent sociopaths in this show. It’s violent and exciting and cool, but it makes no excuses for the sort of people who’d actually live in the world of its setting.

Stuff that fell flat for me:

  1. Legend of the Legendary Heroes. Jesus, why did I even try? Google it for yourself if you must, but don’t make me think about it again.
  2. Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto. It’s a show for history nerds, but the type of history nerds who obsess about names and dates. Watching it was like this: “On this day this historical figure did this thing in this place, but little did he know that so and so was actually in the same city just two days earlier doing the exact opposite thing. As for this other historical figure, he–” and at that point I stopped watching. I didn’t like having to do homework to watch a TV show. The music’s pretty good, though.
  3. Noein. The first episode is a collection of insipid clichés about an affectless male protagonist who listlessly enacts grotesque violence while cocooned inside a giant war machine and is inexplicably romantically intertwined with a girl too afraid to admit to her feelings for him. If you look at the edges closely, you’ll see the parts where the cookie cutter’s edge is starting to dull.

War of the Worlds’ Races

An observation: War of the Worlds is the prototypical alien invasion story.  It was meant to be an impassioned screed again colonialism and a metaphorical examination of the consequences of white imperialism.

Later tales from the genre took up the original story’s premise – aliens invading the Earth – while ignoring its message that oppressing the Other is bad. In fact, later alien invasion stories proclaimed the exact opposite message: oppressing the Other is good, because they’re out to destroy us with their Otherness.

The alien invasion genre became an expression of fear of immigration and racial others. More, it became a cri de coeur of imperialist terror at losing hegemonic dominance, fear of no longer being top dog. You never see alien invasion movies where the aliens invade Mombasa, it’s always London and New York and Washington.

So now the alien invasion genre has ended up in the opposite location it started from: alien invasion was a metaphor for white people conquering non-white countries, while nowadays it’s become a metaphor for non-white people immigrating to majority-white countries. What a funny old world we live in.

The No-win Scenario

I just realized something at work today which I will swear to my deathbed is unrelated to a specific coworker’s hygiene: telling a girl she has B.O. without ticking her off is essentially the Kobayashi Maru of social situations.

Spring has sprung

The real spring has come, instead of the spring that only exists on the calendar. Which is nice and all, but eventually I’ll have to face again one of my most intense dislikes: touching a subway pole without gloves on. You win some, you lose some.

How to pass the Turing Test

Employ animists to judge the test.
Employ small children to judge the test.
Employ the computer-illiterate to judge the test.
Employ the mentally-disabled to judge the test.
Employ the intoxicated to judge the test.
Employ the senile to judge the test.

Hip, hip, hurray

Okay, so I’m in the movie theatre right now waiting to see Grand Budapest Hotel and the place is packed.

What the hell, peeps? I thought watching an indie movie on a Thursday night would mean copious empty seating, like when I saw Coriolanus, but we are full up. I guess every other hipster in the city had the same thought.

Thar she blows

Big Marijuana is coming like Big Tobacco did decades before, but it’s taking a detour through the 1920s and the Prohibition Era first. If and when marijuana is legalized in the United States, it will almost definitely join the other legal drugs in being pushed by profit-driven corporations willing to kill as many trees as it takes to be in the black. In the meantime, heavily armed pot growers are destroying the environment well enough on their own.

So sayest MoJo:

Although the original Northern California growers saw pot cultivation as an extension of their hippie lifestyles, their environmental values haven’t readily carried over to the next generation. “They are given a free pass to become wealthy at a young age, to get what they want,” Silvaggio explains. “And do you think they are going to give it up when they turn 20, with a kid in the box? They can’t get off that gravy train.” But with prices dropping as domestic supply expands, “you can’t go smaller; you’ve got to go bigger these days to make the amount of money you used to make. So what does that mean? You have to get another generator. You have to take more water. You’ve got to spray something because you may lose 20, 30 grand if you don’t.”

Fighting evil by moonlight

Did you ever watch Sailor Moon and wondered what the series would have been like if the main character had been a communist? Neither did I, and in fact I’ve never watched an episode, but certain enterprising sorts have answered the question no one was asking.

I bring you Red Moon:

Reaching Naru’s mother’s jewellery store in record time, Sailor Moon charged inside to see her best friend being strangled by something that looked like a reject from the late, late horror movie show. All around the grey skinned woman customers lay drained of their energy, unconscious on the floor.

“Halt! The people of this city require that energy to be able to work, and until the means of production are in the hands of the workers, society shall never be equal! I am Sailor Moon, and in the name of the working class, I shall punish you!”

It is accomplished

I have finally watched all non-filler episodes of Bleach. I’ve been watching this show for most of the 21st century, so realize that I feel like I’ve hit some kind of personal milestone. A dumb and inconsequential milestone, but still one nevertheless. Like many other anime series in the genre of boys’ action (shounen, for the initiated), it dragged on for far too long, not least because the anime’s production of episodes quickly outpaced the manga’s story. Yes, the anime was based on a comic book series that wasn’t finished yet.

The ending didn’t feel essential. The final bit is basically a season-long epilogue, with the real ending being the one two seasons ago where the actual central villain was defeated.

But, it’s done now, so kudos to Kubo Tite for joining the ranks of creators who have successfully brought a long-running series to a close. I’m just glad I can finally cross this entry from my lifetime list of unfinished stories. Onwards to the next one.