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?”

Star Trek + Facebook = Redshirt, the computer game

Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that shifted focus from the high-ranking officers on the bridge to the entry-level schlubs doing the grunt work? Remember how those saps never knew what was going on half the time? Now imagine if those ensigns had Facebook.

This is the premise of Redshirt, the computer game. You create and roleplay one of the nameless crew members that die all the time on Star Trek (the so-called redshirts).

Spacebook page of Dirk Amazeballs, Maintenance Tube Wrangler

However, the game is not about meeting aliens and exploring space. It’s not even about cleaning toilets and fixing light bulbs, which are the only duties your fearless crew member is qualified for. It’s about playing the Facebook game.

There’s a disaster coming for your space station, you see, and your goal is to get promoted high enough to be evacuated along with the top brass (though the highest rank you can aspire to is the Commander’s Assistant). In the meantime, you have to schmooze with supervisors and keep your spirits up by hanging out with people on your friend list. Essentially the game is an RPG played through a Facebook simulator.

Thus are combined two obsessive activities: checking status updates on Facebook and grinding for incremental level gains on RPGs. I was up until 3 am playing this game and had to call in sick the next day due to sleep deprivation. It’s fun if you’re into Trek jokes and roleplaying, which yes, I am.

In conclusion, if you’re trying this game out for the first time, I recommend doing it on a weekend.

Plato, Buddha, and Jesus walk into a bar . . .

I’m reading 10 Billion Days and 100 Billion Nights, a classic of Japanese science fiction by Ryu Mitsuse. It’s excellent. It’s one of those books that have so many big ideas, and happily it’s also one of those books that manages to do justice by those ideas.

Briefly, it’s about the universe, from the formation of the solar system to the heat death at the end of existence. In between, humans search for the cause of suffering and the solution to it. Humans like Plato, like the Buddha, like Jesus. They journey together and fight each other to find the righteous path and the better world of our dreams.

When reading this book I sometimes find myself agog at its breadth, its erudition, its cleverness, and its confidence. For example, when he is introduced, it’s revealed that Plato’s obsession with Atlantis is not some metaphor for the ideal state but a literal quest for antediluvian demigods. On the way he ends up debating philosophy with either a time traveller or an alien. This sounds very hokey in a postmodern reflexively ironic “pirates versus ninjas” mishmash, but somehow it’s earnestly un-ridiculous in context.

The book does presuppose a familiarity with the original texts it’s riffing on. You don’t need a degree in comparative theology, but knowing what Buddhist cosmological writings sound like helps in appreciating how deliciously inventive Buddha’s conversation with Brahma is, for instance. And having an ear for techno-babble does help, as well as some basic astronomy, though I understand the science in the book is out of date by now – not unexpected, for science has marched on since the book’s publication in the 60s.

Anyway, read it. I’m seriously enjoying this book. In a word, it’s mind-blowing.

On violence, on anime, and on violent anime

Most giant robot anime, and most anime in general, seem to be anti-war or anti-violence (barring the relentlessly capitalist shows like Mazinger-Z and Voltron which say nothing beyond “explosions are cool” and “buy our toys”). The shows that luxuriate in violence, like Black Lagoon, make clear that the characters are psychologically damaged in some way. The shounen fight series are either about making friends (like One Piece), are comedic (like Ranma 1/2), or have a stick up their ass and continually remind the viewer that the hero is only fighting reluctantly (like Bleach). I suppose the atomic bombings and the enforced postwar pacifism are ever present in the Japanese consciousness.

Though two series that glory in war and violence are the right wing wankathons Total Eclipse and High School of the Dead. One of the characters from the latter show even remarks, as he’s using a baseball bat to bust open a cash register, “You know, this is pretty awesome”. And he’s right, it would be goddamn sweet to be running wild in a zombie apocalypse with a Humvee full of guns and big-tittied girls in high school uniforms. Or being encased in a mechanical womb and using swords, cannons, and other phallic objects to unleash death and figurative semen on hordes of invading aliens.

Of course, there’s no such thing as zombies or alien invaders, which is to say that there are no faceless Others one can morally slaughter; thus, in anime, the depiction of violence simultaneously demands an apology for its use. But it seems that it takes a right-wing dickwad to not give a shit about such distinctions.