Forward the foundation

This video is in no way representative of Beyond the Boundary. The show is not this exciting. I would stab a pregnant woman to watch the show from this fan video. The stuff in there did happen in the actual series, but the tone is way, way, way different.

I liked the show at first, but then after the first arc the story became episodic and you get stuff like the characters forming a pop idol band to defeat a monster obsessed with scantily clad girls and rhythmic motion set to insipid music. The opening shot of that particular episode is of female clothes covered in goo and scattered carelessly on the floor while squeaking sounds repeat in the background. It turns out the scene is in a shower and the sound is of a shampoo dispenser that’s run out of shampoo, but for like 20 seconds we’re clearly supposed to think the squeaking is that of a bed where teenage sexing is occurring. The question is why.

How is the story improved by this fake-out or how does the scene tickle our lower instincts? Because it’s actually not very sexy, so I’m not sure what it’s doing in this episode. Actually, I’m not sure why this episode exists to begin with. To get metastructural, maybe the episode is some kind of homage to cheapo commercial-delivery series from the 80s that would pad their episode count with this sort of nothing. I mean, I guess the episode is kind of funny, particularly the training montage which runs through the cliches of the musical group story in 60 seconds (vocal practice, band members rebelling against the overbearing leader, an emotional reconciliation in the rain, etc).

Ah, dammit, I’ve been giving this thing more thought than I wanted to. Curse you, grad school, I can never stop analyzing things now. Okay, my judgment at the show’s halfway point is that the show isn’t all that. It’s pleasant enough to veg to but if you see there’s only one copy of the DVDs at the library and there’s an old lady in your way, it’s not worth the trouble to shove her out of your way so you can grab the series before someone else can.

Actually, I’m making that my new rating system. “How many old ladies would you push down a flight of stairs to get your hands on this piece of pop culture?”

Do the Mario

Turns out Salman Rushdie stayed in and played Mario when he was in hiding after that fatwa thing:

Apparently when there was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie—when religious fanatics wanted to kill him because of a book he had written—he was in hiding, and he had nothing to do but play Super Mario Bros., and so he was just playing Super Mario Bros. all day long. And he later wrote two kids books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Luka and the Fire of Life, which are inspired by Super Mario Bros., the second one apparently moreso than the first. But it involves people punching objects and having coins come out and that kind of thing. It’s very explicitly inspired by Super Mario Bros.

Judgement Day

I saw Terminator Genisys. It was the best of the Terminator movies not directed by James Cameron.

I realize that’s not saying much since Terminator in the 21st century struggles to be decent, but at the very least it’s leagues beyond Terminator 3 (the one with the Terminatrix) in terms of quality. In fact, here are my rankings of Terminator movies:

  1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
  2. The Terminator (1984)
  3. Terminator Genisys (2015)
  4. Terminator Salvation (2009)
  5. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Genisys is the kind of C-level movie one can waste time on during a Saturday afternoon looking for something to watch on TV. The movie has two main issues: its action and its nostalgia. The action movies of the 80’s aren’t a genre that Hollywood makes anymore (apparently they’re mostly made in Eastern Europe now). This unfamiliarity with raw and wordless violence is evident in the movie, as I’m not that engaged in the action. It’s not enough to show two robots punching each other, as the Transformers movies showed us; we need to care why those two robots are punching each other in the first place. Certainly the movie makes us care more about the fate of the principals than Terminator 3, but that’s not a high bar to hurdle.

Of course, a hallmark of the 21st century revival of old franchises is the strangling miasma of nostalgia that surrounds such works. Scenes copied from the first two Terminator movies (i.e., the good ones) are peppered liberally through the present iteration. The nostalgia and the movie itself works best in the scenes set during the 80’s. Things get more meh when the action moves to 2017.

On the actors themselves, let me observe that the Terminators of our century have had an ongoing problem with casting bland white guys as the lead – chronologically listed, they are Nick Stahl, Sam Worthington, and now Jai Courtney. Regarding Sarah Connor, Emilia Clarke (a.k.a. Daenerys Stormborn, the Mother of Dragons) mostly does an impression of T2-era Linda Hamilton. It’s an okay impression but not an impressive acting job on the whole.

This isn’t the worst nostalgia-driven movie I’ve seen – that distinction would go to the 2012 Total Recall – and I can honestly say it was an okay bit of fluff. However, and speaking as a fan of the franchise, I wish that they’d stop rehashing the same story and make something new again. They kind of tried with Salvation, which was entirely set in the apocalyptic future, but that movie never examined the world it was set in and was just about some guy stumbling through the wasteland. I’m not asking for high art here, Terminators. Be like Predators and give us something different.

The people without history

Well, it’s official: there will be no third season of Spice & Wolf.

What a great opening. I like how it captures the contemplative pace of the series.

As you might gather, the anime is about a travelling peddler journeying through the medieval countryside with a minor pagan goddess. It’s nice to have a medieval story that isn’t about knights and princes. The singular importance of staying on the Church’s good side is well-represented, though it also shows that people would also hedge their bets with a little bit of pagan rituals. I particularly liked its depiction of currency speculation, though the show doesn’t mention that kingdoms would lower the gold and silver content in their coinage mostly because their economies were getting run down to pay for the rulers’ military adventurism.

I’m not too bothered  to learn that the anime is kaput since it’s not like season 2 ended on a cliffhanger. Lawrence and Holo are just still out there selling and trading goods in the medieval countryside.

I did find this answer from the author, interesting, though:

Spice and Wolf was inspired by two books. The first being The Golden Bough, where I found out about the myth of the “Wheat Wolf”, as well as Gold and Spices where it discusses the rise of commerce in the Middle Ages. I learned the process of commerce in the Middle Ages through this book.”

I love economics, however, the spirit of the wolf does not suit a modern-day story and hence, I selected the Middle Ages as the setting of the story.

Genius at work

As I mentioned, I read The Count of Monte Cristo for that anime podcast I’m in. The novel was so long – 1200 pages – that I kind of had to take a break from reading for a while after. I don’t really have an analysis of the book so much as some scattered musings.

First of all, let me just mention that if anyone wants to read the unabridged English translation then I recommend the Penguin Classics Robin Buss version over the free Project Gutenberg ebook. It turns out that Project Gutenberg uses the first and original translation from back in the 19th century and so feels rather stiff and creaky. The Buss translation is from 1996 and it feels a lot more natural. The book was meant to be a sensationalist page turner when it was originally published and it’s the Buss version that made the story flow that way for me.

Overall I liked the novel but it’s clear that Dumas was being paid by the line. The story could have been a lot shorter and it’s striking how much of The Count of Monte Cristo isn’t actually about the count of Monte Cristo. That, and the story is full of garrulous characters and lengthy descriptions of people and places. Thankfully the book never goes full George R.R. Martin, though.

I find it interesting how short the chapters are, since most are only around ten or so pages. This is unlike a lot of modern novels, but it actually reminds me of the short instalments that are normal in really long fanfiction. This is an apt comparison since both this story and long fanfics are or were both released serially in sequential instalments.

The story itself is very cosmopolitan in outlook. Dumas shows off how au courant he is with contemporary theatre and literature, as besides the expected references to French texts, Dumas casually drops references to Shakespeare, James Fenimore Cooper, Walter Scott, Byron, and 1001 Nights. I wonder, was Dumas the Bourbon Restoration version of a movie nerd today making a film that drops allusions and references to a smorgasbord of modern pop culture?

Also, I did some very rough back of the envelope calculations to figure out how much the treasure at Monte Cristo was worth. I had to find out the exchange rate for livres to British pounds since the historical currency converter I use doesn’t have French currency. It turns out the exchange rate varied from place to place and the only one I could easily find was for Dover. I then had to convert the pounds to present money. With those caveats in mind and accounting for inflation, the count’s treasure amounts to $5 million US in 2015. It’s a decent number though not exactly fuck you money. Still, the economy was smaller back then and that fortune formed a greater percentage of the total amount of money floating around at the time.

As an amusing side note, the book mentions twice that Italian cuisine is the worst in the world, and it phrases it in a way that seems like a widely-held opinion. I wonder, would Dumas have been referring to Italian cooking as we think of it today? If so, what specifically did Dumas and his contemporaries have against it? Maybe it’s all the tomato sauces and the unfamiliar mouth-feel of pasta.

Finally, let me end in remarking that the novel contains more scenes than I expected of men trying to blow their brains out.