Bodacious Space Anime

http://dai.ly/xpm0un

Music video of the opening theme.

I’m currently doing a marathon of Bodacious Space Pirates, a sci-fi anime about a high school girl who becomes a pirate captain in space (the title is fairly self-explanatory). It is glorious. Don’t be put off by the cutesy opening. It reminds me of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in its oddball premise and in the way it firmly grounds its fantastical science fiction elements within an interesting narrative. It’s how science fiction should be done, but too often writers forget the “fiction” part and it becomes a three hundred page exegesis of the workings of blaster pistols.

It’s actually fairly hard sci-fi for something from the visual media (i.e., movies, tv, comics, etc). Not that I care about the consistency of fictional gibberish (one of my favourite science fiction writers is Ursula K. Le Guin), but the little details are still pretty neat, such as how the space suits have an attachment point for helmets on the back and how the bulkheads have to be manually cranked open after the power on a ship comes back on.

I even like the recap at the beginning of each episode. Normally I’d just fast forward through it (for instance, Bleach has freaking five minutes of recap and the opening before you actually get to the episode you want to watch) but this show’s recap usually has some kind of space philosophy being read to you while scenes from the previous episodes remind you of the gist of what happened before. Stuff like,

“In outer space there isn’t an absolute left, right, up, or down. It all depends on your relative position. Understand where you’ve come from and where you’re going, which way you’re facing and you’ll always know your current position. Confronted by the vastness of space, you may be disoriented by how small you are. But overcoming that feeling is your first step in outer space.”

All of this while the protagonist is shown on her training cruise and learning how to space walk. The recap even presents new background info which isn’t absolutely needed but is nice to have.

Anyway, I like this show. Watching it isn’t a bad way to say goodbye to 2012.

Get your war on

Thanks to The Onion AV Club I’m currently reading Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain. From the cover art and the fact that the book is reviewed in actual paper newspapers one might think that it’s a semi-autobiographical story about growing up as a Jewish science fiction fan in 1960’s New York. The title, however, is gloriously literal: it’s a story about a conflict between an actual world-conquering mollusk and a disembodied brain. It’s not a metaphor, it’s not an allegory, it is in fact exactly what it says on the tin.

It’s really quite fun.

The glory of violence

I saw The Raid: Redemption yesterday. It’s hard to describe my reactions to the movie without speaking entirely in clichés. It actually was balls-to-the-wall action. It actually was superb and thrilling. It was almost literally pure action (I think there may have only been 10 minutes in total where nothing violent was going on). It’s not ironic and it’s not metatextual. It’s just legitimately good.

My god, it’s incredible.

Nick Carraway, Action Hero

The Great Gatsby - Press Start

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever wonder what The Great Gatsby would have been like as a mid-80s Japanese video game? Yeah, neither have I. But a couple of enterprising chaps have answered the question that was burning in no one’s mind. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The fake manual and fictional provenance propels it further into the heights of absurdity, but the cut scene where Gatsby teleports while gazing at the green light from Daisy’s house is already sublime in its awful glory.

You’ve got to love the fact that you have to fight Meyer Wolfsheim’s Jewish gangsters along with hobos, flappers, and the Black Sox. But where is the ghost of the Dutchman from? I don’t remember that from the book, but admittedly I haven’t read it in a long while.

Video game trivia: the titular character of The Legend of Zelda video game series was named after Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, wife of dear old Francis Scott.

EDIT:

Holy crap, some company made Gatsby into an adventure game. It’s not a parody like the game above, it’s an actual thing that’s supposed to make money and everything. It looks like one of those classic inventory games where you click on everything trying to find the object you need to solve the puzzle you’re stuck on. Pretty pictures and you even have a GOSSIP action, but I wonder if the game makers kept Tom’s fascination with racist literature?

The pic is from the adventure game, not the parody from above

Guardian of the Sacred Spirit

Discovering an exceptional but lesser-known work of fiction for oneself is one of life’s smaller pleasures, one made no less enjoyable for being such an ordinary experience. The story of Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit) itself feels rather small and ordinary; instead of covering an epic struggle between good and evil, at its heart it’s about the depths of maternal love and how far a person can go to protect a loved one. The melancholy nature of the song in the video captures well the feeling of the show, much better than the opening song, in fact, which I found rather insipid in an inoffensive pop song way.

Seirei no Moribito is based on the first book of a Japanese fantasy series and it covers the story of Balsa, a female bodyguard, who is tasked with protecting a prince from his father’s own assassins. There are many things to like about the series, not least of which are the lush backgrounds as can be seen in the video. Generally speaking, it’s a lot more realistic than other anime that deals with swords and the supernatural. You won’t find arcs of blood stylishly spraying into the air or fighters shouting out the names of their attacks; rather, all of the fighting is firmly rooted in real-world martial arts.

Unusually for the genre, the anime does not deal with the samurai-and-ninjas feudal era which first springs to mind when one mentions “Japan” and “swords”. Instead, the series is set in a fantasy world based on Heian-era Japan, which is to say, Japan before the samurai. Japan was governed more like Imperial China, with the Japanese emperors wielding direct political power as the sons of Heaven. This is the opposite situation of the later feudal era, where the emperor was largely a figurehead.

It’s interesting to note that the hydraulic theory of state formation posits that states formed in early China because a centralized power was needed to organize the necessary resources that allowed complex irrigation systems to nourish rice paddies. Ancient Japan, of course, consciously modeled itself on China, and the fact that both countries relied on rice as the central staple food in their diets certainly helped keep their systems of government in sync for a while. Certainly a bunch of squabbling feudal lords couldn’t have organized things half so well.

Of course, one must then ask why feudalism arose in Japan if central organization was so necessary to keep a country of rice eaters alive. There are of course the political and historically-contingent reasons for why the strong Japanese state broke down (short story: a combination of screw-ups and bad luck for several Japanese emperors). Improvements in military technology and the resulting change in recruitment practices also gave greater power to regional leaders, and I suspect developments in agriculture also helped. A separate military class rose to challenge the power of the imperial government, a civil war happened, and slowly but surely the samurai were the new rulers of Japan.

Admittedly, all this is going rather far afield from the original topic of the anime series. What can I say, I have a certain fascination for states and state formation. Anyway, to return to Seirei no Moribito: I liked it. If you like serious anime, please try it out. Not that I hate the funny (Ranma 1/2 remains one of my favourite shows, period), but Moribito definitely deserves a larger audience, which I hope this blog post might in some small way help to provide.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

I watched The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya last night. Word on the street was that the movie was a good addition to the Haruhi Suzumiya series, and I really must concur. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t get into the series until a few months ago, since apparently the last new content was from 2007. That must have been a long three years for the fans.

The Haruhi Suzumiya series reminds me a lot of The Time Traveler’s Wife – not in terms of plot or even aesthetics, but rather in the way both use science fiction in the service of the story. They’re not like too many other science fiction stories, where the writers are too busy geeking out over the ray guns to bother about the characters or the plot. Rather, the fantastic elements in both stories exist to drive forward the fundamental relationships at the heart of their respective plots – in Haruhi Suzumiya’s case, it’s about a misanthropic girl learning to appreciate the mundane and a misanthropic guy learning to appreciate the fantastic (with that term encompassing time travelers, psychics, and aliens). However, both Time Traveler’s Wife and Haruhi Suzumiya aren’t just regular stories with science fiction stuff thrown in, they would be fundamentally different without being science fiction.

I like Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s always got such interesting ideas.

Never Look Back (rec)

Just found this fanfic, Never Look Back. It’s a crossover between Neil Gaiman’s short story A Study in Emerald (full version, PDF) and Sherlock, the BBC tv series which sets the Sherlock Holmes stories in modern Britain. A Study in Emerald is itself a crossover fanfiction between the classic Sherlock Holmes series and H.P. Lovecraft. So basically the fanfic updates Gaiman’s story to the modern world. Read it. It are good.

Seriously, I’m not into slash but I’ll make an exception for the fic (that, and the slash parts are easily skippable). I’m green with envy at the prose.

Sin vergüenza

It’s amazing how having constant high-speed Internet and cable tv means that one no longer has to go out as much. I’ve been doing my best to get caught up on watching cartoons, reading comics, and generally lounging about in sybaritic fashion. For instance, I spent last Sunday afternoon eating grapes and watching the dvd boxed set of Season 1 of Carnivale.

It’s wonderful to waste free time. And yet, time is not wasted when one’s mind is productive. Even when I’m not thinking about my thesis, I’m thinking about my thesis, and connections spring up during my relaxation in many delightfully surprising ways.

In this case, I’m talking about Eden, another Japanese comic book series (also known as manga) that I’ve recently come to like (thank you MangaProject). It’s about a young man living in a world where a pandemic has brought the world to the brink of disaster, and where a new world order has sprung up as a result. I have to tell you, in the following discussion of Eden I’m going to dispense spoilers like crazy. So read on at your own risk. There’s too much stuff to cover in one post so I’ll revisit the series again later. If you want my thoughts on Eden in a nutshell: Cyberpunk, biopolitics, near-apocalypse — rock! Read it if you need something to flip through when you want to pretend to yourself that you’re working.
A recumbent android girl is opened up and examined by lab technicians.
Anyway, the new disease is called the Closure Virus, which has killed 15% of the world’s population decades before most of the story’s action takes place. Bear in mind that 15% may not sound like a lot, but that’s still hundreds of millions of people dead, not to mention the many more that are implied to have died from the chaos that erupted. Governments collapse and a new organization exploits the power vacuum to put itself in charge — the Propater.

In the book, Propater is a neoliberal theocracy of federated nation-states controlling what we would call the “West” plus most of the Americas. I know, “Propater” sounds made-up. The name actually comes from Gnosticism, a religious movement from the same era as early Christianity. In fact, if you’ve got some knowledge of the Gnostics and of early Christian theology then you’ll be able to appreciate better some of the references in the series. I feel embarrassed I hadn’t caught on to the Gnostic elements until I’d read the series glossary, where it was all spelled out. Gnosia and agnosia, the aeons, God as insane: these are all things that are mentioned in the book, and they’re all important in some way to the story and its themes. Actually, googling around reveals that the major characters are named after Gnostic deities and they all play similar roles in the story as in Gnosticism.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (take that Wikipedia) says this about Gnosticism:

The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosis “knowledge”, gnostikos, “good at knowing”), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought . . . Gnostics were “people who knew”, and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know. A more complete and historical definition of Gnosticism would be:

A collective name for a large number of greatly-varying and pantheisticidealistic sects, which flourished from some time before the Christian Era down to the fifth century, and which, while borrowing the phraseology and some of the tenets of the chief religions of the day, and especially of Christianity, held matter to be a deterioration of spirit, and the whole universe a depravation of the Deity, and taught the ultimate end of all being to be the overcoming of the grossness of matter and the return to the Parent-Spirit, which return they held to be inaugurated and facilitated by the appearance of some God-sent Saviour.

However unsatisfactory this definition may be, the obscurity, multiplicity, and wild confusion of Gnostic systems will hardly allow of another. Many scholars, moreover, would hold that every attempt to give a generic description of Gnostic sects is labour lost.

Oh, and apparently Christian Gnostics were responsible for early Christian fanfiction:

The Gnostics developed an astounding literary activity, which produced a quantity of writings far surpassing contemporary output of Catholic literature. They were most prolific in the sphere of fiction, as it is safe to say that three-fourths of the early Christians romances about Christ and His disciples emanated from Gnostic circles.

Setting aside the fact that this version of the Catholic Encyclopedia is rather old and it’s often amusing to read the snide jabs at other religions, it’s interesting that anyone would structure a manga around Gnosticism. However, Eden isn’t the only manga or anime to take its inspiration from Christianity and related religions. I’ve never read the manga or watched the anime, but I know Neon Genesis Evangelion also explicitly explored themes from Christianity and Kabbalistic Judaism, though its treatment of such was apparently problematic. I did watch two episodes of Ninja Resurrection, a godawful anime miniseries about rebellious Christians in feudal Japan and the rise of the Anti-Christ or something.

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a widespread fascination with Christianity in Japan, perhaps analogous to the fascination with Buddhism in the reified West. Perhaps this fascination comes from a desire for authenticity, with that authenticity being searched for in the foreign. So foreign = Other, Other = authentic, and conversely, domestic = Same, Same = inauthentic. This BBC article on one manifestation of Christianity in Japan presents an interesting but somewhat exoticizing view on the topic.

However, it’s debatable just how alien Christianity really is to Japan. It’s been in the country for 450 years, meaning that Christianity in Japan is almost as old as it is in South America. Christians have played major roles in Japanese history, perhaps most famously in the rebellion of Amakusa Shiro (depicted in Ninja Resurrection), not to mention the extensive meddling in feudal Japanese politics that Catholic missionaries engaged in. And as the BBC article shows, certain Christian sects are quite popular in modern Japan. So just how Other is Christianity really?

Oh whatever, I’m hungry and my rice just finished cooking. I’m definitely coming back to Eden, but see you some other time.