The power of friendship

I just finished watching The Defenders. It reminded me of a classic comic book crossover. Specifically, it reminded me of just how contrived comic book crossovers were and how they were mostly just excuses to see our heroes punching bad guys together in between punching each other.

You know that episode with the Defenders standing around in a large empty room yelling at each other? That was basically like half the scenes in Infinity Crusade. Plus Zero Hour had a lot of scenes where the good guys were standing around gaping at a computer screen, which we were at least spared in the show but instead got the exposition around dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Smaller crossovers seem to work better, at least when talking about the Arrow universe.

Anyway, I guess the punching in The Defenders was fun but otherwise we really need better narrative justifications for crossovers.

A lovely day

I was not expecting the Saekano season 2 finale to have an elevator music version of Lovely Day by Bill Withers playing in the background, but there it was.

And for comparison:

Black Series

Holy shit you guys, Série noire on Netflix is hilarious. It’s a Quebec show about two halfwit screenwriters whose incredibly dumb legal thriller is somehow renewed for a second season. Their show has high ratings but is intensely hated by the critics, mostly because the writers only know of the world through Hollywood:

“You should get a legal expert. It looks like you just started writing after reading The Firm.”

“We didn’t read The Firm, we watched The Firm. The Firm is a movie!”

So they decide that they need to do research and they start committing crimes to add realism to their writing.

Anyway, I really like how well the two protagonists portray idiots. One of them even gets replaced by a failed novelist and we think, okay, she teaches literature at a college so she’s probably smarter, then it turns out her novel clearly steals ideas from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Bottom line, the show starts gloriously stupid and stays that way.

I unfortunately can’t find a trailer with English subtitles. It’s too bad because there’s this one hilarious scene from the fictional TV show which was submitted when the writers won an award for best product placement in a TV show, about serial killers arguing about which brand of garbage bag to suffocate a victim with: “No, that’s a cheap generic brand, it’s just going to rip and tear!”

By the bye, the title is a French expression for a series of disasters.

You damn kids

I watch a lot of anime. I mention this because a lot of anime series revolve around the teenage experience (which mostly means the high school experience). I had been unfairly characterizing this deficiency as a malignancy especial to anime, but I had not considered that I’m not as catholic in my viewing of English-language TV shows.

Which is to say that I’ve been avoiding a lot of teen-oriented shows from the Anglosphere. However, The 100 has mucho recommendations as being an engaging piece of science fiction.

However, it’s also an adaptation of a Young Adult series of novels, which means that most of the time the protagonists are either dumb, horny, or both. How could I have criticized anime for having insipid romantic drama when stories like this exist on this side of the Pacific? Stories where I feel like strangling someone whenever a teenager starts talking?

I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. I’ve seen online joking references to the home network, CW, and its formula of crafting shows around beautiful people getting into relationship drama with each other, but I’d never really experienced the full brunt of such a perfect package of cliches and nonsensical actions.

Hoo boy. Perhaps it gets better. I hope so, as I’m not sure I might survive if this show actually gets worse.

Previously on Robotech

I’m watching Robotech for the first time ever. I’ve only seen two episodes so far but I kind of like it. It goes down easy when I need something uncomplicated to watch in between getting home from work and going to the gym.

I probably would have enjoyed watching it on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Oh well, I had The Tick and X-Men to tide me over. Speaking of which:

The 5 minute story

Anime poster of 3 Japanese teenagers in a school library

I finally understand the appeal of those short anime skits that you see on Crunchyroll. My understanding is that in Japan they’re quick palate cleansers wedged in between longer shows being broadcast on TV, but I could never understand why someone would seek them out on a streaming service when longer and more narratively satisfying series are just a click away.

However, they’re perfect for when you need a quick distraction, like when you’re in the subway and don’t have a consistent signal. I’ve been watching Miss Bernard Said in this way and it’s been pleasant enough. It helps that the show is about a high school book club where they mostly talk about science fiction and other genre books that I’ve already read.

I suppose that’s the other part of the format’s appeal to me: watching it requires no great intellectual effort on my part. I just turn on, tune in, and drift away. It’s nice to watch something unchallenging every now and then.

Giant Robots and Why We Love Them

Originally posted by me on PodCastle in the Sky

A quick glance at the lineup of a typical anime season will reveal a large number of shows featuring giant robots. In the recent winter season alone we can count among giant robot anime the series Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded OrphansSchwarzesmarken, Macross Delta, and probably a bunch more I’ve overlooked. Point is, giant robot anime are like cockroaches and herpes – they keep coming back.

But what’s so great about giant robots? Yeah, I know, to ask the question is to answer it. Giant robots kick ass. I mean, have you seen Robot Jox?

Or Pacific Rim too, I guess.

Fine, but why giant robots? Why not, say, giant tanks, like in Heavy Object?

I think it ultimately comes down to power fantasies. A giant robot perfectly embodies the juvenile dream of invincible domination that a tank cannot. Realistically speaking, a tank is a better weapon. It’s smaller, so it’s harder to hit; it’s cheaper, since manufacturing tank treads is easier than a bipedal walking machine; and it’s safer, since it’s easier to knock over something on two legs than a machine that rides low to the ground. Tanks are pound for pound the deadlier weapon, yet they don’t feel that way.

Consider that riding in a tank is akin to being jammed into a broom closet. Who feels invincible when the walls are pressing in everywhere?

Michael Peña driving a tank in Fury

Even were they roomier, though, tanks are fundamentally more like a heavily-armoured house on wheels. It’s a place to hunker down and hide in. One feels safe by virtue of being enclosed.

Melinda of Heavy Object holed up in the perfect otaku bunker

Look at the image from Heavy Object above of a tank driver in her native environment. It looks like a shut-in’s dream room – no windows or doors and ample monitors to watch TV and surf the Internet. The outside world might as well be just another program on the computer screen. It’s a perfect metal womb to hide in.

Feeling safe, though,  is not the same as feeling powerful. By contrast, a mecha is more truly worn than ridden. It’s human shaped and therefore more of an extension of one’s self – like the perfect battle armour or a second skin, or a new metal body that replaces vulnerable flesh.

It’s also important to remember that the heroes in giant robot anime are all teenagers, even the ones who aren’t. The modern iteration of the giant robot subgenre tends toward the melodramatic and the angst-ridden (as opposed to the gleefully consumerist giant robot shows of the 70’s and 80’s). There’s usually a sense of persecution and oppression being unjustly visited on the protagonists, whether it’s the outcast mercenary troop of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans or the underdog defenders in Argevollen.

But who are the villains who bedevil our heroes so? The enemies are often generic imperialists who fight for poorly-articulated and nonsensical political objectives. They aren’t fighting for anything specific because ultimately their goals aren’t important to the narrative. They’re just there to be roadblocks, to harass and  obstruct the hero and provide them something to punch.

The enemies of giant robot anime are so generic as to be universal. Look at the nickname bestowed upon the protagonist of Valvrave: The Boy Who Fought the World. This says it all. The enemy of the giant robot anime is no one specific, but rather everyone. Parents, teachers, bullies, rivals, friends, classmates, adults – which is to say, the generic “they” that persecutes the suffering hero of the show – are all the bad guys. They’re who he’s fighting against.

The giant robot pilot is like the Incredible Hulk – he wields incredible power but is misunderstood by the world. In the end, Hulk, like a surly and emo teenager, just wants to be left alone.

The Incredible Hulk pursued relentlessly by the US Army as he punches a tank shell and screams about being left alone

And here we come to the ultimate answer. The giant robot anime is the perfect teenage fantasy, for it’s a metaphor for the teenage condition: an innocent hero is possessed of unwanted new abilities which cause him to be unfairly beset on all sides by powers desperate to control or crush him.

This is the secret of why giant robot anime is so eternally alluring. Even adults who have their shit together will still occasionally feel like the world is picking on them for no good reason, and wouldn’t it be great if you had a magic wand that could make everything disappear? That could stop the world from pissing on you for just one damn second?

Why do we love giant robots? Because we all wish we had one of our own.

The Non-Americans

Fascinating article from The Guardian about the US-raised children of a couple in Russia’s infamous Illegals spy program. It would of course be mind-blowing to discover as a teenager that your parents were secretly Russian deep cover spies trained by the KGB, and the article covers that in depth. Peripherally related to that issue is the fact that the TV show The Americans is very loosely based on the Illegals Program.

It’s kind of interesting to think about how the fictional kids on that show would react to the same revelation of their parents’ secret lives as enemies of the state. The real-life sons are currently trying to regain their Canadian citizenship (their parents’ cover having been that of Canadian immigrants to the US) and on reflection I think I wouldn’t mind if they became legit Canadians. As they point out, they barely know Russia and have few personal ties there. Plus they seem eager to live in and contribute to Canada, so what the hell. There’s plenty of room.

Also interesting is this video of the father in the story, Andrey Bezrukov. There is a noticeable non-native accent in his English speech, but it might be that he is no longer trying to disguise his origins or that his speech patterns have been influenced by the people around him after he has returned home – or both, probably.

Philadelphia, a.k.a. my sister can’t be this beloved

You know, I just realized I never got around to posting my review of Oreimo. Well, enjoy.

The titular little sister Kirino leaning forward in the foreground while the older brother Kyousuke glares at her behind her back with his arms crossed

My biggest surprise in recent (read: 2014) anime discoveries has been Oreimo, a.k.a. My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute. I had written it off as borderline wank material but my brother kept insisting I should try it out. And yes, there’s fanservice, but not the sexual kind (okay, there’s a gratuitous panty shot in the second episode).

The series is about a high school guy who discovers that his otherwise perfect overachiever of a sister is addicted to pornographic computer games, specifically the subgenre of incest porn where the male protagonists nail their younger sisters. He understandably freaks the fuck out, especially since his sister hates his guts. Then he discovers that his little sister is into the porn for its emotional content, which is to say that she’s enamoured of the idea of having a little sister of her own.

The series is one of the few anime that shows being into geek shit is actually not a mainstream thing in Japan. The fanservice, then, is in the show’s depiction of the little sister as the ideal otaku: well-adjusted, popular, and good-looking. Actually I can see that she’s more like the otaku’s ideal girlfriend, like an independent invention of that male nerd fantasy – the girl geek. And there’s even an episode where the sister defends her hobby to her judgmental father.

The fantasy of the series, the yearning that informs every episode, is the desire for acceptance. Well, there’s also the fantasy of a girl who appreciates the misunderstood target audience, which I will acknowledge as not a fantasy I care about. But once you can see what the series was going for then perhaps you might be able to appreciate the story for itself.

As always, your mileage may vary.

PS

I have since been informed that the anime takes a jarringly squicky turn near the end. Heads up for all you watchers out there. For now, I’ll stand by my recommendation, as being 80% good is still an A in most grading schemes.

What am I watching in Winter 2016?

I originally posted this over in the podcast group blog. I rather like having everything I write in one spot, so now I’m reposting it here. I picked two shows to talk about out of the assload that I’m currently watching.

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi posing with lightsabers while clone troopers shoot their guns in the foreground.

Non-anime: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Thanks to The Force Awakens and the damn Galaxy of Heroes mobile game that I got hooked into, I’ve grown interested in the only bit of modern Star Wars that I haven’t watched. These are actually two different series – one is a 2003 show animated in a more traditional style while the other is a 2008 CGI spectacle. The 2003 version was helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky, he of Samurai Jack fame, and it’s just as excellent as his previous work. It’s a largely wordless action show which reduces a massive interstellar civil war into a series of intense duels across different planets. In style it’s basically a samurai epic in space, which should be unsurprising considering what Samurai Jack was like. Both Samurai Jack and the anime Katanagatari felt very similar to me, probably because they both take a lot of their cues from the chanbara genre (i.e., samurai movies). So I must recommend the Tartakovsky Clone Wars as an action and a samurai fan. Plus it changes General Grievous from the ridiculous robot with emphysema that he was in Revenge of the Sith and turns him into a genuinely terrifying enemy.

The 2008 Clone Wars changes things up quite a bit. It explores a lot more of the titular conflict, but in style it’s much more of a kids’ show. General Grievous has become a cartoonish bad guy who keeps getting beaten by the heroes every week like the villain from an 80’s Saturday morning show. At points I half expected him to shout “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!” like Dr. Claw at the end of every episode of Inspector Gadget. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation, as I realize that this iteration has a different target audience than the previous one (being on Cartoon Network I assume the Tartakovsky show was aimed at hipster animation aficionados).

Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice Ahsoka is the spunky Young Adult heroine one would expect from this sort of bildungsroman, and while I’ve only just finished the first season I expect the rest of the show to build up to her becoming a full-fledged Jedi. But even as a kids’ show this series can get pretty dark and depicts actual characters dying, which I appreciate in that it doesn’t try to keep kids in a metaphorical hamster ball separated from the real world consequences of violence and conflict. Though there’s really quite a lot of fighting in this show. I mean, do people in Star Wars ever just watch Netflix and chill? I know what regular people on Star Trek do to relax, but I have very little idea what it’s like to not be a general or a mystic space knight on Star Wars.

Still, an interesting thing to ponder is that for most 21st century kids, this is their Star Wars. It’s not the original trilogy, it’s not even the prequels, it’s this CGI show that’ll be the first thing that comes to mind when the words “Star Wars” come up. It’s at least a lot better than the prequels, and it’s a pleasantly entertaining show to relax with, so I’m going to stick with my Star Wars viewing project. Possibly I’ll move on to Rebels once I finish.

Anime: Schwarzesmarken

This is just an enjoyably dumb show to bitch about if you’re into giant robots and military porn, which I am. I also have a fascination with both alternate history and the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War. The show is stupid but in a creatively-nourishing way – whenever I’m watching I’m either imagining German pop music playing in the background or mentally composing a rant about how remarkably off-base its understanding of history and international politics is. That’s when I’m not criticizing it for its right-wing politics and historical revisionism. God, this anime is shit. But I can’t stop watching it.