The curse is lifted

So you know what I said about only watching mediocre anime lately? Well, I just saw the first two episodes of the anime Bakemonogatari (Ghost Story). So now what do I say?

I say, “Holy fucking shit.”

Seriously, this show is incredible. I could tell you what it’s about – a high school guy helping female classmates remove curses from themselves – but a story is more than its plot. Bakemonogatari has style oozing out of every pore. The dense symbolism, the quick flashes of meaning which forces me to play quick draw with the remote, the peculiar camera angles: it’s all in the service of a larger aesthetic mission. Bakemonogatari actually has something to say, and I appreciate that fact even more when I think back and realize that it’s been so long since I was able to say that about an anime.

It’s even got fanservice, which normally I would consider a bad thing. I would define fanservice as stuff added to a narrative purely to gratify the audience and with not much regard to how it fits into the larger story in terms of theme, character, and so on. Mostly, fanservice refers to gratuitous depictions of female sexual signifiers, which is to say, tits and ass. Plus all those other female things that heterosexual men are supposed to salivate over, like, I dunno, ankles. However, the show portrays the female form so blatantly (and from such off-kilter perspectives) that it removes the stink of prurience from the act of beholding the feminine.

Normally, the term “shameless” is a pejorative description. To be shameless is to be without a proper sense of what is appropriate behaviour (propriety being a relative concept, of course). Bakemonogatari is not shameless about its frank and upfront display of the female body. It is, instead, unashamed. The show is not afraid of the female body, and because it’s unafraid, it can show exposed female flesh as being the same as exposed male flesh, which is to say, an everyday and unremarkable sight.

Therefore, I was mistaken when I said that this show has fanservice. Fanservice is gratuitous. Bakemonogatari is merely honest.

Familiarity breeds addiction

I’m addicted to mediocre storytelling. Well, not always, but it seems to be a thing with me lately.

Recently I got caught up to the latest issue of Nisekoi, a middling manga full of clichés and lazy stereotypes. It’s got decent art but the story itself has nary an original twist to it.

However, that’s exactly the point. The series is your basic high school romance-comedy full of misunderstandings and secret crushes and ridiculous coincidences. Trust me, series like this one are a dime a dozen.

Because it’s predictable, though, it’s also comfortable to read. There’s not much that needs to be done besides turning the page. Theme? Symbolism? Emotional truth? This is just a story about a boy and a girl pretending to date so that their rival gangster families won’t go to war but which quickly turns into a story about the couple hanging out with their high school friends. Nothing to see here, just move along. And don’t think the too-familiar plot can carry the series on its own, either.

It’s not just this manga, either. I’ve already mentioned that I’m a sucker for flashy yet empty giant robot anime, but I’m also reading Magician’s End, the final book in Raymond Feist’s progressively crappier fantasy book series. Mostly I’m finishing the books out of a weird sense of duty to my younger self.

Meanwhile, the critically acclaimed, though somewhat heavy TV series Orange is the New Black and Les Revenants are waiting for me to finally get back to watching them. But wait, I still haven’t caught up to the latest episode of that TV show where the Headless Horseman runs around killing people with a machine gun.

I’m reminded of what this scientific study claims, that human brains like novel music as long as it’s mostly predictable.

So don’t blame me for my tastes, I’m only a human being.

And in case you were wondering, that Headless Horseman show is called Sleepy Hollow.

Superman: Man of dickery

As was foretold by Nostradamus, someone has posted a snarky takedown of the plot holes in Man of Steel. I liked the movie okay but I admit to having low expectations. My good feelings toward the film may also be be as a reaction to the virulent antipathy one of my viewing companions had toward the portrayal of Superman. Have you ever stumbled across the online rantings of a comic book nerd railing against ridiculous minutiae? Watching the movie with this guy was like that, except I was hearing the words come out of an actual person’s mouth.

So I thought the movie was okay but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. It was too long, for one thing, and the climactic action spectacle was kind of turning into a mishmash of violence and camera cuts by the end.

But why read what I say, when you can read the snark over at io9?

Samples:

(on Krypton)

Jor-El: Our planet is dying. Clearly, the only solution is to shoot a baby into space.

Lara-El: It’s the only thing that makes sense anymore!

————–

Young Clark: So I’m kind of thinking I should use my powers for good, to help people and stuff.

Pa Kent: HOLY SHIT NO. You must never reveal your powers to anyone! People will figure out you’re an alien! The government will take you away? Got it? You must never help anyone ever.

Young Clark: Even if it’s a schoolbus full of children about to drown?

Pa Kent: Especially if it’s a schoolbus full of children about to drown! You just sit there, and watch them drown, one by one.

Young Clark: That doesn’t seem right.

Pa Kent: And if for some reason someone else saves the bus, IT IS UP TO YOU TO PUSH THAT BUS BACK IN THAT LAKE AND MAKE SURE THOSE CHILDREN DROWN.

Young Clark: Wait, what?

Pa Kent: YOU ARE GOING TO BE A BEACON OF HOPE WHEN YOU GROW UP, CLARK, A BEACON OF HOPE THAT WATCHES CHILDREN DIE WHEN HE COULD HAVE EASILY SAVED THEM.

Continue reading “Superman: Man of dickery”

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.

The mainstreaming of sci-fi

I just saw Looper. It was an okay bit of time travel narrative but I’m rather surprised so many people thought it was mind-bending. I thought the time travel aspect was fairly straightforward and can only assume that it was confusing mostly to people who didn’t see time travel being the main plot of like every fifth episode of The Next Generation.

In fact, the reception for Looper rather reminds me of that for Inception as far as its sci-fi bits go. Have we forgotten the lessons taught to us by both the Back to the Future franchise and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure?

Primer, now that was a genuine time travel headscrew. Be more like that, Looper. And as for the rest of you people, quit being so dazzled by sci-fi, these plots have been going round and round for decades by now. And while we’re at it also make me king of the world. Is any of that really too much to ask?

After the end

Okay, I’ve had time to sleep on it and I have to admit that The Dark Knight Rises is better than I thought it was. It’s already the next day and I’m still thinking about it. I’m reading online reviews and discussions about the themes and characters, so evidently the movie is one of those slow-burning ones where it takes you a while to fully digest everything. I’m revising my opinion upward.

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.

Isn’t it good?

After all this time I’ve finally seen the film adaptation of Norwegian Wood. I’m really not sure what to think.

As it is, I’m not sure how to evaluate Norwegian Wood as a movie. Having read and liked the book, I already knew what was supposed to be happening. I don’t know how someone approaching the movie as a movie would evaluate it.

However, I am not that hypothetical person. I did read the book and then I did see the movie. I can only react from my own experiences and not from someone else’s. So how does the movie stack up against the book?

First, it’s definitely not a poor translation of a book to film. It successfully captured the quiet mood of the book but at the same time it’s also its own thing. Props for that.

Still, it should be no surprise that I still prefer the novel. That’s almost always the go-to answer when evaluating book-to-film adaptations, with a few notable exceptions. Yes, Midori is peculiarly forward in the film, but it’s a pity there wasn’t enough time to show the variety of her strange flirtations with Watanabe.

Additionally, I’m not sure how well the movie conveyed the strangeness of the book. Haruki Murakami’s stuff is always suffused with an air of quiet strangeness (technically I believe it would be termed magical realism but somehow labelling it makes it seem more dry and boring). The film got the quiet part right but the strangeness didn’t come across as well.

Also, this is probably the only Haruki Murakami novel that will ever be turned into a movie. It’s probably the most conventional one in terms of plot and yet the movie adaptation by necessity still turned out a bit peculiar in conveying its narrative. Good luck filming something like The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Anyway, I don’t regret watching this movie. It’s not a bad way to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.

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.

On joining the Snooty Book Readers Club

I’m not sure of the number of books I read in a year, but it’s definitely in the dozens and perhaps in the neighbourhood of fifty or more. Don’t be impressed, though, since the majority of those books had a picture of either a dragon or a spaceship on the cover (sadly, I don’t think any had both). However, I’ve pretty much read all of the books in my house right now and am reduced to the last book I own that I still haven’t finished reading – The Tempest, by none other than William Shakespeare.

Theoretically, I’ve been reading that book for over a year now. I originally bought it, used, because I needed something to read at the laundromat for the days when I was just too lazy to go to the library beforehand. However, that plan pretty much fell apart not too long after I put it into effect, which meant that as far as I was concerned, Prospero remained eternally stuck in the prologue of the play describing how he ended up stuck on the same island as the cast of Lost.

However, riding the subway regularly has reminded me forcefully of how much I hate riding the subway, so I’m forced to find ways to pretend that I’m not on the subway, and some days Metro is just too insipid for me to stomach. I was surprised by several things. First, I was surprised by how easy it was for me to follow the story despite the Elizabethan poetic dialogue. It shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as all that, since technically Shakespearean language counts as Early Modern English, but I was able to make sense of the dialogue without even having to look up too many definitions (the edition I have has notes and explanations on the facing page). I remember having more trouble with Shakespeare in high school, but then again, that was before I got used to reading dense theoretical works regularly, so all that time spent deciphering Judith Butler’s gibberish was actually good for something.

The second surprise was that the funny scenes were actually funny to me. Not uproariously funny, but certainly good for a chuckle. Humour is something that can be iffy in a cross-cultural context, and the past definitely counts as a different culture – heck, it’s already a foreign country. But the tale of the drunken douchebags travelling around and snarking at things with their pet cave troll could make a pretty decent road trip movie today. Heck, you could insert some of their shenanigans into The Hangover without much rejiggering.

Also, I finally get why this play is so beloved in postcolonial studies. That was pretty much the reason why I got a copy from the used bookstore, after all.

Anyway, I can now rest easy in finally getting my high brow credentials. Expect me to write exclusively about Glenlivet and cork taint from now on.