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.

Reboot Rebooted

Remember Reboot? Remember that it was set inside a computer, like Tron? It was the first fully CGI cartoon ever produced? It took forever for new episodes to appear? Not ringing a bell?

Well, just take my word for it that it existed. But guess what? Some company or other is remaking it.

Granted, that link is just to a press release and any number of things could happen between now and when funding is cut for the series. But hey, it’s potentially more Reboot. What’s to hate, besides the possibility of the remake being complete shit?

Also, apparently next year is going to be the 20th anniversary of the series. Boo to the inevitable passage of time pushing all of us closer to our eventual deaths.

The Roll which Crunches

As should be obvious, I’ve subscribed to the anime-streaming service Crunchyroll. I hadn’t realized it but having so much anime available the instant you turn on your TV turns you into a complete binge-watcher. Remember my project to count how many books and whatever I watched in a single year? Well, I’ve extended it to the end of 2013. Anyway, from August 2012 to August 2013 I watched 427 episodes of TV. However, in September – the first month of my Crunchyroll subscription – I watched 131 episodes of TV.

The subscription has really changed my consumption patterns. Anyway, right now I’m running through some anime in my back catalogue so I’m watching Durarara, which I really like. Basically it’s about a suburb of Tokyo, the people who live there, and the way that their lives intersect. It’s kind of like the movie Crash except not dumb. At the very least you should give the opening a look, the song is pretty catchy (and why the hell is YouTube not allowing embedding of any videos of the Durarara opening, anyway?).

However, I’ve only seen the first five episodes of Durarara. Contrast this to giant robot anime, which apparently turns me into an undiscerning nine year old. I watched the entire first season of Valvrave the Liberator in one day; some weeks before that, I marathoned Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. That’s twenty-six episodes in total over one weekend.

I completely admit that the stories in both series were insipid and unoriginal. Valvrave has something about space vampires and Gargantia has a crashed mech pilot trying to make a living on Waterworld Earth. The plot for both isn’t really important or distinctive but I still kept sucking down episodes. I suppose they’re deliberately designed so as not to engage higher brain functions – perfect for binge watching, in other words. The need to think while watching is probably the reason I haven’t seen anything but the first episode of Orange is the New Black. I like the show but there’s this psychic weight hanging over it.

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse would have been another binge watch except it’s of the “pendulous and gratuitous tits” school of anime which is almost unwatchable for me. Dammit, if I wanted porn I’d get porn, I don’t need some Maxim-style softcore shit to get in the way of the story.

But do you know what’s unequivocally good? Squid Girl, a show about a dim-witted anthropomorphic squid who invades the land to punish humanity for polluting the sea but almost immediately gets tricked into working as an underpaid part-time waitress for a beachside restaurant. The narrative structure is very Azumanga Daioh in that it’s short vignettes about the main character’s everyday adventures. Highlights include when Squid Girl discovers umbrellas and when she finds out she’s an idiot savant at math. It’s very much a show about nothing, also like Azumanga Daioh, essentially being Seinfeld if the main character was a teenaged female cephalopod. Also like Azumanga Daioh, Squid Girl is so cute and sugary that I feel like I should brush my teeth after watching. Still, I’m laughing my ass off at every episode so far.

One Year Later

One year ago, I decided to track how many books, movies, TV shows, and comics that I consumed. That project has now come to a close. What have I discovered?

First, most of what I read is science fiction and fantasy. Overwhelmingly so, actually. Second, I have a tendency to binge watch on TV shows. Third, when given a choice between watching a two hour movie or four 30 minute TV episodes, I will watch the TV show because for some reason I’m daunted at spending two hours on a single leisure activity. Fourth, I read a staggering amount of comics. Last, I kind of wish I watched more movies.

Anyway, the final tally is below.

Books: 83

Movies: 56

Comic Books (including manga): 940

TV Shows: 427

And in case for some reason anyone out there is curious exactly what fiction I consumed, here’s the list I made.

Alien Nation

I’ve recently installed this Spanish-language trivia game on my phone out of guilt at the deterioration of my fluency en castellano. However, I’ve discovered that I know very little of Spanish pop culture and don’t possess the general bits of knowledge that someone immersed in the Hispanosphere would pick up over the course of their lives. The questions consist of examples such as, “So-and-so is married to this famous actor” and neither the clue nor any of the potential answers are people I’ve ever heard of. That or I get something like, “Such-and-such island is part of this grouping: A)The Balearics, B)The Azores, or C)The Canary Isles”. Oh yes, did I mention that the game is mostly geared toward Spaniards?

The best I’ve gotten is 50% correct and you can bet I earned the hell out of that D- rating. I suppose it’s not the game’s fault it’s not aimed for a Canadian English audience. I am somewhat surprised to discover that Family Matters and Urkel’s catch phrase are considered a common reference point in Spain. Oh well, at least I can feel like I’m doing something with my Spanish skills.

And in case you were wondering, Steve Urkel’s signature phrase is rendered as ¿He sido yo? in the language of Cervantes.

Hosanna

Did you know that the History Channel’s new shows based on the Bible and on Vikings kicked the living crap out of the other shows on TV that night? Ratings-wise, I mean. Still, several wags in the comments on that article continue to insist that Jesus was a zombie.

Clearly that is untrue. Jesus came back from the dead, sparkled in the sunlight, and drinking his blood transformed people into his minions. He was obviously a vampire.