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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Compound Backlog Increase - Issue 3

Yay, this isn't anywhere near on time.  I started writing it a week or so ago, but that never happened.  I had too much stuff to do.  I still do have a lot of crap to do, actually, and it feels a bit like the whole damn academic sky is deciding to fall on my humble head all at once, but that's unimportant.

To the blog, I mean.

Anyway, this one is about crap I've been watching.  I can't decide how structured I want this to be.  I don't feel much like writing long tracts right now, so probably pretty broken.

Bodacious Space Pirates
It's kinda like this, except not at all.
Well, in Japanese it was called Mouretsu Pirates, but that's boring, so I'll call it by its English name.  Can you believe there are actually people who don't like that title?  It sounds like the most fun thing ever...well, assuming you like fun, and all.  Also, assuming you didn't live through the 80s when people actually said "bodacious;" then I can imagine it being annoying.  Fortunately, I'm a 90s kid, so yay.

Anyway, the show - so far - is about an ordinary-high-school-girl who is heir to a pirate spaceship, and the whole thing is a bildungsroman where...

...okay, if I spell out the premise like that, it sounds intensely awful, and then I'd be doing a disservice to the show.  I won't lie and say it's not trope heavy: it's trope heavy.  It's not a deconstruction either: the tropes are being played with, certainly, even occasionally subverted, but there is nothing edgy or groundbreaking here.  The thing with Bodacious Space Pirates is, even though it's only seven episodes in (eight, if you're watching fansubs or a paying member of crunchyroll - I am not), while it has these tropes, there's always a level deeper than what meets the eye that turns what would be surface level cliches into rather interesting characters, and an otherwise standard setup into surprisingly intricate science fiction of the sort not normally seen outside of literature.  While this alone does not a show make, it's well made, and rather fun in a way that few shows nowadays are.

As I was saying, it's about a girl who becomes the captain of the pirate ship Bentenmaru, a vessel handed down to her by her mother, operated under a letter of marque.  Technically, this makes them Bodacious Space Privateers, but since it takes five or so episodes for her to even come to the decision to take up the offer, I suppose the emphasis isn't really on the "pirate" part of the title.  The show sets up the protagonist, Marika, and her life before being a space pirate before anything else.  As it's a 26 episode series, it has more than enough time to do this, and I think this sort of leisurely pace helps ground the show quite well.  We get a good sense of Marika's motivations and character, and a good sense of the general mood of the show (unless the unlikely happens and things take an Evangelion-like turn, but this show is too tightly produced for that).

I get the odd sense that this is a project that the director and writer got more exited about than it deserved from its conception.  It's undeniable that the tropes here pander very much to the merchandise-buying Japanese otaku.  The opening credits seem like someone looked at a list of theme songs from successful otaku-bait anime, chose some elements at random, and hashed something together from that.  They feel like the opening credits to the show this by all rights should be, but somewhere along the lines, someone with talent got exited and started writing actual characters behind the tropes, and thinking up how the mechanics of future space actually work.  I seem to remember in particular something that happened early on with the mysterious-transfer-student, where with one line she manages to not so much subvert her character type but build underneath it into something still recognizable as a mysterious-transfer-student, yet divergent in some fundamental way.  It's a shame that what and when this effective piece of writing actually was, of course...but it happened, I swear.  I remember that, at least.  Derp.

I shouldn't have to mention that it has a bunch of really heavy handed self-realization metaphors - it comes with the territory, but maybe I have a weakness to that sort of thing in the framework of a space opera.  Somehow, it doesn't evoke much narm bathos in me.  So far, anyway.

It also gets points for not being over the top with fanservice, which, given how in the future, people seem okay with wearing skirts on spaceships in null gravity, is rather surprising.  I can't remember which of the first classic Sci-Fi writers it was who first pointed out the logistics of such things.  Asimov, I believe it was.  He seems like that kind of guy.

The Sky Crawlers
It's a bit like this...
Mamoru Oshii is probably Japan's second most visible auteur in the west, second to Miyazaki.  Oshii directed the adaptation of Shirou Masamune's manga Ghost in the Shell, a work which explored themes of transhumanism and the mind/body problem in the context of cyborgs doing cool things in future Japan, with lots of gunfights and (totally symbolic) nudity.  It partially inspired The Matrix, and is one of the few films that people will go to besides the works of Hayao Miyazaki upon being asked what anime is.  Oshii's filmography also includes the Patlabor films, none of which I've seen, but which I hear are quite excellent.  His films are known for having very sparse dialog, and yet, also for ridiculously dense - and sometimes contextless - exposition.  He has stated outright that in his films, visual elements come first, before story, and before characters.  Meaning he emphasizes visual storytelling and atmosphere to create meaning, as opposed to dialog.  In a way, he's Quentin Tarantino's polar opposite.

The Sky Crawlers is about a young fighter pilot who, knowing no other purpose than being a fighter pilot and accepting his eventual death as a given, goes through the motions of life without much care or motivation, only with a sense of malaise.  As all the pilots, he does not remember where he was a year ago, and likely wont remember where he was a year from now.  The pilots are "kildren" - likely clones of various other pilots - perpetually young, though whether this is because of genetics or because none of them live long enough to grow up is never quite made clear.  The young fighter pilot flies for Rostock, a private military corporation waging war against another PMC called Lautern.  They are disconnected from the rest of the world, waging their war visibly, but never intersecting: only there in the back of society's mind.  There is a nominal antagonist in the form of Teacher, an unbeatable ace flying for Lautern, but defeating him is only tangentially related - though important thematically - to what's going on.  The film is focused on Yuuichi (the main character) and his existential problems, which is conversed mostly through scenes where he and another character come to silent realizations, up to and including the final shot, which is held for a good 30 seconds, and involves the dog standing around before deciding to join the others and walking offscreen.

It also involves cool planes tearing the crap out of one another.  That happens.

Oshii has stated the film is meant to be a commentary on the malaise of Japanese youth in general, but also specifically of otaku who are content to consume entertainment of tired tropes reiterated over and over again rather than living actual lives with real motivations.  As Yuuichi himself says while one may travel the same path over again, it's always possible to have new experiences.  However, I don't think I really have much to say about this, so if you want to read a good analysis of the film's main theme, check out Justin Sevakis' review here.  It is a theme well served by almost every aspect of the film, though perhaps not obvious enough that it'd be apparent to many viewers.

However, it also appears to me that the metaphor of the road traveled down repeatedly, and yet new experiences being possible can be applied to any sort of genre film.  A film which takes a certain framework, with the initiative of the writer and director, can say something new or different while still retaining its shape.  As a matter of fact, I am tempted to say that Bodacious Space Pirates provides an excellent example of this (though I am pessimistic about the prospects of it saying anything truly new about self-determination).  Oshii believes the industry as is to be creatively bankrupt, and yet his own Ghost in the Shell certainly has genre elements, so it's not too much of a stretch to believe that this might be intentional.  All this reminds me a bit of Neon Genesis Evangelion, which frames the issue in a similar, though far more hard-line way: Anno believes that true originality in anime is mostly impossible, and that everything must inevitably be conversed through recycled elements.  I rather think that Oshii would disagree (and he might point to Anno's own work to prove it).

What I found rather striking about the film that I'm fairly sure was not intentional on Oshii's part was the way it depicted - or rather, mirrored - the life of a fighter pilot as it might have been during, say, the Battle of Britain.  The film is very quiet for most of its length, punctuated at times with periods of life-or-death struggle.  Part of the film's premise is the fact that these pilots might be called upon at any time, and may at any time die, which I imagine was not a situation unfamiliar to those of the RAF.  What made the pilots of the RAF different, of course, was that they had motivation, purpose, and personality.

Of course, when aerial conflict does happen, it's really freaking sweet.  Oshii is not a dry art film director, and I am doing a disservice to him with this dry article.  The animation of the planes is videogame-like 3d, in contrast with the flat and ghostly characters.  The use of CG is very conspicuous, but perhaps because it does not try to hide, it is not a problem.  The aerial sequences are "breathtaking" and "stunning" and all those adjectives that people seem to love throwing at beautiful aerial sequences.

Also, Engrish, Engrish everywhere, Engrish so you start wondering if you're really the one who's saying it wrong.

Other Stuff
Seeing it in thumbnail form is kinda depressing, actually.
I was originally planning on talking about Tree of Life as well, but I don't think I really have enough to say about it for a full length spiel.  In short, it's a really freaking well directed film: it captures something deep about the human experience in its imagery and atmosphere.  These characters feel incredibly real and compelling, and the cinematography is easily the best I've seen all year.  Yet, like 2001, I can't help but feel that the themes that it actually tries to converse are rather simplistic and ill-fitting the feat of filmmaking serving them.  While I enjoyed the film, something inside me rejects it at a level that I can't really recommend the film other than as an interesting piece of art, much less call it anything like a favorite.  At least this film has more of an actual structure than 2001, though I don't really see the point in the "creation of the world" scene in the beginning, other than as a rather sarcastic response to the question "why are things this way?"  It's beautiful, but if your film's plot synopsis includes the line "the universe was created," then your film better be about gods, and certainly not a Texas family in the 1950s.

I don't think Tree of Life really deserves the oscar for best picture, but Terrance Malik definitely deserves the award for achievement in directing, and Emmanuel Luzbeki way deserves the award for cinematography, even though it does a disservice to Robert Richardson, Hugo's cinematographer.

Incidentally, I hear Terrence Malik convinced the special effects artist who did 2001's stargate sequence to come out of retirement just to do this film.  I'm not surprised.

Don't you see that releases like these are necessary for
the industry to survive this new market?
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is coming out on DVD and BluRay!  Four episodes at a time.  For 30 dollars each installment.  Over four months.


The first installment (containing the first four of PMMM's twelve episodes) came out earlier this February, released by Aniplex.  Aniplex follows the Japanese model, which is to release shows slowly and at a high price, but with a bunch of collectors items packaged with it.  This model serves to make a profit only off of the ones who are guaranteed to buy it: the otaku.  It's a model that has worked in Japan, and I suppose it's a model that makes very good sense for a market that generally sees anime as a disposable form of entertainment.  However, that does not make it any less ridiculous that a 12 episode series - one that is best suited to be marathoned over a short period of time - costs 90 dollars over four months.  I fully intend to buy this show.  But I have not yet.  I am hoping that eventually it'll come out in a box set for, ideally, not 90 dollars.  However, there is absolutely no guarantee that Aniplex will ever do that.  They already have it streaming on CrunchyRoll, so perhaps it doesn't even make any business sense to do so.  I'm worried that a year from now, there will still be no word on a box set, and it'll be already out of print.

I'd imagine the scenes inside the witches' barriers would look quite excellent on BluRay.  Except my laptop doesn't do BluRay.  Damn proprietary media formats...

Madoka Magica is one of those shows that I often worry about forgetting why it was I liked it in the first place.  Being able to watch it all the way through again - legally - would be very nice indeed.

Speaking of things I want to re-watch, I also still want to see Rebuild of Evangelion 2.22 again.  I saw it in the theatre, once, and my impressions of it were strong, and yet, only of the film as a whole.  I want to watch it again and get a more detailed impression, especially since it was so (seemingly) awesome.  I wonder whether I should get it from Netflix and waste my parents' money by taking up a slot, or just get it on DVD and waste my parents' money that way...

Man, I really need to find a part time writing job on the internet somewhere just so I can have some money I can actually spend on stuff that's not food or school supplies.  Then again, it's not like I could show anyone this blog as an example of my writing, not with the severe lack of effort I put into it.

And Another Thing,
Since I'm pretty sure I won't be crippled with work, I'll probably finally be getting around to writing that thing on Touhou Tonari tomorrow.  Probably.  If I don't decide to do something else instead.

It's a good thing I'm doing a variety now, because this spring is going to be a spring of epic gaming.  Here are some games that are coming out (or have come out) that I'm likely going to be picking up:

- Mass Effect 3 //Well duh.
- IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Steel //So I can get my ass kicked online by people with xbox flightsticks.
- SSX //One of the few parts of my childhood I don't mind returning.
- Asura's Wrath //Once it goes down in price...a lot.
- The Witcher 2 //Well, if I have time for another really long story-focused game.

That, and I'm still slowly making my way through the Touhou games.  I wish I could run them full screen, that'd make it quite a bit easier not make some of the sillier mistakes.

But that'll all be tomorrow.


  1. their is a Sky Crawlers video game by project aces I think its their last great video game. its a prequel to this, its very good

  2. yea i don't either I have it at the house of a friend who does its kick ass but of course few games are worth buying a system

  3. oh but what I was getting at is that it sort of heavily implies to an extreme degree that kildren are biologically immortal