All posts by The Heat!

Anime Jukebox – Fire Wars

Oh. Oh man. Dear Friends, do you feel it? Sometimes there’s a song that comes along that lights something in your soul. It lights a FIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYA!!!

I’m speaking, of course, of Fire Wars, the opening theme for the Mazinkaiser ova series, masterfully rocked by the legendary JAM Project. 

JAM Project is probably a pretty familiar band if you’re in any way up to speed with the Super Robot Wars game series, as they’ve performed many of the title tracks for that series along with many other super robot shows over the years. Interestingly, the Mazinkaiser super robot owes its origin to the same series, as it was originally introduced in Super Robot Wars F Final.

We’re halfway to Friday, folks. Just sit back, relax, and we’ll be at ‘DON’T WANNA KNOW, EVERYBODY READY GET IT ON!’ in no time.

 

Anime Jukebox – X-Men

Hi, friends! Did you know that the 90’s X-Men animated series had two alternate Japanese animated intros that were on par with its already equally awesome American intro? Because, well, it did.

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LLLLADIES…

Yeah yeah, this isn’t technically an intro for an anime show, but I figured I’d bend the theme just a little bit to show off this absolutely fantastic animation work.

These impressive intros were created for the show’s transition to Japanese audiences under the station TV Tokyo. The initial intro lasted for 41 episodes, with yet another brand new anime style intro starting with episode 42.

This is the best quality video I could find for this. If you sit through the whole thing you’ll see both intros:

Both intros featured songs by the hard rock group Ambience, the first titled Rising and the latter was Dakishimetai Dare Yori Mo. While I’m personally not a huge fan of the second track, the first one definitely rivals Ron Wasserman’s now iconic instrumental theme featured in the American intro. If I had a gun to my head I’d probably go with the American version, but there would be a lot of tears and anguish in that decision.

CRY FOR THE MOOOOOOOOOON!!!

The Lost Art of Showing, Not Telling (Part 2 of 2)

Oh, hello again, Dear Friend! So today I’d like to focus on a more personal example of this idea and the way it relates to one specific film: Macross Plus. Careful, this may get weird.

Soundtrack - Macross Plus OST 1
Pictured: A Graphics Design artist’s best attempt at using a visual medium to induce nausea.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, Macross Plus is an OVA series (later recut into a feature film) that serves as a direct sequel to the original Macross tv series. Set roughly thirty  years past the events of Macross, the story follows the rivalry between Isamu and Guld, two test pilots of a new prototype fighter. This film is one of many late 80’s to  90’s animated features from Japan that were visually and thematically inspired by American films from the 80’s. Some examples that come to mind are Bubblegum Crisis and Streets of Fire, Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner and of course Macross Plus and Top Gun. Not to knock any of those films listed, as they’re all really enjoyable in their own way, but the inspiration from Top Gun can’t be understated.

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It also predated the idea of computerized anime pop stars being entities of pure evil. Looking at you, Hatsune Miku.

Okay, full disclosure here: I am not a huge Macross fan. Not because I dislike it, but because I simply haven’t seen anything Macross other than Plus. Because of this Macross Plus serves as a standalone story in my mind, and a damn good one at that. All the ingredients to tell a self contained story are there, and the callbacks to the original Macross show seem to only function as a nod to those who have seen it moreso than some sort of essential building block of a greater continuity.

It’s because of this film’s standalone nature (and partially because I haven’t seen the original film) that I find its callbacks to the original series to be so interesting and fun. I like the fact that I don’t have the full picture here and I like that the film’s creators seemed to regard knowledge of the original series as supplementary rather than essential. At best I’m fuzzy on all of these details and completely oblivious at worst. Everything it hints at, from the war with the Zentradi to the Macross mech that’s used as a backdrop for the climax of the film is just downright fascinating to me. Though I fully admit that the circumstances with which I viewed this film are not even close to typical, this sort of accidentally became an example of showing, not telling.

And therein lies the big problem. I’d like to try and preserve the original mental image I have of Macross Plus. I find it fun and entertaining to try and piece together stories when I’m given just a slight hint at what’s happened in the background, and expanding my mental image of the Macross universe is potentially going to ruin that experience for me. Yet, at the same time, everyone who seems to be in the know on mecha regards Macross (at least the original series) and some of its side-media as essential viewing. I’ve been told time and time that I’m doing myself a huge disservice by avoiding any other Macross media.

Let me frame it this way, there’s most definitely a point where you can know far, far too much about characters, setting and/or story. I know that I’d personally give anything to have never experienced the Star Wars prequels or Prometheus, as they were not only pretty bad films in their own regards, but they also shed too much light on stories and subjects that required a bit of the unknown to make things work. In these particular examples, I downright hate that I know there’s an in-universe explanation to the real way the Force works or that the “Space Jockey” (see: previous post) was actually some kind of alien race of albino guys with a mastery of genetic manipulation. It’s very difficult to mentally divorce this information from the original works they’re based on.

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No matter how much you may love Star Wars, you’ll never be able to forget the fact that this bastard inhabits that universe. That knowledge is stuck in your head. Forever.

This is actually an issue where my co-hosts, Zen and Grant, strongly disagree with me. After a pretty lengthy conversation on this subject I did agree to expand my Macross experience to some of their cherry-picked selections. Problem is that even when it comes to their opinions, which I trust, I still can’t shake the feeling that I could be screwing up my mental image of something that I absolutely adore.There’s also a chance that I’m reading far, far too much into this and that I should just relax and try to enjoy a mecha series that’s gained nearly unanimous critical acclaim.

One thing’s for sure, when I finally decide to take the plunge and watch a ‘best of’ showing of Macross media I will report back to this blog (or maybe even the podcast) and let the world know how things went. So I guess what I’m saying is, please hold my hand as I dip my little toe into the shallow end of this anime that’s most likely going to be really great. Odds are it that it’ll probably be a good experience, but regardless, it’ll definitely be a thing.

The Lost Art of Showing, Not Telling (Part 1 of 2)

Hi, friend! Just your friendly neighborhood The Heat here. Anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes will likely be able to tell you that my favorite scene in all of cinema is the “Space Jockey” scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien. This scene has it all, and by “has it all” I mean it only offers you just enough to start a conversation in your head about exactly what the hell is going on in this film.

space-jockey
Sometimes weird things happen in outer space.

The “Space Jockey” scene is a classic example of one of the most fundamental rules in writing: show, don’t tell. The more time you have to spend with expository dialogue the more your writing suffers for it. Don’t get me wrong, exposition certainly has its time and place and it’d be nearly impossible to have a film without some level of scene-setting via dialogue, but the best writers know restraint when it comes to this issue. Basically the long and short of it is that if you don’t need to explain it via dialogue, don’t explain it via dialogue.

So breaking down the anatomy of this setup isn’t difficult: Space truckers find a weird ship. They investigate. There’s alien stuff on board. Problems ensue. What really makes it magical is the fact that we’re shown something that’s never fully explained (and barely elaborated upon) via dialogue. The petrified original “pilot” of the space vessel has a hole in his chest and has likely been there long, long before our space truckers arrived. What was he doing? Why was he flying a ship full of horrible space penis monster eggs? Was it a war ship of some sort? Genetic experiment gone horribly awry? We’ll never really know, but that’s what makes it so much fun – you get just enough of a story to spark imagination and craft the rest of it yourself.

“That’s all fine, but what does this have to do with Eastern media?”

I thought you’d never ask, Dear Friend! Though I just cited a Western film as my primary example of this concept, I see the principal of ‘Show them, don’t tell them’ executed in Eastern media more frequently, oftentimes to both amazing and disastrous effects.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is probably the worst offender when it comes to overusing this principal. As Grant stated in our Rebuild of Evangelion episode of the podcast, Evangelion as a series notoriously hints at deeper plot points and makes you do all of the homework when it comes to sorting those things out.

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Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

There’s a certain point where cultivating a healthy amount of “headcanon”, as many fans have dubbed it, begins to become a crutch when it comes to writing. This becomes most obvious in the latter half of the Neon Genesis Evangelion series. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show, but you can’t tell me that you got through your first viewing with a clear idea of exactly what happened. Intentionally obfuscating your story ideas in the hopes that the audience will do a ton of background research is not only pretentious, but it’s also a lazy writing habit that separates you from general audiences who are alienated by your story that requires 50 hours of outside research to fully comprehend. It’s one thing if you’re throwing out bread crumbs to a neat idea that operates independently of your story’s main plot, and it’s a totally different thing if you’re asking your audience to do a ton of research just to understand the central part of your story. I’m looking at you, Donnie Darko.

A much better example of Eastern media nailing this concept would be the “God Warriors” of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Intro_Godwarriors
So… This at least gets me out of work tomorrow, right?

The film gives us slight glimpses at the past civilizations and their mistakes. The interesting bit is that it’s implied pretty subtly (in my opinion) that the world we’re seeing in this film is, in fact, a post apocalyptic one. We’re never given enough details on exactly what happened in the past, but we do know that the “Seven Days of Fire” was, in all likelihood, a global nuclear war that shaped the world that Princess Nausicaä inhabits. Like the Space Jockey, we’re given glimpses of the “God Warriors” and their rampage that apparently broke the world.

I’m fully aware that both the “Space Jockey” and “God Warriors” scenes are expanded upon in other media. The former being the premise behind the wretched 2012 film Prometheus and the latter being expanded upon in the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga. As you may have guessed I’m not really a huge fan of having to do a ton of homework when watching movies and shows; so as far as I’m concerned I’d like everything I need to know to be presented within the film/series in question. While I understand some people’s desire to want to know more about fascinating glimpses of a larger picture, I personally prefer to be left in the dark about these sorts of scenes if possible. As stated before, half the fun is in crafting your own stories and ideas to go along with your favorite media.

The contract between the filmmaker and audience has always been a two-party arrangement, whether the audience views it this way or not. The ‘show, don’t tell’ concept can bring an already decent story forward to the canvas of the mind and give the viewer their own level of input. In-between scenes and unspoken concepts are an extremely potent tool for storytelling when done right; allowing the viewer to have that extra level of creativity can yield an extremely personal and rewarding experience. All of these concepts can be found on the screen, but their details reside solely in your own mind.

So, friends, what are your thoughts about this style of storytelling? Are there any great examples of exposition-free storytelling I overlooked? Does anyone else have a “Space Jockey” scene of their own? You will give me your thoughts, they sustain and strengthen me.