Category Archives: Rant

Upcoming Events

So today’s post is just a quick rundown of some things that are going on in Blade Licking Thieves-land.

First off, expect some extended Super Sentai/Power Rangers discussion over the coming days. I have a number of thoughts related to not only these shows but specifically my thoughts on the upcoming movie and what these franchises represent in both Eastern and Western pop culture. There is a lot of fertile ground for discussions related to tokusatsu and broader anime topics.

Secondly, the Blade Licking Thieves are continuing to produce new podcasts though this weekend’s recording will most likely not happen. Life! It tends to get in the way of fun. In any case we will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon enough.

Lastly, we are working on a number of collaborations at this time. We have a few projects that we are moving forward on that should produce some great crossover content with other podcasts and names in the community. This is really, really exciting, and I personally and stoked to see what comes of that. Hopefully this encourages more opportunities for us to work with the rest of this great community in talking about the things that we love.

Have a good weekend gang, and look forward to some tokusatsu talk come Monday.

Whatcha Watchin’ – 09/14/16

Hey guys, Grant here with another quick check in to see where we are at in terms of our regularly scheduled programming.

Exercises like this are a way to track progress across the various shows that we attempt to watch. It is helpful to not only measure progress, but also to see where we might go from here. If you are anything like me, then your list of “to-watch” grows a lot faster than the list of completed titles. Hopefully, this will encourage me to buckle down and finish more shows, rather than jump around too much.

So, what am I watching?

Thunderbolt Fantasy

thunderbolt

Service: Crunchyroll

Episode: 8

Feelings: Thunderbolt Fantasy is an absolutely fantastic show, and I am still continuing to enjoy it. I have lagged behind a bit, as life has gotten a bit in the way here lately. Nevertheless, I am ready to hop back into the fancy fighting puppets and see more absurd things happen to pretty dollies.

 

Ultraman Orb

orb

Service: Crunchryoll

Episode: 8

Feelings: This is actually my favorite show I am watching right now. The comedic elements, kaiju action, and genuine joy of watching this show never disappoints. Again, life has me behind, but this is the one I look forward to every week. I legitimately feel like this is a great way to start the Ultra series if you have never seen it before.

 

Macross

sdf1

Service: Amazon Prime

Episode: 2

Feelings: This is a back-burner project, so I am not really pushing myself too hard on this one. I have seen Robotech easily a dozen times, but the original Macross I have only ever watched once completely. Since it is streaming I have told myself I need to rewatch the entire show. It’s as great as I remember, but the print damage is really becoming obvious. This show needs some remastering, desperately.

 

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

stardust-crusaders-2

Service: Crunchyroll

Episode: 20, Season 2

Feelings: So I’m nearly halfway through the Stardust Crusaders arc, and I’m still a bit mixed. I really enjoyed the second arc, so my hype and energy levels were pretty high going in. The problem is that the “baddie of the week” format is only as good as the villain. I don’t feel like the narrative is building like it was in the prior season. Still, I will finish it, because it is a great show, I just need to muscle through more than one episode in a sitting.

 

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers

MMPR_Rangers.jpg

Service: Netflix

Episode: 30, Season 3

Feelings: This is another rewatch project I have going. As a kid I really only stuck around for about two seasons or so, but since every single season is on Netflix I challenged myself to see if I could make it all the way to the modern day. I don’t know if that is possible, but the nice thing is that Power Rangers isn’t a show that demands a ton of my attention. I basically passively watch it every morning as I have breakfast, and that theme song gets me jazzed every time. It’s goofy and dumb, but super vibrant and I enjoy every second of it. I’m also pretty intrigued to see what happens as I get further into the seasons I know nothing about.

 

Legend of Korra

korra_the_legend_of_korra

Service: Amazon Prime

Episode: 10, Season 3

Feelings: This show is phe-no-me-nal. I loved Avatar, but wow this show is completely blowing me away. I really could gush about it for hours. The advantage here is that my wife is watching this with me, so I don’t have to fight to find spare time to watch it. It is a shared activity we are doing together every night. Truthfully, I feel like this has done nothing but build each season and I look forward to it every night. Some of the best animated work to come out of the US.

 

So that’s the long, ridiculous list of the shows I am working through, from the every day routine watches to the “eh, when I get to it” shows. What do you guys think? What are you watching right now? Let me know your progress down below.

Build Me Up Buttercup

One of the great joys in life is the creation of something. Whether it is through writing, shooting a video, or baking a meal, the act of making something and enjoying the finished product is uniquely rewarding.

stress
“Creating something is its own reward,” he said as he tried to figure out what his next blog post should be.

So today let’s talk about the simple joy of building Gunpla.

Full disclosure – I’m not a shill for Gunpla, I just really enjoy putting together tiny toy robots, so even though this sounds like a sales pitch, it’s not. Think of it as a primer for how to start with Gunpla if you are interested.

If you are not familiar with Gunpla, it is essentially the term for Gundam model kits. These kits come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and styles, but generally they depict the titular mobile suits from the various series. These kits come on large sprues referred to as runners that are injection-molded plastic, often pre-colored to match the depiction in the show.

runners
“THE RUNNEEEEEEEEEERS!” – DJ Khaled

The kits come with instructions to show how to put the pieces together. Even though all of the text is in Japanese, there are detailed pictures that make the process very easy, even for beginners.

Usually Gunpla come in a few standard scales – HG, RG, MG, and PG. High Grade and Real Grade are both 1/144 scale, making them the smallest and usually most affordable kits, with the difference being that Real Grade is much more detailed and difficult. Master Grade are 1/100 scale kits, a good deal larger than HG and RG, but not as much detail as the RG kits. Perfect Grade are 1/60 kits and they are definitely the crown jewel – huge figures with a lot of detail and complexity.

A lot of times people wonder why anyone would purchase a figure that isn’t put together. Why buy something that takes work, right? Isn’t the point to not have to work?

excel
Why don’t I just go buy a copy of Excel while I’m at it?

But the truth is that working on something that takes time and effort is very rewarding. In a sense it is like working out or cleaning the house, in that it may be difficult but by the end you have a sort of euphoria from accomplishing something. Instead of buying a figure and setting in on the shelf (likely still in its packaging) and letting it collect dust, the process of assembly adds an entire new element of attachment and ownership to something.

flat-prong-plug
Shameless plug alert – assembling figures is also a great time to listen to podcasts.

Beyond that, the Gunpla have a high degree of articulation and options that allow you to customize how they look or stand. If you go the extra step and bring paints into the mix, you can create entirely custom kits that the designers never intended, and that is another level of satisfaction and pride.

gunpla-world-cup-28
You can’t just buy this kind of awesome.

If any of this has piqued your interest in the slightest and you are curious if you are going to enjoy building figures, it is actually pretty easy to find out. Snag a cheap HG kit off of Amazon or Gundam Planet and a pair of sprue clippers and you can see if this hobby thing is right for you. The top two links below will get you started for $20.

Original Gundam RX-78 for $11

Sprue Clippers for $9

Gundam Planet for lots of Oogling

Even if you assemble the kit and find out you don’t like building them, you can at least say you made something, and that is its own reward. If you want to watch an entire anime devoted to the joy of Gunpla, you can watch Gundam Build Fighters, which is not only a phenomenal show but is entirely for free on Youtube – legally! Yes, Bandai put the series on Youtube for free and it is truly a great show, even if it is just a long-running advertisement.

Gundam Build Fighters

So give model-building a try, you might find out you like it more than you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Side Dishes – Jet Black

For today’s installment of Side Dishes we take a look at a key member of the Bebop crew – Jet Black.

cowboy_bebop_box_1_review_screenshot-1
Nice topic, real smooth. 

Jet is an ex-cop who serves as the de facto father figure on the Bebop. Generally the voice of reason in most situations that the crew gets into, Jet is the cooler head that seldom prevails. While Spike, Faye, and Ed are often running around getting into various shenanigans, Jet is providing support and keeping the team grounded. Jet is often the one reminding the crew that they need to invest in food, fuel, and needed repairs for their equipment instead of running off and squandering their earnings.

jet-gif
I never had kids, but I’m still a father of three.

Jet also has the benefit of being an incredibly diverse character. He has a number of distinctive visual quirks that help him stand out – a scar and metal ring over his right eye, his bald head, and a cybernetic arm. Of particular note is that his cybernetic arm is one of most stylish prosthetics in all of fiction. This is no mere claw or static limb, but a fully human-looking arm with muscles molded in. Muscles!

jet-black.png
“Look doc, it can’t just be a limb. I want them think I am a weightlifting robot.”

Just like the rest of the Bebop crew, Jet is running from his past. Whereas Spike is running from a criminal past, Faye has amnesia, and Ed is a complete mystery, Jet’s past is not necessarily about failure. Obviously there are times in his past where he has failed the people that trusted him, either those he loved or those that relied on him, but it’s more than that. Jet’s past is about being near-perfect, but for him that is just not good enough. He expects the best from himself, and any minor misstep is magnified because he has such high standards for everyone. This makes his personal and professional issues, while they may seem minor to the rest of the crew, deeply unsettling to Jet. Just like the rest of the Bebop crew he would rather run from his problems and head into the stars. Instead of facing his issues head on he chooses to act as a mentor for the rest of the cast. By judging others in the role of a father figure, he can distance himself from his own mistakes.

While he may not be as flashy as the other characters in Cowboy Bebop, Jet is the rock hard core of the main cast. He delivers helpful advice and guidance, useful exposition for the audience, and keeps everything moving on tempo. He is the harmony, the rhythmic bass line, the steady beat that everyone else riffs off of.

And he trims a mean bonsai tree to boot.

bonsai
Grant editing a post one too many times late at night.

 

Future Sight – Predicting Tomorrow’s Trends

For a change of pace, today I will not bring you a discussion of an important show or piece of work. Rather, I will try my hand at a bit of fortune-telling. In that vein, I will attempt to answer a question that no one asked me to begin with:

What will the next big trend in anime be?

Obviously, I have no great authority in this realm. I am just another fan like any of you. I am not privy to insider information. I possess no mystical gift of foresight. Truthfully, when it comes to predicting future events there are cephalopods with more statistically meaningful track records than I.

octopus
Buy 500 shares action-horror! Sell 300 shares moe!

Let’s be real, if I were able to predict tomorrow’s events with any degree of certainty, I’d use it for far more lucrative activities than the future of anime. That would be a Biff-with-a-2015-almanac-level gift, and with great power comes great profitability.

bttf2-biff-gun
Thanks to my vast fortune, now there is no plural of anime. There is only Mobile Patlaborship Yamato G Fighter. You’re welcome.

 

But there is a method to my madness. Attempting to predict future events is a useful thought exercise if nothing else. This is primarily because in order to make inferences about what will come to pass, one has to take stock of what has already happened up until this point. With that in mind, I predict two major things – one thing which won’t change, and one that will.

What Won’t Change – Content of the shows themselves will largely stay the same.

If the state of anime in 2016 sends any message at all, it’s that we really aren’t seeing a lot of major shakeups in what anime is delivering in terms of content. I do not expect that to change any time soon. If you were to make a list of the major kinds of shows that make up the anime landscape today it would not be much different than it has always been – shonen fighting, high school drama, harem, mecha, etc. While a few interesting twists have cropped up in recent years –action/horror, reverse harem– these are mostly variations on existing themes rather than novel ideas. Even if the proportions shift in new or interesting ways, like a resurgence of mecha anime to its 70s/80s era dominance, the content itself will largely mirror what we already know.

What is most telling about this is how shonen fighting continues to dominate the charts. One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach certainly make up a large portion of people’s weekly viewing time and have been popular for over a decade. Dragonball is revving up all over again with new films and a new series, and given how well re-releases of old material sell you could argue it never left in the first place.

Jojo.png
An object lesson for aspiring writers is that you can future-proof your work by making it too bizarre for any time or trend.

Even the “new” hotness of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has been a force for decades, but only now is it getting widespread recognition in the fandom. While some of these major shows have nominally “ended,” this will do little to stem the tide of their popularity. The sheer momentum of their core fanbase(s) will carry them forward for years down the line, and new contenders will always appear to take the coveted top spot.

What Will Change – How content is consumed

The big shakeup for the fandom will revolve around the way in which content is consumed. I predict that there will be a steady increase in communal viewing and live-streaming as social features become more central to the viewing experience.

This trend is already in-progress in a number of other media. Twitch and other live-feeds are already a constant force in video games. Live-tweeting is expected at just about any major event. Youtube is rife with “live reactions” where we watch people watch content and react in real time. It’s no longer about when or if you access content, but being a part of the conversation while it is happening. Given the close relationship anime has with technology and an audience that trends young, this integration is only a matter of time.

This is a natural consequence of two forces colliding – the success of simulcasts and social media technology.

Simulcasts are one of the large reasons that we are going to see a drive towards this new, integrated model of interactive fandom. Due to a lot of the tireless work from a lot of great people, we have “won” the content wars. Anime is delivered hot and ready every week within moments of airing in Japan.

Food Truck.jpg
Anime trucks were just a fad, you heard it here first folks.

We have nearly reached peak speed-of-access for a majority of the content that people want to consume, bar a few notable (and disappointing) exceptions. At some point, content providers can only access the content so quickly. How fast can it really get? Forty-five minutes after airing? Thirty minutes? Nineteen seconds? Perhaps we can go a step further and watch as the animation is being made in the studio. Maybe we can have reality shows based on making a show from start-to-finish, from when the season’s latest cute-girls-learning-to-be-cute is but a twinkle in the creator’s eye.

But this is only a stopgap measure at best. At a certain point high-speed delivery will no longer be a selling point. The community already expects as a standard feature, regardless of how amazing it is.

milennials
I am alluding to “kids these days” ruining appreciation. If I don’t report on what this vaguely-defined age cohort is killing, then who will?

The new trend will be group-watching, and all of the technology already exists to make it happen. All it will take is a platform that integrates the various features that keep people engaged in a live event and it will take off. With the right presentation and commentators, these services will be able to replicate the experience of sitting on the couch with friends and watching a game or movie. Anime will tap into the same group-euphoria of a shared experience, similar to how sports fandom treats the watching of games.

Individual viewing will never go away, and in fact will still be a major component of fandom, especially for more socially anxious members of the fandom. Nevertheless, communal viewing will start to rise in importance as being a badge of community membership, a way of staying in the know and on top of current trends and conversations. My guess is that the format of programs like Sportscenter will be assimilated, at least in part. We will see popular groups of commentators go so far as to do pre- and post-show analysis, commercial break commentary, and active interaction with chat feeds/social media on air. A lot of these elements already exist in the community in a wider sense, and once some of these ideas begin to coalesce it will emerge as a very popular (if not necessarily dominant) viewing option.

Essentially, I think that larger groups like Crunchyroll, Funimation, and other content providers with existing industry connections will tap into a new way to differentiate their catalogues. By finding interesting, energetic, and knowledgeable commentators (ala Critical Role or Geek and Sundry) to discuss shows in real time we will see a new sort of group experience emerge. Live-tweeting, Youtube reaction vidoes, Twitch streams, and similar popular activities show that the wider overlapping nerd communities are yearning for shared activities. Once these live social media tools are connected to a well-produced real time discussion platform, we will have a totally new way to interact as a community.

That is my vision for the near future of anime. What we watch will stay largely the same, but how we watch will enter a new era of interconnectivity.

 

Piracy – Time Bandits

This may be something of a controversial post, but like Toonces I chose to drive this car over the cliff and I’ll see it through to my fiery demise.

tooncecat
Ladies an gentlemen, look on in amazed wonderment as Grant dates himself in a single reference!

Today we are going to look at something which anime fans are almost universally familiar with – piracy. Recently, Miles Thomas from Crunchyroll (@MilesExpress999 on Twitter) posted a pretty lengthy discussion regarding piracy.

The Tweet In Question

Not going to lie, this really got my blood up. But before I get into why this is a serious issue for your fandom, let’s define exactly which sort of piracy we are discussing. It is important to make note of the particular breed of piracy in question because, like any act, context is vital. Stealing is generally wrong, but if a hungry parent steals from a crooked business owner to feed a starving child then we might look upon that act with more compassion. We know that there is a difference between manslaughter and homicide, self-defense and abuse. Events matter, but so does the context.

To be clear, the kinds of piracy I am not talking about do not universally get a pass. I’m not giving other kinds of piracy a thumbs up like, “Yep, totally okay, go right ahead.” I’m just trying to pinpoint the specific kind of piracy that is under the microscope to make sure the discussion stays on topic.

I also want to establish that there is some irony inherent in this discussion, since Crunchyroll was once a site for ripped anime and they have now gone straight. But let us remember that they started in 2006 and went legal in 2009, over seven years ago, during a time when legal anime streams were essentially nonexistent. They broke new ground and showed that fans yearned for this model of content delivery, back when the notion of legal streaming was essentially non-existent. The difference between illegal streams in 2006 when Crunchyroll started and 2016 when we are having this discussion is integral to understanding what’s at stake.

So, on to the feature – who am I talking to when I rail against pirates?

If you pirate shows that you have no legal means to view in your region, I am not talking to you. This is a huge issue for a lot of older material that is not streaming or was never released on anything other than VHS or laserdisc back in the day. It’s also a major issue for a lot of tokusatsu material such as the various iterations of Kamen Rider or much of the Super Sentai series. Not to mention, as I discussed in my hulu post some weeks back, not every streaming service is universally available in all regions.

If you pirate shows because you prefer a particular translation over the legal translation, I am not talking to you. I know that translation/interpretation is an issue of personal taste, and as someone with some background in language it’s not easy work and the vagaries of translation can drastically alter the tone of certain scenes or characters. I personally have never felt that the translation of legal streams has impeded my understanding or enjoyment of a work, but that may not be the case for everyone. I will give this group the benefit of the doubt, even if I am still somewhat suspicious.

Marge.gif
*suspicion intensifies*

If you pirate shows because the only legal option is expensive physical media, I am not talking to you. This is a bit harder to pinpoint because “expensive” is a relative term, but it is no secret that many physical media releases for Japanese media are outrageously expensive. Collecting an entire show can often be a $80-$150 expenditure, and the raw dollar-per-minute exchange rate is painfully low compared to more accessible western media. The simple fact is that not everyone has that kind of dough to shell out for a show they have never even seen, so I understand the hesitation to put money down.

If you pirate ripped versions of legal streams, I am talking to you. Miles’ tweet and discussion basically breaks down how a great deal of anime fans, many of them in the US where access to legal streams is at an all-time-high, are going to pirate sites like kissasian or gogoanime to watch ripped versions of Crunchyroll and Funimation streams.

Let me state that one more time, to make sure we are crystal clear. These are pirated streams on illegal streaming sites that are direct rips from legal streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Guys, as a community, we can do better.

We must do better.

Now hear me  out, this isn’t so much an attack on anyone’s character as it is a plea to carefully consider our actions. I’m not going to say you’re a bad person for watching illegal anime streams. You could be out doing much worse things, and I think some people who pirate usually end up supporting the industry in other ways by either discussing the shows or buying other merchandise.

16
You could be out roaming the apocalyptic wastelands, licking blades and thieving from villages.

Nevertheless, we have got to value the work that these creators have done. The only difference between watching an episode of a CR/Funi translation stream legally and illegally is that the legal stream gives something back to the creators and translators who have made this available for us. While some people buy merchandise for various shows they have watched illegally, many shows are watched once and discarded – giving those creators not a single dime for their work.

If we do not support legal streams, they will not make the shows we want.

If anime companies receive no compensation for streaming, they will stop allowing them.

If we do not support the industry, there will be no industry.

Folks, let’s be real – we are living in a golden age of access to anime/eastern media. For those of you who weren’t alive or part of the fandom in the 80s and much of the 90s, we used to have to go through some pretty absurd hoops to get this stuff. We would spend hours upon hours networking, scouring Blockbusters, digging through the collections of a friend’s older sibling, and all sorts of toil just to watch a low-res fifth generation set of episodes from the middle of a series with no subtitles or any clue as to what we were seeing. It may have built character and taught me an appreciation for every scrap of anime I could find, but that was not fun and I do not want to return to those days.

s-l300
Old School Fan Scars – I once worked an entire summer to pay for a 13 episode OVA. 

What we have now is truly remarkable. Simulcasts are the crown jewel of the fandom – peak access, people – and we have got to understand that it costs time and money to bring us that content.

That’s what it ultimately comes down to: money or time. The only ways to support anything are time and money. Not every anime fan has equal amounts of disposable income, but if you are a fan then you have some time to spare. The time it takes to watch those extra 2-5 minures of commercials means literal money for the companies that make and translate the shows we love. If you are watching dozens of anime episodes, but can’t spare those extra minutes per episode, then you may not have enough time to be a fan in the first place. This is a time intensive hobby, a luxury good, it is not necessary for survival nor guaranteed. If we don’t preserve it then the industry will cease to be.

Sure, even if the industry stopped production tomorrow we would have years of content to work with, but eventually it would dry up. Without new content to encourage discussion and fire our imaginations this would grow stale. Without legal and easy streaming options we simply won’t have new fans to replace the old and the community will die out, figuratively and literally.

old-people-614783
“Oh golly, I love classic shows like Sword Art Online. They just don’t make shows like this anymore.”

Sure, you can rip CR/Funi streams and tell yourself you are not hurting anyone. You may even be right – there is not necessarily a direct negative impact that you put on these companies by pirating. However, there is something that is 100% verifiable:

When you rip legal streams you are helping no-one.

You might think that piracy sends a message, that it lets these companies know that you want different translators or less commercials or whatever else you believe. The truth is piracy does send a message, but it is almost universally not the one you intend.

When these companies see you pirating legal streams, they don’t say, “Ah, they would have preferred a more accurate translation, we will change our business practices in the future. This is clearly on us, our bad guys.” What they see is a confirmation of all the worst stereotypes that exist about anime fans – that they want everything for free and will give nothing in return. And knowing from past examples how many anime companies operate, they would much rather go down with the ship than keep producing content for people who will not give them the time of day. I want anime streaming and access to be like 2016, not 2006, and if things revert back to the way they were before then we will lose a lot more than ten years.

We have to give a little bit if we want to continue enjoying what we love, and 5 minutes of commercials is a small price to pay.

If we don’t pay it this season, we may never get a next season.

 

 

 

Childrens’ Perspectives and Kaiju Mayhem

It is no secret that Kaiju movies are popular with children. Although many of the early works in the genre have a distinct horror/environmental tone, as these properties entered full-blown franchise mode many of the rubber-suited monsters became more kid-friendly.

giphy
Always wear a helmet, kids!

There are some pretty obvious components to this. Many Kaiju films are marketed directly at children, so it is no great shock that they are roped into the genre. The scenes of destruction and conflict are exciting and easily understood by children, as opposed to deeper discussions of pollution, war, and human folly. Not to mention the general absurdity of enormous monsters battling is much more easily accepted by children’s less world-weary souls.

 

gve
Yeah, this stands up to scrutiny. – Billy, age 6

But I think there is another unexplored element to this – a child’s unique perspective.

By that I mean the literal viewpoint of a child in a physical sense. Most children who are somewhere between 5-10 years old are comparatively much shorter than adults. Often times when they encounter adults they must look up to see them quite literally towering overhead. This is especially intimidating when children meet a new adult, and we have all encountered a situation where a child reflexively hides behind a parent’s leg when first meeting a new person.

I think Kaiju tap into this primal fear of people/beings larger than ourselves. When Godzilla, Gigan, King Kong, or any number of other big beasts come stomping through a major metropolitan area in these films they are almost always filmed from a lower perspective or viewpoint. In a practical sense this is a camera trick to make the suit-wearing actors appear to be larger than normal people, but I think it also a psychological impact in that it mirrors the view of a child looking at a fully grown adult. Here we see destructive forces many times our height, laying waste to our world and we know we are powerless to stop them, much like a child would feel.

maxresdefault

Alt-Godzilla-Returns-Japan-1200

gamera-guardian-of-the-universe[1]

In this way children are immediately drawn into the scene because they know what it is like to see the world from this perspective.

It also serves as a great power fantasy for younglings. Not only do they understand what it is like to look upwards at larger people or figures, but they get to see this size used to devastating effect as the monsters stomp, crush, and destroy all opposition. The excitement of watching a kaiju destroy smaller objects gives a sense of raw power that children rarely get to experience. As they project themselves onto these beasts, they see how they might use that power for fun in an imaginative space, unlike the real world where they are often told not to touch/break/mess with things. It is very similar to the construction of sand castles, which is almost inevitably followed by a child stomping through said castles and giggling all the while.

hqdefault
Behold! I am Childaragon, destroyer of worlds!

This infuses Kaiju films with a sort of common language that I think few other films have, and is part of the reason why they still work even after 60 years of mighty monster mayhem.

Today’s question for the Rogues Gallery – do you think Kaiju movies resonate with children because of how they see the world? Or is there something else at work? Let us know in the comments below, rogues!

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.

AI
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.

maxresdefault
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.

Eoe_eva_graveyard
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.

Shifting Streams – Hulu Free and Yahoo View

So as has been reported and discussed around the web and blogosphere, Hulu will be ending its free streaming services.

While Hulu’s free model is going away they will retain their $7.99 with ads/$11.99 without ads models for paying users, whose service will not be changing. Furthermore, Hulu’s free model is essentially being shifted over to Yahoo for what is being called Yahoo View, which will largely operate as usual.

hulu
Freedom from freemium.

There are a few takeaways from this.

Firstly, for those who want free, legal anime streams, the net effect will probably not be terribly noticeable. Essentially the net number of free providers is not changing for many people. In addition, there is a benefit in that Yahoo View is going to allegedly have more backend support for social media integration such as discussion, posting gifs, etc. For anime fans, staying connected and a part of the wider community is always a huge boon, because it keeps us from becoming isolated.

milhouse
It’s fine, loneliness is good for the soul.

 

Secondly, it would appear that Hulu is confident enough in its paid business model to completely sever the free to use option from its brand. While certainly some could argue that this is a terrible, awful, nasty idea, and while in many cases I would agree (free users tend to drive sales, contrary to what many large businesses believe), there is something to be said for existing entirely as a paid streaming model. Netflix has never maintained any sort of free version of its services and is an industry juggernaut. Hulu has ads, but also has more up to date programming and is (like many streaming providers) beginning to grow its own stable of original content.

Overall, it seems more like a shift on an accountant’s spreadsheet more than a major tectonic shift in the industry… except for one very serious element.

Yahoo View will not be available outside the U.S.

For overseas fans, of which there are many, this is devastating news. The loss of legal options to view streaming anime only further criminalizes fans and forces them to pursue other means to be a part of the community. Most likely this has something to do with international licensing rights, and hopefully it is just a temporary issue rather than a long-term one. The Yahoo Finance article mentions that Yahoo View will launch “immediately” in the U.S., but gives no other indication of when/if other areas will be covered. Nevertheless, I hate that huge swathes of fandom may now have to use illegal methods to enjoy the shows they like purely because of their geographic location. This makes for another set of shows that overseas fans will have to use less-than-legal streams to access.

Sokka_with_toucan_puffins

Well, some of us have always been fans of secret rivers I suppose.

Alright Rogues Gallery, let me know what you think. Will this affect your viewing in a major way? Or is this announcement a complete shoulder shrug?

Advisory Parental – The Case for Parents in Anime

It is not uncommon for anime to lack parental figures. Many shows, especially the more popular ones, have mother/father figures who are either deceased, absent, or never mentioned at all. Anime tends to lean on the coming of age story structure, because a great deal of it is aged at children/adolescents/young adults. These groups will gravitate to imaginative spaces where parents are dead, absent, awful, or even outright villains, because that allows for the young heroes to take center stage.

g8rsni6hyxkdiy42imzs

Thank goodness mom isn’t around to keep me from achieving my goal.

I feel like this is a huge missed opportunity. Sure, not every story needs or benefits from parents for any number of reasons. They may be outside the scope of the work, not particularly interesting, or the author simply does not know how to handle them. This is perfectly fine, but there are real advantages to adding parental figures to a work. Parents are very easy hooks for most viewers, as if they exist on this earth of ours then they have at least some personal dimension with parents whether they are biological, adopted, brought in through marriage, or of a more spiritual variety. Even if someone’s parents are completely absent, that absence plays some part in their story.

darth-vader_6bda9114

I was both absent and a villain. Behold my incredible parenting abilities.

Parents also tend to be rather complex parts of our lives, as few people have entirely perfect relationships with the people who have raised them. They provide food, shelter, guidance, nurture, stories, and attempt to pass on a series of virtues to us, but can just as often be overbearing, overprotective, naive, or antagonistic to our desires. This kind of multi-layered complexity practically comes prepackaged with the use of parental characters, and authors should certainly not ignore the potential they have for telling stories

To show what I mean, I will pull examples from three (relatively) recent shows that use parents to great effect. To further compound things, all three will be shonen coming of age stories!

Major Hughes – Fullmetal Alchemist

tumblr_static_maes-hughes

The Why – In a sense, Major Hughes is almost a bit boring. His entire character is literally Hey Look At Me I Love My Family. While that seems a bit one-dimensional (probably because it is), he definitely earns points for being one of the few characters in all of anime (or fiction, for that matter) who is just an out-and-out adoring father. I wish I could complain with something like, “Ugh, another good father, seen this a thousand times.” But truthfully good dads in anime are pretty similar to their real life counterparts – few and far between.

The Hook – His genuine goodness only magnifies the feels as the series progresses.

Rinko Iori – Gundam Build Fighters

sgv3vkae_400x400

The Why – A somewhat typical maternal figure, Rinko gets bonus points in a few categories. Firstly, she has an earnest interest in her son Sei’s success, but is not overbearing/too nosy/obnoxious in any way. She clearly cares and encourages him without interfering with his life in any undo manner. Furthermore, she feels like an actual mother rather than a caricature of one – quietly supportive when Sei is around his friends, excitedly cheering for him when watching him compete. On top of that she is a successful businesswoman, has some great (if sparing) dialogue, and the audience can’t help but root for her while she roots for her son.

The Hook – A mother whose role is a bit traditional, but is refreshing in its sincerity.

Joseph Joestar – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

joseph-joestar-old-jojos-bizarre-adventure-all-star-battle-14-8

The Why –  Not only is Joseph one of the better leads in the various arcs of JoJo’s, he really exemplifies the advantages of using these sorts of parental figures in anime. As an audience we see his journeys as a young man, and by Stardust Crusaders (JoJo’s 3rd arc) he is now an older man leading his grandson to save his daughter. The incredible dynamic that his legacy hook adds to the show as a whole gives everything that much more impact. Now the audience can juxtapose Joseph with his daughter and grandson, as well as seeing him continue on to have new adventures of his own. By including him as part of the adventure all of the events that take place have an additional sense of meaning, because this is both a new story for a new hero and the continuing tale of yesterday’s legends.

The Hook – Not your granpappy’s Grandpa character, an elder warrior who provides guidance and punch.


So there you have it folks, three examples of great parental figures that really add to the stories they are in. Do you agree or disagree with our picks for great parental figures in anime? Or can you think of any others we should have included? Tell us in the comments below.

Of Cake and Icing

So a few days ago while checking my Twitter feed, Crunchyroll posted this –

https://mobile.twitter.com/Crunchyroll/status/761054966005891072

The post has a 45 second clip from the show New Game. At the time I encountered it, it had almost 100 retweets and close to 400 likes. Out of curiosity I watched the clip. What I saw was… something.

What had I just watched?

I pondered this for a moment – a straight 45 seconds of two girls walking down the street calling each other cute and then acting embarrassed and modest about being called cute. Was that it? Is this supposed to make me want to watch the show? This saccharine clip existed without context, character, or really any purpose. All icing and no cake. I can’t believe people would get anything from the clip.

But maybe I was approaching this from the wrong angle.

When I cut my teeth on anime it was a different time, and Japanese animation was a subset of the existing American science-fiction/fantasy fandom. So my expectations are wildly different than subsequent generations. I thought about what my “icing” would be – mecha fighting in space, two martial artists using kewl powerz, ancient warriors crossing blades at dusk. I realized that if the clip had featured, say, a criss-crossing laser battle with streaking missiles and detailed mecha designs I wouldn’t have needed much context to enjoy it. I would have just taken it at face value and excitedly searched for more. I’d have seen that plate of icing an devoured it, probably scraping the plate while I did so.

So what accounts for this change of taste? Why do modern fans enjoy two girls talking about nothing and it does nothing for me?

At first I thought it maybe have just been an issue of age. I’m little more than a cranky old man, shaking my cane at passing youngsters. Kids these days, or back when I was a young man, and rabble rabble babble blergha. That sort of thing. But I don’t think that is the entire story. Certainly, 11-year old Grant would not have liked the above clip any more than currently-ancient-Grant did.

Is it that tastes have change radically? Perhaps these dern youngins just don’t know how to connect with the sort of genres I care for. Growing up in he shadow of the Cold War does things to one’s mind, and maybe the current social context gives them a different set of experiences to pull from. Still, I think that may only be partially true. Sure, the current crop of fandom is a lot different than I am or was, but when I look at the top lists for shows on Crunchyroll the top three are all shonen fighting shows – Naruto, One Piece, and Jojo’s – and the fourth slot is the new Berserk, which has been a staple in the medium for years.

I think the truth of the matter is that the fandom is larger and a lot more diverse. Simply put, anime has always been all of the things it is now, but the proportions are different (i.e. less mecha, more slice of life) and the sheer breadth of shows is greater than ever before. It’s not that we exist in an age where everyone is watching 45-second New Game clips and going gaga over moe eyes, it’s that we live in an age where there is such an incredible amount of content that there exists a fandom for, well, everything.

So while some things have not changed, and some things perhaps too much for my taste, at the end of the day anime is probably better for the diversity. Choice tends to work in everyone’s favor. So no, I will never be swayed by sugary sweet clips, but if someone else is… well, more power to them. To paraphrase a famous line that helped someone else keep their head on their shoulders, “Let them eat icing.”