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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Side Dishes – Piccolo

Another first for the Thieves, I’ve got a start to what (I hope) will be something of a regular feature on the blog – Side Dishes. In these features, I hope to explore side characters which I feel deserve the kind of attention/respect/analysis that is usually reserved for the main hero (or Entree, if you will).

Unlike Drake, I intend to start pretty much near the top – Dragonball’s Piccolo.

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You already know.

Piccolo is one of the characters that inspired me to even write about the importance of side characters. His arc is the same sad song we have heard so many times from a DBZ character – in Dragonball he was that dude, but once Z hits he gets repeatedly used just to show off Goku’s incredible abilities… and eventually not even that.

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Please, Toriyama-san! Let me win one fight!

Regardless of his “weakness” by the show’s primary metric of fighting prowess, Piccolo is one of the more fascinating characters of the main story. He starts as an outright villain, then slowly but inexorably goes from reluctant aide to tenuous ally and then eventually a good (if reserved) friend. Throughout that time he finds true connection through being an adoptive father figure to Gohan – in fact, probably being a much better father than Goku himself – and a close friend to Krillin and the other Z Fighters. He discovers his own alien heritage, merges with his literal better half to become fully self-actualized, and is always the voice of reason in every encounter even if he is woefully outmatched. Unlike his orange-wearing counterpart, he is always punctual to any conflict, and buys time for his friends and allies time and again by risking life and limb for little respect or reward.

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Why is this guy the main character, again?

Stylistically he is a lot more unique than many of the other cast members as well. Though initially he is just a derivative design of his father, he stands out as one of the most unique looking members of the Dragonball mythos and has a style and flair that is second to none. The turban/cape combo is very distinctive, and even his color pallette of green/blue/white/purple is something of an oddity in the show and other works. While many characters in the show are recognizable for an attack or particular moment, Piccolo is memorable based on just his stance.

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I could do this all day.

Sadly, for all of Toriyama’s imaginative brilliance, Piccolo is tragically underused and underappreciated by the end of the series. By the end of the series he is next to useless, and gets a double-whammy in the form of Pikon – a character who just shows up, is more powerful than Piccolo while looking nearly identical, and still being basically worthless. Ouch. Perhaps Dragonball Super will bring everyone’s favorite Namekian back and put him center stage again. Here’s hoping.

So what’s your take, Rogues? Any love for the Green Bean from Beyond? Let me know in the comments as usual, and enjoy your weekend!

 

 

Blade Licking Thieves Podcast #4 – The God of Cookery

The God of Cookery Poster

Download Link: Episode 4 – God of Cookery –  Chow Time

Drop us an Email.  Check out Grant on twitter.  Subscribe on iTunes!

Random Discussion:

  • DC Animated Universe
  • American Cartoons influenced by anime (new Voltron, Avatar, Steven Universe, etc.)
  • Dub vs Sub talk

News (25:19):

Finally, we discuss Stephen Chow’s The God of Cookery, a Hong Kong Comedy from 1996. Review starts at 41:54.

Links:

If you have questions or comments about the show, please feel free to shoot us an Email or leave a comment below.

Thanks for listening!

 

Anime Review – Kyousougiga

Since the Thieves and I mainly review films and OVAs on the podcast, I will be using the blog to occasionally review full anime series as I complete them. Just like when we review normally, these reviews will attempt to educate on some of the creation process behind the work, provide a detailed analysis of its various elements, and provide a simple recommend or not recommend in lieu of stars/thumbs/points/etc.

For today’s review we will be talking about Kyousougiga.

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Kyousougiga is a 10-episode show from 2013, directed by Rie Matsumoto and with animation by Toei. This work is based on the 2012 manga by Izumi Todo, which is itself inspired by the ancient Choju-giga scrolls. However, beyond the manga there is really no other merchandising linked to the property. Without much in the way of action scenes, no fan service to speak of, and the fact that this was released the same year as Kill la Kill – it all becomes quite clear as to why this was not a runaway smash hit.

Synopsis – Kyousougiga is not the easiest show to unravel, but simply put it focuses on how a priest/god (Myoe) and a living drawing (Koto) start a family together. With their three children, two of which are drawings (Yase and Kurama) and an adopted son saved from near death (Yakushimaru), the setup is not exactly traditional. These two lovers are breaking all social norms and conventions by being together and playing house, so they create a special dimension called Looking Glass and run away to live there. After many years of bliss, the two lovers leave Looking Glass to handle tasks that need attending so that their children can continue to live on in blissful peace. They tell their children that one day they will return. After waiting for what seems like an eternity, things are further complicated when a young woman (also Koto, but not the same Koto) shows up wielding a mallet of incredible power that can tear the fabric of their little world apart.

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What Works –

Art – The most obvious draw for Kyousougiga is the incredible art. Not only is it technically impressive in that things look pleasing and are well-animated, but there is a very strong sense of style and flourish. Characters are very distinct while not being too abstract, landscapes are understandable but very evocative, and little flourishes are added to every scene let the viewer spend some time hunting for points of interest in every shot. The world of Looking Glass has a very unique feel, much of which is brought to life by the incredible design aesthetics. Every aspect of the show is just soaked in artistry – from the way the civilians are basically monochromatic geometric figures with checkered patterns, to the visual of the city itself as a bland uniform square with a rickety red tower jutting from the middle. Even the little touches are great, like young Koto’s mallet being clear but full of a field of stars, or the pixelated swirls that dance in the air during most shots.

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Shockingly, this little guy IS capable of making quality animation.

Characters – This is largely a character-driven show about exploring the show’s primary themes through personal interaction, and that takes a strong cast. Thankfully Kyousougiga has that in spades. All of the characters are interesting and multi-layered, but not so bizarre that they are not relatable. It is hard not to feel for some of their struggles and insecurities as you journey through the series. Ultimately they are the main impetus of the show, and exploring their feelings about events is where the show spends the majority of its time. As wild as the context for the story is, the engine underneath is an emotional human drama grounded in real experiences.

Themes – The show relies very heavily on themes of abandonment and social possibility. Almost every character is dealing with abandonment in some way, whether from parents, siblings, or a sense of opportunity. How they approach their feelings of being left behind and what coping mechanisms they use to deal with their emotional turmoil is where a lot of the run-time for the series goes. The other theme is of possibility in social spaces, or fighting against established cultural norms and rules. Many of these changes would benefit everyone except the rule-makers, but as always there is a cosmic catch to breaking laws. There is a lot here to digest about what people are willing to do for love, how the rules of the cosmos are ultimately unjust, and the importance of letting go of the ways in which we halt our own progress.

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What Doesn’t Work –

Structure – There is a definite sense of “clumping” in how the show is structured. The first episode is a whirlwind of activity and exposition. Then the next six episodes are almost entirely character-driven, with lots of small moments and interesting world-building but no real forward momentum. Then the last three episodes deliver an almost relentless stream of exposition and information about the world, in some cases literally having the characters walk around explaining everything to each other. It feels like this could have been more evenly spaced out so that the viewer has the plot slowly revealed to them over time, rather than spending most of the show knowing so little and then having a dump truck full of factoids dropped on them.

Opportunities – While the character development is really strong and well-thought out, there are a few missed opportunities with how characters are utilized. The two older siblings, Yase and Kurama, each get a complete episode dedicated to their unique perspectives. The problem is that, beyond these two focus episodes, they do not really contribute much to the story. Neither seem to do much in the way of contributing to the events which are occurring around them, and at one point even admit as much to their younger brother Myoue. There also feels like there could be more world-building along the lines of the station/garbage episode. The way they weave the aspects of “How is garbage handled in Looking Glass?” with the emotional impact it has on the characters is brilliant, but it is a shame that the show never really does anything like that again. All of the other world-building is pretty explicitly explained through long strings of dialogue.

“God” – This is more of a cultural issue, but I feel like there is always a bit of confusion when the word kami is translated as God for western audiences. Even though it may seem like a minor gripe, I feel like that having some characters referred to as “God” carries a certain amount of baggage/connotation for a western audience that can make it difficult to parcel out exactly how the cosmology of the world works. I think just leaving them as kami makes more sense, or perhaps something less weighty like “spirit” or “being.” Even if the show does flirt with a mixture of Judeo-Christian/Buddhist cosmologies, this feels like something that will perplex western audiences who – regardless of belief – are probably quite familiar with a very particular way of understanding the word God.

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I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle, served with a side of confusion.

Verdict In the end, I would give this a hearty recommendation for any general fan of anime. This show is very much a work of art, and it aims for some pretty lofty goals. It may not achieve every one of them, and like most art is a bit messy in certain parts, but the complete work is incredibly strong. Ultimately, for those of us who want anime to be taken seriously as an artistic endeavor, as something that has value as a tool for expression, Kyousougiga is the kind of work that we need to be encouraging. It may not be perfect, but this show exists largely free of any commercial goals, exploitative content, or meaningless violence. This is a story about people dealing with relatable human struggles in a world which can only be expressed through the delightful visual language of anime.

Alright Rogues Gallery, what do you think? Has anyone else seen Kyousougiga? Do you plan to check out it now? Let me know in the comments below.

A Podcast on Asian Cinema: Anime, Kaiju, Chambara, Martial Arts, and More.

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