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.

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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.

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*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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

 

 

 

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Blade Licking Thieves Podcast #5 – Gamera 2: Attack of Legion

Gamera 2 Attack of Legion Poster

Download Link – Episode 5: Gamera 2 Attack of Legion

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

Show Notes:

  • Brief Ultraman Orb impressions from Grant, which you can watch for free here: http://www.crunchyroll.com/ultraman-orb
  • Shout outs and blog talk.
  • Funimation’s Kickstarter for the Vision of Escaflowne Bluray with new English Dub comes out next month.  Here’s the trailer featuring the new dub cast.  Also, the super swag collector’s edition, which Zen has pre-ordered, is still available at Rightstuf.704400079702_anime-vision-escaflowne-tv-complete-series-movie-collection-altA
  • Super Dimensional Fortress Macross appears on Amazon Prime; Harmony Gold talk follows.
  • Our thoughts on Attack on Titan Season 2, Space Battleship Yamato 2202, and the new Godzilla anime announcements.
  • Finally, the 90s Gamera trilogy continues with our review of Gamera 2: Attack of Legion (starts at 36:31) from 1996.

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 Jukebox – Just Forget

For this installment of anime jukebox we feature Nujabes’/Fat Jon’s Just Forget, from the Samurai Champloo Impression soundtrack.

Samurai Champloo is the story of Mugen, Jin, and Fuu as they travel the Japanese countryside in the Edo period. While they are nominally pursuing the “samurai who smells of sunflowers,” the majority of the show is spent with the three protagonists wandering around and getting into various shenanigans. Created by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop fame, it bears a striking resemblance to that work but with some interesting differences. Where Bebop was a space-western with a jazz soundtrack that was very much about running from the past, Champloo is an action-samurai piece with a hip hop soundtrack that is more about traveling towards a present goal.

Fat Jon and Nujabes produced nearly all of the Samurai Champloo soundtrack. Just Forget is a great piece specifically because it mirrors the sort of overland wandering that the main characters go through in the story. Steady percussion with softer tones and a reliance on cymbals to provide a bit of texture. Just Forget is a somewhat somber instrumental, and echoes the work of other great producers like J Dilla and 9th Wonder. The steady repetition and general low-key feel of Just Forget makes it as great for “wandering samurai” as it is for getting homework done, chores around the house, or writing blog posts late into the night.

Give it a few listens and let me know what you think in the comments below.

Legend of Galactic Heroes – Dawn Review

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So it begins – the great war of our times.

Legend of Galactic Heroes – often referred to by its common acronym LoGH – is one of the great pillars of Japanese science fiction. Created by Yoshiki Tanaka in 1981, Legend of Galactic Heroes is a seminal work that has had long-lasting impacts in the genre since its inception. Spanning eight novels, Legend of Galactic Heroes would later go on to be adapted into manga, anime, OVAs, and films. Today we will be looking at the first novel in the series, Dawn.

Legend of Galactic Heroes is basically a story about three societies caught up in the tides of war. The Empire and Free Planets Alliance are warring for control of humanity’s destiny through conflict on a truly staggering scale. These societies engage in battles involving starfleets with ships numbering in the tens of thousands. As titanic battles stretch across the stars, Phezzan acts as an intermediary between the two powers and is the true financial power of humankind. Phezzan fund both sides of the conflict and have just enough power of their own that, if they were threatened by one side, they could ally with the either and tip the scales. Throughout all of this we follow the two primary characters – Reinhard of the Galactic Empire and Yang of the Free Planets Alliance – as they rise through the ranks and test their wits against one another on the battlefield.

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It’s always awkward watching two lovers embrace in the midst of a space battle.

What Works

Setting – The setting that Yoshiki Tanaka creates is large, detailed, and interesting. The particulars of starship combat, communication technology, civilian life, and national politics are all fully-realized for the reader. There is a definite sense of verisimilitude as Tanaka discusses the various gears that make this setting turn. Each piece feels well thought out and understandable, and the reader really gets a sense that they are viewing a living, breathing world, and not just a fictional space. There is an attention to detail that is very much in the mold of classic science fiction, where the author wants to display a working fictional world as much as interesting characters or plot developments.

Scale – Legend of Galactic Heroes is a big setting, and not just because space is the backdrop. Hundreds of billions of people live in these warring societies, with millions of soldiers and fleet personnel waging war for domination. The fleets which engage in this conflict are incomprehensibly large, with both sides deploying tens of thousands of vessels, each carrying hundreds of crew and support craft.  While most science fiction stories with a military or governmental angle might have a few political characters, Legend of Galactic Heroes has dozens in all three nations with specific titles and pay grades. Nothing is small or insignificant in this world.

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This is just, like, a routine patrol fleet.

Core Characters – The two primary characters in the Legend of Galactic Heroes saga are easily its strongest selling point. Count Reinhard von Lohengram of the Galactic Empire and Yang Wen Li of the Free Planets Alliance are the protagonists of the story, each taking up a prominent role on opposite sides of the conflict. Each of these soldiers is uniquely characterized with their own delightful supporting characters that play off of their unique strengths and weaknesses. Reinhard’s hunger for power and savvy political maneuvering through the Empire’s courtly intrigue is juxtaposed against Yang’s attempts to find peace and calm through the shifting currents in Alliance politics. The strengths and weaknesses of autocratic monarchy and popular democracy are explored on the grand scale as the reader is drawn into the deeply personal struggles of these two power players.

What Doesn’t Work

Pacing – Legend of Galactic Heroes is a slow burn, to put it mildly. Everything from the battles to the intrigue seems to move ponderously. Even when events seem to be moving quickly, there is little in the way of dramatic writing or witty analogies. Much of the prose is very matter-of-fact in setting the scene, and there is little in the way of colorful turns of phrase or snappy dialogue. Battles between sixty thousand starships are glorious in the mind’s eye, but feel rather dry on the page. In fact, the battles have a lot more in common with horse and musket conflicts than anything out of Star Wars or Mobile Suit Gundam. Fleets move in unwieldy formations with little to no terrain (it’s space, which is pretty empty) and almost every engagement turns into a slugfest.

Dialogue – The dialogue in Legend of Galactic Heroes is… odd. Now, this may have to do with cultural preferences, decisions in translation, or just the simple fact that thirty years ago science fiction did not feel the need to “pander” by having witty dialogue. Whatever the case, sometimes the way characters interact with one another just does not sound like people having a conversation. There is a stilted, almost robotic quality to how they interact with each other. No character seems to have much in the way of a unique voice or recognizable flourishes that make them stand out. None of it is confusing or unclear, but if you were to read the characters’ speech out loud… let’s just say most people do not speak that way.

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Just try reading something like this out loud.

 

Every Other Character – This is by far the biggest problem in the book. Most characters in the first book are absolutely terrible. Not in a moral sense, but in the sense of having depth and dimension. While Reinhard, Yang, and the three or four characters that commonly interact with these two are well done, just about every other character in the book is boring, poorly written, or both. To call them one-dimensional might be an offense to one-dimensional characters in other works. The most egregious archetype is the “stupid commander,” which is used by Tanaka for every single leader that is not Yang or Reinhard. Time and again these goofballs charge headlong into obvious defeat, ignore sound intelligence from underlings, and generally spend their time getting killed or embarrassed.

While this does serve to make Reinhard and Yang look more competent, the problem is that both of the stars are really not all that innovative. Their plans are just basic tactics – Yang says that aloud on more than one occasion – which makes them seem less interesting. It’s like they are the only halfway competent commanders out of millions of soldiers, while everyone else is a drooling halfwit. Non-military characters are just as prone to completely idiotic decisions. In fact, most situations not involving Reinhard/Yang play out something like this:

An important decisions looms, and those in charge gather to make the call.

Important Person: There is only one course of action – obviously stupid plan!

Advisor: But Important Person, what about all of the data that says otherwise? All of the intelligence we have gathered that suggests another course of action? Have you considered that your obviously stupid plan is morally reprehensible, and does not even begin to make sense?

Important Person: Quiet! Just because you are an advisor, you think you can give me advice? I will never listen to you, because I aggressively believe that my obviously stupid plan will work! Now be gone from my sight, I am tired of your prattling!

Advisor exits the scene and obviously stupid plan is put into action. The plan immediately begins to fail because it was so obviously stupid.

Important Person: What? How could this be? I am truly shocked! Who could have foreseen this? I have no choice now but to double-down and charge headlong into even worse results, because I am so embarrassed by my current level of failure!

Important Person ruins all the things and is killed/replaced/removed.

The worst thing is that this sort of scene happens over and over again. It is very taxing to read, and makes the book difficult to read for longer periods. Even if this is the point that Tanaka is trying to make, that people in power often make terrible decisions and will not change their ways, it still is far too overused to have any effect.

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Those rascals! Always charging into a fiery death.

Verdict

So while I did go on for a while about its flaws, I will still go with a recommendation for Legend of Galactic Heroes Dawn. Even with its problems, overall I did enjoy the book and will be going on to the next in the series. Yang and Reinhard really are the stars of the story and I want to see how their respective arcs play out. The clash of civilizations and ideas is also very well done, to the point where some of the political scenarios in the book have almost occurred beat-for-beat in the current election cycle here in the U.S. The detail of Tanaka’s world is a joy to read, and the thoughtfulness put into every aspect of the setting gives everything a feeling of consistency and reality.

However, the lack of other strong characters is really disappointing and the overused tropes are off-putting. This is only the first book in the series, so there is plenty of time for Tanaka to right the ship as it were. Perhaps this is just the phase where these characters are being cleared out and new, more competent threats will emerge for Yang and Reinhard to battle against. Similarly, the issues with the dialogue will hopefully fade away as time goes on. As long as the series shows some upward movement in those areas, then these early missteps can be forgiven.

The reader has to be aware that they are in for a slower-paced story with lots of detail and intrigue that moves with more purpose than speed. If that is the case then they will most likely enjoy Legend of Galactic Heroes Dawn.

Legend of Galactic Heroes: Dawn is available at major bookstores such as Amazon.

 

 

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!

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.

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

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