Thursday, April 12, 2007

Senile Seinen episode 00 Start!

Yes, I'm the cranky old man from the future come to fight evil (or at least boring TV) with my Purostaato-beemu. No, I will not do a "shooting the beam" pose in front of any camera ever for any reason (at least not until you buy me a lot of tasty ethanol-enhanced beverages first).

My apologies if you have not yet experienced the amusement of Suzumiya Haruhi yet. The anime is funny, if a little talky. It's good if you have a limited imagination and need to see the pretty pictures. If you can read faster than most NBA athletes, you might try the hilarious translations of the light novels available over at They're much funnier than the anime, in my opinion, though that may be because the narrator Kyon is probably more like me than any other fictional character I've ever read/seen, with the possible exception of Randy Waterhouse in Cryptonomicon.

So, why am I spreading my egoism around the web, he asked rhetorically? Mostly because I get into interesting conversations involving anime and manga in different places around the web and kept thinking I should centralize the content somewhere. If I'm going to do that, I might as well also publish it, which starts to sound suspiciously like a blog. So I, the crufty old web curmudgeon (when I was your age, we did our HTML in a text editor in a shell on the server and we were
grateful for it!) have finally bowed to this whole blogosphere thing. Ugh.

Well, let's get rolling. Here's some of the content of an email I sent today to a guy who used to be a coworker and is still a good friend, and manages to have geek cred and a life just like I try to have. He was asking if I'd bothered to catch up on the end of BSG S3. Here was my reply:

No, my holiday was not especially nice. I came down with something communicable from "my little disease vector," as I so often call him. Also found myself dismantling and cleaning the burner on the furnace on Easter morning. 25 degrees, snow, and no heat was not a popular combination. While I smelled like home heating oil for the rest of the day, we had a cozy warm house, and milady had the warm glow of affection she gets when I do something manly and resolve a household predicament.

E-chan and I finished up Space Battleship Yamato last night. I'd forgotten how sketchy the last ep is. I have the feeling they were going to do an hour-long show and cut the script in half (Yamato actually had pretty disappointing ratings in its first run in Japan, as I understand it - not unlike Star Trek TOS here). It was really fun pointing out to milady how much descends from this show - it was the first significant (1974) ship-based SF series to run anywhere after Star Trek finished in 1969. Apparently it got wide distribution via videotapes: Star Wars (1976) borrows from it freely (if you've ever seen the Wave Motion Gun, you know where the Death Star's main weapon came from, and R2D2 bears more than a passing resemblance to Analyzer), Glen Larson rips it off almost completely for Battlestar Galactica (1977). Several Star Trek movies and Star Trek Voyager have more than a little of that Yamato aroma as well.

I've got to say the show mostly hangs together pretty well - not bad for a "kids show" from 1974. All the Leiji Matsumoto themes are there - individual nobility, striving against unconquerable odds, personal loyalties cementing the group, etc, and there's a level of character development that shames nearly anything SF (current BSG excepted) done in the US before or since. Example: Sanada - the second officer and ship's engineer (the degreed kind, not the holds a wrench kind - they have one of those with a back-story too) and science officer gets his own back-story show and saves the ship with a surprise (but logically defensible) deus ex machina in the last ep.

Other stuff we watched over the weekend since the weather was so lame:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (love the Joe Hisashi score, hated the Disney dub job, was grateful for a good subtitle track, added "ohmu" to e-chan's vocabulary).

a couple of showings of Kiki's Delivery Service for e-chan's benefit (added "airship" to his vocabulary)

Several episodes of Nurse Angel Ririka SOS, which is a magical girl show from the early 90s downloaded specifically for toddler entertainment and to explain what magical girl shows are to milady (if you have to watch one of the blasted things, this is one of the better ones). Now she gets the cosplay jokes, otaku jokes, and various fake magical girl characters in Welcome to NHK, Densha Otoko, Midori no Hibi, and Suzumiya Haruhi, among others. Notable item: The bad guy in this show actually took advantage of the long time required by the protagonist's power-up-and-change-clothes sequence as shown by intercuts of him chanting and gesticulating while she did her turn from fourth-grader to Nurse Angel thing.

Two episodes of Jigoku Shoujo (Hell Girl). Wow is this beautiful. Wow is this dark. I'd watch lots more horror movies if they were this pretty. Milady doesn't like it - too cruel and gruesome. I'll be watching the rest because I can't stand not to--it's just too pretty. The Shinto references are thick in this one - glad I watched Kamichu! first.

Two episodes of Simoun. I'm trying to define this one and I just can't really. Take Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, stir in some...Powerpuff Girls, maybe? until the colors go Studio Ghibli bright, add a heaping cup of Black Sheep Squadron/Baa Baa Black Sheep (or Band of Brothers if you don't know that one), but stop before the powerpuff girls start chain smoking, add some essence of the setting from either The Name of the Rose or the Brother Cadfael mysteries (believe it or not - there's even a bunch of Latin), put in a half-cup of Steamboy, dump it all in a pressure cooker, put an anvil on top of the vent hole, turn the stove on high, and walk quickly away. Yes, it's that hard to define. And more amazingly, it seems to have come from nowhere - there's no preceding manga or novel, just the anime. It's interesting, and a number of reviewers have gone drooling-nutso about it. I'm only up to ep 4, so I can't say I'm riveted yet, but i'm certainly interested in seeing how it turns out.

Two episodes of Hataraki Man (translates roughly as something like hard-working man). Slice of life show about the life of a woman (mid 20s) who is an editor and star reporter at a weekly magazine not dissimilar from "People." Definitely more adult in tone than most anime we get on this continent. Amusing note: the giant publishing company where she works is a verbal pun on Kodansha, which is Japan's largest publishing house, and which publishes the real-world Hataraki Man manga in Weekly Morning, which is its leading seinen manga magazine. Milady digs this one down to the ground because the lead is so much like her at that age. I've got to say that j-pop again works perfectly - the opening credit music couldn't set the tone of the show any better. It's a girl band doing kind of a punk/go-gos style with lyrics about working life.

Two episodes of Welcome to the NHK. We're well into the plot now with this one, and Milady is really enjoying it. I carefully waited to show her this until I knew she had enough understanding of the otaku stereotype in Japan thanks to watching Maid in Akihabara and Densha Otoko. Studio Gonzo has truly elevated my opinion of themselves with this one. It's thankfully a little lighter in tone than the (frankly often bleak) manga, but still is pretty true to the setting, characters, and themes. The fansub is spectacularly good - and another great example of why fansubs are better than commercial subs.

Two episodes of Gokusen (live action. Title translates roughly as "Mob Teach"). If you know what Great Teacher Onizuka is, you know what Gokusen is. If you don't, I'll describe Gokusen as Welcome Back Kotter mixed with The Sopranos except everything is Japanese. Good acting, a cast and scriptwriters who obviously read and liked the manga, and Japanese not-overpolished production values make a fun show.

One episode of Kazemakase Tsukikage Ran. This was actually run as an antidote to the showing of ep 2 of Jigoku Shoujo, but backfired - we got the only really sad-toned show in the series so far, where Meow meets her childhood friend who has gone down a bad path in life. Ended up reading three chapters of Fruits Basket to get everybody calmed down for bedtime.

And The Yakuza (1975 Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken, dir: Sydney Pollack). This was because the lead (yakuza princess) in Gokusen made the comment that Takakura Ken was necessary for a good yakuza movie. I see why. Others have called him the Japanese Clint Eastwood, but that's not fair to him - for one thing he's incredibly buff, for another, he obviously really worked out at kendo every day, and for a third, his acting isn't all of the strong-silent-type mold. Not a bad movie for a '70s organized crime drama. Mitchum makes a surprisingly acceptable effort at the little Japanese he speaks, there aren't any glaring cultural gaffes, and the soundtrack isn't painfully '70s bad, just a little too soupy-strings for my taste. The only miscast was the supposedly-Japanese 20-something daughter, whose actress was a Nisei (American of Japanese family), and spoke English like a Californian and Japanese like one, too.

Oh, and no - I feel no urgency to watch the BSG shows I've not yet seen. I've got the first six shows of Space Battleship Yamato season 2 ready to go, and I remember even less about that one than I did about the first season.

So there you go. A typical sample of my "light-informal" style. Only the names have been removed to protect the innocent and guilty. Vocabulary: E-chan is my offspring currently age two. Milady is my significant other. I deliberately did a lot of series name-dropping here because my correspondent isn't as up on this stuff as I am, and I wanted to help him out. I posted this specifically because the effort required to come up with a good description of Simoun got me thinking that this wasn't bad reading. I was really nice here and tried to link everything out to a relevant wikipedia entry (because they're more stable links than ANN Encyclopedia entries, entries, or IMDB entries).

I'll also be posting stuff I've written for various forums around the web. It'll generally be on the subject of anime and manga. Likewise, I'll probably put some original content here as well (I feel a rant coming on about Disney dub tracks and general treatment of Ghibli movies, for instance). I am certainly not unwilling to review stuff, but don't expect to get a review every time, and I definitely don't plan on doing show-by-show blogging like some people do. More than that? You tell me. That's what the comments section is for.

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