Friday, July 12, 2019

I have mixed feelings on Gundam The Origin

I enjoy a good deal of it.  I think at some point every Gundam fan should check it out.  But my thoughts on it have evolved since I first posted about it on this Blog.

One of my missions in my online media critique is to advocate for the very concept of Prequels, to argue that expanding on a story and it's universe by going sooner on the timeline is just as valid as going forward on it.  With the Star Wars Prequels in particular being the often maligned Prequels I seek to defend and vindicate (there is little opposition to Fate/Zero).  And so it annoys me a bit that Gundam The Origin is now being mostly praised while I feel it is what idiots keep saying the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy is.

I definitely think a prequel to the original Gundam is a good idea, seeing how the One Year War started or the history of Zeon Zum Daikun.  But even if it was perfectly executed I don't think this would ever be a situation where the Prequel would be appropriate to watch first, because there was never any getting around that the basis for the title of the Franchise isn't there.  So I never had any chance of agreeing with Mother's Basement that this could be a good entry point to the Universal Century for new fans.  The first filmed Star Wars movie on the other hand was imagined as being an Episode IV from the start, it was meant to feel like jumping into the middle of series you missed the start of.

In general I think fans new to Gundam should start with a new non UC show like 00, or Code Geass which is effectively like a Gundam show in my view, those two shows were my gateway drug to Mecha Anime.  For UC Gundam the entry point should be the Trilogy, preferably it's Dub where Bright Noa has a British accent which it seems was annoyingly excluded from the recent BluRay release.  Then jump right to Char's Counterattack, it will feel like you've missed stuff but that's mostly stuff not Animated at all, none of it is really built to by anything in Zeta or ZZ, those shows can be good on their own but forcing yourself to watch them before Counterattack will distract you from what they're actually about.

Unfortunately Gundam The Origin is far from a perfectly executed prequel.  I like how in the proper Gundam story it's never confirmed if the Zabi or anyone killed Daikun, in this it's pretty much confirmed.  You can say the SW Prequels ruined the mystery of some things if you want, but Star Wars was never about Mystery Boxes until Abrams threw his fetish into it.

And the way Daikun himself is depicted in his brief screen-time utterly ruins the character, he was supposed to be imagined as a Timothy Lery or Gahndi or MLK figure, but here he's depicted as basically a nut job, like if the Zabi are Nazis then Daikun was their Chamberlain.

And Casval's handling is annoying, this isn't about how he became a villain, it depicts him as being seemingly evil from birth, like he's Damien Thorn.  And what really annoys me is the sneaking suspicion that the people who hate the SW Prequels wanted Anakin to be done like this.

The Star Wars Prequels added nuance to what was originally a pretty simplistic story.  Gundam The Origin is doing the opposite, it's doing everything it can to destroy any potential sympathy for the Zeon side.  Thunderbolt was great because it basically flips the usual perspective by having it's Amuro be the Zeon lead and it's Char the Gundam pilot.  So I say watch it if you wanna see the One Year War with modern flashy 20teens Animation.

It also oddly draws attention to how weird Anime's ability to communicate age is.  Casval, Artesia and Garma clearly age over the course of Origin, starting out quite smaller then how we first met them.  But Kcyilia seems to be exactly who were're used to her being from the start and I really didn't think she was that much older then them.  It reminds me how most casual viewers of the original Anime think Amuro and Fraw are the only teenagers on White Base when in fact even Bright was only 19.  The fact the the show sometimes wants us to ship Amuro and Sayla is a lot less awkward when we know she's not that much older.

Having a good Dub is also key to being a good entry point Anime.  And Origin's Dub is mostly fine, and I love Wendee Lee, but she doesn't work as Kcyilia and that harms a lot of scenes.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What will this Decade be remembered for?

As far as Hollywood movies go mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It started in the prior Decade but it was this Decade we had at least one MCU film every year and then in the last year of the Decade it reached it's "Endgame".

On American TV mainly Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and Pretty Little Liars.

On a Multimedia level Disney Star Wars has made an Impact, the Sequel Trilogy will be the first Star Wars Trilogy to come out entirely within the same Gregorian Calendar Decade.  But it's also been a Decade of revivals for Sailor Moon and Pokemon and Power Rangers and Harry Potter, and three highly popular incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.

And in Anime it's been the rise of modern Isekai, Dark Magical Girls and Attack on Titan, and 3 new Ikuhara shows, as well revivals of stuff Otaku are Nostalgic for from Prior Decades.

And then what's difficult to even quantify is the Internet Cultural influence.

People have commented on how Ready Player One is set in 2044 and yet people seem to be Nostalgic for the 80s when they should be nostalgic for, well, Now.  But people also like to look very cynically on an alleged lack of creativity in modern media and feel like maybe future Nostalgia for Now will be vicarious Nostalgia for the 70s-90s.

But when you really think about it doesn't the stuff we're are Nostalgic for from about the 80s reflect the Nostalgia 80s adults had for the 50s? (and adjacent 40s and 60s Nostalgia?)  The Christopher Reeve Superman Movies were made because of Nostalgia people had for the George Reeves TV show and the Fleischer Shorts.  It's not a coincidence that the first true Batman Movie and Star Trek The Next Generation entered production at about the same time.  Star Wars and Indiana Jones both come from George Lucas love of old 40s Saturday Matinee Serials, and there was an actual Flash Gordon movie made at the same time that became a cult classic.  Alien was a gritty re-imagining of a lot of 50s and 60s SciFi B movie premises.  Stuff like Blade Runner and Basic Instinct came from Nostalgia for old Film Noirs.  Ghostbusters was inspired by old Abbot and Costello movies where they encountered Ghosts and Universal Monsters.  I could go on and on.

Just as all that repackaging of what people liked in the past created new versions that could stand on their own, the same is true for what we've been making.  Game of Thrones and most MCU franchises may be based on decades old source material but it's clear most people are going to remember these new versions the most going forward.  Maybe most of the new Sailor Moon material might not be remembered as fondly as the 90s and early 2000s stuff, but plenty of the new additions to it's Genre inspired by the same Nostalgia are absolutely standing on their own.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Looking back at the Summer 1994 season

A YouTuber is already looking back at exactly 30 years ago, doing only 20 years puts us already at the end of the 90s.  So I deiced to take a brief casual look at what Anime was airing 25 years ago, a quarter of a century and a third of the average life expectancy.

Not many TV Anime debuted during this season, the most notable is Metal Fighter Miku which looks interesting, it has a Dub but MAL is unaware who was cast in it.
In the near future, the sports world is dominated by Neo Wrestling, a new spectacle in which Metal Fighters challenge each other to be named champion. The story follows the girls of the Pretty Four; Miku, Ginko, Sayaka, and Nana, as they face off against the current champions, Team Sapphire. With a burnt out drunk named Eiichi Suo for a coach the girls must not only contend with problems in the arena but also unforeseen circumstances that arise in day to day life. Only through protecting their friends, understanding their enemies, and eventually challenging their idol Aquamarine, can Miku and the girls understand Eiichi's purpose and the shady secrets behind Neo Wrestling.
What's interesting is how this was an original Anime, not an Adaptation or anything or a sequel or a reboot of an OVA series, yet it's pre Eva, Digibro's "Evangleion changed Anime eternally" premise is weakened even further.  This is definitely an Otaku oriented orignal TV Anime.

Clearly most of what people were watching on TV were continuing shows.  Sailor Moon S had started in the Spring (technically late Winter) meanwhile DBZ and YuYuHakusho were going still strong.  The Gundam franchise was being represented by G Fighter and I think Marmalade Boy was the show airing it what would become the PreCure time-slot.

But what's really odd is how according to MAL one of the biggest shows airing at this time was some random sports Anime called Slam Dunk, it has more member then Sailor Moon S and has the highest score of any show on TV at this time.

In OVA land August was when the first Macross Plus episode came out and September was the start of the second season of Tenchi Muyo.  Meanwhile LOTGH was still running.  And for movie there was the Ghost Sweeper Mikami movie.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Serial Experiments Lain turns 21 today.

Someone born on the same day Serial Experiments Lain premiered on Japanese Television would today become old enough to drink alcohol in the United States.

A lot of the discussion around Lain is how "Prophetic" it was regarding the nature of the Internet.  What I find interesting is how part of the reason for that is people forgetting how old the Internet actually is.

I'm serious, there is an increasing tendency to think of it as purely a 21st century aspect of Pop Culture and in the 90s only true hyper tech nerds had access to it, The Internet Historian hasn't covered any 90s Internet history yet.  However there was in a fact a movie called "You've Got Mail" made the same year as Lain.  As a wrestling fan I know that Jim Cornette was already making proto rant Vlogs on the WWF's official website in 1997.  

General Public access to the Internet opened in 1992 and by 1995 was already fairly widespread.  My first favorite Website to visit was SMBHQ, that site started in 96 and I remember the runner of the site talking about how he was inspired by the lack of good Mario fan-sites at the time, implying other franchises already had decent ones.

Basically just like every alleged "Prophecy" of the Simpsons, Lain was about what was already happening on the Internet, but we today see it a predicting our more modern versions of that.

It also wouldn't surprise me if in Japan the Net was becoming mainstream faster then it was in America during the 90s.  Before Japan's mid 90s Economic Crash they were in certain ways technologically ahead of us, remember they dominated the Video Game industry.   And one of the most fascinating little known facts is how Japanese TV was broadcasting in High Definition already in 1989, that's why Hotaru has a Flat Screen TV on Sailor Moon S in 95/96.  Akiharbara's original reputation was as a tech hub, and we see it play that role in the second episode of the Pretty Sammy OVA released in 96 before the TV anime started, where Washu humorously claimed credit for the Internet.

Usually when something becomes a ubiquitous part of daily life people start imagining it to be older then it really is.  So why has the opposite happened to the Internet?

It might have to do with how much the face of the modern Internet is younger then that.  YouTube started in 2005 and all the other hubs of modern "Social Media' are even younger.  Even 4Chan is a site that didn't exist yet in the 90s and it's the most popular still existing relic of the early net.

But also partly because there were plenty of people who didn't have access to the Internet right away.  I'm pretty sure I didn't till 1999, and it seems Digibro was later to getting on it then I was, so it's natural he'd think there were no Normies on the Internet yet in the 90s.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Why The Godfather Part II works as a sequel

I'm actually more critical of The Godfather Part II then most people, it has many great scenes and performances and I love the premise of going back and forth between two time periods.  But I actually wasn't fond of it's execution of that premise, the two story-lines don't feel connected beyond that they're broadly about the same family.  The past sequences work better as a Prequel to the first movie then they do this movie.  And even if the film was just the present material it'd still feel more like episodes of a series packaged together then a complete film.

But I'm someone who likes to stay positive in my discussion of Entertainment Media I watch, so I instead want to focus on what I feel is an overlooked key to why The Godfather Part II works a sequel so well, and in fact did more to justify the concept of cinematic sequels then any of it's predecessors.

First you need to understand that in the source material The Godfather had no sequel till 1984, and even that was more of a spin off, there was no proper sequel til 2004.  The past sequence of Part II is largely based on material form the original Novel left out of the original film, but the late 50s to early 60s portion was entirely new material, and Coppola actually had trouble convincing Mario Puzo to be okay with certain aspects of where the story went.

The film worked as a sequel by looking at where the first movie ended and deciding where to go next from there, something many sequels both before and since never really tried to do.

Because of this certain scenes in the later part of the first movie wind up seeming to a person who knows everything in 2019 watching them like sequel hooks when they could not possibly have been meant to be that at the time.  Like how Hagan is visibly unhappy with being increasingly left out of the loop on stuff.

But the big example is the Moe Green scene, after he leaves and Michael Says to Fredo
“Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever.”  
That scene is really eerie when you know where the sequel goes, and it's specifically that direction of the sequel Puzo was uncomfortable with so he certainly didn't write the scene intending it to foreshadow that.

And that aspect of how these two films connect to each other is something I feel gets largely overlooked.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Avatar is Isekai, Frak You Fight Me.

Pause and Select recently uploaded a video complaining about how AntiTubers usually talk about Isekai.  This post isn't about most of what that video is about, in fact it mostly won't be about that video at all.  But the issue of how to define Isekai is one of them.

I agree that calling Harry Potter Isekai is quite questionable, and I personally don't like treating VR MMO based Anime like SAO and Accel World as part of the genre.  Thing is he seems half uncomfortable with using the term Isekai to describe any of the Western works it definitely applies to.  It's important to understand how the Japanese and Otaku cultural context of modern Isekai Anime makes it distinct, but comparing them to their western counterparts only helps us to understand that.  Meanwhile there is no good Western equivalent to a single word for this particular kind of fantasy.

Most talk of Western Isekai is about books that are nearly or over a century old and later adaptations of those books.  However there is one truly recent major work of Western Media that I think works as a pretty standard example of Isekai, in a way that is perhaps more like Anime Isekai then the classics, in both the good ways and the bad ways.  That is James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar

I just watched Jack Saint's video about Avatar and it's pretty good.  I still haven't watched the movie itself and I still don't really want to.  But the way it works as a literal Escapist Fantasy reminds me of everything we've been talking about in regards to Anime Isekai.  And it's interesting how this film that came out in the last month of 2009 directly preceded the modern Isekai Boom in Otaku Media.

Jack Saint's video is mainly about how the White Savior and Noble Savage tropes play into Avatar.  And it is interesting how often Isekai Anime can seem like they're about a.... what word should I use here?......  Yamato Savior to whom Medieval Europeans are Noble Savages.  Now it's incredibly problematic for anyone in the West, on the Right or the Left, to point to this and go "see non white people do the exact same thing".  Japan doesn't currently wield the kind of power over "less developed" nations that the U.S. and Europeans Nations do, and to a certain extent they don't exactly think about the concept of "Race" the same way.  But in general part of what I enjoy about watching Anime is the different perspective, media from people who view my culture and it's heritage as alien and exotic and where my country is often depicted as the evil empire.

One particular Isekai Anime that came to my mind while watching the video was Outbreak Company, both in the ways it's similar and in the ways it's different.  OBC can't be accused of unintentionally saying Hard Power oppression is bad but Soft Power Colonialism is fine, in this story Soft Power is what the villains were using from the start.  It's a story about how Cultural Exchange is good but using culture to wield power is evil.  And our protagonist does not become the ruler of this world but merely an ally of the ruler.

I made some tweets a few days ago about how for a change I'd like an Isekai about escaping to a futuristic rather then medieval or ancient world.  I desire this kind of Escapist Fantasy but realistically I can't imagine ever preferring life in a less advanced world, with no Internet and where the only way to listen to music is to hear it performed live.  But watching this video helped me remember how the Fantasy Genre as a whole is often predicated on a tradition of idealizing the past and finding "modernity" depressing.  I also remember Wisecrack doing a video on how Tolkien and C.S. Lewis philosophically believed the world is always getting worse.

This particular attitude is an inherently conservative one in-spite of how often Liberals and Leftists wind up enjoying and writing fantasy based on the same attitude.  Sadly the people who would consider the ideal world to escape to a Star Trek style Communist Utopia aren't the ones writing Isekai stories, or at least aren't applying that to how they write their fiction.

But taking a Futuristic approach would not require abandoning the JRPG influence, it would mean leaving behind Final Fantasy I and Dragon Quest as the main influence and instead looking to Final Fantasy VII and XIII, or Phantasy Star, or the RPGs set in the Star Wars Universe like Knights of The Old Republic.  Though it does seem like an analogue to the Internet is often missing from Futuristic Fantasy, some fans specifically saying they'd find it weird for an Internet to ever exist in the Star Wars Universe.  The fact that such a disconnect exists only further proves that SW is Fantasy not SciFi.

I was annoyed in SFDebris Dragon Age review when he said he was shocked the people who first made a SciFi game in KOTOR would so quickly turn around and make a Fantasy game.  You see RPGs are inherently Fantasy, you can't do a SciFi RPG, every attempt to do so just creates one that is transparently disguising Magick as Technobabble like Phantasy Star.  So the ability for Star Wars to make a good RPG only further proves it's NOT SciFi.  Cameron's Avatar is also like Star Wars in this way, it is inherently a Fantasy story no matter how much it uses cosmetic elements that normies assume to be SciFi, the Navi are Elves as much as they are Native Americans.

It's also interesting to think about how Isekai relates to Video Game culture.  Again the name of Avatar is not really based on the Hindu origin of that term but rather the idea that the MC has an Avatar to explore a world that is at first rather like playing a Game to him.  Even SAO arguably has a western equivalent in more ways then one now in Ready Player One.

One aspect of how Isekai and Video Games relate I think needs more notice is how often old Video Game Adaptations became Isekai in the adaptation.  The idea that the Super Mario Bros come from Brooklyn and are not indigenous to the Mushroom Kingdom is accepted as fact by the western fandom but it was never the case in the Games at all, Yoshi's Island ends by making clear they were raised in the Mushroom Kingdom, they look like normal humans for the same reason Princess Peach does.  The Brooklyn origin was invented by the Super Mario Bros Super Show and then reused in the live action 1993 movie that I quite unironically like. Meanwhile the 1985 Anime film had them pulled into a Video Game, and the Game Boy comic was a Reverse Isekai based on Super Mario Land.  This Isekai approach was also taken by the Captain N cartoon.

Meanwhile it's also easy to look at both the original Legend of Zelda game and the first Final Fantasy where the player character is said to come from another land with no other elaboration, and see it as easy to read that as an Isekai premise if you wanted to.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Fiction with Cosmetically Fascist Villains do nothing to oppose real Fascism.

For one thing all through the Cold War Nazi imagery in fiction was frequently treated as synonymous with Soviet and East German imagery, and that has had a lingering influence on what "Nazi" imagery means in fiction to this day.

The use of the term "Storm Trooper" in Star Wars has actually contributed a great deal to why most people don't actually know what that term actually meant.  They were not brainwashed soldiers trained form childhood or genetically engineered clones or any other kind of professional solider.  They were a purely volunteer paramilitary force made up from members of the Nazi Party engaging in gang like violence against supporters of other parties before the party had actually taken over the Government, and once Hitler actually did have full control of the government he actually phased them out.  A group in fiction that actually does resemble what the Storm Troopers actually are the Patriotic Knight Corps from Legend of The Galactic Heroes.

I've watched a couple recent Video Essays on YouTube about what a great Anti-Fascist movie Casablanca is, and I find it kind of annoying.  That movie addresses nothing about actual Fascist ideology, it didn't have the guts to make it's concentration camp escaping refugees Jews or Romani or Queer or any other victims of the 3rd Reich who mainstream White American audiences might have trouble empathizing with.

As far as that movie is concerned Nazi Germany's main sin was invading and occupying other countries, particularly France, not anything about their treatment of marginalized groups within Germany.  And that is definitely among their many sins.  But am I the only person annoyed at seeing a movie all about how immoral occupying France is showing no self awareness of the hypocrisy in how the titular location only came under Nazi control at this time because it was being occupied by France, and that the film featured no Berbers or Muslims or any other Brown Skinned indigenous Moroccans?

The reading of the film that makes Rick himself an allegory for America, someone who's nature is to oppose tyranny and who's only flaw was taking too long to take action, I find an incredibly problematic form of American Exceptionalism.  A lot of what the Nazis did America did first, the Concentration Camp was invented for the massacre the Cherokee under the Andrew Jackson administration.  It also reflect how allegedly Anti-War people suddenly think it's wrong to be Anti-War when the Enemy is Fascist, but the truth is the people in America who wanted us to go to war with Germany already before Pearl Harbor happened were the Fascists of America, the KKK and other Segregationist Southern Democrats.

Focusing too much on Cosmetic Fascism only helps blind us to the Fascist tendencies in ourselves, "we can't be doing the same thing if we don't cosplay as them".  The fact is the character of Captain America is an inherently Fascist concept, yet people get all offended by acknowledging that.  We will never defeat Fascism by fighting it with Fascism.

The fact is things like not wanting to let political refugees leave are also done by Dictatorships that at least claimed to be following a directly opposite political ideology to Fascism, so no you haven't defined Fascism at all by just focusing on that.

Again, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is so much better then most fiction that it acknowledges the Fascist tendencies that exist on both sides of that conflict.

Update: Scar and The Lion King

Darn it, when I first thought of doing this spot The Lion King was the main thing I wanted to talk about, but then these Casablanca videos prompted me to finally do it and I completely forgot.

So when it was announced that the upcoming remake of The Lion King was dropping "Be Prepared" a bunch of Liberals and Leftists on Twitter got all upset saying basically "Disney is dropping the Nazi imagery scene because they're suddenly afraid to offend Nazis" when I'm like, what???? Their Star Wars marketing is pushing the "Empire/First Order are Space Nazis" harder then it's ever been pushed before.  Lucas at least admitted the similarities were cosmetic and he was more talking about tyranny from any ideology.

I actually think it's highly problematic that this film slapped superficial Nazi imagery unto villains when it was the ideology of the Good guys in the film that was far closer to being Fascist.  The Hyenas are demonized immigrants, it may not reflect the real world opinions on Immigration of the writers but that's still what is going on in the text.  Scar is also coded as Queer. the people who had Pink Triangles in the Concentration Camps.  The film is also as pro Monarchy as any Shakespeare play.

The fact is accusing your political enemies within the power structure of secreting working with a demonized foreign outsider is frequently the framework of Right Wing Conspiracy theories like those used by Hitler and Robespierre and modern John Birch Society inspired American conspiracy theorists.

A lot of discussion has happened on YouTube recently about the racists implications of "Always Chaotic Evil" evil fantasy races like Orcs and Goblins.  Well the Hyenas in this movie are basically Orcs.

The improvement I'm hoping for form this remake is to actually try to correct or at least address these problematic implications, but whether it does not or not I certainly won't miss the dumb Goosestepping Hyenas scene.