Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Metafiction of Haruhi Suzumiya

There are many different ways for fiction to be Meta.  And I have an appreciation for all of them.  For example, Meta doesn't always have to be deconstruction or subversion.

Brian Stableford, in his Introductions and Afterwards for his translations of Paul Feval novels done for Black Coat Press, spends a lot of time talking about how Meta Paul Feval's writing often was. Even using the term Meta Metafiction.

The thing is, I often wonder how much of that Meta nature would be noticeable to a modern English reader who didn't already have it in their heads from what Stableford wrote.  Because the way Feval was Meta was not always the most obvious ways we're used to today.  It's not exactly like Venture Brothers or Rick and Morty, hanging an obvious lampshade on every bulb they pass.

Some of the reason for that however is because so much of the fiction Feval was commenting on has now fallen into obscurity, (as Feval himself has) and what is still well known isn't what most popular fiction today is usually directly emulating.

As someone who's been viewing a lot of Anime the last few years, as the Meta tendencies of Anime have escalated.  I've finally found something modern that I think is Meta in a similar way to Paul Feval's writing.  It's not at all the first Anime I'd think of for something with similar subject matter to Paul Feval (I feel a direct line can be traced from Paul Feval to Arsene Lupin to Lupin III).  But it's Meta I think can be viewed as similar to what I discussed above.

And that is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.   Haruhi was adapted from a series of Light Novels, light novels are serialized novels, they are really the Japanese equivalent to the medium Feval usually wrote in.  As a viewer though I've only watched Haruhi (and watched it Dubbed) while Feval I've mostly only read.

Haruhi is often viewed as the trend setter in how Meta Anime has been ever since.  However to my observations the followers of Haruhi have all been Meta in much more obvious ways.  The immediate successor was Lucky Star, which was basically Kevin Smith style Anime.  I say that as someone who admittedly has never watched a Kevin Smith film, but the general characterizations of his early ones seem to me like basically what Lucky Star is, a bunch of Nerdy characters just talking about random stuff.  Since I love Lucky Star so much maybe I should give Clerks or Mallrats a try.  Haruhi is to Lucky Star as Star Wars is to Kevin Smith.

Haruhi doesn't use the words Anime and Manga the way other notoriously Meta Anime does.  If Haruhi were to fall into obscurity for over a hundred years and be rediscovered by people who didn't live through it's cultural context.  It might seem like just a show about a character obsessed with fringe Pseudo-Science.  Aliens, Time Travelers and Espers are all things a significant number of real including educated people think do or at least could really exist.  It'd be much more obviously Anime if they'd been Magical Girls, Mecha Pilots and Notebooks that can kill people.

Haruhi is sometimes meta in more obvious ways.  And so is Feval.  The making of The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina is kind of similar to the subplot in the original Les Habits Noirs novel (The Blackcoats: Parisian Jungle) that involves a group of characters writing a play based on the events that are happening.  And Haruhi calling Mikuru Moe could be like Saladin literally being called a Cardboard Baby, in how it's kind of accurate and inaccurate at the same time.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Night is Darkest just before The Dawn

Popular opinion seems to go in circles with whether or not it's good for fiction, particularly Superhero fiction, to be dark.  With endless debates on whether or not it's good to make a dark version of something not dark before, or visa versa.  Or whether some Darkness is just Dark for the sake of Dark without a real purpose.  And my general thoughts are each scenario is different.

For this post however I want to focus on how a key factor in whether or not something Dark appeals to me comes down to whether or not there is still something positive and hopeful in there, particularly in how it ends.  But I of course realize to an extent even that is subjective, Happiness is an emotion, and different people emotionally respond to different things differently.

Mirai Nikki aka Future Diary is an example of an Anime that gets written off as gratuitously GrimDark and Violent by people who didn't finish it.  But it had a happy ending, a very happy ending, I remember watching it I felt about the happiest I had all year (I first watched it earlier this year, 2016) up to that point.  It's happy even without the OVA but the OVA makes it even better and so I wish the OVA would get dubbed.

A Happy Ending can be made even better and more rewarding if the journey to get there was a dark and difficult one.  The Book of Ecclesiastes can easily seem like the most depressing book of The Bible, but it's end is positive and uplifting.  Romans chapter 8 has been called Paul's summery of Ecclesiastes.

Madoka Magica is another Anime franchise with a reputation for being "Tragedy Porn".  Do I consider that reputation fair?  It depends.  The original 12 episode series takes us down a dark and emotional journey that subverts many expectations of the Magical Girl genre.  But it ultimately ends exactly how a Magical Girl show should, with a positive ending.  Then came Rebellion and did the opposite.  It seems another Madoka Anime is coming, maybe this one will end happily again.  But even if it does I fear it just means we're going to get an endless cycle of this franchise going back and forth.

In a way this is part of how Madoka parallels Evangelion.  The original series of Neon Genesis Evangelion was a show who's central theme was depression.  But the final two episodes ended with Shinji deciding he wants to live.  Then End of Evanglion comes to replace those last two episodes, and everything about it is debatable including if it was a happy ending.  The thing is it's ending didn't make me feel happy and no analytical analysis of it will change that.

Now what I'm talking about here can itself fit into two categories.

First is that even a very dark story can still have a completely conventionally Happy Ending.  Perhaps with something bitter sweet about it, some price had to be paid.  But overall good prevailed and everyone lived happier lives from that point on.

A great example of this would be Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, the second Nanoha Anime series.  Some might say that Anime isn't truly Dark but just very Dramatic.  I suspect that argument would be based mainly on how no characters in the story are truly evil.  But to me the key to a truly dark story is to show that someone doesn't have to be "evil" to wind up doing things that are harmful to other people.  Morality isn't always that simple.  It's been described (by Digibro) as a War Story that doesn't take a side, in a sense at least half of every great Dark work of fiction I've liked can be described that way.  This series is an incredibly emotional roller coaster ride, one of the most brilliant I've seen.  And I watched it even more recently then I did Mirai Nikki and it managed to top it on emotionally uplifting me.  Anyone who can watch the whole thing and not shed a tear simply has no heart.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises could also fit in this category.

Second would be stories that do have truly Tragic endings, sometimes very tragic endings.  But still with some glimmer of hope for the future.  Maybe that hope comes from nothing more then clear evidence that the survivors have learned from the mistakes that lead them there, like how The Dark Knight (the film which provides the title for this post) ends.

Or maybe it's because it's a Prequel that essentially ends with the birth of the Messiah who we already know will fix everything in the future.  Like Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of The Sith or Fate/Zero.  Thing is though, in both of those cases I feel even when viewed by people not knowing it's a prequel, (which has happened more for the latter), the ending message that the seeds are already planted to set everything right in the next generation would still be apparent.

Now I want to talk about two films where my assessment on this issue would probably be much more controversial then every example discussed above.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a film I have very mixed feeling for.  The balancing scales of my feelings towards it have fluctuated several times, which is amazing for a film that still hasn't been out long enough for children convinced on it's opening night to be born yet.  My issues with it certainly come down in large part to feeling it was more dower then it needed to be.

But the issue of comparing it to the other big Superhero Versus film that came out a month and a half later is where I most consistently get defensive of it.

At face value Batman V Superman can easily be labeled a much darker and bleaker film then Captain America: Civil War.  But Civil War certainly had things about it that were dark.  And both films try to end on a positive note, but Civil War's positive ending feels inauthentic to me.

BvS earned it's Happy Ending.  Bruce Wayne's character development makes sense, no matter how much you may want to mock a key plot device of it.  And so does Wonder Woman's.  All the talk about how many people are afraid of Superman adds more meaning to how he earned humanity's trust with his final sacrifice.  The exact scenario that brought about why he had to use the Spear feels way to contrived, but emotionally it works.  In the Crisis to Crisis DC Continuity Superman was once told "The last time you inspired anyone was when you were dead", but in this continuity His death is the beginning of him being an inspiration, and that is why I reject the idea that they should have held off on that story-line.  Bruce Wayne goes from someone who is doing harm even though he's not Evil, to someone inspired by Superman.

Civil War however dedicates most of it's last act to subverting the same Versus movie trope BvS handled beautifully.  But then wants us to buy at the very end that now Tony's going to cover for Steve.  Well I don't buy it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Zombie Apocalypse is my least faveorite genre

To be specific, I mean George A Romero style Zombie Apocalypses.  More fiction based on the original Voudoo concept of Zombies I think could be very interesting.

The only films of the genre I really like are the ones by George A Romero himself.  I've only actually seen the first four of them.  The first three are what are considered the Romero trilogy and thus the pillars and Trope Codifiers of the genre.  Land of The Dead I can agree does feel like less brilliant a film then the first three.  I think my enjoyment of it stems largely from how it bizarrely reminds me of the Super Mario Bros. movie, having at least two of it's lead actors, one in a very similar role, Dennis Hopper as a villain was always fun.

After that the first two Return of the Living Dead films work well as parodies, and I've enjoyed plenty other little short parodies.  But that's about it.

I'm someone who's all for retelling the same basic story in different ways.  But my experience with this genre has not yet convinced me that this basic story justifies this many variations in so relatively short a period of time.

The Dawn of the Dead remake is the only Zack Snyder film I don't like on at least some level.  The Walking Dead has never caught my interest, I'm certain I could never tolerate an ongoing American style LA TV show about just this premise.  My brother spends a lot of time watching cheap Made for TV horror films that air on channels like Chiller.  I've been strangely fascinated by quite a few, but never any of the Zombie ones.  And then Return of the Living Dead 3 felt like the most pointlessly bizarre thing I ever watched, this was supposed to be a parody franchise yet it had less humor then the films it's parodying.

Thing is, I'm someone who's spent the last few years turning almost exclusively to Anime for any new entertainment.  And there are a lot of times I've felt like Anime did something better then any modern Western fiction has.  Gankutsuou is the best adaptation of The Count of Monte-Cristo by far, (even though even it drops my favorite story-line). The Rose of Versailles is the best fictionalization of the French Revolution.  And the Fate/ franchise is the best usage of Arthurian Legend and the concept of a quest for the Holy Grail I've seen done in any modern literature.  Yes including Indiana Jones and that BBC show.

So because of all that, I decided the other day I ought to check out the most well known Anime take on this genre before I write it off completely.  And last night that's what I did.

Now going into High School of The Dead I was apprehensive for two reasons, my above expressed lack of confidence in the genre.  And that it was an Anime known for it's "Fanservice".  Anime style gratuitous Fanservice is to me the most frustrating thing about Anime.  I've enjoyed a lot of Anime in-spite of it having this problem.  But I also know there is far more that avoids this problem then Anime critics give Anime credit for, so I'd generally much rather draw attention to those shows.

However the good sign is that I knew it had the same director as Death Note and Attack on Titan.  Both very good and specifically very well directed Anime.  Neither of them are Fanservice heavy Anime.  All three of these were adapted from Manga, it seems this director's strength is his ability to crank up what makes the Manga memorable to make the Anime even more memorable.  So the difference between HOTD and those two in terms of Fanservice is in the Manga.

First warning I want to give anyone interested in watching it is all of the episodes have scenes after the closing credits, pretty important scenes too.

I shall also note that I watched the Dub not the Sub.  And also that I haven't seen the OVA yet.

So I watched it.  First episode kept my interest but hadn't exactly wowed me.  I noticed it wasn't playing up much the usual tropes of High School set Anime.  For me that wasn't a good sign, because as I already said, Anime tropes, even at their most cliche, entertain me more then Zombies do.  However I know many people out there are the opposite.

But the more I watched it the more I got into it.

For the first third the most annoying offense in the Fan-service department was the Nurse who's breasts make Powergirl's look realistic.  That wouldn't even have bothered me so much without the annoying sound effect they were given.  Other then that was a lot of pantyshots, but it's pretty justified given the situation.

Like many of my favorite fiction.  It has a lot of serious Drama while at the same time fully embracing the absurdity of it's premise.  In this case the absurdity is less the Zombies themselves and more how ridiculously Bad@$$ this random group of High School students are.  And at times the fanservice overlaps with that.

The fanservice somewhat increases as it goes on.  Plenty I found unnecessary.  But one thing that makes me more comfortable with it is how I've read the show is surprisingly more popular with women then with men.  The female characters are all pretty likeable and well written, so it seems many female viewers were able to look past the fan-service, and perhaps some even liked it.

During the latter half there is a theme of the adult characters continuing to took down on our main cast as kids in-spite of everything they've went though.  In a way it reminds me of The Blob.

The story-line involving Saya's parents had, in the Manga, a strong Nationalist vibe to it.  The Anime very much censored that, and the English Dub renders it nearly impossible for a Western viewer that doesn't understand Japanese politics to even detect it.  Saya's dad mostly just comes off as a typical stern military type.

So I would not exactly say this Anime is the key to how to make Zombies interesting again.  If you are a big fan of the Zombie Apocalypse genre I think it'd be pretty hard not to like it.  If you manage to have even less interest in it then I do (which would pretty much be not even liking Romero) then it's not going to appeal to you.

For me it's another of many examples of Anime making something seem fresher then the West has in a very long time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Zelda Month post

I wish my mind was in more of a Zelda mode this month.  Every four years it's gonna be ruined by a damn Election, maybe I should have just written in Princess Zelda.

I haven't really commented on Breath of the Wild yet.  I'm excited for it, something that is both truly open world and fully 3D should be awesome.  I just hope they still find a way to tell a great story.

I'm disappointed that it seems we still won't get a Female Link option.  And I'm really annoyed that they added A Link Between Worlds characters to Hyrule Warriors but not Hilda.

I don't what to think about the possible movie or Netflix series speculation that has been floating around.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Here is my message to Donald Trump

As someone who didn't vote for you but is from the region chiefly responsible for your victory (Racine Wisconsin to be specific) my message is this.

If you are only going to keep only one of your campaign promises.  It better be ending the Free Trade Agreements, like NAFTA and CAFTA and the TPP, and stuff directly related to that.  Your strong turn out in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota was chiefly because of people who voted for Bernie in the Primary (I voted for Bernie) and you in the general because they voted chiefly on that issue.  Because we are the most hurt the ramifications of those agreements.

They don't care if you build the Wall or even necessarily want that.  Or about your Muslim Ban, or defeating ISIS.  And certainly not any of the typical Republican positions you espoused.

I was unwilling to vote for because I didn't trust you on this, given how your businesses have themselves benefited from those agreements.  And because I was offended by the Xenophobia you appealed to.

IF however you actually do keep this promise, and the fears Mexicans and Muslims have of your turns out to be unfounded.  You might, just maybe might win my vote for 2020.

But if not, you don't keep that promise, you will lose the people who chiefly gave this victory and have no hope of reelection.

The second promise I personally care about (in the sense of would like you to keep it) is legalizing Marijuana.  But for that I see no evidence many people voted on that.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Here is my real issue with Civil War

When I first reacted to Civil War, I couldn't fully put my finger on what bugged me about it.  Now I can.

It's that it puts so much effort into setting up only to subvert the whole "of course they'll come together in the end" expectation of a versus story.  I know the comic didn't end with them coming back together, well I don't like the Comic either but at least the Comic didn't have a subplot dedicated to baiting and hooking fans who like that message.

And it's insulting to me in regards to how this movie is compared to Batman V Superman.  BvS may have a darker tone.  But BvS ended on a message of hope and unity that Civil War literally said "____ You!" too.

In BvS things were darkest just before the dawn.  Civil War was just another Marvel movie all about setting up future movies.  BvS had a couple scenes that were there just to set up future movies, but with Civil War the very plot itself was only made to be a cliff hanger.