UL BANNER

4/21/2011

ThunderCats Reboot on Cartoon Network



Trailer here. Hopefully this fares better than Cartoon Network's Masters of the Universe.

4/15/2011

Mecha Mania

There is certainly no shortage on mecha (giant piloted robots).

Click here for tagged version.

Its enough to 'splode the brain of your inner ten-year-old.
Mecha forms a distinct genre within manga and anime, so much so that it has its own particular tropes and cliches. The standard mecha set-up is something like: Boy is enlisted to pilot giant experimental robot to defend the Earth from [insert menace here]. What separates the worthy mecha anime from the not-so-worthy is how the creators choose to play with and respond to these common elements and, further, use them to tell an interesting story. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the vast majority of this stuff is derivative of earlier works. Of course, the same criticism can be leveled at the American superhero genre.

Two of my favorite animes from this category come from Gainax studio. Gainax is headed up by Hideaki Anno, a protege of Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). The studio's first endeavor was a film called Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987) -- a movie that succeeded artistically but failed to rake in the dough. For its next project Gainax went with a format that was practically guaranteed to raise some capital -- a story about a hot young thing that joins the space navy and pilots a giant friggin robot. They called it Gunbuster.



Gunbuster: Aim For the Top!
1988-1989
6 Episodes
Directed by Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Nadia: The Secret of the Blue Water)

Gunbuster is largely the story of  Noriko Takaya, the orphaned daughter of a respected space fleet admiral. Noriko is determined to follow in her father's footsteps. She's a late bloomer and struggles through much of the series to measure up, both to her peers and to the reputation of her father. Gunbuster somehow manages to juggle interesting characters, exploitative fan service (most of the female protagonists are seen nude), gripping action and a fast-paced narrative. There's humor here (some of it self-parody) as well as melodrama. In short, it does everything I expect from a great film or TV series. Animation-wise its a solid piece of work as well. Anno uses interesting "camera angles" to reveal things about his characters. At times, there's a sort of mixed-media approach. Interestingly, the last episode was purposely done in black-and-white. Many of the seeds that bore fruit in Neon Genesis Evangelion can be found here. Perhaps most significantly, the story ends with a rip-roaring climax and satisfying conclusion.

Ggmlk's Anime Dream-Quest 3000

Anime -- not unlike the OSR -- is generally regarded as a caricature of its true self by folks who fail to see it with their preconceived notions turned off. The most common stereotype I encounter is something like 
All anime is mindless shit like Dragonball Z or Speed Racer or a bunch of cartoon chicks getting raped by tentacles.
This is akin to saying
The OSR is a big circle-jerk for fatbeards who are stuck in the past and waste all their time e-publishing their DIY dungeons.
Harsh right? Negative? Maybe a little true in some cases? But dismissive and incomplete. There's a lot more to anime and the OSR than my strawmen imply.

I'll be the first to admit that Japanese animation takes a bit of sifting to get to the good stuff. The median of narrative quality tends to fall somewhere near an 80s B-movie (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Also those particular anime series that get the most attention in the United States give a false impression of the breadth of content and narrative styles to be found among the stuff released in Japan.

American companies generally do not market licensed anime in precisely the same manner that it is marketed in its country of origin. The Japanese tend to categorize their work this way:
  • Kodomomuke -- material for children
  • Shōnen -- material for males ages 10 to 18
  • Shōjo -- material for females ages 10 to 18
  • Seinen -- material for males ages 18 to 30+
  • Josei -- material for females ages 15 to 44+
These categories are just as distinct (and occasionally indistinct) as the West's genderfied/age-appropriate classifications for literature, films, TV shows and games. Each demographic explores its own narratives, themes, character studies, dilemmas and obsessions. I only point all this out because it seems that in America anime is typically downgraded as something essentially childish and sub-intellectual. I can only explain this based on a limited cross-cultural exposure that has confined itself to anime programs and films that line up with what Americans expect animation to be. In other words, most of the more compelling things that anime has to offer remain pretty esoteric to the average American.

The last few weeks or so I've been digging around for new-to-me anime. I don't feel that I have enough knowledge of the stuff to be dubbed an otaku (manga/anime fanatic and researcher), but I'm definitely getting there. Maybe. I definitely have the corn chip stains.

Lately I'm kinda obsessed with

 
Bubblegum Crisis 2032-2033
1987 to 1991
6 Episodes
Directed by Katsuhito Akiyama (Bastard!!, ThunderCats)

Bubblegum Crisis is about a team of cybernetic heroines in a Dystopian, Blade Runner-esque future who battle against an evil corporation called Genom. Genom creates robots called boomers for the military and commercial sectors. There's definitely a superhero vibe here -- the audience not only gets to see the Knight Sabers (our four lady cybernetic vigilantes) in action, but gets a look into their private lives as well. Think Iron Man, with Tony Stark traded out for a quartet of less drunky, more spunky women who inhabit a pessimistic urbanized futurescape. While there are bits of fan service -- in the form of bared breasts and women walking around in panties -- they show up rarely. Certainly nothing as lurid as you might find in a typical issue of Heavy Metal.

Concept art for Mega Tokyo
 
Folks who have a sentimental attachment to cheesy mid- to late-'80s pop tunes will be pleasantly surprised by the film's original score. The English-language dub is quite good and went so far as to include Americanized, English versions of the songs. There's an awkward-but-catchy charm about every bit of it that really works for me.

I dig the Doc Ock-like fingers.
Priss Cheescake

Naturally there is a lot of action to be had, what with all the monstrous robots running amok at Genom's bidding. These scenes are rendered with an eye for cybernetic brutality the likes of which had rarely been seen before. And there's a fair amount of cheesecake involved. For example, the Sabers have to get nekkid before they don their cybernetic suits. Moreso than girl-oggling, there's the techno-oggling. Viewers are subjected to a steady stream of technological objects and environments. There's even one of those voice-operated "Enhance" machines for increasing image resolution you might have noticed in Blade Runner.

All of which might scream that this show is for manchildren. But there's even something for the ladies (womanchildren) as well. The protagonists of the story (Priss, Linna, Nene and their leader/scientific genius Sylia Stingray) are fierce, loyal, complex and unique. The interactions between them resemble the family antics of the Fantastic Four and cement the whole American comic-booky appeal of their adventures.

Original Trailer

WARNING: Contains ultraviolence and a fleeting boob-shot.




Crisis is an OVA (Original Video Adaptation of the manga comic book) that originally appeared on Japanese TV in 1987. The show was aborted after six episodes due to financing issues and as a result it lacks an ending. The studio (AIC) returned to the characters and setting in '91 with Bubblegum Crash. Unfortunately the follow-up lacks the quality of Crisis, both in terms of animation and narrative.

There's also a more recent sequel/re-imagining of these series called Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. I'm not a fan.

Oh, there's also an RPG based on BGC published by R. Talsorian. I know absolutely nothing about it yet.

4/07/2011

Ggmlk's Comic Book Love

I was born in the summer of '78, but I was exposed to comic books pretty early on via my grandfather, who is the sci fi nerd's sci fi nerd. His house was literally a live-in gallery for his various collections of Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia, signed fantasy art prints and originals, collectible pocket knives and plates, resin gnome sculptures, extensive VHS collection (so much good stuff), and so many other things. His comic book collection -- I can't say how many thousands of issues there were -- was kept in a room in the finished cellar. I spent many, many weekends poring over the stuff down there. I'm pretty sure this early exposure to classic Marvel titles like Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Conan the Barbarian and its companion magazine Savage Sword of Conan have fixed my personal "golden age" a little earlier than other guys from my generation. Visually I'm all about the three Johns: Buscema, Romita and Byrne. Their visions are the Look I judge all other comic art by. 






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I became aware of Bart Sears through his regular "how to draw" column in Wizard. While he failed miserably at teaching me anything, I'm still utterly impressed by his refined, elastic style. Some pin-ups:






Early Sears