Some Quick Anime, Movie, and Book Reviews

Right now, I’m in wait mode on the Spring issue; the proofs ought to be showing up any day now.

Meanwhile, I’ve been watching some movies and anime and reading some books:

Freaks (2018)

On one hand, Freaks is definitely an indie art-film take on X-Men. On the other hand, it’s a better X-Men movie than most of the last half-dozen X-Men movies.

It’s basically “What if we told the story of seven-year-old Jean Grey from her point of view, filmed it like a horror movie, and instead of professor X/magneto, she has a creepy, foul-mouthed grampa who drives an ice-cream truck.

It was worth watching.

March Lion [3 Gatsu no Lion / March Comes In Like a Lion]

My GF started this, but I ended up binging it without her.

The main character is kind of a loser and the least interesting part of the show, but I really want to know how things pan out with middle-sister-chan, ulcer-sensei, and the main’s best friend who thinks he’s the protagonist in a shonen anime.

It’s a little floating world, and it doesn’t end in a super great place [not quite Genji, where the author keels over mid-scene, and you’re left going “AND?!”]; still crossing my fingers for a 3rd season.

Makes me torn between wanting to take up Shogi and staying very far away from it.

Carole & Tuesday

This show was bad and should feel bad.

It’s kind of funny how it plays into the self-importance of musicians; while the hackerman and the investigative journalist beat the villain, the musicians play a “we are the world” song and everyone’s like “a miracle happened…”

It has beautiful animation and is ostensibly set in the Cowboy Bebop universe, but its story is dull and vapid, and the music in it is terrible.

The strawman villain’s position is the entirely reasonable “Mars can’t sustain a large number of illegal refugee migrants BECAUSE IT IS FUCKING MARS, so I’ll convince this presidential candidate to support legislation to deport illegal earth migrants back to earth.”

Rob Kroese’s Rise of the Demon Prince + The Book of the Dead

Catching up on Rob’s Counterfeit Sorcerer series, having just finished Book of the Dead over the weekend.

It’s been a really good, solid series so far. Small spoilers, I was hoping Boland turned out to be a righteous dude, cuz I kind of liked him from afar with what hints were given. One of the fellowship was pretty much given a too-stupid-to-live death from a face-heel turn that, while an explanation was given, still felt a bit out of character.

Overall, I’m still enjoying it and have started on the 4th book.

My main qualms with the series is that Rob is printing them with Matte paper covers, and good lord, those feel gross on the fingers, and the print versions of the cover art are just dark blurry messes. Not much I can complain about for the story itself, other than it may have fallen into a predictable pattern of ::beat villain:: -> “Oh, noes, here’s the real/next villain, time to stop him in the next book!” I actually think Boland turning out to be a solid good-guy would’ve been a more surprising twist than “Now I’m taking over what the bad guy was doing cuz I’m gonna do it better!”

 

Scary Stories to Oof in the Dark

At some point last year, I remember reading somewhere that the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark movie was actually good. While I didn’t make going to see it a priority, I looked forward to when I could watch it for free from the public library.

Then I had the “oh, wait… from ‘producer’ Guillermo Del Toro…” moment when I finally had it in my hands. For awhile, seeing Del Toro’s name on things was a mark of quality, but I’ve been pretty eh on a lot of his stuff where he’s only had ‘producer’ cred. In fact, I’m struggling to recall the last time I really liked any Del Toro movie, and I think that the one with the teeth fairies might have been the last one [Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, 2010, writer credits].

But anyway…

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was basically a Scary Stories-branded version of the Goosebumps movie with no Jack Black. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that…

A bunch of kids go to a haunted house and find a spookybook of spookytales that come true. The attempts to work the few short scary stories from the book into the narrative of the film were about as seamless as a quilt. For instance, The Big Toe is worked in by having one kid staying home while his parents are out–there’s a pot of stew in the fridge with a toe in it. Why? Were his parents cannibals? Was his mother a mortician? A serial killer? No, the toe in the stew simply exists in the fridge because there was story with a toe in stew and the film needed an excuse for the “where’s my toe?” ghost.

The only genuinely scary part, I think, was the Pale Lady from “The Dream”, even though, other than the iconic look of the character, nothing was used from the original story.

I think that more than any other property, Scary Stories could’ve revived the classic horror showcase format… or they could’ve done a more original horror story that simply borrowed heavily from Gammell’s incidental art and aesthetic. But the whole “here’s a book of spooky stories, people die, and by the way, the big local company was the real villain” just smacked of an unoriginality that many fans of the books might find disappointing.

‘Fireworks is Just Like Porky’s’

“Is “Fireworks” (…) an homage to those bawdy ‘80s sex comedies like “Porky’s” and “Private Resort?”

I dunno, is Christie Lemire retarded?*

I’ll be honest. I did not think Fireworks was that great; it was nowhere near as good as Your Name, though it still had a lot of charm and a lovely aesthetic to it. What I didn’t pick up on was anything that justifies Lemire’s need to equate Fireworks to one of the raunchiest R-rated sex comedies ever filmed.

Fireworks is about first love, from a boy’s perspective—from a boy who’s hovering in the awkward realm between childhood and adolescence. He wants to be a man and have the opportunity to prove himself, but, being a child and inexperienced and unwise to the ways of the world, he really doesn’t know what to do and has a hard time figuring it out.

Norimichi’s love for and fixation on Nazuna is innocent and non-sexual. For all of the shots of Nazuna that Lemire complains about, Nazuna’s portrayed not as a woman to be lusted after but something pure and elfin, beautiful and innocent, something that Norimichi wants to cherish and protect, even though he doesn’t really know how. She is the idealization of first love. Yes, there’s billowing skirts, subtle glimmer on the lips, hair wafting aetherially in the breeze—but no, there are not upskirts, downshirts, boob-shots, etc. She’s mysterious, and though imperfect, Norimichi idealizes her because she’s his first love.

Now, the boob jokes from the friends and about the teacher that Lemire complains about: Norimichi’s friends exist to show a contrast between Norimichi’s youth and innocent affections and male adolescent posturing. The awkward adult relationship between the teacher and her boyfriend, who cracks a joke about her breasts is there in juxtaposition to the purity of Norimichi’s first love.

Yes, all of the agency in the story is with Norimichi, because it’s a story of a boy trying to become a man and protect someone he loves.

Lemire is mad about this, too, but anyone who compares the story of a boy’s first love and how that boy would try to do anything he could to make life better for that girl to a movie where a bunch of high schoolers get into a violent prank feud with a redneck  brothel owner is probably a broken human being.

*:This is a rhetorical question; since her resume includes 8 years working with the Armenian Genocide-denying Young Turks network, the answer is obviously yes.

Fa Yuiry from Zeta Gundam is a Badass

Fa.Yuiry.587181

No, she’s not what immediately springs to mind when one thinks “badass female character”. She’s not sexy-in-leather, dodging bullets, doing somersaults, and beating up guys twice her size with waif-fu, but consider this:

Fa fought in the Gryps War and survived a show in which more than half of the main characters, including all but three women, died.

She did so piloting an experimental mech that’s generally considered inferior to the post-Mk II Gundams many other characters flew.

She wasn’t military or para-military like Emma or Reccoa or the Titan gals, but she volunteered to fight for Anti-Earth United anyway and fought bravely.

She not only put up with Camille when he was going through his Giant Robot Hero angst and reined him in some when he needed it, she stayed with him to take care of him when he became a disabled vet on the losing side of a war.

So, where is all this coming from?

I’d seen this just before another thread I was in about bad girls and best girls spiraled off into a Gundam tangent:

Credit to this juxtaposition by @KateVsTheWorld

gail killing joke

guybrush

Now, I have mixed thoughts of my own regarding the Killing Joke (TL;DR, it’s overrated and I understand why Moore himself is critical of it), and this isn’t the place to address Gail “Women in Refrigerators” Simone’s comments, but it was what got me thinking about Fa and the context surrounding her as a “badass female character”.

Zeta Gundam is a show that not only has a lot of female characters, it has a lot of female characters who have horrible stuff happen to them. Yes, you can claim that some of them were there to give male characters motivation (that a woman who was a better pilot than him could take an interest in him but then be killed in an MS battle by a kid he’d gotten into it with really messed Jerrid up), but they’re all very rounded, very complex, very real-feeling characters that many viewers had deep attachments to.

zeta gundam women

From pink hair to the right: Dies in sequel, lives, dies, dies, dies, dies, lives, lives, dies, dies, dies, lives.

  • Mouar and Lila (teal and blonde next to her) are both talented officers and pilots who die in fights with Camille.
  • Four (turquoise on the right) is emotionally abused by the researchers at the Murasame institute and eventually dies in battle.
  • Ditto Rosamia (purple/pink in the middle).
  • Sarah (salmon on the left) is emotionally (and probably sexually) abused by Scirocco and dies in battle taking a bullet for him.
  • Emma (second brunette from the right) nearly makes it to the end of the war, but dies in the last battle.
  • Reccoa (red-head next to Emma) dies in the last battle too—Reccoa fans are few and far between, though, because no one likes a traitor.
recoa

TFW Hypergamy Intensifies

Lest you think that the show was just particularly brutal to women, keep in mind that it would be easier to list off the main/major male characters who lived than rattle off all the ones who died. (Camille, Yazan[villain], Bright, Amuro, Astonage, and Char[though it’s left ambiguous, highly implied that he died, and he’s nowhere in ZZ], and the last three all die in Char’s Counterattack.)

In a story where none of the good guys die, the cute long-suffering girl-next-door girlfriend of the hero who gets to pilot her own robot every now and then is comic relief at best and obnoxious wannabe eye-candy at worst.

But in a story where anyone can die, and they often do, there’s something to be said of the character who can fight, survive, and still retain something of herself when it’s all over and go on to be a personal hero to those closest to her when she’s not fighting.

So, yeah, Fa Yuiry is a badass.*

Fa & Camille

*: And Best Girl. Sorry, Four, but teenage me was wrong about you. Get you a girl who will forgive you for liking Four and take care of you when you’re a disabled vet.

Phineas & Ferb Star Wars: A Reminder that Disney Isn’t Star Wars’ Problem, it’s Kathleen Kennedy, Rian Johnson, and JJ Abrams

A few months back on a lark, my GF started watching Phineas & Ferb on Netflix. While it took a bit for it to grow on me, it’s become one of my favorite cartoons, and I’ll be bummed when it’s gone next month.

Season 4 had an unusually high share of “special” episodes and two-parters–the best of these was a Star Wars special.


While Mouse Wars has scrambled to hit diversity checkboxes and increase female representation in science fiction to 1920s level, Kathleen Kennedy and her ilk have failed to create any likable, relatable, or compelling female characters. Rey is a grating bully who is constantly berating her companions and treating them like they’re useless. While I enjoyed Rogue One, I recognize its roots in Tabletop and therefore see Jyn for what she is–the MacGuffin NPC the Party has to protect for their TPK one-off adventure. Rose Tico and Holdo are bad memes (I feel bad for Kelly Marie Tran, a cute fan-girl that the film-makers intentionally dumpied up and gave a shit part so they could check a diversity box, much less so for Laura Dern). Phasma was supposed to be a big deal, cuz “ermegerd, a lady Storm Trooper!”, but we all saw how well that went.

Feminist Star Wars couldn’t even make a female character as compelling or with half as good an arc as Storm Trooper Candace.

Candace was everything that Phasma or Finn should’ve been–someone who’s bought into the imperial ideas for reasons that are not bad reasons, so they can have a genuine moral conflict when presented with a dilemma that makes them reconsider their role as an imperial enforcer.

It’s cheesy, has a bunch of song and dance numbers, and has a bit of an over-reliance at times on the old “Darth Vader’s socks” meme… Here’s the thing about this cartoon special, though… If you strip away the burlesque elements, you’re actually left with the building blocks of a pretty compelling Star Wars story:

  • A villain has devised a way to artificially augment Dark Side Force abilities.
  • A Rank & File Imperial who believes in “the cause” gets caught up in an incident that leads them to see the humanity of the Rebels.
  • Brother is set against brother when the villain corrupts one of them.
  • A tough-girl space pirate (Pepper Melange, anyone?) falls in love with the hero, one of the brothers, because she comes to realize that he’s not a squish and is willing to put his life on the line for his friends.

Compare that to:

  • A villain is mad at mom and dad, so he digs out grampa’s war memorabilia and goes off to play space Nazi. Some has to go stop him, I guess?
  • A janitor defects from a cause he’s not invested in the first time he sees action.
  • A woman yells at said janitor and treats him like crap until he gets coma’d. (Seriously, how does “Pro-Diversity” Star Wars go from having a black man piloting the fastest ship in the galaxy to destroy a Death Star to having a black man get yelled at and told he’s useless by a white lady for 2 hours?)

So, if you have Netflix, do yourself a favor and watch this before they take it off and it gets shuffled over to Disney’s streaming service they’ll be launching in the soontime.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Yondu vs. Obi-Wan (Major Spoilers)

So, saw Guardians 2 last night, and I gotta say. As a franchise, people who like pulp SF should maybe start looking to Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Star Wars. Star Wars has averaged out to be trash, coasting more on the theoretical potential of the property as it has been explored by other creative types rather than the films themselves. But more importantly, Guardians of the Galaxy has a much stronger moral core than Star Wars.

Let’s take a look at Obi Wan vs Yondu for a second. Yondu is superior by far as the older father figure mentor character.

This isn’t something I’m going to put a lot of energy into explaining or even defending, but I just want to toss it out there. Let’s even completely forget my theory that Obi-Wan is the main villain of Star Wars for a sec.

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has been secretly watching out for Luke, and eventually he takes him under his wing. He tries to explain the situation in a way that will not hurt the young Skywalker, because while he believes in him, he does not believe in him enough to trust him with the truth. And ultimately, that’s his bad. Only when it comes down to it, he doesn’t really accept responsibility for what he has done and tries to justify rather than coming fully clean and apologizing, even when it wouldn’t have cost him anything to do so. And when knowledge that Leia is Luke’s sister would jeopardize the fate of the Rebel strike on Endor, Obi-Wan’s ghost rather casually confirms it.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu pretty much raises Star Lord after his mom dies. He’s a tough father figure, and does a lot wrong by the kid growing up, but he genuinely does care about him. Yondu is also protecting Star Lord from his father with a lie, but when the chips are down, Yondu comes clean and is honest about his reasons “I knew your daddy was bad and killed those kids, and I couldn’t stand to see that happen to you.” After all is laid bare, Yondu makes the ultimate sacrifice so that his “son” will live.

Both franchise are owned by Disney, and both are cogs in multi-billion-dollar merchandising apparatuses, so I’m not going to factor that in when comparing the two. Even with all of its flaws and cringe-points, I’m gonna have to give this one to Guardians.

Lego Batman

This is just a quick review of the Lego Batman movie.

If you’re a fan of Batman, watch it.

Its story is just coherent enough that it manages to keep rolling along while delivering nonstop Batman fanservice.

Like the first Lego movie, it is painfully self-aware, and I really don’t think it’s going to stay a fresh and enjoyable approach into the Ninjago movie they had a trailer for, but if you got a kick out of narcissistic asshole Batman there, this manages to keep the funny coming.

Batman here is a grotesque, all of his worst qualities (particularly those from the 80s & 90s comic incarnations) are exaggerated and played for laughs but also to give a bit insight into just why Batman is so messed up. It ends up looking at a lot of the same themes as Dark Victory, just taking an incredibly gonzo approach to get there.

I don’t know how well it would work as an actual kids movie; there’s plenty of action and explosions and slapstick humor, but much of the comedy and entertainment value revolves around either Batman being a terrible person or Batman obscura in film, cartoons and comics. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s definitely worth a couple of bucks to see.

(Did anybody else think it was weird that they used Carrie Kelley’s character design for a Robin that was supposed to be Dick Grayson?!)