HERE ARE SOME THOUGHTS ON THE FIRST TWO GUNSMITH CATS VOLUMES

Or the first Revised Edition really big omnibus collection thing with 16 chapters. WHATEVER.

1) For a dude who has apparently never shot a gun or driven a car (at least at the time he wrote Gunsmith Cats), Ken’ichi Sonoda sure knows a hell of a lot about them. Fortunately, I have long since picked up the habit of tacitly accepting whatever technological details handed to me from years of reading science fiction and fantasy novels, so the fact that

a) I can’t own a gun because I’d blow my head off with my tendency to fidget with things
and
b) my entire knowledge about how cars operate is derived entirely from which bits of my recently-deceased Ford Taurus broke down

doesn’t have an adverse effect on my enjoyment of Gunsmith Cats.

2) It might just be because I expected the series to be a series of self-contained arcs (or even just chapter-long vignettes), as this seems typical of action-oriented series, but the flow of the story actually has each arc bleeding into one another, for what appears to be a grand overarching story involving whatever Mafia syndicate that keeps showing up. Even on the chapter level, there’s very little reliance on traditional cliffhangers: many chapters seem largely self-contained, with plot threads left to be picked up by later chapters.

I suspect this is one of my (many) NO SHIT, SHERLOCK moments, and is probably a common structure for the monthly serials (Gunsmith Cats ran in Afternoon), but it was a pleasant surprise. I mean, I was expecting HELL YEAH GUNS BANG BANG PEW PEW OH ALSO NAKED GIRLS but not necessarily a smooth plot flow. Or whatever you call this.

3) Speaking of OH ALSO NAKED GIRLS there is a two-page sequence where Minnie-May masturbates. She is 17 and also apparently the World’s Greatest and Most Accomplished Prostitute. I am pretty sure she is also the only person in the series who has thus far engaged, or attempted to engage, in any form of consensual sexual activity. I just thought I’d point this out, especially in light of Ken’ichi Sonoda apparently being married to a children’s book author.

4) RALLY VINCENT IN SAFETY GLASSES. This is my PSA to inform the world that safety glasses are officially sexier than actual glasses. Or maybe those are actually sunglasses. WHATEVER. She should wear them more often.

5) The random kid in Chapter 12 who crosses the street to see a bunny and inadvertently manages to sabotage Gray’s car because her loose jacket gets caught in the axles of his car is officially the biggest badass of the entire volume. Completely unfazed by two cars running over her. She needs a spinoff series. NOW.

So, yeah, does this post serve any valuable purpose other than “HEY I JUST READ SOME GUNSMITH CATS” which really shouldn’t be worthy of contacting any kind of media? No, not really. Should I get a Tumblr for this sort of nonsense? MAYBE. MAYBE NOT. TIME WILL TELL.

ALSO: SAFETY GLASSES! You might need them to experience the slowly-unfolding Strike Witches schadenfreude (is it really schadenfreude if we enjoy ourselves while watching Strike Witches? Are we actually enjoying ourselves or are we lost in a mire of irony? Why am I self-promoting?)

The 4.5 Tatami Room of Forking Paths

After finishing Tatami Galaxy, I am pretty sure that anime needs more Borgesian labyrinths. Actually, everything needs more Borgesian labyrinths, but especially anime. Because.

For waiting this long to watch the show, yeah.

Anyway, Tatami Galaxy is a lot of fun: our Nameless Protagonist is often a hilariously terrible person, pursuing the patently ridiculous dream of the rose-colored college life with the end result that he is surrounded by raven-haired maidens (one suspects that they will not remain maidens for long, but that is also why the program is For Mature Audiences Only). The escapades and antics are familiar to anyone who ever set foot into the hallowed grounds of Higher Education, with the minor fact that there is a great deal more fun being had in Tatami Galaxy‘s university than actual education. Also, casting Nobuyuki Hiyama as Johnny the Libido Cowboy was pretty much the best move ever.

Setting aside such grave concerns, however, I feel that taking a moment to take Tatami Galaxy a bit seriously might be in order. Quite early on, I noticed that the story seemed to be patterned along the lines of most visual novels: Watashi is clearly meant as a parody of the cipher narrator of most romance-oriented visual novels, and he sees all his choices at college as a means to the end of the perfect college life where he gets to have lots of sex with lots of hot girls. When one particular route turns out to be more disastrous on his life than planned—largely because he picked a club not because he was interested in being in the club, but because he thought that if he joined it he could move closer to his dubious goal[1]—he essentially reloads his saved game from the first day of university and tries again to trip the hidden event flags that net him an abundance of raven-haired maidens and the college life of his dreams.

From this, Tatami Galaxy can be seen as a fairly straightforward cautionary tale for the visual novel generation: you can’t be something you’re not in an attempt to game life to achieve a goal, and you must also live with the decisions you make, as there is no way to backtrack when you hit a Bad End. But then, at the very end of the series, the full conceit of the show is revealed: Watashi is caught in an endless labyrinth of 4.5 tatami rooms, all belonging to slightly different versions of him that seem to be having entirely more fun than the one who wanders the tatami labyrinth. It’s also crucial that Yuasa began to use more live-action footage in the sequences with the wandering Watashi perhaps it was simply a budget-saving move, but it implies to us, the viewer, that this particular Watashi is the “real” Watashi, and that the show prior to this point has been a hallucination of the wandering Watashi, a dream that passes for reality, or a reality that passed like a dream.

Which brings us to Borges, because any mention of “labyrinths” and especially in close conjunction with “dreams” requires bringing him up. I’ve been slowly working through the recent Penguin retranslation of his works[2], which means that I sort of have Borges on the brain. One of Borges’s most famous stories, “The Garden of Forking Paths”, is known for its description of an infinite novel, a labyrinth that branches in time rather than in space:

In all fictions, each time a man meets diverse alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the work of the virtually impossible-to-disentangle Ts’ui Pen, the character chooses—simultaneously—all of them. He creates, thereby, ‘several futures’, several times, which themselves proliferate and fork. [3]

The fictional novel in the story is considered the first instance—in 1941—of hypertext, and anyone who’s gotten lost on Wikipedia with twenty tabs open knows, without being told, how headache-inducing this sort of thing is.

The thing is, this is the exact environment visual novels and Tatami Galaxy operate in, even more literally than in the Wikipedia example, for in these it is time that branches, not (tab bar) space. Watashi literally makes all the myriad decisions of his college life simultaneously—each room of the tatami labyrinth is slightly different, reflecting a slightly different choice he made in that particular fork. Despite the fact that he has been granted the agency to literally do everything in the world (apparently through the arcane ritual of “locking himself in his room”), he finds himself rather miserable, as he fundamentally can’t do everything without simultaneously doing nothing. And so, he becomes stuck inside the hypertext labyrinth, vast stretches of forking possibilities stymieing him into a stagnant life, unable to pick a life and go for it. At least, until he realizes that he’s trapped in this paralyzing labyrinth and resolves to escape it by making a very important decision.

If we want to get really metatext here, though, it’s also possible that the whole of Tatami Galaxy takes place in a relatively short period of time, as Watashi puzzles out whether or not he should return the fifth Mochiguman toy to Akashi. Here, the story takes on the structure of Watashi unconsciously reflecting upon past opportunities and missed connections to his current situation, finally determining that Akashi is the risk he wants to take. The tangled, dreamlike narratives and labyrinth result from Watashi’s consideration of what might have been, or what will happen if he doesn’t make the next move with Akashi. This also explains the terrible dooms that always befalls Watashi before another reload: any doom that occurs happens after he consciously rejects returning the toy to Akashi, which implies that he can’t imagine a positive thing that would come from not pursuing Akashi. He betrays himself in these scenarios; the fortune-teller needn’t be the Fate stand-in, but rather a stand-in for the intuitive understanding of Watashi’s desires that he is unwillfully (or, perhaps, willfully) challenging.

Regardless of the level of narrative complexity, though, the end results are the same: Watashi accepts his past decisions and regrets—bad and good, hastily made and carefully thought-out—and decides to move forward. It matters not, at this point, which past is “real” or whether any of them are real at all; what does matter is the acceptance of their existence (or non-existence) and moving forward with his life. As life is defined entirely by limits, he can’t do everything there is to do in life—he can’t even do everything he might want to do in life—but he can do what seems most important now, and take pleasure from—or in spite of—whatever may result.

[1] I typoed this as “gaol” initially. I thought at least one of you might be amused by this. ^
[2] Yes I know the Hurley translation isn’t as good as the di Giovanni translations. Yes I will track those down and read them. No I don’t want to listen to your 400 word rant on this topic. ^
[3] Borges, Jorge Luis, trans. Andrew Hurley. Collected Fictions. New York: Penguin Books, 1998. p.125 ^

Cowboy Bebop THE REWATCHENING

[IMPORTANT HELPFUL NOTE: It may amuse (some of) you to imagine me as a tall, lanky, blonde American, bedecked with cowboy hat and riding spurs, perched upon a horse which happens to be in an elevator at the current moment. You might also want to whistle a bit. Perhaps this will set you in the correct mood for this post, my position, and my general capabilities regarding the following.]

As I have promised for approximately five years, I have rewatched Cowboy Bebop, a series which has caused me no small amount of largely inexplicable consternation over the eight years it has been since I first watched it on one lonely August day when I probably should have been running around outdoors and overturning rocks to see what sort of disgusting things lie under them (either worms or communal copies of Playboy, depending on who you ask). This consternation is largely founded on the fact that I manage to evade the extremes of opinions about Cowboy Bebop: I neither worship it as the feather of truth that the hearts of other anime must be weighed against, nor do I revile it as some kind of impure anime too tainted by Western influences to qualify as “true anime”. I exaggerate, of course, but I’ve never really felt like I ought to throw my weight behind the “why can’t we have more anime like Cowboy Bebop?” position. I’m not even sure that the opposite position exists, as Cowboy Bebop seems to be so universally beloved of nearly everyone that assessing it as anything less than a superlative example of the fine art of Japanese animation takes on the air of trying to explain to the Pope that maybe these “indulgence” things aren’t the best idea.

Part of the problem is, of course, is that Cowboy Bebop is actually an extremely polished, highly enjoyable series. The cast is likable, the animation is fluid, most every episode is well-structured, and Shinichiro Watanabe pulls it all off without batting an eye. I had forgotten, in the Eight Year Exodus, that many of the episodes are just sheer, gleeful fun: the comic episodes were always my favorites, especially “Stray Dog Strut” and “Mushroom Samba”, and I noticed this time around that Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV is far more horribly underused than I remembered, taking a back seat to nearly everything (this is a travesty and I demand the spinoff). Even episodes such as “Speak Like a Child” and “Hard Luck Woman” that blend comedy with more dramatic events work well for me, although that might just be the peculiarities of the themes they deal with.

The more dramatic episodes and moments, though, are the ones that stymie me the most. The episodes that deal specifically with Spike’s backstory and ultimate BANG tend to leave me constantly checking the time remaining on the episode and wanting to send a letter back in time to the staff that reads “Yes, I get what you’re doing here thematically. Get on with it.” Possibly the worst offender is actually “Ganymede Elegy”; the second half of the episode felt as though the series were doing everything short of holding up a cue card that reads “BE SAD AND EMOTIONALLY MOVED HERE” to get the viewer to feel emotion, veering dangerously close to blunt force trauma with Tragic Narrative with Thematic Resonance. It’s moments like this—where characters are impelled along their paths by the mechanized workings of Theme—where any subtlety that may or may not be present is lost or disregarded through the blatantly mechanical operations of the plot’s thematic ends.

These episodes tend to feel emotionally flattened and dead to me. The mode fits well with the major themes of the work: the characters are living a half-existence, suppressing their emotions as they’re thrust forward on the linear rails of fate dictated by the events in their pasts. It’s also styled with the classic Hemingwayean hardboiled style, quite common in noir fiction and film: depict the actions of the characters truly enough, and the audience will perceive and feel the emotions underneath.

Something about the flat deadness of the hardboiled style tends to turn me off it, though: in Cowboy Bebop, I can perceive the emotions under the surface, I can understand from whence they come, and I can feel sympathy for the characters, but, with a few exceptions, I can’t seem to bring myself to really care a great deal about all of this. I don’t feel wrenched, or even a vague sorrow, but as though I am merely abstractly noting that a person feels a certain way. The exceptions—Faye watching the Betamax tape from her youth, Ed leaving the Bebop after her prodigal father—may be due to similarities from my own experiences or even just thematic familiarity from previous stories I have read and watched.

Still, at the end of the day, any real issues I have with Cowboy Bebop are largely dependent on my own personal idiosyncrasies, symptomatic not of issues within the series itself but of individual aesthetics. I have scarcely a complaint with how the series tends to let the cast pinball around within the confines of an episode; the rest seems simply a mismatching of formal aesthetics. Everything is handled exactly the way Watanabe wants it to be handled, and it snaps together nicely, but the way Watanabe handles things and the way I make personal connections to stories just don’t jibe well, and it’s disingenuous to shift responsibility to the series because of that.

Nevertheless, it seems to be the dividing line between my reserved but high opinion of the series and the adulation and idolization that I sometimes see for the series. I can easily understand why someone might feel so fervently about the series to make it their favorite series, or even a benchmark series for quality anime, but I cannot feel it for myself. It is a conscious, knowing appreciation, and not a gut-level appreciation, and that, I fear, makes all the difference.

As a sort of last-minute parting shot, it’s also possible I find myself identifying more with the characters who accept the burden of their past and face the future, rather than those who are more a prisoner of their pasts. I also note, with some amusement, that the two major characters who resolve to face the future—Faye and Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV alias Françoise—are female, while Jet seems to remain in present-day stasis and Spike, well, BANGs. I can’t tell if this is an angle worth serious thematic exploration, or even if I’m qualified to tackle it, but it struck me as interesting.

A Brief Exploration Into Why We Watch What We Watch (maybe)

The Rule of Three is, unfortunately, compelling me to follow up on Pontifus’s post about the threefold methods of interpreting a text, and Cuchlann’s post about what a text actually is, leaving me to pick up the tattered scraps littering the workshop, and make some kind of reconstituted wood out of it all.

By dint of occupation and current educational focus, I tend to focus on what Pontifus elects to not talk about, the set of biases and prejudices which define a readers’ interactions with a given text. We bring these biases to everything we read (or watch), and whether or not we end up liking what we’ve read, the process of reading leaves its imprint on our biases; somewhere in the unconscious, where the foundations for taste lie, a new rule is defined, a corollary is added, a variable is shifted slightly. We can never fully know our own complex of biases, but we can see the pattern in what we like and dislike, and surmise from that. (I have no doubt that somewhere, someone is attempting to derive aesthetic calculus, though)

In my previous post, this complex produces originality when given a specific time-frame, where past experience gives the sense of something being familiar yet radically different; here, the same complex is the basis for taste itself. Most likely, the development of our individual tastes is fairly simple: whenever something deeply affects us, we begin to search out things similar to what affected us: the child who never missed a single episode of Robotech, for instance, as an adult is gleeful to discover not only Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and anime itself, but also anime similar to it. It’s a form of patterning: an imposition of order upon complex, chaotic streams of information by simplifying and generalizing until we have a concept that can be expressed.

Likely, you already understand that, at some level; however, what I want to touch on is the way this process, constantly iterated over the course of a lifetime, might work. Taking the above-mentioned Macross example, there are any number of different ways our hypothetical child might “pattern” the series. For example:

  • Large-scale space opera stories
  • Romance stories
  • Valkyries (or robots in general)
  • Idolization of Roy Focker, Maximillian Jenius, Lynn Minmay, Misa Hayase, Captain Global, Milia Falyna, etc.
  • Visual aesthetics (the early 80s style, Itano’s signature animation)
  • Writing style and pacing of storyline
  • Styles of music featured in series
  • Themes (love and music transcending intercultural barriers and warmongering)

I doubt this is an exhaustive list, and none of these aspects are mutually exclusive, although our hypothetical child will most likely perceive at least some of them as anathema to what they like, and may not even be able to consciously grasp others. It’s also likely that many of these will be converted into simplified tropes to ease the selection of similar things to watch or read (this has robots so I like it, that has a romance story so I don’t like it). The impact runs deeper than the superficial tropes, but at this early phase, only the most basic rules of thumb are likely to be of any use.

It’s at this point—where we have a basic but unarticulated internal aesthetic framework—that Pontifus’s interpretation methods likely come into play. When learning something new, there tends to be a “bottoming out”: faced with overwhelming amounts of conflicting information, individuals are forced to use compensating strategies to cope with the overload and attendant anxiety. Since we are learning about one’s own taste here, the three interpretive methods, arise from different implementations of various coping strategies:

  • The “focused” model, where the individual has a preferred meaning that does not preclude other meanings, derives from the decision to focus on a single set of elements. For whatever reason, the individual has determined that this particular set of elements produces, for them, the ideal form of enjoyment; perhaps they are keeping their options open for later explorations, but perhaps not. The interpretations produced, become increasingly specialized to the chosen set, and seen not as an absolute interpretation but as the interpretation they happen to have.
  • The “discerning” model, where the individual has a preferred meaning that does preclude other meanings, derives from a rejectionist stance: a single set of elements is chosen as the desired set, and other sets are dismissed as irrelevant. The interpretations produced are specialized to the chosen set, and seen as the definite, normative interpretation.
  • The “omnifan” model, where different interpretations co-exist and are considered relevant, likely comes from a very developed internal structure, where the individual has explored to some extent every element and understands the scope and limitations of their own tastes. The interpretations produced reflect the variety of directions from which the individual can understand any given work.

To, perhaps, simplify: the paths you elect to not explore have as much effect on your taste as the paths that you choose to explore; the manner in which you approach the selection of which paths to value can also affect the development of taste. None of these paths are ever ultimately wrong, as diversity necessitates the existence of things you actively despise; even when conflicting or mutually exclusive, each path serves to highlight the faults, strengths, and lacunae of other paths.

Finally, it’s important to note—especially given the obtuse nature of this concept—to remember that no single method operates exclusively: taste is, well, complicated, and people can easily be discerning and select anime as the only interest, thereby rejecting, say, television, film, and literature, but be omnifan within the confines of anime. These systems are also malleable over time: someone may initially put up a discerning stance, for instance, but soften it over time.

Also, one last note: this anime thing? Maybe I can, like, actually write something about it eventually! That way, someone might actually care about this whole ‘writing on the internets’ thing. I keep forgetting that there is anime I haven’t seen, that I have meant to see, but haven’t. :(

On Originality

In the continuing cycle of drama chain reactions, after reading Pontifus’s response to Martin’s post regarding K-ON!!, I discovered that somehow Pontifus has invaded my brain and sucked out some of my thoughts, like some kind of intellectual zombie. Pontifus discusses the presumptions underlying Martin’s uneasiness surrounding K-ON!!, which are very nuanced and laudable presumptions, but I shall cherry-pick the concept of “originality” and, in so doing, hopefully disjoint Martin himself from the free-floating concept of “originality” that I intend to blather nonsensically about here. As Pontifus has already done, probably. But at any rate: away with ye, spectre of Martin!

Pontifus mentions that we live in an era preceded by literary movements that prized originality and novelty above all others:

In the English-speaking world, at least, we’re riding in the wake of several literary movements which brought originality in vogue; the Romantics and high modernism come to mind. Even postmodern works, with their pastiches of cut-and-pasted elements, are expected to arrange these elements in refreshing ways.

Originality is often the most important value-measurement for nearly everyone I know for nearly any creative activity: execution, artistic value, intelligence, all the myriad ways in which one can qualify the enjoyment of any given work are somehow not enough to save that which falls short of the “originality” ideal from being consigned to second-class status. Not that this is, strictly speaking, a bad thing: I would be lying to you if I said that I never, ever prized originality above all else. However, I do feel as though the use and application of this originality judgment needs to be slightly and more formally nuanced.

This tendency to value the original is strongly embedded in our consciousness. Generally speaking, there is a set amount of difference—originality—that humans can comfortably handle: if we watch a series, for example, and find that there is too little new or original in it, we’re likely to find ourselves bored with the tedium of it all; conversely, if there is too much new or original in it, we’re likely to find ourselves confused and overwhelmed. Somewhere in between is the elusive balance of familiarity and originality, and perhaps the point where we are most likely to label something as “groundbreaking”, or at least “successfully original”: the original becomes all the more apparent immediately juxtaposed with the familiar in the same work.

When it comes to fiction, our perception of these levels of originality is highly relative: what is overwhelming and confusing for one person is tedious and humdrum for another, and for a third the same work will be revelatory in the possibilities it opens. In other words, narratives exist simultaneously as unoriginal, original, and too original at the same time, depending on past experience, taste, and other personal elements. The narratives one has read/watched in the past build up experience by which one can consider the originality of narratives one will read/watch in the future. There’s also a vague boundary line drawn around genre: as a longtime fan of science fiction and fantasy, I feel that I am able to make fair assessments of the originality relative to the genre; I have not read very many mystery novels, and even though I like them, I don’t feel comfortable assessing their originality relative to the mystery genre, although I am quite comfortable assessing their originality relative to me.

The question to ask, then, is: what is the purpose of the originality judgment? There is certainly plenty of merit to the “objective” judgment of originality; I can argue about subjective judgments until I’m blue in the face, but in all likelihood K-ON!! is much less daringly original than Tatami Galaxy. Such an objective judgment, though, shouldn’t necessarily preclude the subjective judgment of K-ON!! as the apex of originality, or Tatami Galaxy as dull, unoriginal tripe. Italo Calvino, in his excellent essay “Why Read the Classics?” (The Uses of Literature, 1986), lists fourteen seemingly contradictory definitions of “classics”. Calvino’s flexible definition, bringing the concept of a “classic” away from staid lists of the literary canon and towards a personal engagement with literature and fiction, certainly describes the importance and value of the subjective originality judgment far better than I ever could.

For, in the end, I feel, what becomes most important to each person is not that which is original in the objective sense, but that which is original in the subjective sense. Every time a work strikes us as original to any degree, even if, objectively speaking, it’s not, our taste expands and our perception of the world is changed. This, unfortunately, happens but infrequently, and this infrequency tends to skew our judgments and embitter our tastes. I think, perhaps, many of us already recognize this, and so, Dear Reader, I ask you this: if originality be such a rare beast, with wildly different results from objective and subjective viewpoints, why should the lack of it be apologized away, and stigmatized?

The Gap of Four Months, or: What I Have Been Doing

I have not posted in approximately four, maybe five, months. I have good reasons for this, depending on your definition of “good reasons”: the Grad School is a Timesink reason, the I Haven’t Watched Much Anime Lately reason, the I Am Probably Just Being Lazy reason, the Writing a Single Post is Five Hours of Grueling Blood Sweat & Tears and Not of the Musical Variety, &c. &c. &c.

Also, I haven’t actually watched many “fansubs” (and certainly not recent ones) lately, for which I would cite Support the Industry rhetoric like everyone else who did this, except I really can’t (and so therefore I will never win brownie points with this club of cool cats) but rather the fact that I have an ancient computer that can’t handle this newfangled h.264 HD nonsense and I got sick of episodes stuttering and desyncing the video and audio streams, and the fact that watching something in HD required about a half-hour prior to watching to make sure it was going to play decently, and occasionally watching my computer reboot itself in the middle of an episode (this was my favorite). Also I just don’t care about HD in general, although I will admit that I care a great deal more about HD than I care about the silly 3D movie gimmicks.

Of course, I’ve managed to squeeze in some things here and there, and those who have Other Methods of eStalking me no doubt know of some of these, but because I feel I ought to stick SOMETHING here eventually, here, then, is the Recap Episode for the past four to five months.

ANIME I HAVE WATCHED:

HERE IS A PICTURE OF A SUN CRASHING INTO A PLANET

Space Battleship Yamato, which I rather liked, despite it having a great deal of flaws common to 70s space opera-type things (the characters! I liked them but they were plot devices with emotions at times!), but this is also largely because I enjoy space opera-type things, flaws and all. It is not terribly hard to entertain me with space opera: some politics, some scientifically inaccurate explosions in space, some heroism, and I’m good.

Also, the series is incredibly serious and grim and depressing, except for the parts where Analyzer is flipping up Yuki Mori’s skirt, but eventually they made that serious and grim and depressing with an episode about how Analyzer can feel and love like a human, except he’s a robot who finds it amusing to expose the underwear of the alleged love of his life. I was going to write a post about some of the symbolism of it (and may yet, when I get a chance to watch season 2), but I am sure that anything I had to say on that matter has been done by A Professional.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF DUSTY ATTENBOROUGH IN A PIRATE OUTFIT

Part 3 of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, or Legend of the Galactic Prussian Pederasts, or Legend of the Galactic Drunkards for Democracy, take your pick and define your allegiance! Legend of the Galactic Heroes is considered one of the best things ever made in the history of anime, which is no small praise or feat.

I think it proper and pointed to mention here that I’m not entirely sure I believe that Legend of the Galactic Heroes is a 110-episode treatise on the amazingness of autocracy; while I haven’t seen Part 4 and considering that the Free Planets Alliance has been continually and gradually grinded down to nearly nothing, I think that Legend of the Galactic Heroes might be better viewed as a 110-episode treatise on the strengths and flaws of both autocratic and republican forms of government. Even if it is pro-autocracy (and it probably is), it poses some very important questions and quandaries for fans of democracy.

The only problem I really have with Legend of Galactic Heroes thus far is that, despite how likable all the characters are, I still think the majority of them exist simply to wax philosophic a lot, and to also demonstrate philosophy in action. Which is one of the selling points of the series, so I don’t actually mind but I can (and will!) grouse about it.

And speaking of characters: I have determined (hilariously so, if you have seen through Part 3 by now) that Yang Wenli is basically me, except in space, with blue hair, and with more of an alcohol problem. He is constantly in doubt! He does not hold many things to be unwaveringly true, except the idealistic beliefs he holds dearest (i.e. the Power of Democracy)! He is a historian! If I was made of money and awesome I would just go around dressed like Yang Wenli a lot, but I am not, and so I probably won’t. But I want his cravat.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF KATEROSE VON KREUZER BEING SHY

Also: Katerose von Kreuzer is awesome, and I am mad that the first time I started watching Part 3 I just barely made it past the part where she was introduced and did not manage to get to the part where she reveals how awesome she is. Maybe “awesome” is perhaps too early an adjective for her (I hear she is Important in Part 4 much more often), but at this point in time all I want to do is give her a hug, because she needs a hug, and if she and Julian don’t hook up before one of them dies I am going to be Angry on the Internet.

I would ask people not to spoil Part 4 too much for me but I am pretty sure that the narrator will do that anyway.

HERE IS A PICTURE OF THE DIRTY PAIR NOT WEARING A GREAT DEAL OF CLOTHING

Dirty Pair! It is a series about Yuri and Kei, the Lovely Angels a.k.a. the Dirty Pair, who basically do two things the entire series: one, not wear a lot of clothing (and what little clothing they do wear appears to be made of shiny plastic), and two, blow up more things than are strictly necessary to accomplish the objective that they have been assigned.

Other than “it’s a lot of fun” there is not much more to be added to that description, because it is what it is. It is, however, a classic of the girls-running-around-blowing-things-up genre, along with Gunsmith Cats and You’re Under Arrest, and currently has the distinction of being the only one of those three series I mentioned that I have actually seen any of right now! Also Yuri > Kei and you can’t disagree with me.

Also Nozomi Entertainment / TRSI has licensed the TV series, which is what I was watching and which is apparently the best Dirty Pair thing, so maybe you could buy it, sometime, if you feel like it? It’s n-not like they l-licensed it for y-you or anything!

HERE IS THE PICTURE OF SORA NO WOTO YOU HAVE SEEN A BAZILLION TIMES BEFORE

The only thing that was actually produced in this decade that I have seen this year (sadly I am not exaggerating much) is Sora no Woto, which might seem like an odd choice to some but it seemed like a good idea at the time (also I wasn’t sure I wanted to start something like Durarara!! or Aoi Bungaku or whatever series I meant to watch but didn’t, because I was afraid that they would prove too addictive or too HD to be able to watch.

The problem with Sora no Woto, as has likely been discussed elsewhere previous to this, is not that it is a bad series (I liked it alright) but a series that managed to not be good. I felt there were four or five very strong episodes in the series; the problem was that three of these were at the end, and one of them was in the middle. I also felt like it could have used less incontinence jokes (there was only one but did we really need to have it, especially since I have heard that watersports fans will get that in KissxSis most likely?)

MANGA I HAVE READ

I have been reading Please Save My Earth via Interlibrary Loan, and I have been liking it immensely. It’s extremely confusing at the beginning (as Saki Hiwatari wasn’t expecting it to catch on and run for longer than five or so volumes), especially when you’re trying to keep track of which character has been reincarnated into whom, which ones are lying about who they are, who some of the people related to the central seven are, what they do, and all the while trying to figure out what in the name of Hell is wrong with Shion and/or Rin, the latter of which was hilariously cute until he started trying to kill people.

I also read with interest the whole saga of Hiwatari receiving the letters from readers who were convinced that they, too, had been reincarnated from previous lives as aliens, and her shock that her fanbase couldn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality terribly well. It seems sort of prescient for certain trends sweeping an entirely different branch of the manga / anime universe than shoujo, in a way, and certainly illustrates the perceived “reality” of the worlds described in manga.

I felt like mentioning the ILL bit because doing it seems like I am Cheating at the above-mentioned Supporting the Industry bit, even though it seems that only volume one is out of print, and that this is pretty much what ILL is used for: acquiring material unavailable at your library. Note that I feel no qualm when I use ILL to get, say, a fiction novel I really wanted to read but didn’t want to go poke around used bookstores, or even brick and mortar not-used bookstores.

I’ve been reading other manga a bit, too (EDEN: It’s an endless world!, Swan, Black Jack, Kekkaishi) but I’m not terribly far in any of them and don’t have much to say other than Black Jack is awesome, because he performs surgery on a computer. Black Jack is apparently constructed of purest awesome, in much the same way that Pinoko’s The Wife is constructed of a teterogenous cystoma. (This somewhat terrifying fact does not make Pinoko any less hilarious or cute, bizarrely)

OTHER THINGS THAT MAY BE OF INTEREST

I recently (the other day, in fact) finished Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, since in a semester where I have to read thirty-two YA novels, and therefore have the habit of voracious reading imposed on me, it’s much easier for me to switch between different novels than it is to switch between novels and filmed entertainments. (Which is also why I have been doing way more reading this semester, beyond just the required texts: it is kind of hard for me to not read, which drives me nuts for the audiobook requirement). That sentence was mostly about things not relating to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and so this sentence will be more about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: it was really good, and really weird, and really long, and I really liked it, and I really say “really” a lot. I am a Murakami Heretic who likes After Dark, though, which made me point at it and say “This is why I like Japanese narratives!” when I read it last year, but I claim “second Murakami novel” read as my excuse, so take that purists!

Also of note for the approximately zero people who care, these others things I have read this year I have really liked:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (I can’t tell if it’s the translator’s fault for the pluralization of mangas in the translation, or Barbery’s fault in the original French, but it amused and annoyed me; also enjoy your Hikaru no Go reference);
Yellow Blue Tibia and Gradisil by Adam Roberts (the former is hilarious and the latter is like A History of the Zabi Family except not really, although it is about politics relating to new colonies; I do highly recommend both, and Adam Roberts in general);
The Third Policeman by Flann o’Brien (which is just plain-out weird; I mean, bicycle people! flat buildings! eternity down the street and to the left! time leaks!);
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (which I read for class and recently finished, but it has been one of the best books I have read for this class thus far; you do not see books narrated by Death very often, especially not a wryly humored Death, and Zusak does a stellar job with it).

I have still failed to read anything from VIZ’s Haika-Soru line yet (to bring things slightly more On Topic), though I will be reading Usurper of the Sun soon.

That seems to be it! That is a LOT of pointless reading of uninteresting and lack-of-depth comments and I certainly do not blame some of you for skimming! I am planning on getting some more post-writing done soon (if not TERRIBLY soon), especially since this semester is almost over and I can get back in the habit of doing that. I know I have been (mostly) quiet for, like, four months, and probably I am the only person who has been deeply disturbed by this. I would have posted more, had it not been for the fact that every post I sat down to write turned into the same post (which I am working on, slowly, mostly mentally, and sometimes at other people), and also the fact that I just haven’t been watching or reading many cultural products from Japan; I plan to catch up when I have time (i.e. break starts).

Maybe I should learn to turn my brain off sometime! That would be useful!

Secret Santa Project Review: The SoulTaker: Takin’ Souls, Cryin’ Blood

So after watching The SoulTaker for the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa project, I can honestly say that it was a much less painful experience than rumor had led me to believe; in fact I rather enjoyed it, or enjoyed the process of watching it, or something. Prior to actually watching The SoulTaker, the most I’d heard about the series ranged from “it’s terrible” to “it’s kind of alright” and the fact that Nakahara Komugi (of Nurse Witch Komugi-chan Magikarte infamy) was a spinoff of SoulTaker. This is not exactly the kind of buzz that is heartening to hear for a series, and so I’d filed the series off in the back of my head as “probably shouldn’t watch” which was exactly what it was until the Secret Santa project came around. Considering that my other two options for the event were Narutaru and Paranoia Agent and while I’ve seen half of the former (it’s no Bokurano manga, but neither was the Bokurano anime) and I intend fully to watch Paranoia Agent at some indeterminate point in the future (that mystical Shangri-la where I have Free Time in which I can read all I want and watch the anime I’ve meant to watch), I decided that SoulTaker would be the more adventurous option of the three, and the most in keeping with the spirit of the project.

“Adventurous” is, of course, a kind of understatement for SoulTaker. It is, after all, an early Akiyuki Shinbo series, and I am fairly sure that, out of the total of 325 minutes of the entire series, exactly seven of them were spent with what passed for “normal” lighting in SoulTaker. The rest of the series was occupied by screens that were mostly black, backgrounds that seemingly escaped from Frank Lloyd Wright Does Cathedral Windows, 45° camera angles, and lots and lots of dark colors. Lots of dark colors.

All the dark colors add to the paranoid atmosphere of SoulTaker, the story (?) of which is the prime driver of the paranoia in the series. I would, at this point, explain what sense I managed to piece together of the plot, except I don’t think it’s actually possible for me to put it in words, as the plot does not exist to make any sort of coherent sense. The generalities of the plot revolve around Kyosuke Date being betrayed by nearly everyone in the series at some point, punching people in SoulTaker mutant/alien form, and crying tears of blood. The point is: this series is paranoid to the max, as it starts out with Kyosuke getting stabbed in the heart by his mother and ends with Kyosuke killing his grandfather. You can call it allegory or you can call it bad writing, the plot is highly abstract and doesn’t cohese well into a sensible narrative; the characters are slightly less abstracted, but they still do not seem to function in the way characters normally do.

The only way I was able to even start to make sense of SoulTaker was through the old standby of the reality/fantasy binary: Kyosuke starts off the series with a strong desire to rescue and locate his sister, whom he loves,although all he ever has contact with are fragments of her personality (or “Flickers” in the parlance of the series). Most of the episodes involve Kyosuke meeting, dealing with, and eventually rejecting (or failing to attain) different fragments of his sister, until the end, where the machinations of other characters eventually re-integrate her personality and reconstruct her. Of course, his sister is both 1) young and innocent-looking and 2) sinister and deadly; long story short, she attempts to kill off the entire human race simply so that she and Kyosuke can have an idyllic existence as the Adam and Eve of a new race of hybrids. Kyosuke rejects this, and eventually “kills her so she can live” by absorbing her into himself before saving humanity.

I have no idea if that previous paragraph makes any kind of sense whatsoever, and I won’t be surprised if it doesn’t, but hopefully it’s not difficult to see the implication that fragments and outward manifestations of a person’s personality are easier to like but deceiving of the true nature of the dangerous personality behind them. A general reading is possible, but it’s hard not to see SoulTaker as a sort of cautionary tale for the modern otaku: even in 2001, the abstraction of character personalities and physical traits, familiar now to all, was well underway, and unease was already beginning to stir. Here we have fragments of a single idealized personality—likable, attractive, and often subtly sexualized on their own—that, when assembled, form a frightening and destructive whole that threatens humanity; here we have the otaku, pursuing the idealized personality suggested by the fragments, then confronted by and eventually assimilating the twisted reality of their ideal.

In the end, I can say with assurance that I liked watching SoulTaker, which is, to me, always the most important thing, and infinitely more important than concerns as to whether I liked a given work qua work, or whether or not I think a given work is good. In that regard, the Secret Santa project is, at least in this instance, a success.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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