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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

3WA 2017 #46: The Iron Giant

If you want to tilt your head and squint a bit, you could view this film as Vin Diesel earning a spot in the list of all-time great film portrayals of Superman.

(…I am a bad man. I know this.)

What is it?

The Iron Giant is a 1999 animated film based (somewhat loosely) on a book written in the late 1960s.

What kind of story is it?

It’s all about the kind of shenanigans a boy and his toy robot get up to in rural America during the age of the Red Scare.

I know what you’re thinking. Did I fire four plasma rounds or only three? Well, do ya feel lucky, punk?

Why do you like it?

You might laugh when I call a story about a giant alien robot a “down to earth” tale, and yet. The movie’s not really about the Giant, it’s about all the various reactions people have to the Giant. This is a fun and heartwarming experience, if you don’t count the part where you’ll bawl like a broken-hearted child.

Good thing Hogarth had Action Comics on hand instead of, say, Detective Comics.

Fair warning: You will bawl like a broken-hearted child at one point.

Also, this movie is gorgeous. Whatever one might think of the story or characters, visually it’s a feast.

What might one not like about it?

There’s some unsubtle political commentary going on, and several key characters are more like caricatures. It is a kids movie, ostensibly, but your mileage may vary.

I mean, there’s this jerk but you’re supposed to dislike this jerk.

Other thoughts about it?

The Iron Giant is another case of “good movie, bad marketing.” It deserved to make lots of money and get all the critical acclaim. I guess it’ll just have to settle for being a “cult classic” instead.

Dude just wanted to make sculpture. Instead he became an Internet meme. “It’s ART!”

Where can I watch it?

You can rent or buy it for streaming on several of the usual for-pay suspects (Amazon, Google Play, etc) or you can fork out for a shiny platter edition. Try it then buy it, is my recommendation.

3WA 2017 #45: Iria: Zeiram the Animation

Do you like the idea of bounty hunters in space but don’t want to commit to watching all of Cowboy Bebop? Well, this might suit your needs.

What is it?

Iria: Zeiram the Animation is a six-episode (roughly three hours long) story created as a direct-to-video prequel to a live-action movie.

What kind of story is it?

It’s your typical girl-meets-monster, monster-kills-nearly-everyone, girl-seeks-revenge-on-monster story, really. If you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all, am I right?

Zeiram can never rock a hat. In a way, his head IS his hat, though.

Why do you like it?

Part of Iria‘s appeal is that it’s straight-up sci-fi action fluff in a modest-sized format. It isn’t terribly deep and some things don’t make much sense if you stop to think about them, but it does have a plucky heroine shooting the heck out of monsters and there’s an interesting design aesthetic to the characters and the worlds they inhabit.

I mean, I’d like to visit that world some day. Minus the unstoppable killing-machine monsters, of course.

What might one not like about it?

The plot is not one of the show’s strong points. It’s not actually terrible, nor is it particularly strong. The plot’s function here is to get us from one set-piece to another.

Also, if you were hoping for a really strong female character, you might be somewhat disappointed. Iria is certainly capable and such, but her non-combat mode is basically “but what about my brother Gren?”

“Did you know that you’re my hero?”

Other thoughts about it?

My current copy is the oldest of the DVD releases, so I didn’t even bother trying to use it to source screencaps for this post. (Let’s be real: I only did that for a couple of posts all year long.) At one point, however, I used it to make a music video. (If you don’t want to have the ending spoiled, do not click that link.)

…yeah. That happened. Look, I was trying to learn video editing at the time. It was only my third attempt.

Late July of TWO THOUSAND TWO? Gods, I feel old now.

Anyway.

Speaking of music, I rather like some of the songs on the soundtrack. Again, like everything else about Iria, it’s not top-notch stuff but it’s solidly enjoyable.

I was going to write something about Kei, the spunky sidekick, the realized there’s not much to talk about. So.

Where can I watch it?

Nobody has it for streaming as of this writing, so shiny-platter version is your only recourse.  Look for the 2016 release, though. That seems to be the best of the bunch.

3WA 2017 #44: A Grand Day Out

But what if the Moon was made of cheese?

And what if it was inhabited by fussy robots?

What is it?

A Grand Day Out is the first of the Wallace & Gromit stop-motion animated shorts from Aardman Animations.

What kind of story is it?

A man and his dog build a rocket and travel to the moon in search of cheese.

All ready, just need to light the fuse and remember the crackers.

I mean sure, those stories are a dime a dozen, but trust me: This is the best of its kind.

Why do you like it?

This short film is entertainingly absurd, lands some solid jokes, and is a visual treat. What’s not to like? Also, this firmly establishes Gromit as one of the all-time great silent-partner, long-suffering-look-to-camera characters in all of film. Not bad for a lump of plasticine, am I right?

Lowered gravity, check. Lack of breathable air… well. Never mind that.

What might one not like about it?

The viewer is, yes, asked to suspend a lot of disbelief. All of it, in fact.

I figure these are the real backers of the Moon-cheese expedition.

Other thoughts about it?

I was torn between this one and the subsequent Wallace & Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers, and I decided to go with Grand Day because in a lot of ways it’s the more whimsical and adorable work. TWT is a masterpiece, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot going on and I think it helps to already be familiar with Wallace and Gromit’s style and setup going into it.

In other words, if you watch A Grand Day Out and are left wanting more, go watch The Wrong Trousers immediately. You won’t be sorry. After that you’re on your own; the remaining shorts (and the feature film) are more of the same, albeit kind of hit-or-miss for me.

Where can I watch it?

If you have Amazon Prime, you can queue up the “complete collection” of the shorts for streaming. (Thus, no Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which is the feature film.) Otherwise, I recommend tracking down a shiny platter version.

3WA 2017 #43: New Game!

It’s easy to dismiss a show without watching it. For starters, who has the time to watch everything? You need to apply basic standards as you go down that list of new shows every season. (Funny that I write this statement after having watched far more than my usual amount of first-episodes from the Fall 2017 anime season. That was a mistake.)

Later on, though, someone might recommend something that you specifically passed up when it aired, something that doesn’t seem like it’s in your ballpark at all. “Try it,” they say. “You’ll laugh, if nothing else.”

What is it?

New Game! (yes, the punctuation is integral to the name) started life as a “4-koma,” which you can kind of think of a bit (just a bit) like the format of comic strips in the newspapers, back when people still read those, geez I’m old. For our purposes it’s a twelve-episode anime series which first aired last year. There’s also a follow-up series named with an additional exclamation mark which… I will only touch upon briefly, later.

What kind of story is it?

A young girl fresh out of school lands her dream job: Working at the video game development company where her idol is employed. She joins the team which is working on the latest installment of a beloved fantasy game franchise. Comedic hi-jinks ensue, and yes they do manage to release the game at the end.

Our point-of-view character, more or less. She grows on you.

(Whoops, spoiler.)

Why do you like it?

It’s funny, it’s earnest, and the drama mostly comes from facing technical challenges and learning to interact better as a team rather than from pettiness or spite or people carrying an Idiot Ball for an episode. Which is to say, it’s already superior to most sitcoms I’ve been forced to watch over the years.

Umiko steals the show. At gunpoint, figuratively speaking. Far and away my favorite.

For the most part, these are great characters having fun and being entertaining. This show entered my viewing queue at a somewhat grim stretch in my year so far and it’s exactly the kind of fluffy feel-good laugh-out-loud nonsense that made my days just a bit better.

What might one not like about it?

For starters, Nene. I won’t mince words: I can’t stand her, even if she is Aoba’s best friend. Her keywords are whiny and petulant, though she does somewhat redeem herself as the show progresses. I had to basically tune her out whenever she showed up so I could continue watching the rest of the show without losing my ability to enjoy it at all.

For a follow-up, New Game! has a very weird attitude toward fanservice.

I could’ve used another screenshot but this isn’t really THAT kind of blog, now is it?

In a show where basically everything revolves around cute girls being harmlessly cute, every now and then the show’s producers apparently decided that they’d gone long enough without a detailed close-up of someone’s underwear, or a bathing scene, or what-have-you. Other than the running joke about the above-pictured Yagami sleeping under her desk in her underwear (which they do use to good comedic effect) I didn’t see the point and it felt kind of ooky on occasion. “Uh, this isn’t that kind of show?” I’d find myself thinking.

Let’s be clear: It’s not fanservice itself I take exception to, it’s that a lot of it doesn’t make any sense in this context. Tonal whiplash, you could say.

Other thoughts about it?

On the one hand, it’s an anime and a comedy and clearly you can’t take too seriously the idea that this all-women game development house is going to teach you a lot about the video game industry. And yet.

One of Aoba’s model assignments for the game under development. You get these bits of 3D CG from time to time to show the team’s progress.

Someone did just the right amount of homework to be able to weave in bits and pieces of lore that, even if not entirely accurate, feel enough like real-life parts of the job to lend the show far more verisimilitude that you really expect from a fluffy cute-girls-being-cute comedy.

(Of course, this being the Internet, the comments section of some episodes at Crunchyroll are replete with dudebros going, “Well that’s not how that works” and “Why didn’t they just [jargon dump]” and so on. Repeat to yourself it’s just a show…)

Oh yes, the second series. Well. If you get through the first and think, “Yes, I want more of this” and can stand even more Nene and the introduction of several more characters to the mix, then by all means carry forward to the two-exclamation-marks show. It fell a bit flat for me by comparison to the first, though, so consider yourself duly warned. I didn’t dislike it, but.

Where can I watch it?

Boot up your trusty workstation and log into Crunchroll to start on your New Game!

3WA 2017 #42: The Heroic Legend of Arslan

When filmmakers in the West adapt a popular long-running fantasy novel series, we get Game of Thrones. When an anime studio does it, we get something like the previously covered Moribito, or possibly something like… this.

What is it?

The Heroic Legend of Arslan is an anime series based on a long-running Japanese fantasy novel series. It’s not the first time that the novels have been adapted to animation, but it’s the more accessible and coherent rendition by far. The show aired one full (25 episodes long) season followed by an eight-episode “second season.”

What kind of story is it?

This is a grand, epic fantasy involving turmoil and betrayal at the highest levels of government across several kingdoms. The story centers on a young prince and his core group of companions as they survive the initial events, then try to restore order to their kingdom.

Oh, you wacky kids. You’re in for some big surprises, later!

Why do you like it?

Arslan is driven by two strong features: There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on, and most of the characters are vivid and distinctive. Even the evil jerks are interestingly and memorably evil. Come for the regicide, stay for the clash of personalities.

Evil bastard? Yes. Delightful to watch? Also yes.

There’s also a found-family quality to the show. Arslan, the prince, starts out with a lone, oath-sworn retainer and has to find allies as best he can. What he ends up with is a bunch of highly talented smartasses who are intensely loyal.

What might one not like about it?

It’s a bit on the melodramatic side. Your clue is right there in the name: Heroic. Legend. One gets the feeling that this shouldn’t be taken at face value. You’re seeing the visualization of a story told well after the fact, by a master storyteller who isn’t afraid to embellish some details to heighten the entertainment levels. I don’t count that as a negative but your mileage may vary.

Most of the “fanservice” comes in the form of Farangis, here demonstrating the “boobs and butts” pose. While on horseback, mind you.

Other thoughts about it?

I’m hoping they manage to eke out another season, preferably several, but when the second “season” only clocks in at eight episodes long, you get the feeling that the money may have run dry. Maybe they’ll start translating the novels…

This needs a “Now, kiss” thought bubble over Arslan’s head, am I right?

Where can I watch it?

Originally streamed on Funimation, the deal between that company and Crunchyroll resulted in the subtitled version showing up on the latter. Enjoy!

3WA 2017 #41: RWBY

There’s going to be some similarity between this post and its predecessor. They start with the same letter of the alphabet, there’s a lot of martial-arts-like fighting involved, and the reason you’ll probably give up on it after a while is because of a dude.

What is it?

RWBY is an ongoing computer-animated series from the creative minds over at Rooster Teeth, previously best known for their “machinima” output like Red Vs Blue. It first drew attention for its promotional character-specific music videos featuring the late Monty Oum’s deliriously over-the-top anime-style fight choreography. As of this writing RWBY is heading into its fifth season.

What kind of story is it?

On the surface, it’s a bunch of kids who are attending a training academy for overpowered wannabe-heroic types. Behind that, it’s a layer-cake of political shenanigans and evil plots and power plays that the kids stumble into. Things start out moderately messy and over the course of the seasons they really go to hell in a handbasket.

If I make a “Grimm-dark” joke here, is someone going to smack me?

Why do you like it?

Two elements of RWBY are nigh-irresistible to me: Superpowered heroines doing crazy stuff to save the world, and fun characters bouncing witticisms off one another. At its best, the show blends both of these to delightful effect.

Also, there’s some interesting worldbuilding going on. What and why are the “grimm”? Who’s really pulling whose strings? The writing, at least in the first few seasons, is strong enough at that level to keep me intrigued beyond the superficial “fun-train” aspects.

It helps to have delightfully wicked villains.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s a kick-ass soundtrack. I love almost all of the season theme songs, never mind the character pieces from the promotional videos. Jeff Williams and his daughter Casey Lee Williams are, I firmly believe, a significant factor in why RWBY gained as much popularity as it enjoys today.

What might one not like about it?

Especially early on, one can tell how this isn’t the product of a high-end animation-production shop with a huge budget. You have to forgive a lot. This isn’t The Incredibles by any stretch of imagination. It’s done with commodity software by a small team using local talent to the best effect they can.

One might also find themselves unable to handle the voice acting and/or writing. I… can’t really blame you. The cast has grown on me but I wholly understand why folks bail on the show after an episode or two.

And then, even if you really dig what’s going on and become attached to the core group of four superpowered girls, there comes a point where you realize something is… changing.

Jaune, pictured with the rest of Team JNPR, who are all much, much, cooler than him.

The guy who starts out as the whiny-but-well-meaning sidekick suddenly ends up as a central figure in a show which is named for four characters who aren’t him. And this is where I find myself thinking, “Am I going to stay with this? Will Season 5 be my last, or will they figure it out and refocus on the actual RWBY team members?” Time will tell, I suppose.

Other thoughts about it?

Just… search YouTube for “rwby food fight”. Even if you watch nothing else from this entire show, watch that.

Justice will be swift! Justice will be painful! It will be delicious!

Thank you for that, Monty Oum.

Where can I watch it?

I watch RWBY on Crunchyroll, though there are other options (like Rooster Teeth’s own site, and it was on Netflix for a while).

 

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