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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

How I Spent My Summer (2017) Vacation

I didn’t think much of it at the time. “Hey, the Pacific Science Center has an exhibit about the Terracotta Warriors.” “Oh, that sounds neat.”

Some days later: “You need to put in for three days off in early August.” “Why’s that?” “Remember that exhibit I told you about?” “Ah. Neat!”

So last Wednesday morning, we departed by train for Seattle.

Looking north from the railroad bridge over the Willamette toward the lovely St Johns Bridge

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3WA 2017 #32: Grenadier

On the one hand, this week’s pick is utterly and patently ridiculous.

On the other hand, it is gloriously ridiculous.

What is it?

Grenadier is a 12-episode anime series based (with strong plot divergence, mind you) on a manga series.

What kind of story is it?

A ridiculously skilled gunslinger who aims to bring peace to the land meets up with a samurai who hates guns and those who use them. Adventures and hi-jinks ensue along the way to a final showdown against an evil mastermind.

They’re an odd couple, it’s true.

Oh, and the gunslinger reloads her revolver by bouncing bullets out of her cleavage. I’m not making this up.

Why do you like it?

I know what you’re thinking: “Boobs, hurr hurr.” No, that’s not it. Grenadier is a show with one good big idea and a lot of silly little ideas, and it’s fun to watch. Rushuna, our lead, has a big heart and is dedicated to bettering herself, with a goal of no longer needing to shoot people to make the world nicer and safer.

In the meantime, Rushuna will definitely shoot lots of people. But no killing!

The rest of the cast is entertaining and the action (while ridiculous) is fun as well.

What might one not like about it?

Yes, the show is centered on a nearly textbook instance of a “ditzy blonde.” Yes, the show portrays the laws of physics almost as rigorously as a classic Looney Tunes short. I can deny neither of these facts.

I also cannot deny the volume and quantity of boobs. This might be off-putting to you.

Other thoughts about it?

One particular fight between two pistol-wielders in this show owes its existence to the movie Equilibrium. And I mean that as a point in the show’s favor.

Maybe I’m biased but I think Setsuna is easier on the eyes than Christian Bale.

Where can I watch it?

Unfortunately, you’re stuck hunting down a DVD copy if you really want to take in this little slice of wackiness. Sorry about that!

3WA 2017 #31: How To Train Your Dragon

Of the tropes which feature heavily in the entertainment I enjoy most, such as “magical girls” and “superheroes” and “giant robots,” one particular important element has yet to appear during this project: Dragons.

Until now.

Now THAT is a heckuva dragon.

(No, Yona doesn’t really count: Her dragons are humans with magical blood in them. No, GATE doesn’t really count either: Only the one dragon and it’s purely an antagonist.)

What is it?

How To Train Your Dragon is, for our purposes, an animated feature film ever-so-loosely based upon a children’s book. It spawned sequels and specials and TV series. We’re sticking to the first movie (mostly) in this entry, however.

What kind of story is it?

It’s a lot of “the hero’s journey” blended with fantastical elements with a strong undercurrent of “can’t we all just get along.” Young Hiccup wants to prove his worth to his father and to the village of Berk in general. Because one particular attempt to do so goes spectacularly awry, he’s set on the path to greatness by way of solving Berk’s ongoing dragon problem.

Stoick is a Viking’s Viking. Hiccup… somewhat less so.

Why do you like it?

The writing is snappy, the story is engaging… but let’s be honest, mostly it’s the dragons. Everything else is just a bonus.

You know what they say: The way to a dragon’s heart is through its stomach.

Also, this movie features one of my favorite lines of sardonic dialog in all of cinema: “Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile.”

What might one not like about it?

Being structured as a hero’s journey plot, let alone a modern animated movie aimed at children, HTTYD is fairly predictable in trajectory. The surprises you’re in for aren’t of the “what happens next” variety.

These people seem quite surprised though.

Other thoughts about it?

At the risk of spoiling a wholly unsurprising plot point of barely-medium-level importance, the boy gets the girl in the end. But here’s something I like: In the second movie, they don’t reset the relationship and force the boy to re-get the girl. They’re a pair, the relationship is portrayed as “here are two people who like each other and have learned each other’s quirks,” and that is amazing. So many sequels want to reset the relationship from the last movie so they can recycle the relationship drama. That HTTYD2 doesn’t is just so damned refreshing. (Oh yeah, I recommend the second movie. It’s still a sequel, but it’s a fairly good one.)

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing, it’s available as a streaming rental from most of the usual suspects. You should just buy it on Blu-Ray though, really. Would I steer you wrong?

3WA 2017 #30: Interviews With Monster Girls

Every now and then a show comes along which looks like it’s going to be a heartwarming delight and turns out to be a salacious festival of naughtiness.

This one’s the other way ’round.

What is it?

Interviews With Monster Girls is a 13-episode anime based on an ongoing manga series.

What kind of story is it?

The stories about strange humanoid monsters are real! Well. Kind of. Some of them. A bit. Maybe not the way you expect. And one man wants more than anything else to know everything that he can learn about “demi-humans.” Lucky guy: Several of these “demis” show up at the school where he teaches! Hilarity ensues.

Pardon me miss, are you related to Ichabod Crane perchance?

Why do you like it?

The characters are each fun in their own way, and each achieves some kind of emotional growth over the course of the series. Interviews also plays with viewer expectations in some interesting ways. It being anime, there being cute girls, you assume naughty hi-jinks of some sort will take place. And yet, every time it looks like they’re going to take something in that direction, they find a way to “nope!” back away from it, usually in tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Trust me, it works better than I’m making it sound like it should.

The succubus is a teacher, thankfully, not a student.

Another fun aspect is that our demi-obsessed teacher tries to apply logic and reasoning to the myths and legends surrounding the “monsters,” such as what effect sunlight and garlic really have on the vampire girl, how much of the snow fairy’s scary reputation is based on confirmation bias, and so on. You can’t really take this as a serious exploration of the subject, of course. It’s just that this approach helps sell the teacher/student relationships as staying within the bounds of professionalism more than one would originally have expected from this kind of setup.

Creating ice… FOR SCIENCE!

What might one not like about it?

The jokes and dialog sometimes verge on the squicky. They usually avoid going too far, as noted above, but in order to achieve the “nope!” they have to veer toward the naughty enough to sell it. It’s an odd technique and your mileage, of course, may vary.

Other thoughts about it?

Om nom nom nom nom.

I’m not actually giving away what all makes this scene so laugh-out-loud funny. Trust me.

There’s an interesting little plot beat late in the show where someone in the school’s administration starts to ask, much as a viewer might, “Is this actually appropriate behavior for a teacher?” And it’s handled… remarkably well actually. It doesn’t turn the show dark, nor is it overly saccharine.

Where can I watch it?

Crunchyroll, here you go: Interviews With Monster Girls

3WA 2017 #29: My Neighbor Totoro

Sometimes what you need is a warm fuzzy. Well, they don’t get much fuzzier than this, do they?

What is it?

My Neighbor Totoro is an animated feature crafted by our old friend, Hayao Miyazaki. (Spoiler alert: This is the final Miyazaki film on this year’s list.)

What kind of story is it?

A family moves out to the countryside. While there, the young daughters meet magical creatures. Or do they?

It’s hard to tell which of these two is more startled.

Why do you like it?

Totoro is just a feel-good, warm-fuzzy, adorable work of art. The soot sprites are cute. The various Totoro creatures are cute, even the big occasionally-loud one. The catbus is a joy to behold.

I’m a grown up adult type person and I still want a ride in one of these. After a full dose of allergy meds, mind you.

Idyllic scenery and quiet pursuits pervade the film. It’s beautiful and soothing and delightful.

What might one not like about it?

To say that it’s leisurely in pace is to put it mildly, and there’s very little resembling high drama. For some, these are selling points. For others, maybe not so much.

Thrill as a family snacks on fresh vegetables!

Other thoughts about it?

Due to circumstances, the version I’m most familiar with is the Streamline dub. I’m not sure if I ever got around to checking out the later Disney dub. Funny, that.

Let’s be real: If you’ve paid attention to anime at all in your life then you’ve been exposed to iconic imagery from this film. While Castle of Cagliostro is a great adventure yarn and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind is my personal all-time favorite, Totoro is probably going to go down in history as Miyazaki’s most enduring classic. (Yes, even over Spirited Away.)

This scene alone has spawned more homages and parodies than I can count.

Where can I watch it?

No surprise, Disney considered, it’s not available for streaming so you’ll have to pick up a shiny-platter edition. Do it on the cheap if you must, but I recommend having a copy in your library. You never know when you’ll need something cozy like this to enjoy.

3WA 2017 #28: Girls und Panzer

The “sports anime” is a whole style and subgenre all its own, with reliable tropes galore. Take an underdog team, add a protagonist who is charged with bringing this team to some kind of victory, put this team through the proverbial wringer, and you have the makings of a sports anime. You will find this formula applied to the damnedest of activities…

What is it?

Girls und Panzer is a 12 episode anime series (if you don’t count two “recaps”, the follow-up OVA, the short “special episodes” on the DVD/Blu-Rays…) from the Winter 2012 season. It spawned various adaptations and follow-ups, and the property has been used to promote a tank-battle video game.

What kind of story is it?

A girl who thought she’d left tank-battling behind transfers to a new school and gets caught up in the tank-battling scene. Competitions, high morale, low morale, and succeeding despite the odds ensues.

Cheer up, girls! I’m sure you’ll win!

Even if you don’t watch much anime you’re probably familiar with the general arc of the plot. A group of plucky, oddball underdogs faces a series of competitive challenges, yadda yadda. The fact that it’s been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. It’s not the trope, it’s how the writers wrangle it, after all.

Why do you like it?

There’s this weird blend of the comfortable well-worn narrative tropes that you can relax into and the utterly bonkers idea that schoolgirls are engaging in competitive tank battles. I mean, seriously. This is one of the silliest show concepts in my list for the year, and remember that I’ve already written about Ouran High School Host Club and Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, and I haven’t yet gotten to Gr… er, never mind. Ahem.

Look. Either you see this picture and think “WTF, I MUST watch this show” or “WTF, NO.” No middle ground allowed.

I can’t help but cheer for the home team. They’re smart, they’re quirky, they’re motivated, and they’re cute. The tactical matches are reasonably well thought-out as well (at least to this layman’s eyes) so it’s intellectually engaging enough on that level to add to the entertainment value.

What might one not like about it?

Unless the very concept itself is off-putting, or maybe if an all-girl cast is a problem to you, there shouldn’t be too much to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities here. Maybe just a general “not my cup of tea,” I suppose.

And yes, you must suspend a lot of disbelief. This is anime, remember? Par for the course.

Other thoughts about it?

When a show is built around a young female character, often you end up with the “spunky but inept” archetype. They don’t quite go that route in this show, and in fact what we get is someone with competence but not confidence. Miho has a bit of a tragic backstory, at the risk of overstating the situation. Overcoming that while forging her tank crew into a cohesive fighting unit is the arc of her progress in the series. I find this interesting because usually it’s the male leads who have “something dark in their past” and so forth.

Miho, taking charge.

The worldbuilding is kind of ridiculous but also quite adorable. In an early episode, the girls drive a tank through town along residential streets, and folks lean out of their windows to “ooh” and “ahh” over the tank and to wish the girls luck, like this was nothing particularly unusual. You just have to kind of roll with it.

You will probably learn more than you ever wanted to know about various tanks, by the way. One of the selling points of the show was the realistic CGI tank models.

Where can I watch it?

Once again, Crunchyroll has your schoolgirl team competitive tank action on tap.

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