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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

3WA 2017 #16: Castle of Cagliostro

Sometimes you just want a silly adventure movie with a clear villain, a damsel in need of rescuing, a wacky bunch of heroes, and a flagrant disregard for the laws of physics.

I wasn’t kidding about the “clear villain” part. Just look at this guy.

What is it?

Castle of Cagliostro is Hayao Miyazaki’s directorial debut feature film, working with (and somewhat altering) characters created by a manga artist who goes by the name of Monkey Punch.

What kind of story is it?

Were I to sum it up in a word? Madcap.

Oh, that Lupin. Such a charmer.

It’s kind of a caper flick, in that our erstwhile hero is a world-(in)famous thief named Lupin III. Wits are matched, ridiculous schemes are hatched, other schemes are laid bare, and bullets only strike bodies when the plot needs them to. It’s absurd, and I love it dearly.

Why do you like it?

Cagliostro is such a pure adventure fable. The bad guys get what’s coming to them, witty dialog abounds, action beats are breathtaking and wild, and so on, and so on. It’s not “turn off your brain” action movie fluff, because your brain is needed to appreciate the clever writing and filmmaking on display here.

Also, check out the lovely scenery.

What might one not like about it?

The movie isn’t all that subtle, and it seems to actively hate the laws of physics.

It doesn’t LOOK like a car that can drive up a sheer cliff diagonally, does it?

Other thoughts about it?

Based on this movie, from time to time I tried to get into other Lupin III shows. Somehow, this is the one that works for me. Given that Monkey Punch himself has said that this is indeed a good movie but “his” Lupin would have done things… differently… I guess I’m okay with this being “my” Lupin.

One needs merely to look at Clarisse to see the template for Miyazaki’s heroine character designs for many years to come.

Where can I watch it?

You’ll want to pick this up on Blu-Ray. It should be less than twenty bucks to grab the “Collector’s Edition,” and it’s money well spent.

Would Ya Lookit That

In preparation for a particular event coming next month, a bit of shopping was in order. My old camera, the one which served the Quacked Panes effort so well, has gotten too cantankerous and difficult to deal with. (Mapping & blacking out the increasing number of “hot pixels” is a serious chore.) So… we went out and picked up a modest but nifty little point-and-shoot camera. It isn’t as professional and fancy as the old Pentax but it does a decent job. I mean, look at this:

Handheld, no digital zoom, taken while standing just outside the office building.

I’ve never taken that good a shot of the Moon before today. And I haven’t even dialed in the feature settings, that’s just on full “auto.” Hey, how about a nice early morning shot of some public transit hardware?

Yep, I was just another camera geek standing on a MAX platform.

Yeah. This’ll do nicely.

3WA 2017 #15: Creature Comforts

It’s been a rough week and it’s about time for another non-anime pick, so let’s go with something short and sweet and very different.

What is it?

Creature Comforts is a short film, about five minutes long, created by Aardman Animation. It spawned a short series of follow-up television commercials and then a series, but to my mind when I think of this title I think of the short which started it all.

“The zoos are very important to animals…”

What kind of story is it?

It’s five minutes long, there isn’t really a story. It’s just a series of interview clips. The audio is from interviews of actual people talking about their living conditions, among other things. The animators mapped those interview segments onto zoo animals with amusing results.

“We don’t like potatoes, we like MEAT.”

Why do you like it?

I like the clever way that the Aardman team took audio clips that weren’t intended to be funny and made them funny through visual context. Also, there’s a lot of visual detail to take in, never mind the way they managed to breathe life into lumps of plasticine.

“And yes, you get bored.”

What might one not like about it?

…maybe you were traumatized by a Gumby And Pokey short when you were younger? I don’t know. Anyway, stop-motion animation is cool, dammit. Yes, cooler than bow ties.

Other thoughts about it?

Watching this short film takes me back to the early 1990s when I hung out at Cinema 21 a lot. Any time there was an animation festival feature, I was there at least once. (I also saw several imported anime films at that theater… for better or worse.)

Where can I watch it?

There’s a Creature Comforts DVD release which includes a few other shorts… but not any of the Wallace & Gromit shorts, sadly.

Or… well, let’s see how long this link works.

3WA 2017 #14: Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki

I recently tackled one of my all-time favorite films, so how about this week we go after one of my all-time favorite… original-video-animation series type things. This one’s tricky because the show’s name is attached to a variety of semi-related things, most of which I… actually don’t like very much.

Yeah, strap in, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

But first, please bask in the combined adorableness of a cabbit and a princess.

What is it?

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki is a series of OVAs which started in the early 1990s, spawned various spinoff shows/movies/OVAs, was picked back up again in 2003, then again a few years ago.

And basically I recommend that you don’t watch more than the two original early-90s installments. I can’t stop you from exploring more of the Tenchi-verse; I’m sure as hell not going to encourage you to do so.

What kind of story is it?

A laid-back boy living a quiet schoolkid lifestyle meets a very unusual girl. And a very unusual girl. And a very unusual girl. And– you get the idea. Yes, let’s get this out of the way right here: Tenchi Muyo! is generally accepted as the genre-defining entry in the “harem anime” genre. It wasn’t the first of its kind but it did codify and popularize the “clueless boy, lots of girls, hijinks ensue” style.

Let’s start over.

A laid-back boy who doesn’t at first know that he’s the child of outer-space royalty awakens a slumbering space pirate (and her sentient shape-shifting spaceship), is descended upon by a jealous space princess (and her kid sister), and has a space policewoman land in his lap. Comedic hijinks ensue until the last couple episodes of each OVA, when plot kicks in and our titular hero goes from mousy to badass, at least for a little while.

Yep, Tenchi just took a level in Badass.

Why do you like it?

If you’ve learned nothing else about me during this project, you know I have a thing for heroines. Yes, occasionally Tenchi has to step up and space-sword some baddies but mostly it’s the women who carry the day here. And what a fun bunch of characters! Ryoko, who’s brash and desperate to be taken seriously but is naive and vulnerable at times. Aeka, the high-and-mighty princess who isn’t prepared for what she finds upon her arrival at Planet Earth. Mihoshi, the… ditz. Okay, I’ll be honest, I don’t really like Mihoshi. Anyway! There’s also Aeka’s kid sister, Sasami, who’s adorable and probably the most level-headed person in the cast.

It’s fun just to watch these characters play off of one another, and then it’s fun to watch them face the bad guys a couple of times.

Did I forget to mention Washu? I should mention Washu. Washu is a delight.

The show is also rather inventive. Sentient space trees! Secret goddesses! An entire galactic empire that we only barely glimpse! It’s not quite like anything else seen before.

What’s more, when the Emperor Jurai (Aeka and Sasami’s dad) shows up, it’s with both of his wives… which hints that instead of an interminable unresolved-love-triangle mess, in the future Tenchi might simply settle down with Ryoko and Aeka. That’s a win/win, little mousy dude. Canon polyamory for the hell-yeah.

What might one not like about it?

Other than the whole “harem” thing? There’s the fact that Tenchi is (as befits the lead male in the prototypical harem show) kind of a blank slate of a character. I don’t think he’s as useless & spineless as some people give him crap for. I think he spends a lot of his time just trying to cope with all the otherworldly weird stuff being dropped on his head. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

Also, try not to think too much about the Jurai royal family’s attitude toward intermarrying. Or intramarrying, as it may be. Sigh.

Other thoughts about it?

The difficulty in writing about Tenchi Muyo! mostly comes down to setting aside the rose-colored nostalgia glasses and getting down to what really appeals about the show, and I think that still comes down to the fun interplay between the characters. The comedy stems naturally from each character’s attitude and worldview. It’s not over-the-top. But since this was such a formative show in my early anime-viewing years, it’s hard to separate “what is objectively good about it” from “what gave me joy back in the 1990s when I was much younger and new to all of this.” Maybe that’s not really possible, at least for me.

In the end, it’s a show about a guy who wants to just live a quiet life, farming carrots for his little fuzzy friend (who happens to be a spaceship) and keep the women in his life from fighting one another too much. What more could a guy want, really?

It’s a rough life, dude.

I almost forgot: There is a third OVA. I didn’t like it. Supposedly they’re releasing a fourth set of OVA episodes as well. Since I didn’t like the third I don’t see the point in checking out the fourth. I also didn’t really care for the Tenchi TV series, and never watched GXP, and so on.

Maybe this makes me a curmudgeon. I can live with that.

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing, you’re probably best served by scaring up a copy of the DVD box of the first two OVAs.

3WA 2017 #13: Stellvia

This is one of the first anime I entered on the list when I started preparing for this writing project. So, why did I wait so long? It’s… complicated.

What is it?

Stellvia is a 26-episode anime series directed by Tetsuo Sato, who also helmed the much more recent Mourestu Pirates series. It, too, takes place in space and centers on a group of schoolkids. The similarities… kind of stop there, I think. Well, there is a lot of CGI for the space ships themselves. Fair enough.

Remember what early-2000s CGI looked like? Yeah.

What kind of story is it?

Years ago, something huge and terrible happened in the space around our solar system. Now, schoolkids must save the planet!

These schoolkids are taking classes on a space station, and it’s all as part of preparation for defending the Earth from an oncoming catastrophe. That’s right, there’s another something huge and terrible on its way, and this time it’ll utterly destroy our home planet… unless humanity can stop it. And we have a plan!

You start out with interpersonal drama played out while that grand scheme is in the background as the overall goal, then you move that grand scheme into the foreground as the kids find themselves closer to the front lines than they might originally have expected. And while this is mostly a fluffy and upbeat show, sometimes it goes all-out on some of the darker aspects of what living in a “do or die” situation with fierce competition for key roles in the plan can do to people.

Some schoolkids are nicer than others.

Mostly the show is about hope and unity. Think of the kind of unrelentingly upbeat mentality it would take in order to organize all of humanity to prevent a global catastrophe. What kind of people would that produce? What does it do to the younger generations? What does that do to the way humanity organizes itself, and how it shapes the training?

Why do you like it?

This is a big-idea, big-cast, Sci-Fi adventure drama. There’s a lot going on, from the fun interpersonal shenanigans to the bigger picture world-building concepts. The stakes are high and instead of doing the “a small rag-tag team of misfits saves the world” routine, they give the entire human race a role to play.

I mean, of course our rag-tag team of misfits take some of the most crucial bits of the plan to fruition, don’t get me wrong. But it’s only accomplished with the support of all of planet Earth and its space stations.

That’s kind of a neat angle, don’t you think?

What might one not like about it?

There are various things that one could find mildly off-putting, but let’s address the biggest, loudest elephant in the room: Our primary point-of-view character, Shima, is prone to whining, moping, and generally being a wet blanket. This is especially true as the pressures of the plot intensify. She’s not always terrible! She lapses into being a whiny lump quite a few times, though. The show succeeds in spite of her, in some ways, rather than because of her.

Shima, in “determined to succeed” mode.

Oh, and there’s a giant robot. Well. Not really. It’s a humanoid-shaped vehicle, but it’s not really a robot. Really. Kind of. Look, just deal with it, whatever it is.

Other thoughts about it?

This show’s kind of weird in that it’s intensely optimistic yet simultaneously very realistic about how humanity kind of goes to pieces under certain circumstances. There’s some interesting writing and world-building here.

One of the dramatic arcs in the show is a weird kind of romance/rivalry. Shima is (on a good day) one of the best (of the best of the best, sir!) but then there’s Kouta. He’s just kind of quietly competent… supremely competent. The relationship between the two, especially toward the end, gets very interesting (even though it fuels a lot of Shima’s whiny fits).

He just doesn’t SEEM all that clever, does he?

On a musical note (ha ha): We can kind of thank Stellvia for greatly boosting the career of the band Angela, who are responsible for opening, closing, and insert songs over the course of the series.

Where can I watch it?

This is the bad news, and why I kind of dreaded the write-up for this: Basically, hunt down the DVDs if you can. The company which held the licensing, Geneon, folded not long after Stellvia came out and the state of licensing for a lot of shows went into limbo. No Blu-Ray, no streaming, no nothin’. Sorry!

3WA 2017 #12: Yona of the Dawn

I’m bending my mental guidelines a bit on this one. Since it’s been a rough couple of weeks, however, I’m choosing to just say “to heck with it” and put this one up anyway, even though it’s not really a completed story. (Mind you, there’s no guarantee there will be any more seasons produced so maybe it is “done” and we just don’t know it yet.)

What is it?

Yona of the Dawn (originally/alternatively: Akatsuki no Yona) comprises 24 aired episodes and a handful of additional (albeit generally unavailable) special additional episodes. It is based on a manga series that is being translated & released for the U.S. market.

What kind of story is it?

Love, betrayal, tragedy, revenge, and a lot of silly overpowered guys following a princess around the countryside.

Never forget who’s in charge, boys.

But seriously, it’s a feudal-era action/adventure story centered on a red-headed princess who’s forcibly ejected from her comfortable palace life and must find purpose on her own. Along the way she sort of collects a group of useful men. Most of these men are total dorks.

Okay, all of them. Even the generally pragmatic healer/scholar.

Why do you like it?

You want action? Yona has amazing action. You want comedy? Yona gathers a group of ridiculous characters and then finds hilarious ways to bounce them off one another. You want romance? Yona… kind of toys with the idea a bit, but it’s complicated. (You’ll see.)

And it all centers on a wonderfully complex leading character.

If the princess looks at you like this? Grovel, or run. Fast.

I mean, I love the dork troupe and all, but without Yona herself it would all fall apart. Her journey from helpless, useless baggage to a leader and warrior is well told. She has one helluva hole to crawl out of, emotionally speaking, and it doesn’t go smoothly all the time.

And then there’s the primary antagonist.

Yep, that’s the “villain shot” from the opening sequence.

Yeah, he’s kind of terrible but he’s not… entirely… all that evil? It’s complicated, and I don’t mean in that kind of “he’s a villain but maybe he can be saved” kind of way. Su Won has reasons, and plans, and ideals of his own. We spend part of the series getting a glimpse into his goals and values. This just makes everything a fair bit more interesting. You may not end up rooting for him but you get to understand him somewhat, at least. I like the way his part of the story is handled.

What might one not like about it?

If the term “reverse harem” makes you break out in hives, you’ll probably want to give Yona a pass. That term hardly does this story justice, mind you, but let’s not mince words, eh?

Other thoughts about it?

I like the way that the introduction at the very beginning of the series primes the viewer for the gathering of the band of warriors without really giving away much about how it happens and what it really means. The show eventually kind of loops back around to the cliffside gathering at the end.

Now that? That’s one hell of a team pose.

You start with that visual, then cut to a time before everything goes horribly awry. It’s a neat hook.

Where can I watch it?

Crunchyroll is the place to watch Yona of the Dawn.

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