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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Author: Karel Kerezman (page 1 of 360)

3WA 2017 #20: Samurai Champloo

Any time someone starts in on a list of all-time great anime, eventually someone brings up a particular show well-known for its genre-blending motif and musically-influenced styling.

This is the other really big show by the same director which meets that description.

What is it?

Samurai Champloo is a 26-episode anime series made in the early 2000s.

What kind of story is it?

It’s been called a lot of things, but I think it’s best described as a “three losers on a road trip.”

They may win a lot of fights, but they’re still losers, really.

Mind you, this road trip involves swordfights, historical figures, rampant anachronisms, philosophizing, and the occasional record scratch.

Why do you like it?

The swordplay impressed me right in the first episode; it’s genuinely brilliant in its choreography and depiction, and generally remains at a high quality throughout the series. The really clever hook, though, is right at the very start of the series. We’re given a setup: It’s the Edo period in Japan. Two men are sentenced to death. Then comes the expected flashback (complete with title card reading “One day earlier”) to how these men came to be in this situation… only, the time jump is to now, the modern day. A revised title card reads “One day earlier!” and the video… rewinds, like a VHS tape, back through a few hundred years.

It’s that kind of show.

You don’t have some kind of PROBLEM with that, do you?

Which isn’t to say that it beats the viewer over the head with anachronisms as a gimmick. They just show up here and there, treated as normal in this mixed-up version of not-really-history. Mugen’s breakdancing fighting style. Record-scratch scene cuts. A graffiti tagging contest. Things like that.

Much like its more famous predecessor, Samurai Champloo is a character study, an excuse to place unusual people into strange situations and try to make either entertainment or philosophy come out of the mix. Sometimes it’s quiet but it’s rarely dull.

What might one not like about it?

How allergic are you to hip-hop? I admit it’s not really my favorite musical style but I’m glad I let my general aversion slide for the sake of this show. It’s up to you, of course.

And then there’s Fuu. You may like her, or she might drive you away in frustration. YMMV.

While there’s technically an overarching story, don’t get too attached to the idea that you’re going to get a solid, satisfying conclusion. This one’s less “satisfying end to a grand arc” and more “things that make you go hmmm and also whaa?”

Other thoughts about it?

In a really weird way, the point of the series is kind of a found-family situation. (And we know I’m a big fan of that sort of thing, don’t we?) It’s not that Fuu-the-flighty, Jin-the-stoic, and Mugen-the-feral are particularly principled or deeply caring or anything like that. They’re brought together by circumstance, they survive adventures, and at the end they’ve bonded in an unusual way. Watching them interact is at least as much fun as watching the fights.

This makes me think of the line from Leverage: “One show only, no encores.”

Where can I watch it?

Thanks to the miracle of the Funimation/CrunchyRoll deal, you can stream the show to your heart’s content.

3WA 2017 #19: The Incredibles

One sure-fire way to start an argument on the Internet is to make a bold claim about what is The Best Of A Type Of Thing. I don’t want an argument but I am going to state that the best superhero movie ever made isn’t any of the various Batman films (Burton or Nolan), nor is it the first Avengers movie, not Unbreakable, not even the first Iron Man movie, let alone The Ir– well, let’s shelve that one for now. I’m saying that the best superhero movie ever made is…

What is it?

The Incredibles is a 3D-animated Pixar Studios feature film.

What kind of story is it?

What if you had superpowers, and the world didn’t want you to use them? How much of your identity and how much of your sense of self-worth is tied to those powers? What happens when a city is faced with a threat that can only be neutralized by the people with powers that have been shunned for years? All these questions (and more) are tackled along the way while the viewer is treated to a clever, funny, heartfelt, delightful joyride of adventure.

And then there’s this pint-sized scene-stealer.

Why do you like it?

For all that it’s a fantastical story about superpowered people fighting against superscience technology, at its heart The Incredibles is about family. The movie is at its strongest when it stops down to show the family members coming together, in big ways and in small moments, to relate to one another honestly and directly.

This could be your family. If, you know, each of you had a different superpower.

Also, it’s just plain fun! One moment in particular makes me laugh and grin every single time I see it: Dash, the young speedster, is running for his life and realizes that in his panic he has run out atop the surface of a lake. And he is able to treat the lake like any other running surface. He looks around, processes this new information, delivers the most evil little chuckle of all time… then redoubles his speed and is off like a shot.

Must love speedsters.

That pure joy, tinged with a wicked taste of the thrill of power, is a notable great moment in a movie full of great moments.

What might one not like about it?

To a certain extent, a big part of the plot’s interpersonal drama comes from an old standby: “If this character would simply tell that character the truth, we could avoid much stupidity and unpleasantness.” This trope does get old, especially in superhero storytelling. (Are you listening Barry Allen?)

There are giant robots. But not the kind of giant robots I usually write about!

Other thoughts about it?

There’s an oddly genre-savvy bit partway through. The kids are advised that the bad guys are not like in the stories, they will shoot to kill, so in order to stay alive they must use their powers to the fullest and do whatever it takes. Of course, part of what makes this odd is that we’re watching a cartoon story. Still, it’s one of the most “real” moments in the film. Wild, eh?

Where can I watch it?

You should really just buy it. Probably on Blu-Ray. I doubt it’ll cost too much.

 

3WA 2017 #18: Log Horizon

What if, instead of playing an MMORPG, you just watched a cartoon about being inside the world of an MMORPG…?

What is it?

Log Horizon is a two-season anime series which rather faithfully adapts the early installments of a series of light novels. One could consider it a show in the lineage of such trapped-inside-a-video-game fare as .hack//Sign.

What kind of story is it?

Imagine that, somehow, many thousands of players of the world’s biggest online game woke up one morning and found themselves in the world of the game. How do they react at first? (The answers range from “as well as could be expected” to “quite badly.”) How do they adjust, organize, adapt? Log Horizon follows a core group of characters and their friends (and acquaintances and key enemies) as they deal with their bizarre new circumstances.

Why do you like it?

The writing is smart about what it tries to explain away and what gets handwaved. This is a situation where explaining what has actually happened to these people would damage the viewer’s suspension of disbelief too much, so they focus on the effects. For instance, the player characters aren’t proportioned the same as the players’ physical bodies. (Does anyone who plays these games ever create a character who looks exactly like themselves? It seems unlikely.) So because Shiroe, our initial lead point-of-view character, isn’t the same height as his game avatar he ends up tripping over his own feet for a while.

The details can make or break a viewer’s immersion, and the show picks clever details to focus on.

Some elements of the game’s user interface remain available to the trapped denizens of Elder Tale.

This is also a bit of a found-family story, and boy howdy do I like a good one of those. Shiroe is pretty much on his own at first, by choice. The path from “loner trapped in a video game” to “running a small but prestigious guild” occupies most of the first series.

Log Horizon also finds an interesting way to utilize what are generally referred to as “NPCs,” the storekeepers and other background characters you find in roleplaying games.

Oh, and the characters are entertaining, and the jokes are often quite funny, and the adventuring is exciting. Since you asked.

Shown here: Akatsuki, shortly before asking Shiroe for permission to knee Naotsugu in the face.

What might one not like about it?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that non-gamers won’t get much out of this, but if you do play RPGs of any kind you’ll probably enjoy it more than folks who don’t.

There’s also the question of how you feel about cat-people. Consider yourself warned.

If it helps, Nyanta is a badass swashbuckler AND a great cook.

If you’re allergic to love-triangle plots… well, just try to ignore that aspect as best you can. (It may not be easy because this one is really unnecessary and a bit on the squicky side. I just… yeah. Sorry. At least it doesn’t come up too often…?)

Other thoughts about it?

One aspect of the show I want to point out is its dedication toward optimism and positive energy. Shiroe sees the “world” around him devolving into malaise and opportunism. He sees a similar malaise and defeatism inside his own mind. His solution to both problems involves raising the quality of life for everyone around him as best he can.

Of course, one must keep in mind that he’s referred to as “the villain in glasses” for good reason.

Look, if you meet a character with glasses in this show… just be wary, okay?

Where can I watch it?

Thankfully, I don’t have to send you searching for shiny platters when CrunchyRoll will let you stream Log Horizon right away.

3WA 2017 #17: Aria the Animation

Last week’s entry was a high-energy story. Let’s dial things down a bit this week. Okay, we’re dialing things down a lot. A whole lot.

What is it?

Aria the Animation is 13 episodes long, adding up to the first installment in a series of anime releases based on the Aria manga.

What kind of story is it?

On the face of it, this is the story of a young girl in training to be an “undine,” a kind of tour guide mixed with entertainer who serves as a gondolier in Neo Venezia, a replica of Venice on a now-terraformed planet Aqua, formerly known as Mars. And if that last part sounds all science-fiction-y and exciting to you, take a deep breath and let it out slowly. This will reset your excitement levels to something more appropriate for this viewing.

Two undines meet on the water. This is the drama level you can expect.

Let me put it another way. Aria the Animation is a sci-fi show the same way that The Seven Samurai is a movie about rice farming.

Really, this is just a group of girls learning their trade and growing into their new roles in life, interspersed with scenery and quiet interludes. It’s relaxing. It’s soothing. It’s heartwarming.

Go on, tell me you wouldn’t want to watch 13 episodes of these two being adorable.

Why do you like it?

Sometimes what you need is something calming and positive and quietly delightful. Aria is that, through and through. Also it’s quite pretty. (Keeping in mind that the first series is a bit dated by modern standards.)

Water and bridges and buildings. You see a lot of this in the show.

What might one not like about it?

The “president” of Aria Company is supposedly a cat. Maybe cats on Mars are different from our Terran variety.

The President has a seat at the table, of course.

I can imagine that people might find the show simply boring. You do need to be in the right mindset and I understand that this sort of thing is never going to be appealing to some folks. That’s fine. I won’t judge.

Other thoughts about it?

I regret not catching the later couple of series, especially the one released just a few years ago. I’ll have to remedy that some day. (I imagine it looks spectacular.)

Where can I watch it?

There’s no streaming that I can find at the time of this writing, so you’ll have to pick up the DVD set instead.

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.

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