Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Author: Karel Kerezman (page 2 of 362)

3WA 2017 #23: GATE

One of the “what if” scenarios that comes to mind occasionally is, “what if a fantasy-tropes-filled world met up with a modern military force?” Well, what if a former soldier tried their hand at writing such a clash?

What is it?

Its full title is translated (more or less) as Gate: Thus the Japanese Self-Defence Force Fought There! but generally you can just call it GATE. The story started out as a novel series, then branched out into manga and (for our purposes) 24 episodes of anime.

What kind of story is it?

A magical portal is opened into another world. A nation hungry for conquest pours through the portal and… gets their collective ass handed to them. This story is what happens afterward, when the JSDF builds an encampment on the other side of the portal through which invaders had previously come. Their goal is to prevent future invasions, mostly by trying to make lasting deals with whoever is in charge over there.

Oh, and along the way they face a gigantic dragon. Pretty cool, huh?

Our primary focus character is a guy who really just wants to enjoy his entertainments and work no harder than he must. A born slacker, really. Unfortunately for him, he’s the right guy in the right place at the right time and oh, by the way, he actually is quite competent when he gets to work. He is part of the expeditionary force investigating what’s on the other end of the magical gateway between worlds.

Now let’s be clear: This is an action-comedy, mostly. The premise is taken only as seriously as the story needs to.

Why do you like it?

GATE manages something rather tricky, this blend of fantasy-tropes setting and modern military workings. What’s more, it ekes a decent story out of the whole affair. Add in a bunch of entertaining characters and you’ve got yourself a good way to pass a few hours. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, and sometimes it’s a bit naughty.

Now, this looks harem-y but it’s not nearly as bad as this might make it look in that regard.

What might one not like about it?

It’s been argued that GATEĀ glorifies the military somewhat. I don’t think it goes too far in that direction; in fact, portraying most of the JSDF personnel as decent and competent is just plain building good role models, as far as I’m concerned. (I prefer this portrayal to, say, a bunch of “oo-rah!” honor-and-glory meatheads.) But now you are duly warned.

Also, Rory. Um. How can I put this? She… really enjoys mayhem. A lot. A… whole lot. In a deep and profound fashion. Ahem.

Attack Of The Nearly Thousand Years Old Gothi-Loli.

I mean, she’s a hoot most of the time, and a source (or at least instigator) of many of the show’s best funny moments. But. Hooboy. There are a few moments in the show where you may find yourself thinking, “Should I be watching this?”

Other thoughts about it?

One of the most interesting characters is not really one of the sort-of-haremettes latched onto our-hero-Itami, but rather the ridiculously-named Pina Co Lada, princess of the Empire which started this mess in the first place. When she’s not being distracted by the various people and products of Japan, she’s doing everything in her power to ensure peace… mainly because it takes her no time at all to realize that if the JSDF was serious about doing so, they could obliterate her homeland. I like her story arc quite a bit.

The way to Pina’s heart is through boys-love comics, apparently…

Where can I watch it?

It’s a relatively recent anime series so, luckily, GATE is on Crunchyroll for your convenience.

3WA 2017 #22: Kubo and the Two Strings

Sometimes you find yourself looking at a piece of art and marveling at the sheer amount of work it must have taken to craft such a result.

What is it?

Kubo and the Two Strings is a film by the Laika stop-motion animation studio.

What kind of story is it?

It’s a boy on a journey with a monkey and a beetle. Kind of.

Our protagonists, folks!

It’s a boy with a talent for a special kind of magic who is on the run from the, ah, unfriendly parts of his family. Kind of.

Rooney Mara… in STEREO.

It’s a boy who follows the expected narrative for the situation he’s in… until he doesn’t, and his solution is perfect. Totally.

Why do you like it?

Mostly because it’s so pretty. I mean, jaw-droppingly gorgeous. How can I turn away from a beautiful work of art that happens to also be witty and full of heart?

I keep finding myself so impressed with the visual ideas on display that I forget to be impressed that this is all done with stop-motion techniques. Laika should be proud of Kubo. It’s a supreme work of art, regardless of how well the story connects with viewers.

They turned intricate origami pieces into action elements. I can’t even imagine how much work that took.

What might one not like about it?

There are some odd and some vague elements to the story. One gets the feeling that the writers sort of threw more ideas at the movie than it actually needed.

This fight is one of the moments when the stop-motion nature of the work is most apparent.

Other thoughts about it?

One character in the movie is called Beetle and the end-credits song is a rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I see what you did there, movie.

If you’re thinking, “You don’t really have much to say about Kubo, do you?” I can’t blame you. It’s not that kind of movie, at least not to me. It occupies a similar space in my mind to something like Voices of a Distant Star or Aria, where it’s more about the overall effect and the level of art quality than it is about any complexity in the plotline or anything like that. Go into it expecting a feast for the eyes with a side order of drama and laughter. Your expectations should be well-calibrated, that way.

Where can I watch it?

Several of the popular streaming services have it available as a rental, or you could pick up the Blu-Ray. (It’s worth it.)

3WA 2017 #21: Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz

Before we begin, I just want to remind everyone that this project has never been about what is objectively good, merely about what has given me some measure of joy.

Because really, sometimes what you need is a ridiculous, hot mess of a way to waste a couple of hours.

Pictured: Two of the five Gundam pilots, all of whom follow a numeric naming scheme. IT’S THAT KIND OF SHOW.

What is it?

Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz is a three-episode OVA and a theatrical movie release, set after the events in the Gundam Wing anime series, none of which takes place in the same story universe as pretty much any other property with “Gundam” in the name. Gundam continuity can be a bit like, say, Doctor Who continuity in some ways…

What kind of story is it?


And I’m not just talking about the giant robot designs.

Oh, okay, fine. On the one-year anniversary of a hard-won peace throughout Earth and its colonies, a fanatical group of baddies wants to take over, and they start by kidnapping a high-level diplomat… who happens to be the erstwhile girlfriend of a giant-robot pilot. Only a team of oddball giant-robot pilots can save the day! But some of them chose to send their supposedly-unneeded giant robots into the sun! Hilarity ensues. And by “hilarity” I mean “bullets and missiles and energy beams.”

Why do you like it?

The Gundam Wing series, in dubbed form, aired on Cartoon Network back at the turn of the millennium. All things considered it’s not a terrible dub, and it is a kind of grand space-opera story. It is also, as noted, ridiculous. Everyone is so earnest! Differing sociopolitical views are debated from inside the cockpits of dueling giant robots! We’re expected to believe that Heero and Relena can ever manage to figure out what a functional relationship looks like! (No, seriously, that may be the most ridiculous thing about the show.)

Also ridiculous? Dekim Barton’s feathered hat.

Let me be clear, though: This entry is about the OVA/movie specifically. So I like it because it’s an easily digestible morsel of the Gundam Wing experience without having to slog through nearly 50 episodes of the anime series itself. Most of the oddball giant-robot pilots show up to do their thing, there are lots of scenes of stuff getting done blowed up, we get bits of backstory on the five Gundam pilots, and everything’s wrapped up in a tidy package at the end.

Also? While the Gundam boys are ostensibly the stars of the show, in Endless Waltz we see that the women get a lot of the important work done.

What might one not like about it?

It’s a giant robot show, obviously. Also it’s ridiculous. Of all the project entry subjects so far this year, this is the one where I won’t judge you for saying, “Ha ha, NOPE.”

Other thoughts about it?

Since it’s fairly short, I watched the movie version of Endless Waltz immediately prior to writing up this entry. I tried to imagine what it would be like for someone who’d never seen the preceding series to take in this viewing experience. Baffling, probably. If anyone tries it, please let me know how it goes for you.

Ah yes, the “everyone gathers around giant TV screens” trope.

I’m amused that at the end (er, spoilers!) the writers go out of their way to nix the possibility of returning to this storyline ever again.

Where can I watch it?

Oddly enough, CrunchyRoll offers it for streaming.

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.

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