Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: April 2017

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.

UPDATE: Crunchyroll has Aria the Animation now.

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.

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