Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

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3WA 2017 #36: Animaniacs

The heyday of the television variety show was already long past when an animation studio decided to try their hand at it in the mid 1990s. Thank goodness they did, though.

What is it?

Animaniacs is a Saturday-morning-type cartoon series which ran for not quite 100 episodes, and then a movie.

What kind of story is it?

It isn’t. It really, really isn’t. This is straight-up sketch comedy, marrying classic variety-show stylings to something not entirely unlike Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but entirely in animated form. We meet a dizzying (and sometimes ditzy) array of characters and laugh at them. Sometimes with them as well, but mostly at them.

Sure, it had a Wheel of Morality, but don’t worry. You weren’t expected to learn anything.

Why do you like it?

Animaniacs tried to have something for everyone: Slapstick cartoon violence, high-level wordplay, musical numbers, surrealistic romps, and so forth. Not all of it worked but much of it worked superbly well.

Slappy Squirrel, in a rare moment’s break from performing cartoon violence upon other characters.

It was also a masterclass in making kids’ cartoons work for the adults in the room. It got away with the “fingerprints” gag, for Pete’s sake! Obviously, the creators were a subversive force to be reckoned with.

What might one not like about it?

Many, many, many ideas made their way into the show. Not all of them work… characters like the Hip Hippos, among others.

Bernadette Peters sang her heart out for the Rita And Runt sketches, but… no. Just no.

The variety show template has the potential for misfires baked right into the concept. Also, it’s still a kids show. Your tolerance for such things is a factor I cannot judge on your behalf.

Other thoughts about it?

Yes! So many! Such as!

  • Some of my favorite bits are essentially running interstitial gags, such as “Good Idea, Bad Idea.”
  • Obviously, were it not for Animaniacs we’d not have Pinky and the Brain, and that would’ve been a loss for modern culture too great to calculate, even for Brain.

“What shall we do tonight, Brain?” “Try to break out into a spinoff show!”

  • At least one person on the creative staff was a big Marx Brothers fan, and I appreciate the heck out of that.
  • “United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru…” If I haven’t just earwormed you, then you need to go watch the show.
  • Before there were Marvel Cinematic Universe “credit cookies” segments, there were gag credits in Animaniacs. “If You’d Like A Transcript Of Today’s Program- Start Typing!”

I could go on, but won’t. I could, though.

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing Animaniacs is available on Netflix. Barring that, you can pay to stream it on Amazon, or buy the DVD boxed sets.

Red Sky In Morning, Shutterbugs Delight

The past few days have been terrible in many ways. Too hot, too much ash in the air, too much forest fire destruction. I took advantage of one fringe benefit of this late-summer situation, however: I took pictures.

Tuesday morning, getting off the MAX at the Hillsboro Airport stop, I was greeted with this view of the Sun trying to shine through layers of cloud and smoky haze:

And Wednesday morning gave me cause to quip to my coworkers later, “I didn’t know that ‘Portland’ was an anagram for ‘Mordor’, but Sauron’s Eye was quite prominent out toward the East.”

I’ll be glad when we return to fully breathable air, though.

3WA 2017 #35: Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

It’s a standard fantasy story setup: Wandering warrior with a complicated past gets stuck in a situation involving the child of royalty, danger appears on all sides, a ragtag misfit team is assembled to protect the child and save the land from a dire fate. When done well this makes for a solid storytelling structure.

But let’s flip two of the usual bits, shall we?

What is it?

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (originally Seirei no Moribito) started life as a fantasy novel, the first in a series. For our purposes, it’s a 26-episode anime production from about a decade ago.

What kind of story is it?

At its core, Moribito is a fantasy adventure story which takes place in a kind of analogue for historical Asia. That’s nothing new, of course, anime loves doing that sort of thing all the time. In this case the setting is used to build a tale of adventure, betrayal, noble sacrifice, and a bit of the fantastical.

Oh, and instead of a knight rescuing a princess, you have Balsa the spear-wielder rescuing Chagum the prince.

Neither of them asked to be stuck in this mess, but that’s the way things go sometimes.

Don’t worry, she’s plenty capable.

She was taught by this guy, who can best be described as a stone-cold badass.

Why do you like it?

The quality of storytelling is all I need to recommend this to you. Moribito isn’t a wacky comedy, nor is it a grimdark grind. It’s well-structured, full of interesting and compelling characters, and reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Also, there are some ridiculously good fight sequences.

What might one not like about it?

It’s not always a fast-paced action series, and while there are some stupendously well-animated fight scenes that’s not really what the story’s about. Set your expectations accordingly. Other than that, there isn’t much to object to here that I can see. Maybe you don’t like the “fantasy” parts of a fantasy adventure? That aspect is kept low-key most of the time, for what it’s worth.

Look, if you can’t get into the “traveling party of adventurers” thing, I can’t help you.

Other thoughts about it?

Not really, no. I know this sounds like a cop-out but seriously, this one isn’t that complicated.

Where can I watch it?

Turns out that Hulu is streaming Moribito, as of this writing. It’s also available for purchase on Amazon.

3WA 2017 #34: Cowboy Bebop

Look, I think we all knew that this was inevitable. I managed to put it off this long, at least.

What is it?

Cowboy Bebop is a 26-episode anime series from the late 1990s. It spawned a theatrical movie, some manga, and a cult following that makes Firefly fans seem quaint and relaxed by comparison.

Faye’s reenacting the reaction to the above statement if made at an anime or sci-fi convention.

What kind of story is it?

Some of my favorite story setups focus on the notion of “found family,” as we’ve discussed previously.

Bebop is not really one of those stories, but it’s kind of adjacent to that notion. These five weirdos (yes, I’m counting the dog) who don’t fit in anywhere else do, for a short time, kind of mesh and coexist and form a brief family-like unit.

Complete with the adults getting mad when the youngster pulls a prank.

It doesn’t last. It’s not that kind of show.

Bebop isn’t really a story (despite there being an overall arc centered on one of the characters and each other character getting their own complete arc) but rather an interwoven series of vignettes about some very broken people. It’s an experiment, also, in putting a dozen storytelling styles into a blender and setting the results to jazz music. The experiment works, mind you. Umpteen millions of anime fans can’t all be wrong about that, now can they?

Why do you like it?

It is a rip-roaring romp of a show for the most part. It’s experimental, it’s artsy, it’s active, it’s fun, it’s a feast for the eyes. And yes, the music helps.

I can’t resist pondering how “cool” as a concept is baked into the show’s structure. Seriously, it’s as if everyone involved in writing Cowboy Bebop had a checklist of “wouldn’t it be cool if ______?” and every single one of the items on those lists made it into the finished product. And most of them actually turned out to be cool. I mean, think about that: Usually when someone aims to make something “cool” it comes off as trying too hard, as contrived.

But not here. Here, it all ends up being really cool.

Look at this corgi. Even this corgi wearing a futuristic headset is cool.

What might one not like about it?

Perhaps you agree with Robert Plant’s exclamation in the obscure B-side track, “Oompa (Watery Bint)”: “To hell with jazz.”

Bebop is also kind of a downer, overall. Again: These characters are broken people, even the one who seems the most happy-go-lucky. This story doesn’t really end well for most of them, some more than others. (No spoilers beyond that, not even for a show from two decades ago.)

Other thoughts about it?

You might see it argued that the opening theme, “Tank!“, is the finest anime opening tune of all time. I grant you that it is striking and different and perfectly suited to this show, but… it’s its own thing. It’s so removed from anything else that comparing the piece to other shows’ theme songs just doesn’t make any sense.

Besides. It’s been proved through rigorous bracket-based debate that the greatest opening of all time is the opening to Macross Frontier. (The actual winner of that tournament and the others at the same tiers were all ending themes, you see.)

But I digress. Playfully, mind you, with tongue firmly in cheek. Put down those pitchforks and snuff those torches, y’all.

Anyway, Cowboy Bebop also features some really cool spaceship designs. So there.

Of course this is the spaceship piloted by a guy named Spike. Naturally.

Where can I watch it?

Hey look, Crunchyroll has Cowboy Bebop in their library.

3WA 2017 #33: Bottle Fairy

Sometimes you need something short and sweet. Or perhaps four really short things. Who live in bottles.

One questions the wisdom of adding magic to a firework as tall as you are.

What is it?

Bottle Fairy is a 13-episode anime series made up of half-length (12 minute) episodes.

What kind of story is it?

Such as it is, here we go: Four very small fairies (who live in… jars, really) adore their keeper, who they refer to as “Sensei-san,” and they regularly visit the not-actually-helpful next-door neighbor girl, Tama-chan.

The first thing the fairies should’ve learned is “don’t listen to Tama-chan,” but…

Each of the first twelve episodes is themed on a month of the year, with the 13th bonus episode being a special kind of thing all its own. The fairies try to learn about the world, and through their thorough misinterpretations we gain entertainment and the occasional bit of knowledge. But mostly entertainment.

Why do you like it?

This is a pure comedy series, but not in a sitcom vein. It’s like a short-form anime sketch comedy show. The Monty Python troupe, only in cartoon-girl form, as it were. It’s imaginative and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, though a lot of jokes rely on just enough knowledge of Japanese language and culture to help them land.

That “Sensei-san” stand-in is a real dummy…

Mind you, part of my fondness for the show derives from the time my daughter and I spent watching it when it came out. Hey, it’s a valid source of nostalgia value, right? Right.

What might one not like about it?

The humor is definitely culturally derived, there’s very little in the way of an overall plot, and the episodes are short. (I actually count that in Bottle Fairy‘s favor, but there you go.)

Other thoughts about it?

To this day, I still get a chuckle out of “o-bento-sensei-san.”

And “Narita divorce.” (Really, the entire “June bride-oh” episode.)

We’re never told why “Sensei-san” here is in possession of these fairies. Baffling, really.

Perhaps I’ve revealed too much.

Where can I watch it?

Given the impending demise of the “” experiment you’re pretty much stuck with picking up the DVDs, I’m afraid…

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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