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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

3WA 2017 #29: My Neighbor Totoro

Sometimes what you need is a warm fuzzy. Well, they don’t get much fuzzier than this, do they?

What is it?

My Neighbor Totoro is an animated feature crafted by our old friend, Hayao Miyazaki. (Spoiler alert: This is the final Miyazaki film on this year’s list.)

What kind of story is it?

A family moves out to the countryside. While there, the young daughters meet magical creatures. Or do they?

It’s hard to tell which of these two is more startled.

Why do you like it?

Totoro is just a feel-good, warm-fuzzy, adorable work of art. The soot sprites are cute. The various Totoro creatures are cute, even the big occasionally-loud one. The catbus is a joy to behold.

I’m a grown up adult type person and I still want a ride in one of these. After a full dose of allergy meds, mind you.

Idyllic scenery and quiet pursuits pervade the film. It’s beautiful and soothing and delightful.

What might one not like about it?

To say that it’s leisurely in pace is to put it mildly, and there’s very little resembling high drama. For some, these are selling points. For others, maybe not so much.

Thrill as a family snacks on fresh vegetables!

Other thoughts about it?

Due to circumstances, the version I’m most familiar with is the Streamline dub. I’m not sure if I ever got around to checking out the later Disney dub. Funny, that.

Let’s be real: If you’ve paid attention to anime at all in your life then you’ve been exposed to iconic imagery from this film. While Castle of Cagliostro is a great adventure yarn and Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind is my personal all-time favorite, Totoro is probably going to go down in history as Miyazaki’s most enduring classic. (Yes, even over Spirited Away.)

This scene alone has spawned more homages and parodies than I can count.

Where can I watch it?

No surprise, Disney considered, it’s not available for streaming so you’ll have to pick up a shiny-platter edition. Do it on the cheap if you must, but I recommend having a copy in your library. You never know when you’ll need something cozy like this to enjoy.

3WA 2017 #28: Girls und Panzer

The “sports anime” is a whole style and subgenre all its own, with reliable tropes galore. Take an underdog team, add a protagonist who is charged with bringing this team to some kind of victory, put this team through the proverbial wringer, and you have the makings of a sports anime. You will find this formula applied to the damnedest of activities…

What is it?

Girls und Panzer is a 12 episode anime series (if you don’t count two “recaps”, the follow-up OVA, the short “special episodes” on the DVD/Blu-Rays…) from the Winter 2012 season. It spawned various adaptations and follow-ups, and the property has been used to promote a tank-battle video game.

What kind of story is it?

A girl who thought she’d left tank-battling behind transfers to a new school and gets caught up in the tank-battling scene. Competitions, high morale, low morale, and succeeding despite the odds ensues.

Cheer up, girls! I’m sure you’ll win!

Even if you don’t watch much anime you’re probably familiar with the general arc of the plot. A group of plucky, oddball underdogs faces a series of competitive challenges, yadda yadda. The fact that it’s been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. It’s not the trope, it’s how the writers wrangle it, after all.

Why do you like it?

There’s this weird blend of the comfortable well-worn narrative tropes that you can relax into and the utterly bonkers idea that schoolgirls are engaging in competitive tank battles. I mean, seriously. This is one of the silliest show concepts in my list for the year, and remember that I’ve already written about Ouran High School Host Club and Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz, and I haven’t yet gotten to Gr… er, never mind. Ahem.

Look. Either you see this picture and think “WTF, I MUST watch this show” or “WTF, NO.” No middle ground allowed.

I can’t help but cheer for the home team. They’re smart, they’re quirky, they’re motivated, and they’re cute. The tactical matches are reasonably well thought-out as well (at least to this layman’s eyes) so it’s intellectually engaging enough on that level to add to the entertainment value.

What might one not like about it?

Unless the very concept itself is off-putting, or maybe if an all-girl cast is a problem to you, there shouldn’t be too much to offend anyone’s delicate sensibilities here. Maybe just a general “not my cup of tea,” I suppose.

And yes, you must suspend a lot of disbelief. This is anime, remember? Par for the course.

Other thoughts about it?

When a show is built around a young female character, often you end up with the “spunky but inept” archetype. They don’t quite go that route in this show, and in fact what we get is someone with competence but not confidence. Miho has a bit of a tragic backstory, at the risk of overstating the situation. Overcoming that while forging her tank crew into a cohesive fighting unit is the arc of her progress in the series. I find this interesting because usually it’s the male leads who have “something dark in their past” and so forth.

Miho, taking charge.

The worldbuilding is kind of ridiculous but also quite adorable. In an early episode, the girls drive a tank through town along residential streets, and folks lean out of their windows to “ooh” and “ahh” over the tank and to wish the girls luck, like this was nothing particularly unusual. You just have to kind of roll with it.

You will probably learn more than you ever wanted to know about various tanks, by the way. One of the selling points of the show was the realistic CGI tank models.

Where can I watch it?

Once again, Crunchyroll has your schoolgirl team competitive tank action on tap.

3WA 2017 #27: Blast of Tempest

If there’s one thing anime loves to do, it’s to cram two ideas together at particle-accelerator speeds to see what kind of shiny explosion results. This week’s selection crams two related things together, then crams the resulting mass into yet more things.

What is it?

Blast of Tempest is a 24-episode anime based on a manga series.

What kind of story is it?

It’s kind of… Hamlet meets The Tempest. Meets vague Biblical references. Meets a magical action combat show.

It’s kind of… an out-for-revenge plot meets a murder mystery meets some kids trying to prevent the end of the world.

Even this guy wants to save the world. Just, maybe not everybody IN it…

It’s quite a thing.

Why do you like it?

This show is action combat fluff with great characters and some clever ideas. Everything else is just gravy at that point. I’m not saying that any of the characters are role models or particularly nice. I don’t want to hang out with them, I certainly don’t want to emulate them, but I like watching them interact with one another and blow stuff up.

You will never be as cool as Evangeline Yamamoto. Just accept that fact.

Also, people quote Hamlet from time to time. They got me right in my weak spot, there.

What might one not like about it?

Unlike my usual preferred fare, Blast of Tempest is a bit on the grimdark side. Bad things happen to good people. Heck, the plot largely pivots on a mysterious dead girl’s circumstances.

This is disturbing, yes, but not as disturbing as the plot-centered dead girl. Trust me.

Other thoughts about it?

I’m a bit slow. Despite “tempest” right there in the name, despite the Hamlet quotes, I didn’t really put together what was going on until reading up on the show later.

Yes, even despite the “powerful wizard trapped on an island” thing. I was distracted! Yeah, that’s the ticket…

Where can I watch it?

Gods, I hope CrunchyRoll never goes out of business, or I’ll have to edit so many entries in this feature. In the meantime, have some streaming Blast of Tempest.

3WA 2017 #26: Daria

Cartoon sitcoms about dysfunctional households with wacky characters come and go in the American television landscape. Unless it’s The Simpsons, which apparently will air new seasons until the heat death of the cosmos. Anyway. Here’s a show where the laughs are still good but the soundtrack is broken.

What is it?

Daria is a sitcom-style cartoon which ran for five 13-episode seasons (and two “movies”) on MTV, oddly enough.

What kind of story is it?

The title character and her family move to a new town, which means attending a new school. Hilarity ensues, especially when sarcasm is deployed. There’s even some character growth, can you believe it?

Yes, even the obnoxious sibling gets SOME character development.

Why do you like it?

This one’s mostly for the laughs, with a side order of astute social commentary plus a dash of satire. It’s snarky through and through. Characters bounce off of one another in continually-entertaining fashion.

A portrait of the artist and her doofy brother.

One could say that Daria makes looking back on the high school years much, much more entertaining than actually looking back on real high school memories could ever be.

What might one not like about it?

It is (mostly) a high school sitcom. Look, I normally hate sitcoms so I understand if anyone wants to sit this one out.

There’s also the slight matter of the generic musical cues. See, when the show originally aired on MTV, they could just sprinkle in snippets of various hit songs airing at the time. Nobody considered that there might be any pesky issues such as “securing rights for distribution.” Who would want DVDs of a silly cartoon, anyway? Ahem. So, all later syndication and the eventual DVD release had to replace the musical cues with off-the-shelf stock material. Most of the time it’s not noticeable, but every now and then the results are a bit weird.

Maybe you won’t notice because you didn’t watch it first-run with the original musical bits, though. Who knows?

Star-crossed nitwits, the jock and his cheerleader.

And then we have to talk about the relationship drama. Midway into the fourth season and continuing through the rest of the show’s run, Daria ends up embroiled in a boyfriend-drama situation. While this does give rise to some of the best moments in the show, in general it’s kind of… meh. You’ve been warned.

Other thoughts about it?

While the setting of the show and the antics of its characters are dialed up a bit from normal reality, one thing that’s firmly grounded about Daria is its thoroughgoing cynicism. The shallow-and-pretty people end up winning. Nobody gets a happily-ever-after. Authority figures are usually selfish jerks. And so forth.

Weirdly enough, that’s part of the show’s appeal. That, and the “Sick Sad World” bumpers. Gotta love those.

“Are fish using our oceans as their own private toilets?! On the next… Sick Sad World.”

Where can I watch it?

Services like iTunes, Amazon Video, and Google Play have it available for streaming for a modest fee, or you can buy the DVD boxed set.

3WA 2017 #25: Snow White with the Red Hair

So far I’ve made a point of changing things up from week to week. I now find myself writing about my third medieval-type fantasy story setting in a row, however…

What is it?

Snow White with the Red Hair is a 24-episode (or so) anime series based on a manga.

What kind of story is it?

You know how it goes: Boy meets girl. Boy makes incredibly offensive and inappropriate overture to girl. Girl runs away from home and leaves the country to avoid boy. Girl meets new boy. Boy howdy are they a match, or what?

This guy. Can he make an entrance, or can he?

What follows is an adorable slow-burn mating dance between the girl who wants to be an herbalist and the boy who wants to take charge of his own future as a head of state.

Why do you like it?

This is another one of those shows where you just can’t help but root for the protagonists. They’re such earnest and good people! The two leads are adorable, the surrounding characters are marvelous, and it’s just warm fuzzies all ’round. Much like with Mouretsu Pirates, the drama is present but not gloomy. You know things are mostly going to work out okay. There’s very little grimdark about this story.

Shirayuki in a nutshell: Hope, wonder, and determination.

Zen, the prince, and Shirayuki, the herbalist-in-training, are at their best when they have a job to do. When a situation arises where their skillsets can directly complement one another’s, things get done. When they need help they have some of the most capable allies on hand to get things even more done.

What might one not like about it?

Yes, this is another low-stakes light-and-cheery affair. Those craving deep meaning and bloody conflicts and dire consequences will need to seek elsewhere.

In a grimmer, darker show, this guy would’ve been sliced up for fish bait instead of given a redemption arc.

Snow White isn’t the highest-budget production you’ll ever see. They use cost-saving measures quite a bit, and you’ll notice. Heck, even I noticed, and I’m not good at spotting such things. For instance: There are some… unfortunate… scenes of people on horseback. I may have exclaimed something to the effect of “horses don’t work that way” on occasion.

Other thoughts about it?

The show does interesting things with one of its heroes and its initial villain. Both of them are, in their own way, enthralled with Shirayuki. (This could have been a “reverse harem” situation if only a few things were changed.) I like how these relationships are handled; in both cases they become fully aware that they don’t really stand a chance against Prince Zen, and it’s just… not an issue, past a certain point.

Two dashing and loyal retainers. And… Obi.

Where can I watch it?

This is another case where Funimation hasn’t handed over the files to Crunchyroll yet, so it’s still available for streaming on Funi’s service.

3WA 2017 #24: Scrapped Princess

What must it be like to grow up as the focus of a prophecy, especially when that prophecy boils down to, “This person will end the world”?

What is it?

Scrapped Princess is a 24-episode series that aired in 2003. It’s based on a light novel series.

What kind of story is it?

The title refers to a fifteen-year-old girl who is typical in many ways, but absolutely unique in one particular aspect: Everyone believes that she’s the “poison who will destroy the world” when she reaches her sixteenth birthday. Her adoptive siblings, among a few others, decide to keep her alive regardless.

Guess which one’s adopted.

Figuring out what’s going on, what the prophecy means, and who’s on whose side, is the meat of the story.

Why do you like it?

This is a quality story, and somewhat unlike most other things I’ve seen. It’s not “groundbreaking” or anything like that. Rather, it takes pieces and tropes that we’ve seen before and assembles them in just a slightly different way. The end result is something remarkable. Scrapped Princess ends up just a bit greater than the sum of its well-crafted parts. One fun aspect of the story is that very early on you start to realize that what you think you’re watching isn’t… exactly… what you’re actually watching.

Take Zefiris, here. Explaining this blush would require giving away nearly all the plot twists at once.

Also, it’s a good mix of comedy, action, creative world-building, philosophy, and personal drama.

This may seem weird but this is one rare case where having everything happen to the title character instead of having that character directly drive the plot kind of makes sense. She’s a normal girl in most ways; it’s her one special (and unwanted) aspect that draws all the powerful factions into conflict.

What might one not like about it?

Pacifica is a fifteen-year-old girl, and is among the most well-rounded & realistic & basically-normal examples of such a creature ever animated in Japan. And if you’re wondering why I made that statement under this section heading… well. Re-read the statement and enlightenment should dawn.

Then there’s the teenaged BOY. Hello, Leo. Sigh.

The big world-building reveals may or may not work for you. I found the whole thing an interestingly constructed concept. I can see how it might seem too outlandish, though.

Musical tastes vary, of course. I, for one, utterly despise the opening theme song and… don’t really like the end credits song that much either. Oh well.

Other thoughts about it?

I’m amused by the not-quite-allegory of some of the naming. Much like Gundam Wing derived its character names from numbers for no apparent reason, Scrapped Princess assigns most key characters names derived from… weapon manufacturers. There may indeed be a point but it’s too opaque for my feeble brain. Thanks to this show I now know the existence of the Česká Zbrojovka firearm manufacturer. Not terribly useful information, perhaps, but there you go.

And thanks to CZ here (the one on the right) I named a dual-pistols Blaster in City of Heroes, “CZ Rider.”

Where can I watch it?

Since it hasn’t been shunted over to Crunchyroll yet (in the Funi/CR deal) you can still catch it over at Funimation’s streaming site as of this writing.

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