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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Author: Karel Kerezman (page 1 of 365)

Captain Marika on deck

Thanks to some shenanigans with online wishlists, I was spoiled about one of my holiday presents so the gifting individual decided to just give it to me early. So, hey, let’s do a quick onboxing!

The box is a bit dinged up, but the Nendoroid inside is intact and ready for assembly.

I adore the Mouretsu Pirates anime, as I have made clear during the weekly writing project. Once I found that they were making a Nendoroid figure for Kato Marika in her piracy outfit I knew that I was doomed to wind up entering the realm of anime-related figure ownership. I’d avoided this fate up until now (barring a couple of Funko Pops, but they don’t count). Welp. Here we are, now.

The Nendoroid comes with options. Which expression should Marika wear? What weapon should she wield, if any? I had decisions to make.

Admittedly, this is just a wee bit creepy.

I ended up going with the gun arm combo and leaving the hat on, and since she’s armed I gave her the “action” face as well. (There’s a bit of extra hair you can stick on her head if you eschew the hat, but if she’s packing heat then she should have her head covered.) Turns out that the back of her head has a lump of metal for the magnet on the base stand to click onto to keep her upright. It’s a neat little system, actually.

Let’s do some piracy!

The final result? I love it. It’s adorable and awesome. Thank you, Kyla!

3WA 2017 #49: Gunslinger Girl

Previously, we had girls-with-guns up against a secret organization bent on controlling them. What happens when the girls with guns already work for the secret organization?

What is it?

Gunslinger Girl is a 13-episode anime series based on the early volumes of the manga series of the same name. It is succeeded by a follow-up series by another studio with the title of Gunslinger Girl -Il Teatrino-. We’re focusing primarily on the first series here.

What kind of story is it?

In Noir, the fantastical element was the big shadowy secret society behind the plot shenanigans. In Gunslinger Girl, the fantastical element is that our young girls are brainwashed cyborgs. They don’t look it, of course. These cyborg shooters work for a secret arm of a branch of the Italian government, tasked with counter-terrorism activity. As a semi-realistic (keeping in mind, cyborgs) treatment of a grim topic like terrorism in the European theater, this isn’t entirely a cheery kind of show.

Claes is in training. She may be enhanced but she’s not field-ready at this point.

And yet. The actual focus is on the relationships between these cyborg girls themselves, as well as their relationships with their handlers, or “fratello.” (Big brothers, basically.) So you get a lot of “what does it mean to be human,” and how various parties deal with the fact that these girls, while useful, are both disposable tools of the state and doomed young mind-wiped children.

I’m painting a darker picture than the show warrants, perhaps, but it’s worth knowing all this going in. I usually like to leave a lot of details in these write-ups out so the new viewer can experience the joy of discovery. Since almost everything I wrote above is revealed in the first episode, though, I don’t feel like I’m taking anything away. This is a case of properly setting expectations.

Why do you like it?

Two aspects of this show appeal to me.

One, I like when a story takes one fantastical element (the sci-fi cyborg enhancements) and uses it to tell an otherwise matter-of-fact, grounded tale. You have cyborg assassins, what do you do with them when your job is to root out terrorists? Gunslinger Girl answers that question in a realistic enough fashion to be interesting and thought-provoking.

Two, a lot of the downtime between missions is spent exploring the ideas opened up by the cyborg enhancement concept. You’ve made these girls stronger, but the cost is that you have to keep them doped to the gills and worry about implant rejection and so on. There are other drugs used to ensure compliance, which of course raises a whole slew of ethical questions.

Not everyone takes to the supersoldier lifestyle. Take Rico, for instance.

So, yes. For what is ostensibly a girls-with-guns action show, it’s lighter on action overall than one might expect going in. I find it interesting, though.

What might one not like about it?

Did you come into this expecting an action extravaganza? Sorry. Less shooty, more talky. Still, by comparison to Noir, a whole lot less screen time is wasted with repetition and puttering around. By comparison.

The show starts you out with a jawdropping display of violence from Henrietta, so there’s that to look forward to.

Also, while there’s nothing overtly ooky on-screen about the fact that these young girls are emotionally bonded to adult men, there’s an inherent layer of ooky-ness about the whole thing.

Other thoughts about it?

I bought The Delgados’ album Hate thanks to the opening song to this series. I recommend against it.

The follow-up Gunslinger Girl series, Il Treatino, has… let’s call it “lackluster” visual production values and leave it at that. I couldn’t finish watching, though I’m told that it has a better-told story.

The follow-up series follows Triela here, who is arguably the best of the bunch.

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing both series are on Netflix, but I’ll point you to Crunchyroll anyway since they’re less prone to removing shows from their lineup.

3WA 2017 #48: Noir

Every so often a show comes along which resets an entire subgenre’s expectations. This week and next we’re going to tackle two of those in the same genre. Chronologically, even. While this isn’t my favorite subgenre, I can enjoy it if the right show comes along.

What is it?

Noir is a 26-episode anime from just after the turn of the millennium.

What kind of story is it?

It’s a Japanese take on a European-style spies-and-assassins tale, featuring young women as stone-cold killers.

I recommend laughing about Mireille’s last name (Bouquet) out of range of her hearing.

Why do you like it?

Noir’s strengths are its action, its style, its soundtrack, and the “unraveling the schemes of a secret organization” plot structure. Piece by piece, job by job, the protagonists work their way toward understanding who they work for and why. Along the way we’re treated to some exceptional fight choreography and animation work.

Third wheel or MVP? You decide.

Composer Yuki Kajiura wasn’t new to anime & video game work when this show came along, but it could be said that this is what really put her on the map. The soundtrack CDs are arguably a better purchase than the actual anime discs.

What might one not like about it?

While the music is of the highest quality, you will in fact get tired of a couple of the pieces because they get used at least once in every. Single. Episode. Usually to highlight a particular episode’s ever-so-slight progress toward uncovering the ongoing mystery behind “Les Soldats.” Oh yes, and the reveal of that mystery takes the bulk of the series, so be prepared to settle in for a lot of repetition with slight additional material, over and over.

(This music-and-animation re-use is a bit like the “transformation deck” in a magical-girl show: It’s a budget-saver. Even as high-end a production as Noir had to cut corners.)

And, let’s be clear, one of the primary characters is basically a blank slate. It’s the “highly capable amnesiac” trope, which if you want to gripe about that then you shouldn’t watch the Matt Damon Bourne movies either.

Not sure who’d win, Kirika or Bourne. I’m sure someone’s argued about this on the Internet somewhere though.

Other thoughts about it?

Lest you think I’m damning Noir with faint praise… you’re right. It is a classic in its own way but most of what I get out of the show is the inventive action sequences and a lot of great music.

It did signal the arrival of a brand of more-realistic “girls with guns” style of show, thus redefining an already poorly-defined subgenre. And it earns its place as a classic with some of the innovative action sequences.

It’s better to light a candle than to curse the grimdark.

Supposedly the two shows produced in sequence after Noir are part of an official “girls with guns” trilogy. I couldn’t really get into Madlax (despite the solid soundtrack) and didn’t even try El Cazador de la Bruja. If you finish this and are interested, well, by all means please feel free to try the others.

Where can I watch it?

There are a few options, Crunchyroll among them.

3WA 2017 #47: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

One of the core tenets of this project is that I’m presenting bits of animation that brought me joy and might do the same for you, but without any value judgements along the lines of “you must watch this because it’s an Important Classic.”

So I won’t come out and insist such a thing in this instance. Let’s just say that I’m thinking it very loudly.

Olivier Mira Armstrong wants YOU to aid in the defense of Amestris’ northern frontier!

What is it?

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is a 64-episode anime series depicting the events in the Fullmetal Alchemist manga, very nearly page-for-page. It is distinct from the previous anime series named Fullmetal Alchemist (no trailing colon-and-subtitle) which was started before the manga had fully developed and thus tells a very divergent story. (I still like it, but it’s… its own thing.)

What kind of story is it?

You might have seen the joke online which goes, “Alchemy. It’s all fun and games until someone raises an abomination and loses a limb.” FMA led to that joke.

Two boys with more knowledge than sense thought that the best solution to their grief was to resurrect their recently-deceased mother using arcane, and forbidden, techniques of alchemy. And then, as the saying goes, everything hit the fan. Now they have to help make it right, and possibly save humanity in the process. As one (pair of brothers) does.

You can tell this is from Brotherhood because they incremented the year. Nice touch, really.

Why do you like it?

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has it all. Humor, tragedy, action, vivid characters, twists and turns, dramatic reveals, and a storyline which seems bleak and grim at times but culminates in a triumphantly upbeat, positive result. The bad people get what’s coming, the good people achieve their goals. (The grey-area people get solid story arcs as well.)

Heck, I even like some of the theme songs, albeit not as much as I liked the ones from the first anime series… But anyway! Moving along!

Did I say vivid characters? Oh goodness yes, yes I did. Nearly everyone with a speaking line brings something interesting to the table. Most of the principal characters work well for heavy drama and for ridiculous comedy beats. While there is some fluff during the runtime, it doesn’t feel like the viewer’s time is being wasted. Sometimes you need a bit of fluff to offset the weighty parts.

What might one not like about it?

Remember that “bleak and grim at times” thing? It’s also occasionally gory. Bad stuff happens to people (and animals) in gruesome detail. Some of the imagery is grade-AAA nightmare fuel.

Ah yes, such a touching father-and-son moment…

Also, if the “shortie” jokes wear on you after a while, I understand.

Other thoughts about it?

I can almost hear some of you thinking, “If it’s so close to the manga why not just buy and read the manga?”

You’re welcome to do that. I even recommend it. I have done so, and I’ve re-read the manga more often than I’ve watched the anime… mainly because I can read much, much faster than I can watch. Here’s the thing, though: When I re-read the manga now, I have the anime to help me visualize what’s going on better.

Sounds weird, right? But I’ve always had a tough time following action in manga. I get that things are happening, I just can’t track what’s happening to whom, where, and how. This is why animation is my preferred storytelling medium. An animator can create the most unreal and outlandish worlds and characters and events, then show how they all interact in real time.

I have the same problem with novels. I only get the barest vague sense of what people and things and places look like when they’re described in text. I need the visual version of the story in order to build a frame of reference.

The previous series didn’t have this guy, either. More’s the pity.

 

And yes, I used four screencaps from a 64-episode series and you only get the backs of the brothers’ heads in one of them. The Elric boys are arguably two of the most recognizable characters in anime history, they don’t need my promotional assistance.

Where can I watch it?

As one of the all-time great anime stories, it’s usually available in a variety of locations but I’ll send you to Crunchyroll for your Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood streaming needs for now.

3WA 2017 #46: The Iron Giant

If you want to tilt your head and squint a bit, you could view this film as Vin Diesel earning a spot in the list of all-time great film portrayals of Superman.

(…I am a bad man. I know this.)

What is it?

The Iron Giant is a 1999 animated film based (somewhat loosely) on a book written in the late 1960s.

What kind of story is it?

It’s all about the kind of shenanigans a boy and his toy robot get up to in rural America during the age of the Red Scare.

I know what you’re thinking. Did I fire four plasma rounds or only three? Well, do ya feel lucky, punk?

Why do you like it?

You might laugh when I call a story about a giant alien robot a “down to earth” tale, and yet. The movie’s not really about the Giant, it’s about all the various reactions people have to the Giant. This is a fun and heartwarming experience, if you don’t count the part where you’ll bawl like a broken-hearted child.

Good thing Hogarth had Action Comics on hand instead of, say, Detective Comics.

Fair warning: You will bawl like a broken-hearted child at one point.

Also, this movie is gorgeous. Whatever one might think of the story or characters, visually it’s a feast.

What might one not like about it?

There’s some unsubtle political commentary going on, and several key characters are more like caricatures. It is a kids movie, ostensibly, but your mileage may vary.

I mean, there’s this jerk but you’re supposed to dislike this jerk.

Other thoughts about it?

The Iron Giant is another case of “good movie, bad marketing.” It deserved to make lots of money and get all the critical acclaim. I guess it’ll just have to settle for being a “cult classic” instead.

Dude just wanted to make sculpture. Instead he became an Internet meme. “It’s ART!”

Where can I watch it?

You can rent or buy it for streaming on several of the usual for-pay suspects (Amazon, Google Play, etc) or you can fork out for a shiny platter edition. Try it then buy it, is my recommendation.

3WA 2017 #45: Iria: Zeiram the Animation

Do you like the idea of bounty hunters in space but don’t want to commit to watching all of Cowboy Bebop? Well, this might suit your needs.

What is it?

Iria: Zeiram the Animation is a six-episode (roughly three hours long) story created as a direct-to-video prequel to a live-action movie.

What kind of story is it?

It’s your typical girl-meets-monster, monster-kills-nearly-everyone, girl-seeks-revenge-on-monster story, really. If you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all, am I right?

Zeiram can never rock a hat. In a way, his head IS his hat, though.

Why do you like it?

Part of Iria‘s appeal is that it’s straight-up sci-fi action fluff in a modest-sized format. It isn’t terribly deep and some things don’t make much sense if you stop to think about them, but it does have a plucky heroine shooting the heck out of monsters and there’s an interesting design aesthetic to the characters and the worlds they inhabit.

I mean, I’d like to visit that world some day. Minus the unstoppable killing-machine monsters, of course.

What might one not like about it?

The plot is not one of the show’s strong points. It’s not actually terrible, nor is it particularly strong. The plot’s function here is to get us from one set-piece to another.

Also, if you were hoping for a really strong female character, you might be somewhat disappointed. Iria is certainly capable and such, but her non-combat mode is basically “but what about my brother Gren?”

“Did you know that you’re my hero?”

Other thoughts about it?

My current copy is the oldest of the DVD releases, so I didn’t even bother trying to use it to source screencaps for this post. (Let’s be real: I only did that for a couple of posts all year long.) At one point, however, I used it to make a music video. (If you don’t want to have the ending spoiled, do not click that link.)

…yeah. That happened. Look, I was trying to learn video editing at the time. It was only my third attempt.

Late July of TWO THOUSAND TWO? Gods, I feel old now.

Anyway.

Speaking of music, I rather like some of the songs on the soundtrack. Again, like everything else about Iria, it’s not top-notch stuff but it’s solidly enjoyable.

I was going to write something about Kei, the spunky sidekick, the realized there’s not much to talk about. So.

Where can I watch it?

Nobody has it for streaming as of this writing, so shiny-platter version is your only recourse.  Look for the 2016 release, though. That seems to be the best of the bunch.

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