Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: June 2017

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.

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 GATE 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.)

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