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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: August 2017

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 “daisuke.net” 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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3WA 2017 #32: Grenadier

On the one hand, this week’s pick is utterly and patently ridiculous.

On the other hand, it is gloriously ridiculous.

What is it?

Grenadier is a 12-episode anime series based (with strong plot divergence, mind you) on a manga series.

What kind of story is it?

A ridiculously skilled gunslinger who aims to bring peace to the land meets up with a samurai who hates guns and those who use them. Adventures and hi-jinks ensue along the way to a final showdown against an evil mastermind.

They’re an odd couple, it’s true.

Oh, and the gunslinger reloads her revolver by bouncing bullets out of her cleavage. I’m not making this up.

Why do you like it?

I know what you’re thinking: “Boobs, hurr hurr.” No, that’s not it. Grenadier is a show with one good big idea and a lot of silly little ideas, and it’s fun to watch. Rushuna, our lead, has a big heart and is dedicated to bettering herself, with a goal of no longer needing to shoot people to make the world nicer and safer.

In the meantime, Rushuna will definitely shoot lots of people. But no killing!

The rest of the cast is entertaining and the action (while ridiculous) is fun as well.

What might one not like about it?

Yes, the show is centered on a nearly textbook instance of a “ditzy blonde.” Yes, the show portrays the laws of physics almost as rigorously as a classic Looney Tunes short. I can deny neither of these facts.

I also cannot deny the volume and quantity of boobs. This might be off-putting to you.

Other thoughts about it?

One particular fight between two pistol-wielders in this show owes its existence to the movie Equilibrium. And I mean that as a point in the show’s favor.

Maybe I’m biased but I think Setsuna is easier on the eyes than Christian Bale.

Where can I watch it?

Unfortunately, you’re stuck hunting down a DVD copy if you really want to take in this little slice of wackiness. Sorry about that!

3WA 2017 #31: How To Train Your Dragon

Of the tropes which feature heavily in the entertainment I enjoy most, such as “magical girls” and “superheroes” and “giant robots,” one particular important element has yet to appear during this project: Dragons.

Until now.

Now THAT is a heckuva dragon.

(No, Yona doesn’t really count: Her dragons are humans with magical blood in them. No, GATE doesn’t really count either: Only the one dragon and it’s purely an antagonist.)

What is it?

How To Train Your Dragon is, for our purposes, an animated feature film ever-so-loosely based upon a children’s book. It spawned sequels and specials and TV series. We’re sticking to the first movie (mostly) in this entry, however.

What kind of story is it?

It’s a lot of “the hero’s journey” blended with fantastical elements with a strong undercurrent of “can’t we all just get along.” Young Hiccup wants to prove his worth to his father and to the village of Berk in general. Because one particular attempt to do so goes spectacularly awry, he’s set on the path to greatness by way of solving Berk’s ongoing dragon problem.

Stoick is a Viking’s Viking. Hiccup… somewhat less so.

Why do you like it?

The writing is snappy, the story is engaging… but let’s be honest, mostly it’s the dragons. Everything else is just a bonus.

You know what they say: The way to a dragon’s heart is through its stomach.

Also, this movie features one of my favorite lines of sardonic dialog in all of cinema: “Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile.”

What might one not like about it?

Being structured as a hero’s journey plot, let alone a modern animated movie aimed at children, HTTYD is fairly predictable in trajectory. The surprises you’re in for aren’t of the “what happens next” variety.

These people seem quite surprised though.

Other thoughts about it?

At the risk of spoiling a wholly unsurprising plot point of barely-medium-level importance, the boy gets the girl in the end. But here’s something I like: In the second movie, they don’t reset the relationship and force the boy to re-get the girl. They’re a pair, the relationship is portrayed as “here are two people who like each other and have learned each other’s quirks,” and that is amazing. So many sequels want to reset the relationship from the last movie so they can recycle the relationship drama. That HTTYD2 doesn’t is just so damned refreshing. (Oh yeah, I recommend the second movie. It’s still a sequel, but it’s a fairly good one.)

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing, it’s available as a streaming rental from most of the usual suspects. You should just buy it on Blu-Ray though, really. Would I steer you wrong?

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