Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: September 2017

3WA 2017 #39: Mai-HiME

This one’s been on the list all along. I waited until now to do its write-up not because it’s particularly bad or embarrassing, but because it’s a tough one to actually recommend. The criteria for the list, however, has always been “what has brought me joy?” And while this one can be a bit grim… I still adore the damned thing. For some reason(s).

Pictured: One key reason.

How’s that for an intro?

What is it?

Mai-HiME is a 26-episode anime series. It’s more than a decade old now, and while it spawned a manga spinoff and a sequel series even more absurd than the original, for the most part it’s a standalone story.

What kind of story is it?

The extremely brief elevator pitch could be, “Magical-Girl Show Meets Highlander.”

Look for the genuine HiME mark of authenticity. Accept no substitutes.

Mai and her brother Takumi arrive at a new school. Actually before they fully arrive, fantastical shenanigans take place and they’re plunged into a big mess of intrigue and danger. And love, or things which resemble love if you squint your eyes and tilt your head just right. And betrayal. And really weird people. And it all centers on one question: “Who is your most important person?”

Why do you like it?

This is a tough one. I love this show; I also don’t like some really big parts of it. Mai-HiME tries to do something a bit different with its genre blend and I think it mostly works, insofar as nobody should pretend that this is a high-gloss serious piece of profound fiction. When it’s fun, it’s super-fun.

Pictured: One of our leads, wearing one of her most frequent expressions.

I think what keeps it together for me is that there are some really great characters which keep me going through the periods of whining and the occasional backstabbing and the gut-wrenching losses. And in the end it all works out okay, albeit in a ridiculously improbable way. (Er, spoiler!) What I mean is, it’s not actually a grimdark show. It just… looks a lot like grimdark from time to time.

This one’s complicated. Sorry about that.

What might one not like about it?

In this case it pays not to beat around the bush.

  • Our heroine goes through stretches of being a whiny blubbery useless lump.
  • Our heroine’s romantic options include a guy who’s very, very unhealthy for her.
  • Another lead character ends up under the sway of someone who has some very, very unhealthy impulses.

Then there’s this jerk. He’s the kind you love to hate, though.

And that’s just the highlights. If the notion of watching a show which includes some ooky relationship scenarios gives you the creeps, this might be one to skip. I won’t blame you.

Other thoughts about it?

If you’re going to populate your show with a dozen or so super-powered characters then it pays to make them distinctive. Mai-HiME does that superbly. On top of which, they play with the magical-girl tropes just enough to make for some fun comedy bits for those viewers familiar with said tropes.

Watching along as the show aired was a wild ride. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say that viewers’ grasp of the show’s tone and stakes were inadequate to one particular twist a little ways into the plot. It’s a helluva thing. If you do decide to check Mai-HiME out, don’t spoil yourself if you can prevent it. (Yes, I know it’s over a decade old. I know.)

Where can I watch it?

If (for some reason) you’re intrigued by the above wandering thoughts… you’ll have to buy the shiny platters or find a friend who has them, I’m afraid. Funimation bought the rights but seems to have done nothing with them so far.

3WA 2017 #38: Chicken Run

Sometimes what you want is a great escape. Sometimes it doesn’t even need to be that great of an escape, but it helps if it’s inspired by The Great Escape

All it takes is one plucky clucker and a lot of luck.

What is it?

Chicken Run is a stop-motion film made by Aardman Animations (the same outfit did the earlier Creature Comforts) released in the year 2000.

What kind of story is it?

You have chickens. You have the means to make a bundle of money by switching over from selling eggs to selling chicken pot pies. But the chickens have other plans. Crafty plans.

I know, they don’t look like the crafty planning type, do they?

Plans which fail again and again and again, mind you. Until one day, a stranger lands in their midst. Literally.

Why do you like it?

This is a silly, fun, clever, gently ridiculous little adventure comedy romp. It doesn’t ask much (acceptance of cartoon physics and talking animals, mostly) and what it gives in return is a lot of laughs.

What might one not like about it?

It is, more or less, a kids movie. Talking animals and so forth. Don’t hold that against it.

It does, more or less, star Mel Gibson. Don’t hold that against it either, if possible.

An American Chicken In London. Er, maybe not.

Other thoughts about it?

In terms of quotable quotes, Chicken Run is good value for money.

“I don’t want to be a pie… I don’t like gravy.”

“We’ll either die free chickens, or die trying.” “Are those the only choices?”

“They’re chickens, you dolt! Apart from you, they’re the most stupid creatures on this planet!”

Mrs. Tweedy is a heck of a villain, gotta admit.

“I wasn’t on holiday, Babs. I was in solitary confinement.” “Oh, it’s nice to get a bit of time to yourself, isn’t it?”

Where can I watch it?

You can rent it from some of the usual streaming sources (Amazon, Hulu, Google Play) or buy a shiny platter version.

3WA 2017 #37: Kanon (2006)

Those of us who grew up with Hollywood fare are familiar with, and even possibly tired of, the retreads and reboots of various story properties. There isn’t as much of that in the anime world but there’s one very notable example. It’s the visual novel so nice they animated it twice…

What is it?

Kanon, the 2006 version, is a 24 episode anime based on a visual novel (if you’re wondering: a sort of choose-your-own-adventure computer game). There was a shorter anime made four years prior which, depending on who you ask, is barely remembered or viewed with indifference or held in contempt.

What kind of story is it?

Boy meets girls. Boy moves out of town. Boy forgets girls. Boy moves back to town. Boy meets girls again, only to discover various mystical and/or tragic circumstances for each of them. Boy is perfectly willing to be a total dork if it makes them laugh, though, so he’s got that going for him. Boy has his own mystery to solve as well.

Yes, her backpack features angel wings as a detail. Yes, that’s plot-relevant.

Let’s be clear: While there’s a lot of comedy woven into the show, there’s a reason it’s often referred to as the “sad girls in snow” series.

Why do you like it?

As has been noted time and again here, if you give me the right group of characters I’ll follow you anywhere. In this case you have a male lead who might be somewhat of a blank slate but is a marvelous deadpan snarker. He interacts with a varied selection of lively and interesting (to varying degrees) girls. What more could you want?

Oh right: You could want the show to look fantastic. Luckily, Kanon is a visual feast. The Kyoto Animation company was making a name for themselves in the arena of high-production-values animated television in the mid-2000s and they knocked it out of the park with this one. There’s no question that this show was crafted with caring attention to detail.

Do I have a type? Yes. Yes, I have a type.

What might one not like about it?

How do you feel about crying? If you’re severely averse to having your heart put through the ringer, well, I guess you should watch something else. I think the story earns and supports the emotional gut-punches you receive (and balances it all with humor and thoughtfulness) but your mileage may certainly vary.

It’s a girl. She’s in snow. It’s difficult to tell if she’s sad. Good enough.

Also, if you can relate to this rant, you may have difficulties with a recurring musical theme here. Kyoto Animation decided to work riffs on Pachelbel’s Canon in D into the plot because of the names being alike. Yup.

Other thoughts about it?

Kanon is utterly relentless about its melodrama. Yes, it’s heavy-handed when it turns serious. Yes, it goes for the gut-punch time and again. Sometimes that’s the kind of show you want. If nothing else, it’ll help clear out your tear ducts.

Which isn’t to say you won’t get your fill of cute girls being cute, mind you.

Where can I watch it?

As of this writing, Kanon is still in Funimation’s streaming library.

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.

© 2018

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑