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Looking For Quacks In The Pavement

Month: November 2017

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.

3WA 2017 #44: A Grand Day Out

But what if the Moon was made of cheese?

And what if it was inhabited by fussy robots?

What is it?

A Grand Day Out is the first of the Wallace & Gromit stop-motion animated shorts from Aardman Animations.

What kind of story is it?

A man and his dog build a rocket and travel to the moon in search of cheese.

All ready, just need to light the fuse and remember the crackers.

I mean sure, those stories are a dime a dozen, but trust me: This is the best of its kind.

Why do you like it?

This short film is entertainingly absurd, lands some solid jokes, and is a visual treat. What’s not to like? Also, this firmly establishes Gromit as one of the all-time great silent-partner, long-suffering-look-to-camera characters in all of film. Not bad for a lump of plasticine, am I right?

Lowered gravity, check. Lack of breathable air… well. Never mind that.

What might one not like about it?

The viewer is, yes, asked to suspend a lot of disbelief. All of it, in fact.

I figure these are the real backers of the Moon-cheese expedition.

Other thoughts about it?

I was torn between this one and the subsequent Wallace & Gromit short, The Wrong Trousers, and I decided to go with Grand Day because in a lot of ways it’s the more whimsical and adorable work. TWT is a masterpiece, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a lot going on and I think it helps to already be familiar with Wallace and Gromit’s style and setup going into it.

In other words, if you watch A Grand Day Out and are left wanting more, go watch The Wrong Trousers immediately. You won’t be sorry. After that you’re on your own; the remaining shorts (and the feature film) are more of the same, albeit kind of hit-or-miss for me.

Where can I watch it?

If you have Amazon Prime, you can queue up the “complete collection” of the shorts for streaming. (Thus, no Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which is the feature film.) Otherwise, I recommend tracking down a shiny platter version.

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