Sunday, December 30, 2012

Persepolis (Books and Film)

Plot (of Both): This is the self-described story of a childhood and a of a return of one Marjane Satrapi. It is the Iranian Revolution, subsequent war with Iraq, and “peace”, as experienced by girl coming of age. She moves through her family and friends dynamics, grade school to college, and most significantly in the middle of everything from Iran to Austria to find out where it is exactly she belongs—or rather doesn’t.

Verdict (Books): Aesthetically this comic book is a treat and unique product. There are no textures and tones to the pictures merely contrasts of black and white, which clash and find harmony throughout the various panels, much as Marjane seeks to find in her life. The books focus clear and forwardly on the outer dynamics between Marjane’s relations with others and her thoughts on it all. It goes without saying that this story explains the Iranian Revolution in more honest non-judgmental terms than most Westerns have seen, except in few other places, but there is more to this story.  If you have ever felt like you did not belong, and had no thoughts or words to express, here is something that can do it.

Verdict (Film): If the book is about the foreground and thoughts of Marjane’s life, than this one is about both the drama of her heart and the drama of the history unfolding behind her. The characters of the film are animated in the same way as their book counter-parts (no texture not tone, just solid black and white), but the backgrounds are no long blank or static. They are full of tone and texture changing with Marjane’s changing mood, and even coming alive to tell stories of their own. History is made drama here, but it is not drama where good guys are good because and evil is evil because. The soldiers of the Shah and Revolution start out as children too. The comic books somehow are more personal, but this film has more soul. It is also great that this is another one to prove that animation, even ones whose characters sometimes express themselves in very silly caricature faces, should be treated as more than just a cheap baby sitter. Buy this, especially if you bought the book.

Facts: Both of these are translated French-language works. I have not listened to the dub of the film, not even sure if there is one. The comic was originally published in two volumes collected as the Complete Persepolis. Both the film and the comics were written and directed by the same author: Marjane Strapi. They are her autobiographical memoirs, as are at least two of her other works: Embroideries and Chicken with Plums. The latter she also co-directed and co-wrote and live-action feature film for.

This series pretty much passes every test that I have ever come up with. I am only going to highlight the most significant because of this.


(The main secondary character is Marjane’s grandmother. She is progressive of strong convictions who did want a more socialist democratic revolution like the rest of her friends and family, but also knew that there had to be people to live through the war too.)

Suck it Disney:

(Marjane is lucky because of how kind hearted and caring her parents are. Her mother in a protective way, her father in an encouraging way, both know to give her space.)

(There is also Marjane’s Uncle Anoosh a true socialist revolutionary in that he is a genuine gentleman too. He favors Marjane and her enthusiasm.)


Plot: Baccano! or ruckus for those who do not speak Italian, uses nonlinear narration to tell three, four, five interwoven  Depression Era gangster tales all about a rowdy dirty dozen or so bootleggers, mobsters,  immortals, and of course Isaac and Miria, the two goofiest goobers and so best thieves ever.

Verdict: Like  a lot  of people who do this on the internet I like Baccano!, I like it a lot. The strength is just how fun and deeply inventive both the situations and the characters in them are, but mostly the characters. This really is all about the, their arcs as people, and at times their ideals clashing with each other and the world around them. This really is nothing but what the name says: a violent party of gangster romp, oh and it Tarentino violent, but maybe that is why it is so refreshing. It’s well made with a great cast and a great score to get you in the mood. If you’ve been looking for a cartoon not about crude Family Guys or high school moe da-rama, this is what you need.

Facts: A 12 half-hour episode, 15 if the OVA’s are counted, series; it ends, but then it keeps going. It is based on a series of light, pulp fiction, novels that go well into the present day with its cast. The show Durarara!! takes place in the same continuity and world as Baccano!, but more on that later. It is Funimation and contains most of their lesser known ensembles. The standouts are Michael J. Tantum, Catlin Glass, and Brina Palencia. Did I mention the score is great (see above)?

Justice (where the series is unfortunately hit and miss)

Bechtel-Sarkessian Test: It kind of does…

(Isaac and Miria help Eve Genoard become closer to her family divided by riches, by taking said riches. She agrees to the plan because they are so jovial and genial about it.)

(Isaac and Miria get Ennis to break out of her awkward shell.)

(There is also overall a good mix between the sexes.)

Better than Star Wars: Not really, there are black characters, but they are possessive nouns: Eve's housekeeper and the President's (of the newspaper the Daily Days) assistant: Elean Duga (pictured). Though it makes sense given that it is meant to be a period piece, and the period in question is the Depression, I feel like there could have been a way to make this and the above work considering some of the below.
(Elean Duga, picture says it all.)

Die Hard Test: Nobody in the main cast dies…

Awkward Angle Syndrome: None here.

Suck it Disney: This is where the show soars.

(Here is the proof that hilarity is not just a man thing. Miriam and Isaac, every time they are on screen it is a treat...)


(Here is the proof that a woman does not have to be perfect looking to be a lead: Nice Holystone, plainspoken explosives expert.)

(Everyone is hard on Jacuzzi Splot for being squeamish and paranoid, but he goes through the most growth...)

(...and probably would not have become such a strong leader without his squeamishness...)

(…also he and Nice are a great couple for all the right reasons.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Princess Mononoke

(So as a bit of tie over while I work on something else, here is a review I did for a grade in school of my favorite Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki film. Yes, this film passes all the tests well. It has a great cast, and if you want more detailed published opinions of it, here are two. Anyway...)

Might as well just come out and say it: this is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art, so yes bias. It is my favorite to show to people who think that animation is just garbage to feed to kids (I am disgusted by the notion that it is alright to feed garbage to kids, but that is an essay for another time), or an excuse for horny drunken frat boys to misbehave, but I digress.

In his review of the movie Rodger Ebert describes this movie as proof of animation’s ability to capture the essence of reality that live action film cannot, and I agree. Other critics have noticed that with many Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki films, like Spirited Away, it is easy to map them. The places that compose many an animated film are often beautiful and engaging, but not engrossing. You never get lost. Not so with this movie. It is impossible to map the depth and complexity that is the Sacred Forests and surrounding Iron Age Japan, and no shot seems to contain the exact same piece of ecosystem. To put it bluntly this film is really, really, amazingly pretty, and it should be. It is the most expensive hand drawn animated film ever made, but spectacle alone is not what nets a film the Japanese Oscar for best picture, nor is it what makes the film remembered, praised, lauded, and used to introduce others to animation a decade after it was made. Even if this film had the poorest of dirt poor budgets, provided the plot remained intact, I would still count it among my favorite works of art crafted my human hands.

There seems to be this knee jerk gag reflex in a lot of people for stories with overtly pro-environment and anti-war messages, or anything with an even remotely political stance to it. In one way, and I might add, in one way alone, I can understand this. Sometimes artists with deep compassion or righteous indignation can get too caught up in their passions and just end up being preachy over awe-inspiring. Hayao Miyazaki for all of his great works like this film and others is not even immune to this (see the film Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind), and for that matter, neither am I (not that I make movies). Princess Mononoke is the case where that does not happen. Instead we have something incredible.

The plot, in the shortest form I can muster, is thus: Ashitaka, the last prince of the genocided Emishi people (think: Native Americans) is cursed by a dying boar god while defending his village from it. The curse is thus that he will decay away into madness and then death as the infection spreads across his body. Acts of war and aggression make the curse spread faster. In order to preserve the legacy of his people and save his life, Ashitaka heads west to find a way to lift his curse, following the only clue he has: an iron bullet lodged in the boar’s body. In the West he finds a world a war.

 It is not one war but many: the emperor versus the samurai for control of the land, mercenary monks siding with the highest bidder, the boar gods versus all humanity for daring to expand into their domain: the Sacred Forest, the ape gods who side with none but do battle with all, and then there are the wars centered around Irontown. It is here that the Sacred Forest, the realm of the animal gods, is plundered and mined most severely to create the modern weapons of war for the emperor, however it is also only here that those ruined by the feudal patriarchies of both emperor and samurai can find autonomy and respect under the leadership and compassion of the Lady Eboshi. The okami (god wolves) of the Sacred Forest, unfortunately, do not take kindly to these exploited humans exploiting their home, and neither does human women raised by them: San the Princess Mononoke. This adds yet another war to all this: the guerilla war between Irontown, the okami and their princess, and Irontown was already at war with the Samurai lords, angered at losing their sex slaves exploitable leper labor. Eventually some of the various factions of civilized humanity (the monks under the emperor’s employ and Irontown) and the god-beasts of nature (all the boar god, San and some of the okami) begin to coalesce for a final total war over control the God of the Sacred Forest itself, something Ashitaka comes to see will not end with anyone’s greater good being achieved.

Though in the end, Miayazaki sides with those beings that compose the rest of nature in this conflict, no one, and I mean no one, nor any faction in this story is evil. No one is doing what they are doing because. The greater good and sacrifice are central here and it makes a story where animals can communicate with humans ring all the more true than many a live action film where they do not. It may be hard to swallow, because it gets said time and time again, but one of this film’s themes is how the sacrifice of others without the sacrifice of self, achieves little. This is especially true if this sacrifice comes in the form of any sort of war, big or small, personal or grandiose, because we never truly know the value and integrity of those we label as the other that is okay to sacrifice. Ecology unfortunately just does operate on the notion of the other. Nature is not really biased towards anyone or anything, a fact that all of our characters, human or otherwise, have to learn when they challenge the Nature incarnate that is the God of the Sacred forest, a being of immense awe, but also terror beyond even what direwolves and great boars or guns and steel can produce.

 I have not even begun to talk about all that there is to this film. It is also a love story between war-weary, compassionate Ashitaka and belligerent yet honorable San. Their love is pivotal to stopping yet another tragedy from ending with the stage littered with corpses, but it is also one that is allowed to be more mature and real than most. Unlike many other productions where expressions of intimacy happen because fan service; there is none of that here, because such actions would not make sense given what is happening to our protagonists. They are also permitted not to have to live together in order for their relationship to have happiness to its conclusion. If I have not stated it frankly enough so far, most of these comparisons to film tropes that I am making never occurred to me when watching and liking this film, only when I came to put why I liked it into words for others to understand completely did they ever occur to me.

I should also like to take a moment to thank the people who made this movie as good as they did. Thank you Studio Ghibli and Miayzaki and keep up the constant good work that makes even Pixar jealous. Thank you Disney and Miramax for not changing a single frame of footage in adaption, also I give a big thanks to you all for convincing Neil Gaiman (yes, the fairy tale expert and author of Sandman and Coralline) to translate the script. I also give thanks to both the English cast (Claire Daines, Minnie Diver, Billy-Bob Thornton, John DiMaggio, Billy Crudup, Jada Plinket-Smith, Keith David, and Gillian Anderson), as well as Japanese cast. Last but never least, thanks to all the animators and musicians who made this story look as epic as it sounds. I am sure there are flaws somewhere to be found here, but I am not the person to do it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Detective Comics Animated Universe (or DCAU)

Verdict: This is a continuity of five, technically six, television series all set in the same world, all developing different stories that all come together to present a greater tale. While I do not like to rely on comparisons to praise or put down, it is not universally or ultimately very descriptive, here it is appropriate. This continuity of television, for children primarily but adults too, spans over a decade of seasons, and manages to do the almighty. It tells the archetypal tales behind the general X-men story, the Spider-man tale, the basic Superman myth, the Avengers films, the Watchmen graphic novel, and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy, except it retells, or is it foretells, each of these myths better.

It does so not merely because it interconnects all of these distinct and starkly different tales about super-powered humans and or superheroes into a world that makes sense with all of them in it, but moreover because the series is not afraid to have fun whilst still building to tragedy and redemption. Somehow no one else has been able to do that with superheroes, especially the most famous one: Batman.There are a lot of great nostalgic television shows from the 1990s and 2000s, but this one takes the crown for champion. Buy and watch as much of this as you can (they are released sporadically everywhere).

Facts: The chronology of the series goes: Batman then Superman the Animated Series, Static Shock, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond (and the Zeta Files). The animated feature films are all needed to understand the overall plot. Paul Dinni and Dwain McDuffie are the writers to credit with most all of this. Bruce Timm is the producer of note. Andre Romano deserves nothing but credit for gathering the voices that she did:

(Note the Justice of this Cast and Development: the DCAU could be a lot better on all the tests, but when it is good, it does a really good job.)

(Also hate to give the cast and crew the short end of the stick, but the people at the DCAU wiki covered most all that I was going to profiling them, and more on each of the shows.)

Mark Hamill (The best Joker and villain who defines nightmarish inevitability)

Kevin Conroy (The Batman himself)

Tim Daly (Superman)

Phil LaMarr (Green Lanter--this Green Lantern Corps. was not centered around the crutch of straight jawed white yuppie, and I did not care, till I learned that this was not always the case--
and Static Shock--the best plucky fanboy reborn as a hero, as  he's the most real and his power and responsibility the conflict of him having to deal with his ignorance to his own privilege: he does not have to worry about hiding his mutation.)

Tara Strong  (Barbara Gordon as she chooses to become Batgirl--Batgirl is also kid turned hero, but is someone who has to fight for her ideals and respect: no powers, no money.)

Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor)

Jason Marsden (Gear)

Arlene Sorkin (Harely Quinn was created here, and this is the most respectful empathetic version of her.)

Michael Ansara (Mr. Freeze was also recreated here)

Stockard Channing and Angie Harmon (Barbara Gordon, Batgirl, as Commissioner of Gotham City ever critical and generally opposed to Batman's continued antics, not proven wrong entire or ever entirely swayed in this. Married to the DA, who is an African American man named Sam Young.)

Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder (Amanda Waller, the powerful government offical who is against all superheroes and their private armies, especially Batman and Superman, but it must be said she has good reasons to be. She is the most interesting character. Much more so than in the new comics.)

(Will Freedie as Terry McGinnis, Batman Beyond, the prodigal son, who might just save Batman, and maybe the world. It is most interesting because he is not lawful good, nor a paragon of virtue or any sort of work ethic.)

Plot: I should like to profile every series, but this behemoth is one I am going to only be able to tackle via examining its soul. The series at the soul of this is Batman the Animated Series and its sequel, Batman Beyond.
This is the series that started and ended the whole of the DCAU, by a happy accident I might add. It is also the third and greatest of the three great tragedies of modern animation. Unlike the other two tragedies, this one is a slow subtle decaying build of rising action that spans over almost ten seasons of television. It also happens to be a two part tragedy. The inevitable fated fall build to is also a sudden jerk that does not even span an entire episode, and yet it is still the greatest.

This is the tragedy of father. The father no matter how scary he may seem you want to hug all the same because he seems to be doing no wrong. He is there for you (Robin) and all your favorite aunts and uncles (the Justice League, Batgirl, Batwomen, Nightwing) too, always with the right advice, the right bit of information, the right action that pushes you and them. He dedicates so much of his time to helping all of us save the world, he hardly gets any for himself. What does he do with all that spare time: he says and seems to be making it so that no eight year old kid ever has to loose their parents, like he did, because of some punk with a gun.You feel safe because of this man, and yet he becomes the reason for all the dangers in the lives of those most precious to him.

Batman never once stops to question that his ruthless pummeling and incarcerating of virtually anyone who breaks the law without much remorse  mercy, compassion, or desire for reconciliation does nothing to help anyone. In fact, he seems to be under the impression that this is what directly lead to the formation of his new families, their functionality, and strengths, as oppose to his hands-off behind the scenes assistance. None of the criminals he constantly throws in the slammer get any better, in fact over the course of the show, they all get worse, but Batman cannot see this because he has mistaken mere correlation for causality in terms of how his war on crime affects the development of his family, and moreover his fourteen year old adopted son: Tim Drake, Robin.

It makes him think that he truly is protecting his family right this time, and subconsciously, it makes him feel great too. He never has to feel that weakness that helplessness he felt when his parent's died ever again, and his son, and children like him, will never have to know that pain. Unfortunately that is a lie. A lie born out of fear and pride.  There are worse pains for children to feel than loss of a parent, and worse failures for adults to experience than the helplessness of that loss. It only takes one petty clown with an interest in "adopting" a son himself, to make Batman wish it all had ended not with a bang but with a whimper.

There is a part two to this tragedy, for Batman, despite his pride, still managed to raise some of his children right. It is prodigal illegitimate  rejected son who lived most of his life as a criminal that saves father. Well not completely, but he manages to do that father could only wish to do, and recognize the better way to do it. See also: Batman's friends called Superman and the Justice League. In this tragedy, like the other three, it may be the case that morality and ethical law are torn asunder by evil's inevitability, leaving us with only the void of relativism from which to grasp at straws, but despair, while it is nothing but anguish to leave once there, is an arbitrary state of being. There is good to be found in change, in death, and even in failure, for reconciliation and faith and the solidarity renewed by them are powerful--when done right of course.

There are no super powers in the real world, and no way to stop evil from winning, or convince people to care to realize their--our mistakes--before it is too late (again), except by our own hands. If the DCAU, and Batman in particular, do all they do to show that, despite how super and or terrifying they may seem, they are still people too just seeking the same as you and I: companionship, then it may also be true that we could be the opposite. It won't come without great self-sacrifice, but I firmly believe that there may be a hero in all of us. Act to make it so.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trigun (Anime)

Plot: Bernardelli Insurance representatives Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson are tasked with tracking down the most wanted criminal in the New Old West. The legendary six billion double dollar man himself Vash the Stampede the Humanoid Typhoon, he is a man wanted for the destruction of the city of July and for causing more collateral damage, but oddly no fatalities, wherever he goes on the face of the planet called colloquially Gunsmoke. Meryl readies her less pragmatic, albeit more charismatic, partner for the worst murdering savage lascivious lowlife they have ever seen.

 Vash is the biggest, friendliest, goofiest goober ever. He seems to travel from town to town righting wrongs, and saving the day with diplomacy over violence, refusing to take any life, although when he does have to draw watch out. He eventually gets joined in this by an enigmatic gun toting preacher named Nicolas D. Wolfwood who seems to be just like him. Besides the massive amount of collateral Vash racks up refusing to kill, there always seems to be a way out of sacrifice when he is around--until the man Vash cannot understand walks into town, and with him comes a past Vash has been traveling in the hopes of finding before it found him.

Verdict: This is the second of the three great tragedies of modern animation. It is also a tragedy of character. The character in question is your older brother who, like that younger sister of yours, somehow radiates both warmth and strength. You want to shed a tear and salute--oh, screw it, you want to tackle hug this person too--because he can do know wrong, and you hate yourself for cursing them when it seems like it's all his fault when another inevitable nightmare gets keep on living. This anime is about Vash (it should be called Trigun: the Ballad of Vash the Stampede the Humanoid Typhoon), his strength, and ultimately his fall.

There is, however, power in redemption and strength to be found in choosing life, no matter what it does to you. Yes, this series is heavy on Christianity, but in a good way. Though not a perfect show, it clearly ran out of its dirt-poor budget for a proper third-act, it is well worth at least a watch (it is on Netflicks last I, and others, checked) and maybe a purchase. It may make you cry, but it will make you feel that it is good for most all who are for all that is to be alive, even if there are those who can argue so well otherwise. Time to make this world into one truly made of love and peace, and not be afraid of the possibility of failing to do so.

Facts: This is a Studio Madhouse production. It is 26 half-hour episodes. It is based on a much longer, very different manga run by Yasuhiro Nightow (I think this should be called Trigun: the Clash of the New Titans of the Planet Gunsmoke). The manga is more popular in Japan, while the anime is more popular in the West. Said popularity lead to a stand alone self-contained non-canon animated feature being made called Trigun: Badlands Rumble. The movie is fun, but not needed.

The manga, however, may clarify some confusing moments in the anime (or just watch this series after you watch the anime proper--SPOILERS). The anime is rated PG, but its source material is a hard R for violence. There is more than enough evidence presented to the adults in the audience to figure out (and thus be made to feel culpable in) the more grisliness details of the horror that happens here, along with character developments, but for those who prefer shock horror and lots of ridiculously violent action to a character piece, the manga might be for you. Personally, I like having to pay attention to what is shown circumstantially over told outright, and I prefer Vash's story as a Western-tragedy to an action-heavy Sci-Fi gunslinger drama.

Anyway, this was Johnny Young Bosch's first voice role after his work on Power Rangers. Joshua Seth and Bridget Hoffman are also in this, as is Lia Sargent. Mona Marshall, Steve Blum, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and others also guest star as many of the one-shot characters.


Bechtel-Sarkessian Test: While there are more than enough women in the main cast, and one-shot characters, and our two leading ladies are a great well developed buddy-cop pair (when's the last time you saw that), like most everything else in this show, the conversation is mostly all about Vash. Don't let that disuade you though, Meryl and Milly are great...
 (They are a great team because of how contrasting they are...)
 (...the differences in their personalities are key...)
 ( how...)
 (...they change and change each other--and others--throughout the show...)
( is the great kind of writing any well done buddy cop team deserves, regardless of sex.)

Suck It Disney: Not really, but this is because people on Gunsmoke do not tend to live very long...

Awekward Angle Syndrome: Vash can be a bit of a womanizer, not a lecherous one though, a hopeless romantic who knows what consent is, is a better way to describe him, except one time. There is one inappropriate moment of this that's episode, and comic it was based on, were both clearly created to get funding before the project was formed. In context of the story, however, Vash is literally kicked in the face for it and, in a segment that is quite the tear jerk-er, bitten hard by karma for it.

Better than Star Wars: Oh, yes it does, and yes it makes sense considering how far into the future this whole thing is supposed to be. 
 (Vash the Stampede, love and peace that is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locamotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but this superman wears a pretty thick mask...)

(Meryl Stryfe, sassy, no-nonsense, nothing should defy or impress her--damnit Vash!)

 (Millions Knives, with a name like that, I am sure he is as friendly as his smile)

 (Legato, Legato Bluesummers; he never smiles)

 (Milly Thompson, people smart, but pretty simple otherwise.)

 (Rem Severum, in it in the flesh for one episode, but goes through just as much development as the rest of the cast...)

 (Reverend Nicolas D. Wolfwood, AKA: Awesome McCoolname)

 (The Gung-Ho Guns: this cover song could essentially serve as their anthem. Why no one has made and AMV of them with it yet I do not know.)

Die Hard Test: this is technically a fail, but it is one of those sad tragic deaths that makes you shout: "Why!", even though you know why.