February 2009

Pizza Cats with a different story

Those of you who remember Samurai Pizza Cats from their childhood will be wondering how this show applies as foreign entertainment. Please bear with me, it is going to get complicated. Samurai Pizza Cats, as it was famous in US and other parts of the Western nations, is a quirky and fun cartoon series about super duper cats who save the world, or Tokyo city at best. But what most of us (and by this I refer to those few who were not initiated into the SPC die-hard fan club) didn't know was this twisted little fact. That this show was a reenactment of a Japanese cartoon series. Let me explain. SPC was actually a dubbed-over Japanese cartoon show (Kyatto Ninden Teyandee) from the early 1990s.  Yes, it was a much loved show about three cats working in a pizza parlor. Their life was not all Anchovy and Cheese by the way; as I mentioned earlier, they made it a habit to save their city (Tokyo) from the evil cross-dressing Prime Minister. But here's where everyone lost the plot, so to speak.

Anime Friday: Supa Roboto!

Since the beginning of this project, I've been pretty dismissive of anime featuring giant robots. Of all the common tropes of the genre, that was always the least accessible and interesting for me. It always just seemed to lack artistic or narrative subtlety. Then, all of my "anime advisers" started bugging me about Neon Genesis Evangelion, telling me how it's one of the best anime ever made. I'll reserve judgment for whenever I sit down to grind on that one, but one thing is for certain: I'll need to learn to embrace giant robots before I can embrace giant robots associated with angels. So, I took it upon myself to do a sort of crash course in the Super Robot sub-genre. My approach is mostly academic, but worthwhile nonetheless. To start out, I decided to research the origins of Super Robot. It turns out that Super Robot and the evolution of anime's image in America are intertwined from the beginning. In fact, the first anime to ever reach American shores was arguably the first Super Robot cartoon ever made.

Anime Friday: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Aside from last week's jaunt into the bizarre world of Akikan, I have largely avoided the high school drama subgenre of anime. I've never really heard enough good things about it to justify sitting and watching more than a few episodes of any particular series. The exception to this rule is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a show adapted from a series of light novels written by Nagaru Tanigawa. Up until I watched Haruhi, I had no concept of the light novel, at least not directly. Western literature has always had the novella, which really just straddles the line between novel and short story. Certain writers have been known to pen thin volumes out of habit, like Marguerite Duras and Stanislaw Lem, but that was always more of a stylistic choice of the individual author than a genre on its own. In Japan, light novels are targeted to the teen market.

Unintentional foreign entertainment

Is it a sad day in television history when people scan the news in hope for an embarrassing news gaffe? Perhaps it is. I must confess, it is quite entertaining to come across a blooper. Maybe it is because of the 'don't smile principle'. You know what I mean, those serious, career-building situations where you must not, cannot, should not laugh or blurt out something horrific. And when someone does, it just makes it funny.

And thus, in my mindless wandering, I came across some superb BBC bloopers. Some of them are absolutely brilliant; some are funny but harmless gaffes; and others are just terrible.

1. The famous 'technical' glitch

Anime Friday: Akikan

I've been doing this project for a few months now and I realized that I needed to establish a more solid metric with which to judge my developing understanding of anime. I'm not really here to make myself like the genre more than I previously did, nor am I here to prove that my original assessments were justified. Rather, I'm trying to improve the depth of my overall appreciation of what is, admittedly, a fairly pervasive art form. I wouldn't be pursuing this endeavor in good faith if I only subjected myself to the best the genre has to offer or the fan favorites. So, when I recently read reports on a forum of what was called by many "the worst anime I've ever seen", I had to check it out. Now, before I get into Yuji Himaki's TV adaptation of Riku Ranjo's manga Akikan, I have to confess something. I have a history of embracing bits of pop culture just because they rub people the wrong way. I'm on record claiming that 12 Oz.

L'Origine de la Tendresse and Other Stories

The Seattle International Film Festival at Seattle Center (a stone's throw from the Space Needle) recently screened a series of French language shorts, L'Origine de la Tendresse and Other Stories. The screening packs six continental shorts into 97 minutes to mixed results. The opening film is a winner by Guillame Martinez. At a svelt eight minutes, Penpusher is a clever use of cinematography that benefits from its short run time. The film finds two young strangers on Le Metro communicating via underlined words in the novels they carry with them for the long train ride home. It's a sweet, romantic gimmick that would have gotten old if it passed the ten minute mark. The conceit is also nice for the symbolist in us all. The two characters manage to meaningfully connect using a medium typically intended to shut other people out. It's quite an uplifting way to open the series. What follows is an unfortunate slog through three non-fiction films. The best among them is the first, Filipe Canales's My Mother, A Story of Immigration.

Anime Friday: Blue Submarine No. 6

This project and the conversations that have resulted from it have brought me to something of sticking point. When is anime no longer anime? As a genre it's heavily based on adapted materials. At least half of all anime is based on manga, which itself creates something of an issue. Manga comes in both single-shot and serialized forms, but the transition to anime doesn't necessarily retain that original format. Serials become feature length movies and graphic novel manga become TV series. Confounding the problem further is the issue of artistic medium. It's easy enough to retain the feel of the original manga using hand-drawn cartoons. But by the late 1990's, computer animation was about the most fashionable thing around. These days CGI and other computer animation techniques have been toned down and allowed to flow with the long-established styles surrounding them.