The manga of Kujibiki Unbalance may well be one of the strangest in-jokes ever perpetrated on any fandom. It didn’t exist as an actual product for a long time — in fact, a part of me wishes it didn’t exist, period. But here it is all the same: a manga spun off from an anime derived in turn from an anime that only existed as a show-within-a-show. If your head’s hurting at that, think about how I feel.
The source of the in-joke behind all this should be automatically familiar to anyone who’s read or watched Genshiken (either the manga or the TV series; the joke’s the same in either one). Kujian, as it’s called for short, is the show-within-the-show that the characters were fans of. Part of the joke was that Kujian didn’t actually exist — the glimpses we were given of it made it look like an amalgam of every anime/manga cliché imaginable, plus a few we forgot about along the way. It worked wonderfully in the context of the show, because you didn’t need to see the whole show to know how it worked. Anyone who’d done any decent amount of time in otaku-dom could fill in the blanks on their own.Read more
The other day someone used the word "sheeple" in response to a blog post. The original post was about someone who had used an unconventional bit of formatting in their book, and the reply was ... well, the fact that the word "sheeple" was involved should tell you something about where they were coming from and what their view was. (Out of politeness to everyone involved, I won't link the post and response; I've tried to be as accurate as possible in my rendition of what was going on.)
Many years ago, I used to know someone who used the word "sheeple" a great deal, and that person's use of it was almost inevitably fulsome and elitist. The not-so-unspoken insinuation was: All those people out there are mindless stumbling herds of morons, present company excepted of course. The more I learned about this person, the more I realized he had no right to such unearned contempt for "the masses", especially when he hadn't done a thing in his life to elevate himself above them ... except grouse about how his genius had gone unrecognized by the sheeple.
As I put it to a friend the other day, the only person you should worry about or angst over feeling superior to is the guy you were yesterday.
Reading Zaregoto is a little like watching someone doing one of those wild juggling acts where they swap clubs for flaming torches for bowling balls for chainsaws, all without dropping anything on the floor. It’s a slick, addictive Japanese pop-literary confection, an amalgam of mystery thriller, psychological suspense, philosophical pondering, and all-out weirdness. At first you’re reading it for the who-why-and-how-dunit aspects of the story, but by the end you’re seeing it as a portrait of the oddball mentality of the genius.
“Genius” is a word I now hate, no thanks to being bled dry of meaning after decades of unthinking abuse. When Apple has a “Genius Bar” in their stores (staffed, for the most part, by people who are not whole orders of magnitude smarter than the rest of us, just better trained in things Apple) and the word itself is used as a sit-com insult, there’s not much room left to sink, is there? Zaregoto, though, understands all this and uses it as a starting point. Those with genius express it narrowly — through one skill, one insight, one idea — and even the smartest of people can be undone by the simplest and most underhanded behaviors and motives.Read more
It's possible to be exhausted and happy at the same time, but I think I've discovered new prolongations of each this time around. I got back from OSCON way early this morning — my flight lapsed over into the a.m., but after catching some sleep on the plane and a nap after arriving home I think my clock is about back to normal. I found it funny that Louis Suarez-Potts doesn't believe in jet lag, or so he told me at the con - maybe he's just found a way to cope with it that's so seamless it gets dialed down to near-invisibility?
I didn't manage to visit Powell's — but I did visit the "satellite" stores at PDX, and between that and the Barnes & Noble at the mall directly behind the hotel (shame on me, I know), I came away with a good deal of material that kept me awake on the plane:
When I was younger I used to play creepy games with myself where I’d pretend that everyone else except me was an alien. Eventually the fun wore off and I turned to reading SF and comics to get my share of those kinds of thrills, but the idea stayed with me: What if I am not like everyone else? Worse, what if that guy over there isn’t like anyone else except me?
This is a big part of the appeal Parasyte has held for me through its first two volumes — the idea that something can look like a human, behave like a human, and yet somehow be completely alien underneath. Rather than stop there, though, each successive installment of Parasyte has expanded on the idea. Assume that there are humans among us who have been invaded with alien beings — what then? How do they mingle among us undetected? What happens when some of them merge incompletely with their hosts?Read more
I think I got more responses — and more good ones — about yesterday's post than I've received about nearly anything I've posted lately. I went back and took another look at it, and realized a lot of what I was talking about were not things that were inherent in the quote itself but things which I brought to it on my own, and that was a bad thing to do.
First, to me, the idea that there's just "stuff you like" and "stuff you don't like" is self-limiting, because once you consciously embrace that as a way to define your tastes, a whole galaxy of other possibilities get knocked out of the box. It sounds like an argument from ignorance, and that's why I felt like the mounted attack on it seemed on target.
But that doesn't excuse all the other things that were wrong with the attack: its mean-spiritedness, for one — and now that I look at it again, the way the responder uses the premise to put words in the other person's mouth, which pretty much invalidates the whole enterprise. It may well be true that "There's just music you like and music you don't like" is a prelude to warding off any objective criticism, as was claimed, but the original posted didn't actually do that — that was something the other guy pre-emptively accused him of. (Assuming that such a thing wasn't snipped out due to my own ham-handedness with preserving the quote.)
I don't like the idea of not subjecting one's own tastes to a little analysis, but it's not much good if you come to that conclusion by steamrolling and logic-chopping, is it?
Not long ago I was a member of a mailing list that talked about avant-garde music, and one of the posts to the list made it into my clippings file. I stupidly deleted the original message, so I am not sure who is on either side of the conversation. But with an exchange like this it scarcely matters. (Original spelling and punctuation preserved.)
as i've said many times, there is no good music or bad music - just music you like or music you don't like
that opinion is banal, false and mistaken at the same time.
you are probably right that 'good' and 'bad' won't take you very far critically. to that extent it seems a banal observation.
then you conclude that there is 'just music you like or music you don't like', which seems patently false. there is just as obviously music that is more or less complex, music that has strict tempo and music that doesn't, tonal and atonal music, etc., etc., and many more critical categories that can be applied that tell you alot about music.
finally, i think it is mistaken, in the sense of being an opinion that should be opposed. it sounds liberal but it is arrogant: it pretends to be democratic (admitting that everyone has their own opinion), but it is self-serving because it implies that no one can criticise *your* taste.
i am not trolling - i just don't think that such banalities should pass without comment
This could apply to a critical appraisal of just about anything, when you get down to it. As it stands, it's one of the better arguments I've heard for being willing to examine and refine your own tastes without falling back on know-nothing arguments like "I don't know what 'good' art/literature/music is, but I know what I like."
Plenty of people use this formula to justify what they like. I know I used to do it, but after a while I realized something: If you don't do any actual thinking about what you like and don't like, if you shun trying to make deeper connections, in a way you're damaging your future ability to determine what you're going to like and not like. The problem with saying "I don't know what's 'good', but I know what I like" is that it's an argument in favor of your own continued ignorance about your tastes. And that means, as I see it, enduring a lot more crap than you have to.
Most folks aren't critics and don't want to become critics. For them, it's completely beside the point. They don't want to analyze what they like, they want to enjoy it — and the analysis, for them, ruins the enjoyment by turning the whole thing into a boring homework exercise. They're not worried that their justification is a circular argument — I like what I know, and I know what I like — because none of this requires logic to work.
The flipside of this, though, is that if they're in the company of people who analyze what they like as a way to deepen their enjoyment of it and find perspectives on it that they might not have found on their own, it isn't a homework assignment; it's fun.
There’s no question in my mind that Dark Horse is doing the right thing by remastering and reissuing their back catalog of Masamune Shirow titles: Orion, Dominion, Ghost in the Shell. There’s also no question in my mind that Shirow’s books are a wildly uneven lot, and that’s why Dark Horse’s recent reissue of Shirow’s Black Magic is only of value to those who want every single one of his titles in a row on their shelf.
Magic is probably the earliest of Shirow’s works to be released in English, and its primordiality shows in every respect — artwork, storytelling, conceptualization, humor, the whole tamale. If nothing else it’s interesting because it shows how even in his earliest stages as a creator, Shirow suffered from the same limitations that also inhibited his later and more polished works. He spun out nigh-incomprehensible plots that seemed to be used more for atmosphere than actual storytelling; he created characters who were little more than mouthpieces of one variety or another; and he never met a whacked-out theory he didn’t like.
“Beautiful” and “deadly” are two words that seem fated to go hand-in-hand in most manga. They certainly apply to Makie the geisha, a woman of both uncommon loveliness and unearthly skill with her choice of weapons. A woman that gorgeous and with so many talents, though, shouldn’t have such a desolate expression all the time — but that’s only because she knows firsthand how all things, herself included, are terribly impermanent. And now she has been commanded by her lover Anotsu to seek out and kill Manji, the ronin condemned to take a thousand evil lives before he himself will be permitted to die.
Welcome to Dreamsong, the third volume of Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal, for my money the best comic running apart from one of Dark Horse’s other titles, Berserk (which I need to get caught back up with one of these days). It’s not just the unmistakable art style or the show-stopping characters or the gut-level storytelling — it’s the fact that you’ve got all this side by side in the same book, and none of them comes at the expense of the other. It’s all of a piece.Read more
The edits for The Four-Day Weekend (formerly The New Golden Age) began in earnest this past week. 50 out of 300 pages is 1/6th of the manuscript — not bad for only a couple days' work!
That said, this is only the first of two or three editing passes — the first is for major cleanup (moving blocks of text around, rewriting sections that need it), and the second is for line-by-line cleanup, something I'll probably have a little third-party help with. This is actually not something I do well by default, so the more additional help I have the better.
I've noticed that I typically have a fairly clean first draft — a lot of the most aggressive, "I don't think I need this at all" editing tends to happen before I ever sit down at the computer. Most of what happens at this stage is organizational: figuring out what to emphasize or put into the background, that kind of thing.
Another thing I'm trying to figure out is how much to excerpt. I'm actually thinking of doing something slightly unorthodox — chapters 1 and 2, and then a later chapter about Henry and Winthrop's early life, which is actually chapter 5 or 6 (I'm still dithering with the chapter order early on).
My drop-dead day for getting the ms. to the printer's is August 15th. If I keep up my current pace I could well have a first pass done by early next week, and some early-draft samples after that. Look for another progress report in a few days.
The July 2008 edition of Dean Sluyter's Questions column provides two answers to the old standby "How can I get enlightened?" The first answer has one graf I particularly liked:
The Eightfold Path is not a program of accumulating merit (or merit badges) so that someday the Big Buddha in the Sky will open the gates of nirvana to you. Yes, some of the old texts can make it sound that way, but today sophisticated Buddhists generally give that language a more inward and immediate application. ... [I]t's pretty hard for most people to get their minds quiet and clear enough to recognize [that nirvana is right here in the ordinary world of samsara] if they're busy killing or stealing or coveting their neighbors' wives. Virtue is its own reward. ... [I]t helps release your consciousness from complicated patterns of aggression and consequences so that it's free to recognize its own inherent heavenliness. [Emphasis mine.]
We've all heard that one before: "virtue is its own reward." So much so, I suspect, that it's been drained of meaning and has no more real weight than a PSA about seatbelts. But reading that article helped click it into place, and allowed me to put into words a good deal of what has been floating around in my head on the subject for ages.
Most of us are probably familiar with the gamut of arguments about altruism — whether or not there is such a thing as a truly selfless act, etc. My take is that there probably isn't, but it doesn't matter — that there is a threshold of selflessness for a given act that once crossed makes it effectively selfless as far as others are concerned. A friend of mine once put it this way: "Yes, it is selfish of me to do good things for other people, because I enjoy watching them smile and be happy. That is very selfish of me!"
The more you do the right thing, the easier it becomes to cross that threshold without making yourself feel uncomfortable, because over time you lean more towards your desires and everyone else's being in sync. There will always be some level of conflict between what you want and what everyone else wants. You can't get rid of them entirely, but you can lean towards harmonizing them as much as possible. Even if that form of harmony consists of avoiding something entirely, it's better than inspiring further conflict with it.
The other part of how virtue winds up being its own reward is hinted at in the above excerpt. By doing the right thing, you're forced less and less to extricate yourself from the aftermath of having done the wrong thing. I'm reminded of people I used to know who would dream up huge, elaborate and quite physically and mentally tiring plans to defraud other people so they wouldn't have to work a straight job — and yet somehow never realized that it would probably be less work overall just to get and hold down a straight job. (Although, obviously, a lot less exciting — but again, their idea of "exciting" just sounds like unending hassle to me.)
This has implications on both the outside and the inside. When you're not making trouble for yourself outwardly, it's easier to learn how to not make trouble for yourself inwardly. I'm again reminded of people I knew who would encounter something negative in their daily lives, and then compulsively reinforce the badness by venting about it with others: "Look! This bad thing happened! Doesn't it suck? Don't you feel bad for me? Come on, let's commiserate about this terrible thing. — No! I don't want to hear about the fact that you had fun today. Nobody else deserves to have fun when I'm suffering like this." It's hard for me to see this serving any other function than to convince yourself that you're going to be miserable no matter what.
Virtue is its own reward because it makes the inside of your head a much more livable place. And at the end of the day, when your eyes are closed and your head's hitting the pillow, where else is there left to go?
The best thing about the fifth book in the Guin Saga is, in a way, also the worst thing. At last, the five-volume “Marches Episode” — the first five of the hundred-plus Guin novels — has come to the smashing conclusion it deserves. But while it ends with a bang (and a roar, and a whoosh), it also leaves behind so many tantalizing hints and so many as-yet-unanswered questions that it’s not so much an ending as a pause for breath. We know there’s more … just not here, and not in English. I could lament that fact until they carted me off, but I’d rather celebrate the fact that we got this far at all.
Over the course of the previous volumes we’ve followed Guin, he of the body of a gladiator and the head of a leopard, out of the forbidding Roodwood and into the wastes of the Nospherus. He’s become self-appointed guardians of the royal twins Rinda and Remus, been chased by the armies of the Mongaul empire, made tentative allies out of the simian Sem to protect their lands against invasion, and headed ever deeper into the wasteland to find and enlist the fabled (many would say fictional) Lagon in their ongoing fight.Read more
Vexille is a CGI demo reel that didn’t know when to call it quits. Sure, anyone with even a passing interest in digital filmmaking will be absorbed by it, and there are countless frames that more than pass the Desktop Wallpaper Test. But for all the countless CPU cycles they burned up to generate those yummy texture maps and volumetric lighting sources and particle effects, you think they could have also spared a couple of brain cells to bash together for a decent script.
Is this doomed to happen whenever Japan pumps up the visuals for one of their prestige projects? Probably not all the time, but enough for it to be annoying. For every Casshern or Tekkonkinkreet that comes out of Japan — movies that are full of wild, uninhibited invention and more than a little soul — there’s three or four Vexilles or Appleseeds. It’s impossible to look this movie in the eye and deny they sweated blood over it, but it makes the mistake of thinking it has more on its mind when it just doesn’t.Read more
“From the creator of Dragon Ball Z!” proudly proclaims the blurb on the cover of Cowa!. Not being a DBZ fan, I wasn’t sure how much of a selling point this was going to be for me. But what a pleasure and a surprise — Cowa! (as in, maybe, “Cowabunga!”?) is a downright charming story, a single-volume standalone adventure that’s nothing like the work Akira Toriyama’s more famous for. It’s billed on the back cover as a “spooktacular manga for kids”, the sort of thing you can snap up as a Halloween-themed goodie, but this is one of those cases where all ages really does mean all ages. Adults who’re in the know can savor this one right along with the young ‘uns, and not feel guilty about it.
Cowa! reminded me a bit of the kind of cheerfully jumbled, mix-and-match mythology of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas — or, closer to home, Toriyama’s own good-natured and often royally funny series Dr. Slump, also for a relatively young audience. The story’s hero is Paifu, a kid who’s half-vampire and half-were-koala (yes, half-were-koala), whose hobbies include every conceivable variety of mischief. That includes everything from blowing off school to boosting neighbor’s watermelons to sneaking into un-haunted houses with his buddy José the ghost. They also end up making an enemy out of a grumpy human in the area, Mr. Maruyama — an ex-sumo wrestler with a troubled past, a cigarette always in his mouth and a perennially foul attitude, especially where children are involved. (I suspect a prerequisite for growing up in any culture is the presence of a Grouchy Neighbor Who Hates Kids.)Read more
Nozomu Tamaki’s Dance in the Vampire Bund (I know, whatta title) is one of those books where a manga-ka normally known for adult material turns around and creates something for — gasp — relatively mainstream audiences. In fact, given the nature of this story and the previous work Tamaki’s signed his name to in both English and Japanese, such as Femme Kabuki, I’m stupefied this has only been labeled with the “OT16+” rating and isn’t sold in shinkwrap. A story about vampire princess who only looks like a pre-teen girl but still shows off a dismaying amount of skin isn’t exactly something you want to be seen reading on the bus. That said, what’s between the rather racy covers is actually pretty good.
Said princess is Mina Ţepeş, queen of all vampirekind and entirely an adult now despite her underage appearance. The age/appearance issue is a convenient loophole through which the story manages to avoid veering into complete tastelessness, especially since there are a couple of moments — one, predictably enough, involving the application of sunblock — where Tamaki’s wink-wink-nudge-nudge approach to that material really pushes the boundaries of taste. Put those questionable elements aside, though, and what’s left is actually quite readable: a nifty premise that has the potential to go places, provided Tamaki’s predilection for female curves doesn’t turn the whole thing into a mere flesh parade.Read more
Once again, I’m fighting the urge to collapse into complete blathering fandom. Basilisk is as grand and glorious an anime as anyone could ask for, violent and beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. I love most any show that taps into Japan’s feudal past (read: ninja and samurai), and they generally have a good track record: Hakkenden, Requiem from the Darkness, Shura no Toki, Otogi-Zoshi. Basilisk sits comfortably among the very best of the bunch.
The show also works a roots lesson in popular Japanese culture, sort of. The source material is Masaki Segawa’s manga of the same name, but that in turn is an adaptation of Fūtaro Yamada’s 1959 novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls. Yamada pretty much created the mythology of the ninja in fiction as we know it right now, paving the way for everything from Buichi Terasawa’s Kabuto to (what else?) Naruto itself. They could have just slavishly followed the plot of the book, which would have worked decently well since the original novel’s two tons of fun all by itself. But the creators of the anime used the original material as a springboard to add backstory and characterization, and turned what could have been a merely fun show into an outstanding one.Read more
Miranda: O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!
Prospero: ’Tis new to thee.
— Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene 1
One of the creepier epiphanies I had in science class was when I learned about the bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. The idea that there was something else alive inside me was eerie enough, but then I read about the organisms that flourish in the volcanic vents on the ocean floor. Compared to that, the inside of my gut was relatively easy territory. Life flourishes wherever it finds a toe-hold, and it’s easy to forget that human beings are only one leaf of a much larger biological tree.
Mushi-shi is one of the few manga I have read that that does justice to that sense of wonder. It is not about a plot or a problem or even really a character, although its individual episodes may contain all of those things. What it is most about is an ecology, a cycle of life and death and rebirth, and how the world of men is only a tiny dot on the face of things. The only other comic I can think of that comes even close to the same territory is Larry Marder’s amazing (and criminally underappreciated) Beanworld, but while Beanworld was about whimsy and wit, Mushi-shi is about overwhelming awe.Read more
You know a series has been more than worth the time when you come to a volume that’s almost entirely character development — almost no action worth speaking of — and at the same time you’re not the slightest bit bored. That’s the latest surprise Witchblade has had to offer up on its fifth disc: there’s very little knock-down-drag-out-style eye candy, but because the writing and characterization have been so strong throughout this series, it’s episodes like these that feel more like a return to true form.
Disc 5 pushes several key plot elements forward, the first and most important being Masane and Rihoko, mother and daughter, now closer than ever but at the same time also that much more troubled about each other. Rihoko’s spent so much time being a mother-of-sorts to Masane that when it comes time for her to be a daughter, she hardly knows how. To that end she does what she can to make things feel halfway normal — mainly, playing Cupid between Masane and Doji Group director Takayama.Read more
Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is a live-action adaptation of Fûtaro Yamada’s ninja-adventure novel The Kouga Ninja Scrolls, which in turn inspired the manga and anime Basilisk — so with a pedigree like that it ought to be a knockout. It’s stuffed with outlandish costumes, lush scenery, savage fights and bizarre adversaries. But it’s strangely unengaging as a story, and anyone who’s familiar with the original material (like me) will squirm at how much has been thrown out.
Back when the original DVD edition of it appeared I wrote a review for my own site where I panned it roundly. Now having seen it again on Blu-ray Disc, I’m inclined to be a little kinder to it, if only because it really does look spectacular on all counts — and because anime/manga fans will almost certainly get a bang out of it. The cliché that this is a “manga come to life” completely applies here, but sadly, that’s pretty much all it is.Read more
Machine Girl is all the proof you need that low-budget exploitation cinema is alive and well. Instead of looking for it in the now-demolished fleapit theaters of Times Square, it’s coming to you in the comfort of one’s own living room, by way of Japan. This is not a bad thing. Exploitation movies are designed to go over the top, and Machine Girl not only goes over the top, it tears the top off, sets it on fire, and throws it back at you.
We are, after all, talking about a movie where a teenaged girl gets one arm amputated by gangsters, then attaches a super-tommy gun to the stump and goes to town on her tormentors. Heads gets blown apart. Limbs are hacked off. Holes are blown through torsos and weapons fired through the holes. Gorehounds won’t just be delighted; they’ll be smacking their foreheads and laughing in disbelief at some of the stuff the filmmakers pull here. But it’s all more surreal and hallucinatory than anything else, and after a while you’re not so much grossed out as amazed at how much they’re able to jam into a mere ninety minutes of running time. Read more