Previous Posts: June 2010

Bent Dept.

Ebert's review of The Last Airbender (they hastily dropped the "Avatar" from the title after you-know-what) strikes blows for good animated features and against the misuse of 3D. Other people have documented in great detail how M. Night botched the...


Ebert's review of The Last Airbender (they hastily dropped the "Avatar" from the title after you-know-what) strikes blows for good animated features and against the misuse of 3D.

Other people have documented in great detail how M. Night botched the casting to make the movie more Peoria-friendly, and how he squirmed on the hook when confronted with this, with various dodges about racial ambiguities in anime. But in the end the casting doesn't even seem to have been the movie's biggest problem, which is (based on this review and others I've seen which leaked beforehand) that the movie just plain sucks.

Several takeaways for me from all this:

  1. Adding 3D to a movie after the fact is an abomination that may well be even worse than colorizing, and will almost certainly be employed consistently to milk that many more bucks out of a movie that was no good to begin with.
  2. I owe it to myself to watch the TV series.
  3. An anime-style feature-film version of the story would be well worth doing as a way to make up for this.
  4. Based on his track record, M. Night is less a talented director who made some aesthetic mistakes and more an emperor who got lucky and is only just now being stripped naked.

Tags: 3D links movies


Et. Al. Dept.

I still can't talk publicly about the Potentially Great Thing that may or may not be happening -- both because I'm not sure I can, and because I'm kinda anxious about jinxing a good thing. All I'll say s that...


I still can't talk publicly about the Potentially Great Thing that may or may not be happening — both because I'm not sure I can, and because I'm kinda anxious about jinxing a good thing. All I'll say s that if, if, this goes through, it'll mean I'll be getting paid cash moneys to do something fandom-related.

Again: if.

Some updates in the meanwhile.

  • The Underground Sun is creeping very, very slowly to a close. I am astonished at how difficult it is to just get this thing put to bed, and that means it's growing increasingly unlikely I'll have it in anything like a readable form for AnimeFest 2010. That's a bad blow to me, because that's traditionally the place I've debuted all my new work. But, I have NYAF a month and change after that, so by that point it ought to be more than done. At the very, very least, I will have promotional material — cards, a chapter sampler — available for A'fest. I'm dead set on giving people something to read for the new book, which means getting the terrible traffic jam of those first few chapters sorted out is a priority in the editing process. I've never worked on a book that was this obstinate to simply declare itself and just let me write it already.
  • The next book after this one is already taking shape. It is, tentatively, The Number of Magic, which like The Four-Day Weekend is based loosely on people I knew in real life but is an entirely different flavor of story. It's about a circle of folks who have markedly different belief systems — "conventional" religions, paganism/Wicca, and atheist/none of the above — but also have strong friendships because of, or maybe sometimes in spite of, all that. (If it all sounds like a bad TV show, please bear in mind the idea is not completely formed yet and it's hard to stump for something that's still taking shape. The idea is always more interesting when it's still up in your own head.)
  • A really wonderful blog post by graphic designer Sam Smyth, about all the different iterations he did for the Criterion edition of Everlasting Moments. I went through a very similar toss-and-test operation for the covers for Summerworld and The Four-Day Weekend, and Smyth does an excellent job of talking about finding just the right image to sum up the film.

Tags: AnimeFest books conventions Criterion links news writing


Movie Reviews: Kantoku Banzai (Glory to the Filmmaker)

Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis’ was Kitano On Kitano, an attempt to turn a mirror on himself, and it works. Kantoku Banzai is Kitano On Kitano Yet Again, where he not only deconstructs his own career as a director but Japanese cinema...



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Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis’ was Kitano On Kitano, an attempt to turn a mirror on himself, and it works. Kantoku Banzai is Kitano On Kitano Yet Again, where he not only deconstructs his own career as a director but Japanese cinema in general as we have been forced to know it lately. The problem with the movie is simple: it isn’t funny.

There’s a good deal more that’s wrong with this film, actually. It’s gratuitous, insular, and boring on top of being not funny, but any one of those problems would have been solved by it being funny in the first place. Or entertaining, or even genuinely insightful for more than a couple of minutes at a time — something Banzai tries to do, fitfully, only to run aground over and over again. It’s clearly an attempt by Kitano to do a creative end run around his inability to bring an idea to fruition, any idea, but that doesn’t make this thing any more bearable. It’s the cinematic version of a beached whale, which thrashes about for 105 minutes and is then blown up to be put out of its misery. Read more


Tags: Japan movies review Takeshi Kitano


Between Tides Dept.

(Title is a Controlled Bleeding reference.) I just grabbed the new Windows Live Writer beta, released literally only minutes ago. So far it's pretty good -- it uses the new Office 2007+ ribbon interface, something that's been trickling into the...


(Title is a Controlled Bleeding reference.)

  • I just grabbed the new Windows Live Writer beta, released literally only minutes ago. So far it's pretty good — it uses the new Office 2007+ ribbon interface, something that's been trickling into the Live Essentials apps one by one. Still looking forward to the full release version for all that fit-and-finish stuff, but the beta's usable. MS's recent public betas have all been extremely stable, just not always feature-finished. Case in point: Windows 7 itself, which was stable enough in its first public beta that many people (me included) were using it on production systems within a month of its release, and haven't looked back since.
  • Another movie I confess having a goony, adolescent fascination with, Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, has been released on the other side of the pond in a region-free Blu-ray. No word about a Stateside release, though, but I imagine the all-region BD market will be fruitful enough to dip into from time to time as taste and budget permit.
  • Picked up a go app for my 'Droid phone and found to my utter humiliation that I cannot beat the machine even at the lowest setting on a 9×9 grid. Hikaru Shindo would laugh in my face. Obviously this problem must be rectified ... in time.
  • The July issue of Sight & Sound does the Kurosawa thing. (Don't forget the upcoming Eclipse set!)
  • Got the new Black Lagoon volume under my belt. Review coming shortly.
  • Vertical has copies of Chi's Sweet Home out to reviewers but mine hasn't shown up. Cat lover that I am, this series is mandatory, but it wouldn't be the first time stuff got lost in the mail on its way to me.
  • Something else really excellent is in the works but it's not a sure thing, so I can't talk about it yet.

Tags: Akira Kurosawa Criterion movies Ralph Bakshi software


Bragging Rights Dept.

I'm nearing the home stretch on my most recent book, The Underground Sun. If it's news to you that I was even working on a new book, I'm not surprised. See, I don't tend to talk a lot about what...


I'm nearing the home stretch on my most recent book, The Underground Sun. If it's news to you that I was even working on a new book, I'm not surprised.

See, I don't tend to talk a lot about what I have under wraps. I'm also discovering that tendency towards modesty might not be doing me any favors, much as I hate to admit it.

Most any day of the week, I can open up my web browser and see a fistful of tweets, Facebook status updates, LJ posts and blog articles from other authors I know. They're only too happy to tell me their wordcounts, chapter milestones, and so on — all forms of self-promotion that I have traditionally avoided.

I don't like doing such things, as far as my own work is concerned. Part of it is that I've been leery of stumping for things that are not finished yet, simply because they're not finished. It smacks of promising something that for all I know I might not be able to deliver as described. (What if I have to ditch the project? What if it's substantially rewritten? Etc.) That's the last thing I wanted to do: advertise for goods that would never be for sale.

But I'm also discovering that such honesty comes at a cost — the cost of not maintaining mindshare. One of the reasons authors talk up their work is because it reminds everyone, however subtly, that there's more stuff on the way. It's too easy to not follow an author's site religiously. The more you talk about what you have on the various burners, the easier it becomes for people to get back in the habit of staying in touch to get the latest updates, which are days rather than months apart.

To that end, look to this space in the coming days for some (literally) eye-opening Underground Sun news.

... ad invoke whatever good fortune you can to send my way to ensure that I get the damn thing finished by August 15th!


Tags: books promotion The Underground Sun writing


Bookish Dept.

First, a note about my revised convention schedule: Otakon (end of July) AnimeFest (beginning of September) NYAF (October) MangaNext (end of October) MangaNext is of course the sister convention to AnimeNext, and the more I hear about it the more...


First, a note about my revised convention schedule:

  • Otakon (end of July)
  • AnimeFest (beginning of September)
  • NYAF (October)
  • MangaNext (end of October)

MangaNext is of course the sister convention to AnimeNext, and the more I hear about it the more I like it. It's smaller, friendlier, more "bookish" (perfect fit for me), and they have a swap meet. Expect a closet-cleaning to take place well in advance of that.

Also, a discussion at GigaOm about why the Kindle will win the e-book wars: 1) Amazon has a buy-once-read-anywhere system in place that supersedes the Kindle device itself; 2) Amazon is a brand that is trusted with both books and technology; 3) Amazon also "gets" software, and should do all it can to foster and nurture that.

I agree with about 2 1/2 of these three points, and the only place I really dissent is in that Amazon may "win" but that doesn't mean I feel the battle will end with them — no more so than, say, HD's evolution ended with Blu-ray beating HD-DVD. There's a lot of work to be done with e-books that Amazon hasn't even started to touch yet. What will they do about books that are heavy on visuals (e.g., comics)? Will they allow Kindle productions to be automatically translated into print-on-demand items as well? (It would only make sense.) Will they eventually allow books to be loaned, traded, resold? Even if they're still copy-protected at every step of the transaction?

In theory, I already own a Kindle: I downloaded the PC app and bought several books in the format. I'm interested in seeing if the long-vaunted Kindle app for Android changes my reading habits. But the vast majority of what I'm interested in reading still isn't offered as Kindle product, and so for me the incentive to make the Kindle that much more a part of how I read is low. Maybe next decade.


Tags: anime conventions e-books manga publishing travel


J-Paper Dept.

Attempts in Japan to overturn the dominance of newspapers via digital media have largely stiffed: Ink Gushes in Japan’s Media Landscape (New York Times)The article talks about how online journalism in Japan hasn't yet done much to displace conventional printed...


Attempts in Japan to overturn the dominance of newspapers via digital media have largely stiffed:

Ink Gushes in Japan’s Media Landscape (New York Times)

The article talks about how online journalism in Japan hasn't yet done much to displace conventional printed news.

Not much mention of 2ch-style anonymous boards as an influence. Which isn't to say they are, just that I do have to wonder how much of that sort of thing has already acquired a sizable (if practically untrackable) audience of its own that more conventional, upscale sites can't steal away.


Tags: Internet Japan links media news


Homerun Dept.

AnimeNext 2010 was a great success. I sold out all but two copies of the books in stock, met some great new friends, saw some also-great existing ones (you know who you are!) ... all around, a terrific show. Even...


AnimeNext 2010 was a great success. I sold out all but two copies of the books in stock, met some great new friends, saw some also-great existing ones (you know who you are!) ... all around, a terrific show. Even the round-trip travel time from the convention center to the house where I was staying wasn't that bad — and this is the New Jersey Turnpike we're talking about, so I was prepared for a four-lane parking lot in both directions. It was only going back through the George Washington Bridge that was bad news, especially since my car's A/C had konked out several weeks before. Ouch.

Even better was a stroke of luck where one of the artist's alley tables went vacant, and my good buddy Dave McCrae helped snap it up for me on the morning of the 2nd day. Said table turned out to be right in front of the main artist's alley exit; I couldn't have asked for better placement.

Yes, I'll be back next year — most likely splitting a spot with Dave (who I'm also sharing space with at Otakon this year).

IMG_1374


Tags: AnimeNext conventions travel


On The Myth Of The Paperless Office (And Bookshelf, And Spinner Rack)

On my shelf of Good Stuff, within reaching distance of me as I type this, are two small manga anthologies by Yoshiharu Tsuge -- he of the famously-weird Neji-shiki, among other things. I bought them for $3.50 each from the...


On my shelf of Good Stuff, within reaching distance of me as I type this, are two small manga anthologies by Yoshiharu Tsuge — he of the famously-weird Neji-shiki, among other things. I bought them for $3.50 each from the Strand in New York City. One of them still has the obi strip; the other has a dedication written in black-fading-to-brown ink on the flyleaf. They are physical artifacts. I imagine that long after I have sold off or given away many other books in my library, I will still have these.

By the time that happens, I worry that I might not be able to have comics as physical artifacts anymore.

For a while now I've been trying to write an essay about e-publishing and manga — or, more generally, comics — and I keep running into the same problem. I don't believe, in the seat of my funky soul, that comics deserve a fate like e-publishing. I worry that the rush to electronic publishing is destroying the idea of bound printed matter as an end in itself. I worry that swapping pages for screens is not and can never be a one-for-one, or even a one-for-many proposition. I worry a lot.

I know, I sound like a Luddite. Worse, a fretting and potentially hypocritical one, since I'm typing this on a computer (gasp) with two monitors (double gasp) while my Android-powered smartphone remains within reach as well. But I will also say that familiarity breeds contempt, or at the very least skepticism.

Read more

Tags: comics e-books manga publishing


Christmas Comes But Once A Year Dept.

I mentioned earlier that Criterion has a BD of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence in the works. Here's the skinny from The Digital Bits: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence will include a new and restored high-definition master, The Oshima Gang (an original...


I mentioned earlier that Criterion has a BD of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence in the works. Here's the skinny from The Digital Bits:

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence will include a new and restored high-definition master, The Oshima Gang (an original making-of featurette), new video interviews (with producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Paul Mayersberg, actor Tom Conti and actor-composer Ryuichi Sakamoto), Hasten Slowly (an hour-long documentary about author and adventurer Laurens van der Post, whose autobiographical novel is the basis for the film), the film's original theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by film writer Chuck Stephens and a 1983 interview with director Nagisa Oshima by Japanese film writer Tadao Sato.

Follow the link in the movie title for my review. There's no Amazon product link yet but there should be before long.


Tags: Criterion Japan Laurens van der Post links movies Nagisa Oshima Ryuichi Sakamoto Takeshi Kitano Tom Conti


Book Reviews: Twin Spica Vol. 2 (Kou Yaginuma)

Two things come to me on reading the second volume of Twin Spica. One, this is a gem of a series that deserves the broadest possible audience. Waste no time picking it up if a) you want to read a...



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Two things come to me on reading the second volume of Twin Spica. One, this is a gem of a series that deserves the broadest possible audience. Waste no time picking it up if a) you want to read a story that assumes the best and most ambitious in humanity, rather than its worst or most cowardly; or b) you have even the slightest interest in manga as something more than a way to show creative ways for people to get sliced in half.

Two, if Vertical Inc. editor Ed Chavez’s job description includes being on the lookout for titles like this, he has the best job in the world. He’s constantly scouring the planet (well, Japan) for manga that have that special Vertical something, and Spica has it in spades. It’s not so outlandish as to be alienating; it’s deeply felt without being sappy; and it plugs into something that people on both sides of the Pacific can tap into without needing a cross-cultural dictionary to decipher. Read more


Tags: Japan manga review Vertical Inc.


Paradigm Shift Dept.

I've spent the last few days running a fever and coughing my eyes out, so I haven't had much of a chance to post anything. Now that the cough has leveled out a bit and I'm no longer feeling like...


I've spent the last few days running a fever and coughing my eyes out, so I haven't had much of a chance to post anything. Now that the cough has leveled out a bit and I'm no longer feeling like there's a layer of sweat between me and everything I touch, I can post some news:

First: I'm at AnimeNext this coming weekend! Look for me there in Artist's Alley under the Genji Press banner.

Second: The next book from the GP imprint, The Underground Sun, is finally nearing the completion of its first draft. It has been a long and painful road to get there, and the book will need major editing before it can be released. And once it's done, it'll represent a certain personal milestone, which may have major significance for the future direction of other work.

In short: this may be the last book I publish under my own imprint.

I've been doing the self-pub thing for a few years now, and the amount of work required to get even the most minimal amount of attention paid to anything is exhausting. I enjoy it, but at the same time I have come to the conclusion I'm shortchanging myself entirely too much. After Sun is finished and released, it'll be time to take whatever comes next and market it a little more conventionally.

It hasn't been a total waste, and I don't mean to imply that it was. I've learned a few things about how to package and market my own work, and I think that's the single biggest lesson learned — and the most valuable, since having those skills is critically useful to any writer trying to draw attention to their work. I just now have to learn how to do that for the sake of an agent or editor, instead of just fans or random folks passing in front of my sales table.

Next, I have some shorter fiction that I've dived into and started working on for the sake of a couple of markets that were passed my way. I've avoided doing shorter fiction for a while now, if only for a fairly spurious reason (marketability). But negative feedback is better than none, and it's about time I took the lessons I learned in the past few years and aimed them in another direction.

The way I put all this, in a conversation with a friend of mine, could be summed up in four words: Do the next thing. It's time to play that much further over my head, and see what happens.


Tags: conventions news publishing writing


Back Stabbers Redux Dept.

Here's an exercise for the reader. Take the word "horror" in the linked article and swap it for the word "anime" or "manga. nick_kaufmann: The Cult of Not Mattering: How Horror Fandom Is Its Own Worst EnemyHorror has its share...


Here's an exercise for the reader. Take the word "horror" in the linked article and swap it for the word "anime" or "manga.

nick_kaufmann: The Cult of Not Mattering: How Horror Fandom Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Horror has its share of detractors. More than its share, really. There are a lot of people out there who think it's trash, that it's lame and stupid. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, these folks aren't the genre's worst enemy. They're not the reason we get tons of terrible horror movies every year. Instead, they are reacting to those same terrible movies and painting the entire genre with the same brush as a result. Who can blame them for thinking horror is lame when 90% of the horror movies released every year really are lame? No, the real enemy of the genre is undiscerning fandom, people who are perhaps like Skullfucker and think any horror film should be above criticism. That it's "pretentious" to want more than tits and blood.

I have, as you can probably guess, run into my local version of this phenomenon plenty of times. I stump for a show like Tatami Galaxy, or House of Five Leaves, and the most coherent feedback I get is "That was weird." Hello, Irony Dept. calling: do you not realize that "weird" is the exact same catch-all epithet that has been flung at manga/anime for decades now by those outside the fandom!?

"Pretentious" is a tougher one to choke down, because it's usually thrown around by people who are neither straightforward fans (e.g., they just wanna have some fun, nothing wrong with that) or people with ambitions to develop a critical eye for what comes their way. They're stuck somewhere in the middle, and they sneer both at the guys below and above them. For folks of that caliber, I have nothing but contempt. 

People who just want to have a good time, I can at least respect their wishes — heck, I have more than a few recommendations for them. That doesn't mean I'm going to ignore my urge to give them more than what they ask for. If they like Boys over Flowers, then I have an obligation to point them towards Nana (a far more intelligent and satisfying series); if they were raised on beat-'em-ups like DBZ, then I'll point them towards more complicated but still viscerally-satisfying stuff like Darker than Black.

I feel obliged — not because I'm a snob (at least, I try not to be one) but because I believe any fan worth his salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce deserves to have the broadest possible appreciation for his fandom, and that the less fans we have who think criticism is snobbery, the better.

Some of this falls to the critics as well. There's no end of critics' blogs, but they often fall into one of two categories: they're either way too analytical and academic to be interesting to anyone except, well, other similarly-minded folks (who are few and far between);or they're one step above a rolling diary of "here's what I saw last night" entries. The best ones are just fannish enough to be enjoyably enthusiastic, and just analytical enough to get a few synapses firing. They need to be partners to their fans, not parents.


Tags: anime criticism fandom links manga


Moving Pictures Dept.

On a whim: five manga, from my previous reviews and my own personal-faves shelf, that I think would make good candidates for animated productions.Kurohime. The first few volumes of this were rough going for me, and I confess I didn't...


On a whim: five manga, from my previous reviews and my own personal-faves shelf, that I think would make good candidates for animated productions.

Kurohime. The first few volumes of this were rough going for me, and I confess I didn't see the appeal of the whole thing at first. But then it settled down into a story that was less tail-chasing and more relentless forward evolution, and I got pretty hooked. An animated version could clean up the mess of the first few books, tighten the chronology a bit, and give us a pretty wild ride.

Ochō the Ear-CleanerAnother as-yet-untranslated series I need to discuss when time permits. It's part romance, part history lesson and part frothy comedy, all set in during the latter Edo period and revolving around a woman with a skill-set hinted at in the title. It's nowhere nearly as silly as it sounds, and in fact quite a bit endearing. Think of something halfway between Oh! Edo Rocket and House of Five Leaves, if that doesn't sound like too perverse a description.

Kataribe. I was very impressed with this Masayuki (Moyasimon) Ishikawa title, a single volume not released in English but with the scope and fierce energy of a Miyazaki production like Nausicaa. A movie version would be a knockout; the manga's imagery gives only the barest hint of how this could look as a fully-animated production.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's shorts. An anthology production of his shorter works, recently reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly, would be a neat project. The artwork doesn't have to be faithful to the original, if you ask me; this would be more of a showcase for his storytelling as filtered through the sensibilities of different directors.

Red-Colored Elegy. No deep review of this has been forthcoming from me if only because it's been difficult to describe without lapsing into a fanboy gush that serves neither you nor me. Imagine an Art Theatre Guild film (something of the same lineage as Throw Away Your Books And Go Out Into The Streets) rendered as manga, about the pain and ambivalence of being young, in love and futureless. [And so imagine my astonishment when I found it was, indeed, made into an OAV.] [Update: AniPages Daily talks about the OAV here.]


Tags: adaptation anime books Japan manga


The Big Takedown Dept.

I tweeted about this earlier, but since both Twitter and Tweetdeck are being unreliable pieces of junk (trying to access the MT online editor in Chrome isn't much better; the rich-text editor doesn't even come up when I select it...


I tweeted about this earlier, but since both Twitter and Tweetdeck are being unreliable pieces of junk (trying to access the MT online editor in Chrome isn't much better; the rich-text editor doesn't even come up when I select it from the dropdown ostensibly because something refused to finish loading; the concept of a  "robust web application" grows ever more idiotic with each passing fail) ... here we go in detail.

Japanese, U.S. Manga Publishers Unite To Fight Scanlations

An international coalition of Japanese and American-based manga publishers have joined together to combat what they call the “rampant and growing problem” of scanlations, the practice of posting scanned and translated editions of Japanese comics online without permission of the copyright holders. The group is threatening legal action against 30 scanlation sites.

Cue the inevitable flailing and screaming, plus various misguided comparisons between the music industry (discussion of which has been hopelessly muddied by so many levels of misplaced indignation and moral posturing).

First, I have zero sympathy for people who post scans of existing licensed titles (or later volumes of same) and get yelled at for doing so. I do have sympathy for those who fan-translate unlicensed titles, and who remove their work when licensed editions become available. I've read far too many of those exact things to not be sympathetic.

That said, I've begun thinking it might be at least as productive to write about the best untranslated manga out there and stump for its licensing whenever possible, rather than do an end run around conventional licensing and release it samizdat-style.

I don't expect a lot of people to agree with me on this point. No, reading someone else's notes about a comic is not the same as reading it for yourself. But I feel increasingly less comfortable with assuring myself that those reading those things are just as ethical as the ones producing them, when I have plenty of evidence they're not.

I do agree that yes, the way manga is licensed can be terribly hidebound. To that end, I'd like to see more work done to make fans understand why things work the way they do — that it is simply not possible to give them everything. I have myself entertained a number of what amount to Utopian themes for accelerating the licensing and publication of titles that have less-than-stellar commercial prospects — e.g., pay-as-you-go, fan-funding, that sort of thing. I doubt those plans can work, simply because the amount of money that needs to be spent upfront to bring any title to the table, and the resistance that might be encountered from Japan over something that unorthodox.

So what would work? Well, I'd bet that once Japanese publishers start getting more on the ball about digital distribution (which is already gaining momentum), it might be that much easier to see manga directly cross-licensed for the U.S. in that form. That wouldn't reduce the time needed to translate and edit it (that's always going to be a bottleneck), but it would be one less roadblock. But I know better at this point than to assume there's going to be any magic bullet solution.


Tags: business fandom links manga scanlation translation


Movie Reviews: Freesia

So, picture this. Sometime in Japan’s future, while some great war continues raging somewhere, a law has been passed that allows the victims of violent crime to legally retaliate against those who have wronged them. The whole process is strictly...



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So, picture this. Sometime in Japan’s future, while some great war continues raging somewhere, a law has been passed that allows the victims of violent crime to legally retaliate against those who have wronged them. The whole process is strictly managed and controlled. The aggrieved can only use approved weapons, for instance, and the one being targeted is given notice of the action. Those who don’t have the nerve to do it themselves can hire a government-licensed killer to finish the job. The victim can escape only by killing his killers, who can also hire bodyguards to protect them — unless, say, they’re too proud to accept the help.

Freesia is not the first example of a genre Japan seems to specialize in, which for lack of any better label I’ll call “sociological science fiction”. The great-god-emperor of all such stories is ostensibly Battle Royale, where a fight to the death was couched in a sociology that could only be called “Darwinistic” at the cost of making Darwin do barrel rolls in his grave. This film, adapted from a manga of the same name, fits comfortably into the same category without trying to be a one-upsmanship job. It’s more low-key and simmering than the explosion of the other film.

Note: I was unable to finish watching this film due to the DVD being defective. At some point I plan to find a working copy and update this review. Read for flavor. Read more


Tags: Japan movies review


Fan Disservice Dept.

Belinda (S1E1) posted her own mixed feelings about Queen's Blade, to which I replied, "It's the best-written bad show I've yet seen." That really does encapsulate so much of what's wrong with it: the storytelling (which is not bad at...


Belinda (S1E1) posted her own mixed feelings about Queen's Blade, to which I replied, "It's the best-written bad show I've yet seen." That really does encapsulate so much of what's wrong with it: the storytelling (which is not bad at all) is at such odds with the visuals (which are deeply sleazy) that the show pulls itself apart. The writing of QB makes a stab at elevating the characters above the level of sex objects; the visuals of the show undo all that good work. Most bad shows are uniformly bad, but this one's such a disarming mixture it's hard to appreciate how the two halves were joined.

So far I haven't received much in the way of mail along the lines of "What's wrong with a little stupid fun?" Nothing, except that everyone's sliding scale of stupid spans different lengths. Mine tops out when I start feeling like I'm having my face rubbed in the material. Agent Aika had the same problem: it was like the filmmakers had a running bet with themselves that they could include panties in every single shot. (One shudders to think what the drinking game for this show consists of.) I felt less unclean watching the intimacy in In the Realm of the Senses than I did anything in QB, because the characters in that movie were responding more to each other than anything else.

A friend of mine has commented on how Japanese media seems to have this obsession with sleaze. That led into a discussion about the country's contorted censorship laws, and which seem to have simply produced a whole subculture of titillation based on end runs around actually showing anything. Hence the way most every major character in QB is a fetish object of one kind or another. And because there's almost no male characters of consequence anywhere in the show (Aika was like this, too), it's all the more about what's being paraded in front of the camera for us. You'll forgive me if I didn't feel blessed.


Tags: anime criticism links


Movie Reviews: Queen's Blade

Queen’s Blade’s is an adventure story with the plot of a fighting game, the heart of an X-rated dating sim, and no brain to split between them. It comes straight out of the same chainmail-bikini school of post-feminist storytelling that...



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Queen’s Blade’s is an adventure story with the plot of a fighting game, the heart of an X-rated dating sim, and no brain to split between them. It comes straight out of the same chainmail-bikini school of post-feminist storytelling that spawned the live-action Charlie’s Angels movies, where (to borrow a phrase from, I think, David Marsh) the best way for a woman to improve herself is by being flat on her back.

I know, I know — I shouldn’t expect much. The whole thing’s been derived from a series of fantasy RPG game books more notable for showing acres of skin than for their game mechanic. We’re not talking about anything that’s likely to cop a Japan Media Arts Festival award. What’s irritating is how the creators have compromised both the body and the brains of the outfit. The story is decently done and even gets incrementally more interesting as it goes along, but a) the real target audience for the show could clearly care less and b) the flesh parade makes it impossible to take the storytelling as anything but a sop to the Redeeming Social Value crowd. They needed to pick one angle and stick with it, for better or worse. Read more


Tags: anime fantasy Japan review


Just Watch What You Say Dept.

Orac has a problem with the concept of freedom of speech getting historical exceptions, as do I: Elie Wiesel: Carve out an exception to free speech for Holocaust denial : Respectful InsolenceI find myself far more in agreement with Salman...


Orac has a problem with the concept of freedom of speech getting historical exceptions, as do I:

Elie Wiesel: Carve out an exception to free speech for Holocaust denial : Respectful Insolence

I find myself far more in agreement with Salman Rushdie than with Elie Wiesel. Rushdie points out that laws against Holocaust denial turn evil little racist twits into free speech martyrs and allows the most vile and despicable of morons to wrap themselves in the mantle of free speech.

Personally, I say: Let them have their free speech. Then bury them with refutations and ridicule.

A while back I had a parallel discussion about the banning of Mein Kampf. A friend of mine was of the opinion that censoring the book would do nothing but good. Aren't there some ideas that simply don't deserve to be circulated, because of the danger they pose? Aren't some things best left alone?

I said no, because:

  1. Banning something turns it into contraband; it only makes it all the more interesting. Putting Mein Kampf into a modern-day Index Librorum Prohibitorum would only fire that much more curiosity about it, and go that much more towards legitimizing it as a object of persecution. (If it pisses off the Powers That Be, it must be doing something right!)
  2. The same goes for people who rally around it. Banning the text gives them that much more of an opportunity to wrap themselves in martyrdom. Leaving the book freely accessible makes them seem less courageous, and more commonplace.
  3. You cannot win an argument with someone by kicking them out of the room If Mein Kampf is so indefensible, then document its indefensibility for all to see.

There's more points, but those are the most crucial ones. I'd formed my feelings on the subject back when I had first been introduced to Holocaust denial as something a bit more than just an abstract issue of debate, and saw that while you can't change the minds of the worst offenders, that's not the point: it's to document for others, both now and in the future, why their arguments are worthless.

Free speech is something where you have to give as good as you get, and the way to get the best out of it is to use it to refute it at its worst.


Tags: censorship dharma history links sociology


Dumb Phone Dept.

Well, that was short-lived. After barely three weeks of use, my brand-new Motorola Cliq XT Android phone decided to turn into a desk paperweight. A service call to T-Mobile ended with "Let's cross-ship you a new phone", so I can't...


Well, that was short-lived. After barely three weeks of use, my brand-new Motorola Cliq XT Android phone decided to turn into a desk paperweight. A service call to T-Mobile ended with "Let's cross-ship you a new phone", so I can't fault them for being customer-friendly.

What does it say that in the space of three or so years I've gone from a phone that survived a face-down trip on my driveway and ran for days at a time on a charge to one that had to be treated with the reverence of a holy relic lest I mess up the touch screen — and died of its own accord anyway? And that took longer to boot up and make phone calls than my desktop computer?

If this is the future of telecommunications, I'll go back to tin cans and strings.

At least I had the sense to save the old Nokia, which despite its cosmetic damage and relative lack of snazz is still a functional little warhorse. And gets better reception than the Moto did. Oh, irony.


Tags: fail technology


Movie Reviews: Yakuza: Like A Dragon

You know within the first few seconds of Yakuza: Like a Dragon that you’re watching a Takashi Miike movie. That is, if you’ve seen his movies before, you’ll recognize all his amusing little hallmarks here: the dazzling, fast-moving cinematography, the...



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You know within the first few seconds of Yakuza: Like a Dragon that you’re watching a Takashi Miike movie. That is, if you’ve seen his movies before, you’ll recognize all his amusing little hallmarks here: the dazzling, fast-moving cinematography, the stable of actors he draws on regularly (e.g., Sho Aikawa), the bizarre off-center humor that blooms in every scene like weeds coming out of concrete. They’re all on parade in a movie based on a videogame franchise that felt like it was itself a Takashi Miike movie — no small feat since many of Miike’s movies already feel like they’re video games. What’s the term for this? Circular one-upsmanship?

No, I haven’t played the video game, although my friend Eric has more than made up for me in that department. Although from everything I can gather, Yakuza has little enough to do with the game that it won’t matter — it draws on the game more for situational inspiration than as an attempt to make it a live-action walkthrough. Fine by me, since it is possible to be faithful to a fault: I don’t think Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children appealed to anyone but fans of the game, and I’m not sure it was designed to do anything but that in the first place. Read more


Tags: Japan movies review Takashi Miike yakuza


News You Can Use Dept.

Bits and pieces from this week's AICN Anime, including a couple of shout-outs to yours truly (thank you, Mr. Green). Somerset, New Jersey's AnimeNext will host Kenji Kamiyama, director of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex and the to...


Bits and pieces from this week's AICN Anime, including a couple of shout-outs to yours truly (thank you, Mr. Green).

Somerset, New Jersey's AnimeNext will host Kenji Kamiyama, director of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex and the to be released by FUNimation Eden of the East ... Black Lagoon creator Rei Hiroe (also known as doujinshi artist Tex-Mex) will be at Anime Expo for the premiere of the new anime OVA Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail.

See the trailer for the latter here. Kamiyama is also responsible for the excellent TV adaptation of Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit.

Catsuka reports Studio 4°C has developed a short adaptation of Masamune Shirow's battle of religions, Orion to be shown at the Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo this June. Batman: Gotham Knight's Yasuhiro Aoki directed the 3D work.

Orion (see the link above for a review) was not one of my favorite of Shirow's works, but it at the very least stands out by dint of being so impossible to follow and insanely over-designed that you can't help but marvel at it.

Kinji Fukasaku's son, and director of Battle Royale II will be supervising a 3D converted re-release of original Battle Royale movie.

... get that man away from the camera now.

A UK DVD of live action Sleeping Bride has been released Synopsis: From Osamu Tezuka, godfather of manga, and Hideo Nakata, godfather of J-horror, comes this quirky romance between a boy and the comatose girl with whom he falls in love.

Tezuka + Nakata = sold. Any chance of a US release?

DC Comics has announced that it will be shutting down its CMX manga division

Part of me wants to tag that #andnothingofvaluewaslost, but I know better. CMX had some good titles in the middle of a great deal of dross, although I hope with them out of the picture the more dedicated players like Dark Horse and Del Rey will step up that much more.


Tags: anime Hideo Nakata Japan Kenji Kamiyama Kenta Fukasaku Kinji Fukasaku links manga Masamune Shirow news Osamu Tezuka Rei Hiroe


Creator Knows Best Dept.

Remember when I said I'd discuss the "Creator Doesn't Always Know Best" issue in another essay? This is that essay. And I'll start with the most blatant and obvious example that could ever be coined. George Lucas. (Put gold stars...


Remember when I said I'd discuss the "Creator Doesn't Always Know Best" issue in another essay? This is that essay. And I'll start with the most blatant and obvious example that could ever be coined.

George Lucas.

(Put gold stars up next to your names if you saw this coming.)

It's almost mandatory, in fandom, to rag on George Lucas for taking a dump on his own work. Not just for following up a paradigm-shifting piece of work with, decades later, movies that barely qualify as bad knockoffs of the original and don't have a third of their spirit or wit. A big part of that I blame on him not working with people who had the nerve to say No, George to him and get away with it. Brian De Palma had the nerve to tell George that the opening crawl to Star Wars was crap; it looked like it had been scrawled on someone's driveway with the camera on a trash barrel, and it read even worse. Plenty of other people in the original Star Wars team pushed back at George and forced him to play that much more over his head. When he was surrounded by nothing but yes men, the evolutionary pressures on Star Wars were relaxed, and the end result was dismal.

But the biggest thing that ticked people off wasn't just that he'd gone and made markedly inferior movies. It was the historical revisionism he'd practiced on his own work — not just changing things, but making it effectively impossible to see what the changes had been made from. I didn't mind the digital Jabba or Han Shot First so much as I minded the notion that the original version had to die an inglorious death to make room for George's Master Vision.

Most of the discussions I've had about Lucas tend to come down to this stance: Yes, it's his work and he can do what he likes with it — but I reserve the right to call him out on it and insist he's doing terrible damage to his own legacy.

The problem with using George Lucas as an example, though, is that (to borrow a phrase) he makes for bad case law. He's an extreme example — maybe the most extreme example of what, if anything, a creator owes to his audience. What about situations like translation or localization, where it might not always be clear if the person being translated is having proper justice done to them?

This is where things get touchier, and where I don't think you can do anything other than go case-by-case. I'll cite some examples I've used before.

  • I didn't mind Blade of the Immortal (the manga) being reformatted as a left-to-right production. It didn't significantly affect the readability of the book — if anything, it enhanced it, since it made it that much more accessible to that many more people. And it wasn't a big political football for me, because the author himself was OK with it and had in fact asked for that specific formatting.
  • I had major problems with the translation of Ōoku, which attempted to render genteel Japanese from the Edo period as quasi-Shakespearan gabble. I thought it was a profound mistake: the text didn't need to be rendered like this to be immersive, and maybe immersivity wasn't the most important thing here anyway.
  • I was somewhat bothered by the original VIZ editions of Black Jack, which only ran for two volumes and used a "greatest hits" approach. From what I was able to discern, though, the selections in question mirrored the very same choices Osamu Tezuka had made for a similar compilation in Japan. I was still that much more grateful when Vertical started releasing the whole thing here, though.
  • I felt the bluenosed meddling over Tenjo Tenge (all so it could run out of shrinkwrap) was a bad idea, and simply meant that the audience that would have bought it anyway now simply ended up with an expurgated version. I had no particular love for the series, but I was annoyed that it was being chopped up all so the publisher could save a buck or two in the hopes of wider distribution. (As far as I can tell, it wouldn't have made any difference.)
  • I had some of the same feelings about Golgo 13, which debuted Stateside in a 13-volume best-of version. But the sheer size of the original comic, which spans literally a hundred-plus volumes, would have made issuing a full editions of the comic a practical impossibility. Better that we have a greatest-hits collection than an attempt at faithfulness that would have only petered out after about that many volumes anyway. (On the other hand, we have full-on runs of titles like Lone Wolf and Cub. YEAH!)

In all of these cases, the creator had a specific vision for how things were meant to be. And in the vast majority of them, there was consent on the part of the creator (or his representatives) as to what was to be done. In some cases the butchery meant the withdrawal of consent: viz., the way Nausicaa was hacked apart and stitched back together for its original U.S. release, which meant a whole library of films from one of Japan's most important animation houses was not seen in English for nearly a decade and a half. Or the English translation of Keiichi Sigsawa's Kino's Journey, which was reorganized against his wishes and resulted in the author pulling future installments of the series from being published here.

And that's what it really comes down to for me: informed consent. The other guy, to the best of everyone involved, has to know what's going to happen to his work. As long as he's making reasonably informed choices, and those choices are respected, it's not something readers can grouse too loudly about. It's the Sigsawas and the Ghiblis of the world we should be fighting harder to defend and have justice done to — provided we know that they have been screwed over in the first place.

Publishing manga in English — in fact, publishing at all — involves compromise. The history of manga publishing in the U.S. now has a whole library of examples for how to choose wisely or poorly. And given that those in charge of hustling the books out the door have to pick all the more carefully, let's hope they pay attention to what's worth it, what's not, and why.

I'll have some more to say about the "censorship" side of this issue in a future post.


Tags: anime business creativity fandom manga publishing


The Pipeline Wins Again Dept.

An interview with producer Richard Zanuck, mostly about Jaws and Alice in Wonderland, sported this incredibly telling phrase: We had a date long before we started, a release date. The picture was actually booked in thousands of theaters long before...


An interview with producer Richard Zanuck, mostly about Jaws and Alice in Wonderland, sported this incredibly telling phrase:

We had a date long before we started, a release date. The picture was actually booked in thousands of theaters long before we started, so my aim obviously was to make that date and it was very close.

Emphasis mine. The pipeline wins yet again.

How soon before Best Buy or Wal-Mart call the studios and demand something to fill six inches of shelf space for the 2014 Q2 season? Doesn't matter what it is — it's all interchangeable, isn't it?


Tags: business distribution links movies



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