Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Black Rock Xmas!!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chinese Gundam Goes away...

So first they built it.  Then they denied that it was a copy.  Now it's gone.

those crazy Chinese.

Source:  Kotaku

Tron: Legacy

Tron was not a successful movie in it's time.  It was groundbreaking, and certainly influential, but it failed financially.  In fact if you even mentioned a Tron Sequal in the  Eisner Era you'd probably be fired.    That said it's grown a following over the years.  A sizable chunk of Gen Yers saw Tron and saw the future.  They didn't see the flaws their parents did, all they saw was flashy effect, cool motorcycles, and the future.  These children grew up to be adults, and a bit of revisionist history happened.  Sometime in the early 00's Tron went from one of Disney's great failed experiments to a triumph of visionary movie making.  A movie of that stature surly deserves a sequel, right? John Lasseter though so.  So one of the first things he did when he took over the reigns of Disney was green like Tron 2.

It's not secret that Tron: Legacy is, for me, the most anticipated movie of the year.  Even since Disney dropped the test teasers in 2008 I've been hooked on the Idea of a Tron sequel. I was slightly too young to see Tron in the theater, but I caught it years later on Disney Channel or Wonderful World of Disney.  For a young computer guy the the whole concept spoke to me.  I will be honest though.  Until I was forced to examine my thoughts on Tron when the sequel was announced, I can't say I was a huge fanboy.  In this examination I realized how much I really did like it, but no where beyond, "I liked Tron so a sequel would be cool" territory.  The Eureka moment happened when it started to Disney's plan for the movie started to coalesce.  Stephen Lisberger was involved as a writer and a producer.  Jeff Bridges was in talks for more than just a Cameo.  The film would be a real time direct sequel as opposed to a remake or re-imagining.  (Can you imagine Tron: Begins?)  It seemed for once Hollywood was doing everything right.  They weren't cutting corners, they were doing what the fans want.  Signing Daft Punk to score the movie was the final proof that these guys were doing something special.

They did do something special.

There has been a lot of initial criticism about the normal things in a Genre movie.  Wooden acting, bad script, etc.  What I found amazing about the film was how layered it was.  Yes on the surface it's a cliche movie about a kid who's pissed that his dad left him, and how he deals with that, and how it affects his relationship with his dad after he's been found again.  It's all been done before.  (These days what hasn't).   There was much more to that movie thematically, and it touched on the mythos, logos and ethos of our modern area.

The first overarching theme deals with the nature of freedom itself, and more specifically technological freedom.  The opening scene is all about Sam continuing his fathers dream of software being for the people.  No corporation should own software, it should be available for all.  This ultimately is a critique of DRM, and whether anyone can really own a program.  It's this notion that pushes Kevin Flynn to create The Grid.  A perfect world, where all programs can be free, an allegory for what's going on in the real world with his Operating system.  His world was so perfect that a new lifeforms was able to come to being.  Life though is in inherently imperfect, and the same drive for perfection spelled the end of his dreams.
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There were a number of mythological aspects to the story that would make Joseph Campbell proud, I noticed both references to Paradise Lost and Icarus in the way the dealt with the message they were trying to get across.  Flynn thought he could create perfection only to be shown that The Grid like The Sun could not be tamed by a mere mortal.

Paradise Lost, tells the story of the war in heaven between the rebellious angels and God.  Flynn being God created a perfect world with perfect followers to build it.  He created Clu first, who was to help him build his world.  More programs were created who like angles were prefect, and where subservient to The User.  ISO's would be analogous Humanity.  Flynn saw greater potential in the ISOs than he ever did in his creations.  Clu's singular drive was perfection, but in some ways it was also Jealousy.  His coup was motivated jealousy.  Jealously of having to share Flynn's love and Jealousy that ISO's have a choice.  Choice is key.  Choice in Faith is what separates the ISO's and Programs, and Humans and Angels alike.  There are two story arch in Paradise lost, one tell the story of the fall of Lucifer, the other tell the story of the Fall of man.  The question I have, if we get a sequel, are Sam and Quorra Adam and Eve?  Cast out of the Garden of Eden?  Is Sam Jesus?  Is Neo Jesus?  Stop trying to hit me and hit me!   Don't get me wrong, this isn't a "Christian" movie, it's probably more aptly a "Milton" movie.  The allegory isn't nearly as blatant as Narnia.  But still it's there.  It merely uses a familiar construct to get it's message across...

I'd be wrong to not mention the Music and the 3D effects.  As expected Daft Punk's score for this was amazing.  It's probably up there with John Williams- Star Wars, or Danny Elfman-Batman, in terms of shear perfection in setting tone and mood for the film.  I'll be posting a separate review of the soundtrack when I get it.

The 3D effects were also excellent, they did a mix of 2D and 3D, and only the scenes that benefited from 3D done.  This was great because it gave your eyes a rest during slow parts.  The special effects were also awesome.  A great update to the classic Tron look.  I've heard some criticism. about the CGI Clu.  I though the effect was good, at least as good as Avatar.  The only real difference, and the reason it stood out more, is that unlike Avatar, Clu spent most of his screen time on with other real humans.  This direct comparison widens the Uncanny Valley.  He's also suppose to be a computer program so being too "Perfect" is to be expected.  

Oh... and for the critics who called the acting wooden... Most of the character are computer programs. They're suppose to be a little stiff.  This is why Quorra is more animated than the rest.

Bohemian Rhapsody: String Quartet


It's always fun to see this arranged in new ways.  In 300 years Freddy Mercury will be like Beethoven... 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Secret Nazi Origins of Scrooge McDuck!

For any child growing up in the 80s, there is one Disney Duck that is second only to Donald himself, and that is Scrooge McDuck.

There should be nothing about Scrooge that says, "action hero". He is old, Scottish, rich, and stingy. Yet somehow, he has adventures that rival or exceed those of Indiana Jones. In fact, much of Indiana Jones is based on the Scrooge McDuck comics penned by Disney duck scribe Carl Barks.

But the similarities between Indy and Scrooge might run deeper than just escaping giant boulders. Both have ties to a very evil and very infamous military power: The Nazis.

For a duck of Scrooge's stature, hearing that he has Nazi ties might make you think some of his imminence wealth is due in part to some seedy McDuck family back room dealings. However, I can say assuredly that all McDuck money was earned in his lifetime with his own feathery hands. It started with a dime you know.

No, Scrooge's Nazi connections come from the creation of the duck himself, as a piece of propaganda.

Enter the Spirit of '43. During WWII, Donald was literally the propaganda poster duck for the war. Disney slapped his bill over anything that could be considered American. For many people, Donald represented the everyman. He wasn't squeaky clean like Mickey, he fell pray to temptation and selfishness. So when moviegoers saw Donald going back and forth emotionally on his stance on war, it gave people a fictional character they could relate with.

For example, in the propaganda cartoon Spirit of '43, after Donald gets paid, he is faced with the dilemma of saving his money and using the taxes to help pay for the war effort, or be stingy and spend the money on something for himself. The part of Donald that tells him to be a spend thrift and save the money, comes in the form of a Scottish duck with the same beard and accent of the Scrooge McDuck we know and love today.

And while the "Scrooge" persona in Donald is his "good" side, it's characteristics are still those of Scrooge McDuck, in that Scrooge would always tell Donald to save his money before spending it.

Here is the cartoon in it's entirety. The Scrooge part is only at the beginning before it goes into a typical "America is so friggin great!" rant:




Scrooge's first official appearance came in 1947 in the Carl Barks comic Christmas on Bear Mountain, though that Scrooge is very different in appearance and attitude than the Scrooge Barks later made the hero of his comics. He eventually becomes much more like the character seen in Spirit of '43.

If we wanted to look at this canonically, we could assume that the "Scrooge" persona in Donald is just his manifestation of his dear Uncle Scrooge, whom he knows would tell him to save the cash. To go along with this, Donald's evil persona is much more akin to his free spirited cousin and adversary, Gladstone Gander. In Spirit of '43 Donald could simply be channeling duck's he already knows and use them to fill the roll of "good" and "bad" in his head. Of course practically all this is impossible because neither character had been conceived yet, but I figured I'd channel the great Don Rosa myself and canonize the most minute of Duck Universe details.

Regardless it is interesting to watch Spirit of '43 and see what I think could be the roots of Scrooge McDuck.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Chinese will knock off anything...

The Chinese love Gundam almost as much as the Japanese.  During the period of economic liberalization in the 80's Chinese television was flooded with dubbed content from both the US and Japan.  You could ask anyone born in China between 1975 and 1987 and they'd probably know just as much about Transformers, He-Man, She-Ra, Gundam, Macross, Doromon, and Detective Conan as any adult from the same generation in the USA or Japan.  

What do you do then when you want to build a theme park in Mainland China.  Paying license fees is expensive, and what's the point when the legal system in China really done't protect international trademarks... I'll tell you what you do... you build it anyway, just paint it red.  

What you see to he Left is almost exact replica of the RX-78 currently residing in Shizuoka (Right).  The Senario is pretty much as stated above.  They wanted a Gundam exhibit for a new theme park in Sichuan so instead of paying Bandai for the rights, they just built it themselves.  Industrious? Yes.  Legal? Probably not.  

Source:  Dvice

Monday, December 13, 2010

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt Impressions

I'll go ahead and be forthcoming with the statement that I'm probably what some might consider a Gainax superfan. But I always stop at calling myself a fanboy of anything, because while I might feel strongly about certain brands and properties I will always point out their flaws if any exist.

Gainax I will admit I probably defend more often than they sometimes deserve. I will also admit that the current Gainax is somewhat of a post-modern version of their former self. This is part due to most of the founding members moving on to bigger things (*cough* Studio Khara *cough*), or leaving due to making brilliant critiques of 2chan members. So what is left of Gaianx is a studio of people constantly trying to reach the greatness of their early genre defining works such as Nadia, Gunbuster and Evangelion (what three things do those shows have in common I wonder).

Where some people have given up on the "new" Gainax, I have found their new face quiet entertaining. What they have come to specialize in is a sort of hyper action super camp. A lot of the humor falls into well executed camp, but at the same time can turn on a dime and get deadly serious without showing it's hand. And slowly, over the years, it seems they have turned more to the former and less of the later.

This is where Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt comes in. One of the campiest and grotesque anime in modern times (or ever).

I love camp. Army of Darkness might be my third favorite movie of all time, behind Citizen Kane and End of Evangelion of course. I also love cheesecake. I believe my posts defending Queen's Blade and Highschool of the Dead prove that. So it seems like a show containing both those elements would be right up my alley. Well... you are right, but maybe not as much as I thought.

Let me try to explain. When Panty and Stocking (here within referred to as P&S) first aired and I watched it I was not impressed in the least. The first episode was about a giant poop monster attacking the city, all which has been covered in Dogma. The dick jokes went limp and the whole poop thing seemed like a pandering mess. So I instantly denounced the show.

Then, after a few more episodes aired, I decided to give it another go. After watching a little more into the series, I got the joke.

I think maybe the first time I tried watching it, I was watching with "South Park" eyes, when I needed to be watching with my "Evil Dead" eyes. It's a different kind of comedy then you might expect. It isn't so much poking fun of western culture as much as it is acknowledging it as a type of homage.

And before I go further, I must explain exactly what P&S is. The style of P&S is a direct reference of Western animation. Looking like something from Cartoon Network from the early 2000's. Maybe a little Dexter's Lab and Powerpuff Girls, mixed in with a dash of Invader Zim.

The thing is, Gainax really REALLY did their homework when it comes to the western references in this show. It really feels like an anime made so that people in America will catch all the jokes. A send up of Ren and Stimpy appear in one episode as a husband and wife. Panty and Stocking steal the spark from Optimus and Megatron in another episode and turn into Transformers in probably my favorite episode so far. Their dog companion Chuck looks just like Gir from the aforementioned Invader ZIM. These go on and on. Panty constantly quotes American action movies, and she is even seen wearing a Slave Labor Graphics (creators of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) T-Shirt in the newest episode:










That right there is a hard-core reference to western culture.

In that respect the show is really well done, and I think worth the viewing of anyone who would appreciate such references.

Since it comes from Gainax, the show is not without it's commentary on society, as one episode completely ditches the pop art style and goes instead for hyper realistic depictions of Japanese business men and women working a thankless existence. And Garterbelt's shocking backstory to live through hell on Earth to make up for his past transgressions. Both these examples, while dark and depressing both end with a ridiculous and upbeat finish, which makes the dreariness of the tale stand out even more and remind the audience that all they are watching is escapism in it's purest form.

Though with all that said P&S still isn't as amazing or ground breaking as I had hoped it would be. Being Gainax I know I set my expectations too high, and while I eagerly look forward to each episode and really enjoy myself each time, I know I am not laughing at the jokes as much as the creators probably wish I was. It's more like a fun, refreshing ride, than it is a rule breaking piece of art. But the series isn't over yet, and like many Gainax shows I'm somewhat expecting them to turn the series on it's head so that by the end it won't even resemble the first episode.

Monday, December 6, 2010

P.B Crisps: Let Your Voice Be Heard

Somehow I've started a P.B. Crisps Revolution, when I first blogged about them earlier this year. P.B. Crisps has become our top search term and after many comments I realize there is quite a need for these delicious morsels to make a second coming, fittingly around Christmas (yes, I just compared P.B. Crisps to Jesus Christ.... They are that good.)

Planters just opened a Facebook page dedicated to marketing their new creepy talking Mr. Peanut. You know what to do devoted P.B. Crisp fans. Spam the hell out of the page demanding the return of your favorite after school snack.

Carpe Diem. Viva La P.B. Crisps!

Lonecow's Top 10 Anime Women Recap

Here are links to all previous entries in the nearly year long look at anime's greatest female protagonists.

10. Ritsu Tainaka - K-On!

9. Sheryl Nome - Macross Frontier

8. Motoko Kusanagi - Ghost in the Shell

7. Rei Ayanami - Rebuild of Evangelion

6. Tohsaka Rin - Fate/Stay Night

5. Yoko Ritona - Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann

4. Senjogahara Hitagi - Bakemonogatari

3. C.C. - Code Geass

2. Haruhi Suzumiya - Melencoly of Haruhi Suzumiya

1. Asuka Langly Soryu - Neon Genesis Evangelion

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lonecow's Top 10 Anime Women .... # 1

I have put this off for long enough. Honestly, part of the reason I haven't posted as much, is the impending thought of finishing up the Top 10 Anime Girls Feature. Partly because I've already said a lot about my number 1 on this blog and to every one who knows me.

At the same time I'm scared that once I start talking about her I won't stop. Luckily the world invented an "Edit" feature.

So in the immortal words of a janitor I once heard after the credits had rolled on the movie I was watching, "Let's do this."

Number 1: Asuka Langley Soryu

Background:
I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Fact is, if you don't know who the red headed fire goddess of modern anime is, then you probably don't care.

But for tradition sake, she is the female protagonist of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the 14 year old pilot of Unit 02.

Why is she #1: Asuka's placement as #1 on my list should be a surprise to no one who frequents this blog or is a close friend of mine. She is the first anime character I literally fell in love with, and I don't mean that in a light sense or a "I think she's a real cutie." I mean, head over heels in love.

This is due in part to what Asuka stood for and embodied at the same time. As I mentioned in my review of Evangelion 2.22, when I watched the original series I was Shinji and I identified with him wholly. Asuka is an equal part of that puzzle. For a long time, nearly every girl I dated or had a crush on was like Asuka. Loud, abrasive, and condescending. That isn't an insult to my past women, because dammit, that was what I was looking for in a woman. I loved that type of girl. Sure, those qualities made them harder to get to know, but when you could get past that and get to their sweet side, it made it worth it.

However, at the same time, this left me an uncontrollable wreck of an individual in nearly every relationship I was in. In fact, to make matters worse, at the time I was watching Neon Genesis, the girl I was with was a red head.

While I'm putting all this out there I might as well theorize that my fondness for these type of women go back to the third grade after my house burned down and we had to move to a new neighborhood. While everyone else had been really nice and generous to me, the first new "friend" I met in my new neighborhood was a girl who could have been the spitting image of a young Asuka. She was mean, proud and insulting and never showed the least bit of sympathy towards me or my situation. But for some reason we were still friends. She would come to my house to play and I'd go to hers, and for whatever reason it worked. It was a dating sim game turned reality.

But unlike dating sims, I moved away when our house was rebuilt and never saw her again. Hell, I don't even remember her name. So I know for a fact there is something psychological stuck in my brain regarding her, and Asuka is the fictional embodiment of that lost mean little girl.

That was partly why Evangelion was a psychological cleansing for me. It helped me get over all my issues. Sure I could have gone to a therapist and worked that stuff out naturally, but the show did that for me. I would never be able to get back to that "lost innocence" I had with that girl and a string of unhealthy relationships weren't helping. So enter, Shinji Ikari, to help me attach myself to his consciousness and Asuka as the form of all my failed romances. Both characters worked through their problems and regardless of how they turned out, I became a better person from their struggles.

You might think I should have a negative opinion of Asuka if I viewed her as the personification of all my botched attempts at love, but quite the opposite. She represents a time in my life that was very important to me because it shaped who I became. I'm still attracted to those type of girls and I doubt that will ever change.

As a side note, my wife is much more like Misato, which is why I am of the opinion that Misato and Kaji are future personality reflections of Asuka and Shinji. When Asuka matures she will be like Misato and Shinji like Kaji. That is just my opinion. That would also imply that I see myself as Kaji.

Ah, that was therapeutic. Probably boring for you though. Sorry about that.

In a nutshell that is what the character of Asuka Soryu means to me. But she is even more important in the history of anime.

As a character, Asuka is groundbreaking. Now weather you are of the camp that Shinji and Rei should be a couple or Asuka and Shinji should be a couple, by the end the clear parring is Asuka and Shinji, at least in the original series. This isn't really up for debate.

Why this is important is because at the time, in anime, a soft spoken, gentle, motherly character like Rei would be the stand out love interest. And to be sure, most of the Japanese fan base felt the same way. Rei was a phenomenon in Otaku culture. She was the prototypical example of what most lonely Otaku wanted in a wife.

But despite that, the redheaded stepchild, with the loud obnoxious, bratty personality was the female favored by the male protagonist. Asuka still had her fans, and I don't think she was outright hated by most fans in her time, but she defiantly went against the grain. Despite her flaws she was a strong independent woman who strove to be the best without the help of any man.

When so much of Evangelion is written in a way to be slightly insulting to the people who show the most fondness for it, I wouldn't be surprised if Asuka is Anno's way of saying, "You all want a Rei to do whatever you say, but you all need and deserve an Asuka to kick you into shape."

Also if you go back and watch the first four episodes, or some of the last episodes without Asuka her presence is defiantly missed. She took what could have been a very melancholy and dismal atmosphere and put some life into it. Her energy effected those around her and the entire show as a result. Without her interjections and personality the entire show is a little like a Geofront itself (hollow on the inside).

That is my opinion on Asuka Langley Soryu, not just one of the greatest female characters in anime, but one of the greatest characters in fiction itself.

Voice Actress: Tiffany Grant

Though I've become a bit of a sub snob in recent years, Asuka's voice will always belong to Tiffany Grant. When I think of Asuka, that is the voice I hear.

Though after repeated watching of Eva in it's original Japanese, I have issue with some of Grant's interpretations of some scenes. For example, the "kiss" scene is almost completely wrong in the dub, and not to mention the last line in End of Eva being up for heavy debate (I should also point out these are directorial decisions and not the fault of Grant). However, these are minor squabbles in comparison to her complete mastery of the character's personality and demeanor.

Her ability to speak fluent German gives her a major leg up on Yūko Miyamura (Asuka's Seiyu). Yūko Miyamura's inability to speak German became something of a running gag at the time of Eva's original airing and in my opinion takes a little oomph out of the character.

I hope Grant gets to reprise her role in Evangelion 2.22, and I wish they add a feature where you can keep her vocal track for Asuka and the rest in Japanese.

Speaking of Evangelion 2.22, that brings me to the final Honorable mention. Drum roll please....

Honorable Mention: Asuka Shikinami

Ha! Bet you didn't see that coming. Shikinami can be a dirty word with Eva fans, and most, including myself see her has a completely separate character than Asuka Soryu. But unlike most fans who don't like her, I am very fond of her.

She still doesn't hold a candle to Soryu as far as depth and character, but to be fair she has had much less screen time than her forebear and with that little amount of time she has managed to do quite a bit.

Admittedly, Soryu is too abrasive for people to get to know and love in a short amount of time, so some major modifications needed to happen to make Asuka a little sweeter. First of all (and the best part) is her complete child-like obsession with Kaji has been dropped. I never liked that subplot and the manga made it even worse. She also is no longer completely obsessed with being #1. This allows her to not see Shinji as a rival as much and can see him much more as an object of affection. She is also more willing to open up to others, and sadly realizes this just a smidgen too late into the film.

These qualities make Shikinami more lovable and likable than Soryu, but she doesn't have the depth or sides that Soryu has, so it is a bit of a give and take. I talk about Tsundere's a lot on this blog, and I don't think Soryu qualifies, even if the term itself is slightly inspired by her. However, Shikinami is a loud, proud Tsundere, in the fullest extent of the made up word.

Regardless of their differences and similarities, both have a place in my heart.

-------------------------
And with that my Top Ten Anime Women list is finally done! It's been a long ride, and I can finally relax and not feel the pressure of finishing this list. I was planning on following up this feature with the Top 10 Male Anime characters (though I realize that won't bring in as much traffic from Google Images), but I might take a year or two off before going into that venture. Maybe just a top 5 list next time... or top 3.... or 1.