Ritual Penguin

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Sep 252011
 

Mawaru Penguindrum’s a lot like going to church, just with the clever touch of that church being overrun with penguin choirboys.

It’s all about the ritualization of this shit. The Survival Strategy scenes all follow a certain ceremonial-like pattern– it’s all preaching to the downtrodden masses and telling those pathetic fuckers they deserve to be pathetic. The flashbacks are all queued with the same subway-themed graphic. Even Ringo’s creepy stalker routine has been hammered into us to such an extent that it’s gone from being repetitive to downright religious in its nature.

And all of this makes Penguindrum fascinating. It also makes it kinda tedious and boring. Y’know, just like church.

So far, Penguindrum’s felt like one of those month-long “series” that churches will sometimes bust out. Every Sunday sermon for a month or so will draw upon the same themes or the same book or whatnot. Sounds like a good idea to explore a point, but in the end these things usually end up repeating the same points over and over again. Only the context changes.

With that said, Ringo’s escapades feel like a sermon series on would-be rape.

We know Ringo wants in Tabuki’s pants and doesn’t care what she has to do to get this done. That point gets hammered in pretty early. Like, in episode two. Everything that’s happened in terms of Ringo’s storyline since that point has only been a difference in context. One week she needs help moving a mattress under Tabuki’s house– because she wants to fuck Tabuki. Amen. Another week she needs help molesting a frog to get its eggs– because she wants to fuck Tabuki. Amen. And with every act of lust we have a fairy tale-like cutscene where we get to see Ringo’s delusions play out like one of those stage plays from Sakura Wars– just like the chorus kicking in after the sermon’s over– all in ceremonial rhythm.

Ringo’s obsessive lust is being played up to ritualistic proportions. Nothing deters her holy quest to fuck Tabuki and sire his lustchild. The only new thing we ever learn over the course of all of this is Ringo’s motivation, and while that’s important in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t exactly much considering how many times we’ve sat through the same Ringo-sermon.

All of this is pretty interesting. It takes some guts to have the crux of this series (Thus far, at least.) be the attempts of some deluded teenage girl to bed a teacher. It’s not unlike the whole Endless Eight ordeal during the second season of Haruhi. We’re seeing the same shit played out over and over again. The only difference being that we’ve had more details changed with each repetition. So I’m liking it on an conceptual level, much like how I liked Endless Eight. Rituals are cool on that conceptual, fetishistic level.

But it’s another thing to actually sit through said ritualistic motions. Ringo’s plight isn’t interesting enough to wade through this sort of repetition. It’s fascinating to see things play out like this, but I don’t give a damn about Ringo’s fucked-up libido. Being one-note is all but necessary for this sort of pattern to work, but at the same time Ringo’s a one-note character. She isn’t relatable. She isn’t all that amusing, outside of her bits with the frog. There’s no textual reason for this repetition to occur, unlike Endless Eight’s timeloop shit. It’s all the repetition without the context for said pattern, and without that context it just isn’t working very well.

What’s funny is that the other ritualistic aspects of the series are making it worth watching. And by that I mean the penguins.

The penguins have the same sort of repetitive shtick going. #2 eats shit and murders roaches. #1 acts tough and peeps on chicks. #3… knits? We haven’t seen enough of her to say much. The catch is that this sort of ritualistic behavior actually works when it comes to comedy.

You tell a bad joke, and it sucks. You tell it again and it sucks even more. But when you tell said joke ten times or twenty times, it suddenly becomes funny because of said repetition. Like Bugs Bunny saying “What’s up, doc?” Say it once or twice and it’s just some throwaway phrase. Say it in every damn cartoon and it becomes an amusing catchphrase. The penguins have that sort of shtick going. #2 spraying a roach one is a cute throwaway gag, but by the time he’s done it in almost every episode, seeing him go full-on genocide in a later episode, killing about twenty of them underneath Tabuki’s house, and you have a scene that’s fucking hilarious. And that scene wouldn’t have been as funny if we didn’t have that prior repetition.

All of the other scenes that work have that same sort of ritual playing out. The Survival Strategy scenes have that magical girl transformation sequence vibe to them, and seeing Himari berate her brothers becomes funnier the more we see it play out.

So this is a make and break point for Penguindrum– damning and elevating it at the same time. And it’s all ending up in a bit of a wash for me. I’ve long since ceased to care about the actual plot of the damn thing because of the agonizingly slow pace, but the background gags and penguins are pretty damn hilarious. It’s a bit like watching a Looney Tunes marathon if someone felt the need to insert a subplot with Lola Bunny trying to rape Bugs Bunny.

Oh, wait, the new Looney Tunes cartoon show is doing exactly that. Damn, have any of y’all seen any of these new Looney Tunes cartoons. Lola’s all crazy obsessive over Bugs. I didn’t care much for the series at first, but I’ve been warming up to it. It ain’t no Adventure Time or Archer, but it has its moments.

The Reset Button Sucks

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Sep 182011
 

That’ll teach me to think a popular anime would get a good ending.

I’m not too pissed at the way Tiger and Bunny ended. Despite pulling off the biggest cop-out possible, the ending still managed to do some cool stuff.

But the ending pulled off the worst case scenario: The status quo was reset.

Tiger wasn’t dead. I can live with that. I was amused by how he came back from the dead (“I just passed out. Did you even bother to check my pulse?”). What irks me is that Tiger doesn’t get any kind of closure. He retires, but once we hit the fast forward button and skip ahead one year, he’s right back at the hero game. I dig that he’s been demoted to the second string hero team, but wasn’t the whole point of Tiger’s entire character arc leading towards his inevitable retirement or heroic death? He either fulfills his role as a hero and gets the regular life he’s always wanted or he dies heroically and is remembered as one of the greatest heroes of all time.

Instead of that we this ending. His daughter doesn’t really want him around and he was apparently never really interested in domestic life. One year later he’s back out there doing his shtick. It’s like fucking Brett Farve or something. We don’t need that bullshit. Unless whatever potential second season shows Kotetsu being a pathetic wreck who should have known better than to unretire after a perfect stopping point, everything that’s happened to this point was meaningless.

This isn’t what I want, and it isn’t what the series needed. We don’t need a “same as it ever was” ending. We don’t need that sort of cop-out to feel better about ourselves. We don’t need that safety to enjoy a series. No one’s going to freak out if, GASP, something actually changes when the final episode rolls around. You can still do a sequel with all of the same characters and still allow those characters to be in a different place when said second season rolls around. Maybe Tiger comes out of retirement in the second season. Maybe he’s forced to deal with Ouroboros when Bunny’s life is at risk or something like that. Or maybe he moves on and becomes a mentor figure of sorts– like he’s a teacher at that hero academy or something. He’ll still be in the series and he’ll still have his ambiguous relationship with Barnaby that so many people love, but he’ll have earned that change that should have happened after 25 episodes.

We’re basically back to where we were when the first episode aired. I’m not sure why anyone would be satisfied with that sort of ending. Why watch something if, in the end, you’ll be in the same place when it’s all over. That’s OK in some sort of sitcom or whatever, since you’re just in in for the laughs, but not in a series that attempts to have something resembling a story.

Reset Buttons suck, yet far too many anime series buttonmash it. Fuck you, Reset Button.

That’s out of the way. Let me talk about what I did like about the ending:

  • Liked that Maverick was well aware of that bastard robot-maker’s NEXT prejudice. He was just using the dude, hit his NEXT nature, and then offed the prick when the opportunity came up. That’s very supervillainish.
  • Liked that Maverick all but confirmed the whole “I’m just the tip of Ouroboros” angle. With the Kotetsu cop-out I was worried they were gonna do the same with the villains and have everything work out in the end.
  • Liked seeing Lunatic off Maverick despite Maverick’s self-lobotomy. Was hoping Lunatic would play a more active part in the finale, but I’m glad he got in there somehow.
  • If we’re gonna have to deal with the lameness of Kotetsu living and not retiring, I like that he’s been relegated to lame-ass second stringing. Hopefully they don’t write that off in whatever sequel comes along.
  • Loved Maverick’s speech about how he made the city what it is and how he was the one that made NEXT acceptable in the eyes of the public. As far as we can see, he’s right. Maybe someone else would have come along and made the strides he did with creating Hero TV and whatnot, but he’s the one that did it.
  • If we’re gonna have Tiger live, at least we got it in the most anticlimactic manner possible. No last-minute save or “Kaede had a healing power” ass-pulling move or anything like that. Barnaby and the other heroes were just too grief-stricken/busy getting killed/stupid to even check to see if Kotetsu was alive. “Did you even check my pulse?!”

So yeah, I’m a bit irked at how everything played out, but not as irked as I was with, say, Angel Beats or Madoka. It wasn’t a game-changing fuck-up or anything like that, it was just disappointing. Should have expected the near-worst-case scenario that we got, but I’d rather have actual expectations than be yet another “well, I lowered by expectations so I enjoyed it more than I thought I would” dude. Damn I hate that attitude. It’s like striving for mediocrity. Just because a movie or an anime strives to be mediocre doesn’t mean I should too. Screw that.

It’s The Ending We Need

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Sep 112011
 

Wild Tiger is dead.

Spoiler Alert.

But before we talk about that, let’s talk about something else: Why in the hell is Maverick working with this NEXT-hating, robot-fetishist asshole?

Seriously, this dude takes every chance he gets to spout his anti-NEXT bullshit. Maverick’s clearly using the dude just for his robotics expertise, and it doesn’t seem like he knows that Maverick’s a NEXT as well, so here’s my last crazy conspiracy theory for Tiger and Bunny:

This guy’s gonna take the fall for everything. Somehow, even if the heroes beat the shit out of Maverick and cause him to slink away defeated, he’s not gonna take the fall. All of the blame will be placed on the shoulders of this anti-NEXT extremist. All of the evidence will point to him, what with the robots and all, and there will be no hard proof of Maverick’s mind control. Maverick has way too much political and financial influence to be convicted of these crimes based solely on the word of a few individuals.

So, barring Lunatic busting onto the scene and murdering Maverick in cold blood, I don’t see this as being Maverick’s downfall. He’s probably been anticipating this as a possible scenario. The dude’s smart enough to have a contingency plan: Put everything on his co-conspirator, take all of his robotics knowledge, use it for future plans, and retreat back into a more opportune position. He’ll probably retire from his position running Hero TV and use his position in society to further the goals of Ouroboros. It’ll lead to something of a cold war between him and the heroes. They know he’s behind all of this, but there’s little they can do about it other than to return to business as usual while working behind the scenes to find hard evidence against Maverick.

But Kotetsu isn’t gonna be there to further this plight against Maverick and Ouroboros. Or, at least, he shouldn’t be there. Now that they’ve gone this far, the writers need to off him. At least until the next season.

Superheroes come back from the dead all the time, so I don’t expect Tiger to be dead permanently. But at the same time, superheroes rarely “seem” to die only to get miraculously healed at the last minute. When Jean Grey dies and comes back, there’s some time between death and resurrection. When Bucky finally came back from the dead, it was decades later. There’s always that time of mourning that lets the sacrifice some semblance of meaning, so given Tiger and Bunny’s heavy reliance on superhero comics contrivances, I can’t see Kotetsu making a miraculous recovery in the last episode.

That, and everything that’s been leading up to this episode has basically spelled out Kotetsu’s fate: retire or die. There was no way that he was gonna continue being a hero after the end of this season. He’s dead set (ahahaha, dead) on returning to his hometown, raising his daughter, and being the man he always meant to be. He wasn’t gonna get a “things go on as they’ve always have” open ending– his life as a hero was over one way or another. If he hadn’t made the sacrifice in this episode I would be perfectly fine with him having a happy ending. He’s earned it. But now that he’s made that sacrifice, he’s earned that heroic death. He needs that heroic death to complete his character arc. If they pull a miracle out of their asses as save him, it’d not only cheapen his sacrifice, it’d cheapen everything that’d happened leading up to that sacrifice.

At least if he stays dead for awhile. If they go through with a potential sequel, I would have no issue with Tiger returning at, like, the mid-season climax.

Here’s how I’d have a second season play out, assuming Tiger goes kaput:

Flash forward several years. Kaede’s training to join the cast of Hero TV, and she’s taken under the wing of the now-retired Rock Bison. It’d be like Wolverine and Shadowcat (Or Jubilee. Or whatever other jailbait X-Man Wolverine has taken in over the years to satiate his father figure fetish.). Hell, that’d be the perfect way to expand his character, by having him talk about the old days with Kotetsu. You could have flashbacks and all that, so Kotetsu would still be in the series despite being dead. Then, at the halfway point, they could reveal that they were able to keep Tiger alive, but barely, and he’s been augmented by technology taken from the anti-NEXT dude’s robotics development. Maybe he’s been brainwashed by Maverick to forget who he is (Completing the whole identity crisis thing he had earlier in this season). Blahblahblah, they’re able to bring him back, restore memores, etc etc. It’d fit the superhero mold without completely cheaping out and saving him at the last minute in the final episode of the first season.

Everyone’d get what they want. The crybabies would get to see Kotetsu alive again while the sadists like me would get the satisfaction of knowing that he did die when he sacrificed himself. It’s a win-win. A miracle would be a lose-suck.

Also: Loved the back and forth Tiger and Bunny had as Tiger died. Those were some good death lines. Pity I hate rice or I’d down me some right now.

Episode Reviews

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Sep 102011
 

So Landon’s been re-exiled to Hellchigan. Which means it’s time for me to hijack Mecha Guignol and turn it into a hive of even scummier villainy than it already is with a trio of episode reviews.


BUSOU SHINKI: MOON ANGEL 01

HA! I totally made you think this was going to be a Kamen Rider review.

Anywho, Busou Shinki’s a 5 minute per episode series by Konami to commemorate 5 years of its Busou Shinki toy line. Which are these female ACTION FIGURES with modular limbs and weapon/armor attachments.

Somewhat surprisingly, the anime is following the “official storyline” where the Shinkis are tiny little robot girls, as opposed to full scale fanservice chicks with armor bits ala Strike Witches.

The story is your typical Children’s Card Game or Pokemon or Angelic Layer type plot. Creepy kid who no one likes finds a rare/primary Shinki (he finds Arnval, one of the first 2 Shinkis in real life). Perhaps he’ll go on to be a “Shinki Master” or something.

There’s a brief battle animation at the start of the episode, and the show ends with a bunch of evil scientists (Konami execs) saying how Shinki’s shouldn’t have free will and ordering a Shinki (Straf, the other first edition Shinki) to hunt down and retrieve the stray.

For what it is, the episode was okay. Hopefully, the shorter episode run time would mean that we wouldn’t be subjected to Yu Gi Oh style battles where Arnval uses her magic main character friendship powers to win every fight as if she were a “battousai”. Personally, I’m hoping for an actual plot with animated and choreographed battle sequences.

KAMEN RIDER FOURZE 01

Yeah, I’m going there. Live action baby.

Well, live action in the same sense as Moyashimon Live was live action. Like Moyashimon Live, Kamen Rider Fourze is very much an anime in all but actually being animated. In this case, it’s pretty much a shounen violent sports anime.

You’ve got the hot bloody and very animated main character. The “genki” girl. And the emo guy. Together, these three go to a school where the students pretty much run the asylum (like just about every anime/manga premise) and everyone’s segregated into specific groups. There’s the delinquents, the musclebound health freaks, the gals & pals, the NEEEEEEEERDS, the otaku (used in the context of “freaky enthusiasts” as opposed to geeks) and of course, the “royalty”, who are composed of the cheerleaders and the American football club.

While I have no idea how the rest of this series will turn out, I’d totally recommend at least this first episode for those who enjoyed Moyashimon Live.

WORKING’!! 01

More of the same as season 1. The first ep (pre-air) of season 2 is a reintroduction of sorts. Basically, they just recap all the running jokes. I particularly like it for the fact that the good natured ribbing that the characters do are also kinda mean. That’s one of the reasons why Working!! worked. It wasn’t as saccharine to the point of unbelievability the way K-On!! was. There’s a certain malice in their mocking of Poplar that on the surface, is just cute teasing. The malice seemed extra evident in this episode though.

Well, hopefully season 2 won’t devolve into a horrible pile of crap like the second season of Baka to Test II was. Baka II’s problem was that it utterly missed the point of what made season 1 decent. While the romance angle in Working!! season 1 was well done, hopefully it won’t be immediately revisited and forced down our throats for season 2.

Now, refer to the screen capture above. See that guy/gal sitting on the right? That is TOTALLY Joey Jones from Heroman. And as established here, Working!! is set in the Kill Bill/Tarantino universe.

So if you ever wondered how the brother from Heroman suddenly became a badass fighter, well, he obviously went and got some training from Pai Mei’s daughter off screen.

Death Trap A-Go-Go

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Sep 042011
 

Up until now, Maverick had been a relatively standard villain. He had his evil scheme. He used what abilities he possessed to execute his evil scheme. Other than the fact that he had mind-altering powers, he was no different from any typical political thriller villain.

But episode 23 of Tiger and Bunny was something of a coming-out party for him. He’s no longer some stuffy suit who could be slotted into a John Grisham corporate intrigue novel. This episode was him going full Dr. Doom on the world. And it was awesome.

Yeah, Maverick hadn’t been a full-blown comic book supervillain up to this point. He was content to work behind the scenes, pull strings, and look menacingly at the camera when no one else was paying attention. Many comic book villains do that sort of stuff as well, but those are universal traits shared by all big bads. But with the finale ramping up, Maverick finally let his inner Lex Luthor shine by embracing the death trap.

The scenario in place here is a thing of beauty. You have Wild Imposter, who has been revealed to be a robot created by the dude that created Proto-R-Dorothy-Wayneright, facing down Tiger and Barnaby. The heroes have to face the creature created to replace them now that they’ve been deemed obsolete for knowing too much. So we have the whole evil doppelganger thing going. But at the same time we have a separate scenario brewing. The other heroes have been placed into spiked chambers, explosive collars have been fitted to their necks, and they’ve been given an ultimatum: The first one to remove their collar gets to live. The others die.

We all know how this is going to end. Tiger and Bunny (Along with the help of Lunatic, I bet.) will take down Robo-Tiger while the other heroes manage to escape from their death trap without succumbing to temptation. No one is gonna betray their friends in order to save their own ass. Shit doesn’t go down like that in these superhero shows, especially when no one has given the slightest hint that they’re capable of betrayal.

The outcome isn’t what matters here. What matters is that this is a classic scenario. The primary heroes have to face their evil duplicate and the other heroes are placed in a morality trap. These are perfect ways for the villain to taunt and torment the hero. Death traps allow the villain to gloat about their scheme. Villains like to let the hero know exactly what’s going to happen while the hero is seemingly incapable of stopping their scheme. It’s cathartic, like yoga for evil dudes or something. And it allows the villain to place the heroes into a situation where their morals could potentially be compromised. It gives the villain the potential to corrupt the hero and bring them over to the dark side. This is the sort of shit that these guys get off on. Even if the villain is aware of the potential for the hero to escape, they’d probably still go through with these motions because they need to go through the motions. It just feels right, and to bawk at it for being stupid or cliched is to completely miss the point. And the robot double plays a similar role, since it forces the hero to “fight himself” and see the evil potentials of his dark side. It isn’t just about making a superior robot, it’s about showing the hero that he’ll never meet his full potential as long as he holds onto his heroic values.

It all comes down to the fact that a real supervillain isn’t completely fixated on “winning.” He may want to pull off whatever scheme he’s working on, since it nets him cash or power or whatever, but he’s just as concerned about breaking the hero. It isn’t just a matter of putting a bullet in his brain while he’s unconscious. Thugs and terrorists do that sort of shit, but not supervillains. They want to see the hero squirm. They want the hero to know he has no chance of winning. They need that dynamic to feel alive.

And in embracing this approach, Maverick has come full circle into the supervillain fold. He was a criminal before, telling his lackeys to secretly murder old women and the like, but in the finale he’s finally realized that deep down inside he’s a supervillain.

Welcome to the club.