Mythology Z

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Jan 272012
 

Shin Mazinger Z ain’t a mecha anime. It’s pure mythology. And that awesomely oppressive and depressing ending seals it.

All those Greek myths and shit like that are all about how humanity is screwed in the wake of the gods’ whims. Even the greatest of heroes can’t do much when one of the gods decides he needs to be punished for some perceived sin. If you’re lucky, you end up spending years drifting around the Mediterranean Sea nearly getting killed at every turn. But more often than not you end up getting raped and turned into an animal. And not necessarily in that order. And while you’re bemoaning your fate, all of the other pathetic mortals around you are conspiring against you, murdering your family, and basically doing everything they can to screw you over just as much as the gods.

Look at what goes down in the final episode of Mazinger. Kouji triumphs over Dr. Hell, busting out every possible move (and making up a few on the fly) to save the world from tyranny. It’s a bit of a loose comparison, but it’s a bit like the Grecian victory over the Trojans. Turns out that neither side in this conflict was the bad guy in the end. Dr. Hell may have been a diabolical overlord looking to control the world, kinda like that asshole Paris and his Trojan buddies who stole away Helen and refused to give her up, but his intentions were just as just as Paris’. Paris and Helen were in love, and they weren’t gonna let anything get in the way of that love. Not even an invading army. Dr. Hell wanted to save the Earth from an ancient alien threat that would inevitably return, even if it means killing a few innocent people and ruining lives in the process.

Both conflicts are purely arbitrary because of the interference of the Gods. The Greeks and the Trojans would have never gone to war if it wasn’t for the actions of Eris and her Golden Apple. Dr. Hell never would have needed to take over the world and obtain the photonic power if it wasn’t for the ever-present dread of the Mykene civilization reawakening and destroying Earth on a whim.

It’s all the motherfucking Gods’ fault, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. The Greeks can’t allow their honor to be tarnished by the appearance of one of their royalty being “kidnapped” by an enemy nation and the Trojans can’t just give up the rightful bride of their prince. The same shit is going down in Mazinger. Dr. Hell can’t allow the Mazinger Army to hoard away photonic power and not use it “properly” to defend Earth from a threat only he fully understands, but at the same time Kouji and his gang can’t just stand by and allow Dr. Hell to trample over Japan and butcher anything that gets in his way. Everyone is fucked, and the only thing they can do is play it out to the inevitable conclusion.

All the while, the Gods laugh as their whims are carried out. And with Mazinger, all of that rests on Baron Ashura’s shoulders. He’s the vessel of the Gods. It’s his sacrifice that will allow for the rebirth of Hades and the other Gods. But Ashura must sever his connection to Dr. Hell in order to enact this rite. But Ashura can’t act directly. Dr. Hell has bound Ashura, making it to where the Mykene priest(ess) can never strike out against his creators. So Ashura has to let the hero defeat himself and does everything he can to make sure the hero falls for his trap.

It’s kinda like the scenario that Orpheus is presented with when he rescues Eurydice. Hades allows Orpheus to take back Eurydice, on the condition that he not look back at her until they reach the surface. Right when they’re about to exit the Underworld, Orpheus believes he’s in the clear and looks back, only to see Eurydice disappear. It’s one of those tricks that the Gods play on mortals to make the mortal believe they’re in control when in fact the God has everything firmly in his grasp. Ashura may be a mere mortal, but he’s acting in their place. Ashura gives Kouji the opening he needs to defeat Dr. Hell. It’s exactly what Kouji and the heroes want, but by the time they realize that it’s exactly what Ashura wants as well it’s too late. Dr. Hell is dead. Ashura makes the sacrifice. Hades returns to Earth. Earth is doomed. The Gods win by giving the hapless “hero” everything he desired. That’s how they play the game– ensure that all of the rules result in their victory.

And no, the ending isn’t a cliffhanger. This is no play on the serialized, “stay tuned for next week’s episode,” ramping everything up with each episode, formulaic shit that goes down in these old school robot shows. It could seem like that at first, but if that’s the case then why does the Mazinger Army resign itself to their grim fate? Why do they speak of this being the end? It isn’t just a nod to the series ending– some sort of fourth wall breaking moment where they know they won’t win because the show’s ending– it’s also their resignation in the face of a foe that’s beyond their scope. Up until now, their foes had been mere mortals. Dr. Hell may have returned from the dead, but that’s par for the course for all of these characters. Even the might Mazinger Z itself is a mere shadow of a God, made in the image of Zeus but made up of little more than his remnants. Mazinger was a shadow of a god– like a demigod hero such as Heracles– but nothing compared to a true god like the newly risen Hades.

Nope. The Mazinger Army knew it had been fucked for the last time, and the only thing they could do was let their series end knowing it was better to fade to black than let the audience witness their pathetic demise.

And that’s why Shin Mazinger Z is fucking awesome.

 

Self-Indulgence 10: XBAND

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Jan 242012
 

Y’know what’s scarier than dial-up connections? A dial-up connection hooked up to a Super Nintendo.

Let’s talk about a little thing called the XBAND.

My first exposure to the “online” world wasn’t through AOL or some other prehistoric PC net service. It was through the XBAND that I discovered the slack-inducing magic of interacting with other peeps by means of pixels and text. You slapped this thing into the cartridge port of your SNES or Genesis (SNES for me) and stuck the actual game into the slot on top of the modem. You could play a select few games on the thing, mostly fighting and sports games, and you were lucky to find someone to play with. The only game for it that I really liked was Super Street Fighter, and no one in my area played the game (I literally played, like, two matches the entire time the network was up.). Everyone was all about Killer Instinct. I kinda hated the game, but I had to buy it to take advantage of the fact that it was the only game local XBANDers played.

And yeah, you were limited to people in your local area unless you wanted to shell out cash for each long distance game. And there was no way a broke, jobless high school dude was gonna be able to afford that.

So, yeah, the actual gameplay was pretty shitty on the thing. What made the thing fun was the email and chat functions. It was the first time I had access to this sort of thing. I’d randomly email peeps if I thought they had a cool screen name or bio and talk with them about shit. The character count for each email was pretty damn small, so it was like Twitter if you could only tweet one person at a time.

But I’m writing this post mainly about the chat function. After you played a game, if you put in a secret code before the connection was severed (I think it was Up, Up, Up), you would start up a chat room with the person you just played. Unless you shelled out cash for the XBAND keyboard, you had to use the gamepad to type using the on-screen keyboard. And to make matters worse, it was all in real time. You didn’t type in a message and then hit “send,” everything you typed appeared as you typed it. If you said something, there was no going back. So you had to think ahead before you started plugging in shit.

For the most part, these conversations were idle chat between teenage and college dudes about the sort of shit guys talk about: video games, sports, and girls. I made a few buddies I’d talk to on a regular basis. But that shit isn’t worth an entire blog post. Nope. The XBAND is privy to another embarrassing, soul-crushing moment not unlike this one I wrote about awhile back.

I sucked at Killer Instinct. I would almost always lose against the peeps I played against. But there was one person who I would consistently defeat. Said person had a female avatar. Said person claimed to be female. Said person was pretty nice and all.

Said person also repeatedly wanted me to talk to her. As in call her on the phone. In real life. Even in the Paleozoic year of 1996, there was the assumption that everyone “online” was a guy, so there was that assumption running through my mind. But that isn’t what kept me from calling her up. At worst, I’d get pranked or something and the next time I saw the person on XBAND I’d probably get laughed at. I’d probably be mad but I’d get over it and laugh at it as well eventually. That alone would have made for an amusing story.

But no. That isn’t why I never took this person up on her offer. I didn’t call her because she claimed to be married. She said she was in her early 20s and was bored while her husband was off working, so she wanted someone to keep her company.

Yeah. I got propositioned for an affair over a online game of Killer Instinct. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in history that can make that claim.

Dirty Pair is Iyashikei

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Jan 232012
 

That “iyashikei” stuff. According to that bastion of abomination, TV Tropes, iyashikei is all about “soothing” or “healing ” the audience.

You know what does that for me? The Dirty Pair.

Yeah. Let’s run with this.

Most of these shows revolve around a small cast of characters and the “daily life” shit the do. We see them go through their daily routines. These routines rarely change. There’s not much in the way of development. It’s all about maintaining the status quo and providing the audience with a reliable escapist “release.”

That’s exactly what happens in The Dirty Pair. Kei and Yuri, the titular duo, are very static characters. They start off as variations of the brash, Barbarella-like space chick, all about kicking ass and sexing it up. No matter how many times they get into bad relationships with dudes, run afoul of space bandits, or accidentally blow up planets, they turn right back around and do the same exact shit the next episode. Dirty Pair has the same repetitive, reliable narrative structure that’s inherent to the iyashikei genre. By seeing the characters interact in the same way week in and week out (or in some 20-something minute pattern over the course of several hours if you marathon the damn thing like I did awhile back), you get to “know” them.

The catch is that Dirty Pair and these other iyashikei series find “comfort” in different ways. Something like, say, Tamayura is all about the slow pace and gentle atmosphere and nostalgia and all that stuff that, quite frankly, bores me to death. I guess you could call it comforting in the same way that morphine is comforting, since it dulls your senses and lulls you into an artificial sense of dreaminess. Least that’s how it makes me feel. I ain’t gonna deny anyone their feelings if they genuinely love this stuff.

The comfort derived from Dirty Pair is the sort of visceral explosion-lust that I feel from 80′s action movie shit. It isn’t “exploring” the stylings of the action genre the way something like Black Lagoon or Kill Bill does, it simply is that genre the way people describe iyashikei anime as being pure emotion and atmosphere. In that sense, Dirty Pair is also pure emotion and atmosphere, with the catch being that said emotions and atmosphere all revolve around guns and punching.

That’s what I find comforting and familiar– pure over-the-top violence. And all of that is symbolized by one particular episode of the series.

I wrote about it during last year’s 12 Days thing. During one of the early episodes, the Dirty Pair’s antics results in an entire planet exploding, and this is played off as a gag. By having an entire world destroyed and having said “tragedy” be little more than a joke is as heartwarming to me as when people gushed over that little kid in Usagi Drop doing something especially cute and all of their paternal/maternal instincts kicked in.

So I get y’all when y’all get all mushy over this heartwarming stuff. I just have to see an entire civilization perish for those emotions to kick in.

We Were All Teenage Tentacle Monsters

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Jan 152012
 

The current anime season kinda sucks, so instead of bitching about how space pirates, small town horrors, and other shit that should be fun are just fucking boring, let’s talk about some cheesy softcore monster OVA from the 80′s.

Call Me Tonight is the only time adolescence/puberty/whatever has been portrayed with any degree of realism in anime. Screw FLCL and all that noise. None of them got down to the truth: all those hormones and shit turn you into some sort of monster that’s virtually unrecognizable from your previous self. There’s no fond memories of this shit, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise. That’s what Call Me Tonight is all about.

Some generic anime dude discovers that he blacks out when he masturbates. Being a horny teenage dude, instead of doing the sensible thing and not jack off, he keeps on doing it, only to awaken to a wrecked room and torn clothes. And again, like the stupid kid he is, instead of going to see a doctor or something like that, he calls what seems to be a teenager sex help line operated by cute teenage girls who are probably below the legal working age. The girl he talks to agrees to meet him in person so she can see this “monster” for herself.

Girl flirts with dude. Dude reveals to us that more than just his dick hulks out when he gets hot and bothered– the dude literally turns into a tentacled monster and remains that way until his urges calm down. And he does this in public. It’s just like one of those awkward adolescent moments where your pants get just a little too tight at just the wrong time and you can’t do anything to hide the fact, except I’m assuming you lost control of yourself and tried to eat your waitress. Maybe you lost your cool and chased her around the restaurant, but I doubt you actually had any intention of eating her.

And from there, things play out in the way you’d expect it. The girl doesn’t mind that the dude’s a monster. Some other peeps find out about this dude and alert the local gang boss, who happens to be your stereotypical long-skirted yanki type. She lures the couple to an abandoned building along with her crew to have their way with them. I know we can all relate with that bit, what with having a little public mishap in the pants that leads to being targeted by rapist thugs and their bad girl leader. The details may be different. Maybe it was the local rich girl and her entourage of football players in your case, but we know the situation. And you remember how you totally transformed when said girl forced herself upon you and couldn’t revert back? We may not have grown as many extra heads as this dude does in the final scene, and we may not have been shot by bazookas in order to try to calm us down, but we can never forget when we realized that all of our adolescent, hormonal problems were nothing more than the same sort of alien possession everyone has to deal with at that age.

It really helps to see an anime put everything in such a realistic perspective. Our youth isn’t about dealing with peer pressure, relationships, family problems and the like. It’s all about how we change from innocent children to mad, demented teenagers controlled by ancient forced beyond our comprehension, and our greatest formative moments revolve around accepting that fact and then conquering it with our indomitable human wills. Only then can we truly become young adults.

Eye Patches Bother Me

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Jan 102012
 

Another is supposed to be a horror anime? The music is all extra-spooky and there was some blood splattering and creepy dolls and shit like that in the pre-credits scene, but that was about it. If it weren’t for those cues, this would have been like every single other high school slice of life drama ever made.

I guess it was going for the whole “weird situation” vibe, but it totally floundered. It’s your usual “outsider arrives in a small town and he notices that weird shit is up” scenario– the sort of horror that peeps who have ever been to an actual small town would write about because anything that isn’t urban chic is evil or whatever. Sometimes that can work. Twin Peaks rocks. Peeps love Shiki, even if it kinda bored me. One of my favorite Japanese movies is Goju, and it’s all about a yakuza dude tracking down his boss in some small Japanese town and it was totally whacked out.

But Another just doesn’t “get” how this shit is supposed to go down. The music is constantly buzzing in the background, trying to evoke some sort of unsettling mood, but it keeps playing even when it shouldn’t be there. Dude meets with all of the kids from his school? BRRRRRRRMMMMM! Dude’s grandmother calls him for breakfast? BRRRRRRRMMMMM! I think they’re trying to make this mood oppressive or something, as if there’s some heavy burden on the city and a secret hidden behind every corner, but by always being there it loses all of its meaning.

The dialogue is the same. Everyone talks as if anything they say will reveal some major mystery, and they don’t want this outsider to be in on their secret shame. But how do they do this? They have everyone pause when they want to say something. Everyone reacts in the same way. That’d be cool if this was some sort of Village of the Damned situation, where there’s some omniscient presence controlling the town or whatever, but we’ve already been let in on the town’s secret before the credits rolled.

The first episode opens with two kids telling some ghost story. A girl dies in a classroom. Someone acts as if she never died. Everyone starts to act the same way. They keep this up until that class graduates from school. It’s pretty obvious that this is the town’s secret, and they’re still dealing with the aftermath of this situation. And when the mysterious eye patch chick comes along and one of the characters claims not to see her, it’s also obvious that she’s some sort of ghost or whatever and that she’s probably tied into this secret. Maybe she’s the kid that died, or maybe she’s something else.

At the same time, all of this also feels like some generic high school drama. If it weren’t for the pervasive music and that opening scene, all we’d be left with is a sickly kid moving to a new town and meeting some new people. Even the “ghost” or whatever she is talks to him like your typical Rei/Yuki clone. It’s like someone took the latest cookie cutter JC Staff anime and replaced its generic anime BGM with the soundtrack to The Grudge 27 or whatever sequel it’s on this week.

Yeah. That’s not how you make a horror story, man.

But all of that is just shit I spouted out to rationalize why I didn’t give a damn about the first episode of Another. You know what bothered me when I was actually watching it? That eye patch. Not that it’s a weird fetish or anything. That isn’t what bothered me. What irked me was that it’s one of those medical eye patches you’d wear right after having surgery or getting injured or something. Assuming this is a constant part of this chick’s character design (and all the promo art seems to suggest this), does she change out eye patches every day? And if so, wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to buy a real patch? If she’s gonna be sporting this thing for a long time, maybe she should look into something that’s a little more fashionable? This is an anime, after all. I’m sure there’s someone in the animeverse that sells bedazzled eye patches or something like that. Or maybe her school has a strict dress code. Maybe someone can whip up a patch that fits the school’s rules. It could have the school’s logo or something. And if she isn’t changing out that eye patch every day, damn, it must be letting on a serious stench. Even ghosts need to think about shit like that.