A Post Wherein the Existence of the Anime Blog Tournament is Acknowledged and Voting Entities are Given Evidence of the Awesomeness of the Blog Known as Mecha Guignol

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Apr 272012
 

You’ve been here before. Even if you believe this to be your first time at this blog, you’re only forgetting your prior experiences. Maybe you visited this site in the distant future, and when you were reincarnated your soul traveled back in time. Maybe your dreamself splits off during the night and happened across this place while surfing the net for Heroman doujin. Whatever the reason, you have been drawn back to Mecha Guignol in its moment of gladiatorial glory.

You’re gonna vote for Mecha Guignol in this tournament. It’s your destiny and stuff. But just to give you the illusion of free will, here’s some evidence to dupe you into believing you voted by your own volition.

  • We talk about anime other peeps ignore. Who else is awesome enough to blog about Space Adventure Cobra, Azazel-san, or Punk Cat?
  • We talk about Japanese board games and card games that have been translated into English. Tanto Cuore and Shadow Hunters and Magical Athlete and other stuff, with more to come as we waste our money on new games.
  • We have a badass Top 50 List that includes mainstream awesomeness and obscure curiosities that’ll turn on your inner hiptaku.
  • We’re not afraid to do things like compare the ending of Madoka to Steven Seagal movies, insinuate that moeblobs are the anime equivalent of Rob Liefeld comic book art from the 90s, or proclaim Milky Holmes to be fucking brilliant.
  • We have cool stories to tell, like this one about watching hentai with someone a friend of mine was trying to hook me up with.
  • We hate My Little Pony. We love My Little Pony.
  • We love old school OVAs. We really love old school OVAs.
  • We solved the evolutionary development of the animeverse and determined the highest form of life therein.

There’s some stuff for you to grok. Or you could totally ignore these picks and form your own reality by wandering through the site and read shit of your own choosing. Take my custom-made delusion or create your own. It’s all good.

Zenigata is a Bastard (and Other Awesome Stuff)

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Apr 262012
 

The bulk of this week’s Lupin episode was pretty standard fare for the franchise. Lupin and Fujiko are after the same score. They compete to steal it. A twist is thrown into the mix. Neither one wins. Lupin laughs about it because he gets off on the mere act of stealing. Fujiko gets pissed because she gets off on the actual acquisition. The End. A perfectly fine scheme but nothing particularly clever.

But I think it’s pretty obvious that this particular series ain’t about the heists. They’re just the groundwork to let all this other stuff go down, and there’s plenty going on in this episode. If anything, this episode lays the groundwork for this series’ intentions better than any episode.

Zenigata and Lupin Really Fucking Hate Each Other

None of the respectful give and take seems to be at play here. When Zenigata meets Lupin face to face for the first time in this series, he gives us a spiel about how it’s his destiny to take down Lupin. Standard “their families have been at each other’s throats for generations” bit we’re used to. But then Zenigata pulls out his gun and shoots at Lupin point-blank. No banter. No swinging of the handcuffs. Just rage and bullets.

This is the first real break from the old school Lupin. Even those early episodes of the first Lupin series didn’t depict Zenigata in such a coldblooded manner. He wanted to see Lupin die for his crimes, but he also wanted him to face a proper trial and be executed by the state. This new Zenigata is all about the vendetta and seems to be willing to do whatever it takes to see this blood feud ended.

At the same time, we get a little nod to the original relationship. Lupin is perched on a balcony in a theater and spouts his own variation of Juliet’s famous “wherefore art” speech, since the “war” between Lupin and Zenigata’s families and their subsequent frenemy relationship can be easily squeezed into that Romeo and Juliet romantic mythos.

And how does Zenigata react? He shoots at Lupin again. No real exchange. No playing along with the joke. Just more violence.

It’s a pretty clear sign that things have changed, at least on Zenigata’s side of things.

Yeah, Zenigata is a Bastard

Zenigata uses Fujiko to get his rocks off. Then he uses her to try to capture Lupin. Yeah.

That sex scene that opened the episode wasn’t really shocking in and of itself, but seeing that it was Zenigata using Fujiko was pretty shocking. Zenigata’s always been portrayed as a bit of a bumbling fool. Not quite Inspector Clouseau levels of ineptitude, but he’s always shown to be inferior to Lupin and his gang. It makes him an ineffective antagonist, but I don’t think he’s really intended to be a foe. He’s just a foil in the original stories– there more to play off of the gang than to be an actual force out to stop them.

He’s always been a confident character personality-wise, but that confidence seems to be spilling over into his actions. Zenigata is being set up as an actual antagonist. But he isn’t being portrayed as the sort of antagonist that you’re supposed to love. Old school Zenigata is just as much a part of the crew as Jigen, Goemon, and Fujiko. He’s a part of the act. In the new series he’s being set up to be an outside force bent on destroying everything we love about Lupin.

That’s a welcome twist, but yeah, in doing so they’re making Zenigata a rat bastard.

Oscar is a Chick?

I had that suspicion when I saw Oscar in the first episode. A character with that androgynous look who shares the same name with the infamous crossdresser from Rose of Versailles? Yeah, they could be going for something else when they had Oscar blush when Zenigata was posturing in the first episode, but “girl dressed as a boy” was my first reaction.

I didn’t have any real evidence beyond that gut feeling, so I didn’t mention it at first. But this episode had Oscar going out of his/her way to rag on Fujiko. While they’re chasing after Lupin, Oscar gets some good digs in on Fujiko. Oscar basically calls Fujiko a slut, accusing her of being little more than a depository for men’s “waste.” A man could easily take offense to Fujiko’s behavior, but Oscar was especially snarky about it. It seems like he/she’s taking Fujiko’s indecent behavior pretty personally.

If that’s the case then Fujiko has her own nemesis, much like how Lupin has Zenigata. Seeing how this series is focusing on Fujiko, it makes sense for them to create a law-abiding foil that despises everything Fujiko represents.

Or, y’know, this could be yet another one of my crazy conspiracy theories and all of this is total bullshit. But I doubt it.

Quantum of Solace

Just wanted to point out the obvious: the opera used in this episode, Tosca, is the same opera used in the best (only good?) scene from the last James Bond movie. Appropriate since Lupin seems to fit the same pop culture niche as Bond. Born out of the same relative era and whatnot. I dug that particular parallel, intentional or not.

Butterflies

That “flashback” Fujiko had in the aqueduct, where she chomps down on a butterfly, reminded me of that Branded to Kill movie I mentioned back in my first Lupin post. There’s some dreamlike sequences that use some heavy butterfly imagery that are pretty damn cool in that movie, and all of said imagery is focused upon the femme fatale character from said movie, much like how it’s linked with Fujiko in this series. Again, could be deliberate, could be coincidence. It’s cool regardless.

I Think I Might be an Akibaranger

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Apr 252012
 

I kinda got a thing against the whole sentai hero genre.

It goes back to when Power Rangers first premiered on Fox. It was like that new kid that tries to interject himself at your cafeteria table. There’s nothing really wrong with the kid. He’s a nerd like you and he happened to overhear you talking about last Friday’s D&D session. But he’s the new kid. Even we nerds tend to shrink back at integrating outsiders to our cliques.

Power Rangers was in the same situation when it tried to get a seat at the Saturday Morning Cartoon table for peeps like me who had been reared on cartoons during Saturday mornings. We wholly rejected the “cool kids” like Saved by the Bell since it felt like some asshole trying to take over our shit, and we kinda saw Power Rangers in the same light. It’s live action nature made us think it was some vile plot to ruin our cartoons. It took me quite some time to realize that these guys and girls running around in spandex were no different from the crappy cartoons I inhaled wholesale. And even now, long after I got over that silly kneejerk reaction, I’m not too eager to try out these shows.

Despite all of that, I got duped into watching Akibarangers and I think  it’s kinda awesome so far.

What’s funny is that it’s playing off of a lot of the stuff I was blabbing about last week in that Otaku no Video post. It’s all about seeing strength in one’s delusional fanboy state.

A lot of what’s going down in Akibaranger isn’t new. The fans are feeling threatened by the corporate mainstream. Akibahara is being threatened by a “Blatantly Evil Guerrilla Marketing Firm” that wants to turn Akihabara into a second Shibuya district. All of the cannon fodder goons dress like generic corporate drones and the monsters of the week are basically middle management types who take the brunt of the “corporation’s” ills.

It’s the sort of “artist vs. business” rage that every fan experiences at some point in their fandom. We all get annoyed at how companies make bad decisions and screw up some of the movies and shows and games that we love, and at some point that manifests into a general disdain for “the money.” Most of us get over it for the most part, but there’s always that nagging part in the back of your head that wants to give all the suits the middle finger and Akibaranger is playing off of that impotent anger.

The catch is that, at least with fans here in the US, that rage usually manifests in the sort of insistence on “integrity” you see out of indie music and the like. That’s not the angle Akibaranger is going for. These characters still embrace the manufactured pop culture of Akihabara. Akihabara is mainstream geek culture in Japan. It isn’t about creating something that’s separated from the norm. It’s about embracing the norm with the sort of naive, delusional reverence that ignores reality.

Akibaranger’s fights all take place in the Grand Delusion. The show outright states that these sentai battles are a shared hallucination. It’s all a psychokinetic MMO. But this isn’t Paranoia Agent or that David Lynch movie eXistenz. At least not yet. This virtual reality isn’t being cast in a negative light, and the delusions of the main characters aren’t made out to be some social satire on the unwillingness to accept reality. The Akibarangers are being empowered by this shared delusion, and they just might save Akibahara by playing pretend. And on top of that, the second episode hints that this virtual world might be spilling over into reality, and this spilling over has positive effects.

Yeah. Much like that second episode of Otaku no Video, Akibarangers is all about embracing those blinders that we fans place over our eyes and using that narrowed perspective to make ourselves better in our own way.

If you fool yourself hard enough, maybe you can dropkick the economy out of the recession. If you dream hard enough, you can Moe Magnum all the terrorists until they give in. We need to elect Red as the next President.

Arkham Horror: Mask of the Smiling Chaos

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Apr 242012
 

Nyarlko ain’t like the Cthulhu Mythos. Yeah. We already know that. Lovecraft’s stuff is all about futility and inevitability and “yeah, man, the universe is fucked.” Nyarlko is all about beating up those space nasties that cause all of that futility and inevitability and fuckability and doing it with a goofy grin on your face.

You know what that’s like? Arkham Horror.

It’s a board game based around all of that Cthulhu Mythos stuff. It’s a cooperative game where the players are “Investigator” and work as a team to gather clues and stuff in order to keep one of the Great Old Ones from awakening and destroying the world. Unlike most of the Lovecraft-based stuff, it isn’t about reading books and gaining forbidden knowledge and “winning” by not dying. Arkham Horror is all about gathering weapons and magical items and spells and using them to outright kill monsters and deities. You can be a bootlegger gangster and take down Nyarlathotep with a tommy gun and a stick of dynamite.

So yeah, that’s nothing like the original novels, but it’s exactly like what goes down in the Nyarlko anime.

It’s funny how the Cthulhu Mythos has “evolved” from some pulpy ravings about man tampering with forces beyond his control to what amounts to Dungeons and Dragons that’s been super-sized with tentacles. It isn’t just because of the Call of Cthulhu RPG that would eventually inspire the aforementioned board game and others like it, although that “dungeon crawl” mentality inherent even to RPGs that try to break said mold has a lot to do with it. It probably has a lot to do with that conquest complex that we fanboys have that I talked about in my Otaku no Video post. We like being that guy who is able to overcome impossible odds, even if said odds were initially created with every intent of being insurmountable.

Then you fuse that RPG take on the Cthulhu mythos with the sort of shit we anime fans dig and you get Nyarlko. We like Cthulhu. We like pretending we can kick Cthulhu’s ass. We also like seeing cute girls running around doing cute girl shit. We also like seeing said cute girls kicking ass. Now we have a cute girl who is Cthulhu kicking the ass of Cthulhu.

And the end result is something like this, a custom character sheet I made for Nyarlko using the Strange Eons program that lets you make your own Arkham Horror stuff:

A Meditation on Why Being an Animal Really, Really, Really Sucks

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Apr 212012
 

The animals from Polar Bear Cafe are having something of an existential crisis this week. Or, rather, they’re coming to the realization that being an animal is inherently some crisis of purpose and there’s not much they can do about it.

See, animals are defined by some thing. To speak in internet terms, animals are defined by a meme– some narrowly defined trope that humans impose upon them that encompasses everything that’s expected of the species in question. Look at Mr. Otter. The visitors at the zoo all but demand that he crack oysters on his belly. Naturally, smashing an object against your stomach is gonna hurt. It’s instinctual for him to do it, since he’s an otter, but he’s also well aware of the pain that comes from the act. And then there’s Mr. Anteater. The visitors expect him to eat ants. It’s in his fucking name. If he doesn’t eat, is he even an anteater? Mr. Anteater knows he’s an anteater, but will anyone else know if he doesn’t eat ants?

And animals like Mr. Llama have it worse. He doesn’t even have an identifying characteristic that draws people to him. Even his friends struggle with finding purpose in his existence. Is he just a donkey? If he’s related to a camel, where’s his hump? If eating grass is your thing, why does it suck so much? Mr. Llama longs to have the sort of imprisoning characteristics that limit Mr. Otter and Mr. Anteater. He wants those shackles in order to attain a degree of freedom he doesn’t have within his prison made out of his lack of identity.

These animals are at a crossroads. They want to branch out from their instincts and establish their own identities, but in doing so they rob themselves of their identities in the eyes of those that view them. At the same time, by embracing these tropes that define them in society, they deny themselves their own identities and make their lives filled with malaise.

And they all look longingly at Sasako. She’s the lone human in their inner circle. Being human, she’s defined by her ability to define her own existence. That’s the trope we’ve forced upon ourselves: free will. Animals may possess free will on an individual basis, but as a species they’ve been defined by a lack of free will, and this oppressive weight makes the animals envious of Sasako’s natural freedom.

If anything, Polar Bear Cafe is showing us that we’ve created a true crisis of identity in the animal kingdom. Not only are we harming animals by hurting the environment, hunting endangered species, and the like, we’re robbing them of the very basic ability to exist on their own terms.

Then again, the animals are kinda jerks, so they might deserve it. Especially Polar Bear himself. Much like ourselves, when posed with the same questions as the animals, he resorts to sarcastic jokes that dodge the question. The bastard. Just like us.