Species Reassignment

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Aug 252012
 

Panda doesn’t wanna be a panda anymore. The other animals don’t seem to find this all that odd. They’re less concerned about Panda being reassigned to another animal department at the Zoo and more concerned about how much he sucks at being said animal.

Hey, maybe this is a sign that the species of an animal can be reassigned in the Polar Bear Cafe world.

Even the people visiting the Zoo didn’t seem to find it all that odd. They were having fun and never brought up the fact that it was a panda in an otter, llama, and badger suit. The way I see it, this might be something that actually happens. Some animal finds out that they feel more comfortable as another species, so they go through a similar process to that of someone looking to have their gender reassigned. People probably saw Panda’s dressing up in other animal costumes as a part of the transition phase, so he can live the life of a badger or llama to make sure he’s fully comfortable with the change. And yeah, the only time anyone seemed to get upset was when Panda didn’t act the way said species should act.

Except for Penguin and the humans who worked at the Zoo. That’s probably a part of the natural human bias against these sorts of surgical changes to natural biological things. Since Penguin has taken on human-like attitudes, he’s following suit in that rejection when he wants to ignore Panda’s flirting with being another animal.

And that raises some questions. All of the animals that Panda experimented with were mammals. What would happen if a placental mammal wants to transition to a marsupial mammal? Is that an issue? And what about even more drastic changes like a mammal wanting to be a reptile or some other different type of animal? Is that even possible? Do they attempt to recreate the difference between cold and warm blood, or is it merely cosmetic in nature?

Then there’s Llama. Something seemed to blossom in him when he saw Panda pretending to be other animals. He got himself reassigned to the Panda section and he flourished. Is it simply because of the attention he got, since he’s usually ignored being so close to the giraffes, or is it because he felt more natural being in the realm of pandas? He’s always had an ambiguous, uncertain quality to him, so maybe he’s found his inner animal.

Handa gets in on this as well, albeit without his awareness (thus far). Panda’s sister has the hots for Handa since his appearance resembles that of a panda. The guy never really seems comfortable around other humans, especially female humans, yet he seems most comfortable when he’s hanging with Panda. Maybe his outwardly appearance is a sign that Handa true nature is that of a panda. You could call him a closeted panda who hasn’t quite realized that’s how he’d feel most comfortable in life. And if that’s the case, can humans get the same sort of reassignment as other animals? Humans are animals too, so it’d make sense, but you gotta wonder if there’s some sort of cultural thing preventing it. From the human perspective, maybe it’s OK for “those animals” to go about changing their species, but said humans may find it unnatural for them to do it.

That leads into the other bit in the second half of this episode. No one seemed phased by the possibility of Handa marrying Ms. Badger. All we saw was the animals’ reaction to it, but they acted like it was no biggie. Well, we got the real estate agent’s “this is great for newlyweds” comment, but she’s trying to sell an apartment and get a commission, so she may have been OK with it just to get that cash. Cross-species relationships seem pretty natural based on what’s happened in this series thus far, but is it OK on a societal level for humans to engage in that sort of thing? Is bestiality not a taboo in the Polar Bear Cafe world? Based on how things play out, yeah, it doesn’t come off as something squicky the way it is in real life.

Nickelodeon

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Aug 182012
 

Y’all know I’m not much of a manga dude. I’d rather see my cave paintings move on a flickering electronic screen than see them as still images on compressed wood pulp. To get my attention, a manga really has to do something different– different in the way I like shit to be different

Nickelodeon sure is that sort of different.

The thing is a collection of short stories, with each story usually being eight pages long or so. They all seem to take place in the same universe, since characters will pop up in multiple unrelated stories, but there’s no unifying narrative beyond “weird fucking stuff is going down.”

You have a story about a girl who tries to commit suicide by tossing herself into a wolf pen at a zoo but ends up falling in love with a talking tiger who talks her out of it. Then there’s another where conjoined twins bicker about how one of them is growing taller than the other, forcing the less girly of the two to wear high heels to keep their heights equal. One of the better ones involves a village of puppet animals who end up becoming sacrifices to Shub Niggurath, one of the Great Old Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos. Another deals with a track and field team determining who will run for help while a creature from beyond space and time is lurking outside their club room.

All of those, and many of the others, are pretty damn cute in a sociopathic way. The story that really sold me on the series is the latest.

Three dudes summon a demon to make wishes. They assume they’ll get three wishes– one each. That isn’t the case. They receive “up to 100 wishes.”

See, Hell has changed its business practices. In order to better accommodate their customers, Hell has altered its deals. You get 100 wish points, and each wish costs X number of points. The cost is based upon the plausibility of the demand and how much of an effect it’ll have on reality as a whole. Kill someone? 3 points. Cure an incurable disease? 25 points. Predict the future? 100 points ain’t gonna cover something that implausible.

And the best kicker of the deal? The demon won’t ask for their souls in return. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

So the dudes divide their points equally: 33 points each, with a point left to be used later. One dude wishes for 33 points worth of precious gems and stones. He gets about 4 and a half million bucks. One dude makes that incurable disease wish, with the remainder in gems as well. The final dude wishes for 11 people to be murdered, all of whom happen to be members of a 13-man secret society apparently ruling the country. It’s like the dude wished for the majority of the Bilderberg Group to be offed in one fell swoop.

The dudes are wondering what they should do with their last point. They’re thinking about asking for a bottle of champagne to top everything off, but the demon warns them to make their choice quick.

Here’s the twist to the whole thing: The dudes are in the highest floors of the World Trade Center right before the first plane hit. They only have one wish point left. They don’t have enough to teleport out. That costs 6 points. They can’t move the plane out-of-the-way. That costs 2 points. They can’t return some of their stuff to get points back. That’d constitute breaking their contract and the contract is binding. They don’t have time to get out of the building on their own. The plane will crash in less than a minute.

One of the dudes has a revelation: He asks for the terrorist flying the plane to lose his faith.

The demon beams with delight. The wish is granted. The plane flies away, saving the day.

These two panels say everything:

There’s all sorts of implications here.

The demon wanted souls, but he wasn’t after these guys souls. These guys are already damned. If you’re the sort to summon a demon to make a wish, your soul is already lost. No going back. No chance in the future for salvation. Guaranteed damnation. This demon doesn’t need to collect on these guys souls as payment for these wishes. They’ve already booked their trip to Hell, and all the demon’s doing is giving them first class accommodations. Hell needs souls, so it may as well make the willing all the more happy in their choice.

The demon wanted the soul of the terrorist piloting the plane into the building. But wouldn’t the terrorist already be damned if he’s murdering thousands of innocents? Apparently not, since the demon was looking for a way to rob the man of his faith in God. Despite his actions, this man was a man of faith, and this tells me that his actions were the will of God– or at least his God. This man was destined to flock to the afterlife of another God through his actions, and this demon wanted to rob that faith of a soul. Hence the set-up. These guys were placed in a situation where the only way to save themselves from the death of their mortal bodies was to unwittingly help damn another soul.

Hell wasn’t guaranteed three souls this day, it was guaranteed four. They were already making a profit with the inevitable damnation of the three main dudes, but by adding a fourth to the transaction they helped maximize their earnings. This demon probably got a nice bonus on his next paycheck for making this bargain.

That’s what I love about this manga. The rules of this world aren’t what you expect. It isn’t just a matter of their being demons and facehuggers and other weirdness. The series takes those outlandish things and refuses to carry them out to the expected conclusion. It’s almost terrifying in its alienness. The world isn’t just different, it’s wrong. Delightfully, beautifully wrong.

The Terribad Heresy

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Aug 152012
 

So I was on Joeanimated’s anime talk show thingie last week. It was pretty cool. Better than my first appearance at least. Think I came off as less of a dork this time around. I still wanna come off as a dork, but not an ultradork. That’d suck.

But yeah, I mentioned something that’s been nagging on my mind for quite some time. I really, really can’t stand the concept of guilty pleasures.

It’s one of those “truths” that’s always been apparent to me, but it kinda coalesced in my mind a month or so ago when I was reading a review for that Abraham Lincoln Kills Confederate Vampires Because Everyone South of New York is Evil movie. Here’s the quote that really did it for me:

It dangles its bizarre high-concept like an angler-fish lure, and the people who bite will likely bite because they want to make fun of it. I used to think there were movies that were so bad they were good–I’m coming around to the idea that those movies are just good and that these movies are just bad.

While I thought Blade Lincoln was an OKish movie, the sentiment really hits home. Yeah man, the concept of “so bad it’s good,” or terribad as many bloggers of the anime-type like to say, is a big fat fucking lie.

A lot of the time, it’s a concept created out of shame. You’re this dude, and you like this thing over here. But a bunch of other dudes say it sucks. You fear the social backfire that’ll come from saying “Hey man, this thing you say makes Baby Moe Jesus cry? I like it.” So people make up concepts like the “guilty pleasure” or “so bad it’s good.” That way they can have their cake and not be rejected by society for eating that awesomely delicious cake.

And sometimes it comes from the inability to articulate why you like something. Again, you’re this dude, and you like this other thing over here. But you don’t get why you like it because this thing isn’t playing by the rules used by the establishment. You know you like it, but if you play by those rules you have to say it’s bad. But yeah, you know otherwise. So you use that convenient terribad or ironic label and duck out of having to explain your tastes in an unconventional manner.

I say fuck all that noise.

The way I look at it, if you’re enjoying something, that movie or series or whatever is doing something right. When looking at something like Popee the Performer, if you’re watching those gags and laughing, isn’t it accomplishing its goal? Popee is a surreal kids’ comedy. It’s designed to be whacked out and hilarious. How is that “so bad it’s good?” If you don’t dig its sense of humor, then yeah, that’s a totally legit reaction. But if you’re laughing and enjoying yourself, can you really call it terribad? Is it because it’s funny in an unconventional manner, or maybe you see the low-quality animation and pass judgement based on its budget. Yeah, I don’t see how Popee can be branded in such a way for any reason other than preconceived notions of what anime should be.

Then take a look at Guilty Crown. I dropped the series since I was bored after a couple of episodes, but a lot of fans kept watching and got ironic enjoyment out of it. They were amused by how it was supposedly failing, and therefore they were laughing at the series rather than with it. This is all based on the presumed intent of the creators of the series, and that’s something I just don’t buy. People are basically saying “I’m enjoying X when X=Y, but I was expecting X=Z. Since I didn’t get Z, even if I like Y, X is bad.” It all comes down to audience expectations. When those expectations are defied, even when that defiance appears to be unintentional, people slap on that “bad” label even when they’re enjoying the end product.

Is that really “so bad it’s good?” Or is it just “this is good in ways I wasn’t expecting?” Yeah, I just don’t believe in the concept of liking something ironically. You either like it genuinely, and just can’t (or won’t) explain why, or you don’t like it and say otherwise to be contrary.

I blame a lot of this on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I loved that series as a kid, and I still have a good deal of affection for it, but it and shit like Rifftrax seem to have given people the wrong impression. The reason why those guys were making fun of those movies wasn’t because they hated them. In order to pull off that kind of humor you gotta have genuine love for the subject matter. What they did was never mean-spirited or nasty. It wasn’t akin to a bully making fun of a kid at school, it was akin to a friend getting on another friend’s case and that friend returning the favor– that sort of “gotcha” humor that real friends can engage in without hurting anyone’s feelings. By cracking jokes at shit like Manos: The Hands of Fate and the like, the MST3K guys were writing their own form of love letters for these low-budget B movies. But because people have been conditioned to automatically call such movies “bad” without actually watching them and getting how someone can enjoy them, a lot of people assumed that they were making fun of these movies rather than celebrating them. If those movies on MST3K were genuinely boring or bad, there wouldn’t be the same kind of joy in the thing. It’d just be some jackass yelling at the screen in impotent rage. That shit sucks.

And that’s why I don’t believe in this whole terribad thing. If the thing in question sucks, then yeah, it just plain sucks. But if you’re enjoying it in some way, then this thing is doing something right. If some movie or anime series is doing something right, then it’s good. Saying otherwise is just being needlessly convoluted.

The Great Penguin Race War

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Aug 092012
 

King penguins hate Emperor penguins. Emperor penguins hate King penguins. Who is to blame?

Humanity.

Yeah, when humans first arrived to Antarctica, the first penguins they encountered were pretty big. Those humans did what humans are apt to do: they associated that size with royalty. These big honkin’ penguins just had to be the kings of the species. Bam! King penguins.

Then some other humans traveled further into the continent, hit the South Pole, and found even bigger penguins? What’s bigger than a king? Kings just rule over countries. Emperors rule over  empires. A king is just some guy sitting on the throne in England or whatever, while an emperor is all Augustus Ceasaring up the place. So yeah, a penguin bigger than a King ought to be an Emperor.

So this is all about human classification. As far as we know, these penguin species didn’t even know each other before humans started  to flock to Antarctica. And even if they did have contact, there’s no sign of hostilities that we can see. So when Penguin and his rival square off in the latest episode of Polar Bear Cafe, the heart of their feud is man-made. They may perpetuate said conflict, but it originates out of human interference.

The same goes for the other penguins that pop up. The inter-species rivalry with the smaller penguins isn’t as heated, but there’s some jealousy and friendly ribbing going on when they compare the spelling of their different genera and the reasons for their names. These penguins lament that their names come from the differences in their beaks and heads– one being damned to have a feminine name regardless of gender while the other two are branded by such minute details as patterns in their head feathers. They’re clearly jealous of the Emperors and Kings for having royalty-based names, so they take to boasting that their genus name is easier to spell.

Again, these names were all created by humans. The penguins didn’t create these names, but they embrace them and have created cultural barriers based upon these artificial differences.

The parallel is pretty clear here: this is some dig on imperialism and shit like that. Those Europeans come barging in, creating political and cultural boundaries where such things didn’t exist before, or combining such things without regard for previously existing differences.

Penguins have been victimized by human imperialism of Antarctica in ways that other animal species don’t seem to have been affected. This could be due to their alien-like status. Outside of insane conspiracy theories and stuff like that, humans never lived in Antarctica. A few species migrate to South America, but for the most part penguins are not a part of the human subconscious. They haven’t been a part of ancient human interaction the way bears and the like have over thousands of years. Even the marsupials of Australia had contact with the natives to that continent, making them a part of one facet of human development.

That isn’t the case with penguins. They’re even more of an “other” than your regular integrated animal. They’re akin to the Native Americans when the Europeans were first traveling to and colonizing the Americas. Penguins are a wholly alien culture, and the colonizing culture doesn’t feel as bad about forcing them into holes they’d never force upon more familiar cultures.

And so the penguins were subjected to harsher categorization than more familiar species, and somehow penguins still embrace this despite it causing rifts in their community.

This helps explain why penguins seem to be second class citizens. Smartphones aren’t made with them in mind because, even with advances being made in animal-human relations, they’re still seen as something  different. That’s probably why someone like Penguin tries to become more like the humans around him. If being a penguin is such a lowly position, he may as well emulate his colonial superiors.

What this world needs is a Penguin Power Movement. Embrace the Antarctic homeland. Swimming instead of flying is beautiful.

Maybe we’re seeing the first steps taking place between Penguin’s nephew and his rival’s son.

 

Street Fighter is 25

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Aug 032012
 

Apparently today is the actual 25th anniversary of the Street Fighter franchise.

I’ve talked about Street Fighter plenty of times in the past, but I figured I’d do some waxing of nostalgia today. Not that today’s date is particularly relevant to my Street Fighter fandom, since I never played the game until SF2 hit the US in… 1991? But hey, this is as good of a day as any to do this.

The first time I saw Street Fighter 2 was at the arcade in Rolling Oaks Mall. At the time, Rolling Oaks was the mall here in San Antonio. North Star was a bit more upscale, and Rivercenter was, is, and always will be the tourist trap mall, but Rolling Oaks was the one to which all the suburban kids flocked. Those brats being the very lifeblood of the mall entity, yeah, Rolling Oaks was the place to be if you were bored middle class kid with too much money and time to kill.

I was a middle school kid. It was either late in my seventh grade year or that summer between seventh and eighth. Pretty sure it was the former. I was wandering around the mall while my mom and sister did their shopping thing. I had ten bucks at most in my pocket– cash for a couple of slices of pizza and about five bucks of actual spending cash. No way in hell I’d be able to afford any of the shit at Electronics Boutique. I was in that time between childhood and adulthood phases of buying toys, so Kay Bee Toys was useless to me. I didn’t have enough time to catch a movie at the mall theater. Everything else was mall fashion territory– it may as well be the poison swamps from Dragon Warrior to a geek like me.

So I hit up the arcade. I was a video game geek, spending most of my free time at home playing shit on the NES. I’d play games at the arcade, but it wasn’t as frequent of a haunt as it’d soon become. I looked around the arcade for something to play. I can’t remember exactly what I played at first, but I played some other stuff before Street Fighter 2 finally caught my eye. The mall wasn’t too busy at the time, and the game was fairly brand new, so there wasn’t a huge crowd around it just yet. It was just another kid around my age playing some weird Indian dude with skulls around his neck fighting against some Chinese chick. I figured it was a boss fight, since they were the only two characters on the screen.

The kid lost to the girl and left. I didn’t want to continue off of his game, since I’d never played it before and didn’t want to start right in the middle of a boss battle, so I let the timer tick down before jumping in.

That’s when I looked down and saw six buttons. SIX FUCKING BUTTONS. What kind of game needs this many buttons? I knew the SNES was gonna have that many buttons, but the idea seemed kinda excessive. Who needs that many options to punch and jump? What do all of these buttons do? It was downright arcane– like peering into some eldritch spellbook and seeing an entirely new language, and in reading it you find your consciousness rewritten. I was intimidated.

But once I plunked in my fifty cents I noticed something. That chick that kicked that one kid’s ass? That chick who I thought was a boss? She was selectable. What? You can play as a boss? What kind of game is this? Seriously, my whole concept of video games was being challenged here. This was some revelatory shit. So I picked this “Chun Li” character and started playing, expecting this to be like Final Fight or something.

Yeah, that’s when I found out that the kid before me wasn’t fighting a boss. This game is all about boss fights. One on One. Fight this one dude. Best two out of three. Win and fight the next dude. Lose and you gotta plunk in another quarter (Continuing usually costing less than buying in on single player games.).

It didn’t sink in at first. I knew this was a cool game, but I didn’t grasp what was happening at the time. This was all new to me, and I was aware that this game was different, but that was it. I played a few games. I discovered that mashing kick would make Chun Li do a super kick. I discovered that doing the same with the punch button did jack shit, much to my dismay. I accidentally discovered that she could do a flying spinning kick, but had no idea how to replicate it. It’s a bit like those half-truths about Columbus not realizing he was on a new continent, believing he was just in a part of Asia. I knew I was onto something here, but how much of a something was beyond me. I spent my quarters, it was time to go home, and that was that.

It wasn’t until that summer that I’d see how big of a phenomenon Street Fighter 2 would become. People crowding around the lone machine in an arcade, waiting forever to get one lousy game in, plopping down quarters or tokens to reserve their spot. I’d slowly discover the arcane language of controller movements. Charge back or down, then move forward or back. Quarter circles. Half circles. The mythical Spinning Piledriver 360 degrees. I’d soon become fluent in that then-esoteric controller language.

Street Fighter 2 would pretty much define the latter half of my grade school years. I’d go to the arcade at least once a week to battle it out with other dudes. I’d buy a SNES just to get access to Street Fighter 2 at home. My grades in school would suffer as I’d spend far more time playing this shit than studying. Granted, we’re talking about an A student falling into low B he’d-be-awesome-if-he’d-just-do-his-homework territory, but yeah.

It defined me in a lot of ways. Still does. Other than maybe Katamari Damacy, no other game really sank in as deep and as permanently. And my Street Fighter fandom was one reason why I ended up becoming an anime fan. It led me to subscribe to gaming magazines, and they’d talk about all of these crazy games based on Japanese cartoons. That led to curiosity and that soon led to hunting down VHS tapes at video rental places.

Yep. Street Fighter’s one of the main reasons why I’m here at this blog thing blabbing about this shit. You should thank it. Or hate it.