The Avengers

 Anime, Astro Fighter Sunred, Azumanga Daioh  Comments Off on The Avengers
May 052012
 

So I saw that Avengers movie the other day.

The short of it, if you’re the type adverse to spoilers and shit? Avengers was pretty decent.

The long of it, if you love having movies ruined of have already seen it and are looking for your opinion to be repeated back to you? Keep on readin’ and stuff.

 

The Characters

They made Captain America’s gosh-howdy earnestness work. The “he’s so old he doesn’t get the modern world” jokes got stale quick, but they made his gung-ho patriotism and goody-goody nature not only palatable but cool. And they emphasized his role as the heart of the team and made his leadership shine. He wasn’t just standing there with a flag waving behind him, all posturing and no substance, he was taking command when no one else could and making sure everyone used their skills to the fullest.

Iron Man was Robert Downey Jr, and that’s about all I need to say. He puts on the same act that he did in the Iron Man movies and that smarmy asshole routine finally butts heads with people who can headbutt back. He isn’t put in his place so much as he finally meets people who are his equal, and that’s pretty cool. And that bit where he faces down Loki is pretty great.

Hulk smashes awesomely. I really dig how they portrayed Bruce Banner. He’s self-depreciating, but he does it in a gallows humor sort of way. He’s laughing at his plight and not wallowing in it. He’s a messed up dude that’s all too aware of it and kinda relishes it to a certain extent– at peace with never being at peace and all that. And Hulk smashes awesomely. Awesome smashingness. Smasherific awesometality. He hits really good.

Thor… had a good line or two? “He’s adopted.” That’s about it. Had Loki not been in this movie, thus making Thor relevant, he’d be dead weight. I did dig the Thor/Iron Man scene, but it wasn’t necessary.

Black Widow was every Joss Whedon female character ever. She felt like she was there to have a token female character rather than because she was integral to the team. She had some cool moments, especially the bit where she gets info out of Loki that no one else could, but the whole spry lithe female martial artist badass is SO Joss Whedonish. If it hadn’t been his movie it might not feel that way, so maybe I’m just being a jerk by picking on the character. But I’d rather have, say, Wasp or Scarlet Witch or someone a little more obscure like Captain Marvel.

Hawkeye may as well have not been in the movie. He’s brainwashed for most of the movie, and after that he’s just the dude with a bow. He’s only relevant because of his relationship with Black Widow, and I wasn’t too keen on her presence either. I did like his quiver that could make arrow tips that fit the situation. That was a cool touch that I don’t remember from the comics. But “cool backpack” isn’t much to say about a character.

Nick Fury was underwhelming, especially since it felt like Sam Jackson was phoning in the part. He had to be there since he’s the guy that brought all of this together, but all he did was shoot a gun and look mildly irritated. Eh.

But Agent Coulson, who has also been there the whole time, was far more interesting. His geeking out over Captain America was cute and all, but by having him in all of these lead-up movies made his death (spoiler) all the more awesome. You got to know the dude much like how all of these other characters got to know him, and his death actually meant something. And he got to go out with style. It wasn’t the Whedon-Death everyone was fearing. It mattered. I really hope those “Coulson becomes Vision” rumors are complete bullshit. Turning him into a ghost-cyborg would ruin the impact of his sacrifice.

Loki’s scheme was nonsensical, but this is Loki we’re talking about. This dude isn’t your megalomaniacal Dr. Doom type. He isn’t out for control (despite his claims). He isn’t out for money. He isn’t even out for revenge. If he wanted any of that he’d already have it. The dude just wants attention. He’s the younger brother acting out to get attention from his emotionally distant parents and to one-up his big brother. And his alien, god-like logic leads him to join up with a worshiper of Death (end credits spoiler) in order to basically jump up and down and say “LOOK AT ME BIG BROTHER! GIVE ME A HUG BIG BROTHER!” Loki is so moe.

The Rest

The dialogue was pretty decent and avoided the Whedonisms I was fearing (for the most part). It was easily the best-written of all of these Avengers-related movies. It wasn’t just a matter of actors having chemistry, like in the Iron Man movies. They also had interesting stuff to say to one another.

The “gathering the team” beginning part was a bit slow-going. The individual scenes worked, but it didn’t quite work as a narrative whole. It was like reading a couple of issues of a comic book back to back rather than watching a cohesive movie. At least things picked up once Loki started dicking around in Germany. After that, the movie flows pretty well.

When the action was all shooty-shooty, it was pretty clear. The way they zipped around the battleground and showed things was shot well. The hand to hand fighting could have benefited from the camera being pulled back a bit so we could see what’s happening. But Baysplosions it was not. The action made sense and was comprehensible.

All in all it was a fairly well-made movie. It lacked a bit in terms of individual style (anyone could have directed most of the movie), but it worked.

The Ultra-Spoiler

Thanos. Alien demi-god who has an Eternal boner for Mistress Death. He totally wants to fuck with Earth, since doing so will be like “courting death.” Since, yeah, the dude wants to court Death. He totally wants her to be his girlfriend. The dude’s fucked up like that. So fucked up that he’s tried to wipe out the entire universe just to get Death’s attention.

It’ll be interesting to see where they go with this. Are they gonna go full-on Infinity Gauntlet with this? Are they gonna sow seeds in the upcoming stand-alone movies? That’s kinda cool, since Avengers is a big-time summer movie and shit like The Infinity Gauntlet is the comic equivalent of the big-time summer movie.

The Bitching

We need SUPERVILLAINS. All of these movies have one name-brand villain and waves of fodder. Cap had Red Skull and Hydra goons. Thor had Loki and frost giant goons (And Destroyer, but eh). The Iron Man movies were all about generic cannon fodder enemies. Hulk sucked and doesn’t get a vote. Avengers had a rehash of Loki with some alien robot skeleton things from that Ultimates universe that no one really gives a damn about.

The fight needs to be on a more personal level. The X-Men movies did a good job of that, since those movies boil down to These Mutants vs Those Mutants, and we get to know characters on both sides. It was a clash of personalities rather than a clash of bodies.

When Loki is going at it with one of the heroes, whether it’s verbally or physically, it carried a lot more weight than the endless hordes of video game enemies. That final battle with the aliens was very well-made, but I don’t give a fuck about defeating an army. Leave that shit to the Call of Duty generation. I want to defeat SUPERVILLAINS in a SUPERHERO movie.

Also, it’s a shame that it’s taken us SIX movies just to get to the point that we have a team that can DO STUFF.

Really. Other than the Captain America movie, I haven’t really enjoyed any of these Pre-Avengers movies as stand-alone movies. They’ve felt like extended trailers teasing of what’s to come. They’ve had individual elements that worked well (mostly character interaction stuff), but as actual movies they’ve haven’t worked. It’s like I paid money to see two-hour commercials for the movie I finally saw yesterday, and half of that movie was build-up to what really mattered.

Now we’re finally at the point where the characters can breathe and do their thing and we have to wait until, what, 2015 to see a movie that can have its own stand-alone narrative? That’s fine when you’re churning out movies in the series with greater regularity, but this isn’t the 60s where a new Bond movie came out every year. They take 2-4 years between installments because of the time it takes to do special effects and the like. That just doesn’t fly.

Basically, in the number of movies it took, say, Harry Potter to tell the majority of it’s story, the Avengers’ story is just beginning. That’s great marketing but lousy storytelling. That sort of “development” can work in comics since you wait maybe a month or so between issues, on in a TV series where you get a new episode ever week or so, but it doesn’t work in movies.

The Statement Added to the End to Give This a Positive Finish

But yeah, despite my whining I liked the movie. I still prefer X-2 and First Class as far as Marvel movies go, but that’s my inner X-Fanboy talking. This was good stuff. I just wish we could have gotten to this goodness sooner.

Self-Indulgence 12: One Million Total

 A Certain Magical Index, Anime, Astro Fighter Sunred, Azumanga Daioh  Comments Off on Self-Indulgence 12: One Million Total
Feb 282012
 

Mecha Guignol hit one million hits earlier today.

Goal achieved. The End. Adios. Etc.

Also, I lied. About the “The End” part, that is.

I’ve talked about this before, but I may as well talk about it again now that I have a few more regular peeps at this place. I originally started this blog as a way to get my creative juices going again. Before I started blogging, my main online activities revolved around a fiction writing website. But when I started Mecha Guignol in 2009, my drive to write was waning hardcore. I hadn’t written anything of substance in, like, a year. I needed some project that’d force me to write on something resembling a regular basis so I’d get into some kind of rhythm. Since I had the idea of doing an anime blog running in the back of my head for a while (despite never having read an actual anime blog up to that point), I decided to use that as the “spark” to get my writing mojo back.

I figured I’d do this for a bit, get used to writing again, and re-channel that energy into one of my other projects. I never intended to, like, be an anime blogger. I like anime, but at the time I wasn’t really watching that much shit. I’d check out one or two new series a season and rarely finished them. When I started this thing up, the only series I had finished from 2009 was Canaan, and the only reason why I picked up things like the second season of Darker than Black and Trapeze was for something to write about when I first started my blog.

Fast forward a few months from then. I’m watching more anime at that moment than I had at any given point prior. I was writing a couple of times a week. I had my mojo back. But what do I do? I don’t work my magic and funnel that enthusiasm into something else. Sure, I’d write something non-blog-related every now and then, but my focus was on Mecha Guignol. Fast forward another two years or so, and here I am bragging about how this blog that I never intended to keep has reached one million hits.

Yeah, I got into this shit purely by accident. It’s an experiment gone awry, like some otaku Frankenstein rampaging across the Balkan Mountains or whatever.

Anyway, here’s some photographic proof that I’ve hit this point, to prove to y’all heathen skeptics that this shit is real. The first pic shows my stats from my wordpress.com days while the second is what I’ve gathered since switching over to self-hosting.

And that’s pretty much it. Mecha Guignol is one of those happy accidents that parents talk about when they refer to that kid they never really wanted but love regardless.

Also, since I talked about my fiction writing and shit, here’s an example. It’s called Celestial Cleaner Celeste (with Pussycat). It’s a little something I wrote inspired by the pic I used at the start of this post.

8 Bit Rainbow Gate

 Anime, Azumanga Daioh  Comments Off on 8 Bit Rainbow Gate
Dec 072011
 

I’d been meaning to finish off Rio: Rainbow Gate for a while. The first few episodes were kinda lame, but once I heard that the series embraced it’s absurd premise and went all-out, I had to see the beautiful mess peeps were claiming it was.

And yeah, it was pretty awesome. But I gotta go against the idea that it’s a mess. This series seems quite deliberate in telling us that it takes place inside of an old school video game universe.

Rio isn’t just tossing out things haphazardly, it’s using video game logic. This dawned on me during the episode where Jack finally explains his seemingly absurd “my family is dedicated to disarming bombs” backstory. When I saw his “mighty power” medallion, I thought I recognized that symbol, but I couldn’t quite place it right away. But once he put on his pajama-like costume and horned helmet I knew exactly who he was: He was a descendant of Mighty Bomb Jack.

Mighty Bomb Jack was one of those first generation NES games that most kids saw as a sign of their parents hating them. It was a platform game that most kids saw as a wannabe Super Mario Bros. Me being an anti-Mario elementary school hipster, I didn’t have the same irrational bias against poor ol’ Bomb Jack, but I never got into the game at the time because it was damn weird by my pre-adolescent standards. You had this “floaty” jump that felt off, and if you were too good at the game and collected too many coins or too much time, it’d punish you by sending you to Hell (or some US branch of Nintendo-friendly equivalent) and robbing you of all of your shit. It wasn’t until I played it on emulators in the late 90s that I realized that it was kinda fun in a quirky way. Nothing mindblowingly fascinating as some of my NES favorites like Metroid or Crystalis, but still cool in its own right.

Once I realized who Jack was meant to be, everything started to fall into place. The whacked-out games Rio was forced to play felt like the sort of minigames you’d play in the course of a video game. There’s two variations of light gun games, with the strip skeet shooting and target practice while flying games. The card games were simplified enough to make them playable on an 8bit system. The Concentration Bomber game is the perfect “bonus round” fodder. And Space Pinball is a whole game in and of itself. Rio’s basically playing through an NES version of Mario Party, with all of the non-gaming things acting as pseudo-cutscenes attempting to appease modern fans who demand “story” with their gameplay. The leaps in logic are exactly what you see in old school video games, and once I made the connection those leaps felt perfectly natural.

And to further support my little theory, I also realized that the tarot chick, Dana, was a gender-swapped version of the lead character from another early days NES game: Solomon’s Key. Not only do they share the same name and relative design, but the game Rio is forced to play against Dana kinda resembles Solomon’s Key’s gameplay, with the flying blocks being the most obvious reference.

And I think they threw in some off-hand Dead or Alive references as well. Something about beach volleyball or whatever.

So yeah, The Rio: Rainbow Gate pachinko machine was made by Tecmo. Mighty Bomb Jack and Solomon’s Key are also Tecmo games. I couldn’t find any other obvious references in the game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a more game-savvy peep saw more than I did. I’m kinda shocked that no one else seems to have caught onto this. At least it seems that way, since neither Rio’s Wiki article nor the posts on Anime Nano that I skimmed mentioned it. So I doubt I was the first to catch on to this, but I’m the only one I was able to find.

Rio came together pretty awesomely. It embraced the old school video game spirit, “flaws” and all, and made for one of the most fun series I saw this year. I demand a second season that goes even more over the top. This is the sort of shit that anime needs. If we’re gonna have obnoxiously cute girls, at least put them into outlandish, absurd situations.

Guilty Horizon

 Anime, Aquarion EVOL, Astro Fighter Sunred, Azumanga Daioh  Comments Off on Guilty Horizon
Oct 142011
 

Nothing’s original. Everything’s a rift on something that came before. All that shit we’ve heard zillions of times over. You either accept that things borrow from other things or you turn into some asshat that can’t enjoy a damn thing. The catch is that some shows do a better job of making you forget about the things it’s stealing from, and that ability to make you forget about the origin of its shtick is often one way to judge whether a series is gonna be particularly memorable.

If that’s the case, neither Guilty Crown nor Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon are gonna be particularly memorable. But at least they do some shit right.

Guilty Crown steals from Code Geass (the most obvious source), Ghost in the Shell, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Macross, and plenty of other shows in the first episode alone. Japan’s occupied by foreign powers, robots with cloaking devices and cute little four-legged robots are running about, and pop singers fighting the “good fight” have weapons drawn out of their chests so they can revolutionize Japan or some shit. The problem isn’t that Guilty Crown is messing around with all of these references– the problem is that the whole thing didn’t come together smooth enough to make me not notice until after the fact. Instead of being wrapped up in this near future scenario, getting into the action and intrigue and all that, I spent the episode saying “Hey, I know where that comes from!” Blame it on the fact that the lead character is your generic teenager audience surrogate who stumbles across everything only to become a participant when he’s granted super powers by Chemical X or some shit. Or you can blame it on the awkward pacing of the episode. Or you can blame it on the way the music doesn’t quite synch with what’s transpiring, only to abruptly cut out like a scene out of a 70′s grindhouse flick.

There’s something “off” about the first episode of Guilty Crown, and it caused all of its “influences” to become glaringly obvious to the point of distraction. That isn’t to say that it was bad, but it was decidedly awkward in execution and didn’t really mesh together. It’s damn pretty and has my interest so far, but it ain’t all that just yet.

You can say the same thing for Horizon. Instead of rifting on half of the popular series to air over the past 30 years, Horizon opts to steal from every JRPG made since Dragon Warrior.

Horizon has the same sort of convoluted, laughable back story as 99% of all console RPGs. Something about heaven and earth colliding and mingling and going to war and blahblahblah now it’s the future and peeps have space ships or something. All of the characters wear the same sort of gravity-defying, cosplay-ready outfits that might look good when converted into 8-bit pixels on the NES but look hilariously gaudy when thrust into an anime. The characters seem to be divided into “classes” not unlike an RPG, with warrior types and thief types and magic using types and racist stereotype types. There’s even slimes!

Horizon is every single console RPG ever made smashed into one anime, and much like Guilty Crown all of those influences are right there in the open. Horizon makes no real attempt to make any of this shit its own. It’s just a hodge podge of “cool stuff” strung together. And the actual plot of the damn thing is so banal when compared to all the world-building going on in the background– it’s slice of life aboard a floating monolith.

What makes Horizon watchable is all of the crazy bits going on in said background. You got slimes and robots and an incubus hanging out in this classroom with no explanation other than some inferences that they might be from heaven. The characters fight in a very RPG-like way, with little attempt to “translate” attacks into something a little more anime-friendly. And in the second episode one of the supporting characters went off on a serious monologue about how she was nearly forced to have a sex change in order to further her family’s political potential. The catch is that said monologue was all a set-up to explain why she has such a small chest, and the whole thing ended with a breast joke. Those are the sort of hilarious touches that make generic shit like this amusing. It doesn’t make Horizon particularly good, but it’s sure as hell a lot more watchable than half the series currently airing, since it counters its banality with craziness.

Dec 202009
 

If you listen to the young crowd, 2002 may as well be ancient history. Not quite the “mythic age” of the late 90s where legendary heroes like Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion traipsed around the countryside, but the early 00’s may as well be set in Byzantine Rome in the eyes of “modern” fans.

So let’s take a look at the awesomeness that was airing on wall of bath houses while those Romans were doing their orgy thing.

10. Please Teacher!

Yeah, I don’t buy that “oh, he’s really over 18, he just looks young because of some mystery anime sleeping diseaseshit. Please Teacher is all about that fantasy of scoring with that one hot teacher almost every teenager has at some point in high school. And it’s totally OK because she’s an alien! Your fantasies are totally legal, dude, and they’re even more exotic! Score! It’s pretty baffling that this series ended up being watchable, much less pretty decent. A lot of that comes from the side characters. Their issues and relationships are far more interesting than anything that happens to the dream couple. And the whole thing has a decent sense of humor to it. But yeah, dude, you’re not an adult. Stop lying to the audience like that.

9. Haibane Renmei

I don’t love this series. It just doesn’t do it for me the way it hits those buttons for other people. Redemption stories aren’t what I’m interested in. I don’t get the same warm fuzzies other people get when they see someone overcome those sorts of personal odds. I’m weird like that. What interests me is the actual world that’s created in this series. It’s a cool take on Purgatory. It may be a bit too idyllic for my tastes, but the series does a great job of crafting this image of a pastoral world with just a hint of sinisterness lurking about. In a way, it’s something of a miracle that this series even makes it onto one of my lists. It’s way too nice for me.

8. GetBackers

GetBackers is similar to Heat Guy J in that I hated its first episode. I also hated its second episode. I was all but forced to watch the third. And that third episode was pretty cool. And then after that the series became kinda awesome. It has insane characters with insane powers, and said characters get into insane action scenes and shit. That’s about it. It’s shallow shounen action. It isn’t nearly as good as something like Air Master. But it has characters with names like Mr. No Breaks. Seriously. That’s one of my favorite anime character names ever. A getaway driver named Mr. No Breaks, whose “poweris that he never uses the breaks. That’s some brilliant character stuff there. That one character represents everything I like about this series.

7. Chobits

One of my earlier posts compared this thing to Blade Runner. Not so much in terms of quality or anything, but in terms of the whole “just how human is an AIthing. Yeah, it probably isn’t relevant anymore to ask if artificial intelligence is real intelligence. Fiction’s weighed in on that enough to where the assumption is pro-AI. Chobits then asks “can you do all that other stuff you do with an equal human intelligence with an AI.The result is something that’s kinda creepy, but it’s kinda fascinating in that sort of “CLAMP has some weird fucking tastesway.

6. Trava: Fist Planet

Call it a dress rehearsal for Redline. It hits a lot of the same buttons as that awesome movie, except we see everything through the eyes of a couple of slacker salvagers. It isn’t the sort of “against the oddsstory like Redline. It’s more of a world-building piece where the creators are setting and exploiting the boundaries of the anime’s universe. It’s kinda inconsequential, I guess, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and stylish.