Like Some Fucking Insect to Something Sweet and Nasty

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Dec 182011

I wanna toss some stuff out there before Un-Go wraps up next week. Just to see if any of my crazy conspiracy theories pan out in the least.

The whole supernatural element of the series seems to throw some peeps off. At first glance, Inga’s Ghost Rider act feels kinda forced– as if they needed a truth-telling gimmick to push the plot along at certain crucial moments. And that may be one reason why he/she’s around. But I’m thinking there’s a more crucial angle playing out.

I’m making the assumption that these supernatural entities like Inga and Bettenou haven’t been around much before the preceding conflict in Japan. It’s a bit of a logical leap, since all we’ve been presented with is the post-war scenario and brief glimpses of wartime Japan, so this little theory could be total BS. But if we assume that these beings are a “new” phenomenon, I think they were “awakened” by the conflict.

One of the prevalent theories running around in speculative circles is that supernatural beings, UFOs, and shit like that are being drawn to Earth due to escalating world conflict. These inhuman forces see that we’re verging on blowing each other up and are here to intervene in some way. Maybe they wanna help. Maybe they wanna sow further discord. Maybe they’re here to “harvest” the carnage in some way. Maybe they’re here to observe and judge. It could be different for each being.

Un-Go might be playing off of this concept. The world’s going to shit and various forces beyond our comprehension are flocking to Japan because it’s the current focal point of this collapse.

Or these beings could very well be a “known” part of the series’ world. The general populace is likely in the dark about the existence of such beings, but all of the central characters in the series are “in the know.” It’s all secret society stuff– governments and other agencies utilizing the supernatural to their own ends while withholding the existence of such things from the average dude. It’s like governments taking crashed UFOs and back engineering the technology, only to present it to the public 30 years later as something that was recently created, except in Un-Go’s case it’s these seemingly spiritual beings with strange powers making “pacts” with certain people in exchange for some esoteric payment. These beings are used and then “rational” explanations and scenarios are created for the public’s consumption so that they never learn of the truth.

Or, since this series isn’t called “Occult Academy,” I could be totally wrong. Occult Academy was the only series where my crazy conspiracy theories turned out to be 100% true.

Dec 142011

It’s that special time of the year again, where everyone gathers around the warm glow of the computer monitor and rants and raves about how their arbitrarily ranked list of Japanese cartoon shit is superior to everyone else’s. Some do it passive-aggressively by saying it’s “just their opinion,” while others are brazen and proclaim their will is God’s will and that their God is a better otaku than yours. It’s a true holiday miracle and the reason for the season.

So here’s the only top whatever list you need to read. Because, yeah, my God’s dojin collection is bigger than your God’s.

12. Shinryaku!? Ika Musume

The second season of Squid girl is more of the same. That ain’t a bad thing, since it has the same comedic timing and excellent exploitation of its gimmick. It has the same mixture of awesome gags and middling ones, just like the first season. It’s all about consistency and comfort. It makes for a good sitcom, but it’s lucky to be on this list because I decided to extend it to 12 instead of the traditional 10 for various reasons. I’ll gladly accept another season of Squid Girl come Fall 2012, but hopefully they mix things up a bit next time.

11. Wolverine

Easily the best of the four Madhouse Marvel series. Iron Man was alright, X-Men was atrocious, and I didn’t bother with Blade because X-Men was so horrible I threw my arms up in the air and shouted a stream of obscenities that could probably be heard from Madhouse’s animation studios. But Wolverine was genuinely cool. I talked about it here, but the gist of it is this: it takes the classic 1980’s Wolverine miniseries, expands upon it, adds in some anime conceits, and manages to improve upon the story for the most part. If only they could have done a similar thing with the X-Men anime.

10. Working’!!

Last year, Working was essentially tied with Squid Girl in terms of quality. They both ran with their setting and pulled off some good jokes. The difference this time around is that Working managed to expand upon its premise. We’re seeing the characters change. It might not be drastic change, but it’s a hell of a lot more character development than most similar series. Relationships are maturing, both in terms of characters accepting their feelings and in terms of their dysfunctional nature. All of these relationships feel natural and “realistic,” but at the same time they’re pretty screwed up and worthy of our derision and laughter. It’s that growth that differentiates between a decent sitcom and a genuinely good one. It isn’t on the level of, say, Maison Ikkoku or whatever, but it’s good stuff.

9. Mazinkaiser SKL

Mazinkaiser SLK is trash. Pure exploitative trash. It’s the sort of mecha anime I like– absurd machines smashing against each other in an illogical, chaotic symphony. No pretenses of reflecting upon society like most Gundam series. No romantic undertones like Macross. It’s robots hitting robots– violence begetting violence. It’s the perfect sort of OVA. It sets up the carnage, plays out the ordeal, and gets it all over with in three episodes. Much like my favorite anime from 2011, it’s the sort of shit that made me a fan of anime to begin with, and it’s good to get a few doses of this senseless beauty every year.

8. Ben-To

The best fighting anime since Air Master. It doesn’t quite reach the same blissful levels, since the fights aren’t nearly as well-choreographed and it isn’t coming together as well, but it’s still damn good for the genre. It has the same sort of ridiculous premise that every other fighting anime has (Really, is “fighting for half price food” any sillier than “superpowered ninjas living in themed villages” or “the exact same story as Superman except everyone is named after food and underwear?”) but it revels in its nature rather than try to make you take it seriously. At the same time, it isn’t a parody or anything like that. It just accepts what it is and plays it as straight as it can be, all while having its sense of humor take a more sarcastic nature. And it cracks me up to see how they integrate the characters’ Sega Saturn obsession into the series.

7. Un-Go

Un-Go is everything that the likes of Code Geass, Guilty Crown, Dance in the Vampire Bund, Eden of the East, and whatever other politically minded series are out there wanted to be. Not that all of the above series are bad, but none of them pull off the modern political angst with as much style and wit as Un-Go. It mainly comes down to how Un-Go is far more willing to play around the issue rather than beat you over the head with lingering fears of western imperialism, the existential threat of terrorism, and the breaking down of “traditional” values in favor of almost alien-like trends and values (the fear of AIs, cults, and so on). It gives you the pieces of Japan’s turmoil and lets you piece them together, and that’s the true mystery of the series. It isn’t about the individual cases in each story– it’s the overarching “what in the hell is the overall picture here” that’s at the heart of this series. It’s all about the big picture rather than the minutia, and I love that.

Wrap Your Legs Around War and Ride it Until it’s Worn Out

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Nov 242011

This week’s episode of Un-Go (episode 7 for those of y’all reading this in the future while riding jet packs and shooting ray guns)? It was all a dream.

That’s to say there was a good deal of dream logic playing out in this episode. What, exactly, was happening in this episode is purely speculative at the moment. It could be an illusion created by the novelist villain dude. It could be some fever dream brought on by the stress of the job. It could be reality and everything that’s happened to this point is the lie. It doesn’t really matter at the moment. What matters is what’s being said by all the people on the set of this war movie that’s popped up out of nowhere.

The three girls acting in the movie are basically talking about the nature of war. Before war takes place, most people are in denial. They can’t believe that the violence and chaos that comes with this sort of aggression will ever reach them. At the same time, war isn’t only inevitable, it’s something that people desire. No matter how much people may claim to want those ordinary days of peace, they flock to disasters just to watch everything burn. People get off on war, quite literally as one girl describes– they thrive on conflict, and when it’s over they feel like they should have sucked on its cock longer.

This all reminds me of last night’s episode of Coast to Coast AM. They had a dude on their talking about people’s fascinations with end times. He doesn’t buy into the reality of such scenarios, but he feels that people who are fascinated by them feel their allure because it gives them a way to feel important. These people fantasize about zombie apocalypses, the collapse of the government, and massive natural disasters because it’ll let them play the hero. They wanna be that proverbial Mad Max, going down the road in a tricked-out Mustang with a shotgun in one hand and a blessed crucifix in the other, ready to gun down Satan’s armies and right all the wrongs brought about by the end of the world.

And it’s that fascination that’s partly to blame for people’s need to go and blow shit up. If they bring about that sort of chaos, they can be the one to return order to the world. At the same time, there has to be someone who gets off on being the one who starts all this shit, and in that we have this novelist dude. He wants to create the “world’s last great detective,” and he wants said detective to be this idealized hero.

All of these ideas are being told in this dream-like state. The actions of the people in this episode don’t make much sense. The actors’ expressions don’t seem to match what’s transpiring in the movie. The city’s burning, yet one girl is disinterested and another is beaming. There doesn’t seem to be a script, despite the director insisting on doing things in the manner that’s already been decided upon. Scenes don’t make sense when connected to one another (not unlike the paragraphs of this post). This dream state is allowing characters to speak things that wouldn’t make sense in a normal wakened state of consciousness. It’d be silly exposition for these girls to sit down in their lingerie and talk about metaphorical sex with the concept of war, but once you put that speech into a stream of consciousness-like narrative, it makes perfect sense.

And there’s something up with the Shinjuro. Something from his subconscious is coming to the surface in this episode. It’s as if he was in a position pre-war, or during the war, to stop something from happening. He saw something strange and didn’t do anything about it until it was too late, hence the scene where he sees the director harassing one of the girls. Maybe it has something to do with the actresses being dubbed criminals. They almost seem be forced into their roles. Maybe the main dude had some responsibility for some people who were deemed to be war criminals? I don’t know, I’m just letting the ideas flow out just like this episode did.

Or I could be totally wrong about all of this. That’d be cool, too.

Also: “The Works of Director Frank Darabont?” Couldn’t they have picked a classier director to name-check? The only good movie he’s made is The Mist.

(^ ^ ;;

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Nov 032011

Yeah, yeah, yeah. AI right-for-life and justice and all that stuff went down during this Un-Go two-parter. But I wanna talk about the “cliffhanger” from last week’s episode first. That was fucking awesome.

The “mystery” to last week’s episode was pretty obvious. Dude makes robots, so the culprit had to be a robot. Like we’ve established before, Un-Go ain’t about the actual mysteries but all the other craziness going on around said mysteries. And the matter-of-fact way that the mystery was revealed was borderline brilliant. It’s one part timing and one part awesome exploitation of banality: The episode ends with the main dude dead-panning the revelation that the murder victim was a RAI all along, tapping on a computer cabinet. With that cue, a text sequence scrolls across the computer’s display, and it’s written in the sort of banal cutesy manner you expect someone to use in a throwaway IM. And BAM! cut to the end credits.

The episode could have easily played out this moment with a good deal more drama and suspense. It could have tried to make this moment shocking. For the most part, we the audience saw this coming, and by having this moment play out in such a subdued, nonchalant manner helps alleviate that somewhat. The revelation is still seen from a mile away, but we aren’t hit over the head with its non-existent surprise.

At the same time, it helps ground the existence of artificial intelligence in Un-Go’s world. We already know about the existence of AIs in this world, but we haven’t been shown just how accepted the concept is among the public. It isn’t some groundbreaking concept for the characters, it’s as familiar to them as an iPod is to us– the sort of thing that seems alien to people not familiar with it but seems perfectly natural to those in the know. And it’s touches like this that help build the world’s vibe in a far better manner than endless exposition and the like. It may be shocking that this particular person was a RAI, but the existence of such things isn’t.

And that plays into the sort of thing that this week’s episode deals with. The Moe Sucks peeps do a good job of detailing all of that, so go check their shit out. But one way that accepting AIs as an equal form of intelligence is the acceptance of them as something mundane. By using them as a purely exploitative contraption– for violent bloodsport and extreme sexual gratification– you’re denying these AIs the potential to be accepted. And little touches like the one I mentioned above help paint the picture in favor of this acceptance that seems to be a major point of the series.

And I dig where they’re going with why the RAIs were outlawed. The government hides behind the veil of morality, claiming that the exploitative use of these robots will harm society (Which is a point the series seems to support to some degree.), but that’s just an excuse for them to have a monopoly on the technology. The Japanese government wants to weaponize them, which is never a good thing in sci-fi. You may be morally corrupting the public by allowing these robots to be some sort of unneeded hedonistic, sociopathic release, but when you turn an AI into a weapon, you always get a Terminator or a Hal 9000 or some other human-killing abomination.

So the government wants sole control of a technology that the public wants to exploit for its own selfish ends. Sounds kinda like the internet, don’t it?