Sunday, December 31, 2006

No Pink Ponies!

Just putting in a little plug for a fave webcomic of mine: No Pink Ponies by Remy Mokhtar.

It's a good-natured little strip about a woman who runs a comic book shop and the unique characters who gather therein. It's awfully fun. The art is well-drawn and clean; I especially love the way Mokhtar draws faces.

(There's also a fair amount of, ah, fanservice... both for the guys and for the gals.)

So go! Check it out!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Attention to Detail

Here's an interesting link: A side-by-side comparison of photos from a small city in western Japan and screenshots from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Quite fascinating -- one of the things I loved about the show was the little details in the art, and the feeling that the characters inhabited a lived-in world. I wish more animation strove for this kind of verisimilitude.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Creative Writing: Part Deux

A little while after I wrote my Arch-devil profile for Dicefreaks, I ended up writing another such profile, this time for a Demon Prince. I kinda like this one better -- it's an original character (albeit named after a Biblical figure), so I was able to be a little more creative instead of sticking to D&D continuity.

Read more...

Originally Rahab was named Dagon (and was largely inspired by the Lovecraft-derived B-movie of the same name), but I had to change it because the project already had a devil named Dagon. Oddly enough, a few years later, an official D&D sourcebook came out with a version of Dagon practically identical to the one I wrote below. (See here for Rahab w/full game stats done up by a fellow poster.)

RAHAB (Vepar, Sorath, Dagon)
The Demon Prince of the Lightless Depths, the Deep One, the Lord of the Deeps, Mariner's Bane, the Bringer of Storms
Symbol: A single round eye with no iris or pupil.

One of the most dreadful of the horrors of the Abyss, Rahab, the Demon Prince of the Lightless Depths, is a tentacled monstrosity that desires nothing less than the domination of all seas. One of the oldest demons in existance, the primordial horror that is Rahab is a creature of slime, darkness, and insanity that only the strongest of wills can stand to look upon without losing their mind.

Rahab's realm is the 873rd layer of the Abyss: the Lightless Depths. A water-filled realm, the Depths are literally without light: anyone without darkvision can see absolutely nothing in this layer. Here, Rahab swims through the black abyss, devouring the souls of those foolish or insane enough to call him their master. Unlike most other Demon Princes, Rahab shares his realm with several other powerful beings, including a number of myrmyxicuses. At one time he fought for his layer with dread King of the Deep, a demonic entity once beholden to the will of the now-dead goddess Takhisis, but the King was slain by heroes on the world of Krynn, and now Rahab's dominion over the Depths is unquestioned. It is likely that various other unique demons call the Depths home as well. These lesser horrors generally leave Rahab alone, and flee before his might when he approaches.

Like many fiends, Rahab is known by many names. Some of his followers speak of him as Vepar and others as Sorath. Some cultists know him as Dagon, but that name rightfully belongs to one of Hell's devils.

Because their "portfolios" overlap in regards to the slimy dwellers of the deep, Rahab is a sworn enemy of both the Demiurge Demogorgon and the dread Hadean god Panzuriel, but because of Rahab's relative weakness, clashes between their forces tend to be rare. Among the other powers he has made an enemy of are Sekolah of the sahuagin; Blibdoolpoolp of the kuo-toa; Eadro of the merfolk and locathah; Deep Sashelas of the elves; the Elemental Prince Ben-Hadar; and the human gods Aegir, Umberlee, and Poseidon. Of these, Poseidon is by far his deadliest rival: the Sea Father has sworn an oath to rid his oceans of Rahab's evil influence. It is common for Poseidon to recruit powerful heroes to brave the Lightless Depths and spy on his cultists' doings in the hopes that some headway might be made in his war against the demon. The Duke of Hell known as Dagon loathes Rahab as well for allowing the demon's followers to know him as Dagon.

Unsurprisingly, Rahab has virtually no friends. The only ally he has is Olhydra, the Princess of Evil Water. Because of the distance between their realms, however, and Olhydra's fickle nature, he has not found her a very reliable ally.

The goals of Rahab are the destruction of good sea life (such as aquatic elves) and the domination of neutral and evil denizens of the oceans. He has many worshippers among the creatures of slime and muck that dwell on the seabed: koprus, anguiliians, kuo-toas, ixitxachitls, rogue sahuagin, and even some renegade merfolk pay Rahab homage. All of these races have their own unique, foul rites that they perform in Rahab's name.

Rahab has a fairly widespread following of human cultists on the Prime Material Plane. Many a coastal fishing town has found itself at the mercy of a poor harvest and turned to Rahab-worship in hopes of rectifying the situation. Indeed, Rahab frequently rewards his worshippers with greater catches of fish and harvests of grain, as well as gifts of gold. Such cultists make a common practice of summoning their demonic master to their plane of existance and offering a living sacrifice - indeed, Rahab actually encourages his followers to summon him. Such conjurations give him an opportunity to spread his corruption, transforming his worshippers into maddened inhuman reflections of their old selves, creatures of slime as hideous as their master. Such summonings typically involve a blood sacrifice and the destruction of a small golden pyramid inscribed on each face with his unholy symbol.

Rahab is truly hideous. Only vaguely humanoid in shape, the Demon Prince of the Lightless Depths is a gargantuan cephalopoid monster. He looks something like a bloated, rubbery octopus, with a head like a human skull, a single cyclopean eye with no pupil set in its center. In place of a mouth, Rahab has a mass of ten-foot-long tentacles that dangle writhing from his head. Rahab has two huge tentacle-arms like those of an octopus that branch at each of their midpoints into ten squirming appendages. From his 'waist' depend twenty or more tentacles. His overall color is a dark green-brown, but Rahab can change his color to suit his whim. In addition to this hideous form, he can also change at will into a handsome merman some twenty feet from head to tail, with dark green skin and green-brown scales; he adopts this shape when summoned to the Prime by his human followers.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Creative Writing

This is an exercize in creative writing I undertook a few years ago as part of a project on a D&D community I frequent: a profile of an Arch-devil, sans game stats. It never made it into the final project, but it was still a fun experience and I enjoyed writing it.

I only wish I could harness this kind of creative power to write fiction.

Why yes, I am stroking my own ego by posting this, why do you ask?

Note that originally her name was "Zariel" and her successor was "Bel", but I had to change them to "Astarte" and "Bael" because that's what the mods wanted. I didn't like that because the actual Astarte and Bael were benign deities who had nothing to do with Hell. As a compromise, I tried to distinguish between the infernal versions of Astarte and Bael and the original deific versions by using alternate names for the latter (Ashera and Baal) and explaining the reason for the similarities in the names within the text.

ASTARTE
The Archdevil of Destruction, Deposed Lord of the First
aka Zariel, Zavebe

Shortly after the Great Fall, the Seven Virtues of Heaven saw the need to keep a watch on the fallen angels that descended into the Hells. The Supreme Virtue of the Seven Heavens chose one of its most powerful servants, a solar named Astarte, as the chief watcher over the fallen celestials in Avernus. Astarte was originally a vassal of the Virtue of the Sixth Heaven, and the general of one of the greatest flights of celestials in the Upper Planes; unlike her fellow solar Triel - now the devil Beelzebub - Astarte had never shown any signs of corruption, and seemed a perfect choice for the job of warden. So it was that, with an army of angels, Astarte flew through the planes of Arcadia, Mechanus, and Acheron to the blasted plains of Avernus in Hell.

Fighting off the hordes of devils that inevitably resisted their arrival, the forces of Astarte built a celestial fortress of bronze on Avernus, her stronghold against the evil of Hell. Their task was to keep a watch on the doings of fallen celestials in Avernus: to make sure that they made no attempt to return back to Heaven to exact vengeance. They repulsed several such attempts on the fallen angels' part, and the Bastions were confident in the outcome of their decision.

Unfortunately, they underestimated the corrupting nature of Hell's very fabric. The methods Astarte employed grew colder and harsher with each passing century, and the celestial fire that burned in her heart dimmed. Before a millenium had passed, Astarte and her similarly dispassioned followers began working with Hell's devils, who also sought to control the fallen celestials. Astarte stopped communicating with the Lords of Heaven and focused entirely on keeping the fallen in check. She allied with Urukbaramael, a solar who had fallen with Eblis and Triel, who employed similarly violent methods with his fellow fallen in his vain attempt to fall back into the Virtues' favor; together the two, both filled with misguided single-minded righteous fervor, struck fear into many of the fallen, and Astarte sank deeper into cold heartlesness.

In time, Astarte and Urukbaramael laid plans to sack the infernal lair of the terrible Chromatic Dragon, Tiamat, the Lord of the First at the time. Normally such a campaign would have failed, but the fallen hosts of the two caught the Lord of the First unawares. Together, Astarte and Urukbaramael stormed the Caverns of Greed; fighting her way past Tiamat's five draconic consorts and to the Great Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Astarte laid waste to Tiamat's guard, withstood her foul spells and the attacks of her vile breath, and brought her sword to bear while Urukbaramael kept a pair of Tiamat's Dukes at bay. She lifted her sword into the air and prepared to plunge the enchanted blade into the Lord of the First's blackened heart - until a terrible row split the air, fire engulfed the hoard-room, and the face of Asmodeus himself appeared before Astarte.

While Urukbaramael, the Dukes of Avernus, and even the Chromatic Dragon herself cowered at the horrible sight, Asmodeus told Astarte that if she would let Tiamat live, he would anoint her as the new Lord of the First Hell. Astarte considered the proposition for a moment - and accepted. As the diabolic power of the King of Hell transformed her, she left behind any pretense of loyalty to the Supreme Virtue and Heaven; as she took her place in the Great Machine of Hell, the last scraps of goodness left in her disappated. She was now a devil.

Asmodeus left Tiamat and her brood to guard the passage into Hell from her dragonspawn pits, and Astarte, with Urukbaramael at her side as her consort and right hand, began to establish herself as the new Warlord of Avernus, ruling from her Bronze Citadel. Part of her agreement with Asmodeus was that she continue to keep the fallen angels under check, a task she found much easier now that she had Tiamat's legions of devils as well as her own host of "loyal" fallen angels at her beck and call. Urukbaramael gladly led her armies, torturing and destroying his fellow fallen. So terrible was the dark army of Astarte that the fallen dubbed her the Lady of Destruction, a title that stuck with her among the rest of the diabolic hierarchy.

The other Archdevils - especially the former celestials Belial, Moloch, and Beelzebub, who resented her for her original purpose in Hell - were quick to label Astarte an upstart, but she cared not. She had no allies among the fiends besides Urukbaramael. The only other entity in Hell with whom she had nonagressive contact was the goblin deity Bargrivyek, whose dogma of strength and unity against the dissident she respected. It was not uncommon for Zariel to send a small detatchment of devils and fallen angels from time to time to aid Bargrivyek's goblins and hobgoblins in their raids against Draukari, the realm of his rival deity, Kurtulmak of the kobolds. In those times goblinoid ambassadors were frequently stationed in the Bronze Citadel, and fiendish emmisaries made their residence in Bargrivyek's spectacularly misnamed realm, the Peaceable Lands.

Outside of Hell, Astarte had contact, aggressive or otherwise, with even fewer entities. Only one being cared about her appearance in Hell: the fertility-goddess Ashera of the Canaanite pantheon. Using the similarities between their names as a stepping-board, the cold-hearted Astarte took the opportunity to establish a few cults by subverting Ashera's worshipers; but since Astarte was under the protection of the Overlord of Hell, Ashera could do nothing about it. (Interestingly, in a repetition of history, Astarte's successor Bael would take advantage of a similar situation by usurping worshipers of Ashera's consort, the great thunder-god Baal; both devils contributed to the tragic villainization of the Canaanite pantheon.)

By no means did her lack of political ties did not stop Astarte from scheming against her fellow Lords of the Nine. She placed numerous spies in the courts of Dispater and Mammon, and had designs of conquering Dis (a notion which the other Lords found laughable). She reserved special hatred for Great Belial and the Lord of the Flies for reasons she no longer cared about, and laid countless plans to undo the two fallen angels. She paid little attention to the Blood War, focusing her attention on routing the fallen on Avernus; she left the front against the demons of the Abyss to her pit fiend general, the devil known as Bael.

When the civil war later to be known as the Dies Irae swept across the Hells, Astarte allied with Beelzebub, Belial, Moloch, and Mammon mostly to keep an eye on the four; she could not have forseen the outcome of that decision. When it seemed that the infernal hosts of Beelzebub and Mephistopheles would actually defeat Asmodeus, Astarte left the Bronze Citadel and made haste to Nessus with the other five Lords to witness the spectacle - and then Geryon sounded the signal and the armies of the Lords all turned against their masters. So the Reckoning of the Dies Irae came to pass.

For reasons still poorly understood, the King of Hell reinstated all of the Lords save Geryon (his only loyal vassal among the Nine) and Moloch (who foolishly challenged Asmodeus for lordship again shortly after), who were replaced by Leviathan and Lilith respectively. Astarte returned to her Bronze Citadel humiliated, with nothing but her newly kindled hatred for Asmodeus occupying her mind. If the Reckoning taught the devil Geryon the worthlesness of blind trust in Hell, it taught Astarte not to ignore the sovreignity of the Dark Lord.

After the Reckoning, the Lady of Destruction lived up to her name more than ever, wantonly laying waste to fallen angels, invading demons and yugoloths, and rogue devils alike. Her consort Urukbaramael was disturbed by what he saw. He, at least, had hopes of returning to Heaven; it was his monstrously cruel methods that kept him in Hell. He recognized that Astarte now had no purpose whatsoever, and resentment grew in his heart for his mistress. When at last her general Bael swept into the Bronze Citadel, his aim to usurp the Lordship of Avernus, Urukbaramael willingly let him into Astarte's throne room, looked on apathetically while his one-time mistress was routed, and then left to pursue his own twisted agendas in Avernus once again.

In the battle that ensued, Bael fought his way past Astarte's defenses in much the same way Astarte had fought past Tiamat's. Bael's ferocious onslaught surprised her: although she was perhaps the dullest of the Lords of the Nine, it quickly occured to Astarte that the King of Hell was setting his will against her. She fought Bael like a titan enraged, but in the end it was futile, and the pit fiend subdued her.

In a coup well-known throughout the planes, Bael imprisoned Astarte in a chamber beneath her throne - now his throne - and began siphoning off her power. Her Lordship stripped from her and given to Bael, Astarte could not hope to escape from the Warlord's snares. Still she fights Bael's magic with hers, but to no avail: unless Asmodeus himself sees fit to release her, there is no hope left for the fallen angel Astarte.

As already noted, a few scattered cults once existed that devoted themselves to Astarte, focusing on prolonging unjust wars and destruction, but upon his ascension, Bael saw to it that they were destroyed, generally by sending his devils to quash his prisoner's supporters.

In her prime in Heaven, Astarte was a beautiful yet powerful creature fourteen feet in height, with shining golden skin and flowing black hair; golden light shone from her eyes. Her beautiful appearance did not change with her ascension to Lordship - except for the loss of her wings, which simply disappeared. Over her years in Hell, however, her countenance grew weary and haggard, her hair turned gray, and the light in her eyes died. Now, held immobile in a chamber within Bael's fortress, she presents a stark figure in tarnished silver armor with dead gray eyes that stares down upon would-be visitors. She can still speak and use most of her spell-like abilities, but otherwise she cannot move (and so cannot cast spells with somatic or material components, etc.).

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I Don't Like Batman

It's occured to me that I just don't like Batman. I mean, he's a great character, but, I dunno, I just don't read super-hero comics for normal guys with psychological issues beating up on street-level thugs -- I read them for people who fly around in colorful tights with frickin' lasers shooting out of their eyes.

The only time I ever really like Batman is when he's appearing with other super-heroes, like in the Justice League, taking on threats that normal humans would stand no chance against. Batman teaming up with Superman and Wonder Woman to kick an evil alien god's butt is one-thousand nine-hundred thirty-nine kinds of awesome. Batman in his own series tying up muggers is not.

And then there's the angst. MY PARENTS ARE DEAD, MY SIDEKICK IS DEAD... Jesus, man, get some damn therapy.

I'm also of the opinion that Batman simply is not complete without Robin, which is apparently an unpopular sentiment these days. Doesn't matter which Robin it is (though I have to say I like Dick Grayson better as Nightwing than I ever did as Robin) as long as he's there to keep Bruce's spirits up.

Meh. I'll take a Big Blue Boy Scout over a moody Dark Knight any day.

Fairyland Totalitarian

Here's an interesting article on Walt Disney and his totalitarian leanings. I hadn't been aware that he was such a dysfunctional individual, although considering his lifestyle I suppose it's not surprising.

Disney is not my favorite animator. I do have fond memories of several of his short films -- particularly the "Goofy the Everyman" cartoons of the '50s and '60s -- and I consider Fantasia one of the masterpieces of American animation, but as the man himself said, most of his output is little more than well-drawn corn. Warner Brothers' stable of animators, especially Chuck Jones, were far his superior in terms of artistic expression. Disney's influence on animation and world popular culture cannot be denied, however -- he was, after all, the inspiration for the likes of Osamu Tezuka (and by extension practically every Japanese animator and comicker in the last fifty years), and for that alone he deserves accolades.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Heroes Goes to the Refrigerator

Holy crap, a post that isn't about anime!

I've been really into this show Heroes on TV. It's got a cool premise, a good cast, and good acting. However, I'm getting seriously worried about the way it's handling its female characters.

I'm only a feminist in the most casual sense, but I've still got warning bells going off in my head. In the first three or four episodes, the cast's two female characters were both sexually assaulted, and in last night's ep, a woman was introduced and then killed off solely to provide one of the male characters with an impetus to use his powers (hello, Alex DeWitt!). One of the original female characters has been turned into a damsel in distress (I hate that "save the cheerleader" tagline), and in this episode only served as a motivator for her father's actions.

I'm not very erudite when it comes to political topics, which is why my weblog is pop-culture only, so I'll let other people go into more detail about the general wrongness of it all. I dunno... it had just been bugging me since the third ep, and I wanted it off my chest.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

When a Woman Loves a Turtle...

(Originally posted to my LiveJournal.)

Okay, this is all kinda weird, but... bear with me.

I've been going over some of my old video games, and doing a little thinking. (It should go without saying that I have too much free time on my hands.) In the early Super Mario Brothers games, the plot almost always consisted of Princess Peach Toadstool getting kidnapped by King Bowser of the Koopa, whereupon Mario and Luigi, the heroic Brooklynite plumbers, square off against Bowser's forces, infiltrate his holdings, and win the Princess back. It's a cliche at this point, and I'm sure a lot of female gamers are bothered by the rather sexist plot.

But let's take a harder look at Peach. She's been kidnapped by Bowser about six times now (Super Mario Bros., SMB: The Lost Levels, SMB 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, and New SMB). Realistically, a woman who's been abducted so many times by the same guy would, I dunno, take some self-defense lessons, carry some mace around, and file a restraining order, but Princess Toadstool doesn't so much as beef up her security (not that the Toads could do much, but whatever). And besides that, look at Peach's record in other Mario games. In SMB 2, she accompanies the Mario Brothers herself in the liberation of SubCon from Wart's evil forces, and latter-day games such as Super Mario Kart, Super Mario Strikers, and (of course) Super Smash Brothers have proven that Peach is indeed a woman of action. Furthermore, the Mushroom Kingdom has been attacked by two other invaders -- Tatanga the Spaceman and Wario -- and neither of them was able to capture the Princess.

All of this has led me to a conclusion. The reason Bowser has abducted her so many times is not because of any particular skill on his part... but because Peach lets him kidnap her! Why would she do such a thing, you ask? The answer will shock you:

Peach is madly in love with Bowser!

It sounds insane, doesn't it? But think about it. Bowser's not such a bad guy. Sure he has a temper (and kickin' halitosis), and yeah, he's a giant turtle, but he's not evil. Bowser's never killed anyone. He's a brilliant military strategist, having successfully invaded the Mushroom Kingdom at least six times. He's also a family man, with eight or nine kids all eager to follow in his footsteps. He's just not very good with relationships, which is presumably why we've never seen his kids' mother, and why Peach inevitably tires of him and aids Mario in "rescuing" her. Then she goes back to dating Mario for a few more months or years before she gets bored with her humdrum mustachioed beau and, as Bowser invades yet again like clockwork, she lets herself get "kidnapped" once more. I doubt either Mario or Bowser is aware of just how seriously she's playing both of them.

But come now, you say. This has been going on for twenty years. Surely someone would figure it out by now. Well, look at Peach's entourage. Mario's a good, reliable, stand-up guy, but he's never been shown to be much of a thinker. (Sure, he's a doctor, but how do we know he even has a PhD? I bet Doctor Mario's a quack.) And as for Toad, he and the rest of his kind are all bred for nothing but servitude, so none of her retainers would have any idea. And of course there's Yoshi. Clearly, the woman intentionally surrounds herself with idiots. It's possible that Luigi knows, though... he's smarter than his brother. But being the shy fella he is, he'd never bring up such a sensitive subject, and besides, he's already courting Peach's sister Daisy, so he has no reason to care.

So there you go. Irrefutable proof that Peach is secretly carrying on a double relationship with both Mario and Bowser. Crackpot though it may seem at surface value, I think I've stated my case succinctly. You be the judge.

At the Risk of Sounding Like a Hopeless Fanboy...

Apparently, there's to be a second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, debuting in Fall '07. Effing stupendous, I say!

It wasn't a perfect show. There are some valid criticisms -- the show just wasn't quite as clever as it seemed to think it was. Suzumiya went to great lengths to point out the tropes and stereotypes of the anime ouvre ("the indispensible silent character", etc.), but it never quite got around to subverting them, resulting in fairly standard characters and plot. And poor Mikuru; Kyon never did stop Haruhi from abusing her.

Despite all that, though, Suzumiya wound up being my favorite show this year. Even if they were stock characters, I ended up loving the cast for their strong characterization. The quality of the animation was absolutely fantastic, especially for a TV series -- particularly this wicked musical number (check out the animation on the guitars and drums! yowza!!!).

I'm hoping for a few things from the next season. First, for the animation to be at least as good as the first season; second, for Mikuru to grow a spine; and third, and most importantly, for more show-stopping musical numbers!

So, get crackin', Kyoto Animation! Don't disappoint!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

On Japanese vs. American Animation

I suck at coming up with original post titles.

It struck me recently that the biggest difference between American and Japanese animation is variety. The thing is, both possess a kind of variety that the other lacks.

Note that this is all mere observation on my part as a viewer, with no actual research involved. If anyone reading this (any of the zero of you) can set me straight on any misconceptions, that'd be cool.

One of the things that sets anime (and I use "anime" solely to refer to national origin, not content, quality, or even art style -- i.e., any and all cartoons from Japan and from nowhere else) apart from American cartoons is that it's possible to create anime for practically any demographic, from little children to preteens to college students to adults, either male or female. Not that anime is particularly well-liked by Japan at large, remaining largely the purview of the geek subculture, but if there's a demographic to be found, chances are there's a cartoon aimed at them. It also comes in an extremely wide range of genres, from sci-fi to fantasy to horror to (my personal favorite) slice-of-life comedy/drama.

By contrast, American animation seems to play to very well-demarcated demographics: it's either light viewing fare for little kids or teenagers, or it's irreverent adult comedy. There's not nearly the same variety of genre or subject matter. However, American toons possess a different kind of variety: a variety of artistic, narrative, and directorial conventions. Despite its wide range of demographic appeal and subject matter, anime is practically always recognizably anime. From big round eyes and giant sweatdrops to more subtle keys like storytelling and direction, "Japanimation" has a definite set of standards. Even if you took away the visual element and just listened to the dialog in English, chances are that the discerning ear could still tell it was made in Japan. (A joke could be inserted here about the distinctively poor quality of the American dubbing industry, but I still have a big enough crush on Lisa Ortiz-as-Deedlit the Elf, so I'll let it go.) Conversely, there's no such homogeneity in American toons -- The Simpsons and South Park may both be satirical adult cartoons, but they're both very different beasts. This, I feel, is the American animation industry's greatest asset.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Eva Redux

So according to Variety, they're making four more movies based on Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Which is kinda weird, 'cause the series was about, y'know, the end of the world. Revelations. Armageddon and all that good stuff.

There was actually a movie made about a year after the series ended in 1995. The story goes that the ending of the series was so confusing that there was a massive fan outcry (because God forbid that the fanboys should have to think, no, the ending has to be wrapped up perfectly in a neat little bow with a happy ending and no loose ends... fucking otaku) to the point that the creator, Hideaki Anno, was actually receiving death threats from people who wanted it to end differently. So then Anno, a man whose work I otherwise admire, basically said "Yeah, fuck that," and made The End of Evangelion, an alternate ending in which all of the characters die brutal on-screen deaths in the most horrendous ways possible. Just to spite the fans.

It was not very pretty business.

So, since then, Anno got some therapy and antidepressants (and I shouldn't make fun of his depression because he has had a sucky life), made another really great animated series (His and Her Circumstances) and left halfway through production due to creative differences, and finally got out of the animation business to focus on live-action indie films. And Eva's production company, Gainax, kept the franchise alive with over a decade of merchandizing that slowly and methodically stripped the property of all its artistic meaning by marketing action figure after plastic doll after crappy spin-off comic to obsessed fans.

(One of my favorite anecdotes was how, at a convention years later, this fan bragged to Anno about how he had blown all of his college money on Evangelion merchandise, to which Anno responded, "You're an idiot. Study harder." I woulda loved to see the look on the guy's face.)

So now they're making four new movies.

I shouldn't be surprised. Gainax may have started out as the "by the fans, for the fans" anime studio, but after the success of Evangelion they've been all about the Benjamins and nothing more. Er, well, about the Yukichis, anyway. It's only natural that they'd want to milk Anno's masterpiece (and it is a masterpiece, albeit a very, very, very flawed masterpiece) for as many yen as possible.

I haven't read anything indicating the subject of the films, but I'm guessing right off the bat that it'll be yet another alternate ending, probably a more positive one. I've heard (but cannot cite) that Anno will be supervising the project, but I don't know if he'll be writing, and I know he won't be directing. In any case, I'd bet it was the studio heads' idea, not his.

I'm sure that with Anno involved in any capacity it'll be something worth watching. And yet, I can't escape a feeling of disappointment. I was happy with the way the series ended. The man's had to rewrite the ending of his brainchild once already. And now he has to do it again.

Monday, September 18, 2006

On Superhero Physics

I was getting tired of talking about nothing but anime, so here's something different (but equally geeky): A couple of fun videos about superheroes and physics.

Part 1: The Death of Gwen Stacy


Part 2: Electro



That guy is so damn affable! Fun stuff all around.

Monday, September 11, 2006

On Moving Castles

I caught Howl's Moving Castle on TV just now, and it was a delight. I never fail to be amazed at just about everything Studio Ghibli comes out with. The animation was wonderfully smooth and fluid, so fluid that often I forgot I was watching a cartoon -- and that verisimilitude, in my honest opinion, is the hallmark of great animation.

The story, though, could have used a bit of work, as it felt awfully rushed toward the end, and got more than a bit confusing. I felt that the subplot with the war and the missing prince was tied up way too easily (although it was nice to hear Crispin Freeman in a voice-cameo).

Normally I make a point to watch any foreign production in the original language first, but since it was on TV I had no choice but to watch the English version. I'm not sorry I did; as much as I dislike Disney's business, the quality of their work is always top-notch, and this was no exception. Billy Crystal in particular was delightful as Calcifer the fire-demon.

Hayao Miyazaki is getting on in years, and he's "retired" at least once already that I know. It's a shame that he's not going to be making many more movies. Even his failures are worlds beyond the standard. Even if Howl's Moving Castle doesn't stand up to any of his past masterpieces, it's still better than 90% of any other animated features out there.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

On Downer Endings

I watched the ending of the animated series Berserk yesterday. I was on the verge of being physically ill.

I'm conflicted about downer endings like that. On one hand, I wonder if the sheer level of pain, sadism, inhumanity, hopelessness, and, well, evil had to be shown on screen. I just wasn't ready for it. I've seen some really shocking movies and shows, but Berserk is perhaps the one that disturbed me the most (and it's a cartoon, even). It haunted me for the rest of the day; every time I closed my eyes I flashed back.

On the other hand, perhaps the creators ought to be commended for stirring these feelings in me, as was undoubtedly their intent. Does my discomfort rob the ending of whatever artistic value it may have had? Does "artistic value" hinge on whether you come out of something feeling good? The purpose of the ending was to define "evil" using moving pictures, projected onto characters the viewers had been made to care about over the course of 25 episodes: The point of the excersize was to make the viewer feel sick, and at that, the animators succeeded.

So I suppose the question is, on what does art hinge? The artist's ability to make the viewer feel what the viewer wants to feel? Or the artist's ability to make the viewer feel what the artist wants him/her to feel? That is the crux of my conflict.

(All I know for sure is that I will never complain about Evangelion having a depressing ending ever again.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Spirit of '43, or: Propaganda Sucks

(Cross-posted from my LJ.)

Here's an interesting thing I found on YouTube -- a WWII propaganda cartoon with Donald Duck.



I remember seeing this on a VHS tape when I was a very small kid. The narrator on the second half of the film creeps me out. "Guns! Guns! Guns!" And the tone he uses just sounds so malicious and venomous.

It also strikes me as interesting how it's implied that Germany and Japan were infringing on America's freedom. Certainly their own peoples' freedom, as well as France, Poland, China, and Korea's freedom, but as far as I'm aware they never had any designs on conquering America; it's pretty damn easy to draw parallels between that kind of propaganda and the lies the Bush administration is feeding us today about our "War on Terror."

All I can say in the end is that I'm just very glad we don't have this sort of overt propaganda in this day and age. (Not-so-overt propaganda, on the other hand...)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A Close-Up, You Jerk, A Close-Up!

Oh putz, Warner Bros. made YouTube take down "Duck Amuck." They probably took down "One Froggy Evening," too.

Ah well, it was illegal anyway.

Chuck Jones was, IMO, America's greatest mainstream animator. He may not have measured up to his contemporary Tezuka (note that I've never seen anything actually directed by Tezuka; yeah, some cartoonophile I am...), but he was still a master of his craft. Jones was by far superior to Walt Disney, who was a masterful entrepeneur who could sell anything, but a dreadfully mediocre animator if you ask me. "Duck Amuck" was the first cartoon I'm aware of to tear down the fourth wall and show that an animated character could carry a short without some contrived storyline.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Daicon IV

Incidentially, while I'm talking about Hideaki Anno, I might as well share (with who?) this neat thing I found on YouTube:

Daicon IV:



This animated short aired at the 22nd annual Japan SF Convension (Nihon SF Taikai), 1983, and showcased the talents of the 20-something Anno as one of the animation directors. From what I've read, it's something to do with the disarray in which Japan found itself post-WWII, and how its culture was rebuilt by the otaku, or something. Which is, if you ask me, bollocks (as they say across the pond). I think this short is also indicative of the beginning of the proliferation of the damned moe fetishism that runs rampant in modern Japanese animation.

But looking past that, I have to say that it's a stunning piece of animation (especially considering it was made in '83), and a finer tribute to cross-Pacific pop culture you'll never see. (I'm just jazzed to see Superman and Batman in an anime).

Plus it's got a damn catchy tune.

On Anno, Animation, and Fantasy vs. Reality

Well, I reckon I might as well make some use of this weblog. Here's something I found interesting, which I wouldn't bother to post on my LJ since I know there wouldn't be much of an audience for it there. (Why am I posting it here when I know that there's even less audience? God alone knows...)

Hideaki Anno on Hayao Miyazaki (circa '98, I think)

Hideaki Anno, best known as the director of Neon Genesis Evangelion, is an odd one. Personally, I think he takes himself a bit too seriously -- the "tortured artist" image gets on my nerves. ('Course, as an aspiring artist myself, I may well come to empathize with him 20 years from now if ever I achieve my dreams...). Even so, although some of his work and opinions grate on me, I can't deny that I find him a rather fascinating individual, and I find myself oddly interested in his thoughts.

"Animation, as a means to enjoy everything in a pure, fake world, is a realization of dreams and has become entrenched in film. In short, it is a thing where even coincidences are arranged and everything judged cinematically unnecessary can be excized." That's an interesting perspective. Certainly something that's never occured to me as a wannabe animator, but it makes sense.

Anno's the source of my favorite quote: "We can't weave our lives only out of things we like." From what I've read, Anno was one of the leading figures behind the rise of the Japanese otaku subculture in the '80s, and then made a turnaround in the mid-'90s during the production of Evangelion, which turned into a scathing denunciation of the decadent otaku lifestyle. "We can't weave our lives only out of things we like." That's something I've struggled with recently. I've always been secretly ashamed of calling myself a "geek," and I've vehemently rejected the label of "otaku" (whether in regards to anime or any of my other interests), since the words carry a connotation of self-absorption, of disconnection from reality, and of self-imposed autism -- willingly shutting off contact with the real world and its problems to focus solely on a self-contained fantasy world of wonderful, superficial little baubles that entertain while keeping us blissfully distracted from the demands of reality. "We can't weave our lives only out of things we like."

(Incidentially, this is one of the reasons I was drawn to the animated series Genshiken, whose premise was the reconciliation of otaku lifestyle and the ability to function in reality. In the end, I felt the main character gave in to his hobbies way too easily.)

Sometimes I wonder why I want to be an animator. Well, no, actually I don't. It's pretty straightforward: animation is the perfect visual art form for conveying a sense of the fantastic. In animation, anything you want to happen can happen: the only limits to what you can get on screen are the budget, the deadline, and the animator's imagination. As noted above, you can, if you so wish, create the "perfect" world within animation. With all the shit that's been going on in my life for the last several years, I'm strongly drawn toward that.

But is it worth it? Well, maybe I'll find out. "Forfeiting one's goal leads to despair, and is a sickness that can prove fatal," quoth Mister Anno. I've forfeited enough dreams so far. What if I actually manage to go through with this one? Will it be worth it? There's only one way to find out.

Monday, September 04, 2006

What to Do

I'm still trying to figure out what to do with this weblog*. I've already got a LiveJournal account that I update with semi-frequency. The only reason I created it was for the purpose of replying to other weblogs on Blogger. One idea I had was to just talk about pop culture, since I shy away from that on my LJ since I have this juvenile anxiety that my friends will judge me based on my interests (which, on an intellectual level, I realize they won't, but neuroses are a hard thing to shake). I might do that here since I don't really have an audience at this point (essentially talking to myself via weblog, I guess), but I don't know.

Watch this space.

*I refuse to refer to it as a "blog." I hate the word "blog." For reasons I can't fully articulate, I just can't stand the way it sounds. Blech. Blargh. Blog.

Homestar Runner Tribute

Found a cool little thingy on the boundless 'Net, a musical tribute to Homestar Runner.

Check it out here, and "save file as" if you're so inclined.

The lyrics, since they're hard to make out:

Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!

I don't want your wimpy mouse,
I don't want your lame bunny.
I want my armless white dude,
'Cause I think he's pretty funny.

Keep away your spitting cat,
Keep away your stupid duck.
Give me my Homestar Runner,
'Cause it is on him I'm stuck.

At the end of my hard day,
Homestar takes my pain away!
It could heal my broken heart,
Just to watch this work of art.
Homestar Runner, I don't know what I'd do,
Without you.

Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!

Strong Bad is a Mexican wrestler,
Marzipan is Homestar's girlfriend.
The Cheat and Strong Mad can't say "Douglas,"
And Pom Pom bubbles to no end.

Strong Sad sadly rambles on,
Coach Z can't say "job" to save his life.
Your business is the Poopsmith's business,
The King of Town has no wife.

At the end of my hard day,
Homestar takes the pain away!
It could heal my broken heart,
Just to watch this work of art.
Homestar Runner, I don't know what I'd do,
Without you.

Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!

Homestar ... run. Run.
Homestar ... run. Run.

Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!
Everybody! Everybody!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Testing

This is a test. Ignore this post.