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!