Saturday, July 30, 2011


[Image from Cats Do Funny Cats]

I managed to catch hold of the premiere of the ThunderCats remake, and found it competent and enjoyable, but with very few surprises. The only way it would seem shocking was in comparison to the original, namely in the way that the plot and the production values are miles ahead of the original series, but when compared with the whole of fantasy fiction, animated or otherwise, ThunderCats is standard fare.

It’s essentially the same type of heroic fantasy you’ve seen before. Technology appears in the end, but it is a legend that becomes real, a thing of faraway lands and eccentric tinkerers—which is one of the clichés. The other ones are there: the father dies, the old mentor dies, the prince takes on an unsure new role, a long-defeated enemy returns, there are visions of a dark future, somebody turns traitor, the clever street urchins think they’re destined for better things...and so on.

One actual change from both the original series and most standardized epic fantasy was that it tries to show the good-guy species actually being jerks to other species, including the villainous ones. The best bit is when prince Lion-O convinces the authorities to let two imprisoned lizard-people free. Lizards then attack the city, and Lion-O’s father berates him for being too soft for a future king. However, one of the freed lizards later sneaks a key to the captured Lion-O, allowing him to go free. Because of how standard the series’ plot otherwise is, I’m worried about later episodes forgetting to “humanize” the enemy species, but I hope I’m wrong, because this sort of thing really helps.

I have no idea if fans of the original series will like this or not. ThunderCats takes more risks than the 2002 He-Man series in terms of changing things and making concessions to modernity; despite being very standard fantasy otherwise, it therefore manages to avoid that air of rehashed blandness that He-Man had. On the other hand, there are a lot of familiar things here, so it’s anybody’s guess.

(I know that I’m all in favour of the new series turning nursemaid/wet blanket/comic relief critter Snarf into a voiceless pet. Though nu-Snarf still indulges in some pantomime and is the victim of some slapstick, it’s very mild…and I’m not ashamed to say that he is now adorable.)

While the art and animation quality isn’t quite to the level, the experience of viewing the ThunderCats premiere is akin to watching the largest of Disney: something whose art and acting is top-notch, and whose characters are distinct, and whose story is archetypal and status-quo oriented. I can enjoy stories like this, but I usually don’t, which is why I’m not completely into ThunderCats as now.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it, just that ThunderCats seems that it’s going to be something that I happily watch once, never delve into. I don’t usually care for this type of story, but somehow, I liked a little bit. It was made with enough care and visual pizzazz that it became exciting for a brief time.

The animation is good, the characters are distinct, and it’s obvious that a lot of work was put into this. I’m strongly reminded of Avatar: The Last Airbender, not only in it being “anime style”, but a similar “anime style-style”, if that makes any sense at all. The somehow novel-like feel is also the same as ATLA, though ATLA felt far less like it was trying to hit all the heroic-growth plot points, and was overall much more entertaining than ThunderCats at the same point in their respective series.

I’ll be keeping up with this: not grudgingly, but it likely won’t end up on my list of favourite cartoons. It’s nice to look at and interesting, but doesn't grab hold of me that strongly.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

No More Rockin’ for You

Even after passing through my American-cartoon-hating phase with a renewed interest in home-grown animation, I still find adult-targeted American animated films from the 70s and 80s to be joyless slogs. Making animated films targeted at adults is a good idea, but these movies all seemed to have only the most superficially adult aspects: they have a lot of things kids aren’t supposed to see, but their characters and plot often come off as messy and half-formed, and so I lose interest pretty fast.

All of this is true for Rock and Rule, the Canadian attempt to make such a film. It has some cool moments and various places where it would be easy to give it more depth, but the overall picture is of an unfinished movie with some cool music and visuals that can’t save it.

Once upon a time, Rock and Rule was intended to be the flagship production for the Canadian animation studio Nelvana. However, it ended up going far over time and budget, with multiple retoolings: never a good sign. Various factors made Rock and Rule a commercial failure upon its initial 1983 release, and Nelvana was reduced to having to make children’s animation for the rest of its days.

Yet Rock and Rule gained a cult following through tape-trading and some television airings, before it finally saw DVD release by Unearthed Films in the summer of 2005. I bought the single-disc edition, and this review will be based on that release and the cut of the movie presented on it.

Rock and Rule is the story of a world following an unspecified war. According to the opening narration, only “street animals” were left, and have evolved into things looking like those dog-snouted people seen as extras in Disney cartoons. These creatures live the urban lives of their predecessors with little apparent change, in grimy but otherwise intact cities.

An ageing and egotistical rock star called Mok (voice of Don Francks, singing voice of Lou Reed) desires to summon a demon from another dimension. He needs a special voice to open the way, and it turns out to belong to a female called Angel (voice of Susan Roman, singing voice of Blondie’s Deborah Harry), a member of a fledgling rock band. After failing to seduce Angel with a promise of advancing her career, Mok resorts to kidnapping to her special voice. The rest of her band, consisting of Angel’s boyfriend Omar (voice of Paul LeMat, singing voice of Cheap Trick’s Paul Zander), and their friends “Dizzy” and “Stretch”, pursue Mok to rescue her, eventually ending up in the centre of the demonic concert.

The problems start with the characters. First off, it’s hard to say who the protagonist is meant to be. Angel spends most of the film being the Girl in Trouble, but the early scenes are told from her perspective, and we often flash back to Angel trying to fight her way out of Mok’s captivity. At the climax, she is also the one who comes up with the solution to banish the demon. On the other hand, Omar is the one who remains free and active throughout, and his character is the one that develops over the course of the movie. In this case, Omar would narrowly win out, but one still feels that Angel is given a lot of the focus, and that in some areas competes with her boyfriend for the protagonist role. It makes the film thus feel undecided as to who the star is, much like Dizzy and Stretch don’t know if Omar or Angel is their lead singer.

Yet Omar’s character arc is lacking. There’s obviously a conflict between Angel and Omar that is set up since the beginning of the film and resolved by the end, as they sing a duet to banish the demon back and then embrace afterwards. However, in between that, one can’t successfully chart the couple’s arc and resolution.

At the start of the movie, Angel tries to get Omar to promise to let her sing one of her own songs at the gig. Omar’s only response is a condescending little smirk and tentative confirmations every time she brings the issue up. When Omar starts into his song, the band’s power is soon cut because the club owner thinks they weren’t good enough. When he gives them another chance. Angel hijacks the show and sings her own song instead, Dizzy and Stretch going along with it while Omar storms off.

Angel is angry with Omar for doing so, and the scene suggests a high level of dysfunction between the characters that is never fully explored. Was Angel justified in hijacking the show, because Omar really wasn’t intending to give her a chance? Or was she rude in taking over the show without preamble? How long was Angel wanting to get her voice into a show? Certainly the music she picks, “Angel`s Song”, suggests someone who has hung in the background and is waiting to be noticed.

Now for all you'll ever know
That you've never seen me
And someday you're gonna show
What your one desire means
Now I'll only set the stage
Focus lights on me
I make sure the power's on
I'm the scenery

Oh, what will the signal be
For your eyes to see me?
Watching off sides as I wait
Just in case you need me?
So I still will set the stage
Send my thoughts to you
I'm receiving every wave
The sound, send love through

Either way they seem to forgive each other, but then Omar develops a jealous complex around Angel when Mok later invites them to his home, as if he is threatened by the possibility of his girlfriend getting any credit, as much as being jealous of the attentions of an older, richer male (neither of which are excuses for acting like a dick). When Angel is kidnapped, Omar even believes Mok’s henchman when they say that she went with Mok of her own accord, abandoning the band.

He persists in acting sullen and cynical regarding Angel even as they move to rescue her, refusing to admit his own concern. There is no turning point, no defining moment at which Omar realizes he was being an asshole and that Angel was being coerced all along.

The closest thing is Dizzy begging Omar to look into his heart and realize that Angel didn’t abandon them, but one never sees Omar’s reaction, and this all happens just minutes before he appears to free Angel--one would think his friends would have a stronger discussion sooner. Without this clear character arc, Omar just comes off as a jackass, and not in a funny or interesting way. On a second viewing, the audience might be tempted to side with Angel’s hijack, and wonder what she actually sees in Omar.

Angel herself isn’t that bad a character; at times she has an air of genuine scruffiness, helped by Susan Roman’s voice acting. As mentioned above, it is still Angel who concludes that her song could be used to send the demon back as well as summon it, and stands over the fallen Omar to begin. It can’t quite excuse scenes of being chained up helplessly before the demon and almost falling out of her top, however.

Because Mok has that villain charisma, one wants him to be a better character. He has a wonderfully creepy design and a smoothly evil speaking voice provided by Don Francs, but is usually reduced to fits of stock villainy or weak parody.

The film vaguely suggests that Mok is summoning the demon to take a suicidal revenge on the masses he believes have spurned him. This is a ridiculous idea in several ways, yet the film never sells the ironic hilarity of this, or even acknowledges that if Mok were successful, his chances of getting back his past fame are reduced to nothing. The scale of his current decline is also never made clear.

The closest thing the film has is Mok remarking that his last concert wasn’t “completely sold out”, but it’s never explained whether that was what pushed him to demon-summoning, either in terms of it being humorously ridiculous or in just substituting for a more believable crisis. Instead, Mok is played just as an otherwise unremarkable villain who just happens to be a rock star, and thus is less interesting than if his motivations were better defined, and were tied only to personal matters such as the urge to burn out rather than fade away.

In addition, sometimes the film also suggests that Mok is not after mere destruction, but wants to summon the demon to gain some nebulous power, further muddying the film. Whether cackling in his jumpsuit and goggles about his results, or then screaming at the demon to “Destroy them all!” Mok is pure cheese, pure childish caricature, and Rock and Rule doesn't’ seem sophisticated enough to mean this ironically. Mok doesn’t even understand what his computer actually means when it says there is “no one” who can stop his demon: the truth is that two powerful voices singing in harmony can stop the beast, but Mok only thinks he has it sewed up. It’s a writing conceit that would be at home in the children’s cartoons Rock and Rule is meant to subvert.

 (Also, where does Mok get all this futuristic equipment in a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland, especially if he’s a supposed has-been?)

Mok’s character also doesn’t have the kind of star quality or charisma one would expect from a futuristic rock god. He’s an obvious pastiche of several famous rock stars, but the idea of the character as a figure with this powerful draw, either in his past or in his present, just isn’t sold well. Lou Reed is a great musician, but the simple nature of Mok’s songs and his overwhelmingly obvious villainy drag the performance down

“My Name is Mok” is a sample from one of his music videos that appears in the middle of the film. Though the sequence is very impressive visually, the lyrics are a ham-fisted attempt to show how egotistical Mok is, and just come across just as grating. It’s also being difficult to believe that someone would become so popular based on just singing about himself, and insulting his audience.

Why, I'm the top, the point, the end
I'm more than a lover, more than a friend
I am the power of pure desire
My magic will take you higher
Than you've ever been before
So follow me beyond the door
Of the stupid hopes and dreams you've got
My name is Mok
Thanks a lot

Even worse is the other brief song sample, which is just Mok singing “Triumph (Triumph)/Triumph, triumph of the glory/Triumph of the glory of me” over and over. It’s beating viewers over the head with the character’s egotism, and in the process making his stardom less credible. Mok looks cool, but he never works as an effective antagonist or a charismatic “rock god”.

Much of Rock and Rule’s supporting cast consists of characters that are glaringly cartoonish in comparison to even the three leads. These comedic characters don’t balance well with the ones that are at least trying to be serious, and again, seem more like characters in children’s cartoons than the mature film this is pushed as.

Band member Stretch is particularly bad, so over-the-top that he gets his brain fried by losing at a video game, and is constantly afraid of Mok as if the star were a real dark wizard, even before he knows Mok is an actual villain. He might be meant to be some kind of kooky stoner, but it doesn’t really seem like it. The other “cartoony” member of Omar’s band, Dizzy, proves to be competent and intelligent besides his goofy appearance, but he’s really in the minority.

Mok’s henchmen, the bulldog-like Shlepper brothers, are the typical idiot minions, further cementing Mok as something akin to a bad children’s cartoon villain. The last part of the film tries to make them sympathetic, as Zip, the dumbest one, begins to question the rightness of what they’re doing.

Mok brushes him off, but Zip eventually sacrifices his own life to save the lead couple. Toad, the most aggressive brother, then kills Mok in retaliation. This provides character depth in principle, but the foreshadowing is so obvious and the scene comes so late in the film that it doesn’t work as well as it could. (There’s even an existing cut that has Zip surviving, making it all even more meaningless).

The film also doesn’t put much effort into developing a new world. The animal-people are basically just funny-looking humans, without any new patterns or culture. The presence of normal rats, cats and dogs, while possible, further makes it look like no effort was put into the setting (Omar also makes joking reference to a pet gerbil), as does the inconsistent naming styles (although “Dizzy” is shown to be a nickname).

The plot has several odd moments and sidetracks. The worst one involves a botched attempt to summon the demon in “Nuke York”, and the failure leads Mok and his crew to return to the original setting of Ohmtown, where the climax occurs. Not only do the characters end up right back where they started, but it’s very hard to believe that Mok could get another venue booked after the catastrophe the first concert was.  This part is nothing more than padding.

There’s also this weird bunch of scenes that seems like the writers forgot to put something in somewhere. Angel almost escapes Mok by going out to a club with the Shlepper’s little sister, Cindy, and the band end up in the same place. Omar thinks he’s following Angel out of the club—and runs into what’s apparently Angel cuddling up to Mok and rejecting Omar, a nightmare come true. But it’s really only a hideous mutant named “What’s-Her-Face” whom Mok disguised as Angel, a truth that Omar does not see as he runs off.

Then, Omar and the boys somehow end up trapped in a giant ball of energy, with no explanation as to how it happened, or what the Angel-fakeout had to do with it. Angel agrees to work with Mok in exchange for their freedom, but this leaves the trio completely stoned out of their gourds, a callback to similar Magic Drug Balls seen earlier in the film.

Angel somehow does not recognize that they are drugged, acting as if Mok has performed something evil on them instead. (“What have you done to them?”, etc.) Then after Mok leaves, the blitzed Omar, Dizzy, and Stretch somehow make their way back to Ohmtown and get booked in their original club as the band “Omar and the Daycares”. They sing treacly songs until being electrocuted by a power surge and returning to normal. These events make so little sense, and have so little connection, it seems like there are things missing—or it is simply more padding.

The character designs of Rock and Rule also suffer from clashing styles. It’s good when members of a fantastical race don’t all look the same, but Rock and Rule takes this to excess. The designs are too radically different from each other, only unified by the principle that the more seriously the characters are meant to be taken, the more humanoid they are.

Omar and Mok have mostly human designs with snouts pasted on, while Angel’s design has only a tiny catlike nose and her large ears usually hidden behind her hair, making her even more human (which was probably the point). However, Mylar, Dizzy, Stretch, and many other extras look far more like cartoon animals, with huge snouts and exaggerated bodies, which is jarring to look at. When Omar and Stretch are standing side by side and they look like they come from different films.

After all this, there are a few small things I like about the film. Cindy Shlepper, though she is still the type of cartoony character/padding I complained about, is actually pretty likable. When it arrives, the demon is a fantastic special effect, especially when you realize it was partially done with cow brains on a multiplane camera.

Mok still looks like he should be a cooler character than he is, and admittedly does come with some nice set pieces. In fact, there’s a lot of other great background paintings and imagery here and there, such as the smoky, grungy cities, and the bizarre outfits and makeup worn by the denizens of Club 666. Yet it’s not enough to compensate for the weaknesses in other areas.

Of course, Rock and Rule is often hyped up on the strength of its soundtrack, which includes some of the well-known musical acts of the day (though according to the book Cartoon Capers, by the time Rock and Rule was actually ready for release, some of those acts were no longer top of the charts). Besides the acts mentioned above, there is work from Earth, Wind and Fire, and Iggy Pop sings a very short piece as the demon arrives, apparently meant to be the demon itself. The songs feel like they could be better than they are, but they are still earworms, and any complete soundtrack would be an item of interest.

Overall, my main argument is that if one makes an animated film for adults, it actually should live up to that. It should feel like there was enough effort put into developing the settings and characters that older viewers could enjoy it, never mind whether it gets an R or not. Though it had a lot of potential to be a film like this, Rock and Rule doesn’t really feel like it in the end, still being in need of fine-tuning its plot and characterization. Outside of the cursing, violence, drug references, etc., Rock and Rule doesn’t feel like a mature film, but another empty experiment in cartoon subversion.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Night of Falling Stars

The American release of Saint Seiya never made that much of a splash, but I managed to get into it, becoming one of the few North American Saint Seiya newbies, even rarer because I preferred the manga. When I subject these feelings to intellectual analysis I don't have a lot to say about Saint Seiya that is good, but it sucks me in time and time again.

It started with a heavily cut dub of the original anime, retitled Knights of the Zodiac. Heavily-edited TV anime are usually hideous, but I still use them as a litmus test for my interest in the original property. Regardless of fandom hyperbole, something of the original property survives in such programming; though Knights of the Zodiac was as terrible as you would expect, something in it drew me towards Saint Seiya.

After this, I picked up the first volume of the manga on impulse, released by Viz Media. It was produced under the dub’s title, but the original title was placed at the top of the logo in smaller font, and the gore of the first volume made it abundantly clear that it was almost unedited, except for changing a few names to match the early dubbed episodes. These were hurdles I was willing to leap over, given that I almost always prefer the original manga to its anime adaptation. The title wasn’t a big issue because the releases of Saint Seiya in other countries were often called Knights of the Zodiac, too.

The Saint Seiya manga was not as visually appealing as the anime, but over time and with some mild exposure to the unedited anime (with one legitimate uncut disc and assorted clips on YouTube), I grew to prefer the manga because of its more streamlined plot and its more appealing characterizations. Choosing the manga also served me well when ADV films discontinued the production of uncut Saint Seiya DVDs, while Viz’s manga release finished.

Saint Seiya began in 1986 as a manga written and drawn by Masami Kurumada. Its era is unclear, but it takes place in an alternate modern day in which Greek gods are sometimes incarnated as humans. Several gods are served by armoured warriors, but of chief concern are the Saints of Athena, youths who wear armour called “Cloths”, based on the constellations and divided into ranks of Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The story centres around five Bronze Saints  (Pegasus Seiya, Andromeda Shun, Dragon Shiryu, Cygnus Hyouga, and Phoenix Ikki), who must stand beside Athena, incarnated as the young girl Saori Kido. The first arc involves infighting among the Saints of Athena, while in the next two manga arcs, they face incarnations of Poseidon and Hades. The anime contains several films and another TV storyline, featuring yet more mythological characters, as well as other classes of Saints and warriors.

It’s much easier to talk about the reasons that I don’t like Saint Seiya than that I do. Like a few other works that I follow, there’s nothing about the larger plot or themes that attracts me, but instead I remain due to an attachment to a select few characters and some superficial aspects, which are enough to carry me through long stretches of boredom.

While I am still hard on the character art for the manga (including its recycled poses and limited number of faces), the design of the armour for any faction can get spectacular. The early Bronze Cloths (and all the female Cloths, which I get to below) are simplistic and scanty, but their complexity and quality of design grows as the story continues. As an additional bonus, Kurumada has planned out how all of these panoplies separate into pieces and are stored as a representation of their constellation, though some unspoken growing and shrinking is required to make this work.

In addition, it may just be my hormones talking. I love the idea of handsome and beautiful men kicking ass, and while the manga art may not be as attractive as the anime redesigns, the intended appearance of the characters is still somewhat obvious. There are plenty of secondary and cannon-fodder Saints have the kind of droopy-eyed, sagging faces common to comical male characters of that period, but they can’t change this.

I’ve already documented my love for Andromeda Shun, and stand by my ill-researched opinion that he’s a stronger character in the manga than in the anime, though still prone to activities which could make him a mimetic wimp. Among my other favourite Saints are Eagle (Aquila) Marin and Dragon (Draco) Shiryu.

Marin has had my attention from the first volume of the manga, which showed her as a far more ruthless and blunt teacher than I ever remembered from Knights of the Zodiac, and excitingly so; she may be a bitch, but she is always a bitch with a purpose. She can also rescue herself, and defy authority for a greater good. However, Marin is hampered by a character design that is as compelling as a train wreck, sporting an incomplete-looking Cloth over what looks like an eighties exercise outfit, but still she has a strong presence.

Like Shun, Marin seems to have been downgraded into the anime, with alterations and extra scenes which make her into a much weaker character in terms of attitude and constitution, so that she doesn’t rescue herself, and is often shown defeated or in peril.

As time goes on, I also realize how shallow my attachment to Dragon Shiryu is compared to the other two characters. I mostly like him because he’s handsome and controlled and has done a few really cool things, but his appeal doesn’t cut quite as deep as Shun and Marin’s does. A panel in the manga in which he says that he doesn’t intend to let Shun wear a Cloth after their current battle also eroded my interest in Shiryu. Shun is a reluctant fighter, but Shiryu’s line is horribly condescending.

None of these three are particularly deep characters, and beyond these reasons it is far easier to talk about the reasons that I don’t like Saint Seiya. Firstly, I don’t consider Saint Seiya to be a welcome antidote to modern cynicism and complexity, or to a lack of “manliness” in the current world. I prefer the attitudes of modern times, and the simplistic forms and roles of Saint Seiya are what make my interest in it surprising.

However, my interest in Saint Seiya is also not an excitedly ironic one, where I point and laugh at how gloriously over-the-top it is. What I like, I enjoy earnestly, and what I dislike, I dislike with the same amount of conviction. For some reason, I don’t have the urge to laugh too hard at the world, even though it’s often very silly.

While there are works that are morally simplistic but manage to have an air of power and sophistication, that is not what Saint Seiya feels like. It feels like it could be better than it is, with so many missed opportunities for character development, moral complexity, and status quo shakeups. Both of these things do happen, but their impact is small. Some characters will even disappear from the plot with no explanation, even those with significant ties to the main characters.

Of the three main arcs, I prefer the first, the Sanctuary arc, which involved infighting among the Saints of Athena and a gradual, if basic mystery. It’s still clear who the heroes are in that scenario, but it’s more interesting than the next two arcs, which involve fighting more incarnated Greek gods and their Saint analogues instead.

I am a fan of Greek mythology and of the goddess Athena, especially. That is part of the draw for Saint Seiya, but also part of my dislike of it. The largest shortcoming in this area is the representation of Athena as incarnated in Saori Kido.

There seem to have been arguments about this in the past, but my bottom line is that Saori is not the kind of female character who plays the war game in a “feminine” way and manages to be just as strong as the fighters. Instead, for the first two manga arcs, she is incapacitated and her rescue is the main driving force. There are a few flashes that indicate she stores a great power that she never uses, but there is almost is no sense of mythic majesty, of godly gravitas to Saori, and it remains hard to accept her as representing one of my all-time favourite mythological figures.

These conditions do improve in the final arc of the manga, and in the belated sequel series The Next Dimension. In these stories, Saori does undertake some more active planning and show a wider range of emotions—before The Next Dimension reverted to an infant state, thus taking one huge leap backwards.

Of the rest of the major female cast, most are tertiary, but those that receive some characterization grate on me. Ophiuchus Shaina changes from hating Seiya to loving him for no apparent reason, and does stupid things like running to confront Poseidon herself, confident he hasn’t awakened to his godly power despite all evidence. Her character design is also a virtual copy of Marin’s, for no apparent reason.

Shunrei and Chameleon Juné, Shiryu and Shun’s possible love interests, were those female characters who scream at the male characters to stop doing courageous things and furthering the plot, because they might get hurt. Such characters are portrayed as screaming hysterics who just don’t “get it”, and if their wishes were obeyed, there would be no story. And again, their angle is never developed—Juné in fact disappears altogether. Despite this, I ship Shun and Juné like crazy.

Female Saints are also cursed with terrible armour and clothing design, with Shaina and Marin sporting but asymmetrical metal bikinis with knee guards and one gauntlet, and Juné as a metallic dominatrix. They also wear different clothing under their Cloths than the male characters do: instead of their simple sleeveless leotards, female Saints have a hodgepodge of stockings, leg warmers, one-piece swimsuits, or thigh-high boots. In short, they seem to come from a completely different design sensibility than the male characters. Other female warriors in different incarnations of Saint Seiya can be better or worse with this, but female Saints are the earliest introduced and most prominent, and thus are hard to ignore.

This different armour style is also in spite of a plot point that female Saints symbolically “hide” their femininity behind masks, which doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot when they’re dressed in sexy metal armour. I like Marin, but it would take so little effort to make her Cloth and outfit not look like crap.

Furthermore, female Saints have a bizarre rule about not letting a man see behind their masks or they must either kill him or fall in love with him, a scenario driven by questionable logistics and thin explanations. Do they have to retire from Sainthood? What happens if multiple people see them unmasked? Why deprive Athena of warriors based on an arbitrary rule? This is especially important when Shaina loses her mask at least once an arc and never has anything happen to her after the first time, which results in confessing her love for Seiya, though they never get together.

Back to The Next Dimension, I was initially reluctant to read it, being that I felt I had exhausted my interest in Saint Seiya. Three arcs of the same basic formula seemed like enough for me, and I was so zoned out I didn’t realize that the conclusion of Saint Seiya had left the title character at death’s door without a resolution.

However, Shun being a main character in The Next Dimension eventually got to me and I started to read the fan translations. There was a bit of the change in the status quo, but it is largely the same type of series, and this is not helped by a time travel plot in which there just happen to be past characters that look and act like present characters. Despite that laziness, I would still keep reading The Next Dimension.

Of course, if you want to be technical the manga world of Saint Seiya doesn’t just incorporate the three arcs and The Next Dimension. There have been a number of sequels, prequels, and alternate universes by different authors and artists, not considered canon to the original manga. Sometimes I like works like this, but when my interest in Saint Seiya is as narrow and dull as it is, I don’t feel any need to seek out these additional stories.

It is likely because of this disinterest that I don't share a lot of fandom’s fascination with the Gold Saints, the twelve most powerful Saints, whose Cloths represent the western Zodiac. They have definite personalities and important roles in the manga, but apparently, the additional manga delve more deeply into the Gold Saints, upping their fandom popularity.

Of course, one can’t talk about Saint Seiya without mentioning the prominent slash/yaoi fan culture that has sprung up around it. The largely male cast, their attractiveness, and perhaps even issues with the female characters and maybe-love interests, are the likely reasons for this, but I’ve always remained detached from that side of female fandom. I don’t hate the idea of these fan-made couples, and like the idea of porn by female nerds, for female nerds, but such pairings have never turned my crank. I just can’t look at any of the male Saint Seiya characters and get interested in their potential pairings with each other. For example, Hyoga x Shun is a popular pairing, and I can see where they get the idea, but it`s not canonical or inevitable, and I am just not feeling it.

Overall, my relationship with Saint Seiya is a love-hate relationship. My attachment to Shun and Marin, and to a lesser extent Shiryu, is definite. I love the armour designs and the battles when I am emotionally invested in them.  Yet the story often feels hollow, and with a host of minor, gnawing issues that further bring it down.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On the Move

I like to think myself open to the possibility that a remake or a reboot can be enjoyable, but instead I often default to an instinctive dislike, even when I have no interest in the property at hand. Yet, I caught that nine-minute series of clips of the new ThunderCats cartoon and it looked very exciting, something I’d be certain to watch out for if it came to Canada.

However, I’m not a ThunderCats fan and have little investment into what a remake could mean for the original; my interest is because the new series looks exciting on its own. This isn’t to say that I know nothing of ThunderCats, however. While I was too young for the original broadcasts, I rented some videos at age eleven or so (all starting with a determined but stupid quest to somehow find a Ratar-O toy at retail in 1994).

I liked ThunderCats all right then, but viewing reruns as an adult on Teletoon Retro wiped away all that childhood goodwill. The series had terrible voice acting, weak world-building, a random mixture of fantasy and sci-fi elements, and idiot villains. The only opinion that had changed for the better was that now I appreciated the comparative subtlety of the heroes’ “humans in makeup” design, rather than wishing for them to be more animalistic as I did as a preteen. (Though the original series would sometimes show Thunderans with more blatantly feline features--as a child I idly wondered if they were ever the victim of racial discrimination).

Everything that I’ve seen so far has lead me to hope that the ThunderCats remake will actually make some alterations to the premise, rather than only make the smallest nods to modernity as the 2002 He-Man did. In the ThunderCats remake, I see signs of more complicated and detailed relationships between protagonist and antagonist, and among heroes on the same side, which makes for more interesting storytelling. The He-Man route is fine for others, but my preference is for a remake that turns out to be a thing I’d enjoy watching, and I tend to cringe at archetypal eighties cartoons, with some exceptions. The new ThunderCatscartoon looks like a good piece of heroic fantasy, made with some care behind it.

There’s a heavy anime influence in the artwork, but like Avatar: The Last Airbender there is an unmistakable western-ness in the tone and in some way, the designs. Not being a fan, I don’t have any strong opinion on how the new designs compare with the old ones. I’d probably be satisfied with them if I were, since they are very familiar-looking. As an aside, turning the annoying animal-thing Snarf into a non-talking pet is probably a good idea for several reasons. Not only does it shut him up, it was kind of odd that he looked like an animal but was sentient.

Overall, I’ll probably catch this if it comes to Canada, or turn to…other means if word-of-mouth is good enough.

This interest is more than I can say about Transformers: Prime, sadly. I am a lapsed Transformers fan, but I try to catch up on each of the series following Beast Machines. I dropped whatever I didn’t like, but I enjoyed Transformers: Animated and hoped I could do the same for its successor. But this…the show is very, bland.

There’s been something of a backlash against Transformers fans who dislike the human sidekicks, but Transformers: Prime still brings out my “Robots, dammit!” side (I liked Sari from TF:A, so the slack must be cut). Much of the material, including a notable amount of the problem-solving, seemed to come from the kids’ POV, which diluted the fundamental appeal of a Transformers cartoon, namely that the protagonists are living robots. Filling out the Decepticon ranks with interchangeable drones also isn’t that exciting.

It’s a pity, since the oddly primitive-looking CGI makes me nostalgic for the days of Beast War and Mainframe animation, my gateway into Transformers fandom, leaving me wishing, maybe unreasonably, that some similar kind of magic could have been captured. A friend has told me that Transformers: Prime has some better episodes down the line, which I might want to look into, but I’m currently on the fence.

Despite my nominal excitement over ThunderCats, however, the Transformers franchise is always going to be the king of eighties cartoon “revivals”, because it has never been just about picking up an eighties cartoon and remaking it decades later, but about putting out reams of material ever since 1984. Transformers is a broader, richer multiverse than its stablemates, and has been doing it since before the eighties became retro.

In other Transformers news, however, I’m making clear my intentions not to see Dark of the Moon. Despite some buzz about it being “the good one” among Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, I’ve heard enough to believe that I still wouldn’t like it. The only Bayformers movie I’ve seen was the first one, and that was only because crazy brain fungus told me that I “had to” see it, simply because I was a Transformers fan. It was terribly boring, and I heard enough to stay away from the second. And so on, and so on. I’m just not interested in a raunchy sex comedy/cheesy action flick which that has robots in the background doing stuff.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Some Kind of Innocence is Measured Out in Years

I have decided to stop adding my SDF Macross episode reviews to the thread at AnimeSuki. I found myself unable to meet the deadlines each week, and that my material never generated any strong responses. That second thing isn’t by itself any reason to quit doing something, but I am just not in the groove for this particular task. I have plenty of time on the weekends, and I love Super Dimensional Fortress Macross as much as I ever did, but I’m just not feeling the urge to review the series again in point form.

In fact, I’ve decided to take a hiatus from blogging about Macross and/or Robotech for a while. I am not going to tie myself to either being back or never returning. This could be the final swan song for my active participation in both fandoms, or it could be another rest period. I have no way of knowing, and reserve the right to return whenever I wish.

I’m not going to go cold turkey. There are also things I could write and still write about, and the temptation to do so gnaws at me, but is currently easy to resist. I will respond to any statements I come across that seem worth my while to discuss, and keep an eye open for some good merchandise, but I want to write about some other things for a while.

The instabilities inherent in my interest in both properties also remain and will never be resolved. That’s partly because I refused to change my desires to match with the reality of the canon, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I wasn’t being unreasonable in what I expected to happen, and that it’s all right to disagree with creators. In various ways, the Macross and Robotech series made a hash of the Zentradi after SDFM, and that soured my fandom experience. I was further crushed to discover that absolutely no one in the Macross fandom was interested in the Zentradi characters, the fandom entirely lacking in that small core of interest in the secondary characters that every other one hand.

These facts still sting a little, and are proof that I’m not entirely dead.

So, it’s not that this instability became too much to bear; the experience with both fandoms remains both a joy and a chore in many different ways. But I’m running out of steam, and witnessing an enormous dust-up in my circle of friends in Robotech fandom further sucked the juice right out of me. Thus, I need a break, to take a (relatively) more placid, passive view of the material for a while.