Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Christmas Tree

My small three for 2011. nothing special, but it's the first time I ever thought about having one in my apartment, and bought decorations to match.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Opinions of Post-Macross Saga Zentraedi and Half-Zentraedi Characters: Robotech

I've changed since my early days in this dual fandom, but never enough to reject Robotech entirely. The reasons for this are complicated, and I don't entirely understand them. I know that objectively the old Robotech novels and comics suck, and nothing good about them was ever made that didn't derive from the three component series—but I keep coming back to them again and again, even when I cut all ties with Robotech fandom, and have rejected Tommy Yune's Robotech long ago. There are some small things I like in them, appealing moments arising from serendipity, as well as moments with potential. It's not about quality, per se.

Thus, when I discuss "Robotech" and Zentraedi (which I'll be spelling with that extra "e" for this part of the show), it is mostly dealing with characters from the obscure Robotech novels and comics--not canon anymore, but worth discussing. Robotech's portrayal of post-SDFM Zentraedi is more pessimistic than Macross, but there seems to be no real narrative thrust behind just kind of happens.

Therefore I don't attribute malevolence to the Robotech writers, rather just that they didn't think things through often enough. Furthermore, regardless of how I react to said plot points, because it is Robotech and not Macross, events carry less personal weight with me, good or bad.

For all these reasons, no matter how critical my writing below gets, none of it means I will break with Roboetch. The trends of Macross coincidentally manifest here, with most of the major new Zentraedi characters are female, as well as all of Miriya's children. Yet, somehow, there is less of a sense that female Zentraedi are being particularly prized, since there are large groups of mixed-sex Zentraedi everywhere, and the male characters still get attention. That doesn't make up for anything else, but it helps things.

Dana Sterling

I found Dana as unlikable a character as Robotech fans typically do. On reflection it was a colossal misfire to dub her as the Sterling daughter, since it leaves a need to explain how a teal bob became a blonde 'fro, and makes Max and Miriya look like deadbeats for leaving their daughter behind on Earth, or at least contradicts their willingness to bring their child into danger that other time. Of course, much of this could also have been solved by setting all Robotech characters and spinoffs entirely on Earth, an avoidance that came back to bite the production crew in the ass later. Alternatively, Dana didn't have to be their child at all, since the third part of Robotech lacks that generational link.

Furthermore, Robotech colossally misses the point when it comes to Dana's nature: she ought to be considered a normal person rather than a scientific wonder, since humans and Zentradi are genetically identical. Yet in the novels she remains a valuable piece of research, and very few children are born to the Zentradi for some reason. Some of this stemmed from the Robotech dub using Dana's heritage to explain the psychic experiences of her original Japanese counterpart, but the expanded universe took it too far.

Dana's perky, irreverent personality also gets on my nerves, but I will say it is actually a subtle and believable mix of her parents', which is more than most fictional children ever get. Her choice of different combat methods also helps to further distinguish her, which is important when writing children of pre-established characters.

Aurora Sterling

I do have a misplaced fondness for Robotech II: The Sentinels, but Aurora is a perfect example of the way that so much of it didn’t take into account the characters' personalities at any point, or created any truly viable new characters. Max and Miriya are unusually accepting of having produced a fragile psychic child, and Miriya even accepts being incapacitated by the draining gestation of Aurora, and even quits the military soon after her birth.

None of the potential cynical interpretations of this are ever followed up on, and it seems to entirely be the character's voluntary decision. Aurora herself is essentially a plot device, and a load of predictable messianic-child traits, including an unshakable personality and no flaws or nuance. No effort is made to give her uniqueness or distinction, and even her exact origins remain cloudy.

Maia Sterling

The bottom of the Sterling pack, since much less effort was put into making her even appear to be original. She is a pilot, just like her parents. Her mecha are trimmed in purple, a mix of her parents' red and blue mecha-- even her hair is purple (!). In short, Maia is the laziest kind of character-child, with almost no identity outside of her heritage.

Kazianna Hesh

It's so easy to think cynical thoughts about Kazianna Hesh and her creation, but they feel hollow to me. Somehow, after turning up my nose at every female Zentradi created by the actual people behind Macross, I love the one created for the Robotech novels first, and I still like her more than Veffidas. That is because of her character, not because she is the lover of Breetai.

Despite my usual contempt for any attempt by Robotech to create original characters (contempt for the execution, not the principle) I've convinced myself that Kazianna has a personality. She is determined, intelligent, bold, and a bit playful. Unlike Miriya, she was able to pursue her own goals and proceed on her own terms from start to finish, and unlike most of the other Robotech-only characters, she actually seems "alive".

I do still wish she had been developed more as a character, and that some of her actions had had greater explanation. Her name is also awkward-sounding, since her surname is exactly like a human one, and her given name sounds feminine to English-speaking ears, a tradition that Robotech barely ever averted when it came to female Zentradi, changing "Laplamiz" to "Azonia" and naming the female fleet advisor "Yaita", as well as "Kiyora" and "Vala" from some video games, and "Marla" from the novels.


Like Aurora, Drannin is another plot device, and he represents several flawed premises for the Robotech Zentraedi. For instance, it's heavily implied that he is the first biological full-Zentradi child. This is twenty years after the peace, so why would it take so damn long? It's never explained why, and it unintentionally suggests a bleak Zentraedi future. The novel never makes clear if he's simply the first giant-sized child or not, which would be more palatable.

Unlike Aurora, Drannin is apparently born without powers, but affected by the forces around him and develops psychic abilities, along with a bunch of other kids born aboard the SDF-3. He seems to be "grounded" unlike the aloof and mystical Aurora—yet Drannin doesn't seem to have any discernible personality. I want to go easy on Drannin, though; maybe it is only because he's Breetai's son, I don't know.

In that vein, though, I'm glad that Drannin wasn't played up as Breetai's "legacy". Sure, it's said once near the end that he's starting to look like Breetai, but that's about it. No bullshit about Breetai somehow being less than stone-cold dead just because he left a kid behind, or any need for Drannin to be like Breetai. He's just a kid like any other, albeit a giant kid who manifested psychic powers. However, this might only be because the novel ended with Drannin still young. Later series might have resorted to these cliches.

Breetai's Faction

What else do you call the handful of Zentraedi who went with the Robotech Expeditionary Force, and who may or may not operate under their own jurisdiction? Their exact legal status in comparison to the human members is never explored, which is another of the Robotech novels' flaws in world-building, despite them fleshing out the series backstory in other areas.

Except for Breetai and Kazianna, they're pretty much an undifferentiated clump. I was glad to see 'em having had enough with the megalomaniacal General Edwards and rebelling against him, and they as one take to Kazianna's son and mother-henning the later children that come.

However, though I once accepted it before actually thinking it through, the Zentraedi having a past life as giant miners on the planet Fantoma is a silly story point, and it's further disappointing that the Zentraedi (except Exedore and Miriya) are shuffled off to be miners for a good chunk of the early Sentinels comics and novels. There is a reason, but it's extremely contrived.

At the end of the Sentinels novels, only a small handful of Zentraedi are left, and they make a go of living on Fantoma, since they cannot be micronized again, due to their only having one chamber and it breaking down from multiple transformations, and now with no Protoculture to repair it. At least they didn't all die off, but it's unintentionally depressing when you think about it, especially because other novels show that there are no more Zentraedi left on Earth.

Seloy Deparra

It's good to see a female Zentradi character who is a genuine danger to humanity, which both series have lacked in since Laplamiz/Azonia, and she was obviously the second fiddle. Seloy is also fairly fleshed-out, with her anger at humanity small and personal, and her sentimentality a greater weakness, as she tries to bring Miriya back into her fold. However, her explaining her plans to Miriya, Bond villain-style, is hard to believe. Even if Seloy thought she could turn Miriya, she ought to have been smart enough not to give it all away that quickly.

Thankfully, her name is a break from the "Female Zentradi have names that end in 'a'" Robotech trend, but on the other hand, I am certain it's derived from some human term. The closest I've been able to find is Seloy-Oy, which is a glassware purchasing company based in Finland. The Zentraedi Rebellion implies that it's just the closest equivalent to what Seloy's name "actually" sounded like, but it's still not credible.

And yeah, because she appears in something written by Bill Spangler, she uses that ridiculous Robotech-Zentraedi language, a harsh, grating tongue that seems to be trying to ape Klingon speech, despite Zentraedi being the opposite of Klingons in some ways. I know I said I hate "Yack Deculture" and all its derivatives, but honestly, beyond that, the cadence of the Macross Zentradi language is much more appealing, and more consistent with the names of ships and characters.

Assorted Malcontents

They have names, many names, but they are pretty much interchangeable. The concept of the Malcontent Uprisings is still something that feels like it needed to happen, the final burst from the pressure cooker of post-Rain of Death Zentraedi unrest. I don't like the author trying to justify these events as the product an ingrained killing urge rather than individual psychological issues leading to mob mentality, more specifically even than Macross Plus does. Notably, though Michael Ling's comic art is terrible, the character designs feel like they could be Macross Zentraedi, with weird 80s hair and faces that run the gamut from normal to cartoonishy freakish.

Hosq and Hosq's Son

I have wiped most of the Hosq comics from my mind already, since they're poorly written and poorly drawn, even by the standards of the Robotech comics. They're a story about a male Zentraedi (whose name doesn't sound Zentraedi at all) and his half-human son, who fall in with a rebel faction. It's a flat and dull story, with inexplicable references to the Japanese Macross shoehorned in...all but for one fascinating notion. Hosq once led an independent Zentraedi settlement, which is an idea I would love to see explored. Just in a comic that doesn't suck.

The Zentraedi Colony of T'sencha

This is an obscure one, from the Robotech: Clone Special. It depicts a colony of crashed Zentraedi who have transformed themselves into a more humanlike mode of existence, with clear romantic attachments between some, and a micronized Zentraedi couple with a baby. I thought that was pretty cute, and though the art style is crude, as with the Malcontent comics, the Zentraedi characters feel like they could be Macross-saga Zentraedi designs.

I didn't like their chanting cargo-cult reaction when the comic's protagonist shows up, and again the Zentraedi are just window-dressing. The otherwise Zentraedi-free Clone series are some of my favourite Robotech comics: they're borderline original fiction with Robotech stuff spackled on, but they're also enjoyably esoteric, and are a lot more competent than the norm.

The Factory Satellite Remnants

Now this is just stupid. If it were treated with any seriousness, it would be horrifying, but as it is, it's thrown in completely from left field, and so is hard to rage about. Basically, when the Robotech novels were finished, author Brian Luceno, one half of the "Jack McKinney" writing duo, wrote a series of "midquel" novels trying to fill in gaps in the novel's timeline. I've read two of these books, and they feel too gritty and awkward to fit with the original books, although The Zentraedi Rebellion, like its original comic, had potential in terms of what it deals with.

However, I refer to Before the Invid Storm, in which a minor plot point is that all Zentraedi have re-located to the Factory Satellite, to live in what becomes squalor, and refuse aid from below. The males die first, and the females then in a kamikaze attack on incoming aliens. The only exceptions were the three ex-spies, Bron, Rico, and Konda, who choose to live on Earth, but died soon after of an inconsistently-explained illness.

This is all not explained. I don't see any necessity for it. From a writing perspective, why have a race be saved, only to internally self-destruct, and thus invalidate the entire plotline? Furthermore, what reason is there to try to eliminate the Zentraedi, when a benefit of the novels is supposed to be allowing all the elements from the three anime to exist in the first place?


Once again, I haven't found every Zentradi character there is to find. In Robotech's case, there are still some video games that I have avoided, and some comics I haven't read, and at this point, don't plan to read.


Robotech is worse in a lot of ways, with its Zentraedi-related flaws easier to argue. The lives of Zentradi in general are obviously better in Macross. Yet Robotech did manage to create a few decent Zentradi characters, and there is less of a sharp gender divide, though one that is still there.

Yet the honest truth is that, whatever Robotech does with the Zentradi, it feels like, on some level, none of it "matters". That these portrayals are somehow "fake" and can't be counted as a strike against Zentradi representation, not of any large concern. Even what I like about them I still recognize as less "honest". Yet they're not going to go anywhere.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Muppets 2011

Okay, I take it back. Movies made by fans, for fans, can actually be good. A list:

Beauty and the Beast theatrical re-release in January 2012! Yes, please, oh magic cardboard theatre cutout.

SO many commercials and previews. SO many. I wasn't bitchy enough to time them, but they seemed to last forever. They even included one short promotional interview for the very movie we were watching.

So, The Muppets is nominally a self-insert fan fiction, with a character named Walter, a puppet in a family of otherwise normal humans (it's best not to think too hard about that) who feels less alone when he discovers The Muppet Show. Walter becomes a total fanboy, never losing his enthusiasm even when he sets foot in the cobwebbed, decrepit mess that is the current Muppet Studios. When Walter overhears that human corporate overlord Tex Richman wants to destroy the theatre to drill for oil, he convinces Kermit to get the gang back together, and raise the money for buying the theatre back via a telethon, confronting the Muppets' supposed cultural irrelevance along the way.

Fortunately, except for the very early parts of the movie, the story becomes more about Kermit and the rest of the Muppets than about Walter. If a modern film about an older property has to display some self-awareness about various things, at least this time it's done pretty well.

Walter is obviously a stand-in for director Jason Segel, who also plays Walter's human brother and accomplice Gary. Segel is a huge Muppets fan and probably the reason why this movie feels so on-the-ball most of the time. Fans that make their professional way can get blinded by their own emotions instead of having distance from the material, and this film has been accused of just that, but I didn't find it too bad.

However, I cringed when they introduced Mary's character, Amy Adams playing Gary's long-suffering girlfriend who is worn out by the co-dependent relationship between the two brothers, and just wants Gary to propose. I expected her to be the standard fun-killing shrew that has concerns about boring old real life, while the male characters get on with the plot. She turned out to be nowhere near as bad as she could have been, because she actually does get invested in helping the Muppets and the role of the couple shrinks as the movie goes on, but Mary still was stuck in that role for a notable chunk of the time. Sure, anyone would get irritated at being a third wheel in their own relationship, but this has been done with female characters so many times that I'm sick of it.

Because the return of Miss Piggy was so climactic, they had to make her the only one who had a well-paying job, I suppose, but it seemed like she might be giving up the Vogue job for Kermit in the long run.

Both characters get the musical number "Me Time", where they sing about being happy to be alone, when they obviously aren't. Argh.

Tex Richman isn't very funny. I know he's supposed to be a parody, or maybe a parody of a parody, but he's just isn't a funny character--didn't make me laugh once. According to the extended soundtrack, he has a childhood grudge against the Muppets as well as an inability to laugh, which would have made him more interesting, at least.

I loved that after getting the major Muppets back together, somehow they just keep accumulating other Muppets in every new scene.

I hope the writers were being ironic with the line about Muppets not being enough for today's "cynical times". Because, wow, the Muppets could be pretty subversive, and subversion is bred partially from cynicism.

The film had a couple of nods to modern humour, with Camilla and the other Muppet chickens clucking to the tune of Ce Lo's "Fuck You", Tex Richman rapping, and a Barbershop Quartet version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit", with the non-child friendly parts handled by Beaker. Richman's rap was probably the worst, the Ce Lo bit was shocking but hidden well enough, and the Nirvana one was so bizarre it was pretty good.

Uncle Deadly is still my favourite Muppet, above the more fleshed-out ones: face of a monster, voice of a ham, soul of a thespian: don't mess with him. I loved it when he turned on Richman and knocked him off the tower. (Were Uncle Deadly's feet and tail based off of the Palisades figure from a few years back? Also, does anyone else feel like re-interpreting the "Steppin' Out" figure variant as his business-suited self from this movie?)

All of the sound-alikes in this film are good. I probably was in that sweet spot of being aware enough of the Muppets to enjoy the movie steeped in Muppet fandom, but not enough that I was all that picky about characterization or the new voices.

I had not heard "The Rainbow Connection" in years, but during the scene I was just riveted. Wow. Actually, it characterized the whole movie experience for me: it made me feel a nostalgia I never thought I had, so that I left the theatre smiling. Also with "Mahna, Mahna" stuck in my head. Like that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Sprout

Neo-Exsedol cosplayer at the 2010 Macross Frontier Super Dimensional Live - Merry Christmas Without You concert event--in layman's terms, a multi-artist Macross concert. As we all well know, I don't hate Neo-Exsedol as much as I should, and it would be cool if this guy was a fan as well as picking a costume he knew would stand out.

Posted by Tochiro at MacrossWorld

Friday, December 2, 2011

Twi-night Double-Header

In which we indulge in some immaturity and hyperbole

I guess it's finally time. Finally time to talk about…Twilight. No, I haven't read the books. I tried; I couldn't. I tried to read through Satireknight's text MST3Kings of the books, but even that defeated me.

Honestly, I couldn't get past Bella's stupid whining about her stupid little life. I know this is what a lot of teenagers do, but…it's not fun for me to read. It's cliché to say it, but seeing characters angst about nothing related to the plot or to do with actual pain seems vulgar, like being forced to witness someone's private life. I didn't even want to slog through this for the nastier stuff.

I witnessed the first merry-go-round of Twilight snark. At that time, I avoided saying anything because I wanted to be a good little girl and actually have read something before I talked about it, but now I guess I'll say a few things since everyone else is.

Then and now, I went with the flow as far as opinion of Twilight was concerned. I thought the stories sounded vacant or unintentionally creepy, as well as padded to all hell. Breaking Dawn sounded simply insane.

I also prefer my vampires savage, with Kouta Hirano's Hellsing manga being my favourite vampiric story of them all. Werewolves I have less of an explicit desire in mind, though I usually hate stuff with "alphas" "packs", and bullshit social Darwinism. Meyer's vampires and werewolves simply sound boring. It's not about vampires/werewolves being emasculated because they aren't out eating people, but that her versions have little apparent weaknesses or drawbacks to their status.

Weaknesses are good things. Sure, you can have your werewolves retain their minds, and your vampires be sexy if you want, but their lives can't be perfect. This is because, in a story that's aiming for conflict or drama, even if its roots are in wish-fulfilment or fighting over a teenage girl, imperfection means that things will actually happen. It means there can be danger and suspense, and, god willing, ambiguity. And if there are these things, it means the heroes can be tested, show their true characters.

There's supposed to be fighting in Twilight, right? Some attempt to tie the love triangle to the wider world of vampires fighting werewolves? So I can call it out on that level. Furthermore, it goes back to that voyeuristic aspect--if I'm forced to bear witness to a person's private fantasies, at least jazz it up with external and internal conflict so that it's easier to bear. Twilight apparently doesn't, and maybe it's the perfection in its monsters that's part of the problem.

I think Twilight is sexist. Hardly a new opinion, but I also don't think of Twilight as a source of moral corruption. That is, it won't make girls think someone like Edward is okay, or being a twit like Bella will get them places and make them loved. However, the popularity serves as a mighty good demonstration of some fucked-up things about our culture. Even though it's inspired by Mormonism, there's got to be something in Twilight that taps into that wider female culture, or it wouldn't be this popular, especially with adult women.

Mass culture doesn't express the deepest and unchanging truths of the human psyche--and thank god for that. We simply live in a culture that makes Twilight an appealing narrative for a lot of women. Society has changed over the years, but there are still many places that believe that women should "wait" (to be chosen, to be bedded), that women love "bad boys" and must forgive flaws in their mates, that women can never imagine themselves as the powerful monster, and so on. All of this, and more, is embodied in Twilight. And what is considered normal is often felt as desirable, so the audience is captivated.

There's blurred lines between individual desire and social conformity, between "guilty pleasures" and desires that come to dictate one's life. For this, I won't judge anyone for liking Twilight unless they're insane about it, not knowing from where their interest springs, and it may be impossible to know. I judge Twilight itself, partially for what it says about female culture.

Bottom line: Twilight only taps into that culture as it is now, not as it will forever be, and where it creates the worst obsession, Twilight works on something in its fans that was unfortunately there before. To say otherwise, that entertainment can corrupt the innocent, is the path to censorship and self-regulation. And I don't want that to happen because of fucking Twilight.

Some claim that hating Twilight means putting down female desire, female fandom, and female values. Look, I won't deny that fandom has a problem with women, and female-targeted entertainment is looked down upon, and that men are allowed to voice their displeasure and bewilderment at what women find attractive in popular culture, in a way that can get annoying and insulting. But you know, Edward sounds like such a vapid and creepy character, and Bella's love presented as consuming and all-controlling (such as the part where she's without Edward, and the book literally goes blank) that I continue to feel comfortable in hating what Twilight represents as love.

Twilight isn't the answer to marginalizing female viewers. The franchise just exposes those same ugly attitudes about women that already exist, instead of offering something new and challenging. There is no culture of entertainment so desperate for female consumer recognition that Twilight would be hailed simply for existing, especially since plenty of women also don't like Twilight.

About "female values" well, there's been a backlash in some nerd circles, one that considers it highly important for a female character to be able to prove she doesn't have to "act like a man" to be strong. I still find it hard to take a passionate stance for a mainstream value (and women acting "like women" is still very much that), and maintain that positive traits do not need to be divided by gender. Being driven by love and family is an admirable thing for both male and female characters, when applied with complexity and intelligence--if that's what you're into.

Yet from what I've seen and heard, Bella's anything but a positive example of "female" values, as her choices would be horribly foolish if she didn't have Plot Armour. That goes double for Bella and her demon baby. Maybe that can be read as the part where Bella finally sticks up for herself, says that despite the thing killing her from the inside (death by bad world-building, imagine that) and everyone telling her to abort it, she'll carry it to term.

However, when women's power has been said to lie in our self-sacrifice since time immemorial, and when the rest of the series has been that bad, I don't count it as any kind of sudden agency for Bella, nor even a proud expression of the right to choose, since putting the baby first is always what fictional women choose.

Secondly, I hear her baby, once born, bypasses a lot of the messiness that comes with raising a child by being super-intelligent and fast-growing. It's more of that wish fulfillment, that removal of flaws and conflict so any chance for the characters to face challenges are removed

Also, fuck, Jacob falling in love with the baby, who will speedily grow up into an acceptable mate, after being babysat by her future beau. Ew ew ew ew. Thanks, for finding a way to make predestined love even creepier.

So much of criticism depends on individual taste, what pushes our buttons and what doesn't. The best of us try to hide this, couching our objections in some kind of wider ideal, a platonic image of the Good Story. But since I've already thrown- any pretence to legitimacy or neutrality, let it be put out there: I find Twilight distasteful through only hearing about it. I don't care that it's written to satisfy the id, or that a lot of fictional romances can have creepy subtexts if you think about it--I just don't like this.