Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

As we say, it's That Day.

Have fun, if you can, wherever you are. And those in America, I hope everything returns to normal soon.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Untrue As It Can Be

"Eye of the Beholder" is the first Halloween episode of Disney's Gargoyles. True to the spirit of the series, it has a deeper purpose than to be a holiday outing, as the story develops Xanatos' and Fox's characters and lays the foundation for further changes to come.

However, it's still wonderful as a Halloween episode. A particularly cool thing is Elisa dressing as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, choosing the golden ballroom gown and starting a tradition of having Elisa dress as a Disney Princess, since she was Jasmine in the comics. Goliath does not dress in any costume, choosing just to be concealed by the holiday. It's a very sweet moment, as Disney makes a nod to itself, and more importantly, a nod to one of my favourite Disney films, as Goliath serves as the "Beast" to Elisa's Belle.


Okay, okay, I have to do it. I have to state that this meta reference, much as I love it, is not a profound expression of the similarity between the two couples. Some fans make it out to be this, but the central relationship in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and the relationship between Goliath and Elisa, are different except on the most simple visual level.

The major difference is that in Gargoyles, both characters are already the species they want to be. It's common to say that the Beast shouldn't have transformed at the end of the Disney film, but that's ignoring that the Beast hated being what he was, and his entire character arc, the plot of the whole film, was about him learning to become a better person so the curse would be lifted. The Beast becoming human was the only ending that would have made sense, no matter how many fans love the Beast as himself.

In contrast, Goliath and Elisa are already their natural species, and so they don't  need to change their forms, and indeed never will. Because of this, the source of the conflict is different, and so is the story being told. Beauty and the Beast is about a character learning to change so he can be transformed back. Gargoyles is about two characters having to meet the problems that come with being of two different species. The former is a single goal that must be met within the confines of a film's running time, and then it ceases being inter-species. The latter is about a slow burn, as Goliath and Elisa come to terms with their attraction, and the limits they have, because there is no space for a transformation to remove those limits.

Another important difference between Goliath/Elisa and Belle/Beast is that Goliath is not a dick. The personalities of Goliath and Elisa are not the source of their struggle; the source is the taboo and the surprise of their very relationship, while in the Disney film, the Beast's personality is the major obstacle. (That, and the whole imprisonment thing, but the film tries to re-direct viewers away from that unpleasant truth.)

Some fans of Beauty and the Beast interpret the central dynamic as less creepy than others do, so that maybe Goliath not being a dick would be a major difference. Among the supporting evidence: Belle gave herself to the Beast freely, the servants are nice to Belle, Belle stands up to the Beast, the Beast lets Belle go—there are all these things that are supposed to prove the central romance isn't creepy, and it seems like the writers are trying to prove it too, but I can't buy it. No matter how much I love and respect this film, it's still about a creepy romance. And Goliath/Elisa is not creepy at all, because neither starts off in a violent, hateful role towards the other.

 It's not that either type of story is better, just that they are so very different that any similarity between them is on the superficial level, and nothing deeper. I love that the Halloween episode of Gargoyles references Beauty and the Beast, but this doesn't mean the film will turn the crank of Goliath/Elisa fans, because it is a very different story.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Obvious I'm White and Nerdy

So, this is me in my Halloween costume, dressed as the crazy human version of Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman. I'm really pleased with how it turned out, as I found the right pieces or close enough.

Most kids of my generation probably remember him for this episode, in which he became a toy-friendly fly-beast, but I like him whatever he is. I've talked in some detail about this surprising interest in a character I'd never liked as a kid, and this isn't some kind of Exedore thing, but I'm going to go with it.

'Nother picture, closer up:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Shinji Ikari

Shinji Ikari is one of the most hated anime characters of all time (in the west at least; I don't know about his country of origin), but he's been one of my favourite characters for a long while. I like him 'cause his portrayal doesn't shy away from what a scared, broken kid might do in this situation, and it creates a visceral emotional realism that's so far been unmatched. This is not to say I only like him for clinical reasons, though; I do have a genuine fondness for Shinji, considering him more than just an object to study. However, that doesn't mean Shinji is free of any moral issues, far from it.

I used to feel far more guilty about being a Shinji fan than I do now. I lost a lot of this guilt when I realized how dumb it was to fret over being a fan of a character. Sure, the fact that Shinji didn't always do what was right might have been deplorable in a real person, but he was just a character. And, now that I'm twice as old as he is, I have a lot more detachment from this actions, usually just looking at him and think "Sheesh, poor kid," instead of faking a hard-line moral stance. But even so, there are some things regarding Shinji that makes me question liking him, and they are questions I can't answer.

His behaviour in End of Evangelion is reprehensible. There is the worst: he masturbates over an unconscious person. It makes total sense given the point the character is at, and is effective, but it's also…just…augh. When reminded of the scene, I ask myself how I could rank him so highly with this happening.

What I will say is that the scene makes sense. At that point in the series, Shinji has hit rock bottom, but is still attracted to Asuka. The way I interpret it, he's bought into her hype about being heroic and strong, whom he desires even though she's hateful towards him—in fact perhaps because she's hateful towards him, since Shinji seems like the masochistic type.

In Shinji's self-destructive, self-hating state, the sexual impulse becomes twisted, and he gives it release in one of the worst ways he can. It is a disgusting scene, but it makes sense. That doesn't excuse it, but it didn't come out of the blue. I can understand why some fans rejected Shinji after the movie, but it wasn't out of character for him to do that.

In the same film, Shinji is so destroyed that he does nothing in the first half but let himself be dragged around like a sack of potatoes. While this reaction also makes sense, and I'll defend it on those grounds, it's also true that Shinji opened Asuka up to death, compounding the way he harms her. Some of the deaths at NERV in the raid should be on his head, too, for if Shinji had entered battle earlier, he might have saved more people. Yet even though Shinji has done worse on a larger scale, and I still hold that against him, the smaller, more personal crime is what makes stands out. That's not surprising; it might just be human nature, so that it's easier to get a strong reaction to a more intimate harm.

Knowledge of the scene just sits there, like a big immovable stone right in the middle of my headspace. I can't ignore, it, I can't move it, I can't wish it away. It doesn't destroy my interest in Shinji, but it's not forgotten. It's just…there. I don't try to excuse it, but it can't change anything.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Quick Bit O' Nicktoons Turtles

I told myself I wouldn't actively seek out the new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, not because I'd hate it, but because there was already so much stuff to go through, and go back through, if I wanted do extend my brief, rekindled interest in TMNT, I'd start with the older stuff and work my way forward.

But, I saw YTV was showing some of the latest episodes, and I had a free hour. It was the first time I'd watched YTV in a long while, which is sad considering what an icon for my fandom and my childhood the station used to be. I should tune into Legend of Korra so I can see it on a real TV screen, but I am always somewhere else at noon on Saturdays, and it doesn't have a 6-7 pm re-run like TMNT does.

Okay, so I know that by this point it's cliche to compare the Nicktoons Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Teen Titans, especially since there's a producer who worked on both shows, but dammit, the comparison is apt, so I'm gonna make it again: Nicktoons Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is like Teen Titans. More specifically, it's like the early episodes of the series, before it got to pushing the envelope with the Trigon arc or the various things Slade did.

That is, it's goofy and dopey a lot of the time, and the plots are cliches, but there are some moments that hint it is capable of greater intensity. In addition, you've got "anime-style" double takes, which here are represented as 2D-style effects like teardrops, blank eyes, and cross-popping veins, inserted into the 3D animation.

Personally, I think it's all...okay. Not great, but not horrible. A nice thing to kill a half hour with and then forget about, nothing to become deeply invested in. I'm sure a lot of people will find it to be insufferable, but it's really not. It's just...okay.

The two episodes I watched were "Old Friend, New Enemy" and "I Think His Name is Baxter Stockman". The first one was worse, being like a rehash of the Gargoyles episode "Leader of the Pack" (though I know it didn't invent that plotline, my brain just happens to go to Gargoyles a lot), but with Michelangelo wanting to pal around with a serious-minded Chuck Norris parody who turns out to work for the Shredder, briefly crushing Mikey's dreams of forging a greater connection to the outside world.

The second was a little more fun, though it had the cliche of "young heroes grounded who screw up after they sneak out". With my newfound liking for Baxter Stockman, I enjoyed this latest version of the character, who's voiced by Phil LaMarr and has a similar ineffectual dorkiness to his whitewashed counterpart from the old Fred Wolf show. Not quite so stupid mind you, and this time written by writers who are more aware of just how pathetic he is, but it got me laughing in a similar way.

(Why are people already asking that he become a fly in this version? He's already going the robotic/cybernetic route, we don't need to overload him with another mode of transformation. I like Baxterfly, but the ship's sailed, guys.)

Inevitable comparison to other Turtles stuff: It's midway between the old show and the 4Kids show when it comes to how seriously it takes itself, and how well it develops its world. It skews towards the goofy, but can feel serious, and takes more care in what it creates. After two episodes, I'm not ready to call out the series for being unable to decide on its tone: it still hangs together despite the shifts from dark to goofy.

The characterizations of the Turtles are mostly the same. They're played as more youthful than usual, Raphael is angry instead of sassy (more Mirage accuracy), and Mikey is very childish, with Greg Cipes drawing a lot on his previous Beast Boy role. Donnie or Leo pretty much are who they are. Donnie is a little more petulant, which I like. Flaws are always a good thing.

I don't care whether it's Rob Paulsen voicing a different Turtle, since as a spawnling I was all about Splinter anyway, and now I'm just about Splinter and Baxter. Splinter isn't in these two episodes very much, and shows only the harsh disciplinarian side to his character, rather than the wise and fatherly side. I was a tiny bit disappointed in that, but there's some episodes I missed, so I'm not going to react as though this is the whole of Splinter's character.

(Though because Splinter is such an icon from my childhood, I don't know if I could ever get as attached to any other version of Splinter, or even if I'm capable of liking a Splinter as an adult, without the nostalgia factor.)

I like the animation okay. The Turtles having individualized character designs was the best part. Even though the series takes place mostly underground, and at night, on my TV it was still a little too dark, visually, to make out some of what was happening.

So, that is all I have to say. It's still up in the air whether I'll actively keep up with this show, but I enjoyed it on a surface level.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Neo-Exsedol

Picture it: a character you've grown to like a great deal, is suddenly, totally, rebooted. He looks different, acts different, and sounds different**, and absolutely no in-story or out-story reason is given for this. It is taken simply as a given, and all other media versions of the character are now that one (with the exception of one video game).

Thankfully this does not happen often, but one taste of it is bad enough. It happened to Exedore/Exsedol from Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, a secondary character whom I had grown strongly attached to in a short while, eventually declaring him part of my personal A-List. The reasons for doing this make complete sense to me—the character wasn't all he could have been, but I had a cool little emotional connection to him.

**the different voice is actually the result of the actor, Ryunosuke Obayashi, having difficulty doing Exsedol's original higher pitch. I only leave the voice change as a neutral note, and it was never a big problem anyway.

It's not just that Exsedol was changed, but that the changes undermine the original appeal. The original Exsedol had something of a character arc, and an active interest in the human world, and combined comic relief with being useful and intelligent. The new Exsedol is simply sitting there, providing exposition or comic relief, adding almost nothing to the story. He's not really a character, so much as a talking piece of furniture. Also, the original character design was much cooler.

I've run the emotional hamster wheel several times, and am still unable to decide what my exact feelings are towards "Neo-Exsedol". I can't reject this version, totally, even though I've gotten a lot more confident in my dislike. Nor can I accept the reboot totally, either, or change my perspective on the issue to make it less grating.

At the start, and for several reasons, I tried very hard to acclimate myself to Neo-Exsedol. I was afraid of being petty, of disrespecting the creator, and of rejecting a new character out of hand. Now I understand that among all the mocking of nerds for getting upset about changes to media, the simple truth gets lost: people get attached to fictional things, they have reactions to them—that's what fiction does. It's far from wrong to dislike a media change that gets you right here…the difference is not being an ass about it.

Therefore, I've become much more confident in my dislike of Neo-Exsedol, but the fact remains that I am still attached to the character. I like that Neo-Exsedol looks like a B-Movie monster but is still a nice guy. There's a kind of sad, friendly sweetness to him that you don't often see in giant-brained characters. Nothing about him would actually annoy me except for that he essentially takes the place of a character I liked very much.

Making these points are not a failing. I won't avoid or apologize for making comparisons between the two, or wishing one were more like the other. I could interpret this as two different universes with different versions of the same character, but I just can't do it, especially because other things have not changed.

Being unable to decide whether to just ignore this reboot of Exsedol, or to like it whole-heartedly, is what makes this a guilty pleasure That, and having any attachment to a reboot of a character that also makes you squirm is the other reason. If you can't be decisive over trivial stuff, what good are ya?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Pokémon/Digimon/Monster Rancher/Medabots/Yu-Gi-Oh!

So, once upon a time I was obsessed with badly-dubbed children's anime designed to market toys and video games. With a background like that, I obviously know these series have many important differences, and that's why they're named individually. But the reason they are "guilty pleasures" is fundamentally the same for each: I was too old for those series and at times felt every inch of it, but I still went crazy over them.

I realize that a large majority of popular anime is intended for a younger audience than some think it is, but if we're talking pure emotion, it's valid to distinguish between series for children that do or don't  make you feel childish for watching them. Even though its intellectually dishonest, this is how I reconcile considering these series "guilty pleasures", with my broader enjoyment of children's cartoons.

It also doesn't matter if we're talking about the heavily-edited dubs or the original versions, either. Yu-Gi-Oh! was the only one of these series that I saw in Japanese, and while it had a ton more gravitas and a better plot in Japanese, it was still pretty ridiculous. Any others, I never got around to watching in Japanese, but I imagine my reaction would be the same.

The reason I liked these series was because they had cool or adorable monsters, liked some character or another, and/or these series unlocked my first feelings of almost-nostalgia, as I got a buzz of being exposed to childish things that I hadn't actually known as a child. My attachments didn't run any deeper than that, but they had strength for a while.

For a few years Yu-Gi-Oh! even became my main fandom. I have no idea why, since my reasons for liking it were superficial and never involved embracing the actual themes and content of the series. I was hardly alone when I did this: there was a notable adult female fandom for the series, but looking back I, personally, still don't get why this happened to  me.

And it's maybe because I never got it, that I forgot all about these series very quickly. However, forgetting doesn't mean rejecting. If I happen to run into something related to any of these series, I get a warm nostalgic glow, and instantly accept that I still have a soft spot (maybe on my head) for 'em. I own only fragmented DVD collections, but sometimes I wish I owned more. The thoughts pass, but they always come back.

Yet the best one out of all of these was probably the third Digimon series, Digimon Tamers. Under the guiding hand of Chiaki J. Konaka, a guy who likes Lovecraft and Evangelion and making his own strange anime, Tamers actually had a decent and compelling storyline that had nothing to do with acquisitions or tournaments.

There is still a certain chronological cutoff date for my interest in these properties. At some point, I stopped caring about new product for these media franchises, and I still don't keep up with those of them that are still alive. All of my good feelings are reserved for material that came out pre-2005. There are also other, similar shows from that time that I have completely forgotten about. But there's no fooling me: I still hold a special place in my heart for these series, no matter how much sharper my faculties get.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Question Nobody Asked: The Funnier Woman on "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law"

It's a crying shame both that writers need to be asked to introduce a female character, and that there are women who want a sadistic comedy show have a "redeemable" female character. Both things apparently happened to Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law; the audio commentary for the episodes "Trio's Company" and "The Birdgirl of Guantanamole" tell the tale. Apparently the writers had people bugging them to introduce a regular female character, with some difficulties involved in doing so. And then, once they introduced her, it was asked who the "redeemable" female character was.

Part of this can be blamed on the original Hanna-Barbera source material, which was light on female characters, but I wouldn't be surprised if the writers for Harvey Birdman had the same blind spot as their predecessors from the sixties and seventies: that magic and insidious condition where half the human race has to be consciously "added" to a creative work instead of appearing naturally in the planning stages.

I don't support writers being pressured to add things it didn't cross their mind to add. That's not how storytelling should work. However, I think it's worth looking at the underlying attitudes that cause that particular "blind spot", and how said attitudes are demonstrated with the female mains that were eventually added to the cast of the series.

The two regular female characters are Gigi (voiced by Debi Mae West) and Birdgirl (voiced by Paget Brewster). There's also Debbie (Grey DeLise), Harvey's resigned secretary, but she doesn't get to do much.

Gigi appears first. Originally a heroine from The Galaxy Trio, the companion series to the original Birdman cartoon, here she is a personal trainer who enjoys bed-hopping but for some reason won't sleep with the title character, just using him for money and rooming. According to the commentary, Gigi's introduction lead to some women asking who the redeemable female character was to contrast her.

I mentally shudder every time I hear that anecdote. It's one of my personal blind spots, but I can't understand why another woman would be concerned with female characters being "redeemable" above the male cast. Making female characters be morally superior is sexism, because it puts them in straitjackets, constraining the possibilities of character.

That's not to say it's easy to defend Gigi. I've got no problem with female characters who love sex, but Gigi just isn't that interesting. If you don't think a high sex drive is a comedic flaw in itself (I don't), Gigi is pretty much flawless, in that she has no problems manipulating Harvey and doesn't fail at anything else. In a show like Birdman, crippling flaws are important to making us laugh at the characters, like Harvey's stupidity, Reducto's fixation on smallness/shrinking, or Phil's arrogant weirdness. If a character doesn't have flaws, they come off as bland.

Because Gigi is always successful and receives no mocking or comeuppance, she is of that bland type. And she's also a character who's reacted to, instead of having reactions, becoming less of a character. She's only there to make Harvey look stupid, and that's not even a unique role. It's no wonder she gets reduced to a background prop in later episodes, or in "Mindless" she takes pretending to be a mother over having sex—she never was that important anyway. Gigi, in short, is someone who exists outside the main dynamics of the show lots of the time, and is free to be changed or ignored.

Furthermore, I always see this toxic undercurrent to Gigi, that her behaviour is the result of some writer's frustrations with women or what they believe women are like: manipulative gold-diggers who use men like tissues. I have no evidence to back up this assertion, but this feeling gives Gigi's scenes an uncomfortable cast and makes her even less appealing.

Birdgirl, now, she was the second regular female character they introduced, and a much better effort. Originally Birdman's one-shot female sidekick in the old cartoon, now she's the daughter of Harvey's boss and a wannabe super-lawyer with her own set of problems.

Most people probably remember that Birdgirl is used for creepy jokes, like the running gag where her father doesn't recognize her in disguise and constantly and loudly hits on her, or those panty shots resulting from her short skirt. I'm not comfortable with these aspects of Birdgirl's character, but at least there's more to her. 

Birdgirl's main gimmick to me was never the incest or the fanservice, but that she tries to be the moral centre of the show, and fails utterly because she is so over-eager and temperamental. She thinks she's living in a traditional superhero story, and is always ready to spring into action, only to screw up again, and still not realize the comedic conditions she exists under. And when she becomes boss of the firm for a short while, Birdgirl also shows she can be an utterly ruthless boss ("KA-DOWNSIZED!" and "Openit!"), and that goes well with her insanity.

In short, she's fun and flawed in a way that Gigi isn't. Despite her good intentions, Birdgirl actually IS a funny character, who feels like part of the actual cast, instead of the product of some writer working out their issues with women. She interacts with the other characters, actively participates in stories, and reacts to things rather than being reacted to. I wouldn't go so far as to say the writers were trying to make fun of the moralizing role of female characters with Birdgirl's characterization,  but Birdgirl is a nice alternative to Gigi, for all these reasons.

(I also love her character design. That woman's business suit over the superhero just looks cool and weird, no matter how many jokes there are about her short skirt.)

Even if I'm opposed to executive pressure, Birdgirl's a pretty fun result. Writing this blog post has reminded me how much I like her character. Maybe there are other characters in the series who are even funnier, but Birdgirl is the one that I actually "like". She stands head and shoulders above Gigi, even if this means people get to look up her skirt.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fake Geek Girls: the Forgotten Cryptid

Of the many nerd things I'm glad not to have experienced, assuming I'm "faking it" because I'm a woman is currently at the top of the heap. It's still a bewildering thing to see happening: some people are convinced there is a vast co-option of geek culture through feminine fakery, and it must be stopped.

Beautiful women are apparently just salivating at their chance to dress up in sexy cosplay for the sole purpose of having stunned man-geeks bow at their feet. They have no interest in the material, just come for the worship. Or some girls call themselves "nerds" when they don't do enough nerdy stuff to earn the title. It's the old "true fan" argument, now with bonus misogyny.

Such stories sound like the judgement of complete strangers, or purple-monkey-dishwasher anecdotes that come from a deathly fear of girls getting into the treehouse. Yes, there are female models that companies hire to promote their stuff without knowing about the property, but this isn't about that. It's about female cosplayers who happen to be attractive, and are simply assumed to be there for attention. Man-geeks must think really highly of themselves if they believe women have nothing better to do but put time and effort into their costumes and pay to go to conventions, just to be She Who Must Be Obeyed to all the poor, put-down man-geeks.

The second thing, of assuming that women who call themselves "nerds" just haven't earned it—come on. I guess all those words putting down the "true fan" mentality still fall on deaf ears, or maybe they believe there is an exception when we're talking about overall geekdom rather than a specific fandom. Either way, it's bullshit. You don't need to follow a doctrine to be a geek. You don't have to know everything, collect everything, do everything. And you especially don't need someone else determining how best for you to defined yourself.

I'm also stunned when the question of why nerds need "cred" is answered by saying that these "posers" haven't suffered the social ostracism, the Indiana-Jones like quest to find nerdy material, or whatever "hardships" defined the nerdy life of yore. But having obstacles between yourself and your hobbies doesn't say anything about your righteousness. All of it's just materialistic acquisition, and there's nothing moral about having to fight for your trinkets.

There's also an assumption that "fake geek girls" are doing it to claim a place in a "popular" subculture, one which is just so gosh damn desirable they want to pretend their way into it. Again, it's this bizarre arrogance, assuming people would spend all that time and money for the sole purpose of getting attention from them.

What you get from all this is that women are apparently hungry for male attention, those crazy  harpies, and will modify their lives in any way to get to that sweet, sweet man-ness. It's never thought that they might want to do something for themselves, and they might even do it a different way than the "proper" geek channels.

Where does this idea come from? It's partly the strange protectiveness that subcultures get, the sensation that they are apart from the world because their interests are special rather than uncommon. There has been so much material framing geekdom as a male-only thing, it's easy to imagine a unique wariness when women and girls enter geek space, because they might not be "special" enough.

That's not to mention the larger assumption that women aren't supposed to let hobbies define their lives, that women are the mothers who tell you that you're too old for toys, and the girlfriends who don't want to play RPGs. The sitcom fantasy of women being the ones who stand in the way of fun and fantasy leads to the assumption that women must be entering geek space for an ulterior motive.

Yeah. But these aren't excuses. They say it's just a "certain kind" of women doing it. But it's always a woman. Always. That tells you something, doesn't it? There is no reason not to give the benefit of the doubt to someone entering your hobby space just because of their gender.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mental Marathons, Bug Alzheimer's, and Increasing Self-Awareness: the TMNT Cartoon, Continued

Welp, I've done it. There was no way I was going to watch all the episodes, but I have now cherry-picked my way through seasons 1-7 of the Fred Wolf Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, the ones preceding the non-nostalgic "Red Sky" seasons, which I'm still not sure if I'll watch or not. I skipped episodes wantonly, sometimes not even finishing those I picked, meaning that I'm still not going to become a born-again TMNT fan, but I enjoyed what happened.

Despite how fast I went through the series, I still feel like I've run some kind of mental marathon. Even though I started out with plenty of ironic detachment, the series started getting more and more grating as I went past season 3. The dip in quality started to erode the nostalgic/ironic attachment, letting in more in the way of critical thoughts. I can only imagine how dire the experience would've been to those who were paying attention, and who watched everything, and kept watching everything.

Besides this, my actual opinions of the series and characters haven't changed that much. I did start to notice Raphael's sassiness more, and he was the source of the few non-ironic laughs I had, but somehow that didn't lead to me to picking him as my favourite Turtle, and I still don't have one. I actually think there's something to like in every Turtle, even Leonardo, but so far I'm only sticking with my two favourite vermin, Baxter and Splinter, a contemporary and nostalgic interest.

I wanted to like Mona Lisa, the salamander girl, if only on principle, because grotesque female characters are so rare and her design was cool. But again, she suffered from Generic Female Character syndrome, with no real personality besides just being heroic. And I know shippers like to go nuts over the episode, but the little thing she had with Raphael was handled in such a bland way that I couldn't pretend it was anything else but the writers making sure it was that bland.

I did start to become more disappointed with Splinter, who seemed to start taking on a more passive role, with less moments of action or plot significance to balance his traditional non-action role. Still, it's impossible for me to lose my childhood respect for Master Splinter, or even to ask if it's only nostalgia that makes me like him. I don't feel like my interest in the character has actually been renewed, only pleasantly revisited. It's still a satisfying, but there is still a distinction worth making between a nostalgic and a contemporary interest.

The main reason why I can't be a born-again Turtles fan is because it was really hard for me to treat the Fred Wolf cartoon as its own universe. Rather, I looked at it as a physical production more than I do its own story, always keeping in mind the constraints it laboured under, and the likely intentions of the writers. That's not to say I didn't have emotional reactions, but they we toned down, more detached, ironic, or cynical than other series.

For an example, let's talk about the Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman in more detail. I've wanted to do this since seeing all the Baxterfly episodes, but to make the rest of this piece more universal and useful, I'm going to use the character's story to talk about culpability, writers who give a shit, villain intelligence, and why modern stuff is better.

Apparently, the question of whether or not Fred Wolf Baxter is a sympathetic character is A Thing in the Turtles fandom. My take is that as an ordinary human he's pretty much innocent, but as a nutty villain and a fly monster he isn't, and so he's got to reap what he sows. In the particular case of Baxterfly, he's always running around with his death traps and insect mutations, so it's no surprise he keeps getting chucked in limbo and never gets what he wants. Villainous is as villainous does, you know?

There's also minor controversy over the fact that the Turtles didn't turn him human in his last appearance, "Revenge of the Fly", when a potential chance opened up, but I am totally not surprised that that happened. Come on, he'd just turned New York into bug monsters—what'd you expect the Turtles to do, let him get what he wanted afterwards?

Second, in that same episode he went straight for mutating people and then changed his mind and decided he wanted to be changed back. If he wanted it so dang badly, Baxterfly should've gone for a personal transformation first. I'm not sure in that case to blame the character's shortening attention span, or the writers not caring, but either way "Revenge of the Fly" is a perfectly ordinary Baxterfly episode and there probably would have been a million more had the series not been retooled. I can't think of it as a downer like a lot of others do.

But let's look at this another way. I don't think Baxterfly's situation would've ever been resolved, and that's because he's the product of a series with a complete lack of self-awareness. It's sort of a monkeys-on-typewriters thing: if you have a committee churning out quick scripts again and again, eventually you're going to end up with a plot point that seems cruel and heartless. But nobody intended it to be that way, it just happened, and nobody notices because you've got to get the next batch out. There's no room or perceived need to resolve the situation that's been created.

However, even knowing this, and not considering the character innocent, I'm still critical of what was produced, simply because I think even a goofy show should resolve the situations it creates, and be aware of what it is creating.

 But the TMNT cartoon does not do any of these things. All this bad stuff happens to Baxter Stockman, but you never get the sense it's done for any purpose. It's not an ironic, Wile E. Coyote sort of sad-sack craziness; instead, it's just some stuff that happened to fill time and market an action figure. I find the dark humour in it, and it's part of the reason I grew to like Baxter, but I don't assume his story was supposed to be darkly humorous at any point.

I mean, check this out: it's a little guy who wanted to make money with his inventions, and gave them to somebody—the Shredder looks like a bad guy, but we have to grade intelligence lower for characters in the TMNT cartoon, and the Shredder was the one who used the Mousers for a hero- and property-destroying purpose anyway.  Then Baxter's almost killed and subsequently clapped off into an asylum while the Turtles jack all his stuff to make their iconic vehicles (yes, really). Then he becomes evil for some reason, spends some time doing the "bumbling minion" routine, then becomes a fly monster with transformation angst, at some points seems to be losing his intelligence, gets a smarmy little computer friend, loses him, and also keeps getting chucked off into other dimensions, finally never getting out. Oh, and as a one-off joke, he apparently has a twin brother who knew he was a fly but hates him.

I find it really hilarious because it's so fucked up, but I don't think it was meant to be, because there is no way a series like this would create a character like this on purpose—it'd just be too dark. I also can't assume he was meant to be a sympathetic character because of the cartoon's hard-line morality and his villainous deeds. But that's okay: viewers react in ways not intended to the material we're provided, finding sympathies and fears never planned, and of course I still feel sorry for Fred Wolf Baxter even while laughing at his misfortunes, and I also find him much more delightful than, again, he was probably intended to be. My rational side was just completely unsurprised at not seeing this story resolved, for all those reasons above.

But while accepting the reasons why this went on, I can't shut off the part of my brain that demands a more critical evaluation, and asks what might be done if a series with more self-awareness and interest in a resolution handled a character like this. Fortunately, the answer to this question is easy to find.

I watched the episodes "A Better Mousetrap", "Attack of the Mousers" "Insane in the Membrane", and "Head of State" of the 4Kids Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. "Insane in the Membrane" is an especially infamous banned episode in which the other version of Baxter, the one more true to the Mirage comics in race, mien, and story, has gradually become a cyborg that longs for an organic body. He manages to manufacture one for himself, but it begins to rot and he begins to go insane, hallucinating his childhood as he blames April for his condition and tries to kill her. It's pretty intense and gross shit, the first time a children's cartoon has actually given an older me the creeps.

However, there were surprisingly strong similarities between the set-up for Baxter in this version and the Fred Wolf one: a scientist who thought he was hot stuff, ended up working with the Shredder, getting constantly mistreated, and involved with involuntary transhumanism. I was very surprised, I can tell you. My assumption was the 4Kids series never took anything from the old cartoon at all, and maybe this was all coincidental, but….

The most important difference for the purposes of this post is that the 4Kids series seems much more self-aware: the writers understand the tragic and fucked-up undercurrents involved in such a story and write to bring them to the surface and deal with them. They develop the character through his problems and actually have something come out of what happens to him, instead of throwing out random events with no ending and no real consideration of the effect on the character. In "Head of State", it looks like Baxter's finally going to get closure.

Strangely enough, it might also help that the 2003 series made Baxter villainous from the get-go. Fred Wolf Baxter's personality change from nebbish scientist to nebbish/evil mad scientist was pretty random, and any theoretical explanation for that change falls under the "unintentional cruelty" banner (Made evil by a chance encounter? Awesome!). Beginning with a villainous character makes the story flow better, makes it seem guided, and it makes Baxter seem like a credible creation that someone put effort into.

Or compare it to Waspinator from Beast Wars, a character whose mannerisms Baxterfly reminds me of. Waspinator started off as a disposable minion, and went on to become the "Kenny" of Beast Wars, constantly getting blown up, and then commenting on that fact. You get a better sense that people, writers and viewers alike, recognized affection for a silly, pathetic villain, and ran with it, having a real sense of humour. As another concession to self-awareness, Waspinator also gets his "happy ending", no matter how absurd it is (hanging out on Earth with the protohumans while all Transformers are gone), because you should give a character a resolution. Even a morally absolute series like Beast Wars has learned its lesson from modern style.

I'm also against villains that are dumber than heroes, and of low-tier villains being especially stupid, cowardly, or simpering. Even with a comedy show, even with a kid's show, if you've got any moments of conflict or threat in your series, the antagonists have to be able to stand up to the heroes, otherwise it's pointless to pretend you're creating tension. Fred Wolf Baxter is all this to a T, while early 4Kids Baxter has the same low-man-on-the-totem-pole vibe, but he's not so much of a silly sycophant.

The issue of writing is not so much about a show being "serious" or not, but whether the creators care about what the heck they're doing, and if they look a bit more at the implications of what they produce, and create resolutions. Even comedic series should do the most to develop their plot and setting, especially if they have any serial aspects. The Real Ghostbusters, when it was good, was a much better example of how to do an action-comedy cartoon that appealed to children and isn't that stupid.

But despite all of this, I like Fred Wolf Baxter as he is. I find him to be really fucking hilarious, both because of his accidentally sucky life, and because he's so tiny (seriously, he looks almost super-deformed in proportions) and dorky and screechy. I've called a personal moratorium on the word "adorkable", but if I didn't, the term would probably apply, authorial intent be damned.

By the end I also have a slight preference for human Fred Wolf Baxter over Baxterfly, especially his shaggy-haired crazy version. His abrupt transition to evil doesn't bother me as much as Baxterfly's pathetic outcome, because he is just slightly less childish as a character.

Baxterfly, on the other hand, is dumb even by TMNT villain standards. In several later episodes, starting with "Son of Return of the Fly II",  it even seems like he's mentally degenerating. This tapped into primal childhood fears about the loss of intelligence, and the character became slightly less likable. I know it's not a rational impulse, since the character wasn't all that smart to begin with, but that's how the human mind works.

In the tradition of everything else, I'm sure this wasn't intended to be the reaction. More likely it's just that he's supposed to have the "brain of a bug", but a former scientist mistaking a circuit board for food or being unable to remember April's name for more than three seconds was just very slightly unnerving. I'm not about to make a big deal about it, but there you go.

That's not to say that I dislike Baxterfly. He's still nebbish and funny and an adorable little bug-Muppet thing (depictions of a scary and edgy Baxterfly look extremely odd to me, though I know they're going off other sources, including the Playmates toy). I liked the strange notion of his recurring computer friend, a Seth Brundle parody hanging out with a Hal 9000 parody. However, I felt like Z was played as smarmy and slightly creepy towards his "pal", though this time I'm not sure if that was the intention or not.

Fred Wolf Baxter Stockman is definitely the product of a bygone era, one that's good to be rid of, but I can make an exception just this once. Every other version of the character should be based on the Mirage comics, and I still hold to my general dislike of moronic villains, but, well, I like this one.

Despite all these cynical disclaimers, it's fun to find a contemporary interest in a character from a nostalgic series. I barely remembered Baxter Stockman existed, and certainly had no idea he hung around in human form for as long as he did, so this was an interest I didn't expect. On the other hand, Fred Wolf Baxter is a nerd with a crappy life, so it's not exactly a surprise. I just try not to absolve him of too much, and recognize that this is not what villains should be.

All in all, this is why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a good experience. It doesn't lead to anything, and sometimes it's painfully stupid, but it helps me remember good things. It helped me remember a character I liked, and let me fuss over a "new" one, while being inspired to talk for a while about the nature of nostalgia and villainy. This means I made out like a bandit.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Shows for Grownups: Weeds

I actually watch a lot more live-action TV than I let on, it's just that the cartoons are much more fun to write about. A friend recommended Showtime's Weeds to me, and I was hooked through all eight seasons, taking them in through rentals and downloads.

Weeds is the story of Nancy Botwin, a rich suburban housewife who takes up pot dealing to support her lifestyle and family after her husband's sudden death. As the series progresses, she constantly gets in deep shit but manages to keep coming back, as you do.

What excited me most about this series was that Nancy was an anti-hero, but also a woman and a mother. That's so rare, even though it shouldn't be. Apparently Nancy gets a lot of shit for being all these things, more shit than perhaps a father in her situation would get. I know why this happens, but it's no excuse: if you really want to see a show for adults, you should move past the immature beliefs in female moral superiority, or that motherhood is the only sacrosanct profession.

Being an anti-hero and not a strict villain, there are moments when Nancy loses it, moments where she sheds tears or is in a vulnerable situation. Yet that doesn't change the fact that it's her fault, and that at times you see that Nancy enjoys this. She will grin and puts her feet up on the dash, ready for a new adventure. Eventually she does grow tired of that life, but it takes coming the closest she's ever been to death to start her on that path, and even then her life never truly returns to normal.

This demonstrates something about characterization that should've been obvious to me, but took a long time for me to put into words: that while we all should ask for characters who aren't purely good or purely evil, it's still easy to judge characters for the acts they commit, and know that circumstances don't excuse actions taken.

In this case, we might feel sympathy for Nancy at times, which makes the series effective, but she's still a criminal who wrecked her life and that of her immediate family. She could have had a back-up plan as a housewife, or she could have done anything else legal or taken a cut in her lifestyle. If she had, there would then have been no story, but even so, Nancy is not a good person. Toxic, even.

Weeds is also not a series that rests on the laurels of its setting and cast. After the first few seasons, the Botwin family leaves the setting the series began in, and then later Nancy goes through with a third pregnancy, while they keep changing locations. These constant changes are one of the many reasons I'm thankful for cable TV: I tend to prefer stories that change as they proceed, moving from setting to setting, and television often has problems with this process.

Suspense is also one Weeds' best qualities. The best moments have you certain that there is no way the characters are going to escape without their brains blown out, and yet somehow they do…until the next time, when the cycle starts all over again. Weeds is also a very, very funny show, too. It has you laughing almost as much as it tenses you up, sometimes laughing at jokes you thought you never would, or at least not in public company. This is another thing I'm thankful to cable TV for.

The series ends with a return back to where it began, which is appropriate, I think. Nancy had exhausted her world and as she was trying to change, and stopping her cycle (as well as she could), going back to the beginning was both surprising and makes sense. One hell of a ride from there and back again, certainly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recent American Cartoons That I Have Seen

And by recent, I mean in the past year or so. My laziness is the only thing that's kept me from blogging about these as they ran, but I'd like to deal with all of it in a chunk.

Adventure Time with Finn and Jake:

The show is certainly the pick of the litter. I love weird cartoons, and Adventure Time delivers, being one of those settings that is packed with all sorts of bizarre creatures from multiple genres, but everything seems to fit together, up to and including the background detail that it's actually a post-apocalyptic environment, and most creatures are the result of radiation.

I also enjoy its sense of earnest sweetness, made better by the adult irony and the surreal moments. This variety of tones is the reason the series is successful with kids and adults alike. It makes a series richer to be capable of being more than one thing.

The characters are great, too: Finn and Jake aren't my favourites in the show, but they have personality. Even Finn's desire to be a hero comes off as distinct because of his childlike attitude. He could have easily been written as a blank slate for little boys to project themselves onto, but now he's a defined character that could appeal to them while seeming like someone put effort into creating him.

The characters I like the best are Lumpy Space Princess, Marceline the Vampire Queen, and Princess Bubblegum, in that order. I got used to LSP's Dr. Girlfriend type of voice pretty quick, and it's just hilarious that the mannerisms of a bratty teen are coming out of a deep-voiced living cloud-blob (made of irradiated stardust, apparently). Her abrasive side would be funny at any age, and a female character who isn't a typical slender humanoid is also cool. For this reason, seeing human-form LSP being the fanart default is very sad.

Marceline I like because, though she normally looks like a typical modern vampire, her crazy faces and bestial transformations give her a welcome grotesque air. She's also a musician, which is neat, and I like her laid-back, cheerful attitude.

The only downsides are Marceline's few displays of earnest angst. Nothing else in the series is quite so sad and dark, and these moments are therefore jarring. They seem more like "emotional fanservice" than anything organic to her character, one of the moments when a character's sadness is designed only to maximize an audience's infatuation with her. Guys, Marceline certainly doesn't need the help.

Princess Bubblegum I never expected to like, thinking as I did that she would be the typical vacant, generic princess. But then I find out she's also a mad scientist with a short temper, as well as a laser-swan, and the occasional monstrous transformation. How could I not love that, I tell you?

The Amazing World of Gumball:

This is one of the shows I was looking forward to because of the promise of some bizarre shit, but it was a let-down. The big problem with the show is that it creates this strange setting and then never takes advantage of it.

Here you've got a series where characters from different mediums and species mix freely, with talking clouds, paper cutouts, humanoid animals, colourful blobs, and whatever, and it looks great, but the plots are generic child-sitcom stuff, ones that don't take advantage of the strange environment. When the show does take advantage of the weird setting, then it's fun to watch, but that's not often, based on the episodes that I've watched.

What makes it even worse is the way the main character's family are so by-the-numbers, so you can't even enjoy watching them: they're basically a Simpsons-type family, without the self-awareness of such. I can't help but compare this series to Chowder, another medium-mixing series starring a little boy felinoid. Chowder was much better about taking advantage of its setting, and in creating defined characters to play with. Yes, Chowder got really obnoxious later on, but it still holds a special place in my heart.

Regular Show:

This show takes much more advantage of its weird setting than Gumball does, with weird plots to match the weird mix of characters. Like everybody, I'm still surprised this wasn't an Adult Swim show, but it's enjoyable anyway. A weird cartoon about slackers is almost a retro cliché at this point, but you can't argue with it being fun.

The Legend of Korra:

I was carefully neutral before this show aired, and today I'm waiting until the entire promised run finishes before making a final judgement. As it stands now, the series isn't everything it could have been, but I'm looking forward to more.

I liked Avatar the Last Airbender as much as everyone else did, but I'm drawn to Korra on a more personal level. I prefer its modernized setting and the use of a smaller-scale political conflict, as opposed to the more traditional fantasy conflict of the first series.

Korra herself intrigues me. I love that the new Avatar is so different from Aang, but Korra is interesting independent of that. She's a hothead, but has a well-rounded personality and isn't as bratty as such characters tend to be. Korra can show a wide range of emotions, which is important for any character, not just for a female character.

There were other little things I liked: the way the series doesn't lean too heavily on its past characters or past situations (it would have been ridiculous if Amon had been Ko or some other enemy from the old series), making its world feel more realistic. The way that Tenzin has a family and it's not treated as something that makes the character a non-entity is also refreshing.

As for the alleged love triangle and the final pairing of Mako and Korra, it all felt superfluous the whole time, adding nothing to the story or characters. There just wasn't any chemistry between the two leads, and you just didn't care whether they got together. I also felt sorry for Asami, who actually did have some chemistry with Mako, and then was royally screwed over in the process of jumping to the official pairing, and nobody involved seemed to be aware of it.

And no, I don't believe anyone involved with the show was basing Mako x Korra on Zuko x Katara, in order to give shippers of the second pairing a consolation prize or even poke at them some more. No writer with any sense writes for shippers, and especially not after making fun of them all these years.

In the same vein, no, pairing up Bolin with Korra would not be less traditional, and I don't know why anyone who's been watching TV would think that. Bolin is not just a "schlub", anymore than Mako was just "the bad boy", but the goofy guy getting with the serious girl is old hat. In fact, somedays I think it's more common than the girl getting with the serious guy. Oh, and Bolin does not "deserve" Korra just because he was attracted to her.

Korra getting her powers back after having them removed wasn't the cop-out it would have been for any other character. I thought something along those lines would happen, given that she's the Avatar and might want special dispensation. Her moment of despair, then gaining the ability to see her past lives, and to open up to Airbending, provided adequate gravitas to separate getting her powers following losing them.

What I felt was a cop-out was Korra being able to restore bending to others. Maybe it's too fine a distinction to make, but there should be some consequences remaining after Amon's defeat, and it would be more credible for ordinary Benders to be unable to recover.

On the other, other hand, Korra's getting back her bending, and giving back bending, are likely both meant to be tied to Aang's ability to energy-bend, so it would be inconsistent if Korra could not also return energy to others.

Korra being able to restore bending means that the next seasons will likely start out with a completely new story, since every major plot point has wrapped up. That is unfortunate: I would have liked to see the main story go on for longer, to create the same novel-like structure that Avatar did.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Season 2

I just consider MLF:FiM to be "okay". Such a laid-back stance might seem impossible these days, but while I like the show, I don't like it to the level the rabid fans do, or hate the series for inspiring its fervour. I've found other cartoons that are personally cuter, funnier, and more engaging, and FiM just doesn't turn my crank in comparison.

There are only a few Friendship is Magic episodes I'd consider watching again, and even then not often. In the second season, "Lesson Zero", in which Twilight Sparkle goes insane, and "Luna Eclipsed", the Halloween episode, were two of my favourites. In short, I "get" liking the show, but I don't "get" the excitement it inspires.

While the second season was airing, I also found out more about Brony creepiness than I ever should have known. It's put me off expressing any enthusiasm for the show, even though I know that's the unfair thing to do. Parts of the fandom are seriously disturbing, and it's not the show's fault, but my shock doesn't go away easily.

Monday, October 8, 2012

This is an Evangelion Pencil Board

I own a lot of Evangelion junk, but this pencil board is particularly special, because the image on it is something that was there in my fandom from the very beginning.

Every store with some imported anime goods always has this stock of bootleg mini-posters, copying promotional images from whatever anime was popular that season. A friend of mine once had a bootleg poster with the same image that's on this pencil board. I passed by it multiple times when I came to visit her, but neither of us knew where it was from. Then, in 2002, I got into Evangelion and realized it was a picture of Kaworu and Shinji. I used the poster as a gateway to tell her about the show. We both loved it, and it was a huge favourite of ours for years. We've since gone our separate ways, but one of the last things I gave her was my old Evangelion VHS collection, back when she had problems with her DVD player.

Looking back at this picture, it's also interesting how it covers almost everything I like about Evangelion, in a single image. EVA-01 and her slick mecha design isn't there, but it has Shinji and Kaworu, my two favourite characters, but in a pose that is not sexualized, and the questioning text in the background shows the psychological aspects of the show. Out of all the pieces of Evangelion art I've seen, it's the one that gets me right here, you know?

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Coolest Thing Chris Latta Has Ever Done

After some large impact on my wallet, I've gotten my hands on a D'Compose figure from the Inhumanoids line. He was expensive, and a character I have no emotional connection to, but he's just so cool. Folks like to say he looks like a dinosaur or a vulture, but his head reminds me more of a rat's skull, which works even better, making the figure look even more fucked-up.

Although this figure is from 1986, the sculpting on him is amazing, a network of cracks and tubes and even a few protruding bones. His attack gimmick is a rib cage that opens due to levers on his back, which 3 ¾" action figures can be "trapped" in. There's not much tension on my figure, and I'm not sure if his gimmick was meant to "snap" shut when he was new, or what.
Behind the rib cage is also a rubbery wall of organs, too, making his chest very deep. This is just a great, freaky toy design, one that's also pretty big, at 14". He's kind of thing I would have gone crazy over as a kid, and now my inner child can do the same.

Inhumanoids was one of the less-popular popular 80s toy-cartoons, and it's famous among nerds for being one of those shows that seems like it would give kids nightmares. I watched the  five-part pilot of it, and it was okay, but it didn't live up to the expectations that I had. I mean, I liked the monster designs, and the moments where I was startled by the content, and the way that it tries to replicate the feel of a classic monster movie while still being targeted at children. But what prevented me from getting into it was that the human characters were boring and monsters usually had no character. It looks like the window for me to enjoy 1980s cartoons that I didn't grow up with has closed.

(In tone, the series is very much like the Transformers episode "The Dweller in the Depths", right down to the heavy shading and the monsters constantly wheezing and snarling.)

D'Compose was one of three chief monsters, along with the lava-beast Metlar, and the plant-beast Tendril (animal, mineral, vegetable…sorta). He's described as an "undead horror", though it's never said what species he used to be. Because he was found encased in amber, and his head design is much more saurian in the cartoon, many viewers think of him as a zombie dinosaur.

D'Compose's power, besides catching people in his rib cage, was to touch them and turn them into giant zombie-looking monsters. That was pretty fuckin' rad, though it was undone by sunlight, which D'Compose himself could also be harmed by (laaammeee). I liked the design of the female team member when she transformed, because it's so rare to see a genuinely disturbing female monster in fantasy. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

He was voiced by Christ Latta, the Starscream and Cobra Commander guy, though most of his lines consist of crying out, "D'Compose!" in Latta's trademark screech. I'm a Transformers fan, but never liked Starscream, and never got into G.I. Joe, but D'Compose is pretty nifty, so there you go.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Turtles, Turtles, Ra, Ra, Ra

Because of Teletoon Retro, the internet, and general stress brought on by just existing, I discovered I was capable of nostalgia. It took me a long time to admit, because I thought nostalgia was for people who actually wanted to live in the past. I realize now we can just get a buzz from that stuff and help us keep on going.

My latest nostalgic experience is the re-running of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon on Teletoon Retro. The first time I realized it was running on the channel, I was repelled by how silly it was, but slowly it pulled me back in, and now I watch the re-runs regularly.

That's no big surprise, because I now remember how huge that show was in my childhood, and my enjoyment is more intense than for any other purely nostalgic property. I still make a clear point to say this doesn't mean I think the show is any good, or that older cartoons are better than new ones. In fact, I feel like I'm watching myself watching the show, not totally able to understand why I enjoy it so much, when it's so incredibly stupid.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will not become one of those childhood things, like Freakazoid, or Beauty and the Beast, that I "rediscover" by finding a new interest, one that relates to the person I am now and satisfies my older sensibilities. No, the Turtles show I only enjoy because of what it used to be for me.

I grew up with the Fred Wolf Turtles, knowing of them at least by 1988. I moved away from the cartoon to the Archie comics series, 'til that ended, and then I lost my Turtles-love. I was too young for the original Mirage comics, though I have read a few issues over the years, and am familiar with all the changes in lore.

Now I'm thinking I want to read/watch ALL THE TURTLES. I don't know how long that urge'll last, and even if I followed through, this is a huge media franchise that I probably couldn't even end up covering, anyway.

I really would like to read the Mirage comic in full, though. I never realized until a short time ago, how damn enormous the entire comic oeuvre was, or that it was going on until very recently. It's one of the things left out whenever anybody talks about American comics being able to succeed beyond the Big Two, and I'd like to see how it does.

But when I was growing up, hell yeah did I love some Turtles. I might've liked the Turtles universe so much because it was a place where you could do fucking anything in it. Mutants, monsters, aliens, magic, and lasers were all on the table, and nobody would care. Before knowledge of furries tainted anthro animals for me, I thought those were pretty cool, too. Back when I read the Archie comics series (which is a huge world onto itself, with some pretty intense stuff), I liked any character who was based on an animal I liked.

So, Teletoon Retro is on the beginning of the third season, and I've watched most of the first and second season on YouTube, and am slowly skipping through any other episodes during the run which might interest me.

There are declines in quality throughout, but I only vaguely notice. While I can think some critical thoughts, my lower brain is the one in control. I just love watching it, and I laugh at almost everything, not because it's actually funny to a grown-up, but because it's just so ridiculous. I laugh like a madwoman, with frequent thoughts of, "Good lord!" or "What the fuck?", and many other such cheerful curses.

"Who's your favourite character?" is one of my most important nerdy questions, and when it comes to TMNT, the answer is always and forever gonna be Master Splinter. I'm otherwise not interested in the faux-Eastern mysticism or the wise old mentor character, but Splinter is an icon from my childhood. He's even possibly the source of my longtime interest in characters of the Rattus variety: The Secret of NIMH, Ratatouille, Rattrap (and much as I hate to say it, Verminous Skumm and a long search for a Ratar-O figure)—I was even born in the Year of the Rat, no lie.

I used to have a pack of Splinter toys that I carried around with me, including a naked original edition missing half an arm, and all three of the movie-based Splinter figures, as well as collector cards, a colouring book adaptation of "A Thing about Rats", a Random House adaptation of "Shredder and Splintered", and so on and so forth. Maybe I had that "substitute father figure" thing everyone thinks boys had for Optimus Prime, even though the apparent consensus is that in the toon Splinter was just the "Master" instead of the father figure he was in other versions—something I don't believe. He is totally a dad.

I like to try to understand how my childhood tastes in characters were the same as my tastes as an adult, and Splinter was probably my favourite because he was smart. Intelligence is one of the character traits I keep coming back to, and Splinter's got a lot of brains. Sometimes it seems like he's only character in the cartoon who's not an idiot, like when he and the Shredder switch bodies, and Splinter immediately pretends to act like the Shredder, and the Shredder just acts like himself. (Angry, bitchy Splinter is hilarious, by the way). He's got his stuff together, he does.

Sometimes Splinter is also the one to be rescued, or to stay behind while the Turtles go off and  do the actual plot. I remember a lot of this, but it didn't change things. And sometimes Splinter also kicks ass, which has me going all sports-fan, like I hadn't forgotten about this character for over a decade. It's super-neat.

I always wondered why he looked more like a dog than a rat, something that is especially weird when you see regular-looking rats in the series. Some other cartoons do that to distinguish rats from mice, but Splinter is the only rodent around. I'm used to it by now, and he's like this big stuffed animal, and also just one of my favourite character designs in general, maybe because of that distinct dog-rat weirdness. I know I'd kill for the new TMNT Classics toyline to continue and make a toon-style Splinter.

(Hamato Yoshi's character design looks really weird, though; almost uncanny valley. Also, why does Splinter's sushi start out looking like chocolate macarons?)

I also decided I now had a soft spot for Baxter Stockman, Shredder's little mad scientist sidekick turned Seth Brundle. Apparently, a few people think of him as the woobie-type, and while I wouldn't go that far, since he's such a mean little mugwump, I can see why it happens.

The writers' intention is obviously, "he deserves it because he's a bad guy" but if you take that out, his life fucking sucks, including the suggestion that he's a villain because his unwitting brush with evil drove him insane. He's endearingly pathetic in some way, evilly nebbish. Baxter is also an idiot, but that's fine; I like laughing at him, too.

I like both human and insect versions of him, and his bug form is also oddly adorable. That's not easy for a bug-hater like me to say. Come on, though, he's got a sweater-vest and a giant bowtie, how is that not hilarious? All the same, though, seeing that Baxterfly was losing his faculties and gradually becoming more infantile was a genuinely disturbing moment.

Baxter also threatened Splinter's life on two occasions, one time directly and with great enjoyment, but whatever. Four-year-old me probably wouldn't have been willing to compromise, but I guess even woman-children can change.

In terms of any other characters, I can't find any that I like or care about as much. It's weird to me, right now, to realize that I don't have a favourite Turtle. I'm sure it would have been Donatello, since I dressed as Donnie for a grade school Halloween parade, I tend to prefer nerdy characters and I also love purple, but nothing's going on there so far.

That's not surprising, though, because nobody likes the same kind of character every time. It's also never about which character is the smartest, the coolest, the most developed, or the best written: you just like what you like.

I've got nothing against any of the Turtles proper, though, and I can't say I don't notice them, either. They're part of the whole Turtle thing, creating this situation where the show is enjoyable as a whole piece, not just waiting for Splinter to do something. I'm sure that part of the longevity of TMNT is because it has four distinct main characters to extend the appeal to a wide range of viewers.

April O'Neil is the opposite of distinct, though. You've got her job, you've got her role as "human friend", but she's just your Generic Nice Female Person, and there's no real sense of her as an individual character, someone that would actually be interesting as themselves. She's a textbook example of "female character whose only trait is being female".

That kind of characterization is a hard thing to define unless you see it, but I sure have. It's when you've got a female character who does things that are considered commonly feminine, but there is no sense of a personality behind it, no sense that these are the actual traits of a character. Instead, it's just what the writers threw in.

Say what you will about how shallow or, um, "slow" the rest of the major cast can be, but they've got much more personality than April does. You could tell me not to expect anything from a girl character in an 80's boy's cartoon, but my dislike of blank-slate characters transcends nostalgia just by a hair. Because you've already got these bizarre characters, you should put effort into the lone female character, too.

And I know this sounds crazy, but I guess I assumed that if April had become this fanboy icon, it had to be because there was something about her personality as well as her looks. I have no idea now what I was thinking with that.

I vaguely remember liking April's friend Irma, probably because she was the awkward female character that was the closest such a series would get a girl nerd, but in the episodes I've seen so far, Irma bugs the hell out of me. She's not just awkward, her awkwardness is used for this  "going to grow up to be a crazy cat lady" vibe that I do not like. She's no Janine Melnitz, that's for sure.

Normally I do think that villains ought to be at least as competent as the heroes, but in the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I'm just not in the mood to give a shit. It's not because TMNT is a comedy, because the Turtles are also dumb, but the villains are dumber, and even a funny show should try to make things equal if there's a conflict. But it doesn't bother me for some reason. I know why I give Baxter a pass, but the rest I just stare at them.

I'm sure somebody out there thinks Shredder and Krang were badass in the original cartoon, but I don't see that. They are totally an old married couple, and Shredder is a huge brat right from day one. Fun to laugh at, but laugh at without liking them.

The theme song is a glorious, glorious earworm, but you already knew that, didn't you?

I did see Turtles Forever when it came out, and it was lots of fun. I gotta say, I was on the side that said the goofy portrayals of the 1980s characters was spot-on: I didn't have any recent experience with them in 2009, but the portrayal just felt right to me. It was also exciting to see something so meta-fictional on kids' TV. I didn't get a big nostalgia buzz off of the special, but it was fun to watch. I might've gotten more out if it if I'd been nostalgic at the time, but it wasn't a bad catch, either.

The "Turtles are aliens in this new movie" fiasco was something I wasn't in the mode to have an opinion about. The thing was, I couldn't imagine any way that the Turtles being aliens would impact the attachment I had to them. I had no doubt in my mind that anything Michael Bay-related would be cringeworthy, though, and am glad it seems to have died.

Actually, I think of myself as pretty chill about any differences between Turtle continuities. I only have a problem with media changes when there's just one version, or it's retroactively applied, but when Turtles, like Transformers, has all these different continuities, there's not expectation of consistency or fidelity, or even of any emotional attachment to be carried over.

However, no other Turtles thing would quite give me the charge that this nostalgic experience has. It's this perfect Id supercharge, one where you don't care about anything except being happy. You can talk about flaws and the reasoning behind your reactions, but it doesn't change your attachment either way. There's an impossible shine to all of it, and you know that nothing you observe can change that.

Hardcore nostalgia can be a dangerous feeling in large doses. It can be good to simply not care, to go back to those feelings of basic happiness that don't require critical thinking. But there's also something good about being able to step away from something, to look at it more clearly, and to have a deeper attachment that is related to your slightly-more-rational mind.

I always make this distinct split between a nostalgic and a contemporary nerdy interest. The material may be of the same quality, but I can't transform a nostalgic interest to the typical active fandom. Nostalgia is brief, and it seems stronger, but it fades fast and leaves very little behind. An active fandom is something that operates on slow burn, and demands a little bit more consideration, but also leaves something that stays. And more in the way of…not totally critical thinking, but at least the sensation of having a clearer head.

What I'm thinking is that I'm going to slowly forget about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because it is just something from my past, something that can't take over my brain in any new way.

Nice vermin, though.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first airing of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, one of my anime Holy Trinity. I can't pretend it's been with me for a long time, but the hold it's had on my brain more than makes up for it. It's a series that mixes so many different tones: goofy absurdity, sweet idealism, some cool mecha action. It's also got a great cast of characters, with arcs extending beyond the main cast members.

In short, we love it here at the house of the Pterobat. It's true, yeah, that I love it the most for the Zentradi, but come on...that's the proof that the show had such a good secondary cast. I'll never think that story arc is about anything about the power of culture, and the rediscovery of humanity.

I hardly ignore everything else, though, because SDFM as a whole is just awesome, and that's no lie. Like the best series, you have your personal preferences, but you embrace the work as a whole.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Certain Dragonlance Novels

Dragonlance is a universe of novels based on some role-playing game. The universe is huge, and goes on to this day. As anybody might expect, the central storylines are bland Tolkien knockoffs: motley people in search of MacGuffins to defeat their assorted Dark Lords. The most popular and longest series tell different versions of such a story.

However, when I was a kid, I loved the hell out of some of Dragonlance's dragon-centric side stories. There were both short stories and novels with dragons as viewpoint characters, and that was total catnip to me. It's true that non-tie-in fiction has a lot of sapient dragons, but the stories tended to be ones with dragons, not ones about dragons, which was an important distinction for me. Dragonlance had a surprising number of stories told from a dragon's point of view, more than I could find anyplace else, so I was hooked good.

I eventually got around to reading the "founding" Dragonlance novels, and found them boring, but it wasn't because I knew how bad they were, just that they had less dragon-ness. It wasn't until later that I really began to wise up to issues like quality, and lose interest in the franchise for those reasons. I blame this on being young and also not growing up in a very literary household, but soon I got a little more experience and realized how badly-written and how badly-executed these books were.

I mentally threw out most of them, and didn't want to look for any new ones, but there were some that I couldn't let go of. One of them was The Black Wing, which I've spent more time talking about than the writer probably did thinking about. It's about a dragon named Khisanth, a young villain-in-training with a crappy life that's mostly the result of her own bad choices. Khisanth is still my favourite dragon character of all time, far above the more iconic dragons of mythology or modern fiction. However, the novel is a disjointed mess, and doesn't develop its ideas well enough. The book isn't anything I would have admitted to liking if I wanted to be taken seriously, but it's sort of a personal icon nonetheless.

I also have a weakness for the Kang's Regiment stories, too. In order to spice up the ranks of their enemies, Dragonlance introduced the draconians, a race of mutant dragon men created by corrupting the eggs of good dragons. They were cannon fodder in the early stories, but two authors decided to write a series of short stories and novels focusing on a draconian named Kang and his comrades.

These started out as comedic short stories about put-upon workmen, before transitioning into an oddly touching pair of novels about draconians leaning to define themselves as an independent people despite being created as servants of evil. It's a very cute series, even if they are not well-written. Again, my interest is not something I want to spread around, but my preference is genuine.

I wish I could have grown up reading better fantasy or being encouraged to, but I really do love those stories, and a couple of other short stories that I decided were still worth keeping around. One of my favourites is "Aurora's Eggs", a creation myth about one dragon defeating five of her evil counterparts alone.