Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rubbertack is Back

One thing that’s been lost on my current blog and Tumblr is that my Zentradi obsession started with seeing the Robotech dub in 2008, and that a couple years ago, I spent my time tearing way through every old, forgotten Robotech novel and comic I could find. I still like some parts of those, hate others (especially the lack of good original characters and the suggestion that the Zentradi/human alliance was self-destructive), and overall would say that I don’t hate Robotech as a concept and a franchise.

However, I quickly understood that continuing Robotech past the 1990s wasn’t going to go anywhere storywise. The legal restrictions were much tighter, with the new sequel comics killing off every old character they could, and releases of new material getting more and more sporadic. The Shadow Chronicles, the animated film from that era, apparently took forever to make but was still boring crap, and the long-questioned sequel failed to materialize.

Recently, it’s been said that Robotech will ahead with “Love, Live Alive”. The original “Love, Live, Alive” was a sequel OVA to Genesis Climber Mospeda, the anime that was dubbed into the third part of Robotech. It mostly consisted of animated music videos, with a tiny amount of original footage.

Yet the trailer shows new footage from the “Shadows” universe that is the new Robotech, which is probably exciting to the small core of die-hard fans that have been waiting to see the Shadows universe continued, and this will probably supplement the short animation from the original LLA. Hey, guys, knock yourselves out.

But I just couldn’t keep going with this, and I can’t get back into that fold. I know that nothing will really change with this franchise. It’ll always keep scrabbling in its current rut.

Part of me thinks that modern Robotech would be inherently doomed no matter what talent was behind it, since a good story usually would tie up all its loose ends, deal decently with all its characters and its plot points, and Robotech can’t even manage that because it doesn’t have access to these things. Dancing around the characters or setting the story in the far-flung future wouldn’t be solving this problem, but avoiding the issue. It’s a trap.

Yet I don’t want to let the writers off the hook that easily. It still might have been possible to create something decent and fulfilling despite the legal restraints, but it looked like Tommy Yune and everyone else didn’t even try. The minds behind Robotech in the 21st century just keep promoting the same junk over and over again, going to cons with all the other active companies to pretend they are actually doing something.

Meanwhile, Harmony Gold spends money and makes empty promises, with the only things to show for it being some sporadic toy and RPG manual releases, a few comics, and one extremely boring movie. All of it sucks, can’t even be enjoyed on an emotional level.

It was painful and pathetic to watch, and after a while I stopped feeling hurt by it. I also stopped feeling sorry for the fans who still believed Robotech would make something of itself. After all that had happened, anyone should have been able to see the writing on the wall. The franchise is dead, but somebody’s still dangling its corpse on marionette strings.

As to the prospect of a live-action Robotech movie, well, that’s also a nigh-impossibility. Asking it to be one forgets that, unlike other popular eighties cartoons, Robotech wasn’t made as a single work by a single company, but three separate anime redubbed to be one series. That makes it harder to adapt than, say, Transformers. I wish people would remember that.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some Words About Jim Woodring

I can’t remember when I first heard about Jim Woodring; it must have been on one of my many tries to Understand the History of All Mediums that Involve Writing. I always meant to read his comics, but because there’s so much out there, it takes something distinctive to remind you to read someone’s work.

In this case, it was hearing about the time Jim Woodring made a giant fountain pen and tried to use it. Good enough.

So far, what I’ve read of Jim Woodring are his Frank stories, but not even all of those. The Frank stories are a series of silent (mis)adventures with a small cast of creatures and some walk-ons, set in a place of minarets and rolling hills called the Unifactor. The usual protagonist is Frank, an old-school cartoon creature of deliberately undefined species. Often by his side is Pupshaw, a pyramidal ring-tailed creature who serves as Frank’s “dog” but is far more powerful than he, and who has a boyfriend of similar make named Pushpaw.

Manhog is a disturbing man-pig-thing who is hurt in gory and pathetic ways but also might be the victim of karma. Sometimes there is a devilish critter named Whim, and vajra-like creatures called Jivas come through the sky. There are others like Quacky, Faux Pa, Lucky, Real Pa, Cart Blanche, and the Jerry Chickens. Also, lots and lots of frogs and frog-like beings.

The Unifactor stories are soundless, told in pantomime, and are short and simple in the compilation book I have, called (yeah) “The Frank Book”, though longer stories exist in other graphic novels. There is no doubt a deeply personal unspoken language in these tales, but they can be enjoyed on a surface level. I know that I liked them very much, since I love surreal settings and weird creatures.

I just love the people who can think and write like this. When faced with a bizarre, dreamlike, or stream-of-conscious mode of storytelling, I nearly always believe that it was what the author naturally desired and sought. They weren’t trying to swindle anyone with fake “depth”, but simply told the story they wanted. Sometimes earnestness produces weirdness and not simplicity.

Of course, for Woodring it all hasn’t been wonderful. Profiles of him tell the story of a childhood plagued with hallucinations, sickness, and paranoia. It’d be dangerous to believe this is what made him the great artist that he is today.

But I look forward to reading more of his books.

I’ve posted it before, but the video above is a collection of excerpts from Visions of Frank, a 2007 DVD that contained animated Frank shorts by independent Japanese animators. The DVD itself seems to be vanished, which is a shame.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "Son of Return of the Fly II"

Fred Wolf Episode #79
Written by David Wise
Directed by Bill Wolf
Original Air Date: September 8th, 1990

--According to Wikipedia, this is the first of the episodes that aired after the series moved to CBS, but not the first episode of season four. I've got no idea either way, since I never kept track of the series’ change from syndication to network when I was young. I also can't say I notice any radical changes in tone or presentation from the earlier episodes, but I tend to be slow on the uptake when it comes to things like this. Only the very radical changes to a TV series’ tone and format do I notice.
--But this is officially my favourite Baxterfly episode, surpassing "Enter: The Fly" if we're talking about qualities besides "what came first" (with “Landlord of the Flies” being the worst). "Son of Return of the Fly II" is just so goddamn hilarious, one of those episodes of the original cartoon that hits the mark of being so ridiculous it's great, episodes that are too few in number. It’s also fairly well-plotted with some expressive animation.
--I can't look at the title "Son of Return of the Fly II" without thinking of the joke that "The Venture Brothers" made with "Return to the House of Mummies: Part 2", in which there deliberately never was a part one, just to make it more surreal and confusing. This episode’s title, however, is simply mashing up common B-movie titles like always. I enjoy that about most Baxterfly episodes: it’s cute.
--However, the early parts with Mr. Mellish and the Solid Energy Generator are dull, and there’s not much to say about them. A little payoff comes at the end, but otherwise, we’ll skip it.
--And does Baxter quote the Wicked Witch of the West when he says, "What a world!"?
--Crying Baxterfly might make you soft towards him, but you also realize that the reason he's crying is that he can't go back to Earth and get his all-important revenge. Still, it's an unusual thing for this series to show a villain doing, and I’m a little bit sorry for Baxter, of course.
--The crying also demonstrates how much more childlike Baxter’s new characterization is, though Baxter doesn’t act as infantile in his later episodes. And he’s hardly ever a bastion of maturity anyway, but in this episode his immaturity really sticks out.
--Of course, it's never explained how the ship's computer transformed into a desktop PC, or how Baxter got out of the inter-dimensional spider's web, which was the peril they were in at the end of the previous Baxterfly episode. But it doesn't matter that much, really, except to make me wonder if the ending of "Bye Bye Fly" was originally intended to serve as Baxter's gruesome offscreen fate. Whew.
--To add to the disconnect between this episode and the previous one, the computer's mannerisms seem different. He seems more mature, with a deeper voice and a leadership role, as well as now constantly calling Baxter “pal” and “buddy”.
--I enjoyed the previous episodes where Baxter acts largely on his own, him not being quite so reliant on the computer in "Bye, Bye Fly", but the whole thing with the computer is just wonderfully strange: Seth Brundle and HAL 9000 in a weird co-dependent relationship. The more I rewatch these episodes, the funnier that gets.
--Part of the humour comes from the possibility that the computer would betray Baxter if the need arose, meaning that Baxter's life would get even more hilariously terrible when his only ally betrays him.
----The relationship also sort of adorable, in a twisted way.
--Because it’s so much fun, I really wish the computer had a damn name. The fan name "Zee" or "Z" is used often, but nobody knows where it came from, and I'm reluctant to use it because it's fanon.
--(Also, when the computer gets that energy body, it looks like he's naked. There; now you can’t unsee that)
--Baxter going after the sugar makes me giggle. It also reminds me of the scene in Cronenberg's "The Fly" when one of the first clues that Seth is changing is how much sugar and cream he puts in his coffee. This connection is probably unintentional, given that there's a lot of evidence that the writers only drew on the original "The Fly".
--The computer's constant complement-feeding comes off as incredibly smarmy, especially since he can obviously can see how dumb Baxter is. But the fact that this is kept up without Baxter being sold out is interesting, since one character secretly manipulating another long-term is subtle by FW standards. And by those same low standards, the relationship is refreshingly ambiguous.  
--Baxter's side of it seems to be genuine, though, as he seems to chase the main villains back to Channel 6 because he knows they're going after the computer, and joins in the tug-of-war over the computer man. He calls the computer "My friend" and says, "Thank you," to him.
--Which is always funny to me because I remember the human Baxter hating artificial intelligence for some inexplicable reason in "The Mean Machines", and being unusually pissy about it. The writers probably don't remember the difference, but I like it.
--The funniest parts are by far how incredibly addled Baxter is. He's asked to kidnap April, and instead kidnaps Vernon, *twice* (“That’s not even a woman”), can't remember her name for more than a second, and keeps walking through walls. I know it's not the good way to write a villain, but I laugh so hard.
--At the same time, it's a tiny bit sad that a former scientist, even one as nebbish and evil as Baxter was, keeps losing his faculties, is unable to perform the simplest tasks, and doing things like thinking a portal or a plot device are food.
--The fuss made over Baxter's footprint has always struck me as weird, if for no reason other than Baxter's feet look almost the same as the Turtles' and nobody seems to notice. But naturally, Splinter is the first one to figure stuff out.
--As I said above, I think Baxter's computer is a parody of Hal 9000, and his taking over the station could be another homage to the film. Especially since "Invasion of the Turtle Snatchers" already had a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.
--"Because I'm a big fly!" Impeccable logic, there, Baxter.
--I love the clock tower trap: very Adam West Batman. Though I also can't help but think of the Edgar Allan Poe story, "A Predicament", when a woman gets her head cut off by the hand of a clock.
--Raphael seems to be quoting Joan Rivers when he asks, "Baxter, can we talk?"
--Another indication of Baxter’s childishness is when he yells to the absent Shredder: "You come here now! Or else you'll never have revenge against Turtles! Never, ever, ever!"
--"By Ninja Law…." I can believe the Shredder made that up.
--I love Baxter smacking Shredder and Rocksteady's heads together using both sets of arms.
--"Only the most highly-skilled ninja master could get out of these ropes." [Leo cuts Donnie free] "Hi, Leonardo." Love that exchange.
--Veteran fans of the Fred Wolf cartoon like to point out that certain episodes had a more fluid, cartoony art style, and I’m pretty sure “Son of Return of the Fly II” fits into the slot. It suits the comedy in the episode, and is actually all-around nice and expressive, including rare background movement.
--I love the computer's facial expressions, too. He looks very smug and evil.
--Oh, hey, you can see Bebop's eyes near the end for a few seconds.
--The "Destruction of other people's property...." running joke is great here. Raphael being annoyed with Donatello over it also cracks me up every time.
--The twist that Mr. Mellish is a mercenary, money-hungry bastard and could have blown up that chip at any time but didn't because of the potential profit is also great. It's a little sharper than the show's normal humour, but that's also the style of cartoon humour that I prefer, and one I wish the old show dipped into more often.
--And there goes Baxter, stuck between dimensions. This is why I can't get so broken up over "Revenge of the Fly", when several Baxter episodes had already ended like that. It's just that his episodes stopped, not that there was real finality. And this encourages emotional attachments to have only the lightest touch, which also means it’s hard to get upset.
--Why the heck is Vernon shaving in the office, and just after a major incident? It's a really bad set-up for that final joke this show often makes, when it looks like the enemy of the episode might be back, but it turns out to be something harmless.
--But overall, this was the kind of hilarious, insane episode that makes the OT memorable. It's also well-plotted and executed enough to stand out on a different level. And again, my favourite Baxterfly episode.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Animation Appreciation: Haibane Renmei

Sometimes, earnestness and elegance can make you take an absurd imagine completely seriously; ditto for the story that’s built around it. Haibane Renmei’s (High-bah-NAY Ren-MAY’s) main visual, that of otherwise ordinary people sporting halos and tiny angel wings, might look ridiculous by itself, but the thirteen-episode anime transforms it into something wondrous and moving.

The viewpoint character is Rakka, the newest Haibane, and through her viewers understand the rules of her world. Haibane are “born” from cocoons in the city of Glie, and named for the dream they had before “birth”; Rakka is named for a dream of falling. She is provided with a halo, wings break from her back, and she must find her place at the Haibane nest of “Old Home”, an abandoned school.

Haibane live a mostly idyllic existence, but must take jobs in the town, and must only use discarded goods, except for their food. A wall also surrounds the town of Glie, which must never be touched and can never be crossed, since no one in town has any flying machines, and the Haibane themselves cannot fly.

Each Haibane is aware that they had a past life in the world outside, but that they cannot remember who they were. They all await their “Day of Flight”, in which a Haibane disappears for parts unknown. Rakka must overcome her own shock at a friend’s “Day of Flight”, and find it in herself to help Reki, a troubled older Haibane who has never taken the Day.

Although it is only thirteen episodes long, Haibane Renmei proceeds at a slow, leisurely pace. Nothing is loud or bombastic, and many things go unexplained. When the emotions cut deep, they are still subdued. It’s a sweet and intriguing experience, and weirdly soothing.

The exact nature of the Haibane is never explained, save that it’s likely they are not explicitly
Christian creations, since anime tends to use Christian imagery for special flavour instead of religious expression. However, that doesn’t mean that the Haibane cannot be tied to more general notions of sin and release.

A common theory is that the Haibane represent suicides and/or premature death, since suicide is likely not applicable to the “Young Feathers”, the gaggle of tiny toddler Haibane that also live in Old Home. It is thought that their new names have something to do with how they died. The “Day of Flight” is read as their ascent to heaven, perhaps after overcoming the “sin” of dying before their time, and the rules that Haibane live under are “punishment”. Or it is a morally neutral condition, and is simply the restoration of the natural order.

The soft nature of the series might make it hard to notice, but Haibane Renmei teaches some harsh lessons about grieving. That no matter how sad you are, you must accept that people are gone. Both Rakka and Reki struggle with the notion of the Day of Flight, but must learn to accept that it has happened, and will keep happening..

These theories still leave unanswered questions (such as why Haibane age), but that is one of the popular theories. However, Haibane Renmei is one of those works that leaves a viewer content to accept that some things will remain mysteries.

Nothing of what has been said makes Haibane Renmei a bleak series, but simply gives it an extra distinction. Just because a series says some pragmatic things does not mean that it’s bleak.

Another interesting thing about Haibane Renmei is that nearly all of the characters are female, including all of the main characters. Each of them are distinct and memorable, with very different personalities.

Old Home only houses women women and small children, but the Haibane of Abandoned Factory are co-ed, which means it’s not one of those weird things where only women can be Haibane.

Nor is it one of those other weird things, where a primarily female cast are really a set of “types” for the male audience to choose from, something that has become popular in recent years. Rakka and her friends exist “for themselves” and not for emotional titillation. The distinction is difficult to define, and ultimately relies on intuiting it.

Haibane Renmei is a good series. It’s got an interesting premise, a soothing atmosphere, and quickly became one of my favourite anime. I’ve heard it’s recently been re-released, so go check it out.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "Enter: the Fly"

Fred Wolf Episode #12
Written by Michael Reaves and Brynn Stephens
Directed by Bill Wolf
Original Air Date: November 12, 1988.

--So, I picked out a couple Baxterfly episodes for myself to review, to round out a small and incomplete batch of FW Baxter Stockman episodes. I might pick out a few Splinter-centric episodes to do, since both are my favourite characters in the show, but Splinter is much harder to write about, since his episodes often involve things happening with him, and not to him, and Splinter is almost never not on top of things. That makes him an easy character for a child to admire, a hard character for an adult to write about
--And at the moment any review of my other favourite episodes of the old cartoon would involve a series of “wasn’t it funny when...” posts which just aren't that interesting. It’s sometimes hard for me to write about the old cartoon, which is in a weird zone between childhood and now.
--Anyway, turning into a fly seems to be considered the most interesting and memorable thing Baxter Stockman has ever done. Everybody keeps speculating on when new versions of the character are going to go Gregor Samsa (only to be disappointed), and fanart of the character largely consists of Baxterfly and nothing else.
--But to me, turning into a fly doesn't define Baxter Stockman. The character has been portrayed in different ways in different media, with only his profession and the Mousers being totally consistent. This particular transformation is confined to a single era of TMNT, and so is hardly defining when it’s a number’s game.
--Of course, I know Baxterfly became paramount because of how nostalgia-driven the TMNT fandom can be. Anything from the era of the initial media blitz is defined by childhood, where the old cartoon and original toyline were the only things one knew, and when mutants were always more interesting than human characters. Naturally, everyone is going to remember him as a fly first.
--Baxter's new personality also probably makes him a more appealing character, which I'll discuss below.
--Even so, I don’t think of ol' Cracker Stockman as a fly. The first reason is because, while I do like Baxterfly, he's the nadir, the absolute endpoint of the character's failure, with so much built up before that. He started out as a human character, and had an equal amount of screen time in both forms.
--Furthermore, I love broken, fucked-up characters, and it’s easier to get that vibe off human Baxter, that sense of failure beyond just being the "bad guy" and therefore doomed to lose. Baxterfly can also be seen this way, but is more your comical B-Movie villain swearing “Rrrevenge!” on those that wronged him, than that type of nebbish little wreck that I often enjoy in fiction.
--Okay, on with the real episode:
--I always liked that despite his goofiness, Baxter's inventions usually worked, because it's an engaging contrast. That the ray thingy doesn't work is for plot convenience, to directly motivate the Shredder throwing out Baxter. But it fits him, because Baxter is a failure.
--"[...] reverse the polarity"--David Wise didn't write this episode, but there's his standard Dr. Who reference. I wish I'd gotten into that franchise....
--Why does Splinter have a microwave in his meditation room, with a convenient pizza right next to his tatami mat? Not to mention that he is meditating in a different room than his usual one, but that is a standard cartoon inconsistency.
--Splinter looks perpetually sad for a good part of this episode, even before April’s collapse, which is interesting. I'm supposing it's to show that he's worried about the Shredder's scheme, even if said scheme is now relegated to the status of "decoy" plot. If that's true, points for consistency.
--I love Shredder's line while on the garbage barge, explaining why there are there: "Becasue this is the site [Krang] chose for the trans-dimensional convergence. I think he did it just to annoy me!" The writers really struck comedy gold with the Krang / Shredder dynamic.
--I know a lot of other viewers believe Baxter's fate was written by his actions in "Curse of the Evil Eye", but if it were, the Shredder would have had no reason to wait to act, especially not with "The Case of the Killer Pizzas" happening between these two episodes. The writers just didn’t care about following up on Baxter’s punishment.
--I'm not too agitated though: I’m very aware of the principle that even goofy cartoon villains should be held to standards, but I can make an exception just this once. I'd rather have Baxter around for a bit more rather than have FW Shredder actually do something proactive.
--Given the crazy science in this series, I also don't really care how little sense the convenient "fragile" inter-dimensional energy balance makes. Sure, whatever. It’s all SCIENCE!
--Shredder is very good at the henchman shot put.
--I understand why Baxter was mutated, I understand why Bebop and Rocksteady were kept around longer, and why the latter were brought back into the spotlight and might always have intended to be: mutant characters, and "manly" (speaking relatively) mutants, especially, would be more interesting to the target audience.
--The way the Shredder refers to April as the Turtles' "weakest point" means the writers aren't even trying to hide the fact that April is put down because of her gender.
--But the plan is sort of clever. It's like the Shredder knows the stupidity of everyone in this universe, so that April would not be at all suspicious of a mysterious package even though she's been a target of supervillains before.
--Not that fans ever need the fuel, but I wonder if the flower trap didn't endear at least some to the idea of Shredder x April.
--Splinter still looks sad when April opens the door. Then he has something else to be sad about.
--I actually like that April establishes herself as uninterested in a potential love affair with any of the Turtles, which is what she thinks the flowers represent. You so rarely see fantasy fiction consider the idea that hey, maybe a human woman wouldn't' be interested in the affections of a being that wasn't human. Which ties into lots of issues about double standards that I won't get into here.
--And hey, while I don't take back anything I've ever said against FW April, at least she is not relegated to the role of "love interest" because of this, which is also sadly rare.
--Also, "doku" is Japanese for "poison". How literal-minded.
--I don't take FW Baxter's life and fate 100% earnestly as something sad and terrible, but in this happy little cartoon universe, Krang was going to kill him in cold blood. That’s pretty fucked up.
--(And then part of me finds that incongruity hilarious)
---I always think it a little ridiculous when Shredder and Krang refer to themselves as "scientists" at various points. They never show much evidence of these skills, and it's overkill to think they would have these specializations on top of being supervillain leaders.
--While I love David Cronenberg's "The Fly" preceding and independent of any interest in Baxter Stockman, I’m certain Baxterfly draws more on the original 1958 "The Fly". It’s the TMNT cartoon's parodies of older monster movies, the running gag of Baxter squealing "Help me!", the classic Fly having human clothing, and that the teleportation device in the original film was called the "disintegrator-integrator" which is probably reflected in the name of the Technodrome's disintegrator unit. All of it adds up, but I can’t help associating him with Cronenberg’s version anyway. “Baxterfly” is a play on “Brundlefly”, after all.
--I also like Baxterfly's cartoon design, because it's accidentally adorable/goofy-looking, and bright and colourful. I prefer it over the visual experiments to create a "darker" Baxterfly, or even the look of the toy.
--In the scene where the Turtles enter and first see April in the sickbed, Splinter is drawn with very strange, deer-like ears.
--"And you let [Baxter] escape through the portal? Brilliant!" / "I didn't have to warn you, you know." More great stuff from Shredder and Krang.
--Now, as to why viewers might prefer Baxtefly beyond "mutants are cool", well, the contrast between the weak and passive Baxter and the angry and active Baxterfly is amusing, and could also get viewers' attention. He blows away two Rock Soldiers, and zips right towards his former employers, ready to attack. Even later, when the computer is the one leading him, Baxter still finds time to be an active threat. That probably makes him a more "worthwhile" villain to viewers.
--However, we can already see the other ways Baxter's personality will alter, as he's easily duped by the Shredder, and points out, "You always liked these mutants better!". He gets even dumber, acts more like a child, etc. But other viewers might actually like it more when Baxter becomes even sillier, but without being as whiny as before. Together, this makes the character more interesting.
--But I always go back to the 4Kids Stockman, who is the best version of Baxter Stockman and who has a lot of traits in common with FW Baxter. Stockman’s personality was kept consistent with his transformation, and that's the personal ideal for me, because it builds a stronger character arc.
--However, it’s still good to pre-establish a human character before he mutates so that his transformation can have some impact on the character if not the plot. I understand why that's usually not feasible for a TMNT show--gotta get those toys on the shelves!--but I'm glad it happened here.
--Insect eyes don't see in individual facets.
--Lest we forget, "the bughouse" is also slang for an insane asylum.
--"Enter the Fly" is one of the old cartoon's better attempts to pull off having an A and B plot, but despite that, and despite the need to be strapped for time, the fact that the plant is right where they thought it would be is a little annoying.
--The Knucklehead's controls look like an adding machine, which is pretty funny, though maybe whoever desiged the props was just lazy. Because Shredder also has a laser-shooting device that looks like a camera.
--There are some nice fight sequences scattered through this episode, though it starts to get less interesting near the end, when it’s just a bunch of fight scenes.
--Shredder makes a slight "^_^" face when he realizes he still has the gazai plant. Actually, he makes that face several times in this episode.
--Splinter establishes a message of perseverance, and the Turtles vow to leave no stone unturned in their search, but Shredder conveniently shows up to give them a way to go. Uhmm...the principle is still valuable?
--I love what a cynical bastard Fred Wolf Raphael is. If Raphael’s sarcasm and sassiness wasn't just a Fred Wolf invention, he might have had a chance at becoming my favourite Turtle. As it is, I still don't have one, and it's not for lack of trying.
--Yes, I suppose Shredder doesn't have to sacrifice all his strategic thinking in the name of goofiness, but I'm not all that invested in seeing this balance kept. Lord knows I didn't come here
--Splinter showing up in the Turtle Van is great. Like I said, I love it when the secondary characters and "sidekicks" show up to help the main heroes instead of passively sitting around. Also, my inner child loves seeing Splinter get into the fray.
--And Splinter blushing is super-adorable. I can guess that Mirage purists probably at one point screamed at seeing Splinter described as "someone who doesn't believe in violence". Cry more!
--Ah jeez, another episode that ends with the apparent return of a threat, only for it to be something completely harmless. Somebody, somewhere, must have a tally of how many times the Fred Wolf show did this.
--I know some would have preferred Baxter remain one of the Shredder's minions, but I disagree for a bunch of reasons.
--First, it’s pointless to change a character’s form and personality but not his role. I know it was all predestined for marketing purposes, but even so....
--Second, some fun stories are told with Baxter as a wild card, working against both the heroes and the villains. I especially love his relationship with the alien computer, because of how bizarre and ambiguous (by this series' standards) it is. That’s better than his just being a henchman.
--It might also have been awkward for Baxter to keep hanging around the people who kicked his ass on a daily basis and then tried to kill him, but it’s easy to imagine Baxter being permanently lured into service with the promise of becoming human again, episode after episode, since he constantly gets fooled already.
--Not that a few more episodes with Baxter Stockman wouldn’t have been welcome, but he’s better as a recurring character than a regular.
--(And I never expected true closure for him, by the way. Or a return to human form.)
--So, while I like White Baxter a little more as a human, Baxterfly is still fun, and this is a good episode. It uses an A and B plot to mostly good effect, has some nice pacing and action sequences, and yeah, it’s pretty fun.

Animation Appreciation: FLCL / Fooly Cooly

“Anime is weird” is a stereotype I consider shed. With it might go a lot of the sense that anime is an inherently “cool” thing, but at the same time, now you or I can’t consider anime as this foreign, impenetrable thing. When there is a weird anime, it’s weird on an individual level.

And boy, is FLCL (read as “Fooly Cooly” or “Furi Kuri”) weird. But I mean that in a good way (when don’t I, really?) because it’s tremendous fun to watch and there is a story to be told.

Naota Nandaba is a very serious junior high student, trying so hard to be mature for his age, especially when the adults around him are so immature. Unfortunately, he has to contend with the inappropriate affections of Mamimi Sameji, his absent brother’s (ex) girlfriend (?), and the fact that a pink-haired, yellow-eyed woman on a Vespa has smacked him with a guitar and now robots come out of his head sometimes. And just what IS Medical Mechanica, the mysterious organization that’s set up shop in town with giant steam iron-shaped headquarters?


The message of FLCL isn’t profound: learn to act your age, or you’ll end up a wreck of a human being like Commander Amaro, a guy who thinks he’s grown-up but really isn’t. Naota should be a kid now, so that he’ll grow up later. But the series is stuffed with so much vivid imagination and bizarre innuendo that many can walk away happy.

There are many things I love about FLCL: its strangeness and the way it all manages to hang together despite that, the distinctive look and feel of the animation and art, the soundtrack by Japanese band The Pillows (“Ride on Shooting Star...”), and of course the robots. But the best thing is Haruko Haruhara, aka Raharu, that alleged alien who blindsided Naota in more ways than one.

After whacking Naota, Haruko comes to live with the Nandaba family, claiming to be a wandering maid. In some other anime, this would be a dream, but FLCL makes it that much MORE awkward because of Naota’s younger age and Haruko’s clear self-interest. She flirts with Naota outrageously, but her true purpose is far more mercenary.

All of this is disturbing, and doesn’t come off as entirely ironic, but parts of it are funny. Yet what truly saves Haruko is what her agenda is, and the fact that she is so delightfully uncouth. She picks her nose, wriggles her toes, and scratches herself...when she’s not involved in a frenzy of destruction or sexuality. A female character with this bearing is sadly rare, but Haruko manages to pull it off. Even when she’s obviously fetishized, Haruko comes off as totally in charge and totally hilarious.

Haruko’s entrance into Naota’s life ironically reveals his need to be a child, and she seems to have some genuine affection for Naota, but she also likes messing with him. I’m glad that she wasn’t just a special “alien girlfriend”, or purely evil, but was a complex character.

FLCL is only six episodes long, but it tells you..not everything, but enough to follow the story once you realize what’s happening. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and the entire thing is a damn joyful ride. Haruko is the best thing about FLCL, but everything else hardly lags. There’s nothing else like it, and that’s why it’s impossible to forget.