Monday, September 30, 2013

Superman vs Zod (SPOILERS for "Man of Steel")

            You know, in real life occasionally good people have to choose between killing someone and letting that person hurt an innocent third party.  This happens when a person has to sniper someone to save a hostage.
            In the ending of the movie "Man of Steel" Superman is forced to kill in hand to hand a madman bent on the annihilation of all life on Earth (that goal is stated by the villain in no uncertain terms, his desire to destroy is clear).  This is just the superhero version of the sniper and the hostage, the sniper being Superman, the hostage being the world.
            The biggest issue people seem to have is this, "Superman does not kill."  Which I do not know where they get that from.  I suppose it is their own preconceived notion toward the character, that they think of Superman is boring and can do no wrong (those are in fact the complaints I most hear about the character).  And I would say that the biggest complaint people have against Superman is that he manages to effortlessly solve problems, making it hard to identify with him.  By having the final conflict of the film be Superman vs Audience Expectations turns out is a far more interesting fight than Superman vs Zod.
            For whatever reason people expected Superman to somehow get out of the situation, I knew what was going to happen pretty much the moment I saw Zod no longer on the Kryptonian ship, his only end was going to be death.  By putting Superman in a situation that he has to compromise what people feel his values to be should make him more "human" or identifiable in the eyes of the audience.  I actually cannot figure out why it didn't.  This is something done far better than it has been presented in the past and sets up an interesting starting point for the new series.

And speaking of interesting starting points, go read JMS' "Superman Earth 1" which has two hardcover trade paperbacks out that have a rather cool take on the character.
            The reason superheroes don't kill to start with is because they need recurring villains. If Batman killed the Joker, then there would be no more Joker stories, and no more Joker action figure money. Superman's bad guys lack the option of being caged in an ineffective asylum so the idea of Zod being in prison is a hard idea to accept. If they wanted to they could have had the story end with Zod being thrown into the Phantom Zone, but they made a choice to have Superman kill Zod, which by the way: HE DID THAT IN THE REEVES MOVIES TOO.  Zod is a monster bent on genocide, why would you want Superman to leave him alive?

If you care for more of this, here is some more of me writing about "Man of Steel" and "Star Trek Into Darkness" for good measure.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hero vs. Protagonist

            People do not understand the terms, "Hero" and "Protagonist".  I keep hearing people describe Walter White of "Breaking Bad" as an Anti-Hero, mostly because he does criminal activity for understandable reasons.  Yeah he is not a "hero" at all.  He is a villain.  He is a villain protagonist.
            To be fair this is a problem created by a cultural norm started with a lot of older movies.  The norm was to portray the good guys in the protagonist role, giving them clear motivations, causing people to think that motivation = heroism, and that main character = hero.
            Truth is, bad guys have motivations, they make decisions just like everyone else in the world and can be motivated by simple or complex needs and desires just like a hero can be.  Luke Skywalker is a hero, he does the right thing for the right reasons (though gains complexity as he does endanger himself and his friends for the sake of trying to bring his father back to the light side), Han Solo starts as an anti villain, does the right thing for the wrong reasons (saving the princess for reward).
            On the other end is Walter White who starts as an anti-hero, doing a bad thing for a good reason (cooking meth to pay for his care and to leave his family something after his death), then moves into full blown villain as he does things out of pride and greed overlooking extreme violence or committing violent acts to continue with his criminal lifestyle even though he doesn't need to.
            Villain protagonists are not common and so people tend to call the main character the "hero" of the story when that is more and more not the case.  TV is a cluttered medium, and in order to gain traction with an audience TV is taking steps toward more and more violent, nefarious, or just evil characters.  This has made things much less heroic.
            Look at the nominations for best series, "Breaking Bad" (show about the complex world of drug dealing), "Homeland" (terrorism), "House of Cards" (political intrigue and dirty dealings), "Mad Men" (ADVERTISEMENTS, is there a greater evil?), "Game of Thrones" (Dark fantasy with mass murder as a series highlight), "Downton Abbey" (Classism and idol rich).  Compared with 2000: "ER" (doctors saving lives), "Law and Order" (cops and lawyers fighting crime), "The Practice" (more complex, lawyers seeking justice and paychecks), "The West Wing" (ultimate romanticized political drama), and "The Sopranos" (the mob).  Things have gotten a lot darker, with only a couple shows analogous to each other and most modern shows taking after the tone of "The Sopranos" more than any of the others.
I have cancer, that makes it okay for me to hurt people in the pursuit of massive wealth.
Just for my own amusement to illustrate my position I am going to list a few of each type of character alignment.
Hero (right thing, right reasons, right methods):
Movies: Luke Skywalker "Star Wars", Hercules "Disney's Hercules", Batman "The Dark Knight", Atticus Finch "To Kill a Mockingbird"
TV: President Bartlett and pretty much the whole cast of "The West Wing", Doctor Green and pretty much everyone from "ER", Ned Stark "Game of Thrones", Hank Schrader "Breaking Bad"
Comic Books: Superman "Superman", Captain Marvel "SHAZAM"

Anti Hero (right thing, questionable reasons, questionable methods)
Movies: Batman "Batman", James Bond "Skyfall", General Patton "Patton"
TV: Jack Bauer "24", Walter White "Breaking Bad" (Initially), Tyrion Lannister "Game of Thrones", Stannis Baratheon "Game of Thrones"
Comic Books: Wolverine "Uncanny X-Men", Jesse Custer "Preacher"

Anti Villain (wrong thing, right reasons, questionable methods)
Movies: Tyler Durden "Fight Club", Will Munny "Unforgiven", HAL 9000 "2001: A Space Odyssey"
TV: Saul Goodman "Breaking Bad", Theon Greyjoy "Game of Thrones" (Very Close to Villain)
Comic Books: Black Adam "52", The Authority "The Authority" (Initially Anti-Hero), Magneto "Uncanny X-Men"

Villain (wrong thing, wrong reasons, wrong methods)
Movies: Joker "The Dark Knight", Hannibal Lecter "The Silence of the Lambs",
TV: Tuco Salamanca "Breaking Bad", Walter White "Breaking Bad" (Later Seasons), Ramsay Snow "Game of Thrones", Gregor Clegane "Game of Thrones"

Comic Books: Apocalypse "Uncanny X-Men"

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Anime Season for JACT, part 2

No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys' Fault I’m Not Popular! (Watamote)
            This is one of the rare times that the short Japanese version is preferable, but that is only because the title's length is supposed to be a joke.  This is one of those rare comedy anime in which most of the humor works even on American audiences because it is mostly about the extreme awkwardness of the main protagonist, a teenage girl who gets all of her ideas about social interaction from dating (porn) video games she plays.  It successfully juxtaposes her dark antisocial personality, the sadness of that, and the fact that what she wants (friends and a boyfriend specifically) are totally at odds with how she sees the world (referring to socializing people as "sluts" and envisions them having orgies at karaoke clubs, though nothing explicit is shown the implication is that a girl is masturbating with a microphone).

Since her normal appearance is just like any other sulky anime character design, they often go out of the way to super detail animate her when she tries to make herself look pretty or ugly, either way she ends up looking awful.
            Complaints: a lot of people were laughing really hard at different parts that I didn't find funny, I found them pathetic and sad.  Being unable to talk to people and then begging a sibling for help to form some kind of social interaction is not funny, it is sad.  Her brother then lamenting having to help her deal with this (just through the simple act of listening) is also sad, if your sibling talks about suicide and then begs you to help them find a voice to talk to people you shouldn't then try to ignore them, that isn't a joke, that is not a punch line.  If anything that should be a turning point in the show.
            In sum: a funny dark comedy about an unlikable protagonist that approaches moments of being a little too mean spirited for my taste, but then brings it back a bit.  Could stand to have a little more heart in my opinion.  This was also voted a keeper.

            I swear to god this show has the best opening teaser I have seen in a long time (that links to the whole first episode), a woman with a camera takes pictures of political intrigue, as she walks away to document the evidence she is run down by a car, the driver then destroys the memory card to the camera and drives off leaving her to die in the rain.  That is gangbuster television.  It then cuts to an anime opening about a school club based around trying out various candy and snack food and the wacky shenanigans the club members get up to.  I swear to god it is like they spliced five minutes of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" into the opening of "Bring it On".  There are also moments of politics and big pretentious speeches about school financing that have too much overture and take the series from goofy fun to grim serious in a half second.

Okay, this show has 7 female characters and made the color coded hair thing work.
            Complaints: the tone of this show is totally fucked and completely jarring.  The scenes of humor start off as relatable and fun, real friends interacting with one another, like an episode of "Boy Meets World", then it gets odd with more and more surreal humor like a guy with a propeller sprouting out of his head just spinning for no reason, and a guy with a mask that no one but the main character notices (Metaphor?).  The political intrigue stuff is from another show and is stupidly framed around student council politics (Commentary?) and just seems out of place next to the stupid goofy comedy.
            In sum: I actually was willing to give this strange blending of genres another go but it was voted down.  Maybe the political intrigue would make the comedy parts less zany, and the comedy would make the politics less pretentious, I don't know, and I guess it doesn't matter.

            This show is competently drawn boredom centering around little girls growing up.  There are four characters, the retard, the retard's stalker, the butt monkey, and the one in glasses.
            Even More Complaints:  This show is shit and I can explain why.  When you have a show that centers on Magic, Aliens invading, or other non-normal things you typically like to set the stage by having the normalcy of the main characters lives played up, each has some simple characteristics and backstory that people can easily grasp so that when the odd stuff shows up they will not get hung up on characters they can't connect with.  It is like how "Sailor Moon" and "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" had very typical teenagers as their protagonists but each had their own role in the team.  "A Channel!" has no supernatural element, it is just boring easy to identify teen clich├ęs.  It is padded to all hell and there is no plot to notice.  Maybe it is supposed to be funny, but it is mostly just NOTHING.
            In sum: I don't want to watch it, and neither did anyone else, it had the fewest votes for continued watching.
Does anybody know what the hell we are even doing here?

Free! (Iwatobi Swim Club)
            This show kind of confounds me.  It is a fanservice show.  It is about a group of childhood friends (all guys) who grew apart when one moved away.  They are all swimmers and the show seems to have them get dressed only so they can disrobe to bathing suits dramatically and often.  Lots of abdominals, lots of ass and crotch shots.  The whole thing seems to have been created backwards, a 30 second commercial for the show was created by an upstart animation team to showcase their talent, the commercial for a show that doesn't exist went viral, a lot of fan-fiction was written, and to capitalize on a market that they created the team then made a series.
            Complaints: the characters are kind of boring.  They are a boy band: the cute one, the loner, the jerk, and the big softy.  I am not a fan of fan service, I kind of grew away from sexualizing cartoons and have a hard time getting into boobs that are drawn.  Now I have a show that is showing off illustrated male bodies, so before I was 'meh' now I am at whatever level of caring that is below 'meh'.  My biggest complaint will sound insane though: it was not voted to be a regular.

There is a shocking amount of pornography related to this show... Maybe not that shocking.
            There were more women at the JACT meeting last night than I have ever seen at a meeting, and much like a ladies night out to see "Magic Mike" they were hooting and woo-ing at "Free!"  They came to watch "Free!"  Since it isn't a regular, not a lot of them will come back, so the club will revert to a much more mono-gender setting and that is bad.  I don't necessarily want to hit on all 20-40 women there, that is lecherous even for me, but I like having people to talk with about what we all are watching that are not the same people every week and not all of them should be the same gender.  Instead the club just didn't vote for it, and I imagine more than a few of them looked at the show as "gay" and wrote it off for that reason.  Now I will admit, the show isn't good, but I like the idea of another group coming to JACT for the show they want to watch and then getting some other stuff with it.  Broadening the appeal without necessarily deluding the content.
            In sum: it is fine, I am not who it is aimed at and there is a place for this type of show.

If you are a fan of Anime and are inexplicably still reading this I recommend JesuOtaku as an anime reviewer over on her own site and ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.

Anime Season for JACT, part 1

            I belong to JACT, a club at Florida State University based around watching Anime.  The full title is "Japanese Animation Club Tallahassee".  I cannot call myself a fan of anime, because anime is not a genre, it is an amorphous and arbitrary grouping of animation from Japan (though seeming all animated in Korea), and I mostly watch it when I am looking for a show that has very uncommon subject matter (uncommon for an American, in Japan this stuff could be seen as an everyday thing).
            Last night was the first meeting of the club and they previewed 7 different shows, the first episodes of their respective series and everyone voted on which they would like to see more of (the 7 were chosen by the club officers).  I have chosen to give my two cents here because I didn't bother to go to Chili's after the meeting so as not to spend money.

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
            This is the biggest pop culture thing in Anime since "Full Metal Alchemist".   "Titan" was a popular choice to display, and I will give it this credit: SHIT HAPPENS.  In the first episode the series establishes the cultural dynamics, some religion, some politics, and some allusions to deeper mysteries, then the 200 foot tall skinless monster blows through the defenses and unleashes an army of creepy faced, people eating giants on the denizens we spent the last 15 minutes getting to know.
            Complaints: This show has a problem with pacing, the first thing shown in the entire show is the giant skinless monster, the second thing shown is one of the smaller (but still giant) creepy faced people eaters.  When making a monster movie/show, you don't immediately show the monster, you build to the revelation, showing it off the bat has the same issue as premature ejaculation, the monster is the money shot, you don't start with the money shot.

This is like the first thing you see.
            Also the first episode has five episodes worth of material in it and the condensing robs a lot of what happens of its dramatic weight.  A person's legs are crushed by a falling building and the heroes have to be pulled away from trying to save this person, if we had spent more than one scene with this person (no exaggeration, she was there and her next scene is being crushed) then her death at the hands of a creepy faced giant would have been shocking on an emotional level rather than just gore soaked (she could have been the Ned Stark of the series).
            In sum: poorly paced but never the less intriguing introduction I want to watch more.  Kind of reminds me of the movie "Starship Troopers".  And it is a keeper, JACT will be watching an episode a week for the semester along with the other regulars (only three of the initial seven become regulars).

Bullet Rebuttal (Dangan Ronpa)
            Based on a videogame, this is a "Battle Royal" knock off in which all of the victims look like they were stolen from either a terrible "StreetFighter" rip off, or possibly an episode of "YuGiOh!" (Look at the hair).  The villain of the story communicates with the victims via a robotic teddy bear.  For the most part each "character" acts in accordance with how they should act, the thug threatens, the fighter picks his punches, and the fat guy is an asshole.

I guess when you have 15 characters your designs have to move past the usual, Green, Red, Blue hair coding.
            Complaints: real problem is, they are not characters, they are arch-types, at least at first, I am sure the show and game flesh them out. Since the main character of the show is based of the main character of the game, the player, he is a blank slate openly telling the audience through voice-over that he is not special in anyway.  The art style as I mentioned is really over the top to the point of self parody, and the premise has become too commonplace in pop culture that this seems like a tremendous waste as it does nothing interesting with the concept to call its own.  Think about this, the concept of children being confined and forced to murder each other has become too prevalent in pop culture for me to find it intriguing.
            In sum: it looks bad, is overshadowed in its premise, its characters are one note by design, and while it might have worked as a game allowing the interactive element to explore things give it a gimmick to break out, this is just a show that has to boil down the concept out of necessity.  Unfortunately it is one of the shows JACT voted to keep watching.

            The logo looks like "Final Fantasy XIII", and... This show is a mess.  The first episode is actually 47 minutes long so for the sake of time we only watched the first half of it, so it is possible the second half makes it come together better, but what I saw had unnecessary and distracting flashbacks, pretentious dialogue, and it explained both way too much and way too little.  There was a glimmer of hope for this series when it focused on a student character, that was basically arguing for the overthrow of the aristocratic/old-money themes that the world endorses, but that is swept away for a gloomy protagonist whose story is convoluted and very poorly presented.

Look at this Logo.
Notice any similarities?

            More Complaints: the blocking on this show is insanely incompetent.  Massive rooms in which the main character stands at the center (I am not joking this next part literally happens) two characters then walk circles around him for no reason while they explain to him the gargantuan blocks of text that are the rules of this setting, dropping terms and nomenclature that mean nothing to the audience and explaining nothing in any way that can be understood, humans don't behave like this.  The scene actually shows chairs and a table that they could comfortably sit and explain things maybe with cut-away visuals to epic magic battles or still images of what they are talking about, you know, visual storytelling.  Instead the "camera" focuses on one guy as he walks and talks, then the other guy walking and talking, then on the protagonist who doesn't move or say anything and is unnaturally still.
            In sum: maybe the budget for the show's animation was trim and they needed to save it for the things they allude to but it is boring to watch, confusing and boring to listen to, and when it was over I did not miss it.  It was not voted to be kept.  (We watched a bit more, and it did not improve the experience, here is a much more lengthy review.)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Goodwill Book Shopping

            While I sit here hiccupping I shall relate a random incident that happened to me recently that I hope does have some entertainment value.

            I was at a Goodwill looking for old copies of books the add to the pile of books I have to read but have not knuckled under and read making my room look more fit for a very literate serial killer.

            All that said, I did find a trio of books I though to buy.  They are fantasy novels from the early 90's based in the Dungeons and Dragons world of "Dark Sun".  This was a desert wasteland setting, probably meant to feed of the nerds who recently discovered Post Apocalypse fiction thanks to "Road Warrior" and "Beyond Thunderdome".  TSR, the makers of Dungeons and Dragons mostly did their own thing creatively but they also knew a fun image of imbeciles going through the desert searching for power has an appeal to disaffected youth (as the zombie genre has been doing to diminishing effect for a decade now), TSR mostly just added dinosaurs and bug people.

This is the first of the three I bought.  What I am amazed by is that this novel is still in print.
            Anyway, I had the three books and was in line and I looked over to the VHS display they had next to the front door, a young woman was flipping through them and pulled up an erotic yoga tape and then held it up for me to see.  This was weird and random, so I glanced behind me and saw the guy she was trying to motion to and said, "I think I intercepted something," and pointed her out to him.

            At this point she is mortified because she has been trying to goofy flirt with her husband (the guy I made pay attention) but had mostly been accidently hitting on me.  "Don't be embarrassed, it is funny, the sort of random thing you laugh about later."  As she turns crimson.

            I believe people need to remember that other individuals can see what is going on.  You're not online or anything and thus it won't get you sent to a gulag or fired, but it is awkward to do stuff like that with so many people in the direct line of delivery.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Poem, "9th Street"

"9th Street"

8          9th is the first street off the coast
8          where the Greedy recruit raw meet
8          and then the raw meat becomes roast.

7          Money changes hands swiftly
7          one hears a deal they snap on
7          others hear differently
7          and somewhat inconsistent
7          a penny or dime was here
7          and now missing wear, go bare
7          a hundred times a minute.

8          That crate?  Does it have Nine Bottles?
8          Isn't it supposed to be 10?
6          One was cracked in shipment
6          nothing else could we do
7          so we gave it to the crew.
7          A refund to the buyer,
7          To whom we almost sold short
7          What is next to do in port?

8          Unloading barrels of liquor.
8          And spirits, but also quicker
8          some other solid goods: hardtack,
8          salted pork, and pickled fatback.

9          Sign there, then here, then lets grab a beer
9          leave this paper with my friend named Greer.
9          He will make sure your numbers are clear.
9          He'll seal it, mark it, make it secure.
9          Checked for rightly flecked inking stealthy
9          the spots that will make us all wealthy.
9          While we do drink ourselves unhealthy

9          Untouched in banks hard work does mature


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Letter to John Green

            I had a dream with you in it.  And I understand how terrifying and unpleasant most letters from fans must be when they start with those words so I will assure you this isn't one of those.

            In the dream we were having dinner at what I think was a burger diner.  I did most of the talking as you seemed rather distracted, might even say you looked the sort of person who is being rendered uncomfortable by the necessity of being polite.  I talked to you about being a fan of crashcourse and how when I was in high school and undergrad I had wanted to write biographies for use in middle and high school social studies programs but for one reason or another I never managed to parlay that drive into results.

            I told you how I admired you and other people on youtube that have managed to put out more and more engaging educational material, and you told me that you liked what you were doing and offered a bit of encouragement, and then you got up to leave because you wife was there to pick you up.  Since I have no idea what she looks like she did not appear in this dream (though I gather she looks less pregnant than she had before so congratulations on that).

            So as soon as you left the table and were out the door, I got the check.

            I don't know why I thought you would be interested in hearing about a dream in which a guy compliments you and then you stick him with a bill.  Maybe a laugh?  Maybe you are making the face from the dream, uncomfortable by the necessity of politeness' demands.  Either way.

            I also find it strange that I have been getting Mental_Floss the magazine for years and only a few months ago subscribed to the youtube channel... and then never watched a video, only finding out that you hosted the thing via a mention in the crashcourse hot dog eating contest video... Life is funny.

            I will soon be entering into grad school for the last time that I can foresee.  Finishing out one Masters and more than likely the second... Don't really know where I am going with this sentence.  But, whatever.

            Please continue to make things I like.  In exchange I will continue to enjoy them.  That is the only trade I am prepared to offer.

Hope you are well,