Thursday, January 27, 2005

Thinking over the current meme, my five favorite on-going manga series would probably be, in no particular order,

1) Hot Gimmick, due to its cast of likable characters, and an absolutely ravishing character-design style, for which my admiration only grows with time and familiarity. I just love that non-continuous, razored-line eye work. The soap-opera story is still working, too, although the author is getting very close to the end of her narrative rope on the main relationship by the end of the current volume - she needs to let it resolve, I think. It's not as if she can throw another violent sociopath or contrived recovered-memory trauma at the main couple every other volume, like the author of Mars did.

2) Bleach, which is just another disguised-sentai psychic-teen actioner, so I really ought to be ashamed of loving it as much as I do. But really - it's an *excellent* psychic-teens punch-em-up, with a fine sense of style, and some of the funniest, cleverest facial expressions in manga. It's built of nothing but cliche, situation, and stock-character - but the execution is so brilliant that I can't do anything other than gush.

3) Tramps Like Us, aka Kimi wa Pet, is a bit of a rarity in the manga released in the states, in that the characters are all actual, living, breathing adults. Nothing much ever really happens, but the nothing that happens just makes me happy.

4) Please Save My Earth just keeps cranking along, and it's definitely one of the series which I await, impatiently at best, every other month for the latest installment. I'm especially excited now that the story has gotten past the parts animated in the early-Nineties six-part OAV series. I can only hope that it's more Rin-and-Alice than Tamura and the rest of the stonefaces.

5) XXXholic, for the chill, stark black-and-white imagery, and Yuko, 'cause she's just cool. But Del Rey is *not* helping me keep to this love with the fourth volume's scanned-at-one-level-too-coarse ham-handed presentation. I don't care how expert the line-work is coming from the artists, if the production-line squiggles it all to pixelized mush. Damnit.

On the other end of the scale, I grabbed a few things from the Comic Swap's bargain-bin the other week, and found myself marching through Dark Horse's Club 9, which wasn't exactly attractive at $15.95, but was worth a whirl at half-price. I say marching, because it was something of a slog. There have been a number of folks talking up Club 9, but I can't see for the life of me why they would have done so, barring a knife at their collective throats, or some malicious urge to direct unwary readers towards experiences of pain and irritation.

Club 9 is a slice-of-life-sorta story about a north-country Japanese hick's young-adult life as she graduates from high school and goes off to college in Tokyo. Our protagonist Haruo is ugly, dim, unlucky, a klutz, and burdened with the worst accent since the days of Ma and Pa Kettle. Seriously, the translators make her sound like the sort of imaginary, stereotypical, inbred hillbilly that haunt the dreams of election-burned snobs all up and down the blue-state coasts. She uses idiot country similes too insane for Dan Rather, and drawls like a coke-addled Yazoo County beauty-pageant runner-up. It wouldn't be quite so bad if they were going the hush-mah-mauf sly-hick making fun of the snobs comedy route, but they aren't. We're supposed to find her endearingly naive and lovable in her stupidity. Hell, we don't even get to the titular Ginza hostess-bar setting until the back third of the first volume. Instead we have a tedious meander through baseball politics and the horrors of dorm-room hauntings and such.

It isn't as if the manga is particularly enjoyable to look at - the layouts are uninspired, and the character designs are like the retarded cousins of those early-Meiji woodcuts of cross-eyed, jellybean-faced galloots that get trotted out whenever an editor wants some offensive graphics to accompany something borderline racist and stereotypical about the Japanese. I could take that in a gag comic - but this is supposed to be about attractive, vivacious Ginza-bar hostesses! Bah, I say: Bah!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Ugh, wonderful. A skunk has crawled under the front of the office building, and is spraying its territory. We're debating how to deal with this infestation. Somebody suggested taking a sledgehammer to it. I said I'd like to see the person with reflexes fast enough to squish a mobile skunk. Even so, I can't imagine but smashing a skunk with a hammer would do anything other than splatter musk all over the place. Shooting it is right out, due to that pesky "100 yrds from inhabited building" law. Anybody got a terrier with more mean than sense?

Update: Well, I got tired of the kevetching, so I went out with our twenty-foot satellite-dish scraper to see if I couldn't convince it to move on. It was thoroughly dead - somebody found a blood trail leading under the porch, which suggests that it got hit by a car last night, and tried to burrow under the building for warmth. I couldn't get any leverage to pull it out from under the building with the scraper, so after I assured myself that it was pining for the fjords, I grabbed a heavy-duty iron rake and dug it out. It was something of a pain rolling the damned corpse to the trees at the back of the property, but I couldn't get it to carry on the end of the rake, and I was damned if I was going to touch a dead skunk with my bare hands.

Dave threatened to ban me from his apartment if I got sprayed, but dead skunks very rarely spray, so I suppose I'm off the hook. Don't know what the fuss is about. It only smells a little worse than Ben Hauger's catshit coffee.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Oh, that's excellent. Television Without Pity is covering Battlestar Galactica. I used to hang out at that website back when there were decent Joss Whedon shows on the air. Nice to have a reason to head on back.
Meme going 'round the blogsphere - describe your favorite movies in seven words, without hinting at the title.

I'm not a one for bestest favorites, but I do have my soft spots:

Weatherman wakes repeatedly to Sonny and Cher

Minnesotan hicks find plane, cash, and tragedy

Homer mugged for Southern nostalgia, oldtimey music

Urban Phildickian amnesia experiment by hatted aliens

I am Jack's description of this movie

Parisian musical with pop lyrics and absinthe

Stolen gold and doomed Shia perplex soldiers

Gunfighter dueling competition with Oedipus and Electra

Deathrow murderesses chase fame with musicial numbers

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Went out to do a sit-down lunch, the Inaugural came on NPR, and I ended up eating in my car, and then sitting in the parking lot at work until Bush finished his speech. I can be a sucker for ritual and rhetoric, in the right time and place. I wonder if that yelling you could hear behind Bush during his speech was protestors, or just random yammerers in the crowd?

The substance was unexceptional, heavier on foreign policy than I expected, given recent focus on domestic policy. He managed to get through the entire speech without a single direct reference to terrorism, managing even to cite the Koran as a source of private virtue underlying public policy. He preferred to go on about freedom, and countering tyranny. There was a line about force being only a peripheral element of the advancement of democracy - the signals in the speech were all telling against further military offensives. [Update - the line is "This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary." Transcript here.] I'm starting to think that rumblings about Syria and Iran are projections and phantoms. He didn't sound like someone getting ready to bang the war-drums.
Well, that was different. PSSFS has almost totally evolved past its GRANOP days; I was easily the least socialized individual at the meeting. Not only did they have milk and cookies (well, technically, milk and biscotti...) but they had them *nonironically*. At first, I thought it was some sort of Andy Kaufman thing, but no-body was goofing off on the ritual. It was just something they did. No fatheads, no geeking, no incoherent gibberish. Well, at least, not by my standards. I didn't recognize a single person there, which probably means that I was the only non-student in the crowd.

After the milk and biscotti and some club business about the new library (housed somewhere in the HUB, so we were told), they got down to the main attraction - an officer reading from a novelization of a Nickelodean kids' SF series called the Secret World of Alex Mack. I gathered that it was found during the move of the library holdings into its new digs. After the dramatic reading, they continued by watching some DVD episodes of Gargoyles, a show I really have no use for, sad to say. They still do the old four-column attendance sheet thing, but I didn't really have time to sit through an hour-and-a-half of American animation to stick around for the attendance sheet reading.

Nice to see that there is some generational improvement in the community of nerdom. Of course, it might be that the anime club has bled off all the sociopaths and Asoerger's Syndrome kiddies. But one must have hope.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I'm going to go parachute into a meeting of PSSFS, my old SF club. It's been years and years since I went to one, and I'm going to be passing through town for comic shop stock day, anyways.

I've been kind of hibernetical recently; there just isn't much of anything going on, and I barely have enough energy to do the nothing required of me. Got a rather astonishing credit card bill in the mail the other day - nothing I can't cover, easily, but still - the sort of thing that would have stopped my heart dead if I had gotten it back in my penurious post-college days. You know, back when I used to go to PSSFS on a weekly basis, and write their newsletters. I see that they've misplaced the old archives in the last re-design; I saved 'em myself, somewhere. I think. Looks like someone tried to start doing weekly newsletters through livejournal, although it seems to be defunct.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I got a look at the first three episodes of Ron Moore's new Battlestar Galactica last night. Satellite channel Sky 4 in the UK apparently got a hold of the new series early last fall, and has been broadcasting it all season long. Which would be all fine and good, except that Sky likes to put a station-identification logo permanently imbedded in the upper left corner of what would be the 4:3 section of the screen, if the show hadn't been filmed and broadcast in widescreen. Also, PAL material tends to come out funny when viewed on NTSC equipment, and all of the male characters had that characteristic PAL helium-whine.

All that aside, they were great episodes. It's rock-solid material, easily equal to the mini-series in all qualities. Spoiler-space for those of you not blessed with parasitic access to the gordiehoweverse:

The episodes don't have names, or at least, the versions I saw were nameless. If they had them, however, I would fully expect the first episode to be entitled "Thirty-three Minutes". We're introduced into the series in media res, as the rag-tag fleet races against an unexplained countdown. Fighters are scrambled, chaos on the communication lines as civilian ships slowly and painfully organize their planned "jumps" out of the scene to the next rendezvous point. As the count-down hits zero, the Cylons jump in, charging for the fleet. The defenses of the Galactica unload on them, as the rest of the fleet winks away, leaving the Galactica in a final rush to catch her fighters on the run, jumping away just before the first nukes pass through their position. They arrive at the rendezvous, and re-start the countdown clocks. Here we learn that this is something like the two-hundredth iteration of this particular cycle, and they've been running without rest or pause for five straight days. The episode itself is just as relentless and breathless as the fleet itself, with restless, urgent drums rushing the characters from each brief crisis to next, every face growing paler and every hand shakier as the minutes tick down on dozens of mechanical clocks and primitive digital displays.

The plot-threads started in the miniseries continue, seamlessly, through the three episodes viewed. Gaius Baltar continues to struggle against discovery, madly alternating between arguments with his ghost-Cylon haunt, and desperately "maintaining" before a bemused President Roslyn and an increasingly-skeptical Commander Adama, who insistently demands a "Cylon Detector" from the scientist, who made the mistake of claiming he could do so in the mini-series. Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama continues to serve as a bridge between his father-the-Commander and the President, and the scenes between the three are clearly being written as a sort of metaphor for a blended family, the President at one point exclaiming in frustration to Commander Adama that "he's *your* son", sounding for all the world like a step-mother arguing with her new husband over a problem-child from a previous marriage.

The episodes' context in the post-9/11 world is bleedingly obvious. Outside of the office on the Galactica which is being used for low-level fleet communications, the corridor is covered in the sort of "have you seen this person" collages which briefly dominated the streets of Downtown Manhattan in the wake of the attacks. In the place of the thankfully-declining body-counts of the 9/11 disasters, is a chillingly simple board mounted in the President's impromptu office, updated with a "survivor's count", with each loss tabulated with mournful exactitude.

To counter-act the somewhat claustrophobic prospect of a TV series set entirely in a series of corridors, barracks, flight-decks, and CGI, the writers re-introduced the character of "Helo", left behind on the nuked, wrecked planet of Caprica. I had expected this character to just drop out, slaughtered by the Cylons like the rest of those left behind on the colonies, but instead, his continued fight for survival on a planetary surface, which seems to be under a perpetual soaking down-pour, breaks up the dimly-lit ship-board scenes of the rest of the cast. They were able to use the revelation of "Boomer" as a hidden Cyclon to place her in both places at once, bear-leading "Helo" across the green wilderness of Caprica, while still playing her part in the primary plot on board Galactica. This hasn't paid off yet, but they've certainly planted enough questions about what the hell the Cylons are up to with this sort of thing. My guess is that the two of them are being used to ferret out survivors in the colonies for disposal, but it's just a guess right now.

The show has been extremely arc-heavy so far, to such an extent that I'm not sure if you could actually run it out-of-order without terminally disorienting all but the most fanatical viewers. It feels more like a season of the Sopranos than what I'm used to getting from broadcast or basic cable. There's very little given to the slower members of the prospective audience, which might be a ratings-issue. This isn't the tissue-paper piffle for slow-tops which characterized the original, disco-glam Battlestar Galactica, which often resembled nothing so much as Branson, Missouri in Space.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the rest of this, but I'm increasingly getting the feeling that this show isn't for the long haul - they're running through the plots at a dead run, and I wouldn't be surprised if they're intentionally writing for a one or two-season series.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bill Whittle, whom I sometimes find a bit overbearing and didactic, has a better-than-usual take on the dearth of liberal actor-politicians. He believes that good actors are hollow people, with no real interior life or ideas of their own, and theorizes that bad actors, who have too much self to be effective in their chosen profession, have a competitive advantage in politics. I guess. Anyways, check it out - not bad.

Monday, January 10, 2005

"There are places that are below sea level."
"Luckily, most of them are under water."

-Two programmers in my office just now, discussing a possible bug with our primary GPS logging application when used at apparent below-sea-level elevations.
I'm developing Political Tourettes, and I don't know what to do about it.

Twice this weekend, I found myself bursting out into profane rants in public about irritating media-leftist-bullshit, once while eating breakfast Saturday at the Diamond Deli over the world's most worthless city newspaper, the Centre Daily Times, once again after lunch at the Mike's Video extension on the corner of Bishop and Allegheny, while browsing the new-releases racks.

I apologized at the Diamond Deli as I paid at the counter, and since they're good folk, and the outburst really had nothing to do with the help or anything in their place, things ended amicably. It was just me ranting about a Knight-Ritter syndicated account of the tsunami relief effort that dedicated paragraph after paragraph to the "UN efforts" while giving only a half-paragraph to the US and Singapore, while managing to not mention Australia *at all*. That sort of fiction passing for news coverage just enraged me beyond all control. Not a big deal - half the blogsphere consists of such media-frustration-fueled rage. But the blogsphere isn't the homey diner on the ground floor of the Crider Exchange on Allegheny; it isn't public. Luckily, the only people in the place was the proprietor and a fellow coot who was also reading the CDT, and might be expected to have some idea what I was raving like a madman about. I got a pass.

The second outburst was not so negligible. I don't go into the Mike's on Bishop all that often - I don' t know why, maybe because I tend to go out to movies more often than rent for viewing in my cramped little place. That's going to be declining as well, since the owners of the Garman Opera Theatre on High Street have recently begun playing politics heavily with their property. Last week, while going to see the Lemony Snicket kid's movie on a Sunday matinee, I discovered the big shaggy mess on the far wall of the foyer which I had thought was some kind of grade-school kids' project was actually an enormous piece of anti-war propaganda, intelligible only at a distance of four to three feet. This went only half-way towards ruining my enjoyment of a Series of Unfortunate Events, as the movie was good enough to survive my morbid sensitivity to political nuance, thus irritated and aroused by the theatre-owners' apparent need to express themselves. But now they're proudly housing an art-film hagiography of the Death-Camp Mass-Murderer as a Young Beatnik, usually identified as "the Motorcycle Diaries" in the trades. Nothing pisses me off more these days than icons of St. Che, patron saint of humorless leftism.

Which brings me to Mike's, and my early-Sunday-afternoon flameout. They had a copy of Margaret Cho's latest video, complete with Cho in drag as a Che clone on the front cover. Margaret-proud-bisexual-Cho especially pisses me off with this Che-worship. Che's third-largest set of murder-victims, after political opponents and intellectuals, was the homosexual population of Cuba. He was the ur-homophobe of the new Left. What exactly is a fag-hag, bisexual flower-of-the-Haight activist like Margaret Cho *saying* by doing cosplay as a concentration-camp commandant? It doesn't seem like a tongue-in-cheek sort of thing, a gay Mel-Brooks-in-the Producers kind of thing.

But I degress: not having really examined the new-releases closely in a while, I found that a good sixth or eighth of the titles were leftist propaganda of some stripe or the other. Copy after copy of bad "documentary", thinly-veiled agitprop fiction, and Fahrenheit 911 clones. The local Democrat I poll-watched with on Election Day was firm in her conviction that Bellefonte was a conservative town, an unenlightened town, her classes full of Neanderthal brutes and lock-step Young Republicans. If this is such a conservative town, why is the only video-shop in town full of hardcore leftist documentaries and video-rants? I had myself under control until I came to the multiple copies of Bush's Brain, after having looked at a Bush-the-coke-fiend piece called Hooves and Horns or something like that, and I snapped. Started swearing my head off, in an outside voice - I believe I said something about locking my front door and not coming out for the next ten years or so, except with a few more "fuckings" and "goddamns" garnishing the sentiment here and there. The two clerks and one young man all turned to stare, and the clerk at the desk started to inform me that this was a "family shop", and that I couldn't talk like that here. I profanely informed her that if this particular Mike's was in any way a "family" rental place, I wouldn't have known from what I routinely encounter on the shelves, and quickly left before I became any more abusive.

I'm not prepared for this politicization of my neighborhood space. It's three months after the elections, and people are still leaving their yard-signs out; I had just passed someone's set of two Kerry signs a block up Bishop, walking towards town on the way to the incident at Mikes. As I have said, I tend to be somewhat morbidly sensitive to this sort of thing; I have difficulty putting political matters out of my head once they've gotten in. One of my best methods for forgetting about politics has been film/video escapism - available locally, solely from the very places which are putting on the Che, and driving me to distraction.

Sigh. I may look into Netflix.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Reviews like this tend to get me a bit crazed. The reviewer is supposed to be reviewing Stellvia, a pretty if somewhat flawed boarding-school SF/fantasy anime from a year or two back. Fair enough. The problem comes when he confuses Stellvia's boarding-school structure for a variant on one of the sports-anime subgenres, and proceeds to simultaneously complain that the show was derivative of the sci-fi sports anime Battle Athletes Victory, and bewail its failure to be like Battle Athletes Victory. Where to start?

Stellvia is a story about a gifted young teen who ships out to a space academy training a cadre of children and teenagers who will save the battered Earth from the second bow-wave of the catastrophic supernova whose first impact smashed civilization and brought humanity to the brink of extinction. The first part of the series is quite solidly a boarding-school story, full of young people stretching their gifts out into talents in the midst of class rivalries, sempai/kouhei relationships, and constant competition. You've seen this sort of thing before, if you've read either the Harry Potter novels, or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. As an example of the genre, Stellvia is OK. The first half of the series is lacking in serious conflict, tends to make mountains out of molehills, and requires a massive suspension of disbelief in the risks and demands placed on the children, but overall, the show doesn't suck. It sort of feels a little like where the students in Ryvius were going before the writers of that particular series flung them off into Giant Robot of the Space Flies.

Battle Athletes Victory
, for those of you reading at home, was a TV remake of OAV series which, rarely enough, improved on the original. It featured a large cast of implausible, genetically engineered female athletes, competing furiously on an orbital space station for the title of "Cosmo Beauty", a planetary queen-of-the-athletic-heap sort of deal. Stick the word "hyper" in front of most of the minor sports featured in the Olympics, throw in preposterously over-powered versions of the athletic events featured in Japanese school sports festivals, and garnish heavily with microgravity or weight boots, and you've got some sort of idea what goes on in your average BAV episode. It's loads of fun, but despite the Skiffy trappings, it's a sports anime.

Sports stories and boarding school stories share a number of characteristics - Harry Potter has Quiddich, and many sports anime have the living-in-close-quarters-with-your-peers elements central to boarding-school stories - but they're not really the same thing at all. BAV has only the slightest of interest in the hard-science details of orbital mechanics or hard-science-fiction rigor; Stellvia, while not perfectly hard science-fictional, wants very much to hold itself up as hard science fiction for the kids - in the Robert A. Heinlein tradition.

It's bad enough when otaku-come-lately stomp about and rant that a slightly-younger derivative anime is a ripoff of a slightly-older derivative anime, while displaying woeful ignorance of the actual traditions and original works which both are drawing upon; to indulge in such histrionics while mistaking the genres involved takes a special kind of negative genius.

Oh, well. It takes all kinds to make a fandom.
I'm back from Florida, but feeling deeply unambitious. I spent last night going through my manga, organizing and creating a huge pile of discards which I need to get rid of, if I'm not going to drown in a sea of pulp. I know where I can get rid of real books, at Fred Ramsey's place, even though I never actually avail myself of that opportunity. But what do you do with comics? When the last speculative bubble burst everybody remembered that mass-market printed material doesn't normally appreciate. Before then, comics shops would buy old comics; I don't think the 'Swap does that these days - at least, I don't see large shelves of used manga in the back.

Either way, my place is starting to get a bit swamped, and there's only a little space left back in the kitchen-area for another set of shelves. I suppose I could get a couple of those plastic garage-shelves and clean up the "spare" room, which is currently hip-deep in random detritus. Donate as much of my old clothes as I'll never wear, which is most of them.

Maybe it's time I actually cranked down and learned how to use E-Bay. That's how everybody else gets rid of their crap, right?