Princess Nine episodes 1–4: Out of the park

[Screenshot]This one appeared on Anime Network VOD, probably by accident. It doesn’t conform to their usual standards (one episode per VOD item and not obviously a DVD rip), it’s subtitled instead of dubbed, and it doesn’t appear on their schedule. Oh well, I’ll still take it, and be glad I did.

Now, this sort of thing is (I am given to understand) why the Japanese comic market is booming while American comics are dying a slow death. It seems like whenever the two are compared, the Japanese are conceded to win on medium-marketing (the B&W mini-volumes with real plots instead of monthly pamphlets of decompressed story) and on “diversity”. In this context, “diversity” is almost always “they have sports comics and we don’t”. Never mind that there are a number of genres and themes explored by manga that American comics don’t scratch: sports is usually the first one mentioned in these discussions. Of course, Princess Nine is anime, not manga, but the two keep pretty close company, and the state of American animation is nearly as dire as the state of American sequential-art, so the comments translate well.

Anyways, as that little screed implied, Princess Nine is a sports story. As a rule, I don’t much go in for sports: I’ll sit in front of a TV showing a game if I have my crochet and I’m hanging out with people who are watching, but I don’t seek it out. So knowing that this series was about baseball originally left me feeling underwhelmed. I was surprised to find it absolutely delightful. To start with, baseball is a framing device, not the main thrust of the story. Whole episodes go by without anybody playing baseball, which is fine with me. So that leaves us with plot, which there isn’t too much of so far, and characterization, which is where P9 shines.

We start with Ryo, who is a charming enough character that even if the others were shoddy this would still be worth watching. She’s optimistic, perky, clever, and has enough conflicts to not be nauseating. And she’s well-drawn with a good voice-actor too. Really, there’s nothing not to love, from a sympathy point of view. In terms of verisimillitude, the one flaw is that she’s perhaps too with it: both junior-high-schoolers and anime girls are traditionally terrible angst-monkeys, and it’s kind of weird to see a basically well-adjusted specimen of both groups. THe other characters get less screen time, and aren’t too well developed so far, except for the infuriating charmer Hiroki, but they show promise. I saw an intense drama-storm brewing from pretty much the first 10 minutes where the Nice Guy and Ryo share awkward hint-dropping about their feelings for each other, but I guess that’ll get better elucidated on in, oh, say, 5 episodes or so. Anyways, the characters seem to exhibit thoughtful design, and good voice-acting helps a lot (academically, this is one of the few anime series I’ve seen recently in sub rather than dub. That helps). The artwork aside from the characters is sort of minimally functional: it works, but it’s not going to win any prizes. But I’ve enjoyed the character interplay. Lamentably, AOD seems not to be airing the next 5 volumes, so I may have to actually rent or buy. I could live with that.

See also: ADV Films Website, IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

The Shop Around the Corner: Push my buttons

If you can’t guess where I’m going to go with this one, you either don’t know me well enough or don’t know the one aspect of this film that I’ll fixate on.

To further elaborate on my obsession, this film is set in a leather-goods shop just off of Andrássy út in Budapest. Which obligates me to wank about setting for a paragraph or two. Overtly, the setting bears a passing resemblance to Budapest, and in particular, to the southern end of Andrássy, arcitecturally and designwise. Perversely, though, it resembles modern Budapest more than pre-war, in terms of characters’ styles and the climate in which they live. Any film set in late-30s Hungary seems damnably artifical without some sort of political undertones. There’s some element of bourgeois/working-class interface in Margaret Sullavan’s interaction with the customers, as well as with the presumably higher-class employees, but Klara Novak is no Anna Édes (probably a good thing, really). But this is all really unfair, because I’m comparing it to Hungariana whereas this is not Hungarian, nor meant to be, but is merely set in Hungary. One final comment before I shut up about setting: the vocabulary and orthography on display is generally correct, except for two things: first, I’m pretty sure the “Co.” part of “Matuscheck és Co.” wouldn’t appear in ’30s Hungarian (which was still linguistically pretty pure, and “company” is not a word in Hungarian), and second, while “Matuschek” might be a preserved German spelling, nobody in Hungary would have a Christian name spelled “Ferencz”.

So, er, shutting up about the setting, and moving on to the story and acting, which I rather enjoyed. The plot was good at the time but has since become a commonplace, not least because both the original stageplay and the movie have spawned remakes. Another digression: this plot, unlike most film plots, has actually become more credible in the revision. Not that You’ve Got Mail was a good movie, mind, but it has a more credible underlying device than its predecessor. People hardly ever send paper mail to complete unknowns, if for no other reason than that a postal address is something of an identity, but a tremendous amount of online contact is anonymous or at least semi-anonymous. End digression, back to actors. Jimmy Stewart plays a fairly typical Jimmy Stewart role, comic, a bit madcap and jumpy with a slightly cruel sense of humor, and very American (no,r eally, this is the last time I mention that this film’s supposed to be set in Hungary). The whole performance sort of orbits around him, althoguh the supporting roles are well-done too, although Sullavan comes across as a bit colorless: the male roles seem to shine a lot more, somehow.

Anyways, it was nice good honest fun, and I’m sorry that most of what I have to say about it is Magyar-fetishism.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

ヴィーナス戦記 (Venus Wars): You say you want a revolution

This one definitely had its high points, but they got lost in the shuffle. Th artwork was quite well done, reminiscent in ways of Akira, but that may just be the motorcycles in a futuristic run-down cityscape (and the fact that in the first ten minutes we’re treated to a view of a team of competitive bikers whose headgear looks an awful lot like the Clowns’). The story doesn’t quite live up to the potential of art and setting, though. The big problems are music (we’re treated to a lot of mood-destroying Casio noodling) and theme. There’s an interesting antipolitical message fighting to get out of this story, but it keeps getting obscured by the action. A typical progression contains about 3 dialogue lines of ruminaitons on how whoever you’re fighting for they’re in the wrong, followed by 15 minutes of battle scenes. Then you’ve forgotten what they said 15 minutesago, so they start over from scratch ruminating about how oppressive governments and militaries are between battles. It’s a worthwhile thing to be slipping into a film, and this film plotwise can accomodate it, but it’s just not actually there.This actually serves to further make the film’s already abrupt ending seem inconsequential: they win a battle and suddenly, woo, Aphrodite autonomy is re-established just like that. But wasn’t the fact that the Aphrodite authorities were no better than the Ishtarians a major theme early on? Is it only the good Aphrodites in power now? So unfulfilling.

See also: IMDB, Anime News Network, AniDB.

Gimme Shelter: Slipping the gears

Ah, 1969. Back when the Rolling Stones were merely grotesque instead of deathly and a white woman could unironically shill for the Panther defense fund. A time of innocence and rebirth, or at least, that’s the hype. Movements, like everything, have life cycles, and the inspiered creative movements of the 60s aged fast. They surely reached their maturity at Monterey Pop, where free spirits and creativity merged in an ideological fervor that seemed like it could burn away the evils of the world. By Woodstock the movement seemed to have lost its edge a bit: despite the tremendous “good vibes” cited in association with it, there wasn’t much actual there there, ifyou will. And at Altamont, surely, is where the 60s died.

Gimme Shelter does a very effective job of portraying Altamont’s many, many flaws. The most colorful of those failures was of course the recruitment of the Hell’s Angels as security, but the organizational failures were legion. Essentially, none of the facilities were appropriate to the crowd. We’re told about parking problems, shown sanitary and medical problems, and and the design of the stage area was obviously flawed. There was nothing intrinstically wrong with a lot of people getting together for a music festival, but squeezing all those people into too small a space is a recipe for tragedy. The Hell’s Angels were certainly not a wise choice, but Altamont was doomed even without their help.

I’m surprised by the extent of the candid video of the planning, of the crowd, etc. I guess I shouldn’t be, since candid/crowd shots made up a lot of the Woodstock and Monterey Pop videos, but I guess I view Altamont more as a train wreck than a festival, and it seems weird to me that there’d be so many video cameras around a disaster. The choice of footage brings up an intriguing question, as well: exactly to what extent was Altamont a greater disaster than Woodstock? Both have become their mythos, and footage used to depict them is representativeof the myth. I’m sure there’s footage of major organizational crises at Woodstock, and maybe even footage of people having a good time at Altamont. But instead it’s all Mick Jagger bitching out the audience and Marty Balin getting the crap beat out of him. In fact, in the end, Meredith Hunter’s death comes as a downright anticlimax, although it’s generally presented as the most damning physical evidence of Altamont’s organizational fuckups.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

A Clockwork Orange: The algebra of violence

I read the book a year or so back (and failed to write about it, boo me), so I had a pretty good plot idea before I watched it. In addition, I’d had occasion to watch with friends previously but only through the attack on the health farm. So I had a hazy knowledge of this film, but not much.

What struck me most was the strength of the acting. In particular Malcolm McDowell’s acting: the supporting characters were OK in a scenery-chewing sort of way (in particular Patrick Magee, who could’ve afforded to tone it down a notch or two). But McDowell’s Alex catured the character right: he was sociopathic in effective ways, with facets of cold brutality, charisma, and twisted humor. That for me really made the movie. The cinematography was well-done too, unsettling and a bit off-kilter, and of course coordinated with the music. Kubrick’s coordination of music to action is always good, and it served well in a film where music plays a pivotal characterizaion role. Wish I’d seen this before. It is brutal, dehumanizing,and traumatic, but it’s so well-crafted.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Viskningar och rop: Static cinema

This was a difficult one for me to really get into: the film felt like it was keeping me at arm’s length from its characters and themes. Points, then, for effectively relaying the characters’ self-imposed isolation effectively in the medium; but the problem with this is that the film itself, to a large extent, felt distant and unapproachable. The plot and characterizations didn’t give me much to invest in: Maria and Karin are clearly damaged by their circumstances, in different ways, but we’re given such a necessarily superficial view of the characters that they don’t seem dramatic or pathetic, and their slow bloom from their emotional winters don’t have the impact they would for characters I’m given a reason to care about.

One cinematic technique I observed and rather liked was the artifice of distance. Dialogue shots would be interspersed close-ups and personal shots rather than scenes, so the idea of distance between the two participants was blurred. This worked particularly well, I thought, in the dinner scene with Karin and her husband. I was led to believe their dinner table was at least six feet longer than it actually was.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Neco z Alenky: Went asked Alice, but still confused

Neco z Alenky had many things going for it from the synopsis I read. Lewis Carroll, central European cinema, and stop-motion animation: are those not individually the very essence of awesome? I must confess, the result was far, far darker than I would have imagined. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is whimsical and charming. Jan Švenkmajer’s film has little whimsy and no charm. The result is, to say the least, different, but intriguingly so.

Two strong points in favor of this adaptation: first, the technical aspects are spot-on for a specific unconventional but clearly intended feel. The settings, and the camerawork, are bleak and, even more importantly, claustrophobic (we will revisit claustrophobia when/if I write about Tma/Svetlo/Tma). The stop-motion is a bit crude, but cut it a break: it was in the 80’s and on a limited budget. The second, and perhaps more impressive positive is the extent to which aspects of the source material come through in this rendition. That the source material is recognizable at all is notable, since Neco z Alenky diverges fairly radically in tone from Alice in Wonderland; while Alice does have disturbing aspects, these are generally secondary to its lighthearted spin, and focusing on the disturbing aspects is (a) not done and (b) difficult to pull off in a non-gimmicky way. It works here: really it does. Somehow, the ghoulish trappings of each character work well and play off the actual aspects of that character. The Mad Hatter and the Caterpillar were in particular good, and I liked how the Caterpillar was introduced in what seemed to be a somewhat irrelevant sequence.

So what didn’t I like? Probably more than anything else, the one thing which could disappear and make the film a lot better is every single close-up on Alice’s lips. The metatextual commentary is cute at the beginning, but by the end of the film it’s just tedious.

Oh, one random comment I have to make that doesn’t fit anywhere in particular: I’m amused that the cards are not from a traditional 52-card deck, but a William Tell. That’s so central European.

So, in short, it’s not actually Alice at all, but it’s all sorts of Alice-like awesomeness.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia