プリンセスチュチュ/Princess Tutu, episodes 1–26

[Screenshot]Appearances can be deceiving. You would think that I would be a decade and a half too old, and have one Y chromosome too many, to properly enjoy a story about a magical-girl ballerina who dances to collect magical macguffins. But Princess Tutu is just that. It’s also, in fairness, a madcap dash through fairy-tale and mythological tropes, and plays extensively with metaleptic elements. It is, in short, a meatier and more mature story than a brief summary would suggest, and there’s a lot of awesome in it. It takes a while to get going: the first 4 or so episodes really are quite formulaic, with Mytho being drawn into some sort of conflict with a character with a heart shard, followed by Princess Tutu coming in to save the day aroundabout the 16-minute mark. But as the characters question and explore their mythic roles, it really starts to grow interesting.

Moving from the excellent plot and pacing (aside from a slow start) into technical details, there’s little cause for complaint. The art’s generally good and the music is unavoidably good, drawn as it is from about a half-millenium of great classical pieces (music, and in particular ballet music, plays a significant role in-story, of course). The English dub is actually surprisingly good, except for certain untranslatable language quirks: “-sempai” is translated as “senior”, which doen’t actually work as an honorific for an older student, and the protagonist Ahiru, which sounds at least vaguely like a few Japanese female names, is referred to in translation as simply “Duck”, which does not. Oh, did I mention that the protagonist’s actually a duck? It’s part of the seemingly random but actually significant surrealism that pervades the setting. If you start watching, it’s worth continuing to the end, if only to figure out that, yes, there’s actually a point to all the anthropomorphic animals.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network, AniDB.

No Country for Old Men

[Screenshot]I’ve generally liked the Coen brothers. They’ve done quirky things at all levels of seriousness, but No Country for Old Men completely failed to do it for me. It felt in some ways like their early mediocre opus Blood Simple, which was, like No Country…, taken up chiefly by the desperate evasions of people getting killed and trying to avoid getting killed. They maybe reached the sweet spot with this particular plot in Fargo, and haven’t really matched it before or since. It’s basically a thriller, which is not really their genre. It’s more sophisticated than that, but not by much. And it wants so badly to be sophisticated, as in the completely genre-shifted coda of the old-timers lamenting how much the world’s changed, which has the dual problem of not actually being true and feeling tacked on. But ultimately it falls between two stools, and the Coen brothers’ best talents for refuge in absurdity are really not on display at all.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon

Mark Haddon is best known for his thought-provoking and unusual Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, but to a certain extent that didn’t show him to best advantage. he’s great at drawing the inside of a character’s head, which served him well, but he’s also good at playing their mental irregularities for comedy:w hich would have been, in Incident, rather boorish. So in this book, one might say, he’s given his skills free rein, and it works mostly. It is brilliantly funny while possessing an edge of poignancy (since it’s still about mental irregularity and even illness, but in a soft enough light that it’s unlikely to be regarded as offensively insensitive). Pretty much every one of his characters is neurotic, and their neuroses are drawn with an equal measure of love and scathing wit. Watching them bounce off each other is tragical fun, and it ends on a high note. Essentially, this book takes many of the stronger points of Incident, and gives them a safe playground to romp in.

The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, by Julian Rubinstein

The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is an interesting slice of Hungarian culture. What fascinated me, reading the story, is how screwed up the society it describes is, which is actually far more interesting than the fairly incompetant antihero who exposes Hungary’s complete dysfunction. It has fascinating trainwreck qualities, watching Ambrus make absurd, ridiculous mistakes, staying too long at jobs, spending his money completely conspicuously, and leavign a trail any idiot should be able to follow. Actually, it almost seems that one of the primary reasons Attila Ambrus escaped the police so long was their assumption that he was far cleverer than he was: if they’d thought to ask cab drivers if they’d shuttled a robber away from a bank, or made discreet inquiries at casinos about big spenders who don’t seem to have actual means, they’d presumably have gotten their man earlier (or maybe not, on the latter: it may well be that the casions were full of big spenders whose fortunes were of dubious origin, probably mostly drug dealers). So in many ways the reaction of the country was far more interesting than Ambrus’s shenanigans. Althoguh he too is an interesting character study in self-destruction: the aforementioned screw-ups, and his constant wasting of money, seems to point up a self-destructive personality, or at least one that subconsciously wanted to be caught. This actually makes a lot of sense in light of Ambrus’s claimed need for attention. On that front, it seems that getting caught actually made him happier — his story’s out now, and he’s gotten his notoriety. And it’s a story worth reading, partially for his own wacky character, but also for the wacky character of the setting. Early-90s Hungary was a weird place going through capitalist growing pains. The peculiar cult of the robber-hero, and the police’s fumbling helplessness, is a part of that story.