The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

[Screenshot]The 5,000 FIngers of Dr. T was very much destined for cult-classic status from its release, as long as it managed to not actually be successful, as indeed it was not. Its chief claim to fame is that the chief creative talent behind its creation was Dr. Seuss, who then disowned it. His hand is oddly not all that visible in many aspects of the film: while the backgrounds are unmistakably Seussian and the lyrics of many of the songs resemble Seuss’s wordplay, the intervening dialogue, the characters, and most of the foreground decorations are really not all that remarkable. The story occasionally veers into entertainingly crazy territory, but mostly feels like a product of its time, all in all. It falls into a sort of boy-hero plot which seems rather relentlessly 50s, and for enough of the running time the piano-related lunacy is in the background. My expectations may be my fault, but nonetheless I can’t help but think this film squandered its opportunities to be truly fantastic. Only the wide-angle outdoor shots really capture a sense of magic and unreality.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

Post-timeskip Elfquest: Hidden Years, Shards, and New Blood

[Screenshot]I am kinda not a fan of timeskips. They smack of lazy storytelling to me. Nonetheless, after Kings of the Broken Wheel, the Elfquest main storyline was a bit of a mess, with about half the principal characters having a millenium of storyline to catch up on, which the other half completely jumped over that bit of storyline due to plot contrivance. What followed was an astonishingly fragmented storyline, not all of whose confusions could be blamed on the temporal weirdshit.

The short version: Hidden Years starts off following the KotBW principal characters, with occasional one-shot diversions. Then a new quest starts and the group splinters into two: the questing group gets their story told in Shards, while the Wolfrider core group goes off and wanders aimlessly in the remainder of Hidden Years. Meanwhile, over in New Blood, a raft of second-string writers are churning out increasingly dire material, including—I kid you not—a Smurfs crossover. Eventually, Team Elfquest decides there are better stories to tell, with greater continuity, and decides to put the New Blood writers onto building storyline out of the largely obscure crowd of elves who aren’t featured in the other two storylines. Eventually, New Blood ends up tellnig two different stories: one rather compelling one recounting a rather peculiar encounter with the descendants of humans featured in prior storylines, and one apparently pointless one concerning an unlikely and apparently plot-irrelevant invasion of Sorrow’s End. So we have 4 storylines, of varying quality and relevance.

It perhaps goes without saying that I was, in the main, unimpressed with the muddle these comics represent. Part of this is, perhaps, my own fault. I was reading them on the Kindle, which is not, perhaps, how they’re meant to be viewed, since they actually have vibrant color which is more than a little useful in distinguishing among the characters in the enormous cast. Another problem, and one which the gallery layout does little to prevent, is that I was reading them serially: first Hidden Years, then Shards, then New Blood, while the stories therein are really meant to be read in parallel.

However, even accepting the limitations of my own reading, I’m dubious about these storylines. The aforementioned enormous cast of characters makes it hard to be too emotionally invested in any of them, and the plot itself (er, plots themselves) doesn’t feel as compelling as the original series. As for the art, it’s stylistically moderately different, but I’m not sure I can in good conscience call it inferior: it’s simpler and less busy, making more use of color contrast (see above re my misfortunes on the Kindle) and simpler designs.

Ultimately, I’d say this is worthwhile for anyone who felt the series was left hanging by KotBW, but I wouldn’t really mark it as a must-read except for completionists.

See also: Wikipedia, Free online gallery.

Liar Game

[Screenshot]Liar Game is glorious. It kicks The Manga Guide to $MATHEMATICS_DISCIPLINE in the nads and steals its lunch money. Artistically, it’s not much to look at: it’s passable but not great. But it has terrific fun storylines. You know all the crazy “you know that I know that you know that I don’t know whol Kira is” headgame shit in Death Note, and the way everyone skirts around the rules and comes up with clever ways to rules-lawyer the Death Note to their advantage? Liar Game takes all that and adds a generous helping of mathematics to it. So if you like your comics fiercely analytical, you’ll love Liar Game. There’s probabilitiy, game theory, and a shitload of psychology. And it’s all held together with interesting characters and a solid frame story (which at present seems to be built on a rather contrived foundation, but figuring out the contrivance underlying the LGT is, apparently, one of the major long-term revelations in the story, so we can reserve judgment on that one).

See also: Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

The Wire

[Screenshot]Once upon a time, a former Baltimore Sun reporter named David Simon decided to bring his experience of Baltimore, and in particular of the criminal and police interactions, into every home in America on the small screen. Thus was born one of the primary bar-raisers in police procedurals, Homicide: Life on the Street. Today, Homicide is still quite respectable, but it lacks the punch it did back in the 90s, because several other shows have adopted its realistic style. So it was high time when Simon returned to the Baltimore crime drama in the 21st century with The Wire. Except, this time, it was on HBO, which let him get away with a lot of crap which you can’t do on a broadcast network.

Some of what he was free to do was the usual broadcast/non-broadcast difference in decency laws: he was now free to write a scene consisting of nothing but people saying “fuck” (gimmicky but OK once), pepper the street slang with uses of the word “nigger” (appropriate realism), and include occasional onscreen simulated copulation (acceptable but rarely actually necessary). But where he really had a free hand was in pacing, plotting, and explanation to the viewer. The first episode does little to draw you in: it spends a lot of time on bureaucrats and gangsters shouting at each other in jargon and very little explanation of what’s going on. On a network, that would be an unmitigated disaster. On HBO, it’s just 1/13 of the intended first-season story arc. And by the end, a viewer who’s been paying attention will understand a lot of what’s going on (just in time for the second season and a return to complete ignorance of what a ‘RO/RO’ is or how the docking seniority system works). It
s compelling and gritty, and full of lots of characters. It’s not patronising (but one sometimes wishes it would be, just a little), and it doesn’t pull its punches. It has a (seemingly appropriate) cynicism about politics, bureaucracy, and race relations in the city. Other, better reviewers than myself have enumerated the series’ best points, so I figure I’ll just present my (extremely subjective) rundown of the seasons from best to worst.

Third season: There are about a hundred plots in this one, all of them interesting and none of them underdeveloped. The breakout from the level of the street to the upper echelons of the police force and city government is well-handled, and there’s astonishing long-term plot progression and character development. The series could even have ended with this one and it would be strong.

First season: Where it all started. There’s one plot and it’s hammered hard. The multiple facets of the principal characters of the next several seasons are exposed with subtlety and skill. The street-level realism and interpolice bickering are developed to just the right level to not feel gimmicky, and the end of the arc provides effective partial closure.

Second season: Neck-and-neck with the fourth season; the prison subplot’s more absorbing than the elecvtion issues, but the dock is a marginally less interesting environment, and more removed from the main focus, than the inner-city schools. It’s a nice contrast to see some white people on the criminal end of things, but this season has the disadvantage of having fewer characters who tie into the long-term story.

Fourth season: See above with respect to plotting. On other points, the school plot is a bit darkened by hobby-horse cynicism, but even with such imbalance, this remains an enjoyable and enlightening set of episodes. The political elements drag a bit, thoguh, especially on the points which are far removed from the police-hierarchy issues.

Fifth season: Where David Simon gets really cynical, I’m afraid. He’s a bit too close to the Baltimore Sun to be objective here, and he spends a lot of time developing “good guys” and “bad guys” in the newsroom. He can see shades of gray everywhere but at home, I guess.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

봄여름가을겨울그리고봄/Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

[Screenshot]Spring, Summer… is a surprisingly thematically rich film. I caught the last 20 or so minutes of it on TV at one point, but otherwise didn’t know overmuch about it, and I’d missed out on everything that led up to those 20 minutes, which considerably diminished my appreciation. It is chock-full of symbolism, most of it at just the right level: with symbolism there’s always a danger of either aiming too high and seeming pretentious, or too low and seeming patronizing. For the most part, the symbols in this film occupy a comfortable middle ground (although the Spring flashbacks near the end of the Winter segment were perhaps unnecessary).

It’s visually lush too, which makes the long, slow panoramas a visual treat. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual “scenery porn” traps of assuming the visual spectacle is sufficient in its own right, but always gives us something to chew on in front of the scenery, even if the action is languid. Many of the thematic elements are exhibited through nature, so the serene naturalism of the setting is really quite appropriate. One setting idiosyncrasy I noted was bound up with the themes and symbols I’ve already mentioned: a strong emphasis seemed to be placed on boundaries and passages, but, oddly, the passageways existed outside of the contexts in which a passageway makes sense. The monastary had interior doors but not interior walls. I was actually halfway convinced this was a cinematic/theatrical convention akin to the minimalistic sets of Our Town and Dogville, since everyone used the doors when traversing areas — except for a single instance, during the apprentice’s nocturnal creeping in the Summer segment. Likewise, the wilderness in which the monastary is situated is accessed by a gate, with doors that close, and, as with the interior doors of the monastary, they’re used compulsively, and seem to represent an explicit separation between the scenes of action. This is among the many stylizations which is simultaneously easy to appreciate and difficult to fully comprehend/

So, as I’ve gone on about, this film is pretty deep with symbols and themes. Boundaries, and, as the title suggests, cycles, but also a surprisingly un-Buddhist theme: penance. Over and over again, the apprentice undergoes ritual absolution. Parts of this, morally, feel more like elements of director Kim’s Christianity than the Buddhism he’s attempting to channel. But that’s a quibble. I certainly don’t expect it to necessarily recapitulate a single belief system slavishly, although many of the overarching messages, particularly the dangers of desire, are consistent with what I know of Buddhism.

There’s a lot to like here. It’s visually stunning, in service of considerably more than just being pretty. Plotwise it’s a bit light, but there’s a lot going on onscreen that’s not, technically speaking, plot. Not much in the way of complaints though. Its languor touches on the overdone once or twice, but not enough to be a deal-breaker. The role of women in the story is somewhat unfortunately objectivized — and a bit chilling, if one reads the Autumn segment as involving the same woman as Summer (which is implied strongly, but not stated outright).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

北へ。: Diamond Dust Drops

[Screenshot]If one were to take, say Macross 7, Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Diamond Daydreams and ask a random American which one is based on a videogame, probably none of them will choose right (unless they’re an even incidental anime buff, in which case they’ll already be intimately familiar with the first three and choose the fourth by process of elimination).

It’s actually a pretty clever approach to repurposing a property. Take a dating sim, remove the (necessarily cypheric) protagonist, and what do you have left? A context and a bunch of well-characterized women. That actually works astonishingly in Diamond Daydreams, shifting the genre from romance to slice-of-life realism. The underlying schtick is that the story is set in various Hokkaido locations. It’s a change of pace from anime which are usually either set in Tokyo or in ill-defind rural areas. Various Hokkaido communities are lovingly recreated in detailed backgrounds, with their own individual local geography, character and individual complications for the characters who live there. This is a series with a low barrier to entry for someone who’s not an anime buff: the whole series is only 13 episodes, but more to the point, the two-episode story arcs are each standalone — there’s even fairly minimal character crossover, and no plot crossover. As a result, there’s a certain “light snack” quality to the stories; they’ve got some drama, but they are all more-or-less resolved after 40 minutes (the closure is often only partial, which is presumably to lend verisimillitude). The characters are likable (OK, except Kyoko), and their crises are believable and sympathetic.

The only real downside of this is that the series may seem a little colorless and lacking in intensity, but, hey, it doesn’t always have to be about the world-shaking and world-ending struggles of titans, does it? Oh, and the fact that the opening animation (and awful poppy accompanying music) has essentially no thematic or plot compatibility with the series as a whole.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

BPAL: Iago, Imperious Tiger-Lily, #93 Engine, OM Ackerman’s Toys, Satyr, Tezcatlipoca, White Rabbit

The last part of the recent order. Imperious Tiger-Lily was a freebie.
Some flailing attempts at masculinity