新世紀エヴァンゲリオン劇場版 Air/まごころを、君に/The End of Evangelion

[Screenshot]Good news: I am running out of Evangelion-related media to plague you all with my reviews of. In fact, this is the last one for a while.

So, End of Evangelion. The justification for this work is noble enough: the last two episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion were among the most pointless and incomprehensible thing ever to be graced with the name of “animation”. In addition, Hideaki Anno wanted to do it because he was getting death threats, which is good customer service but bad counterterrorism (if we send Anno enough death threats, maybe he’ll make End of Kare Kano, too!).

The first half (as seen in Death and Rebirth) actually slots pretty well in where Episode 25 was, with all of the characters more or less in the right psychological states and with the plot progressing along lines which more or less make sense (obligatory shocked comment: “Oh, Shinji, you didn’t.”). The SEELE assault seems pretty unmotivated, but, hey, they had no apparent motivation for the first 24 episodes; why should they start now? Most of what happens in this part actually works well, since there is minimal incomprehensible weirdshit and some authentically powerful scenes (Misato’s farewell and Asuka’s triumphant return particularly worked for me). So the first part (often called “Episode 25′”) worked, from where I stood. It was long on action and emotion and short on handwavy mindscrew.

But then there’s Episode 26′. And there it all goes to shit, diving headfirst into a tremendous amount of Jewish and Christian symolism as filtered throguh the sensibilities of people who subscribe to neither faith. Everyone natters about Adam and Lilith and Third Impact and Rei Ayanami, and then a giant squishes everybody into orange Tang. I felt like I needed better subtitles, or maybe an instruction manual. It’s monologuey and incomprehensible and surprisingly boring for an apocalypse. It’s still far better than the actual Episode 26, although some of that can be accounted for by the wise decision to actually animate people’s lips this time around.

Visually both episodes are spectacular, but I expected nothing less, really. The English dub is halfway decent. The actual film, however, is still kinda crap. There’s a no-win situation here: Death and Rebirth has the actually good parts of this but no closure; End has the closure but you almost wish it didn’t (Rocks Fall! Everyone Dies!).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

新世紀エヴァンゲリオン 劇場版 DEATH & REBIRTH シト新生/Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth

[Screenshot]Watching the “reboot” of Evangelion reminded me I’d never seen the original Evangelion movies, although I’d had both the beginning (oh, no, Shinji, you didn’t) and the end (mmm, orange Tang) of End of Evangelion spoiled for me. But I didn’t get good advice on what to watch, so I started with what I thoguht was the “first” movie.

I may be coming on a bit negative for the franchise, but D&R is, like the first episode of the reboot, a complete waste of time for anyone who’s already seen the TV series. Death is a 70-minute recapitulation of the first 24 episodes (read: the episodes which didn’t suck quite badly enough to cause fans to riot). So it’s almost all stuff we’ve seen before (unlike the reboot, in which the exact configurations of scenes seen before were lovingly redrawn, this actually is a clip show), somewhat out of order and framed by the presumption that Shinji, Asuka, Rei, and Kaoru are in a string quartet (sure, why not?).

It has far less of the extremely annoying navelgazey bits that didn’t work in the series, but it also has far less of the parts that did work, and rushes throguh the setup so quickly that bits might get lost. I dunno, I followed it OK, but that’s because I’ve seen it before.

Rebirth is the first half of End of Evangelion, which gets its own full-length review. Suffice it to say that it does not actually end satisfactorily, which is excusable for something which purports to be episode 25 of 26, but a bit of a disappointment in something which is the second half of what is ostensibly a standalone product.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe

There’s something to be said for being in the right place at the right time. With clever political placement, even an indifferent novel such as this one can be guaranteed an eternal place in history (and good sales in the short term, too). At its best, it’s vivid in depicting the evils of slavery, but unfortunately the visceral and effective bits are broken up by awful treacley sermons. There are good things to be said about it, most of them relevant to its political impact: some of the obvious objections to abolition were foreseen and addressed, so that even the rarity of a “good master” is presented as at best a temporary respite against inevitable evil. Unfortunately, the whole obsession with depicting particular agents as good and evil undermines the characters horribly. There are no shades of gray in characterization. There are evil slave-abusers, good masters who respect slaves, pious slaves who are good, and unsaved slaves who range from unthinking brutality to mischievousness until they’re saved with all the subtlety of a Chick Tract conversion.

It’s also a moderately uncomfortable book to read today. As the above list of characteristics demonstrates, these are not subtle nuanced characters but broad stereotypes. One can read stereotypical good masters and bad masters and slave traders and abolitionists without a twinge, but the stereotypical representations of the slaves are more often than not embarassing, bound up as they are in persistant stereotypes about black people (has a school board banned it yet? It uses the word “nigger” at least as many times as Huckleberry Finn, and uses far more familiar racial stereotypes).

There are parts of it that are enjoyable. Eliza’s flight to Canada mostly works, since it’s long on action and short on sermons. Tom’s stumbling into Christian allegory and martyrdom is somewhat the other way around, and more sentimental than authentically affecting.

See also: Wikipedia, Project Gutenberg.

Les Triplettes de Belleville

[Screenshot]Man. I’d heard that Belleville was bizarre, but I think I might’ve been totally unprepared for how very bizarre it was. The closest match in my experience, in mannerism and tone, is Tuvalu, but really this is a completely different kettle of weird and owns its special brand of batshit insane completely. It’s pretty much entirely a mood piece: reach for characterizations or plot and you’ll end up grasping fog, but it revels in its atmosphere of surreal grotesquerie. “Grotesque” is definitely the word: the cityscapes are dreary, the human figures variously squat, square, and unrealistically elongated, the action uneathly in its languor. There’s a certain old-fashionedness to its abstract blockiness (which kind of strengthens my comparison to Tuvalu, I suppose), which gives it a certain peculiar charm in spite of what must be admitted to be very ugly art.

It’s not for everyone, and it runs perhaps long enough to wear out its welcome, but it’s definitely original and unusual.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

ヱヴァンゲリヲン新劇場版: 序/Evangelion: 1.0

[Screenshot]There was much fanfare about the “reboot” of Neon Genesis Evangelion, because prevailing opinion is that the franchise was long on good ideas, short on execution that didn’t suck hard enough to make even a sadist profoundly embarassed for the creators. This was supposed to fix that so I went in prepared to have my socks knocked off.

Well, I’m still wearing my socks (and I don’t do that often, since they don’t go with sandals). Hideaki Anno may have a different concept of “reboot” than I do. Hellsing Ultimate and Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood are demonstrably different tellings of tales bearing a close relationship to the franchises they come from. They share plot, characters, and themes, but they’re fundamentally creative works, whereas Evangelion 1.0 was, to someone not doing a frame-by-frame comparison, almost indistinguishable from a clip show pulled from the first six episodes of the TV series. There is one plot-significant difference I could detect, and otherwise I felt like I’d basically had my time wasted.

Now, in fairness, the first six episodes of NGE were quite good, and the parts the reboot needed to fix up came later. But philosophically it feels wrong: if something’s rebooted, it’s nice to get an early definite signal that it’s taking a different take. Yes, presumably they’ll excise the sucky bits, but slavish devotion to the source material is not reassuring: it was slavish devotion to Hideaki Anno’s vision that made the original series a miserable mess, after all (well, that and running out of money. Apparently there’s nobody at Gainax who can take a large number of yen and divide by 26. Division by 4 is easier, though, so that won’t happen again, right?).

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Anime News Network.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

[Screenshot]Harry Potter is one of those dues most geeks have to pay just to keep up with trends. I’m on record as detesting the last two books, and steadily becoming less thrilled by the film franchise as it rumbles forwards as well. So nobody is more surprised by me to find that the film of the penultimate novel is actually pretty good.

One of the biggest problems with the franchise, in its final phases, was the increasing dichotomy between the essentially inane boys-own-story worldbuilding where school is the most important place and untrained teenagers regularly defeat the forces of evil and the attempted tonal shift to gritty realism in which J.K. Rowling periodically kills secondary characters to remind us that she is writing Adult Themes.

OK, that may have been harsh, but the point is that Rowling’s a bit clumsy at managing tone and film is a better medium for that sort of thing. Where the book was unable to take itself terribly seriously for more than 3 pages at a time, the film of HBP cleates a claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. There amy be a bit too much of Draco being moody, but overall it sets an atmosphere in which the dire predicitons about the gathering storm fit. It’s stuck with the plot of the book, unfortunately, which means that we still get occasional unfortunate inanities, most prominently the whole awful Ron-Lavender-Hermione love triangle, which is delivered in as unsubtle and cutesy a manner as possible. By way of contrast, Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright have a good screen chemistry, which is actually more believable than in the book, which swept aside the baggage of book 2’s awkward crush leaving nothing to replace it (it helps that movie actors grow up. Ginny shows no real character development in books 2­–5; in the movie we have physcial maturation as a shorthand for emotional maturation).

I’d put this in the short list of films which are actually better than their source material: it takes all the things J.K. Rowling can’t actually write too well and makes them shine. The parts which were stupid even before they were set down in prose are still stupid, but there’s more good than bad here.

It would be interesting to see if Yates can salvage the dreadful mess that is Book 7. Maybe we’ll get a movie about Voldemort’s coup and/or the student resistance force, both of which are far more interesting subplots than the extended camping trip that makes up most of the main plot of Deathly Hallows.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia.

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas, père

I liked this one enough to read it twice to get it right. I first checked out a copy from the UofL library, which didn’t list the translator (but did list an illustrator, oddly enough), and which opened by a note from the unnamed translator whining about how people don’t have time to read great books these days and how much needs to be be cut to satisfy them and so on. Which probably should’ve been a warning, because this edition is a horrific butchery, to the point that most of the plot threads are missing important parts.

Which brings us back to reading the full version (mine was the Buss translation). This is a monster of a book, and none of it is wasted. This is no Les Misérables, from which you could excise any given 50 pages about the convent system or the battle of Waterloo or the history of the Paris sewers or what-have-you and still have a readable work. It’s a taut and clever narrative, with plots on plots, zillions of characters, tangled relationships, and subtle subterfuges. It’s a thrilling and entertaining adventure yarn, and packed dense enough that if you blink or skim, you miss a lot. They just don’t make ’em like this any more, alas. It’s a fantastic romp, and there is no royal road to experiencing it. I guess this ended up more as a screed against abridgement than an actual review of the book, but avoiding abridged editions may be, in this particular case, the most important piece of advice.

See also: Wikipedia.