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April 8, 2012 / Bradley

My Destiny is a Pair of Kitty-Kat Boxing Gloves: “Weekly” Press #03

Dammit. This post is roughly three weeks too late. I don’t have much in the way of reasons, since for most of that time I simply didn’t feel like writing a new entry. But even though I’m neither paid nor widely read, I still feel some guilt about skipping those few weeks. Good writing comes from writing regularly, and writing regularly only happens when one pushes through those moments when they don’t feel like writing.

The primary reason that this week’s press has earned a set of sarcastic quotation marks around “weekly” is because I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 recently. I’ve had a largely monogamous gaming relationship with Dota-games for the last few years. Between Valve’s new game, Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends, most of my playing time has been dominated by games inspired by the Warcraft III mod. It connects with my love of strategy and competition, with a nice mix of high tension and relaxing lulls where I can sit back and plan what to do next. Valve’s take on the game has lovely graphics and a lot of details to its presentation that have really enhanced what’s basically a port of the original mod. And since it’s a port, I’ve finally gotten around to playing some popular characters that Heroes of Newerth never ported, like Windrunner, who may be my favorite hero ever after only five games, or Invoker, who I’m terrible with but love to play, since he’s a flexible hero who seems to be able to do everything almost competently. If you happen to be in the beta and want to play, let me know.

This “week’s” post is actually my selection from roughly two or three weeks ago.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 008th MS Team (1-12) (Complete)

I can only think of a handful of anime romances that work. Most romances are tied to comedy, though, and usually undercut any emotional involvement by stretching out the will-they-won’t-they to an unbearable length, since these cartoons are normally about jokes, not love.  I suspect part of the reason Onegai Teacher and Ano Natsu are well liked is because they are primarily, sincerely romantic series, and people want more of that than the tantalizing bits we’re given elsewhere that are never followed up on.

08th MS Team is knee-deep in Gundam lore. It takes place during the final weeks of the One Year War, when Zeon’s hold on Earth is eroding. If that sentence didn’t make a lot of sense to you, that’s okay, because 08th MS Team is compelling not because of its contribution to the Gundam meta-story, but because of its characters, story, and wonderfully detailed, thought-out setting. But most of all, it’s compelling because of its Romeo-and-Juliet romance between two soldiers, one a Federal mobile suit squad leader, and the other a Zeon mecha pilot closely tied to a secret project that could single-handedly re-assert Zeon’s dominance on Earth.

The two of them fall in love while stranded in space after a skirmish, with the planet Earth as a backdrop. Which is probably the best place for anyone to fall in love in all of science fiction, and was part of the reason I was so involved in hoping that their love would be realized, despite the overwhelming odds against. The other reason, and what I suspect is the primary reason it’s so well loved, is because all of the characters, especially our Romeo and Juliet, are extremely likable and admirable. It’s an anime romance that works, and had me emotionally involved in its outcome in a way I haven’t been in a long while.

There’s more than just romance that keeps it going, though. The series explores the implications of ground mecha combat in the jungle, and Federal and Zeon forces’ tentative relationship with the locals, who simply want to be left alone but because they are in proximity of a secret Zeon research base, can’t and won’t be. It has one of the best meditations on violence and warfare in its eighth episode, where a tense situation that no one wants to explode in violence does because of a misunderstanding. And that misunderstanding becomes tragedy, since in this case, everyone has a weapon. Nobody had to die, but a lot of  them did.

The story is a bit disjointed because of a rocky production history, but that doesn’t take away much from its impact. Truth be told, this is about the most affecting Gundam series I’ve ever seen. The Gundam OVAs I’ve seen so far have all eschewed its forerunner’s grand sweep for more personal stories inspired the grittiness and realism Tamino’s work aspired to reach. The results are far more mature than what 0079 or Zeta accomplished. This is Gundam that anyone can enjoy. I know people often find Gundam intimidating, for very good reasons, but between this and War in the Pocket, there are great ways to enjoy Gundam as long as you love good characters, good story and good animation.

Rating: ****

Ookami-san and Her Seven Companions (1 – 8) (Dropped)

The ease and accessibility of streaming anime means that I sometimes take a risk with something I’d normally pass on. Ookami-san was one example, which Funimation was advertising fairly heavily in the run-up to its DVD release earlier this week. I gave it a good run – eight out of thirteen episodes! –  but eventually dropped it. I like it when a series tries to develop its characters and their relationships, but in the case of Ookami-san, that meant taking quirky characters I enjoy and making them boring stereotypes.

Not that the characters were very novel to begin with. The titular Ookami is basically Exhibit A for tropus tsunderus, as a tough acting, kitty cat boxing glove wielding, 120 lbs. girl with an explosive temper who can bring the pain. But she was still fairly charming, perhaps simply because I find tsundere to be a perfectly tolerable trope, but also because she fit in well with the rest of her companions, who are all a mish-mash of otaku and fairy tale tropes. The thing is, she’s not content to be interesting- no, deep inside, she wants everyone to recognize that she’s secretly the stereotype of a very girly-girl. I get what they’re going for here by trying to make her a more complex and interesting character, but this is an example of the ineffective romance I talked about earlier, with a fairly lengthy will-they-won’t-they and whose conclusion means that the only way she’ll find love is if she stops acting like that the very person that made her interesting in the first place, to be all dere and no tsun. There were also a lot of hints about her Dark Past, and it seemed to have something to do with rape, and you know what, I just don’t think I trust this show to handle that with any grace. Once I started falling asleep through episodes I knew it was time to quit.

Rating: **

Lupin III: Sweet Lost Night 

Lupin specials in the Aughts are almost entirely defined by consistency. You know what you’re getting into, and the production staff more or less deliver exactly that, but when you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve seen nearly every Lupin movie and special, they all tend to bleed together into your mind, even when you’re in the middle of watching a new one. They’re that similar. About the only defining feature of Sweet Lost Night is an especially absurd opening heist where Zenigata has wised up enough to Lupin’s twists that he predicts his every move for a lengthy stretch that reaches comical lengths. Beyond that, well, there’s not much else that stands out. Girl in crisis, weird science-fiction-y treasure, outrageous, cartoony action. I like it as is, but part of the reason I have such a strong affection for many of Lupin‘s earlier, weirder incarnations is because they were different, and better animated to boot. But I don’t mean to sound so sour- there’s little to complain about for this special.

Rating: ***

Genesis – “The Cinema Show”

Progressive rock was the genre of music that greatly expanded what I thought music could be and what it could do, and, most importantly, how to really enjoy music. Too often we play music as noise to be absorbed while we do something else. And while that’s fine for some music, much of the best work ever done requires you to do nothing but listen. So close your eyes, lean back in your chair, and listen to Genesis’ “The Cinema Show.” It’s one of my favorites- a ten minute epic that builds and then sustains incredible highs, all with a whole album’s worth of catchy hooks.

Join me next week when I write about a mecha-and-cute-girls series that I actually like, a psychotic suspense series, and more.

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