Sparky Clarkson

No. 6 review

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May 112015

No. 6 is a short series (11 episodes) that works really well for quite a while, but crumbles in its closing episodes. It starts as a boy named Shion living in a utopian city helps and feeds an injured child named Rat. Four years later, it’s clear that this moment of kindness has essentially ruined Shion’s life, casting him out of the city’s elite area and into the life of a menial caretaker. In this role he stumbles across a secret that is killing the city’s people and is sentenced to death for discovering it. Rat rescues him, and from there the story develops, exploring their relationship and their conflicting attitudes towards the city (Shion wishing to save it and Rat to destroy).

This goes very well for several episodes, although I felt the show should have spent more time with the boys and with Shion’s friend Safu and less with his mother’s travails within the city. When it comes time to actually deal with the city, however, the story falls apart. From a relatively straightforward sci-fi dystopia the story suddenly shifts to one about a magic bee goddess out for revenge. There are some strong character moments in these episodes, but it goes overboard with near-death and actual-death experiences, not to mention a really silly deus ex machina moment.

Worse, the show ends with an off-putting moment of ambiguity as Rat kisses Shion and then departs. This works better (but still is not fitting) in the manga, where we are at least told (if not convinced) that Rat is a free spirit who needs to wander. The anime does not emphasize this idea, instead adding immediately before this a moment where Rat resolves to stay with Shion and die in a collapsing building rather than flee and save himself. In this context, where if not for the intervention of Magic Bee Jesus, Rat would have given up his life to stay with Shion, his decision to walk away moments later is inexplicable and alienating.

The late turn into fantastic nonsense and the forced ambiguity of the ending doesn’t undo my enjoyment of the preceding episodes, but it makes the series feel incomplete. The show I was watching for 8 or 9 episodes never ended, and the show I was watching in the last 2 or 3 never started.

May 042015

Because I got to watch it for free on an airplane, I recently saw The Battle of Five Armies, without having seen the previous two entries in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. I was so struck by it that I decided to go through the whole trio of films on my own. Having done so I feel I can say with certainty that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films are the most startlingly inept adaptation of book to film that I have ever seen. They are bad movies in themselves, and they are even worse in the context of the book from which they were drawn. They were so bad I went back to watch The Lord of the Rings just to convince myself I hadn’t imagined my positive reaction to them.

I hadn’t; I still like The Lord of the Rings movies. They have their problems, but in them Jackson showed appropriate restraint both in removing bits of Tolkien’s books that weren’t really necessary and in adding as little of his own invention as possible. This is important because Jackson’s additions to the plot were generally not very good. Most were entertaining nonsense, like the appearance of the Elves at Helm’s Deep. At worst, they were insultingly stupid, like his changes to Faramir’s arc or the incident he added on the stair to Cirith Ungol. Yet at his very best Jackson managed to add masterful scenes like Denethor eating the chicken in The Return of the King.

His additions reach no such heights in The Hobbit. Few of them even ascend to the level of entertaining nonsense. Radagast is a Jar-Jar-level disaster of a character, and the entire subplot involving the Necromancer’s castle is only marginally comprehensible even if you’ve already watched The Lord of the Rings beforehand (I can only imagine what a mess it is for people going in cold). This is to say nothing of the dozens of actiony sequences added for no reason other than to make it seem like something was happening in a given chapter of this bloated mess of an adaptation.

Worse, Jackson seems to have lost whatever knack he had for creative deletion. The “break the plates” song is actually in here, despite its complete disagreement with the tone Jackson casts over everything that follows. I’m somewhat amazed we managed to get through this trilogy without any elves singing “fa-la-la-lally down deep in the valley”. A wise adaptation might have discarded this nonsense as too time-consuming, but seeing as Jackson managed to commit himself to showing every minute of the Battle of Five Armies and also pissing away some 15 minutes on the tale of Alfrid Lickspittle without bothering to resolve it, time was no object.

Of course I have yet to mention Jackson’s worst, and most controversial addition, Tauriel the elf, who exists so that an actual woman will be in the film somewhere. I am sympathetic to the complaint that Tolkien’s works are sausage-fests and that women deserve representation. However, adding an elf-woman whose main task in the plot is to lust after one of the dwarves and be lusted after by Legolas (a less-bad addition) doesn’t accomplish much. Besides, if you wanted to shoehorn a female character into this story over the objections of fanboys the only correct course is to gender-swap Bilbo. His character arc of going from a state of uncertainty and incompetence to a state of capability and moral strength through intelligence and empathy rather than physical force is one that’s typically given to girls anyway, and the gender swap would add interesting dimensions to the dwarves’ reluctance to accept Bilbo as a useful member of the team.

Of course, Jackson couldn’t have done this even if he had the onions, because he seems not to understand what the story is about at all. Everything about the staging of the films and the incidents he adds speaks to an unrestrained desire to make this into a massive, epic story, which The Hobbit is not. In the first movie Jackson actually adds a moment where Bilbo bravely leaps forward to defend a defenseless Thorin from an orc, essentially negating the point of Bilbo as a character. The whole idea is that Bilbo isn’t a classic warrior hero and he needn’t be. Peter Jackson doesn’t get this; thus the Battle of Five Armies, which occupies less than half a chapter of the book, gets its own film.

In this story, the heroic role ought to be filled by the dwarves, but they’re not available because Jackson thinks dwarves are funny and therefore reduces them to comic relief even as he tries to elevate this narrative from bedtime story to solemn epic. Hence, despite the grinding, torturous length of this trilogy they receive essentially no character development and must make due with ridiculous hairpieces and a superfluous romantic sideplot. Occasionally they get to put on a good show in one of Jackson’s dioramic action sequences but in all honesty the paint seems to have come off the plastic in these. The Hobbit never got me caught up in an action moment enough to miss the fakery.

Jackson doesn’t succeed in making The Hobbit the epic he clearly wants it to be. The core of the story can’t sustain that weight, because epic heroics are not only at odds with the book’s themes, they are entirely opposite. Jackson seemed to have at least understood what he was working with when he made The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is not The Lord of the Rings, however, and in trying to make them the same Jackson failed utterly.

Love Stage!! review

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Feb 092015

In my last post I briefly mentioned the existence of Love Stage!!, so I feel I should give it a review, too. Love Stage!! is terrible, and every straight dude for whom it would not be triggering should watch it.

I should note that I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies generally, even when they actually are funny, which Love Stage!! mostly is not. Nearly every stab at humor, from its piss-take on shoujo anime to the ludicrous awfulness of Izumi’s art, to the situational comedy moments, fails. I loathed Izumi as a character—he’s stupid, clueless, and overprivileged, and his great source of angst in life is that he doesn’t want to go into show business like the rest of his famous and wealthy family. That said, he still deserves better than this “romance”.

The story is that 10 years previously, Izumi played a girl in a television commercial alongside his famous parents and a young boy actor, Ryōma. As the series begins, the group are requested to update the commercial and Izumi reluctantly agrees. He participates, dressed as a woman, and is surprised when Ryōma kisses him as part of the filming because his own parents had actually hidden this part of the script from him. This is Izumi’s first kiss, by the way.

Ryōma, as it turns out, has been obsessing over the “girl” Izumi for years, and used his memory of “her” to propel himself through the ups and downs of his career. With surprising speed he reconciles himself to the idea that Izumi is a guy and then begins pursuing him. This is a romcom, so of course he eventually succeeds, even though Izumi is not apparently gay to start out with.

I’m not a fan of this plot where two ostensibly straight guys suddenly go gay for each other, but that’s not what I actually hate here. What squicks me out is what a thorough “Nice Guy” fantasy this is. The show cheers for this romance because Ryōma obsessed over Izumi for so long and because he does nice things like help Izumi with his manga and take care of him when he’s depressed. The show’s unambiguous attitude is that because Ryōma is so nice and so helpful and has pined for Izumi for so long that he deserves for Izumi to return his affection. Never mind that Ryōma knows literally nothing about Izumi during those years of obsession, that he bombards Izumi with texts and shows up uninvited at his house and university, or that he helps Izumi primarily because he wants to get into his pants. Ryōma’s “niceness” is meant to excuse—or even justify!—stalking Izumi, kissing him without permission, and even nearly raping him.

It’s the “nice guy” attitude given full form, and this is the reason all straight dudes should watch it. Seeing this grotesque attitude turned against another guy might conceivably make them realize how revolting it is. I can’t think of any other reason to watch this.

K review

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Jan 292015

I remember seeing an early trailer for K that made it look like it was going to have a lot of shounen-ai going on. It does, sort of, but it’s less a consequence of intentional romance and more a product of gender balance. In terms of its major characters, K is such a sausage-fest I half expected it to turn into a sports anime. The only major female character is a fetish object, a catgirl who has a dislike of clothes as an actual character trait. The less prominent characters — the improbably busty lieutenant of Scepter 4, the gothic lolita girl from HOMRA, the sweet high school girl whose most important plot activity is to get possessed by the villain — also tend towards the fanservicey and thinly-realized. This pushes relationships between the developed male characters to the fore.

That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have any male-male sexual tension. This is obviously going on between Mikoto and Munakata, but in the context of the show’s juvenile approach to women (and the existence of stuff like Love Stage!!) the decision not to make this more explicit feels like cowardice rather than narrative restraint. Dramatic ineptitude also characterizes the dynamic between Misaki and Fushimi, which is shot through with useless flashbacks that take up valuable time (even in the finale!) without really explaining why they made the choices they did. Nor does it bother to bring their conflict to even partial resolution. I don’t know what else to expect, though, from a series where the whole plot hinges on the main character’s amnesia and a series of ridiculous coincidences.

Tonally the series doesn’t work either. Out of 13 episodes, one is given over significantly to comedy and ends with Kuroh’s bizarre decision to become Yashiro’s live-in cook. In a series that wants to be big and dramatic, this episode is a waste, and it sucks up a lot of time that could have been used to develop the rest of the cast, which badly needs it. It’s not all terrible; the show does a good job of showing why HOMRA are so keen to avenge Totsuke’s death and the final scene of their chanting is appropriately powerful. But it’s much less than it could have been, in large part because it doesn’t seem to realize that it should be a show about HOMRA and not team Yashiro.

In short, K is a bad show. The thinness of its female cast, both in terms of numbers and realization, is symptomatic of its larger dramatic deficiencies. It rarely sets up its character dynamics completely and essentially never pays them off. The writing is sloppy, the tone is inconsistent, and the story’s focus is misplaced. Don’t waste your time.

On “nice guys”

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Sep 012014

…the dumb quality of his love annoyed her. Many men had looked at her that way, and she was not flattered by it. They wanted to pretend, such men, that they were different, that she was different, and that what might happen between them would be different than it would ever be. They wanted to pretend that they wanted pretty dresses and smiles, when what they really wanted was for her to lay down under them. That was the real wish beneath all the pretty wishes men had. And when she was under them, they could look down and pretend something pretty was happening, but she would look up and only see a dumb face above her, strained, dishonest, and anything but pretty.

—Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove