Author Archives: Morike

Mecha Marathon – Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

Several years after the events of Mobile Suit Gundam, Char Anzable is the leader of Neo-Zeon and still wants to drop a colony on the Earth. His long-time rival and fellow Newtype Amuro Ray is out to stop Char. Between them is Quess Prayana, a rebellious Newtype teenager in need of a mentor. She finds one in Char who convinces her to fight against her Earth-born family, a move that only ends in tragedy.

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screenshot via trailer

This film (movie? OVA?) has some good things going for it. It passes the Bechdel test in the first fifteen minutes. There are small moments of characters having difficulty navigating microgravity. The narrative doesn’t stretch itself to get everyone of importance on the same battlefield. Unfortunately, none of these are enough to redeem it.

Dear God, this director did not believe in establishing shots. Establishing shots, for lack of a better term, establish the scene. Oftentimes in anime, it’s the shot of the school building before cutting to the students’ antics. In a GUNDAM show, it’s usually a shot of the space ship before cutting to the drama on the bridge. For Char’s Counterattack, the narrative jumps from Earth to space to spaceship to mecha battle without first establishing these things that it took all my concentration just to keep up, which only added to my general confusion. I debated on pausing the film after every scene just so I can write down what the hell just happened and see if there was a connection. Then I decided that any enjoyment I would have gotten from this would have decreased by putting in that extra work. Besides, I kinda wanted to finish up as quickly as possible.

Char’s Counterattack is not accessible to newbies. Newtypes, maybe, since they can probably sense what’s happening, complete with the little noise effect. People new to the Gundam franchise, though? Absolutely not. The narrative relies on the audience already knowing the characters and their backstory–no one gets an explanation on what they did to get to where they are or anything.

I have problems with the character Quess, since her mentorship is entirely based on whoever she happens to love in that moment. She first encounters Amuro, who rejects her advances. Char, however, is more willing to indulge despite not reciprocating her feelings. First of all, girl, not every dude you encounter is romancing material. Why you gotta fall in love so easily? Female characters are always, always, always there for  the romance; even when they’re not, there is always a romance around a female character. I hoped Quess would step aside from that trope, but Quess did not agree. Minus points for feminism.

Quess’s constant romancing also sets up both Amuro and Char to be bad guys. Amuro rejects her advances, which is a good thing! You’re not supposed to romance your mentor, you’re supposed to treat them like a teacher. So Amuro does a good thing but is punished by the narrative for it because Quess then finds solace in Zeon where she fights against her family and wants to send the Earth into nuclear winter (more on that later). Meanwhile, Char indulges her romancing by having her sit on his lap and saying sweet nothings to her. But Char is clearly taking advantage of her, making him the skeevy one of all the characters. Everything about that was uncomfortable.

Finally, can I just say that I do not understand Zeon’s obsession with sending a colony on Earth? Why does everyone want to destroy the Earth? Are the Sides self-sufficient that they can grow everything they could possibly need? Do they make their own textiles for clothing? Are there factory Sides devoted to processing metal and plastic and glass? Wouldn’t having a habitable Earth help with the production of these resources? Odd questions, but still relevant.

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screenshot via trailer

As you can probably surmise, I did not enjoy Char’s Counterattack. It was too fast-paced for a clear understanding of the narrative and it relied on the viewer’s already having a history with the characters therein. I recommend it to die-hard GUNDAM fans, but no one else.

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Mecha Marathon [Surplus] – Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

Why hello. Sorry I’ve been AWOL. I’ve been busy with life things–moving, new jobs, moving again, family drama. You know the drill. Things are calmer now, calm enough to watch an old favorite of mine. It’s not an official part of the Mecha Marathon, but have a write up about it anyway. 

One year after the Bloody Valentine tragedy, where a nuclear missile destroyed a civilian colony, a covert ZAFT special forces team infiltrates a colony of the neutral nation of Orb and steals four of the five top secret weapons called Gundams. The fifth is piloted by Kira Yamato, a student-cum-soldier who escapes on the United Earth Alliance’s warship Archangel with his friends and a small pod of civilians. Understaffed, under-supplied, and unprepared, Archangel must somehow get to UEA headquarters on Earth before they are destroyed by the ZAFT team pursuing them. But Kira is reluctant to fight, especially when his best friend Athrun Zala is one of his pursuers.

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screenshot via third opening; I added this image to my Mecha Aesthetic board on Pinterest

Gundam SEED starts off really good. The drama is simple and engaging with a focus on a struggling, top secret warship with a reluctant pilot. There is even something I can only call racism which, despite what you may think, adds an extra layer of intrigue. ZAFT is entirely populated by Coordinators, genetically-modified humans who are capable of much more than unmodified Naturals. There’s jealousy on both sides–Naturals feel inferior and Coordinators crave equality. Kira Yamato is a Coordinator working for “the enemy,” and this conundrum underlines his reluctance to fight with the Archangel despite growing up in a neutral colony.

It does not escape me that Gundam SEED is basically the original Mobile Suit Gundam with a couple extras. The warships Archangel and White Base have similar missions with similar characters: Captain Ramius is the new Lieutenant Bright, Kira Yamato is the new Amuro Ray, and Commander Rau Le Cruset is the new Char Anzable. Despite this, Gundam SEED stands on its own; viewers need not know or understand previous Gundam properties to enjoy SEED.

What’s there to like? On a personal level, I am down with the main leadership of the Archangel, which consists of Captain Ramius, Lieutenant Badgiruel, and Commander Mu La Flaga. I interpret each a representing a part of the body: Ramius is the heart (idealism), Badgiruel is the brain (rationalism), and La Flaga the arms (realism). The heart rules the ship and ultimately makes the final decision, but she is greatly influenced by the brain and supported by the arms. At least at the beginning. When Archangel finally arrives in Alaska, Badgiruel is transferred to another posting, leaving Ramius and La Flaga on the ship to feel the betrayal of the United Earth Alliance on their own. (La Flaga was also transferred, but he returned right before shit goes down.)

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screenshot via third opening; I really want to meet the parent that looks at a baby and decides to name them Mu.

I give the show some points for feminism too. Ramius and Badgiruel ensure the Bechdel Test is passed almost every episode until they’re separated. There is an equal split in genders of the main four characters (Kira and Athrun with Cagalli and Lacus). Erika Simmons is the head engineer for Morgenroete, an engineering company in Orb that built the Gundams. The three pilots for the Gundam Astray models are all female. And every named female character that crosses the screen is a badass in her own right. My heart goes out to Lacus, the pink-haired, childish songstress of ZAFT who does crazy things like order a military commander to stop an opportunistic pursuit of the enemy vessel and eventually leads an entire fraction of soldiers to commit treason.

There is still a little work to be done. Cagalli and Lacus are both of the main four but they barely speak to each other the entire show, even when they’re working together in the final episodes. Miriallia is the only woman in the combined posses of Kira and Athrun. Though ZAFT shows some female representation in their leadership, there is no female presence on the leadership of the United Earth Alliance. Yeah, they’re supposed to be the most evil of the evil organizations, but showing a little equal opportunity oppression goes a long way.

The animation and music is amazing. More than ten years after its initial release, the first ending theme song, Anna ni Issho Datta no ni by See-Saw, still plucks the heartstrings with equal parts nostalgia and energy. Then again, See-Saw’s main composer is anime legend Yuki Kajiura, so of course the music is amazing. Kajjiura did not contribute to the overall score of Gundam SEED, but her hand is seen in the insert songs at least two op/ed songs. The character designs are dynamic. Coordinators may have a brighter color palette (i.e. Lacus Clyne’s pink hair and purple dresses) but the Naturals of the Archangel are still distinguishable in appearance despite the same grey uniform. Throw this together with fluid animation and you have a very pretty show. Pretty in appearance and pretty in sound (until Kira starts to cry, which is awkward enough to hear, but his animated sobs don’t match with his screams and it’s jarring).

 

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screenshot via third opening; those boys are Lacus’s bitches. The narrative may not phrase it that way, but it’s the true.

SEED is prone to melodrama, and there are some specific events that prove how off-the-rails it can get. The final battle between Kira and Athrun is the turning point of their friendship and the show. After that, there is a lot more melodrama in the show. Events like Miriallia’s assault on Dearka in the Archangel’s infirmary become commonplace. Kira, despite nearly dying on Earth, wakes up in space under the care of Lacus (who just so happens to be friends with the dude who found Kira). Yet some of this melodrama makes the show fun to watch. The episode where Athrun and Cagari are stranded on an island is a fun time. And I do have a soft spot for the burgeoning romance between Miriallia and Dearka, which is borne of empathy and sorrow.

As a side note, my main ship is AthrunxLacus, because I am super super into aristocratic pairings like that. Also, they were really sweet together. AthrunxCagalli is sweet once you live through their respective arcs, but I need a bit more convincing. Lacus, meanwhile, can choose anyone she damn well chooses and it will always be the right choice.

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screenshot via third opening; oh yeah, this show has giant robots too

If you’re looking for a serious mecha show a la Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket or Aldnoah.Zero, you have it in the opening arcs when the Star-Crossed Bros arc is the main chorus. Gundam SEED likes to place characters where they shouldn’t be for drama, especially after the halfway point. I recommend Gundam SEED to casual mecha fans and people who easily emote over beautiful people.

Mecha Marathon – Broken Blade

Rygart Arrow is the only non-magic user in a population capable of magic. One day, he is called away from his farm because his old friend Queen Sigyn of Krishna discovered an ancient golem (mecha) that cannot be controlled with magic. Rygart activates it in time to dispel a covert scouting squad of military golems paving the way for a larger invasion force from the bordering nation of Athens. While Krishna’s King Hodr battles with himself over the correct course of action in the face of invasion, Rygart joins the Krishna military with the ancient golem. Meanwhile, his old friend Zess leads the invasion’s scouting squad.

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screenshot via opening sequence

There are maybe three good things that I can say about Broken Blade:

  1. Queen Sigyn, a woman of authority, is an engineer. Is the HEAD engineer. I like seeing ladies in science-based roles.
  2. Golems are visibly and easily damaged by the enemy, even if the golem is piloted by a main character with plot armor. This is good. This adds intrigue to the people watching for the first time.
  3. The opening sequence features a beautiful song and pretty animation.

Unfortunately, that’s all the good things I can say.

Broken Blade suffers from a mishmash of unexplored tropes called characters that have no business taking a role secondary to our main character. None of these characters are truly memorable, and their respective stories are not coherently connected to their fellows in a way that benefits the narrative. There is no foreshadowing of a character’s Dark Past, and if there is, it is only contained to the episode in which the foreshadowing is introduced. There are no endearing traits that advance the plot in any way. In fact, the characters seem fairly stagnant despite any micro-developments that might occur within a single episode.

That same disconnect is felt in the narrative. The first episode introduces some interesting ideas regarding the ancients that built the magicless golem and potentially the source of everyone’s magic, but further episodes fail to illuminate these ideas. In fact, each episode will introduce some intriguing fact about a character’s backstory or historical event but, like the technology of the ancients, will fail to explore this in future episodes. The idea introduced won’t be fully formed by the episode’s end, then cast away forgotten for the next; this contributes to the disjointed feeling I got while watching it.

A fantastic example of this is Rygart Arrow, our main character. His endearment comes from his disability (lacking magic). His disability is framed as a narrative device that would potentially be a source of frustration, self-hate, and eventually acceptance. This arc never happens. As soon as Rygart becomes the pilot of the ancient golem, any intrigue he garnered through his introduction disappears. Poof. There it went as soon as the end credits appeared on the screen. The next time you see Rygart in the next episode, he is somehow okay with everything going on in his life.

And then there’s the ending. Beautifully animated, yes. Fantastic color scheme, yes. Adequate denouement? No. Like the other five episodes, the final episode ends at a point where the political background could take any direction and the narrative doesn’t specify how that goes. It was sudden and it didn’t seem to resolve anything.

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screenshot via opening sequence

Broken Blade is, in a word, convoluted. There are too many characters with narratives that don’t organically intersect. That disconnect is felt the entire run of the show and it only adds frustration and boredom to the viewing experience. I don’t recommend Broken Blade to anybody but it somehow got good reviews on Crunchyroll.

 

Classic vs. Cult-Classic: Defining Cowboy Bebop’s Pop Culture Status

A space opera, a noir, and a western walk into a bar. There is no punchline for this joke, but it’s the best way I can describe Cowboy Bebop. Episodic, as whimsical as it is serious, and surprisingly diverse in the background, Cowboy Bebop premiered in North America on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block and went on to inspire a generation. I hear it mentioned in the background radiation of my life and it makes me wonder, is Cowboy Bebop a classic or a cult-classic?

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screenshot via opening sequence

Defining A Classic

There is no official governing body that attaches the “classic” moniker to archived media. Reviewers may refer to titles as a classic. Media companies will slap the label on the most popular or oldest titles in their archives. This system seems to encourage interpretation and debate, which is fine. I am up for a good debate (as long as I get to speak in essay format). But investors and consumers and retailers want solid numbers. They want to know where a title should be sorted. In the instance of Cowboy Bebop, it fits under three: Science Fiction, Anime, and Animation. But its age also puts it where other old titles are shelved: Classics.

Classic does not always mean old. There are plenty of old television shows I have never heard of before or know very little about. There are also a plethora of shows that have permeated pop culture to the point of universal recognition: Seinfeld, I Love Lucy, and Friends are a few I can name off the top of my head. Looking for shows that are more than sitcoms? Star Trek: Original, Dragnet, and Baywatch are a few others.

Cowboy Bebop has also permeated pop culture in its own way. The question is whether people unfamiliar with Toonami or anime know what Cowboy Bebop is about.

Cult-Classic vs. Classic

The definition of a cult-classic is another term that lacks an official designation. The Oxford Dictionary and Urban Dictionary say the same thing, but is the size of an audience the only criterion separating a classic from a cult-classic? The Rocky Horror Picture Show is perhaps the most famous cult-classic on the market, but wouldn’t its notoriety slide it into the “classic” category? Or is there something missing from the equation?

Marriam-Webster’s first definition of classic is “serving as a standard of excellence.” So an “official” classic should be quality work. Right? The problem is that quality in art is subjective. My favorite movie is Speed Racer but, according to a couple friends of mine, Speed Racer is an unfortunate waste of money. (Somehow, this is not a major strain on our friendship).

The defining trait of a cult-classic is how many people know of it and how much they love it. They tend to be movies that had a short time in the limelight but have since fallen into obscurity: Brave New WorldFirefly, and Pacific Rim are a handful I can name off the top of my head. Anything that attracts a niche audience and requiring a specific cerebral mindset to understand can also be criterion for identifying a cult-classic.

Anime is a medium with a niche audience in North America. I hate to admit this, but I am now one of those older fans. I came of age when Toonami was an after-school television block and LiveJournal was the place for online fandoms. The business model behind Crunchyroll became lucrative when I was in university. Which is to say, there is a generation of anime-watchers younger than myself and I have no idea if they know what Cowboy Bebop even is. Do they know Toonami’s contribution to the anime industry outside of Japan? Did they also have a five-year gap in their anime-watching habits, only to be reintroduced to the genre with the premiere of Attack on Titan?

 

I believe Cowboy Bebop had its space in the limelight and now sits nestled in nostalgia-land for a lot of its fans, which makes its audience smaller than anticipated. For me, this labels it as a cult-classic.

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screenshot via opening sequence

The Real Folk Blues

I asked fellow Potted Lid writers Basil and Dame Uta their opinion on Cowboy Bebop’s status as a classic or a cult-classic. Both labeled Bebop as a classic. Despite our differing views, they are opinions formed from anecdotal evidence. And it’s hard to draw serious conclusions from anecdotes, which is why I need some solid evidence about the reputation Cowboy Bebop has among the masses.

If you have a minute to spare, please take this survey I created to help me out. I’ll post the results once I acquire 100 responses. Please share to everyone you know because I want to know how far-reaching this little show is to the rest of the world.

Thanks!

Mecha Marathon – The Vision of Escaflowne

On the evening Hitomi Kanzaki confesses her love to the captain of the track team, a bright light transports her to Gaea, a world where the Earth and Moon hang in the sky. There she meets Van Fanel, newly crowned king of Fanelia and the only person capable of controlling the ancient guymelef Escaflowne. After the destruction of Fanelia by the evil Zaibach Empire, Hitomi and Van set out to overthrow the empire and prevent the end of the world. Major spoilers ahead.

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screenshot from the opening sequence

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Whoops!

We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties. Dame Uta is in the throes of writing her thesis for university, Basil is adapting to a new team at work, and I (Morike) just moved for a brand new job.

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Your regularly scheduled essays will resume in April. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Mecha Marathon – Gargantia on the Verduous Planet

In the retreat of a failed battle campaign against an alien enemy, Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance is separated from his company and sent through a wormhole. He wakes up six months later on Gargantia, a city on Earth made from a series of interlocking ships. Cut off from everything he’s ever known, Ledo starts a life on Gargantia but assimilation proves difficult when you can barely speak the language. Spoilers onward.

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screenshot from the opening sequence

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