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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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It’s Personal: Leah Remini’s “Scientology and the Aftermath”

Internet, I’ve been procrastinating. That’s, at least partially, my excuse for not posting earlier this month or on my actual assigned day. The other excuses are that Russian is difficult to learn when you decide to go from nearly 0 to reading proficiency in six weeks and I’m a very lazy person who doesn’t pay attention to the date. The reason I’ve been procrastinating is that I’ve been worried on how to handle this one. I’ve wanted to write about Leah Remini’s A&E series on Scientology, “Scientology and the Aftermath.” While I found it to be a very compelling series, I’m not sure if it is the best put-together documentary show. However, I feel a bit guilty being too critical of it, as it’s obviously an incredibly emotional topic for Remini and she’s very earnest in how she handles it and what she chooses to cover. But I’ve finally decided that I really do need to write this. As something of a compromise to myself, I explain my critiques first and save the praise for last. It may be the same, but it feels better to me.

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The Show as Documentary

In this series, which was originally meant to be an 8-part, 1 season series, but which is getting a second season, Leah Remini, a former Scientologist, seeks to expose the various unsavory activities of the Church. Along with her partner, Mike Rinder, Remini interviews a number of former Scientologists, who discuss various aspects of how the Church of Scientology operates and the ways it impacted their lives. Each episode is nominally centered around a topic, though these do blur together somewhat, as they’re really connected as a package of the way Scientology runs. For example, the episode on the impact of Scientology on family necessarily covers ground previously covered in how the Church treats those who leave it.

Overall, I don’t think the blurring together of some of the topics is necessarily a problem in and of itself—it’s often necessary because the real-life boundaries are unclear—but it does contribute something to what I think is the main weakness of the series: the amount of repetition. The two main components of the show are the interviews with former Scientologists and Remini’s musings on what they have said and what she has experienced. The latter part is always set in a bright white room. It’s very A&E. (There’s also a third component, as the two are frequently followed by people associated with Scientology. They have a number of strange run-ins that I find fascinating, but which doesn’t really play into this.) Sometimes this format works quite well, with a more free-flowing interview being summed up by Remini at the end. Other times, it just feels like she’s repeating what was already said. I think I noticed this most in the middle episodes. This may have been due to the fact that much of the information conveyed in those had necessarily been conveyed in earlier ones, but a lot of it felt like the interviewee saying something like “they made my children disconnect from me” and then the show cutting to Remini going, “they made her children disconnect from her.” While I understand the cuts were meant to repeat the information for emotional effect, I don’t feel like it worked particularly well. For me, I felt the emotional effect with the interviewee, so the repetition of the point felt a little emotionally hallow.

However, this may not have been entirely the fault of the show. It may have also been how A&E chose to do their little pre-commercial teasers. They’d often choose Remini saying something in the white room to be the preview of the next section. You’d then get the interview followed by the same scene that was played in the clip before the last commercial break. Because of this, I’m not 100% sure that this is a valid criticism of the series in and of itself, but it was an issue I found in the viewing experience.

The Show as Memoir

Though I can’t find a better word for it, I’m not sure it’s quite right to call the aspect of the show that I’m about to talk about a memoir. That makes it sound like a tell-all of Remini’s life and it’s not. Rather, is a discussion of many different people’s experiences, which often intersects with others’ stories. But it does have something of the emotional honesty of a memoir.

Moreover, this documentary is dripping with emotional honesty. You see former Scientologists opening up and revealing deeply personal things about their pasts, often the most painful parts of their lives. On the one hand, what they tell is valuable because it gives insight into a very secretive and litigious organization, but it’s so much more than that. They reveal real things that happened to real people. I think for a lot of us, Scientology is this wacky religion that believes in magic aliens and whatnot, but it’s more than that. It often works in very cult-like, manipulative ways and people’s lives have been destroyed. This is something that they do say in the show itself and I think it really hits at the heart of the series. Rather than looking at Scientology as a joke, it takes it seriously. And taking it seriously is really the only way to help those affected by it.

 

While this series may not be amazingly edited, it’s incredibly valuable for understanding the human impact of the Church of Scientology. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially in the next couple of weeks before season 2 begins on August 15th. I know I’ll be watching. And maybe doing another post on it. We’ll see.

Archaeology Ruins Heroes: “Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined”

Sorry for the spacing on my last post, internet. Things were busy. Things are still a bit busy, so I will regale you with another tale of a documentary I was made to watch in class!

That documentary is Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined. As the title suggests, this documentary, based on a book by the same name, tells the tale of archaeologist Richard Fox and how he used a combination of survey and excavation to reconstruct Custer’s battle at Little Big Horn.For those not up with their random battles in the American frontier history, the national mythos surrounding Custer is one of tragic defeat. Custer and his men fought an onslaught of Indians bravely, keeping order and discipline even as they were killed off to the last man. What is generally not highlighted is the fact that Custer was part of a battalion sent to remove a large settlement of Cheyenne and Dakota and force them back onto a reservation. While that fact is something that this film shies away from, it is not the main focus. This short documentary film makes the case that, in fact, the battle was much more chaotic than the popular imagination believes it to be.

Fox and his team to this by studying the distribution patterns of government bullets and shell casings and Native bullets and casings. The bullets themselves allow them to construct the direction of the battle, while casings, which are dropped on the ground after the gun is fired, tell them where the different forces stood. And that’s not even the coolest part. The coolest part is that they can track individuals by studying minute differences in the marks the firing pins of specific, individual guns make. That may sound really boring, but being able to track a single person is archaeology is amazing.

I will admit, however, that I was momentarily appalled by Fox’s field methodology. Don’t get me wrong; he’s going the right thing. He and his team use metal detectors and, when they find something, they dig a small hold to see what it is. Again, this is how you do the study he wants to do. But I was trained to dig things deep underground.. The number one lesson you learn is to always dig in lots (or whatever your terminology calls them) that leave a roughly flat surface. Never dig a hole. But here it’s fine. They’re ultimately doing a survey of things buried slightly underground and they’re taking good measurements of them. But I still had that momentary, emotional reaction.

Fox’s reconstruction of the battle relies on certain assumptions about military order. During the late 19th century, apparently, men were taught to form a ‘skirmish line’ by standing a few yards apart from one another. However, if fear or panic set in, they will tend to bunch as a natural tendency of humans. If things are truly desperate, they will flee and not fight back or only fight opportunistically. It’s somewhat unclear if he’s getting this information from historical texts or ethnographic study, but it does seem to make a certain amount of sense.

With this, Fox makes the argument that Custer’s men were on the offensive for most of the battle, not the defensive as is commonly accepted. While it was believed that they did not go north of what is today known as Custer Hill, the distribution of their bullets and shells suggest that they were headed that direction, presumably to capture the group of women and children who had left the settlement. Once they were outnumbered and their chances of victory looked slim, they began bunching. Individuals seem to have mixed with other parts of the force, breaking what would have been the accepted protocol of battle. As bunching worsens, the ratio of government bullets and casings goes down, suggesting that Custer’s men largely ceased to fight. This is especially true in the final stage of the battle, in which the remnants of Custer’s men attempted to flee into a ravine, an event attested to by Native eyewitness accounts and corroborated by the soldiers who would eventually find the battle ground who reported a number of bodies there. Here, there is only evidence of small amounts of opportunistic fighting by government troops.

I found this documentary to be quite engaging intellectually. Emotionally, I was somewhat cool to it. It’s an emotional subject matter – the US government sent a bunch of men to force people to live on lands far smaller than they were originally promised; these men sought to capture the women and children to force the Native men to comply; over two hundred men were killed, some of them while fleeing – but I didn’t find it as mind-blowing as I think I was meant to. Don’t get me wrong, the tracking individuals by their firing pins was fantastic, but I feel like I was supposed to have an attachment to Custer that I just didn’t and don’t. I remember hearing the words ‘Custer’s last stand,’ but I feel like I never really knew what that was. Which seems really strange, since I’m from just a couple states away. (BTW, did you know that this took place in Montana? I totally thought it was in South Dakota or something. This is more embarrassing when your home state borders South Dakota.) I think I learned about the events around it – Sitting Bull was fairly prominent in my high school history class – but this event didn’t really come up. I feel like a childhood hero was supposed to be shattered in my mind, but I found myself going “well, that does seem more plausible.”

Overall, I’d recommend it. It’s a quick watch if you can track it down. Also, firing pin signatures.

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.

Sorry, bros

Hey internet. I was supposed to get another post going for you guys. This last week was the last of my academic quarter and poor time management led to me only getting to sleep for a couple hours. I was going to talk to you guys about this documentary on Mes Aynak, an archaeological site in Afghanistan, but I’m still pretty out of it. Instead, I’m just going to reccommed that you have take a listen to NPR’s recent podcast on documentaries. Enjoy!

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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FFXV – there goes $60 not well spent

I finished this mess of a game almost a month ago, and I’d like to think the time since has given me a chance to get past my initial thoughts, which can mostly be summed up as: Fuck you, game.

Which it has, luckily. Now my thoughts can be summed up as: Fuck you, game. But with more coherence.

Warnings: massive spoilers ahead