Monday, 4 January 2021

Weebery Two - Into the Maelstrom of Thighs

 My descent into Weebery continues and I am here to tell all of you about anime series that most of you have either seen already or will never see.

(I know many of you gave good recommendations on the last weeb post but unless something is readily available on Amazon Prime, the one steaming service I will submit to using, I am probably not going to see it in the foreseeable future. Even if its Made in Abyss which, yes, does look exactly to my tastes).

Nevertheless!




GANKUTSUO: The Count of Monte Cristo 





I found this through a Gigguk video

It’s the future, the moon is a skull and France rules the Galaxy.

I weep two tears, one of sorrow, one of wrath.


Opulence


This is going to wrap its aesthetic around your neck and choke you out. You can like back and enjoy it, or fight, but you are going down either way. It feels like a Klimt painting as an anime, an opera in huge swathes of light, shade and colour and especially patterns. Each characters clothes and aesthetic are a cut-out into their own still realm of pattern and these flow and interact across the screen together becoming hyper-opulent pools of pattern moving against patterned settings with wild hyper-tech art project stuff happening in the background.

Its what looks like a post-scarcity future so the core of Paris is a carefully maintained (or re-built?) version of 19th century Paris but with an insane art project/performance interlaced over it. The place is  walled and outside are arcologies of what looks like mega-city one, were I imagine a Neal Stephenson situation with the illiterate poor being blasted by holographic super-media and kept quiescent by shitty cybernetic soma systems while the rich live inside a huge clean art project, ride to their space ships in horse drawn carriages and read messages written with ink on real paper.

It has the strange graininess of late 90's cgi, which I like both on its own but also when integrated with the other visual elements. The backgrounds and buildings are made up of this built opulence created by what looks like matte image files packed with 19thc century hyper-decorations. I imagine this as a diegetic real-world element, a Paris re-created from image files has an interesting tenor to it.




The sci-fi setting is used to massively expand some of the spaces and places to create these mad sub-realms of deranged aesthetic, in particular, the Counts crazed golden underground kingdom/room where he has a private ocean and tarot-style orrerys moving against an imaginary sky over a golden sea is pretty wild.

The moon is a skull and I'm not sure why, it shows up as a skull face enough times that I feel like its part of the diegetic universe and not just a symbolism thing?  Is it a reference to the book that I've forgotten? One of those things blindingly obvious to Japanese people???? 




Revenge


It’s really a very good adaptation of the core of the story. Instead of becoming a Neitzshean superman through the power of an accessible horde of gold and ULTIMATE VENGANCE, the Count is sent to an isolated space prison where he merges with a weird crystal symbiotic space alien drawn to him via the power of ULTIMATE VENGANCE, the alien also has lots of cash. Despite sounding dodgy as fuck the literalisation of the metaphor works very well.

We see this story through the eyes of a slightly boring, pure hearted young man who everyone seems to be in love with despite the fact that he never does and exceptional thing. He meets the Count 'by chance' and bonds with him as a creepy father-figure. From there we are drawn slowly into a plan of SUPER VENGANCE which 90% of the audience will know is coming, but which most of the characters on screen do not. So there is a dual-view thing going on there with the audience noting lots of little details in an otherwise slowish first few episodes as we know that what’s actually happening is the slow assembly of a machine of ULTIMATE VENGANCE.






ONIHEI





What if Sherlock Holmes was a Samurai?

Uninteresting, he's already weird and repressed with his own code of honour, and he already has a sword. Instead, what if _Jim Rockford_ was a Samurai?

This is an episodic crime show set in Edo Period japan centred on the figure of Onhei, the leader of the cities seemingly-badass 'Arson Theft Control' group. A former libertine who reformed into being the best copper ever while also being the most sympathetic man ever.

More than anything this show is about sympathy and ethics.

It seems like you are never just going to mug someone in Edo Japan. Instead you would be part of a clan of muggers working by ancient mugging rules and with a population that largely expects to be mugged in a particular way. But instead maybe you get into a fight with your mugging senpai because you are secretly their natural son but the more competent adoptee got promoted above you, so you decide you are going to mug in this hot new way which ignores the rules, but it al goes horribly wrong and Onhei comes and skullfucks you. Less because you are a mugger (though that would be enough), but because you were a mugger wrong.

The cops and robbers are mutually exclusive culture tribes with their own code of ethics.

The real division in the series is a clashing of codes, or more a grand clashing of those who have and follow codes with those who do not. If anyone is really 'evil' in Onhei its less the criminals, even the super-violent ones, (who usually go down in a blaze of glory fighting multiple arson cops as running away is for bitches), and more those of whatever station who 'cheat', not the law, but their moral and societal obligations.

'Corruption', or at least governmental corruption as we would understand it, doesn't exist, except for one episode, where it is dealt with and banished in 20 minutes.

The social dynamics of cop & crime gangs and the whole legal situation in Edo period japan seems fascinating. Everything seems so tightly ritualised that its hard to even think of 'crime' in the way its conceptualised by us. Everything is part of its own organisation and hierarchy, with its own rituals and anything that happens inside the family or the clan isn't really 'crime' until someone drops a body.

It did remind me a little of a 50s British film called 'The Blue Lamp' which had some scenes with what looked like the last post-war relics of a 19th century thieving culture, where there were thieving rules and thieving organisations and "ways we've always done things".





Its not really about that though, its about motivations, family, desire, belonging. 

Onhei himself is one of those WIS 18 character who occasionally show up. A man with a deep sympathy and almost preternatural awareness of the souls and motivations of others, no matter where they might lie across the criminal/copper divide. he has a deep love of, and interest in, humanity, and despite being the best copper ever, also often manages to let some criminals get away, partially, with some things, some of the time. (Which still technically never breaking the law, a feat only really possible in fiction).

Because Onhei himself is the closest thing we have to a PoV character, and as all the situations orbit around and interact with him and systems in which he is the lynchpin, it illuminates the world through his moral schema and moral and emotional awareness, if not precisely through his eyes. What matters is what drives people, what they feel, and how that motivates them, especially as refracted through the complex hierarchies and repression/expression systems of the society around them.

Almost a prototypical restoration-of-order show, largely about interpersonal relationships, value systems and personal honour and cravenness in unlikely places.





OUTLAW STAR 




Really ridiculously fun and joyous, so archetypal that it seems almost like a parody of an anime; hotshot space bounty hunter with a tragic past and a boy-genius best friend team up with a femme cyborg, samurai girl bounty hunter and catgirl to fight evil daoist space pirates?

Making a list of the ridiculous or "extra" stuff in the show, while fun, evades the invisible core of the thing, which could easily be ignored or camouflaged by a simple description or listing of nerd-friendly semi-ironic ephemera; (spaceships with arms that wrestle and shoot super-revolvers), that would collapse the sense of motion and life into a decaying series of symbols
.
Like "its fun because it's silly" is a half-truth. Though it is silly, and it is fun. Then we get the crushingly inevitable counter-statement; "no this thing you thought was silly is AKSHUALLY deep!". Again, half-true; it has some depth, in the characters, the assembly of the world, the harmony and beauty of its aesthetic, but that’s not the kind of pseudo-literary high statues depth such statements typically seem to aspire to.

So what is it, this invisible thing? What is the spiderweb which has caught our silent glasslike fly? Here are a few strands;


/╲/\( •̀ ω •́ )/\╱\ --- Invention.

Playful, toyetic but bounding itself within a particular pseudosense so it doesn't decay into writers room invention or genre-dumb invention. There is Daoist magic, but there is *only* Daoist magic (that we see in action and effecting the imagined world), not Daoism plus alchemy plus dragons plus necromancy etc etc.


/╲/\╭(ఠఠ益ఠఠ)╮/\╱\ -----  Youth and possibility. 

The core cast members largely feel like young people on the verge of doing something new and exceptional, several of the more memorable encounters between Gene (the main character) and others are between him and an older/wiser mentor figure. These people all have a meaningful possible future in front of them. They are affected more by what they might do than by what they have done.


/╲/\╭(ರರ⌓ರರ)╮/\╱\ -----  Freedom.

And opportunity. start with a closed horizon, open it with danger, then present a remarkable possibility of escape



/╲/\╭༼ ººل͟ºº ༽╮/\╱\ -----  A really cool, fast, red, strong and fighty space ship. 


The simple material design of it.



/╲/\╭( ͡°͡° ͜ʖ ͡°͡°)╮/\╱\ -----  Colour.

And a particular use of, engagement with and expression of vivid and powerful colour arrangements. Colour as communication? Colour as soul?

This video does a better job than I about it;





/╲/\╭[ ᴼᴼ ౪ ᴼᴼ]╮/\╱\ -----  Beauty.

The matte or background paintings, whatever they are, are exceptional and encompass the beauty and strangeness of a void which is more like a dream. Visual poetry. They give space this deep, rich texture reminiscent of stuff like flash gordon or 50's paperback flaming spheres interstellar space, glorious speckled rampages of light and form.

Not only space but the cityscapes also have this deep richness and almost ellagic quality. When people are going 'out' wherever that is, they are not just going out into this blank emptiness of possibility which is also a void, but into a rich, textured tapestry of beauty.


I really want a coffee table book of those background paintings.

I should also mention the vivid, distinct and lively character designs, as well as movement, stance, fighting and behaviour styles. Perhaps its nothing super amazing exceptional but considering how many things fuck this up its still worth mentioning.



/╲/\╭[☉﹏☉]╮/\╱\ ---- A counterpoint of sadness. 




While Cowboy Beebop had a FUCKING FUCKTONNE of sadness and alienation, Outlaw Star has some. Valued people die. Some people are left alone. Some people are alienated some of the time. But this is not a dominant theme.


┬┴┬┴┤ ͡°)/\╱\ ----- Work? 

This is an odd one but the whole middle of the series is basically an in-space workplace comedy with interruptions. The crew is living away from home in the big city and they have their super-ship but they are increasingly in debt and working small jobs to stay afloat. Its basically 'Friends'? That's odd. Beginning and end = sci-fi epic. Middle-bit = 'Friends in Space'? Opportunity plus resource poverty is a very OSR element.



!!!(╯°□°)╯ミ /╲/( ͜。 ͜。 ͡ʖ ͜。 ͜。)/\╱\ ------ Catgirls.


Overwhelmingly what stays with me from this is the outward going dangerous but hopeful emotional tone. There is plenty of darkness in this world, but fundamentally a sense that the adventure is worth having.




FULL METAL PANIC! 




Super-robot sci-fi 90's techno thriller with secret-orgs duelling plus whacky high school romantic comedy? Super-serious robot riding borderline-Asperger’s honourable badass is assigned to covertly guard peppy extra high-achieving highschooler - hilarity ensues! 

An impossible mixture? Amazingly, no.

This feels like a really 90's series. There is some kind of overplot with bizarre hypertech being introduced to human culture "ahead of time" via psychic children who develop superknowledge, and there are psychic engines in this which can turn the mechanics of the action from near-future sci fi to super energy sphere hour.

The geoplitics is straight from a 90's action film. There are vague criminal/commercial conspiracies and 'rogue states' plus ungoverned areas policed and overwatched by the clashing sphwres of influence of nation states and their alliances, plus various NGO's, and of course the equally-vague non-state Mithril, basically a corporation/cult/mercenary outfit which can run hypertech and gets to float around the seas with giant submarines and have secret bases all over the world. A bond villains organisation if they were actually nice, like the Thunderbirds, or many of the secret orgs for justice of 80s cartoons.




None of this is really important compared to the unusual aspect of the show, which is high-school comedy + international espionage mecha drama which really really really absolutely should not work.

This might be another thing where the deep weebs educate me and are like ASHULLLYYYYY IN 1571 OZAMA TEZUKAS GREAT GREANDFATHER DID A SERIES OF PRINTS ENCAPULATING EXACTLY THIS DYNAMIC WHICH FORMED THE BASIS FOR.."

Ok I get that teenagers and robots is not a new mix.

But I still thought this was two things that shouldn’t work together, each individually unusually well done and through some strange alchemy brought into harness so that neither annihilates the other but instead they support each other.

It also has some fucking cool robot fights, especially in the last episode where two guys go at it in the hanger of a huge nuclear submarine which is also trying to evade torpedos - like an elevator fight but with robots.

Apparently this has more than one series and apparently the later ones aren't as good, Amazon only has series one

10 comments:

  1. I still have not seen Gankutsuo but it's been on my radar for probably over a decade now 0.o...

    I made the... interesting choice recently to start watching The Wire, and what you described in Onihei about the class separation and ethics / law being about what lies at the boundaries of these cultural mores feels very in-line with The Wire and is a sentiment I've (hopefully obviously in my recent creative works...) been thinking a lot about. It reminds me of the Grant Morrison comic Marvel Boy, where at one point he gives this great monologue about how all of human civilization is basically just a slightly more convoluted version of warlords and their gangs and how we're basically still just Animals in Fancy Suits (tm).

    Outlaw Star is a classic, although I have probably not seen it in well over half my life ago...

    I saw I think a bit of Full Metal Panic also way back in the day, don't think I finished it, or if I did, it did not resonate with me. Your description is basically in line with what I vaguely remember and doesn't sound particularly appealing even still, but maybe I could appreciate it on some level today in a way I did not back then.

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  2. I just double-checked, and Made in Abyss is definitely available on Prime Video.

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    1. It does not show up on the UK version

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    2. Gah! I feel like I probably have made the same mistake previously here. Sorry.

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  3. Hey, I like these shows, and the moon is a skull because WHY WOULDN'T IT BE

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    1. I guess if you have 3,000 years of humanity dicking around with hypertech the moon being a skull is pretty minimal so far as arty geoforming goes.

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  4. Absurdly, I discovered The Count of Monte Cristo through Gankutsuou. I had heard the title of course but didn’t even know the story.

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    1. I read Harry Harrisons satire of 'The Man Who Was Thursday' before I read the actual book. Damn well ruined it for me!

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  5. So many different spiders in Outlaw Star.
    But I am glad that it was of interested to you.
    I think one of the threads is also 'maturation' or maybe 'change', getting near the 'youth and possibilities' thread. Both Gene and Jim, and even one of McDougalls became somewhat different people at the end. Worlds is in the state of change: Melfina is one of the first of her kind and Dao magic is the only magic currently, but older, now-mostly-defunct mana magic was at some point present, until the it was no longer possible to use.

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