Zippy Lately (March 28 – April 3, 2011)

1. Deadman Wonderland (Anime)

By now you may have had the chance to check out the new season listings for Spring 2011. If you have then hopefully you noticed a show called Deadman Wonderland. If you didn’t then here’s some information about the show.

Deadman Wonderland is the story about a boy named Igarashi Ganta who’s entire class is killed right before his eyes by a mysterious figure. Ganta is then assumed guilty of the crime and sent to an unusual prison called Deadman Wonderland. What makes this prison unusual on the surface is the inclusion of prisoner games that serve as entertainment for visitors. Perhaps in a nod to Rome these games are to the death. As if that isn’t unusual enough within the prison their exist special prisoners who have strange powers. Ganta must find a way to survive this hellish place and if he’s lucky one day clear his name and find the one truly responsible for the massacre of his classmates.

Since this manga is illustrated and written by the creator of Eureka Seven, I knew I had to check out the series. I first read the manga via scans, and then upon release in America immediately began to purchase all of the volumes. I strongly recommend the manga, and hopefully, if the anime lives up to its predecessor, I’ll be able to recommend that to you as well.

2. PIXELOID: 5th Dimension Girl

Tokyohive.com seems to want to make sure that I, and all its other readers, are regularly informed about which Japanese idol is being featured in Weekly Playboy that week.  [Note to readers: Weekly Playboy shows no nudity] Normally I think nothing much of this except that occasionally I’ll see an idol who’s career I might follow a bit more closely. Well one girl, who I presume could be an idol, made me take a second look after Anime News Network actually featured her issue. That girl is none other than Hatsune Miku, who is of course best known for being a Vocaloid.

I really don’t know what I expected with this but the promo video indicates that Weekly Playboy decided to blend the popularity of 2D Miku with the beauty of a real live cosplayer thus forming, their words, the fifth dimension girl PIXELOID. I suppose for a magazine that typically caters to boys wanting to see 3D girls this was a natural choice, and for my own personal taste I tend to agree. Now I haven’t seen the full spread of the magazine, although I’m sure it’s online, but I can only imagine that this release got a bump in readership solely for Miku’s inclusion.  All in all I think that while a magazine like that has a steady audience as is, it’s always nice to try something new every now and then.

3. Hentai? LOL! WTF?!?

So everyone seems to have focused on how the Oxford English Dictionary decided to include modern day words such as LOL into its infinitely lofty, and now perhaps slightly less prestigious pages. What most of those same news articles missed though Anime News Network caught and delievered – the inclusion of the word hentai. I have learned in life, and sometimes through some rather awkward experiences, that many who are aware of anime but have never watched anime assume 90% of it is hentai. Of course that’s not true. It’s more like 80%. Seriously though that’s not true either, but to seperate hentai from anime would be like seperating Showtime from American TV, which apparently my cable package will not let me do. So while I’d rather seperate hentain from the collective consciousness of most non-anime fans, I can certainly understand how it has earned its place in a dictionary, even one as lauded as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Advertisements

Review: Sucker Punch

I had the opportunity to see the midnight release this past Thursday of Sucker Punch, and while I know many reviewers, known and unknown, have shared their thoughts already I felt like it’s time to share mine.

Story:

Sucker Punch is the tale of a young girl, played by Emily Browning, who along with her sister are left in the care of their abusive step-father after their mom’s death. Emily’s character, known only as Baby Doll, tries to escape from her step-father, but in the process he corners and hits her sister. Baby Doll sees that her sister died from the blow, and tries to fight off her father to no avail. Baby Doll is then sent by her father to an insane asylum where, after bribing the director to keep this secret, she is to be scheduled for a lobotomy in five days. Upon entering she meets other presumably sane women, and together they hatch a plot to escape. To do so, and to survive the horrible circumstances, they enter elaborate fantasy worlds where they mimic their real life actions and fight for their freedom.

Characters:

Baby Doll is at first treated as an outsider by the other girls in the asylum; however, unlike the girls already in the asylum, Baby Doll’s will to fight remains and thus she serves as an inspiration and a catalyst for the escape attempt. Baby Doll also, although it’s never shown on screen, apparently performs a dance so beautiful, or so seductive, that it hypnotizes the watchers. Using this power she is able to distract the guards, thus allowing the girls to carry out their tasks in preperation for the escape. During these moments her mind projects vasts fantasy worlds where the girls fight including ones set in World War I, Edo era Japan, a Middle Earth realm, and a futuristic iRobot-like society.

Sweet Pea, Rocket, Blondie, and Amber are the other four girls locked in the asylum that we’re introduced to. Sweet Pea, who is the leader of the group, and Blondie are sisters, who for all purposes seem to also share an abusive history perhaps akin to Baby Doll’s. Blondie and Amber’s pasts are not featured, or hinted at as often, but they too make up the escape team. Sweet Pea and Baby Doll butt heads often, especially when debating the merits of fleeing from the insane asylum at all.

Visuals

As expected of the director of Watchmen and 300, Zack Snyder brought the full force of his visual expertise to bear.  As the girls fought hordes of World War I zombies, dive bomb over Tolkien-esque castles, or fight 1 vs 3, as Baby Doll does, against mega-Samurai warriors made of stone, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the spectacle on the screen. Understandably fans may feel a little disconnected from the events that occur before and after these high-packed action sequences, but I feel that a) without these moments the movie would be even more depressing than it already is and that b) these worlds, obviously built on fantasy, are meant to represent Baby Doll’s fighting spirit, along with her inner determination to escape prior to her upcoming lobotomy. In fact I’d go so far as to say that this is a last ditch attempt by Baby Doll to use what she might lose – her mind.

Soundtrack

During the first five minutes of the film I leaned over to a friend sitting next to me and said “I can already tell I’m going to like the soundtrack’. To my delight this ended up being true as the rest of the soundtrack lived up to my early expectations. What really drew me to the soundtrack upon first listen was the frequent use of well done cover songs made to truly fit the mood.  I feel that creating original music for a soundtrack certainly comes with its own difficulties, but perhaps even more difficult is to create quality, original versions of beloved songs. My favorite songs are those sung by Baby Doll’s actress Emily Browning, although the Beatles cover and Queen mash-up I felt were quite well done too. I especially felt that, while the songs stand on their own as well, the onscreen match-up with the scenes worked wonderfully as well. If you take nothing else away from this film I at least hope you give the soundtrack a couple listens.

Themes (w/ Potential Spoilers)

Don’t let anyone tell you Sucker Punch is nothing but an action packed movie filled with fantasy elements simply used to titillate the viewer, because while that’s one component of this film, in my opinion the heart of the film is the dark reality going on behind the dreams. In fact the reasoning behind the fantasy scenes in the plot, as inferred by the character Dr. Gorski’s lines, is to allow the girls a chance to find a happier place to escape to within their own mind.  The concept of dettachment and layering consciousnesses plays heavily into the film from the first moment we see the asylum till the very end of the film. While I know this has confused some viewers, I found these sequences rather enlightening. In particular the shift from the dance hall, which is the first fantasy we enter, to the fighting sequences represents for me a shift of power between Sweet Pea and Baby Doll. Sweet Pea, who acts as the big sister for the other girls in the asylum, has, at Dr. Gorski’s suggestion, taken to the dance hall fantasy as a way of dealing with the horrors of the asylum. Baby Doll though, who is not content with simply living in this dream, conjures up the grander action sequences as a means to fight the asylum, and therefore as the film goes on we see more and more of these moments where, both mentally and in reality, the girls fight.

Of course why would a movie need to layer itself upon itself so many times? *ahem Inception* Well to deal with the overlying darkness that pervades throughout this film – domestic abuse. I feel that this is the component that most reviewers overlook when discussing this film, because they simply note the tragic motivation, say it has nothing to do with the surreal worlds, and move on. On the contrary I think what Baby Doll, and the other girls, have experienced is exactly why their imaginations speak so much louder than one might assume an average person’s would. For instance, right off the bat you must consider how strong Baby Doll is in the action sequences, and how contrary that image is to her actual strength in the real world. Baby Doll wanted to protect her sister, and failed, she wanted to protect herself, and failed thus far, and now she’s wanting to protect the other girls in the asylum as well as herself, but she’s having a hard time of it. So she projects a world where she, for the most part, she is having great success, conquering her demons, and facing down all evil.

Rocket, who serves as Baby Doll’s first friend in the asylum, seems to embrace this fantasy realm too for many of the same reasons. Sweet Pea, Rocket’s older sister, seems to be hardened by the world, and presumably similar abuses in the home, so she’s most worried about protecting herself in the real her and now. However Sweet Pea, enthused perhaps by Rocket’s newfound joy, decides to also place her faith in Baby Doll’s dream, and leaves her fantasy of the dance behind.

While the girls themselves seem to be the most obvious victims of abuse, and thus the most likely to seek shelter in fantasy realms, by the end of the film Dr. Gorski also seems to be herself a victim of abuse. While I don’t have any direct connection with domestic abuse, through friends, family, or personal experiences, having seen similar plots portrayed in media I got the feeling that Dr. Gorski represents the mother figure for these girls. In this sense she seems to want to protect the girls from Blue Jones, the asylum head, likely through the projected dance fantasy, but at the same time she is a victim herself, as is clearly indicated in a confrontational scene with Blue Jones. You can probably take this one step further too by saying that Dr. Gorski also represents the wife who is unwilling to leave her her husband even though she is clearly aware of the abuses taking place in her very home. This is a frequent theme in abuse tales, both real and fictional, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this is actually the train of thought the audience is intended to take.

Overall

Despite the harsh bashing that Zac and Sucker Punch have received in the media, I found this to be a very enjoyable movie that deals with tough issues in an entertaining manner. Certainly I was looking forward to this movie from the first trailer I saw, largely because attractive girls with swords/guns fighting in fantasy realms can be, for me at least, quite entertaining. Upon leaving the theatre though I realized that, while I got what I came for, I came away with so much more. While everyone’s open to their own opinions of course, and certainly you may disagree with my review after watching the film, I at least recommend you give the movie a chance.

Score: 4 out of 5

Tragic Origins: Protagonists in Anime

I think one of the many aspects of anime that drew me to the medium the most is the fact that despite being cartoons the content and stories can be at times quite mature. In this article I want to discuss one facet of anime, specifically the frequent use of tragic origin tales with protaganists.  While this could totally go the route of a Joseph Campbell book, I will not try to explain in too much depth the reasoning behind this tragic motif. Instead I simply want to highlight some of the characters I’ve come across who have such tragedy in their early life, discuss the event(s) that came into play, and perhaps describe briefly how this affects them in the story.

Corpse Princess (aka Shikabane Hime)

Corpse Princess is a story about monstrous poltergeists who form from humans with deep regret. Instead of simply becoming ghosts as western culture understands them these individuals become monsters that slay humans. A sect of monks have tried to fight these creatures and in doing so discovered a technique to turn certain shikabane into shikabane hime. Shikabane hime are girls who are able to combat ordinary shikabane. Corpse Princess focuses on one such shikabane hime named Makina who has a particularly tragic history.

As a young girl, based on looks perhaps in middle school, Makina’s family was attacked by several shikabane. During this attack she herself hid, saw her family killed, only to then be discovered and essentially tortured to death.

Makina in the show stands out from the other shikabana hime primarily because her motivation is not salvation. Instead she is driven by revenge and only thinks about killing those who killed her and her family.

Naruto

While Naruto has been glossed over and glazed over, often due to both the early hype and the negative backlash, it truly is a series defined by two young boys’ painful life experiences.  This is what really makes the pairing of Naruto and Sasuke as both friends and enemies work on so many levels.

Naruto of course never knew his parents, but even more than that he was isolated at a young age by the burden he had to carry. Sasuke on the otherhand seemed to have the ideal childhood until his brother murdered his family and his whole village.  Further in the story you learn that it’s much more complex, but still no less tragic for Sasuke.

Sasuke’s motivations are solely based on his pain, so he is obviously affected by his tragedy on a daily basis. Naruto still endures pain throughout the series, but he has certainly learned to not only cope with his own burden but to also help heal others.

Berserk

If you’ve watched the anime of Berserk and reached the last episode then you know that Berserk is already one of the dreariest series out there. Well if you’ve only watched the anime then you’ve just seen a portion, admittedly large, of the iceberg that is the tortured world of Berserk.

Guts, who is the main protagonist, early on in life had a less than perfect family life. Still his real scars developed when he was traveling with a band of mercenaries, including one member in particular that was the closest thing to a father he ever had. While travelling with the mercenaries Guts was sodomized. This incident, and aggression from his surrogate father, led to Guts first kills ever.

Despite Guts battle hardened appearance later on in the series, both in the manga and in the anime, he is clearly affected by these incidents. That’s why I feel Guts really grew fond of Griffin, because till then he had few people he could trust, and even fewer who would give him the time of day.

Hellsing

This series, much like Berserk, is another where if you’d just watched the anime, in this case the first version not Ultimate, then you would’ve never known about Seras uber-tragic past.

Seras as a young child endured a similar tragedy to Makina’s (Corpse Princess), where she witnessed the murder of her father and mother. While she was spared from death, she was forced to watch the further desecration of her parents corpses.

Surprisingly enough she doesn’t seem overtly scarred; however, especially in the manga and Hellsing: Ultimate one might wonder if this doesn’t help fuel her vampiric rage. She certainly became a police officer though to follow in her father’s footsteps, and I feel her sense of justice is tied to this career choice as well.


Do you know of shows that feature main characters with a scarred past or a tragic history? Feel free to discuss those shows and the ones already listed below in our comments section.

Coming up – Tragic Origins: Antagonists in Anime