labingi: (riki)
(I will now surprise no one by writing about Akira again.)

Akira (1988) is timeless. If you’re okay with violent anime, watch it. If you saw it a long time ago (and are okay with violent anime), watch it again. You may be very pleased at how well Katsuhiro Otomo’s twenty-five-year-old anime film, loosely based on his lengthy manga, stands up both as a story and work of cinematic art.

Akira is a near-future dystopian drama set in a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo run by corrupt a government, a nefarious military-scientific complex, and—nearer the ground—by teen motorcycle gangs. The story centers on teen bikers, Kaneda and Tetsuo. Kaneda is the flashy, badass gang leader, Tetsuo the runt of the pack, who, we can guess, is only included in the gang because he’s Kaneda’s best friend. This power dynamic changes, however, when Tetsuo is abducted by the sinister Akira project, concerned with channeling massive energy through children. Tetsuo becomes the latest in a line of young test subjects, including the eponymous Akira, to have their lives and health devastated in exchange for superpowers. To save Tetsuo, Kaneda joins a band of revolutionaries and infiltrates the top secret Akira installation, only to discover that the friend he set out to rescue is no longer the boy he knew…

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (riki)
If you’re in the mood for some horror anime this Halloween, you may want to check out Kara no Kyoukai (Boundary of Emptiness), a series of seven anime films (Ufotable, 2007-2009) based on the light novel of the same name. Each film is a standalone story, forming the loosely arced tale of a dark and quirky detective agency investigating magic-related crimes, usually grisly ones. As character drama, the series has its moments, but it is most notable for its dark, violent, intricately plotted mysteries showcasing strong female characters. Not for kids.

The central characters are Shiki Ryougi, a somber young woman with amazing supernatural fighting abilities; Mikiya Kokutou, a kind young man who was her high school friend; and (to a lesser extent) Touko Aozaki, their boss and a powerful, offbeat sorceress. The arc narrative—sometimes more central, sometimes less—concerns Shiki’s nature and how she grapples with her incredible powers and her desire to kill. In the course of Shiki’s search for her place in society and sense of identity, the team encounters numerous murderers, sorcerers, destructive spirits, and so on.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Recently my uncle, Bill Sanford, passed away at eighty-two years old. Bill was a minister in the Methodist Church. He was also one of the most purely positive role models in my life. I am grateful to Bill in countless ways for his loving presence, but I want to focus on the impact he had as a Christian on me as a lifelong agnostic. What a beautiful example he is of living the loving teachings of Jesus.

To explain Bill’s influence on me, it’s necessary to talk a little bit about me. I have always been an agnostic. I learned agnosticism at my parents’ knees as others learn Catholicism or Judaism. If I asked my parents if God existed, they would reply with “I don’t know.” This belief system was ingrained in me by the time I was five years old. In the years since, my sense of what agnosticism means has grown more complex, but I have never had the desire to be anything other than agnostic.

Being an Agnostic Kid in the United States

Compared to many countries, the United States, blessedly, has a high degree of religious freedom. But it is a nation culturally dominated by Christianity, and it is not always easy to be an agnostic child among a Christian majority. Here are a few of my childhood experiences:

In kindergarten, I had a Jehovah’s Witness friend. While she and her family were always nice to me, I was not allowed to play with her outside of school: my mother explained to me that they thought I was a bad influence because I wasn’t a Christian.

When I was five or six and playing with a friend at my house, I mentioned that I didn’t believe in God. My friend burst into tears and started walking for home (three miles away). As I followed her down the road, she explained, sobbing, that she couldn't play with me because I worshipped Satan. Finally I told her I did believe in God, which cheered her up. I think this is the only time I have ever flat-out lied about it.

At eleven, my lifelong best friend, a Catholic, noted offhandedly that I was damned. There was no malice in the statement: it was just a fact. I wasn’t a Christian, and only Christians are saved. (I should note that today's Catholic Church has a more nuanced view than this child's understanding.)

With such experiences, reinforced by cultural narratives like televangelists’, it is perhaps not surprising that as a child I was afraid of churches and resistant to Christian teachings. My mother dragged me to church once or twice for my cultural literacy. I remember sitting in Sunday School, being forced to sing “Jesus Loves Me” with a feeling of dark detestation at the fact that I was supposed to believe Jesus loved me because “the Bible tells me so,” as if we should believe everything we read!

But these negative impressions of Christianity were not my only childhood experience.
My Uncle the Minister )
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Happy Bilbo and Frodo's Birthday! In the LOTR-verse in my head, Frodo is 84 today. (Bilbo is no longer with us, except in spirit.)

Have some dessert. It's the hobbitish thing to do!
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The Unlimited: Hyoubu Kyousuke (2013), produced by Manglobe as a 12-part anime sequel to Zettai Karen Children, follows the adventures of the original anime’s antagonist, Hyoubu Kyousuke, as he fights–violently–for the rights of “espers” (people with superpowers) in a world dominated by norms. The Unlimited has all the elements of a truly great anime but misses a lot of chances to deploy them to the best effect. Overall, it is well above average without being spectacular. I have not seen Zettai Karen Children and so can confidently say that you don’t need to in order to enjoy The Unlimited.

The story is fairly simple, though the plot has some convoluted twists. Hyoubu Kyousuke is a very powerful esper (he can fly around, use telekinesis, shoot energy waves, etc.). He was born in the 1930s, but thanks to his powers has an extended lifespan and still looks like a teen, albeit white-haired. A child hero within a special esper unit in World War II, he became disillusioned with “normals” after experiencing cruel persecution and devoted his adult life to forming a criminal esper organization, P.A.N.D.R.A., to resist and possibly exterminate norms. Opposing him is nigh everyone, including B.A.B.E.L., a norm-esper organization founded by one of Kyousuke’s esper companions from World War II, Fujiko. Unbeknownst to Kyousuke, he is also being opposed by a young esper he has recently recruited, Andy Hinomiya, a Japanese-American who is, in fact, a US undercover agent. But things are more complicated than even Andy knows, and he may find cause to switch his loyalties. The three titular “children” from Zettai Karen Children, now middle schoolers, also make brief appearances as B.A.B.E.L. agents but are not central characters.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
labingi: (ivan)
If any 19th-century woman can claim a place as quintessential geek girl, it is surely Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Not only is she the progenitor of one of the icons of geek culture and a founder of modern science fiction, she is also, I will argue, firmly situated in the grand tradition of women fan fiction writers. Born August 30, 1797, she would be 216 years old today.

Brief Biography
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley seemed marked for literary accomplishment. The daughter radical philosopher, William Godwin, and prototypic feminist and author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley was a natural heir to literary talent. Despite this advantage, however, her life was fraught with sorrows. Her mother having died in childbirth, she grew up close to her father. This relationship, however, was shattered when at sixteen she eloped with scandalous Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (of the “Satanic School”).

Though the Shelleys loved each other and were surrounded by a stimulating social circle of Romantic intelligentsia, their lives were troubled, not least by the loss of several children: Percy Florence was the only child to survive his parents. After Shelley’s untimely death in a boating accident, Mary found herself a widow at twenty-four with a son to support. Though Shelley’s father was a baronet, his disapproval of his son’s elopement meant that he provided little financial support. She ended up significantly augmenting her income by writing and editing.

She was a prolific writer. In addition to Frankenstein and her futuristic science fiction novel, The Last Man, she wrote lesser-known novels, short stories, children’s stories, travel literature, and essays (and, of course, voluminous letters).

Today, aside from some slight attention to The Last Man and her novella, “Mathilda, ” about an incestuous father-daughter relationship, she is only remembered for Frankenstein. But, really, isn’t that enough?

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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Heartfelt thanks to my BFF, Melanie Powers, for her donation of football helmets to my sci-fi film, The Eater. Package received! Moreover, she's paying postage as a donation to the film. Melanie, you're awesome!

This is one of the things I love about microbudget filmmaking. People pull together to accomplish an immensely complex project out of resources something like 0.1% of what Hollywood would say you need to raise to make a movie. Now, do microbudgets look like Hollywood movies? No. Even those produced by professionals with exquisitely honed talent and rigorous production standards (I do not count myself in this group, by the way) will show the signs of extreme cheapness: fewer/poor effects, lower-grade sound, less diversity in camera angles, cheap costumes, more continuity glitches the crew couldn't afford to correct, etc.

But it's possible to make exceptional art on a shoestring. Consider Shakespeare at the Globe: actors on an empty stage. Yes, movies are a different medium, but the same basic rule applies: great actors and a great script can generate great art. With a little help from your friends, there's nothing stopping you.

What this doesn't generate is a sustainable economic model. Shakespeare's contemporaries had theater goers to buy tickets. Most microbudgets, even well received at festivals, will not get regular distribution or make much money in theaters; DVD sales are a thing of the past; and streaming or online sales brings in a pittance per view or copy sold.

And so we have a cycle of poverty, often with the poor supporting the poor. My friend, Melanie, isn't rolling in cash, which makes her contribution all the more noteworthy. I'm not rolling in cash either, which hamstrings my desire to increase the budget I contribute from my savings to pay people respectably for their work. And so people end up donating a lot of time and resources. I love them for it, but they're not making a living this way anymore than I am.

It's never been easy to be a working artist, but I generally agree with Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget that our current model of internet culture has made things harder. Or to be more fair, it's made production easier; it's made making money harder. Consumers--myself included--just aren't willing to pay much for digital copies, and with so many projects being produced, even most good ones get lost in the noise.

I don't have a ready solution. But I know this: people won't stop making art. Indie, low-budget filmmaking won't stop. Most of it will be bad quality, but some of it will be as brilliant as anything from professional studios. And this will continue to be the work of people coming together out of love of art and in friendship with each other to do it because it's worth doing.
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Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil) (2013) is a truly different anime. This 13-episode Zexcs production, based on the manga by Shuzo Oshimi, is a dark slice-of-life teen drama. I generally detest slice-of-life teen drama, so I’m not just idly gushing when I say this series is (mostly) fantastic. It owes much of its originality–and controversy–to its use of rotoscoping in place of traditional animation. This technique, in which live-action footage is traced over, puts Aku no Hana artistically in a bit of an uncanny valley between cartoon and live action drama. The effect unsettled me at first, but the whole story is meant to be unsettling, and in the end, I found it the perfect mix of realism with a creepy, otherworldly overlay.

Aku no Hana starts out as an adventure in Schadenfreude. Shy middle-school boy, Takao Kasuga, has a crush on the beautiful and accomplished Nanako Saeki, and in a moment of bad judgment, he steals her PE uniform. Unfortunately for Kasuga, this momentary lapse is witnessed by Sawa Nakamura, a borderline psycho from his class who is desperate to find another authentic “sicko” like herself to relieve the tedium and hypocrisy she sees in middle-school life. She blackmails Kasuga into performing more and more bizarre acts in exchange for her silence about the uniform. And Kasuga, like the clueless, emotionally sensitive boy he is, lets himself get buried in increasingly unconscionable webs of deceit. All this is just the jumping-off point for an in-depth psychological investigation of Kasuga, Nakamura, and Saeki, none of whom is quite what they initially seem.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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The latest X-Men film, The Wolverine, has recently opened in theaters. As you might guess, it’s about Wolverine–but I need to talk about the women. As gender fail goes, The Wolverine is by no means an egregious offender. In some ways, it handles its female characters well, but this is all the more reason to critique it: its gender fail not a fluke. It’s not a movie that just happened to be penned by a sexist writer. If anything, its handling of women is better than the norm for a Hollywood superhero flick. Yet it’s still offensive, and we have to do better. Now.

Spoiler-lite summary: the film is set after X-Men: The Last Stand, in which Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) killed an insane Jean-Grey-as-the-Phoenix (Famke Janssen) to stop her wreaking destruction. We catch up with him haunted by dreams of her and trying to put his identity as “Wolverine” behind him. But his past finds him in the form of an old Japanese acquaintance (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) he saved from the bombing of Nagasaki.* This old man wants to see Wolverine before he dies. Thus, Wolverine is whisked off to Japan where adventure ensues, including romance with his old friend’s granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto). The story is based on one of Wolverine’s more famous comic book plotlines, but I’m going to address the movieverse as a standalone.

The film does some redeeming gender work. One enjoyable character is Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a multitalented mutant sidekick with amazing fighting skills, wit, charm, courage, and culturally plausible Japanese cuteness. (But note the word “sidekick.”) Mariko is also updated from the traditional damsel in distress. Though not a mutant, she has some decent fighting skills of her own and is courageous, proactive, and intelligent.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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I do not think War and Peace is a novel. If War and Peace is, in fact, a history text on the Russian perspective of the Napoleonic Wars, using fictional characters to portray a range of daily realities that formed part of the fabric of this time period, then it does its work, and it may be the most interesting history text on the Napoleonic Wars ever written. But if I am meant to see War and Peace as a novel--as a work of fiction whose task is to tell a story about its characters--I found it failure.

Its failure is more frustrating because it is plainly the work of a literary genius. Tolstoy may be the best writer I have ever read for comprehending and capturing the way human beings function psychologically. He creates a wide range of characters--young and old, extroverted, introverted, merry, severe, emotional, rational, capricious, conscientious, etc.--all of whom think and behave in ways exactly plausible for who they are and yet surprising and complex and evolving. And he depicts many of these experiences, external and internal, with a phenomenal eye for detail, nuance, strangeness, idiosyncrasy, and the stream of consciousness of human thought and feeling. So what's the problem?

Read the rest at Goodreads.
labingi: (Default)
The best thing I can say about the anime, Glass Fleet (2006), is it does interesting work with gender. If subverting gender stereotypes is up your alley, it’s worth watching. Pound for pound, it may include more gender fail than win, but when it wins, it wins in a pretty unusual way. The following review is substantially spoiler free. Below it, clearly labeled, is spoilerific commentary.

Glass Fleet is a 26-episode space fantasy anime about a People’s Army rebelling against the current emperor. The leader of this army, Michel, enlists the help of dethroned prince and super-warrior Cleo to overthrow the reign of the rather cold and amoral/immoral emperor, Vetti. Cleo has inherited a fantastically amazing glass battleship, which may become the pattern for a fleet: hence the title.

In many respects, the series is not very good. It looks cheap. The animation is choppy. The world building is ridiculous, inexplicable, and inconsistent even by generous fantasy standards. The space battles are absurd, though of the face-to-face fighting is reasonably well choreographed. The handling of the plot and character trajectories has some huge problems that may leave most viewers unsatisfied. So why am I bothering to pull this series out and dust it off now?

Because in odd moments, it’s deeply compelling. (Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.)
labingi: Elek from my movie, The Hour before Morning (elek)
We exceeded our goal on the Hour before Morning Kickstarter campaign! It's a huge relief to have it over. :) Now, I need to send our rewards.
labingi: Elek from my movie, The Hour before Morning (elek)

Hour before Morning Kickstarter Update!



We have raised $2052 toward our goal of $5000 by July 7th to fund post-production and distribution for the Hour before Morning film. 

We have 12 days to raise $2948 or we get zero.  Kickstarter is all-or-nothing!

The Hour before Morning is an indie science film about a murderer seeking redemption in an oppressive future.  He gets a helping hand from two of his fellow prisoners as they await execution.

The Hour before Morning is a movie we deeply believe in, but this campaign is about more than just a film. It's about the people behind it, people who donated hundreds of hours of their time to see our vision realized, even though most of them were (and are) strapped for cash in this poor economy. Reaching this funding goal will help us distribute a film that will bolster the résumés of so many talented people hoping to get their break into the world of filmmaking.

The minimum contribution is $1 (USD), and contributing to Kickstarter is easy.  Just click the link below, click, "back this project," and check out through Amazon.com.  We're offering great rewards, including a signed copy of the book; copy of the movie; autographed photo of our dashing lead actor, Joel Albrecht; credit in the movie... and at our highest level a guaranteed role in the sequel.  

Our Kickstarter page

For more info, see our writeup on The Geek Girl Project.
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For the past couple of years, birthday present money from my parents has gone toward funding some sort of life necessity. This year, however, that wasn't the case and I actually got a couple of birthday presents in the form of manga, Blade of the Immortal vol. 26 and House of Five Leaves vol. 8.

They're a marvelous contrast to each other: the back cover of House of Five Leaves features a fat cat; the front page of Blade of the Immortal features a starving dog, and that sums up the difference really. Here are my quick impressions:

Blade of the Immortal 26
Series summary: a young woman, Rin, seeks revenge on the group of swordsmen who killed her parents in 18th-century Japan. To that end, she hires a bodyguard, Manji, who is has been infected by mysterious "worms" that make him nigh impossible to kill.

This is one of those volumes that is mostly an extended battle scene, but it's a reasonably interesting one and the end segment brings to a head an important moral plot thread that has been winding along since the early volumes. Overall, it's a good volume but lacks the plot and character development of the best.

Spoilers follow )

House of Five Leaves 8
Series summary: A timid samurai, Masanosuke, gets taken in as a member of a gang of kidnappers, led by Yaichi, and discovers he quite likes them (in 18th-century Japan).

This is the final volume of House of Five Leaves, and I must confess it's the only one I've read, the rest of my knowledge deriving from the anime. However, I wanted to see how the manga ended, and I was not disappointed. Though different from the anime's ending, this conclusion feels thematically and emotionally similar. It's a happy ending--very happy really, but understated and earned enough to make me root for the characters and their continued well being.

Spoilers follow )
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From [livejournal.com profile] astrogirl2:

Pick a fic of mine and a question (or questions) and I'll tell you:

1. What part was most difficult?
2. What are you most proud of?
3. What's a reference you made no one has picked up on yet?
4. What's a bit that sums up your take on a character?
5. Favorite line(s) of dialogue?
6. Favorite lines(s) of prose?
7. Were there any points where you were trying to do something specific with sound, vocabulary, or rhythm?
8. How many drafts did the work go through?
9. Were you listening to anything while writing the fic? If so, what?
10. Imagery that is important to the fic, either while composing or in the fic itself?
11. What were you most worried about during the composition?
12. How do you want readers to react to this fic?
13. What did you want them to take away from it?
14. What inspired this fic?
15. If you used a beta, what did you agree or disagree on?
16. Did anything surprise you during the writing?
17. Were any parts written under the influence?

Older list of my fic (also includes some non-fic memories)
AO3 List
labingi: Elek from my movie, The Hour before Morning (elek)
With 18 days to go, we have raised $1613 toward $5000 to complete and distribute my first film, The Hour before Morning, the story of a murderer seeking redemption in an oppressive future and finding compassion from two fellow prisoners as they await execution.

Backers at the $15 level will receive this lovely autographed photo of lead actor, Joel Albrecht in addition to sincere e-thanks and a PDF of the novel. The minimum contribution is $1 and all levels are welcome. Please consider chipping in and/or spread the word to the fans of thoughtful speculative fiction in your life. Thanks!

Click here for the Hour before Morning Kickstarter.

Joel Albrecht - Elek in The Hour before Morning
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Today I saw a stand of sycamore trees bathed in the yellow summer twilight like a painting my Maxfield Parrish. I'm on vacation in the California Central Valley with my father and back in the land of spreading trees.

It reminds me how from time to time I think about what I want my life to be like when I'm very old and in my final years. I always, always picture myself sitting in the sunlight. I'm always in California, in my wine country home. Of course, in my visions, the weather is always perfect, which California isn't. It's warm--warm enough to sit very still and still feel warm, but it's not too hot. It might be spring or summer or fall (or one of those crazy, global warming winter days--by the time I'm very old, maybe winter will be the only season when I can sit outside like that without frying). There are always oak trees and grass and quiet. And there's time at last to watch the light and birds and insects.

This tells me a lot about myself, about what I let myself miss in these years when life seems dedicated to rushing through life, as if rushing itself were a virtue.

Much of the rush is framed as the need for money. And I hope that when I'm very old, I will have money enough to sit in the sun and not have to work till I drop or find myself locked desitute in a cubicle in a convalescent hospital (like my grandmothers). I hope climate change will not have completely destroyed my oaks. I hope civilization will be intact enough that our lands will not be denuded and overrun by hungry masses. But I suspect that even if the world itself is in crisis, as seems likely, that beauty will persist and quiet moments if I look as I looked this evening.
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Angel’s Egg (1985) is an OVA I profoundly like—but I may be weird. Whether this collaboration between artist Yoshitaka Amano and director Mamoru Oshii will appeal to you depends strongly on what you look for in anime. If you like the meditative, beautiful, and atmospheric, you may be in for a treat. However, if you like your stories to have some sort of plot and pacing and make sense, you may wish to look elsewhere. One thing is undeniable: the visual artistry of this almost thirty-year-old anime stands up elegantly across the decades.

Read the rest at The Geek Girl Project.
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I had my second adventure in Haitian cooking with my fellow parent-adopting-from-Haiti and neighbor, M. We had pretty good luck a couple of weeks ago making rice balls and this week made potato and beet salad, which also turned out well. I would never do such involved cooking on my own, but it's a great chance to get together and talk.

Earlier in the day, I was a grip on a film shoot for a sitcom pilot by Ariel Castle and Maurice Welch. It was fun to be out in the world of film production again. It makes me look forward to production on The Eater.

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