labingi: (Default)
Disclaimer: I've only read a bit in the Trigun manga (plus Wikipedia), so my Plant knowledge is far from complete, and I'm very open to having my musings corrected.

From what I can make out, the Plants in Trigun are a fascinating study in the nature of selfhood and (un-)differentiation of self, other, and environment. Spoilers Follow )
labingi: (r2dvd)
For Mother's Day, I saw the Tim Burton remake of Dark Shadows with my parents, which is appropriate since it's my mother and father who introduced me to Dark Shadows more than thirty years ago. Indeed, it was one of the first TV shows I was ever aware of and Barnabas Collins one of the first characters for whom my preschool brain ever created fan fictional ramblings. (Funny how I knew even then that he was cool character.)

The Original

The original TV show was a scraping-the-bottom-of-the-pail cheap vampire soap opera that owes much of its incredible popularity to its mind-blowingly low budget. Here was a show so cheap the actors scarcely had time to rehearse their lines before filming, a show so cheap it could rarely afford more than two takes of a scene, a show, which, therefore, boasts a legion of bloopers that went straight out on the air: mangled lines, boom shadows, wobbly tomb stones, production assistants streaking past the camera. It's hilarious. And this is necessary, because the actual stories are so heavily overwrought that they are hilarious too--and they need to be made fun of if we are to take them seriously. Read more... )
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(light spoilers, not cutting)

In church today, we had the Earth Day service, which consisted of singing about gratitude to God for the glories of the Earth and about our responsibilities steward the Earth. Because I've been obsessing about Trigun, I found myself contemplating how Trigun's Plants function as a metaphor for ecological awareness.

There's something odd about locating gratitude for the Earth in God. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but it has a tendency to crowd out gratitude to the actual living beings that enable our lives every day. The putative ultimate cause of the biosphere gets praised while the myriad proximate causes get framed more like pretty presents someone has given us.

In Trigun, life on a harsh desert planet is enabled by sentient (power) Plants that generate the energy and chemical constituents necessary to wrest life out of this hostile environment. They are not God, nor are they a functioning biosphere unto themselves, but they are beings whose entire lives are devoted to ensuring human beings survive, and they are almost totally ignored--if not willfully exploited--by the humans who depend on them.

In this respect, they are a powerful metaphor for our dominant human attitude toward natural processes in general. We treat them--as the humans in Trigun do their Plants--like lab experiments we can manipulate at will and use with impunity. In the 21st century, most of us know better: we've certainly had no dearth of natural disasters to remind us of our smallness. But still we live as if we didn't see the lives inside the light bulbs.


Plants
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Exhausted but have to write something about Trigun. Now that I've seen the whole anime, I understand why people have been telling me for years that it's awesome. It is; it just takes about a fourth of the series to get there. For anyone who has been as under a rock as me since 1998, the series is... hard to summarize without spoilers but about an action hero on Tatooine a desert planet grappling with moral problems. It starts as typically broad anime action-comedy (though the main female characters are never typical anime babes) and proceeds to become rather dark philosophical drama.

Thoughts & Spoilers )

Trigun and Christianity )

vs. Gungrave )
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Happy Downfall of Sauron Day, 2012 (or SR 1451 in the great LotR-verse in my mind).

I have watched again the Epic Rap Battle between Gandalf and Dumbledore and fixed clearly on why I don't find it very funny, despite some cuteness: the Gandalf the Grey vs. White antics, for example. It has a couple of superficial failings: too much reliance on gay jokes, as [personal profile] louderandlouder observed to me, and likewise, the virtual lack of any attempt at English accents.

But the primary thing that undercuts the humor for me is the line in which Gandalf refers to himself as something like, "the one rapper to rule them all." Now, this is not a criticism of the Nicepeter team. It's a purely idiosyncratic response on my part. But it's painful for me in exactly the same way and for exactly the same reason that it's painful when, in LotR, Pippin refers to Frodo as "the lord of the Ring." Both are references, though the rap reference more oblique, to someone other than Sauron commanding the Ring.

And this, to me, isn't funny. You see, I take the Ring very seriously. Yes, I know it's a work of fiction. And I do generally adhere to the position that most anything can be funny in the right context. But the Ring is a very important symbol. It speaks to the same principle that has enshrined checks and balances in the Constitution of the United States. It represents for me the idea that there are forces in existence no one can control. There are attempts at a kind of power that can only lead to one's corruption, regardless of one's motives or one's native goodness. The Ring tells us that trying to master the Earth will backfire, that fascism is not a good system of government, nor totalitarianism. It's why Dr. Haber ended up insane. It's Donald Worster's explanation of why the most stable and sustainable peoples are those whose social codes strongly limit their sphere of action in the world. It recalls us to the necessity of humility.

The Ring is profoundly frightening. And for all that I tend to poke fun at the say-it-not-even-in-jestiness of so many in Middle-earth, this I do not jest about. Gandalf knows better--this is fundamental to his character--and to invoke the idea that he doesn't, even in farce, just isn't all that funny.
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I like vampire lit for much the same reason I like science fiction: both change the premises of our life experience and, thus, challenge our usual cultural and psychological assumptions. Vampire lit, in particular, lends itself to upending commonplaces about gender and family structure. It's often been noted that vampire reproduction is inherently incestuous: vampires typically make new vampires through some sort of blood exchange that reads as both a parenting act and a sexual act, so parents and children are, almost by default, also lovers. By the same token, vampire lit can, in one fell swoop, eliminate all physically based power differential between the sexes: in many tales, males and females have identical reproductive biologies and no sex-linked difference in physical strength (or if they do, it is much overshadowed by other differences, like age or "strength" of their blood, etc.). Add in functional immortality and the politics of relating to humans as people and foodsource, and all this makes for fascinating reinventions of culture for those stories that choose to exploit this potential. Some examples...

The Vampire Chronicles )

Blood+ )

Buffy the Vampire Slayer )

Twilight )

I don't believe that vampire lit is an exhausted field by any means; it simply requires creativity to keep reinventing itself. And while I don't read vampire lit just for the sake of reading vampire lit, I am always open to being swept up in the next thought-provoking reinvention.

(Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] meganinhiding, whose vampire musings spurred me to stop putting off writing this post.)
labingi: (anotsu)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Prisoner

A friend has been deepening my awareness of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and one thing that's struck me as I've sat down and really considered the movie is how thematically close it is to The Prisoner.

I'm not a RHPS aficionado, so I don't know if the The Prisoner is commonly known to be an influence, but it makes sense that it would be. It's only about five years older and from the same country, and there's a remarkable similarity in blocking between some of the "Time Warp" ensemble scenes and some scenes of oddly costumed folks running about in the last episode of The Prisoner.

Beyond that visual resonance, however, it didn't initially occur to me to link these two texts. After all, when one thinks of TRHPS, one thinks of sex and lingerie, and The Prisoner is about an asexual aromantic in a trim, black, almost priestly suit and occasionally in well starched pajamas, being immune to all seductions.

But The Prisoner is about the fight for individuality, the determination not to be a number but an "I"--the "One" who is not a "unit of society" but a "free man." It is about a man who will face death, torture, and anything else you can throw at him rather than compromise his sense of self by conforming to the demands of the society he is enmeshed in. TRHPS is about the same thing.Read more... )
labingi: (r2dvd)
I have been revisiting Lexx, and it occurs to me that the basic dynamic between Xev and Kai is one of the most poignantly realist doomed love stories I have seen in science fiction TV. To be sure, it's full of camp craziness on the surface: she's a half-lizard "love slave" with an "accelerated libido"; he's a dead guy with funny hair, etc. But if we read their various traits on an emotional (or metaphorical) level, the relationship that emerges is easily recognizable in the real world.

Spoilers Follow )
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Gungrave as an Asexual-Positive Text

The anime, Gungrave, offers a refreshingly balanced view of sex. While acknowledging sex as important, it is a rare example of a text that does not exaggerate the importance of sex within a healthy society. (Mind you, Gungrave in no way presents a healthy society, but its narrative stance does show healthy attitudes toward sex.) In addition to modeling balanced attitudes toward sex as an aspect of human society, the anime provides a strong asexual role model in the character of Brandon.

Spoilers Follow )
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The Gungrave rewatch continues with thoughts on Bunji's first showdown with Brandon. In a part of the series that is generally its weakest (the boss battles part), this episode elicits some very sound character and theme development.

Different Understandings of Betrayal--with Spoilers )


[Bunji side note: I love Bunji's response to Mika's shrieking at him, which is in essence, "Shut up, shut up, shut up!!! I'm going to unload twenty bullets in your general direction!" At no other point do I identify so deeply with Bunji.]
labingi: (riki)
Continuing the Gungrave rewatch, I have brief thoughts on Lee and how Harry (inadvertently) broke him.Spoilers )
labingi: (riki)
On watching Gungrave again. This must be my fourth or fifth time through, and as with the best stories, I’m still spotting new things--and am aware I’m missing others. Below the cut, Harry observations with rampant spoilers, including substantial Iliad comparison.

More Iliad Comparisons and Other Character Bits )
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It is time for a Gungrave post in honor of my latest rewatch. This time, another literary analogy, Gungrave’s intriguing echoes of Wagner’s Ring.

In particular, Brandon shares some notable themes with Brünnhilde. Both are highly skilled, powerful, moral people in the unenviable profession of bringing death to designated individuals. Despite their personal power, both are absolute servants to the will of the “Father.” Both come from a family/culture in which betrayal is the highest crime. Both are required to take lives they would rather save. Both run into conflict between their duty and their heart. Both fall from the grace of the family by following their hearts.Read more... )
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Watched XMFC again with my friend, G; I am now at the point of evaluating minutia, viz, Erik's floating accent. Whatever the production-level explanation for the migration of his accent from more American to more British and vice versa, the shifts in-universe are fascinating. In a nutshell, his English starts out very American, moves toward British/mid-Atlantic almost as soon as he meets Charles, then migrates back again toward American right near the end.

light spoilers follow )
labingi: (anotsu)
I just finished the Canadian "stop-motion comic," Broken Saints (2001-03). The years are significant, as much of the story is a response to America's response to 9/11. In fact, this is an admirably fierce critique of the American military-industrial empire. Even from Canada, it surprised me a little to see this so soon after 9/11. If it had been made in America, I suspect the response would have been rigorous media ostracism and death threats to all parties involved. In the main, I highly recommend this production on both a political and artistic level.

Some spoilers follow but not very specific )
labingi: (ivan)
"The X-Men, Evolution, and Non-Allegorical Interpretation"

In her commentary on X-Men: First Class, Abigail Nussbaum argues that the film unintentionally downplays Nazi atrocities and promotes anti-Israeli sentiment by equating dominant Western culture's fear of the Jewish "other" with non-mutant humanity's arguably justifiable fear of dangerously powerful mutants, the unfortunate implication being that fear of the Jewish other may be justified. Nussbaum, oaktree89, and others make important observations about the problematic linking of Jewishness, villainy, and the dangers of mutation in the plotline of Erik Lehnsherr. However, Nussbaum's reading of The X-Men as a "parable" for social issues such as homosexuality and Jewishness oversimplifies its symbolic structure. I would argue that The X-Men (the franchise and its specific iterations) is most sociologically useful when it is read not an as allegory for real-world issues but rather as applicable to them.

Read more... )
labingi: (ivan)
Book Review

Autobiography of Red
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson is a short "novel in verse" that retells the story of Herakles slaying Geryon as twentieth-century coming-of-age story about a passive and inward-turning boy/young man who falls in love with a dismissive oaf. It's an engaging human-interest story, though it left me with nothing in particular to chew on the moment I stopped reading. Geryon's interiority is well developed, and the language is often lovely. I tend to think the classical conceit was wasted as the story has very little to do with the myth. It's a quintessentially postmodern book in many ways, but I think I'd class it post-postmodern.

The book has the postmodern characteristics of alienation, fragmentation, instability, fiddling with our concepts of reality (shades of magic realism), experimental language, feeling trapped/lost, and a somewhat self-congratulatory refusal to fire several guns on the walls. However, my gut wants to say it's nearer Modernism insofar as the protagonist has a fairly stable sense of identity. The overall feel is less "everything is confusing and meaningless" than "society is confusing and hostile and doesn't understand me or I it." In that regard, the book is closely tied to Ulysses, though Ulysses probes the classical myth AU thing far more deeply.

At its core, the novel a love story--about a solid identity who can really love, and for me this pushes it past the high postmodern into the movement G, in her never-completed dissertation, described as reclaiming meaningful human identity and relationality without reinscribing the traditional social roles that defined it in 19th-century psychological realism. A shorthand for this might be "it's slashy." It certainly also falls into that strange, loose category of stories by women that seems to use male homoerotic relationships as a paradigm for exploring women's experience outside rigid gender presumptions. Certainly, Geryon's character functions in traditionally feminine ways: passive, exploited, loyal, self-reflective, somewhat invisible.

I'm not a fan of postmodernism, and there were moments in this novel when it pressed on my pomo peeves. That said, the story feels real and emotionally engaging if brief and not hugely substantial. And the poetry is genuinely elegant and creative. I give it a mild-ish thumbs up.

(Note: The book was published in 1998, a fact I checked several times because the story is clearly set some time before this, not later than the '80s, I'd say. I wonder if it was written then or is looking back at the near past?)
labingi: (rakka)
Blood+ Anime Review and Meta
with remarks on evolution and biology


Somehow in the midst of my current X-Men obsession, I managed to finish Blood+, a 50-episode anime, recced by [personal profile] sixish, and I am here to recommend it to others. It's been a long time since I've found an anime so satisfying and genuinely interesting.

Non-Spoilery Summary:
Blood+ is a vampire story, the basic premise of which is Saya the Vampire Slayer, a high school girl who discovers she has fighting skills and unique blood that can kill vampires ("chiropterans"). Along with her adoptive family, she is inducted into a band of vampire hunters. Sounds generic enough, but it's actually creative and dramatically subtle. (Disclosure: owing to Netflix weirdness and laziness, I skipped the first disc; I'm told it's the boring one.)

Spoilers Follow )
labingi: (Default)
"X-Men: First Class as a Love Story"

The Trope of Falling in Love

"Falling in love" has been the dominant trope in our literary landscape several hundred years, and as with any such overriding cultural construction, one need merely nod at it to claim one has created a sufficient story. This descent into narrative laziness is succinctly invoked in Avril Lavigne's exceptionally grating song, "Skater Boy," which opens, "He was a boy. She was a girl. / Can I make it any more obvious?" No. In eight words, every one of us instantly understands; that's how thoroughly embedded the cliché is.

In the majority of narratives, nodding at the cliché largely stands in for developing a compelling relationship between two individuals. The highest literary example of this may be Romeo and Juliet, in which two teens have sexual chemistry at a dance, spend a few days obsessing over each other due to hormones and reverse psychology, and end up killing themselves for the love of someone they scarcely had a chance to get to know. It's sad, and it works as a story because it's about the sadness of the social situation rather than Romeo and Juliet. It's not, however, about falling in love.

Like most every cliché, "falling in love" gained its stature because it has real power. People really do fall in love, and it's amazing. And in those rare instances where this narrative is executed as a natural, dynamic building of relationship between two people who genuinely "click," it can create an extremely compelling story.

Read on: this will be about Charles and Erik eventually )

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