Singing and Maiming, Together at Last

This is the time of year when I’m reminded of my Stockholm Syndrome for horror stories. Traditionally I’m filled with a desire to consume them, which then conflicts with my need to sleep over the next several days. But then in high school I was introduced to Army of Darkness, and camp horror swooped in to rescue my circadian rhythms.

What’s camp, you reluctantly ask after I’ve singled you out? That’s an excellent question, theoretical reader. There’re a couple different definitions, which have evolved with time, but it comes down to a few basic components: theatricality, excessiveness, comparative mediocrity, and above all absurd exaggeration of the subject at hand. This generally comes in ‘deliberate’ and ‘accidental’ flavors. Drag shows can be camp, for example, as a means of playing up the ridiculousness of the ‘costume’ of gender roles. The films of Ed Wood (Plan 9 and so on) are camp because they hurtle past any bounds of empathy or believable fantasy and right on into self-parody. It’s a fine line, and achieving it deliberately is a lot harder than doing it accidentally – accidental camp comes with an air of charm, the feeling that the creators were honestly trying their best and just didn’t make it to traditional quality (whether from resources or the material itself being lacking); whereas deliberate and failed camp more often than not provokes eyerolling and the resentment of the audience.

Deliberate camp, particularly, needs to have something to say to really strike a chord. The exaggeration must exist to draw attention to something rather than existing for its own excessive sake (which is the domain of accidental camp). I’m convinced the reason The Rocky Horror Picture Show has much more reliable appeal than Repo! The Genetic Opera is because the former knew what it was paying homage/parody to (B sci fi movies and the sexual revolution), while the latter just kind of…is, in all its weird, cult-celebrity collecting glory (despite really wanting to be Rocky Horror).

In that light, I gathered up five great under the radar examples (in no particular order) of not just camp horror, but camp musical horror for your Halloween week. And for those of you concerned I might make it a whole post without mentioning anime, worry not. It’s in there.

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Green Jacket 02 – Mythbuster Thief

Want to start at the beginning?

You know that story where Sherlock Holmes is trying to solve a case that everyone thinks was caused by a vampire, and for a while it seems like there might actually be one of the nosferatu, but then in the end Sherlock assures us of how it couldn’t possibly be a supernatural fanged being after all? This episode is like that. Welcome to Lupin III Part I, and my weekly attempts to prep the world for Miyazaki’s return to the franchise (you can check out the recap of episode one here). Come in, have a seat, and baffle along with me at how such a great series started off so very, very poorly.

“The Man They Called a Magician” starts with a scene straight out of a mobster movie. Some mooks in trenchcoats bust in with tommyguns blazing and ice this john, ya dig? But when they knock off to get friendly with some dames the punk that oughta be sleepin’ with the fishes gets up and is totally fine, see? Myeh.

After the Untouchables-esque cold open, we cut to the heroes protagonists likable characters jerks we’re following for some reason (and also Jigen) in a state of relative repose – Lupin is fishing in his underwear, like you do, while Jigen engages in target practice alongside the metallic love of his life. That beatnik they kidnapped to do the opening theme has finally mellowed out from the torture the producers inflicted on him, and sets the scene with a (more, somehow) mellow version of the one-word title song.

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Jigen’s suit is having one of its fuzzy phases

From the window of the nearby safe house we hear that Fujiko’s taken up a love for singing bloody, thematically foreshadowing songs. She wandered out of a burning forest the night before, and Lupin was conveniently there to rescue her. Back outside, Jigen warns Lupin that Fujiko can’t be trusted, and Lupin brushes him off. Some variation of this conversation will continue to occur in virtually every heist Fujiko suggests, regardless of jacket color. It’s practically Jigen’s catchphrase, a statement so sad I don’t actually have words for it.

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Shinji Ikari Must Die (But Not for the Reason You’re Probably Thinking)

It would seem that the Rebuild of Evangelion is determined to be a mirror reflection of its parent series. Now, I know what you’re saying. ‘An action packed, visually impressive series that builds up traditional expectations only to blindside the audience three quarters of the way through with depression and subversions? I’m not even sure whether you’re describing Evangelion or Rebuild!’ And after a fashion, you’d be right. Like the Mirror verse Spock, it can be pretty hard to differentiate until you hit upon the obvious beard of thematic difference (and isn’t that a muddled simile). As the lead in might suggest, be aware of spoilers for 3.0 and beyond.

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Well, this will be interesting

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Green Jacket 01 – Burn it Down

The curse of a longstanding, ongoing work is that the early bits are going to look hoarier as the creator (hopefully) continues to improve their craft. For example, if I go back to watch the first episode of Lupin III, a franchise whose continued existence brings me a childish sense of glee, I might wonder when the callous and bloodthirsty murderer replaced my favorite crafty gentleman thief. This is the curse of time, ladies and gents. And it’s a real shame because, like the Japanese public in the 70s, the uninformed would likely switch the confusing mess off and miss out on a barrel of laughs and at least one masterpiece. So why not honor it with a little recap series? I’ll go through the sometimes bizarre, sometimes bafflingly inept episodes before Hayao Miyazaki came on board, and when that time comes we can all just settle into having a great time together…while still pointing out some of charming oddities of this classic.

For those of you wanting to sing along, the show’s available for free on Hulu as Lupin the Third Part I. If you’re really ambitious you can plonk down $30 for the complete box set over on Amazon and keep the fine folks at Discotek in gas station sandwiches.

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Alright, everybody scrunch up

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Curse you, France!

Hayao Miyazaki is leaving us. He’s packing up his imaginative worlds, his well written female characters, his moral grays, his love of environmental and anti-war messages, and going to a farm upstate where he can romp with other retired directors.

Luckily for us, his idea of working less is to move from feature film into television. A few weeks ago, it was announced that Miyazaki would be directing a Lupin the Third TV series, set to air some time in 2014. If your head is not exploding from excitement right now, you’re probably American and can lay blame on the French.

Arséne Lupin III (that’s are-sen loo-PAHN) you see, is a cultural icon in Japan. He’s their Batman – there’ve been Lupins of all varieties on the tonal spectrum, and from its inception its always existed in one medium or another. Lupin III was originally a manga by Monkey Punch that ran from 1967 to 1969. It chronicled the adventures of the titular character, the grandson of famed gentleman thief Arséne Lupin. Lupin’s gang includes doggedly loyal sharpshooter Daisuke Jigen, anachronistic samurai Goemon Ishikawa XIII (a supposed descendant of the Japan’s more-or-less Robin Hood), and lady thief/spy Fujiko Mine (her name translates “Twin Peaks,” ‘cause the 60s was all about class). Their main antagonist is more-obsessive-than-Javert Best Cop Ever Koichi Zenigata, progeny of classic literary Best Cop Ever Heiji Zenigata. I guess what I’m saying is Monkey Punch was writing fanfiction before it was really a thing. Oh, and a note going forward – Japanese works read from right to left, generally speaking.

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Cling. Cling on, you precious charm factories

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All Twilight Needed was a Bloodbath

The fact of it is that we exist in a post-Twilight world, whether you’ve bitterly resigned yourself or not. It’s not just the epidemic of sexy-monsters, which might’ve reached its peak with the cavalcade of conceptual madness that was the romantic zombie flick Warm Bodies, it’s all the insidious little tropes that come along with it: the main character who’s been made as bland as possible in order to better assist reader insertion, protagonists who switch between being infuriatingly passive and actively awful people, love triangles crowbarred into the plot contrivances-be-damned, and prose so purple you can feel HP Lovecraft stirring in his seafood-proofed grave.

For the record, I am fully supportive of Stephanie Meyer encouraging reading. That’s a wonderful thing, even if it came gift wrapped in a double edged sword of terrible role models. And to be doubly fair, these aren’t just problems that exist in YA fiction or even American fiction (more on that in a minute). But it doesn’t change the fact that I came out of those books wanting to murder the three main characters as violently as possible. Instead, we had to make do with a stomach churning happy ending with no actual climactic conflict (except in the movie, which promptly took it back), cream cheese and jam placenta eating, and a really creepy subplot wherein the spurned love interest decides he can just wait for her kid to turn legal (via being magically werewolf enslaved). This gnawed at me for a long time – me and the thousands of other authors who were spurred by the call of action ‘if SMeyer can get published, then ANYONE can do it.’

Years later a revelation came unto me. Acidic, stewing loathing is not the answer, my friends. School Days is. If there’s any genre more saturated with unpleasant people and tired genre tools than YA fiction, it’s romance anime. There’re a few good ones out there, really good ones even, but most fall into the same cookie cutter scenarios played out by paper dolls on sticks. Nowhere is this worse than the Harem genre. Behold: an ‘everyman’ type character, the audience surrogate, is thrust into an unlikely scenario where they’re surrounded by sexy specimens of the (usually) opposite sex; all of these mysterious beings are head over heels for the main character despite this person having no distinctive redeeming qualities or even memorable personality traits; and the potential love interests pretty much exist for the audience to ogle them, with the camera lovingly spending time on whatever was pegged as the marketable appeal. Sound familiar?

Harem anime (or any anime with a harem component) generally range from the benignly idiotic (Love Hina, Sword Art Online) to the jaw-droppingly exploitative and brain-dead (High School DxD, Ah My Buddha), with a few on the side that manage to twist something creative and heartfelt (and poke fun at) the concept (Ah! My Goddess, Ouran High School Host Club).

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No, he’s fine. Stop teasing us, show.

And then there’s School Days, which starts out playing itself as a romantic harem comedy and then takes an axe to the genre conventions with a gleeful bloodstained smile. I’m going to vaguely spoil the ending, just because without knowing how it’s going to come out no sane person would ever subject themselves to it. School Days stars centers around year high school student Makoto, who’s noted to have been a gentle and caring boy growing up. Presumably they tell us this repeatedly on the assumption we’ll buy it sight unseen. Makoto has a crush on Kotonoha, a shy and bookish girl who was cursed with large boobs and the ensuing teasing/staring/rumors of sluttiness that accompany them. Makoto’s childhood friend Sekai offers to play matchmaker. And, wouldn’t you know it, she’s got secret feelings for him. This quickly turns into a melodramatic love triangle seeking to outdo itself at every turn, eventually escalating into madness, requisite possible pregnancies, and Makoto sleeping with the entire female population of his class.

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Pictured: advice not a single character will follow

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Perfunctory, Introductory

Welcome all, and again welcome!

This is blog is operated by one Vrai Kaiser – fiction/nonfiction author and occasionally loudmouthed critic. Here you’ll find updates and links concerning my published work, as well as forays into my deep-seated and distracting love for popular culture and storytelling (suggestions always appreciated).

Remember, a good story is a good story, no matter the medium it’s told in.