Or: Probably the Only Time You’ll See Hayao Miyazaki Compared to Frank Miller
Spring season is finally bringing us a new installment of Lupin III, dear readers. As much as I adore The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (and I do, emphatically), it was quite the departure for the series’ established MO – a contained, stylish thought experiment and deliberate period piece rather than a fast-and-loose adventure story with a consistent core cast. Meanwhile, the new “Blue Jacket” (premiere date undetermined at time of writing outside of the general spring 2015 timeline) seems set not only on returning to the adventure of the week formula but in finally updating the thief to the modern day – and I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how deep that goes. Annual Lupin specials might have had modern tech interludes (who can forget the oddity of Goemon using an iPhone), but the character writing has never really felt like it left the 70s.
In fact, while I’ll fight for the highest caliber entries of the franchise’s status as timeless classics, it can be really tough to sell a modern anime fan on getting into Lupin. Part of that’s the age (particularly in the art style), but beyond that I hear over and over again that the amount of content is just overwhelming. We’re talking over 40 years of animation, after all. And it’s not always evident from the outside how loose the continuity between series is – not to mention the many, many different tones and takes over the years, meaning there can be different “best starting places” for everyone. But I think I’ve finally got a way to explain it to people: Lupin III is like Batman.
Not the go-to comparison (that’s usually, off the cuff, “James Bond meets Bugs Bunny”), but it works. Trust me, I can prove it.
I’ve concluded that one’s opinion on Chappie comes down almost entirely to their opinion on the titular robot. Charmed by or at least sympathetic to Sharlto Copley’s performance? Well, it won’t erase the film’s issues, but it goes a long way to casting a light on its emotional strengths. Feeling any degree of annoyance? Absolute death. There is no hope of salvaging your enjoyment of the film at that point. You might suspect, correctly, that I fall into the former camp, which still leaves us with the thorny net I’ve been working on for the past week: what exactly is it that makes this movie work?
Considering it has no reason to exist, Silent Hill 0rigins has a surprising amount going for it. Well, a surprising amount of story things going for it. Well, its main character is interesting. I mean, they reference Shakespeare, that’s got to be good. Right?
Alright, so the game design is a dodgy thing (breakable weapons were possibly the worst thing they could’ve proudly carried on from SH4, and there is a healthy scattering of glitches foreshadowing what is later to come); and the plot is functional fanfiction at best, with a fairly dodgy characterization of Lisa in particular. But I wasn’t kidding about Travis. Or the Shakespeare.
SH0’s plot stands as a prequel to the first game. Like SH protagonist Harry Mason, trucker Travis Grady nearly runs over a young girl on the highway. Unlike Harry Mason, Travis doesn’t especially have any reason to follow after her but does so nonetheless. This leads him to the burning Gillespie house, where the Silent Hill cult has just begun the immolation step of their new world order plot. Travis carries Alessa out of the building, passes out (something he spends a lot of time doing), and wakes up within the haunted town proper. Trying to find out what happened to the girl, and later doing an unwitting fetch quest for her, leads Travis on a greatest hits tour of Silent Hill faces and the demons of his own past – which just so happen to mirror Alessa’s. You can watch a pretty good Let’s Play of it here.
Steven Universe is the show my 12 year old self wanted more than anything of the world. I considered 27 different openings that might best encapsulate what I find so wondrous about this show – it’s beautiful pastel color palette and cleverly budgeted animation; it’s warm and dreamy musical score, which often burbles out into full song courtesy of series creator (and one of Adventure Time’s best songwriters) Rebecca Sugar; its unabashed earnestness coupled with an equally sweet but sharp sense of humor, or the Incredibly Important nature of its inclusive writing and casting (you may have even noticed the internet having a meltdown over that this last weekend).
And I stand by all of those as excellent reasons to invest. But none of that quite captures the feel of the thing: the experience of settling into a world of well-shaped characters and getting to see yourself in them when you might not anywhere else, whether that’s in body type, or race, or sexuality; and having those characters practically burst off the screen with adventures that the creators also seem to have thought would be Way Cool once upon a time, tempered through skill and experience into something new while retaining that feeling of possibility and the amazement of seeing something new (whether that’s picking up your first comic or seeing a cartoon from another country on Saturday mornings). “Did I really see that on TV?” Yeah, you did, and it’s only getting more audacious and amazing. With season 3 just getting started, now’s absolutely the time to start. But don’t worry if you’re intimidated about jumping in. I’ve been here since day one, and I’ve got you covered.
[I’ll be tap-dancing around character-related revelations, but there’ll be a few world-building spoilers involved in summing things up. Just as a heads up]
The prevailing piece of advice for writers struggling to portray well developed characters is often: write a Good Character (which, let’s face it, tends to translate as ‘write how you would for a man’) and then switch the pronouns around. Legend has it that this is how we got Ellen Ripley, and it’s not necessarily the worst advice on its face. If nothing else, it’s an accessible starting point for writers who might otherwise be tempted to fall onto tired stereotypes or exile female characters to the fringes of their stories altogether. In fantasy and science fiction, worlds built from the ground up that can be entirely free from real world struggles and prejudices, it works even better. But stories set in our reality, past or present, are better served by an awareness of societal hardships based on race, class, gender, and sexuality (for the sake of the word count and my own knowledge base, and in honor of the just-passed International Women’s Day, we’ll stick with gender for the moment). And I can think of no better case study of how that awareness enriches character writing than one of the best horror movies to come out in years: The Babadook.