Episode 12: The Saga of Tanya the Evil and Wonder Woman

For the 99th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, Podcastle in the Sky looks at two fantastical versions of that war from this year – the feature film Wonder Woman and the anime series The Saga of Tanya the Evil. Women with supernatural abilities, godlike beings engineering conflict, pop culture memory of a war from a century ago – we have all!

Transcript

William: Welcome to this episode of PodCastle in the Sky. In this episode we’ll be looking at two pieces of pop culture from 2017 that deal with World War I in a fantasy way. The anime is The Saga of Tanya the Evil, also known as Youjo Senki, and the other piece is the film Wonder Woman. I’m William.

Amber: I’m Amber.

Tom: I’m Tom.

Jesse: I’m Jesse.

A: All right. So I would like to kick things off by actually commenting on both, because one thing I really appreciated about both of these was they both – and maybe because it was both of them are about war – but they both really bring in the idea of humanity being kind of incredibly sucky and reliant on vengeance and things like that. It seems like it’s two characters coming to terms in different ways with the worst aspects of humanity.

And Wonder Woman, she comes to the conclusion that even if humanity has a serious downside, it doesn’t matter, she’ll still fight for what is right because that is what is right. She believes that if she keeps fighting she can help humanity reach a better state, if you will.

Meanwhile, Tanya, her whole deal is essentially using humanity’s worst attributes against her enemies. Anybody who is too vengeful, anybody who is too angry, she flips it and uses it specifically to get ahead for herself only. Everything she does, even the heroic things she does for her team, are for her own benefit. I really like that both shows showed the darker side of humanity and showed what different personalities do with the discovery of that darker side.

J: Well, the thing is that Wonder Woman is a hero – a superhero – and Tanya is basically the villain. We’re watching the bad guy winning, basically, in The Saga of Tanya the Evil. Which, I can’t actually remember the last time an anime had the villain as the protagonist. Continue reading

Advertisements

On Anime and Nuclear Annihilation

It is strange days when we see Japanese schoolchildren running for their lives in simulation of a nuclear attack from North Korea. The picture in the linked article reminds me of nothing more than Cold War evacuation drills in the US.

Selfishly, as an anime fan I wonder how all this uncertainty is going to affect the anime industry. I never thought the threat of nuclear conflict would figure into my estimation of when we could expect season 3 of Attack on Titan, but here we are.

It’s jarring to think of these things when thinking of anime, which, let’s face it, is mostly just escapist fantasy, like most mass entertainments are. I’m reminded that Jane Austen joked about being tempted to include a treatise on Napoleon in Pride and Prejudice just to counteract how light and frothy her novel was. I’m also reminded of what Slavoj Zizek said about the use of the Christian calendar, which uses the birth of Christ to mark the flow of events: he called it the irruption of the infinite into the historical. Perhaps we might call the imposition of nuclear geopolitics into the logic of anime production as the irruption of the political into the inconsequential.

Of course, this statement is both facetious and incorrect, for anime is already political. It is produced in a web of politics -government grants to aid in translating content for export, industry-wide discrimination to discourage women, a regime of austerity that encourages overwork of animators, and a capitalist ideology that demands crass commercialism – and also expresses statements of political positions – women are always emotional, Chinese and foreign characters can never beat Japanese protagonists, and Koreans don’t exist.

The surprise we feel when placing anime in the same headspace as nuclear diplomacy is a surprise that has been manufactured. Being apolitical is a political stance, and depoliticization is a political action. To divide the world and say these things are of politics and these things are not is an act of power (Michel Foucault called it power/knowledge, which is the power of defining what knowledge is).

The personal may be political, but it’s inconvenient for the powerful to let common citizen remember this fact. Politics is not merely debating tax rates and talking at town halls, which is to say it’s not only for politicians and activists, but keeping it an activity of a small elite certainly makes it easier for those elites to set the agenda. Political apathy serves those who already have power.

And so we come to anime and its role in the politics of apathy. Crudely speaking, anime is just another cog in the machinery of distraction that keeps the masses quiescent in that old Roman strategy of panem et circenses (i.e., bread and circuses). Focus on your pop culture, say the masters of the world, and leave the important things to us. This was, of course, the old politics, before the divisions in democracy were laid so starkly bare, but it was a deal that many thought worthwhile, and many still do.

But even behind this wall of willful ignorance, sometimes the world of politics would intrude, as in the current case of North Korea and its nuclear arsenal threatening the home of anime. We find that we cannot leave politics because we are already doing politics. We are reminded that we live in a political world. The personal is political, but now we see that the reverse is also true, that the political is also personal. In a liberal democracy, to not resist is to consent. Therefore if we wish not to die and to continue watching anime, we must act.

Action begins in knowledge, so I ask first that you learn what is happening around you. What circumstances led to the nuclear standoff threatening our beloved hobby? What power moved us to this impasse?

After answering these questions for yourself, then ask yourself this one: am I okay with things continuing the way they are?

If your answer is anything besides “yes”, then continue asking questions, including the big one – what should I do? The answer is simple: do anything that you can. Speech is action, so even something as minimal as talking online is still a step in the right direction.

My fellow otaku, ignorance is only a temporary condition. I challenge you to look up from your TV and computer screens. Remember that you are not only a consumer. You are also a citizen.

— from the desk of Jesse

Episode 11: Garzey’s Wing and The Sword and the Sorcerer

We test our fortitude by watching two legendary works of fantasy crapitude: the 1996 OVA series Garzey’s Wing and the 1982 movie schlockfest The Sword and The Sorcerer. Incoherent writing, awful acting, and incoherent writing abound in both of the items we review. Can we actually find anything nice to say about either work of fiction? Is there anything redeeming about either movie beyond their ironic camp value? And is it possible to watch either work without feeling oneself getting dumber? Join us this episode and find out!

Episode 10: Jin-Roh – The Wolf Brigade and The Company of Wolves

In this episode we discuss urban planning and transformative pubescent experiences. Also we talk about the movies Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade and The Company of Wolves. Both adapt the story of Red Riding Hood, with the former being about an alternate history fascist Japan and the latter being a magical realist feminist take on the traditional fairy tale. We had a couple of technical issues during recording, but we soldiered on for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

Episode 9: FLCL and Tank Girl

flcl

In this month’s episode, the Podcastle in the Sky crew take a journey back to an era when alt-rock ruled the world and ennui was in by watching two cult favorites, Gainax’s sci-fi infused coming of age story FLCL and the 1995 film adaptation of Tank Girl. Does FLCL stand the test of time as a classic piece of animation, does Tank Girl’s box office failure mask a hidden gem? Listen in and all will be revealed!

Episode 8: Princess Mononoke and Last of the Mohicans

mononoke

This time Podcastle In The Sky looks at two works of fictional sumptuous epics set in the shadow of a developing landscape and dealing with indigenous groups – The Last of the Mohicans having Native Americans, and Princess Mononoke having the Emishi, a now vanished people believed to be related to the Ainu.

Episode 7: Ayakashi – Samurai Horror Tales and Tales of the Dead

ayakashi

Celebrate Halloween the PodCastle in the Sky way – by watching Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales and reading Tales of the Dead. We discuss the two horror anthologies but also talk about horror in general, what scares people in the age of Twitter, and Steve Urkel (a.k.a., the greatest horror villain in fiction). Turn on, tune in, and drop dead tonight!

PS

The book mentioned in the podcast is Peasant Uprisings in Japan: A Critical Anthology of Peasant Histories.

Behind the Scenes at PodCastle in the Sky

It’s no secret that we here at PodCastle in the Sky have eclectic tastes. After all, just take a look at the media we’ve covered: a 19th century French novel, a James Bond movie, a vampire reverse harem anime, Twilight. It might seem that we just flit from topic to topic based on whatever catches our fancy. Which is true, but perhaps you wonder how we pick a subject for our podcasting. It’s actually quite simple.

First, we get together online.

intro

Whoops, that’s what happens when you’re messaging across the Atlantic Ocean. Okay, let’s try that again.

st-nemesis

Mostly we just shoot the shit. Of course, since we’re pop culture nerds then us shooting the shit often means discussing Euripides and whether Greedo was a Bothan. Or in this case, it means talking about Star Trek: Nemesis.

Our thoughts naturally turn to giant robots and whether we can shoehorn them into the podcast.

unicron

In the meantime we accidentally write the premise for a Star Wars/Transformers crossover fanfic. I mean, Force Awakens versus Unicron? That’s some primo shiz right there.

We then agree that The Love Guru sucks and halfheartedly toy with adding visual novels to our review slate.

Click on image to open video

Just click on the image above to go to the linked video.

Of course, defining one’s terms is important in any serious debate.

lesbian-school

Yes, we were talking about St. Trinian’s.

We eventually decide that Revolutionary Girl Utena isn’t gay enough.

We discard 10 Things I Hate About You as being an inappropriate pairing for Kare Kano, but we do find ourselves asking something important.

kurosawa

We decide that there are hardly any anime adaptations of Shakespeare (and yes, we know about Romeo x Juliet).

abed

We cover some more things like vampires and zombies and how bad Smallville and Revolution were, but that Community realization was pretty much the only useful episode idea we got.

Anyway, that’s how we make sausages in this here podcast.

Episode 6: Fist of the North Star and The Road Warrior

northstar

It’s Mad Max and the Musclemen on this month’s post-apocalyptic podcast! In this episode, the PodCastle crew takes a look at two of the 1980s’ most extravagant pieces of end-times fiction with George Miller’s 1981 sequel The Road Warrior and the 1986 anime movie adaptation of Tetsuo Hara’s manga, Fist of the North Star. The narrative mysteries of spontaneously exploding tables, spooky men on stilts, and so much more are explored, so find a parking space for your skull-laden Doom-Buggy and listen along.

Giant Robots and Why We Love Them

A quick glance at the lineup of a typical anime season will reveal a large number of shows featuring giant robots. In the recent winter season alone we can count among giant robot anime the series Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded OrphansSchwarzesmarken, Macross Delta, and probably a bunch more I’ve overlooked. Point is, giant robot anime are like cockroaches and herpes – they keep coming back.

But what’s so great about giant robots? Yeah, I know, to ask the question is to answer it. Giant robots kick ass. I mean, have you seen Robot Jox?

Or Pacific Rim too, I guess.

Fine, but why giant robots? Why not, say, giant tanks, like in Heavy Object?

I think it ultimately comes down to power fantasies. A giant robot perfectly embodies the juvenile dream of invincible domination that a tank cannot. Realistically speaking, a tank is a better weapon. It’s smaller, so it’s harder to hit; it’s cheaper, since manufacturing tank treads is easier than a bipedal walking machine; and it’s safer, since it’s easier to knock over something on two legs than a machine that rides low to the ground. Tanks are pound for pound the deadlier weapon, yet they don’t feel that way.

Consider that riding in a tank is akin to being jammed into a broom closet. Who feels invincible when the walls are pressing in everywhere?

Michael Peña driving a tank in Fury
Michael Peña driving a tank in Fury

Even were they roomier, though, tanks are fundamentally more like a heavily-armoured house on wheels. It’s a place to hunker down and hide in. One feels safe by virtue of being enclosed.

Melinda of Heavy Object holed up in the perfect otaku bunker
Melinda of Heavy Object holed up in the perfect otaku bunker

Look at the image from Heavy Object above of a tank driver in her native environment. It looks like a shut-in’s dream room – no windows or doors and ample monitors to watch TV and surf the Internet. The outside world might as well be just another program on the computer screen. It’s a perfect metal womb to hide in.

Feeling safe, though,  is not the same as feeling powerful. By contrast, a mecha is more truly worn than ridden. It’s human shaped and therefore more of an extension of one’s self – like the perfect battle armour or a second skin, or a new metal body that replaces vulnerable flesh.

It’s also important to remember that the heroes in giant robot anime are all teenagers, even the ones who aren’t. The modern iteration of the giant robot subgenre tends toward the melodramatic and the angst-ridden (as opposed to the gleefully consumerist giant robot shows of the 70’s and 80’s). There’s usually a sense of persecution and oppression being unjustly visited on the protagonists, whether it’s the outcast mercenary troop of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans or the underdog defenders in Argevollen.

But who are the villains who bedevil our heroes so? The enemies are often generic imperialists who fight for poorly-articulated and nonsensical political objectives. They aren’t fighting for anything specific because ultimately their goals aren’t important to the narrative. They’re just there to be roadblocks, to harass and  obstruct the hero and provide them something to punch.

The enemies of giant robot anime are so generic as to be universal. Look at the nickname bestowed upon the protagonist of Valvrave: The Boy Who Fought the World. This says it all. The enemy of the giant robot anime is no one specific, but rather everyone. Parents, teachers, bullies, rivals, friends, classmates, adults – which is to say, the generic “they” that persecutes the suffering hero of the show – are all the bad guys. They’re who he’s fighting against.

The giant robot pilot is like the Incredible Hulk – he wields incredible power but is misunderstood by the world. In the end, Hulk, like a surly and emo teenager, just wants to be left alone.

hulk

And here we come to the ultimate answer. The giant robot anime is the perfect teenage fantasy, for it’s a metaphor for the teenage condition: an innocent hero is possessed of unwanted new abilities which cause him to be unfairly beset on all sides by powers desperate to control or crush him.

This is the secret of why giant robot anime is so eternally alluring. Even adults who have their shit together will still occasionally feel like the world is picking on them for no good reason, and wouldn’t it be great if you had a magic wand that could make everything disappear? That could stop the world from pissing on you for just one damn second?

Why do we love giant robots? Because we all wish we had one of our own.