RANDOM ANIME WATCH – The Beginning

So, I have a weird relationship with anime compared to some fans. I dip in and out, depending on whether or not something strikes my fancy on Crunchyroll, Netflix, Prime, Funimation – you know, the modern portals for watching our imported Japanese animated television shows. But I don’t follow the seasonal schedules, I’m missing a lot of “classics” in my have-watched repertoire, I have the most basic working knowledge of studios gleaned from other, much more knowledgeable fans I know (SEE: Jesse, Will and Tom). And, as I’ve said a few times on the podcast, I am no fan of Giant Robots, which I know is like saying I like sushi but only if it’s cooked.

I am, for all intents and purposes, a Casual Fan of the anime medium. I only come to mass on Christmas and Easter, I say I like chocolate but only eat Hershey’s, I can’t even lift, bro. Hell, when my life gets busy sometimes the only anime I’m watching is what’s assigned for the next pod recording (as of now it’s Ergo Proxy – no, I haven’t watched it yet even though it was wildly popular when released and has been around for a decade. Are you paying attention?)

But what I lack in knowledge, I gain from being able to watch each show without the baggage of millions of fan reactions. I get to approach each show and movie with a clean slate and form my own impressions.

So, with that in mind, I embark on a special project: RANDOM ANIME WATCH.

I’ll watch a random sampling of first episodes from the master show list on Crunchyroll. I’m choosing them based on name and description alone – I haven’t looked up anything on these shows in advance. At the end of each first episode of this sampling, if I want to watch more I’ll put it on a master list of shows I’ll be watching and reviewing at my own pace. If the show creeps into unwatchibility for me, I’ll drop it.

With all that in mind, LET US BEGIN

First one was a strike out for me: Alice & Zouroku. Magical girl being hunted by some evil corporation of evil, meets an old dude who makes…stuff for gangsters. There’s a chase scene where she’s in his car in the first ep, and she’s explaining the powers that her enemies have –

“She can summon a bow, and her twin can summon anything with a chain! Like a bike! Or a wrecking ball!”

Nope. What a fucking lame power! A cutsie relationship between an old curmudgeon and a girl dressed like a birthday cake isn’t enough for me to forgive something as stupid as “summoning anything with a chain” as the power that someone was given by some entity. What kind of pointless madness is that!? What, “firestarter” was too derivative? Now our little magical girls need to be able to summon chainsaws at a whim?? RABBLERABBLERABBLE, I refuse to watch twelve eps of that!

Pass.

The second struck my interest: KADO: The Right Answer. A giant cube from space lands at an airport outside Tokyo, absorbing a passenger plane. Scientists and the army and the govt tries to get inside it, to no avail. What’s going on inside the cube!?

HINT: It’s albino aliens.

Will watch more.

Third was a show called Erased. Feels kind of slice of life, dude trying to fulfill his dream of being a mangaka, but at 29, is failing and working at a pizza store. His mom is kind of childish, but loves him, he has a coworker who’s way younger and is a buddy –

– oh, and every now and then he goes back in time one to five minutes right before something terrible is going to happen. And he’s gotten in the habit of trying to prevent that terrible thing from happening. And there seems to be a serial murderer on the loose.

Will watch more.

Continued on with Eromanga Sensei, because it had sensei in the title. A light novel author in second year of high school without parents takes care of his recluse little step-sister. He doesn’t know who the illustrator of his books is – their pen name is the scandalous “eromanga”.

I WONDER WHO IT WILL BEEEEE!?!?!?

Lots of underage panty shots, a little girl draws erotic drawings and I get the impression that she’s a “stepsister” for a possible love interest future plotline.

HARD PASS.

The Lost Village struck my interest next, because it’s about youths looking for mysterious lost villages. Everyone was introduced like on Survivor by their online moniker. There were a lot of them. I don’t remember any of them but the three Yuunas. They’re all clearly tropey characters on the way to some Japanese Fantasy Island.

They sing a song about a hippopotamus. There’s a weird as fuck dream sequence. A bus driver goes crazy. Someone throws up on the bus driver.

I have no fucking clue what’s going on, and need to watch more.

Chose Another because I don’t remember. Looks like horror, I guess? The opening song is teeeerrible. Some kid has a collapsed lung and can’t start school. Creepy classmates visit him. There’s a really long scene in an elevator with an obvious ghost chick. The show’s music is delightfully disjointed. Fucking creepy ass dolls are used as transition pieces. Mysterious mystery is mystifying.

Yeah, I’ll keep watching.

Chose Sengokuchojyugiga because the art style is totally different. It’s pritay great, rando fuckin stories riffing on Japanese history and three minutes an episode. I’m gonna blaze through them.

On to Death Parade. Fancy bar, creepy bartender with white hair, a couple can’t remember how they got in the bar – they arrived on two separate elevators and all they can remember is driving on their honeymoon – and now they can’t leave the bar until they play a game. They’re playing darts, and the regions of the board are linked to parts of their body. They’re risking their lives while playing.

WHERE CAN THEY BEEEEEE!?!?

The art is nice, and I get to watch people argue violently with each other about the problems they had in life. I’m definitely going to watch.

Next is Katsugeki TOUKEN RANBU, which I’m watching straight up because the premise was obviously riffed on by Kiss Him, Not Me, and that made me laugh and laugh.

First of all, holy shit, it’s like, got a kitsune buddy animal or whatever!? He has a computer collar! Aaaawww. And the screen is yuuuuge. The quality was so good that I had to downgrade for it to run properly.

Basically it’s, what… Magical Time Cops? In historic Japan? Yeah, cool, okay. Art is aight. Story is interesting enough. The Child Who Is Learning isn’t too The Worst. His teacher gives him Earrings of Encouragement, and he learns he can’t change history by saving people from terrible things, you know, unless it’s convenient – the typical lesson of the time cop in training. Also, there’s a lot of wind of power. And it’s basically a team of bishis fighting evul. One of them is wearing fucking shorts.

Yeah, I can keep watching this.

Tenth show! I clicked on Drifters because it seemed like a historical drama, which is my weakness.

Art’s real nice if bloody as fuck. Almost ridiculously so. I started giggling at it, because it felt like something from a 13 year old boy’s notebook.

And then, purgatory. Agaaain. Man there’s something about purgatory. Only not? Because Our Main Character From Japanese History was sent to some…elf realm? And then a bunch of historical Japanese people meet and they’re all in this new world? And then they…pluck ducks? And there’s a fuckload of silliness – I can deal with – oh, wait, there’s some sort of autocratic war about to happen in this land.

I don’t have the patience to keep watching. Pass.

Finally, we’ve got The Devil is a Part-Timer.

Wow, the beginning is epic.  I was all, “Oh, no, Satan! Woooo, sky fight of dooooom! AAAH BATTLE INNA CAAAASTLE! OH NO SATAN! Escaaape from those aweful humans!

To Tokyo. Natch. Oh, no! He and his general are now teenagers and have no magic! Wait, no, Satan can still control minds. What the fuck are they speaking!? *googles* Engish, in a word substitution code. THAT must be a pain in the ass for the voice actors.

It’s pretty hilarious. A good fish out of water comedy. Watching Satan acquire the necessary goods to live life in Tokyo is pretty fantastic. Whole scenes of filling out applications and explaining health insurance and discussing the value of buying up front rather than in installments!

I am ALL OVER THIS SHIT. watchwatchwatch

Aight, let’s see what I’ll be watching from my random trip through the Crunchyroll –

  • Kado
  • Erased
  • Another
  • Death Parade
  • Katsugeki Touken Ranbu
  • The Devil is a Part-Timer
  • Sengokuchojyugiga
  • The Lost Village

To be continued! – Amber

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No, we have not been arrested for sedition

Contrary to the rumours going around the anime podcast community, no one in PodCastle in the Sky is currently being detained in Guantanamo Bay, only some of us are communists, and at worst, only half of us have ever been suspected of planning to overthrow the US government. Don’t believe everything you read online.

So what’s with the delay with releasing the latest episode? Well, your sound editor, Jesse, lives in Ontario and was distracted by the provincial elections. Also, his laptop is busted. Don’t worry, there are backups and shit. It’s just going to suck to start over at the beginning again.

Just to whet your appetites, here’s what we’ve got in the pipe:

  • Episode 15: The Mobile Suit Gundam Trilogy vs. the original Star Wars trilogy
  • Episode 16: Ms. Hokusai vs. Artemisia (1997)

These episodes are already recorded, they just need sound editing. For the next episode we’ll be recording we are covering the anime Run Melos and comparing it to the poem Die Burgschaft (The Hostage) by Friedrich Schiller.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with us these days. Keep it weird, listeners.

I Should Have Saved That Pun For This: The Saga of Tanya the Evil, Book One: Deus lo Vult

A very fine look at the Youjo Senki source novels by ‘The Futurist Dolmen’ Blog.

The Futurist Dolmen

The Saga of Tanya the Evil - LN1 Cover

When I said I wanted to start reading alternate history stories again back in January, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. About a month ago, I was browsing a small hole-in-the-wall forum and was intrigued by a few scattered mentions of a recent animé series set in a magically-charged version of the Great War. Since I’ve always been a sucker for alternate histories centered around the First World War, I threw the title into Google and was surprised to find a show from the Winter 2017 season that somehow managed to combine about a half-dozen of my interests into one package.

That said, this rambling post is not a review of that show. The Saga of Tanya the Evil, henceforth abbreviated to Tanya, started life in 2013 as a web serial written by the pseudonymous “Carlo Zen” with illustrations by Shinobu Shinotsuki. Since then, it has…

View original post 3,355 more words

Dear Podcast Listeners

We love each and every one of you. Every single uptick in our numbers gives us nigh-sexual pleasure. When we’re feeling down, or up, or neutral, checking to see the latest change in our analytics makes the lows go away or make the highs even higher.

However, there is a fundamental question we have been obsessing over since attesting like starting this podcast: Who the hell are you people?

We’re clearly filling a (very small) niche in the anime podcast community, and presumably it’s the niche for “overeducated hipsters analyze anime”, but we don’t know that for sure.

We get that. Thucydides and The Battle of Algiers rarely ever get mentioned in anime podcasts. We think that’s the gap that we’re filling. But are we correct?

Please tell us. What brought you to our corner of the Internet? What do you like about our thing? What don’t you like? Anything you say, including incoherent gibberish, will be read.

So tweet us, maybe.

 

PS

We also accept blog comments, Youtube screeds, iTunes reviews, and Bitcoin.

It’s Winter and Here’s Some Anime

It’s that time again, a new season of anime bullshit is coming our way.

This past season was a damn near embarrassment of riches both in terms of the expected (Kekkai Sensen, Magus, Garo) and wild cards (MMO Junky, Konohana, Anime-Gataris) among a number of others that all ended up being worthwhile.

This coming season will probably be a return to the standard equilibrium of seasonal quality, but there’s some promising stuff on the docket and some of last season’s strong outings (Magus, Garo) still have their second halves to play out.

As always, some shows that look generic at first glance will probably end up being great and some of the flashier ones will end up just being O-K. So here’s a bunch of preview trailers and dubiously accurate commentary on what you can expect.

————————————————————————————

Do you like KyoAni but bore of earnest high school girls chasing their dreams?* Well if so you can look forward to Violet Evergarden, the studio’s fantasy-drama about an earnest young war veteran lady robot-doll finding her way in the post-war world by putting the experiences of others into the written word.

It looks, characteristically, pretty great on the aesthetic front. Paying your animators living wages pays off, who knew. In a sign that this is the winter (anime season) of our discontent, Netflix grabbed up Violet Evergarden for the U.S market, so if you want to to watch in a timely manner you should probably go to [REDACTED]

Trigger and A-1 collaborating on a mecha anime, named with classic anime incoherence as Darling in the FranXX. It’s definitely got the Trigger look, but we’ll see if the plot and action also match the energy of their best stuff.

Citrus, a rather successful recent Yuri manga in the English speaking world with a fairly large fan base, is getting its turn at an adaptation this season by Passione, the studio that brought us Rail Wars! (oh no) but also Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers (Pretty good!). Prepare for all melodrama that comes with Forbidden Love! at a straight laced girls school between non-blood related sisters.

Record of Grancrest War is here for all your probably overwrought strategic war fantasy bullshit needs. Dastardly nobles are using the power of the netherworld to oppress the common people, so do our heroes set out to end their tyrannical ways. Characters will probably reference Not-Machiavelli but also there will be battle meidos.

Pop Team Epic is a very peculiar comedy manga. Here is its preview, of sorts, for its adaptation. We will never forget your sacrifice, Croatian Otaku guy.

A kidnapping in the family unearths long forgotten powers in Kokkoku, spiritual tomfoolery and supernatural horror ensues.

 

Robots aren’t people, unless they are, and especially if they are cute anime girls, in Moe Runner 2049  Beatless.

Japan in the near future has become a crime infested dystopia. Killers are on the loose, but also killers of those killers that are maybe good? Nevertheless, stylish detectives are here to unearth the truth and also enjoy ramen probably, in Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens.

Do you have a thing for older gentlemen? Well, if so, here’s the romance for you in Koi wa Ameagari no You ni.

Yuru Camp. It’s a low key comedy about camping, there will be big coats and everything will be very cozy.

Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho. Girls doing antarctic scientific research things and probably chasing some dreams. It looks nice.

Tiny fantasy people living in a big tree, doing slice of life things for you and for me.

A manganka was struggling to decide which of his fetishes, monster girls or muscles, would be the focus of his next work and then he just combined them into Killing Bites.

Masaaki Yuasa of The Tatami Galaxy, Mind Game and Ping Pong fame has his latest project dropping this season and that’s never not welcome. Yuasa’s spin on this source material it should promise to be quite the ride.

Cardcaptor Sakura’s back and in pog form to reboot the franchise for the youths, I hope you all enjoy Pogcaptor Sakura.

There’s still a bunch of other stuff, shonens, idols, a second season of that zombie webcomic show that people apparently watched, plus shorts. These could be good, or perhaps bad. (Some of them will definitely be bad.)

*Sometimes KyoAni is said to also make other things.

 

 

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

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.

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.

I Done Fucked Up

Ranma 1/2 as Rose of Versailles

Yeah, sorry about that. We had a pretty good discussion last weekend about Rose of Versailles and Marie Antoinette but none of that was recorded due to mysterious technical reasons. I, Jesse, as the person in charge of recording, offer my full and heartfelt apology to you, our fans. We decided not to redo the episode since a large part of our podcast’s appeal lies in the spontaneity of our discussions, which means you will never hear our unrehearsed thoughts on these media products. In an attempt at redress, herewith follows our conversation as pieced together from my memory:

roseofversailles

Both the show and the movie treat figure of Marie Antoinette ambivalently
-based on contemporary historical consensus that Marie Antoinette was not a malicious figure but neither was she actually a good co-ruler
-To what extent does one hold her responsible for her own, real or perceived, ignorance and excess given being raised in a highly structured and ritualized world
-Marie in Rose has a clearer arc of tragedy and descent into excess born of sadness and malicious hangers on, Marie in the film is surrounded by an enabling entourage but is largely a creature of stasis and ignorance, film has less overt ‘fall from grace’ narrative

Marie Antoinette as indie movie – exchange between Marie Antoinette and husband as being out of Wes Anderson movie: “I hear you enjoy making keys?” “Obviously.”
Marie Antoinette as Hollywood product – hard to disambiguate actors from role; i.e., Rip Torn as King of France? “Dialogue is contemporary with period elements”

Insularity of show and movie
-nothing exists outside of Versailles and Paris
-jarring in Rose of Versailles when Fersen suddenly leaves to fight in American Revolution
-sudden reminder that other countries exist
Marie retains its insularity up through its final moments, Rose starts similarly so but gradually expands its viewer’s understanding the show’s world and the plight of its people alongside its characters, namely via Oscar

Marie Antoinette as slice of life drama
-barely any conflict in movie
-French Revolution does not happen until movie more than half over
-film is about boredom of being in ruling class. Coppla’s general thematic interest in isolation
-Film received some criticism for surface level depiction of aristocratic life, but film does contain some pointed satirical elements (Marie’s country estate and ‘back to the countryside’ lifestyle there representing an idealized and sanitized vision of rural life clearly at odds with the reality of abject poverty, Amber compares it amusingly to modern artisanal/organic hipstery affectations
-no boredom in Rose of Versailles, characters always obsessed with personal dramas and intrigues

Rose of Versailles treats du Barry issue as great crisis, but treats character in more nuanced way than the film
Marie Antoinette treats it as minor snag at Versailles, Du Barry viewed entirely through the intentionally narrow lens of Antoinette’s coterie and du Barry’s outsider status

Amber: do not personally like aesthetic of 70’s anime due to cheesy music and general aesthetic, but quickly adapted in the case of Rose
Jesse: agreement and do not normally watch older anime as well, Rose of Versailles is on personal Crunchyroll queue but kept passing it over for contemporary, watchable crap like Konosuba

Rose of Versailles is like Forrest Gump
-Oscar keeps showing up on edges of historical events
-because Oscar is not real historical figure then her accomplishments are all inconsequential
-common factor in historical dramas with fictional characters

Rose of Versailles is like HBO show Rome
-world historical events reduced to personal conflicts between small group of people
-international politics was part of consideration in real world Austria-France alliance
-big deal in world politics back then as alliance to counter Britain and Prussia but Britain and Prussia never even mentioned in show

Oscar Francois probably based on Julie d’Aubigny, La Maupin
-duelist and opera singer who lived openly as woman
-had romantic affairs with men and women

Women have always participated in men’s roles in European history
-long history of women disguising themselves as men

Hardly any working class characters died in Rose of Versailles
-perhaps Jeanne counts as working class
-all of main characters were in nobility
-the working class characters who died (Jeanne and Andre) were caught up with nobility

Oscar’s heroic death in storming of Bastille
-cannons blazing, sword in air, she can never top this moment
-as show mentions, Oscar dies before excesses of Revolution revealed
-had Oscar survived might still have died in Terror or even participated in it, then served in wars and even under Napoleon
-dying early allowed Oscar to remain pure in ideals

Oscar allowed to exist within two worlds
-Not forced to choose at story’s end between becoming a ‘traditional’ woman or abandoning all her femininity and sense of romance to simply ‘become a man’ (though she takes this approach earlier in the story) and instead grows to discover she can be both a romantic feminine woman and capable warrior and leader alike, not mutually exclusive
-Contrast to many similar works throughout literary history in which woman abandon all traditionally ‘womanly’ traits in order to truly succeed as a valuable/contributing member of rugged modern world (Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement, story progression of masculinzed ‘new woman’ Dasha versus the well-meaning but girlish Mekhova, who by the end is too weak/vulnerable to continue revolutionary work and stave off predations of less noble comrades)
-Comparisons made with female doctor character in recent television drama Versailles, set during the reign of the Sun King

Tuberculosis as cliched tragic setback for Oscar
-military protagonist with tuberculosis always dies heroically
-tuberculosis diagnosis as being out of left field
-clearly set up to provide tragedy to character, not out of organic growth in story

No Hitchcock film to mention this episode
-Hitchcock hated so-called “kitchen sink dramas”, or social realist depictions of the burdens of ordinary life
-In general, fictional depictions about peasants living their lives hardly exist
-Authentic depictions of ‘peasant’ life in fiction and cinema rare, contemporary viewers often find aristocratic lifestyle inherently less foreign (despite obvious divides in wealth and status) due to the democratization over time of elements of the ‘cultured’ lifestyle ala the arts and literacy, and in pseudo-secularized enlightenment era conceptions of the world resembling our own more than that of rural peasantry (Anna Karenina etc referenced, depicting the unknowability of authentic rural peasant life even at the time)

Everyone agrees Rose of Versailles tells a compelling narrative with fine artistry and memorable characters. Marie Antoinette has its flaws but is nevertheless a visually lush and satisfying depiction of the highly irregular and ritualized world Versailles and the isolation of the ruling elite.

Next time on PodCastle in the Sky: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior and Fist of the North Star (the 1986 film)

What are we watching in Feb 2016? Part 1

We know that you don’t know a lot about us, and it would probably help to understand where we’re coming from in our podcasts. Well, how better to get to know us than for us to talk about what we’re currently watching on TV? It works for dinner parties so we’ll try that here too.

Since everyone on the podcast is a pop culture nerd we’re limiting ourselves to a handful shows each from the anime and non-anime categories. Otherwise this would turn into a 50 page blogpost about every single TV show each of us is currently watching.

Jesse (a.k.a. Sarapen)

Non-anime: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Thanks to The Force Awakens and the damn Galaxy of Heroes mobile game that I got hooked into, I’ve grown interested in the only bit of modern Star Wars that I haven’t watched. These are actually two different series – one is a 2003 show animated in a more traditional style while the other is a 2008 CGI spectacle. The 2003 version was helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky, he of Samurai Jack fame, and it’s just as excellent as his previous work. It’s a largely wordless action show which reduces a massive interstellar civil war into a series of intense duels across different planets. In style it’s basically a samurai epic in space, which should be unsurprising considering what Samurai Jack was like. I’ve mentioned this to William before but both Samurai Jack and the anime Katanagatari felt very similar to me, probably because they both take a lot of their cues from the chanbara genre (i.e., samurai movies). So I must recommend the Tartakovsky Clone Wars as an action and a samurai fan. Plus it changes General Grievous from the ridiculous robot with emphysema that he was in Revenge of the Sith and turns him into a genuinely terrifying enemy.

The 2008 Clone Wars changes things up quite a bit. It explores a lot more of the titular conflict, but in style it’s much more of a kids’ show. General Grievous has become a cartoonish bad guy who keeps getting beaten by the heroes every week like the villain from an 80’s Saturday morning show. At points I half expected him to shout “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!” like Dr. Claw at the end of every episode of Inspector Gadget. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation, as I realize that this iteration has a different target audience than the previous one (being on Cartoon Network I assume the Tartakovsky show was aimed at hipster animation aficionados).

Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice Ahsoka is the spunky Young Adult heroine one would expect from this sort of bildungsroman, and while I’ve only just finished the first season I expect the rest of the show to build up to her becoming a full-fledged Jedi. But even as a kids’ show this series can get pretty dark and shows actual characters dying, which I appreciate in that it doesn’t try to keep kids in a metaphorical hamster ball separated from the real world consequences of violence and conflict. Though there’s really quite a lot of that. I mean, do people in Star Wars ever just watch Netflix and chill? I know what regular people on Star Trek do to relax, but I have very little idea what it’s like to not be a general or a mystic space knight on Star Wars.

Still, an interesting thing to ponder is that for most 21st century kids, this is their Star Wars. It’s not the original trilogy, it’s not even the prequels, it’s this CGI show that’ll be the first thing that comes to mind when the words “Star Wars” come up. It’s at least a lot better than the prequels, and it’s a pleasantly entertaining show to relax with, so I’m going to stick with my Star Wars viewing project. Possibly I’ll move on to Rebels once I finish.

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Anime: Schwarzesmarken

If you see a tweet about Schwarzesmarken it’s either me or Tom cracking wise about it. This is just an enjoyably dumb show to bitch about if you’re into giant robots and military porn. I obviously am, plus I have a fascination with both alternate history and the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War. The show is stupid but in a creatively-nourishing way – whenever I’m watching I’m either imagining German pop music playing in the background or mentally composing a rant about how remarkably off-base its understanding of history and international politics is. That’s when I’m not criticizing it for its right-wing politics and historical revisionism. God, this anime is shit. But I can’t stop watching it.

Tom

Most Unacceptable Robot Bullying: Dimension W

Dimension W garnered a moderate amount of buzz heading into the current season owing to its (at least surface level) stylistic and tonal similarity to the kind of action anime that were most common in the late 1990s and early-mid 2000s. Adapted from a relatively obscure manga, the question of course was always if there would be actual substance beneath the style or if the studio (and Funimation) were simply riding on superficial nostalgia.

With the show now about halfway through its run, the answer seems to lay somewhere in between. There’s much to like, and recommend, about Dimension W but an equal number of flawed elements that keep it from living up to its true potential. The show features an aesthetically pleasing, lived-in sci-fi setting and solid world-building, well animated action sequences, some standout side characters and a few knotty plot questions to keep things interesting. The show’s overall direction has moved in a manner that likely lay outside the expectations of many viewers however, leaning less on Cowboy Bebop-esque action and turning itself into a bit of a metaphysical mystery-investigation story, including occasional sojourns into the realm of vaguely Cronenbergy body horror.

This shift in direction isn’t entirely unwelcome by any means, but there’s a certain listlessness to the show’s plot development and perhaps the biggest problem remains the hole in its center. The show’s protagonist, Kyoma, possesses all the design characteristics and ostensible attitude requisite of a Samurai Champloo style badass, but little of the charm or personality that makes these kind of rogues work. That isn’t to say a great character needs to be flawless, or particularly sympathetic at all, but Kyoma is lacking in charisma and his obligatory tragic backstory doesn’t make it anymore palatable that he constantly kicks, pushes and otherwise acts like an asshole towards the show’s best character, the robot girl Mira.

Dimension W certainly isn’t a bad show, indeed sometimes it can even be quite a good one, but the wider atmosphere in which it has been received does demonstrate the danger of relying too heavily on signals of nostalgia and aesthetic style when judging the worth of an anime.

It’s the kind of show that reminds you why anime fans sometimes get peevish when other, arguably better (and sometimes better developed thematically) recent anime  get dismissed out of hand for their visual approach or character designs (I’ll put in a plug for the visually moe and thoroughly lovely and thoughtful Soranowoto here) while something that superficially seems to harken back to the ‘deep/mature/manly/badass’ anime of yesteryear is hyped up by default.

One of the best OPs of the season, though. Fine dancing!

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Robot Bullying Prohibited

Unguiltiest Pleasure: Schwarzesmarken

Schwarzesmarken is a show that is abundant in flaws. Its deluge of grimdark war clichés both in regard to its aesthetic and storyline sometimes borders on tiresome, the adaptation has stripped what little nuance the source material provided for its onerous Stasi villains and has made them so deeply, and at times incomprehensibly, evil as to become laughable, certain plot elements feel rushed owing to episode constraints and the primary protagonists initially make little impression upon the viewer.

Yet, Schwarzesmarken has managed largely to transcend these myriad problems and has valiantly clawed its way into being one of my favorite shows of the season, even if I would very readily concede that it isn’t one of its best. Around the time of its third episode Schwarzesmarken begins to iron out its most distracting flaws and carry forward on more confident footing. Thanks to the efforts of the irrepressible Katia, Schwarzesmarken’s improbably loveable moeblob, the show’s primary protagonist Theoder Eherbach mercifully drops his sulky, paranoid demeanor (if that guy made a “tch!” sound one more time…) and becomes something altogether more watchable (and interesting) and both primary and side characters, like the steely Irisdina and thoroughly entertaining Commissar, Gretel, gain some much needed time in the limelight.

The show capitalizes on these storytelling gains with an amphibious invasion arc that is handled with considerable aplomb on the action side of things, and the show has largely maintained a steady pace in the subsequent episodes. Much of what makes the show work it of course owes to the wider Muv-Luv universe with which it is associated.

The franchise’s Cold War on steroids setting is simply too perfect of a sandbox in which to deploy all manner of military hardware in improbably massive scenarios, that nary a milotaku will prove capable of resisting. It’s not every day one gets to watch Tu-95s and Warsaw Pact MBTs (particularly anything regarding the DDR) lay waste to alien hordes, and I for one, cannot say no to such spectacle.

The show still has an abundance of issues unquestionably in terms of both plotting and characterization (Beatrix isn’t growing more fascinating by the episode) but damn if the thing doesn’t fill a very particular niche altogether rather well. I didn’t make my first AMV in over a decade about this show for nothing!

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Behold, The Face of Modern War!

Solid Execution of Faintly Absurd Premise: Okkupert

Okkupert, also known as Occupied over here stateside, is a show that probably should not work. The program tells a (RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES) story in which, after the presiding Green Party leadership in Norway decides to cease oil production, the country is forced to submit to a partial Russian military occupation organized in collusion with the EU in order to get Norwegian oil pumping to the continent again.

The show’s initial (I’m a scant four episodes in) success lay in large part with the intriguing and atypical characterization of the Green Party Prime Minister, Jesper Berg. To wade into mild spoilers, Berg is a largely sympathetic character, a choice that’s most interesting because it’s exceptionally easy to see how a different, perhaps lazier, show could use the character’s exact same actions in order to portray a venal, spineless cad of a politician/villain.

Berg’s primary goal throughout the show so far is protecting the Norwegian people from the worst case scenario that lay beyond the relatively hands off Russian/EU occupation and to restrain potential sources of unrest within his own society. In order to do so he sometimes evades the questions of a well-meaning, sympathetically portrayed and dedicated press corps, compromises his own values and beliefs and submits to some, though not all, of the demands placed upon him by the occupiers. Not every decision Berg makes is wise or fully justified, but he is nevertheless a character who is shown as trying to sincerely navigate as best he can his country’s unenviable position and avoid an escalation of the crisis. Wisely, the show also avoids making cartoonish villains out of its primary Russian players, or again, at least so far.

Okkupert is a particularly tense viewing experience, but I say that in large part because it feels like just the kind of show that could easily careen off the edges of a Fjord and into a deep and inescapable chasm of stupidity and schlock at any moment, and yet so far it has avoided that fate. The show of course, aired altogether some time ago now so a quick googling could yield my answers, but I guess I’ll stick around for the ride and see how this all pans out.

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Tom’s Overall Best Seasonal Anime.
1. Rakugo Shinjuu
2. Erased (Boku Dake)
3. Sekkou Boys (I’m as surprised as anyone!)