Little_Socrates (Level 10)

“@jaredr: Here is a Chrome extension that plays real time Animal Crossing music on demand Thank you NeoGAF!” OHMAN
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So last night, my roommate, a friend, and I watched Ghost in the Shell on Netflix after a crushing football defeat by the hands of Michigan State. My roommate had seen the film before, but neither of the other two of us had seen it. I'd seen isolated episodes of Stand Alone Complex, though the only things I took away from them are Batou and the tachikomas. Instead of summarizing the film, I'd rather just outline my thoughts and impressions. Those who haven't seen the film, this probably won't serve so much as a review and will be more akin to incomprehensible nonsense. I apologize.

The first thing that really struck me was how long they'd allow certain shots to simply linger. There's one I remember where Kusanagi is in her apartment, and it slowly allows her to get out of bed, open her blinds, and then open and shut her door. Multiple times, I was tricked into thinking the shot was going to end; this served as a good notation that the film was going to take its time.

It's a good thing, then, that the art style and design are so gorgeous, whether in action sequences or otherwise. I loved the sequences focused on simply showing different camera angles on the city. Few anime employ this technique, though Cowboy Bebop comes to mind. However, its characters are generally in each shot, while many shots from Ghost in the Shell were completely without motion. The opening theme is used for one of these sequences (there might actually only be the one, but I don't remember accurately) and I feel that it's far more appropriate for the city sequence. It definitely calls to me as a traditional song, and I do honestly wish they'd chosen a more appropriate song for the opening. In fact, swapping the very 90's cyber-punk ending theme and the traditional, evocative opening theme seems rather appropriate.

One unfortunate factor of the viewing choice of Netflix was choosing the English dub when the Japanese remastered version was available. While most of the English voice acting was rather good. Hearing Batou voiced by the man who currently voices Raiden in Mortal Kombat was a treat, and he does a much better job here. However, Kusanagi is NOT well-acted. She chews through her carefully crafted lines with no abandon, going so fast that I have to pay an absurd amount of attention to follow her dialogue. I can accept her lack of emotion; I think it's pretty clearly meant to draw parallels between her and the Puppet Master. But it becomes very difficult to parse her language combining the two factors.

This wouldn't necessarily be a problem if it were in character with the rest of the film. Ghost in the Shell pretty explicitly tells you its purpose, though it does not answer the questions within its context. The questions: "What is humanity?", "What is memory?", "Is humanity overreaching?", etc: they're mostly raised by the characters themselves, or very easy to gather from statements by the characters. This is not a bad thing, and occasionally it's refreshing to have the creator being explicit about the questions they're seeking to raise in the audience.

Ultimately, I think the film is brilliant; the story is lovably simple, and I do feel like I understand most of the film's subtexts from one viewing. Often, other existentialist/cyberpunk films such as Inception or Blade Runner require at LEAST two viewings to fully appreciate. As a result, I can know from one viewing that all future viewings will simply be for enjoyment, and I will enjoy another viewing.

However, tomorrow will be my first viewing of Spirited Away. After that, I might delve into the Stand Alone Complex series.

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All right, so I wrote a big long intro to my blog before Safari forced me to "force reload" all the web pages I was on. I blame the new Facebook update because it was terrible. As a result, I'm gonna edit this out later and include most of the introduction I originally wrote after I post the blog.

My first assigned writing for my Visual Japanese Media course is due today. Based on the book Monster Theory and a class viewing of Princess Mononoke, I'm to analyze the visual elements of the tatarigami (or cursed boar god, who should have a character page along with most of the other Mononoke characters) and explain which visual elements make him monstrous. Most of my writing is tied back to Cohen's Monster Theory, so forgive me if the writing doesn't make perfect sense. I'll do a write-up on the seven theses of Monster Theory and eventually edit it into this introduction, though.

Also, I'd link a clip of the introduction of this creature, but it's literally the first three or four minutes of the film I'm discussing; nobody's uploaded a clip of it that isn't just the full film. If you're looking for a refresher, pop in the DVD or find a stream; the tatarigami only exists in the first scene. Here's a picture of our buddy before I go full-bore, though.

Every visual element of the tatarigami conveys the monstrous qualities it bears for the storyline. The first visual image we receive of the monster (just after the sun is clouded) is the rotted, eel-like cursed tentacles that have sprouted from the boar god seeping through a short stone wall. Already, we’re witnessed the monster defying our natural defenses, and the image of the tentacles either calls to mind snakes (a more Western fear, though also related to the traditional dragon Yamata no Orochi) or maggots (which recall disease.) In the next shot (after trees begin to rot,) we do receive a close-up of the tentacles to prove to us that they also are not snakes (or any other creature we’re familiar with) and they will continue to rot and grip onto anything they come in contact with. Through these tentacles, the tatarigami makes itself clearly dangerous without even showing us its full visage.

The beast then tears through the stone wall, and we are introduced most of its visual elements. Possibly the first one we notice is the fact that it seems to have very fluid dimensions as its head simply slides from a traditional mammalian structure of “head to neck to chest” immediately downward to below the (possibly longer) neck, which removes some of our ability to consider the tatarigami mammalian (which, when we find out he is the boar god, recalls its savage nature and adds to its monstrosity.) The creature is different from anything we’re familiar with, and the fluidity of its physicality is a trait that belongs to any species in the animal kingdom; tatarigami seems outside the realm of our reality.

The next visual element is the tatarigami’s glowing red eyes; this physical trait is a well-known trope of demons from eastern or western culture, with demons representing the inherent malevolence of the beast. Similarly, its many, many limbs call to mind spiders. While spiders in Eastern mythology call to mind Arachne or Anansi, more relevant again in this situation would be the Tsuchigumo or the seductive Jorōgumo; spiders are associated with trickery and lust. In this sense, the tatarigami subtly recalls the evil of man, as we cannot look at demons we create without looking at demons within us. When we discover that the source of the demon is a creation of man (Lady Eboshi’s bullet) it cements this concept.

Ultimately, most of the monstrosity of the tatarigami is in its visual design. It moves extremely quickly, it rots nature around itself, and it does intend to attack people within the village, but, ultimately, its actions merely infect Ashitaka with monstrosity. There is little horrific tension involved in the tatarigami’s assault, and although the monster does infect Ashitaka and “live on” in that sense, it does not “escape” quite as well as Cohen’s “Monster Culture” might desire. But visually, it recalls many elements of monstrosity outlined in said essay, and little about the visual design of the tatarigami is not monstrous.

Thanks for reading, children! I'll be back with a bit more on Princess Mononoke later this week, along with a write-up on Darker Than Black, Summer Wars, and my first ever viewing of Spirited Away!

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I figure it would be fitting to introduce myself to the boards. I'm taking Video_Game_King's format in a lot of ways for this first post, as it seems like a nice way to lay down a LOT of writing.

Hi, I'm Little_Socrates. If you're not a heavy GB user, you probably don't know who I am, as you can see I've made very few (if any) posts on this site; if you are a GB regular, you probably would recognize me more easily by my Clint Eastwood avatar. I'm a first-year college student at UW-Madison, and I'm definitely a liberal arts kid. I also run a gaming podcast called Nerf'd, which comes out with new episodes roughly every Sunday/Monday. We didn't release last week because both Jake (my fellow podcaster, Whiskey Media username commisar123) and I got sick. Expect a new one shortly.

When it comes to anime, I'm generally a skeptic. It's hard not to be; there are SO many series out there that borrow from each other that, eventually, the time commitment an individual anime requires is too heavy to invest deeply in most of them. I also watch anime series so occasionally that I can definitely tell you the last time I finished a series, which was Angel Beats! last June. I was satisfied with it as closure; I probably consider that, objectively, the best anime series ever made, though I don't think it's my favorite. That title goes pretty handily to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Season 1, though, honestly, I haven't even begun Season 2 or seen The Disappearance. I'm also three episodes into Gurren Lagann, and have yet to begin R2 of Code Geass. I'm a bit of a flake when it comes to series.

However, when it comes to anime movies, consider me a believer; outside of 5 Centimeters Per Second, I've finished every anime movie I've ever started, and I generally revel in them. Of course, it's hard not to simply name Miyazaki films when it comes to naming my favorite anime movies, but others that certainly stand out are the film version of Air and the incredibly goofy and fun Dragon Ball Z: Dead Zone. I find it tragic, by the way, that there's no AnimeVice page for Dead Zone.

I am, as you may have guessed, an anime novice. I've been following it extremely casually for five years or so, and have not read much manga to help that statistic. When it comes to manga, though, an easy choice for my favorite was Welcome to the NHK, but I also never finished the fifth or sixth volumes. However, I'm open to a lot of types of series, and based on the feedback I get here, I'll be willing to write a lot more.

Also, it wouldn't be fair if I didn't talk some about what I do and don't like about anime in the introduction section of this blog. I think anime has a great advantage in being the most advantageous visual medium to express a non-interactive long-form story that is improved by animation. That is, I think anime is the best when you're making something that shouldn't be a game or a book. Manga, of course, has an advantage in moving faster than anime, but sometimes anime is definitely the better format. When it comes to anime films, they have a huge advantage in the deliberateness of their animation; a lot of animation in Western animation seems either cheap or arbitrary, while animation in, well, movies like Mononoke Hime is always purposeful. However, anime often has a tendency to slow plot beats down in the sake of character development or filler, which can be EXTREMELY frustrating. Also, I like completely unreasonable giant robots, reasonably realistic-but-gorgeous anime ladies, moe personalities, twisted psychological anime, and Japanese sci-fi, but dislike simulation-esque mech shows, filler-based shows like One Piece, and comedies that don't at least belong to the subgenre of romance/comedy.

Now, it might seem like I am not a big enough anime fan to bother writing a blog. However, I'm taking a series of courses this semester related to Japan, those being Classical Japanese Literature in Translation, History of Religion and Culture in the East, and The Monstrous and Supernatural in Japanese Visual Culture. That means I'll be writing a lot about Japanese culture in these classes, and in the last of those three, I'll even specifically be writing about anime quite a bit. In fact, this week's assignment is a visual assessment of one of three character groups from Princess Mononoke. I figured, if I'm going to write this anyways, I might as well post it here, and if I'm going to post it here, I might as well look to you guys to also get some practice.

The basic facts:

-I use Giant Bomb quite a bit, so you might recognize me from over there.

-I'm generally skeptical of anime series and a fan of anime movies, but am still pretty fresh and am looking for more to watch and fill my palate.

-I'm taking three classes this semester that'll force me to think more about Japanese culture.

Now then, I actually have watched some anime this last week, so let's talk about it shortly! (More in-depth stuff later.)

Princess Mononoke

Yes, I know that's the English dub. But I did totally watch the Japanese version with my class last Monday, I swear it! Princess Mononoke stirs a lot of emotions in me; other than Pokémon, it was the first anime I ever experienced. It brings back memories of loved ones, family by blood and otherwise. This time, however, I was more able to hone in on its thematic elements than I had previously.

Our professor advised us to look for the monster in our protagonist, but, ultimately, he was really asking us to look for the monster in every character. Every character invokes some kind of fear in the others, and a series of stubborn decisions lead to the calamity and tragedy that takes place in this movie. I'll be honing in on one particular character more closely later this week for an essay, but unfortunately the character I'm most interested in writing about is not an available option for the essay prompt. Expect a less formal blog about Lady Eboshi later this week.

Ultimately, it's hard to say much about Princess Mononoke other than those who have only watched it considering its "environmentalist" tendencies need to see the film again, this time "with eyes unclouded" by our Western culture and the modern era. There is much more going on in this film than a simple "industry bad, nature good" mentality, and it's a much more spiritual and deliberate film than many casual viewers perceive it to be. Again, I'll actually be returning to this movie at least TWICE this week, so there'll be plenty more about this film later.

Summer Wars

Again, I watched the Japanese version, but I think I just like English trailers a little better. Of course, a lot of writing on Summer Wars was done last year, so I'm certain many people are sick of discussing it. But I'm not sure I've liked an animated film as much as Summer Wars since I first saw Fantastic Mr. Fox. Toy Story 3 obviously comes to mind, but I honestly believe Summer Wars is the more innovative and significant film. Ultimately, Toy Story 3 is an extension of my childhood, and it coming out just as all my friends were going to college was pretty devastating (read: sob in theaters) but on a second viewing the film seemed weak. Summer Wars, however, is a super-meaningful movie, and I feel like I'd need to see it again to really catch everything going on in the film.

I'd watched The Good, The Bad and The Ugly earlier in the day for the first time, and after Summer Wars I watched most of Peter Pan for the first time in ages. If I had to pick a film style that Summer Wars matched better, it would be the former; there's a distinct level of subtlety Summer Wars carries that much of animation lacks. Its metaphors (read: baseball team, the famous battle Natsuki's family had fought so long ago, the use of Mickey Mouse ears on Kenji's avatar) are far more subtle than those of most modern animation, its score employs attitude rather than specific emotion, and its characters are more ambiguously good or evil, left mostly as more human than most characters of animation.

Summer Wars gets far on its wonderful rendition of OZ and its beautiful animation, but ultimately these scenes also serve to effectively pace one of anime's better family dramas. I couldn't recommend the film more highly, and it's nice to have a new anime film I can feel confident about actually recommending to people.

See you, space cowboy.

That's all I've got for this post! Again, expect a couple more this week on Princess Mononoke, and maybe something more on Summer Wars. Tomorrow, I may be tackling the beginning of Darker Than Black, so if that happens, expect a first impressions blog as well. I'll also be doing more writing on GiantBomb, so follow me there, too! (Hell, maybe I'll even start writing stuff on Screened.)

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