Author: Richard Carroll

FLCL on Blu-Ray

I finally got hold of the long-awaited blu-ray edition of FLCL, which is second only to serial experiments lain among my favourite (and most-watched) anime. Just owning the whole series gives me sufficient cause to celebrate, since I only own vols. 1 and 3 of the previous release (plus the full series as a bootleg).

I’ve read that the Japanese edition had serious problems with video quality, so North American publisher Funimation did their own remastering. The end result looks very good. There were moments when lines became noticeably jagged or the screen looked a bit fuzzy, so one could easily tell that this show came out before HDTVs were common, but I think they do look better than the original DVD release. If you already have the old DVDs and aren’t a big fan, though, it’s probably not worth the purchase.

On a final note, this is the first post I’ve written via my iPhone, so if anything looks weird that’s probably why.…

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Ghost Hound

I finished the anime Ghost Hound last night, which an acquaintance of mine recommended to me a while back. Apparently, some of the same staff who worked on serial experiments lain, which I loved, also worked on Ghost Hound, including writer Konaka Chiaki. The resemblance was obvious, too, since both tackle similar themes and share some stylistic touches (like extreme close-ups of people’s eyes or mouth).

Overall, it’s an excellent series. Good animation, likable characters, skillful plotting, all the things one checks for. The ending should ideally have been two episodes instead of one, since it felt rushed and everything turned out unbelievably hunky-dory. Overall, though, I felt satisfied.

Even aside from the lain connection, though, it’s the type of show I tend to enjoy. Most premises built on a polytheistic or animistic mythology appeal to me. Perhaps a world populated by the supernatural offers an intriguing contrast to the materialist worldview common in the United States.…

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Last Exile

I watched Last Exile the other day, after a couple years of seeing several people whose opinion I respect speak well of it. Very seldom am I led astray by those I trust, especially when the work in question gets near-universal praise as Last Exile does. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing someone who outright dislikes it.

Yet, I dropped it after just two episodes.

There were a few problems, but two factors especially turned me off right away. First, ugly computer-generated aircraft. CG animation almost always looks bad anyway, but looks especially jarring when used with traditional 2D animation. To the show’s credit, though, the rest of the animation looked good.

Second, the two protagonists irritated the hell out of me. Both fall into the archetype I call the ‘noble retard,’ a character who always does the right thing even if it’s plainly impossible, suicidal, and possibly not even worthwhile. Emiya in Fate / Stay Night and the male lead (whatever his name was) in Elfen Lied both fit the archetype, and dragged down both shows. Two of them together, though, is just too much for me.

Maybe I’ll give this show another chance down the road – two episodes on a seven-DVD series isn’t all that much, after all – especially given the praise it gets. For now, though, I’ll have to put it down as one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had recently.…

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Evangelion 2.0 – My Impression

A theatre about an hour’s drive away from me was showing the first two Evangelion Rebuild films, so after some deliberation I decided to go.

I had modest expectations, going as much to support the industry and encourage studios to release more animated films in theatres as I did to see these particular works. The original series has always struck me as decent, but highly overrated, Death and Rebirth is one of the worst films I’ve seen, and End of Evangelion, though gorgeous to look at, still seems like a disjointed mess. The rebuild, though, blew me away.

The first film I’ve seen already on DVD. It’s mostly just a touched-up version of the first few episodes of the original TV show, albeit with a few new scenes and a more coherent plot. The action scenes did benefit greatly from the big theatre screen.

The second, though, is one of the most spectacular films I’ve ever seen in a theatre. I’d heard that the film is beautiful, and the praise is richly deserved. The animation is fluid, the backgrounds detailed, and the music is excellent. For the first time, I felt I had a real sense of the scale of everything – the Evas, the Angels, Tokyo-3. The visuals in this film by themselves justified the long drive and price of admission.

The characters also come across as more likable and well-developed than in the original series. Shinji actually has a bit of a spine in this version, where in the TV and End of Eva versions I detested him as much as I detest any fictional character for being such a wuss. Rei, rather too flat in the original, now shows some modest attempts at sociability, and comes across as much more sympathetic as a result. Even Gendo is less of a prick now, going so far as to give Shinji some praise – only once, briefly, but like Rei he seems far more human and sympathetic now.

The plot still seems muddy, but we’re only halfway through the series, so I’ll wait to criticise that. The new Eva pilot irritated me, just because she doesn’t seem to have any purpose. Again, though, there are still two films to go so I’ll hold back my criticism there, too.

Talking to a few fans between the films was fun, too. My main complaint is that the theatre literally just played the films via a PlayStation 3 (we saw the PS3 menu prior to each film beginning). Blu-Rei Blu-ray resolution with a good projector did, of course, give a much greater experience than what I could get with my TV at home, but it just felt a little bush league to me.

While I’ve always appreciated what Evangelion has done well, and its historical impact, with Eva 2.0 I find myself becoming, for the first time, an Evangelion fan.…

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Academic Influences

Back in my freshman year at university, a professor asked us to write a short paper on our greatest academic influence. I chose St. Thomas Aquinas, but like most eighteen year olds I didn’t have much to say at the time, since lower education focuses primarily on teaching fundamentals, and not so much evaluating and forming a worldview. I’ve thought about the question occasionally since then, as I’ve encountered several works that have given a much more definite shape to my ideas, making them more like a finished vessel than the pre-college mound of clay (not that there isn’t still plenty of room for refinement, of course). Recently, I’ve given the question some more thought, and decided it may be useful to consider what works have given the most shape to how I view the world around me.

Such an endeavour may, perhaps, turn into a series of posts largely praising famous men, but to that I’ve no objection. Modernity may praise the new and the individual above the old and the traditional, but I believe that most of what a man learns in his life he learns from other men. To hit a ‘reset’ button on human knowledge every generation seems hugely wasteful, when generations who’ve gone before have written down so much for our benefit. Indeed, a respect, even a love for tradition forms the great common thread among all of the men I can think of who’ve inspired me so far, men like Confucius, St. Thomas Aquinas, or Ezra Pound.

So, this is my project for the next couple weeks – to outline where I am now, and how I got to this point.

“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will shew thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.” – Deut. 32:7

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Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth

I just finished watching Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, and have never felt so pissed off at a film. Yeah, I’d been warned by people I trust to just avoid this one, but like a cat curiosity got the better of me. After all, the main series was okay, and End of Evangelion may have hacked me off by trying too hard to integrate every philosophy it could think of, but at least it had high production values.

Part 1, “Death,” just recaps the TV series for an hour or so. Those who’ve already seen the series don’t need that much recapping, but it also doesn’t do anything to introduce any characters or plot points to ease newcomers into the film. Even worse, our beloved studio Gainax made this recap by simply re-editing scenes from the show while adding almost no new animation.

Then, we get a credit sequence in the middle of the film, as though this were two TV episodes spliced together, and an intermission. The film’s only 115 minutes long, though, so I’m not sure why any intermission is needed, especially in addition to the immediately preceding credit sequence. Maybe Japanese studios are just especially courteous to moviegoers who buy large drinks at the concession stand?

Anyway, we then proceed to Part 2, “Rebirth.” Here’s the highlight of the film, where we the plot finally gets moving again. End of Evangelion recycled almost all of this footage, but since that came a couple years later I’ll give Death and Rebirth a pass on that. What I won’t give it a pass on, though, is that whereas many films begin in media res, this one decides to end in media res. Literally, the end credits (the real end credits this time) start rolling right before what’s obviously going to be a fight scene, with next to nothing resolved. A couple years later Gainax recycles “Rebirth” and actually finally gives Neon Genesis Evangelion something resembling a proper ending. That one has problems of its own, but at least it begins and ends somewhere, and if you just cut out Death and Rebirth makes the series feel mostly whole.

What boggles my mind, though, is how many attempts Gainax has made at creating a decent ending for their flagship franchise. Apparently, they couldn’t do it right when the show originally aired because they ran out of time or money. Still a lame excuse, perhaps, but whatever. So they make a second attempt with Death and Rebirth, but that fails miserably, so they make a third attempt and finally get it somewhat right with End of Eva. Even that apparently wasn’t enough, though, since now Gainax has redone the whole series as a film tetralogy, their second attempt at the story as a whole and their fourth attempt at an ending. At this point, I feel I must conclude that no one at Gainax ever did know how Eva ought to end; we’ve yet to see whether or not they still don’t.…

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Mishima’s ‘Sun and Steel’

Mishima Yukio has quickly become one of my favourite authors. The hardest part of writing a post about him, though, is probably deciding just what to focus on, as he was tremendously prolific. In his 20-year career, he averaged at least one full novel a year, one full play a year, several short plays and short stories, as well as some essays and poems. I suppose the best place to start would be Sun and Steel, where he explains the philosophy and aesthetic that underlies his novels.

The central problem Mishima confronts is how to reconcile words, which I understand as analagous to mind or spirit, with the body, the physical world which does not depend on words and which words often cannot describe. The former he felt he mastered at a young age. After all, he made his living as a novelist, read widely, and was naturally introverted as a child.

The body he began to understand only gradually, through a handful of experiences. He relates how, as a child, he would watch religious processions of young men carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) through town, and noticed that they all looked up toward the sky as though experiencing an epiphany. He wondered what they saw and thought. Years later, he took part in such a procession, and as he felt the weight of the mikoshi on his shoulders and began marching in step with the other young men, he realised what they had all been thinking: nothing at all. They were merely gazing at the sun.

When I first read that story, it struck me as anticlimactic. However, I think it relates partly to an older Japanese tradition. Famed swordfighter Miyamoto Musashi noted (in his Book of the Five Rings) that a skilled warrior does not consciously plan his moves, but acts and reacts to an opponent by a kind of instinct. Miyamoto and Mishima refer to a kind of knowledge that does not rely on the intellect, and which words cannot quite adequately describe. While many philosophies (e.g., Confucianism) urge cultivation of the intellect, they often neglect this physical knowledge which, according to Mishima properly forms fully half of human experience.

So, to be a full man, one must cultivate both the body and the intellect. After a man’s gotten a library card and gym membership, though, what should he do next? Is there a way to reconcile these two types of knowledge? The question persists through several of his novels to varying extents. See, for example, Runaway Horses, the second book in his Sea of Fertility tetralogy. The story takes place in pre-World War II Japan, and the protaganist, Iinuma Isao, has mastered control of his body through kendo, and has also kept his spirit completely pure. This purity leads him to decide that he must, somehow, serve the emperor by protecting him from the corrupted politicians and capitalists who control Japan. His purity gives him the will and his body gives him the ability to act, and his solution is to gather like-minded comrades and then assassinate certain key figures, then commit suicide after accomplishing that mission. They hoped that their own dramatic action would inspire the rest of the nation to demand a restoration of imperial authority.

One could also relate this, of course, to Mishima’s own decision to commit suicide, and in spectacular fashion at that. Along with a few followers, he took over a military office, demanded the restoration of imperial power, and then committed suicide. His inspiration came from words, his action from the body.

 

(image taken from Wikimedia Commons)

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