Supermusic

Before I begin, I want to say that I had a simply amazing time at Anime Mid-Atlantic this past weekend.  The panels were wonderful, the audiences at my panels were enthusiastic and responsive, it was great seeing friends there, and was overall about as good a time as one can have at one of these things.  When I imagine the damn-near perfect anime convention, I think of Anime Mid-Atlantic and this year especially.

Now, on to the blog.

Man of Steel came out on Friday.  It’s the new reboot of the Superman franchise and the long-rumored kickoff point of the Justice League franchise, Warner Bros/DC’s answer to the Disney/Marvel’s Avengers Project.  Now, I didn’t care for the movie on a number of levels, but one principle reason was the music.

Going into this movie, a lot of movie critics and speculators had talked about how John Williams’ Superman Theme from the 1978 film was and is one of the greatest, most heroic pieces of music ever written.  And they’re right.  Give it a listen:

That, right there, is quite simply one of the best pieces of music ever.  Hands down.  Bar none.  Damn straight.  And it has become so recognized as part of the Superman mythos that it was even used in the finale of Smallville.

And thus, going into this film – the Man of Steel – so many people had talked about how, to forge its own identity, this movie would have to leave behind the epic greatness that was John Williams’ music.  And yet to do so would be insane because of how iconic it had become.  No version of Superman could ever stand up to what William’s had done musically with the most famous superhero of all time.

Really?  No one?  No version existed that didn’t do a comparable job, worthy of being a successor musically to the masterpiece of Williams’ work?

That’s the theme to the Superman Animated Series by the magnificent Shirley Walker.  And it is excellent.  It is so much of what Williams’ original theme is, but with a unique feel all its own.  It’s less epic but more adventurous.  It’s the perfect theme for an animated series, perhaps even better for that particular brand of the tale than the Williams’ theme would have been.

So please don’t tell me ‘nobody could follow John Williams’.  Because somebody already has, and excelled at it.

Advertisements

Anime Mid-Atlantic 2013

We’re just four very short days from Anime Mid-Atlantic 2013.  AMA is one of my favorite cons and it’s one I’ve had the honor of being a guest at for years.  This year, I will be hosting several panels (detailed below) as well as finally unveiling my newest book available this summer by Haven Publishing.  But first, the panels!

Cosplay Fitness – co-hosting with the legendary Big Danny T, we will be talking about various diet and exercise protocols to best maximize one’s cosplay presentation.

Top Five Mecha Artists – a quick countdown of the best artist and illustrators in the giant robot genre.

How to Get BACK Into Anime – For the classic fan who isn’t sure where to begin with the modern anime landscape, this panel will help you re-acclimate.

Comic Animes – A quick rundown of the anime reimaginings of comic book properties.

Evolution of Anime Art – This retrospective will look at how the illustration and animation styles in mainstream anime have changed over the past 50 years.

American Animation – co-presenting with Charles Dunbar, we will be looking at anime’s US brother and how the twin markets have grown together and evolved together.

Anime Mid-Atlantic is one of the highlights of my year and if you come, I think it will be for you as well.  See you there!

Tools of the Imagination — Starcom

Starcom: The US Space Force
Produced by DiC Entertainment, released 1987, available on YouTube

GI Joe meets NASA

Starcom is a shining example of the difference between recalling something and remembering something.  People remember GI Joe; they recall Starcom.  They recall a show kind of like GI Joe, with somewhat similar toys, but details are usually pretty sparse and they usually end up just writing it off as misremembering an episode of GI Joe.

In fact, Starcom wasn’t a GI Joe knock-off but more of a Flash Gordon knock-off, meant to ignite kids’ interest in outer space.  The story was rooted (in theory) in a little bit more realism than the sci-fi fare of the time (remember when the Decepticons teleported Cybertron into earth’s orbit; if you had a week, you couldn’t list all the ways that would be a bad idea, even for the bad guys).  So while Starcom does have aliens and interplanetary space travel that takes hours instead of months, it also has an emphasis on biospheres, weather patterns, and some of the more mundane wonders of studying space.  All of it is set against the heroic efforts of the uniformly benign Starcom as they try to keep the peace against the enigmatic Shadow Force, led by Emperor Dark, who is trying to do bad because it’s a Saturday morning cartoon.

Story – 4 out of 5
Starcom’s story, while nothing truly exceptional, is better than most because of the slight nuances that play out.  It’s true that, as a kids’ show in the 1980s, nuance isn’t the best word, but the Shadow Force often have slightly more intelligent plans than their counterparts on other shows.  Moreover, they are often depicted with a greater level of understanding.  Rather than try to overwhelm Starcom, they try to use elements of a given planet to their advantage and the Starcom forces often have to use similar intellectual resourcefulness to overcome them.  Yeah, laser blasters come into play, but for a kids’ show, it’s above-average stuff.

Art – 4 out of 5
The art is stellar.  1980s cartoons made a leap forward in quality artwork, but this show really stands out.  Only theatrical releases had better artwork than this show and the detail is often on par with a lot of the anime that was being imported at this time.

Animation – 3 out of 5
While the art was stellar, the animation was nothing outstanding.  But nothing at all bad, either.

Characters – 3 out of 5
The characters of the show are a little bland and generic, but by having a tight cast of three principle heroes (Slim, Crowbar, and Dash) and three primary Shadow Force villains (Malvanna Wilde, General Von Dar, Major Romak), the characters get a little more personality than in other shows (like, say GI Joe which had over twenty protagonists in its first year alone).  Sort of like the Real Ghostbusters, the characters aren’t much, but what they are is done well.

Acting – 3 out of 5
The acting is unremarkable, even for the 1980s.  There are some cringe-worthy moments and some really stellar moments, but as a whole, nothing stands out.

Overall – 4 out of 5
Starcom remains largely an unsung hero of the 1980s cartoon behemoth.  It was a well-done show that just didn’t manage to catch on.  It’s well put together, had a fun gimmick (more on that next week), and was rooted in some good intentions.  Maybe it’ll get reimagined in the coming years.  But for now, Youtube videos will have to suffice.

In Defense Of Television

If you were asked by someone ‘what are your plans for this weekend’ and you answered ‘I’m going to a literary festival’, they’d probably congratulate you.  The same might be true if you said ‘I’m going to a film festival’ or ‘I’m going to see some off-Broadway plays’.  But if you said ‘I’m going to get caught up on Mad Men’, a scathing quip about not having better plans would often be the result.

In the US – as well as much of the western world it seems – has a love-hate relationship with television.  TV remains the most dominant form of entertainment (despite what the film and video game industries might say), and yet TV is also looked down upon culturally and artistically.  And it doesn’t take much to get a sense of why.  The recent fiasco regarding the Mermaids show on Animal Planet put a bad taste in everybody’s mouth.  The trend of abuse-masquerading-as-a-reality-TV-show seems to only be getting stronger.  The list of ‘the worst’ TV has to offer always seems to be readily available at the slightest mention.

And yet, TV also has a lot of good to offer.  I’ve been researching both Japanese and US cartoons recently, in preparation for Anime Mid-Atlantic and it astounded me to see how much fine art has been made in the world of animation; art that is largely forgotten about.  Did you know the most popular and successful animated series in Japan in the late 70s/early 80s weren’t mecha shows about giant robots, but were adaptations of classic literature?  The anime adaptation of Huck Finn and Heidi were huge successes in Japan, and subsequently worldwide.
The same is true of American animation.  Did you know that the first Lord of the Rings adaptation was in 1978, a full two decades before Peter Jackson’s version?

And today, there’s amazing television to have and enjoy.  There’s a tremendous amount of crap, to be sure.  And many of the shows that are good do have to do a little pandering and bill-paying to stay on the air.  But I defy anyone to watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Hannibal, or any other shows that are available right now, and tell me they aren’t art.  Modern classics are being aired every season and it’s a shame to miss out on them just because they’re on TV.  Listen to the dialogue of Elementary.  Watch the cinematography of CSI.  Magnificent!

Television has a bad wrap of being the lowest form of entertainment there is, and it’s a derision television doesn’t deserve.  Television is an art form, with the shameful lows and dizzying highs of any other.  And it’s an art form that should be enjoyed openly and cheerfully.

Tools of the Imagination — Sword Art Online

Sword Art OnLine
Written by Reki Kawahara, Illustrated by abec, Published by Aniplex, released 2012, available on Crunchyroll

Dungeons & Dragons in the future…but not

Sword Art OnLine – or SAO – is the poor man’s anime version of Ready Player One.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  SAO is a perfectly okay anime, but that’s all it is: Okay.

Set in the fantasy world of a fully immersive MMORPG, the story of Sword Art OnLine follows Kirito who is trapped along with several thousand other players inside a virtual reality.  Their only possible escape is to complete the 100th floor of the dungeon, while death in the game results in real-life death.  The reasoning behind this is staggeringly vague, the result of the machinations of Kayaba Akihiko the Steve Jobs/Howard Hughes super-genius who built SOA.

Story – 3 out of 5
The story is kind of unique but also has gaping plot holes.  The contrived reasoning to keep the thousand of players in the MMORPG is that if they log-out or have their systems severed, they will die.  Which is fine, except to have thousands of people trapped inside a virtual reality for multiple years is a stretch.  An off-handed comment late in the show acknowledges that a small window was granted to allow the victims to be transported to hospitals for care but little more is said of this.  Also, Akihiko is beyond brilliant because the combined resources of the world cannot hack into the game to free the people or even find a way around their being locked in.  These suspensions of disbelief are the biggest problem, but if you can get around it, the remaining show is pretty fun.

Art – 3 out of 5
There’s very little that can be said about the art.  It’s good, but seems uninspired.  There isn’t a tremendous level of detail in the characters or backgrounds.  And the character designs aren’t remarkably varied.
One note to make is I heard about SAO because the weapons company Cold Steel had a knife appear in the game.  This was my initial reason for watching, only for the knife to only turn up for a moment at the end of the series, and then to be drawn so generically as to not have been worth it.

Animation – 4 out of 5
The animation of the show is quite good.  Fight scenes vary radically but some of them are really excellent, offering more than just traded super attacks.  There’s a dynamic element to the camera in many episodes that really works.

Characters – 2 out of 5
None of the characters in the show are memorable in the slightest.  Kirito is a very blaise and generic anime hero who makes the ubiquitous soliloquies about friendship and being a loner, but none of it seems rooted in any real personality.  Asuna, the heroine, isn’t as overbearing as some female leads but she just has no outstanding characteristics.  The supporting cast is equally as unremarkable, with every single role being hit like marking off needed troupes from a list.

Acting – 3 out of 5 (for Japanese voice actors)
Much like the art, the acting is about par for the course.  There are no outstanding performances but nothing that’s distracting either.  The performances aren’t nuanced, but then neither are the characters.  At the end of the day, the actors do their jobs passably and acceptably but that’s about all that can be said.
Overall – 3 out of 5
SAO isn’t a bad show at all.  It’s very entertaining at points and can be real fun, especially if you’re into swords-n-sorcery.  But it’s not an outstanding show in any sense of the word.  It’s just sort of a fun place-holder to bide time until something better comes along.