No Post

Sorry, guys.  I’m taking the week off.  I hope you had a good Thanksgiving!

Advertisements

Tools of the Imagination — Night Raid 1931

Night Raid 1931
directed by Jun Matsumoto, written by Satoshi Kadokura and Taro Hakase, released 2010, available on Crunchyroll

James Bond meets the X-Men


Anime loves itself some World War II.  With a very idealized and cherry-picked view of the war, there’s a long list of anime series based off of or inspired by World War II (Hetalia, Strike Witches, Space Cruiser Yamato, etc).
And anime loves itself some Meiji Restoration, that fun period where the Samurai period evolved into the modern world.  Rurouni Kenshin is probably the poster child of series and movies set during this time, but it’s the tip of the ice berg.
The thing is, there’s a thirty year period in there – nestled in between the Meiji Restoration & World War I and World War II – where a lot of really crazy stuff happened.  And as for the eastern half of the world, a lot of that really crazy stuff was connected to Japan.  And yet, there aren’t too many anime that deal with that time period.  Well, Night Raid 1931 aims to change that.

Set in Shanghai during 1931, Night Raid 1931 follows a team of modestly superpowered spies working for the Japanese government who controlled a good portion of China during this time.  They uncover a radical plot to end colonialism in the east and the majority of the show follows the unfolding of said plot.  There are a lot of the typical betrayals and doublecrosses that occur in noir fiction, all wrapped up in an anime bow.

 

 

Story – 3 out of 5
If you know anything about history, you probably know that Japan wasn’t the best caretaker of China during the first decades of the century.  In the early episodes, it looks like the show might address these very issues and pull back the curtain on Japan’s stewardship of China, but there are only a few token references to some of the horrors the Chinese faced under Japanese rule.

 

Later episodes become wrapped up in an increasingly complex plot to extort the western colonial powers into releasing their hold on eastern countries.  This plot involves the construction and detonation of a nuclear bomb, but does so in a manner that seems to radically counter most historical timelines of the bomb’s development.

In fact, that’s a major problem for the story.  It begins with some real efforts to remain grounded in historical fact, but as the plot progresses, it begins to veer radically.  This isn’t a problem necessarily, but the increasingly fictionalized (and implausible) plot points may not jive with viewers who enjoyed the earlier episodes.

Art – 4 out of 5
While not truly amazing, the art is definitely better than average.  It strikes a comfortable balance between anime and realism.  A notable characteristic is the distinctiveness of different Asian ethnicities.  Many anime shows are lucky to distinguish between Asian and White, much less the subtly of different Asian ethnic groups but in Night Raid, Chinese and Japanese are subtly distinctive.  This helps to add to the visual wealth of crowd scenes and helps establish a sense of the cosmopolitan nature of Shanghai (versus the Chinese-dense rural countryside or the Japanese-intensive military camps).

Animation – 3 out of 5
Much like the art, the animation if good but unremarkably so.  Scenery has a tendency to be a little flat and uninspired, but the action sequences move nicely.  The added benefit of realistic action sequences helps to ground the show and adds some real intensity when guns get pulled.

Characters – 3 out of 5
The characters in the show are all extremely predictable and rote.  You’ve got the hotheaded second-in-command; the stoic steeped-in-classic-Japanese-military-ways leader who is slightly older; the younger woman who is kept apart from the action; the big and gruff goon who is inexplicably loyal to the younger woman.  The main bad guy has ties to just about every member of the group which is discovered very slowly through the course of the show.  There’s a token adorable younger character who makes more than a few appearances.  Nothing out of the ordinary but it all works and is done quite well.

Acting – 4 out of 5
The acting would be unremarkably good except for one novelty of the different languages.  Because the show is anime (and thus has a Japanese cast), much of the dialogue is in Japanese.  However, the show takes place in Shanghai (a Chinese city), so many episodes feature more than a few characters talking in Chinese.  And the actors actually do!  Not being fluent in Chinese, I can’t attest to how well they speak it, but there’s no denying how cool it is to hear the voice actor switching languages.

On top of Chinese, several European languages are spoken (German and French at least, though I think Russian appears a couple of times).  English does too and it’s fun to hear the Japanese voice actors talking in English (because some of them clearly understand English and some of them clearly don’t).  In a lot of ways, the multi-language element alone makes the show worth watching, if just how neat it is to hear.

Overall – 3 out of 5
Night Raid 1931 is a really solid anime show.  It’s worst traits are only just so-so and it’s got a lot of really neat elements that elevate the show as a whole.  It’s not great and has more potential than is realized, but it’s a fun show that’s worth checking out.

A Decade of Ambition

Next weekend, just after Thanksgiving, TeachTheSky.com will celebrate its 10th anniversary.  It was in 2003 that I first launched this website, in its original form, telling the story of Everett Kendall, Marilyn Johnston, Jericho Kingston, Roland and Ledger, and all the others.  TtS would spin-off with Deadman, APT Responders, and so on, coming to a debilitating hiatus in 2009.

It’s been interesting to look back on my career during the last ten years (twelve, if you want to go back to Crossworld’s original run in November of 2001).  It’s been full of hiccups, deadends, false starts, and every imaginable mistake.  But at the same time, it’s been full of some really sterling successes and some events of which I am very proud.

Over a decade, writing has been a very curious adventure, with no real road-map or guide.  I set out to become a ‘professional author’ and when the money from Crossworld started coming in and I started seeing reviews of my book and writing, I realized I had ‘made it’.  The question at that point became a matter of increasing sales, upping visibility and distribution, etc.  In other words, it became about marketing and salesmanship.

An author – or artist period – who tells you that salesmanship isn’t a big element of success is misguided.  To both audiences and production companies alike, the onus is upon the creator to drive the work forward.  In time, teamwork may take over and managers and promotional teams may take on some or even much of that burden, but that will only occur after you have already excelled at it.

And that feels like where I am now.  From a professional standpoint, as we wait for these last few but terrifyingly critical details to get taken care of involving Rhest for the Wicked, that transition to teamwork is underway.  Even as we wait for Rhest to clear, books #2 through #11 are already in development.  That’s now my job as part of this team.  It’s yet another part of this adventure as a writer.

It’s a subdued excitement that fills me these days, a decade later.  Amateurish exuberance has evolved into (what I hope is) a professional temperament.  I hope my stories and storytelling reflect this decade of work and effort.  I strive to be a writer worthy of the stories I’m trying to tell.

It’s been a wild ten years.  In that time, nothing has gone according to plan.  In more ways than not, I think that’s a good thing.  The adventure isn’t made up of what goes right; it’s made up of what goes wrong and is then overcome.

And this has been, and continues to be, a hell of an adventure.

Tools of the Imagination — Ken Masters

Ken Masters
Street Fighter toyline, by Jazwares, released 2004

Player 2 Goes Nowhere

It’s not clear to me why the action figures of fighting game tend to have such a terrible track record, but boy do they.  Going back to the Street Fighter II line of GI Joe action figures to the most current figures on the market, the entire genre of video game-based action figures seems cursed to look terrible, handle terrible, and just generally be full of Teh Suck.  It doesn’t really make sense, because it seems like tangible incarnations of action video games – and especially fighting games – would be absolutely rife with opportunities to make some kick-ass toys.  Sadly, the theory rarely pans out to reality.

Ken Masters began as the palette-swapped second character in the original Street Fighter video game.  He hailed from the US, so naturally he was white and had blonde hair.  Dressed in red, he was identical to the 1st player option from Japan, Ryu.  Aside from the colors of the character, the decision to be Ken changed the starting opponents slightly, fighting the pair of US opponents first and the two Japanese opponents second.  Otherwise, the decision was essentially irrelevant.

With the arrival of the now-legendary Street Fighter II, however, Ken began his gradual evolution to becoming his own distinctive character, separating himself from Ryu in the annals of gaming history.  Ken would develop a more flamboyant style, reflecting the character’s personality but necessitating a more all-or-nothing playing style.

In the Street Fighter narrative, Ken is the wild ‘brother’ to Ryu, both having trained under the same karate master.  Ken is generally seen as an exceptionally well-rounded character, with solid offense and defense options as well as a wide repertoire of maneuver options.  He’s usually a little more flashy and high-risk/high-impact than his more conservative counterpart, reflecting the ideal in-game use of the character.
Appearance – 3 out of 5
This is a nicely colored toy with good texture and a solid representation of the character that inspired it.  Ken’s almost comically stereotypical ‘American’ appearance is held strong with the blonde hair and dark eyebrows, the solid jaw, and rippling muscles.  The detailed folds and creases of the red karate gi he wears are also quite well done.

Construction – 3 out of 5
This is a very sturdy toy, made out of solid plastic.  Nothing about it feels haphazard or unable to stand the rigors of play.  Even the black belt that Ken wears feels sturdy (at least for a comparatively thin strip of plastic).  The obvious joints and seams, along with the blind-person-can-tell color discrepancy between the face’s coloring and the rest of the skin, is what keeps this toy from ranking higher in the construction department.

Movement – 2 out of 5
What the toy gains in construction, it loses sorely in mobility: the figure can barely move.  The shoulder joints move on one, slightly angled axis, with only the rotation of the upper arms and the extension of the elbows giving any real mobility.  The hands are both clinched into fists and do not rotate at all.  The neck rotates, but only within a very narrow range.  There is no waist and while there are clearly hip joints, the sturdy plastic so praised in the construction portion of the review hampers all but the smallest amount of movement.  The knees bend slightly and the feet rotate (for some reason) but do not extend.  The character is largely impossible to pose and is saved from a ranking of One in this category solely because of the arms’ rotation.

Extras – 1 out of 5
None.  Zip.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.  This toy comes with nothing, not a stand (even though there are openings in the heels to place the figure on pegs), not a cap to go onto the fist to simulate Ken’s flaming dragon punch (for which he’s so well known), not a fireball attachment, nothing.  This is nothing to say about other colors of karate gis (this is intentional as at least one repaint of the character exists as a ‘Player 2 figure’) or even other costumes.

Packaging – 2 out of 5
The packaging is nice, but completely uninspired.  There’s very little to distinguish from one figure to another aside from the name on the front plate.  The back is identical between all characters and offers no explanation as to the story, the character bio, or anything useful.

Overall – 2 out of 5
In a lot of ways, this isn’t a toy but a statue that can be posed ever so slightly (and ineffectively).  Seriously, the legs might as well not even move and the arms’ movement is incredibly awkward.  The figure looks good, yeah, but not impressively so.  And when you take into account that this character is from a fighting game, the lack of any accessories hurts but it’s really the utter lack of any meaningful mobility that really is just unforgivable.

I just don’t have the strength

The start of the Christmas season is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  That is a belief I cling to.  And yet, there have been Christmas decorations in my local stores since mid-October.  I can only assume this sort of advertising works, since stores never spend money on things that don’t directly and immediately generate more money.

Already, the buying of decorations and Christmas trees fills the air waves.  I haven’t noticed a single commercial break on television that hasn’t included at least one Christmas-related advertisement.  How did this march from the end of November to mid-October happen?  How did Christmas slowly erode at the adjacent holidays until Thanksgiving was barely a thought during the Christmas season and the Christmas Carols stations were already cropping up before Halloween?  How long until Christmas decorations go up before school starts back?

The march of the Christmas season is bad enough, but the disappearance of Thanksgiving Day is truly the most problematic.  Many stores in my region (the Triangle, North Carolina USA) will be open part of, or even all of, Thanksgiving Day.  Even if the stores themselves may not be ‘open’, employees will be required to arrive during Thanksgiving in order to man the midnight battlestations of Black Friday (a horrid holiday in its own right, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion).

I’m pro-commercialism as the next man.  Hell, as an author, I almost by definition have a vested interest in the buying of things, namely my books.  But this is seriously getting out of hand.