Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fallacies: "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up."

I've been meaning to write something about Marie Kondo's book ever since I first read it the summer of 2015. In going through this moldy old blog, I found a post saved in my drafts that I had been meaning to finish since November of 2016. As Marie Kondo has been a thing ever since, the intent of this post back in 2016 is still relevant now. There's a sequel book and a manga. There's a Netflix show. There's deals with the Container Store and her questionably shilling over-priced goods. So let's talk about her a bit.

The gist is that it's a how-to book on decluttering that keeps your life as well as your home neat and tidy. That's it. This gets conflated with minimalism a lot but it is not a minimalism book. Marie Kondo does not advocate minimalism, she advocates only spending your time, energy, and providing space to the things that actually make you happy and ditching the shit that doesn't.

I won't go so much into the hows of it. You gather your stuff by category and sort through it all at once group by group in a specific order. I read this book years ago and loved it. I've re-read it multiple times since and have listened to audio book several times as well. I used to pick it up again whenever I need a little clean-spiration. Years ago, the book itself ended up Kondo'd and that's a-okay.

Something that keeps popping up around this book, however, are click-bait type articles saying how Marie Kondo is full of shit. I'll be going through some of the arguments they bring up one-by-one. Because while Marie Kondo may shilling and hustling, but she is not wrong regarding her tidying method. 

brb, gotta go buy $140 desktop zen garden from Kondo's store, lol

#1. "She wants me to deal with an entire category at once? I have to get every book in the house and put it on the floor? It's overwhelming."

I came across another blog that talked about this and it was all "hur hur, if u can't do it, don't!  Know yerself, hyuck. U go girl." What a shitty train of thought. "Don't even try." That's the gist of the advice. Great.

That's it's overwhelming is the whole point. You're supposed to look at the pile of clothes, shoes, books, whatever and go "Holy shit!  How do I have so many? I haven't touched half this shit in years." You need the shock to realize you have too much fucking stuff you don't use. It's generally said we only wear 20% of the clothes we own. That means the other 80% eats into our space, our money, and our time. If you're rich or something and have a mansion to store stuff in and a maid to clean everything, then fine. But the rest of us sure as hell don't.

Make your stack of books/clothes/whatever and go through the entire stack quickly. "Can I part with this? Will I ever read this again?  Have I ever read it?" Ask whatever you need to ask yourself to decide. If there's any doubt, keep it. KEEP IT. 

I don't know why but some people think if they have doubts about keeping something they need to stop. As in stop, justify their choices, and question everything. This is your stuff and you only need to justify for yourself. When in doubt, keep. This is to minimize regrets. You can always choose to get rid of it later.

Some of these Kondo naysayers think the whole process is literal magic. That they're supposed to gather the entire pile and—poof!—they'll end up with a room out of a magazine. They don't understand you make the magic yourself.  It's all a matter of...

#2. "Keep things that spark joy? My frying pan doesn't spark joy. Should I throw away my frying pan, smart guy?"

...taking things too fucking literally.

Frying pan, y u no spark joy?

Some readers have gone through Kondo's books and really latched onto every dumb line they could. Like when Marie Kondo got rid of her screwdriver only to need one later and used her ruler instead. Or how Kondo prefers to put shampoos and soaps away inside of leaving them in the shower despite the fact that Japanese-style showers are different than Western-style showers and her bottles would slime. Or how she empties her purse at the end of the day. 

I can't empty my purse every day. I'm too forgetful. (But I can certainly compromise and clean shit out more frequently.) As for your frying pan, if you get plenty of use out of it, it IS bringing you joy.  I know fried eggs bring ME joy. Items that are useful to you are bringing you joy. It's not in the ra-ra way but in the "happy to have fried eggs" way. Stop expecting to orgasm over your frying pan already. It would never be that kinda joy unless you're a chef.

#3. "Okay, but that folding thing she does looks stupid. She really expects me to fold my clothes so they stand up? That's crazy. Imma busy mom/whatever, waah."

There are dozens of videos about the fuckin' folding technique. Search "Kondo fold" in YouTube and you'll get a plethora of demonstrations. Most of Kondo's media appearances feature the folding technique so it's unsurprising the folding "correctly" has become synonymous with Kondoing itself.

For whatever reason, how well one Kondos (yes, Kondo is a verb now) has been tied to folding things right. That completely misses the takeaway: most clothing storage works with folded clothes standing up in a drawer rather than stacked or crammed hanging in closets. AND IT DOES. Kondo just wants to make sure you can properly see what you own so that you wear it.  

She's not wrong. Now, I do not do the fold like she does. I actually do my own modified version of her fold and then line my clothes up in my drawer like a bunch of tacos lying side by side.

People who complain about the fold are being too meticulous. Honestly, they are probably trying to keep too many clothes. I'm using this pic from a Bored Panda article about Kondo memes (or whatever) just for the visual of the inside of that drawer. I could never live like that either! Whoever's drawer that's supposed to has too many damn clothes. And a lot of people are like this. You just need to Google "Konmari folding in drawer" and you will see loads of people pridefully posting drawers packed with clothes. The folding method itself is not to blame here. The mooks cramming up their dresser drawers are.

Thanking these socks will literally send you to hell. So will buying these socks.

#4. "She wants me to thank old socks.  I can't thank socks.  That's stupid and I'm a Christian."

Then don't thank the socks. You're being kinda ungrateful tho'. I mean, they covered your stinky feet at least once and you can't utter a thanks before chucking them in the trash bag?  But whatever. The world won't stop spinning because you don't thank the socks. Thanking objects is a cultural thing anyway. She used to be a Shinto priestess. And you're Christian? So what? You ain't going to hell for thanking some socks unless you're, like, shanking someone as you do so. Jeez, thank God if it bothers you that much.

#5. "Wait, I gotta throw things away?  I can't recycle or donate my old items?  What if I try to resell things instead?"

Knock yourself out. Nothing says you can't recycle, donate, or resell items. What I suggest you do is look at the cost in doing so, especially when it comes to reselling. 

For example: It doesn't make sense to have a garage sale to sell $30 bucks worth of knick-knacks when you need to pay for the permit, set up your sale space, get up in the morning, and work the sale for several hours. It wouldn't be worth it for me. Plus, it's best to get the old stuff out of the house asap. Nothing worse than junk hanging around and cluttering the floor.

#6. "I'm not rich.  I can't just get rid of things I might need later.  It would waste money."

This is a big myth and it's easy to get sucked into it because the face of Kondoing in the US (at least) is about people who have lots of stuff and lots of money. They may not admit they have money, but it's obvious. I'm part of a few Kondo groups online and I see before and after pics all the time of big spacious houses, fancy furniture, and sleek appliances. Lots of these folks have closets bigger than the room I live in. They can easily get rid of something and go repurchase it later.

Look, I'm pretty much fucking poor. I get it. It doesn't appear Kondoing is for you when you see people of means making Kondoing videos on YouTube because, like, it's sooo hard having so much stuff and the means to buy it. Right? What a hard-knocks life. But I was surprised at the things I owned. Old keychains. Purses I hadn't used in years. Shirts and pants I wore as a teenager. Old shitty drawings I made. Pens that didn't work. Childhood toys. Yellowed, old, blank paper. Every pay stub from every job I've ever worked. Rich or poor, we all actually have junk we don't use and need.

We are the caretakers of our stuff. Even the useless junk. We have to clean around it. We have to sort it. We have to launder it. We have to give it space in our homes. I have better things to do with my time than be a caretaker to a bunch of old shit I don't even use anymore. I hate dusting. The only thing I hate more than dusting is having to dust items. The fewer things I have to dust around, the better.

The fact is if you haven't needed or used something for years, you aren't likely to need it in the future. We keep a lot of things out of guilt and fear and rarely out of actual need. Google "sunk cost fallacy." The money or time you've spent to acquire your stuff is gone already. And if you can't find something because it's crammed in a pile of junk, what do you do anyway? You buy a new one. This just wastes more time and money. So cut your losses and move on already.

#7. "I'm a book lover and lurv muh books. She wants me to get rid of my books."

You are surrounding yourself with things that make you happy. Unless you're a hoarder, there's no way every piece of crap you own could make you happy. If you're a collector of dolls, spoons, or whatever, then keep your collection because it makes you happy. No one is arguing with you. 

The people who love books are the most vocal because Kondo doesn't think we should hang onto a bunch of books and papers. "Meh blerb blerb, but I luv muh books. I luv tah read." Then keep the damn books if they make you happy. But what about that sweater you haven't worn since 1987? That used paper cup from Burger King? The shoes you don't wear anymore because they pinch your toes? Your backpack from high school? You know damn well all that shit don't bring anyone joy except a hoarder and we all know hoarders are sick people. (I'm saying that in the kindest way possible. Hoarders have problems and need professional help.)

But I think we need to be honest with ourselves here: most Americans do not read books. They just don't. A lot of us have books to make ourselves look smart. You're supposed to own books. Smart people own books. Sophisticated people get large, overpriced books to plop on the coffee table they never use and display the candle they never burn. If we don't want to look stupid, surely, we must own books. "Look at my perrrrrrrsonality showing on these shelves!" I guarantee most people are not bibliophiles who just love books so damn much.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

5 Anime I Like That You Should, Too - #4. Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting! (2000)

Based on
: the manga by George Morikawa. 1989 - present/ongoing.
Claim to fameDenpushii rouru! **jet engines**
Dubbed: Yes, but it's a mixed bag.
Subject: Boxing.

Hajime no Ippo is a modern day classic and if you haven't seen at least one episode of the first series, put everything down right now and go find some of it. Like Initial D, I've heard good things about this show for years and delayed on watching it. At the time, Netflix was always missing the discs of the series or had it on long wait. (Yes, this was back when mailed DVDs were primary for using Netflix.) My Internet connection was lousy at the time too so I couldn't go find it online either.

Like Initial D, I thought "meh, boxing? Who cares?" in the same manner I dismissed a show about illegal street racing. It's old, it looks kinda lame, and doesn't have anything to offer me. Even these days, in trying to introduce this show to others, I see the same dismissiveness with them as I used to have. But passing on this show is a big mistake.

Hajime no Ippo is about Ippo Makunouchi, a limp noodle of a highschool kid that has a bit of a nervous personality and a good heart. He's a hard worker, helping his mother before and after school to keep their business afloat and inadvertently honing his physical strength in the process. He gets bullied and in the first episode, boxer Mamoru Takumura comes to his rescue.

Long story short, Ippo's meeting with Takumura ends up jumpstarting a passion for boxing. Ippo gains strength and confidence (well, some confidence) as we watch him persevere towards his new dream of being a professional boxer.

So some various points here...

1. This story is on-going. My recommendation is actually for the first season of this show. It's over 70 episodes long but it tells a single concise story with a beginning, middle, and end. There's other seasons and OVA but as the narrative progresses in subsequent media, we get into longer (sometimes outright sillier) fights and it honestly feels pointless at times. The story is reduced to "x has to fight y" and the sense of direction is kind of lost. I have watched all of the available Ippo anime and will continue watch more, but I don't blame anyone for checking out after season one.

2. This show is now more readily available. Legally. It's been on YouTube for a long time in its entirety but I fully see the YouTube uploads being pulled as it was recently announced Hajime no Ippo will be on Crunchyroll. Um, yay. Don't get me wrong, I like Crunchyroll way more than some of the other available services. I assume the app is supposed to be garbage if you're a free user so you can pay for better service. Which is fair. But I'm biased and Crunchyroll just likes to freeze on me way too much.

Me vs. Crunchyroll

If Crunchyroll isn't your thing, Discotek Media picked up Hajime no Ippo for 2021 home media re-release. I wanted to link to their site but I can't find an entry for Ippo there. Their website just advertises to buy from Rightstuf or Amazon anyway so you can find it there with a simple search.

3. You don't need to know shit about boxing. Like Initial D, this show is willing to hold your hand. Ippo doesn't know anything about boxing either so as the other characters hold his hand, this show holds your hand.

4. The English dub is so bad it's good. It's a bit garbage, not gonna l ie. The actual voice actors themselves aren't terrible actors or anything but delivery, the lines themselves, and the casting is all a bit off. Be prepared for that if you insist on an English dub. I do find myself amused by the English dub tho' because of those reasons. I've seen the Spanish dub too and that one's pretty solid. 

You will never have a nickname as cool as Rocky the Naniwa Tiger.

This show, however, is best experienced in Japanese and has some powerhouse Japanese voice actors including Rikiya Koyama as Mamoru Takamura, who manages to be both a guiding force for Ippo as well as, uh, another bully; Wataru Takagi as Masaru Aoki and Keiji Fujiwara as Tatsuya Kimura, gym mates along with Takamura and Ippo; Tomokazu Seki as Ichiro Miyata, former gym mate turned rival except not really; Kenji Utsumi as Genji Kamogawa, owner of the gym and Ippo's boxing coach; and Masaya Onosaka as Takeshi Sendo--a.k.a. Rocky--a hot-head boxer who challenges Ippo to a fight. All of their performances really bring the comedy and drama home. These actors have all collectively done tons of voice over work and if you watch anime you're bound to find several great characters among their resumes.

** pained elephant noise **

5. The humor can be low-brow. There are dick jokes and naked dudes in this thing. Neither of these is bad and everything in this show is funny. Even Takamura being a creep is presented in a way that doesn't glorify his behavior but shows he's a d-bag. (He's still my favorite character.) This is point is just here for full disclosure.

6. Don't be fooled by #5, because this show does drama pretty well. There's some tense scenes, some sadness and legit depression. It all arrives organically without being hamfisted. The story's twists and turns come naturally. Going into the show, some characters feel unimportant and while there are characters that stay that way, others actually come back or have a moment that makes you appreciate how it was approached.

While I don't want to spoil everything in this post, an example in particular to that stood out to me was Ippo's school bully Masahiko Umezawa. This is the guy we see in episode one, the same one Ippo has to be saved from.

All bullies should be made the rock the pomp'. Even the girls.

Normally, this type of character would appear and serve his purpose as he does in the first episode. And then maybe he'd appear later so we get some contrast to Ippo-then versus Ippo-now. But, no, this show does one better. Like, this guy gets actual character growth. I had seen some images of him later in the series and didn't even realize he was the same guy. I was really surprised. Without giving away much more, he actually becomes a decent person. Touches like this throughout any series are just very nice. While it doesn't happen with everyone (some of them do stay kinda random), it does happen with more than just Umezawa's character. It's immersive to have a character come back and be a bit more important than the viewer first thought.

Btw, if you like the old school pompadour delinquent look, Takamura pretty much rocks it the entire show. Putting it out there because I just dig that type of design.

Since you have no excuses, go watch this show. The first part of Discotek's series re-release is currently available, you can go to YouTube now, or wait for it on Crunchyroll soon.

Friday, February 26, 2021

My Favorite Studio Ghibli Films

On the back of my recent Earwig and the Witch review that I just posted, I'm making this new post for my top five Ghibli films. This is based on my own opinions and personal enjoyment. It has nothing to do with what films were the most impactful to the industry, made the most money, or are beloved by the majority. These films are my comfort food. I've already given my basic opinion on Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke in my Earwig review. Sorry, but I stan Lady Eboshi and would burn that entire forest to ashes for her smile.

She's my Queen. No homo. :)

So, uh, with that out of the way, I'm gonna start listing my faves. I'm not really giving too much thought to the specific order.

A village so comfy you'd expect a Titan to come and smash it.

1. Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

I'd say this is my current top favorite. I say "current" because I think it changes sometimes. Before, it might've been Kiki's Delivery Service or something like that. I recall seeing this in the theater when it came to the U.S. and being kinda disappointed. So it's really grown on me in the past few years to say the least.

I think what I look for the most in my Ghibli films these days is the pure aesthetics. This film has quaint villages; the "moving castle" which is the most comfy hunk of junk I've ever seen in a film; the beautiful flower field; and the castle grounds that are stately without being intimidating. This film makes me want go to the hat shop and trim hats with Sophie or sit down with a cup of coffee and a blanket in front of Calcifer's fire.

I like the characters for the most part. Sophie is bland and inoffensive without being boring. I think in part because she takes things in relative stride. "Oh, I'm old? Better go" and then she just packs her food and leaves. She has a tiny bit of mischief in her that balances her well with the apprentice boy, the snarky fire, and the dramatic Howl. The Witch of Waste evokes a sense of danger at the beginning of the film, sympathy after being stripped of her powers, and then anger when she takes Howl's heart. (Though I forgive her when she gives it back.)

I don't really watch the dub. Billy Crystal and Christian Bale kinda pull me outta my vibe. They aren't terrible or anything but I prefer the Japanese language.

Sophie and Howl falling in love is a bit weird. It feels too sudden but they do mesh well together so I can buy it to an extent. I don't really watch this film for the love story or lack thereof anyway. I just like to sit and chill out with it.

This room has the best use of weed I've ever seen.

2. The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Just look at that room, man!  Look at that room. This film vibes. All sort of beautiful settings abound: the houses of both Arrietty and Sho exude with coziness and the fields, garden, and wildness outside is such a treat. The story's not exactly impactful so I think that's why this one doesn't really win people over. Like Totoro has a dying mom and Spirited Away has a little girl saving her family and you know this stuff from the get-go of those films. This film is all "little people can't let the big ol' human beans sees thems." And thus, it doesn't feel like much despite that it does get some stakes at the ending half. 

Apparently, there's two English dubs including a Brit dub with Saorise Ronan and Tom Holland and I really want to watch it some day. Like Howl's Moving Castle, I don't care for the English dub we got so much. But with this film, I like the dub even less so. It's probably the music that does it to me.

I don't recall if this movie came to theaters in my area at all and I don't remember watching it in a theater. If it ever gets a re-release (post-pandemic), I would love to go see it on a big screen.

Lofi Beats to Study and Relax To. No takedown pls.

3. Whisper of the Heart (1995)

This film is really damn touching. It, above most other Ghibli films in my opinion, feels incredibly personal but not like Only Yesterday which smacks your face with the protag's past. This film feels like we're being silently invited into an important period of time in this girl's life, omnisciently recounting this girl's childhood when she starts becoming the writer she knows she is. Or maybe it's more bias on my part because I like to write, too. Either way, it's a sweet little story with a touch of fantasy and young love.

Of course it has those Ghibli aesthetics: Shizuku's family's cramp apartment; the school grounds and the library; the quaint shop full of curiosities; and the snug, homey streets of town. The characters are nice with some of them having a light touch of sass. 

The dub's okay and has a Cary Elwes cat. You can't say no to a Cary Elwes cat. Sadly, it's the only film ever directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. And double-sadly it has a sequel (The Cat Returns) that left me feeling kinda meh. I think it's due to the sequel being a much more fantastical story than this film and I liked this film for the opposite reason. The sequel exclusively follows the Cary Elwes cat so it's still worth a watch. I have yet to find anyone that has The Cat Returns as a favorite tho'.

That feel when has talking cat but you can no longer understand him.

2. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

I think this might've been the first Ghibli film I ever watched and for that reason was my first favorite by default. Not that it's a bad one to have as a default favorite. I would say it's a nice gateway Ghibli film. It's fantastical without being too fantastical: Kiki rides her broom and can talk to her cat but I can't think of any other instances of magic we actually see. It's also adventurous without being too adventurous: Kiki leaves home for a quaint seaside city. Aside from a jaunt in the forest, she doesn't really go anywhere else. And it has drama without being too dramatic: Kiki loses her powers, becomes depressed, but then is happy again. 

I think a lot of the other Ghibli films, for better or for worse, have a level of Japanese culture that makes them a little less accessible than Kiki is. Not that I don't appreciate Japanese culture but films with less cultural nuance do feel more universal.

As for the English dub, the actors do a good enough job. This movie was released in an English dub on VHS in 1998. Phil Hartman voices Jiji and while I love Phil Hartman, I can concede he's not really right for the role. (RIP Phil Hartman. Jiji was his last voice role and I was a Simpsons fan at the time so I was very familiar with who he was.) To add insult to injury for fans of this film, the English dub did make some changes and take some liberties which was more common back in 1998. So even though I'd say this is the most accessible Ghibli film, there was a need to make it more accessible. This film's dub was then tweaked for later re-release to sort of course-correct back in 2010. Which is fine... because I stick the subs for this one now anyway.

License and registration please. Just kidding. No one drives me.

5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Gonna be honest here. I did not like My Neighbor Totoro when I first watched it. Firstly, it took me forever to actually watch it. When it was released in the U.S., I just didn't care. The pictures you see in regards to this film show this weird, round rabbit-looking thing and two little girls. And it's just... what is this? And why would I watch it?

I ended up taking Japanese classes in college and our sensei put on some of this film. This brings me to the second issue: those opening credits started and I wondered what the hell I was looking at. Hearing that song, it sounded like this movie was for toddlers or something. Again, what was this about and why should I watch it? So I zoned out. I didn't know what to think of this back then.

I don't know what exactly made me watch this again. It was many years later and probably when my sister and I were going on a Ghibli binge. So we watched My Neighbor Totoro with the Disney dub around its release in 2006 and we really loved it. I definitely see the appeal and timelessness it has now.

That cozy house, the beautiful country side, that sweet family, and those odd forest critters give this film such a nice touch. I don't really care for Totoro himself but he's actually not in the film all that much. Susuwatari and Cat Bus for the win.

While it may be heretical to say this, I like the English dub more than the sub. I'm not even a fan of the Fanning sisters and the older girl plays her role kinda stiff in my opinion. Even so, the English dub is prettty damn decent and the younger Fanning girl does a fantastic job as Mei.

Kurotowa and Princess Kushana are best. No lies detected here.
Honorable Mention:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind - Does this really count as a Ghibli film? No? Yes? Well, I really like it either way. Especially Kushana and Kurotowa, played by The Bride and Jack Skellington in the English dub. Princess Kushana is everything I really look for in a fantasy princess: she has a sense of personal duty, she's tough, she suffers, she becomes ruthless and then she becomes understanding. Nothing against Nausicaa herself, but Nausicaa didn't feel like she had growth the way Kushana did. Beginning of film: Nausicaa love forest. Nausicaa protect bugs. End of film: Nausicaa love forest. Nausicaa protect bugs.

Also is in the dub is Patrick Stewart as Lord Yupa. I liked his performance here, too. The English dub does have Shia of all people as Asbel but, er, just ignore him. I feel like this movie pulls off the themes that Laputa and Princess Mononoke tried to much better.

Spirited Away - I had a lovely time watching this in the theater when it came to U.S. and I dig the aesthetics. I'm just not into the story so much. After halfway through, I kinda check out. It's like once she gets on that train, my brain also got on the train but never got off of the train. Heh. But it's really a beautiful film about two disgusting pigs and their nameless daughter.

Earwig and the Witch - Yes, I liked it enough to make it a favorite. I wrote a review in my earlier post. I think it's flawed but still solid.

Whatever else I've not discussed, I either still like it but not as a favorite (such as From Up on Poppy Hill, Porco Rosso, Only Yesterday, Pom Poko) or haven't seen it (The Tale of Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There) or am indifferent for one reason or another. If you're so inclined, comment with your favorite Ghibli film and why you love. Unless it's Princess Mononoke. Ha ha.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Earwig and the Angry Inch

Note: The following blog post adapted from a post I made over at my lil' dead forum. 

"Six inches forward and five inches back/ I've got a, got an angry inch."

I don't like Laputa: Castle in the Sky and I don't know if that's okay. I also don't like Princess Mononoke. San is annoying. She's literally "bitchy Nausicaa raised by wolves" and I only rewatch that film because Lady Eboshi's my girl-crush. If all of that invalidates my opinion (and my taste), so be it. Read no more.

That being said, I think this little film is pretty nice. It had heaps of expectations on it and on director Goro Miyazaki as well. It's a Ghibli film and people are hungry for the next Spirited Away or Kiki's Delivery Service. We're in trying times right now and we want the comfy vistas; awesome bg music; an adorable plucky heroine; and other forms of Ghibli cuteness to sort of be this big ol' hug telling us things will be okay.

Earwig and the Witch is not that hug. It's a reassuring pat on the back by a very good friend and I'll take it. The film story is an adaptation of a book of the same name by Diana Wynne-Jones, the writer of the book Howl's Moving Castle which also became a Ghibli film. I like Howl's Moving Castle so I decided to check out Earwig and the Witch but only found an audio book.

It's actually not a very long story at all. The gist is "little spoiled orphaned witch Earwig unslaves self from weird-ass foster parents Bella Yaga and the Mandrake." There's some magic involved. Emphasis on some.

So going bit by bit here...

Look at that beautiful 3D animation, folks. It's love. It's life.

Animation/Visuals - This would've been much better with a more 2D look but I'm sure we all knew that already. The fact this was 3D grinded a lot of gears. The CG unfortunately does look a bit like a cheap Direct to DVD featurette from the early 2000's but it actually has a quality I can appreciate. The weird playdoh liquids, the stiff hair, the rubbery-looking plants, Bella Yaga's strange high-heeled Wellies... like, it's not beautiful but it's not ugly either. The textures sorta fascinate me.

2D, however, would've allowed a greater range of expressions and more cuteness than what the 3D here was able to give us. Earwig can only arch those pencil-thin eyebrows so many times until we need her to make a different facial expression. The movements sometimes feel a bit stiff. And while we're given nice settings such as the quaint village orphanage, Bella Yaga's spell room, the house garden, and the comfy kitchen, they don't quite have the vibrancy of similar settings provided to us in 2D such as the inside of Howl's Castle or Kiki's bedroom. Every background in Earwig feels dull like the town is perpetually cloudy or the rooms don't have enough light in them. 

And as for the food, there were no complaints. Only Vanillaware rivals Ghibli when it comes to yummy-looking food. The fish and chips, fry bread, and bread and cheese legit made me hungry.

The picture's shitty but it's delicious, trust me.
It looks dingy in the picture but it would in my belly, too.

Music - I found the music jarring and I actually like jarring music. I guess I don't expect loud twanging electric guitars to be mixed into a Ghibli film. I think they got the era right (sorta like a 60's/70's thing) but the instruments are clashing about and I don't find it suits the story. What's there isn't awful but it's not very Ghibli-esque. People expect Joe Hisashi and they're not gonna get him. He's busy on Papa Hayao's film.

Cool, it's my favorite thing ever: a neato band that's completely irrelevant!

The music could've been "fixed" by making the musician characters folk rock types and matching the incidental background music to the general vibe. Think Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" or Heart's "Dreamboat Annie." As is, I'm not feeling it. "Don't Disturb Me," the main track that plays, is really overplayed by the end of the film. It's a nice song but I found myself sick of it by the end. This could've easily been fixed by writing a couple of short snippets to play from Earwig's cassette tape as if the band had other music and were more fleshed out. As it is, it seems like these people literally wrote and recorded one song. Maybe that was the point through.

Matthew Crawley died so Thomas the Cat could live. Or something.

Voice Acting - "Nonsense!" said in English by Japanese ladies is gold. Everybody was good. Both the English and Japanese tracks. I saw someone picking on Dan Stevens. Pick on him for leaving Downton Abbey. I'm salty, okay? He was my favorite character. But he's just fine as Thomas the Cat. Jiji's the superior Ghibli black cat anyway. Thomas having another voice actor wasn't gonna change that. Didn't care for the English singing but the actress worked with what she was given.

This is such a lovely scene. Enjoy it for two seconds at the end of the film.

Story - It's kinda hard to really adapt this story to be a comfy film when it's a weird abuse narrative. There's also no major climax to the story other than Earwig getting the Mandrake pissed off enough to make Bella Yaga agreeable so Earwig can go to normie school and learn magic on the side. She's basically a slave but in the "I'm a slave and that's kinda annoying" sorta way. Bella Yaga just goes to an orphanage to get this forced child servant and the Mandrake doesn't give a shit as long as he's not "disturbed." (In other words don't piss him off. Yikes.) All that shit's just weird. I guess cause I expect it more from a Dahl story than a Ghibli adaptation.

Earwig's mother doesn't play a real part in the book although the reader is informed clearly the woman's a witch and on the run from other witches. The author died before she could write any sequels so unknown what the plan was regarding reuniting Earwig with her mom or if that'd even happen.

The main story itself was adequately adapted and the musician angle was actually a nice touch. (The musician element in this movie is absent from the book.) It rounded out everything and gives the viewer more on the mother. And while that's all great, it feels like this movie never revs up and goes anywhere. 

I saw and read a few reviews and the guys reviewing it all had that general consensus of "okay, now what" after it was done. I think becoming familiar with the book tempered my expectations enough to enjoy this for what it was and appreciate the extra tidbits we got.

Earwig scrubbing me.

Characters - The main heroine Earwig's about two degrees less likeable than Sen/Chihiro from Spirited Away. She's brattier and manipulative but not completely unlikeable. She certainly will be few people's favorite witch or Ghibli heroine. She at least has a personality which, in an age full of graham-cracker crust heroines, is all I really ask.

    Thomas the black cat is all right but I think they could've made him much cuter.

    Bella Yaga is The Witch of the Waste + the two old witches in Spirited Away + Manic Panic Rockabilly blue hair dye + some retro-looking clothes. Put all of that in a bowl, age her down, give her a drum kit, and make her perpetually on the rag. That's Bella Yaga in a nutshell. She seems okay in the end but it does leave the viewer wondering if she's mentally ill. Like she'd just adopt a slave from the orphanage and be an asshole when she's capable of being cool and nice? It's weird. I wanted more "cool Bella Yaga" and way less "jerk Bella Yaga." And she's a giant jerk-ass for most of this movie.

   The Mandrake (a.k.a the tall dude with glasses) doesn't have much to him but I like his general design. His personality is MEH. "Don't disturb me." I wish Earwig had kicked him in the pants. Him summoning demons to bring him food of all things is neat though. The little demons are adorable and wish we got more of them. Shame we didn't.

   Earwig's Mom seems both really awesome and really awful. On one hand, she a gorgeous red-haired rocker chick. On the other, she ditched her kid at an orphanage. Was there a reason she couldn't leave the kid with Bella Yaga and the Mandrake? Why was the Mandrake's car chasing her? I hope you enjoy unanswered questions.

This demon here givin' me some Sheldon from "Garfield and Friends" realness.

Advertising - Gotta add this because we gotta talk about it. The way this is being marketed is crazy as hell. It appears to be a rock musical and it's not. It also appears to be sold as a "find your mom" narrative and it's not that either. It's not Harry Potter but it's also not Kiki.

Kids will like this movie. People familiar with the story knows it's not going anywhere and will appreciate this adaptation. But the majority that aren't in one of those two categories is in for some confusion and disappointment. The ads showing Earwig with a microphone in front of a band really did it a disservice. I know the name of the game is to make people want to watch it but you can't promise some rock 'n roll adventure and not deliver on it.

Supposedly, Goro would like to do a series. I can't find where I read that or verify it's true but this being a tv movie in Japan lends credence to that, I think. If so, I'd love to see more. Since Diana Wynne-Jones didn't get to finish this story, it'd be nice if Goro Miyazaki did.

Using my acorn rating scale, I give it a 4 out of 5 for a solid effort.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

5 Anime I Like That You Should, Too - #3. One Outs (2008)

Based on: the manga by Shinobu Kaitani. 1998-2006.
Claim to fame: Insanely homoerotic opening credits.
Dubbed: Sadly, no.
Subject: Baseball.

Not since the high school football anime Eyeshield 21 have I ever felt so cheated about not getting a proper adaptation of a series. I'm still undecided on which was worse: that Eyeshield 21 had 145 episodes of censorship + watering down Yusuke Murata's artwork + long, drawn-out filler-rama that progressively meanders to Nowhere'sville; or that in 145 episodes the Devilbats never fulfilled their goal of getting to the Christmas Bowl even though they get there, totally win, and their journey there is fuckin' sweet. (Come on, that's not even a spoiler at this point.)

"Wait, what are you doing, Beck?" you ask as you look back at the title of this post. "What about One Outs?" Similar to Eyeshield 21, the characters of One Outs also play a sport hugely popular in America (American football vs. baseball); have a seemingly impossible end goal championship game (Christmas Bowl vs. pennant); and are also comprised of a group of generally low-ranked underdogs (Deimon Devilbats vs. Saitama Lycoans). They have one super-talented semi-stoic dude (kicker Musashi vs. ace batter Kojima), a kind-hearted naive catcher guy voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi (Monta vs. Ideguchi), and a wicked fan-favorite motherfucker with crazy bleached hair whose underhanded schemes improve the performance of the players as well as keep the team whole and running (quarterback Hiruma vs. pitcher Tokuchi). And like Eyeshield 21, the manga version reaches the end game while the anime ends prematurely.

"So, why would I want to watch this?" you say. "Also, why do you keep writing dialogue for me?" Well, One Outs--even partially adapted--is still bad-ass. The fact that this is only a partial adaptation means you have no excuse to not watch it. It's like watching The Matrix and saying "well, he didn't liberate all mankind yet so fuck this movie." And like The Matrix taught us, sometimes it's better not to continue shit. Anyway, it's not as if I'm recommending Eyeshield 21. There's only 25 episodes of One Outs. And another benefit of only being 25 episodes means every episode progresses the story. Like one of my other recommendations--Initial D: First Stage--One Outs still feels like a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. Only someone who knows zilch about baseball would expect them to win the championship at the conclusion of 25 episodes. Now that I'm three paragraphs in, maybe I should write about the show itself, eh?

Kojima and Tokuchi chillaxing in the dugout.

I know I keep making Eyeshield comparisons, so let's get to where they differ. Firstly, what this and actually every show on my "5 Anime" list have in common is that none of them are centered on high school kiddy bullshit. Initial D had high school kids in high school, but it centered more on the racing and had several adult characters. We never had to sit in class with the main character or go to a school festival or something shitty like that. Akagi starred a young boy but every other character is an adult, including Akagi himself once the timeskip kicks in. The Saitama Lycoans are a pro baseball team. Ace hitter Kojima has been on the team for 21 years. Even if every show on my list primarily focuses on younger men (several racers in Initial D are in their early twenties, Akagi is 19 after the timeskip, One Outs' Tokuchi Toua is 20, and characters in the last two shows on my list are also early twenties), that's a small price to pay to not be in a damn high school.

Secondly, there is no stammering doormat protag in the form of a Sena counterpart. The star of the show is undoubtedly this guy: Tokuchi Toua. Tokuchi's not a baseball player. He knows the game and he can throw deceptive pitches, but he is a gambler at heart and uses his pitching talents to earn illegal wads of cash. The funny thing is that his pitching isn't even that spectacular. His batting is passable but not great. He's not a super-fast runner. His stamina for an actual game is shit. But Tokuchi uses his sharp wits and smart mouth to make things go his way and I love him for it.

Let's get to the meat: One Outs starts out with two guys from the Saitama Lycoans pro baseball team looking for a replacement pitcher after one of them hurts his widdle finger while training in Okinawa. They meet a woman called Big Mama (nice name) who takes them to a bunch of--mostly American--dudes gambling in the dark of night at a baseball field. They then proceed to gamble. This is not a great start.

I bet you can't guess which one's Big Mama.

There's nothing more grating than a show that begins with what are basically throwaway characters and makes us spend too much goddamn time with them. Now, these guys aren't true throwaways in the sense we never see them again. I'll call them Nakane and Glasses, because I'm pretty sure one of them was named Nakane and I'll be damned if I remember the name of the one with glasses. Neither one is all that important. In retrospect, we should've had Kojima and catcher Ideguchi as the ones who look for a new pitcher because Kojima and Ideguchi are the two members of the team that kinda become Tokuchi's boys. They keep secrets with him and strategize privately with him and it just seemed like having them meet Tokuchi first makes the most sense. If I recall correctly, the anime even improved on the manga because I don't think Nagane and Glasses were even on the main team and the anime made their roles stronger. To make another Matrix comparison, it'd be like opening the movie with Apoc and Switch instead of Trinity and Cypher. The latter two were waaay more important to the story so using them made the most impact and the most sense. But I digress.

This is the part of the show where it'll probably lose you if you didn't already leave while Tokuchi was flying around shirtless in the OP. Nagane, Glasses, and Big Mama have all sorts of conversations which just sounds like a bunch of prattle. "This is why you Japaneseses lose at teh gamblings. Blah blah blah." This show can get so damn verbose and over-explainy that your brain tunes it out automatically. It is heavy in the beginning and just when you think you're out of the woods, someone's explaining something else. Sometimes even with diagrams.

Explanation of the One Outs gambling game.

In rewatching the show, I can absorb what they're saying and it makes sense but upon my first viewing, it just felt like characters were talking just to hear one another speak. It's a problem that resurfaces and if you're not a viewer that can handle wordy explanations, this might not be for you. The good thing about the explanations tho' is that they definitely guide the baseball novices. The viewer certainly can't complain that the show never told them what's what.

Another reason the beginning might lose you is that it takes too long to get to the damn point, the point being getting Tokuchi Toua on the team and playing his special brand of baseball. Nakane and Glasses lose a bunch of money, Kojima comes to defend their honor or whatever, Kojima loses, Kojima rechallenges Tokuchi and only then does Tokuchi join the Lycoans.  All that shit takes three episodes with things not really up and running until episode 4. It's not boring by any means but it's the weak part of the series and when I rewatch this show, I typically start with episode 4 for that very reason.

Episode 3 is still important for first time viewing since it does a lot of the set-up. Tokuchi joins under strange conditions: the One Outs contract. He makes an arrangement for compensation with the team owner by using the number of outs, with the contract getting alterations as the games progress. While the anime unfortunately doesn't get the point where this all explodes spectacularly in the owner's face, we still get to see that bastard lose his shit.

One quality that really makes the show a favorite of mine is that sometimes Tokuchi resorts to deceptively simple trickery to get results. It almost felt like he was teaching me something to use in my everyday life. A single heard sentence or a single white bandage can completely change the outcome of a game. It was this show that got me jonesing for anime that use psychological solutions but Akagi was the only one that came close to what I was looking for. (Coincidentally, or not, Tokuchi, Akagi, and Kaiji are all voiced by the same guy: Masato Hagiwara.)  

Maybe it's just me but a lot of the time when a show or movie (anime, live action, whatever) tries to be "smart," it turns out to be this over-elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque mess of a plot.  From Episode 4 onwards, we got into game after game. Can the Lycoans beat the Mariner's awesome clean-up roster?  Can the Lycoans overcome Dennis Johnson's godlike speed?  Do the Lycoans have any hope against an entire team of dirty cheaters that will use every trick in the book? Of course, but the fun is finding out how, so pick this series up and enjoy it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

5 Anime I Like That You Should, Too - #2. Akagi (2005)

Based on: the manga by Nobuyuki Fukumoto. 1992-present.
Claim to fame: Is this the only thing selling Kindai Mahjong for the past twenty-four years?
Dubbed: Nope.
Subject: Japanese Mahjong.

So... some preliminaries to get outta the way here. This show is technically called アカギ 〜闇に降り立った天才〜 which translates into "Akagi: The Genius Who Descended into Darkness."  Or at least this is what Wikipedia has told me. That's one long-ass name. The guy in the picture is Akagi Shigeru and he's the star of this shindig. Is he a genius? That's probably up for debate. I mean, if he were a genius, I'd think he have better things to do than keep courting that death wish he's had since puberty. Also, being a "genuis" has neither relied on luck and coincidence as much as it does here. However, he's a smart cookie and plays some psychological games, so he gets to keep the genius title. I saw a review or two that didn't like that he's not above cheating but cheating's a pretty genius thing to me. It certainly beats relying on luck. As for the whole "descending into darkness" thing, I mean, meh. He's already a dark kid before any sort of descent occurs. He "descends into darkness" the way my teeth descend into those pumpkin pie bagels at Panera Bread. Goddamn, those are delicious.

Now you're thinking "this show's about a genius? And he descends into darkness? That sounds pretty hardcore for a show about a game best associated with little old Asian ladies like in the Joy Luck Club." Okay, yeah, I hear ya. This is the other thing that I need to get out of the way. This is Japanese Mahjong as played by a young sociopath against yakuza and, later, a fuckin' murderer. This makes it intense high-stakes gambling, which brings the tension and makes this shit fun.

Now I tried this show and the anime based off of one of Fukumoto's other works, Kaiji, at around the same time. It's very difficult to find a bad review of Kaiji. At least it was for me. I wanted something a bit brainy to watch. Not really "brainy" as in book-smart but "brainy" as in "plays mind games." In my opinion, Kaiji didn't deliver on that. I was sick of seeing the main character cry like a bitch and he was kind of an idiot that lucked into "not dying." I was going to say "lucked into life" but nothing about that guy's life other than not dying could be considered lucky. At one point, his survival is enabled by the fact a naked guy taped valuable jewels to his shoulder instead of sticking them in a condom and shoving them up his @ss like a smart person in that scenario would've done. I dumped that show and moved on to Akagi trepidatiously. I was not hopeful it would be that different and very happy to be proven wrong. Akagi pretty much gives me everything Kaiji could not.

We never learn much about the character of Akagi, but at least Akagi never relies on some naked asshole to save him. Maybe Fukumoto had Kaiji cry so much because Akagi doesn't. If it weren't for his enjoyment in seeing others squirm and wallow in defeat, sometimes I'd swear the guy has no feelings at all. We first meet Akagi when Akagi's thirteen years old but he doesn't look it. Or, rather, he doesn't look different from when we see him again at 19/20. He never undergoes any dramatic shift in personality or any great catharsis either. We never learn what makes him tick.

He's fucking crazy. Even as a child, he's just fucking nuts. In the first episode, we find out he drove off of a cliff. That's frickin' cray and this show never tells you why he's wired this way, so don't go looking for it. Frankly I prefer it this way. I don't need his edgy fuckin' origin. I can imagine an American remake of this shit starring Benedict Cucumber-batch (gotta whitewash that cast, y'all, 'cause Hollyweird says so) where two thirds of the movie is Akagi's tragic, abuse-laden origin and subsequent life as a street urchin and "omg, it's so sad." In other words, shit nobody gives a fuck about. Don't get me wrong, the viewer cheers on Akagi but Akagi doesn't feel sorry for himself and neither should you. At the end of the day, we just wanna see him cream his competition. Not knowing shit about him is part of his appeal.

Anywho, after playing lemming, thirteen-year old Akagi stumbles into a mahjong parlor where some poor, indebted sap named Nangou is about to cark it. The dude's losing bad. If he doesn't win, the yakuza are gonna kill him and collect his insurance payout. Nangou is desperate for a miracle and Akagi Stu becomes that miracle. Wait? "Stu?" Yes, because he's never played mahjong in his life yet he becomes a fuckin' master in, like, two seconds.

My bad: five minutes. Not to mention I just told you Akagi drove off a cliff and later just walks into the fuckin' mahjong parlor. The narration likes to hype him up a lot, too. We're pretty much told Akagi's legendary over and over again. I mean, sheesh.  At least, in terms of my stu-meter, Akagi's pretty low on it. While he does have some huge luck that comes into play, he's not above cheating or tricks to win when that luck's not on his side.  And it's not as if all the women want him and all the men want to be him. Well, one guy wants to be him but not in the way you're thinking. I don't even recall a single female character in this show. It's a sausage fest if I ever saw one.

The artwork is a mixed bag. Most characters look decent from the front but the profile shots will kill you. It really threw me off when I watched Kaiji so at least by Akagi I was used to it.  This guy below's not even one of the weirdest ones in the show.

Unlike your face.

Now, I don't know anything about mahjong, but I've never been so invested in guys going "Pon!" "Chi!" "Ron!"  I looked up rules and can't begin to tell you what the fuck some of it means. This show explains very little and you rely on the character's narrations, reactions, and expressions to tell you everything else need. And there's a lot of reactions. A lot of shock and maniacal laughter.  Even with fansubber notes tho, it almost doesn't feel like enough sometimes.

And a hey nonny-nonny, coo-coo cah-choo.

I mean, I don't know half of what they're saying.  I had to go look up Japanese mahjong rules to help me out on some of this. I enjoyed Akagi enough that I didn't mind doing this and rewatching stuff, but I see the complication of mahjong as probably the biggest hurdle folks will have with this show.  "Why wud i watch muh-jzong wid ROOLS when i can see dragon ball super instead?"

Music and voice acting is pretty good. Nothing stood out as bad in that regard. There's an interesting set of characters but no one sticks around consistently. Akagi doesn't have a mentor, sidekick, or anyone in that role. He interacts with Nangou, a crooked cop, and later on a naive co-worker from a toy factory.  All of them participate in their own way in the story but we can't exactly pile them together and call them Team Akagi or something. Meanwhile, any opponents of Akagi's just take the train to Fucked Off Land. We never see them again with the exception of one who finds his ass on a slab in the morgue. It would've been nice to see some of them come back for a rematch or become friends or allies with Akagi. But alas, Akagi is a dark genius and dark geniuses don't have friends. Lose a mahjong match to Akagi and you might just go crazy.

Guy in purple lost so badly at mahjong he can't stand up without help.  [Not a joke.]

For just being mahjong, the matches are actually kinda thrilling.  If anything, there's too few matches despite this being a 26 episode series. While the first batch of episodes keeps a decent pace, the latter half of it is focused on a single match with no end. Why doesn't it end? Because it's still going on in the manga today. Seriously. Not only has Akagi not won yet, we already know he doesn't lose because this entire series is a sorta-prequel to another of Fukumoto's worksTenwhich has an older Akagi as a character.

So, uh, why was I recommending this again?  Oh, yeah, cause I liked it.  But, really, was it necessary to name one character Ichikawa and another Ishikawa?  I almost got as lost with that shit as I did the mahjong.