$7.99/month

So, should I cancel my Crunchyroll membership?

Last fall there were two first-rate shows broadcast, Frieren at the Funeral1 and The Apothecary Diaries. It’s generally years between series of this quality; I can’t remember the last time two aired simultaneously. This renaissance couldn’t last, of course. The second season of both shows was inferior to the first, and no other show I’ve recently sampled has approached the quality of the tales of Frieren and Maomao. Nevertheless, there are a few that I managed to watch all the way through that deserve mention.

Helck2 is second-rate Tatsuo Sato but still pretty good. Unfortunately, it stops two-thirds the way through the manga. Until the third season is animated I can’t recommend the show.

Mr. Villain’s Day Off concerns an alien general engaged in the conquest of Earth, and his activities during his down time. His time off is precious to him; he uses it to marvel at cute things and savor the simple pleasures of life on Earth. He takes pictures of the panda at the zoo. Nothing much happens, but that’s fine. Watching an episode is like taking a nap, which is not a bad thing when you have insomnia.

Villainess Level 99: I May Be the Hidden Boss But I’m Not the Demon Lord is another damned isekai, but it is surprisingly watchable. In this one the protagonist discovers that she is the final boss of a fantasy otome game, fated to be killed by the game’s heroine. She is not enthusiastic about this. Fortunately, she is level-headed, intelligent and practical, and Villainess Level 99 is one of the very few isekai I’ve watched more than one episode of.

In Train to the End of the World, Masami Eiri’s Protocol 7 (here called “7G”) is implemented when a girl presses a golden button. The result is chaos. Four schoolgirls commandeer a train and travel through a Japan become alien in search of the girl who pressed the button. The show was directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, who previously directed Girls und Panzer and Dai Mahou Touge/Magical Witch Punie-chan. Train is closer to the latter, but far more bizarre.

Escape artist

That brings us to the current season. Most of the offerings look like drivel, not worth $8/month. However, I did check out the first episode of The Elusive Samurai, and it might be watchable. The “elusive samurai” is the eight-year-old Tokiyuki Hojo, who has an exceptional ability to run away and hide — a useful talent in that dangerous era. The first half of the episode, in which Tokiyuki gleefully and acrobatically escapes from archery practice, is light and goofy. The second half is bloody, as nearly everyone he knows is killed. I expect that the story will play fast and loose with Japanese history, and there may be some fantasy elements as well. The series is based on manga by Yusei Matsui, who earlier wrote Assassination Classroom. This could be a good show if the humor and violence are as well-balanced as in the story of Koro-sensei.

If The Elusive Samurai is indeed good, or I discover another watchable show, I’ll maintain my Crunchyroll membership. Otherwise I’ll cancel it and wait until Maomao’s return next year to join again.

Remind you of anyone?

Update: Crunchyroll cancelled comments. I cancelled my subscription. The hell with them.

442nd Animation

I recently received this message from my nephew the animator. I post it here for anyone who might be interested.
–Don

*****

Hello Friends, Family & Supporters,

It is Brad Uyeda Jr., and I am finally done writing and ready to direct of my animated feature film, Purple Heart for Effect.

When Japanese Americans’ eligibility for military service was restored in early 1943, the number who chose to enlist out of the concentration camps chose to do so despite their family’s continued incarceration. Most became members of the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in some of the toughest battles on the European front and became one of the most decorated units in the war. Others joined intelligence units in the Pacific as Japanese language specialists whose skills in interrogation and translation contributed greatly to Allied successes.

As I began to think about this I realized that my own children will never know who these family members are other than the photographs on the walls. I want my family and every extension of it to know the history behind the name and names we’ve given our offspring. So when covid happened I decided to spend the time in locked down to write the story. I knew a long time ago that I was going to tell it I just wasn’t sure when that would be…until now.

Artist, Father, Grandfather…a Soldier.

Stripped of his freedom in 1944, Mas, my grandfather, a Japanese American enlists in a segregated unit of the U.S. army to prove his allegiance to his country during World War 2 and in the process heroically saving a lost battalion in the mountains of France. Like so many who fought and survived in WW2 they really didn’t talk about their experiences. Wounded in battle and lost some portion of his thigh my grandfather never talked about any of the wartime. Only in recent years did my generation step up and start asking those who are alive their stories. After researching and talking with my family and those who remember I pieced together my family story.

This past February my Uncle Rich, my grandfathers youngest son passed away. I had been sharing with him my film ideas and this story. He told me “You better do it, you better make this movie.” I told him I would and I am.

But your help is needed now to get this film started. I’m asking for $20,000 to create 20 minutes of the film in what is called a proof of concept. A POC is the best way to communicate the bigger picture to the investors that make the big decisions, and every dollar will have its purpose. The money will be specifically dedicated to this film only; none of it will fund my morning coffee. The completion of this project is my sole objective, and whatever you can give will be appreciatively used to breathe life into that ambition..

Also, I’m especially pleased to announce that we have received fiscal sponsorship with From The Heart Productions LLC, our partner whose 501(c)(3) status will provide all donors with a tax deduction for their gifts.

What You Get

We would like to create with you a communal experience with some goodies, as our way of saying “THANK YOU.” Check out those perks when you join our global team of supporters!

Perks include digital access to the film, a credit in the film, VIP invite to the film’s premiere, signed copy of the poster, script access, producer credit, and more!

Please share this campaign and film project with your friends, families, and social media!

Here are the bullet points for what the money raised will help to achieve:

Production Benefits

Money raised will:

  1. Create a Proof of Concept trailer to show to investors – myself and a small team will work on this ($25,000)
  2. Investment goes to Development and the effort to raise the $3.5 million for final budget

Please donate or share with the people you think would like to support our cause (remember we are tax deductible).

Here is a link to the information page from the Purple Heart for Effect.

https://savmostudios.com

Leaping into the new year with Frieren

2024 is a leap year. If you save old calendars, those from 1996 will work again. Otherwise, you will need one calendar for January and February and another one for the rest of the year. For the first two months, calendars from 2018, 2007, 2001, 1990, 1979 and 1973 are useable; for March on, 2019, 2013, 2002, 1991, 1985 and 1974.

I like the format of Japanese anime calendars. Although they have only six pages, one for every pair of months, the images are poster-sized, 16.5 by 22.5 inches. It’s been several years since I found one worth ordering, though; the shows that catch my attention tend not to be extremely popular. This year I found one for Frieren at the Funeral1 Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End. I am a little disappointed with it — the pictures are all portraits of Frieren and her companions, which are okay, but I would have liked more illustrations like the cover. Maybe next year there will be a calendar for The Apothecary Diaries.

Elves, demons and choo-choo trains

I’m currently following not just one, or two, or three, but four different shows, and will probably watch them through the end of the fall season. This hasn’t happened in a long time, probably not since anime’s annus mirabilis 20071.

Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is the most interesting of the quartet. The title character is an elf mage who years ago was part of a band of heroes who defeated the demon king. She’s short and looks quite young, but she is actually at least a thousand years old. She doesn’t age and has little sense of time passing. At one point she spends six months looking for a particular flower. For her human companion, that’s half a year of her life; for Frieren it’s no more than a single afternoon.

Continue reading “Elves, demons and choo-choo trains”

The duck flies home

Eric Carra, who maintained Wonderduck’s Pond, died earlier this month.

I first came across Carra, a.k.a. Wonderduck, nearly twenty years, ago when he was one of the regulars at Steven Den Beste’s place. I soon discovered that he had a lively and well-written weblog of his own, which immediately became one of my daily stops.

He wrote largely of Formula One racing and military history, with an emphasis on the Battle of Midway. There were also rubber ducks, baseball, music, his job and events in his life. And there was anime. The Duck and I had very different tastes, and partly for that reason he was always valuable reading. When we both liked something — Yuru Camp, Roy Clark, etc. — the chances are that it really was good.

There are about eighteen years of vigorous, entertaining writing at the Pond. Pick a random month and browse; you’ll probably find something worth reading. My favorite posts are the series of episode reviews for the utterly ridiculous Rio Rainbow Gate in early months of 2011, starting January 5 and continuing through April 15. The show’s brazen combination of illogic and fanservice provided a splendid opportunity for the Duck to employ his gifts for snark and sarcasm. If Rio is mentioned in future histories of animation, it will be for providing Wonderduck a suitable target, just as Colley Cibber is remembered because of Alexander Pope’s satires.

In memory of Eric Carra, I’ll watch a few episodes of Azumanga Daioh tonight.

2022: Light Entertainment

And now for last year’s wastes of time.

Japanese animation

Mostly I watched old favorites such as Shingu and Galaxy Angel. There were a few noteworthy recent shows I watched all the way through, but only a few. I’ve mentioned Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department and Super Cub before. There was also Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! Ordinarily I have no interest in anime about making anime, particularly if it involves high school girls, but this one was by Masaaki Yuasa, who makes anime unlike other anime. So I gave it a try.

Midori Asakusa watched Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan at an early age and has wanted to make anime ever since. She fills sketchbooks with concept art for the shows she wants to make. She’s short, shy and awkward. Tsubame Mizusaki is fascinated by movement and fills her sketchbooks with animation and figure studies. She’s pretty and extroverted, and is incidentally a popular fashion model. When Asakusa and Mizusaki meet and discover their complementary obsessions, they immediately imagine anime together. For implausible reasons they can’t join the anime club already existing at their high school, so they form their own. By themselves they would probably accomplish little together — Asakusa constantly flies off on tangents rather than fully develop her scenarios, and Mizusaki is apt to spend hours perfecting a single arm movement. Fortunately, Asakusa’s mercenary comrade Sayaka Kanamori is the third member of their club. Kanamori is tall and thin and scowls at everyone. She has no artistic talent. However, she’s practical and crafty, understands money and business, and is adept at dealing with bureaucracies such as high school administrations and overly powerful student councils. As producer to Asakusa’s director and Mizusaki’s animator, she keeps the creatives focused on their projects and effectively combats the external forces that interfere with their work.

Yuasa has stated that animation should be fun. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! may not be a pretty show, but it is a lively one. It could hold your interest even with the sound and subtitles off, but then you would miss Kanamori’s sarcasm. There are a bunch of screencaps below the fold.

Worth a mention, though not actually animation1: Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is finally being legally published in English. Until now, translations of this cosiest of catastrophes could only be found through irregular channels. The first twenty-four chapters of the story of the waning of humanity and the rise of likable robots are available now; the next batch should be out in May.2

Occidental animation

While I have absolutely no interest in contemporary Western animation, I do like many old cartoons. I recently rewatched a lot of the old Warner Brothers’ Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. The best of them are as fresh as ever and are among the masterworks of the 20th century. Chuck Jones, Mel Blanc and Carl Stalling3 are legendary, but there are a couple of other names in the credits that deserve attention as well: writer Michael Maltese, and Milt Franklyn, Stalling’s assistant and successor. (It was Franklyn who condensed Wagner’s oeuvre to six minutes for “What’s Opera, Doc?“)

I also sampled a collection of Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons. “Red Hot Riding Hood” is a classic, and some of the others are pretty good, notably those featuring Droopy. However, too many of them are little more than series of gags strung together, and none of Avery’s MGM characters are as engaging as Bugs and Daffy. Some are downright annoying, such as Screwball Squirrel. Great animation is not enough to redeem pedestrian scripts.

Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show were favorites of mine when I was much shorter than I am today. I recently found a complete collection of the shows and have been meandering through it. The moose and squirrel episodes are as good and silly as I remember, as is “Dudley Do-Right.” The “Fractured Fairy Tales” are less consistent but occasionally inspired; “Peobody’s Improbable History” is hit-and-miss, with misses predominating; and, “Aesop and Son” is always lame. The good outweighs the bad and demonstrates that good scripts can compensate for cheap animation.

There is one serious problem with the collection: the music is wrong. Fred Comstock, who wrote the familiar theme music, copyrighted the tunes independently of Jay Ward Productions. When the complete set was compiled, the producers didn’t have the rights to the tunes and had to substitute different melodies. The new music isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have the mock-heroic spirit of the originals.

Fortunately, the music from “Dudley Do-Right” is still there. I particularly like the old-timey piano music featured in the episodes. It was probably composed and performed by Fred Steiner, who wrote music for many television shows and is remembered particularly for the theme to Perry Mason.

Movies and television

Ha.

Continue reading “2022: Light Entertainment”

Recent disappointments

I recently watched OddTaxi in the Woods, the movie based on the noir-with-funny-animals series. It turned out to be essentially a clip show with little new material, likely confusing to newcomers and frustrating for those familiar with the show. The movie does tie off the loose end left conspicuously dangling at the end of the show, but it takes two hours to get there. If you’ve seen the series and want to know what happens, jump to the last eight minutes, and keep your finger on the pause button during the end credits. If you haven’t seen OddTaxi and are curious about this idiosyncratic story, skip the movie and watch the series.

Continue reading “Recent disappointments”

Debussy’s greatest hits, arranged for motorbike and schoolgirl

What sort of music do you associate with motorcycles? Something fast and furious, like Steppenwolf or The Rodeo Carburettor? Something with fiery guitar, like Joe Satriani or Jan Cyrka?

How about Debussy? The first music heard in the extended Honda commercial Super Cub is his thundering first “Arabesque.” Later in the first episode, when the protagonist goes on her first night ride, she putts along to the pounding beat of “Clair de lune.” Over the course of the twelve episodes there is more Debussy, plus additional piano music by composers from Beethoven to Schumann.1

Against my better judgement, I’ve taken out a membership at Crunchyroll again. While most current shows look like isekai drivel, there are some recent offerings that might be worth my time. Atomic Fungus liked Super Cub, so I started with that.

High school student Koguma states at the beginning of the first episode that “I have no parents. No money, either. Nor do I have any hobbies, anyone I can call a friend, or any goals for the future.” One day, after struggling up a long slope on her bicycle once too often, she stops by a motorcycle shop, where she purchases a Honda Super Cub for a suspiciously low price. One of her classmates turns out to be a Cub enthusiast, and suddenly the emotionally withdrawn Koguma has a friend. Over the course of the series Koguma learns how to ride and maintain her bike, finds a summer job, solves various problems associated with riding a motorcycle, and gradually becomes a more competent and sociable individual.

The series it most resembles is laid-back Yurucamp, with girls doing outdoorsy things, and featuring an introverted central character. There are significant differences, though. Yurucamp‘s Rin is a fundamentally healthy person who enjoys solitude, while Koguma’s isolation at the beginning of Super Cub is nearly pathological. The art and character designs in Yurucamp are more cartoony and the characters themselves more boisterous than their counterparts in Super Cub. And there is no Debussy in Yurucamp. Still, if you enjoyed watching Rin and the Outdoor Activities Club, Super Cub is worth checking out.

I can’t give the show an unreserved recommendation. In the tenth episode, after a snowfall Koguma and her fellow Cub enthusiast frolic on their motorbikes on a snowy field, taking lots of spills. Perhaps it’s not as dangerous as it looks, but it seems like an excellent way to break arms and collar bones. Immediately after that, another girl falls into a stream in freezing weather and calls Koguma for help. Rather than summon emergency services, Koguma carries the barely-conscious girl to her apartment on her motorbike and revives her there. The girl survives and her family is grateful to Koguma, but Koguma’s heroics nearly killed the poor girl.2 If you watch Super Cub, I suggest you stop at the middle of the tenth episode and skip to the twelfth.

Continue reading “Debussy’s greatest hits, arranged for motorbike and schoolgirl”

Requiescat in pace

A long, long time ago I came across a humorous/satirical website called The Lemon. It’s long gone now; as far as I can tell all that remains is the panel reproduced here. It was the work of Shamus Young, one of the crew who hung around Steven Den Beste’s place. He was perceptive and insightful on gaming, anime and whatever else caught his attention. Over the years he focused increasingly on gaming, but even so he was still worth reading. He wrote well, and his detailed analyses and critiques of games were interesting even to non-gamers like me.

And he was funny. The Lemon may be gone, but DM of the Rings, the one good result of the Peter Jackson catastrophe, is there to read on his website, as is Chainmail Bikini. It is not necessary to have played D&D to enjoy them.

Shamus’s autobiography worth reading, too. His account of his ordeals in grade school is sufficient reason utterly reform or just flat eliminate the education establishment. It starts here.

Shamus Young died Wednesday. Please keep him and his family in your prayers.

In the cards

While I have little interest in most anime-related products, there are a couple of categories that I have found worth looking for. I’ve occasionally mentioned my annual searches for Japanese calendars. I also have a small collection of anime playing cards, which are much cheaper than figurines and more useful.

Unsurprisingly, the cards from Studio Ghibli are the best, both for the art and for the substance of the cards. Each card has a different picture, all printed at high resolution, and the cards are durable and easy to shuffle and deal. I have decks for Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, and I’ll add others when circumstances permit. Right-click the images and open in a new window to see at full resolution.

Continue reading “In the cards”

Lost years found

For quite a long time, the four years from April 2012 to April 2016 were missing from the archives of Pixy Misa’s mee.nu weblog ecosystem. A few days ago Pixy ran a script to restore the absent pages. At last one can once more read everything that the Brickmuppet, Wonderduck and similar eccentrics posted back then.

I am particularly pleased to be able to read all of Steven Den Beste’s Chizumatic again. Finally I can review his observations on Mouretsu Pirates, Girls und Panzer and Gate, as well as the frequently extensive discussions in the comments. There are also occasional trenchant remarks on the political clownshow mixed in with the anime cheesecake. The restored pages start here and run through here.

The end of anime

Crunchyroll has changed its policy on watching shows for free. Hitherto, those without accounts could see episodes of current shows after a week’s embargo, albeit with six minutes of dumb, loud commercials inserted at awkward moments. Since there are too few good new shows to justify spending $95.88 plus tax for a year’s membership — in all of 2021, I found only two worth watching all the way through — that was acceptable. However, Crunchyroll recently changed its policy. From the spring season on, people without paid memberships can watch only the first three episodes of any new show some new shows. The hell with it.

Since I no longer download fansubs1, this means I won’t keep up with what’s current. Yeah, there are plenty of older series on Crunchyroll and elsewhere I can still view (with commercials), but while the online collections may be more extensive than mine, they’re mostly junk. My own library is better. I will keep an eye out for further work by Masaaki Yuasa, Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima, Kenji Nakamura and a few others, and purchase hard copies when they are available for reasonable prices2, but at this point I’m pretty much done with Japanese animation.

My streaming history does end on a fairly high note. Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department is the funniest show since at least Endro. There are screencaps below the fold to suggest why I found this study of tokusatsu and corporate cultures from the point of view of the bad guys so entertaining, despite its limited animation budget.

(I can’t quite give the show an unreserved recommendation. One of the characters is a wolf boy who is stuck in a girl’s body because of executive meddling. The writers spend too much time finding ways to make him blush.)

***

I also watched the rest of Life with an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated as a Total Fantasy Knockout. It never quite fell through the thin ice it skated on, and some of it was clever, but despite better animation, it was not in the same class as Kuroitsu. It’s a tolerable waste of time, and that’s it.

Continue reading “The end of anime”

Art and entertainment notes

I’m down to two shows, which is still twice as many as I was following at this time last year. The best remains Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department. However, despite its squicky premise, Life with an Ordinary Guy… hasn’t made me throw up yet. It helps to know your isekai clichés.

Continue reading “Art and entertainment notes”