Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #370 - Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet: Episode 1, "Some people say 'Déjà Vu.' Others, 'SS;DD.'"

I might be suffering some form of entertainment burnout.

There comes a point in time in any rabid couch potato's life, make that several times, when they (namely me) reach a saturation point and begin to feel like they've seen everything a soap or procedural or genre series can offer, that it's all been done before with only minor variations in era, themes, or conceptualization.

Gargantia is kind of like that.

From the very moment I started watching this first episode, I instantly had visions of Martian Successor Nadesico, Vandread, and so many others. Giant robots piloted by teens in space, fighting an alien menace that has a vaguely familiar look but is definitely non-human until, oh no, maybe that's just a misdirect and they're really human after all. Gasp!

I have no idea if that's the case here, as I have no clue to the overall plot of the series, but it would not at all surprise me, based on the space combat shenanigans that take up the first half of this series opener. It just bears all the hallmarks of a generic mech actioner. Extremely dedicated child soldier amping up his heroics but thrust into an unwinnable situation, incomprehensible technobabble jargon thrown out left and right, the sacrifice of a superior for the greater good and a cliffhanger that leads directly into part B.

And, from there, it just gets even more generic. Insert landing in a salvage yard on Earth that is populated by buxom stereotypes, dudes with pompadours, and a cute flying squirrel pet with obvious intelligence. Seriously it's like watching Nadia crossed with Eureka 7. The squirrel even chirps like it's talking (I'm having Samurai Champloo flashbacks here, just without the cool music and style). Oiy.

Still, that said, it's pretty gorgeous, so far. While I'm not a huge fan of the mech design, the human ships and their strange weapons (especially that pinwheel thing) and the vague references we get to their space-faring society are engaging, once you get past the jargon and obvious jingoism. Plus, the one glimpse we get of the floating salvage yard at the end of the episode is pretty tantalizing. I just wish the character designs weren't so clean and Ghibli-riffic.

Honestly, I think I would prefer to have seen a full episode establishing Avalon instead of having its sole mentions be those of propaganda and the like... but I understand that the point of the episode is to establish a fish out of water story on Earth, not go into depth on a place we'll probably never see. I also really like that, even though main character Ledo comes from an obviously fascist society, he cares quite a bit about both his comrades and the potential innocent humans of this strange place he's trapped in. Sure, he takes a girl hostage to put off direct attacks against him, but no one is ever in any real danger as he uses avoidance and intimidation instead of force to get these humans he cannot communicate with to back off, however temporarily.

I think I'm going to give Gargantia a couple of episodes to prove itself, despite my initial reservations concerning its predictability. One of my favorite authors has very blatantly pointed out in his own works that there are no new stories under the sun. The least I can do is see which particular rabbit hole this one will lead me down, especially since it has some decent merits right out of the gate.

Until later, Potatoes~


Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Season 1 is available on Netflix as of this posting.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #369 - M*A*S*H: Season 1, Episode 23, "For Auld Lang Syne."

There's something about MASH that is simultaneously both infuriating and comforting.

Running eleven years, much longer than the war that inspired the novel that inspired the movie that inspired the television series, MASH is probably one of the best examples of the sitcom that most telephiles remember fondly to this day. It can also be infuriatingly dull and predictable. We forgive that though, thanks to the suave charm of Alan Alda's Hawkeye and how comically easy it is to hate perpetual heel Frank Burns (at least in those early seasons).

This particular episode is doomed from the start. Everyone and their mother knows that the rumored ceasefire is a wash, if for no other reason than there's more show to be had. There are moments of overly-saccharine honesty from pretty much everyone... and even a lot of prevarication... but overall it just feels like a filler episode because there is no possible way that Trapper is wrong and the whole thing is a wash.

It just feels anticlimactic to watch Hawkeye run through his string of nurses, giving each the brush-off (or vice versa) like the womanizing cad he is, claiming to be married when he's anything but so as to remain single... and it's really rather boring to see Frank and Hoolihan commiserate over his very real marriage and the fact that they would necessarily be over.

Honestly, there isn't a tender moment for any of them... except, maybe, for a brief second between Radar and Henry. While they never really play it up too much in the rest of the show, having Radar being more the overly competent and underappreciated aide-de-camp than anything else, in this one scene over his going away scrapbook, Gary Burghoff emotes a softness that is really rather heartbreaking, especially when Blake quickly backs off the whole father/son angle when he realizes how series Radar takes the bond.

And that's the paradox of MASH, I think. There are these wonderfully heartbreaking moments peppered through the series that keep you coming back despite the rote writing and lack of proper character arc. There are tiny messages of humanity sprinkled throughout the series. Often enough, they come through in the artsy episodes, but every once in a while, one of the 9-to-5 jobbers like this one can really kick you in the gut. Making fun of Burns and Hotlips and watching Hawkeye crash and burn is a dime-a-dozen affair, but Radar and Henry having a moment? Kinda priceless.

Until later, Potatoes~

Monday, May 11, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #368 - Ore Monogatari/My Love Story, Episode 4, "Through the Fire and Flames!"

I'm going to get this out of the way right now... not all anime is deep. In fact, the grand majority of anime is LCD fluff. Everything from Naruto to GoLion to Fate/stay night is pretty shallow fare. Sure, there might be some feels and pseudo-philosophical ranting at some point, but for the most part, it's all about the widest spread of merchandising appeal.

Ore Monogatari/My Love Story isn't really an exception. Where OM/MLS stands out from the crowd is that it's telling an atypical story using a familiar rubric... or, rather, it's telling the same old anime love story with an atypical lead.

Most romance anime which focus on a boy falling in love usually fall into one of two sub-genres, a harem anime where one less-than-ideal guy (an otaku or loner of some stripe) somehow inexplicably garners the attention of a bevy of beautiful ladies... or a sappy coming of age romance where a seemingly unobtrusive but unique character leads a rose-colored life. OM/MLS is the latter.

A big, brutish, somewhat dim guy with a heart of gold constantly gets crushes on girls who are only interested in his handsome but standoffish friend... until one day he saves a cute girl who goes to a neighboring all girls school from a molester on the train. She falls for him, he can't believe it, cue  a plethora of moe feels.

It should be boring. It should be a one and done affair, but I can't stop watching. There's no complexity, the message is hammy and the delivery is predictable as all get out, but it has just the right amount of schmaltz to reel me in. It's manga was the same way... and I can't help but wondering if I'm biased towards the anime because I enjoyed its print version, because I honestly can't say if there's enough to the anime to justify a recommendation.

Ninety percent of the time, the art is cheap and shoddy. To pad their shots, MADHOUSE makes use of gratuitous pans every chance they get. Instead of being an homage to the framing of the comic panels, most of the time it looks like a budget piece from the 90's. Only a few shots really shine when it comes to dynamic movement, framing, and color... and one of those shots is the climax moment of this episode, where Takeo makes an insane leap from a burning building. Very reminiscent of the buff guy action archetype that he's a send-up to. Additionally, MADHOUSE skimps on detail at key moments while overcompensating on background art at the wrong times. Very distracting.

Still... watching Takeo waffle between falling in love with a cute girl and trying to do what he thinks is the right thing (Takeo encouraging his love interest to go after his friend since he cannot fathom her liking an ogre like him) is oddly endearing. Sure, it's not a series I'm going to return to all that often. It doesn't have the graphical excellence or emotional resonance of top shelf productions like Hyouka or the like, but it also isn't necessarily a guilty pleasure anime either.

In this episode, we get to watch two young (and innocent) lovers be cutesy, suffer backlash from friends, and weather the very real (but so conveniently staged) threat of possible tragedy. It's predictable, it's corny, it's... okay. I'd say stay for the sappiness and put it in the back of your mind never to need visiting again.

Until later, Potatoes~

Monday, May 4, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #367 - Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 17, "What Would Buffy Do?"

Before a few weeks ago, I'd only ever caught Supernatural occasionally on a whim while traveling. As regular Couchbound readers will know, I cut the cord a long time ago and never looked back. As such, even shows that find their way to Netflix can breeze right on by me if I don't get a nudge from friends. Honestly, I knew more about the show from internet memes than anything else before this spring. While I'm not going to say that my friend telling me to pop it in my queue has been a life-changing experience, I must admit, it's a cute show.

I picked this particular episode to comment on first (granted, I'm still only on the first season) because I think this is the point where the writers decided to say "to hell with it" and really go meta. There had been hints before, one-liner throwaway jokes about aliases or pop culture tidbits, but to straight up name-drop Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Oh yeah, it's on.

Set in yet another small town that looks oddly like British Columbia, the Hell House episode shows us what the power of the internet combined with Tibetan "concentration symbols" can do, which is apparently bring a horror meme to life.

Thank GOD that Slenderman hadn't been invented back when this episode first aired a decade ago.

Of course the standouts for the episode are the brash geeks who stumble into (and pretty much single handedly create) the evil internet tulpa story to the consternation of the Brothers Winchester. They very much remind me of Andrew and Johnathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, two lonely nerds trying to make their way in the ghost world. The fact that they pull a "WWBD" dialogue filled with sad cliches is both the icing on the cake and the poison hidden inside of it.

Like the Sherlock Groupies lampooned in Series 3 of that show, Supernatural doesn't really pull any punches when it comes to making fun of what is probably a largish segment of their fanbase. Of course, we can laugh and say it's all in good fun and they deserve the fish and false flag optioning because the two geeks are arrogant pricks who DON'T do the right thing (which plays exactly into Sam and Dean's hands via reverse psychology), but still, it seems a little mean-spirited to me.

I'm also not a huge fan of the random prank war that broke out between Sam and Dean. It just sort of sprang out of nowhere and, while I could get behind the idea if it played out over a series of several episodes, having them trying to one up each other every seen just felt a bit too much, too soon.

And where does one even find itching powder in rural Vancouver... I mean, Texas? 

That said, I still liked the episode. Not my favorite, so far... but I've been told the series gets quite a bit better once it hits its stride around season 3 or so, with the introduction of Castiel.

We'll see.

Probably in a few weeks to a month as, despite my ci comme ça feeling for this one, I'm invested enough in its routines, quirks, and strengths that I want to give it more of a chance.

Until later, Potatoes~

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Couchbound/Continued #366 - The Blacklist, "James Spader's Ultron Audition."

Ever since it was added to Netflix's stream a few months ago after its first season finished, I've been watching the Blacklist in sporadic bursts of morbid fascination and am always pushed away again by its extreme cheesiness and melodrama.

Like a bad Ludlum or Patterson novel, The Blacklist is a geopolitical procedural that features James Spader (Stargate, Secretary) as its main draw, the anti-hero criminal mastermind Raymond Reddington who, for reasons always hinted at but never outright said, is paternally obsessed with rookie FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone, who previously cut her teeth on the ill-fated Blue Bloods and Law & Order:LA).

Honestly, Spader is the only thing that has managed to keep me coming back for these three to four episode bursts that I go through before the sheer ridiculousness over the overarching spy plot and revolving door of supporting character deaths. While not quite up to the levels of 24, there are still a lot of compelling characters who are burdened with rather pointless kills.

But... that's kind of the beauty of it.

No one is really safe, whether you're a new love interest introduced just an episode before or an active and helpful ally to one of the leads who has been a background figure hour after hour... unless you're Red or Elizabeth, you're just a waiting victim of the capriciousness of fate (or the writer's room or your agent's negotiating power).

Still, it wears after a while, which is why Spader is the only element of The Blacklist that is truly interesting and, oddly, redeeming. Red is often cold, calculating, and mercenary, but he exhibits a streak of honor and warmth, particularly when it comes to his immediate cohorts and Elizabeth, that makes him the catchiest character on television in recent years. Despite the great work that folks like Mikkelsen, Spacey, and even McConaughey have done of late, it's James Spader in this schlock drek that has me watching.

Of the regular characters that are still going at my current episode count (which I will NOT disclose in order to avoid kill spoilers), I have to say that Elizabeth's often suspected husband is a bland storyline that I can't wait to see quickly finished.

Also her "by the book" partner who has a "dark side" is more than a little annoying as well. I'd rather have more from Psych's Parminder Nagra. Her often secretive CIA agent is primed for more intrigue, but they barely use her (at least, so far) in any interesting capacity. If the current trend of writing goes, she'll be outed and offed as a double (no, triple... NO! QUADRUPLE!) agent here in a single episode sometime in the near future. Oh well.

Can I recommend The Blacklist?

Hmm... that's a tough one. I enjoy it (in small doses), but it really isn't all that great a show overall. It does feature several decent recurring roles, most of whom die off with shocking regularity, my favorite being Lance Reddick (who I loved on Fringe). If you're a big fan of faux-actiony procedurals like NCIS or Bones, The Blacklist is a lot more fun and darker, but despite James Spader's charisma, there are much better shows out there... and more than a few of them are on Netflix.

Until later, Potatoes~