Shirobako is anime getting meta, an anime series about making an anime series, about five high school friends who were in the anime club together going to Tokyo and trying to make it in the industry. On one level it’s pure wishfullfillment of course, a little rose tinted perhaps, but that barely matters because the first three episodes I watched were sooo good. This is the sort of series I both want to race through to continue the story and want to saviour because there’s so much in each episode.

Its main attraction is not just the insider’s look into how an anime studio really works and the crises they face, but seeing competent people at work, in an environment familiar to anybody who has worked on time critical projects. Much of the first three episodes consisted of having scheduling conflicts, deadline issues and project managers changing their minds about mission critical features at the very last minute. Not to mention co-workers dropping the ball and having to pick it up yourself. Funny too, in a relatively understated way for anime.

What also makes it interesting for me is to see the differences in office culture between here and Japan; much, much more formal in the latter if this is an indication. (Though of course office politics are similar in most countries.) If you like to check it out, it’s available for free streaming from Crunchyroll.

What if Peter Parker was black?

what if Spider-man was black

This is a great idea that I wouldn’t trust Disney/Marvel to not fuck up if they tried it:

I keep thinking how much more powerful the Spiderman origin story would be if Peter Parker was an African American kid, whose Uncle Ben was shot by police while being arrested for a minor parking infraction. There is no formal investigation, and Peter decides to put himself on the line to prevent it happening again. He tackles the white crimes that go unpunished, punishes POC criminals fairly. He is the leveler, always fighting to be without bias, to be just. To protect people like his uncle.

But oh the stories you could tell. You’d need to be careful though, it’s so easy, especially for non-African-American creators, to fall into the stereotype trap. (Which is why I have issues with Noah Berlatsky’s proposal for a black Antman). Take Peter’s origin frex. Most of that could stay of course: bitten by radioactive spider, a loner and nerd in a high school that doesn’t appreciate it (but careful there, don’t get into anti-intellectual black stereotypes), Peter gets his superpowers and want to use them for his own benefits, uncle Ben can still give his speech, but you cannot make Peter responsible for his death in even the indirect way he was in his real origin.

Because that undermines the point you’re trying to make, that the system is broken, that black Americans are always at risk of being murdered by their own police forces regardless of how they behave. if Peter was involved in an altercation with the cop who murdered uncle Ben earlier, that provides an out to explain why it wasn’t really a murder. Nobody would argue that uncle Ben deserved to be killed because Peter let the burglar escape; but as real life proves, a lot of people would argue that Peter giving lip to a cop explains why his uncle was shot.

Spidey accuses Jameson from haunting him because he is black

The other thing is: would it be general knowledge that Spidey is black? Because occassionally that does come up as a throwaway gag like the above with the real Spider-Man, that because he wears a full body costume people cannot tell his ethnicity and so he can pretend to be black. Does anybody buy that? It would be interesting if he was, as such a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe, though wildly feared and mistrusted at the same time by the public at large and some of his fellow heroes, even when white: how much more so if he’s black?

Or the murder of Gwen Stacey, if she remains white? And what about the Punisher, who must look very different from a black Spider-Man’s perspective than a white one, with his killing sprees of mostly street level criminals and drug dealers? Or his relationship with J. Jonah jameson and The Daily Bugle? The easy way there would be to make Jameson just another racist, but the interesting thing about him was always that he was highly principled even if obsessed with Spider-Man and at times you could argue that he had a point about the menace of superheroes. Not to mention Robbie Robertson, the Bugle‘s black longtime editor, often the voice of reason arguing against Jameson’s crusades. He could be a great viewpoint character for a more conservative black view of Spider-Man, a counterpoint to Peter’s radicalism.

So much interesting stuff there, but it would’ve to be done as fanfic, cause I can’t see Marvel ever going for it. Or doing a good job if they did.

Final Hugo Ballot 2015

Less then a week to go to Hugo voting closes, so here’s my final ballot. First, to recap, the categories I’ll be no awarding for Puppy-related reasons:

  • Best Novella
  • Best Novelette
  • Best Short Story
  • Best Related Work
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
  • Best Editor, Short Form
  • Best Editor, Long Form
  • Best Professional Artist
  • Best Fanzine
  • Best Fancast
  • Best Fan Writer
  • John W. Campbell Award (not a Hugo)

Which leaves Best Novel:

  1. The Goblin Emperor — Katherine Addison.
  2. The Three-Body Problem — Cixin Liu
  3. Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

Best Graphic Story:

  1. Ms. Marvel, v1 — Adrian Alphona, G. Willow Wilson
  2. Saga, v3 — Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples
  3. Sex Criminals, v1 — Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky
  4. Rat Queens, v1 — Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch

Best Semiprozine:

  1. Strange Horizons — Niall Harrison
  2. Lightspeed Magazine — John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
  3. Beneath Ceaseless Skies — Scott H. Andrews

Best Fan Artist (the only category with no Puppy infestation):

  1. Ninni Aalto: cute cartooning, in a mix of Finnish and English
  2. Elizabeth Leggett: gorgeous paintings
  3. Spring Schoenhuth: also nominated last year for her jewelry, a reminder that fan art doesn’t need to be two-dimensional
  4. Steve Stiles: a regular nominee, decent enough but nothing special
  5. Brad Foster: another Fan Artist regular, with the most nominations and wins of everybody. He doesn’t need any more, does he?

And that’s the Hugo Awards dealt with for another year. Thanks to the Pups, it cost less time than last year, but I’m still filling my ballot in at the last possible moment.

The best(-ish) 25(-ish) anime of all time

New to anime? Looking for the highlights? Try Glass Reflection Top 25-ish Recommended Anime:

Granted, this is not a perfect list by any measure, very much weighted towards the present and the more blokey sort of anime, with noticable omissions. But it is a good starting point and a way to inspire yourself to seek out more. You may have noticed I’ve been on a bit of an anime kick lately, mainly because I finally got off my ass and got a home entertainment system sorted, consisting of getting my Chromecast up and running, using Plex Media Server to stream everything from a net drive. It works surprisingly well, even when I’m away from home. Oddly enough, by making it easier for myself to watch my anime, I ended up watching more. This top twentyfive list was a neat way to think about what to watch next or seek out.

And since I posted this to MetaFilter anyway (and you may want to check out the discussion there) and it’s a waste to throw away all the links I found, I thought, why not post it here too? Below the cut is the complete list with links to reviews, trailers or discussions of them.

Continue reading

Jean Charles de Menezes 7 January 1978 – 22 July 2005

At 09:30 on Friday morning, a Brazilian-born man called Jean Charles de Menezes left a house that police had identified as the home of a possible suspect. He was an electrician, on his way to a job in Kilburn. But the police, anxious to prevent another Tube attack, jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Ten years ago, less than a month after the 7/7 Bombings, the Metropolitian Police tracked and murdered Jean Charles de Menezes under the impression he was one of the people responsible for the botched attack the day before. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for it, though we did get that disgusting health & safety prosecution against the Met itself.

His family is currently in the UK to take part in remembrance ceremonies for him, but also to plead their case for The European Court of Human Rights:

Lawyers for the family argue that the assessment used by prosecutors in deciding that no individual should be charged over the 2005 shooting is incompatible with article 2 of the European convention on human rights, which covers the right to life.

They claim the evidential test applied by the Crown Prosecution Service – that there should be sufficient evidence for a “realistic prospect” of conviction – is too high a threshold. It means that, in effect, the decision not to bring a prosecution was based on a conclusion that there was less than a 50% chance of conviction, they say.

It remains an outrage that ten years after his murder, there’s still no real justice for Jean, with his murderers and those who unleashed them never having had to feel the consequences of their actions. It also shows why the ECHR is so important, the last hope of all those denied justice in their own country’s courts.

Sex Criminals: Best Graphic Story Hugo

Suzie discovers her time stopping orgasm powers


Matt Fraction is a writer who’s made his reputation doing clever work for hire series for Marvel, most recently Hawkeye, not to mention his own Casanova for Image. Sex Criminals, co-created with Chip Zdarsky on the artwork, is his latest hit series, having been optioned for television already. It has had significant online buzz and of course was nominated for the Best Graphic Story Hugo. Like Rat Queens it’s a series I was thinking of buying myself, so pleased to be able to sample it this way.

Sex ed the US high school way

And I don’t really like it. Not raunchy enough, not weird enough, basically just another clever twist on the superhero story. Not bad, just a bit meh. It’s not as funny as the hype led me to believe (though the sequence the above panels are extracted from are hilarious) nor nearly as edgy. For some reason though Sex Criminals got a reputation as being a feminist comic, arguably because it’s so rare to see female sexuality be treated so positive and non-exploitative as it is here. Which is a sad goddamn state of affairs.

Suzie and jon meet cute

The story is simple. Suzie discovers she freezes time when she orgasms, thinks she’s the only one until she meets Jon at a party, they have sex and both are shocked to discover they’re not alone. They both tell each other their origins, or how they discovered their particular gift, then they team up to save Suzie’s library, in the process discovering they’re not alone and in fact there’s a police force patrolling their orgasmic pocket universe…

Sex police

Like Ms. Marvel this is basically an one issue origin story spread out over five, with a few neat storytelling tricks to liven things up. It’s well done, a neat idea but in the end I still think it’s meh more than awesome.

Loveable like the clatter of iron tracks

Admittedly, it sounds like Girls und Panzer should be awful. A bunch of typically stereotyped anime high school girls are bullied by their overpowerful student committee into taken up tankery, the refined and genteel sport that makes proper women and wives out of young girls, with the main character being reluctant to enter the sport again because of a mysterious accident in her past at her previous school. Done wrong it could be an endless series of fanservice panty shots, crappy slapstick and a trite plot to justify it all.

Luckily it’s better than that. Yes, the idea is silly, but the series takes it seriously, which makes all the differences. The tanks are recognisable like their real world counterpart, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and the tactics used are relatively sensible. Of course, since this is at heart a sports anime, the battles shown are more like those in World of Tanks than real warfare, something fans of the former have taken to heart. Especially because every now and again there are awesome moments of grognard nerdiness like this:

But without a good story, all this tank nerdery would be pointless. And what Girls und Panzer has is the classic sports underdog story, where the plucky newcomer with no pedigree, no experience, underestimated by the competition has to win for reasons. It’s a formula, but a well done formula: you know they’re going to win, but you don’t known how and there’s genuine tension as the odds are stacked against them. They don’t always win; there are losses too and there is a learning curve.

The characterisation, at first broad, is deepened too over the course of the series, which packs a lot in just twelve episodes (and two recap specials as the production got into trouble). Two things make it stand out from many other, similar looking anime series. The first is that all significant characters are women (only three men appear in minor parts) who work together to overcome adversary, with no sniping, no back biting, none of the silly little rivalries you see in other series. The second is that there are no villains, nobody cheating or gratitiously nasty: even the people dismissive or somewhat insulted by the newbies entering their sacred sport are won over. That’s what makes this special. That and showing how you can use a Type 89 to kill a Maus.

Rat Queens: Best Graphic Story Hugo

the Rat Queens: Betty, Hannah, Dee and Violet

I was thinking about buying Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery anyway, so I was glad it was part of the Hugo Voters Packet. It’s been having a bit of buzz in online comics circles last year, winning an Eisner Award for best new series, but sadly also for less positive reasons as artist Roc Upchurch was arrested on domestic violence charges, which resulted in him leaving the series. This volume however still has him on art. Very nice art it is too, cartooney but with a computerised, photo-realistic sheen too it.

best of friends

Storywise this is neither a fantasy story, nor quite a D&D parody, but rather a fantasy that takes D&D tropes and uses them semi-seriously, something I haven’t seen done much before. Combine that with a bunch of cynical, sex and drugs obsessed bad girls and you got the start of something decent. Each of the protagonists has just enough of a personality to be memorable, though it’s very much broad strokes here.

dissing an assassin

Being very much antisocial types, the Rat Queens, as well as the other adventurers of Palisade, are targeted for assassination by somebody, getting sent on very D&Desque quests to clear out the sort of low level enemies you’d encounter at the start of a campaign. Things escalate quickly and Upchurch is an adherent of the Robert Kirkman school of showing graphic violence. Lots of blood, lots of broken bones and almost snapped off arms…

dissing an assassin

On the whole this is an enjoyable romp but in hindsight not something I’d want to spent money on to read. It’s not that this is a bad comic, but rather that it’s a bit on the formulaic side. There are hints of something better here though.

Can fandom change society?

No. It’s just a goddamn hobby.

Well, not in the way that the title and some of the content of this high level introduction to the wonderful world of modern fandom(s) implies. Fandom in itself is not a political act, but it is a way of interacting with the media we consume in a more healthy way than just passively receiving it.