About that Star Wars boycott

Chuck Wendig misses the point when he talks about the efficiency of the too few white people in this movie Star Wars boycott:

Okay, first, let’s talk about the efficacy of such a hashtag, which is to say, it will have literally no effect at all. You’re throwing pebbles at mountains, bro. Boycotting Star Wars is like boycotting the sun. It will do nothing. The sun will keep on shining. Its heat will remain radiant and globally present. It will remain at the center of this space and we will continue to orbit it in an elliptical manner. Your efforts will have no meaningful result except to reveal yourself as a cruddy dingleberry dangling from fandom’s ass-hairs.

Showing that you’re an arsehole is of course the whole reason for this boycott in the first place, whether it really is a 4chan troll or not. In the cesspool of American rightwing politics being obnoxious, hateful and dumb are positive qualities and there’s an ongoing competition to lower the bar. Boycotting the new Star Wars movie because it now contains some actual people of colour fits in perfectly. If you want a career as a rightwing pundit or politician, you have to earn your pay churning out this sort of low grade idiocy to show you’re willing, without anybody but the dumbest part of the base expecting anything to come from it. In fact, that would even be counterproductive as the whole lifecycle of rightwing politics depends on recycling the same old issues in different mutations to keep the base hyped up and unhappy. Actually achieving something interferes with that.

Concrete Revolutio: superhero fun the Japanese way

As you may have realised, I’ve become slightly more interested in anime then I used to be, going so far as to try and attempt to follow the new season in real time, rather than catching up with series as they finish. As you know Bob, each anime season roughly corresponds with the real season, so we’re currently starting the Fall 2015 season, one of the shows in which I wanted to check out being Concrete Revolutio: Superhuman Fantasy. Not that I knew anything about it before I sat down to watch it, other than what I’d read about in the various previews on anime blogs; hadn’t even seen the promo above. I went in with no expectations therefore.

Our heroine working as a waitress in a coffee bar

What got me to sit up and notice was the art design: gorgeous and unlike everything else being shown recently. just look at those bright colours, and the pop-art style big dots in the background. It has a bit of a sixties vibe to it, which it turns out is roughly when the series is supposed to be set. Again I only found this out later though, from that preview shown at the top. In the show itself there’s nothing that made think it was supposed to be set at some time other than “the present”, save for that art style. It reminded me of some of the later, post-war Loony Tunes cartoons: huge slabs of colour, modernist buildings/furniture and crazy angles.

Our heroine transformed into a magic girl

The plot, despite skipping around in time, was fairly simple. It stars when purple haired Kikko Hoshino, a waitress in a cocktail coffee bar is asked by pink haired Jirō Hitoyoshi to help him catch a Japanese scientist selling secrets to a foreign spy. Said spy instead hands over a state of the art astronomic device the scientist needed for his research, at which point Kikko interferes, steals the device and flees the bar by switching places with a mannequin in a nearby clothes store. There she transforms into a magic girl. Because that’s what she really is. the spy shows up and turns out to be an alien, transforms into a giant, at which point another giant shows up, looking very Jack Kirbyesque and with an Egyptian god motive and who turns out to be Grosse Augen, the hero of the people. As explained by the oh so convenient six year old superhero fan nearby.

Car turned mecha, magical girl, Kirbyesque Ultraman stand-in

It was then that I realised that this wasn’t a sci-fi thriller or magical girl show but rather a proper full blown superhero adventure, with a lot of continuity hinted at through frex the blase attitude of various bystanders to seeing yet another superhuman fight. As we find out about halfway through the episode, Jirō works for “the Institute of Supervision of Human Resources”, an organisation dedicated to helping superhumans. Not so much “who watches the watchmen” as who protects the protectors as they’re busy safeguarding humanity. Something that wouldn’t have been out of place in Kurt Busiek’s Astro City and indeed that’s what it kept reminding me off. A similar sort of world building by way of genre archetypes given a new spin.

happy magical cloud to the rescue

The art works the same way as in Astro City, which has the underrated talent of Brent Anderson to integrate dozens of disjunct character archetypes from seventy years of superhero comics history at its disposal. Here you can have a magical girl summon a red nosed cartoon cloud to block the attack by a giant alien monster on a Porsche turned mecha without any of it looking out of place and while staying true to their respective genre backgrounds.

As said, the plot so far has been mostly setup, hinting at future developments through its time hops: Something Dark is going to happen, and is somewhat confusing because it tries to do so much in one episode. As you might have guessed though this wasn’t the main draw for me anyway. Rather, I want to see more of the world of Concrete Revolutio, as well as of Kikko the magical girl, who is somewhat more interesting than Jirō. Hopefully this show can keep up the high quality of its first episode: so far it’s the biggest surprise of Fall 2015 for me.

Angel Beats! rewatch 04 – Day Game

Angel Beats logo

After episode three’s angst, episode four is welcome comedy relief. It’s also mixed up Angel Beats! established formula a lot, as for the first time we get a cold opening rather than the theme song, a flashback to an unknown character’s life, something that will become relevant later in the episode. This is followed by the audience for the new lead singer of Girl Dead Monster, the former lead singer Iwasawa of course having disappeared last time. That leads into a new version of the opening song, as performed by GiDeMo, with the new recruit, the band’s groupie Otonashi encountered last episode singing the lead part.

is this death metal

Unfortunately said groupie, Yui is a bit of an idiot and manages to strangle herself with her microphone cord at the end of her performance. Death metal indeed. A lively discussion about the merits of letting her be GiDeMo’s lead singer ensues, and what it would mean for the band’s skill at providing diversions. Which naturally leads into the unveiling of Yurippe’s latest plans, which are remarkably low key: the battlefront is to enter the baseball competition and win everything.

There’s a catch of course: any of the Battlefront’s teams that doesn’t win against the NPC teams will get “punishment worse than death”. Which leaves Otonashi in the lurch, as he teamed up with Hideki Hinata, who promised to get all the best members on the team, but instead had to make do with the Front’s collection of idiots, including Yui, who drives Hinata nuts and to frequent physical punishment for her obnoxious behaviour. And really, who hasn’t want to do something like this to a slightly too cutesy cat girl every now and then?

play ball

But of course things can’t quite stay this light hearted and in the actual baseball game it’s revealed it was Hinata who had the flashback, remembering how his failure to catch a ball during a final cost his school team the chance to compete in the nationals. If he and his team now win the game, does this means he’ll disappear? Not quite, as it turns out and this remains a humour episode, setting up plot developments but not resolving them, with some more of the Battlefront members getting a bit of screen time. Funny, but slightly out of place in a series with only thirteen episodes, though I appreciate that it isn’t all angst, all the time.

Angel Beats! rewatch 01 – Departure

Angel Beats logo

I first binge watched Angel Beats! on holiday in the South of France a few years when it was far too hot for my body type to actually do anything, sitting outside on the veranda of our holiday house late at night while the rest of the family was fast asleep. My expectations were low at the time, but it turned out to be one of the most compelling and emotional series I’d ever watched. One of those series that stay with you for a long time, which is why I wanted to rewatch it now and look more closely at why it mattered so much, what it got right.

Otonashi meets Yurippe

A strong first episode is of course essential to any new series, especially when it’s an original series with no existing body of work in other media to fall back on. Angel Beats starts with the Amber gambit: the protagonist wakes up in a strange world with no recollection how he got there or even who he is. He finds himself in the stands of the athletic fields of what seems to be a high school, facing a girl holding a sniper rifle aiming at something below. That’s Yuri “Yurippe” Nakamura who informs him that a) he’s dead b) he’s in limbo and c) he’s recruited in the fight against god and d) if he doesn’t join he’ll disappear from the world. She also explains that the girl she’s aiming at is Tenshi (angel) their direct opponent, at which point our hero decides to talk to her instead.

Tenshi kills Otonashi

Tenshi introduces herself as not an angel, but the student council president, he questions her about the world he is in, she replies that yes, he is dead and should accept the world as he finds it, and then he makes the mistake of shouting at her to prove it. Which she does. By driving a knife through his heart. Waking up the next morning in the school’s infirmary he finds his blood soaked shirt and finally accepts this is real. After this the still nameless protagonist is introduced to the rest of the SSS, the resistance battlefront put together by Yurippe and infodumping happens before the episode is wrapped up by the first battlefront mission.

Angel Beats cast

It’s a large cast for a thirteen episode anime and many of the secondary characters therefore are no more than stereotypes; their introduction is remarkably efficient at establishing their parameters. There’s the smart guy with glasses (“acutally an idiot” according to Yurippe), the lead singer of the all girl band, the aggressive loudmouth, the quiet but resourceful girl, the big martial arts guy etc. And there’s TK, the bandanaed English nonsense spouting show stealer. In later episodes a fair few of the cast will get their moment to shine, but for now they’re mainly there as background characters, with the focus purely on Otonashi, as he finally remembers he’s called, Yurippe and Tenshi, with the latter as the unstoppable antagonist.

For a first episode, this does everything right: introduce the main characters, establish the plot and setting, end with an action packed climax so it isn’t all talking heads. There’s even a bit of humour, with TK and the many slapstick deaths of Otonashi. But what sets it apart is the music. Both the opening and ending theme are great, even without the emotional impact they acquire as the series progresses, but even better is “Crow Song”, played by Girls Dead Monster as shown above, during Operation Tornado, the SSS daily operation which ends the episode. The first of what’ll become an album’s worth of great rock songs, good enough that their real live counterparts would play a series of sold out concerts. GiDeMo’s music is at the heart of the series and for me will always be associated with several heartwrenching moments, this song included.