Tuesday, December 16, 2014

FUCK THIS TROPE!: Framing the Hero

Recently, I went over to a neighbor's house to see the eight-week-old puppy the family had just bought, and since the youngest child, who was still in the Nickelodeon age group, was the one controlling the living room TV, my visit wound up having Henry Danger on.
Now I just wanna say for the record that I'm completely unfamiliar with this show. Hey, my specialty is cartoons, not live-action kids' sitcom fluff. Now anyway, I only stayed long enough to see the end of one episode and the start of another, and, as I'd anticipated, I found it rather boring. Hell, I didn't even see or hear any hints of laughter from the kid who was watching it in the first place. But I'm not here to bash a show I've barely even seen. No, what I'm really bashing is what the plot of the second episode that played was playing out to be. Basically, it's some sort of birthday party, the main character and his friends are playing with an automatic pitching machine, and it goes haywire and knocks a girl off the building they're on (she survives, though, because kids' show), and soon everyone's quick to gang up on the main character, accusing him of setting the thing on a higher, more dangerous level despite his claims to the contrary. It's at this point I decided to get the fuck outta there, though not before sharing with the kid my absolute hatred for this type of plot.

And see, this is where I'm going at attacking this kidcom I know next to nothing about. I'm introducing a new feature, which I'd like to call...


Basically, I go over tropes, plots, cliches, and other trends I see in cartoons that piss me off. I know I kind of broke a rule by going into live-action, but hey, shittiness isn't just limited to cartoons. As you can tell from my talk about the Henry Danger plot, my first topic is one of my absolute most hated plots not just in cartoons, but in media in general: that fucking plot where someone, usually the protagonist, is framed by some bad guy, either by impersonation or by proxy, and as a result, only a select few people are willing to help them get out of the mess, while pretty much everyone else goes into full on Dickwit Mode. No matter how smart they are, any character who isn't close enough to the lead often becomes the intellectual equivalent of Ralph Wiggum, or Son Goku, or Miley Cyrus.

Aside from the forced stupidity a number of characters suffer from, another problem is often that the circumstances themselves are often forced. For instance, the video game Super Mario Sunshine's plot starts with a doppelganger Mario covering Isle Delfino in graffiti, right when he goes there for vacation. And the residents don't even bother with a fair trial, even basically telling Peach to shut up when she tries to tell their side of the story. They just keep him on the island to clean up the mess he didn't even make, and continue to act like dicks to them, even after they see the fake Mario. Obviously, the story's not the main point because it's a video game (and not even a bad one at that), but still.

Finally, this damn plot's been used to death! It's like writers somehow think it's a good way to inject a plot with conflict, ignoring the other problems I've listed with it. I've even seen it been used in anime and manga, despite its origins (as far as I know) being in western works. One example was a chapter I read of Rosario+Vampire, where Tsukune is framed of being a pervert by an actual, honest-to-God pervert. On top of that, it's been used as the whole goddamn basis of certain works! This is why I'm never going to watch Stephen J. Cannell's Renegade, so please don't ask.

That said, there are some writers smart enough to make them work, though it usually helps when the bulk of non-important characters are morons to begin with. An excellent example is "Powerpuff Bluff", the episode of The Powerpuff Girls where three grown male criminals impersonate the kindergarten-age heroines, as an obvious parody of the plot. On another note, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? gets a pass from me because A) they avoid the idiocy that comprises the shittier examples (for instance, the only toons explicitly implicating Roger are weasels working for the real culprit, Judge Doom) and B) part of it is implied to be bigotry towards toons, a remnant of the original book's themes of racism.

But still, I fucking hate this plot. It's overused, it's stupid, it needs to die. I don't get why so many hack writers continue to use it despite so many factors showing how dumb it is.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cinema's Lost and Found

Over at ToonZone, Daikun posted that Empty Socks, a long-lost short from Walt Disney's early cartoon series for Universal starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, has just been found, sans about half a minute, in two poorly labeled reels in Norway. Now, I hate to be cliche, but when I first caught wind of this news, this was the first thought on my mind:
Now, in my opinion, I can't think of anything more frustrating than the idea that a film or TV show or, hell, ANYTHING has been lost to the ravages of the time. It doesn't matter whether it's a flawless classic or a total piece of trash. The fact is that it fucking existed, and it pisses me off when I can't sate my curiosity by watching what many consider to be a milestone, such as Bray Studio's The Debut of Thomas Cat, believed to be the first cartoon made entirely in color.

Thankfully, a number of films thought to have been lost have been found in private archives, including the aforementioned Oswald short. For instance, we all know about London After Midnight, a still lost film everyone's talked about, and which I won't discuss much further because M. Bison already filled my overdone quota for the article.
Instead, I'll turn my attention to another film, one long believed to have been taken by the same fire that decimated you-know-what, the early Three Stooges short Hello Pop!. Just last year, a print was found in Australia, restored, and shown in public. A DVD was put out via the Warner Archive just three months back.

Going back to Disney, while a number of Oswald shorts and several installments of Walt's previous series, the Alice Comedies, are still lost, pretty much every cartoon put out by his very first studio, Laugh-O-Grams, exists today, including shorts thought lost, and thanks to the internet, will continue to the exist until the sun expands and fries our asses, and that won't be for another 5 billion years.

Unfortunately, cases like Hello Pop!Empty Socks, and the Laugh-O-Grams shorts are the exception rather than the rule. The website Silent Era, a great resource for silent films, estimates that a whopping 85-90% of silent era movies are gone forever. So why the hell are there so few films from this era still around? Because apparently, people back then were assholes who didn't give two shits about film preservation back then.

Okay, I'm sorry if I sounded like an ignorant dick with that last sentence, but can you blame me? I've been spoiled by living in a society where film preservation isn't just common, it's a must. Back in the early days of cinema, film was considered a disposable medium. If anything, the film preservation nuts today probably would've been considered lunatic hoarders by the standards of people living in the very early 20th century. This was well before home-based entertainment like television and home video were even thought about, so attempting to save a film for future generations was considered impractical for all intents and purposes.

That said, the other major obstacle in film preservation really has little to do with people not giving a damn. Really, film stock at the time was volatile as all get-out, no thanks to the nitrate compounds that made it up. It was very easy for it to decompose into useless, disgusting jelly, or maybe fall apart, turning into worthless dust. There was really no way to stop it from undergoing this sad process. All one could do was delay the inevitable through very specific storage conditions which archivists had little patience for. On top of that, the shit was more flammable than a Ford Pinto. Dark vaults with temperatures that can exceed 100°F in the summer are already insufferable for humans, but with nitrate film, it's a fireball waiting to happen. Such fires were what decimated the filmography of Argentine animation pioneer Quirino Cristiani, including what's believed to be the first feature-length animated film in the world, El Apóstol.

So all in all, film loss fucking sucks, but it's a cold fact of life that a lot of films will probably never be seen again. Despite this, we still find long-lost films on occasion (Hell, the late Mickey Rooney's first film was also found earlier this year), and you never know who will finally spill the beans on what priceless, long-unseen film they've been keeping to themselves for decades.

As for me, I'll over at my bed, praying to any famous and not-so-famous religious figure I can think of that some will please, PLEASE find a copy of El Apóstol! And if anyone happens to read this with a copy of the film, for the love of all those Gods and Goddesses, DON'T hesitate to chime in!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Toonami: Manipulating the Manual

Recently. the revived Toonami block on [adult swim] has started a campaign where viewers can write through mail or through the Tumblr page about their suggestions for the future of Toonami. Now, I haven't been watching Toonami much. Soul Eater has ended, I've decided to just marathon Space Dandy in the future, and I really couldn't get into Attack on Titan, so I dumped that after two episodes (the same amount it took me to abandon Kaze no Sitgma, though that was more Ayano Kannagi's fault; seriously, screw her), though I have Gurren Lagann set up on the good ole' DVR. That said, I do hope for the future of Toonami.

Now, here's a rundown of my main ideas for helping Toonami get better:

  • Dark is fine, but not too much. Darkness is fine in moderation. However, it's too much when it starts to become a noticeable problem. Not because of personal offense or because it evokes too many negative emotions, but rather, if all it is is darkness, darkness, and more darkness, then it can become clear that it's little more than a crutch for a predictable, bog standard story (this was my main problem with what little I saw of Titan). The opposite is true. Too much lightness isn't just insufferably saccharine, it's also a lazy attempt to hide mediocre writing, which leads to shit like Fantasista Doll.
  • Broaden horizons. Don't just work with the same two or three companies. While Aniplex, FUNimation, Viz Media, and Turner each have a good action library, that may not be quite enough. Companies like Sentai Filmworks and... I can't really think of anyone else, but they too have a great library of action shows that'd fit right in.
  • Try to get more airtime, if possible. More slots means more shows. There's really no other way to explain this. And finally, and this is a biggie...
  • DON'T LET NOSTALGIA ALONE GUIDE OPINIONS. Let's be honest here: we've all liked stuff that turned out to be garbage when we got older. In fact, I remember liking Super Duper Sumos. Truth is, while there are greats like Rocko's Modern Life and Animaniacs that never go bad no matter how ancient they get, we're more than likely going to realize what terrible shows we liked. So the best advise is to ask with caution.

So that covers what I want to talk about. Not much else to add except support Toonami.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Golden Time - Not Golden, But Still Good

No, this is not my review series. This is just where I wrap up my thoughts on a series I just finished watching for the first time from start to finish on TV or online. My opinion may change from time to time, but it's just to provide closure anyway...

UPDATE 4/22/14: I lied. This really is the start of my text review series. So count this as my first "official" review.
Golden Time finished today in Japan. The show, based on the series of light novels by the author of Toradora (note to self: try to watch that sometime) and directed by Chiaki Kon by JC Staff, airing for two cours starting in October. The anime was pretty hit or miss, but I enjoyed it overall.

The story revolves around college student Banri Tada. He lost his memories one night after confessing his feelings for Linda, his high school classmate, being knocked off a bridge and having to spend a year at the hospital as a result. The story starts as Banri heads to law school for the first time. There he gets acquainted with Mitsuo Yanagisawa, who he immediately befriends. Unfortunately for Mistuo, his childhood friend Koko Kaga has chosen to attend the same university as the two, despite having been set to go to a private college. She immediately makes her mark as an obsessive self-proclaimed love interest even Lola Bunny from The Looney Tunes Show would call loco. When looking to join clubs, the two guys, plus classmate Chinami Oka, have a trial at the film club. But the tea club is being held at the exact same place. By the way, love the tea club girls. Best characters on the show. Anyway, the drunks capture Banri, and he gets acquainted with another guy they manged to capture, Takaya Sato, a.k.a. 2D. Later, another student invites Banri, a lonely Koko, and 2D to come to her club meeting. Turns out, it's a freakin' cult. Banri and Koko barely escape, and the two exchange tidbits of themselves: Koko discusses her crush on Mitsuo and how she handles it, while Banri discusses his amnesia. Eventually Linda, who came to the same university unaware of the fact that the guy who confessed to her also applied to the same school. Later still, Mitsuo decides to talk with Chinami, causing Koko to head on into full on bitch mode and go apeshit on the poor girl, the final straw that pushes Mitsuo to tell her off and break it off with her. Koko takes it rather hard at first, but she soon accepts it and joins Linda's festival club with Banri. Okay, this is getting a little long. Just Google a plot synopsis, because if I just continued, this would take forever.

When the first episode aired, many people I knew were ready to write it off, claiming Koko to be too unlikable and Banri to be too boring. But it turned out better than most people thought it would be by the end. The characters are serviceable, and manage decent relationships. What I also enjoy is that it tends to avoid a lot of the usual romcom cliches. Now, I don't have much experience with the genre, but any American with at least a fraction of a brain like myself are aware of the inevitable tropes. Thankfully, Golden Time tends to not most of them. No forced misunderstandings, the love triangles are downplayed immensly, no shitty pop songs-well, except for the second opening. Oh sweet cocksucking Christ, the second opening. And of all things, I actually kinda liked the Ghost Banri thing as well, as it did act as a decent storytelling element, though his appearance at the end, which I'll cover later, didn't really work for me.

That said, the series does have a fair bit of flaws. First of all, the storyline is all over the place. One moment the characters are discussing their pasts, the next they're at a nightclub, then they go to the beach, and then Banri dresses like a woman. I'm not kidding; that actually fucking happens. Also, sometimes there's several moments that come off as really corny, especially whenever Banri and Koko affirm their love.

I think my biggest problem with the series, however, was its handling of its moral. Don't get me wrong, it's a great moral with a great setup. When Banri's memories start coming back at random, at the same time risking the new Banri, he's forced to find ways to prepare for his complete change. Koko even breaks up with him, and he finds ways to make sure none of his friends forget him, even if he forgets them (except Linda, of course). This lead to our moral, one about how while some memories will be lost, the best thing to do is to move on and make new ones. Even if you lose friends, you can find new ones without having to completely forget about the old ones. That's absolutely brilliant! That would really be a great note to leave off on. It's a bittersweet note that proves that life goes on, and while the past shouldn't be forgotten, the future is just as important. Unfortunately, there's one little problem: remember how I said I liked Ghost Banri as a viewpoint? He also worked as a hallucination of Banri's, foreshadowing his returning memories. Well, as it turns out, he's goddamn real. And Banri never really moves forward, he just sticks to his old friends! He gets a cheap "get back the girl" ending, Linda never really cares about her own confessed love for Banri, and everything gets a reset button. What the fuck!? That's not giving us a good moral, that's just a moral committing suicide! That's right, the moral fucking kills itself!
Okay, all in all, despite a bad ending that fucked up its own message and a host of other problems, Golden Time falls in to the "good" pile. It's not a great show by any means, but aside from the finale, I never felt like I was really wasting my time on it. My score would probably be a Thumbs Up.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Thoughts on Video Quality & Aspect Ratio

Whenever a DVD or Blu-ray comes out, no matter if it's live action or animation, the reviewer will generally look at video quality. Usually, the less pixels there are, the happier they'll be. And it's not just reviewers, either. A lot of people on forums I go on will argue about video quality. The people on the Anime News Network forums in particular appear to absolutely hate DVDs with a passion, only buying Blu-ray anime, whether or not the release includes a dub. I had a Digital Video class in my high school during the first half of my Junior year, and my teacher was going on about how video quality should be as high as possible. My point is this: what's the big idea?

Well, to be honest, actual video quality doesn't concern me. Honestly, most people can't actually tell image quality unless they sit very close to the TV. My main concern is, well, preserving the aspect ratio.

I hate to sound like a stubborn purist, but displays like the above really bother me. The top image is fine, but the bottom image makes the poor bastard look like a hippo! And the next image is even worse; at least the one above keeps the whole image.

Now, for context, the cleaner-looking part is from the recent Blu-Ray release sets of Dragon Ball Z. As you can see, part of Nappa's been cut off. It's even worse with the old trend of pan-and-scan releases, where sides of the image would be cut off, costing us even more of the image. I won't give an image, but I will show you a Turner Classic Movies promo detailing this bullshit, and why the network prefers to air movies letterboxed and/or pillarboxed.
See what I mean.

So, in short, I have no problem with actual video quality, just with aspect ratio. And thankfully, aspect ratio usually isn't a problem anymore.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winnie the Pooh and the Vocal Switcheroo

Okay, so I was doing some usual video surfing on YouTube, see? I stumbled across a collection of old commercials from WFHL, a Springfield, Illinois independent that would later evolve into WBUI, the area's CW affiliate. These aired during The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (which I honestly didn't know even got into syndication; I always thought it was exclusive to ABC and Disney's cable networks). The video left in the show's catchy as hell opening, but it was a little different...
*NOTE: The theme comes on at 7:27. It's cut off a bit, though; it starts at the lyrics, "Looking for fun, chasing some honeybees"*

...wait a minute, what's with those vocals? It sounds like it was sung by an R&B singer. For comparison, here's the opening as shown on Disney's cable networks.
Yeah, it's a pretty obvious difference. I was already aware of how certain Disney cartoons of the era (the video came from 1994) would have different intros depending on the network (Darkwing Duck and Goof Troop being two notable examples for me), but this caught me off guard. Just goes to show that even with cartoons (Disney in particular is notorious for shafting all its older material, not just its cartoons, not even allowing most of them to get legal streaming) no matter what out there is given up on as gone from the fabric of time, there's always some guy with a VHS recorder who'll open up that can of worms.