Thursday, 7 October 2010

Me: in Japanese Media

Quick bit of self-promotion here:

I was interviewed by journalists from the Japanese magazine ASCII a couple of weeks ago, and the article is online here. A lot of what I'm talking about is music (my lazy, critical comments about crap Japanese music magazines Snoozer and Rockin' On were apparently controversial), but I also spend a lot of time talking about the similarities in the behaviour of fans between punk and indie "DiY culture" and otaku "doujin culture".

Oh, and it's all in Japanese.


Tytania: Documenting the Slow Death of Anime (Part 478)

Abandoned midway through episode 18.

The makers didn't seem to care, so why should I?

Seriously, there seemed to be this weary attitude of, "Oh, this'll do," permeating every creative aspect. The battles were dreary and one-dimensional, the animation cheap and crudely rendered, the voice acting cliched and grating, and the script... oh, the script...

Pyuu! Pyuu! Blip! Zap!: a typical battle in Tytania

Fan Hyulick is a Reluctant Hero, which puts him at the end of a noble tradition that includes Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard from Blade Runner, Harrison Ford's Han Solo from Star Wars, and, erm, Shinji from Evangelion. However, Fan is reluctant to the point of being practically catatonic, lacking any of the coiled intensity that is needed to provide tension with his happy-go-lucky exterior. The audience really needs to see this tension in a Reluctant Hero in order to emotionally engage with his reluctance. In Deckard's case, there is a brooding intensity about him that suggests a capacity for ruthlessness and violence that the character himself despises; Solo is in some ways the reverse, his reluctance to fight masking a romantic instinct that he is embarrassed about showing; Shinji is wracked with Oedipal traumas and insecurities that he tries to suppress. In all these cases, there is something sympathetic about the character revealed in his reluctance, be it Deckard's unwillingness to return to his violent past, Solo's roguish charm, or Shinji's sheer smallness in the face of what he is being asked to do. However, what the audience is really looking for is the moment when the hero casts away his reluctance and his repressed inner self is revealed in a blaze of cathartic glory: the violence of Deckard's conflict with the replicants, the excitement of Solo's rebirth as a hero of the Rebel Alliance, or the increasingly raw, primal emotions released by the the gradual exposure of Shinji's subconscious.

Fan Hyulick gives us none of these things. It is as if the writers were afraid that compromising his easygoing exterior in any way would make him less cool to whatever idiotic audience they were trying to appeal to, when in fact it just makes him seem two dimensional and immature. He forms an attachment to the girl Lira, although she's drawn in such a scattershot way that it's hard to see why; the only reasons we are given are that she's pretty and she can make good omelettes. Perhaps if your only meaningful contact with a female other is with your own mother, then perhaps cooking might be the first thing you reach for in your assessment of female characters, but for most of us not still living in the 1950s, this is not only extremely poor writing, but actually actively insulting.

In anime, women develop new personality traits entirely for the convenience of men.

In any case, it's soon clear that Lira only exists so she can be killed to give Fan his needed motivation. Not only that, but just in case you were moving into any sort of engagement with or immersion in the plot, there is another, equally irritating character on hand in rebel strategist Dr. Lee, to explain precisely this to us. Literally, Dr. Lee actually comes out and says something along the lines of, "Fan doesn't have the motivation to fight now. He needs something dreadful to happen to someone he cares about so that he'll be angry enough," just before Lira dies (in predictably contrived and clumsily handled circumstances) and then, hey presto, motivation (and, two for the price of one, woman character and hero's sole emotional connection removed from story).

As with Fan, the writers constantly seem afraid of immersing Dr. Lee's character emotionally in the story, with him constantly referring to the rebellion he is organising as his "research project", in a way that comes over more like teenage fanfiction than the sort of thing you'd expect from a professional writer.

As for the antagonists, the Tytania clan, they are certainly the more interesting side of the story, but not by much. Red headed Duke Jouslain is clearly the writers' favourite character, which perhaps explains why Fan Hyulick's side of the story seems to have been dashed off with such obvious disinterest. He is a likeable enough combination of sympathetic, intelligent and ruthless, and plays off well enough against his cousins, the Prim & Proper One, the Angry & Aggressive One, and the Sinister & Scheming One. Also of note is Prim & Proper, who is the only character in the whole first 75% of the series who displays any character progression at all, going from arrogant in episode one, to hurt and ashamed in episode 3, to wiser and somewhat improved in all subsequent episodes. To this, I offer the writers a hearty "well done," and append a humble, "more, please."

Evil and homosexual? What a shit!

Rather worse is Angry & Aggressive's gay younger brother, with whom the writers manage to play every sickeningly homophobic card they have to hand, portraying him as a vain, effeminate, cowardly, sadistic, sexually predatorial paedophile. This opens up a curious question about the moral universe Tytania's writers inhabit. On the one hand, they seem the think the idea of "freedom" and the culturally familiar environment of liberal democracy alone are enough to make us sympathise with the rebels, but on the other hand, their portrayal of women and homosexuals, not to mention the constant forelock tugging of the servant classes towards their social betters, remains trapped in the pre-war years. If this were simply a case of them showing how the social order of the Tytania universe is aligned, that would be admirable (a good science-fantasy should portray a world with different culture and values to our own), but there has clearly been so little thought, care and attention put into its construction that this view is hard to credit. More likely, they felt that making Angry & Aggressive's younger brother a homosexual was a handy way of "punching up" the script, making him seem more sinister; more likely they simply felt that making Lira good at cooking was the most natural way of showing that she's at heart a good woman despite her spunky exterior; most likely it seemed obvious to them that when a planet's old set of feudal overlords is overthrown by a new set of feudal overlords, the servants should remain loyal to their rightful rulers -- anything else would be sneaky and treacherous.

Unfortunately, generally speaking, there's not really enough to dislike in the Tytania clan to make Fan's rebellion anything you can really root for, and the whole story is far too simplistic and half-arsed to work in any other way. Tytania creator Tanaka Yoshiki's better known Legend of the Galactic Heroes exceeds Tytania by presenting a world where two likeable and sympathetic heroes, Reinhard von Müsel and Yang Wen-li, are driven into deadly conflict with each other, manipulated by forces outside of their control. Tytania, with considerably fewer episodes in which to tell its tale, simply has none of this sense of grand, overarching events influencing the story.

The way Tytania unfolds is equally uninspiring. Fan is presented to us as a tactical genius, but all his schemes seem to involve simply creating a diversion and then somehow breaking into/out of whatever armed compound he's currently stuck in/trying to rescue someone from, and simply trusting in his plot shield to help him carry it off. Ocean's Eleven this ain't. The space battles play out like video games, and 1970s video games at that, with the spaceships just lining up to zap each other with death rays a la Space Invaders. Das Boot this also ain't. The plotting and intrigue among the Tytania royal family is marginally more diverting, but only in the sense that being less diverting would mean multiplying a base interest level of zero. Every Tytania plot runs like this: A plots against B -> A moves against B -> B is revealed to have already known about A's plot -> A dies/is killed. Defence of the Realm, this most assuredly ain't.

Three men with crap haircuts: plotting (also scheming).

Most of all, however, Tytania just isn't Legend of the Galactic Heroes. This wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so transparently trying to be, but it is, and it fails pitifully. In every single respect it is its illustrious forbear's pale imitation, the writers, artists and directors failing to imbue it with even a glimmer of what made Legend of the Galactic Heroes the flawed but nonetheless impressive and well crafted work it remains to this day.