That escalated quickly. Your move, Joe Hockey.
When I was a teen I was kinda annoyed that all the male characters being sold to me seemed to have no direction in life. Don’t get me wrong, women get a raw deal in movie roles, but this trend of the “directionless male slacker” never really sat right with me, mostly because I knew exactly what I wanted to do (write books) but faced various challenges to other social milestones that other men my age seem to reach so easily (love, sex, a job, a sense of community) so any attempt at writing something aimed at somebody my age was forever tainted by this lens rather than the “this is no ordinary love story” twee indie romantic comedy lens which bothered me because not only did a lot of these stories like Juno and (500) Days Of Summer assume I’d dated at least one woman by the point I’d reached the protagonist’s age, but that I’d be completed by this wacky woman who is market tested to appeal to men in ways I barely understand, namely because as an Aspie/high functioning autistic there are differing degrees of manchild I’m dealing with of the developmentally delayed kind as opposed to the 30-40 year old Peter Pan dreamed up by LA screenwriters living a world away from my own situation both in location and emotion. Like if I told somebody “I love MILFy, maternal women cause they’re fun to cuddle and really sweet.” you’d either write me off as a perv objectifying women or you’d, as a woman, be offended that I’m into maternal gals when you’re wanting to take your life in a much less motherhood oriented direction. Of course if you ask a non-Aspie guy what he likes and he says he’s into MILFy chicks, the subtext of a need for comfort and nurture is usually gone and you’d write them off as a perv. Most of the time.
So imagine my surprise when I read a lot of YA novels aimed at a dude/teenage girl YA audience and from Looking For Alaska to The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, I was saddened that these books weren’t about people like me, and I don’t mean that in the way the Girls writers mean about white people in New York, I mean “Do these protagonists who are male have any real identity beyond quirky hobbies and the quirky women they date? What art do they wish to create? What inspires them? Have any of these men spent nights awake in bed, alone, with AKIRA or Heavy Traffic on replay on their computer monitor as they return to the classics of not just literature, but comics or animation or TV or cinema for comfort? Are any of these men disabled? What if they’re like me, but they’re not white, yet I still relate to them?”
Then I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and found my answer. The problem wasn’t that the character’s race or gender made me care more or less about the story, it’s that a lot of these twee indie love stories the late 2000s tried to sell me on had no real grit to make the battles these men faced matter. Oscar Wao felt like a real person living in a time when nerds were a new idea and Hollywood had barely begun to sell out our imaginations for cheap cash ins. I could feel his pain when he described the sci fi leftovers of the library as his only comfort. These were not pandering references, they felt like this weird docudrama about the sort of person born in the wrong era, before he’d be loved for who he is. In comparison stories like (500) Days Of Summer, Looking For Alaska and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower felt like Buzzfeed fantasies of what being a young dude finding meaning in a turbulent era was, no real insight, just… Platitudes of what being a dateless dude with a clear goal beyond getting laid faces would be like if I was not born with autism and not socially isolated and not born in a country far away from New York City. Fucking Disney movies respected my intelligence and dignity more than these pandering ass stories, Disney panders, yeah, but they do it in this way you’re happy to buy into because it’s a bright and colourful cartoon world you know is fake but you wish was real. It’s like why Star Trek TOS is so brilliant, they created an empire out of styrofoam and tin foil, because it was all they had. And they made you believe it. I feel rather conflicted about stories aimed at 20 something dudes. I’m scared to admit that I don’t relate to Annie Hall nearly as much as I did the first time I saw Heavy Traffic, the tale of a lonely cartoonist that creates in his bedroom for lack of a better world. I’m sorry, Woody Allen, I need to get older for you to sell me on the idea your life is hard. I still can’t relate to (500) Days Of Summer the way AKIRA rocked my world, because it wasn’t just a story about motorbikes and psychic children. It showed me a side of men where they were emotionally vulnerable at times of crisis, in ways they’re afraid to let you see. I want good stories, not just a self insert fantasy. I want to come away from a story with another wrench in my toolbox to face life with.
And not in the ways you might think.
One of my Facebook friends (Jason Pettus) got into this little spiel about how AKIRA is only about as high quality as most 80s and 90s animation, and my brain just hurt from the wrongness of that statement. The reason why AKIRA is so revered is because of the hand drawn attention to detail, digital paint allows animation studios to make quality animation easier but to say everything post 2000s in animation is superior is just wrong, notably because moe anime has tainted the mainstream appeal of anime worse than the gore and tits aspect of anime of yore ever did. At least most of the time pre 2000s the tits didn’t belong to underage girls.
Yes AKIRA has pacing problems, but so does Scarface which also has a cult following centered around a once obscure film beloved by a subculture, namely hip hop. AKIRA is like to anime what Straight Outta Compton and Scarface are to hip hop, they defined the aesthetic of that artform’s era so much that today their historical importance is easy to forget. It’s also worth mentioning that AKIRA in most countries never goes out of print whereas unfairly ignored anime cinema like The Wings Of Honneamise sadly does. AKIRA deserves the audience it keeps getting, it’s a good movie. The Pioneer remastered dub makes it a good movie. The Streamline dub however devalues this artwork of anime to the point people forget it had substance beyond violence and bikers at all. There’s a scene in the Pioneer dub where Kaneda says he’s gonna send his dead friend his wheels, then crashes the bike in the wall. The Streamline dub destroys this by giving you no context as to why he does this, leaving you with the impression that he crashed the bike with no reason. HAAAATE.
AKIRA is about more than what people give it credit for, it’s about more than just bikers and gore. It’s this epic animated bromance remembered only as that slightly gory biker anime when it should be seen as the political turmoil laden, emotionally driven story about two biker guys whose friendship is torn apart by political and scientific meddling that it is. This movie made me feel emotions I rarely feel about anime or even film these days. And every time I watch it I return to those feelings I still feel now.
The political upheaval subtext in this movie speaks to me now in a post-Wikileaks, Occupy Wall Street world even more than it did when I first saw it in 2007 without a real world context to let this far future tale of biker gangs and psychic energy grow on me. It deserves more respect than it’s already given, and I fear respect for it’s fading away very fast cause it’s cool to hate on a classic.
So I’ve been reading The Hole Of Tank Girl by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. It’s pretty rad, perhaps even… cooler than me. And I’m okay with this. A lot of things I enjoy are cooler than me. Both the movie and manga versions of AKIRA contain characters who are cooler than I will ever be, and yet I’m not made angry by this. In examples like AKIRA and Tank Girl, the characters being badass men and women who trash the city being all rebellious is simply the life they lead. They’re not doing this to impress anybody, not even themselves. They aren’t afraid to show vulnerability even though doing this risks us thinking said badass men and women are uncool. But this makes them even cooler, because we now have empathy for characters we previously understood as cold, detached punks and bikers in an urban wasteland.
Comics like Tank Girl and AKIRA don’t mock the reader for being less cool than their creators or the characters, Tank Girl mocks a small subsection of the audience a bit, but the core audience of “people who enjoy sequential art” isn’t mocked nearly as bad as in Mark Millar’s comics work like Wanted or Kick Ass.
I need to read the Scott Pilgrim comics again to make a good judgement about this, but Scott Pilgrim’s worldview as a comic seems to hate hipsters and indie band culture as much as it celebrates them as the voice of a generation.
Can’t shake the feeling I wouldn’t get invited to the hip parties in Scott Pilgrim though. That’s always bothered me about this interesting, but flawed work. I may come back to this Cooler Than Me thought train later.
So there’s a heat wave in Australia, I can’t go outside easily so I’m watching anime like you wouldn’t believe. I watched AKIRA last night and I am baffled as to why I didn’t figure out this was my favourite movie ever sooner, because every time I see it, it never gets old.
Then I made the mistake of watching K-On! immediately afterwards. I felt angry for a while that anime had come to this. I felt little connection with K-On! after the first three episodes, Yui had promise, she was lazy and bad with money, and her friends were willing to help her become a better woman. But after that they just went into beach episode territory and blandness after that.
And I’m not just saying AKIRA’s better because it’s manly and violent… I’m saying it’s better not just because of its skilled cel animation but because it made me care about characters far divorced from my own worldview and subculture. AKIRA made me care about biker teens who would most likely beat me up for my lunch money, but their bromance between Kaneda, Tetsuo and the other guys was so strong and real that I felt a connection I’ve not felt in anime since I watched DragonBall Z as a child. There’s a scene in the Pioneer dub of AKIRA where instead of Kaneda crashing a bike into a wall for no reason like in the Streamline dub (by the way, the Streamline dub is for chumps), Kaneda explains he’s doing this to send his dead buddy his wheels. That’s so beautiful and poignant, yet so manly at the same time.
K-On! rubs me the wrong way because there was so much potential to explore womanly friendship the same way, even with a less ambitious animation budget than AKIRA… and they blew it to pander to moe fans instead of actually telling a story. Sure a lot of the jokes were funny but the plot was giving me nothing to work with emotionally.
You know what’s a slice of life show I used to love? Lucky Star. That show had both the laughs and the heart. It didn’t force you into drama that wasn’t earned. The laughs came as natural as the sweet, cute moments.
Lucky Star was the great slice of life show of my youth, and one of the only shows I had a chance to watch while I was still aniblogging during my high school years due to academic commitments.
I love anime, but I don’t love all of it. For a show to win my heart, it has to earn it. AKIRA and Lucky Star are totally different. But they won my heart with what they had to offer, whether they had master craftsmen with cel animation, or digital paint to tell their story on the scale needed.
And I mean, better than I expected.
You know that feeling you get when you think nothing new interests you, and you fall into a rut of watching internet caustic critics rip on movies you KNOW you’ll never watch because of the precise reasons these internet critics bring up - until you remember there’s still a LOT of anime you haven’t seen yet, despite your complaining there is nothing new you’re interested in?
Well, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex certainly lives up to the “complex” part of the title, but not in a bad way. It’s probably one of the best serialised TV shows I’ve seen in any medium adapted for television, it doesn’t just work as anime, and I don’t have to make excuses for it being watchable merely because it is anime and has craftsmanship to the animation. This Ghost In The Shell TV spin off show is probably a better introduction, or gateway if you will, to those American cop shows you see on TV occasionally while flipping channels, than actually watching a long running cop show where you feel lost as to who the characters are and what their M.O. is.
Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex puts the cop show aspect of television into anime without dumbing it down, there’s still action sequences - which are much easier to create for animation than a live action cop show which would require a much larger, Michael Bay budget - but the spectacle is not sacrificed for depth of character, actual thought provoking plotlines that give you ambiguous messages about the line between man and machine, while still being essentially an anime cop show.
Even the dub in the licensed English translation isn’t horrible, the characters sound good enough to really be in a real cop show, rather than American voice actors trying to be high pitched moe girls. For some anime shows, an American dub can actually provide a different approach in translation - while a dub of something like Love Hina is horrible because the voice acting is trying to translate all kinds of regional accents into national stereotypes - Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex doesn’t suffer from this since it’s almost as accessible as say, its eighties older brother theatrical movie Akira, another anime I love to bits. What I’m trying to say is that the dub of Ghost In The Shell: SAC actually doesn’t detract from what was probably already a kind of sci-fi cop show to begin with, and since we’re used to hearing American accents in cop shows, as horrifying as it is, culturally, to admit this - it’s actually more reasonable to accept this in Ghost In The Shell than a possible dub of K-ON!
Perhaps this is because Ghost In The Shell operates on an accessible American friendly action cop show level, mixed in with Japanese concepts of Shinto applied to living machines in this weird William Gibson way. In this show, machines may well have souls because they were once human. I’m starting to like Ghost In The Shell as a franchise as the separate, action girl sister franchise to the massively scoped Akira, which is more like the Watchmen of manga and anime, if not artistically, then historically.