Saturday, April 13, 2013

Live Action: Part 2, Movies

I said earlier that Asian live action media's reputation for cheesy special effects is starting to wear thin.  The increasingly popular realm of dramas has given story-tellers even more room to play.  The Asian market doesn't seem to shy from the sci-fi and fantasy areas like the American market, so live action has seen a lot more of it lately.  Nevertheless, I still find myself a little embarrassed on behalf of some shows I adore, because I really wish they could look better.

On the other hand--while dramas have started to fill the role of cheesy practice fodder for special effects and stunt artists--Asian movies seem to have taken the next step. (The same thing happens in economics all the time.  someone has to fill the bottom rung, but no one wants to stay there forever.) In the same way that I didn't want to watch dramas based on my favorite anime series, I wanted to watch live action movies even less. 

In the American market, a comic book, video game, or novel being made into a movie used to mean someone wanted to exploit something vaguely popular for a quick and dirty script idea.  For a good part, it still does.  There are some exceptions, like Marvel and the newer Batman movies.  As for anime, I liked Speed Racer, but it was crucified before it could even hit the screens, and I don't think I need to talk about  Dragon Ball Z. Astro Boy was still marketed to kids.

For a long time, I had forgotten that the Asian media market is different.  Comics and novels are not an underground, they are auditions.  A successful story is usually a manga (comic) or a novel first. If it is popular or seen in the right light it may become an anime (cartoon) (a novel may become a manga and then an anime).  A successful anime is likely to sprout all kinds of media like video games, drama, audio drama, side stories in novels and manga, and perhaps even a feature length animated movie or live action movie.*

*this hierarchy is rather squishy and has gotten more so recently.  rungs may be skipped or inverted but the old order was always (novel =>) manga => anime =< video game, audio drama, drama, movie. Video games seem to break this order more frequently, as popular video games will often become anime then manga.

Despite this knowledge, my preconception was still that live action adaptations of my favorite comics, video games, and anime were little more than insults to the fans as our beloved fiction was stripped, whipped, and sent out to dance for the masses. So long have geeks and our fandoms been ridiculed and abused that we've learned to instinctually horde them in dark holes and often crawl in after them ourselves.  Whenever "normal" people handle them it feels like our dark secrets and precious treasures are being hung on display and held hostage awaiting approval.  We feel naked and don't know what's going to happen.

As "geek" culture becomes more popular, this is less dramatic.  It now feel more like reckless mishandling of unearthed artifacts than a brutal attack on our lairs and souls, but the defense mechanism is the same: we fear and hate it... and we still feel naked.  Whether it's accurate or not, whether they like it or hate it, we've still lost our shield: their ignorance.  Before if we said " I like D&D or Dragon Ball, they would wrinkle their nose and say "never heard of it." Now they think they have some idea of what it is.  they can attack us for it, or pretend they understand us.  More often than not, even if they like it, they still don't understand it like we do.  And sometimes that's worse. 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: being a geek isn't about WHAT you like, it's about HOW you like it.  There are anime fans that are not geeks, just as there are rock-and-roll or baseball geeks.  There are gamers and people who play games.

Whatever the case, when I found the Rurouni Kenshin movie, I couldn't resist.  When you enter a franchise that is that popular and beloved, particularly for BEING GOOD, if you don't make it up to par, you will be crucified.  While the prequel to this article says we should be able to make things even if they aren't done well, I reserve also that some things just should no be touched unless you are going to do it right.  An established series is one of them.

I needn't have feared. The Rurouni Kenshin live action movie was not only an acceptable addition to the series, it was actually a GOOD movie.  Some of it was a little ridiculous in that "you can totally tell this was meant to be an anime" but none of it left me with the feeling that "they should have just left it as an anime."  It's not only started assuage my fears about live action fantasy and anime adaptations, it actually makes me look forward to more.  While Kenshin is not the most magical of series, it does involve a lot of magic-like movement, which was handled very well.

Dramas may not have the money for it yet (or the techniques are still very expensive), but movies are really getting into shape. After all, movies are about 2-hours long, where a drama averages between 10 and 25 episodes (resulting in about as many hours of aired footage).  And for that long, it seems Asian productions at least have learned to balance good dramatic technique and flashy filming extras.

That established, I'm finally going to dare to say this in a public forum with little fear of being cursed by Murphy.  I first realized it-- believe it or not-- while watching The Dark Knight Rises with my friend, but it's come up since then, particularly with the news that Sony Pictures has bothered to copyright some appropriate titles.*

Devil May Cry the live action movie needs to be a thing.

It doesn't need to be a thing like Dragon Ball Z: Evolution was a thing.  It needs to be a thing like Ruroni Kenshin the live action film was a thing.  DMC is, after all, nothing if not fan service.  It's definitely one of those things that should not be done if not to be done right.  Not because it's an established series, but because it's the sort of thing that you only get one crack at.  It's either done right and the right people like it, or it's done wrong and no one will ever touch it again.

So while I'm less fearful, and even eager to so more in this live action format (the pretty actors doesn't hurt this desire), I'm still guarded about it. What has been seen can not be unseen.

*I will not say anything about the Reboot here.  that's a rant for a different time.  Probably for after I play it. And while, yes, the preemptive copyrighting is probably for the later version of dmc, rather than the former, it did bring the issue back to mind.

Live Action: Part 1, Dramas

In the past, when I wanted to watch something, I've tended to gravitate toward anime.  Anime, cartoons, video games-- this kind of animated storytelling is, to some extent, ideal for a "reader" like me that prefers my fiction bursting with magic, explosions, and-- I'll be the first to admit-- pretty (yes, "pretty" is a both an adjective and a noun in my vocabulary).

Just about any digital camera with a decent frame rate can be used to film a good-looking school drama, or neighborhood intrigue, but when it comes to fantasy and science fiction--particularly the flashy, action-y kind-- a director has two choices: find thousands of dollars or make it look really corny.  Sometimes it still comes out to both.

I've been watching more live action dramas these days, as that's the preferred media in Korean language.  The Asians, for years, have held a reputation for not shying away from action and fantasy-- even on a budget.  I've run into some pretty interesting live action shows this way, including fantasy, action, and suspense. But so far, my previous assumptions have remained relatively unchanged.

The fantasies I currently hold in the highest regard, Faith and Joen Woo Chi, still come down to cheesy wire-work and exaggerated hand gestures with awkward-looking computer-generated special effects.  Even on the good end, it looks weird and hokey.  I find myself thinking, "this wouldn't bother me if it were an anime."  and it's true.  At it's roots, anime was invented on the cheap (see Astro Boy and it's 8 frames per second). While I fully acknowledge that heavy action and fast movement in animation can still be costly, whether someone jumps two feet off a chair or fifty feet up a building doesn't make that much difference in your budget and can look just as good.  Someone throwing lighting bolts can look just as realistic as someone throwing a baseball.  Not so when it comes to filming actors performing super-human feats.

City Hunter holds a reputation for being a magnificent action piece. But you can see the money pouring out the ears. Fast-moving fight scenes, death-defying stunts, good wardrobe and set, and not to mention big-name and established actors.  It was developed from an old and popular series and clearly was produced with the high expectations that fact would precipitate.

The suspense genre seems to do the best on field of "we have money to pay good (well, decent) actors and cool original music, but not enough to throw around wild action scenes with special effects." (that's really how expensive it is. EVERYTHING can be top notch, and the budget still wouldn't amount to the money in good stunt work and special effects.) Bloody Monday does a lot of chasing and waving around guns, but the fight scenes are all shoving matches; and a main actor never throws or takes a punch.  That bothered me for a while. At first I chalked it up to the character's personalities, but after a while I expected even the gentle-natured main character to break down and hit someone; not even fight, just hit them.  When it never came to that, I knew it wasn't the writing, it was the technical work.  When they finally did pull out a knock-down drag-out martial arts scene, I knew why they hadn't before, and thanked them for it.  If that show had had the fight scenes it was probably meant to but they were done as that one scene had been, I know now that I wouldn't be able to respect it as much as I do.

So what to do?  Obviously, as with City Hunter, if you have the money, you can make things happen (doesn't mean it WILL happen, but it's possible).  For Bloody Monday, while the content was similar, it was impossible for it to be City Hunter.  In this case, I'm glad that they held back.  Since the focus was on the characters, the story is conveyed just as well when the action is implied. (And to be honest, City Hunter would have been fine too.)  I can see now that I'm much more likely to recommend a good story with no (or little) special effects than a good story with bad special effects (why, is probably an article for another time).

But if we hold fantasy and science fiction to the same rule, we end up with a big problem. Even assuming we only make big budget fantasy productions (like Lord of the Rings and Marvel's various cinema productions), where did those masterpieces come from?  People like george lucas and tokusatsu* artists practiced for generations generating techniques that now look rather silly, maybe did even when they were developed.  Without that base, we certainly wouldn't have anything worth showing now.  As for the little guys, they more than deserve a place, too.

*tokusatsu is a rather unique brand of Asian, particularly Japanese, live-action special effects.  They're used mainly for sci-fi, martial arts, and action productions like Godzilla, Ultra Man, and Super Sentai (Power rangers). It reffers both to the art and the type of production that uses it. In some circles it is even called a "genre" for lack of a better term.

I don't really have a solution, other than "grit and bear it."  I know that I can watch a hokey-looking show and enjoy it for what it represents.  I have to admit, when I recommend it to others, I feel a little embarrassed, but I suppose that's what it means to support something you love.

When I started writing this, I had something completely different in mind, and didn't even know what this bit of it would come out to, but there you go. Maybe I should start a social media movement: "Support a hokey sci-fi/fantasy live action, TODAY!"

To be continued...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"This show knows exactly what it is."

Hey, long time no see.  As if I'd see anyone around here anyway. I really should be doing other things right now, but I rambled this out a few days ago and felt like procrastinating, so it's going here.


I frequently use the description that a show/book/game ((from here on I'll reference a "show")) "knows [exactly] what it is." It's a quality that's difficult to define as the it involves first, the circular notion that something "is what it is." But it is pretty recognizable in my book, with a little training.  Generally, this kind of show holds a quality of being cliche and/or shameless, but does so in just the right way. It's cliches then become a reason-- if not the main reason-- for liking it. It also may exhibit some genre-savvy and, in more comedic moments, even reference itself as such in a 4th-wall breaking way. This kind of show was created, not to be profound or original or push boundaries, but to be very good at "what it is."  It ends up excelling at being a confident genre piece and tends to leave a bit of room for thought by the time it's finished.  In a sense, if the show were personified, it would have very high, but modest, self-confidence and would strut the world being itself for all it's worth-- and possibly more.

More often than not, this statement has more to do with characters and writing than production quality, but it shows all the more if the production is good, too. Generally if a show "knows what it is," it's a sign that the production staff knows "what it is" and have consequently put forth the effort to make it the best "what it is" that the show can be.

I think it was first used in my circle ((I think I got the description from one of my friends)) to describe Devil May Cry (game/anime/manga/novel/etc., 2001-present) and Star Driver (anime, 2010).  It applies to things like Highlander (movie/TV/anime, 1986-2007), Firefly (TV, 2002-2003), and Slayers (anime, 1995-2009). I've most recently used it on Bloody Monday (J-Drama, 2008, 2010). I think it can also apply to Mackerel Run (K-Drama, 2007) on the writing and production end, but from the politics surrounding the show and some signs that it may have been prematurely cut, it seems that the marketing and producers themselves weren't quite sure what they were dealing with. Mackerel Run is also an example that something doesn't have to be flashy or expensive to show it's colors.

Faith (a.k.a. "신의" [Shinui] or "The Great Doctor," K-Drama, 2012) could almost be described this way, however, as a bit of a counter example.  Sometimes it knew, and sometimes it didn't. Overall, it either didn't really know that it was "what it was" or didn't want to be "what it was," and lost steam.  "What it was," was a video game/anime-like piece of period fantasy;  what it wanted to be, was a time traveling love story.  One of the reviews on states, rather accurately, that Faith "doesn't seem to know how good it is."  It could have been an awesome, super-powered fantasy with political intrigue.  It didn't quite seem to have the courage for that.  In other words, the show didn't want to be itself. Don't get me wrong; it was still pretty good.  But often the most disappointing things are those that were good enough that you know they could have been better. I loved it anyway; if not for what it was, what it could have been... and Choi Young.

In my book, a show "knowing what it is" is a good-- nay, EXCELLENT quality.  It is a point of high praise.  However, these pieces tend to have cult followings, and may be very prone to developing anti-fans, probably most often because of their genre specificity and cliche-ness.  I understand this type of show is not for everyone, but more often than not, it's what I look for these days.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Dork" Has Become A Term of Endearment

So, the other night, I’m over at my friend’s house. We’re all geeks and this usually comes down to a bunch of us doing our own thing on our own computers. But my friend decides to be social looks down over my screen, studies it for a bit, and says, "Kaaaat, are you reading fanfiction?"

And then the whole room looks up at me with that knowing.

And I look around, then up at her sheepishly, and I says, “Nnnnnoooo..."

And she says, "Are you WRITING fanfiction?"

And I says, "Not at the moment..."

"That's 'cause you have writer’s block, don’t you?"


And then, because she says it so much, I can hear it coming: Dork.

But she knows me used to write fanfiction too, so instead she says, "We love you anyway."

And that's what "dork" means to me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sengoku Basara: Ridiculous Cast List

I discovered this anime. It's like a Samurai 7 x Rorouni Kenshin crossover on massive quantities of shounen and steroids (and no, those are not the same thing).

Sengoku Basara, 12-13 eps, 2009, FUNimation

Check out this cast:

Prominent Characters
John Swasey, Johnny Yong Bosch; Chris Ayres, Greg Ayres, Laura Bailey, Liam O'Brien, Maxey Whitehead, Patrick Seitz, Sam Regal, Travis Willingham, Vic Mignogna; Chuck Huber, Eric Vale, Kent Williams, Sean Michael Teague

Caitlin Glass, Cynthia Cranz, Wendy Powell

Production credits also have Justin Cook and John Burgmeir.


and Johny Young Bosch is ANGRY!!!! (that was a TotA Asch joke. If you don't get it, please dismiss.)

Only seen about one episode, but fun so far. I've been missing my kick-ass shounen. I got on a kick after Blue Exorcist (Ao no Exorcist). But I ran out of episodes, so I found the thing in the add in Blue Exorcist. See? Moral of the story: watch anime adds. Actually, it had already been on my radar, but still...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Translation Nightmares: part 1 - What's in a Name?

I had a mini rant on this. I covered it in a footnote on page 47…

Ok, so not page 47, I covered it in a footnote in Trinity Blood: RAGE!, but don't go read that right now, because I'm gonna do it again in a little bit more detail here. Then you can read the article and understand my rage without reading the footnote.

The biggest problem for these three Translation Nightmares stems from a fairly simple phenomenon, and most people interested in this sort of thing are already familiar with it. The Japanese phonetic system consists of roughly 45 basic parts. In this system, each symbol represents syllable consisting of either a vowel, a consonant then a vowel, or a closed n/m ending sound. Also, in this system, the English concept of "L" and "R" are covered by the same set of sounds. In the native, this representative sound can resemble anything from an "L" to a flipped "R" to even a "D." This, of course doesn't bother native speakers because their own language doesn't bother with the distinction (but believe me, they distinguish between plenty of other sounds). If anything, it's more of an issue for speakers of western languages to represent what they hear than it is for speakers of eastern languages to distinguish what they say.

Hellsing: Alucard vs. Arucard

The earliest of these three-- and probably most well-known-- is Hellsing's "Alucard vs. Arucard."

I stated earlier that when speaking standard Japanese, the distinction between "L" and "R" is a non-issue. Of course, this changes when trying to represent western or western-sounding words. Dracula, for instance, spelled something like ヅラクラ* comes back to the western speaker as something like "jurakura" or "julakula" but the important feature here is the ラ "ra/la" symbol. Some beg consistency, but a discerning interpreter would eventually recognize the word as "Dracula" and, rather than try to transliterate, a clearly non-sensical word, use the word that is intended.

*Non-Japanese words are represented by katakana in the Japanese written language. These are the symbols used here and hence forth for further illustration. p.s. I'm too lazy to look up the actual transliteration. It isn't important in this context anyway.

In the context of Hellsing, we have a character named アルカルド "Alucaludo" or "Arucarudo." In the translation, it came off as Alucard or Arucard. Other than the fact that one sounds like a name and the other sounds like an Engrish side dish, what's the nightmare here? Well, because translators and fans couldn't decide, we got two versions of the name in varying translations. Some demanded a "truness" to the "original" and that the name should only have "R"s (or only "L" but that argument doesn't seem to have shown up), but others recognized a subtlety: "Alucard" is "Dracula" spelled backwards.

The official translators eventually reached a "compromise": the dub said "Alucard" and the subtitles read "Arucard." Though this seems fair enough, considering subtitles are usually more literal and aimed at an audience more willing to do the interpretation themselves, some will still complain on both sides.

One Piece: Zoro vs. Zolo

The Zoro vs. Zolo mishap of One Piece has similar roots to Alucard/Arucard, so I won't spend any more time on that.

While most self-respecting American anime fans won't be caught dead with One Piece in their sights since 4kids raped it, I did read its original American publication in Shounen Jump's monthly magazine.

When I read it, my favorite character, the three-sword-wielding pirate hunter was named Roronoa Zoro and bore humorous references to numerous well-known characters, including South-Western hero, Zorro. He was an expert swordsman, at odds with the military because of his power and sense of justice. His headband often cast a mask-like shadow over his eyes. And Zoro's three-slash-in-one-pass finishing move even made the mark of a "Z" on the page. I was in junior high, and it was funny.

Then one day I opened the magazine and was introduced to "Roronoa Zolo." The f-ck? It wasn't until later that I learned of the anime on Fox (Zorro is "fox" in Spanish, BTW) and it became apparent that the name in the manga was changed to match it.

It is actually possible that, despite the fact that most of the kids watching the show had no idea who Zorro was, the walls of protection provided under parody provisions in copyright law simply couldn't withstand the wrath of the great god, Disney-sama. Or it's entirely possible that 4kids are a bunch of pussies. Or more possibly, Disney-sama and 4kids have teamed up to crush even more of our childhood.

Shortly after that change I lost interest in the series. Not to say that the name change caused me to stop reading, but the soured experience probably made it harder to hang on to what interest remained.

Trinity Blood: Ester vs. Estelle

This one is probably not very well known, but it's still the most gratuitous and infuriating to me.

Trinity Blood is infuriating enough as it is, and this character is probably most of the reason why. But her name is the icing on top.

Her name in Japanese is エステル "esuteru" or "esutelu," though when you listen to the Japanese dialogue, it sounds more like the latter. Most of the show is western in setting, so the translators at least got as far as "Ester" (even my computer tries to change "esuteru" to "ester"). But when you take into account the star-shaped birthmark on her body, numerous references to the "Star Queen," and the fact that she is informed by other characters in the show that her name means "star" in the ancient language of their country, Italy (making it Italian or Latin), it should be obvious: HER NAME IS ESTELLE, DAMNIT!!!!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Triumph! Dan Green IS in Slayers!?

((Haven't been at this in a while, have I?))

Having seen almost three and a half seasons of Slayers now (plus some movies and OVAs), one by one half the cast of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh have cropped up in this show. But one thing has been bothering me since the end of Next. Between Lord Gaav, Inspector Wizer, and Slayers’ tendency to reuse main character voice actors in minor roles, I could have sworn Dan Green was in this damn show. Credits thwart me time and time again with their “James Snider” as Lord Gaav or Actor Number 3.

I was about to let it drop when Slayers Revolution introduced Inspector Wizer. Surly THAT’S Dan Green. The show is ten years older now and, though they managed to round up most of the original cast, the voicing circuit has changed. That HAS to be him. “NoooOOOoo,” says the credits, “That’s Jay Snyder.” “Oh, fine!” says me. After all, I have been known to mistake Cam Clark for Dan Green, much to my dismay, but NO-LONGER! Anyway...

Wait a minute! “James Snider” and “Jay Snyder,” ten years apart with nearly identical voices? Clearly this is a stage name. Crispin Freeman is also known as Mark Percy, so it’s definitely not impossible. I was convinced, once again, that this was Dan Green in disguise, when my mom watched a few episodes of Revolution with me. She says, “Who is that guy? Why do I know him?” I have two younger brothers, 7- and 14-years-old respectively, each hit by a different wave of the Yu-Gi-Oh craze. I told her the character she was referring to probably sounded like Yugi, and dawning broke over her. My MOM recognised this voice; I note she said nothing of Goury (Eric Stuart). That’s it, I’m looking this sucker up NOW.

Anime News Network hasn’t seemed to catch on to this little game yet. Sometimes they list credits with other names or give “also known as” information, but James Snider, Jay Snyder, and Dan Green are all listed separately. The thing is, the first two only have a handful of credits to their name. I’m a terrible researcher so, to Wikipedia! Da-da-da da-da-da DAAAAA!!! (you couldn’t hear it, but that was a Batman reference.)

Wikipedia says that Dan Green also goes by Jay Snyder, Jack Bean, and James Hadley. It says nothing about “James Snider” but come-on! Look at it! Listen to it! My MOM recognised this guy. Wikipedia also lists Slayers in his filmography: Gaav, Wizer Freion, and Zannafar. Totally called that.

I suppose I could go a little deeper and get some more conclusive evidence than Wikipedia, but I’m lazy. If anyone wants to do it for me or prove me wrong, I’ll accept that. For now, I will revel in my triumph, or at least the fact that enough other people thought the same thing as me to make it fact on Wikipedia.

You can’t hide from me with a stage name, Dan Green! Especially two, nearly identical stage names. Not very creative are you?