Thursday, March 31, 2011

Blablathon Episode 8

Christmas episode. Has about as much heft as the phrase "Christmas episode" suggests. Lots of monochromatic snow imagery, lots of Christmas kitsch imagery, all of which I'm an easy mark for. Dropped hints about who has a crush on whom; empty-calorie human interest subplottery. Herogirl's kid sister drops some hints about how Herogirl once bought a Christmas gift for a boy she loved but she never gave it to him. Later, it's cold and Heroboy doesn't have any mittens, so Herogirl gives Heroboy some mittens. HMMMM.

Also Ponytail Scientist Guy finds a big pretty crystal stuck in the wings of the Rahxe-Robot and doesn't stop to consider that it might be dangerous. Nope, he just puts it on a necklace and gives it to Blonde Scientist Lady. No one notices when it begins growing, as a spooky phantom Mu Pilot (all the Mu monsters have human pilots operating them be remote control) appears in the window behind her, watching, waiting...

In the second act all the pretty snow turns into freezing imagery as a wintry Mu grows from the crystal necklace and absorbs Blond Scientist Lady in its ice, with funky visual stylings. Heroboy in his Rahxephon tries to save her; he can't hit the Mu because BSL is a human shield. Mu freezes Rahxephon with wintry ice magic as BSL gives a manic monologue about how unloved she is and how cold (geddit?) Heroboy is. And she weeps blood.

Then Yellow-Ribbon Mysterious Girl manifests inside the Rahxephon and gives Heroboy a little cuddle, which warms him up and thaws the ice. Hot sphere of sun shimmers behind Rahxephon as it whips up a force sword somehow and carves BSL out of her Mu. Day saved. By cuddles. My kind of Deus Ex.

Coda: Christmas party. Herogirl's kid sister notices Heroboy's gloves and mentions that they're the gift Herogirl bought for her long lost love. HMMMMM.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Blahblahthon Episode 7

Once my Brother and I were sitting around watching Akira when my Dad strolled through the room, just in time for the bit where Tetsuo, the out-of-control mutant boy, starts growing at an explosive rate, like a time-lapse tumor, and accidentally squashes the girl he loves, in gruesome explicit colorful animation. Dad said "What kind of mind thinks up this stuff?" I guess the answer is: a mind that had two atomic bombs dropped on its cities. And now Japan gets even more apocalyptic death, disease and dread.

All of which is worth bearing in mind as I finally get around to Episode 7 of Rahxephon.

This episode starts with Heroboy entering his big goofy giant robot through some kind of magic portal in the mission control room. The portal is a little pyramid with a picture of an Angel (I guess; it's a human with wings, anyway) and Heroboy just walks through the wall. His head passes through the angel's Barbie-doll crotch, because animators are bored. Then there's lots of vulvaesque additional portal for him to travel through, because animators are lonely.

Pony-tailed scientist guy and blond scientist woman run some kind of benign experiments on the boy in the 'bot while flirty-flirting. Uh-oh, here comes the evil albino guy, who knows Ponytail Guy somehow! Let's hope no love triangles develop, else Blondie might start driving too fast and squealing her tires (spoiler).

Also that Reporter suspects the Government just might be hiding a Giant Robot. And there's a colors-of-Bennington team of fighter jet pilots joining the Let's-Fight-Mu-Monsters gang.

In Act Two our hero in his Bot and the fighter jet team have to fight a robot on stilts. For a while all we see are stilts rising into the clouds, which is pretty neat imagery, then the good guys rise above the clouds and the robot hits them with fire and ice and lightning and lasers and bananas and I lost track. Squad resents running backup for a boy, goes in for the kill despite orders to hang back and cover Heroboy. Mu almost kills them.

Heroboy saves the day via the power of remembering the folks back home and getting all determined to protect them, just like in WWII movies.

Afterwards the Fighter jet team leader (a buxom Cowgirl, cuz animators are in show biz) gets dressed down by Haruka, the woman who brought Heroboy from Tokyo Pooptrumpet (I know, it never gets old!) and just might have the spoiler warning hots for him. Haruka softens the blow by saying oh yeah thanks for fighting and all.

Reporter dude sniffs that Heroboy just might be piloting a secret giant robot, and asks Heroboy why he fights. Heroboy responds that it makes him feel connected to something bigger than himself. I used to think that was just the kind of thing screenwriters like to put into characters' mouths for some reason; today I understand, which is why I write blogposts about last decades' anime. Makes me part of something grander and more important than myself: old cartoons.

Quon, the red-braid Mystery Girl, wakes up after the Mu fight, magically knows about the fight, and announces to the air that Heroboy shouldn't fight. Instead he should Tune Himself To The Song. People say things like that in Anime.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Prog Slog

I've been too busy vomiting on airplanes to keep up this blog or call people on their birthdays (Four barf bags and two garbage bags. Really. I used to be able to take a plane. Wuhoppen?) But fear not, I'm going to get back to that Rahxephon recap you've all been waiting for. First I have to talk about MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" video.





I don't think I ever actually watched this back when the song was unavoidable, but for some reason Laurie showed it to me last week and I've been pondering it, probably more than whoever directed it did. Now that I've watched the thing it's obvious to me that MC Hammer wasn't a rapper so much as a dancer with a hip-hop inflected patter. Apparently it was that silly baggy-pants dance that caught Laurie's eye back when she was fond of wacky entertainments like this:






But as fun as that is, let's stay focused on Hammer. Notice that the "Can't Touch This" video's full of beautiful dancing women of various ethnicities. At several points Hammer does a little gag about watching the women and not being able to decide between them. Then in the final shot he starts dancing with the whit

est looking girl we've seen in the video, a blond in some kind of schoolgirl outfit. I think interracial relationships just might save humanity; by extension I certainly have zero problem with a black man dancing with a white woman, and if the shot were in the middle of the video somewhere I wouldn't have anything to say about it. But placing this essentially modular shot at the end of the video suggests a narrative Hammer probably never intended; faced with a bunch of tantalizing black and Latin women, he chooses a blond honky schoolgirl. What kind of message does that send? White girls are the most desirable women? No wonder White America elected him White America's Favorite Rapper, a position held in tandem with Vanilla Ice.

Anyway, I tried to extend the old school rap video watching party with one of my favorites, Egyptian Lover:







Laurie was unimpressed. I love that shot of his Dad making time with mature, plus-sized women. Inspiring. And terrible mummies make everything better.

#

So today I listened to a really long podcast (Rogue's Gallery) devoted to prog-rock, the kind of thing that used to be called Art Rock by fans and Pomp Rock by foes. I call it The Stuff I Listened To In High School.

Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator... say what you will about them, but at their best they didn't sound like anyone else. No one listened to Yes and thought "Yet another band that combines symphonic song structures, Easter Sunday organ solos, and Les Paul-inflected guitar stylings." Nobody listened to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and said "Of all the militantly atheistic bands that play Bartok-flavored synthesizer flatulence noises, which one am I listening to?" King Crimson not only sounded like no one else, it didn't even sound like itself; founder Robert Fripp continually replenished the band through the magic of firing everybody.

Modern bands that position themselves as carriers of the Prog torch, though, seem to start with the question: "Which familiar band should we sound exactly like: Styx, Kansas or Whitesnake?" None of which fit my definition of Prog, although Kansas's fancy-pants boogie and portentious lyrics make them ringers. Styx also has a Prog-influenced emphasis on fancy interplay, high harmony vocals, virtuosity and SF/Fantasy concepts, but they are disqualified for sucking. If Prog bands must be derivative, why don't they at least copy actual Prog bands? I feel like I ordered baklava and got a baggie full of crumbling Oreos.

Another question modern Prog bands seem to ask: "Should we get 12-year-old Goth girls to write our lyrics, or 12-year-old Goth boys? Hmm, decisions decisions." Not to slur 12-year-old Goths; just that their poetic stylings shouldn't be coming out of grown-up mouths. If I had cash enough and time I'd buy a few Norton anthologies and lob them at Prog bandleaders. Please, guys and girls, write lyrics that couldn't have been whipped up by Instant Lyric Generators.

In the Seventies, it seems, Prog and Heavy Metal were seen as diametrically opposed. (I'm going on hearsay with this: my age was in the single digits at the time.) Prog was by and for Eloi, while Metal was by and for Morlocks. Then Punk came along and revealed just how closely related Prog and Metal were. They shared a fussiness and conceptual goofiness that Punk could only jeer. So current Metal and Prog seem to cling to one another for support. They blend the bombastic in-your-face heaviness of Metal with the maximum-arpeggios-per-square-inch fretboard knitting and precision ADD drumming of Prog.

From a quick online not-paying-any-money survey of the situation, there are some rewarding post-Seventies Prog acts out there. I'm indebted to the book Rocking the Classics by Edward Macan for tipping me to most of these.

(Something goes wonky with the formatting past this point. I'm learning not to care.)

  • There's a Swedish or something band called Anglagard that, from the online samples I've investigated, made instrumental music that sounded exactly like Yes during its early Seventies peak. They were doing this in the early Nineties, when I was yearning for Yes to make that kind of music; at the time Yes could only make music that sounded like a bunch of guys who hated each other and were only back together for the money. If only I'd known about Anglagard.







  • Apparent fan favorite Marillion is supposedly a Prog band, but I don't hear it. They sound like a really good adult pop act, though. I wonder why they aren't VH1 faves. Does VH1 still exist? Anyway, the first stuff I heard from them sounded like Mandy Patinkin's Nyquil-fueled tribute to Elton John, but deeper listening showed some kind of real adult sensibility, with life experience and earned wisdom, seems to be encased within this prettiness; if this isn't Prog, it's probably better.







  • Ozric Tentacles. Jam band flirts with House. Fortunately they seemed to have recorded about five hundred albums: look for the corny Shroom art. That's how you'll know.






  • Edhels. French. The 17 year old Aaron within thinks this is pretty fab. A dulcet, delicate quality that defines what I loved about Yes's best efforts.


  • Djam Karat. Another smart (D)jam band. Forty years earlier they would have called themselves Carrot Jam. Lead guitarist looks like he knows what 3D20 means. Racially integrated, which matters more than it maybe should to this guilty white liberal. Anyway, really fun nerd-testosterone stuff.



    • Hermetic Science, the band of Edward Macan himself. He was too modest to mention it in his book. This video quality matches the professionalism of the Yes concert video I had on videotape in high school. I dunno why a band that favors vibraphones over electric guitars is relegated to performing in what looks to be a hotel room.










    After mentioning instant lyric generators I decided to see if there were any. Yes. I composed the following wonderfuless with it. The lousy formatting is the Generator's, not mine, and It, not me, swiped from Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. Please note that Verse 2 is structured more like a chorus than the first verse.



    Public Restroom

    Verse One:
    Smells bad
    And the whole world is driving you mad
    my leg
    But you may feel a little sick.Can you stand up?

    Chorus:
    public restroom
    There was lightning in your arms and then the
    vomiting in a garbage bag
    Me and some guys from school

    Verse Two:
    public restroom
    Is there anybody in there?
    where's my money
    Is there anybody in there?

    Chorus Two:
    public restroom
    Is there anybody in there?
    vomiting in a garbage bag
    Bound to win a prize

    Chorus to Fade

    Eat it, Leonard Cohen, there's a new boy in town.