Gurren Lagann- The Consequences of “Fighting the Power”

At its core, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a show about maturing as an individual and rebelling against oppression. Despite the equal importance and narrative intertwinement of these themes, today I will be focusing on the latter. More specifically, I will be looking at how, without the second half of the series, Gurren Lagann would not be remembered today.

Rebelling against oppressor is one of the oldest, and therefore, most used storytelling devices. After all, rebellion is a frequent and important element of real-world history. We saw revolution in the earliest human societies, and we still see it regularly throughout the world today. Further, it is so simple to garner support for a character when they are fighting against a tyrannical regime that is trying to put them down.

The first half of Gurren Lagann takes that narrative device and boils it down to its absolute pure essence. We are provided with one of the most clean-cut, smooth, and satisfying rebellion stories in fiction. There you have it, Simon and the rest of the Dai-Gurren Brigade defeated Lordgenome and the Beastmen forces, regaining control of the surface world. They had some tragic losses, but also made some new friends along the way. A young boy who started out as a non-confident, bullied antisocial in his underground village transformed into the man who led the rebellion to its victory. As most writers would put it, THE END.

What makes Gurren Lagann stand out from its contemporaries is that this “ending” is only the halfway point of the series. After a seven year timeskip, “act 2” begins with what I like to call the “political consequences arc.”

Historical rebellions aren’t as clean cut as most fictional works would have you believe. Revolution often comes with the desire for a new form of government, something that is immensely difficult to implement in a nation so accustomed to tyranny. Systems must be destroyed and rebuilt, citizens must be accounted for and entered into government programs, and all prior opposition must be dead or imprisoned to prevent regime reversal.

The second half of Gurren Lagann addresses all of these elements, and more. Simon and Rossiu, who occupy the two most prominent government leadership positions, are having an excruciatingly difficult time running their nation. Initiatives to move citizens from their underground villages back to the surface world are failing; they didn’t account for people wanting to remain in that oppressed lifestyle. They find out Viral, a high-ranking and unaccounted for member of the original oppressive regime, is working as a terrorist, undermining citizen relocation efforts.

When citizen dissatisfaction and political unrest begin to spread through the new capital, we see Rossiu, a rebellion hero and close friend to Simon, turn on him in a political move he believes is in the best interest of the nation.

All of this climaxes with the invasion of the anti-spiral forces. You see, it is revealed that the initial oppressive regime was present in the first place in order to prevent this external “nation” from invading. Simon must escape from political prison, gather his old rebellion friends (and even some former enemies), and fight against the invading anti-spiral.

Despite being presented through high-concept science fiction and dimensional shenanigans, the second half of Gurren Lagann is showing real-world consequences. Political turmoil, betrayal, and even foreign invasion in times of weakness are common elements of real post-revolution nations. Most fight against the tyrannical regime stories don’t dare tread these complicated waters, they are satisfying enough as it is.

The fact that Gurren Lagann takes a step beyond mere satisfaction, and addresses these logical consequences, is why it is still remembered as a masterpiece today.

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Attack on Titan and the Avatar Effect

Note: At the time of writing this analysis, I have not yet watched the premiere of season 2.

The second season of Attack on Titan is finally upon us. Although there are plenty of diehard fans donning their scout regiment hoodies and celebrating, the common consensus is a pungent apathy. A second season that would have been welcomed with open arms just three years prior is now faced with an overwhelming wave of indifference. I call this the Avatar effect.

In late 2009, James Cameron released a film that many at the time considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made (including myself). Avatar was treated to critical and box office success, working its way up as the highest grossing film in the history of the medium. When Avatar 2 was announced, fans and the general population alike were ecstatic. Years have passed, and here we are without a sequel. Walt Disney World, however, wanted to cash in on the Avatar mania, and is finally opening Pandora- The World of Avatar later this spring. The problem is that this mania that Disney is trying to take advantage of no longer exists. If they wanted to cash in on a craze, they needed to do so in the small amount of time that the phenomenon would have still been prominent. I probably can’t find you a single person out there now who is taking the trip to Disney World for the opening day of this sub-park.

Attack on Titan had its “mania” period from the second half of 2013 through nearly all of 2014. Hell, Attack on Titan stars were still being featured as guests of honor at conventions well into 2015. There was plenty of wiggle room for Production I.G to get themselves in gear and pump out a second season. Whatever the reason for the delay may have been, here we are, nearly halfway through 2017, and we are finally getting this sequel season. Yet the remaining fans are still wondering why nobody is excited?

You may be asking yourself, if something is a timeless classic, then why would it matter if it took so long to get a sequel, everyone would still be excited, right? Here in lies the issue with Attack on Titan. It is entry level shlock trying to disguise itself as a masterpiece.

I first watched the show in January of 2014, a time in my life where my interest in anime, manga, and otaku culture in general was virtually non-existent. I had been a diehard fan of Naruto for most of my life prior, but even my love for that manga had died out almost a year before. This was also at the height of my tumblrcore phase, where colossal titan and scout regiment memes ran rampant through the site.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I fell in love with Attack on Titan upon my first viewing. I was enamored with an animated work that felt as mature and sophisticated as most of the adult television I was consuming at the time. There was this sense of mystery and intrigue, all presented through gorgeous animation and crisp action.

I considered Attack on Titan to be one of my favorite shows for a large portion of 2014. I bought all of the merch I could get my hands on, spent hours in line waiting to meet voice actors from the english dub of the show at conventions, and posted about the series constantly on Tumblr. I did not, however, take the leap into further anime consumption.

Then my friend showed me Mekakucity Actors. Then I watched Kill la Kill, immediately followed by Madoka Magica. By the time I had watched Gurren Lagann, constructed my MyAnimeList account, and eventually quit Tumblr altogether, that initial anime about kids killing monsters was just a speck in the back of my mind. Still, whether it be out of stubbornness, or sheer denial, I continued to claim it was a masterpiece.

It was not until around mid-2015 that this claim came back to haunt me. After all of my praise, my friend Zack finally decided to give the show a watch himself. Note: At this time, he had also seen the slew of classics I listed above. Zack could not get through a single episode without either zoning out or falling asleep. The show was just boring to him, plain and simple. He did end up finishing it, but only under my excruciating insistence that it got better as it progressed. He did not agree with this sentiment.

It was at this point that I decided to read the manga that the show is based upon. I not only started from the beginning, but surpassed the season 1 content, chugging through what will probably account for all of season 2 and an early chunk of season 3. With atrocious art, bland and non-differentiable characters, and a story that never goes anywhere, it was one of the worst manga I had read to date (and I’ve read a substantial portion of Bleach). It was when I made the decision to drop this ghastly manga that everything came together for me.

The Attack on Titan anime is, to put it quite simply, not very good. However, I can’t deny that it is astoundingly smart. Production I.G knew exactly what strings to pull to craft the perfect entry level anime. In other words, AoT is the metaphorical gateway drug into otakudom. Once you work your way up to LSD and cocaine, do you really see your self regressing back to cheap marijuana? With its gorgeous animation, attractive character designs, and mystery-centric story, it is bound to draw in many on a base level of appeal. However, once you consume other anime that share in all of those properties, but actually execute them masterfully, there is really no point to Attack on Titan. When you can watch Mekakucity Actors, a show with stellar animation, unique and memorable characters, and an intriguing mystery that actually progresses and resolves, why would you bother with the exact opposite?

Avatar drew in such a mammoth crowd with its groundbreaking visual effects and allegorical story. Then you watch Dances with Wolves. Then you watch Princess Mononoke. These are two films that take the same premise as Avatar, but handle it masterfully. What is the point of going back to a bland and uninteresting version of an intriguing premise, when you can consume masterpieces that apply that very same idea?

My autographed poster of Eren Yeager, signed by dub voice actor Bryce Papenbrook, now sits in the recesses of my closet, collecting dust.

I will be watching the new season of Attack on Titan. Who knows, I may end up writing some pieces about it if I have anything interesting to say. The point is, I hope I helped current diehard fans understand why there is virtually no hype around their anticipated sequel season, and why there will be nowhere near as large of a community to share in their enthusiasm this time around.

Spirited Away is a Reality Show

As someone who grew up with Spirited Away, and hails it as a flawless masterpiece, naturally I am obsessed with getting other people into the film. Throughout my execution of this mission, I have noticed one common thread: everyone feels that the ending was anticlimactic. At first, I just dismissed my inability to see this problem as mere childhood bias. After all, I had seen the movie so many times that I have probably become desensitized to any flaws it may have.

However, after seeing the movie on the big screen with my roommate while living in D.C., something finally clicked. My roommate loved the film, up until the ending, as most seem to do. However, he explained his issue not just as one of anticlimacticness, but of a lack of payoff. He saw the driving force of the movie as Chihiro’s mission to return her parents to human form and return to the mortal world. If you did have to give the movie a simple synopsis for the sake of a magazine review or IMDB page, that is essentially what should be said. However, I also believe there is a huge misconception based on that very synopsis.

Spirited Away is not an epic fantasy story; it is a reality show. The fantasy adventure premise is merely a vehicle to transport you to a world. Once you are settled in this world, the movie is not about this central conflict. It is about Chihiro, a young immature girl, learning to adapt to a new environment, and mature into a responsible and strong individual.

It is, for this very reason, that the plot of saving her parents is somewhat abandoned for the second and third acts of the film, only to be quickly resolved in the last five minutes. The movie is not about that story, it is about a story of personal growth in a unique setting. But the conflict did get you invested in Chihiro and the characters that inhabit this world, didn’t it?

Reality shows are about people’s lives, individuals adapting to new situations and dealing with their own personal growth. Although person vs. person conflicts are present, they are often artificially inserted to get you more invested. Sound familiar? Hayao Miyazaki inserted an almost artificial fantasy conflict to get you into your seat, and then pushed it to the side to make room for the real Spirited Away.

It is also for this reason that there is no central antagonist in the story. Yubaba, the witchy owner of the bath house, may seem like an obvious candidate to point fingers at. Those assumptions would be misguided. What did Yubaba ever do to harm our protagonist? Yubaba didn’t turn Chihiro’s parents into pigs, her parents did that out of their own selfishness. Yubaba didn’t refuse to give Chihiro her parent’s back. Chihiro never asked for that directly, Haku told her to just ask for a job in the bath house instead. Rather than simply turning Chihiro into an animal, she decided to allow her to work. Yubaba was just a greedy, but overall redeemable person, using a bad situation to profit. Despite being a spirit, she was just being human.

That’s the core of Spirited Away to me, a story about people. Through Chihiro’s eyes, it’s a peak into a world that has been static for a long time, and will continue to be static after she leaves. Chihiro isn’t some epic fantasy heroine that is going to change the status quo of some fantasy world. She’s just a girl, thrown into a rough situation and learning to mature from it. Spirited Away is not a fantasy adventure, but a reality show peering into a fantasy world through the eyes of an outsider.

Top 4 Films of 2016

I don’t get why people say 2016 was a bad year for movies. Yes, I can count the amount of great films that came out this year with my fingers. However, i’d much rather have a handful of greats than a slew of pretty goods. Although there definitely were more 2016 releases that I enjoyed, here are the four that stood out above the rest, proving that 2016 was an unforgettable year for the medium of film.

 

#4- Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them

Director: David Yates

Writer: J.K. Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I credit J.K. Rowling as the person who shaped me into the avid media consumer I am today. Without the story of the boy who lived, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing this piece. When a prequel series was announced, written by Rowling herself, I was very hesitant to build hype. Especially with the transition of medium from novel to film, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to get too excited. There were so many opportunities for failure with this movie; I am so happy to say that Rowling didn’t screw it up. Fantastic Beasts was fantastic. It did everything a great prequel should. Despite having some subtle nods, it didn’t rely too much on the original work. It had intriguing, well-written characters that weren’t just cardboard cutouts or carbon copies of Harry and company. It managed to work as a satisfying, self-contained story, while still building the foundation for the rest of a five-part saga. Although this isn’t a full review, I couldn’t go without mentioning how much I loved the movie’s 1920s New York aesthetic. Although there were some jarring plot holes, everything else about the movie was so good that I can’t dwell on them too much. Far superior to the other piece of Harry Potter universe media that was released this year (i’m talking about you Cursed Child), Fantastic Beasts is a real treat for any potterhead.

 

#3- This House Has People in It

Director: Alan Resnick

Writer(s): Alan Resnick, Dina Kelberman, and Robby Rackleff

Genre: Horror

I was very tentative about placing a short film on this list. After all, a TV movie under 15 minutes long can’t possibly convey as much as a 2.5 hour theatrical epic, right? Wrong! This House Has People in It managed to do that and more. Alan Resnick has finally made a name for himself by producing one the most clever, intriguing, and genuinely scary horror stories of all time. If you are unfamiliar with Adult Swim’s infomercial block, it is a late-night home for experimental short films disguised as infomercials. You may have heard of some of its more famous products such as Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear, both of which I would also highly recommend. Despite its 12 minute run time, This House Has People in It is one of the most densely packed movies ever made. It is literally impossible to absorb every detail it has to offer, even with multiple viewings. For a fantastic analysis and in-depth explanation of the short and its expanded material, I would highly recommend checking out NightMind. Even if you don’t end up watching this film, I would still give him a look, he’s one of the best horror analysts on YouTube. This House Has People in It might not grab you upon your first viewing. In fact, you may initially find it funny like I did. With each subsequent viewing, however, you begin to pick up more on what is actually happening. Then you begin to think about it. The genius of the film is that this mental process is part of the movie itself, an essential component of its fear building. Hold onto your bed sheets, because you will not be sleeping after experiencing this horror masterpiece.

 

#2- Kimi no Na Wa (Your Name)

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Genre: Anime Drama

Kimi no Na Wa, or Your Name in english, would have definitely taken the number one spot if it weren’t for a last minute sneak up. Your Name is the definition of perfect melancholic storytelling. It fills you with such strong and potent emotion, but it’s very difficult to decipher whether these feelings are of happiness or sadness. The only other movie in recent memory that has made me feel this way has been Wolf Children, one of my all time favorite films and overall pieces of media. Although I can’t say Your Name is one of my favorite movies, I can say it is a must see. You may groan at the premise; yet another body swap movie. However, this is the seminal body swap story. Never has this trope been executed more perfectly and originally. Despite being centered around the oldest trope in the book, there truly is nothing like Your Name out there. It takes beautiful animation, relatable characters, and a phenomenal soundtrack, and puts them in a blender to give you an experience. Although an anime film, its medium is by no means a barrier to entry. I would highly recommend this movie to audiences of all ages and backgrounds, regardless of anime experience. If subtitles aren’t your thing, Funimation is working a dub that seems pretty promising. In whichever format you prefer, go watch Your Name. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll even get a bit turned on.

 

#1- Arrival

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer, based on short story by Ted Chiang

Genre: Science Fiction

Arrival was a film made for me. As a fan of science fiction, relatable characters, and alien stories; this was a homerun. It was the only movie this year that managed to become one of my all time favorites. I can go on for pages about how much I loved Arrival. However, I don’t want to talk too much about it, as I do plan on doing exactly that in an in-depth analytical review in the near future. Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve, who you may recognize from his work on Prisoners and Enemy, two great movies. Arrival is by far Villeneuve’s best film to date, and what elevated him to one of my all time favorite filmmakers. However, we can’t give Villeneuve all of the credit. I recently discovered that Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life. Although I have not yet gotten a chance to read it, there is no way it will go unread before I write my full review. Further, science fiction is my thing; it’s probably my overall favorite genre of fiction. However, Arrival goes beyond the typical boundaries of what the genre has to offer. Its unprecedented storytelling method, excruciatingly gorgeous cinematography, and unforgettable characters make it one the best films of the decade. Although I can’t say it’s my favorite science fiction movie, it’s definitely my favorite “alien invasion movie.” That’s just it though, I can’t even bring myself to call it an alien invasion film without precautionary quotation marks. Arrival is just so much more than Independence Day or War of the Worlds. It’s the story of a woman, and the events that reshaped the course of her life. In Amy Adams’ best performance, we come to know the character of Louise Banks, befriend her, understand her, and even cry for her. If not an active consumer of complex fiction such as myself, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate and understand everything this movie has to offer. But those subsequent viewings are well worth the price of admission. Arrival is a movie I just can’t stop thinking about, and that means something to me.

 

Swamp Con 2016: An Inclusive, Free Weekend for Fans of Popular Media

Alberto Martinez could only think of one thing as he exited the highway into Gainesville. He had only been here once before, to visit a friend. Although the UCF student could only think about what the convention would have in store for him, he did not realize that it would turn out to be what he considered one of the best weekends he had in a long time.

He was one of the roughly 3,000 people who attended 5th annual Swamp Con. The convention was for fans of a variety of popular media.

21-year-old Derek Delago, one of the organizers, said Swamp Con prides itself in being an inclusive, multi-genre convention. He said that whether you’re a fan of anime, science fiction, tabletop gaming, or video games; the convention will have something for you.

Jennifer Andersen-Peters, 20, found something for her at Swamp Con. She said she was extremely excited to meet the YouTube video game reviewer Dookieshed, having been a fan of the convention guest of honor for over three years.

“This was the first famous person I ever met,” said Andersen-Peters. “It was surreal, I never really thought I would meet him.”

However, as the weekend came to a close, she said she realized that this was not the true highlight. It was meeting new people and experiencing Swamp Con with them that she said she will remember the most about her first convention.

Martinez said he had a similar experience. He said that Dookieshed’s appearance was one of the main reasons why he took the trip from Orlando. However, spending time with new friends was what he said he will remember most.

Roughly 1,000 people went to the first Swamp Con in 2012. This year welcomed a record 3,000. According to Delago, one of the contributing factors to this high turnout is not only quality, but price.

Since its inception, Swamp Con has been free.

“We take a lot of pride in being an inclusive con, and the free price reflects that.”

He said that being a non-profit allows the convention coordinators to use properties that are trademarked for events. Examples include a talent show based around the video game Undertale, and a fan show for Japanese computer characters known as Vocaloids.

“For a free con, it was very well put together, I think it can only get better next year,” said Martinez.

Both Andersen-Peters and Martinez said they were unhappy with the structuring of the schedule, and that it could be made more clear where and when events were being held. However, this complaint didn’t stop either of them from saying they planned to come back next year.

“If you have hesitations about going, just go, for the experience,” said Andersen-Peters. She proceeded to recite the Shia LeBouff quote, “just do it.”

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F- Movie Review

I finally managed to see Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F. I caught it on the final night of its short, limited release run. As a pretty big Dragon Ball fan, I was excited for this movie from the moment of its announcement. However, when I heard that it was making strides in the box office, being the first limited release short run film to break the top 10 of the week, I knew I had to be one of the people to financially support it with my ticket purchase. While Resurrection F was a very good movie, it had some problems that need to be addressed.

Resurrection F picks up in the aftermath of Battle of Gods. The Frieza Force manages to collect all eight of Earth’s dragon balls. They use their one wish to bring their second in command, Frieza, back to life. Hellbent on getting revenge on Goku for defeating him, he spends four months training, eventually obtaining the ability to enter a fifth form. After gaining this ability, Frieza and his army immediately travel to Earth in search of Goku. It is up to Goku and Vegeta (currently training under Whis) to defeat Frieza, and send him back to Earth’s Hell for good.

Resurrection F did have some very strong elements. The seamless blending of 3D and hand drawn animation was superb. Although we didn’t have as big of a character roster as in Battle of Gods, it was still great to see everyone’s favorite pop culture icons return to the big screen. We also got the introduction of Jaco, a great comedic character that I look forward to seeing more of in Dragon Ball Super. It was also interesting to see Beerus and Whis as allies to the protagonists, rather than the primary antagonists of the story.

However, despite all of these positives, I had a few major issues with this movie. Dragon Ball is a traditional long running shounen anime franchise. Therefore, it is expected to feature epic battles that each arc of the narrative centers around. However, it is also expected to have slower, story building moments. Battle of Gods balanced these two key narrative elements perfectly. Resurrection F, while successful in the first of the two, featured almost none of the latter. The majority of the film’s hour and a half runtime was spent in battle, whether it be Goku’s allies fighting the Frieza Force, or Goku and Vegeta fighting Frieza himself. While these battles were strongly animated, choreographed, and written, the movie was lacking in the small character moments that made Battle of Gods so good.

My strongest problem with this film, however, was the lack of risk taking. Without getting into spoiler territory, the climax of this movie provided potential for a great opportunity for a future movie, or a future arc in Dragon Ball Super. However, Akira Toriyama decided to play it safe, making the ending very cliche. The conclusion was too traditional in more ways than one, contrasting the very unexpected ending of Battle of Gods.

To conclude, Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F is still a good movie that is definitely worth the price of admission. However, its lack of character moments and risk taking made it an overall weaker entry into the franchise than Battle of Gods. Dragon Ball fans such as myself, however, will like this movie, regardless of these flaws. However, fans of storytelling and film, also such as myself, will find it has some problems. I look forward to how Dragon Ball Super will handle retelling this story as the second arc of the show. I hope that they take the time to implement more character moments, and perhaps alter the ending in a way that will allow for more experimentation in the show’s future.

Wolf Children- Movie Review

There is a certain feeling that watching Wolf Children gives you. I have only had this feeling twice in recent memory. The first was when I read the novel Looking for Alaska in the summer of 2013. The second was when I watched the anime Gurren Lagann in January of this year. This feeling is one that is unexplainable, but clearly obtainable. It appears only when you consume a piece of fiction that connects with you more strongly than anything in reality can. I won’t declare it as my favorite film of all time just yet, but Wolf Children is, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies ever made.

Mamoru Hosoda has been slowly rising up in the anime industry over the past decade. Some of his most iconic works include Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. However, Wolf Children is the first film in his repertoire that truly places him right next to the legendary anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

Wolf Children, on the surface, is about a young woman trying to raise two children all on her own. However, these children are half human, half wolf; they can transform into either at any given time. What makes this seemingly basic plot so remarkable is its hidden depth. Upon analysis of the film, you begin to realize that the lycanism of the children is just a mere metaphor. This metaphor portrays the struggles of anyone raising children with disabilities, mental illnesses, or other various characteristics that society deems abnormal.

The characters, though seemingly basic on the surface level, are much more than that. The purpose of the simplicity of the characters in both design and writing is to allow the audience to seamlessly fall into their shoes. You feel every emotion they feel with intensity, and begin to form extreme empathy for these people who do not actually exist. Therefore, the happiness and sadness that these characters feel becomes all the more potent. It took all my strength to hold back tears in front of the anime club that I watched this movie with. However, I guarantee that if I watched this alone, I would have been bawling.

Without a doubt, the best part of this movie is the animation. While the character designs are purposely simplistic (see point above), the backgrounds and environments are anything but that. This movie has the hands down best animation in an anime ever. Every single setting is extremely colorful, detailed, and enticing. This becomes extremely prevalent when the characters move from the city to the countryside.

The final factor that makes this movie outstanding to me is the minimal use of dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, there are a multitude of heavy conversations throughout the movie, as well as a narrator. However, if you compare this to other movies, particularly anime films, you would find that there is probably half the amount of conversation. The soundtrack, character expressions, and environment animation tell the story much better than any dialogue would have done.

To conclude, you can tell I loved Wolf Children. I would recommend it not only to anime fans, but to literally anyone. Some of it may be a little too dark for younger children, but it would be a great film to show them when they are a bit older. However, this movie was clearly not made with a certain demographic in mind. Anyone from any walk of life can watch it and identify with it. Wolf Children is a timeless masterpiece that breaks the boundaries of what film can do, and is the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time.