The Superversive from the East: Giant Robo – The Animation

Giant Robo is, as the linked article states, both one of the oldest of Japan’s comic franchises and the source of one of the best original animation series in the last 30 years. As such there’s some familiar issues that any franchise faces, starting with multiple continuities that often drastically reshape the premise into something very different from other versions. That’s why I’m specifying the OVA series: “The Animation”.

The reason for this specific incarnation’s enduring appeal is that this story is one of the most boldly Superversive stories to come out of Japan. Just take a good look at the trailer below:

That’s all you need to know, right there. The details that really deliver on the story’s promise aren’t in the trailer, but you will see that every element gets used–and used well–to tell a tale that uplifts the audience, inspires them to face great fears with courage, and press on even when you think you’re done for. That boy, Daisaku, is your protagonist and he gets put through the ringer over the course of this short series, but he does make it happen at the end–albeit with help (and a Pellenor Fields moment that is ridiculous, awesome, and (by that point) makes logical sense).

And it is thoroughly entertaining at all levels. The music is fantastic, the aesthetics are brilliant, and the production team did your Avengers or Justice League style of “heroes band together to stop a world-wide doom” story better than Marvel or DC have to date, in any medium. Daisaku’s the plunky youth you want to cheer for, Big Fire’s villains range from love-to-hate to completely despicable, and the other Experts of Justice may be rough around the edges but they are still heroes.

And, as for the necessity of virtue, the plot centers around two virtue-related matters: the origin of the Shizuma Drive, and the truth about the disaster that nearly derailed its introduction. Big errors got made, and everything about this story is a logical consequence of those errors, but there is no fixing it without fixing those errors- and that final bit shows this story’s value as a Superversive work.

The commercial availability of this animation isn’t what it once was, but you can get it at Amazon in a boxed set on DVD at a reasonable (for commercial anime) price. It’s not a long series: just under 6 hours, total. Agent Carter‘s first season ran longer. Recommended highly!

The Superversive from the East: Legend of the Galactic Heroes

In the 1980s, one of the greatest works of science fiction ever to come out of Japan first hit the shelves as a light novel: Legend of the Galactic Heroes. It would later get adapted into a 110-episode anime series, produce two movies, and several side-stories mini-series. Unfortunately, only recently did the original light novels get licensed for release into the West. (You can fix that here)

Whether you read the novels or watch the anime, you’ll find a truly epic Space Opera that hits most of the things you want out of a Superversive work. While the moral clarity is muddled at times, as this story reflects the mood of its day, the protagonist and the deuteragonist (and their key allies) are clear heroes with heroic virtue and epic flaws.

There are no supernatural powers. There are no aliens. There are no giant robots, laser swords (save for those shown as part of an in-fiction feature film), transformable machines, or other tropes popular with the famous SF/F franchises arising in Japan at this time. The fantastic elements are confined to FTL travel, cybernetics, the many technologies implied by the fact that galaxy-wide human colonization occurred, and high-end medical technologies. Yet there are massive fleet battles only eclipsed by E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series, and cultural conflicts (with attendant political intrigues) that drive the plot overall (and thus many subplots therein).

What there is, however, is true love (but often filial instead of romantic). What there is, however, is courage against often ridiculous odds. Faith held against powers willing and able to destroy you and yours, and fortitude in times of struggle are what you will find here. And, while individuals can succumb to their tragic flaws, the overall conclusion is hopeful in both absolute and practical terms. If you can find a good playlist online, and you can deal with subtitles, the long-running series and its related works will bring you up without lying to you on what it often takes to climb that mountain to a better tomorrow.

Moreso than any other work of science fiction or fantasy out of Japan, I recommend Legend of the Galactic Heroes, especially if you like your key characters to be competent as well as their opposition. Victory here is earned, and therefore deserved- including the hopeful end.

Do You See the Crystal Spire?

With the imminent release on Thursday 15th June by Superversive Press of Jon del Arroz’ second novel For Steam and Country, I have dared to produce a promotional video to capture its epicness, with some capable help from Sean McCleery and Shawn King.

Do You See the Crystal Spire?

Do you see the Crystal Spire
That adorns Rislandia?
You’ll want to join the Crystal Knights
To guard her land, her sea, her air.

When the beating of your heart
Echoes the thundering of the guns,
Then you’ll be sure to play your part
When the battle comes.

The invading Wyranth soldiers’ eyes
Emit an eerie glow;
The ground is shaken by a force
Whose source you’d like to know;
So now climb up this rope,
Renew your old hope as we go!

Do you hear the turbines roar
As we soar into the sky?
This great airship offers more
Than just a simple earthbound life.

When the fire within your heart
Mirrors the glorious setting sun,
Then you’ll be sure to play your part
When adventure comes.

 

The book is currently available for preorder at the bitly shortlink given in the video, but Jon would prefer people to buy on the release date itself so as to maximise the Amazon ranking on day 1, meaning the book becomes more visible within Amazon’s maze of recommendation algorithms.

Black Panther Trailer Breakdown

Welcome back to the Marvel Cinematic universe. The next trailer for the movie after next is here.
And now: Black Panther.

Let’s go through this one frame by friend…. well, close enough.

0:04: Yes! Watson is back! Sorry, I mean Martin Freeman. Wow. It’s been so long since I last saw Captain America: Civil War that I forgot that Freeman was in this franchise. He’s playing a kind of state department bureaucrat, who’s been a thorn in the side of the Avengers a few times in the comics. We see him here interviewing Andy Serkis, Mister Klaue (Claw) from Age of Ultron. Serkis is playing is a Black Panther villain, but in this case, he’s no where near the final villain form that we see in the comics. I doubt they’ll use that form in the films, but we’ll see.

0:14: Some nice CGI as Freeman begins to explain that Wakanda is a “3rd world country.” Which, to everyone’s knowledge, is BS. The audience knows this from the Comics, as well as the post-credits Civil War scene, that Wakanda is a highly advanced country. I guess they’ve decided that it’s a secret only known to the super hero community. Or Freeman is playing dumb to see what Serkis tells him — which is entirely possible, as we’ll see T’Challa outside the interrogation world.

0:23: And here’s where we explain in the trailer that the 3rd world country bit is a front, and we see some of the high tech stuff kicking around. Please don’t say aliens. Please don’t say aliens….

0:27: Ooh, shiny.

0:30: And here’s the high tech shuttle.

0:35: Gee. Hunters in a dark jungle. I’m getting a Jurassic Park feeling. Anyone else?

0:47: That costume looks snazzy.  From here, we see what comic readers should expect from Black Panther: he’s an awesome martial artist, and his costume is bullet proof.

1:02: I think Serkis has lost his mind. Again. Are we sure he’s not playing Gollum again?

1:05: Remember when I said Wakanda were advanced? Now I really am starting to wonder about aliens. They could make this another infinity gem storyline, if only to power Wakanda.

1:07: Interesting facial markings. I understand these are usually tribal.

1:10: Andy Serkis may have a staring role in this one! There’s a break out.

1:12: I wonder if this is Black Panther’s sister.

1:17: One, NO. NO HIP HOP. T’Challa is as far from Black America as you can get without going to another planet. Hell, I’d sooner look up Afro-Celt and play some of that! Yes, Afro Celt, it’s a thing.  Two? Andy Serkis might be the villain here. He was a weapons dealer in Age of Ultron, it looks like he’s keeping up his business. So it could be T’Challa versus techno thieves.

1:18: The UN? really?

1:18-1:32.  Micellanous images. I’m getting the impression we might have some political gaming here along the way. Game of Thrones, Wakanda edition? Serkis may just be a subplot.

1:32 T’Challa stopping an SUV with his body. Okay, that’s cool. Nice imagery. Nice slow motion.

Okay, I’ll confess, this generally looks good. Marvel, this is your movie to screw up. Make it about their native culture, and their city, and a lot of action, and we’ll be good. This is your chance to world build. Build it. If you make it about racial politics, you’ll have problems.

Also, more Martin Freeman. Because he’s awesome.

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series. 
    

I have known…

Listening to music can be therapeutic, soothing, invigorating, inspiring, heartbreaking, or depressing, much like reading or listening to a story. In fact Hans Zimmer once said that in all the music he composes his primary purpose is to tell a story, despite using no words. Listening to one of his most famous pieces (that accompanies one of the great movie endings of all time) inspired this little effort of mine below. In Zimmer’s piece, and the film, the hero is faced with a situation where all seems lost. He did everything he could, but all he has worked for has crumbled to dust before his eyes. He sees the situation for what it is, absorbs this devastating news, and yet he still finds the strength to keep going, even to sacrifice himself and his reputation to save people he will never meet, who will almost certainly never even know, let alone appreciate, what he did for them. He is able to do it quickly this time, because he’s done it before. In these respects, these few minutes are a microcosm of his entire heroic journey.

As the piece played I was struck by the ways in which it mirrored some of my own experiences (except it took me far longer to gather up the strength to keep going, and my behaviour has been far less heroic). It encourages me to keep going, to do better, to come closer to the good example set.

This is the power of story, of archetypes, of strong heroic characters, of good examples. Let us make more of them.

My piece set to Zimmer’s music can be found here, with the lyrics below that

I have known…

I have known despair, and I will not promote it.
I have known pain, and I will not glorify it.
I have known false hope, and I will not encourage it.
I have known cowardice, and I will understand, but not praise it.
I have known self-loathing, and I will not romanticize it.
I have known brokenness, defeat, lostness, and yet emerged on the other side, not unscathed, but grown.
I have known failure, and I will learn from it.
I will defend the truth.
I will not abandon my allies.
I will keep learning, and admit when I am wrong.
I will advocate for genuine hope.
I will praise and strive to create beauty.
I will call for courage in matters great and small.
I will seek to repair the damage I have caused.
I will seek to restore friendships.
I will console those who suffer.
I will encourage those who feel they can’t go on, for I have walked that path.