The Failure of the Subversive & The Opportunity for the Superversive

If there is anything positive to take away from this weekend, it is this: the people, in general, know when some entertainment doesn’t serve them. If it continues to fail them, then they seek alternatives. Unserved audiences are opportunities that should not be passed up.

Nick Cole and Jason Anspach serve an unsatisfied audience with their Galaxy’s Edge series of novels, to great success so far, and demand grows for more. That’s the same audience realizing, in droves, that Disney’s not interested in serving them- as the reaction to The Last Jedi makes clear.

It won’t come quickly or easily, but the deliberate sabotage of major media properties such as Star Wars opens an opportunity for folks like the Noblebrights, the PulpRevs, and the Superversives to step forth and court that audience abused and discarded by an establishment that conducts itself like so many Hollywood stars and executives got accused of recently.

Of course there’s been talk on how to go about this. Brian Niemeier had a great post on this the other day, leading to a great follow-up post, and more conversation goes on elsewhere about making this happen.

Whatever else is said, this is clear: the time to come forth and contribute your voice to the chorus is now. Our friends across the Pacific have already noticed, and they’re wasting no time in reaching their hands our way. Let me show you just a few things coming early next year.

That’s right, a new Legend of the Galactic Heroes series, airing April of 2018.

A brand new Mazinger Z movie, due about the same time as the aforementioned series, with a worldwide simultaneous release. Don’t disdain this property; it’s got a huge global following, and many of the noble virtues we seek to uplift have always been present here.

We’ve got the opportunity to turn this ship around. Seize it. Fork away from the sick and dying subversives, cut them off, and build up our culture anew by serving that audience hungry for heroes noble and true despite it all, and succeeding.

Classic Japanese Superversive Film: Royal Space Force – Wings of Honneamise

It’s that time of year again, so here’s something to consider when you’re out looking to spread the love. Sure, it’s another anime work out of Japan, but this one is an emerging classic whose influence is still making itself felt across the Pacific and therefore its full legacy is yet untold. That film is Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise.

This is not an action film. It’s not an adventure film. It’s a drama about a young man who becomes the first astronaut for his country, all in the hope of stopping a cold war’s immanently going hot and ruining everything. What makes it remarkable, especially for a work out of Japan, is how important religion–which, for its trappings, is Christianity is all but name–is in the arc that the protagonist takes during this film, an arc that mirrors the space program he joins and champions to its fateful first launch in the climax of the film.

As with the real American space program in the 1960s, the fictional one here hits a very low point and things almost got totally beyond the pale; our protagonist mirrors this journey, so small children shouldn’t be watching this at all and older ones should have their parents on hand for that low point, but he rejects this darkness, ultimately due to that faith taking hold in his life, and becomes a light in the darkness of his world.

If you don’t own it, rent it and share a viewing. This is one of those rare films that transcend its origins in space, time, and medium to become truly beautiful works of art. Even the English dub, done during the time when dubs routinely sucked, wasn’t bad; you’re probably safer with subtitles and the original language track just the same. It’s Japan’s take on the modern mythology we see in The Right Stuff, and it is recommended.

A Superversive Classic From Japan: The Vision of Escaflowne

It’s been over 20 years since The Vision of Escaflowne fired aired on Japan, and henceforth flew across the world to win over the hearts of a generation of fans seeking action, romance, and giant robot combat. Noble knights fighting against a wicked empire, disposed kings seeking to restore a long realm, and a girl just coming of age trying to find her place in the world- just add giant robots and airships to get this new classic out of Japan.

And yes, you better believe that this is a Superversive story. For all its doom, gloom, tragedy, and sorrow this is most definitely about shining a light in the darkness. Our heroine is not just the heart of the story, but also its moral compass; Hitomi may follow an arc typical of romance stories–the hero and the rival are her love interests–but it’s firmly the subplot of an overall coming-of-age warstory drama for both Hitomi and her hero: Van Fanel Fanelia.

Now available on Blu-Ray, as the clip below shows, the series can again (legally) be enjoyed for a new generation that is also hungry for fiction that is true to life- especially when that fiction is as fantastic as this one is.

I recommend the series over the movie for most audiences; the film takes that Darker and Edgier tone that leads to some dissonance with its Superversive storytelling, undermining the superior production values clearly present in the film. I also recommend that you want this in Japanese with English subtitles; this was just before English voie acting in anime series upped its game, and it shows. There are subtleties in the Japanese performance that are not present in the English ones (or, for that matter, in the German and Spanish ones); Episode 14’s climatic, character-defining moment for Van is far more powerful in Japanese than any other available language to date.

Take note that the living Goddess of Music–Yoko Kanno–did the music for this, following up her magnificant work with Macross Plus a few years before this series, and all of it holds up to this day against the very best Western counterpats- then and now. Without her presence in the scores and songs, the true beauty present in this series would never manifest, and it is arguable that her work–more than anyone else–is why this series acquired such a loyal following and retained them for so long.

A fairy tale with giant robots cannot be missed. Recommended. Add this to your library.

The Superversive From Japan: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing

It’s been a while since I recommended a series for Superversive seekers, and once more I bring a series from the Gundam franchise to your attention. This is one of the “alternate continuity” series from the 1990s, one that hit big in the United States: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing.

It is now remaster for HD, and the folks running the Gndam Official channel have made the entire series available for free to view in the hopes that you’ll head over to Amazon and buy the Blu-Ray disc collections.

This is one of the Superversive entries in the franchise, as the pretty boys who form the core of the cast are expressly out to liberate the world from a corrupt and oppressive world-state. What they do, and how they do it, vary greatly. Their opposition isn’t stupid or hamstrung, and the series’ antagonist is himself motivated by high ideals that contrast well against the heroes’ own. For a show aimed at boys entering adolescence (just a few year younger than the heroes), that’s some heavy storytelling.

You get a lot of philosophical conflict over the morality of government, of artificial intelligence, of the centralization of power and authority into an elite vs. decentralization into autonomous communities, and of the possession of warfighting capabilites by private individuals. (Alas, it also has one of the worst Straw Pacifist tropes in world fiction, but they can’t all be perfect.)

If your household has youths of roughly that age, or a little older, this is a perfect series to use to get them talking about things that they need to handle as adults- this is a story that is timely despite being over 20 year old, featuring concerns that they will have to deal with sooner than later.

And in the end, despite significant missteps, it is an overall Superversive series. Recommended.

Hackjobs & Horror Shows: Finding the Superversive in Anime

I’ve talked a lot here about the wonderful stuff Japan has to offer, and I’ve got something in that vein below, but first let me talk about something I hear a lot about people who complain about anime and manga- and have for years: genre mashing.

The West’s establishment, for commercial reasons as often as not, divided up fiction into genres generations ago. Today we’re conditioned from an early age to think in categories that are only appropriate to someone selling a product at retail on a shelf- where space is finite, and thus precious and scarce. The consequence is that our popular entertainment–including popular written fiction–got increasingly siloed into commercial categories and we see this as How Things Are, instead of conveniences for commercial ends. Fantasy here, Horror there, and Don’t Cross The Streams.

It’s not quite so severe over in Japan. Be it comics, games, or film/TV you’ll find blends that would never happen in the West become successful (e.g. Neon Genesis Evangelion)- and it’s been that way for generations. Some of it is cultural, some of it is down to individual preferences by the productions, and some I can’t explain because it tends to cross into what TV Tropes calls “Fridge Logic” (i.e. just coherent enough to hold up while watching or reading).

And sometimes, when something out of Japan comes West, we don’t get the real thing. This isn’t so much of an issue now, but back in the 80s and 90s that involved wholesale rewrites and hackjobs that neutered the original’s content- including its themes, motifs, etc. such as what happened to Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross, Super-Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSEPEDA to make Robotech and what happened to King of Beasts GoLion to make part of Voltron.

This is a shame, because when I’ve seen the real thing I find that often the excised elements–while horrific, and often tragic–can lend dramatic weight to a narrative that is ultimately Superversive. The aforementioned GoLion starts not on an alien world, but on an occupied Earth, and the series (being an ’80s production) doesn’t pull punches on what it takes to defeat Evil and rebuild what is Good. The Galaxy Express 999 series has full-on horrific elements that seem tame due to presentation, but rightly chill to the bone when you think about it, and yet the heroes go what needs be done anyway despite what they suffer and lose along the way.

Of all these blends, none work so well as Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. It’s gothic, romantic, Romantic, horrific, and so very tragic- down to the viewpoint character as well as our protagonist (who are not the same individual), with the point driven home in the epilogue.

So go give our friends in the East another chance, especially the older stuff in its pure form, and eschew the Flanderized and Bowlderized adaptations because sometimes the real horror isn’t the story, but rather the story about what was done to the story when butchers got their hands on it as it came to the West.

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!