Tag Archives: Fangirling

Requiem for a Dead Fandom: A Review of the Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novels

Requiem for a Dead Fandom: A Review of the Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novels

Kyon disapproves of this collection.

There are spoilers in this review. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text. 

If cosplayers and TV Tropes are the pulse points of a fandom, then the Haruhi Suzumiya series can be pronounced dead in 2015. Someone marked the Haruhi Suzumiya page on TV Tropes as “Deader than Disco” and at this year’s Fanime Con—well, I saw two Kenshin Himuras, around five Disney Princesses, and a bevy of gothic lolitas. There wasn’t, however, a North High uniform in sight. It’s as if all those diehard Haruhiists changed religions, sometime between 2011 and 2013.

That’s a great pity, too. After years of procrastinating, I finally bought the last three books—The Indignation, The Dissociation, and The Surprise—and I reread the entire series in one go. That’s roughly 2,346 pages in one week.

In hindsight, I’m glad I waited because the last three installments of the series form a meaningful, seamless arc, unlike some of the middle volumes.*  For instance, some of the short stories in The Indignation and The Wavering are entertaining and character-driven, but contribute little to advancing the main plot.

Unlike those earlier installments, The Dissociation and The Surprise are best read back to back, since they follow one continuous thread even if the narrative splits into two separate timelines, the alpha and the beta.

When I first read a partial fan translation back in 2011, I thought the author was going full Cortazar on his readers. (Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch is a postmodern classic that has confounded generations of literature majors. The reader’s encouraged to skip back and forth through chapters. Thus the narrative can be read in several ways.) Thankfully, Nagaru Tanigawa wasn’t nearly that ambitious. While it’s possible to read the alpha timeline first and then the beta afterwards (I tried), The Surprise actually loses some of its charm that way.

The Dissociation and The Surprise introduces Sasaki, Kyon’s female friend from middle school, whom everyone thinks is his ex-girlfriend. (She isn’t.) Sasaki’s just like Haruhi: she has reality-warping powers and the ability to make closed space. Moreover, Sasaki’s closed spaces are calm and nonviolent, which makes her an alternative for a suspicious trio—a time traveler, an alien, and an esper—who seek to channel all of Haruhi’s wild power into a more stable human vessel.

This alliance of well-meaning extremists try to persuade Kyon to ditch Haruhi and her supporters. Confronted with an alternative to the status quo, Kyon must choose between the opposing sides. What is “best” for the world, however, may not be good for him.

As Kyon grapples with this problem, the unexpected occurs: time unravels and things fall apart, culminating a split in the narrative’s timeline. The Surprise then takes Kyon—and the reader—for a bumpy, exciting ride.

It’s unclear whether The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya is the last installment in the series. Some websites, including Wikipedia, state that the series is only on hiatus. While I think The Surprise works well as a closing volume since it resolves some main dilemmas, it does leaves a ton of unanswered questions. This includes:

  • Kyon’s real name (Sasaki says it’s an unusual and majestic name)
  • the John Smith trump card (Kyon never uses it, so we never see if it will actually work)
  • the real nature of Haruhi’s power
  • Kyon’s gift to Haruhi
  • Tsuraya’s secret life
  • Most of the shipper stuff with a) Kuneida blurting out that he went to North High to get closer to Tsuraya, b) Koizumi exchanging phone numbers with his ‘evil’ counterpart, and c) Taniguchi’s quest for love

 

I’ve come to the conclusion, however, that these unanswered questions don’t matter so much since Kyon finally resolves his mixed feelings for Haruhi. This comes, appropriately enough, at the climax of The Surprise. His heroics would be impossible to pull off if he didn’t acknowledge that he can’t live without her. The actual moment has a subtle call-back to the first book—“Don’t let her get away.” All of this may feel redundant after the events of The Disappearance but it is Kyon’s moment to reaffirm many of his half-hearted sentiments. 

It’s no shocker, then, that The Surprise lacks Kyon’s usual gushing over his other crushes. As a couple, Haruhi and Kyon do some everyday things together, like studying. Their classmates don’t even comment on it. The sheer normalcy of it is notable.

The Haruhi Suzumiya series isn’t perfect but The Surprise still makes a satisfying ending. Yuki returns from the brink of an alien-induced fever, Asahina preserves her time line, and Koizumi opens a can of whoop ass. Even Sasaki, whose first appearance in The Dissociation grated my brain, becomes a reluctant god who tries to foil the conspirators who use her as a pawn.

The only character I wasn’t enamored with was Yasumi Watahashi, The Surprise’s version of Scrappy-do. She’s the only applicant to survive Haruhi’s battery of tests for new SOS Brigade members, and she immediately charms everyone except Kyon. For a series that can sell the vision of rival alien factions fighting over a moody teen god, Yasumi Watahashi is somewhat lackluster. The moment she appeared, I worried that she was Kyon and Haruhi’s time-traveling offspring, like a moe Rachel Summers. (She isn’t.) Thankfully, she’s used sparingly throughout the book.

Anime-only fans might be surprised that Nagaru Tanigawa introduced a brigade member so late in the series. It surprised me, since the dynamic between the five main characters is tightly written. I think it’s good that she disappears right after she ceases to be useful to the story

It’s easy to pinpoint when the Haruhi Suzumiya fandom died—somewhere between the publication delays of The Dissociation and The Surprise and the anime’s disastrous second season, casual fans got fed up and moved on. In hindsight, perhaps Haruhi Suzumiya’s mercurial success also led to overwhelming expectations, and the intense backlash against it was inevitable. Maybe, given a decade or so out of the limelight, a revival can be effected? (Cough, Kenshin Himura, cough.) I won’t lie, I’d love to see Kyon jumping out a window to save Haruhi’s life. I don’t care how long it takes for that to happen. In the meantime I have the books.

At the end of the day, two images from the anime sum up the entire series for me: Haruhi tugging on Kyon’s tie, and the quick one-two seconds between the Male and Female bathroom signs. Despite all the time travel and the science fiction shenanigans, the Haruhi Suzumiya series has always had one foot in romance, and another foot in mystery. And just like Kyon, I may grumble, but I secretly want to believe.

 

 

 * For the English editions, there are ten books in the series; in the Japanese editions, there are eleven. The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya originally came out in two volumes, published simultaneously. 

Side Comments of the Month XV: Consume

Side Comments of the Month XV: Consume

Dear Blog,

Long time, no posts. I hope you aren’t angry with me. I haven’t updated you in three months. Your lack of activity coincides with the arrival of Titus. Titus happens to be the Kindle I got for Christmas…

As much as I love the smell of new books and the feel of paper, it’s convenient to be able to borrow books from the library at 2 AM in the morning. Here’s a list of everything I’ve read on Titus so far (in order of reading):

  • The Duchess War — Courtney Milan
  • Viscount Vagabond — Loretta Chase
  • When Patty Went to College — Jean Webster
  • The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness — Cecil B. Hartley
  • The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness — Florence Hartley
  • The Heiress Effect — Courtney Milan
  • A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong — Cecilia Grant
  • To Catch A Heiress — Julia Quinn
  • The Romance of Lust — Anonymous
  • The Countess Conspiracy — Courtney Milan
  • The Actress and the Rake – Carola Dunn
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown — G.K. Chesterton
  • Songs of Innocence and Experience — William Blake
  • Lord Roworth’s Reward — Carola Dunn
  • Captain Ingram’s Inheritance — Carola Dunn
  • The Devil’s Delilah — Loretta Chase
  • The Good Soldier — Ford Madox Ford

 

Archer and Rin are ready to crack some skulls.

2. Aside from reading too much, I’ve managed to start and catch up with a couple of anime series:

  • Baby Steps (an unfortunately named series, yet interesting in its own way. Prior knowledge of tennis not required)
  • Carnival Phantasm (oh my god the sugar rush of fan service)
  • Knights of Sidonia (a good bit of science fiction)

I also finished the first season of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. I’m looking forward to the new season, which starts airing this month. I think it’s superior to the original Fate/Stay Night series. (The prequel Fate/Zero is still my favorite installment of the franchise, though.) 

I don’t watch a lot of western animation, but Adam and I finished The Legend of Korra. We are now currently consuming the fifth season of Archer. Such a depraved lot of characters! I love how Jessica Walter plays pretty much the same mother she was on Arrested Development. 

 

3. For live-action television, I’m ashamed to admit I binge-watched the first season of Broadchurch over one long weekend. That’s eight hours of following the red herrings and trying to fathom the shifty behavior of all the characters. That binge made for one emotionally wrecked weekend! I was so tense my nails bit into my palms, yet I couldn’t stop watching.

Hardy's ready to crack some skulls, too. Right after he takes his medication...

Broadchurch’s second season, which I’m currently watching on BBC America, lacks the  intensity of the first. It does, however, make me think of a new subtitle every week.

(These subtitles have mild spoilers. To read, highlight the text below.)

The Adventure of the Dying Detective

How Ellie Got Her Groove Back

There is Only One Bed

Everybody Lies, thus Danny’s Murderer Will Obviously Get Away with It

OMG Charlotte Rampling Plays a Barrister, I Loved her in Swimming Pool, I Can’t Stop Watching Now 

 

Hardy and Miller’s developing friendship is one of the best elements of the second season. Whenever she gives him a little punch in the arm for doing something stupid, I just have to go “aww.” They have some subtle comic moments, like the scene where Hardy offers Miller a hug and she just gives him the stink eye.

Not enough people give David Tennant the stink eye convincingly, I wonder why it’s so entertaining to watch. Suddenly I miss Donna Noble…

On a side note, I feel like I should make a David Tennant shirt. On one side it will say “The Worst Cop in Britain” and on the reverse, “the Best Doctor in the Universe.” Yeah, that sums up all my David Tennant feelings.

 

Dr. Henry Morgan doesn't crack skulls. He probably collects them. Some of them were probably his friends...

4. Still on the topic of live-action television, Forever continues to hover somewhere between guilty pleasure and good TV. I still believe this show exists to put Ioan Gruffudd in a variety of period costumes. By my reckoning, so far Dr. Henry Morgan has been shown wearing 1) Regency attire, 2) Victorian duds, 3) World War II gear, 4) an early ’80s suit, and 5) his natty modern suits and scarves.

The show’s team must be enamored (like me!) of Gruffudd’s old work: Amazing Grace and Horatio Hornblower. I suppose the man can’t help it if he looks good in a cravat and tight breeches.

Forever has yet to resolve its recurring immortal serial killer problem. Right now, it’s at a strange impasse, and sometimes it doesn’t interest me as much as the murder of the week stuff. I get the feeling the show’s making its mythos up as it goes along, à la The X-Files.

As to rooting for a lost cause, I’ve pretty much given up on Constantine. While some of the episodes were just bloody brilliant, nobody else seems to realize it.

I haven’t watched the last episode on DVR because let’s face it, I just know that the series won’t be renewed and I’ll be left agonizing for years over some unresolved cliffhanger. Gah. Matt Ryan deserves better than this.

Side Comments of the Month XIII

Side Comments of the Month XIII

All children need a sweater with their names emblazoned in large letters.

1. You know why I like HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver? Because here’s a show that talks about everything a week late, and it makes absolutely no apologies about it. In this speed-obsessed world, oh my God, I have found a kindred spirit.

The show seems designed not to butt heads with Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. Last Week Tonight is a weekly show; it deals more with international politics; there hasn’t been a celebrity guest promoting a new book. As an occasional Daily Show fan, this is great. I don’t need to divide my loyalties.

I love Oliver’s outsider view of American politics. It’s amusing that it takes a British comedian to tell an American audience what half the world already knows: “Hey, you guys, you aren’t the center of the universe. Really.” I enjoyed his insightful background on the Indian elections and his insinuations that Pom Wonderful Juice is made with Pomeranians. (The cheeky corporate response can be seen here.) In less than two months, the show has tackled everything from the death penalty to dictators with mommy issues.

Alas, his teeth are awful, his hair is sometimes unkempt, but oh, he does have nice dimples. Not convinced yet? As part of the show, John Oliver also posts silly things on Twitter, like this photo.

 

2. I really miss Space Brothers. Every time Saturday rolls around, I torture myself with the thought, “Will there be an episode tonight?” and the answer is always a resounding no. I can’t remember when an anime hiatus bummed me out so much, mainly because I’m not used to watching an ongoing series.

Ginko smokes too much.

As a consolation prize, every week there’s a new Mushishi episode, and that’s great. The second season of Mushishi started broadcast in Japan last April. It’s amazing  that there’s a seven-year gap between the first and second seasons. Can you imagine a live-action series with a seven-year hiatus? Me neither.

Mushishi focuses on a myriad of supernatural creatures called mushi. Mushi can mimic the abilities or needs of “normal” life forms but they are invisible to most sentient beings. Most mushi can cause major havoc when distressed or disturbed.

Ginko, a white-haired, chain-smoking itinerant medicine man, spends his time researching the various mushi. Ginko’s the only main character and he’s usually a passive observer, when large themes like love, betrayal, death, and disfigurement unfold along the Japanese countryside. The mushi often acts as catalyst to emotions already brewing in the hearts of normal men and women; Ginko’s just there to document the action.

Mushishi is sometimes tranquil, sometimes terrifying, but it’s always thought-provoking. Even the unsettling parts of Mushishi have a calm, dream-like quality to it. I can imagine lots of people being bored out of their skulls with Mushishi. But I like it.

 

Artwork by HBO illustrator Robert Ball. See more of his gorgeous work at beautifuldeath.com.

3. As usual, I’m not going to comment on the latest Game of Thrones episode. I’m going to observe, however, that George R.R. Martin and HBO are now a rare Western example of the “Overtook the Manga” trope. This happens when a television show’s ongoing production is moving faster than the writing of the original material. A show facing this predicament has limited options: create filler arcs, go into alternate continuity, or stop production in order to be a faithful adaptation.

Game of Thrones is simply too popular to stop production. As a live-action series with a cast that ages in real time, this is simply unthinkable. By revealing the plot points (and possibly the ending) of his unfinished novels to the series writers, George R.R. Martin pulled off a Hiromu Arakawa. I’m relieved and excited Martin did this, so the show can keep to their schedule and wrap up ahead of his publication timetable.

(For those unfamiliar with Hiromu Arakawa, she’s the mangaka behind Fullmetal Alchemist. She knew that production on the anime series would go faster than the manga, because FMA was a monthly title. It was gutsy for her to reveal the entire plot of her unfinished series to an entire production crew. What if they “spoiled” it for her readers? What if they didn’t respect her thematic vision?

For FMA, Arakawa’s gamble paid off. The animators decided to create their own arch-enemy and the ending of the first adaptation has a starkly different conclusion than Arakawa’s manga. They killed off characters and created new ones yet somehow managed to keep the flavor of the franchise. I don’t know how many people still love the first anime adaptation but when it first came out, it was pretty damn good.)

Right now, no one can predict where or how A Game of Thrones is going to go. It already has padded out scenarios for some of the main characters. The next seasons will definitely blend book canon, filler, and perhaps some ludicrous leg-pulls. Now knowing Martin’s plot, will HBO pull off a good pragmatic adaptation? Will it just completely fuck everything up? After the show is done, will Martin just turn around and say, “damn it, that’s not what I told them”?

Has anyone else realized that if George R.R. Martin dies now, in situ, the HBO ending might be the only closure millions of readers will ever get?

I repeat: I’m both relieved and excited. I’m also terrified.

Side Comments of the Month XII

Side Comments of the Month XII

I can’t believe it’s almost been a month since my last post. Bad blogger. Bad, bad, blogger. The weeks have been tough, with me getting a bad case of strep throat. Before I fully recovered from that, I got rear-ended in my first accident in three years. I could say more about this but I feel oddly reticent. I also don’t want to harp on the horrible things. So onwards with the good:

1. I got free books again, and lo, none of them are romance novels: The Moon Sisters and Your Perfect Life are YA; Dark Eden and Fiend are science fiction; Numbercruncher is a graphic novel; The Art of Castlevania is a companion book to a video game; and The Luminaries is an award-winning literary novel.

To be perfectly honest I don’t know where I’m going to find the time to read these texts! If I made time for all the books I wanted to read, I would live forever and never get any sleep.

 

2. Remember the time when I said I only cared about Doctor Who when it affects my friends? I swallow my pride and take it all back. As much as I hate to appear inconsistent, yeah, I pretty much like Doctor Who now, or at least I like it enough to try watching the episodes in order. I used to watch half an episode all the time, mostly when David Tennant’s crazy eyes would get a close-up.

My eleven-year old nephew (ever the completist) recently borrowed the 1996 TV movie and I found Paul McGann adorable. So now I find myself binge-watching Christopher Ecceleston’s episodes, and suddenly all the stuff that I didn’t understand in the 50th anniversary episode makes sense. Yup, my nephew dragged me to watch that at the cinema too.

Perhaps this is a case of fandom by Stockholm syndrome. It’s okay. At least it’s not Pokemon or Twilight. There are just some bandwagons that should never be boarded.

 

3. Speaking of bandwagons, I’d comment on the latest episode of Game of Thrones except I have nothing new to add to that conversation, except a gleeful die Joffrey die

I also have to say, I was quite underwhelmed with Margaery’s necklace. Is that the best King’s Landing had to offer? I don’t think much of their jewelry shops, then. Sansa and Cersei had better bling. Maybe there’s a missing scene where Cersei hoards all the good jewelry for herself?

 

4. Since Space Brothers is on hiatus, I’ve returned to my roots and I’m now on my biennial Honey and Clover kick.

I first watched this series in 2007 and it’s been a perennial favorite for me to re-watch and re-read. With only twenty-four episodes and ten comic book volumes, Honey and Clover may seem like an easy read, but it’s full of unfulfilled longing, with equal parts of humor and melancholy.

Of course it’s about five friends in art school who don’t know what they are doing with their lives.

Honey and Clover helped me discover Spitz, my favorite J-rock band. It also made me aware of the sub-genre of josei manga, which are comic books written for an older female audience.

When I was in university, everyone was reading Banana Yoshimoto. Looking back, Kitchen, N.P., and Lizard could have easily been written and serialized as a josei manga.

I always worry that Hollywood will discover Honey and Clover and think of making an American adaptation—it’s been a popular franchise in Asia over the past decade, with both film and television adaptations, so I think it’s a matter of time before that happens.

Aside from a live-action Evangelion, this is my anime nerd nightmare because I don’t think the dynamic between the main characters will translate well to another culture. I look at the American remakes of Shall We Dance? and Dragon Ball Z and I just cringe.

So, yeah. Honey and Clover. Don’t let the theme song of the first season throw you off. (It’s the only annoying song on the soundtrack.) This series is brilliant.

My Fandom is More Hardboiled than Yours: Dashiell Hammett

My Fandom is More Hardboiled than Yours: Dashiell Hammett

Not in photo: my copy of Nightmare Town. Its disappearance from my bookcase is a mystery in itself.

This blog post incorporates ideas from an earlier piece written for the San Francisco Book Review

 

“Flypaper” was the first Hammett story I ever read. It appeared as a featured classic in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and I just loved how it punched me in the gut. Its crisp, no-nonsense style opened up the noir side of detective fiction for me.

Since I adore so many authors, it’s taken me several years to  absorb as much Hammett as I can find. I haven’t gone through every single word he has ever written, although it’s safe to say that I’m more than a casual fan. I freaked out with delight, for example, when I found a bootleg copy of Wim Wenders’s Hammett (1982) in the backwaters of Metrowalk. I had a similar moment of absolute bliss when I finally went on Don Herron’s amazing walking tour. When I first contemplated moving to the Bay Area, the idea of walking the same mean streets as one of my literary heroes tickled my fancy.

All these fangirl elements came into play when I picked up a book called Hammett Unwritten. This slim novel tackles one tantalizing mystery about this literary icon: why did Dashiell Hammett stop writing after 1934?

This novel has a fanciful hypothesis. Tracked down by the femme fatale who inspired Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Hammett finally gives up the one object that she desires. He hands over a counterfeit statue, a relic from the case that inspired The Maltese Falcon. 

Unfortunately, as soon as he gives the souvenir away, his words dry up. People from Hammett’s life—real and fictional—emerge from the past to harass him. As his writer’s block worsens over the years, these people mock him for giving up the one item that had influenced his mercurial rise in society. Sometimes they feed him misleading clues regarding the statuette’s real origins and power. Verbally battered and growing old and insecure, even Hammett’s cynicism cracks under the pressure. He starts thinking there might be some truth in the lies.

Hammett Unwritten is full of brilliant one-liners and twists. Even a hardcore fan who’s read a biography or two might be surprised by all the details. Facts are cleverly sandwiched among a dozen falsehoods, and by the end a reader almost buys the half-truth that Owen Fitzstephen wrote this novel. Mystery lovers, especially hardboiled fans, should appreciate this satisfying con and double-cross perpetuated by Gordon McAlphine.

If I seem to be tossing roses in McAlphine’s path, it’s because I’ve read some cringe-inducing pieces that feature Hammett as a character. Not all fictional versions of Hammett ring true. He’s a complex man, and some attempts I’ve read just feel reductive. He played a lot of roles in his life, and not all of them are pleasant: private detective, communist, womanizer, absentee father, Hollywood scribe. So far, Hammett Unwritten is the only book that does justice to his complexity. It deserves the honor of sharing shelf space with Hammett’s own masterpieces.

 

Side Comments for the Month II

Side Comments for the Month II

1. I am ashamed to say that my book backlog is piling up with no end in sight. While wading through research on nineteenth century history, I am also concurrently reading Jacqueline Raoul-Duval’s Kafka in Love and Jorge Amado’s The Discovery of America by the Turks. I’m studying for my finals, too.

In the midst of this mental over-exertion, I was lucky to receive a complete set of Dream of the Red Mansions for free. My copy editing class had a field trip to Sinomedia, a San Francisco-based publisher that specializes in Chinese and Asian titles. While touring their facilities, I had a nerdgasm because they had stuff like a hardbound boxed set of the complete Lu Xun.

So many books, so little time.

Chinese literature happens to be a frustration of mine since my university days, when I was unable to take the survey course on the topic due to scheduling conflicts. The literature department never offered the class again, either—for someone who took six units of Chinese language, it was unbelievably infuriating. (I decided on Chinese because all the hip cats were taking Japanese for their language requirements.)

Since those days I’ve managed to read some of the classics in translation on my own—Journey to the West, the Tao Te Ching, the short stories by Lu Xun, and a lovely poetry anthology edited by Wai-lim Yip. (I also have an anthology edited by Cyril Birch but I prefer Yip’s translations for some of the overlapping material.)

Despite these forays, my sense of self-education always felt incomplete because I hadn’t tackled Dream of the Red Mansions. Also known as Dream of the Red Chamber, it is one of the four masterpieces of classical Chinese literature. I felt that if I was worth my salt as a student of Asian literature, I just had to read it. (A similar moment occurred after taking the survey class on Japanese literature, when my professor announced we would not tackle the entire Tale of Genji. I’m proud to say I read that on my own too, even if some of the hip cats sneered at me for the effort. I was told by these well-meaning types that “real” Japanese kids don’t bother with it. I thought this was a ridiculous argument for being too lazy to even try.)

Good intentions aside, a complete, unabridged version of Dream of the Red Chamber proved difficult to find in Manila back then. So you can imagine my disbelief and excitement when I was presented with these volumes last week! Just receiving these copies ends an on-and-off search that started in the late 90s.

As soon as I can concentrate on it, I will definitely sink my teeth into these books. I hope I am up to this challenge.

 

A low-res shot from up front.

2. In more news of Things I Should Have Experienced Fifteen Years Ago, my sister and I watched the Toad the Wet Sprocket gig in San Francisco and it was a satisfying musical experience. I was happy that the audience wasn’t terribly geriatric, like the time I watched Brian Wilson (the Beach Boy, not the SF Giant.)

A local band called Luce opened for them and I think they were the best front act for me to encounter all year. Toad played through the entire Dulcinea album and I was ecstatic to hear Stupid, Nanci, and Windmills live after all this time. Even at the height of their popularity, I don’t think Toad even toured Asia. Back then I resigned myself to never seeing one of my favorite bands… and this was even before they broke up. It’s nice that they got back together again, and more importantly, they are in the middle of writing and recording new material.

If you wish to live vicariously, Toad recorded some tracks from their San Francisco gigs and it’s available for digital download over here. All proceeds from the EP will be going to Amnesty International, if you care about those things. So please don’t be an ass and try to pirate the EP, okay?

At the gig I picked up Glen Phillip’s Coyote Sessions. I’ve been following Glen’s solo career since Abulum and a new release is always a welcome addition to my iTunes. I’ve given the entire CD a couple of listens and my favorite tracks are “Still Carrying You” and “The Song is Still Here.”

 

3. On the anime manga front (can there be such a secret organization in existence… The United Anime-Manga Front? Instead of Internationale their theme song will be Fly Me to the Moon and its card-carrying members will wave red flags featuring the profiles of Hayao Miyazaki and Totoro? My imagination is running away with me on this cold afternoon…)

As I was trying to say before I interrupted myself, Adam and I finished Ergo Proxy and revisited Baccano!, courtesy of the official Funimation channel on YouTube.

A DVD cover for Ergo Proxy featuring Vincent Law.

Ergo Proxy was all sorts of confusing. Each subsequent episode left me slacked-jawed and mumbling strange things to myself. As far dystopian science fiction goes, it’s a competent, elegant series, as soon as I had all the jigsaw puzzle pieces of the plot firmly in my head. It’s not a series to watch in the midst of a debilitating depression or if you have the attention span of a goldfish.

Baccano!, of course, is famous for its skewered nonlinear storytelling — it hopscotches all over the place. Some people may argue that it’s a waste of time to re-watch a series, but Baccano! is one of those odd gifts that keeps on giving.

On a meta level, this time around nothing quite gave me the giggles as much as imagining Ichigo Kurosaki delivering Claire Stanfield’s lines. Graham Specter’s ridiculous declarations became more tolerable when I imagined Kyon delivering them to Haruhi Suzumiya, too. (Perhaps I should stop looking up voice actors and all the various roles they’ve had.)

Lastly, we are in the middle of watching the time-traveling series Stein;s Gate. I admit I got curious about this series due to this fan video. So far, the worst thing about it is its blatant misuse of punctuation in the title. Otherwise, the lab-coated main characters are adorably paranoid and madcap. I hope it continues to be satisfying.  Nothing is more infuriating than a good concept marred with a muddled, prolonged end (Eden of the East, I’m looking at you.)

 

4. I don’t know if I will find the time or energy to send postcards this year. In case I don’t write at length again in the coming days, happy holidays, everyone! I hope everybody I like (and a few I don’t) gets stuffed with food, drunk on spirits, and manage to do lots of silly things they will regret the next morning. That’s really the best I can hope for everyone.

Side Comments for the Month

Side Comments for the Month

A month-long hiatus from my blog may speak of carelessness. Yet when caught up with the actual business of living, I sometimes find it impossible to sit down and write anything. When things move too fast, I feel the need to stay away from words to process what is happening to me.

I suppose you can call me an old-fashioned creature since I think it’s unnecessary to document every single moment. This is obviously contrary to the current behavior that incessant social media encourages. I’m mildly suspicious of people who can only have fun if they are posing for photos they will share right away with a thousand of their dearest friends on Facebook (or Twitter or Tumblr).

Then again, I’m also the person who once enjoyed a five-day silent retreat in a Jesuit seminary. Zero electronics permitted, no talking was allowed, and the accommodations were as spartan as a medieval monk’s cell. So yes, I suppose my distaste of over-sharing makes sense.

Maybe I’m just a crank and you should get off my lawn now.

The last three books I read for review.

Enough digressions, though. Here are some moments of my August and September:

1. I just finished reading Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy and as silly as it seems, I totally forgot to mention what I thought about the title essay in my review. Do’h. Two hundred words is not enough space for anyone to wax poetic about one of their favorite theorists. In any case, the review should come out next month.

2. I had the pleasure of watching Batman Live with my nephews last weekend. Jesus H. Christ on a stick! I was expecting campy and the production exceeded all expectations on that score. It was like Adam West and Joel Schumacher had a secret love child and the poor thing was raised to be a Las Vegas showgirl.

If the show was aiming to be America’s next guilty pleasure, I think it succeeded well. The production has great visuals and props, a slick Batmobile, and a cheeky Poison Ivy. If you are easily infected by the enthusiasm of little children, it’s worth checking out. If not, I recommend boozing up before the show.

3. I’ve avoided Naruto for years, but Adam persuaded me to give its ridiculously cute spinoff a chance. Even if I know nothing about its parent material, Rock Lee’s Springtime of Youth is so silly it’s impossible not to laugh.

As a spin-off featuring chibis, it falls somewhere between The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya and Petit Eva: Evangelion@School. I suppose this genre only appeals to people with an immoderate sense of humor.

For people who like their manga with a slice of serious, three new chapters of Chico Umino’s Sangatsu No Lion were translated by fans when I wasn’t looking. As much as I adore Honey and Clover, I worry (rightly so?) that Sangatsu No Lion does not have the same mass appeal. The chances are slim, but I do hope they come out with an authorized English translation in the future.

. . .

I was going to write about my recent culinary adventures but that would take too much time. Another time, perhaps. Good food always deserves its own post.

Ten Reasons Why Wolverine Really Isn’t Canadian

Ten Reasons Why Wolverine Really Isn’t Canadian

A slightly different version of this post first appeared in my old blog last May 7, 2009. 

Spoilers for what does NOT happen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. 


Adam and I were talking about X-Men Origins: Wolverine and we concluded we were both disappointed in the movie, but for different reasons. Adam wanted blood and gore because how can Wolverine use his lethal claws without spilling a drop of blood? It isn’t reasonable.

As for myself, I wanted a Sabretooth that had fur and grunted like a crazed animal. I wanted a Gambit with a decent Cajun accent. But most of all, I wanted some other plot twist for Wolvie to lose his memory, ugh, because his mysterious past was an epic thing when I was reading the comics back in the ’90s.

Anyway, Adam also pointed out that the movie proves beyond reasonable doubt that Wolverine really isn’t Canadian. I asked him to come up with ten reasons. Here they are:

1. Wolverine was born before Canada was a full-fledged country.

2. Canadians invented peacekeeping; Wolvie keeps fighting in American wars.

3. Wolvie doesn’t sit around all day watching hockey and drinking beers.

4. Can Wolvie don a pair of ice skates?

5. He is never shown having a double-double.

6. He never makes a patriotic stop at Tim Horton’s.

7. He doesn’t use the metric system.

8. He hates a lot of people but doesn’t seem to hate Americans in particular.

9. None of his X-Men costumes are plaid.

10. Wolvie never wears a maple leaf toque.

 

Regarding the last item, I decided to rectify this matter immediately. See how much better Logan looks with the right headgear?

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Film Review: Sherlock Holmes (2009)

A slightly different version of this entry originally appeared on my old blog on January 6, 2010.

This review has some mild spoilers. To read them, highlight the invisible text with your mouse. 

 

I’ve been waiting since summer, with equal parts of excitement and trepidation, for the new Sherlock Holmes film. I saw the trailer months ago and I was aghast. I was quivering with fear and excitement.

Yes, I love Guy Ritchie’s first two films, and I worried about this complete stranger when he got married to Madonna. Yes, I like Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law a lot, but they are not the first actors to come to my mind when I think of Holmes and Watson. So there was a lot of fangirl hand-wringing on my part.

Months ago, I made a pact with two other Sherlockian friends to watch the film so we could bash it apart together. I was even prepared to do this: I had re-read through two-thirds of Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and stopped with the less-than-stellar stories in “The Casebook.”

Alas, that pact remained unfulfilled. Right now, TJ is in Manila, I’m visiting the US, and Rain is marooned somewhere in the Middle East. I had to watch this film by myself.

What can I say? After trying to zero out all expectations, I was actually pleasantly surprised. After hemming and hawing about it, I have now accepted that I like it. And yeah, I’d probably watch it again.

A tiny screen capture of Sherlock Holmes. A Warner Bros. image.

There, I said it. Let all the purists wring my neck. There’s something about this adaptation that reviewers either violently love it or hate it. I think I’m one of the few who like it with some reservations, but even saying so will definitely result in some violent reactions. Whatever.

Why do I like it? I appreciate all the little details that show that the filmmakers did their research, down to the obvious bits like Holmes never wearing a deerstalker and not saying “Elementary, dear Watson.” I appreciated the more subtle bits, like Holmes shooting V.R. (Victoria Regina) into his apartment wall, the existence of Watson’s long-suffering bull pup, Mrs. Hudson and the Baker Street Irregulars making an appearance, and the detailed explanations behind each deduction. Yes, Holmes was a pugilist and a master of martial arts. These details are all true to the short stories and the novellas. Hell, even bits of dialogue are lifted directly from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like Holmes yelling “data, data, I can’t make bricks without clay!”

I even like their theory on why Holmes would let Watson pack the gun. This is one of the few mysteries in the Doyle stories I feel is never satisfactorily resolved.

What I didn’t appreciate, though was the obvious toying with fans. There are old fans who have argued this question to death, and there will be new fans who will argue it out all over again: Holmes/Watson or Holmes/Irene Adler?

Crazy people on the internet argue about stupid things like this, and I feel that this film was trying to please both the straight and the yaoi fanbases, and failed miserably. I read somewhere that the filmmakers wanted to highlight Victorian homo-eroticism and the gay reading of the Holmes/Watson relationship. If that was so, why is so much time dedicated to Adler in final cut? Did they chicken out at the last minute?

I’m only going to shout this once, but here goes: GUY RITCHIE, YOU TROLL. I’M GLAD YOU RECOVERED FROM YOUR MARRIAGE TO MADONNA, BUT REALLY, YOUR FILM WILL FEED THE SHIPPER SHARKS FOR YEARS.

I guess the guy doesn’t realize that people have been arguing about Holmes’s sexuality since Reichenbach. Hmm.

The film does have some warts, though. I got the feeling that Robert Downey Jr. didn’t have the time to learn the violin, and that aspect of Holmes’s was served up to the comedy gods. I felt that Watson’s limp wasn’t convincing (then again, Watson in the stories couldn’t remember if he was shot in the leg or shoulder…) I wish they used some other plot other than Evil Secret Society Wants to Rule the World, but evil secret societies are a favorite with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Perhaps my only real complaint about the movie is that it rips off Fullmetal Alchemist. The moment Holmes drew a pentagram on the floor with chalk, I was thinking, “Edward Elric, here we come!” The murders, the map, the alchemy symbolism, the need for five sacrifices… ah, I believe I’ve seen that all before. I’m definitely giving Fullmetal Alchemist too much credit here—they obviously drew on the same sources for inspiration—but still. A few plot twists would have been refreshing.

But that’s the problem with adaptations, right? That there’s little breathing space for originality while dealing with such a well-loved character?

Holmes himself would think it’s a three-pipe problem.

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

Review: Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire Trilogy

A slightly different version of this post first appeared on my old blog on July 27, 2008.

 

I’ve picked up Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy again. I’m on the last installment, Century of the Wind.

It has always surprised me that not many readers are familiar with Eduardo Galeano. If there’s any writer I discovered after university who has a profound impact on my writing, it would be he. Galeano’s what my friend Marc might call “a ’90s sort of writing.” Others might dismiss as postcolonial twaddle. For me, that’s just fine. His preoccupation with history, the dark side of revolutions and colonization may be profoundly relevant and thought-provoking, even agitating, but it’s his words that are just so seductive. Besides, his style is well fitted to this blogging generation that demands stories to be pithy, well-written—and all under 200 words.

Memory of Fire is amazing. All three volumes consist of vignettes on the history of the Americas—not just South America, but also Central and North America. He starts with pre-colonial myths in the first volume (Genesis) and continues with the arrival of the Europeans. The second volume (Faces and Masks) is painful and heart-wrenching as it details the various anti-colonial uprisings and struggles throughout the centuries.

Each vignette is put into proper context: dates, cities, and footnotes are provided. Each volume has around 400 historical and literary sources—practically a crazy thing to do for fiction, but that goes to show how well-researched and ambitious this work is. In Galeano’s eyes, the Americas collapse and become one: the struggle of all natives—from disparate groups such as the Inuits and the Nahua—become a single struggle against a common enemy who wears different faces.

I don’t recognize all the historical figures that peppered the first and second volume, so the third volume is a downright pleasure as more names become familiar. Galeano talks of Mexican novelists Manuel Azuela (The Underdogs) and Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo), the childhood of Louie Armstrong, the Zapatistas and the Sandinistas.

I particularly liked what he said about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Luis Borges; I’ll post them separately to highlight their differences.