Remote Island Syndrome II

haruhiremoteThe junkyard presents two articles about the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode Remote Island Syndrome Part 2.

The view from 5930 miles away:

We ended the last episode on a cliffhanger, with a body discovered in a locked room. I mentioned last week that there are very few resolutions to locked room mysteries that make sense. In fact, in John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man, Dr Fell enumerates seven possible solutions, and subsequent attempts to expand that list have generally resulted in variations on a theme. One of the seven explanations is that the murder isn’t a murder, and the website suggests this is used as the solution for around ten percent of locked room mysteries. However, the alternative explanation is normally suicide. Having somebody lie on the floor and pretend to be dead is stretching credulity a bit.

The episode just about gets away with it, and it’s actually quite cleverly indicated by Arakawa pulling Haruhi away from the “body” when she goes to check for a pulse, telling her “I don’t think you should move him”, because of course she would have found out the truth immediately otherwise. I think the animators might have drawn the scene with a little more distance between the characters and the body after that point to make things more realistic. Haruhi and Arakawa in particular are shown kneeling very close to the body and keeping still enough would be a difficult feat to pull off. Other that that, it’s pretty clever, with the discovery that meals had been sent to the room and the inconsistency in liar Koizumi’s supposedly long association / brand new acquaintance of the “butler” and “maid”. It allows Haruhi to play detective for a week, although it seems at times as if the writer of the episode was struggling to make things stretch out to the running time. The scene in the cave is largely padding, although it does set up the notion that Haruhi really has created a monster on the island. It also allows for a moment where Haruhi fears for Kyon’s life and the look on her face when she realises he is OK is fascinating. This series constantly reminds us that how Haruhi behaves and how she feels are two very different things.

Also of interest here, once again, is the question of what makes Nagato tick. She interprets Haruhi’s instruction to “lock the door and don’t open it for anyone” literally, and won’t back down until Kyon says this:

“My sister’s out here. Please open the door.”

This leads Kyon to speculate on whether Nagato was playing a joke or not.

“You can’t be serious all the time, can you?”

The animators might be working with a rather thin lock room mystery plot, but they make the most of the opportunity. Everything is designed to build the tension, with a choice of shot framing that constantly feels a bit wrong. The close-up shots are too close, and we veer between those and wider shots from odd angles: a shot from above Koizumi, through a fan; Haruhi’s reflection in a cave pool; best of all, a shot looking down on the corridor from high up, with the rain effects reflected on the corridor floor through the window. It’s all designed to unsettle the viewer. Add in some violin stings at the right moments and you’ve got an effectively made thriller of an episode.

I’ve been hard on the character of Koizumi previously, and once again I think this episode leads us to a place where we’re supposed to dislike him and distrust him. It’s not just the lying about his organisation. As much as the idea of staging a mystery to keep Haruhi interested makes sense, look how far he is willing to take it. Mikuru is so shocked and frightened that she passes out and spends the whole of the episode as a quivering wreck. Keeping Kyon’s sister away from the sight of a murdered man could easily have backfired. Most sinister of all, Koizumi even seems prepared to allow Kyon to think he is jointly responsible for accidentally killing somebody.

“There’s some kind of horrible something lurking on that island right now.”

Maybe there always was. His name was Koizumi.   RP

The view from 6,868 miles away:

After an interminably long time reading the disc and watching a trailer that I really didn’t want to have to watch, I jumped into Remote Island Syndrome 2.  Back to Sherlock territory, but now with a hint of Nancy Drew.  Or is that The Hardy Boys?  Haruhi and Kyon find themselves looking in a deep, dark cave!  Ooooo!  Spooky.  But the show doesn’t fail on the weird: nothing really comes of the cave and it ends up being a place for drying off after a perilous walk and a fall off a cliff only to then give us some weird camera shots.  (Can I say “camera shots” when talking about animation?)  Many of the “camera shots” throughout the episode were strange to me too.  There are some where the camera falls on the characters legs while someone speaks off to the side.  In the cave, we see shots of the two characters drying off, and Haruhi debating about taking her bra off, but nothing is disquieting and the characters get back to the house.  The cave was, to my dismay, filler.  But the mystery…

The mystery is solved adequately, but it fails to work in reality.  First off, the “dead man” would have to be damned good at acting to pull off a dead man so effectively and for so long.  Translation: not breathing or showing a heartbeat.  Not to mention, how long can a guy lie on the ground without getting bored to tears?  I mean, what’s the incentive?  “Please lie here for 24-48 hours in case they come back to the room.  Why?  Oh, because the girl who wants to be a supersleuth might open a portal into a pocket dimension and destroy the world!”  Hell, if that were the sales pitch, I’d be on a plane to Canada.  What if the poor fool had to go to the loo!?  Speaking of closed spaces, I did find it interesting that Kyon compared grey skies and black seas to the closed spaces that Haruhi creates.  One wonders…

Oh, and speaking of wondering, that’s yet another point.  When the mystery is solved (good job, supersleuth!) and everyone is heading home, Haruhi remembers seeing a shadow.  She writes it off; it was probably nothing.  Sure but they play it up for the audience that maybe something was left behind on the island; some creature of Haruhi’s creation.  Cool idea, but I’m not biting.  See, I really do love a good time travel story and I don’t think there’s a creature there at all.  I think one of the time travelers visited.  At least, that’s what I’d do if I wrote the episode.  The question in my mind is actually not “what was the shadow?”, it’s “why would one of the travelers return to that place?”  And at present, I have no answer.  (And I may be dead wrong!  I seem to guess all the wrong deaths in Game of Thrones, so what do I know!?)

The closed circle, as Itsuki refers to it, is closed but maybe there’s more to it.  I am beginning to thing the Darth Vader line, “the circle is now complete” is not sharing all the details.  (Perhaps it’s a sphere?)  Back when I watched Land of the Lost I saw a closed circle.  Season one wraps up a complete story and would have made a marvelous series finale had they not continued making more episodes – it went on to become rubbish by season 3, and only slightly better than that in season 2.  When the final episode, Circle, finished, Vader would have been proud: the circle was now complete.  I have a very strong suspicion that, while the story ended, the circle is not closed yet.  And I can’t wait to see how they bring it together.   ML

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Babylon 5: Points of Departure

b5As the title suggests, this is where things begin to change.  After the powerhouse finale for Season One, Jeffrey Sinclair’s words could not be more profound: “Nothing’s the same any more”.

We come back to Delenn still in her Chrysalis, Sinclair is gone, Sheridan is being introduced, and we don’t know the status of Michael Garibaldi.  By the nature of TV, we can assume that his survival into Season Two means he’ll be ok, but we don’t know what that will mean in the grand scheme.

Let me start with a massive complaint: if you’re not going to reveal Delenn until episode 2, for the love of God, keep her out of the credits.  They reveal her during the opening with all her human/Minbari qualities, but couldn’t that have been either obscured or sped up to appear in the first episode?  (Totally by chance, I was reading something about this and it seems, at the time of airing, this was not shown; I didn’t watch season 2 at the time, so I can only go by the Amazon Prime release and the DVDs I own; but it seems a terrible thing to leave in there!)

Speaking of the opening, it’s interesting that the opening identifies the year as 2259, “the year the great war came upon us all”.  So we know what’s coming to some extent.  But the big drive of this episode is to give us background on Sheridan. He survived against a major Minbari threat by mining an asteroid field and destroying their flagship.  Shame Admiral Ackbar didn’t work for the Minbari, he might have noticed… “It’s a a trap!”

Sheridan seems a lot different from Sinclair with the exception of his initials (both JS).  He’s a colder commander it seems, more matter-of-fact.  A no-nonsense kind of guy, which makes sense considering where he’s coming from.  He doesn’t have the luxury of being all diplomatic or mincing words.  This is something I found refreshing in the character.

This story gives us a chance to understand him and how the Minbari are going to react to finding out he’s been given command of Babylon 5.  It’s necessary background and filler.  But there are things that are interesting from other points of view.  Lennier says “they say” about change coming (Sinclair will be the first, there will be others), but what does that mean?  Who is they?  The Religious caste?  Someone else?  There’s also talk of a soul pool from which Minbari souls are being diminished.  How does that work with the Soul Hunter’s pool of souls?  Does it make it real, or is it hypothetical?

Points of Departure is a good opener because it does have action and story but it’s largely filler.  Will we see Sinclair again or was his return to earth and subsequent post to Minar just a way of writing him out?  How will Sinclair’s position of power effect Minbari society?  What will Michael think when he wakes up?  And just when will he wake up anyway?  Lastly, with Sinclair gone, that thing Delenn had to tell him… will we ever find out what it was?   Time will have to tell…   ML

The view from across the pond:

As a first-time viewer of B5, I came to this episode completely unaware of what to expect, assuming that we would get a continuation of the cliffhanger ending to the previous season.  That didn’t quite happen, and I’m not sure I’m all that happy about what we got instead.

The first big change is that Sinclair has gone, to be replaced with Bruce Boxleitner as John Sheridan.  A quick google reveals that Michael O’Hare was struggling with mental illness, which played a part in his decision to leave, and he has since passed away, which is desperately sad.  I might not have warmed to the character of Sinclair immediately, but by the end of the first season I had come to like him very much, so I don’t welcome the change.  I’m trying not to have a knee jerk reaction to Boxleitner.  Let’s give him some time and see how Sheridan settles in.  So far I’m ambivalent towards him, although this got on my nerves:

“There was an early Earth President: Abraham Lincoln.”

Has American become synonymous with Earth in the future, or is this just a piece of very clumsy writing that accidentally displays a sort of extreme/ignorant patriotism?  Either way, it now makes Donald Trump an “early Earth President” as well, according to the same logic.

Also new on the scene is Robert Rusler as Warren Keffer, a sort of chief fighter pilot, and if we’re moving towards a “great war” (as the new title sequence spoilers us) I suppose that’s a necessary addition.  He is just dropped into the lineup and seems to be already pally with Ivanova and Franklin, which is a little clumsy.  A lot happened in the missing week!

A couple more things I noticed.  Delenn’s change of appearance is spoilered by the opening.  Apparently her chrysalis doubles up as a hair salon.  And Na’Toth is apparently going to be played by a different actress, Mary Kay Adams instead of Caitlin Brown, presumably on the basis that “all those aliens look the same to me”.  I don’t like it.  But again, I’ll reserve judgement for now.

This episode was a bedding in exercise for the new commander, and his self-doubt at the end was a decent bit of writing.  Self-assured heroes are boring, after all.  It baffles me that somebody would be chosen to run B5 whom the Minbari hate.  There needs to be a good reason for that beyond creating some tension, as at this point it makes zero sense.  Sinclair and Delenn were getting along great, and I don’t see why whoever is running America Earth would want to jeopardise a relatively young peace treaty in this way.

I loved the revelation of why the Minbari surrendered in the war, and it seemed a little wasted by being thrown into the first episode of the series.  It was too big a moment for that.

“Minbari souls are being reborn, in part or in full, in human bodies.”

Interesting stuff.  So all in all it wasn’t a bad episode, just a bit disconcerting as it felt like such a sidestep from where we ended up last season.  Final thoughts: the arrangement of naked flames in proximity to a chrysalis looks like a bad idea to me… oh, and I can’t stand people in sci-fi who say “negative” instead of “no”.  It’s unnecessarily pompous, and I prefer my sci-fi more down to America.

I mean down to Earth.   RP

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Day of the Clown

day of the clownThe Sarah Jane Adventures has definitely moved into the realm of classic Who at this point.  It’s no longer just a kids show, as it actively holds the attention of the adults too.  Day of the Clown is a terrific piece of writing that would appeal to the kids while not losing the adult audience but as creepy as it is, it’s not flawless.

Ok, so sticking with themes, Luke and Clyde are still missing Maria, who has moved to Washington (as we learn early on from an email Luke is reading).  This is picking up from the previous week where Maria moved away and briefly tackles the idea of loss.  There are new people moving in across the street, into Maria’s old house: Rani, Gita and Haresh.  Gita, like Chrissy before her, can’t get Sarah Jane’s name right, referring to her simply as “Sarah”.  Haresh comes off as a jerk in school but we’ll see just how long that lasts.  Rani, played brilliantly by Anjli Mohindra, rapidly replaces Maria in my eyes.  I liked Maria, and she played her part well, but Rani has a maturity that Maria lacked and I really love her journalistic hunger.  I think she’ll make a great addition to the crew.  Clyde gets a winning line with new headmaster Haresh too; “I tell jokes, not lies!”  This might go unnoticed by the casual viewer, but I took it as a judgement on liars.  Being a joker is not the same as being a liar, and I respected that line!  Phil Ford, the writer of the episode, deserves credit for that!  (And some of Clyde’s jokes at the end of the episode are marvelous!)

Sticking to the remit of Doctor Who that the show should offer some educational material, we learn that Johnny Depp has coulrophobia: the fear of clowns.  Hey, we don’t need a lesson, as long as we can say we learned something.  In this case, we learn what the fear of clowns is called, that it’s a real thing, and that Johnny Depp has it.  I’d call that a three-pointer.  (How many wins have you seen today?  There were three wins!!)

The story is intensely creepy but the cliffhanger isn’t that great.  Odd Bob the Clown states eerily that Sarah Jane and company “are mine to feed on”.  Sarah Jane meanwhile seems to convulse to indicate that she is afraid, but it’s nowhere near the quality of some cliffhangers.  And Odd Bob is played by Bradley Walsh which was a shock since I had long ago forgotten that he was in this story.  How can we see Graham from the current series of Doctor Who as a bad guy?  It seems impossible!

There are some things I liked about the episode, like learning that Sarah Jane was brought up by her Aunt Lavinia, who we knew about from the classic era of Doctor Who.  I also loved that Sarah Jane offers Rani a choice just like the Doctor gives many of his companions.  It’s the infamous “do you want to come with me” speech from Eccleston’s time as the Doctor.  And who doesn’t love the use of a house of mirrors?  I also love that the Pharos Project has returned from last season’s finale, and the director is appreciative of Sarah Jane’s discretion in keeping their project out of the papers.  But for all the positives, there are negatives to go along with it.  When Sarah Jane tells the director of Pharos that she’ll take so little of the meteorite that no one will notice, I was not expecting her to lop off as much as she did!  And Luke claims that they’ve saved the world 12 times so far, but try as I might, at best that’s about how many weeks the show would have been on, but that just means 6 stories.  (7 if you count The Last Sontaran and 8 if you count Invasion of the Bane!)

The worst part for me was the resolution.  Odd Bob stands strangely still, unwilling to so much as move to attack the joker and his pals as they perform the Classic Star Trek resolution from Day of the Dove, laughing and having a good time in the face of danger.  (Odd that that title is so similar to Day of the Dove, too, huh?)  The Dove and the Clown scurry off together, no longer a threat.  For all Walsh’s menace, when put in a bind, he stands there, not even lifting a creepy finger.

The story is a good one, but it needed work.  Walsh plays Elija Spellman with all the right menace, but I was stunned to read he was also playing Odd Bob, with his Southern drawl.  He was a great addition to the story but it needed more menace, not just the creepy factor…  But we’re still getting terrific stories, so I can let that go.  Overall the show is still impressing me to no end, but this one should have been far more impressive than it was.  Perhaps we’ll see more of that with the next one… ML

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Leela the Noble Savage

leelaCompanion Tropes 31

I am deliberately going down the obvious route with Leela today, but not because I support the idea of Leela as a “noble savage”.  In fact, I want to deconstruct the whole idea.  I am not sure when the expression was first used to describe Leela, but it seems to be one of those things that have been around for ever, a bit like describing the Second Doctor as a “cosmic hobo”.  Certainly by the time I started reading about Doctor Who in books and magazines in the early 90s the description of Leela as a “noble savage” was already deeply rooted, to the extend of being used almost without thinking about what exactly it means.

“Noble Savage” is genuinely a character trope, and one that extends far beyond Doctor Who and predates it by at least a century.  But it doesn’t quite fit when you look at exactly what it means.  The excellent TV Tropes website, despite identifying Leela as an example of the “noble savage”, describes the trope in a way that doesn’t seem to fit her particularly well:

A character who is, due to their race or ethnicity, a member of a barbaric or savage tribe (or a group simply perceived as such by others), and because of it portrayed as nobler or of higher moral fibre than the norm.

I think at most we can argue that is only half right for Leela.  A “member of a barbaric or savage tribe” maybe (and we only narrowly escaped that point being rammed home by Leela being a companion in blackface), but is Leela ever portrayed as “nobler or of a higher moral fibre than the norm”?  I don’t think so.  At least, not on television.  Big Finish’s older version of Leela in their Gallifrey series does actually fit the mould a lot better.  But Leela on television regularly has to be stopped from killing anyone she perceives as an enemy, and in fact does kill on several occasions.  Surely being a killer is about as far away as we can get from having “a higher moral fibre than the norm”?

So maybe it will help to look at the words themselves instead.  Cambridge Dictionary describes “savage” (the noun, not the adjective) as “a person whose way of life is at a very early stage of development”.  Although things have actually come full circle for Leela’s tribe, following a period of devolution, that fits the bill reasonably well, although it’s important to remember than the word has some pretty revolting pejorative connotations and nowadays should surely never be used to describe anyone in the real world.

As for “noble”, there are a couple of possibilities:

1. moral in an honest, brave, and kind way.
2. belonging to a high social rank in a society, especially by birth.

#2 clearly doesn’t fit.  As for #1, Leela is definitely brave and honest.  “Kind” is fair enough too, but does this all add up to “moral”?  She rarely stands as a contrast to the alien Doctor in the way that many companions do, so she is probably one of the least suited to fit this description.  It’s hard to understand Leela in terms of being “moral”, as a companion to an “amoral” or “immoral” Doctor.  And surely the moment she becomes his companion the “savage” description fades away quickly.  In fact, she is one companion who is astute enough to see through the Doctor’s bluffing, showing off about the nature of the TARDIS’s dimensions, something Ian fails to do in comparison.  Talons goes down a rather nasty route of educating the savage, but in the end it only results in making Victorian manners look rather quaint and a bit silly.  Does Leela’s ignorance of etiquette make her a savage?  I don’t think so.

Looking at the history of the trope itself, an early influence on the whole concept was Tacitus, who wrote in Germania about the German tribes who existed beyond the boundaries of the Roman empire.  Although he stopped short of making direct comparisons of the “they are better than us” variety, he did praise several of their characteristics which were lacking in Rome, sexual morality in particular.  But it also extended further than that, to hospitality, bravery and a simplicity of lifestyle.  Romans traditionally sought to see these qualities in themselves, and they were idealised by philosophers in particular, but the reality of the Empire at the time failed to live up to the ideal standard.

And maybe there’s something of that vibe in the Doctor/Leela relationship.  Maybe the Doctor never quite lives up to what he would hope to be his ideals, his morality.  Maybe his ethics are really a sham, and he merely keeps his own hands clean by weaponising others, as Davros suggests in Journey’s End.  Perhaps Leela is the one who is truly “noble”, plain and straightforward in her beliefs, and honest enough to kill with her own hands when the situation requires it, unlike the “Lord” of time, who uses the hands of others.  But a “savage”?

One of my least favourite lines in all of Doctor Who is the Fourth Doctor’s final words to Leela.  The Cambridge Dictionary describes the adjective “savage” as “very serious or cruel”.  How’s this for cruelty:

“I’ll miss you too, savage.”

The magnificent Leela, or a man who defines her with a mildly xenophobic term that reduces her to nothing more than her background?  I know which one seems “savage” to me.   RP

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loups garouxIn my write-up for Minuet in Hell, I mentioned that Gideon Crane interrogated the eighth Doctor with 20 questions; one pertaining to when Peter Davison’s Doctor and Turlough encountered werewolves.  I had so hoped that would become a real story… and it did, a month later.  Now, I’m torn because I’m a sucker for a werewolf story (that would have been far funnier if I were saying that about Vampires) but this one is strange.  It’s a really interesting story, with some great acting, but it’s not typical werewolf stuff.  The setting of future Brazil was an odd choice, for one.  But it was more than that!

First of all, Pieter Stubbe is a great villain.  Nicky Henson plays Stubbe with a  ferocity that is magnificent in a beast.  He truly is a great enemy but why does everyone call him “Pieter Stubbe”.  Fans of Sherlock Holmes may notice that many people refer to him as “Mr. Sherlock Holmes”.  I know when Roger and I write to each other, we don’t address each other formally all the time (do we, Mr. Roger Pocock?)  So why can’t people refer to him as Pieter?  Or Stubbe?  Ok, that’s a small complaint but it is very strange!  Of greater concern was his size.  (No, no, we’re coming to that… but for now, I mean the size of the wolf.)  He carries Turlough around in his mouth?  Like, news flash: that’s not a wolf!  That’s a T-Rex.  (Thankfully, he didn’t swallow Turlough but that was only because of the blade Turlough was carrying.)

Rosa Caiman makes a great companion and I really took to her, too.  Played by Sarah Gale, she really becomes an interesting partner to hang out with Yerpie boy, Turlough.  But once again, Big Finish hits us with an episode full of “how do we get a point across without monologue?”  In Rosa’s case, she talks into a tape recorder to her dead “grampa”.  This isn’t a bad thing and in some ways, “grampa” becomes a character on his own even though he remains unvoiced.  Eleanor Bron is Ileana De Santos and she too makes a great character.  She’s on par with those semi-bad guys that the Doctor teams up with.  I actually really love this idea and the fact that the Doctor appreciates werewolves as a race unto themselves is an even better thing.  And then there’s Kato.  When I was a kid, I loved The Pink Panther movies and the moment I head Doctor Hayashi, I knew it was Burt Kwouk and I just love hearing him.  He’s not funny in this, so there’s no shadow of Kato, but he’s just wonderful, even as a conniving baddie!  What really made this great was the idea that he is trying to rid the world of the curse of lycanthropy but the Doctor is not comfortable with that.  This idea that the Doctor is the one defending the “monsters” is a great piece of the story, even if there is one monster that does need to be defeated.  (And we all need someone named “Herr Lichtfuss” because wow, is that not a fun name to say?!)

The cast is wonderful but the setting seems a weird choice for werewolves.  And Doctor Who, normally a show that finds scientific (or pseudo-scientific) resolutions to things, relies too heavily on what is basically magic in this one, removing Pieter Stubbe (yeah, now I’m doing it now) from the Earth, which weakens him and leaves him defeated and gone… in the mind of Rosa Caiman?  I’m not really sure.  And Turlough falling from a train going at 200 miles an hour, probably wouldn’t walk away unscathed.  What do I know, I’ve never fallen from a train!  It’s a minor point, but I do think it was a little silly.  They needed a way to pair Turlough up with Rosa, but this seemed like a weird way to do it.  Still, it’s an interesting story that I’d like to see become an episode, or maybe have a follow up to it.

Oh, but back to Rosa and Turlough… I need to confess: the double entendre does not usually stand out to me, because I typically think people who interpret them are being crude.  That’s the point though, right?  The double entendre is typically  when someone interprets a comment grossly out of context.  People often go too far out of their way to interpret the comment in ways they were not intended, though.  My understanding is that innuendo is  intentional while the double entendre isn’t; people just exacerbate the meaning of an otherwise innocuous comment.  But I have to say, this was the a double entendre that I could not overlook:

Rosa: “Jeez, so big!”

Turlough: “Well that shut her up!”

Well, I guess describing the TARDIS really is a mouthful.  But I still think that line was bent out of shape.  Frankly, that bit of dialogue sucks!  Good dialogue can be a handful, sure, but someone should have spotted it! Ok, before I go totally off the reservation into the realm of innuendo and double entendre, I’ll stop there.  I’m looking forward to where we go from here.  This one had some really great cliffhangers and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.  ML

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Usagi Drop

bunnydropDaikichi is just a regular guy, 30 years old, single, holding down a good job and earning a decent wage, going out in the evenings drinking with his work colleagues.  Not a care in the world.  Then he goes to his grandfather’s funeral and a bombshell drops: also attending the funeral is his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter.  Rin is 6 years old, her mother has done a runner, and nobody else in the family wants anything to do with her.  So Daikichi, being the decent bloke that he is, decides to take in the girl who is technically his aunt, and raise her as his daughter.  That’s the premise of Bunny Drop, or Usagi Drop according to the DVD release, which bizarrely doesn’t bother to translate the Japanese word “usagi” into English, despite the excellent manga series being titled Bunny Drop.

I’m going to do something I haven’t done for this blog so far, and talk about the manga series in another blog post, because it really is quite a separate entity.  So we’ll look at that when I’ve finished it (at the time of writing I’m on volume 6, out of a total of 10 volumes).  But the anime stops at the end of volume 4, a convenient point to finish, with volume 5 jumping ahead a decade to Rin’s teenage years.  The later manga volumes do something very different with the characters, and have a very dodgy reputation, but I’ll judge for myself and let you know.

The little synopsis I gave you above might sound melodramatic, but don’t let that mislead you as to the nature of this series.  Once you get past that odd premise this is nothing more than a very gentle, lovely slice-of-life anime series, focusing on the daily life of Daikichi as he copes with the enormous change in his life, suddenly a father to a six-year-old.  The anime covers roughly a year of their lives.

It’s an absolute eye-opener.  I think it’s fair to say that a lot of Japanese people work very long hours and have a long and tiring commute at either end of their day.  Daikichi is a prime example of that lifestyle, often required to work late into the evening, with no consistent end point to his day.  If there’s work to be done he’s expected to stay and finish it.  Suddenly he has to find daycare for Rin, but that means dropping her off at crazy o’clock and picking her up late in the evening, and the poor thing is exhausted, let alone Daikichi himself, who quickly starts burning out.  Something has to give, and the only option is to take a major demotion, which will allow him shorter, set hours.  His new colleagues are a whole bunch of people who have had to make similar sacrifices, and the series explores beautifully the nature of parents making sacrifices for their children.  It is uplifting, validating the importance of making those sacrifices and how it is completely 100% worth doing that and doesn’t need to be a negative thing.  As a father myself, I found this an enormously compelling series, and completely in tune with the nature of parenthood.

The art style of the anime won’t be to everyone’s tastes but I loved it, with its use of watercolour, something very rare in anime.  It does move back and forth between watercolour and more standard animation, which I believe some people have found a little disjointed, but I never found that it detracted from the story.  The other standard complaint I’ve read is the character design for Daikichi being unattractive, but I think that’s rather a shallow viewpoint.  He’s an entertaining and amusing character, and that’s all that matters.  Surely he doesn’t need to be pretty in order for us to appreciate a series like this?

The opening and ending credits sequences are both beautiful, and apparently impossible to find on YouTube.  Here’s a trailer:

The song is “Sweet Drops” by Puffy.  The pop video for that is really odd.  There’s also a live action version of Bunny Drop, which looks quite cute, but I really don’t do those live action adaptations.  There are better things to watch, in my opinion.

Now back to the manga series.  Can it really be as bad as people say?  My wife has read the whole series and disagrees with the majority view.  I’ll find out for myself soon and report back…  RP

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Remote Island Syndrome I

sisterThe junkyard presents two articles about the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode Remote Island Syndrome Part 1.

The view from 5930 miles away:

It’s always fun to take characters from a school-based series out of their usual setting and take them off somewhere different. The school club trip is a storyline you will find in just about every anime that centres around a club of some kind, and it tends to be used as an excuse for fanservice (swimming costumes, etc). There’s a little of that here, played for laughs of course:

“Too many beach balls!”

This being Haruhi, the SOS Brigade trip centres around her latest crazy idea: to become “a great detective”. The world has a way of falling into place in a way that Haruhi wants, so we move steadily towards what’s going to be a locked room mystery. But does this all happen because Haruhi wishes for it, or is there something more going on?

“I know that the organisation has nothing to do with this.”

Rule One of Haruhi is that Koizumi isn’t as trustworthy as he appears, and observant viewers will figure out that this is a deliberate lie. Remember when Koizumi took Kyon to see a closed space for the first time, and a taxi conveniently appeared at just the right moment. The driver was Arakawa. Now he just happens to be a butler, working for a relative of Koizumi.

“It just so happens that I have a distant relative who is incredibly wealthy.”

That’s handy. Of course, this throws doubt on Mori as well. They will both show up again, but frustratingly we never got a third series of Haruhi so you will have to read the manga series to find out about that. Haruhi describes them as “a suspicious looking butler and maid”. Once again, she stumbles upon exactly what she is looking for, just like she did with Asakura, but ironically never finds out. Dramatic irony is always at the heart of this series.

Adding to the holiday fun, Kyon’s sister is along for the ride, amusingly stowing away in a suitcase. Interestingly, Haruhi only ever addresses her as “little sister”. The cute little sister character has become so prevalent in anime that it almost seems to be compulsory. Is the lack of a name of Kyon’s sister just laziness, or does it say more about the generic little sister role? Could Haruhi have just wished her into existence? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but the series does tend to throw up those kinds of ontological questions. Kyon never gets a real name either.

The cliffhanger ending comes as little surprise. It’s obvious where we’re heading the minute Haruhi dons that “supersleuth” armband. But there’s a huge amount of fun getting there, and the episode made me laugh out loud a couple of times, even on second viewing, especially the pillow hitting Arakawa in the face. Just like Haruhi’s wild signalling when she was playing baseball a couple of weeks ago, Nagato’s speed eating is a gift to makers of animated gifs, and I love those little touches that remind us of her alien nature.

The problem with a locked room mystery is that there are a very limited number of resolutions that actually work. We’ll see if Haruhi stumbles on one that makes sense or not next week… RP

The view from 6,868 miles away:

Did anyone notice the books on the shelf in the club?  Fantasy is the title of a whole bunch of them.  And then there’s a whole bunch called Science Fiction.  This bookshelf might be the lamest ever, or the best.  Or maybe it’s just a way for the artist to draw our attention to the type of series we are watching; an odd mix of science fiction and fantasy.  I think there were more but those were the ones that stood out like a sore thumb to me.  I do think it’s significant on some level, mostly because those book titles are written in English.  Anyway, I come to the oddly titled Remote Island Syndrome 1, letting me know there will be more than one part to this one.  I was fairly sure I’d sit down and do both back to back.

Right off the bat, the story opens on a boat (ship, really) where Kyon is narrating what has happened so far.  Then, we cast back and the humor begins.  When Itsuki is nominated deputy chief of the club, Kyon announces forcefully, “No, I’m not jealous!” and the laughs begin.  I also found it funny when Haruhi arbitrarily asks “do you know the name of the architect who built it” (of the mansion they are going to).  This would be tantamount to me asking who delivered my paper today as any answer would likely be an unknown name to me.  What was she hoping for?  Alien McMystery?   And her logic, “It’s suspicious because nothing looks suspicious!” is also hilarious. This show, quirky and bizarre as it is, does make me laugh frequently.  It’s those moments like Kyon saying throughout episode 8 “so cute!” when referring to Miss Asahina.  There doesn’t have to be a laugh-out-loud uproar, but the humor is there if we’re paying attention. And who doesn’t love the sarcasm that comes from Kyon?

Besides humor, we get a mystery.  Like Mysterique Sign, we’re back in Sherlock Holmes territory.  Locked room mysteries are very popular and Holmes has had his share.  In fact, when Dynamite comics released the first Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel, it was a locked room mystery that had me going the whole time.  Am I surprised at this?  Nope.  Sherlock is very popular in Japan.  There’s even a fairly recent Miss Sherlock from June of 2018, released on HBO (Asia) featuring a female Sherlock.  (Yeah, it’s only a matter of time before James Bond gets his…)  I only watched the first one but it was quite good.  (I don’t read fast enough for the subs, and I was missing things on the screen so I bailed but the show was excellent!)  So when Haruhi announces that she wants to be a supersleuth, we have all the makings of another Sherlock Holmes mystery.  When the body of the owner of the mansion is found dead, stabbed through the heart, in a locked room… well!  Perhaps it is possible that frequent visitors to our site may have picked up on the fact that I am a bit of a Sherlock Holmes fan, so this story was capturing my attention on all counts.  The possibility of time travel, pocket universes, aliens, giant healing scarabs… and now a proper mystery?  Add to that a hint of Agatha Christie with the island house (And Then There Were None)?  I am sold.  So when the episode ended on a cliff-hanger, what the hell could I do?  I ejected the disc and put the next one in because, you know, some sadist put part one on disc one and part two on disc two.  Sadists!!  (Probably produced in Canada now that I think about it!)

Before I jump into part two, though, I had written a note to myself: Deck Chairs.  I stared at it for a sec, like my own home made mystery, when I remembered!  When Kyon and Itsuki are on the deck of the ship talking, deck chairs are visible.  Call it a weird bout with synesthesia, but I could feel them.  This is largely because during my youth we had those colored deck chairs and they had a very rough texture that I liked to touch. I knew immediately what those chairs were modeled after.  It was an incredible thing!  I give credit to the artist.  It seems those chair were more popular than I ever realized!  Ok, enough about the chairs… let’s see what happened on the island.   ML

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