Sunday, May 28, 2017

Saga of Tanya the Evil


Tanya follows the wartime exploits of a nine-year-old military savant, rising through the ranks of a German-analogue Imperial army. Using her knowledge of our world history (Tanya is a salaryman, reincarnated as a girl in this alternate reality by a "god" when (s)he questioned this "Being X"'s divinity), our anti-heroine maneuvers her way to the rank of Major, commanding her own elite battalion of combat mages (yeah…).

But for all its window-dressing of trench warfare, there's little actual engagement with the grim reality of war. Tanya's sociopathy is a central part of her character, but it's rarely given a real-world display. She and her mages sit literally above the regular infantry, invulnerable to regular arms and detached from much of the day-to-day hardship. It could be a side-effect of the 12-episode run time, but there's very little down-time in which to show off just how detached Tanya is from the average soldier.

Her entire battalion, in fact, quickly adopts her gung-ho attitude and they offer slim opportunities to highlight how "evil" Tanya supposedly is. Second Lieutenant Serebryakov has a sunny, positive disposition that remains unchanged by Tanya's brutal training regime and psychopathic dedication to the extermination of her enemies. If there was ever the intent to make a point about how war changes people, the opportunity appears to have sailed past the writers, unnoticed. And her battalion makes it through every fight largely unscathed, when the occasional sudden fatality could drive a wedge between the indifferent commander and her troops.

Another recurring theme is Tanya's atheism - in the face of an entity which has proven itself to be omnipotent - versus her magic's reliance on prayer to a higher power. There's potential here for deeper character work, but it's never delivered. Every few episodes it comes up, in many cases unremarked upon, but is quickly forgotten until the next reminder.

Which is all a bit disappointing - Tanya is a great character. Self-reliant, unnaturally clever and utterly devious, with the dangerous addition of a short temper and unreasonably high standards. Her quick-wittedness is a hindrance as much as it's a benefit - her need to demonstrate her high intellect to a superior officer leads directly to her appointment at the head of a front-line battalion, in direct opposition to her goal of remaining as far from the war as possible. She's a lethal fighter and superior tactician, with a confidence bordering on recklessness in battle.

If it wasn't for the dub, I doubt I'd have finished this show. I've always found it easier to watch a show without also having to read it, so the various shortcomings of a given series are less of a hurdle in English. It's a solid if largely by-the-numbers effort, as is the series as a whole, but Monica Rial's performance as the eponymous lead is about as fun as an alternate-reality First World War could ever reasonably expect.

It's just such a shame the rest of the show never really does her justice.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Shin Godzilla (2016)

Shin Godzilla, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi's 2016 update of maybe the most famous monster franchise in the world, is the series' most overtly satirical entry. It's also arguably the funniest, and much like Gareth Edwards' 2014 installment has gone straight to my top 3 - almost just for its atomic breath, which is the best in the franchise (as well as the most destructive).

In 1954, Godzilla was a warning symbol come to giant, rubbery life. Given the source of its powers, the common reading of the King of the Monsters as a specifically anti-nuclear reaction is really just a result of the atomic bomb as the only weapon of mass destruction the world had seen (yet). The Dr Serizawa subplot - and specifically its resolution - paint a broader warning about the misuse of science for destructive ends. (It's hard to think of a non-violent application for the Oxygen Destroyer, but Serizawa spends much of the film debating whether he should share the technology even to save his country.)

It's harder to draw a specific parallel for the role of the big G in Shin Godzilla. Really, the film is an idictment of the sluggish reactions of Japanese bureaucracy to disasters. The film opens with an increasingly ridiculous series of meetings about forming committees to hold meetings about dealing with what is, initially, a minor incident. When Godzilla does eventually appear on-screen, its rapidly-mutating powers instantly outpace the govermnent - whose eventual response is far too little, much too late. Tokyo is devastated around them while bureaucrats wring their hands about departmental responsibility.

There's an argument to be made that this Godzilla represents a much more modern threat - its sudden, devastating emergence and subsequent disappearance, coupled with its evolving capabilities, bring to mind terrorism. The origin of the monster - a side-effect of short-sighted convenience - could be an analogue for any number of Western governments' ill-advised meddling which resulted in a devastating, agressive response.

But this doesn't really hold up in the slightly saggy back half of the film, which loses a lot of the forward momentum that builds during and in the aftermath of Godzilla's emergence. A race between American nuclear bombers and a scientific effort to freeze the monster by cooling its blood is oddly airless, as it's mostly carried out by mid-level aides call in political favours to delay the US military response.

At the end, very little is resolved. The frozen body of Godzilla still looms over Tokyo, with the American countdown merely paused. For all the politicians' ambitious for their own future political glory, Tokyo is left in the shadow of its imminent destruction, and ultimately the people of Japan don't seem to have much say in the matter.