Friday, June 30, 2017

Tsuki ga Kirei

Image changed due to a DMCA takedown notice

Ten minutes and thirty-three seconds into Tsuki ga Kirei, I knew I was in love.

It was a wordless moment of such relatable teenage anxiety and bravado and posing. I felt my chest tighten for Koutarou as he switched his drink order from soda to coffee to impress a girl from school who happened to be at the same restaurant with her family. She probably didn't even notice, so absorbed in her own self-consciousness and terrified about what playground gossip would make of it if anyone found out they were there "together".

In its, at times naive, earnestness, Tsuki ga Kirei captures perfectly that sense of helplessness that floods your senses when you're thirteen and find yourself unexpectedly faced with the person you have a crush on.

It was a mild anxiety attack spread over twelve episodes, as I sat on the edge of my seat hoping that these two sweet, terrified and dumb-in-the-way-that-only-love-can-make-you kids would navigate through this emotional minefield to something like happiness on the other side.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Baby Driver, after

I can't believe it lived up to the hype.

Baby Driver opens with a car chase you've already seen most of in the trailers, but it's still glorious when viewed all in a single sequence. That 180-in-180-out - one of my two favorite stunts in the whole film (the other is the tire shredder) - is cut a fraction shorter than I'd have liked but there's probably a technical reason for that.

Edgar Wright gets a lot of credit - deservedly - for his rapid editing and propulsive montages, but Baby Driver also has some great long single-take(?) sequences. The action-packed opening chase is followed by a multi-minute shot tracking Baby as he buys coffee for his accomplices (I'm 99% sure I spotted a Pierce Brosnan cameo), and there are a couple of others that are just as confidently executed.

And Baby Driver also takes Wright well outside of his established comedy wheelhouse - there's palpable danger hanging in the air between Baby and [spoiler] late in the film. Shaun's finale had dramatic weight, but this is a whole other level. Which isn't to say that Baby Driver isn't funny in places, but you might be disappointed if you're expecting a Hot Fuzz-style comedy.

My pre-movie concerns about the employment of women in the film stand validated, though - they just don't have any real agency and in this day and age that's a poor state of affairs. Reviews have called Baby Driver a love letter to cinema and music but I'm a little frustrated Wright doesn't get as inventive narratively as he does visually. Enough remixes - give us an original composition!

Baby Driver is the best there is at what it does, but what it doesn't is impossible for me to ignore completely.

Baby Driver, before

Baby Driver

I'm writing this before I go to see Baby Driver (this should be posted just as it starts) because I want to get these ideas down before watching the film changes how I think about them.

I've rewatched all of Edgar Wright's feature output in the last fortnight, and even if I hadn't I'd be an easy target for Baby Driver. There's little doubt in my mind that he's the best action director working today (in the West certainly), and I've been on the edge of my seat for Baby Driver ever since the synopsis dropped.

But I'm very aware of my own hype for this film. I'm so caught up in the positive reviews - which I've not even read any of in detail, the buzz just feels inescapable - that I'm half waiting for the sword to fall and half imagining how and how much I'm going to be enthusing about after I've seen it. Hype is giving way to a cold animal fear that it can't live up to the rumbling positivity, and my brain is stuck on one particular angle.

All of Wright's films suffer from a dearth of strong women. The women in his films are almost all (or are they all?) sidekicks, or girlfriends, or girlfriends' mates, or maybe antagonists (but not the Big Bad). Baby Driver looks set to continue this trend, with the female lead both the protagonist's girlfriend and very probably a damsel in distress. She's even a waitress, for God's sake - basically movie shorthand for "I need a man to save me from my own existence".

Wright excels at employing tropes, but rarely subverts them (beyond transplanting American clichés to unprepared English idylls).

Is there a reason Baby has to be a guy? Couldn't Mozart in a gokart be a woman? I'm trying to think of something in the plot that would prevent a gender swap, but all I'm coming up with is that this is what the genre demands and that's just… not good enough.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Re:Creators - more complaints about 7/10 anime

In the first episode of Re:Creators, there's a great scene where Selesia, a light novel heroine from a fantasy/scifi world, fights teenage magical girl Mamika. Selesia challenges Mamika to consider how her claims of fighting for justice can sit next to the collateral damage (mostly caused by Mamika) that resulted from their battle. Coming from a kids' show, Mamika's fights have never endangered bystanders before - she's horrified. But the show doesn't go into the moral quandaries or ideological differences between the characters, and its disinterest in the inner lives of its cast ultimately damages the macro plot as well.

Re:Creator's fundamental flaw is that none of its characters seem to have any problem accepting the situation they've found themselves in.

But despite being pulled suddenly from her fictional reality into our world, Selesia never struggles to come to terms with the fact that her entire existence - every moment of joy or pain, every defeat and victory she's ever lived through - is an invention purely for entertainment. I need her to react to this somehow, but her unflappable heroism in the face of this revelation blows a hole in any believability her character could otherwise have had.

It's not that every character needs to have an existential crisis - Meteora's ability to absorb information almost by osmosis from the world around her means she's going to process the situation faster than others - but no matter how unflappable their fictional character bio says they are (there's a recurring excuse about "that's how I wrote her! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯"), there should be some stumbles. Only one member of the cast has a bone to pick with her creator, and even that's all but an afterthought.

In the most recent episode, Selesia has a conversation with the author of her novels about whether she would want to go back to her fictional world, but there's an unanswered - actually, unasked - question of whether she can, and what that could mean for the story. She's found out that she's a literal fantasy and it doesn't occur to the show that this proactive, brave warrior might want answers from the person who put her entire world in harms' way for his own interest.

At every turn, Re:Creators shies away from digging into any of the interesting questions that its own premise raises, and as a result the things that it does bother to put the effort in for - highly-dramatic battle sequences, mostly - are airless, rote affairs between characters I just can't find a way to care about.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Love Tyrant and fanservice

Love Tyrant

Love Tyrant is a pretty generic, fundamentally unremarkable harem rom-com. Even its supernatural twist feels familiar, cribbing equally from Ah! My Goddess and (admittedly somewhat bizarrely) Death Note. I've given it a shot because a friend of mine wrote the dub script and on that front at least it does actually succeed at the comedy elements1.

I'd be enjoying it a lot more without the requisite fanservice, though.

It's not that I particularly mind fanservice - Lord knows you can't watch much anime if you have any serious aversion to rampant overuse of the male gaze, or improbably elastic breast physics (Love Tyrant makes the Gainax bounce look subtle). It's getting easier to avoid (in some genres more than others), but it still feels like there's a base level of objectification that these shows expect of themselves, that a viewer has to accept at the door.

What bothers me about Love Tyrant is that it acts like its fanservice is edgy and transgressive when really, fanservice is never either of those things. It's hard to be shocked or even surprised by this stuff - it's so… routine. Even the main character's over-the-top reactions are perfunctory, and not just in this show - it's a staple of the genre. It's tough to know who these guys are supposed to be a stand-in for, since it can be assumed that the intended audience is here for this stuff; their reaction isn't going to be one of panic.

It's minimally titillating, I suppose - in much the same way as nudity in 80s action movies. But at least there's an acknowledgement that Robocop and Total Recall's topless hookers are a relic of the past, and it's not deemed necessary to include similar "characters" in modern films the way anime continues to shove fanservice in.

Of course at some point I've got to accept that I'm not - and never was, and never will be - the target audience for this stuff. I'm not going to buy character goods, I'm not going to buy the DVD release - hell, I'm probably never going to learn any of the characters' names.

But there's still a gnawing disappointment that anime hasn't moved on from this, that the industry seemingly can't make a genuinely funny romantic comedy without stooping to raunchy tactics barely a level of respectability above a Carry On installment2.

1. Mild gay panic plot points aside, which can't really be the fault of any localisation effort unless they're willing to edit out entire shots from the visual part of the show. A complete remake could be condemned for retaining this stuff, but I've got a hard time criticising anime translators.

2. I'd maybe argue that B-gata H-kei is the exception that proves this rule, even though it still has its fair share of innuendo and bare skin. I'd give it a pass on that because it's a show about teenagers' obsessions with physical intimacy; fanservice is relevant not just to its characters, but to its point.