Monday, June 21, 2004

Okay, I'm not some fan-boy but...

Subject: Noir
...I actually have a long history of watching "animation from Japan". Since I'm now also hooked on over-encoded downloads of Madlax on top of my Noir obsession, and I filled out my weekend watching Kiki's Delivery Service (and, non-animated-but-still-Japanese, Kurosawa's last film, Madadayo), I think I'm going to indulge in a little tale of what I viewed over the years.

One of my earliest memories goes back to the turn-of-the-70's. I distinctly remember watching Speed Racer on my family's only TV. A black & white TV at that. I'd bet the screen was no bigger than 17". I had a Matchbox car that I named "Mark 5" that I'd race around the floor during the show. I'd doodle with my crayons a big #5 with a sort of big dot in front of it; a "mark".
I was even younger than this at the time. By the time this picture was taken (Xmas 1973), I had long moved on to more intellectual pursuits, like Bobbsey Twin books. You can tell I had taste.

If, by "had taste", you mean "was a total dork".

Anyway, fast-forward to the last half of the 70's, that magical time when a nerdy 10-year old still had Star Wars to look forward to, and took up the time building (and then destroying) plastic model ships, planes and cars. The after-school cartoon du-jour was, of course, Star Blazers. Soon my friend and I, instead of outright destroying our plastic model aircraft carriers and missile cruisers, spent time modifying them with battery-powered LEDs inserted into pieces from jet fighter models, and built our own fleet of Yamoto-inspired monstrosities.

Soon to follow was The Battle of the Planets. By then, Star Wars had come out and 7-Zark-7 was just an R2-D2 rip-off with a C3-PO voice as far as we were concerned. And we spent most of our time trying to make Star-Wars-figure movies. We spent a lot of time burning styrofoam to test the "special effects" until Mom caught me; that was the end of that. I had never developed the one Super-8 test reel I took, which is a real shame. But that moment in time was where my first inklings towards a film career gelled.

Enter the 80's, and I discovered computers. Then girls. I was a lot more comfortable with computers than I was with girls, go figure. But I obsessed over both equally. There was an aborted attempt at Dungeons & Dragons, but all that served was me buying a lot of crap and not really finding anyone at school who wanted to take the time to play anymore. No biggie.

Anyway, back to "Japanamation": senior year, after mostly breaking from my nerdly past (computers got boring though I was going to major in them in college, and I spent more time at basketball & football games than watching TV -- why, you ask? Drivers license!), and after a succession crushes on the prep girls, the lacrosse girls, and the "hippie" girls, I fell for the token "geek" girl. She was the type with her nose always in a Piers Anthony book and went to those conventions in full costume and whatnot. Anyway, she wasn't interested, either, but at least tolerated me hanging around. I learned about stuff like "Elfquest" and "Dune" and "Lord of the Rings", and pretty much spiraled right back into nerdiness by the time I graduated. I had a stack of sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks (of which half were probably Piers Anthony Xanth novels), and after her and I dated for a bit (and quickly broke up - turns out I can be a over-possessive arsehole or something), I had a lot of time to read them.

That's about the same time Star Blazers reruns returned, and something new started out: RoboTech! I was working the electronics department at a Zayre's most days it was on, so I'd always say "I have to catch my soaps" (it was quite a soap opera after all) and tuned in all the display sets so I could watch them.

Anyway, all that fell by the wayside as I was finally about to escape home and go off to college. On the day they introduced the various student activities groups to us, I made a fateful decision: Do I join up with the college radio station (I was really into dinosaur rock music and I thought I'd be able to play some of it there, little did I know), or sign on with the that "wargamer" group over in the corner that had all of the *gasp* D&D paraphernalia. And... oh my god... a cute girl!

(By this point you're saying "well, that was their only cute girl, you know", and I'd have to say you were wrong. There were 2; another one joined up around the same time I did. :) )

Predictably, the wargamers' "guild" took over my life, my studies sucked and I was no good at any of that calculus and physics and programming stuff. I had discovered that thing called the "male:female ratio" was tipped heavily against me, so what social skills I had atrophied right along with my grades. My increased alcohol consumption probably made up for both. Anyway, it was no big deal; my new friends (some of which are still good friends to this day) had all sorts of great stuff -- like comic books and every episode of Robotech on tape.

At some point in the blur of those years, but around the time I all but flunked out of engineering, and started the path to my new goal of film school (I realized I wanted to get into computer animation), there was one guy who wanted to introduce everyone to something called "anime". "You mean Japanamation, right?" was the response; I can't really remember if that irritated him, or just made him take on the air of "the one who knows better than you poor ignorant fools". Note that in the whole school, there was, pretty much, just this one guy. Anyway, he posts fliers inviting everyone to show up at one of the auditoriums to see an amazing new film from Japan.

Well, it was a 3rd generation VHS copy in Japanese with no subtitles using a crappy video projector and lousy audio, but, as you can guess, a film like Akira still made quite an impression. Over the next few years, I'd see it a number of more times, dubbed and subtitled. I'd even taken no less than 3 dates to see it (You'd think I'd have learned my lesson after the first try, but noooo...).

My friends and I would hungrily seek out tapes and laserdiscs (I had gotten a free ancient Magnavox player from the department I worked for) of anything we could get our hands on. I don't remember many titles besides Tank Police and Vampire Hunter D, but there must have been a dozen or so. They were scattered around the sci-fi section of the one place in town that had them; there was no such thing as an "anime" section then.

But, as fate would have it, I got more involved with film school, and less involved with general geekdom. My "film snobbery" blossomed. I wound up preferring my subtitled Japanese movies to be Kurosawa, not "cartoons". My animation tastes skewed towards independent, abstract, and those hilarious Canadian Film Board shorts (which, by the way, INHD has snuck a few Hi-def transfers of at various times to my surprise, but they don't have them on their schedule!). The International Animation Festival in Ottawa became a bi-yearly pilgrimage.

I know since then I've probably seen dozens of anime movies and individual series episodes as they popped up occasionally on cable, or showed up in the rental bin. Various housemates would pick them up because someone recommended it. Frankly, while I enjoyed them well enough, I really didn't remember any of them. And I was pretty aware that those were just the tip of a weird costume-wearing geeky iceberg that just wasn't to my taste. It was the realm of obsessive fan-boys and I was done with my time on the periphery of that world.

So major-league fast-forward 10 years or so... my film "career" ends when the video production facility I slaved at went broke. I had done a few cheapo animated shorts for the first season of a childrens' show called Pappyland (*shudder*) and a bunch of low-budget PSAs & commercials while I was there, and that was about the end of it. I wound up with a real day job doing "multimedia training" at Xerox. My creative skills started falling away to my need to lead the technical development and conform to corporate mediocrity and ever-tightening budgets. But, it was a good paycheck for a single guy. I bought a new car, and a fixer-upper house on the lake.

One day I caught Princess Mononoke on cable. I was impressed. Eventually I discovered that Miyazaki, the director, also directed the up-and-coming very-acclaimed Spirited Away, which I added to my "must see when it gets to DVD" list (I rarely make the trek into town to see movies any more unless it's a date). I bought my HDTV and a new 720p-upconverting DVD player right about when its DVD came out, so I ordered both that and Mononoke and broke the set in with a double-feature of both.

And then I stumbled on Noir. And here I am. But I've posted about that already.

So with me and film, it's "all about the auteur", so I'm now building up a Miyazaki collection, and looking into more and more Mashimo. I tried downloading the Avenger fansubs to fill in the time while waiting for the next Madlax episode, but I only could find a seed for episode 1, which didn't quite grab me the way Madlax and Noir did. I suppose I'll wait for the DVDs. Mashimo has also done .hack//sign, which is available on DVD, but I'm hesitating on that one, because it hearkens on that costume-wearing MMPORG weirdness that I, well... I'm too old for that shit. Anyway, when I finally sign up for Greencine, I'll probably rent it.

I'm pretty sure I won't descend into over-aged fan-boydom just yet, though. Another thing we have on cable is the Anime Network On Demand with that paltry playlist. Out of all of those series, I find them to be pretty much juvenille, wooden, flat, cliche-ridden, or otherwise not very interesting. I mean, what's with all the steam-driven gadgetry? And giant robots in the medieval past? *Sigh*. Oh, and I want the half-hour I spent watching Chobits back. :)

Oh, of course, I'm grabbing one of those "Best episodes of" discs of Cowboy Bebop, but I think I mentioned that already. Someone said I'd like it. And that I might like Lain. There might be a couple of others... Maybe I need to take a break and watch more movies with actual people in them first.

Movies that aren't in Japanese.

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