Quick as a Flash review

Flash Gordon is another one of those old comic series that I’d really love to get into if I could carve out the time and spare the bucks to dig them up. Fortunately, Gordon’s alive™ in other media!

Any nerd or child of the 70’s or 80’s worth his salt is already familiar with (and a huge fan of) the 1980 film featuring the titular character. It’s got Max Von Sydow, Brian Blessed’s most famous line, and a lizard man being disintegrated.

{y:i}Halt, Lizard Man! {y:i}Escape is impossible. Surrender.

What’s not to love?

I also recently discovered an animated incarnation of Flash from 1979-1982. Strangely, there was a feature-length film, the Greatest Adventure of All, that was put together in 1978 or 1979 but not actually aired until the resulting spin-off cartoon was put out to pasture around 1983. Odd.

I haven’t rooted around for the series yet, but the film is up on YouTube. I won’t link it here for fear of bringing the Copyright police down on the channel, but feel free to just search for the Greatest Adventure of All.

I gave it a watch and I was pleased. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s exciting. There’s plenty of action, and if you’re a fan of the live action movie you’ll recognize most of the characters. I can’t speak to how well they resemble their comic book origins, but for the most part they match up pretty well with their film counterparts.

Also, the men are men and the women are women!

zharkov
Zarkov shoots at a dinosaur
Aura
Aura lounges around all sexy-like

I’m also glad they included Thun, the prince of the Lion men. He didn’t make it into the live action film, probably because of how big a pain in the ass it would have been to make a convincing-looking lion man.

Anyway if you’ve got an hour and a half to kill or if you usually spend your lunch breaks staring at your cube wall, look it up and give it a watch!

Bonus fact: If you’re a fan of the old Shee-Ra cartoon, you’ll also recognize the voice of Melendy Britt (who voiced Shee-Ra) as Princess Aura.

-Bushi

bushi

 

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Adventure Time is “new pulp”

I haven’t written about Adventure Time yet, have I? Dang. At first I was tempted to say “Adventure Time is pulp,” but of course that doesn’t adhere to the real, literal definition of the term.

Despite the admirable and vigorous impetus possessed by some yeomen of the nascent Pulp Revolution (that is, the collective of writers, bloggers, readers, critics, fans, et al. who have rediscovered the old greats of the original pulp stories, and now strive to bring about a revival of sorts or else an inspired new era of science fiction/fantasy), I personally do not believe in trying to redefine that which already has a very rigid and clear meaning. As Cirsova and John Smith (above) point out, “pulp” is quite actually a type of story published in a pulp magazine between 1896 and somewhere abouts in the 1950s. As Rawle (above) also pointed out, we must not redefine pulp  as “stuff we like.” That’s like saying “I love hard science fiction, ergo any scifi stories I like are hard science fiction.”

But as I was saying, Adventure Time is not pulp. It is quite pulpy, though. Whatever we’re calling that which evokes the spirit and ethos of the old pulp stories and seems to draw inspiration from the old greats – that’s what Adventure Time is. “New pulp?” Whatever.

Interestingly, this is another thing of classification “stuff that Kaiju got me into.” Before being reluctantly persuaded to watch, Adventure Time looked like a goofy kid’s show to me. Perhaps worse and quite evidently unfairly, it made me think of Hot Topic and Cat Dog.

 

Even upon my first viewing, I wasn’t initially sold. Kaiju and I were hanging out, and he says “Hey let’s watch Adventure Time.”

I was skeptical.

“Dude, shut up, you’ll like it.”

I yielded, skeptically, as is my wont.

The first episode was about a kingdom of candy people with a bubblegum princess. Ugh. But wait, then there were zombies. And though Jake the Dog was a little off-putting at first (John DiMaggio at that point was Bender the Robot in my mind), I quickly grew to like him. I mean a loyal, brave, shape-shifting mutant dog creature? That’s ok in my book. And Finn the Human was pretty cool too. Yes, he has a weird hat. But he also wields swords and sees it as his mission to defend the weak, defeat evil, and essentially just be a badass hero. Yes!

As I watched more episodes on my own time, the world of Ooo began to unfurl. And it was massive. This is a land filled with monsters, mad wizards, all manner of strange mutants and weird creatures, talking animals, aliens, robots, dungeons and magic.

Despite the easy fun of most episodes, the cartoon’s presentation and style are complex and layered. The animation is inspired by the old Max Fleischer cartoons and Felix the Cat. Inspirations for the story and the world itself are varied and impressive. Creator Pendleton Ward has described the show as a dark comedy, because he loves the feeling of being happy and scared at the same time. He works to combine a bleak kind of humor with beautiful “Miyazaki”-style moments (he’s cited My Neighbor Totoro as an inspiration for this type of beauty).

Executive producer Fred Seibert has named Dungeons and Dragons and video games as inspirations, and that shows. There are characters and settings and situations that now strike me as weird, almost Vancian imaginings.

 

Although (like a lot of anime) there are some less satisfying “filler” episodes scattered about, Adventure Time does a masterful job developing its characters and advancing its general story while at the same time capturing the spirit of serialized adventure. Some of the funnest episodes are those in which Finn and Jake just fight monsters and/or explore dungeons. “Dungeon Train” was a great episode for this, as was “The Enchiridion!

My favorite AT stories are probably the more melancholy ones, though. There are storylines in which Finn deals with being the (presumed) only human left in the world; with seeking out his father; and in dealing with young love and heartbreak. We also get to learn more (often heartbreaking tales) about ancillary characters like the Ice King, who, though on the surface is a crazed, silly, perverted old mage, actually has a sad, moving, noble past. The way this show is able to blend and transition between comedy, beauty, and gut-wrenching poignancy brings to mind Futurama at its best.

the-luck-of-the-fryrish

We are also occasionally treated to glimpses of characters at different times and places, sometimes Ooo beyond the lifetimes of our protagonists. The haunting song of Lemonhope comes to mind:

 

There’s so much to love about Adventure Time that it’s difficult to really do it justice in one simple blog post. But one more admirable element I’d like to note is the way the show glories in heroics. While plot elements can get really dark at times, Finn and Jake never waver or shy away from their roles. Even when things seem hopeless, they fight. And they’re good guys; it’s that simple. As gray and nuanced as our entertainment can be these days, it’s heartening to have a show where the good guys are just good.

So if you like genre bending (I’d probably call it post-apocalyptic scifi fantasy), action and adventure, dark comedy, fun, heroic heroes, and emotionally-layered animation…do yourself a favor and check it out.

adult finn

Oh, and just try to tell me that Ron Perlman as the Lich isn’t the greatest. “You are strong, child. But I am beyond strength.”

 

-Bushi

bushi

One Punch parody

Twitter friend @omgthatguyayfkm recently brought to my attention an anime called One Punch Man. It looked a bit silly, but Toonami was running a marathon of the first 7 episodes, and the trailer piqued my interest.

Well I started watching it, and I’m sold.

bargain

I’ve never been a #serious anime fan; I remember watching Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon now and then as a kid. I like some of the Ghibli films and every once in a while someone will make me watch something that sticks, like Record of the Lodoss War (an anime based upon a D&D campaign).

Aside from often just being kind of weird, anime has a lot of tropes that grate – the coquettish, large-breasted teenage girls exclaiming “oni-san;” the whole “senpai notice me” thing; fear, pain, surprise, or conflicted feelings expressed by constipated whimpering; etc.

One anime that I used to watch was Keroro Gunsou, because I enjoyed how it made fun of itself and other, similar shows. Self-conscious anime can be a great thing.

One Punch Man falls into that same category – it makes fun of the genre. I’m only three episodes in, and so far the formula seems to be pretty static, yet brilliant.

We generally start off a story arc with something gravid and brooding; a city is being ravaged by a monster, usually. Or we’ll get a look at a mad villain’s backstory. Popular tropes are trotted out to be roasted, complete with gleefully over-the-top names and situations.

I’ve been watching the subtitled version so far, and unfortunately little jokes are sometimes lost. For example there’s a professor named “Kuseno.” In Japanese, this is kind of a pun. “Professor Kuseno” would mean something like “Shitty Professor.”

Still, even without those little gems, this show shines. Characters that would be “boss fights” or progressively stronger in other “fighting” anime shows are destroyed with single punches by our overpowered protagonist. Sometimes they don’t even get a word in.

This is especially effective when they’re fleshed out. We may get a giant-sized bad guy who was mutated by his mad scientist brother – the culmination of his quest for physical perfection. The two then set out to rule the world. Only to be squashed by the hero in an almost anticlimactic fashion. Sometimes the show hypes the baddie up so much that we wonder if One Punch Man may finally have met his match. But nope. Not so far, anyway.

onepunch

The villains take themselves so seriously that it’s particularly delicious to see them destroyed so embarrassingly easily.

Bits of light dialogue and humorous pokes abound. This is often the result of One Punch Man’s boredom and the incredulity of allies and enemies at his revealed strength.

There are also all kinds of little jabs at the genre. For example, so far the cities are never properly named – it’s always City B or City D or some such, taking a swipe at how many shows will just devastate metropoli willy-nilly. Cities are good settings for epic showdowns, so it doesn’t really matter what they’re called or how many there are, does it?

Right now the show seems to be airing periodically on Cartoon Network. I haven’t seen it on Crunchy Roll or any *legitimate* subscription video service, though you can find less scrupulous sources online pretty easily.

Update: My friend is telling me it’s available on Hulu, so there ya go!

If you enjoy self-parodying anime or used to watch Dragon Ball or the like, you may want to check this one out. I’m loving it so far.

-Bushi

bushi

 

Dragons and Dragons

If you’ve been with me here for any length of time or given the place a cursory look-around, you’re no doubt aware that my Nerdhunger is insatiable and demands a wide variety of flavors and textures. While my proclivity for older, more gilded materials grows, I embrace the works of all decades and eras.

I believe I’ve once or twice mentioned that I’m a fan of many of the old Rankin/Bass animations. While they’re probably best known for their Christmas specials, they also put out animated versions of the Hobbit, the Last Unicorn, and a number of other fantasy works. One of my favorites is Flight of Dragons. Here’s the intro with its snazzy song; you may recognize some of the voice actors in the opening credits:

 

A number of years back I picked up the book that Flight is chiefly based on – The Dragon and the George. It turns out that the film is more inspired by the book than based on it; some of the characters have the same names and general roles (like Bryagh being an antagonistic dragon and Carolinus being a good wizard). Both stories involve a protagonist being sucked from a mundane, modern reality into a fantasy world of knights and magic, and in both tales said hero winds up initially inhabiting the body of a dragon. An imaginative premise!

dragongeorge

I recently spotted the Dragon Knight, the sequel to the Dragon and the George, at a secondhand bookstore. I hadn’t been aware that this was a series, so I decided to pick it up and reread the first one, which I’m now doing. So far as I recall, I enjoyed it the first time through and thus far am liking it once again.

Incidentally, although Gordon R. Dickson doesn’t appear on Appendix N or any of the other evil SFF lists I’ve mentioned, he was a contemporary of many of those who did make the cut and in 2000 he made it into the SFF Hall of Fame. He’s apparently been compared stylistically in some ways to Poul Anderson and the two actually collaborated on a series of short stories.

I’ll check back in on this at some point, when I’ve had a chance to read and digest his stuff more thoroughly. But for the time being I can at least recommend the film and the Dragon and the George. If you’re unfamiliar with either, check’em out!

-Bushi

bushi

 

The darkest of Disney songs

Recently I’ve been buying copies of more obscure but memorable cartoons that were on TV when I was a kid – The Last Unicorn, Flight of Dragons, Little Nemo, and the like. These are shards of my youth that I’d like to share with my offspring someday; if for nothing else to show them how good handdrawn animations used to be.

Ltoaster1ast week I got around to rewatching one that I picked up last Christmas – the Brave Little Toaster. BLT occupies an interesting space in the Disney universe. It was based on a book and created independently, and received a very limited theatrical release. Disney picked up the rights for TV and home video, the two media where the film achieved a degree of success. Incidentally, many of the animators went on to found Pixar, and BLT was the first animation, I believe, to include the mysterious “A113” Easter egg.

BLT’s story focuses on a group of appliances who have been abandoned when a family moved away, and have been waiting for years for their young master to return. After some deliberation, they decide to leave their countryside home and seek him out in the city.

Because it wasn’t created by Disney, the movie explored a much wider and darker range of themes than Disney IPs. The joy of being loved was contrasted with the fear of being abandoned and the feeling of worthlessness. This was reflected in the soundtrack, which was written by composer David Newman, and was actually aimed at not sounding too cartoony. Another aside – Newman has scored many movies over the years, a number of which are quite recognizable, including the Bill and Ted movies, the Sandlot, Galaxy Quest, and Ice Age.

The songs aren’t for everyone; my girlfriend wasn’t a big fan. I think the creators achieved their goal in writing a soundtrack that wouldn’t typically be applied to a cartoon. Still, for that reason I’m quite fond of it. A lot of the tracks are catchy and have a degree of depth that you might not find in Disney songs. Below is the film’s last song, set in the climactic junkyard scene. The appliances have been doublecrossed by their master’s newer, high tech gadgets and carted off to be disposed of. As they try to avoid being tossed into the crusher, we see various old cars, now deemed “worthless,” being destroyed after briefly telling us about their lives. Doesn’t get a whole lot darker.

 

-Bushi

bushi