Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The State Of The Kaijyu (August 31st, 2010)

Well it looks like there may be a great deal more happening on these pages than previously for a while. In between occupations is not a bad place to be, and it also offers many a great opportunity to reach deeply for some above caliber material. Not a bad challenge.

But until that happens, there will likely be more than a few brief-shots occurring here than usual. Getting acclimated to this new schedule is going to take a little time. Steam will gather for sure, but just as a calm before the storm, I felt it best to make a note to not only my fellow readers, but myself as well. The events of last week couldn't have been more polar in extremes, so this only makes sense. One moment we're celebrating friends, and expressing in a myriad of method, the next, a major inspiration vanishes from view, and leaves the mediasphere (Fans & creators) in a most uncertain place..Perhaps it is time for a long neglected recharge of battery.

And on the same token, I will also likely have some more goodness happening at Variable Zero (since this is one of the very best places for me to work things out on a less intellectual level). And of course, Anime Diet will remain host to some of my stranger rants. There are still some vivid memories, and concerns to tend to on that front for sure. In a time when High School Of The Dead comes off as the one show not to miss, you know I have to chime in somewhere.

Also looking out for pals, and keeping up the daily on Twitter. Quite often you'll find me up to some mischief there, as well as sharing some of the most unusual findings too tiny for a mere post here. All in all, I'm still very much around, and there is a fun little review coming very soon. And hey....how about some podcasting? The latest episode of Combo Attack!! is the first of two incredible (albeit terribly informal-fair warning) shows featuring some love for seriously old school arcade games, and consoles. (and btw- check out my co-host's new blog for more dives into oceans of geek.)

Oh, heck. Let's just share this unique event right here. 

So yes. Plenty happening, and will accelerate as time allows. But give the other options a spin. I'll do my part to make them worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memories Of Satoshi Kon

Nearly eight hours since I first read the saddening news, and I'm still in a haze. I didn't expect to wake up this morning to fire up the laptop, resume job hunting, as well as preparing new posts, when a trusted news source Tweeted that visionary filmmaker Satoshi Kon had lost a battle with cancer at age 47. Naturally, doubt took hold for a few second, but then why would Takeda from Gainax lie about such a thing? The anime/film industry is not known for pulling such crass stunts, let alone someone from such a reknowned studio. And then things truly shifted moments later, when Studio Mad House's own Masao Maruyama confirmed the news.

Satoshi Kon was in fact gone, and the media world had lost a creative giant.

It feels like only a few years ago, when his name took a special hold in my heart. It was back when his animated adaptation of Yoshikazu Takeuchi's idol-world psychosaga Perfect Blue had begun to make a name for itself in cult film circles via magazines. And it wasn't until catching it at Anime Expo ' 99, did I feel the power of this incredible new voice. By taking the medium of animation, Kon had weaved a rare tapestry of sight and sound that both paid tribute to the best of the gialli, as well as trailblazed a daring new path for film narrative. It was a truly extraordinary experience, made all the more memorable, when the player used in the screening broke down in the middle of the film's reality-warping third act, making the entire crowd visibly troubled.

Upon the film's revival, the crowd broke into the fastest loud cheer I've ever witnessed for a film. The burst was audibly intense, and yet quick, in order to get right back into the thrill of the story. Kon had this crowd in the palm of his hands, no doubt. And I was right there with them.

Years later, I had already heard word of his follow-up which was to explore the life of a famed actress from the early half of the twentieth century, but I had no clue just how much Kon's melancholy drama Millennium Actress would resonate with me. Stretching across not only her life in the movies, but through the trials, and tribulations of a country evolving, the tale of Chiyoko Fujiwara was something that only alchemists of film can truly conjure, proving that the man's talents were far beyond the fare he had tinkered with previously, which was mostly horror & genre fiction (Roujin Z, Memories, World Apartment Horror).

And still, his assault on the mind via transcendent animation, and provocative ideas reached an apex when his career offered a one-two combo in the forms of a unique heartwearming comedy, Tokyo Godfathers, as well as the ultra grim spiritual follow-up to Perfect Blue, the television masterpiece, Paranoia Agent. Handling two seemingly different types of works within a short span of years seems suicidal when considering the high watermark of quality these works engendered, and yet both deliver strong amounts of emotion coupled with a genuine worry for Japan's contemporary spirit, as well as showcasing brilliant looks at the strains of everyday life. Somehow, Kon's characters, and tales have a relation factor that is unusually high in so that it blurs the distinctions between live action and animated material. His works function as neither the atypical Japanese production, nor does it ever cater to the anime otaku market. Somehow, his works exist in a universe all their own, and grant amazing replay value for those looking to immerse themselves in novel-like storytelling, with a penchant for the surreal.

So it must have felt natural, to follow-up the critical international success of these shows with a daring return to the type of mindbending material that brought him to this plateau. When upon first hearing that Kon's next venture was to take on one of Tsutsui's bizarre, and thematically complex novels in the science-fiction satire, Paprika, a bulk of us said, naturally! It only made sense, but perhaps to those who had in fact read the novel, it probably came off as a near impossibility. With such a strange use of language, and the ever iconic blurring of dream & real, it must have been something of a worrisome prospect for some. But alas, when the film was unleashed upon the world stage in 2006, the world embraced the wonder, and mystery of what was essentially the culmination of Kon's work thus far. A more lyrical, psychedelic mystery than the novel's dark satire, Paprika engendered an even more ravenous fan base. My memories of catching this for the first time surrounded by industry friends are as strong as if they had just occurred last night. Such an unapologetically made piece of work must have even been perplexing to many Japanese audiences, but somehow, the human heart of the piece buoys proceedings, and provides some of the most startling hallucinogenic imagery ever committed to film.

While not my favorite Kon film, it is a brilliant way to bow out, and will likely offer years of discussion with new friends as they discover it for themselves.

Which brings me back to what makes his works so special to me, they offered a bold alternative for the mutual worlds of the animated and the live by never adhering to pre-prescribed rules, and yet remaining intellectually and emotionally stimulating. They stand as proof that the visual medium can indeed break free from format and be successful. They also prove that anime can in fact work beyond the quick sell, and offer some much needed soul searching in a media society sometimes deeply neglectful of it. His works are existing proof that the nurturing of talent, as well as the support of it are paramount, despite what the often terrified media congloms would rather have us believe. There are no sure bets, so why bother play the same old table? The works of Satoshi Kon are of a universe not too far from ours, and we see the potential all over, and must'nt ignore the power it not only grants us as viewers, but to the creators who open the world to new forms & feelings.

I'll truly miss anticipating the works of this important voice, but I will also rejoice in the fact that he was actually here, and remains so as a beacon of hope for not only the media industries, but for all voices longing to explore new facets of the human experience.

A giant, lost..Satoshi Kon

Discovered the news inocuously via a trusted Twitter source, and within an hour, the confirmation began culminating like the giant wave. It was true, Satoshi Kon, one of the great visionaries of global cinema, with his startling visions of Japan's socio-psycho concerns has passed away to cancer at age 47.

Outside of this deeply saddening news, there are no real words that come properly at the moment, except to say that not only did we lose one of the japanese animation world's true icons, but film as a whole has lost a giant. I sense a podcast in the making. For now, the sadness is far to close. We'll miss you, Kon-sensei, and thank you for such incredible work.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cooler Than Box Office (Celebrating Scott Pilgrim @ Giant Robot!)

In a long awaited, long in the action trek taken on a sunny Saturday afternoon, our trip to Sawtelle's ever great Giant Robot (Store Location 2) is something that was both surreal, and heartening to see unfold. The occasion (unless you haven't been reading these pages lately) was in order for fans to stop by, line up, and welcome GR's special guest, Mr. Bryan Lee O'Malley. Fresh from the Scott Pilgrim barrage that has for better or worse scoured the web over the last several weeks in the two-fold celebration of the release of Pilgrim's penultimate volume, as well as Edgar Wright's groundbreaking live action adaptation, the man wa gracious enough to stop by for a book signing, as well as a little surprise at the finale.

Thing was, despite his scheduled signing window of 5 - 7pm, as of 4:30pm, the line looked like this...

Yeah, and with that sun overhead, there was definitely a micro Comic-Con vibe when well over a hundred fans are willing to be out there for as long as they were in order to just say hi, and share appreciation for O' Malley's loveable Torontonians, and their wacky world.

Of course, had I remembered that GR2 was to be that exposed to the rays, I would definitely have brought on the SPF since I'm an ultraviolet lightweight.(Oh, well. I guess I brought the backpack for a reason)

The wait began the moment we arrived, and upon moving with the serpentine line, the enormity of this event, coupled with the sheer love of Scott Pilgrim began to take heartening dimensions as the up to six layers of line that eventually formed behind us. All this, in the sun (even with several younger fans with their parents at their sides) was a great alternate version of what many would consider the atypical fan crowd, as the diversity was more than gobsmacking, adding layers to the comic's impressive crossover appeal.(despite what the box office horserace would rather imply)

It was about 7pm when we finally had the opportunity to make it into the store. With a line remaining as far out(if not further than it had been when we started) giving credence to the thought that in these days of budgetary constraints, and increasing corporate control, the indie comic world seems to have its champion with a flaming sword, and a fistful of pixelated dreams...

The events of the day:

                                     (O'Malley with Buddy & Infant Island Co-Host, Jenny!)


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another Hiatus ala Anno?

Sorry folks! Been caught up with life such as it is. So in lieu of a barnburning new post regarding a new piece of media that has me helplessly attacking the keyboard, I give to you this well-produced, mildly amusing parody of the classic Shin Seiki Evangelion series, courtesy of Konata Productions (who also remind you to support the original creators, GAINAX, as well as good ol' Funimation!)

Gags ranging from the new scripts, musical, visual, and even unintentional, this is a modestly fun new way of looking at the anime milestone. Yay, internet!

Here are the first few installments:

Episode 02

For more, please follow Konata Pro on Youtube!

Special Thanks to the guys at Anime Diet for pumping the hell out of this.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010) Review (and more regarding the comic)

When 23 year old Toronto native, Scott Pilgrim(Michael Cera) comes across what could very well be the girl of his dreams(literally), the currently underaged girlfriend he's been dating may soon be the least of his problems. Oh sure, there's the issue of no job, no real room of his own, and the lack of any college to speak of, the trouble comes in perhaps the worst example of partner-baggage imaginable, the rogues gallery of exes from this dream girl's past. Upon meeting her, it's clear that the stylish and mysterious Ramona Flowers comes with a fair share of battle damage, but when it appears in the form of near-rampaging, kung-fu kicking lunatics out to make poor Pilgrim's precious life of a bass-playing slackmaster into a Rumiko Takahashi nightmare on LSD, it becomes time to make a choice, and stand up for a dream calling.

And so with the film version of Bryan Lee O' Malley's chibi-epic comic series finally out on screens, I felt it best to come clean on certain views I withheld from my previous posts regarding the books. As much as I did in fact enjoy it overall, it does come up short in a good many places. By the time the third book came out, it becomes apparent that the narrative is splitting into fragmented plotlines to help amble it toward six volume conclusion. And the effect is at times lacking in the immediacy department as Scott's confrontations with Ramona's "Seven Evil Exes" become increasingly scattershot at times, and filled with idiosyncratics that are hit & miss, and ultimately detract from the core attractions of it all for me.

 And while the books feature some quite-astonishing battle sequences that pop from the page to great effect (Scott's battle with Todd the vegan is especially memorable), not enough fuel is given for us to feel that the metaphor for both Scott & Ramona is anything more universal than it could be. Then again, that is likely the point. In that respect, a lot of the latter volumes may leave some wanting. In fact, where the series did excel as mentioned before, was in the characters surrounding the story. Particularly in the areas of characters like Lisa Miller, Kim Pine & Knives Chau.

Characters whom O'Malley seems quite capable of granting souls with near-minimal effort. Again, the jury is out as to whether or not if this is the entire point, which makes the underlying emotional & even contemporary implications of our hero that much more troubling. What may intrigue some readers is how cleverly the story implies that while some may take action as being a nudge toward the inevitability of hurting others, the same can also be said of inaction. This for my part at least, is one of Scott Pilgrim's greatest double-edged strengths.The other edge being that it feels clear that O' Malley is not as comfortable with elaborating on the emotional, and just letting the visuals do most of the talking. In understated manga fashion, our so-called hero is in danger of being a painful black mark in the lives of others. And perhaps even Ramona's should he not rise to meet his ultimate opponent, himself.

And so when it comes to Edgar Wright's dizzying assault of an adaptation, one can rest easily in knowing that as it pulls off a few superhuman feats for a non-superhero-based adaptation produced by a major studio. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World embraces the daffy world of O'Malley's artwork, verbiage, & mannerisms with a drunk giddyness only fitting for a film stylist/uber geek like Wright. In a time where adaptations have near reached their final apex, it is more than refreshing to see a film so dosed on manically hallucinogenic ideas actually working from one frame to the last. Irrevocably plugged into the last decade's explosion of pre-Hipster indie-nerd metaculture, this is the film Speed Racer was attempting to be.(And in many ways, the film most encompassing the entire last five years of my life in the Los Angeles area, for better and worse.) This is a generation's response to wacky mind-altering rock opera ala The Phantom Of The Paradise by way of SNES taken intravenously in some back area of a local rock venue as another's dream fight has just begun onstage. Quite simply stated, this is pure cinema in full low-fi glory.

As mentioned prior, Scott Pilgrim is a jobless/aimless college drop-out who has been in so-called "self-repair" mode for nearly a year after a devastating breakup, and dealing with it in the best way he can, by dating someone much younger, and much less requiring of any real effort. Poor Knives Chau(Ellen Wong) in her naivete embraces Scott wholeheartedly, and yet has no idea of the rollerskating enigma now haunting her boyfriend's dreams. And when Scott realizes that this dream girl is very much a being of flesh and blood, his mission of meeting (and hopefully dating?) miss Ramona Flowers(Mary Elizabeth Winstead) crosses boundaries, and places him in a terrible spot. Now if only this were the end all of his problems. His scrappy homebrew garage band, Sex Bob-omb seem serious about getting noticed as the band's leader, Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) takes it upon himself to go for whetever show comes their way, as the band's freckle-faced drummer, Kim Pine looks on bitterly at the drama little Scott's been bringing to practice. Knives has suddenly become Sex Bob-omb's "biggest fan", and has no idea of the trouble in store. And yet it is only once Mr. Pilgrim decides to move forward with Ramona, do his troubles take on galactic proportion as he must face the pain of this dream girl's checkered past. And in the form of seven evil exes, we are thrust into the madness that is Pilgrim's greatest battle.

"Whetever Happened To The Teenage Dream?" Indeed.

Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall's script nails many of the best elements of O'Malley's books, and comes up with an alternate universe "suite" version of the Scott Pilgrim tale that talks as fast as it cuts. And in the fashion of the series, Pilgrim is rarely filled with much to say except to react to others around him. And when those around him speak, it is where the film's dialogue truly shines. Most impressive is how the Knives Chau subplot is altered to compliment the entire story's backbone, which gives Ellen Wong some surprising range to truly inhabit the world of a young girl who's done nothing wrong, and yet is learning some painful lessons quite early. It is an unexpected performance that helps ground the madness of the film when it runs in danger of derailing (which it almost does several times). Also worthy of note are performances by Mary Elizabeth Winstead who's Ramona Flowers is potent, and filled with a certain desperation & longing for stability, as well as Allison Pill's seething & often deeply funny take on Kim Pine. Easily my favorite character from the comic, she leaves one wanting more by merely the visage of her expressions alone. Wright's direction allows the ensemble cast also including Kieran Culkin, Johnny Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, and even Chis Evans to turn out some amazing work. Should be no surprise as for my dollar, the ensemble power was among Shaun Of The Dead's greatest stealth abilities. One must hand it to Wright and Bacall for coming up with a truncated, yet fittingly streamlined version of the tale.

It is a choice that is quite appropriate considering the rogue's gallery of opponents Scott must face. Whether it be against Evans' X-treme era marquee idol & his stunt doubles, or Routh's numbskull vegan, the film takes on a bizarre guise between the panel and the screen. Possible favorites include Brie Larson's Envy Adams, Satya Babha's Matthew Patel, and Jason Schwartzman's Gideon Graves. They all grant themselves just enough to imply that Ramona isn't as ideal as Pilgrim perhaps imagined. The exes are not truly evil, and only so in the mind of a girl eager to continue running. A pretty significant achievement considering everything else Wright brings to the table.

And yet his directorial hand maintains amongst some of the maddest cinematic conditions imaginable for a middle-budgeted subversion of the romantic comedy. The film unrepentantly never repeats the same shot. The amount of setups with the help of the legendary Bill Pope (The Matrix,Spiderman 2) is intimidating to say the least. And all in the name of creating a singularly disorienting experience punctuated by the visualized onomatopoeia, speed lines, framing & paneling that engulfs the film like a vinyl album cover. Mix this with some of the most thrillingly visualized martial arts sequences ever executed, the film is unwilling to be easily classified. Much like what would happen if a rock opera collided with a Shaw Brothers film. Capturing the ultra geeky satire of slacker & hipster-culture of the 2000s is achieved with the assured, gleeful hand of Wright & co. Embracing everything from the garage rock life of any city, to the snow-capped suburban life of Toronto, all the while finding enough energy to embrace the language of anime & japanese video games. Major props go to Wright, alongside editors Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss for the at times mind boggling achievement. The presentation alone is worth the price of admission. And yet, the experience offers far more to certain cutural niches which makes the film an overall success, but one perhaps restricted for certain audiences. Kudos to Universal for even considering this, especially in a time most desperate for a crossover success.

This said, there are some speedbumps in Scott's journey that keep the film from being a complete success for this one reviewer. Some of which can be argued as being unavoidable, but would argue that it potentially hurts future viewings. Especially in the department of the film's central relationship, there are elements there that while are sublimated well at the offset have gaps that may leave a certain taste in the mouths of newcomers to the series.Ramona never seems to have her say in how their relationship develops. A story like this hinges upon us being able to register the chemistry between the two leads, which unfortunately comes up short here. There's a grand opportunity within the first half hour that is completely squandered, and leaves a lot of the film without much of an emotional leg to stand on. Long story short, we never see what Ramona ever truly sees in the boy. This is where the film does what it can to gloss over in all of its wacky veneer, but is unable to overshadow. Also missing are the central proofs that Scott is in fact evolving. This is akin to having all the afterglow without the foreplay. Leaving the viewer with little else but the fights undercuts the books' central themes of awakening, and taking responsibility. If the film had taken a little more time to develop these changes, the piece might become something more than a mere cultural artifact. We never actually see Scott step up his game, and this makes the film into kind of a cheat that it never really recovers from.

And somehow despite these deficiencies, Michael Cera's Scott Pilgrim makes for a unique brand of anti-superhero in a performance that rewards with a near effortless charm. To see his expressions go from hopeless child to love warrior is impressive. There is a great deal going on behind Cera's work in this film, and it makes for a truly fun protagonist that could easily have been completely unlikeable. It's a charm that works well in conjunct with Wright's bottomless enthusiasm, and I hope they work together again.

And complimenting matters is a spectacular soundtrack that will likely become a favorite for years to come.

So when all is said and done, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a thrilling, funny & charming as hell love letter to geek culture. After years of anticipation, we now have two unique versions of the ultimate loser saga released into the ether, with its feet firmly planted in the subcultures from whence it came. Whether this means big business or not for the studio folks is completely arbitrary. The film is a success on its own levels, and dares viewers to balk at it, turn away in disdain, or lap it up with bottomless reservoirs of love. Even at its weakest, the film has a human center that somehow (like the books) works in spite of things. Part romantic comedy defiance, part pop art spectacle, the film is what the summer's been longing for. Any way one looks at it, Scott Pilgrim is here to stay, and it is a most welcome one at that.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Prophecy Fulfilled? Max Headroom On DVD

 Just came to mind that another piece of personal nostalgia has just arrived on DVD with Max Headroom, the complete series! (ala Shout! Factory) A short-lived originally British-produced narrative-based series that introduced one of the decade's more unique celebrities 25 years before Hollywood finally seems to have perfected image-perfect CG humans. In the dystopian future world of MH, TV is king, and ratings have become an ultimate commodity, a lone reporter on a dangerous story is killed in action, but not before his cerebral data is uploaded onto the networks creating the wisecracking, ultimately bizarre construct known as Max Headroom!

Introducing cult names, Matt Frewer(also in Watchmen & Honey, I Shrunk The Kids), Jeffery Tambor & the ever impression-making Amanda Pays in perhaps one of the decade's most progressive heroes, Theora Jones. More than a Thatcher-era Emma Peel, she was a cool-headed, and altogether fun spin on the so-called straight man character. A super sharp post-Blade Runner satire of TV culture, and the nefarious lengths commercial interests would go in the name of nightly numbers, Max Headroom was the brainchild of music video luminaries, Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel who had a pretty cool cult run in the 80s.(that is...until the ill-fated Super Mario Bros. Movie...eck) Regardless, this series is now available for re-examination in a time where we are more overrun by marketing than ever. Could Twitter be the next evolution of the "Blipvert"?

You be the judge.

Those wondering where you've seen Max before, well I can imagine many of you remember ads like this...

Max also appeared in a classically creepy Art Of Noise video, as well as his own talk show on Cinemax (where I remember him recoiling in horror at the eye-cutting antics of the young Penn & Teller!)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Island Of Dub Crimes pt. I (Inspired by Analog Diaries III)

Ah, hell. So much for leaving it alone.

Since I went ahead and opened up about my early days as a fan of japanese animation, and have gone ahead and begun chronicling some of the highlights/travesties of the early days of anime dubbing, I figured it'd be nice to share a few old, terrible faves. (Keep in mind that localization of foreign productions is an often tricky, but necessary business in some respects - heck, I'm even privy to making pals with some english voice talent. It is a cool extension of the acting profession, and have no intention of taking anything away from them. That said, we have come such a long way. ;)

So...let the carnage begin!

Ooohh dear. Starting with one of the silliest, yet oddly catchy vocals of "Cross Fight!", the funky mecha-sentai hybrid of Dangaioh! is done no favors with this particular treatment.

For those who never caught the often-hilarious dub for Macross: Do You Remember Love? Here is a bigger gift for curious parties.

In the words of a certain protocol droid, "Oh dear.." some NSFW action courtesy of the scathingly terrible, yet hopelessly entertaining Go Nagai-based opus, Violence Jack! Hide the kids!

Ok, so wanton questionable language and senseless violence doesn't always mean comedy royalty, but the unnecessary use of the F-bomb, among other things is a signature of Manga UK's often VERY entertaining dub jobs. And their take on Itano's OAV favorite elevates it into classic-town.

And what likely takes the comedy gold for this particular entry? Dude. There's no question. The treatment given to Tomino's OAV mess, is the kind of bad that makes gods blush.

Of course, in a place like this noone comes out clean. Japanese productions have been long infamous for some of the most atrocious english ever committed to celluloid!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Combo Attack Vs. The MCP!

With editing finally complete, and upload eventually taken care of, our latest edition of Combo Attack!! has a ball discussing the significance of Steve Lisberger's great gamble at Disney. Still hard to believe the Mouse ever had the gall to make this landmark happen. Ah, 1982.

And dare I say, this is a damn fine episode. Much fun was had by all. Check it out here, won't you?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ramona Still Sings (Feelings on the Scott Pilgrim series)

When the time came for me to share some thoughts regarding the finishing of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim book series, it appears to me that it would be redundant to scale the main plotline, detailing the epic-as-life adventures of Toronto-based garage outfit, Sex Bob-omb's erstwhile bassist, and roundabout loser, Scott Pilgrim and his awakening to more than a Precious Little Life. It's a tale that is universal, told in a way best embracing the awkwardness of a gobsmacked generation awash in mutated, 16-bit blasts of post-irony & tonal distortion. O'Malley's world is not unlike a world not too removed from one I grew up in, surrounded by geeks, freaks, punk-rock posers, cigarettes, and attitude. And while Scott's life has been thrown into a sanctuary-smashing upheaval after falling for the enigmatic beauty that is Ramona Flowers, it is no mean stretch to say that his once comfortable lifestyle of slacking, gaming & freeloading will have to change dramaticaly if he is even willing to live up to this. (And even if it were possible, could it be that Ms. Flowers herself takes interest in aloof-minded Pilgrim merely because he offers a no strings, no hassle respite from the phantoms of a checkered past?)

I'd sooner not delve into how much O'Malley's underdog tale has had a background player role in many of my travels over the years, or that it reminds me of friends past & present. Or that even if many of the characters in his world do not completely connect with my own, yet it somehow retains a certain relatability via the people in Scott's life. From the ever responsible free-spirit that is roomie, Wallace Wells, to Sex Bob-omb's quiet leader, Stephen Stills. From that painful memory of Envy Adams, to the lingering forgotten of drummer Kim Pine, the world surrounding Mr. Pilgrim is an alarm clock ready to ring with the force of a million nuclear tests. Perhaps its better that we don't share that there was in fact a time when likely I felt as he once did. Content, and undermotivated. Trapped in a world of his own making, and unsure of how those around him truly feel, only to be made aware through some natural force as daunting as love. Nah. Not worth it at all.

But I can share that despite certain misgivings I once had about the comics over the years, there are many satisfying elements that hit home with tones honest, and at times sublime. One of the first things that bugged me early on was its latent self-conscious tone, reminding the readers that the author isn't taking this as seriously as perhaps some might prefer. From occasionally referencing past volumes, to marking how far into the volume we are, it can be a put off for many who like their verisimillitude levels high. And there are times when O'Malley lets the story cheat around the fact that the written word isn't as strong a suit for him as is visual panache, which is at times a frustrating trade. Yet somehow, inventiveness becomes a valuable weapon as the books unfold, leaving readers to drink in the wildness of Ramona's ability to subspace travel (sometimes through the dreams of others as short-cuts), and to embrace the overall metaphor of the entire work. Perhaps it is all to be seen as a wacky dream, played out in the slumber of a generation longing to wake up and take on The World. At even at the series' weakest points, the tales hit where they count most,.. when called to action. In a manner that is not unlike the actions of Mr. Pilgrim himself.

But even more prescient for this writer, is the life surrounding the title character.

It is often stated that the best way to start off a continuing saga, is to do so by placing your lead character in the lowest place imaginable at the start in order to allow the viewer/reader to grow. If this is to be so, then Scott Pilgrim is amongst the laziest,most vacuous forces ever known to hero-dom. Much more than Shawn Of Edgar Wright's Shawn of The Dead, or even any of Kevin Smith's schlubby leads, we are looking at a young man-baby who could possibly have had everything one could ever hope for, and yet sees no means of himself within all of it. A child of media overload, and content on crumbs, overdue video rentals, a shared bed, & perhaps marathon rounds within the Mushroom Kingdom, he is much like a bundle of idle pixels, waiting for the princess to come to him with every solution. Something that gives all of the comic's anime-video game imagery in-gags an unexpected punch. To see the trouble his floaty way of life has helped create is made most vividly so via the ladies in Scott's past.

There is no shortage of growing pains that have either transferred almost psychically to his peers, or to these muses in his world that it threatens to poison more than their middling garage band. Whether it be through past names like Lisa Miller, or through his relationship with the underaged Knives Chau, it is crystal clear that if his course remains constant, Pilgrim's problems could only (as Liz once said) exacerbate. Whether he is willing to Get It Together or not, life is coming at him with the force of a speeding train in the form of baggage. Serious baggage. (The element that is perhaps my favorite of all of this.) In the form of seven so-called "Evil exes". Seven souls from Ramona's past, hellbent on reminding Pilgrim of his maturity station, and his inability to hold on to what he doesn't understand. First sight may be bursting with hearts & flowers, but facing against the thought that one wasn't there first is perhaps a silly concern in retrospect. But when one is young, it can crush with a violent force. Which is why Pilgrim is in the thick of it, and must overcome each soul, mastering himself in the process.

And the drama rebounds as the women around him begin to find their respective callings with, or without him in ways both befitting of this type of work, as well as achingly true. Ramona's battles, while not as visually expounded upon as Scott's, have a weight befitting the kind of girl one would hurt others for. The irony isn't lost when it's clear that perhaps she is no different than Scott, disconnected, implacable, and unwilling to dive without a parachute. The Infinite Sadness is all too near, and while it might be true that old loves are what they are, they aren't things easily forgotten, or equally cast aside. This is as much Ramona's fight as it is Scott's, and the wasteland they leave behind is surprisingly tragic at moments.

Nevermind that the series, after six years of reading & waiting, Scott Pilgrim has become a much larger entity than many of us had anticipated. Nevermind that by the time he takes on The Universe, O'Malley has fashioned his own clever little take on hero tropes, even experiencing his own internal Empire Strikes Back. Forget that by his Finest Hour, Pilgrim still isn't sure of his abilities as a hero, a friend, or a lover. And embrace that this madness came courtesy of a fan. Someone with an enthusiasm for similar material, art & music. A reminder that one of us truly hit it off with one of the more generation kindred filmmakers of this generation, and did so by the seat of his pants I'm sure. The victory of Scott Pilgrim is that he never has to wear a mask, or a suit to fight for the future. And that he, and in this way we, can win it epically one stumble at a time.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Scott Pilgrim & The Endless Possibility

There are few things as exhilarating as having a complete set.

And having a roommate who has just taken the plunge, and has responded as well as she has is a definite highlight of a more laid back summer season than usual. To know that O'Malley's long-awaited finale is in the house, a week-plus before Edgar Wright's adaptation is unleashed beyond the Comic-Con crowd. (Which has largely been positive over Twitter. And Drew McWeeny's early review is quite glowing.)

 At the moment, I'm essentially waiting for the roomie to catch up before re-reading, so at the moment, I'm am working off of years of recollection. The comic's impact, for all of its scrappy glory functions as a beautiful reminder of a particular time frame in my own life, and of likely so many others. And as such, the piece works as that bridge between the gears of idle and active. This entire concept is a universal part of Edgar Wright's filmography.(Shaun Of The Dead in my eyes, remains a classic simply because of its own deeper concern with detaching from the womb in a realm packed with overgrown children) Upon hearing of his decision to take on Pilgrim, it was hand  and glove. Few other visualists can nail the hilarity and pain of growing up with such vigor. And even as a larger audience unfamiliar with the snark-biting alterna-hipster world of the comic, the vernacular of Wright and company should help it transcend mere cult status.

As much as I had feared for its box-office chances previously, in a place where INCEPTION can become a runaway success, almost anything seems possible.