Saturday, July 27, 2013

State Of The Kaijyu: A Settling Of Debris

Yes. It has been quiet on these pages. But this is not for lack of good reason. With some grand transitions coming together in the real, columns and reviews are only being put on the periphery for the time being. With school, and work changes ahead, there is even a feeling like the words being shared here and in various other locations might find themselves another home in time. A place where electricity, and the intertubes cannot reach. Analog space taking up residence in someone's book bag, or landfill. That's right. The Kaijyu is considering print.

So when considering ideas for book(s), I've been looking back at previous posts and writeups and centering on what binds much of this together and realizing that much of it has to do with intent, and the delivery. There is also a need from my words to consider how we watch stuff and contextualize it in the real world- even when the stories themselves seem so far removed from them. Despite all the fantastical weirdness that tends to come up around here, it has always been in the name of finding some particle of human truth to it, and perhaps this is where my focus will lie.

On the watching front, it has been mostly sampling movies as well as the latest anime, and while nothing is entrancing me the way Flowers Of Evil did, there are some decent offerings that give me mild hope. I'm even willing to admit here to having great respect and admiration for Kyoto Animation for finally producing Free!, which is equal opportunity sex positivity at its best. Been so long since we have seen something this overt, and unabashedly fun for the guy-oggling set.

Has been admittedly rough to summon up the energy to watch anything remotely dense as time is sparse. And after Pacific Rim succeeded for me on a multitude of personal levels, it has been tricky to think of anything to counter such a thing but some of my favorite anime and fantasy films. It's especially so when one has to come to terms with the fact that this just doesn't happen that often. There are only so few milestones out there, and the thought that the only thing one can do to sustain a certain vibe is to go back rather than explore further can be a little disappointing. This is where the spirit of the obscure find can be the ultimate expedition worth embarking on. But alas, the Mom & Pop video store is all but an ancient memory now, and sites like Netflix can only do so much. So what to do?

I'm sure solutions are forthcoming to those willing to look. And I'm certain there are so many cool, weird, telling titles out there that can fuel an extended chapter or two. But for now, it's largely about going back into the well, along with some more personal thoughts on animated/filmed media, and what it is about it that makes it so impactful for so many of us. I just know that in my case, it is less these days about escape, and more a means of figuring out what it is that we most want at any given time, no matter how perverse, or bizarre.

So while life and work is happening, the monster mind is still blazing away with the blowtorch. And will find the time to post and research for the larger projects. It's all falling action these days, and I'm excited to see how all of this is navigated from hilltop to bottom.

Like V.Zero promised several years ago, this is all an "eternal work in progress", so thanks for sticking it out with me.

Overdrive is almost here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thematic Wanderings : Pacific Rim

Mind is aglow with thoughts of Del Toro's Pacific Rim this week. And even though I may not have spent much time on these pages singing praises of the premise, and its pedigree, I can earnestly say that the film is among the core reasons why this site exists.

And even though much of the film treats itself like a wafer thin tribute to all things anime and tokusatsu, there was just enough symbolic meat to this particular bone that grants the film an optimistic edge that is sorely lacking in current blockbusters.

As mentioned in the review I posted to Anime Diet, the film centers on the value of unfettered human connection, and this is made explicit by way of the story's most challenging concept: "The Drift". The means by which our protagonists are capable of psychically linking themselves to their Jaeger mecha. And also, this cannot happen without a partner, so all Jaegers (with the unique exception of China's Crimson Typhoon which carries three pilots) require a well-synced duo to enhance the mammoth machine's fighting ability. In the process of The Drift, the minds of our two central pilot characters must intermingle, sharing everything from memories and feelings in a process of what is lovingly called a "neural handshake". And while this is on many levels more a concept at home in hard science fiction of the past, and even in anime, this is the kind of idea that must have been a pretty hard sell to the studio heads. And what most likely helps undo this fear, is a consistency of this idea carried over onto multiple planes in the script. Between the pair who inevitably conjoin to form the new Team Gispy Danger, pilots Raleigh Becket, and Mako Mori form an unlikely alliance that is the emotional backbone of the entire story. And this is also examined in the various quirky meetings that are sprinkled throughout.

"This is a dialogue..Not a fight."

Upon their initial meeting, Becket merely sees Mori as a bright would-be pilot with a number of simulation kills under her belt, but when she more than proves her mettle during replacement co-pilot trials, it becomes clear that she has overwhelming potential. Even so, the path to their destinies are blocked by not only the protests of a concerned guardian, they are also tested by Mori's lack of experience in Drift. This is illustrated beautifully in a sequence where Mori finds herself trapped in her own memories in what the program calls "chasing the rabbit", also known as RBBT. A trancelike rigor where the pilot find themselves unable to function as their brain is trapped in a significant memory. Not unlike losing a tether out at sea. It is within this sequence that Becket finds himself inside her childhood trauma in hopes of recovering his would-be partner. With such sync misaligned, matters are made worse as both minds must identify perfectly in order for any of this to work. It's a visually and sonically fascinating shorthand for the barriers that can often thwart the early stages of any relationship, be it personal or professional. Sharing in the moment seems to be the prime goal in the script, and this sequence of events is played with just enough sensitivity, and a respect for the urgency of the situation that it largely works.  

Connections: Father and Son, Brother and brother, culture to culture, generation to generation, axiom to axiom (Alan Turing and a modern "rock star" wannabe genius ala Steve Jobs?), connection is the central component to the entire script. It is even expressed in a larger sense by way of duality, represented largely by the nature of twos within our own bodies. Cerebral hemispheres, arms, and even shoes are illustrated as examples of this as if to imply that there is a more organic drive that is behind something our technology tends to obfuscate. Like anything else in the developing world, there are enablers, but the will to express is central to the user. As much as the Jaegers are an extension of our will to overcome nature, it is in us that we make strides, or slide backward.

There is even a large push in the film toward the loss of arms within the Jaegers during battle, as if there will always be situations where a binary choice cannot always be enough to overcome a situation. Even as a major character deduces a course of action as possibly "incredibly stupid", there is an almost blind faith in improvised action that the film seems eager to make into a point. Unlike your classic anime mecha, human movement is essential to proper Jaeger use, and Del Toro goes out of his way to make this clear. What the pilots do within their sync, the Jaeger will do. And it isn't simply a joystick, or panels that take care of everything. These machines are pretty much oversized suits that require an impressive amount of concentration and physical ability.

And let's not forget about the reason behind all this need for the film to emphasize connection. This is the easiest part.

"Category 3 Kaiju" - Followed by the possibility of Categories 4 & 5? And the explanation for the kaiju attacks, and their role in the general global scheme? This is where the film is as clear as day. Suddenly, the primary theme carries with it ecological concerns. A kaiju eiga tradition.

Although I am a little curious as to the film's finale, and the implications of the kind of weapon that is humanity's last option. While it can also be seen as tribute, it does send some slightly odd messages.

That said, so much of Pacific Rim is pretty straightforward. Ripped almost perfectly from years of many of my favorite things sprinkled with a dash of welcome pluralism, it is a movie event not to be missed.