Sunday, December 27, 2009

Life Lessons Learned From Manga: Shonen and Goals

I think Shonen manga gets a bad rep for being mindless, pointless, and thoughtless--and many other things ending in "-less". Which really isn't fair. Especially when you dig a little deeper, and realize that a good portion of them, such as Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi (HSDK), to name a few, are actually teaching young boys an important life lesson. A lesson that I've only just started to understand myself.

How many times have we given up something because it was too hard? I know I have done that most of my life. Just recently I decided to make myself a little training course, using fanfiction as a medium, to practice specific aspects of writing. The stories I decided on isolated a specific writing technique I needed to work on, such as plot, quality of writing, creating characters, etc. The one I'm working on right now has no original plot, or characters, the entire purpose is to focus on improving the quality of my writing as much as possible.

While doing this I realized something very important. Writing is hard. Now, I already knew this, but when I started my training course, I didn't realize exactly how hard it would be, even though I don't have to think of my own plot or anything. All I need to do is copy the original manga I'm working off. Just that alone is hard. The act of writing itself is hard.

So, I've learned a valuable lesson, writing is hard, it's hard because it's tiring, it's hard because most of the time you spend writing will be trying to ignore that little voice in your head telling you your writing sucks. All I've been able to do is just ignore it, my only real victory an ever increasing word count. A word count of suck, but a high one at least.

So, I started thinking of my goal as a shonen manga character's goal, and to approach it with the same determination as Luffy aiming to be Pirate King, and Naruto training to be the Hokage. Once I did that, I realized, a large part of shonen manga is weak characters showing increasing levels of strength and capability, or strong characters getting stronger. All because they train, and fight stronger and stronger opponents. Training and experience make you stronger.

Sure, most manga characters have something that sets them apart from others, call it potential. What's that telling us? That it's a good idea to practice something you have some skill for. Sure that doesn't sound like the greatest message, but it's true. I've learned from manga that even if you have talent in something, you won't get any better without practice.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum, that even a talentless person can get strong where they were once weak. Take for example HSDK, which features weakling Kenichi on his path to superhuman martial arts mastery.

So. Even you can learn important life lessons from a manga where people punch each others brains out.

Karate Kid Remake Followup

So I actually debased myself and finally watched the trailer for this movie. And I can accurately say that not only is the movie being set in China, Dre's master is a Chinese man, but the martial art he learns is in fact, a Chinese martial art (which one I don't know exactly, I'm not quite as familiar with Chinese Martial arts as I am with Japanese martial arts). I know this because I saw part of the training montage and recognized one of the moves as not only being a move from either Kung Fu or another Chinese martial art, but it is most definitely, 100% not Karate.

Now it is official. Not only do the setting and characters have nothing to do with Karate, but now we've confirmed that the martial art is in fact not Karate. So...again, why not call it the Kung-Fu Kid? This movie already has nothing to do with the originals, why do they insist on continuing this farce?

Well, the obvious answer is because if they don't call it the Karate Kid then it will bomb worse than it already will. Because now all they have going for themselves is brand name recognition.

Here's a thought, before I watch this movie, I'll watch the original Karate Kid, then I'll do a comparison, Daniel vs. Dre, Karate vs. ...not Karate. (PS: While I have no real loyalty to the Karate Kid as a fan, I do have some loyalty to Karate, seeing as ho it's my martial art of choice, so it'll mostly just be a martial arts fan-boy rant.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Hollywood Remakes and The Karate Kid

So, I've only ever seen Jaden Smith in one movie, The Pursuit of Happiness. So really, I can't say much about his acting skills. I really haven't seen enough of him to have any kind of opinion. Sure, he was a supporting cast to his father in said one movie, and all he really had to do is act like his father's son. I'm sure that was really difficult. Then again, to be fair, I'm not much of an actor, so I'll at least give him credit for what he's done at the age he's at so far.

Note: Apparently he was in The Day the Earth Stood Still, but yeah...I never watched that. Besides the fact that what I saw from the trailer completely missed the point of the original, I really don't like watching crappy movies. Also, he's made appearances on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and All of Us.

Fortunately we'll be getting to see Mr. Smith Junior in his first starring role in the upcoming major block buster event, The Karate Kid. I've heard some of the hype, and read some articles on this upcoming movie, and what do I think?

First of all, I think you should know that I never saw the original Karate Kid. I'm kind of a failure when it comes to watching movies that came out in the states when I was living in Europe. I did however, watch The Karate Kid 2, and the fourth movie, The Next Karate Kid. Karate Kid 2 wasn't the best, the martial arts were frankly silly, but it was an enjoyable movie. The Next Karate Kid...yeah, let's not talk about that. Let's just say it did about as well as could be expected from the fourth movie in a franchise.

So, I'm not exactly a hardcore fan of the series, mostly because I dabble in martial arts, specifically Shotokan Karate, from time to time, and don't appreciate movies that feature inaccurate portrayals of martial arts.

What I do appreciate, however, is accuracy. So let's go over what we already know about this movie that proves it's going to blow.

First off, the Lead, Jaden Smith. Like I said, I don't really have anything against him, but I find the possibility that he only got this role because of his father, highly suspect. And like most child actors, I'm a little wary of his actual skills.

Second, Mr. Miyagi. He's being played by Jackie Chan... Okay...I guess that works. I mean...he's not Japanese, but all Asian people look the same anyway, right? (Answer: No. No they do not.)

Oh wait, my bad. His character's name is Mr. Han, not Miyagi. Okay, that makes sense, having a Chinese actor playing a Chinese character.



Did I mention that the setting has been changed from Reseda, CA, to Beijing? Here, a direct quote:
The Valley -- with its palm trees, taco trucks, and 70 degree December days -- might seem exotic to a kid from Jersey, but it doesn't hold a candle to China. While this allows the filmmakers to have sweeping shots of the Forbidden City and a workout sequence on the Great Wall of China...

There you have it. They're doing it because it will make for prettier camera shots. Why do I have the feeling that the writing in this movie is going to suffer?

So, to recap, we have Daniel, now known as Dre (-_-), being trained, by a Chinese man, known as Mr. Han, in China, in a movie called The Karate Kid.

For those of you that are unaware, Karate is an Okinawan (A small island off the coast of Japan) martial art, that was developed in response to Japanese oppression and confiscation of all traditional weapons, such as swords. So, it is in fact, a Japanese martial art. It is not Chinese.

So, the Karate Kid, in China, with a Chinese teacher...WHY DON'T THEY JUST CALL IT THE KUNG-FU KID!?

It would make about as much sense, or are they afraid that they'll get in trouble for ripping of The Karate Kid if they don't sell it as a remake? It's Hollywood! People steal ideas there all the time.

I pretty much expected this movie to suck from the beginning, but that was really just common sense. Now I'm slowly starting to gather facts that tell me what I already knew:

This movie is going to blow, and blow big time. But hey, at least we'll get to look at pretty pictures.

And will Mr. Han's training refrain "Jacket on, jacket off" be as memorable as Mr. Miagi's "Wax on, wax off?"

No...No it will not.

(Edit: What does that even mean? Is he training him to be a martial artist, or a model? I really can't see the purpose of any kind of "secret martial arts shoulder shrug", or whatever movement that mnemonic is meant to imply. Forget it, I get the feeling the martial arts in Ranma 1/2 will make more sense compared to this.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Anime Reviews: Fairy Tail Episodes 1-10

For the past ten weeks or so, fans of the manga series Fairy Tail have been able to enjoy their favorite characters in fully animated glory. Unless of course you're a fan of Gazille, Jubia (Lluvia?) or Gerard, they haven't shown up yet. (Okay, so maybe Gerard has...sort a roundabout way). Being a highly anticipated series, how has Fairy Tail the anime stood up to its manga predecessor? Well, if the word Review in the title of this blog post didn't tip you off, that's exactly what we're going to do now.

When I first saw the Fairy Tail manga in Barnes and Noble, I was initially turned off by the strong resemblance it bore to One Piece. Anything that imitates a great manga like that can't be good on its own. Now I can't remember when I first started reading it, but I was hooked right from the first chapter. At that point the resemblance to One Piece was one of its endearing factors, especially after I realized that it wasn't copying or trying to rip off One Piece at all, but was in fact it's own thing.

For the record, Hiro Mashima apparently doesn't like his series being compared to One Piece. I can't imagine why, after all, it attracts several of its readers that way.

So, you can imagine that I was hyped when I finally read online that there was going to be a Fairy Tail anime. I couldn't wait for that first episode to air. And was I disappointed by it?

Not at all. In fact, besides their use of CGI for the magic effects, instead of hand drawing them, I couldn't find anything wrong with the animation, or the way they were portraying the characters. The voices were great, especially Happy's, who I quickly realized was being voiced by the same Seiyu as Toni Toni Chopper from One Piece. Yeah...this series absolutely has nothing to do with One Piece at all. It's not like any of the other voice actors ever worked in One Piece... Hey, wait a minute! The Seiyu for Loki voiced Young Iceberg in the Water Seven Arc of One Piece!!! it's a loose connection. (Also, I would like to point out, that after doing actual research, turns out that Happy is in fact being voiced by Rie Kugimiya, while Chopper is being voice by Ikue Otani. My bad, a clear case of didn't do the research. In my defense both sound incredibly similar. At least in the first episode. But I guess it wouldn't make sense for Ikue-san to be taking an extra role when she's involved in such a major production as One Piece. But they're both women!!!)

Anyway, that embarrassing incident aside. The voice acting was great, and the music was incredible, especially the battle music that sounded like it was under heavy Celtic influence. A very appropriate choice for the series.

Now, if only the series featured more original music. In the past ten episodes I have heard more familiar music than in any other show. That had much to do with the fact that a lot of the sound track was just a remix of classic music, like the Infernal Galop from Act II, Scene 2 of Orpheus in the Underworld, usually associated with the Can-Can, or a cross-dressing pirate (and seeing how this is anime, I don't think we'll have to wait long for that one. What? It isn't in the manga? Fool! That's what filler is for!). There were a few others, but I'm too lazy to wiki them.

The animation, while not too bad, suffers a bit at times it seems. It's good, but feels like it could be better. Then again, it's a weekly series, and we can be a little forgiving. The backgrounds also seem to suffer at times, which can be quite distracting at times. I'm not a huge fan of the magic circle effect that happens every time that someone uses magic. Not to mention the magic girl transformation sequence Lucy seems to go through every time she summons a Stellar Spirit. Personally I think we could do without it. Erza's more appropriate magic girl transformation sequence on the other hand can stay right where it is.

So, love it? Hate it? Indifferent? Personally I like it. Already we've had a filler episode with episode 9, which while mindless padding, was humorous enough, and shows that the production team is smart enough to not fall into the trap Bleach is in, interrupting entire arcs with filler. Repeatedly! Then again, the Bleach storyline isn't the friendliest for anime adaptation.

So, if you like Fairy Tail, the anime is well worth it. If you're not a Fairy Tail fan, the anime just might be a good way for you to get into a great series.

A Christmas Carol

So, it's already been made clear that there are more adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol than...something that there is a lot of? Personally I haven't seen that many versions. In our family the George C. Scott version was our choice of poison.

Ebeneezer Scrooge has been portrayed by many different actors. Alastair Sim, Patrick Stewart, Scrooge McDuck, Mr. Magoo, the list goes on. But you know who I never expected to play Scrooge? Jim Carey... Well, him and Tim Curry. But, if you're at all familiar with the 1997 animated version then you can probably figure out where I'm going with this.

That, and you've probably been paying attention to all the previews and trailers.

So. Jim Carey as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Odd as that sounds, he actually did a good job. Not actually seeing him on screen helped, which allowed you to focus on his voice acting.

As far as the visuals go, they were spectacular. The downside of this is that I felt like they overemphasized said visuals. There were too many pratfalls and physical comedy that felt out of place.

A lot of the humor was juvenile, which made some of the more frightening elements stand out all the more. For that I commend this movie, they weren't afraid of dumbing down what is in fact a ghost story.

Which brings me to another point. The majority of the dialogue was taken straight from the Dickens' novel. Frankly, a lot of people would think that old english would be a little hard for the kids to understand, and since animation is typically a medium focused at children this is surprising. It shows that they not only took the source story seriously, they took the audience seriously.

So, it's worth watching. I'm sure you'll enjoy it, and despite some frightening elements the movie is fairly suited for children.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

What can you say about a franchise that is either loved or hated all over the world? (Well, at least in the U.S., I'm not sure how popular Twilight is in Europe, or if they've even heard of it in places like the middle of Mongolia, or Africa. Some would say not knowing about this series would make anywhere a paradise--starvation aside). Frankly, the books aren't the best written, that much is obvious (of course personal preference isn't really determined by quality all the time). Personally I enjoyed them when I first read them. Though, the series did culminate by doing everything to piss me off. Interesting character? He's actually a borderline date rapist. Interesting relationship development? Turns out Mr. Borderline Date Rapist is also a pseudo-pedophile. Thank you very much.

But, that's not what we're here to talk about, now is it? We're here to talk about the latest cinematic installment of the Twilight Saga (why is everything a saga these days? Does Hollywood even know what that word means?): New Moon.

To start off; it wasn't actually as bad as the first movie. A lot of the technical problems from the first movie have been fixed. The eyes are obviously red or gold on the vampires (though frankly, red eyes look quite silly in combination with dark skin, with pale skin they look creepy, but that's kind of the point), and the sparkles are actually noticeable (a problem I would have preferred if they hadn't fixed. At least in the first movie I could pretend the vampires weren't sparkling in the sun).

The acting was decent, especially from the Volturi (Dakota Fanning is creepy!!). More enjoyably, the Volturi's acting served as an excellent comedic foil for Kristen Stewart's ineptitude.

Now, for the reason why I watched this movie. The werewolves! I was a little worried that they were going to screw them up, the one clip I saw from the trailers made the wolf look too small, too fake. But, I was wrong, the wolves were quite satisfactory. And that scene was actually quite enjoyable. The Wolves were somewhat smaller than described in the books, but it worked great, and the transformation scenes were quite impressive. There weren't enough fight scenes for me, but those that were there did help a great deal to spice up the movie.

Frankly, Bella is unbearable. She's badly written, badly acted, and really just comes across as a place holder for the reader. Her actions in the movie are understandable...actually, I'm not even going to try to be even handed with this. There's no excuse, her behavior is just...urgh. Well, let's put it this way, she's a character, but far from a role model. Which, when you think about it, can be both good and bad. In this case, not so good.

But I'll be honest, I wasn't watching this for the romance, I was in it for the werewolves. And I want to make this very clear: I mean them when they were in their wolf forms, not their human forms!

So, in conclusion, what do I think? While not the best movie, it had its moments. The Volturi were great. Kristen is no actor, and Patterson looks like he's thinking about the pay-check the whole time. Why else would he still be there? Well, that and his contract. There are better vampires out there, but I just think of Bella Lugosi anytime one of them steps into the sun (yes...he's preferable to the sparkles).

It's a need to watch movie if you're a fan of the series. Stay away if you absolutely loathe this series. And if you're undecided, this is a somewhat silly movie, but it actually has conflict (though it does show up a little on the later side), which helps. A lot.

Animation - Why Should we Care?

I love animation. From a young age I grew up on Disney movies and the odd Don Bluth film (specifically ‘An American Tail’ and ‘The Land Before Time’). I grew up outside the US, in Germany, where American cartoons were rare, and not even having an antenna made it even harder to watch anything besides the videos my grandmother sent us. Videos with recordings of American cartoons. From these I watched Spiderman, X-Men, Batman (this one in particular got me in trouble a few times – more on the topic to follow), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gargoyles and even the Simpsons. There were other shows that I watched, Power Rangers and Beetleborgs to name a couple, but I always loved the cartoons, and lamented the fact that I never saw anything other than those episodes that grandma recorded, or the VHS tapes she bought for us.

Maybe a lack of exposure in my early childhood has allowed me to keep the fascination I have for animation? Possibly, but I hope that isn’t the only reason. Animation has plenty of merits besides nostalgic value, even if a large number of series are remembered purely because of this.

So why do I care so much about animation? A main factor is the potential it holds. So far in the west all we’ve seen as of late are humor themed cartoons, when the art of animation could be used for so much more. Humor is of course great in any story, but there is so much potential for other types of story telling, from dramatic to action. I like fantasy movies, unfortunately it takes a big budget to make such movies look as good as the Lord of the Rings. With animation it costs no more to make a fantasy themed movie or show than it does to make any other animation of equal quality.

Unfortunately for some reason too much western animation seems to be either developing atrocious looking art styles, or hasn’t improved since the sixties. A good example of this would be the Dragon Lance movie. I watched it, hopeful that I’d get a faithful adaptation to a book I quite enjoyed. What I got instead was the laziest job of animation that would have looked better if they’d just let the monkeys with the typewriters they used to write the script do the animation as well. The art style harked back to the style of the G.I. Joe and He-Man cartoons. And the animation quality was about the same. Actually, I think it might have been choppier.

Then we come into the use of CGI. I don’t mind CGI; in fact I love the Pixar movies. Problem? When you try to mix it with traditional 2-D animation, and do a bad job of it. I could go on about the lousy CGI dragons in the Dragon Lance movie, but I think we’ve suffered enough.

Sadly enough––when you get down to it––despite the fact that Disney fired the monkeys…I mean writing staff… and replaced them with baboons, they still have the best animation out there. Of course cost is always an issue, but I’ve seen amateur animation online that is better than what any non-Disney American animation studio out there produces.

Which brings us to anime. I love anime, the Japanese know how to take animation seriously and utilize it’s full potential. Anyone that has seen Cowboy Bebop can’t even begin to claim that it’s a childish cartoon show. Nor could they say that it’s nothing but a smut filled crap shot that adult oriented animation in the west has become. “Hey look, we can make our doodles say ‘Ass’.” Yes…let us leave it at that.

Anime is especially enjoyable because it isn’t stuck to a single genre. Where American cartoons seem to be stuck on comedy—with the quality setting set to juvenile—Anime knows how to not only mix intense action scenes and drama with comedy and slapstick humor, but has actually produced shows with moments that can bring me to tears. I had to try really hard not to cry during Hughes’ funeral in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Now I ask you, when was the last time Spongebob made you cry? And I don’t accept tears of frustration. Has any western cartoon actually brought you to tears because of the emotion of the scene? Have they fleshed out the characters, suspended your belief long enough to make you think, “Is this really happening? Or are we going to get another cheap happy ending tacked on?”

Don’t get me wrong, I like happy endings, but it it’s no good unless we not only feel that the characters have deserved it, but that we as the viewers have deserved it. For example, ‘An American Tail’. By the time Fivel finally reunites with his family, not only has he deserved it, but we’ve been with him the whole way. We cried for that little mouse every time he thought he’d found his family but was proven wrong. We screamed every time he just barely missed them. By the time that movie is over, we were so emotionally invested in the character and his pain that we knew we deserved that happy ending.

Of course many of the issues with animation nowadays revolve around the shoddy writing. Seeing as I’m a writer not an artist, you can expect plenty of commentary on the writing. Of course I plan on reviewing more than just animation, but everything I review will have writing of some kind or another. But, to start things off, I’ll be focusing on animation.

Ultimately, I intend to endorse, and bring animation to the forefront of the public's eye as a valid source of entertainment.


Well, partially to fully move from my last blog, and partially to increase the volume of this blog, and hence increase the chances of google picking up my blog faster, I'm going to be moving all the previous entries from my Nerd Review blog to here. In case you're wondering why I'm going link happy, that's just me playing around with the feature, and hoping that the more I link to other sites, it might increase flow to my site.

Anyway, enjoy my old entries, and for those of you that want to know the chronological order they were written in, go here. (Sorry, it's just too much fun).

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

I love Disney. Mr. Walt pioneered early animation techniques and was the first to create feature length animated movies. If it weren't for him and his fellow animators at the Disney Studios, animation wouldn't be what it is today.

I wish I could say that was a good thing, but the truth is, it really isn't. Disney animated films are targeted for younger audiences, and because of the massive influence these movies have had in our culture, all other animated features are judged by the same standard. Mostly this applies to whether the movie is appropriate for children, and if it isn't, then it is discarded. Either that, or people dismiss animation as a childish thing.

So you can imagine how annoyed I was when Disney not only graduated from their period of sucky animation, to go on to endorsing lousy singers and make TV shows about them. That's like throwing a party, everyone's having a good time, then the booze starts flowing, your friends start acting like jackasses, they trash your place and then leave.

Naturally I'd be suspicious the next time said friends suggest we have another party at my place. This is exactly how I felt when I first heard of Disney's latest animated feature; The Princess and the Frog. All I really knew about it when I first heard word, was that it would feature the first black princess. All good and fine, being politically correct is important, especially considering Disney's past track record. However, I had the uncomfortable feeling that was the extent of the thought that was being put into this picture.

At first I was afraid that it was going to be the typical Fairy Tail setting, with a black person transplanted into the middle of it. Nothing wrong with that, it just sounded jarring to me.

Then, later on, I found out that the setting would be New Orleans. A faint shimmer of hope, at least the character and the setting were being reconciled. Of course that didn't mean much, past Disney attempts at good writing in their animated features have failed to impress me. (Which isn't entirely fair, I thought Enchanted was a fun movie, an excellent concept, and a chance for Disney to poke fun at the stereotype they created, but it was a live action movie first and foremost).

When I saw the character design for the villain, I was even more hopeful. The guy looked pretty darn cool. But still, I went into that movie theater--that was occupied by twenty people max--with as cynical an attitude as I could muster.

So, what did I think of the movie? Some of the character development seemed off to me, the songs, while not bad, weren't even close to the memorability of past Disney musicals (personally I'd rather they do away with the musical format in their animation). In fact, the movie even had its moments where it was surprisingly dark. And not to spoil anything, though I imagine that anyone that cares about this movie has already seen it before reading this, but when a character dies in this movie, they stay dead! I was sitting there the entire time, thinking, He better stay dead, or so help me!

The final plot twist wasn't anything that should have surprised me, but it was enough for a kid to be surprised. Though for most of the adults in the audience it was kind of a "Doh!" moment.

Now, what did think of this movie? Did Disney manage to succeed in what they should have been doing in the first place, rather than endorsing Milley Cirus and the Jonas Brothers?

In fact, I think they did. While it doesn't feature ground breaking writing, the story manages to keep you entertained, and the character dilemmas felt very real, though they could have been resolved slightly better. The animation is Disney at it's best, though the art style, while harking back to classic Disney, seemed a little odd for some of the characters. It was like the only really pretty girl was the main character, and every other character seemed a little off, even her best friend. Though, the art style wasn't all that was strange about her. Speaking of her best friend, was I the only one who was a little weirded out by how much more pronounced the animation for her bust was?

In the end, a surprisingly good movie. It could have done with another half hour or so, with which to develop the characters properly, but it did well for the length it was given. The happy ending we got didn't feel tacked on, despite the obvious loophole at the end, which was pointed out best by our good friend The Bum. Still, I did find it worth noting that both characters had issues they needed to work out. While these could have been resolved better, the flow of the movie was strong enough to make it at least bearable for the parents watching the movie with their children. Just look at it this way, it's no Cinderella 2, or III.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


I can't seem to just choose a blog, can I? Anyway, this is the blog that I'm going to be using in connection with the main website. Which itself will probably feature a blog. Not sure how that's going to work, but I figured I might as well take advantage of being able to use this.

I don't think I'll be using the other blog for much longer. Well...I guess I could...I'm not sure though. Nah, I'll probably stop using it. Then again, this blog won't really be for much else, other than to update people on what I'm doing, and maybe about the movies that I've watched. Maybe I'll keep you updated on projects I'm working on.