The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 90 – Lupin III

January 23, 2015 by  
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Lupin III 1

Lupin III, or Lupin the Third as it sometimes written, one of anime’s most enduring creations. First beginning as a manga in 1967 by an artist working under the pseudonym “Monkey Punch”. The character was first adapted for television as an anime in 1971, and various sequels and spin-offs have been released since. To be exact the series has had four anime TV series (with a fifth in production); five anime films, two live-action films and numerous specials and straight-to-video episodes. The series is best described as a crime-caper, but the plots vary so wildly that the title character has had just about every kind of adventure you can imagine.

The lead character, Arsene Lupin III, is a gentleman thief, the grandson of the fictional Arsene Lupin created by French novelist Maurice Leblanc. Lupin III is seemingly capable of stealing just about anything. He tends to give people warning about his crimes in advance, and then manages to get away with his schemes. Lupin is always assisted by his cohort Daisuke Jigen, a man with excellent marksmanship. The duo are also often helped by the stoic and rather old-fashioned master swordsman Geomon Ishikawa XIII, and Lupin’s love interest Fujiko Mine, a femme fatale who is quite happy to betray Lupin and the others if it means she ends with Lupin’s treasures instead.

Most of the stories are stand-alone plots, but Lupin does have one constantly recurring adversary; Inspector Koichi Zenigata of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Interpol, who is reportedly a descendant of the fictional Japanese detective Zenigata Heiji. The Inspector has made it his mission in life to arrest Lupin and bring him to justice. Most of the time his attempts to arrest Lupin end up in total failure, but he has managed to arrest Lupin on the odd occasion – only for Lupin to somehow find his way to freedom again. Despite their rivalry the two appear to have a slight respect for each other.

The main quality of Lupin III is its longevity. Including the manga Lupin has been around for nearly half a century. Clearly the formula is one that works. All of the characters work together well. Lupin himself has developed over time. As well as Leblanc’s Arsene Lupin the creator also mixed a bit of James Bond into the character. But all the characters appear to be popular. One of the most recent spin-offs was The Woman Called Fujiko Mine for example.

One problem Lupin III has had however is the issue of copyright. Monkey Punch never got permission to associate his character with Leblanc’s original. By the time Leblanc’s estate launched legal action Lupin III had become an established in Japan. As a result, when the series was first show in Europe and North American Lupin’s name had to be changed. He began “Rupan” or “Wolf”, and in France itself he was named Edgar de la Cambriole, with the series renamed Edgar, Detective Cambrioleur (Edgar, Detective Burglar). Leblanc’s character is now out of copyright so now this legal issue is less of a matter. Monkey Punch has defended himself saying that using a name is not legal, compared to using the entire character design.

Lupin III has had impact on other anime as well, due to the people who in the past have worked on the anime adaptations of this series going on to even bigger and more internationally known projects. Probably the most famous Lupin III story is the movie The Castle of Cagliostro, in which Lupin travels to a small European kingdom which is heading a gigantic counterfeiting operation. The significant thing about this movie in particular was that it was the directorial debut for future Oscar winner Hayao Miyazaki. So arguably, without Lupin III we might not have had Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (No. 38), My Neighbour Totoro (No. 39), Spirited Away (No. 42), Princess Mononoke (No. 58) and The Wind Rises (No. 73).

Lupin III therefore is much like the crime-wave caused by its title character: unstoppable.

The original TV series are currently being released on Region 1 DVD by Eastern Star. Spin-off series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and the first Lupin film The Mystery of Mamo are released on Region 2 DVD by Manga Entertainment. The Castle of Cagliostro is released on Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-Ray by Studio Canal.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 89 – Cardfight!! Vanguard

January 20, 2015 by  
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Cardfight Vanguard 1

Last week’s column covered the anime of Yu-Gi-Oh!, a series which spawned the world’s biggest trading card game. This week we cover another anime related to trading card games, but not in a good way, for this week’s column is one of those rare occasions where I cover a series that I personally hate.

Cardfight!! Vanguard began as an anime in 2011 and is currently in its fifth TV series. There is also a manga and the aforementioned trading card game connected to the series. But whereas Yu-Gi-Oh! began as a manga, and then the anime and the trading card game were based on it, in the case of Cardfight!! Vanguard the anime, manga and game were all created at the same time, and were all designed to promote each other, so from the very start this series has been criticised for being too commercial – which it is.

In the anime, people are obsessed with playing Cardfight!! Vanguard (imagine that). The lead character, a timid boy named Aichi Sendou, doesn’t play the game but he owns a very rare card which he treasures. Some other students bully Aichi into giving his card to them, but then Aichi is able to win his card back after it is taken by an expert player named Toshiki Kai, who actually gave him the card in the first place when Aichi was a young boy. The series follows Aichi’s passion for the game and sees him taking part in various tournaments with Toshiki and other friends. Later on in the first series Aichi seems to gain strange psychic abilities, and then later series expand to cover a larger sci-fi scenario.

There are several problems I have with Cardfight!! Vanguard. As stated, the main one is the commercialism. The entire series is designed to promote this game, and while I am not that much of a gamer, Cardfight!! Vanguard does come across as being inferior to Yu-Gi-Oh!, partly because of the setting. Cardfight!! Vanguard is set on an alien planet called Cray. When a trading card game forces you into having to imaging you are on a different planet, you do end up thinking that the makers are trying too hard to make it more exciting than it actually is.

The strange thing is that you do not get this sort of feeling when you play video games or when watching an anime based on a video game. If you play a video game based on an alien world, the said world is there on the screen. You can engross yourself in it in a way much better than any trading card game could do. Also, part of the problem with anime based on trading card games in general is that for most of the time you are watching people playing these games, whereas in video game anime then tend to just follow the plot of the game.

Put it this way. When you watch Pokémon (No. 25), what you see on screen is two people using their weird and wonderful Pokémon to battle each other. You do not see the characters on Nintendo’s playing the game itself. To reference my favourite line from an anime about a fictional-turned-real video game Sword Art Online (No. 34): “There’s nothing more boring than watching someone else play an RPG.”

There are people who like playing Cardfight!! Vanguard, and if you are one of them then good luck to you, but the game is not for me and the anime promoting it is just crass. You get the feeling everything you watch it someone has put in subliminal advertising secretly saying: “BUY THIS GAME!” But seeing as that all they ever really do in this anime is play this game, they don’t need to bother.

Cardfight!! Vanguard is available to stream via Crunchyroll.

Looking for Frankie Alvarez

January 12, 2015 by  
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looking08 frankie alvarez - Copy

Hi, Frankie. Please, tell us a little about your artistic and professional path before prime-time television
I went to Julliard, and graduated in 2010. After that, I basically bounced around the U.S, doing regional theatre productions like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

How was the adjustment from stage acting to screen acting?
On Looking, when we are filming the show, a lot of it is about drifting away. Taking on any sort of artistry or any kind of rhythm that occurs on a regular television show. Andrew Haigh really encourages us to stay open and to stay in the moment, and he really wants to feel like the camera is another friend, hanging out with the group. In order to achieve that, obviously, we are banking on our chemistry and continuing to associate with each other. We’re trying to do this the most realistic way possible. On a show like Smash (in which he appeared on before Looking), you kind of act with a big “A” but this show is about getting away from that, so you could really reveal some truth.

Let’s talk about your character, Augustin. He is in his early thirties and he is making life changing decisions, professionally and romantically. How do you relate to this aspect of his life on a personal level?
Because Augustin is an artist and so am I, there is a kind of fear that creeps up. That kind of fear can be either motivating or debilitating. And for someone like Augustin, in the first season, it ends up being something so debilitating for his friendships and for his self confidence that he ends up making a series of decisions that alienates his friends and his boyfriend and gets him fired. For me, I find more healthy ways of dealing with that fear but for Augustin, it’s a little tougher. So, I can definitely relate to being in those shoes.

His behaviour is quite different from the pilot to the finalé. It can, somehow, earn him the title of the least loveable character on the show. What is your take on his journey?
I never got a show of this magnitude before. I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be like. When I signed on to play the part, I was excited by those complications. It was some kind of bold challenge and I thought this guy is so radically different from me – but I can pull this off. When it comes down to work, you really can’t let those judgements get in the way. I can’t afford the luxury of being able to judge Augustin. When you watch the show, you see him commit some heinous acts but he’s not murdering people. He is just following his first impulse and he’s realizing that that impulse isn’t the best thing for his relationships. So, I admire Augustin in a lot of ways and I like that he’s provoking a strong reaction with people. It’s nice that he’s polarising. I think that is one of the best thing the show does.

Having played a character like Prince Hal in “Henry IV” must have helped you in your work with Augustin? Both characters acting out their lives?
The thing about Shakespeare’s characters is that even when they lie to each other, they are never going lie to the audience. I think in like manner, Andrew’s storytelling sort of function the same way as Shakespeare’s relationship to the audience. He lets you in on their motivations. You can tell Augustin is struggling. The mood of the show let you in on the emotional experience of what’s happening. You can tell, specially in the second season, that he is meandering a little bit. Even though his dialogue has a lot of verbatim and confidence, it is just a mask to cover the severe fear and insecurities that he is feeling.

Is the cast as close in real life as your characters are on screen?
I’m coming to Europe next week. Obviously, I’m staying with Russell (Tovey) one night when I’m in London. It’s just so nice. You know, we’re all such good friends. We go out on the weekends. Take care of each other. It doesn’t stop when we’re not shooting. It’s been really great to add this kind of friendship to my life.

What can you tell us about season 2?
I think people who got pushed away by Augustin in the first season might come to embrace him. I think he’s starting to become more self aware and he’s making more of an effort within his relationship with his friends and in his dating life. But before that happens, he has to hit rock bottom.

People are going to really love and embrace the show. The events that occurs in the first four episodes are very strong. I’m just astounded by how beautiful the show is. It’s funnier and brighter. It’s more exciting.

Tell us about your new projects besides Looking..
A good buddy of mine and I have written this musical about a former band whose lead singer disappeared years ago. The musical is about a reunion concert where the band gets back together and play some of their old songs and secrets get revealed. It’s a beautiful show we’ve been putting through workshops in a couple of theatres and it’s been a great creative outlet for me when I’m not working on Looking.

Then a buddy of mine and I are writing a movie about a team of baseball players but we are really in the beginning stage. I’m auditioning for stuff as well, so I might be doing a movie or a play or something but in the meantime, the writing projects are really what appeals to me. It’s better to be busy than to be bored.

Looking Season 1 will be available to own on DVD and blu-ray from Monday 12 January

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 88 – Yu-Gi-Oh!

January 12, 2015 by  
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Yu-Gi-Oh! 1

Some anime series have had impacts in other fields. This week we look at a series which began as a manga comic and was later adapted as an anime, but it is best known for spawning the biggest trading card game in the entire world.

If you go to any comic book convention, whether it be a gigantic expo, a local con or a perhaps a small gathering of people, you will probably find some people playing Yu-Gi-Oh! (literally “Game King”) which began in its manga form between 1996 and 2004, and has resulted in many different anime series and manga spin-offs – most of which are now intertwined with and heavily promote the game. Annoyingly, many of these anime are not available to buy or watch in English. The original series, a 27-part series released in 1998 has never been available.

Thus the better known series is the follow-up to it, which is known as Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters, which is the name of the trading card game played by the characters in the game. This incarnation of the anime ran for over 200 episodes between 2004 and 2004. Frustratingly however you can only watch it dubbed in English, with certain elements of the plot and characters heavily Americanised. But remember, this is a series which lead to one of the most popular games ever made, so perhaps there is more to it than it first seems.

In the world of Yu-Gi-Oh! there is a series of Ancient Egyptian artefacts known as the “Millennium Items”, which were once used to play the “Shadow Games” that threatened to destroy the world. These items are now mostly scattered across the globe. One of these is the Millennium Puzzle, and this puzzle is solved by an easily-bullied schoolboy called Yugi Mutou. The downside of solving the puzzle however is that his body now plays host to a strange spirit with the personality of a gambler. This personality is dubbed “Yami Yugi”.

Whenever Yugi or his friends are in any trouble the Yami Yugi persona takes over, challenging wrongdoers to duels. Normally this takes the form of playing a trading card game called “Duel Monsters”. Over the course of the series Yugi both tries to help his friends, including his own grandfather who runs a gaming shop, as well as trying to solve the mystery of the Millennium Items and the Shadow Games.

As stated earlier, there are a few problems with Yu-Gi-Oh! – chief amongst which is that you cannot watch this in the original Japanese. You can watch it translated in English, and even then it has been adapted to suit American audiences. Many of the main characters have their Japanese names replaced with English ones. For example, Yugi’s main friends are called Katsuya Jonouchi, Hiroto Honda and Anzu Mazaki in Japanese; but in the English releases their names become Joey Wheeler, Tristan Taylor and Tea Gardner respectively. Even certain scenes in which their names are written have been replaced to depict the English names.

It was licensed by a company called 4Kids, who also licensed Pokémon (No. 25) and briefly One Piece (No. 6), and have always been seen as controversial due to the way they were seen by many people as interfering with anime. In 2011 4Kids got into trouble with the original Japanese TV studio and channel, Nihon Ad Systems and TV Tokyo, which lead to a copyright dispute regarding Yu-Gi-Oh! and eventually 4Kids having to file for bankruptcy.

There are other problems too: the characters often overreact to just about everything. Either they are boasting how the card they have just drawn will result in their bringing victory, or there are panicking like mad because they are worried they are about to lose. Some elements of the plot are also bizarre. For example you will sometimes see the characters watching people play Duel Monsters on TV, to an audience of 10 million people, which is bizarre. Put this way: the real life equivalent would be 10 million people watching Victoria Coren Mitchell playing poker live, while all the time she would fail to pull off a successful poker face because she would be exclaiming to everyone around, in a chirpy American accent, that the jack of hearts she had just been dealt would result in her creating a royal straight flush, which would lead to her grinding all her foes into the dust.

There are some plus points to the series of course. The series and the DVD collections are very large, so you get quite a bit for your money. While the series is old the animation is still pretty good quality. Also, you could argued that it does have a bit more artistic merit than other series connected to the world of real-life gaming.

The anime version of Pokémon is primarily based on the original video game. Yu-Gi-Oh! began as a manga, with the anime and trading card game coming along later. Obviously the trading card game has become so large that the more recent anime and manga are mainly designed to promote the game. Many manga volumes are now sold with extra cards to play with. As a result you have two different viewpoints: you can argue that Yu-Gi-Oh! has some artistic merit to it because of what are seen as more noble origins; or you can claim it sold out to promote the game. It all depends on who you ask.

Whatever you think however, no-one can deny that this series lead to a massively popular game. One that is played by hundreds of people across the globe.

Yu-Gi-Oh! is currently being released on DVD by Manga Entertainment. The “Duel Monsters” can be streamed on Netflix, and other spin-off series such as “Yu-Gi-Oh! GX” and “Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s” being streamed on Crunchyroll.

Swanson’s Swansong

January 9, 2015 by  
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Ron-Swanson

From your Dumbledores to your Dr Coxes to your Obi Wan Kenobis, the patriarchal substitute is a staple of pop culture, seen in every incarnation imaginable. But just as I was about to write off this done-to-death figure, along came the man, the myth, and the moustache that is Ron Swanson.

Bacon-loving, master-craftsman, anti-government Ron is the leader we didn’t know we needed. From his thoughts on clear alcohols (only consumed by “rich women on diets”) to his philosophy on success (“never half ass two things, whole ass one thing”) it is hard to not think of all of Ron’s moments as his best. He is the cantankerous crank who hates his job and 95% of the human race, but becomes a reluctant father figure, and friend (although he is quoted as saying “one to three [friends] are sufficient”).

Though Ron, much like Madonna, should be studied as a complete work, an entire body of thought and wisdom as opposed to dissected chapters, below are what we consider to be some of his finer moments for the newly acquainted.

7. None of us know our limits.

You can forgive yourself for your drunk-dad-dancing to Uptown Funk now.

6. When he taught us to forgive ourselves for questionable choices because even the great Ron Swanson has psychotic exes.

“Every time she laughs, an angel dies”
(Fun fact; Ron’s ex Tammy is played by his real-life wife Megan Mulally, who played Karen Walker in Will & Grace. American sitcom’s royal couple.)

5. When he summed up what visiting a famous landmark really feels like.

Leave it to him to subtly reveal the emptiness of our society created by the excessive need of documenting our every move. Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps, but I have seen so many photos of the Eiffel Tower on my Instagram that I wouldn’t look up from my phone if I walked past it tomorrow.

4. When he revealed the painful family secret he had hidden for so long

#EverybodyHurts

3. A man so great that he needs two personas.

Duke Silver for the gold, am I right ladies?

2. Ron teaching us that there is beauty all around us, if we only choose to see it.

I would very much like to see Ron’s reaction if he was dropped off in Shoreditch for a weekend.

1. When he made our hearts grow three sizes, just like the Grinch.
ronlesliewedding_zps6b3df39e

After six glorious seasons of TV masterclass, NBC’s Parks and Recreation will be taking one final bow this year. There will be many things to miss about the show that gave us Lil Sebastian, a pre-Hollywood-hunk chubby Chris Pratt and, of course, Amy Poehler, but Ronald Ulysses Swanson I think we’ll miss you most of all.

Lest We Forget – A Rik Mayall Retrospective

January 6, 2015 by  
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rik mayall

It is very difficult to imagine a world without Rik Mayall in it. A staple of the alternative comedy movement of the 1980s, his untimely death at the age of 56 in June 2014 led to an outpouring of tributes for the ‘comic genius’. Although such a phrase is often used in the death of a well-known figure, is it an accurate label for the energetic and confident performer that Rik Mayall was?

Born in Essex in 1958, Rik Mayall was the son of drama teachers. In 1975, he began studying drama at The University of Manchester, where he met his comedy partner, Ade Edmondson. This would prove to be a very successful meeting, with Mayall performing his best known and most highly regarded comedy with Edmondson over the following decades.

Mayall and Edmondson began their comedy careers in a double act at The Comedy Store in London, performing as the Dangerous Brothers. Mayall also performed solo as a variety of characters, including amateur reporter Kevin Turvey, and anarchist poet Rik, a character who would become a staple of his comedy performances. The great enthusiasm and energy of both Mayall and Edmondson was apparent, which was all aided by a great self-confidence from Mayall in his performance. If he was ever nervous, he never showed it.

Television came calling, and Rik Mayall co-wrote and starred in BBC sitcom The Young Ones, depicting four students, all with vastly different personalities, living together. The first series was broadcast in 1982, and a second in 1984, becoming a massive hit. Mayall played anarchist poet Rik studying sociology, the character he had played on stage, whilst Edmondson played punk Vyvyan. They lived with hippy Neil, played by Nigel Planner, and cool guy Mike, played by Christopher Ryan.

As the Dangerous Brothers, the appeal of Rik Mayall was limited to those seeing him in stand-up, but with The Young Ones becoming a hit, Mayall was thrust into the limelight. His character Rik lost none of his confidence or self-indulgence during the transition from stage to television. The appeal of alternative comedy was now vast, thanks to the far reaching appeal of The Young Ones, with Mayall right at the centre of it. As with everything he did, Mayall was often regarded as the best part of it.

As well as appearing with Edmondson and a variety of other alternative comedians in episodes of The Comic Strip Presents on Channel 4, Mayall also appeared in several episodes of comedy series Blackadder, as the over-the-top and flamboyant Flashheart, often stealing the show from the more famous comedians and actors with whom he was performing. Not easy to do when appearing alongside a murderers’ row of the era’s elite comedians, including Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.

In 1987, Mayall played Tory MP Alan B’Stard in four series of The New Statesman, lampooning the Conservative government of the 1980s. This was a perfect opportunity for Mayall to showcase his comedy talents, not just in the way he would move and use slapstick, but in how he could use emphasis in his lines to produce a very funny, but ultimately an awful character. The show was very successful, winning around critics and repeatedly holding high viewing figures. Away from Edmondson, and away from his traditional slapstick, Mayall still manages to ooze confidence in his performance.

In 1991, Mayall and Edmondson came up with one of their greatest creations, writing and starring in three series of Bottom for the BBC. Following the lives of Richie and Eddie, unemployed housemates living in Hammersmith, Bottom featured their trademark use of slapstick violence, and became a cult hit, spawning several live shows and a film, Guest House Paradiso, starring Simon Pegg in one of his early film roles.

Comedy snobbery may have been prevalent, with certain opinions that slapstick humour and juvenile phrases aren’t funny. After all, this is a duo that named their television series Bottom. However, alternative comedy has been shown to range greatly, from Mayall and Edmondson as the Dangerous Brothers, to Alexei Sayle and Ben Elton with their political comedy. Mayall and Edmondson are certainly not regarded as any less significant when looking back at the alternative comedy boom of the 1980s. Although they would joke that they would only play one character with different names in their comedy careers, it is apparent that these comedy characters didn’t fail them in their years of performing.

The clique of comedians being depressed in their personal lives, and using their performances to hide it, does not seem to be true for Rik Mayall. He was often ‘performing’ when he was himself, which can be seen in outtakes from Bottom when Mayall continues to make faces behind the back of Edmondson between shots, or in his improvising skills during interviews. He never stopped being funny, even when he was out of character.

The curse of the comedy duo, that double acts often break up and lose their relationship, also doesn’t seem apparent with Mayall and Edmondson. Although both stopped working together, they continued to work separately and their personal relationship never ended, continuing to remain friends until Mayall’s untimely passing.

Rik Mayall was many things to many people; comedian, actor, writer, anarchist, funny, political, clever and silly. Regardless of anyone’s personal thoughts on him, it cannot be denied that his comedy paved the way for alternative comedians of the future, and his role as a cultural icon will not be disappearing anytime soon. Rik Mayall was a very, very funny man.

Comedy genius? I think so.

Stephen Colbert – The Man Behind The Mirth

January 6, 2015 by  
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Stephen_Colbert

After nine years it’s time to say goodbye to The Colbert Report, and of course the show’s namesake, host Stephen Colbert. Nonetheless I don’t want to talk about the man himself directly, rather, the Stephen Colbert character.

Originally appearing as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert (the character) has always been a misinformed, unaware patriot who neatly packages narcissism and self-importance into his French pronounced name. But getting his own program, and following the popular Daily Show was always going to be a challenge. The Daily Show is a beacon for political and media satire, with the Pew Research Centre reporting that a quarter of 18-29 year old males rely on it as their primary news source, while three quarters of men online who get their news from Colbert also get it from The Daily Show.

However like any new program, The Colbert Report needed time to find its feet, as did Stephen Colbert (the character). Taking aim at right wing Fox News-style pundits and not only pointing out the ridiculousness but also over amplifying the serious approach that many of those shows take. Their fear-based agenda makes it easier for satire-based comedy programs to poke holes and gave Colbert a new angle that maintained his relevance during six years of Democratic presidency

The show initially began as a right win pundit style program before evolving into a much more rounded comedy/news program. Taking on bigger stories, on air campaigns and pushing the Stephen character as far as they could.

The Stephen Colbert character has become one of the most loved on television. He’s a joy to watch and a challenge to play. The real Stephen Colbert has even said that when ad-libbing in character, he must put his thoughts through two filters, ‘what do I think about this?’ And ‘what does my character think about this?’

The comedy primarily comes from the character’s deluded view on the world; the hypocrisy, absurdity, contradictions and ridiculousness. It’s like there’s a joke that he’s not in on. Saying that, the show is brilliantly backed up by solid gags, one-liners and some of the best word play on television.

My favourite is – “Mark my words…seriously, Mark, I need my words.”

The show doesn’t get enough credit for its invention. It’s always had great out-of-studio pieces and most seasons feature grand arcs – like ‘StePhest Colbchella ’012 RocktAugustFest’, which was basically a music festival. There was also Stephen’s Super PAC – Making a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. Taking the character as far as they could, even releasing his own book ‘I Am America (And So Can You!). It’s shows ability to take the news and inject itself into it that will go down as one of its trademarks.

His influence also grew throughout the political/news world, with visits from Obama, appearances on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox program (in character) and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel even telling freshmen Congressmen not to accept invitations to appear on The Colbert Report segment “Better Know a District”, in which Stephen conducted one on one interviews with members of government. However his greatest political achievement might be his performance at the White House Correspondence Dinner in 2006, the strange and awkward mood in the room can be felt over YouTube, like there was an impostor in the room that night and he just happened to also have the microphone.

The show wasn’t scared of taking risks either; to promote the recent Hobbit film he interviewed the computer generated dragon, Smaug. It’s an amazing piece of television, watch it if you haven’t seen it. The amount of planning and background work that goes into creating something like that is extraordinary. From creating the dragon and his specific movements, to matching Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice, making the graphics fit within the studio environment and Stephen having to time his interview with those built graphics. The number of people he thanked in the ‘credits’ afterwards proves it.

The Colbert Report can’t be summed up here, we can only capture a glimpse. I haven’t even mentioned his on-going bear phobia or the fact he came up with the 2005 Word of the Year, Truthiness, which now appears in the Oxford Dictionary. Upon reflection of the final here’s a few celebrity quotes -

“It was art” – James Franco

“It took prodigious brilliance to pull it off” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

“The show had its rules, but they would bend and break them all the time” – JJ Abrams

“Colbert demonstrated that agreeing with them (right wing pundits) — or pretending to agree with them — was the deadliest way to satirize them” Dan Savage

Stephen Colbert will be greatly missed, because after all that’s mentioned above, there was nothing more entertaining than seeing him on the verge of breaking character, and that Stephen Colbert, we get to see in next year, when he takes over Letterman’s Late Show. Till then.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 87 – Love Stage!!

January 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Love Stage 1

We are covering a yaoi series this week. In fact, in the world of female-marketed male homoerotica, this week we have a double-header, because I have also have a more in-depth article about yaoi too, so this week’s pieces accompany each other.

Love Stage!! is a romantic comedy series that went out over 10 episodes around the summer of 2014. It however began as a manga in 2010 and is still being written. In terms of content, it is both funny, loving, and does actually touch on the sexual unlike some other yaoi series that went out at the same time.

The central figure of the story is a student named Izumi Sena. He comes from a celebrity family: his father is a singer-turned-impresario, his mother is an actress, and his older brother Shogo is the leader singer in a band. However, Izumi is not interested in being such a celebrity. Izumi instead wants to be a manga artist. The only problem is that he has no talent for it whatsoever.

Izumi’s troubles started at a young age. 10 years prior to the main story he was made to appear in an advert for a wedding magazine as a girl. Move to the present day, the magazine wants to make another advert that paid homage to the original, which means him having to dress up as a bride. This is bad enough for him, but things get even worse due to his co-star in the advert.

The co-star, Ryoma Ichijo, starred in the original advert alongside Izumi. Now he is a successful actor, but during that time he became fascinated with and fell in love with Izumi. However, Ryoma is still of the belief that Izumi is a girl, and thus has the shock of his life when he discovers the truth. But even this revelation does not put Ryoma off Izumi. Thus Ryoma begins to fall in love with Izumi all over again, although Izumi just wants to get on this his deluded dreams of manga creativity.

Much of the appeal of Love Stage!! comes from the comedy in it. There is slapstick, farce, character comedy and satire on celebrity culture all woven into the series. The relationship between the characters is the best bit, and it is not just the central relationship between Izumi and Ryoma either.

There is for example the relationship between Izumi and the family’s general manager Rei Sagara, who is both protective of Izumi and yet very pushy when it comes to trying to get Izumi to embrace a more celebrity lifestyle. Then there is Shogo, Izumi’s older brother, who often manipulates Izumi into getting to do things by getting him rare merchandise connected to his favourite anime series. There is also a big rivalry between Shogo and Ryoma for Izumi’s affections.

Another enjoyable aspect to the series is the artwork. There is a sort of pastel-like lightness to the colours generally use. The artwork could be described as being rather cute looking. Indeed “cute” could be the apt word used to describe the series, given the appearance of the main characters and Izumi in particular.

One of the reasons why I personally enjoy this show is that it went out at around the same time as another yaoi series I have covered in this column in the past, the sci-fi DRAMAtical Murder (No. 66). While at the time DRAMAtical Murder got much of the media attention, primarily because it had also been a highly successful video game before it became an anime, Love Stage!! was for me the more enjoyable. This was partly because it was a warmer, pleasant watch, but a big factor was the in this anime there was more romantic and indeed erotic content, which is what you really want in a yaoi.

Love Stage!! is available to watch online on the anime streaming website Crunchyroll.

The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, Extra IV – Yaoi: The World’s Most Feminist Pornography?

January 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Yaoi

There is  one particular genre of anime and manga which I would argue should be embraced in the West more than it currently is.

Now before we go on I realise that there will be some people out there who will be of the opinion that any form of pornography is sexist and should be censored. Others will argue that that if there’s a form of porn that is feminist it will be something else. Some might even argue that as a man, I can’t, shouldn’t or that I’m not qualified enough to talk about feminism at all. However, the point of this article is two-fold: to spark debate amongst people in anime, pornography and feminist circles; and to provide greater knowledge of yaoi in general to those who don’t know much about it. If you wish to argue with me about this subject, please get in touch, but for now I shall put forward my argument.

For starters, a quick explanation. “Yaoi”, which itself is part of a much large group of work known as “Boys’ Love” (BL), is the genre of male homoerotic or romantic fiction which is aimed at a female audience and is often created by female authors. There are yaoi manga, yaoi anime, yaoi novels, yaoi video games etc.

Yaoi is believed to date back to the late 1970s. At the time, male romantic stories in girl’s comics known as “shonen-ai” were starting to become popular (for a more recent example see the 1990s series Tokyo Babylon, No. 69). But later more sexualised stories began to emerge. The term “yaoi” is an acronym, standing for “Yami nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi”, which translates as “No peak, no fall, no meaning.” The phrase represents yaoi as is focused on the more sexual parts, rather than the harder-to-follow plots in shonen-ai. However, it is also claimed that the phrase comes from the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, No. 1 and Princess Knight, No. 51) as an insult towards manga that were bad, and that yaoi artists appropriated in insult. There is also a joke amongst yaoi fans that “yaoi” actually stands for “Yamete, oshiri ga itai” – “Stop, my arse hurts!”

Yaoi does have a very devoted following. Women who are yaoi fans are known as “fujoshi” – “rotten women”. You also have some male fans too, known as “fudanshi” – “rotten men”. One was the fandom expresses itself is with one other use of the term “yaoi”. The word in Japanese sounds like the numbers eight (ya), zero (o) and one (i). Thus “yaoi” is also known as “801”. As a result, because the Japanese date like the Americans with the month at the front, August 1st is “Yaoi Day”, which is an entire day celebrating the genre. I’ve tried to make a UK yaoi day on 8th January, but sadly not much seems to have arisen from my attempts yet.

Most yaoi tends to follow a similar pattern. You tend to have the dominant or top partner, known as the “seme”, and the submissive or bottom partner known as the “uke”. Often both are portrayed as cute or beautiful looking guys or boys. Such characters are called “bishonen”. However yaoi differ from one work to the next, as do the people creating them. Some are more romantic than erotic. Some have BDSM themes. Even rape fantasies are depicted. In face, rape is depicted rather often in yaoi. The results of one study published in 2008 found that 50% of 391 people: “thought that rape, explicit sex, sad endings, physical torture, ordinariness, bed-hopping, cruel heroes and weak heroes were all acceptable in BL manga”, while only 12% said rape should never be in BL. It has been argued by some people that because the rape scenes are only between men that: “Women are free from the baggage” in comparison to a heterosexual rape where women commonly the victims.

With regards to my argument as to yaoi being feminist, my main point is thus. Much of the anti-sex feminist criticism concern pornography is about the sexual exploitation of women. They may have a point in some cases, and it is only right to make such that women and indeed everyone working pornography treats each other with respect.

But in the case of yaoi, I would state that it is a feminist form of pornography because it is women who are in control of it. Yaoi is made by women, yaoi is made for women, and yaoi has no women being sexually exploited because it is men having sex with men, who in turn are fictional and thus are not sexually exploited themselves they do not exist. Conversely, it has been argued that yaoi is not feminist because of the lack of women depicted.

The audience I believe is key. Most porn in the world is aimed by men. Very little is geared towards women. Some may argue that lesbian pornography, or “yuri” as the anime version is called, would be more feminist, but men will still end up consuming this lesbian porn, and I apologise for making an assumption, but my guess is that most lesbians would not like that idea of men watching them while they made love. “Yuri” also has another problem in anime at least, in that the plots are very limited. Most of the yuri available in the west for example is mainly set in schools and is about the sexual awakening of girls. It often tends to be more romantic than erotic also.

If yaoi has a problem, it is in the misunderstanding of it. This is not helped by Britain’s laws on censorship which are arguably sexist themselves. Recently new porn regulations banned female ejaculation in porn, while male ejaculation is fine. In December this resulted in a “porn protest” outside Parliament which included a mass “face-sitting” demonstration. There is also general censorship of cartoon pornography in the UK, but the whole thing is very subjective. Who is to say when something is pornographic or not, or when a character is below a certain age? Also, many normal anime end up having erotic fan-fiction created about them, even if characters under 18. I don’t think anyone has seen Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (No. 17) just for the sport.

I personally hope that this article does stimulate debate about the merits of yaoi. I believe it to be a genre of merit for various reasons and it should be embraced as such.

Previous yaoi series covered in this column include Junjo Romantica (No. 5), Ai no Kusabi (No. 37), DRAMAtical Murder (No. 66) and this week’s article Love Stage!! (No. 87). For more about yaoi and BL in general, and for more on much of the source material used in this article, see the academic work “Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre” edited by Antonia Levi, Mark McHarry and Dru Pagliassotti.

Miranda July – Renaissance Woman?

January 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Features

Miranda_july

 

Filmmaker, writer, actress, director and visual artist Miranda July is a true renaissance woman. Successfully managing to embrace and produce across the board of art forms, as well as incorporating contemporary technology into her work. To fans July is both a jack and a master within the various creative trades.

She has made two feature films, Me and You and Everyone We Know and The Future, both of which she wrote, directed and acted in. As well as several shorts, including Wholphin featured Are You The Favourite Person of Anyone?. Aside from film she has written two works of fiction and has developed numerous visual art projects, two of which became books.

Of course writing, producing and acting in ones own films isn’t particularly new, Woody Allen has been doing it since the sixties but there does seem to be an especially strong new wave of modern film and series makers who choose to be directly involved at every level of production. As well as July, there is the prominent example of her friend Lena Dunham with her massive HBO hit series Girls, as well as her film Tiny Furniture. Another example is Mindy Kaling with her FOX series The Mindy Project.

One clear benefit of this method of working is of course the scope for creative control it allows, plus the issue of representation where it otherwise might not be. Kaling has commented on this as an Indian-American woman. As has Dunham, who has said her motivation for writing Girls was that she that she struggled to find women similar to herself, and her friends, adequately or realistically reprented on screen. In her recently published memoir Not That Kind of Girl Dunham details how when she couldn’t find actors able/willing enough to create the kind of ‘sexual despair’ she was hoping to portray in her work she choose to do it herself. Even if that meant frequent nudity and the consequent sexist analysis of her ‘imperfect’ body that followed. Would Blake Lively be commended for her bravery at getting naked so often, (and the subtext that question implies), Dunham rightly asked?

What characterizes the work of all three of these women is the personal, sometimes confessional nature of their series and films; self-analysis and self-exposure is key.

Aside from these intimate elements of July’s work what makes her a particularly interesting filmmaker is that she chooses to not only comment on our changing relationship to art, with a particular focus on the role of modern technology in this but her decision to interact with said technology. Most recently she collaborated with high-end fashion label Miu Miu making the short film Somebody in which she imagines a world where one can use a Smartphone app to deliver personal messages via the mouths of other users of the app. Don’t want to dump your boyfriend in person, type your message to an app user in proximity of him and he/she will say the words for you. But more than just imagine this world, of disconnection from known persons and oddly intimate connection between strangers, July has actually created it; the app is available for use in real life. It has the potential to be both hilarious and terrible. Unfortunately the site is currently under construction.

Her 2011 film The Future is in part focused on this theme of technology’s impact on our lives. In it July details the emotional strain felt by a couple that choose to go without the Internet for thirty days. The couple’s hope is that without this distraction they will be better able to focus on their artistic and environmental projects. The film opens with Sophie and Jason facing each other on their sofa both engrossed in the Mac’s on their laps, saying the odd sentence to each other. July plays choreographer Sophie, who mainly works as a receptionist at a dance school, (working in the field of what she loves but not actually doing the thing itself, to paraphrase July in one of her stories from No One Belongs Here More Than You). And Sophie’s aim during her tech detox is to film herself doing a dance a day. However as the months passes the lack of technological distraction as well as the newfound pressure to really commit to each other as a couple, (this pressure coming from their decision to adopt a rescue cat that might live for six plus years), the cracks and ultimately the disconnection between Sophie and boyfriend Jason (Hamish Linklater) grows.

July however doesn’t simply critique our modern reliance on (or addiction to) the Internet but rather makes her theme the various ways in which we all struggle to and often fail to connect to others, as we would like. Technology just happens to be another medium for this. Like writing a story about a bad relationship, producing a piece of personal performance art, or the act of monk-like self-ignition that broken-hearted character Richard (John Hawkes) takes in July’s first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know.

But July despite the scope of her work is not beloved by all and tends to provoke a strong response of devotion or loathing. Her work can seem too Californian liberal arts school-y for some, diminutively quirky, as opposed to profound and offbeat. Kooky and cute, (The Future does have a talking cat in it!), as opposed to meaningful and charming. For others, she really does touch on the universal yearnings and struggle for genuine connection between people; she has a great interest in the connections between strangers.

Yet July has not even yet reached very great heights of artistic fame; her oeuvre remaining somewhat on the indie periphery. After her first film she talked of industry pressure to quickly make another, she dismissed this and instead focused on other projects. Whilst making The Future she took a ‘break’ from filming and researched and created the book It Chooses You. And so perhaps it is the very breadth of her work that has kept her on this periphery. This thin spreading of herself across the arts that has meant critics have not been able to adequately pigeonhole and so condense and market July.

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