22 August 2021

Updates from Germany

 Hello! It's been a minute, eh?

About 2 months ago, the EU added the US to its "safe" zone, then Germany opened their border to tourists from the US (previously, it was open only to people with an urgent need). So I got my plane tickets for August 1 and spent all of July sorting and packing basically everything I own.

Now I'm in Berlin, subletting a furnished room from a Croatian woman. I live really close to the Grunewald park, which is a great place to get some exercise when it's not raining. I went there yesterday by train (it's only 2 stops, but it's a good 40-minute walk to get there, and I wanted to maximize my park-time) and "hiked" (Berlin is a very flat city) 3.6 miles in a little under an hour and a half. I had a refreshing Apfelschorle (apple juice mixed with mineral water), a pizza, and an absolutely delicious melon salad at a beer garden by the train station. The salad had cucumbers marinated in some sort of peppery dressing, chunks of watermelon, and a heap of feta on top. The flavor and texture contrasts were amazing, and I complimented the chef on my way out.


a photograph of a salad bowl with a layer of cucumbers topped with a layer of watermelon, all topped with a heap of crumbled feta and a sprig of mintA photograph of the Teufelssee in Grunewald Park in Berlin

I've finally had some time to write, since I'm just about settled in now. I've had to get a few things, like sheets, pantry stock, and plants, but I haven't had to spend half the day taking the bus or subway to a store and back in about a week. I went to one store to get a printer (they had back to school specials) and carried it in its box on the bus, then down the street and up a zillion stairs. Then it wouldn't connect to the WiFi for a reason I couldn't make heads or tails of (and it was in English), so I had to go buy a printer cable the next day, because of course they don't come in the box anymore. I decided to go to a different electronics store and left with a 3-Euro printer cable and a 15-Euro rice cooker. This is basically how I've ended up spending way too much money in the last 3 weeks.

At least groceries are cheap. I'm still managing to spend a bunch of money on groceries, even though a lot of things cost about half what they do in the US. A 250-g can of store-brand chickpeas cost 39 (Euro)cents! I have 7 in my cupboard. (I used one of them already.)

The way people are handling covid over here is so much different than in the US. You can't go into any businesses or get onto public transit without a medical-grade mask. (No cute cloth masks here!) You see people walking down the street with a mask around their forearm so they have it ready when they need it. It's the latest in pandemic fashion! When I went to see The Green Knight in the theater, I had to show my vaccination certificate to get in, and I was obligated to fill out my contact info when I bought my ticket online. One thing this theater did was block off the seats around you(r party) when you reserved your seat(s), so nobody from unrelated groups was next to each other. They didn't require you to wear your mask during the show, but I did (except when I drank my soda), and so did the other woman in my row.

The movie was trippy as fuck, and I kept getting distracted by the German subtitles and thinking how I would have used different words to give it the same "feel" as the sometimes-lyrical English, which didn't help at all.

I'm making the I-hope-final edits on my indulgent NaNoWriMo project, which is a retelling of the Germanic Siegfried legend from the women's perspectives, and I hope to start querying that by the end of this month. I'm also working on a nonfiction book on linguistics in SFF (for writers), whose sample chapter I need to finish and whose proposal outline I need to make shinier. The last project I queried got no bites, so I'm setting it aside for now and will rework it in the future. I think it's a good story; either the writing itself or the query wasn't landing.

So, that's it for now. You can also follow my YouTube channel and/or support my Patreon (payments currently on hold until I get my tax situation and work permit sorted).

03 June 2021

Where do I start with the mecha franchises? Part 3: Gundam (non-UC)

There are fewer entries outside the UC canon, and I've seen most of them. Like many anime fans my age, my first Gundam was Wing, back when it ran on Toonami in the early 2000s. I got sucked into y fandom and mailing lists (back on ye olde YahooGroups) and even wrote fanfic. (No, I'm not telling; it may be on the internet somewhere, but I have no idea.) I haven't watched Wing since it aired on TV 20ish years ago, and I'm nervous about doing that, but I'll get around to it someday, now that I'm old and crotchety.

Some of the non-UC series are divisive among a particular type of US fan. Wing, for example, is the one with the pretty boys that caters to girls. When Orphans was airing, I had to block a dude on tumblr who kept commenting that it sucked on my posts.

Many of these series are available through streaming sites, some on multiple sites as of June 2021. The ones I know of, I'll include. Which one to start with depends on the type of story you like, so I'm listing them in order of how much I like them.

My favorite: Iron-blooded Orphans

This is a 50-episode series that ran in 2 seasons from 2015 to 2017. (There was a gap between them.) Of all the non-UC series, this is the most original-Gundam-like, and its tone is very similar to 08th MS Team. Most Gundam shows involve child soldiers (because the target audience is teenagers), and they're portrayed as normal. This one shows how fucked up that is.

Our protagonists are teenagers who are indentured to a military contractor, CGS, on Mars. As part of their indenture, they are implanted with cyborg hookups on their spines which connect to their robots and allow them to pilot better. The procedure is painful and frequently deadly. The oldest and leader is Orga Itsuka, who is all of 19 at the start. CGS is contracted to escort a rich Martian girl to Earth, but shortly after she arrives, they're attacked by Gjallarhorn. The adults of CGS send out the kids and use them as decoys while they run away. When Orga finds out and gets back to base, he and his cadre of older kids take over the company. They rename it "Tekkadan," the iron flower group.

Orga's mission is to give his family a peaceful future, which they have to fight for, because society literally considers them garbage. Some characters are referred to in the series as "human debris." Orga's quest leads him to make deals with the devil because he sees it as expeditious. He runs into a space yakuza group and joins them. There are strong anti-capitalist themes. There is mention of child abuse and child sexual abuse. It gets extremely dark (for a Gundam show, for sure) more than once, and there's a high protagonist body count.

I highly recommend this show. It's a real 21st-century one. The story and script are by Okada Mari, and it was directed by Nagai Tatsuyuki.

Where to watch: hulu, Netflix, crunchyroll, funimation.com; Amazon Prime (for an extra fee); Blu-Ray

Also good: 00

Gundam 00 is a 50-episode series that originally aired from 2007-09. It's set about 300 years from now, in the real-world timeline. The protagonists are four Gundam pilots in a group called Celestial Being, whose purpose is to stop conflict as it happens. They're kind of terrorists, you could say. But they're very powerful, so the other factions on Earth unite to oppose them. There's a magic supercomputer that calculates where conflicts will crop up, so CB can be on site to intervene. Then some super-powered people called Innovators (the Newtype analogue) show up.

Season 1 is better than Season 2, and the movie is ... absurd. (Sentient crystals from Jupiter.)

Where to watch: hulu, crunchyroll; Blu-Ray

Worth seeing

G Gundam (1994-95; 49 episodes)

Every four years, there is a Gundam fight tournament to determine who is president of the world for the next four years. One group wants to rig the tournament so they win, and they have an overpowered super gundam, which is Devil Gundam in Japanese, but Dark Gundam in the US dub. The mobile suits are piloted in a unique way: the pilots wear clothes that sense their motion and translate it into robot motion. So the robots do the martial arts that the pilots do, which makes for interesting fight scenes.

There are a lot of Problematic(tm) things, like the national stereotype Gundams. Tequila Gundam wears a sombrero. There's a windmill for the Netherlands. These are mostly not main characters, but they still exist.

Chibodee Crockett, from Neo-America, uses his shield as a surfboard and has boxing gloves. Nobel Gundam from Sweden is Sailor Moon. The French Gundam has roses. It's absurd, which is part of its charm.

Where to watch: crunchyroll; Blu-Ray

Gundam Wing (1995-96, 49 episodes)

Five pilots from the colonies at the Lagrange points are sent to Earth to destroy the Earth Alliance, which oppresses the space colonies. They don't know about each other, but the old scientists who sent them and gave them Gundams know each other. They form a little sentai squadron and go around being terrorists. The Earth Alliance has mecha, too, and they fight each other. But there's a side faction on Earth that wants to take over for its own reasons, and things get complicated.

Where to watch: hulu, crunchyroll; Blu-Ray/DVD

Gundam Seed (2002-03, 50 episodes)

There are genetically-modified superhumans called Coordinators, who escaped to space colonies to avoid hate crimes from the Naturals. There are a few factions on Earth, including one Naturals-supremacist group. War breaks out between Earth and space. One space colony is neutral, and they get pulled into the war when space forces attack.

To be honest, I haven't watched this since it came out, but I liked it at the time.

Where to watch: hulu, crunchyroll, funimation.com; Blu-Ray

They're ok, I guess

Gundam Seed Destiny (2004-05, 50 episodes)

This picks up where Seed left off, but it focuses on a new character. The new character is fine, but the heroes from Seed are brought back as overpowered gods, basically, after fans wanted them back. *yawn* It's not terrible. Parts of it are actually rather good. But it goes downhill about halfway through.

Where to watch: crunchyroll; Blu-Ray

Gundam AGE (2011-12, 49 episodes)

I watched this when it came out and don't remember much about it, beyond that it existed. The 3 seasons of this are each from the perspective of a member of a different generation of the same family, which is kind of neat. Unfortunately, the execution was kind of a mess. The best part is season 2, because the protagonist is the coolest. Or maybe it was parts of season 3 because of the pirates? Like I said, I don't remember this very much, and wikipedia has you covered.

Where to watch: not available streaming in the US; Blu-Ray

Do not watch: Reconguista in G (2014-15, 26 episodes)

This show is just bad. I watched all of it, and I can't tell you what happened, even with the wikipedia article open. The biggest problem is that there was way too much going on in way too little space. If it had had 50 or 52 episodes, it would probably have been fine, but it's difficult to keep up with all the factions and characters and backstabbing and side changing when there's an entirely different plot every other episode.

On the plus side, the mecha and character designs are pretty cool. The mecha and character designers from Overman King Gainer were involved.

Where to watch (if you must): crunchyroll; Blu-Ray

Haven't seen

I haven't seen Gundam X or Turn A, so I can't comment on those, and neither appears to be available for streaming in the US.

Other

There's a meta series which starts with Build Fighters that takes place in an alternate-here, where a magical space particle lets people imbue their gundam models with magic energy that lets them fight while the model builder pilots it. It's Angelic Layer but with gundam models, and its entire purpose is to sell model kits. Even more so than the usual gundam series.

That said, it's a lot of fun. The protags are middle schoolers who enter a tournament. There are powerful groups that have dedicated money to improving their build quality (Gundam Academy) and all the stuff you'd expect from a tournament show. The characters are archetypes, but they've got a bit more depth than just "the protag" or "the rival" or "the nerd." It's fun, and it lets Gundam nerds geek out (both on and off screen) about the various kits used. There's even a bit of kitbashing!

This isn't a good place to start if you want to understand all the in-jokes. If you don't mind not getting the references, or you just really like tournament shows, fire it up!

Where to watch: crunchyroll

02 June 2021

Where do I start with the mecha franchises? Part 2: Gundam (UC)

 The first Gundam series aired in 1979-80 and had 43 episodes. The show inspired a lot of future anime and manga creators, and there are a lot of references to it in shows like Genshiken and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. For something as superficially mundane as a show about giant robots in space whose purpose is to sell plastic models and model kits, the cultural impact it had is immense. There is a full-size model of a Gundam in Odaiba. It used to be an RX-78, as seen in the previous link, but it was changed to a Unicorn recently.

Gundam's influence reaches outside Japan, inspiring Guillermo del Toro to make Pacific Rim. This is the cutest damn video of all time, when during PacRim promos, a Japanese morning show took him touristing and to see the Odaiba Gundam, which he didn't know they were doing. The look on his face when he sees it! That is a man having a religious experience. (Obligatory PacRim side note: I love that movie, and the sequel doesn't exist.)

So, what's Gundam about, other than giant robots in space? Each individual series has its own plot, naturally, but there are a few essential elements to make something a Gundam show, other than the robots. There is a conflict between usually a large federated space navy and a smaller faction. Sometimes the space navy is the good guys; sometimes it's the bad guys. But neither side is ever all-good or all-bad. There are corrupt bigwigs in the space navy, and there are peaceniks in the rebel factions. The lead character is an ace pilot; sometimes there's a group of ace pilot leads. The lead antagonist is an ace pilot. They pick each other as their rival/nemesis/whatever. At some point, one of the leads gets stuck behind enemy lines and this changes his outlook on the war. Fighting continues; eventually someone wins.

There are a handful of conventions that originate from 0079. The (or A) main antagonist is a blond who wears a mask and pilots a red mobile suit. This is because of Char Aznable, the Red Comet in 0079. Some Char-clones don't strictly fit the mold, but that's fine; a Char is a Char. The hero Gundam is primary colors (red, yellow, blue, white). There is a post-human type of person who has super skills with piloting and sometimes psychic powers.

Gundam and Macross are about the same age as franchises, but there are way more Gundam shows than Macross, and I haven't seen all of them. (There's a LOT! And some are really bad, and some are extra bleak.) The easiest way to break it up is to divide them into UC timeline and non-UC timeline. I'll start with UC. The UC timeline is the largest, with over 30 TV series, movies, and OVAs spanning the years 0068-0260.

Universal Century

Humanity has built colonies in space, mostly at La Grange points. They call them "sides." Side 3 declared independence from the Earth Federation, called itself the Principality of Zeon, and launched a war, which killed half of humanity. Eight months into a bloody stalemate, the EF Space Force (EFSF) is at Side 5 picking up their new battleship, White Base, with Zeon ships hot on their tail. Amuro Ray is a high school student whose dad is a class-A jerk and an engineer on the Gundam project, and he gets sucked in to piloting the ship and drafted into the EFSF. The ace pilot on the Zeon side is Char Aznable, who has plans of his own. This is how Mobile Suit Gundam (aka 0079) starts.

The general through plot is that Zeon Zum Deikun wanted to make/keep peace with the Feddies, but he was assassinated. The Zabi family takes charge of Side 7 and uses Zeon's name to promote their cause. Because of the pressure of living in space, some humans have evolved into Newtypes (yes, what the long-running Japanese anime magazine is named for). The Zeons want to harness the power of Newtypes to make space free from the Earth-bound government. The Feddies think Newtypes are dangerous and want to eliminate them.

The One Year War is fought to a truce in the year 0080, but politics and all that means that wars happen again and again, in 0087, 0088, 0093, and 0096. The One Year War provides a setting for a lot of side stories, most of which I haven't seen. And I will confess that I primarily know Z, ZZ, Char's Counterattack, F91, and Victory from playing the Gundam Musou games. I hear that F91 is terrible, and Victory is depressing, but not as bad as War in the Pocket (which I have also never seen, because I hear everyone dies.)

0079 exists as the 49-episode TV series and 3 compilation movies. The compilation movies get you the gist of the story, and if you want to start with a UC series, you could do worse than the movies. These are all available on Blu-Ray in the US, and the TV series is streaming on Funimation.com as of June 2021.

My favorites of the UC series are the 08th MS Team and 0083: Stardust Memory. Of the two, 08th MS Team is better as far as plotting and pacing go, but Anavel Gato of 0083 is my favorite villain.

The 08th MS Team (1996-99) is a wonderful entry point. It's a 12-episode OVA series (there's a 13th episode that was a 10-year-anniversary special, but it's not good; it's from the POV of the most annoying character) about a half-dozen Federation soldiers and their fight to defend their part of Earth from Zeon. Shiro Amada and his team are sent to reinforce a base. The local Zeon commander has a mobile armor (a really big robot, which isn't particularly mobile, because it's that huge), which is piloted by someone Shiro knows. Once this is discovered, Shiro is arrested for treason (which is the plot of the mid-series recap movie Miller's Report.)

It's moderately gritty, but not, like, Full Metal Jacket levels. The OP animation gives you a good idea of it, though it's a little cheery. This show also serves as the basis for my favorite AMV of all time, which the creator to the best of my knowledge has never uploaded, so there are only low-res uploads on YT. SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE THING AHOY. Tenth Man Down (It also introduced me to Nightwish, so double win.)

This is available in the US on Blu-Ray and DVD via your favorite retailer.

0083: Stardust Memory (1991-92) is a side-story which is never mentioned in the rest of UC canon (for reasons explained at the end of the OVAs.) Zeon ace pilot Anavel Gato steals the prototype Gundam GP-02A, and Feddie pilot Kou Uraki is assigned to get it back from him using the GP-01. The engineer from Anaheim Electronics, Nina Purpleton, had a relationship with Gato in the past, and that causes Trouble, of course. Gato's fleet has a plan for the GP-02A, which is equipped with a nuclear warhead.

As I recall it, the pacing is a bit off, but I like it anyway. The OP and ED songs are extremely 1991. Shoji Kawamori (of Macross) did the mecha designs.

This is also available on Blu-Ray in the US via your favorite retailer. (The DVDs are 4x as expensive, so I suspect it's out of print.)

01 June 2021

Where do I start with the mecha franchises? Part 1: Macross

 A person I met at a con recently asked where the best place to start with Macross and Gundam is. That's not an easy question! Let's dig in.

Macross

The Macross franchise started in 1982 with Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, which ran for 36 episodes. If you're my age, or maybe a little younger, you may have seen the heavily edited version called Robotech in your cartoons. I won't be getting into the gigantic licensing nightmare between Tatsunoko/Big West and Harmony Gold & Carl Macek, because it's very complicated and I don't know all the details. But fans rejoiced in April when they announced that the license dispute was resolved, and we'll be (eventually) getting legit Macross over here.

So. SDF Macross. In 1999, a city-sized alien spaceship crashes on a remote island on Earth (the setting for 2002's Macross Zero). Naturally, human scientists want to reverse engineer the hell out of it, and they make transforming fighter jets using the technology they found. They rebuild the ship, but at its launch, the alien Zentradi attack. It turns out that the ship has space-folding technology, so they use it to escape ... and bring a whole mess of civilians with them. And then the fold tech breaks. The story revolves around the inhabitants of this new spaceship colony getting back to Earth under conventional power while not being blown up by the Zentradi (all male) or the Meltran (all female). To keep the population entertained, an idol contest is held, and Lynn Minmay is one of the contestants. Her songs become surprisingly popular among the Zentradi, which causes a major cultural shift. It seems like the statute of limitations on spoilers for a 30-year-old show should be up, but I won't say any more. The plot is on Wikipedia if you want all the spoilers.

I don't know how readily available the 2002 AnimEigo DVD release of SDF Macross is, but that was the last legitimately licensed Macross in the US. Hopefully this will change quickly!

If you can get your hands on it, honestly, this is a fine place to start. You could probably watch Frontier or Delta and enjoy them, but the big reveals at the end might not mean anything to you, other than "something huge is going on here."

The other Macross with a real US license (lapsed or not) is Macross Plus (1994-95). If you don't have the stamina or level of interest to watch a full 36-ep series, this OVA series (or its movie compilation) is a good place to start. The music is by Yoko Kanno, and Shinichiro Watanabe (of Cowboy Bebop) directed. The easiest summary is that it's Top Gun with transforming fighter jets and a holographic AI idol singer named Sharon Apple. It had a US release by Manga Entertainment in 1999, which may or may not still be in print.

There are a few other entries in the franchise, which I'll touch on here, but all the information is available on Wikipedia.

Macross 7 (1994-95; 49 episodes) is one of those shows that people love or hate. It starts off really rough (like season 1 of Babylon 5 rough), and it's a lot more goofy than the rest. The action is on the 7th Macross fleet in the year 2040. There's a band called Fire Bomber, and for some reason, their music creates some sort of harmonic resonance that makes the enemies attacking them stop attacking. The lead singer and guitarist is Nekki Basara, and he doesn't want to fight. But to get their music to the enemy ships, Fire Bomber has to go out in transforming fighter jets. Basara pilots his with a guitar, and he doesn't fire ammo; he launches speaker pods, which take his song directly to the enemy pilots.

You really shouldn't think about it too hard. (Well, you shouldn't think about any of this too hard.) I like it because it's goofy and knows it, and I like Fire Bomber's music.

Macross Zero (2002) goes here; it's an origin story that only makes sense once you've seen Frontier and Delta.

Next up is Macross Frontier (2008, 25 episodes), set in 2059. The Macross fleets are expanding across space, and pop idol Sheryl Nome visits the Frontier. Ranka Lee is a contestant in an idol contest, and she and Sheryl are linked in a way that neither suspects. The attacking enemy this time is the Vajra, and Ranka and Sheryl sing at them to make them go away.

Delta (2016, 26 episodes) is set in 2067. There is a mysterious plague on some colony worlds that sends people berserk. But an idol group's music can calm them. There are mysterious ace pilots from another part of the galaxy who want to overthrow the government of UN Spacy.

Naturally, the creators want the new series to be attractive to new fans who weren't alive when SDF or Plus or 7 came out, so the stories are fairly well self-contained, except for a lot of callbacks to earlier series (pineapple fucking salad). In Frontier, Ozma Lee is a Fire Bomber fan. The bassist of Fire Bomber is the daughter of 2 ace pilots from the original series. One of the members of Delta squadron is a granddaughter of the ace pilots. And a lot of things make more sense if you've seen everything up to that point. There's an overarching plot for all of it.

What should you expect from a Macross show?

  • transforming fighter jets
  • cool dogfights with the Itano Circus
  • pop music that makes the enemies stop fighting
  • a love triangle (usually between 2 women and a man but sometimes 2 men and a woman (Plus, 7 sort of)) that involves at least one idol singer and one ace pilot. I don't think they're ever resolved, and one of them you could resolve into an OT3 without breaking canon.
  • it's really cool when the ENTIRE DANG SPACESHIP transforms (because of course it can)
Next time: Gundam (in what may be a multi-part series; I have a lot of opinions.)

20 April 2021

Apropos of a conversation on twitter...

I made a spreadsheet with the list of anime I need to watch or rewatch, and it's a lot.

Take a look for yourselves, and talk to me about what's on your list!

08 April 2021

Upcoming events

Just about the only good thing to come out of this pandemic is a whole lot of online conventions. I've been able to attend more cons than usual, since there's no travel expenses and all that.

Next weekend, April 16-18, I'm going to be at Flights of Foundry, where I'll be moderating a panel on Multi-Lingual Creativity, with panelists Aliette de Bodard, Anna Martino, Nina Niskanen, and Sofia Rhei. Registration is free/donation accepted, and there's a lot of great programming lined up. This is their second year, and last year's con was very well run, so I'm expecting good things. I hope to see you there!

Then the next 4 days, I'm going to be at the LingComm conference, which has a pretty good schedule lined up. I really missed academic conferences last year (my university was hosting the Germanic Linguistics Annual Conference in the beginning of April, and that obviously did not happen), so I'm looking forward to learning a lot at this one! I'm going to have a poster in the first poster session, and I'm on the discussion panel "finding your niche."

I've just made a new post on my Patreon, where I link to a video about the word "burn." I've also added some new tiers to the Patreon, so check those out, too!

14 October 2020

Book review/recommendation: The Four Profound Weaves

I bought an e-copy of RB Lemberg's The Four Profound Weaves, and I had a chance to read it last night. It's about an old man and an old woman who go on a journey - a quest, even - to find the old woman's aunt, from whom the old man wants to receive a name and the old woman wants to learn the final Profound Weave: to weave a cloth from death.

It's part of their Birdverse series, which includes these three stories.

Geometries of Belonging

The Desert Glassmaker and the Jeweler of Berevyar

Grandmother nai-Leylit's Cloth of Winds

And it is related to the third of these. The nameless old man was a protagonist there.

This story/book is about so much more than the plot. It is, at its root, a profoundly trans and queer story. Both protagonists are trans (spoiler, I guess?), and the nameless man spends time thinking about what it means to be a man and his people's traditions of masculinity and femininity. Among the nameless man's home culture, it is the norm for groups of women (3 seems common, but I don't know if that's a requirement) to form an oreg, a group of lovers who go on trading journeys together. Men remain inside a separate, locked quarter, where they are scholars and artificers.

It's sad, in many ways, and angry, but also incredibly hopeful. The final chapter hit me right in the feels, in a very similar way that The Song of Achilles did: that queer place, where there is hope and anger and sadness, lost family and found.

Lemberg's writing style is poetic without being impenetrably dense, and it reminds me of Ursula Le Guin's prose at its finest. (I'm sure RB would be pleased with that comparison! I know that "Stone Telling" is meaningful to them.)

I highly recommend this book. You can find it at all the usual suspects.

kobo

bezosland

bookshop.org