Updates on me, and other addenda

Well, I’ve been on holiday for two weeks in Florida. I had aimed at least to have a good time, try to get on well with my hosts (my mother’s friend and her family) and get all the books read I’ve taken with me, I suppose. So far I have only finished one- John Brunner’s Times Without Number, a sci-fi novel set in an alternate history where the Spanish armada successfully defeated the English and invaded, yet Spain itself was reconquered by the Moors; where time travel has been developed (deceptively easily, it turns out), yet travel in spatial dimensions is limited to the horse and carriage. I suspect in a Catholic society, the lack of Protestant work ethic discouraged any industrial revolution which might have lead to the development of the steam engine? I wonder. It is a world where aristocracy and slavery is the norm, where the Catholic Church wields considerable influence, and the Inquisition is considered humane for using truth-drugs and hypnotism instead of torture as a means of interrogation. But these are the good guys, aiming to prevent the misuse of time travel for personal or political gain, or the timeline from being altered significantly. The epitome of Deliberate Values Dissonance, for any of my fellow tropers who may be reading. Oh, and I’ve also started on Jane Austen’s Emma and a collection of sci-fi short stories from the sixties.

So, I’m now in Florida, and have been for about a week, along with my mother. The weather is certainly as warm as can be expected, but can be very stormy, with lots of lightning and at least a few power cuts. Due to issues with lost or delayed luggage (a nightmare for some) we haven’t yet done too much, besides shopping, Starbucks and a couple of trips to the beach. There is some interesting wildlife to be seen even in the extensive back yard of our hosts, including various birds, a squirrel, the occasional deer and raccoons and even evidence of a bear which left its mark on the fence. In the interests of privacy I will not share too much about my hosts save to say they’re pretty nice folks, if I must be reminded it is the GULF (of Mexico- we’re in southwest Florida) we have been to the beach of, not the SEA! (Presumably a customary distinction the locals make?)

Next week, possible boat trips to see dolphins and possibly a tour of the Everglades. Pictures I hope will find their way to this blog- minus, for the sake of privacy, any well-defined human subjects, as agreed.

My post on the Israel-Palestine conflict seems to have been viewed by at least one Palestinian- possibly someone who commented on one of my friend’s Facebook thread. I hope I didn’t disappoint him by being a little too pro-Israel. It seems the guy who was supposedly captured was actually killed in action. I forget his identity. Now, at last, it seems there is actually a more lasting ceasefire and the chance of some talks… or is there? And the fact the Palestinians have gone to the world courts? I wonder how that will lead. O world, when will you learn to stop fighting and wasting life in this way?

That said, the whole business with the oppressive, murderous “Islamic State” does make me think that some military action is necessary. A cautious approach, however- maybe a few airstrikes to limit effectiveness, arm the Kurds or Iraqis in general, aim to reconcile opposing groups within Iraq, and let them sort their own problems out. Don’t give in to the demands for all-out action at any price- this will only lead to more support for these radical groups and end in more waste of civilian life. And do our best to help those in need- do not ignore the Christians and others who they are persecuting.

Anyway, enough of this.

Hopefully I could before long get some books or videos reviewed. I have bought and hope to bring back a few VHS tapes which are unavailable in the UK, including the badly-dubbed version of Macross- Do You Remember Love? as well as They Were Eleven (mystery thriller in space), Explorer Woman Ray (Indiana Jones type fayre, but with a female protagonist?) and the Leiji Matsumoto classic Galaxy Express 999. Maybe I shall review the Moorcock and the Brunner.

And maybe finish the (currently long and rambling) essay on what might make an ideal democracy, if certain of my readers don’t mind yet more political fayre. (Note, ideal democracy doesn’t necessarily mean ideal political system.)

Maybe I’ll even have some ‘gators or dolphins to show you.

[This post has been edited from its original form for personal reasons.]

On ridiculous and contrived anime plots: an interlude (or, a review of MADOX-01: Metal Skin Panic)

Taking time aside from weightier matters of faith and morals, I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on a short and rather silly anime I just picked up on Amazon recently. (Yes, I’m getting into anime at the moment and, just because I’m even more insane than you thought, I got it on VHS.)

First, a short quiz.

Let’s assume for a moment you’re a young Japanese guy named Koji Sujimoto, you live in Tokyo, and (if I recall the plot right) you’re engineering student with a part-time trucking job to pay your way through college. One evening,¬† just as you’ve done your rounds for the day and are about to go on a big date with the girlfriend you haven’t seen for a while (seeing as Daddy packed her off to old Blighty to study) and are still crazy about after all this time (h yes, and she’s going back tomorrow), you and your friend discover a mysterious piece of military hardware which inadvertently found its way into the back of your truck. As far as you can see, it could be any old junk, not¬†necessarily a cutting-edge mechanised battle-suit capable of dispatching whole squadrons of tanks with ease, but then again, you’re curious to find out. What do you do?

a. Inform the authorities straight away like the responsible citizen you are, and wait for them to pick it up. After all, you don’t know what it is, or what it’s capable of- all sorts of trouble could happen if it fell into the wrong hands. Don’t worry about the girl- she’ll understand.

b. Leave the thing in storage, and go off to see your girl. Tell the authorities later. It’s risky, but you won’t see her again for a while and the relationship may go cold on you…

c. Have a tinker around with the thing- go on, you might as well. Then get trapped inside because you’ve only barely read the manual and don’t have a clue how the thing works, and then go off on a mad rampage around the city leaving a trail of destruction in your wake; because despite the fact you’re trapped in an unwieldy hunk of metal which you’ve no idea to operate and have the military on your tail thinking you’re a potential terrorist, it’s been three years and you’ll be darned if you don’t make that date!

Guess which option our man Koji-san chooses.

Despite the fact any truly sensible chap would have chosen option a. or b. (depending on whether the safety of the world or your girl is more important), Sujomoto opts for the last one, given he’s young, foolish and curious, not to mention the audience has been promised some crazy badass mecha-mayhem and the running time is only 41 minutes long.

Off he goes destroying half of Tokyo, smashing straight through numerous shops and trying to grab something to eat (try that in a bulky battle suit? Doubtful…) and literally cutting up someone’s car when he gets stuck in traffic. All the while being pursued by mad Lt. Kilgore who sees this as his opportunity to destroy the MADOX just to prove he can, it having been able to defeat him in tests, the police, JSDF and US Marines (if I recall right). And eventually, in a complete reversal of traditional gender roles, he ends up getting rescued by a woman named Elly.

No, this is not a surprise, I’m just having you on- she’s the designer and test pilot of the thing, also the one who beat Kilgore in the tests, and this has already been well established in the plot at the start. As such, she’s pretty much the only one who can get a real handle on the situation and seems to be the only sensible main character in it- but for the possibly fanservicey brief hint of nudity and the fact she gets taken out of action later, one might almost be forgiven for thinking it’s a feminist deconstruction especially given the two main male characters are a hapless fool and a crazed psycho.

Having given away most of the plot already, I won’t spoil the ending.

Of course perhaps it’s not too difficult to see how a young man with interests the way Koji does would be curious about some strange new tech, and get more than he bargained for, and perhaps when you’re in love you do crazy things. Though how something falls off the back of one truck and conveniently into another I don’t know, and one might have thought top priority when you’ve a military force trying to hunt you down might well be, well, survival, I don’t know. Or the fact that Koji is bound to spend half of the rest of his life in jail is barely touched upon. But there you go.

I’ve seen worse contrivances, which I seem to be making a much bigger deal of in this than is really necessary. It’s just a thought that struck me. I could get onto Jeeves and Wooster, but that’s a whole ‘nother post in itself.

Anyway, onto the serious review bit.

At the end of the day this is a fairly entertaining though disappointingly short feature which perhaps leaves you feeling like it’s a bit lacking. The character designs are a little unrealistic compared to many more modern productions, but pretty well animated I guess. The story is fairly believable compared to some I’ve heard of, and the sort of mechs we’re talking about seems realistic enough- whether it would be so much better than tanks I don’t know. And a mech story that doesn’t involve war for once. Does it need more room for character development? Maybe, but I didn’t see it. The characters are developed enough for the story to do what it needs to do. Could there have been more successful attempts at humour? Perhaps, given the crazy situation (hapless guy trapped in battle suit without a clue) described in the blurb. Is it forgettable or an underated gem, unjustly forgotten in Japan? Probably aiming more towards the former, quite understandably, but worth a look.

Maybe I’ll try to review some more stuff, when I actually bother to watch any. (Out of all I’ve got I’ve seen Patlabor 1 (realistic mech stuff without much action, more police drama/political/techno thriller, somewhat slow and philosophical), part of Patlabor 2 (more of the same), Space Adventure Cobra (somewhat puply, daft sci-fi fare, entertaining but with a bit of a bittersweet ending and too much artistic nudity), Millennium Actress (a bit different, about an ageing movie star’s recollections and futile search for lost love) and parts of Project A-Ko episodes 5 and 6 (very silly comedy/parody type thing which doesn’t follow on from the previous episodes, which I’ve not seen-¬† this will probably go out) and Bubblegum Crisis episodes 1-3. To go: Metropolis, rest of Patlabor 2, Lupin the Third: The Secret of Mamo and a couple I borrowed off my sister (Steamboy and Voices of a Distant Star). Also got something called Key the Metal Idol (story sounds vaguely Pinoccio-esque, but with a female robot?) coming in the post, when the Royal Mail or appropriate courier ever decides to deliver. Maybe I’ll even get around to watching Arrietty as well (yes, my tastes are pretty eclectic) and one or two other Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli ones in my sister’s collection again. Anyway, enough rambling.

DISCLAIMER: Anything meant relating to gender roles was purely a joke and does not constitute anything to understanding of the plot. Or anything to do with my views on feminism (just wait, I’ll get onto that soon enough).

Also apologise for any misuse of Japanese honorifics, though I don’t think I’ve done this.

And yes, I did go on about nudity as if it were a bad thing- maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps a hypocrite in some areas given my past- but let’s not go there!