A Movie Entry – A Cartoon By Any Other Name

I’ve written a long entry on how Disney is creatively robbing its own vault to avoid even beginning to try to bank on a new idea. Disney is taking a lot of the animated classics and remaking them as live-action movies. I thought this was silly and creatively bankrupt to begin with, but the next live-action remake is just absurd – The Lion King. The Lion King. You know, the movie about all the talking animals with celebrity voices? The movie with absolutely no people in it at all because it’s about the LION king?

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A TV Entry – It’s Time for Animaniacs…

For those Who Came in Late
I watched a lot of cartoons as a child. Like, a LOT. In general, there were two blocks – Saturday Morning Cartoons, and weekday afternoon cartoons. At some point in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Warner Brothers and Disney ended up facing off for those afternoon ratings. Disney had reinvigorated the animation department for movies (see The Little Mermaid) and decided to take that new attitude to television with likes of Ducktales, Gummi Bears, and Darkwing Duck. Disney also decided to reboot/reinterpret some of its older properties for the small screen and created Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers and Tailspin.

At the same time WB did the same thing and used the success of Batman to bring DC superheroes to television. WB also tried to reinvigorate the old Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies properties (which may be the reason Space Jam exists). The first effort was almost a literal sequel in the form of Tiny Toon Adventures. This was a fine program in its own right featuring the next generation of Looney Toons being instructed by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc. But following the success of “Tiny Toons” was the spiritual sequel, Animaniacs. This show was by the same creative team, but featured original characters not directly linked to any existing ones. Animaniacs was much more of a homage to old sketch comedy shows and often the segments had no link except cameos to show these characters did exist in the same world. It was amazing, but all good things have to come to an end. That is, until Netflix acquired the rights…

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A Media Entry – Random Weekend Edition

My thoughts are scattered like leaves on the winds these days, so I present a collection of “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” for this entry. Except by “good” I mean “funny” (at least to me) because that’s just how I think.

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A TV/Movie Entry – Truly, Truly Outrageous

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey. Let’s go back in time to the 1980s. It was a time of neon and pop music, of big hair and big egos, of memorable if lamentable fashion choices, when MTV still actually had something to do with music, and kids came home from school to watch cartoons all afternoon. I’ve already commented upon many such shows, and now here’s another. In the harmful tradition of gendered marketing, this is about a show to sell dolls that was aimed squarely at little girls who worshiped Madonna (the singer) and dressed like Cyndi Lauper – Jem.

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Fifteen-minute TV Series – Scooby Doo

It’s October, and my favorite holiday is coming up. So in the spirit of the season, I present a fifteen-minute version of every classic “Scooby Doo” episode ever.

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A TV Entry – In the Name of the Moon

The reason I write about random stuff like television and movies that I like is so that you lovely readers will know more about what has influenced me as a writer.  If you share my influences, it is likely you will like my writing.  If you do not share my influences, well, I encourage you to try out my writing anyway.  Variety is the spice of life, and there are lots of things I didn’t used to like that now I like very much (avocados!).  Why is the stuff I watched as a kid important?  Because writers steal shamelessly.  Okay, that’s not quite fair, but people are the sum of their influences, consciously or not.

Also, it is interesting to find those old shows and movies I loved as a kid and re-watch them with an adult eye.  For me as a writer, it’s an exercise in how I have grown up, matured, and learned to be more critical of media.  Occasionally such an exercise makes me wonder about myself as a child.  I blame the sugary snacks the commercials kept trying to sell me.  Sometimes it turns out those old shows have more offer now that I’m an adult (chronologically anyway; mentally sometimes I am definitely still a child).  Sometimes they really do not have any more to offer.  And sometimes, wow, are there things that I really can’t believe got past the radar and are frankly a little uncomfortable as an adult.  But to criticize a media does not mean it cannot be enjoyed, hence guilty pleasures (like soap operas, for example).

Which brings me to the title of this entry.  One of my readers knows exactly what this is in reference to, but for everyone else who is clueless or is afraid this is what they think, I will confirm this – this is about “Sailor Moon.”  The television show, not the manga, which I have not actually read.  First, in my defense, I was a kid when I first watched this.  Second, it was only my second or third anime.  The first anime of course being “Voltron” (and wow is “GoLion” quite a different show…), and it was either this or “Ranma 1/2” that was my second/third anime.  I don’t actually remember.  I also like “Ranma 1/2” but I hate Happosai with the fires of a thousand burning suns and nearly as much as I hate Scrappy Doo, but that is a rant for another time.  Okay, disclaimers done.

The subtitled versions are 100x better than the sanitized American version (much like “GoLion” is 100x bloodier than the sanitized American version).  The subtitled versions are also a lot more honest and accurate.  For example, the very first episode in which the main character becomes the titular magical girl is dubbed as “A Moon Star is Born.”  The more properly translated title is “Crybaby Usagi’s Magnificant Transformation.”  There, in a nutshell, is the difference.

So for a quick plot recap – Usagi (a 14 year-old girl when the series starts) meets a talking cat named Luna who gives her a magic compact/brooch that turns her into Sailor Moon.  Later Usagi meets four other girls (Ami/Mercury [the smart one with water powers], Rei/Mars [the temperamental one with fire powers], Makato/Jupiter [the superstrong nice, feminine one with lightning powers], and Minako/Venus [the pretty one with energy beam/heart powers]) who also get transformed, and through various upgrades and adventures, they fight monsters and save the universe.  Repeatedly.  Also, Usagi meets and initially hates Mamoru, who is about 18 or 19 and in college and they end up dating.  Also, it turns out they are all reincarnated/reborn from a fantastic past in which Usagi was a princess of the moon and Mamoru a prince of the Earth.

Skeeviness alert – it’s pretty skeevy for a 14 year old middle school student (that’s right; she’s not even in high school) to end up dating a college student, even once the full story is told.  When I was a kid, I did not get this at all.  I was a kid.  I’m not expert on Japanese culture, but I’m guessing this doesn’t have the same kind of skeeve factor there.  So, there we go.  It’s there, and part of the story, and oddly something the American sanitized version didn’t manage to hide.  And yes, the skirts on the 14 year old heroines are too short.

Yes, it’s formulaic.  There’s a big bad with some long-running plot but each episode breaks down to fighting a monster of the day.  So what on Earth did I like about this show?  Well, when I was a kid, it was very different from the other cartoons on at the time.  The structure was different, the animation style obviously different, and also I was a kid.  I liked “He-man” and “She-ra” as well.  And “G.I. Joe.”  And “Transformers.”  Perhaps I simply have no taste.  The big mystery in the first part of the series (there are actually five series) is “who is Tuxedo Kamen” when it’s pretty obvious it’s Mamoru.  No, no one can figure out who anyone is even though they look exactly the same transformed (note to bad guys – do not find out anyone’s secret identity or you will be killed/otherwise disposed of in the very next episode [seriously; I tallied this once; death or worse is assured]).  To be fair, no one figured out He-man was just Prince Adam with a tan and a fur loincloth.  So why did I seek out this series as an adult and go through the effort to find subtitled versions and the un-aired on American television “Stars” series?  I thought it would be interesting.  And I still liked it well enough.  Here are some assorted reasons.

The Good:
1) My favorite character is Rei/Sailor Mars.  She is a shrine maiden who has psychic dreams, can perform divination/fortune-telling, and create charms to banish evil spirits and all of this is before she finds out she’s Sailor Mars!  She’s also bossy and abrasive and fights with Usagi all the time.  Despite that, she’s Usagi’s closest friend and when bad things are coming, Rei knows it first and Rei holds out the longest.
– I also like Sailor Saturn, but for different reasons.  She is terrifying.

2) My favorite set is “Sailor Moon S” in which the main core of five meet Sailors Uranus (don’t laugh; she will cut you [with her sword if she doesn’t crush you first]) and Neptune.  They are super-powerful compared to the other five girls (except Usagi, who is as powerful as she needs to be).  In the formulaic battles, the other girls generally soften up the monster of the day so Sailor Moon can finish it off.  Uranus (power of the sky) and Neptune (power of the ocean) just defeat it.  This series starts with Rei having a vision of the end of the world.  The plot is the main baddie is looking to create the Holy Grail (that’s what the subtitles say anyway) so that Mistress 9 can release an evil force to end the world.  Like all other baddies, they go about this by attacking human for their energy, or some variant of it, in this case “heart crystals.”  Uranus and Neptune (who are just in high school) are trying to stop this but end up opposing Sailor Moon and Co. because they think Sailor Moon and Co. are too weak to do whatever is necessary to save the world (and clearly they were just not paying attention to the two previous times Sailor Moon and Co. have already saved the world).  In the midst of this, Usagi and Mamoru’s daughter from the future Chibiusa (this makes more sense in context) comes back to learn to be a senshi and befriends the ill and mysterious Hotaru.  They also meet up with Sailor Pluto (yes, this was before Pluto lost its status as a planet), who is the oldest of the senshi in her human disguise as a college student and has the power of time (and unlike all the others carries a long staff roughly shaped like a key).  In the end, it’s revealed that Uranus and Neptune are not so concerned with the baddies ending the world, but that their efforts will cause Sailor Saturn (power of destruction) to awaken, remember her past, and destroy them all.

3) Usagi is a terrible superhero and at the time I found that quite the novelty.  She is absolutely terrible.  She’s clumsy, she’s whiny, she’s flaky, and her four friends are clearly more competent than she is in every single way.  Even Venus, who is far more flaky than the other three, because she had been Sailor V for so long, makes a better Sailor Moon than Usagi (there’s an episode where to protect Usagi’s identity the others dress Venus up as Sailor Moon [since she’s blonde] and she’s so good at it Usagi gets mad at her).  I know that Prince Adam is supposed to be bumbling and a flake, but once he’s He-Man, all that disappears.  Sailor Moon is still clumsy, whiny, and flaky.  The animation makes it clear that while the others gracefully dodge laser-blasts or whatnot, she’s barely getting out of the way or falling on her own head.  And it is hilarious in a very slapstick way.  She has her good points.  She is loyal and kind and can usually get her act together in the end.  And honestly, when it all comes down to it, she has the power.  Period, all stop.

4) The puns.  The names are pretty much all puns and if you know that Chibiusa’s real name, Usagi (yes, she’s named after her mother), means “rabbit,” then the fact the baddies in “Sailor Moon R” always called her “the rabbit” is funny.

The Bad:
1) Lousy American dubbing.  It is so obvious through the animation that Haruka/Uranus and Michiru/Neptune are a couple that the American dubbing of them as “cousins” doesn’t begin to be convincing and in fact makes it worse.  The dubbing also significantly changes some of the story and makes Rei seem much more petty than she is.  Also, Zoisite, a baddie in the first set, was dubbed as a female voice and it turns out Zoisite is actually a man.  But because Zoisite was pining after Malachite (a man), that had to be changed.  And one of the baddies in “Super S” was also a boy, but again had a female dubbed voice.  I will say that in “S” the baddies are referred to in the dubbed version as “Heart Snatchers” which makes more sense to me than “Death Busters.”  Also, Makato has “the most talent.”  Yes, indeed, she’s definitely more “talented” than the other four girls.

2) Lousy American dubbing trying to hide same-sex relationships and creating gender bending confusion (see above).  I should be grateful “Stars” was never dubbed (see below).  I have no idea how that would have worked out at all.

3) Sailor Moon Super S.  Ugh, that’s the series where Chibiusa takes the lead.  It has the longest transformation sequences (and I like the henshins), longest finishing moves, and ends up with a 10 year old girl promising to marry an 11 year old boy when she grows up.  Skeeviness aside, it’s roughly like giving Scrappy Doo control of the Scooby Doo series.  However, the episode “Usagi the Ninja” is pretty hilarious.

4) Naru and Nephrite.  Dubbed as Molly, Naru (Usagi’s 14 year old best friend) ends up infatuated with baddie Nephrite in the first set even though he’s pretending to be a thirty-something bored rich guy (he’s actually much older than that, so, ewwww all around).  Even after Nephrite reveals himself to be a baddie by stealing all of Naru’s energy, she still tells Usagi she loves him.  She is so hung up on this much older man who has told her flat out he’s a bad guy that she doesn’t let Sailor Moon kill him.  In the end, he saves her life by sacrificing his, which I suppose was supposed to make it okay, but does not.

5) The American dubbers thought American kids were stupid.  Usagi and Mamoru actually had different names in their past lives.  When they remembered they used to be Serenity and Endymion, they sometimes called themselves that.  The American version never uses these names.  There is a point in the first set where Mamoru is captured by the baddies and has his memories erased and they call him Endymion.  Usagi meets up with him and calls him Mamoru, but he says he doesn’t know that name.  In the American version, Darien is called Prince Darien by the baddies, so it’s really weird when Serena calls him “Darien” and he says he doesn’t know that name.  I also had a hard time figuring out why the time-displaced Chibiusa never realized that Usagi and Mamoru had her parents’ names (she may not make the leap to them being her parents) until I realized that in the subtitled version, their future selves always go by Serenity and Endymion.  But apparently three names is just too much for American kids.  Also, the four inner planets clearly die at the end of the first set, but the American dub tries to hide this.  It does not work.

6) Padding.  Yeah, there was a lot of padding through the henshins and the attack sequences.  Much better on the computer where I can just skip ahead through that.

The Weird(est):
1) Sailor Moon Stars.  It’s actually a good set, but I know why it wasn’t imported.  The senshi run into a group call the Sailor Starlights, who are senshi from another galaxy looking for their equivalent of Sailor Moon, the Fireball Princess.  The Starlights (Star Healer, Star Fighter, and Star Maker) are girls in black bikini tops, short shorts, and sailor collars.  Their secret identities is the pop group the Three Lights (Yaten, Seiya, and Taiki).  Oh, and the Three Lights are boys.  The henshin makes it clear that while their faces/hair don’t change, their bodies clearly do.  Seiya ends up with a crush on Usagi even though s/he knows one day s/he’ll have to go back to being a girl full-time.

2) Hotaru’s fate.  At the end of “S,” Hotaru is given to her father to care for her.  This is quite touching.  Hotaru does not appear at all in “Super S” (actually, none of the outer planets do) but at the beginning “Stars” Setsuna/Pluto just walks up to Hotaru’s father and takes Hotaru away from him.  It’s really awkward.  I think in the manga he actually died, which would make more sense, although it doesn’t explain why the anime would change course so drastically.

3) Makato/Jupiter lives by herself.  She’s 14 when the series starts.  There’s a one-off character is who is a 15 year old girl who also lives by herself.  No one seems to think this is weird.  Cultural difference, I guess?

Conclusions:
Such as they are, anyway.  I still go back and watch these occasionally.  I like the kind of visual spectacle of the henshins and finishing moves even though I know practically no one would stand still for the hero to do all that.  Yes, there are a lot of rainbows and hearts and butterflies and traditionally girly things, although sometimes there is a reason for that (if you watch the attack video, you’ll see how painful rainbows and hearts can be).  How has this influenced by writing?  I can’t say for sure it has, but I wouldn’t say it hasn’t.  Perhaps I simply have no taste, but I’m okay with that.  Also, the opening theme is really catchy.

A TV/Comic Book Entry – Thoughts on Villainy 2: Henchmen

I think about comic book style villainy, especially cartoony comic book style villainy (which is why this is a cross-media entry).  I think a lot about these things, which probably says a lot about me, although I’m not sure it’s all good…  So awhile back my feverish writer’s brain was wondering how in the world evil organizations manage to recruit any new members.   After re-watching the G.I. Joe episode “The Revenge of Cobra” I wondered who is responsible for training these new members?  Well, here’s my theory…

Big Bad: Okay, who are you and what can do you for me?

Consultant: I represent Henchman Training Systems, Inc., and I’m going to give you my best pitch as to why you should hire HTS to train your henchman.

Big Bad: I’m listening.

Consultant: Here at HTS we understand that as a Big Bad, you and your lieutenants have better things to do than train some low-level henchmen who are likely going to end in dead or jail the first time you send them on a mission.  But we also understand you need complete loyalty and sufficient training that your henchmen present a credible threat, or at least diversion, for any heroes that attempt to interrupt your operations.

Big Bad: I agree.

Consultant: HTS has a secret headquarters where we can train all your low-level henchmen, with optional teleport pad for easy transport.  Our state of the art headquarters has state of the art equipment for training your henchmen.  Plus, we have psychiatrists and nutritionists on-staff to help manipulate your henchmen mind and body.

Big Bad: I like where this is going.

Consultant: Here at HTS, we can tailor the training regiment to suit your needs.  Here’s an example training day –

0530 – Wake up
0545-0700 – Physical fitness
0700-0745 – Breakfast
0800-0930 – Training Class
0930-1030 – Physical fitness
1030-1145 – Training Class
1200-1245 – Lunch
1300-1430 – Training Class
1430-1530 – Organization Morale Boosting Session
1530-1730 – Training Class
1730-1815 – Dinner
1830-2100 – Approved Recreational Activities
2100 – Lights Out

Big Bad: “Organization Morale Boosting Session?”

Consultant: Brainwashing and propaganda.  Like the card says, “We take over where recruiting leaves off.”

Big Bad: Nice catchphrase.  I notice there’s a lot of emphasis on physical fitness.  Does this include actual combat training?

Consultant: Well, we could include actual combat and weapons training if you want, but that’s in our upgraded packages.  Our basic package assumes henchmen will be captured and/or killed in their first mission, so why bother to train them when you really won’t get your money’s worth from them?

Big Bad: That’s an excellent point.  So what is the purpose of the physical fitness sessions?

Consultant: Mostly just to keep them busy and keep morale up.  They think they’re really learning something.  And many organizations like the one you head up tend to employ scientists and medical professionals of, let’s say, ambiguous morality, like to use humans in their studies, and favor healthy specimens over unhealthy ones.

Big Bad: Oh, yes, Dr. Brainmelter is always asking for subjects, I mean, volunteers for his experiments.

Consultant: How often are henchmen expected to volunteer?

Big Bad: Usually just once does it.

Consultant: Ah, well, there are several modules for purchase for the “Organization Morale Boosting Session” and I suggest you seriously consider the module, “Scientific Progress and How You can Help.”

Big Bad: Sounds like something to consider. I assume you have a brochure?

Consultant: Absolutely.  I also have several sample menus with varying chemical supplements for you to review.  We want to make sure your henchmen are as strong, or as weak, as you need them to be.  We are also willing to alter our menus based on the suggestions of your morally ambiguous medical professionals.

Big Bad: Excellent.

Consultant: Training classes cover the usual henchmen training; marching in formation, yelling your battle cry, defending the lieutenants…

Big Bad: I’m sorry, “yelling your battle cry?”

Consultant: Oh yes, standard procedures for most organizations.  The henchmen yell the battle cry before engaging in combat with the heroes.  Generally this battle cry is the name of the organization.  You know, “Cooooobraaaa!” or “Hail HYYYYYYDRAAAA!”

Big Bad: But wouldn’t it make more sense to just open fire rather than warning the heroes you’re about to fire on them?

Consultant: Well, yes, of course, for trusted lieutenants.  But for henchmen, the purpose of the battle cry is to trigger the psychological conditioning of the training to override all their fear and common sense and charge into battle with little to no actual combat training to engage a clearly tactically superior group of heroes.  The heroes take out the henchmen, and your trusted lieutenants carry on the important part of your plan.

Big Bad: That’s surprisingly logical.  But what happens if some of these henchman actually get promoted to trusted lieutenant status?

Consultant: HTS offers an advanced training course to break the psychological conditioning if you need it immediately.  The conditioning will break down if it’s not constantly reinforced, so your lieutenant will eventually stop yelling the battle cry.  We understand that’s a slight downside to our very effective training, but the odds are against any one henchman achieving that level of advancement, which we think outweighs any potential undesirable side-effects.

Big Bad: You make a compelling argument.

Consultant: Thank you.  And of course, there are numerous training modules to choose from.  As I said, we can actually train your henchmen to use weapons.  We can also train them in numerous other skills, such as operating your arsenal of vehicular weapons.  Of course, we do need some specifications to tailor the module, but we only need the very basics and understand much of your weaponry is proprietary.

Big Bad: So what’s the minimum you need?

Consultant: On, off, forward, backwards, side-to-side, aim, fire, stop.  And if this is an airborne vehicle, take-off and land.  Safety features only if you feel so inclined to provide that information, assuming safety features are even available.

Big Bad: Well, you know, tough economic times and all.  Even my best engineers have been asked to conserve funds wherever possible.

Consultant: Very thrifty indeed.  We will also manufacture uniforms for your henchmen.  I have this handy catalogue of colors and logos. We have four styles available – basic, police-grade armor, military-grade armor, and illusion armor.

Big Bad: What’s illusion armor?

Consultant: We make the uniform look like there’s armor, which increases morale without actually charging you the premium of real armor.

Big Bad: Illusion armor it is.

Consultant: It is our most popular style.  So, if you’re satisfied that HTS, Inc. can provide for all your henchmen training needs, shall I bring out the contract to commence with the custom evaluation?  After all, we don’t want to lock you into a price that won’t bring you the results you need.

Big Bad: And I’m under no obligation to pay HTS if your custom program does not suit my needs?

Consultant: You have to pay us for the evaluation, but you are under no obligation to proceed with the training regiment.  Attempting to cheat persons of your reputation and ability through legal loopholes is simply poor business sense.

Big Bad: Am I assured this won’t be later used as evidence against me in a court of law?

Consultant: Absolutely!  Here is a copy of the confidentiality clause.  And again, attempting to blackmail persons of your reputation and ability is simply poor business sense.

Big Bad: I’ll have my lawyers look over this and I’ll get back to you.  But right now, HTS is leading the pack.

Consultant: Thank you!  Please keep our promotional materials and here’s my card.  Remember, HTS works for you!