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Spores, Molds, and Fungus

Pop Culture Miscellania

Pacific Rim
I saw Pacific Rim a few weeks ago, and I loved it. Appreciation for the film has also been coming back to me in a weird sort of boomerang effect. I love it even more now than I did at first.

Pacific Rim tries to be a "blockbuster with heart", which a lot of the best geek media ends up being...a movie with a lot of wondrous visual things but also characters you want to care about and who go through some amount of internal change. It’s good at that. Not mind-blowing, but definitely draws you into the cast’s lives, without leaving you feeling dull and cheated afterwards.

(The two scientists were a little too goofy for my tastes, and I agree there should be more than two people in the research department: just give speaking roles to a few of them.)

This is a movie loaded with cliches, and not just the anime ones everyone keeps pointing out. But Pacific Rim feels, above all else, sincere, and sincerity goes a long way towards making a work appealing, whatever its measurable contents are. While rules are good, art also depends on making something that you want to make, and even the most undiscerning audience can sense when a work is being phony. Likewise, even the most brain-dead trash has someone’s genuine desire behind it (scary as that could sound).

I love monsters and I love giant robots, and Pacific Rim hit me in the “Oh my god I want a giant robot NOW!” spot without sacrificing a sense of tension or drama. The special effects just worked, having more of a sense of weight and depth than I expected, and than I usually get from CGI. Everything also looked pretty cool; love the bioluminescent kaiju and the different mecha shapes. I expected something a little more eerie and disturbing with Del Toro and even Wayne Barlowe involved, but wasn’t disappointed with what we did get instead.

I also enjoyed the little glimpses into how the world had adapted to kaiju presence: building up around the skeletons, trading in kaiju parts, marketing the hell out of everything. It seems like a million other types of stories could be told in this world, if only there was the chance to do something that didn’t only follow a blockbuster format.

I also love giant robot anime, but never would have called Pacific Rim a rip-off or a knockoff. It’s a tribute, obviously. I saw a lot of giant robot anime tropes there, but as with other works, it’s difficult to separate elements directly inspired by another culture from elements universal to storytelling from elements from the producers’ home culture. Just like with Avatar: The Last Airbender, I don’t think of Pacific Rim as purely anime-inspired, but just using anime as one of its influences.

Even so, as I watched it I lost myself at several moments, and could suddenly imagine that a live-action adaptation of anyone’s favourite mecha anime might actually have been cool. However, these likely never would have been made with the sincerity or respect of Pacific Rim, so that dream should quietly disappear.

As for the debate about how progressive the film was or was not, I found it decent. All of it, decent. I couldn’t find anything that really ruffled my feathers, though moments made me go, “Oh, of course.” Not horrible in this way by any means, but at the same time, one can't just go, "Oh, by the standards of a blockbuster movie it was progressive, and Del Toro and crew had to fight for every bit of diversity they did get, so you can't complain". Because that's a stupid way to talk about media and culture, shutting down a conversation before it starts.

So that’s it. A fun movie to see, and one that I’ll probably grab on DVD. I just picked up the novelization, but haven’t read it yet. It’s been a long, long time since I read a film novelization, but this proves I’m interested enough in the film to want to dig up the extra details.

Sym-Bionic Titan Series in Review
I've finally gotten around to seeing another cartoon series I’ve been meaning to watch for years, and my final verdict is that Sym-Bionic Titan is a good show, but no so good I’d desperately campaign for it to be renewed.

Sym-Bionic Titan is directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack, and the first Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. I’ve always admired his directing style, which manages to take stylized, simple designs and give them gravitas. His name, as well as the presence of giant robots, was what drew me to the series.

Watching Tartakovsky’s style in action is doubtless the best part of Sym-Bionic Titan. The greatest scenes feel cinematic, have a grandeur that is unexpected for a flat, “simple”-looking cartoon. The other aspects of the show are not... bad, but they’re usually formulaic and predictable. There are exceptions, there aren’t enough to ensure the series didn’t fade from my mind after I watched it.

Sym-Bionic Titan is about three heroes fleeing their war-torn (human alien-type) planet for Earth, where they are pursued by a new monster for every episode. The heroes are Ilana (Tara Strong), princess of Galaluna, her bodyguard Lance (Kevin Thoms), and a robot, Octus (Brian Posehn). They take a house in the suburbs and assume the identities of high school students, with Octus acting as their classmate and their father in two different holographic guises. Ilana and Lance can both summon mecha suits from their watches, and merge with Octus to form a gigantic robot, in order to fight enormous monsters sent by a traitor to their kingdom and his alien allies.

Sym-Bionic Titan is a mostly smooth fusion of anime homage and American high school stories. The “anime” part depends to a large degree on the robot shows of past decades (defining which shows, I’ll leave to the experts), in which giant robots are treated like superheroes, and battle enemy robots and giant monsters. However, Tartakovsky has also cited other anime as his inspirations.

High school settings in anime are also extremely common, but the high school side of Sym-Bionic Titan is very American, with dumb jocks, moody goths, nasal nerds, and bitchy cheerleaders (though we find out that one isn’t so bad). The high school stuff is serviceable, competently produced but not groundbreaking.

There is a little continuity between episodes. G3, a mysterious government organization, as well as a trigger-happy general are both hungry to find out more about this Titan, but episodes can go by without seeing them. Octus, as the teenage “Newton” (who looks shockingly like Peter Griffin) gets into a romantic relationship with Kimmy the cheerleader, and his apparent death forms the major conflict for the final episodes.

A lot of the episode plots are conventional for TV cartoons, such as the cute but dangerous creature, the transformation/assimilation of one of the heroes, the whole-episode flashback to the past, the monster that can regrow from a single fragment, etc. It puts a few interesting twists on these formulas, like the grotesqueness of the possession episode, but again, it’s not rocking my world.

The series does play with conventions in a few places. While Lance is normally quiet and intense, he has moments of genuine joy and enthusiasm. Octus acts very human, but is blase about it. Ilana is proactive and enthusiastic about aiding people, and feels like a true figure of authority rather than a generic “princess”, one who suffers because she cannot help her citizens. (And her mecha suit Corus even has some offensive capability, which is more than I was expecting). The Titan crew also ends up working with G3, despite how sinister the organization first seemed. But these breaks aren’t common, and usually you can follow the beats of the series easily.

Octus and Kimmy’s romance is, at this point in popular culture, completely conventional. It’s not badly written, just predictable. And yes, it’s also the source of the infamous “booty dance” scene, where Kimmy turns up the radio and shakes it, trying to convince Octus to do her homework rather than be her tutor. Sym-Bionic Titan does manage to push the envelope at times, and is good for that.

For the most part, Sym-Bionic Titan is an earnest show, putting forth everything straight as an arrow without irony or parody. The assumption that current popular culture has lost earnestness is a load of noise, but it’s still engaging to see a series being approached with such heart. It can get quite dark and serious, but like Tartakovsky’s other action series, there are moments of light comedy.

Thankfully, the typical Tarakovsky-show designs are fused with homages to the stereotypical Super Robot style, giving the series a distinct rather than imitative look. The robot and monster designs are all very cool, and combined with the Tartakovsky touch, it’s clear that this is a series that uses anime as just one of its many influences, in the same way that Avatar: TLA does, rather than slavishly trying to imitate anime and coming off as artificial.

Overall, I enjoyed Sym-Bionic Titan, but I was just expecting it to be better than it was. I was hoping, at least, for its visual quality to be able to transcend how by-the-numbers it was. Instead, the directing quality helped spice up the series, but didn’t make it as mind-blowing as I hoped. Cliches produced with loving conviction are still cliches, and sometimes that particular hurdle can’t be ovecome for a viewer. I liked the series, but I wanted to like it more.

Rubbertack is Back

One thing that’s been lost on my current blog and Tumblr is that my Zentradi obsession started with seeing the Robotech dub in 2008, and that a couple years ago, I spent my time tearing way through every old, forgotten Robotech novel and comic I could find. I still like some parts of those, hate others (especially the lack of good original characters and the suggestion that the Zentradi/human alliance was self-destructive), and overall would say that I don’t hate Robotech as a concept and a franchise.

However, I quickly understood that continuing Robotech past the 1990s wasn’t going to go anywhere storywise. The legal restrictions were much tighter, with the new sequel comics killing off every old character they could, and releases of new material getting more and more sporadic. The Shadow Chronicles, the animated film from that era, apparently took forever to make but was still boring crap, and the long-questioned sequel failed to materialize.

Recently, it’s been said that Robotech will finally...uh...be...moving ahead with “Love, Live Alive”. The original “Love, Live, Alive” was a sequel OVA to Genesis Climber Mospeda, the anime that was dubbed into the third part of Robotech. It mostly consisted of animated music videos, with a tiny amount of original footage.

Yet the trailer shows new footage from the “Shadows” universe that is the new Robotech, which is probably exciting to the small core of die-hard fans that have been waiting to see the Shadows universe continued, and this will probably supplement the short animation from the original LLA. Hey, guys, knock yourselves out.

But I just couldn’t keep going with this, and I can’t get back into that fold. I know that nothing will really change with this franchise. It’ll always keep scrabbling in its current rut.

Part of me thinks that modern Robotech would be inherently doomed no matter what talent was behind it, since a good story usually would tie up all its loose ends, deal decently with all its characters and its plot points, and Robotech can’t even manage that because it doesn’t have access to these things. Dancing around the characters or setting the story in the far-flung future wouldn’t be solving this problem, but avoiding the issue. It’s a trap.

Yet I don’t want to let the writers off the hook that easily. It still might have been possible to create something decent and fulfilling despite the legal restraints, but it looked like Tommy Yune and everyone else didn’t even try. The minds behind Robotech in the 21st century just keep promoting the same junk over and over again, going to cons with all the other active companies to pretend they are actually doing something.

Meanwhile, Harmony Gold spends money and makes empty promises, with the only things to show for it being some sporadic toy and RPG manual releases, a few comics, and one extremely boring movie. All of it sucks, can’t even be enjoyed on an emotional level.

It was painful and pathetic to watch, and after a while I stopped feeling hurt by it. I also stopped feeling sorry for the fans who still believed Robotech would make something of itself. After all that had happened, anyone should have been able to see the writing on the wall. The franchise is dead, but somebody’s still dangling its corpse on marionette strings.

As to the prospect of a live-action Robotech movie, well, that’s also a nigh-impossibility. Asking it to be one forgets that, unlike other popular eighties cartoons, Robotech wasn’t made as a single work by a single company, but three separate anime redubbed to be one series. That makes it harder to adapt than, say, Transformers. I wish people would remember that.

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "Son of Return of the Fly II"

Fred Wolf Episode #79
Written by David Wise
Directed by Bill Wolf
Original Air Date: September 8th, 1990

--According to Wikipedia, this is the first of the episodes that aired after the series moved to CBS, but not the first episode of season four. I've got no idea either way, since I never kept track of the series’ change from syndication to network when I was young. I also can't say I notice any radical changes in tone or presentation from the earlier episodes, but I tend to be slow on the uptake when it comes to things like this. Only the very radical changes to a TV series’ tone and format do I notice.

--But this is officially my favourite Baxterfly episode, surpassing "Enter: The Fly" if we're talking about qualities besides "what came first" (with “Landlord of the Flies” being the worst). "Son of Return of the Fly II" is just so goddamn hilarious, one of those episodes of the original cartoon that hits the mark of being so ridiculous it's great, episodes that are too few in number. It’s also fairly well-plotted with some expressive animation.

--I can't look at the title "Son of Return of the Fly II" without thinking of the joke that "The Venture Brothers" made with "Return to the House of Mummies: Part 2", in which there deliberately never was a part one, just to make it more surreal and confusing. This episode’s title, however, is simply mashing up common B-movie titles like always. I enjoy that about most Baxterfly episodes: it’s cute.

--However, the early parts with Mr. Mellish and the Solid Energy Generator are dull, and there’s not much to say about them. A little payoff comes at the end, but otherwise, we’ll skip it.

--And does Baxter quote the Wicked Witch of the West when he says, "What a world!"?

--Crying Baxterfly might make you soft towards him, but you also realize that the reason he's crying is that he can't go back to Earth and get his all-important revenge. Still, it's an unusual thing for this series to show a villain doing, and I’m a little bit sorry for Baxter, of course.

--The crying also demonstrates how much more childlike Baxter’s new characterization is, though Baxter doesn’t act as infantile in his later episodes. And he’s hardly ever a bastion of maturity anyway, but in this episode his immaturity really sticks out.

--Of course, it's never explained how the ship's computer transformed into a desktop PC, or how Baxter got out of the inter-dimensional spider's web, which was the peril they were in at the end of the previous Baxterfly episode. But it doesn't matter that much, really, except to make me wonder if the ending of "Bye Bye Fly" was originally intended to serve as Baxter's gruesome offscreen fate. Whew.

--To add to the disconnect between this episode and the previous one, the computer's mannerisms seem different. He seems more mature, with a deeper voice and a leadership role, as well as now constantly calling Baxter “pal” and “buddy”.

--I enjoyed the previous episodes where Baxter acts largely on his own, him not being quite so reliant on the computer in "Bye, Bye Fly", but the whole thing with the computer is just wonderfully strange: Seth Brundle and HAL 9000 in a weird co-dependent relationship. The more I rewatch these episodes, the funnier that gets.

--Part of the humour comes from the possibility that the computer would betray Baxter if the need arose, meaning that Baxter's life would get even more hilariously terrible when his only ally betrays him.

----The relationship also sort of adorable, in a twisted way.

--Because it’s so much fun, I really wish the computer had a damn name. The fan name "Zee" or "Z" is used often, but nobody knows where it came from, and I'm reluctant to use it because it's fanon.

--(Also, when the computer gets that energy body, it looks like he's naked. There; now you can’t unsee that)

--Baxter going after the sugar makes me giggle. It also reminds me of the scene in Cronenberg's "The Fly" when one of the first clues that Seth is changing is how much sugar and cream he puts in his coffee. This connection is probably unintentional, given that there's a lot of evidence that the writers only drew on the original "The Fly".

--The computer's constant complement-feeding comes off as incredibly smarmy, especially since he can obviously can see how dumb Baxter is. But the fact that this is kept up without Baxter being sold out is interesting, since one character secretly manipulating another long-term is subtle by FW standards. And by those same low standards, the relationship is refreshingly ambiguous.

--Baxter's side of it seems to be genuine, though, as he seems to chase the main villains back to Channel 6 because he knows they're going after the computer, and joins in the tug-of-war over the computer man. He calls the computer "My friend" and says, "Thank you," to him.

--Which is always funny to me because I remember the human Baxter hating artificial intelligence for some inexplicable reason in "The Mean Machines", and being unusually pissy about it. The writers probably don't remember the difference, but I like it.

--The funniest parts are by far how incredibly addled Baxter is. He's asked to kidnap April, and instead kidnaps Vernon, *twice* (“That’s not even a woman”), can't remember her name for more than a second, and keeps walking through walls. I know it's not the good way to write a villain, but I laugh so hard.

--At the same time, it's a tiny bit sad that a former scientist, even one as nebbish and evil as Baxter was, keeps losing his faculties, is unable to perform the simplest tasks, and doing things like thinking a portal or a plot device are food.

--The fuss made over Baxter's footprint has always struck me as weird, if for no reason other than Baxter's feet look almost the same as the Turtles' and nobody seems to notice. But naturally, Splinter is the first one to figure stuff out.

--As I said above, I think Baxter's computer is a parody of Hal 9000, and his taking over the station could be another homage to the film. Especially since "Invasion of the Turtle Snatchers" already had a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

--"Because I'm a big fly!" Impeccable logic, there, Baxter.

--I love the clock tower trap: very Adam West Batman. Though I also can't help but think of the Edgar Allan Poe story, "A Predicament", when a woman gets her head cut off by the hand of a clock.

--Raphael seems to be quoting Joan Rivers when he asks, "Baxter, can we talk?"

--Another indication of Baxter’s childishness is when he yells to the absent Shredder: "You come here now! Or else you'll never have revenge against Turtles! Never, ever, ever!"

--"By Ninja Law…." I can believe the Shredder made that up.

--I love Baxter smacking Shredder and Rocksteady's heads together using both sets of arms.

--"Only the most highly-skilled ninja master could get out of these ropes." [Leo cuts Donnie free] "Hi, Leonardo." Love that exchange.

--Veteran fans of the Fred Wolf cartoon like to point out that certain episodes had a more fluid, cartoony art style, and I’m pretty sure “Son of Return of the Fly II” fits into the slot. It suits the comedy in the episode, and is actually all-around nice and expressive, including rare background movement.

--I love the computer's facial expressions, too. He looks very smug and evil.

--Oh, hey, you can see Bebop's eyes near the end for a few seconds.

--The "Destruction of other people's property...." running joke is great here. Raphael being annoyed with Donatello over it also cracks me up every time.

--The twist that Mr. Mellish is a mercenary, money-hungry bastard and could have blown up that chip at any time but didn't because of the potential profit is also great. It's a little sharper than the show's normal humour, but that's also the style of cartoon humour that I prefer, and one I wish the old show dipped into more often.

--And there goes Baxter, stuck between dimensions. This is why I can't get so broken up over "Revenge of the Fly", when several Baxter episodes had already ended like that. It's just that his episodes stopped, not that there was real finality. And this encourages emotional attachments to have only the lightest touch, which also means it’s hard to get upset.

--Why the heck is Vernon shaving in the office, and just after a major incident? It's a really bad set-up for that final joke this show often makes, when it looks like the enemy of the episode might be back, but it turns out to be something harmless.

--But overall, this was the kind of hilarious, insane episode that makes the OT memorable. It's also well-plotted and executed enough to stand out on a different level. And again, my favourite Baxterfly episode.

Animation Appreciation: Haibane Renmei

Sometimes, earnestness and elegance can make you take an absurd imagine completely seriously; ditto for the story that’s built around it. Haibane Renmei’s (High-bah-NAY Ren-MAY’s) main visual, that of otherwise ordinary people sporting halos and tiny angel wings, might look ridiculous by itself, but the thirteen-episode anime transforms it into something wondrous and moving.

The viewpoint character is Rakka, the newest Haibane, and through her viewers understand the rules of her world. Haibane are “born” from cocoons in the city of Glie, and named for the dream they had before “birth”; Rakka is named for a dream of falling. She is provided with a halo, wings break from her back, and she must find her place at the Haibane nest of “Old Home”, an abandoned school.

Haibane live a mostly idyllic existence, but must take jobs in the town, and must only use discarded goods, except for their food. A wall also surrounds the town of Glie, which must never be touched and can never be crossed, since no one in town has any flying machines, and the Haibane themselves cannot fly.

Each Haibane is aware that they had a past life in the world outside, but that they cannot remember who they were. They all await their “Day of Flight”, in which a Haibane disappears for parts unknown. Rakka must overcome her own shock at a friend’s “Day of Flight”, and find it in herself to help Reki, a troubled older Haibane who has never taken the Day.

Although it is only thirteen episodes long, Haibane Renmei proceeds at a slow, leisurely pace. Nothing is loud or bombastic, and many things go unexplained. When the emotions cut deep, they are still subdued. It’s a sweet and intriguing experience, and weirdly soothing.

The exact nature of the Haibane is never explained, save that it’s likely they are not explicitly

Christian creations, since anime tends to use Christian imagery for special flavour instead of religious expression. However, that doesn’t mean that the Haibane cannot be tied to more general notions of sin and release.

A common theory is that the Haibane represent suicides and/or premature death, since suicide is likely not applicable to the “Young Feathers”, the gaggle of tiny toddler Haibane that also live in Old Home. It is thought that their new names have something to do with how they died. The “Day of Flight” is read as their ascent to heaven, perhaps after overcoming the “sin” of dying before their time, and the rules that Haibane live under are “punishment”. Or it is a morally neutral condition, and is simply the restoration of the natural order.

The soft nature of the series might make it hard to notice, but Haibane Renmei teaches some harsh lessons about grieving. That no matter how sad you are, you must accept that people are gone. Both Rakka and Reki struggle with the notion of the Day of Flight, but must learn to accept that it has happened, and will keep happening..

These theories still leave unanswered questions (such as why Haibane age), but that is one of the popular theories. However, Haibane Renmei is one of those works that leaves a viewer content to accept that some things will remain mysteries.

Nothing of what has been said makes Haibane Renmei a bleak series, but simply gives it an extra distinction. Just because a series says some pragmatic things does not mean that it’s bleak.

Another interesting thing about Haibane Renmei is that nearly all of the characters are female, including all of the main characters. Each of them are distinct and memorable, with very different personalities.

Old Home only houses women women and small children, but the Haibane of Abandoned Factory are co-ed, which means it’s not one of those weird things where only women can be Haibane.

Nor is it one of those other weird things, where a primarily female cast are really a set of “types” for the male audience to choose from, something that has become popular in recent years. Rakka and her friends exist “for themselves” and not for emotional titillation. The distinction is difficult to define, and ultimately relies on intuiting it.

Haibane Renmei is a good series. It’s got an interesting premise, a soothing atmosphere, and quickly became one of my favourite anime. I’ve heard it’s recently been re-released, so go check it out.

TMNT "Random" Reviews: "Enter: the Fly"

Fred Wolf Episode #12
Written by Michael Reaves and Brynn Stephens
Directed by Bill Wolf
Original Air Date: November 12, 1988.

--So, I picked out a couple Baxterfly episodes for myself to review, to round out a small and incomplete batch of FW Baxter Stockman episodes. I might pick out a few Splinter-centric episodes to do, since both are my favourite characters in the show, but Splinter is much harder to write about, since his episodes often involve things happening with him, and not to him, and Splinter is almost never not on top of things. That makes him an easy character for a child to admire, a hard character for an adult to write about

--And at the moment any review of my other favourite episodes of the old cartoon would involve a series of “wasn’t it funny when...” posts which just aren't that interesting. It’s sometimes hard for me to write about the old cartoon, which is in a weird zone between childhood and now.

--Anyway, turning into a fly seems to be considered the most interesting and memorable thing Baxter Stockman has ever done. Everybody keeps speculating on when new versions of the character are going to go Gregor Samsa (only to be disappointed), and fanart of the character largely consists of Baxterfly and nothing else.

--But to me, turning into a fly doesn't define Baxter Stockman. The character has been portrayed in different ways in different media, with only his profession and the Mousers being totally consistent. This particular transformation is confined to a single era of TMNT, and so is hardly defining when it’s a numbers game.

--Of course, I know Baxterfly became paramount because of how nostalgia-driven the TMNT fandom can be. Anything from the era of the initial media blitz is defined by childhood, where the old cartoon and original toyline were the only things one knew, and when mutants were always more interesting than human characters. Naturally, everyone is going to remember him as a fly first.

--Baxter's new personality also probably makes him a more appealing character, which I'll discuss below.

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Animation Appreciation: FLCL / Fooly Cooly

“Anime is weird” is a stereotype I consider shed. With it might go a lot of the sense that anime is an inherently “cool” thing, but at the same time, now you or I can’t consider anime as this foreign, impenetrable thing. When there is a weird anime, it’s weird on an individual level.

And boy, is FLCL (read as “Fooly Cooly” or “Furi Kuri”) weird. But I mean that in a good way (when don’t I, really?) because it’s tremendous fun to watch and there is a story to be told.

Naota Nandaba is a very serious junior high student, trying so hard to be mature for his age, especially when the adults around him are so immature. Unfortunately, he has to contend with the inappropriate affections of Mamimi Sameji, his absent brother’s (ex) girlfriend (?), and the fact that a pink-haired, yellow-eyed woman on a Vespa has smacked him with a guitar and now robots come out of his head sometimes. And just what IS Medical Mechanica, the mysterious organization that’s set up shop in town with giant steam iron-shaped headquarters?


The message of FLCL isn’t profound: learn to act your age, or you’ll end up a wreck of a human being like Commander Amaro, a guy who thinks he’s grown-up but really isn’t. Naota should be a kid now, so that he’ll grow up later. But the series is stuffed with so much vivid imagination and bizarre innuendo that many can walk away happy.

There are many things I love about FLCL: its strangeness and the way it all manages to hang together despite that, the distinctive look and feel of the animation and art, the soundtrack by Japanese band The Pillows (“Ride on Shooting Star...”), and of course the robots. But the best thing is Haruko Haruhara, aka Raharu, that alleged alien who blindsided Naota in more ways than one.

After whacking Naota, Haruko comes to live with the Nandaba family, claiming to be a wandering maid. In some other anime, this would be a dream, but FLCL makes it that much MORE awkward because of Naota’s younger age and Haruko’s clear self-interest. She flirts with Naota outrageously, but her true purpose is far more mercenary.

All of this is disturbing, and doesn’t come off as entirely ironic, but parts of it are funny. Yet what truly saves Haruko is what her agenda is, and the fact that she is so delightfully uncouth. She picks her nose, wriggles her toes, and scratches herself...when she’s not involved in a frenzy of destruction or sexuality. A female character with this bearing is sadly rare, but Haruko manages to pull it off. Even when she’s obviously fetishized, Haruko comes off as totally in charge and totally hilarious.

Haruko’s entrance into Naota’s life ironically reveals his need to be a child, and she seems to have some genuine affection for Naota, but she also likes messing with him. I’m glad that she wasn’t just a special “alien girlfriend”, or purely evil, but was a complex character.

FLCL is only six episodes long, but it tells you..not everything, but enough to follow the story once you realize what’s happening. There is a beginning, middle, and end, and the entire thing is a damn joyful ride. Haruko is the best thing about FLCL, but everything else hardly lags. There’s nothing else like it, and that’s why it’s impossible to forget.

Why Do I Write Fanfiction?
Sometimes, I write fanfiction. Off and on. I’ll go through a dry spell of months or even years, and then the urge hits me again. It might go away when I go pro, it might not. I don’t hate myself for doing it at all, though for me it’s become a more private activity since the early 2000s.

It's very difficult for a casual insider to distill fanfiction, and other creative fannish activities, into purely objective terms so that others can understand why they do them. I'm not very deeply absorbed into the creative aspects of fannish culture, but I'm inside it enough that on some level, creative fannish activities (fanfiction, fanart, cosplay, and whatever) are hard to put into concrete terms, and especially to imagine as something bizarre or strange. They simply are, such an accepted part of my landscape that I can’t imagine them not existing.

So I'm not going to try to define a universal motive behind writing fanfiction or other creative fannish activities; I just want to talk about my own experiences with fanfiction (since my involvement with other fannish creative projects is almost nil), and what I think drives me to indulge in it.

My involvement with fannish creativity probably reached its peak in the Transformers fandom, which was my first entry into “fan culture”. During that time, I would actually read fanfiction, think of my own original characters and settings, and discuss fanfiction with others.

However, my interests in these things whittled away, until I only wanted to deal with offical materials and characters, wrote fanfiction only sparingly, and never read any other fanfiction unless a friend wrote it. I lost touch with the community around fanfiction, too. I don’t regret what I did in the past, but that simply isn’t where my interests are anymore.

Yet when I look back, I understand that my motivations behind these fannish activites have largely gone unchanged. I try to keep a leash on things, to not totally disregard what I think are the rules of "good" writing, but fanfiction is still a self-indulgent activity regardless of how prim and proper I try to make myself, and I’m comfortable with that.

The quote "write what you want to write" is still a useful rule for writers, but writing fanfiction lets you put all this into overdrive. When you write fanfiction, you are writing a version of other peoples' stories that you want to see. You privately paste your own preferences and desires over somebody else’s work, which is a big self-indulgence.

My major reason for writing fanfiction is one of the best examples of fanfic's self-indulgent nature: I’ll end up preferring a minor character and want to write a story exploring them further. I prefer to do this with "side stories", pieces that don't actually upset the canonical character hierarchy but simply tell stories that happen while the main characters are off doing something else.

The thought of actually treating my favourite secondary characters like the protagonists makes me cringe. I still feel like I should respect those canon hierarchies, even if it seems contradictory to want to, when I write stories about the characters I like, rather than the ones the narrative intends me to focus the most on. I don’t only prefer minor characters, and don’t want to write stories about every minor character I enjoy, but it just happens sometimes

A good springboard for a story can be the desire to "fix" things in a character's life. If I feel they got an unfinished arc or a bad ending, I sometimes want to write a story to see what else could have happened, what else could be done. Or I may simply want to see what lies ahead for them in life.

However, something like this is risky. Original fiction writers are taught, and rightly, to not play favourites with their characters, or to spoil any one of them. There's just something so saccharine about the idea of giving your favourite character all they want, like eating too much sugar at once.

Furthermore, perfect stories make for boring stories, and boring characters. So, whenever I realize I want to write a story about giving a character more than what they've gotten, I feel like I'm juggling a flask of nitroglycerine.

To assure myself, I try to give the characters what we're told to give our original creations: make them suffer, make their mistakes, and don't give them everything. I try to know what these characters' weaknesses are, and extrapolate on them. Pragmatism makes a good artist, and too much sugar can spoil the sweetness of the story. To treat my favourite characters as if they were innocent makes me wince. I won’t even use the term “woobie” to describe a pathetic character that I feel for, since they are not innocent even if they are sympathetic.

Doing these things are a way to work out small frustrations, rather than create viable replacements. This doesn’t erase the issue I had with the official story. I am totally baffled when I see fanfiction considered equivalent to canon, or “better than canon”. Canon is always better, simply because it’s canon.

Another reason why fanfic is self-indulgent is that I can go hog-wild with sequels and story lengths. I don't have to worry about whether I’m writing a novel, novella, or short story. I don't have to worry about whether I’m wearing out characters, or if my new story "really" needs to be told. I've declared myself finished with a storyline, only to want to go back to it again and again because I can’t stop myself; fanfiction is just addictive. While this all can make for crappy writing, it’s also liberating.

Original writing is certainly more fulfilling and satisfying for me, but I also get the fanfiction bug because fanfiction allows for a mental break. Sure, there are unique challenges that come with writing fanfiction, but I nonetheless find myself able to write it with ease, to automatically extend less effort but still be satisfied with the results.

Even though I try for reasonable plotting, and loyalty to the character's voices, writing fanfiction is still easier than original fiction, and doing it lets me recharge mental batteries. Writing fanfiction is coloured with this sense of unbridled passion plus laziness.

I've also been a shipper. I try to approach that like I do everything else: I create conflict, I don't spoil my characters, and don't give them everything. In this case, I also don't expect the stuff I come up with to be shown in canon, or put too much energy into defending the pairing to others, not that I've ever had to.

But shipping can be a rich source of character development. I try to set up little challenges for myself as a fanfic writer, to create something that stretches the narrow boundaries I've set up for myself and try to make it work, and sometimes shipping can be just what I need.

I want my final product to feel like it's "just enough", close enough to canon that I can feel satisfied in my own subjective way. Of course, no fanfic can be exactly the same as canon, but I still seek out that sense of “just enough”, that these characters still sound and act just familiar enough that I still feel I've done them a decent, if strange, tribute.

All of this adds up to a writing sensibility that is very vanilla. I know that accuracy and fidelity is subjective, and so are obscenity levels, but my stuff probably doesn't match up with the mistaken perception of fanfiction as outrageous in terms of content rather than concept. I play it "safe", I suppose, but you can’t call it “playing” when it’s what you want to do.

Such a state doesn’t make me better than anybody else. All fanfic writers are freaks, all of us are self-indulgent and screwing around. Sometimes I see some character interpretations that I disagree with on various terms, or things that do personally disturb me, but I don't want to see people stop writing these things, and I don’t want to form an angry mob. This is just how fandom goes. It’s better to assume that fandom will write anything, before you find out. It’s just a way of life.

I have written fanfiction for few properties, while having no urge to write fanfiction for others. Despite being comfortable with writing fanfiction, I view it on some levels as a matter of respect, and if I respect a piece of fiction deeply, I'm less likely to write fanfiction for it, because I feel like it’d be like a peon trying to be a noble.

It also happens because a well-written work has less gaps to fill, and less unexplored angles, so fanfiction would be harder, if not impossible, especially those small, out-of-the-way stories I prefer. If a character has a complete story, with an ending that was powerful or conclusive, I see no need to tell more about them.

This all means I can usually predict with some regularity which canons will inspire me to write fanfic and which will not, but exceptions could be waiting in the future.

Fanfiction isn’t anything bad. It’s harmless to the original work., because fanfiction automatically is a smaller thing than canon. Legally it may be in a grey area, but ethically, I don't find fanfiction problematic. The argument that a bad adaptation doesn't hurt the original is equally, or even more, applicable to fanfiction. It’s just amateurs having some fun. If it helps us as writers, great. If it doesn’t, also great.

I do make a personal distinction between professionally written and guided licensed stories and fanfiction written by casual amateurs, though I know they come from the same wellspring. The guiding hand of the licensor or a professional sensibility can make a lot of difference since, when it's written for personal reasons, fanfiction can be tremendously, wonderfully self-indulgent.

So, I see fanfiction as a way to pay tribute to a thing I enjoy, and to give my writing-brain a rest. I try to do good work, but know it’s fundamentally decadent. And whenever I see a piece of professional media described as "like fanfiction", that's what I picture: a work that charges forward with something just because "it's cool", and restraint be damned.
Sometimes, I need a little bit of that.
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Quick Thoughts on IDW’s Baxter Stockman Micro-Series (One-Shot)
I am so, so lazy. I told myself I’d get caught up on the IDW Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series before this thing came out, but I never got around to that. I still know some plot details of the IDW comic, and will, *will* get around to reading the whole thing eventually, but I went in anyway. Not completely cold, but I won’t pretend I’ve actually read the preceding comics.

It’s a good little story, telling a complete tale and setting up a future. It’s a present-day tale of IDW Stockman being deceptive with his mad science run amok, interspersed with flashbacks of Stockman playing chess with his father at different times in his life. In the end Stockman seems to outwit Krang and gather important data in preparation for usurping his master, because Stockman wants control of the impending Technodrome. Not to rule the world, but to control and distribute the technology for his own purposes.

Well-played, Stockman.

There’s always a “but” and my problem is that, though the storytelling is competent and it whets the appetite for more, there’s something about the comic that feels cold and detached. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t make me want to run out and buy all the IDW comics yet. Something’s missing, and I don’t know what.

I used to think that Baxter Stockman was one of the recurring TMNT characters that wasn’t bound into a strict archetype--he started out as a simple (but likely tongue-in-cheek) portrayal of a mad scientist, but his animated versions pretty consistently embody failure beyond just “curses foiled again”, and an arrogance beyond typical villainy.

But IDW Baxter seems to embody that particular arrogance mentioned above, and he could be headed for failure, so perhaps Stockman’s other media portrayals have simply become the archetype, leaving the original Mirage incarnation to be more the exception than the rule..

Yet IDW Stockman is also distinct because his moments of fear and henchmanly submission are an apparent ruse, AND he has larger villainous ambitions that seem to have survived for a long time, instead of degenerating into simply surviving and getting revenge on things. I support this only as a means of making different versions of the character distinct; I don’t think Baxter Stockman “needs” to have more villainous oomph, because I don’t mind if he fails at supervillainy as long as he’s an entertaining character. But Stockman shouldn’t be the same every time, and for this I praise IDW.

I liked that his father isn’t simply the harsh dad cliche: he seemed strict and sometimes contradictory, but believed he was doing good. Though Baxter, being the lovable asshole that he is, repays in kind by booting Mr. Stockman out of his own company in the final flashback.

And yes, we get the “flyborg”, the experiment that Baxter uses to stage a rampage / diversion as part of his plan, with a potential army waiting in green tanks. I’m not saying I’m “too cool” for Easter Eggs, but something about this one made me cringe. I’m in favour of using transformation to represent Baxter Stockman’s failure, but I don’t think it *needs* to happen to him all the time. I didn’t even need a homage.

It’s also so obviously an Easter Egg it hurts. If you want to fuse an insect with a robot for offensive purposes, why choose a common housefly? Why not something stronger, more armoured?

Also, while I wouldn’t bet the whole farm on it, I assume this means that Baxter Stockman will remain human in the IDW-verse, which I’d prefer. I love Baxterfly and Baxterborg, but there’s a world of possibilities out there for the character, even if you want to keep him embodying failure and self-destruction. Baxter Stockman still isn’t as set in stone as some other TMNT characters, and writers should take advantage of that.

Besides not clamouring for Stockman to be transformed, I find it a little...silly to see the IDW comic continuously bringing elements exclusive to the old cartoon into a more serious universe. I giggle every time I see a picture of the gritty gun-toting Neutrinos, or that steampunk-ish homage to Krang’s android body. Believe me, I know concepts can be remade into anything, but I can’t help it. It’s a side effect of being tired of the TMNT fandom’s urge to deny or bypass the original cartoon’s wonderful / painful silliness. It just makes me think of dopey fanboys who are secretly insecure about the things they like, and want to prove these things are “gritty and adult”.

Mea culpa.

Also, I still love the main cover for this issue. The variant cover, with Baxter playing “chess” with figures of the characters, is pretty trite compared to the excellent play on M.C. Escher’s “Hand with Reflecting Sphere.”
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About Heroines
Whenever I see it being said that we need less bitchy heroines, less heroines who reject traditional femininity, so that we can uplift the reputation of femininity (not femaleness) in western culture, it stinks like gender essentialism.

Apparently it's not enough to want society to value the feminine: the feminine must also be the strict concern of female characters, even though female and feminine are not the same thing. Nobody ever asks whether male heroes should be more feminine, whether they should be more than just "badass" and have their soft side. We only ask this in relation to female characters.

This ignores the heavy prices still paid in stepping out of one's gendered role, and the fact that femininity is still the norm, still an obligation for women. To disparage a female character for not being "womanly" enough, we forget that everyone else does that to real people, real women, every day.

It's similar to the way discussions of female stereotypes in media are derailed by posters asking, "but why do you hate feminine things?" They miss the point, maybe to troll, maybe deliberately. It’s not that femininity is hated, just that it’s not a choice for many women. When a way of being and acting is not framed as a choice but a duty, then it's touchier to defend, and you can't act like it's all a choice.

All of this wouldn't be an issue if the strict equation wasn't between feminine and female. If we asked to value feminine traits in male and female characters, it would sound less like fandom is trying to push women back into the box that society made.

Calling a heroine a "bitch" or a "man with breasts" is still about the idea that there is a way to be a "good woman", or an essential femaleness that can be overridden by a female character acting "wrong" way. It's policing female characters as much as calling them "weak" for being feminine is.

I've also never really seen a female character as totally masculine as everyone seems to be describing. They always have some feminine traits, though one's view of what makes a character feminine or masculine changes with the person.

In a world where merely being assertive is still enough to get women called a "bitch", I'm suspicious of any claim that abrasive, unpleasant heroines are some kind of epidemic. Are they, or are our standards for female behaviour in characters still too high?

I am not comfortable with hating heroines for not being feminine enough, or considering positive and feminine female characters the only way to help femininity. Gender is not sex, and if calls for positive representations of femininity are restricted to female characters, I won't get behind any of this.