Unable to visualize our own demise ? 2012 is there for you

•May 2, 2012 • 3 Comments

The proverbial end of the world;Doomsday, Apocalypse, Judgement, Ragnarok or whatever you call it.

One of the many depictions of the day when the world ends. (Four Horsemen of Apocalypse ) obtained from http://www.hiveworkshop.com

It will arrive one day, no matter how technologically advanced we become – a time where Gaia, planet earth, will be blown into smithereens and nothing will be left of humanity’s existence. This does not apply if humanity chooses to vacate and occupy a new planet, of course, but the end can only be so inevitable.

In the movie 2012, we see a world falling into a cataclysm engulfed with brimstone and utter destruction. There is not much to say about the story, other than the fact that the year 2012 is supposedly at the end of the Mayan Calendar; thus people concluding that the Mayans predicted our demise. Having the Mayans as influence, several disastrous phenomenons were thrown – with proper scientific explanations, of course – in on the years before 2012, leading up to the climax of the imminent disaster in the movie.

Let us instead talk about the bread and butter of this movie – things that decide whether a movie about the end of the world is an epic failure or not. For the average movie-goer, it would be harrowing to see your own hometown, or a certain place get utterly wrecked in the movie by the forces of nature. On the other hand ( not implying anything sensitive here), the effects featured are more of an eye candy for visual effect artists and designers. Realists will laugh at the absurdity of the movie. The effects in the film actually determined how the story would unfold. No effects, no disaster , no film. It was set in stone from the moment this movie was conceptualized. Without the effects, you would see a man rushing his family to the airport’s runway for no particular reason. Yes, that would be funny.

Though falling a bit short on its story, the spectacular depiction of the apocalypse made it quite the successful movie.  How the apocalypse began set the tone for the rest of the movie – and so, the movie started off by making the earth crumble like how a glass cracks. The effects were incredible throughout the movie – example: many layers of effects on top of the modeling of the epicenter  in the city were extremely realistic. And does Noah’s Ark ring a bell to you at the end of movie ? ( My bad, Noah’s Arks, for that matter ) However, instead of evacuating animals, they saved the most important humans instead. The vivid rendering of the Arks were no small feat either. I would feel safe inside of the leviathan in the face of a disaster.

Ultimately, visual effects are like how spreads are to a loaf of bread. Do you need spreads to eat the bread ? Not necessarily, but it would definitely taste better with the spreads. The bread can taste delicious by itself and the spreads can go bad just like any food. Likewise, it is a double-edged sword – it cuts both ways, as movies can rely heavily on the visual effects to tell the story instead of having the script and its characters carry it forward. Recent movies (good example: Sucker Punch) are guilty of letting the visual effects carry and develop the movie; leaving very little development for the plot and characters- like a cash grab on the audience. Nevertheless, visual effects almost always enhances  the movie going experience of this age and enchants its viewers. A good plot is a no-brainer requisite to a movie.

It is perhaps too soon too consider 2012 as an epitome of visual effects. For us, visual artists, we know that the records will be broken again and again in an industry which is constantly expanding. Nevertheless, movies like these are the ones that set the industry standard for a successful sci-fi themed movie.

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Unusually Daunting Tale of Magical Girls and Its Takeaways

•April 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Yet another post about anime.. What is this time ? I assure you that this is a redeeming one, worthy of discussion and note. Let us creep closer to the dark side of humanity.

Remember how Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon used to be the  bomb in the anime and manga industries in the 1990s ? It can be said that these franchises have paved the way for the genre of ‘Magical Girls’ to be brought into acceptance by the media at large, as well as Japanese art in general. The flow of Magical girl stories usually go along the lines of being paragons of justice, having fun with fellow magical girls and end off happily with a bit of struggles in between. I was too young of a child to comprehend what was going on, let alone know that they existed, but through word of mouth from distant family members and such, I deduced that it was quite the force back then. Of course, there were many other precursors to the boom in popularity of manga and anime, but the two aforementioned works of art definitely were integral to the process.

Until this day we still see Sailor Moon manga books topping the New York Times book charts, proving its appeal to a global audience. However, quite recently, an eccentric but rather unique anime redefined the genre of magical girls.

Its name : Puella Madoka Magica 

The marketing department disapproves of this gloomy fanart. Image obtained from konachan.com

This anime was generally hailed as the revolution of the Magical Girl genre of recent times, as it eclectically mixed elements of horror, psychology, morality and topping it off with unconventional art direction. Judging from the first few episodes of the series, people would expect a happy-go-lucky story of monster bashing and evil-vanquishing with a happy ending – the whole series, however, was barely close to that ideal flow of things.  Nevertheless, the execution of the series in the form of anime was very well done and thus its high acclaim was very well justified in general.

In the series, the girls were given a rude awakening to the truth behind their Mahou Shoujo (magical girl) transformations and the inevitable cycle of their lives once the contract has been made.

A pretty harrowing cycle I must say. A girl meets Kyubey with the pretext of getting a wish, only to be transformed into a Mahou Shoujo upon agreeing to a ‘contract’, sweeping across the world to banish witches ( evil entities who cause trouble in the physical world ) who drop Grief Seeds. These girls’ bodies only become a vessel in which the continue their strife, as their true life essence and soul are stored in a physical and palpable Soul Gem. The Grief seeds are then used to purify the taint that the girls accumulate while expending magical energy in their Mahou form, failing which, they will turn into a witch upon reaching full level of taint of the soul gem.

Roughly goes like this:

Young girl: Agreed to contract ? yes, proceed to 1  –>  If not, you are be safe from eternal damnation. No flow over here. 

1) Becomes a Mahou Shoujo while retaining human form, can switch between magical form and human at will – accumulates taint as witches and familiars are fought

2) Died while fighting ? If yes, end of the line for you – both your soul and body is forever desecrated —> If not, proceed to 3

3) Accumulated too much taint? Failed to purify your Soul Gem ? Proceed to 5, If not, proceed to 4

4) No more witches to fight ? Your melancholy takes over you and ultimately corrupts your soul gem. Proceed to 5

5) Becomes a witch, what you originally had to fight. Ironic, is it not?

6) Kills more Mahou Shoujo and wreaks havoc : giving Mahou Shoujo jobs to do

7) Becomes a grief seed if killed , if not 8)

8) Accumulates immense amounts of energy and becomes a powerful entity

9) Witch gets defeated ( or not ) and reverts back to Grief seed to feed the essence of 1)

In the midst of all the processes above, energy is released into the surroundings, so Kyubey really only needs to find girls to supply this endless chain of energy, to counter the deficit proposed by entropy.

but clearly Kyubey’s explanation of entropy is rather messed up and should not be referred to as science to ANYBODY, but I’m not here to mind that – I’m here for the moral side of the whole process.

Seems cruel ? definitely needs a discussion.

Kyubey, an inorganic creature who is a part of the Incubators (preservers of the universe), claims that this is the most viable way to slow down the process of entropy in the universe, as human emotions exothermically emit a lot energy . Interestingly, the energy that keeps the universe going lies within the emotions of the girls that Kyubey are looking to making contract with. Normally, any human would label Kyubey’s ways as ‘cruel’, ‘inhumane’ and ‘sadistic’ as we are sacrificing one of our own. Really? Kyubey does not comprehend the logic in this. We feed on livestock such as cattle, and probably up to millions have bred and died to sustain our population – and yet we feel no remorse for these animals at all ? Who are we to claim that just be being in the higher echelons of both the food chain and the animal kingdom , we are able to do as we please to ones with lesser intellect and ability?

Perhaps that is the point that Kyubey has been trying to convey, but not a single regard was given to emotions – he does not see the point in weeping over a few humans when there are so many all over the surface of the earth. Why consider a few special, the double standard that we all give to a certain section of society ? Why make such a big deal out of a few humans ? Kyubey ponders this in the mindset of a utilitarian, no doubt, but with rationale and a bit of what we call ‘compassion’. Why so? because becoming a Mahou Shoujo requires the consent of the other party- the girl. Without an agreement, no form of contract can be agreed upon and no ‘cruelty’ can ever be done to any party. Kyubey defends the actions of his race by explaining it that way. He does not comprehend the concept of ‘regret’ and ‘betrayal’, for the decision to become a Mahou Shoujo is entirely voluntary, and a pretty incentivized one [ a free wish ] at that.

So why do some people still call Kyubey evil ? This is the interesting part about the whole series: you cannot really pinpoint to an antagonist. In the eyes of the wise, we consider Kyubey a lawful neutral- one who does not go around enforcing their actions on others, but tends not to take sides in their strife. He is simply trying to keep the universe going, so that future races and lifeforms are able to develop and sustain themselves and a lot of people are saying that this is malicious ? What is so malicious about helping the world at large ?  Does one always overestimate one’s value in this world ?

The ‘one for all’ and ‘all for one’ mindset has kept the world going for some time. Back in the industrialisation era of Stalin and Hitler, millions of workers bit the bullet to work tirelessly in order to build their nation – not without Hitler or Stalin’s authoritative gazes on them 24/7 of course. These leaders probably felt the same way Kyubey felt – securing a future, making sacrifices in the present; no emotions and melodrama, only action. Could it have been done better ? certainly, but apparently I do not have time machine so that I can give a 1930s bitch-slap to the admission officers back at Vienna Institute of the Arts when Hitler was a teen. I do not know how Germans or Russians feel about this, but the past must be put aside as well dwell on the present.

Indeed, humans are always torn apart between decisions. ‘Emotions’ are often the judge of our actions, for we often fail to have an arbiter measure of what is really ‘good’ for us. If Kyubey were to come up one day and tell us that your own family members were required to be turned into magical warriors in order to slow down entropy in the universe, I would probably weep for a while and embrace reality. Call him a devourer if you must, but I know that I have fought a good fight in life, as I will in death.

Ultimately, our will is unrestrained and we have only ourselves to impose control upon our very life.

And so , the lessons of morality, values and friendship have been packaged in the anime very nicely. I reflected upon my own values as I finished watching the anime and while writing the post. Time well spent, I must say.

Stay magical and logical my friends.

Two worlds clash

•April 18, 2012 • 1 Comment

I have been pondering over this lately and I think this is a subject worthy of discussion, especially with the concerned aficionados.

It is the difference in judgements on mainstream movies and anime.

Personally, I think what Hollywood and movie producers are churning out nowadays are mediocre, even with a big budget – of course, the statement that I have just made disregards the many circumstances that affect the zeitgeist of modern filmmaking and its outcomes. Nevertheless, I still make it a point to go to the cinema once in a while to watch quality films (because a trip to the cinema is a waste of time nowadays).

                                                                                                 How I feel when looking at movies nowadays

Which is why I consider myself a movie ‘elitist’, in a sense that I do not settle for most of the cliche,over-the-top and repetitive formula that a myriad of modern movies are directed upon. Different genres affect people’s judgements differently – and that is a pretty important factor in becoming a critic of movies. Nevertheless, you can be sure that a movie is done properly when it has your approval, despite it not being your favorite genre. I never really liked 3D animation, but recent titles like Finding Nemo, UP, Incredibles and Toy Story 3 has changed opened my eyes to an excellence that can be achieved within the respective genres.

Of course,  breakthrough in cinema by using animation and 3D (example: very first Toy Story)  goes a long way before the aforementioned titles. It is just that the genre has been more welcomed and higher in calibre in general.

Yes,indeed, obtaining the approving ‘thumbs up’ or ‘like’ from merciless critics ( cough, metacritic & Rotten Tomatoes )  is indeed an achievement , more so with a genre that is supposedly ‘for kids’.

So you see, excellence can be achieved even within the movies’ own genre. So should studios fully model after their successes ? Of course not. These movies first revolutionize the concept of storytelling through semi-realistic visual methods – animation. I can imagine, being an adult back then – one would dismiss the possibility of ‘cartoons on the big screen’ ever achieving or beating the conventional moviemaking standards. We were proven wrong – Finding Nemo was a huge hit. I had lost count over how many times I watched that classic when i was a child; props to Pixar for setting the standards in the genre.

Is revolutionizing easy ? Definitely not – not even in a historical sense ( revolutions ). Is it worth it, though ? You have successful movie producers and directors to testify to that.

I know I am not one to criticize and blatantly generalize movies of today, but as consumers, it is only our obligation to give the industry of two cents’ worth instead of just lamenting in silence, unheard of. We are the ones who decide whether they succeed or not, after all.

Then how about foreign market films ? I have no say on them as I am frankly not concerned with them, as their releases are often not international and thus increasing the difficulty in procuring them for consumption globally. However, there are gems in those industries – I am sure of that, and It will be worth the moolah to check them out one day.

…Perhaps there will come a day when the standards of movies are raised and that will be the day when the cinema is once again a place worth visiting and spending your money at.

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Then here comes another side of my psyche…

I only started watching anime enthusiastically since October of last year ( it was during an exam period, but I was too cool for exams so yeah ), adding even more colours to the wonders of the virtual world – especially when I am not gaming. If you were to take a look at my list, any ‘veteran’ or ‘elite’ watcher would call it a list too mainstream and all that stuff – like how most people of the West call Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Lady Gaga mainstream.

Indeed, I am a Herp Derp ( one  who utters gibberish / nonsense) when it comes to anime, judging by the series that I have watched and the amount of time spent viewing anime. I am guilty of judging anime by the amount of ‘moe’, pretty two-dimensional girls and what-not that is inside it ( refer to dictionary ), and as the common practice of reviewing stories goes – the plot should be prioritized. This sort of practice is admittedly unprofessional.  This is how anime influences my judgement over stories in general; since, well, technically, anime and hollywood are both anchored on a plot, right ?

I feel that the same degree of realism when  judging mainstream movies cannot be applied to anime, or is it just me?

I do not ‘feel like a sir’ whenever I am talking about anime to some people, since I am obviously lacking in experience to have an in-depth conversation on that matter, or even run a blog on it. I’m not asking for sympathy or anything over here – I am just describing my experiences watching anime and talking about it, also immersing with a whole new community while doing it.

Of course, we are comparing two totally different cultures. It is like comparing Norse mythology to Greek mythology – Thor will thunderbolt you to a crisp for badmouthing their gods, and Hades will also torture your soul in the Underworld for doing the same. Being a newbie in the field of anime, I just feel that all these are still considered art and are unique by their own standards, like how Saturday morning cartoons appeal to children and is shunned by the mature adult.

Knowing that anime and movies are unique in their own way also warrants a different way of judging in them. Some anime are everlasting ( Naruto, One Piece, etc), while some are shorter than the lifespan of a mosquito.

Movies are required to develop their characters,plot and finish in within their allotted screentime – especially important if the screenplay material is NOT based on a novel / written source. The technical parts of the movies are also important, but secondary to the importance of the plot. 

Anime, on the other hand, relies heavily on the PACING of the plot and its characters. I cannot stress how important pacing is in an anime – when you start a marathon sprinting, you are going to finish the rest of the race coming in last. Realistically and for the sake of our sanity, an anime cannot rely on fillers and fanservice to sustain its long run. 

Then, what about actual TV series, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and such ? I would not say that they are the same thing as anime, they’re good in their own ways and perhaps can also be judged based upon how anime anime is judged.


And so ends my take on this Movie x Anime issue. Feel free to say your piece / correct / comment on this post…while I go leberu up a bit in Anime

Keerakun

*image obtained from Tumblr