Sunday, November 25, 2007
From Friday through today, we attended Loscon 34, an LA-area science fiction convention. Every convention has its own personality. Loscon's is of a well-read, highly-educated and extremely vocal party guest who knows more than you do about any subject you bring up. Perhaps because the organization that puts it on, LASFS, is close to JPL, the con is suffused with experts on history, science, and even cruise ship lore. (When we were in line for the masquerade, one line-member's comments about the Titanic were met with a torrent of corrections from another, who worked for a cruise line.) This often leads to disagreements between those who believe they know more than the experts at their sides. One panel on pulp fiction featured contradictory comments from pulp historians on whether the paper used to print pulp magazines was the same grade as or lower grade than the paper on which comic books were printed.
Loscon is also well-known for its Saturday-night room parties. One of the more unusual ones we visited last night was thrown by an author to promote her small-press fantasy novel. The author herself dressed up in a Xena-type warrior-woman outfit to plug the book.
As we were leaving this costume-filled milieu early Sunday morning, we shared an elevator ride down with two young women wearing costumes of a different type -- i.e., short skirts and low-cut tops that could barely contain their surgically-bestowed assets. One dropped a hotel key card as the elevator descended; but she waited until we left the elevator before bending down to retrieve it -- for obvious reasons.
Plainly, these women were not fans; they were "pros."
"Although we are now accustomed to carrying around record collections and multiplexes in our pockets, to my ancient mind there is still something pleasantly improbable about the thought that all 105 episodes of 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' have been put onto DVD and packaged in a single cardboard 'attaché case' roughly the size of a complete volume of Shakespeare. . . . That a laser beam is at the heart of the technology that has made this possible is also suitably science-fiction, and poetically appropriate, regarded with a mind that can still thrill at the words 'laser beam.' Laser beam! Oh!"
Lloyd comments that nearly forty years after the series left the air, he no longer watches it with the wide-eyed wonder of a cold-war-era kid; but rather with "amused, ironic detachment." But, he continues,
"is not 'amused, ironic detachment' the very essence of the character of the modern filmic secret agent? Really, the whole world could use a lot more of that."
I've got an odd relationship with the whole U.N.C.L.E. phenomenon. As with many '60's TV shows, I have hazy memories of watching both U.N.C.L.E. series in the sixties (I particularly recalled the animated opening titles); but because the reruns weren't syndicated in my part of the country until the '80's, I didn't actually watch whole episodes growing up. Instead, my knowledge of the show came primarily from merchandising. There was a Whitman juvenile U.N.C.L.E. tie-in novel (written by Walter Gibson, the author of the SHADOW pulps)around the house; and I'd occasionally come across board games and other tchotchkes from the show. In the early '80's, there was an U.N.C.L.E. reunion movie, which my cousin Lee covered extensively for STARLOG magazine; and occasional articles about the show. It wasn't until I moved to San Francisco in the late '80's that I was able to see multiple episodes of not only the Man from U.N.C.L.E., but also the Girl from U.N.C.L.E. Because Silicon Valley wonks had an appetite for science fiction programming, the bay area local stations -- both private and public -- ran extensive science fiction programming.
As with the Connery Bond movies, I'll probably never be able to appreciate U.N.C.L.E. with the same viewpoint as those who grew up watching the show in the sixties. But I can still enjoy a worldview where the greatest threat to our planet is neither geopolitical forces nor ecological IOU's, but rather nasty businessmen who name themselves after birds.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Meanwhile, Lee's latest Monk book, MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE, sits on my pile of books to read. It's a Monk mystery set at a science-fiction convention. Is it a frisson of fear that prevents me from immediately cracking it open?
Monday, November 19, 2007
Japan, Ink: Inside the Manga Industrial Complex
The cover story in the current WIRED magazine discusses the manga business in Japan, which writer Daniel Pink deems (perhaps hyperbolically) the hub of all popular culture in the land of the rising sun.
Pink's focus is on the symbiotic relationship between professional manga publishing and doujinshi -- the limited-press fan-published comics that draw hundreds of thousands of buyers to festivals like Comiket, and that violate creators' and publishers' intellectual property rights outrageously. How do publishing companies that fanatically protect their copyrights coexist with store chains like Mandarake and K-Books that buy, sell and trade doujinshi? As Pink describes it, the secret is an unwritten agreement between the fan publishers and the professionals -- and a mutually-beneficial business model that, he suggests, Western media might do well to emulate.
Blogged with Flock
Sunday, November 18, 2007
If you're lucky enough to get the Imaginasian channel (Channel 157 on Time-Warner in LA), I recommend that you tune in at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night. That's because the cable channel's Anime Ener-G programming block (sponsored, ghostlike, by Geneon, even though Geneon itself is in reorganization and won't be buying advertising anytime soon) will rerunning episodes of a series we've grown to love, KAMICHU.
KAMICHU is a program that I cannot imagine an American channel would run -- in part because the concept is deeply rooted in Japan's pantheistic Shinto religion. The series' main character is Yurie (pronounced yury-eh), a rather immature 13-year-old girl who lives in a small seaside town near Hiroshima in the '80's. In the first episode, Yurie announces to her best friend that the previous night she somehow discovered that she is a god. And she is. In the Shinto religion, there is a god for everything that exists. And so the existence of a junior high school god is worthy of some note (there's an announcement on the school PA right after she inadvertently creates a typhoon with her face in the eye of the storm), but not a lot of fuss.
The title of the series is the magic word her friends make up for her to say to summon her power -- a contraction of the Japanese words for god and junior high student.
We learn that she's more powerful than the resident god in the Shinto shrine where her friend Matsuri lives (a god who acts more like a servant than a deity, and who yearns to be a rock star). We learn that the land is swarming with gods, who are generally invisible to all but Yurie and those whom she temporarily gives magical sight. She sets up a consultation tent at her school during lunch hours, and grants wishes to some who approach her with worthy wishes (although one of her first supplicants, the Prime Minister, turns out to have an agenda).
One could imagine that a comedy about a teenager who obtains divine powers would devolve into slapstick or lowball comedy. Certainly most kids Yurie's age could not be trusted with such might. But Yurie simply does not think of abusing her power for personal purposes (except, say, to change the TV channel from across the room without a remote). She remains dedicated to trying to live her life as a normal junior high student, yearning to catch the attention of the largely oblivious boy she likes, and dealing with Matsuri's various schemes to capitalize on Yurie's powers to help Matsuri's shrine.
The series overall has a soothing, relaxing feeling, from the opening harmonica theme through the cute closing. Aiding this is terrific writing from Hideyuki Kurata (creator of the READ OR DIE franchise, and screenwriter for the HELLSING ULTIMATE series) and the creative team that produced the ROD THE TV series a few years ago. A sign of the care put into the series is the attention paid to the setting. The town in which Yurie lives, the hill she rides her bike down, the ferry she and her friends ride to school, the businesses and the shrine all feel so real that if the viewer woke up in the town tomorrow, they could probably navigate their way around.
If you want to watch an anime that does not go down like a twice-frozen TV dinner (which happens with some of the more derivative series), check out KAMICHU.
The other is the cover for the program for the summer Comic Market, or Comiket, for 2007.
The question for me was whether I'd perceive the movie differently now than the first time I saw it in a theater -- which was in the Liberty Theater in Walla Walla, Washington back when I was 17. What would I bring to the story, after 25 years (including seven years of higher education and ten years of marriage) of living life?
Frankly, I'm not sure. I was hyper-conscious of how the Blade Runner look influenced movie and TV for years, much as 2001 had 14 years earlier. I wondered what exactly it was that made Deckard such hot stuff in hunting down androids that his former boss essentially forced him back onto the job. (And yes, I know it's because of what he is.) After all, he doesn't do much in the movie beyond basic detective work, whenever he's not mooning after Sean Young. I did feel much more sympathy for Rutger Hauer's replicant character, Roy Batty, who is by far the most expressive character in the movie (over the top, in fact, like someone who has just discovered emotions and is so drunk on them he can't help gushing them like a geyser).
I also found that the special effects were still fantastic-looking, even after 25 years of increasing sophistication. Without a whisper of CGI, the effects draw us into this futuristic Los Angeles completely.
Incidently, the movie is set in 2019. Somehow I don't think we're going to develop Darryl Hannahdroids in the next 12 years, let alone attack ships burning off the shoulder of Orion. But as someone once said, it's not science fiction's job to predict the future; its job is to imagine the future.
The fall in Starbucks attendance strangely coincided with an increase in the price of drinks chain-wide (four months ago), a dip in the chain's stock, and rising gas prices (not to mention the sub-prime mortgage debacle) that have led some to believe that perhaps a $4 a day latte habit is not, financially, a good idea.
Throw in the number of local coffee bars that have taken a page from Starbuck's playbook and charge nearly identical prices for the same types of lattes, cappucinos, and froufrou drinks, and you'll find the Starbucks mermaid facing some rough seas ahead.
Perhaps a good starting point for Starbucks to regain its momentum is to reconsider its previous strategy of saturating the market with stores like a spilled machiato saturates a bar-towel. At some point, too many Starbucks is too many Starbucks. If you can hardly take a step without tripping over a Starbucks, it stands to reason that the sales in each store is going to go down.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Premium cable channel Starz's Action Channel has in the past run the HELLSING anime TV series a few times on its ANIMIDNIGHT umbrella show, which runs at midnight (duh) on Friday nights (now on Starz Edge). Next year, it will be running the newer, more faithful, and far nastier incarnation of the story, HELLSING ULTIMATE; along with fellow Geneon kill-em-up, BLACK LAGOON.
Blogged with Flock
In Cousin Lee's latest war-correspondent post from the front lines of the WGA strike, he describes an only-in-Hollywod (well, actually Burbank) scene: Some of the original munchkins from 1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ hand out donut holes to strikers (assuring them, "The Lollypop Guild is with you"), while an onlooker asks if John Edwards (scheduled to visit) talks to dead people.
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Monday, November 12, 2007
comes this picture of him and his cute daughter Madison picketing in Studio City.
I recall that in 1988, when we had the last extended writer's strike, TV entertainment options included home video (mainly rented) and cable movies; but was still far more limited than now. Today's couch potato has ready access to thousands of hours of TV series, on DVD, on iTunes, even illegally on YouTube. Will they feel the pinch of a lack of new TV content?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Easy: Just have Alex Ross paint a cover like this one.
Worked for me.
The second teaser trailer for next year's IRON MAN movie is up on the web -- and like the first one (seen in slightly different form at Comic-Con), it looks terrific. This flick better not disappoint me.
Blogged with Flock
This afternoon, I rode my bike to Synergy in Culver City, and found it deserted. According to this LA Times article, it's not alone. Several wi-fi watering holes favored by writers are feeling the pain of the WGA strike, as writers who normally pound out scenarios while ensconsced with a latte and a muffin are hitting the picket lines or staying home, watching their budgets. Will L.A.'s purveyors of overpriced java survive?
Blogged with Flock
Greg Gilmore, whom I attended high school with, apparently studied acting; appeared in various movies and TV shows; and last year co-produced videos featuring INXS and Orthodox-Jewish rapper Matisyahu.
Blogged with Flock
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Is it my imagination, or did Turner draw the "Heroes" cast as the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" cast?
Monday, November 05, 2007
No such luck. The system just combines a bulletproof vest with a computerized helmet.
"We've been somewhat perplexed by the overwhelming response," deadpanned (I imagine) a spokesperson. Apparently, one of the researchers nicknamed the system "Gundam," so the Ministry innocently put that into their program. Uh-huh.
Of course, if one were to actually build a giant land-based war machine, shaping it like a humongous humanoid -- let alone like a huge suit of samurai armor -- would be extraordinarily impractical. Not only would the resulting monstrosity be unable to stand up without its legs collapsing under the suit's weight, but locomotion on two legs would be insane. Imagine picking up a hi-rise, swinging it out into space, plunking it down again, and using it as a pivot to swing another one outward. Imagine doing that over and over. Now imagine all the stuff getting squashed underfoot.
Best to leave the true Gundams on the battlefield of the imagination.
Japan's 'Gundam' Personal Equipment System Revealed - Anime News Network
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Sunday, November 04, 2007
Product placement? Apparently. A generic video MP3 could be used; or a DVD.
The odd part: Due to acrimony between Apple and NBC/Universal -- which airs HEROES -- earlier this year, NBC announced it would yank its programming off iTunes. That includes HEROES.
So why would the network give Apple millions of dollars worth of advertising in the form of product placement? Two guesses. First, the scene may have been filmed before the Apple/NBC brouhaha. Second, Apple still buys lots and lots of TV advertising time; so staying on the company's good side might still pay dividends.
What is it about the comedy/parody/fantasy anime THE MELANCHOLY OF HARUHI SUZIMIYA that inspires so much passion? Here's a Youtube video of fans around the world -- and I mean around the world -- performing the highly-choreographed dance from the closing credits of the anime.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Any time I feel like I'm too smart for my own good, I can head over to my friend Rick Marshall's blog, VERBAL MEDICINE. Rick posted a review of a volume translating Heraclitus's works, and received a thank-you e-mail from the translator.
Sigh. Think I'll write some more about Batman and Peanuts.
Blogged with Flock
Yesterday was Amy's birthday. At her request, we had dinner out at Yamashiro. Yamashiro is a gorgeous restaurant up in the Hollywood Hills (the ones Bob Seger sings about), just above the Magic Castle and overlooking Tinseltown. It was built near the turn of the last century, and is modeled after a castle in Kyoto. Although Yamashiro predates the glory days of the area, it is inherently and iconically Hollywood.
Although we think of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters as quintessentially American, they truly belong to the world. The Japanese passion for cuteness -- and for gift-giving -- likely drives the success of Peanuts collectibles in Japan.
While we were in Yokohama in August and September, we visited the Yokohama branch of Snoopytown, a Peanuts tchotchke store chain. (We saw a bigger store in the Harajuku section of Japan, but didn't go in.) Among the items tailor-made for the location were these hand-towels. (Hand-towels are often seen in gift stores there, possibly because many public restrooms don't provide paper towels.) One depicts Yokohoma's Chinatown; the other the downtown Yokohama skyline, complete with the Cosmo World Clock ferris wheel and the Landmark Tower.
The Peanuts images are copyright by United Features Syndicate.