Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 332 pages
Published October 25th 2017 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B0764948W1

I keep being surprised by Cole and Anspach. I have said that before, but I'm going to keep on saying it as long as it keeps happening. Right now, the Galaxy's Edge series is hot stuff in the "Space Marines" category on Amazon. When I read Legionnaire, I thought I knew where the series was going. It turns out I was mistaken.

 Spiral power

Spiral power

Let me explain my continuing surprise regarding the Galaxy's Edge series by recourse to Gurren Lagann. Gurren Lagann is a 2007 series by GAINAX, one of my favorite Japanese studios. At the beginning, Gurren Lagann is the story of two boys, Simon and Kamina, who are bored with their rote and regimented life, and who act out in predictable ways. Then, Simon stumbles on an artifact of great power, the core drill. This sets in train a sequence of events that culminates in a battle for the fate of the galaxy.

However, none of this is apparent at first. The core drill and its spiral power is a metaphor for what is going to happen. Each revolution of the crank brings you to a higher level, but the spiral itself is unchanged; it simply grows in diameter. Gurren Lagann is a brutal sendoff of mecha anime, and often uses puerile humor to mask its subtlety. Simon and Kamina are teenage boys, after all. But the total effect is a fascinating story that happens on multiple levels simultaneously, while keeping its essence unchanged throughout.

Galaxy's Edge is much like this. You think, space marines, OK, this is Tom Clancy in space! Or Tom Clancy with Star Wars! We will get elite soldiers who kick ass, some political intrigue, and we all get to be heroes in the end, right?

As it turns out, all of the real heroes are dead. [Spoiler alert. I'm not kidding about that.] They don't give out the Order of the Centurion posthumously 98.4% of the time for nothing. Each book in the series feels very different because each one is a turn of the crank, expanding beyond the gripping tale of the survivors of Victory Company in Legionnaire, to something much, much bigger. New secrets are revealed, deeper connections forged to things that seemed incidental at the time. Yet, we are also getting something much the same: space opera competently done, with a touch of dark humor and military action-adventure

And, by the way, I agree: it is never a good idea to give weapons strong AI, even if they make interesting observations about poetry.

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

My other book reviews

Rurouni Kenshin Twenty Years Later

 Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin

Right now Netflix is showing most of my favorite anime. Subbed, no less. As I have gotten older, my interest in anime has waned, but a few of my favorites are still classics that bear watching again and again. Among those is Rurouni Kenshin

This tale of a wandering swordsman in the early Meiji period first aired on television in Japan nearly twenty years ago.  It combines serious historical fiction with light humor and martial arts action. I could probably skip the light humor, but this is just a feature of the genre. In fact, the TV series without the light humor would be very, very dark. After the TV series was finished, an OVA [original video animation] telling Kenshin's backstory as an assassin during the Meiji Restoration was very much like this, somber and serious. 

As I write, my wife is watching the series on Netflix. I have been listening to the series, and partly because I know the story so well, and partly because I still retain some capacity to understand spoken Japanese after ten years with no practice, I am struck by the theme of men who are lost in the new world of the Meiji era. Many of the characters we meet are men who feel their masculinity has been taken away in the new world created by the destruction of the Tokugawa Shogunate. They are looking for male friendship and validation in a world that has been turned upside down by rapid social change. This fits many of the female characters as well, who have often lost fathers and brothers in the wars that preceded the restoration of the Emperor.

Yet, for all that, this anime series seems equally popular with men and women. This is unusual, since after all, two of the most popular genres, 少年 [shōnen] and 少女[shōjo] simply mean "boys" and "girls". Japanese popular entertainment is quite  segregated. 

The author, Nobuhiro Watsuki,  mentioned in interviews that he was influenced by reading shōjo manga as a young boy, and perhaps because of this, Kenshin is a man very much in touch with his feminine side. Kenshin is slight, and fine featured, and the Japanese voice actor is a woman making her voice unnaturally deep. Yet, men respect him because he was a powerful killer, and respect him even more when he renounces killing and lives his life in service to others.

This theme of lost masculinity restored by feminine gentleness has resonated  in both Japan and the United States, among both men and women. I do not find it surprising when a very masculine or very feminine anime finds a matching audience in the United States, but I think this one is special, because it crosses that line in both cultures.

My other anime reviews

Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture Book Review

Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture
by Dani Cavallaro
McFarland Books, 2015
$35.00; 204 pages
ISBN 978-0-7864-9647-1

I received this book for free as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

I tried to like this book. I love Miyazaki's works, and this book's cover blurb covers a lot of things I am interested in. However, it is probably the things in this blurb that I am not interested in that make the book unreadable for me.

Hayao Miyazaki has gained worldwide recognition as a leading figure in the history of animation, alongside Walt Disney, Milt Kahl, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Yuri Norstein, and John Lasseter. In both his films and writings, Miyazaki invites us to reflect on the unexamined beliefs that govern our lives. His eclectic body of work addresses compelling philosophical and political questions and demands critical attention. This study examines his views on contemporary culture and economics from a broad spectrum of perspectives, from Zen and classical philosophy and Romanticism, to existentialism, critical theory, poststructuralism and psychoanalytic theory.

There are some really interesting things here. I appreciate the effort that went into researching this book, and the way the author tried to tie Miyazaki's work together into a coherent whole.  What I don't appreciate is the prose style:

The key words in the chapter headings used in this study—time, space, vision, the courage to smile—are necessary demarcators of specific aspects of Miyazaki's thought. However, their relative arbitrariness cannot be denied. Indeed, the director's world picture is distinguished throughout by such fluidity, and such a passion of unrelenting metamorphosis, as to be by and large unsympathetic to demarcations. In Miyazaki's cosmos, time and space coalesce in a continuum of Einsteinian resonance.

I think there is something interesting here, I just don't have the patience to wade through this. I do find the book is much improved if you stop reading the text closely and just skim it. Then the ideas come through more clearly, without needing to try to analyze the text. Perhaps I come to this book with unfair expectations. Miyazaki is a very interesting filmmaker, and I was hoping for something more accessible. To a specialist audience, this book may be just the thing. For the general reader interested in Miyazaki, I cannot recommend this book at all.

My other book reviews

10 Christian Movies better than God's Not Dead

John Zmirak asked for a list of ten Christian movies better than God's Not Dead. I haven't seen that movie, but I can probably manage. I think I will include series as well, since I find restricting this to movies less fun. My list isn't a list of overtly Christian films or apologetic ones; it is a list of movies that I think couldn't exist without Christianity, and once you know that they all make more sense. And they are all pretty good.

The Mission
This one is on the Vatican's 1995 film list for a reason. For the real-life history behind this, see the Jesuit Republic of South America.

The Little Match Girl
This is the short you can find on the extras for Disney's 1989 The Little Mermaid. I've never cried for anyone the way I cried for the little match girl when she died alone in the snow.

The Lord of the Rings
The greatest novel of the twentieth century, and perhaps the best Catholic apocalyptic novel of all time, visualized expertly by Peter Jackson.

A Man for All Seasons
Too easy.

Cowboy Bebop
Spike fights a fallen angel while Ave Maria plays in the background.

Neon Genesis Evangelion
The way that Christian symbolism and legends are portrayed in Eva is peculiarly Japanese, but this series probably wouldn't be so wildly popular in either Japan or the US if stuck to a strictly autochthonous apocalypse.

Samurai Champloo
Despite being remixed history, this series is a pretty good depiction of the Kakure Kirishitan.

The Last Airbender
An excellent example of what C. S. Lewis called the Tao in The Abolition of Man.

The Book of Eli
I've never quite gotten around to my movie review of The Book of Eli, which I first watched on a trans-Atlantic flight. This is a movie about justice and providence.

Mad Max
The great theme of Mel Gibson's Mad Max movies is pain, which sometimes turns into redemptive suffering.
 

The Last Airbender Review

Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Starring Zach Tyler, Mae Whitman, Jack De Sena, Dee Bradley Baker, Dante Basco, Jessie Flower, and Mako.


The mark of a good story intended for children is that adults can find it interesting as well. I still enjoy the Hobbit, and I appreciated the Narnia books much more once I was an adult. These stories, and many more like them, contain enough depth to satisfy a thoughtful reader while remaining accessible to almost everyone. There has been no greater curse upon our children than the rise of controlled vocabulary reader, containing nothing more advanced than the average knowledge of the targeted age-group, and usually insipid to boot.

I never gave The Last Airbender a chance because I assumed it would be a typical cartoon. In retrospect, this was unfair. I have liked many of the Nicktoons, going all the way back to Ren & Stimpy. Nickelodeon has managed to produce a remarkable number of children's shows that are watchable by adults. Sometimes, they have perhaps gone too far. Ren & Stimpy and Invader Zim were often bizarre and macabre, violating established canons of good taste in search of a gag. Yet these are shows also have the most enduring popularity. They are the kind of cartoons Dads love and Moms hate.

This show strikes a balance between humor and good taste that should satisfy almost any reasonable person. The Magistra and I laughed often. Yet The Last Airbender is also didactic in the best way. It almost never descends into preachiness [almost]. The dramatic arc of the show allows for genuine moral dilemmas. Given the brutal history of the world in which the show is set, these dilemmas often focus on revenge. Almost everyone has a score to settle with someone. The really interesting part is that most of these complaints are completely justified. At lot of people really do deserve to die. Now you you have your enemy at your mercy, what do you do? 

This world of war and injustice means that strife is endemic. The combat is largely bloodless, but I was surprised by just how many characters died offscreen. Death is a constant for everyone. The Last Airbender confronts death directly. It is amazingly intense. Yet never forced. I have never seen such a touching memorial for a lost son. The Magistra also cried a lot. 

While The Last Airbender is an American cartoon, it borrows from anime for its style and conventions. It even has a beach episode. The world is generically Asiatic, ranging from the Nepalese Airbenders to the Siberian Waterbenders. The bulk of the atmosphere comes from China, however. The martial arts, the overall mythology, the scenic mountain vistas are all Chinese. I approve of this borrowing, since the Han are one of the great civilizations of the world, and deserve to be honored in this way.

Unlike a great many anime series, The Last Airbender managed to stick to the story, and followed the arc to its end in 61 episodes. This itself is a remarkable achievement, so many series get lost on the way to their destination. I can understand why this is so. I wanted it to be longer, and I was sad when the story ended. But I was happy too, because it ended so well. Having the discipline to end it while the ending is good is an essential part of storytelling. 

I would be glad to share this show with my own children. It is a rousing good yarn, with astute judgements about human character, and sound moral reasoning. One of the best cartoons I have ever seen.

Ten Top Anime

Borrowing an idea from Jimmy Akin, this is not a top ten list, because there is no way for me to definitely rank the ten best anime, but rather these are ten titles that are notable works of popular art. My offhand comment about Samurai Champloo not making my top ten list got me wondering just which 10 anime I would select. Here they are.

Cowboy Bebop

Cowboy Bebop is Shinichiro Watanabe's first, and it is a hard act to follow. The combination of creative Jeet Kun Do fights, a jazz- and blues-inspired soundtrack, and the ever popular Megumi Hayashibara made it a huge success.

The episodic nature of the series makes it easy to get into. You can pick up almost anywhere and not miss too much. The downside is the story is pretty thin, and dribbles out slowly.

The movie, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, is also engaging. I can remember coming home to my dorm room and finding my roommate and several of his friends watching it [subtitled even], despite none of them having an interest in anime. This alone makes Cowboy Bebop worthy of inclusion in a ten top list, because anime is not noted for its broad appeal.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

One of the most popular, and strangest anime ever made. It is famously obscure, and the original incarnation was indubitably affected by the director's (Hideaki Anno) depression and the sarin gas attacks. As the original series progressed, it got stranger and stranger, leading to incredibly hostile fan mail (some of which was actually included in the End of Evangelion movie).

These elements have served to make the series more popular rather than less. A lesser anime would have been doomed by this, but Eva plays well upon occult/conspiracy fascinations, and builds upon a richly detailed backstory infused with Kabbalistic and Christian themes. 

Eva is one of the most thought-provoking animes I have ever seen, so it merits inclusion despite being so grim as to be largely unenjoyable. The new reboot of Eva that is currently being released has promise to keep the best elements and eliminate the worst, so hopefully Eva will get even better.

Rurouni Kenshin

If I were going to use an anime to teach just war doctrine, this would be it. I could probably make a separate entry for the Kenshin OVA, since the series and the OVA are so different in style and tone, but I prefer to regard both works as a unified whole, since the light-hearted Kenshin of the series cannot be truly appreciated without knowing the humorless revolutionary of the OVA.

The OVA is beautiful and heartbreaking, the animation is of remarkable quality. I have never seen anything else that can make violence so beautiful.  It makes the Magistra cry everytime.

The visual quality of the anime is variable. There are a few episodes that are truly terrible to see. However, what truly makes the series great is the historical context and the stylized, over-the-top fights. This is an anime you actually could learn history from. The Shinshengumi, the Ishin Shishi, the Sekihotai, all groups of real people who strove for dominance at the beginning of the Meiji era.

The spirit of the martial arts of Japan really comes through in this anime. The single-minded intensity and unshakeable superiority of the various warriors that Kenshin fights are an accurate rendition of the hubris that led Japan into WWII. 

Gurren Lagann

GAINAX has had three recent series, FLCL, Abenobashi Mahou Shotengai, and Gurren Lagann, that have attempted to tell a story hidden behind brutal satire of the hidebound conventions of anime. Gurren Lagann is the greatest of these three.

I thought Gurren Lagann was hilarious, but then I watched GAINAX's eariler classic Gunbuster recently and realized just how much funnier it can get. I'm not really a devotee of the mecha genre, so I didn't fully appreciate how Gurren Lagann is not really much of an exaggeration of the typical mecha anime.

What strikes me about Gurren Lagann is the philosophical subtlety. At first blush, Kamina's "don't believe in yourself, believe in me who believes in you" sounds incredibly stupid. And Kamina is incredibly stupid, but he is invincibly stupid, which gives him great powers. Believing in yourself is about the worst thing that can happen to you, as Chesterton pointed out in Orthodoxy. Only the mad truly believe in themselves. The best the rest of can do is muddle through, but we are not alone in muddling. Kamina's statement is one of the best expressions of human solidarity I have ever heard.

FLCL

This list is GAINAX heavy, but what can I say? GAINAX is one of the best in the business. I could probably put more than one Miyazaki film on here too, I just didn't. FLCL is only 6 episodes, and this is one of its strengths. As I get older, it is harder to get up the gumption to watch a series, especially a really long one. I appreciate movies and OVAs more and more.

Each of the 6 episodes of FLCL is completely different, using crazy combinations of genre parodies and animation styles. However, it all ties together into a whole seamlessly. And I find it hilarious. Japanese only has 53 phonemes, so it has a lot of homonyms. This makes Japanese incredibly punny, and FLCL takes this to extremes.

The series is incredibly surreal, and it can be very hard to follow. Each episode manages to tell its part of the story while simultaneously serving as a self-contained sendup of some bit of Japanese nerdiness. I had to watch it several times before I really knew what was going on, but the animation is good enough to repay multiple viewings.  FLCL is yet another anime with an excellent soundtrack, this one mostly by the Pillows, that helps to make this more than just another cartoon.

Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki could almost populate this list by himself. One of the greatest storytellers of the medium, Miyazaki is a master of sweet, evocative tales with environmental themes featuring tough, strong heroines.

Spirited Away is Miyazaki's paean to Shinto. In this it shares some elements with Mononoke Hime, but it is less frightening. This story is sweeter and less grim. It definitely has a bit of scariness about it, but I think this is a good movie for children who don't get nightmares easily. The reason for this is the more I watch this movie the more I get out of it.

At first I didn't appreciate Chihiro's personal journey, but she really did start as an clingy and whiny, and she ended up strong and self-reliant. There are good life lessons here.

Metropolis

Unspeakably sad and beautiful, Metropolis is based on Osamu Tezuka's adaption of Fritz Lang's masterpiece. This movie is closer to the silent movie than Tezuka's manga was, but you can clearly see both styles blended, the Disney-inspired characters populating the dystopian, Art Nouveau great city.

In addition to its beautiful imagery, Metropolis has a New Orleans jazz soundtrack that is oddly appropriate.  This is a story that combines the grandeur and self-confidence of fin-de-siècle Europe with the grim, world-altering purpose of the Fascists and Socialists. I see Metropolis as a capsule history of the first half of the twentieth century. Class struggle, technological hubris, weapons of mass destruction, it is all here.

I also wish planes like the ones in this anime really flew! They would be way more comfortable.

Millennium Actress

One of the best uses of the animated medium ever, and the best of Satoshi Kon's work. Perfect Blue was his first, and Paprika is literally surreal, but Millennium Actress brings a tear to my eye every time.

This movie is simply perfect. It does exactly what it tries to do, tell the story of an entire life through the movie roles Chiyoko Fujiwara played. Animation allows for a completely seamless transition between the lives Chiyoko played and the life she lived, such that you cannot tell which is which. This is entirely appropriate, because she poured herself entirely into her characters, such that the boundaries became blurred.

This movie also serves as a history of a long lifetime in Japan, one in which everything changed utterly. The Japanese people experienced a series of upheavals after the Meiji Restoration that were as unsettling and radical as the Tokugawa Era was unchanging. These changes were so rapid that one person could experience everything from the end of the Shogunate to the dropping of the atomic bomb. Chiyoko lives a bit later than this long timetime, but nonetheless the Japan of 1990 and 1930 are in some ways more than 60 years apart.

Gunslinger Girl

I already had my say about Gunslinger Girl. Beautifully done, historically inspired, psychologically subtle. Definitely a favorite.

Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh is the only one on this list that doesn't involve someone dying (unless you count Yukari-sensei's driving). This is a slice of life style anime, focusing on the lives of a group of high school girls and their crazy teachers. It has some bizarre elements, but for the most part it is just about the weird things that happen in life.

The manga this series is based on is actually done in a newspaper 4-panel style. Once you see the manga, the format of the series becomes understandable. There are a lot of rapid-fire jokes that come and go, and I think this is due the nature of the source material, which the anime follows closely.

The best part is the interaction of the two teachers, Yukari ゆかり and Nyamo にゃも. Perfectly opposed in personality, yet somehow believably friends, Yukari and Nyamo seem very much like real people. They each have strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and foibles that make them seem totally normal. Excellent characterization and a keen eye for the absurdity of life make this anime worth seeing.

Samurai Champloo Anime Review

Samurai Champloo

サムライチャンプルー Samurai Chanpurū
Written and directed by 渡辺 信一郎 Watanabe Shin'ichirō 


Samurai Champloo is the latest anime directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, the creator of Cowboy Bebop. Samurai Champloo is a period drama set in the Tokugawa Era, featuring two wandering swordsmen and a cute young girl on a rambling journey through Japan. There are obvious similarities between Watanabe's two series in their visual style and episodic structure. The soundtrack is also excellent, a hallmark of Watanabe's work. The hip-hop style of the music is remixed into the history of Tokugawa Japan, giving us rapping Yakuza and the privileged sons of master swordsmen competing to tag Osaka castle. This anime is also male-oriented. A "boy anime" as the Magistra said. She enjoyed it, but she didn't laugh as loud as I did. The extreme facial expressions and frequent violence tend toward the base rather than the artistic. Broadly speaking, if one liked Cowboy Bebop, which is one of the most accessible anime, then one would also like Samurai Champloo. It is not the best series I have ever seen, I don't think it would make my top ten list [although it isn't that far out either], but I liked it, and would recommend it.

Now, with that out of the way, I can talk about what really interests me. I fully intend to give everything away, so if for some reason you haven't seen this, and want to, stop reading.

After the first few episodes, I began to compare it to Rurouni Kenshin, but I don't think this is really the best comparison. Kenshin is my favorite anime, so that means that nothing else can really compare, but also Samurai Champloo is just a fundamentally different kind of anime. This is remix history. Much of the background in Samurai Champloo is based on real events, but twisted, like Fractured Fairy Tales. Also, the way the violence is portrayed has a very different feel. Kenshin made sword fighting beautiful, whereas the fights in Samurai Champloo are more matter-of-fact: nasty, brutish, and short.

Samurai Champloo is less about grappling with the swift changes that occurred during the Meiji Era and more about being along for a crazy ride.

I enjoyed that this anime went to places other than Tokyo. Anime is Tokyo-centric for the same reason that American TV and movies are NYC-centric: that is where the cultural center is, and also where many of the production companies are based. You just don't see other settings quite so often. However, since the narrative pull of the series centers on a trip to Nagasaki, you get to see a lot of places you don't normally see.

Me at the Hakone Checkpoint

I especially liked the episode at the Hakone checkpoint, because I recognized it immediately. I have been there. I must have missed the display on the revolutionary group that was growing marijuana in the mountains though.

Even though the history was remixed, I enjoyed it regardless because the setting and background are richer for the historical basis. If you know a little bit about the hidden Christians or Miyamoto Musashi, then the series is just that much more interesting. Of course, the usual warning about getting your historical knowledge from fiction applies even more strongly here.

Fuu フー, Jin 仁, and Mugen 無限 are the primary characters. Fuu is the center of gravity around which everyone else orbits. It remains somewhat mysterious why Jin and Mugen would do what she says, and they are fairly difficult for Fuu to handle, but nonetheless her journey is the cause of everything you see here. However, Jin and Mugen are the most interesting of the three; they are almost perfectly opposed, yet both embody the samurai stereotype. Jin is very much the prototypical Zen swordsman, but Mugen is chaos personified. Jin is proper and prudent as much as Mugen is coarse and reckless.Yet, they have an essential similarity despite their accidental differences of personality and upbringing. 

The fun lies in seeing how each man came to be who he is, and the circumstances that brought them together. Neither Jin nor Mugen has much love for the Tokugawa regime, and this gives them both ample excuse to cleanse the earth of the many parasites that infested the static social order of Tokugawa Japan. They mostly kill bad people, or at least not noticeably good people.

Jin is a good deal more conscientious about who he kills, which gives us the phenomenon of suicide by Mugen. Everyone who wanted to die chose Mugen, probably since he is so transparently easy to provoke. However, that does not stop Jin from killing lots and lots of people. You could probably follow them around Japan just by looking for the bodies.

I also think Jin's secret technique is falling in the water and pretending to be dead. He uses it at least three times, and it keeps working for him. Not the most glamorous technique, but it is hard to argue with success.

The samurai who smells of sunflowersThe series moves at a meandering pace until the very end. I couldn't believe how much story was packed into the last two or three episodes! Things just came to head all at once. This was mostly a satisfying ending. Mugen's final battle was less fitting than Jin's; not that is wasn't a good fight, it is just that who he fought seemed superfluous.

I found that I actually cared quite a bit about Fuu and Jin and Mugen by the end. I really wanted to know what would happen, but I was emotionally prepared for them all to die, and found that I was pleased that they did not, even though it perhaps should have happened that way. I like it better when evil is vanquished, even if the story is less for it.

 

My other anime reviews

Porco Rosso Anime Review

Porco Rosso
紅の豚 Kurenai no Buta

Directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿 Miyazaki Hayao)


Another oldie but goodie from Studio Ghibli. This is one of the few movies by Miyazaki that does not feature a female protagonist, although we do see lots of character types that show up in his other movies. This movie really made me want to go see the Adriatic Sea, it was protrayed so beautifully. It also evoked a powerful sense of nostalgia for that brief peaceful interlude between the two World Wars, before all the dreams were shattered.

This is probably one of the most adult of Miyazaki's movies, and by that I suppose you could substitute mature. Even though it was lighthearted and sweet, there was still a hint of the terrible scars left by the Great War, and the ominous foreboding of the greater war to come. The planes, and especially the plane factory, are very well done. I'm not an aeronautical engineer, but this bit felt right to me.

I liked it.

My other anime reviews

Netflix

Another bit about Netflix's corporate practices, this time in their DVD shipping warehouses. I find myself fascinated by how Netflix does business. Earlier, we go to see how life is for Netflix's exempt associates, this article shows us what it is like for hourly associates, who were only mentioned briefly in the Netflix Culture Presentation. I like to note the similarities and differences between Netflix and my employer. We both call employees associates, and we both have mandatory exercises on the production floor, yet Netflix ships 60,000 discs a day, whereas we would be lucky to ship 60 items a day.

Netflix has some really amazing industrial/process engineers or equivalents working for them. The efficiency of their shipping operation is astonishing. I have to admit I find it even a little inhuman. I'm not criticizing them, just commenting that my experience as a process engineer has shown me that you often need to do things like keeping employees from talking to each other during work tasks if you really want to get things done quickly and efficiently. This is often what gets that last little bit of performance out of a process, complete focus of the person involved. However, having trained on the assembly line myself, I know this is less fun.

Sometimes this is the difference between similar lines in different buildings. Once you see both in operation, you can immediately tell the difference. A really interesting question for Netflix's process gurus: now what? There is very little to be done to make their shipping process more efficient. The Law of Diminishing Returns tells us that an equivalent amount of effort will not pay off, so they need to think up something entirely different to see benefits. This is perhaps why they are working on their streaming video services, in order to make this paragon of efficiency obsolete. They have a long way to go, however. Not only are there relatively few titles streaming yet, but also you miss some features that are now standard on DVDs. I would stream anime, but you can only stream the dubbed versions. What the hell is that Netflix? In my wildest fantasies, I would like to see Netflix partner with anime production companies and those production companies arch-nemeses, the fansubbers. Fansubbers can record a Japanese TV show, encode it, translate it, and distribute it all over the world in less than a week after it first airs, for free. Why not pay these people to ply their trade for Netflix, and then everyone could make money on the process?

h/t James Drake

Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino OVA Anime Review

Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino OVA

Written by Yu Aida 相田 裕 Aida Yutaka
Published by Funimation


Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino OVAガンスリンガー·ガール Gansuringā Gāru

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino OVA is a continuation of season 2 of the Gunslinger Girl anime. This OVA seems to be something of an apology for the the lackluster animation of the second season of the anime. It is not the best I have ever seen, but it is definitely better than Il Teatrino. This OVA is still personally supervised by Yu Aida, so it hews closely to the manga.

If you have come here without reading my review of the first two seasons of Gunslinger Girl, go do so now. You are not going to find anything new in this OVA that wasn't discussed in that review. I have not yet reviewed the manga separately, but one thing that is notably different is the editor's notes that appear in some volumes of the US release. These notes explain a great deal of the intrigues of Italy and fun facts about the locales of the series. The anime lacks these, but the OVA did have a scene early on that explained just what Padiana is and the wealth disparity between the north and south of Italy that is fueling the terrorism with which the Social Welfare Agency deals.

I checked Volume 6 of the manga, and I did not see this bit of exposition, but it is good background information. The OVA itself is very short. I watched this on Netflix, so the fact that only two episodes were on the disc was tolerable, but I would have been pissed if I had paid money for it. Two episodes is not worth $15-$20. I know damn good and well that OVAs such as this retail for $60 in Japan, but that is ridiculous.

There was a nice bit of character development in this OVA, but it comprised about a third of Volume 6 of the manga, so you could get the same story a lot cheaper that way. Fanboys will probably buy it just the same, but I'm more than happy to rent.

 

My other anime reviews

Gunslinger Girl Anime Review

Gunslinger Girl

Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino

Written by Yu Aida 相田 裕 Aida Yutaka
Published by Funimation 


Gunslinger Girl

ガンスリンガー·ガール Gansuringā Gāru

This review covers the two anime series Gunslinger Girl and Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino. Each is a 13-episode adaption of the manga by Yu Aida. Each season covers only part of the manga, which as of the time of this review has 11 volumes published in Japan. These seasons cover roughly the first six volumes, but not exhaustively.

The first season is simply beautifully done. Motions are fluid, proportions are maintained in perspective, and detail is high. However, the first season is rather unfocused, not following any particular story arc with any fidelity. Il Teatrino on the other hand, was personally supervised by Aida, and consequently is very tightly plotted, but suffers from lackluster animation that is often crudely drawn. I enjoyed both seasons, but these differing strengths ought to be borne in mind by any potential viewers.

Gunslinger Girl is a story both about the fractious nature of Italian politics and the consequences borne by the players in the Great Game of politics by other means. The focus is upon the fratello of the Social Welfare Agency. The Social Welfare Agency is a front for a mysterious organization known only as Section 2. They do in fact do some good, because the same technology that allows them to create cyborg assassins can also be used to cure the lame and allow the blind to see. However, that is not the Agency's primary purpose. Their job is to eliminate the enemies of the Italian state.

Each fratello is a team composed of a handler and a cyborg. The handlers are usually recruited from the military or from other intelligence agencies, whereas the cyborgs are created from orphans rescued from hospitals. I say rescued, when perhaps kidnapped would be more accurate. Only orphans are used, and most often the girls selected would otherwise die if not for the intervention of the Agency. Only girls are used, because for some reason the process works better on girls, the younger the better.

This sounds horrible, and it is, but there is at least a patina of actual concern layered over the Machiavellian purpose of Section 2. In addition to being crippled, the girls have usually been psychologically traumatized. The psychoactive drugs used to control the girls and unite them with their mechanical bodies have the blessed side effect of erasing their memories: they cannot remember their families or their families terrible ends. The girls cannot remember their past lives, but every night they silently weep in their sleep, mourning their lost humanity.

Accordingly, their handlers must fill the roles of father, brother, and even lover. This is not to say that we have mechanical lolitas. The drugs were meant to produce unquestioning obedience, but instead prompt a fierce, and even dangerously unstable attachment born of the girls' need to be loved. This provides the central drama of the series, because even the hardened men who are recruited for Section 2 cannot easily reconcile themselves to what they are really doing.

This is compounded by the the tradeoff produced by the conditioning: more conditioning produces a more pliable girl, but makes her duller and shortens her life. Those handlers who choose to minimize the conditioning find they need to buy their cyborgs teddy bears and take them on outings to maximize their kill count. For dramatic purposes, most of the handlers have psychological hangups involving innocent young girls. You would think a mysterious government agency could vet their employees better, but that is not really the point here.

The central drama is provided by the essential immorality of using brainwashed girls as assassins, but the series would not be near so interesting if it weren't set in an Italy of the near future. I am not an expert on Italian history or politics, but what I do know very much tracks with what you see in Gunslinger Girl. Italian politics in some ways still operates in the Renaissance mode of constant intrigue and upheaval. Add on top of this the recent unification of Italy into a nation by force, the influence of the Mafia in the south, and the critical role Italy played in the Cold War and you have many well-armed and well-financed factions prepared to fight for power. The separatist Padania organization featured in the series actually has real world counterparts in Italy. It is of course unwise to get historical and political information exclusively from entertainment, but as long as one keeps the inherent limitations of the medium in mind this is a good way to spur interest in a subject.

I would classify Gunslinger Girl as gun porn, in the same sense Steve Sailer refers to movies like Brideshead Revisited and Atonement as period porn. Each gun is lovingly drawn, a precise representation of an actual firearm. Since gun ownership is nearly nonexistent in Japan, there is a gun-loving subculture there that finds fulfillment in anime like this and in buying very expensive Airsoft replicas of real guns. Each gun used by one of the girls is readily identifiable: Henrietta's FN Herstal P90, Triela's Winchester 1897 Trench Gun, or Rico's CZ-75 pistol. This, and the lolita aspect probably explain the series' popularity, but there is an underlying historical acumen that makes this anime worth seeing.

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Gunbuster

Diebuster, トップをねらえ 2! [Toppu o Nerae Tsu!]
by GAINAX
Written by Enokido Yoji
Directed by Tsurumaki Kazuya

A With Both Hands Mini-Review



Cute, with a catchy soundtrack, but ultimately confusing for me because this was a sequel to an anime that came out 20 years ago. I generally like pretty much everything that GAINAX puts out, but this anime was a bit too self-referential for its own good. It is dangerous for a niche product like this to become sensible only to super anime nerds. It is acceptable for movies to be self-referential because they are a genuinely demotic art form, and generally the writers are wise enough to make the movie work on enough levels that you don't have to get the reference to enjoy the movie.

Ranting aside, I did enjoy this anime, although I probably would not have watched it other than it was by GAINAX. The animation style reminded me strongly of FLCL, particularly in action sequences. Typical giant robot believe in yourself anime B.S.

More info for the confused:
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=3920
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diebuster

 My other anime reviews