Not “Into” Anime? Watch Cowboy Bebop

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It took me a while to figure out the truth: that I absolutely, 100% LOVED Cowboy Bebop. In fact, it is now my fifth favorite TV show of all time.

I’m no anime aficionado by any means, nor would I call myself a proper anime watcher. I love Hayao Miyazaki’s films, but that doesn’t make me special or anything; and prior to watching Cowboy Bebop the most exposure I’d had to anime besides Studio Ghibli was the (very) few episodes of the original Pokémon show I’d watched just out of curiosity. Other than that, I’d had zero anime experience.

My first college spring break, I was completely alone in my dorm room, as my roommates had gone home. I suppose I could have gone home too, but I took advantage of the empty space to take some time to myself, away from people, schedules, papers, and noise. It was the perfect time for me to delve into something new. But I didn’t want to immerse myself in something that would take a long time to watch, and possibly rip my heart and soul out in the process (ahem, The X-Files). Since I was about to face the last half of the spring semester, I needed something short, something I could start and finish in a week.

What about anime? I thought to myself. You like Japanese animation, and a lot of anime shows have relatively short runs. I immediately began researching Top Ten Anime lists, reviews, recommendations, and suggestions for first-time anime viewers. It took about ten minutes for me to realize that Cowboy Bebop was the show to choose.

I’m not the easiest person to please, and I rarely love things right away. I can, however, become intrigued by something right away, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as initially intrigued by a show as I was with Cowboy Bebop. Even The X-Files took 3/4ths of a season to really pull me in, but Cowboy Bebop had me right from the very beginning.

What’s this show about? It’s set in the future, the year 2071, to be exact, when humanity, having blown a massive hole in most of Earth’s surface, has colonized the rest of the solar system. Crime is rampant on many of these planets, and there isn’t really a police system in place to track down criminals, so the task of catching bad guys and turning them over to the authorities is in the hands of bounty hunters, who fly through space collecting bounties on various wanted men and women. The show’s main protagonist, Spike Spiegel, is one such bounty hunter, traveling with Jet Black, a former cop, on a spaceship called the Bebop. Along the way Spike and Jet meet Faye Valentine, a sexy con-woman with an attitude and a capital-P Past, and Radical Edward, a young girl (?) who’s an expert computer hacker and is also completely off her rocker. The show is mainly episodic, dealing with the Bebop crew’s various adventures whilst chasing criminals, but there’s an overarching storyline involving Spike and his capital-P Past, a dark history with a mafia group called the Syndicate, an evil white-haired swordsman named Vicious, and a mysterious blonde woman called Julia.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really.

There’s just nothing else quite like it. So much so that when it’s over, you feel desperately sad, and not just because of the dark ending. There are only 26 episodes, each about 25 minutes long, and yet the show pulls you into such an original yet strangely familiar world that by the time the series is over, you find yourself missing the setting, a violent and tumultuous one; the music, which I’d like to argue is unparalleled for any show, anime or no; the characters, who are really quite terrible people, yet are at the same time so interesting and dynamic that you can’t help but root for them; and the beauty of the show’s neo-noir animation, with its sharp angles, dark shadows, and moody colors. Even if you aren’t interested in anime, or have your own opinions about the genre, you’d be hard-pressed to not find something to like about Cowboy Bebop, just a little.

This isn’t a review of Cowboy Bebop; it’s more of a suggestion. Plenty of reviews have been written about this show. Some are so good they’re almost as fun to read as the show is to watch. I’m not sure what I’d add by reviewing this show, though I can’t say the idea is terrible to me (it’s not going to happen until I’m finished with The X-Files, though).

This spring break, my one-year anniversary with Cowboy Bebop, I decided to show my fourteen-year-old sister the show. We’d actually started around Christmas break, but we finally finished in March, and I relished seeing her reaction at the show’s ending. Even more, I relished in the fact that she’d liked it. You see, I wasn’t completely sure that she would. The show is many things, not the least of which is odd, and I wasn’t sure if its weird atmosphere would appeal to her. But it did.

And then, the most wonderful thing happened. When I saw that she liked it, I realized how much I loved it. And maybe, given a year’s time, she’ll grow to love it, too.

Perhaps we like to think that we fall in love with our favorite things immediately, but that’s rarely the case. For me, at least, it’s almost never true. Love takes time, especially when it comes to fiction. After all, you’re being asked to immerse yourself in a completely different world, with strange characters and settings and stories. That’s not the easiest thing to do.

Fiction becomes escape for many people, but it can also add to our real lives. After all, all fiction springs from a place of reality – real people’s visions shape fictional worlds and characters, and stories feel real to us because they reflect something in us (if they’re good stories, that is).

But more than that, fiction is something to bond over. It’s something to make friends over, laugh over, cry over, and get angry over. Maybe diving into something you didn’t think you’d like can teach you something about yourself, whether that thing is Cowboy Bebop or not.

But, while we’re on the subject, why not make it Cowboy Bebop? Go watch it. Yes, you. Watch it now. Go on. You won’t regret it. And if you do, well…it’s only 26 episodes. You’ll live.

You can watch the first four episodes of Cowboy Bebop online for free at Hulu. 

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An Ode To Leonard Nimoy, and To His Undying Character

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock with a cat is basically the epitome of awesome.

Spock is still with us. He was brought back to life by the Genesis Device, after all. He’s out there somewhere, with pointy ears and one eyebrow raised, telling us the most logical course of action.

It is Leonard Nimoy, beloved to millions of people across the globe, that is no longer with us. But somehow, that doesn’t feel quite right to say.

I generally have a slight aversion to cheesy celebrity death posts, mainly because I have never had personal experiences with these celebrities, or did not feel like I was enough of a fan to warrant writing a eulogy for someone I’d technically never met. I was a fan of Robin Williams, for instance, and was very saddened to hear about his tragic death, but I did not feel I was the right person to write about what he meant to people.

This is different.

Leonard Nimoy did much more than play Mr. Spock on Star Trek (here is the proof). But for me, and for most people, I imagine, Spock is what he will be remembered for the most. It’s obvious why, and I don’t need to explain what made Spock such a good character. What I want to talk about is what Spock meant to me.

My parents are huge Star Trek fans, and one day the decided to order the first show from Netflix, CD by CD (back when people actually still ordered physical DVDs from Netflix), and watch it episode by episode with us. Since we had to wait for the DVDs to come in the mail, it was the closest we could get to watching it as a real TV show. In a way, it was even better because we were seeing every episode in order.

The show gets off to a semi-slow start, but by the time I saw “The Menagerie,” I was hooked, and much of it had to do with that intriguing pointy-eared science officer that was so different from everyone else in the show. And yet, he fit in perfectly. There would have been no Star Trek without Mr. Spock, and I don’t think I would have been drawn to the show as I was if not for him.

I’ve said numerous times, in discussion of TV shows like The X-Files and movies like Gravity, that what I personally look for in storytelling are complex characters. A good story is carried by great characters, and the emotional arc of any tale rides on a character’s conflict and development. But a great deal of it also rides on personality, which is something I haven’t discussed much.

Spock was – is – a logical, practical, calm person with two halves, a person split right down the middle between two kinds of being: the logical, and the emotional. The emotional is his human side, the logical is his Vulcan side. Or so the show claims. What was so, so special about Spock – and what really drew me to him, as a shy, lonely, awkward twelve-year-old – was the way he showed his humanity through his inhumanity. Some of Spock’s most emotional, noble, loving material is channeled through a being of logic – his Vulcan side cooperating with his human side, allowing it to drive his actions. And damn, there’s just something so relatable about that. We all feel like that. We all have problems that lead us in different directions. We all must find ways to make two conflicting sides of ourselves help each other.

I think Leonard Nimoy took this character that Gene Roddenberry created and gave him a depth, a layer, that Roddenberry had not anticipated. One raised eyebrow is funnier than any joke, one sincere sentence says more than a monologue ever could have. The contrast between Spock and Kirk is striking: Kirk, whose emotional material is delivered through passionate monologues and rousing speeches; Spock, who can do the same with a softly spoken sentence. Neither is better than the other; they go together, complement each other. Two halves of a whole.

I had to go out and do stuff today. I had to do normal things, like eat breakfast and go to class and buy food and talk to people. And all the while, I kept turning my head away, blinking back tears. I kept thinking back to when I was younger, sitting on my living room floor with a bowl of popcorn, watching a spaceship full of people wearing primary colors flying through space, boldly going where no one had gone before. To my young mind, Star Trek was the greatest thing I had ever seen, the most exciting, the most intriguing, the most creative. In many ways, it still is. In great part thanks to Leonard Nimoy and his character.

Spock, you have been and always shall be my friend. Live long and prosper. Thanks to you, I know I will.

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Random Stuff – Legend of Korra Season 3, Other Random Musings, with Special Guest!

I’m excited to share with everyone a lovely conversation I had with a very good friend of mine. We discussed Legend of Korra Season 3 and other random things. I split our conversation into two videos, 1 about Korra, 2 not about Korra. If you haven’t seen Avatar: The Last Airbender or ANY season of Legend of Korra, do not watch the first video. And then go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender because it’ll change your life. 

Thanks to my friend for having this conversation with me, and hope everyone enjoys it!

Disclaimer: We were drinking tea during this recording so there is much scuffling, clanking, and general annoying-noise making. I apologize. One day I promise to record with something better than an iPhone. 

 

VIDEO 1: LEGEND OF KORRA SEASON 3

VIDEO 2: RANDOM MUSINGS (NOT KORRA)

Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

***WARNING: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the film yet, don’t read any further and go watch it. Or, better yet, just spare yourself the trouble and go watch Star Trek II. And on that note, if you haven’t seen Star Trek II, not only are you missing out big time but you probably shouldn’t read this review because I’m spoiling that one too. (Seriously, though, watch that movie.)


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A little bit of context: I am about as big a Star Trek fan as it gets.

I have seen every episode of the original show and all of the movies featuring the original cast. I have seen most of The Next Generation and all but one of the Next Gen movies. The only reason I didn’t finish TNG and start with Deep Space Nine was because of The X-Files.

When it comes to the original series, though – which is by far the best – I am as devoted a Trekkie as it is possible to be. So you can imagine that when the first film of the new series came out in 2009, I was judging. Hard.

And, after seeing the second film in the new series, I have come to the following conclusion: the writers of this new film franchise are not real Star Trek fans, and they don’t know how a Star Trek film is supposed to work. They seem to have a fairly good grasp of the characters, the visuals, and the aesthetics, but they have no idea how to weave those elements into a true Trek story.

Which is why Star Trek: Into Darkness is a complete failure as a Star Trek movie.

Let me briefly explain what my experience of watching this movie in the theater was like. Actually, it’s probably just easier if I do it like this.

1st oh, 30 minutes or so:

Eager

Next 30-ish minutes:

Shifty

Last part:

khan

And it wasn’t just because of Khan, either.

But before I explain what I didn’t like about the film, I need to be very clear about what I did like.

First of all, and this is definitely the most surprising for me, I really like the new cast, particularly Kirk, Spock, and Bones. The actors they picked do a good job of playing these characters as well as bringing new life to them – that is, when they’re not restrained by the poor writing, but we’ll get to that later.

Second, the visual effects are awesome. That can’t be denied.

Third, I really like the soundtrack. As someone who loves film scores, this is a pretty big deal for me, even if it may not be for most people.

Star Trek: Into Darkness got off to a GREAT start. As I was sitting in the theater watching it, I actually thought I might be getting what I’d come for: a Star Trek movie. The last film had some good things in there, but unfortunately it traded the potential Star Trek magic for overused plot devices and annoying action movie clichés. I felt like I was watching a movie that was called Star Trek and had some elements of Star Trek in there that worked, but those elements were threaded into an action movie formula that has been used again and again and again. Which is precisely the opposite of what Star Trek is.

But what I couldn’t deny was the feeling that the cast and most of the crew that made the first film had potential. Maybe they hadn’t made that Trek film their first try, but perhaps they were just finding their footing. Now that they had an established cast and lots and lots of money, they could spend time and energy making something every Trek fan and newcomer alike would love to see.

I can’t speak for the newcomers, but I, as a Trekkie, was disappointed beyond repair.

It would be one thing if the film destroyed my hopes right from the beginning, but it does exactly the opposite. Sitting in that theater, I found myself enjoying the film so much that I was sure it was going to be great. We had Spock and Kirk dealing with actual issues, like rule breaking, the prime directive, and other moral questions which make Star Trek what it is. We had a well-established conflict, a mysterious villain, and high stakes. We had interesting, and at times familiar, interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everything seemed set up perfectly to succeed. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, in short: everything.

By the time the middle third of the movie comes around, it’s basically just one explosion after another with almost none of the moral issues raised in the beginning ever having significance in the story again. Actually, there were so many explosions and battle scenes that I found myself growing more and more confused about what the conflict even was. What happened? Where are they? Where the fuck did the movie go?

But things took a serious turn for the worse when “Khan” showed up.

I call him “Khan” because he’s not actually Khan. I don’t care what the movie says, I don’t care what the writers say, I don’t even care what the fans say, he is not Khan. Not because he doesn’t look like Khan. I couldn’t give two craps about what he looks like; it’s an alternate timeline, I get that. No. This guy doesn’t act like Khan at all. He doesn’t talk like Khan, he doesn’t think like Khan, he doesn’t even fight or move like Khan. Therefore I must conclude that he is not Khan.

You see, all ye that know not of what I speak, the real Khan was a thrilling, powerful adversary who absolutely exuded fire, drama, rage, and power. Every word he says is dipped in some sort of verbal poison. He chews words, rolls them around, quotes famous authors, and treats every action he does with care and importance.

This “Khan” has a blank expression on his face and screams “NOOO!” sometimes. That’s about all the rage we get from him. There is nothing about this guy that is different from any other bland, generic villain in any other bland, generic action movie. This is not Khan. He is Insert Bad Guy Here.

But the part that really pissed me off, the part that literally made me cover my face in the movie theater, not in fear as my poor friend sitting next to me mistakenly thought, but in disgust – was the end. I have never felt so unbelievably violated by a movie before.

It’s not just that it’s a ripoff of Star Trek II, because it really isn’t. It’s someone ripping off Star Trek II who has never seen Star Trek II before, or if they did, only saw the last scene and therefore had no context with which to experience the full emotional impact of the movie or the thought-provoking questions the film raised.

I suppose I should take this opportunity to mention that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of my favorite movies of all time. Not one of my favorite Star Trek movies or science fiction movies of all time. One of my favorite movies of all time, period. It is everything a Star Trek movie needs to be and more. It deals with complex issues of life and death, the effects of growing old, the no-win scenario, revenge, friendship, it’s got it all. And those themes come together beautifully, which is why the end is effective. Spock sacrificing his life and saying those words to Kirk aren’t meaningful because he sacrifices his life and says those words to Kirk, they’re meaningful because of everything that’s happened in the film up until this point, and everything that’s happened in the show up until this point.

In Star Trek: Into Darkness, the scene where Kirk sacrifices his life is preceded by…a lot of explosions.

That. Does. Not. Work.

And when Spock goes crazy, screams Khaaaan, and then runs off to beat “Khan” up, I literally thought I was watching a joke. Honestly, did they even think about how that would come across? It’s absolutely ridiculous. If I was in a good mood, I might laugh my ass off. It looks comedic.

And it really pisses me off.

What makes me mad about this is that newcomers won’t get why Star Trek: Into Darkness isn’t a good film because they don’t know two things: what a Star Trek film really should be and what a glorious masterpiece Star Trek: Into Darkness was so heinously referencing. And if this is what people are going to think of when they hear Star Trek, if younger audiences are going to be introduced to a Star Trek like this, I envision some dark days ahead for humankind.