1. Being a “fan” isn’t worth it.
My behavior here and in various social networks in the past year can be considered a sort of retreat. Not a retreat from blogging (you wish… I hope this post makes it clear this isn’t happening), but a retreat from my own ill-formed conception of what it is to be a blogger, a self-appointed aesthete, a whatever I am, etc. The word fan used to be one of those labels I applied to myself, and to it I considered implicit certain obligations, including paying attention to boring things and sad people.
I am now liberated! In the spirit of freedom, this was my week:
2. I’ve got a good art book about ukiyo-e.
I’ve been seeking to level up on my education of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, most specifically the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, one of the last and most famed traditional artists to work in the medium. Unfortunately, informative well-illustrated books on the subject are rare.
Of Brigands and Bravery: Kuniyoshi’s Heroes of the Suikoden, commonly accepted as perhaps the best publication in this area, is out of print and fetches absurd prices upwards of $500. Since resigning myself to the impossibility of ever reading that one, I’ve been on the hunt for quality alternatives. Most have been disappointments, either printing low quality images, or printing at sizes that are too small, but I’ve finally found a book I can comfortably recommend.
Samurai: Stars of the Stage and Beautiful Women concerns the work of Kuniyoshi as well as Utagawa Kunisada, another titan in the field of ukiyo-e woodblocks. I’ve been tracking this book’s sliding publication date for well over a year now, but now that it’s out I’m happy to say it delivers striking, high resolution reproductions of woodblock prints as well as essays about not only the art, but on Japanese popular culture in the 19th century in general.
Ukiyo-e woodblock prints are most recognizable in a contemporary context for inspiring lots of tattoo art, and woodblock prints’ original appeal was similarly populist, the low cost of reproduction allowing middle-class people to bring art into their own homes, if not necessarily all over their own bodies. Soon the ukiyo-e style, which began as an expression of everyday metropolitan life, exploded to encompass all sorts of subject matter.
That’s when it gets interesting to me. Giant animals, shambling skeletons, bloody samurai, boobies… I’ll take crass “mass-entertainment” over wealthy people mutely admiring their own way of life any day of the week. EVERY day of the week in fact.
Samurai: Stars of the Stage doesn’t go full tilt in its presentation of that sort of content, in fact it catalogs a collection of prints housed at Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, an art museum in Germany. The accompanying essays however are sprawling with a diverse selection of content, not solely focusing on craft or the visual qualities of the artwork, but also thoroughly examining the circumstances that birthed them.
3. Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie is ugly and cheap and enjoyable.
The 2010 Ultramarines animated movie, released on Blu-ray for the first time this month, was never given much of a budget, and that makes it a doomed project from its outset: the Warhammer 40K franchise, though it befuddles me now as much as it did when as when I saw it envelop the majority of my friends’ lives as a teenager, is one of premium associations.
Fans pay exorbitant sums for tiny, careful lumps of molded plastic and die-cast metal, painstakingly assembling and painting them into figures which are then placed on flocked tables where soul-crushingly complex battle campaigns take place, campaigns which are rarely seen to their end as a dwindling supply of pizza and soda set the pace for the game more than anything else. I appreciated the fun inherent to the fascist, grotesque and insane sci-fi universe, but never got the appeal of playing its tabletop namesake.
The storytelling of the Ultramarines movie is as lean as its look. A small squad of space warriors are dispatched to a routine distress beacon. The movie follows the squad claustrophobically on a slow and deliberate investigation which delivers them directly into the hands of powerful demonic forces of Chaos.
As sprawling as the Warhammer 40K mythology is, this movie pulls into a very tiny part of it, and the result is a subdued experience that is far more Ridley Scott’s Alien than it is James Cameron’s Aliens. While the movie is well-conceived and well-acted, its CG animation dates it more harshly than its actual age. I can’t imagine it working for the majority of the videogame-addled public, but it worked for me.
4. Forming is the finest cartooning I’ve read this month.
It’s also a pretty pink book.
Forming‘s combination of puerile adolescent energy and ambitious alien creation myth is the sort of thing you imagine going all loosy goosy, camouflaging itself in either heightened self-importance or overly-deprecating senselessness.
Instead, Forming is a complex story spanning millions of years, handling multiple plot points as expertly as it handles its madcap imagery, laid out in the language of a funny children’s book but filled with too much genitalia and fuck jokes to be for anyone except the child-at-heart.
I enjoyed Forming as a hardcover collection of short chapter installments though you can also read it as a webcomic. It didn’t click for me until I read it in print, as is often the case with serialized webcomics.
5. JManga is as dead as my interest in bloviating about it.
Is it possible to not be enthusiastic about how JManga was structured as a digital manga service, while also not indulging the sanctimonious righteousness with which people critiqued it? I want to disapprove of the greatest percentage of things possible, you see.
Part of the reason why piracy and piracy “solution” conversations are so tired, boring, played out, and unproductive is because at the end of the day, people are just going to DO what they want to do. So are businesses. The explanations always come afterward and are seldom 100% honest.
I don’t want to yammer on to you about why having a culture where manga creators are compensated for their work is a good thing. The reasons are pretty obvious. The reasons also wouldn’t have mattered to me when I didn’t have a dollar to my name.
In conclusion, PRINTSCREEN PASTE SAVE PRINTSCREEN PASTE SAVE PRINTSCREEN PASTE SAVE…
6. Shin Getter Robo vs Neo Getter Robo has a long confusing title, but it’s short and to the point, and the point is “AWESOME.”
Cast off your preconceived notions of what mecha anime is all about: selling toys to children, thinly-veiled military fetishism, dumb Gundam references only virgins understand, robots, etc.
This shiz is based upon Ken Ishikawa’s Getter Robo manga, and as I’ve said before, that stuff is about human action. And sociopathy. Lovecraftian monsters. Dinosaurs. Punching God in the face. Interesting things.
(And it all happened long before Gainax wrapped it in a bow and called it Gurenn Lagann, without even taking the time to reinvent it in some way.)
Even with Discotek’s enormously unpredictable track record of anime releases, I wouldn’t have expected to see this OAV available in North America. I’m very happy to have been proven wrong.
7. I’ll probably do this next week.
This method of posting content isn’t exactly SEO-friendly, but who cares? I haven’t looked at this blog’s web traffic stats in at least six months and I’m not going to start now.