That je ne sais quoi

I mentioned in my video on Gravity Falls episode 1 that it lacks a certain quality I struggled to define, but which is possessed by many other cartoons I enjoy. It is a quality possessed by several of the best cartoons, such as Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Friendship Is Magic, but while clearly quite good, Gravity Falls seems to lack it (at least in the five episodes I’ve seen so far). On the other hand, Phineas and Ferb, which is really not a good show (although it is one I enjoy enough to have watched most of it), has the quality, whatever it is.
So this post is me trying to figure out what that quality might be by comparing shows that do and don’t have it. I’ve come up with a few possibilities–things that are shared in common between the four shows that I mentioned which possess this quality, but are not present or less present in what I’ve seen of Gravity Falls. Most likely it is a combination of multiple factors, maybe all of them, in different amounts.
What I’ve come up with:

  • Colorfulness: All four of Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Friendship Is Magic, and Phineas and Ferb tend toward bright palettes. Gravity Falls is not dark by any means, but it tends toward less saturated colors and a lot more browns; despite both it and Phineas and Ferb being set in summer, the colors of Gravity Falls make it look like fall to me.
  • Lack of cynicism: There’s no trace of cynicism in four of these shows; Gravity Falls is cynical as hell.
  • Playfulness: All of these shows can get pretty weird, but treat it differently. The weirdness in Gravity Falls is treated as portentous or uncanny, even when it’s used as a source of humor; there’s a sense of something behind the weirdness, that there is some kind of Other from which the weirdness derives. In the other four shows, weirdness is just there because someone felt like tossing it in.
  • Pacing: Phineas and Ferb, Steven Universe, and Adventure Time have 11-minute episodes. Friendship Is Magic episodes are 22 minutes, but tend to have very rapid pacing anyway. Gravity Falls tends to unfold things more slowly, taking a lot of its cues from genres that rely on slower pacing to build tension.

Again, this shouldn’t be taken as a measure of quality. Gravity Falls is a good show, and I enjoy it. Just not in the same way or to the same degree as the shows which do possess these qualities. And I still feel like I’m missing something; that je ne sais quoi remains elusive.

Vlog Review: Gravity Falls S1E2

 
Reminder that Patreon backers can see these videos (including Korra, Steven Universe, and now Gravity Falls, plus my panels on anime and the apocalypse, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and postmodern anime) 4-5 weeks early AND Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
Those of you who follow on Tumblr, for whatever reason the videos don’t play there. Click through to JedABlue.com to watch.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 33

Hey folks! Reminder that my Patreon is a thing that exists! We’re just one $2 pledge short of being able to make re:Play Episode 2 next month, but that pledge has to come in by Friday to count! For that $2 you get access to all of Near-Apocalypse of ’09 written so far, a full four months ahead of what’s been released publicly. Higher pledges get more goodies! Thanks as always for your readership and support!
A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Reytan System Patrol: While investigating slow traffic on subspace relays in the Reytan System, the Madison is jumped by Orions.
  • Una System Patrol: The Kestrel has to defend a colony of Luddites from Klingon raiders, and confirms that their crews are Klingons, not Undine or other fakes.
  • Omar System Patrol: Morwen leads a strike force against a small fleet of Klingon warships in Federation space.
  • Tazi System Patrol: Morwen’s strike force picks up a distress signal from a research station in a nearby system.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: Morwen decides to seek help from a friend in figuring out what’s going on with these recent raids. (Original.)
  • The Bonded: Following up on Worf’s cryptic lead, Morwen goes looking for “Jeremy.” (Original.)
  • Diplomats and Warriors: Morwen and Jeremy go to Qo’noS, the Klingon homeworld, in search of answers. (Original.)

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
The “System Patrol” missions in this block represent an experiment: without knowing what they contained beforehand, I randomly picked one of my ships and took it on one of the early-game system patrol missions I’d skipped, while trying to work it into an ongoing story. “Gunboat Diplomacy,” “The Bonded,” and “Diplomats and Warriors” then serve as the culmination of the first act of that story.

Inside Out Review (Spoilers)

So, I haven’t had a chance to talk about it yet, but I saw Inside Out a little over a week ago. I really like it! One of the best Pixar movies in a while–if you go digging in the archives you might find the post from my OLD old site (pre-My Little Po-Mo) where I talked about my issues with Brave, and I didn’t even bother with Monsters University or Cars II. So the last Pixar movies I liked were Up and Toy Story III, and the last one I really liked was Wall-E.
But this was on that caliber, if not quite as good. A buddy road trip movie, because Pixar, but through possibly their most imaginative environment yet, and with two women as their buddies–one of whom was Amy Poehler in what I would call the role she was born to play if she hadn’t already had that as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation.
Of course there are flaws, the whitest, straightest San Francisco ever depicted chief among them, but on the other hand we also get one of the best depictions of depression I’ve ever seen: with Joy and Sadness both banished as a result of Riley’s mind’s attempt to protect itself from the trauma of being uprooted and placed in a strange environment, she finds herself incapable of feeling anything but Anger, Fear, and Disgust, and then her personality begins shutting down entirely, her inner landscape turning gray and crumbling. It is, frankly, chillingly familiar–an immediate recognition of “yes, that’s what it’s like” that is all-too rare in mass-media depictions of mental illness. 
It is, fortunately, a situational thing, and once Riley permits herself to feel and express Sadness again, she is able to begin healing. I really hope the poor kid gets some therapy, though. 

Man to freakshow (Vendetta)

Near Apocalpyse of '09 Logo
It’s October 5, 1992. Batman the Animated Series has been on the air for exactly a month; “Prophecy of Doom” airs tomorrow, so check that essay for headlines and chart information.
By this point, I’ve written quite a few of these, and you’ve probably noticed that I tend to talk about the way in which a story is framed or presented more than I do the story itself. This episode is a good example of why.
Consider the evidence as it initially appears to Batman: Bullock was accused of corruption by a criminal-turned-informant, Spider Conway, who is then kidnapped out of police custody during a transfer Bullock knew about and was present for. Later, Joey the Snail is likewise kidnapped out of prison, and this time there is an eyewitness, a guard attacked by Bullock.
But the viewer never really believes Bullock did it, because we see the monstrous Killer Croc in the title card and planting the bomb used to bust out Spider Conway. We may briefly believe Croc’s working with Rupert Thorne, the mob boss Conway was going to testify against, but we don’t see anything to tie him to Bullock.
But imagine if the story had been framed differently, so that we don’t see Croc early on, and the title card is a more abstract image or Croc disguised as Bullock–that is, an image of Bullock with his face shrouded in darkness and eyes gleaming ominously. Then we would have likely presumed that Batman was on the right track investigating Bullock, and the open question would be why Bullock is doing it.
Or consider another possibility: What if instead of starting with Conway’s kidnapping and having Batman expositing Killer Croc’s backstory, we had started with that story? Killer Croc as a child raised in a circus, treated as a freak. Killer Croc finally escaping that life and entering the world of professional wrestling, but something goes wrong and drives him into Gotham’s criminal underworld. This would be another sympathetic villain in the vein of Two-Face, Clayface, or Mister Freeze, a person who is doing wrong but for understandable reasons, instead of a monster who behaves monstrously because that is what monsters do. Someone who has fallen and needs help up, instead of a creature to be beaten and turned in to the authorities.
But instead the episode never situates us in Croc’s perspective–we never even get a real name. He is simply someone seeking revenge on Bullock, who caught him, and Spider and the Snail, who put him in prison with their testimony. Note that all three of them have the names of creatures commonly seen as loathsome; they are subhuman, “dirtbags” in Bullock’s words in this episode, or “a superstitious and cowardly lot” in the traditional epigram pronounced by the Bat.
Batman states that he and Bullock use different methods, but both serve the law. This isn’t true, in either part. Consider the finale, in which Bullock draws his gun on Batman as he emerges from the sewers, and keeps it out until Batman drags out the unconscious Croc as well. What legal justification does Bullock have to fire? And under what law is Bruce Wayne authorized to beat up criminals when and how he pleases? This is not the 1960s Batman, and even then the statement that he and Robin were duly deputized agents of the city’s authorities was an obvious joke.
No, Bullock and Batman are not agents of the law; they are soldiers, and criminals are the enemy. The goal is not to enforce the law, which necessarily requires first obeying the laws that constrain how the law can be enforced; it is to score victories over criminals, including making them think they are about to die (which is a form of torture), beating them, and apparently in Bullock’s case shooting them.
Bullock and Batman are more alike than different; both are detectives willing to engage in brutal force, who hate criminals and regard them as the enemy, who have no qualms about violating the law and fundamental morality to punish them, and to whom it apparently does not occur that even a criminal is still a person as deserving of the law’s protection as anyone else. Their methods are violent, rage-fueled, and ineffective–as witness that crime in Gotham is so bad that a gigantic anthropomorphic crocodile monster can commit a series of even minor robberies without getting noticed by Batman.
Which raises a curious question. Batman is rather notoriously hyper-competent. He is very good at figuring things out, a quick learner, and generally depicted as being in peak physical and mental condition. Why hasn’t he either been more successful, or noticed that his efforts aren’t actually working? Why hasn’t he tried something else?
Doesn’t he want to succeed?
That very question is what we turn to next.


Current status of the Patreon:

Vision of Escaflowne 26 and Mawaru Penguindrum 1 Liveblog Chat Thingy!

How to participate in the liveblog chat:  Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting! Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching Vision of Escaflowne and commenting there starting at 2:00 p.m. EST. We will then be watching Mawaru Penguindrum at 2:30.

ETA: Chatlog below the cut!
Continue reading

What We're Watching Next

The votes are in, and it’s a three-way tie between Mawaru Penguindrum, Yurikuma Arashi, and Psycho-Pass. Which basically means I get to pick which one we don’t watch on this next round. And, frankly, I want to watch all of those.
So I’m going to cheat. Here’s the plan: This Saturday we will watch Vision of Escaflowne 26 and Mawaru Penguindrum 1. Next Saturday we will watch Yurikuma Arashi 1 and Mawaru Penguindrum 2. But Yurikuma is only 12 episodes, so we’ll run out quickly–at which point we replace it with Psycho-Pass.
As before, once MLP comes out of hiatus we will watch it every weekend that it exists, while alternating the other two shows.

Vlog Review: Gravity Falls S1E1

 
Reminder that Patreon backers can see these videos (including Korra, Steven Universe, and now Gravity Falls, plus my panels on anime and the apocalypse, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and postmodern anime) 4-5 weeks early AND Near-Apocalypse articles four MONTHS early!
Those of you who follow on Tumblr, for whatever reason the videos don’t play there. Click through to JedABlue.com to watch.

Captain's Log, Weekly Digest 32

A summary of the past week of posts to my in-character Star Trek Online Tumblr, chronicling the adventures of E.N. Morwen, a science-loving and thoughtful young woman trapped in a galaxy of warring space giants.

  • Commencement Ceremonies: Morwen is asked to provide the commencement address for the Starfleet Academy Class of 2410. (Original adventure, not based on STO missions, except that the time travel bit is a perspective flip on the tutorial for a new Fed character started during the Temporal Recruit event.)
  • Raids and Reflections: On its way home, the Pizza picks up a distress signal and things get… familiar. (Original adventure, not based on STO missions.)
  • Kei System Patrol: The Noble responds to a distress signal from a mine under Orion attack.
  • Beytan System Patrol: The Sakura tries to assist miners who have gone on strike.
  • Pellme System Patrol: The Shinonome investigates seismic readings that could mean disaster for the colony on Pellme II.
  • Bhea System Patrol: The Van Houten uncovers disturbing evidence that the recent increase in Orion piracy is a sign of much worse on the horizon.
  • Pico System Patrol: The Scully assists a damaged mining ship.
  • Reytan System Patrol: While investigating slow traffic on subspace relays in the Reytan System, the Madison is jumped by Orions.

As the flag officer of a fleet or tactical group, Starfleet regulations also require Morwen to provide a Fleet Status Report briefly summarizing the current status and mission of all ships under her command, every Stardate that’s a multiple of 10.
Starting with Kei System Patrol, these represent an experiment: without knowing what they contained beforehand, I randomly picked one of my ships and took it on one of the early-game system patrol missions I’d skipped, while trying to work it into an ongoing story continuing from “Commencement Ceremonies” and “Raids and Reflections.” I like how it came out, I think.
Also, I accidentally let my queue run out and didn’t have time to restart it for a couple of days, so this is about 15 entries shorter than it should have been. Sorry!

So, what do we watch next?

MLP is on a hiatus for the next couple of months, we’ve finished SMC, and we finish Escaflowne this weekend. So… what do we watch next?
Here are four options. Please vote for the two you like best. You cannot vote twice for the same show, so if you only vote for one show that’s one vote for that show.
The show with the most votes will replace SMC in the viewing schedule, and the one with the second-most votes will replace Escaflowne. In case of a tie, I’ll cast the breaking vote.
Options are:

  • Mawaru Penguindrum: It’s by Ikuhara and it’s really weird, that’s all I know.
  • Yurikuma Arashi: It’s by Ikuhara and the title translates to “Lesbian Bear Storm,” that’s all I need to know.
  • Persona IV the Animation: My editor keeps recommending this.
  • Psycho-Pass S1: Gen Urobuchi, dystopia.

Voting is open until end of day Wednesday, and on Thursday I’ll announce the winners!