Plastic Memories 1: Not Worth Remembering

So, I wanted Plastic Memories to be good. Because robots. I really did. But my hopes weren’t high after the first couple of trailers I saw – it looked like it was going to be slow paced and stuffed full of dating-sim-style cliches.

As it turns out, I was mostly right. Plastic Memories presents a really weird tonal mix that just doesn’t mesh.

The series takes assorted Appealing To A Specific Fetish Cliche chars – The Quiet One With Glasses, The Little Kid, The Ayanami, The Newb Everyman, The Inexplicably Pissy Kouhai –  and forces them to jiggle around through awkward and lame ‘office humor’ scenes. Meanwhile the obviously ‘underage’ Ayanami bootleg, Isla, is fetishized and objectified with multiple wiggling ass shots. And just when you think, okay, I’ve had enough of this, it’s just going to be mindless wank material – suddenly the show stabs you in the chest during the scenes where they actually go to collect the robots from their humans. Those scenes are emotional, infuriating and yet underdeveloped.

So our lackluster cast is given the ass-end job of going to retrieve robots (“Giftias”, in this universe) about to cross their arbitrary nine-year lifespan. This involves ‘negotiating’ with their owners and the Giftias themselves. Our Everyman’s job is basically to stand there and let his Giftia partner do all the work. Where the show actually has some kind of impact is during these collection scenes. They play out as savage and almost cruel – these are clearly families getting torn apart for no other reason than corporate malfeasance and poor design. An elderly couple gives up their ‘son’, who is promptly erased on the spot while they stand there and bravely smile through the tears so nice and compliant. Significantly, the show pulls away in the second retrieval, glossing over a potentially interesting situation where a young man tries to escape out the backdoor with his robot girlfriend. Isla wiggles her ass at the camera some more, goes off after them, and suddenly! We’re back at the office, where the couple has been literally vanished with a single throwaway line of dialogue about them being arrested in order to cram in more tedious ‘office humor’ bullying. The last retrieval is the very small child Giftia belonging to a sour old woman who has no intention of returning the robot, as she is emotionally attached.

The awkward tonal inbalance of the show shows the ‘experienced’ Giftia retrieval character, Isla (the Ayanami Rei clone) bringing more and more elaborate tea services to the door as ‘humor’, then lingers on another wiggling ass shot as she jumps the fence and gets into the backyard. And the recalcitrant grandma kind of just rolls over at that point, letting the characters into the house because… her granddaughter Giftia wanted her to be nice? This is followed by a random scene of Isla taking a shower inside the old lady’s house while our Everyman bumbles through offering the grandmother some upgrade options on the model she has – guess you don’t want the 30% recycling credit – oh, but if she wants to keep the body, the OS will (for some reason) completely destroy the memories and personality of the existing little girl. You just want to ask: what idiot designed these things?

This is one of those universes where everyone has to be kind of inhuman for it to work correctly – and the show just seems to want to make you Very Sad and Angry without actually providing genuine catharsis. Its sentimentality seems to come from a cynical place, as we are subjected to one scene after another of the robots going to their erasure and being locked away, personalities completely erased, with tears but compliance. You think to yourself, this is really a universe that needs Mavericks. Or a Dr. Wily. This ‘recovery team’ doesn’t show up armed (lol Japan no guns there) – what would happen if a Giftia actually tried to fight back? Would we just get another cutaway to some limp dialogue after the situation was magically resolved off screen? Does anyone want to watch 12 episodes of this string-yanking? How much variety can there be in a setup that requires you to ‘go knock on a door and hope nobody throws things at your head’?

And then! After this intensely sad scene where the childish Giftia is bawling her eyes out trying to remember everything she wants to say to her owner before she gets shut down, after we watch her being erased, after our lead character is clearly gloomy about having done nothing of use having spent the day watching several familes having been stripped apart… Isla is depicted under the episode’s end credits as needing to pee while driving and can’t hold it. Embarrassing, stupid and degrading material that strips the show of any attempt at authority for its characters, clearly playing to another fetish beat.

Emotional whiplash, to say the least.

I can’t recommend this and I don’t plan to watch any more, because the tonal shifts are just too weird and I really don’t like the overt fetishization at work. It’s obvious the show is capable of being more, wants to be more, but it’s as if it really doesn’t want to face the issues it raises even as it raises them – it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It runs away from its own dark side, substituting flat-falling “jokes” and overt fanservice to try and balance the tone. The show implies that Isla has some kind of secret power or dramatic past or is older than 9 years old and wasn’t erased, or whatever, but it’s impossible to care about that given the design and presentation of the character and the show’s desire to undermine her in every scene.

This series is better off forgotten.

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Review: Appleseed Alpha (2014)

Apalph2

I picked up a rental of Appleseed Alpha last night. I was on the fence about this movie to begin with after seeing the trailer online and not liking the character design for Deunan.

The apple(seed)s are falling very far from the tree these days. It seems to me that every incarnation of the Appleseed concept after the original animated OAV conversion in 1988 has gotten it wrong in some significant way. Appleseed Ex Machina (2007, also dir. Aramaki) suffered from an excess of attention given to invented characters that did not exist in the original manga and a lack of respect for the primary partnership of its central characters or the original manga’s world-building; these are both problems shared by Appleseed Alpha.

Head over to QoR‘s sister blog, Nerd Like a Girl, for the rest of the review of 2014’s Appleseed Alpha!  QoR updates tomorrow with more Mega Man December.

5 Legends of Anime Licensing Failure

While we’re on the subject of notorious anime failures, a question I got on Reddit reminded me of these other epic licensor fails. Thankfully none of these ever got any further than the demo reel stage!

See, you kids just don’t know how good you really  have it today. The world of the late 80’s and early 90’s was a wild, blindly lurching mishmash of new companies both struggling to find a way to market their products (after they realized there was a demand for it) and a way to do it as quickly and cheaply as possible. In the 80’s and 90’s, the kind of hackery I’m about to link you below was absolutely commonplace and the norm. After all, these were weird, alien cartoons, so who cared what the original plot was? Who cared if the attempts to re-brand them made no sense? They were just cartoons.

Gaga Communications and the Hellish 1988 Demo Reel

This has been floating around since the days of Corn Pone Flicks’ scathing fanedit Bad American Dubbing, which is where a lot of us first saw it  – but the full, unedited version has been scarce and hard to find. A Youtube user called “Anime Classic Reviews” put it up, in all its horrible 37 minute glory: Gaga Communication’s 1988 demo reel. Watch it and cringe, especially at their laughable attempt to render Bubblegum Crisis as “Futurescape”, 23 minutes in: “They’re four girls who will accept no money in their fight against the Boomers.” AHAHAHAH NO.

Toon Makers/Renaissance Take Sailor Moon Literally

Five good-looking young Caucasian people from all walks of life (one is in a wheelchair, the rest look like they’re mugging for a feminine hygiene ad with painful ‘smile and dance’ shucking-and-jiving footage) magically transform from shitty live action to shitty She-Ra knockoff animation in Renaissance’s  Sailor Moon promo trailer. Yes, this is the one where the girls hop on SKIBOARDS WITH SAILS AND ENGINES ATTACHED AND LITERALLY FLY AROUND IN SPACE. Also, Sailor Mars’ wheelchair is a flying wheelchair skiboard sail thing. It’s exactly that stupid.

Harmony Gold Presents: Dragonball

Do the above words strike fear in your heart? This one’s brand new to me. In 1989, it looks as though Harmony Gold made a deal with Toei to get a license for the key Toriyama works Dragonball and Dr. Slump. They actually sat on the licensing deal for quite a while, producing some test dubs of 5 episodes of Dragonball and smashing a couple of the movies together, but either lost interest or failed to find a market. Likewise, they only produced one dubbed episode of Dr. Slump as a pilot.

This actually happened. Here’s Curse of the Blood Rubies, dubbed by Harmony Gold. They named Goku “Zero”.  This video literally just surfaced a few hours ago. It’s all the same dudes that  created Robotech, so, yeah. ZERO IS OUR HE~ROOOOO

You’d Still Love Me if My Name Was Wanda, Right, Utena-sama?

Enoki Films, one of the actual companies that produced Revolutionary Girl Utena still has a page up to this day trying to rebrand the show as “Ursula’s Kiss“, giving all the characters completely crappy Western names. While the plot details aren’t changed, the page kind of unravels at the bottom, introducing several characters that never appear at any point in the series, including “Pazolini, the leader of the troop sent by “The Seekers of Armageddon,” and “Lady June, the evil princess commanding the troop.” Nobody knows who the hell THOSE guys are. Did they mistake Sailor Moon for Utena again?

Oh, and Akio gets renamed “Mike”. Yeah. Mike.

And Then There Were The Doozy Bots

Oh yeah, I forgot about this one too: in 1990 (sensing a pattern here, folks?) Sunrise and Bandai furtively attempted to enter the US market with their storied Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. So which of the available series did they pick? Surely the original, right? With its complex storyline and strongly drawn characters? Or Zeta Gundam, with the eerie combination of Newtype politics and epic psychic space battles?

Nope. They picked SD GUNDAM, rejiggered it for a US audience and allowing Good Strong American Cliche Kids (including,  yes, the Token Minority Kid In A Wheelchair) to armor up as tiny versions of the Gundam mechs. The result was The Doozy Bots, played for laughs and marketed to… I dunno. Crazy people? I figure THIS thing is why we didn’t get Mobile Suit Gundam on US TV until 2001.

トランスフォーマーザ・ムービー

So I got a chance to actually see the full-length copy of Transformers: the Movie in Japanese the other day. I’d been curious about it for quite a while, since I’ve been an on and off again anime/giant mecha/borderline /m/ nutball for the last 20 years. It’s available on YouTube for the curious so get it while you can;  unsubtitled, which is a shame, because I think this is the kind of material that’s ripe for a good old fashioned game of translation telephone.

I know just enough Japanese to get the gist of things, so I could tell when they went really off script. What ultimately surprised me, however, wasn’t that they went off script a bit- I expected that – but the ways that they went off script. For example:

Missing speech patterns
Major English-based speech malfunctions were hit and miss- unsurprising when you consider the technical difficulties of translating English characters who do weird things with their words. The Insecticons were stripped of their catchphrasey “electrons, electrons” dialogue, and Wheelie didn’t rhyme. Blurr’s particular speech malfunction actually works way better in Japanese though, because of the unique rhythms of the language- he talks fast but you don’t lose the comprehension like you can in English, and it just sounds really natural somehow. The jury is out on Wreck-Gar: I couldn’t parse whether he was talking normally, or whether he was quoting Japanese television: by the tone of it, he was being played  off as very similar to some game show hosts and overly bubbly TV presenters I’ve seen.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen translators just give up when confronted with oddities- really, you only have two options. You can either strip all the weirdness out, or you can literally translate the insane lines.  It seems like the translators for TF:TM took the middle road- where they could get away with it, they tried to keep it, like for Blurr, but gave up on the more complex dialogue of Wreck-Gar and the Junkions and just swapped in whatever the hell they felt like wherever else.

Overly explanatory dialogue and emotional flatlining
One of the problems that used to haunt US cartoon shows – Challenge of the Superfriends from the 70’s is a particularly good (bad?) example of this – was flat dialogue spoken by characters that explains what was happening on screen at the moment that it happened. This happens a lot in the Japanese version of TF:TM as well, and it happens in odd places. One particularly memorable example was the stripping of Megatron’s “Breach their defenses!” line during the attack on Autobot City: Instead, in Japanese, he literally orders the Insecticons to attack. As if we couldn’t figure out that it was part of the plan when they came out on their own. Several small but significant character lines like that seemed to vanish- without them, the drama goes flat, the dialogue becomes terse and goal-driven.

The overall effect, between both the flattening of the quirkier characters toward ‘functional’ dialogue, and the odd and inexplicable tendency of the dub to fill every available space with some kind of noise – mostly extra screaming – led to a weird effect where the movie actually fell emotionally flatter than the original. In the original film, there are moments of silence and pause – Daniel crying silently over Prime’s darkened hand, the moments leading up to Kup’s swing-and-jump attack on Blitzwing before he shoots at Hot Rod. There’s no silence in the Japanese dub. All of those spaces are filled with chatter and “huhs?”

The opening scene on Lithone? Full of needless chatter: “Here’s that stuff”; “Great, thanks!” “What are these vibrations?!” as, you know, we can HEAR the whole place shaking. The added shrieking of the population would have been a little freakier if it didn’t sound like half of it was recorded in someone’s bathroom. That’s something I honestly don’t understand – considering how sophisticated their homegrown programming can be, why the extra gruntiness and space filler in Japan’s TF dubs?

This is actually a larger problem in the whole Japanese TF animated line, though – it’s like somehow they forgot how to build compelling, individualized characters. I’ve watched snatches and pieces of Headmasters and other Japan-exclusive TF material, and it’s just dull as dirt. The characters lack the particular sparkle of unusual voices and accents and speech quirks; they just seem to all be a mass of indistinguishable and grimly stoic, well, machines. We won’t even mention dull surprise.

It causes a moment of reflection about how, even though everyone at Hasbro was just frantically hurling stuff at the wall to see what stuck (and snorting coke off hookers while rolling around in a money pit made from the profits off 1985’s Christmas sales), they somehow managed to actually make things that stuck. We can all identify major characteristics of the G1 line without even batting an eyebrow: evil Megatron, conniving, whining Starscream, deadpan snarker Soundwave, bitchy Ratchet, noble Optimus, bitchy Gears, dimbulb Grimlock, ‘tough guy’ Brawn, etc. (Hm, come to think of it, there are a lot of bitchy old grumps on the ‘bot side in that first wave, aren’t there? Complaining, whiny, irritable bastards all around!)

rod n prime

Rodimus Convoy and the other guy, Somethingimus Convoy? I dunno, I heard he was dead.

Other odd choices in the dub
Due to the aforementioned excessive dubbing, there’s an accidentally hilarious incident right at the start of the shuttle attack where it seems like the shuttle itself screams when the ‘cons blow a hole in it. Nobody is on screen to make the noise – I think it’s meant to be Prowl’s reaction from the previous shot as he turns toward Ironhide- but there’s a piercing shriek right as the wall caves in. Who knew Autobot shuttles were sentient? Starscream has a couple of additional lines while he’s gunning everyone down; more or less “Who’s next, c’mon step up!” The Constructicons talk before they fire. EVERYONE talks more in that scene. “Such heroic nonsense” is gone, replaced by   bitching about “annoying Cybertrons”.

Unicron’s spoken dialogue was dubbed, but his screams were not. Very weird. Meanwhile, the vocoder effect on Soundwave is really awful, obscuring a lot of what he says.

Arblus does not get to scream “Kranix, aaaaa!” as Unicron sucks him in. Instead it’s some dialogue about how he can’t get away.

I know that shouting “transform!” is standard in the Japanese version of things, but MAN that gets irritating after a while to hear over and over again.

“Ow, my foot!” is gone entirely, though there’s a lot of extra babble about ‘becoming a sandwich’.  “Roger me, wilco me, anything, hello, hello Earth?” is also flattened.

Grimlock’s joke about ‘kicking butt’ turns into ‘Kick Attack” – not quite the same thing there, Grimmy… But he still needs a new strategy afterward.

On the other hand… (WARNING: LANGUAGE WONKING AHEAD)
There are a couple of things I really like in the Japanese version that don’t translate well back to English. There’s something mysteriously pleasing about hearing “Destron-gundan” instead of “Decepticons”, and the different levels of honorifics characters use to address each other make great sense and reveal much in a Japanese context. There’s a lot of military language being thrown around on both sides, which perpetuates the idea that these are two combative armies at struggle, not a bunch of ragtag individualist weirdballs from space. So the flatness effect can be both a blessing and a curse in this sense.

The Auto…er.. Cybertrons call Prime “shireikan” or “Convoy-shireikan” – “general” – while Soundwave uses the very self-effacing “Megatron-sama” (because, you know, Megs is so much more powerful than he is and so much more worthy of respect) . Starscream does, too, and it’s harder to tell if he’s being sarcastic about it or not given the voice actor plays it flatter when he kicks Megs when he’s down.  Megatron calls all of his troops by name with no honorifics at all (so does Magnus)- befitting his rank and implying (depending on who you ask) closer friendship or a slight lack of respect. Hot Rod calls Kup “jiisan”, entirely appropriately. In return, Kup yells “bousoku” at him, also entirely appropriately. Since almost everyone ranks someone else in some way, you don’t hear a lot of honorifics thrown around between the individual members of factions.

EVERYONE calls Galvatron ‘-sama’  except Cyclonus and his Armada. Cyclonus, after launching to chase down Kup and Hot Rod’s shuttle, calls Galvatron “goshujin-sama”, which leads to some unintentional comedy. Yes, “goshujin-sama” is an ornate, Seriously Formal way of saying what we’d probably render as “my lord” or “my master” – but it also can be rendered as a subtext of “husband” in traditional Japanese, so, YEAH, I actually had to pause the file there until I could stop giggling like a 14 year old shipper. We always knew Cyclonus was putting up with a LOT from Galvatron, especially in s3 when you could legitimately call their relationship domestic abuse but… really.

The Sweeps call Unicron “sama”, but Galvatron does not. “Me Grimlock” is rendered as “Ore, Grimlock”, which actually works for him (masculine, slightly crude form of self-address)

Anyway, now that I’ve bored you all to tears digressing into the intricacies of Japanese honorifics, I’ll just close up by saying that, overall, you’re not missing much if you haven’t seen the dubbed version of TF:TM … but you’re missing a hell of a lot if you’ve never seen the English version.

Till all are one!