Monday, November 22, 2010

How To Capture A Firebird

Ah yes, the Firebird. You may know this mythological creature from the Stravinsky ballet The Firebird, or from the short subject in Fantasia 2000. If you don't know, you clearly don't spend your Sunday afternoons watching ballet clips on YouTube, or reading about Disney movies on Wikipedia.

Which is fine, really. It just means you have a life.

I, however, have been decidedly lacking in a life lately. I recently got really into classical fairy tales, in particular some more obscure ones from Hans Christian Anderson, and of course, some of the really bizarre ones from Russia. After spending several hours raiding the depths of the Hofstra University library, I came home with a giant book of Russian fairy tales which turned out to be a really interesting look at a decidedly different kind of folklore than what I'm used to. There are no little mermaids making deals with evil sea witches for a chance to sleep with a hot prince and gain an immortal soul. Instead we get Baba Yaga, a witch-like demi-god who hangs out in a house built on chicken legs and occasionally likes to eat small children. We also get Koshchei the Immortal, a skeletal sorcerer who keeps his "death" concealed in a needle which is inside an egg, which is inside a bird, which is inside a chest, which is high in a tree that grows on a magical island that you can only find if you already know where it is. Good luck trying to murder him.

But the most well known character in Russian folklore is probably the firebird, a beautiful bird which traditionally spells both good luck and doom to whoever sees it. It's famous for being slightly similar to a peacock, with feathers that glow red, orange, and yellow. The typical firebird related fairytale consists of someone deciding to go on a quest to capture it, initially enchanted by it's glowing feather but eventually turning on it and blaming it for all it's troubles. Most people who capture it seem to go onto eternal glory or end up being asked to go save a princess by some king. Either way, it's a typical hero's journey type saga that's required to capture the damn thing.

And so, as I honestly have nothing better to do with my time right now other than homework, I've decided to compile a list, or rather, a guide of sorts, for those of you adventurous enough to want to go after the firebird.

Do you feel your life needs a little excitement? Is battling a sea witch while trying to find the owner of a ridiculously small glass slipper someone left at your party simply not doing it for you? Well then, you're in luck! Here at The World Is Very Strange, we have the perfect solution to your problems; go find the freaking Firebird! Yes, it's a perilous journey full of insurmountable obstacles and obnoxious Tsars who want you to marry their daughters, but hey, in the end you'll never have to pay for electricity!

So how does one do this? Well, there are several steps on the way to eternal Russian glory, some trickier than others, but chances are, if you follow this simple instructional guide, you'll probably make it sometime before the monarchy falls and you suddenly find yourself a communist.

Step One: Be Male
Are you a rebellious princess who occasionally likes to experiment with sorcery? Or perhaps a wife who'd like to run for some sort of local political office? Or even just a woman who's sick of doing nothing but cooking and cleaning up after the latest people's revolution? Well then, get back in the kitchen, woman. This story's not for you, what are you thinking?! Yes, if it's one thing that Russian fairy tales are extremely good at, it's rampant and outspoken sexism. Nearly every instance of a woman acting like anything other than a submissive servant girl, or really nearly every instance of a woman speaking at all, is met with horrific disaster for the woman involved. The sorceress princess? Staked in the heart lying face down in a coffin by her father and then buried in the ground. The woman who ran for mayor? Tied into a bag of grain and whipped until she obeyed her husband. The woman who simply got sick of being a dutiful wife? Thrown into a hole and buried there along with anyone who happened to annoy her husband on the way to work. Basically, it's generally a good idea not to be female in Russian fairy tales unless you happen to be a beautiful, mute princess willing to slaughter your children and spread their blood on a statue in order to bring your husband's dead best friend back to life.

Step Two: Be Young
Although being old is clearly not quite as bad as being a woman, a vast majority of the guys who go after the firebird and actually succeed appear to be young, naive youths trying to win the heart of the Tsar's beautiful and submissive daughter. Old men rarely go questing in these tales, probably because they're old enough to know what a pain it is going after a frustratingly rare mythical bird only to be rewarded with a girl you don't even know the name of and is probably no older than my eleven year old sister. That being said though, if you really want to go after the thing, make sure you're only at most somewhere in your twenties.

Step Three: Have Connections
When going after the Firebird, it's generally a good idea to be friends with an especially powerful Tsar, or a sorcerer, or a mysterious stranger who just happens to know everything you could possibly need to know along the way. This is a somewhat vital step, as without this you'll probably find yourself lost somewhere in Siberia with nothing but a golden apple and the coat on your back. Tsars are good because if you ask they'll usually give you meat and drinks to bring along with you, as well as some ridiculously ornate tents to sleep in while you're scaling that traitorous mountain. Sorcerers are nice if you need that extra bit of deus ex machina to keep you going, but have the unfortunate side effect of being a Russian Orthodox sin. Your best bet is probably the mysterious stranger as he'll usually help you out in the best way possible and then mysteriously vanish as soon you're done needing him. There's none of the annoying royal baggage that comes with the Tsar, you won't have to worry about him asking you to do something else as soon as you're done, and generally, he's not a servant of Beelzebub.

Step Four: Corn
As we all know, firebirds absolutely adore corn. I know I'm always having to watch over my expansive cornfield to make sure none of it gets picked off by those obnoxious firebirds. Go to your Tsar/Sorcerer/Mysterious Stranger and ask that one hundred measures of corn be strewn on the nearest open field. It may seem bizarre that a legendary mythical bird with glowing feathers is attracted to something as mundane as corn, but hey, it's no weirder than vampires being compelled to stop and count every grain of rice you throw at them.

Step Five: Obtain a Valiant Horse
This one's a bit harder than it looks. It can't be just any old horse, or Baba Yaga will come and chop it's head off to marinate in her latest batch of dead baby paella. It has to be one you can count on to not spook or make noise or do anything that horses normally do when faced with a giant, glowing peacock. The horse has to be able to, when let free, not run away, but approach the firebird, step his hoof on it's wing, and press it hard to the ground. It's probably a good idea if you can talk to the horse as well, bonus points if the horse is actually a human who was cursed by an evil witch.

Step Six: Don't Get Distracted
That's right. I saw you stop and wonder if maybe you should go after Koshchei the Immortal's death needle before you finished your quest to find the firebird. Stick with the program, people. The firebird provides lifetimes of good luck and prosperity, killing Koshchei just forces you to slaughter your children and spread their blood on the statue that was once your best friend in the hopes that he'll come back to life and stop being made of stone.

Step Seven: Invest In Some Cords
Once you've fought off your raging ADD and your noble steed has the firebird pinned to the ground with his valiant hooves, take out some particularly strong cords and tie that bird up. None of the stories specify what kind of cords you should be using, might I suggest bungee cords? Whatever you need, I'm sure you can find them at your local Ace Hardware.

And with that, you're done! Strap that tied up bird to your back, mount your horse, take it back to the Tsar, and get ready to make out with his beautiful daughter. You'll probably get promoted to some sort of noble rank, if you're not there already, and will probably be given riches far beyond your wildest dreams. If you were doing this just for the sense of adventure rather than for the service of a monarch, then congratulations, you now have your own personal table lamp that squawks at you and gets poop on your floor. Make sure you buy it a nibble bar every so often, and try not to get it near your cat.

Also, when you do capture the firebird and gain the fortune and glory that that entails, make sure to give me some credit. I'd go after it myself but I am, of course, female and thus have to stay here and do my nonexistent husband's bidding while learning how to cook and sew and be silent. God help the guy who kidnaps me to make me his wife. Seriously.

Do svidaniya,


Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Water

So, it's Blog Action Day once again, and I'm here to talk to you about water. Or, specifically, water bottles.

Yeah, I know. Just go with it. It's for a good cause.

Anyway, anyone who used to read my first Blog (all...I don't know, five of you) may remember that my relationship with this illustrious holiday has been somewhat turbulent. It was less that I wasn't interested in the cause, or with the idea behind the movement (actually, I'm a big fan of the idea of Bloggers banding together for charitable reasons) it was more the fact that every year I registered to participate, Blog Action Day happened to fall on a day in which I was doing seven thousand different things or I was nowhere near my computer. This has led to a number of amusing entries in which I try to discuss the important issue of the year, but fail miserably due to being exhausted and incoherent. A few gems include my fifteen-year-old self writing "Care for the environment, or the Lorax shall come after you in the night, provided there's still a night to come after you in." or, more infamously, my sixteen-year-old self passionately pleading in a video "Poverty sucks. And so you should do something about it, even something tiny, it's like It's A Small World, or something."

I was obviously extremely eloquent in high school.

Well, I'm nineteen now, in my second year of college, and have found myself, as is tradition, in the exact same position I was every other year I've tried to do this. It's midterm season, I had class all day, and then a meeting right after. Basically, I think I'm cursed when it comes to Blog Action Day, as I was going to make a legitimate effort to do know, meaningful. Instead, I'm going to talk about water bottles.

Water bottles are bad. They're fairly unnecessary, and extremely overpriced for what you're getting. My mother doesn't believe in them. Well, she believes in them in that she acknowledges they exist, but they're somewhat taboo in and around the house. Over 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the sheer amount of water bottles used in the US, as reported by Food and Water Watch, and despite the fact that they're all made of plastic, over 86% of them will never be recycled. To add to all this, most of the water in water bottles is, in fact, just tap water disguised by pictures of mountains and islands.

However, for some reason, we're all addicted to bottled water anyway. Why? Probably because the bottled water industry is doing it's absolute hardest to convince us that tap water is the ultimate root of all evil. We are extremely lucky in this country to have safe water at our finger tips, in several parts of the world, people would kill for our tap water, and yet we still worry about it's safety.

To sum it up, because, yes, I unfortunately have seven other things I need to be doing right now, don't buy bottled water. Or at least, don't view it as instantly superior to tap water. Chances are, they're the same thing anyway.

Happy Blog Action Day everyone. Please look up an entry that isn't this rushed and stupid. Here's hoping that one of these days, October 15th will not be an endless day of constant running around.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recollections Of A Convention

Yeah. That's right. New York Comic Con was just as epic as the music of Danny Elfman just made it look. I'm working on a complete video to document my experience, but for the moment, this is what I've got.

Conventions are possibly the most bizarre events in the history of themed events. It's difficult to describe them to people not "in the know" and even more difficult to explain why you would want to go to one in the first place. At it's core, a convention is a place where far too many people in spandex are crammed into a place that is never able to contain them, where people have fist fights over who the best Doctor or Star Trek captain was, and where you will inevitably find yourself out of money within the first few hours despite not intending to buy anything other than a comic book and some Pocky. It's hot, it's crowded, you're surrounded by people dressed as characters you've only barely ever heard of, and the only thing you can hear is the sound of some obscure J-Pop mixed awkwardly with the t
heme from Star Wars. It's nerds being nerdy, and if you're not into being nerdy, there's no way you'd be caught dead there.

But we nerds know better. Yes, comic, anime, and sci-fi conventions have their dark sides. They're certainly not a place you'd want to bring your psychiatrist to to prove that you lead a normal, healthy social life. But a convention is so much more than just a conclave of nerds in tight fitting spandex. On a slightly cruel level, they're possibly some of the only places you can go and not feel like the most pathetically nerdy person in the room. If conventions teach you anything, it should be that there is always someone nerdier than you. But beyond that, conventions are places without social stigmas. Do you genuinely like to walk around dressed like Batman and wish you could do it in public? Here you can. It's weird, but no one's going to think that when they themselves are dressed as Spider Man with a accompanying Mary Jane. In a world of quick, almost instant judgement, a convention is a place where you can legitimately do whatever you want (within reason, I'm pretty sure "though shalt not kill" still applies) and no one will think of you as anything other than just another person to talk to.

But then, this is common knowledge. Nerds have been flocking to conventions as a way to interact with like minded people since conventions were created. The chance to have a legitimate discussion about who the best Doctor was, or what the hell did happen at the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion, is an opportunity rarely found just walking down 34th street. Just as sports fans need to occasionally hang out in bars and debate over the accuracy of the referee's decisions with people just as passionate about it as they are, nerds need to get together and be unabashedly, shamelessly nerdy.

But the atmosphere of your typical convention has changed a bit in recent years. In the early days of conventions, from what I can gather, they were basically just hardcore Star Trek fans hanging around in Star Fleet t-shirts comparing model phasers. Tony Lee, the writer behind my favorite Doctor Who comic saga "The Forgotten, said at his panel at New York Comic Con this year that Doctor Who conventions were really just more of a small, very nerdy party. The same people showed up with a few drinks, they'd occasionally have a few guests, and that would be that.
Judging from this, I'd say the idea of conventions as small, intimate affairs, is now an incredibly inaccurate one to have.

New York Comic Con was held at the Jatvis Center on 34th street in Manhattan. It's a gigantic complex built for the enormous events that New York tends to attract, however, once professional hours ended and the doors opened to general ticket holders, the place was mobbed. It was absolutely impossible to move for a lot of it, and I frequently found myself caught in human traffic jams that would make Boston look tame in comparison. The convention itself was not limited to just one room, either, and yet everywhere I went, I was surrounded shoulder to shoulder with people.

So how did this happen? How did small, geeky gatherings of like-minded nerds suddenly become the social event of the year? (Well, ok, the social event of the east coast. Thanks, San Diego) The answer lies with popular culture.

Nerds are actually some of the most up to date people on the planet when it comes to current popular culture. Though typically represented in the media as being extremely out of touch people, in real life, they're probably the first to know when something is going on in the entertainment industry. Whether it's the director of the latest Superman movie, or the news of Lost's cancellation, those who are "mainstream" are never the ones to know first, it's those who are obsessed, the devotees, the nerds. Through the intensely geeky need to be constantly up to date, conventions have morphed from simply being a place to discuss something that used to be on TV into giant celebrations of both the best and latest of popular culture. While they remain places for nerds to meet up and speak nerd to each other, they've also become an important tool for being up to date with what's going on in the entertainment industry. As conventions started to get bigger, with more people and more important guests, movie studios, gaming industries, and comic book companies started to take notice. Studios began to see the incredible benefits to sending previews and representatives to conventions. Especially with the rise of the internet, in which geeks can instantly share information with the masses, conventions became a mecca for those interested in entertainment and for the entertainment industry to get it's message out there.

What this has created is an event that, while nerdy and frivolous, is extremely important to the entertainment industry. In a way, it proves just how important geeks and nerds are to popular culture. Yes, we do freak out over really stupid things like whether the Doctor's half-human (he's not, by the way) or whether the Star Wars prequels really were worthless (the first two were, the third one was ok) but we're also vitally important in giving our current generation a sense of identity. In fifty years, when people look back at the popular culture of the day, who is going to remember the people who weren't in the extreme? People will remember the Harry Potter craze, and the finale of Lost. Who says nerds are behind the times? They're not. If anything, they're the ones defining what the times look like, always the first to jump into a new show or explore a new craze. Conventions are not just places to compare toy light sabers, they're windows into the entertainment side of our current culture, as bizarre as the image inside might be.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Solla Sollew

So I'm back in New York. I live on the eighth floor of a fourteen story high rise building, with a giant window that spans almost an entire wall, and a shower that actually manages to stay one consistent temperature. I've managed to hook up both the cable and the internet, and despite having my first class in a wing that seems like something out of a slasher film, things are actually going pretty well for the start of a new semester.

It's funny, I feel like I'm a lot more laid back than I was when I started last year. I had so many expectations for what I wanted my college experience to be like, so many things I absolutely needed it to be in order for me to be content. I got hung up on all sorts of little things, I over thought, over analyzed, over...well, pretty much everything. I was a bit a of a wreck, to be honest,trying to fit in in a major I didn't quite belong in, tying to make my life be this perfect image I'd had in my head, trying to be this person I idolized.

There's a book by Dr. Seuss called I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew which, as a fair number of his books actually are, is not really written for kids. In it, an unnamed protagonist decides he wants to escape the problems of his life and go to Solla Sollew, a mythical place where "they never have troubles, at least only a few." So he goes on a rather epic quest, traveling an extreme distance, facing all sorts of perils until he finally gets to Solla Sollew. Unfortunately for him, after all the trouble he's faced, and the setbacks that tried to stop him, Solla Sollew is inaccessible. The city has only one trouble, and it's that a "key slapping slippard" has invaded the keyhole, and made it impossible to get in or out of the city. The gatekeeper says he's going to find another mythical problem free land, and offers to take the protagonist with him, but he refuses, instead taking out a bat and deciding to face his troubles head on, exclaiming "Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"

The book is heavy in metaphor, basically being a lesson in facing your demons rather than running away from them. It also points out that perfection is impossible to find, and that trying to will simply cause even more strife than you had before.

When I first came to college, I was looking for Solla Sollew. I'd just been through a hellish senior year, a depression that had been far harder to get out of than I'd expected, and a number of other things that I've already discussed to death in other entries. I had a desperation to get away, to go somewhere where I wouldn't have to think about, be bothered by, or even really confront everything I knew I should probably have done something about. It was kind of pathetic, actually, but I'm sure everyone's had a moment like that.

The problem was, I was expecting college to be that place. I wanted to go to New York, have it be the glittering place where dreams are made, and just forget everything that ever bothered me. I wanted to be a completely different person than the person I was in New Hampshire.

But of course, you can never get to Solla Sollew. New York was just New York, simultaneously the city of dreams and a noisy, crowded metropolis. My constant need for it to be perfect, and by extension, for me to be perfect, made the year a psychologically harrowing experience. Much like Dr. Seuss's protagonist, I went through more strife trying to find perfection than I ever would have if I'd just let my life be imperfect, and eventually, as is ultimately inevitable when you're trying to get to Solla Sollew, I discovered that a perfect college experience and a perfect sense of self is unobtainable. Things were just the way they were, people, places, and personalities. The best thing to do was to just take my bat and face the world.

So here I am now, one year on. Once again, I have the chance to start over, but you know, I think I'm just going to keep going. Starting over is useless when you have a perfectly fine life to begin with.

"I learned there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind...
But I've bought a big bat. I'm all ready, you see.
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!"


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cartoon Rant: The Fairly Odd Parents

Yes, I know I'm too old to be watching cartoons. I'm aware I really have no say in what happens in the world of animation, specifically with kids shows that are not in any way targeted at me, but I need to get this off my chest.

What the hell happened to this show?

Seriously, The Fairly Odd Parents was a show that, at one point, was popular enough to rival even the almighty Spongebob Squarepants in ratings. It was clever, funny, quick-witted, and while not exactly the comedic masterpiece of, say, The Animaniacs or Pinky and the Brain, it was generally well written and fun to watch.

Maybe I'm just overly nostalgic (which would be interesting, given that I'm probably a bit too young to be) but watching the show now, in those rare moments I happen to catch my sister watching it and I don't have to run off somewhere, is sort of like reaching for the last apple and realizing it's gone soft and rotten. You know it was once good, you can picture it being ripe and ready to go, but now it's just...not. It's a stale, mutated version of it's former self.

And yes, I realize I'm being melodramatic here. It's just hard to sit there and watch something that used to make you laugh just make you feel uncomfortable. There are some older episodes of this show that I still quote randomly in otherwise civilized conversation. When someone asks me where I got something, I will almost undoubtedly respond "Internet" in an amusing monotone, and yes, I do occasionally threaten to suck people's brains out through these...BENDY STRAWS!!

It's hard to pinpoint exactly when this show lost it. The writing has been steadily declining for a while, it's main characters being altered and exaggerated beyond recognition. It might be around the time creator Butch Hartman left to work on Danny Phantom, but again, it's really hard to tell. Personally, I attribute it to the moment that Ugopotamian warrior prince, Mark Chan, donned a human disguise and moved to Earth. The episodes that his character was in were always some of my favorites, and to this day, will still make me laugh hysterically. It was exciting to see him in the show, but ultimately, it's a simple rule of comedy to not overuse a joke. His character wasn't exactly increased, per say, but was significantly altered and made a permanent staple.

Keep in mind, this was long before the "Cousin Oliver" character of Poof, the fairy god baby, was added to the show. Seriously, why do network executives keep assuming that adding a random young kid to a declining show will "improve ratings" or "breath new life into it"? Has it ever been proven to work?

But when it comes down to it, what bothers me the most, is the protagonists. Take a look at the earlier episodes, Timmy is not exactly the brightest person you've ever met, but he's still a thousand times more intelligent than any of the adults, and in fact, most of the people around him at all. He was more snarky than stupid, and actually seemed to have some common sense to him. Cosmo, despite being clearly insane, was, again, more silly than just downright stupid, and was complimented by Wanda who, while definitely the most down-to-earth of the group, was just as off the wall as Cosmo.

Now watch some of the recent episodes. Timmy is annoying and selfish (except, so I've been told, in the recent Wishology episodes) Wanda is an offensively stereotypical female nag, and Cosmo has reached such extreme levels of stupidity that it's a wonder he can even function at all. The once clearly happily married fairy god parents have become just Wanda forcing Cosmo to be her bitch, despite the fact that it was stated very early on that Cosmo ran away from home, of his own free will, specifically to marry Wanda. It's gotten to the point where Cosmo is willing to literally trade Wanda in for a nickel. They were once a rare example of a legitimately positive and functional couple, one that is somewhat worryingly lacking in kids shows. It kills me that it's been mutilated into a stereotype-laden mess.

But again, I'm probably over-analyzing. Shows jump the shark all the time, they live long past their welcome and end up a barely recognizable shell of their former selves. Look at Scrubs, look at Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain, hell, look at later Rugrats. This is nothing new, it's just sad. It makes me angry when writers think that kids won't notice when characters are horribly altered, or the jokes aren't really funny anymore. Just because they're kids doesn't mean they don't notice when a show has seriously lost it's mojo, that's why ratings decline and shows eventually end up doomed to land of 3AM re-runs.

And seriously, don't even get me started on the live-action adaption. Has Nickelodeon learned nothing from the atrocity that was M. Night Shymalan's The Last Airbender? Why can't animation just stay animation? Is that so wrong?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Doctor Who Theme

[WARNING: I apparently suck at embedding videos, because they've all come out the wrong size and you can only see half of them. Sorry about that. Click on the videos themselves and they'll take you to the YouTube page. Enjoy.]

Let's talk about Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is one of those shows that really makes you wonder. It's currently the longest running science fiction show still on television, having been first aired in 1963, and despite a brief sixteen year gap in which all we saw was an American-made TV movie, it continues to have a strong fanbase and a modern popularity that continually breaks UK records. There's something about the show that is, quite simply, enduring. There's something about it that has managed to keep untold amounts of geeks, nerds, and even casual television viewers tuning in every time it's on. It is it's mysterious protagonist? It's imaginative plots? It's ability to change and adapt without becoming something unrecognizable? Is it really the addition of a robot dog?

The answer, like the show, isn't that simple. There are a lot of reasons why Doctor Who has managed to remain a staple of televised science fiction for so long. It would be impossible to try and list all the things the show has going for it, so for the moment, I won't. Right now, I'm going to focus on just one thing, one simple thing that has probably had ten times more impact on the longevity of the show than most people realize. The theme song.

The theme song to Doctor Who is one of the most easily recognizable themes in television history. It's widely regarded as an innovative and important piece in the history of electronic music, and most agree that it is incredibly impressive for it's time, having been created well before the invention of modern synthesizers. The score itself was written by Ron Grainer, but it was the efforts of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that made it into the piece we all know and love. Utilizing a bizarre mix of techniques that included individually creating each note by cutting, splicing, speeding up, and slowing down segments of analogue tapes containing single recordings of plucked strings, white noise, and simple harmonic waveforms of test-tone oscillators, Delia Derbyshire and her team carefully crafted the haunting opening almost completely from scratch. When Ron Grainer finally heard the completed track, he was stunned and could only ask "Did I write that?" to which Derbyshire replied "Most of it."

Unfortunately for Derbyshire, the BBC's desire to keep the members of the Radiophonic Workshop anonymous kept her from getting a co-composer credit, as well as a share of the song's royalties. Good work, BBC.

The piece has been re-recorded and rearranged a number of times over the years, usually whenever a new Doctor takes over. The theme has been rearranged during a specific actor's tenure, particularly during the new series, but no matter how many times the theme is changed or adapted, just like the show, it has managed to remain the icon opening that has both fascinated and frightened Doctor Who fans for over forty-five years.

Let's take a look at these multiple themes, shall we?

The First Doctor's Theme: 1963-1966

This is the original. The theme is short and simple, but makes a clear impact, drawing you into the mystery of the show. This is probably the most enigmatic of the opening sequences, in that it tells you absolutely nothing about the show apart from it's name, not including the TARDIS, the Doctor's face, or even the time vortex. All we're given is a series of smoky white lines that move through each other, giving it all a very ghostly feel. Given the unbelievably shadowy origins of the Doctor at this point in the series - all we know about him is that he is an alien of indeterminate age who travels through time in a clunky old ship that looks like a police box. At this point we don't even know what planet he's from or what species he is - I think this theme really works. It's creepy, mysterious, and is like nothing you've ever seen before. If anything captures the Doctor during these beginning stages of the show, it's this theme.

The Second Doctor's Theme: 1966-1969

With the second Doctor, we're introduced for the first time to the concept of regeneration, that the Doctor has the ability to regenerate into a new body if he should ever get killed (ever equaling about twelve, depending on who you ask) It was a big step at this point in the show, and a risky one. Most shows who just randomly switch their lead actor would mostly likely never survive, but this show did. The title sequence, musically the same as the original, evokes both familiarity and mystery, maintaining the same ghostly feel to it, but with addition of the Doctor's face so you're aware who your protagonist is and which actor you're watching. The addition of the Doctor's face to the opening sequence stays with the series until the 1996 television movie, and remains an iconic way to establish the era of the series.

The Third Doctor's Theme #1: 1970-1973

Here we see the first theme in color, and probably the first one that can truly be described as "psychedelic" rather than "ghostly". Visually, we have the same style of mirrored lines moving in and out of each other, with the addition of a spiral effect towards the end once the Doctor's face disappears. This version also marks the first time the theme itself has been altered, with the disappearance of the melodic "middle eight" melody from the end of the theme, in favor of a repetition of an earlier portion of the piece. Also changed is the fade out at the end, being replaced with the repeated portion of the score.

The Third Doctor's Theme #2: 1973-1974

This is the theme that changed everything. Musically, it's the exact same as the previous theme, with the repeated end as opposed to a fade out and the deletion of the middle eight. Visually, however, we see the first theme to move away from it's previous established formula of ghostly moving lines, and instead employ a tunnel effect. The second half of the theme, in which the tunnel takes over the screen, will come to be probably the most iconic of the opening sequences during the Fourth Doctor's era. The interesting thing about this one, though, is that though it is at time identical to the theme coming up, it differs by using stars shooting towards the screen, and a full body shot of the Doctor as opposed to just his face. To be honest, this isn't my favorite sequence. I feel like this one's a bit busy and confusing, and lacks the simplicity of the ones I prefer, plus the full-body shot of the Doctor is a bit weird. The nice thing about it though, is that it led into...

The Fourth Doctor's Theme #1: 1974-1980

Nine times out of ten, when a person thinks about the classic series of Doctor Who, this is the theme they think about. This is the one most associated with the fourth Doctor, and with Doctor Who itself, and that is due to the simple fact that it is awesome. It's just awesome. The sequence begins with these two lines that look like walls, shooting downwards towards the center of the screen, which then suddenly expand and turn into the walls of a tunnel that surrounds the TARDIS. The TARDIS shoots towards us and dissolves into a circular tunnel that reveals the Doctor's face, which then dissolves into the now iconic diamond logo, which shoots down a now diamond shaped tunnel and reveals the title of the episode. The sequence flows really well, and while it's just as complicated as the previous sequence, it doesn't feel as disjointed or confusing. It was the longest running title sequence and is, in my opinion, the best.

The Fourth Doctor's Theme #2: 1980-1981

Wow. So, this sequence is by far the most radically different of every opening we've seen. This sequence debuts a brand new rearrangement of the song by Peter Howell, which was preformed on synthesizers and designed to sound less haunting. Personally, I think theres's something slightly more eerie about this theme, maybe it's because I've never been a huge fan of synthesizers. Visually the sequence has also been radically altered, choosing to go with a more distinct outer space motif as opposed to the previously more ambiguous series of visuals. The Doctor has been reduced to just a face shooting oddly towards us, and the logo has shifted to something decidedly more 80's. I don't particularly hate this theme, I just prefer the one before it. I associate it more with the fifth Doctor since it was used entirely through his tenure, and was only used for one season of the Fourth Doctor's.

The Fifth Doctor's Theme: 1981-1984

There's not much to say about this sequence, it's both visually and musically identical to the previous one. It's a shame, since the fifth Doctor was very, very different from the fourth Doctor, and really should have been given his own title sequence instead of a rehash of his predecessor's. But then, I don't work for the BBC.

The Sixth Doctor's Theme #1: 1984-1986

And here we go again, the same intro as the previous two but with the Sixth Doctor instead of the Fifth. This particular era in Doctor Who history is a controversial one, and is generally regarded as a low point in the quality of the show. It's actually somewhat fitting that the opening sequence is just a rehash of the previous two. However, as with the previous Doctor, I don't blame Colin Baker for this dark period of the show, his Doctor had a lot of potential, and really should have got his own damn sequence.

The Sixth Doctor's Theme #2: 1986

I suppose this is a clear case of "be careful what you wish for". This sequence was only used for one season, the 12-part epic "Trial of a Timelord" serial that turned out to be Colin Baker's last. The theme has once again been drastically rearranged, this time by Dominic Glynn, and was an attempt to bring some "mystery" back into the sequence, and to the show itself. The piece certainly does sound a bit, obvious, if only because I can't quite figure out what it's going for. This was reportedly performed on three different synthesizers, which probably explains why I don't care for it very much. Visually, the sequence is about the same as the previous three but with slightly updated graphics. I'm really starting to get bored of this opening sequence recap.

The Seventh Doctor's Theme: 1987-1989

Whoa...what? Just...ok. So, where do I start with this one? The theme has once again been rearranged, this time by Keff McCulloch using a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 synthesizer. The piece reintroduces the middle eight into the song, but does replace it's opening sting with some sort of electronic explosion. Visually the sequence is...weird. And that's saying something for this series. We're in space, and there's a purple galaxy, and there's these poorly rendered astroids going after them, and then the TARDIS is in this blue bubble thing, which is then on top of the galaxy, which then vanishes to reveal the Doctor's sort of creepy moving face, which winks at you and then explodes only to reveal the really stupid looking late 80's's just weird. The producers of the show at the time apparently stated that the sequence was supposed to breath new life into the show and give it a fresh start, just looks like they're trying a bit too hard to be epic. The best opening sequences of the series have been simple, the simple but haunting theme, the creepy, mysterious visuals, and the fluidity of the sequence has a whole. This one just looks...bizarre. It's overblown and dated and doesn't do the seventh Doctor any justice at all.

The Eight Doctor's Theme: 1996

This isn't really an opening sequence, exactly, it's the title sequence to the 1996 TV movie, and it's really a shame it's not usually considered a complete sequence, because it's really awesome. The theme is fully orchestrated by John Debney, and despite the fact that it lacks the creepy electronic stuff that makes the theme infamous, it still manages to sound just as exciting. The music starts off slow, underscoring the Eight Doctor's narration, and then builds to a crescendo before suddenly hitting you with the middle eight, which then majestically segues into the main theme. It's interesting to note the this is the only time the middle eight is ever performed before the main theme, and for some reason, it works flawlessly here. The visuals of the sequence are simple and epic, shooting the opening credits at you in perfect time with the music, and manage to really get you pumped for this movie. It's a shame the Master sucked so much here, as both this sequence, and the Eight Doctor himself proved to actually be surprisingly awesome.

The Ninth Doctor's Theme: 2005

And now we enter the modern era. Yes, the 2005 reboot of the series (and by reboot, I mean continuation of the classic series despite what some crazed old school fans will tell you) was exciting in a number of ways, once of which was the decidedly kick ass opening theme. This theme is awesome. Arranged by Murry Gold, it manages to combine both the electronic feel of the original theme and the fully orchestrated excitement of the movie's theme. The theme lacks the middle eight, but that's alright, because it gets added later. The theme introduces a completely new composition in the form of a rising and falling string melody, which I think adds a sense of urgency to it, keeping with the new series more fast paced tone. The theme does lack some of the mysterious quality of the original theme, which is a bit disappointing, especially since this first new series spent a lot of time trying to build up the Doctor's mystique again, but it's a thousand times better than the Sixth or Seventh Doctor's theme, and for that I am eternally gratefully to Mr. Murry Gold. Also of note, the visuals are simple and colorful, combining the circular tunnel motif of the Fourth Doctor's era with the outer space motif of later eras, and as with the music, managing to merge the two extremely well. It's not a perfect sequence, but it's a very good start to what is, in fact, an extremely good continuation of the series.

The Tenth Doctor's Theme #1: 2006-2007

This theme is basically the same as the Ninth Doctor's theme except that we now get to see David Tennant's name instead of Christopher Eccelston's. The middle eight is still absent from the opening, but has been restored to the closing credits at the request of David Tennant (who is himself a die-hard Whovian). Not much else to say.

The Tenth Doctor's Theme #2: 2008-2009

This theme is basically just a rearrangement of the previous theme, with some added strings and percussion. The logo has changed color slightly, but other than that, the sequence remains virtually unchanged. The new series under the charge of Russel T. Davies seemed all about making the series "bigger and better" to the point where occasionally it started to get obnoxious. This sequence and arrangement isn't obnoxious, it's just...big. Maybe it's just me.

The Eleventh Doctor's Theme: 2010-present

Ok, now we've reached it, the newest opening sequence to come out of the show. I have to tell you, I absolutely love it, and I have no idea why. Once again we have a new rearrangement by Murry Gold, with an even more intense orchestral intro before we hit the electronic melody. There's a part of me that's saying that this is too overblown again, that despite the fact that they've clearly used the original masters from Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire's recording back in the 60's, that the whole thing is just too big and over the top, but for some reason, I just don't care. This sequence is awesome, easily the best of the new series sequences so far. I love the visuals, the blue, smoky tunnel and the lightening that heralds the appearance of the actor's names and I love the TARDIS falling into the fire and finding the logo. I think the new logo looks sleek without trying to be, and I think the sequence as a whole, against all logic, flows really well. The feel of it suits the excellent tone of the Eleventh Doctor's series, and really gets you pumped for Doctor Who.

But wait! I'm not done yet. Oh no. These were the main themes, but there were a few other arrangements that a lot of people don't realize ever existed.

The Delaware Theme: 1971

In 1971 there was an attempt by the Radiophonic Workshop to modernize the theme using the new Delaware synthesizer. The remix was done by Brian Hodgson and Paddy Kingsland, and was produced by Delia Derbyshire herself. The peice was not well received by the BBC, and despite the fact that they had already mixed the theme into the episodes, the BBC rejected it. Most of the copies of the episodes were edited to remove the Delaware theme and replace it with the previously used theme from the 1960's, but a few episodes were accidentally sent out to Australia with the Delaware theme still completely intact. To be honest, I can sort of see why the BBC didn't really like it. It's interesting, sure, but it doesn't sound like the Doctor Who theme I know and love, it doesn't even really sound like another version of it, it's almost a different piece entirely. Plus, as I previously established, I'm really not big on synthesizers.

The Big Finish Audio Theme: 2001-2008

This was the theme used for a series of Doctor Who audio dramas produced by Big Finish (which if you're a Doctor Who fan, you should really track down) The arrangement was done by David Arnold, and to be honest, I like it a lot. As much as I love the fully orchestrated version from 1996, or the newest one that combines the orchestrated version with the original version, I love the simplicity of this one. It's spooky, but still has a very modern sound, matching original show producer Verity Lambert's original request that the music be "familiar yet different." I like the tone of it, I like the simplicity of it, and I'm really sad there were never any visuals to accompany it.

Dimentions in Time Theme: 1993

Oh Dear God. There's a reason people like to forget about "Dimentions in Time" the 1993 charity special that combined Doctor Who with a British soap opera. I know it's not supposed to be cannon or anything, and it's all just in fun...but God, this theme sounds like it's on speed. About three minutes in you start hearing ominous voices in the background of the piece, under this terrible synthesized drum beat that just doesn't sound anything like Doctor Who. God, as weird as I thought the Seventh Doctor's theme was, this was decidedly weirder.

Scream of the Shalka Theme: 2003

This was the theme from an animated webcast that the BBC attempted to proclaim was the newest canon incarnation of the Doctor. Yeah. Needless to say, once the new series came along the BBC was like "Nope! Never mind, he's totally non-canon after all, you can forget all about this!" and the world of Doctor Who moved on. The webcast wasn't particularly bad, if you can stand the limited flash animation, it just wasn't amazing. The theme is...well, pretty straight forward. It's small, but not really in a way that stands out, and it's really just not that interesting.

And so there you have it, the Doctor Who theme through it's many incarnations. To this day it remains one of the most enduring and well remembered themes in television history. As the new series continues, who know what they'll do to it next, but hopefully they'll always manage to capture the spirit of original, even if only a little.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beyond Infinity: Toy Story 3

When a film is advertised as being "fun for the whole family" very rarely does the whole family find it fun to watch. The child is amused, maybe, and will probably watch it several thousand times more if only for background noise, but that's about it. The adults, for the most part, are bored. As are the teenagers, and as are the kids that fall into that difficult to define "older children" demographic. We've all seen these "family friendly" films before, maybe with slightly different characters or situations, but with the same overall plot, jokes and stereotypes. The term "family film" has come to mean "film in which my two-year-old will force me to go to and will invariably involve the line 'say hello to my little friend' spoken horribly out of context" It seemed, for quite a while, that a film in which the entire family - mom, dad, older sibling, younger sibling, baby - could be entertained and take something from just didn't exist. A film was either a "children's movie" a "teen movie" or an "adult movie" There was no crossover.

Then came Pixar.

Suddenly you saw adults of all ages, twenties, thirties, all the way up to their seventies or eighties lining up to see Finding Nemo, a movie that, at it's core, is a children's cartoon about fish. Legitimate film critics were raving about the last fifteen minutes of Ratatouille, while college students all over the world were writing papers on the political connotations of Wall-E. Grown men, people who have never shed a single tear in their life, were bawling during the opening of Up! a movie which, along with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, is one of only two animated movies to have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The rise of Pixar is a phenomenon of unparalleled proportions, somehow managing to raise family fare to an art form and never let it fall.

So how does Pixar do it? How does this tiny company, which began in 1979 as a software company, create such beautiful films that the Academy itself is forced to acknowledge them?

Much as how John Hughes achieved success by making "films about teenagers" rather than just "teen movies" Pixar succeeds by telling stories rather than just making "kids movies". The studio does not go out to make the next G-Force or Marmaduke, it doesn't set it's sights on creating the next big "kids movie" it simply starts with a story. Is the story necessarily a kid's story? Not really. A robot left alone on a post-apocalyptic Earth doesn't exactly scream "kid's fare" and yet, the story was told. It's not that Pixar doesn't create films with children in mind, every story they tell is very carefully crafted to be one that a child could understand, they simply don't feel the need to rely on previously conceived "kids movie" cliches to make it into a successful movie for kids. Their stories are some of the most honest tales currently in Hollywood, stories that rely on legitimate emotion rather than the same repeated joke. They are films before they are "kids movies" and can thus be held on the same pedestal as traditional "adult" fare.

Never was this ability put into more effect than in Pixar's most recent film, the highly anticipated Toy Story 3. In this, Pixar proves once again that not only can they make a compelling, gorgeously put together sequel that almost rivals the original in quality, but they can create a film that is watchable, and re-watchable literally by all ages. The story is a heartbreaking look at childhood, being at once celebratory and tear-inducing. It honors childhood while examining and acknowledging it's eventual end, allowing the need to move on and grow up to not be a tragedy, but simply the next step.

The plot is, actually, pretty simple. Andy, the toy's owner, is going to college, and the toys are worried that this is the end of them. Through a few amusing mishaps, the gang ends up getting donated to a local daycare, a place that at first seems perfect - they will always be played with and will never be outgrown- but in fact turns out to be a rather frightening den of pain and despair, as the children of the daycare treat them like normal toddlers treat their toys as opposed to Andy's lovingly imaginative playtime.

Despite how nightmare inducing the entire daycare sequence is, I think it's one of the first lines you hear there that really gave me chills. Upon arrival, they are greeted by a large pink "Lots-o-Hugs" bear who tells them that, in daycare, there are no owners, and with no owners there is no pain and "no one to hurt them." I think it's the lack of feeling behind it that gets to me, especially once you get further into Lotso's character.

As a person who just recently left home and went to college, this movie personally hit me hard. It's difficult to say what moment made me cry first. Was it the moment young Andy's sister knocked down his play set and he just incorporated it into his toy fantasy? Was it when he rolled his eyes at his mother telling him to do something about his old toys and his conflicted look back at them as her request actually sinks in? Or was it the moment when the toys are faced basically with their own deaths and Jessie turns to Buzz and asks "What do we do?" and his only response is to take her hand and simply look at her in a way that says ten times more than any possible words could say?

It's hard to say. If I had to pick, it was probably the ending, which I would describe but I don't want to spoil. It was one of the most beautiful sequences I think I've ever seen in any movie, let alone an animated movie, and proves once again just how much of a command Pixar has over stories and emotions. Whatever age you are, you will be touched by this moment. Whether you are the adult saying goodbye to your child, the teenager getting ready to leave home, or the child still happily allowed to just sit and play with your toys, you will get caught up in the sheer poignancy of it and, yes, will most likely catch yourself shedding a tear.

The definition of a "family film" is one that can be enjoyed by every member of a family. Despite the derailment this definition has been suffering from lately, Pixar, and in particular Toy Story 3, has managed to single handedly resurrect the genre. Toy Story 3 is a movie that anyone can watch, and not feel like they're the wrong age to be watching it. It is a film with both comedy and heart, and a depth to it that surpasses much of today's adult fare while still being conceivable to kids. It is the type of movie I have been waiting to see, and one that I hope desperately to see more of.

Pixar has indeed done it again. Long may they rein.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Just A Note

This is just to point out that I'm aware of the five million spelling and grammatical in my previous post, as well as the stunningly bad writing. Be aware that though I claimed it was one in the morning, it was really more like two thirty or three, and I had been working all day (at Ace Hardware, no less) and had basically lost my sanity anyway. Why I decided it would be a good idea to discuss my recent stunning achievement in nerdiness, I really have no idea. But, there it is. A full blown, honest to God, legitimate rant.

I should really learn to not Blog at three in the morning.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Terrors of Yu-Gi-Oh (Or, How To Survive Being Eaten By A Dragon)

So, as has probably been made abundantly clear throughout the nine entries of this blog, I am insane. Like, completely and utterly crazy. I may seem like a smart, quirky college student with a bit too much free time on my hands, but the reality is that these seemingly lucid moments are just a mask for the sheer madness that is me.

Luckily though, there are moments when I'm not alone in my lunacy. It's in moments where I've particularly lost it that I tend to be joined by my resident long suffering best friend Casey.

Casey and I have known each other for a grand total of about fourteen years, which considering the fact that we're both currently nineteen is a really, really long time. Somehow, despite the fact that I tend to randomly appear at her house at completely ridiculous hours to rant at her or kidnap her or do any number of other insane things, for some reason she still hangs around with me. That's the power of friendship for you, I guess.

And, speaking of the power of friendship, what's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of it? Why Yu-Gi-Oh, of course!

Ah yes, Yu-Gi-Oh. Everyone's favorite card game related anime. For those of you not in the know, Yu-Gi-Oh is a show that aired on Kid's WB back in the early 2000's, best known for making absolutely no sense, having a terrible English dub, and for popularizing a Magic: The Gathering ripoff game that kids would occasionally play in participating Toys R Us stores. It was big back when I was in middle school, and though I didn't quite understand what was going on (I wasn't terribly interested in card games and missed most of the first half of season two) I watched it when I caught it and made a legitimate effort to figure out why this kid with a split personality disorder kept getting screamed at while playing with trading cards. By the time I got to high school, the craze had basically worn off and people had either forgotten about it, or had written it off as a Pokemon ripoff.

Then came LittleKuriboh. LK is the creator, writer, editor, and sole voice actor of Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series, an absolutely brilliant attempt to summarize the entire series by chopping up episodes, re-dubbing them, and making them even more ridiculous than they already are. The episodes are up on YouTube, and despite their numbers now being up in the forties, they remain consistently well written, put together, and performed. The popularity of the series is both incredible and well deserved, being one of the few complete internet series I will watch over and over again and still laugh at. It took the internet by storm and created an entire genre of "Abridging" random anime shows.

I first saw the series when I was a sophomore in high school and started really getting into it when I was a junior. Despite how ridiculous I knew the show was, watching it made me want to revisit some of the actual episodes. Being a Sailor Moon fan, I wisely knew to stay away from the dub, and this time explored some of the show in Japanese.

The verdict? It's about the same. Some things are slightly more epic, like villains being actually able to kill people, and Yami/Yugi's voice actor not being so hammy, but for the most part you're still watching a show that revolves basically around a bunch of unsupervised kids running around the world playing card games that apparently decide the fate of the universe. Or something. There's a season that was animated by a different company called "Season 0" that actually is kind of epic if you're willing to put up with the terrible animation quality, but for the most part, the show is basically what you see in the Abridged Series, except the characters take themselves seriously.

So what does this have to do with Casey and my own insanity? That's a very interesting question with a very bizarre and slightly nerdy answer. At some point in early 2009, back when I was having some sort of end-of-high-school-existential-crisis, I decided to watch the fourth season of Yu-Gi-Oh. Why? I don't know, I was losing my mind at the time. The fourth season is generally regarded to be the worst of the show's five, the plot being completely derailed for an entire season to make way for a completely ridiculous unrelated story about Atlantis and a bunch of dragons. Yeah. The animation is terrible, the voice acting goes way over the top, even in Japanese, and the plot is so convoluted and hard to follow it could almost rival Neon Genesis Evangelion for it's sheer level of incomprehensibility.

For some reason, after making my way through a few of the episodes, getting confused, looking up the synopsis on Wikipedia, trying again, getting more confused, consulting an episode guide, and finally just getting angry, I decided to tell Casey about it. In excruciating detail. For two straight hours.

I really do wonder sometimes why Casey still hangs out with me...

But luckily, rather than decide I had truly lost it, or perhaps realizing I had and just deciding to go with it, Casey came up with a brilliant challenge. At that moment, at some point in February 2009, the two of us decided to do the impossible. We were going to watch the entire fourth season of Yu-Gi-Oh, in Japanese, all the way through, from first episode to the last, and try our hardest to live through it.

Well, dear readers, I can now officially say that a year and a half later, the two of us have, indeed, finished the entire season and lived to tell about it. It was a grueling task, one made all the more difficult by the fact that we were in completely different states for most of it, but we pulled it off. On my birthday, no less.

So what did we think of it? Well...the general consensus is that it's a mind screw. It makes no sense in either English or Japanese and probably never will. Casey's reaction, being the sane one in our dynamic duo, was pretty temperate. She thought it was confusing and random and had to follow, all the basic things we had known it was going to be going into it. My reaction, being me, was a bit more...extreme.

Warning: The following synopsis was written entirely from memory at one in the morning. Expect things to be confusing, and expect there to be profanity.

The season opens in Japan. Maybe. Yami, the Pharaoh in Yugi's head who isn't actually named Yami, is all "We've found the three Egyptian God Cards, now we can unlock my memory" and Yugi's all "But I'll miss you!" and there's some sad stuff going on. Luckily, at that exact moment, a group of evil motorcycle riding cosplayers sweep in and steal the God Cards, ruining Not-Yami's chance at regaining his memories and leaving Yugi's head. Damn. The cosplayers are revealed to be working for this unbelievably effeminate-looking guy called "Dartz" who seems to be running some sort of evil cult thing. He's all "MWAHAHAHAHAHA!! At last, we can begin our evil plan to do something that will DESTROY THE WORLD!! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!" to which his henchmen respond with something along the lines of "Yes, Master!" It's around this point that Casey and I were suddenly bombarded with advertisements for the chruch of Scientology, so of course we automatically assumed that the evil religion Dartz is serving is, in fact, Scientology.

Back with Yugi/Yami, Yugi is trying to sleep but gets pulled into Yami's mind. The two of them take all of one second to try and puzzle this out before hearing a scream and deciding it would be a better idea to running after that. They end up falling into some sort of alternative universe thing where Duel Monsters, the monsters on the cards used to play their epic card game, are apparently real despite the fact that they've been previously established as being fictional. Whatever. Supposedly they're still in Yami's mind despite being in an alternate dimension, but again, I don't really care enough to try and figure out how the hell that works. One of Yugi's favorite cards, the Dark Magician Girl tells them that the world of the duel monsters is collapsing and they need three legendary warriors who can control the three legendary dragons to save their world and restore balance to the multiverse. Yami and Yugi, who apparently only count as one warrior despite clearly being two separate identities, are naturally one of the chosen warriors and are told to pull a random sword that is never seen again out of a giant, dragon-shaped ice crystal. They do so, and the dragon they instantly know is named "Timeaus" is unleashed, somehow transporting them not only out of this weird alternate dimension, but throwing Yugi back into his own body. Or something. Maybe.

So then duel monsters start coming to life in the real world. Oh no. There's this big epic eye thing in the sky and all of Japan is like "ZOMG! THE MAYANS WERE RIGHT!" and start panicking in the streets like usual. Yugi's three friends, Jonouchi, Honda, and alternatively Anzu/Kyoko depending on what the subtitles feel like calling her, all show up in exactly the same spot Yugi runs to and start panicking like the rest of the world. Yugi stands around looking confused for a second before pulling out a card he just suddenly happened to find in his deck (why was he looking through his deck in the middle of a national emergency?) which instantly turns into the powerful dragon Timeaus. Apparently, this not only stops the eye thingy, but pisses off the evil Dartz, who is somehow able to see this from his super secret lair in the middle of nowhere.

So yeah. Everyone decides to blame Seto Kaiba for all this, due to him being the creator of the hologram technology that makes duel monsters appear during duels. Despite the fact the monsters are clearly NOT holograms, and are destroying buildings and stuff, the world turns against him so he goes to America to recover. The rest of the gang are sitting at home wondering if they should be doing something when suddenly the creepy pedophile guy who calls everyone "boy" shows up and tells them to go the US to save him. So they do.

They end up at some building in a desert that now inexplicably exists just outside of San Francisco where they discover a whole bunch of people who give them various bits of exposition, like the fact that the evil cosplayers are members of the Church of Scientology and are taking people's souls with an evil card called the "Seal of Something I Can't Pronounce or Spell" that feeds on the darkness in human souls or something, and the fact that Jonouchi and Kaiba are the other two legendary warriors, and the fact that Jonouchi's occasional love interest Mai became a Scientologist because she kept losing at things, and the fact that Yami's not sure whether or not he was a good or evil king back in Ancient Egypt, and the fact that the card game apparently originated in Atlantis rather than Egypt which was never mentioned before and is never brought up again, and that these two bug kids followed them all the way from Japan and to look for rare cards and end up selling their soul to Scientology in order to get them.

Also they meet up with Otogi, better known as Duke Devlin, who randomly shows up in the US in the exact location they're currently at because the US is just that small. Whatever. They needed a car.

So they go to some little girl they once met's trailer and decide to angst for a while because cosplayers are after them and Mai's a scientologist and the pedophile guy is dead. At some point they get a message from the really big blonde cosplayer that Yami should show up in the middle of the desert to duel him, so Yami jumps on a horse and rides through the desert in the middle of the night to go play a card game.

This part would have been one of the most ridiculous things I've ever seen, if not for the rest of the series. Just wait.

So Yami battles the blonde cosplayer, who is all "NAMELESS PHARAOH, YOU WERE TOTALLY EVIL IN YOUR PAST LIFE, GIVE INTO THE DARKNESS IN YOUR HEART" to which the Pharaoh's all "No! I won't! I'm not evil! And I'm going to prove it by using this cursed evil card thing that will make me completely evil and immerse me in darkness!"

So then Yami kills Yugi. Oops. He angsts about that for a bit and becomes convinced that he's actually evil and stuff. This inner conflict is actually kind of cool if you don't try to get too deep into analyzing it. They go on a train for some reason and get split up when the train randomly derails because of magic or something. Yami kills one of the bug kids in a particularly brutal fashion which gets Anzu/Kyoko kind of mad, but it's ok because they fall of the train and wake up with this native American guy and his daughter. Jonouchi kills the other bug kid on the other side of the non-plot, while somewhere else Kaiba battles one of the cosplayers who just happens to have a suspiciously similar life to him. My God. The symbolism. It's breathtaking.

So Native American guy and his daughter/granddaughter take Yami to this sacred spirit place where he can talk to Yugi. He does this and Yugi's all "YOU KILLED ME!" and Yami's all "I'M SORRY!" and Yugi's all "I THINK YOU'RE EVIL AND STUFF!!" and Yami's all "YEAH, I PROBABLY AM" and they have a battle. At some point it's revealed that Yami is the Chosen One, the savior of all of humanity, which is a surprise to no one since he's Yami and he's ALWAYS the Chosen One. Anyways, Yami defeats Yugi and Yugi's all "JUST KIDDING! I DON'T REALLY THINK YOU'RE EVIL AND I ACTUALLY JUST REPRESENT YOUR INNER DARK SIDE WHICH YOU'VE JUST DEFEATED!! OR SOMETHING!!" and then he dies, and Yami's all "AIBOU!!!" which means "partner" in Japanese, which adds all sorts of interesting connotations to this, AND THEN THE ROBOTS OF EXPOSITION SHOW UP!

Seriously, I'm not kidding. In the middle of this epic spirit place, someone decides it would be a good idea to throw in some exposition about Atlantis and the fact that Dartz used to be the king of it but messed everything up by taking in the Seal of Something I Can't Pronounce which made him all evil and turned him into a Scientologist bent on destroying the world, but instead of just having someone tell us this, they send in these ANCIENT ATLANTEAN ROBOTS to do it instead, and there's this big battle with these Atlantean exposition robots during which the Native American guy and his daughter/grand daughter both die while trying to get Yami the all important plot device card so he can make the robots stop expositing at him, and then there's something with Anzu/Kyoko...I don't care. But it all ends and Yami's happy and they decide to go off and find everyone else.

So they find everyone else. They're all hanging out in this random city battling people. Kaiba defeats his sympathetic cosplayer guy and runs off to join the others despite not really liking them very much (btw, doesn't he own a multi-million dollar company or something? Who's keep track of that?) and they all meet up just in time to watch Jonouchi get killed by his now psycho ex-girlfriend who immediately blames it on the Church of Scientology and runs inside to confront Dartz. This is, of course, not a wise move, as she is instantly killed and that's basically the last we hear of her. There's some other battle where Yami goes up against the guy who defeated him before when he killed Yami, but honestly, I just don't care.

So they finally find the lair of the Church of Scientology and they finally decide to go up against Dartz. Kaiba and Yami decide to tag team it since they've already lost one of their "legendary duelists" and this Dartz guy/girl/thing looks pretty crazy. They have this big battle during which there's some more exposition about Atlantis and humanity sucking and Dartz deciding the only way to cure human suffering is to kill everyone off. Human Instrumentality, much?

I'd like to point out here that this one battle goes on for SIX EPISODES. Six episodes of people shouting things at each other while playing the most dramatic fucking card game I've ever seen against a villain that just WON'T FUCKING DIE. GAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

Anyway. Moving right along. At some point Kaiba gets killed in a scene I actually like better in English. In Japanese he says something like "I believe in you, Yugi" or "You have to save us now" or something, in the English dub he just looks at Yami and says "Don't screw up." It's funny and so very Kaiba, and considering how confusing and bad this ending is I could have used a funny moment to help keep my sanity because honestly, I think I'm losing my mind just trying to type all this out.

So now Kaiba's dead. Oh no. Dartz ups his power level/life points/sailor crystal magic up to infinity making it EVEN MORE IMPOSSIBLE TO KILL HIM, and then kills everyone except Yami. Dartz is all "You have no one left, Nameless Pharaoh, you were probably evil your past life, but you have no memory, you have nothing, why don't you kill yourself?" to which Yami in his infinite wisdom says "Yeah, that sounds like a great idea" when suddenly all these lights pop up out of nowhere and his friends' ghosts show up and we cut to a scene of Yami naked underwater with a cup in his hand talking about filling it with his new memories and feelings and stuff, and whatever attack he was going to use to kill himself just sort of vanishes.

Now, here's where it gets really trippy. So, Dartz is all "Ok, so you're not going to die, I can live with that, I have infinite life points so you're pretty much screwed anyway." To which Yami replies "Ah, no I'm not, bitch" and proceeds to summon the three dragons' true forms, the three legendary warriors, which for some reason he now happens to have all the cards for, who descend from the heavens and stand around looking impressive. You think this will be the end for Dartz, it's usually around this point that Yami wins and the damn game is over, BUT NO, Dartz turns out to be harder to kill than Rasputin and manages to hold his ground for ANOTHER TWO EPISODES.

Eventually, Yami does manage to defeat him, and Dartz is left standing alone saying "I've been defeated" When suddenly out of nowhere a dragon appears through a random portal and eats him.

......this is where my brain died.

Seriously?! A dragon?! What dragon?! Where the hell did that come from?! Did he summon it?! NO! What it one of the three legendary dragons that have been central to this attempt at a plotline?! NO! Have we even seen it before?! NO!!!! This thing comes out of fucking nowhere. Dartz is just standing there saying "I've been defeated" and then suddenly get eaten by this giant dragon from another dimension. WHAT THE HELL?!! Why did the dragon NOM him?! Where did the dragon come from?! WHAT DOES THIS HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE PLOT?!!

So yeah, it's around here you finally start thinking this damn thing might soon be over when suddenly Kaiba (who's alive again, by the way, along with everyone else) is all "We should follow the dragon to see where's it's taken him" and he, Yami, and Jonouchi walk through the portal to go after him.

WHY?! Why is this thing not over yet?! Why do they need to go after him?! Where are they going?! How did the portal open?! Why won't this show explain anything?!

So they end up in this world that looks kind of like the Southern Air Temple from Avatar The Last Airbender and find that Dartz has been turned into stone. Great. Ok. Plot over? NO! They touch him and he disintegrates! Woot! Now is it over?! NO!! The dust particles that once formed him apparently fuse with something that is either the Scientologist Serpent God or the Mysterious Random Dragon thing which makes him mightier than God himself (or something to that effect) Kaiba, Yami, and Jonouchi have an extremely hard to follow battle with him in which I think the animation budget ran out because I honestly can't remember any specific thing happening apart from the three of them taking out their duel disks.

Eventually it seems they have FINALLY defeated him. So they go back to their dimension but before Yugi can go back with Kaiba and Jonouchi Yami stops him and says he feels something in the air.


So Dartz shows up AGAIN, this time as a cloud of black smoke after having fuzed with, again, something that is either the Scientologist Serpent God or the Mysterious Random Dragon and tells Yami that in order to defeat him he must have a bunch of random flashbacks to overcome his inner darkness.



So FINALLY Yami defeats his fucking inner darkness, he goes through the portal and washes up on a random beach despite the fact that they were just in the middle of a desert and suddenly Yugi is in control again. He looks up at an approaching helicopter which happens to have all their friends in it, then looks down in his pocket and find the three God Cards they lost at the beginning and remarks that now they can go back to what they were doing before.

So, what this basically means is that at the end of this season every character is in EXACTLY THE SAME SITUATION AS THEY WERE BEFORE!! This season achieved NOTHING!! NOTHING AT ALL!! AHHHHHHHH!!!

So then Yugi looks over at the Pharaoh's spirit which has suddenly transformed into a tanned, ancient Egyptian version of himself and we can now thank whatever deity happens to be around that this atrocity is finally over.

When Casey and I finished this, were ecstatic, and confused, but mostly glad this damn thing was over. It's no wonder this thing took us a year and a half to get through, because it's just so ungodly ridiculous. The story was a mess, the character arcs were disjointed, and worst of all, the entire story was rendered completely pointless by having no development whatsoever by the end of it. I know I shouldn't really be looking for coherent plots in a show about kids saving the world with card games, but seriously, couldn't they have put a bit more effort in? Just a tiny bit?

Casey, if you're reading this, I salute you. You may feel free to murder me at anytime for forcing you to watch this with me.

I'd say more, but it's three AM and I was up early. I'm finally employed so I may actually have to start aiming for normal sleeping hours. Or I may not. I don't know. I don't care. I just want to go read or watch something that has nothing to do with dragons randomly eating evil cult leaders, or emo Pharaohs forced to defeat their inner darkness more times than any sane person should be forced to count.

Good Night Everyone,


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Phantom: Love Never Dies - The Radioplay (Part One)

Narrator: A prologue. Somewhere that may or may not resemble Coney Island at roughly the turn of the century, stands a mysterious and currently unidentified woman with a french accent. Three guesses who she turns out to be.

French Woman: I am here to provide mysterious exposition in an attempt to mirror the opening scene of the first musical. It's not really working.

Fleck: Yes, yes, there's nothing left...

French Woman: Actually there's Coney Island. There's stuff everywhere.

Fleck: Nothing but ghosts...

French Woman: No, really. There's a roller coaster right behind you.

Fleck: But I knew you'd come back...MADAME GIRY!!

[Dramatic Music]

Madame Giry: No kidding. [Sighs] Fleck! The freak from Phantasma, the city of're still here!

Fleck: Of course we're still here. The freaks, the monstrous, the bizarre. Where else could we exist but here?

Madame Giry: New Jersey's pretty freaky.

Fleck: That's true.

Madame Giry: Have you ever tried not dressing like a character from the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Who knows? Maybe you won't be outcasted from society.

Fleck: No! This was his dream! The master's dream! And now it's gone! He's gone! And now, since he disappeared with the child, and a fire randomly consumed everything...

Madame Giry: What?

Fleck: Yeah, the whole fire thing doesn't really get explained. But I'm going to blame it...ON YOU!

Madame Giry: What?

Fleck: Coney Island...Glistening and glittering...rising bright...drenched with light. Every fantasy set free...sun rising by the sea...

Madame Giry: And now I'm going to randomly try to make this into a rock opera!

[Electric Guitars]


Fleck: That's the place that you ruined, you fool!

Madame Giry: What, how?

Fleck: I don't know, but for some reason, it's YOUR FAULT!! Let's have a flashback!!

Narrator: Meanwhile, in 1907, which is now inexplicably ten years after 1881...even though it's not...a bunch of random American stereotypes are standing around talking excitedly about Coney Island, and the mysterious attraction "Phantasma" which is totally NOT runned by the Phantom.

Meg Giry: Despite having once had a promising career as the lead dancer in the Corps de Ballet of the Paris Opera House, I'm now a slutty vaudville singer in a cheap freak show put together by a guy who once dropped a corpse in the middle of one of my dances. I'm also randomly in love with him! I'm so in character!

Random Fake New Yorker Girl: Hey girlfriend, our mysterious masked boss is, like, totally into you.

Meg: You think?

Random Fake New Yorker Girl: Like, for sure.

Meg: Then I better sing my hear out for him while acting as slutty and outgoing as possible, despite having been meek and quiet in the first musical! I'm so in character!

Madame Giry: Meg, honey. As your stage mother I'd like to you tell you that you did wonderfully and that some rich guy totally digs you. Also, for some reason I'm still French.

Narrator: Meanwhile, in a secret underground lair, the Phantom is being emo and listening to Evanescence while chatting with a creepy Christine robot.


Phantom: Shut up! I'm brooding! [Dramatic Sigh] Oh woe is me! Despite the fact that I have not seen her in ten years and I have my own robot version of her at my beck and call, I’m still pining for some random opera singer with no legitimate personality! ONLY THE SUBTLE SOUNDS OF MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE CAN POSSIBLY EXPRESS MY LONGING!! CHRISTINE!!! [Cries in a corner]

Meg: Oh Phantom! Phantom, honey! What did you think about my latest strip tease?

Phantom: Shut up! [Cries]

Meg: But…I inexplicably love you!

Phantom: Too bad!

Meg: Nooooooooo!! [Cries]

Phantom: Christine!! [Cries]

Madame Giry: Oh dear God, someone stop the emo.

Phantom: Wait! Maybe if I bring Christine here, and force her to sing for me again, she’ll suddenly decide she loves me!

Madame Giry: I have a feeling, that probably won’t…

Phantom; It’s brilliant!

Madame Giry: Ok.
Meg: WAAAAAAH!!! [Cries some more]

Madame Giry: I’m supposed to give you some exposition about how Meg and I smuggled you out of France and helped you get on your feet in America, but I really just don’t care.

Phantom: NO ONE CARES!!! [Cries]

Meg: [Cries]

Madame Giry: Whatever.

Narrator: A few months later, Christine and her family disembark with a bunch of other American stereotypes in New York City.

Raoul: I am filled with RAGE!!!

Christine: Why are you so angry, dear? Is it the drinking and the gambling, or the fact that your character got derailed?

Raoul: ALL THREE!!

Christine: There, there, dear. I understand.

Gustave: Mummy, why doesn’t Daddy love me?

Christine: Because he’s not actually you’re fath- I MEAN, he does, dear, you’re just not listening with your heart…or something.

Gustave: Ok.

Narrator: A few hours later…

Phantom: Christine! I have appeared before you to tell you that I am the one who brought you here!

Christine: Gasp! I had no idea!

Phantom: Also, I’m here to remind you about that time we had passionate sex the night before your wedding despite the fact that I rather explicitly said that I couldn’t do that in the first musical.

Christine: Oh, yeah, and I inexplicably fell in love with you despite the fact that you tried to destroy my life and kill my boyfriend.

Phantom: It was kind of a weird night.

Christine: No kidding, you ditched me!

Phantom: What?

Christine: I fell suddenly, madly in love with you and when I woke up the next morning to tell you I wanted to ditch my fiancée and run away with you, you just up and left! What the hell?

Phantom: Oh…well, I was worried you’d reject me.

Christine: What?

Phantom: You know, I’m emo, I thought you’d hate me and reject me like everyone else on Earth because no one understands me and stuff.

Christine: I’d just had sex with you! That’s pretty accepting, if you ask me.

Phantom: I suppose so.

Gustave: Mummy, mummy! I’ve had a convenient nightmare that allows me to be randomly appear in this scene!

Christine: Don’t fret, dear, those happen all the time. This is your father…I MEAN, a friend of mine, Mr. Y.

Phantom: Hello, little boy.

Gustave: He’s creepy…and yet strangely I want to spend the day with him…

Christine: That’s fathers for you.

Gustave: What?

Christine: Nothing! Mr. Y will spend the day with you tomorrow. Now go to sleep. Like, right now.

Gustave: Ok!

Phantom: I’m going to mysteriously disappear now. Have a good night.

Christine: But wait! What about…my song?!

[Dramatic Music]

Narrator: Will Christine ever ever get to sing her song? Will Gustave ever figure out his entire existence is to soften the Phantom’s image so he’s easier to portray as a protagonist? Will Raoul accept his role as undeserving villain? Will Andrew Lloyd Webber ever actually make any money on this? Join us next time to find the answers to almost none of these questions on the next episode of “Phantom: Love Never Dies – The Radioplay!”