What I’m doing, part 2: Television

Ok, here comes post number 2 of 3 on this, my self-inflicted day of penance. This time we’re jumping back to the “what I’m doing” series, with a focus on TV. Or, more literally, Netflix. And while I’m watching a lot of things right now (like Breaking Bad, Dexter, Ray Donovan, the Newsroom, other things that weren’t on last night and aren’t in the forefront of my memory), I’ll focus on the specifically sci-fi/fantasy ones. I’m so nice to do the thing I already said I was going to do, aren’t I?

Anyway, enough intro stuff, let’s get to the meat and potatoes.

WHAT I JUST FINISHED: Samurai Champloo and Neon Genesis Evangelion

The show is not as mellow as this picture makes it look

The show is not as mellow as this picture makes it look

Ok, so you’re going to get a twofer this time, because I watched both of these things back to back and they’re both pretty short series. Also, have you noticed that I’m on a Japanese media kick? I wonder when it will end. Well, that’s beside the point I guess.

First we’re gonna start with Samurai Champloo, the story of a girl who tricks two wandering Samurai into helping her find “the Samurai who smells like sunflowers.” It’s an anime classic and draws heavily on hip-hop as a template for style, permeating through everything from the musical tone, to the background characters, to attitudes. That vibe definitely works, as the egos of the characters are as big and overbearing as the egos of many real-life hip-hop styles. And, also just like real life, you often fall in love with the big-talkers on this show, rooting for them over the people who aren’t…well, assholes. They’re lovable assholes though, which is the best kind (phrasing).

So the main characters are Fuu, Mugen, and Jin. The latter two are the samurai in the photo, and are complete polar opposites of each other. Mugen is a hot-head, and his fighting style is as wild as his actions — he’ll kill you just for mouthing off. As for Jin, he’s calm and collected, and his blade strikes flow like water. He’s not quick to anger like his foil, but he still won’t put up with disrespect.

As for Fuu, she’s a 15-year-old girl (this is probably the most unbelievable aspect of the show, despite the crazy sword fights) who recently lost her mother to an illness. While working in her Aunt and Uncle’s tea shop, she runs into Mugen and Jin, who inadvertently burn the place down. With nothing keeping her there, she makes the two troublemakers her body guards and they set off searching for a mysterious figure from her past.

All the episodes are self-contained, and cover their journey to Edo and eventually Nagasaki. Quite random things happen to them, often revolving around their lack of money and desire for food. In fact, almost every episode starts off with the gang looking for a way to pay for their food and lodging. It does get a little tired eventually, but at least it’s a believable plot device. And when the conflict isn’t a result of their actions in a restaurant, the conflict starts in whatever restaurant they’re visiting. Apparently that era in Japanese history was a bad time to sell food.

It’s a fun journey though, with many characters leaving the show as quickly as they entered. The action is the main draw though, with Mugen and Jin slaughtering just about every enemy they come up against. Some opponents manage to put up a fight in the later episodes, providing the samurai an opportunity to grow, but you always know who’s going to win.

Watching doesn’t require much thought either, so it’s a good watch if you’re just looking to relax after a long day. Watch the sub version, if you can, too. I usually prefer subs myself, but the dub in this is particularly weird.

As a final note, I want to talk briefly about the ending. At first the ending rubbed me the wrong way. Without spoiling anything, it feels unsatisfying when you first watch it. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I get what it’s trying to say. The final episode is a microcosm for life itself, and the journey one takes through it. I can’t go into more depth than that, but if you’ve seen the show you’ll know what I’m getting at. And, if you haven’t, watch it to find out. You’ll have fun.

But I’m keeping this short (ha, me keeping it short) because we’re talking about two series tonight. On to Evangelion.

The alternate title is: what the fuck did I just watch?

The alternate title is: what the fuck did I just watch?

Whereas Samurai Champloo didn’t require much thinking at all, Evangelion requires more thought than the dissertation of a doctoral theoretical physics student. Seriously, this thing will take your brain and pound it into the floor, so don’t try reasoning everything out yourself. Try and enjoy what’s happening in front of you, and find someone else who has taken the time to explain it in simple terms. If you can wait until you finish, like I did, do that. But if not, try to find explanations that don’t have spoilers, because getting spoiled will just confuse you more. Granted, I watched everything in one sitting, but I don’t suggest that either. This isn’t the kind of show you binge on — it’s much better to digest slowly over a couple weeks. I mean, it’s doable, but so is vector calculus (is that a hard kind of math?). That doesn’t mean you’d want to do either of those things, though.

Anyway, the basic premise is this: in the year 2,000 an event called the Second Impact causes the destruction of Antarctica and half the world’s population. Everyone thinks a meteor caused the cataclysm, but a small organization knows the truth — interaction with an alien object triggered the Second Impact. 15 years later, 14 year old Shinji Ikari is brought to Tokyo-3 (the first two obviously didn’t survive the impact and the resultant fall out) by his father, who leads an organization called NERV.

This organization is the spiritual successor to the organization that inadvertently caused the second impact, but its members are the only people who know about a series of impending attacks by destructive alien creatures called “Angels.” To combat this eventual threat, NERV has created giant fighting beings (I’m being intentionally vague) called Evangelions. They require pilots though, and that’s exactly why Shinji was brought in by his estranged father.

Throughout the series, Shinji has to deal with, well, a lot. Not only is it extremely (and appropriately) stressful to constantly fight the angels, he also has a lot of psychological issues to deal with. He already has abandonment issues thanks to his father and dead mother, and he really doesn’t understand how human interaction works. This causes him a lot of mental anguish as he deals with fellow pilots (who become potential romantic interests). And when I say mental anguish, I cannot capture the depths of his eventual despair — you’ll just have to watch the show to understand. Anyway, a lot of confusing things continue to happen, though that’s occasionally broken up by a fight or some humor at Shinji’s expense.

Then you get around to the ending and your brain should experience what is probably akin to a small stroke. A new character gets introduced in the second to last episode and causes Shinji to completely lose it. Then, in the last episode, you are treated to a disjointed psychological examination of all the main characters instead of an actual ending. The reason for this is the studio basically ran out of money, so they just reused clips, animated a few extra scenes, and then did a bunch of other stuff that will probably make you upset because it’s not the ending you wanted. Fortunately for everyone, though, the studio who made Evangelion got around to redoing the ending in a movie, which does a much better job of wrapping things up. It’s still really confusing and really weird, but it actually shows you how the series ends. Plus it’s actually fun to watch.

I do like Evangelion, and I enjoyed watching it a lot more than it probably sounds like. It’s just with all the symbolism and interesting plot events happening at the same time as a complex look at Shinji’s fragile, deteriorating psyche, there’s a lot to focus on. So if you’re into that kind of thing, you’ll love this show. If not, I’d consider using your leisure time on something more… enjoyable. Plus, I’m technically not even done with it, as the series was remade (sort of compressed, really) into four new movies that mix up the story a bit. The fourth isn’t out yet, but I haven’t actually seen any of them.

Anyway, that’s all for this section, but I guess I’ll go ahead and do one more thing before I wrap this up.

WHAT I’M ABOUT TO TRY TO WATCH FOR LIKE, THE THIRD TIME: Battlestar Galactica

Everyone in this photo is a cylon, right?

Everyone in this photo is a cylon, right?

So, as I alluded above, I’ve started watching this show twice before. Or maybe three times, but I think one doesn’t count? And it’s not that I haven’t had a good time watching the handful of episodes that I’ve seen, but it just hasn’t grabbed me yet. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it just hasn’t been as tense as I think the show intends to be. Maybe it’s because I know too much about the “everyone is a cylon” joke. Or rather that maybe it’s not a joke. Plus dog-fights in space irk me because physics.

Anyway, I’m going to give it another go, so here’s hoping I like it. I’m sure, once I’m done (or maybe before), I’ll write about my experience. Otherwise, that’s all for today. Enjoy your life and stuff, until the third post!

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