Samurai Flamenco – The best worst anime I’ve ever seen.

Samurai Flamenco!

Gotou looks on as Flamenco responds to the call to action! From “Anime is Dead” blog. http://animeisdead.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/samurai-flamenco-love-and-empathy-are-beyond-justice/

I didn’t know where else to write this.

I’m just so mad right now.

I’m so mad I’m taking time out of work to write this. That’s how mad I am. Don’t tell my boss.

Last night I indulged again in my recent guilty pleasure, Samurai Flamenco, an anime created in 2013 which focuses on the life of a male model named Masayoshi.

Masayoshi works as a model, but dreams of becoming a real life superhero akin to those in shows like “Power Rangers” (in this series called the “credit card rangers”). To that end, he creates the hero Samurai Flamenco – his costumed alter ego – who will fight evil on the streets in Japan.

We first meet Masayoshi sitting naked and defeated in a back alley, where the show’s other main character, Gotou, finds him. Gotou is a young police officer, and he struggles with the challenge of knowing that Masayoshi is a masked vigilante whom he should probably report, while also knowing that he’s a complete weakling with good intentions who actually gets beat up more often than he manages to do any good.

So that’s the basic set up. The young man who wants to “fight for justice.” The cop who doesn’t share the same idealism, but who does “fight for justice” in his day job.

What I can’t express is the wonderful charm of this show. Masayoshi’s naivete and repeatedly crushed optimism is wonderfully heartening somehow. Seeing him fail to convince a stranger to put a can into a recycle bin instead of tossing it on the street makes the viewer shake his head with a smile. Gotou struggling with trying to be supportive of this truly good-natured kid, while trying to help him recognize the realities of a nuanced world is equally humorous. Their relationship is emotionally rewarding, and develops very well. As the hyper-cheerful end-credits play on each episode I notice I have a huge smile on my face.

The plot progresses at a perfect pace. A news website owner puts up a reward for the identity of Flamenco, A washed-up action hero claims to be the real Samurai Flamenco live on television where Masayoshi is a guest. Masayoshi’s agent suspects the truth and must be kept in the dark. A pop-star female arrives in costume to fight evil and can actually beat up muggers, unlike Flamenco. When Flamenco puts forth a superhuman effort just to retrieve an umbrella for Gotou, he becomes a viral video sensation.

And so on.

The whole thing just feels like a wonderfully comedic soap-opera, just barely pushing the boundaries of the absurd on occasion (super-powered school supplies, anyone?) for the sake of a good laugh.

Then episode 7 comes along. Prepare for spoilers.

The first half of episode 7 is basically normal. Gotou informs Masayoshi that the police chief wants to make Samurai Flamenco “Police Chief for a Day” and have him ride along as the police clean out a drug operation. It’s meant to be a photo op for the police department, to improve their reputation.

After the bad guys are subdued, Flamenco is allowed into the building where the drug operation is taking place. One of the criminals breaks loose and runs into another room. The police and Flamenco give chase, but the criminal throws off 4 police officers simultaneously. Samurai Flamenco and Gotou watch in shock as, screaming and grunting, the criminal transforms into a giant ape with huge metal screws in its head and a guillotine for a torso, which it then uses to chop off the heads of several police officers while yelling “I am Guillotine Gorilla!” Necks are snapped. Heads fly. Blood spurts. Gotou and Flamenco manage to shove the gorilla out of a high window, thus killing it. Then “King Torture” appears in the sky and announces that the monster is his and he’s going to take over the world. End of episode.

This sudden and dramatic change in tone, style, violence level, and theme was completely unexpected and utterly derailed everything that went before.

“It must be a fantasy, or a dream or something,” I thought. “It must be a hallucination brought on by the drugs.” I skimmed through the next episode. Another ridiculous monster, and no discussion of how it’s not “real.”

In fact, for the remainder of the show (another 14 episodes or so) it’s nothing but send up after send up of the old Japanese action shows. First cartoony monsters led by a bad guy who wants to “take over the world.” But then it’s a team of fighters led by Flamenco. Suddenly the washed-up action hero character is actually the 1970s Japanese equivalent of Nick Fury, commanding teams of fighters. Flamenco becomes more and more powerful, transforming his costume from flimsy home-sewn fabric to a high tech suit of awesome. The team pilots special ships and fights the Japanese Government which has become evil. Then an alien menace appears and sends monsters which transform into giant versions of themselves.

Of course, it doesn’t take long to realize that Flamenco is experiencing everything he ever thought he wanted. All the bad guys from all the shows he loves are appearing – and he’s the hero!  He has his tragic back-story! He has his super powers! He has his recognition! At last!

A few hints in the show, skillfully dropped, show that there’s a message in there for the viewer.

  • The man who owns the internet news site appears occasionally while things are peaceful between planet-threatening attacks and says with his half-closed eyes something along the lines of “this is so boring.”
  • The never-on-screen girlfriend of Gotou sends him text messages while Flamenco is seen battling evil, asking “Does Masayoshi look happy?”
  • The girl who saw herself as hero is humiliated when she realizes her motives are impure, and she’s nothing more than an expendible sidekick.
  • King Torture releases his prisoner, swearing to never do her harm, when she demonstrates she is a true hero, exhibiting self-sacrifice in the face of current and imminent agony.
  • Masayoshi can’t figure out how to help Gotou when there is no super-villain to fight.

You know what, writers? I get it. I’m seeing the commentary on heroism, desires, and happiness. I get it. But you know what?

That’s not what we signed up for.

For six and a half episodes Samurai Flamenco treats us to one of the most charming and well-written anime series in recent memory. Yeah, the artwork was pretty pathetic, but so what? Viewers were ready to stick with Masayoshi and Gotou for years, watching them deal with the challenges of regular human life and the conflict between the ideal and the real. It was good. It was sweet. It was everything it needed to be.

And yes, maybe that’s the point. You live the life you can, and do the good you can, because it’s perfect just how it is. You dream of amazing adventures and being something you’re not, but will it really make you happy? Is the purpose of life to avoid being bored? Is it a costume and adventure that makes a hero? No. So why not embrace all that is good in the sometimes boring, but ultimately beautiful life you have?

In that sense, Samurai Flamenco is massively impressive in that they sacrificed the entire show to proving that point. It makes it, in my opinion, one of the most powerful and beautiful pieces of art able to express that idea. From an artistic standpoint, this was a huge win.

But you know what? I didn’t sign up for that. I wanted my guilty pleasure about a male model who fumbles through life, but manages to do a lot of good with his meager efforts.

Good job, team, in making your point in an epic way. Now give me back the life I wanted.

Advertisements

Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor and Executive Orders.

I finished two books by Tom Clancy recently: “Debt of Honor” and “Executive Orders.”

Debt of Honor was, I thought, one of Clancy’s best. As usual, it begins with multiple threads combining into an interesting tapestry of international conflict. Jack Ryan figures large yet again as a member of the cabinet of the presidency of the USA.

The funny thing, though, is that I can’t really say much more about it except that it’s good in the same way that all the other Clancy novels are good, and bad in the same ways, too. What should I say? Did you like “Hunt for Red October?” You’ll like this. “Sum of All Fears” on your list? Put this on too.

I personally liked it better than any other Clancy novel I’ve read, but I can’t say why. Maybe it’s just me. I guess the only way to find out is for you to read it yourself.

Executive Orders was more like a combination of the boring parts of “Rainbow Six,” and the good parts of “Sum of All Fears” along with a huge pile of Ayn Rand. There was a lot of fun plots, twists, and turns and conflicts, but the whole thing was dunked in Clancy’s personal political views throughout and it was actually difficult to continue reading despite the compelling story.

Executive Orders was a book that should have been phenomenal and ends up being both pandering and condescending.

Damn, I good.

I came to the site today looking for something specific.  I think it was an old post from like 4 or 5 years ago that had a list of links to some fun guitar music… I think.   But what ended up happening was that I saw some of my old writing.  I started reading it, then I read some more.

I recognize that most of what I put on this site was in ‘rough draft’ form having only minor edits done, if any.  Despite that, I have to say that I am a fine and entertaining writer.  You should read more of what I write, cause it’s enjoyable.

In fact, so is Benski.  So were a lot of us back in the day.

I noticed that about the same time Ben and I gave up on the ol’ village the blogs of other friends slowed considerably as well.  Gandhi doesn’t write much any more… Mickelle writes quarterly at best.  Even Ryan has let us down.

So…. what am I saying?  Well, I would like to say that I’m going to put more effort into writing on this site on a regular basis and seduce back some of the ol’ friends.  The reality is that I don’t know that any of us will ever have “blogging” as a priority, much less this bizarre community blogging thing that we tried.  But despite that… I’m going to give up on my giving up on Sixmile and blogging / online journaling.

I can’t promise I’ll write much, or often, but when I do I’ll do my best.  It will be good to keep the writing skills up-to-date, and, with luck, it will be good fun to read.

Based on the astonishing quality of my previous works, I’d say you’re going to freakin’ love it.

Your part?  Leave a comment.  Let me know you’re still RSSing the site or something.  Heck, contribute if you dare.

Your funny pal,

Greg

A stream of consciousness rant on Health Care Reform, Mormonism, And United States Politics.

Health care costs inflate 7 to 10% every year under the current system.
Our incomes inflate at 3% per year.
If the system is not changed health care will bankrupt us, or be out of reach for everybody.

I think what’s got me riled up more than anything during this whole health care, uh, “debate” is the reaction of the Utah Mormon populace.  If ever there was a group that should happily embrace the idea of caring for others, or having “all things equal” it ought to be the group that tried living the “law of consecration” more than once in the past.

But no.

And I can’t help but wonder why.  Why has this, the reddest of the red states decided that when the time came to choose between politics and religion that it was time to confuse the two?

There was a time, not so long ago, when the majority of Mormons were moderate in their political views, going about 50/50 democrat and republican.  The church was happy to see this behavior.   And even when we drifted to the conservative side, I don’t think it was a bad thing.

No, the bad part is our bizzare embracing of the extremists within our political parties, and our absolute devotion to a party rather than analysis by topic.  The Rush Limbaughs and the Glen Becks have gained media time and our consciousness has drifted so far to the right that the moderates within our society seem by comparison to be vastly liberal.

Here’s how it works:  If you have an extreme point of view, you get air time.  It’s true of both republican and democrat talking heads.  The more extreme and shocking your subjects and content, the more viewers you get, the more advertising money you recieve, the more extreme you want to be.

Money is what has prompted people to develop this extremism on both sides.  There’s no hint of morality in the motivations of these people. From Rush to Al Franken, there’s only the positive reinforcement of bad behavior.

It’s come out most obviously in the recent health care debate.  Instead of debating the facts of the different options available to overhaul health care all we did was snipe and yell at each other.  The conservative extremists were certainly the most shown in the liberal leaning media, but I’m sure there was a liberal counterpart.   People getting up and shouting – not debating, but simply shouting.   People repeating the outright lies they heard on the radio or read in an email as absolute truth.  And the more shocking the “truth” delivered to your inbox, the more likely you are to pass it on.

(It’s no wonder then, that lies like death panels and obama’s forged birth certificate are passed off as truth.  If you listen to Rush long enough, he’ll start making sense to you.  Then everything you hear is sent through your “Rush prism” and if it doesn’t mesh with what you’ve heard, you ignore it.)

Here’s my thoughts on health care:

I believe God has given us everything.
If everything comes from God, then everybody deserves what they need.

That’s it.
Everything else is just organizing how to do it.

Of course the proposed health care system isn’t perfect.      But I demand that if you have a complaint you also present a better idea.  If all you do is tell people what they’re doing wrong then I consider you to be a drain on society and worthless to any discussion.

Finally, my hope is for a return to civility.  Let’s not ostracize those whose views are opposed to ours, but instead try to understand.  If anything let us fight against those who hold views in the extreme!   When representative Wilson shouted “You Lie!” in the middle of a speech by President Obama, he attacked not only the man whose values he disagreed with, but also the office of the President, the dignity of the congress, and our system of government itself.   Didn’t he realize he was insulting not only the man, but the millions who actively voted for him, as well as all those who died to protect our right to even have the office of the president?

Of course not.  All he could think about was fighting.

We, as a people, need to regain our grip on civility.  We must remember that when our soldiers fight and die it is for the system of government for which they perish.   We say it till it becomes almost trite:  “they fight for our freedoms.”  Why can’t we seem to recognize that freedom comes with a price to be paid by every citizen?  It’s not just the blood of soldiers that allows us to cast our ballots, to speak our minds, and to change our lives at will; but it’s the suffering of each of us in turn as we all find at some time or another that the election didn’t go our way, or that the bank foreclosed on us, or that our business failed, and so on.

A life of freedom means a life of obligation and sacrifice as well; and never a life of complete entitlement.

Yet as we think about these truths we must remember how much higher we fly, how much brighter we shine, as a nation united in seeking mutual benefit over partisan politics.  Our sacrifices lift us higher, and our mistakes don’t bind us when we remember to embrace the ideals of unity and harmony that were laid down as the foundation of this, the greatest country on the earth today.

So when the vote doesn’t go your way, stop griping.  Don’t say such hateful things as “so-and-so is going to destroy the country.”  Instead consider saying “I’m glad the system still lets even those I disagree with have a voice.”  Then go to work with them and improve the world.

I thank God for a system that allows us to change and grow, even when some of us don’t want to.  I’m grateful that I can choose to help and be helped; that I can be so much more because I am a one of many.  Let’s not divide ourselves, but look for ways to unify.

 

-Greg

A profound question!

Thank you.

WatchMen Opening Credits/Alternate History

I wonder if I am the only one on this site who found himself in a late night screening of Watchmen on Thursday or Friday of last week…

Anyway, I really enjoyed the montage in the beginning of the film that sets up the alternate history. It was a very creative touch to bring the audience up to speed, set to “Times They are a-Changing” by Bob Dylan. The Watchmen opening credits clip can be seen here for the time being. If that link doesn’t work, you may find a new clip of it on YouTube that  has not yet been removed because of its copyrighted status. The few I found were taken down in a matter of hours.

I just wanted to comment on some of the things in that montage. You see, the trouble with doing an alternate history is that it may be lost on those who are not familiar with actual history. I found that many of the people waiting in line with me were barely old enough to get a ticket.  Many were clearly not versed in historical Americana. For example, I started laughing as soon as I saw Silhoutte walking up to the nurse after you see the “Japan Surrenders” headline on V-J day. The scene is an alternate history/parody of the sailor kissing the nurse in the famous WWII picture below (notice that the sailor was in the background of the montage scene). But I awkwardly found that I was the only one laughing until she planted a smooch on the nurses lips. I think they were laughing only because they saw two girls kiss. Haha. Lesbians.

Image taken the day victory was declared over Japan, ending the war

Image taken the day victory was declared over Japan, ending the war.

I also read a comment on Youtube to effect that the writer was disturbed by the image of the girl putting a flower in the barrel of a gun, then getting shot. That’s understandable, but he seemed oblivious of the actual historical significance of that image. It is from another famous war picture, shown below. Because of the similarity between the image below and the film shot in watchmen, I think I had better make clear that in reality the soldiers did not open fire. That too is alternate history.
Picture taken at 1967 war protest outside the Pentagon. It became a symbol of the innocence of the movement on one hand, and the disproportionate force used by the government on the other.

Picture taken at 1967 war protest outside the Pentagon. It became a symbol of the innocence of the peace movement on one hand, and the disproportionate use of force by the government on the other.

On a finer point, The JFK assassination has some noticeable differences with actual history (like the Comedian being the second gunman on the grassy knoll–a nice touch). If you watch the original footage, JFK’s head whips forward and the blood mist is to his front. The reenactment makes his head whip backward, and I think I can see blood spraying out behind him along the back of the car. This of course makes it appear that the shot came from the grassy knoll to JFK’s front, instead of coming from the book depository to his rear. I also like how the Comedian puffs his cigar right before he leaves, a possible reference to witnesses claiming to see smoke coming from the grassy knoll.

If you’re interested, here’s an ABC special that debunks the second gunman theory:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSBXW1-VGmM&feature=related

Things could get better. But they could get much, much worse: An economic preview and personal convicitons.

The Great Wave

The Great Wave

Are you sick of this yet?   Even if you’re unaffected by the recession of late, it’s likely you’re sick of the news, commentary, posturing, and problems.  I know I am.

Yet I can’t seem to let it go.  As a culture, I think, we all tend to look for some as-of-yet undefined, great, “The End,” somewhere ahead – a cataclysmic final page to the story of the individual, nation, or world.  It’s built into our upbringing as Americans.  And, just as I did during the first few days after September 11, 2001; I find myself wondering, “Is this it? This time?”   And though I find myself feeling more worried over time instead of less, I still feel confident in answering, “Nope.”

Similarly, I’ve been asking myself over the past few months “Is it over yet?  Is this it? Is now the time when things start turning around?”  Agian, I feel some level of confidence in answering, “Nope.”  What I want to do is tell you why I think that way.

The problems we face today, I feel, are caused by two problems with the great American economy.  They are specifically that we embrace debt, and that certain parts of the American Lifestyle grow in expense faster than the average earnings of the average American.   This second problem simply feeds the first, as we buy on credit so we can have the things we can’t truly afford.   We do this again and again for things as basic as insurance coverage to cars, homes, groceries, and any number of other things.  Eventually our flow of income is completely diverted to other sources and bills start going unpaid.  The once profitable flow of cash and income turns back upon itself in a crushing wave of debt.

Because Debt and payment plans in general are  such a basic part of the American Lifestyle it’s become an investable and insurable asset in the economy.  But when this debt wave began to crest  and break, those companies who invested heavily in debt instruments found themselves suddenly worthless.  (An example, I recently read that insurance giant The Hartford has a stock value now less than the actual value of it’s vast cash reserves.  Wild.)

It’s been a rough ride so far.  I’ve worked with several young families who one week had plans to begin their retirement investment program, or insurance program; and the next week they call to say they’ve lost their jobs and will be moving home with mom and dad.  (Mom and dad are usually in pretty dire situations, too.)

The big problem is that there are certain parts of the average American’s budget which grow bigger and bigger each year or each generation.  These monsters eventually consume the rest of the budget and force the individual into insolvency.   These are especially:  The cost of Health Care, which inflates at about 7% per year (or doubles in cost every 10 years if you want to think of it that way) and which increases as a person ages;  the cost of housing, which, on average, inflates at about 5% per year;  and the cost of an advanced education, which costs, on average, 7% more each year.

Most people only gain about 3% per year on their income.  Do you see the problem here?

With the help of the recent government plans and bailouts, etc, there could be an end to the current financial crisis very soon.  Things could get better.  But it could get much much worse.  Here’s how:

The U.S. Government is just like an individual in some ways.  The Government also has a budget, has ongoing financial obligations, and carries a huge amount of debt.   In recent times, that ebb and flow of income and payments has remained essentially in balance – though there are always those who disagree.

However, by the end of the next decade, a massive swell is moving down the pipe.  For most of us, we’re hoping that if we ignore it it will go away.  It wont.  It’s the cost of social security, medicaid and medicare.  In about ten more years the monster of health care doubling yet again plus the huge amount of retirees combine to completely devour the federal budget as it is today.

There are only two outcomes:  the federal aid programs continue, thus necessitating a vast tax increase; or the federal aid programs are diminished, thus requiring each individual to care for his or her own families’ needs.

It is most likely, in my opinion, that the government will write itself a credit line, trying to swallow up this problem in a long stream of gulps rather than all at once.  More credit means a much larger debt payment in the budget.  More payments means more taxes and cut programs.

Now imagine for  yourself – your health care costs have more than doubled as you are now 10 years more unhealthy and health care costs have inflated at 7%.  Your children’s education now costs twice as much as it does today.  And your tax bill has just increased.

Add to those the car payment, house payment, utilities, and other living expenses.  Will you have enough to even get by?

Now imagine if this begins to happen today.  More debts go unpaid.  More banks become insolvent and start to call in the debts they’re owed by the average cardholder.  The cycle continues and industry after industry fails.

In reality, these things have been going on bit by bit for a long time and will continue long after we’re through the current crisis.  It is unlikely that the ’08-’09 recession will suddenly be driven into a second great depression.  If things get worse it will probably be gradual and will take place after the recovery from our current recession.  Putting off problems is our national pastime today just as it has been for the past century or so.

(It’s no wonder, then, that the youth of today have to take on more and more debt to get through college.  Nor, then, should it be a surprise that people are choosing to live with their parents for decades longer than they did a generation ago, or that the last thing a person does before leaving this world is to devour all their estate on paying for the high cost of long term care and other medical needs.  But I get off subject.)

The answer to this impending crisis, both individually and in a worldwide sense, is to avoid debt.  If, as a society, we weren’t clamoring for bigger and better homes than our parents and their parents had, and if banks hadn’t been willing to give it to us, treating debt like an unfailing and perfect resource,  it would not have come to this.

Avoid debt as much as you can.   Save up for yourself.  Only those who aren’t already stretched to their budgetary limits will survive if this next wave comes crashing down.