“I’m Just A Gun-Totin’ Weather Girl”

[HEADS UP: There are some very minor spoilers for the Cowboy Bebop series in this piece, so if that sort of thing bothers you I don’t recommend reading this!]

Cowboy Bebop is one of those series that literally every dude between the ages of 25-35 tries to recommend to every casual nerd. It has the distinction of being one of the best examples of anime, and of dubbed anime, from a very specific point in time, so people latch on to it as a classic and insist on acting completely scandalized when someone hasn’t seen it or doesn’t like it.

It’s that kind of behavior that I’ve mentioned before that I completely hate. And yet…I love Bebop. In fact, I recently convinced my coworker to watch the whole series — not because I told him he had to! But because he’s been enjoying noir comics lately, and I thought some of the themes would scratch a similar itch for him. He’s enjoying it thus far, I’m happy to report.

In general, I’m content to leave my discussions about Bebop in the past, or among like-minded friends. But on Thursday I had the incredible experience of being able to see the movie in theatres, and I can’t stop reflecting on how much I enjoyed it. I’ve seen the movie before, of course, but when it first hit US shores, it wasn’t in any theatres near me. At age 13, living in the middle of Connecticut, there was no option for me to see it that didn’t involve a multi-hour trip to either New York or Boston. I was heartbroken.

But I was finally able to live out my dream. I bought my ticket nearly a month in advance, I got to the theatre early, I bought way too much popcorn for way too much money, and I had an excellent time of it.

Before the movie, instead of endless previews or ads for other events, there was a short Q&A session with the dub voice actors. It lasted maybe ten or fiifteen minutes, but it was a nice little reintroduction to the characters and the movie specifically. It was amazing to hear how the VAs didn’t really alter their voices overmuch for their dub performances, so that these incredibly recognizable voices were coming out of the mouths of people I’ve seen before, but less frequently than their animated counterparts. Getting the little bit of background, and learning about the excitement of the actors to have worked on this project, definitely helped set the mood for the feature presentation.

Cowboy Bebop‘s opening sequence and song, “Tank!” are iconic at this point; for me, so too is the opening credit roll of the film, with its black and white panorama of Martian city life (that always struck me as looking a lot like New York City life). Whole books have been written about Yoko Kanno’s scoring prowess, and the entire Bebop OST is a musical masterpiece; but I do especially love the movie soundtrack and the film’s sanguine opener, “Ask DNA.” This series is one that is based firmly around music and mood — as themes, not just as enhancements to the story. The film is no different.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door takes place before the end of the series, but after we have already been introduced to all the core cast. The crew of the Bebop is on Mars, following small-fry bounties and trying to keep themselves from starving. Spike and Jet go after some small-time convenience store robbers, while Faye ropes Ed into tracking down info on a hacker. Everything goes sideways when Faye witnesses a terrorist bombing and Mars is suddenly beseiged by a completely inexplicable viral warfare.

As our intrepid heroes dive further and further into this case, they have to untie the threads of military experimentation, memory loss, doomed romance, global terrorism, and a crooked pharmaceutical company. It seems like a lot, but it all comes together in a seamless tapestry, peppered with the usual humor and a lot of really adorable jack-o-lanterns.

There was a practice, when I was young, of hating female characters in anime because their presence either got in the way of your gay ships, or got in the way of your two-dimensional love interests. Faye Valentine is a ripe subject for this, an easy target in her tiny yellow outfit, with her gambling vice and her vanity. But something always prevented me from hating her outright, and it wasn’t until the last decade or so that I realized I actually really love her. In the film, she’s the first person to witness Vincent Volaju’s terrorist attack; she’s the one who takes the initiative to go after the bounty; and she’s the one who remains defiant in an otherwise hopeless situation. It is poignant, we later realize, that she should be the one to have a conversation with Vincent about lost memories — a touch that I’m not sure I had noticed until this most recent viewing. She is a stark contrast to Spike’s Julia, the perfect, mild-mannered (though disloyal) woman who also happens to look good in a catsuit.

The movie reminds me, also, that the things I like best about Cowboy Bebop are all the things that don’t directly involve Spike’s eyeroll-worthy hang-up about his girlfriend and his best friend having a shag. I love the adventure, the puzzle-solving, the use of music, the references to old film, the late-90s vision of a terraformed future, the comedy, the comraderie…the things that set Cowboy Bebop apart are the ways in which it defies the conventions of science-fiction while placing it self firmly within that boundary. There is a sort of self-aware pseudo-philosophical thread running through everything, including the movie, that feels more like a nod to the spaghetti westerns of a bygone era than an actual moral the audience is expected to believe. But it’s such a loving and respectful nod that it makes the heroism of those once-worshipped cowboys seem worthy of consideration.

I don’t really expect every anime fan to lose their minds about Cowboy Bebop these days, not when there’s such a wealth of animated media at everyone’s fingertips, and new and incredible works are being made all the time. But I’m glad, once again, to have watched it when it was still so fresh and new, and to be able to feel so strongly about it even to this day. No matter what I say, I can’t deny that I’m completely taken in every time I hear those first audacious horns blasting, that deep base thrumming over the James Bond-esque opening sequence. I’m completely taken in by the warmth of the cel animation, the absurd theatricality of film references and seamless blending of old film genres. And damn it if I’m not a sucker for every episode’s distinct musical theme.

Also, Cowboy Bebop is like…the one anime my mom would occasionally catch snippets of an genuinely enjoy, so that’s gotta be good for something, right?

Remembering Akira

I don’t remember if it was spring or fall, but I remember that I was nine years old. Sara and I got off the bus as usual. She was staying over my house that afternoon, and she had brought a tape she had borrowed from her older brother, which she had seen at least some of already. She wanted me to see it, needed her best friend to have the same experience.

Up until that point, we had a passing understanding of anime. We watched Pokemon, and I had been a fan of Sailor Moon for years already. But as we sat there on the floor in the basement of my grandmother’s house, the coarse brown carpet biting into our hands as we leaned in, we knew that what we were watching was the same and yet…it was different.

We were probably too young to watch Akira. I think we knew that, too, because we kept worrying that every sound we heard was my grandmother about to descend the stairs as something truly horrific happened on screen. I didn’t have a concept of body horror, didn’t understand the affects of drug use, didn’t have any background in Japanese post-war anxieties or political climes. But even though it frightened and confused me, I loved Akira.

Time will elapse, and I will carry with me the knowledge that it’s a movie I love, but forget the particulars. And when I go to watch it again, I will be floored all over again. The swell of the gamelan soundtrack, the warmth of the animation, the gorgeous taillight trail…it makes me emotional for reasons I can’t always comprehend, though I suppose I am, at my core, a very emotional person, given to sentimentality.

And so the Akira film celebrates its very sentimental 30th anniversary. From all corners of the internet, all manner of film and animation fans are calling up their memories, lauding their favorite aspects of a film that could only be made in that time, in that place, and with those very specific people. For me, it’s the same: I can’t imagine having not seen Akira, and I don’t regret having seen it early in my life. Quite the contrary, I feel lucky to be able to experience it over and over again, as I age and mature, and as I come to learn new things about myself and about society.

…and I still have yet to finish the manga, so I guess I have a goal before the year is out!

Anime On the Big Screen

I have mentioned in the past that I am astounded by how available anime is now, compared to when I was a young teen and becoming really invested in it as a medium. One of the more shocking aspects of that availability is seeing anime films in movie theatres.

Last Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Pom Poko at a cinema around the corner from work. It’s a film I had seen before, and one of my favorite non-Miyazaki-directed Ghibli films. What could be better than a hopeless meditation on the dangers of overpopulation and humanity’s fraught relationship with nature, punctuated by adorable tanuki antics and a spooky yokai parade? It’s truly lovely — but also, I would think that it would have a remarkably narrow fanbase in North America, being both very culturally Japanese and also rather old at this point. I’m pleased to report that the theatre was very full, and on a Wednesday night, no less!

Pom Poko is only the most recent anime film I’ve seen in theatres, though the others have been more recent releases: A Silent Voice and your name come to mind first…oh, and Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, but I actually had to leave the city to find a theatre playing that one! And though I don’t get out to the movies often, I have been making a conscious effort to make sure I do go see these, because I want the companies that show them to know that there is a very willing paying audience out there to support these efforts.

With the exception of monumental properties like Pokemon, I never thought anime movies were deemed viable for theatrical releases in North America. And truly, at one time they weren’t. I remember so desperately wanting to see the Cowboy Bebop film, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, when it came out only to discover that there was no way any theatres around me would be showing an R-rated cartoon to the general masses. (And even if they had, I was probably too young to go see it…though I suspect my mother would have come along. She always did rather like Spike….) Certainly there have always been small local art house theatres playing all manner of foreign films, anime included. But I just saw Pom Poko at a Regal Cinemas! I saw A Silent Voice at an AMC!

Perhaps this is the era that Spirited Away‘s success has ushered in; perhaps it is merely that those of us who grew up with anime are making business decisions now. Whatever it is, I’m surely grateful that I can go to a movie theatre and see masterpieces from the last 30 or so years, as well as modern hits. And you can bet I’m going to be looking to get tickets for Sailor Moon The Movie S in the next couple months!

Comic Book Trivia and Gunpla Fun

I honestly don’t have much to report this week, but since I’ve been keeping up with this blog regularly, I feel loath to break the habit for even just one week, lest I fall behind. The past week at work as been super busy, such that I haven’t felt up to doing too much reading with intent to review, or anything like that.

This weekend has been fun, though! After work on Saturday night, my coworkers and I legged it over to another comic shop for their annual Battle of the Comic Shop All Stars, in which several local comic shops put together teams of four for a comic book-based trivia event to benefit charity. Our team is usually second to last (that’s what we got this year, too), but it’s still super fun and I learn a lot of random facts about first appearances and whatnot. And just for me, this year they had a “name that anime” sheet full of screenshots from various series. I aced it. 😛

When I got home from that, I found that I had received a package from my oldest and best friend. She had had some trouble sending it to me in time for my birthday, but it finally got to me and it was a pair of completely adorable handmade Sailor Jupiter transformation wand earrings!

And then there was today…I drove (by myself for the first time ever!) to the local East Asian supermarket to get a load of snacks for a Gunpla building party that another friend was hosting. The only Gundam series I’ve ever been able to become invested in is Gundam Wing, so naturally I built myself another Sandrock model — this time a Master Grade, which was an interesting exercise in fiddly bits and frustration.

As we were building our models, we listened to some Gundam tracks, and then watched some various Gundam series — including Gundam Wing Endless Waltz. Remember the friend who made me the earrings? Her name is Sara — well, Sara and I used to watch Endless Waltz every single day after school for the better part of a year. It’s deeply important to me, and tied to my reasons for getting into fanfiction, drawing, and animanga as a whole.

I am the type of person who is extremely prone to nostalgia, so I didn’t need all this external help to start reflecting on my past and my passions. In truth, I do it often; I do, professionally, what I did for fun as a teenager basically. I always say that 13-year-old Morgana would think 28-year-old Morgana is so cool, and on some days…that’s really the sentiment that keeps me going.

Working in comics has allowed me to relapse, but not in a bad way. I’ve been able to come back around to things I really care about, and not only am I engaging again in singular, personal hobbies that used to be important to me, I’m also engaging in a community of people with similar hobbies and interests.

The more and more I delve into comics, the more I feel the particular pull of community, and how important I believe it is to have a community that is supportive and uplifting. Conventions like Anime Boston and ConnectiCon, both shows which I do with work, have that feeling of community that I think some of the bigger shows are starting to lack for me. Of course, CTcon is my hometown show, so it’s always going to feel like home. I walk through the Hartford Convention Center and remember that time I was randomly asked to dance by a Vash cosplayer, or that time a bunch of people piled into the lobby to watch AMV Hell.

There are times when I am envious of today’s teenagers; every series they could possibly ask for is at their fingertips, streaming or available to read digitally through so many publishers. At the risk of sounding like an ornery old person, they have no idea how good they have it. I hear complaints about manga chapters not getting translated quickly enough, and I am bowled over by the fact that only fifteen short years ago, literally NOTHING came over to North America with any kind of speed or even decent translation sometimes.

So sometimes I’m envious that kids can buy their anime swag at their local Hot Topic (though I also can partake of that, of course). But there’s also that deeply sentimental side of me that wouldn’t trade the weirdness of growing up in the 90s and 2000s for the world. There is something very beautiful to me about having to wait for a certain time after school to get the next episode of your favorite series, or hunting through the VHS tapes at your local video rental store for something you haven’t already seen (preteen Morgana saw some series at perhaps too impressionable an age).

I don’t particularly truck with the idea that my youth — or anyone else’s — was any better than the youth of kids today. I think a lot of dangerous ideas can come out of dwelling too much in certain kinds of nostalgia. But I’m also grateful for what I had, and I hope that the next generation of nerds finds a similar solace in their own nostalgia without having to tear down the generation that follows. For those of us who love stories, I think memories and the emotions that surround them are important. I don’t think that’s something that changes much, no matter when you were born.