July 25, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (1/11)

Taiki's journey to Ren is described in "Winter Splendor," published in Dreaming of Paradise.

A meishoku is a small shoku triggered by a kirin in distress. Natural shoku occur almost imperceptibly. Otherwise, even small shoku have destructive side effects. Kirin and shirei can travel back and forth to Japan and China without causing a shoku. But bringing a human being with them will trigger a massive shoku.

Esui is an invented word that combines the kanji for "contamination" (穢) and "fatigue" (瘁). In Taiki's case, the primary cause was consuming animal products, especially food containing blood, while in Japan. Kirin are strict vegetarians. Being a strict vegetarian in Japan is surprisingly difficult.

Kyouryou is an introvert in an extrovert's world. I can identify.

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July 18, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (1/10)

Rakushun rides a suugu (this one on loan from Rokuta) in A Thousand Leagues of Wind. A suugu resembles a tiger in outward appearance.

A keiretsu is a "business network made up of different companies that have close relationships and sometimes take small equity stakes in each other, all the while remaining operationally independent."

After this chapter, you might be inspired to watch Spice and Wolf, though the setting and time period are more medieval Europe than medieval China.

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July 11, 2020

Hills of Silver Ruins (1/9)

All legal residents of a kingdom receive a plot of land when they reach their majority. A single allotment is equal to one hectare. Enho teaches Youko about the allotment system in chapter 25 (book 1) in A Thousand Leagues of Wind.

Kouki (鴻基) is the capital city of Tai.

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July 04, 2020

Ultraman (2019)

There's nothing wrong with the same only different. "Originality" in art is overrated. The heroic journey, for example, will never get old. The entertainment world is richer for both The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. For both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars.

Though Sergio Leone stole a bit too much in A Fistful of Dollars without permission from Akira Kurosawa and later settled a lawsuit with Toho Pictures.

The problem with Hollywood's version of Ghost in the Shell isn't so much that they "expropriated" and "whitewashed" the original (duly licensed) material, it's that they did such a lousy job of it. (The first mistake was cribbing from Mamoru Oshii instead of Kenji Kamiyama, who directed the Ghost in the Shell: SAC series.)

On the other hand, the 2019 Netflix reboot of the 1966 Ultraman series does the same only different right. The original was a tokusatsu (special effects) series in the giant monster genre. High camp, in other words. It's an acquired taste that aside from the first Godzilla movie I've haven't acquired.

The reboot is instead based on the manga by Eiichi Shimizu and Tomohiro Shimoguchi that began serialization in 2011. The 3DCG anime series is directed by Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki, who directed the 2020 Netflix reboot of the Ghost in the Shell: SAC franchise, also produced by Production I.G and Sola Digital Arts.

But I'm not talking about sequels that simply reinterpret the source material. If, as Picasso (among others) said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal," who is this Ultraman ripping off? Well, in a nutshell, Ultraman is Peter Parker in an Iron Man suit and set in the Men in Black universe. In Tokyo.

To be sure, Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man stands alone. But in the overall framing of the story, Ultraman improves on Spider-Man. As Shinjiro Hayata, veteran voice actor Ryohei Kimura is the perfect dorky teen superhero. He's got a Mary Jane (Rena). His dad (who almost but doesn't get killed) fills the Uncle Ben and Aunt May roles.

Actually, a more accurate name for the series might be Ultramen, as by the end of the first season we've got three. Along with Shinjiro, there's Moroboshi, Shinjiro's tough-as-nails supervisor, and Seiji, who's a year younger than Shinjiro. Seiji enters the fray sporting a ton of Deadpool attitude and a bunch of hidden agendas.

Though they are very personal agendas. He's not out to save the planet.

The cinematic Spider-Man (and the whole Marvel Universe) has always suffered from a overdependence on supervillains. Bemular in Ultraman seems one at first but turns into more a fusion of Mewtwo from Detective Pikachu and the Vulcans in the first season of Enterprise. Plus a little bit of Q from Star Trek: TNG.

Still overpowered. But this is where Men in Black elements make an important contribution (besides the otherworldly Edo looking great in a suit).

Although the SSSP, the SHIELD-style organization running the Ultraman project, intends to increase civilian awareness of the aliens in their midst, they want to do so on their terms. Superhero brawls that spill into the public square cause all sorts of problems.

The resulting skulking about in the shadows keeps the conflicts in proportion, reins in the property damage, and gives Ultraman a cool noir look. The middle arc of the first season is actually a murder mystery that revolves around Rena, an up and coming pop star.

That arc culminates with the appearance of Adad, a ruthless extraterrestrial cop with a Gul Dukat vibe about him. I hope to see more of him in the future too.

But these are still small stakes compared to the fate of the universe. Ultraman shows how keeping the stakes (relatively) small in comic book material allows the writers to say important things without beating the audience over the head with the message, and tell interesting stories without the world ending in every other installment.

I'll be a very happy camper if Kenji Kamiyama and Shinji Aramaki continue to alternately direct seasons of Ghost in the Shell: SAC and Ultraman for the next decade.

Ultraman is streaming on Netflix.

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