Notes : 09/06 - 10/06


October 23, 2006

B'T X is my new jam. I have been picking up the manga at the Dublin Forbidden Planet. A wiki link will have to suffice for now for an "official" description of the show, although be warned that wiki articles often contain spoilers. Many of the fan sites I have found are in Italian as the anime was broadcast there.*

I think part of its appeal to me is its relation to something like Elfquest. I re-read Elfquest this Summer and was struck by how it held up over the years. I was expecting a slightly maudlin hippie-fest, with a little touchy-feely spirituality, but I was surprised to find that the story hangs together well. Elfquest is tense in the way that contemporary quest fables like "Lord of the Rings" are tense, the drawing was capable to the point of being a unique integration of a personal vision with a commercial animation feel (sorta like a more individual Rankin-Bass by way of Ralph Bakshi, which was itself pretty unique. But I'll save Bakshi's Hobbit and especially Wizards for another post).

Back to B'T X - although it was produced in the mid-90s and reflects that aesthetic a bit (especially in the spandex-y evocation of skin-conforming armor), it reminds me more of 80s boy-and-his-critter narratives (Elfquest was the defining one for me, hence the connection). I was never a fan of E.T. as a kid, although I was dragged to it like every other kid when it was re-released in 1983-4.** But E.T. reflected some zeitgeist of the 80s that produced a narrative spate of young boys on a hero's quest with a weird sidekick. I'm thinking of the Neverending Story or even The Dark Crystal or, to related degrees, The Black Stallion or The Princess Bride. Or Flight of the Navigator. Or most obviously Star Wars. Part of this wave of child-centric movies was probably due to the rise of children as important consumers (what movie does little Billy want to see?), but I think it reflects a post-Vietnam wish to re-envision the US as an innocent, plucky underdog struggling to do what's right. This works especially if you think of Star Wars, which ushered in these other movies for the most part, following Apocalypse Now or The Conversation.

And of course, manga is no stranger to having a young male lead (hence the category of shonen manga for young boys). Mobile Suit Gundam, of which I am also a fan, stretches credulity with its 15-year-old military aces.

B'T X has some outrageously fun uses of textures and overlapping imagery in its visuals and extravagant-bordering-on-silly characters and their critters (in the book I'm on, Book 3, Teppei and X are going to battle a dude and his moth, having defeated a pirate captain and his giant sandworm). Sound effects leap out over a jumping Teppei astride an equally-energized X, all escaping the confounded enemy-of-the-moment. There is some familiar manga "challenge" narrative ("YOU WANNA TAKE ON ME! TAKE YOUR BEST SHOT! COME ON!" sort of stuff***). Although there is an innocence to the young boy and his horse, B'T X has a dark undercurrent of technological creep which threatens to overtake organic life. In a more subtle fashion the B'Ts (animal robots bonded to a human partner) are activated by the blood of their humans. In an obvious vein, the narrative major threat seems to be a giant machine mass intent on devouring all organic life (okay, so that's very obvious).

Teppei also wears a bandana (you can see it on X's leg in the third pic). There's hardly a more quintessential 80s fashion accessory than a bandana. ...except maybe a sparkly glove... Wait! Teppei's only got one glove!

And did I mention the jeans jacket?

* - I believe it was also broadcast in Spain and parts of Central America. One thing I'd like to study at some point is the anime/manga "diaspora" in Italy/France and Central/South America.

** - Or maybe it was still in theaters. I can't remember. I do remember it stayed in theaters forever and I remember the second movie I ever saw was Empire Strikes Back in 1983. I was 8. And I saw E.T. after ESB. The first movie I saw was, I believe, The Fox and the Hound.

*** - My mother taught elementary school art for many years and a few years ago she asked me "Why are the kids drawing people with their heads on fire?"

B'T X is copyright Kadokawa Shonen and created by Masami Kurumada.

October 11, 2006

As I was looking at these models thinking about my first post about Five Star Stories, I was struck by a strange, hopefully dated, feeling : that I wouldn't find it at all odd to encounter these objects in an art gallery. While I truly believe distinctions between High Art and Low Art are at best unhelpful,* I find as a creator you're still stuck with that nuisance voice over your shoulder asking "But is this legitimate?" You don't want to be the soda pop fizz of the latest commercial, but you don't want to be the guaze-wrapped mummy of the mausoleum-museum, either. So,the only path left open, as naive and cliche as it may be, is to follow your own weirdo path. Shine on you crazy diamond!

But back to Mamoru and the mortar headds. I think robots might be part of my aesthetic constellation because they are often very multi-faceted (literally) and while they resemble a body, interesting ones like the designs of Mamoru can hold a variety of forms in one "system." These designs, in one form, seem to occupy more than one simple representational space. This then is the question of "serious" visual art, whether High or Low : how do you make a sophisticated space? Western painters of the twentieth-century (spurred on by somewhat-unattributed Asian and African sources) chose to produce multiple viewpoints on one plane. So, a Picasso face often has a strong origami-like fold along one of its axes to bring a recessive plane of the face up into view. Or, what first came to mind when viewing the mortar headds, an artist like Duchamp chose to break apart the moments that occured through a plane in "Nude Descending a Staircase." The resulting kinetic organization of smooth geometric planes echoes the same complex harmony that informs one of Mamoru's robots. Close-ups of the models produces what, to me, is one of the most interesting effects of a complex visual form - the creation of cosmologies. Zooming in on a point on the body of these creatures reveals a detailed world with a new set of energetic form relationships.

Thankfully, Mamoru needs no such defending or point-proving about the legitimacy of his work. The debate is an internal one having more to do with my willingness to engage the weird subject matter that plagues my imagination.

All models from and New Generation Models.

* - I prefer something more along the lines of a quote attributed to a variety of musicians, usually Duke Ellington : "There's no distinction between serious music and light music. There is only good music and bad music."

October 7, 2006

I just found out that the Transformers movie will have a scene shot in Detroit's old train station. I really have very little interest in the movie, what with the combination of American CGI production and Michael Bay being the driving force. But it's interesting that this will be done thirty minutes away from my old place.

October 6, 2006

One of these lifetimes, I might evolve some monastic dedication to Five Star Stories, the Nagano Mamoru epic manga. I purchased a few volumes at a comic store before I left the States, but I had to leave him behind in an effort to shave weight from my travel bags. What little I glanced through the books proved evocative and the mecha designs are stunning for their worlds-within-worlds qualities. I was interested to learn after I got the books that Nagano had contributed to two of the best Gundam designs ever, Hyaku-Shiki and Rick Dias.

Where did the pics come from? In a fit of strange obsessiveness, I was trying to find an image of a particular Gundam (more on that up the blog), and ran across the Gundam site for the Gunpla-lover who has everything short of Tomino locked in their basement. It's called G-Systems and it features very large-scale hyper-detailed resin kits of Gundams, mecha and other Japanese pop culture characters. Some kits stand over two feet tall and cost over $2000 (US). That's a whole lotta Gundam. The fantasy-idea of it is certainly appealing - think of how you could dedicate a whole year to the perfect building and painting of something like this?

September 27, 2006

Great Googly-Moogly that was a long layoff wasn't it? Well, I'm back. I've moved to Dublin, Ireland,* so I think that's at least an explanation for my virtual disappearance.

My observation of "altered anatomies" continues unabated, although it has taken some unexpected twists and turns. But that's why we move halfway around the world, isn't it? The unexpected?

My briefest observation of Dublin "altered anatomies" is that you find an interesting mix of punk and Pict. I've seen lots of mohawks and faux-hawks, such that it makes me want to grow one. There are some interesting paduan braids, too, and even hair that verges on what we called a "rattail" when I was a kid (you'd think with a name like that, it wouldn't have been popular). I chalk it up to Pictish influence.

I have also observed the tracky-b's tucked into the socks with tri-velco-tied laser white trainers. This look goes by many names, with, I believe, the most common in UK parlance being "chav." There is a humorous spinoff here where young boys in Catholic school uniforms tuck their school pants into their socks also. Do the nuns look the other way? Who allows this derivation of dress? All in all it's an odd look, even for someone like me who prefers weird individual style in dress. I don't see how it creates an interesting profile, though, which I think is the goal in clothing. I think of the super-baggy pants of the American loitering youth, which at least change the body's appearance in an interesting way. In the end, the tracky-b's, like the baggy carpenter jeans, exhibit how a look is more important as sub-cultural identification than in its end effect. (I think my other beef as an artist is that there is very little color variation in the "chav" look. It's almost exclusively white and light grey with the occasional desaturated dark blue or tan mixed in, in the form of a nylon track jacket - where are my harajuku kids?).

I'm going through some serious robot withdrawal, though. My dreams are like this -

YouTube link (Gundam)

* - There will be a blog about that, too. I'll make a post here when that's up and running.


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