Welcome to this week’s edition of Worth Reading! I’m still tinkering with the format, and this week I’m experimenting with adding a bit more editorial comment to the links. I’ve also changed the series title, but I’m thinking it may be a bit ponderous. Anyhow, this stuff is worth reading, and after you’re done so drop me a comment with your thought on the new format.
And don’t forget to comment on the links you visit. Comments and discussion are the lifeblood of our community. (This is directed at me too… I’m terrible at commenting.)
- kViN at the Sakuga Blog posts an interesting collection of artists books (self published books by anime creators) purchased at Comiket 92.
- At the Anime Corps, Tsuyuki tackles some of the myths and misperceptions of he public at large with regards to anime and the anime fandom community. He makes a number of well-reasoned arguments and points that I’ll keep in mind next time the topic comes up around me. I don’t have this problem with my friends though, we’re all weird. (In high school I was considered the normal(!) one of our group.)
- Studio Ghibli’s movies were a gateway for many of us I suspect, but they’re rarely touched upon by current anime critics or by current season bloggers. Are they considered sacred? Is it that it’s all been done before? Whatever the reason, I don’t think we should shy away from doing so. You don’t need to worry about saying something new or original. Just do your best to express your thoughts and opinions. All that serves as long-winded introduction to Chris’ piece at Peach’s Almanac – Kiki’s Delivery Service: Kiki’s Insatiable Drive, a well done look at some of the themes and motifs in this wonderful movie.
- Also on the topic of Ghibli and Miyazaki, Jonathan at Schoolgirl Milky Crisis posts a thoughtful essay on Ghibli’s current recruiting drive to assemble a new team of animators for Miyazaki’s next film. (With all the recent attention to how little animators get paid – this one is truly worth reading.)
- At Jon Spencer Reviews, Jon posts a fun essay comparing and contrasting three of my favorite anime – Barakamon, Usagi Drop, and Sweetness and Lightning. He also talks about the unique things in each anime that made them appealing to him.
- In the past few weeks, there’s been a great deal of smoke and heat generated over the Netflix adaptation of Death Note. Karandi at 100 Word Anime weighs in with a thoughtful piece on the challenges that adaptations face and the role preconceived notions of anime fandom play in their reception.(Disclaimer – I have not seen the movie, nor do I intend to. For that matter, I haven’t seen the original or read the manga. The premise does not appeal to me.)
Side note: Does anyone know how to get WordPress/html to insert blank lines inside bulleted lists? ‘p’ tags don’t work and br / doesn’t either, and I want breaks inside some entries such as the one above. I hate it when I can’t do simple graphical layout stuff with HTML. You can tell it was designed by computer people with no experience at graphic or layout design. (Not that I’m any expert, but I did learn the basics aeons ago.)
No jump this week as there is no ‘below the fold’ material. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to comment!
18 thoughts on “Worth Reading: Links, views, and news. 9/7-9/13”
Thanks for sharing my post.
And if you get an answer on the formatting thing, let the rest of us know. I hate the way wordpress formats lists.
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Attaching myself to this in case an answer is discovered.
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Thanks for sharing my post!
I’ve read a good number of the ones you linked but there was one I hadn’t read yet so I’m off to read that now :) I enjoy these and hope you keep them up!
And that’s why I post ’em. :)
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I didn’t notice people were shying away from talking about Ghibli. Is that really the case? Do they talk about Ghibli less than, say, Hosoda or Shinkai (Your Name excepted)? Isn’t it just that the online animefandom is focused on streaming, which entails a focus on TV anime, and in particular the late-night variety?
For what it’s worth, I’m not really a Miyazaki fan. The only one of his films I’ve seen that I really love is Princess Mononoke, but Nausicaa and Spirited Away are quite good, too, and I have a soft spot for Totoro. I haven’t seen Kiki yet, though I plan to watch it some time.
I’m definitely more of a Takahata fan. I pretty much love everything the guy did. He does get the respect he deserves, but I get the impression that too few people have seen My Neighbours the Yamadas. Interestingly, Takahata – pre-Ghibli – was my gateway into anime, and considering my age, you could say he was my gateway into media: I must have been around four or five when I’ve first seen Heidi, Girl of the Alps and around six, when I’ve seen 2000 Miles in Search of Mother. Both of those shows still hold up.
I’ll be going to read some of those blog posts now. :)
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Yeah, that might have been a better way to phrase it… The online community is hyperfocused on current offerings, whether on the big screen or the small.
I certainly enjoy Takahata, though I’ve only seen his Ghibli work. You might remember me singing the praises of Princess Kaguya when the DVD became available in the US.
Ooh, if Kaguya is the last thing Takahata ever did, he went out with a bang. (Needless to say, I own the Dvd.)
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Adaptation is the issue nearest and dearest to my heart. This is an argument I’ve been having for years with source material purists. Yes, “the book is better” most of the time, but not always (see: Jaws), and even if the book IS better that doesn’t mean the movie/TV series is automatically bad and a waste of time. I’m addressing the issue in general terms, of course – I don’t get Netflix, so I have not and never will see this Death Note movie, but I’ve never watched or read the original Death Note anyway, so it’s rather irrelevant to me.
My basic rule of thumb is that a movie/TV adapation only needs to follow three simple rules to satisfy me: a) present the story so that the viewer can completely understand it without needing to read the book, b) you’re making it for the screen, so pace it for the screen, and c) don’t crap on the characters. When I’m watching a good adaptation, I’m just caught up in enjoying it for what it is and not even thinking about what they changed, even if it’s a movie like Blade Runner or The Shining where the changes from the novel are blatant. I even enjoyed the Ghost in the Shell movie from earlier this year, because for all its other flaws it was still entertaining and it respected the core themes of the story. On the other hand, when I do start finding myself consciously or unconsciously judging a movie against the source material, it’s pretty much always because it’s breaking at least one of those three rules. I wasn’t a big fan of Howl’s Moving Castle, for instance, because I felt like Miyazaki either didn’t get what the book was about or just didn’t care, so that the end product feels a lot like he borrowed someone else’s characters and setting and used them to make Spirited Away Part 2.
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Howl’s Moving Castle is an interesting example. I don’t know the book; I’ve only seen the film. But I didn’t like the film. It didn’t even feel like Spirited Away 2 to me. It felt… oddly empty. A lot of developments felt random. I had no idea who was fighting what war. I was completely lost in the story. I got some half-chewed character development for the main characters (nothing bad here, but nothing special either), and the usual great visualisation, but based on no foundation. If you’re going to do an adaption that’s different from the source, you’ll have to put something of yourself in, and preferrably not just a collage of stuff you’ve done before.
Bladerunner is good film. I love it. If you read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep you can see the point of contact, but it’s essentially a different story with different characters. It’s not a good adaptation; it’s not a bad adaptation. It’s a fan-fiction-like response. It’s basically saying: if you had given me the material that’s what I would have done with it. That’s why it’s a good film, even though – technically – it’s a lousy adaptation. That allegation (Bladerunner being a bad adaptation) is missing the point, though. It’s quite obviously not supposed to be the same thing.
Disney is notorious for doing the same thing, over and over again. How much does The Junglebook have in common with the Kipling source? It’s, in my opinion, perfectly okay to do things like that. It’s not very respectful to use it as a cheap cash-in, but that sort of stuff is old (as the Cervantes-written sequel to Don Quijote shows, which includes Don Quijote complaining about an “imposter”).
The “don’t-crap-on-the-characters” rule is sort of problematic, too, if the crapping is deliberate and a statement about the work. I remember Heinlein fans not being that fond of Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, for example, but it works excellently as a satire of militarism and propaganda (at least I thought so, as someone who’s never read the source book).
So coming back to Howl’s Moving Castle, I had the impression that it was a bad adaptation, which means: (a) I thought that it wanted to be an adaptation, but (b) it didn’t get anything across to me, much less what the book is actually about. Films like Bladerunner or The Junglebook really are more adequately referred to as being “based on” their source material. I didn’t get the impression from Howl, but as I said, I don’t know the source. And the borders between a straightforward adaptation and film based on a source are fluid anyway.
My own rule-of thumb is: (a) does the film work on its own terms, and (b) what do I think of those terms?
Sounds like you get what I was saying, and we’re generally in agreement. To clarify, when I say “crapping on the characters” I’m not talking about doing bad things to them. I’m talking about getting the character completely wrong or fundamentally changing who that character is in a bad way, like if a movie for no good reason turned Sherlock Holmes into a bumbling idiot or turned Conan the Barbarian into a 97-pound weakling. To give a real example, the breaking point for me with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy was what it did to Smaug in the second movie. Smaug is supposed to be both highly intelligent and very aristocratic – he maintains that upper-class British air of superiority concealed under mock-politness throughout his conversation with Bilbo in the novel; he doesn’t change his tone until he’s directly challenged with the motive of revenge, and when he drops the polite facade it’s to go downright Old Testament on Bilbo. He’s a powerful, regal character who dominates the scene with his presence. When I saw Jackson reduce that force of nature to a cartoon Scooby Doo villain, literally chasing the dwarves in circles around the mountain halls and constantly falling for simple tricks and distractions, I was so disgusted I almost walked out of the theater on the spot. And that’s coming from someone who loved Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about. And I know that’s not going to be a deal-breaker for everyone, but I have a strong personal bias towards good character writing (even over a well-written plot in some ways), so when I see established characters get assassinated like that, it sticks with me.
I think “fan fiction response” is a fair way to describe Howl too. It initially follows the base plotline of the book, that Sophie gets an aging curse put on her by the Witch of the Waste, leaves home and stumbles into Howl’s castle, where she works as a house maid while looking for a way to break the curse, but that’s about as far as comparisons go. The novel’s central theme is about challenging class and gender expectations, with Sophie feeling trapped by the circumstances of her birth and unconsciously suppressing her own talents and limiting her own potential as a result – through her time living with Howl and the ongoing conflict with the Witch (who’s the Big Bad of the novel; no turning her into a harmless old lady halfway through it) Sophie realizes her full talents and discovers that she’s actually quite a powerful magic user herself, a revelation the movie ignores. Miyazaki took that story and channeled his anger over the Iraq war into it to make an anti-war film focused on themes of love and loyalty instead. In the book, there’s no war, no flying blob-men, no airships, and no Howl turning into a bird, and the warmongering Suliman – the closest thing to an actual villain in the movie – is a very, very minor (male) character in the novel who isn’t a villain at all. I really liked the book a lot, and if you were intrigued by the first third or so of the movie, before it went off in a totally different direction, then I’d recommend it. But like I said, my issues with Howl aren’t because it’s different from the novel. My biggest problems with the movie are that Miyazaki’s version of the story doesn’t entirely hold together (as Derek said), that Sophie in the movie feels more like a witness to events than the novel’s fully realized protagonist, and that when I saw it for the first time it was literally like 2 nights after I’d watched Spirited Away, and with that movie still fresh in my mind I couldn’t help noticing how many elements of that film got re-used in Howl. It’s not my least-favorite Ghibli (that’s still Ponyo), but I probably have a lower opinion of it than the average viewer.
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Sounds like Miyazaki was forcing his standard issues over Howl’s Moving Castle like an ill-fitting glove. I’ve always wanted to read Jones, though not necessarily Howl. Maybe it’s time?
Yeah, I didn’t post to disagree, actually. I understood what you meant with “crapping on characters”, too, but “crapping on characters” (as in “getting them fundamentally wrong”) can be the point of an adaptation. What if I were to make a Sherlock Holmes film, and run with the source story almost word by word, but imply through stylistic means and subtle additions here and there that Holmes is too in love with his intellect to get what he’s missing, and he only looks like a genius because Watson (the narrator) is an adoring fool, and the police are lazy and don’t care much and use his reputation. At the end of the story the implication would be that, due to Holmes self-righteousness, an innocent man was arrested. It could double as a critique on celebrity worship, and as a critique of Holmes’ method to come to conclusions by elimination (because there’s always things you miss, you can never be sure that you considered everything). You did say “for no good reason”, so again I’m not disagreeing with you. It’s more an exploration of the limits of terminology. (You’ll notice that the terminology I ended up with is even vaguer than what I started out with after your post, so it’s not actually a process that increases accuracy. It’s one of my tics, really, and I think I’ve always had that, but perfected it at university.)
Btw, I haven’t seen a single Miyazaki film made after Howl, so I have no idea what I’d think of Ponyo. It being your least favourite doesn’t motivate me further to check it out.
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Naturally. Since these are only my personal standards, they only have to be clear in my own head, so I wasn’t worrying about precise definitions when I typed them out. What you’re talking about with that Holmes scenario is more akin to deconstruction or alternate interpretation anyway, and I have no problems with those. Now if you had Holmes eschewing logic and deductive reasoning entirely and using bird entrails and tarot cards to divine the culprit’s identity and motives instead, then I’d have issues, because that’s not re-interpreting Holmes at that point, that’s changing one of the most fundamental core traits of his character.
I’ve read three of DWJ’s novels so far: Howl, The Game, and Power of Three (in that order), and I really liked all of them. This article might help if you’re looking for ideas on which of her books to read first: https://www.tor.com/2015/12/16/where-to-start-with-diana-wynne-jones/
Thanks for the link. :)
Indeed, the book isn’t always better… A slog through the indulgent morass that is The Princess Bride would convince almost anyone of that. I think it’s mostly just a reaction, seeing something you loved in one form transformed into something else is sometimes a hard pill to swallow.
I’d add a fourth rule though – d) tell a story. Simple, straightforward, and right to the point. And the one most often broken. I’m not familiar with the original of Howl’s, though I’ve read a synopsis of it, but I’ve always thought it one of the weaker Miyazakis because the story doesn’t quite hold together.
Just tell the story? Wow, imagine the possibilities of a world where anime actually followed that rule! So many new anime set up a status quo scenario in the first few episodes and then never go anywhere except in circles with it for the rest of the season (Love & Lies, etc.) that I’m not sure we’d know how to handle it if we suddenly started getting a bunch of real stories with actual plot progression and narrative momentum.
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The jewels shine all the brighter by comparison to the muck around them! :) But thankfully the real stinkers are few and far between.