Star Blazers 2202 – Part One

I grew up with reruns of the original Star Trek. I was eleven-years-old and obsessed with Star Wars when it came out. However, there was a third series I loved as much as those and that was Space Battleship Yamato, perhaps better known to American fans as Star Blazers. The series was something of a mainstay of Japanese television and cinemas from 1974 until 1983 when the movie Final Yamato was released. In 2010, a good, albeit dark, live action movie was made. However, what I’ve been delighted to see is that the anime is being given a quality remake. Season One, set in the year 2199, was released six years ago. Season Two, set in 2202, started its run last year. It’s being released as a series of seven movies, which will then be broken up into television episodes. What’s more, the new Star Blazers has finally garnered US distribution and I’ve just finished watching the first half of Star Blazers 2202.

In the first season, aliens known as Gamilas have invaded the solar system and bombed the surface of the Earth until it’s uninhabitable. What’s left of humanity has retreated underground. They receive a message from an alien called Starsha who sends plans for a fantastic wave motion engine. She says if they can build a ship and get to her on the planet Iscandar, she can give them technology to clean up the planet. Captain Okita gathers a crew aboard the titular Yamato and they set off. At the risk of a spoiler, they succeed, though not without sacrifices and major changes to galactic regimes.

In the second season, a new enemy has appeared called the Gatlanteans. Somehow, Earth has managed to build a whole fleet of warships based on Yamato’s technology in a very short time and the “somehow” is addressed as part of the mystery of the series. In the meantime, the former crew of the Yamato receive a psychic distress call from a goddess-like alien called Teresa. She needs help and is also threatened by the Gatlanteans. However, Earth doesn’t want to help. It’s up to the crew of the Yamato to reunite in defiance of Earth’s government to find out who Teresa is and help her if they can.

One of the things I loved in the first season was that they took some care to update the science, and while the series takes some liberties in the name of telling a good space opera yarn, it was not bad. The second season does allow itself to fall into some 70’s SF tropes. The Gatlantean’s mobile base, which looks like a planet-sized comet is sometimes called a Quasar. Scientists today wouldn’t call it that—though it is reasonable that such a body would probably have huge radio emissions and might resemble a Quasar at first glance. Also, the asteroid belt is far too densely populated.

Both seasons are full of blink-and-you-miss-it moments. At times this can make watching the series a challenge, but it also means the series stands up to repeat viewings. I often catch things on a second or third pass that I missed the first time. This is also a series I enjoy watching both in subtitled and dubbed versions. The subtitles help me focus on the dialog while the dubbed versions let me just look at what’s going on while people are talking.

One thing the 2202 season has added that’s interesting is product placement. There are some familiar logos appearing here and there. It’s a little sad, but anime of this quality is notoriously expensive. I’m willing to put up with some of this if it allows the creators to continue making a quality show.

I’ve heard the updated Star Blazers called one of the best science fiction anime. I’d actually go a little further. It’s easily one of my top ten favorite all-time science fiction series and possibly even one of my top five. It’s definitely worth a look. The complete season one along with the first half of season two are available with subtitles at Crunchyroll.com. It’s available with English dubbing at Funimation.com. Note, to watch most of season two on Funimation you currently have to subscribe, but if I read the release schedule correctly, it’ll be available without subscription starting on August 31.

What about the second half of season two? As I mentioned, season two is being produced as seven motion pictures. Only five of those have been released in Japan. Two are still awaiting release. It appears that Crunchyroll and Funimation are putting the series on hiatus at the mid-point until the series is finished. If you’re a fan of Star Blazers or just want more information about the show, Tim Eldred runs an excellent website: OurStarBlazers.com.

Advertisements

Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur

This past weekend I watched a movie that’s been on my “want to see” list since it came out in 2004, Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur. It promised to deliver a more historically accurate vision of King Arthur than other films and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it more-or-less succeeded in a Hollywood action movie sort of way. The movie came to mind when I received my contributor copies of the anthology Camelot 13.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of Arthurian history and lore. On a subject where there are nearly 1500 years’ worth of lore and fiction, no one can create a new version without people bringing their own perceptions to the table and nitpicking this element or that. With that said and before I go too much further, I’ll note that the earliest documents on which the Arthur story is based essentially say that around 500 AD during the Roman occupation of Britain, a general led the Celtic tribes in a campaign against the Saxons and there was a big battle at Badon Hill. Arthur’s name doesn’t even appear in the history’s until almost 300 years after he supposedly lived.

In the film, Arthur is the son of a Roman general and a Celtic woman who rose to the rank of general himself. He leads an elite band of Roman conscripts stationed near Hadrian’s Wall. The Saxons are invading the island and Arthur is given the mission to go retrieve the son of a Roman consul favored by the Pope who lives north of the wall before the Saxons rampage over their villa. As the Saxons move in, the Celts, led by Merlin, form an alliance with Arthur. They fall back to Hadrian’s Wall where their version of Mt. Badon exists and have a climactic battle. In this version, Guinevere is a Celtic woman who is also a fighter. Without looking too closely at the details, all the elements fit interpretations of the history I’ve seen.

As it turns out, I cover some of these same events in my novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. However in my version, Arthur is a Christian Celt with some Roman training. His knights are also Celts, including Lancelot, who in my version is from Brittany. Guinevere is a Roman noble. I actually wrote a version of the battle of Badon Hill for the novel, but left it “off camera” for the novel since none of the protagonists were there. What’s fun for me is that I think both versions of the story are valid interpretations of the history such as it’s known. Of course, in the novel, I end up introducing King Arthur to a vampire who wants to find the Holy Grail because he think the artifact will help him find redemption. If you want to go on this quest, you can learn more about Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

Of course, if you want even more far out explorations of Arthurian Legend, be sure to check out Camelot 13. Copies will be available at Amazon next month, but you can order a copy today at http://hadrosaur.com/collections.html#Camelot13

Good Art by Bad People

It can be a real shock to learn that people you admire have done terrible things. Recently the news has been filled with stories of Bill Cosby’s sexual assaults. Just a few years ago, the speculative fiction world was shaken by allegations of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s child sexual abuse. It hurts and even feels like these people we’ve allowed into our hearts and homes through their work have betrayed us. This in turn raises a challenge. What do we do with the art created by such people?

Thee’s a good and thoughtful article at the Paris Review by Claire Dederer on this subject, with a special focus on the films of Woody Allen. You can read the article here: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/11/20/art-monstrous-men/

I believe Ms. Dederer makes an important point in her article. None of us are perfect. We’ve all done stupid, mean, or hurtful things at one time or another. Hopefully most of us haven’t committed acts as terrible as those committed by Bill Cosby or Marion Zimmer Bradley, but all of us get caught up in our own selfish or thoughtless needs and desires at times. What’s more, this struggle against our worst natures is at the very root of what makes good art.

As an editor, I’ve read and published numerous submissions from prisoners. I’ve never been good about keeping detailed statistics on things like this, but my impression is that the acceptance rate among prisoners is about the same as the general population. Now, it’s rare for a prisoner to tell me why they’re serving time, but clearly they were convicted of a sufficiently serious crime to be incarcerated. Despite that, I have found in these works something worth sharing with a wider audience. I also feel like these people are paying their debt to society by serving time. Many of them are honestly trying to improve themselves by expressing their feelings through art. I feel the effort deserves reward.

Thinking about this subject has also helped me to understand my inherent problem with America’s celebrity worship. As a culture, we seem all too ready to give people power simply because they’re famous. People become afraid to speak up when a famous person does terrible things. Admittedly many famous people do hold real power. They’re heads of companies or manage staffs, but the fact that they’re famous makes people more afraid to speak up. People know they’ll be judged in the court of public opinion when they say a famous person did terrible things. In fact, certain celebrities are quite adept at turning their fans against accusers.

I think there is a real danger when society attempts to dictate what art is available for people to consume. Imagine the government telling you to throw out your video tapes of I Spy and burn your copies of The Mists of Avalon. Now imagine what else they’ll decide is not moral enough for you to consume. Another possible and more subtle consequence is that you could create a situation where the only artists available are the famous ones, which would only exacerbate the celebrity problem. Turning that around does offer something to consider when you feel betrayed by an artist. Always remember, there are many other artists out there eager to tell you stories, show you their movies, and paint amazing canvases.

Just remember, those artists are human and subject to temptation. Just like you.

Gamera

I think it’s fair to say that I grew up watching a lot of media from Japan. A lot was anime such as Tetsujin 28, Mach Go, Go, Go, and Gatchaman, perhaps better known here in the United States as Gigantor, Speed Racer, and Battle of the Planets respectively. However, I can’t overlook the role of giant monsters, or kaiju. Godzilla is clearly the most famous, but when I was a kid, my hero was Gamera.

I was thrilled to find Blu-ray copies of Gamera’s first eight films a few weeks ago. I’ve slowly been working my way through them. I’ve run into some people who think Gamera is part of the menagerie who battled Godzilla during his ongoing reign as King of Monsters. In fact, Gamera was the property of an altogether different movie studio. Godzilla’s stories were filmed at Toho Studios. Gamera was competitor Daiei’s entry into the kaiju arena.

For those not familiar with Gamera, he’s a giant fire-breathing turtle with tusks awakened from arctic ice during a dogfight between US and Soviet forces. Although he goes on a rampage for energy in the first film, he seems to have a soft spot for humans, and children in particular. In later films of the series, he’s revealed to be something of a guardian for humanity, protecting them from other monsters. The first eight films take place during Japan’s Shōwa period—the reign of Emperor Hirohito.

To be perfectly honest, the first eight Gamera films are far from great cinema. There’s a good reason several of them were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I’ve long had the sense that the people behind the film series knew their limitations and had fun with them. At one point Gamera defeats a shark monster called Zigra, then plays a couple of bars of his own theme song on its back. Afterwards, he does a little dance. Another great moment comes in Gamera Super Monster when Gamera is ordered to go on a rampage by aliens and knocks over a sandwich board advertising a Godzilla film. Scenes like these make me think the Shōwa Gamera films have more in common with the 1960’s televised Batman than with films like Manos: The Hands of Fate filmed just down the road in El Paso, Texas.

As it turns out, Gamera was reimagined for a trilogy of really good films in the 1990s. These Heisei-era Gamera films gave a solid backstory to the titular turtle. He still attempts to protect mankind as a whole, but he’s still a giant monster and is prone to mass destruction. Not everyone likes Gamera in these films. The Heisei-era Gamera films also presented some cool glimpses into life in many different parts of Japan. I highly recommend Gamera: Guardian of the Universe and its two sequels.

My love of these films is a small part of what makes me the writer I am today. As a kid, I was drawn to the action and good-natured humor of these films. If it weren’t for these films, I probably wouldn’t have sought out more serious Japanese films like those of Akira Kurosawa, which gave me a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and storytelling. Writing what we know is, among other things, writing what interests us. So watching Gamera films as a kid, was a first step toward writing my novel The Brazen Shark about samurai resisting cultural change in an alternate, steampunk Japan.

If you’d like to learn more about The Brazen Shark and my inspirations for the novel, I’ll be interviewed on the radio this Friday, July 13 on KTAL Community Radio from 12:30 to 1:00pm Mountain Daylight Time. My friends in Las Cruces can listen on the radio on 101.5 FM. For my friends outside the area, you can listen at: https://www.lccommunityradio.org/stream.html

Valerian and Laureline

While learning more about the movie The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec directed by Luc Besson and the comic of the same name by Jacques Tardi, I stumbled across another French comic which was recently adapted by Besson. The comic is Valérian and Laureline written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières. The movie, called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, completely slipped under my radar. Because I love a good space opera, I immediately set out to see the movie and read some issues of the comic.

The comic started its run in November 1967. To put it in context, the original Star Trek was still on the air in the United States and Patrick Troughton was playing the title character of Doctor Who in England. It’s pure pulp action Sci Fi, reminding me most of Buck Rogers with a touch of Flash Gordon thrown in for good measure. The artwork, particularly in the first two installments, looks like it’s inspired by Mad Magazine and there is a definite satirical edge to the stories. The characters of Valérian and Laureline also remind me a little of Jamie and Zoe, the Doctor’s traveling companions at the time, but with some of their personality traits mixed up. Laureline, like Jamie McCrimmon, is from the past and doesn’t always want to follow the rules. Valérian, like Zoe, thinks highly of himself, and seems to need rescuing from time to time. I’m not convinced these similarities are deliberate. I suspect there’s an element of the zeitgeist of the period in these passing resemblances.

Fans of Valérian and Laureline are also fast to point out many similarities between the French comic and Star Wars which would come out a decade later. I gather George Lucas has acknowledged the French comic’s influence on the look of his world.

Jumping ahead to the movie, I thought Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was a gem. It captured the spirit of the comic very well and I thought presented a dandy and cohesive story with some cool science fictional ideas that made valid commentary on what can happen when indigenous peoples find themselves caught between two civilizations at war. Valerian and Laureline themselves are introduced during a special ops mission at a market that exists in a different dimension from our own. I loved the way that concept was portrayed on screen.

I enjoyed the performances of Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline. They’re not your usual Hollywood romantic couple. In fact, they seemed just a little uncomfortable with this whole romance thing, but it worked for me because that’s the way romance often works in real life. It’s figuring out how you each work, and not having the writer put phrases in your mouth that the other party has to be a moron to misunderstand and pout about until they make up. The film also features a truly outstanding performance by Rihanna as an alien called Bubble. I also loved the cameos by Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer.

As a bonus, I’ve discovered that about ten years ago, Valerian and Laureline was turned into a French-Japanese co-produced anime. From what I’ve seen so far, the anime’s story diverges from the comic’s, but it still looks fun. I definitely need to watch a few more episodes.

Of course, I’m a sucker for a good space opera. If you want to see my serialized space opera story, please drop by my Patreon site. You can read the first story of my Firebrandt’s Legacy for free. If you pledge just one dollar, you can read nine more stories right now. If you remain a patron, you’ll get each new story as its released. Stop by and check out Firebrandt’s Legacy at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Vampyr

A few weeks ago, I discovered a vampire film from the 1930s that I had never encountered before. Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, the movie Vampyr was filmed about the same time as Universal’s Dracula but was released about a year later. The film features an original script with elements inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s stories “Carmilla” and “The Room in the Dragon Volant” which appeared in the collection In a Glass Darkly.

Unlike other vampire films of the period, this doesn’t involve sinister castles in Eastern Europe. Instead, at its heart, the film feels a lot like some of Hammer Studio’s better vampire films from the 1960s. We meet a fellow named Allan Gray, ostensibly on a fishing trip in the French countryside, who stops at an inn. We learn at the beginning that Gray is interested in the occult and soon strange things happen. A man visits his room on his first night and leaves him a package, with the instructions that the package should not be opened unless the man dies. Gray then takes the package and follows ghostly shadows to a neighboring mill. A shadow of a rifleman seems to guide him to a point where the shadow then joins the corporeal rifleman who has been sitting in one place the whole time.

Gray ultimately leaves the mill and goes to a nearby manor house. Right as he arrives, the Lord of the manner drops over, as though dead. It appears that he’s killed by a gunshot from the shadowy rifleman, but that’s not all clear. He may easily have had a heart attack or a stroke or been harmed by some other supernatural force. At this point, the film takes on a more familiar vampire narrative flow, at least for a while. We learn that the lord’s older daughter, Léon has been preyed upon by a local vampire and she cannot be allowed to die, or she will turn into a vampire too. The lord’s younger daughter, Gisèle is also under threat of becoming a vampire. When the lord does succumb to the gunshot, or other injury, Gray discovers that his parcel is a book about vampires and how to deal with them. He teams up with the servants of the house to hunt the vampire.

Like Dracula, Vampyr is an early sound picture. The movie works to keep dialogue at a minimum and gives us a lot of information on narrative intertitle cards and on the pages of the vampire book. The movie also relies a lot on visual imagery to tell the story. I’ve already mentioned a little about shadows that become detached from their owners, but there are other odd elements, such as skulls that turn to face the room’s occupants and hints that we’re seeing what characters perceive rather than what they literally see. At one point, Allan himself seems to split into two spiritual forms. One form is left behind. The other form returns to the mill and finds both where the younger daughter is locked up and his own dead body in a coffin. He then becomes the dead body who is transported from the mill to the graveyard whereupon his spiritual selves reunite.

As a fan of vampire literature, one thing I love about this film is how it associates the vampires with ghosts and phantoms. The only other film I’ve seen that used is Nosferatu and even there, it’s only hinted at. I also liked the fact that the film’s “Master Vampire” appeared as an elderly woman who has men in her thrall. One of those men may also be a vampire, though it’s never entirely clear. I also love the experimental nature of this film. On Monday, I talked a little about “superhero fatigue” and really that’s a subset of seeing the same things over and over again in film. It’s nice to see a film dare to experiment with images and trust the audience to interpret what it’s seeing. And that’s what makes this film special. I’ve given it an interpretation, but you may see some elements differently depending on whether you take them literally or symbolically.

If you’re a vampire fan, it’s definitely worth checking out Vampyr. Of course, you can check out my vampire fiction by visiting http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Superheroes

This past weekend I saw Deadpool 2 with my daughter. I enjoyed the film and particularly its theme of seeking out love and family in the wake of violence and chaos. It’s funny with a lot of self-aware, and sometimes inappropriate, humor. It also left me pondering Hollywood’s current obsession with superheroes. I sometimes feel like I suffer something I call “superhero fatigue.” Sort of a groan that escapes involuntarily when I see another new superhero film announced. Yet, I do go back to some that particularly grab my eye. Films like Logan, Wonder Woman, and Deadpool have engaged me in spite of my fatigue.

I loved superheroes as a kid, both from comic books and on television. I probably discovered them on television first through such shows as Filmation’s Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure and the famous Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Discovering my friends from TV in comic book form no doubt helped me improve my reading. Because of when my birthday fell, I was only four when I started Kindergarten. I was younger than most of my classmates and smaller. My size probably wasn’t helped by my mom smoking while she was pregnant with me. As such, I have the familiar story of being the small kid picked on relentlessly by his classmates. I know I loved superheroes because I loved to imagine myself having super powers and impressing the other kids in class. Of course, super powers would also have given me the ability to beat up the worst of the bullies.

As an adult and a writer, I see superheroes in a different light. I’ve come to recognize that all good superheroes have limits or weaknesses and the best stories are when the villain pushes past those limits and weaknesses. All the best superheroes have people they love and they can be hurt when the people around them are hurt. That’s how Deadpool 2 starts.

As an adult, there are still dangerous forces I sometimes feel powerless to stop, such as climate change, poverty, and overblown man-children with nuclear arms who like to taunt each other through social media. Because of that, there’s still appeal in wondering whether I could do something about them if I had superpowers. Yet, it’s often the more mundane, day-to-day challenges that cause the most anxiety. Will my daughter be safe at school? How can I afford that bill I forgot about? Where did that bad Amazon review come from? Did they even read the book I wrote? Even if I had superpowers, those things probably wouldn’t change. I have to work through my limitations to find solutions to those things. I have to teach my daughter to be aware of possible dangers and avoid them when possible. I maybe have to sacrifice something for that bill, or reevaluate my finances. I should be brave like a superhero and look at that review and see whether or not there’s something I can learn from it.

The closest thing I’ve ever written to superhero fiction is Vampires of the Scarlet Order about a team of vampire mercenaries who must save humanity from itself. Can vampires be superheroes? Just ask Marvel’s Blade, who was brilliantly portrayed a few years ago by Wesley Snipes. As it turns out, I first learned about Blade when Neal Asher compared my book to Marvel’s movie and comic book series. My vampires have great power. They can move fast and have great strength. They’re hunters, but they have limits. Among other things, they can only work at night and they can be destroyed. As with the heroes in Deadpool 2, they also find family in unexpected places. If you care to see my take on superheroes, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html to learn more.