Alita Battle Angel – The Movie

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts about the Robert Rodriguez film, From Dusk till Dawn. This past week, I watched Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of the manga Battle Angel Alita, which I discussed here at the Web Journal back in December. There was a lot about From Dusk till Dawn that suggested Rodriguez would be a good director for this manga. He clearly had a good sense of both character and action, both of which would be essential for adapting Alita for mainstream American audiences.

The American movie adaptation largely follows the plot of the first two volumes of the Alita manga. Set in somewhat grungy city under a pristine floating city, Dr. Ido finds Alita’s cybernetic head in a scrap heap and attaches it to a new body. We learn that Dr. Ido supplements his income as a bounty hunter. While following Dr. Ido, Alita unlocks some of her latent combat abilities. She also decides to become a bounty hunter. As all of this is going on, she meets a young man named Hugo who teaches her about life in the city. He also shares his dreams of traveling to the floating city, Zalem. In the film, Hugo takes Alita to a fallen spaceship from an ancient war, where she learns more about her past. He also introduces her to a futuristic, rocket-propelled version of roller derby called motorball. These last two elements weren’t in the first two volumes of the manga, but I gather are introduced in later volumes.

Overall, the movie felt like a faithful adaptation of the manga. It stayed true to the story of Alita and her journey of self-discovery and independence. It also kept the manga’s spirit of fighting for justice even when the odds are against you. I liked how even though we’re presented with something of a dystopia, the film’s “Iron City” didn’t seem an entirely bad place. You could get chocolate, make friends, and find moments of joy.

One element of the script that bothered me was the need to change and anglicize some of the names. The manga came from an era when anglicizing names was common. For example, Alita’s name in the original manga was Gally. However, in the movie, they change Dr. Daisuke Ido to Dr. Dyson Ido. They also change Yugo to Hugo, which doesn’t bother me as much since they sound similar. Still, it seems anime and manga translation has largely moved past the need to anglicize Asian names for American audiences. It’s time for more mainstream movies to follow suit.

I have mixed feelings about the movie’s choice to give Rosa Salazar’s Alita large eyes reminiscent of the style seen in anime and manga. On one hand, it’s an interesting nod to the story’s artistic roots. Also, it makes some sense that a battle cyborg might have enhanced, larger eyes to take in more than ordinary human eyes. The large eyes serve to emphasize that Alita isn’t human. However, that’s where I think the filmmakers missed the mark somewhat. Alita is supposed to be very human despite the fact she’s manufactured. Also, in manga and anime, the large eyes are something of an artistic style designed to emphasize the role eyes play in conveying emotion. It seems unnecessary to give one character literal anime eyes. It also had a tendency to remind me I’m watching a “special effects movie” instead of letting me disappear into the story.

So far, Alita: Battle Angel is my favorite American live-action adaptation of an anime. It may be flawed, but it largely stayed true to the source material. It gives me hope for better adaptations in the future and if it introduces some new readers to the source material, so much the better.

Battle Angel

November is my birthday month and in this modern age of digital shopping, that usually means a slew of coupons find their way into my email over the course of the month. I don’t use all the coupons. If I did, I’d probably go broke saving all that money. That noted, the coupons that tempt me most are the ones that get me to shop at bookstores. Among other things, the coupons become an excuse to try some books I haven’t explored before.

Battle Angel Alita

This time around, I found myself looking at the manga shelf at the local bookstore when Kodansha Comics’ beautiful deluxe edition of Battle Angel Alita caught my eye. Mostly I knew of Alita from the recent film directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Rosa Salazar. I’d put off seeing the film because I knew it had been based on a manga and I wanted to know the source material before going to see the film. Among other things, I’ve often been disappointed by American interpretations of manga and anime.

Kodansha’s deluxe edition of the manga features an introduction by Brenden Fletcher, beautifully reproduced artwork at large size and some great translator notes. From the introduction, I learned that this cyberpunk manga by Yukito Kushiro had its origins in the early 1990s. Its Japanese title might best be translated as “Gun Dream Gally.” The manga first appeared in the United States in the mid-1990s, which probably explains why I wasn’t familiar with it. I was busy being a new dad at that point. However, arriving in the mid-1990s, manga and anime characters were still subject to having their names changed by translators, so Gally (or Garii) became Alita.

Battle Angel Alita is set in a dystopian, dark futuristic version of Kansas City, which sits under a floating, modern city called Zalem. A cybernetics specialist called Ito finds a beautiful robotic head in the scrap dropped by Zalem. He repairs the head and attaches it to a body and thus Alita is born. It turns out that Ito isn’t just a cybernetics specialist, he’s also a bounty hunter who dispenses justice to humans and rogue cyborgs who have broken the laws of the factory, which has become the central authority in this version of Kansas City. Alita’s first volume is largely a martial arts adventure story as Alita discovers she is a skilled warrior. She must battle a rogue cyborg called Makaku.

In the second volume, Alita falls in love with a boy named Yugo who dreams of going to the floating city. The only problem is that Yugo is illegally killing cyborgs and harvesting their spinal columns, the only part of the human body cyberneticists can’t duplicate. This volume explored the Yukito Kushiro’s science fictional world much more and I found myself much more engaged by the complicated set of emotions experienced by Alita and Yugo. Overall, I highly recommend this deluxe hardcover manga.

Upstart Mystique

It turns out that Battle Angel Alita was also made into a short original video animation. As of this writing, the anime can be watched for free on YouTube and it does tell much the same story as the manga, though somewhat condensed. Having watched the anime and read the manga, I’m now interested in seeing the American film.

As with many of the best cyberpunk stories, Battle Angel Alita explores questions of our relationship with machines. In the future, how much will machines become part of our bodies? Will we be able to move our consciousness from one body to another? Can the brain live long enough to be transplanted? Can consciousness survive in a computer without the brain? I was pleased to edit and publish a novel that also explores these questions, though it’s set on a distant alien world encountered by the crew of a starship. If you’re intrigued by these questions, I also encourage you to read Upstart Mystique by Don Braden. The book is available at: http://hadrosaur.com/UpstartMystique.php

Captain Harlock’s Endless Orbit

One of my Father’s Day gifts this year contained the DVD of the one Captain Harlock TV series I have not yet seen in its entirety, Endless Orbit SSX, from 1982. Also in the box was the first volume of Leiji Matsumoto’s original Captain Harlock manga from 1977. This was a wonderfully appropriate gift on several levels.

Of course, I’ve been a fan of the good captain since I first encountered him around 1991 in the movie Galaxy Express 999. The imagery of a space pirate who visited Western frontier looking planets no doubt helped drive some of my thinking when I started work on my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, around that time. Now, I’m hard at work on the novel’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition. A final proofread is underway and the book is being laid out, so I’ve been finding myself thinking about some of the themes and influences.

Many of my favorite space operas, the adventures of Captain Harlock included, have a certain family-like atmosphere. There’s a distinct sense of a band of siblings working toward a common goal, whether it be the exploration of a world, freeing Earth from tyranny, or solving some mystery in deep space. Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, despite his stated dislike of children, often feels like a wise father figure. In the 1978 Space Pirate Captain Harlock series, the captain is almost a literal father, looking after the daughter of his best friend who had died before the series began.

One thing that becomes clear as you watch the various Captain Harlock series is that there is no continuity from one series or movie to the next. That said, I prefer to think of the various Harlock series as stories about Harlock in assorted parallel universes, or perhaps running along alternate timelines. I wouldn’t be surprised if Harlock meddles in his own timeline given the Time Castle in Galaxy Express 999 and Harlock’s plot to reset the entire cosmic clock in the 2013 CGI Space Pirate Captain Harlock Movie.

The only exception to the notion that there’s no continuity between movies and series is that the series Endless Orbit SSX is a direct sequel to the movie Arcadia of my Youth. The movie and series tell about Harlock’s attempts to save Earth from an invasion of aliens called the Illumidas. In what I have watched so far, Harlock is still not a literal father, but he does rapidly become a father figure to Tadashi Monono and Revi Bentselle. Revi is the little girl on the box and first appears as a stranded passenger on a ship Harlock raids. Tadashi is a teenage boy who decides to collect a bounty on Harlock, but when he learns Harlock is the good guy, joins the crew of the Space Pirate Battlehship Arcadia as the cook.

The Captain Harlock manga has so far not introduced Harlock’s adopted daughter, Mayu, who appeared in the TV series, but again, Harlock rapidly becomes a father figure to an orphaned teen, Tadashi Daiba. In the manga, as with the original TV series, Harlock is working to keep aliens called the Mazon from invading the Earth.

In my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, Captain Ellison Firebrandt has a daughter who grows up and leaves home. He also becomes a sort of elder statesman, advising the colonists who settle the planet after him. Harlock earns the loyalty of his crew and friends because he won’t abandon them, no matter what. Even though Earth shuns him as a pirate, he will fight to save the Earth. Firebrandt is much the same. One of the challenges in the new edition of my novel is that I wrote a prequel, which introduced readers to more of Firebrandt’s crew. Once I stranded my captain, I had to find ways to show him continuing to fight for the crew, despite being stranded and despite the fact that he grew to love the world he’d found himself stranded on. I think I’ve finally managed that and still tell the story I’d imagined nearly twenty-five years ago. At this point, I believe I’m less than a month away from releasing the new edition. I’ll announce that here. Otherwise, you can get a copy of the ebook upon release by supporting my Patreon campaign: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

Adam Warren’s Dirty Pair

No, I’m not referring to laundry or hygiene. I’m actually referring to one of the first manga series written and published in the United States between 1998 and 2002. Ever since my wife discovered Haruka Takachiho’s first two Dirty Pair light novels in a bookstore in Bisbee last summer, I’ve been learning more about the books, the anime series they inspired, and Adam Warren’s interesting American take on the series.

The “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. In the story, they received their nickname despite their high rate of success, because they’re infamous for leaving behind a path of destruction, though in all fairness the collateral damage is rarely their fault. The 1985 anime series was something of a muse for the Star Trek: The Next Generation production team. That series actually makes a handful of references to the Dirty Pair. As it turns out Haruka Takachiho was inspired to create the Dirty Pair after watching a wrestling match featuring a team called “The Beauty Pair.” Apparently Takachiho attended the match with A. Bertram Chandler, author of the John Grimes space opera novels. Chandler made a quip about how the team should be called “the Dirty Pair” because of their fighting techniques. Takachiho was then inspired to use that as the name for his science fiction action series. (Note: See the comments for more details and a slight correction about this story.)

In 1988, the American company, Studio Proteus, acquired the rights to do an English language version of The Dirty Pair. Later, the rights were transferred to Dark Horse Comics. The Studio Proteus version wasn’t going to be a translation of the Japanese books, but completely new stories. As I understand, Toren Smith of Studio Proteus approached Haruka Takachiho directly and showed him Adam Warren’s concepts for the characters. Takachiho liked what he saw and gave them permission to do their own version.

I decided to give this version a try. I started by picking up the original comic books that comprised the story arc Fatal But Not Serious which tells the story of the WWWA putting on a public relations campaign to improve the image of the Dirty Pair. They end up hosting a convention in Kei and Yuri’s honor. Of course anyone with a grudge against them comes gunning for them at the con. What’s more, someone unleashes a clone of Yuri and tells her she’s the real Yuri who has to kill imposters.

I’ve since gone on to collect the graphic novel adaptations of the other stories. Adam Warren takes the idea of The Dirty Pair and gives them a decidedly cyberpunk makeover. They get involved with bio weapons, they utilize chip implants to communicate, and even swap personalities. They encounter a wide range of adversaries both of the alien and augmented human variety. There are often questions whether they’re operating in the real world or a simulation. I was delighted to see the book Plague of Angels featured an introduction by fellow New Mexican and amazing cyberpunk writer Walter Jon Williams.

The last book in the series, Run from the Future, proved to be not only my favorite, but it turns out to be quite rare. Every now and then you can find a copy of the graphic novel on eBay. I found one at a price I could afford from a seller in Australia. Given shipping delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it took nearly seventy days to reach me, but it proved worth the wait.

What I really love about this series is that Haruka Takachiho allowed Adam Warren and Toren Smith the opportunity to play in his sandbox. Warren’s vision isn’t exactly like Takachiho’s, but he takes the ideas and explores them in interesting and new ways. Much as I enjoy this version, I’m not sure I’d recommend starting with Adam Warren’s version. I’d recommend trying the anime, which is still distributed in the United States, or find a used copy of the original light novels. If you enjoy those and are looking for more, by all means, give Adam Warren’s version a try.

Lovely Angels

I’m a fan of stories featuring strong women. While I recognize that physical strength or proficiency with weapons is not the only way to be a strong person, my love of action stories does mean I enjoy a story with women who fall into this category. While in Bisbee, Arizona’s wonderful Meridian Books and Comics a few weeks ago, my wife’s eyes happened to fall on the book, The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair.

I immediately recognized the title and the women on the cover from an anime series of the mid-1980s. What I didn’t realize is that the anime series was inspired by a series of novels by Haruka Takachiho. The book my wife found was an English translation of the first two novels published in 2007 by Dark Horse Books. For those not familiar with the books or the anime series, the “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. They’re essentially female James Bond types who travel in their own space ship with their pet Mugi, which is essentially an intelligent, alien cat. Their code name is “the lovely angels” but because they’re famous for leaving death and destruction in their wake, they’ve come to be known as “the dirty pair.”

Unlike many anime series, each episode of Dirty Pair is a self-contained adventure. Kei and Yuri often find one mystery that leads to a bigger mystery or find that a tactical situation has gone out of control and they must go in guns blazing while wearing their battle bikinis. At least the novels explain that their outfits do include a transparent polymer that protects them while giving them the appearance of lots of exposed skin.

What I love about the series and the books is that Kei and Yuri are strong, well defined characters. Kei is more hot-tempered and impulsive while Yuri is more thoughtful. It’s fun to see their camaraderie and how the situations regularly blow up for them to cause damage worthy of a contemporary superhero film. What I find a little annoying is that at times it feels like Kei and Yuri are Betty and Veronica from Archie comics each competing for the next cute boy, even in the midst of worlds blowing up around them.

One key difference between the novels and the anime series is that in the novels, Kei and Yuri have clairvoyant powers. If they concentrate and then hold hands, they can get a precognitive clue to the mystery they’re trying to solve. The only time I know this appears in the anime is in the movie, Affair on Nolandia. Of some note, this movie seems to be one of the least popular Dirty Pair stories, but it does feel like it takes most of its beats from the books.

The first Dirty Pair novels were serialized in 1979 in the Japanese magazine SF Magajin. This means Kei and Yuri started kicking butt the same year as Ripley in the American Alien franchise.

The Dirty Pair novels are fun if you’re a fan of the anime and curious about the story’s history. The anime is fun if you like diverting science fiction stories with plenty of gun battles and explosions. Just don’t go in expecting a lot of depth. You can find strong women who will tell more thoughtful stories in other places.

If you want to explore some of the strong women characters in my stories, you might enjoy meeting Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in my Clockwork Legion Series. You might also enjoy meeting Suki Mori, Fire Ellis, and Kirsten Smart in my Space Pirates Legacy Series or Marcella DuBois, Jane Heckman, and Mercy Rodriguez from my Scarlet Order Vampire Series.

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

Road Trip to Tokyo

This is my third stop on the Airship Ambassador’s Steampunk Hands Around the World road trip exploring different places in the world of steampunk. One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing when writing my Clockwork Legion books is visiting places around the world and imagining them with a steampunk twist. Because of that, I’m visiting some of the places that appear in the novels and share my connection to them. Today’s stop is a place I’m sorry to say I haven’t actually visited, but dearly want to. Tokyo features prominently in book three of my Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark.

Because my imagination and the requirements of plot and character development don’t always feel constrained by my travel budget, I’m grateful that there are resources which allow me to travel not only across the ocean but back in time. Here’s a public domain photograph of Yokohama in the 1880s that I shared in a blog post back at the end of 2014:

What I like about this photo is how much the scene looks like many U.S. cities of the same period. There are wooden buildings, a gas lamp, and dirt streets. Of course, there are elements of this photo that seem very unique to Japan, such as the rickshaws and the banners hanging over the doors. I love how people are just going about their business, like the two guys on the right just chatting about some long forgotten subject. Some people are striding with purpose. Others are just hanging out.

Here’s another photo I like. This photo shows Kyobashi. According to Wikipedia, the photographer died in 1898 and this is supposed to be a nineteenth century street scene.

One of the themes in The Brazen Shark is an exploration of the way in which Emperor Meiji’s “Restoration” was a transition from old feudal Japan to a new, modern vision of Japan. I introduce scientists and inventors who want to bring this about, but I also showed that they’re working in a city where this is all new and exciting. One new element I introduce are automata, used as servants to escort visitors around the city. I also introduce Japanese airships.

In these photos, I see people walking and taking rickshaws through the streets. I see horse-drawn streetcars. I see someone carrying baskets. I see horses and masonry buildings. As long as I keep in mind what would and wouldn’t be in this scene in the time period of my novel, the photos serve as a tool to help me describe nineteenth century Tokyo. One possible anachronism in the second photo is the guy in the straw hat in the lower left. That suit just says 1901 to me more than 1880!

I didn’t just use old photos to visit Meiji era Japan, I also used books written at the time. Books, of course, are one of the most tried and true means of traveling to new places and new times! One of the most important books I used was Gleanings in Buddha Fields by Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was a reporter born in Ireland who immigrated to the United States. He lived for many years in New Orleans before moving to Japan and raising a family. His writings provided a wonderful insight into daily life of people in Meiji Era Japan. Hearn also provided something of a literary bridge and a fictionalized version of the author appears in Owl Riders during his New Orleans days as the chronicler of Ramon and Fatemeh’s adventures up to the events of Owl Riders.

I’ll wrap up this road trip to Tokyo with one other observation. I often seem to encounter the notion that no one has made a truly great steampunk film. I don’t feel that’s true. I’d argue that Japanese filmmakers have done a great job. For example, Hiyao Miyazaki has made several great steampunk films including Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Princess Mononoke. Also, Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of the cyberpunk masterpiece Akira, made the strong steampunk film Steamboy. Anime played a part in my research for The Brazen Shark as well. In this case, I turned to the anime of Rurouni Kenshin. I gather the anime worked hard to get the historical background of Meiji Era Tokyo right. I didn’t necessarily use the show as a primary resource, but as a way of better visualizing the look and feel of the time and place.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this steampunk road trip stop. If you would like to explore The Brazen Shark and all the places visited in the novel, you visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/brazen_shark.html to get more information and find all the places the novel is available.

A Restful(?) Week

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I have quite a few projects lined up for this year. Also, by “luck” of the draw, I had to drive to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory on Christmas Day and stay through New Years morning. So, I decided to take this first week of the new year as a low-pressure week to unwind from the stress of the holidays before jumping into new projects.

One of my Christmas presents this year was a model of the spaceship Bentenmaru from the anime Bodacious Space Pirates (Click on the title to see my discussion of the series). My wife included a copy of the movie based on the series, Abyss of Hyperspace. The movie was pretty good. It’s essentially an extended episode of the series and doesn’t add much to the bigger story arcs. Still, it was great to see Pirate Captain Marika Kato, the crew of the Bentenmaru, and the Hakuoh Academy Yacht Club back in action.

bentenmaru-box

The model itself was an import from Japan made by Hasegawa Hobby Kits. I’ve had fun building other anime space ship models from Japan. Most of those were Bandai kits. As with the Bandai kits I’ve built, the actual assembly of the model was smooth and the model includes lots of detail. Unlike the Bandai kits I’ve assembled, this one came with a generous sheet of decals. This is where my week of fun and pleasant diversion morphed into challenging learning experience.

Now as someone who has enjoyed building models since I was in elementary school, I’m no stranger to water-slide decals. So, I didn’t think I needed instructions for applying them—useful since the instructions that came with the kit were in Japanese. However, as I began to apply the decals, I discovered that they were both a bit thicker than the American decals I’ve used and seemed to have less glue. The result was that I found them a challenge to stay in place and several started to peel up again as they dried, instead of remaining stuck to the model!

I ended up going out to the internet to find methods for rescuing the decals. I found one site that recommended sticking them down with a little watered-down white glue. This worked for a few of the smaller decals. I was able to rescue a few of the decals by applying a tiny drop of superglue underneath with a toothpick and pressing the decal back down. The biggest decal was on the base—the series logo. That one went down easily and seemed to stick well, but as it dried, its edges seemed to lift up. My attempt to rescue it led to the worst disaster of all. One forum I read suggested sealing the edges with clear nail polish. I’m sorry to say, clear nail polish melted these decals. Fortunately, I’d only tried on a small area and only did a little damage that I was able to touch up with some paint.

Eventually, I found my way to a forum for Gundam models, another Japanese hobby company focusing on mecha. Their video for decal application suggested that I was applying the decals correctly, but that I should also use a clear liquid called decal set after applying them. I’ve been aware of decal set, but I have never found it all that necessary on the American models I made. I picked up a small bottle and tried it on the last couple of decals on the Bentenmaru and they did indeed seem to stick down better than the ones applied without decal set. In the end, I’m pretty happy with the results, though I’m a little concerned that the model won’t age well if decals peel up and fall off.

bentenmaru

If anyone reading this has built Hasegawa models with decals, I’d be interested in any tips you have. If the model doesn’t hold up to time, I may attempt it again. If so, I want to go in with as much knowledge as possible!

Because of the decals, the model took a lot longer than I expected and wasn’t really as restful as I hoped. Even so, it did clear my mind and gave me a change of pace for a few days before leaping into new projects. As writers, we’re often told we have to write every day and apply every waking hour we’re not writing to marketing our books. I think it’s important for writers to step back from that and realize that they’re self-employed business people. Everyone burns out if they don’t take a break once in a while. If you’re a writer, remember to be a good boss to yourself and give yourself some time to play—whether it’s some time relaxing on a beach, indulging in a hobby, or even taking a class. It’ll pay dividends in your efficiency, and who knows? You might have an experience which could be used in a future story.

High Octane Racing

When I was a kid, cartoons about racing were a thing. Two cartoons of note were Speed Racer and Wacky Races. The former was the American translation of the anime Mach GoGoGo! which told the story of Go Mifune who entered races around the world in his car loaded up with gadgets, such as powerful pogo sticks that would propel the car over obstacles, rotary saws to just cut through obstacles, and special traction belts to allow the car to climb steep roads. Wacky Races was an American cartoon inspired by the 1965 film, The Great Race. It imagined a group of colorful characters racing around the world in equally colorful cars, often containing gadgets a bit like Go Mifune’s Mach 5. One of the racers, evil Dick Dastardly and his dog Muttley would routinely try to thwart the other racers who included the beautiful Penelope Pitstop and inventor Pat Pending.

This past summer, I discovered that DC comics started a comics line that featured ramped-up versions of classic Hanna-Barbara cartoons. I wrote about Wacky Raceland, based on Wacky Races and Scooby Apocalypse based on Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? redline-poster In Wacky Raceland, the racers drive their AI-enhanced cars through a post-apocalyptic wasteland under the watchful eye of a disembodied announcer who has promised some kind of reward. We still have Dick Dastardly and Penelope Pitstop. In this new version, Muttley is semi-intelligent because of his own AI enhancements. Professor Pat Pending seems to have a set of secrets connected to the apocalypse. I’ve been following and enjoying the comic and I gather it ends with issue six in about a week. When my daughter read the first issue, she said the story reminded her of a racing anime—no, not Mach GoGoGo!—but a newer one called Redline.

I finally had the chance to watch Redline this past week. It was actually a lot of fun. It’s about racers competing on different tracks around the galaxy. The hero is Sweet JP who races a vintage yellow Mustang with an enhanced engine that gets a burst of speed by dropping nitro pellets into the fuel tank. His rival and love interest is Sonashee, known as “Cherry Boy Hunter”. She has an amphibious car armed with missiles. The movie opens with a race known as the “Yellowline.” Sweet JP’s mechanic is in deep with the mob and just as it looks like Sweet JP is going to win the race, the mechanic sets off a bomb in Sweet JP’s car, causing him to crash. Sonashee zooms past him and wins.

The next race is the titular Redline which is scheduled to be held on a heavily militarized planet where the racers are not welcome. Because some of the racers who qualified don’t want to risk their necks, Sweet JP is offered a spot in the race. The anime features some neat cars, some interesting and rugged settings, and great aliens. More than once, I was reminded of the pod-racing scenes in Star Wars but the art and voice acting in the anime conveyed more thrills.

One thing that made the movie Redline interesting is that in this modern era of CGI animation, it’s all hand-drawn. The movie is really beautiful to watch. The art style reminded me more of the European comic art you might find in a magazine like Heavy Metal than most anime. To be honest, the story itself wasn’t much to talk about. It’s a simple love story tied to the story of a race. Sweet JP and Sonashee are attracted to each other but are rivals. Sweet JP’s friends are connected to the mob adding complications. It’s the kind of stuff you may have seen in lots of other stories about races and competitions.

Despite the familiarity, there are some interesting science fictional elements added late in the story. The militarized planet has some creepy bioweapons up its sleeve plus the holographic imagery of their control center is well realized. Many of the aliens in the movie are also interesting and use the freedom of animation to take us beyond humans in suits.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the Wacky Raceland comic resolves, but I’m especially grateful that the comic gave me an excuse to go back to the racing cartoons of my youth and discover the movie Redline.

Bodacious Space Pirates

Let’s just get this out of the way. When I first saw the title “Bodacious Space Pirates” and the Blu-ray cover on a website, I thought this might be the kind of anime that creepy old guys watch with the shades drawn and the lights down low. Fortunately, being a fan of space pirates, I took time to learn a little more and discovered several positive reviews of the series by women. It turns out this is actually a fun space opera about a high school girl in the future, living on a planet orbiting Tau Ceti who has inherited the captaincy of a pirate ship, the Bentenmaru, from her long lost father.

bodacious-space-pirates In this world, space pirates are a holdover from a war in the distant past. They’ve mostly been forgotten by the time our protagonist, Marika Kato, is in high school, but they still exist, largely to perform courier runs or entertain posh passenger liners with mock pirate raids. Two members of her father’s pirate crew have come to watch over her at school and begin her training as the new captain. In her life as a high school student, Marika is a member of the school yacht club, who have an old solar sailing ship they can use to travel around the Tau Ceti system. As a member of yacht club, Marika begins learning many of the skills she needs to be a ship captain.

The pirate ship Bentenmaru operates under a letter of marque that will expire if the ship doesn’t go on any missions for a period of time. Because of that, Marika’s crew guide her by the hand on her first few missions. On one of the early missions, a princess stows away and asks Marika for help tracking down an ancient ghost ship.

My only real criticism of the show is that its meticulous plotting leads to a few episodes where little happens besides Marika learning new skills. However, this also solves one of the biggest criticisms I have of the 2009 Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, which is how in the world are we expected to believe talented but inexperienced Jim Kirk is given command of the Federation’s best ship right out of the academy? In this case, we have a reason for Marika being given a command despite her inexperience and we follow her as she gains experience, knowledge and confidence.

As a science fiction fan, I’m often on the lookout for good shows to share with my daughters. Of course, one of the downsides of classic science fiction, Star Trek included, is that it’s very male-heavy in the presentation. My daughters have never seen that as implying that exploration and adventure are things only for boys, but still, it’s nice to see a space opera where most of the cast are women and girls. In fact, what this show reminds me of very much are the “Boy Scout” novels of Robert A. Heinlein, except instead of boy’s adventure, this is girl’s adventure. And there are a few cool boys along for the ride include the helmsman, mechanic, and security chief of the Bentenmaru. So boys need not feel left out of the fun! Despite the mini-skirted school uniforms, there’s nary a fanservice shot in this anime, making it appropriate for pretty much all ages.

So, I’ve been watching the series with my 14-year-old daughter who loves it. When I asked her what she thought of the title, she told me it sounded like a fun, space pirate adventure with girls and just the kind of thing she wanted to watch. So much for my first impression of the title. It seems to be just right for the series’ target audience after all. The series is free to watch on Crunchyroll and you can buy downloads of the English dub on iTunes.