Kaiju Appreciations: Iris (Updated)

My latest appreciation video is now up. This one’s a remake of the very first one, a tribute to Gamera’s most vile and sinister opponent, Iris.

Iris is a very interesting figure among the kaiju. He’s pretty clearly based on Viras from the Showa Gamera films – an alien squid monster – but they took him in such a different direction that he became a distinct character in his own right (the same thing happened with Legion in the previous film, who was based on Zigra). The story of Gamera III centers on Ayana, a teenage girl whose parents were killed during the climax of the first of the trilogy, partly, if I remember correctly, because a medical condition that she had prevented them from evacuating sooner. Ayana blames Gamera for their deaths, and when she discovers a cute, squid-like creature in an ancient cave, she decides that it will be able to enact revenge for her.

Except that the creature, which she names Iris after her dead family cat (symbolically incorporating it into the family she lost), has its own agenda; to use the psychic link it forms with the girl to become ever more powerful, and eventually consume her entirely.

(At times there’s almost a twisted sexual undertone to their relationship, especially in the scene in the woods. Yikes).

So, yeah, this is a really good movie (the whole Gamera trilogy is great: a shining example of making the most of unpromising material), and Iris is probably one of the best and certainly most vile kaiju villains out there. Remember what I was saying about how Lovecraftian influence is everywhere? Iris is a textbook example (no, not just because he has tentacles, but because he’s an ancient, eldritch being of uncertain origins and purposes brought into the present to corrupt and destroy the very mind and soul of the people he encounters).

He also shows off the then-increasing use of CGI to supplement the suitimation, and it holds up surprisingly well, largely due to the fantastic art direction on his design.

I made the original video over a decade ago (which is depressing to think about), and then I could only record with demo software, so the quality is awful and there’s a distracting ‘Unregistered Hypercam 2’ notice in the top left corner. I always meant to go back and re-do it in better quality (literally said I would in the introduction). Looking back, the editing choices are kind of odd and out-of-step with the rest of the series, focusing as much on Ayana as on Iris himself. She of course needs to be present in the video, but looking at the old one it feels like half the video is about her. So for the new one I used more footage of Iris wherever possible, in the process finding a lot of really impressive shots that I somehow missed the first time (or didn’t think I could use with the rotten film quality).

Original

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” as rendered by the Jonas Brothers is a lighter and, well, cheesier fare that I would have liked, but at the end of the day I decided that I didn’t want to open up the rabbit hole of swapping out songs on these ‘remakes’, as that would kind of mean they were simply completely different videos, whereas I think of them as just updates or remasterings (there may be one exception down the line, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it).

(Also, I had to try to recreate the title animation by hand, since that particular ‘style’ doesn’t exist on Final Cut).

‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas

The YouTuber It’s Just Some Random Guy was, for me at least, a staple of the early and high days of the superhero renaissance. Entirely using action figures, he’d put out comedic sketches where a DC and a Marvel character compare notes on their latest films (e.g. the first round was Superman Returns and Spider-Man 3, which indicates how long he’s been going).

In addition, he also ended up putting out more narrative-driven stories that, while still very funny (“Why did you let [Iron Man] drink? He’s an alcoholic!” “I gathered that about the fifth round of Jaeger”), actually managed to pack legitimate dramatic punch (certainly moreso than anything in the DCEU), aided by a solid grasp of the characters and some really quite fine voice-acting skills. All with nothing but a bunch of action figures.

For tonight, I offer a Christmas special from way back in 2007 (which explains the mangled aspect ratio). To say more would be to spoil it.

Merry Christmas!

Talking the Eternal Trio at the Everyman

No, not that Eternal Trio. Not that one either. I mean the eternal trio of romance: the hero, the princess, and the dragon:

Chesterton explicated on this while discussing Charles Dickens’ novel Nicholas Nickelby, as the most basic form of romance: a princess is menaced by a dragon and a hero fights the dragon to save her. “There is the thing to be loved, the thing to be fought, and the one who does both loving and fighting,” as Chesterton puts it. In this case, Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser and Mario battles him and his armies to save her. It’s simple, straightforward, instantly engaging, and endlessly reusable.

Of course, with literally hundreds of games over its nearly four-decade existence, the series has played with the formula many, many times, including having Peach rescuing Mario or having Mario, Peach, and Bowser teaming up against a larger threat. But for our present purposes the important point is the eternal romantic trio of hero, princess, and dragon. The hero – whether it be Mario, Perseus, St. George, or Nicholas Nickelby – fights a dragon – whether it be Bowser, Cetus, the nameless dragon, or Ralph Nickelby – to save the princess – whether it be Peach, Andromeda, the nameless princess, or Madeline Bray.

To put it even more simply, the fundamental pattern of romance is that a hero confronts something horrible and endures danger and suffering in order to save something precious. Put it that way and it should remind us of something.

This basic pattern of melodrama is, at its core, an image of Salvation History: Christ comes to Earth and battles the Devil, enduring the Cross and grave, in order to save the souls of the faithful from sin and death. The imprisoned princess is an image of a soul in sin, the dragon an image of the Devil. The eternally repeated pattern is a whispered repetition of the Creed: “For us men and for our salvation, He came down from Heaven, was Incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was Crucified, Dead, and was Buried, and on the third day He rose again from the dead.”

Romance thus comes with a natural kind of sanctity all its own, however humble the guise (which again, ought to remind us of something). Consequently, it is more significant than we might think about how this enduring pattern has been attacked in recent years. The most frequent reaction we meet with from our modernist contemporaries when the above formula is brought up, is to chafe at the role of the princess.

This is sometimes couched in terms of respect: that the princess is a ‘weak’ and ‘demeaning’ role. Actually, looked at objectively, it’s the reverse of demeaning. The princess is the most important figure on the board, the motivating force to bother the hero and the dragon, the very thing for whom the hero undergoes such struggles. It may or may not be a well-written or interesting role, depending on the skills of the author, but it is not demeaning.

The issue, in fact, is not that the princess is a demeaning role but simply that it is not an active role. The modernists don’t like the image of the princess being rescued. They prefer a version where she takes up a sword, slays the dragon, and rescues herself. They want to see Andromeda unchaining herself from the rock and stabbing Cetus without any help from Perseus, or Peach laying the smackdown on Bowser the moment he shows his face. I remember once seeing a photoshop image of Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty wielding a sword and confronting the dragon Maleficent in place of Prince Phillip.In short, the modernist version of romance has the trio become a duo, and the hero more or less vanishes altogether to make way for the princess to take his place.

In short, the most basic form of a modernist romance is ‘a heroine faces oppression and vindicates herself by overcoming it’. The analogy naturally extends itself from there, for these tend to be the same people who believe in ‘Progress’, who see human enlightenment, science, and so on as the keys to solving the ills of the world and bringing about utopia. They are also the ones who regard God as an obstacle rather than as a goal and Christ as, at best, a vaguely supportive and positive figure wishing nothing but to avoid trouble for all concerned.

If the hero rescuing the princess from the dragon is an image of Salvation history, then the princess kicking butt and slaying the dragon herself is an image of modernism: humanity saving itself by its own efforts and its own ingenuity, needing Christ like a fish needs a bicycle.

Read the rest here

Adventure Stories for Young Readers or I Have Been Negligent

Alas, in the hurry and burry of moving I missed that another anthology was published with me in it!

Please help rectify my mistake and immediately go purchase a copy of Adventure Stories for Young Readers

Quoth the Blurb: These tales of family, discovery, and virtue bring the thrills back to reading. Derring-do, hope, and excitement all come together in each author’s take on what it means to have an adventure. From science fiction to fantasy, explore worlds with stories!

My own story, Fate of a Rider serves as the final entry, telling the tale of a boy whose only dream was to be one of the chosen few who ride upon great monstrous beasts to defend their island home. But when he comes to receive his mount, he finds it is a small, underpowered, and seemingly useless creature. Is he doomed to a life of obscurity and menial toil? Or does fate hold something greater in store for him and his companion?

But that’s just one of eleven stories of excitement and adventure by talented authors. Pick it up today and see what adventures are in store!

Tolerance and Totalitarianism at the Everyman

Another post up at The Everyman, here explaining why the diversity, inclusion, tolerance ideology is naturally and inevitably totalitarian.

We moderns have a bad habit of not defining our terms. We like ideas that sound good and tend not to dig in deeper to try to pin down what they are actually saying. So we say things like “everyone should be included.” Except, we very clearly do not mean “everyone”, since we certainly don’t intend to include the criminal, the insane, the drug-addict, or so on. Nor, most of the time, do we mean to include ‘obviously bad people’ like bigots, sexists, fascists, anti-vaxers, and so on.

Some of you, reading the latter list, might think “you’re right, people shouldn’t be excluded just because of their opinions”. But that isn’t my point. The point is that there will always be limits to tolerance, including tolerance of individual opinion, all the way until it crosses the line into simple anarchy (wherein any idea of PTID is eliminated, since anyone can be as ‘intolerant’ as they like in an anarchy so long as they have the muscle to back it up). That is the nature of society: it must have things that simply cannot be accepted or tolerated.

The problem here, as in many other cases, is that the necessary limitations are not built into or defined by the principle, but merely assumed. We say “all are welcome,” but in practical terms what we mean to say is “all are welcome who adhere to our standards.” Only, because it is against PTID to enforce our own standards as if they were true, we don’t mention or define that part and pretend not to notice it.

To put it another way, the common canard, “I don’t care what you believe as long as you’re a good person” is dependent upon what constitutes a ‘good person’ in the speaker’s mind. Which in turn is dependent upon his view of the world—that is, his beliefs. So, what he is really saying is “I don’t care what you believe so long as your behavior more or less matches what I believe.”

Now, most of us, I think would admit all this. We know that there must be standards and that when we say “all are welcome” we don’t literally mean ‘all’. We mean ‘all within reason.’ That is, we assume that we can ground our PTID in a kind of lowest common denominator of agreed truths, things that no reasonable person would dispute. ‘Mere Reality’, to co-opt a term.

Experience has shown that this doesn’t work, and a very little consideration should have told us that it wouldn’t. When you take tolerance as one of your chief virtues and fill people’s heads with tales of heroic acceptance, they will naturally seek opportunities to practice it (because what people want most of all is to think well of themselves). And since, as noted, any commonly agreed ‘ground’ of truth will exclude someone, they will always find a new cause to champion and new oppressors to condemn in order to demonstrate their virtue.

Thus the logic of tolerance itself causes the lowest common denominator to shift ever lower. Just as young Medieval knights, lacking wars at home, would go off to seek battles in foreign lands to prove their virtue, so young people brought up on paeans to PTID will seek new abominations to tolerate so as to prove their own enlightenment.

And since we’ve now reached the point where even acknowledging basic human biology can be regarded as shockingly intolerant, it should be clear that there is no bottom of ‘basic’ reality that everyone can safely assume.

But all this is by way of an introduction. There’s a much worse problem on top of it.

Find out what that worse problem is by reading the rest here.

Kaiju Appreciations; Dagahra

Managed to get another appreciation video up. This one is for Dagahra, the villainous sea dragon of Rebirth of Mothra II, the second film of the Mothra trilogy from the late 1990s.

Dagahra’s story is that he was created by an ancient civilization called Nilai Kinai to clean up the pollution they had put into the oceans. But instead Dagahra went mad and began producing ‘Barems’, toxic starfish-like creatures that consumed the oceans in an effort to destroy everything that polluted the seas. He was subdued, but is awakened in the modern day by human pollution, where he clashes with Leo, the son of Mothra (who is the main star of the three films).

(As a side note, in my head I like to imagine that the Mothra trilogy is in fact in continuity with the Heisei Godzilla films, so that Leo’s mother is the same Mothra that fought Godzilla in Godzilla vs. Mothra. Consequently, I like to imagine that Battra is his father)

Now, when I did my Kamacuras appreciation I said that I didn’t think there was such a thing as a Toho kaiju without personality, but…well, Dagahra might just be an exception. He’s really not very interesting, despite a cool design; just another rampaging monster for Leo to fight in a series of extremely repetitive and largely dull battles that mostly consist of them shooting animated beams at each other with little effect. The idea of him having gone mad in the past from being corrupted by the very task he was created to perform is sort of interesting (and served as the basis for my song choice), but nothing is really done with it. It’s just an excuse for him to be there.

Honestly, the second Mothra film is pretty bad: possibly the worst kaiju film Toho produced in the 90s (the first one isn’t very good either, but at least has some emotional charge with the death of Mothra as she gives her life for her son and has a pretty cool villain in Death Ghidorah: a twisted clone of King Ghidorah). The child stars are extremely annoying (though I found out the girl actually went on to a pretty successful career) and the anti-pollution message is as subtle and artfully done as a meteor. The pseudo-Indiana Jones action that fills out the non-monster scenes is pretty awful, and it doesn’t help that Dagahra’s backstory is an almost exact copy of the Gyaos from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, which is one of the better kaiju films of that era, not to mention being simultaneously very similar to Battra’s from Godzilla vs. Mothra, both of whom are much more interesting characters (hence why Battra has become a staple of the Godzilla roster while most people forget Dagahra even exists).

For the song I went with The Hate in Me, initially just because I’d been meaning to use that for someone and I figured it was fitting enough to work (I really just wanted to get Dagahra over with; his video was a real chore due to how repetitive the monster scenes in that film tend to be). But in retrospect I’m pretty pleased with it: taking his backstory into account it feels like he’s calling out both Leo and the Nilai Kinai people for creating him and then not letting him do his job as he understands it. The line “There’s no apology for your hypocrisy” feels to me as though he’s calling Leo out for simultaneously pretending to defend the Earth while protecting the very people who destroy it. Likewise “You made me what I am.”

Overall, despite the struggles, I’m pretty pleased with how this one turned out. Enjoy!

Alice at the Everyman

Finally got my internet back today, and just in time to find that one of my essays has gone up at The Everyman! It’s one where I get to talk about classic Disney and apply it to the decline of civilization, so…pretty much pure me. Enjoy!

In short, the book presents Alice’s dreams as places of fun and nonsense; the pure, innocent enjoyment of a carefree childhood. The film presents her adventures more as a cautionary tale, wherein Alice wishes for a world of nonsense and gets it, only to realize how uncomfortable and frightening it really is and long to return home. Delightful as the film is to watch, the central theme is that Wonderland is not a nice place to be in. It’s fun to imagine: not fun to experience.

The shift in tone and theme between the two versions is very interesting given the very different state of the real world at the time of each – that is, the world outside the scope of book, film, and dream.

Lewis Carroll wrote his book from the heart of the Victorian age, a time where, despite the rapid changes taking place, the old-world order was still standing strong and British culture and society seemed as solid and secure as Gibraltar itself. It was a time where a girl like Alice from a respectable, well-off family could count on the familiar trappings of home, of sisters and cats, of lazy summer afternoons and quiet winter days to remain always safely as they were. And where Carroll, AKA Charles Dodgson, mathematician, deacon, and schoolteacher, could know exactly what ‘normal’ was when he wished to satirize it.

On the other hand, Walt Disney made his film in a world scarred by two global conflagrations that had largely laid waste to the orderly world that Carroll knew. Disney worked under the shadow of Communism and the atomic bomb, of the questioning, doubting, and deconstruction of everything that had once been valued and assumed in Carroll’s world, and amidst the early rumblings of still more such disruptions to come. That is to say, Lewis Carroll lived in a world where order and stability were the norms. Walt Disney lived in a world where that same order was rapidly disappearing and chaos and nonsense were being seriously advocated to take their place. Small wonder that, consciously or unconsciously, he took a more jaundiced view of Wonderland.

Read the rest here