Nerd Blasphemy: Why I Don’t Like Firefly

There are some things that nerds just enjoy. Robots, space ships, blasters that go “Pew pew!”, smart people talking over the heads of the “cool” and attractive – or better yet, being the cool and attractive – winning the girl/guy and saving the day. These are things that we just want to see in TV shows. Put all of them together and we will literally give you all of the money (but not literally because that would be just crazy). Firefly, Joss Whedon’s brain baby (yes, that Firefly, just to be sure), gives us a good portion of these. And I just. Don’t. Like it. I tried. And I can’t.

Disclaimer: I know that Firefly is over 10 years old, and the anime listed even older, so this argument has probably been dumped back and forth, but as another friend of mine just proclaimed his deep and abiding affection for this show, I want to lay out exactly why it strikes me as stale.

It’s not a terrible show, granted. The characters are good and the world is built nicely. But let’s put this all into perspective from my point of view. I’ve been watching anime since I was in… 2nd grade, when Dragon Ball Z was airing early Saturday morning. I’ve been watching giant robotic ships blast each other into oblivion near since I can remember. My 90s were filled with scenes like these:

vash spikemelfina

Now look at the scenes below. Any of them seem a little familiar?

Simon_Tam_Glasses

Notice the round, orange sunglasses.

mal-reynolds

The callback to the signature pose of our favorite anime space cowboy/ship captain/bounty hunter/does anything for a meal bad-ass with a mysterious and haunted back story.

river tam

…does this need any explaining?

So the homages to anime are obvious. What about the plot points?

-Several anime are more or less “episodic” like Firefly. Most of the series doesn’t cover a specific arc, but the arc is divided sparsely between episodes before coming to a dramatic conclusion. See: Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, Outlaw Star.

-Features anti-heroes with a history as part of some kind of organized violence; men that are soulful and damaged who don’t trust easily but wouldn’t betray a crew mate. Clever in combat and tricky in dealings, even if not part of intelligentsia. Smugglers and bounty hunters with rascally charms just trying to get by. See: Spike Spiegel, Gene Starwind, Lupin III, Vash the Stampede.

-Shepherd Book – a minister formerly of a deadly profession. See: Nicholas D. Wolfwood.

-The “special”/”gifted” girl – usually one that has undergone some kind of experimentation – and an ongoing investigation into her background, i.e. what caused her to be special and pursued by enemies. River Tam was abducted for being so fantastically special that the government just had to have her as their uber special super-soldier. Melfina from Outlaw Star, the character whose pose River Tam borrowed in the picture above, is a special biosynthetic android created by scientists to find the Galactic Leyline. Both girls are hunted by various organizations but are protected by their ragtag crew mates because, as you might’ve guessed, they’re just so damned special. (An even even features River “becoming one with the ship.” While a prank, was this a purposeful allusion to her influences?).

Obviously, it’s not a carbon copy of any particular anime. The plot specifics differ completely and the characters themselves unique. Indeed, the settings differ: where Japanese media depict crime syndicates ruling the roost and weak governments unable to protect their citizens, American media like Firefly often depict a heavy-handed, oppressive government keeping the masses suppressed while “the little guy” squeaks by on petty crime, just trying to get by. Clearly cultural viewpoints have somewhat reversed the respective roles of government/organized crime, and the series reflect that.

I’m just saying that the elements are definitely there. Firefly feels inspired by the anime/manga mediums but is unable to fully convey the essence due to the constraints of its own medium. And considering what a nerd Joss Whedon is – what, a comic book writer and all – and the fact that he makes it a point to include Asian-inspired motifs – I would not be surprised at all if he’d watched anime or read manga himself. Or at least was aware of the space cowboy subgenre at the time of creating Firefly and used that as a launch point to create something that Western audiences haven’t given much of a chance.

In fact, his later project Dollhouse shares a lot of similarity with the fantastic and iconic Ghost in the ShellBuffy The Vampire Slayer, likewise treads in the magical girl genre (and though entirely different series, there’s something to be said for the immature, boy-crazed, popularity-seeking, blond Usagi/Sailor Moon growing into a butt-kicking, sacrifice-making heroine and the basically-fits-the-same-description Buffy Summers. Oh and the appearances of Dawn/Chibiusa. And exploring alternative sexualities through secondary characters).

It’s completely possible that Joss Whedon simply had all these good ideas on his own, independent of the boom of stories that happened to manga in Japan in the 90s. In fact, from what I’ve read, he lamented that the show was viewed merely as a “live-action anime.” But then damn: why would you make it so close?

Honestly, all the shots, the angles, the costume design, set aesthetic – all of it from the pilot onward just reminded me of my well-loved anime. Except that anime is drawn, so it doesn’t need to worry about budgetary constraints or technological limitations. If you want to show a pants-crappingly scary monster, draw one. If you want to show incredible maneuvering by a space ship, animate it. If you want your hero to have super-human fighting ability, well, ok! And so all the callbacks to anime that I noticed in this otherwise original series simply reminded me of all the things it was missing: action, visible and creative enemies, cool visuals. Instead we got Reevers, which until the movie were boring, faceless crews of ships with blood spattered on them – and dry-as-can-be Alliance military (although I enjoyed the plot linking the two).

It’s not that I can’t enjoy Firefly because I think it’s bad or anything. It’s just all-too-familiar when I had a decade of watching action-packed anime before Firefly ever made it on TV. As for fans’ claims that Firefly was… like… the most creative, original sci-fi basically in the history of ever, a lot of them don’t watch anime – because if they did, the themes would be instantly recognizable and familiar. In fact, by the time I got around to watching it, everything Western audiences felt was incredibly original to me felt tired and used. I don’t think anyone born and bred on manga/anime would find Firefly particularly groundbreaking – maybe just cool because it’s live action and Whedon-esque. And to fans that did watch Cowboy Bebop and like to claim that Firefly was “done better”, well – geez: I guess it’s just like how I like Chipotle better than Moe’s and probably always will. Chipotle introduced me to this style of food and set the standard for me. Chipotle also came first. And has better-seasoned chicken. Moe’s will therefore always play second fiddle, despite their provision of wonderful sweet tea and a salsa bar. I’m sure that people who tried Moe’s first might have a similar feeling, just like people who prefer Firefly and think that Cowboy Bebop‘s plot is “simplistic” can be excused for their poor taste due to a lack of proper culturing.

What do you think? Am I being fair to Firefly? Which side of the debate do you take?

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Why a Reboot of Sailor Moon is Needed

Many people remember Sailor Moon as unwaveringly and unapologetically ridiculous and girly. And many people would be right.

In the name of the moon, and not S&M- definitely, certainly… I mean… S&M… Sailor Moon… holy cow! did I stumble onto a secret code?!, anyways- I WILL PUNISH YOU!

If, that is, they’re thinking about the anime. See, like many works the anime and the manga differ immensely.

This really terrific manga, which basically on its own revitalized and recreated the magic girl genre, had been reduced from basically a coming-of-age story for girls with a character who progressively matures and tackles difficult, literally world-changing decisions to kind of a platform for goofiness. Yes, while still unabashedly a girly fantasy, the manga also had more dramatic undertones, coupled with plenty of mythological allusions and mature themes. For example, in the later books Mamoru (aka Darien aka Tuxedo Mask) was even wiped from existence by the latest foe and Usagi, stricken with PTSD, couldn’t remember it as anything other than a dream (as he had been traveling to America for college at the time of the incident). Later, she struggled with the idea that staying with him in what was basically the afterlife could endanger the rest of the universe – literally a would-you-save-one-despite-the-many ordeal. Michiru and Haruka, in the manga, had a more complex relationship, too, than even what was presented in the Japanese anime – and were certainly not cousins. Feminine empowerment is highlighted, and so Usagi’s transformation from a careless teen to a responsible leader even more pronounced. Oh, also, Darien/Mamoru is a high-schooler, too, when we first meet him. So that’s way less creepy. (It was always pretty ambiguous in the anime),

One time, after my friends told me that Pokemon was now on Netflix and it was almost embarrassing to watch, I looked up clips of the anime that I so used to enjoy. One of the only ones I could find were of a kiss between Serena and Darien. And it. Was. Awful. “HMMMM… MUWAH MUWAH MUWAH, mmm MMM MMMMMMMMMMMMmmmMMMmmmmMMMMmMMM.” SERIOUSLY?! I WATCHED THAT?!!!! THEY GOT STUCK ON HER BUBBLE GUM?! HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSI-

Ok. Cool it. It was just a show. A show for kids.

*Deep breath*

Anyways… all this to say, basically, that an anime based on Naoko Takeuchi’s coming-of-age legend of a manga is certainly welcomed.

What do you think?

Throw Back Thursdays: An Ode to Toonami

Cartoon Network’s Toonami block of action cartoons and anime was by no means my first exposure to anime, but it definitely had the biggest impression. Before that, I’d really only seen Dragon Ball Z on Saturday mornings on a different station, but I didn’t wake up early enough to see any others.

In fact, because Dragon Ball Z was placed so late in Toonami’s two-hour run, it meant I sat through other shows that I’m not sure I would’ve given a shot (like Sailor Moon. Which I came to love. But at first, it was way too girly – too big a risk factor for my brothers to make fun of me. Good thing it was on between Robotech and Dragon Ball Z).

Yes, Toonami steered me wrong with some shows: Beast Wars was a little too… er… young for me at that point. Not to mention, I’ve never really cared for cartoons done in CGI. ReBoot definitely wasn’t my cup of tea (though I know some people, like Justin, really enjoyed the second season), and they tried to parlay Power Puff Girls and Samurai Jack into the mix (perfectly fine cartoons, but I wanted anime, dammit!). Honestly, though, half the cool stuff I know is largely because of Toonami’s influence: Robotech, Ronin Warriors, basicalled all Gundam series, Tenchi Muyo!, Outlaw Star, Big O, Ruroni Kenshin – heck, even Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell – all of them reached me first through Toonami. The ones that didn’t (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Trigun) were introduced to me by people whose first exposure to anime was Toonami.

In fact, if I’d never watched Sailor Moon on Toonami, I never would’ve stumbled upon the manga at my local Barnes & Noble. I never would’ve sat in Borders (remember Borders?) for hours, reading Sailor Moon, then filling my time reading anything else I could get my hands on. I discovered some real gems waiting for the latest releases of whatever manga I was currently hooked on (Ranma ½, Crimson Hero, Clover, Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Alice 19th, Fushigi Yuugi…basically, everything else I’ve ever read until I learned to start searching), all because I was waiting for Sailor Moon or Saint Tail or something similarly innocuous (hey! I was 12!).

I’d always liked to draw, but Toonami opened up a whole new world of style to me, and I can’t deny: it has really, heavily influenced how I draw and what I create even down to this day.

So here’s to you, Toonami. Here’s to you, Moltar and Zordak and T.O.M. and eventually, Adult Swim. Without you, I’d still be a nerd. But not the kind that would eventually become ironically cool.

How I Settled for Your Mother (Spoilers Ahead)

Back in high school, I had an awesome best friend. A lot of my friends thought we’d end up with each other, and I’m sure thoughts like that crossed both of our minds briefly. But we had different belief systems, life goals (and on the important stuff, to boot), and a completely different life trajectory. I couldn’t and wouldn’t ever have changed said trajectory for someone else, lest we both become disillusioned with the result. So we parted ways at the end of high school, and I eventually moved across the country and found a fuller love that didn’t require that extreme level of compromise. I love Justin – and he changed the way I view love. I know that I could never go back to an old flame for that very reason.

So when, like two or three episodes of How I Met Your Mother back, Ted finally let Robin go and we saw her float away like a balloon, I was ready. “Finally!” I thought, “A show that’s going to show life how it is! No more Ross-and-Rachel tropes! No more ping-pong! No more arresting or undoing of character development! This is it!” (Spoilers ahead) I knew that the mother would probably die from all the little hints that they laid out. I did. But with Robin and Barney finally getting married, I thought that they couldn’t leave Ted hanging that badly. So I thought maybe she was in the hospital, going up against steep odds with a potentially life-threatening procedure, and it would end with the two of them reunited or something. But nope… they spent nine years purportedly telling the story of how Ted met his soul mate, probably 45 minutes total showing us what purported soul mate is really like, one whole season building up to Robin and Barney’s wedding, and then it was all over within ten minutes. I mean all over. Robin and Barney got divorced within three years, the mother died, and then her children basically are just like, “Good thing mom died so that you can get back with your true soul mate Aunt Robin!”

A lot of fans, I guess, are happy that Ted and Robin ended up with each other. A lot of fans are pissed that the mother died. But this is what bothers me: you spend three or four seasons developing, say, Barney by having him realize that maybe he really can love only one woman at a time. He does these giant, grand gestures. He passes on his Bro ways. And then within minutes, that character development is chucked out the window and he reverts to the same guy we saw in the beginning. Oh, and then has a baby, and supposedly that’s going to change him. Hmph. We’ll see. Given that if nine years and a marriage to the only woman he ever really loved couldn’t at least make a dent in his Bro ways, maybe the thrill of a baby won’t last either. After all, there are plenty of invalid dads. Another character: we see Robin’s feelings for Barney are deep if not confusing to her, and she consistently picks Barney over Ted. She fed him a speech of her own feelings toward him for him to say to Nora, just so that he could be happy. She got over her trust reservations with him. Ted and all their friends were convinced of their compatibility/”meant-for-each-other-ness.” Ted accepted that he lost and was not right for Robin. And then all of that reverts, again, to basically square one of the first episode. She suddenly can’t compromise work for him. They struggle so long just to get married, but they can’t fight to stay married – not even for three measly years after NINE.

No one really learned or grew. And maybe that’s comforting to some viewers, because they’re still pining over that girl or boy that got away, and they want to think their life will give them everything they want. Because they don’t want to think about how letting go – really letting go – can help you to grow and become even happier in life. They want to be told that they don’t need to make changes because they’re great as they are now, and the universe will cater to their current status quo of awesomeness. But we’re living organisms. And living organisms change. We don’t always get it right the first time. The first time we think we’re in love, for example. Sometimes, we don’t even know what love is like. And rarely do we ever know who we’re going to marry until we meet that person randomly, in the middle of our life, and it changes everything.

If I had to sit through and listen about how my father had really been in love with someone else for twice the span of my entire life, and his entire relationship with my mom, I’d be pissed. And I’d be annoyed that my father was such a pansy that couldn’t let anything go.

I’m all for tragic endings. Sure, kill her off. Have Ted weep as he talks about it. Have his children console him in that, heck, they were born. And then have him tell them that you never see where life goes, and you never know who you’ll end up with, and maybe you don’t know that person now. But if you’re smart, and if you let go of the distractions, you’ll recognize that person when he/she enters your life, and you shouldn’t waste a second of it – especially not pining away after someone else who just was not as compatible.

That’s how I would end that story. Because I didn’t tune in to be bored to tears re-watching an over-used TV trope (will they? won’t they? Oh! Of course they will!). I tuned in to watch a story about a beloved mother of two children and how Ted’s entire life prepared him to meet her.