Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Alice – Chivalry Gone Wrong: I guess a bloody nose is manly

December 14, 2009 2 comments

Alice is the new miniseries on Syfy from the makes of Tin Man. As the name suggests, it is a ‘bold re-imagining’ of the Alice in Wonderland stories. What this means is that it does not bear much similarity to the source material beyond character and location names.

Now, I won’t be reviewing Alice over all, at least not today, but I will say this:

It was both better and worse than Tin Man, in different ways. I do think 4 hours (with commercials) was a bit excessive. Also, I am still not sure how I feel about all the male characters, so I won’t be discussing that today. However, there is one aspect of Alice which I would like to talk about. It is not something unique to Alice, but it is quite present.

What I speak of is chivalry (in the modern sense). That oh-so-cliched code of conduct which guides the behavior of gentlemanly behavior. Many of the old traditions of chivalry have fallen by the wayside with the march of feminism, which is a good thing in my opinion. However, a few of these old traditions of special treatment for women still persist. One which has always been a great annoyance to me is the concept that violence should not be used against women.

It has traditionally been the view point that men are the ones who should do the fighting, take the beating and absorb the pain. This was once due to the belief that women were weaker than men, but that concept of feminine frailty has supposedly been discarded by modern feminism. By that same theory, both men and women should be seen as able to take and dish out the same kind of beating.

No such luck, I’m afraid. Our society still seems to view men as the disposable sex, responsible for taking physical harm while women remain protected. Not that men get any special privlidge for that responsibility.

In Alice we see a fair about of hand-to-hand combat. It is primarily fought by two of the leads: Alice and the Hatter, each with respectable combat prowess. Each takes down numerous thugs with punches, flips and face slams.  However, there is something of a discrepancy in regards to the about of abuse the heroes take. The hatter is kicked, thrown, punched in the face, shot and even electrocuted. On the other hand we have Alice, the extent of whose bodily harm amounts to getting grabbed by a thug (she swiftly repels him).

Despite close to three decades of full-steam feminism, we still have this cultural sense that it is wrong to harm women and that men are capable of and duty bound to take abuse for them. However, this doesn’t match up with the ‘equality’ called for by feminism. The end result is a sense that men and women can do anything, but women should be given special treatment to make sure they remain safe.

This made some sense in a world where men received extra status for taking on the duties of protecting women, but those have been stripped. This leaves a prime example of how media often portrays men and women as equal, but women being more equal, safe in the assurance that they will be protected while still demanding to do anything and everything they like, with full respect. Men are left to feel equal (at best) but also disposable.

In the past, men who did not face down danger and risk were called cowards.

What do you call someone who doesn’t face danger but still demands full respect as if they had? Besides a female soldier. That one’s easy.


Gurren Lagann – Masculinity

December 11, 2009 4 comments

This is part 5 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

And so we reach the end of my series on Gurren Lagann, yet there is still so much to say about this masterful piece of cinema. If there were one word to describe Gurren Lagann, it would be ‘Masculine’. It doesn’t get any more manly than this, but not in the American tradition of muscle cars and bikinis. Okay, there are giant robots and several bikinis, but that’s not what the show is about. It is about men doing what men do: doing whatever they have to do to save those they love, growing to overcome any obstacle, building a better world and making the impossible possible.

The men of Gurren Lagann are respectable, strong, emotional, intelligent (at least some) and loving. They are multi-faceted and manage to be manly without being ‘macho’. I believe this comes from a respect for masculinity which keeps them from having anything to prove. They are loved and respected for their manhood. They act like men, live like men, talk like men and they are not ashamed of it. The differences between the men and women of Gurren Lagann are clear, but neither is mocked or degraded. The men’s sense of masculinity does not come from degradation of the feminine, although the reverse is often true in American media. These men are afraid of no one, including themselves.

It is all very over-the-top, however, so this is not necessarily a one-stop guide to manhood, but it is a wonderful example of how a television series can show men with great respect and glory, much as women often get in America. This sense of over-the-top adventure also shows in the male characters’ attitudes about themselves. For the most part, they do not take themselves too seriously. I have always believed that one of the keys to manhood is having a sense of humor about yourself, and I think some of that shows in the men of Gurren Lagann.

Overall, Gurren Lagann is a beautiful and passionate display of masculinity in its many forms. The show has a great respect for men and what they do. They respect themselves and are respected by others as they fight for everything they believe in, using all their will and passion to succeed where all seems lost. It is an inspiring series to watch which will leave you invigorated and, for half of the world at least, proud to be male.

What this awesome sense of masculinity really boils down to is this:

These men are not ashamed of being male. They embrace it and do what it is they need to.

I do not think there is any piece of television I could recommend more highly.

I was planning on putting a picture here which I thought best represented what makes Gurren Lagann so great, but after several hours of searching I couldn’t find one. There are several scenes which sum it all up for me, but you will just have to watch it to see for yourself.

But, since I don’t like to give up, here are a few of my favorite shots:

Happy viewing.

Gurren Lagann – Warriors

December 10, 2009 1 comment

This is part 4 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.

Part 1Part 2Part 3

Gurren Lagann is a story of male warriors who fight with their very souls and all the strength of humanity to achieve the impossible. It shows and respects the natural warrior instinct of men. Men and women are both aggressive in different ways, but there is often disdain shown for the aggression of men (that of women is also often simply denied). Gurren Lagann is an action show, filled with violence, but it is not pointless violence. The men here are aggressive, many wanting to fight, but they are largely in control and know what they are doing. They go into battle with all their heart, fighting for their cause, not for ego or glory or riches. They are the kind of warriors you can respect. Warriors are often blood thirsty and corrupt, but many are also noble men who do battle out of need, not blood lust. I believe Gurren Lagann mostly portrays the latter.

Now, it is not always good to glorify the act of fighting. However, I believe that what is wrong is glorifying the act of killing. That is what murderers do. Gurren Lagann glorifies the act of doing battle, of using your whole self to fight for victory. That is what warriors do and that is what we see in Gurren Lagann.

These men are also more than warriors. They are not dangerous psychopaths, but passionate leaders and lovers. Off the battlefield we see them as caring fathers and companions, to their fellow warriors and those who did not fight with them. They are not feared or ridiculed for their warrior instincts. They are respected and praised for all the good they do by fighting in battle. This aggression is kept in balance by the more peaceful characters, as has always been the case in history. Gurren Lagann shows how male passion and aggression can be embraced and appreciated, as it should be.

Another way respect is shown for the warrior-men of Gurren Lagann is in how their deaths are handled. There are plenty of deaths, especially of men, but it isn’t just pointless ‘man-slaughter’. They are dieing for a cause and others around them care. A lot of media will just throw in deaths here and there without real thought, but these deaths have real meaning behind them. Even when a mass of nameless and faceless men plunge into death, it is made to have feeling, to invoke an emotional response. Men have always been the ones who die for what they believe in, but modern western media has come to often belittle or mock this. Not so here. These men are ready to die, but they are anything but disposable.

These men are warriors to their bones and they are loved and respected for that. They are not one-dimensional meat-heads, however. These men are human first, fighters second. Violence is rarely the right path, but sometimes you can only succeed by fighting for what you believe in, and it is usually men who do this fighting.

Next time I will take a final look at the series as a whole and explore its overall image and sense of masculinity.

Gurren Lagann – Brotherly Love

December 9, 2009 1 comment

This is part 3 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.

Part 1Part 2

Ah, Simon and Kamina. When I first saw Gurren Lagann, the thing which made me fall in love with it, the thing which endeared it to me was its true, pure, unashamed portrayal of brotherly love between the two male leads. They are not actually related, but they have a sense of kinship and comradeship which is hard to find in American media.

Kamina is much older than Simon, but this isn’t a case of older-brother worship. Simon looks up to Kamina, but Kamina does not look down at Simon. They love and admire one another deeply, and it shows. This kind of brotherly affection is sorely lacking in western media. There is a much greater understanding for how women care for one another (‘girl-friends’), but not so for men, and it is important to remember that men love in a very different way than women. On several occasions, Kamina attacks Simon, but when he does so it is not out of anger or mindless aggression. He is driving his blood-brother to be the best he can be. One of the ways men show affection for one another is by challenging one another. This is how men bond and this is how fathers teach their children to be the best they can be and Gurren Lagann understands this.

It is this recognition and respect for brotherly love which I myself so love. Here we have two men who love each other as much as any two people could. They would die for one another and they trust one another without question. There is no closer bond than that between warriors, and the bonds of brotherhood, related or not, share many similarities with the bonds shared by warriors. One of the things I so respect the Japanese for is their ability to portray men in this fashion, something westerners often fail at. Relationships like this shown in western media tend to stumble into one of two problems:

1) They come off as homophobic, the men obviously conscious of the possibly gay nature of their behavior, or

2) They come off as actually gay, even when they aren’t.

Now, I have nothing against the gay community, but American media often seems very uncomfortable with the issue of male affection. The narrow media definition of manly behavior leads male-to-male relationships to be less than sincere, which can lead to the above problems.

However, Gurren Lagann does not succumb to this.  It might be because of the age difference between Simon and Kamina, or their lovers or the clearly gay character, but I think that their relationship is believable simply because it is unashamed. There are no awkward ‘man hugs’ here, nor annoying jokes about the characters being accused of being gay. There is just their deep love, and everyone involved accepts and understands it.

Gurren Lagann shows how men can truly love one another in the fashion of brothers. Dedication, caring, helping one another to grow, all this combines with the eternal male thirst for competition to allow men to drive one another to greatness, as warriors do, as brothers do. It demonstrates how, in a world where men are allowed to be men, brothers could and would truly love each other. Such a world would be a far more pleasant place to live.

Tomorrow I will have a look at how Gurren Lagann handles the ideas of warriors and death.

Gurren Lagann – Emotion

December 8, 2009 1 comment

This is part 2 of a series exploring Gurren Lagann.

Part 1

If there is one thing Gurren Lagann is not afraid of being, it is passionate. Well, that and epic, but that is a different issue. This animated story runs rampant with excitement, tragedy, comedy and downright awesomeness. All this is fueled by characters who show drive, fury, caring and weakness in a great display of human nature.

Our hero, Simon, begins as a young, fearful boy. It is his friend, idol and blood-brother Kamina who drives him to do more. He may be meek, but he has an inner-fire which comes out with fury. A major focus of Simon’s story is self belief. He has to come to believe in himself, if sometimes through a convoluted network of surrogate-belief, so that he can fight for humanity.

Eventually overcoming a terrible tragedy by discovering his self-confidence, Simon begins to evolve into a confident man capable of facing any challenge. Along the way he finds his love, and he is not afraid to show how he feels, for her or his other friends. There is no awkward hiding of feelings here, luckily. Simon is shown to obviously care about those he fights with and so he fights for them. Simon may stutter in expressing his feelings a few times, but not from fear of his emotions, just natural human doubt.

Even as he grows older and stronger, Simon continues to show his vulnerable side as he must fight against untold odds to save his world and the life of his love. There is never any sense of macho-pride here, just pure human emotion, truthful and heartfelt. The characters never have a sense of invincibility, but they never give-up when their backs are to the wall.

Overall, the characters of Gurren Lagann, both male and female, show great heart and emotion, often better portrayed than in many live-action films. A core theme is the power of the human spirit, so the show undeniably encourages getting in touch with your emotions and using your positive feelings to drive you. Its male characters strike a balance between strength and weakness which is refreshing. Elsewhere, many characters (especially men) are either weaklings with emotion or tough-guys without emotions, both despised. Here we have believable men who are as strong as it gets but are still human, and so have feelings and vulnerabilities.

The message? Feelings do not make you weak, they make you strong. Embrace them and be the best you can be.

I also love the sense of classical romance this show has. Some might call me a chauvinist, but there isn’t anything more romantic than the hero holding his woman on his lap as he pilots his mecha into battle with the ultimate forces of evil. And she doesn’t have to just be a pretty flower. She can and should kick in all her energy and passion too.

Next time I will look at how all this heart and soul comes into play in the relationships between the men of the series.

Gurren Lagann – An Introduction

December 7, 2009 2 comments

Gurren Lagann (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann in Japan) is an anime series which combines sci-fi adventure with action, mecha, self-discovery and space opera.

Besides that, it also throws in a healthy dose of brotherhood, fantastic style and a few galaxies worth of awesomely epicness.

In other words, this is quite possibly the best anime series ever made and a testament to the modern era of media, as well as to the skill of the Japanese, both in storytelling and animation. I have watched the whole series repeatedly and it pulls you in each and every time.

One of the things I love most about the series is its sense of style. It knows the look and feel it wants and it goes for it without restraint. It has spectacular action with vivid animation, all carried out with fantastic characters who undergo great growth and change.

Besides that, Gurren Lagann is one of the very few shows which repeatedly leaves me feeling good after watching an episode. With most television, I finish an episode feeling fairly neutral, ‘what’s on next?’, or perhaps confused or disappointed. There is little television that leaves the viewer feeling good, about the last half-hour and about themselves. You could call it uplifting. Not every episode is like this, as some are more tragic, but many are.

Truthfully, Gurren Lagann is a boy’s anime, plain and simple. It has several strong, likable female characters, but this show runs on testosterone and little else. I am not saying that women can’t enjoy this series, but it is certainly not within the usual range of feminine media.

There is so much to say about this series that I could easily write thousands of words just reviewing it, without even really getting into the core parts of it. It has a great portrayal of men, masculinity and brotherhood which I find continually enchanting and heartening, but it does this in so many different ways that there is just too much to say in a single post.

So, over the next week I will post a series of pieces exploring the different parts of Gurren Lagann which I believe make it a great piece of media. I will begin tomorrow with a piece looking at the incredible emotion which the show and its characters carry.

Until then, maybe take the chance to watch some clips of the show.

Now that the series is complete, here are the links:

Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5

Ben 10: Alien Swarm – CG abounds, but with surprising heart

November 26, 2009 2 comments

In general, I am a fan of animated television. Ben 10 is one of the bigger names on Cartoon Network. It was never on the top of my list of favorites, but it was a fun show with some interesting ideas, although I wasn’t in love with many of the characters.

Then came Ben 10: Alien Force. The spin-off was unique enough to be interesting, although I am not loving the new season. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by the live-action adaptation, Ben 10: Alien Swarm.

Apparently set some time after the current Ben 10 series, Alien Swarm finds us with a ~16 year old super-team, their powers including transforming into aliens, absorbing and becoming different materials, and energy pulses. The increased age is a good step over the first live-action Ben 10 movie (but that’s another post). Overall, the move is what you’d expect from a TV flick on a Wednesday night.  The story is fairly common: alien invasion on the way, our squad there to save it. However, there is a surprising amount of character involved.

Enter Elena, childhood-teen friend of Ben. Apparently her dad is in trouble, but Ben’s boss/grampa Max doesn’t trust her. Now, what I expected to happen was this: Ben believes Elena, being the love-struck teen, and so goes against Max’s orders, only to find out that Elena was tricking him, proving grampa Max and snobby cousin Gwen right (not that he would have gotten any sympathy for being the victim of a manipulative girl).

Instead we see a surprisingly sensitive side of Ben, striking out on his own as he does what he thinks is right. He must continue to protect Elena, and in the end help to save her father. He isn’t played for the fool and he always manages to keep his cool, even standing up to the bully-ish Kevin and often domineering Gwen. He isn’t the butt of any jokes and isn’t overly mocked or treated like an inept child.

I was also surprised by how mature Ben is about his relationship with Elena. It is said that he has a crush on her, but he doesn’t go bleating after her. He doesn’t believe her blindly, but he trusts her and he acts on that trust, not on raging hormones.

In the series, I always found Ben to be too much of an egomaniac, but here he is more sympathetic and comes off as much more heroic. He is a capable young man who stands by his beliefs, showing confidence and caring for those around him. He is a good, strong young man, well grounded and in touch with his feelings.

All in all, I much prefer Ben as he is seen in this move to his more childish, egotistical cartoon self. This movie is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fun 90 minute romp with some cool CG. And it didn’t leave me feeling guilty for being male, which happens all too often in today’s media.

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