Wednesday, October 24, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological*

I have yet to devote any of my comics-writings on ARCHETYPAL ARCHIVE to the Akihisa Ikeda manga series ROSARIO + VAMPIRE (2004-07), for the simple reason that I haven't yet finished reading it. However, there were only two seasons of the 2008 teleseries anime adaptation, so it's easy enough to review.

 I have read enough of the manga to state that the anime is only broadly faithful to its source material. Some manga-stories are directly adapted, and all of the main characters appear, but the anime never does a narrative that lasts longer than two episodes, plainly because there are only 13 episodes in each of the two seasons. And while the original manga sports numerous sexploitation tropes, whoever did the anime seemed not to know the adage "less is more." ROSARIO the series is filled with so many gratuitous panty-shots that it manages the signal feat of making them all rather boring. In addition, whereas the manga-series uses comic elements but has more of an adventurous tone overall, the anime is pure "harem comedy."

Teenager Tsukune Aono has such low grades that he can't get into any prominent high schools. By chance, he enrolls in a private school, Yokai Academy, only to find that it's a school that exists in an otherworldly dimension. The inhabitants of the dimension are all monsters-- some Japanese, some Western-- and the students at Yokai, though they all appear as human beings, are learning how to emulate humans in order to move among them without being detected. Tsukune can't initially get away from Yokai, and then he meets a female monster, vampire Moka Akashiya, who makes him want to stick around, despite the threat to life and limb. In the first episode Moka learns that Tsukune is a human being, and she helps him conceal the fact from the other students-- including three other female monsters who find Tsukune to be endlessly enticing: succubus Kurumu, snow-woman Mizore, and witch Yukari (who, in keeping with many Japanese serials from the nineties on, is a "lolicon" middle-schooler who constantly embarrasses Tsukune with her attentions). The five of them become friends who belong to the same club, and the four monster-girls are frequently called upon to defend the powerless human from other monster-students. Of the four, Moka the vampire is indisputably the most powerful, and most of the episodes conclude with her clobbering an enemy who's conquered all other opposition. Each trouncing, and the number of seconds it takes, is announced by a bat-narrator, a device that becomes so tedious that one soon welcomes the couple of times that Moka gets knocked around by a superior antagonist.

On top of all of these "harem comedy" tropes, Moka is also a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde as well as a Dracula. When Tsukune meets Moka, she seems to be a sweet-tempered Japanese girl who wears a curious cross-rosary around her neck. He soon discovers that the rosary subdues Moka's "Mister Hyde" persona-- the one she was actually born with-- and that, though she can't take it off herself, Tsukune can, and whenever he does, the powerful, arrogant side of Moka emerges to smash down any and all enemies.

The manga series was able to investigate these potential S&M aspects in much greater detail than the series can (though the closing montage works in a fair amount of nudity and chains). About the only episode which gets as wild as the manga is the first-season episode "Math and the Vampire." The story, in both manga and anime, suggests the pressure high-school students feel to excel in subjects like math, for Tsukune is briefly enslaved by evil teacher Ririko, who dresses in sexy outfits but apparently only gets turned on when her favored student mindlessly spouts mathematical theorems. Appropriately, Ririko's form is that of a Lamia, which in Greek mythology was a female creature that murdered children.

Only the first season follows the plot-line regarding Tsukune's dilemma about trying to romance Moka while not exposing himself to other students as a trespassing human. The other members of the harem find out Tsukune's identity at the end of the first season, and although the producers handle the drama fairly well, the second and last season is devoted to nothing but sex and silliness. It concludes with Tsukune having a big fight with Moka's vampiric father, but it resolves nothing and the series ends by restoring the status quo. My overall finding is that ROSARIO is a watchable if repetitive trifle.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018


CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, sociological*

Like 1952's CRIMSON PIRATE, Blake Edwards' THE GREAT RACE falls into the category of the metaphenomenal only in that it shows characters using technological marvels that are technically possible now but unlikely to have been seen in RACE's turn-of-the-century time-frame-- the combination dirigible-bicycle seen above, a primitive torpedo, a car that exudes a smokescreen long before James Bond's era.

Though RACE is overlong, like a lot of other star-studded productions of the 1960s, it's an enjoyable re-framing of the "mellerdrammers" of the early 20th century, with emphasis on the cliches of state and silent film. Heroic Leslie (Tony Curtis) dresses in white, while villainous Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) dresses in black. But, rather being crimefighter and criminal, the two are rival daredevils constantly seeking the acclaim of crowds. After showing the various ways in which Leslie wins that acclaim, while Fate always loses out despite his penchant for cheating, the film gets down to a long, cross-continental car-race. To further complicate the contest, suffragette Maggie Du Bois (Natalie Wood) decides that she wants to participate in the race to prove the equality of women. When neither of the daredevils will accommodate her, Maggie gets her own car and tries to compete-- though almost inevitably, she ends up riding with Leslie, and the two end up falling in love, albeit with many arguments and complications. Fate, unlike most melodrama-villains, has absolutely no interest in stealing the hero's girl, only his thunder.

The celebrated pie-fight during the "Prisoner of Zenda" spoof is justifiably the film's most famous moment, though I like almost as much the spoofy western saloon-brawl as well, in which Larry Storch plays a bandit who keeps telling people to give him some "fightin' room" and finally gets decked by girlfriend Dorothy Provine. Curtis plays off his earlier swashbuckling characters with aplomb, while Lemmon puts a great deal of energy into the maniacal Fate, as well as a secondary character, a daffy king whom Fate resembles. It's been said that Natalie Wood didn't want to play the role of Maggie, but she essays the spunky role with as much energy as anyone could have.

I also re-watched the film to gauge whether or not RACE was a combative film. It's not impossible for a work to be combative even if the antagonists are contending via their vehicles, but there's no climactic contest between the cars. Leslie demonstrates a high level of swordsmanship in two scenes, one of which has him out-duel an evil conspirator (Ross Martin), and he has some fights in the saloon-scene, but these incidents seem isolated from the fundamental plot, and so I judge that the film is not combative.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

THE OTHER (1972)

CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


The big "reveal" of THE OTHER-- though it takes place roughly halfway through the film-- is that although the viewer sees two twin kids (played by sibling-actors) at the story's outset, there's only one living boy, Niles, who is constantly imagining that his dead brother Holland is around. Further, Niles performs a host of malicious acts that he attributes to Holland, much in the same way that Norman Bates attributes his actions to "Mother."

I have never and probably will never read Tom Tryon's 1971 novel, but since Tryon himself adapted his own novel for the film's screenplay, it's likely that there are no tremendous differences between film and source-novel.  The action takes place in a rural part of America in 1935, on various neighboring farms, one of which is owned by the Perrys, consisting of Niles, his frail mother, and his somewhat superstitious grandmother Ada. None of the other locals, despite their experience with planting, are capable of understanding the "bad seed" in their midst.

The script doesn't give a lot of detail as to what makes Niles so bad, though his grandmother has encouraged him to imagine himself flying in the body of a bird. In addition, she's inculcated in Niles an absorption with angels coming to bring mortals into the realm of death, so it's at least possible that Niles has never learned to distinguish between life and death. He brings about calamity after calamity, including dooming both mother and grandmother, though always with no sense of overt malice. Niles always seems blissfully innocent, in contrast to the original "Bad Seed" of theatrical/cinematic fame.

Director Richard Mulligan opts for a gradual approach to horror, giving the bucolic surroundings a look of pristine beauty, although he finds ingenious ways to insert images of unsettling aspects of nature or man-made artifacts. The downbeat ending of the theatrical release was occasionally modified in TV reruns.

Friday, October 12, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

I goofed when I stated that I had reviewed all the stories in the Heisei GODZILLA series except for GODZILLA 1985, for I belatedly realized I hadn't done this film, either.

Structurally, GODZILLA AND MOTHRA is similar to their two monsters' first crossover film, 1964's MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA. Once again, there's slightly more narrative attention paid to the mythology of the colossal caterpillar/moth than to the cranky green reptile. But this time it's because the project was originally supposed to be all about Mothra and his dark twin Battra. Patently Godzilla was merely written in for purposes of marketing, so although his battles with the two giant moths are better than average, Godzilla himself has no raison d'etre beyond being Mean and Green.

Of all the films in the Heisei series, this one has the most engaging human characters, particularly a divorced couple that ends up re-bonding over the battle of titanic kaiju.  Takuya, an unusually impolite Japanese explorer, gets dragooned into joining an expedition with his ex-wife Masako. The expedition, funded by an unscrupulous corporation, voyages to Infant Island, home of Mothra, the tribe that worships him, and the minute twin fairies who act as spokespersons for the giant caterpillar, who are now styled "the Cosmos." Though there are agents in the group who merely want to harvest a Mothra-egg for profit-- thus proving that no one in Japan learned anything from the 1964 film-- Masayo and Takuya are intrigued by the Cosmos' revelation that the fairies also represent a long-vanished, super-scientific civilization, strongly reminiscent of Atlantis. This civilization was wiped off the face of the Earth by Mothra;s destructive twin Battra, and Mothra had to fight his twin to keep Battra from wiping out all of humankind.. After being defeated, Battra fell into a deep sleep, but the fall of meteors to Earth has reawakened his menace-- as well as Mothra's other famous enemy, the Big G.

After some exploration hijinks for Masayo and Takuya-- which, for a change in a kaiju film, are actually amusing-- their unscrupulous cohort Ando arranges with his aides to steal a Mothra-egg, taking it out to sea with the aid of a freighter. However, both the re-awakened monsters home in on the freighter. Battra battles Godzilla, apparently just out of sheer orneriness rather than out of concern for Mothra. But the delay gives the egg the chance to hatch, and a new Mothra is born.

The human party manages to make it back to Japan, where the CEO of Ando's group does what CEOs usually do: he grabs hold of the twin fairies to use them for evil merchandising purposes. Naturally, Mothra invades Japan to rescue the Cosmos fairies, and Battra and Godzilla follow in due course. 

The two moths join forces against the big reptile, resulting in one of the most colorful titan-battles in Japanese film (partly because the moths use colorful dust as a fighting-technique). Godzilla is defeated (temporarily) and the moths attempt to drop him back in the ocean. Before being dumped off, Godzilla wounds Battra fatally. Then, at the eleventh hour, the fairies reveal that Battra's true destiny was to destroy a big asteroid fated to annihilate Earth. However, say the fairies, it's all good, because Mothra can and will destroy the asteroid, which comprises the film's climax.

The last-minute revelation that Battra had a "good" purpose during his long sleep undermines the original concept that he was a destructive deity provoked into action by humankind's excesses. I surmise that if Godzailla hadn't been inserted, maybe Battra's mythic persona would have remained more consistent. But BATTLE FOR EARTH still ranks as one of the more enjoyable films in the Heisei series.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, psychological, sociological*

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is  a somewhat misnamed series. As producer Josh Friedman points out in the commentary for the show's final episode, he and his team avoided using the name "Terminator" until that last show. (Usually characters refer to the futuristic robots by the term "metal.") Further, even though Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) is undeniably one of the program's ensemble characters, she really has no arc of her own, as she does in the first two TERMINATOR movies (which the series follows, ignoring the second movie sequel from 2003). All the narrative attention goes to the other members of the ensemble, her son John Connor (Thomas Dekker) and his robotic protector Cameron (played by Summer Glau, and named for the writer-director of the films).

Admittedly, James Cameron himself shifted the attention from Sarah Connor, the viewpoint character of the first film. John Connor, the youth destined to defeat the forces of the evil computer-system Skynet, becomes far more important in TERMINATOR 2 than Sarah is. Still, there is a subplot about Sarah's attempt to recover her humanity even in the midst of fighting off yet another killer cyborg, while her adolescent son bonds with a "good Terminator," who becomes the father John never had.

Though the second film strongly implies that the heroes' actions insure that Skynet will never be built, CHRONICLES can only exist if Skynet is still a threat. Thus Sarah and John are still being besieged by cyborgs out to slay future-savior John. However, Future-John, apparently aware that the Arnie-bot from T2 would not be enough, also sends back another reprogrammed robot to help the duo. In a rather confusing narrative move, the trio time-jump from 1999 to 2007, partly to get a line on how Skynet rose despite their efforts. Of course, the time-change may also have been designed to make the characters more relatable to viewers living in 2008 and 2009.

The episodes in which the cyborgs manage to track down the fugitive family, resulting in heavy arms-fire (especially for a TV show), tend to be the least interesting stories. The investigate stories, in which Sarah and John try to track down Skynet's recrudescence, are well-made but not very involving. The strongest episodes are those that follow up on the theme established in T2: the ability of a humanized machine--albeit with some organic material-- to assimilate human forms of behavior. Cameron, whose appearance was copied from a future freedom-fighter named Alyson, gets many of the best lines, for the actress is allowed to shuttle between grim purpose-- she even tells John that there's a "Terminator" part of her that still wants to kill him-- and moments of quixotic humor, as she endeavors to process human cultural practices.

The constant problems of time-manipulation lend the series an intentionally downbeat air, given that the protagonists can never really be sure whether or not their actions solve any problems. Various support-characters come into the mix as well, but none of them prove as interesting as, say, the almost-erotic relationship of Cameron and the hormonally-frustrated John Connor.

Though no single episode stands out as representative of the series' symbolic compass, overall the series admirably continues the dramatic issues raised by the original Cameron films.

Saturday, October 6, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*


I mentioned in my review of the 2004 INCREDIBLES that creator Brad Bird had sometimes been accused of loading his film with thematic references to Nietzsche and/or Ayn Rand, and that the writer/director had consistently denied them. The far less philosophical nature of INCREDIBLES 2 suggests that the first film'superiority arose more from a "perfect storm of creativity" rather than an intentional thematic pursuit.

The original film began by showing how the superheroes in the Incredi-Universe suffered the ignominy of being outlawed from further public service. The story ended with the four members of the Incredibles family triumphing over the principal menace, followed by a short coda in which they appear ready to take on a new super-villain as well. Thus Bird's first movie ends with the general implication that superheroes will return without further complications.

Thus I was more than surprised to find that Bird picked up the second installment of his franchise exactly where the 2004 film ended, with the super-family about to take on the insidious Underminer (a minor variation on Marvel Comics' "Mole Man" villain). However, not only does the villain escape, the heroes' actions create the sort of wholesale chaos that got the "supers" banned in the first place. As an additional headache for the protagonists, Tony, classmate of the group's teenaged member Violet, sees Violet without her mask, thus endangering her secret identity.

Thus within the first fifteen minutes Bird establishes that the recent heroic actions of the Incredibles (and their ice-making ally Frozone) have made absolutely no difference to the existing anti-super law. All four heroes are briefly arrested before being bailed out by the federal government, which still keeps an eye on the country's one-time protectors. Government rep Rick Dicker informs the heroes that they will get no more support, and must return to their mundane existence as the non-super Parr family, though Dicker does them one last favor by doing a "Men in Black" mind-wipe on Tony (which leads to a comic subplot of teenaged misunderstandings later on).

Now the Parrs have no jobs and must find some way to remain incognito despite the unpredictable antics of their super-powered infant, Jack-Jack. Enter a savior for superheroes: telecommunications genius Winston Deaver, who wants to engineer the overturning of the anti-super law. With the help of his sister Evelyn, Winston plots a series of publicity stunts designed to restore public confidence in superheroes. The catch is that he only wants Helen "Elastigirl" Parr, thus forcing Bob ("Mr. Incredible") Parr to inherit the lion's share of the duties dealing with the couple's three kids. Middle-schooler Dash needs help with his math homework, Violet has romance troubles, and Jack-Jack is trouble personified. All of these sitcom problems provide some light amusement, but no one will ever accuse Bird of re-inventing the wheel here.

In my review of the first film, I observed that Bird never explained what happened to quell his world's super-villains, who surely didn't have a problem breaking the anti-super law. Now, as with Bird's creation of Syndrome, another costumed evildoer appears when it's convenient for the creator and inconvenient for his creations. Elastigirl is forced to contend with a new foe, a hypno-tech master named "ScreenSlaver."

(Cue the SIMPSONS's Comic Book Guy: "Worst. Super-Villain. Name. Ever.")

Following her first encounter with the villain, Elastigirl captures him and turns him over to the law-- though the "red herring" is so crimson here that only really small children are likely to believe that she's nabbed the real perp. Sure enough, ScreenSlaver is still out there, with a complicated plan designed to make superheroes unpopular for all time. Oh, and his true identity is revealed, which is thoroughly unsurprising since Bird only gives his audience two potential suspects.

INCREDIBLES 2 was a lot of fun on the big screen. Most of the comedy is funny, and the action-scenes are thrilling, except that three of them invoke the same basic threat: Something Big Is Careening Toward Some Structure Full of People, and Must Be Stopped. However, in terms of producing a story as good as the first entry, Bird drops the ball.

Given that Bird raises the issue of the difficulty of changing the anti-super law, his idea that it can be overturned merely by public acclimation is a cop-out. But even granting that no one goes to superhero movies to see tedious legislation debates in Congress, Bird could have still come up with a funny take on the exigencies of jurisprudence. Further, had he axed out some of the almost endless Jack-Jack slapstick-stuff, he might've created some extra red herrings-- say, senators who wanted to keep supers illegal, and so might've been logical candidates to become hero-hating villains.

There's a lot to like about INCREDIBLES 2, and it comes off like a film that earnestly wants to be liked. From my viewpoint, though, this is exactly what kept me from loving it.

Friday, October 5, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *cosmological, sociological*

With DESTOROYAH, I've finally got round to reviewing all of the films in the so-called "Heisei Era" (1984-1995) except for the one that initiated the Heisei reboot, 1984's RETURN OF GODZILLA (GODZILLA 1985 in the U.S.)

The Heisei films deserve props for managing a more serious, less looney-tunes version of the Big G than the one who finished up in the 1970s. However, pound for pound I preferred more of the succeeding "Millennium Era" that followed fast on the heels of the godawful "American Godzilla" of 1998. The only Heisei film I rated as good in its mythicity was 1991's GODZILLA VS. KING GHIDORAH, though I had some limited affection for the era's re-invention of Rodan and Baby Godzilla, as well as the "monster whispering" human psychic Miki. DESTOROYAH, however, suffers from too many inconsequential characters distracting from the main action and a very badly designed opponent for the titular King of Monsters.

DESTOROYAH builds on some of the events set up by the preceding GODZILLA VS. SPACE GODZILLA, which opposed the monster with a mutated clone of himself. The 1995 film subjects Godzilla to a further mutation, as the nuclear power within his reptillian body begins to enter a meltdown phase. This peril moves Japan's military to consider new methods of destroying or containing the creature. One is another of Japan's many super-ships, this one called "Super X III," which is armed with cold-rays capable of reducing the fury of Godzilla's internal nuclear fission. The other strategy comes from a young scientist who may be able to re-create the "Oxygen Destroyer" with which the 1954 "Gojira" was annihilated.

In the 1954 film, Doctor Serizawa nobly sacrificed his own life to make certain that his weapon would never be duplicated, since it might have as much, or more, power to devastate the human race. The young scientist seems half-willing to re-create the super-weapon for the military, and perhaps there was an unused plot-line in which he did so. But his presence is rendered nugatory when a new monster-- or rather, a new concatenation of interactive monsters-- appears. It's eventually revealed that "Destoroyah" is the result of a mutation brought about by Serizawa's original formula. Thus, even though the current Godzilla is a totally separate creature from the 1954 version, the filmmakers have chosen to create another "anti-Godzilla" like the one in SPACE GODZILLA, but with Destoroyah incarnating the power of the fictional "Oxygen Destroyer" as Godzilla incarnates that of nuclear power.

The one element that redeems the middling slugfest of the two super-monsters is the presence of "Godzilla Junior," now advanced to a near-adult stage by the same forces that caused Godzilla's further mutation. When it appears (temporarily) that Destoroyah has successfully slain Junior, the filmmakers movingly capture the bestial anguish of Godzilla Senior at seeing his final relation assassinated. However, though the film-series was terminated largely because it wasn't making enough money for Toho Studios, DESTOROYAH nevertheless leaves the door open for "Junior" to be reborn as the heir apparent to the city-leveling saurian. That element of the film is the only one that allows me to rate the film as "fair."