How was I born? – Yours is the drill

Oh my god, I can’t write this post. Like… this is the end. This is the best, the brightest, the most awesome story ever told, the thing that pulled my soul from living fire with fuming tongs. The thing that made me.

Well, not really, but this is the final post of my “How was I born?” series. Today is all about drills, galaxies, and robots with drills as big as galaxies.

Yup, so, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a neat little anime series from 2007. Humanity has been driven underground into isolated colonies, each eking out a desperate existence, digging and suffering, while the Earth’s surface is ruled by beastmen, the cohorts of the despotic Spiral King.

Enter our fire-hearted heroes, Kamina and SHEEMON! Ruled by their indomitable passions, they break out of their underground prison and ignite a rebellion, fighting first the beastmen, then the beastmen’s boss, AND THEN THE BEASTMEN’S BOSS’S BOSS.

They do so by piloting giant robots that combine into gianter robots! This show is full of them! Also, it’s full of big passions, big boobs, big butts, and BIG, BIIIIGG DRILLS.

If that last sentence made ya think it’s a porno, well, IT IS. But not the way you think.

First of all, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is like, the archetypal shounen anime – a show made for boys. In every episode, there’s a big fight, usually a big explosion, and it’s all peppered with the token girl character, Yoko, showing cleavage. So, uh, yeah. It’s not what you call “high cultuer”. And yeah, it’s grimy. BUT IT’S ALSO KINDA AWESOME.

When I said it’s a porno, I meant it. You see, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a determination porno. Kamina and SHEEMON are always fighting as the underdogs, underpowered and underleveled, and they always pull through by sheer will-power. (Usually preceded by a bout of self-doubt by SHEEMON!)

Ya think that’s cheesy? Yeah, well, it is. You can pretty much predict what happens in each episode. But like soap operas, kung-fu films, and, uh, porn, they do the same thing over and over again and it still works!

I mean, this is a show that can’t be spoiled. Even if I know exactly what’s gonna happen in episode 11, I’m still crying. Every single time. Why does it work? And why does it work even though it’s a misogynistic pile of macho turd? Why is it awesome even so?

I admit I’m not too analytical when it comes to this show (I’m too PUMPED UP), but I’m guessing there are two things at work here.

First, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann doesn’t take itself too seriously. It pokes fun at its characters, its story, its genre ancestors, you name it. It’s not a very serious show – as if you couldn’t tell when Kamina’s robot catches fire and he turns it into a flaming dive kick of men’s burning soul!

…and at the same time, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann takes itself seriously. Yes, that’s right. It does both, simultaneously. It laughs and cries at the same time. It is heroic and mock-heroic in the same scene.

That’s one of the things that makes it great. If it were only comical, you couldn’t take it seriously, well, uh, because nothing’s for keeps. Conversely, if it were only serious, you couldn’t take it seriously either, because it’s just so goddammed ridiculous. They solve the problem by being both at the same time, which is both genius and deeply natural.

The best heroes are clowns and queens in the same body. That’s what humans are, really. We’re not creatures of either-or.  We’re heaps of odd angles. We’re bags of contradicting passions. And both our heroism and our clownishness shine that much brighter because we have all those sides.

That’s why heroes have their weak moments in films. That’s why, when the underdog comes through, it’s always awesome. That’s why Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann works, even though it puts out the same formula for each of its twenty-six episodes.

So that’s the first thing. The second thing ties up with the first.

Like I said, this ain’t a perfect show. There’s a lot to hate here. But the thing is, there ain’t such a thing as a “perfect series” or a “perfect book”. I’ve touched on it when I talked about knights, and barbarians, and videogames of yore. Things just aren’t ever perfect. They’re always stained in some way. And that’s all right, peeps. That’s just all right.

Art is created by humans, and humans are flawed. If you’re under the illusion that only a perfect creation can be loved, poop it out as fast as you can.

Perfect things are dead. They are stale, inert, lifeless. Even if they could exist – and I’m sure they can’t – they would not suffer human touch upon their sleek surfaces. To enjoy a perfect creation would be made impossible by the perfect thing itself.

What we love always has an aspect of decay in it. What we love is always partially of the dirt, the worms, and the rot. Who we love are, always, part-time killers, robbers, abusive alcoholics, selfish loafers, rapists, heartless business magnates, bullies.

When I say that, though, I also mean the opposite. Nothing is all bad. Nobody is all bad. We’re wired to not believe it, but this is true: there is more to every murderer than OMG THIS GUY IS TEH EVIL. I’m not gonna say something cheesy like, “There is good in each one of us,” because that’s simplifying the issue, but I mean something like it.

Now, back to Gurren Lagann. Early on in the series, our hero, Kamina, dies. Like, he’s killed. And it isn’t retconned. He doesn’t come back. He’s killed, he’s dead.

That’s where the story really starts. That’s where all stories really start. Something irreplaceable is lost. And then we’ve got to come to terms with it.

That’s what my perfection rant is about. Life is sucky. Our loved ones die. And they don’t die meaningful, heroic deaths, either. They just randomly die. Or we get diseases. Not as punishments for our sins, but randomly. We just get cancer. Or we fall down, randomly, hit our head, and spend the rest of our lives as quadriplegics.

That shit just happens. Life isn’t perfect. Things don’t have meaning.

The thing is, we can push through that, because we can create meanings. We can overcome the suckiness in our lives (partially, at least), because we decide what things are. Fiction is, literally, just that. We create the world into what we want it to be.

That’s why let nobody tell you that fiction is not “real”. Fiction is the only thing that is real.

Okay, so, fiction isn’t real the way rocks are real. But, hey, I said stuff is imperfect, right? Fiction is the best shot we’ve got. Warts and all, we gotta love it, because it’s all we have.

In Gurren Lagann, they really hammer home that point. Our heroes don’t beat their enemies because of their mighty robots, or because they’ve trained so hard, or because they get lucky, or because they’re brilliant tacticians. No, the heroes win because they decide that they’re gonna win.

Reality – whatever that is – doesn’t urge you on when you’re knocked about. Fiction does. Fiction is the small voice in your ear, saying, “Get up. We will win.” Fiction pulls us to our feet. Fiction dusts us off. Fiction creates us. We are nothing but fiction.

Gurren Lagann is that. It’s ham-fisted, it’s juvenile, it’s laughing at itself snot running down its chin, it’s brave, it’s desperate, it’s big, it’s meaningless, it’s a wizard, a pauper, it suffers from incontinence, and it’s the galaxy’s best fighter. All in one bag.

That’s fiction, and that’s us.

 

Anyway, I got nothing more to say. This is the end of my “How was I born?” series. These are the pieces of fiction that made me. Good night, peeps, and remember… yours is the drill that will pierce the heavens.

How was I born? – Giant Robots AND EVERYTHING

If there’s one thing that can compete with knights for my undying love, it’s GIANT ROBOTS. So welcome, peeps! Time for my penultimate “How was I born?” episode! On today’s menu is Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still.

So what’s going on here? Giant Robo is an anime miniseries, airing originally from 1992 to 1998, comprising six episodes that tell a single story. The plot? It goes something like this.

Kusama Daisaku is a preteen kid. His father created the WORLD’S MOST POWERFUL ROBOT… the eponymous JAIANTO ROBO. Now, Daisaku teams up with an international police organisation, the Experts of Justice, who battle the nefarious BF Group, who are bent on world domination!

Our heroes, the Experts of Justice, are comprised of Chinese magicians, superheroes, blue Amazon ladies who turn into horses, immortal private investigators, and the aforementioned JAIANTO ROBO who can only be controlled by Daisaku. Their opponents, the BF Group, are made up of sorcerers, ninjas, and an assload of gigantic robots that shoot lazers and throw rocket punches. Also, they create a floating Death Star that will destroy everything, unless the Experts of Justice, with Daisaku, can stop it!

Throw in, for good measure, teleporting Chinese chicks, mad scientists, nuclear accident analogies, and a dude who will DESTROY THE DEATH STAR WITH A SINGLE PUNCH. (And Alberto. There’s a guy called Alberto. He’s the best.) And this is neither a comedy nor a parody. It’s all played straight.

Soo… yeah. You think I’m pulling this out of my ass? Nope.

Apparently some Japanese guy was a prolific manga artist, and he wrote a lot of comics. Some were about giant robots, some were about Chinese heroes. Some were about something else.

Then another guy comes in and decides, “Yo, this guy is great! I’m making an anime that combines everything he ever did!

That’s Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Seriously, it has everything. It has wildly mis-matched everything. There’s retro-futuristic robots and lazers rubbing shoulders with medieval Chinese boys whose drums cause soundwaves powerful enough to destroy ninjas. And they all just coexist like it’s cool.

Ya know, I was kinda taught to believe that fiction should be consistent. Like, when you do world-building, you should make sure the pieces fit together. And I’m kinda awed at how Giant Robo blows that clear out of the water. For me, that’s big.

Like, there are rules… and then you can disregard the rules if you know what you’re doing. (And you’ve got eggs of steel.)

Those are the rules we’re taught. There are more insidious rules too, rules that we’ve internalised and so don’t even realise they’re there. They’re rules that whisper into our ears. They tell us to be “proper”. They say, “That’s not what real writers should do.” Or, “That’s childish and stupid.” Or, “That’s okay, I guess, but you should tone it down a bit.”

Giant Robo sorta blows those rules out too, with their insidious whispers. Giant Robo does what it wants, because it’s honest to its wants and it doesn’t give a damn.

There’s something that the wonderful and all-wise Vilja-Tuulia Huotarinen wrote once that’s stuck with me forever. I paraphrase, but it was something like, we’ve all got our own poetics in us. Our own language in which we write. And shame be damned, that language is ours, no matter how gross, fantastic, outlandish, weird, shy, rude, or disgusting it might be. It is our language. It is what we write in.

Giant Robo, its giant robots and ninjas, is what happens when that language is interpreted to its fullest. It’s not “immature” nor is it “over-the-top”.

It is its own truth.

How was I born? – Hot medicine

Heya my little marshmallows! What up? Time to get ahead with my “How was I born?” series!

First, a shout-out to Madame Writer! This one’s for you, my friend. Remember that time we talked about Mononoke, and I said I was gonna do a post about it? This is it, at long last.

Soo… I’m bit of an anime fan-girl. Was since I been seventeen or so. I’ve suffered through a fair few animes, and despite my fan-girlness, I don’t hesitate to say most of them sucked. Occasionally, however, I’ve come across a gem.

Like Mononoke.

Now, don’t confuse this with the Miyazaki flick, Princess Mononoke. Despite similarities in name, they’ve got zero to do with each other. Mononoke, our topic of the day, is a 2007 TV series, made as a spin-off of another series from a year earlier, Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales.

Mononoke takes place in 19th century Japan, and plays out kinda like a supernatural horror whodunit. We got our investigator, the sweet, hot, awesome, deadpan guy known only as “the Medicine Seller”. He’s got a special mandate to seek out and destroy troublesome Japanese ghosts. Then he does just that, first finding the people the ghost is bothering, then interrogating them to find out stuff about the ghost, then finishing by destroying the ghost. Simple!

Weird fact: I didn’t discover Mononoke through Ayakashi, as you might think. I first watched Ayakashi about halfway through, then dropped it out of boredom. Later, I found out about Mononoke from another source and fell in love with the Medicine Seller and we lived happily ever after it. Then, through whatever perversity, I got back to Ayakashi and watched it to the end… finding, to my surprise, that the last three episodes deal with the Medicine Seller’s adventures!

So, what makes Mononoke so great that my loins boil every time I think about it? A bunch of things! Like, the art is trippy. You think horror’s gotta be dark in colour? Wait till you see them red ribbons! EEEeeeewww!

The awesomeness of the visuals isn’t restricted to the acidic art, though! The animation is a sight to behold, too – oddly, because it’s so restrained. Often, though there’s barely any movement at all, there’s a sense of kinetic magnificence. The animators clearly made a decision, and it was not to animate. ‘Course, when they do make stuff move, you see that they know what’s what.

And then the direction! The cuts! The angles! Ooh, aah… and the goddam expressions the people wear! Like, y’all ever read Blacksad? The expressions are awesome like that, except in a way all their own.

Anyway, as dazzling as all those visual fireworks are, that’s not what really grabbed my heart and squeezed it dry of its juice. It’s not the creepy stories either, or the bodily horror. It’s not even the sweet, hot, awesome, deadpan lead character.

It’s the fact that I know fuck all about what’s going on.

In Mononoke, they sure don’t lead you by the hand. They tease, they imply, they omit, they plain-out hide. It’s up to you to figure the puzzle out, and they keep mixing the pieces. Sometimes it’s easier, like in “Umibōzu”, and sometimes it’s plain impossible, like in “Noppera-bō”.

It’s just head-spinningly awesome. I love it when I don’t know what’s going on.

I also love it when I have to use my own brain to figure it all out. And I love it even more when, despite all my efforts, I don’t discover everything there is to discover! I love it when things stay mysterious.

Needless to say, Mononoke stays tasty through multiple watchings.

As a writer (and reader), there are two take-aways here. First, we gotta trust our readers that they will get our hints – we mustn’t explain things through. Not even when our readers demand us the answers. Especially not then.

Second, we gotta trust ourselves, trust that we’ll get through without hints. We don’t have to know every goddam secret to enjoy a thing. In fact, there’s a great power in being comfortable in a situation where you know jack.

Peeps, you see, life is chaos. And in chaos, you can’t know everything.