Asian Fantasy

No, not that kind of fantasy.  :-p

There’s been a lot of Asian-ness in our lives recently here in the Lewis-Zaloga household.  Well, to be fair, it’s more of an Asian influence in our fantasy lives.  Our SF/Fantasy lives. Ok, I know that Japanese, Chinese, and Korea cultures are quite distinct. I’m going to mish-mash between them a little here.

Alicia has become completely addicted to Korean dramas.  She has me watching one called Pasta, about the romantic hijinks of a Korean chef and aspiring plucky young girl who wants to be a master past chef at an Italian restaurant in Korea.

We’ve found a local Thai restaurant that we frequent once a week now.  Pad Thai is boring.  Thai curry is awesome.  I try a different dish each time.

This influx of Asian food and TV made me go out and get a bottle of soju.  Ah, the memories.  Osan, how I miss thee.  Alicia’s been cooking fried rice now at home.  I’m craving noodle bowls with chopsticks more than pizza.  (Oh, and take some fresh cilantro and put it in your noodle-bowl.  Why didn’t I think of this before).

Noodles more than pizza?  Where is all this coming from?

Oh!  Mists of Pandaria!  It all becomes clear.  So, in opening, I’d like to share this outstanding WoW machinima–episode 3 of Anton Porquoi’s exploration of Pandaria.  I share it not to foist WoW videos upon you–if you’ve ever watched any old Kung-Fu movies, or played Street Fighter, you’ll appreciate this one player’s artistic rendition…

I love the “chant this mantra while punching: ‘down, down-forward, forward, PUNCH!'” 🙂  Damn.  Even the music video at the end reminds me of the ridiculous romantic melodrama of anime series lyrics.  Good times.

This got me to thinking.  While I tend not to like Asian CRPGs (sorry–I just couldn’t get hooked on Final Fantasy), I do like the more recent kung-fu movies.  I know some of you thought it got old after “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, but you would be wrong.  Objectively wrong.  0_0

After that movie, I thought they got better.  I absolutely loved “House of Flying Daggers” for the artistic scenes it had–almost like living paintings with the rich color hues.  The thing that I really like about this sort of Chinese movie is that nothing is what it seems from the start.  With each, the first third of the movie is pretty straight forward.  Then, there’s a twist. And in the final third, they’re usually yet another twist.  The story folds back upon itself, and awesomeness ensues.

As I mentioned before, I particularly enjoyed “House of Flying Daggers”.

I think overall, Jet Li’s “Hero” was my favorite.

Yes, it was a tad nationalistic.  Nevertheless, the scenes were artistically stunning, but I found the conversation and twists as they go back and revisit the same story from different perspectives even more engaging.

Finally, to wrap up the Kung-Fu section, “Kung-Fu Hustle” is something of a Chinese Monty-Python Kung-Fu story.  It comes with the same twists, and appeals to the little boy (or kung-fu loving girl) in all of us.

It goes without saying, if you watch these dubbed, you are wrong.  Watch them in Chinese, read the subtitles and get the actors natural tone inflection.

Moving on from Chinese Kung-Fu influence, let’s talk Japan.  Remember Voltron and Robotech growing up?  Transformers were originally a Japanese franchise as well. (I remember this because the first Transformer I ever got was in Italy, and they imported the toys with the Japanese lettering still on them: Takara, not Hasbro).  My autobot Slag (the triceritops) came with a little human pilot that fit inside a cockpit.  Come to think of it, so did all the Decepticon Jets, Dinobots, and Optimus Prime.  Yep, they had pilots originally.  Pilots in mecha-style space suits.

Growing up, anime was hard to come by.  If you could find it, it was damned expensive.  I spent hard-earned allowance to get my first copy of Akira (and frak if I didn’t understand what was going on).  Now it seems everywhere–Youtube, Netflix… and heck, even Barnes and Noble has a huge Manga section that’s larger than the U.S. graphic novels (when the heck did that happen?).  I think it’s a good thing (even if I have a hard time getting into manga.  Go figure).

(Holy crap it’s amazing what you can find in Youtube.  My first anime I ever saw was as a 2nd-grader when we moved to Italy.  It was all in Italian, and I didn’t know the cartoons came from Japan.  I never understood them, but it got me super excited about large battle robots.  Here it is in Spanish.

Moving on to an American “anime”, the absolute, hands-down, best Asian-inspired fantasy cartoon series appeared on Nickelodeon–made for kids, but absolutely delightful to watch for adults.  (And, perhaps the hottest cartoon chick ever to be drawn.)  We were captivated enough to pay for the season on iTunes (we don’t have TV).  Technically out of place in the Japanese lineup, I’m including it here while we’re talking cartoons:

Japanese Anime and Manga display an interesting phenomenon in fantasy and SF.  They are truly cross-cultural.  You’ll see very western themes (Greek gods, Catholic vampire slayers, etc.) reinterpreted, and the ideas cross-pollinated back to our markets.  I suspect there’s a sort of feedback loop of weird that goes on, but hey.  It’s all good.

Of course, if anime is going to be mentioned at all, Miyazaki must be highlighted as the master.  Thing is, I think they do animation better than we do, especially since a lot of theirs are still hand-drawn. (However, kudos must be given to Disney for porting them over to us and dubbing them in a way that doesn’t seem unnatural). One of the best in regards to character and world detail was “Spirited Away”. Each character is memorable and the spirits depicted possess an archetypal “otherness” to them that carries a psychological impact. I particularly like how the witch of the bath house is depicted. There’s nothing “human” about these characters. If you’ve not yet exposed yourself to anime or Miyazaki films, do yourself a favor and check this one out.

To finish where we started in Korea, Alicia has gotten into K-Pop as well.  Korea seems to have kept alive the fascination with boy-bands.  This video… Androgynous pop-gothic-hip-hop-metal with elements of dubstep, eyeliner, fantasy special effects, and may be a commercial for an SUV.  Not sure.  Yep.  Brings me back to Korea.

That’s all for this week.  Next week, I’ll see to getting back to some world-crafting, or an under-the-hood look at pen-and-paper rpg mechanics.