Sunday, September 02, 2012

How Geniuses Party

It is hard to explain how mind-melting Masaaki Yuasa's Mind Game was to me and my group of friends back in 2005. This is largely because of the fact that while the other things that constituted our personal canon back in those days- Paper Rad, those Animal Collective records, Trapped In The Closet- passed into the larger consciousness of taste-makers, Yuasa's film seemingly just received the praise of a few critics. Partly this is because it was never really that available: It had a screening at a museum, but then was passed about on torrents, and DVD-Rs sent in the mail.

His most recent series, The Tatami Galaxy, is available as streaming video via Funimation, a partner site with Hulu, but the earlier work has been difficult to keep up with: His first series, Kemonozume, was sent to me on a DVD-R after its serialization was completed; but at the time that his supposed masterpiece Kaiba was coming out, my computer was not powerful enough to track it down. I was just able to do that recently, when cartoonist Brandon Graham tweeted a link to a Youtube video of the first episode, uploaded by an account that had only edited 4 of the 12 episodes in the series, only the first two of which were subtitled, and one of these pages had a YouTube commenter making reference to a torrent site specifically set up for anime, which I then had to register with in order to search. Obviously, this kind of search is nothing compared to pre-internet zine/video store/mail-order culture, but in a world of memes that become ubiquitous within a week, the discussion of things incapable of going viral is a very hard conversation to have.

Kaiba is a weird thing to describe the look of: Its character designs are based on Tezuka, its background textures have a computer-aided lushness that is still basically a subtle effect, contrasted to the feature Mind Game, which has a balls-to-the-wall shifting of styles almost analogous to Gary Panter (even though the actual closest parallel in terms of character design would probably be Seth Fisher). Meanwhile, the story being told in Kaiba is a weird sci-fi thing maybe more like something out of Heavy Metal magazine, but everyone who has seen the whole thing (I'm at the halfway point currently) says it is heartbreakingly sad.

There is what seems to be a heavy Moebius influence in Yuasa's short "Happy Machine," which is a contribution to an anthology film, called Genius Party, which, despite the promise of its title, I found to be pretty disappointing aside from the Yuasa piece: It is all about as unwatchable as I traditionally find anime to be. It is worth noting Yuasa's stated influences, annotated on his wikipedia page, draw from a deep well of world animation, placing him into that stream, while his adeptness at strange computer effects, interpolating live-action video, fits him comfortably with experimenters the world over.

I found a torrent for Genius Party on The Pirate Bay, which I've been hitting up recently to find British comedy, which seems equally as strange to talk about in a real-world context. Trying to describe the conceptual precepts behind something like Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is another one of those things that can only be deeply frustrating, but much of what I've been taking in is so dry, dark, or awkward that I find it hard to even describe to myself, to locate where the jokes are: Watching The Thick Of It, I don't even feel like I'm watching a comedy so much as I am watching a drama where I'm not invested in the characters' lives because they're all thoroughly unlikable. At least this condition can be explained away by citing its setting, the world of politics; the milieu of Nathan Barley is something faintly recognizable but to the best of my knowledge having no real-world corollary.

One of the few British comedies I've seen recently to make it to the laughter centers of my lizard brain without getting lost in a fog of cognitive dissonance is Lizzie And Sarah, a pilot too dark to be made into a series. I loved it. Written and directed by two women, (Julia Davis and Jessica Hynes) who each play dual roles, as elderly women in miserable marriages and teenage girls, there is a certain free-wheeling quality to its plotting that makes one wonder where future episodes would go, even as it stands alone as a work in itself brilliantly.

(I've also been watching Peep Show, which is similarly based on reasonably recognizable character types, and very enjoyable, but I feel like everyone knows about that already: It's available on Netflix streaming, which is how everyone finds out about poorly-made documentaries, and surely the site's mathematical algorithim has recommended it to everyone who's rated Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm/the original version of The Office five stars, which is to say, everyone.)

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