Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Bergen's Burden

Happiness. So ephemeral, so illusory. Can we obtain it? If we seek it, will it remain beyond our grasp? What brings it about, and how can we keep what we've attained? We've pondered these questions for all of human history, and they've been addressed by something not nearly up to the task. Trolls.

No, not that one.



There we go.

In Trolls, there are two races of being. The eponymous Trolls, small annoying creatures who love to hug and dance and all that shit, and the Bergen, big hulking ugly humanoids that have one trait in common: They are all depressed. They remain listless, apathetic, and emotionally destitute for their entire lives, save for one possible treatment. Eating a Troll.

The Bergen hold an annual holiday where they harvest Trolls from the Troll Tree in the middle of town, each Bergen eats a Troll, and they temporarily quench the harrowing despair. They depend upon this to keep their community alive. Well, at least it seems like they would have to. In the events of the film, all the Trolls breach a dangerous escape from Bergentown, and for twenty years not one Bergen eats a Troll.

Miraculously, they've not all killed themselves. In fact, things seem to be going pretty well as far as a clinically depressed town goes. It looks like they all got jobs, and there's kids around, so something must be working out. I guess they haven't created alcohol yet. Hope surges through the town when their exiled cook finds the Troll village and brings some back. Trollstice begins anew!

There sets off the events of the film, where two Trolls have to get into Bergentown and save the rest, they meet some Bergen, and teach them all something surprising. See, in two occasions, Bergen feel happiness without ingesting a Troll. In one, the King Bergen goes on a date with the chambermaid, who is helped by the escaped Trolls. They have a fun time dancing around and rollerskating, not realizing until later that they even experienced joy. The second instance comes at the end of the film, where Poppy, the Troll Princess, explains that happiness isn't found in something outside, but inside each and everyone one of you. All you gotta do is dance. And that's it. They all start dancing and the ending of the film implies everyone will be happy forever now.

I found something odd, though. How is it that no Bergen ever tried to dance during the twenty year absence of the Trolls? They had a roller rink, how did that not do the trick? I mean, there's children, so obviously Bergen relationships still occurred, but nobody admitted to being happy. On the one hand, it's possible they were so misled by the notion that only Trolls could bring happiness that they discounted any positive feelings as something aside from True Happiness. But something else stands out.

During every single instance of a Bergen feeling joy, there is a Troll present. During the King's date, Trolls were on the head of his disguised chambermaid, and he had one in a pendant around his neck. The cook only felt happy once she had captured some Trolls and had them in her fannypack. At the end, their dance is only jubilant because the Trolls had escaped their pot and were frolicking about their banquet hall.

Not once does a Bergen display happiness without a Troll on their person or around them. We were taught one thing in the beginning of the film, and it remains true: A Bergen cannot be happy without a Troll. What the Bergen got wrong was that they would have to eat said Troll to experience the psychological effects, while the Trolls, being almost entirely unfamiliar with sadness of any kind, think it's all in their heads.

The Trolls mistake their general disposition to be universal, that what makes them happy must make all delighted. And perhaps, for that one night, the Bergen were happy. But all pleasures must have a cost. One can live in a state of subdued misery for years at a time and become accustomed to it, but the real trial is when happiness is thrust suddenly into one's life, and quickly taken away again. If the Trolls no longer live in Bergentown after the end of the film, the Bergen will go far lower than their previous state of depression, because they knew bliss, it seemed within their grasp, and they will have no idea why it has gone. As a species, suffering is their lot, and it seems they will always return to it. What the film lead you to believe was a happy ending was, in fact, the beginning of a long, desperate tragedy. As Mark Twain wrote:

Sometimes a man’s make and disposition are such that his misery-machine is able to do nearly all the business. Such a man goes through life almost ignorant of what happiness is. Everything he touches, everything he does, brings a misfortune upon him. You have seen such people? To that kind of a person life is not an advantage, is it? It is only a disaster. Sometimes for an hour’s happiness a man’s machinery makes him pay years of misery.

We cannot blame the Bergen. They are cursed with this emotional defect that befouls their species. Trolls will never understand it, they simply haven't any notion of what could cause it. We should reserve our pity for them. They are God's playthings, left destitute and barren only for the schadenfreude of the heavens. In the end, nobody can truly lift the burden of the Bergen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse First Trailer

It's that time again! And by that time, I mean a new trailer for a Spider-Man movie has come out, so I know you're all looking to me to tell you what to think about it. Well, here it is:

First of all, it looks great, just visually. It's got a sort of stop-motion feel to the CG, like the Lego Movie, which worked really well there and might just as well for this considering it's more comic-oriented art style. I like the colors and the motion blur on stuff like the subway train. So no complaints there.

Storywise, it's pretty obviously got Miles Morales as Spider-Man this time, and his story might be a direct adaptation of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, seeing as how he walks up to a grave that's probably Peter Parker's.

He can't have been Spider-Man for too long, because his suit looks like he just made it, what with the kinda slipshod spray paint spiders on it.

He's chasing someone who appears to be the Prowler in one shot, so it being a mostly unchanged Ultimate Miles Morales makes sense.

But now the baseless speculation. At the end, he's talking to someone in the subway, and says, "Wait, how many of us are there?" I'm gonna make a guess here and say that's Peter Parker from an alternate universe, like Spider-Men. Given that the title is the same as the universe-crossing Spider-Man story, it's possible they're combining Spider-Men and Spider-Verse into one movie, where first Miles meets the regular alternate Peter Parker, but eventually it leads into some universe hopping adventure.

When it shows the title, you see flashes of different spider symbols, like one where it's a heart with legs coming out of it, or the traditional logo, before getting to Miles' spray paint spider.

If it turns out the film's going that route, I would honestly be surprised. In a comic this would make sense, because comics always have that alternate universe shit, but in a film it's a lot less prevalent, and probably a little risky. That might be because Sony Pictures is making this one, instead of Marvel like Homecoming. At any rate, I'd love to see more standalone films like this, like say, perhaps a Spider-Man 2099 film? I can dream.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Tiger & Bunny

Pop culture right now is rife with superheroes. You can't take a trip to the theaters without seeing at least 3 posters for upcoming films and a couple playing every timeslot. It seems like they've finally risen from the underground and entered our collective consciousness, and oddly enough this seems to be the same case somewhere apart from America, namely Japan. Though in film they haven't matched our numbers in the current superhero boom, they've made up for it with a rise in American-style superhero anime, like One Punch Man, My Hero Academia, and one that I think deserves special attention:

Spotlight: Tiger and Bunny

I know what you're thinking, "Tiger and Bunny? Is this Aesop's Fables?" Well look, Japanese naming conventions are just one of those things. Traditionally, Japanese superheroes are more along the lines of Super Sentai type groups, like the Power Rangers, and Magical Girls, being teenage girls given more or less superpowers to fight demons and whatnot, like Sailor Moon. Though that genre is receiving its own kind of special attention, I'm too masculine to be interested in anything like that. American superheroes are the kind we're most familiar with, where they fight crime, wear spandex, have superpowers, and deal with interpersonal drama.

In one season and two films, Tiger and Bunny makes the most of the American-style superhero concept by being set in what's a close analogue to the US. All the text is in English, which they proofed with the localization team, and the city, Stern Bild, was loosely modeled after New York City, the most American city on earth. Oddly enough, all the heroes are corporate sponsored, (by real companies) which may or may not be a jab at the way America does business. I dunno, I'm not an economist. All the heroes star in what amounts to a reality show called HeroTV. They compete for points, gained by capturing criminals and saving civilians, which determine the winner for each season, named King of Heroes. They work for publicity, star in commercials, and one's a pop star. People who have superpowers are called NEXT, and they're pretty much mutants from Marvel, complete with revulsion from the general public when somebody's discovered to have powers. It's actually a rather cynical take for a superhero world, as compared with your usual idealistic teams of independent heroes.

Our main character is Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, alias Wild Tiger, an old guy who's been a hero for a while, though he's well past his prime and public opinion has turned against him. His sponsor goes under and a bigger corporation agrees to sponsor him, provided he teams up with a new hero, Barnaby Brooks Jr. They have clashing hero styles, Tiger preferring to listen to his gut and disregarding property damage to save people, while Barnaby (given the nickname "Bunny" by Tiger) is concerned with gaining points and maintaining a good image. This Odd Couple-ish setup is where we begin, as different story threads develop and resolve. The rest of the heroes include Blue Rose, apathetic teenage girl and burgeoning pop star, Origami Cyclone, a hero who considers his job done if his sponsors end up in the shot, and Sky High, the charming and oblivious King of Heroes.

Before, I mentioned that the world this takes place in is cynical, which doesn't mean the show itself is. My favorite part of the show is how it presents idealism in a world that doesn't seem to allow it. Most of the heroes are concerned more with points or their image than they are about helping people. In the first half of the season, Kotetsu and Barnaby can hardly stand each other, much less act as an effective team. Kotetsu's a single parent; his daughter Kaede lives with her grandmother, and hates her dad for always breaking his promises. Barnaby's parents were killed when he was young and he became a hero to get revenge.

Despite all this, there's a core of hope that pervades the show. Wild Tiger's a holdover from a bygone age, like an ineffectual Superman stuck in a morally ambiguous Silver Age comic. The thing is, they start to understand what he means. Tiger became a hero to save people and despite how incompetent he can be, the other heroes change as a result of his ideals. Not only do Kotetsu and Barnaby form a better team, the other heroes learn to trust one another. Sure, it's schmaltzy, but I love that shit.

It's similar to why I love Spider-Man, or at least in concept. They're both pretty bad at their jobs, they mess up a lot, the people they're close to can't count on them for much, but they never stop trying. When the show begins, you'd be forgiven for seeing Tiger as a bumbling old idiot, but as things go on you understand his worldview, you see the sacrifices he's made to continue being a hero.

The first half of the show is mostly about Kotetsu and Barnaby learning to work together, along with little spotlight episodes about other heroes. The second half has a more Kotetsu-focused story, dealing more centrally on the problems of being an older hero. It even briefly looks at the problems of idols, where inevitably you find out their very human flaws.

There's two films put out from the series, the first being a recap of the first half of the show with a slightly different ending. It's not really worth watching as long as you've seen the show, though the animation is nice and you find out some things they left out of the show. The second movie, however, entitled Tiger and Bunny: The Rising, is phenomenal. It's a direct sequel to the show, taking place not long after the end, where we see what's happened with our main characters, introducing a few more, and seeing how they deal with a new conflict. I love it. It expands on themes discussed through the show proper, like what justice means, how to be a hero, and how to abide by your identity when everything's against you. I can't think of anything more I would want to cap off this series.

With gushing accomplished, I think it's important to know it's not perfect. If the buddy cop story seems cliche to you, it'll get old before its resolved. The one black hero is also the only gay one, and in the beginning seems pretty stereotypical, without a spotlight segment until the second movie. There's a lot left out if you don't speak Japanese, since there's a lot of supplementary material in audio dramas, specials and the like that will probably never be localized.

What I'm trying to say is, if you like superheroes, Tiger and Bunny is for you. It's not super long, so you won't have to invest the rest of your life in it, like some anime. It's on Hulu currently, and probably Crunchyroll, but who has that? Anyway, if you get a chance, I highly recommend you check it out!