Saturday, February 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy - A Great Loss

I was little. By little I mean I was three or four when my uncle first introduced me to the original Star Trek. It's been in my life since such an early stage that it's a part of how I began to perceive the universe around me. It's practically a part of my personality's core, its DNA. Basically, I can't remember a time when I didn't know the Enterprise and her amazing crew or think about them as regularly as I thought of family members.

While I didn't grow up in the 1960s, or the 70s when the original series was in syndication, Star Trek was present at such an early period that I feel an ownership of it similar to the folks who were watching back when. Before I saw The Next Generation, which was a whole other part of my childhood, I was aware of the men I'd come to call my "Three Dads." James T. Kirk, Leonard McCoy, and Spock were the power trio of the Enterprise and each an equal part of my early concept of manhood. They taught me to think, to feel, and to face life in both good and bad times. There are days throughout my life when I know I would have faltered and possibly shattered if I didn't have their lessons ingrained in the structure of my thinking processes.

So, to simply state my point, Star Trek is such an important series to me that it defines me in a way. That being said, the news I received today that actor Leonard Nimoy passed away hit me like train. I read a text from my wife before my lunch break at work. It just read, "Leonard Nimoy is gone." Like that, gone. Even at this moment I'd rather think of it in those terms than to use the word "Dead." To say that he is gone or that he's away is accurate, and it's certainly far more comforting. Not to mention, it's appropriate for a man who seemed to be the kind of celebrity and actor who was able to transcend this existence and become a genuine living legend. He's gone. The legendary Leonard Nimoy is away.

Not only was Leonard Nimoy a great actor who defined one of the most iconic characters in Twentieth Century Popular Culture, he was also an incredible artist and from most accounts he was a kind soul. I never had the chance to meet him. I heard he retired from conventions years ago anyway, so I didn't expect to ever get the opportunity. I wish I could have, though. There are so many things I would have said. I would have thanked him for his acting, his art, and for his contributions to my personal development. I would have asked silly questions about Star Trek, and I would have thanked him for his part in The Pagemaster, an animated film which really affected me when I first saw it (I knew his was the voice of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as soon as I heard it when I first saw this movie).

One often reads or hears accounts of how Star Trek actors are confronted with the differences they made by just putting on a suit and standing on a sound stage for hours, days, months, and years. I can't imagine what it's like to be a working actor who suddenly, one day, is told that they actually saved a life by bringing their craft to some words on a page. Leonard Nimoy, I'm certain, was informed of this constantly, and I'm equally certain that almost all of those claims are true. For my part it is, at least. If it wasn't for his portrayal of Spock I'd have had no model with which to confront technical and complex forms of work or thinking strategies to sort out the chaos of life. Whenever things get rough I I think of his Spock and I get a sense of clarity. I can't explain it more than that. I just do.

I hope he's well wherever he is. He's done more in his long life than most people ever do, and that is really amazing when you think about all he accomplished. It's heartbreaking to know that he's gone, but he'll never be forgotten. I'll see him again soon, sitting there at his station on the Bridge of the Enterprise or in a documentary. I'll hear his voice when I go "In Search Of" one mystery or another through his classic series on the strange and paranormal. He's one of the amazing few who, unlike most who pass on, will always be with us. That's comforting, enough to diminish the sadness. He will still be sorely missed, though.

Thank you, Mr. Nimoy.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Nintendo Kid - The First Glance

I'll take you back in my timeline for a moment. It was a Christmas in the late 80s. The fog of age slightly obscures certain details, but there are those portions which remain crisp regardless. We, my little sister and me, were handed a large box and told by our grandparents that, "This is for the two of you to share." The wrapping paper quickly gave way as clumsy kid hands desperately assaulted the generic holiday designed layer to tear free a box with an image which will remain burned into my memory for all time. There, in front of a star field background was the image of a grey and black box with two rectangular items adjacent to it. Above this curious-looking object was emblazoned, in silver and white, the name "Nintendo." At that moment I had gazed upon one of the things which would influence my creativity and provide me entertainment in various ways for the rest of my life.

I wonder if the heads of the Nintendo company could have realized the impact of their decision to branch out and experiment in the video gaming industry. This was something beyond mere novelty items, toys, or hanafuda cards. They were going to be making legendary items which would be revered by millions for many generations to come. They were, themselves, becoming legends.

I look back on my early Nintendo days and can't help but feel that warmth which pervades the center of my being whenever I gaze back fondly on the good times of old. I spent so many hours beating bosses, wandering through dungeons and levels, and bathing in the flickering glow of power-ups and in-game success. Those were truly halcyon days for a kid who didn't have much else. Nintendo, comics, cartoons, and some toys all made my childhood and shaped who I was and who I became. I owe so much to those stern old Japanese guys (and that one amazingly eccentric guy, Shigeru Miyamoto) in suits from years past. It's been almost thirty years since I first joined the elite of "Club Nintendo." My glob, has it been that long?!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Akira Toriyama's Jaco the Galactic Patrolman

Akira Toriyama has been providing me and thousands of others with entertaining material for decades. He is definitely amongst the elite in my opinion, which is why he's safely within my "Top five" favorite mangaka. After creating many amazing and beloved works - such as the Dragonball series, Dr. Slump, Sandland, and others - he's returned to offer up another charming title, which I feel will soon find as dedicated a fanbase as his other creations (even one apart from the Dragonball/Z fanbase, **SPOILER** to which this title should technically be tied).

Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (or 銀河パトロール ジャコ Ginga Patorōru Jako) is a single volume manga which consists of 247 pages of what I think is some of Toriyama-sama's best work. It details the Earth-bound adventures of an egotistical, clumsy, "Elite" Galactic Patrolman, named Jaco, a member of a galactic police agency which serves the Galactic King. After bumping into the moon on his way to Earth, Jaco makes a less-than-graceful landing in the ocean just a few feet from the docks of an unnamed island upon which only an old man resides. After bringing his damaged craft ashore the relationship between this quirky alien cop and old man Omori, the narrator of the tale and a scientist/engineer living amongst the ruins of his failed time travel experiment, begins to awkwardly grow. Through the events which follow their meeting a bizarre friendship is formed, one which I would gladly continue to read if Toriyama ever decides to revisit these characters.

In terms of characters, this manga has some interesting folks to offer. Omori is a quiet, aged, misanthropic man who keeps a simple home, overlooking the destruction caused by his attempts to meddle with time - meddling which cost him his wife's life. He remains in a sort of hermitage away from the rest of the world and even harbors a strong resentment toward other humans. Jaco, somewhat annoying yet fascinating to Omori, is a braggart who fails to grasp the gravity of his consistently clumsy nature. He is on Earth, though stuck here because of the damage caused by his moon collision, in advance of the arrival of a potential world-destroying alien being who is supposed to land on Earth sometime in the days following his arrival. He is to eliminate the alien threat or, if he proves unable to do so, he must use an "Extinction Bomb," which would wipe out all human life on Earth. It would also be of tremendous interest to him to be able to acquire some "Sky Gold" in order to power his ship so that he can return home, though he and Omori realize that this would require something like seventy-six million yen to pull off. So, not easily attainable, to say the least.

Eventually the two head toward the mainland for supplies (Jaco craves milk and cheese, the closest approximations to items from his regular diet) and encounter the first of several other characters, a girl named Tights (I'm sure some of you might note that this is yet another Toriyama character named after clothing, hmm...wonder what the connection could be?). Jaco meets her as he goes to her aid while she is being harassed by a gang of anachronistic street toughs, which Jaco pummels along with two policemen which he mistakes as being part of the gang. To show her gratitude she helps the two escape the attention of the police and get back to the island. Other characters show up as the story progresses, most of them are tie bear-collecting government agents trying to take the island from Omori or capture the "Mask Man," the name applied by the media to Jaco, much to his supreme dislike. Eventually we learn who Tights is and how she connects to an annoying (annoying to Omori) background element of a pop idol who is soon to be soaring into space aboard a rocket as a publicity stunt, according to the television media. That's not the only or most interesting connection Tights has within this world, though, but I'll let you read the manga to find out the rest.

Regarding the style and feel of this manga, as I've already state, I feel that this is one of Toriyama's best works. I found myself constantly studying his simple, beautiful line work. The dynamic posing and simple character design of Jaco is something I feel only an experienced artist, such as Toiryama, can attain. With any character created by someone who has been doing such work for years, Jaco is minimal in detail and yet so very expressive. He might be my favorite manga character in terms of design alone. Also, I was often lost in the detail of Omori's face, and speaking of Omori's design, the scars marking his body tell his back story better than any flashback sequence. You only need to read that he was present for a technical accident and see him to know that some rough stuff occurred in his past. 

The world has some wonderful design as well. Occasionally you'll see crabs, cats, some dinosaurs, or the random ant-eater on the island or in the city on the mainland. This is typical if you've read Dragonball, but it's such a nice touch which does so much to place you in this unfamiliar yet Earth-like world. In terms of landscape design, I think that Omori's island is one of my favorite sets from any graphic story. I badly want to live on that island, so much so that I've been dreaming about it since I started reading this manga!

Now, the ending chapters of this title are what will matter most to long-time fans of Toriyama, especially those who are dedicated to the Dragonball universe. That being said, this manga is a perfect stand-alone which offers a complete story and incredible characters, so don't be turned off by the end tie-in to Dragonball if you're not interested in that series. What you get at the end is a look at the Saiyan people and Goku's origin, which is advertised on the cover of the manga so this isn't really a spoiler. Turns out, and this is a spoiler, the world-destroying alien Jaco was sent to destroy is a sort of refugee from planet Vegeta. If I tell you that a certain Son Gohan discovers this child alien and adopts him I would have done enough to tell you just who was meant to be in Jaco's sights, but since Jaco is Jaco, and you'll understand this better when you've read the manga, he misses his opportunity. Would you believe me if I told you it's because he was explaining how his species pees to Tights? This is surprisingly the most immature moment of this manga, one obviously meant for the shonen audience.

So, there you have it. My review of one of the best new manga I've read in a while. I first learned of it through an email advert from Viz, and after looking over the preview chapter (available for reading through the Viz Media app on Android or iOS) I decided to rush out and buy a physical copy (because paper is always going to be better to me!). I'm happy with that choice, and if you do the same I'm certain you will be, too. Here's hoping we see more of Jaco in the future, but if we don't I'm happy with what we have. What we have, by the way, is a fun and endearing manga. 

Thank you for reading.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Giant Monster Movies and Childhood

There was a time during my early childhood when my family would gather and watch a large assortment of bizarre science fiction and monster movies. To this day I still can't recall how my uncle acquired copies of some of those movies, whether through some unknown cable channel or a video source. Regardless of how we were able to view them, we watched all kinds of films and classic series, some of which I can't easily find today. It was during that period that I learned of Godzilla, Rodan, and several other amazing Japanese giant monsters. Come to think of it, that was probably also when I watched my first Ray Harryhausen films, as we would occasionally throw old black and white American monster films into the mix. No offense to the great Harryhausen, but I found and still find the Japanese monsters to be the best.

Over the years since that time I've been fortunate to discover so many other giant monster-related wonders such as the Ultraman and Gamera series. I was that kid who took part in one those typical and silly discussions with classmates about which was the stronger monster, Godzilla or Gamera. I even attempted to draw the great daikaiju legends from time to time, never quite to my satisfaction.

These days I find that I keep returning to those old films. Maybe it's my subconscious reaching out for a connection with my childhood. Perhaps it's just the nerd in me flexing itself in a different direction for a change. Whatever the reason, I have to say that I can't help but dismiss the poor effects, the floopy storylines, and the overacting. I feel compelled to embrace the "Suit-mation" created and perfected by the mighty Eiji Tsuburaya. Kaiju Eiga (Japanese monster movies) was and remains a genre which knows itself, and it's that confidence and the continued honoring of that approach to movie-making which makes it so endearing.

So, join me when you can. Pop in Destroy All Monsters or Gamera vs. Barugon. Sit back and enjoy the high sci-fi look into a world where giant monsters walk the Earth!