miércoles, 6 de marzo de 2019

Boogiepop wa warawanai - Paranoia revenant

A new take of an old title seems like a safe bet, but it is always an enormous risk. It has to conciliate two opposing elements: the fans of the old title, who want to see more of the same, and the new public, who needs an accessible point of entry. Unfortunately, in this case I am clearly part of the former. I got into Boogiepop like the many few who did back in 2000, by watching the desaturated, obscure and existential anime series. Some kind of interquel to the books it was, pending by threads from larger plots and spinning around one important, unknown moment. After that, I made my way to the life action film and some (not all) of the novels of this magnificent bizarre universe.

At first glance, sure, there is a lot more color, and a whole lot cuter character designs. The tone of Boogiepop even contradicts the title, since she is always smiling. Although it sometimes goes with the intricate multiprespectivism of the novels, it also regularly breaks down into chronological narration. Sure, they couldn't do everything the same, fifteen years later. The greatest loss, I believe, is the fact that the narration is not subjective and angsty enough to fully submerge into the characters' neurosis. The action itself provides rather unspectacular visuals, and the psychological depth remains in the script.

And still, it is the little things that somehow bring me back, grow onto me into uncanny suspicions. Certain corners of the city are recognizable from the film or the old anime. Certain sounds in the background music buzz in reverse, recalling the ominous noises of the old soundtrack. Certain characters, put in the frame of connecting several arcs, seem to link back the old series to the book plots in ways I had overseen. Is it just me? Is this over-interpretation yet? Is this not the paranoia I was looking for?

All in all, even if done hesitantly as an adaptation, the series is watchable enough to purport the strangeness and complexity of the plots of the Boogiepop saga.

miércoles, 23 de enero de 2019

Der Sandmann

Von der Arbeit wurde ich dazu aufgefordert, einen Sehtest beim Optiker abzulegen. Ich habe noch nie eine Brille getragen, und obwohl Brillenträger besser sehen als ich, war ich immer der Überzeugung, dass ich so was nicht brauche. Beim Sehtest sah ich aber vieles unglaublich klein, doppelt oder verschwommen. Laut Bericht ist mein linkes Auge das schlechte.

Eine Freundin teilt mir mit, dass sie schon immer eine tiefe Angst vor Kontakt mir ihren Augen gehabt hat. Augenklappen oder Kontaktlinsen machen sie nervös und haben sie davon abgeschreckt, einige schöne Kostümprojekte zu verwirklichen. Mein erstes Crossplay hatte eine Augenklappe. Ich glaube, ich trug sie meistens auf dem rechten Auge, obwohl der Charakter sie auf dem Linken trägt. Meine Raumwahrnehmung lies sehr zu wünschen, nicht nur in der Tiefe, sondern vor allem in der Weite meines Sehfeldes. Ich lief durch einen weiten Park doch hatte ständig Angst, gegen andere Menschen zu stoßen. Das zur Angst hinzugefügt, wie andere Menschen mich gerade Wahrnehmen. Die Welt ist nicht dieselbe, durch ein einziges Auge.

Letzte Woche bekam ich einen Schlag auf mein rechtes Auge. Ich bekam Stiche ober- und unterhalb des Auges und konnte es einundhalb Tage lang kaum öffnen. Zuhause war der Raum bekannt. Auch wenn ich im Dunklen viel Misst hätte bauen können, zuhause schien mir die Orientierung nicht zu fehlen. Die Schwellung ist inzwischen vorüber und ich will glauben, dass ich momentan normal sehen kann. Morgen werden die Fäden gezogen. Aber normal - vielleicht ist sehen an sich nichts Normales mehr.

domingo, 7 de octubre de 2018

Grievance studies, anti-intellectualism and the death of the hermit

I am not the first to claim that fantasies of fascist times have become disturbingly contemporary. For most people, it is Orwell's 1984 that represents our current policing of thought, ideological emptiness, lack of dialogue and void fanaticism. From the point of view of the academies, I feel Hesse's "Glasperlenspiel" is urgently contemporary. Hesse's tale departs as an utopian one, in which human sciences have interconnected and developed to a high point and reached unprecedented prestige in their society. But this cenit is menaced by its downfall. The prestige of the academies leads them to shut themselves in, to become hieratic sects that take years of initiation. Inside them, speaking of the outside world is a form of blasphemy. Yet, outside, the world begins to forget about the work and importance of the masters. Political struggles arise, and nobody dares to consider their historical dimension. The isolation of the academies is leading up to their own destruction.

Since my first year in the human sciences, I had a repudiation for the shallow hermeticism practiced by so-called cultural studies. Lacan, Derrida, Spivak and most of their followers create a pyramid of self-reference, which legitimates itself by quoting its own mantras. These mantras are claimed to hide a deeper truth. We are expected to have faith in something that cannot be expressed, that can only be grasped through faith and enlightenment. This is not criticism, but fanatic adherence to a belief in the unexplainable. If only they realized that mantras are meant but to void the mind and to understand the futility of our existence, they would see that their building of theory is a distraction from the abyss on which they stand.

Functional language is not always clear language. It is necessary for a higher debate to strive towards a more precised vocabulary that is not equal to the common tongue. Yet, the vocabulary developed in the last decades is everything but precise, it indulges in its vagueness, contradiction and tautology.

Hesse's tale is a mystery play. The narrating voice speaks from a later time which we will never get to understand. The protagonist is full of visions which hint at solutions in a dreamy, obscure way. A circle, a mutual sacrifice, an ever turning wheel of reincarnation. Through the hero's sacrificial death, it is said, balance can somehow be achieved. How exactly, the book leaves painfully unclear. It is for each of us to figure out. But readers were not up to the task in its time of publication, as history shows. Shall we now be able to solve the riddle in time?

The building of shallow academicism is toppling. But with it, truth does not win. Anti-intellectualism, the cult of ignorance and post-truth come in its place. By enabling the enunciation point, the false consciousness and other forms of fallacy, this rhetoric digs its own grave. In deed, what more has postmodernism championed than the complete dissolution of the concept of truth? Much more.

That is, precisely, the crisis we are in. With the attack on obscure writing comes an attack on every form of critical thinking. The main focus of criticism are not the vague formulas of Lacan, but the (quite solidly grounded) social analyses of Nietzsche, Beauvoir, Foucault and Butler. In recent years I have even come to consider that, beyond their pointless rambling, Lacan and Derrida do have some philosophical point worth considering if explained in functional language. This has something to do with the fact that I have the luck to have taken part in an academy that does value clear speech.

However, the philosopher is an enemy of the state. Particularly, of the authoritarian and conservative states currently arising. It is more convenient than ever for them to purge and isolate the academies, to rehabilitate forms of racism, sexism and authoritarianism, to discard every insight that might unleash a possibility of change. The academic reactions to contemporary debate are all too happy to just point back at the past, to blame any from of new idea is deviance and to promote a return to the "good old ways". To survive, we must not yield, but work together. Specialized language is not evident, but it must remain accessible in order to fulfill its function: to mobilize society. The incapacity of some to reinvent language does not prove the impossibility to redo society. We need to keep focusing on the meaning of the ideas expressed in order to represent them clearly. We need to re-learn rhetorics and re-teach argumentation.

viernes, 9 de marzo de 2018

The future of the future - Alan Moore and the challenge of reimagining culture

Alan Moore has described the current trend of superhero films as a "tsunami" that is "not doing our culture any good at all", "power fantasies" that "refuse to take responsibility" for the current and future world. He also uses the, now very trendy, word "infantilization". When an old man tells other people to "grow up", when they are cranky about someone having fun with comics, superheroes, science fiction and toys, of course it sound like he's just missed to go with the times himself. Eco has labeled this tendency to refuse anything new as "apocalyptic" and Debray has identified is as a form of gatekeeping the cannon, practiced since the very moment when Socrates refuses to use the new medium of writing.

Moore, however, does not fit the profile of the apocalyptic. He is rather fond of counterculture and is known first and foremost for his own work on superhero comics. His critique of the genre therefore cannot be based on its inherent characteristics, or on the clichés used by the dominant culture of ignorance that labels itself as "mature". "Infantilization" is a wrong label, as most trendy labels tend to be. Although I am no expert myself, I believe that the problem is real, but relies somewhere different.

Decades before, Moore described an intricate politic-economic strategy through his character Veidt "the smartest man on earth". Veidt's brand of cosmetics is designed specifically to appeal in the times of hopelessness, to be desirable in the shadow of the atom bomb. And by no coincidence, it is called "Nostalgia". The longing for an idealized past is intense when the future becomes impossible to comprehend.

Disney and Netflix have built a much wider cultural industry on the capitalization of nostalgia. They control every second blockbuster and construct it as a piece of rehash, not only out of laziness, but because it knows that the imagining something new would cost a comodified audience more effort than ever. Thus, established communities try to reaffirm the identities they have built so far instead of considering new possibilities, even closing on any too creative variations on the fanboy canon. The problem, therefore, relies in the exact opposite end of infantility: Even youths are not open to experiment new things, but bound by the cult of what they literally call canon. Nostalgia is not an infantile, but a senile culture.

Where do I stand, then, immersed in the trends of uchronia and retrofuturism. These ideas sure do reduce the concept of future to a matter of the past and remove themselves from actually imagining a progression into further possibilities. Future is a trope, not a work in progress. I justify this by calling it postmodern, by claiming that alternative forms of time need to be explored and, in particular, by calling for a revision of how History has been told by the powers that be. These are all as true as they are questionable.

A sidenote on the chart attached: I consider its divisions quite silly, trying to build an entire genre on the slightest innovation, a distinct aesthetics out of each single decade. What all these "different" forms have in common, however, is quite telling. They are linked to specific dates of the past and determined by something that already happened. Is this what "punk" means nowadays, is all that is left of rebellion the adherence to a fixed memory?

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me why all futures imagined nowadays are grim. Of course, this was a hard question for me to even grasp, since everything about me is always grim. It was clear that she didn't mean the fancy and ironic retro-futures either. Back in the days, during the cold war even, it was still popular to believe in utopia. In the recent years, however, every hope has faded away. Moore relates it to the internet, which has left society startled and in a dynamic of repetition. One might as well blame the cynicism of a broken capitalist system which cannot think outside itself, or the failure of the communist revolution - they have failed us both. Capitalism, in its situation, tells us we'll have to keep going with the same dysfunctions, degrading bit by bit but never reaching a limit; the left would have us believe a change is still possible, a change that breaks the system and, maybe this time, will take us to a promised land, or at least not be a total mess. Maybe what we need to realize is that we cannot keep promising ourselves the same thing, that the choice is not between an old, nostalgic future and no future, that we need to update and reimagine what we truly want.

martes, 24 de octubre de 2017

Rückblick in die Trinkhalle

Es sind viele Sachen, die mir entgehen, anständig zu teilen. Dann googlet man sich und findet Stücke seiner selbst an den unerwartetsten Orten verstreut. Seit dem Tag der Trinkhallen ist es auch schon mehr als ein Jahr her. Da haben war die kleine Bude bei mir um die Ecke leider zu, und wir kamen mit dem Richtungsding und Dichtungsring in einem größeren, schon zweckentfremdeten Laden zusammen, um schräge Texte zu lesen.

domingo, 23 de octubre de 2016

Some kind of Japanese Watchmen? A personal note on Concrete Revolutio - Choujin Gensou

To begin to imagine the impact of Watchmen on a die-hard superhero comics fan like me, visualize a train-wreck taking place in twelve monthly installments. I may not have recognized Watchmen as a deconstruction of the hero, but certainly I realized (with a combination of horror and fascination known to rubberneckers everywhere) that there my precious heroes were being shattered before my very eyes, taken apart from the inside-out, in the pages of the medium that had always loved and cared for them, and in a style that demonstrated an obvious mastery of the medium that it now set out to implode.

Thomson, Iain: "Deconstructing the Hero". In: . Superheroes and Philosophy. Open Court, Chicago 2008, P. 102.

As for me, I never experienced superheroes as part of my childhood. When I was around 7 years old, everybody was crazy about "Batman Returns", but my parents wouldn't take me to watch it because it was too dark for a kid. In a way, they were right. I must have been about 11 or so when the animated series of Batman and Spider-Man were on TV. They were fun for the time being. I remember the strange feeling of actually identifying with the villains most of the time. It wasn't much of an impact on me, still. Actually, the moment superheroes started becoming truly relevant was when in my teens I finally made my way to "Batman Returns", "The Killing Joke" and, of course, Watchmen. To me, Superheroes became relevant only the moment they started to implode and self destruct.

What was my childhood made of then, I wonder? In the anime Concrete Revolutio I recognize a part of it: Pizza cats, masked riders, monsters who grow huge from a lightning bolt. If my fascination for tokusatsu and super sentai quickly became ironic, I can't deny the strength it originally had. One might even blame Peruvian television for that, assuming that it therefore affected my entire generation.

In Concrete Revolutio I find those same heroes confronted with the political problems of the times that gave them birth, as well as to their essential contradictions. This is, in a way, the same implosion Moore produced for the American superhero. I must clarify that I strongly disagree with Thomson in calling it a "deconstruction", a word that is receiving more abuse every day. Instead I would go with Terrence Wandtke in calling it revisionism, which refers to the critique of history and its possibilities.

While not at the level of Moore's stunning perfection, the plot of Concrete Revolutio is still tightly woven. It even posits some of the same questions: How can anybody claim a moral compass after the holocaust? What should heroes do in the face of a corrupted system? And even: Who watches the watchmen? This last question is curiously reversed in the anime. For the masked vigilantes of American comics the problem was that society needed to control their power, just as it should control the State itself. For heroes of anime and tokusatsu, who for a long time have been fighting unmasked, the question interprets differently: it translates into the Department for Superhuman Protection. It's somewhat like witness protection: those who put themselves on the line to protect others are targeted by local and international politics. However, here too a paradox is born, for the state can never protect without controlling and even castrating.

This brings me to consider the fact that Watchmen revised history marginally while actually commenting mainly on its own time. Of course, reading it nowadays creates a different perspective on it, reflected clearly by the cinematic adaptation which heavily draws on signs to historicise its tale. It looks as if the problem with superheroes was a problem of the cold war. Comic publishers nowadays even struggle to overcome that crisis and claim the dark age is over, while current news keep proving that a divided globe on the edge of total war is ever present.

Concrete Revolutio voluntarily gives in to that historization, giving the 60s a "happy ending" which completely leaves the historical frame. All contradictions, the impossibility of heroes, was a problem of the past, and nowadays we should be able to overcome those problems and live the dream. A cruel lie if we remember the nation was until recently still a single-party system, haunted by conservative ideologies and delving ever deeper into moral bankruptcy. (You may consider social retreat and population decrease, among many others, as expressions of this.)

What Concrete Revolutio lacks in contemporary criticism, it makes up in its acid views of official history. Crude episodes like the Vietnam War, the student protests and the Hiroshima bomb are subject to uncompromising commentary. Both the "imperial" propaganda agency, represented in the ending sequence in front of the Japanese flag, and the official Protection Department turn out to be corrupt organizations the heroes have to destroy. Of course, the lie is that they managed to do it, somewhere in the past. What the series actually does is taking a common course to avoid censorship: to fashion its critique to its actual time in a past and fantastic setting.

On the other hand, the historical setting allows for a particular  aesthetic of nostalgia. Unlike Watchmen, Concrete Revolutio does embrace the cartoonish, the absurd, yes the very irony that has always been part of tokusatsu, kaiju and its derivates. We have shape-shifting friendly ghosts, bulgy-eyed Muskehounds, magical girls giving every inanimate object a happy face; alongside detailed giant robots, historical war machines, and even actual recognizable landmarks.

This merged, flowing aesthetic is facilitated by the medium of animation. It means, of course, a medial change from the "real-life" action and plastic monsters of many of the works it comments on, thus creating a distance which once more weakens the implosion. Still, the clash of the several visual hypotexts is made possible by the drawn image in a way hardly imaginable in actual video.

Of course, anime "came of age" in its own way long ago, shifting the focus to tortured anti-heroes of all sorts and thoroughly forgetting about tokusatsu along the way. Nowadays, one can find many continuous levels between serious seinen and childish shonen anime, but it has no continuity with more "superheroic" forms of action TV which subsist in a completely separate sphere. The backward gaze brings these instances back together while demanding a historical reflection on them.

domingo, 16 de octubre de 2016

Roleplaying the Spiel

This weekend the Europe's largest game fair, the Spiel, took place in my neighborhood. Since it has proven impossible to fully describe events that cover several days, I will focus on the Roleplaying Games I met on the fair this time. Of course, there are many others I didn't get to know enough about even to mention them, but here's a report on the bits I learned.

Meikyu Kingdom: I had one more chance to try what calls itself a "cynical pop dungeon fantasy" with an experienced GM. The setting is a world consisting in its entirety of a massive dungeon and full of every random eclectic cliché of fantasy you can imagine, only even a little weirder because Japan. Characters are rolled together to produce absurd, but somehow consistent combinations. This time I was a butler called "Champion of the Messe" who had a constant itch for fighting. The system is confirmed for hilarious, random story driving and fun adventuring. In a long run, the party should also get to "make" the kingdom, dealing with its politics and securing its stability. Strangely enough, there is still no official translation, while fans work intensely on theirs. Ulisses Spiele has declared interest in developing a German version sometime. Let's hope it keeps coming.

Shinobigami: A new release from the same "Adventure Planning Service". While the ninja theme clearly calls for a somewhat darker setting, the game does not lack over-the-top anime bombasticism. Ninja clans conspire to resurrect ancient yokai and settle old blood feuds in the shadows. Nowadays they appear as armies, families or even high schools (of course!). What's most interesting, however, is that the system supports fights among player characters. I should certainly try this out some time. The official version is pre-releasing on kickstarter, it seems some fans have been making progress as well.

#urbanheroes: I only came to hear a brief introduction to the setting, but it sounded quite interesting. In a tradition that follows the broken heroes of Watchmen and Civil War, the game imagines superpowers in a contemporary environment, entangled with actual politics and global events. "Heroes" in this context are media personalities financed by obscure interests, so that it's pretty hard to do the "right thing". The system is quite detailed and very customizable, but I'd have to give a test run to know if it isn't overly complicated simulationism. The feature that sounds truly amazing is the fact that the game has spawned an on-line social network used internationally for roleplaying the virtual level of its world, thus creating a macrocosm that truly connects all individual campaigns. As it seems, if you want to play something approaching contemporary superheroes, this is the place to be.

Time Stories: One of the nominees for "best advanced game" this year was actually an RPG. As time travelers, your consciousness is sent from the future into the body of a person from a crucial moment in time. The system works with fully illustrated cards that deliver events and flavor texts, plus a board which visualizes all game mechanics. This makes the game visually involving and quite self-explicative, besides allowing to play without a GM. The downside is, the box only contains one adventure, and you'll have to buy extra cards to play again.

Oh, and there's also a Love Live RPG where you play teenage idols. I don't really wanna know...