Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. My Headache

Otaku (おたく / オタク?) (oh-tah-kooh): a Japanese term used to refer to people with obsessive interests, particularly anime, manga, or video games.
Let me just start out by saying that I've never been an anime (Japanese animation) or manga (Japanese comic books) otaku. However, with three barely-adult kids and a stepmother-in-law who worked in Japan for a while, I had a certain amount of exposure to the media.

To be honest, those weren't my only experiences with either art form. I watched Speed Racer and other cheap syndicated Japanese cartoons as a kid. But I wasn't just an innocent consumer: anime was just getting popular when my kids were starting out, and I felt they should be in front of the curve.

Admittedly, it turned out to be a geekier curve than I'd planned, but what did I know?

So Ghost in the Shell, Akira - I brought these to my children, not the other way around. (OK, admittedly, we shut off Akira a few minutes in, because it was a little heavy for the kids at that point.) We even have a VHS copy of one of the early, stunningly bad Fist of the North Star videos somewhere in the garage.

However, I've gotten most of my exposure to anime and manga (much like chicken pox) from my children. From the earliest experiences (yes, that would be Pokémon) to more "artistic" fare like Princess Mononoke, odd issues of various manga titles that came through the house, video games, whatever was around.

To be honest, I've always been a fan of video games (never obsessively, but a lot of hours of my life have been wasted holding a controller and staring at a screen).

Nintendo launched their Nintendo Entertainment System in America the same year that Luke and Nicole were born, and by the time they were old enough to play it, prices had dropped enough that I could use them as an excuse to get one. ("Besides, Nintendo had educational games, too!" Funny how few of those ended up in my house...)

But I'm a culture sponge. Aside from wanting to keep an eye on what my kids were getting into, I've always had an interest in whatever oddities turn potentially ordinary people into... well, otaku (although, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn't learn the word until a few years ago). Sometimes my interest is just to sample whatever this weirdness is. Sometimes, it's more of the "point and laugh" variety.

So when my daughter and the Trophy Wife informed me that we were all going to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, I approached the idea with a little trepidation. Judging by the trailers, it might be a light-hearted movie in a moderately unique style; but it might just as easily end up a confusing mess with enough bright lights and jump cuts to cause seizures in audience members. (Which, incidentally, is the best possible description of the opening credits...)

But the director, Edgar Wright, also gave us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Now, my first surprise was the audience. Far from making up the bulk of the crowd, there were no 14-year-old girls in attendance at all - I guess they've all moved on to sparkly vampires and emo werewolves. Mostly, we were surrounded by mid-twenties guys.

(And, really, it didn't even qualify as a "crowd." But somehow, even with the relatively sparse attendence, we managed to end up with the voice model for Goofy sitting behind us, starting with a giggly "Yeah!" during the ads for Jackass 3-D, and ending with loud, echoing guffaws at every butt joke.)

This is an amazingly funny movie, with laugh-out-loud moments (as the guy behind me continued to prove). It also has great music and spectacularly stylized visuals - and by "stylized," I don't mean artistic or confusing, but "in the style of." In this case, in the style of manga (more than anime, really), and of video games from the Eighties and early Nineties.

The secondary actors (and the hair of the female lead) even manage to catch many of the over-the-top characterizations of manga. The opening studio logo looks (and sounds) like a Nintendo starting screen, and one of the last villains Scott fights even carries a sword with 8-bit graphics.

But that's one of the weaknesses of this movie, as well. It never really figures out who it's target audience might be. My best guess would be an otaku from the late Eighties. None of the video game references are current; they're all a decade or two behind. (Which may be just because the movie is Canadian, I suppose...)

There's a strange innocence to Scott Pilgrim; despite continual references to sex, there isn't any. People sleep together, but for the most part, that's all they do. (Which is kind of a shame - the lead actress is ridiculously hot, having starred previously in Sky High and Live Free or Die Hard.)

I really enjoyed the music from Scott Pilgrim, which is a good thing. One of the ongoing subplots is a "Battle of the Bands" that his group, "Sex Bob-omb," has entered. (And if you don't get the Mario reference there, I suspect that either there's no hope for you, or you're a healthy and well-adjusted personality. Your choice.)

Something this movie does (and many movies fail at) is linking each fictional band with an actual band, for a continuity of sound. Beck does all the songs for Scott Pilgrim's band (including the second-lamest "I wrote you a love song" scene ever filmed).

So, overall, I recommend this movie, as an enjoyable, surreal bit of fluff. I'm not sure whether seeing it more than once will do you any good, and it won't change your life. But for the 112 minutes you'll spend in the theater (plus previews and crap, of course), at least you'll enjoy yourself.

But what do I know? Somehow, I thought anime would turn out to be cooler than it was.


Nance said...

Can we please get back to trashing testaments and gospels? I'm lost on this stuff...although, a couple of years ago I had a little part-time gig for Google where I had to rate all kinds of web pages. I was amazed by the high percentage of searches global Googlers devoted to anime and manga. Especially the manga porn. Still, you're much more savvy than I on all that, so could you tell me how to get my hair to do that fabulous spiky, piecey (or is that piecie?) manga thing?

Nameless Cynic said...

Well, I guess the short answer would be "product. Lots and lots of product." Hair spray, gel - hell, I dunno, Cheez Whiz™ if you're blond, maybe. (Or, you know, orangey...)

To be entirely honest, while I was in the military, I would occasionally nail down my hair with (probably too much) hair spray, but that's about the sum total of the hairstyling-product experience I've got.

I only started using conditioner recently, since prior to this, my hair was never longer than a couple of inches. (And that will soon be my state again...) So I'm not your best source for hair tips.

But fortunately for us, the Internet is just begging for the chance to explain this kind of thing.