They Made Me a Criminal

(Catch my previous film noir essay here: Hangmen Also Die)

The director Busby Berkeley isn’t typically a name that film buffs associate with film noir. No, Berkeley is known first and foremost as a choreographer of musicals who merely dabbled in directing, and to little great effect. Through the early 1930s, he began the greatest period of his work in the medium of musicals and musical comedy’s when, in 1933, he choreographed dance sequences for 42nd Street. He followed up this triumph with work on Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight ParadeDamesFashions of 1934, direction on Gold Diggers of 1935, and later more choreography on Gold Diggers of 1937 and Gold Diggers of Paris (the whole Gold Digger theme was, needless to say, in vogue through the 1930s). It was a time when people, who could afford to, went to the movies as a distraction from the tortures of daily existence and didn’t expect of their entertainments any heady artistic themes or social pictures that could remind them of the impoverishment of the era immediately following The Great Depression.

However, in 1939, general sentiments had changed and the musical form had largely gone the way of the dinosaur, relegated to the fringes as a new form of film began to take precedence in the cultural imagination. A darker film that bore the imprint of German expressionism visually and dealt with the themes of paranoia and nihilism creeping into the general culture ala World War II, ala so-called civilized Christian nations going at it in total warfare. Film noir. Not called such a thing at the time, the films were thrillers, spy films, war films, boxing films, and films of the Underground at odds with the world around it. Both reactions against and defenses of the greater culture. The films would only later be grouped under the heading of noir, but at the time the look and the elements of the form took shape unconsciously and Berkeley was not immune.

They Made Me a Criminal was a remake of a 1933 film entitled The Life of Jimmy Dolan and directed by Archie Mayo (known for his direction of the the proto-noir The Petrified Forest three years later), which was seemingly popular enough to guide the studio system to commission a remake just six short years later. In the 1939 film, Jimmy Dolan has become Johnny Bradfield (played authentically by the great predecessor of Method Acting, John Garfield), a boxer who has just won an important bout and become the Light-Heavyweight World Champion. Bradfield has cultivated a public mask in which he is seen as a good-natured, homegrown type who loves his mother and respects the rules of the game. In reality, he is something of a conman who cheats constantly using eye-gouges and low-blows, which go unnoticed in part through his ability to lead the eye of opponents and referees alike and in part through expectations about Johnny as his public persona. One night, an undercover reporter catches wind of this information and threatens to publish it in the morning paper the following day. Johnny, sauced, takes a shot at the man and misses. But just as the reporter begins to exit the door, Johnny’s manager clubs the man with a bottle, which leads to a brain hemorrhage and quick death.

The manager plans to pin the murder on Johnny, steals his watch, his money, his girl, and drops Johnny off at his home before riding off into the night. But an A.P.B. is put out on the car as soon as the reporter’s body is found dead in the apartment, and when a duo of police cruisers catch up to the Manager and Johnny’s gal, they make a break for it, and eventually run off of the road, hit a tree, and go up in flames. This turn of events leaves the bodies burnt beyond all recognition, but with the manager wearing Johnny’s watch, the corpse of the Manager is taken for the corpse of Johnny, and the case is closed. Johnny takes the opportunity to run away after recouping what little bit of his money he can from a safe deposit box, and to start a new life for himself in an effort to avoid being convicted for murder of the reporter (despite the fact that Johnny is a southpaw and forensics has concluded that the attack was landed by an orthodox, meaning Johnny would probably have little trouble proving his innocence, with a good lawyer that is).

Johnny runs off and eventually ends up on a Date farm in Arizona where, emaciated and weakened by his long travels atop and inside train cars, as well as by foot, he is taken in by a sympathetic group in the widow Goldie West, Grandma Rafferty, and a group of delinquents from New York (played by the actor troupe known as the Dead End Kids) hired out to improve their characters and keep them out of trouble in the Big Apple now so far away. Things seem idyllic and simple, and Johnny makes a good go of country life, but the farm is under dire financial straits. So, when a travelling Boxer exhibition comes through advertising that anyone who can go more than two rounds with ‘The Wild Bull of Europe,’ Gaspar Rutchek, will receive $500 per round, Bradfield decides to put back on the old gloves and battle it out for the fiscal well-being of his young friends, and the new love of his life, in the hopes that they will be able to buy a gas pump with the money and start raking in dough through their unique geographical situation (placed along a long road with no gas station for 42 miles in one direction and 28 in the other).

But one of the Dead End Kids make a decisive mistake in taking a photo of Johnny during boxing practice, having the film developed, sending it in to a local magazine competition for photography, and winning. The success results in a three dollar prize and the picture’s publication in the zine, which is picked up a New York Detective, one Monty Phelan (Claude Rains) who knows Johnny Bradfield personally and has never believed the claim that the man in the scorched car was Johnny. He begins to track down Johnny, and the two men are set for a confrontation that may end in more violence or in Johnny’s incarceration, but either way in disruption of Johnny’s current predicament and peace of mind.

The film is shot to great effect by cinematographer James Wong Howe (whose achievements I have previously discussed in more detail in my previous film noir essay on Fritz Lang’s Hangmen Also Die), the master of darkness, and one of film noir’s greatest camera operators. The film is taut and paranoiac, but simultaneously vibrant and filled with life, love, adventure, and humor. It’s a shame that Berkeley didn’t direct dozens of film noirs in his time as I believe he had an instinctive knack for it and would have had similar success in future endeavors. However, I’m just glad we’ve got this one, a film noir that combines the thematic staples of the genre with the only sport I really like, one I’ve developed a real love for over the past six months: the Sweet Science of Boxing!

 

Cody Ward

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Much Ado About Musyamon (Digimon Tamers: Episode 11)

(Check out part 10 HERE. to go back the beginning click HERE)

It’s night and Rika sits in her room reflecting on the events of the past day. She throws her D-Power and Digi-Modify Cards into her personal trash bin and exclaims that she hates Digimon. The announcement and her actions make as little sense as they did during the last episode and can only really be interpreted as a hatred based on fear. She doesn’t know what the true nature of Digimon are, what their purposes are (which she previously believed to be fighting and collecting data), and she isn’t sure how they function (as just collecting data from defeated Digimon doesn’t necessarily result in Digivolution, while close proximity to a trusted partner human Tamer seems to work no matter the skill level of the Digimon). Rika is confused and as such, lashes out against everything more or less indiscriminately. Digimon in general, and Renamon in particular, only being her most recent target.

The next morning, Takato uses a Hyper-Wing and Speed Plug-in B Card Combo to Modify his Digimon in his card game against Kazu. The combination, which he previously used on Guilmon to defeat IceDevimon in real life, is effective, and wins Takato’s first match against Kazu in what seems like ages. Takato acts cocky and mentions something about the win not being as impressive as winning a real Digimon battle, which throws Kazu and Kenta for a loop and makes them concerned about their friends mental well-being. Later, Takato will run off to feed Guilmon bread before heading out to class.

Elsewhere in town, Henry and Terriermon head to school, Terriermon riding atop Henry’s head in a journey to class that will be a respite from the tortures of dress-up with Henry’s little sister Susie. A Digital Field appears, which is registered visually by Henry and Terriermon, and tracked digitally by Hypnos. Yamaki instructs his employees to use the Yuggoth program, but is advised against it as it seems too late to stop the anomaly from Bio-emerging. Yamaki instructs them to do it anyway and surprisingly the Digital Signature is stopped dead in its tracks by the program, right on the threshold of its Bio-emergence. Then the voice of the thwarted Digimon throws itself into the room at Hypnos and announces its plans to return and seek revenge. The ghastly message is inexplicable as Yuggoth supposedly destroyed the Digimon who planned to Bio-emerge, but instead seems to only have stopped it from emerging into the Digital Field for the time being, meaning that the Yuggoth program isn’t all it was chocked up to be.

Back to Rika. She is laying in bed on her futon ruminating on the previous day when Calumon enters her room and asks why she has thrown away her D-Power and cards. Calumon removes them from the trash, tells Rika that she looks distraught, sad, and that they should play to make her feel better. Rika doesn’t make a move as if to throw away her Tamer-related items once more, or to grab them. She makes no move as if to get up and humor Calumon. However, she does smile and seems somehow cheered up by the presence of the the diminutive, kawaii Digimon.

Meanwhile Renamon arrives outside of the window of Henry’s home (the entire day has passed and has moved from one night to the next relatively rapidly from Rika’s first night at home to Takato and Henry’s daytime events, and now to that night. It’s true that much of consequence happens in the first fourth of Digimon Tamers), prompting him to get on his bike and ride off, following her to a local park (the park where Takato, Kazu, and Kenta regularly meet in the mornings to play Digimon the Card Game). Renamon reflects on how she once believed that her only purpose was to fight and how she gained meaning by absorbing data and working to become the strongest Digimon around. She thought of Rika’s role as a Tamer as only ancillary to her own role as a fighter, as a figure who merely cheered her on from the sidelines and could use Modify cards to help her defeat increasingly stronger opponents. But now, she’s not so sure about any of this, and consequently, the meaning in her life has been called into question. This explains her reluctance to become close to Rika and to reevaluate their relationship as partners. Henry wonders about the meaning of being chosen as a Tamer, wonders if he has some purpose to fulfill or if his role is merely the result of chance.

In class the next day, Takato stares off into the sky over the city, wishing that a new Digital Field would appear so that he and Guilmon could take on the being that would emerge from it, so that the two of them could grow in strength, in experience, and therefore become closer. Kazu appears and challenges Takato to a rematch, which he accedes to thinking he will win no problem. Jeri overhears their conversation and asks: ‘Don’t you ever talk about anything but Digimon?’ Takato is embarrassed and the viewer can tell that he likes Jeri. The gang run off to the park, where Kazu beats Takato and reclaims his title as the King of the Cards, but Takato again downplays the game and tells his friends that he has a real Digimon. Later, he takes them to see Guilmon, but Kazu and Kenta run off when they merely see Guilmon’s glowing red eyes in the back of his den and hear him ‘roar’ (really the beginning of a sneeze).

Guilmon senses a new Digital Field emerging and runs off toward it, just as Henry and Terriermon approach his den. Takato and the others run after him. And Hypnos engages Yuggoth once more, but the Digimon planning to Bio-emerge, Musyamon, destroys the program, proving the ace up Yamaki’s sleeve to be ultimately useless and leaving the organization looking inept once again. Takato uses a series of Digi-Modify cards on Guilmon to combat Musyamon once he appears in the real world, but ultimately overextends his partner Digimon is unable to put a dent in Musyamon’s defenses.

Henry has been standing on the sidelines, unwilling to engage Musyamon and endanger his partner Terriermon in the process. But when a young girl runs into the Digital Field, chasing her run-away balloon, Henry runs in to save her. As Guilmon is pushed aside, Musyamon approaches the little girl and is set to decapitate her and Henry is able to hold back no longer. He sends in Terriermon with a ‘Hypersonic’ Card to stop Musyamon in the nick of time, and then something amazing happens: Calumon, who is nearby watching the events unfold, and who wishes to protect the little girl as well, suddenly begins to glow (at least the red markings on his head do). This somehow gives Terriermon the power to Digivolve into Gargomon and unveils something important, but as yet still obscure about Calumon’s purpose (as a program created to aid other Digimon in Digivolving? As a support Digimon for a strong Tamer team? As a program created to counter evil forces and promulgate good?).

Gargomon defeats Musyamon with little problem, absorbs his data, and as the Digital Field mist dissipates, retreats back to Henry and the others as they return the little girl to her mother on the nearby sidewalk, and disappear into the crowd. As Takato apologizes to Guilmon for just using random cards somewhat indiscriminately in a gambit that put Guilmon’s safety at stake, Yamaki watches the group walk off, and Hypnos now has a gauge on who has been saving their asses and keeping Digimon from running rampant for the past few weeks.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

Half Nelson

Ryan Gosling is my favorite living actor. There, I said it. I love his performances in FractureBlue ValentineDriveOnly God Forgives (though I dislike the film immensely), and thought him the only actor worthy to fill Harrison Ford’s boots in Blade Runner 2049 (which I saw six times in theaters and wrote six different essays on this blogspace for). That said, when I went to a local Flea Market this past weekend with my father and found a copy of Half Nelson for a buck, I picked up immediately and watched it the very next day at home.

The film follows the life and hardships of an inner-city High-School History teacher in Brooklyn who advises his young, at-risk, impoverished charges in a dialectical view of history and of world events. He subscribes specifically to the Dialectic of Karl Marx’s famed intellectual partner and co-author of The Communist Manifesto: Friedrich Engels. The approach is built upon three laws, which are as follows: 1. The Law of Unity in Conflict of Oppositions. 2. The Law of passage from Quantitative Change toward Qualitative Change. 3. The Law of Negation of the Negation.

The first of these propositions he teaches in a manner consistent with Derridean Deconstruction in which all oppositions, specifically of a binary nature, can be demonstrated to rely upon one another definitionally and contain examples that break the opposition fundamentally and fit neither and/or both sides of the binary simultaneously. The approach helps to break apart essentialisms that have coloured and therefore tainted the study of history for centuries and tend toward creating analysis of events and or parties that are oversimplified. This first step helps the teacher, Dan Dunne (Gosling), to explain how one can both be held down by a system of social, economic, political, and cultural conditions whilst simultaneously being part of that system: a node that helps to ensure its solidity, its strength until the node realizes its culpability and can finally work to break away from the system, and hence break it down or reform it in some measure.

The second law is perfectly explained by Dunne in relation to the Civil Rights Movement in the Southern United States. There, the numbers of people who were culpable in the system of segregation and socially regulated racism far outnumbered those against the system. However, through public protests that helped to bring issues to wider attention, and to implicitly break down racially-based binaries, the quantity of those opposing segregation and racially-based social policies grew in number. As a result of this quantitative change, qualitative changes were made to society.

The third law of the negation of the negation functions in a paradoxical manner. As all large things are only concatenations, groupings, of small things into a larger structure, and all things in history have moved toward a greater synthesis in the creation of larger things (we can see this in a sort of biological manner metaphorically), all social forces push toward some greater force. In society, this means that the capitalist system, which had hitherto been the most equitable and fair form of economic system holds within itself the poisons that will negate itself as itself was a negation to the mercantilist and serf-based economies of yore. Thus, as more equitable systems arise economically, they will inevitably do so under the third law socially as well, meaning less prejudice and more freedom as history progresses toward some sort of end-point. This telos is patently false if we actually study history closely and find it a series of stumbling events and harsh breaks in which civilization itself is often destroyed or pushed ‘backward’, but the third law’s teleological positioning is nonetheless inspirational as a force and one that most people seem to hold implicitly: that society will continue to improve rather than degrade (but one must be careful as this also led to political theses like the End of Ideology and the inevitable triumph of Democracy and Capitalism ala Fukuyama, which is now pretty well debunked).

Aside from his novel approach to teaching history, which often gets him in trouble with his principal and with his girlfriend who questions whether or not he is a communist (and takes the term as derisive, as essentially pejorative), Dunne is also a drug addict who regularly freebases cocaine. Dunne is the school’s basketball coach, and one of his student’s who is also one of his athletes has a rough home life. The girl’s name is Drey and she lives with her single mother who works as an EMT and is thereby always on call, rarely around, and constantly working wild hours. Drey’s father lives nearby and is supposed to pick up the slack, attend some of her basketball games, occassionally pick her up from school, and try to give her some of the parental love and affection and guidance she needs as a young teenage girl. But he is absent and in fact, never seen even once during the entire film.

As such, Dunne often drives Drey back home from practice and from school when no one else is available. Dunne is seen as a cool teacher by his students, and through this public persona and his car rides with Drey, develops a mentor relationship to the girl, especially late after a game one night when Drey catches Dunne in the girl’s room freebasing and the two’s relationship contains the secret, and thereby, implicit trust. Drey has another father figure of sorts in Frank, a neighborhood friend of her incarcerated brother Mike. Frank mentors Drey in the rules of the street and even involves her in drug deals and other illicit activity. Once these events begin to transpire and Dunne realizes what’s going on, he tries to save Drey from what he sees as an unqualified life of crime and incarceration ahead for her, but ultimately fails as a moral authority, as a White Knight, due to his drug addiction and its culpability in the system of drug use and abuse, which Frank takes advantage of and is introducing Drey into.

The ending of the film is ambiguous, and I won’t spoil it here, but just know that if you’re a viewer who enjoys nice, packaged narratives with closure and a feel-good ending this is not the one for you. As for me, I’ve not had enough Gosling yet and will be on the lookout for The United States of LelandStayLars and the Real Girl, and The Place Beyond the Pines next time I’m out and about, though I just picked up the The Nice Guys and am pretty stoked to check that one out soon!

 

Cody Ward

Heavy Traffic

(Check out my previous Bakshi essay here: Fritz the Cat)

After the success of Fritz the Cat in 1972, which was a huge financial and critical success with a $90 million USD box office and as the first X-rated animated feature respectively, animator and director Ralph Bakshi had near carte blanche to begin work immediately on a follow-up. Just as Fritz would be the height of his career financially speaking and every subsequent film would be related back to that one’s box office, the follow up, Heavy Traffic, would receive nearly universal critical praise, and every subsequent feature would struggle to rise to the same level of critical appraisal. These were good times for Bakshi and they would never really be re-lived again.

The film opens in a live-action setting where a young man, an underground cartoonist living and working in New York, wiles away time playing pinball in a penny arcade. As his imagination takes hold of him and he drifts off into daydreams, the film begins to take shape. Animated characters serving as analogues for the young man, Michael, and the people moving and living in the real-world society around him begin to swarm around his head, and although animated, they operate within the boundaries of a world and milieu of stock photos of real city locations, underlit and overexposed to give them a grainy, lived in feeling appropriate to their reality in the real New York City.

Michael’s parents, a Jewish mother and an Italian mob-underling father, are constantly at odds. He cheats on her and is seen as a bad influence on Michael, and so, she wants a divorce, but is blocked in her desire by the fact that ‘Catholics [like her husband] don’t get divorced!’ They attempt to kill one another throughout the film, which originally takes on a fun-loving cartoony Honeymooners atmosphere, and eventually transgresses the level of animation into a real mode of pathos aided by the brutality of the husband’s eventual assault upon his wife.

The film is replete with such instances of cartoon, and hence fantasy, violence breaking out into what feels more real and visceral than almost any live-action film can deliver. The process is a dialectical one whereby our preconceived notions of animated violence as spectacle are first summoned (as in the early playful attempts of the Jewish mother to suffocate her husband in the oven or the fall of a prostitute off of the roof of a building only to land and hand precariously on a wire by her foot for he remainder of the film, unharmed) and strengthened by the zaniness of the film’s earlier scenes. Later, all of the authenticity of the ad-libbing of dialogue, of the real backgrounds in the film, of the use of paintings (like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks), of real modern music (like Chuck Berry’s Maybelline, and a version of Scarborough Fair), and of real locations and social situations, slowly subvert the animated world of the film and present Heavy Traffic as more and more Other to animation whilst simultaneously being something Other to reality.

The reconstructed thing that is the film, the synthesis of reality and imagination, is a hyperreal simulation of the world in which everything is simultaneously more real than animation and more symbolic than reality as such. Bakshi constructs a mode of operation in this film that yields in the viewer a sense of the reality of the film as more symbolic, as more viscerally and intellectually fulfilling in each vignette than either traditional animation or live-action could do alone. And so, when the cross-dressing character Snowflake is beaten to a pulp in a bar by a sauced prospective boyfriend who gets the big anatomical reveal unexpectedly, the violence of the moment is palpable and pathos is summoned within the viewer immediately, even though the scene is played as a comedy. Later, when Michael’s father brings home a woman of ill-repute who he has hired to get his son laid, which prompts a fight between the father and the mother, ending in a vicious beating of the mother and subsequent relinquishing of her usual strong will, her weakness and pitiful state in that moment is otherworldly and tragic beyond belief.

Michael has, however, found a girlfriend in Carole, unbeknownst to his parents. But she’s black, and Michael’s Italian mob father hates the prospect of his son dating a black girl and puts out a hit on his own son in racist rage over Michael’s so-called ‘disgraceful act’ against the white bloodline of his family. the murder does take place, and when it does so, the bloodletting is more viscerally upsetting than any moment I’ve ever seen in animation history. Because of the nature of the animated medium, the scene can be rendered more complete and gruesome than in the live-action medium. And it is. In slow-motion, skull casing imploding, blood ejecting out of the head, and brain matter exposed to the open air as Michael falls to the ground slowly, his life-force leaving him instantly this beautifully choreographed ballet of death.

Unlike Fritz the Cat, which provided explicit interpretations and political points on the nature of life in the city, life in the America, and life in the counterculture, Heavy Traffic says more through merely showing life in these situations. The lives of the down and out, of pimps and whores and criminals and what drives them into those situations, of spousal abuse, of the difficulties of working as an artist from an underground position, of the injustices of racism and how they are carried out most brutally on a personal level by otherwise decent human beings, of vice and how social concepts of cool, cultural concepts of cool are often adopted by the weakest, least ‘cool’ figures in a manner that keeps them down emotionally, socially, economically, psychically. Drug use, alcohol abuse, free love, waste of money, time, and physical resources on expenditures inimical to psychological and fiscal well-being.

The film made $1.5 million USD on a $900,000 budget. A very modest increase in budget from the $800,000 of Fritz the Cat. A very modest return on investment at a surprising 60x less revenue than that earlier feature. But a money-making film nonetheless, and an achievement that placed Ralph Bakshi within a fiscal pantheon as the only person since Walt Disney himself to make two animated features consecutively that both made money. Bakshi was hot, and he would remain so for quite some time on the critical and commercial, and thereby cultural, strength of his first two features: the only two animated features by that point to have received X-ratings. And it didn’t hurt that he was working in a time when the New Hollywood filmmakers and the counterculture had a large hold on the cultural imagination of America, and that Bakshi was ideologically beside them in his interest in city life, urban life, and the problems coincident with that time and in his era.

 

Cody Ward

Princess Arete

As I’ve exhausted Studio Ghibli’s feature filmography for reviews and essays, as well as the studio’s offspring Studio Ponoc, for a while I’ll be reviewing films from those within the Ghibli diaspora. Filmmakers like Kazuo Oga and Kitaro Kosaka who had long formative career experiences at Ghibli before creating their own short films and figures like Keiichi Hara and Mamoru Hosada who never worked for the Studio, but derive inspiration from its methods and themes, and implement a style more characteristic of animation, than the Japan-specific form of anime.

In a manner of speaking, the first of the figure’s careers I will be covering here fits both of these molds insofar as he is both a figure with a background in work with Studio Ghibli, though in a very limited capacity, and a figure who seems to align himself with traditional animation as opposed to Anime as such. This man is Sunao Katabuchi. Sunao began his career in animation while a student at Nihon University in the early 1980s. There, he somehow came into contact with Hayao Miyazaki and, in 1984-85 (in the period just prior to Ghibli’s technical formation) he worked as an assistant director on one episode of Miyazaki’s Sherlock Hound television series. Later, he also wrote four of the episode screenplays. A few years later, when Kiki’s Delivery Service was in preproduction, he was slated as the film’s director and went on scouting trips to Scandinavian countries for architectural and city planning information towards a proposed look for the film. At some point, Miyazaki decided that Sunao wasn’t up to the challenge, and besides, Miyazaki had fallen in love with the project, so he took over and ultimately directed the film, leaving Sunao to claim an assistant director credit. If he had gone all the way with the project, Sunao would have been the first person other than Miyazaki or Isao Takahata to direct a feature for the studio (at a full two years prior to the made-for-TV feature Ocean Waves directed by Tomomi Mochizuki).

Over the next ten years, Sunao would work as a journeyman in the animation field, being hired out by any company needing an assistant or head director for TV anime works. During this time, and in the time since, he never landed another job working for Studio Ghibli, but took his experiences with the company everywhere he went with him as formative creative times when his skills were first being honed. And in 1999, he was hired by Studio 4°C and got the go-ahead to direct his first feature film as an auteur (partially on the strength of his  direction on the 1996 World Masterpiece Theater animated series Famous Dog Lassie, and for his arthouse short film Upon The Planet in 1998).

The production was to be an adaptation of the 1983 classic feminist fairy tale The Clever Princess by Diana Coles, which was extremely well-received in Japan in the late 80s and early 90s. The story follows the life of a young princess named Arete who has been locked away in a tower overlooking her city until she has chosen a suitor. Through a series of events in which she increasingly establishes her clever disposition in opposition to the stupid and brutish suitors who attempt to win her hand in marriage by collecting magical treasures throughout the world on quests, she serves as an example to young girls that they can be strong, intelligent, and often superior to their male counterparts, that domesticity is not a necessity, and that life is about more than merely child-rearing and subservience to one’s husband.

But there was a problem. In the critical literature on the tale, both insightful male and female critics found in the text a troubling conversion and mirroring of male chauvinism into a form bordering on female chauvinism. The women became strong, intelligent, self-actuating, and all of the men became stupid and ultimately powerless. Rather than subvert and render more realistic age-old fantasy tropes, power hierarchies, and gender formulations, the text merely turned them on their heads, resulting a negative text with little consequent merit. Sunao, as a man, was uncomfortable with this simplistic rendering of half of the story’s characters, and as such, translated the men in the story into characters just as complex as their female counterparts.
In the original text, the suitor who forces the King to cede his daughter’s hand is the Sorcerer Boax who comes from an ancient civilization of ‘magicians’ who were actually engineers of complex technologies. Boax was a boy when his civilization was destroyed and as such, had not learned much of the technology. He has kept himself alive by finding a pendant that prolongs life. He has sought out Arete as a companion to stay by his side eternally as he has grown tired of the companionship of Frogs he has transfigured into humanoid beings as servants. In the book, Boax is an evil man who must be defeated totally and symbolically emasculated by the removal of his gemstone and therefore his eternal life, as well as undermined in his control of the village beneath his castle who he controls by limiting their water supply. In the film, he is a figure deluded through the emotional pain of the loss of his people and through a sheer technological realism affected in memory of that people’s great scientific achievements, but which leaves no room for imagination, for creativity, for life-affirmation (which includes death-realization and acceptance), or for love. He is a flawed man who is defeated and who loses all he loses in the book, but ultimately gains something in his encounter with Arete that is much more precious: perspective, humanity, and life (even as he will slowly succumb to death as the average human being he has been demoted to).

And in the process of creating whole figures instead of stereotyped tropes, for all characters within the text, Sunao has managed to make the work palatable for both boys and girls, men and women, without sacrificing anything of its feminist emancipatory potential. In fact, in the original Japanese translation of the text, the version that was so popular in Japan, much of the cleverness of Arete had been edited out and attributed to help from outside parties aiding her in her journey, leaving many readers to ponder in what ways she was clever. Furthermore, the book was titled The Adventure of Princess Arete in the Japanese version despite it lacking any real quest narrative or fighting with monstrous beings as the Adventure moniker often connotes in the Japanese cultural imaginary. Sunao managed to re-insert much of the cleverness of the girl and to add more adventure to the narrative, which brought to the film more dramatic coherence and interest than even the original source novel held.

The result is a film about a willful young girl who negotiates the parameters of her medieval surroundings and shows herself to be a full-fledged person with all of the autonomy and intelligence of any male protagonist. The text is both feminist and humanist, symbolic and realistic, and is animated in a deft manner akin stylistically to the Toei productions of the 1960s like Hakujaden and Horus with all of their attendant connections to Western animation style. Its approach is traditional animation with invisible CGI aided effects. Its time and place is legendary, mythic Eastern European. In a word, the film is very Ghibli, and deserves to be recognized as a great work within the diaspora of that great Studio, to be mentioned in the same breath.

Aside from stylistic and thematic similarities, the film shares one more extremely important parallel to Ghibli animation in the form of its editor, the great Takeshi Seyama. Seyama has worked for many years as a Ghibli film editor and is as responsible for the ‘look’ of Ghibli as anyone else through the effect of his particular approach to montage. He edited for Miyazaki and Takahata, both pre-Ghibli and during the Ghibli era, the following works: Heidi, Girl of the Alps (his first work on any animation), 30,000 Leagues in Search of MotherFuture Boy ConanSherlock HoundCastle in the Sky, My Neighbor TotoroGrave of the FirefliesKiki’s Delivery ServiceOnly YesterdayPorco RossoPom PokoWhisper of the HeartPrincess MononokeMy Neighbors the YamadasSpirited AwayHowl’s Moving CastleTales from EarthseaPonyoFrom Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises. Seyama is also known for collaborations with Katsushiro Otomo (AkiraMemoriesSteamboy), Satoshi Kon (Tokyo GodfathersParanoia Agent, Paprika), and Chiaki J. Konaka (Serial Experiments LainTexhnolyze). 

 

Cody Ward

The Icemon Cometh (Digimon Tamers- Episode 10)

(Check out part 9 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

Like the Adventure 01 Episode The Piximon Cometh, the title of this episode is a reference to Eugene O’Neill’s 1939 play The Iceman Cometh. In that work, the narrative of the iceman relates to a lie that the protagonist tells himself, a dream he holds which is something akin to the object-cause of desire at the crux of his being. It is the only thing that gives his otherwise pointless life of constant work and drudgery to make ends meet any meaning, and as such, is the one dream or story that manages to prevent him from killing himself. The play is a classic within the American theatrical canon and is rife with themes one might exploit, which could heighten the dramatic power of any work of fiction if borrowed or mirrored through allusion of concepts therein. But like the previous episode, this episode derives its title from the English dub director, and hence is only a seemingly clever title that has nothing to do with the episode’s events or with the play’s themes.

The episode opens with Hypnos tracking another wild digital signature in what has become a running gag by now, which is also the craziest one they have ever seen (another constant theme from episode to episode). The being is trying to bio-emerge and again, Hypnos is powerless to stop it from doing so.

Out in the streets, Rika is walking around listening to the ‘Here We Go!’ Digimon Adventure theme on her headphones and thinking about Digivolution. She is confused as to why Guilmon and Terriermon were able to Digivolve despite their lack of seemingly requisite experience in battling and consequent lack of digital data absorbed. A hand appears out of a black void behind her and appears to attempt to grab her. No one else in the street sees the hand, and only Rika feels its presence, but finds nothing there when she turns to address the feeling of danger. When she turns back around and continues her walk, she finds Calumon standing there ready to play (another cue to Rika that Digimon are not only there to battle as Calumon is seemingly too small and weak for such things and as such, his existence serves some other purpose).

Outside Henry’s room window, Impmon stands watching Terriermon and Henry reading books. This upsets Impmon who finds it disgusting to see a Digimon acting like a human being. Back to Rika, Calumon continues to follow her around the city. As the two pass by a series of billboards with a fashion model displayed on them, the model herself appears down the street and approaches them, revealing herself to be Rika’s mother. She thinks that Calumon is cute and is happy that Rika is showing her feminine side by carrying around what she believes to be a plush doll.

Impmon continues his impish bad behavior elsewhere in the city and attacks a group of crows. Rika and Calumon continue their walk until they reach a shrine. There, Rika tells Calumon to scram. After Calumon begins to cry and runs off, Rika again feels the presence of some dark force behind her, which reaches out for her with two arms this. Rika turns and finds nothing once again. She calls upon Renamon to help, and her partner appears out of the shadows, revealing that she has been following Rika the entire time but has seen nothing nor sensed anything relating to the arms and the dark portal that keeps popping up (potentially at this point only in Rika’s own mind) to drag her back into some evil place.

When Rika returns home, the ghost of Devimon appears in the hall and chases her through her along the path toward her room. Rika again asks Renamon to check to see what is out in the hallway, but Renamon sees nothing and the apparition has disappeared again. Renamon states her pledge to protect Rika, but this only annoys her Tamer partner more. Rika professes her disbelief in ‘all this stuff about partners and feelings’ and asks Renamon to go, and to leave her be.

That same evening, Henry and Takato are hanging out near the park where Henry is trying to teach Takato how to use Modify cards and card combos. Impmon, who had pestered Renamon earlier and learned that Terriermon is forbidden to fight by his tamer Henry, arrives and begins taunting Terriermon. Henry tells Terriermon not to touch Impmon, and so Terriermon launches a projectile attack, Terrier Tornado, that sends Impmon blasting off into the city without Terriermon laying a finger on him.

Renamon is off sulking somewhere in the city atop a skyscraper. She worries that she and Rika are not close enough because Renamon is always so cold and lacking in external signs of affection. she wonders if maybe through acting more human like Guilmon and Terriermon, she and her Tamer might become closer in the process. Rika, meanwhile, is in the subway travelling somewhere for some purpose (possibly just moving through the city to avoid going home and facing either her mother or Renamon) when the spectre of what has been revealed to the viewers by now as IceDevimon appears behind her once more. She again turns and sees nothing. But this time, sensing she may be in danger in the close, cramped quarters of a subway terminal, she runs away and attempts to leave the station. Halfway up the stairs, the hands appear once more and drag Rika through a wall into the Digital Field domain of IceDevimon where the dark Digimon resides alongside hundreds of frozen Rookie-level Digimon he defeated and encased in ice on his journey to becoming the strongest Digimon he can be.

Out in the real world, this domain that has broken through the digital domain outward into Rika’s world manifests itself as a giant ice fortress encasing the top floors of a large skyscraper in the city. As Henry, Takato, and Calumon; and elsewhere Renamon; head toward the palace to fight the Digimon bio-emerging within, IceDevimon tells Rika that he tracked her down as the only Tamer with a ‘heart of ice, a will of stone.’ He finds her worthy of himself and realizes that only through partnership with such a tamer can he continue growing stronger and eventually become the most powerful Digimon around. Rika considers calling upon Renamon for help by using her D-Power, but stops herself as she doesn’t really want a Digimon partner at all and would prefer to get out of this mess by herself. IceDevimon wants to destroy his prospective Tamer’s current partner, however, and as such, he sends out an ice beam from atop the skyscraper into the air above as a signal to Renamon.

Guilmon and Terriermon arrive in the fortress and are quickly frozen by IceDevimon. Next, Renamon appears, breaking into the room using her Diamond Storm attack. She is quickly beaten to a pulp by the Champion-level IceDevimon who calls her a fool for even coming out there in the first place. Rika tells IceDevimon that Renamon came because she is her true friend. This disclosure of friendship between the two excites Rika’s D-Power, which glows and gives Renamon the power to Digivolve into Kyubimon who is still too weak to defeat IceDevimon. Henry tries to use the ‘Heat’ Digi-Modify card to break Terriermon out of his block of ice, which fails, then decides to use and expansion card, which succeeds in bloating Terriermon and breaking the ice around him an Guilmon.

Takato next uses the card combo of a ‘Speed Plug-in’ and ‘Hyper-Wing’ on Guilmon, which counters IceDevimon’s speed and allows Guilmon to force him into the ceiling where he then launches a Pyro Sphere attack, and melts the evil foe. Guilmon absorbs the evil Digimon’s energy and shows that even a Rookie-level Digimon has the power to overcome great odds against Champions when his Tamers has faith in him, and the two have a close relationship. Rika says something about hating all Digimon and then she and Kyubimon collect themselves and run off in opposite directions. Moody much?

 

Ciao for now,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Not As Seen On TV (Digimon Tamers- Episode 9)

(Check out part 8 HERE. Or to go back to the beginning click HERE)

Unlike the previous episodes, there is very little to say about episode 9. No one Digivolves, no one battles, there are no new developments with Hypnos or Yamaki, no new Digital Fields and bio-emergences, and even very little character development occurs. The result is a little disappointing and tends to verify earlier reports I had read about the first half of the series being relatively slow. Because of the larger cast of characters in both Adventure 01 and 02, there were almost no episodes that didn’t further the plot of the story in some way, even if it only meant one Digimon Digivolving to the next level, or a kid gathering a Crest or an Armor DigiEgg.

This episode opens with Takato and Growlmon facing off in the park. Growlmon has just turned into his berserk form in which he managed to incinerate a Devidramon with one attack. Now, he looks down menacingly at Takato who is understandably freaked out about the situation. But then Growlmon begins to cry, he has reverted back to the normal Growlmon we all know and love and is distraught that his Tamer partner Takatomon (er… Takato) is afraid of him. The two hug it out and that’s that.

But there’s a problem, Growlmon remains in his massive Champion-level form and when brought back to the park to hide out for the night, can no longer fit in his den. Takato tries to scan a Digi-Modify ‘Digivolution’ card backwards through his D-Power in the hopes that it will have the opposite effect and turn Growlmon back into his Rookie-level form as Guilmon, but to no avail. He next tries to release some of Growlmon’s excess data by working out with him and then getting him to cool off in a freezing cold fountain in the park, but neither approach works. They make a final attempt by visiting a nearby Shinto shrine to pray for Growlmon to De-Digivolve, and this obviously has no effect. Takato leaves Growlmon there to rest until the morning at which point he will have hopefully de-Digivolved.

On the way out Takato sees his friend Jeri who asks if he can use any help. Takato explains his predicament, vaguely referring to a friend who has grown very big all of a sudden. Jeri thinks he is talking about a girl who has gone through a growth spurt and is asking her for amorous advice, specifically about her (I think, the conversation runs a little confusing). She shoots Takato down by telling him that they are just good friends or some such thing.

That night Calumon visits Growlmon and the two run around the city to play, eventually reaching Takato’s house to join them in their 2 a.m. adventure. Takato calls up Henry for advice on where to keep Growlmon for the time being and the two decide that the tunnel below the park is probably the only place he will fit and be hidden from public view. So they bring him there, but again, later that night he will be disturbed. This time by Impmon who will chase him out of the tunnel and around town until Growlmon gets up the nerve to fire back at Impmon and scares him off. He nods off in a local park.

Later that day, Takato finds Growlmon absent from the tunnels and Henry sends out Terriermon to search for him while they go to class. He finds Growlmon asleep in the park, where children are climbing all over him as if he is a new jungle gym. Terriermon runs to get Henry and Takato, but by the time they all return, Growlmon has escaped the park and hidden in the bushes. Takato and Henry run off to Takato’s house to get some paint, which they use to cover Growlmon in browns and greens in a camouflage pattern. The result is effective, but washes off immediately after it begins to rain. Rika and Renamon arrive and at first, challenge them to a fight, but then end up making fun of Takato for using water-based paints before leaving.

Takato begins to cry and complain about being stupid and not being able to afford oil-based paints when the rain begins to clear up just as quickly as it began and a rainbow appears in the sky above. The rainbow absorbs excess data from Growlmon through some as-yet-unknown process and he de-Digivolves into Guilmon. I don’t really understand this process, but I guess it works for now. Henry relates my next worry: that hopefully Growlmon won’t have to wait around for a rainbow to return back to Guilmon after every time he Digivolves. This episode left me very confused, slightly bored, and ready for the Digimon Tamers to begin their journey already, whatever that might be.

 

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Hangmen Also Die

(Catch my previous film noir essay here: Quicksand. Or my previous Fritz Lang essay here: Fury)

Fritz Lang’s 1943 American film noir Hangmen Also Die may be his best, most expressionistic work during his entire American period, often reaching the heights of pure cinema of earlier German-era works like Mabuse, der Spieler and M. The film is visually dynamic, and constantly so, using all of the trademarks of the expressionistic-noir idiom he helped to develop in the late 20s and early 30s in Germany: dutch angles, dramatic lighting, deep focus, chiaroscuro, bold framings, claustrophobic-paranoiac sets, and high contrast.

He achieved the look of the film together with one of American film noir’s greatest cinematographers: a Chinese-born American man named James Wong Howe. Howe began his career in the late teens and early twenties silent cinema, and as such, had developed a sense of how to create visually compelling cinema that tells a story without the need for dialogue. He was a pioneer in his field who used bold and brisk lighting developed through the influence of German expressionist and agit-prop staging, was a master of deep shadows, and was one of the first individuals to ever use deep focus cinematography, where both the foreground and the background are fully in focus and the items therein can be discerned as clear and not fuzzy, and all of this more than a full ten years before Greg Toland’s so-called revolutionary ‘discovery’ of these techniques on Citizen Kane in 1940.

Howe also invented one of the first camera dolly operating systems he called the crab dolly, as well as one of the first hand-held camera units. Both of which he used in major films well before their popularization in the late 50s and 60s by the New American cinema crowd. He tutored another great American cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, and together the two pulled off some of the first helicopter shots for use in a major motion picture. In the 1920s, Howe developed a system for use on orthochromatic film stock, which was notorious for picking up the shadows under actor’s eyes and making the film unusable thereby through the complete obfuscation of one of the most important parts of an actor’s look in silent cinema. He placed black velvet around the lens of the camera, just out of frame, which dampened the available light on the film’s edges, took in less light, and thereby exposed the eyes of actors without also underexposing their surroundings. Finally, Howe was one of the first cameramen to shoot film stock using only candlelight as the available light source: a technique that wouldn’t be used effectively again until Stanley Kubrick’s use of the technique on Barry Lyndon decades later using an impossibly large .7 Zeiss lens.

Howe was nominated for ten Academy Awards during his lifetime. He won two: once in 1955 for The Rose Tattoo and once in 1963 for Hud. His presence on Hangmen Also Die was surreptitious to say the least as the film is one of Fritz Lang’s most visually compelling, and that’s saying something within a career like Lang’s.

Another interesting element of the film, which prompts one to almost call it a pure expressionist film with roots reaching back more firmly to that epoch than into the burgeoning film noir one, is the collaboration on the film of two other German emigres, escaped from Nazi Germany. The first of these is Bertolt Brecht, the great German playwright whose theatre works heavily influenced the dramatic stagings of expressionism as well as the themes of the early works within the movement like M and Asphalt that were heavily politically and socially conscious. Brecht developed the story for the film alongside Fritz Lang, and the two developed the treatment and much of the screenplay for the work. The second man is the composer for the film: Hanns Eisner. Eisner was not a film composer first and foremost, and as far as I can tell, this was the only time he committed a piece to the medium. His interests lay in compositions of pieces for performance and for pieces to accompany plays, and more often than not, the productions of Brecht. Having three German emigres with strong histories and footholds in the expressionist movement surely had a strong influence on the film.

Finally, the film itself. The film is about a uniquely German sort of topic of interest at the time. The war was raging in Europe at the time and as such, Lang and Brecht decided to adapt an agit-prop piece about the recent assassination of the SS’s #2 man Reinhard Heydrich by Czech resistance fighters. The film was very topical, but also leant itself well to a growing sense of film noir conventions as it involves revolutionary forces fighting against an oppressor, clandestinely and always with an air of paranoia and suspicion in the air. Information is the name of the game in this struggle as the resistance tries to hide the identity of the assassin, regular Czech’s choose not to rat on their countrymen, the gestapo hold certain pieces of information but not the whole puzzle, and law-abiding citizens who would normally just keep their heads down find themselves in a world-historical conflict in which their action, or inaction, is made necessary for the very fate of their friends, their family, and their homeland.

Unlike film noir, there are no private detectives, the police do not signify justice or the force of the law closing in but instead the complete opposite of oppressive imperialistic power in a state of exception and near-total hegemony, there is no femme fatale, wrong man, charming villain, or MacGuffin. The Underground isn’t an evil force, but a force of good, of justice, of the people, by the people, and for the people working to fight oppression and restore proper order to their country. And the end result is not the base renunciation of wholesome values and belief in the law, in society, and in other people in favor of nihilism, opportunism, and a morally bankrupt world of suckers and the ruthless on the up and up. No, instead the end result is an affirmation of democracy, of rule by the people, of the notion that foreign peoples have no business in Czechoslovakia telling Czechs what to do, and that Nazism and Fascism are not true evental encounters, not true world-historical periods, but aberrations that would one day be vanquished. And in this opportunism, Lang and his collaborators were prescient, and thankfully so.

 

Cody Ward

[Next up: They Made Me a Criminal]

A Question of Trust (Digimon Tamers- Episode 8)

(Check out part 7 HERE. to go back to the beginning of this series, click HERE)

From the first episode of Digimon Tamers onward, we’ve gained a sense that in this Universe the mind has an ability to modify matter, and especially the data matter, the basis of physical reality, within the Digital World. It was from Henry’s will and belief in the reality and moral worth of his video game Digimon partner Terriermon, that he was able to acquire one of the mystical Blue Cards that allowed Terriermon to escape the game world and enter the real world alongside Henry. It was the will to be the greatest Tamer, which necessitates being the Tamer of a real Digimon as opposed to merely a great Digimon card player or video gamer, that allowed Rika to gain a Blue Card and for Renamon to appear to her through the darkness, from the void, from nothingness as it were, as her new Digimon partner.

Later, chronologically, still was Takato’s will to have a Digimon partner, his development of the theoretical appearance and stats of that would-be beast, and his own presentation with a Blue Card that transformed his card reader into a D-Power Digivice, which subsequently ran the stats on Takato’s notepad, and generated Guilmon. As such, more than Terriermon or Renamon, who were based off of previous Digital forms of Digimon (I presume this is true of Renamon as she doesn’t have the odd physical markers accompanying the constructed Guilmon or Calumon), Guilmon is a being constructed purely from the will of his would-be Tamer.

So when episode 8 opens and we find Takato doodling and toying around with a potential Champion-level form Guilmon, which he dubs Growlmon, we can be pretty sure that this will be his final form. Guilmon won’t upset, but it is curious to note that the drawing-schematics are never analyzed or ‘read’ through Takato’s D-Power as in the early schematics for Guilmon himself. This tells us that Takato’s connection with Guilmon is one of more than friendship as his will for Guilmon is transmitted even without the use of technology like the D-Power, which could rationally transmit the new data to him. We can conclude form this that Guilmon and Takato share something of a psychic link in a master-slave, creator-created chain, or even an ontological link that allows them to be two separate being that are in truth the manifestation of one internal creative force: Takato’s life-force. This bit of theorizing about their relation is implicit in the series and will later make much sense of Guilmon’s Mega-level transformation.

At the local park where Guilmon hides at night and while Takato is at school, Impmon has been roaming around during the night and scaring off couples. Impmon tries to strike up a friendship with Guilmon in an attempt to convince the saurian Digimon that Takato is nothing more than a slave-driver who is keeping Guilmon there in his cage-like setting. Guilmon doesn’t fall for this, but goes along with Impmon on occasion to have someone to play with, even accompanying him on one of Impmon’s notorious scare pranks.

In class, these incidents are reported to the children by Ms. Asaji, Takato’s teacher, who includes information that all sightings of the prankster have related that the culprit appears to be a child in a costume. She advises all of the kids not to go venturing into the park at night, and more importantly, to give up their antics if they themselves are the culprit. Takato thinks he knows who is behind these events and decides, even against Henry’s advice to the contrary, that it was Guilmon. After school, that night, he goes to the park to tell Guilmon to quit his actions.

The teachers at Takato’s school have been assigned to night watch duties in the park to make sure their students are lurking around causing trouble. Takato runs into a police officer after advising Guilmon to stay hidden that night, and Ms. Asaji bails him out. But for some reason, while being escorted out of the park with his teacher, Takato’s suspicions about Guilmon’s behavior grow wild and all-consuming, as well as his fears that his wily friend will be caught by the authorities and taken away. Takato runs back to Guilmon to find him absent from his den. Guilmon has been out running around with Impmon, and appears moments after Takato. He explains to Takato about some people he scared earlier, forgetting to mention that it was Impmon who really did the scaring, and even forgetting to mention Impmon at all. As such, Takato takes his suspicions for true and denounces his friend’s supposed behavior and storms off.

Meanwhile, Hypnos has been registering odd readings of a massive new Digital force working to Bio-emerge in the park. As Impmon causes more trouble and wanders about the park, he finds the Digital Field of this new force and watches as a Champion-level Virus type Devidramon appears within it. Impmon taunts the beast who is currently trapped within this filed, but soon the mist dissipates and the being within emerges and flies up into the sky, heading toward downtown. Guilmon senses Devidramon’s presence and runs off in his direction, as do Rika and Renamon, Henry and Terriermon, and Takato.

Once there, Guilmon engages the dragon Digimon, but is made short work of. Renamon refuses to join the battle, feeling that this is Guilmon’s duty, Guilmon’s battle. Devidramon flies past the windows of the Hypnos offices in one of the city’s skyscrapers, prompting Yamaki to call the debacle a catastrophe for their image from the government’s standpoint. After all, Hypnos is there is to prevent these Digital beings from even bio-emerging in the first place. Yamaki readies a new program, again, against the advice of his underling Riley, which will ‘auto-erase’ all data, meaning either all Digimon in the area, all Digimon in the area and evidence of their existence in the minds of the people around in the first place (meaning a data erase and a memory erase), or even more haunting, an erasure of the past events entirely as was possible within Chiaki J. Konaka’s earlier animated series Serial Experiments Lain.

Takato is panicked as his partner Digimon is being defeated handily by this new force. He Modifies Guilmon with the ‘Hyper Wing’ card, which gives Guilmon the ability to counter Devidramon from the air and fight him on a relatively equal playing field, but this still does nothing to address the sheer brute strength differential between the two Digimon. He then Modifies Guilmon again with a ‘Speed Plug-in’ card, which is pointless and does nothing to really aid Guilmon in the combat at all. All the while as Takato continues to become more and more confused and frantic at the prospect of his Digimon partner being defeated, of himself being seen as a fraud and an awful Tamer, and trying to decide whether it is worth the effort at all in the first place to try and save Guilmon who is seemingly a hazard to the community, Terriermon has been watching the battle from all angles. He sees Impmon cheering on Devidramon from the sidelines, in a sequence that seems to lead to the conclusion that Impmon had some hand in Devidramon’s appearance in the first place, and divines that the diminutive dark Digimon was the one pulling off pranks in the park over the past few days.

Terriermon runs to Takato to tell him that Guilmon was innocent, which prompts Takato to rethink everything. He tells Guilmon that he trusts him and thereby rekindles their metaphysical connection. Just as Guilmon is about to be crushed to death in the grip of Devidramon, Takato’s concern for Guilmon and his total belief in him unite to activate his D-Power. Guilmon Digivolves into Growlmon, per Takato’s dream specifications, and then begins to fight Devidramon on an more even ground. But Devidramon has more dexterity and evades all of Growlmon’s attacks. That is, until Growlmon looks beaten. His eyes begin to glow a deep red, and he reverts back into his primal form and launches an attack unlike his previous Pyro Blaster shots or Dragon Slice blade that is at least in name a Pyro Blaster variant, but which produces a beam of energy of such intensity that I imagine would destroy most Ultimate-level aggressors.

Now, there are two problems. One, what will Hypnos’ problem do if they press ahead in launching it? Second, will Growlmon be able to come down from his frenzied state, or will he be momentarily too much to handle like Gargomon was during his initial transformation to the Champion-level?

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

Now You See It, Now You Don’t (Digimon Tamers- Episode 7)

(Catch part 6 HERE. To go back to the beginning click HERE)

More bio-emergences and digital fields have been popping up in the past few weeks than have ever before been registered by in the Tamers Universe. Hypnos has been tracking these events and noting a new energy fluctuation pattern unlike any of the past events that is currently ongoing.

It’s early morning and Takato visits Guilmon before school. Guilmon explains that last night it felt like he disappeared and was transported somewhere else. Takato thinks Guilmon is talking about a dream he had, but when Guilmon’s hind legs and tail begin to glitch and become transparent, the two realize that something else is happening. After begrudgingly leaving his pal behind until the end of the school day, Takato heads over to Henry’s house to meet up with him and walk to school together. Takato explains his concerns over what might be happening with Guilmon and wonders if Guilmon is being returned to the Digital World because he doesn’t truly belong to the real world. Henry thinks this is possible, but also muses, a little insensitively, that the real world might work to erase Digimon as if they were viruses within its system.

The thought is problematic as it relies on a sort of Gaia hypothesis thought process whereby the world operates logically in a rational manner, and ultimately, the Digital World is a realm that emanates outward from the real world’s computers, internet servers, and other electronic devices as an analogous part of it. As such, just in the same way as human culture, society, and machines are natural because everything is natural, so too are the Digital World and its denizens. So, if nothing can even in principle be foreign to the Universe (unless it comes from another Universe- like Ryo and Cyberdramon for instance), then nothing would be treated as foreign, as a virus, and thereby nothing should be stamped out by the world in that case.

Guilmon is, however, a special case. He exists not a regular Digimon who has emerged from the Digital World, but as a Digimon brought into reality through Takato’s specifications and force of will. If consciousness, or mind, is really distinct from matter (as in the old Cartesian dualism, which Chiaki J. Konaka either espouses or is intrigued by as is evidenced in his series Serial Experiments Lain, which can be interpreted pretty squarely as an interrogation of the matter), then Guilmon may basically be a virus to the physical reality of the world. But his erasure would not yield a return to the Digital World, as he doesn’t belong to that world either.

Henry ends his discussion with Takato by vaguely explaining that it might not be possible for Guilmon to stick around in the real world forever. He gives no specific explanation for this claim and supplies no evidence. Instead, he continues with some vague ‘wisdom’ about how nothing lasts forever. Pretty obvious stuff, but Takato is distressed nonetheless and runs off toward class without Henry. Elsewhere in town, Yamaki walks around, makes phone calls, and turns when he feels an odd presence tailing him (Calumon? Impmon? Renamon? Some as-yet-unknown force?).

In class, Takato understandably can’t focus on his classwork. He thinks to himself, ‘Maybe if he [Guilmon] could Digivolve, he could fight whatever’s’ trying to draw him away. Although he is thinking these thoughts, somehow his friend Jeri hears him, turns towards him and asks, ‘Digivolve?’ The encounter is unsettling as it shows that Jeri is more than just a crazy girl in Takato’s class. That she seemingly bears some psychic propensity, or at the very minimum can function psychically in connection to Takato specifically. Takato’s teacher is going her Principal-directed curriculum for the day and finds that she has been directed to teach the class about a tunnel beneath the park that connects their town with the next one over, and can be used for evacuation purposes in the case of a natural disaster. She seems to believe that everyone already knows about it and therefore decides to skip explaining it that day. However, Takato expresses disbelief and confusion about the tunnel and seems not to know about it even though his other classmates do. What is it about Takato that hasn’t made him privy to this apparently common knowledge despite having lived in this community all of his life?

After class, Takato returns to Guilmon in the park and finds that Calumon is there too and has been keeping Guilmon company. Takato asks Calumon where he lives, but Calumon explains that he can go anywhere because he has no home. Takato wonders if Calumon is ever lonely, and indeed we know that he is as we’ve seen in Episode 5 when he had no one to play soccer with him. However, Calumon puts on a brave face and tells Takato that being lonely is silly before leaving Guilmon and Takato behind to run off by himself, presumably strengthening the lie that he really doesn’t need to connect with anyone else on an emotional level, and doesn’t need to have a place to call home.

Back at Hypnos, Yamaki has returned from his trip into the city and a government agent is hassling him about funding for the organization. The agent doesn’t understand the first thing about the purpose or function of Hypnos, or even the Digital World, so Yamaki condescendingly talks down to the guy whilst providing this information. He tells the agent that the Internet, e-markets, and electronic devices contained so much data that was interlinked that they naturally manifested a second plane of existence called the Digital World and that the purpose of Hypnos is to ‘monitor that world and record every exchange of information across it, looking for anything out of the ordinary.’ The agent asks if they monitor personal data, which Yamaki sarcastically confirms: ‘How else could we monitor criminal activity?’ The agent tells him that they must keep this information quiet or else they would be treated as criminals (but this was the early 2000s. Little did they know that into the 2010s in the real world, we would all learn about our constant monitoring by government and business interests online, and that the public outcry would be pretty minimal and have basically no effect on public policy in either sector).

Yamaki continues to address his technical superior, within the government hierarchy, with sarcasm and responds: ‘Really? Gee, that never occurred to me!’ He then assures the agent that he has everything under control. But the agent isn’t buying and realizes that Yamaki has been able to do absolutely nothing to stop all of the bio-emergences and Digital Fields from manifesting. He tells Yamaki that he must figure out how to do so as soon as possible, and that he must also find the anomalies roaming around and eliminate them, or else. The two part on bad terms, Yamaki looking all that much weaker and less competent, and thereby less menacing than ever before.

Takato are Guilmon are walking around an unfamiliar part of town presumably looking for Calumon, but instead they happen upon Renamon in an alley-way. Some way they managed to make their way to Rika’s neighborhood, and she and Renamon believe the two are looking for them instead. Renamon is raring to go, but Guilmon and Takato refuse to fight and instead convince Rika to have a conversation with them. Takato tells Rika about the dream he had about her, which does nothing to dispel Rika’s belief that Takato likes her and has been stalking her. After talking about Digimon for some time, Takato and Guilmon leave, and it seems that the two have become at least a bit closer to Rika and Renamon, which will prove beneficial in the future as they develop into a team alongside Henry and Terriermon.

As Takato and Guilmon head back to the park, Guilmon begins to turn into static once more. But this time, the static travels up his back, to his arms, his neck, and eventually covers his entire body. Moments later, he disappears entirely and then his red blip appears on Takato’s D-Power Scanner application. Somehow, Takato sends this information out to Rika and Henry, who both turn up outside of the park just as Takato arrives. Back at Hypnos, Yamaki accesses an unapproved, untested program called Yuggoth, which is set to activate in the park, and destroy all Digimon in the area in the process.

Renamon and Terriermon approach the park, but begin to disappear as soon they reach its outer perimeter. They back up and mange to retake regular corporeal form before their Tamer partners decide it best for them to return home where they will be safe. And again, we are shown an image of the inside of Hypnos, this time as an employee named Riley advises Yamaki against using the Yuggoth program, which may lead to more problems and damage than it solves within the network. Yamaki just tells her to go ahead with the program despite the risk, and advises her that she is walking on thin ice if she ever contradicts him again.

Back to the park, Takato, Henry, and Rika walk through the underground tunnel (which explains the relevance of Takato’s teacher’s references to it earlier in the episode). After travelling for quite some time, they find an energy field within the tunnel, which is set for deletion by Hypnos in mere minutes. The Tamer’s D-Powers light up, and they direct the beams toward the energy field before running into it themselves. Once inside, they float in some substratum of light that is somewhat viscous and allows them to ‘swim’ through it whilst being able to breathe normally. Henry makes an odd comment here: ‘Maybe the Digital World from the TV show is real and we’re in it!’ The TV show he is referring to is the Digimon Adventure Universe, which exists as a parallel universe to the Tamers Universe with real people in it where the events of Adventure 01 and 02 actually occurred, but that Universe also exists as a show within the Tamers Universe.

Nonetheless, this space in which the group are floating appears nothing like the Digital World per se and is probably either some intermediary world like the Network or the even a part of the Internet (as in Our War Game!). Within the field, they find Guilmon tied up by white cables, and as Hypnos plans to delete the ‘odd data [that] entered the field’ (meaning the Tamers who have been converted into data), Takato frees Guilmon and Guilmon uses his power to create a red beam road out of the field and back to safety. The zone is destroyed, the Tamers and Guilmon have avoided erasure, and Yamaki thinks he has succeeded, for now. As the kids surface in the park at the tunnel exit, they run off to their respective homes, and Guilmon to his den in the park, as the voices of Takato’s searching parents can be heard offscreen.

Hypnos, like any bureaucracy, seems generally weak and ineffective. But when a figure like Yamaki enters the picture and is able to push through orders that normally take paper work and tons of red tape, without doing the requisite required work, that spells danger. The safety of bureaucracy is in its slowness, but when Yamaki speeds it up and forces his peons to use tools like the Yuggoth program, he puts real people’s lives in danger. As such, he’ll be someone the Digimon Tamers will have to keep on the look out for in the coming episodes, after they figure out that he and Hypnos exist in the first that is.

 

Ciao,

The Digidestined Cody

[Continued HERE]

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