Saturday, 23 November 2019

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 59

We've stumbled across the Dirty Pair here before, many moons ago, in their remodeled Dirty Pair Flash guise, but now that I'm drifting increasingly away from reviewing nineties anime in my series entitled 'Drowning in Nineties Anime', there really isn't a reason not to go back to the wellspring, is there?

For the uninitiated, Kei and Yuri - known as either the Lovely Angels or the Dirty Pair depending on who's doing the naming - are operatives of a galaxy-wide corporate mercenary force called the 3WA, and they're great at their jobs in that they always get them done but tremendously awful in the sense that they tend to destroy everything within reach in the process.  Fortunately for them, less so for the galaxy, their missions are assigned by a computer that values success and doesn't factor in collateral damage, which means plenty of adventures and even more explosions.

Got that?  Okay!  Then let's have a look at Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia, Dirty Pair: Flight 005 Conspiracy and the original Dirty Pair OVA Series...

Dirty Pair: Project Eden, 1987, dir: Kôichi Mashimo

I get the impression that the vast majority of anime fans, certainly outside of Japan, aren't terribly invested in animation per se, and this has never struck me more than with Dirty Pair: Project Eden, a work that precisely no-one seems to be praising for how goddamn amazing it looks.  I don't have many criteria to judge by at this point, but I'm willing to bet that, as a Dirty Pair movie, it has some hefty failings, and I assume that if I was deeply invested in the affairs of willfully destructive space cops Kei and Yuri, I might have felt short changed.  But as a piece of animation - or not even that, as a visual spectacle that seeks to wow your eyeballs with motion and shapes and colour - on that level, Project Eden is a wonder.

And it's not like the storytelling is rubbish, it's just clearly not where anyone's best efforts were directed.  While the plot is surprisingly solid, it's delivered with a lack of interest that's almost a joke in itself, reducing a tale of mad science and ancient aliens to snippets that can be tossed off in bursts of exposition, usually by the delightfully insane villain Dr. Wattsman.  But as Dirty Pair projects go, this one doesn't seem terribly invested in our two lovely angels.  Kei is saddled with going all puppyish over a new character, master thief Carson D. Carson, who also steals too much of the movie, and Yuri hasn't even that much of a character arc; I'd struggle to tell you a single trait she possesses that isn't "looking hot in underwear-armour."  That said, you might argue that what's going on here is a purist approach to presenting beloved characters at movie length: what need for arcs and development when you can offer up your protagonists in their simplest form, quipping and exploding things with abandon?

But none of that's really the point.  For me, Dirty Pair: Project Eden was mostly a sensual experience to be basked in, one every bit as enthusiastic about the benefits of hand-drawn animation as I am.  I dare say it's the most pop-arty anime movie I've seen, indulging in a palette of neon shades and blaring primary colours and garish flamingo pink that would be excruciating in less skilled hands.  It's kitsch, but it's phenomenal kitsch, bursting with pop music and energy and a sense of its own ridiculousness, and I'd forgive all manner of plot transgressions for that.  There's an argument to be made for saying that this is the franchise movie par excellence, on a level with Yurusei Yatsura classic Beautiful Dreamer or Miyazaki's take on Lupin in The Castle of Cagliostro; perhaps it's appeal isn't as wide or as obvious, but it's not far off their greatness, and my Dirty Pair marathon is off to an awfully good start.

Dirty Pair: Affair of Nolandia, 1985, dir: Masaharu Okuwaki

It's best to have a handle on what Affair of Nolandia is going in: not a movie, regardless of the claims sometimes made on its behalf and the fact that Nozomi include it in their recent "Dirty Pair Features" bundle, but an OVA just shy of an hour that appears to have marked the conclusion of the original run of TV episodes.  This is important for a number of reasons, but most of them boil down to having realistic expectations after the pleasures of Project EdenAffair of Nolandia looks pretty cheap by comparison, and very much like exactly what it is.  The animation is that of a solid mid-eighties anime show, with some noticeable wobbles, such as characters spending more time off model than on, and the odd flashy sequence that suffers from Okuwaki's being so eager to show off his flashy sequences that he keeps reusing them.

So a slightly above-par, hour-long TV special then.  And that knowledge is also helpful in parsing the plot, which at times feels like an attempt to show off as much of its heroines as possible, in both senses.  Therefore we get to see Kei and Yuri banter and lark about and punch and shoot things and cause quite epic amounts of destruction, but we also get to see them stripped naked and attacked by tentacle monsters, for not much reason whatsoever.  Which, for me, feels out of keeping with what Dirty Pair is about, though I'm sure there were viewers in 1985 who'd have disagreed.

That incongruity is stressed more than it might otherwise be by the fact that the plot breaks awkwardly into two halves.  The first, in which Kei and Yuri hunt for a psychic girl in a bizarre alien jungle while hallucinating massively, is goddamn strange and doesn't seem to know what tone it's after.  It gets notably more fun at roughly the moment when our lovely angels take charge of the situation, and that follows through into the second half, which doubles down on the action and is a lot more eager to remind us of how awesome these characters are.  Yuri, in particular, gets to shine in an absurdly lengthy chase sequence, though Kei's reenactment of The Terminator is impressive in its own right.  Those last twenty minutes are plenty of fun, though perhaps not much more so than I'd imagine an average episode of the show to be.

All of which is to say that Affair of Nolandia was probably doomed to disappoint after the joy that was Project Eden, but nevertheless manages to be moderately disappointing in its own right.  The first half is baffling but surprising, the second is predictable but full of Dirty Pair goodness, and all of it's wrapped in a production that does little to distinguish itself, helmed by a director whose main imprint on his material is not realising that reusing lengthy sequences tends to call attention to itself.*  Affair of Nolandia is in no way worth going out of your way for, but half of it's a respectable Dirty Pair outing, and since you're only likely to get it via the above-mentioned collection, I guess it would be daft not to watch it.

Dirty Pair: Flight 005 Conspiracy, 1990, dir: Toshifumi Takizawa

Here we are at the end of the original Dirty Pair run with another OVA, though one that's a very different beast to Affair of Nolandia: no extended episode this, with lowly TV-style production values to match.  Flight 005 Conspiracy is more ambitious, and quick to distance itself from the look of what's come before, both with softer, more rounded character designs that signal the shift out of the eighties and considerably more lavish animation, along with some genuinely gorgeous backgrounds; there's a level of attention in the world building that I wouldn't have expected from what I've always considered to be a light and breezy sci-fi franchise.  In short, while we're a way from the pop-art grandeur of the movie, Flight 005 Conspiracy feels thoroughly prestigious.

That's not all that sets it apart.  I don't know if anyone was aware that this would mark a temporary conclusion to the Dirty Pair franchise, but there's a level of seriousness here that wasn't present in the two earlier releases.  The plot is a mix of thriller and, as the title suggests, conspiracy drama, of a sort that would function perfectly well with all the science-fiction elements removed.  Indeed, it might even function better; in particular, its habit of forgetting that planets and countries aren't the same thing proves annoying.  At any rate, dropping the lovely angels into that Cold War-esque milieu places demands on them that they're not altogether suited to.  The first half, particularly, requires a great deal of wandering around and interrogating witnesses and investigating crime scenes, which the script tries to enliven with humour that only really amounts to one joke.  In fact, this is far and away the least funny Dirty Pair experience I've encountered, and along with the heavier storyline and a surprising level of bloodshed, that makes for a weird tone.  Thankfully, the trademark action scenes fare better, even if, again, they don't constitute that substantial a proportion of the running time.

The result is an oddity, and not a wholly successful one.  Its not that an unusually serious Dirty Pair story is a bad thing, but the plot is more convoluted than clever and can't earn its more dramatic moments: a couple of deaths that are meant to be significant lack weight because we've no attachment to either character.  On the other hand, failing to be great isn't the same as failing to be good, and compared with the unevenness of Affair of NolandiaFlight 005 Conspiracy is certainly consistent in its goodness.  Even if the narrative doesn't add up to the sum of its aspirations, it's engaging in the moment, and the production values are a major boon.  The result is something I enjoyed at the time and found myself being more critical of in retrospect, and so I guess slots somewhere between the movie and the first OVA: the former is vastly better as a work of art but kind of sucks as a Dirty Pair story, the latter's a bit of a mess but manages in its better moments to nail the spirit of the franchise, and Flight 005 Conspiracy finds itself sitting awkwardly between the two.

Dirty Pair OVA, 1987, dir: Katsuyoshi Yatabe

Were the movie not such a thing of loveliness, I'd have no qualms about rating the ten episode OVA series that ran between 1987 and 1988 as the height of Dirty Pair as I've encountered it so far.  It comes down, I think, to balance: it has a bit of the pop-art joyfulness of the movie, but combined with a greater focus on and faithfulness to the characters of Kei and Yuri, and probably my favourite take on their ever-changing designs.  The production values aren't quite up there, of course, but they beat out either of the OVA films, and since the episodes vary wildly in plot and tone, there's not much obvious reuse of assets.  Which is perhaps the important point here: these are ten separate, self-contained stories, each done and dusted in twenty-five packed minutes.

It's unfortunate that they peak with the second episode, a delirious slab of mayhem that sees the girls inadvertently thwarting numerous gangs of Halloween-costumed villains while fighting an adorable murderbot.  But that's not to say there aren't great moments elsewhere, or that anything's a significant letdown.  For me, the brightest spots were clumped in the first of ADV's two disks, but that wouldn't be an issue if you were to buy the more recent Nozomi release that collects the lot.  At any rate, there's far more good that bad, and the best episodes feel excitingly random, as though someone were picking scenarios and plot twists out of a hat.  It works because Kei and Yuri are such fun, and such fully formed characters, that there's pleasure in watching them wisecrack and blast and grumble their way through whatever situation they're thrust into.

That's the sum of it, really: there's a lot to like in the world of Dirty Pair, with its lavish approach to old-school SF and its habit of solving every problem, no matter how complicated, with big explosions, but ultimately it's the lovely angels that make it.  Kei and Yuri are terrific characters when done right, and if there's one thing the OVA series nails, it's that.  I suppose you might argue that, without them, you'd be left with a collection of moderately engaging sci-fi short stories, but that's to miss the point.  Even when the setup feels stale or the supporting cast aren't too engaging, these shows work, thriving off the silliness and wanton aggression and wit of their two protagonists.  Therefore, as much as I'll always prize the movie more, if you want an entry point into what made Dirty Pair beloved and aren't ready to commit to the series, this is the place to start.


Needless to say, I now consider myself a Dirty Pair fan, and I totally get why the franchise was so huge for a while: at its best, it's garish, action-packed, big-ideas science fiction with two immensely entertaining lead characters, and at its worst, it's pretty much the same thing except done not quite so well.  Heck, I've become enough of a fan that I replaced my copies of Dirty Pair Flash and rewatched the whole show - only to find that my original reviews were spot on!  Hey ho.

[Other reviews in this series: By Date / By Title / By Rating]

* Also, the fact that Okuwaki started his career on a series called Hello!  Spank may or may not explain a lot, but at least brought a smile to my face.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Short Story News November 2019

I don't think I can honestly say anymore that it's been a bad year for short fiction, I've had a bit too much stuff out for that; a story a month since back in May, it seems, now that I bother to check!  Okay, it's certainly been among the less profitable, and that does suck when you're trying to keep the wolf from the door, but on the other hand I've had work in some exciting markets, and perhaps, with my focus now almost entirely on novels and novellas, that's the most I can ask for?

For example, it's hard to feel really bad about a year that included my first ever appearance in a best-of anthology; I've mentioned it before, but now that the book's actually out, I guess I get to be excited about NewCon Press's Best of British Science Fiction 2018 collection all over again, and how my story Cat and Mouse is sitting alongside tales by a bunch of the best UK writers working in the genre today.

Mind you, as much as I admire those folks, none of them can hold a candle to my favourite genre author of all time, the mighty H. G. Wells, an author I revere so highly that I basically wrote H. G. Wells fan-fiction in the shape of my (obviously unofficial!) War of the Worlds follow-up The Last of the Martians.  The story was a real labour of love; I only realised how much so when I went to try and sell it and realised how niche it was.  So thank goodness a two-volume anthology of Wells-inspired fiction should come along, and that volume one of A Tribute to H. G. Wells was devoted entirely to Wells's masterpiece.  I'm yet to get my contributor copy, but I had a glance over a friend's and it certainly seems well worth checking out.

Perhaps the thing I'm most excited by, though, is getting another story into Interzone, after my first appearance way back in the January 2014 issue.  I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that Interzone is one of the finest and longest-lived genre magazines on the planet, and it's almost unquestionably the most stunningly presented, so it's a joy to be inside its covers once again.  And I'm all the more glad that it's this story, Parasite Art, a piece I consider to be high among the best science-fiction I've written.  It's also the rare occasion where I use fiction to talk, even obliquely, about creativity; I've always been determined not to do that whole Stephen King "yes, all my protagonists are writers, but they're not me" thing, but I guess I also had some ideas that I really needed to work through around the forcedly collaborative nature of getting art out into the world, and wrapping them up amid crazy far-future SF seemed the most sensible way to go about it.

Speaking of crazy far-future SF - no, that's a rubbish link, my last story isn't crazy at all, it's just desperately bleak.  I've been struggling to unload Life Without Possibility for a long while now, not I don't think because it's rubbish but more likely because it's pretty damn unremitting.  I mean, the protagonist is in prison on multiple life sentences, for very deserved reasons, and they're if anything the victim of what takes place, something made worse by the fact that the society they inhabit imagines it's doing them a favour.  I've always been intrigued by notions of forgiveness and repentance and how that ties in (or totally doesn't) with how our punitive systems function, and this story digs into some of the least comfortable aspects of those themes.  It's not fun, but hopefully it's thought-provoking, and I was pleased indeed when UK 'zine Write Ahead / The Future Looms agreed to take it off my hands.  This is my second appearance there, after having a piece in their debut issue, and I'm pleased to report that the teething troubles I mentioned back then have definitely been sorted.  This time around was a good experience, the end result is beautifully presented, and I'm happy to recommend these guys as an exciting market to check out, both from a writerly and a readerly perspective.  Seriously, take a look!  Here's some links...

Write Ahead / The Future Looms
A Tribute to H. G. Wells anthology (on Amazon)
The Best of British Science Fiction 2018 (on Amazon)
Interzone 284 (on Amazon)

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Film Ramble: Drowning in Nineties Anime, Pt. 58

Fighting!  It's a thing that happens in nineties anime a heck of a lot.  And also elsewhere, because we're a basically dreadful species that can't get along with each other or anything else, but hey, let's not dwell on the negatives, because that means lots of cool, action packed, martial arts-themed anime, and that means it's yet another excuse for a tenuously themed post.

So let's take a look at Crimson Wolf, Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, Ayane's High Kick, and Tekken, shall we?

Crimson Wolf, 1994, dir: Shôichi Masuo

Crimson Wolf is trashy pulp.  But to be clear, I don't altogether mean that as a criticism.  After all, there are a few things that trashy pulp can do to make itself stand out from the crowd.  Being legitimately well made is one.  Having a few interesting ideas up its sleeve is another.  But to really capture my attention, the way to go is definitely to be bat-shit insane, and that's a box Crimson Wolf eagerly ticks, if only really in its final third.

Up until that point, the plot is relatively boilerplate nineties anime, though at the quirkier end of that scale.  In the opening scene, a team of archaeologists uncover the buried tomb of Genghis Khan, only to learn a terrible prophesy from the ghostly lips of the great man himself: a cataclysm is coming that will spark a global war, and only the deaths of three chosen ones marked with the scar of an arrow will avert it.  But we're led to wonder if Genghis is altogether on the up and up when we're introduced to the first of our heroes, a young martial arts student named Shin who bears a wolf-shaped scar that seems to fit the description.  Shin doesn't seem particularly hellbent on ushering in any apocalypses, even if he does have a habit of punching people until their heads explode in gouts of blood.

There's a lot of that sort of thing in Crimson Wolf.  But to get the true measure of how much trashy pulpiness there is to go around here, we need to turn to another of our three protagonists, Mizuho.  It's no exaggeration to say that Mizuho spends more time in the nude than with her clothes on, in a manner that soon becomes awfully ridiculous.  If she's not being attacked in the shower then she's lying on a mortuary slab or being thrown naked into an underground prison cell or participating in one of the most gratuitous sex scenes you're ever likely to lay eyes on.  (At least it's consensual; in the grimy underbelly of nineties anime, that's far from a given.)  Only in the climatic third does she get up to much approaching chosen one stuff, by which point Shin has been merrily kicking ass for a good forty minutes or so.

Really, that climax redeems a lot.  It's the point where Crimson Wolf flips from gleefully exploitative, silly fun to serious bonkersness, as we find out who the villain behind all this nonsense is - I guarantee you'll never guess it in a million years, because it's awesomely stupid - and the battle suddenly becomes not a martial arts scrap but an epic showdown between historical archetypes conducted in a metaphysical realm of the imagination.  Or something.  Heck, it's hard to say precisely what's going on, but it sure is nuts, and the animation improves massively for the last ten minutes too, delivering some genuine spectacle.  Obviously that doesn't make what's come before one iota less sleazy or derivative, but if you're in the right mood, it does mean you might be left with a smile on your face.

Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, 1994, dir: Yûji Asada

In this wander through the darkest corners of nineties anime, I've come across a fair few directors who transparently deserved more career success than they got, but near the top of that list is Yûji Asada, who directed Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter, would four years later make the superb Queen Emeraldas, knocked out an OVA called Early Reins in 2003 that no-one appears to remotely care about, and has apparently spent all of the rest of his time storyboarding Pokémon.  I mean, I get that there are less ignoble fates, but really?  The guy makes two of my favourite OVAs and that's where he ends up?

And here I'm generalising off precisely two short films, but it seems to me that what makes Asada a skilled director is his willingness to dig into his material and find just the right voice to make it stand out.  Because Grappler Baki and Queen Emeraldas have precious little in common other than the fact that they're both excellent versions of the things they are.  In the latter case, that means gorgeous, romantic, rather goofy space opera.  Here it adds up to horribly violent, blackly funny action spectacle told at a breakneck pace, and for that matter with no qualms if the odd neck gets broken along the way.  I confess I watched most of the last quarter through my fingers; yet as much as I'm not really one for gore these days, Asada played me like a fiddle, and not for an instant did I genuinely want to look away.

If I've danced around the story until now, it's because there isn't really one.  Baki, a seventeen-year-old kid with scars from head to toe and a fondness for drinking flat Coca Cola, wins a karate tournament effortlessly.  We then learn that he's also competing in an underground fighting ring - that's literally underground, because why not? - and that he's facing his most fearsome opponent yet, a foe known as the cord-cutter due to his fondness for ripping the nerves out of his opponents' bodies with his damn fingers.  And yeah, I was cringing just typing that sentence, though not half so much as I was during those climatic minutes.  Did I mention how violent Grappler Baki is?  Yet, partly because Baki himself is such a likable presence, sort of a more humble and cheerful Bruce Lee, and partly because Asada has such a sure grasp of tone, and partly because the action is so well conceived and slickly constructed, it's tough to find that violence really off-putting.

The result is a tremendously good use of forty-five minutes, delivering a solid chunk of story that's well fitted to its running time.  It's not exactly what you'd call great art - though a lot of the art is pretty great, and the animators do a fine job of conveying human bodies in motion, which is precisely what you need from a martial arts anime.  But, again like Emeraldas, it's an example of how to get one of these shorter OVAs right, devoting all its energies to doing one thing very well indeed.  Grappler Baki: The Ultimate Fighter might be tough to find these days and all but lost to memory now that the property has had not one but two series adaptations, but like its director, it's worthy of a better fate.

Ayane's High Kick, 1998, dir: Takahiro Okao

Another of those shows that only U.S. Manga Corps would have bothered with, Ayane's High Kick is a two episode OVA with obvious aspirations to either more episodes or a series to call its own.  That neither happened isn't hugely surprising: it's a snip of a thing, really, though in generally appealing ways.  Most obviously, there's a definite good-naturedness to the writing, which follows high school girl Ayane, who we meet trying out for her dream role as a pro wrestler.  In doing so, she catches the eye of washed-up trainer Kunimitsu, whose creepy comments about how great her legs are turn out to be an invitation to learn at his gym.  Only, said gym is a ring that Ayane has to set up herself beneath an underpass, and what she realises way too late is that Kunimitsu is actually training her to be a kickboxer, something she has zero interest in.

Plot-wise, that's mostly all there is, though the second episode ups the ante when the head teachers at her school discover her extra-curricular activities and threaten to throw her out if she doesn't win her first major bout.  (Presumably this is how schools work in Japan.)  Filling out the cast we have Ayane's apparently only friend Kayoko, a boy who I'm not sure even gets a name, a couple of opposing fighters with their own eccentricities, and that's pretty much it.  Like I said, a snip of a thing, though given how busy some of these short OVAs can get, I don't know that that's altogether a criticism.  Indeed, the leisurely pace is a boon, giving us time to get comfortable around the small cast and to invest in Ayane's objectively kind of ridiculous struggles - something that's easily done since she's a fun character, with enough rough edges to feel reasonably real.

The animation is dirt cheap, with stills and repeated footage and other shortcuts aplenty, and could easily have come from a decade earlier, were it not for character designs that positively scream their late nineties-ness.  But for all that, it's not an ugly show, with its strong personality and sense of energy going a long way to compensate.  Which is Ayane's High Kick all round, really: like its determined, none-too-bright heroine, it's a plucky underdog, lacking the budget or ambition for greatness but nevertheless wading in wholeheartedly.  It's sweet, funny, moderately exciting in its fight sequences, and pulls off the crucial trick that any sports story needs to of fooling you that maybe the protagonist might not win.  It's definitely one I'll watch again, and if that series had transpired, I'd probably be hunting that down too.

Tekken, 1998, dir: Kunihisa Sugishima

The first thing you're likely to notice about the Tekken movie - and quite surprising this is, under the circumstances - is that it looks bloody awful.  I mean, it really is spectacularly crappy looking, and in a special way that separates it from the ugliness of mere cheap hand-drawn animation, which generally still retains a certain scrappy charm.  None of that for Tekken, which chooses instead to lean hard into the emergent field of computer-assisted animation, a good five years before the industry would learn how to make best use of it.  The result looks like a series of cut-scenes from an exceedingly bargain-basement video game (which of course the Tekken series itself wasn't) and which can't get even the simplest techniques right, even when they're techniques that anime as a whole nailed decades before.  Digital pans and zooms have none of the fluidity that animators would eventually learn to apply, making them nauseating in their artificial smoothness.  Even things like the movement of eyes looks plain wrong in a way it would be hard to accomplish animating by hand.  And the clunky character designs, which presumably were contrived to work within the limits of the technology, don't help matters, appearing bland at a distance and wildly awful close up.

What's maddening is that probably none of this was actually cheap, and that, with a similar budget applied to traditional techniques, the results would be moderately fun.  I mean, this is Tekken after all, the fighting game series that arguably found the best balance between seriousness and frivolity in a genre that tended to veer in one direction or the other.  Thus we have a plot that balances grim familial conflicts and brutal quests for vengeance with the tender tale of a robot fighting to save a little girl's life and, er, velociraptors with stealth camouflage.  Also, one of the characters gets beaten up by a boxing kangaroo.  What the film never manages to deliver is any decent fighting, which seems like a bizarre miss; indeed, all the action is distinctly bland.  Nevertheless, if you like the franchise, the way familiar elements have been cobbled together feels like the right sort of fan service, providing a central narrative that's solid enough to get a sixty minute film from A to B but stringing enough weird silliness along its path to keep matters enjoyable and interesting.

Indeed, its amusing enough that the animation slowly becomes less of a hindrance, though there isn't a single point where it could definitely be called an asset.  And as further proof that some proper money was spent on this thing, there's a lovely orchestral score that fits the material surprisingly well - so much so that ADV's replacement on the English dub, replete with songs from bands like The Offspring and whoever the hell Soulhat were, feels terribly jarring, especially given how artlessly its been grafted on.  What I watched of the dub was enough to push the movie into the territory of definite badness, whereas the original was a tolerable enough diversion.  I respected its attempts to do right by its source material, even when they were frequently undone by a lack of decent fights and that ghastly animation.  The result is very much fans-only, but if you like the wacky world of Tekken, there are worse ways to waste an hour.


Is this the first post in a while without a single standout recommendation?  I'm afraid it is.  I really did like Grappler Baki, but given the difficulty in tracking down a copy and its brief length and the fact that it's been superseded by not one but two far longer adaptations, it's tough to say honestly that anyone should track it down.  And while Crimson Wolf and Ayane's High Kick had their charms, neither was mind-blowing enough to warrant the effort of acquiring them.  How frustrating, then, that the only title here that's easy to lay hands on is Tekken - because if there's one thing the international anime market was great for back in the day, it was manufacturing huge quantities of crap titles!

But let's not get disheartened, not when our next post (assuming I'd don't change my mind or get distracted) is going to be a deep dive into the beloved mega-franchise that is Dirty Pair...

[Other reviews in this series: By Date / By Title / By Rating]

Friday, 1 November 2019

Fantasycon 2019: A non-Review

So I won't be reviewing Fantasycon this year.  Its virtues were the same as always - good company, the marvelous efforts of the red coats to keep no end of plates spinning - and its flaws were, well, just about everything else.  I suspect my own experiences are a fairly good summary: for my first panel, the moderator didn't know they were moderating until we began; for my second, we were a person short and the moderator also didn't know they were moderating; for my third, the panel topic was so incomprehensible that we wandered from it and never went back; my reading saw three of us rushed into a thirty minute slot, which the room supervisor who'd been interrupting us throughout saw fit to cancel five minutes early so that a nonexistent crowd could come in; and the glorious silliness that is Dungeons and Disorderly played to a tiny audience compared with last year thanks to a bizarrely late time slot.

At least Dungeons and Disorderly always makes for weird fun.
But, no, I'm straying into reviewing, and that I said I wouldn't do!  The thing is, for me there was one outstanding problem that eclipsed everything else, which after all was largely patched up by good improvisation on the ground.  Really, so long as there's a decent bar at a Fantasycon, it's always possible to muddle through.  Though, that said, the bar closed at one o'clock even on the Saturday ... damn it, this finding positives business is tough!

Look, here's the one issue that's not so easy to ignore: international events aside, I've never been to a conference where so many people flew to be there, and in 2019, the year when just about everyone woke up to the fact that we're in the midst of a catastrophic environmental crisis, that's not a thing that ought to be happening.  Flying is environmentally horrific; flying domestically is a fundamentally horrible idea and ought to be avoided at all reasonable costs.  But the location of this year's Fantasycon made it really hard to avoid for a great many people.  I discussed this a lot, and not one person who'd flown felt comfortable with doing so, but their reasons were invariably the same: getting there by any other means was prohibitive, either because of absurd rail costs or impossible travel times.  And let's not forget that, for many, Fantasycon very much counts as work: if you're a writer, editor, or publisher, it's a major date on the calendar.  A great many people felt they had to be there and that the only way they could do so was to fly domestically, and that's not okay.

Am I saying that national conferences shouldn't be held in Scotland?  Well, it's important to note that had the venue actually been in Glasgow, rather than its remote outskirts, that alone would have shaved an hour and more off the journey time for many, me included.  But that aside ... yeah, I guess I am.  But that's nothing against Scotland!  Do you remember when Fantasycon always seemed to be in Brighton?  That was an equally lousy location from a travel point of view.  And Heathrow?  Nearly as bad.  Surely it's common sense to favour locations that are as accessible as possible from both north and south, but that accessibility can't mean "there's an airport nearby," because that attitude is well past its sell-by date.

I feel bad using Fantasycon as a whipping post for this issue.  Yet, at the same time, I feel it's justified, because the location was misjudged, and you only need to look at the drop in attendance to see that.  But that aside, this is something I fully intend to raise more in future, and Fantasycon just happens to be first in the line of fire.  If conference organisers give the impression that they haven't considered the environmental impact of their events, that's something I believe we as an industry need to be discussing, as those in all lines of work should be.  Indeed, it's long past time that every conference had an environmental policy to go along with its harassment and other policies, one that was clearly published and treated it as a benchmark by which to judge every decision that gets made, but location most of all.  Because let's face it, if there's one thing that's bound to really bugger up the conference scene, it's not having a planet to hold them on.