Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: "Kill La Kill"

Take all the elements that make male, anime fanboys drool; isolate, refine and purify them into a thick paste; subject this paste to intense heat; repeatedly distill the congealed sludge this produces in a seven-stage process, separating all solid material; pulverize the resulting dust-like powder; then compress the fine residue into a rock-like bolus. What you're looking at is anime crack. Or Kill La Kill ...

Because Kill La Kill is anime crack.

The setting is a lunatic dystopia in a vaguely defined near future or alternate history somewhere in Japan. A crappy city exists in a subservient, dependent, quasi-feudal relationship to a fascist private school at its core. Said school is basically Battle Royale with a lunch room. We're talking a Machiavellian, back-stabbing, infighting war of all-against-all, in which various crazy-competitive cliques, clubs and factions fight to climb to the top of the school hierarchy. The key to the climb is your uniform, kids! Not just a status symbol. Uniforms give you powers. The better the uniform, the more powers you have. (Later on, we discover the uniforms are symbiotic/parasitic alien life forms.)

So that's how this world works. But Ryuko Matoi -- a pissed off girl at the edge of 17 -- steps into the scene and upsets the social order. Her weapon: a giant pair of scissors. (Or half a pair, which I guess is a sciss.) Revenge is her chief elective. She's looking for the man and/or woman who killed her father, and is ready to fight here way to the top of the pyramid to get it. She also befriends a goofy family in the city for occasional side-trips for comic relief.

The secret of Ryuko's power is an unstoppable, self-aware uniform that beats anything the school's got. How's she put it on? Well, uh, it sorta puts her on. Imagine the transformation scene from Sailor Moon as story-boarded by Humbert Humbert. The garment adheres to her in a sexed up, grabbastic, rapey embrace full of jiggling cleavage and strappy things snapping in place over pudenda. (Hey, the thing's got one eye, so what does that tell you?) It's a parody of fan service, yep. But it's also bloody well fan service. (You could say the same thing about the whole damn show.)

The series clues you in on these basis points in the first few episodes. After that, the minor characters,   backstories, flashbacks, subplots, plot twists, reversals and complications start multiplying like the microorganism in The Andromeda Strain. Don't worry about it. Basically, the characters spend most of their time fighting. Anime crack to be sure.

But it's top quality crack.

Gurren Lagann and Kazuki Nakashima are the brains behind this wretched excess -- two refugees from Studio Gainax who opened up their own anime studio, namely Trigger. Hiroyuki Imaishi directs; Gurren Lagann writes. They seem to be mocking Gainax' utopian aspirations, Neon Genesis Evangelion especially. (Instead of giant robot suits, school uniforms. Har-de-har.) The show also hinges on punning word play: the Japanese words for "fashion" and "fascism" sound almost exactly the same. Clever jokes aside, there seems to be real thought (and historical knowledge) about the way fascism actually works. Hitler liked to set up redundant organizations fighting for the same turf. He was also into kicky boots and killer uniforms.

Like any good parody, the series mocks the conventions of its genre -- while still delivering a good story in terms of that genre. (Blazing Saddles still worked as a western; Young Frankenstein was a great horror flick Hey, both Mel Brooks movies, but you get the idea.) Kill La Kill works so well, in fact, that it's hard to triangulate what it's mocking. My guess is the notion of a hypersexualized, ultraviolent babe as a symbol of female empowerment. English major crap to be sure. If I can think of something better, I'll let you know.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Extremely short, extremely dark story

A renowned, white-haired scientist sits at his desk and sighs. He pulls open a drawer, removes a snub-nosed revolver and puts it to his head. At that moment, his younger colleague bursts into the office and slaps the gun from his hand. It hits the floor, spins uselessly on the floor like a top, then stops. Just to be safe, the young man walks over to the gun, picks it up and puts it in his pocket.

"What the hell are you doing?" the young man shouts.

The old man sighs, gets up and goes to the blackboard. He picks up a piece of chalk and writes an equation. The younger scientist studies it.

"Oh," he says.

The elderly scientist nods, picks up an eraser, and obliterates the equation. He returns to his desk and sits back down. His younger colleague takes the gun from his pocket and hands it back to him. The elderly scientist nods politely, then blows his brains out. The young man studies him for a moment, sighs, then walks over and picks up the gun.

And blows his own brains out.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What I know

Let’s admit the ugly truth. "Creativity" (lousy word, ain’t it?) is magic. It ain’t math. You can’t reduce it to a formula. If you do, it ain’t creativity. Fun, huh?
There are, of course, rules, gimmicks, tricks, archetypes, techniques, templates and patterns. But the good stuff always tweaks the recipe. It happens spontaneously. Bubbles out of you. Like free money.
And, I don’t know about you, but when that happens, I WANT IT TO HAPPEN AGAIN. Goddamn it, Muse, do what you just did! Dance, monkey, dance!
That, of course, kills the magic. Every time.
So, you’re forced into this weird walking-on-the-razor-blade situation.
You can’t put a gun to the Muse’s head. You can’t crucify the Muse to some dumbass formula. On the other hand …
You can’t just sit on your ass waiting for inspiration to strike. Anybody who actually paints, draws, writes, amuses drunks with music, makes drunks laugh, or pretends to be other people on stage knows this.
The trick is to walk the razor blade. The first trick being: There’s no trick, you just walk. The main thing I’ve learned is …
As you’re walking, two voices are against you.
Two voices are constantly nattering. They’re your enemies, pal. If you pay attention, you will fall on one side or another.
The one voice says: You can’t do it, you’ve lost it, this is no !@# good, you’re a hack, you’re not talented, you lost the wave, give it up, give up …
The other voice says: It has to be perfect! That’s a good idea … but it’s not good enough. Keep waiting and working and reworking. A BETTER idea will emerge. Don’t settle for THIS idea. It has to be perfect! And it’s not good enough, not good enough, not …
Ignore the bastards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Department of Revenge

It all started with a sign. Not from God. A long-dead sign company in a long-dead industrial park from the days when people actually "made" stuff. It's obvious, if you look at it.


Crappy sign, pre-NT. Black plastic letters, magnetic, affixed to what used to be a white background at the ass end of the previous century.


Definitely not God's handiwork. No way.


The Supreme Deity is not big on extruded plastic with that cracked, yellow look certain long chain polymers get when they've been cooking in the sun for several decades. The magnetic letters are badly spaced, yet! If God can keep the universe humming along, he can definitely handle kerning.


This low-rent, last-century appearance is, no doubt, deliberate. A calculated effect from the man behind the curtain. Or woman. Or whoever's running the shadowy public sector establishment this lousy sign draws your attention to. They're projecting an oldtimey image that's the antithesis of cold perfection, or the nightmares of Orwell, Kafka or Dante. We're crappy, therefore non-threatening. Which makes them all the more threatening. In his opinion.


OK, OK. Let's get on with it.

The badly-spaced magnetic letters read: DEPARTMENT OF REVENGE.

Art's driven by that sign a thousand times. (Strictly speaking 1,117 times. The expression is rhetorical.)

Today ...

Today, he's finally going in.

By way of background ...

What they used to call a "computer" used to be the size of a warehouse. Thanks to the relentless efforts of engineers, it shrunk to the size of a room, further dwindled to a big ugly box that fit on a desk, then to a small, pretty box, then a 'vice you put in your pocket, then invisible motes that hung in the air. "Ubiquitous computing," another worn-out expression, became a reality. Computers the size of bacteria and the capacity of Big Blue. Everywhere. Up your ass, and not rhetorically.

And all the little eyes, ears and minds watched everybody everywhere. And they talked to each other.The world didn't resemble a bad dystopian movie, thanks to strict regulation enforced by rule-based systems. But the motes would rat you out if you were planning some form of murder, theft, rape or assault. So people stopped doing that stuff.

Imagine a world without crime. It's not so jolly wonderful as it sounds.

Human beings have this hard-wired sense of when they've been wronged -- and a hard-wired need to balance the karmic scales. If you take away the big stuff, the small stuff turns into the big stuff. Snubs, dirty looks, insults. I'm gonna make that bastard pay. If you can't, you go out of your ever-loving mind. The motes figured this out.


In a related development, Gregor Samsa was turned into a giant cockroach by the hive mind of Yeptide-7. The experiment turned out badly.

Art navigates a hall under a drop-ceiling of popcorn rectangles interspersed with flickering florescent lights. On the walls, helpful red arrows point to DOR. He follows them, and arrives at the DOR office. Glass door, metal frame. The sign on the door reads ...

Department of Revenge (DOR) District 12
Lic.# 10-23847629

Art pushes his way in. The door squeaks, resists, but opens.

He's in. This is it.

A gum-chewing secretary walks up to him. Female, but let us elide the implication of sexism and focus on her archaic profession. Secretary? She might as well be a blacksmith. In this cowardly new world, secretaries, like blacksmiths, are rarely seen outside of some kind of theater. Which this probably is.


"Arthur Cobb."

Farthur Cobb. Farter Cobb. Art the Fart. Art the Nob. Arse Cob. Arser Slob. Nobbler Cock. Corncob Fart. Corner Hole. Assbreath Glob.

"Have you been wronged?"


"Sorry to hear that, sir. Do you desire, within the statutory limits of the law, to right that wrong or series of wrongs through your own actions?"

"Well, why do you think I'm here?"

"Sir, are you trying to get smart with me?"

Her big, blue eyes stare at him.


Smart. Nobody's accused him of that. An upgrade upstairs? Art can't afford it.

"I can't read your mind, Mr. Cobb. You have to tell me. That's procedure. Please answer the question."

"Sure .. uh. What's the question?"

"Do you desire, within the statutory limits of the law, to right that wrong or series of wrongs through your own actions?"

"I mean, yes. That's why I'm here. Yes."

She hands him this white flimsy thing. Wha ... he suddenly recognizes it from his childhood. Paper. It's actually a form on a sheet of paper. And now she's handing him a pen! It's a form, he's got a pen. He's supposed to fill out the form. Wow! Art suspects it's more of that "theater." But, after he figures out how the pen works, he fills it out that form thing and hands it to her.

Art's expecting applause or something. But she's not that impressed.

"Thank you, sir. Your Vendetta Counselor will be here shortly. You may sit down in the interim. A waiting room has been provided for your convenience."

She points. There's a clear plastic partition with chairs on the other side, a coffee table with magazines. Taking the hint, Art walks over to that space.

Art sits down. The  Vendetta Counselor appears instantly. Art gets back up.

Manly guy, tall, big chin, big smile, bone-crushing handshake.

"Hi, Art. My name's Jack...but you can call me Jack." Big grin. "Please step into my office."

Art follows Jack like a terrier behind a pitbull. Left, right, right, left, left, through a maze of corridors. They finally arrive.

"Ta-da!" says Jack.

Unlike the rest of this set-up, Jack's office is clean, minimalistic, intimidating. Like Jack.

Jack sits down at his desk, a floating black marble slab. Art stands. Jack waves his hand, nods, offering Art permission to sit on an amorphous blob that looks like a giant, sickly white blood cell.

"Like it, Art?"

"Uh yeah."

"Baby! You seriously imagine I give two flying shits what you do or do not like?" Jack pantomimes tossing two invisible turds. "I do not, Art. To put it more politely, fuck your opinions, shove 'em up your ass, keep 'em to yourself, do whatever you want. I like this office. That's my opinion, baby. And that's what counts."

Jack winks, snaps his finger, and points it at Art like he's aiming a gun. Archaic gesture.

Not the kindly priest figure Art was inspecting. Swaggering, insulting. Like an insult comic from the last century. Why? More theater, but Art fails to see the logic. Logic aside, Jack scares the holy crap out of him. Like every bully he's ever known. And all of his ex-wives.

"First impressions, Art?"

"Uh, no complaints, no complaints."

"Translation. No complaints you got the balls to tell me to my face. Am I right? Of course, I am. You're intimidated, right? Relax, kid. This time I'm asking for your opinion. That's different, OK? Feel free to share. Spill your gut, baby. Not about the office. The whole show. What do you think?"

"I think ... I think it's great."

"Bullshit -- exactly the kind of bullshit I'd expect! I'm extremely disappointed in you. Don't be so goddamn predictable. You 'think' we're playing with you, Farthur? This is some kind of game? Don't answer that question. Of course that's what you think. We know. See this form?"

Jack taps the white sheet of paper. Which has magically appeared at the center of his floating desk.

"Fuck the form." Jack crumples it up and bounces it off Art's forehead. "While we're at it, fuck this Colonial Williamsburg shit. Despite appearances, we know what's what. It's in your sweat, Jack. We can read it."

"I think ..."

"Sit the fuck back down!"

Art does as he's told. Hadn't even realized he'd ...

"Why the ... "

"Why the 1997 appearance? Misdirection, disorientation. Your mind's so busy trying to figure this shit out you forget to put up a mask. We wanted a clean reading. We got it."

"Clean reading?"

"Of the dartboard of your heart, Fart. All the darts still stuck there. Have you been wronged? We don't ask if you think we've been wronged. We know. You have. And you can even the karmic scales! That's what we're here for. But there's a price."

Art fumbles for his cred chip.

"No, assmonkey. Psychological, spiritual, whatever."

"OK. What ..."

"You've been wronged? What's that mean? Your feelings are hurt? No." Jack's tone changes. Serious now, reciting a catechism like the solemn priest Art had originally imagined. "Intent is the issue. On the part of the person who wronged you. The fundamental basis of injustice isn't the perception of hurt but the intent."

"Which means ..."

"I thou, I it. Fuck it!" Back to insult comic again. "Failing the fucking empathy test. Treating another person as a thing, as a nothing, a means to an end, not a person. Somebody do that to you?

"I ..".

"Yeah, they did. Stop playing stupid, Art. That smart mouth of yours got your ass kicked. You learned to play stupid. You're not stupid. IQ's at 139 give or take. Do me a favor and drop the stupid act."

Art starts weeping. Jack slaps him.

"No crying!"

He points to a sign on the wall. The sign says: NO CRYING!

Art stops crying.

"Now what?"

"Now what? What do you think? Payback time? Is that what you think, you dickless wonder? Fuck that shit. We're not interested in some fucking Jacobean revenge tragedy. Here at the DOR, revenge is redemptive. You're going to make that asshole a better person! Every one of those assholes. With government permission, you'll get into their minds, tear 'em apart and put 'em back together."

"It's gonna hurt?'

"Of course it's gonna hurt."

"But it's just bad dreams ..."

"That seem completely real while they're happening."

"How ..."

"You seen the fucking Matrix?"


"Then don't waste my time! They'll feel it, OK? And you'll feel it too."


"It's very simple, dumbass. Think of it this way. You're the executioner, Art -- and it's your head on the block at the same time. You can swing that axe. But if you want the bastards to feel it, you have to feel it."

"I still don't get it."

"Jesus. Duh. The pain you put in somebody else's head goes into your head too. Duh. That's what you gotta do to make the bad guys hurt. Get it?"

Art nods. Yeah. He finally gets it. 

"That's the price, my friend. You in?"



Art looks around for pen and paper.

"In the air, asswipe. With your finger."

Art signs.

"Now what?"

"It's your life. How the fuck should I know?"

Jack pushes a big red button on his desk that wasn't there five seconds ago.


He's looking up. The lattice of a geodesic dome getting a little closer, a little further away, a little closer ...

He finally realizes where he is.

Refugee camp. Art, like the weakling that he is, is struggling to do a pull-up on the parallel bars. Despite the low lunar gravity, it's still hard. If he can just do one today, and maybe two tomorrow and keep doing it, he'll be strong. The cheerleaders are watching. Out of nowhere, Greg runs over, grabs him by the ankles and pulls. Art slams the ground. Like. Punch in the gut from a giant's fist. Can't. Breathe. Art gasps like a fish, flops. Greg laughs and runs off. The cheerleaders laugh.

Art gets his breath back, staggers to his feet.

Clenches his weak fists. Looks around.

Where is he? Where the fuck is he?

There. Standing behind the ...

Runs. Around the chain link fence where Greg is laughing it up with his lackeys. Art has the element of surprise. Greg's not expecting ...

Art to walk up to him from behind. Pull back his fist. And slam Greg in his fat fucking gut.

There's a vague ghost memory. Some other life. Art doing the gut punch. Greg blinking like he's been stung by a mosquito. Then breaking Art's nose with a fist like a canned ham.

But this time around ...

Art's punch is a popped hydro-cell. Greg drops to his knees, howling.

Art grabs a baseball bat. (Wow, just conveniently lying there, what are the odds?) Metal, new NT-alloy, light but vicious. Bat in hand, Art goes to town.

Welcome to Revenge City. Population You.

Knees. Ribs. Elbow. Ribs again.

Greg screams. Begs.

"Oh, it hurts huh? That's what it feels like, fucker. That's how it feels!"

Another swing to his goddamn right knee. Greg screams like a girl.

"Stop! Please... stop!"

Art doesn't stop. Not for awhile. Then he tosses the bat down. It rings like a church bell on the NT-crete.

He walks away. Some of Greg's toadies actually applaud. Greg is still weeping.

Yeah, that was fun.

His new rep spreads out through the hive mind of this shitty school. Art is reassessed. His standing changes. His status goes up.

Art is crazy this is clear. The shitheads who used to pick on him stop. 

The disciplinary review board absolves Art. Consistent pattern of harassment. PTSD. Emotional explosion. Inevitable. Not his fault.

Greg limps after that. Kicked off the football team.

Fatass joke now. Shadow of his former self. Dragging that bad leg around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. After a week or so, Greg starts doing pull ups to get his strength back.

There he is, grunting and straining.



Art seizes this window of opportunity.

He runs up and grabs Greg by the ankles and pulls him down.

Greg hits the ground. (Slab of NT-crete. Just easier to call it the "ground," OK?) Hard, oh yeah. Greg belly-flops. Just slams right into it.

The cheerleaders laugh


Greg writhes and gasps like a beached fish. (Now where have we seen this before?) Art stands there, enjoying it, really enjoying it.

Then runs off to his new set of pals who spend most of their time kissing Art's ass (metaphorically) telling him how great he is.

And he's back in that nightmare office.

"No," he says.

"Yeah," Jack says.

"Jesus, I'm just as bad as ..."

"Sure. Give a weak sister like you a little power? You're worse."

"No. That's crap you fed into my brain. I wouldn't do ... "

Smiling Jack, having a laugh at his expense. "Yeah, that' s exactly what you'd do, baby. You might remember that old bullshit Indian proverb? 'To judge a man, you must walk a mile in his moccasins.' Some shit like that, remember?"


"Well. It ain't like that. As a matter of fact, it's the other way around. You judge some motherfucker, you'll walk a mile in his moccasins. All of 'em, Art. Every single one. Ready for the next one?"

"No. Wait. I've learned my lesson!"

"Like hell you did. We ain't even started, baby."

"I didn't like it."

"Tough shit. Karma's a bitch, ain't it?"

"You have no right!"

"Hey, you signed the contract, pal. Full payback, as I recall. Every bastard who did whatever is gonna get theirs. The legal lingo's a little more fancy. But that's the point. Now buckle your seatbelt and take it like a ..."


"You're telling me no? Seriously?"

Jack laughs.

"Who the hell do you think you are, Art?"

"I ...well... could pose the same question to you, Jack!"

It's the perfect comeback.

"Who the hell do you think you are? God?"

Jack blinks. Actually surprised.

"God? You mean ... Me personally?"

"No. This whole ... Department of Revenge ... thing. 

"Nah, kid. We're just humble public servants here." Snort. "Just a government agency, separation of church and state and all that. Yeah. 'We're playing God.' Woah. Said accusation has been voiced in certain libertarian and old-time-religion quarters.. But Gawd is clearly a separate category in our book."

"Then why are you ..."

"Funding, baby."


"Government money, stupid. This virtual reality spaghetti western you're experiencing? Some bureaucrat in 2057 thought it balanced the karmic scales or something. Funny thing? Some jerk like you gets revenge. Guess what? All the jerks you put through hell want revenge on you! The wheel goes round and round, baby. This gravy train never stops!"

"What? I .. I want out."

"And out you shall get. The only way out is through, baby."


"Yeah. Bottom line? The bill passed, and nobody actually read it. Sailed through Congress like shit through a goose! Who cares? Ancient history. Let's get going."

Jack pushes the big red button.

Art is 13 years old.

A kid with bad teeth spits in Art's face.