Friday, January 31, 2014

They Come Runnin' Just As Fast as They Can

I really should have had something to say about this on Monday when the news hit.  But better late than never.  Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls - the Twelfth Doctor has a costume!

Fangirls - please remember to breathe!
What's more - the Doctor has been spotted out in the wild in his new digs!

(That's all I dare post without getting too spoilery. I was accidentally spoiled on a few things in my Tumblr activity this week, but I can't actually say that I'm sorry about it).

The comparisons to Pertwee have been all over the place, and I admit that was the first thing I thought of when I saw it.  But there's also an element of the Ninth Doctor to the outfit as well - probably with the shoes. Though, I confess, the only people I knew who wore Doc Martens when I was growing up were the super-snotty mean girls, so the association with the whole "rebel rock star" thing is lost on me. But if Twelve can erase those bad memories and give me fun new ones of a "Rebel Time Lord," then I will happily take it. Nevertheless, I think Capaldi looks pretty darn good in the outfit and I am quite pleased with it and I can't wait to fully see him in action! (and I'm anxiously awaiting what the cosplayers do with this one - I expect many pictures from Gally attendees!*)

Beyond Peter Capaldi looking quite dashing in the black suit (with the super-cool red lining, can't forget that!) - this means that filming has officially begun on Series 8! (yes, yes, I know it had started already, but seeing it like this makes it even more real - TARDIS and everything else going on). We're that much closer to new Doctor Who, folks!  Honestly, I thought I'd been burned out from the constant stream of Who-related stuff last year, but it's only the end of January 2014 and I'm actually missing it and I'm ready for some new stuff.  So, yeah - bring on Capaldi! September (or whenever) can't come fast enough!

I guess there's not much else to do except play the song.  You know which one I'm talking about...

*I am sad to report that I am not able to attend Gallifrey One this year. Car trouble and limited funds prevent me from making the trip this year. So, no Gally reports will be coming from this blog :(

Fighting Fire With Fun

So many apologies up front! In my defense, January is always a hellacious month and this year was no different.  But I'm back for more Airbending antics in...

And I feel even worse that I left this so long because when the show originally premiered, the first two episodes were aired as a one-hour special. So, I probably should have reviewed the first two episodes together (heh heh - oops).  But here we are, so let's get started!

From the very first moment of this episode, we see just how grim everything really is. The first episode showed how happy and light-hearted this show could be - but then we get a taste of the dark depths that it can go. Not too dark, mind (this is still early-days for a kids' show) - but this is a world at war. Sokka gets angry that Aang and Katara set off that signal to the Fire Navy - and Gran Gran (Sokka and Katara's grandmother) agrees that Aang needs to go. Katara, to her everlasting credit, nearly packs up and leaves with Aang, but Aang tells her that he doesn't want her to abandon her family just because they might have a chance at finding her a Waterbending teacher.

As the show goes on, I often have cause to wonder why the Southern Water Tribe let Waterbending become nearly extinct in their culture. I can't remember if it's explained later (and I do know that the Fire Nation attack plays a role in it), but it becomes clear just how important the Elements are to these civilizations. Even if most of the people aren't benders, the legends and ceremonies that have formed around the Elements (and especially the Avatars from the past) are so vital to cultural identity and balance in the world. Of course, the Southern Water Tribe is so very small - the men have left to fight in the war, leaving behind women, children, and the elderly to keep things going at home - so it could be that everything is just a matter of survival at this point. And it's really sad - especially considering how hard Katara tries to develop her Waterbending skills, but she desperately needs a teacher. It is suggested at one point that Aang could teach her - but Airbending and Waterbending are both so very different (the creators purposely did that - each Elements' benders techniques are patterned after real-world martial arts moves. They even brought in experts from various disciplines to consult during the animation process, which gives these abilities a much larger scope than "Wave your arms wildly and hope that something happens!" There's a definite feel of this being something that you develop, rather than you're just born with it and it suddenly works).

So, Aang leaves the village with Appa, despite Katara's insistence that finding Aang was a good thing - that the world may be a war, but it doesn't mean that everything has to be terrible and they can have fun and find things to be happy about.  Still, Sokka isn't buying it and Aang takes off.  But he doesn't get too far before seeing a Fire Nation ship coming in hot and fast toward the village. Meanwhile, Sokka, being the oldest boy in the village and a sort-of self-appointed tribal chief while the men are away, prepares the village for potential invasion - which more or less entails him standing on top of the wall around the village by himself (battle-ready, yes, but still by himself).

Battle-ready, yes, but still by himself. Have I mentioned how much I love this guy?
The Fire Nation ship breaks down the wall and the soldiers disembark - Sokka tears after them on a one-man collision course. Zuko basically side-steps Sokka's attack and demands to know where the Avatar is.

Except Sokka still isn't done. It's laughable how out-matched Sokka is against the military might of the Fire Nation. Even just against Prince Zuko - Sokka gets his butt handed to him (though not without landing a blow from his trusty boomerang - yeah, we all learn to love that thing).

Oh, Zuko - your pain is my hilarity (for the first season, at least).
In the course of all this, Aang comes penguin sledding out of freaking nowhere and distracts Zuko. At which point, Zuko drops the bomb that we the viewers kind of figured, but the characters hadn't quite pieced together - Aang is the Avatar!

But Zuko assumed that he'd be looking for an old man who'd had a century to train and perfect his skills. And, if you've ever watched any kind of anime that revolves around training and preparing for battle - whether it's Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon or even Yu-Gi-Oh (which is about a freaking trading card game, you guys), you know how seriously they take their training. It's flat-out hilarious how seriously these characters can be about their chosen skill set. And Avatar is kind of in that same vein. But there is one line that sets Avatar apart from those others, at least in tone. Zuko gives the requisite "I've been training for years for this encounter" schpiel, at the end he says "You're just a child!" And where those other kinds of shows would have seen the younger opponent get all huffy and put-out about being called a child, Aang instead stops, looks at Zuko and says "Well, you're just a teenager."

Friends, Avatar: The Last Airbender may look like an anime, but it definitely NOT an anime. And that deadpan acknowledgement that Aang and Zuko really aren't that far apart in maturity level, no matter what kind of deadly skills they employ in battle. They're both still kids with so much to learn about life and being people - not just about learning to fight with their elements.

So, Aang and Zuko trade blows for a bit and Aang realizes that he's endangering the Water Tribe villagers. He gives himself up on condition that they Fire Nation soldiers leave the people alone, which is another great bit of character about Aang. The Air Nomads were a selfless and peaceful people (their culture is based on Tibetan Buddhist monks) and Aang, as the last remnant of that culture, is no different.

But Katara and Sokka aren't taking this lying down. With the encouragement of Gran Gran - who admits that the reappearance of the Avatar is the first time she's had any hope for the world in a long time - Katara and Sokka set off in search of Aang (with added help from Appa, who got left behind).

Aang isn't doing too bad for himself, though. And we start to get a good idea of everything that Airbenders are capable of - the kid basically takes on the whole crew of Zuko's ship (except for Uncle Iroh, who's taking a nap), all of whom are Firebenders. And he almost escapes, except Zuko corners him.

RiffTrax makes fun of the movie version of this scene - just to show you can't compete with the original.
You know - you've just gotta watch the whole sequence. The animation and the attention to detail is just so stinking good. Like I said before, there's a rhyme and reason to how this all works - the bender techniques are based on real-world disciplines, which add realism and beauty to the animation. And it only gets better. During the course of their fight, Zuko pushes Aang off the side of the ship (just as Katara and Sokka have caught up).

How To Tell When Shit's Going Down in the Avatar-verse
Instead of drowning, Aang's eyes and Airbender tattoos start glowing and he pretty much unleashes a giant typhoon of Waterbending on the Fire Nation ship. Katara and Sokka land Appa and rescue Aang (not before Katara freezes some of the Fire Nation soldiers with her Waterbending). Zuko and Iroh (he's up from his nap by now) try to shoot down Appa, but Aang deflects their attack, which creates an avalanche that traps their ship for the foreseeable future.

You tried, boys. You really tried.
The episode ends with Team Avatar (for that is what I'm calling them from here on out) flying away. Katara gushing endlessly at how amazing Aang's Waterbending is, though he isn't that enthused about the fact that he did it. And you start to get the sense that being the Avatar isn't all its cracked up to be. Aang doesn't want to be the Avatar and he almost hates that he Waterbended (Waterbent? Not sure on that) his way out of there. There are reasons why he's not that excited about being the Avatar (which are explored later and we'll get there), but for now, we just know that he's a very lonely little boy who's just been given the responsibility of saving the world and… you know… he doesn't really like it.

You mean being the last best hope of the entire world isn't TEH GREATEST THING EVAH?
I love that the episode gives Aang the space to express that idea and not just rush off and insist that is OMG GONNA BE THE KOOLEST THANG EVAH! (it's Nickelodeon - that's what they usually do). In fact, the only thing that seems to cheer him up is the idea that Katara wants to go to the Northern Water Tribe to find a Waterbending teacher and that they could learn together. In this instance, at least, Aang doesn't have to be singled out or treated differently. He has a friend to do this with, which is the best thing you could have given this kid right now.

(And Sokka just wants to knock some Firebender heads along the way. Given the way the Fire Nation's treated Team Avatar so far, that's actually okay).

We can't leave without Aang's travel plans for the trip - rather than this being a hardcore strategy for fighting the Fire Nation, Aang wants to stop over at various locations to ride the hopping llamas and ride the giant koi fish and catch wild hog monkeys because... reasons.  Hey, this is the kid who wanted to go penguin sledding the first minute he broke out of an iceberg after 100 years - just go with it and love him for it.

After all - we need a little fun in this world.

Next Time -
Episode 1.03 - Stop Making Aang Sad, Guys!!

Previously -
Episode 1.01 - Penguin Sledding for Beginners

Monday, January 13, 2014

Penguin Sledding for Beginners

Hey, look - it's the first blogging project of 2014!

Marvel at my MS Paint skills!
Some years ago when I was in college, I noticed a new animated show on Nickelodeon. Now, I’d had a pretty rocky relationship with a once-favored TV network from my childhood at that point. They’d scrapped worthy shows like Doug, Clarissa Explains It All, and Legends of the Hidden Temple from their lineup in favor of crap like Spongebob Squarepants (it kills me that there is an entire generation of children who do not know life without that obnoxious little bastard). But this Avatar: The Last Airbender seemed pretty promising. It was interesting, at the very least. Sadly, school took up much of my time and the scheduling people at Nick were too braindead to give the show a consistent time slot and I couldn't find time to commit to it. Fast forward some years later when I’m out of grad school (Rejoice!) and have a somewhat regular day-job (Again I say - Reeeeee-jooooooiiiiiice!), I decided to give Avatar another go. Not only did I enjoy it, I mainlined that sucker like there was no tomorrow! I could not wait to get to the next episode (which, it was a good thing it’s on Netflix. At least, I think it’s still on Netflix. I haven’t had a Netflix account for some time). I found compelling stories, engaging characters, beautiful artwork and worldbuilding, and a mythology that so many fantasy novels would give their back covers for! I couldn't believe that a gem like this show had found a home on Nickelodeon, which has become arguably the most crass and idiotic network for children in recent years (given that it’s owned by the same parent company as MTV, I shouldn't be surprised).

Last September, I decided I wanted to watch Avatar from the beginning and review each episode in their turn. But since I was neck-deep in Librarian in the TARDIS, I decided to shelve the project until the new year. Well, New Years has come and gone and work is somewhat scarce (it always happens in January) and the snow just won’t quit (also always happens in January), now is a good time to begin. Yes, I know I am not the first to undertake such an endeavor and I'm certain I won't be the last, but I've read enough similar blogs to know that I think I have something new to bring to Avatar fandom, otherwise I wouldn't even bother trying.  Even if no one else says a word about it and it's just for my own entertainment and edification, at least it's out there.

A few things before I start: every review will be Spoiler-riffic, so if you’ve never seen the show and want to stay unspoiled, I’d advise you watch the episodes before reading my thoughts. Also, if you’re the type to think “Oh, gee - I don’t have the time to commit to three seasons of 20 half-hour episodes each, I’ll just watch the movie,” I would strongly advise you - NOOOOOOOOOOO! Not just because the movie is a slap in the face to the original material and not because fans of the show cringe at the very mention of it, but because it is such a horrible, terrible, awful, craptacular, mess of a movie. I would almost go so far as to say that it makes Batman and Robin look like Shakespeare. Terrorists could use it in their torture chambers, it is that bad. I would rather you give the whole franchise a pass than have to sit through that garbage. But the TV show is fantastic. I promise, if you make the time for it, you will be paid hundreds of times over in entertainment, enjoyment, and even personal enrichment (though I do understand that life gets busy and other things take precedence).

Also - a word to parents. I know that many parents have concerns over what their kids watch and if something is too crude or too violent or too annoying. If you have kids and you’re about ready to shoot that little turd from the pineapple and you’re aching to see your kiddos get hooked on something that wasn't squeezed from the same rectal cavity as Ren and Stimpy, I think Avatar will be a great choice (given the fact that I'm doing this blogging project, that probably comes as not-that-big-of-a-shock). It continually treats its intended audience (kids around ages 8-12) like intelligent people who can handle tough subjects, but without overburdening them with a lot of emotional intensity. It’s also very appealing to adults (Hello! 28-year-old single chick with a life and career here!), which makes it a great family show, or even a show that fans of good storytelling can enjoy. It has made a considerable cultural impact and it continues to be a hit - as evidenced by its sequel series, The Legend of Korra, which I may get to reviewing here at some point. But this is where it all starts -

All right then - let’s begin.

The show’s opening credits are a huge clue that this is not going to be your run-of-the-mill slapstick that you put on to keep the kids from killing each other while you make dinner. There is effort and care put into each frame of animation. Even the rich backstory is told in a way that shows the writers really wanted to tell a quality story in a way that kids and adults could connect to. Granted, the opening monologue in this first episode is a bit different from how things are handled later on, after key characters and plot points are introduced, but in style and tone, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from here on out.

The first characters we are introduced to in the show proper are Katara and Sokka, a sister and brother from the Inuit-inspired Southern Water Tribe out hunting for their village. Their mother has died and their father is off fighting the Fire Nation (the main antagonists in the show). They both seem to lead a pretty ho-hum existence, but we are quickly introduced to the concept of Waterbending (mentioned in the open credits, along with Firebending, Earthbending, and Airbending).  Katara is a Waterbender, meaning she can manipulate water to do what she wants it to do, but her skills are underdeveloped (it's not just "magic water," as Sokka dismisses it). We later learn that there is no one in her tribe to teach her how to properly Waterbend and there’s no way she can leave to find someone to instruct her. So, she’s pretty much left to her own devices.

Sokka is - well, Sokka is amazing. He starts out kind of as the comic relief, which you need in a kids’ show, but as the episode progressed, you see that he takes his duty as a warrior seriously. He’s a young kid (I don’t remember if it’s ever said, but I think he’s about 15), but he’s taken on an enormous responsibility to keep his sister and his tribe safe, a sense of responsibility that he tries to pass on to the younger generation (with rather amusing results). I admit, I didn't quite appreciate his unique blend of humor and seriousness at first, kind of thinking he was just a cynical pain in the ass, but over time he quickly became my absolute favorite character (along with another that we’ll meet later this season).

Katara and Sokka bicker as many siblings do, but this particular little tiff results in Katara Waterbending a gigantic iceberg out of the ocean.  They see a person with glowing eyes in the iceberg, which prompts Katara to break the iceberg open (as you do). When the ice breaks, a bright light shoots out into the sky, signaling to everyone around that Something Big is happening. A young boy falls out of the remains of the iceberg, accompanied by Appa, his Sky Bison that looks like it fell out of a Studio Ghibli production (which is NOT a criticism, believe me!).

So, big glowing light, strange boy surviving in an iceberg for x-number of years - you think this is pretty important?  Well, not as important as this boy's first words after being broken out of the ice -

“Will you go penguin sledding with me?”

Everyone, meet Aang. The eponymous last Airbender (and he doesn't tell you he's an Airbender, he sneezes and flies ten feet in the air - that's how you know). Also, the Avatar (though he pretends that he doesn't know what happened to the Avatar, but the show kind of makes it obvious that he's it). A 12-year-old (plus-or-minus a hundred years) kid who just wants to go penguin sledding and asks the first person he sees to go with him. My friends, you just witnessed the creation of one of the best animated characters in recent memory. I mean, it’s no spoiler to say that this boy has the weight of the world on his shoulders - whether or not he knows it at this point (here's a spoiler: he does). But he’s still a lovable, carefree, funny little kid with a great sense of humor and you just can’t help but adore him. Of course you see the gravity of his responsibilities and you realize that he’s often thought about the weight he must carry and that is a huge part of his character - but for now...


(Sorry - I can’t get over it).

Okay - so the Avatar is a pretty big deal (even bigger than that stupid Dances With Smurf-Gully movie that James Cameron plastered all over our faces whenever that was). In this world, the Avatar is the one person that can master all four Elements and must use these powers to restore/keep balance in the world. A hundred years previous to the beginning of this episode, the Avatar had completely disappeared and no one knew where he had gone. Ever since that time, the world has been engulfed in war - even the oldest inhabitants of this world do not remember a time when there was no conflict or fear from invasion. So, discovering an Airbender who may or may not know what happened to the Avatar is pretty damn huge!

Hot on the trail (sorry, bad pun) of the Avatar is the prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko. From the word "go!" you can tell Zuko has piles and piles of backstory.  He's not just some spoiled brat prince who gets to be the teenage antagonist of the show - though he kind of starts out that way.  His main mission (at least for now) is to find the Avatar for the glory of the Fire Nation.  There's more to it than that, but that's the basics of it and all you need to know for these first few episodes. Right behind Zuko is another favorite character, Uncle Iroh.  Iroh and Zuko's first scene together paints a beautiful picture of their relationship - they clearly have an interest in seeing the Fire Nation succeed at ruling the world, but have very different methods of achieving that goal. Zuko yells and barks orders at the world, Iroh wants to serve the world calming jasmine tea (you'll quickly find that Iroh loves his tea). With Iroh, at least, we get a sympathetic character from the Fire Nation and you start to get the idea that not all the Fire Nation people are so bad - though most of them are at this point.

Like many season openers in the Avatar-verse, "The Boy in the Iceberg" is actually the first of a two-part premiere.  After setting up the sweet, curious boy that makes friends with everybody, Aang and Katara go exploring other parts of the Water Tribe land and they find an abandoned Fire Nation ship.  Aang convinces Katara to go with him to explore, though Katara is reticent about it, seeing as it was an attack from the Fire Nation that killed her mother.  Aang hasn't quite got the hang of the idea that the world is at war, since he'd never heard of any war before he left home (quite a feat, seeing as the war has been going on for a hundred years and Aang is only 12).  Katara, using actual logic to solve a question that most live-action shows for grown-ups would take entire half-seasons to dink around with and then give a half-assed answer to (I'm looking at you, Once Upon a Time!), deduces that Aang must have been trapped in the iceberg for over 100 years. Understandably, Aang is shocked by this revelation, though Katara reassures him that they'll figure out what to do.

Except that has to wait.  Because moments later, they accidentally set off an old flare from the Fire Nation ship that, unbeknownst to Our Heroes, Prince Zuko sees in the distance.  Zuko sets a course for the Water Tribe village and we have ourselves a cliffhanger!

This first episode, while keeping things bright and light-hearted, serves as a beautiful introduction to a more complex world that the viewer is about to experience.  There is so much that I want to say about this show, but I'll save it for later reviews when it comes up.  Suffice it to say that I have never been more impressed by a show meant for kids than I have with Avatar.  And I hope that my reviews and analysis in the days and weeks to come will help others understand what is so remarkable about this story. Stay tuned!

Next Time -
Episode 1.02 - In which Stuff Gets Real from here on out (and never, ever stops).

Monday, January 6, 2014

You Can Blame Tumblr For This

Doing some late night Tumblr browsing and this classic little earworm came up on my dash. Naturally, it is now stuck in my head, so I'm sharing the insanity with you all - 

And if that wasn't enough, YouTube suggests this one as a related video (as if the internet couldn't get more perfect) -

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

I just came from seeing Frozen and I really liked it - though I wished there could have been more from Elsa’s POV (beyond the fantastic song “Let It Go.” And I know this was more Anna’s story, but Elsa just fascinates me. Besides - she’s the eponymous Snow Queen, so why not?) So, here’s a short little fanfic that I just barely whipped up that takes place in the years before Elsa’s coronation (it’s pretty rough, but enjoy anyway) -

Elsa sat on the edge of her bed reading. She’d promised her parents to keep up with her studies. Ice powers or not, she would be queen someday and she had to know how to rule.

Her sister, Anna, sat outside her bedroom door again, always asking for Elsa to come out and play. But Elsa would never, could never do that again. Not after the accident. The accident that Anna didn't remember.

There were days when Elsa wanted to come out. To play with her sister, building snowmen and ice skate in the middle of summer. Just like they used to - turn the whole ballroom into a giant skating rink. But the streak of white in her sisters hair constantly reminded Elsa why that was a bad idea.

So, she read. And painted. And did needlework. And learned the names of nobles from neighboring kingdoms. It soothed her, kept her mind off other, darker thoughts. Over the years, she’d learned to take comfort in the quiet chill of her room. It’s what got her through her parents’ deaths. Certainly, people wanted to pay their respects and express how sorry they were - but the mere presence of people… people she could hurt or worse - people who could find out her secret and ruin everything with it.

She couldn't allow anyone to get too close. Not ever her sister - especially not her sister.

The clock chimed and Elsa set her history book aside. Time for something more entertaining. A fairy tale by some new author. A tale about a mermaid who had to kill the one she loved, but instead sacrificed her own life so he could be happy. Elsa tended to enjoy this one more than other fairy tales - the ones about “Happily Ever After.” She’d never have one of those. She couldn't. Anna would, though. Sweet, bubbly Anna would have suitors falling over themselves to court her, if Elsa ever got up the courage to open the gates to Arendelle. Maybe when she was finally queen, Elsa would open up the kingdom and let her sister have a chance at a happy ending. It was the least she could ever do for her.

A chill shivered through Elsa’s hand. She clenched her grip against the book she was reading and willed the sensation to go away. "Control, control," she muttered to herself. She could never, ever lose control - not for a second. She was a good girl - she kept herself in control. The chills would return, certainly. She was used to it by now. She would keep her sister and her kingdom safe from herself.

She would never let it go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy Who Year!

Found this while I was waiting for Sherlock to air yesterday. Babelcolour updated his "Every Doctor Who Story" video to reflect the 50th Anniversary (and even expanded the In-Character Spinoff portion!) As awesome as the original is, this is even better! Enjoy!

(By the way - after watching "The Empty Hearse," I think I'm a fully-fledged Sherlock fangirl! Go me!)