glaurung_quena: (Default)
The original series of pulp novels is called "miniskirt space pirates," and the anime was released in English as "Bodacious Space Pirates", so you'd think this was a crappy sexist production full of fan service aimed at appealing to arrested adolescent males. It's absolutely not, which is why I'm using the Japanese title up there in the subject.

This is a fun, lighthearted space opera series focusing on girl power, girls working together to overcome adversity, and girls achieving their dreams (which have nothing whatsoever to do with boys or boyfriends). And it is completely devoid of the T&A fanservice bits that marred "Read or Die." The endemic sexism of the Japanese anime industry had to express itself somehow, though, so this lovely feminist series has a title that is almost guaranteed to drive away some of the people who would most appreciate it.

Backstory: In the distant future, humans have colonized the galaxy. A planet orbiting Tau Ceti called Sea of the Morningstar gets tired of being a colony subject to the homeworld, and they launch a war of independence. Lacking a space fleet, they take a page from the 17th century and issue letters of marque to pirates willing to harass the homeworld's fleet. The war is a success, but some bureaucrat made a minor mistake: the letters of marque have no expiration date. Issued to the captains of the pirate ships, they are passed down from parent to child, and you have pirate dynasties, operating with legal sanction.

100 years after the conclusion of the revolution, dozens of the pirate ships chartered during the revolution are still in business. In addition to taking on odd jobs too irregular or too risky for the taste of regular space merchants, the pirate ships get hired by the insurance companies that underwrite interstellar cruise liners. The pirate crews dress up in traditional pirate costumes, raid space liners with guns and swords drawn, and steal valuables from the high class passengers. This is deemed part of the entertainment provided during the voyage, and the cost of hiring the pirates and replacing the stolen valuables is factored into the first class ticket price.

Just prior to the first episode of the series, the pirate captain of the Bentenmaru, one of the first pirate ships commissioned by Sea of the Morningstar, dies. His partner Ririka seems to have decided that a pirate ship was no place to raise a child, so it comes as quite a surprise to 16 year old Marika Kato to learn that she can, if she wants, become the new captain of an honest to gosh pirate ship.

Marika thought she understood her life: she waitressed at an ice cream parlour, attended a fancy girl's high school, and belonged to the space yacht club at the school. Now she has to deal with a pirate crew that isn't quite sure if she has what it takes to command them, and various government agencies and rival pirate ships that are extremely interested in whether or not she plans to assume the mantle of her father (if she doesn't take over the letter of marque, the Bentenmaru's commission will expire and there will be one less pirate ship in the galaxy). Not to mention keeping up with her schoolwork and getting enough sleep.

Fortunately Marika's mom is awesome, her yacht club is full of resourceful girls who have her back, and the Bentenmaru's crew wants her to succeed because they want to keep their pirating gig.

While Read or Die had a few short story arcs to establish characters and then launched into a high drama, high stakes story that took over a dozen episodes to tell, Mouretsu Space Pirates sticks to shorter 2-4 episode stories throughout. The tone is light, the drama and the stakes are real but less nerve-wrackingly intense. Stories alternate between adventures with the yacht club and adventures with the Bentenmaru's crew (which appears to be half female).

Every so often I see people complaining about how North American SF has become too grimdark, too obsessed with dystopias. Japan is one of the places to go for optimistic SF, and this is one example. There doesn't seem to be any poverty in Marika's universe, and crime seems to have been made so rare that people pay to experience the thrill of being robbed. When it is revealed that the president of the yacht club is a lesbian and one of the Bentenmaru's jobs is to aid her lover, this is accepted by everyone without question (although there's quite a bit of blushing and looking away when the reunited lovers embrace).

I strongly recommend this series (26 episodes, plus a movie that feels like another standalone story from the series with a bigger animation budget) to anyone looking for girl-heavy SF that breaks away from the grimdark tone of so much Anglophone SF these days.
glaurung_quena: (Default)
Casting around for something to watch that wasn't all boys all the time, I googled for lists of feminist anime a while back, and this was one of the recommended series. As a book person, the title jumped out at me. Having finally had a chance to check it out, I can now say that it's mostly quite good.

"Read or Die" started out as a series of pulp novels, then became a manga series, with a second spin off "Read or Dream" manga series set in the same universe, and finally got made into a direct to video miniseries, followed by a 26 episode TV series. The novels have never been translated into English, and I have not read the manga. But I have now watched both the miniseries and the TV series. Knowledge of the manga or novels is not necessary to enjoy either anime, but the extensive print based backstory appears in small unexplained details and lends the anime series a lot more texture and depth than it would have if it was a totally original creation. Also refreshingly, nobody brings the story to a halt to explain what is going on, yet at the same time, it's perfectly possible to figure out everything you need to know (Hollywood scriptwriters could learn a lot from this series).

Set in an alternate universe in which rare old books containing esoteric knowledge are the key to global power politics, Read or Die follows the adventures of the agents of the Special Operations Division of the British Library as they guard the UK against biblio-based threats. Like Mission Impossible meets the Avengers, as imagined by bibliophiles, with James Bond movie style villians.

The miniseries, mostly spoiler free )

The TV series is in some ways superior to the miniseries. There's less fanservice (a few moments every few episodes instead of every episode), the characterizations are sharper, and 26 episodes gives room for a bigger, more varied story. again, not many spoilers )

All in all, It's a very nice melding of sisterhood and girl power with high stakes spy action. I'm very glad to have watched both series, and I might even try to read the manga someday.
glaurung_quena: (Default)
After watching the first couple episodes of the new Cosmos, I decided to check out the original and compare them. Sagan's Cosmos )

The new Cosmos, in contrast, is a lot more polished and slick... and a lot more cringe-inducing. Tyson vs Sagan )
glaurung_quena: (Default)
I remember being intensely disappointed by "The L-Word" - it was too fluffy, not very well written, it was set in the alien universe of LA-LA land, and its roots were in comedy and soap opera and I much prefer drama. I remember thinking that I really wished someone would make a lesbian version of "Queer as Folk," with good writing, good acting, and drama rather than soap. A cast who actually looked more or less like lesbians, instead of members of the Hollywood species Models Who Have Never Eaten a Meal in Their Lives, would be a nice bonus.

Well, someone at the BBC was listening to my wishes, and they made Lip Service. We watched the first episode the other evening, and it rocked.

Lip service is set in Glasgow, and follows the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual friends. While very much a relationship based show, so far it doesn't have any of the stigmata of soap opera (contrived situations, and the feeling that the characters must be unnaturally stupid to be acting the way they are). So, drama, check.

To date, the cast consists of Frankie (back in Glasgow after two years in New York because the aunt who raised her has died, still has a thing for Cat but has issues with committing to long term relationships), Cat (had her heart broken by Frankie two years ago and is only now re-entering the dating scene), and Tess (aspiring actress, friend to both Cat and Frankie, on the rebound after a bad breakup). All of them are out lesbians. Cat's brother Ed and her work colleague and university chum Jay are the token men on the show. So, lack of annoying "Jenny" characters who make you want to travel out to the production location specifically so you can drown them, check.

Things I particularly liked:
1. They're totally using the "gays are everywhere" paradigm pioneered by Queer as Folk.
2. Frankie is in many ways a female version of Stuart/Brian in Queer As Folk. She meets women who are attracted to women everywhere she goes, but it's always just sex without commitment for her. I always regarded Stuart's antihero stance that "commitment is for suckers" stance as one of the least likable things about him, and Frankie's behaviour isn't much more likable. However, with Frankie, we get the feeling that she acts this way because of dark things in her past, which means she might someday grow beyond it.
3. While none of the people so far (with one exception) are notably butch, the show doesn't seem quite as scared of butches as the L-word was. I was actually able to tell who landed more on the butch side and who more on the femme side (distinctly different vibes for Frankie and Cat, as well as for Tess and her ex), which is a huge step forward from the L Word, where everyone wore lipstick and nail gloss.
4. These are ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary income levels, not inhabitants of the Hollywood Fiscal Reality Distortion Bubble.

Airing on BBC 3 in the UK, it's been picked up by Showcase in Canada. Sadly, I have no idea when or if it is airing in the US. However, the first 6 episode season is already available on DVD from amazon.co.uk, and a second season has been scheduled. And for those who wish to "check it out from the library," all six episodes can be downloaded from torrent sites like the pirate bay or thebox.bz.

edited to clarify my point comparing Frankie and Stuart; also to remove a point about nudity that doesn't apply past the first episode.
glaurung_quena: (Default)
Being a review of William Patterson's "Robert A. Heinlein In dialogue with his century: Vol 1, Learning curve."

I didn't have high expectations for this book -- after reading Jo Walton's critique of its poor fact-checking (and saw the author arguing with the reviewer in the comments of that post, which did not leave me a good impression of him), I knew it wasn't going to be great. Sadly, it failed to even be good. TL:DR version: incredibly poor scholarship is incredibly poor )

These failings aren't academic esoterica, but very basic issues of scholarship that anyone trying to write a serious biography really needs to have mastered. And they wouldn't stand out so much if the biography was an interesting and insightful account of Heinlein's life... but it isn't. TL:DR version: it's somehow simultaneously boringly overlong and breezily superficial )

Right from the first page of the introduction, we learn that this book is going to be hagiographical to a fault, when Patterson, with a straight face, claims that the day Heinlein died was comparable to such events as the Challenger disaster, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11, 2001.

As best I can tell, the only reason it was not rejected by the publisher is that Heinlein has a massive following of rabid fans who do see him as a saint, if not a god, and that it is an "authorized" biography that benefited from extensive interviews with Mrs Heinlein before her death.

As a massive compilation of notes and source materials for a biography, this book is great. As a biography, it's piss poor. If you are a Heinlein fan and want to know the story of his life, do your wallet a favour and check it out from the library -- and then be prepared to do a lot of skimming.

Profile

glaurung_quena: (Default)
glaurung_quena

August 2017

S M T W T F S
  12345
67891011 12
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Most Popular Tags

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags