Friday, December 20, 2013

My Eulogy For Team Rocket


In the past I've spoken of Team Rocket's characterization and how it shifted with each saga of the Pokemon anime. I give an update in regards to Kalos TR of the new XY series of the anime:

Kalos TR is a gross exaggeration of what Decolore TR was, but with Wobbuffet thrown in back with them. They look bad. They have no real character or presence anymore. They suck. That’s what happens when you keep characters going past their deadline, folks.

But that’s only the simplified version.

This TR, like how the TRio often was in DA!, have no real mission or purpose on the show and are instead back to actively stalking the twerps in hopes of capturing Pikachu. But whereas DA! was a filler arc where nothing had purpose, XY is the next big series with a big saga in the next big region, which makes the TRio's episodic nonthreatening antagonist status far more harmful to the show and characters. And while DA! TR could sometimes show a good deal of restraint and even real humor, this TRio holds nothing back when expressing themselves and as with DP TR, they have not said or done anything genuinely funny in all of their appearances so far (EDIT: That last part did change eventually.)

Wobbuffet is back with them for no damn reason at all. He literally just wandered onto the scene in the XY pilot episode that was called the last BW episode, and the TRio gave zero reason for why they took him back. In episodes 1 through 4 of XY, Wobbuffet actually did display some character again, being the source of jokes that were relevant to something rather than just popping up just to scream his own name. He even got to become a competent threat in battle with his new Mirror Coat. Sadly, this did not last. By episode 7, Wobbuffet was once again the annoying background Rocket Pokemon who only gets shoved in the forefront for forced, needless and really unfunny gags.

Their designs - the only thing XY Jessie and James have in common with their BW incarnations is the hair. The faces look different: now they both have very similar looking eyes that are basically pallet-swaps of each other and arch up slightly more than their eyes did on their previous models. Their white uniforms are now very white, with the grayish shading gone, and their gloves and boots are very dark black as well. Y'know, like in the movies. Worst is how these models are animated. Their faces, limbs, and body proportions look wrong and almost unrecognizable too often since the models for their designs, like other design models in XY, were slimmed down for the new animation.

Their character - two major problems here. The TRio are more or less back to their caricatured DP selves here, but the big difference is that they don’t even seem to have the Flanderized personality traits anymore. Jessie’s a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot, James is a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot, and Meowth is a cocky, moronic, spazzy idiot. They all act like the same damn idiot. Now back in BW, the loss of individuality was a problem too, not gonna lie. Only Meowth really had his own distinct voice, while Jessie and James often acted like generic evil agents who exchanged pretty interchangeable dialogue concerning their missions. However, there was at least an excuse for this: it was how the characters chose to behave while “on the clock”, because they knew that acting otherwise would lead to miserable failure that would disappoint the boss. Here, there’s no excuse for why they’re all behaving like dipshits and not even trying to take a professional approach to do a good job for the boss. It’s so weird. (In light of recent events, I will add that Meowth is still the one who can most occasionally act like himself. Fitting as he's the only one who LOOKS like himself!)

The other problem is that I had predicted way back when that the staff, undecided on what direction to take the characters in now, would try to “combine the best of both worlds” and play them both ways in terms of the seriousness and comedy. Something like how them building up their diabolical plans would be played semi-seriously with the characters taking themselves, their work, and their approach seriously, but then they'd also display frequent bouts of wacky comedic idiocy and incompetence while making random grotesque or juvenile facial expressions and gestures, often not too shortly after their supposed serious moments, eventually proving not to be a true threat in battle, bungling their plan up, getting degraded, humiliated, beaten up, and sent blasting off into the sky for the 10,0000x time. And that’s exactly what we’ve got now. What I did NOT suspect was just how exaggerated and overplayed their characters would be for all this. They don’t just go over-the-top, they really go over-the-top! Their “serious” moments, rather than being subdued, calculating, and genuinely menacing like in BW, are now in-your-face about how dastardly and outright psychopathic the TRio is. When they’re deviously happy and pleased, they make faces that range from psychotic smirks to full on slasher smiles. When they’re mad, they look like they’re roaring in absolute fury. When they’re surprised or scared, they look on the verge of a mental breakdown. And their comedic moments are their DA! moments taken up to eleven. But whereas in AG, DP, and DA! they were presented as seemingly mentally challenged, here they go beyond that into being flat out mentally unhinged. These aren’t simply brainless idiots: these are absolutely psychopathic idiots. Just LOOK:

This is supposed to be a “balanced” moment of seriousness and humor. Instead, it’s frightening in
all the wrong ways. This TRio is a bunch of unfun, unlikable, and flat out unappealing characters who look like decaying zombies and act like mental patients devoid of style, class, and charisma, and in need of a lobotomy. Maybe even with a lobotomy! And the characters were never this crazy before. They were eccentric, not insane. What sucks the most here is that I can easily see Xerosic and the four female chief scientists of Team Flare acting this way and doing the kind of stuff the TRio is doing presently, except it would be to further an actual plot, of course. This yet again shows why TR should not be on the show anymore. They ought to have been discarded at the end of BW: move on to new arch enemies. Make the regional evil team’s members the actual recurring villains for once! But nope, TR is still around even though all signs pointed to their departure last series.

And they have no presence because of the way their roles play out now. They stalk, they watch, they plot, they enact their scheme, they recite the motto, they fight, and they blast off again. This role works only if there's some effort, unpredictability, and variety in there. But XY TR has none of these things. They just go through the motions, with their new crazy edge substituting for actual substantial characterization. There are fans who find them serviceable enough, but for me, they’re just not at all the same as what they were before. Even in DP, which was the last time they were stale and annoying idiot caricatures, they were at least caricatured characters rather than caricatured tools. They each had a distinct voice and characterization, regardless of how paper thin it was, but XY TR, as I've said, just feels like copies of one another most the time. And their “mixing of styles” just ain’t working. Going back and watching their BW pre-Nimbasa filler antics, their N arc episodes, and even their DA! episodes allows one to see a much better way to balance comedic moments and silly character quirks with being serious, efficient, and legitimate threats as villains. With XY TR, they have them doing some stuff efficiently or ineptly with no consistency except that they're always acting like mentally unhinged derpy dipshits, and in between they’re literally going through motions of their designated role and procedures as tools in the episodes’ plot with no sense of identity or personality whatsoever. It’s sad, and makes TR feel like needless relics now (which they are!). They actually shift between being super annoying and super boring constantly in this series. Oh, and those f***ing character models...skinny limbs, thin bodies, enlarged heads, weird looking eyes and faces - it just doesn’t look like them! Nothing about them works when they’re not treated seriously as characters. Just as they were in DP and the bulk of DA!, the TRio are just tools for the lazy hack writers to use, abuse, and discard in every episode they can be crammed into. Their characters have no worth, their existence has no meaning. At their present state, Takashi Shudo would weep.

Now in fairness, XY TR does have three things over DP TR. They don’t appear in every single episode (though they still appear in most of them, which in this series is one too many), they’re notably less overly hyperactive in their idiocy and thus are allowed more capability to be competent, efficient, and threatening on rare occasion, and they’ve still got Zager tech. Zager tech rules! But aside from that, they've got nothing in their favor. There was really only one way to handle them if they weren’t to be written out of the anime completely, which would be to assign them the status of recurring characters rather than regular characters, who've gone to Kalos for their own reasons and only occasionally pop up, sometimes as enemies, sometimes as allies, and sometimes as villains out shopping. But the writers didn’t take that path at all, so instead we're saddled with these overexposed abominations.

As for Giovanni - don’t let that redesign fool you, he is again completely irrelevant to the show. He’s not a character either. He was a tool used for a few seconds in XY03, and it was like the reverse of BW: there, he told the TRio about the Unova region and sent them over there to further his agenda. Here, the TRio, who’d heard about the Kalos region just from listening in on Ash and going ahead 
of him there so they could get the jump on Pikachu, told him about Kalos and he just gave them the okay to continue with their agenda. He has no involvement in this series’ “plot” and as a tool he has even less personality and presence than he did in AG and DP. And while that design isn’t bad
it needs tweaking 'cause it is the blandest, most forgettable look he’s ever had in the franchise.

They suck”. That’s how I could sum up Team Rocket in AG, DP, and now XY. But in the first two series’ mentioned, I could see why they were still around: in XY there is really no excuse for them to still be around. At all. There were plans to write these characters out of the show last year.  I’m 100% certain that TR were not in the rough draft for the XY series. Since the XY games were in prodcution around the same time as BW2, the XY series must have begun to be planned out while “Best Wishes Season 2” was in the works, and at that time, TR was going to leave the main cast after Operation Tempest and then only be used as guest stars for events like “Episode N.” But then by the time that arc actually came about, they were forced to bring TR back into the main cast, which explains the re-obsession with Pikachu, the balloon, the blast-offs, and the lazy recycled footage for every motto recital (of their original motto) that started happening around that time and still happens now. So TR are now characters the writers had no desire to continue frequently writing for. But since the mandate states they stay, they stay. But not handled by loving hands. The end of BW was the characters’ expiration date. And when something passes it’s expiration date, it goes irreversibly sour. That’s happened to TR (and honestly, just about everything in the entire franchise after Generation V, IMHO). These characters expired. What we see before us now are the characters in body but not in soul. Their soul departed with BW, leaving us with the rotted, deflated, decaying, forever pained bodies of what used to be the real TR. But it’s not the same. While they may still have their fleeting moments of relative decency, this is not the real TR: it’s a soulless imitation made for carrying out the writers’ worn out plot conventions for an easy-to-write formulaic kids’ show. And that’s why I’m glad that, while BW was ending, before XY even premiered, I said my farewell to the real Team Rocket. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Colorful Subject

For a long time now, the newest Disney film "Frozen" (which is an outstandingly brilliant animated movie, BTW) has created controversy over it's main cast pictured above. Namely that the four human characters are all very, very white. Social Justice Warriors of all kind all cried out "White privilege! Racial discrimination! No representation for People Of Color!" Of course, it's been pointed out that this is fairy tale based on a Danish story by Hans Christen Anderson, set in a Scandinavian area where the people there are typically...well, white. Now that the movie has come out and proven to be a phenomenal success both critically and domestically, the SJWs of course cannot stand to see the thing they'd hated on for so long doing so well: as if racism and white supremacy was being rewarded. So now they continue their claims of racism by pointing out that the people at the start 
of the film are clearly based on the Sami culture, the Sami being non-white folks. And yet they, particularly Kristoff (the guy next to the reindeer), are white in the movie. They claimed this was misrepresenting the Sami or outright stealing their culture to give to white characters. Now I would counter this claim with - people, Arendelle is a fictional kingdom. These people are not the Sami, even if their culture was loosely inspired by them. The fact is, Disney chose to make them look white. They didn't need to be, but they are. So I say we just let them look white and enjoy the movie.

Now this brings me to a bigger issue - while I don't get all the mass hysterical clamoring for "POC (People Of Color) representation" in things, I don't get the overuse of POC as a positive term, and I've begun to think "The Princess And The Frog" might have spoiled some people when it comes to race representation in Disney movies....I am fine with people of different races, ethnicity, cultures, and skin color than me, I loathe racism, I love diversity, and I am all for representation of many different kinds of people as possible if it can be done in a work. BUT really, a big rule about characters and characterization in stories that I believe in is that at the end of the day...we shouldn't give a crap about race. If racism and race issues are big themes in a story, then it's okay to really address the subject. But if not, then the focus should remain purely on the character's character. On what's inside this character, not outside. On who they are, not what they are and what race they belong to. A truly good character transcends race and gender and is just a strong character, period. That's why I find all the riot over "POC representation" in some story to be silly. Would there be a problem with changing Kristoff from white to dark skinned? Not at all. In fact, I'd actually think he looked better!  But the big question is: what about his actual character would that fix? What would changing his race do for his story and characterization and role in the plot? Absolutely nothing. And that's the point I'm trying to make. If he's a good enough character, it's not damaging that he be made not white, but at the same time it's equally not damaging that he IS white. The audience's focus should still be on the characters words and actions that come from who he is inside. That's how you can identify a solid character - by their actual character, physical attributes such as the color of their skin be damned!

Need elaboration? Then let me discuss characters with whom it don't matter if they're black or white:

Roderick Kingsley is one of my favorite examples of what I'm talking about. As the one, true Hobgoblin, he's a great villain in the comics. He made only one appearance in "The Spectacular Spider-Man" and he was changed from a white man to a black man. It made absolutely no difference. He was still a great character destined for future greatness had the show not be cancelled too soon. (I'm still praying for a renewal in one outlet or another) I didn't care that he was black while his source material counterpart was white. He was still Roderick (and/or Daniel) Kingsley, a fabulous character.

Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin is another one of my favorite examples. In the comics, he's a large, bald white guy. In the mediocre live action "Daredevil" film, he's played by the late Michael Clarke Duncan, a large, bald black guy. He's undisputedly one of THE highlights of the film, he just owned the role so much. He captures the character's stature, presence, and personality perfectly. So basically, if anyone complained about this casting decision purely on the grounds that he's black while the character in the source material is white, you know that person is racist. 'Cause who the Hell cares what color his skin is? What other big name actor do you think of who could nail the character better? Our dearly departed Duncan had literally everything needed to play Wilson Fisk and he did so brilliantly.

Nick Fury is a well known example. Originally, he was a white dude. In the Ultimate Marvel comics, he was based on Samuel L Jackson, who agreed to let them use his likeness only if he would end up actually portraying the character on film, which he has ended up doing in the MCU. Since then, the Jackson Fury has become more and more popular to use in stories, to the point where he's considered arguably better than the original white Fury. And it's not because he's black or white. 
It's because he's Samuel L. motherfucking Jackson, who just happens to be black. 'Nuff said there!

Superman is traditionally drawn as a handsome, black haired, square jawed, muscle-bound white man. But really, you could change his skin color and there'd be no sacrilege in my eyes. Why? 'Cause he's a Kryptonian. He's not of any Earthly race, therefore there's nothing saying that he absolutely HAS to have white skin! Change his skin tone and the character stays exactly the same. 

Alicia Masters, Ben Grimm's blind girlfriend in "The Fantastic Four" was originally white too. In the mediocre live action film, she was played by a black actress. While much of the film is disregarded, this case was similar to Nick Fury in how black Alicia became more popular to use in versions.

Harvey Dent was also a white guy. In the Tim Burton "Batman" movie, he was played by Billy Dee Williams. I did not care. In fact, I would have loved to see Billy Dee Williams' take on Two-Face! 

Heimdall is drawn as white in the "Thor" comics. In the movie, he's played by a black actor. Like Superman, he isn't human. He can have whatever skin color he wants and he'd still be awesome.

Perry White is, well, white in the comics and most adaptations. In the dismal "Man Of Steel", he's played by a black actor, despite the character's name. He's a dull character regardless of race.

In the Japanese crime drama thriller manga "Black Lagoon", Revy is very clearly of Chinese descent. She is in the anime adaptation too, yet her design is changed up a bit to look much less Asian and more...tan-ish white? She's got burgundy hair instead of black hair and her face is a bit different. But either way, the chick is a stone cold psychopathic killer. What does her skin matter? 

In the "Fullmetal Alchemist" manga, the one-shot character of Rose looks to be white, but the anime adaptation gave her dark skin. Then the second anime, "Brotherhood" came along and changed her skin back to white! It really makes no difference. (Though I personally prefer her dark skinned look.)

Baxter Stockman was a black scientist in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" comics. The famous Fred Wolf cartoon series of '87 changed him into a nebbish white man instead. Then the 2003 4Kids show made him black again, as did the recent CG animated series. The character goes through changes in each version, but none of them really have anything to do with his race. 

Bane is of Mexican/Latin descent in the comics and most adaptations. The Blockbuster Buster infamously called him "the pride of all Latin fanboys everywhere" for this reason. (Yeah, you got an evil, cold-hearted, murderous mercenary representing you, but as long as he's a badass...yay?)  But in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises", he was played by Tom Hardy, a white Brit. Fanboys raged, despite the fact that this Bane is easily the more interesting character, ethnicity be damned.

Professor Emil Hamilton was white in the comics. In "Smallville", he's played by the Latin Canadian Alessandro Juliani, who has a darker skin tone but played what's he was given very well.

An odd case here: Khan Noonien Signh is meant to be of Indian descent. Yet he was played by the Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban. Then in the recent reboot film, "Star Trek: Into Darkness", he's played by Benedict Cumberbach, one of the whitest men on the planet. Both actors, regardless of their race, portray the character masterfully. (I actually do have a complaint with white Khan, though: why must he be Khan? Why not just keep him John Harrison and take a new direction from there?)

Katniss Everdeen is described as having olive skin, which led to many believing she was a person of color and that it was a crucial part of her character's struggles for some reason. In the movies, she's played by the white Jennifer Lawrence. And she does such a fantastic job at portraying the character and making her compelling and endearing, that I have no problem with her inaccurate skin color. Many others do have a problem though, despite the fact that the book's author has no issue.

Catwoman went from the white Julie Newmar to the white Lee Meriwether to the black Ertha Kitt 
in the 60's Adam West Batman series. For the record, I think Kitt's rendition is the weakest not because of her skin color or performance, but because the show had gotten a bit TOO heavy on the camp at the time she came on to the show. And we shall not even speak of Halle Berry...

April O'Neil was of some different ethnicity in the original mirage comics, but she certainly was not white. The Fred Wolf cartoon changed her to white and possibly of Irish descent due to her name. Unlike Baxter, the 4Kids show did not reverse her back: they made her really white. I mean Joker white skin! Yeesh! In general, the colors of her design on that show (chalk white skin, very red hair, purple shirt) is what really bugs me about an otherwise fine design for a perfectly good character.

The Mandarin, Iron Man's most iconic nemesis, is a really weird case. He's obvious a "Yellow Peril" racist stereotype of an evil Asian man. To avoid this racism, the 90's cartoon made the radiation from his magic rings give him emerald green skin...which kind of made it more racist. In "Iron Man 3", the white Sir Ben Kingsley plays the Mandarin...literally. His character, Trevor, is an actor playing the Mandarin. The real Mandarin turns out to be the even whiter Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian! This caused a lot of fanboy rage, but since China is such a big market, is this really any surprise?

There are some characters who are created as great characters who just happen to be of color, so there's no need for whitewashing. Or some such characters need their race left alone because it has no bearing on who they are and it's great that we can see that. Elisa Maza from "Gargoyles" is technically like three different races and has a mixed family, which we clearly see onscreen. No attention is drawn to this: it's just there, perfectly normal. Why can't more shows follow that example? Of course, there is whitewashing and reverse whitewashing (POC-ing?) that I don't particularly agree with if I find it to be gimmicky or lacking in any logical sense. I cannot think of much at the moment, but there's a whole trope on TV Tropes about it: Race Lift. Feel free to check through it and see which examples you're fine with or not. But the bottom line is that a character should be weighed and measured by the strength of their character regardless of what race, color, or nationality they are. If the character is good or bad enough, than a Race Lift shouldn't positively or negatively impact a thing about them. On those grounds, race, POC, and whitewashing should not be made a big deal of....

...okay, some Race Lifts are just flat out BULLSHIT.