Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer of Kaiju: Neon Genesis Evangelion (Netflix release)

As a kid, I spent summers watching old Godzilla VHS tapes from the local Blockbuster. Since then, I've associated the sweltering season with giant monsters flattening cities into rubble. In that spirit, I'm doing a series of kaiju-themed posts for the dog days of June and July...

The opening of the classic TV series "Neon Genesis Evangelion" is perhaps anime's greatest head fake. The first few episodes prefigure a fairly standard mecha show about teens piloting robots to save the world from giant monsters called Angels. You think you know how things go - the reluctant hero pilot Shinji will slowly gain in skill and confidence, and will eventually fight a final boss enemy in a climactic battle.

It's not until episode 4 (when Shinji starts battling crippling despair and almost runs away from the whole thing) that the viewer realizes NGE is going to be something different.  Stick with the series long enough, and the narrative melts into a soup of psychological turmoil, Kabbalistic references, and an abstract referendum on the nature of existence. Studio Gainax and creator Hideaki Anno famously contended with tight budgets and Anno's depression while making "Neon Genesis Evangelion," but the end result is an idiosyncratic work that ranks as one of the best anime ever made.

Netflix recently released "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and "End of Evangelion," the movie retelling/remake of NGE's infamous final two episodes. Thanks to the intricacies of international IP licensing, the Netflix version has puzzling additions (an English re-dub), puzzling changes (a new translation that messes with the gay subtext in a famous episode), and puzzling omissions (the memorable covers of "Fly Me to the Moon" that ran over the end credits are now gone).

It might not be the best way to experience the show, but this is certainly the most available the series has ever been, and it's a must-watch if you're an anime fan who's never seen it:

Miscellany: Krav Maga class journal, months 5 through 8

I was getting really out of shape, so I started taking a local beginner's Krav Maga class last year. This will hopefully be my final regular update, since I am getting ready to take the Level 1 test to get into the intermediate/advanced course.

For this update, I'll just cover the noteworthy class sessions:

Session 43 (Fight Class)

This was my first "fight class."  The first half was a brief warm-up and punching on focus mitts. We then learned a couple of front kick defenses (using your arms to pull a low kick past your side, whilst rotating your forearm to block a high kick) and practiced them against each other. The last half of class was a free sparring session - I get hit a lot.

Session 45

In this one, we learned front, side, and back kicks, and then did a fun drill where you had to hold a "baby" (a tombstone bag) in your arms and kick away multiple attackers. The side kicks reminded me of playing hacky sack:

Session 51

The techniques in this one were all old hat (rear hammerfists, defense for chokes from the side, and delivering knees from the side position). Unfortunately, during the hammerfist portion, I tweaked my neck and shoulder and had to miss a couple classes. This brought to mind the fundamental training principle from Krav Maga's founder, Imi Lichtenfeld: "don't get hurt."

Session 56

This class was marred by yet another injury, this time to a fellow student named Chris. We did round kicks, grounded side kicks, wrist releases, and a side headlock escape and takedown. In a last drill at the very end of the class, Chris dislocated his kneecap and had to be taken to the hospital by an ambulance. It was not pretty, and we all felt bad for him.

Summer of Kaiju: Godzilla (Criterion Collection release)

As a kid, I spent summers watching old Godzilla VHS tapes from the local Blockbuster. Since then, I've associated the sweltering season with giant monsters flattening cities into rubble. In that spirit, I'm doing a series of kaiju-themed posts for the dog days of June and July...

Back when I was young, the original "Godzilla" was the movie rental of last resort. The 1954 black-and-white film just couldn't compete with the action-packed Fujicolor wrestling matches of the Shōwa era, which featured multiple-monster-beatdowns, space aliens, and giant robots.

Now, older and wiser, I can appreciate the original film for its groundbreaking (literally) model work and somber tone. That's why I recently picked up the excellent Criterion version in honor of the Big G's 65th anniversary:

In "Godzilla," the eponymous King of the Monsters is unearthed by hydrogen bomb testing and wreaks havoc on central Tokyo. The movie's screaming civilians and crowded hospitals must have been eerie in postwar Japan, and the nighttime shots of Godzilla surrounded by a Tokyo in flames are still haunting.

Unlike modern day riffs on the "nation under siege" theme ("Attack on Titan," "Knights of Sidonia"), the movie is deeply pacifist. Godzilla is portrayed almost as divine punishment for the misdeeds of WWII, and the film ends with the suicide of the scientist who wants to take the secrets of an anti-Godzilla superweapon to his grave, lest people force him to build more of them. It's a mournful, melancholy take on the monster movie, and well worth watching for a generation that may have forgotten the horrors of the atomic era.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Music: I Don't Want to Live on the Moon

In 1969, humans first walked on the Moon, and the first episode of Sesame Street aired, so this video seemed appropriate today:

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Links: The Life Of A Frontier Gunsmith

In addition to hawking reproductions of 18th and 19th century dry goods, Jas. Townsend & Son Inc. maintains a delightful YouTube channel featuring how-tos and demonstrations of colonial-era cooking and crafts.

I particularly liked this interview with vintage rifle maker Mike Miller - it is astonishing how labor-intensive it was to make guns back in the day:

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Miscellany: Fisher trekker Space Pen review

Fisher never produced the keychain Bullet pen in any quantity, so when I lost mine, I wasn't able to buy another one. I briefly turned to cheaper alternatives like the PicoPen and the Sharpie Mini, but found that none of them worked as well as my old pen. So, I ponied up the money and bought Fisher's latest and greatest, the trekker Space Pen.

The trekker corrects the single biggest design flaw of the old Bullet: its tendency for the body of the pen to get separated from the cap attached to the keyring. In the trekker, the pen body is retained very snugly by a ring of metal hidden in the cap, not pressure fit into the cap with an o-ring like the Bullet was. While not perfect, it's much more secure, and I've had the trekker in my pocket long enough to wear away the finish.

There are only two downsides to this arrangement. First, you can't post the cap onto the pen body to get a full-size pen like you could with the Bullet. Second, the trekker is actually a little more likely to unscrew itself in your pocket because the body is so tightly affixed to the cap. You can largely avoid this by screwing that sucker on as hard as you can (if you're paranoid, applying some blue Loctite on the threads will help).

The trekker takes standard pressurized space pen refills and writes pretty smoothly, certainly much better than any other mini ballpoint. I just hope Fisher keeps making 'em.