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Big Hero 6 (2015)

big-hero-6-poster

Direct by Don Hall and Chris Williams

So after a couple of articles all about Big Hero 6, the comic, and my thoughts on the possible ways Disney could adapt it I finally got a chance to watch the finished product.

And it’s pretty fantastic.

But what did I think about it as an adaptation?

Big-Hero-6-Characters-

Well, despite that being the topic of all my previous posts on Big Hero 6 when I got to see the finished film it quickly became apparent that this is one of the loosest adaptations of any property ever. I kind of suspected as much once we started to get some character and plot details, and also from the total lack of any acknowledgement that this is a Marvel property but the main things the film and comic share are some names, some powers (loosely), a few design elements (even looser) and a sort of Japanese feel.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. None of the original characters are particular winners (well, maybe Sunfire but he’s originally an X-Men supporting character/anti-hero) and nobody’s powers had an amazing unique concept (although I do like Fred and his Kaiju monster aura). There isn’t a great definitive Big Hero 6 story that everyone loves so, yeah, as long as you keep the high concept of super-heroes but vaguely Japanese, change whatever you want.

So how is the film itself as its own beast?

(Spoilers, sort of, most of this is set-up)

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Well, the film tells the story of Hiro (Ryan Potter who is Japanese/American, which is fantastic), young orphaned genius and his older brother Tadashii (Daniel Henney and FYI Tadashii is not a name. Is it so hard to ask a Japanese person if the word you’re using for a character name is a real first name of total gibberish? Well, not gibberish since it does mean right or correct but it isn’t a first name) who is similarly a genius. Hiro spends his days hustling illegal street bot fights for cash, Tadashii spends his days at University in a specialised programme for geniuses where they get to work on whatever interests them. Tadashii is dismayed at his brother’s lack of ambition and brings him to his school to see his latest project, Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable medical robot that will live in people’s homes and help them with psychiatric and physical medical assistance. There Hiro also meets Tadashii’s friends who are all idiosyncratic geniuses with their own interests and personality quirks. And Fred (T. J. Miller), who is the school’s mascot.

Hiro is inspired and desperately wants to join the school but to do so he needs to demonstrate something impressive. So he starts working on some micro-bots, think a cross between nano-bots and lego. They’re finger sized magnetic robots that can be mentally controlled to re-shape and build larger structures. He shows them off at an expo and everyone is suitably impressed leading to Hiro getting his school placement. He doesn’t get to enjoy it though because a fire starts at the expo, destroying his work and killing Tadashii.

Hiro, understandably, falls into a depression after this as his brother and best friend is dead and the only thing that snaps him out of his funk is the accidental discovery of a mysterious masked figure using his micro-bots to commit crimes. Well, that and Baymax who is programmed to try and treat his depression. With the help of a modified Baymax and Tadashii’s friends Hiro sets out to catch the thief.

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The main strengths of Big hero 6 are the writing and the characters. This is a Disney film that, despite all the fantastic elements, feels very real and honest emotionally. Hiro’s personal arc is both engaging and really feels like something a teenaged boy would go through, and it’s paced marvellously too. And at the heart of that arc is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax.

I said in the build up that there’s a lot of potential in “ a boy and his….” Narratives. From Old Yeller to Iron Giant to How to Train your Dragon there is something about the relationship between teenaged boys and non-human friends that is really effecting and Hiro and Baymax are another highlight in this tradition. Baymax in particular is wonderful. Equal parts hilarious, caring, warm and adorable with a smidgen of badass. He’s the big brother everyone wishes they could have. He’s also just a great comic creation and Scott Adsit’s measured delivery of every line delivers some really great deadpan humour (if you’ve seen this film, you did a fist bump and went fa la la la la la la la, do not deny it).

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The animation is, of course, spectacular. The flying and chase scenes have a sense of thrill and danger to them that puts most live action films to shame and the big action sequences with the team showing off their powers and fighting the villain are everything I want in super hero movies. Bright, colourful characters using their powers in creative ways and teaming up to look cool and kick ass. Much like Incredibles before it Big Hero 6 is so confident and creative in showing off super powers that it just highlights how limited and boring the action scenes in the Marvel movies, Man of Steel or the X-Men franchise have been. There’ so much invention in the fights and they’re choreographed so clearly and fluidly that my main complaint with the action is that there isn’t nearly enough of it.

The animation really soars in the details though. San Fransokyo is a masterful creation, it feels really lived in and is full of details that make it both aesthetically interesting and are really fun for a nerdy otaku like me to spot. Fred’s room in particular is one for the super nerds. He has a statue of sleepwalker in there! He has a statue of Black Talon. Black Talon, the guy who dresses like a chicken and fought the avengers once in the 70’s. Black Talon made it into a film before Wonder Woman!

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San Fransokyo was one of the elements I was most worried about mostly because in the trailer it came off as more Chinese than Japanese. However, the creators have explained that the concept is that in this reality Chinatown has expanded to encompass the whole of San Francisco, so this is an American city with very obvious Chinese and Japanese elements. That makes a lot more sense and really comes across in the design. Stuff like Hiro’s robot anime posters, the cat named mochi or Honey Lemon pronouncing “photo-photo” with a really good Japanese accent make it feel Asian in a subtle and all-encompassing way that’s more effective and markedly less offensive than the original comics. Plus it just feels cool. It’s all the really iconic and awesome parts of modern Japanese culture nicked and combined in one sleek package.

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My main complaint is that the other 4 team members get very little screen time or development. This is a story of 4 characters, Hiro, Tadashii (who dies), Baymax and the antagonist (whose identity is a secret). And that’s fine, there isn’t anything wrong with telling a focused narrative with a few side characters. Indeed, the narrative is stronger for its tight focus and excellent pacing.  But the film is called Big Hero 6 not Hiro and Baymax and we have 4 other guys who get very little to do. And that wouldn’t be so bad except that I really like these other characters and want to see more of them. Wasabi no Ginger becomes Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), nerdy black guy (I bring it up because I’m super happy he isn’t a horrible Asian stereotype like the comics character) with OCD and laser knives. Go Go (Jamie Chung) keeps her rebellious snarky personality but trades in bouncing like an egg for skating on frictionless magnetic bike wheels. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is the complete opposite of the sexually dominating flirty comics character and is a shy, slightly clumsy but very sweet and caring typical girly girl with a purse that’s also a chemical factory. Then there’s Fred, who is pure unbridled fanboy excitement in a rubber monster suit that lets him jump high and breathe fire.

Fred could so easily have been annoying but I love him. He reminds me of me.

I like these characters, a lot. They’re fun, they have clear well defined personalities and they have wonderful chemistry together. And they have cool and varied powers. My favourite moments in the film (aside from just, everything Baymax does) are their training montage and the fights where they get to show off their skills. I just wish we had more time with them in costume fighting guys. I understand that in the original concept there was more of this but it got cut to tighten the focus. Hopefully we can get a sequel or a TV series to flesh these guys out more.

So in summary Big Hero 6 is a classic family film narrative enlivened by an imaginative setting. great characters and some clever jokes. It’s not ground breaking in any way but it’s hard to find fault in it really.

It isn’t better than The Lego Movie though.

It’s all coming together.

Last year I wrote a piece explaining why I thought Disney had chosen Big Hero 6 as their first Marvel property to turn into an animated film and highlighting some of the issues in adapting the comic in a racially and culturally sensitive way.

I’m pleased to see from this trailer that a lot of what I talked about has come to pass. However, Disney have opened up a whole new can of worms with some of their decisions.

Let’s start with the good. I love the tone this trailer gets across. The low key slapstick, the mixture of humour with a genuinely threatening villain and the easy going heart to it. I wish more Super-Hero stories in any medium had this tone and it certainly gives me Incredibles vibes.*

They’ve also chosen to focus on ” a boy and his robot” as their main story telling angle which I think is a good choice. Big Hero 6 is not a thematically dense concept, it basically amounts to “Hey Japan is different, lolz” so grabbing onto something in the property that shows more promise for exploration is a good idea. A boy and his (insert noun here) stories work well for animation and children’s cinema and some of the greatest animated films of the past 20 years (The Iron Giant, How to Train your Dragon) have used it as a basis.

The animation is good, as to be expected of Disney, although you can now add me to the chorus of people who are getting a little sick of how samey Disney’s character designs are getting.

Also is that Lord Deathstrike?

Lord Deathstrike Big Hero 6

I mean, I know that the odds that a character named Lord Deathstrike will appear in a Disney movie are about as likely as me voicing him but he sure does look like him doesn’t he?

big hero 6 lord_deathstrikeWhere this goes wrong is San Fransokyo. Oh my, San Fransokyo.

When it was announced that this film would be set in an amalgam city of Tokyo and San Francisco I thought it could go one of two ways. Either it could be clever and cute, a good way to point out cultural differences and make some gentle jokes about them, or it could be horribly, horribly offensive combining every stereotypical Japanese thing the creators could think of.

What I did not expect is that they would get the wrong country. Because San Fransokyo looks great, it it’s meant to be San Beijing.

Seriously, those “Japanese” touches like the lanterns and the roofs that flare up at the corners. Those are Chinese. You will find them in Japan, in fact they’re not uncommon but that’s because China has had an incredible cultural impact on Japan. But in the style and colours used in this trailer they feel way more Chinese to me than Japanese. And even then they’re a touch that goes back to the pre-Meiji era and are only seen nowadays in temples and other historical buildings. There are so many icons of modern Japan you could include and other than some Katakana and Kanji Disney simply hasn’t!

What San Fransokyo really looks like is the China Town in San Francisco expanded out to encompass the whole city. And while I know a lot of Japanese people live in the San Francisco China Town, guys the clue is in the name as to which country it more closely resembles.

Here’s hoping the trailer just gives off a wrong impression and the film gets it better.

The stripping out of Japanese culture though continues onto the characters. Big Hero 6 is a team composed of 1 robot and 5 Japanese people or Japanese-Americans. Big Hero 6 in the movie? 2, maximum. That’s a big cut Disney. The premier Japanese super-hero team now has Japanese members as the minority. I know why you’ve done it, the setting demands a mix of Asian and Caucasian people to reflect the mixed up Asian and Western architecture and you don’t think an all Asian cast will fly for American audiences. In fact you’ve actually increased the team’s diversity in one way by adding a black man to the mix, which I applaud, but, I still feel like it has missed the point a little bit.

In fact let’s dig into the characters a bit more. Starting with our hero, Hiro, and his pet robot Baymax.

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Here’s what I wrote about Hiro and Baymax in my original piece.

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Hiro and Baymax are clearly affectionate homages to a number of Japanese characters. Hiro is a super-genius kid who builds a robot protector for himself. That’s an idea that mixes bits of Getter Robo, Tetsujin 28 and even the Kenny’s from Godzilla.

And here is some info from screencrush.com

Ryan Potter portrays Hiro, a robotics prodigy who has “the mind of a genius—and the heart of a 14-year-old. His state-of-the-art battle-bots dominate the underground bot fights held in the dark corners of San Fransokyo. Fortunately, big brother Tadashi redirects Hiro’s brilliance, inspiring him to put his brain to the test in a quest to gain admission to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. When a tragic event changes everything, Hiro turns to a robot named Baymax, and they form an unbreakable bond—and two-sixths of a band of high-tech heroes on a very important mission.

It sounds to me like Hiro is largely unchanged from his comic incarnation of “boy genius.” I suspect that Hiro is the character that Disney saw the most potential in, making him the hero and basing the film on him. To that end he is basically the same character. Baymax however has been tweaked considerably.

Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit) cares. That’s what he was designed to do. The plus-sized inflatable robot’s job title is technically Healthcare Companion: With a simple scan, Baymax can detect vital stats, and, given a patient’s level of pain, can treat nearly any ailment. Conceived and built by Tadashi Hamada, Baymax just might revolutionize the healthcare industry. But to the inventor’s kid brother Hiro, the nurturing, guileless bot turns out to be more than what he was built for—he’s a hero, and quite possibly Hiro’s closest friend. And after some deft reprogramming that includes a rocket fist, super strength and rocket thrusters that allow him to fly, Baymax becomes one of the Big Hero 6.

Baymax in the comics was designed and built entirely by Hiro. However, when Hiro’s Father died he used some of his Father’s brain engrams to program Baymax. That makes Baymax a combination of Hiro’s friend, his bodyguard his father and his nanny. Disney however have switched the tragic death from Father to Brother and also made Baymax a construction of Hiro’s Brother. This simplifies the relationship considerably emphasising that Baymax and Hiro are in effect brothers. It’s a bit more conventional than the comic’s version but riffs on many of the same emotions and probably works better in the limited running time of a film.

Next up is our only other remaining Asian, Go, Go Tomago, played by Jamie Chung.

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She’s tough, athletic and loyal to the bone, but not much of a conversationalist. Popping bubble gum and delivering well-placed sarcasm are totally her speed. The daredevil adrenaline junkie is at her best on wheels, and when Go Go joins forces with Big Hero 6, she rolls like never before, using maglev discs as wheels, shields and throwing weapons.

Big Hero 6 Go Go Tamago

Wild rebellious Go Go was the Wolverine of the group, the bad ass outsider who don’t take no bull. She’s been de-aged and her criminal past is gone but her personality and team function are largely the same. Also her name is still misspelt. She should be Go, Go, Tamago i.e. the Japanese word for egg. Although considering they changed her powers the egg joke doesn’t work any more anyway. I dig the new costume too, it’s both more sentai than her original sentai inspired outfit and more modern.

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Fred, voiced by T.J. Miller, has been de-aged, gone from Asian to White and gone from having a Godzilla shaped ki aura to just turning into a Monster.

Big Hero 6 Fred

Other than that he’s mostly the same, a stoner in a hat with badass monster related powers. He’s the comic relief of the group and it looks like he’ll continue to be playing that role. Also, I like his new Monster design. It does feel quite Asian without specifically referencing a particular monster design I can think of. I will miss his Devil Dinosaur t-shirt though.

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So that is what Honey Lemon, who will be voiced by Genesis Rodriguez which is a Super-Villain name if I ever heard one, looks like in the film. Here is what she looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Honey Lemon

…..

…….

That’s, um, that’s quite the change.

Honey Lemon was a play on Cutie Honey, a popular anime character who is mainly famous for being full on naked during her magical girl transformations. Honey Lemon the comic character is consequently, sexy, confident and playful with some stuff from other anime characters (most notably Doraemon) thrown in.

From the character design alone it’s clear that Honey Lemon in the film is not going to be the same character. Other than a power-set and a name they have nothing in common. Problem being that now Honey Lemons’s power-set and name don’t make sense. She’s called Honey Lemon as a play on Cutie Honey, a character she now no longer resembles. And her power-set is grabbing things from her purse, not exactly the most subtle of satirical jabs.

That said I am not surprised they changed her. Whilst Honey Lemon was hugely inappropriate for a kid’s film the bigger problem is that she’s a parody character, not a character intended to work on her own merits and she needed something done to her to appear in this film.

Finally we get to Wasabi, formerly Wasabi no Ginger.

Here is what Wasabi no Ginger looked like in the comics.

Big Hero 6 Wasabi No Ginger

And here is what I wrote about him.

Finally there’s Wasabi-no-Ginger which is a name that is simply unacceptable. Honey Lemon is stretching it but Wasabi-no-Ginger isn’t a clever pun so much as it is the equivalent of a Japanese comic introducing a morbidly obese character in a cowboy hat called Burger McRanchdressing. Try and count the stereotypes in this short character description guys. He’s a sushi chef (1) but also a samurai (2) who fights by using katana (3) and sushi knives (4) that he makes from his body whilst wearing wooden sandals (5) and a Hawaiian shirt (6?). Whilst the other characters are a spin on existing Japanese characters Wasabi-no-Ginger is the result of throwing everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan (sushi, samurais…Hawaiian shirts?) into a blender and calling the result a character. You know in the Super Friends how the Native American guy who grew got called Apache Chief rather than something that described his powers like Giant Man, or Gigantor. That is the level of patronising we’re dealing with here in Wasabi-no-Ginger.

I hate, Wasabi no Ginger.

Now, here is what he looks like in the film.

big-hero-6-character-rollout-wasabi

Wasabi (voiced by Damon Wayans Jr.) is committed to precision. He’s super smart and just a touch neurotic, but the big and burly neatnik can’t help but join the cause when Hiro needs him most. As part of “Big Hero 6,” Wasabi amplifies his martial arts skills with jaw-dropping plasma blade weaponry. Sharp doesn’t even begin to describe this guy.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

He’s not a sushi chef. He’s not a Japanese stereotype, he can’t be because he’s not Japanese. He doesn’t wear geta, he doesn’t fight using katana and he has a personality beyond “everything Chris Claremont knows about Japan.” Even his name makes more sense since both wasabi and plasma are hot. Plus, he adds further diversity to the team and avoids being a black stereotype too! It’s such a low bar to hurdle but thank you, thank you so much Disney for doing it.

So based on all this info I’m still looking forward to Big Hero 6 and cautiously optimistic that this will be another Incredibles. I’m nervous about San Fransokyo but Disney’s last 2 films have really clicked for me and I’m hoping they continue on with their mini renaissance.

 

*The Incredibles is in my top 5 favourite Super-Hero films and until Marvel got their shit together was basically number 1. It still remains the best Fantastic Four film ever made too.

 

 

So I was disappointed to find out that skipping posting on Saturday did not cause the internet to break in half. I was half hoping that the lack of regularly scheduled Mummyboon content would cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth and that my inbox would be flooded with suicidal lamentations.

Sadly this was not the case…all I ask is your undying affection and obedience without hesitation. Is that too much?

Nonetheless you might be wondering why I no post? Well because I’ve been on holiday enjoying the wonders of Northern France and Holland (and yes it was Holland specifically before anyone gets pedantic). I’d built up a bit of a buffer before going away but didn’t have a chance to post anything between getting home and Saturday coming to pass.

I didn’t want to skip the week entirely though but I don’t have the time to put anything particularly complicated together so here are my comments on a few nerdy news announcements.

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Whilst I was gone D23, Disney’s big annual fan convention happened and we learned lots about upcoming Disney projects, including one I’ve written about before Big Hero 6.

“Big Hero 6” features brilliant robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, who finds himself in the grips of a criminal plot that threatens to destroy the fast-paced, high-tech city of San Fransokyo. With the help of his closest companion–a robot named Baymax–Hiro joins forces with a reluctant team of first-time crime fighters on a mission to save their city. Inspired by the Marvel comics of the same name, and featuring comic-book style action and all the heart and humor audiences expect from Walt Disney Animation Studios, the CG-animated “Big Hero 6” hits theaters in 3D on Nov. 7, 2014.

Whilst I still think San-Fransokyo is an appalling name I kind of like the notion that this is going to be a world that freely mixes bits of Japanese and American culture. The Golden Gate Bridge with Torii Gate stylings in the concept art posted above is particularly nifty. Considering this is a property that was two American guys doing their best to affectionately parody Japanese concepts and ideas that themselves were often riffs on American concepts setting it in a world that is a strange mixture of American and Japanese culture is a smart idea. It also avoids the potential problem of audiences in America being put off by a Japanese setting and too much Japanese cultural baggage.

Nintendo have announced loads of Pokemon news recently, particularly regarding the new games X and Y. Whilst Black and White basically perfected the formula as it has stood for 5 generations now X and Y seem to be shaking up the game considerably. 3D graphics and movement, customised attack animation,  new ways of battling (Sky Battles and Horde battles with 1 pokemon against 5 aggressors) riding pokemon and a new type, Fairy type.

Incidentally I totally called Fairy Type back in this blog post here. You may refer to me as Nostradamus from now on.

But the only change I want to talk about is Mega Evolution.

What is Mega Evolution? Why watch the video above and find out.

Well, did you watch it? Did you find out what it is?

Fucking stupid, that’s what it is.

Okay, okay, gameplay wise this isn’t a massive deal. Pokemon that change form have been a feature of the games since the 2nd generation. Now usually these form changes don’t happen during battle and if they do they usually don’t effect stats whereas clearly these new forms will all improve the pokemon’s stats as well as alter their appearance. That’s fine by me. I don’t think Baziken or Mewtwo need to be any better than they already are but  it’s a cool mechanic and it allows for four stage evolutions which was always going to happen at some point.

What I have a problem with is that it turns the game into Digimon.

In Digimon evolution is a temporary thing. You activate it for a short period and then when your monster has used that strength boost it reverts back to an earlier stage in its development. Also all these stages have terms attached such as champion stage, ultimate stage and of course “Mega”*

Evolution in pokemon is a permanent mutation with pros and cons. Although your monster gets stronger it also gets less cute and learns moves more slowly. Also it can change the typing and the ability entirely and once your evolve there is no going back. Mega Evolution then isn’t an evolution in pokemon terms, it’s a power-up coupled with a sprite change. It shouldn’t be called evolution.

I doubt it will bother me too much whilst playing the game (unless it becomes a major plot point) but it is the first piece of X and Y news I’ve actively disliked.

On a more positive note Nintendo also announced Pokemon: The Origin, a oneoff anime special that will tell the story of Red and Blue.

Who are Red and Blue you may ask? Well they’re the stars of the original pokemon games and the original pokemon manga.

“Isn’t that Ash Ketchum?” you oh so naively ask?

NO, NO IT ISN’T ASH FUCKING IDIOT KETCHUM! YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH NOOB! RED IS AWESOME ASH IS A TEN YEAR OLD IDIOT WITH SOME KIND OF GROWTH DEFICIENCY AND…

Sorry I, may have lost my composure for a bit there.

But to answer your question more succinctly, no, Ash is the star of the anime and is very similar to Red but Red existed as a character prior to the anime and has a few key differences. For starters he is a much more seriously minded character and a far better pokemon trainer. Ash has never won a league but Red became the champion of the original league and an enemy trainer in Gold and Silver.

This new anime is the first time Red and his rival Blue will feature in a cartoon. I’m usually not a fan of the pokemon anime. It’s fine for what it is; a cartoon to get kids interested in buying pokemon games and toys and whilst I haven’t watched the original Japanese version** the English dub can be surprisingly funny at times.

Pokemon: The Origin though looks like a lot of fun. As well as pushing all my nostalgia buttons hard the animation looks gorgeous. Nintendo may have convinced me to watch a pokemon anime for the first time since I was ten.**

Last bit of nerdy news to discuss is the announcement of the new Doctor Who: this guy.

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My reaction to the last two new Doctor announcements was “who?” followed by “he’s a bit young isn’t he?” followed by instantly loving them once I got to see them perform as the Doctor. So the fact that my reaction this time was “oh I know him, good actor,” followed by “oh and he’s the oldest doctor since the first, interesting.” might just mean that I have doomed Capaldi’s efforts before they begin.

Seriously though Peter Capaldi is a fine actor and he can do that turning emotions on a dime thing that David Tennant used to do in his sleep. He’s bound to be significantly less physical than Matt Smith but this is no bad thing, and the age gap means we can shake this companion/doctor romance stuff that has permeated nearly every doctor/companion relationship in the modern show.

I also like the fact that millions of fangirls on twitter are upset that they cast an older bloke because I am perverse and enjoy the misery of others. Especially fangirls and fanboys.

It will be sad to see Matt Smith go though. He is easily my all time favourite doctor. It’s all in the way he moves; like an alien who isn’t sure what his arms are for.

Sadly Steven Moffat will be staying on as show runner which is a shame. I love Moffat as a writer, Coupling, Sherlock, these are some of my favourite TV shows of all time and the episodes he wrote whilst Russell T Davies was in charge of Doctor Who were among the best the show ever produced. However, his tenure as show runner has been overall bad. There have been some highlights and some good stories but the general quality of stories has taken a sharp turn down.

So that’s my thoughts on some recent nerdy topics. Tomorrow normal service resumes with some film reviews.

* this knowledge gained entirely from the anime, I never played any of the games

** this isn’t strictly true actually, I used to watch it on the treadmill at the gym in Kobe but between running and it being in Japanese I didn’t really follow the dialogue very well. Other things I used to watch whilst on the treadmill included baseball and sumo which are a bit easier to follow without dialogue.

I’ve got some free time coming up at work so I’m going to finally get some write ups of what my parents and I did on their trip to Japan. No particular order, just some highlights and fun things in Japan.

So let’s start with what I got up to on the last day my parents were here.

We went to Disneyland!

Well actually we went to DisneySea. Tokyo is host to two Disney parks, Disney-land and Disney-sea. Disneyland is another version of the standard Magic Kingdom park that I have already been to four times, thrice in Florida and once in Paris. In contrast DisneySea is unique to Japan so whilst it would have been fun to see how Disneyland differs in Japan to a European or American flavour we thought we’d explore some novelty instead.

DisneySea is themed around a large lake with a series of “ports of call” arranged in a ring around this lake. The worlds included Mediterranean Harbor, Mysterious Island, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery and American Waterfront.

You start with Mediterranean Harbor and the first thing that struck me was how good the actual design and decoration of the park. We’re all used to the term “theme park” but often this actual theme-ing is not very good and limited purely to the rides themselves. Universal Studios in Florida, for example, is very good at recreating the settings and worlds within its attractions and the lines waiting for them but much of the park itself just feels like a generic space. DisneySea has astonishingly good “theme-ing” and the only place I have been to which remotely compares is Universal Islands of Adventure. Every building and every view here is themed and often with a tremendous eye for detail and imagination. I don’t often say this regarding theme parks but the real attraction at DisneySea is just wandering around the park itself.

This theme-ing even extends to the train ride to the resort which features mickey shaped windows and mickey shaped train handles.

American Waterfront, Port Discovery and Mermaid Lagoon are particularly good.

American Waterfront is split into two sections. The first seeks to evoke a 1920’s/30’s New York Port and the second a New England fishing village from the same period. The New York Harbor is amazingly well recreated with a brilliant eye for detail and lots of subtle visual gags. It also boasts possibly the best example of forced perspective I’ve ever seen in the form of the S.S. Columbia, a replica sea liner that cannot possibly be the same size as a sea liner but seems to be so from every angle.

There are even replica period vehicles that people can cruise around in (if they want the slowest tour ever).

Port Discovery in contrast springs entirely from the fertile imagination of the Disney “Imagineers.” It’s a kind of futuristic floating city populated by startlingly original plane, boat and submarine designs. I was particularly fond of these fish submarines.

Mermaid Lagoon is based around Disney’s Little Mermaid and is an underground cave covered top to bottom in mosaics that Fran spent hours taking photos of. It is quite frankly stunning and the combined effect of the architecture, mosaics, music and lighting is nothing short of magical.

We went there on a Thursday two weeks prior to Golden Week, a time on the Japanese calendar when a lot of national holidays fall close together and thus a really busy time for tourism in Japan. But by going just beforehand and by going on a weekday we ensured that we had the entire park practically to ourselves. So empty was it that we managed to ride nearly every single ride in the park in less than three hours!

As great as this was though the rides themselves were not very impressive. Although apparently some of the independent theme parks in Japan have quite extreme rides all the theme parks I have been to here have really astonishingly tame rides. This is a bit of a disappointment for an adrenaline junkie like myself but the rides weren’t wholly disappointing.

The best of the bunch was the Tokyo version of the Tower of Terror. I have ridden the original Tower in Florida and the version in Paris. The Florida version is particularly nasty; an elevator ride that takes you up 13 stories and then pulls you down quickly with 3 times the force of gravity. My father is no wuss when it comes to theme parks, he has ridden the Kraken in Seaworld, Nemesis at Alton Towers and The Big One at Blackpool, yet once was enough for him with Terror Tower. This thing is genuinely stomach churning and one of the most extreme rides I have ever ridden and certainly the most extreme ride Disney have ever made.

Sadly in keeping with the overall theme of DisneySea their version of the Tower of Terror was much tamer, generating only 1g and feeling relatively sedate. Yet it makes up for it by being the most elaborately and effectively themed version of the ride. It has a unique back story about a real estate magnate and a haunted fertility idol, a giant room filled with “artifacts” the magnate had collected (that have some great in-jokes and gags) and well, just look at it. The Florida Tower may be a scarier ride but it doesn’t look anywhere near as scary as that grand gothic countenance.

The other two good rides were Indiana Jones and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Both of these are “dark rides” where the rider sits in a car and rides around looking at decorations, animatronics, etc. Think of an up market ghost train. Indiana Jones was the more exciting ride and properly jostled us about. It also had the single best animatronic I have ever seen. The resemblance to Harrison Ford is uncanny!

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a bit more sedate but it holds a special place in my heart because it genuinely tricked my family and I into thinking that we had gone underwater. I won’t spoil how the trick is done but it really is very clever.
The only real disappointment is “Raging Spirits,” a roller-coaster that has an annoying habit of stopping the cars when you want to go faster. It does have a loop-de-loop but overall it isn’t great.

But the real appeal of DisneySea is the shows. The rides are okay, the theme-ing is amazing but the shows are simply mind blowing.

Disney shows usually are pretty good but I genuinely feel that with DisneySea they have improved immensely. Most of the smaller shows could easily be expanded and made into a proper Broadway piece and the two big shows, well, words fail me to be honest.

Mystic Rhythms is a kind of South American/Jungle themed modern dance show. It starts off very slow, with people in animal costumes that range from very good to a bit naff wandering around a stage doing a pseudo-I’m pretending to be an animal-dance. It soon picks up though s the naffer costumes disappear acrobats emerge, natural spirits start wielding magical forces, tribes of warriors chant and pound on the stage, walls explode and generally it builds to a frenzied and spectacular climax. I’m not one for modern dance, I can appreciate the skill but generally the spectacle of dance leaves me a bit cold but this was absolutely mesmerizing; a feeling that was enhanced by the hypnotic and empathic music.

Big Band Beat was a Jazz and Big Band revue complete with top hated and fish-netted chorus line, plenty of tap and some appearances from Disney characters dancing and singing along. They weren’t the best big band I’ve ever seen but they were still pretty damn good and massive props have to go out to whoever was playing Mickey Mouse. Whoever that actress is she can play the drums and tap dance to a really high standard all whilst wearing a mouse costume and a giant head! The highlight was definitely a rendition of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” that used the tap dancers to great effect. My only complaint was that “Everybody Wants to be a Cat” was absent. What’s that all about Disney? You have a film all about Jazz and even have one of the characters from that film in your show but you don’t include any songs from that film? I think they missed an obvious trick there.

Over the Waves is a story about a cruise which is run by Mickey and Minnie and it is.

Um.

Energetic.

Finally the lagoon in the centre of the park is host to two shows a day. The Legend of Mythica and BraviSEAmo.

Putting these shows in the lagoon is a great idea and really hammers home how much theme park design has improved over the years as it means that there is a huge area where the audience can see what is going on. In the Florida parks there are always massive crowds at the parade routes making it hard to see. In DisneySea it is possible to see from a much greater area and so there are less crowds.

The Legend of Mythica may be the most overblown spectacle that has ever been produced by anyone ever. Words cannot do justice to this show. It seems like when designing what to include in a show the Disney Imagineers made a giant brainstorm chart of all their ideas. Then they used all of them.

To give some impression of just how big and overblown this thing is I will simply list a fraction of the stuff that happens.

Giant boats made to look like mythical creatures, giant eggs that reveal woman on extendable pillars singing, people in animal costumes dancing, audiences clapping, most of the main Disney characters dressed to look like knights, kites, waterskiing, jet skis that look like dragons, trapeze and acrobatics, giant robot hydras, dragons, unicorns and phoenixes that shoot water and fire, insanely catchy music, explosions, fireworks and more.

It is like being allowed for a walk in the mind of a six year old. I recommend it.

BraviSEAmo though is even more impressive although a damn sight simpler. This is the night show, also in the lagoon, and features all the usual lasers, dancers, music and lights that one would expect. But it is mostly all about two enormous structures.

The first is a boat that shoots water into the air and illuminates it in a variety of colours. It’s all very nice and sparkly and generally quite girly. Later the water begins to spurt into a shape that resembles a human form wearing a dress. This is the spirit of the water and it is in love with the spirit of fire.

The spirit of fire is the second structure and it is A GIANT ROBOT FIREBREATHING DRAGON!

…..

JAPAN HAS BUILT A GIANT ROBOT FIRE BREATHING DRAGON!

I mean, I…..it is a robot, and it breathes fire and…

Alright that is cool. That is just fantastic. There is not one person in the world you wouldn’t impress with a giant robot fire breathing dragon. Well done Disney.

It doesn’t just breathe fire either. It first starts underwater so all the audience can see is the boat/water spirit. Then, ever so slowly, the red arms start to rise from the water and eventually it begins to take the shape of a dragon.

I’m sorry, I’m welling up just remembering it. I think I may have to have a lie down.

Ahhh, that’s better.

Let’s talk about the food.

Food is always the area that Disney is weakest in as a rule. Not that their food is bad, but it is uninspiring and generally lacking in the same level of polish and imagination as goes into the rest of the park.

DisneySea is much the same but it does do the Florida parks one better in one respect. DisneySea is designed to be a more adult Disney park, hence the focus on shows. The upside to this is that in certain parts of the park they can sell beer.

WooHoo!

Of the two meals I had one was a meh, Mexican dish and the other an all you can eat buffet that had awesome deep fried catfish. What I mostly want to talk about though is some of the weirder food available. Namely curry popcorn…

…which sadly we didn’t try and Black Sesame churros which we did. I am quite a fan of black sesame, I like black sesame ice-cream and my favourite ramen flavor is black sesame. It’s quite a hard flavor to explain, kind of cakey with a cereal quality to it but also very tangy. My family were less keen on black sesame, the upshot being that I got to eat multiple churros.

Mmmmmmm, churros.

So, great shows, okay rides (but hey, no lines), brilliant theme-ing, strange food. All in all I liked DisneySea a lot. It is distinctly different from the Florida parks. It definitely has its own identity and individual flavor but it also is recognizably a Disney park with all the professionalism that entails.

I do have one big complaint to make. The park is laid out around a lagoon in a rough circle. But rather than being an o shape it is in fact a c shape with a wall preventing users from walking all the way around the lagoon. Why? That is just stupid and counter intuitive. It means people have to walk further and means it takes longer to get around the park. It is bad design and not something I expect from Disney.

I won’t end on that sour note though; instead let’s have a look at me meeting one of my all time heroes.

Scrooge McDuck. This guy is a bad ass. It’s a shame that none of my students know who he is.

Fran met Daisy Duck and the actors playing her and Donald did a great little play for the people waiting in the street. Daisy grabbed some beefy guy from the crowd and rubbed his muscles. Donald came over and challenged him to an arm wrestling match, which he won, before sweeping Daisy up and giving her a kiss. Really sweet and a nice touch.

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