Sunday, February 18, 2007

Discovering Comet-san

Last night, my wife and I watched Cosmic Baton Girl Comet-san, an anime series aimed at roughly five to ten year olds. I have been avoiding such experiences for quite some time.

I’ve watched a handful of Miyazaki films in my lifetime, but somehow I side stepped the raving fanaticism that tends to burn in the souls of your stereotypical Japanoholic. There are numerous splinter factions within the geek culture and I’ve always considered myself somewhat of an accidental mainstream nerd. There is no doubt that I bear the nerd mark burned upon my forehead. My membership in our little minority was sealed early on once the Community discovered my love of citing scientific studies and my penchant for lugging about Greg Bear novels. At least in America, this is the rough equivalent of not speaking English as your first language or having chocolate skin. Chop, chop…into the box you go. At age seven, you don’t really know enough to make a fuss.

However, the niche Star Trek, Anime, LARPing, Linux subcultures never held much personal appeal. These were the obscure hobbies of my friends, akin to knowing someone who really enjoys raising champion poodles. I’d nod and smile politely before moving on to topics of mutual interest, like differential geometry. Occasionally, I’d borrow a manga that my friends recommended with giant, pleading saucer-like eyes, but any sort of repeatable addiction never really caught fire.

Later in life, I married a wonderful woman. She was smart, stylish, loved long meandering walks in the park and had the sort of dry, razor sharp wit that I imagined only mythical New York café lasses possessed. It was only a couple years later that it fully sunk in that she was in fact Japanese. Talk about being put in a pickle. Once you get the nerd brand, being married to a woman who happens to speak Japanese is instant entry into an entirely new universe of stereotypes. The default assumptions abound. Did you know that I now adore anime? And of course all my previous girlfriends were Asian since I naturally have a certain (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) predilection for very short schoolgirl outfits. Oh, and I speak fluent Japanese due to my extensive stay teaching English in Japan. None of these happen to be true, but how can you not find them mildly amusing?

As a bit of a contrarian, I’ve resisted some aspects of this packaging. Until very recently, it had been years since I had rented anime or read manga. The former are the equivalent of seeing La Vita è Bella (Life is Beautiful) dubbed by the cast of Scoobie Doo high on crack and helium. With the later, I can imagine better uses of my money than spending a tenner on an initial hour of entertainment that promises $400 worth of episodic cliff hangers in the future.

Enter Comet-san
Comet-san is the tale of a magical young girl of about 12 who enjoys twirling batons. The entire show sparkles with wonder. There aren’t merely raindrops falling from the edge of the roof during a rainstorm. Instead, they are little drip people whose job it is to drip with all their might. The animation of the drop creatures pushing themselves away from the ledge with determination and glee inspires me. There are none of the odd sexual overtones, just delightful child-like innocence.

There is a highly appealing animist spirituality woven throughout the series. Ancient trees snore. Miniature worlds fly about the heavens like playful children. This is a feeling that I’ve been attempting to capture in my artwork for many years. We’ve downloaded 21 subtitled episodes over BitTorrent and are merrily munching through them. Each one leaves us both with huge smiles on our faces. I realize that this series is only one of many such series in Japan and that it likely isn’t even a very good one. Yet, I feel like a foreign exchange student in the 90s who has been introduced to Michael Jackson for the first time. For the elite, it may be passé, but for me it is the seed of a brilliantly fresh insight.

We need more child-like delight and wonder in the worlds we create. Enough with the grim, sexually explicit brownness of next generation games and high budget American fear frenzy films. The presence of color and vividly imagined life stirs something creative inside of me that has been dormant for an unfortunately long time. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just create a game world about a city park grove that thrives with huge moss covered tree gods and scampering, mundane spirits? The everyday world is an appealingly surreal and magical playscape when seen through the proper filter.

Upon watching Comet-san, I’m reminded of a song by King Missile titled appropriately “The Boy Who Ate Lasagna And Could Jump Over A Church”
Once there once was a boy
Who was very happy most of the time.
His life was almost completely complete.
He could sense however,
That there were two things
That were missing from his life,
But he didn't know what they were.

One day, his family took him to an Italian restaurant.
The boy had never had Italian food,
And was mesmerized
By all the exotic sounding names of the dishes.
He asked about the lasagna,
And it sounded delicious,
So he ordered it.
He ate the lasagna, and it was delicious.

The boy knew that one of the things
That was missing in his life
Was no longer missing.
Take care