The humour is the medium

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie was a travesty. And it’s entirely because they tried to capture the humour of the series – which comes across beautifully in print and on the radio – without acknowledging the realities of the medium.

Consider that most of H2G2 is simply untranslateable to film. I mean, how on earth could you justify the following scene? (wherein Arthur debates with Prosser about the official plans to demolish his house) :

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opening credits

via Shamus, here’s the opening credits for Haibane Renmei on YouTube:

The momentary glimpses of each character really give you a sense of their styles and personalities, especially Reki. And the music accompaniment is enchanting – the theme stays with you. I am also very fond of the opener to Sugar now, though in contrast to HR it tells you almost nothing about the characters at all. Excepting Greta, that is. I did however cringe the first time I heard that doo wop chorus, though…

I have to disagree with Pixy that most live-action openers are focused on the characters, however, at least for science fiction. The opening creds for BattleStar Galactica are a good example of an OP that really establishes the visual style, and atmosphere. That’s not surprising given that Ron Moore, the producer, also did Deep Space Nine – a series whose opening credits were basically a visual ode to the space station itself, as the main character. Not since the scene from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where Kirk takes a visual inspection of the refitted Enterprise has such devotion been paid to a thing on screen rather than a person. I think that science fiction shares with anime the need to sell the setting and mood as much as the characters. In that respect, the opener to Galactica is very anime-esque.

Steven noted that the opener/closers may suck for good series, but has anyone observed a very well done opener and closer for a terrible series? Maybe the rule works only in reverse.

Suuuuugar Baaaaaaaby-dolllll

well, that’s how every episode of Sugar: A little Snow Fairy opens. My almost-four year old says this about a dozen times a day now.

Overall, the series started out slow, and then kept layering on the character development piecemeal until by the end you really felt you knew them, without consciously realizing how attached you were. This is different from Haibane Renmei where the main characters are immediately captivating – in fact, for the first 30 minutes of disc 1, I rather disliked Saga.

This post is kind of a compilation of some of my observations from throughout. Continues below the fold…

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In a rare moment of weakness, I agreed to watch a Bollywood flick with my wife. (Understand that I am trying to build cred with her to get her to try Haibane Renmei)

The movie we watched was Mohabbatein, which turned out to be a lot of fun. What impressed me most was the way it actually juggled an ensemble cast and managed to actually give each of the nine (9!) major characters enough screen time to have actual depth. This is the director’s second film, after Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, which was a major box office hit worldwide and kind of validated Bollywood to non-Indian audiences (maybe I should actually watch that one, too… more wife cred?)

Of course Sharukh Khan steals the show. But watching him in action suggested a startling physical similarity to Jackie Chan. Judge for yourself: Khan and Chan via Google Images. Their alikeness triggered the observation that there are parallels between traditional Bollywood cinema and Hong Kong kung-fu movies. In one case, the stylized physical art form is dance, in another, martial arts, but in both cases the leads are heavily trained in exquisite choreography and have to have tremendous physical stamina. The plot structure is also fairly heavy on moral themes and love triangles and plenty of action – though I haven’t yet seen a kung fu flick break spontaneously into song, there certainly are plenty of other common dramatic tensions and lingering camera scenes of the wrought face of angst.

Some kind of fusion flick would be a sight to see.

Arthur Dent

why is Arthur such an unlikely hero? For one thing, he’s normal. Verging on dull, mundane, boring, average, forget him five minutes later normal. In that respect, Douglas Adams (DNA) made him a representative of humanity as a whole, which served two purposes. One was to allow us to relate to something, to give us an anchor point in an improbable zany universe that was so utterly and subversively insane that without Arthur’s human presence to react to it, would be essentially beyond comprehension. Why would we even care about the story if not for Arthur? The other purpose was to basically poke fun at ourselves. By making Arthur so generic, so average, and so bland, DNA distilled humanity down into a single person. And then used that person as proxy for wry satire on everything that makes us as a race so delightfully interesting. It sounds paradoxical to make a bland person the epitome of our creative natures, but there is a kind of joy in watching Arthur react as only a normal person and not some super-being – react, survive, and even thrive.

true names of the Haibane

I am very intrigued by the way “true name” are handled in Haibane Renmei. It seems to differ from the usual name/true name duality found in fiction and myth, the as in Wizard of Earthsea (to take one particularly well-known example). In HR, there is only a root name from which the Haibane’s name is derived and interpreted. How that nameroot is interpreted is a function of the expression of the Haibane’s free will – the choices they make as they face their trials. The interpretation is the true name.

Granted, the form and spelling of the name changes for a Haibane, but to take Reki’s example she was still Reki – only Reki as in “ga-reki” and not Reki as in “reki-shi“. The interpretation of “Reki” as either “reki-shi” or “ga-reki” is the key, and the symbols within the Wall changed to reflect the interpretation. But Reki was Reki to the end.

Yukiusagi commented that Rakka seemed to know her true name already. I think that it was more likely that she simply understood the meaning immediately, since she had her true name revealed to her after she has escaped the circle of Sin, and was terefore enlightened. Reki, in contrast, was still in the circle of Sin and her true name was still indeterminate; there were two possibilities, dependent on the outcome of her choice.

Do Haibane who are not sinbound even have true names? Clearly there is some difference in significance of the true name for a Sinbound Haibane as opposed to a regular one (like Kuu, whose true name Rakka sees within the Wall but doesn’t recognize until she also hears Kuu’s laughter).

1/(Tolkien) || Tolkien*(-1)

I don’t have as much time to read fantasy and science fiction as I did when I was younger, but I would like to recommend two series which I stumbled upon over the past few years and which I just completed.

Jaqueline Carey’s Banewreaker and Godslayer comprise a slim duology which can be fairly characterized as LotR from the vantage-point of Mordor. The correspondences to Tolkien’s narrative are pretty clear and transparent, Carey hits you over the head with her themes. This would probably have been better as a singleton, there just isn’t that much material to work with, and the characterization doesn’t explore new directions in the second book. Nevertheless, it is a nice and satisfying corrective to the Fundamental Attribution Error which crops up in the work of Tolkien and his children, evil is essentialistic in a character, not a function of their circumstance. In some ways Carey’s work has a closer affinity with Greek mythology, with its Prometheus like Sauron equivalent. In contrast Tolkien might not have been totally delusional when he stated that LotR was “fundamentally a Catholic work” in that his cycle did not explore the messy shades of gray which comprise such a vast arc of human experience.

Where Carey’s work is a standard inversion of Tolkien’s narrative, R. Scott Baker’s Prince of Nothing trilogy takes the classic core of high fantasy and the Evil Lord and smokes it with some crack cocaine. If there was ever a sequence of books laced with the sensibility of the cognitive revolution, this is it. Baker is a philosopher by training so I am not totally convinced that the influence is coincidental. If you want a “hero” who brings you down to earth with his lack of idealism, then this is a good series. The last of Baker’s books in the trilogy has a 50 page glossary so he certainly hasn’t stinted on world creation. But with the sharp crispness of the backdrop and the overindulgent prose the many strands of each character can sometimes get knotted, and Baker’s inattention leaves you without a guide out of this undiscovered country. Unfortunately Baker’s “trilogy” is actually the first three acts in a longer cycle, with book 3 prefacing an intermission. The real action on the grand epic scale is clearly to come.

The story of Reki

Steven has a spoiler-laden discussion of Reki’s name that has some excellent screen grabs.

When Rakka gives Reki the box containing her true name, Reki opens it and finds a note from the Washii that tells of two stories, one for each name. The first story seemed to be of her pre-cocoon existence, whereas the second was of her existence as Haibane. But how can the Washii know so much detail about her previous life? And yet, if he was speaking of Reki’s possible fates in Glie, then the story was simply wrong; for example he says that Reki lost everyone she loved, and thus had to face her struggles alone. But she always had Kuramori – and then Nemu, and Rakka.

Update – here is the transcription from the last episode:


This is a story about a girl named Reki. She was doomed by an unfortunate fate, and even lost the people that she could share her sorrow with. Feeling herself worthless, she called herself Reki, using the letters which meant “small stone.” However, the letter that expresses her true name means, “the one who was run over and torn apart.”

after Rakka saves Reki:

REKI: Have I been.. forgiven?”

(Rakka sees that the Reki “small stone” name is on the stone, instead of the rekishi “run over” name)

RAKKA: I saw this break…

narration continues:

“If a bird brings you salvation, the name Reki will disappear, and the Reki that means stone will become your true name. With the belief that it will come true, I hereby introduce a new story of Reki, that is stone.

(and we see – Reki’s wings are gray.)

The ultimate answer

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have built up an entire mythology about the number 42, despite Douglas Adams’ (DNA) insistence that the whole thing was just a big joke. Maybe a joke in base-13, but still a joke. The number has in some ways become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that it pops up everywhere so often that one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just fan energy driving it.

Well, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have built up an entire mythology about the number 42, despite Douglas Adams’ (DNA) insistence that the whole thing was just a big joke. Maybe a joke in base-13, but still a joke. The number has in some ways become a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that it pops up everywhere so often that one can’t help but wonder if it isn’t just fan energy driving it.

Well, as the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. From Seed Magazine, an article that makes a link between the prime numbers, 42, and the moments of the Riemann zeta function. In other words, the number 42 holds the key to possibly unlocking the secret of the prime numbers themselves, and thus answering an ultimate question of the basic structure of our universe (made physically manifest in the physics of atomic energy levels of heavy elements like Erbium).

So, in a very real sense, the number 42 is the answer to an ultimate question. Whether that is the ultimate question or not is left to the working thinkers [1]. But here’s something else to think about: the zeta function is closely related to the Zipf distribution – which governs the fundamental statistics of the World Wide Web. So perhaps blogging about 42 has deeper meaning than we suspect…

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