On The Summer of Stories

This summer has been jam-packed with great stories that I have seen or read. They don’t all have their origins in this season or this year, but that’s where they entered my purview and ultimately my heart.

*Potential Spoiler Alert*

While I will try my best to keep these little vignettes spoiler free be warned if you plan on watching/reading any of these stories.

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Mobile Suit Gundam

I started this series about 2 odd years ago with gusto following the completion of the series Gundam Wing. Little did I know that 20 years of animation maturity made a difference. It took me a couple tried to actually finish this series, but it’s really a rewarding series in the end. The story is PAINFULLY slow. It is of a different era and the first of it’s kind. A small synopsis is that in Universal Century 0079 (a nod to the year when it aired 1979) the space colonies that surround Earth are tired of being exploited by the Earth and succeed which leads to a war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. From an outsider perspective it can be seen as just some big ol’ robots fighting, but in reality it is a story about the hardships and horrors of war. Japan was heavily affected by WWII so you tend to see many anti-war, horror-of-war stories as apposed to heroes of war like here. I was surprised as how in depth the story went especially when kids were the target demographic. The story does slump and get into a sort of predictable rhythm, but it takes a sharp left turn near the end where it does a little sci-fi psycho-nonsense. While some of the characters are one dimensional you tend to actually care about them. While the animation is dated and the story takes a while to progress this is a classic TV drama and worth your time if any of the above sound intriguing to you.

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Z Gundam

This is a direct sequel to the aforementioned Mobile Suit Gundam. I didn’t know what to expect going into it. The show introduces an almost completely new cast from the get go, which is jarring at first because you just spent 43 episodes getting to know the previous set of characters. It does reintroduce some characters from before, but most play minor roles that don’t have a significant impact. Although the previous series had a serious tone to it this takes it even further and pushes what an animation can accomplish across the emotional spectrum. If this was seriously targeted at children I applaud the creators because it teaches just how horrible war can be and how traumatic it can be on all involved. The whole series builds up and ends in just about the best way it can (that best is directed towards the story, not the outcome). The whole series is incredibly intense and kept me watching and wanting. While I can’t speak as someone who has seen this without seeing the previous series the references to the previous series are small enough that I think it can be enjoyed by someone who has no prior Gundam knowledge. If I were to recommend one series of Gundam it is this without a fight. It’s amazing and definitely one of my favorite anime or any series I have seen. You owe it to yourself to check it out.

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Avatar: The Last Airbender

This was my latest finished story. I went into it expecting it to be great having heard from many people that it was. I was not disappointed. It is just the best mix of humor and seriousness. The plot is best summarized by the intro description:

“Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements could stop them. But, when the world needed him most, he vanished.

A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, and Airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone.

But I believe, Aand can save the world.”

So, in a nutshell Aang has to master the four elements and that takes him on adventures around the world.

It is highly influenced by Asian culture and anime and does so in a way that is highly complementary and doesn’t once feel hacky. It is hard to believe that this show was on Nickelodeon since it overtly deals with death and war, two things which make rare appearances on the network. The characterization is very well done and you develop emotional bonds with the main cast as well as the minor cast (I’m talking about you cabbage man). It can be construed pretty easily as an allegory for Japan during the Meiji Era which is a nice to have a little Asian history introduced in America.

I found that by the end of the story I wanted to see more adventures with the characters. They grow on you in a profound way. The one criticism I have of the characters is that they are based between the ages of 12-17 and they are matured far beyond their age. I don’t think the story would be adversely affected if they were all in their late teens.

This is such a fun series and I can personally guarantee that if you have a heart you will fall in love with it. I can’t wait for the Legend of Korra due out in 2011!

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20th Century Boys

This was hand down the longest manga series I had ever read. I was turned onto it by a blogger I read and after book one you get hooked.

The quick synopsis is that a group of kids create a doomsday scenario so they can protect the Earth. It’s classic kid’s imagination. The problem is it comes back to haunt them when they are adults as the stories start to become reality.

The author is well known for creating thrillers and this does not disappoint. No book has ever made me want to keep reading more than this series. It had a gigantic cast and never forgets about who it introduces. It has the mystery appeal that keep you wanting more. It is elaborate, creative, and completely original. One of the best manga I have read and very deserving of your time. I will say it is not for everyone, but if you have an interest in Japan at all it will be more than enough to suck you in.

Side note, I finished reading this about a week before the site OneManga.com stopped hosting mangas so thank goodness for that as the series is still being released for the first time in English in America.

Also, this series spawned 3 movies that cover the story and as far as I can tell from watching the first one do as good as a movie can do for presenting the story. If you don’t have the patience to read them (it’s really long) check out the movies.

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Marvel Civil War/World War Hulk

 I am going to leave this to a couple of responses between my friend Mike Dodaro and I had about this stories. Thanks Mike for getting me involved in American comic books.

My Email to Mike:

“Hey Mike!
I hope St. Joe’s is going super well. I bet everyone there already loves you. I want to come down to visit soon. Maybe I’ll call up Mr. Joe and Mr. Tom since they are in such close proximity and plan a mini-road trip.
Anyway, without too much foreplay, on to the comic book discussion. So, overall, loved them. If Bendis is the guy planning this all out, he is a smart dude. Let me preface any further discussion with a confession. I did not read the Frontline stuff. I read two of the Civil War ones, but it’s so dialogue-heavy and not that compelling. The Civil War was great and it’s hard for me to side with my boy Iron Man about it. There is something that isn’t played up much throughout the comics that I found interesting and kind of contradictory. When Reed Richards revels he has been able to mathematically predict future actions of human beings he mentions that if the Act was not put in place humanity would be doomed to a fate worse than anything the Civil War could bring. So, I understand Reed Richards stance and I am wondering if Tony Stark saw it as well. He claims to be a "Futurist," but never actually makes any concrete claims like Reed Richards did. I gained a huge respect for Capitan America throughout the CW. They made him such a dynamic and multi-dimensional character. I always thought of Cap as a pretty flat uninteresting character. Just the token leader-always-do-what-is-right guy. He is up there with my favorite super heroes now. The way they played out Iron Man I though was pretty awesome too. He was getting to the point of being a do-no-wronger, but for all his smarts and intelligence most of his plans blew up in his face. It showed an extremely human side of him. The fact that he wants to play God and how selfish he is about it. I’m sure I have more to talk about, but that’s my immediate take on CW.
Onto World War Hulk! I LOVED WWH! I actually liked it better than CW surprisingly. Again they added dimensions to the Hulk I didn’t think were possible. I mean man did those guys (Illuminati) screw up. They totally deserve everything that happened to them too. It’s hard not to be sympathetic to the Hulk even if he went way overboard. I think that is what makes the Hulk interesting. His intentions are mostly good, but he always goes overboard. It’s what makes the Hulk impossible to be stable. Like when he was rescuing his cousin Jen, he had no regard for property damage or how it would be perceived, but his intentions were rock solid. I also liked Amadeus Cho. He seemed to understand the Hulk even better than Rick Jones. I loved the fact that he is a smarty pants know it all too. Also, what they did with the Sentry. Man what an awesome character. He is so unstable and deep. He is just this time bomb and you can’t help be feel sorry for him. Like the Hulk he has no place to go really. He is volatile and unpredictable; not to mention he, like the Hulk, can’t really be stopped by anyone. Anyway, WWH, awesome!
I am curious to hear your take on everything and am totally ready for the next batch. If you can just email me a list of what I should read for the next chapter in the Bendis saga that would be great. I hope to see you soon Mike!
Matt”

Mike’s Response:

“Oh Man Matt!

Yea, it is so hard to not be on Cap’s side.  I love how cinematic it is.  The pictures look like still frames for movies.  Millar writes that way and everything he does usually gets turned into a movie (i.e. Kick-Ass and that other movie).  The end of civil war is cool because Cap wins the war, but Iron-Man actually has the moral victory (even though most people reading side with Cap).  I love that you just have to look at Cap’s eyes to know he’s not going to kill Tony in the fight.  Did you read Captain America #25 and The Confession?  Oh and I totally don’t blame you about Front Line.  They’re good, but not the best.

World War Hulk is drawn by one of my top three favorite artists.  I love everything about it.  Especially the end.  It stinks though because from there Hulk branches off into a bunch of different stories that I never figured out how to follow.  I love Amadeus Cho.  What an interesting character.  I’m glad you’re interested in the Sentry.  His story really picks up from here.  He’s this all powerful guy and he doesn’t know what to do.  He’s like a kid and will go with whoever will take care of him.  Right now it’s Tony, but that’s going to change soon.  Oh and good call about the Hulk.  He’s like a tantruming kid, but in every case the parents are clearly evil.

From here you should read both New Avengers and Mighty Avengers (you don’t need to read Mighty Avengers after Secret Invasion, but keep going with New, it’ll get boring for a bit but I think it pays off).  Then you’ll read Secret Invasion.  Try to get your hands on The Cabal one shot after Secret Invasion.  After Secret Invasion the stories are titled Dark Reign which leads into Siege which is really the payoff for the last seven years of comics and ends in the only way it can really end.  I can get you a more extensive list if you need it, just let me know.

Please come visit.  I would love to spend time with you and the crew.  Rennselaer is not the best, but my place is pretty cool and we can drink beers or wine and eat snacks and enjoy an ambiance established through candles or incense.

Much love,
Mike”

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Scott Pilgrim

The final installment of the book finally came out this past July and it was not a disappointment. The whole series just feels like a love letter to video game culture. There is so many slight references to video games without it being like REMEMBER VIDEO GAMES?!?!? There allusions are sometimes overt like Mario 3 one above, but they range to the obscure such as one of the bands being called The Clash at Demonhead. The best part is that it isn’t about video games at all, it’s about a kid named Scott who is in love with a girl named Ramona and has to fight to win her love. It’s very pop cultury, but it never feels like it will be dated ala South Park. It is consistently funny and heart-warming without going sappy. It’s just a really fun read and one that can be read more than once. Totes recommended.

 

That was a post full! Any one of those stories has my personal seal of approval and if you have read/seen any or are going to please leave a comment. I would love to hear your takes.

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