Author: unshavedmouse

Playwright based in Dublin with apparently too much time on his hands.

Hi guys, sorry about this but Guardians of the Galaxy 2‘s got to be pushed back a week. I made an application to my dream job and they got back to me (YAY!) and said they want two writing samples (YAAAAY!) by next week (FUUUUUUU…) so I’ve been writing in a mad swoon for the last two days. Please bear with me and wish me luck!

Oh, in the meantime, my daughter Iola (known to ye all as Mini-Mouse) made her big debut on Sharuf and you cannot repel cuteness of this magnitude.

Avatar: Sozin’s Comet

Okay, before we even start the starting I need to talk about Azula.

Azula, for those of you who knoweth not, is Avatar’s secondary antagonist. She’s the daughter of Fire Lord Ozai, the main villain, and the brother of Zuko. She’s an incredibly skilled fire-bender, a brilliant tactician, and a straight up psychopath.

Now a good few years ago I remember I got talking to some dude at a party about Avatar, and we were just fanboying over it as you do, and he looks me straight in the eye and says three words: “Azula. Best villain.” And he didn’t mean “best villain in the show”, he meant “best villain in any piece of fiction, period.” And I nodded at that, and didn’t even really consider what it was that I was agreeing to.

And it’s ridiculous, when you think about it, right? How could the greatest villain of all time be from a frickin’ Nickleodeon show from the early 2000s? It’s stupid on the face of it.

And then I re-watched the series for these reviews and a slightly scary thought started to creep over me:

Azula. Best villain.

Actually…maybe?

Something happened here. Something happened in the planning, creation and execution of this character. Doubtful if any of the parties involved tried to replicate it again it would work but…goddamn they hit something when they created Azula. I’ve spent far too much time obsessing over this one character and why she work and far too little time thinking about Sozin’s comet (full disclosure, I was in hospital this week with yet another of my periodic bouts of intestinal insurrection so this review might be a little short) but I want to just set out why I think Azula works so well.

From the very beginning, I’ve always maintained that a good villain is an absolutely crucial element in whether a story works or not. Some movies don’t have antagonists, that’s true, but most do. And when they do, whether or not the villain works is a pretty reliable yardstick as to whether the movie works too. But what makes a “good” villain, if you’ll pardon the oxymoron? Well, there’s no one way to be a good villain but there are, broadly speaking, three.

  1. Be entertaining. These are the flamboyant moustache twirlers. Not particularly deep, but by God they have style. Think of Jafar, Maleficent, Hella from Thor: Ragnarok. You can practically hear little children hissing whenever they’re onscreen.
  2. Be believable. Here we have your down to earth villains. They’re real people, with understandable, compelling motivations. They’re evil, sure, but in a way that’s perfectly logical for a person in that situation. Usually found in gritty kitchen sink dramas. If a villain reminds you of someone you’ve encountered in real life, they probably belong here.
  3. Be absolutely fucking terrifying: Straight up monsters. The kind of characters that tap into deep, primal fears. Xenomorphs, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers.

No, not him.

There we go.

Thing is, most great villains manage one of the above. Some of the true titans manage two (Heath Ledger’s Joker is a solid 1 and 3). But it’s almost impossible to find a villain who fits into all three categories. In fact, it sounds almost impossible. How can a villain be entertaining and grittily realistic and absolutely terrifying? It would take an incredible feat of writing and performance to make a character like that seem anything other than poorly defined and schizophrenic.

There’s a scene in the first episode of Season 2 of Avatar that sums up how all three elements of great villainy combine in Azula.  She’s been sent by the Fire Lord to tell her brother Zuko and her Uncle Iroh that his banishment is over and that he’s to come home. But in reality, Zuko and Iroh are to be executed for treason. She tells Zuko that he can come home and Zuko says nothing, rendered speechless upon hearing that his banishment is over at last and his father wants him back.

“You should be happy.” Azula says coldly “Where’s my “thank you”? I want my thank you.”

It’s funny, in a dark way, that Azula is so psychotic that she wants gratitude from her brother for luring him to his unwitting death. But there’s nothing campy about it. There’s something just so chillingly believable about Grey De Lisle’s vocal performance. You know this girl. And if you don’t, you are damn lucky.

And lastly is the sheer menace that the character exudes, with more than a little assist from the excellent score.

Honestly, the only other villain I can think of who hits all three elements so perfectly is, well…

Yeah. High praise.

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Avatar: The Tales of Ba Sing Se.

I’m going to be devoting a full month to Avatar and I hope I don’t have to explain to why. In terms of animated children’s series this show is about as good as it gets. It’s a classic, and an uncontroversial one, a show whose excellence rests not on being groundbreaking or having a unique premise, but on just doing everything a good TV show should do and doing it really, really well. Top notch animation, great characters, compelling story, phenomenal action, stupendous voice acting and Mako. Every show should have Mako.

Boom. Million times better.

I must be foaming at the mouth to review this, right? Right?

Slight problem. Consider the following facts.

  • Avatar is a beloved classic with a fanatically loyal fanbase.
  • I love Avatar.
  • I have been asked to review the Season 2 Episode Tales of Ba Sing Se.
  • Tales of Ba Sing Se is one of the most beloved episodes of Avatar.

Right, well, this all looks very promising I’m sure there’s not one final bullet point that’s going to blow it all…

  • I really do not like Tales of Ba Sing Se.

Dang. Okay, ready your scalpels folks.

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When life gives you hurricanes, make a game.

“Don’t come to work today, there’s a tropical storm.” is not something you typically hear in Ireland but, heck, a day off is a day off. Yesterday the Mouse family hunkered down in the living room while Storm Ophelia tore up the country like a drunken bridesmaid at a wedding looking for her purse.  We’re all fine, in fact it was fairly anticlimactic if I’m honest. When the news is promising the worst storm since the sixties, I at least expect to see a couple of cows flying past my window.

Anyway, over the weekend I attended a course on writing interactive fiction hosted by Charlene Putney of Larion Games in the Irish Writer’s Centre (Five stars, definitely recommend). That’s where I discovered Twine, an online resource that lets you create your own games even if, like me, you think “coding” is a type of pain medication.

I’ve created a horror text adventure called “The Ebon Death” which you can play here. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated (no spoilers, please) and if you feel like it’s something you want to try your hand at, you can create your own twine games here and leave a link in the comments.

Mouse out.

What I do on the weekends…

A while back, I mentioned that my brothers John and Dónal are contributors on Facts.ie. Since then, John has started his own channel, Sharuf!, featuring his hilarious adventures with his furry best friend, Rufus Bluestuff (yours truly, from this episode onwards). It’s been a hell of a learning curve, getting back into puppeteering (I did a course donkey’s years ago). I’m still finding my feet, from a technical point of view, but i’m having a blast doing this show with John and I hope you love it too. A like is better than a watch, and a subscribe is better than a like.

The Last Unicorn (1982)

Animation history is full of odd twists and turns and weird connections but one of the weirdest is that you can trace a direct line between this:

And this:

Rankin Bass is most famous for its stop motion Christmas specials but from the late sixties onwards they dabbled in feature length traditional animation. The Rankin Bass filmography is like an unfinished rollercoaster, a madcap frenzy of highs and lows before it all ends in the bloody, limb mangling, fiery catastrophe of 1999’s The King and I.

Ugh. Yeah. Probably. Some day.

But they did produce what is, by fairly solid consensus, a true classic with 1982’s The Last Unicorn, based on Peter S. Beagle’s book of the same name. While Rankin/Bass produced the film, the grunt work was actually farmed out to a Japanese company called Topcraft who’d later be hired by Hayao Miyazaki to animate Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and the rest is history.

I get the feeling this movie was a much bigger deal in the States than it was in Ireland. I never saw it growing up, and I don’t remember anyone talking about it. But that pedigree alone was enough to make me curious.

Let’s take a look.

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Thoughts on Discovery

I’ve been meaning to do a post about Star Trek: Discovery for about a year now. Originally it was going to be a “here’s what I hope” post, which then morphed into a “Oh man, this is gonna suck” post and now here I am writing a “Q be praised, it’s actually good!” post. It’s been a journey of twists and turns, is what I’m saying.

But yeah, having watched the first three episodes I can happily report that despite a year of negative hype, swirling rumours of backstage drama and basically the entire Star Trek fandom having written off the project as DOA, it’s not only surprisingly good, it’s probably the strongest opening of any Star Trek series since the original show. (Granted, that’s a low bar, Star Trek series are notorious for rocky starts).

I’m not going to do an episode by episode review, so here are just a few random thoughts about the show in no particular order. Mild Spoilers ahead but nothing too major.

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Mouse goes to War!: Fascist Jackboots Shall not Trample Our Motherland (1941)

Studio: Soyuzmultfilm

Country of Origin: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

First Screened: 1941 (Exact date unclear)

All of the shorts we’ve looked at in this series thus far have been propaganda to a greater or lesser extent. But they weren’t just propaganda. American audiences liked their propaganda leavened with comedy or drama or catchy tunes about farting in Hitler’s face. The Russians though? They took their propaganda straight while growling at the bartender to leave the bottle.

The blunt, hammer-blow-to-the-noggin nature of Soviet propaganda is right there in the name of today’s short Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland.

“Good title.”

So a little background. Jackboots is one the earliest productions of Soyuzmultfilm, the pre-eminent home of Russian animation and screen puppeteering. The studio is still going to this day but its heyday was during the Soviet era where they produced beautiful and beloved animated classics like the Winnie-the Pooh trilogy and Hedgehog in the Fog.

What’s the Russian for “smurges”?

Now keep in mind, I don’t read Russian, so all my information is coming second hand from places like Wikipedia which claims, for instance, that after the fall of the Soviet Union Soyuzmultfilm’s facilities were sold to the Russian Orthodox Church and then promptly burned to the ground by Cossacks who believed that their puppets were animated with the blood of Christian children. And, while anything on the internet originating from Russia should normally be treated as purest truth from the beardy lips of God Himself, I find that a bit hard to swallow.

I mean c’mon, the blood of Christian children hasn’t been used to animate puppets since the late forties.

Anyway, that was all in the future. Although originally based in Moscow, Soyuzmultfilm was evacuated to Samarkand when the Germans invaded and were put to work creating propaganda for the war effort. And one of those films was Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland.

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The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: The Endless Eight

“Hello, Mr Mouse. I’d like to make a donation to your blog.”

“MOUSE LIKE MONEY.”

“Would you be willing to do a blog post setting out your thoughts on the latest developments in the field of Quantum Chemistry?”

“Well I don’t know anything about Quantum Chemistry and in fact had never even heard of it before but I’m sure an hour or so of research on the internet should be all I need to get up to speed.”

“I’ve made a HUGE mistake.”

Replace “Quantum Chemistry” with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and that’s pretty much where we’re at, folks. I…I misjudged this one, not gonna lie. I thought “Sure, I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a cartoon! I can review cartoons, I do it all the time!”. But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a cartoon show in the same way the Bible is a novel. I didn’t know what it was before, and after many hours of research I still feel like I’m missing pretty vital information. This is a show with no clearly defined genre packed with references to advanced scientific and mathematical concepts. This is the kind of stuff I was coming across when researching these episodes:

Ah. Of course.

Okay, let’s start with the facts. The Melancholy of Haruhi Susumiya is the animé adaptation of Naguro Tanigawa’s series of light novels featuring the eponymous schoolgirl. Haruhi is really bored with her everyday life and the boring people around her and founds a school club with her friend, Kyon, to find aliens and other supernatural creatures and…just…hang out with them. Oh, and Haruhi is actually an all-powerful reality warper  who has to be kept in the dark about her abilities in case she does untold damage to the world around her.

Ah, that old saw.

The TV adaptation was first broadcast in 2006 and became one of the biggest hits in the history of animé, achieving worldwide success and becoming an unstoppable cultural behemoth. Apparently. Because, as I hinted before, I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THIS THING AND NOW I THINK I’M GOING CRAZY. DID I SLIP INTO AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?

“WHY DOES NO ONE REMEMBER THAT NELSON MANDELA DIED IN PRISON AND WHY CAN’T I FIND SHAZAAM ON NETFLIX?!”

But apparently yes, this show was huge. So after the first season was released the show seemed unstoppable. The second season was announced in 2007 and the fandom was whipped into a frothing lathery frenzy. And then…

Hooooo boy.

What followed was one of the most spectacularly misjudged testings of fan loyalty that I have ever heard of. Within a single story arc, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya managed to piss away every last drop of audience goodwill it had accrued over the years. The franchise carried on after this for a while but it was a dead toon walking. No third season has been announced, and the franchise is now effectively dead. The arc in question was called The Endless Eight. So, what did this animé about a Japanese schoolgirl do to honk off its fanbase to the point that they abandoned it en masse? Did it involve tentacles? Surprisingly, it did not.

The Endless Eight is a story that sees Haruhi, Kyon and their friends trapped in a time loop in the last week of summer. The first episode ends with them still in the timeloop. The second episode is the first episode repeated. Because they’re still in the time loop, y’see. And each week, increasingly bewildered and enraged fans would tune in, only to be forced to watch the same episode again and again and again and again and again and again and that is not hyperbole because no lie they did this EIGHT GOD DAMNED TIMES. For real. Eight weeks of the same episode. And here’s the thing, it’s not like they just re-screened the same episode. Each episode was re-animated from scratch, each line of dialogue recorded eight times but the script remained the same with a few changes here and there. Every time.

I…just…that’s brilliant? Is it? No? I…no. It’s stupid, isn’t it? It’s real stupid. But at the same time…the balls that takes, right? But still, no. That’s just…no. But, isn’t it brilliant? But…GAWD. That’s the kind of reckless, devil-may-care creative choice that I can’t help but admire.

So here’s the thing, I know nothing about this franchise. I do not have the time to devote to exploring its mysteries and subtleties and its place in animé history. So I’m just gonna throw myself into this headfirst and review all four hours of the The Endless Eight because, fuck it. You only live once. Or eight times. Whatever.

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