Vlad Love – 09 – Nuts and Bolts

Going into this episode cold, I spent half the time wondering what the heck was going on and why there was little to know animation, and the other half luxuriating in the atmosphere of its unrelentingly hard-boiled, war-torn art style. And I think, like most who watched this, the whole point was to not quite know what was going on, but to simply let it all wash over you.

I say this because a message at the very end explains what the heck was going on: this entire episode was an homage to the works of rarely-translated avant-garde cult cartoonist Tsuge Yoshiharu. From 1955 to 1987 he was active in the world of gekiga—the precursor to modern graphic novels about mature themes.

His most famous work is Screw Style, which on its face has a simple plot: a boy washes ashore with an artery in his arm severed by a jellyfish, and he wanders war-torn Japan searching for a doctor. The original story is based on a dream Tsuge had during a rooftop nap, which tracks: everything is surreal and dreamlike.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Oshii Mamoru was both inspired and influenced by Tsuge’s work. Oshii was 17 when Screw Story was first published in 1968, serving as an allegory for his disaffected postwar generation (Oshii was also born just six years after the atomic bombings).

In place of the WWII-era machines of war, there are B-2s in the sky and Type 16s on the ground, and later, a Nimitz-class in the sea. For the boy, Oshii inserts a topless Mitsugu, who is desperate not necessarily to save her life, but to save the precious blood which belongs to Mai from flowing out of her arm and going to waste.

The homage—and general strangeness—fits the style of Vlad Love like a glove. Indeed, for those who’d seen the gekiga style without knowing what it was, the series’ backgrounds have always been done in this style, albeit with lighter color palettes. As Oshii cycles through three other Tsuge stories, the rest of Vlad Love’s cast have cameos.

Mitsugu finally meets up with Mai at an inn, who serves her castor oil in water instead of sake (since Mitsugu is underage) and mentions a delinquent (Satoru) who comes by the inn every day to terrorize her.

Mitugu’s odyssey leads her to a gynecologist (Chihiro). It’s heavily implied they sleep together, and Chihiro repairs Mitsugu’s artery with a metal bolt and valve. Mitsugu and Mai sail off with the sun and wind at their backs.

As I said before, I wasn’t clear what was going on for most of this episode, but I still liked it. It’s not only evidence of Oshii’s love of Tsuge’s work, but also a sign of his complete and utter creative control, a rare thing indeed in any form of entertainment. Vlad Love itself would not exist if Oshii wasn’t Oshii, much like The Snyder Cut wouldn’t exist if Snyder wasn’t Snyder.

Speaking of which, The Snyder Cut is a far superior film to the grotesquely cynical vivisection that was the theatrical Whedon cut precisely because of the strength, clarity, and purity and commitment of the artist’s voice. His unmarred vision shines through in every frame, no matter how dark and muddy those frames get.

This singularly bizarre and beautiful episode of Vlad Love taught me about the existence of Tsuge Yoshiharu, Screw Style, and other gekiga works. And it did so while existing as a unique piece of art all its own, integrating its characters and themes with the decades-old classics to which it paid homage. But I’m glad Oshii saved the explanation for the end, so I wouldn’t be influenced by the episode’s context out of the gate.

Tsuge hasn’t published a comic in 33 years. Ours is a world in which all art is borrowed or embellished version of what came before—an ongoing conversation across time. It’s episodes like this that keep that conversation going, brining awareness to younger generations so that they can make their own contributions. No doubt the next episode of Vlad Love will move on to, as John Cleese said best, “something completely different.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 09 – No Need For Theatrics

Ensign Mariner is in the midst of helping lizard people overthrow their oppressive masters (who also have a habit of eating them) and earnestly thinks she’s finally done something worthy of praise from her mom/captain, but Freeman isn’t having it, accusing Beckett of going against the Prime Directive.

Mariner vociferously protests in front of the aliens, and her mom orders her back to the ship, where she’s to report not to the brig, but somewhere even worse (to Mariner): therapy. Predictably, she makes no progress other than trashing a bonsai.

But when Boimler shows her a holodeck program of the Cerritos and near-perfect (and privacy-violating) approximation of its crew for the narrow purpose of practicing for an interview with the captain, it dawns on Mariner that the simulation could be used to work out her anger over her mom.

This results in one of the sendupiest good-natured sendups of Trek yet, this time focusing on the feature films. Appropriately, black letterbox bars appear to accommodate the wider aspect ratio and there’s suddenly a film grain and much more dramatic lighting and music. Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are all along for the ride, but only Mariner knows the script.

What’s hilarious is that interwoven within Mariner’s unofficial holo-therapy session, Boimler still tries to use the modified simulation to determine what to say to the captain during their interview, even interrupting her birthday jet-ski session reserved only for senior staff.

But when the Cerritos is given a mission (which Mariner notes would normally be given to the Enterprise), we get the full Star Trek: The Motion Picture dramatic starship flyaround, with some truly epic beauty shots of the ship in spacedock, while the bridge and corridors are also more cinematically lit (a contrast to the usual TNG-style even TV lighting).

The impostor ship the Cerritos investigates suddenly decloaks off their bow; it’s a klingon ship crewed by Mariner in her vengeful villainess persona “Vindicta” (a clear reference to Captain Proton’s Chaotica from Voyager).

Tendi somewhat reluctantly portrays an Orion pirate (as she’s not your usual Orion IRL), Rutherford is similarly unconvincing as a baddie, while Mariner simply replaced Boimler (still on the Cerritos) with a knockoff she quickly vaporizes (the first of many grisly deaths) to show she means business.

Vindicta & Co. board the Cerritos and a corridor firefight ensues. Boimler is about to learn from Ransom what the captain is allergic to, cookie-wise, when he’s shot and killed before he gets the words out.

As Mariner seemingly takes more and more sadistic glee in massacring simulations of actual Cerritos crew members, Tendi is put off and leaves the holodeck (as well as the letterboxed format!) Tendi does not think it’s okay for Mariner to play up the Orion pirate/slave stereotype, especially if it means offering her Shaxs’ Bajoran earring as a trophy…with part of his ear still on it.

Still very much reveling in her Vindicta character, Mariner has the Cerritos crippled and it careens through the atmosphere of the nearby planet and crash lands in some snowy mountains, a truly epic scene that references both the saucer crash in Star Trek: Generations (albeit at a differen saucer angle) and the crash from Voyager‘s excellent 100th episode, “Timeless”.

Rutherford, who like Tendi really isn’t into this whole villain thing, instead decides to use the program the way Boimler intended, to get more insight into his engineering chief. He even manages to create a program that systematically transports the entire crew to safety before the ship crashed, impressing his superior.

Vindicta ends up in the climactic fight with Captain Freeman, but it’s not as satisfying as she’d have liked, since Freeman character has no idea who Vindicta is. That’s when we get a very cinematic twist and the “real” Beckett Mariner appears to beam her mom to safety and duel Vindicta (shades of Kirk fighting himself in Star Trek VI). 

Out on the planet surface, Boimler presents Freeman with some chocolate chip cookies on a blind gamble, but it turns out the captain is allergic to chocolate, and when Jet accuses him of trying to assassinate her, Freeman recommends Jet, not Boimler for promotion.

The two-Beckett fight ends in an apparent stalemate, but the one created by Boimler’s program never meant to win, only to buy time while the rest of the crew escapes and the self-destruct counts down. Vindicta (AKA the real Mariner) realizes that while sometimes she feels like blowing up the ship and stabbing her mom with a metal pole, at the end of the day she loves her mom, her friends, and her ship.

The self-destruct of the Cerritos ends the program. Mariner ends up making up with Tendi, Rutherford is unable to reach out to his superior, and most importantly, Mariner properly apologizes to her mom for how she acted with the Prime Directive-breaking. The movie transitions to a standard Trek All’s Well That Ends Well conclusion.

But that’s not all: when holo-Captain Freeman honors Ensign Mariner for sacrificing herself saving them, she no longer has any reason to conceal the truth: Mariner is her daughter. Believe it or not in all these nine episodes this is the first Boimler has learned of this! Unsure how to process the bombshell, he forgets his preparation and totally bombs in the interview with the captain. So he’ll remain an ensign for a little while yet.

As for Mariner’s movie, it ends a lot like Star Trek II, with a soft-landed photon torpedo tube in a lush jungle. But rather than a baby Spock, Vindicta rises and prepares for another round of bloody vengeance…only to be shot dead by holo-Leonardo da Vinci! That irreverent ending is followed by a more heartfelt homage, as the Lower Deckers’ signatures fly across the screen like those of the cast of Star Trek VI. 

It all makes for a marvelously-detailed, deliciously indulgent homage-parody of Trek movies while still moving forward the serialized character elements in preparation for Lower Decks first season finale.

Stray Observations:

  • The cold open’s statue-toppling is a reference to the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad following the capture of the capital by coalition forces in 2003.
  • The vehicle used to pull down the statue is an ARGO, first seen in Nemesis.
  • The Cerritos therapist wears civilian clothes but has a Starfleet commbadge. He is also apparently a green hyperchicken, similar to the attorney in Futurama.
  • Voyager’s Captain Janeway often visited da Vinci’s workshop for advice and inspiration. He was played by Jonathan Rhys Davies, better known as Gimli (and the voice of Treebeard) from the LoTR trilogy.
  • That said, I love how the Cerritos’ Lower Deckers just do skeet shooting with him!
  • Mariner’s messing with Boimler’s program is reminicnet of Tom Paris and the Doctor’s dueling holo-novels in the Voyager episode “Author, Author”.
  • Mariner fills Vindicta’s early viewscreen dialogue with quotes from The Tempest, which is a nod to Klingon General Chang’s similar tendency throughout Star Trek VI.
  • The Cerritos’ warp effect is given more bells and whistles for the movie treatment, while there are numerous lens flares, a nod to J.J. Abrams’ lighting style in 2009’s rebooted Star Trek.
  • Shaxs mentions Pah-Wraiths, who were the evil version of the Prophets introduced in DS9.
  • In his engineering technobabble, Rutherford mentions both “sativa” and “indica”, the two major strains of marijuana.
  • Rutherford also explains how he was able to transport the whole crew to safety as the ship was crashing with the hand-waving line “It’s a movie! We can do whatever we want!” For good or worse, many of the movies did just that.
  • Due to technical difficulties, I had to take screenshots…with my phone.

GATE – 06

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Pina Co Lada’s forces are being massacred by the more numerous and experience (and bloodthirsty) brigands, and all the death is arousing Rory, until she can’t take it anymore and rushes towards the east gate. We see just how much you don’t want to mess with her when her blood’s up.

Rory as a concept remains a bit silly in an otherwise straightforward low fantasy setting, but not nearly as silly as what GATE pulls when it’s time to call in the SDF cavalry…or to be more precise, the air cav.

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I’ve always had conflicted feelings about the “Ride of the Valkyries” Helicopter Attack scene in Apocalypse Now, which I think is the point. On the one hand…America, Fuck Yeah! On the other hand…Why the fuck are we in Vietnam indiscriminately slaughtering random villages? 

There’s a different kind of conflict in GATE’s homage to that scene because it so thoroughly, accurately lifts entire shots, music, and dialogue from that scene, it’s really less of an homage and more of, well, a knockoff. Which, I’ll be honest, was a little lame.

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The situations in both works are the same: a overwhelmingly superior force eviscerates a pitifully under-equipped enemy. But Apocalypse Now did it first, did it better, and did it in a way that I really didn’t need to see so shamelessly copied.

Mind you, for the elements of the audience who’ve never seen the film, this probably came across as pretty snazzy war porn. But it’s pretty clear the creators expected viewers to catch the references. If they didn’t, then it would be as if they were trying to pawn off an iconic scene from another work as their own.

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In any case, the battle itself, and the parts that aren’t ripped from AN, work well enough. Watching Kurebayashi pair up with Rory and go Medieval on some folks was pretty fun to watch too, even if I’m a bit dubious about the efficacy of rushing in and fighting at close range when there’s plenty of long-range weaponry to defeat the enemy from a safe distance.

Then there’s Itami taking all female prisoners (coincidence, eh?), and when Pina’s comrades in the Rose Knight Order intercept his convoy, he sends his team back to base, making himself the prisoner of two very tough, very beautiful “chicks.” These get Itami back to his roots as an otaku looking to meet all the exotic characters he can…but you’d think all the vicious slaughter they just carried out would be a little more sobering.

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