Tag Archives: sci-fi

Shelf Bite: Rat Queens

RatQueens_01_02_finalFangirls unite

‘What’s with men and tentacles? I’m sick of this shit.’

Following the success of Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ Saga, Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch’s Rat Queens continues to deconstruct the sci-fi and fantasy genre. Where Saga deals with high concept and more surreal devices, Rat Queens is perhaps closer in tone to Terry Pratchet; simply not justified by a mere ‘Python meets Thrones’; this is balls to the wall storytelling with four of the best female characters to grace the pages of the medium for a long while. Pinup bombshell, Hannah the Elf, fashion hipster dwarf, Violet, atheist human cleric, Dee and the hippy lesbian Halfling thief smash their way through the sword and sorcery sub gene in an effortless read. Inverting the cliché imagery of scantily clad females, Rat Queens is a fresh depiction of various female body types and places the cliché, heroic male as ‘second fiddle’. With the current influx of the fangirl community revitalising comics, it is not hard to see the current trend, even from the big two’s Ms. Marvel and Gotham Academy, yet Rat Queens clearly remains top of the game. Current volumes are: Sass and Sorcery and The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth.

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Shelf Bite: Ex Machina

ex_machinaThere is nothing more human than the will to survive

‘Did you program her to flirt with me?’

Man’s fascination with playing God is a central concept to all those science fiction tales that force us to question our own place in the universe and the legacy we may leave behind. As with the seminal masterpiece, Blade Runner, where Ridley Scott built upon the visual details laid out by Fritz Lang and Moebius; Director, Alex Garland strips back the oppressed gloom yet still infuses the film’s narrative with a strong sense of philosophy, psychology and religious themes. The result is a near future with a similar, cynical undertone to Charlie Brooker’s series, Black Mirror – a pristine, product placed future that seems to be set next year rather than a far flung, dystopic conceit. Garland’s flawless script is about the trio of characters and their central conflict rather than a brash, Hollywood fair and closer in tone to a piece of theatre. The central drama is compelling and the special effects, as refined as they are, become almost invisible. Domhnall Gleeson’s naïve programmer contrasts Oscar Isaac’s nihilistic billionaire as he studies the interaction between his employee and A.I., Ava played by the beguiling, Alicia Vkander. With enough red herrings to keep any sci-phile on their toes, Ex Machina delivers a supreme vision of a future we are closer to than we realise.

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Cowboy Bebop

dvd1largeSpace Blues

‘The work, which becomes a genre itself, will be called… COWBOY BEBOP.’

Welcome to the 21st century. Mankind has now reached up towards the stars and developed an interplanetary society. Here are the lawless and dangerous worlds of our Solar system, a new breed of ‘cowboy’ bounty hunters pursuing the outlaws and crime families who strive to make a dishonest buck.

The motley crew of the spaceship Bebop are all cowboys of some description – Spike Spiegel, a dangerous, idiosyncratic man with a hidden past and charm to boot; Jet Black, the pragmatic ex-police officer turned bounty hunter; Faye Valentine, a beatutiful, quirky female on the run; Ed, the hyperactive, technical wiz-kid; and Ein, the Welsh Corgi with a smart I.Q. All are ready for crime-fighting adventures and collecting a bounty to fill their aching belly…even if they don’t always achieve it. Lethal and funny, cool and romantic – the space cowboys of the Bebop take on all kinds of scum to prevent those stomachs from rumbling.

Once in a blue moon there comes an animated series that stands head and shoulders above the rest, a series that encompasses every area of quality production, which, in my opinion, rivals and even betters most live action films and television series out their today. Perfection is a rare thing within any medium and Cowboy Bebop, much like Batman: The Animated Series, are certainly a prime example. They are the best of their breed; faultless in their execution and treated with such panache and flawless detail – where BTAS is, for me, the strongest adaptation of the Dark Knight and greatest Western animated series to date, Bebop is certainly the greatest example from the East. Anime has a style that stands on its own, even within the medium of animation; a unique look that separates the Eastern influences and styles from the West, yet Bebop is so postmodern in terms of its structure, there is no connection to its routes other than its distinctive character design, typical of anime.
Without making further comparisons, both series utilise a postmodern mix all style and flavour, however, where BTAS is tied to the DC universe, Bebop has no restrictions within the worlds it inhabits. This is the grander canvas that Blade Runner eluded to where there is an entire universe to explore. With subtle references to the aforementioned film, that pay more of a homage than connecting the two directly. This is the universe you imagine when Roy Batty gives his moving speech where we can see the things we wouldn’t have believed – ‘C-Beams glittering…’ and the journey from one world to another.

But amongst the geek references and sci-fi tropes, Bebop more than stands on its own. This is a series that has everything and, like most postmodernist science fiction, throws everything in the blender while still retaining a consistency in its vision. The music – five albums worth composed by Yoko Kanno – moves you as much as the animation and superb storytelling that delivers original characters who inhabit a surprisingly downbeat world. Lead creative and Director, Shinichiro Watanabe set out to produce an animated series that would also appeal to adults, where it would explore philosophical and existential themes throughout that would deliver a layer of sophistication most associated with film noir, yet maintained the clean approach of the classic Western genre. There is no doubt when watching the series that both Joss Whedon’s Firefly and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica have been more than influenced by its dynamics and believable universe. There have been many solid anime series over the years, but nothing with the scope and magnitude of Cowboy Bebop. It delivers John Woo / Tarantinoesque action sequences that give it a 90s edge – there is bad language and brief nudity, but none of it gratuitous. They simply support the story – one of which is aimed at those who appreciate a good film and artistic flare accompanied by knockout camera tricks and eclectic music – jazz, blues, opera, rock, hip-hop, you name it…it’s all thrown in there for good measure.


(Left to Right) Faye Valentine, Jet Black, Spike Spiegel, Ed and Welsh Corgi, Ein.

Originally only 12 episodes of the series were broadcast in Japan. Only after this was the entire series shown uncut on their satellite channels. There is a distinct style that is reminiscent of the pulp Sixties shows, with its stylistic intro and jazz music that help make the series one of the most human and involving dramas you will ever see. Although it is set against a futuristic backdrop, you almost forget you are on another planet, due to the sophisticated storylines and subtle environmental designs – each planet closely resembling a different city and its society, instead of out-of-this-world concepts. There are no aliens, no robots – which helps keep the universe more grounded, despite man having visited all the surrounding planets in our solar system via the highways of space. Rest assured, this future is very close. Plot construction and characters are highly developed and showcase surprising depth, which can be rare in anime and the voice talents, both in the original Japanese and, surprisingly, in the dubbing, are solid throughout.

Every episode is a mini movie in itself, yet an overarching story runs throughout that races to its dramatic conclusion. After the series’ success, the Cowboy Bebop movie, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door followed in 2001 along with the Perfect Sessions DVD box set and Collectors Edition Blu-ray released in July. As with the best in film, Bebop has universal appeal that helps to define personal tastes while at the same time transcending cultures. This is an anime which will continued to be remembered amongst those so easily forgotten – this is a true masterpiece that has more than helped to define a genre with supreme confidence.

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Remnants of Ringworld

‘They will hunt you to the edge of the earth for this.’

The trailer to Neill Blomkamp’s latest sci-fi epic shows off some astounding visuals that harken back to classic literature of the genre, such as Larry Niven. There are traces of District 9 that show off some of Blomkamp’s unique touches interspersed with the familiarity of Kubrick’s vision of the future, along with a nod to the aborted Halo. As with Oblivion, are the visuals of science fiction being brought back towards the light of modernity in these pessimistic times?

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bunraku_xlgA silent mix of loud style and tradition

‘Great lessons are often found in defeat.’

There’s a lot to enjoy in Guy Moshe’s cocktail of East meets West – a criminally underrated film that utilizes digital production techniques to blend both pop cultural references with more than enough nods to the art house and early cinema. Part German expressionism, martial arts, video game, film noir, sci-fi, fantasy and comic book – it would be easy to label such a post modern mix of styles a pretentious affair. But where the visual layers unfold, the story follows a simple structure of heroic stereotypes and paper-thin plot which some will argue is its downfall.

In a world reminiscent of communist rule, guns have been outlawed and the sword is once again the way of the warrior. Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman) rules with an iron fist, accompanied by his femme fatale, Alexandra (Demi Moore), nine lethal assassins and his Red Gang that instill more than enough fear amongst the locals. While The Woodcutter’s right hand man, Killer no.2 (Kevin McKidd) taps dances his way through a barrage of assailants closer to a scene from West Side Story, our two protagonists, androgynous samurai, Yoshi (Gackt) and The Drifter (Josh Hartnett) clash in their quest to seek out the evil tyrant. Guided by the wisdom and intuition of The Bartender (Woody Harrelson), our two protagonists cast aside their differences and use combined skills to inspire the downtrodden citizens to forge an army of their own. Through set pieces closer to theatre and reminiscent of silent cinema, our heroes break bones and crack skulls as the screen literally cuts and folds like the pages of a pop-up book and graphic novel.

Closer in comparison to Stephen Chow (Kung-Fu Hustle) than Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Moshe’s myriad of influences are clearly worn on his sleeve. Here is a filmmaker opening his toy box and although certain ideas seem lost in the sandpit at times, the narrative moves along at just the right pace. It is here where Moshe uses his devices effectively to remind you of role play – the title, Bunraku – a form of Japanese theatre in which puppeteers, dressed in black and invisible to the audience, manipulate their characters, accompanied by a chanted narration and musical instruments – a perfect, one word summary, if ever there was one.

This isn’t a film about depth of story but more a film that allows the visuals to piece the narrative together – which is what all good films should do. Turn the sound off and this is a masterstroke and genuine return to tradition. In that respect, Bunraku works on the levels it was intended.

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