Children

Recently a friend of ours said something to my wife and I:

“You two are such nice people. It’s really surprising. Most of the people we know that don’t have kids are jerks.”

We found this to be quite funny. I mean, what about all the people who are jerks who DO have kids. But let’s set this aside for the moment.

Today I was looking up some background information on the song When I Die. We use it as one of the songs for people entering to see Exit the King. As I was looking around I found that it has been covered by a lot of people. Peter Paul and Mary did it first. Then others. The Blood Sweat and Tears version was the most famous. More recently Billy Childs and Alison Krauss did another cover. Honestly I prefer the Blood Sweat and Tears version. It’s the one I grew up with. To me it will always be the quintessential version. It’s always going to be a tent-revival song that tells mortality to fuck off. The others, especially the Allison Krauss version just seem slow, mournful and more than a little bit creepy. At heart it’ll always be a happy song.

In reading about the song I came across a blog called Jeff Meshel’s World where he discussed the song. Now his post’s a little ‘churchy’ for my taste, but then that may have come from the lyrics of the song. He also prefers the slower versions of When I Die over the Blood Sweat and Tears version, which he refers to as “criminally vulgar”. I guess to each his own, but I can’t even listen to the Krauss version.

Early in his essay though in reference to the line “and when I die there’ll be one child born in our world to carry on”, Meshel makes the following statement:

But when I think on the people I’ve known who do not have children, there’s a pinch in my heart. A discord. An arrhythmia. A missing link. Sorry, I’m a child of OzzieandHarrietLand. If we don’t contribute a link to the chain of life, what was it all for? What is it all about?

Really? That someone else decided to not have kids makes you feel strange? Like there’s a discord in the universe? Like its all meaningless? Why does it matter to you? Some people want kids. Others don’t. Isn’t it far better for the latter to not have them. The alternative is for them to have them and then raise them badly because of resentment or incompetence.

You see my wife and I are in our fifties now. We don’t have kids. When we decided to get married, nearly thirty years ago, we sat down and discussed all sorts of things. Money, responsibilities, long term plans, and children. I made it clear that I didn’t want any. I wasn’t a parent, I never would be a parent, I had no desire to try to learn to be a parent. Fortunately my wife was of like mind. As I’ve joked for three decades: I didn’t want to raise them and she didn’t want to bear them. We fit well together. We’ve had nieces, nephews, a few god children, but none of our own. Their visits were always temporary and brief. Once they left the house could return to the peace and quiet we prefer.

As I was growing up, kids, even my peers, were noisy, messy, and above all irrational. I was regularly embarrassed by something one of my peers did that made no sense to me. I went all the way through High School wondering if there was a set of rules, an instruction book, or something I had missed. I just didn’t understand the kids around me or what they did. As they were playing baseball I was reading about relativity. As they were fishing, I kept feeling sorry for the fish. When they made plans to get married and settle down after graduation to a job in the mill and a bunch of kids I kept wondering why could not see the bigger world out there. I never saw myself as having a family. Indeed I just didn’t understand why anyone would. I still don’t. There are things each of us want to do while we’re here. Kids prevent you from doing anything else. They are a full time job. So unless you really above all want kids, why have them? It’s not just that I didn’t want to have kids. I can’t even understand why anyone would. It’s an utterly alien concept for me. People who dream of growing up to have a family aren’t even talking the same language as I am.

I have a nephew who got married about seven years ago, and last year they had their second child. They’re thrilled. Both him and his wife love being a family, teaching the little ones to do things, watching them grow up, even cleaning up various, uh, leakage they produce. More power too them. If they’re happy then we’re happy for them. But I’ve never changed a diaper and I never will. I do not want to deal with that. I do not have the patience for temper tantrums, or potty training, or adolescent brain rot, or two in the morning trips to the ER. I just was never willing to deal with that. That is not me on any level. Just after we got married my mother kept saying “It’s different when they’re your own.” Yeah, because then you’re trapped. I was smart enough not to fall for that one.

The trouble is that even when kids are not making a mess, they still do things. Things that make me uncomfortable. Embarrassing things. Unpredictable things. Weird things. And that is the biggest issue. I don’t understand children. I’m not comfortable around them. But culture says you grow up and have a family. That’s what you do. If you get married and don’t start popping out kids within a few years people start to look at you funny. Society expects that. There must be something wrong with you if you don’t. You have to be selfish, a jerk, or worse. Or there’s a medical problem. The idea that some people just don’t want to have kids doesn’t sit well with some people. Worse, some people cave into this pressure and have a family they don’t want. I’ve seen a lot of misery that comes from taking that path.

Fortunately as I was growing up my parents taught me something fundamental: To do what I wanted to do, not what others wanted me to do. I learned that other people could spend all my free time if I let them. I was encouraged to chart my own path and let the others pass “like water off of a duck’s back”. It let me not be afraid to walk away from that kid in school who wanted to do something illegal. To just say “no thanks” when the guy in college offered me drugs. And to decide for myself whether my future involved a bunch of kids. I made my path. I’m happy with it.

So the fact is, I just never wanted to have children. I didn’t have the desire in any way. Indeed I’ve had a long lasting aversion to having children. So far from being a problem or unnatural, not having kids was and is the right path for me. To have done otherwise would have been “A discord. An arrhythmia”. Nothing good could have come from it. I, the world, the universe as a whole, is better for my not having children.

Most people remember the line from the song “And when I die there’ll be one child born to carry on”. I always focussed on the line earlier “Give me my freedom for as long as I be. All I ask of living is to have no chains on me.

The Mystical Quality of Cats

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cats are mystical creatures. Most people, even most cat owners don’t realize just how much. We think we own a cat. In reality cats come and go where they know they can do the most good. Such was the case with JarJar.

She showed up in downtown Minneapolis and hung around the building where our friend Leslie worked. She could have picked any building, but she chose that one. She had been declawed on all four feet and so could not hunt. Hungry, pathetic, bedraggled, she hung around the building. Leslie at first fed her and tried to find the owner. None ever came fourth and now the reason is clear. JarJar had no previous owner. JarJar just appeared where she was most needed in a form that she knew would elicit the desired response. Even though Leslie was going through some very difficult times, she ended up adopting JarJar. Just when she needed a friend, a companion, someone to share her pain with, JarJar was there. Such is the mystical quality of cats.

On the surface JarJar was a crazy and clumsy cat. In reality she was very shrewd. She knew just when to run into the room and trip. Knew just the right moment to jump into her box and start ripping at the cardboard. Just when to break the tension. Also when to hop up in Leslie’s lap and just be there. Such is the mystical quality of cats.

At one point Leslie decided to give JarJar away. In reality JarJar knew she needed to go on a temporary assignment. She got herself transferred to the one house that did not have a cat, but needed one, occupied by the only people that would eventually give her back. JarJar knew that her assignment with Leslie was not complete. While at our house JarJar chased birds and squirrels (through the window at least), developed a strange addiction to chive, and built a fort under the Christmas tree. The purpose of all this was to prime the pump. To set the groundwork for Geiger and later Momiji, and Imoto. Other cats that had not even been born yet. Cats take care of their own. Such is the mystical quality of cats.

And now JarJar has departed. Personally I’m not completely sure she has in fact passed on. This may be just another transition. JarJar may still be out there. Somewhere she is hanging around someone else’s door. Someone who needs a friend, a companion, someone to share their pain with. She may be black, or calico, or orange, or even gray again, but inside it’s JarJar and JarJar goes where she’s needed the most.

Such is the mystical quality of cats.

Exit the King


I just finished a run performing Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco. I was The Doctor. The last show was Saturday. I wish I could say it was the best one ever, but no. The play was hard. With most plays you settle in a groove, after a few shows it runs like clockwork. We fought with this one to the end. The words were just hard. We all struggled. Then last night combination of fatigue and stress meant that I flubbed a couple of lines. Annoying and noticeable but it is what it is. I wasn’t the only one. Everyone was a bit off. We all had trouble that night. But that’s the way it is with live theatre.

There were several memorable things about this play. First I was playing a bad guy. A Doctor, Executioner, and all around sadist.

This was a stretch for me, but there was a certain delicious fun in being the doctor. He was nasty, from the implication of being a sadist and killer to his casual reference to where he said

“The only children left in the schools are congenital retards, mongoloids, and hydro-cephalics with goiters”.

He was just a cruel person who never missed a chance to twist the knife. For example when a nearly hysterical Marie is begging Berenger to not die the Doctor quips:

“He will be a page in a book of ten thousand pages, that sits in a library of a million books. A library that is one among a million other libraries”.

A cruel, arrogant, sarcastic, mean bastard. But I have to admit playing him was on some level a lot of fun.

As I mentioned this was a hard play. Theatre of the Absurd is just strange. Apparently Exit the King is one of Ionesco’s more normal plays which makes me wonder at his more absurd works. All of us struggled with the lines. In a normal play the dialogue is based on conversations.

“Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes I would, thanks.”
“Sugar?”
“Yes that would be nice. Did I ever mention my family had a sugar beet farm?”
“Was that in Iowa.”
“No, in Minnesota”

That sort of thing. The conversation flows and even if you stumble, there’s a clear ad lib you can do to get back on track. In Exit the King though, the dialogue is a lot of one character or another pontificating with multi page monologues. If you get stuck, there’s nothing the other actors can do to bail you out. Then what vaguely normal conversation there it is spiced with the occasional statement dropped from orbit that seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the exchange. (The statement above about “he’ll be a book…” for example). It’s hard to learn, hard to remember, and hard to get right. There is very little of what we’d think of as normal conversation. I’m glad I was part of this seldom produced play, but I’m also glad it’s over.

The play is very dark. Death, dealing with death, the inevitability of death, how everyone will react to the Kings death is the focus. Now I’m a dark person. I like dark humour. This play was a comedy, the darkest comedy you can possibly imagine. I like that sort of thing. But, you know, after three months, I’m kinda tired of that. I want some happy, silly, fun in my next play. Maybe a light musical. The Music Man. Arsenic and Old Lace. Noises Off. Same Time Next Year. Something like that.

The play, like all productions had memorable moments. One happened toward the end of the run. Juliette, the maid, was walking across the stage. This night she didn’t step on the centre of the platform under the kings throne. For some reason she stepped on the edge, and the trim snapped off, tripping her. Those of us backstage heard a crash. We looked at each other thinking “That wasn’t normal”. But the actor saved it. She didn’t fall down. Almost, but she stayed on her feet. She even had the presence of mind to take the broken piece of the set off with her. Then there was the night early in the run, I think third or fourth show. There’s a spot where the King and Juliette are wrestling over the King’s sceptre. This night they got a little enthusiastic and it broke in half. We all heard the crack and pressed on with the dialogue. We covered it up, except for where the King ad libbed in a crushed voice “They broke my sceptre”. All of us fought to keep a straight face. For act two we used the sceptre we’d been using in rehearsal. The King then ad libbed “Kings always have a spare sceptre” at the start. Most memorable for me was toward the end of the play Queen Marie is begging the king to not die …If you forget me I can’t exist. I’m nothing…” She was able to summon an amazing degree of emotion into the scene. Her voice, her actions, she even cried. It was amazing. It gave me a great base to be the arrogant, dismissive, uncaring, bastard Doctor.

Then there was the time Queen Marguerite was walking through the Green Room when someone mentioned that something was caught to the train on her dress. She looked and started to giggle. Apparently as she walked through the room it had tripped one of the mouse traps in the corner and it had gotten a grip on her train. Soon we were all in hysterics. Robb, the Director, said that it was the funniest Green Room moment he’d ever seen. The best part though: We don’t know when it happened. She probably picked it up at intermission, but she might have gone through the whole first act with it clinging on. I would like to think one of us would have noticed it, but you never know. Then of course there was the running gag all through the show. You see to symbolize how the kingdom was decaying they had arranged for some of the set to fall down. The Stage Directions even said that walls should collapse. We didn’t go that far, just assorted trim pieces came off and fell to the ground, pipes breaking, and such. The trouble was that we had a chronic problem with one or two not falling when they were supposed to, or falling not when they were supposed to. We never really knew if the theatrical “punctuation mark” was going to work when it was supposed to. It was a wild ride.

My favourite part though, well there were two. First the “Benny Hill Scene”. At one point the King Says “I won’t listen to you. He then runs offstage. Literally out the door with us in hot pursuit. We’re all screaming and yelling as we go. We looped around through backstage trying not to trip or step on each other’s trains in the dark, and through the other door back on stage. Then across, down the stairs, back up on the stage and resume our positions. The Guard then banged his halberd and the lights returned to normal. The king looked at the audience and proclaimed “What the fuck was that?”. It always brought down the house. Interestingly though they played Yakkity Sax during the chase, hence the Benny Hill name, none of us ever heard the music. We were so intent on completing the chase without tripping or otherwise hurting ourselves we just tuned it out. The other spot I loved was when Queen Marguerite accuses the Doctor of being a murderer. He replies

“Execution Majesty, not murder.” Normal
“I was just obeying orders.” Lower and a little darker.
“I was merely an instrument.” Even lower and darker.
“An Executor not an Executioner.” Borderline crazy.
“And everything I did I did Euthenassstically.” Truly psychotic, remembering what I did and enjoying it. Then I chuckled in a low evil laugh.
Looking over I saw the horrified queen, and realize that I had said too much. I pull myself together and finish in a normal voice, patronizing, condescending, trying to cover up.
“An-yway. I regret all that now…sorry.”
It was a blast to do.

And let’s not talk about the weather. Winter on Vancouver Island is rainy and dark. We’re used to that. This year though it was snowy. We almost never get snow, at least snow that sticks around more than a day or two. This year though it started snowing in December and stayed. We missed two of the five rehearsals we’d scheduled. In January it kept snowing on and off. We missed a rehearsal, and several more had one or two actors missing because they simply couldn’t get to the theatre. Even right up to the second to the last performance it snowed, turning the parking lot into a slushy swamp. Oddly enough as soon as the play wrapped up, the snow stopped. I’m not superstitious, but I started wondering about an Ionesco curse. Anyway the weather might have been part of the reason attendance was poor. Many shows had only 20 to 30 in the seats. No shows sold out. The top three were 130, 70 and 60 people in the 170 seat auditorium. Weather may have had something to do with it. However the subject matter may have had a lot to do with it as well. I talked to several people who said they enjoyed the play but if I or someone else they knew hadn’t been in it, they would have passed. The description didn’t entice.

But it’s over. After the show we hung out and got some photographs. Then we got out of our costumes and makeup and partied for a bit. They had put out a nice spread. Then came the Crew Show. I think it’s just an Nanaimo Theatre Group thing. The Assistant Director, Stage Manager, and the people in charge of Costumes, Makeup, Props and more all got together and did a ten minute parody of the show. I was surprised how truly funny it was. We enjoyed it a lot. Then we went back to partying. My favourite part, aside from Queen Marguerite not only wearing a unicorn head, not only drinking a beer through the unicorn head, that she has her own personal unicorn head that she keeps in her purse for this sort of occasion. No, for me the high point of the evening was later. during a discussion of movies. Someone commented

“Mahatma Ghandi. Why aren’t there more films about him. Sure there’s Ghandi, but other than that, nothing. Name one other film about Ghandi.”

To which I replied “Ghandi With the Wind?”

The double entendre’ just slayed everyone.


On the Sunday after the last show we took part in another Nanaimo Theatre Group tradition: Cleanup. They make the cast help with cleaning the dressing room, green room the stage area, theatre seating, booth, and tear down the set. I could really have passed on it though. I understand why they do it. It makes us be a bit more careful, and cleaner, in the dressing rooms. It builds esprit d’ corps. It saves on costs. But I do not like seeing the set come down. You see, it was more than a set. It was a place, a real location where I lived part of a life. Oh sure, there will be other sets, the stage will be used for other things. But it was real to me and it’s kinda sad to see it unceremoniously pulled down and cut up. It was too soon.

Finally when things were all done I was alone in the theatre looking at the empty stage. I started to sing. Quietly to myself, with a tear,

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places have their moments
With people and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved you all

Then I put on my coat, went out to the car, and drove home. No longer the sadistic Doctor to the dying Berenger in a nightmare kingdom running out of time. Just me, a guy who lives in Canada, who wanted pizza for lunch. There will be some time for mourning, but I’m already on the lookout for my next gig. The next life I can step into for a while.

Restaurants

This list will grow over time as we try more places. It is a “living document”. It’s also, at this point in no particular order. If I get enough I’ll alphabetize them.

  • ABC Family Restaurant. (Nanaimo) We really like the place. Just normal home cooking at good prices. Nothing fancy. A couple of friends of mine don’t go there because “it’s the same stuff I could make at home”. True but you don’t. If I feel like a turkey dinner or a plate of really good French Toast, or a dynamite milkshake this is where I go.
  • A&W (Nanaimo and elsewhere) While the chain has essentially collapsed in the US and the few left are really lousy, the same is not true in Canada. Up here they are doing well. The quality is good. Service is good. Love the burgers, fries and onion rings. The only problem is the milk shakes which are mediocre. Otherwise we like them a lot.
  • Boston Market (Nanaimo and Elsewhere) Sports Bar. Decent food and prices. Comfortable. Nice pizza.
  • Dairy Queen (Nanaimo and elsewhere) What you’d expect from a DQ. Good food, fast food ambiance. Their ice cream is great if a bit spendy. That’s not their fault, dairy is expensive all over Canada. Recommend the Blizzards, shakes, and Peanut Buster Parfaits.
  • Dinghy Dock Pub (Nanaimo, Protection Island actually) You have to take a water taxi/ferry to get to this little place making it a bit awkward. It is however good enough to have survived despite the inconvenience. It’s wonderful. The food is great. In the summer you can sit on the patio and watch the boats in the harbour. The bar is great. We don’t go as often as we’d like to, but we’ll be back.
  • The Doghouse (Duncan) Nice little diner. Known for their pie. Our friends favourite place. We’ll stop there if we’re in the area but don’t make a special trip just to go there.
  • The Keg (Nanaimo) Good if not memorable food that’s a bit on the expensive side for what you get. Dark inside. A bit hard to get to. There’s better places so we don’t plan on going back.
  • Lefty’s (Qualicum Beach) Nice. Good food at decent prices. Nice little small town diner. There’s another one in Parksville as well but we haven’t been there yet.
  • Lantzville Pub (Lantzville) Bright ambiance. Great view. Good prices. Good pub food. We go there a lot.
  • McDonalds (Nanaimo and elsewhere) No. Just no.
  • Mekong Delta (Parksville) Our new favourite asian place. It’s run by a relative of the person who runs Saigon Kitchen. It feels more like the old Saigon Kitchen. The portions and prices are good. The quality is very good. Plus they have a few unique dishes.
  • Milano’s (Nanaimo) Quite good food. Good service. Light and airy. Great Pizza. Their Fish Tacos use halibut, where most use cod or salmon. We go back often.
  • Original Joe’s (Nanaimo) Decent food if not spectacular. Sports bar ambiance. The service is terrible so we tend not to go there.
  • Ricky’s. (Nanaimo) We went there and found it quite sub par for ambiance, service, and food. The place changed hands and the new owners remodelled it and updated the menu. Amazingly enough it’s worse. We do NOT go there.
  • Saigon Kitchen. (Nanaimo) Formerly our favourite asian place. The food was terrific and the prices were very fair. In the last year the prices are creeping up and the quality has slipped. The dishes are still well made, but they’re using cheaper fillers. The prawn plate used to have a pile of them, now it has three or four plus rice and noodles. The sizzling hot pans used to be about 50% veggies/50% meat. Now they are about 80%/20%. Overall it’s just not as nice.
  • Simon-Holt (Nanaimo) Very good food. Very good service. We frequent it regularly. It’s a bar/restaurant with very nice ambiance, and a surprisingly broad menu. They even have a band in occasionally. The only drawback is the name. Simon-Holt sounds like a textbook publisher. But once we realized that it was really a restaurant  it quickly became one of our favourite places.
  • Tim Horton’s (Nanaimo and elsewhere) Decent pastries. Good sandwiches. Nicer than the usual fast food places. Often some even have decent seats and a fireplace. Tim’s coffee is apparently a big deal up here. I don’t like coffee so I can’t comment on that. Overall we hit Tim’s a lot.
  • White Spot (Nanaimo and elsewhere) A chain that made it’s name by being inoffensive. The food is OK if a bit on the bland side. Ambiance is pleasant enough. They also do the food service on BC Ferries so we do eat there occasionally. However it’s not our first choice.
  • Comedy Lesson 1: Brevity is the Soul of Wit

    Lets take a joke I heard today and dissect it:

  • Stanley died in a fire and his body was burned badly. The morgue needed someone to identify the body, so they sent for his two best deer hunting friends, Cooter and Gomer. The three men had always hunted and fished together and were long time members of a hunting camp.

    Cooter arrived first, and when the mortician pulled back the sheet, Cooter said, “Yup, his face is burned up pretty bad. You better roll him over.” The mortician rolled him over and Cooter said, “Nope, ain’t Stanley .”

    The mortician thought this was rather strange, So he brought Gomer in to confirm the identity of the body. Gomer looked at the body and said, “Yup, he’s pretty well burnt up. Roll him over.” The mortician rolled him over and Gomer said, “No, it ain’t Stanley.”

    The mortician asked, “How can you tell?”

    Gomer said, “Well, Stanley had two ass-holes.”

    “What! He had two ass-holes?” asked the mortician.

    “Yup, we never seen ‘em, but everybody used to say, there’s Stanley with them two ass-holes.”

  • Here is an opportunity to learn one of the most important lessens about comedy. Keep It Short. Nothing kills a joke more effectively than talking it to death. I believe it was Henny Youngman who said any joke can be made better by cutting it, either shorter or completely. At the very least over long jokes blunt the punch line and risk telegraphing it before you can wrap it up. It’s called a punch line for a reason; it has to hit before the recipient sees it coming.

    So how could this joke be tightened up. How about this:

  • The coroner thought the body from the burned house was Stanley’s but he needed positive identification so he brought in two of his friends. They couldn’t tell who it was so they asked the coroner to turn the body over. immediately both of them said “Nope that’s not Stanley”

    “How can you be sure?”

    “Whenever we were out we’d hear people saying ‘There goes Stanley with the two assholes.’ This guy only has one.”

  • See how much tighter the joke is? From seventeen lines to seven. It cuts all the unnecessary chaff out and gets to the critical bits. It doesn’t telegraph the punch line four lines before the end. Remember, you are telling jokes, not writing a novel or a screenplay. You don’t need to paint a textured scene. The audience’s mind will do that. Just the set up and then the punch line. Before you tell a joke, examine it, dissect it, if there is anything that doesn’t have to be in there cut it out.

    Remember: Brevity is the soul of wit

  • (Said by Polonius in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare)
  • Animation 1, 2, 3, ., /, &, $

    12 Oz Mouse
    Drawings that look literally like they were done by a preschooler. Stories that have little or no plot. It seems like sometimes the voice over talent has nothing to go on and they are just trying to fill long gaps in the dialogue. Trying to be edgy the creators forgot about any vestige of quality. Forgettable if you are lucky.

    6Teen
    SIX TEENage friends (get it?) that hang around and work at a mall. Three girls and three guys, all sixteen years old dealing with peer pressure, lousy jobs, dating, and other teenage crises. The title is about as subtle as the rest of the writing. Not that it’s unpleasant. It’s just not very good. The characters are fairly thin and the plots are not too deep either.

    The 7D
    A retelling of the seven dwarves stories. Boilerplate and flat.

    9
    A war between people using intelligent machines becomes a war between people and intelligent machines, and people are wiped out. The earth is ruined, and the remaining war machines wander around killing anything they find. A doll, number 9, awakes amid the rubble. He discovers others of his kind, gets them to stop hiding, and leads them to fight back against the machines. Well done, inspiring, with a deep meaning, message, and subtexts. Emotionally draining. It’s likely to be too intense for kids though.

    .Hack// Legend.
    Similar premise to .Hack// Sign but not nearly as good as the first series.

    .Hack// Liminality
    People are falling into comas while playing The Game. A former executive with The CC Corporation that runs The World tries to figure out what is going on. The story takes place entirely in the real world. Mediocre animation. Average writing. What made the original .Hack// Sign interesting was that they were trying to solve a similar puzzle from within the game. This is the same except that by staying on the outside it loses it’s cleverness. From the outside it isn’t that interesting or compelling. Large parts were just characters talking interminably trying to sound noir. The end was vague, unclear, and unsatisfying. The series was a companion to a series of video games which are no longer available. That explains a lot.

    .Hack//Quantum
    From 2010; after Legend, Liminality, and Roots. Something is wrong in the World. Players are getting hurt for real. Players cannot log out. The World is being manipulated. Similar in design and feel to the original .Hack//Sign this short series moves fast and has a clear plot. It is short too, only three episodes. I believe it may have been intended to be a one hour movie. The animation is superb, movie grade CGI and flat animation. The music is gorgeous. The voiceover talent excellent. After a number of decidedly sub par offerings I had about given up on the .Hack// series. This redeems it. I hope it is a foretaste of what’s to come.

    .Hack//Roots
    I am so annoyed with this one I could just spit. The story is as good as the original .Hack/Sign. The plot development is slow to the point of being frustrating at times, just like the first but as it wraps up it builds to a good finale. I was expecting to rate it just as highly as the first. Then I got to the end, or rather the lack of an end. The story does not finish, rather the plot line is left open and the `end` is in a video game you cannot get any longer. It felt like a bad practical joke. As one reviewer said `All that and in the end I just spent a month watching a commercial for the video game`.

    .Hack//Sign
    At first this looks like a kiddie anime along the lines of Pokimon. It is set in an online Everquest like environment called The World. You discover that one of the characters is in trouble. Something has gone wrong with the environment and the user cannot log out. Because it is a virtual environment, the rest of the characters cannot figure out where the user is in the real world. They have to debug the system and resolve the hacking incident, which is what they discover the ultimate cause to be, from inside The World. You have the odd situation of sysadmins discussing server routing and protocol conflicts while dressed in full armour and battling with system bugs in the form of monsters. It is all very surreal.

    Animation X Y Z

    Xiolin Showdown
    Omi is an apprentice monk. He and three other apprentices have to capture Shen Gong Wu, powerful and ancient talisman, before Evil Jack Spicer and his robots can capture them. Along with Omi are Clay who is a Texan, Kimiko who is supposed to be Japanese but she comes off as more of a California valley girl, and Raimundo who is Brazilian. The characters all are positively soggy with tired stereotypes and at first I found this rather off-putting. Overall the writing is decent and the show is watch-able once you get past the setup. Not high art, though.

    X-Men
    Allegory of intolerance and McCarthyism. Well written that explores the history contradictions, and deep wishes of the characters. Not just how but why they have the powers, what they do with them, and their desires. Quite good.

    The Xs
    A family of spies trying to maintain an incognito “normal” life. The trouble is that they are really bad at it. I thought it would be a rip-off of The Incredibles but it is actually quite different and quite amusing.

    Xxxholic Kai
    A kid has a sister who is into spooky magic things. His best friend is a taciturn loner that inherited his grandfathers shrine complete with library of spells and magical lore. He’s hopelessly in love with this girl in his class. All in all a decent, if not inspired setting for a story. The trouble is that Watanuki is obnoxious. Flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. His scenes seem to fill with tired ‘anime’ symbolism without warning. Most everyone else is just going about forwarding the plot, which at it’s core is not a bad story. Kai though is just a mess. If this were live action Kai would be played by the young actor that keeps tripping over the scenery when he’s not over-emoting. But when he’s in the spirit world he’s clear sighted and decisive. Unfortunately he doesn’t spend nearly enough time in the spirit world. A very unbalanced mix.

    Zatch Bell
    A super smart High School kid receives a Mimoto, a little brother/doll/robot thing. With it and a book of spells he has to battle other guys and their Mimotos. Suffers from Naruto Disease. Uninteresting and repetitious.

    Zombie Loan
    A school girl meets up with two guys. They died but were rescued and now have to pay back their benefactor, working off the debt by killing zombies. She ends up in debt to the Zombie Loan office too and uses her ability to tell who is a zombie to help the other two. Not a bad series. 11 episodes plus 2 OVA so it’s moves quickly. Decent writing and animation. Enjoyable but average.

    Z/X Ignition
    Based on a collectible card game and video game. The physics does not make any sense, nor the writing. You can go the other way, make a series into a good video game but it’s nearly impossible to go from a game to a good movie or series.

    Animation W

    Walking
    By Ryan Larkin. A man is walking. People see him. Others are walking. The film explores the abstract form if the human form in motion. Interesting. Beautiful in it’s own way. See also Ryan, Street Musique, and Syrinx.

    Wallace and Grommet: Curse of the Were Rabbit (Movie)
    For the uninitiated Wallace is a half crazy inventor and Grommet is his dog, except that Grommet is smarter, has more common sense, and is more talented in most everything. In this adventure the two of them are running a humane pest control service. This means that they capture rabbits from their customers gardens and take them away. Then something huge and sinister arrives and they have to take care of it. Of course all of this is done with more of their wild inventions. Lots of slapstick humor, obscure references, and improbable situations. The characters are wonderful. A couple of interesting notes. The same actress played Lady Tottington in Weir Rabbit and the Corpse Bride in the film of the same name. Lastly the animator that did this film also did Chicken Run and a series of Wallace and Grommet shorts. All of them are very enjoyable.

    Wall-E
    A very well done story about impossible love. The robots are delightful One called it to Buster Keaton meets Sigorny Weaver and that’s not far off. There’s a good deal of subtext, people getting lazy and fat, trashing the earth, corporate greed and conspicuous consumption are bad, etc. Right wing morons tried to make a big deal about that but it only showed that they were in fact morons. The film itself is beautifully done, exciting, touching, and a heck of a lot of fun. The robots are far better than those in the film Robots, more realistic in graphic design and behaviour.

    Wander Over Yonder
    Not sure where this one is supposed to be set. Yonder, a smallish vaguely humanoid bowling pin shaped creature with a big floppy hat, and his friend, a horse, have adventures. He is unflappably cheerful and optimistic. His friend is more aware of the dangers and is seriously sarcastic at times. Nothing is the way you’d expect. Yonder always wins and the powerful look like idiots. Silly at first glance, it actually has a lot of satire and commentary.

    Whatever Happened to Robot Jones
    Educational cartoon for the Junior High crowd. A robot trying to fit in an a normal Jr. High. OK, Junior High was a time in our lives when we all felt like a misfit. Like they passed a bunch of new rules and we were Robot Jones trying to navigate our way through without making too many embarrassing mistakes. Fine, but the show is very simplistic and the message of each episode is painfully obvious. I really think I saw this or something very much like it years ago. I could swear that they just pulled out a bunch of old films made in the 80s and are passing them off as new stuff set in the 80s. The animation even looks like the original Schoolhouse Rock short films. Of course it was not good even then and age has not helped.

    Whisper of the Heart (Movie)
    (Miyazaki). Very gentle look at a girl named Shizuku growing up. She starts as a disorganized 14 year old with some talent for writing, she does lyrics for her Jr. High School graduation but does not think they are very good. Through the film she discovers a wider world, a boy that makes violins, he goes to Italy, and she tests herself by writing a novel in the 2 months he is away. At the end she looks the same but there is a focus, a confidence that she did not have at the beginning. A slow and pretty film. Nice but not moving. Being a writer I liked Miyazakis handling of her coming to grips with the dream of being a writer and how when a story starts to flow it is not like you are creating as much as recording a story that is unfolding on its own. Very nicely handled. The only (fairly petty) complaint is that for the theme song and the song Shizuku is rewriting the lyrics for they chose Take Me Home, Country Roads. The 1972 Olivia Newton-John version used for the opening credits under scenes of people walking around Tokyo seemed completely out of place, to the point of being jarring and surreal. Her rewritten lyrics were actually an improvement over the original, and the scene where they are all singing and playing the song together is great. It was done in the style of a medieval madrigal and was quite nice. But in the end it still is the twangy song that John Denver made popular and just seems out of place. The Cat Came Back is technically a sequel to Whisper of the Heart but the two effectively take place in different universes. The Baron and the white cat with the dark ear are back in the later film but Whisper of the Heart is a much more realistic style of film with no magic.

    Witch Hunter Robin
    A secret organization exists to locate and capture witches. Paradoxically people with the same ability to use “the craft” who work for the organization are “hunters” not “witches”. Witches are considered evil and there is an unmistakable slam toward organized religion. As the series goes on we learn more about witch persecution and Robin, who has a very powerful ability to control and project fire, has more and more doubts about the morality of what she is doing. Finally Robin becomes too powerful and the organization turns on her and declares her to be a witch. It has a great ending. To tell any more would be to give away the intrigue.

    Wolfs Rain
    Interesting story of a post apocalyptic world where wolves have learned to look like people in order to hide from us while they search for their mythical Eden. Unfortunately, there is an underlying homoeroticism about the relationships in the pack that I found a little bit uncomfortable for a show about kids and young adults.

    Wolverine and the X-Men
    As the original was about intolerance in general and Mcarthyism in particular, this version is an allegory of right wing hate mongering. The characters have the same internal conflicts that made them interesting in the original series and the writing is still tight. Some of the characters seem weaker than the original, Storm, and Rogue for example. Gambit, my favourite character from the original is also not in this one at all. But overall it is quite good.

    World End: What do you do at the end of the world. Are you busy? Will you save us?
    On a ruined doomed earth people live on islands in the sky while monsters prowl the ground below. Only the people aren’t what they seem. The monsters aren’t what they seem. The weapons aren’t what they seem. In the middle of this Willem and Catholly fall in love. A beautiful, sad story of love and redemption. Though only 12 episodes it builds slowly like a rose opening to bloom. Exceedingly well done. 

    The World of Quest
    A prince, a hero, and other typical characters on a quest battle monsters and an evil bad guy and his muscle bound sidekick. Could have been very typical and uninteresting except that it is a parody of the genre. Everything is filled with digs and jokes at the form and the classic set pieces. They have a living map called Way that gives directions in such a garbled Way that she seldom helps them to find their Way. The hero is exceedingly cynical and has the catch phrase; I hate ______, where in inserts whatever they have encountered no matter how unlikely he is to ever have run into it before. The prince is just a kid with no particular talents or skills. The show is nicely done and because they do it with tongue firmly planted in cheek quite amusing.

    Animation V

    Venture Brothers
    A parody of the adventure family (Johnny Quest etc.) cartoons. Two brothers who are utterly inept and craven, their father Dr. Venture who is self centred and sarcastic, along with their bodyguard Brock who is over the top tough, travel the world looking for treasures, artifacts and such and running into strange bad guys. Fairly clumsy and obvious. Whenever the story lags you can count on them to liven things up with an obvious homosexual reference. No subtlety. Little cleverness.

    Voices From a Distant Star (Movie)
    A couple of middle school kids are close friends. The boy goes on to high school and the girl gets picked to pilot a mech in an interstellar war. She keeps in contact with her friend via text messages. The trouble is that the war gets farther and farther from Earth. First the messages are a few minutes delayed. Then a few hours. Then a year, then over eight years as the UN Army chases the enemy. We do not really know who the enemy is and why they attacked Mars is never explained. It is not important. The violence and ruthlessness of the war is a backdrop for the real story. The girl who fights and the guy who stays home try to keep in touch but it gets harder and harder. Her loneliness and isolation is palpable. What is more, as she gets farther from Earth she knows that the two of them are getting out of synch. She even mention this in one message saying `This is from the 15 year old Makako to the 24 year old Noboru`. The story is sad but achingly beautiful.

    Animation U

    Up
    A very surprising film. Enjoyable but very grown up. The first 20 minutes or so follow the life of a kid as he meets the girl next door. They grow up, dream of adventures, and get married. We see them have a life together, have setbacks, and lose a child. Finally they grow old, she passes away and he is left alone. The start is really quite sad. He decides to fulfill her dream of going to South America. He attaches thousands of balloons to his home and sails away from his old life, and a very evil developer that wanted to cheat him out of his house. Accidentally a local kid ends up going with him. They make it to South America and encounter a talking dog, a strange giant bird and the old man’s childhood hero. His hero it turns out has become an obsessive, murderous, nutcase that will do anything to kill the giant bird. What happens is exciting but not childish. The nutcase ends up getting killed in a rather gruesome fashion. The man is a total asshole at times, though in the end he makes a heart wrenching sacrifice to do the right thing. The big message of the film is the corrupting power of obsession. Overall Up is sweet, sad, exciting, funny, and dramatic. However if you are looking for something for little kids, this is too dark.