Friday 29 May 2015

Book notes #2

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review for TQF. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

Axe Cop, Vol 2: Bad Guy Earth (Dark Horse Comics), by Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. Nothing could ever be quite as hilarious as Axe Cop, Vol. 1, which made me laugh so much the sides of my eyes were sore for days from wiping away the tears, and this isn’t, but it comes pretty close. Axe Cop and friends have to battle two psychic bad guys who want to turn everyone on Earth into bad guys. Written by a little kid and drawn by his grown-up brother, this does a great job of harnessing the imaginative fireworks that go off whenever children start to rattle off stories. ****

Baltimore, Vol. 2: The Curse Bells (Dark Horse Books) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck. A story in five chapters, which begins with a betrayal in Lucerne. Baltimore searches for the vampire Haigus, who he first encountered on the bloodstained fields of World War One. ***

Baltimore, Vol. 3: A Passing Stranger (Dark Horse Books) by Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden and Ben Stenbeck. Lord Baltimore fights his way through five short stories, hunting for his hated enemy. ***

Batman: The Black Mirror (DC Comics), by Scott Snyder, Jock, Francesco Francavilla. Good story about Batman (Dick Grayson, who I think might be my favourite Batman) fighting a weird secret society. ***

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet (self-published) by Stacia Kane. Reading this didn’t half make me blush. It compiles a series of blog posts on the subject of writing sex scenes, principally for erotic novels. I don’t often include that stuff in my writing, but I’d read some sensible blog posts on responding to reviews by the author and wanted to buy something of hers. And it was useful to me: much of what she says can be applied to other kinds of action. It’s good, though some readers may feel it could have used a rewrite to make it more bookish and less bloggy. ***

Billy’s Book (PS Publishing) by Terry Bisson. A short PS Publishing collection of deliberately fragmentary and repetitive stories about a boy who has odd stuff turn up at his house, like giant ants and wizards and unicorns. They’re okay, but it was a bit of a surprise at the end to see what starry venues they had originally appeared in. ***

Black and Brown Planets: The Politics of Race in Science Fiction (University Press of Mississippi), by Isiah Lavender III (ed.). Interesting book of essays. Two about one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 are maybe a bit much, and given the title it seems odd that it doesn’t cover India, the country that might well come to lead the space race (the “Brown” section is more about South America), but I learnt a lot from it. Like any book of literary criticism, it can be dull, but that’s outweighed by the issues, authors and stories it works so carefully to bring to our attention. A few essays make great claims without much evidence, but all provide much to think about; it opens up the conversation, rather than having the last word. Walter Mosley is quoted inside as saying: “The power of science fiction is that it can tear down the walls and windows, the artifice and laws by changing the logic, empowering the disenfranchised or simply by asking, What if?” Black and Brown Planets shows how writers and critics are doing just that. Reviewed in full for Interzone #255. ****

Black Science, Vol. 1: How to Fall Forever (Image Comics), by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, Dean White. Begins with a pair of scientists dashing through a bizarre alien world, desperate to get back to the children who will die if they don’t get back in time. As the story goes on, it begins to feel a bit like Sliders or Primeval, one of those shows where characters pitch up in a place and have to get out again. It’s better than either of those so far, let’s hope that continues. The art is spectacular. ***

Friday 22 May 2015

Book notes #1

Notes and ratings from TQF50 and TQF51 for books I didn’t review. Credits from Goodreads; apologies to anyone miscredited or missing.

Abe Sapien, Vol. 1: The Drowning (Dark Horse Books), by Mike Mignola, Mike Alexander and Jason Shawn. Moody and spooky story of Hellboy’s aquatic chum. ***

Adventure Time, Vol. 1: Playing With Fire (KaBOOM!), by Danielle Corsetto. A black and white Adventure Time graphic novel featuring the Flame Princess. ***

Adventure Time, Vol. 2: Pixel Princesses (KaBOOM!), by Danielle Corsetto and Zack Sterling. Another black and white graphic novel, this time featuring several of the princesses as they get stuck inside their computer pal. Bought for the children (possibly by the children with their pocket money) but I enjoyed it too. ***

Afterlife with Archie, Vol. 1: Escape from Riverdale (Archie Comics), by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Francesco Francavilla. Interesting alternative take on the gang. Shows real understanding of the characters. Doesn’t have a proper ending. ***

Amazing Screw-On Head and Other Curious Objects (Dark Horse Comics), by Mike Mignola and Dave Stewart. Collecting weird tales by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. The lead story is about a head who can screw himself into various bodies, and does so in order to help the President, Abraham Lincoln. ****

Amelia Cole and the Hidden War (Monkeybrain Comics), by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire. Book two. Amelia works as the city’s magic sheriff while her predecessor fights in a magical war. ***

Amelia Cole and the Unknown World (Monkeybrain Comics), by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride and Nick Brokenshire. Book one in a well-drawn and readable series about a young woman who can do magic. ***

American Elf 2009 (Top Shelf Productions), by James Kochalka. Kochalka’s daily comics from 2009. ***

American Elf 2010 (Top Shelf Productions), by James Kochalka. Kochalka’s daily comics from 2010. ***

American Elf 2011 (Top Shelf Productions), by James Kochalka. Kochalka’s daily comics from 2011. ****

American Elf 2012 (Top Shelf Productions), by James Kochalka. Conclusion of the wonderful autobiographical series. *****

Angel and Faith, Vol. 1: Live Through This (Dark Horse Books) by Christos Gage, Scott Allie, Rebekah Isaacs and Phil Noto. Vampire with a soul Angel did some stuff recently that he feels bad about, and he’s trying to put things right. Naughty vampire slayer Faith owes him one from back in the day so she’ll stick by his side, even though she thinks he’s making a mistake. The first story sees them tracking down the source of an elixir of life, and the second brings back Harmony, still the world’s most famous celebrity vampire. Enjoyable without being essential; I think Angel and Faith are both characters who benefit from a bit of offscreen time. Watch out for the spoiler for volume two in the artist’s notes at the back. ***

Asterix and the Magic Carpet (Orion), by Albert Uderzo. Asterix goes to India, in theory. It seems more like Arabia. ***

Asterix in Corsica (Orion), by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Not the best in the series. ***

Asterix in Switzerland (Orion), by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Very funny. Reminded me why I loved Asterix so much as a youngster. ****

Avengers Assemble (Marvel) by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley. Collecting a blockbuster mini-series where the Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to take on Thanos, who’s got his hands on a new cosmic cube and an army of Badoon. It’s not too bad, and the artwork is good, but the story struggles to fill eight issues and Gamora wears an appallingly sexist outfit that looks like Borat’s swimming costume. ***

Monday 18 May 2015

Ten tips for a happy marriage

I've been married for 19 years today. If one becomes an expert in something after 10,000 hours, then logically after 166,550 hours of marriage I am an expert in it 16 times over, so I feel entirely justified in offering my ten tips for a happy marriage:

1. Marry someone who already knows what a jerk you are.

2. If you have a row sleep at the opposite end of the bed rather than stomping off to sleep somewhere else. It's hard to be mad at someone's feet for what their mouth said.

3. Marry someone who likes the same TV programmes, because it's always going to be a cheap easy way to have fun together.

4. If possible, try to go to bed at the same time.

5. But get a Kindle with a built-in light so that you don't need to keep the lamp on.

6. Marry someone who thinks you're funny.

7. Be aware of their minimum expectations in the relationship and make sure you meet them.

8. Divide the household tasks up cleanly so that there's no arguing over whose turn it is to do something.

9. Never leave an empty toilet roll behind.

10. Be lucky.

If you've got any tips of your own, please let me have them in the comments! Our twentieth anniversary is now almost within reach and it would be a terrible shame if I fell at the last hurdle!

Avengers: Age of Ultron | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

Sequel soars with Super Bowl style entertainment.

Our beloved heroes are back to decimate evil, attack our pocketbooks, decrease our IQ, and lavish us with non-stop action.

Avengers: Age of Ultron pumps up the adrenaline of the box office record-breaking Avengers Assemble (2012). The sequel stands as a treatise on the values of friendship and loyalty, as well as a commentary on the redemptive qualities of humanity. Plus it has lots of explosions.

Tony Stark (i.e. Iron Man) has a plan to bring peace to Earth through an artificial intelligence called Ultron. However, Ultron’s motives (and his take on humans) are a tad less charitable: he wants to destroy humanity. So Ultron makes himself a robotic body, enlists a couple of genetically modified twins (“He’s fast, she’s weird.”), and multiplies his army like “a Catholic rabbit” (Nick Fury’s words).

Despite all the biotechnological gobbledygook that passes between Stark and Dr Bruce Banner (the Hulk), the crew has a simple goal: stop Ultron. No matter our willingness to admit it, the reason we adults go to see these films is the same as that of the little boy: to see good guys trounce bad guys. And that’s what we get.

Though it’s penned by return director Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age of Ultron seems to have come together via a think tank of top advertising creatives intent on achieving a two-plus hour Super Bowl commercial. From the opening snowy battle scene to the rollicking conclusion, the film keeps the viewer hypnotized with its rock star cast and cartoonish fight sequences.

In this film, plot is peripheral to action. It’s best viewed on a big screen. A robot-propelled semitrailer floating above New York just isn’t the same on a small screen.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the attention span of the average American dropped 33% between 2000 and 2013. We’re at about eight seconds. The makers of Avengers: Age of Ultron got the memo.

Something for Everyone
The film appeals to many different ages and cinematic tastes.

Those who like humour are in for a treat. It’s hard to watch the film for longer than two minutes without finding something to at least chuckle at. It starts when Captain America reprimands Stark after he utters the film’s first word: “Shit.” Soon “Cap” lets slip a dirty word of his own. This becomes an ongoing joke.

The sense of boyish one-upmanship that permeates the film is best encapsulated at a party near the beginning. Thor and Iron Man strive to outbrag each other regarding the accomplishments of their women, Jane Foster and Pepper Potts. The heroes then engage in a strength contest by attempting to lift Mjölnir, Thor’s magical hammer. To top it off, Thor enhances the libations with some kind of magical elixir.

For romantics, there’s the blossoming relationship between Natasha Romanoff (i.e. Black Widow) and Bruce Banner. It’s particularly enjoyable to watch Mark Ruffalo’s reluctant, nearly submissive Banner squirm as Scarlett Johansson’s character makes clear her interest in him. Sure, Banner is concerned that his green alter ego could tear apart Romanoff, but he’s also contending with a much more incredulous possibility: that this vixen is actually interested in him despite his supreme nerdiness. Well played by Ruffalo.

For the youngster, especially the hysterical boy who likes to knock things down, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a dream come true. Colourful costumes. Robots. Weapons. Razed buildings. Standouts include Captain America’s completely unnecessary, though enthralling flips and Stark in a souped-up Iron Man getup attempting to stop a mentally altered Hulk’s – was it possible for him to get any angrier? – urban rampage.

The film achieves the ultimate in bombastic heroism when the Avengers, positioned in a circle, fight their adversaries as the camera moves around them in slow motion. Absurd. Juvenile. Love it!

Ultron – a Narcissistic Robot with Spunk
The villain that graces millions of bags of chips and cans of soda had better be as bad and as tantalizing as the products he touts. Ultron has the crunch and the fizz.

This bad guy combines the appearance of a more agile Terminator robot, the vocal distinctiveness of Heath Ledger’s Joker (The Dark Knight), and the tangential gems of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (American Psycho).

James Spader’s voiceover shifts from philosophical ennui, to wisecracking commentaries on human frailties (e.g. “Everyone creates the thing they dread… People create… smaller people? Uhh… children! Lost the word there.”), to enraged disbelief at others questioning his superiority.

Get ready for a super-sized portion of crackling quotes from this one. After Steve Rogers/Captain America’s declaration that there is a way to achieve peace, Ultron says, “I can’t actually throw up in my mouth, but if I could I would do it!”

Tony Stark has met his match. – Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Read Douglas’s review of The Avengers.

Friday 15 May 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies | review by Jacob Edwards

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to orc we go.

For many months I disavowed my ring finger’s insistent tingle to review
The Battle of the Five Armies. This was not because I hold J.R.R. Tolkien or Peter Jackson in any way sacred (although I do esteem The Frighteners), but rather because there seemed no way into the task. I felt, like Bilbo Baggins, too small to embark upon such an adventure. I hadn’t even read The Hobbit.

Yet, review the film I shall, though many others have set out before me, better prepared and more assured of purpose. (There’s even now in my possession a map marked here be dragons.) Review it I shall, even if this should require so foolhardy an act as to cross the streams, Ghostbusters-style, and write in the first person.

Someone once told me never to write non-fiction in the first person. It’s advice I’ve taken to heart even while retaining no memory of whom so impressed me with the tenet. Their face is gone and so too the voice, leaving nothing but Yoda pastiche. “Review. Or review not. There is no I.”

And why is this? Because there’s too much danger of slipping into memoir (or, heaven forbid, blogging). This is now inevitable. I apologise.

I came to The Battle of the Five Armies having seen and mostly enjoyed both the first two instalments of the Hobbit trilogy and also Peter Jackson’s three-pronged take on The Lord of the Rings. This latter was a book I had read, its three volumes bound together in one bitter pill and shoved down my throat at university as part of a feminism in electric sheep’s clothing degree. I remember a distended week of Tolkien, mitigated only by old Tom Bombadil singing ditties about himself in the third person. I remember the lecturer perched like Smaug atop her pedestal, steaming with self-importance. I remember scoring exactly the same as my brother across three pieces of assessment, but notching a lower grade because not all assignments are created equal and marks out of 100 are not fungible. You see? Memoir.

I tried, having watched it on the big screen, to then read The Hobbit, but I failed. Much though the imaginative elements were there, the prose itself seemed laboured. It was like going back to Enid Blyton, only without any childhood nostalgia to sweeten the journey. I just couldn’t abide all the descriptive repetition; the sameness of Tolkien’s firkydoodling.

What, then, to do?

Thinking back to my English degree, I distinctly recall the feeling of reprieve I experienced upon discovering Tess of the d’Urbervilles as an audiobook. Rather than read it myself, I could listen to Martin Shaw, with whom I was familiar primarily through The Professionals, but also by way of a more serious snippet of period drama I’d happened upon one night while channel surfing. East Lynne, perhaps? “I should like to take a stroll on the moor.” Hand to hip; britches and jacket. Something like that.

Martin Shaw made Tess of the d’Urbervilles bearable, and so I was pleased to learn in my more recent time of need that he could also be heard reading The Hobbit. Not every dwarf cloak is described – the audiobook is slightly abridged – but Shaw weaves his sonorous spell for a good six hours, narrating, putting on a plethora of voices and generally matching the film trilogy’s epic sense of adventure. Dating from 1993, Shaw’s virtuoso rendition of Gollum must surely have informed Andy Serkis’ now-iconic performance across Peter Jackson’s magnum opus.

And so, at last, to The Battle of the Five Armies.

Tolkien, it seems to me (speaking of his corpus of works rather than the man himself), is one of those rare literary phenomena where the story being told comes in some measure to be associated, either positively or negatively, with the circumstances by which it is read, heard or viewed. Preconceptions; personal experience; prior encounters with Middle-earth: everything goes into the mix and the film, in this case, either weaves its spell or it doesn’t. Objectivity itself becomes subjective.

Which is my excuse for spurning even the pretence of critical analysis, and offering instead merely a conscious stream of likes and didn’t-likes. Or rather, a list of especial likes and didn’t-likes, which heavily favours the latter. As much as I enjoyed the movie overall, the best part was still picking it apart afterwards…

Starting with the good, we have Billy Connolly as Thorin Oakenshield’s second cousin, Dáin Ironfoot, whose injection into proceedings adds some much-needed charisma to all the fighting. Regardless of whether or not Connolly would have tallied with Tolkien’s conception of Dwarf royalty, this for me was the highlight.

Moving on to good that segues into bad, we have Martin Freeman. When it was first announced that Freeman would play the role of Bilbo Baggins, my reaction was the same as when he was cast as Arthur Dent; namely, “Yes. Perfect.” Freeman brings tremendous nuance to the screen. He’s one of those actors who can do a lot with little; who can say a lot while not quite saying anything at all. In the same way that Eric Idle’s Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink sketch looks somewhat underwhelming in written form but comes alive in performance, Martin Freeman can take ordinary (or even quite trite) lines and make them thoroughly convincing.

Freeman, in short (hey, accidental pun), has bravura to burn. The only problem is that he’s hardly ever on screen. Too many battles, not enough Bilbo! The same could be said of Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, but Freeman surely deserves more while playing the titular character. (Yes, I refer to the film by its subtitle, but all those armies aside, it’s still meant to be The Hobbit.) Peter Jackson in this respect has been perhaps too faithful to the book, going so far as to have Bilbo knocked unconscious and leaving everyone else to get on with it. Yes, that’s how Tolkien himself played it, but Tolkien also introduced Bard only minutes before Smaug was slain. Jackson saw no reason not to flesh out that character. Why then pay such little attention to poor old Bilbo? Presumably because…

…and here we move fully into the realm of bad points, The Battle of the Five Armies really is, by and large, just one big fight sequence. (And an excuse for Legolas to defy gravity; clearly he’s one of those elves who, if he found himself in a plummeting elevator, would jump up just before it hit the ground and so escape all harm.) There’s quite a bit of fighting in the book, too, but there’s also a lot of downtime, which Tolkien had the luxury of passing off in narrative voice. “They rested there for several weeks,” for instance, works better on the page than as a visual collage of dwarves sitting about the place, smoothing out their beards and generally recuperating. Peter Jackson omits such details and, cinematically speaking, this probably makes sense. The result is an uninterrupted narrative; but it’s one where time and space are outlandishly compressed. Everything happens all at once. Battles are fought. New armies appear. Middle-earth becomes somehow very small, as if you could take it all in just by standing atop the nearest hill. The whole scenario blossoms and dies like a sunflower in time-lapse.

And somewhere amongst it all, the hobbit aspect – the journey itself; Bilbo’s tookish adventure, reluctantly embraced and constantly at odds with his Baggins instincts – is lost, replaced by run-of-the-mill heroics and overplayed dramatic overtures.

And orcs. Orcs!

There are two types of orc: some are near enough indestructible; others die if you brush past them too quickly and cause a draught. And remember what I said about Jackson being too faithful to the book? I take that back. Yes, Tolkien had orcs. They appeared towards the end and were fought against in a great battle. Jolly good. But Jackson has made his trilogy about orcs. They’re everywhere, growling and snarling and chasing and dying, just to add excitement (so-called) where film laboratory chemicals have eaten away all the subtlety. If Peter Jackson were filming the siege of Troy, he wouldn’t use a giant wooden horse. He’d have orcs. Multitudes of orcs, crawling over the screen like maggots on a dead hobbit.

But enough grumbling. Suffice it to say that my personal journey to Middle-earth was made in the company of two Martins, and that my enjoyment of The Battle of the Five Armies – for such it was, mostly – would have been enhanced had Peter Jackson opted for a more Shaw-footed or Freemannered, not so heavily orc-castrated, production.

Okay, well that’s just dire wordplay. I should rub that out. Replace it with CGI.

Oh, look: some more orcs.

Monday 11 May 2015

The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie by James Kochalka | review by Stephen Theaker

The Glorkian Warrior is a Groo-ish idiot whose best friend is his Rufferto-ish Super Backpack, which can shoot lasers and talk, not that the Glorkian Warrior ever takes its advice. The two of them of them previously appeared in a fun iOS game The Trials of Glork (reviewed here) and a graphic novel, The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza (reviewed here).

In that one the Warrior took up the quest to deliver a pizza, as requested by someone who had apparently dialled the wrong number – along the way they became friends with Gonk and a brain-sucking baby alien. The second graphic novel in the series, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie (First: Second, hb, 128pp) is as funny and inventive as the first.

In this book they meet Buster Glark, a hiccup-happy jerk with his own super backpack who interferes with their mission: to kill a space snake that destroys pie factories. Later the Glorkian Warrior decides to let his elbow do the thinking while they rearrange the furniture, Gonk comes on Glork Patrol with the phone tied on as his backpack, and the baby alien goes too far in his brain-sucking.

The book is written, drawn, lettered and coloured by James Kochalka, whose glee and silliness is a perfect fit for children’s books. I’m not generally one for literary exegesis, but this feels like it grew out of a day James Kochalka spent goofing around with his own children (“Happy family”, “No share no fair!”), and reading it makes you part of the fun.

It’s bright and attractive enough to appeal to younger kids, with big clear speech balloons where the words are given plenty of space, and it’s eminently re-readable – which I know because I read it again and laughed again while writing this review. Trumping plays a big role, and jokes about that never get old. A joyful read for adults and a perfect book for children, even the most reluctant of readers. Every school should have a copy. ****

Friday 8 May 2015

Space Battleship Yamato | review by Jacob Edwards

A wave motion gun blast from the past.

The animated franchise Space Battleship Yamato holds a similar place in Japanese popular culture as Star Wars does in that of America and other countries of the Hollywood-suckled West. Debuting as a 26-episode series in 1974, Space Battleship Yamato continued its interstellar voyage through two further seasons (1978, 1980) and spawned five feature films between 1978 and 2009. When it opened late in 2010, Takashi Yamazaki’s remake – the first live action production of Yamato and a retelling of the space battleship’s original mission – blasted Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) from the #1 spot in Japan’s box office.

Australian and American viewers of a certain generation will remember Space Battleship Yamato as Star Blazers, under which title the first two series were dubbed, edited and broadcast in 1979/80 (USA) and 1983 (Australia). Some of the adult themes were toned down and the character names romanticised – Kodai and Yuki became Wildstar and Nova respectively; the ship itself was stripped of its WWII origins to become instead the Argo – but Star Blazers nevertheless retained much of Yamato’s darker tone. Yes, Dr Sado was renamed Dr Sane and his drunkenness pitched as inexplicably zesty exuberance, but humanity remained on the verge of extinction and the Yamato/Argo’s last-ditch quest carried a real sense of import.

Space Battleship Yamato begins with planet Earth on the verge of succumbing to radiation poisoning, the result of a sustained bombardment by the alien Gamilas, whose armada has just annihilated the Earth Defence Force’s last fleet in a battle near Mars. The situation appears hopeless, and yet a message is received from the planet Iskandar, offering salvation by way of a device to counter the radiation, as well as schematics for a warp drive and a prototype Wave Motion Cannon. Grasping at this straw of hope, the EDF dredges up the old battleship Yamato, refurbishes it with the new technology and launches it on the (series one titular) Quest for Iskandar.

Under Leiji Matsumoto the 1974 television series of Yamato was innovative in plotting a season-spanning narrative (rather than self-contained episodes), and also for its focus on characterisation, relationship dynamics and expressions of conflict and loss. It was, in short, a mixture of space and soap opera, borne aloft always by Hiroshi Miyagawa’s stirring incidental music. Along with the iconic visuals, these defining elements have, for better or for worse, made their way into the 2010 film. Composer Naoki Satō follows in Miyagawa’s footsteps, albeit through leaving the seventies behind and elevating his accompaniment to a fully fledged big screen score, while director Takashi Yamazaki and writer Shimako Satō have honoured Matsumoto’s predilection for strong-willed heroines: Dr Sado and Aihara (aka Glitchman) are rewritten as female, while Yuki/Nova is Tiger Squadron’s ace pilot, whose first interaction with Kodai/Wildstar is to knock him down with a clinical and surprisingly hefty punch. As for the soap/space opera…

Live action Yamato carries a $24 million budget and the same glitzy, ground-breaking feel as did the original Star Wars, albeit it thirty-three years divorced from the cinematic context that would afford it an equivalent impact; and as much as Yamazaki’s Yamato is about action, adventure, heroic self-sacrifice and one-in-a-million long-shots, it also dwells heavily on its human aspects and in particular the discord between characters. The supporting players all have individuality hinting at greater depth, but the emotional crux of Yamato is the strained dynamic that exists between Yuki, Kodai and Captain Okita (aka Avatar): Yuki sees Kodai as a fallen idol; Kodai blames Okita for his brother’s death; while Okita perceives something of his younger self in Kodai and feels he must reconcile him to the burdens of command. Actors Takuya Kimura (Kodai) and Meisa Kuroki (Yuki) are both excellent, bringing real substance to their roles. Tsutomu Yamazaki (Okita) is unfortunately less expressive even than his stony-faced anime counterpart, but his explosive cries of “Warp!” – rendered in English; a loan word, presumably, used here almost as a martial arts kiai – remain something of a highlight.

If Space Battleship Yamato has been diminished at all through transposition from serial to feature film, this doubtlessly manifests in the compression of screen time, one consequence of which is fast-tracked relationship arcs: as per the Han/Leia rapport, Kodai and Yuki go from rubbing each other up the wrong way to becoming life partners, but over the course of one movie, not three. The abridgement of Yamato’s outbound quest also throws up some quite odd emotional juxtapositions, such as when the ship is about to warp beyond communication range and the crew send their heart-rending final messages to loved ones: unlike in the more protracted voyage of the original series, this moment is reached within a day of their initial departure!

Yamazaki and Satō in fact evince a curious overall disregard for the constancy of time, especially where action or drama dictate. We have, therefore, a situation whereby the Yamato cannot take off quickly enough to avoid incoming Gamilas missiles, yet can power up her Wave Motion Cannon and so destroy these same, incredibly slow-moving warheads. Furthermore – and maybe there is some form of martial arts film convention being adhered to here across genres – the Gamilas ships and warriors seem always to break off their attacks if the crew of the Yamato need some alone time to work through their emotions. There are no detention centre arguments or “I love you; I know” moments played out amidst the action; instead, the soap and space elements remain clearly delineated and the poor old Gamilas have to sit around twiddling their second fiddles until the humans are done soul-gazing. The fact that the Yamato can, when pressed, twist and roll like a sparrow, surely is just rubbing salt into the Gamilas’ wounded pride and their inability to bend spacenarrativetime. Truth be told, such manoeuvres probably looked less unrealistic in animated form.

Space Battleship Yamato is an odd mix, and would likely evoke both rotten and fresh verdicts if somebody were to set up a website (wince, Rotten Yamatoes) by which to critically review films with English subtitles. This duality is perhaps best captured by the inclusion, both in the end credits and in trailers for the movie, of the gravelly soft-thrash rock song “Love Lives”, which Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) composed and recorded having been shown clips from the final scene. It is a tacked-on piece of commercialism, about as congruous as dubbing the Village People’s “In the Navy” onto footage from Darth Vader’s flagship. For fans of the original Space Battleship Yamato, however, or those who grew up with the rebranded Star Blazers, such bafflements will be of little consequence. All that matters is that the journey to Iskandar at last may be undertaken again: re-envisaged in live action form and warped with some unmissable implications for the series’ canonicity.

Glasses on. Firing the Wave Motion Cannon in five, four, three…