16 November 2009

Critical Commentary on Random Media

In writing news...

My second semester at Goddard College is ending and I'm pleased with what I've learned, though determined to increase my daily writing output in hopes of completing a full draft of the entire novel by June 2010 (I will graduate with the MFA in January 2011). During that time I don't plan to work on any other projects, including any extra samples for this blog.

Instead, I may, from time to time, provide critical commentary on random bits of media, such as...

Samurai Jack, Season 4

For my birthday a week ago I received the fourth and last season of Samurai Jack, the Emmy-winning animated series by Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter's Labratory, Star Wars: Clone Wars). We're sort of into collecting television series around my house, perhaps because we haven't had cable or satellite TV for the past five years. My wife goes for the sitcoms or old shows like The Waltons; I'm into the animated series, both old and new.

Truth be told, Samurai Jack is one of the few cartoons I haven't been able to watch with my boys. See, every day (that is, any day I've been a stay-at-home dad) we have this lunch-time routine of eating in front of the TV while watching a few episodes of whatever series we're working through that week. When my oldest was young enough not to care what we watched (maybe slightly younger than my youngest is now) we didn't have this routine, because I wasn't home every day. Now that we do, they're both old enough to be a little picky about what I choose; and for whatever reason, Samurai Jack isn't the first on the list.

Well, not "whatever reason." I know the reasons. While humorous, it isn't the same goofy humor as, say, Teen Titans; while action packed, it's a darker, more artistic action, with more emphasis on sound and color than on trash talk or character catch-phrases. It's certainly not inappropriate for their age, at least not by my reckoning, though some parents may consider the constant robot oil spills (the show's stand-in for blood) as too suggestive. (All Jack's enemies, even if they look like completely biological monsters, are in fact robots, and always, always spill black oil when sliced open with his sword.)

But the boys changed their mind for Season 4. Maybe that was my birthday present. I decided to put it on (it was my birthday, after all) and they decided, after only a couple minutes, that they do like Samurai Jack. So we finished the whole season in about a week (two discs, a total of thirteen episodes) and enjoyed ourselves immensely. While the final season wasn't the final chapter of the story (Jack didn't make it home), and even though it brought little newness to the fairly repetitive shtick of samurai vs. future, it still succeeded--for me and my boys--in its simplicity. The unusually small amount of dialogue draws greater attention to the landscapes, the character expressions, the tiny details, which all manage to impress me. This isn't because they're too complex to appreciate behind too much dialogue; rather, the lack of dialogue makes them complex, by highlighting the implication behind their subtlety.

I know, that's artsy-fartsy. But I think that's why I like it: It's a samurai smash-'em-up that gets away with complex drama, tragedy, and comedy, and oh yeah, it's a cartoon. That's not a new concept for animated films, but a rare one in serial television series that are suitable for kids and adults alike.

And on that note, I owe will.i.am my thanks for the opening theme of each episode, which is among the musical elite that my sons will stop what they're doing and get up and dance to every single time.


Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Season 1

Not to be confused with Genndy's 2003 animated series mentioned above--I'm referring to the newer CGI series. While it may not have Genndy going for it (his Clone Wars is fantastic), it's still a lot of fun for me and the boys. Still forming my opinions, but I can say how impressed I am that the DVD set for Season 1 includes a miniature featurette for every single episode, which allows me to watch an episode, then, if I choose, watch a few minutes of creator commentary regarding it. It's fun and even, in some cases, alarming to find out just how random some of those choices really are, versus those that take more preparation than most of us would ever imagine. Craziness.

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