Believe it or not, the above screenshots come from the earliest known American films – Monkeyshines no. 1 and Monkeyshines no. 2, respectively. These illustrate American cinema’s nascent period, a time when moving pictures were a novelty and more of a distracting pastime than the major industry we know of today. These particular films (two of three in the Monkeyshines series, all released in 1890) were directed by William K. L. Dickson and William Heise, pioneers in the medium – Dickson would go on to release Dickson Greeting in 1891, the first publicly-shown film in American history, while Heise produced The Kiss, a famous (very) short film depicting the actors May Irwin and John Rice kissing. The 1890s proved to be a rather productive decade for cinema around the world – in the States, the Biograph Company became the first U.S. company to produce and distribute film (debuting in 1895 or so), while Pathé in France debuted in 1896.
Continue reading “Early American Cinema: 1890-1896”
Mars, the Red Planet – the first stop on the Galaxy Express, allowing Tetsurou to see life on another planet for the first time. That the world looks like a classic Western town is rather fitting, for reasons that will be explained later; for now, the opening shows Tetsurou and Maetal arriving on their first journey away from home, leaving the Earth behind. Of note is the one shot (shown above) of the two isolated in a frame, with darkness around them – this happens to be a long shot, placing the central figures off-center, with them talking about the fact that Tetsurou could indeed die if he were to miss the train. Maetal, the worldly mentor, teaches Tetsurou about the universe and what to expect; this happens to be Tetsurou’s journey more than anything, as he experiences life in the universe on his own terms, seeing the galaxy for the first time as he leaves the confines of Earth (and the bad memories that exist there) so that he can obtain a mechanical body.
Continue reading “Galaxy Express 999 Episode 2: Life Lessons on Mars”
Non Non Biyori is a favorite show of mine, thanks to its relaxing, bucolic atmosphere – the town of Asahigaoka exists in the Japanese countryside, away from all the bustle of city life, and one can get that impression from the opening shots of the first episode. Renge, the youngest of the four protagonists, serves as an introductory element; she openly wonders if she lives in the country while playing her recorder, and gives a very cursory introduction to the town she lives in. Throughout the opening sequence, one sees the protagonists getting ready for school, along with images of the town; along with Renge, we meet the Koshigaya sisters, Komari and Natsumi, as well as the new transfer student Ichijou Hotaru (who used to live in Tokyo prior to moving).
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Fortune-telling is a venerable tradition in Japan – the particular fortune-telling technique featured here with the Juban District priest happens to be kau cim, which utilizes sticks in the divination. Of course, Jadeite is on hand to observe; as a member of the Dark Kingdom, he opts to use corrupted versions of familiar practices in order to gather energy, something established with the first episode with Sailor Moon. Here, Jadeite appears as a bit of a shady individual who observes from a distance – he doesn’t completely show his face to the audience when we first see him, because he’s undercover, wearing a classic all-black ensemble to obscure his features to avoid detection. He has keen awareness of the tribulations of human society, but uses it for personal gain.
Continue reading “Sailor Moon Episode 2: Fortune-Telling and Corruption”
Aria the Animation happens to be one of my favorite shows – it’s a very tranquil, easy-going anime about gondoliers working in Neo-Venezia, a city situated on a terraformed (and renamed to Aqua) Mars. Set in in an unknown future, Aria the Animation has the distinction of a calm pacing, a contrast to the more hectic development of others (such as One Piece, the Dragon Ball franchise and similar); as a result, it allows the audience to take in the environment as the series progresses, letting the scenery take center stage from time to time rather than simply letting it play second fiddle to the characters. Non Non Biyori, a more recent anime, has the same set-up – the environment becomes important not only as a backdrop, but as a living, breathing place where the characters interact, with scenic beauty being a main draw for the series.
As a matter of fact, this Martian city appears alive here in the first episode; the action embarks on a leisurely pace, letting viewers soak in the surroundings before getting into the meat of the story (in this case, showing the daily lives of the undines, who work the gondolas). Despite being set on another planet, everything looks so relaxing and calm and familiar – Neo-Venezia brings Earth (now known as Manhome) to Mars/Aqua, and people enjoy the relaxing, bucolic charms of city life on the former Red Planet. One gets various glimpses of the advanced technology throughout; Earth has proceeded far enough technologically to make terraforming a feasible reality, but Mars became a “second Earth,” so to speak, as people migrated there to live and work. That Neo-Venezia is so explicitly modeled after an European city makes the terraforming all the more impressive – floating islands and ships exist in the same space as classically-inspired architecture, where no cars can be seen (something Mizunashi Akari explains later on in the episode).
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Oswald the Lucky Rabbit has somewhat of an unusual history – people likely recognize him as a sort of “predecessor” to Mickey Mouse, although Oswald enjoyed a cinematic career that lasted from 1927 to 1943. In 1927, Disney and Ub Iwerks stopped production of the Alice Comedies; their distributor, Charles Mintz, recommended creating a new character for Universal, and Iwerks developed Oswald for the company. The very first short that Iwerks and Disney created for Universal, however, didn’t pan out – Universal’s executives felt that Oswald was old, so Iwerks returned with a new short, Trolley Troubles, which became Oswald’s inaugural outing.
Continue reading “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: His First Four Shorts”
On 17 January, 1929, Popeye the Sailor made his formal debut in Thimble Theater; the comic strip would eventually be named in his honor as he became the central character. When Max Fleischer adapted Popeye into a series of animated shorts in 1933, he first appeared alongside Betty Boop – also a creation of Fleischer, Boop ran up against the Hays Code of the 1930s and became more toned-down appearance-wise late in the decade, and in Popeye’s inaugural short, she appears briefly performing a hula (which Popeye joins in on).As a bit of history, Betty Boop’s design went through a significant change during the 1930s – Popeye the Sailor, made before the design shift, shows Boop in her more flapper-influenced years, when her sexuality was more of a selling point (a nod to her roots in the Jazz Age). Popeye, by contrast, has more of a “tough guy” appearance – he’s powerful and reliable, a stark contrast to the more brutish antics of antagonist Bluto, who vies against him for the affections of Olive Oyl (another Thimble Theater regular).
Continue reading “Popeye: The First Three Shorts (All 1933)”