Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Mob Psycho 100

Well, I totally fell for the silly, simple charm of One Punch Man, so was keen to watch the other series from creator One, and ended up catching up with all the available manga too.

Honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100. If you dislike one, I’m sure you’d dislike the other. Both centre on unassuming, rather goofy and socially awkward guys who just happen to be incredibly powerful, with the comedy usually turning on them being underestimated and then showing their strength – and then things can be serious when a genuinely strong opponent appears. Which, let’s face it, is basically the same schtick as the first year or two of Dragonball. And numerous other Jump series, too.

Fortunately, though, I loved One Punch Man (and early Dragonball), so more of the same is good for me. Where One Punch Man focuses on superhero stories and builds upon that, for Mob Psycho 100, it’s ESPers, people with psychic power. Again, there’s a goofy main character who nobody thinks will be powerful, this time a young boy rather than a young adult, though they’re drawn extremely similarly. In rather a genius touch, the incredibly powerful young psychic works for a con-man, who until he met young Kageyama Shigeo (also known as Mob, the Japanese term for ‘background extra’) thought that psychic powers weren’t real and has been exploiting the gullible.

There are a number of concurrent themes running through Mob Psycho 100. Shigeo wants to become popular, but is very easy to ignore. His brother is very outgoing and likeable but hasn’t been able to show any psychic ability. Shigeo comes up against evil spirits (one of whom becomes a comedic ally) and a rival psychic who follows a classic story path of being too proud, getting humiliated and then becoming an ally. The series, sadly only 12 episodes long, concludes with a satisfying battle against a shady hidden organisation, with plenty of bathos but also impressive action scenes.

Like One Punch Man, this series doesn’t work purely on its premise, but by having very likable characters and actually being funny. The moment where Shigeo makes his decision on which school club to join will endure as one of the funniest moments in an anime I’ve seen for quite a while.

Because I’ve now read the manga, I have to say that there’s a whole lot more material still to come that I’m looking forward to rather more than anything in this season. There are good emotional moments and some great action scenes. But certainly there is room in the world for both Mob Psycho 100 and One Punch Man, and I want more of both, much more, and soon. Alternating series of the two shows with all iterations of the manga and webcomic versions being sporadically released suits me just fine.

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Simpsons season 11

‘Behind the Laughter’ sums up the state of The Simpsons by season 11. It was a pretty poor episode, lacking in laughs but with the occasional bright moment, and at least not just a clip show. But by this stage the jokes were about terrible episodes like ‘The Principal and the Pauper’ and some of the more stupid celebrity cameos.

There are still some good episodes, of course. This isn’t quite the nadir yet. Episodes where Bart is put on Focusyn and where the family have to live in Mr. Burns’ mansion and Homer gets carried away are good ones. But there’s just too much nonsense and the grip on reality is long gone. In this season alone, Bart becomes a faith healer, has a mystical vision of his future and adopts another horse. Homer, meanwhile, becomes a Hell’s Angel, a professional duellist, a food critic, a Hollywood writer, a missionary and almost entirely responsible for Maud Flanders’ death in what would otherwise have been a clever and interesting piece of continuity development and was otherwise a strong episode.

Oh, and for some reason Maggie is a bowling savant.

Some parts just about work, like when Lisa gets Bart and Homer sent to a leper colony, or evil corporate sponsors turn Apu’s kids into a zoo exhibit. Other ideas are fairly normal but ruined by bizarre twists, like when Lisa takes up tap dancing and ends up assisted by science-magic dancing shoes.

But by far the worst part of this season is that it’s now very clear Homer has made the change from likeable idiot who loves his family to outright psychopath. Say what you will about Flanderisation, the devolution of Homer’s character is by far the worst thing to happen to the Simpsons. But at least at this stage, the show is generally enjoyable. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

King of the Hill – season 1

It’s one of those shows everybody watched but few call a big hit. It’s not as iconic or easy to merchandise as The Simpsons, South Park or even the show that (sadly) replaced it, Family Guy. It didn’t have the same mass appeal as its creator Mike Judge’s previous hit, Beavis and Butthead. Some might say it may as well have been live-action. But in many ways, King of the Hill is the best of the bunch.

Traditional right-wing American values are under fire just now, especially if you spend a lot of time on the Internet. Many observers, including centrists like me, are concerned by the growing authoritarianism, bullying tactics and outright cruelty on display from the far left, who at some point have to realise they’re not the good guys when they behave just like those they detest. I can’t imagine how that kind of person would perceive King of the Hill. But the whole point of the show is that it’s not a celebration of conservative small-town America. It’s an affectionate lampooning of it. It portrays a traditional Texan community full of xenophobes, homophobes and extremely fragile masculinity, but rather than eviscerating them, it gently exposes the follies and foibles of ignorance while accepting that these kind of people can also be likeable, good-hearted and ready to learn. In a world of safe spaces, echo chambers and thought policing, a show like King of the Hill would be extremely healthy viewing, poking fun at the right and left of the American political spectrum without viciousness.

I watched King of the Hill as a child and teenager, but didn’t really get it. I wasn’t familiar with the American small-town mentality, conservative values or particularly Texan idiosyncrasies. A lot went over my head, like that Dale was a conspiracy theorist wholly unaware that he’s being very obviously cuckolded and is raising another man’s son – which should resonate with the so-called ‘alt-right’ just now, with their obsession with ‘cucks’ and tin-foil-hat theories.

Rewatching the show now, I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The first season was a short 13 episodes, but it’s quite astonishing how quickly the show not only introduces its core cast, but makes every single one of them both buffoonish and likeable. Hank Hill is such a wonderful character because there’s far more nuance to him than Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin. He’s big and tough but deeply insecure because of his overbearing father. He’s lost in a modern world and terrified of liberal values as well as comically prudish. But he loves his family, wants to help others and wants to protect a way of life he adores. Yet he is constantly challenged, looks like an idiot at first (‘So are you Chinese or Japanese?’) but later actually learns and develops. Peggy is hilarious, sometimes a voice of reason and sometimes dangerously competitive or self-centred with a wonderfully gung-ho attitude to Spanish. Bobby pre-empts the popular character type later seen in the youngest boys of Malcolm in the Middle and The Middle but manages to always seem reasonable in his bizarre behaviour. Luanne is more than token overemotional trailer trash, and has some of the season’s best one-liners, with Brittany Murphy’s subsequent stardom an amusing footnote.

Hank’s friends Dale and Bill are classic loser characters, yet each gets moments to shine to lift them from being one-note joke characters. Boomhauer is more one-note but he’s so funny I don’t mind, and mysteriously he also gets the additional character quality of being a womaniser. The Laotian family next door are in many ways stereotypes but are actually very nuanced, fiery characters, each with a lot of distinct personality.

The humour largely comes from small-town characters having to deal with a developing modern world and confronting their prejudices, usually highlighting the arbitrary nature of some signifiers of what is masculine or what is American. It’s a healthy examination of a section of society that is as gentle and subtle as it is cutting. King of the Hill is smart and insightful, and right now, it’s more fun to watch its early seasons than The Simpsons past its glory days.