Yipes, it’s been a while since I updated! It never feels that like a long time until you look at the current date and the date of your last post and the relative enormity of the period yawns before you. Granted, this may never be a 10-posts-per-day blog (if I did that, I’d only be blogging and nothing else — and I’m quite smitten by the ‘else’ bit right now).
(Click on read more, but be warned, minor Bleach spoilers, and Ginormous LOST spoilers/rants/etc)
The ‘else’ that I should be doing is not really happening. I’m falling behind on things, hemming and hawing about what to do next, what to finish up, what to keep aside for awhile. This usually ends with me prioritising everything to Level 1 AAA ASAP and then not doing any of it.
I’m such a jerk.
Have been watching some TV, or at least what can be classified as TV since it’s primarily broadcast somewhere but I can’t be bothered to sit at home at the time and wade through mind-numbing commercials to watch them. I enjoy some of the late night slots as they tend to be lighter on the ads — or entirely commercial free — and this is integral to keeping the interest up in a show that requires concentration, like LOST. I’m not one of those obsessive LOST junkies (LOSTies? LOSTers? LOSTophiles? The LOSTettes?) who freeze-frames every moment to search for new clues to the Big Secret™ — I just like the characters and the way the show is written, but more on that later.
I spent much of last week putting a bunch of Bleach episodes behind me, namely the latter part of the Soul Society arc. I had stopped somewhere halfway through when Ichigo was trying to find his new sword — had to go on vacation — and since the plot didn’t seem to be resolving itself anytime soon I decided to wait until it did and just watch the episodes in a batch, which I have now done (this was one of the great things about watching Lost season 1 — I just binged on the episodes and finished the season in a week. Waiting for each new episode now — for more than a fortnight sometimes — is very testing, especially with the current state of the show. But more on that later).
I’m glad I waited for the entire arc to become available before watching it. Bleach is a show that has more than 40 characters who could be considered actual three-dimensional people, and keeping up with who’s who and what’s what with one week gaps is not easy. I’m not saying that there should be less characters, however, as the main reason I love Bleach (other than the frequent sudden left turns into out-and-out slapstick or farce) is the sheer number of characters.
Each of them are, firstly, designed really well. Each is distinct in looks and personality while fitting familiar yet quirky archetypes, but what really makes them special is that each and every one has a back-story of some kind that is illuminated during the show. Any one of these side-characters could have a series of their own with the stories they are given. Like Lost, but on an entirely different level, people are interconnected and have real relationships, so the Soul Society doesn’t seem like just a video-game level with a number of opponents to be dispatched by the central protagonist (who doesn’t even appear for entire episodes). By the end of the arc I was quite sad to see the main characters leave the place, and the end of six concurrent plots running at once. Although I know that the ‘Gotei 13’ will keep popping up through the rest of the series, a part of me wishes that the funny extra segments at the end of the episodes are not all that we see of that world.
Bleach and Lost both represent a style of storytelling that is more literary in nature, and that too a more ancient, epic style. The last time I saw a show like Bleach with its dozens of characters it was the TV serial version of the Mahabharata — I wasn’t sure why subsequent mythological shows about Krishna or Hanuman failed to keep my interest (okay, so they all had terrible acting, direction, special effects and dialogue, but so did the Mahabharata serial), and now I seem to have found the answer: they just weren’t dense enough. Even 26 episode limited animé series have more dense plots than entire ten season runs
of American TV shows (I’m not taking about Soap Operas here — those are an entirely different breed), but that’s primarily because almost all animé is based on a manga — a literary root that is free of the need to pander to the three act structure, to have something big during the sweeps period, to be pre-empted by sports at the drop of a hat (come on, this is the 21st century — don’t you guys have dedicated Sports Channels?).
When I first started watching Bleach I was somewhat uneasy with the fact that it was the first anime series I had watched with more than a finite 26 episode run. I wasn’t sure if it could sustain my interest over a great length, that it would, at some point, degenerate into some kind of ‘creature of the week’ show with minimal character development (a bit like Smallville), doubly so because of the tiny 24 minute run compared to most 50 minute American drama shows, where a finite effects and guest star budget means that they just have to shoe-horn in some character development purely because it’s cheaper (unless you’re CSI, in which case your central cast have no back-story, and woohoo, that’s why I like that show — it’s pure whodunnit/howdunnit). Now that I look back at everything that has happened over the last 64 episodes of Bleach, I’m convinced that anything less would be a severe disservice to the characters.
On the other hand, the show that is currently doing a great disservice to its characters — the one show that shouldn’t — is LOST.
(btw, it is now, as mentioned earlier, officially ‘later’)
The first season of LOST is nothing short of spectacular. It’s marvellously written, well acted, put together with wit and precision and has enough surprises and play to make you enjoy the ride. The second season, however, is trudging along quite pathetically. The show seems to have got mired in its central premise — that of the mystery island — and has almost completely ignored the what made LOST great in the first place, which was the character development. It’s as if somebody stepped back at the end of season 1, said, “Hey, hold on, we’re getting feedback that there are all these sites and communities
online poring over everything we’re doing, and some people say the flashbacks are getting the way.”
Taking this to heart, the current show is recycling wholesale character traits we all got to know last season, thereby putting its central dozen characters in a state of flux. We get more facts about them in flashback, but nothing more about the characters. Sawyer is a con man, only now we know he’s… a con man? Hmm, I knew that already. Jack is a doctor with a saviour complex, but now we know… he has a saviour complex? Charlie’s still a shifty drug-addicted maniac, Claire is a talking head who is always screaming something about her Baby, and Micheal is sort of like Claire only replace baby with, “WAAAAAAALLLT!”
They killed off Boone (cardboard cutout), they killed off Shannon (cardboard cutout), thereby leaving the show with a severe lack of pretty, and they replaced them with one stoic black guy who turns out to be a Nigerian drug dealer (no!), a testy woman who is a cop with a past (the shock is killing me, it is, friend), and a vaguely creepy psychiatrist who will probably turn out to be ‘one of them’ soon, if they don’t kill her too, just to prove to us that having your name on the main cast doesn’t exempt you from reducing you to appearing only in flashbacks and as a ghost/spirit/jolt device (which, when you you add it up, is about as much screen time as some of the cast is getting anyway, so no biggie).
There have been a couple of good episodes in the vein of the first season; the one about how Jin met Sun is sweet, but the one that actually got close enough to season one’s greatness was the Hurley episode where he’s fussing about the rations in the hatch as well as when he won the lottery. That one was good. There’s a Sun episode that I haven’t seen yet. Hopefully it won’t disappoint, but then again Jin and Sun not being the alpha characters in the group they tend to get better characterisation from the beginning — something other than ‘noble/misunderstood hero with dark secrets in past’ which describes
Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Eko, Ana Lucia and Locke as well (I’m pretty-sure that in some upcoming episode we find out he ran his no-good daddy over with his wheelchair, probably 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 times).
I’d be somewhat alright with all of this stupid lack of character development if the actual plot was going anywhere, but that too just seems to be playing out in slow motion, adding in Gilligan’s Island-style ‘guest of the week’ plots and not being patricularly interesting. Now everything important seems to happen within twenty minutes of the campsite (the good-old days of shuttling between the caves and the beach are long gone), and that sense of scale and travel, of this relatively huge island that was glimpsed from the raft at the end of season one is gone, replaced by these set locations of Hatch,
Beach, Veggie Patch, bit of Jungle, and more jungle. They hardly ever go to that nice golf course anymore. They don’t explore because, of course, the scary Others people might get them.
They even showed us the monster — it’s a particle effect. It chases people who run. You look at it, it stops. Okay, let’s move on. There’s this whole thing about other hatches, how some of them are seemingly gutted or abandoned, and a million other things that the show has either forgotten or is struggling to juggle long enough that it seems to be relevant, but it has to stand still to achieve this.
There’s that silly thing about the guy in the weapons locker who seems to turn Locke’s screws so easily the entire bit belongs in a third-rate soap opera. If this season ends up with another series of abductions and the discovery of another hatch, I’ll firmly recommend that someone just put together a twenty-minute cut of the entire season and just skip the thing.
I think it’s confirmed that I’m a character person. I really don’t give two hoots about plots as long as the characters are worth watching. Which is why I liked the Sci-Fi miniseries The Triangle. The plot is pretty normal, and later it develops a few holes, but overall I was quite satisfied with it because it’s got great characters (written and played very well). It harkens back to an older, simpler era of pulpy SF that owed more to detective fiction than Kung Fu and Mythological epics (which have their place, like in Bleach) — straight-faced, adult characters with nary a hip pop-culture reference or a fetishised
unfurling of shiny technology and gadgetry. I miss that.
The Triangle also has one heck of an epilogue, and leaves the series open for the characters to maybe be spun off into their own series or returning adventures (please please please) instead of the usual way of leaving the major plot open for reissue so that you can churn out asequel without returning the cast. Plots are notoriously hard to make sequels out of, characters less so. Look at James Bond.
Plots are tricky because they have no inherent qualities that endear us to them. It’s a plot, it’s a device, a structure. Rang De Basanti doesn’t work because of its plot (which is more silly than superb), it works because of the characters. Bleach doesn’t have any single plot moment where I went ‘Whoah, what a story!’ but it has tons of moments involving great characters — witty, funny, smart, serious, emotional, farcical moments — that make me want to re-watch the whole thing eventually. The Star Wars prequels aren’t disliked because humanity has an allergy to Trade Federation politics, it was because there was no freaking Han Solo and no Princess Leia. There was no “Yes Your Worshipfulness” and “I love you.” “–I know.”
I think back to Primer, which I liked and was happy with plot-wise (heck, it was fuckin’ brilliant), but the characters were as bland as their white shirts, and I have no desire to watch it again.
Someone needs to tell LOST to lose the plot and get back to the characters, or it will just end up as another show with some cheap-trick plot ending that isn’t fully revealed, and even if it does everyone will forget it when the next show comes along.