One of those posts with all of the bits of stuff.

*Tom Spurgeon has some really funny stuff up today - The Five Worst “Gateway Comics,” compiling a quintet of books that absolutely should not serve as somebody’s introduction to the wondrous world of sequential art, under any circumstances. I especially enjoyed #4, company focus aside, as I clearly recall my aunt once giving my younger brother a random issue of Ghost Rider (so he wouldn’t feel ‘left out’ of my own partially relative-funded comics reading), which just so happened to be an entirely random chapter of the 17-part Marvel Midnight Sons crossover, Siege of Darkness, which ran from 1993-94. My brother, then about 8 years old, was not much of a comics reader. He was not converted on the spot.

*Purchasing Updates Dept: You might recall a piece I wrote from very nearly a year ago (and god how the time flies), on a book called Mauretania - it was written and drawn by Escape veteran Chris Reynolds, and released in 1990 by Penguin Books, the first graphic novel ever to be commissioned in the UK by a ‘major’ book publisher. Reynolds had been already been working on a self-published ongoing series titled Mauretania Comics for years at the time (it would ultimately run for 16 issues, from 1986-91), and the graphic novel served as an extension of some of his themes, notions of rationality vs. irrationality and mysterious environments hiding barely-grasped revelations. I thought it was a fascinating book, and I wasn’t alone - I heard about the book from an appreciative essay written by Seth in The Comics Journal #265, and most recently it’s been featured in Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life.

Well, now I’m pleased to note that Mauretania is back in print, and available online in a variety of formats, along with many other Reynolds works, all of them accessible through Lulu.com. You can order print versions of Mauretania, two new collections of Reynolds’ comics (Adventures From Mauretania and Cinema Detectives), and two of Reynolds’ prose novels (Cellarhead and House of the Moon Queen), or you can download PDF versions of any of them at a reduced price. This is a lot of interesting stuff in one place, and I’d certainly recommend you look into Mauretania, at least. You can also search around for the recent print collection of a trio of Reynolds tales, The Dial and Other Stories, from Kingly Books, if you’d like. Plenty of previews and links at Reynolds’ homepage.

*Watched some anime recently. Being infatuated to a degenerate degree with ’80s Japanese animation, I naturally went bonkers over the 1986 anthology ‘feature’ Neo-Tokyo, which is actually only 49 minutes long. Some of you probably got the Akira reference in the film’s title - that’s what Streamline Pictures was counting on when it gave the film that name upon its original US video release way back in the day, cashing in on the presence of Katsuhiro Otomo as director of one of the film’s segments. The actual Japanese title is Meikyû monogatari, and the project had a pretty interesting genesis, put together by co-producers Masao Maruyama and Rintaro as something of an ‘art first’ anime showcase. As a result, there’s a whole lot more attention placed on supremely dazzling visuals than deep storytelling, though as pure eye candy it’s hard to top.

Easily the most famous piece is Yoshiyaki (Ninja Scroll, Wicked City) Kawajiri’s The Running Man, which eventually turned up in edited form in front of zillions of impressionable youths courtesy of Liquid Television; it’s the one with the racecar driver in the future, who pushes his psychic-powered vehicle to the limits. That’s really all there is to it: the guy pushes himself more and more, then his car and body begin to disintegrate, and he keeps on going as all sorts of vaguely religious images flash by, spirits and the flames of hell, and his face stretching backward to horrid extremes. I get the feeling that Kawajiri’s team opted to spend most of their time on getting the flames and flying bits of metal just right, and let the rest of it sit - I can assure you, there’s an extended bit following a lick of fire bouncing around on the ground that’s just superb, no matter what you think about the rest of it.

The aforementioned Otomo actually does provide a story in his Construction Cancellation Order, a nicely satirical piece about a corporate drone sent into a remote jungle to demand a halt to an expensive, politically-sensitive building project. But the workers there are a more literal type of drone, robots, and they’re much better than humans, always continuing their work, always able to rationalize anything. Beautiful, creepy fun. Also, we get Rintaro himself (best known at the moment for Metropolis) directing a framing sequence of sorts, involving a young girl and her fat cat venturing into a labyrinth of danger and wonder. Get ready for plenty of thin beams of neon light, and lots of flickering sprays of sparkle (it’s the mid-’80s), and scenes that often don’t even try to connect to one another - it’s just one moment of shock and awe after another. At least the heroine is memorably feisty, and much more eager to live among the magical mutants and bizarre sights of the labyrinth than to return to dumb old home. If you want chin-stroking storytelling depth with your anime anthology visual aplomb, you’ll do much better with the Otomo-powered 1995 Memories (which featured Kawajiri too, albeit in a supervisory capacity). But this thing is really worth seeing.

I also caught Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which has taken almost as much criticism as Otomo’s recent Steamboy. The main complaints here seem to focus on glacial pacing and a convoluted plot. Well maybe it’s just me, but having watched Oshii’s 1991 live-action opus Stray Dogs, with its endless scenes of characters wandering through outdoor markets, and having read Masamune Shirow’s often ruthlessly opaque Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface manga (which has nothing to do with this film), I found the movie to be neither overly slow nor confusing. I bet you’ve heard about how much the characters quote famous philosophers and other personalities - that’s been kind of overstated, and it doesn’t really get in the way of the story. Now don’t take this to mean the film isn’t a bit of a challenge - it is. But not unduly so.

Really, it’s a pretty standard Mamoru Oshii-type anime film (sometimes imitated, never duplicated), loaded with luxurious shots of cities and basset hounds, with plenty of time set aside for contemplation in between sudden bursts of violent action. Things only get dicey when Oshii opts to indulge in an extended overlapping realities sequence (harkening way back to his work on 1984’s Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer), with scenes played over and over again with tiny differences each time. It fits nicely into the brain-tapping mélange of Shirow’s universe, though it’s bound to lose any viewers who haven’t surrendered their careful attention.

Naturally, it’s a gorgeous-looking thing, and the recurring motif of beasts and dolls providing Innocence in a world where there’s little need for differentiation between man and machine is a natural, logical extension of some of Shirow’s own concerns, filtered through Oshii’s highly individual worldview (and really, are there many animation filmmakers out there with as individual approach to filmmaking as Oshii?). Recommended, so long as you’re ready to keep your eyes on the screen; it won’t be tough with looks this good.