Clarification or something

Hey guys, “quick” update: If and When We Rise Again was not an April Fool’s joke. I stupidly realized just now that April 1st was not the most ideal date on which to announce Hopped on Pop’s upcoming return. We are most definitely coming back on May 11th, and I am most definitely considering making the official Hopped on Pop schedule such that we blog full speed ahead from May or June till January, and then break February to April or May. And just so you know I’m serious, here’s a quick preview of potential topics I’m planning for when we’re back in season (in absolutely no order, so don’t take it as chronological):

1. Nerd Comedy Part II: Game Grumps, Oney, TheAlmightyHans, and JonTron on NormalBoots.com – This would likely be a “part two” to my earlier Newgrounds Moguls, tracing and making various observations about the Web comedy careers of some of the folks covered in the earlier post. There may be other stuff I cover while I’m on the subject, but I’m keeping that in wraps for now.

2. The New Cartoon: A survey and analysis of the latest wave of American cartoons, including Adventure Time, Regular Show, Gravity Falls, Bee & Puppycat, Steven Universe, and plenty of others. I’m going to explore what makes these shows special: why them and why now? I did talk about it to some extent in both my Adventure Time and Bee & Puppycat posts, but I’m going to use this opportunity to historicize about ‘toons over the last couple decades, and figure out what it is we all love so much about these new ‘toons so that even adults are getting in on the program.

3. The Hunting Party by Linkin Park: That’s right – on June 17th, Linkin Park is back with their sixth studio album (or seventh if you count Reanimation). And being a Linkin Park fan, I pledge to once again step up with a new review on June 22nd.

4. ’90s Nostalgia: I don’t quite know what form this post is going to take yet, but I’m going to talk about the wave of ’90s nostalgia that’s hit the 2010s like a tidal wave. From the Backstreet Boys to Girl Meets World, there’s something going on here and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.

5. The Low E.P. by Kilimanjaro: A musical discovery of mine from a couple weeks ago, I’m going to share my thoughts with you about this burgeoning band.

There’s plenty more where that came from, but I just thought I’d give you all a taste of what’s to come. I haven’t figured out yet whether I’m going back to weekly or bi-weekly posting, but I’m sure as I get closer to May 11th I’ll keep you all posted. Alright, see ya when I see ya.

If and When We Rise Again

1363823418969

If and when we rise again, it’ll be on May 11th, 2014. You heard it here first, folks. And from that time, you’ll have both myself and Percy back in full force, and whoever else we might grab along the way.

Since I have you here, I might as well give you all an update. Yes, I’ve been completely MIA for several months and I apologize for that – in addition to my usual law school work, I had to search for my first summer job as a law student, which squeezed out what few hours I had left for blogging. That’s all over, but now we’re moving into the outlining/exam phase of the term, so I’m keeping Hopped on Pop on hold until all that’s over. Since this has happened before (those of you who’ve been following me since the beginning remember I also took a break from January to June in 2013), I think this might just end up being a standard thing. That is, I’ll start up my blogging “season” in the summer and continue it through the fall, and then shut down Hopped on Pop every spring – from January until May or June depending upon the circumstances. I’ll figure it out going forward.

I have a lot of great articles planned for the summer season of Hopped on Pop; I can’t wait to share them with you all. See you in May.

p.s. And in case you were wondering about the featured image:

Zelda Fanart Video

You know the score: it’s Zelda, it’s feels, it’s just what I like. I’m not really making my comeback at the moment so much as putting this here. I will be back eventually; I just need to get my workload back in a decent balance. When I do get back, I already got a whole bunch of cool stuff lined up for ya. See ya when I see ya.

 

News!

Hey folks, Zach here. Some news: although nothing really “happened” at law school or anything for me to come to this decision, I’m handing over the keys to Percy for a little while. Even though with my workload I actually had (and have) plenty of time to write articles, it’s tiring to try juggling both. I ended up doing just fine on my tests, but the added stress was totally unnecessary.

Just because I’m letting Percy take over for now doesn’t mean you won’t see me pop in every now and then; it’ll just be a little more sporadic rather than sticking to my rigid biweekly schedule. It also doesn’t mean necessarily that I’ll stop doing creative or “pop” related things – I have a bunch of great ideas cooking up that don’t have to do with analyzing or reviewing things. Rather, I’m planning on getting myself back to the passion that drove me to create this blog in the first place: my own creative writing.

And so, exactly a year from when I last announced my first major break, I bid you adieu (for now) once again. If and when I rise again, you got a lot to look forward to. It’s been swell – see ya later.

HitRecord on TV (2014)

Hey everyone, welcome back to Hopped on Pop: this time it’s for nerds! Because let’s be honest: anime, video games, Legend of Zelda and webcomics? That’s clear nerd territory. This is more for you than for me; I kinda felt like my description of what we do here, “pop culture and entertainment,” was pretty misleading without “for nerds” at the end. In other news, thanks to all you readers out there for once again helping us beat a Hopped on Pop record: Percy’s third post, Comedy Movie 2, raked in over 150 views on its first day, beating not only our blog’s single-day view record, but the previous record for weekly views (beaten on just that day alone)! Thank you all, and thank you Percy for being a Hopped on Pop champ – this is your victory, man.

Anyway, since my law school’s winter term is just beginning I’m going to go a little light on the content these next couple weeks, but rest assured: you will get your pop yet! I’m just trying to avoid a situation like last term, when I kept feeling like I had to shutdown the blog temporarily. Now then, for the third time in this blog’s lifetime, I’d like to present a review featuring one of my favorite actors, Joseph Gordon-Levitt! Check out the first episode of his new show, HitRecord on TV, below:

Since I’m trying to keep it trim these next couple weeks, I’ll just go ahead and give you my quick lowdown of what I thought of this debut. First of all, this was a great, creative idea and I fell in love with it before I even saw the pilot – in fact it showed up as an ad on a YouTube video, and I was so excited that I clicked the ad right away. The idea behind the show of independent creativity and collaboration is a nice one, but I admit to also hoping for greater JGL involvement. What I mean is that yes, this show’s entire premise is other people showing off their creative chops through this pseudo-vaudevillian format, and Joe is supposed to be an M.C. and occasional collaborator, but it is his show. I guess it’s just because I’m stuck in this 20th century, Ed Sullivan-esque mindset that I found it took some getting used to. I dunno, minor gripe and that’s probably just my own stupid personal issue; moving on.

did like the pacing of the show, and I think having JGL guide you by hand through each presentation (like a good M.C. should) contributed to that. I also liked seeing some famous faces, like Elle Fanning (who’s also on this blog somewhere), and I hope there will be more of that going forward. One thing I am concerned about is the momentum of the show. I’m sure they have a wealth of HitRecord contributions to choose from and no shortage of ideas for themes to present in each episode, but how long can they keep that up, let alone keep it going at the same caliber for a season or more? I’m sure they’ll pull it off, but it’s just one of the things I was thinking about while watching.

It’s too soon to give too many impressions – only one episode after all – but the presentations themselves were great. They ran the gamut from a touching vignette, to an informative and thought-provoking field study, a charming cartoon, and a fittingly grandiose musical finale. And one final observation: Joe started HitRecord as a website with his late brother, Dan. This variety show making it to broadcast TV was their dream together, which Dan sadly did not live to see come to fruition. But in the first few minutes of the show, Joe revealed he was wearing his brother’s socks, so that at least some part of his brother could be there to see their dream realized. I really liked that.

I’m not going to score a single episode, but with JGL at the helm, HitRecord on TV holds a lot of promise. Thanks for reading, everyone – see you on February 4th!

(Photo Credit: Joseph Gordon-Levitt / HitRecord on TV / TheVerge.com)

Comedy Movie 2: The Sequel

Hey folks! Check out this article by my co-author, Percy!

At the Golden Globes, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, hilarious as always, had this to say of Hollywood: “If something kind of works, they’ll just keep doing it until everyone hates it.” And everyone laments: Why does “comedy sequel” have to be code for, “Let’s just clone the first movie.”

I went into Anchorman 2 knowing I wouldn’t like it. Zach made it clear enough in a text that said something along the lines of, “It’s terrible. See it.” In retrospect, the warning was unnecessary. It didn’t matter that Anchorman 2 was doomed; I was going to see it anyway. That’s the pull of the comedy sequel: what starts with great potential inevitably lets you down in a disappointing storm of retreads.

As with any duplication, the sequel is unnervingly similar to the original. The same silhouette with a different face. The wrinkles show, the performances look strained, or worse, as in Anchorman 2, tired. Comedy sequels are rare for a reason. In the past 10 years alone, we’ve seen sporadic train wrecks, from Shrek the Third’s pastiche of its prequels to Little Fockers’ general irrelevance. For every Ghostbusters 2 there are ten more Dumb and Dumber Toos; Cars 2; Stuart Little II; The Hangover 2; The Hangover 3; Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde.

It’s so shocking in part because this trend of terrible comedy sequels continues while most other genre sequels thrive. Movies like Fast 5 and Iron Man 3 reinvigorated their franchises. Hell, the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned into an unstoppable sequel train of sequels, duo-trilogies and crossovers.

In comparison, Anchorman 2 looks desperate, like a footnote of a story. It does not try to bring its characters somewhere new. You could say it’s most like a reunion episode of the first Anchorman, like a craven Anchorman Christmas Special. Maybe it’s unfair to hold Anchorman accountable for its character development, but shouldn’t we ask more of our movies? And if we give up that point and use the criteria that Anchorman wants to be judged on (its jokes), we can still find fault in Anchorman 2, because the jokes haven’t changed in ten years. A decade of zombified comedy sequels have lumbered past Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and they still came up with a sequel that falls for the old sequel-traps: stale and pandering gags.

(Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / HollywoodReporter.com)

Space☆Dandy (2014) and the Stylistic Mixings of Shinichiro Watanabe

Hey poppers, let’s kick off the first post of 2014! Today I’m looking at the newly debuted anime series by Watanabe Shinichiro, who has quickly become one of my favorite showrunners: Space☆Dandy! I will say up front though that this review is somewhat secondary to what I really want to talk about today: the mixing of style and genre in entertainment media, particularly the story-driven kind. Luckily for us, Watanabe has done that for the better part of his career. Alright, let’s do it!

(Photo Credit: BONES / [Adult Swim] / AWN.com)

Space☆Dandy is about a dandy in space, traveling with his space crew in space. Yes, redundancy seems to be one of the main tools of the trade in this outing, not that that’s a bad thing. So far, the show seems to be about the titular alien hunter who travels the empty void with his useless robot buddy QT, usually broke and with their ship breaking down in some manner. Sounds a bit like Watanabe’s famed Cowboy Bebop, right? Well their favorite activities include bagging aliens (at which Dandy is horribly incompetent, more than Spiegel was with his bounties if you’d believe it), going to their favorite breastaurant called Boobies, and avoiding capture by the mysterious Dr. Gel (which they do surprisingly easily, but only due to sheer luck). There also seems to be an intergalactic war going on, but who cares about that?

Dandy fits together Raygun Gothic and music in a style similar to that in the American 1960s and ’70s. I was going to call it disco, but the soundtrack seems to be more diverse than that, including some sort of horns-heavy genre that I recognize but can’t figure out what its name is (it’s not funk, and I don’t think it’s jazz). But what a combo, right? We may associate the ’70s with one of the most significant periods of national malaise, but the over-the-top nature of each of these elements fit with the show’s intended goal: ridiculous, over-the-top situational comedy. The style of the humor actually reminds me a bit of Robert Moran’s from Unforgotten Realms, except a bit more perverted. And I don’t know about the Japanese version, but there are a bunch of nice pop culture references, such as to Agnes Lum (the inspiration for Urusei Yatsura’s Oni babe, Lum Invader) and “to infinity and beyond.”

But is it funny? There aren’t many laugh out loud moments, but it doesn’t fall flat either. I was discussing this with my brother, and I think the deciding factor will be seeing the same episode in Japanese. At least twice during my viewing of the English dub, I said to myself, “This is probably funnier in Japanese.” Not for any reason that inheres in the language; just because oftentimes in anime, things get lost in translation (especially humor), or a voice actor in one language delivers a line or two (or maybe the entire character) better than in another language. Anyway, in the interest of getting to the next topic, I’m going to wrap this up. Space☆Dandy has a lot of potential, and may not end up being the next Bebop, but I’m sure it’ll be fine for what it is: a lighthearted comedy where nothing make sense so I should just relax. There’s only been one episode, so I’m going to just wait and see (granted, last time I said that was with Golden Time which I got tired of pretty quickly, but I’m keeping an open mind).

So anyway, how about that mixing of styles and genres? I use Shinichiro Watanabe as a model for it because he does a lot of it, but he’s far from the only one. Off the top of my head, I can think of a whole slew of great mix-’n’-match books, movies, TV shows (such as Lost or Twin Peaks), and video games, and I’m sure you can too. The question is, why do we like these mash-ups (or when we don’t, why not)?

I’ve already talked in the past about how Cowboy Bebop feels like a cyberpunk show even though it doesn’t exactly hit all the marks for a cyberpunk outing. It’s a hodgepodge of American and Spaghetti Westerns, jazz music, and detective noir in a sci-fi setting, and this together is enough to make it feel like it’s cyberpunk. Samurai Champloo, depicted in the video above, is a combination of samurai cinema and hip-hop. But to me, Champloo (which means a mix or mash-up) is the result I would imagine if Quentin Tarantino made anime (arguably Afro Samurai already fits that bill, but I think it’s too dark even for Tarantino; it misses out on the flare in Tarantino’s work that I think Champloo reflects much better).

But are mash-up series good for the sake of their being mash-ups? Is mixing really worth that much more to us than playing a genre straight, or simply playing with elements within that genre (such as by deconstruction)? Plenty of works play their own genres straight and do just fine – I recently began watching Tengen Tappa Gurren Lagann for instance, and what I would bill as Gainax “reclaiming” the shonen genre by playing to its strengths rather than trying to be un-shonen. But then Adventure Time does the same for American cartoons targeted at young boys (of course the fandom reaches all four quadrants, but that’s beside the point), and that is arguably a mishmash of Dungeons & Dragons, Legend of Zelda, post-apocalyptic fare, Miyazaki films, and a whole slew of other influences.

Does the fact that Adventure Time manages to cram all those disparate influences into one package make it “better” than TTGL somehow? That seems much too easy, and wouldn’t explain how an original series with mixtures can start a trend and do amazingly well (such as the Matrix, blending Eastern and Western sci-fi, religion, and philosophy into a cyberpunk package), but copycats that use similar ingredients (or make a totally new mix) tend to sputter and die (such as one of my favorite dystopian films, Equilibrium, which flopped but thankfully has since become a cult hit). Is it simply that the first time it’s done it’s new, and the second time it’s passé? That seems too convenient an explanation as well, and tendencies aren’t rules; sometimes a follow-up to a trendsetter can outstrip the original’s success.

Fortunately, I’m not the first guy with a podium to speak about this phenom. And as it happens, the guy who did – Dan Floyd – is the one who inspired me to start Hopped on Pop in the first place. See his thoughts in Extra Credits below:

It’s not that the combinations and wild mixtures “make” Samurai Champloo or Samurai Jack good series (Dragonball and Dragonball Z also come to mind). But creators Watanabe Shinichiro and Genndy Tartakovsky (or so I would assume) looked at their samurai heroes and asked, “What element or elements of ronin stories tend to be a constant barrier to the enjoyment of modern audiences?” If they did ask themselves that question while devising their pitch, I would assume the answer both came to would be about the same: the relative difficulty for a modern viewer to connect with a warrior living in a feudal setting. And even if the modern viewer can connect as they do with fantasy heroes, what can this samurai’s journey show that hasn’t been done and done over for decades, even outside the ronin genre (such as in medieval knighthood tales)? As much as audiences love fantasies and historical dramas (and I love classic Japanese cinema, especially Kurosawa), those genres are so done – pretty much every nook and cranny has been explored by those that played the genre straight. To reach audiences in a way those other works from the genre did or continue to do, you may need to do something really crazy. And what’s crazier than adding to that wandering ronin’s journey a hip-hop soundtrack and graffiti artists, or rave parties and talking dogs?

But as mentioned, not just any crazy mix will do it. As Extra Credits posits, the mix not only has to be original, but ought to serve the work in some area where playing it straight might otherwise constitute a handicap. This is no mean feat, and of course a creator can do everything right and still end up finishing average or last. But the works that do it right, like Cowboy Bebop, succeed because they know what extra or alternative ingredients this particular stew needs to stand out.

Awesome, glad I was able to finally hash that out. Well, this has been swell, but it’s time to get back to work. I’ll see you again on January 21st. Later everyone!