Monthly Archives: October 2002

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Review: Saint Tail

Saint Tail, a manga and anime series from the mid-nineties, is a rather interesting take on the “magical girl” and school stories genres. Saint Ponytail is a mysterious thief who leaves calling cards as warnings of her coming and vanishes away into the night, always revealing that her theft is simply stealing back something stolen from someone else. (Her tools are stealth, acrobatics, and stage magic — no magical transformations or powers for her!) Asuka Jr., the junior-high aged son of a famous detective, is desperate to catch Saint Tail and falling in love with her. Little does he know that she’s actually his classmate, Meimi Haneoka, daughter of a magician and a reformed cat burglar. Meimi is on a mission from God to recover stolen objects. She learns about them from her friend and classmate Seira, a novice nun, who talks with the troubled people who wander into church to pray.

I picked up volumes 2 and 4 of the manga (comic) and was surprised and delighted. St. Paulia’s School is just different enough from the typical public and private schools in manga to provide extra spice. Meimi and Seira take their faith seriously, praying before and during missions and trying to make sure their deceptions are misdirections, not lies. Megumi Tachikawa, the mangaka (manga writer/artist), apparently isn’t Catholic (initially she had Seira hearing confessions, apparently, but changed that when she learned better) but takes Catholicism seriously. But you can’t beat a cute manga about fixing the injustices of the world and trying to get a date, especially when the Christmas issue includes midnight mass.

Just don’t confuse Kaitou Saint Tail with Kaitou Saint Jeanne. Jeanne is not only a ripoff of Saint Tail, she’s also yet another reincarnation of Joan of Arc! (And yes, it does say something about both Joan’s popularity and Buddhist pop culture that there would be more than one manga about reincarnations of St. Joan.)

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Review: Spirited Away

Spirited Away is a movie by Hayao Miyazaki.

If you’re from Japan or an anime fan, I just told you enough to convince you that it’s a classic movie. Miyazaki always makes classic movies (and comics). They turn into blockbusters (in Japan and Europe, anyway) without input from marketing, because Miyazaki makes movies from his heart. The only question is ‘Where do I buy tickets?’.

If you’re not Japanese or a new anime fan, or you just love movies or have kids, though, all you need to know is this: Spirited Away is a really good movie, with very good voice acting and script even in the American translation. It’s all about a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro who finds herself trapped in a vacation spa for Japanese monsters, ghosts and spirits. She has to learn how to work hard, think hard, help others, and be polite if she wants to survive in her strange new (and strangely old-fashioned) world. But if she ever wants to get out again or save her parents, she has to remember who she is. That’s it. The visuals are incredibly breathtaking and endearing, but it’s the story and characters who will spirit you away and never let you go.

After you’ve seen the movie, you might talk to the kids about the parallels to going to a new school, or have them look up Japanese hot spring towns (they usually have an -onsen suffix). You might look up for yourself how the Japanese used to have an entire genre of bathhouse art (faithfully represented in the movie, right down to the fierce-eyed oni on the walls in one pivotal scene), or what Chinese/Japanese dragons are like compared to their Western counterparts. But you don’t need to know. One of the beauties of Miyazaki’s style is that he knows kids look at everything, even if they don’t always understand everything they see. Years later, you might find out why the details of a scene were there. While you’re watching, all you need to know is that this is how it looks, right down to the details of baby outfits from the olden days.

Go see it. Take your kids (as long as they’re five or six, at least). It’s rated PG for a reason, but Miyazaki is incredibly wholesome and life-affirming without being cloying. A couple scares won’t hurt ‘em. Then rent all the other Miyazaki flicks you can.

I highly recommend Kiki’s Delivery Service (A little witch all alone in the big city. The Disney dub is…okay, but the Melissa Manchester songs aren’t nearly as good as the original Japanese 50′s pop soundtrack. Also, a lot of Miyazaki’s famous silences are covered up by new dialogue (ugh) or the new recording of the soundtrack Disney insisted on (*roll eyes*). Still, the movie is great enough to survive these contretemps (which are mild, compared to what anime usually suffers).

My Neighbor Totoro, currently on video, is being re-released on DVD by Fox before they lose distribution rights to Disney. Get it. It’s kid-friendly for all but the youngest. The story is about two girls and their father moving to the country. The girls explore their new home and meet new friends in the village, including the soot bunnies they clean out of the house and the magical fuzzball totoro creatures who live in a giant camphor tree nearby. They learn to cope with a new school and their father’s long commute to the city. Gradually we learn that their mother isn’t there because she’s in a TB hospital. (This is probably the most stressful moment for kids, but as seen in the credits she does get well and come home. You can tell them this from me.) One day the youngest girl runs away from home to visit her mother. The whole village pitches in to find her — along with the totoros.

The Fox dub and translation is excellent, right down to the songs at the beginning and end. There is one cut — a scene of the family taking a bath. Well, duh, they’re Japanese and take baths accordingly. The scene was harmless and wholesome, and one can understand Miyazaki’s anger that it was cut after he was assured no cuts would be made. But unfortunately, American ratings systems don’t make allowances for this kind of thing, and the cut allowed the video to be rated G. I’m not kidding about how kid-friendly this is, btw. Every time I’ve loaned it out, the parents have found themselves watching the My Neighbor Totoro channel:
all Totoro, all the time. Fortunately, it’s also on Ebert’s list of the greatest movies of all time, so it actually bears watching that often.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (Girl heir to throne of kingdom based on gliders and windpower seeks a way to live with the mutant plants and animals that are destroying what’s left of the human race, but has a little trouble as warring nations are about to war in the middle of her kingdom) is currently available in graphic novel format; it’s only available in the US on video in the execrable chop job that is Warriors of the Wind. That’s too bad, as it’s the movie all those wasteland war-torn futures in the seventies and eighties wanted to be — except that it’s actually interesting and includes hope, technology, and strong female characters. Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Boy in Edwardian mining town meets girl with magic jewel who falls from the sky. They go in search of Swift’s island of Laputa, but meet up with pirates, robots, and other obstacles on the way) was briefly released in movie theaters here in the eighties but has been held back from video by Disney for four years now. Miyazaki wrote and directed six episodes of Sherlock Hound, as you can see on the Pioneer website.

None of his other works except Princess Mononoke are even vaguely available in the States, unless you order DVDs from Japan or Taiwan, or you have some good anime fan friends who’ll let you borrow a fansub. This is a shame, since there really aren’t enough movies in this world — let alone fun ones — about an Italian WWI fighter pilot who deals with his survivor guilt by turning into a pig and fighting air pirates throughout the twenties and thirties (The Crimson Pig). Nor do most videos for cute pop songs turn into 6 1/2 minute science fiction epics about two guys freeing an injured angel-winged girl and perhaps sacrificing their own lives to do it (“On Your Mark”)

(Don’t let the younger kids watch Princess Mononoke, since it’s Miyazaki’s head-chopping battle action, ecology, mythology, angst-and-loyalty-dilemmas Kurosawa flick. Animation does not equal “children’s movie”. But go get the DVD for yourself.)

I know Fellowship of the Ring and the first Harry Potter were great and good fantasy movies, respectively. But Tolkien and Rowling would both agree: Spirited Away is a better movie. (Well, okay, Tolkien didn’t like animation much, but he’d never seen a Miyazaki movie.) I almost regret seeing Spirited Away before the next installments of the other two, because I suspect they will suffer by the close comparison. Fortunately for Peter Jackson, his trilogy will be completely out by the time Miyazaki’s next movie comes out.

Howl’s Moving Castle will be an adaptation of the book by Diana Wynne-Jones, an underrated but kid-popular English children’s fantasy and science fiction writer. (And a fellow filker!) Jones had never heard of Miyazaki when her agent told her the news (!) but she was soon enlightened by her (and Miyazaki’s) delighted fans. Her complex characters, fast-moving plots, blend of humor and feeling, and highly
visual scenes in retrospect seem like an obvious fit for Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. God willing and the creek don’t rise, it will be even better than I can imagine. Miyazaki is that kind of animator.

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And the Blog Plays On

I’ve finally decided why I like blogging so much. No matter what the big news story of the day is, blog commentaries acknowledge that there are other stories, and that life goes on. There’s also a variety among blogs which doesn’t really exist in most of the mass media. When BBC World News broke into their news show this morning to report on the sniper, I knew that their coverage would be the same as CNN’s coverage as CBS’ coverage as ABC’s coverage. (I don’t even bother with Fox News; they’re sleazy. Conservative sleaze is more annoying than the liberal kind, since I’m conservative.)

If bloggers were reporters (or if reporters had their hands free, to give them credit), I suspect that their coverage would be different. At the very least, they would stick the “live at the site of the sniper attack” traffic footage up in a corner, while going on with the news of the day until there were more details than “Somebody got shot. We don’t know who.” (I hope so, anyway.)

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Search Engine Fun with the Seven Joys of Mary

Maddy Prior and June Tabor’s album Silly Sisters included this really nifty Marian hymn. Great Big Sea has also performed it. This version comes from Cornwall, but it’s also known in Appalachia. I think it would be a great song for kids, since the tune is easy and it’s a counting song.

You can download a MIDI of a really nice choral arrangement of the Cornish tune by Clifford Boyd. He’s even provided sheet music!

The first good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of one;
To see the blessed Jesus Christ,
When He was first her Son.
When He was first her Son, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of two;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ
To make the lame to go. (In some versions, ‘When He was sent to school’)
To make the lame to go, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of three;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ
To make the blind to see.
To make the blind to see, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of four;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ
To read the Bible o’er.
To read the Bible o’er, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of five;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ,
To bring the dead alive.
To bring the dead alive, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of six;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ
Upon the crucifix.
Upon the crucifix, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of seven;
To see her own Son Jesus Christ
To wear the crown of Heaven.
To wear the crown of Heaven, good man,
And blessed may He be,
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
To all eternity.

There’s also an Irish folk hymn from Donegal, “Seacht Suailci na Maighdine Muire” (the Seven Joys of the Virgin Mary). From a brief scan of the lyrics in Irish, the first part of every verse is something like: “The Xth joy of the Blessed Virgin/It was a great joy/It was the joy of her noble only son”. So Mary’s taking joy in her Son’s joy. Anyway, Jesus’ joys in question seem to be: being her only son, learning to read a book, something about giving flowers order, being the Savior, something about his palm on the dead (raising them, I guess), something about wine, and that he went up to heaven. (Bear in mind that my Irish is bad and my dictionary small. I’m sure the song actually makes better sense than I can make of it.) Anyway, I haven’t actually heard it, but Aoife Ni Fhearraigh‘s cover of it was apparently included on all sorts of albums, from the Rough Guide to Irish Folk to Narada’s Celtic Spirit. This suggests you should keep an eye out for it.

Finally, this program notes page (and boy, do I wish I’d seen this concert!) on Harps, Songs and Stories of Medieval Europe includes a Seven Joys song from Montserrat‘s medieval book of pilgrim songs, the Llibre Vermell. I didn’t find the lyrics to “Los Sets Goyts” anywhere online, but again, it’s something to look for.

Meanwhile, Googling revealed that Franciscans pray the Franciscan Crown, a meditation on the Seven Joys of Mary. There’s also a much shorter prayer the Carmelites use that’s on the same topic.

Take a look at this beautiful Altarpiece of the Seven Joys of Mary. Medieval art at its loveliest. (I like the leaves strewn on the floor, and the man wearing pattens. I also have a mad Scadian desire for that sweeeet red, green and white outfit the one lady on the left of the altar is wearing.) Also check out Hans Memling’s Seven Joys of Mary. As in a comic book that doesn’t use the standard box format, all the action takes place on the same ‘page’.

Finally, I would’ve thought the list of Seven Joys was newer than the Seven Sorrows, since you hear more about the latter. This page says bzzt, wrong!. Still, the early 13th century is not exactly new. Ixeh.net has both sets of prayers in interactive versions, as well as a lot of other good stuff.

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Mailbag: The Old Oligarch

The Old Oligarch sent me mail and blogged it. Pretty cool, eh?

I had a shock of my own last week. I knew my one cousin was a smart cookie, but then I saw him writing a paper on The Scarlet Letter. It was great! He not only talked about the themes of the novel; he also got in some very sharp comparisons of the town in the novel to the high school.

It was his paper. I watched him think it up and write it. I’d say his work was AP English-worthy, yet he’s stuck down in the lowest level of English class, because he used to have severe problems with spelling and handwriting. Computers have allowed him to write what he’s thinking; but the school hasn’t caught up with him.

Last year, I found out, he was accused of plagiarism. The teacher demanded definitions to words he used in the paper; he gave them. She retorted that he never talked like that in class. He said, “Neither do you!”

His current teacher is much more supportive; but he’s also not getting the kid into a higher-level class or making him work at his level. That Scarlet Letter paper? The kids in his class weren’t even given the novel! They were made to watch that horrible recent movie version instead.

I hate the way our school system’s gone downhill. And I really resent the way people like my cousin get stiffed again and again. Is it any wonder our society is losing people it needs?

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For Refreshment of the Spirit

It was a hard day, but something about this really touched me. It’s from Branch I of the 13th century romance The High History of the Holy Graal, translated by Sebastian Evans.

….King Arthur goeth away a great pace. And he entereth into a great forest adventurous, and rideth the day long until he cometh about evensong into the thick of the forest. And he espied a little house beside a little chapel, and it well seemed him to be a hermitage. King Arthur rode thitherward and alighteth before this little house…

And it seemed him that there was a strife in the chapel. The ones were weeping so tenderly and sweetly as it were angels, and the other spake so harshly as it were fiends. The King heard such voices in the chapel and marvelled much what it might be. He findeth a door in the little house that openeth on a little cloister whereby one goeth to the chapel. The King is gone thither and entereth into the little minster, and looketh everywhere but seeth nought there, save the images and the crucifixes. And he supposeth not that the strife of these voices cometh of them. The voices ceased as soon as he was within.

He marvelleth how it came that this house and hermitage were solitary, and what had become of the hermit that dwelt therein. He drew nigh the altar of the chapel and beheld in front thereof a coffin all discovered, and he saw the hermit lying therein all clad in his vestments, and seeth the long beard down to his girdle, and his hands crossed upon his breast. There was a cross above him, whereof the image came as far as his mouth, and he had life in him yet, but he was nigh his end, being at the point of death.

The King was before the coffin a long space, and looked right fainly on the hermit, for well it seemed him that he had been of a good life. The night was fully come, but within was a brightness of light as if a score of candles were lighted. He had a mind to abide there until that the good man should have passed away. He would fain have sate him down before the coffin, when a voice warned him right horribly to begone thence, for that it was desired to make a judgment within there, that might not be made so long as he were there.

The King departed, that would willingly have remained there, and so returned back into the little house, and sate him down on a seat whereon the hermit wont to sit. And he heareth the strife and the noise begin again within the chapel, and the ones he heareth speaking high and the others low, and he knoweth well by the voices that the ones are angels and the others devils. And he heareth that the devils are distraining on the hermit’s soul, and that judgment will presently be given in their favour, whereof make they great joy.

King Arthur is grieved in his heart when he heareth that the angels’ voices are stilled. The King is so heavy, that no desire hath he neither to eat nor to drink. And while he sitteth thus, stooping his head toward the ground, full of vexation and discontent, he heareth in the chapel the voice of a Lady that spake so sweet and clear, that no man in this earthly world, were his grief and heaviness never so sore, but and he had heard the sweet voice of her pleading would again have been in joy. She saith to the devils: “Begone from hence, for no right have ye over the soul of this good man, whatsoever he may have done aforetime, for in my Son’s service and mine own is he taken, and his penance hath he done in this hermitage of the sins that he hath done.”

“True, Lady,” say the devils, “But longer had he served us than he hath served you and your Son. For forty years or more hath he been a murderer and robber in this forest, whereas in this hermitage but five years hath he been. And now you wish to thieve him from us.”

“I do not. No wish have I to take him from you by theft, for had he been taken in your service in suchwise as he hath been taken in mine, yours would he have been, all quit.”

The devils go their way all discomfit and aggrieved; and the sweet Mother of our Lord God taketh the soul of the hermit, that was departed of his body, and so commendeth it to the angels and archangels that they make present thereof to Her dear Son in Paradise. And the angels take it and begin to sing for joy “Te Deum laudamus”. And the Holy Lady leadeth them and goeth her way along with them…

King Arthur was in the little house beside the chapel, and had heard the voice of the sweet Mother of God and the angels. Great joy had he, and was right glad of the good man’s soul that was borne thence into Paradise.

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I Never Promised You a Rosarium

The Pope celebrated his anniversary by releasing an apostolic letter about the rosary. He also proclaimed “The Year of the Rosary” and announced a new set of mysteries for Thursdays, the “mysteries of light”.

I like the letter. It has tons of good stuff in it. But my personal thought is that it’s a bad idea to play around with well-established popular devotions. Adding a fifteenth station to the Stations of the Cross or a new set of mysteries to the Rosary is…rather pointless. I love and respect the Pope, but I don’t feel any need to start doing stuff differently. In fact, I’m so set in my ways that I doubt I’d be able to remember all this new stuff if I tried. What it introduces to me is a new sense of anxiety about whether I’m praying the Rosary right, and if it’s mean for me to want to keep to the old way. (What with this and the threat of changing the translation of the whole Mass, my mother is now getting her revenge for all the times I thought her pre-Vatican II nostalgia was funny.)

But fortunately, I found myself a good argument to stay happily set in my ways. People are always coming up with prayer variations, and I don’t have to do them if I don’t feel like it. To quote Anthony Boucher’s Sister Ursula in Rocket to the Morgue, ‘”It is a rosary,” she said slowly, “but it is not the Rosary…there are others. I know, for instance, of a rosary of the Infant of Prague….Any individual is free to say the proper prayers in the devotional form that most appeals to him.”

(Of course this does not apply to new Mass translations. *sigh* That’s going to be a nightmare for church musicians. Every hymnbook including Masses is going to have to be scrapped, or new word arrangements written in by hand. Everyone is going to have to retrain their memories as well; it will be more difficult than adding words in a new language.)

Maybe adding more episodes from Christ’s life will help those who worry about these things. Certainly the Pope is free to fill up whatever holes he perceives. As for me, I will use my freedom to make my own choices about the small things.

Yankee Lady has a table of chaplets and rosaries both by name and bead number, while Rosary Creations has a list of chaplets you can pray on ordinary rosaries. Find out what appeals to you. (Don’t spend a lot of money unless that appeals to you.)

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People Are Dying — Blame Videogames

Yes, once again reporters are trying to breed hysteria while not checking their facts. CounterStrike is not particularly good training for a sniper, and it doesn’t have a ‘God mode’. Yet it was specifically identified in several articles (now apparently corrected or removed from the Web) as having a God mode. Now reporters at least seem to have identified actual sniper games to get hysterical about.

(‘God mode’ is a really lame game feature anyway, IMHO. If you can do whatever you want with impunity, you’re not playing a game.)

Geek.com had an interesting editorial on this sudden backlash. “A news report last night mentioned Grand Theft Auto as a game featuring a sniper rifle. One of the commentators said that he’d be taking that game away from his child now — no one bothered to wonder why he thought it was okay before to have his kid sniping people for cash in the game….”

Morons.org makes the peevish comments for me. The Washington Post did its bit to contribute to the hysteria and then contributed this essay, which asked some of the right questions about how much violence in a game is too much.

Personally, I have no problem with slagging Grand Theft Auto and other crass games…for being crass! You don’t need to blame a game for slaughter for saying that it’s no good.

Meanwhile, Gamers Worry about the Actual Problem

My brother Kevin (an avid CounterStrike player) would like to see citizens in pairs, with rifles, on patrol around gas stations, shopping centers, and major street corners. The Guardian Angels seem to be making a good start, but as Kevin points out, there are plenty of responsible civilians in the DC area who could help take up the slack from the police. It would be less radical than calling in the National Guard (who are rather busy these days).

Maybe this is a bit much, but at least it would give people something to do.

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Mailbag: More Madelyne Toogood

I’ve gotten a decent amount of email (maybe eight pieces of it) about my thoughts on the Toogood case. Unfortunately, my mailbox proceeded to eat most of it. So I’ll give you a rough precis instead of actual quotes. If I remember anybody’s comments wrong, I apologize in advance. (I’m still shocked that anybody’s stopping by.)

First off, the Indiana guy who wrote a book and was quoted on TV and in
every article wants you to know that a) his book was on Travelers, not scams;
b) he doesn’t want the Toogoods’ kids taken away; c) he feels he was misrepresented
by the media; and d) he’s never met a Traveler who wasn’t into petty crime.

*shrug*

I got a letter or two expressing support for my comment about taking away Enron
executives’ kids. Over the weekend, I suddenly got more, including a copy of a
protest letter to NBC and another wondering whether the network could be sued for
discriminating against minorities, as in Ireland. I had no idea what this
was about, since I hadn’t been home watching TV on Friday. But since I’d mistakenly
taped NBC instead of my Friday shows, I soon found out that Dateline had re-run some
of their report on Travelers living in Murphy’s Village, NC.

The sad thing is that NBC does employ decent reporters, and is fully capable of
doing good research and running balanced stories. There’s a lot to be said and
shown about the Travelers, and a lot of things I was curious to learn the first time
they ran their piece. Unfortunately, NBC was interested in raising ratings by
raising up a boogeyman. To do so, they used the kind of language you’d expect from
a Know-Nothing Party pamphlet. I haven’t watched the tape to find out if this aspect
was toned down for the story’s encore appearance, but I suspect not.

Mailbag: the number of Jewish people in Dayton

I said something in another blog’s comment section about never knowing any Jewish
people until a few years back. Somebody emailed me to say how different this was
to his experience; he’d always had tons of Jewish neighbors.

In Cincinnati, there’s tons of Jewish people. In Dayton, there’s not so many. In
Beavercreek (which was pretty much 80% Air Force families in my childhood), Jewish
people were few and far between. I don’t think I had a single Jewish classmate, though
I knew at least ten Hindus and my bus went past the Hindu temple (after it was built
in the late eighties, that is). I don’t think there used to be more than two synagogues,
both of which were way over on the other side of town. I just checked the Yellow Pages
for ‘Synagogues’ and found six listings. (Well, seven if you count that bad placement of
a Cingular Interactive listing. Tsk, tsk, tsk….) But I still know a lot more local
Hindus.

Back to the Blog

Sorry about abandoning the blog so long. I have no excuse. It wasn’t Real Life; it was just me being lazy. (And a lot of really good discussions over on the House of Ill Faith list for the HoIF universe of Harry Potter fanfic. One of my more interesting friends is writing a very large series of fanfic covering a lot of backstory for the Slytherin characters. It’s good stuff, but realize that she’s doing a lot of writing about the
sixties and seventies, and the subject matter is accordingly both for the mature and rather esoteric.)

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