Category Archives: Cartoons/Animation/Video

Young Judge Dee TV Show on Amazon Prime

Tsui Hark’s third Detective Dee movie (Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings) is due for release in July 2018. So it’s not surprising that there’s a 2014 live action TV show on Amazon Prime about young Judge Dee and young Empress Wu, with lots of martial arts, magic, and detective deduction.

The catch is that it’s not called anything resembling “Judge Dee,” “Detective Dee,” or even “Magistrate Dee.”

Yup, it was uploaded by the production company as:

Clip: Young Sherlock.

(Also, whoever did the uploading has classified each of the series episodes as separate movies. And there are 40-some episodes in a season. My advice is to search for the show on your desktop, and then click each of them onto your watchlist in episode order.)

It turns out that the official English title really is Young Sherlock. Presumably this is using “sherlock” as a generic word for a sleuth.

Anyway, it’s a pretty typical Tang Dynasty detective/martial arts show.

(Heh, I just wanted to write that sentence.)

So there’s a hotblooded hero destined to make nonfictional history and become a Chinese god, Di Ren Jie. He is a gifted young scholar and martial artist, but his dad finds him unserious. It’s almost time for him to get married off and take the bureaucrat exams, but he just wants to have fun. He’s crazy for beautiful girls. But he doesn’t want to marry his cousin and childhood friend, a girl with a sharp tongue and a mean right whose nickname is “Tigress.” He also doesn’t want to marry the other leading candidate, a rich and well-educated government minister’s daughter he’s never met, because her nickname is “Ugly.” But on his way to visit the capital, he falls in love instantly (as one does) with a gorgeous young woman who doctors the poor while hiding her face (as one does).

He also has a faithful family servant/sidekick who spends his time being ordered around by both the future Judge Dee and the aforementioned Tigress. (Though they treat him with careless generosity as well, since they were all raised together.)

And Tigress is also destined to meet mysterious love interests, as well as dressing up like a guy. Because that’s what young female martial artists of good family do!

Anyway, the first episode sets up the show with a lot of info about palace intrigue and the Emperor’s troubles, as well as introducing us to a mysterious group of magical ninja terrorists, led by a guy wearing a Western-style helmet. Emperor Gaozong gave up hope of marrying his childhood friend and true love (Wu Mei, the future Empress Wu) upon taking the throne, for an important reason. She had been married off to the now-dead emperor as a concubine, so marrying her himself would count as incest. Further, an imperial consort who didn’t have kids by an emperor was supposed to remain celibate afterwards, to avoid succession confusion, and was to be booked off to be a nun. Therefore, she became the abbess of a Buddhist shrine to the dead emperor’s memory. But for various reasons, the gods don’t seem to think this is good enough, and the omens are bad. So the young emperor, depressed and lonely, contemplates going back on his decision… and of course, there are courtiers trying to get him what he wants!

But the second episode starts with mystery, as a theater accident turns out to be no accident, and Dee shows even the gentlemen of the court just how deadly serious he can be.

On the whole, I think it’s okay for mystery-reading kids… if they are okay with lots of subtitles, scary stuff and mystery murders, as well as pagan and Buddhist Chinese altars and temples. There’s some earthy humor too. (For instance, Tigress complains that, since they were little kids together, Dee has already seen her naked when they were in the bathtub together. Since she complains about this in public, the public misinterpret it!)

There’s also a frequent repetition of a famous Chinese love poem about longing for the beloved so much that she confused green and red, which is written to a married Emperor. (Yes, maintenance of the imperial concubine system is a plot essential.) If your kids already know about King Solomon, there’s nothing shocking.

The main question, as ever, is why the evil Empress Wu has been rewritten as the purehearted Empress Wu in so many recent historical works. Obviously people really really want her to be a positive historical model for women, because many of her policies were beneficial; but that doesn’t mean she can’t also have been a model of dictatorship, cruelty, extravagance, and excess. Heck, that seems to be most Chinese rulers of note — a bunch of powercrazed weirdos, with good administrators doing all the work.

As the linked article above says, Young Sherlock was produced in Hong Kong under Communist Chinese control. Dee is played by Bosco Wong, and Empress Wu by Ruby Lin. Yuan Hong is the Emperor, Ma Tianyu is the sidekick (whose name is Wang Yuanfang), Cindy Sun Xiaoxiao is Tigress (Tong Mengyao is her actual name), and Stephy Qi is the mysterious doctor, Li Wanqing. The director is Lin Feng, and the show was produced for Hunan TV.

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Nicolas Le Floch: Good Historical Mystery Show

Nicolas Le Floch is a French-made historical mystery show. It came out in 2008, and I’m sorry that I’ve never seen it before. The scenery of old Paris and Versailles is great, the portrayal of the era and its point of view is wonderfully exact, and the stories are a mix of mystery and swashbuckling adventure. What more could you ask?

It’s 1761. Nicolas, our sleuth hero, is a commissaire for the Paris police. He has a team of investigators (including an inspecteur who often masquerades as a servant or constable), sources (including a sort of Paris Baker Street Irregulars), and access to the weird world of French government informants.

(Yes, the king and Cardinal Richelieu really did employ some of the famous Paris beggars as an army of informants and couriers.)

However, he also has to deal with the mean streets of Paris, court intrigue, plots, poisonings, banditry, his boss, and all manner of other troubles. And since he’s a French detective whose last name is not Maigret, he is statutorily required to have extremely consenting sex with extremely consenting women.

But he is really trying to fight for justice, even if his means are sometimes questionable. Very questionable. Or at least, very French.

It’s a really good show with great stories. It’s so refreshing to watch a historical show with characters that have historical motives, feelings, and worries, instead of being copies of modern people. Also, the actor does a great job playing a complicated character caught between worlds, and he has plenty of French charm as well as French shrewdness. The supporting actors and minor cast are also a joy. The music is beautiful, and there’s a great scene reproducing baroque opera. Even the horses are awesome.

It’s not a show for young kids who are mystery fans, because there are suggestive situations, and there’s a fair amount of talk about court scandals with both sexes. But it should be okay for older folks.

Nicolas Le Floch is adapted from a series of French historical mysteries written by Jean-Francois Parot. (“Les enquêtes de Nicolas Le Floch, commissaire au Châtelet.”) Six of the books have been translated into English by the repetitiously named Howard Howard, and they are available on Kindle. There is an audiobook edition in French.

The German translation of one of the books appears to be free on Kindle, but that doesn’t do me much good.

Nicolas Le Floch is available free from many libraries via the Hoopla app, which now includes video download capabilities for mobile devices.

PS – The Great Courses are now available on Hoopla, also for free. Which is cheaper than the Amazon channel, given the capacity to download, although only a fixed number of people can borrow the same video at a time from your library. Courses include “Learning French,” “Latin 101,” and “Greek 101.” (Still no downloadable textbook, but free!)

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Angeles: A Bad Imitation of Winx Club

Every weekend, Galavision shows the kids Spanish-language cartoons.

This one is actually from our Italian animation friends at RTI. Unfortunately, it’s a desperate attempt to copy RTI’s own Winx Club. It’s called Angeles in Spanish, and Angel’s Friends in English. It came out in 2009, and there are two seasons of this junk.

The premise is that, just like fairies and witches, guardian angels and tempter devils have to go to high school to learn their jobs. And while it is moderately plausible that a threat to the world might make witches cooperate in a few situations, this series postulates that the fallen angels cooperate with guardian angels as well as fight them. Also, angels all dress like Jem and her friends, with 80’s streak hair and shorts. Devils dress like 70’s Kiss.

Anyway, of course the main character angel (Raf, for Seraph) ends up sneaking around with a “Bad Boy with a heart of gold” devil. Of course she does. Twoo wuv ensues. Of course it does.

OTOH, it is pretty good for Spanish listening practice, since the voice work has to be a little slower to fit Italian mouth flaps. And the music is pretty nice, as Italian show music usually is.

There’s another Winx Club imitation show called Regal Academy that just came out last year; apparently it’s on Nickelodeon. It’s fairy tale hero/heroine school, with Cinderella’s kid et al. Annoyingly, all the kids’ parents are also teachers at the school. Argh, poor kids. But if you were disappointed with the stupidity of Disney Descendants, maybe a Winx Club imitator will work better.

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TV to Adapt Japanese Light Novels about Vatican Investigators

Yes, my children, it’s that time again. It’s time to enjoy or shudder at the Japanese pop culture idea of Catholicism!

Anime company J.C. Staff is making a Gothic/horror/mystery anime called Vatican Miracle Investigators (Bachikan Kiseki Chousakan).

Behold. There is a trailer.

Fr. Joseph Kou Hiraga is a brilliant scientist. Fr. Roberto Nicholas is an expert in archives, paleography, and codes. Together, they investigate miracles!

(Yeah, that’s not how priests usually look. Albeit priests sent to the Vatican to study for the Vatican diplomatic service often are attractively presentable.)

To be fair, they are giving these guys some interesting features. Fr. Hiraga has a twelve year old brother with terminal bone cancer. (Ow.) Fr. Nicholas the archives researcher is an Italian bon vivant, as opposed to the more serious Fr. Hiraga.

The light novels by Rin Fujiki have been running since 2007, so there should be plenty of backstory to work with.

So yeah, it’s gonna be a doozy. Coming this July to a computer screen near you!

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Etymology: The Anime!

Nope, no magical powers. Not a historical anime, either.

It’s the story of a modern linguistics post-grad who gets hired onto the staff of a great Japanese multi-volume dictionary, similar to the Oxford English Dictionary. He finds true love and life while researching words.

It’s the new Noitamina anime for this season. Unfortunately nobody knows whether it will be licensed or not. But it starts October 13, 2016.

Fune wo Amu. The name means something like “The Great Ship,” because a dictionary is like a ship.

UPDATE:Actually, the name Fune wo Amu means “To Build a Ship” or “To Assemble a Ship.” Oh, the irony of getting this wrong about a dictionary story!

Where did the false info come from? I forgot that there is already a 2013 movie about this story. (I haven’t seen it, but it’s supposed to be very good. It doesn’t seem to be on any of the streaming services, though.) In its US release, this movie Fune wo Amu was called The Great Passage (because that’s the translation of the name of the fictional dictionary, the Daitokai).  Both the movie and the anime are based on a 2011 novel, Fune wo Amu, by Shion Miura.

Miura’s novel references a real Japanese dictionary of this sort called the Daigenkai, which literally means “The Great Ocean of Words.” It was edited by Otsuki Fumihiko, whose first and widely successful dictionary was called the Genkai, or “Sea of Words.” The big chunky Daigenkai came out in four volumes that appeared after the death of its editor in 1928.

(But he lived a long life; he was born in 1847 to a samurai scholar family** and had fought in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, on the losing side of the Tokugawa shogunate. So yet another real-life character who could easily have appeared in Rurouni Kenshin.)

So the idea is that the new (fictional) dictionary would be a ship (fune) that would take the reader on a journey (tokai) across the ocean of words (genkai). Not what I was thinking below in the comments, but pretty cool.

(Since Otsuki was a Western studies guy, his titles may also have been referencing Noah Webster. Japanese scholars love wordplay.)

The movie adaptation seems to have focused on the love story in the novel, but the series will give more time to the friendships between the main character and other members of the dictionary staff.

** Otsuki Fumihiko’s grandfather, Otsuki Gentaku, began the tradition in his family of being scholars of “Dutch studies” (Rangaku), by learning Western science, technology, and arts from Dutch books obtained in Nagasaki. Otsuki Gentaku was a physician and writer who wrote Steps toward Dutch Studies (Rangaku Kaitei), the first Dutch grammar book in Japanese. He also founded and ran Shirando, the first private school for Dutch studies, which was located in Edo (Tokyo), and promoted honoring Hippocrates as the father of Western medicine. (And when I say “honor,” I mean “like another Shinto god or hero,” in some cases.)

He is best known today for his sensible challenge to various Japanese misconceptions about African people. For whatever reason, the Japanese believed then that Africans acquired a black skin color through too much exposure to water, but that as a result Africans were abnormally good swimmers,  as intrinsically unintelligent as Japanese fisherfolk, and  just as intrinsically lowborn. Gentaku contended that Africans were just like every other human group, full of “the noble and the lowly… the wise and the foolish.” He also helped write a famous book, Kankai Ibun, which recounted the experiences of the survivors of a Japanese ship who ended up in Russia, the Straits of Magellan, and Hawaii. The book includes a woodcut illustration of the Japanese standing by the famous St. Petersburg statue of Tsar Peter the Great.

Otsuki’s great-grandfather was Otsuki Genryo, a Western-trained physician who was the official chief surgeon of the Sendai domain and chief physician to the Ichinoseki han.

 

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Space Trucker Bruce: Possibly the Best SF Movie I’ve Seen All Year

Space Trucker Bruce, an indie movie filmed mostly inside the house of a guy who lives in Juneau, is currently available on Amazon Prime. It’s also on YouTube (courtesy of the filmmaker himself).

This 2014 movie cost all of $10,000 to make.

It is awesome. It has a few pacing problems and the comedy parts could be tightened, but it is awe-inspiring all the same.

Basically, it’s a hard sf story about a space trucker (Bruce, played by Karl Sears), who rescues a space newbie (Max, played by filmmaker Anton Doiron) whose ship ran into distress. They’re both on their way to Titan Station, with about a month to go. Neither of them are entirely on an even keel, thanks to various stresses. Still, they get along okay. So  it seems like boredom will be their only problem, but the universe has some surprises in store.

But it’s also a very strange comedy. (And pretty clean comedy, all things considered. I’m not saying you should let your eight-year-old watch it, but it’s a lot more PG than most PG flicks these days.) And when I say strange, I’m looking at you, Mr. Sour Cream.

There’s some pretty darned decent sets and special effects, mostly because the filmmakers knew their limitations and worked with them. There are also some neat worldbuilding bits and hard sf moments. There are some bits that go on a bit long, but stick with it. The good bits of the movie outshine any mediocre parts.

And did I mention hard sf? There were some bits in here that really work well, but never seem to make it to the big screen in Hollywood. The worldbuilding is interesting, because it rings pretty true to human nature.

The amazing part is how you do get sucked into this future world by the end of the movie.

Although I’m still a bit worried by Mr. Sour Cream.

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Sweetness and Lightning: A Very Cute Anime

Crunchyroll currently has a very cute family food anime called Sweetness and Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma).

Kouhei Inuzuka, a dad who lost his wife six months ago, is having a hard time raising their daughter Tsumugi alone, especially since he can’t cook. He never had much appetite, but since his wife died he’s been losing weight to the point that his teaching colleagues openly worry about him.

One of his high school students, Kotori Iida, has a mom who works all the time as a celebrity chef, and her father is gone. She also has a phobia about knives, so she can’t do most cooking; and unless she gets over it, she won’t be able to keep the family restaurant going when she grows up.

So (with her mom’s permission) the girl who knows a lot about cooking but never does any, starts to teach the widowed dad how to cook. (And she also gets to play big sister to little Tsumugi, and have a father figure in her life.) So far, Dad has to do all the chopping.

It’s a charming show made from a charming manga. (The manga is also available on Crunchyroll.) Each storyline in the comic includes a recipe as an appendix, so that you can make the same dishes that the characters do.

This is a great intro to simple Japanese cooking, or an inspiration to get off your butt and do some. It also includes some useful information about European- and American-style cooking… but obviously, Japanese cooks adapt their recipes to local taste, just like American cooks do.

So their idea of Salisbury steak is served with a tomato-based sauce and a fried egg on top. (I’m not against it, mind you, but the American idea of Salisbury steak involves brown gravy and no eggs.)

I do want to point out that Kouhei isn’t some stereotypical helpless guy. He does a pretty good job taking care of the house and his job and his daughter. He just needs to know how to cook. (And to be taken out of himself, so that he can get out of his grief and depression, which are affecting his job. As Kotori points out, it’s not good for a homeroom teacher not to know the names and faces of his students. Kouhei has been living in a grief fog, and that’s understandable; but it can’t go on.)

And no, it’s not skeevy. The manga actually points out that Japanese homeroom teachers used to spend a lot of time with their students at home, as well as doing home visits with the parents to discuss the kids. Having teachers over to eat was once common. (Although I assume that this was in the days when teacher salaries were lower, so a lot of Japanese moms probably wanted to feed sensei and keep him/her from starving to death.) This is a manga and anime about a father; he just gains an extra daughter. (Albeit a daughter who intermittently has a crush on him… but Kotori tactfully keeps it to herself.)

I actually have a suspicion that the widowed dad and the divorced mom may eventually get together in the manga. It’s hard to tell, since they haven’t actually met in person yet. (The mom writes out and draws recipe instructions each week for her daughter and the dad, so she’s actually “present” in some storylines and has some personality established.) Of course, since the comic is aimed at teenage girls, it is probably unlikely that the story would go this way! Most likely, nothing will happen except teenager angst.

Also, I forgot to point out that the voice actress playing Tsumugi is actually a young kid – one of the talented kids from the calligraphy anime Barakamon. I hope she’s still having fun with her work; but if she’s only doing one series a season, that should be okay.

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