The Many Versions of Beauty and the Beast

With all the hubbub over Disney’s live action movie, I thought now would be a good time to look back at some of the other adaptations of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale.

There are, of course, numerous versions. Some are genuine attempts at art, others just cheap knockoffs of the Disney version. Perhaps a knockoff most people are familiar with is the version by Good Times Entertainment, released a year after Disney’s.

This is…not the best version of the story. Mainly because the more problematic and creepy parts of the story are emphasized. In this version, Beauty comes to the castle under the expectation that she will die. When the Beast spares her (and she thanks him by getting down on her knees and behaving submissively, not a good image), she immediately takes a liking to him. She ignores any warning that he might be dangerous, dreamily talking about how ‘kind’ he is, and dances with him once before he begs her not to leave because he’ll ‘die of loneliness’. Still, better than the Golden Films version, where the Beast is really and truly abusive to Beauty (he yells at her frequently and actually causes her to fall down a flight of stairs in one of his fits).

The worst version is the Bevanfield one; a grotesque, hideously ugly, dreary and cheap as hell adaptation where Beauty’s COUSIN (voiced somehow by Christopher Lee) seeks her hand in marriage. Because that’s totally appropriate for kids!

Thankfully, genuinely good versions of the story do exist. They may not have the extravagance of the Disney version, but they still work.

There is a version by HBO’s Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child which takes place in Africa, but unfortunately I’m not sure if a good quality copy of it exists online. On YouTube it’s only available through poor quality VHS rips in small sections. Thankfully, good quality copies of other versions can be found.

This is from the anime series Grimm’s Fairy Tales. It starts off problematic, but gradually gets better as you see the couple actually bond. It’s silly, but it’s nice to see the titular characters get cute together.

This incarnation, by Britannica’s Tales Around the World, is rich in atmosphere. It is visually unique from other versions of the story, creating a moody and original setting and tone. I like some of the added details to the story (such as the Beast slowly losing his humanity) and it’s just overall a haunting and beautiful rendition.

Another visually stunning version by Stories to Remember. Mia Farrow’s narration makes the story warm and comforting. You really feel for the Beast here. It’s like a painting come to life.

But I got to say, I think my fave is probably the version from the Simsala Grimm series.

Why? Because the relationship between Beauty and the Beast is just so POSITIVE. There is no abuse between them whatsoever. The Beast threatens to hold her father prisoner (and you understand why later), but doesn’t demand his daughters in exchange. He lets him go home to say goodbye, and Beauty voluntarily goes. Soon the two of them are happy together, enjoying the castle’s wonders and smiling and laughing. When she rejects his marriage proposal (and calls him out for keeping her hostage) the Beast lets her go. No deadline, no guilt trip (even though he will die). But she comes back, and actually kisses him in the lips! And it’s happily ever after. I just found this version so cute and refreshing.

There are many, many others, so check them out! It’s a tale as old as time, and chances are you’ll find more than one told well.

 

Post War Trauma and Psychological Drama: The World of Japanese Horror

Does this look terrifying to you?

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There’s definitely something fascinating about a spiral shape, the way it draws you in, how it can play optical illusions on you, and how it’s been used in media as a way of hypnotizing people. Yet you wouldn’t think of using it as an antagonist in horror. In typical American horror, there’s a clear monster/ghost/serial killer to chase the hapless young hero (and a lot of gore and sexual violence tends to ensue).

Yet to Japanese manga artist Junji Ito, the mysterious yet not quite right appeal of the spiral shape was enough to make it into his horror masterpiece, Uzumaki (literally means spiral/vortex).

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Imagine you’re living in an isolated town, and slowly, strange things start to happen that somehow all involve spirals. A man becomes so obsessed with spirals he tries to use his body to create the shapes. His wife develops a morbid fear of spirals that lead her to go nuts. A girl who moves into town in order to pursue a boy notices a scar on her forehead turns into a spiral shape. Slowly but surely it becomes apparent that the town is haunted by the spiral, but when the townspeople realize something is extremely wrong, it’s too late. It made for a creepy, creative thrill that I read in one night.

Junji Ito first broke into the manga scene with Tomie, a series about an evil protean entity who cannot die and is constantly being reborn and multiplying, who takes the form of a beautiful teenage girl who manipulates and tricks others. He would go on to create several short stories and have two other noteworthy works: Gyo and The Enigma of Amigara Fault.

Gyo begins with a rather ridiculous premise: schools of fish crawl out of the ocean on mechanical, insect-like legs, and are accompanied by a horrible smell. But soon it develops into a truly nightmarish story, when people and other land animals are infected by the smell (carried by a powerful germ transferred through bodily gases) and become the replacements for the mechanical legs.

In The Enigma of Amigara Fault, after a devastating earthquake, a new fault appears from the ground, sporting human shaped holes.

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(Yes, this was referenced in Steven Universe.)

People quickly discover that each hole is perfectly suited for each individual, and they feel compelled to enter the hole. They disappear for months at a time, and when they come out on the other side…well, they’re not quite the same.

What makes all three of these works chilling is that they take seemingly mundane, innocuous parts of life and morph them into something creatively horrifying. Ghosts and monsters and serial killers are scary enough, but what about a spiral that is seemingly everywhere that you can’t run away from? Now that strikes you on a psychological level.

Gyo has the extra horror of post WWII paranoia. In the manga, it was revealed that during WWII the protagonist’s grandfather helped conducted horrific experiments and created a toxic germ that could be used as a weapon. When the animals carrying the germ and emitting the gas would die or pass out, mechanical legs were created to carry them. Before they could be used on the front, they were lost at sea…and decades later, the disaster emerged. You can tell how horrifying that would be to a country nearly destroyed by war. The Enigma of Amigara Fault features a prefecture that was ravaged by a devastating earthquake. While I think that story has more nuances that resonates more with Japanese readers (in regards to things like conformity and finding your place in society), you can see how that would strike a particular unnerving cord to a country that is known for devastating earthquakes.

As you can tell, a lot of (good) Japanese horror is rooted in the country’s cultural fears. Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino is about a family destroyed by the Yakuza and WWII, based on the author’s own life (his grandfather was a Yakuza member and his own family fled Manchuria after Japan surrendered). Perfect Blue is about how the role of a (childlike but made to appeal to men) pop idol drives not one but two women mad when they dare to move on. And the original Godzilla is about the fear of a nuclear fallout. This is probably one reason why a lot of horror franchises that are originally Japanese don’t do as well when they become Americanized since a lot of what makes them truly scary is left out.

If you’re tired of American horror, I suggest you give Japanese horror a try. I strongly recommend reading Junji Ito’s work. He is extremely imaginative and effectively creepy, with absolutely gorgeous art. (He also wrote a genuinely cute and funny manga based on his life with two adopted cats, so you know he’s talented.) I don’t fully recommend Hideshi Hino because his work lacks subtlety and relies a bit too much on shock value and animal cruelty, but you should at least read his work Hell Baby because it’s a genuinely tragic, moving story about what it means to be human. There’s a litany of other horror (including Kazuo Umezuo, the original horror mangaka) that you can read up on. You can start HERE and HERE.

Feel free to share your experience with Japanese horror in the comments below!

“Excuse me, who are you?” Perfect Blue/Legend of Korra Parallels

Perfect Blue is widely hailed as one of the greatest and most influential anime films of all time. You can actually read about the influence it (and other Satoshi Kon films) had in Hollywood HERE, but I think there’s another piece of media Perfect Blue had an impact on: The Legend of Korra.

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(Source: korra.avatarspirit.net)

PB is about a young woman, Mima, who decides to give up being a pop idol and instead become an actress in a rather seedy production. The stress and pressure of the new part (including a part where she has to film a rape scene and it feels TOO real) begins to wear on her, and the ghosts of her past eat away at her. Most notably, she keeps seeing a vision of her old self, who routinely taunts and haunts her. Mima begins to lose her grip on reality and then shit hits the fan. I can’t really explain the film because it’s so off the wall, but I think I got the basic gist of it.

I think something really similar happens in Korra; at the beginning of the fourth season, Korra is still reeling from a traumatic incident (also akin to a rape scene). She gives up being the Avatar (like Mima gave up on being a pop idol) and is trying to pursue her own path, but every time she tries to move on, she’s visited by the ghost of HER past; a dark version of herself, when she was poisoned and tried to kill her attacker.

This apparition (like in PB, it’s not clear if it’s real, or if it’s in the character’s head, or something else entirely) also taunts and haunts Korra, relentlessly following her and preventing her from getting better. It drives Korra over the edge and nearly kills her. Both Mima and Korra have to fight against this new apparition, even when it takes the form of someone they know who has a personal grudge against them.

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These women tell the main character that she is worthless and not needed anymore and essentially not REAL, and they can be replaced. Ultimately, the heroines decide to save/spare the lives of their enemies, stop hallucinating, and are very confident in their identities (at least for Korra; Mima’s case is a little more ambiguous).

It’s a little hard to make a written comparison since most of the parallels are more visual (and there are probably other parallels I missed), so I recommend watching the first few episodes of the fourth season of Legend of Korra and Perfect Blue to see for yourself.

The Major Reason the Anime and Manga Industries Are In Trouble

So if you’re an aficionado of Japanese media, you probably know that the anime industry is in danger of dying. The manga industry is not faring so well either. You can look up ‘anime industry dying’ or ‘why good anime is hard to make’ or ‘manga industry dying’ to get more info, but basically, while anime and manga for niche markets (mainly the otaku fandom) is doing fine, anime and manga for a broader audience is not.

To be honest, I think there are a lot of reasons for this. A lot of manga and anime series are extremely long (thus people can lose interest after awhile or be deterred entirely), can be very weird, and tend to be oversexualized (this is a serious problem that is affecting anime and manga badly, but that’s for another day). A clash of cultural values and customs don’t help at all.

But I think there’s another very huge issue as to why the anime and manga industries aren’t doing very well, at least overseas. The issue is that anime and manga and their merchandise are FUCKING EXPENSIVE.

Seriously, manga is pretty pricey, and given how LONG manga can go on for, people could end up forking hundreds of dollars to get the complete series (and sometimes people might not even get access to the complete series if the whole thing isn’t translated or if the English distributors go bankrupt). And anime? Oh, it’s worse. It can cost upwards of $30 to get a single disc DVD, and it can cost almost $100 to get a Blu Ray, not for the whole series, but for less than HALF of a series. I’m not joking. I wanted to get Attack on Titan on Blu Ray because I love the show so much and I want to show my support, but they broke up the first season into two separate Blu Ray boxsets and each one is ridiculously overpriced. I saw a Kill La Kill Blu Ray set of like the first five episodes with a few bonus features that cost like $90. $90! And don’t get me started on Sailor Moon!

It’s even worse if you want merch for it. A lot of merch is imported right from Japan, and as a result, can cost zillions of dollars. There’s some merch that’s actually really cool (like these articulated Sailor Moon figurines that have different faces and hand shapes and accessories) but if you want to get the complete collection, get ready to fork up to a thousand dollars! I feel like it would be better to just go to Japan and get stuff there!

And the thing is, a lot of fans of anime, manga, and the merch attached to it are high schoolers and college students. In other words, people who aren’t exactly rolling in money or have parents who are willing to buy their kids all the stuff they want all the time.

Since Western comics (save for standalone graphic novels or complete collections) are ridiculously hard for me to get into with all the constant retcons, changing writers and artists, and unfriendliness to newer readers who don’t know the context of what’s going on, I want to turn to manga as an alternative (especially since a lot of manga is really creative, and they can be a little easier to follow than their anime adaptations), but it’s hard when buying volumes cost me so much money. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

I don’t understand. Merch right from Japan that’s expensive, I understand, with the shipping costs and all that. (Though this means they should let American companies make licensed merch for them so that people can support the industry without spending too much money. They shouldn’t have to sell all their products right from Japan to be shipped overseas.) But, I’m sorry,  I am not spending nearly $100 for a box set of like five episodes and wait forever for the rest of the series to be released.

The point is, if the anime and manga industries want to survive, they need to make their products AFFORDABLE, ACCESSIBLE, and widely AVAILABLE. At this rate, I’m not remotely surprised that the future of anime and manga might be solely online, whether Japan likes it or not. But if they want physical copies to survive, they need to make sure more people can actually buy it. I’m sure they can gain a lot more revenue to make more and better anime if lots of people go through stores, see an anime that looks interesting, and see that they can actually buy it without spending too much.

EDIT/UPDATE:

Wow, this post has been getting a lot of views! I may have been a little glib when I first wrote it. I’ve gotten a few comments and as it turns out, the issue is a bit more complex than that. The main problem is that creators are often treated horribly, having to work long and hard hours, and anime/manga are not as commercialized around the world like Marvel or DC. Lowering prices would make it harder to make a profit. You can check the comments for more details, but basically, anime and manga is seen as a novelty. I still think anime and manga need to be more affordable, accessible, and widely available, but there will also need to be some serious reforms in how anime and manga are commercialized, marketed, and made.

The Unique, Heartbreaking Tale of Princess Kaguya

For all the praise Studio Ghibli gets, I can’t help but notice that the praise mostly goes to Hayao Miyazaki. And while I do genuinely love Miyazaki’s work and have great respect for the man, it’s really unfair for him to be the only anime director that has gotten worldwide acclaim. In fact, it’s important to note that one of his greatest influences was another director at Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata. And he has done some truly great works. And his latest (and arguably greatest) work came out just a few years ago. This film is The Tale of Princess Kaguya.

If you think anime is nothing but creepy fetishization, gratuitous sexuality and violence, exaggeration, and general weirdness, I highly suggest you give this movie a look. It’s a much subtler, more down-to-earth movie, with very brief (and nonsexual) nudity and brief violence that isn’t glorified. The animation is stunning, and shifts at the appropriate times. When Kaguya is in the mountain, the animation is bright, colorful, and detailed, looking like something out of a child’s picture book. When she’s at the palace, the colours are more muted. THIS SCENE is one of the greatest pieces of animation I have ever seen (you can see a great breakdown of it HERE).

The story at times feels like a brutal satire of the western fairy tale. Kaguya is actually much happier living as a peasant girl and loathes the life of a princess (where she’s seen more as a prize rather than a person; her suitors can’t even see her when they propose to her), and refuses to belong to any man. She also has an extremely close bond with her mother (something quite rare to see in Western media) and doesn’t overly depend on animal sidekicks.

The film is over 2 hours long, and manages to work in a range of beautiful animation in addition to great characterization, allowing you to become really attached to Kaguya and her family. Watching it for the second time, it’s a story of a young girl learning the beauties and ugliness of life and how precious it all is, but I feel like it also serves as a cautionary tale. Had the father simply listened to his daughter and respected her wishes rather than assuming what would make her happy, things would’ve gone much differently for them all.

This movie is also extremely sad. While I do think the movie is simply a masterpiece, I can’t watch it because it always makes me cry. I’m not going to spoil the ending for anyone, but basically, it’s an emotional roller coaster at the end.

Despite being a Studio Ghibli movie, this film didn’t generate a lot of hype when it came overseas. I’m not sure if it was because GKIDS/Universal dubbed and distributed it instead of Disney, or because it wasn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, or if it’s because it got swallowed up by all the good western films that was released in 2014. I can sort of understand and accept it not winning the Oscar For Best Animated Film (well, then again, I do have a bias for the film that won that award), but I find it atrocious that it did not win any Annie Awards (you know, the awards ceremony that’s supposed to care about all animation) and only won a few obscure awards.

I’m not really sure if there’s much I can say. You just need to see it to believe it and take it all in. If you get a chance to see it, please do. You’ll probably cry, but it will be worth it.

My Top Ten Animated Shows

I must confess, it is much harder for me to watch shows (be it animated or live action) than movies because TV shows tend to be very long, hard to find, and I can sometimes lose interest. So, when I’m able to watch a show and actually stick with it, it becomes very special to me. Here are some of my faves (this time, I will include anime because honestly I don’t have enough ultimate fave American animated shows to make a top ten list). Here we go!

Continue reading “My Top Ten Animated Shows”