Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Clone Wars: Season Six

We have reached the end of Season Six, The Lost Missions, in our exploration of The Clone Wars.   I will post a reflection on the entire series next Tuesday.  But first, a quick look at this most recent stretch.

General Impressions

Anyone who has watched as much television as I have catches on to the basic pattern quickly: most shows end poorly.  The creative well runs dry after a while.  The lack of fresh ideas leaves the writers relying too heavily on the audience's investment in characters and on predictable narrative patterns.

Not so for The Clone Wars.  All due credit to George Lucas, the Star Wars well never seems to run dry.  Whatever criticism one might throw at him, you can say this much for his galaxy far, far away: there is always more to explore.  While the episodes produced for The Clone Wars were, to the end, decidedly uneven, the overall quality was awfully high in the last two seasons.   Season Six includes only four arcs.  The first is outstanding.  The last is strong.  The second has its moments.  Even the one clunker would be okay minus Jar Jar.  Best of all for me, no droid episodes.

Favorite Episode: "Conspiracy"
via Wookieepedia
The opening Inhibitor Chip arc is the gem of Season Six.  Following right on the heels of Season Five's excellent finale, the story comes darn close to exposing the secret of Order 66, the plan executed in Revenge of the Sith for the clone troopers to slaughter nearly all of the Jedi simultaneously.  More importantly to me, it explores the basic dilemma of the existence of the Clone Army more deeply than any other story in the series.  The star of the tale is Fives, a clone trooper we first met in Season One's "Rookies." "Conspiracy" is the second episode in the four-parter and the one in which Fives's role kicks into gear.

Least Favorite Episode: "The Disappeared, Part I"
via Wookieepedia
The Disappeared arc is a Jar Jar story: 'nuff said, really.  It's a Jar Jar love story, even.  His wing man for the episode is Mace Windu: also odd.  This story might have been more interesting without Jar Jar but we'll never know.  "Part II" is rescued by a surprise cameo so "Part I" gets the nod.

Favorite New Character: AZI-345211896246498721347
via Wookieepedia
AZI-3 is a medical droid and Fives's sidekick in the Inhibitor Chip arc.  His voice grates on me a little (sorry, Ben Diskin) and I find the comic relief he offers off-putting at times but he's still an essential part of one of the best stories in the entire series.  Plus, he doubles as a jet ski!


No, this is it for me.  For anyone who's eager for more, there are unfinished episodes to watch at and also comic books of other unused stories.  But there are no more on Netflix.  I have one more post next week to wrap up this 2-year+ project but then it's time to move on to other things.

Please visit my friend Andrew Leon today for his Season Six recap.  Next Tuesday: "What Is The Clone Wars?," my full series review.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Clone Wars: Sacrifice

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Sacrifice"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 13
Original Air Date: March 7, 2014
via Wookieepedia
"Sacrifice" concludes a four-part arc and with it, the entire Clone Wars series.   The Force Priestesses from last week have sent Yoda on his final trial to the Sith homeworld of Moraband where he must confront evil at its source.  As a final treat for the devoted, Mark Hamill voices Darth Bane, one of the spirits Yoda encounters there.

This arc was written by Christian Taylor, the same screenwriter who wrote the outstanding Mortis arc in Season Three.  In many ways, this Yoda arc is a continuation of the same story, a similar exploration of the mystical side of the Star Wars universe.  While it is stronger than most of the arcs in the series, it doesn't quite live up to Mortis.  Part of it is our faith in Yoda.  Apart from the fact that we know he survives, one never even truly doubts that Yoda will succumb to temptation whereas that's always a worry with Anakin.  I enjoyed the worlds explored, particularly the visit to Dagobah, and this is the most development we get for Yoda in the series.  But the basic story didn't pull me in the way Mortis did. 

On Moraband, Yoda finally encounters Sifo-Dyas (or at least an image thereof), the long lost Jedi who pulled him into this adventure in the first place.  I think another source of my disappointment here is that while the Sifo-Dyas story was merely a device, it is worthy of exploration on its own merits and it wasn't much.  Sifo-Dyas is the one who authorized the creation of the Clone Army, against the Jedi Council's wishes at the time.  The series leaves us with dangling threads - not entirely surprising in light of the abrupt cancellation but disappointing nonetheless.
via Wookieepedia
Sifo-Dyas first appeared in The Eyes of Revolution, a comic written and drawn by Warren Fu, published in the collection Star Wars: Visionaries in 2005.  Ze fodias is a naughty expression in Portuguese so the character's name was changed to Zaifo-Vias for the Brazillian audience.  Apparently Portuguese is fraught with peril for Star Wars characters.  Count Dooku was changed to Count Dokan for similar reasons though I can't find the exact translation for that.  Sifo-Dyas was voiced by Paul Nakauchi. 
via Game of Thrones Wiki
Paul Nakauchi is an American actor with extensive stage, film, television and video game credentials.  He has performed in several different productions of the musical The King and I, including as King Phra Meha Mongkut for Broadway Asia.  On film, he has worked on The Great Raid, Alpha and Omega and the upcoming Death Note.  Television credits include Knots Landing, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and ER.  Voice work on video games includes Call of Duty: World at War, Tomb Raider: Legend and World of Warcraft.

And just like that, it's over...

This Thursday, we'll be recapping Season Six.  Next Tuesday, I'll offer my summation of the entire series.  Then, it's on to other things.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Showa 1953-1989

Title: Showa 1953-1989: A History of Japan
Writer and Artist: Shigeru Mizuki
via Amazon
This is the fourth and final volume of Mizuki's outstanding Showa comic book series.   My reflections on the first three books can be found here, here and here.  Japan's Showa era was defined by the reign of Emperor Hirohito: 1926-1989, a period of extraordinary national transformation.  Mizuki lived through it all and his books weave historical events with his own personal experiences.

This installment covers by far the longest time span of the four volumes, well over half of the Showa period.  It's a particularly important era for me personally because it includes the time when Japan became a vital part of my family's life.  My parents first moved to Japan in 1969 and stayed for seven years (Showa 44-51).  Both learned far more Japanese than I ever did.  My older sister and I were both born in Tokyo.  The book even includes an event with which my father was directly involved: Emperor Hirohito's visit to the United States in 1975.  My parents have never talked much about the student protests and political corruption that were going on during their time in Japan.  Maybe with the relative isolation of diplomatic life, it didn't affect them too much.  Maybe after two years in Laos, Japan was relatively stable.  Maybe it's just not the sort of stuff you talk about with young children. 

As the book and the Showa era close, my own time in Japan is nearing.  I went back to teach for two years, 1996-98 (Heisei 8-10).  As such, the Japan in the book comes to look a lot more like the Japan I knew.  Japanese cities aren't exactly beautiful but familiar sights tug at the heartstrings nonetheless.

What I appreciate most about the Showa series is Mizuki's attention to cultural history in addition to all of the military, political and economic details.  He shares the TV shows, movies, fashion magazines and songs that were popular.  He seems especially interested in crime tales, going into too vivid detail with several headline grabbing stories.  In fact, if I have one criticism, it's that sometimes, the book's a little gross.  Mizuki loooooooves potty humor. 

That said, I am now half-tempted to go back and re-read Mizuki's other work, especially GeGeGe no Kitaro, his most famous comic.  I probably won't but I would have a greater appreciation now that I know more about the author's life.  I am also grateful for the history lesson about a country that has been so important to me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Squid Mixes: Negroni

The Negroni is one of my wife's favorite cocktails.  My recipe is from The New York Bartender's Guide: gin, Campari and sweet vermouth in 4:2:1 proportion.  The garnish is an orange twist - tough to see in the photo but it's in there.  The main difference between this and the old pal cocktail I made earlier this summer (see here) is the use of gin rather than rye.  The flavor is quite similar.

The drink's origins are unclear but probably Florence in around 1919.  The origin of the name, however, is well-documented.  The Negroni family produced a ready-made version of the drink.  So Negroni, like Campari itself, is a brand name and thus generally capitalized.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On the Coffee Table: Daniel Goleman

Title: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
Author: Daniel Goleman
via Amazon
I am currently in a master's program - about 13 credits in, I think.   Last summer's class was on leadership and this book - or parts of it - was one of the assigned texts.  I finally got around to reading the whole thing.

The idea of emotional intelligence (EI, measured by EQ) comes from the theory of multiple intelligences set forth by Dr. Howard Gardner in 1983.  Wikipedia defines EI as "the capability of individuals to recognize their own and other people's emotions, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one's goal(s)."  Goleman asserts that EI is a far greater indicator of success in life than the more traditional measures: grades, SATs, IQ tests. 

The book explores the role of EI in numerous contexts: work, school, family life, violent crime, etc.  Goleman's argument is thorough and convincing.  The material on brain function is less interesting to me personally, though admittedly essential to overall understanding.  Some of his real-life anecdotes are fairly intense, enough that it's difficult to concentrate on the text that follows - interesting as Goleman explains how such stories have been used in clinical studies.  It's not an easy book to digest in one sitting, at least not for me - lots of starting and stopping with time to ponder in between.

It's certainly a book that leaves me wanting to post-game various stages of my own life - childhood certainly.  Thinking back, I can remember several friends who were popular for all of the right reasons - i.e., people simply enjoyed being around them.  Emotional intelligence certainly played a role there.  The text shed new light on a lot of my own relationships, too: familial, romantic, collegial, what have you.  While it's not a book I'll instantly start recommending it to everyone I know, I am grateful for the insights and will suggest it to some.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Clone Wars: Destiny

Andrew Leon and I are watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars.  Every Tuesday, we will be featuring an episode from the series which began in 2008.

Episode: "Destiny"
Series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars
The Lost Missions (Season Six), Episode 12
Original Air Date: March 7, 2014
via Wookieepedia
In this, the third episode of a four-part arc, Yoda travels to a mysterious world that is the source of midi-chlorians, the microscopic life form through which the Force speaks in the Star Wars galaxy.  Once there, he is set upon several trials by the Five Priestesses, trials not dissimilar to the ones he will eventually set for Luke on Dagobah.  I sense many homages in this episode.  The Priestesses look a lot like No-Face in Miyazki's Spirited Away.  Much of the world's aesthetic seems awfully Tim Burtonesque.  In one trial, Yoda confronts his own dark side shadow, reminiscent of Tolkien's Gollum.
via Wookieepedia
There is much discussion among the writers themselves as to whether or not the Priestesses are five beings or five aspects of one being.  In the story, they represent five emotions: Serenity, Anger, Confusion, Joy and Sadness.  This episode and the next mark their only appearances.  All are voiced by Jaime King.

Next week: "Sacrifice."

Friday, September 8, 2017

Squid Mixes: Manhattan

via my wife
At this point, I would probably choose the Manhattan as my favorite cocktail.  Whiskey, in general, is my preferred liquor and the other ingredients enhance the flavor without overpowering.  The Angostura bitters, especially, add a pleasant cinnamon accent.  Plus, it's pretty with the red cherry at the bottom of the glass.  My recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide: rye and sweet vermouth in 3:1 ratio with a dash of bitters.

The Manhattan was most certainly invented in New York, one of numerous cocktails named for the city's five boroughs.  Accounts date its creation as far back as the 1860s.  Several variations exist, some varying the base liquor, others switching to dry vermouth, still more toying around with different bitters.  The most intriguing to me is the Fourth Regiment which includes dashes of orange, celery and Peychaud's bitters.