Monday, October 21, 2013

Animated Thoughts: Work and (horse)play

I downloaded the "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" game for my iPad recently. Originally it was because I was messing with one of my friends on Facebook and I wanted a little material to turn the screw on him before he got me back. Eh, it's all in good fun. I'm not a "Brony", mind you. Had watched only ten minutes of the show's first episode before turning it off--though I find some of the mash-ups on the web rather funny (like MLP/Starcraft). Given the character design elements, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that Lauren Faust and her design crew studied Japanese 'moe/kawaii' culture when putting this show together. She clearly understood her target audience and market. I like the character designs and think that the way Hasbro is handling 'fan merch' is brilliant. But the voices are a little too saccharine for my tastes--well, it's clearly a kids-show. I'd probably watch it if I had a daughter who was a fan, and I truly love the fact that the property was given new life by a woman animator (Lauren Faust), but that's pretty much it. As far as I can tell, it's not a bad show, I'm just not their target demographic (obviously). I've been playing the game off and on for a little while now. It's your typical "freemium" game. You build a city and complete quests by either paying for upgrades with your time or paying with real money. Kind of mindless entertainment but it's cute and non-violent. And two of the mini games are very similar to a pair of games that Jessica Borutski did the character design for when she was working at Fuel Industries (was part of McDonald's "Fairies and Dragons" webgames). Downside to the game is that, like most "freemium" games, it looks like you can't advance to the higher levels without spending copious amounts of real money on in-app 'coins' or 'jewels'. I hope parents are locking down in-app purchases on their accounts before handing this game to their kids for that long drive to Grandma's place!

It's also October. Halloween season. Horror movies are in the theaters, Pixar has released their 'Toy Story of Terror' animation on television, Fox just broadcast the Simpsons 'Treehouse of Horror' episode, and people are posting Halloween pictures all over their web pages, blogs, and avatars.

October used to be one of my most favorite times of year as a child where I looked forward to going 'trick or treat-ing' and sneaking downstairs to watch monster movies while my parents were asleep. I used to love horror movies, the creepier and more violent the better--after all, you could easily tell that it was just special effects: latex monsters, fake blood, and cut-away scenes to shadows on the walls. The Hammer films from the '50's and '60's that I used to watch on cable t.v. and the Godzilla films in the theaters were clearly from a different time when compared to the slick, visually integrated computer generated monsters in film today.

When it went live on the internet, I watched and recognized over 90% of the references in Guillermo Del Toro's Simpsons 'Treehouse of Horror' opening sequence--including some really obscure ones, like 1977's "The Car". I don't watch horror movies much anymore. Have found that reality can be horrific enough. Many of my friends and acquaintances just don't seem to get that. They badger me about how I should watch shows like 'Breaking Bad' or movies like 'American Psycho' or play games like 'Grand Theft Auto'. They just don't get the fact that I don't like to be reminded of what I see at my job. We can debate the fact that it's "just" entertainment and that it can only influence our behavior if we allow it. But when you see a photo of a body burned beyond recognition because an auto manufacturer didn't want to spend the money on a recall and the body is of a man who left behind a wife and three children... or when the office had to shut down and we had to go into hiding for the day until a professional acquaintance, who had just snapped and murdered his wife, was found and arrested, well, their arguments shatter against the cold, hard surface of my reality. Personally, I don't think my friends know what it's like to be up at 4 a.m. staring at the ceiling, covered in a cold sweat, and ashamed to admit that they're secretly thankful it wasn't them in that fire (though admittedly I've never asked any of them).

Last month, while archiving some old case material, I accidentally saw photographs of an autopsy. At least I hope it was an autopsy. The person on the table had third-degree burns over 90% of their body. It was so bad that I couldn't tell whether the person was a woman or a man (it was a woman). And that is why most of my entertainment has made the shift towards cartoons and non-violent videogames over the past fifteen years since I became a forensic animator. Not surprisingly, I watch a lot of anime--a fair amount of bishōjo and chibi stuff or shows with giant robots. I haven't played a first-person-shooter in years and most of what I'm playing now are those iOS games where you solve puzzles--like 'Bejewelled' or 'Azkend'. I think that at this point in my life, I can live without seeing another virtual zombie's head explode when I shoot it with a virtual shotgun on my computer screen.

I remember being at a theater in Rochester, New York watching 'The Frighteners' during one of those rare moments of free time during grad school. Observing the computer generated monsters on screen, I decided that I didn't want to work in Hollywood if it meant I'd be stuck working on projects like that. Needless to say, the irony of my current employment is not lost on me. There's a lot that we can say about the animation ghetto and the lack of mature-themed animated shows on American television (and in the theaters). But it seems like if you're not into crude, scatological humor, there's not a whole lot out there for adult American audiences. So it doesn't surprise me when boys and men start looking for entertainment a little less violent and with a little more depth than what we see in the shows targeted towards us. Personally, the last four anime shows I've really gotten into weren't targeted toward men: 'Say "I love you"', 'Watamote', 'Moritasan wa Mukuchi', and 'Phantom Thief Reinya'. Two of them are targeted to teenagers, one to children, and one to a college-age and older crowd. Two of them are light and fluffy shows about cute characters doing cute things. Two deal with more mature subjects like societal pressures, body image issues, social anxiety, isolation, and bullying. It is my belief that the "Brony" culture which, for better or worse, has sprung up around 'My Little Pony' is revealing that American boys and men are looking for stories that may not be targeted towards us but that don't rub salt into the raw wounds that a steady diet of violence and crude humor have burned into our psyches. Sometimes you just need a healthy dose of 'cute' to help you deal with the reality that you live with--probably why I like to stand there at the Potter Park Zoo every weekend and watch the bunnies hop around.

There's a lot more to say on the subject, but I think I'll end this blog post now--my iPad just notified me that Twilight Sparkle is ready to go on her next quest. Eh, what the heck, at least she's not mowing down zombies with a chaingun.