Dragon Pilot and thinking outside the box

hisone to masotan
Credit: Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan

I’ve said it many times before, this is one of the biggest reasons I watch anime and read manga:  it forces me to think outside the box.

We’ve recently been watching Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan on Netflix, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.  On the surface it might be one of those fantasy animes that start off cute and fun and eventually turn weird and creepy (one of my favorite storytelling styles, I should add), and there’s enough bonkers humor to sustain multiple episodes, but it’s really wonderfully written.  The short version: four young female air force cadets (and one back-up) are chosen to fly secret planes that are actually ancient dragons hiding under armor that makes them look like fighter jets.  There’s a much darker and stranger story line that kicks in about three episodes in, of course, but on the way there, we’re given the usual shojo silliness: boy trouble, self-doubt and embarrassment, strange and mysterious adults, the power of love, and so on.  I especially enjoy the camaraderie of the special air force team and its leaders, as there’s definitely a Patlabor-esque ‘group of misfits’ vibe going on.  I’m utterly fascinated at how the main plot is unfolding.  While it might just be about the girls training with their dragons, there’s a deeper, more sinister reason for what’s really going on where their lives may be at stake.

It’s precisely this type of story that inspires me to write my own.  I’m always drawn to stories with this kind of creativity, where it pushes me to rethink my own ideas.  The idea of dragons as fighter jets would not have occurred to me at all.  But after watching just the first episode — in fact, a prologue on the first one explains the entire backstory of it to brilliant effect — I was completely sold on the idea.  It was definitely a damn, why didn’t I think of that?? moment for me.

And I know a lot of readers enjoy this kind of creativity as well; after all, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series, Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series and Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer stories have the same kind of unique and original styles that have given them huge audiences and Hugo nominations and wins.  It’s taking older tropes and making them new again.

I highly recommend checking this series out…it’s really good fun.

Anime Nights

A. and I decided to restart our Anime Nights, something we used to do at our old place in North Beach but hadn’t done in ages since.  I’ve always been a huge fan of anime since the mid-90s, though my watching habits always tend to come and go, depending on how much time I can devote to it and when it’s available. I was a huge fan of Cartoon Network’s Toonami back in the ’00s, and it introduced me to some great titles like Naruto (of which I’m still a fan), One Piece and more. We would also rent out anime through Netflix, checking up on some great titles like Haibane Renmei, Ergo Proxy and Trigun.

I kind of let it go for the last few years, mainly due to wanting to focus on finishing and publishing the trilogy, and also needing to get myself back into a consistent writing habit.  But lately I’ve come to realize that maybe I should at least take a night off and watch more of the things that inspire my writing in the first place.  Maybe in the process I’ll be inspired once more by newer, different stories.

Last night’s viewing, courtesy of Funimation, was finally catching up with Yuri!!! on Ice, which I believe all of our otaku friends have already seen when it was first released not that long ago.  It’s a lot of fun to watch (and I now understand the plentiful shipping that went on back then).

I should also point out this was a great example (one of many) of why I love anime so much: it’s a cartoon series about competitive figure skating. It proves you can write a compelling story about pretty much anything, whether it’s about sports or cooking or high school girls starting a rock group. As a writer, it reminds me that no idea is too weird or too corny or too goofy.  It really is the storytelling that counts.

It’s also made me think about finite serial storytelling. For instance, something like Cowboy Bebop. It tells a specific story over the course of its twenty some-odd episodes and its film, but it also has many shorter stories within the span of each episode. That gave me a lot to think about as a writer; it made me rethink how to interweave the main story arc around several smaller subplot arcs.

[I should add that I recently rewatched an episode while on our flight home from Boston, and realized just how great that show really is; I definitely need to watch it again.]

Then of course there’s my favorite movie of this year, hands down: your name.

I’m totally a fanboy for this film, because a) it’s beautifully made with some absolutely stunning shots, and b) its storytelling is amazingly detailed (I pick up more bits the more I watch it) and woven together in a really creative way. On the surface it looks like a girly ‘star-crossed lovers’ story but it’s not. I’ve watched it three times already this year (twice during our UK trip earlier this year) and I’m pretty sure I’ll watch it again before the year is over, just to study the storytelling.

So yeah…I’m looking forward to watching more anime in the coming months again.  It’s not only fun, it almost always inspires me to come up with new story ideas and storytelling styles.