Daria: The Complete Animated Series - Amazon Sale

Amazon is selling Daria: The Complete Animated Series for only $12.99. Hurry, grab it now! Go, go go! This is one of the great animated cartoon shows of the late 1990s, full of acid wit and wisecracks for any occassion. At this price, it's a total steal. And don't we need some of Daria-isms right now? Everything in the world sucks, and we need some good comebacks.

Some fans have complained that nearly all the original music from the TV broadcasts, actual pop music from the MTV rosters of the day, didn't survive the transition to DVD. But I don't mind all that much, and it's a small sacrifice to having this great series at my fingertips. Now, Beavis and Butthead, that's a different story. You need the music videos for that one. But Daria's "new" incidental music is just fine. And the theme song is still there in all its grungy wonderfulness.

Seriously, grab this DVD as fast as possible. Get it before Amazon comes to their senses and jacks up the price.

Art Gallery For the Day

Call Any Vegetable (1999/2000)
Watercolors and Charcoal on Paper

One of my rare attempts in the turn-of-the-century to create an actual, ya know, painting. Instead of the abstract messes I usually assemble. The grafitti-style line drawings with plant motifs was a thing I always loved to do, and it was fun to add some colors to fruits and leaves. As always, I was mindful of the composition and the form, as well as the shading around the edges, aiming for that "classic" 20th Century abstract look.  I really should be painting more of these.

The title was a Frank Zappa reference. I was going through a Zappa/Mothers of Invention phase around that time.

Quote For the Day

"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. Live Long and Prosper."

- Leonard Nimoy

Great. Now I'm really depressed. This month royally sucked.

What is Going to Happen to Pixar?

Disney's Oscar win for Big Hero 6 was a massive upset, and firmly resurrects the company's fabled animation studios to greatness. With a solid string of critical and commercial hits, including Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and Frozen, and now two Academy Awards in a row, it leaves an unsettling question lingering in the background: What is going to happen to Pixar? Does the studio have a future?

This sounds like an odd question, but hear me out. I think there are solid reasons for asking. Let's consider the recent accumulation of evidence:

1) Ever since Disney bought the Pixar studio, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have thoroughly transformed Disney's own animation studios, changing the corporate structure to away from the older, every-project-for-itself ethos, and adopting Pixar's own "brain trust" model of cooperation and teamwork. Creativity is encouraged from all people, regardless of who works on which movie. The Pixar model is now fully transplanted at Disney.

2) The quality of Disney's feature animated films has skyrocketed since 2008. I think the success of these films speak for themselves: Tangled, Winnie the Pooh (2011), Wreck-It Ralph, Planes, Frozen, Big Hero 6. Some of these could easily pass for Pixar films. And Frozen became an all-time global blockbuster. With five Academy Awards in three years (two Feature Film, two Short Film, one Original Song), there can be no question that Disney Animation is back.

3) While Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) has surged, Pixar has struggled creatively. Yes, their movies are still highly successful with the global box office, and the studio's string of box-office hits has yet to be broken. But they're relying far too heavily on sequels - Toy Story 3, Monsters U, Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2, Cars 3...And another Toy Story directed by Lasseter-san himself (you didn't really believe TS3 was the last one, right?).

Meanwhile, Brave and The Good Dinosaur both struggled in production, resulting in delays and shakeups in the director's chairs. And, be honest: weren't you disappointed that Pixar's first original movie since the buyout was a princess fairy tale? Brave may be a good movie, but it just felt wrong, like somebody swapped it with Wreck-It Ralph by mistake. What happened to Pixar's "Rubber Soul" phase, the era that gave us Ratatouille, Wall-E, and the first act of Up?

Pete Docter's upcoming feature, Inside Out, promises to be a return to form, but this only highlights the length of the studio's current drought. Anyone can see that most of the creative energy has been invested in the Disney side of the aisle.

4) The Cars franchise has already made the jump from Pixar to Disney, with 2013's Planes and 2014's Planes: Fire & Rescue. The series is immensely popular with children, especially in regard to the toys. Every time I walk into the Disney Store at the Mall of America, the Cars & Planes toys are everywhere. It is not inconceivable that more movie franchises will see sequels or spin-offs appear on the Disney side.

5) The lines between Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios are blurring. Eventually, the lines may disappear completely. Both siblings feature the same bosses, the same brain trust, the same creative spirit, and more of the same franchises. Pixar has become effectively cloned. How much longer until the "Disney" and "Pixar" brands just become "Disney"? To the general public, the two are the same, and always have been ever since Toy Story back in 1995.

6) Pixar has suffered a brain drain. This is arguably the most troubling development. Founding "Pixar brain trust" member Joe Ranft was killed in a 2995 car crash, and fellow director Andrew Stanton left the studio to pursue live-action films. Same goes for Brad Bird, arguably Pixar's greatest director, and the closest thing we have to an American Takahata.  Their loss leaves a void that has yet to be filled.

Again, notice how two Pixar directors, Brenda Chapman (Brave) and Bob Peterson (The Good Dinosaur), struggled with productions and were eventually replaced.  And what's that? Stanton and Bird are coming back? Terrific, thank God that...Oh, wait. More sequels. Sigh.

These are the questions that are roaming freely in my mind. I'm a great fan of the Pixar movies, like most of you. I think Toy Story was a revelation, daring and fresh and wildly innovative, openly willing to ignore stale convention and cynical corporate meddling. It felt exciting, new. And that feeling was reinforced again and again. No more. That mojo lies in Pixar's hallowed halls. It lies in Disney's. And so, we must ask the questions again: What is going to happen to Pixar? Does the studio have a future?

My own personal hope (the one I championed in my "Rubber Soul" essay) would be that Pixar continued to push the boundaries of American animation, breaking with Disney conventions and commercial expectations to thoroughly as to create a new paradigm for the medium. Why couldn't Pixar create its answer to Hedgehog in the Fog, or The Man Who Planted Trees, or Heidi, Girl of the Alps, or Omohide Poro Poro, or Night on the Galactic Railroad? Today, sadly, that dream seems more impossible than ever. The most likely future for Pixar, in my humble opinion, is that they continue as a legacy/sequel factory in the short term, eventually becoming fully absorbed into the WDAS brand in the long run.

Art Gallery For the Day

#2 and #3 (2005)
Digital Media

Tuesday was a complete mess for me, and far too busy to even look at the website. So I'm sharing two paintings for Wednesday. These come from my "2005 Digital Paintings" series, of which only ten were created. I was happy with these pieces, but for reasons no longer remembered, no more were made.

A large series of digital media paintings were created by me in 2003, and another, slighly smaller, series in 2004. All of these were crafted on Paint Shop Pro, by utilizing the built-in filters and effects dials. I often felt like a classic movie mad scientist, throwing all the switches and twirling all the knobs, while sparks flew in all directions. Could I do that again without making a complete mess? No freakin' clue. Hah!

I always very consciously tried to avoid pixels or anything that "looked" computerized. I wanted a painterly look, smooth lines and solid colors. I'm very impressed with these two, which have a nice contrasting blue and orange kaleidoscopic flames. It's all very nice. I ought to create large prints of these sometime. I really need a gallery show or two.

Overnight Thread (Man Getting Hit by Football)

A busy and sometimes busy day today, and we're still feeling the fallout over last night's Oscars. I wrote an article about Disney's Big Hero 6 win, but scrapped it after consideration. Instead, I'm writing another article about Pixar's future, now that Disney's animation studios are back on top. It's hard to tell which studio was merged into the other, and I'm left wondering where the future lies.

Also, I'm sitting on another Hayao Miyazaki comic, albeit one with a final episode that has never been translated. I think it's the last major comic to be published on this site. There are still little bits and pieces to uncover, but we're getting pretty close to chronicling this important facet to Miyazaki-san's career. I would really like to see all of these works published in the USA, of course, and hopefully that will happen in the future.

For tonight's video, what better choice than our favorite award-winning film, "Man Getting Hit by Football"? You're laughing as hard as Homer, don't deny it.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness Available on DVD and iTunes

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, Mami Sunada's 2013 documentary look into the inner workings of Studio Ghibli, was released on DVD on January 27. It was previously released on digital download services, including Amazon Instant Video and Apple iTunes.

As many have noticed, this isn't really a "Studio Ghibli" documentary as a Hayao Miyazaki one. Isao Takahata, the co-founder and "senior" partner of 50 years, appears only briefly. The attention, as always, is on Miya-san, who is finishing his "final" feature film, and abruptly announcing his retirement. Nobody believes it, of course. But time marches forward, with both founding filmmakers well into their 70s. The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya both have a sense of closure, of summarizing each director's careers. Besides, isn't it greedy of us to expect more, more, more?

In Japan, behind-the-scenes documentaries are fairly common with Studio Ghibli movies, but this is the first major one to see a release Stateside. One hopes that other films, such as the three-hour Princess Mononoke documentary, could be imported in the future. All depends on how well this movie performs for GKids Films, which, of course, is a fancy way of telling you to purchase this movie and help make it a hit.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness currently holds an 89% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. It's an excellent picture, well worth the investment, and easily recommended.

My Oscar Night Impressions

As I get older, watching the Oscars every year feels more like sitting through a high school auditorium assembly. It's not a lot of fun, usually packed with hype that rarely delivers, is woefully predictable, but the occassional unscripted moments are enough to keep you holding on. And, needless to say, the whole pageant runs at least an hour too long.

The Oscars play out like a marathon, and a certain level of endurance is required. You can see this with Neil Patrick Harris, this year's host, who began bursting with energy on the stage, only to feel exhausted and almost overwhelmed by the end. I remember the terrific opening number and some of the impromptu zingers; I can't remember anything memorable in the final hour, aside from the "locked envelope" gag that fizzled in the end. By that point, it's past 11:00 pm, and we're all trying to get to bed. Today, I'm still struggling to wake up after two cups of coffee (which normally is enough caffeine to trigger existential panic attacks).

That said, this year's Oscars telecast was okay-ish. Pretty good. It had a few nice moments, one or two genuine surprises (provided you didn't catch the other awards shows or check the betting odds). Let's see if I can compile a short list of last night's show:

The Good:

1) The opening song number was very good, with Neil Patrick Harris singing and dancing through a pastiche of classic movies. The Jack Black cameo added a much-needed satirical bite and made me smile. Jack Black should host the Oscars; he has a manic, boundless energy that's infectious. He might actually last all twelve hours of the show without gasping for air by the end. Also, is it just me, or is he slowly turning into Orson Welles? He could pass for Citizen Kane's caffeinated grandson.

2) Birdman took the top honors (Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, and Original Screenplay), but Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel also scored four Oscars (Best Costume Design, Makeup, Production Design, Original Score). Whiplash captured three (Best Supporting Actor for J.K. Simmons, Film Mixing and Sound Mixing). All of the top pictures came away with something, owing to the Academy's current goal of "fairness."

3) The "Everything is Awesome" number was terrific, and felt like a vindication for The Lego Movie's inexplicable snub this year. Bonus points for Will Arnet's Batman cameo. Double Bonus Points for Mark Mothersbaugh's Devo cameo, complete with the red "energy dome" hat. Did you also notice the "Lego" logo behind him was taken from the 1980 "Dev-O Live" album? This performance is packed with tiny, fleeting details that require multiple viewings on YouTube. Highlight of the show for me.

4) Congratulations on Citizenfour's Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I expected the Academy, in its usual toothlessness, to avoid such a charged political movie. Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 is another solid win

5) Common and John Legend's "Glory" brought the house down. We all knew they'd win an Oscar as compensation for Selma's ignoble snubbing, but they still played their hearts out. The audience was moved to tears. Kudos to Common for highlighting the modern scandal of African-American men in prisons. The United States jails more of its citizens than any nation on Earth; something is clearly wrong with that statistic, and must be very critically examined.

The Bad:

1) My reaction over the Best Animated Feature Oscar on Twitter: "WHAT?!" Need I say more?  Most of us cynically expected Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon to win the award because we assume, with good reason, the Academy voters don't give a damn about animation, and only see it as The Electric Babysitter. Turns out we weren't cynical enough. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an expressionist masterpiece of art; Big Hero 6 is a box of Cap'n Crunch.

2) The awards are too damned predictable. If you follow the awards ceremonies leading up to the Oscars, you'll have a virtual lock on all the major awards. The official odds on the winners were almost 100% correct, aside from Disney's Big Hero 6, which just blindsided everybody. Something needs to change; either schedule the Golden Globes and SAG Awards at different times of the year, or change the Oscar voting perameters, or expand the Academy membership for more (and younger) members.

3) The show ran an hour too long. Why did the main show begin at 7:30? Who made that call? A looong tribute to The Sound of Music seemed to drain all the energy out of the theater. Lady Gaga gave a good performance (her Kitchenware rubber gloves were thankfully lost). Julie Andrews looked fine. But the whole sequence just dragged, and coming after the "In Memorandum" sequence, just put me to sleep. I don't think the show ever recovered its earlier energy after this.

4) Only one Oscar for Richard Linklater's Boyhood, one for Selma, one for The Imitation Game? We'll have to check back in 15 years to see how badly those decisions have aged. The Oscars are notorious for snubbing the true classics. But, as the saying goes, it's good just to be nominated. Arguing the results is always the most fun part of any Oscar party.

Quote For the Day

(Photo: "28 Daria Quotes For Any Situation")

Art Gallery For the Day

Alive in the Superunknown (1999)
Watercolors and Liquid Paper on Paper

One of my favorite watercolor pieces from the fall of 1999. I remember creating this painting (and another one titled "Voice of the Voiceless") on a Friday or Saturday evening while everybody else in the Dinkytown neighborhood was partying. I probably wanted to wrap up quickly so I could join them, but the work was more important, and I'd like to think the shouting college students inspired my creativity.

The title refers to the Soundgarden song and album from 1994, one of the great rock albums (if not the greatest) from the Seattle Grunge Era. Just a fantastic fusion of Led Zeppelin, middle eastern tones, alternative time signatures, and thoughtful, intelligent lyrics. Soundgarden just broke through into another plane with the Superunknown album. I'd like to imagine the same being said for this painting. But that's best left to future scholars to decide.

Overnight Thread (Big Birdman)

Another weekend is finished, which means I'm back to regular scheduled programming on Monday. I was hoping to find the time to write one or two more music themed posts, but I needed to relax. Also, the Oscars were on tonight. It was a pretty decent Oscars, despite it being too long (as usual). The Lego Movie song was great, Paku-San got snubbed, Harry Potter won instead of Beetlejuice, and Lady Gaga, apparently, arrived to clean the toilets.

Here's a great spoof video featuring Carol Spinner, aka Big Bird. I loved Birdman, and I'm glad to see it win Best Picture and Best Director. It's a great, jazzy, free spirit of a movie, very funny, and it's so rare that a comedy wins Best Picture. Ah, well, hope ya all enjoyed your weekend.

For Monday, we're publishing Hayao Miyazaki's Otto Carius serial comic from 1998-99. We'll try to get it published sometime in the morning. Stay tuned, kids.

Your Weekend Stereo System (Pro-Ject Debut III)

Photos of my Pro-Ject Debut III turntable, fully upgraded with acrylic platter, Speed Box II, Tube Box II, and Denon DL-160 phono cartridge.  Combined, this Pro-Ject system is quite formidable, and delivered wonderful sounding music. These photos were taken in December of 2008.

Pro-Ject's Debut series of budget turntables has steadily advanced and improved over the years. The latest model, the Debut Carbon DC, introduces a carbon-fiber tonearm, equipped with a $99 Ortofon 2M Red phono cartridge, and a DC motor that promises greater speed stability over the older AC motor. The Carbon Esprit model also throws in the acrylic platter, which is another excellent upgrade.

I'd like to get my hands on these latest Pro-Ject Debut models, if only to learn if Pro-Ject has finally, at long last, solved the problem with their notoriously noisy motors. There's really no excuse for any turntable to be stuck with a buzzing motor that can be heard over the speakers. It's a problem that has plagued the lineup for years, and we've all tried countless DIY remedies, with varying degrees of success. Are the DC motors finally quiet? I certainly hope so.

In any case, if you're looking for a new budget turntable, the Pro-Ject Debut is the best deck available under $500. There really are no second contenders. Sometimes, I even miss my old Debut III. I really loved the music that came from my speakers.

Gauche the Cellist Soundtrack LP

Gauche the Cellist is one of my favorite animated movies, and when I mentioned how much I loved the soundtrack, I was directed to the official soundtrack album released in Japan. And here it is...well, the photos from a recent Ebay auction, at least.

Michiyo Mamiya and his orchestra deliver a spectacular performance of Beethoven's "Pastorale" 6th Symphony. I still haven't found a better recording. I also love how director Isao Takahata breaks up Beethoven throughout the movie, weaving the music out of sequence, small segments, major movements. It's not the simple 1-2-3-4-5 progression; this isn't another Silly Symphonies direct interpretation, but treated as an equal character in the greater play.

This soundtrack LP is pretty rare, so if you find a copy, expect to spend a lot of money. The cover design features an original color illustration on the front, and a cast illustration on back. Numerous movie screenshots, and a full-size poster, are included in the package. Very impressive, overall. I just wish more copies were available, and that prices were a bit lower. Ah, well, it's all part of being a diehard collector, right?

A Poem For Sunday

"The Second Coming" (1919)
by W. B. Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Art Gallery For the Day

Mike Tyson Eats Children (2001)
Acrylic Paints on Paper

In 2001, in the midst of my "watercolor on canvas" series, I created a series of acrylic paintings on paper, using house paints that were stored in the basement of the house I was living in. I created most of my paintings in my bedroom, which had large wood floors, but for some of the larger pieces, the basement was better.

My goal, if memory serves, was to transfer my skills honed on the "watercolors on canvas" paintings in a more traditional setting, with a more liquid, flowing look to the paints. This was achieved by mixing in unusual paints with the acrylics; I can't remember the specific name, but I used this adhesive paste used for applying kitchen tiles to the floor. A good example of the benefits of experimenting with materials beyond the standard paint kit.

The title was a bit of a joke. It refers to something Mike Tyson was shouting in preparation for one of his later fights. As usual for this time, I looked towards popular culture for the titles, hoping to introduce another layer of meaning to abstract art. I never cared for the cold serial number designations for most abstract works.

Quote For the Day

"My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life.”

- Miles Davis

Oscar Week's Animated Features - The Complete Program

On Thursday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, the Motion Picture Academy celebrated its Oscar nominees for Best Animated Feature. This two-hour stage presentation included the major players from all five nominated movies, where they discussed their craft and their thoughts of the animation medium.

We posted a news article for this event on Friday. Today, we have the entire presentation available for viewing. As always, Thank God For YouTube. Isao Takahata's segment begins at 1:22:00.

A special thanks to Heinz Freyhofer, who has graciously served as Ghibli Blog's news "gopher" this week. He has supplied me with several of the news articles published on this site, and for that, I am extremely grateful.  Enjoy the Oscar Week presentation!

Art Gallery For the Day

Nevermind (1999)
Acrylic Paints, Marker Pens and Liquid Paper on Canvas, 16"x20"

The second of my acrylic paintings on canvas, created in 1999 while living in this massive student house in the Dinkytown district at the University of Minnesota. I had finally moved away from paper, which was always my medium of choice in years past. This stretches back to my teenage fanzine days. I was really thrilled to play around with a larger canvas, with access to all these house paints in the basement, as well as supplies from the Dinkytown art store.

I really like the reds and greens, and the lyrical notes of the brown paints swirling around. Painting always felt like visual music to me; I was often trying to express the images in my mind as I listen to music. This is a quality that I appreciate more today, so many years later, as I better understand the craft. There are also images of plants and leaves, as there were many plants in the big house. It was a run-down dump, but it had its qualities. Too bad I didn't know the other students in that house well enough; I should have knocked on more doors while I was there.

The title, obviously, refers to the Nirvana album that defined my generation. Kurt Cobain's birthday was yesterday, I probably should have posted this on Friday. Ah, well, whatever, nevermind.

Overnight Thread (Spooky Snow White)

For some reason, I wanted another spooky video for the overnight thread, and remembered this backwards Snow White video from several years back. Growing up in the 1980s, there were endless witch hunts against the evils of rock 'n roll. These took the form of VHS tapes and cassette tapes with endless conspiracy theories and "examples" of how Satan is corrupting America's youth. Scary album covers, lyrics taken out of context, and music video clips were offered as evidence. And the star of the show, always..."subliminal backwards messages."

Imagine handing a ten-year-old wearing headphones and listening to backwards audio clips of Lef Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, late at night..."Spooky" doesn't even come close. So. Add in UFOs, ghost stories, and cheesy monster movies, and you've got a pretty entertaining childhood.

And so I'm subjecting you to scaaaary music late at night. Play with headphones in the dark. Then try to sleep tight.  BOO!!!

Anyway, today was another big day for Ghibli Blog, and busy with posts. We're also getting ready for Oscar Sunday, as well as resting up over the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, expect more music posts and a lighter publishing schedule, but I'll include more Studio Ghibli soundtrack LPs. And we might live-blog The Oscars. Enjoy, all!

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