Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Distilling The Awesome

Last month, I talked a bit about the infectious enthusiasm I felt in high school, when I and my contemporaries sucked everything cool that was in our sphere of consciousness and distilled it down to something creative--namely, we made superhero comics.

I got to thinking a little bit today about that, in terms of how people's creativity tends to evolve. If our (okay mine) evolution was anything to go by, it goes something like this: You start out soaking up all this stuff around you--in movies, TV, the comics, whatever--and that begins to fire your imagination. Things reach a kind of critical mass and you start putting things down on paper.

Usually, your first efforts (like ours were) show their influences that they're pretty much derivative works in all but name. The rise of fanfic, of course, has made it possible to create true, derivative works (this is not necessarily a Good Thing) but back in the day, speaking in comics terms, you usually created a character that was a lot like the character you liked and wanted to write (witness the profusion in the annals of the Big Two of characters from another company changes slightly--like, say the Squadron Supreme) with the serial numbers filed off.

Mind you, this kind of thing is more or less frowned upon, and it's one of those things one is expected to grow out of. Very seldom does something that is so much an assemblage of influences and little else gets out into the public consciousness. Even if it does, it's almost never successful.

Except . . .

One of those things that was happening in the culture that grabbed my attention in my formative days was the rise of anime. We were just starting to get the tapes over here--$30 for maybe an hour, and subtitled only. On VHS. To know where to get them--or indeed, afford them-- was quite a feat. If you were lucky, your local video store had stocked them, not really knowing what they were or even better, putting that "NOT FOR KIDS" sticker on them, which really only made you want them more.

Most of those titles they came out with at first, if they're remembered at all, it's as kitsch. But there was one in particular that hit, and hit hard, and still has a following today. What's more amazing is that every girl I knew who was into anime, loved it.

The anime in question is Bubblegum Crisis.

Bubblegum Crisis is a curious animal in that it's a total syncresis of every single thing the creators were into at the time--there's a bit of Blade Runner here, some of The Terminator there (quite a lot of Streets of Fire, but really, who'd catch that?) and very few original ideas of their own.

It shouldn't have worked, and not just for a dodgy start--the show actually doesn't really go anywhere. Huge plot points that the viewer is expected to know aren't made terribly plain. The plot doesn't really have a lot of forward progression. Characters (apart from Priss) aren't developed overmuch. We never even learn what the hell "bubblegum crisis" is supposed to mean.

And yet, it works.

Partly it's because it's the ideal anime to watch when you're 14 years old--The heroes are badass alienated rebels who do whatever they want and kick all kinds of ass against the system and have cool suits of armour besides. That's a big advantage. That our heroes, the Knight Sabers, are all women is another bonus (both for the innate fanservice if you're a guy and the novelty of such a richness of identifying figures if you're a girl) the fact that so much of the show is propelled by music is also a great hook--it's almost a rock opera in places.

So there were a lot of hooks to make up for the shortcoming of being a gestalt of cool stuff taken from other places. And it's stood the test of time--it's still well regarded, long after it's been declared defunct (it never ended as such) long after the creators shrugged off their amateur adolescence and moved on to other pursuits, this is what's remembered.

I think one of the main reasons that it's looked on so favorably is the same reason I look back on my high school comics days with such fondness--it's all about the energy that's being brought to bear that just crackles through the whole thing. In our case (hopefully) it propelled everyone to continue to create stuff. In BGC's case, it helped to launch a genre and create a die-hard fanbase, which is not bad, considering.


Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Recombining familiar icons and concepts isn't necessarily a bad thing either - part of the appeal of fan fiction, for me at least, is seeing how various writers reconfigure the foundations of their respective sources to create something else. Does it always work? No. But when it does, the results can be quite entertaining (if not original).

Kazekage said...

It's not a bad thing at all, really, and I hope in all my pompous bloviating I indicated it was a helpful step between fanfic and original concepts (of which Bubblegum Crisis neatly stakes out the middle ground, I think--it's derivative, but not a straight rip of anything)

I can't say much, mind--one of my early (and still-extant) works was fanfic-ish.