On Saturday, I did something that I hardly ever do anymore: I sat down and watched a DVD. These days, it’s so much easier to just wander over to whatever’s playing on the movie channels or to check out On Demand or Netflix. Somewhere along the line I became too lazy to actually get up, root through the DVD collection, pick out a disk, turn on the Blu Ray player, and then remember which input mode on the TV brings up the player. Fortunately my daughter Alex was home, and she wanted to watch some anime and spend quality time with her sister Hannah before going back up to school. She decided to watch Princess Mononoke.
I watched Princess Mononoke once before, sometime back in the late ‘90s. I didn’t remember it all that well and what I did recall was that it was confusing (hey, it’s been like twenty years), so I tried to watch it a lot more carefully this time. It’s a really strange story, with lots of morally gray characters. In some ways, there isn’t really a villain—even the lady who runs Iron Town and seems to be doing the most villainous things in the story is a protector of lepers and mistreated women. We’re really used to Westernized story arcs and roles in our entertainment, and it’s a bit of culture shock to be immersed in a story told in a different way.
It was especially fun to watch Hannah (an 18-year old anime fan) become engrossed in the story. She’d never watched Princess Mononoke before. Early on, I could tell she was really struggling to digest the conflicting messages about the characters and their motives. But she was completely hooked halfway through, and by the end she was literally sitting on the edge of her seat (and observed at one point, “Okay, now this is terrifying.”)
I’ve only seen a half-dozen or so of the Studio Ghibli movies: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. Of those, I’d say my favorite is Castle in the Sky (possibly the best steampunk story anyone’s put on film so far). It’s also the most conventional (well, Western conventional) story arc of those half-dozen movies. It makes me wonder if I like it best because it’s delivering a story in the format I’m most used to, or if I like it best because I like the steampunk world in which it takes place.
Speaking of steampunk: Being a gamer, I also find myself wondering what’s the most definitive steampunk/anime RPG experience out there. Big Eyes, Small Mouth comes to mind, but it’s not really focused on steampunk. Castle Falkenstein and Space:1889 are good steampunk settings, but they’re also old. Where’s the 21st-century RPG that provides the definitive steampunk adventure? It seems like a real oversight on the part of tabletop RPG publishers everywhere. Maybe I’ll do something about that as soon as I get a suitable window in my schedule.