The Monkey King and the Sacred Quest for Panties: Akira Toriyama – “Dragon Ball” (Volume 1)

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ABOVE: Children of all ages, gather round for this wholesome tale!

Ah, Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball.” The finest of children’s entertainment! It is truly refreshing to revisit the pages of this beloved classic, looking for a gentler time, a more innocent time. What wondrous insights will we find in this pure-hearted adaptation of “Journey to the West,” the revered, borderline sacred 16th-Century Buddhist tome?

*opens comic book*

WHAT THE… WHAT IS THIS FILTH?!?

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ABOVE: I’m too disturbed to even think of a caption.

“Dragon Ball” is, from what I can glean, the tale of Son-Goku, a toddler with a tail who runs into a 16-year old girl named Buruma, (as in Bloomers, after the female undergarment.) While Bloomers is asleep, Son-Goku takes off her panties so as to dive into her crotch. This unorthodox behavior, we learn, can be traced back to Son-Goku’s habit of sleeping with his grandpa’s genitals as a pillow.

You think I’m joking or exaggerating. This is LITERALLY what happens in “Dragon Ball.”

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ABOVE: Or, Friday night at every frat house ever.

The monkey kid is shocked to find that Buruma, or, in the politically-correct, bowdlerized American translation, “Vulva,” doesn’t have a pee-pee and testicles. After being “woke” to gender inequality, the hero of our tale will walk around town, patting little girls in the nether regions to ascertain their sex.

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ABOVE: I’m not even going to go into the whole “Injun” thing.

Of course, we haven’t even met the actual pervert of our tale: that would be the wise Master Roshi, the Dumbledore of our delightful saga, perpetually asking Buruma to show him her magical honey valley.

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ABOVE: He’s 300 years old, she’s 16. The turtle is of indeterminate age.

This is all within the first few chapters of our mythic, decade-spanning quest for magical wish-granting balls. “Dragon Ball”‘s legacy may be one of protracted, onerous world-rending fights, the predecessor of “Naruto” and “Bleach” and “One Piece” and “Fairy Tail” and countless others; but its origins are those of a humble, a pervy parody of “Journey,” which explains things like Roshi summoning “baby Gamera” as a transportation device, a gag more on Tezuka’s territory.

Before long, Goku and Buruma are joined by Oolong, (as in the tea, as in tea-bagging), a cutesy Communist pig whose hobby is drugging and abducting his female victims in an unsuccessful search for a child bride that will obey his whims. THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS IN OUR SAGA!

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ABOVE: I suppose a perverted pig trying to force children into abject obedience is as good a metaphor for Communism as any other.

The cast expands with every episode: We meet tough-guy-wanna-be Yamcha as well as his cat-like sycophant, Pu’ehr (say it outloud). The characters will soon number on the hundreds, but as the first volume (out of 42!) concludes, we have a sizable questing crew- the final addition being the cutesy Chi Chi who, unlike Buruma, at least seems like size-and-age appropriate for Goku. By this point, I have become immune to the depravity, and only wish these children a happy marriage.

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ABOVE: Hey! You! Get off of my Cloud!

RATING: MASTERPIECE of its kind! Amoral, amoral masterpiece.

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Trial and Terror : James Dashner – “The Scorch Trials” (“The Maze Runner” #2)

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ABOVE: “If we run fast enough from this disaster, we may yet save our acting careers!”

George A. Romero forgot to copyright the word zombie, so I don’t see why so many writers feel the need to contort themselves into giving zombies new, cutesy names: The Grunties! The Growlies! The Ambulating Non-Living! The Jimmy Rottens! The Comebackers! (Unlike Romero, I had the foresight to copyright all of the above, so no stealing!) The “zombies” in James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials” are called “Cranks,” but the moment they show up, mad and gory and clawing at windows and doors, we know them for what they are.

Well, TECHNICALLY, these “Cranks” haven’t died yet; they’re in the last stages of a virulent, deforming disease caused by the Zombie Apocalypse, hereafter referred to as “The Flare”.

TECHNICALLY, our hero Thomas also has the disease that will turn him into a Crank, although he’s in the earlier, good-looking, movie-friendly stages.

TECHNICALLY, Thomas, (who, along with the other Gladers, has survived the Grievers to escape the Maze) is now being tested as a Candidate for the Crank Cure by the Evil Lab People behind “WICKED,” aka the “World in Catastrophe: Kill-zone  Experiment Department.”

TECHNICALLY, I lost at least 5 IQ points typing the previous sentences.

 Shucking clunk! Why do I do this to myself? I didn’t even care for “The Maze Runner”!

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ABOVE: Sure, sure, it’s not a Zombie, it’s a “Crank.” 

The best compliment one can give this brazen “Hunger Games”- Meets-“Divergent” imitator, is that Dashner’s plot moves by so briskly that the reader isn’t given time to become too upset by how little sense it all makes. Although the series has been adapted to the movie screen without shame or glory, it almost feels that what Dashner delivers are video-game proposals, rather than would-be screenplays. The Situational Puzzle of the original “Maze Runner” is abandoned for a different type of video-game, the Open World Survival Horror. The “Scorch Trials” monsters are absurdly conceived, rejected sketches for some “Dark Souls” clone. Consider the liquid metal balls that eat heads (?) or the OTHER zombies that aren’t Cranks, the ones with rave glowtubes embedded in their rotting joints (??) I kind of wish Dashner had fully given in to this monster-making madness. Maybe the book could have used mutated traffic cones that spew out lava? Or a helicopter possessed by the remorseful soul of whatever American President caused the Flare? Or dogs attached to cats?

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ABOVE: I can understand how Catdog eats its food… but what happens AFTER? 😦

There isn’t any point in trying to blame the author if I couldn’t leap over the book’s many gigantic plot holes. I knew what I was in for when I picked this up. No shadowy organization controlled me, no mind-altering virus compelled me. I am the one to blame. I could have been reading “To The Lighthouse” or something. But nope. I made a bad literary choice DELIBERATELY.

And it’s not over.

I see the THIRD BOOK on the desk.

It is calling out for me.

Waiting.

OH GOD! There are PREQUELS even!

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH, for those who made it through the Maze happily, anyway.

 

Where There’s a Veela, There’s a Way : J. K. Rowling – “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (#4)

(Re-read; after HP # 3)

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Puberty comes to Hogwarts in the form of a piece of wood that spurts out white flames. That would be the titular item in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” which found J. K. Rowling so aggressively intent in adulthood that the novel opens with a straight-up murder. (Police investigations in children’s books tended to limit themselves to smugglers.) With the Tri-Wizard tournament, Harry, Ron and Hermione’s Britishy world expands, as they realize Hogwarts is just one of many and Quidditch is a global phenomenon (ok, Europeanish).

A series of Herculean tasks follow for our growing hero: dealing with a fiery dragon “Hungarian Horny Tail” or something. Dodging his libido. Dealing with Mer MerPeople and Grindylows. Awakening sexually to the enthralling Veelas.

 

“It was amazing how many girls Hogwarts suddenly seemed to hold; he had never quite noticed that before. Girls giggling and whispering in the corridors, girls shrieking with laughter as boys passed them, girls excitedly comparing notes on what they were going to wear on Christmas night.”

The Veela appeal is lost on Hermione:

“Oh I see,” Hermione said, bristling. “So basically, you’re going to take the best-looking girl who’ll have you, even if she’s completely horrible?”

“Er — yeah, that sounds about right,” said Ron.

“I’m going to bed,” Hermione snapped.

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ABOVE: Flower Power

If you doubt how Freudian and dirty this installment in the saga can get, look at Harry asking Cho out:

The words came out before Harry had quite got his tongue around them.

“Wangoballwime?”

Wan. Go. Ball. Wi’. Me. Puberty laid bare. Who needs a Veela’s spell?

RATING: MASTERPIECE!!!

P.S.: Time to be classy.

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ABOVE: Villi Genie’s Not My Lover

J. K. Rowling’s Veela are meant to update the Vila (or Willa, or Willis):  the seductive Slavic nymphs that, draped in barely-there cloaks, lead travelers off the path of chastity. As is typical, there are very few (any?) attractive male succubi in European folklore. This may be attributable to misogyny, (evil women running men with their ‘wiles’- notice the root of the word.) But I suggest it’s just more believable that some horny dude will ruin his life in an attempt to go running after a half-naked ghost. By contrast, women take a lot of promises about proposals and princes before they will kiss a frog. The Vila’s male counterparts, the Vodyanoy, look like the bloated, cyanotic corpses of old peasants that are more likely to suggest wet bactrians than wet dreams.

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Veela have done remarkably well in classical music. Giacomo Puccini’s debut opera from 1884, “Le Villi,” is about Roberto, a cad who jilts his betrothed, Anna, causing her to die of a broken heart disease, as is frequent among denizens of opera land. Roberto is punished by the avenging fairies, who force him to ballet himself into a remorseful death.

“Le Villi” may well be Puccini’s least remarkable work; a timidly dipped toe testing the waters that had been fully navigated by Verdi and Wagner. Giacomo would go on to map a nice ocean of his own, but, curiously, “Le Villi”‘s simplicity and brevity, (it barely makes it to the sixty-minute mark) make one of the most digestible operas I’ve encountered so far. Hit tracks for me: “La Tregenda,” a frantic Witches’ Sabbath piece that is actually pretty metal; and “Se Come Voi Piccina” the lovely aria that poor Anna sings to a clutch of forget-me-nots. “Non ti Scordar di Me,” she pleads, hopeful.

 

 

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road? : L. Frank Baum – “The Emerald City of Oz” (Oz #6)

The Road to Oz is paved with L. Frank Baum’s cruel intentions. Much like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could barely restrain his murderous tendencies toward Sherlock Holmes, Baum hates Oz, and his desperate need to  wipe out the land is manifest in “The Emerald City of Oz,” the sixth book in the series, published in 1910.

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ABOVE: Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

There’s two stories here.

On the one hand, you have the Nome King, Roquat the Red, who is recruiting an army of discontents to tunnel his way to Oz in order to destroy the city. (Roquat’s need to put an end to the land for no real reason other than “its presence bugs me” parallels Baum’s own urge.)

On the other hand, you have Dorothy’s symmetrically-opposed journey, one in which Baum displays one outburst of creativity, not unlike that of the supposed re-gathering of energy that precedes death. Wonder follows nonsensical wonder as we meet living paper dolls and pastries; kangaroos without mittens; zebras that argue geometry with crabs; Rigmaroles and Flutterbudgets; jigsaw puzzles that attempt to assemble themselves. One utters this admirable bit of wisdom:

“Madam, you have perhaps noticed that every person has some peculiarity. Mine is to scatter myself. What your own peculiarity is I will not venture to say; but I shall never find fault with you, whatever you do.”

ABOVE: She meant to say, “I’m the Kook.”

 

Baum unleashes a barrage of painful puns as we get to the land of Utensia, where kitchen utensils live as if in anticipation of future Pixar movies. Sample:

“Why is the colander the High Priest?”
“He’s the holiest thing we have in the kingdom.”

None of the encounters add anything to the plot; the author is simply unloading every half-formed, Oz-related ideas on the way to a conclusion of intense finality, one that shuts off all possibility for sequels:
“YOU WILL NEVER HEAR ANYTHING MORE ABOUT OZ, BECAUSE WE ARE NOW CUT OFF FOREVER FROM ALL THE REST OF THE WORLD. BUT TOTO AND I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU AND ALL THE OTHER CHILDREN WHO LOVE US.
DOROTHY GALE.”

Of course, after a three-year hiatus, L. Frank Baum said: “Screw it. Papa needs a brand new Ford Model T. Oz, here we go again!” 8 more books followed.

RATING: COOL!

 

 

Timey Wimey : J. K. Rowling – “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (#3)

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ABOVE: “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

(Re-read). They’d been good from the go, but it was with “The Prisoner of Azkaban” that J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter truly revealed itself as an expanding, multi-layered saga  about how the past dictates the future. “The Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets” were children’s lit at its best, but “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was the first of the novels to definitely prove that Rowling could conjure the kind of seriousness and complexity that allowed adults to embrace the series with little shame. “The Prisoner of Azkaban” is as much about grown-ups as it is about the children who are left in the shadows of grown-up drama. Missing parental authorities are standard in children’s fiction; it’s much less standard for those departed parents to become vivid characters in a book that takes place more than a decade after their death. The past is not dead, and it’s not even past, not in a place with as many ghosts as Hogwarts. It’s no coincidence that a time-traveling spell  turns out to be the solution to one of the novel’s many mysteries: this is a novel about time and the tricks it plays on us. “Doing time,” after all, it’s the prisoners’ euphemism for their plight.