Friday, April 11, 2014

Grenades and Tanks

I just sold and shipped one Pulse Rifle grenade and I have a happy customer.

I'm still enjoying myself doing the machining. I've always liked working with metal, and having access to the tools that can really carve into the stuff is something I've wanted for a long time. I've also been checked out on the milling machine, which will eventually open up even more fabrication options for me.

On the other hand, dimensioning has been an ongoing struggle. I've finally settled on a tenth of an inch smaller in diameter and that chambered in an Airsoft shotgun replica. But length is still an issue (and was for the movie; despite the official claims, only three rounds would actually fit in the real prop.)

I've been reflecting just how many things I had to learn to get where I currently am on the lathe. I was also reminded recently just how much there is yet to learn. But that will be another post. I want to mention an odd yet very watchable 2012 anime I saw recently.

"Girls and Panzer" is about one year of a sports club at an all-girls high school. The name of the sport is given in the anime as "Sensha-do" and is variously translated by various media; I like the cleverness of "Tankwando" myself but the official translation uses "Tankery." Yes; it is about mock battles using lovingly restored W.W.II era tanks.

It doesn't sound like it could possibly work. It sounds really silly. It is silly. But it does work. Somehow, it is a really fun show to watch.

Yes, a lot of it is the usual meat and potatoes of anime set at a Japanese high school; friendships, friction with families, trouble fitting in, etc. And it does follow much of the familiar sports club script of the underdogs going into the nationals with the very survival of their school at stake (apparently the national schools administration was browbeaten into agreeing that if Oarai High School makes a strong enough showing in that particular extra-curricular activity, they will continue to be funded.)

But it also breaks with one of the traditions of much Japanese manga about certain sports (particularly martial arts) and most traditional activities, as well as with a cross-cultural tradition common to way too many shows in general. In the first, there is no stern instructor, none of the self-abasement, none of the rote learning. Although the students of Sensha-do very much respect the traditions of their sport, it is never presented that there is only one correct way of doing it, and it is certainly not presented as the protagonists having to move beyond their pride and learn the correct ways.

This is almost lampshaded. When their instructor shows up for the first day of practice, she gives the teams a map and says, "Get in, drive to these spots, then start shooting." They have to figure out how to start the tanks on their own -- one team by riffling through a manual, another by frantically Googling it, and at least one by having handy a tank fan who has really, really studied the subject previous to this.

In the second, the "gambatte" routine is downplayed. Too often, in Western works just as often as in Japanese (and I'm looking at you, Disney), the key to victory is having enough "heart." Of wanting enough, of trying anyhow, etc., etc. In "Girls and Panzer" the key to victory is often as not reading the damn manual.

Sure, they also come up with the usual maniac plans of such things, and there are also several key moments where the most important thing is to rebuild their trust in the team, and have hope they can continue on. But for all of that, it is shown over and over that merely wanting it a lot doesn't magically make things go right. You need to put in the work -- of practice, and of study.

This is a very strange universe. The entire idea of tank combat as a high school sport is ludicrous, and the anime doesn't help any with the Academy Ships (entire towns with their central high school built on top of massive aircraft carriers). Whatever is the educational equivalent of OSHA fled the scene gibbering long, long ago.

The show also passes the Bechdel test. Laps it, even. Only one named male character ever shows up, and the conversation about him is very short. Really, very few men, and very few adults, show up at all, and those that do don't do much. It is as I said a strange universe.

In any case, language is another part of the fun. For no particular reason, one of the amateur sub groups chose to throw in a bunch of gratuitous German. Now, of course "Panzer" is used as the common term for "armored vehicle," and the phrase "Panzer vor!" appears frequently, and one character says "Nein" once. And the ampersand in the official titles is transliterated on those same titles as "und." But the subtitlers just went ahead and replaced many of the occurrences of common, idiomatic Japanese with equivalents in German.

I thought my German was better than my Japanese (I don't know either language, not particularly) but I still usually caught the Japanese first. Japanese being such a contextual language anyhow, it makes a certain sense that "Hai!" can be translated as "Ja!" or "Jawohl!" or "Gute!" (and several other variations as well. But the translation is really reaching when a character comments on an explanation just given -- simultaneously with taking out her contacts and putting on glasses -- and the translation of the Japanese all-purpose syllable "Ja" is translated in the subtitles as "Alles klar."

Oddly enough, a quote from Guderian himself is spoken in the anime in what sounds to my ears as ordinary Japanese, but is properly given by the subtitlers as "Nicht Kleckern sondern Klotzen!" Yet, they completely miff the famous McAuliffe retort to a request for surrender (during the Battle of the Bulge), rendering it as, "They sure are nuts."

The translators leave alone a nice translation of Caesar's,"veni vidi vici" into idiomatic Japanese (at least I think it is; I only understand the "mitte" that begins it), but the same character's other foray into the classics, "Festina lente," is transcribed exactly.

This language fun is shared by the characters; the first time "Panzer vor!" is uttered by one, another swivels around with a shocked "Pants are for what?" At least, that's the subtitling; my Japanese is not up to understanding the rapid-fire idiomatic reply of the original anime. But the "subtler" joke is that the Japanese use British, not American garment terminology here. Which possibly makes later scenes with their cries of "What would panzer be doing in a parking lot?" and "Where are the damn panzers?" even funnier.

The cast really gets into it with the "Russian" school, though (all the various schools that field Tankwando teams are Japanese, but they chose to put on a show of various national stereotypes. The "American" school sets up camp -- in a blink-and-you'll miss it bit -- with folding tables, boxes of K-rats, a jeep, and Coke in the old-style glass bottles.)

One of the voice actresses is a Russian Language student, and during the big tank advance they SING "Katyusha." And then to add frosting to the moment of awesome, the same character reprises part of the song as a lullaby to her sleeping commander. My musical day was made even before the "German" school advances to the music of the Wehrmacht marching song "Erika." A song I partially learned myself during work on "The Sound of Music."

And I've made a botch of describing this thing. As I said above, it doesn't seem like it could possibly work, or be anything else other than silly, but it was very much worth watching.

And was perhaps one of the things that helped me recover from the slump of this past week. I'm still not back up to full strength, but at least I'm back to lathing, and I've got Holocron code spinning around in my head, too.

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