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Winter 2024 – Week 6 in Review

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. With the winter season nearing its halfway point, it seems like it’s about time to check in on the seasonal anime contenders, which at this point have generally either derailed in a cloud of smoke or proven themselves of an enduring, superior caliber. And for this season in particular, that unsurprisingly means I really ought to check out Delicious in Dungeon, which seems to be the undisputed winter all-star. I’ll surely be getting to that soon enough, while also continuing my Gundam education with all haste – we’ve now concluded Zeta, rewatched 08th MS Team, and most recently checked out War in the Pocket, on which I offer a handful of thoughts below. The grand climaxes of the Universal Century’s conclusion await, but for now, let’s burn down the Week in Review!

First up this week was Nosferatu the Vampyre, Werner Herzog’s take on Bram Stoker’s classic tale, starring Herzog’s favorite lunatic Klaus Kinski in the titular role. Though truthfully, Nosferatu is more directly inspired by F. W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosfetaru than the original novel; Kinski’s makeup is a clear homage to the makeup used by Max Schreck, and many of Herzog’s visual compositions are taken directly from Murnau’s original.

In spite of the film’s reverence for its cinematic inspiration, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a Herzog feature through and through. Herzog delights in the collision of foolhardy men and the implacable will of nature, and in Nosferatu, Count Dracula is undeniably and vividly characterized as an elemental force, a tide of evil as malevolent as it is implacable. Herzog’s extrapolations of Murnau’s compositions are inspired and elemental; building off Schreck’s slow approaches and imposing shadows, Herzog manages to transpose Kinski’s shadow across all of Germany. And even when Dracula isn’t on-screen, you can still feel his presence, sense his malice in the looming clouds and imposing mountain ranges of Transylvania. A vivid entry in Herzog’s illustrious canon.

Our next viewing was Dragon Inn, a classic wuxia feature written and directed by King Hu, a titan of the genre responsible for the similarly canonical Come Drink With Me and A Touch of Zen (the latter of which counts among my all-time favorite martial arts films). Zen’s Shih Chun again stars, here accompanied by the dazzling swordsman Shangkuan Ling-fung, one in a long line of badass Hu heroines. Alongside several allies and an overwhelmed but well-meaning innkeeper, the two must fight to defend the children of a disgraced yet noble general, while all the forces of a nefarious court eunuch descend on the humble Dragon Inn.

Dragon Inn is rich in character and spectacle, while also demonstrating Hu’s reliably confident pacing and control of atmosphere. The heroes barely feature across the film’s bandit-focused first act, making the accumulation of this film’s eventual Seven Samurai-esque band of warriors feel all the more consequential and fortuitous. And when our heroes are assembled, that quietly building tension explodes into an array of thrilling fight scenes, featuring smart choreography, tragic deaths, and daring last second rescues. Wuxia films can sometimes cross combat with dance to the point where fights seem lacking in impact; that is emphatically not the case here, as Dragon Inn concludes on a fight-filled finale that would feel right at home in any old-fashioned Shaw Brothers production.

With an excellent cast, convincing and well-utilized set design, and one of the great masters of wuxia at the helm, Dragon Inn impresses on basically every front. It’s one of those films that feels almost out of step with its era, as its dramatic conventions predict the blockbuster era in a way that makes it feel approachable and timeless. If you’re looking to get into classic wuxia, Dragon Inn is a perfect place to start – but be sure to journey onward to A Touch of Zen as well!

Disappointed by the ‘50s version of The Blob, yet still not willing to abandon the tantalizing potential of “what if there was a blob that killed people,” my house next journeyed bravely onward to The Blob’s 1988 remake. And it turned out to be a good thing we did, as the ‘88 Blob genuinely offers everything the ‘50s promises, including stronger performances, a fully realized narrative, and a blob that’s satisfyingly gruesome in action.

As a loving homage to ‘50s horror infused with all the innovations of thirty years of genre development, what is most essential to this blob’s success is not the script or performances, but the luscious practical effects. And considering “a giant pink pile of jello” isn’t the most inherently menacing concept, The Blob ‘88 instead wisely focuses on what is truly horrifying: what this carnivorous, clearly acidic monster can do to a human body. Victim after victim is melted in the most visually tangible and grotesque ways possible, with setpieces expanding beyond the original’s “The Blob in a movie theater” to include new standouts like “The Blob versus a phone booth” and “The Blob in the sewers.”

Men, women, children – none are safe from The Blob’s wriggling protuberances, and with a new “government agents arrive to quarantine the town” third act slotted in with virtually no added runtime, the film maintains a brisk pace from start to finish, establishing convincing leads and clean stakes while keeping its focus on its titular beasty. If you’re looking for a generously gruesome creature feature, The Blob’s remake is a perfect popcorn flick.

Alongside our film selections, we also checked out War in the Pocket, an acclaimed Gundam OVA released during anime’s direct-to-video golden age. Written by Royal Space Force director Hiroyuki Yamaga, the series avoids the larger-than-life stakes and central wunderkinds of most mainline Gundam series. Instead, it focuses on the eleven-year-old Alfred, who lives on the relatively peaceful Side 6. When Zeon soldiers arrive in search of a secret Federation base, Alfred finds himself thrust into a world of excitement beyond his imagining, only to just as swiftly come face to face with the genuine horror of war.

War in the Pocket is a refreshing and tightly composed twist on Gundam formula, prioritizing the experience of civilians on the ground over titanic heroes like Char Aznable. Alfred is eager and near-sighted in the ways of most children, seeing war as an exciting game until the moment its consequences become clear, and bonding with a Zeon pilot who essentially becomes the big brother he never had. The two plan operations together, discuss their hopes for the future, and over time become something like a family; the show can be quite gentle in its character sketching, which of course makes its ultimate clashes land all the harder.

In its evocation of the thin line between observation and involvement in war, the OVA articulates a truth I’ve rarely seen expressed in animation (save for the exceptional In This Corner of the World). Even as mechs rampage across their hometown, the children of Side 6 are mostly unbothered, marveling at the powerful machines and celebrating days off from school. Even at such a small remove, the violence is still abstract; it is only Alfred, who actually comes to know the players involved, who can see this conflict as something real and terrible.

The series’ ending sequence encapsulates its central contradiction, featuring a parade of children reveling in the detritus remaining from a bloody mobile suit exchange – while war can easily strip us of our innocence, it can just as easily pass like a summer squall, with only those directly touched by its impact bearing the scars of understanding. Defiantly local in its scope and unique in its perspective on conflict, War in the Pocket is simply an exceptional little feature, and an easy recommendation to anyone seeking to furnish their Gundam education.

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