sábado, 28 de enero de 2017

These are not your usual fluff creatures

Bunnies, moles, mice, squirrels and more scampering fluff. Here are stories starred by different kinds of animals, some of them which may look too pure, frail or innocent to our eyes, much familiarized by seeing them as pets and not as creatures of the wild, subject to the most primal law of consume or be consumed.

Now, put them all into an epic story, in their own version of the sublime and terrible, struggling against each other and everything they could ever face since their birth to the last gasp, in virgin territories or nearby human presence (or even long after their extinction) and you get outstanding tales of courage and survival.

Here I present my favorite stories in different media, including books, comics and animated shows.

Watership Down (Richard Adams, 1972)

A book considered too childish for adults, and too intense for children, in spite of the protagonists being scampering balls of fluff and twitching noses, full tricks and prone to gnaw and chew on everything (when they are pets). Richard Adam's classic tale of survival and political turmoil in the lives of rabbits has been a well renown story for its depiction of endurance, destruction, and myth, all enriched with excerpts of the rabbit's own language, as well as the enigmatic presence of death, embodied in the elusive yet ever watching Black Rabbit of Inle.

The book had animated adaptation which has passed a well known disturbing film to children (and I recall a certain incident where the movie was transmitted, causing an uproar to parents regarding the violent imagery of the film.

Of all the books I've mentioned in this blog entry, this is, without a doubt, my favorite (and that includes rabbits, of which I'm fond of, whether as pets or animals in the wild), and upon further readings, for discovering other elements that I had not seen before.

Adding to the lore of the novel, the book Tales of Watership Down enrich the stories by presenting more of the adventures of the El-arairah (Prince with a Thousand Enemies). Easier to read and filled with mysterious scenes that remind the setting of the creation of a world, and even go further as to place the rabbits in dangerous circumstances whenever they encounter humans.

And the book (or depiction of bunnies in any media) will always make me smile and melt my heart whenever the song Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel plays, as well as every mention of the book or film in Folk Horror Revival, one of the best group/communities in Facebook ever.

Duncton Wood (William Horwood, 1980)

This one entranced me with the fine combination of animals, fantasy, faith and countryside in the right amount. I enjoyed my reading through any of the descriptive passages regarding the Duncton Wood system and the cult of the Stones. The moles here seem to be a bit more anthropomorphosized, except they are still being moles, thought also interacting (and loving) like humans.

Something very particular about this book is about the religion the moles practice. There are hints of pagan, Celtic nature worship. For here, the moles revere the standing stones, left by that civilization in the British isle millennia ago. When they are not under ground and get to see our world,  the roads become noisy rivers of death; predators like owls become monsters, of horrifying screams and entrancing eyes.

Featuring a love story about Bracken and Rebecca, two moles who grow up and live in the Duncton system. The moment they were born, the place is overthrown by a pair of malicious moles named Mandrake and Rune. Of the former, is later known in the world that his upbringing in the wild had molded him into his evil ways, while the latter is pure evil.

There are other books in the series (six in total), though they are hard to find (consider yourself lucky to be gifted one or finding it in a flea market or bazaar). Only having read the first one thanks to a friend who had sent me a fanmade PDF file.

And that file no longer exists, for my laptop died. It's not the same with my fascination for these stories, though.

Redwall series (Brian Jacques (1986-2011)

Another series which I have yet to complete. Having only a few of them, which in turn sidetracked me into the movie of Despereaux, based on the novel The Tale of Despereaux (2004) by Kate DiCamillo

Just by glancing at the cover, my wild guess did not disappoint me for adding this to my collection among like classics like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Chronicles of Prydain. And I can't just have enough of epic fantasy.

As the inhabitants of Redwall Abbey bask in the glorious Summer of the Late Rose, all is quiet and peaceful. But things are not as they seem. Cluny the Scourge, the evil one-eyed rat warlord, is hell-bent on destroying the tranquility as he prepares to fight a bloody battle for the ownership of Redwall.

With the stories focused in the Abbey of Redwall, although every book will feature a different protagonist and time. Characters here go from mice, squirrels, otters, hares, hedgehogs and badgers to rats, foxes, snakes, crows and wildcats. In the books, species will determine if it's good or evil, with very few exceptions. Sometimes, some change in character in the middle of story, or are presented as minor characters.

Having read only three books (Redwall, Mattimeo, and Martin the Warrior) there are 22 novels in total. Some plot elements and stories might get repeated and predictable according to some reviews I've seen, yet if the fanbase have found a comfort zone in them, the book achieve their goal in entertainment and value for being read again. Morever, the characterizations might not be the most complex ones and one can see an array of tropes with which to play bingo as the reading progresses, but, it makes up for a thrilling ride.

The Battle of the Mice and the Frogs (George Martin, 1962)

Originally known as the Batrachomiomachya is a fable that has been attributed to various authors: Homer by the Romans; to Pigres of Halicarnassus, the brother (or son) of Artemisia, queen of Caria and ally of Xerxes. In modern times, scholars assign it to an anonymous poet of the time of Alexander the Great.

In this retelling written by George Martin, the story begins with a mouse, Crum-snatcher, drinking water from a lake meets the Frog King, named Puff-jaw, who invites him to his house. As the Frog King swims across the lake, the mouse seated on his back, they are confronted by a frightening water snake. The frog dives, forgetting about the mouse, who drowns. Another mouse witnesses the scene from the bank of the lake, and runs to tell everyone about it.

The Mice arm themselves for battle to avenge the Frog King's treachery, and send a herald to the Frogs with a declaration of war. The Frogs blame their King, who altogether denies the incident.

After that, with the conflict already unavoidable, it becomes a tragically unnecessary battle between mice and frogs.

However, in the original fable, Zeus, seeing the brewing war, proposes that the gods take sides, and specifically that Athena help the Mice. Athena refuses, saying that mice have done her a lot of mischief. Eventually the gods decide to watch rather than get involved. A battle ensues and the Mice prevail. Zeus summons a force of crabs to prevent complete destruction of the Frogs. Powerless against the armored crabs, the Mice retreat, and the one-day war ends at sundown.

As an interesting trivia fact, the illustrations on this book were drawn by Fred Gwyne, which you may recall for his role in the TV show The Munsters.

Squarriors (Ash Mackzo/Ashley Witter, 2015)


One of the latest additions. In my constant discovery and appreciation of artists in illustration, digital painting, comics and 3D animation, I had caught glimpse of an interesting thumbnail, along with the word Squarriors.

This was not like the images I recall from having seen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Battletoads, Street Sharks or Biker Mice From Mars or even Swat Katz. This was not tongue-in-cheek or corny, or much less an empowering display of the cool/badass factor just for the sake of it. No, the thumbnail featured squirrels, equipped with arms in a setting of which, my first impression was about scenes I could imagine painted by Frank Frazetta if he had read Watership Down or Animals of Farthing Wood.

The story of Squarriors takes place after the seeming extinction of humans. Animals have now become smarter though they retain their size. They have divided in clans and live according to codes, some choosing to learn and develop tolerance for coexistence, others choosing to keep on the predatory life as well as to use the reason to enslave and persuade other animals.

As the story progresses, there are flashback sections concerning humans, with small hints about an incoming catastrophe that led them to disappear. So far, only two volumes had been published: Spring and Summer.

You can find out more about Squarriors on Facebook, including a Kickstarter project about a Trading Card Game based on the comic.

Scurry (Mac Smith, 2016)

This began as a digital wonder, and from the very first image I saw, it was impossible to look away from it. Thus, after having started on the first page...
Scurry is the story of a colony of mice in an abandoned house who are struggling to survive a long, strange winter. The humans are all gone and the sun is rarely seen. As food becomes scarce and many mice fall ill, the scavengers are forced to search farther from their home, braving monster infested lands in search of anything that will help the colony survive another day. Being hunted by feral cats and predatory birds is part of life for these mice, but beyond the fences stalks something far more fearsome...

They are living in a post-apocalyptic world without fully realizing it.

The mice, long dependent on humans for food, stubbornly cling to their old ways, looting the nearby abandoned houses for any scraps they can find. Once, there was plenty to eat, but now the scavengers return empty handed, or not at all. Danger is everywhere, in the form of poison, traps and (worst of all) cats. This gang of feral predators relentlessly hunt the mice whenever they leave the safety of their nest.

As supplies run low and many mice fall ill, desperation creeps in. With the colony at a breaking point, rumors of a wrecked truck filled with food give them hope, but it lies far beyond the forest, where even the cats won’t go.

It’s a terrific series that has been running as a webcomic since January, with each page fully painted by Mac Smith.

It's worth mentioning that it became a blockbuster success; with the launch of a Kickstarter to bring the series to print, Smith had seen his modest target of $8,000 blown out the water. The campaign started on August 30th, and by the end of October 5th of 2016, 2129 people made the project to earn a total of $101,230.

Gamba No Bouken/The Adventures of Gamba (Osamu Dezaki, 1975)

This is a bonus for triggering me a nostalgia trip, the most powerful one I've ever had. Way back into the 90's, on TV Azteca (on Mexican television), on Saturday mornings, I would get up early from bed just to watch this cartoon. I knew there were other shows like Baby Follies, Biker Mice From Mars, Saint Seiya, BT'X and even Nintendomania, but it was an anime about a group of cute rodents going on in adventures that had more reveal as the story unfolds.

It was based on a children’s novel written by author Atsuo Saito (born 1940) called Bokenshyatachi: Gamba to 15-hiki no nakao (The Adventures: Gamba and his 15 Friends), published in 1972. The 26-episode anime was produced by Tokyo Movie for NTV (Nippon Television), airing on Monday evenings at 7:00-7:30 PM from April 7 to September 29, 1975.

The story follows Gamba and Bobo, two city mice who, while escaping from a hungry cat, end up in the stream, riding inside a floating tin can. Gamba aspires to go on an adventure in the sea, having heard about it from his deceased father. The two travel from place to place and eventually they end up near the ocean dock, encountering a group of mice having a party nearby. Gamba and Bobo both join in, not having eaten in their long day. Later, an injured mouse named Chuta comes in and collapses on the ground. While being treated, Chuta reveals that he comes from an island, living happily amongst other mice until an evil gang of weasels led by Noroi (the name means “curse” in Japan) come in and slaughter the village in a very bloody invasion. Noroi is very notorious and all the mice in the party leave immediately, knowing that confronting the giant weasel means an instant death sentence.

Gamba, agrees to help Chuta defeat the fearsome Noroi. As they stowaway on a ship that’s heading to his direction, other mice join the mission. The cast of characters in enriched by Bobo, joining Gamba and Chuta are Yoisho (name is Japanese for “yo heave ho”), a strong sailor mouse who lost one eye to Noroi. Yoisho’s partner is Gakusha, a bespectled mouse who is very intelligent; his name means “scholar”. Shijin is a doctor mouse who has a habit of drinking sake and reciting poetry; his name means “poet”. On the boat they meet a mouse already there named Ikasama (name means “swindler”). As his name implies, he’s a gambler who is frequently seen carrying a pair of dice on his hands.

By the time the conflict with the weasels ensues, the mice had to resort to their speed, size and cunning to outsmart the vicious monsters, and they won't stop after a bite.

But the mice know they cannot take them down just by nibbling or gnawing. That's why they manage to set traps involving stakes to pierce their eyes and leave the wounded weasels behind before their cries end up calling more of them, and of course, the ravenous White Weasel.

The series was intended to have 52 episodes to cover the story arc. However, sub-par ratings from the viewing audience forced the studio to cut the number down to 26. As a result, they had to hastily re-plan the show’s storyline for the second half of the run. In spite of the shortcomings, the show went on to become a cult favorite in the years that followed.

This is no longer available on Spanish dubbing, or even with English subtitles. Some episodes can be seen on Dailymotion, but they are not the original Japanese language. Furthermore, there was a new Gamba animation was eventually made, a feature film called Gamba to Kawauso no Boken (The Adventures of Gamba and Kawauso), which was directed by Shunji Oga and theatrically released in July 20, 1991. A video game based on the show was also made for PlayStation, released in 2003.

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