Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Fall Television Season

I don't watch a lot of television. It's not that I dislike it; it's just that I've got a lot of entertainment options and don't care to try to sort the wheat from the chaff on television any more. So with the new fall television season hitting I'm watching absolutely no new shows.

Well, let me amend that; I'm watching absolutely no new shows being broadcast. There are however two programs that I've found recently that I'm watching and one that I'm looking forward to seeing again since I never expected for it to be brought to the United States. Oddly enough all three are from Asia though that wasn't something I was looking for, it's just that two of the shows are unique and the other is an exceptional drama.

The first show is a nostalgia trip for anyone who loves old Nintendo games: Game Center CX. The premise of the show is going to sound dull. A man sits down at a conference table in a featureless office and plays old video games. The trick in this case is that the man playing the games is a lovable goof who isn't very good at the games. He struggles through some of the most notoriously difficult games with occasional assistance from the rest of the production crew. It's entertaining to watch his frustration grow with each set back and see the triumphs when he finally gets past a challenge.

Unfortunately Game Center CX is Japanese and only airs there. An attempt to bring episodes to the United States stalled and it doesn't seem likely to happen. On the other hand there are about a dozen translated episodes that you can watch at Crunchy Roll. I recommend starting with the Ghost n' Goblins episode since anyone who remembers that game will also remember how painfully challenging it was.

Second up for me is a show from 1994 that I'm watching on DVD: The Romance of Three Kingdoms. I enjoyed the novel a lot and this Chinese television series is an faithful adaptation of the book. It's eighty-four episodes long and while each episode doesn't quite correspond to a chapter it comes pretty close. This is the a sprawling epic detailing the civil war that split China in three during the third century A.D. And when I say "sprawling epic" I mean get ready for a cast of important characters numbering over one hundred. This was a conflict that spanned generations and the series follows it from the weakening of the Imperial court to the last betrayals that united China more than fifty years later.

The downside on this one is that it is a production for Chinese television and that shows through sometimes; it was shot on video tape, for example. On the other hand so much effort is put into bringing the giant battles to the screen that I can forgive it's limitations. Not everyone can be John Woo.

Finally the SciFi Channel (sorry, "syfy" is just too freakishly wrong for me to use it) is bringing the last anime television show I got excited about to the air. Monster is an anime that Alfred Hitchcock would have created if he thought of working in animation and it starts airing on October 12. The series is a psychological drama about a doctor who chooses to save the life of a child over the life of a local politician. Years later the child returns to thank the doctor and the doctor finds out that the child has become a serial killer. It's a show about personal responsibility and hard ethical decisions.

I thought this show would never come to the United States for two key reasons. First, it's not a standard anime program. Monster is a serious, adult drama and the market for anime in the United States is tuned to the complete opposite. Making things worse for a company translating the show is that Monster is a long series; if they air one episode a week the SciFi Channel will finish up around March of 2011. That length makes it an expensive investment. I suspect that VIZ media, who is handling the translation, was encouraged by the strong response to the manga; for their sake I hope it's a gamble that pays off.