Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vaka Rangi: Two Year Anniversary

The Dirty Pair, by Alan Gutierrez

My entire past year can be summarised in just one phrase.
Dirty Pair.
It was almost exactly a year ago today that I began my week-long miniseries on the history of professional wrestling to lead into my essay on The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair that would introduce Kei and Yuri and change the shape of this project forever. It was an intentionally cheeky move, I admit, and I took great pleasure in watching you all try and guess where on Earth I was going with that tangent. I enjoy making unpredictable moves like that and keeping my audience on their toes: Not only is it fun for me, but it keeps the project fresh and is a way of offering a subtle reminder that Vaka Rangi is meant to be far from another standard-issue history of Star Trek narrative.
But of course Dirty Pair was never an out-of-the blue, 90-degree turn for this project. Even though I've only been a fan of the series myself for the past three years or so, I've known about its existence, and its shared history with Star Trek, for decades. I've been dying to look at Dirty Pair from a Star Trek perspective, and vice verce, ever since I learned what huge geeky fans of the show Rick Sternbach and Mike Okuda were. The Long 1980s are an age where truths are conveyed through aesthetics, images and emotions, science fiction is a genre primarily about ideas and possibilities, anime is a medium particularly well suited to broadening the imagination through cinematography, and the fact that it was the two design illustrators who were the most profoundly affected brings it all back full circle.
The fact Dirty Pair turned out to be one of the single greatest and most personally meaningful bits of narrative fiction I've ever experienced in my life is really just icing on the cake.
Even though Dirty Pair was always going to be a part of Vaka Rangi in some form or another, I didn't originally mean for it become so pronounced that it would end up standing on equal footing with Star Trek: The Next Generation. When I first started, I figured I'd give Kei and Yuri a Sensor Scan post, maybe a few-One for each broad category of the Classic Series. Then when I started to actually watch it for research, I immediately realised the series was way, way too good to be relegated to the between-season errata: This was actually leagues better than the stuff I was actually treating as my case study. At that point I knew it would have to be one of the major pillars of Vaka Rangi Volume 3-The book I spent almost the entirety of this past year writing. Even then though I wasn't planning to serialize it on the blog: The decision to cover Dirty Pair episode by episode and bit by bit was made at literally the last possible moment when the traffic hits were coming in on the Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair essay and after I discovered the whole series was on YouTube and Hulu freely and legally thanks to Manga Entertainment.
I should mention that this all came at an uncannily appropriate time for me. As exciting as the past year has been from a creative perspective, in my personal life it's been defined by incredibly intense upheaval, trauma and turmoil. It's been Dirty Pair, and the Singularity Archetype I read onto it, that's helped me through much of the turbulence of the past 10 or 11 months. Because we know that while the Singularity looks like the apocalypse from below, it always signifies a change that is positive and uplifting for the universe on the whole. And we know that Kei and Yuri always leave a situation better than they found it, no matter the incidental destruction they leave in their wake. That's only partially why Dirty Pair has become so important to me (a lot of it is also due to its aesthetic imagery, how I relate to Kei and the ideals I project onto her relationship with Yuri), but it's the part of my connection to the series that's seemed to speak the loudest to me of late.
And yet it also worries me. Others have likened Kei and Yuri to the Tarot cards of Death and The Tower, which are themes I didn't expand on a lot personally but did acknowledge. And it's almost scary how much I see those themes manifesting around me: I sometimes fear that as long as I stay a devotee of the Lovely Angels, I'll keep invoking those destructive themes into my own life. But I can't stay away, precisely because of how much Dirty Pair has come to signify for me. So here we are a year onward, and Dirty Pair has inspired its own spin-off blog, looking at themes of emotion, energy, memory and forgotten futures. Right now, it's just a glorified mood room and place to host specific writing experiments of mine, but in the very near future it's going to serve as the home for a Dirty Pair themed project I've been planning on the side for over a year. I hope with it I can weave benevolent, constructive vibes and summer thoughts.
If you remember my anniversary post from last year (or go back through the archives to find it), you might recall I posted a rough outline for the various planned Vaka Rangi volumes, and that book three was supposed to have *three* pillars. One was obviously Star Trek: The Next Generation (or rather the first three seasons of it) and the second was soon to be revealed as Dirty Pair. But the third was actually going to be Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: I initially had plans to do serialized coverage of the entire manga series chapter by chapter, and that plan was in place as late as my not-review of the movie that following June. Back then I said it was my favourite movie of all time, and I think I still stand by that...But Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a work I constantly have a hard time conceptualizing and articulating my relationship with, as is probably evidenced by the fact it's the one time I just flat out gave up and confessed it was impossible for me to write about.
It's one of those things I sort of forget precisely how important it is to me until I see it again, and then I feel awful for forgetting it. Even though I brought in a frankly ridiculous amount of metafictional, metaphysical, mystical and spiritualist themes into my reading of Dirty Pair, what Kei and Yuri represent for me has always been clear as day. As oversignified as Dirty Pair as a series is, I always find writing about it to be basically effortless-The work is already done for me because Kei and Yuri have so explicitly spelled exactly who they are and what they're about at every single level. All you have to do is pay attention and look for it. Nausicaä though is very different: I can't explain everything I see in it unless I just sit down and relate my entire life story, everything I've ever done (and why) and everything that's ever been important to me. I mean I do that to some extent on Vaka Rangi as is, but properly writing about Nausicaä would require getting even more autobiographical than I already tend to get here.
So that's part of the reason I scrapped the plan to do serialized coverage of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The rest of it is because it would have just made an already busy book even more overstuffed and because as much as I like it and as important as it may be to me (and as similarly influential on Star Trek: The Next Generation as it was), there's really not a whole lot in the way of the kind of utopianism Vaka Rangi is primarily interested in to be found there: That is, the motif of the voyaging starship. There is very much a case that could be stretched that Nausicaä is a traveller and people grow from their experiences with meeting her, but it's a slightly different setup than exists in the kinds of Star Trek I like, or even Dirty Pair for that matter (though the spiritual metaphors are similar). I wound up being able to say most of what I wanted to say about Nausicaä's link to Star Trek: The Next Generation in the essay on “Samaritan Snare”, and the rest I'm hoping to hit in “Tapestry”.
I of course have to talk about Star Trek: The Next Generation. The fact that we're finally in it means Vaka Rangi is right in the midst of what is without question the single most important historical period it's ever going to look at. For me, Star Trek is what existed between September of 1987 and May of 1994, and my personal story with the franchise does not meaningfully extend beyond those dates. I of course did the Original Series, the Animated Series and Star Trek Phase II and I'm obviously going to get to Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise, the latter of which will probably be when I get the most brazenly experimental I'm ever going to with this project, but they're ultimately background material for the true heart and soul of Vaka Rangi, which is where we're at right now. And yet this is also the very reason I can't talk a lot about Star Trek: The Next Generation here: Unlike Dirty Pair and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, this is something whose material artefacts I'm still actively thinking about and working through in the moment. The story of Star Trek: The Next Generation as it pertains to Vaka Rangi is far from over, in fact, in many ways it's only now beginning.
Strangely, even though I've been looking forward to this portion of the project since before I began it, it's also proven to be one of the most challenging sections I've done yet. There have been moments, most notably early in the first season, where I was uncertain about just how I should approach writing about Star Trek: The Next Generation, because its something that's really most meaningful to me in terms of aesthetics, memory and personal experience. I can do a rote pro-and-con analysis of each episode in my sleep, but that doesn't seem right to me and I feel it misses a lot of the fundamental truths about my history with the show I hope to convey. This was also not helped at all by my rediscovery of just how much of a slog I've always felt years 2-4 were.
Then there's the first season, which has always been the most ethereal and intangible for me; a set of ideals, images and vivid half-remembrances that exist well above and beyond anything the physical show ever did. In many ways that makes up the truest Star Trek: The Next Generation for me, and as tough to get a grasp on as it is I think I may have touched on it once or twice. Most notably, my essays on “Encounter at Farpoint” and “The Battle” spring immediately to mind as being ones I'm to date still the most proud of and that best encapsulate my thoughts and feelings about what Star Trek: The Next Generation has meant to me. Maybe “Yesterday's Enterprise” as well, which there was absolutely no way I could cover in any fashion resembling straightforwardly prosaic.
But now with Volume 4, we're well and truly reached the pinnacle of Star Trek's impact on me. Years 5-7 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where I basically think the show was pretty much firing on all cylinders regularly and consistently for three years straight, with its definitive cast and crew and most iconic set of stories. The tail end of season 4, which sets that up. What I consider to be *my* Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the purest demonstration of its purpose and potential: Its first two seasons (excluding “The Jem'Hadar”, which is thematically part of the third season, and a different show, even if it's not chronologically). The comic adaptations of both shows. The 25th Anniversary celebrations, the video games and the Playmates toy lines. Volume 4 is definitely going to be the most packed and Star Trek-heavy of the books, so some of you will appreciate that I'm sure. I'm really excited for this phase of the project, but also a bit intimidated: As has always been the case with Star Trek: The Next Generation I worry my words and their scope won't be enough to properly convey and do justice to my positionality.
(And really, as I intend to argue, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as originally conceived should really be read as the same show, or at the very least compliments or sisters.)
And oh yes speaking of books, I hope that by this time next year you will be able to have your very own physical copies of Vaka Rangi, just in time for Star Trek's 50th Anniversary. It's obviously the first volume that's the most important to get out as that's the one that deals with the Original Series and Animated Series, but I plan to get all the books out as soon as they're ready and not worry too much about setting exact schedules. Volume 2 will take the longest to revise as that book turned out unsatisfyingly short for me and I'm adding in an entire new section (as I'm not interested in keeping a ton of secrets where this is concerned anymore, I'll just flat out tell you all it's going to be on Super Dimension Fortress Macross). Each volume is also going to come replete with a slew of new, revised and extra content to hopefully make it worth your while to double-dip. This also means I'm going to be looking for designers and visual artists who might be interested in doing some cover art sometime in the next 12-18 months, so if you are one or know one who might be a good fit, please keep that in mind.
But lastly I want to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who's supported this project and who tunes in three times a week to see what I've come up with. I will never stop being stunned and amazed that people are actually interested in my extremely personal history with a long-forgotten old TV show and want to read what I have to say about it. Engaging with you all has been the most rewarding experience I've ever had as a writer, and I remember that each and every day.


  1. Congratulations.

    I am sorry about the turbulent year, and in light of that it seems almost shallow to compliment you on your great work here. I do hope things have improved though.

    (And, it almost goes without saying, great work here.)


  2. "Engaging with you all has been the most rewarding experience I've ever had as a writer, and I remember that each and every day."

    Well done Josh! I echo your feelings above as a reader as your blog is one of the few I visit regularly and I get so much out of your writing and the community around it.

    I had a pretty intense year lat year with dealing with bereavement and a ton of other upheaval too - I know how it feels and glad to hear you've come through.

  3. Hey, sorry you've had such a difficult year, and thank you for keeping on with Vaka Rangi. Despite my recent absence it is my second-most anticipated blog, quite a feat considering that Star Trek is not one of my main interests!