What I’m Watching, Pandemic Edition

If you know me, you know it’s rare when I have watched something. So it might surprise you to know that yes, I have watched some things during the pandemic. Let’s talk about those things.

Community, seasons one through three: Way too many of my roommate’s pop culture references are to this show, so when Pokemon Go Community Days could happen indoors during the summer, I started using that time to watch TV shows while catching fictional monsters. I haven’t watched the rest of the show due to getting a new job and losing some spare time since the summer (and because roommate refuses to watch beyond season three, so I’d be on my own for watching it), but I did enjoy what I saw of the show. I wouldn’t say I’m like any of the characters, but they all stand out in their own ways and I’m glad Abed made a group of friends.

The Baby-Sitters Club, season one: Look, I already wrote a spoiler-filled love post about the BSC show. Go read it. And now that we’re getting a season two, we’ll find out how horribly wrong my speculation was.

Infinity Train, books one through four: I watched the first book before the pandemic, the second book right before NaNo, and the third book over the winter, right before the fourth book announcement, and I watched book four a few days after it came out. While most of the cast for each season is different, the premise is the same: a character is on a train and can only escape after the number on their hand goes down to zero. The catch is, that number goes down after they face their own personal issues. While my favorite character is still Atticus the corgi from the first season for his adorableness, almost all the characters have grown on me over time, which is a good thing since each season stars different characters.

The Good Place: This show is so forking good. Several people have tried convincing me to watch this show for ages. I added it to my Netflix to-watch list, knowing it would happen in that vague eventually. You probably know what it’s about, but just in case you don’t: four people have died and find themselves in The Good Place, and things aren’t going as expected. To tell you more would give away the twists of the other four seasons. I started watching this on my birthday (the day after the storming of the capitol building) so I needed to get away from the news for awhile), and I watched the four seasons one at a time over the next few weeks. I laughed. I cried. I found myself relating to the entire cast in some way: Chidi’s indecisiveness, Eleanor’s selfishness, Tahani’s motivations, even Jason’s impulsiveness at times. (Remember, if you have a problem, throw a Molotov cocktail at it. Then you have a different problem.) Despite mostly taking place in the afterlife, so much of the commentary on today’s society is on point without punching down.

Super Cub: This is still in progress and I may not finish it for awhile; the friend I’m watching it with is on a thru-hike so our viewing will be intermittent as new episodes come out. It started releasing episodes a few weeks ago and I’ve watched all the available ones so far. An orphan girl with no friends, goals, or future lives in her own tiny apartment and has the same daily routine… until she buys a used Super Cub motorcycle, and then little things like detours and deviations from routine become adventures. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, especially with another character who was introduced…

My roommate, a friend of ours, and I have been watching through Studio Ghibli’s filmography during weekly-ish movie nights. Unfortunately I missed a few, but the roommate has HBO Max so I can catch up soon enough. Here’s what we’ve watched together:

Panda! Go, Panda!: This film predates Studio Ghibli, but we watched it anyway. It’s a short film about a little girl left home alone who befriends a panda and its father. The girl and the two pandas become a family, and Mimiko and the baby panda get into shenanigans… until the baby panda goes missing. It’s a light film for when you need to not think for awhile.

My Neighbor Totoro: You probably know this one, even if you only recognize Totoro as a media icon. This movie is light on conflict, but it is really sweet and connects to the human experience and what it’s like to be a scared yet curious little kid again. Also, I need a real life Catbus.

Only Yesterday: This film was poignant. It mostly takes place during a girl’s childhood and showcases her struggles: romance, puberty, math class, and discovering an interest in acting. But she finds herself an adult who is dissatisfied with her life, which resonates with me as an adult fumbling to find satisfaction and may be looking in all the wrong places. Also, for some reason menstruation is a really big deal in this movie.

Porco Rosso: Yes! A young girl mechanic! And a spunky one at that during the Great Depression in Italy, who winds up helping the pilot Porco. He doesn’t have it easy: besides being a human transformed into a pig, he’s also wanted by the Italian fascist regime for not using his bounty hunting skills in support of fascism. Go Porco. There’s also a rival and a love interest and yes, an epic fight.

Ocean Waves: Ah yes, the classic teenage love triangle with the new mysterious girl others seem to hate. This was hard to watch in parts, like many things involving teenage romance, because we adults know there’s a logical thing to do (having survived this awkward phase ourselves) but these things are such a big deal for teenagers who are experiencing these things for the first time. Also, a lot of things didn’t make sense, like Rikako’s air of mystery and attitude.

Pom Poko: Now we start getting into Studio Ghibli’s “don’t fuck with nature” theme. This movie had a serious message beyond not fucking with nature, but it still had fun moments with raccoon dogs dancing and turning more raccoon-like as they dance more. They can also transform to humans, which becomes useful as developers start destroying the forest to build houses on it. Naturally the raccoon dogs do not want their home destroyed, so they start getting into shenanigans to make this not happen.

Whisper of the Heart: Okay, this one is my favorite of them all so far. It may not objectively be the best of all these movies, but I feel Seen(TM). This movie stars a junior high girl who likes creative writing and has high school exams ahead of her. The problem is, she can’t commit to writing anything. Thanks to the movie’s plot, she spends the next two months writing a story for someone and ignoring everything else in her life, which… uh, means she basically did a NaNo. If I had watched this movie during my teen years (which could have happened since it came out in 1995), it probably would have been one of my formative media works, especially in that period before discovering NaNo.

Princess Mononoke: This one took me awhile to get into, probably because I was distracted with other stuff that night. This one is an epic fantasy about a prince hunting down a cure for a demon curse. There’s a girl raised by wolves and a forest spirit that everyone is hunting for, for better or for worse. Once again there’s a “don’t fuck with nature” theme.

My Neighbors the Yamadas: Don’t get me wrong, the movie was still good, but it was difficult to watch. Instead of one overarching plot, this one features shorter scenes about a family’s everyday life: a father, a mother, a grandmother, a teenage son, a very young daughter, and a dog that didn’t get nearly enough screen time. What frustrated me about much of this movie was how bitter and set in their ways much of the family was. The adults were settled in their lot in life but rarely thought about reaching for more. They expected others to fetch tea or soup for them. Look, you could just say no to this stuff! When one of them does have a moment of clarity thinking beyond their current lot in life, it’s squashed by the rest of their family. This reminds me of a lot of people I know, especially my own family. Is this what getting older is like? Do we just accept our lot in life and never aim for more? Settling in this fashion is one of my biggest fears, and I want to stay curious, just like the little girl who insisted that she wasn’t lost, her family was lost.

Spirited Away: I vaguely knew about this movie through internet osmosis, recognizing the theme song and No Face. After watching it, wow. I see why this movie has gained near universal acclaim, although I didn’t really know what the movie was about before watching it beyond being spirited away, maybe into some kind of spirit world. I was sort of right about that. The storytelling is impeccable and complex, and Chihoru is a delight who definitely acts like a kid. If you somehow haven’t watched it already, go do it.

The Cat Returns: How is this not a better-known Ghibli movie? I loved it from the start, and not just because it’s a spinoff of Whisper of the Heart. There are so many cats, the main character can talk to them, and they act like cats and think she really wants gifts of catnip and mice. Oh, and the Baron cat is delightful and I want a Baron cat of my own.

Howl’s Moving Castle: I didn’t know there’s also a book! As one friend told me, it’s best to treat the book and movie as alternate universes since they’re pretty different but both wonderful in their own ways. The movie is wonderful, although I was confused in some parts about Howl’s resistance to the war.

Tales from Earthsea: This is based on Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books, which I haven’t read but have been meaning to. According to the Wikipedia article the movie takes inspiration from the first four books and mushes them into two hours, which explains why the pacing felt off in parts. While the movie is good and worth watching, it’s not as good as the other Ghibli films.

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