krpalmer: (mst3k)
[personal profile] krpalmer
As much as I can wish there was still a genuine MSTing community as a subset of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans (although, of course, I could be doing something more about that myself than just wishing), many MSTings still remain. For some peculiar reason, I'm more able to ponder which of them is "the greatest MSTing ever"; I often try not to pick favourites elsewhere... I have the feeling many people would point to Adam Cadre's "The Eye of Argon" as, if nothing else, the greatest MSTing written by just one person. Thinking back to "Does God Love You?", I can wonder if it's "the first great group MSTing." There's also the feeling that people would point to the MSTings of the stories by Stephen Ratliff, who took some child characters who had appeared in "Star Trek: The Next Generation," contrived a way to put them in charge of the Enterprise, and wound up not only lifting one of them to ridiculous levels but also developing a peculiar symbiotic relationship with the MSTing community over years of writing... (For some reason, though, I'm not quite as fond of the one single story in that series everyone else seemed to point to as the really memorable one; instead, I can think of my personal favourites as including "A Royal Wedding," also tackled by Adam Cadre, and the "group MSTing" version of "Winning Love by Daylight.") It's also sort of tempting to look at the "for adult audiences only" "Stolen Memories," a Star Trek story so far as it has a young Julian Bashir becoming a sex slave on a planet of "furries"... After all of that, though, I find myself thinking of a very long MSTing, rounding through its tenth anniversary now, of a crossover between the American animated show "Daria" and the anime "Sailor Moon" that just happens to be a "technothriller," "The Misery Senshi Neo-Zero Double Blitzkrieg Debacle"...

The story might be a good example of my theory that Mystery Science Theater is as about the entertaining strangeness of what it tackles as well as what it says about it. Wrongness just sort of boils off the story from start to finish, and yet it's a sincere kind of wrongness; I somehow have the feeling it's obvious all the characters in the story are out of character, and yet can believe at the exact same time the author Peter Guerin did care about them... just with a peculiar way of showing it. As for what happens in the story, while a running gag in the MSTing is how hard it is to summarize what's going on I still want to make the effort. It just so happens that Daria Morgendorffer has an online acquaintance in Japan, who invites her across the Pacific on short notice with minimal explanation. This is because her pen pal Ami Mizuno is leaving for pre-med studies in Germany, and despite the fact there are nine other "magical girls" in the Sailor Senshi she needs to hand her Sailor Mercury powers over to someone. (Guerin makes a valiant effort to establish parallels between Daria and Ami for both being smart among their peers and apparently suffering for it, even though their personalities are rather different.) However, one Islamic terrorist has been dispatched to hijack Ami's flight and reroute it to Daria's home town of Lawndale to set off an atomic bomb above "the big game against Highland" (this part of the story may unfortunately not be as funny as it once was, and yet...); at the same time, a right-wing militia in Lawndale is waiting for a chance to take over the town (this may amount to Guerin trying to cover all the bases), and a neo-fascist group in Japan is planning to steal the "Neo-Zero," basically a YF-23 declared to be improved from the original design. ("So it's smaller, and comes with optional duoflow control?" "They probably threw in a passenger side airbag too.")

It happens that the Japanese government has a complete dossier on the Sailor Senshi and is able to twist their arms into trying to do something about the domestic crisis. However, this doesn't stop the "Neo-Zero" (soon referred to in the "riffing" as "the death plane") from being stolen by the statuesque super-soldier pilot Yoriko Amazana (who our heroes are soon calling "Yerko"), who has a tendency to scream at people, swear she won't rest until she's taken vengeance, and listen to angry North American music, some of it incredibly obscure and all of its lyrics thoughtfully transcribed into the story by Peter Guerin. The "death plane" bombs all military facilities in Japan before anyone can do anything (some F-14s show up at one point, but their weapons are useless against it and they're shot down in short order), and then starts reducing Tokyo to rubble. As this is going on, there are lengthy origin stories from the mad scientist in charge of the bad guys and the good guy "Solar Warrior," apparently an original character in a Japanese "armoured 'sentai' hero" suit, and then the Emperor of Japan gets into the speech-making too. In the meantime, Ami has survived the terrorist attack, crashing in Lawndale, and the militia attack, and with a few companions new and old the matter over there gets wrapped up. Daria then demands her micro-skirted Sailor Mercury costume get converted into an "armoured bikini," and the heroes in the United States teleport back to Japan, where it just so happens the government knows of one plane left intact in the country, a World War II fighter preserved in the backyard of an old World War II double agent. ("So I'm a hero, right? Right?") With Daria and Ami in the gunners' positions, the "death plane" is shot down, and then there's a literal deus ex machina resolution and a rambling collection of farewells and conclusions... Things aren't quite over for our heroes, though, as Guerin included a considerable appendix repeating all the tidbits about Japan tossed into the story itself and going on from there, all of it filtered through what's at the very least a fair case of Japanophilia, and then he explains all his injokes. ("'In-jokes' - when the author blames the audience for not laughing.")

Of course, with all of that said (and there are some subplots I haven't even touched on yet), the nine veteran "MSTers" who worked on the MSTing contribute a lot to it, providing plenty of "riffs" (such a wealth of them that I've had trouble picking out more to quote here) and loads of "host segments," my favourites of which may be the competing terrorist messages played over "NHK" and the "Satellite of Love" summary of one particular chapter among many. In the riffing, Mike and the bots seem to take on an air of disconnection from the anime and Japanese parts of the story, with shadings from contempt to incomprehension; when compared to the typical "anime MSTing" of the time where there could be something of a weight of knowing just how things were off (something that often just got stronger with "non-standard MSTings"), this was sort of a refreshing change. The riffing did seem to have a greater air of that knowledge when it came to Daria, but again that worked even for me, and I hadn't seen any of the show at that point. (However, I did manage to find it on TV not that long after, intent on seeing what Guerin had got so wrong, and kept watching...) If it's true that great works of art have tragic flaws, though, then I have to admit that the MSTing has one at least for me. Having been released online in the spring of 2000 and no doubt having been worked on for months before, there are a few riffs getting in cheap shots at The Phantom Menace. However, where that sort of thing would usually kill my interest in a MSTing then and there (and, perhaps, has also kept me from getting into not only Rifftrax but also Cinematic Titanic), the good side of the scale for this work meant I was able to grind my teeth for a moment and then manage to move on. (It didn't take long before I had excised those riffs from my own copy anyway.)

Not that long after this MSTing was released, a MSTing of its direct sequel "The Return of the Lawndale Militia" arrived. While I suppose the stakes are a little lower and the insanity a little more familiar than in the original, I can admit that by the MSTing not happening to include my particular sticking point, I've at times wondered if I enjoyed the followup a little more. Then, when a MSTing of a third Peter Guerin story was announced, I felt confident enough in my developing skills to try and "give something back" and volunteered to help riff on "Triumph of the 'Retart'", memorable in its own unique way. In the process of that, I started dipping into Daria fanfics, and kept reading for a while until, years after the show had ended, I wound up with the feeling keeping up with all their accumulated "fanon" had become a full-time job and just sort of drifted away again. Before then, though, the MSTing community had dried up and my worried thought that at some point they would run out of Peter Guerin stories to tackle became a little ironic. Still, the MSTing of "The Misery Senshi Neo-Zero Double Blitzkrieg Debacle" exists, and as I've said, it just may be the greatest of them all.

October 2017

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