Baleen whales comprise the Mysticeti, one of two suborders of the mammalian order Cetacea, the other suborder being the Odontoceti, or toothed whales (dolphins, porpoises, and various whales). Baleen whales are characterized by having baleen plates for filtering food from water, rather than having teeth. They also differ from toothed whales in that they have two blowholes rather than one. Baleen whales also are known as whalebone whales or great whales.
Baleen whales are the largest whales, and include the world’s largest animal, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Filter feeders, they are generally seen as gentle animals, a sighting of which adds to the wonder of nature for humans. Their grace, intelligence, and massive size has led to their being celebrated in art, music, and literature. Yet, they have also been hunted excessively and have greatly declined. For example, blue whales were abundant in nearly all oceans until the beginning of the twentieth century, but over the course of forty years, were hunted nearly to extinction. Pressures continued to harvest whales even when the numbers were severely declined, but the human responsibility to better understand and conserve these animals had led to various protective measures by the late twentieth century.
The suborder Mysticeti contains four families and fourteen or fifteen species. The scientific name derives from the Greek word mystax, which means “mustache.”
Whales are members of the order Cetacea, which also includes dolphins and porpoises. Whales are the largest mammals, the largest vertebrates, and the largest known animals in the world. Like all mammals, whales breathe air into lungs, are warm-blooded, breast-feed their young, and have hair (although very little). Unlike fish, which breathe air using gills, whales breathe air through blowholes that lead into their lungs.
Cetaceans are divided into two suborders:
The baleen whales (Mysticeti) are characterized by baleen, a sieve-like structure in the upper jaw made of the tough, structural protein keratin. The baleen is used to filter plankton from the water. Baleen whales are also characterized by two blowholes.
The toothed whales (Odontoceti) have teeth and prey on fish, squid, marine mammals, and so forth. This suborder includes dolphins and porpoises as well as whales. An outstanding ability of this group is to sense their surrounding environment through echolocation. Toothed whales have only one blowhole. In addition to numerous species of dolphins and porpoises, this suborder includes the Beluga whale and the sperm whale, which may be the largest toothed animals to ever inhabit Earth.
Living Mysticeti species have teeth only during the embryonal phase. Fossil Mysticeti had teeth before baleen evolved.
Baleen whales are generally larger than toothed whales, and females are larger than males. This group comprises the largest living known animal species, the blue whale.
As in all whales, the body is fusiform, resembling the streamlined form of a fish. The forelimbs, also called flippers, are paddle-shaped. The end of the tail holds the fluke, or tail fins, which provide propulsion by vertical movement. Although whales generally do not possess hind limbs, baleen whales sometimes have rudimentary hind limbs; some even with feet and digits. Most species of whale bear a fin on their backs known as a dorsal fin.
Beneath the skin lies a layer of fat, the blubber. It serves as an energy reservoir and also as insulation. Whales have a four-chambered heart. The neck vertebrae are fused in most whales, which provides stability during swimming but at the expense of flexibility.
Baleen whales have two blowholes, causing a V-shaped blow. The shapes of whales’ spouts when exhaling from the blowholes after a dive, when seen from the right angle, differ between species. Whales have a unique respiratory system that lets them stay underwater for long periods of time without taking in oxygen.
In spite of their enormous mass, baleen whales are able to leap completely out of the water. Particularly known for their acrobatics are the humpback whales, but other baleen whales also break through the water surface with their body or beat it loudly with their fins. The reason for these habits is not known for certain.
In contrast to toothed whales, baleen whales are unlikely to echo-locate. Instead, they are able to produce high volume sounds in the infrasonic range. The calls of the largest whales can be heard several hundred kilometers away. Unique are the songs of the humpback whales, consisting of complex sequences that may slowly evolve over years. They are probably used for courting.
From the eleventh to the late twentieth centuries, baleen whales were hunted commercially for their oil and baleen. Their oil can be made into margarine and cooking oils. Baleen was used to stiffen corsets, as parasol ribs, and to crease paper.
Early baleen whales first appeared as far back as the Early Oligocene, or perhaps the latest Eocene (39-29 million years ago). Early baleen whales did not have (or had very little) baleen, and still had teeth obtained from their ancestors. Among them was Janjucetus, a baleen whale with sharp teeth that hunted fish, squid, large prey such as sharks, and probably dolphin-like cetaceans. This hints that early baleen whales were predatory and eventually evolved into the gentler, toothless whales known today. The first toothless baleen whales probably appeared in the Early or Middle Miocene, from a toothed ancestor that adapted from eating small fish or other creatures to, eventually, feed by filtering.
The anecdote that I think most faultlessly sums up everything there is to say about The Transformers: The Movie, a 1986 feature cartoon adapted from a television series based upon a toy line, is that the Hasbro toy company executives who paid for it and were very excited to see it usher in a new product line were completely unprepared for the outrageous backlash from upset fans and their parents when the series’ main character, a space robot who turns into a semi truck, was killed at the break between the first and second acts (the parents also had a separate backlash, when a film that could not possibly be more narrowly aimed at the 10-and-under set, in addition to killing off a beloved character, had another character yell “oh, shit!”). This tells us the two most important things: first, obviously, that the Hasbro people had absolutely no interest in this film as anything whatsover other than product. It has been noted many times that American children’s television animation in the 1980s, much more that at any other period in history, was dominated by advertisements: many of the best-loved cartoon series were thinly-veiled toy commercials and sometimes “thinly-veiled” would be paying them a compliment. The Transformers, which aired 98 episodes between 1984 and 1987 (the film was released, and took place, between the second and third seasons), is not the most egregious of these, though it may be the most recognisable, and certainly has had the longest cultural footprint.
None of which should distract from the point: it is a toy commercial, and anything else it might do was a second-order priority in comparison. For Hasbro and their Japanese partners at Takara, the reason to do a movie was less for the sake of the movie, than for having a grand-scale clearance event ushering out the old toys and announcing the even better new toys that you could go right to the store and buy on your way home from the theater. That anybody would care about this toy commercial enough to bother having a backlash at all was simply not part of their calculation. So that’s what we’re dealing with: not merely a product for which artistry wasn’t expected, it is maybe fair to call it a product from which artistry was deliberately banished.
The other thing the anecdote tells is that, despite, this, people did care, and there was a backlash because of just how much people cared. So surely there must be something going on here.
And for sure, there’s definitely something. I’m not going to pretend that The Transformers: The Movie isn’t precisely what it is: it’s selling a product. One cannot help but notice the way that every character is referred to by their given name repeatedly, especially when we’re meeting them for the first time, the better to remember which one is which when Mom is helping you look on the higher store shelves. Not to mention that the new toys are all introduced, while the old toys simply show up as though we’ll know exactly who they are. Having long since mislaid the ancient memories that would tell me exactly who they are, I confess to finding much of The Transformers almost mystifying in how damn little sense it makes; it’s a constant barrage of visual, auditory, and narrative information that feels like it’s sweeping us away on a tidal wave more than presenting a chain of events for us to follow. In principle this must work out properly, since I’m certain that this didn’t bother me as a five-year-old, but all these years into adulthood, I am more just kind of stunned and dazzled – not even in a bad way – by the unrelenting speed with which the 84-minute feature races through plot points and new narrative sequences.
So while I can say that the story (credited to only one writer, Ron Friedman, but clearly this must have been the work of many notes from many executives in boardrooms on both sides of the Pacific) broadly describes how the Autobots, the good alien robots that mostly transform into land vehicles, are forced to temporarily pause their war with the Decepticons, the bad alien robots that mostly transform into air vehicles, because of the arrival of a robot that transforms into a planet that eats other planets, I am not completely certain that I could tell you how every single piece of the film fits into that arc. I can at least tell you that it does so without belaboring itself, which is why this is still an improvement over the series of similarly hectic but also achingly long movies directed by Michael Bay starting in 2007 with Transformers and ending ten years later with Transformers: The Last Knight (though I would put it below 2018’s prologue/coda Bumblebee). Plus, The Transformers: The Movie generally has clear visuals showcasing its robot-on-robot action, which is another reason to push it above the Bay movies.
That’s starting to get us in the direction of what actually does work about the film, which is mostly that director Nelson Shin and Toei’s animation director Morishita Kozo appear to have been fairly unique in that they seem to have taken it seriously. Shin had worked on The Transformers, both with the Korean studio AKOM Production, Ltd, the company he founded, and with the better-heeled Japanese studio Toei Animation, who handled the bulk of the animation on this project, and The Movie was the first time he and AKOM had real money to play with (it had a budget somewhere around six times what it cost to produce the equivalent number of minutes of the show). This means, please understand, that the movie cost in the neighborhood of $5 million, which even in 1986 dollars was a ludicrously tiny amount of cash. But it was a lot for a toy commercial that had all of its production done in Korea and Japan as a money-saving venture, and Shin clearly viewed it as a license to push himself and his animators to the edge of their abilities. The result is surely the best-looking, most ambitious of all the cheap-ass animated features of the 1980s. Certainly, it mops the floor with fellow Hasbro toy adaptations My Little Pony: The Movie (which preceded it into theaters by a couple of months) and G.I. Joe: The Movie (which, in light of the terrible financial losses of both My Little Pony and The Transformers, end up going straight to video in 1987). There’s no obvious reason for this – those two films were mostly made by the same production teams drawn from Toei and AKOM (though My Little Pony was created on an extraordinary time crunch). But they were both directed by Americans, and I wonder if that’s part of the difference: in those films, the animation was clearly just being done to fill an order, whereas with The Transformers, Shin got to have a real creative voice.
A limited creative voice, to be sure (again, toy commercial), but it seems to have been enough. The Transformers: The Movie isn’t the finest work of animation that you could see coming out of East Asia in 1986 (for reference, that was the year that Miyazaki Hayao directed the first Studio Ghibli production, Castle in the Sky), but one gets the sense that Shin and Morishita wanted to create something special. This is a shockingly kinetic film: the virtual camera flings itself through spaces that seem to twist and turn along with our perspective, moving around characters who have been drawn with a startling amount of shading and texturing. Some of these moments are there to add realism; some are there to emphasise the dramatic turns of the story, as one particularly complicated turn that moves down to the ground, and pivots slightly around a character as he makes a decision to movie into the next phase of the action. Sometimes, I assume, it’s just because it looks extremely cool, and allows Shin to show off the giant robots to look as iconic as the comic book superheroes that, in a sense, they were (comics published by Marvel were part of the overall Transformers multimedia empire, and Marvel is in fact a co-producer on this film).
Whatever motivates its, the fact remains that The Transformers: The Movie is the unquestionable high-water mark of visual sophistication and ambition for anything produced by television animation’s Axis of Terror in the 1980s: DIC Entertainment, Filmation, and Sunbow Entertainment (the latter of which handled all of Hasbro’s animated properties, including The Transformers). It invests in creating an elaborate sci-fi world, set in the unimaginable future of 2005, 20 years later than the first two seasons of the show; it treats that world as the backdrop for busy visual setpieces, especially in the first third of the movie or so. It wants to be taken seriously as a science-fiction action epic, bless its dear heart. This explains, I imagine, the elevated stakes involved in straight-up killing the protagonist and introducing swears; and perhaps the wall-to-wall heavy metal and rock soundtrack (some of which has gone on to become a generational touchstone) that frequently threatens to overwhelm the whole movie as some kind of strange music video. It also explains the film’s astonishingly packed cast of famous people who obviously didn’t know what the fuck they were doing. These include Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy (who had the cheesy sci-fi background to kind of know what he was doing, and so he gives by far the best performance of the “names”), and notoriously, as the planet-eating robot himself, Orson Welles, in the final performance of his lifetime, when his voice had become so ravaged that he had to have his performance heavily distorted in post production. Which raises the question of why bothering to hire him at all. Unsurprisingly, the best work is done by actual professional voice actors, notably series mainstays Peter Cullen (who opens the movie by having a conversation with himself, and it’s adorably unconvincing), Frank Welker, and Chris Latta. Cullen’s work as the fatherly robot Optimus Prime is the heart and soul of the whole franchise, and I am sure it’s more due to his rich purring voice than anything else that the character’s death was such a big deal; this isn’t a franchise built to have emotional resonance, and any amount it has comes from that man’s vocal chords.
At any rate, the attempts to “open up” The Transformers: The Movie as an ambitious work of animation clearly didn’t pan out: the film lost money and killed off Sunbow and Hasbro’s dreams of feature films, and you’ve probably never heard about Nelson Shin or his AKOM Production unless you like to watch the end credits of bad-looking episodes ’80s and ’90s American animated television shows. But it’s always a nice treat when something that had no reason to be any good at all puts in that unnecessary effort. Simply put, this looks good, and parts of it are visually exciting, and for a non-Disney animated feature in the mid-1980s, that’s pretty huge.
Comic line, making fun of the US Army in Europe in WWII. There was a good humoured banter between the GIs that were stationed in Britain prior to and during WWII and the British citizenry. The GIs had a come-back – calling the Brits, “underpaid, undersexed and under Eisenhower”.
Conditions were harsh in Britain in the early 1940s and there was also an undercurrent of unease that was conveyed by the phrase, especially amongst British men, who resented the attraction of GIs, with their ready supply of nylons and cigarettes, amongst British women. The English artist Beryl Cook, who was in her late teens at the time, later made this observation in a broadcast interview: ‘food was scarce, but we supplemented our income by a little impromptu whoring with the GIs – we all did it’. What was meant by whoring there isn’t clear and it may just have been a reference to flirtatious dalliance in exchange for nylons and chocolate. Indeed, many of these liaisons were love matches rather than commercial transactions, as the thousands of marriages between US servicemen and British women (the GI brides) is evidence of.
The line was also used in Australia, in much the same context, although appearances of it in newspapers there post-date those in Britain and the USA.
The phrase was popularized by Tommy Trinder (1909-1989), a well-known and well-liked English comedian (seen here with Phil Silvers). His version of the line which, although he gave it wide circulation was probably coined by someone else, was “overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here”. Other variants also appeared at the time, for example “oversexed, overpaid and overbearing”.
Strangely, since there can’t have been anyone over the age of ten in Britain at the end of the war who wasn’t familiar with the phrase, it appears very seldom in print. The earliest reference I have found is in a US newspaper The Miami Daily News, April 1944:
In London the story is being told of an American official who was anxious to discover the nature of the British complaints against the American soldiers based there. He finally asked one Britisher:
“What do you think is wrong with the American soldiers?”
The Britisher answered:
“Well, they’re overdressed, they’re overpaid, they’re oversexed, and they’re over here.”
Given that the expression is British it must have been in use there prior to it finding its way to America. It can’t have been much earlier though as the USA didn’t enter the war in Europe until 1943.
There’s a lot about the Pokémon series that makes it interesting to discuss, but the thing that stood out to me above all else when I played through the original instalments – Red Version and Blue Version – was how impressive of a technical accomplishment they are. I love to see great things achieved in the face of major limitations, and for games, limitations don’t get much more major than being developed for the original Game Boy – a handheld platform from 1989 with a black-and-white, 160×144 screen that was already seven years old at the time of these games’ release. Not only did these games go on to collectively become the best-selling game on the platform bar the pack-in port of Tetris and kick off one of the biggest pop culture phenomena the modern world had ever seen, but they also manage to be fleshed-out, fully-featured titles that hold up even to this day thanks to solid battle mechanics, a varied and detailed world, and, at the core of it, really good creature designs that pull a fair chunk of the weight in making me want to explore that world.
Sure, there are some sub-par designs in the mix, but the major advantage that Red and Blue have over their successors is the concentration of Pokémon that are not only interesting and full of enough personality to make me want to use them, but also fit within a coherent style well enough that you’ll never run into something and feel like you’ve stepped into a whole new game. This is a problem that a lot of players, new and old, seem to have with the most recent instalments – any specific period of the series’ lifespan carries with it a distinct style, and where later games mash together a selection of them from different games, this pair have the original 150 and that’s it. Even if there’s a weaker character design in there, it at least fits in with those around it in a way that means that even if it’s ugly or boring, it’s never jarring. I love how much the Kanto Region’s cast of characters work well together in this way, but even more than that I love how every bit of personality that is conveyed through these colourful designs is done with tiny, low-resolution and totally immobile sprites. Every time an exciting new species appears it activates a little neuron in the 10-year-old boy brain that’s never far from the surface of my own, and it all just speaks to how much Game Freak’s art team was able to do with so little that even after playing all of the series’ 3D titles, I still get so much joy out of these tiny sprites and their horrible screeches.
This would all be for naught if Red and Blue weren’t fun games, and bar a few little frustrations (including some that the series never quite shook off), they are. It feels far less like a game that can be mastered than the later entries, given the scarcity of items and the limited variety of techniques that each Pokémon can actually learn. Most of the roster have their effectiveness tied to the availability of TMs – rare, single-use items that teach a single, powerful attack to a compatible Pokémon, which incentivises thoughtful planning and forces you to agonise over who you actually want to have in your party of six.
Most of the game’s enemies are pushovers, and all except for the recurring ‘rival’ use entire teams of a single type, meaning that fights aren’t so much about tactically switching Pokémon to maintain a favourable matchup as they are about coming in with a balanced enough team that you always have somebody who can completely sweep the opponent’s team with little hassle. I’ll admit that this is my biggest frustration with these games. I cultivated a team of six fairly powerful guys, and although I didn’t go with the ones that everybody knows are ridiculously strong (think Alakazam, Snorlax, etc.), I still found myself absolutely pounding through every boss until the very end. This is obviously a side effect of the rock-paper-scissors concept being developed alongside the game itself, which is also clearly the reason why almost every boss in the game specialises in a type, but it really does make longer areas like the late-game water routes or the Team Rocket hideout feel like a chore, as each is just a long series of battles against trainers whose entire teams will be swept easily by the same handful of attacks.
The thing that’s always gotten me excited about these games is the sense of exploration, though. Not only in the literal sense – although Red and Blue do have a nice set of dungeons and abandoned buildings just waiting to be spelunked – but also in the sense that you always get to feel like you’re discovering something new. The Kanto Region is carefully laid out in such a way that certain areas – like the sprawling central metropolis of Saffron City – are locked off until you’ve sufficiently explored the surrounding plains, and you’d be surprised by how much variety a series of rural roads can have, even on the Game Boy. Every location, no matter how commonplace or unassuming, manages to feel like a new experience to the last, to the point where you can identify a location from a screenshot with no other information, despite the fact that the game uses a very limited set of assets. Another thing that helps is the way that despite mostly just spouting a random line about the area you’re in or a fourth-wall breaking gameplay tip, NPCs will occasionally gift you with incredibly valuable items or offer to trade you for a rare and powerful Pokémon. These people are sprinkled just thickly enough throughout Kanto’s population that it feels worthwhile to explore every nook and cranny of cities just in case something spectacular might be waiting in a random house. This also helps to make the player feel like they’re doing something in the game’s populated areas, where battles are few and far between and wild Pokémon are virtually absent.
This leads me into the final, most subjective thing that I want to discuss about this game, and that’s the way it dealt with dishing out legendary Pokémon. If you’re not familiar, a legendary Pokémon is an incredibly powerful Pokémon that usually appears in a single, scripted encounter and then can’t be found elsewhere. Where later games incorporate these encounters into the story or even just give you the Pokémon as a reward for finishing side content, Red and Blue simply have their four legendaries sitting around in the deepest part of four different caves. Nobody tells you that they’re in there, so the only reason you would encounter them is if you were exploring for exploration’s sake, and finding one of these guys for the first time fires off the greatest dopamine hit my lizard brain has ever experienced, especially given the exhilarating and challenging battle that you’ll need to carefully plan out if you want to have any hope of snagging one of these bad boys.The legendary encounters are the brightest feather in Red and Blue’s cap, and that’s honestly a cap I like a great deal, because it’s a cap that’s about exploration and discovery above all else. Playing these games can be bittersweet given how comfortable its successors have gotten with linear corridors and the complete stripping out of anything remotely challenging, but if you’re into this kind of game enough to be willing to try something as dated and technically limited as this, I do genuinely think that this is one of the best games on the Game Boy. It’s easy to see why this game exploded the way it did and why the cultural ramifications of that explosion are still being felt today.