Some of my favourite MSTings

This is a non-exclusive list of some of my favourite MSTings, works I've particularly enjoyed reading and frequently returned to. The first three also help explain how I became interested in MSTings in general.

MST3K: Detective, by C.E. Forman

This MSTing is original and nearly unique. It's an interactive MSTing, a careful reconstruction of a shoddily designed and poorly written mystery adventure game. Entertaining commentary is added move by move as you stumble towards solving a murder with little to get in the way other than sudden, unexpected, and frequent violent death. (One useful hint is to become familiar with the command "UNDO.")

The MSTing also happens to be both the first I ever encountered and my real introduction to the show itself. I discovered it in a package of entries in the First Annual Interactive Fiction Competition, and found it simply a lot of fun. Some positive reviews of the game that talked about its inspiration in passing but in detail made me more familiar with the show, although perhaps that helps to explain why I didn't rush to seek out more information on it. (Later on, the fact that this game was my first introduction to the concept made its particular version of the show's constantly changing cast a kind of default for me, and ultimately influenced the choices that populated my own MSTings.)

Experiencing this particular MSTing does of course require basic knowledge of how to play text adventures, and it makes some references to the history of interactive fiction up to the mid-1990s. I don't believe it would be impenetrable to a novice, though. Beyond that, the only comment approaching criticism I can make is that only a handful of other interactive MSTings have been written, and they aren't nearly as much fun as this game.

A Galaxy Not So Far Away, by Amy Ashton

A convenient supernova just happens to throw the heroes and villians of the Star Wars saga (circa the middle of Return of the Jedi) into the Star Trek universe (circa the end of The Next Generation and the beginning of Deep Space Nine.) The story doesn't play games hinging on which particular franchise is its author's favourite, but then very little that could be described as exciting happens in it either. Responding smartly to the endless meetings and discussions and the ludicrously short yet still ripped-off battles, the riffing manages along the way to insult just about every character from all three properties. In that very broadness, though, it still comes off as entertaining.

I happened on a crosspost of this MSTing some months after playing MST3K: Detective, and enjoyed it as well (even though its conclusion wasn't included, which would have given me a better sense earlier on of how protean the show was.) Afterwards, I would occasionally find other MSTings, although I wasn't quite fully indoctrinated in them yet. That would happen soon enough.

Robotech III: The Odysseus Epic, by Mark Sachs

As Mark Sachs himself once wrote:

Action, intrigue, romance, danger, love, comedy, tragedy, fresh fruit, and that uniquely science fictional "Sense of Wonder" -- all of these things are missing from this story, and yet there is so much, much more that it lacks as well.

What helps make this MSTing really memorable to me, though, is that before finding it, I had been mildly obsessed with the larger story excerpted in it. I couldn't make much sense of "The Odysseus Epic," and yet I kept reading and rereading it, sure it had to hold a coherent tale of space war that could be deciphered from its jumble of plots and characters randomly introduced and dropped undeveloped. (Just as an aside, one of the characters in the MSTing was introduced sufficiently early and put through enough that I was sure she had to be the main character, the one whose tale was worth telling. You'd never tell from what was excerpted, though, and I don't ask you to try and figure it out.)

When I came across the Anime Web Turnpike and began exploring its list of fanfic sites, I was sufficiently familiar with MSTings to immediately be curious about a site of anime MSTings. At the time, the Vault of Anime MSTings was under the first of its several names, and didn't have many works in it. Among them, the MSTing of "The Odysseus Epic" caught and held my eye. I was interested, and yet after all of the effort I'd put into trying to understand the original, I was also somewhat apprehensive. Happily, I never had the sense the MSTing had in any way managed to detect and belittle my own peculiar and personal connection to the story. In fact, after enjoying the MSTing, my compulsion to understand the original was gone. I thought of that as a public service, and the fact I was now devoted to seeking out new MSTings was nice too.

This MSTing might be called a "semi-standard" MSTing, which had a brief heyday before "non-standard" MSTings really started cropping up. The anime character Belldandy (from "Oh My Goddess!") not only boards the Satellite of Love, but actually riffs along with the characters. Her traditional polite niceness seems to keep her from saying an awful lot, though. Mark Sachs addressed this in his equally entertaining MSTing of "Justice and Mercy" by not just bringing in a more sarcastic character from the same anime, the goddess Urd, but also by having her temporarily replace Mike.

The Eye of Argon, by Adam Cadre

Moving from the personal to the general, this MSTing would likely make most fans' lists of favourites, and for good reason. The original story, a ludicrously written hack-and-slash fantasy adventure, was a ridiculous legend well before the MSTing was written, something acknowledged before the MST3K characters confront it to occasionally seem as overwhelmed as any other reader. (The somewhat dark conclusion that results from this is touched on briefly at the beginning of Adam Cadre's next MSTing, "Book Ads." In its own way, it anticipates the catharsis later provided by a recently discovered conclusion of the original.) Adam Cadre went on to other things, but "The Eye of Argon" remains a classic MSTing. It's been crossposted enough that it may endure beyond all others, and because the story in it isn't based on a previous movie or TV show, it can be an excellent introduction to MSTings for most people as well.

Agent Action!, by Bill Livingston

MSTings have handled movies on their own, usually by tackling scripts. There's no script for Agent Action!, and reasonable doubt as to whether the film even exists. The newsgroup spam that provides this MSTing's "bot fodder," though, goes to such ridiculous lengths trying to promote the movie to make memorable both the MSTing and Agent Action! itself, with its "naked, big-breasted actresses" guaranteeing critical and box-office success for its writer, director, and star William Blair. The MSTing also includes a fun mini-spam apparently attempting to raise the profile of every single third-party candidate in the American presidential elections and a host segment poking fun at the summer movies of 1997. This may help date the MSTing, but the movies aren't treated with the vague sense of bitterness and betrayal that can infect many MSTings when dealing with similar films.

BGC OVA, by Steve Kramer

This is one of the earlier anime MSTings, and as such could almost serve as a type specimen for many of the works that followed. The plot of the rather blandly named story in the MSTing retells the beginning of the historic Bubblegum Crisis anime, with the not insignificant change of a male character managing to join the all-female Knight Sabres in a dubious and contrived fashion. He then shows off his tragic past, edgy and rebellious nature, overdone equipment, and ability to charm women into a relationship, without ever establishing any of it beyond that which was invoked by authorial fiat. Short but entertaining, this MSTing is the source of two catchphrases which showed up in later BGC MSTings.

That's Just Peanuts to Space, by Joseph Nebus

Crossovers often treat their sources lightly, and the more skewed examples of this have made for some entertaining MSTings. Crossovers can also take things far more seriously than the originals did, though, and this in turn has provided "bot fodder" for some truly memorable MSTings. In this crossover between Peanuts and Doctor Who, some of the distinguishing features of the comic strip are presented as to seem unnatural, and then explained in a decidedly bleak way. Having included Peanuts references in many of his MSTings, Joseph Nebus treats the situation with both disbelief and humour.

Dale Goes Nuts!, by John Nowak and Matt Plotecher

Fanfics with skewed takes on furry-animal action-adventure cartoons have been inspiration for some interesting MSTings. Most of them are of "Sonic the Hedgehog" stories, but there have been some highly amusing "Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers" MSTings as well. This particular fanfic is less grim than the lengthy works John Nowak and Matt Plotecher MSTed earlier (although the "John" in Deep 13 was introduced in those dark works), and shorter than their later MSTing of the dime novel "Tom Swift and his War Tank." The story is still distinctively suited to make a MSTing, though, and includes a cluster of new Rescue Rangers who come out of nowhere to more or less run things, one particularly and amusingly arrogantly so.

Death Laughs at Walls, by Christopher Shea

The films shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000 spanned fifty years of B-movie history, and the different periods and attitudes captured in them were often satirized by the show. In contrast, the fanfics used in MSTings are usually fairly recent. There have been several memorable MSTings of old stories, though. The pulp detective story "Death Laughs at Walls" is genuinely and entertainingly bad, as the distinctively named Digby Gresham conducts a thorough yet poorly written investigation but doesn't get around to mentioning his necessary clues until after he makes his arrest.

The Black Island, by Tarl Roger Kudrick

This is another pulp magazine MSTing, of a horror story this time. The truly horrific thing about the original, though, just may be its exceedingly bland version of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, meandering towards a less than overwhelming revelation of cosmic evil while dropping apparently significant names all the way. The riffing can be a bit hard on the story's ostensible if rather inactive protagonist, but then it also offers skewed takes on all the other lightly developed characters too. As a plus, the MSTing doesn't demand an advanced knowledge of Lovecraft's works to enjoy its humour. However, it did do more for me than a whole series of sniffy academic prefaces to explain just why those very prefaces are so sniffy about the mere idea of the Cthulhu Mythos being extended by other authors.

The Jane's Crisis Tetralogy, by Brendan Herlihy

After a short series of MSTings stretching the boundaries of "semi-standard" MSTings and including a few especially offbeat "non-standard" casts while experimenting with unusual source material, Brendan Herlihy moved on to a more standard MSTing (which did include a brief glance back to his earlier work). The four linked Daria fanfics, like Peter Guerin's memorably distinctive stories, are often disturbing, but unfortunately in a more conventional way. At times, the riffing itself seems able only to cringe at the stories' bland presentation of sexual assault and its consequences. This, though, doesn't stop the MSTing from neatly and hilariously puncturing the stories' detached ridiculousness and inanely cool new character.

Neon Exodus Evangelion 1:9, by Mystery Octagon Theater

To those who know about it, Neon Exodus Evangelion is a highly polarising work. Those steeped in the traditions of Eyrie Productions and those who dislike the anime it was based on (and a familiarity with the ultimately omnicompetent and successful hero figures of Eyrie could well produce unhappiness with Neon Genesis Evangelion) acclaim it as a story that makes a bleak and nihilistic anime fun through the simple expedient of introducing a confident hero who solves problems and redeems his companions in a world imaginatively combining numerous inspirations. Those who appreciate the original Neon Genesis Evangelion and those displeased by fictional characters who dominate through authorial fiat stories they weren't even part of to begin with decry it as a farce that apparently misses whole layers of meaning and value from its tragic inspiration for the sake of puffing up a ludicrous overachiever absurdly overequipped for the challenges he belittles by brushing off, who warps the original characters into his cheering section, and who in his own parentage reflects the story's mismatched grab-bag of gratuitous references. The two sides barely acknowledge each other, and mostly show mutual incomprension when they do happen to meet.

With its long familarity with less polished wish-fulfilment fantasies piled atop previously existing stories, the MSTing community perhaps naturally enough wound up viewing Neon Exodus Evangelion as fanfiction gone wrong. Tackling the chapters generally held to be the most egregious, the MSTings of the first third of the story do perhaps never quite pithily sum up the point they're trying to make, either. Through plain accretion of riffs, though, they're simply funny. One particularly good instalment is Mystery Octagon Theater's completion of the cycle. In their typically eccentric style, the riffers poke at the slighty overdone writing of the story and the uninterrupted string of success of the infamous DJ Croft as he piles up honours, charms the good and infuriates the unpleasant, and overpowers the challenges of the original anime almost as an overthought. For more sharply amusing responses to Neon Exodus Evangelion, the MSTings of the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters (by the particular MSTing team that tackled most of the series) are also good.

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