all flash, no subtance – Movie Critique: Ender’s Game

Ender's_Game_posterTitle: Ender’s Game
Genre: Sci-fi
Director: Gavin Wood
Studio(s): Chartoff Productions, Taleswapper ,OddLot Entertainment, K/O Paper Products, Digital Domain
Original Release: November 1, 2013
Running time: 114 minutes


 

Synopsis:

Fifty years prior, an alien species called the Formics attacks Earth, killing millions, but the invasion is ended by a commander (Mazer Rackham) who rams his ship into an alien vessel, stopping the rest of their fleet. In response to the attack, humanity trains gifted children to become commanders. Cadet Andrew “Ender” Wiggin draws the attention of Colonel Hyrum Graff and Major Gwen Anderson.


 

Review:

When approaching this film, it is hard to avoid the burden that it bears. Both from being a very popular novel (which I shall critique & condemn later) & the issues that the author Orson Scott Card stirred up with his pathetic rants against homosexuality & civil rights. The irony & hypocrisy of which I shall address in the later book review, so for now we shall focus on this adaptation & the burden that it brings.

Yet this burden is not one I can be bothered to bear, so I shall speak what I believe.

& that is: like the book before it, this film is simple & it is BORING.

There is no other or simpler way to put it really.

The film plays it straight to the source, dazzles with shiny CGI & yet it is boring.

But before we get into all that, there is one thing that I must address.

WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH BEN KINGSLEY’S ACCENT IN THIS?!

I love him as an actor but that is honestly the worst New Zealand Maori accent I’ve ever heard!

Why couldn’t they have gotten Temuera Morrison for the role. He would’ve been perfect & he has the blood accent!

No matter. On with the review.

I spent 3 years as part of my under-graduate degree at university specialising in Novel to Film adaptation classes, so it is an area that I know better than most. There is no fault with writer/director Gavin Hood’s use of the source material -for the most part- yet like the novel (which was adapted from an ever evolving short story) it is bare & being bare makes it boring.

The main issue is the brevity with which the story is told & develops.

There is meant to be a deadline point, an urgent need to turn Ender Wiggin from a smart little boy into a military genius but you do not feel the urgency of this need or the force of the threat throughout the entire film. Weeks & months are jumped without notice, so you’d honestly think that the film was taking place over the course of a few days. The sudden shifts in the Battle School point this out, as Ender if pushed up the ranks so quickly that you don’t know why. This could have easily been solved by something as cliched as a date bottom up in one of the corners or a count down timer, so it boggles one as to why they didn’t decide to go with this as a way to clarify chronology.

The other issue within the Battle School is so much time is spent building up to these training battles, explaining the rules & showing us the arena but there are only 2 actually battles within the film. I know that CGI is expensive & they couldn’t keep doing battle scenes because would drag the film out & make it boring for the audience (no slamming of the sloped brows in this writing session). Yet the Battle School was meant to show that Ender is a tactical genius but all we have to go by is being told by Graff & others that Ender is smart & the last great hope for humanity & that’s pretty much it.

That whole point that underscore the entire film really.

Why the acting is for the most part passable, there is no time spent developing characters. Especially Ender’s antagonists within the Battle School, such as Bonzo. All we get from Bonzo is that he is short & because he is short, he is a bully who wants to be obeyed. Every scene he is in, his lack of height & physical unattractiveness (based upon white middle American perceptions) is overplayed yet does not bring in any sense of threat. Some quips are made before his untimely exit about his father yet no previous mention of his father being of rank in the military is mentioned prior to that point.

Much seems cut out from the film, which plays to sloppy continuity editing really.

Many themes & ideas go under developed or ignored.

Especially the titular game that Ender plays in his free time.

In the novel it is his psychological dependence as well as the Deus Ex Machina for the end.

Within the film, we only get the latter without much build up.

I don’t mind that they cut how the whole Peter & Valentine (Ender’s older siblings) subplot because that was all needless political stuff & has no baring at all over Ender’s story arc but if they weren’t going to emphasis Peter’s cruelness & Valentine’s kindness beyond a few token scenes, why not cut them out film entirely?

Well, that would change a lot of character of Ender, so better to have them briefly if not at all but they could’ve done a bit more to show the impact that they had on Ender & how he views the world. Especially his desperate need not to be a homicidal sociopath like Peter, who kills because he can. There needed to be far more embellishment of Ender’s empathy beyond Graff, again, stating that he has it.

So, quick formula to close the review: lack of tension + lack of development + shiny CGI + rushed plot = fairly boring film.

No other way around it, children, it’s a boring film & not really worth your time unless you adore the book (in which case: you’ll hate it & have other issues in your life anyway).

Twists, Turns & Curves but not Confusing – Anime Review: ⌈K⌋

k-anime_oTitle: ⌈K⌋ (K Project, King Project, Kings)
Format: anime series
Genre: supernatural, fantasy, action, comedy
Series Creator: GoRa
Series Director: Shingo Suzuki
Studio: GoHands
Series length: 13 eps
Original Airing dates: October 5, 2012 – December 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray
Distributer: Madman


Synopsis:

Yashiro Isana has lived a relatively ordinary, simple life. He lives in the technologically-advanced Shizume City and attends Ashinaka High School, a notable high school that is located on an island just outside the areas. Yashiro is friendly with everyone. Nothing ever seems wrong about him, except perhaps his habit of forgetting where his school-issued PDA is. However, nothing normal has been happening since the recent murder of Tatara Totsuka, prominent member of the infamous HOMRA. No one knows who exactly killed him but the man responsible bears an uncanny, identical appearance to Yashiro. Seeking vengeance, the Red Clansmen of HOMRA set out to get Yashiro and kill him. Everyone suspects that Yashiro is the murderer. Isana Yashiro was not the person who killed Tatara Totsuka but yet another mysterious character is pulling the strings behind the curtains, a person who is quite dangerous and powerful.


Review:

Two years ago I came to this mysterious series through nothing but an action based trailer but ⌈K⌋ quickly became one of my favourite anime series of the past decade.

The primary reason for this is because it mentally challenged me & kept me guessing as to what happened before we entered the narrative & what actually is going on. To me, this is a rarity because I’m so well versed in narratives that I often guess what will happen from gleaming tiny bits of information & whilst I figured out a lot of what was meant to be happening, it still cleverly kept me engaged & wanting to know more & more until the true unfurling of the background of things. This series is by no means perfect -which will be addressed later- but narratively speaking it is exceptionally clever & fairly original in many ways.

One reason as to why is because you are drip feed information & clues that are more easily picked up in later viewings. Nothing is deliberately obscured or confusing, there is a strong internal logic within the series, even if it is not always apparent at first glance. There rules & exceptions are set forth along with the draw backs of power & what lies outside of the defined Clans & Domains (& that which isn’t explained in the series is later explained in the various manga & Light Novel spinoffs).

The story literally begins in two parts.
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The first is of two superpowered & warring Clans, who serve under the Red King & the Blue King respectively. You are given absolutely no context as to their powers & why the Red Clan (who call themselves Homra or HMR) are on a rampage in a American mafia office or why the Blues (also referred to as Scepter 4) wish to stop them. You are only given clues to their natures in how they are depicted. The Reds are dressed in Street Punk & Hip Hop Gangsta clothing, using street weapons as well as the power of flames & fire, whilst the Blues are all in matching uniforms, based loosely around 18th century European military style, completely with sabres & rapiers for combat, wielding blue energy slashes & shields.
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After this confrontation between the wild Reds & the ordered Blues, we jump to the other part of the story.

Which is based around the cliched, idyllic futurists mega-school built upon an artificial island that does so seem to dominated so much sci-fi anime. Yet it is a cliche & a set up that serves the story well & so much better than other recent series who used the same trope (looking at you again Valvrave the Liberator!). It is meant to be a juxtaposition to the (yet) unexplained supernatural nature of the early confrontation between the Clans by presenting the viewer with something familiar and relatable as well as introducing us to the central protagonist, Isana Yashiro, or simple Shiro (White) to his friends. He is seen as a carefree trickster, getting free food from his schoolmates as his classmate Kukuri tries to both control his behaviour & get him to eat healthily, yet she is completely unable to explain her need to care for him.
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It is only when Kukuri sends Shiro on an errand for the school council that the two halved narratives collide & the idea of sides, powers & the various Clans are begun to be woven together.

This is because Homra believe that Shiro, claiming to be the 7th & Colourless King, murdered their clansman (& the cohesion of their group) Tatara. So they chase Shiro until the Black Hound, vassal to the former Colourless King, Yatogami Kuroh (or Kuro [Black]) rescues Shiro, only to vow to execute him on the spot for his crimes.

& this is all within the 1st episode!

The plot moves at a fairly fast pace, with little wastage -even in the slightly stupid chase scene between Shiro & Kuroh in the 2nd episode where the strange character Neko (who switches between being a cat & a naked girl [will address that in a moment]) uses her powers to confound Kuroh in his pursuit.

There is little exposition from the characters, instead weaving in flashbacks throughout the narrative to establish past relationships & how things got as they are between the various clans. Even the concern between the rival Kings of Red -Mikoto- & Blue -Munakata- & trying to avert a repeat of the never really explained (in the anime) Kagutsu Crater Incident. In fact, the majority of character development is done by flipping between past & present yet you don’t get to know many of the characters outside of their physical appearances & habits during the course of the series.

The characters are a strange dichotomy in so far as the male characters seemed to be designed for or by fujoshi whilst the female characters (the few that there are) seemed to have been designed for & by horny teenage boys.

Yes, now I shall beat my usual hypersexualisation drum!

Outside of Kukuri, there are only three other female characters who appear in the major of episodes. They are Neko, who protects Shiro around, Scepter 4’s 2nd-in-Command Awashima Sera and Homra’s mascot & gothic lolita Anna Kushina.

Out of the 3, only Anna isn’t sexualised in any way. She is only portrayed as an imouto (little sister) style character who is an emotional anchor for the Red King Mikoto so he doesn’t destroy himself through over using his powers.
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When we first see Neko, she is totally stark naked -with only her long hair covering her nipples (which you never see during the series). In fact, she totally shuns clothing where she can & is seen during the ending credits starkers as the camera pans up her naked, prone body. Yet Neko plays a central part within the story & can even be seen as a driver of much of the plot. She is loyal to Shiro, claiming that he belongs to her, but she doesn’t try to sexually posses him or dominate him. She acts very much like a cat owning a human, especially in her constant demands for food & attention.

Awashima on the other hand is always in her uniform (or otherwise fully attired) but she might as well not be, since her body is so emphasised in a sexual way. Whenever she uses her special sword slash attack, the camera starts at her barely covered arse & twists around her massive boobs up to her cold face. This happens every time (though more because they want to save money by reusing the same footage) & almost every other shot incorporates her barely covered backside or boobs in some way. She too has narrative drive & is a force to be reckoned with in battle. She is even given the strange quirk of adding Red Beans Paste to almost everything she eats & drinks -much to the disgust of everyone around her.

Even Kukuri isn’t spared the sexualisation & is used for the occasional incidental pantie-shot (which is more disturbing than just focussing on a characters tits in a way).

It is very much unneeded or even undemanded in my view yet is somehow balanced & counteracted (but not enough) by the fujoshi fan service.

Amongst the paired male cast, there always seems to be a weird sexual tension. With Shiro even blushing in Kuroh’s presence & embrace whenever he is being saved. Shiro even jokingly refers to Kuroh as his ‘wife’ after Kuroh makes him & Neko lunch for school. There is a far more brutal sexual tension between Mikoto & Munakata as well as something fairly disturbing between formerly friends & clansmen Yata & Fushimi.

In fact, the entire male cast seems to run the typical gamut of yaoi (Boy’s Love) tropes. From the feminine Shiro to the cold but protective Kuroh, the wild but emotional punk Mikoto to the cool megane Munakata, the insane megane Fushimi to the tough but virginally innocent Yata. There are more than a few “now kiss!’ moments for the female (& homosexual) fans yet it doesn’t really push any boundaries nor becomes blatant in any way -yet that doesn’t distract from the hypersexualisation of the female characters.

One day I’ll stop beating that drum but not today, even though I will now move on.

One thing you must keep in mind when watching it getting a good sub where they keep the honourifics intact because they play strongly with the character relationships.

Primary to this is relationship between Yata -who is young, passionate & almost uncontrollable- & his in the field partner/offsider Rikio, who refers to Yata as ‘Yata-san’ despite being older than him. Where as most other Homra members call Yata ‘Yata-chan’ because of his small size & feminine 1st name of Misaki.

Visually, the series is utterly beautiful & only enhanced in the blu-ray release -where they’ve added more background & incidental details into the backgrounds as well as made the special attacks prettier. There is so much detail packed into the alt-world Tokyo, yet still keeping it visually on par with the city as it stands today. There are many flat-screen holograms showing various forms of information but they don’t clutter the mise-en-scene or distraction from the action.

The fight scenes are frenetic but handled smoothly, so you never lose track of who is the centre of the action. Most of the attacks are done with twisting or circular motions but the characters always stay within focus (apart from the aforementioned emphasis on Awashima’s body) & the different powers -such as Kuroh’s ghost hands- are clear in their intent & destructive capabilities.

I also utterly adore the opening theme KINGS by the talented band Angela, who many know from various other anime openings -such as Valvrave & Coppolion.

In the end, this is a most worthy series because of how it keeps you guessing as to what is going on within the story yet it doesn’t bring anything out of nowhere. The clues are always there, which adds to the enjoyment of watching it again & again. There is a sequel movie due out later this year as well as all the side manga & Light Novels to round out the narrative universe as well as character backgrounds.

Highly recommended.

K

Good But The Manga Is Better – Anime Review: Noragami

58139lTitle: Noragami (The Stray God)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, action, comedy
Series Creator: Adachitoka
Series Director: Kotaro Tamura
Studio: Bones
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 5, 2014 – March 23, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download


Synopsis:

Hiyori Iki was a regular middle school student until she was hit by a bus while trying to save the life of a jersey-wearing person named Yato. This incident causes her to transform into a half-phantom. Soon after she learns that Yato is a god, her life is never the same.


Review:

The manga is way better.

Harsh way to start but its true.

For however good you may feel that this series is, the manga better & the anime would’ve been better if it followed the 1st manga arc -which is about an attempt to corrupt the War God(dess) Bishamonten & her past with the central protagonist Yato- instead, that is just flirted with & we are left with an entirely new invented arc that makes little sense in context to the earlier episodes.

The anime also starts in the wrong place.

Basically, the manga begins with the wandering god Yato & his shinki Tomone responding to the pleases of a high school who is bullied & used as a target for the stress of her classmates. This mini arc serves to introduce Yato & the narrative world in which he functions & more especially the Ayakashi (evil spirits). Yet the anime starts at the end of this arc & doesn’t explain the reason why Yato & Tomone is there. Only having Tomone demand her release without showing the previous tension between her & Yato.

Although, for the 1st half of the series, it does get so much extremely right in terms of it’s relationship with the source material as well as being a good series in its own right.

The characters are one of the reasons for this.

In terms of narrative, narrative world & character creation, Noragami is fairly original on so many levels. One reason is that it is based on a solid foundation of Shinto traditions & beliefs as well as mythologies but also isn’t afraid to break away from them to try something new & interesting.

Yato is a prime example of this.

He is a wandering Kami (god or high level spirit), which means that he doesn’t have a shrine to serve as a focal point of his worship. Thus he is forced to take any requests, for the price of 5 Yen (a reference to base level Shinto offerings), so he can eventually build his own shrine. He is often depicted as being shiftless & egotistical, acting like a tyrannical villain at times whilst doing almost anything in order to get attention & gain followers but this merely a surface facet of him. It hides a lot of pain at his dark past, his fear of being forgotten (which means death for any god), being left alone as well as his utter devotion to his friends, willing to endure the worst if it means that they see the best.
King-Yato-noragami-noragami-36931209-1280-720
This is exemplified through his interactions with Hiyori, who wound up having her soul being able to level her body when she tried to save Yato thinking that he was a normal human. Like Yato at his best, she is selfless & devoted to her friends but she is also idealistically naive, to the point of willful ignorance. Unfortunately this naivety is drawn out in an inconsistent manner in the anime then in the manga, which Hiyori often acting hypocritical towards Yato, especially in regards to him trying to protect her & him training his new shinki Yukine.
hiyori
Yukine is also a brilliant but wrongly depicted character creation. Despite being a reconstituted human spirit, Yukine is also the closest to being human because he is so young. & being young he is more given to rage & temptation at his situation -realising that he is dead & cannot have the life that others have. This also comes about from Hiyori babying & spoiling him because of her own longer to have a connected family, especially a younger sibling.
Noragami - 03 -2
Unfortunately, whenever a shinki succumbs to temptation or commits an evil they inflict a “sting” upon their master; which inturn becomes a blighted curse which manifests Ayakashi upon the shinki & eventual death upon their masterful god. Thus, in this fictional world, any shinki that causes the slightest sting upon their master is released from their godly name & forced to wander until either picked up by another god or devoured by Ayakashi.

This is the main conceit of the first half of the anime series, where Yukine must come to terms not only with his death & the fact that he can never have a mortal life but that he will receive punishment in one form or another for his transgressions. Because Hiyori’s ignorance & protective nature shelters Yukine from many of the surfaces consequences of his actions, lying to herself over what he does because she feels sorry for him, it ends up almost killing both Yukine & Yato. Yet she is the one who sets about doing her upmost to save them both because she feel responsibly.

Unfortunately this responsibility becomes muddled in the hypocrisy of her anime depiction as well as the machinations of Yato’s 1st & former shinki Nora (meaning Stray, a cursed name given to shinki who serves multiple masters without severing their former names).

Nora is a quiet antagonist of the series. Not an outright villain, but the one behind almost all the action within. All because of her twisted devotion to Yato.
Noragami-anime-nora-and-yato
To this end, she attempts to destroy Hiyori’s spiritual form & corrupt Yukine so Yato will reject him & take her back. In the anime arc, she also resurrects the god of calamity Rabo, who was both contemporary of & rival to Yato in his original incarnation as a murderous god.

Here is the massive divert from the manga series & I personally find that it just doesn’t work well or logically.

There was so much time spent building up Yato’s past with Bishamonten & her desire to destroy him. Which means Yato, despite his weakened state, defends both Yukine & Hiyori from her blind wrath. Rabo’s half arc is meant to show more about Nora’s desire to reclaim her position at Yato’s side by making her turn back into the destructive, murderous god whom she seems to love utterly but no real context or background is developed. & the pay off for it, whilst visually spectacular, doesn’t feel all that satisfying.

Same with the episode dedicated to building the side character of Kofuku, the goddess of poverty & misfortune who ends up cursing anyone & anywhere she spends too much time with or around. Whilst very funny with its 4th wall breaking jokes, it doesn’t lead to much pay off.

Yet the overall humour, especially Hiyori’s violent overreactions to things does save a lot of the series. The humour is balanced with some real harsh emotional stuff centred around ideas of suicide & redemption yet the existence of one doesn’t cheapen or ruin the value of the other. They are juxtaposed & balanced nicely for the most part, especially with how Yukine comes to terms with himself as his role as shinki to a fairly feckless divinity.

Visually, Noragami is exceptionally beautiful, with clean distinction designs & smooth action scenes. The destruction of the Ayakakishi is rendered in an interesting broken pattern, whilst all of their designs are based upon twists of the insect or reptile world. The shifts of expressions, such as Hiyori’s outrage & her tail are very well done -as are the emphasises on some of Yato’s cat-like traits (such as eyes or facial expressions). If I can praise anything in their series is how amazing it looks & how great the quality of the animation is with a rich use of colours & shades.

Ultimately, I say go into this series openly & to be prepared to be drawn to extremes of love & hate. For every misstep there are still so many good things about it.

But, if you haven’t already done so, I’d recommend reading the manga after watching the series & hope that they make that into the 2nd series.

The H Hides the Greatness – Anime Critique: Horizon In The Middle of Nowhere (series 1 & 2)

horizon-in-the-middle-of-nowhereTitle: Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere (Horizon On The Middle of Nowhere, Kyokaisen-jo no Horaizon, Horizon On The Borderline) [series 1 & 2]
Format: Blu-ray
Genre: sci-fi, ecchi, comedy/parody, fantasy, action
Series Creator: Minoru Kawakami (original Light Novel)
Series Director: Manabu Ono
Studio: Sunrise
Series length: Two 13 episode series
Original Airing dates: Series 1: 2011; series 2: 2013
Reviewed format: Blu-ray release through Madman


Synopsis:

In the far future, humans abandon a devastated Earth and travel to outer space. However, due to an unknown phenomenon that prevents them from traveling into space, humanity returns to Earth only to find it inhospitable except for Japan. To accommodate the entire human population, pocket dimensions are created around Japan to house the populace. In order to find a way to return to outer space, the humans begin reenacting human history according to the Holy Book Testament. But in the year 1413 of the Testament Era, the nations of the pocket dimensions invade and conquer Japan, dividing the territory into feudal fiefdoms and forcing the original inhabitants of Japan to leave. It is now the year 1648 of the Testament Era, the refugees of Japan now live in the city ship Musashi, where it constantly travels around Japan while being watched by the Testament Union, the authority that runs the re-enactment of history. However, rumors of an apocalypse and war begins to spread when the Testament stops revealing what happens next after 1648. Taking advantage of this situation, Tori Aoi, head of Musashi Ariadust Academy’s Supreme Federation and President of the student council, leads his classmates to use this opportunity to regain their homeland.


Review:

On paper, Horizon In The Middle of Nowhere (wrongly called Horizon On The Middle of Nowhere on the blu-rays that I have), is a series that I should utter despise because it is full of beyond hypersexualised Fan Service, sexual molestation, strong nationalistic sentiments & revisionist history. Yet this is one of my favourite series of the past decade. In fact, I’ve watched both series over 4 times & purchased the blu-rays as soon as they were available.
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The first thing you will notice & have to get past when watching this series is a pretty big thing to get past. That is to say: Oppai. Breasts. Bosoms. As a critic greater than I has already said: Stonking Great Tits!

The majority of the female characters do have Mammoth Jugs & those that don’t have emphasis on other body parts or jokes made about their lack of bust.

Yet I couldn’t hate the series for that because it is so over the top & outrageous that their bodies couldn’t really be sexualised despite some of the animators best efforts. & the hyersexualisation plays strongly into the humour & male characters are punished for their perverted habits (especially the central protagonist Aoi Tori). Everything is so beyond the Proverbial Eleven that I refuse to take any of it seriously & that’s pretty much the intention of the series as a whole. For all the seriousness of it, it’s still immensely silly & that’s why I love it.

At first the plot & background is very dense & hard to get through, with tons of unique phrases & ideas thrown at you without explanation but if you ride it out & accept what they’re saying most of the terms are explained in the end (or the subbers put in dodgy explanations on the top of the screen). A lot of these terms are mixes of various languages, with lots of Japanese-English thrown in (especially Tori’s non sequiturs) But also consist of a bastardised Latin & Classical Greek from old religious terminology. Again, it’s easy to pick up on what these mean in the subbed versions but the English dub is so poorly handled that it will all go over your head in that version.
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Despite the denseness of terms & narrative history (all hang ups from its Light Novel origins), the series itself is fairly light & fast paced. That is not to say that it lack impacts but is light in terms of movement, with lots of flitting & jumps but without the confusion that happens in so many other series. In fact, there are many running gags that go across both series. The humour is very much character based & there are lots of characters to look at.
HorizonCharacterCorrelation
Usually this would be a negative in any series but each character is so clearly defined in terms of appearance & personality that you never get confused over who is who, what their roles & abilities are & what are their quirks & relationships to others within the cast. There are lots of fast gags based upon characters reactions to each other -such as dealing with Tori’s apparent stupidity or the rest of the cast calling Shirojiro a scumbag because of his obsession with money. Even though you don’t get to spend a lot of time with many of the characters, when you get character development it is handled exceptionally well.
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The greatest example of this is the central protagonist Aoi Tori, given the nickname “Impossible” by the Testament Union because they believe him to be utterly useless -which is why they gave him a position of great authority within the City-State of Musashi. Yet Tori is the perfect example of an Ironic character (based upon the classic Eiron model) because, despite his surface of utter stupidity, he displays a deep level of cunning, understanding & ability that means he can overcome his opponents in the least likely of ways -such as tricking Honda Masazumi (also called Seijun by her classmates) into arguing for his side during a debate battle. Even at first his goals seem shallow -to confuse his love to the girl whose death he blames on himself- but he actually has deep, long term goals that he’s ben building up to for years & was given the catalyst to chase when events larger then himself occurred -such as the Lord of Mikawa decides to disregard the Historical Recreation Program & bring about chaos so people can break free of ideology & fight the oncoming apocalypse. In fact, Tori is a great example of Confucius’ idea of the Superior Man who draws great people to his side.

This is actually a strong positivist theme within the series: that a person cannot achieve anything alone & must rely on those with talent & practised ability in order to reach their noble goals. This is something that Tori not only excels at by having loyal friends with unique abilities but he also has absolute faith in them & their abilities, vowing to take “everything that is Impossible” onto himself so people can achieve their heart’s desires. To this end Tori makes a Shinto spiritual contract where he can supply anyone fighting on his side with 1/4 of Musashi’s ether (mana) reserves, giving them basically unlimited energy, but the price he pays for it is if he is sad for just a moment he will be killed. Yet he takes this burden on for his friends & to reach the one that he loves & who stands parallel to him.
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This individual is the titular Horizon, whose soul was placed into the Automated Doll P-01s after her accidental death as a child. Being an Automated Doll (a form of gynoid) Horizon lacks proper emotions, mainly because they are all locked away in the series Macguffen, The Armaments of Mortal (Deadly) Sin, & her logical emotional stance of matters drives a lot of the humour & drama or both series. This is because she does what she believes is best for the good of al rather than what her personal desire dictates, which stands her in parallel (a strange debating style within the series) with Tori, who wants to restore her to her full self regardless of the consequences (basically sparking a world war).
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I do wish that I had more time to talk about the other characters but that will drag this critique out a fair whack. The majority of them get their time to shine, even if it is a single episode, but many have a chance to develop over the course of both series. The 2nd series mainly focuses on the ninja Tenzo, who is obsessed with busty blondes but is ultimately loyal & helpful towards his friends (& was one of Tori’s 1st followers due to Tori’s abilities to twist Tenzo’s personal perversions to suit his [Tori’s] needs). His arc is about him coming to realise that he has personal desires outside of his service to others & that he must follow his heart to save the one whom he loves. Other characters such as Suzu also get time to develop. She seems at first to be the typically timid stammering one whom everyone has to protect but she goes beyond that trope. Despite being blind, her other senses have been enhanced, giving her the ability to notice things before other people. She is also hopelessly in love with Tori but wants to see him happy with Horizon but its her love & devotion that allows Tori to be able to love & care for her back, putting his upmost trust in her when she lacks it herself.
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Other great characters include Tori’s loud, arrogant, abusive older sister Kimi -who may just be the most powerful character in the entire series & yet the kindest despite the abuse she doles out. The part wolf knight Nate “Argenté Loup” Mitotsudaira, who is also hopeless devoted to (& possibly in love with) Tori but does her upmost to serve him as she sees him as “her king”. Even the homeroom teacher Oriotorai Makiko (stupidly translated officially as Mrs O for some bizarre reason) is given a bit of screen time after her rampage in the 1st episode but not enough time is given to her deeper connection with all the mysteries within the series.

The enemies are also rendered interestingly. Not simply being cardboard cutout evil, they each have their own motivations & wishes to live up to the Re-enactments of History & being able to live up to their Inherited Names (people in this future take on the names & actions of historical figures in order to be as close to the original history as possible).

Unfortunately this does lead to my major issue with the series.

That is trying to place Japan as centrally important to global history & the ones with the power to save the world & future.

There is no doubt that Japan has some incredible history with incredible figures but it was (& in some ways still is) an isolationist nation who rejects foreign influence as much as it -as an extreme consumerist nation- craves them.

One of the main messages behind much of the series is to put Japan at the centre of world history, as an influencer & major player as well as saviour where in fact it had no role what so ever in these events. This happens with every form of national media (such as the US’ obsession with them saving the universe & now them as being the conquered underdog fighting against oppression for Apple Pie or some shit like that).

For me, this is annoying because I am programmed to pick up on agenda in media, so it kept slapping me in the face whenever they talked about it because it just plays to so many cultural superiorism tropes & traits. Again, this isn’t unique to Japan but once you study it academically it sticks out like the proverbial in a nunnery.

Though enough of the negatives.

Amongst the other positives are great action sequences, that both play with & parody Shonen fight scene tropes. Such as the fist fighter Noriki (one of the good guys) saying “If you knew that why did you explain it?” whenever an opponent expounds on one of his techniques.

The action sequences are also fast paced without being confusing. You are always aware of who is doing what on screen. Even in the hectic ariel battles -which themselves are parodying Macross style missile-hell swarms- are clean in terms of defining the actions involved.

Also, once again, we must address the elephant (or Mammoth Jugs) in the room.

This is pretty much the first anime series that I saw that stuck a huge pair of tits on not only one mecha but two. Also, all the female clothing is designed to show off breasts, hips, arse & public mound in ways that few other series dare to but it’s odd in the fact that they are just out there. There are no explicit panty shots or flashing teases, they were just out there. This isn’t a good thing but does numb one to what they are watching. At least in balance, from my tainted male perspective, it does balance out with the majority of the 2nd series having Tori running around entirely naked with no justified or explained reason. Yet that all plays into the humour & lots of gags revolve around peoples’ reactions to a naked Tori literally appearing out of nowhere.
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In the end, there are far too many positives to outweigh potential criticism from me.

Except for one.

One veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery big one (bigger than the boobs in the series).

& that is the lack of a 3rd series.

It may seem utterly petty but the ending of the 2nd series sets up for future series, by flashing to various new characters observing the ongoing conflicts & by the Automated Doll of Musashi saying that people should get ready for a continuing journey.

Because of strong sales of the DVDs/Blu-rays & the ongoing nature of the Light Novels, there is a very strong chance of more series to come -especially given enough of a gap between the different media forms that they aren’t have to chuck a Bleach or Naruto & put in entirely new stories with no relation to the main plot whatsoever!

If they do make a series, that would be bloody marvellous! If not, these two collection are still worth the watch.

Great pace, excellent characters & stupidly outloud laughing funny, please give it a chance.

Subversion succumbs to cliche – Anime Review: Witch Craft Works

Witchcraft_Works_manga_vol_1Title: Witch Craft Works (Witchikurafuto Wakusu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, comedy, romance, fantasy
Series Creator: Ryu Mizunagi
Series Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Studio: J.C. Staff
Series length: 12 episodes + OVA
Original Airing dates: January 5, 2014 – March 23, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download with fan subs.


 

Synopsis:

Takamiya Honoka is a regular student whose only problem seems to be that he sits next to Kagari Ayaka, the school’s “Princess”. They have never spoken to each other before and any small interaction between them immediately results in her fanclub beating him. Yet when a falling part of the school’s building is about to send him to the afterlife, it’s Kagari that comes to his rescue. Only she’s dressed as a witch, carrying him in her arms and floating on a broom. Kagari tells him it is her mission to protect him and that now she can finally protect him openly rather than undercover.


 

Review:

I have a confession to make, I first became aware of Witch Craft Works when a friend sent me a hentai dōjinshi that they wanted identified. Once I found the original manga, I instantly was drawn to the series.

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The main reason for this is that it sets out to subvert so many tropes of Shonen style action narratives, by positioning the male lead, Takamiya Honoka in the role of the princess to be protected & rescued, with Kagari Ayaka being the knight who protects him at all costs. The reasons for which are slowly revealed over the course of the manga (less so in the anime) & whilst it is a good first step in terms of subverting & parodying the narrative norm, it still falls short in so many ways.

That is because of my two usual bugbears: Fan Service & cliche.

Pretty much, in my view, every two steps both the manga & anime make in a good direction, they’re both pulled back a pace by reverting to Fan Service or not doing enough to twist around cliché into something truly subversive or unique.

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The one of main reasons for this is because of the male protagonist, Honoka, who despite having the role of the one who needs to be protected actually wants to be the one protecting others. Because is constantly targeted by various groups & individuals who are seeking the White Stuff within him (which leads to a lot of bad comedic misunderstandings), he always has Ayaka fighting for him but, in order to satisfy his own sense of justice & male ego, he tries to be the one to protect her. This usually results in both of them getting hurt in some way, even though Ayaka’s magic means she suffers no harm when she’s close to Honoka’s hidden power source, & drives him to do stupid things in order to achieve some sense of control & empowerment within his own life. He is also the constant victim of bullying, because of his closeness to Ayaka -who is worshipped like an idol at their school & has a devoted fan club/following- & he always tries to enforce the Consensus Society rule that the bullies are right & that he has no business being near Ayaka (despite her clear love for & devotion towards him). This shows the greatest of cowardice because at the same time he desires the power & ability to protect those around him, he gives in to pressure & bullying & shows utterly no backbone when dealing with problems. This carries over to the whole cliche of the ‘purity of love’, where Honoka is too much of a bloody coward to even touch Ayaka in any significant way, even if it means saving her life through a simple kiss (this is a trope that pisses me off no end & will write about it at a later date).

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Unfortunately Ayaka doesn’t fair that much better in terms of depictions. Despite being one of the most physically & magically powerful people within the narrative universe, she has a blank cold exterior, refuses to explain anything to Honoka -even if it would mean he’d stop doing stupid things- & is creepily obsessed with him (to the point of sitting by his bed all night to watch him sleep). She also has very large breasts, which aren’t flaunted in the usual Fan Service hypersexualied way but are always emphasised whenever she is shown. Was very much surprised that they didn’t have a beach or onsen but doubt they could’ve fitted it into the very close following of the first story arc of the manga without utterly destroying the quick flow of the narrative.

Before I get into the positives of the series, one more quibble: the anime isn’t as pretty as the manga. Which is a shame because it has the potential to be an exceedingly visually beautiful series. The manga has some pretty images whenever magic is being used or the witches reveal their true powers but they don’t really explore that in the anime. I understand the whole cost factor & the like but it does seem like a shame. Hopefully they will amend this in the Blu-ray releases.

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Anyway, the good of the series.

When it’s funny, its very funny. With lots of good visual gags & running jokes (such as Ayaka easily beating the KMM Gang witches who try to kidnap Honoka or the random unexplained llama).

The side characters are a hugely diverse bunch. With Ayaka’s mother Kazane -the head Workshop Witch- who is powerful but incredibly slow on the uptake. Honoka’s mother, who is emotionally immature from being a victim of extreme bullying in high school & openly admits to a lesbian love for Kazane, who used to protect her growing up, to the point of asking her to marry her (but unable to do so, says that they arranged for their children to eventually marry).

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The 5 KMM Gang witches are also very amusing in their failures & over-confidence. More so when they are captured & enslaved by Ayaka.

Then you have Honoka’s younger sister, Kasumi, who is a violent, loud bro-con who over reacts to everything -especially Ayaka’s presence near her beloved onii-chan.

The villains Medusa, Chronoire & Weekend are al interesting but not enough time is spent developing them unfortunately. Even though the overall machinations of Weekend is what drives the plot & action of the series.

One draw back is there isn’t a great deal of development of some themes & characters, with many popping in during the 2nd half of the series without any context or explanation yet somehow vital to the plot. There is also an ongoing thing that Ayaka & Honoka have a deep connection in their past but something has altered their memories of their connection. Same with why Honoka is possessed of the power that he is. I know this is all future set up for the ongoing manga but a bit too much time is spent going over it in the anime.

At any rate, despite all of my griping with characters & cliche, Witch Craft Works is still a very interesting & unique series. It has good plot progression & the pay-off at the end in terms of narrative outcome is good (except for Honoka’s bloody cowardice over a little fucking kiss!). Depending on how BD/DVD & manga sales continue, we might see a sequel series in a year or two but am not holding my breath over it with how media stakeholders tend to act.

Still, given a bit more spit & polish, I believe that is can truly break out of all the things that are holding it back for utter greatness (which I think the manga does improve on). I honestly do recommend this series & hold it up as an example of progress in getting over so many negative tropes & cliches.

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Thanks for the climbing count & quick update

tamayayJust wanted to welcome my new followers & thank everyone for the increase in page views of late (basically hijacked a post on Kotaku.com.au).

Please feel free to leave comments on any of my posts, would love some feedback (but not about spelling & grammar, I know that’s terrible!).

Also, will be doing about 4 more reviews of the past season’s anime before I move onto writing some other articles -including a discussion on HBO’s True Detective & a retrospective on the Pokemon franchise (which I’ve been meaning to write for a while).

So, once again: thanks for the views & look forward to your feedback.

Let us ensure that The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth!

I have no idea what I just watched – Anime Review: Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda

Sekai-Seifuku-Bouryaku-no-ZvezdaTitle: Sekai Seifuku ~Bouryaku no Zvezda~ (World Conquest: Zvezda Plot)
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, comedy, parody, ecchi, superhero
Series Director: Tensai Okamura
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 11, 2014 – March 29, 2014
Reviewed format: HDTV download with various fansubs

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

World Conquest Zvezda Plot (lit. Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda) stars a little girl named Kate Hoshimiya (also known as Lady Venera), who is at the helm of an organization called Zvezda, which has the purpose of World Conquest. One day Austa Jimon, a middle school boy who ran away from home due to family issues, ends up meeting Kate on the street, and subsequently getting roped into joining Zvezda with them. However, in order to conquer the world, they must defeat an organization called White Light, which is contracted out by the Japanese Government to defeat Zvezda and put an end to their plots of World Conquest once and for all.”


Review:

I honestly don’t know how to describe Sekai Seifuku ~Bouryaku no Zvezda~ let alone review it.

It’s pretty weird but not fully out there like Level E or FLCL but still odd.

Part of the oddness is being thrown right into the plot of Asuta pretty much being kidnapped (though he did run away from home first) but the strange loli, Hoshimiya Kate, in order to fulfil her dreams of world conquest. Asuta is then thrust into strange situation after strange situation, all while trying to resist falling too much in with the Zvezda leaders & while still trying to protect his boring life at school.

One reason why the series is confusing is because while it has it’s own internal logic, which it adheres too very strongly which, as mentioned in my Buddy Complex review, allows for the Suspension of Disbelief but the actually plot itself seems to be missing vast chunks of backstory, so you are missing out important details for many of the characters.

This isn’t of itself a vast problem because it allows you to fill in many of the gaps yourself with the scant info that the show provides in random flashbacks & asides but it does drag a lot of the pacing down as well as leaves some of the jokes to go begging (though that can also be the cross-cultural translation issues as well). Another issue is the inconsistent tone, shifting from absurd comedy to action & trying to make some serious social issues as well (such as stopping public smoking). Plus a lot of the actual plot is left until the last few episodes, revealing part of the true adversaries (though not the real evil behind them) & kind of rushing things to reach the conclusion.

Factor also in my usual issue with hypersexualisation & Fan Service (especially of the extreme young looking Kate) & there is more than enough issues to warrant my disdain.
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That being said: I actually enjoyed this series (whenever I got a sub that didn’t make my video player crash).

When it plays to the strengths of it’s absurdity & parody, it can truly hit the mark. Especially making you support & follow the supposed bad guys (Zvezda) despite them never actually doing anything bad -apart from Yasu, who is a perpetual loser looking to make himself appear important. The so-called heroes, White Light, are excellent parodies of Tokusatsu style heroes in terms of their costume but their goals are far from noble (though they aren’t out & out villains).

The other great strength is the characters.

Asuta is your typical everyman protagonist, dragged into situations beyond his understanding but always does his best in the end. He also has the knack of surviving the most unlike of situations, either from dumb luck or skilfully running away. & is eternally bullied by Kate, who may or may not be attracted to him.

Kate is odd, because at first she appears to be your typical over-sexualised loli  (NSFW link) but actually has a great will to see things through & the ability to see deep into the human heart. This actually comes from her being an immortal being who stopped aging the moment she swore that she would conquer the world, a reveal -while interesting- comes a little too late. I was interested in seeing how she transitioned from her white appearance to the villain uniform that you see her in but that isn’t explored in the anime at all.

Her offsiders are equally weird & interesting
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Goro, AKA General Pepel, is a sweets & confectionary addicted ex-Yakuza gang boss who renounced his criminal life in order to help Kate achieve her dream. There are a lot of hints at his past life, such as his wife Tsubaki, but it’s never properly exploded.

Itsuka, AKA Lady Playma, is the frontline leader of the Zvezda attack forces. Always seen wearing an eyepatch & carrying her sword. She also has a near sexual attraction to Kate, who is the only person she shows affection to. However it is revealed that if she loses her eyepatch, she resorts to her original personality of being a crybaby who sees Kate as a big sister (Onee-chan) figure. She is also Goro’s daughter but this isn’t revealed until the end.

Natasha, AKA Professor Um, is one of the weirdest members of Zvezda & the one with her backstory most exploded. A genius from a young age, her parents were afraid that she would never make any friends because she spent all of her time making robots. One day they took her from their home in Ukraine & into a series of caves that were the home of an ancient civilisation (hinted at being where Kate’s origins coem from), where they were apparently swallowed by some evil entity. She was eventually found by Roboko & Kate. Natasha has the most Fan Service costume -being black undies & a cape over a bare torso- but, oddly enough, the least Fan Service body -being childlike.

Leaving Roboko, because we’ve already talked about Yasu, who is a mysterious robot with bunny ears & glasses who wants to be & occasionally acts like a typical shy high school girl. She’s Zvezda’s main fighting strength & may have a crush on Asuta because he treats her like a normal person.

Much of the comedy comes from Asuta trying to get his school life & life with Zvevda completely separate -mainly because of his crush Renge, who unbeknownst to him (but well known to the audience) is actually his sworn enemy, White Robin of White Light.

Overall, despite the lack of explanation, this is a light & silly comedy with a good pace & excellent parodying of established genres -such as when they hark back to Goro’s Yakuza past, which is often told like an old gangster TV series. There are hints of a 2nd series coming with an Anti-Udo (the plant that grants Zvezda their powers) force in the US attacking them but am unsure if it will be made or just continue in manga form. If they do make, I’ll probably watch it.