Tag Archives: 9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Brooklyn (2015) Review

Simplicity isn’t something I demand when it comes to films. One reason being I prefer films that offer plenty for me to analyze either on a technical, or narrative level. Another reason being when it comes down to it simple stories, and simple characters are easy to fully comprehend on one viewing. Leaving very little to ponder once the film ends. Sometimes offering no reasons to rewatch a simple film in the future if I understood everything I wanted on a single viewing. At the same time it’s a necessity to have simplicity in films because not every great story, and masterpiece needs complexity. I would much rather have films like Whiplash which while not an amazing viewing experience soars in accomplishing its single minded goal as opposed to something that collapsed under its own weight. Brooklyn I would place alongside with a film like Whiplash; both films didn’t provide anything amazing of an experience from the reception they received, but they accomplished what they set out to do with little to no hiccups.

Brooklyn is about an Irish immigrant, Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), who lands in 1950s Brooklyn, where she quickly falls into a romance with a local while being torn up between two countries she loves. The film is a simple mixture of coming age, and romance that doesn’t get elaborate. It follows a simple three act structure, and is linear as a film can traditionally get. What differentiate it from a traditional romance film is nothing in the film is overly dramatize. Conversations feel natural with dinner scenes serving to get across the passage of time without directly stating it. These dinner scenes also provide the films with most of the jokes as well as some insight into some it characters. Everything in the film is written to get across the most amount of information with simple dialogue. Working wondrously for the film.

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Oh, been wondering what happened to Carrot Top.

The romance isn’t the main focus of the film, but rather use as a narrative tool to show growth in Ellis life. Showing Ellis as young timid girl to eventually becoming an adult woman. Her interaction with her love interest, Tony (Emory Cohen), changes her as a person, and seeing those changes is what makes the romance effective. Much like Ellis, Tony feels like an actual person expressing the kind of life he desires with Ellis. In his own understated way contributes more to the film than just being a love interest. Another appealing aspect of the romance is how it portrayed. There’s no flair to any of it. One example of this is when Tony confesses to Ellis he loves her, and the scene is neither accompanied by music, nor characters making a big deal out of it. Simply being treated as another part of the relationship. Granted a love confession in serious relationship is significant, but the way it written it intently wants the audience to know every moment between these two is significant no matter the context.

As a coming of age film it has the message of growing up is filled with hardship, but an added bonus is actually seeing the character growth in the film. It does not end when Ellis experience a life altering event by moving to 1950s America. The film instead uses the opportunity of Ellis growing to make her face a serious dilemma. Viewing the conflict she face with in a new light as oppose in the beginning of the film where she viewed it like a young adult simply going along with what everyone else wanted. It’s also very clever how it uses a one off character within the first act of the film to be a fulfilling showcase of far of a person Ellis came in her journey. In terms of a tone it plays out a bit like a fantasy before the third act where reality comes crashing down. While there is the issue of living in an entire country feeling homesick, and trouble socializing it never overcomes Ellis life. She is simply able to deal with her problems directly. If not, then she’ll asks her friends, or family for advice.

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Creed: With arms with open.

If there is any serious issue with the film writing it would be the climax of the film. Once Ellis has to decide to live in Ireland with a newfound purpose, or go back to the US to a life that helped her transition into adulthood. The catalyst, or motive that determines Ellis decision feels tacked on plain, and simple. Throughout the film, it makes an attempt to make both 1950’s America, and Ireland as desirable places to live without any serious problems that is too much to handle. However, after a conversation with someone Ellis didn’t like in her past it reminds her of everything she hated that particular country. Here lies the simple problem of the audience not knowing what Ellis specifically means. This film starts out with Ellis spending her last day in Ireland before going to America, and that’s honestly all the viewer is given on Ireland. She experience similar events in both the US, and Ireland. Viewers only gain a full understanding of how much the US means to her as oppose to Ireland where it comes across as a repeat of what Ellis experienced in America. However, like the rest of the film, this is an understated moment that does not dramatize the climax “movie moment” kind of way. The same applies to the ending. While subtle in showing how much Ellis grew as a person it is also understated. Everything about the is simple to comprehend, and in a understated execution succeeds in what it tackles.

Much like the screenplay by Nick Hornby, the acting is once again understated, but for simple reasons. None of the performances are powerhouses, though they’re all fine because of the film’s direction. Saoirse Ronan takes leading the role as Ellis portraying in one of her most challenging role. She comes off as awkward, naive, sincere, funny, and other shades of her character. What is best about this performance is how steadily she transition into becoming an adult. It’s a steady change that retains her character established traits with a new boost of confidence. She expresses through her performance how much she matured, and her facial expressions gets it across vividly. There is a not a scene in the film where you’ll be impressed by her acting since the entire film is subdue in emotion. Taking a timid woman at the start of the film, and convinces viewers she’s now a strong individual. Still, it’s another noteworthy performance from Saoirse Ronan who doesn’t have to put up a fake American in this film which is another plus.

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I’ll take any opportunity to post a image of Saoirse Ronan. What? I like her.

The other performances are overshadowed by Saoirse Ronan. Of course it’s because she the leading actress, but there’s rarely a scene where she’s not present. Only Emory Cohen gets the most of amount of screen time of the supporting cast. His performance is also sincere, and very believable in his performance. The moments he shares with Saoirse Ronan are sweet. They’re both good onscreen together. Acting veterans like Jim Broadbent, and Julie Walters aren’t utilize much in the films. Walters can deliver a funny line, but with the exception of one scene she’s mostly spent her time in the dinner scenes with some kind of reference to god. Jim Broadbent is in the film less so since his only purpose seems to be to deliver a plot point to get the story rolling. He doesn’t get to do much in the film, but doesn’t takes it seriously nonetheless to not be a distraction. Then there’s Domhnall Gleeson who only appears in the third act. His chemistry with Saoirse Ronan makes it possible to believe why Ronan character can like him, even if they spent less time together. 

Supporting actors like Hugh Gormley, Brid Brennan, Maeve McGrath, Emma Lowe, Barbara Drennan, Fiona Glascott, Jane Brennan, Eileen O’Higgins play typical characters. Being used mostly to portray the nice old lady, the woman who has trouble maintaining relationship, the depressed mother, the irritable old woman, and other archetypes. As you might have imagined none of these archetype are exaggerating the personality. Director John Crowley doesn’t miss anything when it comes to details in the costumes, and showing visually showing good distinction between two countries. Yves Belanger cinematography is visually the most interesting part of the film. Offering some standard wide shots, but it’s at it best when it comes to showing the most out of its actors performances. Music is composed by Michael Brook offering a classic sounding soundtrack to the film, and having some Irish music. John Crowley is smart enough to know when to place music, and when not too.

Brooklyn is a film that will leave viewers conflicted at the raving reception it received. While in no way close to resembling a bad film it’ll nonetheless contribute to disappointment by its many raving reviews that it receives. This will make some viewers expect something grander than what they will actually see. On the contrary, if you want a coming of age, and romance that is more down to earth than Brooklyn is the film for you. It’s has sweet moments of romance without being sugarcoated. Has the ability to gripping without over dramatizing any events. By all, it’s a simple film that knows how to tell a simple tale without many layers on it, and when it works nearly this flawlessly it doesn’t have to be more than it is.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Rurouni Kenshin (2012) Movie Review

Adaptations of any sort of property can be tricky. Besides appealing to the original source material fanbase (if there is any) comes with the decision of how exactly to adapt the source material into a new medium. If it’s made specifically for fans like the 2005 Joss Whedon’s film Serenity than newcomers probably won’t get much out of it like fans would. Especially when the best counter-argument against it not standing as its own creation is checking out supplementary material (which happened in my case). Regardless if the film adaptation was preceded by a TV Series, comic-book, or other sources the adaptation in a different medium should be able to stand on its own. Coming from someone who has never read a single chapter of the manga, or seen a single episode of the anime series related to Rurouni Kenshin this live action film adaptation can be enjoyed as its own creation. It’s a great film adaptation, and an equally engaging samurai film.

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I can relate. This is typical reaction when I talk to a woman.

 

Rurouni Kenshin follows former legendary assassin Kenshin Himura (played by Takeru Satoh) who has now become a wandering pacifist samurai with his new beliefs being challenged in Tokyo. From the opening action sequence right to the end Rurouni Kenshin always feels confident in where it’s heading. Expertly knowing how to setup the social climate of Tokyo where the story takes place. Distinguishing through some characters their struggles to find a new purpose in an era that seemingly in no need of Samurai’s. One moment in the beginning of the film shows villain Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) ringing a bell singling former Samurai warriors it’s time for dinner. Small details like these help get across the idea of how difficult it could be for a Samurai to adapt to an new era of living. When the story jumps from it subplots including one of an assassin killing using Battosai name it does not feel overwhelming to keep track off. This theme of finding a purpose is explored heavily keeping its main story focus as it introduces more characters in the story while continuing other story threads.

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You will come to the dark side Kenshin.

Kenshin leads the overall narrative with his main conflict attempting to live a new life away from his former assassin ways. One aspect on writing characters that generally isn’t understood is every action you have your main character perform can develop them. In this film, writers Kiyomi Fuji, and Keishi Ohtomo understood this using Kenshin playful attitude to highlight his struggling ordeal. In some scenes Kenshin has a good time talking to other characters, but in others scenes he get thrown back into his Samurai fighting instincts. As the film progresses the line between famed assassin Hitokiri Battosai, and Kenshin Himura grow closer together. His backblade katana named the Sakbato Kageuchi, for instance, demonstrates Kenshin practicing his beliefs. The way Kenshin fights with careful calculation with a Sakbato Kaeuchi is different from the brief moments when Kenshin is shown fighting with a regular blade instinctively with ease. This builds upon Kenshin as a protagonist as it’s a trait that is treated as part of his character instead of a plot device.

Characters in the film will challenge Kenshin as he attempt to maintain his pacifism. The film takes it time exploring Kenshin motivation for his new ways becoming an engaging lead character as well as an entertaining one. By the end of the film, there’s still room left over for Kenshin to grow as a character while not downplaying his battles to maintain his ideals. This is accomplished by having Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) be a unsubtle villain. Upon the first time Kanryu Takeda appears on screen there’s no misleading the viewer that he’s clearly evil, and seek to only make money. Kenshin constant refusal to become battosai no matter who asks him attributes to Kenshin growth as well display the need of capable fighters. Supporting characters don’t receive the same degree of exploration, but are given specific roles such as comedy relief with Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki), eventual damsel in distress Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi), adversary with Jine Udo (Koji Kikkawa), and even just plain badass bad guy with Gein (Gou Ayano). The ones that do recieved development are Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei), and Saito Hajime (Yosuke Eguchi) both of whom are moving on from a turning point event of their past. While both pursue different goals they can relate to Kenshin the most either offering playful banter, or some dialogue on adapting to change.

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Come on kid. Give us your lunch money.

Contributing to the film’s biggest problem is obviously having too many characters. It’s villain, Kanryu Takeda, appears infrequently in the film, and when he does appear it’s usually accompanied by music. When Takeda executes his evil plan it comes out of nowhere without proper build up aside from one scene that establish he sells drug, and one brief scene where he explicitly says to poison the water. That’s not good buildup since this eventually leads to the film largest set piece. However, this issue isn’t as harmful as it could have been. Every character serves a purpose at some point in the story with varying degree of significance. Be it to help Kenshin fight off a dozen of Kanryu goons, or to arrest one of the main villains. Each character at some point in the film contribute to a larger story by being given simple character arcs, but treated as characters instead of plot devices that only serve to progress the story. One aspects of the film that can’t be overlooked is Jine Udo supernatural ability in the film. Jine has the ability to cast a spell that can paralyze his opponent lungs. This ability is out of place with the film world which makes itself grounded for a majority of the film. At most, you get human performing superhuman feats like outrunning bullets that could come across as far fetched as Jine’s ability. Those moments aren’t out of place since they’re being performed by people whereas Jine Udo paralyzation ability comes across as plain magic.

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The film has an awesome cast, and cool to look separating it from other Samurai films.

Taking charge as Kenshin Himura is leading star Takeru Satoh. Performance in the film is very good portraying different sides of Kenshin. Satoh perfectly fits his character as he neither looks like an assassin, nor like a man with a tormented past. His looks are deceiving, but when it comes to displaying Kenshin true nature he balances the torments, and playfulness of Kenshin. Takeru Satoh shows restraint in his delivery which contributes to his character change. Koji Kikkawa delivers the second best performance in the film. Much like his character, Koji delivers a menacing performance as Jine Udo. He’s goes more for power in his line delivery while subduing his physical expressions. Giving the impression that he could you at any moment, even if in plain sight. Emi Takei plays Kaoru Kamiya who does a good job in the film. While limited in depth, Emi Takei gets a couple of scenes to show off range. What best about her performance is despite being the love interest she shows her affection in subtle ways. Munetaka Aoki plays the strong goofball Sanosuke Sagara in the film. For the whole the film he neither the actor, nor the character linger into a serious subject for long. Whenever on screen they are light hearted. Munetaka despite lacking range in the film does deliver on his comedy delivering especially in a action scene that incorporates humor in the middle of it.

Yu Aoi plays  Megumi Tanaki to her effect. She’s dramatic, provide some playful banter, and eases when displaying her characters different emotions. It’s a good performance, though unlike her male co-stars isn’t given a memorable scene. Teruyuki Kagawa plays Kanryuu who’s given little screen time. Whenever Teruyuki Kagawa is on screen he’s simply meant to come across as rude. He’s cynical, but not over the top in his portrayal with the exception of a single scene. Kagawa is subdue in his portrayal of a clear villain making him as grounded as possible. While the character is not memorable due to how one dimensional the character is written Teruyuki Kagawa performance at least makes it enjoyable to see. Other actors whom are also lacking in screen time are Taketo Tanaka who plays Yahiko Myojin, and Gou Ayano who plays Gein. Gou Ayano doesn’t get to display his acting chops, but does to be involved in an excellent action in the film. While not much, it does allow Ayano to shin as a performer. Taketo Tanaka receives more scenes than Ayano does, but does get a scene to highlight his talent. Tanaka does a good job in his role regardless having good chemistry with his older co-stars, especially with Emi Takei.

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Also, the film contains great cinematography, and cool shots.

One aspect of the live action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin that’ll distinguished it among Samurai films is the action choreography by Kenhi Tanigaki who worked on famous martial art films Saat Po Long (Killzone in English), and Flash Point. In this film, Kenhi Tanigaki goes from rapid fist fights to elaborate sword fights. There’s two action scenes in the film where Kenshin goes up against large number of fighters that the choreography sells the fights convincingly. The first of these fights is in a dojo where Kenshin fights against a group of thugs. What the choreography in this scene focuses on is Kenshin speed. Another aspect in this fight that is used are the actors in the background are given something to do. In the beginning of this particular action scene Kenshin first knocks his opponents down with defensive maneuvers with rapid punches. This causes the thugs slowly fearing Kenshin as he keeps on dodging thugs sword strikes whom begin to swing wildly at Kenshin. A tiny detail like Kenshin using maneuvers that hits an opponent behind him makes the implausible scenario reliable as well as being a action scene. Of course, the cinematography is also worth complimenting since in this action scene it’s close enough to see the hits, but not to far to show inactive actors in the background waiting for their cue to perform their specific move in the sequence. It’s filmed, and edited in a way where it’s easy to decipher what is going on in the scene.

Then the second of these action scenes is the in the third act that once again has Kenshin along with Sanosuke fight against a large number of Samurai. Like the previous large scale action scene, the quick performances in the choreography, the way it shot, and edited makes it convincing. Sanosuke uses a different fighting style swinging around his giant sword to hand to hand combat. A majority of the action sequences in the film are one on one bouts all which are well done. All the action sequences make use of the characters abilities, and the environment around them. A standout in the movie is Kenshin fight with Gein which starts out with Kenshin taking the evasive approach dodging bullets inching his way closer to Gein as he keeps taking Gein ability to fight. It’s an exciting fight scene that also shows while limited, the execellent work in the film.

Aesthetically the film simply looks like high budget Japanese Samurai film which is to it credit. Everything from the costumes, the sets, the actors, and everything else looks cinematic. Nothing about it gives off the impression it’s an adaptation as even some of the more outlandish elements (characters dodging bullets for from a minigun) seemed grounded. Another aspect to the live action film is the music composed by Naoki Sato which is excellent. Ranging from fairly modern techno beats with tribal vocals to standard orchestral with the usage of the Shamisen. Sato score is easily of high quality succeeding in strengthening a scene. It’s best usage are definitely in the action sequences as it creates more excitement when viewing them. One overused of Naoki Sato music definitely when Teruyuki Kagawa is on screen having the track Kanryuu Teikoku – Gashuu No Take play in the background. Aside from that track, the music is well utilized in the film. Some listeners of Japanese rock music will be surprised by the unexpected song “The Beginning” by band One Ok Rock to be heard.

Rurouni Kenshin is an excellent adaptation that can stand on its own as a film. Anyone who has no familiarity with the series can easily view the film without feeling like they missed anything. As far faithfulness to the source material I can’t comment on it since I’ve yet to read a single page of the manga, or see a single episode of the anime series. However, I would say for anyone who enjoy Samurai films will find the familiar, but well executed story has enough to distinguishes itself to make it worth viewing.

9/10

Anime-Breakdown: Darker than Black: Kuro no Keiyakusha (2007) Series Review

What format is best for telling a story of an anime series; a narrative format that’s episodic or a format that has a continuing story from beginning to end? It honestly depends on who or what story is trying to be told if any at all. While episodic is easier to get into since the format can be better use for just entertainment. Thus you can eliminate the need of continuity, making it favorable for anyone to just jump into the series at any point. An overarching story on the other hand can build up to a greater or more disappointing outcome depending on the execution since it requires commitment. “Darker Than Black” combines both formats in its narrative will which lead to commitment issues. Thanks to it’s careful execution in combining both types of story formats you have a first half that does a great job of world building and a second half that has an overarching story that remains engrossing to the end.

Good: Strong Writing

Darker Than Black uses a two episode format to tell its stories. Allowing side characters to receive enough development to them feel like characters part of a bigger story instead of coming across as unimportant one shot characters. Thanks to this format it offers a host of well thought out characters and storylines on a variety of themes. Each contributing to either fleshing the setting or further developing a recurring character. No matter the screen time of certain side characters, their contribution feels like they added a piece of lore to the series. The atmosphere excels due to its extensive world building in the first half. Not only does the world fill unique, but by the end of the series it’ll feel like a real place even if it belongs in the realm of fiction.

For an anime that is mostly serious it knows when to have fun. The few comedic episodes in the anime don’t affect the overall plot, but are nice a diversion to lighten the mood. These episodes inclusions make the series a bit enjoyable preventing from being a downer all the time. Generally though it has the well written dialogue to keep it afloat all throughout and engaging conversation among the characters as well.

A downside to the two episode format is it will take half way before the main cast gets developed. In turn, this makes sticking with the anime a risk versus reward deal. Making it more dangerous is the fact that it doesn’t have an overarching story until it reaches the second half either. So the first half focuses on Hei taking on jobs for a shady organization called “The Syndicate”. Being more in line of an episodic anime generally not connecting story arcs. This will make it difficult to want to commit to the anime since the main cast is the only guaranteed returning characters while every supporting character is not guaranteed to return. The main cast will remain underdeveloped before reaching the halfway mark. There’s no way around this issue other than having complete faith in the anime. If you’re unable to attach yourself to anything in the anime before the main cast are developed in the second half, then staying committed to the series is a task on itself.

Once it starts developing an overarching story in the second half everything falls further into place. The stakes become bigger, the main cast get developed, and answers on some of the series biggest dangling questions get answered. For example, “The Syndicate” motives and goal are revealed in the second half after being mentioned heavily in the first half. There’s also the start of an overarching story that instead of creating more action goes for giving Hei a greater mental obstacle to overcome. Building it up nicely before reaching the finale and feeling the weight Hei has to shoulder.

The reaction towards the finale of “Darker Than Black” will draw mix reaction. It doesn’t end with a bang making it fit more with the rest of the series. However, not everything will be answered. It’s appropriate for some questions to remain unanswered since the characters themselves don’t know all of them either. It’s more in line of capturing a noir mystery so some dangling questions will be forgivable. One thing is certain about the finale is it does close the story up and ties up all loose ends. Completely understanding everything after it ends that’s a whole other matter.

Good: A Cool Cast

Hei is the protagonist of the series and for more than half of the anime his past is kept secretive. Unfortunately revealing anything about him should be a consider a spoiler. Learning about Hei and seeing his backstory developed is a major part of the story. His personality can throw viewers off since the series does take its time giving background towards contractor and explain why they are emotionless. Hei is written in such a way that part of his character is difficult to read because of it. He fills the quota to be an emotionless contractor, but shows emotion in everyday life with sarcastic remarks when he interacts with other in the cast. He’s an intriguing mystery within the story and as a character becomes fully realize.

The rest of the main from talking cat Mao who gathers information, to the unable to get drunk when drinking handler Huang, and emotionless medium doll Yin are handled in the same way in their characterization. Like Hei, these main characters don’t get developed until later on in the series. When they are develop the two episode format allows room for in depth characterization. Setting up the character conflict in that episode and then following up by revealing bits of their themselves once the main cast reach closer towards a solution. Seeing them interact with one another never goes smoothly. Since they have varied personalities the chemistry between the characters can be both hilarious and captivating at the same time.

Half of the supporting cast tend to be done with after a single story arc. Once the story or job is finished that supporting characters will likely not be seen again. One of the few recurring supporting character is private eye detective Gai Kurusawa and his young manga obsessed assistant Kiko Kayanuma. The majority of the comedy revolve around these two characters. Gai Kurusawa is the closest the anime has to an exaggerated character. Reacting to his situation in over the top ways for a comedic effect. His interaction with Kiko usually revolve being desperate to accept any job for cash to arguing about the methods in getting cases solved. Episodes revolving around Gai Kurusawa and Kiko Kayanuma are easily entertaining with humor that hit due to their personalities and chemistry.

Though the setting of the story is in Japan the cast is composed of characters from other parts of the world. It’s not racial diversity just for the sake of it, but rather more of story tool to get across how big of a crisis it could escalate too. The CIA are involved, MI6 Agents are involved, underground organization “The Syndicate”, and the organization Evening Primrose that attempt to obtain peaceful coexistence between contractors and humans are involved. That’s quite the batch of organizations to keep track off and the same applies to the characters that work in them. Fortunately each organization is given a different objective for their goals and how they operate varied from one another. What this does is create different viewpoints within the setting on how the matter of contractors should be resolved. Giving several viewpoints on the matter as it grows into a bigger issue for everyone.

Good: Capturing the Intended Mood Perfectly

The animation is handled by studio Bones. While not impressive in the least on the visual side or in movement the style is a good fit for the anime. Character designs don’t have any exaggerated features and the environments are kept down to Earth as much as possible. Backgrounds are detailed with careful lighting that helps create the noir feel the series goes for. Everything is portrayed with some level of realism, including the contractors powers. Whenever a contractor uses their power the animation withholds from creating an excessive visual effect. Action scenes don’t feature any flashy particle effect that draws attention to a contractor power. So everything meshes together for a unify look even when the more exaggerated element of the story are on screen.

This also holds true for the action scenes which aren’t a drawing factor for the anime. Usually the action scenes are slow with the already mentioned restrained on flashy effects when a power is in used. In general, most of the action scenes have simple choreography that gets interrupted by conversations or is just slow in execution. Not counting the second opening. There are a few action scenes that combines contractors full abilities with the restraint display of powers, but unless Hei opponent Wei the action is underwhelming. CGI is used rarely, but questionable since it’s primarily used on cars which aren’t used for any elaborate scene. Cars simply go from one point to the next. Thankfully it does not stick out enough to become an issue since it’s only use from far shots. If anything can get annoying is seeing product placement for Pizza Hut in the background.

Voice acting from both the Japanese and English dub cast are terrific. In both versions the low key and restrained performances give off that noir feel the anime goes for. Unfortunately in both versions, some cast members aren’t allowed much ranged because part of the cast play the emotionless contractors. However, they are not stiff performances. The voice actors walk a thin line of coming across sounding wooden that they never cross. Most notably the most balance and perfected portrayal fall under Hidenobu Kiuchi in Japanese and Jason Liebrecht for the English dub both of whom voice Hei. Regardless what language you hear Hei speak both voice actor performances are tailored for this character. Neither are a dead giveaway in their delivery always surrounding Hei in this mysterious aura. His character is very difficult read, thanks to the voice talent, even delivery their jokes in a careful manner. Both actors are able to be funny while staying in character despite how little emotion they display in general.

Ikuya Sawaki in the Japanese cast and Kent William in the English both voice Mao. These two actors’ voices give off vastly different vibes in their portrayal of Mao. Sawaki sounds more natural like a friendly person with many connections, while William deeper sounding voice makes him sound wiser. William older sounding voice shines when he delivers sarcastic remarks. In the English dubbed Kent William is an easy standout and my favorite actor in this season.

One area where the English dub surpasses the Japanese cast are the accents for foreign characters. The Japanese cast in general don’t even come close in copying accents for foreign characters. In the English dub Troy Baker voices November 11, a clearly British character terrifically. Adding to an already accurate portrayal he fits the sophisticated character just fine.

The only major differences between both version is the comedy. Depending on what version you see the humor will be written for that specific culture in mind. Aside from that the English script remains as faithful as possible. While there’s the obvious dialogue changes there are episodes where the story changes are less subtle. There’s some episodes where certain plot points are beaten over the head. It’s not damaging to the point that it’s a complete turn off as it, though the material won’t always match the quality of the original in the English script.

If you had to choose how to see the anime I would say watch the series subbed since the Japanese cast is consistent throughout the whole series. While the English dub in season one is the clear victor due to the voice actors more accurate portrayal of foreign characters. However, in season two some casting choices end up backfiring as the script changes are notably different making some of the English voice cast come across as annoying. The English dubbed has a better cast for the first season, but the Japanese cast is consistently good all the way. If it’s short term English dub, but in the long run go with the English subbed.

The soundtrack is filled with good music. It’s diverse in genre from rock ballads, to cool jazz, and to slower more calming sounding tracks. The two opening tracks can come across as misleading when representing the mood and pace of the series. “Howling” by Abingdon Boys School for the first 14 episodes and “Kakusei Heroism” by An Cafe is used in episode 15 and onwards (minus episode 24) for the remainder of the series. Both opening theme makes “Darker Than Black” come across as a quick pace action series. While not accurate in presenting the series the two opening songs are fine for the anime. “Tsukiakari” by Rie Fu is a slow and melancholic track. It’s the ending theme for the first 14 episodes with a more emotional feel to it unlike the opening themes. Rie Fu soothing vocals are in harmony with the soft piano ballad. The second ending theme is “Dreams” by the band High And Mighty Color. “Dreams” is more upbeat than the first ending theme in it’s serenity.

Personal Enjoyment: More than thrilled I stuck with it

It took me fourteen episodes before I was actually able to enjoy watching Darker Than Black. Everything is kept deliberately secretive so I found it difficult to care about my main cast in the first half of the series when they weren’t developed. Eventually in the second half I started to care about them on episode 13 & 14 both of which focused on Yin. It was with these two episodes that my skepticism were gone since it made me feel that much closer to the main cast. I was convinced with these two episodes that this anime has something else to keep me coming back beside the first closing theme “Tsuki Akari” by Rie Fu. Thank goodness too for those two episodes because episode 15 the ending theme changed. Episode 15 and onward the whole development of the main cast made the strong writing that much better in subsequent episodes. It just took a while to get into it.

Calculating Points:

Story: 3/3

Characters: 3/3

Technical (Animation, Soundtrack, Voice acting, etc.): 2/3

Personal Enjoyment: 1/1

Final Thoughts:

Darker Than Black is not a series that will immediately hook you from the get go. The pacing is slow with it two episode structure taking half-way before developing a main story, but over time the strong writing, and great characters become far more memorable for it. Thanks to it two episode format for storytelling even side characters get fleshed out. Creating a fully realize world with diverse and complicated characters. It’s a difficult anime to fully get into, but the payoff it worth it if you trust it and stick with it through the end.

Cinema-Maniac: The Wind Rises (2014) Review

The Wind Rises explores the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. A story primarily driven by it metaphors to display it character passion more so than with actual words. Grounded in reality to illustrate Jiro has a career goal set in sight, but rather aimless when it comes to his personal life. This aimless drive translates to the free flowing pacing moving from year to year. It never specifies specifically what year scenes or an act takes place in its insistent to flow like the wind. Much like the usage of it wind plot device, the pacing only ever stops moving forward when an historical event becomes invasive. Intruding on Jiro’s passion alluding the negative implications of his creations. Jiro ponders the impact his creation has, but never explicitly told to the audience what those thoughts are. The film has an encouraging complexity that results in occupying this troubling space, with the idea that art has an inherent potency and power that, like anything that contains embedded energy, can be manipulated or misused by the hands of its beholder. Structuring it whole story where opposing views of Jiro’s creation and how Jiro sees his own work is understood. Sometimes in order in order to make a plane fly you need to compromise parts before it can soar. A work ethic that Jiro takes to heart even in his personal life.

In my book I have no problem giving this a perfect rating as a visual piece of art representing it subject in great metaphorical detail, but if I were to do so would be at the cost of hiding it weakness of any worthwhile characterization. It’s to care for the passion Jiro has for his crafts to create planes regardless the world general views towards him. However, Jiro himself is not an engaging character getting a facet of a man. Never feeling what Jiro feels when he falls in love, heartbroken by a failed test flight, and enthusiasm when viewing the possibilities to improve his plane designs. His romance transition from friends to lover is abrupt when brought into the picture. The film intention is to explore a man’s life who is defined by his for his crafts, even if it means undermining the bigger picture of the world he was involved in.

The art style mixes traditional hand drawn animation with impressionist-style backdrops that are gorgeously jaw-dropping. Many shots could be paused, framed, and hung up in an art museum, but the subtle animation only adds to their allure. Miyazaki has never cared much for “realistic” animation of human figures; they are abstracted into giant-eyed doll faces and stiff legs, as if trudging on stilts. The director expresses his true artistry in his landscapes: rural vistas rendered in the most delicate pastels, like the watercolors Naoko paints as Jiro courts her. In a hard land heading to war, Miyazaki makes sure the views are ravishing. The visual style sets a pleasant and whimsical tone that creates the impression that the film is a representation of the fantasy within the head of a dreamer.

The English dub voice acting is pleasant and natural, with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as a hushed, contemplative lead who we see squirming in his tight spot and Emily Blunt doing admirably as love interest Naoko. Supporting cast includes John Krasinski pleasantly snarky designer Kiro Honjo, Martin Short is fantastic as Jiro’s tough-but-fair supervisor Kurokawa, and Stanley Tucci is excellent as Caproni. The most interesting stunt casting job in the English dub is famous German director Werner Herzog as dissident German engineer Castorp; given the themes of Herzog’s own films (uniquely talented people seeking impossible dreams) this feels brilliantly salient. In the original Japanese audio, the standout here is the very surprising male lead – Jiro is played by none other than director Hideaki Anno. Yes, the Hideaki Anno creator of “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. Talk about perfect casting when it comes to misunderstood artistic expressions. Anno’s nuanced, understated performance really works well for the role. Casting is otherwise, uniformly excellent; the only remotely questionable casting choice here would be the still-serviceable Stephen Alpert as Castorp, with a noticeable American rather than German accent.

The Wind Rises doesn’t give much attention the background events rather is exclusively focus on a man’s passion for his crafts and how the usage of art reflect different views. Gone is Miyazaki child like wonder replaced by a harsh reality no matter how appreciative or hated a piece of art is will never be able to see it in the same way as it creator. Many of Miyazaki fans will question why he would end a career filled with rich fantasy world end with a final most resembling reality, but in doing so would distract from how Miyazaki represented himself through The Wind Rises.

Historical Accuracy: Reality vs. Artistic Expression

It wasn’t easy nor necessary, but hey historical research is fun for me (sometimes). Much of the film material is derived from the autobiography “The Story of the Zero Fighter” which is 80% plane design ideas, measurements and stories surrounding Jiro’s career. There’s so much focus on the construction of the planes there’s a measly 20% left for autobiographical material. This is an obvious indicator of his unrivaled passion for the flying machines, something which is brought to the screen perfectly. The majority of the information about the challenges Jiro met while designing his planes; the adventures he pursued as part of his work (traveling the world, mentoring students) and the thrill of watching test flights seem like they’re taken straight from the book. Viewers may have only witnessed his travels to Germany, but he also visited England, France and America in the first five years of his career at Mitsubishi.

One crucial element Miyazaki left out when translating these ideas to film was the self-doubt Jiro experienced while he integrated himself into the company. Horikoshi distinctly recalls wondering why his employers would want an inexperienced guy in charge of creating their planes. The first ten minutes are fairly accurate to Jiro life, but rather unlikely he would stand up to a bully and get into a fist fight. Another early departure in accuracy is the 1923 Japanese Earthquake which Jiro never experience or even mentioned in his memoir. Instead of being inspired by Caproni the real life Jiro decided to pursue planes in University after talking to a friend of his brother, whom was a professor at the newly created Department of Aeronautics in Tokyo. Like most teens he had no idea what he wanted to do, and that was the tipping point. Sadly, there is no mention of Jiro’s brother besides this.

To sum it up, Hayao Miyazaki took liberty to heart when it came to telling Jiro Horikoshi life story. Unless you do your research (or read his autobiography) you won’t really learn much about the actual Jiro Horikoshi from this film, but you get an accurate portrayal of this man undying passions for his crafts. So did this affect my rating of the film? You’re joking right? If the worst thing I could say about a film is that it fabricate a piece of reality than what’s the point of me experiencing the medium if it’s integral to it creations.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Holy Mountain (1973) Review

Admittedly “The Holy Mountain” is one of the most difficult film I ever had to interpret. Not because it’s story is so complicated it demands your full undivided attention to every detail in a frame, but because it draws its inspiration from Tarot cards (thank you Mr. Edogawa for those long lessons), Christian Iconology, Latin American History, futurism, mysticism, politics, astrology in a combination to strange images that correlate together into a difficult to decipher theme. Never do it characters explicitly tell you the significant of the events, but much like the characters it’s a journey of enlightenment. It’s also one that’ll leave you scratching your head until you realize you hit a nerve in your skull.

The Holy Mountain gives an omniscient view of what social engineering caused by greed has done to the modern world, but shows us how to live and not give in to a material world. That’s one way to put it or more honestly a series of strange visuals, odd metaphors, and a main character who isn’t even involved in the ending. Breaking all logic of a traditional narrative being a witness of the journey is not at any point off putting. It speaks figuratively rather than expressing itself through a literal sense. If taken at face value the film will leave you wondering what in the world you just saw. Much in comparison to the thief we follow, the film asks its audience to either go on the journey and be open to whatever is let out of the floodgates of the storyteller consciousness, or if to be closed off then to might as well leave. Visually exploring what is the significant of immorality, religion, and beliefs pondering if reaching enlightenment is more important than the journey to achieve it. Over the top humor pokes fun of the lack of awareness of the form of escapism in surreal ways that ranges from manufacturing art with a fully functioning conveyor belt for butt-imprint paintings to conditioning children to hate specific future enemies. Scenes all of which are a natural representation of escapism either be through photographs, paintings, videos, or anything that mentally makes the subject escape reality. Before reaching the end the figurative meaning behind it images will culminate into a narrative that touches on various themes. Each of which make sense (in this film logic that is) in the surreal manner they are presented in. Once it reaches the abstract ending is where there’s a glaring misstep. The ending itself spoon feeds everything the viewer witness in a final dialogue that reaffirms what you just saw was nothing more than it just appeared to be. Misguiding half of the meaning it actually was trying to get across. Then again, from a literal standpoint it goes along with the rest of the film.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is the film writer/director/producer/editor/music composer/costume designer/set designer/painter/sculptor/star and his input is on screen all the time. Creating a world that in semblance is no further than our very own, it’s just presented in a different form. At times the film looks absolutely gorgeous and it’s design are eye popping with surreal designs and bright colors. There is a scene where the thief enters a rainbow room with a single holy man and a camel. A struggle breaks out but the primitive learns that he is not worthy to overcome the much wiser man. Suggesting the brighter the color in the rainbow passage the greater the growth. It’s just one of the symbolic nature elements within. This intricate collective designed is sure to challenge the thoughts and translation of the viewer. As well as the set decorations, props, and the costumes and it pays off as the film is gorgeous to look at even if at times it’s a little hard to decipher without an innate knowledge of world religions and the occult. The whole film is a literal two hour intellectual LSD trip. In the scene where Axon of Neptune and his healthy young army massacre a town, the montage we see of blood, dust and guts isn’t entirely wounds overflowing with deep red or gory close-ups of torn flesh. Instead there are sticky greens and blues bubbling from bodies, obvious red ribbons from the gut and, in a rather touching moment from within the violence, little birds fluttering from the chest of a dead body. This barely scratches the surface of the surreal images you’re going to see in the whole film.

The Holy Mountain is surreal, deep, and one of the hardest films to make sense off if there’s any to be found if we speaking in a literal sense. If taken at face value the series of events will have little correlation, but never is it boring because of it surreal images. It’s a difficult film to recommend anyone to see because while it provides no background on everything it tackles. The abstract interpretation on the series of odd images is more than satisfactory for viewers seeking to challenge their minds. That is until it partially misguide viewers toward the end. No matter how the film is interpreted “The Holy Mountain” is never boring for what it bring to the forefront to the viewers that will confuse as well captivate the imagination.

9/10

Anime Breakdown: Elfen Lied (2004) Series Review

This show holds a great deal of significance…to my little brother at least. As oppose to myself where my entry point back into anime was Angel Beats! (a show my brother doesn’t hold in the same regard). Elfen Lied was his entry point into anime and one of the few shows he recommended me to check out. I did just that and to be honest it didn’t have the same impact on me, but is still a great show. It’s mature, bloody, and all around is supported by a creative team that manages to discuss many dark themes in the short span of thirteen episodes.

Premise:

University students Kohta and Yuka (Kohta’s cousin) save a Diclonius girl called “Lucy” when they see her naked in a beach. In fact “Lucy” is a serial killer who is being searched by the government but they are not aware of who “Lucy” really is because her personality is split.

Good: Holds Nothing Back

In Elfen Lied no area is too gray to discuss. Just about every episode casually discusses genocide, violence, vengeance, discrimination, inhumanity, and other dark themes. It’s for this acceptance for these dark themes alone that makes its story worth seeing. Providing a depiction of dark subjects without downplaying them. One such prominent and driving characteristic of those themes is Lucy and her violent outburst. Literally the opening minutes has her killing guards in bloody manners and upon this sight we tend to side with the humans. Delusioning the audience into believing that Lucy does in fact deserve to be locked up seeing how many people she killed. As the series advances and develops there’s a clear line drawn between compassionate killing and killing for a selfish reason. There’s a difference between child Lucy killing a child her own age versus young adult Lucy who kills an Assault Soldier. Violence for Lucy’s case is a path that presents maturity in her growth into a different person. Even the way Lucy kills a person has a distinct difference in methods. As a small child Lucy method is sloppy as her early killings there’s plenty of bloodshed despite being successful in her kills. Now compare to young adult Lucy and there’s more precise cutting and less of a bloody mess. She’s learns to become an expert in the art of killing while slowly becoming consume with regrets and hatred for herself committing such activity that encourages discrimination and the people that drove to that state.

The way it depicts violence isn’t for fun showing the pain it causes both on who inflicts it and whose receiving it. Because it chooses to show violence as a form of pain rather than a spectacle it further pushes it highlighted themes. Beginning to question who are the biggest monsters; Diclonii for resorting to violence when discriminated or the humans that discriminate against them viewing the species only as a tool. Both sides are morally wrong, but at the same time morally justified for such actions. We get to experience the conflict on both side. In Lucy’s views she had a small spark of hope in humanity that was lost. Negative feelings that were only reaffirmed through the hardship once she got captured and treated as an animal in experiments. On the other side we have the humans believing Lucy represents the Diclonii short temper and dangerous powers that gives them little leeway if more of them are born. Some see Diclonii as a problem being a superior race that can easily overthrow humans. The conflict isn’t one dimensional as both morally reinforce the other negative feelings towards the other questioning if there is such a thing progress beyond the label of race.

Stopping myself before I spoiled every theme for newcomer I’ll discuss my favorite moments in Elfen Lied weren’t so much the deep meaning it gave to it themes. It was actually the dynamic backstory of Kurama. Episode 10 is the series biggest turning point as not only does it developed Kurama as a much more than a cold, complicated individual, but it brings a whole new meaning behind his actions. Most of which are questionable even before learning about his past. With the revelation in episode 10 it puts into perspective that further reinforced him as a monster or as a weak minded man who’s intentions outweighed his actions. His conflict is no longer one sided, morally seeking revenge, nor it is one outweighed that it’s his duty. Rather it’s a smaller personal journey that through the course of the series we see him changing, but not necessarily for the better. While he does not have a change of heart he neither goes out of his way to redeem to himself for the possible dozen of lives he has taken. Kurama is a man who in his exterior does anything that is for the better of mankind. No matter how much of his humanity he has to sacrifice, but not at the cost when the dilemma becomes personal. This is proven when he refuses to go through with a specific order in Episode 10. Kurama is just one of many cast of characters that not only struggles with the cruel reality, but also struggles with complicated issues themselves that cross a series of gray lines.

Good: A Love Story With Blood and Gore

Underneath all the dark themes lies a story of romance that’s rather odd. One would expect going into any show with a male lead making a prediction of who he’ll likely end up with and be correct. That’s not the case with Elfen Lied as it blend of comedy and harem (protagonist surrounded by multiple love interests) semi-realistically among the chaos. Each episode focuses on the central characters current dilemma with the bigger picture in the background slowly inching it way to centerfold. Kouta, at the center, is shown conflicted with his romantic feelings. He’s neither oblivious to the idea that Yuka (childhood best friend) loves him nor makes attempt to conceal he might have feelings for another girl. Naturally he’s drawn to Nyu/Lucy child mentality state as she sees the world in her own eyes for the first time. Whenever Nyu is around you always feel there’s a warmth of innocence and good intentions behind everything she does. Nyu might not be able to fully comprehend everything about modern society, but neither do we hold it against her. Yuka on the other hand intends well, but comes across too strongly in expressing herself. She isn’t afraid to speak out her mind that for better or worse leads to the predicament she gets into.

Another good trait about the romance is how it works into the dark themes. As oppose to making the whole series entirely broody the romance aspect tends to be more lighthearted. This is a nice departure serving the interactions between characters feel natural. We never feel like they unknowingly get involved into a big disaster. They naturally go about their daily lives as best they can. These romance scenes reveal a lot about the characters naturally setting up some misunderstandings. A misunderstanding could work its way into a joke which nicely transition into a serious subject. Breaking the barrier’s rough exterior with a joke, then going into its topic with a serious talk. This also works for scenes that feature comedy in general. Depending on the situation within a scene determines the type humor. Ranging from dark humor like a character line from learning he’ll have his genitles remove to out of the blues to metaphor humor like a character having a nightmare on Japan currency crucifying her.

Now where does exactly does exactly blood and gore come into the picture? Well nearly every affection or misunderstanding between Kouta and Lucy/Nyu results in some form of violence. In episode 2, after an argument regarding a precious pink shell Kouta becomes upset at Lucy/Nyu causing her to run away. Lucy and Kouta run into trouble resulting in Kouta being knocked out and Lucy mercilessly killing those sent to retrieve her. While technically both characters haven’t connected at this point it empathizes the focus on a love story. This event only strengthens their bond and from an audiences perspective can truly understand the beauty Kouta finds behind such a cruel killing machine. The romance and the characters current dilemma never builds up to the level as the Diclonius Research Institution violent search to retrieve Lucy, but it’s bridges the gap between discussing larger than life issues with the smaller side of human conflict.

Good: Lots of Great Female Characters

Fans of the series are quick to point to Lucy as the best character of the series regardless of genders and that’s not far from the truth. While not my favorite of the cast, Lucy does resemble a “Jekyll and Hyde” trait transforming back and forth between an entirely defenseless girl you want to protect to a psychopath who you hope don’t come to bad terms with under any circumstances. She chops bodies without having to lift a finger. All she has to do is stand next to a person and let her vectors (telekinetics invisible hands) do all the chopping. She isn’t afraid of a fight on several occasions proving she’s not to be messed with. Being capable of holding her own against her own kind. It also helps that she develops allot through the series seeing what drove her to lose faith in humanity and the person that made her believe in them again.

Mayu is the youngest of the cast of characters and admittedly my favorite of the cast. For anyone wondering no it’s not because she’s cute (her voice actress doesn’t help either), but rather her maturity. Despite never understanding the bigger picture of the series conflicts she manages to be a sort of therapist for the characters. Listening to their problems and being able hold a conversation on subjects she might or not entirely understand. Much like the rest of the female cast she gets a tragic backstory. Nana on ther hand is more lightheaded and no understanding of the real world. She doesn’t receive as much screen time as Lucy, but is a welcome addition with her nearly fun loving personality. Her misunderstanding on how the real world works leads to some funny situations. There are two other worth mentioning, but those two are left as it since mentioning them will lessen their impact when they appear.

Good: Less Is More

Colors are nicely saturated, and the series’ kind of minimalistic design aesthetic comes through decently. Everything visually is kept simplistic even during the moments of carnage which despite having characters get ripped limb to limb are shown one at a time generally. It can get gratuitous with the nudity, but it’s generally used in a context where it would not be viewed as (possible) fan service. Granted some will enjoy the amount of nudity more so than other (me not being one of them). Blood can also get a bit excessive, but the level of dismemberment is intensified by the amount of blood that comes on screen. Either all at once or little by little to proven effect. Character designs are generally distinct, and the lighting for a given scene always look proper. The only major complaint against the animation is all the characters have the same face. While they’re all distinguishable due to hair, eye color, clothing, and things of the like, they all have the same exact facial structure. One of the instances of taking shortcuts, though it’s forgivable since characters are being reused. However, using stock animation in Episode 12 literally minutes after one of its characters performs a specific action does not get a free pass.  

Sound mixing is superb even if the cheery outro “Be Your Girl” by Chieko Kawabe doesn’t fit with the tone of the series. Some of the credit goes to a top-rate soundtrack based around the soulful, elegant Latin opening theme “Lilium” (which, as it turns out, is actually a plot device) stirring hymn inspired from the biblical and buttressed by suitably creepy or dramatic musical scoring in other places. It’s in the use of background noise and sound effects, and the way everything is balanced between multiple speakers, where the sound production truly excels.  It is based upon a catholic chant of the same name. Performed entirely in Latin, it was very unusual and fitting. The Lilium theme also features repeatedly through the flashbacks. The rest of the soundtrack is also good. It sets the right mood and invokes the right emotional response. Most of it is made up of simplistic piano and string arrangements. Instrumental variety isn’t an issue for high quality music is never a bad thing.

Mixed: A Forced Story

Elfen Lied is a tragedy and one that makes sure it does everything to reinforce that. Much like Angel Beats!, what saves the series is great writing and closing a rather large story into 13 episodes that provides a sense of closure. For starter in order for its story to be in a position to continue the characters Kouta and Yuka upon finding Nyu/Lucy naked on the beach first response is to take her home. Instead of the doing usual asking people around town if anyone knows her or report her to the police. Setting up the story with unrealistic action gets a free pass since it’s setting up the story. However, it is a force trigger to get it story going.

Unfortunately Elfen Lied falls into the routine of being predictively cruel leaving little room for surprises. It becomes a running formula for one of the central characters to have a tragedy occur to them. For some characters their troubled past comes across effectively. One example being Mayu character who first time we see her is homeless. Through the early goings we learn tiny details about Mayu current condition which makes it tragic when discovering the truth behind her past. This was foreshadowed as well as hinted at makes sympathy towards Mayu earned. When it hints or allude at a character past and follows up on it becomes a rewarding emotional investment.

Of course anyone who seen the series will hate me for criticising one such scene in Lucy flashback as an example of its forced story. Without spoiling it, all I’ll say is that it involves a puppy. Now here’s a problem with this specific scene. The whole dynamic of Lucy losing faith in humanity at a young age is very forced in this pivotal scene. Lucy takes a liking to puppy, but nothing ever becomes of the relationship. Now in the manga (according to my brother, Anime Psychopath) time is spent on showing Lucy relationship with this puppy which gives greater significance to what occurs to the puppy. In the anime series we don’t get that at all making it feel like it just happened the next day. All that is gathered from Lucy connection with the puppy is that she wanted to feed it and that’s it. We’re never shown any depth to Lucy connection for this puppy aside from she likes it. That’s not so hard buy since allot of people like puppies. It comes off as a plot device that forces itself to prove a point not so much to add value to its story.

Now the whole series does falter in major conflicts getting resolved rather quickly. This is also to blamed on the writing anime series which yes is not a problem in the manga. One such example is Kouta finally gaining back his memory of a tragedy that occurred to him at a young age. Once he discovers who it was behind the murdered of his father and younger sister he quickly forgives the person who done it. Apparently Kouta finds family murdered to be a turn on. Another issue with the series is Yuka (basically the childhood best friend, love interest) character is the weakest of an otherwise great cast mostly filled with strong female characters. More than half of Yuka’s dialogue has something to do about Kouta possibly not loving her or someone else taking him away from her. She’s not given much of a personality coming across overly clinging and unsupportive of Kouta’s good will taking in girls with life issues.

The final episode in particular is a mixed bag. For starter it hints there’s a lot more story left to tell, but doesn’t have a second season to tell those stories. To its credit it does end many of its hanging threads to prevent dissatisfaction with how it all played out. However, it’s basically a read the manga ending if you want to discover what happened pass that ending.

Final Thoughts:

Elfen Lied is currently the most mature anime I’ve had finished. Visually its minimalist details emphasises the nature of pain that comes from violence serving as a commentary tool for its dark themes rather than mere spectacles. Suffering some minor issues from a force story that is routinely tragic and a ending that reveals there’s a lot more story left to tell that is not going to make it way onto the small screen or big screen anytime soon. As it stand as a 13 episode anime Elfen Lied gets across many themes without stumbling between the dark nature of the cruel world and the lighthearted moments between its cast. It might not last very long, but like Angel Beats! it’s a short burst of a quality television worth giving it a watch while it last.

Themes: 2/2

Genre Blending: 2/2

Characters: 2/2

Production Values: 2/2

Execution: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – Elfen Lied falls into a routine of being predictably cruel, but never does predictability detract from what’s otherwise a great show. It has light elements you associate with anime while never lessening its maturity in telling a story with many dark themes.

Cinema-Maniac: The Double (2014) Review

The Double is about a government clerk’s life taking a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is his exact physical double. The best aspect of the film is it ability to provide a simple story that juggles dark humor while at the same time presenting a satirical monotony bureaucracy. Even if the film is not given much thought tells a complete story on it’s protagonist personal journey. Presenting an odd, bleak world with odd characters that our protagonist Simon interacts with. On a basic level Simon is simple character whose conflict arises from his double James. A physical form of the person Simon is not with no backbone to take initiative or guts to speak to the woman he loves. Simon himself makes his life pessimistic because of who he is, just like how his polar opposite James succeeds in what he cannot. This where the film’s dark humor comes from. His lack of conviction to act lends itself to repercussions for Simon from a security guard not recognizing him despite having work in the company for seven years or elevators not working him. In one way the film speaks about Simon being his own worst enemy as too much of one side does not please him. Psychology it could be seen as a breakdown of a single character in a monotony bureaucratic future where everything looks the same. While the forefront is always keen on Simon personal journey there’s small clues given and dialogue given to present the troubled dystopia. Looking at conformity or carbon copy of people being manipulated to take the shape and form of another instead of being themselves. Care was put into it writing as virtually anything it wants to tackle works in the film without eliminating attention from the main story.

Richard Ayoade succeeds in giving his film a dystopic, old fashioned, darkened look. There is very little bright light that ever strikes the frame as a single scene never takes place in daylight. Everything is dark and grey, with no real sense of colour (outside of a hyperactive spacey television show starring Paddy Considine). The film is set in an indiscernible time period which is deliberate to help add to the enigmatic nature of the dystopia Ayoade creates for Simon. He sees things as mundane, and very black and white. It defines his existence really, giving the setting an equal footing alongside the characters. Each frame drowns in an artificial blackness, harsh metals and steampunk/obsolete technological amalgams being used as seemingly high-tech office systems. Sly commentary on the doubling is brought to our attention via Simon’s constant trips to Hannah’s floor for one copy of his paperwork while the skin and bones facsimile walking around inside his life ends up not as autonomous as a Xerox sheet. They share a connection that Ayoade exposes through violent rage and a very precise outburst of frustration. Ayoade also makes a clever and interesting usage of sound in the film. From the television set to the copy machine. Even footsteps and knocking on a door seem intrusive. Voices and subtly used music to get inside of Simon’s head. All of these elements help act alongside the setting to really define Simon as a character keeping the aesthetics in check as much as it carefully woven story.

Jesse Eisenberg gives a very surprising performance as both Simon and James. Eisenberg is pitch perfectly cast in a dual role that requires him to seem put-upon and timid and broken, while also arrogant and assertive and borderline sociopathic. There are other actors in the film, but Jessie Eisenberg, as Simon and James, are basically the only one who actually gets to do something of note, which is somewhat disappointing since the film has a very good cast. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska is Hannah, the girl that Simon pines after. Wasikowska gave a very good playing a believable lost soul, but her American accent was inconsistent. Wallace Shawn plays Simon’s boss, a good natured, but stern man fits into the role. Supporting cast are limited in screen time from Sally Hawkins, Chris O’Dowd, and Paddy Considine all have minor roles, and Noah Taylor is indispensable are solid whenever on screen.

The Double is a clever satire supported by it anesthetics and a plot that also succeeds as a character study. It humor won’t be everyone liking, but the film tackles an arrange of themes and has a dynamic character to keep it story engaging. Alongside it are the technical aspects that serve the story as an equal to hold meaning as a narrative component not to just make it pretty. It works as a character study and succeeds as a satire offering dark humor in a very smart film that isn’t a carbon copy of old tricks for these kind of stories.

9/10

Differences between Enemy and The Double:

“Enemy” is the more intellectual of the two demanding viewers to form their own interpretation with the clues given to them. It’s a film that can’t be compare any other because if complex story and dream like atmosphere. “The Double” on the other hand works out an interpretation with you making it easier for audience to make sense of it all. While “The Double” does cover familiar ground it has the advantage of not relying as much on visuals or dialogue motifs to tell its story. If you removed the satire elements it equally works as a character study whereas “Enemy” ambiguity is required for the atmosphere it wants to achieve. Sure both film protagonists have some common traits, but plot wise are distinct both utilizing different techniques and having vastly different execution. Aside from coming out the same year, both being about doppelganger, and shared traits in protagonists similarity, there is not much to compare.

Cinema-Maniac: The Machinist (2004) Review

Insomnia is an all too common writing device that lends itself in creating a story where the lead character reality conflicts with the actuality of the world. Much like Aspergers, Insomnia is highly favored in its usage to add flair to a story that in a direct narrative wouldn’t have worked. “The Machinist” is such a case by removing a linear narrative and eliminating conventional characteristic is an psychological thriller that delivers one stimulating and thought provoking experience.

The Machinist is about an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year doubting his own sanity. Its protagonist, Trevor Reznik, starts off as a sympathetic blank page. Merely creating an image of man who from the setup is seen doing something bad, but upon viewing him live appears to be an innocent man suffering without a crime committed. Reinforcing a positive image on Reznik personality and questionable one about his lifestyle. Once Reznik is setup as a character the next step is to fill in the blank to how he got to where he ended up. Steadily through the course of the movie more about Reznik is revealed entirely through his dialogue. While visuals do play a factor in understanding Reznik psyche, it’s not on the same level as the spoken words. Revealing Reznik entire life story indirectly to the audience with Reznik interactions. Reznik is by definition and description is average, but his action in delicate situations suggest otherwise. Until the revelation near the end Reznik maps other suffering onto himself. Turning exterior conflicts into internal ones when Reznik is uncovering himself through the worst possible action. Aside from Reznik, another plot device is a hangman game on a post-it note. The word only has six letters and the last two letters are filled out. If this plot device was to be removed it would have taken away from the writing. It understands that the journey it more pivotal than it’s predictable destination. Because of it, the word can be guessed correctly or make a guess that comes close to it, but doesn’t detract from its story. Instead it adds a dimension that’s worth examining. Alongside his trouble psyche, poor physical conditions, and now his inability to defeat guilt are all traits that follow him. Weaving an intelligent, psychological thriller that is both hard to read in development and engaging in its complicated protagonist.

Director Brad Anderson creates an uneasy atmosphere at a steady pace. A bleak, nearly colorless look, sadness and dread combined to portray the world through Reznik eyes. The atmosphere is aided by Roque Banos’ moody score, but it is especially conveyed by the tasty cinematography, which is extremely desaturated–almost approaching black and white at times. It suggests an appropriate desolation. This is also reflected in the locations and set designs. Everything relating to Trevor current matter in his apartment, the machine shop, or in his car is in muted, blue-gray tones. As if fabricated by some unknown nature that has a score to settle with Reznik. Playing with his head that those around are after him. In contrast to the brightly lit scenes that highlight a real world quality to them. Not removing itself from tragedy, Reznik in brightly lit scenes feels naturalistic. Never does he feel anything in particular is dead set against him in the bad turn of events finding some truth to them.

Christian Bale is skeletal as Trevor and visually captivating in embodying all his flaws. Christian Bale more than visually matches his part, but acts it with the same level of dedication. His physical appearance becomes a part of the character not so much the sole characteristic of the character or Bale performance. Physically we see Bale for the broken and hollow man he is, but also adds a trait of humor when joking about his skinny body. Bale portrays he can fit into society, and shows various traits of an unstable mind with his obsession that turns into rage. Becoming another broken person and not just a walking skeleton. The rest of the cast is overshadowed by Christian Bale terrific performance. They do a solid job even if they don’t leave a big impression. John Sharian plays pretty much a “Devil” type character with his sinister smile and deep voice. To say there’s nothing subtle about his performance is understatement, but rather fits the role just fine. He’s energetic always hinting at something sinister with his line delivery. Jennifer Jason Leigh much like her other co-stars is given a single personality just like Aitana Sanchez Gijon. Aitana Sanchez is more cheering and Jason Leigh is broody. Their characters receive minimal amount of development, but can’t do anything beyond the exterior of the characters.

The Machinist is a steadily paced psychological thriller driven by one character and actor. Christian Bale becomes Trevor Reznik disappearing into the role matching it perfectly both physically and in his portrayal. Bale performance alone would warrant “The Machinist” is worth viewing, but add an intelligent story and with a physiologically broken lead you have a film that demands your attention.

9/10

Anime Breakdown: Angel Beats (2010) Series Review

Prior to writing this review, Angel Beats! could be best describe as an entry point back into anime for me. My introduction to anime is actually with Dragon Ball Z and Naruto which were enjoyable shows. At the time when I viewed them I just thought as them as interesting looking shows not knowing where they originated from. I never finished to completion either anime series (the video games several of which I have) therefore lost an interest in anime in general. It wasn’t until recently with the surge of my little brother fascination with anime that caught my attention. While I knew little about anime I enjoyed listening to what my brother had to say about the anime series he watched. My little brother did bug me to give anime it a try, but much like when I choose a film to watch I would have to research it. Thus I landed on Angel Beats! because the simple premise intrigued me to check it out and seeing how it’s a short series it would be manageable with my schedule. There’s no question my enjoyment of seeing Angel Beats! is far greater than most anime fans, but one thing it is for certain it’ll leave a strong impression.

Premise:

Rebellious teens fight in armed combat against one dispassionate girl’s supernatural powers in an afterlife high school. (Man is this synopsis significantly shorter compared to my Blue Exorcist review).

Good: Stellar Writing/Handling of Themes of Life and Death

Angel Beats! follow characters that are discontent with their former lives. A premise that is well handle thanks to the writing talent at hand. Combining sharp action, riotously funny humor, clever exploitation of the setting, musical performances, a cast of colorful characters where heavily moe (cute/ a term with a contrived definition) girls are in the minority into a polished package. All these culmination of elements work in sync with each other pulling off anything it sets out to do with great success. Often focusing on what would work best for its story over specifically relying on a noticable strong suit.

Uniting of all sorts of different idea weaving a world that can be best describe as a philosophical videogame. References to Buddhist theology, replete with long, philosophical discussions of reincarnation and its implications, along with more modern, tech-savvy ideas like computer games and programming. Representing an afterlife that works like that of a video game doing so with a good understanding of video game programing with Buddhism. This analogy is made even more obvious by when a character refers to large swarms of background students and teachers at the high school as “non-player characters.” This odd fusion of Buddhism and video games should have not click together, but strangely do. There’s some remarkable similarity made between the two as a retry after death in a videogame could be seen as a reincarnation in Buddhism in the series. Every episode in a way could be viewed as a like a video game level with branching path that either A.) Tackle the conflict blindly or B.) Organize a strategy each with their own risks and reward. Analyzing in great detail one’s own faith and the free will given to them to make difficult decisions especially knowing the life consequence of it.

Writing excels in every category especially when it comes to character focus episodes. Subtle characterization and down to earth dialogue can quickly leave their mark on the viewer no matter the amount of screen time characters receive. Episode 3 is where the strong writing is first shown its true powers. In a short length of time we’re able to connect with character Masami Iwasawa (pink hair! damn one of my weaknesses) whose dreams, past, and passion we get to learn about thanks to carefully written conversations that comes across naturally and not just mere exposition. For a series that want to touch upon many themes it has 13 episodes to do so and of course not everything comes together as it should have. However, the writing hardly gives any sign of uncertainty. Despite being 13 episodes it’s able to accomplished a number of themes it chooses to explore providing full closure on the series.  

Good: Execution of old tricks

For a form of entertainment that has televised series for over 50 years originality is difficult to come by. However, being a movie fan first I know as long as the execution works you can make even the most cliche of stories interesting again. That applies to Angels Beats! which for anime veterans will become familiar with the high school setting, absurdly powerful student counselor, open ending, down to the characters from the hero with a friendless background, the smart guy, tough girl on the outside whose soft on the inside, and what not. Anime fans will be able to pick out the tropes, but as someone who’s not familiar with anime tropes as so much writing devices what is used here works in the confined of the series. Each of the cliches and trope used in the series is executed properly to work. It’s not so much that what it does with them is different for the tropes, but in subtext have more than a single function.

Take for example the characters in Angel Beats! referred to as Angel who can manipulate her hands and turn them into weapons. Most of Angel’s abilities, such as Harmonics and (Hand) Sonic, Distortion, Overdrive, and Delay are various guitar effects. Angel is also a seen playing the piano in the opening of the show and mention in the series that she can play the piano professionally. Why am I bringing up what appears to be a series of random facts? Well Angel real name Kanade literally translate to “playing music” which is the main weapon our group of rebellious teens uses to distract the crowds or enemies during their operations. Scenes involving a character playing a musical instrument Kanade nearly always appears in. Most of which are important moments that explain the workings of the afterlife or a significant character moment. Even Angel herself intention is to drive the audience off her actual purpose in the world (which she even admits to doing poorly) provides a different perspective on to view the inhabitants of the afterlife.

Good: Gorgeous Animation

Animation is often cg-enhanced, looking slick and polished. Backgrounds are very detailed and animation alway appears smooth. Often bright and colorful the presentation boasts very good to excellent line detail as well as a nicely robust and well saturated palette. Character design is consistent and highly expressive. Their movement are never restricted in comedic situations applying cartoon physics. Resulting from characters being stabbed multiple times, being cut in half, seated in a ejector seat that crashes into the ceiling, and several other are made comedic in a series where no one can die. While character designs aren’t exactly innovative, they are colorful, especially with regard to the often oddly hued hair of several of the major players. Some of the concert sequences look good and almost seem to have been assembled with motion capture, so fluid and convincing are the girls’ movement. It looks especially lovely during the action scenes that support plenty of particles effects. Fast in movement with no bluff the action scenes are no doubt a high point sporting numerous tiny details and fast motion. Backgrounds are often minimal reusing the same locations while detail lack variety. Overall Angel Beats sports a nicely sharp and well defined piece of animation.

Good: Music

In Angel Beats, the SSS employs its own all-girl rock band to divert the enemy at choice times. Instead of using existing or commissioned music all songs were written and composed by Jun Maeda himself specifically for this series. Serving the series a purpose the songs by the all girl bands correlate with the series themes. Discussing characters specifics such as the strong desired to continue a dream, friendship, deception, and many others benefits to giving the band character. Giving them an identity and a clearly getting across their personality as individuals and as a band.

The result is an effective, low-key approach which supports the material, rather than leading it, and easily shifts from comedy to dramatic modes. The GlDeMo songs are all solid rock numbers save for a pretty solo ballad, and all of them suit their intended purpose well. Opener “My Soul, Your Beat!” is a lovely piano-fronted song whose visuals adjust slightly each episode to provide previews of the upcoming action. Also, the notes played on the piano are resemble a heart beat. Sneaking in symbolism into its music aside from just sounding good has as much depth given to its as the story. With lyrics that sound like they’re were written by teenagers are easy to understand and fitting the fictional world nicely.

Regular closer “Brave Song” is equally good and accompanies visuals which show major characters in the Battlefront roster and regularly update to reflect events in the series; watching for these changes can be a game unto itself. An alternate rock version of the opener fronts episode 4, while episodes 10 and 13 have the poignant “Ichiban no Takaramono” as an alternate but very appropriate choice. The music in the show if taken out can stand on their own. These songs support in developing the material as much as the rest of music do in supporting its series tone. While none of the tracks in the series can surpass the excellence orchestration and composition in ‘My Soul, Your Beat’ and ‘Brave Song’ the music in general tends to be of high quality.

Mixed: Not Enough Episodes

As much I praise the writing it doesn’t explore everything it wants in 13 episodes and 1 OVA (Original Video Animation/standalone episode created outside the series). Several characters back stories are left in the dust with a plot progressing rapidly. Often resorting to giving a majority of cast a catchphrase or quirk that gives them a specific identity. On the whole it makes the large cast distinguishable even if all aren’t treated equally. This lack of development for the large cast takes away from the emotional impact the final three episodes were going for. Many characters backstories are left to the imagination and also what occurred to them past the series ending is left blank too. That’s not even adding the new characters that are introduced later on in the series that add the headcount of unexplored lives.

Thematically the first halve of the series doesn’t fit the tone of the later half. Early episodes of Angel Beats! plays on its strong side of comedy that are meant to make us acquainted with our cast. Sadly it mindset past early episodes go all over the place jumping into either a straight up drama, comedy, or a mixture of both. In general the balance of drama and comedy is handle well doing what the series does best. Never at one point does either overshadowed the other. However, it’s undeniable how jarring the the series becomes compare to where it started. Noticeably distracting further highlighting the absence of certain elements that made you like the series in the first place. Once you hit a certain point in the series you know things are going to permanently change. Personally I like both the comedic and dramatic tone of the series, but as a whole there’s no denying how indifferent the series tone conflicts with itself scattering around the viewer emotions against the intended impact it wanted to send.

Final Thoughts:

Angel Beats! is a short burst of great comedy, action, and drama while it last. It’s length holds it back from expanding into the show it could have been. Changing drastically in little time and leaving certain elements in the dust. No doubt anyone who enjoys Angel Beats will be disappointed when it ends quickly. What little the series does provide is undeniably entertaining and dramatically powerful with the creators heartfelt passion for their creation shown in the quality of their work.

Writing: 2/2

Execution: 2/2

Animation: 2/2

Sound: 2/2

Length: 1/2

Rating: 9/10 – A short run of an excellent show that balances everything it sets out to do. While it’s aim is bigger than its grasp there’s no denying what is perfectly executed vastly overshadows it faults.

Cinema-Maniac: Scream (1996) Review

Every genre has a formula none more repetitive than in horror films. Several films has proven if done right can still work, but as a reliance for a genre it grows repetitive and tiresome resorting to the same tricks that audiences are accustomed to spotting them whenever they appear. Scream takes established expectations and turns it around using it strongly to its advantage combining witty humor and tension.

Scream is about a killer known as Ghostface killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one. Self aware of its own existence as a film and one in the horror genre it defies expectation with a witty deconstruction of its own formula. Characters are self aware of the rules applied to them in the film often bringing them front and centered to our attention. Whether or not the film chooses to take a route it gives to the audience is up to the writer to decide. Diverging between avoiding a pitfall cliche or embracing it raises greater possibility of shock. With options open to itself it not only follows a simple narrative, but also adds a layer complexity in its story and subtext that analyzes the gears of the working of average horror film. By playing against expectations every chance it has to mislead the audience is taken. Just about every character in the film can be suspected as being the killer each being more off putting in their timing when they appear. Misleading in confirming the identity of the killer maintaining uncertainty in trust to characters and anxiety when moving forward. Although not every dissection is done cleanly with several of the horror rules being used for cartoonish effect. While humor generally doesn’t detract from the horror element. What does subtract from the experience are some contrived murders and contrived reasoning for a particular characters survivor.

Dialogue is intentionally artificial with nearly every conversation sounding as unnatural as possible. Tossing references naturally, odd analogy, and rules how a horror film functions. Serving two great purpose in the film; one is the already established playing against expectations and the second is developing cliche characters. Not only are its characters walking and living cliches in an film knowledgeable about it functions, but also written with personality. They go beyond the standard genre trope establishing a clear background on characters, their current relationship with one another, and the part they all play in the film. Even Ghostface is also giving human traits having trouble killing his victims that equally pose the capability to escape. While none of the characters ever earn emotional attachment you will care about them in the dire situation they play a part in.

Was Craven made sure Scream was exciting with a creative deaths and tension. In particular his technique of using the camera to follow the victims and move it around his location, adding excitement and intrigue. He knows how to build suspects and he does keep you guessing framing shot in way not revealing everything in sight. Creating suspense in places where one would assume to be safe. The used of music is accompany the more horror oriented scene to create an bleak mood and not spoil the potential scare. Neve Campbell really finds the true essence of her character. Fragile emotionally to be sure, but she can also muster up great emotional and physical strength when necessary, as well as be very resourceful. Jamie Kennedy is great as a movie geek who revels in the rules of horror and even Courtney Cox does a good job of being an annoying television journalist. Matthew Lillard and David Arquette all get to provide the laughs and the differences makes it work. The rest of the cast are just great playing a different variation on familiar horror tropes.

Scream brutally dissects the conventions of its genre to hilarious success while delivering legitimate suspense by playing with expectations. Using a template and seemingly playing by it rules, but constructing it owns path add needed complexity and intelligence in a genre that wholly remains simplistic.

9/10