Anime-time: Zankyou no Terror

Oh, hey, I watched a relatively new anime, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand

Zankyou no Terror is a good anime.

First of all, let’s begin with this, so you’re not tricked into thinking this is a show about terrorism and the morals around it. Because it isn’t. It really isn’t anything I expected when going into it.

Whether or not I recommend it, is a bit of a complicated question, but I’ll ultimately say no. There are definitely some good – even very good – parts to this story, but I just can’t recommend it. Or can I? I mean, fuck, it’s difficult, alright?

Going to deep into what the story is actually about is kind of risking spoilers, but I’ll try a spoiler-free version: Zankyou no Terror is about connectivity. Not just between two people, or about someone who’s on the outside of societal norms, but a society. Also, it’s about the Japanese climate and generational gaps, in a post-war society (even if the show has a modern setting). It’s just a shame there’s so much in the way to actually get to that. Well, technically it’s always there, but it’s just not “stated” that that’s what it’s about. Sure, us viewers have to read into things as they happen, but sometimes it can’t help to kinda lead us to what were supposed to get out of it. Eh.

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Twelve and Nine, read from the left.

 

Anyway, ZnT centres on a duo of young men, Nine and Twelve, who fashion themselves terrorists with a cause. Nine is the classic silently intelligent bad-ass you often see in anime. Twelve is another stereotype – the hyper individual, with a magnetism that pulls people to him. Initially Twelve seems to have the interesting twist of being a psychotic emotional manipulator, but that quickly goes away to reveal a pretty normal guy, minus the terrorism angle. I won’t go too much into the attacks and repercussions themselves, but I will say that the show definitely veers hard away from very serious terrorism stuff – is, I guess, how I’ll put it. They call themselves Sphinx 1 and 2, and the series starts with them stealing a nuclear device. After that, they go to record and upload videos with them forecasting bombings, and basically daring the cops to do anything about it. They challenge the police to solve puzzles related to Greek mythology. So, those of us who aren’t read up on Sophocles’ Oedipus just get to kick back and watch the story unfold.

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Nine and Twelve in their Sphinx getup.

 

Among the police trying to solve Sphinx’ riddles is former detective Shibazaki, who got taken off the force in the past for investigating police corruption. He’s the series’ most interesting character, in that he actually has a fully developed character. He feels like a more mature L Lawliet, without the eccentricity. He knows what man-made disasters can do to a country, and will go far to stop Sphinx’ plans.

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Shibazaki, intellectually confronting Sphinx, in a revealing moment for both sides.

Into this mess, Lisa Mashima is pulled. She’s a schoolgirl that’s bullied by the other girls and seems to generally hate life. Her mother seems incredibly  Twelve injects himself into her life, which has huge consequences on both of their lives. There is potential to the Lisa character, for sure. She could have offered another, but still parallel, viewpoint to the Sphinxes’, and help to further explore all three characters. That doesn’t really happen, though, or at least not soon enough. She plays the damsel in distress and is portrayed as being quite ridiculously useless. Her bad cooking is played for laughs, because anime stereotype. Her arc ends up in a pretty good place before the series crashes and burns at the end.

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Lisa, unwittingly pulled into a plot that could shake the foundations of the country.

The story is excellently animated. Absolutely gorgeous. The music is also a stand-out, behind which is industry veteran Yoko Kanno. One song has guest vocals from the vocalist of one of my favourite bands, Agent Fresco (whom you should definitely check out, yo). The soundtrack does its job superbly well, and adds to some very good scenes.

You know what? Fuck it, I’ll recommend it. If you can bear the really bad (“the bad”, obviously being relative to what you enjoy from your anime) of this show, there’s a story there that kinda deserves to be seen. To quote myself from earlier, because I can, “It’s just a shame there’s so much in the way to actually get to that.” Cut a couple of episodes, especially the parts with the nonsensical and oh-so-uninteresting villain that you can see a mile away after watching the first episode if you’ve seen a couple of anime series’ before (seriously, the villain and its cadre, and its actions and reactions from the local police are fucking terrible ends up being a ridiculously awful addition), and focus on the more personal and cultural story. Hell, it could have worked very well as a longer feature film at like 2 hours or so.

All in all, it’s a troubled, yet good anime that has something to say , even if its message gets a bit lost in between its sometimes crazy antics. It’s not getting a whole-hearted recommendation, but I think it’s worth checking out. At the very least, it at least tries to stand out from most other anime released today, and that’s worth something.

Why so series? – Marcella

Marcella is a good series.

Yay.

It’s one of the shows I was speaking about when I reviewed Paranoid. An interesting story that lets its characters carry the load, while sparkling the space in between with an interesting case to solve.

Anna Friel stars as titular Marcella, an ex-police mother of two, who just got dumped by her husband of 15 years. Soon after, she’s visited by a member of the police force, asking her for details on an old serial killer case. She decides to re-join the police to help solve the possible resurgence of the killer – who she failed to catch back then.

She enters into a complicated web of lies and deceit, human decency and indecency.

Oh, and she gets black-outs. When she gets stressed out, Marcella blacks out, and cannot remember what she does. To complicate things, her husband, Jason, works for a development contractor, whose troubled business has some worrying ties to the killings.

The case is an interesting one. The killer uses many of the same techniques as the killer from the past did, which convinces Marcella that her main suspect from a decade ago, Peter Cullen, is her man. The rest of the team isn’t nearly as interested in looking at Cullen, who’s serving a (minimum security? or whatever it’s called in England) prison sentence, where he’s constantly under watch.

It’s a very complicated web, that does make sense when looking at it from the finish line, but it’s a bit hard to keep up with at times. There were a couple of times when I had trouble remembering what character did what things. A few characters could have been cut without impacting the story and making it easier on the viewer.  Marcella’s black-outs add unnecessarily to the complicated nature of the show, even if it very interesting to begin with.

A bit on the characters, then:

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Marcella and Tim

Marcella is a confident woman with her own sense of honour. Still, she’s not disconnected – as modern “strong female protagonists” often are – and make some silly decisions due to her vulnerability after being left by her husband. She’s driven, intelligent and magnetic, getting people to follow her lead, even when they don’t want to.

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Jason

Jason, is the chief legal officer of a local development firm. He’s very ambitious, but seems caring enough. That is, until you get further into the show, and he seems more and more like a pile of shit.

Henry Gibson, the son of the development company’s owner. He’s the black sheep of the family and will go far to get the affection he sorely desires. Excellently played by Harry Lloyd, who played the more interesting Targaryen on Game of Thrones.

Tim Williamson, a police detective investigating another crime, which has worrying ties to Marcella’s case. An old co-worker of Marcella’s and sparks fly when they’re aound each-other. Played by Jamie Bamber, who’s good in this, but needed a bit more time on the screen to develop the character more.

Some other characters are a bit one-dimensional, but that’s fine. Everyone can’t be the most interesting bugger you’ve ever seen.

What I will give the series props for, is that it doesn’t shy away from the really bad stuff. I won’t spoil anything, but I’m a bit surprise at how raw it was ready to get. Also, the antagonistic characters are wonderfully acted and very creepy.

Recommended for someone looking for an interesting, character-driven detective story.

Why so series? – Paranoid

Paranoid is a bad series.

Sorry, but that’s how it is.

I generally like English cop shows, as they’re much more focused on the characters and how they solve the crimes perpetrated in the series. And how they often make the show bigger than it seems on paper. Like Broadchurch, which takes a found dead child and turns it into a heart-wrenching tale of a community in suffering, and the struggles of the detectives out to solve the case, while dealing with personal demons. It’s a nice change from most American shows, that often get watered down and drag on for season upon season. Like NCIS, Castle, and some others. I liked both examples just fine for a while, but it just gets boring, watching these characters stand still for so long (with the obligatory romances thrown in here and there), and you just tire of it all. Or at least I do.

In walks Paranoid. Promising a “murder that rattles an English town”. Sure sounds like it’s wanting to pull me in. Alright, I’ll check it out. Wow, this is really rather boring.

But why? Maybe I should say.

The story moves at a snail’s pace. With “the story” I mean the actual police investigation. Hardly anything happens. The detectives walk around confused with little drive. An anonymous fella keeps sending them information for some reason. Then the detectives seems to shrug and go off on to their own business. Meaning they’re off to talk to some new-age lady; Whinge at some therapist with hints at a past relationship with said therapist; Get dumped by long-time boyfriend for some reason and then bang a colleague with whom a relationship is formed in no time flat. Like, the case isn’t very interesting at all, as it appears very random, even as it stretches over borders. The detectives aren’t very interesting either, and so down we sink into mediocrity.

Besides the promise of an interesting show (a Netflix original no less, with their success rate so far), the other thing pulling me in was Indira Varma. I’ve seen her in other stuff (Rome, Luther) and she seems to play a similar part here. Someone that’s initially quite grating, but later revealing more about herself. Unfortunately she’s quite awful in this. Which also has a lot to do with the writing and pacing, both of which are terrible. While the case is being resolved at the same speed as trying to get a bucket of water to freeze over in the middle of summer, Varma’s Nina and the younger police bloke (whose name I only remember by reading how other people thought their romance was very repulsive as well) have a romantic arc which goes from zero (where Nina’s a completely brutal bitch to Alec initially, and seemingly dismissive of his capabilities as a police detective) to one-hundred (loving looks, longing after each-other, oh – and fucking) in like one fucking episode. All while the only progress the police make is due to some anonymous arse sending them clues.Which he always seems positioned to find all the time, in between following the police and sending them veiled threats. Like what?

The characters are just very stereotypical and boring, so there’s no use watching for them. The story itself isn’t very interesting either. There’s just not much actual substance to be found in Paranoid. After two and a half episodes out a total eight, I called it quits. Don’t watch this show.

PS: Oh, and let’s not forget fucking everyone ignoring basic police procedure like it’s in style this season. Grabbing evidence bare-handed and basically breaking in to a person of interest’s house because you didn’t get a response.

The School

Right, so I just wrote this thing for a player of mine’s background for a campaign I’ll be running of Monte Cook’s fabulous game, Numenera.

He wanted the school to be one of scientific study and understanding, but still be sort of “dark side”. I said “Hogwards, but evil,” and he agreed. So here’s the stuff:

Many of the older students felt a chill up the back of their necks as the headmistress sauntered in through the big double-doors, guards in glassteel armour holding the doors open for her. The younglings cowered behind the legs of their elders, who stood at attention. Anything other than the correct discipline shown would lead to “corrections.”
Juro stood with a back so straight it started to spasm slightly. He willed it to stop. He’d been at the “school” – for what else could you call this perverted place of learning? – for maybe four years now. He knew most of the other students by name, and knew the headmistress by the sound of her soft, melodic voice and the tapping her shoes made as she made her way around the school. He watched in half-terror, half-longing as the strict woman slowly made her way down the stairs towards the speaking platform. As he’d learned recently, an artefact in the podium made it so that her voice was forced into everyone’s heads. None was to ignore the headmistress. He looked over at the man at the end of the room. The one with a cloak to cover his skin. Juro knew why. The scales on the man’s skin were enough to put many off, but the fact that he never seemed to breath either made him distinctly alien. However, he’d come to know this Voltair figure as a man of science during the last year. Always curious about whatever he’d find, constantly poking and prodding the various numenera objects they were allowed in the dorms. He never could get a straight answer out of Voltair what he thought of the headmistress. Maybe he too was scared? Or maybe he just didn’t care that much? Juro didn’t know and didn’t much care.

The headmistress had her daily discussion about the advancement of science and at the end had a question time with the students. Then the new arrivals, the kids, were escorted to the back of the complex. It was an odd building any way you cut it. A large triangle, piercing throught the ground into the world above. He’d been told that the actual name for this was a pyramid. Strangely, while from the outside one only saw the dark blue material the pyramid was made of, from the inside you could view the outside perfectly clear. If the headmistress or her guards allowed it, that is. Since he’d been here, Juro had only been allowed to walk the soil he was born on three times. All in missions to find more technology for the school. Because he’d worked his way up to Auron, through two years of hard work and arse-kissing. Auron was the second-highest title for students. The first was Invero, the new recruits. Mostly children, but some of the older ones that didn’t subscribe to the headmistress’ teachings. Secondly was Fostare, the initiates. This was his rank of Auron, the seeking. Highest of the student ranks was Ondore. Voltaire was one of those. The scaly man had been here much longer than Juro. Besides the scales and the lack of breathing, there was also something peculiar with the crystal on his forehead. He said nothing more than that it had been implanted on him. Apparently it gave him some sort of mental power that allowed him to communicate with other people. He did it with Juro once, but Juro absolutely hated the experience. What he knew of Voltaire was that he also had been abducted as a kid, to be brought here. Voltaire didn’t remember the ones that took him, though. The automatons with empty faces, held up by what seemed a cornucopia of stin strings. So many strings. And their leader. The one with coloured robes, and an etched face. A face filled with hate. Endless, ferocious, judging eyes. Judging you as unworthy. She’d glided up to him. Places her long, sharp fingers on his face.

Yesssssss, you’re like THEM. Young, potential. The planets align for us, once again. Bring this one to the school. Tell them we expect results.”

His skin crawled as he remembered her voice. Like a hundred wailing women whispering at once. That sad, yielding whispering that his mother would try to stop his father with, when he had one of his tempers. First thing he’d do when he escapes this place, was kill that old man. Fuck him, and his heritage. He smashed his fist against a wall, and could see the guard down the hallway raise an eyebrow at him. He hurriedly opened the door and went inside his room. Tomorrow they would bestow a power unto him, is what the headmistress had told him.

Juro walked into the headmistress’ chamber with trepidation. He wanted to run so badly, but feared the consequences. A slight sweeping sound behind him caused him to turn, and so he faced the creature that would change his life. The huge, cloaked figure with only a large blue crystal for a face stared at him. No eyes, but Juro could feel its piercing gaze.
“’tis a Philethis, boy. Ever seen one before?”
Juro shook his head. His breath was ragged, his muscles straining themselves hard to keep him in place while the creature walked up.”
“You’ve seen the strings,” the creature stated as a fact. It turned to the headmistress. “Mistake.” Juro could hear the headmistress squirming in her leather seat.
“It’s not my fault. The one we usually get to perform the rite on the young tried to leave. The Mother…” the headmistress’ voice trailed off for a second and returned, “strung him up. It took weeks to clean the gore from the chamber.”
Juro could tell the creature was looking at the headmistress. It seemed almost sad, somehow. Then it inclined its posture slightly towards Juro, and something came at him. Into him. Juro screamed as the constantly colour-shifting and shape-changing stone was forced past his snapping ribs and into his chest. He passed out, but not due to the pain, but because of all the voices echoing in his head.

Juro woke up to only one voice. And for the first time, he didn’t disapprove of the way he heard it.
“Are you okay?” asked Voltaire’s echoing voice, as Juro felt a cold, wet rag on his forehead. It felt like he was burning up. No… The surrounding air felt like fire. He was cold. Voltaire sat a little bit away with a lit candle by his side, casting some light of his features not hidden by the hood he wore. The headmistress said not to disturb you, so I’ll just leave this here.”

Juro sat in near-complete darkness, with only the light giving any vision. Now that Voltaire had left, though, the voices returned. Well, not quite voices, but definitely whispers. Calling out. Crying. Juro listened in, and tried to hear what they were saying. Where was it coming from? Then he realised, and looked down at the floor.
“Who’s there?” he called out hesitantly.
“Kaïra,” replied the floor, and Juro felt a hole in his stomach. It expanded with every syllable spoken from the floor. The feeling remained as he found a pickaxe in one of the storage rooms. A Fostare boy asked him what he needed it for, but he swept the younger lad aside. He returned to the room and swung the tool over and over. Over and over. When the floor tiles broke, so did he.

Built on the hard-work of those before. The headmistress had used those words to describe the school before. Literally on those who came before, Juro spat as he held Kaïra’s skull in his hands. He remembered when they told him of her disappearance during a mission. She and him had been partners when on cypher hunts. And when doing research in the school. And after hours. In bed. Juro sighed. He knew she was dead before. Not confirmed, but he knew. She was Ondore. They don’t just disappear. Now that he thought of it, he was Ondore as well. It seems those who aren’t seen as fit to advance to Sistiyel, the first adult rank, are disposed off.
“The Mother refused me,” Kaïra spoke again. Juro was still trying to figure out how he could hear his death friend’s voice. The feeling in his chest was probably part of it. Whatever the creature did to him, it seems to have tuned him into the other side. Voices from beyond the grave. “The headmistress gave us to her. For inspection.”
Juro grimaced. “Us? There’s more here?”
“Yes. It was in a dark room, with ugly tiles.”
“Wait, she- no, it, was in this room?”
“Yes. Some, they took. For what, I don’t know. The others were shoved into the floor.”
“Alive?”
“Yes. Their screams still echo in the graves next to me.”
“So the headmistress is giving away students to those things? Why?”
“I don’t know. She seemed sad. Then she left. She left us in the dark with The Mother. There was something…”
“What?”
“She said they were looking for believers. To spread the message. She hates so much. She burns me.”
“Not any longer, honey. You’re safe now.” Juro felt drained. He could hardly think. He knew what needed to be done. The school had to burn. But not now. He wasn’t strong enough. The day would come. So he shoved the skull of his former lover in a carrier bag and sprinted up the stairs. Then through the hallways. Then into the research labs. He shoved a researcher down and stole his keys. She fought back, so he silenced her with the swing of a chair. He took a couple of cyphers and jammed them into his bag. Then he grabbed one he’d collected himself. He knew what it did. He heard the guards breach the door, as the cupboard that was blocking it was toppled over and glass shattered. It didn’t matter, as he was already on his way out through the window. Shards of glass whirled around him as he fell. As he was approaching the ground in horrifying velocity he twisted the cypher around and his momentum ceased comfortably and he sunk to the ground at will. The cypher fell apart as he landed. He ran as fast as he could into the Forest to the North, where he hid for a few days. He finally reached Storui, and the seedy city was easy enough to navigate. He sold a couple of the cyphers for food and armour, as well as an aneen.

It took him several weeks to get to The Great Reach, the portal through which there is apparently a whole other continent. The thanked his teachers for telling him to read so often, or he wouldn’t have known what it truly was. A bagful of shins made the guards look the other way, and he continued for the portal. Then he felt it. A tug on his shoulder. As if a fishing-line had caught his jerkin. He turned, as he heard a scream. Then his blood froze, if his cold blood could indeed solidify.
The Mother of Strings, in all her hateful glory, moved into the far end of the camp. Following her, her mad minions with bland faces were cutting down the people around her. He could hear the maddening chorus of a sort of battle hymn as the cut a swathe through the meaty guards and their mounts. He knew what he’d done. He’d led her here. He could see the string connecting him to her and yanked it hard. It was sharp enough to cut his skin open, but came off. He witnessed her levitate forward with impossible speed, carrying two full-grown men that she’d impaled on her sick figure that hurt to look at. Her presence, that tore at the fabric of this world, and yet forced it to hold together, contorted for the first time with delight as it looked past him and saw the same lands he did. Juro shrieked and burst through the mouth of the portal. The people on the other side looked at him confused, then their faces froze as they looked and saw the thing that shouldn’t be fly after him. He ran through a valley and left as fast as he could, while the sounds of the slaughter echoed behind him. As he dragged his tired legs out of the valley, he set his sight on a village in the distance. Finally he had a future. And he wouldn’t stop until he took everything from the school that tried to take it from him.

School structure (ranks)
Headmistress (highest rank, word is law)
— —
Garellon (adult rank 3, researcher – part of the circle of scholars that carry out the headmistress’ orders)
Hasterad (adult rank 2, high seeker)
Sistiyel (adult rank 1, recruiter)
— —
Ondore (youth rank 4, researcher’s assistant)
Auron (youth rank 3, seeker)
Fostare (youth rank 2, initiate)
Invero (youth rank 1, recruit)

Why so series?: The Newsroom

The Newsroom is one of the best examples I’ve ever come across that completely subverts what you think it will be, and surprises you with its quality. See, a couple of days before watching it, I thought the show had one of the worst concepts ever. “Who the fuck would want to watch a show about producing the news?”

After seeing it, I think it’s worth watching.

The Newsroom is a good series.

It’s in fact a fabulous one.

I was randomly watching youtube-clips during the evening and came across a couple of videos with great speeches. That great Chaplin speech and then finally finding this speech. It’s the first scene of the damn series, and completely sold me on the main character, as well as the tone of the series.

Before that, I thought it was a random comedy show, about a jerk reporting the news. Like House, but the news. Boy was I wrong. The Newsroom is a brilliant and thoroughly riveting show about the news and how it should be produced and why being responsible with what you produce is so important (proven in the uneven, but very good second season). But really, I could go on for a long while, when the thing you really need to do to gauge if this show is likely for you – is browse for some more Will McAvoy segments where he’s railing on people/subjects. They don’t give you a window into all the series entails, but help you understand the tone and what the series is about.

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Don and Mac after an exhausting newscast

As the series starts, Will is doing a good job in keeping his popularity only. He’s scared of letting people know that he’s a bit of an arse in private, and mainly produces fluff TV on his newscast. A sharp contrast from when he first took over on the channels 9/11 newscast, when he was only the show’s legal counsel and had to step in when not ready at all. However, after the speech that I liked to earlier, there’s a change.

Will returns to find most of his crew leaving to the newscast the follows Will’s with its new anchor (basically Will’s protégé) and his former EP (Executive Producer – the one who feeds info to the anchor and directs the show) and thus leaving him with a skeleton crew to produce a show. His boss, Charlie, tells him that he’s hired a new EP – MacKenzie McHale. Of course there’s a catch, and the catch is that “Mac” used to be Will’s long-time girlfriend. The pair of them both anchor (bwahaha) a reborn Newsnight with a mostly new crew and new direction.

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Charlie

That’s the show, basically. Watching the successes and failures, the trials and tribulations of making a newscast: Collecting the information, checking the sources, making sure you have everything at least double-checked, writing the script, planning out the show, finding and vetting eventual guests, and so on. It’s a wonderful thrill at times, which was a pleasant surprise to myself.

The cast then, which is mostly brilliant and many were unknown – at least to me:

Jeff Daniels pulls out some of his finest work to play Will McAvoy, in all his glorious ass-hattery and the odd caring moments. He’s a supremely clever former attorney-turned-news anchor with a razor wit. The show sees Will try to go from being a miserable bastard towards a self-improving man with ambition. It’s lovely to see him improve with the show’s (that is, the show within the series) gradually increasing quality as he learns the importance of the people around him and how it’s more important to be genuine than to pretend being someone else to be well-liked.

MacKenzie “Mac” McHale acts as the fuel initially for Will to return to form. She has a very idealised, yet realistic, view on how the news should be reported. She and Will have many arguments about how the show should be presented and reported and are both equally stubborn in supporting their own position. She was a war correspondent before the start of the series. She brings a lot of the series’ comedic relief. Played by the wonderful Emily Mortimer. (Weirdly, Mac’s supposed to be in her early thirties in the show, while Mortimer is clearly in her forties)

There’s a bunch of great supporting players as well:

  • John Gallagher as Jim Harper, Mac’s producer friend from her days in the war. Clever and sometimes abrasive, he’s a hard worker who’s instrumental in turning News Night’s fortunes around.
  • Dev Patel as Neal Sampat, who starts the show as just the editor of Will’s blog (which Will didn’t even know existed back then) and grows more confident and gains more trust from the rest of the crew.
  • Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith, the economics reporter, who gets gradually better at dealing with people from the rather cold person she starts out as. Has some incredibly hilarious scenes.
  • Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner, who probably should be a bigger mention, but there’s so much overlap between his and Mac’s character that there’s not too much to say about just him. He’s the one that got the ball rolling for the gang’s sometimes literally quixotic quest for a better newscast. Has some absolutely banging lines.
  • Allison Pill as Maggie Jordan, the character with possibly the most growth of the show. She starts out as very meek and ends up being a very confident woman in charge of herself and some others. Similarly a great and awful character, in that she’s either randomly the solution to problems or nonsensically put in situations to fuck things up completely.
  • Thomas Sadoski as Don Keefer, Will’s former EP and a brilliant jack-ass. A very hard worker when he wants to be, and surprises his co-workers by being just as passionate about the news being reported correctly as the other crew.

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    A meeting to decide what to feature on the show

I’ve almost only been on about positives so far, but there are some negatives. Some episodes can be a bit of a slog as not every news-story is absolutely riveting.

There’s also the other negatives for me: The romantic sub-plots. I get it, okay – romance is a good source for drama and conflict, and I don’t have anything against it being on a screen. But when it takes up substantial amounts of time and thus weakening other segments, it can, and did, become a problem. One of these sub-plots that keep getting in the way is the sometimes love-triangle around Maggie.

One of my favourite things about the show is the usage of real-world news to comment on. There’s the BP oil-spill, Osama bin Laden killing, Presidential elections and so on. It makes for a much better show than if they tried fake news or concurrent news to use for the shows.

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Will and Sloan

 

 

I could go on, but I probably wouldn’t add anything more to interest you in the show, so I’ll stop here. I’ll just say that I’ve been very positively surprised by this gem of a show, and I hope you will find it as good as I did. I’m re-watching episodes when writing this, and I’m getting really excited about watching it back in a few years. Really unique and excellent television, and obviously highly recommended.

Good evening.

Animu-time: Fate/Zero

After a gap of probably a good 7 years, I finally decided to watch the prequel to Fate/Stay Night. Woo. Anyway, I can conclude that

Fate/Zero is a good anime.

And I quite think it’s required viewing for the franchise – whether you’re just looking to get into it or are a previous fan. It offers a lot of context to actions of characters in the following works.

To the plot, then. Long story short, it’s a war between seven two-person teams for the Holy Grail. The teams are made up of a human (more than often this human is a mage) and a heroic spirit. By heroic spirit, I mean an actual historic or fictional hero that is basically reincarnated to help their Master (the human) to win the Grail. The Grail is said to have the power to grant miracles, and allows the winner to have a wish be fulfilled – any wish. Heroic spirits come in seven different classes and only one of each is recruited each war. There’s Saber (knight with a sword), Lancer (spearman), Archer (bowman), Caster (mage), Rider (mounted warrior), Assassin (stealthy bugger) and Berserker (insane warrior). The heroic spirits are called Servants.

While Fate/Stay Night (both game and anime) focus much more on a specific character and the people around him, Fate/Zero plays as more of an ensemble show, with most teams being fleshed out and given their time in the spotlight (even if that time is wildly imbalanced, given story development and themes).

So, who are the teams?

  1. Emiya Kiritsugu and Saber – Kiritsugu is hired by the famed Einzbern family after they’re unable to produce a capable representative for the war on their own. Kiritsugu is a highly pragmatic man, looking out for the greater good rather than concerning himself with being moral. His methods of fighting have many similarities with guerilla warfare, but he goes to lengths to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. He fights in the hope that the grail can help him achieve world peace. Bears the nickname Mage-Killer, having been a hunter of magi for many years, despite being one himself. The Saber class is taken up by the King of Knights, King Arthur of Britain himself – except he is a she. Yes, in this franchise King Arthur is a lady. Strongly principled, Saber has many complaints about Kiritsugu’s tactics and prefers to fight straight-up, as a knight with a code of honour. She fights with a seemingly-invisible sword.

    Saber and Kiritsugu

    Saber and Kiritsugu

  2. Tohsaka Tokiomi and Archer – Tokiomi comes from the famed (in the magical sphere) Tohsaka family, and is one of the shows most capable Masters. He’s very clever and plays out the war very passively from his large estate, and coordinating his actions with his disciple, Kirei. Like Kiritsugu, he’s a very pragmatic man that looks out for his own family and intends to get to the Root (aka, find the centre of the universe – which is a place in the universe the Fate series take place in). He also appears to be quite an awful father, as he’s a mage first and seems rather oblivious towards his family members’ problems. His Servant is Gilgamesh (of the famed Akkadian epic), who is arrogant as can be. Not that hard to believe, as he’s a demigod in his tales. He’s also presented as easily the most powerful of the Servants, which presents a problem to me. I’d rather them all being on roughly the same level, which is what’s true for most of the others. Gilgamesh acts as the primary Servant antagonist, and doesn’t present himself as one might expect a hero to. He fights long-range by launching various weapons from what appears to be a sort of pocked-dimension or whatever (his treasury).

    Tokiomi and Gilgamesh

    Tokiomi and Gilgamesh

  3. Waver Velvet and Rider – Waver (who would give their name such an awful name?) is a young mage studying at the Clock Tower, which is basically the big magi-school of the setting. He proposes that magical skills can develop from training and experience, rather than from lineage – which is shot down by his teacher (also a Master, Lord El-Melloi) from whom Waver decides to steal an artefact and becomes a Master himself. Fights to win the Grail so he’ll finally be acknowledged by his peers. He’s joined by Macedonian legendary conqueror, Alexander the Great. Initially portrayed as a bit of a buffoon, Alexander wastes little time in becoming easily the most entertaining and imposing Servant. His clashes of both mind and blade with Saber and Archer are the series’ best moments. Fights by riding a chariot and has a huge ace up his sleeve.

    Alexander and his Master, Waver

    Alexander and his Master, Waver

  4. Keyneth Archibald El-Melloi and Lancer – Pretentious dick-bag nobleman and teacher at the Clock Tower, El-Melloi is arguably the most powerful Master of the lot, and has found a way to share his mastery with his arranged wife, Sola-Ui Nuada-Re Sophia-Ri (holy wow, that’s an actual name that the creators came up with, wtf), whom he has sort of a distant relationship with but appears to try and prove himself to her while she scolds his efforts. Very healthy marriage, there. El-Malloi aims to win to grow his fame as a mage. His/their Servant is Diarmuid Ua Duibhne from Irish folk-lore, lover of the wife of another folk-legend in Fionn mac Cumhaill, and lethal spearman. Diarmuid is an interesting character, and it would have been interesting to see what would have been done with him if given more screen-time. His central scene (you’ll know it when you see it) is brilliant anime. Lancer fights with two spears (one red, one yellow) that have different gimmicks.
  5. Matou Kariya and Berserker – Kariya is an estranged member of the Matou family, from which he ran away after being disgusted with his relatives. He decides to compete for the Grail to save the daughter of his childhood friend and object of his affections, Aoi (Tokiomi’s wife, who Kariya gave up chasing). Due to this, he re-enters the Matou-family as their representative in the Grail War, and accepts the “aid” of his grandfather, who implant magical parasitical insects into Kariya to enable him to become a Master. As a result, he grows more end more inhuman as the show carries on, struggling to keep his humanity and stay alive long enough to fulfil his promise and thereby save the little girl. Berserker is a secret character that you’ll have to identify yourselves, but I’ll tempt you with the knowledge that he’s connected to Saber somehow (so if you know your Arthur-lore you can probably venture an accurate guess, as it’s not a big surprise). He’s ridiculously powerful and can basically hi-jack other weapons to use them as his own, as well as using a nasty longsword.
  6. Uryuu Ryuunosuke and Caster – “Ryu” as I’ll call him for shortness’ sake, is a serial killer that unwittingly summons Caster while murdering a family. He prefers targeting children and young women. Has no real objective in the war, other than to watch Caster creatively kill people. Caster is Gille de Rais, a former comrade in arms to Jeanne d’Arc, whose life ended in depravity, as he was hanged for multiple child murderers (the amount of murders he committed in real life was possibly hundreds). Curiously, Caster believes Saber to be Jeanne d’Arc reborn (if his memory is to believed, the two do look strikingly similar) and sets out to make her mine. Like his Master, Caster is basically devoid of any morality and likes to psychologically and physically torture his victims for maximal terror before he kills them. He also appears to be a cultist of Cthulhu, as he says what I’m pretty sure is “Cthulhu ftagn” before brutally killing a child in his first scene. Yikes. Caster uses a wide variety of magic to combat the other Servants.
    fatezero-teamcaster
  7. Kotomine Kirei and Assassin – Kirei is the son of the Church’s representative (the one who as a mediator and rule-setter of the war), which makes him a controversial choice for a Master. He’s also a magical disciple of Tokiomi, who he initially intends to win the Grail for. He serves as the series’ primary antagonist, and rival of sorts to Kiritsugu. He is skilled in magic and incredibly gifted in martial combat. His servant is Hassan-i Sabbāh and can take the form of many assassins at once. A stealth attacker that uses poisons and small blades.

Even if I did say that the show is an ensemble show, it still has clear protagonists in Kiritsugu and Saber. His story takes precedent over the ones of the other Masters, with Kirei being the exception, and he has a back-story that is extensively shown to the viewer. Saber has the most of the encounters with other Servants and is set on being the sole survivor to correct her past, which shames her.

The big joy of Fate/Zero is the focus on having a larger cast of characters. I always felt that the Fate franchise needed to use a broader viewpoint on the war, even if the most famous installment, Fate/Stay Night, does very well with a much-more focused story.

Thus, we’re able to be treated to scenes like the wonderful garden drinking session with Arthur, Alexander, and Gilgamesh, regaling their kingly tales and discussing ambitions. It allows for much greater characterisation of the Servants and allows the viewer to pick favourites for other reasons that the initial, “He, that bloke looks cool”.

The Banquet of Kings - probably the best scene of the entire show.

The Banquet of Kings – probably the best scene of the entire show.

Alexander is the best example for why the show should be presented like this. In F/SN he’d likely not have gotten much attention at all, and gone down as a rowdy fool. In this, he’s able to fully show what he’s like – his desires, his personality, his quirks, likes, etc. His sparring, both verbal and martial, with Saber and Gilgamesh, as well as the effect he has on people around him, makes him the most intriguing character of the entire show. The development of Waver and the relationship between Alexander and his Master is absolutely fantastic.

One of the pairings, while not wholly bad, is very frustrating to me; That pair is Caster and Ryuunosuke. Their screen-time mostly consist of them killing the fuck out of whatever people they manage to and going on crazy rants on why killing is awesome. Caster is also played like a total loonie and doesn’t feel like much of a threat for much of his participation.

The pacing of the entire show is also frustrating and is at times absolutely unbearable. It takes quite some time for some things of actual importance to happen, and the climax of the show doesn’t make up for the looooooooooong build-up. The decision to spend a lot of time on Kiritsugu’s back-story turns out to be a mistake, when you consider what that time could have been spent doing for the rest of the cast.

Kirei is a good antagonist, to be sure, but his character is so frustrating. He’s basically an emotional cold drone who follows orders because why not, and looking for something to engage him mentally and emotionally. This thing turns out to be causing pain to others and just being a horrible person in general. He’s perfectly hate-able, though, which works well for a story like this.

Also, Saber. I might be in the minority here, but I fucking hate that she’s a gender-bent King Arthur. Absolutely nothing against her character, but it feels like a choice only meant for her to be a love interest in her more famous role in Fate/Stay Night. Maybe it’s that I’m partial to the saga of Arthur that I react with hostility to this adaptation. It also makes little sense that she’d be able to rule as a man, being that she’s always noted as being a beautiful girl in F/SN. It just makes little sense that she’d show up as a girl, after being remembered as a man. She should just have been Jeanne d’Arc, in all honesty. That said, her arc in Fate/Zero is awesome, as he’s continually verbally bitch-slapped by Alexander, Gilgamesh and Kiritsugu, and it sets the table well for her part in F/SN, where you can tell her actions are strongly influenced by her experiences in Fate/Zero.

Comparison between Saber and Jeanne d'Arc for posterity.

Comparison between Saber and Jeanne d’Arc for posterity.

The animations of Fate/Zero is world-fucking-class. It’s especially apparent in battles and other important scenes. Most of the character designs are very nice, with Caster sticking out like an awfully ugly sore thumb.

The voice-acting is absolutely superb all across the board. Naming examples is worthless, as everybody are on top of their game. Kawasumi Ayako can probably play Saber in her sleep at this point.

Now then, we’re headed for spoileriffic territory, so be warned in reading on if you haven’t seen the show yet, as these are big spoilers. So, yeah, they’ll be in white text below. Just highlight that shit and enjoy?

The ending is fucking stupid. The Grail being so limited in eventual execution of Kiritsugu’s wish is fucking pathetic – especially as it states that it’s way is Kiritsugu’s way. According to his portrayal on the show, this is so far from the actual truth. He’s been shown to avoid mass civilian casualties at the pivotal times of his story, so why does the show all of a sudden portray him as someone who’d be okay with slaughtering a huge amount of people to achieve his goals. While it’s true that he will go to great lenghts to survive and win, he’s never shown to be bloodthirsty or be careless with lives. I get that this show had to end a certain way, but the way they went about doing it is stupid.

Also, again on Kirei – This motherfucker is ridiculously powerful. He literally deflects bullets with his blades, and can destroy a human’s heart with one punch. He also blocks bullets with bare skin (or an invisible barrier – but it’s ridiculous in any way. Yeah, it’s action, but come the fuck on. All the stakes and excitement of a scene goes away in just about every action scene he’s in.

In conclusion, Fate/Zero is an excellent anime with a great cast of characters and an engaging story. It has its share of flaws, but it a thoroughly engaging experience. I recommend it to basically anyone.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand done! I’ll probably do Unlimited Blade Works next. Yay. Have a nice day and thanks for reading.

Why so series? – Penny Dreadful

Yay, I’m not dead.

So, about that show I most recently watched.

Penny Dreadful is a good series.

To start, Penny Dreadful is grotesque, haunting and very slow-paced. If you’re looking for a fast-paced series with many twists and turns, you should back away.

Penny Dreadful chronicles the misadventures of Vanessa Ives and company, mostly made up of sad souls that find themselves on the wrong side of the supernatural and often fighting for their lives. The main story-lines revolve mostly around Miss Ives, but the rest of the cast are well fleshed-out.

The main cast of season one, with a notable exclusion. (From left, Ethan Chandler, Brona Croft, Victor Frankenstein, Vanessa Ives, Dorian Gray, Sir Malcolm Murray, Sembene)

Miss Vanessa Ives (brilliantly played by Eva Green, but we’ll get back to her) is a woman that is haunted by many demons, both personal and literal. She forms a team with an old friend of the family, and a rag-tag group of broken men as she seeks to save not only her father-figure’s real daughter and herself from unfathomable evils.

Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) is a famous explorer, having mapped big parts of Africa and intends to return for more (especially to look for the elusive source of the Nile). He’s a close ally of Vannessa, as their families were very close, and acts as her father-figure. He searches for his lost daughter Mina, and is haunted by his dead son Peter, who he left in a shallow grave in Africa.

Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett) is an American gun-show performer and former soldier recruited to the not-quite-merry band by Ives. He initiates a relationship with Brona Croft  in his personal time and during “work hours”, he finds out about a world few know exist in the shadows. He also harbours quite the dark secret.

Brona Croft (played by Billie Piper) is a prostitute that enters a relationship with Ethan. She’s suffering from tuberculosis, and also crosses path with a certain local handsome lad.

Sembene (Danny Sapani) is a servant of Malcolm’s he acquired somehow in Africa. Sembene’s past is a mystery, but his loyalty to the cause is unquestionable.

Dorian Gray (yeah, him – played by Reeve Carney) is a beautiful young man, indulging in sensuality for the most-part of the show. Has his classic painting to keep him young.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein (yes, that one too – played here by Harry Treadwell) is a local arrogant doctor, obsessed with the pursuit of the essence of life. He wants to create an immortal being. He’s extremely socially inept and rather dismissive of the group’s intentions, but finds himself drawn to the action anyway. Now you can probably figure out the last cast member.

Frankenstein’s Monster (Rory Kinnear) is just that. He returns to haunt his creator and demands that Frankenstein creates a wife for him. He has some interesting interactions with the rest of the cast that are of stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with Frankenstein.

The story these characters are drawn into is very good and simple. It’s a bit predictable at times, but it works well. It lacks direction for long stretches of each season, but I find it works for the show in general.

About the quality of the acting; Eva Green absolutely owns the screen as Vanessa Ives. If anybody doubts her capabilities as an actress, I really don’t know how. She gives you nearly every facet of Miss Ives, from happiness to absolute rock bottom. Her mannerisms, her voice, fucking everything. She’s the best actress on TV by far.

Also great is Harry Treadwell as Victor Frankenstein. His performance is absolutely stellar, and it makes it a treat to watch Frankenstein grow into a man on screen. I’ll be keeping an eye out for him in other projects.

pennydreadful-frank

One of my negatives is Dorian Gray. I’m not very fond of the show’s take on the character – Or the character in general. He’s just rather boring and has little impact. He does however improve in season two, and has probably the best side-story. Much better when he’s being played straight, instead of having him strut around and recite poems like a love-sick philosopher. It looks as if he’ll have a big part in season 3, where he might end up being the main villain.

pennydreadful-dorian

The villains are also rather uninteresting, even if the ones of the second season are far better. Still, the show plays it off well and instead puts more focus on how the “heroes” deal with the situations at hand.

Without spoiling much, the second season is a considerable improvement on the first one, with the stakes being raised and the characters being put in more interesting situations.

The series is gorgeous and the setting is very well presented.

The second season has a story arc about sexuality that was surprisingly effective, and proves that the Dorian Gray character can work with a bit of set-up and not just having him walk around being fabulous. Then it’s just thrown away rather abruptly, which made the whole thing feel like a waste.

The show is also very noir, in the way it treats it’s characters. They usually walk head-long into sadness or deny themselves happiness. Not a whole lot of sunshine and puppies around.

In closing, Penny Dreadful is an excellent ensemble drama with a variety of characters and personalities that usually work well together. It’s quite slow-paced, but is well-worth sticking with. Filled to the brim with spectacular performances – especially that of Green – it’s a constant treat to watch. Very highly recommended.