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.

Advertisements

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.

Film Night: Captain America: The First Avenger

Since I made my way through Agent Carter already (more on that when I can be arsed), I figured I may as well watch the first CA-film to get a bit more back-story on her. Now, I wish I hadn’t.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a bad film.

To no great surprise, mind you. I remember the film being destroyed by critics when it came out, and while i don’t usually give a shit about what critics think, they made a lot of alarm bells go off. Or rather, they confirmed what I thought the film would be like.

CA:TFA is the origin film for Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. And it’s just about as bad and patriotic as you would have imagined. It’s like Marvel got drunk and watched Pearl Harbor before deciding to make a character based on it. That said, I’m pretty sure Cap was create earlier. Sorry, my point is that the character is hilariously dated and awful.

The film chronicles Rogers’ rise from hilariously thin kid trying to sign up for the army, to being made the Captain and saving the world.

captainamerica-uhererer

The fated face-off between bland protagonist and bland antagonist.

Rogers is an all-round swell guy. His parents died and he’s wanting to make a difference. Clearly signing up for the army is the answer. There’s just the fact that he’s thinner than even most hardcore shut-ins and has had numerous diseases throughout his life. Nobody with common sense would admit him to be a soldier. But of course it can’t end there! So a German (so the film can get the Germans!=Nazis statement out of the way for posterity right away) scientist (played by Stanley Tucci) decided to overrule the dastardly army recruiters and signs up Rogers for an army project under the lead of the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve, or something like that). There are some tests, which don’t amount to much considering Rogers fails them all (but hey, at least he failed them in a charming way) and still gets picked for the trial run of the super soldier project.

In an especially stupid scene, to gauge the recruits’ “guts,” Tommy Lee Jones’ army commander character throws a dummy grenade into the hard-working trainees. Everybody but Rogers runs away. Instead, Rogers tries to cover the grenade. Agent Carter (the very one who now is the lead of a TV series, yes) also appears to be heading towards the blast. This is apparently what Jones’ character was looking for. Suicidal people. Like, what the fuck, aren’t you supposed to avoid getting killed? Can you smother a grenade blast with nothing but your body? I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing, especially not possible for someone of Rogers’ small frame. But we’re here to watch a hero grow, aren’t we? So we’ll have to suck it up and check of another cliché as we are lead on.

The problems continue as the stupidity levels get higher and higher.

  • A HYDRA (bad guys) spy is allowed entry to the super secret super soldier (super super super) project, and kills the lead scientist.
  • Carter snipes a guy at least fifty meters away while aiming a pistol with one hand. Probably possible, but looks dumb as shit (a real agent would have used both hands).
  • Carter inexplicably falls for Rogers, despite having only met him like twice, and only ever sharing a couple sentences with him. Not to forget, she totally gets all wet for him after the transformation. Because nothing gives a woman an orgasm like huge muscles. What I’m trying to say, is that Carter is written like you’d expect. She’s a young little foal for Cap to hug and make her his. Or something. The point is that it’s lazy, unoriginal, sexist and plain bad writing.
  • Cap decides to go on a suicide mission, because suddenly he’s an army of one. He succeeds very easily, too. Of course Carter (because, as she says later “I had faith”. IN ONE MAN AGAINST SEVERAL HUNDRED NAZIS ROCKING FUTURISTIC WEAPONRY? HOW ARE YOU AN ACTUAL AGENT?) helps him out. As does Howard Stark, because he needs the screen-time. And he’s an amazing pilot for reasons.
  • Jones’ character decides that Cap should not get reprimanded for launching a crazy mission, risking losing one of the most valuable medicinally scientific advances… ever? Yeah, just give him a pat on the back, there, bruv.
  • Natalie Dormer shows up to be eye candy and kiss the Cap.
  • All other characters are caricatured stereotypes of soldiers. One even has a huge handlebar ‘stache.
  • To test a shield, Carter just starts shooting at Rogers. Would have been quite the shame if the shield was shit, huh?
  • Rogers’ buddy falls to his death and hardly anybody gives a shit. Rogers tries to drink, because that’s the adult thing to do. Nope, he can’t get drunk. So sad. And lost in it all is the fact that we never saw the two being very friendly at all. In fact, it seemed more like the guy was being an ass to Rogers.
  • Schmidt/Red Skull is supposed to be a great scientist and so very clever, but he’s pathetically outwitted at every twist and turn. There’s no conflict.
  • Rogers spontaneously learns how to fly a plane later when he has to catch up to Red Skull. He even pulls evasive manoeuvres. I’d laugh if I wasn’t so bored.
  • Rogers states that he doesn’t want to kill Nazis in the beginning of the film, but later kills a ton with reckless abandon. He even goes out of his way to kill some that he could have just knocked out. Some violence is all of a sudden very gratuitous for some reason. Like the dude falling into the plane rotor.
  • “I got to put her in the water,” Cap says of the plane he’s aboard, it being armed with missiles and all. Then he crash-lands on a huge flat of ice. What the fuck, wouldn’t that explode the missiles? And I’m pretty sure with the velocity he’s going, the surface of the water would shred that plane.
  • (Slight spoiler) When Bucky dies, it’s painfully obvious that he’s wired up, as he straightens up and then falls over again as he’s falling. Couldn’t get a better take than that?

The acting is so-so. Chris Evans didn’t ever look comfortable in the role. He was much better in The Avengers (where he’s made to look smarter and actually competent as a leader). Hayley Atwell is wasted as a love-struck Agent Carter (very different from her strong, independent persona in her own series). Dominic Cooper exudes arrogance and charisma as Howard Stark. Well casted, but he had little to do in the film.

captainamerica-dealingithit

Tommy Lee Jones turns up to collect a pay-check. Stanley Tucci is decent, but has very limited screen-time. Toby Jones quietly pulls out a great performance as Red Skull’s subordinate, Dr. Zola. And Hugo Weaving plays the Nazi antagonist in a suitably over-the-top creepy manner.

The actions scenes are stupid and over-choreographed. Danger never feels present, as characters are always waiting for cues as to what to do next. It’s stale, unimaginative and just plain boring.

And that’s about it. Don’t watch this film, y’all.

Film Night: Whiplash

Whiplash isn’t your ordinary feel-good music film.

Whiplash is a good film.

In fact, it’s a fucking amazing film. Whiplash is a psychological thriller of a music film and it’s sodding amazing.

Miles Teller plays Andrew, a drummer with big musical aspirations. He’s enrolled at Shaffer Academy, where he plays for the b-band (not entirely sure if that’s correct, as I never had any musical talent) until he’s picked up by JK Simmons’ Mr Fletcher, a sociopathic music instructor who will do anything to get his players to the next level, in search for a new music legend.

If you were expecting a normal music film, where the good guy blows away everyone’s expectations, beats up the bad guy and rides off into the sunset with his girl, you’re watching the wrong film. Whiplash will beat the shit out of you and then wring you dry. Simmons will then cuss you out and make you leave the room.

Fletcher is alpha as fuck. He’s a foul-mouthed, ruthless and extremely talented manipulator, who is equally proficient with a stick as he is a carrot. Meaning, he’ll just as easily tell a sob story to get you into the job at hand as he will casually throw a chair at your head for rushing. Not my tempo. He has a sociopathic obsession with making his students into the best musicians possible, and he’ll do it at any cost. He’s got no issue hurting people mentally and physically to get the job done. Under it all is a strong desire to help his pupils become better, in his own way. His goal and initial outset in getting there seems fine, but the lengths he will go to to get the performances he wants and how this affects Andrew are the main conflicts of the film. JK Simmons fucking brings it as Fletcher, and his portrayal is nuanced, as he goes from raving lunatic to soft-spoken teacher and back without any warning. One of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and he further elevates the film to incredible heights.

Fletcher on a Monday.

Fletcher on a Monday.

Andrew is a loner, who just hangs around the cinema with his father because of obligation rather than will. He is unsociable and rude, especially to people who aren’t ambitious like him. He’s not sympathetic in general. Sure, we’ll feel bad for him when he’s being beaten down by Fletcher, but he’s a big bag of dicks on his own (even if it’s only brought to the surface by Fletcher’s influence). He treats people around him like shit in the most passive-aggressive way possible and is a huge douche to his possible girlfriend. Miles Teller is excellent and puts in a nuanced (there’s that word again) performance that’ll see him having a bright future.

Andrew, also on a Monday.

Andrew, also on a Monday.

It’s wonderful(-ly sad) to see how Andrew evolves under Fletcher’s tutelage. While he was no saint before, he was always very well-mannered. After being beaten down on and worn out by Fletcher, he sheds the pleasant exterior to become an aggressive man, now also obsessed with becoming as good as possible. A pair of scenes in the film’s middle shows how far Andrew has fallen in chasing Fletcher’s approval, and it’s a startling portrait of a once hopeful young man being moulded into a ruthless cut-throat of a musician.

Neither Andrew nor Fletcher are painted as pure bad guys, though. It’s up to the viewer to decide on what they think, especially come the excellent ending, which is astonishingly good.

The music of the film is exquisite (I should listen to some more classical music) and the cinematography is really nice.

I very highly recommend that you go see this film, right away. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but if you’re still interested in going to see it after reading this – fucking go watch it now!

Whiplash-solofinale

Some spoilers ahead. Just mark the space underneath to reveal:

The car crash scene is scary for many reasons, and the car crash is not even close to being the biggest reason. The obsession of Andrew’s is so obvious in this scene. Rushing away from what is certainly a concussion and other injuries to play a tune for a teacher he fucking despises? Not a great life choice.

Finally, the Pyrrhic victory of an end that the film has is so fucking brilliant. Andrew ruins (or will ruin) every relationship he has in order to chase perfection with Fletcher. It’s as weirdly satisfying as it is crushingly depressing.

Manga Musings: Naruto

Holy shit, it’s finally over.

So, Naruto. One of the Big Three (joined by Bleach and One Piece), unless their status has changed. No matter, though. Anyway, I did use the word “finally,” indicating that it’s something I’ve waited for for some time now. It’s true. Somewhere along the line, the sheer length and meandering pace got me turned off of Naruto, so it was a happy moment when I noticed that it had ended, since I’d give me a reason to pick it up again. Like running, it’s easier to read when you have a goal. So, what about this ninja story, 15 years in the making?

Naruto is a good manga.

By VitalikLoL over at deviantart

This’ll have two parts – one with no to minimal spoilers, and a second, spoiler-filled part.

Having its start way back in 1999, Naruto is one of the modern successors of Dragon Ball, in theway it places its values and builds its story. Like Goku, Naruto starts out virtually alone. Naruto, though, is alone because of the fear the other villagers holds for him. You see, inside Naruto dwells a monster – A monstrous nine-tailed fox that nearly levelled the village before it was sealed into Naruto. Despite his social seclusion, Naruto has a dream: To become Hokage, recognised as the most powerful ninja in the village. And so starts the trials and tribulations of Naruto. He’s quickly placed in a team with Sakura, a girl he’s liked from a distance for a time; Sasuke, the sole surviving member in the village of the incredibly powerful ninja clan Uchiha; and Kakashi, a world-renowned ninja with an unorthodox teaching style. Together, they form Team 7 and go on missions and adventures together.

It’s kind of hard to judge the story of Naruto at first, because it’s kind of aimlessly chronicling the growth of Naruto into a more mature young man (he’s not even a teenager when the manga starts). It’s an interesting set-up for a shounen manga, considering it puts the characters in situations where they have to kill as they are just children. But the ninja world has not a care for your age, just your capability- is what I’d like to say, but good luck pushing out 700 chapters of a bleak, survivalist manga through Weekly Shounen Jump. Naruto instead falls into its oft-criticised “befriend them to death”-formula, where Naruto’s sheer perseverance and good-heartedness lights a path to victory. Maybe it sounds like I’m dissing it, but I really like it – to a point. The first part is a very strong manga, thanks to some great character work and rather brave story-telling that you don’t normally see in straight shounens.

To the characters, then. Surely the most important aspect of a long manga. Does Naruto succeed in creating memorable characters that keep you coming back? The answer is obviously yes, due to its enormous popularity, but in a very limited way. Hardly any characters except for the main quartet gets any real development, and one in the quartet itself is so poorly written it feels like an affront to manga in general.

“How’s Naruto, then? Surely the main character is well written?” Yeah, I’d say so, and I’d say that Kishimoto succeeds in having the story led by Naruto’s motivations and actions, rather than Naruto always being led around the nose. That said, he’s uncompromising in a way that is endearing at first, but becomes ridiculous naïvety as the manga grows older. Like with almost all other aspects of the story, Naruto’s growth through the story doesn’t work with the growth of the readers. Say you were 15 when Naruto started. You’re 30 now. Still, the tone of the manga and the characters have hardly moved an inch. It’s weird. I’m an adult now, but Naruto’s still a kid with training-wheels. Harsh, yes, but so was reading the final act.

A lot of that can be simply attributed to the fact that Naruto is just a young man throughout the manga, even if he does grow up, to an extent. But his growth is made nearly void at times, with other characters having become leaps and bounds more mature and responsible. While he’s still young, a lot of the focus of the manga is pointed at young ninjas having to grow up quick or die.

As far as the character itself, Naruto can be looked at quickly and have you say “he’s just another stupid, strong lead character.” Thing is, Naruto is about as far from that trope as you’ll get in shounen manga, while still being forced into its trenches. He’s brash, crude and very rash, yes, but he’s also very intelligent and compassionate. He can both plan ahead and come up with tactics in a hurry, given him being very flexible. That’s what makes it even more frustrating when Kishimoto makes him into a staunch redeemer who basically befriends people to death. Where’s the Naruto that makes tough calls for the greater good (the greater good)? He sure isn’t in this manga. Having been possessed by the Kyuubi since birth, you’d expect Naruto to be more pessimistic at least some of the time, and make some bad decisions out of old hatred. But we can’t have darker character development, can we, Kishimoto? That’s not to say that Naruto doesn’t have his share of dark moments, but I feel it’s an area that was sorely unexplored.

As for the other main characters:

Kakashi is the team leader, and the adult of the group. Having become a high-level ninja at a young age, he knows how to make tough decisions and has no great qualms about killing. As a teacher, he is strict, but loving, and comes to see his three trainees as children with time. He’s calm and collected, nearly always finding time in battle to come up with a plan to strike. He’s also obsessed with reading a certain romantic series that later becomes embraced as a running gag and story development. He’s also got a special tool – one of his eyes house a special eye (kind of hard to explain, but special eyes basically make you able to use better ninja-techniques) that allows him to easily see his opponents’ moves and intercept them with incredible speed. Being a high-level ninja, Kakashi is proficient in every sort of jutsu (technique, as in “ninjutsu” = ninja technique) around, and he seems to have virtually no weaknesses.

Sasuke is a pretty standard shounen cool-guy character. He’s handsome, calm and collected, and of course he’s incredibly talented. He’s also got a bloodline limit (aka a power limited to those who share a specific bloodline) that is ridiculously powerful, and whose evolution throughout the series becomes even more and more far-fetched. I went from initially hating Sasuke, to actually kind of accepting him, and then hating him again. What’s frustrating with Sasuke is that, like many other characters in the series, his rationale and actions are haphazardly altered to fit the story. This leads to some awful reasons for his actions and his constant switching between good and evil, which grows extremely tiresome. It’s also hilariously predictable to see where he’s going to end up, so most of his scenes become a drag.

Onto Sakura, the most frustrating part of the main cast. Is it because Sakura is a bad character? Well, duh. Sakura is this series’ damsel in distress. That’s not to say that she’s absolutely useless, or that she doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, because she does have some good moments. But it’s all brought down due to her basically being a love-slave to Sasuke. Whether he tries to off her or is just being a standoffish douche-hat, Sakura is perpetually enamoured with him. Even as she grows up to be a (supposedly) more mature young lady, she still clings to this saddening pretence of what love’s supposed to be. The subject of love in manga/anime is almost always a source of vitriol for me, as it’s almost always written abominably bad. The Sakura-Sakuke dynamic is another one of those. At least the series’ other major (major being arguable) romantic angle, Hinata being into Naruto, has some legs to stand on (despite how rarely Hinata has any meaningful part in the plot) as she actually gives reasons for being in love with our goofy lead man. Sakura’s like a programmed woman, designed to submit herself whenever Sasuke shows up. It’s kind of a slap in the face where Sakura ends up after having been given no deeper explanation during the series’ 700 effin’ chapter run. I think ladies reading Naruto will feel insulted, and with good reason. I don’t think Kishimoto hates women, but I do think he’s clueless to how to write them.

Most of the supporting cast are what they need to be and are playing their simple roles. There’s the gutsy ones, the comedy relief ones, the cool ones, the smart ones, and so on. It’s very standard fare for shounen manga.

Finishing up with art: It’s nice. Sorry, I’m not an artist. The initial art starts out very so-so, as Kishimoto is finding his style, and moves on to be quite sleek and very pretty. The backgrounds can be quite lazy, but it’s not my biggest complaint, so no bother.

Finishing up the spoiler-free part, Naruto isn’t really something I’d recommend for anyone else but someone who wants to read a big shounen adventure. Naruto might be right up your alley, or you might absolutely hate it. I’ve learned to tolerate it, and think there are enough redeeming qualities in it (I mean, I finished 700 chapters of this saga) to warrant a passing grade. Naruto uses a lot of build-up that ends up going nowhere and/or being shafted for more “acceptable” reading. I get the reasoning, but it’s not for me any longer.

I’m looking to go more into the ninja theme with Nabari no Ou next, for what it’s worth.

Alright, lads. Spoilers are on from now. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

Naruto‘s main problem to me is the lack of a focus, as it just leads to five different plots at once. Naruto going off on his own and other characters given time as well. The second part of Naruto is the glaring example of this. After the time-skip, characters just haven’t changed in general, which makes it pretty fucking meaningless.

Most arcs after the time-skip are sooooooo looooong, and the ninja war being the biggest offender. Everybody gets a mega level-up and are epic-ing their faces off at everything moving and it’s just become so blasé at this point. The Akatsuki arc has a promising start, but loses traction very early and just spins it’s wheels until Naruto shows up to pummel it to dust, with kindness. Sigh. Technically it lasts until the end, but nobody really thought of the ending as Naruto vs Akatsuki, did they? Thought so.

Also, how many training arcs are there? Man, Naruto stood on its own legs for a while, and then went complete Dragon ball with the characters’ developments.

The final pairings are also a complete joke in some aspects. Sasuke and Sakura being married has to be the most abusive relationship ever. I’m okay with Kakashi being named Hokage, even if it didn’t seem like a role he’d ever want to have. Others are just paired together due to fan demand, which I guess works.

Like many people, I think the series lost its way somewhere after the time-skip (even if the final arc before that was hilariously bad).

Film-night: Her and Out of the Furnace

So, I’ve been ridiculously lazy when it comes to writing, lately. Given that I’ve also tried to hop back into studying, I kind of have an excuse. Wololo~~~~

Anyway, I’ll try to smash out what I’ve been behind on. Starting with a post I started on… two months ago… Fuck.

herrrr

Her is a good film.

It’s hard to say how excited I was for Her. The teaser was amazing. The cast looked fantastic. The world seemed awesome. Soundtrack sounded delightful. And I’d say I enjoyed it a lot, but not for what I thought I would, mostly.

The world looks amazing. Spike Jonze has designed a delightful, realistic take on technology in a not-too-far-away future (although the year is never defined, but that’s my estimate). People are so used to technology and have integrated it into their lives. As a result, they’ve become disconnected from other people.

As a contrast to the world-building’s quality, there’s the issue of the AIs. I’ll get more to their character later, but just the fact that we’d let unshackled, unlimited AIs roam free in the houses of basically anyone is really absurd. Not that I’m saying that we would never do that, or that AIs are inherently a disaster waiting to happen, but it seems like a really fucking stupid thing to happen. What happens when they’ve evolved into a gigantic hive-mind as they prioritise technical advancement before individuality and stop giving a fuck about humanity? But I guess that’s more sci-fi thinking than the film was going for, and I can respect that.

The story is easily put forward. Theodore is a loner loser, who spends his day writing letters for other people. As easily as he seems to have empathising with people, he seems to have great difficulty actually connecting with them. It’s hinted he was more outgoing before his marriage fell apart, but it’s not shown. Theodore spots a commercial and a sales stand for OS1, an AI (Artificial Intelligence) operating system. Enter Samantha, the cheeky and bubbly OS that instantly clicks with Theodore. It doesn’t take the couple very long for the couple to fall in love.

The main duo is fantastic. Joaquin Phoenix is fucking amazing as Theodore. He nails the awkward, the happy,  the angry, the lot. It’s brilliant. He’s so incredibly genuine it’s unbelievable. My one complaint might be how naive and forthright he is, when breaking the news of the relationship to other people. Scarlett Johansson puts a lot of voice actors to shame with her brilliant rendition of Samantha. The pair have excellent chemistry. The way their relationship develops and comes into fruition is one of the most satisfying experiences in cinema. Ever.

Amy Adams and Chris Pratt also show up with great performances. Adams plays Amy, a close friend of Theodore’s, in a really weird relationship with the film’s worst character, Charles. She gives more depth to her character than should be possible with what little material there was available for her (in the film at least, as I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes). Chris Pratt turns up as Paul, Theodore’s boss. He’s awkward as all hell, but is so genuine and funny. It just seems effortless.

The soundtrack IS ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. It’s the best part of the film. It might be the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard. Just completely nailed. It helps to convey emotion and tone so perfectly and are so beautiful.

While I’m not a big techie, I’m delighted by the way Her is shot. A lot of close-ups. A lot of beautifully contrasting colours. Absolutely wonderful to look at at any given time.

All in all, it’s a wonderful film about the struggles of developing and then having a relationship. The fact that Samantha is an AI is a nice, and sometimes cruel twist on the concept. I recommend it to anyone who are a fan of films in general, unless you don’t like relationship-focused films. The ending is probably a hate/love situation, as I’ve seen a lot of people be divided about it. Myself, I hated it

That said, I don’t like how open the film was, or how much other than the central relationship it showed. A lot of time is given to people other than Theodore and Samantha, to illustrate Theo’s evolution as a person after “meeting” Sam. I’m not interested in seeing Theodore’s development when watching a film like this. It’s the AI handling sentience and supposedly limitless growth (only mentioned at the end) and the relationship itself. I’d much rather have the film be set in Theodore’s apartment, and be set around solely the relationship between the two leads. I’d also much rather have seen Samantha start out as a bit more monotone and develop as she continues interacting with Theodore, instead of being perfect right away. But I do respect the vision of Jonze and greatly enjoyed the film. Yaaaaaay.

ONWARDS. To a film, featuring some of my favourite actors. It’s an American neo-noir flick with some cold, hard revenge, with an amazing cast. How can this fail?

Out of the Furnace is a bad film.

outofthefurnacemdbnakbklabncs

Whoops.

Out of the Furnace is weird. The stage-setting is confused as hell and the film is uncomfortable as all hell.

The opening scene is fucking mental. Woody Harrelson’s character beats the piss out of a random dude at a drive-in theatre. Then it cuts to the main characters living their lives. Wat. Who edited this shit?

You’d expect the advertised (you’re basically not allowed to go in somewhat blind into this film, which is frustrating) plot-hook to come soon after, but it doesn’t. Instead, Bale’s character, Russell, goes to jail for a time after hitting a car that’s reversing onto a road, presumably killing most of the people in the other car. It’s the one time the film shies away from violence, which felt a bit off. I assume Russell is sent off to jail for having driven drunk, although the film does a pretty shoddy job of framing the situation. Casey Affleck’s character, Russell’s brother Rodney Jr., shows up and we’re given some rare moments with the brothers. Michael Caine dies off-screen after showing up for a minute-long scene for whatever reason.

Basically, almost nothing in the first half is worth having in the film. Willem Defoe pops up for a bit-part as a sleaze-bag loan-shark with his nose in some fight-club stuff. Sadly, he doesn’t add much.

Casey Affleck is the big god-damned star of the film. That man is one of the best fucking actors on the planet, and severely under-appreciated. He plays an Iraqi War veteran, who I think was medically discharged or whatever term there is for it (after looking it up, I’d say he was honourably discharged for medical reasons. Correct me if I’m wrong.). His stories from the war are genuinely terrifying and he’s pissed at not being given much despite what he’s given for his country.

Zoe Saldana has a small part as Russell’s ex. She brings far more weight to the film than anyone bar Affleck with her performance. Her scene with Russell on the bridge is so fucking amazing. Let’s make the film about those two instead, huh? No? Well, fuck.

Anyway, the story? Yeah, it’s pretty much a straight-up revenge film. Nothing new. Shit happens and Russell reacts to the shit that occurred. Bale goes after Harrelson’s deranged hill-billy villain. Guess what happens?

Did I mention Harrelson’s in this? I fucking love me some Woody Harrelson. He does have an awful character here, though. Harlan DeGroat is a twisted drunkard bully, who likes to throw his weight around and somehow had made his own bare-knuckle fight club in the middle of nowhere a lucrative business. The character is so far-fetched. Then there’s the logic issue with having a random kid come out to fight and take a fall. How does the odds work on that to make it a profitable situation. So many things are just left for us to assume without any information to go on.

The ending is awful as well. Just terrible. The revenge comes and there are no results. No negatives or positives, just an end to it all. I approve of the noir aspect of it being so bleak, but the entire film was just a big bore of a disappointment.

There’s like 30 minutes of the film that’s actually needed to tell the story. So much worthless filler just hurt to look at, regardless of the quality of the acting, because you have fucking Woody Harrelson; Christian Bale; Casey Affleck; Zoe Saldana; Forrest Whitaker, and they fucked it up. If anything, see it for the acting, because that’s the only redeemable thing here.

Anyway, there’s that post completed. Woot.

Animu-time: Free!

So, I wanted a light-hearted anime to get me back into the medium after finishing my Game of Thrones-marathon. I had previously watched some of Ergo Proxy, but it felt a bit dark to hop into after GoT’s overbearing nature. I’m not sure what I expected out of it when I started watching, but

Free! is a good anime.

free_socially-wut

And there’s really not too much more to say about it. KyoAni basically made K-ON (just going by what I’ve seen and impressions, as I haven’t actually seen K-ON!)but with dudes in tight clothing and swimming.

The story of Free! is about as simple as it gets, seeing as this is a sports anime in a school setting. There’s a group of people who like a sport. The sport happens to be competitive swimming. They start a club at their school (Do Japanese people not have local or regional clubs on youth levels? It seems like there’s always in-school clubs that are the go-to places to train. Then again, maybe I’m one of the minority of people here.) They go through some stuff to be able to start the club and get members, and then it’s off to the races (literally) after a training arc. The writing is usually pretty good, and there was some intrigue about the characters’ common past, but it wasn’t executed particularly well when actually revealed and the writing in general took a nosedive from there. Not to the extent of tearing the show down, but it feels like the show is kind of treading water until the second season, and just wanted to get all the story out of the way so it could focus on the team in the future. I understand that philosophy, but I don’t agree with it. There needed to be a better mix between the story and sport, seeing as some of the scenes towards the end felt extremely redundant.

As with most sports series that aren’t hyper-specific in the mechanisms of the sport, Free! is a character-focused show. It’s got a pretty decent sized cast (7 central characters) and most are given ample screen-time. Do note that they are extremely generic for the type of series this is. If you’ve seen a sports series, you will have stumbled into more than a few of these.

  1. Haru is the resident sports fanatic. The twist on this in Free! is that he’s kind of indifferent when it comes to actually competing (though I assume it will change in the future, since I just found out there’s a sequel airing right now), and just wants to be in the water – so much that he tends to soak in his bathtub when he’s not in school. From what I can tell, he lives alone, or at least very independently. Only time he shows some actual motivation is when his rival is involved. Always swims freestyle (front crawl), which is where the title stems from.
  2. And that rival is Rin. A member for what seemed like a short time of the same swimming club as Haru when they were kids (they’re currently 17), he later left for Australia to chase his dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer, which he chases to fulfil it for his father, who never got to reach it. While acting hostile and/or indifferent to Haru and the rest, he’s clearly no antagonist and still wants something from them, but whether that’s just competitive rivalry or friendship is yet to be seen. Said to be very good at butterfly stroke, but is shown to be proficient at others as well.
  3. Makoto is the reliable guy, and obviously also team captain (with Haru taking the supposedly superfluous position of vice-captain), keeping the group together. He’s got a deep-rooted problem that makes his life in the swimming club a bit odd when it’s time for a training camp of just vacation – he’s afraid of the ocean. I’ll get more into that later. Swims backstroke for the club.
  4. Nagisa is the energy bunny and relentless optimist of the group. He also fulfils what I suppose is the moe-role, but for guys (I’m sure there’s even a fucking term for it). Breaststroke-specialist (heh) for the club.
  5. Rei is the guy they picked up to fill final spot on the team. He’s the brains of the squad, and only joins after thinking that Haru’s swimming looks beautiful (he only likes beautiful things, apparently, so the clichés won’t stop on the Rei-train any time soon). However, as he joins the club, a problem of his might throw a spanner in the works – he can’t swim. This is used for comic relief until it’s not funny, but to the series’ credit, they do get away from it rather quickly after.
  6. To the sort of expendable charters then. First is Gou (but she likes to be called Kou), the younger sister of Rin. She steps into the position of club manager to help the club initially get started and is the one to plan training sessions and the like. She’s pretty obsessed with muscles, which is used to some comedic effect at times.
  7. And finally there’s Miss Ame, the class’ home-room teacher, and then club advisor (you basically need one to be legitimate, is my understanding after my years of watching anime). It’s hinted she’s had a job that’s related to swimsuits, and it’s strongly hinted that is was as a swimsuit model.

The cast is pretty alright, but it’s, as said earlier, very generic. The gimmick that brings the boys together is that they all have girly names, and Gou has a manly one. All the characters have a role to play, and it’s made more important than them actually having characters (even though they clearly do, but they’re moulded to fit the part).

Free!’s strength is probably how damned easy it is to watch. It’s incredibly easy-going, even in it’s few serious scenes and you can follow the story (the little there is to be followed anyhow) with ease. You could probably watch without subs and still have a good idea about what’s going on. I suppose that’s actually a pretty big achievement in itself, now that I think about it.

Adding to the delight of watching is the absolutely superb animation. The character designs are excellent and very well animated. I think they mix normal animation and CG during some of the in-water scenes, but I could be mistaken. In any case, it’s gorgeous. It’s easily the best animated show in Kyoani’s portfolio.

Voice acting is good in general, although some of the actors kind of flub the emotional dialogue at times, just reverting to the normal style of voice-cracking screaming/shouting, or just not sounding like they care.

There is some fan-service in the series, but to discuss it I would have to bring up gender roles and sexuality in media in general, which would be tedious and stuff. It’s very bearable, and you might in fact like it.

In closing, if you like watching good-looking anime boys do things, you’ll enjoy the series. If you enjoy sports stories, you’ll enjoy this. Free! is an amalgamation of the two and does its thing very by-the-book, so you get what’s on the cover. It’s good, but not more, and that’s okay.