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.

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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.

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!

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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.