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Category Archives: Watchings

Megamind and Women

I recently had the pleasure of watching Megamind – I know I’m behind the times, but it didn’t appeal to me when it first came out. I was very glad I decided to watch it, though, as it was extremely funny, quirky, and while often cliched and predictable, it still managed to be clever. The main characters were well done and I sympathized with or understood all of them – all of them, that is, except the sole named female character, Roxanne. In a movie that was all about subverting cliches, the one cliche they didn’t subvert was that of the damsel in distress. In and of itself, that’s fine, but then Roxanne never rose beyond the role of damsel in distress. She was introduced as clever and confident, but these traits mostly vanished as we got to know her better and she got used by pretty much everyone. She had so much potential and was so well-positioned to actually affect the plot, but she never did; she always went to Megamind or his alter-ego for help. She did almost nothing on her own, though she was clearly capable of doing so!

Other than her, the world they inhabit seemed to be entirely made of men, except for a few women who pop up in the large crowd scenes. As such, it’s a crime that they didn’t take advantage of the one female character they included, and then even more of a crime when the damsel in distress trope was pretty much the only one to survive unscathed. It was extremely frustrating to watch her miss out on all of these opportunities to do something, when it was perfectly in character, and soured an otherwise phenomenal movie.

Sorry for the little rant, but that aspect of Megamind really bugged me. Still, though, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2014 in Watchings

 

Attack on Titan (Season 1)

I broke my cardinal rule of anime-watching to watch this show, as it came so highly-recommended. I normally refuse to watch subtitled shows, which many “real” fans of anime and manga will scoff at. Why do I refuse to watch subs? Because reading the subtitles focus my attention away from the visuals on the screen and because I don’t understand Japanese vocal tones and so the vocals add nothing for me. Both subs and dubs depend on the translation, and assuming the translations are equivalent, I will understand more and get more out of a dubbed show.

However, I was so interested in the premise of Attack on Titan that I lost patience in waiting for the dub and watched the entire show. Initially, I decided I didn’t like the show, as it focused on tactics rather than strategy and because the pacing of what I found interesting – the exploration of what titans are, what the walls are, and what the hell happened to the world – was excruciatingly slow compared to the time given to the characters and the action sequences. However, after mulling things over and playing Feng Lee’s Attack on Titan tribute game (which is amazing and free), I decided it was actually a really good anime, and even would include it in my top ten. I was just focusing on the wrong aspects of it, and I suspect that what I am really interested in will begin to be revealed soon, though at a slower pace than I might want.

What makes Attack on Titan a good show? Well, firstly, it has my two favorite openings of all time. Secondly, it has a fascinating premise that it actually explores: one day, around the year 700ish (I think), mysterious gigantic, sexless, deformed humanoids appeared and, out of not hunger but apparently bloodlust, began eating humans until they were almost wiped out. The survivors now hide behind three enormous walls, hemmed in by the titans outside. The show begins when the outer wall is breached by a sixty-meter high titan, which draws you in and gets your attention really quickly.

I don’t like all of the directions the show has taken the premise in (particularly the Titan Shifters; I dislike them as it makes the Titans less uncanny and frightening), but overall it’s been solid. The world creation is not incredibly detailed, but passable; I am not convinced that the economosociopolitical would work, but there’s a conspiracy hinted at here that might make it better. Still, I am drawn into the world of Attack on Titan, which is what really matters.

The characters are also all right. The main three – Eren, Mikasa, and Armin – are all lackluster cutouts, however. Eren is your standard young protagonist whose main talent is sheer willpower and charisma (in the vein of One Piece‘s Luffy and Fairy Tail‘s Natsu), who I don’t like and doesn’t develop. Armin is your standard weak, smart boy who undervalues himself and comes to realize his worth later (however, like Eren, in season 1 he didn’t develop much). Mikasa is your standard badass woman who is absolutely perfect and good at everything and fanatically devoted to Eren. She also hardly develops, save in her backstory a bit.

The secondary characters are where Attack on Titan really shines. Jean is the best-fleshed out character by far, but you see much more convincing characters in Petra and her companions, Mike Zacharius, Levi, Erwin, Hange Zoe, Dot Pixis, Keith Shadis, the Military Police chief (whose name eludes me), Sasha, and Connie. They were all much more believable and they developed a lot more than the main three. Of course, these secondary characters are only developed so that they can later die horrible deaths. More than anything else, this show really hits home emotionally; you grow to care about the characters, and then when they are taken away, you feel it. This show is an action anime at its heart, but it shows you the casualties of war and conflict. The deaths are not nameless faces or numbers; they are real people who suffer and then die.

The themes of loss and the horrors of war are the central themes of the show, I think, and they are very well done. That being said, the mystery reveals are slow-paced, and the focus is on the micro aspects of war and loss (tactics), rather than on the big picture (strategy), which I personally don’t find as compelling as others. I do think the show is overrated, but by by no means is it bad; it is really good. I will probably rewatch this when the dub comes out (and I will certainly watch Season 2), and when that happens, I strongly encourage everyone to watch this show!

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Watchings

 

Rapid Review: Elfen Lied, Deadman Wonderland, and Fullmetal Alchemist

And I’m back again, with more reviews to catch up on! This time I am going to discuss three animes (I’ve been watching a lot of them as I do work) I’ve watched since my last post in early January on Code Geass: Elfen Lied, Deadman Wonderland, and Fullmetal Alchemist (not Brotherhood). I have grouped all of these together because I didn’t think they were particularly good or worth spending time on, and because the first two of these were very short (and FMA I had already seen part of and I’ve seen the 2009 remake, FMA: Brotherhood). So, here are my disorganized thoughts on the three:

Elfen Lied. This anime had been hyped to me a lot via the Internet and an anime-loving brother, and so I decided to give it a shot. The opening song, “Lilium,” is absolutely beautiful, and the imagery and symbolism in the accompanying visuals was very powerful. Other than the opening, however, I found nothing else that I liked, and nothing I found objectively good, either, though I’m sure people will disagree. I found it severely lacking in almost all areas, except animation and art; the background art was fantastic and the animation better than normal. The characters were all one-dimensional and really annoying; this is partly the fault of the short length of the show, but Baccano! had better character development for more than twice the cast of main characters and (before the three wrap-up episodes were released) the same amount of episodes. The audience pull/stock young male protagonist was really annoying and does nothing, and over the course of the show gathers a harem of women in the house he lives in, including the interesting character of Lucy. Lucy is a diclonius/superhuman with two personalities: a timid and naive young girl who can’t even speak Japanese, and a murderous escaped experiment who slaughters people with invisible arms called “vectors.” While she is interesting and her past explored, I did not find her compelling or convincing. The focus of the show is clearly on Lucy, and yet because they want to show her to develop empathy  in her relationship to the stock young male protagonist they don’t spend enough time actually exploring her. It was also clear that we were supposed to feel bad for Lucy’s terrible past, but other than the puppy scene, I felt nothing. I couldn’t connect to her at all, and none of the other characters were better.

The plot was also a mess, and made little to no sense. The background and exploration of the origins of the diclonii  was really interesting, but the exploration was so limited that it raised more questions than were answered. Again, I blame the show’s focus on characters, which it did a poor job of developing anyway. It took away from exploring more interesting plot points. All in all, the show felt extremely unfocused and half-thought out (and I’ve heard the manga is only a little better), and tried in vain to appeal to emotions. I didn’t take any lessons about discrimination, bullying, or morality from it. All that I remember was a mess of a show that made no sense with really weak characters. It tried to do too much in too few episodes, and so failed to do anything well. Except that opening.

Deadman Wonderland. I enjoyed this one a lot more than Elfen Lied, despite having even larger plotholes than the previous. The major difference was that, despite having only the same amount of episodes, I actually cared about most of the characters and they had much better backstories and more development. The one exception, though, was the main character Ganta, who was Shinji from Evangelion voiced by someone mimicking Jacuzzi Splot from Baccano! He was really annoying, but I could feel for him; after all, he was (rather absurdly) given a death sentence for single-handedly massacring all of his middle school classmates. Of course, he wasn’t just executed; no, he was sent to Deadman Wonderland, a prison where the death row inmates participate in games for a watching public in order to earn “candies” that act as an antidote for the poison constantly pumped into their blood.

Despite the problems with his accusation and sentencing, this was actually a really interesting premise with a lot of potential. There could have been a great deal of the exploration of public spectacle, the criminal justice system, privatization, and morality. Was there any of that? Sure, a little. But then the show moved on to the “real” purpose of the prison: supernatural bloodbenders (“deadmen,” hence the title) who fight each other for the amusement of secret rich donors, using their blood as weapons. But wait, there’s more! Behind this, the prison’s director is secretly using these deadmen, who are infected with a parasitic worm that lets them control their own blood, to create some sort of powerful thing and understand the “Wretched Egg.” But wait! All of this is also somehow related to a huge earthquake that destroyed Tokyo. What does this all mean? I don’t know! The show never explains it (the manga does, apparently).

Like Elfen Lied, then, Deadman Wonderland tries to do too much in only 12.5 (the half being an almost unrelated OVA) episodes. It opens up a lot of potential plot paths, and then fails to conclude them. The show doesn’t even have an ending (likely because a second season was intended). I think it would have been much better if it had stopped with the supernatural bit, and just left it as a screwed up prison and explored the themes around the privatization of justice. It had so much potential, but then lost it, I think (oh, and it had a really good opening too!).

Fullmetal Alchemist. I love Brotherhood, the 2009 remake that more closely followed the manga. It is one of my favorite animes of all time (I place it at about my sixth favorite overall). I actually became interested in Brotherhood by watching my brother watch some episodes from the middle of the original Fullmetal Alchemist, becoming intrigued, watching the first 10 episodes on my own, reading that Brotherhood was better, and then switching shows. I read about the ending to the original on the FMA wiki, and was reluctant to go back to it as I didn’t think it held a candle to Brotherhood‘s ending. And, surprisingly, I was right.

I went back to rewatch this because I felt guilty about having not finished the original, and initially I greatly enjoyed it. The original did a few things better than Brotherhood, namely in terms of the emotional impact of Hughes’ death, the atrocities of Shou Tucker, and the pacing of the first episodes (Brotherhood‘s first several episodes pretty much assume you’ve seen the original FMA). The actual writing was also very good, though not quite up to Brotherhood‘s level, and I enjoyed watching FMA up until the last few episodes. It was still a good anime, but not great. Why, you ask? Partly because I compare it to Brotherhood, and partly because it fails to create a convincing plot. Brotherhood‘s conspiracy involves a government taken in by promises of power manipulating its people for a dark purpose, and FMA‘s involves eight individuals who somehow control the entire country with no outside supporters. It doesn’t really seem “realistic” (ignoring the existence of alchemy and the fantasy setting). Furthermore, the ending of the original is one giant plothole, with a villain who doesn’t do much or have much motivation (admittedly, though, I hate parallel universe plots). All-in-all, up until the ending, it was good, but not great, and then the ending brought it down from good to alright.

Coming up soon are three more anime reviews: Steins;Gate, Cowboy Bebop, and Attack on Titan!

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Watchings

 

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Well, in my spare time between writing (fiction) and writing (papers), I watched yet another anime: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebelliob (and its second season R2). It came highly recommended by two of my three brothers, as well as practically the entire internet. The show is 50 episodes, and I watched most of them in a week, but it didn’t feel like 50 episodes. It was extremely fast-paced, and I had a lot of trouble stopping my daily dose. It was never boring, and always held my near universal attention (which is extremely rare for me, as someone who has trouble doing only one thing at once). It is definitely one of the best animes I have ever seen, and I is now one of my personal favorites.

It does not fall into the trap that some animes do – including my beloved Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood – of dragging fightscenes on endlessly. Fightscenes are usually quick – never more than an episode – and unlike animes in which the fight is focused on the martial skill of the combatants, in Code Geass the fight (more often in the show they are battles) is focused on the tactical and strategic abilities of the opposing commanders. This is not to say that martial skill is not present at all; the abilities of Suzaku Kururugi and Kallen Kozuki are emphasized frequently, and there are some elements of the anime mecha duel present in the show. However, while there are mechas in Code Geass (the “Knightmare Frames”), they are secondary to the masterful plot and colorful cast of characters the show provides. The characters are all likeable and able to draw you in, and the plot is complex and deep enough to keep you from moving while the show is on.

While Code Geass is ostensibly a mecha anime about a genius boy with a supernatural ability who leads a revolt against a tyrannical global superpower, it quickly becomes much more than that, and examines issues of racism, xenophobia, love, meaning, humanity, and sacrifice. Its most obvious theme is that of morality, as the show’s protagonist, Lelouch vi Britannia/Lamperouge, is definitely an antihero. He has many flaws and does terrible things, so that half the time you root for him happily and the other half you root for him but aren’t sure why. His imperfections make him the perfect antihero, and his opposite Suzaku Kururugi is the exact foil of Lelouch, and the two serve to point out the absurdities in each others’ views of morality, until everything comes together in what is really the perfect ending.

The one problem I had with the show was its explanation of the supernatural power of Geass , the Code, and the World of C. There was really no explanation, and that is still bothering me; the idea of the Code and Geass was expertly applied in the plot, but damn it, I want to know where it came from!

All in all, I would recommend Code Geass to anyone who wants to think about deep social and philosophical questions. The show combines mecha anime with highschool anime with fantasy anime with science fiction anime, so there is something there for everyone! Things to look out for in the show include Lelouch’s ingenious battle strategies, Lloyd (my favorite character by far) and Rakshata’s co-development of an elite Knightmare frame (Kallen’s Guren) indirectly, unwillingly, and from afar, and the fact that Lelouch does not win every contest! It was wonderful and refreshing to see a show in which the protagonist, going against incredibly odds, regularly loses! It made Lelouch a much more powerful and deep character.

Go watch it if you haven’t! Z. M. Wilmot commands you!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in Watchings

 

The Cabin in the Woods

To celebrate my victory over my multivariate regression analysis statistics course, I allowed myself to watch a movie. Hearing that it had some Lovecraftian elements in it, I decided to take advantage of Netflix’s offering of The Cabin in the Woods. I am not yet sure if I regret watching it or not. It was certainly a very well-made movie, but I am not sure if I liked it personally. I have a very low tolerance for gore and on-screen, graphic violence – as well as too-intense suspense – and the film certainly had those things, even if a lot of the violence (especially near the end) was almost over-the-top CGI. I was busy being very squeamish during the latter half of the movie, which did not make me like it too much.

However, the film was a very well-thought out and filmed satire of classic horror/slasher films, that was itself horrific. I was expecting a lot from Joss Whedon, and he delivered. Apart from a few plot holes, the most glaring one being how the facility was created and maintained with less technology than is available now, as it presumably had to have been in the past, the movie was seamless. I found myself cheering for both sides as I watched it, due to Whedon’s ability to make you sympathize with any character he wants. He presented us with a lose-lose situation, in which you want both groups to survive, but in the end you know they can’t. As such, every time someone died, I was both saddened and happy, and it was a rather confusing emotional experience as a result (and I must say I loved Marty!).

The suspense was amazing, the monsters (the initial ones especially) terrifying, and the plot actually surprisingly complex and deep. I was on edge the entire movie, and not in vain; in true Joss Whedon style, everyone you ever cared about dies. And then some (sorry for the spoiler, but it had to be said). The ending was a little bit over the top (and who even put that cleanse button there? Who thought that was a good idea), but the mix of humor, cosmic horror (though it wasn’t nearly as Lovecraftian as I had hoped), fear, and examination of ethics made it for a very good movie, but not one I am sure I would recommend. If you can handle gore, then watch it, and if not, don’t; that’s my final piece of advice.

Ta-ta for now!

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Watchings

 

Planetes

In between working on Sundering Stars for NaNo and working on a plethora of papers for the end of my first graduate student semester, I managed to watch a short, little-known, 26-episode anime that seemed to have rave reviews. I mostly watched it while practicing my juggling, which is also coming along nicely. This anime was called Planetes, and it is the best anime I have ever seen, by far, topping even previous-favorite Baccano!

The show, whose name translates to “Wanderers,” is about space debris collectors in the near future. It is very hard science fiction – something unusual in an anime – and takes place in a very plausible future. It deals with complex philosophical and sociological themes, which is probably why I found it so compelling. It also deals with real, concrete problems of space development; namely, orbital debris and its impact on space travel. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving anything away, but throughout its short, perfect-length 26-episode run, Planetes explores ides of existentialism, cosmic dread, political power relations, morality, terrorism, crime, oppression, monopolization, corporatism, love, friendship, science, and real space problems like radiation poisoning, space debris, lunar colonization in low gravity, being stranded alone in space, and psychological disorders. It is a wondrous work of art, and has beautiful animation as well. I strongly recommend it for anyone who loves science fiction. Watch the trailer here!

Ta-ta for now! Get watching!

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Watchings

 

Lexx

I finished watching this very unique and fascinating dark comedy science fiction show a while ago, but haven’t yet had the time to write my thoughts on it. I still don’t exactly know how I feel about it, but I do think it is very overrated. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it was Farscape‘s major competitor (and I think Farscape was the better show myself), and had a similar set-up: a mismatched motley crew on board a living ship, traveling through space. In the case of Lexx, the crew consisted of a low-ranking security guard (Stanley Tweedle) who inadvertently gains control of the Lexx, the titular ship capable of destroying planets, a mutant love-slave (Zev/Xev), an undead assassin who was once a warrior-poet, and a talking robot head hopelessly in love with Xev (and later Kai).

It was the description of the crew that got me interested in the show, and I absolutely loved the first season, which consisted essentially for four hour and a half-long movies. It was dark, gritty, and absurdly funny at moments, and full of sexual innuendos that didn’t overpower thw show. It was clever and portrayed the absurdity of bureaucracy and totalitarianism, while simultaneously displaying the brutality of humanity and the universe, all set against a fascinating backdrop. The characters were great and I loved every minute of it.

Then we got to the second season, and halfway through it I almost stopped watching. The big bad guy of season one is gone, replaced by a different bad guy bent on destroying the universe, with a rather poorly-explained motivation. He didn’t click for me. Furthermore, the first season had a general continuous storyline, and the second one didn’t so much, and the episodes were either hit-or-miss, depending on the writer that week. Most of them were misses. A twitter response to my thoughts about leaving the Lexx ship prompted me to keep going, and I reluctantly powered my way through season 2, and I am glad I did.

Season three was by far my favorite, essentially taking place in Heaven and Hell, and exploring the war between the two. It introduced one of my favorite villains of all time, and doesn’t even try to explain his motivations outside of “I was created evil and so I will be evil and enjoy it.” They were honest about this, which was why he – Prince – worked so well as a villain. The third season I also found clever, and the “city of the week” set-up, in which the crew visited different cities on Hell (Fire) and Heaven (Water) every episode, fun and a good way to examine life.

The fourth season was also enjoyable, and took place on what we know as earth. It had its moments of both good and bad, and an unsatisfying ending, but I preferred season 3. Season 4 was definitely the most humorous, however.

Overall, it was a good show, and all but season 2 were worth watching. Season 2 was extremely depressing – which was fine – and completely overtaken by bad sexual innuendos that just got extremely annoying. I found it dull and not at all inventive or clever. Its villains, both minor and major, were two-dimensional and didn’t seem well-thought out; they seemed caricatures more than anything else. So, you can live without season 2, although some of it is important in later seasons, no not critically so. I would definitely recommend seasons 1 and 3 at the very least!

 
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Posted by on May 16, 2013 in Watchings

 
 
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