Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Crunchyroll's Premium & Premium+ Memberships

Crunchyroll is my favorite anime site. It isn't even really a close contest. You might have noticed a few widgets on this site trying to help spread the word. Crunchyroll streams many of the newest anime each season including the latest One Piece and Naruto Shippuden episodes. Of course, they have an excellent back catalog as well. 

I have watched many a fine anime there and purchased quite a few goods from their store, too. There's also a neat little forum. There's just so much stuff you can get lost in the goodness. They have Premium and Premium+ memberships and if you purchase one you get all sorts of sweet extras. All of the anime, drama, and manga can be experienced legally before almost anyone else. 

Remember: Pirates are only cool in anime. 

They can tell you about it better than I can, but if you are into anime and you want to support the genre then there's no better way than to sign up for Crunchyroll. There's apps for your phone, your Kindle, and your Roku. The Crunchy-love in inescapable. You can now become a full-fledged otaku like me. 


The Sting

The anime Baccano! got me in the mood to watch something that took place in 1930's America and featured a few scenes on a train. And wouldn't you know that I had something just like that in my collection? Of course, I did. I'm talking about 1973's The Sting

George Roy Hill is probably most famous for his two outings with actors Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Naturally, I'm talking about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. Of the two I believe that the latter is probably the less seen one these days, but both are classics worthy of high praise. Hill also directed such fine films as Slap Shot (his third and final Paul Newman outing) and The World According to Garp. Both of those will be reviewed here in time. 

However, let's focus on the film at hand. 

I had never seen it before last night. I really didn't know too much what to expect. I wasn't even sure what the title was supposed to mean. 

It's all about the con in this. The film follows a young con artist as he tries to get back at the man that had one of his friends killed. To do so he needs to stay one step ahead of the law and seek out the teachings of a man who has more experience with the art of the con. 

Paul Newman is more of a supporting player in this film. He has a few classic scenes and lines in this, but most of the attention is focused on the younger Robert Redford and the arch nemesis Robert Shaw. Redford is an actor I haven't really pursued much. This is the third film I've seen him in with the other two being Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the aforementioned Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Truthfully, I was watching this with the hopes that Newman and Shaw would have been the main characters and that Redford would have been the one in a supporting role. Paul Newman seemed like he was trying to tone it down a bit in this movie, too. This was more or less Robert Redford's time to shine and Newman seemed aware of that. This movie should have had just a bit more Newman. He wasn't even introduced until a half hour into the movie. 

Redford isn't a slouch, though. He carries the weight of being the main character with a sense of ease. He does have presence and there's a reason he is one of the better actors of his generation. 

Robert Shaw was always on point. At first I wasn't sure what character he even played. I kept trying to look for him and then I really saw his character start to come alive before my eyes. There's Robert Shaw! The talented son of a gun was hiding right before my eyes. Of course, he was the bad guy. He was always great at that. Watching this movie reminded me again that Robert Shaw died in 1978. What a tragedy. He should've had a much longer life and career than he did. 

The use of rags from the early 1900's in this movie was excellent. I don't know who thought of it, but whoever did was a genius. I don't really know why it worked so well, either. It just does. The Entertainer is just a fun rag and it fits the somewhat loose and slightly comedic feel of the movie. 

The ending is a classic. After watching so many Korean movies I fully expected the worse to happen, but I still wasn't sure if I was prepared for what might happen. It almost felt like a repeat of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The movie could have had a sequel. Unfortunately, it did not. At least, not a good one. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dragon Ball Vol. 6: Bulma Returns by Toriyama Akira

Today I discovered that the Dragon Ball franchise would return for its first new television anime series 18 years. I couldn't believe it. I just sat there in front of my Chromebook, staring at the article on Crunchyroll, and wondering if maybe I was seeing things. It's official. In July of 2015 Dragon Ball Super will be unleashed upon Japan and then later the rest of the world. 

The new movies are undoubtedly a huge factor for the series coming to fruition and Toriyama's desire to see the series return in some way is probably another. I cannot freaking wait. 

Naturally, I immediately opened a volume of the manga and started reading. My Dragon Ball fever has returned in a huge way. I mean, it never really left, but I kind of forgot the intensity of it when it was at its strongest. It's back. I wish a manga would accompany Dragon Ball Super, but I suppose not. Still, the world is right again. I just hope it doesn't suck like Dragon Ball GT


Now I return you to your regularly scheduled program:

Goku is in Muscle Tower, a Red Ribbon Army base in some frozen and godforsaken part of the world. His goal is to reclaim the dragon ball in their possession and to rescue the mayor of the poor town besieged by the Army. 

In order to do that he'll have to make his way to the top level of the tower and he does so with very little in the way of struggling. I'm convinced that Toriyama wrote most of these in this volume just so he could make silly facial expressions. 

Sergeant Major Purple isn't exactly Jackie Chun, but he provides Son Goku with the best fight of this volume thanks to a handy trick that could create four more Sergeant Major Purples. 

At this point in the series the fights aren't really fights at all. They are more or less skirmishes that are quickly dominated by Goku. Sure, the Jiggler had an upper hand, but Goku figured a trick out too quickly for it to be mentioned. Goku's fight with Jackie Chun was epic, but is very atypical of the series so far. The fights are not yet at the front and center. They are there, but they are more of the silly type. 

The best moment of the volume happens when Goku decides to journey to the west (a pun there if you can find it) after conquering Muscle Tower to visit Bulma. We meet Bulma's mom and dad for the first time and also get a look at her digs. Nice place. Bulma decides to once again journey with Goku, but Goku neglects to tell her that he is the biggest enemy of the world's most powerful army. Emperor Pilaf ain't got nothing on the Red Ribbon Army.

Kururin, Lunch, and Kame-sen'nin also get some appearance time in when Bulma and Goku got there to borrow a submarine. Unfortunately, the dynamic duo have led General Blue's army directly to the Kame House. Or not. Kame-sen'nin is more than capable is taking care of himself. At this point in the series he is still the strongest character we know. 

After Super Saiyan God mode it's tough to believe to that this series had such fairly down to earth roots. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

JSA: Joint Security Area (Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA)

If there is a movie that can be claimed as the one that put actors Lee Byung-hun, Song Kang-ho, and director Park Chan-wook on the proverbial map in a big way then it would have to be this one. In 2000 neither of these talented gentlemen had much on their resume. I imagine there was no reason to think that a movie about a murder on the demilitarized zone (aka the JSA) between North and South Korea would really flip that switch for them. There are a ton of South Korean flicks about the conflict with North Korea, after all. What makes this one so damn good? 

Well, talent, like time and tide, cannot be denied for long. Lee Byung-hun isn't quite as polished as he would be in later movies, but here he plays South Korean soldier Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok, the suspect of a controversial murder, quite well. It is a relatively quiet performance compared to some of his later movies, but his character is undeniably sympathetic and he becomes much more alive and warm as the story goes on. His role is the perfect foil to that of Song Kang-ho who portrays the much louder and colder North Korean soldier Sergeant Oh Kyeong-pil.

Song Kang-ho is like a chameleon when it comes to movies. Everytime I see him he is completely different because he just becomes the character so well. He really is like a Korean Gary Oldman. 

This actor combo really pushes this movie a great heights. 

The two of them had a conflict in a room on the north side of the JSA and this conflict left two North Korean soldiers dead and both of them injured. Afterwards North Korea and South Korea seem to be on the brink of war so a neutral investigation team is sent in to soothe the bitterness and find out just what really happened. 

The North is claiming that the South invaded with intent to kill while the South is claiming that the North kidnapped one of their men and he merely defended himself. Swiss Army Major Sophie E. Jean (Young-ae Lee) thinks there may be more to the whole thing than just political intrigue or underhanded military tactics and is determined to find out the mystery. How did a South Korean soldier end up in the north side of the JSA and how did those two North Korean soldiers meet their demise?

Park Chan-wook deserves all the praise in the world for his direction. The guy is the Korean Quentin Tarantino. There's also shades of Hitchcock. The guy has a natural wow factor about him and he could not have had a better cast of lesser known (at the time) actors or story to work with. It was the perfect storm. 

I'm used to many twists and turns from the Korean world by now, but I didn't quite see this one coming. I highly recommend this one. I watched mine on a DVD that I ordered from 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dragon Ball Vol. 5: The Red Ribbon Army by Toriyama Akira

Goku's tail is back and that not only means trouble for Jackie Chun, but also for all of the people watching the fight. Yamcha and co. know what happens when Goku sees the full moon and the night of the final round just happens to be such a night. 

After being struck by a powerful lightning type of attack that Jackie Chun has only used once before, Goku seems like he is down for the count. Then his gaze lifts toward the full moon and all hell breaks loose. 

Goku is now a giant ape hellbent on destroying the arena. 

Jackie Chun, using his craftiness and tendency for overkill, launches a full strength kamehameha wave in Goku's general direction. 

However, he does not strike Goku with the wave. Instead he destroys the moon itself. 

With Goku transforming back to his normal self the fight resumes in the form of a "one final attack settles it all" kind of thing. Who will win? Well, it was a shock to me when I first discovered who won, but it makes a lot of sense now in hindsight. The outcome was well done.

With the tournament over things seem like they could have come to an end for the story of Dragon Ball. However, Toriyama decides to revisit the concept of villains looking for the dragon balls. Only this time an entire army is after them. 

The Red Ribbon Army is Goku's newest foe, but after the glorious tournament arc this newest enemy comes across as underwhelming initially. Mere humans don't seem so fearful compared to Goku's strength. The fight against Jackie Chun set the bar really high and it doesn't seem like the Red Ribbon Army could possibly match it. 

It kind of feels like Toriyama is just wandering around trying to find a way to make this story become riveting. 

He made it work, though. Toriyama is incredibly gifted as an artist and a storyteller. There's a reason he kept going beyond the initial chapters of Dragon Ball. The final half of this volume doesn't seem like much but I know it will get better. 

The Red Ribbon Army are indeed a fearful bunch. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no Monogatari)

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is an adaptation of a 10th century Japanese folktale brought to us by the extremely talented people at Studio Ghibli. The man who helmed the project was the very same that tried to break my feels with Grave of the Fireflies. Naturally, I'm talking about the very diversive Takahata Isao.

This film was brought to us in 2013 after The Wind Rises (what was to be Miyazaki Hayao's last film before retirement) and could very well be the penultimate Studio Ghibli film as we know it since Studio Ghibli has gone into a bit of a hiatus. It would be a shame if Studio Ghibli called it a day for good, but if they were to then they've certainly left us with a goldmine of excellent animated films. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya being just one of those excellent films.

What struck me the most as I sat down to watch in this film in stunning high definition was the animation style. It was just so... different. I've certainly seen a lot of animation styles, but this was probably the most purposefully simplistic I've ever seen. I'm so used to every stretch of the screen being colored in, but this was the exact opposite. There was so much white that I wondered if I was watching a movie or some sort of unfinished anime short that came on before the movie. 

However, the Ghibli effect can overcome any obstacle. This animation style was not only an artistic statement, but a challenge to the norms of modern day animation. Challenge: Overcome. The style, odd as it was, acted as the perfect foil for the subject matter.

This was a very old story and the animation did its all to try to underscore that idea and it worked. 

It's very beautiful. Of course, it's very style can put off a lot of people that want something more conventional or modern. I still remember all of the people that decried the anime adaptation of Flowers of Evil because it utilized rotoscope. In both cases different was not only good, but exceptional. 

The story of Kaguya was previously unknown to me, but the story is definitely one of those archetypal stories that seems to be familiar in some way. That may sound like obfuscation, but it was as if I recognized parts of the story from the stories it influenced. 

The story is thus: A bamboo cutter discovers a young girl in a bamboo flower. The girl can fit in the palm of his hand. Believing himself to be blessed he takes the girl into the palm of his hand, but as soon as his wife touches her she transforms into a baby. Together they raise her, but she grows quickly and the bamboo cutter vows to turn her into a regular princess by taking her into town. 

It sounds silly saying "I don't want to spoil it" because this is a story from the 10th century, but if you want to know what happens next you can watch the movie (or any of the other adaptations... of which there are many) or Google it. Or try reading an English adaptation of the story itself. 

This movie was excellent. Very relaxing, too. There's nothing remotely like fanservice. There's no action, either. Not even a single explosion. It's just pure unadulterated animation and storytelling the way it should be. 

In other words: Studio Ghibli-style. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 7 by Puyo

Stop. It's manga time. 

With the anime now alive and well, it's possible that The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan will also stay alive and well in manga form. These volumes are really spread out over time (only eight releases over five years) so it is easy to forget, but The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan does have several charms to make it a manga worth keeping up on. 

Volume seven brings it all back home. It is Christmas time and the members of the Literature Club want to celebrate Christmas in their own special way. Asakura Ryoko wants nothing more than Kyon and Nagato to finally become an item. And want better time for couples to really become couples than Christmas? 

Thanks to a fateful encounter with his sister after he boldly invited Nagato over to play a video game, Kyon now knows that Nagato likes him. The old "I overheard my sister and Nagato talking" bit always works. 

Kyon isn't sure what to do. Does he like Nagato, too? Has he always liked Nagato? How long has Nagato liked him?

Yup, Kyon has finally transformed into the dense protagonist from every single romantic comedy that we all knew he would become over time. 

A Christmas party thrown by Tsuruya seems to be the perfect time for Kyon to get his emotions in order. Nagato, too. They will both be there. after all. 

It's only a matter of time before one of them confess their feelings. 

Who will it be and how will the other respond? 

I haven't watched the start of the animated series yet, but there's definitely promise for it if it is like the manga in any way. It doesn't exactly break the mold, but it's nice to see the shy characters get the limelight every now and then. 

I'm looking forward to volume eight. Whenever the hell that will be released. 

P.S. - For some reason there is an interlude of shorts at the beginning of this manga. I thought those were rather pointless, but other than that this was one of the better volumes in the series. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa (Gekijōban Hagane no Renkinjutsushi: Shanbara o Yuku Mono)

The 2005 anime film Conqueror of Shamballa is the theatrical conclusion to the original Fullmetal Alchemist anime series. It is directed (expertly so) by Mizushima Seiji and features one helluva story thanks to Aikawa Sho. This film obviously requires all 51 episodes of the original to series to be viewed so you can really enjoy this movie, but it should also be said that watching all of those episodes is worth it just to watch this movie. The series itself is excellent, but this movie is fan-fucking-tastic. At an hour and 44 minutes it is not only a decent running length, but also a movie that doesn't overstay its welcome.

If you have a good memory than you should remember that the series ended with Edward and Alphonse in two different worlds. Edward was left in 1920's Germany while Alphonse was left in 1910's Amestris. The hows and whys are for the main series to deal with, but this movie is concerned with just how the two could possibly reunite.

I liked the fact that Edward was stuck in the "real world." It felt surreal, but it somehow added more depth to the story. Germany was a scary place at this time and would continue to be. The Treaty of Versailles had robbed them of their dignity and it left the gates wide open for a guy like Adolph Hitler to enter. The Germans took their anger out on anyone not German.

I never thought that knowledge of the Treaty of Versailles would be helpful in this way. Good thing I paid attention in school.

Suddenly Edward's previous world doesn't seem so bad. Ed has been studying rockets with a guy that looks a lot like his brother Al since arriving. They even have a similar name. However, the Al in Ed's world doesn't believe the stories about there being another world. Al just wants to launch rockets.

A lot of familiar faces return to the movie. Some of them are in Ed's world and some of them are in Al's. The ones in Ed's world are different, though.

King Bradley made his return to this series in Ed's world as Fritz Lang, of all people. Maes Hughes came back as a Nazi while he was the loveable and doting father in the other world.

The Thule Society was also mentioned quite a bit. I wasn't sure what this was so I googled it. Apparently, it was real. Maybe not the same as portrayed in this movie, but still real enough. The main villain Dietlinde Eckart is based off of Dietrich Eckart. The fact that they have the same last name should be enough to convey that.

The Thule Society were supporters of Hitler that dabbled in the occult and in this movie their goal is to break into Shamballa (a mystical realm thought to be in Asia). However, this Shamballa isn't Shamballa. It is actually Amestris, the world where Alphonse lived and the one where Ed used to live. So there appears to be hope for Ed, but that would mean opening a gate between worlds that would allow Hitler's fun bunch free reign in Ed's former home.

And yes, the Mustached One himself is in the movie. Eckart is the villain in the movie, but she doesn't touch the Mustached One himself. For obvious reasons. Eckart being a work of fiction.

While Ed tries to stop the Nazies from breaking into his old home Alphonse tries to find a way to bring Ed back. Little does Alphonse know that the Nazis want to come over to play, too.

The pseudo-historical context of this movie made it feel immediate. Realistic, even. That is, if you can overlook the bigass dragon with sharp and pointy teeth, the multiple worlds, and the alchemy stuff.

The alternating plotlines between Ed's world and Alphonse's world were handled quite well, too. The changes in perspective did not take away from the action or suspense. They definitely put a lot of effort into this movie.

I'd definitely suggest watching the 2003 anime series first, though. Otherwise you would be sooo lost.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

It's So Easy: and Other Lies by Duff McKagan

Autobiographies? Really? It seems I'm living in a strange universe where I am not only reading classic French and Russian literature, but also reading rock n' roll autobiographies. I don't understand it myself as of late. I swore to never touch a rock memoir because they were bound to be boring or completely wrong about points in history. Or it would be something like a bloated version of a Behind the Music special that I already had seen. It's nothing new today. Collect another memory. 

I was wrong, though. At least as far as Duff McKagan's book was concerned. All I can say is "wow."

Duff McKagan has always come across to me as the quietest former member of the classic GN'R. Outside of Izzy, that is. I knew very little about him despite owning quite a few of his albums. I suppose it wouldn't be completely reaching if I called Velvet Revolver the band of my childhood and early teenage years. I was a 90's child so GN'R was before my time, but I was born a rock n' roll child. Appetite for Destruction was among the first albums I ever owned and I still have the same CD that is by now over a decade old. I wasn't even a teenager yet when I got it. 

Velvet Revolver was up my alley. 

I was super excited for Slash and Duff to be back at it again. Matt Sorum, too. Then Velvet Revolver came crashing down and Duff sort of fell off of my rock radar again. 

His 2011 book was brought to my attention when it was on sale on Amazon. For all of two bucks. I read some of the reviews, but what got my attention was the five star rating. It's one thing to see a four and a half star book, but a five star book? On Amazon where almost every internet warrior and their mother seems to be ready to spit vitriolic sentiment toward a given subject? 

I was intrigued. So I coughed up two bucks and read it. Best two bucks ever spent, right there. 

Duff impressed me. If he were to one day decide to write fiction I just might try it out. Duff can write. There were times where he was describing his family life that I was literally laughing. I didn't expect that. He seems to be an excellent father, husband, and even someone worthy of asking advice. He's even a pet owner. Basically he has somehow transformed into the main character of Dean Koontz novel. He has what we all refer to as "the life."

I approached this book sure I was going to get "the dirt" on Guns, but I got a lot more. This was his journey from rags to riches to almost knocking on heaven's door to riches again. Before I started this book I always had a dream that maybe Guns N' Roses would reunite. The real Guns. Not what Axl parades today. 

Now that I've read this book I am actually okay with GN'R never getting back together again. I am okay with Axl's GN'R. Because, if Duff can be okay with it, then who the hell am I to argue? 

Duff McKagan is lucky to be alive. Not only that, but he is lucky to have come out of the other end with a beautiful family and a sense of humor. I'm not sure if he would want me to compare him to a fine wine, but Duff has literally gotten better with age. He's smarter, healthier, and even more talented than he was when he decided to light out for LA back in the day. 

I'm rooting for him to keep kicking addiction's ass. 

Some of his stories are horrific. He smartly chose to introduce his pancreatitis early on in the book and it left a huge impression on me and made me want to have to keep on reading. Lesson learned: Don't drink so much alcohol you have to do cocaine just to function. 

This isn't a pretty book. Of course, it wasn't going to be and I knew that, but I still found myself ill-prepared for just some of the things he went through and did. And if he couldn't hang with the guys from Motley Crue in his most debauched prime then I'm not sure if I even want to touch The Dirt. Holy shit. 

Just about all of his bands are touched on. I especially liked that he took the time to mention his Neurotic Outsiders days. I have a soft spot for those tunes. 

Obviously, Duff and the GN'R gang could have and should have done things different than what they did when things started falling apart. Maybe, rather than signing away the band name, they should have banded together and fired Axl. Maybe they should have just started playing their shows with or without Axl. 

Who really knows what might have happened, but most of the time Duff, Matt, and Slash were too fucked up to stand up straight and that's probably why nothing like that did happen. Izzy was probably the smartest guy of the bunch for getting out of there. 

Duff certainly didn't cut any corners with the debauched details, but he definitely gave respect where it was due and managed to restrain some. All of the groupies are thankfully left nameless. The recording sessions for each song aren't gone into such minute detail that it becomes boring. In fact, the buildup to the Appetite record is gone into with some great and glorious detail, but the recording of the albums themselves is largely left undescribed from a technical standpoint. So it doesn't read like an article from Guitar World. People who aren't musicians themselves can enjoy this book without worrying about musical jargon. 

Perhaps I should reconsider my opinion of rock memoirs now, but I am still convinced that most of them should be avoided like the plague. 

This one is different. It's not just an inspirational story, but a compulsively readable one at that. Way to go, Duff. Can't wait for that next book. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Yamada's First Time (B Gata H Kei)

Thanks to a recommendation by one of my best friends from high school I managed to discover a fun way abuse Netflix again. It's called Yamada's First Time, a 2010 anime with a short runtime of 12 episodes. It shouldn't come as a surprise at this point, but it is yet another entry in a long line of perverted works created by Japan. 

It's about a fifteen year old school girl's desire to have sex with one hundred guys... and not much else. The only issue with her desire is that she has not only never had sex, but she hasn't even been kissed before. All isn't lost, though. What's that saying about getting to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. She just needs to find someone with which to start. 

Naturally, she chooses the dullest-looking guy on the planet because of her insecurities about being a virgin. She could have just about any boy in school, but nope, she chooses Joe Schmo and gives hope to normies everywhere. 

Her thoughts consist almost entirely of sex and how to achieve it. Basically, she's like a female version of Gene Simmons from KISS. Or wants to be. 

Kosuda Takashi is the (un)lucky guy she chooses. He's a bit thrown for a loop by this strange girl that gets way too touchy-touchy and does strange things like make him try to fondle her boobies. Not that that is too terrible a problem to have. 

He spends much of the anime wondering why the hell the hottest looking girl in school would have an eye for him. Of course, we know why and that is what makes it funny, but I couldn't help but feel bad for Takashi. He wants a relationship, but she only wants sex and neither of them can seem to get what they want. 

Wait a minute? Isn't this the opposite order of things? It's normally the men (from a stereotypical point of view, at least) that prefer sex to relationships, isn't it? Hmm. I couldn't help wonder what kind of statement this anime was trying to make. For an anime that really pushed the boundaries for subject matter it seemed fairly restrained in a lot of respects, too. As if it wanted to tell a story more so than it wanted to show boobies. Sometimes. Who put this story stuff in my ecchi comedy, damn it! 

Although it does tease with hopes of seeing cleavage. 

Aside from worrying the moral implications of enjoying an anime like this (such as the main character being fifteen and the whole "wanting to have sex with a hundred guys" thing), I didn't find very much I about which I could complain. 

The anime is a very shallow on the surface, but it does explore the relationship between sexual desires and more platonic ones. 

Yet this anime really isn't that deep and you can basically leave your brain on autopilot. That was what I wanted, too. My brain is still tired from trying to keep up with Baccano!. So this was great to just sit and watch while drinking beer. Or whiskey. 

While this is definitely an ecchi anime it doesn't overload the fanservice like, say, Queen's Blade. It's there, though. Not exactly family entertainment.

I give one thumb up because my other hand is holding my Attack On Titan beer mug.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saekano ~ How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend ~ (Saenai Hiroin no Sodatekata)

This is the first anime from 2015 I've had the privilege of watching. Woo hoo. 

I've been trying to stay away from the anime that have ridiculously long titles because those seem to draw me like a moth to flame, but I suppose I can't resist for too long. Saekano revisits the familiar trope of an awkward glasses-wearing otaku that wants to become involved with dating sims, but in this case the said otaku wants to create a dating sim rather than play "The God of Conquests" in real life. Surrounding him is what appears to be a harem. Using the talents of his harem he plans to make his dreams come true, but is his commitment to 2D women as strong as his willingness to create his dating sim with a bunch of 3D women?

His commitment and willingness will be tested. 

Aki Tomoya is our main character. He is the otaku that other otaku in real life wish they could be. Not only is his blog immensely popular, but he is associated with some of the most beautiful and popular girls in his school. As if this wasn't enough to create jealousy in me it turns out that these girls are also closet otaku. 

I really hate anime main characters sometimes. 

Kato Megumi is a girl that Tomoya encounters merely by chance, but it's one of those encounters that could only happen in a visual novel. Or in an anime. Tomoya knows this instinctively and this gives him the idea of creating the perfect dating sim. He wants to turn the girl he saw into the perfect romantic heroine that will win over the hearts of everyone that plays the game. 

The only flaw in his idea is that Megumi isn't an otaku at all. She doesn't even know the basics. Tomoya decides to take the imperative and introduce her to the otaku world in order to make her the vision in his dreams. He starts "dating" (or hanging out doing dating-like stuff to further his agenda with) her just so he can make her understand how he wants her to feel as a 2D character. 

Yes, otaku can really be this creepy. It's not quite as creepy as it sounds, though. It's kind of sweet... in a way only otaku and other weird people can understand. 

Helping with the written scenario is the mercilessly dominating Kasumigaoka Utaha, the student with the highest grades in the school that holds a secretive part-time gig as a bestselling light novelist. 

On the drawing front is Sawamura Spencer Eriri, a good schoolgirl by day that draws pornographic doujinshi by night. 

On the musical front is Hyodo Michiru, Tomoya's cousin... she's a very close cousin, too. 

This anime details how he assembles his cast of otaku-Avengers to create his dream.

As is only fitting of such an anime, there are many fourth walls that get broken and plenty of anime references to find. Plenty of double entendres and awkward situations, too. 

Naturally, I demand a second season because a run of thirteen episodes just doesn't cover it for me, but I'll have to wait and see. While the animation and music style is a bit "been there done that" for me I do admit the story isn't one I've seen too many times before. And I like to think I've seen my fair share of anime. 

No, this anime doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does put some good treads on it. 

Highly enjoyable if you like the genre of "anime about otaku."

I watched this on Crunchyroll, my favorite home for streaming anime, and if you want to watch it then you could much worse visiting that fantabulous site. 

Friday, April 10, 2015


Conventional. Normal. Those are two words that do not describe the 2007 anime Baccano! No, this anime goes against the grain so much that it creates its own genre. This is an anime that has no beginning and no ending. It has absolutely no discernible order from the get-go and it is only through watching all of the episodes does everything make sense, but that's only if you put in the effort to pay attention and piece everything together. 

Set in early 1930's America (for the most part), Baccano! is the one anime that proves that crime can grant you eternal life. 

This series utilizes a non-linear storytelling format and the first episode seems more like the final episode as it quickly gives everyone a glimpse of everything that has already happened to everyone. The seventh episode seems be the true beginning as it takes place in 1711 when the immortal elixir was first made. 

However, each episode jumps to different spots in time and focuses on different characters so I cannot tell you to watch the episodes in a different order for them to make more sense (as I could do with The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, for example). You'll be in 1933 for a few minutes, jump back into 1930, and then dive into 1932 for the remainder of an episode. Every episode is like that. You really have no idea what you will be watching from one minute to the next. 

And even though this series is only 16 episodes I should warn that there are a LOT of characters. I believe it's something like 20 main characters. There are so many characters that the opening credits practically introduce them to you to help you get to know them better. 

It's really tough to describe this series, but I will try. The most predominant storyline is the one that takes place on the train Flying Pussyfoot. It is there you will meet most of the primary players of this series. That story deals with a group of terrorists in black trying to kidnap the daughter of a senator. These terrorists just happen to be supporters of their immortal leader Huey Laforet who has been imprisoned and they want him to be released. They are hoping they can use the senator's daughter as leverage. 

Meanwhile, there is a killer monster on board the train going by the name of the "Rail Chaser" that is killing everything in sight, including the terrorists in black and the men wearing white that want to kill everything in sight, too. 

Stuck on this train with all of these villains are the likes of Isaac Dian, Miria Harvent, Rachel, Jacuzzi Splot, Czeslaw Meyer, Nice Holystone, and Chane Laforet. There are still others, too. Just how they got there, who they are, and where they go from there you'll need to watch to know. 

This is one of those classic anime, but it is a pain in the ass to get accustomed to at first. There are so many characters introduced in such a short time and so many time skips that it can almost be overwhelming. 

The best thing to do is to just go with the flow and don't have preconceived notions of how a story is supposed to be told. This is a great anime with great characters. Just have some patience... and maybe take some notes. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Boys Over Flowers (Kkotboda Namja)

Shojo. Just the mere mention of the genre is enough to send male viewers into a series of cringes. There's no action in shojo. There's no violence or gore. It's all about... feelings! It's a series aimed for... teenage girls! Ugh. Just thinking about it should be enough to send the average male viewer into fits.

Just looking at the title... there's no way to make it look like a badass action movie. There's just no getting around it. This is not an action movie. This is a romantic series. And I was going to watch it. Why? Well, I had vowed to watch more Korean dramas, but it seems the movies and dramas really are at odds for the most part. Sure, there are dramas that are action-filled, but they are a lot harder to come across. I know because I looked. However, there are tons of Korean dramas that provide an excess of feels. Boys Over Flowers is probably the most well known of them and consequently gets almost nothing but good reviews. 

So I decided that I would indeed watch this. If nothing else, I could at least say I gave it the ole college try before dropping it from my Netflix queue like a rock. I was prepared. I had my vomit bag handy, a six pack of beer on standby, and a box of sand paper ready to expunge any traces of non-existent tears from my face. I could do this. 25 episodes. 25 hours. If I could just make it through this 2009 Korean drama I knew that I could tackle anything. I was ready.

Or maybe I wasn't. I had prepared myself mentally for the feels, but I hadn't prepared myself to be royally pissed off about bullying.

I'll elaborate. The original story has Gu Jun-pyo (although under a Japanese name) as a bully at the start, but I have no idea if he was as big of a bully as he was at the start of this drama. It wasn't just him, either. So many of the students were just pieces of shit. It would not have surprised me if one of the kids that were being bullied decided to go shopping for some firearms. Shinhwa High School sounds a lot like hell. 

I'm sure that this piece of fiction contains elements of both Korean and Japanese cultures, but if that kind of insane bullying is one of them then holy shit. That wasn't just bullying. That was some fucked up shit. The first five episodes were the worst, but there were definitely elements of bullying throughout the series and it was disturbing. As ya'll know I can watch movies with tons of gory eviscerations of brainless bimbos and jocks, but just one scene of bullying is agony for me. 

I was really glad when the bullying toned down as the series progressed, but as Gu Jun-pyo backed off you'll begin to intensely hate his mother instead. 

Geum Jan-di (Ku hye-sun) is the daughter of a laundromat worker. She isn't exactly the kind of person you would imagine that goes to Shinhwa High School, the school where only the privileged and ultra rich can go. Yet after she saves a bullied kid from jumping off the roof of a school building the attention she attracts make the powers in charge honor her by making her a student. Her parents are beside themselves with excitement. They want her to marry someone rich and famous and Shinhwa High School has a lot of those types. 

Things will not be easy for her, though. Her spunky and low class nature quickly brings the wrath of the F4, the four students who are "in charge of the school." Crossing them means getting an F4 card in your locker and if that happens then everyone will be out to get you. Your life as you know will be over. You might as well draw a target over your head. 

The members of the F4 are as follows:

So Yi-jung (Kim Bum) - The only member of the F4 to earn money with his own hands, Yi-jung is an artist that creates pottery. His works are in museums and one of the museums just happens to be owned by his family. In his part time he is an aspiring playboy. 

Song Woo-bin (Kim Joon) - His family is involved in a very successful construction business, but it's also involved in the mafia. He is the fighter of the bunch, but he is also as much of a playboy as Yi-jung. Doesn't get a lot a screen time, though. 

Yoon Ji-hoo (Kim Hyun-joong) - He is the prodigy of the bunch. His musical talent makes women swoon, but his quiet nature makes him come off as mysterious. He is the grandson of the former president of South Korea.

Gu Jun-pyo (Lee Min-ho) - He is the leader of the F4 and the one who will inherit the Shinhwa Group, one of the most powerful business groups in all of South Korea. He is relentless when it comes to getting what he wants and he knows nothing of struggling for it. 

Geum Jan-di has unwittingly crossed these gentlemen. Specifically Gu Jun-pyo. Her life is now hell. 

Yet it would seem that two of the gentlemen responsible for making her life hell are awed by her endurance and unflappable attitude. Her "fighting" mentality and her low class upbringing have provided her with the perfect tools to combat the bullying. This has an effect of Gu Jun-pyo and Yoon Ji-hoo. 

Things quickly get out of hand... even for Gu Jun-pyo. Gu Jun-pyo's monster gets taken too far by other students and both he and Yoon Ji-hoo step in to promise Geum Jan-di protection from further bullying. 

However, their actions (and subsequent inactions) form the basis of the high school love triangle that will comprise the rest of this series. Stockholm Syndrome, at its finest.

Yet Gu Jun-pyo's mother, a venomous bitch of a creature, takes up the reins and vows to keep her son from getting involved with a mere commoner and she uses her connections to cause hell for Geum Jan-di and her family. 

If Geum Jan-di wants any kind of happy ending she is going to have a long way to go. 

There are a ton of cliches and silly plot developments thrown into the mix. Basically every single romantic hallmark moment gets a turn even down to the "getting into an accident and forgetting everyone but your true love" bit. 

It's also my firm belief that just about every single romantic piece ever made is too long because most human beings are idiots when it comes to romance in real life, but it seems even worse in fiction. Gu Jun-pyo seems dumber than a box of rocks at pivotal moments. 

As the series pressed on I kind of just wanted shit to come to a conclusion. I'm actually surprised someone didn't end up killing themselves considering how ridiculously complicated and frustrating things were becoming. At times I would have preferred that so I could move on to other things. 

I stuck with it, though. I did like the characters and the actors and actresses involved seemed to be very good considering their young ages. Lee Min-ho definitely showed signs that he could become something more than a teen actor for girls to fawn over. Of course, this wouldn't be fully realized until City Hunter

Lee Hye-young is perfect as Gu Jun-pyo's mother. I hated her fucking guts the entire time, but there were moments where even she came across as a normal human being. They normally didn't last long, but they were there and they added a lot of depth to her character. I hated her, but caught myself feeling sorry for her, too. 

Although her sole desire to prevent Gu Jun-pyo from getting involved with anyone she didn't approve of did get old. 

All in all, I'd say this was definitely a competent series. There are plenty of exotic locations, expensive cars, and cool suits to make James Bond jealous. There's also some good to great acting. As far as romances go this one is definitely top-notch. The story could have been shorter, but that is par for the course with this kind of stuff. Romances always drag on. That's why they are romances and not action movies. 

Women, of a certain type, will undoubtedly swoon over the F4 and male viewers will quietly root for Geum Jan-di to achieve her goals. So there is something for everyone.

This isn't anything like many of the Korean movies, though.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

What an odd duck of a movie. As the credits are still rolling on the end of this movie I find myself slightly dazed. I have no idea what the hell I think of this movie right now. My opinion of it changed from the first hour to the last, but now that it is over I have no idea anymore what my opinion is. 

The critics seemed to love the shit out of this movie since it was a chance to make fun of all the Marvel superhero movies as well superheros of movies past. It was also a chance to make fun of actors that choose to pursue Broadway even though they have no idea what the hell they are doing. I think Michael Keaton thought he was being made fun of when he was approached to be in this film. I don't blame him, either. 

It's bizarre that such an arty misfit of a film got nominated for an Oscar and won. Then again I guess that's what critics go for these days so that is what gets popular with the Academy folks. Yet it's even more bizarre that Keaton didn't win the Oscar for Best Actor. While this movie has me feeling confuzzled I cannot deny that Keaton totally owns this film. He's amazing in this movie as a washed up actor that might be completely insane or might actually have superpowers left over from his days as the man that portrayed Birdman. 

The entire cast is excellent. Edward Norton, in particular. There's a lot to like about this movie, but...

I just can't help but feel that this film leaves me feeling a bit put off. Maybe it's the ending, I'm not sure. In fact, it could be that this movie is a big tease. They call it Birdman and then have the audacity to not make a movie about Birdman. 

Or perhaps this film is a little too intentionally odd and artsy. It's like Hollywood is trying to do what Michael Keaton's character was trying to do when he quit being Birdman and decided to do a play on Broadway. At times the word "pretentious" did cross my mind as I watched this movie both for Keaton's character and for how this movie was handled. 

It's an odd marriage, this film. 

It's soundtrack is an oddity composed almost solely of some guy playing drums for almost the entire movie and the movie also gives the illusion of being shot in a single take like Hitchcock's Rope even though it really wasn't. 

This movie is a bit like watching a documentary and there's an intense feeling of realism, but then it gets fantastical with the monologues from "Birdman" and the explosive hallucinations seen later in the film. 

At times it feels like a theatrical drama comparable to Sidney Lumet's finest "one room" type of works, but then it blasts off into parts unknown and becomes almost Kubrickian. Sometimes it works and at others it doesn't seem to fit. 

This is just a real hard movie to pin down. 

I will give credit for being a breath of fresh air. It is very different and certainly worthy of watching again, if only to really get a better sense of it. 

I need to digest this one for a bit. It's definitely interesting, though. Overrated, but interesting. 

However, I suppose my feelings stem from me wanting this film to be closer to an actual superhero film than a film like a ultra depressive version of Author, Author. "Birdman" even gave me a lecture in the film about my expectations. Ouch. It is no wonder there were so many negative reviews I read on IMDB from users. 

But make no mistake about it: Keaton, Norton, and the rest of the cast are excellent in this movie.