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By Charles On 23 Apr, 2013 At 07:58 PM | Categorized As Animation, Featured, Reviews, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarAccording to Twitter, it’s always a good problem when an anime season has too many good shows. This logic is sound: I would rather spend my time choosing between awesome series than trying to find just ONE to hold my interest. In addition to keeping my occupied, it also adds just enough spice to long road trips, because now I’ve got a backlog to work on instead of just staring out the window.

Spring 2013 is one of those good seasons. Seriously, between apocalyptic battles between man and monster, giant robots, elder gods and something new from Gen Urobuchi, it was a challenge to find that one show to follow until summer. So I decided to follow four, with the potential for a fifth to come later. Hence, this will be part one of my Spring 2013 impressions, the second to come after I’ve fully caught up.

First Pick: Valvrave the Liberator

valvrave

I’ve had a really low opinion of giant robot shows for the past few years. While my “formative time” as an anime fan was spent watching a lot of Gundam, recently (since around the time Code Geass was airing) I discovered how little I cared about mecha as a genre. Gundam AGE didn’t strike a chord with me (or anyone, really…), and I would be hard-pressed to identify a single robot series that I found compelling or interesting. And then came Valvrave.

Off the bat, this show plays like Gundam Seed did a decade ago. Space colonies at war, hidden weapons of destruction, betrayal, espionage, schoolchildren, a stab at the Russians…the pilot was scene for scene a rehash of Seed (with a single nod to Destiny midway through), and yet did not come off as being “fake” in any way. It moved quickly, hooking me as a viewer and making me feel invested in a narrative that’s been done to death by every other mecha franchise since ever.

Valvrave-the-liberator-illustrationThen came the “obligatory” curve: the machine itself was either sentient, or some kind of channel for powers beyond the comprehension of man. Cue awesome neon lights, an ass-kicking, and an enemy army on the run. Okay, been there, but this is pretty flashy. What else you got? Pilot gets shot- repeatedly- but gets up and bites a his assailant. Okay, vampires? Unexpected, especially for a science fiction series? No, wait…not vampires…he BODY-SWAPPED with him? And now he can use all those “1337 ninja skillz” against his foes? What IS this show? I DO NOT CARE!

Valvrave, no matter how derivative it comes off at times, is fun, and even a bit refreshing. It drops hints slowly as to what the bigger picture is, so while fans can appreciate the nods to past mecha series, they can also look forward to twists and turns as the story progresses. As of the second episode, none of the characters are all that different from the “cookie cutter” mold established thirty years ago, but the influx of animation technologies and grandiose fight scenes help you forget its “roots.” I’m eager to see where this series goes in the end, but as long as it keeps up the bells, whistles and head-shots, I think I can live with the results. After all, Valvrave is also wicked fun, not bogged down in political jargon or complicated diplomatics. There’s a war, there’s a giant robot, let’s see where this goes. It adds up to being fun, which in the end is one of the major reasons for watching anime in the first place.

Valvrave-the-Liberator-01-20Valvrave gets an A, for awesome. And there’s a post-credit scene in episode 1.

Second Pick: Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)

titan 2Last summer I watched a series where humanity was in a state of decline and “otherworldly” beings were now the masters of Earth. This season that theme comes back, but it’s no longer cute little faeries creating bread from rubber, megalomaniacal skinless chickens, and yaoi criticism. Attack on Titan is a dark, moody show that depicts mankind not just in decline, but on the defensive against a powerful, predatory foe eager to devour us all. How does it feel being knocked down a peg on the food chain?

The plot establishes itself quickly: in the face of monstrous, androgynous beings called “Eotena” (who are deliciously creepy thanks to wide grins, sharp teeth and an utter lack of both clothing and genitalia), mankind has withdrawn behind massive walls built to keep our dwindling population safe from being eaten off the face of the planet. These walls, and the people living behind them, have stood for a century without breech, a fact which leaves some of the residents more complacent about our standing in the world. A young boy dreams of a future where he (and the rest of humanity) can rise up and strike down their tormentors, and establish a new world outside the walls, where men are no longer “livestock,” but the true masters of nature.

Then the destruction comes. Confronted with an Eotena far larger and stronger than any encountered before, the walls are breached, and mankind once again becomes cattle to be devoured by their gigantic foes. Attack on Titan weaves together a powerful message of survival, politics, ambition, and annihilation, as the resources and resourcefulness of humanity as a species must contend with forces beyond our control, and capability to fight. The Eotena are mindless killing machines with no thought other than acquiring prey. The soldiers lack courage needed to fight against them, or find themselves hopelessly outmatched. Bravery and food are both in short supply, enough to spur on suicide missions against an unbeatable foe, mostly in the name of “population control.”

titan 3

Lunch time…

This is a very dismal series. Recalling imagery from “War of the Worlds,” “Berserk,” and “Gojira,” it depicts civilization on the brink on collapse. Heroes are born, but are powerless to institute change. Like its kaiju-cousins, its better to run, hide, and survive than fight back, but where is the honor in that? Is it even possible to be honorable when life as you know it is coming to an end? (Or, as one character puts it: you lack the strength to save the world. I lack the courage.) What must you do to survive? These are themes explored in just the first two episodes, with promises of secret powers and weapons to come later.

Attack on Titan also receives an A, for allegory and adult themes.

By Charles On 14 Dec, 2011 At 12:55 AM | Categorized As Animation, Editorials, Movie News, Reviews, Television | With 0 Comments

No GravatarOh look, it’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas time (though it’s that also), but the time to reflect and recount on the previous year’s ups and downs. And this year there were plenty of both. From freak snowstorms and wayward hurricanes to genre-defining anime and a plethora of new games on which to whet one’s appetite, 2011 was nothing if not eventful, no matter what you might have been looking for. So let’s take a look at some of the year’s highlights and things best-left-avoided.

The Good:

Marvel Superhero Movies: 2011 was a good year for action-driven superheroes. Especially those in the Marvel stable. I will admit that I had very low expectations for Captain America, and prayed they wouldn’t screw up Thor. And thankfully, I was wrong on both accounts. 2011 had plenty of Iron Mans, with no Iron Man 2s to sully the field. Thor was amazing, with an excellent cast, striking visual effects and a compelling plot. (In a Marvel film, that’s a real achievement honestly.) X-Men First Class threw out everything we knew about the franchise and managed to reboot from the god-awful “Last Stand.” But the true highlight of the year was “Captain America.” Hokey outfit aside (which they dealt with rather well, actually), the film got us ready for 2012’s “Avengers,” and took viewers on a trip back through World War II, without sacrificing its entertainment potential. Less a set-up film, more an in-depth origin story, and a wonderful addition to the Marvel filmography.

Mid-Atlantic Anime Cons: I have been known to sing the praises of Anime Boston, and a lot of the New England conventions, for their diverse programming and attendees. This year, the mid-Atlantic entered that fray in force. From February’s Katsucon hitting stride in National Harbor (it’s still the best “weekend con” I’ve ever been to), to Anime Mid Atlantic’s family-friendly summer party, to Nekocon’s progress in quality programming, and Anime USA’s last hurrah in Crystal City, 2011 gave the mid-Atlantic some truly memorable experiences, enough that it would be hard to choose which convention to attend. But fortunately, given that they are held in a relatively small area, staggered throughout the year, one doesn’t have to. If you’re looking for something new, away from the hustle of Otakon, or want to find a friendly, intimate convention experience, give the mid-Atlantic a try. You will not be disappointed.

Usagi Drop: Given the predominance of action-heavy, moe-dominated anime series floating around, sometimes a nice, grounded, realistic series is a welcome breath of fresh air. The Summer 2011 entry “Usagi Drop,” based on the popular manga of the same name, is one such series. No flashy, supernatural heroes. No mecha. No lolicons or schoolgirls. Just a simple, refreshing series about a man and his “daughter,” a girl born to his late father, and their journey through an often chaotic life. Maturity, family values, adaptability, responsibility and good old-fashioned comfort are the rules of this day. And it’s worth every minute.

Two Decades of Vampires: 2011 marked the 20th Anniversary of Mark Rein-Hagen’s landmark RPG “Vampire: The Masquerade.” While the setting was rebooted a few years back, many fans of the original game still held strong ties to the political machinations of the warring vampire clans, and the general melding of gothic, cyberpunk and urban horror that first graced the game world in the early 90s, when fantasy dungeon-diving was still the de facto experience for gamers. Vampire brought an entire new culture into roleplaying, switching the emphasis from dice rolls to personal interaction. Rather than a collection of statistics and combat equations, Vampire stressed crafting a finely tunes, well rounded CHARACTER, who had to survive in a modern world where EVERYTHING wanted to kill them. Fights with orcs transformed into power struggles with opposing clans, and the monsters lurking in the dark were still capable of falling prey to other monsters lurking even further into the darkness. White Wold Game Studio commemorated this event with the release of the “Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition,” a massive, 500+ page tome collecting every clan, bloodline, supernatural power, morality path, character merit/flaw for the first time in one place, and gave fans a limited window to snag a copy. But if you have $100 lying around (likely more now that the print run has ended), and you’ve yet to experience this level of in-depth roleplaying, go out and find a copy. It will be well worth your time.

Criterion Collection Releases “Kuroneko,” Acquires Rights to “Gojira:” Unless you are a fan of Japanese art-house cinema, the former film might be completely unknown to you. (And if you are a fan, you probably already own it in some form.) But in October 2011, the Criterion Collection, already known for giving fans of early J-horror their fix, finally released a remastered edition of the horror classic “Kuroneko,” a story of betrayal, revenge, honor, and ghost cats. And for those who had never managed to track down a copy from its VHS release (including yours truly), this was a fantastic release. The other great “ghost cat” film (the first being the irreverent Hausu), Kuroneko is a character study in folklore and the samurai, bringing to light the dark side of both, and well worth the price, given that the last time this film saw a stateside release, it was the 80s, and art-house Japan was still truly an underground phenomenon.

The latter film, however, should be very familiar to US audiences. After years of re-releases by original producer Toho, now Criterion has the chance to once more introduce us to the ravages of nuclear war, overconsumption, and giant, radiation breathing dinosaurs. While Criterion Godzilla won’t be around until February or March, fans will no doubt be eagerly anticipating what kind of treatment will be bestowed upon this kaiju classic.

Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger: Super Sentai series aren’t exactly known for their riveting plots and developed characters. What they often are is over the top excursions into action and adventure, with “giant robots” and spandex suits. But in honor of the 35th anniversary of the ongoing sentai serials in Japan, viewers were treated to an even more gratuitous exploitation of young adults, space aliens, rubber suits, and men in oversized robot outfits. Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger managed to do what no other sentai had ever even tried- it brought together every single sentai series into a single entity. And it did it with PIRATES. (Sorry Ninjas, but you lose…with authority.)

Forget Power Rangers, forget zords, funky weapons and stock footage- Gokaiger is at the same time a celebration of previous sentai entertainment, and a new beginning. Every rule broken, every battle a crazy mess, every feasible type of hero present and accounted for- this is what sentai was meant to be, and finally is. Given our 2 year lag behind Japan in this area, we won’t see Mighty Morphin Pirate Rangers until 2013, but in the meantime, check it out online. And prepare to be blown away.

Up Next: Remake Extravaganza, Fantasy Fever, and Mindf**king

By otakuman5000 On 20 Nov, 2011 At 01:53 AM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, Movie News, Reviews, Videos | With 0 Comments

No GravatarThe first part of the finale to the Twilight franchise is now out in theaters and everyone is going crazy over it. At the same time, you have those out there who still are hesitant to check out the franchise that thousands of people, mostly young girls, have watched since the first Twilight movie. So that begs the question, is this new movie the best in the series so far? Or is it part of the stereotype of how bad the movie franchise is? I decided to find out first hand and check out the midnight showing to Breaking Dawn Part 1. All this and some more on this new episode of THE VERDICT. It’s time to choose, should we get down with Team Edward and Jacob, or pass it up?

 

 

 

 

The Honeymoon

 

Jacob to the Rescue

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Charles On 1 Nov, 2011 At 10:10 PM | Categorized As Featured, Movie News, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarWell, its over. October, my favorite month of the year, over and done. This year I had one of the most eventful Octobers in recent memory, despite lacking con attendance, or managing to eat something pumpkin flavored every day, as I usually attempt to. But it was still memorable nonetheless, because I did manage to accomplish something I had been wanting to try for years.

Lower Karazhan- People actually break IN to this place.

I watched horror movies. A lot of them. One every day, give or take. And most of them underground, low budget, cheap thrills. This is something I’m proud of, actually- normally my Octobers consist of nightly walks, a few movies here and there, and a whole lot of creepy dungeon crawling on World of Warcraft. This year, since I mercifully quit that addiction just as the month was starting, I had to fill my time with other things. So I set out to cram as much Halloween-related stuff into my nights as possible, breaking the idea of quality and replacing it entirely with nothing more than pure quantity.

Here’s how it broke down.

Best movie nobody heard of: “Bereavement.” A prequel to the indie-horror slasher flick “Malevolence,” this movie told the story of a boy abducted from his parent’s front yard and forced to help an insane serial killer with his work. The setting- rural America, a rundown meat packing plant, and local school- worked to make this tale more tense than some others. Added to it the somewhat offbeat nature of both the killer and the boy (who feels no pain, literally), and what came out was a twisted, violent, bloody mess of a movie that kept me fully engrossed for its duration. And I liked the ending, which is so rare these days.

Best “classic” movie: This past month, I made sure to watch at least a few “established” movie franchises. While I avoided the “Saw,” “Halloween,” “Nightmare/Friday the 13th” movies, as I’ve seen them enough, I did manage to partake of some Romero, Craven and Williamson blood candy. I was tempted to say “Scream” for this one. I loved that movie, and the recent third sequel (Scre4m). But the movie I enjoyed the most this past month? “Dawn of the Dead.”

I love a good zombie movie. I love watching hordes of the undead rampaging through the streets, terrorizing people. In fact, in the past few years, the movies I have remembered the most have all been zombie flicks- be it the Nazi marauding death machines in “Dead Snow,” or the shambling hordes standing between Woody T Harrelson and his search for a twinkie in “Zombieland.” “Dawn of the Dead” is equal parts comedy and survival-horror joint- trying to stay alive while trapped in a shopping mall, as the dead close in around a small cluster of survivors. Watching those survivors slowly go crazy and turn on each other. The last, mad dash for freedom. And the hope of better days, trounced in the end credits. It’s probably the most realistic zombie movie ever made (sorry, Tallahassee), and full of enough humanity to leave a lasting impact.

Whiskey not included

Movie that made me take a drink right after the credits rolled: “Last House in the Woods.” Not to be confused with the revenge/horror “Last House on the Left,” this was an Italian movie, that made me never want to watch another Italian horror film as long as I live. Part of the Ghost House Underground series of indie films, it revolved around a pair of lovers beset upon by thugs, a well-to-do family living alone at the edge of the forest, mutant freaks, cannibalism, and a decent-sized body count.

I should have known better. After all, I love the films of Dario Argento, and that man is one twisted soul. But what I got, after a somewhat confusing intro, degenerated into a mindless gore-fest, with predictably bloody effects, minimalist music and an ending so profoundly messed up, that I immediately needed a swig of something strong to block it out. If you can find this one on DVD, watch it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but shows exactly what passes for horror in Italy. God help us all.

Best foreign film: “Let The Right One In.” I watched, in all, maybe 6 foreign movies this month, two of them Japanese, two Italian, and two Scandinavian. The Japanese ones were predictably weird, with bizarre endings and strange cinematography. The Italian ones…well, read the previous entry. One of the Scandinavian ones was “Troll Hunter,” which I reviewed this past weekend, and the other one was a delicious vampire film that managed to do right what ever single vampire love story fails to.

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, “Let The Right One In” is, at heart, a love story between two 12 year old children- blond-haired Oskar, a perpetual victim of bullying, and dark haired Eli, a vampire trapped in the body of a preteen. When Eli moves in next door, Oskar is delighted to have a new friend, who helps him find himself. As for Eli, she begins to see a new world, and a new life, in the form of innocent Oskar. The film is a solid mix of blood and honey- you cheer when Oskar (finally) stands up for himself, and expresses his feelings to the vampire next door, and you cringe when Eli loses her caretaker and is forced to hunt for food, leaving behind a trail of bodies. But this film succeeds where “Twilight” fails miserably- it makes the characters both human and believable. And that makes the romance believable as well.

“WTF” did I just watch movie: “Hausu.” I said I watched some Japanese movies this month, and this one was the hands-down strangest. Having been a fan of J-horror for some time, I had heard about this movie, but never had the chance to actually see it. I heard it was bizarre, and very f-ed up, and figured it was a blend of the terrifying “Ringu” (The Ring) and decidedly art-house “Jigoku” (Hell). Well…

“Hausu” (House) is a typical haunted house movie, with a number of young girls traveling to the countryside to visit the Aunt of one of their friends, Oshare. Upon arriving, they each start dying, one by one, eaten by the malevolent entities in the “House,” until none remain. Sounds pretty much like standard fare, right? Not in the slightest. The girls all have names that stereotype their glaring character type (Kung-Fu fights, Sweet is adorable), and are themselves caricatures of stereotypical schoolgirls. The monster that lives in the “House” is equal parts lonely spirt, and her bakeneko. There are random musical numbers throughout the movie, lots of dancing, and at one point a girl is killed by pillows. If this sounds utterly ridiculous, it is. And worth every minute you spend watching it.

Movie that kept me awake all night: “Paranormal Activity.” I love these movies for three reasons: first, they take place in suburban tract housing, not predictably old gothic homes; second, they feature demons, not ghosts, and this offers a wealth more storytelling potential; third, each one is better than the previous. So when I watched the third installment the week before Halloween, I spent the rest of the night catching up on the previous 2. And let me tell you something- I stayed awake all night. I’m not ashamed to admit that, either. Paranormal Activity messes me up, keeps me jumping and won’t let me look away, because unlike any other film of its ilk (like, say, 13 Ghosts), it has a healthy dose of realism in it that makes the back corners of my mind believe in it. Blair Witch did the same to me in 1999, The Ring did it in 2003, and Paranormal Activity does it now.

The third installment was the best one yet, with slowly building tension, an ending that hits you before you expect it, and enough story to fit it into the continuity prepared by the first two films. It’s not a seamless fit, they did have to do a bit of retconning, but the end result features the most tension I’ve felt in a “cam flick” to date, and the ending sequence is damn near flawless, as far as I’m concerned.

Best “stupid” horror movie: “Dinoshark.” Roger Corman + Eric Balfour + Bad CG x Lovely Mexican scenery / no plot whatsoever = Uwe Bolle’s worst nightmare.

Most squandered potential: “Shadows of the  Dead.” I got this in one of those “12 Movies for $5” sets they often sell at Best Buy around this time of year, and while the premise was intriguing, the end result was just plan pathetic. The story is about a young couple who get lost in the woods on the way to a cabin for a romantic weekend. The man get bitten by a zombie and starts dying, so he of course infects his girlfriend and they are stuck alone, in the woods, dying together. Potential story-lines involving love and the struggle to retain one’s humanity are there, but are easily overshadowed by the hokey dialogue, dime-store makeup, and general lack of acting ability of the two leads. This could have been great: instead it made me shrug and move on. This movie edged out “Land of the Dead,” only because that movie had explosions and Dennis Hopper, two things that would have possibly made this one a bit more entertaining.

The Obligatory Stephen King reference: “Storm of the Century.” Billed as his first miniseries written exclusively for television, I remember loving this movie a little too much back in High School. Now that I’ve had a chance to see it again, it didn’t hold up all that well. I remember Andre Linoge being creepier, the storm being more devastating, the demonic references less obvious and the ending being a bit more screwed up. But still, it was a trip down memory lane, and didn’t make me laugh as much as re-watching “The Shining” did.

Number 10- Low budget laugh riot: “Red Riding Hood.” Not the Amanda Seyfried “Twilight-esque” retelling of the classic fairy tale, this one was on the same box set as “Shadows of the Dead,” and was infinitely better. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not- the acting is over the top and hilarious, the blood is plentiful, the story is just barely there enough to keep it going, you see the ending coming almost from the beginning, and then it surprises you with the single most ridiculous twist I’ve ever had the privilege of sitting through. This film was worth all 60 cents I paid for it.

 

Oh Damn, I forgot one: “Wake Wood.” Timothy Spall + “Wicker Man” + “Pet Sematery” x Irish Countryside / Why wasn’t Christopher Lee in this movie too? = I want to see more.