Monday, May 31, 2010

Shigurui - manga review

Shigurui has an anime adaptation that I watched few years ago and liked (but with some reservations). Both the anime and manga start with a scene just before conclusion and then switch to the story from the beginning. And anime covers only somewhat half of the story, so I always wondered what happened after the end in anime. For some reason I thought that manga was finished, but I was wrong, so now I have one more ongoing manga to wait for (others are Gantz, Berserk and Claymore). And nobody likes waiting....

I will start with things that are most likely to put away a potential reader. This manga is quite disgusting, definitely in graphic way, and often in ways of the story. Every few pages someone is beheaded, has its guts spilled or is mutilated. Nudity and sex (heterosexual and homosexual) are common, although genitals are hidden. But expect breasts every every now and then. Level of violence is extreme - one samurai-school has a way of fighting where they try to "beautify" their opponents with minimum number of contacts. And by "beautify" they mean cripple, disfigure, etc. When two fighters meet, there are always a few "imagined" scenes they see, where each of them manages to kill the other one in most gruesome way. And so on...

Nevertheless, this manga has "something" that just appeals to every guy who enjoyed Stallone's movies (like Rocky and Rambo), ninja cartoons and Wild West comics as a kid. Rigid code of honor, unyielding fighters who don't care about staying alive, majestic combat moves and even more majestic names of techniques remind me on movies of Bruce Lee. Sincerely, I don't see any girl reading this, and lots of guys, too. But I'm quite sure that I would adore this when I was nine.

And let's be honest, authors didn't pull this things from their hats. As I see on Wikipedia, seppuku is still done and it was quite common in Japanese history. European feudal lords has a history of violence and caprice, and I don't see why would Japanese's would be different. I'm not really familiar with Japanese history outside anime and manga, but many customs and practices in this manga are elaborated as historical references. Although, I do agree that graphical violence is greatly exaggerated.

As you probably guessed, Shigurui is a samurai manga. I haven't watched a good samurai/ninja anime since "Basilisk" and "Samurai Champloo". I had high hopes for "Blade of the Immortal" and "Kurozuka", but they both failed. Manji from "Blade" is predictable (fight like an idiot while they think he's dead and then make a surprise resurrection), while "Kurozuka" ended as confusing post-apocalyptic mix. Anyway, this resembles greatly to "Basilisk", just with samurai instead ninja.

Story starts with Fujiki Gennosuke and Irako Seigen preparing for duel to death. Gennosuke lacks an arm, while Seigen is blind and has a crippled foot. Story then flies few yeas to past, when they first met in school of Kogan-Ryu, presided by the Grandmaster Kogan Iwamoto. And he's a real piece of crazy. Expect few days a years, he spends time in insanity, raping maids and eating like an animal, unable to talk or behave like a normal person. Gennosuke is a prodigy of the school, a probable successor of Iwamoto, with Iwamoto's daughter Mie like a extra prize. More, Gennosuke really loves her. And Seigen is an arrogant and beautiful ronin, with shady past and great ambition. Of course, they are bound to clash.

Main story itself is nothing innovative. But every now and then you get a few scenes from past of side-characters that give it an appreciated solidity. Although Gennosuke is clearly a good guy, while Seigen is a liar and manipulator, neither is Gennosuke a Dudley Do-right, nor Seigen doesn't have a good side. There are lots of supporting characters and some of them even manage to stay alive more than one volume. Except Gennosuke-Seigen story, there is at least one parallel story. I have one objection here: main story gets confusing every now and then, because it jumps in time often.

Even I can appreciate visuals in this manga. And anime was even better than this, at least from this point of view. Flashy combat moves with even flashier names, detailed and unique characters, it all looks very well.

If you can stomach all the gore and violence, and like samurai/ninja themes, you will love this manga. Touch of historical references gives it a feeling that you are reading a romanticized description of real, historical event. Definitely not for kids, although boys would love it.

As of next post, it will be about "Bounen no Xamdou", an anime I started to watch recently.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Eden of the East: The King of Eden - anime review

I have watched first movie in the "Eden of the East" series. It picks the story some six months after the anime.

Again, it is a strange, but captivating mix of secret-societies, high-tech thriller and cute romance comedy. This time story focuses mostly on Saki and not on Takizawa, who is mostly a goal here. Also, it brings other "Selcao" to the forth.

Unfortunately, things don't work in form of a movie. This is actually a three or four anime episodes glued together in one 82 minutes film. It would have been much better to make all episodes and then screen it normally.

This is a must for all who liked the original series, but be prepared to be angry at producers after watching it. As for the rest of you, definitely watch the original!

As of my next project, I plan to read "Shigurui" manga.

Aoi Bunkagu - anime review

Aoi Bungaku is an anime adaptation of six classics of modern Japanese literature. They were all written in the second quarter of 20th century and they remind me of the books I had to read in school for assignments. Except these are a bit weirder...

As I said, there are six of them. There is a nice list on AniDB where there is a short description of each one. Although I believe that list was made before the anime was screened and that it describes literature sources, because there are slight differences between them.

Each adaption differs in style and story. But, they all share some qualities: supreme quality of animation and analysis of human psychology. Also, at the beginning of each there is an introduction where live narrator gives us short biography of the author of the story and prepares us with some questions. If you believe him, stories are based on real experiences of the authors.

First story lasts four episodes and it is the longest one. It follows few phases of life of the son of a congressman, who is a shame to his father and tries to find his own way in life as an artist, a manga-ka. It is a very dark story, including suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, ect. Nevertheless, I felt sorry for the main character, because it was obvious he suffers from some mental problems (manifesting in hallucinations). But mostly, it is because he believes himself not to be a human, so that he doesn't deserve things like friendship, family and happiness.

Second story, two episodes long, was a great surprise, especially first few minutes. It includes a forest bandit wielding sword, chewing bubble gum and listening to music-player, a talking pig and a harem. It was somewhat bizarre and looked like a slap-stick comedy, but again I found myself sympathizing with the main character (the mentioned bandit). I especially remembered his description of living in a city.

Third story was my favorite. It tells the story of two young students who both fell in love with the daughter of their house-owner. One is a spoiled son with rich background while other is poor ascetic dedicated to finding his Way. I found it most impressive that the first episode is from POV of rich-boy and the second one is from poor-boys POV.

Fourth story was also good; it lasts two episodes and it is a modern adaptation of a Greek myth. It simultaneously retells two stories: the myth about a man who is to be executed but has to go to his sister's wedding so he offers his best friend to be killed if he doesn't come back after the wedding; and the story of two best friends who got separated fifteen years ago, but one of them still can't get over that.

Fifth and sixth story takes place in the same, imagined kingdom. First one follows a cruel criminal who get executed for his crimes and then suffers in Hell. And last one is about a painter who, to be able to paint human suffering, get his life destroyed.

I'm not sure how to summarize this or to recommend it. From one side I did enjoy it, but I don't think it is for everybody. If you like classics and psychology, then maybe this is for you. Expect a serious anime about human mind and habits that will make you question yourself.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Departed - movie review

Last evening I watched "The Departed", a few years old film. I knew that it has few big movie-stars in it and that it got (or was nominated for) a few Oscars. And I got recommendations from a friend, so I expected a really great movie.

First, I must say I was really surprised by the cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin, of those that I recognized. From this side, really no objections.

Main two characters are Billy and Colin, played by DiCaprio and Damon. They both became cops, but one is an undercover agent in the criminal organization led by Nicholson, while other is Nicholson's rat in the police. Not totally unknown premise, but an interesting one.

Unfortunately, middle part of the movie wasn't very captivating. First part, the introduction, was very good. But I must say that I don't know what really was happening in the middle. The end was very good and a big surprise, at least at first. But, after few minutes, you start wondering why they acted as they did, when they could have played it smarter.

Also, I found character of Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson, unsympathetic. There are instances when psychopathic criminal boss can be funny and you cheer for him, but this is not one of them. I found him too much "unfair", not following any moral code or standard. He is just too old and crazy that you wait the whole movie to see if he gets what he deserves. A scene where he is walking trough full coffee-house, sloppy and bloody all over, cranky about how things are not going his way, is just too much.

I'm not sorry for watching it, it is a very good movie and you can watch it at least for its cast.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shadow and Betrayal - book review

Last two weeks I've been reading "Shadow and Betrayal", an omnibus edition of Daniel Abraham's "The Long Price Quartet". It is partially funny and partially sad that I need almost two weeks for some 600 pages book, but times when I could easily spend 12 hours a day on reading are now gone. Except if I quit my job and devote myself to reading? (just joking)

Anyway, I picked this book for two reasons. First, because it is relatively short serial (four short books) with all the books published. Currently, I have some 6 or 7 serials opened, waiting for next installments, so I didn't want to add another one to this list. Second, more important reason was seeing some nice reviews on, describing this like a very intelligent and unique, but undeservedly ignored serial (it was either here or here where I first seen it mentioned).

Two main characters (at least in first two books) are Otah and Maati. They were both students in academy (of a sort) for poets, this book version of wizards, Otah a few years senior to Maati. Otah finished first part on his education when he decided to quit because he believed it was morally wrong to continue and run away to hide and be forgotten, while Maati continued and reached the final step. Now, Maati is in a city of Saraykeht to finish his education and study under a real poet. At the same time, a conspiracy is in motion, with final goal of removing the poet and then the city from the source of their power. Chance will again tie Otah with Maati and set them against internal and foreign forces.

There are three points that these books excel at. First, it is the world. It is not a classical fantasy setting, more like worlds in Guy Gavriel Kay books. It is mostly influenced with Middle East, with some references from Japan (name suffixes and some food), but only one part of the world was in focus so there is a possibility of other real/imagined countries. Setting is very realistic; except the part with the poets, you could mistake it for an alternate history setting. And poets are very well imagined: they are not omnipotent or common. Their powers originate in "andats", which are personification or manifestation of a single idea. For example, "andat" Stone-Made-Soft can literally make stone soft, whether one pebble or a whole mountain. Unfortunately, they are very rare and there are only four of them mentioned in first two books; I hope for more of them in last two books.

Then, the plot; it is very interesting detective story. One review on Amazon compared it to Columbo movies, meaning that we have a POVs from the "bad guys" as the same time as the ones from the "good guys". So, books follow the play between few confronted sides, each trying to get the other first. Now I must mention the characters, which are very deep and feel like real people. So, when friends found themselves on different sides, we can feel their emotional qualms. There are not many important characters, so it's easy to connect to them.

What I didn't like is the general tone of the books. I found them actually a bit depressing. First, the world is deteriorating: from glorious, but violent past to seemingly fine, but actually corrupted present. And you just know that future is not going to be bright. Troubles that our heroes got trough are quite big and leave them all emotionally scared.

To summarize, these are very quality and intelligent book, with deep characters, unique and realistic world and interesting plot. I personally didn't like the depressing feel they give, but I appreciate their uniqueness and complexity. A recommendation, especially since they are not long nor there are many books in the series.

As of my next project, it will either be some anime or some manga.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - anime review

Welcome to the review of a new addition to the list of my favorite anime. As series was closing to finale, so was my fear that there will be no more sequels growing. Now I'm relieved, since nothing has resolved in the last episode. To be doubly sure, I checked Wikipedia and found that manga is still ongoing! I don't know how many volumes did the anime adaption covered, but at least I know that somewhere in the future a new season of this great anime is awaiting me.

 (source: AniDB)

First to state, this is a shoujo anime. This covers a lot of series, from heart-tearing drama like "Clannad" to slapstick comedy like "Ouran Koukou Host Club". Specifically, this is a romantic comedy shoujo anime, but with just a right ratio of romance and comedy. I would best compare it to "Lovely Complex", which has the same captivating combination. I've seen people compare it to "Kare Kano", but I didn't like that anime (irritating characters and worse quality), so I will not join them.

Main character is Kuronuma Sawako, a very (really, VERY) shy girl, who unfortunately reminds to Sadako (from horror movie "Ring"). She is also very good and considerate, so she doesn't mind to sacrifice her comfort for happiness of other people. This leaves her alone, with no friends, somewhere at the beginning of her first year in high school. Kazehaya Shouta is her opposite: very lively boy, always smiling and ready to help, adored by classmates of both sexes, constantly surrounded by friends. When he takes interest in Sawako, her life is about to change.

Let's not pretend naive: it is obviously that they will end up together. Already in first few episodes, it's indicated that they both have feelings for each other. Just to show how much Sawako is shy: she realizes that feelings she have for Kazehaya are actually romantic somewhere around half of the series. For Sawako, who never had friends, step from realizing that she likes someone in romantic way to actually doing something about it is a very long one. And Kazehaya, for all his friendliness, doesn't have much more experience in this field, so I think we can look forward to at least one more season before they end together.

This is a common story, used in many animes. But, what differentiates this anime from others with similar premise is that, not once during watching it, I haven't thought "IDIOTS! Why are you doing this?!?!". In most anime, you just know that when it comes to the critical scene, main characters will say or do just the most completely wrong thing he or she can. This doesn't happen here. Sawako, for all her shyness, is actually very brave and stubborn. For example, when in the beginning, she and Kazehaya are mistaken for a couple (because they were seen talking), she actually stands in front of her class and denies it, because she believes that is a right thing to do and that further misunderstanding would inconvenience Kazehaya.

Supporting cast is small, but very good: they are all real people, with their own lives. Ryu (silent and sleepy) is Kazehaya's friend, while Chizuru (a tomboy) and Ayane (a stylish girl dating an older guy) are Sawako's first ever friends. Of other character, I can mention Pin (yount teacher with planet-size ego) and Kurumi (girl version of Kazehaya). Except Pin (who is more of a comedy relief), none of this character is stereotypical. For example, Chizuru is interested in sports and winning and has a history of violence, but on the other hand, she is easily moved, ready to defend her friends and actually harbors a secret love.

From visual side: nothing to complain, but nothing to be impressed about. There are lots of chibi and super-deformed scenes, but I found them quite funny. From sound department, the same; except, I liked the voices. They are very appropriate and skillfully done. There are 25 episodes, one of which (16th) is a recap episode. Unfortunately, I didn't found any news about when the next season is planned.

Best recommendation that I can give to this anime is that whole time during watching it I kept smiling and laughing. This is a must for fans of romantic comedies, and a good watch for everybody else (except if you think that shoujo anime are only for little girls). For now, it is right next to "Lovely Complex" as my favorite romantic comedy, with potential to greatly overcome it (depending on the way in which is continued).

I already started reading "Shadow and Betrayal" by Daniel Abraham, so my next post is in due for week or probably two, depending on my free time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Legion - movie review

Yesterday I went to the movie theater to watch "Legion" with my girlfriend. She's an ex-goth, and I always liked Biblical themes and playing with them, so we thought that this Apocalyptic-themed movie would be a nice way to spend evening. Although, I checked few ratings on the Internet and asked a friend who already watched it, and both were not promising, so I was prepared to possibility that movie would suck. After watching it, I'm not totally disappointed, but nor I'm in any way impressed.

Story in short: the Apocalypse is here and only hope to stop it is that archangel Michael succeeds in saving the unborn child of an unwilling soon-to-be-mother Charlie. In that he will have help of a small group of people isolated in a restaurant in Mojave desert. I'm not sure who the main character is: Michael, a rebellious angel (play by Paul Bettany); Jeep, a young naive friend in love with Charlie (at least I understand him like that); or Bob, Jeep's father, owner of restaurant and a loser (played by Dennis Quaid).

When I asked him about it, my friend told me "It would be much better if it lasted longer". I was a bit confused at first, but now I completely agree. Movie last some 100 minutes and in that time fails to focus on what it wants to be. It has many action scenes, but as an action movie totally sucks. Guns with unlimited reserves of bullets and massive car explosion are not convincing; and rare special effects are unimpressive. Pointy teeth and walking on ceiling are not scary anymore, so it fails as a horror, and bloody scenes were just gruesome to watch. And most importantly, movie fails to exploit its apocalyptic connection. It doesn't explain why it really started and how is it proceeding in the rest of the world. And two angels and possessed people are only supernatural phenomena in the movie. Child is supposedly a "only hope of humanity", but never it is explained how or why. If it lasted another 60 minutes where these things were elaborated more, I think this would be a much more series movie.

There were a few good points to movie. I really liked how every character had his own story and background; they were not just a new person to get dead. Nor were they behaving unbelievable stupid. I'm not a right person to judge acting, but I didn't find it too bad. But, as I said, I'm not really a visual type.

All in all, it was not really a waste of time. Main problem of the movie was unspecified genre: is it a horror, action or fantasy? I have watched better movies but in the end, it was not a bad way to spend an evening.