Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Manga review: "Elfen Lied"

I liked "Elfen Lied" anime. It was the sixth anime I ever watched (not counting "Dragon Ball", "Sailor Moon" and "Digimon", which I watched on TV years before). Before it, I watched "Naruto", "Hellsing", "Claymore", "Ghost in The Shell", "Berserk" and "Basilisk". As you can see, it was first anime set in modern and normal Japan (well, except the diclonii) which featured teens as main characters. I was surprised with one boy living alone with several girls with no adults around (he he, naive me). I was drawn by interesting plot and suffering characters. I was also occasionally disturbed, but that only served to give "Elfen Lied" its unique sense. I was so delighted by this anime that I added it on my top-five list on AniDB.

But now, almost three years and 170 anime later, I don't have the same opinion. Either my tastes have changed (grew, if I'm optimist) or anime adaption is much better that the original manga, because I can't say I enjoyed reading it. I watched "Berserk" even earlier that "Elfen Lied", but I nevertheless liked the manga which I read at the end of the last year (I think it was just a bit before I started writing this blog). Same goes for "Gantz" and "Shigurui". I was surprised with the effort I had to put to complete it.

"Elfen Lied" revolves about interesting idea: what if evolution for humans has not stopped or slowed? What if there is an evolved version of humans already among us? Actually, I remember watching one season of TV series that was based on this same premise (it was 10 or so years ago, so I don't remember the name anymore). This is actually a great idea and it could develop to different directions. Focus could be put on science of it, or the social relationship between humans and their successors; it could become an action manga where they develop their powers... Unfortunately, the author focuses on emotional problem of a teenagers and preteens. Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with that. There is a bunch of anime than feature teen angst but behind or parallel with it deal with something else (look at legendary "NGE"). But here, it is done just poor and repetitive.

As I said, the show includes some kind of evolved humans, which are called "diclonius" (plural "diclonii" - Latin, for those wondering why), for two horns on sides of their heads (it is actually named after a dinosaur). Except the horns, there are two main differences between them and humans: they have "vectors" (invisible ghost hands that vary in size, number, strength...) and an instinct to kill humans when they reach three or four years (starting with their parents - killing usually includes ripping their heads off). At the beginning of the series, we see a diclonius named Lucy (all diclonii are females, not one older than 18) escaping from some secret laboratory and finding herself on a beach with amnesia. There she will meet Kouta and Yuka. Kouta is young boy from country (well, although this describes at least 30% of male main characters, it doesn't have to be a bad thing by itself) who came to Kamakura for college. And Yuka is his cousin, secretly in love with him (out of all disturbing things, this is a least one). Being nice people, they will shelter Lucy (or Nyu, as they start calling her, because that is all she can say at first) and even hide her from police later. Of course, facility she escaped from won't be happy with the fact they she escaped, especially considering the fact that is the most important diclonius. Also, it will turn out that this is not the first encounter of Lucy and Kouta.

Well, not delving too deep into the plot, it is actually not so bad plot. It is not very intriguing nor does it surprise the viewer too much, but it's not boring or too predictive. In later stages you can notice that author didn't have some overall plan, since he randomly adds new elements. What I object to this series is not the plot, but almost everything else. Characters are total cliché: naive young boy, split-personality girl, crazy scientist(s)... Also, they are quite static and don't grow during the series. Nevertheless, they are not totally without charm. For example, however the character of Bandou is actually unimaginative, I liked the guy.

But there are two things that bothered me most. First, the level of violence and nudity goes to totally unnecessary levels. As I mentioned, all diclonii in anime are actually young girls. And I don't think there was one who wasn't shown completely naked. I mean, I don't mind violence and nudity anime or manga, even when it's exaggerated (I wouldn't like "Gantz" and "Shigurui" then), but scenes like tons of naked girls (with bags of their heads!!!) dismembering and decapitating bunch of soldiers are not my kind of thing. I got the feeling that both nudity and violence exist only for themselves. Even the ecchi parts don't look normal ecchi. Second, I refuse to believe that people are as bad as this series describes them. Oh, I believe that some of them (even a good portion of people) are bad (evil, selfish, insensitive... however you want to call it), open any history-book to prove it. But nevertheless, there were maybe three adult persons here that are not totally bad and even those three are not people you would be friendly with... I mean, I know there are disgusting people all around (concentration-camp-torturer type of disgusting), but I don't have to read about them torturing main characters and getting away without deserved punishment (accidental death is not deserved punishment in manga or anime - it has to have a meaning).

To technical side: this manga has 12 volumes, around 200 pages each, so it's not a long read. Art looks pretty nice, characters especially. I didn't like the ending, but graphically looked very good. Characters look unique and have distinct names, so you don't get lost who is who... Not that there is many named characters. Author is Okamoto Lynn and this was his first work. I don't know are his later works famous, but I didn't recognize any. Oh, I liked how visible was when Nyu switches with Lucy and vice versa.

While I was writing this, I kept asking myself why I did like the anime so much and not manga. Were the reasons I stated at beginning the only ones? Now, I think there is one more. Anime adapts only first half of manga and that is the good part. So it is concentrated on introducing original concepts and characters and the important part of the plot, and you don't see that there is not much behind them.

In the end, "Elfen Lied" is not a manga I can recommend to anybody. On the other hand, I can recommend the anime version. So, definitely watch the anime (be prepared for severe violence and nudity), and if you really like it and don't have anything else to do, read the manga. And feel free to quit it whenever you feel like to, because you will not miss anything valuable.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Movie review: "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"

Last Saturday I watched "Prince of Persia" movie and I was pleasantly surprised with the movie: I expected some empty action show. While this is definitely not a masterpiece of film art, it was decent and untiring enough movie.

This movie is based on the game. I played the original "Prince of Persia" (this, Supaplex and PopCorn where first three games I ever played), but I didn't play later games this movie is based on. Last game I really liked was "Baldurs Gate 2" (and that was some 10 years ago) and last few games I tried playing were "Fable", "Overlord" and "Neverwinter Nights 2". I'm just not satisfied with quality of games nowadays, and anyway, I don't have time to play anymore.

Let's get back to the movie. Main character is prince Dastian. He was just a kid without parents, living on the street, when the king of Persia, impressed by his acrobatic skills and strong will, adopted him to royal household. Together with his two foster-brothers, he grows up to be a war-leader of his people. And a rogue and ladies-man, of course. He will get blamed for the assassination on his father and will have to try to clear his name. More so, he will found that more that his life is in stake, all depending on a strange and magical dagger...

I realized who the bad-guy is in first few minutes of the movie! But that didn't make the film bad. It has a nice dose of action, humor and emotions. There are not many details to complain on. The character of that gangster was just too much fake, though.

If you like action spectacles, I don't see any reason not to like "Prince of Persia". Nice effects, funny jokes and decent plot will make two hours fly-by fast.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book review: "The Born Queen"

With this book I finished "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series by Gregory Keyes.. First part of blog will be without any spoilers, while the second part is more detailed, but presumes you have read previous books.

When I started reading this series, I expected something ordinary (I've been spoiled by great books I've been reading lately). I also expected first book be great and then sequels each be little weaker than their prequel. It looks I've been wrong on both accounts.

On first, I stay with the opinion that this is not a series that will leave you pondering for weeks with its epic events or clever plots, nor will you have troubles with keeping track of characters or understanding all facets of their personalities and motivations. Instead, it is a nice little (some 2000 pages) high fantasy series with all the nice elements it needs. Considering my second prejudice, here I was clearly wrong. Books just kept getting better as series advanced.

Last book, "The Born Queen" finally explains all things hinted so far. All plot-lines are nicely finished and it feels as a very natural ending. I especially liked the "life goes on, new problems come" ending. Book itself is very fast and full of action. As before (if I remember correctly), every chapters jumps to other character/group and if often ends in mini-cliffhangers. I was very surprised with some of the events in this book; I often questioned author's choices, but in the end, Keyes pulled it off very nicely.

This is a great conclusion to the series and everyone who enjoyed first three books is bound to enjoy this one, too. Series itself is very good read. If you like high fantasy and you are not looking for something particular or innovative, you will surely like it.

Reviews of previous books can be found here, here and here...

If you have read first three books, you can continue with reading (spoilers for previous books only)...

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Towers of Midnight" frenzy

As "Towers of Midnight" release date is getting closer, I am getting more excited.

My main problem now is that I wanted to reread last three books before attacking ToM. But I have encountered a problem. I don't order books directly from Amazon, but from local bookstore: it's cheaper, because I don't have to pay for delivery. But since they order books once a month, I'm not sure when will I receive it. I presume it will some three or four weeks after original release date. So now, I don't know when to start with this reread. If I start too soon, I will then only go excited and the waiting will be more unbearable. But if I wait too much, I will get the book and not be finished with the reared.... Big problems, you think? (jokingly)

My excitement was increased few days ago when I found this: a whole chapter 8 from ToM, featuring Mat. And it's great!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Anime review: "Durarara!!"

I think I already said it, but I feel very lucky this year with the choice of the anime I have watched. "Bakemonogatari"  and "Kimi ni Todoke" are among my all-time favorites, while "Akagi", "Tatami Galaxy", "Paranoia Agent", "Paradise Kiss", "Mononoke" and last season of "Nodame Cantabile" were all a great watch. After watching "Durarara!!", I am of a mind to put this anime to first group. At least, it definitely belongs to at least the second group.

I didn't expect such an anime when I started with it. Quick glance on AniDB gave me impression of... I don't know, something wacky and typically shounen. Big reason for that is the picture on its profile. That ochre helmet looked like a some kind of crocodile. Anyway, a big mistake from my side!

"Durarara!!" is made by same author as "Baccano!", Narita Ryogho, which is evident from first episodes. Difference is that this is much lighter anime than "Baccano!", in a way that it is much easier to watch and follow the plot. Because of that, I think it will be accepted by wider audience than "Baccano!". On the other hand, don't think that this anime makes some compromises to be better liked by general public.

Due to originality of anime and it dependence on plot and characters, I can't describe it in details.

"A young boy from countryside Ryugamine Mikado comes to Tokyo to enter high-school. There he meets his childhood friend Kida Masaomi and both of them fall for beautiful and innocent schoolmate Sonohara Anri. Three of them will get involved in some strange occurrences and it will be revealed that each of them have their own secrets..."

You see, it sound like a generic description of at least dozens similar anime. But, in first episode we meet some of original characters, residents of Ikebukuro (where the anime takes place). Like Celty Sturluson, headless Irish fairy who works as courier on black-bike; Heiwajima Shizuo, debt collector with super-human strength and short temper; Orihara Izaya, shady and sadistic information dealer; Simon, Russian of African descent, working as a hawker for sushi-bar... Ikebukuro is plagued with color-gangs: juvenile gangs which differ by wearing different colors. There is also one colorless gang, with base on the Internet: the Dollars... There are many other characters and each one is original on its own way.

First part of show centers on introduction of characters, each episode focusing on one or two main characters. Later we have two story arcs: one centered on Celty's head, the other about Dollars vs. Golden Bandanas (one of the color gangs) conflict. Anime is based on light novels. There are eight of them so far, and anime adapts only first three, so we can expect more season of this fantastic anime.

What differentiates this anime from the other similar shows is that "Baccano!" feeling. There is action, there is laugh, there is anger... As I said, it is not intense as "Baccano!", but it's good enough. Connection with "Baccano!" is strengthened with cameo appearance of awesome comedy duo, Miria and Isaac.

Good as this anime is, there are some flaws. First episodes, the introduction are great. And so is the first story arc. But second story, about gang fighting is evidently weaker that the first one. Fortunately, great characters and romance aspect of the story saves it, at least for me. Next flaw, which is something I mind very much in longer seinen shows, is that characters are always in same clothes. Some people also objected the fact that unimportant people (people on streets, mostly) are drawn as gray people. For me, this was actually a plus.

From visual side, the show is looking nice, but nothing impressive. Animation slowly degrades during the show, which is mostly evident in design of characters (e.g. Horada), but that's not an important flaw for me. Opening and ending are nice enough songs, especially both openings. Voice-acting is also good, but as I mentioned, I usually don't notice it unless is pretty bad.

So, this is definitely a recommendation. Especially for "Baccano!" fans, but also for every other anime fan older than 15. For those interested, Crunchyroll offers free streaming of this show here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Movie review: "The Stand"

"The Stand" is one more "blast from the past" (1994, to be precise). Or so I thought before I started watching it. It is not actually a movie; it is a four-part miniseries (every part is about 1.5 hours long). I remember watching this series when I was a kid 10-15 years old and I remember enjoying it. I also remember watching only first two parts... Which makes the crucial difference.

Because the show sucks after second episode. Third part is only moderately good compared to first two parts, but last episode, and especially the ending, is really bad. Well, if I think about it objectively, it's not so bad, but when you consider the potential first two parts have, this is very bad.

Anyway, "The Standstarts with the end of the world. Some kind of super-flu is accidentally released from US secret laboratory and it kills most of people on the world. It's not explicitly said, but I got an impression that there were only few thousand people left in America. During the chaos resulting from the virus, while fighting for survival, some of the unaffected people have dreams of an old woman, preaching about God and warning them to be careful of the "dark man" (or some other similar name, I'm not sure). After some time, people will divide in two camps: the good ones, joined around mother Abigail (the old woman) and the bad ones, led by Flagg (the dark man).

As I said, first two parts are great. The fear, the struggle, the confusion... Everything is represented superbly. Tension is present all the time. But, even during the second episode, you start wondering "When the action will start?". And the answer in "Never!!!". Show fails to develop this tension to some kind of plot. Instead, you get the characters wondering around all the time.

Second flaw is the characters: they are totally predictable and one-dimensional. Good guys are made halfway believable (thought, they are likable), but when you see the bad guys, you can't help wondering "Are you guys total idiots?!?!". And the main villain... Looks like somebody didn't read the Evil Overlord List...

Third flaw are special effects. If you can't do them decently, don't do them. Show does the same mistake as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind": it shows what should not be showed. There it was the aliens, and here is the main villain's true face. And when you see it, it ruins what's left of the movie.

Also, I didn't like the feel of religious fanaticism the show promotes. I remember Stephen King always being close to religion in his writing (e.g. the kid in "Desperation") but the end of this show is a bit too much.

So, in conclusion, it's not a show I can recommend to anybody. It had a nice potential, but it failed to deliver.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Book review: "Night of Knives" by Ian Cameron Esslemont

The book "Night of Knives" is first book by Ian Cameron Esslemenot, set in Malazan world. He and Steven Erikson developed Malazan world together, starting some 20 years ago. While Erikson published more than ten books set in this world, Esslemont was busy with some other things in his life and started publishing only a few years ago (as is stated in the introduction by Steven Erikson).

Even though this is a stand-alone novel and can be read without any previous knowledge about main "Malazan Book of Fallen" sequence and related world, I think it will be best appreciated by Erikson's fans (or now, better said, Malazan fans). Actually, this book could be a very good introduction to concepts, characters and history of Malazan world, because Esslemont do provides some explanations. Erikson, on the other hand, has a completely different approach to his books, so you start to grasp things when you are already into third book. But that is one of Erikson's best points, so reading first "Night of Knives" and switching to Erikson would be a major spoiling of "Malazan Book of Fallen".

So, I you haven't read Erikson's book and you are into "hard" high fantasy (more-than-complex everything, numerous characters, complicated and developed magic system, extremely detailed history of the world...), leave this book for now and start with "Gardens of the Moon". If you for some reason you think you will never read Erikson, you could read this book as stand-alone novel, but you can find much better short books than this one. Book itself (if you look at it without whole Malazan thing) is moderately good, but it fails to express all potential of Malazan world. If you have read "Malazan Book of Fallen", at least to book three ("A Memory of Ice"), you can read on....