Inquiring Minds Want To Know #33: What do you think of live action adaptations of anime?

Thanks to everyone who responded to the question drive but if you didn’t get a question in, remember you can still fill in the survey at the end of the post or use the link in the sidebar to send me a question. This week we get a very timely question and I really enjoyed going back and thinking about some of the live action adaptations I’ve watched since becoming a blogger.

Question: What do you think of live action (dramas or movies) adaptions of anime? Any favourites? from Rise

Netflix Live Action Bleach

I’m going to be perfectly honest here, live action adaptations of anime have an incredibly patchy history and a fairly well deserved reputation for being less than stellar. The Dragonball Evolution isn’t just a poor adaptation of the source material, its just a terrible movie to have to endure watching.

Still, that isn’t every adaptation. Okay, the Full Metal Alchemist adaptation wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible.Ghost in the Shell worked well enough for me but that’s probably because I’m not a fan of the anime in the first place and just took it as a generic sci-fi kind of movie and it succeeded at that. Death Note angered me at first and then I detached my expectations from the anime and realised that as a cheap horror movie it could work just fine so got over it, but none of these have really stuck.

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That actually leaves me with two live action adaptations I really enjoyed just because they were really enjoyable and not because I looked for some positives amongst a mess of an adaptation.

The first is Erased the series. I really enjoyed seeing this story brought to life and feel they did a great job of it. I know the live action is based more off the anime so most of the changes between the anime and the live action are more because the anime veered off course, but I actually feel from a plot point of view the live action is stronger. I still really love the anime but I prefer the ending as presented in the live action series.

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The second is one that just came out and that is Bleach. Given how incredibly on the fence I was about the idea of a Bleach movie and the fact that I went in really expecting to be severely disappointed, this movie actually put my concerns to rest and delivered what is a fairly decent movie in its own right and probably the best kind of adaptations I could have hoped for. It remains true enough to the feel of the anime that what I loved about the franchise is recognisable but it makes sufficient changes to sit relatively comfortable as a movie. It really is just good fun and one I definitely recommend.

Bleach Netflix Live Action

Thanks for the question this week and I’d love to know what my readers think and what some of your favourite live action adaptations of anime are (or if you hate them). Please leave me a comment and remember if you have a question for me you can simply complete the survey below.


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Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Ordinary Anime Characters Who Inspire

While many an anime character has inspired me, it is worth noting that a lot of anime characters have super powers, or magic, or destiny, or some other force working for them, which makes their actions a little less applicable to the everyday life that most of us lead. This list is to the heroes (and ordinary people) who have moved me to action or have given me strength when I have needed it. That makes is a fairly personal list so I’d love to know who would end up on your list of inspiring anime characters. While it hurts that I can’t add Maka to the list this time round, the characters below are all exceptional and yet completely human.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Akito from Bakuman for standing by his friend from start to finish no matter how rough things got.

Number 5: Nagisa (Assassination Classroom)

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One might argue that none of the students in Assassination Classroom are particularly ordinary, but that is their most compelling trait. They are ordinary. They are the ones who are overlooked and cast aside, who have been down so long that they have forgotten that they even have the right to stand up. Watching Nagisa move from someone who accepts this role to someone who has a clear presence about him and is comfortable in his own skin is something that is greatly inspiring. Okay, most of us don’t have a yellow octopus for a teacher who we get to learn to assassinate, but most of the lessons Nagisa takes on board are strictly of the ordinary kind of valuing who you are.

Number 4: Kurumi (Kimi ni Todoke)

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Season One of Kimi ni Todoke introduced us to Kurumi and she was a nasty piece of work determined to get Kazehaya to look at her and to get Sawako out of the picture. After being rejected she undergoes an incredible character transformation that reminds us all that just because we don’t get what we want doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. Kurumi becomes a truly great character and by the time the end of season 2 rolls around you really want her to find her own happiness.

Number 3: Kousei (Your Lie in April)

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This one might be cheating given the kid is definitely a genius. Yet, much like with Nagisa, the lessons Kousei takes on board during the heart breaking journey that is Your Lie in April are strictly the ordinary everyday ones that we all could learn from. Learning to grieve and mourn, to accept what has happened, to find a purpose, and just to find who you are. These are the things Kousei discovers throughout the course of his journey and they make him incredibly relatable and when he takes the stage in the final episode you cannot help but feel moved by him.

Number 2: Oreki (Hyouka)

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While this might seem an odd choice for number 2 on the list, there’s something truly remarkable about how this character lives his life. He has his own ideal of energy conservation and yet at the same time he doesn’t want his ideals to harm the experiences of others. He doesn’t want to let his sister down and later Chitanda and so acts contrary to his own nature on more than one occasion. This is also inspiring because while some people might see that as giving in or compromising, what it really demonstrates is an acceptance of a need for community and that it can’t always be about you. Oreki is inspiring because he finds a balance where he does have moments where he refused to do things or to get involved and other moments where he acts for the benefit of others. While I’m still not sure I like the anime, I quite like Oreki’s character and he reminds me that sometimes it isn’t all about me.

Number 1: Yuri (Yuri on Ice)

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Did we really think anyone else was going to take this spot? I almost disqualified him because being a world champion (even if he’s only in the top 6) kind of makes him somewhat extraordinary, but the only superpower he has is persistence and determination and so I let him take the top spot. His journey is fantastic and watching him stand up again and again and try to overcome his weaknesses never ceases to inspire.

And there they all are. Who would you have put on your list?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime That Only Have One Season

There’s something to be said for an anime that can tell a complete story in 11, 12, 22, or 24 episodes and not leave the viewer unsatisfied or waiting for a conclusion that may never occur. While I have nothing against the longer running anime brethren, the anime I rewatch most often meets the condition of being a complete story in and of itself. Which actually made it quite hard to narrow this list down.

Now the order is entirely subjective and based only upon my enjoyment of the story and how complete it feels when watching, so I’d love for you to share your top 5 anime with only one season. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Parasyte, Ouran High School Host Club (this one actually kind of needs a sequel), and Trigun.

Number 5: My Love Story

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I don’t know why it is that I am completely in love with this anime and even though there’s plenty more that could be said about the characters and where they go, I never finish the story feeling like I’m missing out. This one is a sweet story that deals with two people not falling in love, because they actually cover that in about three episodes, but with the act of being in love for the first time and not really knowing what to do. It is awkward at times, adorable at others, and overall it is an incredibly rewarding watch.

Number 4: Death Note

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While logically you could write sequels, spin-offs and whatever else you want from this story, but I’m pretty sure most viewers will agree that Death Note feels decidedly finished with that final episode. Realistically, the story felt finished before it got to the end given the narrative structure. When you set up two characters in binary opposition and one dies, that definitely feels like an end point. Death Note pushes on nonetheless leaving us with a definitive ending later on, though a little bit of the satisfaction does get sucked out in the process.

Number 3: Erased

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Mystery stories are probably a bit easier to make feel complete. When you are first waiting for the who is the bad guy reveal followed by the will they catch him, it kind of gives you a clear end point for the series. Needless to say, while there are some lingering questions about the nature of revival, the story is most definitely complete in this anime.

Number 2: Your Lie in April

Your Lie In April

Much like Erased, there was always an end point in mind for this series. However, what we get is a fairly profound character journey and ultimately an ending that will leave you in a smiling/teary mess as you can’t decide whether it was tragic or beautiful or somewhere in between the two. Anymore of this would simply take away from the power of that ending and really that is not something anyone should ever try and do.

Number 1: Angel Beats

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This anime begins with Otanashi waking up in a limbo and being told he has to fight against god. The story explores the true nature of the world he is in and the other characters inhabiting it. By the time we get to the end of this story everything that ever needed to be said about this world has been said. And while you have to wait around until after the end credits of the final episode to get to the resolution you so desperately want, it is most definitely there and leaves you with a feeling that everything is going to work out okay which is pretty much how I want to feel at the end of the emotional roller-coaster that is Angel Beats.

That’s the list for this week, so now I’m turning it over to you. What is your favourite anime with only one season? Or what are your top 5 is narrowing it down to one is too hard?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Smart Anime Characters

Before getting into this list, I will point out that one of the most annoying things in stories than an anime character who the audience is told is smart who then acts like a complete air-head for the entire run-time. I get that some characters are smart in one specific skill and therefore have issues at other things, but some supposedly smart characters just act really dumb. Therefore, my list is focusing on consistency. Characters who are smart and who consistently seem to think through their actions, even if they don’t always draw the right conclusions.

That said, I’d love to know who you would have included on your list of smart anime characters so please leave a comment below.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Light (Death Note), Uruhara (Bleach), and Ami (Sailor Moon).


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Number 5: Lelouch (Code Geass)

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Realistically I understand the Lelouch made a lot of mistakes. Still, given he was a high school student who was presented with a sudden opportunity to take what he wanted, he actually thought through quite a few things and had a lot more success than he might have if he wasn’t such a quick thinker. Ultimately, for all the mistakes Lelouch made, he found a way back and some of his plans were pretty brilliant. Probably Lelouch’s biggest problem early on was over-confidence but after the end of season 1 he seemed to overcome that and from then on he was pretty good at what he was doing.


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Number 4: Rei (March Comes in Like a Lion)

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Rei is a genius Shogi player. He doesn’t get much about life and what he does get, he overthinks horribly, but considering his age and experience, the boy is pretty smart. Even though he puts himself down all the time and, particularly in season one, he paints himself in a negative light, he’s someone who is managing to live on his own, study his craft, and attempt to finish school mostly on his own. He’s one smart cookie and one who deserves to give himself a bit of praise every now and then for what he has achieved and he shouldn’t worry so much about his failures.

Number 3: Kurisu (Steins;Gate)

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I had a hard time deciding between Okabe and Kurisu, but ultimately Kurisu is the more logical and the one more likely to put the hard work in to figure out what makes things tick. Okabe’s more manic approach may stumble upon a success every now and again, but Kurisu is the one who can begin to understand the how and the why and the limitations. Almost all of the adaptations to the phone-microwave as the series went on were because of Kurisu’s testing and meticulous work and so she well and truly deserves her place on this list. That and she managed to not kill Okabe for calling her Christina.


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Number 2: Tatsuya Shiba (The Irregular at Magic High School)

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For someone who can’t perform well on the standardised tests of his world, Tatsuya Shiba more than makes up for it everywhere else. Brilliant at magical theory, manipulating magical devices, and generally figuring out ways around his limitations, he’s more or less unstoppable (which would kind of be why so many people throw the overpowered label at him). Be that as it may, he’s a very smart character and one I would not want to be up against in any battle of wits – though that’s probably true of every character on this list.

Number 1: Korosensei (Assassination Classroom)

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For all that he ended up an experiment that went a bit wrong, Korosensei proves over and over again that he knows his stuff as a teacher. He delivers the curriculum across a range of subjects and also expands the students’ knowledge into a whole range of fields.  If it wasn’t for the whole blow up the world thing, he’d be the perfect teacher and he certainly deserves his place as number one on my list.

And that’s my list but I’d love to know what would make your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Produced By Madhouse

There’s no doubt that Madhouse is a bit of a powerhouse when it comes to producing anime. They’ve got a large number of fairly big titles under their belt and the quality of so many of their productions is undeniable. That isn’t to say they don’t have any misses and those will need to be looked at eventually, but today is about celebrating my favourite five titles by Madhouse and this was one hard list to put together because I really did want to add a lot more than five. Ultimately I’ve tried to assemble titles that I think represent the range of shows that Madhouse has out there as well as ones that are truly just fun to watch.


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As always, I’d love to see what you would include on your list so be sure to leave a comment below with your favourite madhouse anime.

Please note: There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions: No Game No Life and Death Parade.

Number 5: The Irregular at Magic High School

This anime title didn’t have the broad appeal that a lot of Madhouse’s titles have but if you happen to like the story this anime is a really good one to watch. For a magic highschool setting this anime pulls out all the stops crafting a believable world where magic has been integrated with technology and with Madhouse’s attention to detail and great animation has really been brought to life in a truly beautiful manner. Whether the spells are simple or complex, the end result is gorgeous to watch and the fights are exciting and fluid. I really enjoyed this anime for its world building and I think I’m glad that Madhouse was behind this one because in the hands of a different studio it may have ended up decided less than impressive.

Number 4: Ore Monogatari (My Love Story)

I really love My Love Story because of its quirky take on the traditional high school love anime, but again I think part of what makes this show so special is the way it has been put together. The story itself is interesting but without the visuals and animation there was every chance this show would fall flat. Yet every scene draws you into the show and the characters and ultimately watching this is a pure joy.

Number 3: Trigun

This is one of those shows where the story takes awhile to get going so it is a good thing we have fantastic visuals (even if they are a little dated looking by today’s standards) and some really fluid animation to keep us engaged in the early stages where the show presents like a screwball western. Once the story gets going and the transition to dark sci-fi kind of takes over it is impressive how the show manages to remain cohesive but all in all, this is one of those slightly older shows that is worth watching. Vash the Stampede is a hilarious and tragic character who will often leave you scratching your head but when you get right to the end he will step up when needed.

Number 2: ACCA

No surprise that ACCA made my list given it was one of my favourite shows in 2017. It is a slightly off-beat political thriller (kind of) but also has a very laid back tone. Anyway, it all could have been a big mess and yet it became an anime that really held my interest assisted by its distinct visuals and very cool jazzy sound-track. While I wouldn’t describe ACCA as beautiful, it is quite a distinct looking anime and the animation suits the style fairly perfectly. It isn’t as flashy as some of the other titles on the list with less in the way of actual action to show off the fluid animation madhouse has a reputation for, but it certainly has style.


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Number 1: Death Note

Alright, it is a little bit older and from an animation point of view again there aren’t the impressive physical fights to show off just how great it is, and yet this show managed to make writing in a book look intense and amazing and created a visual tone that carried even the weaker parts of the story to fairly lofty heights (there’s a reason this anime is on most people’s must watch lists). With an opening that grabs your attention and is filled with visual symbolism echoed within the show itself (at least the first opening, let’s not discuss the second), and an intensity to every scene that is hard to come by with so many shows striving not to take themselves seriously, Death Note is well and truly worthy of my number one spot on this list even if the second half of the series isn’t exactly flawless.

And that is my list for this week but be sure to check back next week for a new list, or you can check out all of my Top 5 lists here. For now though, I’d love to know what you’ve put on your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Characters Who Love Their ‘Darling’ To Death

Yes, this post has been inspired by Darling in the Franxx’s Zero Two, unfortunately she doesn’t get a place on the list due to the uncertainty about how her character will develop from here.

Certainly she has all the traits of the characters below so far. Obsessively possessive of her chosen ‘Darling’, not entirely needing consent though does appreciate the thought, and willing to cut other people out of their ‘Darling’s’ lives if necessary. I’m pretty sure you can guess some of the names below but as always, I’d love to know who you would have included on your list. Which anime character do you think loves their ‘Darling’ to death?


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Please note: There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions: Zero Two of course.

Number 5: Misa Amane from Death Note

There is no surprise that Misa made this list. The cute, sweet idol obsessed with Kira. She latches onto Light and promises to be helpful. She’ll follow his every command and do as he says. But no, he cannot date anyone else and no he cannot even pretend to be with other girls. Why? Because she’ll kill them in an instant and does not care that they may bring the police down on both of them. Misa was never one for a strategy. She went straight after what she wanted and what she wanted was Light’s absolute loyalty. And while Misa never did get Light killed, that was more good luck than good management. If it hadn’t been for her he would never have had to go through the whole confinement thing which would have made life a lot easier for him later.

Number 4: Haru from My Little Monster

Now, Haru is an interesting character and a lot of the time his bizarre actions are more a lack of understanding of norms than actual malice, and yet threatening to rape a girl the day after you met her is kind of extreme. The fact that these two end up being an adorable couple is kind of terrifying when put in that context, mostly because Shizuku spends a lot of time putting some very clear boundaries in place, particularly when he did punch her (technically an accident but still not cool). However, while Haru becomes far better at moderating his behaviour as directed toward Shizuku, Kenji Yamaguchi, who also kind of likes Shizuku, is not so lucky. At one point Haru nearly pushed him off a flight of stairs and was only stopped because he was distracted by Shizuku and another time Haru made it clear that his change in behaviour only applied to Shizuku. Not exactly an amazing example of reform or healthy relationships really. Fortunately though, no deaths in the show. It is a romantic comedy despite the serious doses of ‘what’ going on in Haru’s character description.

Number 3: Creed Diskenth from Black Cat

The guy is just obsessed with Train. That’s literally hit entire motivation and reason for being. He follows Train within the Chronos organisation and when Train leaves he completely loses it. The fact that Train left after being influenced by a friend (possibly closer than a friend) truly infuriated Creed and so Creed killed her. And then made sure Train knew that he had killed her. A lot of the time it is unclear is Creed is trying to kill Train or confine him or just mess with him but basically Creed is pretty stable as a character (as much as possible for a villain), until you throw Train into the mix and then he is a complete and utter psycho. I guess it never really occurred to him that Train legitimately did not care about him at all until he killed Saya. And even then, Train didn’t actually care about Creed. He just wanted to destroy the person who destroyed Saya. It didn’t matter that it was Creed. Again, Creed doesn’t manage to kill Train but he does come very close on multiple occasions.

Number 2: Yuno Gasai from Future Diary

I can already hear people asking, why is Yuno not number one on this list. And certainly, if we were just going with being crazy, Yuno is definitely a good contender. Still, in terms of loving their Darling to death, Yuno’s got some fierce competition. Mostly because I’m not entirely certain how much Yuno actually is in love rather than just obsessed with Amano. On the other hand, she’s one of the few people on this list who did in fact kill her Darling, even if it was in another timeline. So, basically, she swears to protect him in the death game, but mid-way through she tries confining him by tying him to a chair. Afterwards we learn that previously these two were the last two left standing and she killed him in order to be the victor and then she’s killed her past-self, inserted herself into that life, and done the whole thing again. You just have to wonder if she expected it to end differently the next time.


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Number 1: Road Kamelot from D Gray Man

It absolutely had to be Road. She is a truly sadistic character who is, unfortunately for Allen, obsessed with our white haired exorcist friend. Mid-battle she can go from attacking him with kisses to shoving a spike through his eye in about the space of a heart beat and she sure doesn’t care about anyone near Allen, unless she thinks she can torture him by hurting them. Her obsession runs deep and she’s more than once allowed him to live when she could have killed him, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t had a fair go at inflicting quite a bit of pain on him. D Gray Man Hallow saw her assisting him from her doll form, though whether that will continue or whether she is just leading him to yet another disaster is anyone’s guess unless we get another continuation of the anime (or, you know I could eventually read the source material). Either way, Road was the first character I thought of for this list. She is ice cold, completely obsessed, and has a real taste for pain.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Death Note Series Review: Not Quite Cat and Mouse

Overview:

I seriously can’t believe I hadn’t reviewed this anime already. I was probably holding it off for a special occasion and the lead up to Halloween works for me. Plus, having watched the Netflix movie recently the anime was on my mind so I rewatched the first half of it again so now seems a good time to write this. What is it about? Light, typical high school genius, finds a notebook that claims that if you write someone’s name in it that person will die. Of course he tries it and then he thinks he can change the world by wiping out all the criminals. Enter L, the detective who is going to hunt down the killer that leaves no evidence. I examined the relationship between Light and L in a feature on conflict a fair while back but here’s the link if you are interested.

By the way, this review has spoilers. Big ones. Just warning you.

Review:

Just have to say straight out that I love Death Note. This was one of the titles that really hooked me as an adult anime viewer and is part of the reason I became such a fan of anime. That isn’t to say the series is perfect or that I don’t have issues with it, but in terms of showing me that anime could be more than magical girls or giant robots, Death Note perfectly hit the spot and made me start looking further afield for shows to watch and I haven’t really looked back since.

I’ll start with the main criticism I have of the show and then I’ll get to gushing about how amazing it is.

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The major criticism of Death Note is the story. It is incredibly juvenile when you sit back and actually look at the plot without the atmosphere and tone making it look far more sophisticated than it is. Teenage boy gets a book that can kill people and decides he wants to play god. Other teenage boy  wants to prove he’s the best detective in the world by solving the unsolvable. Fight, fight, fight (admittedly, this is a mental battle but it is on par with anything you would see in most shounen stories) and then one of the two is defeated.

And while that is pretty basic, it is incredibly rewarding to watch, only the story doesn’t finish there. They then introduce some new antagonists for the protagonist to face off against and mostly duplicate the steps from the first half, only with less enthusiasm and atmosphere, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to stretch content and not let the series rest.

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For all that Death Note is quite clever in some of the things it does, the plot is not one of them. At its core it is an incredibly obvious make the audience question what they would do in a situation type story. And once we establish that Light is not a very stable person given he rationalises the deaths of thousands fairly quickly (which could be a statement about a lack of emotional intelligence in geniuses but mostly just comes off as unhinged), it is clear that despite being the protagonist, Light is the villain of the story, responsible for far more deaths than any of the criminals he consigns to death.

There are also issues with some of the twists in the story as they attempt to make it look like excellent planning and genius skill level on behalf of Light and L, but the anime continuously falls back on coincidence to keep things moving. What if Misa hadn’t visited Light at the university when L stole her phone and then she was arrested? What if Light hadn’t just run into Naomi on her way to the police station? What if Rem hadn’t acted to keep Misa safe? There are so many moments where things happen by chance but the characters act as if they were all factored in. Though that is a problem any time a character is supposed to be a genius. Most writers aren’t so even if they try to think about what a genius might do in a situation it usually comes off pretty contrived.

So now that I’m done tearing the plot apart, why do I love this show so much?

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The challenge between Light and L is amazing. Okay, I know I said earlier it is pretty standard shounen affair with both declaring themselves to be the face of justice and becoming entirely fixated on defeating the other, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great to watch. Despite the moments where these characters seem to slip up in their thinking, it is fun watching both characters try to find the tiniest chink in the other’s armour. Their natural attraction to one another, as someone who is thinking on their level, adds and extra dimension to the challenge, and even at the silliest moment (the fist fight while hand-cuffed still annoys me) these two characters are at their best when facing one another head on.

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I also just love Light as a protagonist. He’s so much fun to pick at and analyse. Did the book and the power make him crazy or was he always that way and the book gave him opportunity? There are arguments you can make both ways and evidence for both. I particularly love the scene with Naomi as Light is genuinely forced to think on his feet to deal with an unforseen situation. This is not the overly confident, maniacal laughing Light from the latter part of the series, but is the student still finding his way and looking carefully at all the angles and trying to find the best solution to his ‘problem’. That Naomi pushes him nearly to the brink before he succeeds is wonderful and there’s a real sense of tension in the entire exchange. My heart honestly fell a little when I realised Light had come out on top. I’d kind of hoped Naomi would find a way to be the first step to Light’s demise.

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Naturally Ryuk is another big draw to the show. His observations about humans and his general disinterest in the overall situation is quite entertaining. I would have liked him to have had a more active role at times given sometimes he seemed willing to help Light and other times he seemed obstinate for the sake of it. But still, as a Death God with no actual loyalty to Light, he was a pretty well done character.

I guess I should bring Misa up. She is kind of a necessary character for the plot to get going given without her mistakes they may never have gotten close to figuring out what was going on. Otherwise, most of her interactions in the story are pretty forgettable.

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The overall atmosphere and tone of the anime are wonderful. I love the use of symbolism and colour, even if it is in your face obvious most of the time (back to that idea of being a little juvenile). It just works beautifully at building tension and suspense. Also drama. How they manage to make a kid writing in a note book that intense is one of the absolute mysteries of the show.

The first opening theme is also fantastic. The second one however… well it isn’t a total train wreck is probably the nicest thing I’m going to say about that screaming drone with eye-hurting visuals. Of course, the second opening kind of coincides with where I usually stop watching because to be honest, after L leaves the story there is little real appeal in this show anymore. The end is worth watching the first time so you know how it ends, but rewatches allow you to just stop and not have to deal with the Mello and Near fiasco.

And that makes Death Note truly unique in that it is an anime I absolutely recommend even while admitting I don’t rewatch the end of it very often because it isn’t very good. That first half is pretty compelling and well worth trying if you’ve never given it a go.


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Friday’s Feature: A True Champion Can Adapt To Anything, But Don’t Mess With The Source Material

Death Note Live Action Movie

Last week I reviewed the Netflix Death Note movie and I tried really hard to review it as a movie in its own right rather than as a poorer version of the psychological masterpiece that is the original anime (at least the first half of it). However, while I read a lot of reviews about this movie, what I noticed repeatedly was that a lot of reviewers were not reviewing the movie on the screen. They were reviewing how well it managed to follow a different script or the manga. Some reviewers even put side by side pictures of the live action characters from the American production with the anime version of the character as though this somehow added weight to their argument that the movie was appalling.

Now, I don’t actually want to argue about whether the movie was good or not because that isn’t even the issue. While I enjoyed it on my second watch through, there are some actual plot and character problems that the movie has, even ignoring the source material and the changes that were made, and it definitely has some pacing issues in the second half. Is it the single worst thing I’ve ever seen and would I threaten the production team with having their names written in a Death Note? Probably not, but nor do I care to try to defend the movie because this movie is pretty much doomed to be a five minute discussion topic and then the world will move on.

However, I have to wonder why fans get so attached to the source material that any variation feels like some kind of criminal act? By its very nature, adapting material forces changes. From manga to anime, anime to live action, it is kind of certain some things are going to be lost or changed. Some because of the medium involved and others because of different interpretations, and still others by deliberate choice. While those choices may produce a lesser quality work (and regularly do, I’m not even going to try to claim that the majority of works that have ended up with this treatment aren’t pretty dreadful) it isn’t necessarily because they chose to change them. In the case of Death Note, I would actually argue that the changes didn’t go far enough.

DeathNote2

In an effort to pander to the fans of the manga and anime, several characters and events were left in the film, though they served little purpose and actually just took up screen time that could have better been spent on fleshing out some of the more original ideas. The pacing fell apart toward the end because we’d wasted time building L up as any kind of antagonist when he actually wasn’t the one Light had to confront, and because they bothered to leave Light’s father in the story as a character of any significance. Which of course in the other variations of the story, L and Light’s father are important and of course should have screen time, but in this version of the story, they were merely the face of the police, but the climax isn’t about Light facing off against the police. It is about Light facing off with Mia, his partner who for whatever reason wants to use the Death Note to judge whoever she wants.

If you sat through Netflix’s Death Note and felt frustrated by the ending, think about how much better it would be if L just remained a background character. A voice on the TV reassuring people that the police were looking for Kira, and someone Light mocked to make himself look good to Mia, and then they went about their business. What if the police received a tip that Light and Mia might have been Kira after they were overheard discussing the Death Note in the school grounds (because they do and that is stupid), so the police still show up at the dance forcing Light to tell Mia to go to the ferris wheel and still leading to a chase sequence, only no L and no space gun.

Suddenly the whole sequence is cleaner and less complex because you aren’t trying to deal with L’s emotional break down which is unimportant to the viewer because this version of Death Note gave us no reason to care and you aren’t trying to figure out what is with the gun. Light no longer has to try to justify his actions in hysterics and we actually have time to give Mia some actual character development. It would all work so well.

However, let’s pitch that idea to Death Note fans.

So, I’m going to make a live action version of Death Note.

Go on.

It’s going to be set in America.

What?

No, it will be fine. We’ll just give Light an American sounding surname. No problem.

Assuming that’s true, what else will you change?

Okay, I’m going to get rid of L as a main character. He’ll still be there, but the investigation isn’t going to get that close to Light, as I’m going to focus on how Light changes as a character because of the Death Note rather than how smart he is and how well he can play cat and mouse with a detective.

Right, so the table just got flipped and that discussion ended rather abruptly. Because for some people that change means it is no longer Death Note. What it means to be Death Note is gone. For me though, Death Note is the power to kill with the book. How that power is handled by different people in different times and places could be fascinating. There’s an endless parade of stories that could come from that idea and some of them could be brilliant. They may not involve two super geniuses anonymously facing off using the entire world as their battle ground, but the stories could still be pretty brilliant. So that is where I feel that saying the reason the Netflix Death Note movie is not that good isn’t because they changed the source, but because they didn’t have enough confidence to take the core mechanic and make it their own. They tried to have their cake and eat it, by appealing to fans by keeping things they should have just cut and trying to make a very different style story at the same time.

GITS3

But if we turn our attention to the other big adaptation that got people talking, Ghost in the Shell, we have much the same argument. Some people accusing Hollywood of White Washing, others saying that the writers missed the point, still others saying Scarlett was not a good Major whereas some would say she did a fine Major. But maybe it is the fans missing the point.

I don’t know how many of you have ever read the novel ‘Jaws’. I’m sure most of you have either seen the movie or know of it. It’s a great movie. Lot’s of suspense and jump scares, excellent musical score, some buddy moments with the cast, and of course a giant shark eating people. It’s classic and it works. But the movie wasn’t supposed to be that suspenseful. The shark was supposed to appear a lot more and the reason we only get limited glimpses of it, adding to that great atmosphere, is because the shark malfunctioned and they couldn’t get any more footage of it. The drunken singing and storytelling occurred because one of the cast was genuinely drunk (regularly). Many things that make that movie amazing occurred entirely by accident.

Jaws.jpg

And when you read the novel, aka the source material, what you find is an incredibly different story and one that the movie was clearly never trying to tell. Yes, there’s still a killer shark. But there’s also a love triangle between Brody and the scientist and Brody’s wife and the book spends a lot of time on the drama and relationship aspects and far less time with the boys drinking on the boat. It is almost as if the only thing kept the same were some of the character names and the killer shark. I’ll also point out that the movie is much more entertaining than the book, though doesn’t have the depth of characterisation you will find in the book.

But comparing the two is kind of pointless. The book has its place and its audience and it inspired one of the greatest classic horror stories to hit the cinema. The fact that the two stories have ended up vastly differently doesn’t mean that the movie is trash or that the writer should somehow be fed to the broken mechanical shark.

Sailor35

To bring this back to anime though, I think Sailor Moon (1990’s) and Sailor Moon Crystal are a great example of why following the source isn’t the be all and end all. I loved the original Sailor Moon anime. Yeah, it isn’t following the manga but as I didn’t even know it was based on a manga when I was young that isn’t really a criticism I care for. It was a great story and one I fell in love with. That didn’t mean I wasn’t excited about Crystal. Seeing the story in a new form. Same characters but with a different interpretation. One that was apparently closer to the source but different from the one I knew. The end result is that while the main characters did great out of Crystal, the Sailor Scouts really get sidelined a lot and their personalities are pretty bland. So, sure, fans of the manga may really appreciate Crystal for how true it might be, but for me, while it is great to see Sailor Moon with more modern visuals and less filler, the 1990’s version is always going to be my go to version for the champion of Love and Justice.

I’m going to reiterate that the point of this post wasn’t to tell you that Death Note was an amazing movie. Nor was it to criticise people who want to criticise the movie. It was more a musing on how our preconceived notions of what something should be like affect our ability to accept variations on it. Which makes me wonder why we have so many reimaginings of super heroes and why we’re tolerant of those guys getting darker and grittier with every retelling but aren’t happy to see a character made more human or actually get a girlfriend.

DeathNote3

Anyway, over to you and I’m sure I’m asking for it but let me know your thoughts on how fans deal with adaptations of source material.


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Death Note 2017 Movie Review: That Was… Different?

Death Note Live Action Movie

Overview:

So Netflix decided to do a live action adaptation of Death Note and decided in the process to Americanise it. I could write a review where I tear this apart because it is genuinely nothing like the original and they’d have been better off just creating all new character names and just saying this was based on the story of Death Note, but that isn’t actually fair to this movie. Yeah, it is nothing like the original. Character personalities, motivations, relationships are all totally different and most could not be favourable compared to the original characters. The characters are Americans for the most part. The whole story here is told in 100 minutes with sequel bait at the end. Got that out of the way. Now I’m going to review the movie.That said, it will be impossible to review this when I am a fan of the original anime without reference to it.

Review:

I really expected going in that I was going to hate this movie. I hoped I wouldn’t, but kind of knew deep down that no matter what Netflix did, I was not going to see it particularly well. I love the original Death Note. I love the clever play between Light and L and how that builds over half a season. I’ve watched Death Note movies before and the short run time always, always hurts the tension and the story. So imagine my surprise when I actually liked this movie. Admittedly, the first watch through I didn’t. I was too busy declaring that none of it was ‘right’ or the way ‘it should be’ but you know, that isn’t exactly fair. So I chucked my preconceptions out the window and watched it again without any thought of what it was supposedly adapting. And you know, there’s actually an all right kind of story going on here. It just isn’t the story fans were hoping for.

DeathNote2

See, this isn’t a psychological thriller anymore. What this movie focusses on is the horror and fear of being given power, thinking your are in control, and then seeing it all spiral horribly out of control. And from that point of view it works beautifully. Yep, Light isn’t anywhere as smart as the Light most people know and love. This character would definitely have benefitted from just having a totally new name and just be another random guy that Ryuk dropped the note for. That doesn’t make him a bad character. He’s an American teenager who has issues with the notion of justice due to his mother’s death and what he perceives as his father’s failings. He’s also seen injustice in the school system with how bullying is dealt with (or not dealt with). When given a taste of power, he uses it and some of his uses are incredibly reckless and not particularly well thought out because he is impulsive.

What this gives us is a much faster plot line. One that doesn’t set up a slow rise in the popularity of a killer who the public give a name to that he then assumes. Light chooses his own name and promotes it through those he kills. He builds a following and he does so quickly and with efficiency that allows us to move right into the phase of Light being pursued by L.

DeathNote3

However, before I get into that I need to address Mia. Mia is both a blessing and a curse to this movie. She provides a fairly decent plot twist, she drives the story forward when it might otherwise stagnate, she allows Light to not inner-monologue because he has a partner in crime more or less from the beginning. However, her own motives, other than apparently she gets off on killing, are never explored. We know nothing of her back story, her history, or anything about her other than she’s a cheerleader and now she thinks she has found a purpose. Also, she makes Light seem incredibly stupid because he basically reveals the note and all its secrets to her because he literally just wants to impress the girl. It is a cheap plot move and while it works at moving us forward you really don’t feel like that was a satisfying way for the story to get kicked into gear.

Basically, this is Mia and Light’s story and how the power of the Death Note changes the both of them and ultimately changes their relationship throughout. The whole L and the police thing is a secondary concern to what is going on with Mia and Light. So if Mia had just been given some decent development, this movie could even be elevated from just all right to actually quite good and yet it never quite manages that because as much as this story wanted to take Death Note in a new direction, it couldn’t quite commit.

DeathNote4

So here is L. He isn’t L as you know him, anymore than Light is the character you know, but he is L. He is in hot pursuit of Kira and he leaves false trails and ruthlessly uses whoever he has to in order to track down the killer. But this is a far more emotive and unstable L (though I guess L was always a little unhinged) and by the end of the story the L we see has lost any ability to think clearly or logically. He is angry and grieving and his actions take on a rashness that we would never have accepted from the anime version, but here is works well because the story makes one fairly critical change early on.

When L goes on TV to goad Kira, Light doesn’t rise to the bait. Light’s core personality has been changed sufficiently that it makes sense for his character to not want to harm the innocent, even if they are calling him out (something this movie maintains throughout its entire run). Because of that change, there’s never really a cat and mouse game between the two. Sure, L is pursuing Kira and he figures out that Light is Kira, but Light’s issues are all around Ryuk, Mia and the morality of using the note itself. That’s where the story and the conflict are. L is basically side story material that may later get development should this ever get a sequel.

I have to say, while I don’t like any of these characters as much as the original cast, and the story is nowhere near as clever or interesting as the original, for a released on TV horror it works relatively well and can certainly keep you entertained for it’s fairly short run time. The deaths are at times an excessively gory and a few of the set ups will remind you of a Final Destination film, but basically everything comes together and the final confrontation and explanation is satisfying enough.

DeathNote5

When it comes to recommending this though, pretty much I recommend it to non-anime fans who like horror. If you’ve already watched Death Note, it is really likely that all this movie will do is annoy you. However, if you haven’t and you like the idea of guy finds book that can kill people, you’ll probably have an alright time with this. That said, given fans of the anime probably aren’t the best audience for this, the writers really should have just committed to new audience, new story and ditched the unnecessary remnants that just serve to clutter up an otherwise interesting plot. As an adaptation of Death Note, this is pretty terrible if you are after the tone or feel of either than manga or the anime. As an American teen horror movie with a bit of a supernatural edge to it, this isn’t dreadful and actually has some quite entertaining moments.

So, I’m surprisingly okay with this movie and wouldn’t mind a follow up. I just wish they hadn’t called it Death Note.


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Friday’s Feature: We’ve Got a Problem Here – Man vs Man

For the month of March I’ve decided I’m going to focus on the negative. Quite literally. I’m going to focus my features this month on exploring types of conflict in stories using examples from anime. To start off with I decided to go with the most straight forward: Man vs Man.

Or Human vs Human.

Or Alien Robot Thing vs Interstellar Goop.

Whatever works for you. What’s improtant about this type of conflict is that there are at least two sides each represented by a character or group of characters. Pretty much every Gundam series ever nails this type of conflict by setting up different factions with conflicting agendas and then the story sits back and waits for the inevitible chaos.

gundam35

This type of conflict works for a few simple reasons.

01. Generally the goals fo the opposing forces are known and clear. This guy wants to save the girl that the other guy kidnapped. That army wants to overrun that land and the army over there wants to stop them. This girl is going to hunt down the guy who killed her father and return the favour, meanwhile the guy doesn’t want to die. Whether the audience sees all perspectives or not is irrelevant. We pretty much know who is who and what they want.

02. Because the characters have opposing goals, they are moving toward each other and the story pushes them into conflict adding excitement and tension to the story. Basically, because they all want things, they are actively seeking them out and this gives plenty of opportunities for interactions, skirmishes, surprise ambushes, negotiations, or any of dozens of other things that could make the story interesting.

03. People get it. They face conflict with other people every single day so when they see a character getting blocked from achieving their goal they can relate. They also get really happy when the ‘bad’ guy gets taken down because it gives them some vicarious satisfaction that somehow their obstacles will eventually get mowed down.

How does this work in anime?

Like most medium for story telling anime has done pretty much everything imaginable with this particular theme however where we see it most obviously is in action anime.

Case 1: Bleach (Not yet reviewed)

While there are other types of conflict driving the events of Bleach from time to time (with over 300 episodes you would hope it was more complex than he stole my chewing gum), the story continues to come back to the idea of man vs man.

ichigo

In the early seasons, Ichigo literally works his way up through increasingly stronger opponents to reach his goal of saving Rukia. It’s why the first seasons of Bleach are incredibly satisfying. After a season of learning how to kind of be a shinigami, Ichigo has a simple goal placed in front of him. Save Rukia from execution in Soul Society. The audience gets this, they respect that goal, and most of the viewers want to see Ichigo succeed.

However, the various shinigami of Soul Society don’t want Ichigo to succeed (and yes we do cross a little into Man vs Society but for the most part Ichigo isn’t focussed on bringing the society down, just the next opponent standing in front of him). The shinigami he faces have a variety of motivations, which ultimately keep the story interesting, but their goal is simple. Stop the intruder. Once again, the audience gets this goal. Ichigo has barged into a world he doesn’t belong in and is disrupting things. It makes sense that those who live there are choosing to defend it.

ichigo-v-ikkaku

Ichigo vs Ikkaku is a great example of this. While Ikkaku isn’t exactly the hard working drone of society, he does love a good fight and Ichigo more or less falls into his lap (which results in the lucky dance, and please let us never remember that). I like this battle for a few reasons. Ichigo isn’t yet ridiculously overpowered and it really is just grit and determination that keep him from being seriously killed (that and Ikkaku isn’t really being too serious which costs him). I also like Ichigo’s logic as to why he chooses to fight rather than run, as a certain other character did. His decision to stand and fight wasn’t totally pig-headed for once but rather a simple understanding that if Ikkaku was stronger than him, running was not going to help. Ichigo essentially has to cut Ikkaku down in order to continue his quest to save Rukia because Ikkaku is not going to back away from this fight.

Ichigo v Kuchiki.png

However, it is Ichigo vs Byakuya that most clearly expresses this idea of opposing goals. Byakuya is 100% convinced that he must follow the law and so has personally made it his absolute duty to ensure Rukia’s execution is carried out in accordance to the law, even though she’s his adopted sister. This fight is one of the best in Bleach and comes as Ichigo’s power is really coming into its own. What really works about this conflict is that we’ve seen these two characters coming toward each other for quite some time and we knew by this time that neither character could or would back down. While the outcome is kind of obvious, it is definitely a fight worth watching, although you are advised to watch out for cheesy shonen dialogue being shouted mid-battle.

Case 2: Death Note (Not yet reviewed)

Alright, let’s take the swords, bows, and other pointy weapons away and look at this type of conflict in a more modern setting. Modern but with a note book that can kill you. Arguably, Light and L absolutely define the man vs man conflict. From the contrasting blue and red colours they are painted in during the opening to their declaration that they both represent justice (and cannot both be right) everything about Death Note pits these two against each other. There are other characters hunting Kira down but we all know that this story revolves around these two characters and the mind games they play with one another.

death_note

What works particularly well about this story is that both characters have strengths and weaknesses. L has the power of the police and large information networks for much of the story meanwhile he is missing the crucial bit of information he needs. That is, he doesn’t know about the existence of the Death Note and even once that is revealed he is given false information as to how it works which throws him off. Light on the other hand has access to police information, knowledge of the notebook and death gods, but has a massive ego and tends to act rashly when provoked.

Watching these two maneuvre around each other and manipulate situations to try to get more information is truly fantastic and one of the best man vs man conflicts I’ve watched. What is really fascinating is that you honestly don’t know which side you want to see win. Yes, Kira is a mass-murderer and Light progressively becomes more unhinged as the story goes on (or was always unhinged and finally revealed it). But, he is taking out criminals and the world is changing. More importantly, we spend time with Light early on and he’s a charming character. While you probably wouldn’t want to meet him in real life, as a character you are sympathetic to his cause and as he is arguable the protagonist of the duo he is kind of the one you are positioned to stand behind. L on the otherhand is introduced later and it takes a fair while before he becomes anything more than an intriguing idea in the story. By the time you warm up to him, it is hard to really want his victory even though technically you know Light should be stopped.

I won’t spoil how this ends for those who haven’t seen it but it is definitely a story to check out.

Conclusion

While man vs man might seem like an overused plot line, when used well it can be highly effective and entertaining. That doesn’t stop lazy writing from causing some big problems. Like what happens when there is no opposition worth noting or the opposition exists but you don’t really know why they care about stopping the protagonist. We see this a lot in romantic storylines where a girl will declare herself a rival but other than being painful they serve no point in the story and mostly we all just wish they would go away so we could focus on the actual relationship and its genuine drama rather than plot contrived ones (not looking at Orange).

So let’s open this up. I’d love to hear what your favourite man vs man conflict in an anime is and why.


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