Friday’s Feature: Characters To Make the Horror Real

This was not my intended post for this week however having started two shows that both seem intent on killing off their cast members in spectacularly gruesome and unrealistic fashions for the entertainment of the viewers this season the importance of the characters in making these sorts of stories anything more than visual spectacle has been thoroughly on my mind. This month my features are all focussing on horror and so far I have looked at visuals and the unnamed victims so if you missed either of those posts be sure to check them out.

Starting with a non-anime example I want to look at a movie from my teens, Scream. Scream is not complicated. It is self-aware of its derivative nature, to the point of having the characters openly list the rules and requirements of a horror film even as they themselves go through the motions of being in a horror film. There isn’t a single character in the film you can point to and claim they are unique or particularly interesting as it is an ensemble cast of horror tropes and they work beautifully together to craft a story that actually makes you want the designated heroine of the story to survive and leaves you feeling happy when the killer is ingloriously shot down before getting his final jump scare.

Scream-1-Cast

This is where we as an audience need to understand that these trope like characters serve a valuable narrative purpose and their most important role is to get the audience to react to them. You are supposed to be suspicious of this one, disgusted by that one, roll your eyes at her, and feel sympathy even as you want that one to stand up for herself. It is manipulative viewing and evokes the same emotional response in more or less any other decent teen horror but it is a formula that works.

When you throw competent people into a horror/thriller kind of story the struggle becomes giving them an opponent they can’t easily defeat. This is seen quite clearly in Predator. Here we have tough, trained soldiers who don’t come off as inept as soon as things go awry. They are just severely outclassed by an alien. All except Arnold but I think most of us suspected that he could beat off an alien hunter even before watching this movie.

And that kind of brings us to King’s Game and Juni Taisen: Zodiac War. King’s Game lands squarely in the high school students being terrorised by unknown forces and freaking out whereas Juni Taisen has trained warriors who have walked into and signed up for a death match (for reasons still unknown). Both shows have their flaws and strengths but in terms of the characters drawing me into the story, King’s Game is kind of winning even if the story doesn’t seem as strong (okay, it is rubbish but no one ever claimed horror was a genre filled with examples of brilliant writing – there’s some and we do appreciate it when it exists, but basically we’ll take what we can get) and the presentation has been far rougher. So what is actually going on here?

For me the issue squarely comes down to how the characters are reacting to the horror of their situation.

King1e

King’s Game may suffer from pacing issues, character over-reactions and general poor writing, but the kids are scared. Inexplicable multiple deaths in a single night have them gathering in a panicked mob willing to lurch toward any potential solution. They want to stop the horror and they want out of the situation. That makes the horror feel real to me as a member of the audience. What is happening is actually a threat and one that is causing these characters to freak out. It makes me wonder what I would be feeling in their shoes or wondering if their idiotic actions might be justified even as I roll my eyes at mob-mentality. So far very few of these characters are anything more than a name (when I remember it) and a type (if they’ve even had a line of dialogue) but as a class of teenagers they excel at grounding the horror into something that becomes relatable and therefore something I am more likely to invest in emotionally.

King2c

Episode two was not good. There is no way around that as a reviewer. It was not a good episode by any measure. Yet, there was this one moment where a character is forced with a choice of not following the King’s Order and dying, or of texting ‘die’ to someone and have them die. She knows the game is real now. She knows it won’t just be a joke  to text someone that single word. The look on her face, even through questionable animation and visuals, is one that brings the horror of that choice straight to the audience. What would you do? Do you die or do you sentence a classmate to death? Does it make it okay if you choose someone that the others don’t like? This is the best part of these sorts of horror stories, these small moments that drive the emotions home. Admittedly, King’s Game is hiding these small moments under a pile of mud and other unpleasant oozing substances and there’s a reason quite a few people have dropped the show.

Juni1c

Juni Taisen however hasn’t had one of these moments. In the first two episodes we’ve met characters who are arrogant, cool, confident or disinterested. They aren’t shocked or scared by their situation and they don’t feel like they are in over their head. In fact, a lot of them just seem bored by the situation, or gleefully and unpleasantly excited by the prospect of killing. Even Boar’s surprise death lacked impact other than a momentary shock because she didn’t see it coming, had no time to feel helpless or pathetic for failing. There was no moment for the audience to empathise with her plight and even though she was in over her head the audience never had a moment to feel that way.

The fact that the Zodiac Warriors aren’t helpless teenagers isn’t a deal breaker in terms of making that emotional connection. Even trained soldiers can feel helpless or cornered and it is brilliant when done well because you can’t criticise the character for being useless. You know they are strong but the enemy is stronger or has managed to get the upper hand. This actually works impressively well when done well, but so far Juni Taisen seems fairly determined not to really allow the audience that connection that would make these deaths anything more than spectacle.

Juni2a

Moving to the second episode and we meet the Dog. He’s as arrogant and self-assured as the Boar, possibly more so, and once again he never once sees his death coming. It is over in an instant. If I was to map out my emotional responses during the second episode it would be mostly a flat line  as we go through rounds of exposition, introductions, waiting around, and then a quick blip when the inevitable death occurred before returning to base.

King2d

So while I’ll admit fairly readily that  Juni Taisen is far superior to King’s Game in terms of its animation quality, so far from an emotional point of view and from just wanting the horror to actually connect, King’s Game has been winning out for me. I know others have a different opinion and that’s what makes discussing these shows so much fun. It has been great reading about how others have taken to these two shows (or not). Neither show is particularly great yet in terms of narrative as there’s still a lot of unknowns and a lot of potential for both to fall pretty flat. The thing is though, when you set up your story with the understanding that the characters exist mostly to die, if the audience doesn’t care about these characters that makes it pretty hard to care about anything else.

Before finishing, I just want to touch on the other ‘horror’ I started this season: Evil or Live. I use quotations for a reason on that horror because other than the fact that it is listed as such, I so far haven’t seen any evidence of it being a horror (unless you count the writing as being horrific and maybe that does scare you). While the characters are horrible and in a horrendous situation, the show is far more teen drama than horror. A very dark teen drama where rape is a possibility and vomiting in someone’s mouth is potentially supposed to be a comedic moment (possibly?). Maybe it will later shift things up a gear but all things considered, I somehow doubt it is going to hit the mark if you look at it being a horror.

Okay, handing over to you and your thoughts on characters in horror and whether they can make or break your enjoyment of a horror story.


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Advertisements

Friday’s Feature: Spare a Thought For The Victims

Last week I looked at visuals creating atmosphere in horror in the run up to Halloween and that was actually kind of fun. I don’t really get into the visuals of shows all that often because I’m more focused on the plot and characters so it was nice to look at a different aspect for a change. This week however I’ve shifted my attention back to characters and because I’m looking at horror, I’ve decided it is time to give a shout out to all the designated victims in horror stories.

By the way, there will be some images below that may be seen as disturbing to people who are not fans of horror. If this isn’t for you, thanks for visiting and please check out one of my other posts.

These aren’t the characters we come to love and then get a dignified or shocking death, usually followed by a period of mourning by the other characters. These are the mob characters, the background figures, who pretty much get cut down and forgotten. A lot of the time we don’t think about these characters (mostly because it would be kind of hard to argue that they are characters). They appear, sometimes to block the protagonists path, or to fill a room or scene, or just to make the scale of a tragedy worse, and then they die. Usually we don’t know their names or their ages. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to know their job (soldier, police officer, whoever). But we know nothing really about them, they appear for moments at most on the screen, usually in a group shot, and then they die.

Bleach.jpg
Worse, in the case of Central 46 in Bleach, we never see them at all until they are discovered dead. Are we supposed to feel bad for these guys?

The point of horror is to engage the audience emotionally and to force them to react to what they are seeing. And yet, these victims come and go from the screen and while most of us will pay attention to the scene (usually because mass deaths are pretty flashy) we don’t particularly feel anything for those victims in the moment. There are exceptions and I’ll look at those further along but for the most part we’ll watch a massacre of unnamed characters without feeling anything for the victim at all. So why include this?

Deadman Wonderland.png

Partly it is the idea of increasing the scale increases the stakes which isn’t actually true. I looked at that when I looked at the notion of saving the world as a story goal and how sometimes a story of such a grand scale leaves the audience out and unable to relate. So a high body count doesn’t necessarily make for better horror. In fact some would argue it can hurt the experience because suspense is what a lot of horror fans are really looking for and when you are hurling bodies around in every other scene the suspense is kind of gone.

The other issue with a high body count is that it makes the protagonists job of stopping whatever is doing that mass killing significantly harder. Finding a plausible way for something that has wracked up that many deaths to be stopped is pretty difficult and the majority of horror movies and anime have a young and inexperienced protagonist at the centre. It isn’t often you get a horror that stars a tough and experienced soldier who is fully equipped and ready to go.

However, it isn’t all bad news. A high body count and the merciless cutting down of innocent (or at least generic) humans does have a few positives in some stories:

01. If it is the opening act it immediately sets a tone for the story and it means that even if there is then little blood or gore until the final act, the audience knows it is coming and will for the most part wait through the middle of the story for it. Of course, if the show or movie doesn’t then deliver something superior to that opening act be prepared for screams (and not of horror).

Tokyo.JPG

Tokyo Ghoul did this quite well with the introduction of Rize. We have no idea who any of those victims are. With one exception, we never saw them in any state other than corpse being fed on. Yet as an opening image it sets a clear tone for the show we are about to see. What is interesting, is that for all the sensationalized gore (vomit and other grossness) Tokyo Ghoul throws at its audience, after the opening episodes, it tones it does to about half-volume until the final act of its first season where it hastily pulls out everything it has on a stomach churning torture sequence that runs uncomfortably long.

02. If they choose the victims right, even if we know nothing about them as individuals, you can still hit an emotional mark. Elfen Lied did this beautifully with the massacre in the school. The handful of students we did know were complete jerks. They didn’t deserve to get sliced and diced, but they weren’t exactly going to win any awards for being a good friend or classmate. The rest of the class were more or less unknown other than being in the class.

Elfen1.png

This is starkly contrasted with the massacre in the opening of Elfen Lied where Lucy is escaping the facility. There she cuts down seemingly endless men working security and you feel almost nothing for them. You don’t know what they’ve done or who she is, but the scene is pretty cold and emotionless. Even later on, once you find out more about the facility, you almost start to sympathise with Lucy.

Elfen2

The school massacre on the other hand, just starts you thinking about how monstrous Lucy is. It may not be her fault given how she was treated, but the end result is that her actions are pretty monstrous.

I kind of feel bad for the characters that are created only to be killed. I don’t know their names and I don’t know what they were trying to achieve, but I’m pretty sure being victim no. 13 probably wasn’t their life goal. Being killed for the entertainment of horror fans probably didn’t cross their minds either.

But see, we aren’t really supposed to think of them that way. These are not actually characters, they are plot devices. They are designed to up the stakes and increase the scale of the horror, or if the plot has gotten a bit dull, they are thrown in to spice the story back up. Their role is merely to show us how bad a danger is, to give the protagonist something to avenge, to set a tone for the show… it isn’t to actually make the audience feel bad for them. That role is saved for characters who get a name and usually a bit of a back story right before they die.

As a viewer it is easy to get swept along and not think about all of those who fell along the way, so this October, spare a thought for all the cannon fodder characters that have been created on the path to good horror stories.


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: Was That Good Atmosphere Or Just Poor Visuals?

Welcome to October and the lead up to Halloween. I know Australia doesn’t technically do Halloween but I find it a lot more fun than a lot of other holidays (less tinsel for one) plus Halloween lends itself to movie marathons. So, tis the season to drag out all the B Grade horror you can find and binge to your heart’s content. In the meanwhile, my features this month are going to focus on various aspects of horror (some more directly than others).

Tremors

Today, I want to look at the visual aspects that make up horror. One thing  you know going in to a horror (of any sort) is that it is probably going to be dark. Tremors is probably an exception given it is set in a blindingly bright desert and most of the action happens in full daylight, but it is more a comedy than a horror anyway so we’ll move right along. One thing that is a problem when you have a lot of dark going on is that it starts getting hard for the audience to distinguish what is happening in a scene.

This is something that was a real issue in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the grainy quality of the show, plus poor distinction between light and dark, meant some scenes just ended up being a grainy mess. It wasn’t until the DVD’s came out that some of that got cleaned up and even now the first and second season aren’t exactly amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliantly lit scenes that set the tone and give us the needed contrast and then there are all the other shots.

However, let’s link this back to anime.

During the Summer 2017 season I watched Vatican Miracle Examiner and while this isn’t a horror by any standard, it was trying very hard for a creepy and unnerving atmosphere. I say trying because it was let down by its writing and characterisation and ultimately what we end up with are a lot of dark scenes with poor contrast and very little to draw us in.

I don’t know about you, but that is a lot of brown, grey and black. I’m not even sure in most of those images what I’m supposed to be focussed on. Basically, this is someone thinking all they need to make something creepy is to paint it black and they’ve just kind of missed the point about how atmosphere actually works.

Another2

On the other hand, Another really gets atmosphere. The slow pace and ending to the story may irk some people, but looking at how the anime visually creates atmosphere is fascinating. It is every bit as dark in scenes as Vatican Miracle Examiner but in those moments brings the characters to the front, and the character usually contrasts sharply with the rest of the scene. You can always clearly see these characters, particularly their facial expressions (or in the case above, the blood splatter). You still get the sense of a dark place but now you have something to connect you to that scene and to distinguish it from all the other grainy black and brown backgrounds.

Another3

Even without characters in the scene, Another manages to make its point clear. Yes, the scene is dark and cluttered, but we have the red light in one corner that gives way to the green lighting on the other side of the room. It is darker in the foreground and lighter further back in the room, meaning we can actually see the room in all its creepiness (because dolls are creepy). The room, and actually most scenes in Another, lacks symmetry, which just adds another element of strangeness to the whole thing.

Another4

The final sequences in Another are all fairly dark, taking place on a rainy night, but a handy fire manages to illuminate sequences with an eerie golden glow. It creates strange shadows and a sense of movement, while at the same time allowing what needs to be seen to be seen. This show was dark and a lot of the sequences were dark, but it was never hard to see what was going on and you always knew what was important on the screen. These visuals when combined with the music and the fairly creepy story of a cursed class worked really well to construct the atmosphere that became the highlight of the show.

Vatican1cBack to Vatican Miracle Examiner and if we look at the scene above, well… At least there is a light source in the foreground because otherwise we would have lost the limited bit we can see. And I guess it kind of shows us the facial expressions of those in the foreground. However, the best descriptor for the image above is murky. By the time the audience has even figured out what they are looking at and what might be the focus, the anime will have moved on.

Given the kinds of stories I love, particularly around this time of year, I end up watching a lot of shows that are quite dark visually. I always appreciate it when they do more than just make things hard to see and actually consider what the audience is looking at and what affect that will have.

So over to you. Which anime do you think have managed to create an excellent atmosphere with their visuals and which do you think missed the mark?


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: Reviewing Mediocre Anime

This is more a personal reflection than an actual feature.

A lot of the Summer shows are ending and I’m left trying to write a series review and I’m finding that for some series I am drawing a blank. Why? Because too many shows this season were not particularly good but they weren’t particularly bad either.

Bad shows are easy to review. Or at least easy to rant about. There’s plenty of issues to pick fault with and discuss and usually plenty of examples. Sometimes there’s even a nice contrast point if the show does something well.

hand7c

Hand Shakers was an excellent example. I ended up cutting my review of that series short mostly because it was quite obvious what my opinion of the show was and continuing to tear it apart would have served little purpose. This season I’ve had fun writing my review of Knight’s & Magic which tragically suffers from most of the plot issues of Hand Shakers when you sit back and think about it (though visually Knight’s & Magic is pretty good to look at). That review hit the 1500 words on its first draft and I still need to go run some edits and change a few things.

Knights12a

Likewise, shows that are fairly strong are pretty easy to review because there’s a genuine reason why you liked it and things to discuss in terms of what it has done well. Again, there may be a point or two that didn’t work so well to contrast with all the positives, but again, it all becomes pretty easy to get your point across.

march18c

For instance, my review of March Comes in Like a Lion is more a gushing love letter to Rei’s character and his journey and that was the cut down and edited version of the review. Similarly, this season I had a great deal of fun thinking about my final review of Princess Principal. By no measure was that anime perfect, and yet it was a great deal of fun to follow along with during the Summer season and there are some really strong points in the show’s favour that can be discussed.

Princess11a

So what then do you do with a show that you don’t actually have any kind of strong opinion on? It didn’t do anything overly noteworthy in either a good or bad way. It just kind of was. Everything is more or less functional and while it wasn’t exactly inspiring it didn’t make you want to run for the hills either.

Which brings me to my current draft reviews of Clean Freak Aoyama-Kun and Fastest Finger First. Both anime pretty much stayed in the ‘okay’ category for the season. Fastest Finger First I had a lot of fun with but have admitted all along is not objectively very good. Clean Freak Aoyama-Kun was a bit more up and down but overall the anime works as a comedy even if it isn’t overly funny (that isn’t actually the end of the world for most comedy).

Aoyama7d

All up, my drafts of these two anime barely come to 1000 words (that’s combined) which officially makes them the shortest series reviews I’ve ever written. But even going back through them, I can’t think of anything noteworthy enough to warrant expanding on any particular point.

Fastest5c

And with so many other anime in the same boat this season I’m really wondering what I will do with these reviews. At the moment my plan is to wait a week and re-read them after reading through my reviews of individual episodes and hoping something stands out. Otherwise, I think I’m going to have some very short reviews going out after this season wraps up.

Apparently being mediocre is worse than being bad when it comes down to writing a post about the show. Which makes me think about the next season and which shows I will keep. This season, I kept a lot of average shows because they weren’t bad and I didn’t really have anything better to watch. But maybe it would be more fun to be writing a review now about Classroom of the Elite or even Netsuzou Trap (both of which I considering a binge watch of anyway). Maybe average shows just don’t need to stay on my review line up because after awhile reading that the show has maintained its average tone with average characters and average story-telling is going to be as boring as writing it week after week.

What do you do about reviewing shows that just don’t have that much to talk about?


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: Do You Like To Look In The Mirror?

When reading reviews a comment that is regularly mentioned is how relatable a certain character or situation is and why that makes something more or less interesting. I find this an intriguing comment mostly because the bulk of my viewing growing up was strictly fantasy and science fiction and while you can relate well to the human elements of those shows and some of the characters, the fun of those genres is that they can take you outside of what you know and make you see things in new ways. However, as I got older and really started looking at what made stories work, I realised that even within fantasy and science fiction, the stories I was drawn to were the ones where the struggles the characters went through felt real. And what made those conflicts and problems real was that I could usually see a parallel to something in my own life or the real world. It was kind of at that point where I started expanding outward from fantasy and sci-fi, as well as copious amounts of horror, and started finding other stories to lose myself in though I never lost my love for fantasy.

Anyway, the reason I’m thinking about this at the moment is I recently tried to review the first season of Kuroko’s Basketball and what I realised was I didn’t actually like the show. I watched the entire series (25 episodes) in less than a week while working 55+ hours and doing episodic views and reviews of currently airing anime, and I came to the conclusion I didn’t particularly like the show, though I didn’t dislike it either to be honest. So why couldn’t I stop watching it?

Kuroko5.png

Kuroko.

He is an incredibly boring character when you just kind of describe him. He barely talks, he has no presence for either the other characters or even the audience (even when he is seemingly supposed to be the centre of attention) and his overall character journey isn’t that interesting in this first season. He didn’t like the way the other members of his middle school team played basketball so now he’d like to beat them. Well, that’s profound. So again, why couldn’t I stop watching?

Kuroko6

Because of the relatability. I really related with Kuroko right from episode 1, and not because of basketball because I really did not care about that part of the story. Without the gross exaggeration, Kuroko is someone who is easily overlooked. The guy in the room that even when people know he should be there, they just forget about him. It isn’t that he lacks talent, or that he is getting picked on, or anything like that, he’s just an existence like air. And that is something I could relate to.

At school I was the person who the teacher would ask someone else in the room if they knew where I was, when I was sitting in the classroom. I’m the person who can stand at a service counter forever and will have to wait while everyone around me gets served, sometimes even people standing behind me, and then the service person will start cleaning up behind the counter because they genuinely don’t see me standing there (something which my real life friends find hilarious for some reason).

Kuroko2

However, what made Kuroko easy to relate to wasn’t just that he was invisible. It was that he wasn’t bitter about that aspect of his life, he wasn’t hiding because he was being bullied, he wasn’t on some quest to be noticed or not to be noticed… it was just part of who he was. There are so few characters like that and it was such a novel experience seeing a character that just owned that attribute. That isn’t to say he doesn’t make his presence felt when needed, but again, that makes him relatable. While I might have a presence like air by default, you can’t get through life like that. You have to make people see you sometimes.

So one character, with one relatable trait, was enough to draw me into a show that I don’t actually dislike but it isn’t exactly blowing me away and it made me realise just how powerful this idea is. People are drawn to characters they relate to. They don’t need to be exact mirror images, but when they have that one trait or one thing that the viewer connects with on a personal level, they grab the interest of that viewer in a way that all the brilliant plots in the world probably wouldn’t.

Hero26

Which made me wonder about the number one show on my current viewing list, My Hero Academia. What is the draw for that show? Its fun, high energy, great fight sequences, but ultimately it is the characters that I’ve fallen in love with. And when you look at each of the characters what you realise is that they all have some trait or characteristic that you can relate to. Even if it isn’t a trait you have, it is one you recognise in someone near you. Those characters are incredibly interesting but more than that, you can relate to the struggles they are individually going through even as they are on this fantastical journey to become a superhero.

march14b

Earlier in the year one of my favourite shows was March Comes in Like a Lion. I connected very strongly with Rei as he progressed through the story. As a character I wanted to see him succeed but I could understand him when he failed and when he felt he needed to give up. I cheered when he pushed forward, even if it was only a small step, and I cried for him when things got hard. There were so many moments in my own life where I felt Rei’s struggles related and so many people I know who have gone through depression or similar situations that I could relate Rei’s story too. It felt real and I loved every moment of Rei during its run and I’m really looking forward to its return.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer characters you can relate to?


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: Stories Without Soul

Those who have been following my episodic reviews will know that I’ve been increasingly less than thrilled with Elegant Yokai Apartment Life this season. And what is interesting is that this is a sentiment shared by most people who are watching it (or at least the ones who seem to be reviewing it) and we’re all just kind of scratching our heads as to what has gone so horribly wrong with the show.

But then I went back through my episode reviews and what I realise was that outside of the boy finds out that yokai are real and has to learn to live with them set up which is kind of inherently interesting, nothing else in this show has been impressive, interesting, or well delivered. Even back in my episode 5 review I was being pretty harsh about the delivery of the ‘poignant’ moments the show attempts to foist upon its audience.

Yokai10b

This show thinks it understands what makes these kind of slice of life, feel good, healing stories work and on paper it kind of does. What it does not understand is how to deliver it to the audience in a way that makes us care in the slightest about what is going on. – Epsiode 5

NatsumeS6E7

Admittedly, this show was going to struggle with comparisons to significantly greater works. Boy learning to live with yokai? Go watch Natsume. Want something a bit darker? Try Nurarihyon no Mago which I’m currently rewatching so that I can review it. Want a real slice of life supernatural story? Flying Witch. I didn’t even like Flying Witch and I would still recommend that as a watch over this one.

It is a pretty dull episode really, just going through the motions of introduce new character and weird object and then have the cheap comedy of the spirits in the book. – Episode 6

Because Elegant Yokai Apartment Life has no soul. When I finally have to review the show, it is going to be a struggle. The show should work. Fundamentally it has everything it needs to work. You have the two world’s colliding, coming of age story with boy who also has a childhood friend and their relationship should be evolving, and then you have as many yokai and yokai related problems as you need to actually inject the occasional bit of conflict into the show if you get sick of real world problems… and yet this show has not managed to do anything.

Yokai6a

There’s a minor moment of maybe something will happen when the book guy brings another weird thing into the apartment but that is a moment of tension quickly killed off and then we resume the nothing happening tone that kind of predominates in this series. – Episode 8

While I’d like to believe this one is just a slow burn what I have to concede is that it has nothing more to give us. The show had a premise but the narrative choices all the way along have been to the detriment of character and plot and the show can’t even manage a consistent atmosphere. I don’t think anyone in the audience knows if we are actually supposed to be worried about the yokai or if they are all just happy go lucky drunkards. The one ghost of note turned out to really have nothing in the end and even the currently probably possessed teacher (ep 9 – 10) isn’t really enough to convince me that something is going to happen.

Things just kind of happen and some of it might end up being significant and some of it is just stuff. – Episode 9

Unfortunately, Elegant Yokai Apartment Life isn’t the only show to suffer from this lack of energy, soul, or just ability to deliver the story they are trying to tell. Knight’s & Magic at least feels like someone has a lot of love for the project (or at least Ernesti) but the delivery has been increasingly poor and it has gotten to the point where you just can’t overlook how little the show seems to respect its own audience. It wants to tell us things but it seldom shows us and even when it does let us be involved in one of the critical moments it is usually done in a flash and then the narrator sweeps us along to the next event rather than dealing with the fall out.

Knights4c

Summer 2017 hasn’t been a great anime season for me. I haven’t dropped very much, but there are a lot of these shows that are seemingly tolerable but not good. Which is a shame because there is so much potential in the premise of so many of these shows and yet they’ve really not managed to deliver.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the shows this season or any anime where you loved the concept but the show just came across as hollow.


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

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

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.


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: What Went Wrong with Katsugeki Touken Ranbu?

When you have a show based on a game that you’ve never played you already know that there are going to be some parts of the show that you are just never going to get. They’ll be references or nods to the game and the fans and that is fine. You also don’t expect a plot that makes a flawless transition from game, where there is some level of interaction with a player, to anime, where the viewer is far more passive in their engagement with the story. That said, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu was a show that was being talked up prior to the summer season beginning. It was always going to be be compared to Hanamaru, the earlier adaptation that took a different direction and I dropped one episode in, but it was still seen by a lot of people in the community as the adaptation that would be superior.

We’re now a fair way in and to be honest this show has become a chore to watch. The good looking characters with cardboard personalities are all pretty forgettable save that they have different weapons and fighting styles and the audience still has been given zero reason to invest in any of the events occurring in the story. While there might be a bit more of a draw for people who have played the games as some of the missing pieces might be there, that doesn’t make this any better as an anime. So while I’m wondering whether I will watch the next episode or not I thought I’d consider everything that is actually stopping me from enjoying watching this show.

Touken5c

01. They are protecting history so the future doesn’t get changed. That seems like a fantastic motive really. Save the future. Only, other than the citadel where the swords all hang out with their master in between missions (or where they sit around and either heal or brood between missions) the audience has no clue what this future they are saving looks like or even if it is worth saving. For all we know the master is actually part of a totalitarian regime that is using personified swords to ensure the freedom fighters can’t undo their rigid control over the society. I don’t actually think that is likely, but the show has given me nothing to actually convince me I should be invested in saving this ‘future’. I don’t even know what it looks like.

More importantly, the swords themselves come from Japan’s past. They have no invested reason in saving a future they aren’t actually a part of other than their master told them to. What good does it do a sword for a future to change or not change? While yes it might be tragic even for a personified sword to see an innocent person cut down in front of them, how is that any more tragic than cutting their way through the enemy? Yet they seem to have no problem with that.

Touken2a

02. Who is the enemy? Yep, I know this should be obvious. They are fighting the Time Retrograde Army. They tell us this a lot. That’s great. Who are they? What is their motive? Other than changing history, what are they actually trying to accomplish? Where or when do they even come from? None of this has been addressed. Not through the main characters, not through narration, and certainly not through characterisation of the villains because they literally have none.

Instead we get shadowy monsters/warrior that appear, cause havoc, and then our good looking swords get to work slicing and dicing in some very cool action sequences but none of this involves actually making us care about either the protagonists or the villains in this story. Even the one villain that was apparently someone one of the sword guys knew and seemed to be creating members of the Time Retrograde Army didn’t get any kind of an explanation

Touken7b

03. So outside of not buying the protagonists’ motivation (because it hasn’t been fully explained nor have the consequences of failing), and not really buying the enemy as all that much of a problem (again, because no one has managed to really explain why it is a problem), we come to the characters themselves. We started with the second unit and met each of the characters. They even did a nice little round the circle introduction for us. Other than their name, their weapon, and perhaps one defining personality trait, the audience still has no clue about these characters. They are an outline or a shell of a cast but there is an incredible absence of actually rich characterisation. If the plot were compelling enough you could overlook this but we’ve already established that their overall mission may as well be ‘save the cheerleader’ for all the difference it would make to the audience at this point.

Touken3b

04. Then we have pacing issues. The early episodes in this series essentially went through a pattern of something ominous early in the episode, lots of sitting around and talking, followed by sudden spurt of action. Which means that for the majority of the episode, if you aren’t into the characters, nothing is happening. What is worse is that their conversations are very repetitive. Are we really preserving history? Seriously, how many characters are going to ask that or something similar and how many times will someone reply that they just need to complete their mission or that they are succeeding because their master said so?

Overall, there’s just no compelling reason to keep watching this show. Even if they do try  to give someone some actual motivation and even if there is some big fight between the swords and the army, what reason has the show given the audience to care at this point? Great music, cool visuals and fight sequences just aren’t enough in the absence of a compelling story or characters.

What are your thoughts on this anime?


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: Embracing New Opportunities and Learning Experiences

Basically this post is just an update on what’s been going on behind the scenes with the blog. Thanks as always to all my followers. Your support is appreciated.

Since the blog’s one year anniversary and having achieved the goal of sticking to a daily post schedule, I’ve been thinking about what the next steps for my blog are. Now you might be wondering why there needs to be a next step and why I can’t just keep doing what I’m doing and that’s a fair enough question to which the only answer I can give is that I can’t sit still.

That isn’t a literal statement, obviously, but it is a defining characteristic of how I have approached everything in my life. Once I start something I keep thinking about how I can do it better, how could I do more, what could I do with that, and the number one killer of my enthusiasm for any hobby is seeing zero growth. Once I realise there’s really no where left to go or that I’m not interested in going any further with it, I start to lose interest.

Haruhi - bored.jpg

So the fact that I’m wanting to keep growing the blog, expand the content, connect with other bloggers, and just see what I can actually do is a sign that I’m completely still in love with blogging. This is becoming an all consuming enthusiasm to see what I can do next without compromising what I’ve already achieved (where possible).

However, blogging is a bit different from previous hobbies because basically my successes and failures are on public display and that has made this an interesting learning experience. It isn’t like when I became obsessed with Sudoku or jigsaw puzzles. Pretty much my failures were my own with those. It’s a little bit like being on stage for music or dance, only again, most of your failures occur during rehearsal and seldom get quite the public scrutiny. Not to mention, unless someone’s mum was filming it is unlikely any evidence of the error exists beyond the moment.

Rikka - Embarassed.jpg

Last week I made the move to start a Facebook page (and I sincerely thank everyone who offered advice or suggestions about that process). I still don’t really know long term how that factors into what I’m doing with the blog, but I do know despite only having 29 Followers more people come to my blog via my Facebook page than my Twitter. So clearly the advice that your blog should have a Facebook page makes some sense.

The ongoing project that I’ve been working on as part of my Patreon page is a video blog. This one is killing me just a little because I want to do a decent job but with real life commitments and my current blogging load I make tiny little steps in the few hours once a week I can pay attention to that project. Basically, I have some music a real life friend put together for me for intro and outros in one of the best displays of support for my weird anime fixation I’ve ever had, and I have several attempts at recording the audio.

I say attempts because I made the mistake of asking someone in real life their opinion after I finally didn’t hate the recording (so about go 25 or similar). Why I did that I will never know because they gave me their opinion. Which, is probably better than having it publicly launched online and getting much the same feedback in a barrage of comments. So back to reading the various user manuals and help guides that come with the programs and microphone and playing with settings and lets go again. That was as far as I got before work exploded on me and now I know I won’t be able to do anything more for at least a couple of weeks.

Steins - Microphone.jpg

That said though, even though it feels like one step forward and three steps back, and even if I’m not certain I’m actually getting anywhere near where I’d like to be due to time constraints, I’m having a lot of fun. People online and in the real world are supporting me and offering advice, I’m learning new skills and new ways to stuff up on my computer and also learning that sometimes failure isn’t the end of the world (so yes, the recording where the cat decided the microphone was hogging my attention did get deleted but it wasn’t the end of the world and the cat is still in one piece and eyeing off the keyboard as I am typing wondering why it is getting more attention).

There’s also been some chatter between myself and another blogger about doing a small collaboration or something similar next anime season, which would be awesome if either one of can find the time to fit it into our schedules.

Fairy - hug.jpg

Overall, what I feel with this blog is that there are so many more opportunities, so much more to try and to do, and so many more anime lovers out there to meet, so I’m thinking that means the blog still has many, many years ahead of it. And in the meantime, I just need to keep taking small steps where I can and continue to work on getting better at what I do.


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar

Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea

This post discusses My Hero Academia up to episode 31 focussing only on events in the anime. There are some minor spoilers if you have not watched that far.

Since the beginning of season 1, My Hero Academia has been obsessed with the idea of symbols. All Might is a symbol of justice. He is what other heroes aspire to be and villains fear him. Who All Might actually is has ceased to be important as it is the persona All Might carries when he is All Might that matters to the world he lives in.

Midoriya confronts the separation between the idea of who All Might is and the reality head on when he encounters his childhood hero in the real world. However, with Midoriya being Midoriya, he doesn’t become disillusioned but rather manages to reconcile his preconceived view of the hero with his new understanding of the man.

hero5

But the world they live in (and the real world) does not work that way. Outside of a few of the teachers at UA, most people do not know about All Might’s current condition. He works hard to keep it a secret as he knows that if the symbol of justice ceases to be a shining and perfect symbol of justice, then the world and its balance will be irrevocably changed as villains will no longer have a reason to fear (despite all the other heroes who might do them in), and the younger generation of heroes won’t have that symbol to aspire to.

In a way, All Might’s current condition is actually more damaging than if he had died in the line of duty. If he had died in the line of duty than there could be an outpouring of grief for a hero who had done so much but he would have retained that perfect image he’d constructed until the end. Instead, if his condition as it stands becomes public knowledge, it is likely to tarnish the ideal he’s worked so hard to create (even though his current condition doesn’t change anything about what he had previously done).

Hero12

It is amazing in a way that the idea might be bullet proof and All Might’s death wouldn’t change it, but his living on and not representing the ideal people associate with him could deal significant damage. In a way, V from V for Vendetta got it right in that the only way to ensure his ideas carried forward without getting cluttered was to remove the man from the equation. With nothing ever known about the true identity of the terrorist V (at least not by the general public) he transcended the man he was and became a symbol of freedom and a voice for the people. What makes his death even more powerful was that Evey then pointed out that everyone in the crowd could project their own view upon V. He could be their brother who died, their father, their friend, coworker, lover, anyone. He could represent everything they wanted him to represent and he could never do anything to undermine their belief that how they saw him was what they intended.Which is scary because the idea is bullet proof and it is taking on a life of its own and the intended message may get overwritten and eroded in time or misappropriated for a cause it was never intended for and there is nothing anyone can do about that once the idea is out there.

v-for-vendetta.jpg

Which of course brings me to Hero Killer Stain. He has a clear ideal of what a hero should be and he was punishing those who failed to meet his expectations. We already knew that but then episode 31 gave us a bit more insight into how he became disillusioned when he dropped out of hero school and then tried to use words to convince the public that the way they saw heroes was problematic and ensured a system full of contradictions. ‘Hero’ had become a job. Having heroic qualities and a heroic mindset was not as important as results and showmanship. As the Hero Killer his acts caught the attention of many and his arrest got even more eyes locked onto him and his ‘ideas’.

Hero30b

What becomes worrisome about this, or awesome depending on how the plot is handled, is that in the eyes of the public there is a link between the Hero Killer and the League of Villains. For the audience, we know that Stain outright refused to join the League of Villains as they did not live up to his standards of what a true villain should be any more than the heroes he had killed lived up to the standard of true hero. But the public do not know that. They only know that there is a connection. More importantly, how Stain was making his judgement of which heroes were true heroes and which were fake was through a deeply personal set of criteria. Any attempt to mimic of copy his ideology would result in a character coming to a very different set of judgements.

But Hero Killer Stain has been arrested. He has become the symbol of a movement and has lit a fire motivating people to action and then he has been removed from the scene. He is unable to correct perceptions (even if he was so inclined) and more importantly, unlike All Might, he’s already fallen so he can’t mar his own reputation that has taken on a life separate from himself. Admittedly, he could escape and get out and change the legend unfolding around him, but that would almost be counter productive to the movement left in his wake.

Hero27b

For the League of Villains, if they are in any way able to understand how the world works, they won’t ever point out they were at odds with the Hero Killer. They’ll allow his symbol and image to draw people to them and then they will twist that message to their own ends.

However, what I find particularly interesting about this is that All Might was a constructed brand. He went out of his way to become the symbol of an idea. Whereas, Hero Killer Stain simply lived true to his own ideals. He didn’t make speeches or pompous appearances (he’d already given up on using words to change people’s minds). He acted and his actions spoke for him, though whether the true message came across is anyone’s guess and it will be interesting to see how the next generation of villains take his message and use it. But that’s why Hero Killer’s mark is going to be harder to erase than All Might’s would. Hero Killer was appealing to base impulses that people had hidden away and were just waiting for an excuse to let out and his message spread organically without anyone in particular constructing the narrative behind it and yet its momentum was undeniable.

Hero24g

Of course, there’s a lot of real world parallels about how messages and branding as well as people standing in for ideals that we could get into but I’m certain that most of us have already thought about just how this works in reality and some recent examples. Even if the show doesn’t go any further into this issue, it has been an intriguing build up (please don’t spoil in the comments if you have read the manga).


Thanks for reading.

If you enjoyed this post and like the blog, consider becoming a patron to support further growth and future content.

Patreon2

Thanks,

Karandi James.

avatar