12 Days of Anime Characters – Elias

12 Days of Anime Title Image

As we enter day 4 of the 12 Days of Anime and today I’m turning my attention to someone far more mysterious and supernatural than the Princess Ani from Dame X Pri. However is being mysterious enough of a character trait?

I guess that’s something to be discussed while we are looking at Elias from The Ancient Magus’ Bride.

The Ancient Magus' Bride Elias

I really wanted to love The Ancient Magus’ Bride when it began. I loved the three episode OVA that came out prior to the series and I think that really elevated my expectations, that and the hype surrounding the title. Ultimately, the anime works and is certainly aesthetically beautiful, you could lose yourself in endless screen caps of it and in the music, but the plot itself and even how the characters are presented at times remains fairly ordinary. Not bad mind you, just not particularly good and certainly not as strong as the other elements.

However, today I want to look at Elias as a character because he was quite the intriguing figure throughout the anime and one who I don’t think was given enough time, or enough scope to really be all that he could be. In the end, the idea is more interesting than the execution. Now, I haven’t read the source though it is on my read list for that eventual someday, so my views here are entirely constructed through how Elias is presented in the anime.

The Ancient Magus' Bride

In the beginning, the air of mystery surrounding him worked in the anime’s favour. He was this mysterious figure steeped in magic who swept in and took Chise under his wing when she was at her lowest.  However, this character type only works with the understanding that as the plot progresses we will come to understand him and see him in a different manner.

While The Ancient Magus’ Bride most definitely gave us some back story on Elias, actual emotional connections with him were few and far between and far too many of them were buried underneath his relationship with Chise. While that was really a fundamental part of the story it meant that Elias as an individual was neglected and only the Elias in relation to Chise really got to progress anywhere. There seems like there’s a lot more to his character but it just never had the time to go anywhere.

The Ancient Magus's Bride Elias and Chise

By the end of the anime series I still feel like I don’t know Elias as a character. He’s still that mysterious figure with one foot half in the world of magic and one foot firmly in the human world and trying to guide/help Chise to navigate her own path, but who he is and what he actually wants remains very much something surrounded in mist. Which is a shame because I would have loved to get to know him more.

It is possible that this is all there is to the character, but it seems more likely that with time constraints and everything else, his character just didn’t get the chance to really go anywhere. I do know that one of my main disappointments as I look back on the show is that I never really felt like I got to know what Elias was all about.

The Ancient Magus' Bride

So here’s to Elias and the hope that if the anime gets a sequel his character gets the fleshing out it deserves or at the very least a little bit more revealed to help the audience to connect with him or understand him more.

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Karandi James
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The Ancient Magus’ Bride ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
The Ancient Magus' Bride ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

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Friday’s Feature: Facing Fear – The Unseen Is Always Scarier

Welcome to the last feature in October and the last horror focused feature for awhile. If you missed the previous posts I’ve looked at visuals, the victims, and how characters can make the audience feel the fear, and today I am looking at whether the seen or the unseen is scarier.

Now every horror fan knows that it is the unseen enemy that is far scarier than the giant monster stomping houses flat. This was true of older films because the special effects weren’t up to the task of bringing anything really to life, but it is true even now. The thing that will scare an audience faster than any amount of gore, jump scares, or bizareness on the screen is their own imagination. We are our own worst enemies.

The Lost Village attempted to capitalise on that particular trait (admittedly it failed pretty hard due to the writing, characters, and literally everything else to the point where many people will argue it is actually a satire rather than a failed horror). In the story the characters, sick of their lives, run away together to live in a lost village on a mountain somewhere. However, once they get there, they find themselves confronted by their worst fears.

In early episodes this kind of works. The characters are still horrible and the writing questionable, but at first the audience isn’t shown what the characters are seeing. We hear noises, we see reactions, we realise characters have gone missing but we don’t know why, and it is kind of building up a creepy atmosphere.

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Then, and fairly early in its run time, they start showing us these apparitions the characters are seeing. Not only are the visually kind of lame, but even metaphorically they really kind of fail. One guy sees a giant penguin, another is literally chased by a giant silicone implant and so on. These visions are incredibly literal given what we’ve learned about the characters and they aren’t scary. It is about that point in the story that even the audience members hoping this show would salvage itself gave up.

another

In Another, the threat is intangible in the first place. It is a curse. While there might be someone who is actually dead in the class, you don’t know who and they look the same as everyone else. There’s nothing to see of the villain that would be frightening. And it is the absence of a tangible threat, while characters are literally dropping like flies that really helps to add to the tension in the story.

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Some stories take a different approach. Shiki isn’t overly shy about revealing the vampire threat early on to the audience and to a few key characters but many of the characters remain in the dark. Those characters feel the tangible fear fo the unknown so even while the audience knows what the threat is and what is coming, the characters manage to draw us into their fear of the unknown.

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Moving away from anime, if we look at an older Stephen King adaption, The Langoliers, from 1995, what we see is a story that manages to be fairly creepy and suspenseful (even if it is pretty boring) until the end. Why? Because while we realise the world the characters have found themselves in is wrong, and while we have heard approaching sounds, until the very end we do not see the actual Langoliers. Once they finally appear, they are so laughably terrible that any tension the show may have attempted to build goes out the window.

Still, it is really appreciated when a villain or monster can take the screen and still manage to creep out and disturb the audience. They are few and far between and for the most part the less we see them the better, but every now and then you get one that works.

What really amazes me about fictional fear is how emotionally it hits you the same as fear in real life. You get the same response to it. What is scary, is scary, whether it is fake or real. Which is why I’ve always wondered why characters try to tell themselves something is only a dream as if that will make them feel better. Scary dreams are still pretty distressing.

So what do you prefer when watching a show? Do you want to see the villain right from the start? Do you want to be kept in the dark? Or are you sitting somewhere in between?

That concludes this series of features on horror. Thanks for joining me during October and be sure to have a great Halloween.


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Karandi James.

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Sword Oratoria Episode 3

Review:

Spin-off by their very nature are always going to be compared to the original and cross overs between events in the original series and the spin-off are more or less inevitable. However, Sword Oratoria seems devoted to walking us through the events that Bell experienced, only without Bell actually being present but for the occasional run past Ais’ line of vision. The end result is that the character we’re following is really not facing any actual conflict or issues and is kind of just walking around while interesting events happen elsewhere.

In fairness to the show, they try to counter this by having the elf girl slowly getting over her fear of fighting monsters and learning to use her magic in combat, but to be perfectly honest they’ve given me no reason to care about her and the story is pretty ordinary at best, so as a distraction from a distinct lack of plot elsewhere it falls tragically short.

Sword3

I had a small glimmer of hope that maybe this episode would actually explore Freya’s motivation for pursuing Bell, given this was not really addressed in DanMachi, but Sword Oratoria doesn’t seem interested in giving more information about events in the other story, it seems content to view them from the outside while not adding anything of substance. And that is probably my overall conclusion for this so far. Lacking in substance or anything to engage an audience. This episode was so lacking in detail, I’m thinking without knowing the original story of the monsters being set free most of the events will just feel completely without meaning.

Definitely not a satisfying viewing experience.

Sword Oratoria is available on AnimeLab.


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Attack on Titan Series Review

Overview:

Eren Yeager has grown up in a city surrounded by walls. Three in fact and they are the only things keeping the titans (really large humanoid monsters) from eradicating what is left of humankind. However, Eren wants out of the city. Then, a titan breaches the gate and Eren’s world comes crumbling down. Training as a soldier, Eren eventually gets to fight against the titans.

Review:

Attack on Titan is another one of those shows that will blow you away with the opening. The music, the action sequences, the sheer horror and visual feast presented in episode 1 just kind of freeze you in place glued to the screen. It hits every nerve and makes you just sit and take it in. And that high emotion can carry you clear to the end of this first series if you let it. However, what you find when you step back from those emotions is that while Attack on Titan is amazing in so many ways, there are some issues sitting beneath it that just continue to threaten to unravel your viewing experience.

titan2.png

Firstly, I have to be honest and point out that I fell in love with this series in minutes of watching the first episode. I rewatched that first episode so many times I lost count, but it kind of did everything you would ever want from a first episode in an anime. We met the characters, knew what the threat was, and felt that threat. We weren’t just told titans were bad or scary. We saw them literally tear Eren’s world apart and lay waste to the town. It wasn’t the gore that sold this episode (although visually it is quite confronting). It is the way we see this destruction from the multiple perspectives. We see it from Eren’s point of view as he is helpless to save his mother. We see other characters who are either running or hiding or crying or trying to fight and failing. We get down and personal with them even though we only know some of these characters for a short space of time. But we also see the bigger picture. We get the sweeping shots of the city and the overhead view. We see the titans looking down at the fleeing humans and you can’t help but see ants scurrying from the rain. It’s an intense first episode and sets up a world and a conflict that are inherently interesting and clear.

The rest of season one maintains this clarity of titans bad but it does spend a lot of time muddying its own waters by building in multiple human conspiracies. While this is not necessarily a problem in terms of narrative, and is in fact needed unless all you want is human vs monster conflict, the issue is that very few of the characters in Attack on Titan are anything more that the mouth-piece of whatever ideal is needed in that setting. Actually, if we are honest, most of the characters shout. A lot. Repeatedly. I really, really wish some of these characters would stop shouting (Eren particularly).

titan3.png

Possibly if these sub-plots (although it kind of feels like some of these human conflicts are going to end up being fairly important to the main plot) had been handled better or if the characterisation had been up to it this could have been a really interesting way to flesh out the world established in episode 1. Instead it all feels like clutter and a distraction from something that was infinitely more interesting.

By the time we get out of the city with Eren (okay, and Levi who is probably the coolest character I’ve come across in a modern action anime) the level of excitement has gone down significantly but this is where they start turning that around. The speed at which the extras get knocked off in this sequence (even though they are apparently trained for this) is disheartening (which I think is the point given we’ve kind of been led to believe they have a chance and this clearly shows they don’t). At every stage after this you get the distinct impression that these characters are well out of their depth and that sense of shared helplessness really helps drive home the drama as they struggle against the fate of dying without accomplishing their goals.

titan4.jpeg

Of course, there’s no getting around the elephant in the room. It didn’t end and then season 2 got pushed back and back. Season 2 is meant to come out this year so let’s hope but at the moment no matter how amazing an experience you had with Attack on Titan all you’ve been left with are questions, spin-offs and adaptations.

I know I haven’t spent a lot of time on characters. There are actually some pretty cool characters in this story but all of their character journey’s have been cut short at this point and time due to the story just stalling. So I’ll do a better review of the series as a whole once I know where they go. That and any of the extras we meet are likely to just get eaten anyway.

Essentially if you like action with high stakes and a bit of horror, aren’t turned off by gore, and you don’t mind characters who aren’t fully realised, then Attack on Titan will amaze you. It’s beautiful, fast paced, and dramatic and when it is at its best it truly shines and those moments will carry you over the slower bits. If we actually get a continuation that matches the feel and quality of season 1 then this could be a very memorable anime. Otherwise I think it is one of those ones that had its moment in the sun but without finishing won’t have staying power.


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Bloodivores Episode 12

Review:

How many synonyms are there for saying something is bad?

synonym

There we go, episode 12 of Bloodivores reviewed in all its shining glory. Not only is this series without any resolution, the one reveal of any note this episode was something we’d all kind of figured out (or at least suspe cted) since episode 3 and we still don’t know why Anji did it (sorry, that’s the least spoilery way to put it). And did Li Shin just feed his arm to a monster to save the guy who tried to feed him to a monster before attempting to beat him unconscious? And does Mi Liu still suck at searching for actual information? Okay, I’m done. This series is done. The last I’ll have to look at it is for a full season review and should this monstrosity get a follow up, I won’t be going anywhere near it. You know what though, still not as bad as Taboo Tattoo.

Bloodivores is available on Crunchyroll.

Bloodivores Episode 10

Review:

Does anyone else have a problem with Mi Liu essentially feeding Lee Shin to a monster just because Lee Shin’s awakening power is an inconvenience to Mi Liu’s most recent half-thought-out ‘plan’? Or was that just me?

As an episode, Bloodivores this week was not great (not that it has ever really been great). Essentially Mi Liu runs away with the explosives from last week while Anji and Yaya run away from Lee Shin. The groups meet up and Mi Liu then has Lee Shin chase him so that the others can run away with the plan of regrouping at the building with the monster that kind of latches on to people and drags them in. Yep, the master plan is to collapse the building and have Yaya  trigger it so that she has ‘killed’ a monster. But Lee Shin is a bit tenacious so Mi Liu lures him in front of the building and has the monster eat him. Only Lee Shin is stronger than Mi Liu anticipated and ends up taking on the monster which will further mess with Mi Liu’s plans.

Okay, in fairness we do spend a bit of time with the investigator in the real world who is now being targeted (go figure that sticking your nose into this business would have people start shooting at you). And did they just crush his partner without anyone actually acknowledging that someone was in the car that just got flattened?

Lots of running and shouting this week as well as further demonstration that for an anime that has a lot of action and running they don’t really know how to animate movement in a way that gives a sense that things are actually moving (this was a problem way back at the car chase in episode 1). Oh, and the writers have continued their vendetta against great jackets by utterly destroying Mi Liu’s this week. There’s only one character of note left who still has a jacket and I’m going to bet it’s next on the agenda to be destroyed.

Bloodivores is available on Crunchyroll.

The Cabin in the Woods Movie Review

My very first movie review (yes, even I take a break from anime occasionally).

Overview:

Five friends go to a remote cabin in the woods. Then things go strange. And really, that’s all you can say about this without giving anything away. The review below is completely full of major plot points so please feel free to know the movie is awesome and go watch it before reading. I am also going to put a warning on some of the images below containing fairly gore filled images so if it isn’t your thing maybe pass.

cabin1

Review:

One thing about watching a lot of genre fiction is you learn early on that at least 70% of what you are watching is either formulaic, derivative, or just plain dribble. 20% of what remains is genuinely well written genre fiction and the final 10% is varying degrees of incredible depending on your mood and tastes. But, it also means that we get used to certain archetypes and set-ups and The Cabin in the Woods fully embraces this. In point of fact, without the entire body of horror stories sitting behind it, The Cabin in the Woods would fail terribly as a film. It takes your expectations and uses them as the basis for the entire narrative and it does it in a way that doesn’t seem smugly self-aware, even though the film clearly is.

cabin3

So why did I watch The Cabin in the Woods? There are plenty of other self-aware horror stories out there. Plenty of other gore-fests in isolated locations. Plenty of other conspiracy stories if that is what you are looking for. My honest answer would be Joss Whedon. Joss Whedon is the closest thing to a living legend in terms of the stories he has been a part of crafting and while not everything he touches turns to gold I find a real appeal in both his subject matter and delivery. Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Doll House, these stories all take fairly common and basic ideas and yet made them feel fresh, new and interesting while just telling a solid and simple narrative. You can sum up each of the plots of these stories in a single sentence and yet you can’t convey how deep the lore and characters are without spending about a month pulling everything apart. So yes, I am a fan and The Cabin in the Woods certainly reinforced my admiration for Joss Whedon as a story teller (though certainly this is not a one man effort and while there are distinct traces of Whedon in this story it is distinctly different from some of his other works).

cabin4

Back to reviewing the actual movie rather than the people who worked on the movie. From the opening scenes we have a parallel narrative being established. On the one side we have the corporate or government workers who are worried about those upstairs and a project that literally has to be successful. These characters are very human in that they have friendships and history with one another that comes across clearly even while they are the faceless corporation and government workers who carry out whatever jobs they need to because it is their job. The building they work in is cold and sterile and this setting kind of works to distance the viewer. It actually reminded me a lot of the offices in Burn After Reading (and the reuse of an actor from that film just kind of reinforced that impression).

The other side of the coin are the college students. Two girls and three guys each fitting the standard archetype of characters in horror movies who are going to visit one of the guy’s cousins cabin in the woods. They don’t really know much about it and don’t seem to care because they are planning on a fun weekend. Our introduction to these characters is as cliché as it comes but we already know from the conversations in the other storyline that there is more going on which makes us pay more attention and we start picking up small details early on that are going to become very important to the story.

And that is where The Cabin in the Woods shines. It truly takes on the rule of Chekov’s Gun. There is nothing in this story that is introduced without purpose. The more assertive girl recently dyed her hair and this is commented on (in a perfectly natural way) when she meets with her friend before they meet the guys. The fact that this makes her the ‘blonde’ of the group plays on a cliché of horror movies and that would be enough to make it work but then we have the parallel story. Yep, that project they are all working on is to get these guys to the cabin (though why is still not revealed but heavily implied). We learn later that there’s been a lot of prep work for this trip and that included doctoring the dye used on the girl’s hair and that blonde die is literally making her act dumb (or at least not think clearly through her actions). Why would they do that? Well, other than embracing another horror cliche there’s actually a really good reason.

Seriously stop now if you don’t like spoilers.

cabin7.jpg

Turns out these guys have been selected to be sacrificed and you know, old gods/demons/whatevers really do have preferences. The whore or the modern dumb blonde cliché is about as typical as they come in terms of preferences for sacrifices in old legends. But what if the reason we see so many of these types of characters in horror movies is because these sacrifices are literal rather than legendary and our entire horror genre is built on an actual fear of a reality that is being orchestrated by our government?

So it all ties back in together. We embrace the cliché of horror because that stereotype is actually build on a reality that this movie is establishing as the basis of its entire plot. It makes you rethink every horror movie you have ever seen in the context of what if we only write these stories because we fear they are true.

Back to Chekov’s Gun the van they drive has a motorbike attached to the back which we get many lingering shots of as they drive toward the cabin. Okay, they are young and there are three guys so it makes sense. Except no one mentions it or even seems particularly like they are even aware of it. Then the van goes through a tunnel and we see that the road curves back on itself. Without going through the tunnel there’s a gap between the two roads with a steep drop. Okay, starting to put things together. And then an eagle that has been following the van hits an invisible force field that runs through that gap and the eagle explodes. Right… I see where this is going. Some people would argue that such obvious foreshadowing is a flaw but I really find it enhances this kind of viewing. You know what is coming and all that is left is how they manage to orchestrate the situation and deliver. So by the time one of the students attempts to go for help by jumping the gap on the motor bike you are on the edge of your seat and just waiting for the punch line and you are rewarded in truly spectacular fashion. The reaction of the other two characters is pretty priceless as well.

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We also get glimpses of the results of other countries attempts to orchestrate a sacrifice. The Japan one is pretty funny even while it is truly heart wrenching to think of young girls in that kind of situation. The resolution of that will make you laugh out loud even though by the time we get to the end of the film it turns out that it won’t make any difference.

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The passive way that the workers view the plight of the friends (and in point of fact orchestrate worst case scenarios for the friends) is disturbing. You wonder how humans can become so detached and carry out their duties in such a manner when they can see the results on the screen right in front of them. But they are detached, when they aren’t placing bets and celebrating their success at setting up a violent death. And while the motives of those who work in this corporation are clear by the end you still can’t help but wonder about the morality of taking on such a job or how you would feel if you were the one given such a responsibility. Not to mention, it is hard to know how you feel about the absolute massacre of workers at the end. Part of you wants to rejoice because of what they did to the students and part of you just feels horrible that you feel good about them getting killed without remorse.

cabin2

Before I wrap this up (because this is getting long) I do want to address the end of the movie. Amazing and twisted. Amazingly awesome and twisted. It’s fantastic. This is the perfect mix of satire on human condition, embracing horror stereotypes, and modern corporate culture, with a whole lot of supernatural violence overlaying the entire thing and a bit of comedy. Okay, it is a gore fest and visually there are some real cringe worthy moments, but it also has a lot to say while sitting back and happy just to be horror film. So you can watch and enjoy without thinking about anything because it is a survival horror. Or you can question everything and pull all the ideas apart and still end up with something pretty fantastic.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I kind of loved this film. It is exactly to my tastes in terms of subject matter, characterisation, and delivery. While part of me really wished the group had chosen something else in the basement (I love how we get hints about how different the story could have gone) going with the cliché further reinforces the overall narrative structure and it works. Plus, at least they don’t have to spend half the movie explaining the rules about the zombies. There’s an assumption that the audience already know the story because we’ve seen that element before).

If you love any kind of horror, you have to check out this movie. If you’ve watched it, I’d love to know your thoughts.