Bleach Live Action Movie Review: I Loved The Anime But What About This?

Bleach Live Action

There’s always some trepidation when hearing about a live action adaptation of a beloved anime. It’s a feeling that I might try to push to the side because I want to give something a go on its own merit rather than lumping it in with predecessors that may have failed to leave much of a positive impression. But just like with video game adaptations, while there are certainly a fair share of truly dreadful ones to be found there are also adaptations that have worked and given a fairly satisfying watch. So the question becomes whether or not Bleach survived this adaptation? There’s no way I’m not comparing as I go given how much I love Bleach but hopefully you’ll join me as I look at this movie.

Review:

I’ll get to the point fairly quickly and then explain my reasoning, but I found myself incredibly engrossed in this movie while watching it. I pressed play with that same sinking feeling of trepidation, wondering if I should put it off and wait until more reviews were out and wondering if I should possibly just forget it was even available rather than risk the feeling of disappointment that would come from a poor movie. I didn’t want much from this film, but what I absolutely needed it to do was to be fun to watch.

Netflix Live Action Bleach

Bleach was my ultimate pop-corn viewing anime that swept me up in its grandiose (albeit overly stretched out and bloated) story and cast and just its sheer brazen silliness at times. In short, it seemed the kind of thing that absolutely would not translate very well to real actors because anime fans have kind of learned to cope with the hero losing more litres of blood than that human body holds and still managing to stand up whereas when it happens on screen it kind of makes you wonder what is wrong with the writer.

However, Bleach actually managed to defy my expectations in a lot of ways as I watched this live action unfold on Netflix. The characters were not attempting to copy exactly the look of the anime (or if they did they clearly gave up for practicality’s sake). As a result Ichigo and Rukia look pretty awesome in their roles (and thank-you for someone having enough sense not to put that stupid fringe down the middle of Rukia’s face). Orihime and Chad are likewise altered so that while they retain some of what makes them distinct in the anime they come across looking fairly much like the belong in the setting rather then looking like they escaped a cosplay convention. My only real disappointment with Orihime was the look of her hair-clip which seems like it is missing a few petals which kind of means they are going to have to do some modification later on with how her power works, assuming of course they go there at all (which they definitely should).

Actually, the only character who really came across poorly in appearance was Urahara. Possibly I’m just being overly critical because I really like Urahara’s look in the anime, but to be honest I found his human counterpart here to be the only character who just looked out of place and garishly cosplay like rather than a real character. Even Renji’s hair came out fairly believably (at least within the context of the movie) so I was a little disappointed with Urahara.

Netflix Bleach Live Action

Outside of their appearances, I really liked the way these characters interacted. Again, they weren’t identical to how they behaved in the anime. None of Orihime’s silliness is on display nor does she get countless scenes eating bizarre foods. Karen, Ichigo’s sister, is certainly toned down and while I appreciate the need for that from a time point of view I kind of missed the spunky anime Karen. But these changes all make sense and with the plot having a much tighter focus on Ichigo and Rukia the changes are necessary.

And that was probably my favourite part of this adaptation. Scenes from the anime were merged and pushed together or deleted entirely for the sake of having a coherent story that felt like it was well paced in the time given. We meet Ichigo and very rapidly move to his meeting with Rukia and the transfer of her power to him. However, we then rapidly move on to Ishida confronting Ichigo at school (so no Chad and bird story, no Orihime and her dead brother, and no random encountering Hollows) and we see the Hollow bait getting used. This doesn’t spark a full on fight in its own right though as they combine this conflict with a later one and we see Ichigo and Rukia being confronted by Renji.

The upshot of this is we are dealing pretty much entirely with Rukia’s transgression and need to get her power back with other events that are crucial for introducing characters for later occurring but in a way that feeds into this main plot. Anyone who has watched the anime of Bleach will know how regularly the main plot gets kind of put on hold while the characters run around and do other things or get diverted by other issues, or just how long some of those fight sequences last as you deal with each and every person involved. This movie is well aware of its time limitations and maximises what it can show us through some fairly deliberate modification of the narrative.

However, if you think I’m just going to sing the praises of this movie I’m about to turn this around. There are two points that really stop this from being the truly excellent experience it was pretty close to becoming.

The first is the ending. We get to essentially the end of the first season where Rukia returns to Soul Society and that is a great place for the movie to end. But the fight sequence against the Grand Fisher is… well I hesitate to call it bloated given compared to most of the fight scenes in the Bleach anime it is pretty succinct. Yet, we have Ichigo running from the Hollow through crowded streets (wasn’t he just in a graveyard) and fighting the Grand Fisher in a fairly public space.

Bleach Netflix Live Action

I get that partly this is because they combining events from the fight in the park in the anime where Ishida and Ichigo team up, with the Grand Fisher fight, and then they are transitioning to the fight against Renji, so there were going to need to be some fairly major adjustments to this sequence to make it work. However, it doesn’t fit with Ichigo’s character to lead a Hollow into a public space where others might be put at risk. It also shows off the CG Hollow for far too long. Its first appearance in the graveyard is pretty amazing and in short bursts it could have looked exceptional and had real impact. But, because of the length of the screen time, it ends up looking pretty cheap by the end.

I’ll also point out through the whole chase sequence I was just reminded of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the totally unnecessary dragon chase across the rooftops that ate screen time, wasn’t in the book, and totally wasn’t needed. Yes, we get your wind effects look cool and you are damaging a lot of buildings. We’re at the climax so big boom. And yet, this scene could have been so much tighter and had so much more impact.

The second complaint I’ll raise is the music. Bleach has one of the best soundtracks ever – I’m totally not biased. Every single OP is amazing – again, not biased. The fight music that accompanies Ichigo as he gets geared up to take down anything is unforgettably cool – alright, fine, I’m totally and completely biased when it comes to Bleach music. I’m not going to say the soundtrack to this movie is actually bad… it’s just kind of forgettable. There isn’t one track which just made me sit up and take notice or drew me into a scene. And that was probably my biggest disappointment about this entire movie. The music.

Right, objectively the acting isn’t amazing though it certainly isn’t dreadful. The script is fairly average with dialogue serving its purpose but not doing a lot more. I’m not entirely sure how caught up in events non-Bleach fans will be because I can only watch this film from the perspective of a major fan of the series.

But, this movie was fun to watch. At no point did I feel bored or like I was wasting my time. I didn’t have a single moment where I considered stopping it (Full Metal Alchemist on the other hand I had several moments where I wondered if I should cut my losses and move on).

Do I recommend this movie? Certainly. If you are a Bleach fan but open to necessary changes to accompany the changed format, you’ll have a great time. If you’ve never watched Bleach, this movie will give you a good taste of the plot of season 1 though I’d still recommend watching the anime. That said, if you already jumped in and watched the movie, I’d love to know what you thought of it so leave me a comment.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Bleach Original Soundtrack

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Children of the Whales Series Review: Youthful Cast, Pastel Colours, and Genocide

I will get back to my ongoing reviews of the original Sailor Moon seasons in the near future but I decided I needed a short break from blonde pig-tailed heroines who fight for justice. And so I found myself eyeing off this title in my review list.

Review:

I should probably admit I watched the first episode of this back when it first became available on Netflix and decided to pass. on the back of having watched Made in Abyss and Girls’ Last Tour, I wasn’t really in the mood for another anime that relied on a juxtaposition between adorable art and dark themes to hit my emotional resonance buttons so that I would ooh and ah and gush over another modern master-piece (not that Made in Abyss got all that much gushing being an incomplete story). And it isn’t that there is anything wrong with that particular ideal, it just feels like we’re getting a lot of these kinds of anime recently and to be honest the emotional payoff goes way down when you are waiting for the tragedy to strike.

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Anyway, after I got over my preconceptions and comparisons to other series, I finally sat down and binged watched this anime in two sessions. That would make you think I was seriously into the story but that actually wasn’t the case. The reason I finished it during the second viewing session was I knew I would never go back and finish it if I stopped the viewing. I would find something else to watch and that would be the end of knowing what happened to the children on the Mud Whale and so I pushed forward through dialogue that never quite landed its mark and cheap emotional ploys that felt like they would have much greater weight on paper then they ever did on the screen.

What made this worse was the sequel-bait ending leaving huge chunks of the character journey and world-building as yet undone and yet I can’t really bring myself to care. We know the secret of how the Mud Whale came to be and how such a clearly flawed social structure formed and the immediate threat has been dealt with, kind of. For me, that’s enough and I certainly am not attached enough to any of the characters to care what happens next on their journey.

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While this might make Children of the Whales sound dreadful, that is hardly the case. Visually it hits its mark with both character designs and the settings. At times it is remarkably beautiful and the fight sequences where characters use a mixture of weapons and magic power are usually very fluid and pretty to watch. The musical score is fairly on point and the narrative, what we get of it, is functional with no glaring issues other than the lack of an ending and unanswered questions. Yet from start to finish I was not drawn into the wonder that was the Mud Whale and those who inhabited it. As I went  to draft this review I had to seriously ask myself why. Yes, the story doesn’t end, but I was disengaged long before I got to that point. What actually wasn’t working here that made me want this show to end?

The conclusion I came to was that this story feels very much like it was written by committee and tested by crowd preferences. It’s dystopian because dystopians are popular. The main character is male and an underdog. The coolest character is a bit of a rebel who ultimately wants to help his people. Female characters get cool powers but don’t ever do anything in fight sequences (trust me, it doesn’t matter how cool they seem, they don’t do anything in the fights). We have an attempted genocide of an island where the population is almost entirely made up of children because that will be dramatic. Oh, and the main character has a cool nickname. He’s known as the ‘destroyer’ because he has little control over his powers. Sounds important, but it never amounts to anything in the course of this first season.

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And, the thing is, not one of those ideas is bad. Except the whole female characters being sidelined at every possible turn for no apparent reason given some of them are more trained and more powerful than the boy who seems to run through the heart of every conflict, that’s a pretty poor idea. But they are all just thrown in without any real heart behind them. Despite the circumstances of the Mud Whale, it never really feels like a real place. It’s just a setting for a fight to occur on. A location where characters are stranded. As much as the Mud Whale should feel like an actual character in this story and the setting needs to feel genuine, it never achieves that. Its a pretty play piece that has been beautifully built, but no real life has been breathed into it.

Each of the characters suffers the same fate. They have everything they need to be a real character. They have relationships and ties with others, frequently they have back stories, they have motives and desires. These characters should feel vibrant and alive, at least until they die tragically or watch others die tragically. And yet, you can’t help but feel that each one of these characters lacks any real presence outside of the script they’ve been given. While they all have character, that character feels so tightly controlled that they cease to feel real. Whether it is is Suou’s hand clenching, Ouni’s petulant desire for escape, or Sami’s hopeless love, it always feels scripted and calculated rather than genuine.

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This isn’t helped by the presence of the villains who just seem like a bunch of psychos. And given they are supposed to have had their emotions eaten (and I know they come up with a bunch of babble as to why some retain emotions, but still), these characters are literally just war crazy, blood-thirsty murderers and it does nothing to aid the suspension of disbelief about the reality we are plunged into.

Nor does it help when the villains declare one of the Mud Whales kids to have some super special power that had never been mentioned prior and then suddenly he has some super special power. Props at least for not giving this to the main character, but still, then his nickname might have made sense.

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So what I was left with was the hollow shell of an anime with a story that should work, characters who sound like they would be awesome on paper, and visually looks impressive, but ultimately it failed to reach me at all. And as the Mud Whale continues on its journey I can’t help but wonder about how much better things might have been with this idea if the story had narrowed its focus down or just really found its own sense of identity which is something I felt over and over again that this anime lacked.

What did you think of the Children of the Whales?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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A.I.C.O Incarnation Series Review: Do You Ever Get That Sinking Feeling…

Netflix continues to dabble in anime, working with BONES to produce this action/sci-fi story. If you’ve watched it, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Review:

I must admit before I get into this review, that I went into this anime expecting a lot. Firstly, it was from Bones and they are far and away my favourite studio. So even though this was part of Netflix’s push for more anime content, I kind of expected to see Bones’ usual love and attention lavished on the series and its characters. Secondly, it is an action/sci-fi, or at least so the promotions would have you believe. An action/sci-fi made by Bones? I was in for that.

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The end result was one mostly of disappointment and when I finished the first watch through I had to put this on the shelf for awhile because I really couldn’t write a review at the time. With a bit of distance, some levelling out of my expectations, and rewatches of key sequences, I’m finally ready to take on this show in a review. All and all though, this anime is pretty average even if I’m feeling like being generous toward it.

There’s a few main points that generally lead to this being an average at best anime. The first one is the main character, Aiko. In addition to the confusion of A.I.C.O/Aiko, she really doesn’t have any notable characteristics or traits for much of the series. She reacts to things, and in filler moments she does the usual sweet heroine thing of feeling useless so she’ll cook for everyone, but it would be very hard to actually pin down a defining characteristic of the character.

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She begins the anime in a wheel-chair and that actually had potential to be cool. It is very rare for a protagonist to have their movement hampered like that in an anime and it offered a lot of possibilities. All of which get shot in the foot before we move on from the first episode when she just stands up at the sight of the transfer student. See! All better! It makes you wonder why they even bothered with this conceit given the fact that she was living in the hospital was more than enough evidence that she was being treated for or recovering from something. Sticking her in a wheel-chair just to get rid of it by episode 2 seems very cheap really.

Furthermore, Aiko has no goal or direction. I know, I can hear the dissent right now that she’s trying to rescue her family. But she wasn’t. She didn’t even know about them. She genuinely wasn’t doing anything and then the transfer student shows up and shows her a dodgy video that might reveal her mother and brother are alive at primary point (or anywhere else considering video editing) and then tells her she has to travel there. It is his mission and his goal. Not hers. While she adopts it and commits to it from there, she’s never the one driving anything or making the decisions. She’s just kind of baggage being dragged through the plot.

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While there are a few better moments for our heroine in the final episodes, I’m not going to go into details as that would involve heavy spoilers. That said, it is a case of too little too late. By then the disconnect from her has set in and any emotion that the final couple of episodes were aiming for kind of fall flat.

The second real issue I have with this anime is the ‘burst’ and the ‘matter’. It really has only impacted one small area and yet the characters act like it is life and death and people regularly risk their lives entering the zone. Why the whole thing hasn’t been properly sealed off or the matter cut back into a controlled region (given they clearly have the means of short term neutralisation) does not make sense. I understand that this was definitely a personal tragedy for a lot of people and a local ecological disaster, but the scale of response at times (as well as the sheer drama attached to events in one gorge) seems a little overblown at times and this could have been avoided by either explaining the ramifications of the whole thing on the rest of the world more clearly or just narrow the scope of the drama being presented.

AICO2

So with the background setting of the story and the main character causing me some issues, the third thing I want to comment on before I look at some of the positives is the repetitiveness of some aspects of the show. I know the team are working their way along the gorge and the situation is meant to be getting more dire as they travel, but each fight sequence looks much the same and the final fight isn’t any more impressive than the situation the side-characters found themselves in back during episode 1. There’s no real sense that the danger has escalated. They try to put in some time pressures and other related dramas to build up a sense that things are critical, but it all misses its mark because visually we’re watching the same sequences of red stuff oozing around and characters make tense expressions while shooting it.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some positives here. The character designs are nicely done and each one is distinct. With a more impressive cast and plot, these character designs would have been quite memorable. There’s also the usual fluid feeling to the animation that I have come to expect from Bones. It may not be the best but visually it pleases and there are only rare moments where you are pulled out of the story because of either a visual or animation issue.

AICO5

Also, the music is pretty ordinary. It isn’t good or bad but just kind of sits in the background.

There’s also a real attempt at asking some questions about the morality of synthetic humans and human clones for medical purposes. While the writing and plot don’t allow this the serious examination it needs, thematically it does work within this setting and that is probably the take away from the anime. Not what the anime does, but the questions it wants to ask.

So watching this may not be the best use of your time you would probably find other series that have a bit more bite to them, you wouldn’t be entirely wasting your hours by giving this some attention.


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Karandi James

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B: The Beginning Netflix Anime Series Review: There’s Murder and Mayhem But What Comes Next?

Overview:

The anime series, B: The Beginning, came out on Netflix and styled itself as a task force (known as the RIS) working a double murder that involved a notorious serious killer known only as ‘Killer B’. However, things soon take a turn for the strange when a military vehicle is stolen and taken for a joyride, poisonous gas is developed and used to threaten hostages, and other unsolvable crimes occur.

Review (Probably some spoilers – just warning you):

I think B: The Beginning wants to be a lot of things and I’m not sure it actually succeeded at any of them, at least not in any meaningful way. It is fun enough if you do just want to watch the mayhem unfold before they then painstakingly explain how clever they’ve all been for the last two episodes, but realistically there isn’t enough groundwork for any of it to have any effect. After finishing the last episode I pondered for awhile about what my overall opinion of this series was. Because, while I didn’t particularly like quite a lot of it, I didn’t exactly dislike the viewing and finished it off in three consecutive days of binge viewing and it wasn’t just so I could review it.

While I was pondering I actually sorted my main issue with the whole thing out, and that was that it just felt too similar to other shows I actually liked a lot but it didn’t manage to really hit on what made those stories work. I’ll admit that problem is entirely my own, but it helped me understand what I didn’t like about this show and why, even though it is definitely watchable, I probably won’t go for a second round. And that means this review is going to do something I normally don’t do, and it is going to rely heavily on comparisons to explain the points I want to make. It isn’t really something I like to do as I feel each show should be judged on its own merit (or lack of it) but it is a way for me to sort my mixed thoughts on this show.

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Terror in Resonance

The first and obvious comparison would be Terror in Resonance. Stylistically these shows are quite similar and the tone of the later episodes of this most definitely strikes a Terror in Resonance vibe. As do the kids being used as experiments, the burning down of the lab, and the central character, Keith Flick who is incredibly reminiscent of Shibazaki. Where B: The Beginning falters to capture my attention and interest in the way Terror in Resonance seemed to, was that it didn’t seem to have anything to say.

Whether you agree with the actions and ideas presented by Terror in Resonance or not, the show gets you thinking about the world and about the way the media manipulate events, about the decisions of governments and large institutions, about relationships between countries, and about the actions of those who are labelled radicals or terrorists. B: The Beginning doesn’t seem to have anything to say unless ‘murder is bad’ is somehow a message that I missed under all the cool trapping and laughter of those committing incessantly, or that you should always work in a ‘team’ which is definitely a sermon from the second act of this story but doesn’t really ground itself on anything substantial other than the team working together for about three seconds before Keith goes off on his own again.

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But despite the heavy and easy comparison to Terror in Resonance, that actually didn’t feel right to leave it there. Sure there are some parallels, but B has it’s own kind of edge that Terror in Resonance never aspired to taking itself far too seriously at times (though when dealing with terrorists who have a potential nuclear device I guess you should have some level of solemnity to your tale). And then it hit me. B is kind of what would happen if K was somehow crossbred with Terror in Resonance only about a third of the connecting plot points got dropped out of both shows.

K Project 4
K

Once I realised that I understood the excessive fight sequence full of flash and grandeur (even if they only seemed loosely connected to the narrative) and the shifting tone between frantic and snail crawling exposition. See, K was all about the style and presented its supernaturally charged characters in the coolest light possible, even when they were just thugs. It gave each action sequence flash and bang and a sense of movement. Essentially what we see during the first two episodes of B. The trouble is, that B doesn’t have an interesting enough lead on the supernatural side to pull it off and the villain ultimately has no plan of note other than death to the protagonist.

B The Beginning 3

To a degree though, B works. It does get your attention in the early episodes, even if it is the hyperactive child shrieking at you for attention kind of attention. In fact, the show’s format reminds me very much of how most of the other characters describe Koku’s actions. He was screaming out that he was there but no one was listening. B declares it is here as it splatters blood across the screen, constructs incredible acts of violence, and generally does everything possible to grab the dark and edgy label that seems to be a flavour of the last couple of years (surely we’re ready for sunshine and rainbows again, or at least a dark and edgy that doesn’t rely just on making all the characters we meet horrible for every second of screen time).

Then it tries to segue into actual plot and that’s where it comes off the rails a bit, not unlike a train that somehow managed to land in a somewhat precise pattern and aren’t they glad the killer chose a sign that train carriages could actually form. Totally coincidence I am sure. Leaving beside all the comparisons, it is the plot that really drops the ball for this show because there are two central conflicts and while there is a connection and the characters, clues and mysteries intersect, their resolutions are essentially independent and neither ultimately feels like the actual climax or big finish because they’ve both been fighting for your attention and as a result you don’t much care about either.

B the Beginning 2

Koku wants to know his past, about the people who destroyed the institution, and to find a girl. There is always a girl. This story is full of supernatural characters, a very K like ancient tablet that has been deciphered and has some impact on his powers (though don’t expect that to be explained), and I’m guessing there is kind of a revenge goal in their somewhere but Koku isn’t exactly articulate in explaining what he is after and it wouldn’t matter anyway because it all comes down to rescue the damsel in distress. It isn’t a particularly satisfying narrative arc on its own, the powers just kind of exist and once you learn a bit more about Koku and what is going on you kind of realise exactly what the outcome of that plot-line will be so you just then wait for it to play out. Which it does, in cut sequences of bloody action which break up some of the driest dialogue I think I’ve endured for a long time between a protagonist and antagonist.

And this takes us to the second story involving the detectives. Because as much as their solving the crimes does involve a lot of the supernatural goings on, ultimately they do nothing about that part of the story. They track down the human element behind it all, and if you were paying even vague attention early on you will know precisely who the culprit is as soon as Keith mentions there are two culprits and sends Koku after one of them. It is another case of lack of options for suspects making it more or less impossible to miss.

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We then get what could have been an interesting attempt by the detectives to set up and ensnare the culprit but the story isn’t really happy with the whole power of team work dynamic and decides to overthrow it for a final attempt at tragedy. After that attempt essentially ends in failure, Keith takes the final clue (or signpost however you want to look at it) and tracks down the perpetrator and then calmly leans against the wall in front of a projector showing images of the killer taking out previous victims, including Keith’s sister, while he holds a conversation with the killer. There is no sense of tension or drama in this scene and any attempt at a serious tone is unhinged by the constant cuts to Koku and his fight sequence or the other detectives racing to the scene.

Anyway, it does wrap up and we see the next steps for the country and characters. There’s plenty left open that could still be explored should they want to do a sequel, but the current situation is done and you have a sense of closure.

This isn’t a train wreck by any means but nor is it particularly well done. It has elements that could be quite interesting, tones that I appreciate in other shows, and ideas that certainly could have merit, but ultimately it feels largely empty. I’m drafting this mere hours after watching the final episode and already details are escaping me because there’s nothing to ponder or consider and nothing to take from the viewing. And while that is fine in and of itself, and some people won’t see that as a negative, for me it feels like this show just missed its mark.

Anyway, if you’ve had a chance to watch it, I’d love to know your thoughts so leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Fullmetal Alchemist Live Action Movie Review: Bringing Equivalent Exchange to Life

Overview:

Ed and Al are brother’s who have been studying alchemy when their mother dies unexpectedly. Determined to bring her back, they commit a taboo and in the process Al loses his body and Ed loses his arm and leg. Now a State Alchemist, Ed is determined to learn the secret of the philosopher’s stone and use it to restore his brother’s body.

Review – With spoilers for those who have never read or seen any adaptation of this story:

I must admit, one of my greatest fears going in to this movie was that they would actually try to fit the whole saga of FMA into a movie which was guaranteed to fail without any chance of redemption. Fortunately, this movie seems to understand it was an adaptation and decided on a sensible stopping point in the narrative to bring the movie to a close and also made some pretty solid choices on what to cut and what to keep in the story.

Admittedly, purists who want the source adhered to are going to hate it. There’s no Scar, the Fuhrer doesn’t appear at all, various actions and motives get attributed to the characters that were left in the story in order to fill some of the gaps left by the entire arcs that have literally been hacked out. But the end result is surprisingly okay. There’s a few bits of awkwardness, a couple of plot threads that people who aren’t familiar with the story are going to be puzzled over because they are just kind of floated out there and left dangling for a sequel, and the pacing isn’t spot on, but this definitely could have been worse.

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And that is probably going to be the mantra of this review. It could have been worse. That is hardly a glowing recommendation but I honestly found that I enjoyed this movie well enough, but at the same time, I’d rather watch the anime. Either version of the anime.

Taking this logically, I’m going to point out the first twenty minutes of this feel need to be redone. It is a horrible beginning and almost had me reaching for the remote the first time through, unsure if I could stomach watching the farce FMA had become. The second try watching was actually worse and I would have stopped it except that I remembered things got better. So what is wrong?

The child versions of Ed and Al are not good actors (let’s not talk about the hair, really, we’ll save that for the grown up version of Ed). They do not pull off the whole tragic backstory that was so incredibly hard hitting in the anime. And possibly even the director realised this given the aftermath of their attempt to bring their mother back to life is only told in a dream sequence by Ed where the older version of Ed stands in instead of child-form. It is completely illogical that older Ed would be there and yet so much better than what that scene would have looked like if the younger version had attempted that scene.

But actually, the bigger issue with the start of the movie is the action sequence. Yep, FMA is a shounen story through and through and it has some incredible and fantastical fight sequences. These were always going to be really hard to translate into live action and yet somehow I think they could have done better than this.

Whether it is the pained expressions on the actor’s faces, the poor trajectory of Ed’s leap off the roof (seriously, he did not land anywhere near where the landing shot showed him landing, that was incredibly badly cut), the very average CG, the poor attempt at inserting some of the slapstick humour into the story (which just resulted in me declaring the main character dead about ten minutes into the movie), or even Al’s dreadful attempt at pacifying the crowd and explaining alchemy in one of the clunkiest exposition dumps I’ve seen in recent memory… Just no.

Quite literally the only good thing to come out of the opening sequence is Al’s first appearance and that was entirely deflated because we had already seen that exact moment in a teaser trailer. That moments and reveal utterly powerless because we were just kind of waiting for exactly that to happen.

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Throw in the disappointment that came when I first saw Mustang (no, he did not live up to my impossibly high standards given he’s one of my all time favourite characters), and really the opening of this movie left me really wishing I’d decided not to bother.

By the end of the movie, I would re-evaluate that thought.

Mustang grew on me as the movie progressed and to be honest, while the actor never quite pulled off the nonchalant attitude Mustang usually has when not in combat, he certainly pulled off the final of this movie in the confrontation with the homunculus. He was every bit the Flame Alchemist I wanted to see in action. He delivered and to be honest the removal of the comedic Colonel wasn’t such a downside in this movie.

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However, there is no escaping discussing the appearances of the characters. While I know the reasons they chose an all Japanese cast, one has to wonder why they then decided that they had to stay true to the Elric’s being blonde. Would having a hair colour that didn’t look totally ridiculous on the actor really have been that difficult? Given all the other changes to the FMA universe, would we have been that upset by a dark haired protagonist? I’d like to say no. And given FMA isn’t set in Japan in the first place, if you wanted to keep them blonde then don’t use a Japanese actor. There is genuinely no escaping that Ed looks bad. The hair is the main culprit here with the plait looking completely detached from the rest of his hair most of the time and the whole time it just looks nasty (distractingly so).

And the costumes themselves, while faithful reproductions of what the characters wore in the anime (and possible the manga – never read it), they don’t look good in real life. All of the characters look like they escaped from a cosplay convention where a few minor modifications would have brought the outfits in line with the reality they were trying to construct. This is a case where slavishly trying to replicate something has resulted in an inferior product rather than giving this movie the look it deserved.

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Though, while still on appearances, they nailed Hughes, Lust and Envy (Gluttony, not so much – okay, not at all). Hughes particularly, though he had about four scenes, managed to be exactly the character he needed to. Similar enough to what we were familiar with and yet he made Hughes come alive in a way most of the other characters fail to do during most of the run time.

To get to more positives, I loved the attention on Ed’s feelings of guilt toward Al for the majority of the first half. While there were certainly other stories that could have taken the lime-light, this story managed to humanise the characters and it is a story that managed to play out in the time given. Some great choices in shots and the relationship between these brothers gets the spot light and it manages to hold up very well.

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However, that does come at the expense of Nina and Alexander’s moment which becomes more a moment for Ed and Al. I didn’t mind this too much given it fit the context of the film, but the anime definitely handled this particular story better.

I also really liked that they realised that in their short length of time the Homunculi couldn’t be these massively unkillable creatures where fights took up episodes. Sure, they were tough enough to be a threat but reasonably scaled down to be dealt with in the course of the movie and while we might all be sad if our favourites didn’t appear, or were killed off too quickly, I think this was a sensible choice.

So it is a mixed bag. There are some great choices here and some really good moments, and then there are some poor choices and less outstanding scenes. I think your enjoyment of this movie will come from whether you are willing to accept the compromises that were needed to bring the movie to life or not and whether you are willing to ignore the incredibly bad hair on so many of the characters.  It might seem like a petty complaint, but it is definitely distracting.

After a second watch through, I definitely know that I enjoyed this well enough, but if I want to see FMA again, I’ll watch the Brotherhood box set. However, will I watch a follow up movie to this? Probably.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

Overview:

Humans were chased off Earth by Godzilla and other monsters who seem to not be very important and now a group are attempting to kill Godzilla so humans can return.

Review:

If I was going to describe this movie very briefly I would say the story was overly ambitious for the short run time. That isn’t the same as being a bad movie, but it just isn’t anywhere near as good as it might have been. Possibly the ideas and events packed into this movie could have been dealt with quite well in a series or in a significantly longer movie that wasn’t so focused on an elaborate fight sequence to finish off, but here the audience is told a whole bunch of stuff and things that you think should really get more attention just kind of get skated right past.

You know, the whole monsters just appeared and started attacking earth thing? Okay, I get you don’t really know the how or the why, but these monsters seem actually inconsequential to the story and once we hear one of the character’s theories about Godzilla being the destroyer of worlds it makes no sense for there to have been other monsters. If these creatures aren’t of importance to anything as the world can be destroyed without them, why even mention them?

Similarly, when humans are losing suddenly aliens show up. Maybe this was to explain how humans actually managed to evacuate anyone at all but really they didn’t go into anywhere near enough depth with this. Aliens show up and offer to destroy Godzilla because their own world was destroyed and they want to colonise Earth (and that would go well I’m sure) but then it turns out they can’t actually destroy Godzilla and what remains of the humans and aliens are forced to flee.

Already, that’s a lot happening and more than enough for a movie in itself and yet this is a monologue told to us in one of the dullest monotones I’ve heard in recent monologues so we are looking back at old events and kept at arms length from them and given no details. Why not just tell us earth was destroyed and let us find out the how and why once we get back to earth? All this segment did was eat up screen time and left us feeling somewhat unsatisfied with the explanation.

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Of course, our main character kind of suffers from being angry protagonist A type throughout the whole movie because he was a kid when Godzilla attacked earth and his parents died… Did he need a personal vendetta to get motivated to reclaim his planet? Again, more screen time eaten up for very little consequence given the guy doesn’t really emote anyway. He’s just driven and angry. The most emotion we get is when his grandfather bids him farewell.

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The rest of the support cast are almost non-entities. We have the council group that do the usual bicker and delay decisions but not one of them actually stands out as interesting. There’s some other soldiers who get some lines and get to make some decisions but really you’ve got the ‘too cool’ guy, the one who acts tough but wants to run at the first sign of danger, the token female wants to get stronger character, and so on. They aren’t really of any kind of note and mostly just kind of buzz around or shoot things in the conflict on the planet. Also, given some of them have lived the majority of their lives in space, they were buzzing around on the planet fairly competently and I have to wonder where they had the room to practice those formations and manoeuvers on the ship.

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The one exception might be Metphies. He’s one of the aliens and he comes from some religious background, probably knows more about the threat than he is letting on, and is definitely manipulating the situation around him to get what he wants. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t get around to telling us what that is, so the one potentially interesting character thread goes nowhere.

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Visually I’m not sure I’m sold on it as distant shots of Godzilla look amazing but up close it just kind of looks messy. The character designs are okay but nothing exceptional, and given they are all in space suits there’s pretty much nothing to be said about the outfits.

Still, if you like the basic man against monster type thing and you aren’t too concerned about the characters, this will work perfectly well to pass an hour or two. There’s some tense moments and one or two moments of exciting action, and at no point does the story fail, it just doesn’t have as much impact as it might have if handled a different way.


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Karandi James.

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Devilman Crybaby Series Review: It’s Making A Splash But Does It Have Substance?

Overview:

Ryou, a teenage professor, tells Akira, his childhood friend, that demons are going to take over the world. They go to find evidence and Akira ends up fusing with Amon, a powerful demon, becoming a Devilman (demon with the heart of a human).

Review – some spoilers:

There’s been a lot said about this series already, but just in case you missed all the other blogs that have written about it, this is a Netflix anime that is not for the faint of heart. Whether it is the gratuitous violence and gore or the sex and body horror, this is definitely not for those who are squeamish about anything. Even my fairly high tolerance for fictional violence was pushed while watching this and it didn’t help that some of the imagery (the sex and body horror elements) ended up being a little  disturbing. But if that doesn’t put you off, let’s discuss whether or not this show is living up to the hype surrounding it.

While I might be in the minority, I really didn’t enjoy watching Devilman Crybaby. From the start, the visuals just didn’t sit well with me as I didn’t particularly like the style. There are some really striking scenes where they do some wonderful contrasts with colour and the like, but it just didn’t appeal visually. Then again, possibly the ugly and overly simplistic art style fit with the nature of the story but it certainly wasn’t a selling point for me.

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Then the characters came along and my issue is each one is very much one thing with potentially one twist up their sleeve. From the beginning Ryou is portrayed as lacking in human emotions so by the time the reveal as to why comes along you’ve mostly figured it out anyway and it isn’t in the slightest bit surprising. In fact, it makes some of his earlier actions a lot easier to swallow because it makes sense that no sensible person would suddenly start slashing random strangers with a broken bottle in order to collect proof of demons.

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Akira, on the other hand, apparently has a very warm human heart. Let every character tell you about it, over and over again. Oh, Akira’s a crybaby? He cries for others? Oh, how empathetic. Over and over again this point gets hammered and the real issue is Akira has no other personality trait other than his apparent abundance of empathy for others. Even his anger and rage later in the show is produced because of his empathy.

The side characters are all much the same, with Miko maybe being the exception. They are introduced as one thing, if they are a more important character there might be a later reveal but the show isn’t spending a great deal of time on fleshing these characters out. They are stand-ins and place-holders for the rest of society.

Because this anime very much wants to make a POINT. It is a deep metaphor, a reflection of society and the social disharmony and disconnect of youth culture… And it wants to make sure you never forget it. Not for a single instant. Like Akira’s empathy and heart, let the anime tell you again and again about characters with broken dreams, feeling disillusioned, lost, unsatisfied, and how society doesn’t value those who work hard or genuinely feel for others.

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Now, there is nothing wrong with being an allegory and filled with metaphorical characters and imagery, what takes the enjoyment away from Devilman Crybaby is while it wants to have that deeper message, it also wants to shock and titillate its audience. And it does this with as much subtlety as it constructs metaphor so large chunks of early episodes are given to the sabbath, to sex, and to violence between demons played out on scenes nearly too dark at times to really catch the detail of what is going on but with a plethora of squishy and unsettling sound-effects.

The balance is lacking and by the time the show switches into full allegorical mode none of the characters or ideas have really had a chance to be developed or to sit well with the audience because so much time has been given to extended sequences of sex and violence. So the show falls back on imagery we are familiar with from other stories and myths and to replaying ‘critical’ segments over and over again to once again hammer a point home that could have been made more easily with a bit more legwork in the earlier episodes.

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Miki’s appeal on social media particularly bothered me. It felt so much like the writers wanted to directly state their message and simply put the moral into Miki’s typed messages. Miki’s subsequent death for sending out messages of peace and love lacked impact as it was mostly lost in a sea of other deaths and she hadn’t been built up enough for the audience to care. Therefore, Akira’s rage when he sees the result is understandable but not something the audience can share with him. We’re kept at arm’s length and in honestly her appeal was naive at best giving me little reason to sympathise with the result.

The sudden gathering of an army of devilmen is also kind of convenient and simply allows for an overblown final battle which visually is a mess of colours, attacks, and spinning. There’s very little detail to that final fight, though one scene definitely gave me Evangelion vibes which was kind of weird.

Thematically, Devilman Crybaby is solid but for me the execution failed to engage. It was watchable, and had some dramatic moments, but without ever really getting an emotional response other than occasionally flinching at the visuals in earlier episodes. I get some people will have fun with this but it just didn’t work for me and I probably won’t do a rewatch at any point. Actually, if you just watch for the over-the-top violence and a story that pushes forward (even if it doesn’t get into much depth) this would kind of be the perfect watch, however I just found myself wanting more from it.

As always, I’d love to know what you thought of the show so please leave me a comment below.


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Karandi James.

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Erased Live Action Series Review: A Decent Ride

Overview:

Satoru is an unsuccessful manga writer working in a pizza shop and really just going through the motions of life. He has one strange ability where sometimes he will go back in time and it always happens after something has gone wrong and sometimes he can help to avoid it. However, when his mother dies, Satoru finds himself 15 years in the past as the chain of events leading to her death is quite complex and caught up in a series of mysterious abductions and murders from when he was a child.

Review:

While I already discussed my initial impressions of this series having completed viewing it I’m now going to review the entire show. To be honest, I was fairly impressed by the end of this. While it isn’t a master piece by any means the story is well paced, the characters for the most part play their roles well, and the climax is dramatic enough to make it feel worth the wait.

That isn’t to say that I changed my mind about Airi. She really does seem to be the weak link in the performances as she just doesn’t sit right in any scene and I’m still feeling like she was a little too unnerving or creepy in the early episodes. However, the rest of the cast all deliver a decent performance and it is easy to get swept up in their story (though I do think the person who designed the fake beard probably needs to start over).

Outside of the acting, the story itself was well executed. None of the scenes seemed to linger overly long but the plot didn’t feel rushed. The reveals made sense and were well timed and even knowing who the villain was didn’t take away from the experience of seeing it revealed. The climax has a few minor issues in that I think we’re supposed to believe they are in danger but it just doesn’t quite come across that way, but it is dramatic and it brings the story nicely to a close.

In terms of the scenes themselves there is very little risk taken in this series. Shot types and cuts are all pretty standard which makes them unobtrusive but also means they aren’t really adding anything to the story. Likewise, the music and sound works, but are mostly unremarkable.

Still, this was a great way to spend a few hours and the story is compelling enough on its own. The pacing is probably where this series shines and all in all, it was a pretty good version of the story.

Now, for those who have watched the anime there are differences. Mostly these are cosmetic but the climax has a scene change (and actually makes a great deal more sense) in this version and the one major improvement on the anime adaptation is the villain’s back story. So much better here and given that was a definite weak link in the anime it is something I really appreciated. There’s a few other minor changes but this is basically the same story so if you loved the anime there may not be a lot of point in watching this version.

I’d love to know your final thoughts on the series so leave me a comment below.


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Karandi James.

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First Impressions of Netflix’s Erased

A live action adaptation of any anime is something of an occasion as it brings out the usual arguments about whether something follows source material, whether the characters ‘look’ right (though why any real human would want to look like an anime character is a bit beyond me), whether it can live up to the anime version and so on and so forth. Usually there’s quite a bit of pessimism in the community with some cautious optimism. Erased wasn’t all that different and I must admit I was kind of trying to avoid having any kind of expectation for the live action.

So a few days ago I had a chance to catch the first two episodes and now I’ve managed another handful taking me to the end of episode 5. What do I think? I’m actually pretty impressed.

One thing Erased had going for it when they were adapting it was that for the most part the story is a straight drama/mystery and it didn’t have too many over the top, that works only in anime moments to try to make work with real life. I’m sure they are probably actually adapting from a manga and not the anime but as I’ve never read it I have no opinion on that one.

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Viewing this as a separate entity, my biggest complaint in the first five episodes would be Airi. She just comes off too young and her smile and up-beat personality come off borderline creepy rather than supportive. Maybe they were going for that but to be honest she’s my least favourite character so far in this adaptation and she hasn’t had that much screen time. A smaller complaint would be directed at the younger version of Satoru as some of his expressions aren’t quite as nuanced as they might be but it isn’t terrible. For a child actor he’s not doing too bad a job holding up the tone of the show so his less stellar moments are fairly understandable and aren’t really all that bad.

On the other hand, Satoru’s mother and Kayo have so far been pretty solid in their performances and the cast as a whole has been working fairly well.

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In terms of the story I’ve come to realise how much I will forgive in an anime over live action. There’s one encounter in the story where a character says something to Satoru with a ‘don’t tell anyone’ but all I could think was why would anyone say that in the first place. Given the situation it was a massive breach of confidentiality and Satoru was a child. Why on earth would you reveal that kind of information to them? It is amazing how when two anime characters have a fairly similar conversation I don’t get the same ‘no way’ response to the scene.

Despite that, the first five episodes have been excellent in setting up the story and the mystery. It isn’t having quite the impact that the anime had on me but that’s probably because I’m now familiar with the story. Yet some scenes and sequences have been pretty brilliant such as viewing the night sky through the tree in winter and Airi’s apology to Satoru.

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I’ll definitely be finishing this series soon (hopefully later today) and I’ll try to write a review that isn’t a comparison to the anime. Still my first impressions are that this is an alright series. It isn’t going to change the world but it is quite engaging and watchable. As an adaptation of an anime I loved, it is also pretty good. Very little to complain about so far.


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Random Thoughts on Stranger Things Season 2

I should probably do an actual review on this but to be honest I’m probably not going to. The reason being that I watched about half of this, and then took a break and then watched other episodes off and on while sick and busy so didn’t really pay enough attention and to be honest I don’t feel like watching it again to review.

That doesn’t actually mean Stranger Things season 2 is bad. It actually manages to capture most of what made the first season a really enjoyable nostalgia trip without the poor video quality of 1980’s films. But I undeniably struggled with maintaining interest early in the season and ultimately just found the sequel baiting ending a little hard to swallow. While this is my favourite Netflix original story after two seasons it seems pretty clear they plan to just keep running this idea into the ground until any small speck of originality or energy the series may have had is squished completely and totally flat.

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So what was good about season 2?

The big bad was bigger and badder even if they did just kind of up the body count by killing off the extras and one character that you kind of knew early on had raised so many death flags that by the time they finally did him in you weren’t overly surprised. Still, forget what seemingly invisible enemy. Now we have an unseen threat that is widespread and getting out of control fast and when we do see the threat the word horde comes to mind.

The cast are still fantastic. Child actors who can mostly act (the exception being Will’s older brother who’s name I have once again forgotten). I think Nancy actually did a better job this season and Will’s character gets to do a lot more this time round and he is fantastic. The addition of Max to the party, contentious as some of the characters may have found that, was a really good choice and worked well and the other characters mostly maintained what they were known for in the previous season so more of the same which works well enough.

The 1980’s soundtrack, while pretty literal at times, is still amazing to listen to and this along with all the other nods to the era makes for a really fun watch. Though I’m still trying to believe that anyone would mistake ghostbusters for exterminators back in the 80’s.

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What was less good?

The set up process of this story. A year has passed and everyone is a little older and a little jaded by the events the year before and the cover up. There’s some trauma and there are some new relationships and some fairly fractured relationships but it takes three episodes to really establish all of this before anything actually happens with regards to the new story. I’ll admit, after the story started you realised how necessary most of that set up was, but it was kind of dull and a little bit painful to watch.

The Sherriff and Eleven have zero chemistry. Eleven is really sidelined for the first half of this series and her only interactions are with the Sherriff. While I get the story they were trying to establish here, he doesn’t pull enough emotional weight to really sell the anger as over-protection and she isn’t given enough time to establish herself as an actual person so basically we just see them go through the same cycle of eat and play happy families before he ‘lies’ and she has a tantrum leading to him throwing a tantrum over and again until she finally ups and leaves.

Which leads to the story with Eleven and Eight which again could be awesome but is most definitely just setting up potential future storylines and has no relevance here other than Eleven gets a bit of a power up because of Eight’s advice. And a make-over. Anyway…

How dumb are those scientists? I get bad guys being dumb and characters in stories sometimes making dumb choices but these guys have had an entire year to clean up the mess and not only have they failed, the mess got worse and they didn’t even notice. Not one actual researcher makes one actual useful contribution for the entire length of the series. How do these people keep their jobs?

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All and all, if you liked Stranger Things, Stranger Things 2 is enjoyable enough and the second half definitely steps it up. Still, I’m not so sure how many more seasons of this I’m going to be thrilled to see. I’d really like them just to resolve the issue and let Will and his friends get on with their lives at this point.


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