Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Nest

I've been sort of convinced for years now that all the best B action movies are coming from France. Even the English language ones are all produced by Luc Besson. This one is actually the first French action movie I've come across that didn't have Besson's name attached to it, and it was made in 2002, but I'd never heard of it...which is basically the problem with French action movies. No matter how awesome, buzz does not exist. I only watched this one because Netflix randomly recommended it, and it could be instaqueued.

Which is a shame, because this was tight as hell. The set up takes its time letting you work out what's going on without telling you directly, so even describing the basic concept sort of results in the opening of the movie being less an intriguing mystery and more a puzzling get-to-the-point exercise, but roughly speaking, five criminals (including a parkour dude) take two security guards hostage so they can loot a shipment of laptops. Meanwhile, police escorting the head of an Albanian organized crime syndicate are ambushed; all but three of them are killed. They take refuge...inside the warehouse the criminals are robbing. All of them end up joining forces to try and withstand the siege.
The script is a lean, mean, efficient machine, never letting tension ease for a fucking second; the characterization and emotional moments are all serving two points -- if there's an intensely emotional moment, odds are it's also giving us a key piece of information, serving to move the plot forward, or distracting us from realizing what's about to happen next. It definitely doesn't have any intention of being anything more than a hella intense action-thriller, but the sheer purity of that purpose makes it immensely satisfying to watch.

They just don't make 'em like they used to

It's always nice to rewatch something you loved and have it be just as great as you remember, if not moreso.



Swordsman II is pretty much the archetypal wire-fu movie; it has all the hallmarks of the HK New Wave of the '80s and early '90s that made me fall in love with Asian cinema, and I gotta say that I enjoyed rewatching this more than any new fu film I recall seeing in the last several years. There is a Swordsman I, but I've never seen it; I'm told it's not nearly as good as SII, and doesn't even star Jet Li. There is a sequel/spinoff; The East is Red is often referred to as "Swordsman III", and Brigitte Lin reprises her role as SII's scene-stealing villain, but frankly I don't recall it being nearly as good-- in fact, I barely recall it at all, which definitely ain't a good sign.



SII, on the other hand, I recalled in fairly good detail. There's a whole bunch of clan warfare going on, which is exacerbated by the arrival of some Japanese mercenaries, who end up being hired by fantastically named evil androgyne Asia the Invincible to back hir play to seize power. A wandering do-gooder and his pals 'n' gals get embroiled in Asia's blatant naughtiness, and from there it's all flying sleeves and knitting needle kung fu and pretty much the best movie ever. Jet Li gets to play massively against type as the titular swordsman, who's actually a lusty, lazy kung-fu drunkard. He has a hell of a lot of fun hamming it up (and playing the similar Fong Sai Yuk in that series), and it's a shame pretty much everything else he's ever done has him playing stone-faced stoic types.



Man, Tsui Hark and "Tony" Ching Siu-Tung really knew how to make a movie. Swordsman II basically has it all; awesome aerial fu-battles, copious melodrama and corny "humor", gorgeous sets and cinematography, and a plot that's random enough to be amusing but not enough to be confusing, unlike some recent movies I could name.



A slightly bad translation can add to the ambiance; Tai Seng's DVD has different subtitles than the version I saw back in the day, as I don't recall any reference to "Japanese gypsy soldiers". That delightfully stilted language particular to HK subs can often reach a kind of poetry. There's a nice Ric Meyer commentary track if you'd actually like to have more than a cursory grasp of this film, but honestly that wouldn't get in the way of your enjoyment; it sure didn't spoil mine any.



So basically, this movie is kind of my Platonic ideal of fu filmmaking. There's just so much insane, jaw-dropping zest in every frame. Perhaps I've been spoiled and shouldn't expect every movie to be this good-- and lord knows there were more than enough turds even in the golden age of which we speak-- but it does break my heart a little bit that this kind of gonzo filmmaking has largely gone out of style. But hey, I'll never stop looking.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Onani Master Kurosawa


A guilty pleasure if I ever saw one. Expecting the worst, morbid curiosity first prompted me to check out Onani Master Kurosawa. The premise revolves around the titular protagonist Kurosawa’s penchant for jacking off, especially inside a particular girl’s bathroom at his school. A female classmate, Kitahara, ends up discovering his habit, and she blackmails him into becoming her agent for revenge. (The “revenge” basically consists of forcing poor Kurosawa to cum on her oppressor’s various belongings.) Angst aplenty ensues over the course of four volumes.

What I thought would be a “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” exploitationist tale turned out to be a decently entertaining ride, despite the fact that there was even more jacking off than I could have anticipated. I’ll be frank, this series has a lot of clear weaknesses. Pacing is rather off. There are quite a few leaps to be made in terms of emotional and plot logic. The manga/anime referencing wasn’t the slightest bit funny. (Is it ever?) Art is iffy. But the sheer honesty that Onani Master offers does help in partially making up for some of these weaknesses. At its heart, you get a story about a pent-up, lonely teenager who’s damn frustrated about his relationship prospects, and seems to have only one friend in his right hand. Which one of us males hasn’t gone through this? Another thing that works in this series’ favor is that the author, Ise Katsura, keeps dilly-dallying to a minimum. He doesn’t shy away from getting to critical character moments, and he doesn’t drag things out. If anything, some developments were too sudden.

Anyhow, far different from what I was expecting, which, for once, is a good thing. It ain’t spectacular, and tilts on the forgettable side, but if you’re really bored and would like to see the topic of Man’s favorite pastime in a somewhat more fleshed-out manner, good God pun not intended, you can’t go too wrong with this piece of work.

Baccano! 1931 Another Junk Railroad

This is basically the source material for the DVD only bonus episodes that rounded out the Baccano anime; originally written for a CD drama not all that long after the original novels, Narita took this occasion to expand it into a full length book.
As such, there's a lot more in here than the anime actually covered; about half of it is dedicated to Chane's inner tumoil, and the other half devoted to retconning immortal characters created later on into the events on and around the Flying Pussyfoot incident. Apparently two of them were actually on the train, yet never interacted with the main cast.
Most of the additional flashbacks feel unnecessary -- almost like self-fanfiction -- so it is the core OAV story that proves the real attraction here. But I also have to give Katsumi Enami props here -- while the anime kept Rachel dressed in the clothes she wore on the train, Enami draws her in two different period outfits. This had the side effect of making her unrecognizable.
I also enjoyed the framing sequence, where Graham Specter makes the mistake of attempting to rob Carol and Gustav Saint-Germain.

Bushido Sixteen trailer

I can't believe they had the balls to use this music, and to pull it off. No idea if the actual movie will be good, but the trailer is pure gold.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Katanagatari three minute preview

http://www.katanagatari.com/special/pv_01.html
The music is really working. Not as big on the speedline abuse.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

"this book's Alan Moore is CUTE GIRL!"

Words fail.

Fragments of Grimm I -- Cinderella

Stop me if you've heard this one before -- normal boy stumbles onto something supernatural and the only one who can save him...is a tsundere.
I'm not sure how I expected Gakuto Coda to follow up Missing, but for the first twenty pages, I was genuinely worried he had actually taken the easy route and done a Shakugan no Shana clone. Only without writing so terrible it feels like the author is vomiting down your throat.
I'm pretty glad I soldiered on. The more he digs into his story the more interesting the characters become -- Coda never one for dramatic characterization, so it's all subtle touches like the male lead laughing at the tsundere when she tells him to drop dead -- and the more FUCKED UP the events unfolding became.
Like Missing, Jung's concept of the universal subconscious underpins the basic mythology; God sleeps deep in our collective minds. Sometimes he has nightmares. Since he is all knowing, his nightmares encompass all things feared by man. Since he is all powerful, he neatly removes the nightmares from his mind, and sends them drifting upwards in a bubble, a bubble that divides countless times before drifting upwards into individual minds, but remains so potent that few humans survive the experience. Those that do retain a fragment of God's Nightmare, and the effects of that fragment allow them to fight against the fragments, saving people from them, and destroying those corrupted by the madness. They usually fail spectacularly.
These powers are born from nightmares; the female lead slices her own arm open and shouts, "Let my pain burn the world" to summon forth nightmarish flames that burn those possessed by nightmares; their operations are protected by a girl who has insects that eat memories living in her brain; they pour out her ears and cause all witnesses to forget what happened, but also leave her with absolutely no short term memory -- she has to write things down in a notebook if she wants to remember them.
Particularly dangerous nightmares tend to follow archetypal motifs -- like Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Somehow Cinderella leads to hobbling around on the remains of your ruined foot, horrible doves tearing their way out of your blood vessels, and a particularly memorable bit where people pulling bones out of the ashes after a cremation proceed to start eating them.
Spectacularly nasty stuff.

Iden & Tity

I'd almost forgotten about this movie, but I came across a trailer for it and figured I'd write about it before I forgot again.

I've never actually read anything by Miura Jun, who did the original manga, and is somewhat notorious; with Kudo Kankuro adapting the work I'm sure justice was done, but it may simply have been done two or three decades late. I imagine there are still ways to make 'musicians have identity crisis after signing with record label' movies and not feel old hat, but Tomorowo Taguchi proves to be as conventional a director as he is unconventional an actor, and it has that generic indie movie feel. Taguchi and Kankuro are both musicians themselves, so they clearly believe in the whole rock music versus commercial package theme, but the movie is at it's best in the more oddball moments -- like the main character totally losing his shit at a girl who claims she hates rock -- or when it buckles down and just plays music. Like the main character playing a song he's written to the ghost of Bob Dylan.

The ending flare out on live television is satisfying stuff, and I certainly liked the movie -- ultimately it just does a really good job of treading extremely familiar ground. Given the state of Japanese music, perhaps it is a message worth yelling a little louder there.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dulalala 6

Man, was this a long, intense churn. Narita is not the kind of author who generally goes for lengthy, character-arc focused writing, but in between all the sword fights and car kicking and parkour, Dulalala 6 boils down to a slow burn effort to shift Mikado's character from a passive to a proactive role in the series. Honestly, for a while there I wasn't sure he was ever going to pay it off. It's not until the last few pages of the book that the other shoe finally drops...and we have to wait till Dulalala 8 to find out where he's going with THAT. (Dulalala 7, out early 2010, is supposedly random side stories.)
While I think I tend to prefer Narita in his less ambitious crazy good time mode, I definitely dig it when he reaches a bit higher, and pulls it off.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dulalala 5

If you're like me, you squinted at the shitty scan of this cover and wondered why Mikado was carrying a dagger; I assure you, the actual cover has him holding a ballpoint pen. Like a dagger.
So...the plan was to read this one and then go read another, but then this one ended on as many cliffhangers as possible, and I guess I'm going to have to read Dulalala 6 immediately.
For a book that seemed absolutely packed with events, it was someone surprising to realize the entire thing had just been set-up; in hindsight, it seems obvious, but there was too much going on to actually register that things weren't actually going to resolve.
Despite all the stuff happening I'm weirdly not sure how to describe it -- partly because each strand of the plot is driven by someone or several people manipulating shit behind the scenes, and a lot of them have yet to have the other shoe drop.
The most dramatic end of things is probably the attempted assassination of Shizo Heiwajima by a ten year old girl. Then a yakuza group hires the Headless Rider to protect the kid while also hiring a crazy Russian assassin to kidnap the kid and kill Celty. All of this while the remnants of the Blue Squares are picking a fight with a gang from Saitama using the Dollars name. I think the general plan is to force Mikado out of his passive observer stance and into a more active role, while also making Heiwajima into something more than violence relief. Both of these are good things. I definitely could have used more of Izaya's sisters, but hopefully they'll come into play in the second half.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dulalala! TV trailer


Hard to argue with Shizuo Heiwajima punching people's clothes off.

5656 Knights' Strange Night

The one Ryohgo Narita series that never did much for me was the Etsusa Oohashi series -- set on a man made island in the middle of a huge bridge, abandoned shortly before creation. The place subsequently became a land without law, and would seem to have been an ideal setting for Narita's unique brand of madness...and certainly, there are great bits and characters in all the volumes. But he never quite balanced the fun with a desire to work in darker themes than his books set in civilization, and never quite managed to figure out how to make the darker themes fun instead of sort of upsetting.
5656 is a bit of a reboot, then; the original series finished several years ago, and this volume returns to the setting with an actual, consistent series title. Albeit a meaningless one. (If you pronounce it Goro Goro, it sort of sounds like the animal noises of the earlier volumes.)
Narita grabs a page from Kadono's playbook and tries a unique structure -- three chapters depict an ongoing battle to the death between two men that conveniently takes out a group making snuff films on the island in the process -- while the other two chapters branch off from this chaos to tell other stories happening in the same time frame.
A dead body that crashes to the ground between them, soaking the bullets they'd fired at each other leads to a long story that not only explains how this guy wound up getting thrown off a roof, but also filling in the back story on Li-Lei (麗蕾, I'm sort of guessing here, actual Chinese speakers feel free to correct) a yandere who spends all her time sleeping, hugging things she deems cute, and beating people to death with a iron pipe. A childhood spent blindfolded in captivity, iron pipe of death skills learned entirely on her own as a way of fighting her nightmares -- dark stuff, but gleefully fun. The story cross cut with this, an unreliable first person narration of a man obsessed with her, works less successfully, but there was a certain amount of entertainment when the other shoe dropped and he finally got around to admitting the full extent of his own 'good deeds.' Needless to say, they lead to him getting beaten half to death and thrown off a roof.
The other inset story is, apparently, Narita's idea of a romantic comedy. The fact that the participants are a serial killer, a sword wielding hit woman, a chainsaw wielding maniac, and one of the two guys involved in the volume long gunfight...is just what makes it HIS.
The snuff film element itself is the sort of thing that would have dragged the earlier volumes down, but here he handles it better, almost immediately giving way to the two gunmen both showing up to rescue the snuff crew's latest capture and blowing their own cover by shooting at each other, and the crew's latest capture turning out to be Li-Lei, undercover. More importantly, it allows him to have Li-Lei pluck out their eyeballs and juggle them without it seeming remotely excessive.
I was quite relieved to find myself really enjoying this volume; it make have taken a few tries, but it feels like Narita's finally got his thumb on what makes this series and these characters work, and I'm looking forward to it continuing. Once they let him write anything but Dulalala!! again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Front page is looking a little too classy lately

This ought to fix that!



I'm not going to say I don't watch a lot of bad movies, but as long as Yoshihiro Nishimura and his posse keep cranking out surreal Guignol shit, I am sure as shit going to keep watching them. Problem is, they're kind of hard to review, because the subject matter and style is so polarizing-- you can only really judge them relative to one another. The fundamental question is, do you think rubber intestines are funny? If not, avoid this movie at all costs. If so, let's talk.


Samurai Princess looks a lot lower-budget than Team Nishimura's last US release, Tokyo Gore Police (Nishimura directed that as well as handling the FX, but steps back to the latter here, while TGP writer Kengo Kaji moves up to director), or even Machine Girl... it was shot on video, and appears to have all of three sets, but they wisely spend pretty much all their money in the right places.


This movie isn't nearly as relentlessly, mind-shatteringly surreal as Gore Police... in fact, it's even zanier than usual, set in a lightly sketched, sort of retro-future feudal era where everyone dresses like art-punks and mohawked Frankenstein bandits roam the land, leaving curiously tidy stacks of severed limbs in their wake. The leads meet-cute when one accidentally takes a leak on the other, gratuitous training montages lead into inexplicable sex scenes, and the cast includes ditzy samurai bounty-hunter/cops, mad science personnel who will NOT stop mugging for the camera, and a guy who fights with the power of biotech cyborg rock. It's not impossible to follow the plot or anything, but I'm not going to lie and say I gave a damn about it-- it is, as always, basically an excuse to show rubber appendages get cut off and flop around, and it does so entertainingly.

Samurai Princess is technically the weakest Nishimura I've seen, but it's definitely worth watching if you liked either of the others. I continue to look forward to whatever slice of nonsense comes next. Still, I must note that the back-cover copy is misleading; there are no breast grenades in this movie per se. They seem to be more of a shot-put.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ghibli making a movie of The Borrowers

Fuck yes.
I read the shit out of the entire series as a kid. Even went to see the movie with Jim Broadbent as the Dad -- was actually pretty damn good, not that anyone else saw it.
Should fit right in with Ghibli's style, too.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A City of Sadness


The Taiwanese New Wave is one of the most overlooked movements of cinema in the West; Hsiao-Hsien Hou's films have never been given a proper release here, and Edward Yang, aside from Yi Yi, has not had any DVD releases at all (although the Criterion Collection aims to correct that, as they'll eventually release his epic, A Brighter Summer Day). However, the former's 1989 film, A City of Sadness, was recently given a new print by LACMA and has been touring around the country. Managed to catch a screening of it this yesterday, and it's very difficult to unravel my thoughts.

The plot, as loose as it is, centers around the Lin family during the mid to late 1940s -- right after the exit of the Japanese from Taiwan to the takeover by the Chinese Nationalists, covering the 228 Massacre and the subsequent forty year start of martial law. The movie's setting and production are both important, as each signified different kinds of change in freedom and cultural identification for the Taiwanese.

Comparisons are made to The Godfather -- and Hou acknowledges it as an influence -- but they're both minimal and superficial. Both involve gangsters and have a family serve as stand-ins for an ever-changing nation, but similarities after that become strained. The context of resistance, corruption and violence in A City of Sadness comes out of a desire for community betterment, rather than egotism; as such, there is no admiration for the violence here. The cast is far less sprawling yet the scope is wider -- despite far less settings used here -- which induces the audience to consider both the personal and larger context of the breaking apart of the Lin family.

If there is one point of brevity from the somberness -- aside from numerous moments of humor, such as the changing of flags after the Japanese occupation, or familial admonishments -- it's the couple of Hinomi and the deaf Wen-ching (played by a young Tony Leung). Their interactions are reminiscent of silent theater -- intertitles and all -- adding a romantic dynamic that I've never seen in modern film. Yet Wen-ching's empathetic nature is also a helpless one, danger nearing him at two crucial points of the film. We part from them at the end with a photograph and Honomi's narration; their fate, as well as the rest of the family, is left somewhat ambiguous, even if Taiwan's history over the next forty years leaves an unsettling answer.

There is also one element that completely separates Hou's film from anything else that I've seen, and that is flashbacks. "Elliptical" doesn't even begin to describe them; there's no indication in the editing when we switch from present to past, but the rhythm becomes so dreamlike (and I use the term literally) that it becomes very easier to follow the transitions. The rest of Hou's direction is equally impressive: the beauty of the cinematography cannot be overstated. The camera is mostly static, lingering over Hou's gorgeous yellows and reds. Movement is slight, the tight compositions uninterrupted as characters are introduced to our view from off-screen. The outdoors is when Hou pulls back, sometimes to remove us from the violence, but more often to examine gorgeous shades of green as we're swept over the mountains and hills in Taiwan. The soundtrack is just briefly used -- more often we hear music from the cast -- balancing the quiet drama enough to be as effective of any film score that I've recently heard.

With the extensive touring A City of Sadness has been given, I'm hopeful that we'll see a DVD (and perhaps blu-ray) release of the film soon. It can't come quickly enough.

Red Cliff

So yeah, the John Woo that blew up a hospital is alive and well. Pretty sure he wanted to film this story because it had the most explosions in all of Chinese fiction.
They mostly come at the end; leading up to that are a few nifty set pieces -- the arrow theft is particularly awesome -- a few hilarious bits of bullshit about tea or music, and a lot of baffling shots of people staring absently into the distance that largely seem to be dropped in at random by a berserk yet single-minded dadaist who broke into the editing room shortly before it was released.
The opening of the film is probably impossible to follow if you don't already know the story and who all these guys are. I do, but was thrown by bits like the one dude rescuing a baby that turns out to be alive even though it was clearly dead in mid-shot, with blood splattered on its ashen face! I presume they just fucking cut in a close up of the living baby to make Western audiences happy.
But far more baffling is the casting on Cao Cao. The guy playing him is a decent actor, but they could not have found a less imposing actor for the damn role if they'd cast a fucking accountant. He does not project the intelligence, ambition, charisma, or malice to play the role, and consequently Cao Cao just comes off as a weak-minded fool. Supported by the script, which can't think of any way to add a female role than to have one go distract him for a few hours...even though that removes the last shred of the strength they'd left Cao Cao.
Certainly, my impressions of Cao Cao are heavily colored by Souten Kouro's ridiculously bad ass version (which had him lose Red Cliff because he's sick as hell and delirious) but even from an objective standpoint, it would be nice if the villain were a threat beyond the sheer size of his army. If they remembered that he got the massive army by being really good at what he does.
There's a heck of a lot of really impressive looking action and pyrotechnics that definitely make it worth seeing, but in the end, my impressions of it were sort of sealed by Guder sitting behind me, unable to stop snickering as Tony Leung and Takashi Kaneshiro stand four inches away from each other and don't quite make out.

Eve no Jikan, Episode 06


The sixth and (so far) last episode of Eve no Jikan is concerned with the question of robot loyalty and contradictions of the first two laws of robotic, avoiding staleness by making it more personalized. Masaki's father is involved in an ethics committee that is currently challenging questionable robot and human interaction. A sordid history of the group as a strict anti-robot collective is briefly detailed throughout these thirty minutes, with most of the attention focusing on Masaki's misgivings about any kind of real relationship with a robot.

Compared to the ridiculous episode four, this is a tonal continuation of five with the seriousness ratcheted up to eleven. One traumatic morning of an apparently broken friendship has left Masaki estranged from his own robot. Unexpectedly, there is a resolution that brings together this and the aforementioned ethics committee thread. Thankfully, before Yoshiura loses sight of the series' predominant appeal, he subverts the melodrama with a concisely-placed joke about stairs and robots, and ends the last few minutes on a fairly up-beat note.

Even if it's not the most ideal exit from the café -- with no certainty of returning to it -- it's a satisfying one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

TIME TO DIE/THE PERFECT WORLD

Tokyo Majin is pretty much the kind of anime we've all seen before; high school kids, demons attacking, magic powers. On top of that, it's based on a video game, almost always the kiss of death. Somewhat surprisingly, it's actually a pretty good example of the form, and reminds me why people like the genre at all.

It actually reminds me a bit of Gurren Lagann, in the way it acknowledges the basic material is not at all original, and cuts out all the boring crap in favor of just getting to the good parts. Of course, TM's nowhere near as good as GL (when Gainax bothers bringing their A-game they're pretty much unstoppable), but it is definitely well-crafted; I dig the weird, ornately occult monster designs, and the fights are fluid and not padded out with posing, reaction shots, and pointless exposition about the nature of their powers (Kubo Tite, please see me after class).

The show is also pleasantly short-- fighting shows almost inevitably slide into tedium as the lengthy fights completely wreck the pacing, but this is only one season long, and the first half is basically one compact story. The somewhat breathless pace leaves the characters lightly sketched in at best, but frankly, they were never going to be that deep anyway, so I'd rather they not belabor the point.

Full disclosure; I've only watched the first half of the series so far, so it could easily
all fall apart later, but so far it's been a very pleasant surprise. This probably isn't
going to be an all-time favorite, but I genuinely enjoyed it, and it's kind of sad that
that's become so rare that I feel the need to point out when a show has enough basic
competence to rise above mediocrity or amusing bathos. This is thoroughly enjoyable pop
trash, and I'm a little puzzled it doesn't have more buzz.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Confucius


Hey, maybe Chow Yun-Fat WILL be in another good film before time ends.
Not sure it'll be this one, but I sort of started the trailer expecting a drama (which may show how little I know about Confucius) and got war epic instead.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shizuru-san, and Kadono's baffling failure

Kouhei Kadono is the man behind no less than five series, and a number of one off novels. The Boogiepop series is his action horror meal ticket; the Jiken series are a fascinating mix of fantasy and mystery, the Night Watch series is far future virtual reality sci-fi, the Soul Drop series are laid back modern mysteries, and the Shizuru-san series is completely boring shit.
I can't work out why this series exists at all. It feels like someone at Fujimi Mystery bunko called him up and hired him specifically to write a moe mystery series (which is all the published before going belly up when no one liked any of them except Gosick (which had the grace to actually be good as well)) and he and an editor basically brainstormed things until something turned the guy on.
Shizuru-san is very sick. She is in a hospital...and not just any hospital, the crazy hospital from the Boogiepop novels, the same one that made the robot detective in the Soul Drop novels. A place no normal human should ever be. You'd think this would be a mystery or something, but it isn't. It's just there, like someone thought a bedridden detective would be moe, and Kadono dutifully wrote it in and forgot about it.
Her one friend is Yo-chan, who has no personality at all. Not that Shizuru-san does, but at least she has an illness to define her. Yo-chan has fuck all. I read the first book years ago and hated it, so I read the first story in the second book today to confirm that he wasn't going to figure out a way to make me give a fuck between volumes, and then pitched it and the third book (pictured above) on my garbage pile. I will not be buying the reboot attempt he did a few months ago, telling the story of how these boring fuckers met.
So, since Kadono is not the least bit interested in his moe hook, or in the two characters, exactly what is he interested in? Some sort of meta-anti-mystery. Each chapter starts with something that sounds quite intriguing -- the story I read today had a mummified body found under a thick tangle of white Sweet William Catchflies...six hours after being seen alive. Then each of these intriguing set ups turns out to have such an incredibly prosaic and bland explanation that you're left actively annoyed with him for having briefly captured your imagination. Obviously, the rational explanation for this is that the dude sold his identity to a foreign gangster and randomly starved to death, and his body just wound up like that in time, but that is no fun at all.
Even with the inherent anti-climax of this structure, the Shizuru-san stories are singularly dull affairs, with meandering conversations that tell us nothing about the characters, and provide no momentum to the mystery solving itself. I couldn't bring myself to read another word.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hausu


This may actually be the most accurate trailer ever.
The entire movie is like this. If the trailer makes you cackle with glee, by all means get your hands on it. Even the set up, before they get to the house, is from another planet, with shit like a bus pulling up in front of a matte painting so they can get off it and stand in front of another, smaller painting clearly visible in the wide shot, or ADRed comments clearly taken from some sort of early DVD commentary that results in the girls effectively MSTing the movie themselves.
Then you have cats being tossed into frame, chandeliers attacking people who calmly unleash some bizarrely edited kung fu before going on with things as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened, and, in a precursor to moe traditions, all the one-note characters are named after their sole defining characteristic.
Apparently this director is also responsible for a live action -- and bizarrely international -- film of Drifting Classroom.

District B13 Ultimatum


First film was fucking amazing. Hope it lives up to it.
Not sure where the B went...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why do I do this shit to myself?

I have a love-hate relationship with Suzumiya Haruhi; when the series is good, it manages to provide substance that belies its moe trappings, genuinely interesting ideas and plots, characters that grow beyond the stereotypes they represent, and Kyon's narration undercuts everything with a constant stream of sarcastic humor. When it is bad -- which is more than half the time -- it is none of those things.
Way back when I was still in Japan, I grabbed the first volume of one of his other series -- this was back when Tanigawa actually wrote things, instead of spending two years with writer's block/sulking about money -- just to see what it was like. I'd even seen someone claim Escape from the School was better than Haruhi. I failed to realize this person was an imbecile.
Honestly, this thing just had so many red flags I did not get around to reading chapter 1. The 35 page intro was more pain than I can handle. This was like some third rate hack trying to imitate one of the bad Haruhi novels -- not even up to that low standard.
Not-Kyon is haunted by the ghost of his dead sister, and because of that he has to attend a school for EMP, which he hates. He has the same sarcastic narration, only without any jokes, and with no effort made to actually get the readers to care about him or identify with him. His sister manages to be... well, she and her twin are on the cover, and that's pretty much all you need to fucking know, but she also appears to spend all her time throwing things at people and terrorizing everyone around him for no discernible reason -- certainly not comic relief, you'd have to be fucking retarded to think shit like being woken up by someone throwing an alarm clock at your head is still funny in 2003, when this relic from an age of hackery was written. Sadly, these two failures were the more successful half of the cast. The other two characters in the prologue were an overbearing idiot prone to pompous speeches, and a classic rich girl snob. By classic, I mean both of these people were so forced it made me physically ill to read their dialogue.
I just don't know. Was Haruhi an accident, which is why he has so much trouble living up to it? If I'd forced myself to keep reading, would he eventually have managed to make it worth my while? I certainly don't have the time or the inclination to find out.
Why even have a god damn prologue, if it isn't to provide an early hook that the natural start of your story would normally miss? I keep coming across this mistake -- if you can't make the start of your book interesting, do not be upset when no one sticks around to find out what else happens. Don't fuck around establishing what is 'normal' in your world -- give me the reason why I'm going to keep reading, then you can step back and lay a few ground rules.

Timur Bekmambetov officially producing all Russian films

At least, all the ones we hear about. Much like Luc Besson does with France.
This one appears to be about a man desperately trying to move to the countryside, but forced to coach soccer instead. He figured his best chance at being allowed to move is if they lose. So he recruits a bunch of street kids...and tries to sabotage them once they turn out to be fucking shaolining that shit up. Being Russian, there's actually a good chance he'll be an asshole the whole way through, even though touching changes of heart are what the genre is all about.

Either way, I'm not sure if this actually looks awesome, or if Russian PR groups are just really good at cutting trailers. The way, you know, Japan is not.
I'll also send you to Twitch, where I got all this, and which vainly tries to explain the name of the thing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Strange Tales of Del Rey

Looks like we've solved the mystery of Moyashimon's last-minute delay, but their newest scheduling change seems pretty obvious: The last three volumes of Mushishi are being compressed into one final omnibus, presumably because sales are poor enough that they'd rather get it over with ASAP. It's kind of a shame that it's come to this, but I do appreciate them seeing it through to the end.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Cliff shit that doesn't really mention the movie

So since John Woo's epic Red Cliff is actually out in theaters (and mysteriously available on Xbox LIVE) I actually read up on it a little.
Seems to focus on Zhou Yu and Zhuge Liang versus Cao Cao.
Yeah, like I know any of the Chinese names. Souten Kouro's warped revamp is my entire source of knowledge for this shit.
Okay, so who were they in that?
Tony Leung is Zhou Yu, 周瑜, Shu Yu. Didn't ring a bell. Apparently he looks like this in the Souten Kouro anime:

Which is probably the least distinctive design in the entire series or something. No memory of the dude at all.
Takashi Kaneshiro is Zhuge Liang. Pretty famous guy, historically.
諸葛亮. Shokatsu Ryo. Hunh. Wait, this guy was awfully famous. Surely he was in the...
Oh. This 字/zi/courtesy name business. Naturally, both these guys are referred to almost exclusively by their courtesy names, so I only know him as 孔明/Koumei/Kongming. Koumei is pretty spectacular in Souten Kouro, portrayed as alternately a flaming homosexual and a fucking God descended to Earth to tell humans how to win fucking battles. He looks like this:

Which also reveals that there is apparently a fucking Three Kingdoms CCG that uses artwork from SEVERAL different versions of the series simultaneously, just to fuck with people.
(Zhou Yu's courtesy name is 公瑾, which the Japanese wikipedia is unhelpful on, but which I'm assuming Koukin. The Chinese is Gongjin. This was unhelpful in jogging my memory.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A little Bakemonogatari DVD-only violence for you

Disc 3!

The audio commentary features several minutes of Suruga trying to get Senjogahara not to watch this bit...

And Senjogahara promising she won't mind at all...

Right till the leg goes through Araragi.
The Suruga/Senjogahara commentary is generally too awesome for the universe to contain.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

There's a special hell for underachievers


Here in 2009, with the ongoing Animepocalypse in full swing, Bandai Visual/Honneamise's ridiculous business plan seems even sillier than it did at the time. For those of you coming in late, the label started out well, positioning themselves as sort of a Criterion Collection for anime, rereleasing a handful of prestige titles in both no-frills regular discs and lavish, feature-packed special editions for people with arguably more money than sense (er, guilty).

So, promising start, but within months of those initial releases, they started cutting back not just the extras, but on standard features like dual language tracks and per-disc episode counts, and even had the gall to raise prices. Complete fiasco, worked out about as well as you'd think, and the company was dissolved and the more saleable licenses reverted to the more sensible Bandai Entertainment. Incredibly, it looks like the home office in Japan didn't quite learn their lesson, but I'm getting sidetracked.

Anyway, during this second, lesser wave, they released a lot of series that were obscure even at the time, and the laughable prices they were charging made sure they stayed that way. Picking through the wreckage a couple years later, I'm a bit more inclined to take a chance at $5 a disc than $40, and hey, turns out Demon Prince Enma is animated by the usually decent Brains Base and directed by Mamoru Kanbe, who helmed the infamous, hilarious Elfen Lied. I'll gamble a stamp. Well, the thing about gambling is you don't always win; I'd love to say this was some kind of overlooked gem, but frankly it's average at best. I will give points for the terrible pun of naming the decrepit old magic hat "Chapeauji".


OK, so this is a four-episode sequel/updating of an old Go Nagai series no one in America's ever heard of. The cute little demon kids are all grown up and now they're sexay demon hunters, because this is a Go Nagai OVA and that means sleaze, gore, and sleazy gore! Both episodes on the first disc involve sex workers, and if you've ever seen any Go Nagai show that isn't Cutey Honey, you know that most people you see will end up dead. We have all the ingredients for, if not a good show, at least an enjoyably trashy one. And for a while, it's OK, depending on how low you're willing to set your brow, but it can't manage a baseline level of quality for long.

First and foremost, this is not the kind of show you watch for the characters. Impulsive dick Enma, icily irritable Yukihime, and dissolute kappa Kapaeru are incredibly one-note, practically ciphers, which means all the enjoyment comes from watching them do crazy magic stuff, but demon-smacking is at a bare minimum. This is more a horror show than an action one, so the monster of the week has to stumble around offing hapless victims for a bit before our heroes get around to doing their job. There are a couple other recurring characters, including a spunky tabloid journalist and a hard-bitten cop we immediately renamed "Detective Frankenstein", but they don't quite manage to shore up the gaping charisma void left by the leads.



Still, the two episodes on disc 1 are at least watchable, and lay a decent enough foundation that could lead somewhere interesting-- so of course, it completely collapses halfway through episode 3, when the story we've been watching gets literally interrupted by another one of dubious quality, and the ostensible lead characters vanish until the very end. Disc 2 is almost perplexingly bad all the way through, full of awfulness like a mansion rendered almost entirely in GONZO-worthy clumsy CGI, and strange storytelling choices like lingering shots of someone's head bobbing up and down, staring at an eerily dribbling basketball. Even before this dive into ineptitude, the animation quality was basically on a TV level, and almost embarrassing for an OVA. Charging $20 an episode for this is practically a crime, and I feel sorry for anyone who got suckered.

There are a few nice, small moments here and there, for true subculture vultures, but there's a reason no one talks about this one. Much like the company that released it, Demon Prince Enma returns to the hell that spawned it, unmourned, and mostly unknown.

Yume Miru Kikai images

Twitch has images from Satoshi Kon's new movie.
Is this seriously the first time we've mentioned him here!?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Motorcycle vs. Cavalry

I was thinking about making a shameful confession

But Sub's written literally everything I would have anyway. Chapter 5 in particular is either so stupid it's gone back around to clever, or the other way 'round.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Turbo - an indie film that might as well be Tekken: The Movie

Continuing my video-dropping from today is this independently-produced short film about the bad-ass world of video game tournaments in a trendy, futuristicly vague LA (or somewhere).

TURBO from Jarrett Lee Conaway on Vimeo.



I'll admit there ain't much original going on here, but it's surprisingly competent and earnest. Kind of like a high school drama group getting Michael Bay's FX department.
via the official Turbo web site

Another Western-contracted anime omnibus

In what seems to be a fashionable trend, yet another Western pop-culture property is getting Animatrix-ized (there's got to be a better term for that - "anime omnibus" just doesn't seem to cut it either.



While I'm morbidly curious about the game, I can't say that this trailer makes the project look too interesting. The Animatrix was awesome, I hear good stuff about the Batman anime omnibus and I'm excited about the possibilities of Halo: Legends, but this trailer looks rather like most Ameircan straight-to-DVD animated projects (i.e. kinda crap).

I do like the intent of actually tying products like these into animated projects (EA did something similar with Dead Space) as it's likely the only hope I see for America growing a stronger animation market for adults, I haven't been too impressed with the offerings so far.

Part of the strength of projects like these, however, is that each segment is short, so if you don't like one of the stories, you don't have to wait too long to move on to something that might be better. The flaws of one individual piece doesn't drag the whole project down.
via Kotaku & Joystiq

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Goemon!

So I never actually saw Casshern, since it had already earned itself a rep as utterly incoherent shit by the time it actually came out. Goemon has an even worse rep -- even people who liked Casshern are getting their hate on.
But hey, the trailers were insane.

Goemon is by no means a good movie. It is awesomely terrible in the Southland Tales sense. At least, for about half the length. I absolutely loved the first half -- filled with batshit crazy people doing batshit crazy things on batshit crazy sets surrounded by batshit awful special effects, it gloried in matte paintings and hilariously overstylized CG. The first act ninja fight alone is totally one of the greatest ninja-riffic things ever filmed.
It sort of implodes on itself in the second half. It sort of loses sight of a few key things.
A. Ninja DO NOT CRY.
B. Since you've established that ninja can leap a hundred feet in the air WHENEVER THEY WANT then it logically follows that: Ninja do not have problems getting through crowds.
I am aware that Japan is the land where melodrama will never fucking die, but wisecracking ninja doing crazy shit worked a good deal better than crying ninja having sad things happen to them, and when that gave way to five successively worse endings it sort of stopped being hilarious that everyone was wearing Western armor or fucking Stormtrooper outfits and posing dramatically in front of sudden solar eclipses and just got weirdly dull.

Independently-produced Short Anime Continues to Impress

Independent anime shorts are usually a nice little surprise and Fumiko's Confession is no different. Cute and fun, it's short and quick to not overstay its welcome either.



Prolly doesn't hurt that the musical choice always brings me back to good ol' Ebichu fansubs, too.
via (the pleasingly NSFW) Sankaku Complex

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I might be reaching here

Bakemonogatari 13


Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga, page 1

Fun-loving criminals

"My first series is a story about arms dealers. It's a rather serious topic, but while I draw I'm always smiling and having a lot of fun." So saith the author, on the very first page of Jormungand, a story set in "a certain Eastern European country", where a beautiful genius arms dealer with the rather unlikely name of Koko Hekmatyar hires child soldier Jonah as her new bodyguard, and bullety hijinks ensue.

I never thought I'd find a series that made Black Lagoon look like gritty realism, but here we are. Both series share a fierce, dumb energy that makes them ripping reads, but Takahashi unfortunately also follows Hiroe in having some muddy, hard to follow action scenes... and actually, that goes for his plotting too, unless someone can explain to me why announcing to your enemies that you're unarmed, then threatening to rearm means you've won the fight.

It may not be fair to be reading this in Lagoon's shadow, but I find it impossible not to, given that they're both in Viz' Signature line, released new volumes on the same day, and even share a trim size. I suppose they ultimately both descend from Sonoda's Gunsmith Cats, which wasn't exactly a paragon of realism itself. It's sort of interesting to track the protagonists' moral degeneration across the three series, from bounty hunters to mercenaries/pirates to war profiteers.

I definitely don't want all my entertainment to be socially responsible, but Jormungand's frothy adventuresome tone ironically bothered me by NOT following up on any of the darkness in its premise. Jonah's background is entirely glossed over, and seems just an excuse to have an adorable little boy toting a gun around. Even Full Metal Panic managed a more nuanced take on the subject. Actually, what the hell; between this, FMP, and Gundam 00, "child soldier" is in danger of becoming a stock character type.

Ultimately, Takahashi is not here to make any commentary on war culture, military-industrial complexes, or even human suffering. He is here to show stuff blow up real good. To his credit, there isn't any particular joy in brutality either, so the book remains tacky but not tasteless. Again, the frontispiece says it's his first work, and it definitely shows, but I can't say I didn't enjoy this.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

OK, I just wanted an excuse to type "sexual dimorphism"


I don't think I've mentioned my love of Keita Amemiya here. He's kind of a consummate B-movie filmmaker; as a creature designer he's superb and instantly recognizable, but I find him less consistent as a director (as does probably everyone who suffered through Zeiram 2 or Mechanical Violator Hakaider). Still, I do love seeing his biomechanical beasties go on a rampage, so I decided to check out his TV series Garo. And you know, the first eight episodes are actually pretty good. The show cuts out all the "people talking in Godzilla movies" BS, probably because it's only a half hour long-- they have no choice but to leave out anything boring. The feckless freeter artist leading lady gets exactly enough screen time to convey her character without having the "funny" comic relief cut into the rubber suit time. I'd say this is a good show for people who really like the idea of tokusatsu but tend to find the actual shows a bit disappointing; it's a good popcorn show that's been improving as it goes. The monsters do get to kill people, and the episodes aren't as formulaic as you'd expect. Plus, random mute kung-fu butler. And if you've spent any time playing White Wolf games, the hero's habitual katana-and-trenchcoat getup is endlessly amusing.


Speaking of endless, I finished Endless Eight, and hence am mostly done with Haruhi 2. While I still appreciate the sheer cheekiness, and their insane dedication to the joke, spending a full eight episodes on it was definitely overkill. There's better things we could have been doing with our time together, KyoAni.

I also find myself questioning the wisdom of having the title character filtered through a narrator who seems to hate her. I seem to recall Kyon being a lot more drawn to Haruhi's obnoxious verve in the first season, and by extension so were we. She's also starting to seem kind of dumb to not even suspect the constant preternatural hijinks happening right under her nose. Maybe this just isn't a concept that can be drawn out too far, or maybe it's that this season is totally lacking in flashy weirdness to keep me from examining it too closely. And I continue to not love everyone constantly going off-model like the staff wishes they were just drawing more K-On. Actually, I think I just put my finger on why that bugs me so much-- the fairly mundane character designs helped root the show in the staid reality Haruhi's so sick of, and having everyone pulling cartoony faces just throws that away.


Also checked out the first episode of Sacred Blacksmith. The sexual dimorphism in this show is ridiculous; all the men look like hard-bitten extras from Lodoss Wars (except the titular blacksmith, who'd look more at home in Scrapped Princess), but all the women look like K-On Goes LARPing. And yes, that's pretty much the only thing I have to say about this; it's not outright terrible, or badly animated (I did think the iceblob was kinda neat), but I just can't seem to give a damn. But hey, it didn't fail the basic "do I care enough to even try it" test like most of this season's shows, or make me actively regret it like Book Of Bantorra.


Finally, I read this on Jason Thompson's recommendation. I'm a sucker for art about making art, but there's not quite as much of that as I'd have liked. The most interesting part ended up being how completely objectified the male lead is; I don't think he ever has a single thought or desire that isn't totally centered around the heroine. I'm not used to being on the receiving end of that.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Repent Walpurgis 2

I managed to avoid retaining anything from the first book, so it was quite a relief that this volume consisted almost entirely of over the top action. You don't need to remember a great deal about the Ice Witch to get a kick out of her fighting with the one eyed samurai in a crowded airport as he opens chasms in the floor beneath her and she has to catch hold of the staff she immobilized when he tried to hit her with it. You don't have to remember any of the character backstories to cringe as Nagi gets stabbed through the heart by a stake made from the body of her own mother. You do probably have to have read virtually everything Kadano has ever written to make much sense out of the last chapter, in which virtually every mysterious faction that has been kicking around the outskirts of the Boogiepop series assemble, shuffle themselves and decide to start fucking shit up. Akemi starred in her own Boogiepop novel, Heartless Red -- her unique talent for bullshit has allowed her to have a successful career in the Towa Organization without actually having any of the powers she claims to have. Introduced to Asukai Jin by a character from his fucking Faust short stories, she decides to make him the next head of the Towa Organization, and uh, I guess that plot will happen next time. There's a lot of set up for it. Meanwhile, the doctor from the Shizuru-san novels betrays Nagi, and Akemi sends her to see Beat Pete, at which point the novel ends, having finally caught up to the teaser cliffhanger at the end of Beat's Discipline. Oh, and Nagi is turning into an evil witch doomed to fight through all eternity with another witch, both of which move from host body to host body throughout time. The other witch has quite a lot of plans carefully laid over the last few centuries, having sent Nagi's mother THROUGH TIME. I strongly suspect they are a parallel universe manifestation of the dueling witches seen in the Jiken series. Meanwhile, Riki Tiki Tavi possessed Aya, giving her superpowers but ultimately placing her against Nagi and the other witch in a battle she cannot hope to win.
In other words, great fun, but it is no longer possible to read anything Kadono writes without first reading everything else he has ever written, preferably in chronological order, including stuff that only ran in magazines and they've never been nice enough to collect in book form, ha ha ha ha ha.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vampire Hunter D - sassy hand + sailor suit =

Today's slice of wire-fu features a Korean actress starring in the French-directed live-action remake of a Japanese anime with stunt direction from Hong Kong. Sadly, Blood: The Last Vampire is less a shining beacon of international cooperation than a bloody effing mess. And I never even liked the source material. The first half or so is a remake of the original anime (presumably Blood+ is a separate license), and then from there it strays off into random period wire-fu as the script completely collapses.

To be fair, this movie does have two things to recommend it. First, the awesome mean-girls-from-the-kendo-club hazing sequence, which is far too amazing a concept to be wasted on this movie. Second, the bit where Saya's mentor single-handedly wastes like twenty old-school, earth-tunneling, tree-rappelling ninja (who are presumably also vampires). This scene also teaches us that Saya has been specifically trained to hang upside-down from a tree trunk and stab someone's eye out.



Sadly, these are mere pinpricks of enjoyment drowning in a sea of nonsense. It's so fundamentally incoherent that it reminds me of Transformers 2; characters are constantly acting on information they have no reason to have, and all kinds of plot elements get introduced during the scene in which they are resolved. The movie ends when Saya and her American sidekick drive into a giant canyon right outside of Tokyo, which turns out to be some kind of timegorge that literally dumps them into a flashback where they kill the big bad, which apparently traps Saya outside the flow of normal spacetime for the sake of a last-minute Alice in Wonderland reference.

Yes, really.

Most unforgivably, the final cut removes all trace of the blacula fight that was the only reason I had any interest in seeing this. It's just kind of a sadly underachieving movie, on the whole; Corey Yuen's stunt direction is smothered in gratuitous quick cuts and sped-up footage (you'd never believe the same guy did Fong Sai Yuk or even New Legend of Shaolin), and the usually reliable Clint Mansell's score is so unmemorable that I can't recall a single piece of music. I've seen worse movies, but that's still no reason to recommend this one.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cencoroll

The trailers for this short film have been getting people excited; with one man doing most of the work, it took a while to complete, but now Cencoroll is actually out.

It is pleasantly understated.
I don't really think it has the pulse-pounding action or boldly drawn characters it needs to really get a lot of attention, but it has a lot of fascinating moments, and an off-kilter grasp of characterization and plot development that belies the library of congress summary. I think I wound up liking it more than I enjoyed it, but even then, it feels more like a first episode than a complete work, especially with the post credits sequel bait.

Kuuchuu Buranko 3

I didn't actually have anything much to say about this episode other than that I enjoyed it, but don't feel the need to talk it up much.
Then I happened to look around on the Wikipedia page, and discovered they've actually changed the the client character's gender this week. He's a romance novelist -- who once wrote a really great work of literature, but who turned to romance novels, despite his sexual inexperience, because his real book didn't sell -- and who now suffers from vomiting fits every time he starts to think he might be repeating himself. Changing the gender here makes for rather a dramatic reframing of the content, to the point where it's sort of hard to imagine what it would have been like originally; much like I find it hard to imagine Irabu not as three fucking psychos, but as played by Abe Hiroshi (in the TV movie version.)
If nothing else, I'm gradually starting to form a real desire to go read the novels.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Edward Scissorhands - goth + feudalism =

Sundance Channel, what would I do without you to fill up my DVR? Most recently you've gifted me with Dororo, adapted from an Osamu Tezuka manga I haven't read, though I'm familiar with the basic premise thanks to Sega. For those fortunate enough to have skipped that game, Dororo is the story of wandering magic cyborg swordsman Hyakkimaru, hunting down the 48 demons his father sold his organs to for power, accompanied by the titular scrappy kid sidekick (much older and less androgynous than usual, but being played by the scythe girl from Battle Royale will do that). As I understand it the manga never actually finished, so the game and the movie both come up with their own narratives. It certainly starts well, with an arrow-pierced warlord fleeing the battlefield and cursing the world, but then the cheesy-looking talking rat offering to buy his soul rather recalibrated my expectations.

This is kind of a recurring theme; the movie has a nice sense of place (even if that place is actually New Zealand, but hell, it looks gorgeous anyway) and some evocative visuals, but every time I really start digging the gritty samurai feel, they throw in something totally jarring, like sequined dancing girls. Then again, I have the same exact problem with what little Tezuka I've read, so maybe this is just a faithful adaptation. I decided to just give in and enjoy it around when our grumpy hero slashed the mask off an exotic crab-demon dancer.

It basically never stops being weird and goofy, but it does manage to achieve a fairy-tale logic that makes it work. I wouldn't call this a great movie, but it is an enjoyable one, in a lazy Saturday-afternoon matinee-when-you're-11 way. If you wanna see some crazy CGI wire-fu yokai fights (inexplicably scored to Spanish guitar), it don't come no better.

I have no idea what to make of this.


A. This is Zhang Yimou's remake of Blood Simple, apparently.
B. Apparently the first half is a wacky comedy, and the second half...isn't.
C. The trailer would, therefore, be schizo enough even without super doomy McCreepy voice threatening to release it in December.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bukimi to Soboku na Kakowareta Sekai

Kimi to Boku no Kowareta Sekai (Our Broken World) was the first Nisioisin book I didn't like. An attempt to write a traditional mystery novel, this resulted in page after page of the detective character tediously explaining every exhausting detail of the deductive process for a mystery that wasn't interesting to begin with. Sure, the detective might be a high school girl that refuses to go to class and spends all her time in the nurse's office, selling her own body, and the narrator had an icky subplot about his incestuous relationship with his sister, but neither of those elements could make up for the dire tedium at the novel's core.
After writing it, someone once asked Nisioisin for a sequel, and he made up this title as a joke, and then eventually actually wrote the thing. I have a tendency to keep buying everything authors I like put out, even works of theirs I don't really care for, but he put out two more novels in this series before I actually got around to trying the second one.
It's at times like these that my compulsive buying justifies itself, because this was one hell of a book. This time around the detective character (cousin of the original) does not endlessly explain things...at least, not directly. She actually never says a word. Somehow she is able to communicate vast swathes of information through facial expressions alone. She also fails to survive the book, a fact the illustrations helpfully reveal dozens of pages before she actually gets murdered. Structurally, this book really manages to subvert the problems he ran into in the first book; after a chapter spent introducing the characters, the narrator's sister winds up dead, and he and the silent detective begin investigating. In drag. She always wears the boy's uniform, and he decides to solve this thing wearing his sister's spare uniform. After a comparatively painless if labored explanation of the trick used in the murder, they fail to actually narrow it down to a final suspect, and he is forced to go try to rattle a few things loose and see what happens. This is where all hell breaks lose. Not only does the detective die, but the killer herself gets murdered by one of the other suspects; it all sort of leaves a bad taste in your mouth, the way murder really ought to I suppose, not least because the characters are mostly thirteen. But come to think of it, Nisioisin's mystery works have always been really good at making the actual murders viscerally unpleasant to read about. It's all part of his more manipulative side; by rattling the reader's emotions he sets us up to buy it when the other shoe drops.
In this case, the other shoe drops in the epilogue, when the detective from the first novel rings the narrator's doorbell, and neatly flips the entire book on his head. Nisioisin's done the unreliable narrator trick before, to great effect, but I'm pretty sure he topped himself here. Easily the best actual mystery novel he's written...even though the mystery itself is nothing you can't work out for yourself, he had enough cards up his sleeve that he was able to turn the tables on me at the very end.