Anime Review: Record of Lodoss War

I have fond memories of this anime. Not only was it one of the first that I watched as a kid, but the first time I watched it was during my first overnight not-sleeping sleepover. By which, I mean that we teenage boys decided to try and stay up all night, and some of us even succeeded(ish). That would be when I learned to never do that unless you actually have to. Heh, I was so out of it when my parents picked me up, and I was dead to the world for most of the day! Ha, good times! 🙂

That said, one may recall what I said when I reviewed Rurouni Kenshin, about kids’ shows eventually being seen from the perspective of an adult. They are always dear to us, but it’s just not the same anymore, ya know?

In the case of the Lodoss-based franchise, there is some mitigating virtue in how it, like Fullmetal Alchemist, is not just one series, but two. And, yes, they are different from each other, including what sort of audience they are geared towards. But this time, I’m going review the both of them simultaneously, with just one post, but more in depth than I did with Digimon.

Record of Lodoss War is an aptly-named medieval fantasy anime. Set on the fictional island-continent of Lodoss, it tells the stories of a series of wars there, through the eyes of the young knights and their companions who make their way into the heart of the extended fray. There’s swords and sorcery, elves and dwarves, dragons and goblins, kings and wizards, battle and war. The ultimate conflict is not between nations, though the dark island of Marmo features as the primary source of antagonists as they invade the rest of Lodoss. No, the final battle is between good and evil, light and darkness, life and death, as a dark wizard attempts to resurrect a fallen goddess of destruction, in a mad scheme to turn the world into a kingdom of the dead, with himself as its ruler.

So, it’s a fairly standard fantasy story, really. But there’s nothing wrong with that, now, is there? 😉

There are two versions of this show: Record of Lodoss War and Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight.

The first Record of Lodoss War begins partway through the story it tells, introducing the adventuring party, and then it rewinds to when they all met and when the war they’re embroiled in began. It wraps up the most major plot points of the first war and then it moves forward a bit, showing us how the dark wizard is maneuvering and the heroes’ struggle to thwart his evil plan. It’s a combination of basic and epic, quite well done, though not exactly meant for young children, with all the bloodshed, and skipping over a number of time-consuming details here and there.

Chronicles of the Heroic Knight begins with most of the same adventuring party, but soon expands with new cast members, and, soon enough, an entirely new adventuring party, from the rising generation. It actually picks up the story of Record about halfway through, and then tells the second half in an entirely different way, and it’s twice the length. Thus, while Record feels a good deal more “epic,” Chronicles tells its story in a much more fleshed-out way, leaving no threads dangling. It more thoroughly encompasses how this extended conflict, across fifteen years or so, affects the whole of Lodoss and everyone on it. It’s also clearly crafted to appeal to the younger audience more, though there is some language.

Both shows feature casts of lovable characters, hero and villain alike. They begin with Parn, a young warrior/knight, and his friends defending their village, soon drawn into a contest over the dominion of Lodoss, and this is just part of the war to determine the fate of Lodoss. Chronicles adds the party of knight-in-training Spark, but whether it’s Parn or Spark, both are noble warriors surrounded by loyal friends. They also have love interests which are obvious enough, though Neese’s mutual affection for Spark takes more time to become evident than Deedlit’s love for Parn. They have wise friends, strong teachers, elves and clerics watching their backs, and they are friends with noble kings. All of them fight for the good of Lodoss, to protect and liberate its people from terror and tyranny.

The antagonists are equally as enjoyable, perhaps even more so, for while the heroes grow up, the villains are already grown. The difference between Record and Chronicles is how pronounced the more redeeming qualities within Ashram, Pirotess, and others are. In Chronicles, they are not always so different from the heroes, more like “heroes who happen to be on the other side,” and they can be both redeemed and saved. In Record, however, they are definitely villains, wrapped in darkness, with very little light in their souls. Their stories are tragedies, for in walking in the dark, they fall into destruction, swallowed up in madness.

It’s up for debate whether the redemption or the destruction of the villain makes for a better, more appealing, more compelling story. 🙂

The music and the animation for both shows is beautiful. The styles are very different, but they suit their respective shows perfectly. One is an epic fantasy adventure, and the other is an adventurous fantasy. Very similar, almost the same, but not nearly identical. The styles reflect that in a way which I am not entirely capable of describing. I suppose Chronicles is more bright and cartoony, and censored, while Record is more stark and classical in its approach. Either way works, though, and I always enjoyed the both of them.

Speaking of the differing approaches though, as I’ve mentioned, Chronicles is meant more for kids, outside a bit of language. I don’t think there’s any actual bloodshed, for the most part, and even the action sequences are heavily edited to avoid the gritty reality of violence. Record has no such limitations, not only in the blood and violence, but in the weight of what is lost in war. Probably my favorite contrast in that is how they handle the demon sword Soul-Crusher: in Chronicles, it’s just a slightly-mystical sword, but in Record, it can be used to annihilate small armies all at once.

There’s not really any other kind of “mature” content to be found in either show, though Record does momentarily show a woman, attacked by goblins while bathing herself, fleeing naked, as one would be in such circumstance. And even then, it covers her up quickly enough. So, I would rate Chronicles as PG, and rate Record as a solid PG-13.

In either case, the story of Lodoss is a very entertaining fantasy, one that happens to be told twice, in two distinct ways. I highly recommend both shows for fans of the genre, though with an understanding of who each series is meant for. 😉

Rating: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: solid A.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #243: People Make the Future

“New eras don’t come about because of swords; they’re created by the people who wield them.”
– Kenshin Himura, Rurouni Kenshin
Episode 40, “A Killer Without Mercy: Fight to the Death Against the Cho of the Juppongatana”

How many times has it happened? Someone, for some reason, wants to do away with how things are and usher in a new age more to their liking, and they think they can do it because of the weapon they wield. It could be a sword, or a gun, or an army, or a bomb, or money, or words. Whatever the weapon is, they think it gives them power, even power enough to reshape the world itself. They fail to understand that the weapon is just a tool, and all tools are meaningless props without the person wielding them.

It is the person, not the weapon, which is powerful.

The weapon can only enhance what is already there, be it good or bad, professional or incompetent, strong or weak.

But it’s not just the person with the weapon who needs to realize this, it’s the people around them.

When Kenshin says this, he is in the middle of a fight with a bloodthirsty glory hound. The enemy is bragging about the swords he’ll use to create a new era, but he’s wrong. Kenshin replies with the above quote, but the man is beyond listening. Yet, it does not fall on deaf ears alone, because there is another man nearby. He is a man who has seen his son, a young boy in immediate danger, kidnapped by Kenshin’s enemy.

He has a long history of his own with swords, as he is a smith, successor to his father, who also promised a new era through the swords he made, many of them unusual and even more deadly than normal swords. He could never make sense of those words until this moment, when Kenshin is fighting, risking his life, to save the man’s son. He had almost no hope, only a desperation to get his son out of danger. But then Kenshin’s words hit home in his heart, and he realizes something he did not know before.

When his father was making those swords, he was only seeking to arm the people who would use them, and praying that they ended up in good hands. But for that to happen, for a dangerous tool to rest in good hands, there must be a good person to whom those hands belong. That good person must have chosen, at some point, to stand up and do something about the wrongs of the world. It is in his or her hands that the future must rest, because otherwise, it will automatically be clutched in the hands of lesser men, and once they have it, they will hold on to it for dear life. That can only be countered with the resolve to do likewise: to take the future into one’s own hands.

The man who hears Kenshin’s words makes his own choice then, because he now knows that it is people who make new eras, and it is people who must protect said new eras. He risks his life to get Kenshin a desperately-needed weapon, the last one his father forged, so he can win this fight, and keep protecting the future they both want.

That is how it works. There are those who can fight, and those who can equip the fighters. There are those who can clothe them, feed them, heal them, and otherwise support them in their time of need. Each person has their own “weapon,” but they must have the resolve to use it. That is a power that every ordinary man and woman has, and it is the ultimate power. It is the source of that power which governments of every kind use, but which rightfully and automatically belongs, in truth, to the people.

It is no army, or bomb, or gun, or sword, or words, or even ideas which change the world. It is the choice of the people who wield them. That is the hinge on which the course of history truly turns.

The future is ours to make, and ours to protect.

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This Week on TV, July 13, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

It was fairly par for the course this week. Meaning, Agents of Shield delivered a good, entertaining episode that wraps up last week’s events entirely. Though… I can’t quite put my finger on it, but did that feel slightly lackluster to anyone else?

Agents of Shield

6.09 “Collision Course Pt. 2”

Picking up from last episode’s cliffhanger, we have Fitz-Simmons on a ship with Izel and the dead crew on her puppet strings as they descend towards a shrike tower which has an alien nuke being delivered to it on an auto-driving truck with Deke, Daisy, May, and Snowflake trapped on it while Sarge joined Pax and Jakko on the Zephyr to take it from Mack, Yo-Yo, and the other agents as they’re trying to handle both of the colliding crises. That about cover it?

On the ground, Snow is only able to tell them what the bomb does, so it falls to Deke to try to disarm it within five minutes. May keeps her calm very well, but there just isn’t enough time to disarm it. It will go off when it senses the impact of the truck with the tower. But that’s the key: it goes off with the impact. Daisy has the brilliant idea, at the last moment, to quake the bomb, but in a way that it doesn’t sense any outside vibrations, so the truck crashes, yet the bomb doesn’t sense it, so it doesn’t go off. Yay!

Now, that just leaves them trapped in the middle of a cloud of angry shrike. Open door, see swarm coming for them, close door quickly! They barricade everything, especially the windows, but it’s a losing battle. There’s so many of them, all of them coming at once, from every direction, it’s just a matter of time until they get in. Daisy figures out a solution for the second time in minutes: she opens a door at the end of the truck, so they’ll all come in that way, in a nice choke point, and she just quakes the entire swarm to dust all at once. Very dangerous, but it works.

In the sky, Sarge’s fortunes change drastically. He’s constantly had the advantage thus far, largely because of his wealth of experience, but his weaknesses all come to bear on him all at once.

It starts out well enough for him. He sends Pax to claim the engines while he and Jakko take the bridge, a standard, effective tactic most of the time. He even has a shield that can keep Yo-Yo at bay. But Yo-Yo gets to Pax before he can set his shield up, and Jakko does not share Sarge’s capacity to cast everyone else aside without hesitation. Once Yo-Yo gets him alone, she’s able to talk to him, remind him what he fights for. As Sarge left Snowflake behind, and shot Pax in the chest, he’s forfeit all chance of loyalty from the people who follow him.

When they make contact with Izel on the ship, Sarge is clearly outclassed there too. It was him who destroyed Chronica, but that was just to try and kill Izel, who has much more experience than him, and also much more knowledge. It’s a disturbing war of words, one which indicates that Sarge has no memories of his past beyond a hundred years ago, and doesn’t even has a past beyond that. He just goes from world to world, destroying them all just to get at his enemy.

Sarge loses his cool, he has less experience than someone Izel, he forfeits loyalty by casting his people aside, so he is alone and unraveling and weak when Mack gets lose, thanks to Yo-Yo slipping him the key, and takes him down. It’s a pretty even fight, as Sarge is surprisingly strong, resourceful, and determined, but Mack is bigger, more resilient, more controlled. It takes a few minutes, but Mack wins and Sarge loses. He’s left in a containment pod while Mack, Yo-Yo, Davis, and Jakko go to the ship to rescue Fitz-Simmons.

Speaking of, elsewhere in the sky, Fitz-Simmons begin to realize what’s going on. They notice that the crew is not behaving right, courtesy of Izel. They’re not keen on taking whatever it is to the ground below, but they’re not in a position to help. It’s only when Izel senses the destruction of the tower below that she senses anything amiss with her plans. She guesses Sarge is nearby, and immediately flees. She has relatively little to work with this time, and he’s intent on killing her.

Izel seems entirely unconcerned by what she’s doing to people. They’re all dullards and morons, after all, so she gives them a higher purpose that only costs them their lives and free will and humanity and all that. She’s absolutely evil. The only reason Fitz-Simmons is spared, for the moment, is because they’re smart. They might have something to offer in communicating with their friends at Shield, too. So, they get the comms working, and get a distress call to Davis, who distresses right back because, right then, he has Sarge pointing a gun at his neck.

Fitz-Simmons are surprised to hear Coulson’s voice, and they have no acceptable explanation to give Izel for recognizing it. Still, she taunts him, and wins their little war of words. But she also knows that someone is coming, which gives her another advantage.

While Fitz-Simmons run and hide, and the agents come for their friends, she is singing, which, the last time we heard that, she was making a shrike. The agents all get parted from each other, Mack and Yo-Yo finding Fitz-Simmons, but Jakko and Davis hold the line, and then find Izel, choosing to strike while they can. I’m afraid that moment where we lost sight of Davis is a moment where Izel put a shrike in him and escaped, though I can’t guess exactly how she got off the ship.

With shrike zombies closing in around them, the agents get out by use of that portal technology, taking them to the truck where Daisy and the others are, and there are happy reunions. Then Jakko, once a baker, takes the bomb back to the ship and, far from any civilians that Sarge could dismiss as collateral damage, sets off the bomb. It’s a magnificent boom, but it would have been better if Izel had been caught in it.

Afterwards, Shield celebrates their apparent victory, and toasts those they lost in the fight.

Deke shows off to Fitz-Simmons, who just drink up and enjoy the show. May opines how she knew Sarge wasn’t Coulson but still got played by him, while Yo-Yo drinks to Jakko’s heroism. Daisy talks with Mack, ruminating on the past and future, and encourages him to get back with Yo-Yo. Snowflake has to be kept back from killing Sarge, who assures her it wasn’t personal (not to him, at least) while he’s being escorted to holding. Daisy has Snowflake locked up for being a murderer (Deke gets her a television) though Deke tries to play it off like Daisy is jealous of what they got going. And Davis seems to fall asleep while talking with Piper.

Mack eventually talks to Yo-Yo, admitting the he messed up with her. He was certain he’d be too worried about her when things went bad on a mission, but the entire time things were going wrong earlier, he was calm, because he knew she could handle herself. So, he’s asking for another chance, starting with a chance to earn her forgiveness.

She responds by closing the door before he can leave and kissing him. I’m guessing that’s a “yes,” then!

Episode ends with May killing Sarge.

I’m guessing she was being controlled by a shrike, probably come to her out of Davis.

So, a lot of stuff happens but the agents come through… and now they really need to worry.

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State of the Cineverse, 2019

It’s been about two years since I last commented on cinematic universes. For all of those two years, there was always something happening, something still in progress. Now, we stand at a moment where there have been multiple endings, several shifting movements, and what is to come remains on the horizon. That makes for as good a time as any to add to my previous commentary! 🙂

So, how are things going for each of our cineverses?

Marvel Cinematic Universe
Going Strong!

Obviously leading the pack, we have Marvel Studios. They have successfully completed the third phase of the MCU, to critical acclaim and great financial success. They also left off on a note that makes the promise of more great movies to come. The exact details of that are waiting until their presentation at San Diego Comic-Con to be officially unveiled, but that is not much of a wait! 🙂

What is clear is that, having produced twenty-three movies already, they do not intend to slow down. There are several properties which fans are already expecting further development of, and several which have been rumored/confirmed to be in the works. Going forward, the movies seem to be dividing their attention between events on Earth and those in the cosmos. After Avengers: Endgame, they’re going to need to keep us interested, but I have full confidence in their ability to do so as they explore new corners of the Marvel universe and its heroes.

There is, however, one growing point against Marvel. That is, quite simply, how it is growing disconnected with itself. The movies aren’t masterpieces of continuity, and the TV shows are drifting gradually further away from the pivotal, Earth-shaking, cosmic-rupturing events seen on the big screen.

Inhumans was a huge misstep and a flop; Runaways lost me early on (and should not have been produced at all before they had access to mutants); Agent Carter had a lackluster second season that ended on a sour note, while the importance of the lead character’s romantic life on it may or may not have been negated by Endgame as well; even Agents of Shield seems to be off doing its own thing with zero regard for the events of the movies. Heck, Cloak and Dagger has more lingering connections with the Defenders-based Netflix shows than with the movies.

Speaking of, those have remained virtually unconnected to the main events of the movies from the beginning, even more so after the terrible events of the latest movies. And since Marvel is now on Netflix’s bad side, because Marvel is owned by Disney and Disney is fully gearing up to give them some serious competition, all of the shows are now effectively over. That might not be so bad, but several of them ended on cliffhangers, or semi-cliffhangers. It’ll be years before even the possibility of finishing those stories, or retelling them, even begins to develop again.

On the brighter side, the shows that Marvel is making for Disney’s online streaming service, which will probably be officially unveiled at Comic-Con after many months of teasing about them, will most likely be much more connected with the movies, perhaps even having some influence on events shown on the big screen, instead of the other way around. Now, that, too, could cut both ways, as everything in a cineverse can, but I am given to understand that these shows are resting in more cooperative hands than the previous shows have been.

And, though it may take some time, fans can eagerly, if also patiently, await the arrival of mutants, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four within the MCU. On which note:

Fox’s X-Men Universe
Done.

It is officially done and over with.

Though the Deadpool franchise may continue, with a large cult following, and I suppose it is possible, however unlikely, that the completed-but-unreleased New Mutants film may actually be released, it remains a fact: the era of Fox’s X-Men movies has come to an abrupt close. The saga that began with Fox’s first X-Men movie, two decades ago, is finished. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “complete,” as the merger of 20th Century Fox with Disney derailed and annihilated whatever plans there were for the future, leaving it forever unfinished and incomplete, but, still, “finished.” Whether or not New Mutants ever is released, there will be nothing more added to it ever again.

That’s especially sad to say considering the lackluster swan song that is Dark Phoenix. Whatever else they had in mind, we will never see it. That might still be a good thing, though, considering how well Marvel Studios generally does with its characters, and Fox’s atrocious continuity. I’ve said it before, and I say again, these aren’t a proper cinematic universe. They’re a series of stories very loosely connected just because the creators say they are.

I mean, they were caught entirely flat-footed by Marvel’s success and the scramble to pull some kind of cineverse out of thin air. In that light, I suppose one could say they did remarkably well with what they had to work with, and considering the task suddenly looming before them. They created a number of high-quality individual movies, and they branched out to develop the diversity within the franchise before I ever noticed. Not too shabby, really.

What I am most interested in, actually, is where this leaves the television shows Legion and The Gifted. The former never did quite appeal to me, but I’ve been very much enjoying the latter. Perhaps it will simply remain an offshoot of the franchise as a whole, with the main body of work being slowly integrated into the MCU.

…actually, no forget that bit. Apparently the entire thing is nixed. Legion is confirmed to be ending with its third season, and The Gifted will be another show that was canceled after ending on a semi-cliffhanger. That’s a shame, I think. I’d have loved to see where they took the characters.

So, it would seem that Deadpool will be the last lingering thread of Fox’s X-Men universe to continue into the future, albeit with some very careful brand management so Disney’s child-friendly image doesn’t get too sullied. As for the rest, may it rest in peace. We shall enjoy the legacy for many years to come, I hope.

Which brings us to our last little errant Marvel property… well, outside Namor the Sub-Mariner which remains imprisoned over at Universal Studios.

Sony’s Marvel Universe
Old Idea, New Idea

We all cheered, with wild abandonment and enthusiasm, when Spider-Man finally came home to Marvel Studios. We have loved each and every appearance of the web-slinging teenage superhero, portrayed by Tom Holland, in two solo movies and three shared movies. It would be a crying shame, probably met by outrage, if that were to come to an unfavorable end.

Unfortunately, while Spider may live with one foot at Marvel, the other remains locked in place on Sony’s side of the threshold. They had success with the original trilogy they produced, though the third has been widely panned as being far inferior to the first two. And they had some success again with the amazing-themed reboot, but not nearly enough to warrant its continuation. Thus, scrapping the plan for a Spider-Man cineverse (thank goodness!) and hitching themselves onto Marvel’s coattails. That has proven thus far successful.

However, that does not mean Sony has completely given up on the idea of creating a cineverse around characters which are typically associated with Spider-Man. While they have officially scrapped plans for the Spider-verse, and even a Spider-verse that would be lacking Spider-Man, and a movie starring Black Cat and Silver Sable, they officially launched “Sony’s Marvel Universe,” or “Sony’s MU,” with the antihero film Venom.

Obviously inspired by the success of Deadpool, for instance, Sony is crafting a decidedly darker cineverse, focused on villains, antiheroes, and the like. That could work well for them, using such characters as Venom, Morbius, Kraven the Hunter, Nightwatch, and the Sinister Six, with expressed interest in Black Cat, Silver Sable, Silk, Jackpot, and even Mysterio. If successful, it would make for an entirely new kind of cineverse, plumbing the darker, bloodier corners of the Marvel universe. But, then again, that might lead to a lack of diversity, which is a short-coming of many of the cineverses to date.

But if the public eats it up the way it ate up Venom, then 2020 could be the year Sony finally entered into the race seriously, in their own right.

Just as long as they leave Spider-Man with Marvel, I will have no complaints! 😉

DC Extended Universe
Receiving New Life!

Aquaman and Shazam were not only successful, they were a much-needed breath of fresh air! Here’s hoping Zack Snyder’s influence is forever banished!

Snyder’s friend, James Gunn, is much better, and he’s apparently being given license to renew/redo the Suicide Squad franchise. It was a great leap forward at the time, but it’s been surpassed by all the other movies since, with arguable exception of Justice League.

I’m not sure what to make of Birds of Prey, but I am looking forward to the next Wonder Woman, and I’m sure they’ll revisit their more critically-acclaimed successes in the future. They have a lot of plans in development, just waiting for the right hands to sculpt them into masterpieces. And hopefully very distinct masterpieces, rather than clone copies, a’la the cookie-cutter approach.

I am happy to say that I have more hope for the DCEU than I did a few years ago. 🙂

Arrowverse
Fading, On Life Support

Arrow is ending, with its final season being only eight episodes long, just long enough to get them to the climactic crossover event.

Most of the shows have become copies of each other, both in texture and in plot. Several shows featured villains joining together within one season. Then, the next season, Arrow and The Flash both looked towards the future, and the daughters of the lead protagonists.

Overall, the drama, comedy, and action have all decreased into realms of mind-numbing camp factors. This is why I dropped all of the shows from my weekly commentaries.

Not to mention how the shows all relied on each other way too much, so you couldn’t miss anything if you wanted to know what was going on during the annual crossovers, and my excitement for the future of the Arrowverse is next to nil. It’s a huge letdown after the excitement, and variety, of the early days, the first two seasons of Arrow, and the development which followed the debut of The Flash.

I’m partially hoping this one goes under fairly soon, as dwindling audience numbers would indicate it would. Then again, the CW has been much more loyal to its shows than, say, the infamous Fox, and that has yielded some very satisfying conclusions for some surprisingly good shows that just happened to have weaker seasons to work through. The difference being, they’d have to turn an entire cineverse around to accomplish that this time. That’s a much bigger task, consuming years’ worth of time and effort.

For once, I am not holding out much hope.

DC Animated Original Movies
…eh?

I consider it a strange irony that DC has produced as many or more of these occasionally-connected animated films as Marvel has produced full-length features, yet they, who produced Cineverse Zero (the pivotal DC Animated Universe), have failed to create any sort of actual cohesion among them. A number of them, that I have seen, have been complete duds, thoroughly rushed retellings of epic stories that don’t do them any justice whatsoever. I actually keep forgetting that they’re still making these.

I think we can just write this little cineverse off and set it aside from future commentary.

Still, if they’re still making them, there must be some sort of success for them. …oh, wait, I just looked it up, and where they once had a long list of titles in development, they seem to have all but finished up.

I think they need some new ideas.

MonsterVerse
Ending Already?

I don’t know why Godzilla: King of the Monsters was not more successful. I personally loved it. I can see where the hype might have failed, though, after the first Godzilla in 2014, and Kong: Skull Island mostly did its own thing anyway. But, either way, I suppose it is unlikely that the MonsterVerse will continue after next year’s battle between Godzilla and King Kong. A shame, that, as it has giant monsters, aliens, robots, and ancient civilizations within the Earth which could be explored.

Maybe it can be renewed at some point down the line, but for now, unless the next movie make’s a lot of money, this one will probably end as a quartet.

Heh, here’s an idea: make monster movies where the humans are minor characters at most. Tell it all from the monsters’ point of view! 🙂

Dark Universe
Dead.

Thank you, Tom Cruise, for single-handedly ruining The Mummy, the debut of the Dark Universe, which was Universal Studios’ second attempt at a monster-based cineverse. I have no idea what they could do with the idea at this point.

…and coming back from the dead.

…wait, what?

Yep, apparently Universal just isn’t willing to give up on the idea as of yet. They’ve apparently decided to have a loose-to-nonexistent connection between their monster movie remakes (clever, they can use what’s successful and discard what isn’t). And for their third go at this, they’re using a successful horror film producer, who has his own studio to work with. The Invisible Man could be the Dark Universe’s dark horse and bring it back from the dead.

Horror movies may not typically be my thing, and I still wonder what they could possibly do with a focus on characters which generally lose in the movies named after them. But, still! I applaud the effort and wish them some good hunting! 🙂

Valiant Universe
…beginning at last?

Huh, this might finally begin after all!

The first movie, Bloodshot, seems to be slated for release next February, 2020. Depending on its success, it could launch an entirely new cineverse, with a diverse plethora of heroes we’ve never seen on the big screen before. I’ve been commenting on this idea, and this hope, for years. I had all but given up that hope, but now, it seems, at long last, it shall finally see the light of day!

Here’s hoping for success! 🙂

Summary

Marvel is doing great! Fantastic on the big screen, and with hope for some leveling of the quality and continuity despite some wobbling steps on other screens.

Fox is done.

Sony is trying something new and bold, which had a successful debut.

DC, who pioneered the cineverse, has three cineverses, one undergong a resurgence while the other two are stagnant and fading.

The MonsterVerse is ending.

Universal is making a third go of it, resurrecting their second try with a new face.

And Valiant, after years of promises, might finally get its cineverse off the ground.

So, overall? Only one of them has been going strong from the beginning, and even that one is has areas to improve in a time of transition. Two more are done, or nearly so. Two more are in desperate need of an overhaul if they are to continue. One has yet to begin, and would still need a couple years to get off the ground. But the last three are learning, and growing through experience. They’re making comebacks. If successful, that would bring us to four or five quality, ongoing cineverses, in serious competition with each other.

Like most big, daring ideas, the cinematic universe, and every instance of it, has needed refining, rehashing, and renewal. But I don’t think the idea is going anywhere. And with the success of an idea comes, possibly, the gradual reshaping of cinema as a whole.

I look forward to seeing how all of this plays out! 🙂

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5 Drama Anime

Too much drama in your life? Then the obvious solution is more drama, experienced vicariously! Act now, and you can get your dramatic fix for the low-low price of a few hours’ worth of your time! 😛

In all seriousness, drama is part of the human condition, so it’s no surprise we produce so much of it.

In storytelling terms, however, the word “drama” has a slightly different meaning. It is said that there are ultimately only three genres: comedy (which makes us laugh), tragedy (which makes us cry), and drama (which entertains and sometimes enlightens us). In that context, even action-packed comedy adventures could be considered dramas, but those are hardly what we think of. Most often, we think of love stories, but that may do a small disservice to the term.

Drama is, ultimately, about the development of people as human beings, both the characters in the show and the audience as well.

As such, I am dismissing the romcoms entirely, and I’ve already commented on adventures, as well as comedies, harems, and slice of life anime. Indeed, the greatest difficulty here was in extricating the dramas from the latter three.

So, in no particular order, here are five anime dramas I highly recommend. 🙂

1) Barakamon

A professional calligrapher needs to grow up a bit, so his family and manager ship him off to an island. There, he meets a little kid, the village scamp, and she brings wonder and laughter and joy into his life, along with the rest of the villagers. Here, in a calm, quiet place, surrounded by good people, he grows more humble, and more capable, and more creative. In a word: he matures a bit, and finds happiness.

2) Silver Spoon

A young man is aimless and drifting, without a clear goal in his life, and his father’s disappointed disapproval hanging over his head. So his teacher convinces him to enroll in an agricultural school, intended mostly for farmers. There, he learns, grows, and does things he never thought he would have been able to. He makes lifelong friends and meets a girl who he quickly crushes on. He encounters harsh realities he never had to deal with before. He grows up, and grows beyond his father’s narrow vision of the world.

3) Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father!

In the wake of a great tragedy, a young man assumes responsibility for three nieces. It’s a burden, but one he accepts quickly and gladly, because, if left to the rest of the family, the three sisters would have been separated, and this, he will not allow. Day by day, they work together to survive, making the best of things, however hard it gets, and, along the way, finding support and kindness from the people around them. In the end, the extended family realizes the happiness of this family, and offers their support as well, and a young man thrust into the unexpected role of a father learns to not only take it on, but truly accept it.

4) Interviews With Monster Girls

A high school teacher has long had an interest in the demihumans, or demis, of his world, and opportunity allows him the chance to closely interact with four of them: three students, and one fellow teacher. As he learns about them, he helps them to deal with the challenges they face, making friends with each other and their peers along the way. It’s an amusing, endearing tale of unusual people finding a place among the rest.

5) Kids on the Slope

Two high school boys form a lifelong friendship through the influence of music, especially Jazz, as the two of them play together. In a society that demands conformity, they and those around them break from such, making their own path, and their own happiness. There are tears, and there is laughter, and there are lessons learned.

And that’s five anime dramas. What are some you’ve enjoyed, my wonderful audience?

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Far From Home: The REAL “Amazing” Spider-Man

Spider-Man: Homecoming told the story of a young man, Peter Parker, who wanted to rise up higher while the world was pushing him down, and then he chose a humbler path after his ultimate triumph. Peter’s second solo movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe caps reverses this, as others pressure him to be greater, to be the young heir of Iron Man himself, while he wants to live a humbler life, just going on vacation and telling the girl he likes how he really feels. But the world, and the machinations of the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing, refuses to leave him and his loved ones be.

Spider-Man: Far From Home is absolutely amazing. After the glorious, climactic fireworks of Avengers: Endgame, it caps off the MCU’s third phase with yet another distinct and riveting story, filled with the drama of humanity in the midst of things so remarkable that they beggar belief, and a fairly grounded look towards the future. The torch is finally passing, gradually, from one generation of Avengers to the next, with Spider-Man blazing the trail anew.

Speaking of the future, I’ve heard it said that some people wonder what more Marvel Studios can do, having wrapped up the Infinity Saga that stretched for almost two dozen movies over the course of eleven years, and in such a complete, final way. Added to that, some of their biggest names are gone, possibly for good. So, what can they possibly do next?

The answer, provided by Peter Parker’s latest adventure, is what they’ve always done: tell good stories in an entertaining way. The whole overarching plot of the first three phases was neat, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of what Marvel has to offer. Neither are Iron Man or Captain America. The story continues, and this one draws on the past in surprising ways while also clearly making an impact that will shape the future, especially for Spider-Man.

Stunning performance by Jake Gyllenhaal!

Indeed, there are a number of surprises throughout the movie, most of all in the nature of the villain, the evil Mysterio, and how he manages to do what he does. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it, so suffice to say he represents everything that is false. He stands for the pretenders, the envious, self-entitled failures who stand behind the scenes, or off to the side of the spotlight, someplace just below the godlike heroes of the day, and dream of usurping the throne through cunning deception, supposing that they have somehow earned it. He is not what he seems, in every sense of the word, and that makes him both weaker than he tries to appear, and more powerful than others know. Most shocking, one can make a compelling argument that he even manages to win, in the end, albeit in a most unexpected way.

Standing opposite Mysterio is, of course, Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, and I love the parallels between him and his antagonists thus far. In his previous movie, the Vulture and Spidey were both struggling to rise after being pushed down. In this one, Peter is trying to avoid the duty, and the acclaim, that Mysterio is trying to steal. But he can’t avoid it, and he makes costly mistakes, again and again, because Mysterio’s deception is tailored to target that vulnerability. In essence, Peter tries to evade the weight of the world, until it all comes crashing down on him anyway. Unable to escape his responsibility, Peter finally begins to embrace it in a way that is far more mature than the grown man who thinks only of himself.

Stepping up to the challenge is not about the glory, which so many others covet. It’s about saving lives.

MJ should have been a redhead, but Zendaya is awesome.

All of this is set amidst both the ongoing covert operations of Nick Fury and Peter Parker’s class trip to Europe. (not really that “far from home” when home is New York and he’s already been to a distant planet, but whatever) The colliding duality of this, as well as Peter’s struggle with the legacy Iron Man left for him and his dearest desire to confess his feelings to the awesome girl he likes, results in a spectacular waltz of drama, hilarity, and action. And just a bit of romance.

In short: quality storytelling! 🙂

Everything about this movie, including the characters, the plot, the themes, the fights, the setting, the acting, the music, and especially the visual effects, is absolutely excellent!

Marvel Studios has certainly guaranteed my continued interest in seeing their movies!

In short… this movie is amazing! 😉

Rating: 10 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Plus!

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Sunday’s Wisdom #242: Real Safety

“How many of us will you kill in order to ‘keep us safe?’”
– random old lady, Justice League Unlimited
Season 2, Episode 7, “Patriot Act”

This is one of my favorite moments in animated history.

The story is, there was a general who thought super-people were a threat to his country. He was part of a large effort to curb them as a whole, and when that effort failed, he was disgraced, and lucky not to be run out of the army entirely. But he was determined to protect his country and its people, so he stole the means to make himself super, and thus he was transformed into a monster. He attacked a group of superheroes, looking for their strongest fighter, Superman. But he was met by heroes who were all but normal people, with just some special skills and special tools. They fought valiantly, but he ran roughshod over them and did a lot of damage in the process. The last one still fighting challenged his views as much as his fists, and was beaten half to death for it, all while the former general spouted on and on about how right he was, how he was doing this for his country, how he was keeping the people safe, even if he was hurting a number of them in the process.

Then, just as he stood ready to crush his enemy, the general found the ordinary citizens, men, women, kids, and one old lady, standing in his way.

They gathered around their fallen defender, standing with him against the monstrous general, and they did not hesitate to call him on his hypocrisy. He hated people with powers, but he became one himself, indeed, the only one on that particular battlefield. He proclaimed that he was protecting his country, but he was the aggressor, wrecking the neighborhood and endangering everyone. He preached about protecting the people, but here he was, ready to kill them and write them off as “collateral damage.” He said he was saving them all, but what improvement comes from destroying the people who save lives at risk of their own? Especially when one is willing to kill countless innocent bystanders in the process.

The old lady, whose name we don’t ever know, was the one to ask him this question, and it is a powerful one.

Every tyrant in the world held on to that power by providing a facade of security, of stability. Everyone is supposedly “safe” from outside aggression and inner turmoil, yet no one is safe from those in power. Any dissident voice is silenced, by force. Anyone who is anything but subservient, anyone who does not conform, simply disappears, for “the greater good” and “the security of the nation and its people.” Security for the many at the cost of the few. It is a monstrous concept, and the thinnest veneer imaginable in which to shroud atrocities.

It is a harsh reality that not everyone can be saved, not always, so some loss must be endured, but that is not the same as doing the harm with one’s own hand, causing suffering where there was none before, just as a matter of convenience.

Anyone who does not hesitate to harm the people they claim to protect has no right to make that claim.

Safety is not safety until one is safe from their “protectors.”

And that holds true everywhere, from the highest halls of political and military power, to the lowest house and home and hovel.

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This Week on TV, July 6, 2019

Spoiler Alert!

Agents of Shield treated us to the rapid setting of a stage wherein two dangerous, powerful enemies are set for a collision of apocalyptic proportions, and the agents are caught in the middle, trying to protect everyone around them.

Agents of Shield

6.08 “Collision Course, Pt. 1”

When the gods, or monsters, or just a pair of powerful, dangerous, deadly people, do battle… the mere mortals caught in between do not fare so well.

The episode begins with Fitz-Simmons making it back to Earth. Yay! …right? Well, not so much.

So, Izel, the woman who saved Fitz-Simmons, is the evil creator of the shrike. She has very little value of life, seeing most people as idiots or thieves. She is after the three monoliths that were destroyed and, in their destruction, made a breach to a fear dimension. She is said to have escaped from a world of fear and darkness eons ago, so I think we can assume she came from that same fear dimension.

But just because she is evil, that does not make Sarge good. She clearly fears him, and knows the truth of him. And he seems to share her ruthless disregard for any lives caught in their path. He also goes from supposedly sharing nothing about his past to sharing how Izel killed his family, his world, and he is driven to take revenge and kill her. He doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to sacrifice to achieve that goal. In both versions of the story, he’s come pretty close to doing it, the closest being on the Chronicom homeworld. He and his crew took out her minions and had her cornered, but somehow she managed to slip away at the last second anyway.

So, up in space we have Fitz-Simmons coming home and unwittingly bringing the end of the world with them. They’re on board with a woman who wipes out entire civilizations, and she easily consumes the entire crew with her shrike. They don’t notice a thing outside a little odd behavior because they’ve no reason to suspect anything, and they’re caught up in their own issues. All without any means of communicating with Shield.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Sarge and Shield dance the tango of treachery, which, again, Sarge has probably done so many times before that it’s automatic by now. He’s not just good at the game, he’s a grand master.

Sarge takes Snowflake and is given Daisy, May, and Deke to work with, and drives his truck to where the shrike are gathering and turning themselves into a tower.

Deke is assigned in order to keep a shrike-repelling device working properly, and he only goes when Mack threatens to tell Daisy about the version of her in Deke’s game, and Mack gets a ten percent interest in Deke’s company, along with assurances that Deke stops stealing Shield tech. Considering that Deke apparently gets to make out with Snowflake, instead of being killed by her, I’d say the deal works out fairly well for him.

Daisy, May, and Sarge talk about the important things, like, say, the connection between him and Coulson, and the difficulty of Sarge having Coulson’s face, and, oh, right, the plan to stop the shrike and kill Izel. Coulson claims that he intends to use a magic sword and stab her through the heart, but he also says he has something else in mind. That turns out to be a potent alien bomb, and he has no problem killing thousands, even hundred of thousands, of innocent bystanders (which could have been evacuated instead). He doesn’t seem to think it’s even a big deal, as it saves the entire planet, including billions of people and all the other animals.

He also does not hesitate to forsake Snowflake, leaving her to die, much to her apparent devastation. I wonder how genuine that is, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Mack follows after Sarge in the Zephyr, with Yo-Yo, a number of agents, and Pax and Jakko as prisoners. They make another mistake in guarding the prisoners too lightly, and another agent dies when Pax gets loose and releases Jakko. Yo-Yo easily subdues the both of them, though, and finally gets some answers, especially regarding the bomb. Too late, though, as Sarge is already in position, has already armed the bomb and set the truck to drive itself into the shrike tower, and already has his exit plan ready. He uses that portal thing from a couple episodes ago to go from the truck to the Zephyr, leaving Snowflake, Daisy, May, and Deke on the truck to die in the imminent explosion, and joining his two remaining men in a position to take control of the plane.

Episode ends with a cliffhanger, as two dangerous forces are set to collide, with Shield agents caught on both sides and in the middle.

EDIT: Oh, and apparently Enoch is trying to rally the observing anthropologist Chronicoms to rebuild their society, whilst Malachi wants to go into the copy they have of Fitz-Simmons’ mind in pursuit of time travel.

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5 Slice of Life Anime

Life.

It is a thing.

A very important thing, in fact. 😉

When it comes to the term “slice of life,” you’d think it’s straightforward enough to not need further explanation. But, in the tradition of every other term used in entertainment, it gets fleshed out the more people use it and talk about it.

Generally, slice of life is a depiction mundane, regular, ordinary, everyday life (thus, the name) with little in the way of actual plot, conflict, exposition, or proper resolution. As it applies to anime and manga, in particular, there is the inclusion of melodrama and exaggeration, bordering on the ridiculous and absurd. It can be set in schools, cafes, work places, you know, where it’s normal for one to spend a great deal of time. It chronicles a number of dramatic and comedic events, thus the difficulty in separating it from other categories of anime. It may prove long and uneventful, or not, but what keeps it going is usually the interpersonal relationships of the characters, low-key as they may be, including some romances. There can also be themes of coming of age, and fantasy and science fiction may make surprising appearances in order to spice things up a little.

All that said, I find slice of life to be annoyingly difficult to nail down. It’s realistic, with perhaps some exaggeration, but how exaggerated is it really allowed to be before it is considered something else? It has little in the way of plot, but how much plot must there be in order for it to be something other than slice of life? There is drama, but how much drama must there be before it is considered a drama?

I overthink these things sometimes. Or have you noticed? 😉

In making my selection, I had just a few criteria in mind: 1) as few fantastical elements as possible, 2) arguably easy to separate from the comedies, dramas, and harem anime I’m also commenting on, and 3) I’ve watched all of it, or at least a significant portion past the first episode.

It was annoying how many titles I could name that fail at least one of those requirements, especially the third one.

Still, I managed to pick five of them, and now, in no particular order:

1) New Game

A young girl, fresh out of high school, gets a job helping to make video games for her favorite game-making company. There are a few oddities, not the least of which is her supervisor’s tendency to go without her pants and a neighboring supervisor’s love of guns, but it’s generally just a normal company going about its business. It’s probably the most realistic anime I picked for this list, small eccentricities notwithstanding.

2) Working!

A family restaurant has some very unique employees. They’re all crazy in some way, some more pronounced than others. The results are pretty hilarious.

3) My Roommate is a Cat

A writer who recently lost his parents adopts a stray cat. And the cat adopts him. Very slowly, their influence on each other brings more happiness into their lives.

4) Hanayamata

A group of girls wants to dance, so dance they do. They each have their own issues to work out, but they are beautiful as they dance together. 🙂

Ok, maybe this one is the most realistic.

5) Servant x Service

A woman with some issues gets a job in public service, with some eccentric coworkers. They make friends, they build relationships. Life is good.

…and, that’s it!

I know there are a ton of other slice of life anime out there, so, what are some of your favorites?

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Anime Review: Rising of the Shield Hero

The first thing I heard about Rising of the Shield Hero was the controversy surrounding the events of the first episode. The previous season had sparked outrage with the graphic depiction of all things horrible in Goblin Slayer, and now this season outraged people for daring to have an innocent man falsely accused of rape. That is a subject for an entirely different discussion, but I have to say, when the first thing I know about a show is that it figuratively takes the heads of those self-appointed censors and perpetually-offended censors regulators of all our entertainment and makes them explode… well, there are worse first impressions! 😉

That said, I still applied my one-episode rule, and judged as fairly as I could for myself (concluded that the outrage was utter nonsense), and proceeded from there.

Rising of the Shield Hero is a fantasy isekai story that turns the usual formula on its head, and it tells an interesting story with lovable characters and a variety of powerful themes. But it tries to do a bit too much and a bit too little at the same time. It’s enjoyable in its way, but it’s easy to see how it might have been improved.

Starting at the beginning, we have the Four Heroes, who are summoned from four different worlds, and four different Japans, to use special, magical, legendary weapons and battle the incoming Waves of Destruction or whatever they were called, and save the world. If they win, they go home, and if they lose… well, they die, and this world ends. Thus, they are given funding, skilled party members to work with so they can level up and fight the Waves, and, of course, the praise and admiration of the entire nation. …at least most of them are given that. The Heroes of the Sword, Spear, and Bow get all of that. The Shield Hero, Naofumi, gets none of it.

Instead, Naofumi is very badly treated from the start, and it only gets worse when he is stripped of everything, including his good name, as he is accused of a most heinous crime he did not commit, assumed guilty, and cast out. From there, he has to make his way with little more than his wits and his will. Slowly, he crawls his way out of the dirt. He rises (thus the title) to become the greatest and most powerful of the Heroes, no matter the great heaps of misery that the powers that be drop onto his head. Along the way, he deals with issues of racism, religion, politics, elitism, philosophy, and more.

Now, that sounds like a rather compelling setup, and it is. It can be riveting and deeply emotional when it’s done well, but… well, the characters, themes, and storyline could all be improved in obvious ways.

There are lovable characters, especially the three girls who join Naofumi’s party, but others are more like set pieces or drones, and the Heroes, even Naofumi, have severe attitude problems. They don’t work well together, they almost never help each other unless it’s in their own self-interest, they avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, and they constantly bicker over the tiniest of disputes. Even after being served some humble pie, they walk around like they own the place and know everything. In short, they’re a quartet of self-important, egotistical dimwits.

I can appreciate the virtue of confidence, especially when it has been earned through one’s own efforts (and Naofumi puts in a lot of effort), but the Four Heroes are just really, really arrogant and short-sighted. That extends to when they all fail to see the truth dancing naked in front of their eyes.

In a similar vein, there are the obvious powers at work based on race, religion, and so on, but these are all obvious and lack any form of subtlety. Yeah, this guy’s an evil racist because he enslaves demihumans, even torturing and killing children. Not subtle. Yes, this guy is evil because he treats his devout followers like disposable pawns and tries to kill the Heroes for his own benefit. Not subtle. Yep, this princess is evil because she’s a pathological liar, goes to great lengths to make Naofumi miserable, and tries to kill her own sister in order to get the crown. Not subtle, and not at all sympathetic when she finds that the people who have been using her intend to kill her too.

Indeed, there’s not much in the way of subtlety at all anywhere in the story. Not in how Raphtalia is obviously trying to attract Naofumi’s eye in a more intimate way, or in how such-and-such characters are obviously Heroes from yet another world (seriously, just how clueless can Naofumi be, on both counts?), and not in almost any other way.

Now, all of that said… somehow it’s enjoyable anyway, in its own way. That is largely due to the demihuman Raphtalia, and the other characters which surround the Heroes, and even to the story of how Naofumi develops his skills. That is in spite, not because, of his attitude problem. It’s also due to the fights, how Naofumi and his party rise to meet each obstacle, while the other Heroes take the more minor role of “being useless” and their respective parties take the even more minor role of “background scenery.” The best part, though, is in the more calm, quiet moments, where the characters connect through their honest emotions, and sometimes have fun and develop stronger bonds between themselves.

This is an action-based fantasy, but the best parts have little to nothing to do with the action.

These three together, I loved.

My favorite has to be when Naofumi sees, for the first time, that Raphtalia is a grown woman, capable of making her own choices, and choosing to stay by his side. That is a superbly crafted moment, when he is finally able to cry in the arms of someone who genuinely cares for him.

Shortly behind that is the moment when Naofumi and Raphtalia fear that their avian friend, Filo, may have eaten a young girl, and the interplay between the two of them in that moment is hilarious, albeit because we already know that nobody has been eaten.

And I loved those moments when Naofumi seemed to actually be softening, and allowing himself to truly care for those closest to him. Even if he hid such beneath a surface of cold practicality, it was his caring which drove him to improve his skills and grow steadily stronger.

Moments like these tell me that they could have done the entire story a whole lot better. Perhaps they could have made the Heroes a bit less stupid, or at least capable of learning and developing along the way, and maybe made their respective parties something more than moving background pieces. Perhaps they could have treated certain subjects and characters with a bit more grace and subtlety. Perhaps they could not have dangled obvious things in front of the protagonists and making them somehow not notice.

But the show has some good action and an interesting, layered fantasy world. It has powerful, emotionally honest moments that make it so you can’t help but love it a bit. It has humor and tears and it does not shy away from difficult subjects (though it treats them with a profound lack of grace). It’s entertaining, in its own way.

Rating: I give Rising of the Shield Hero 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Minus.

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