Posted in Anime, Film, Review

Death Note (2017)

Director: Adam Wingard

Starring: Nat Wolff (Light Turner), Lakeith Stanfield (L), Margaret Qualley (Mia Sutton), Willem Dafoe (Ryuk)

Release Date: August 25th, 2017

American adaptations of manga and anime, have been far more miss than hit. This year saw the atrocious Ghost in the Shell. 2009 gave us the frustrating Dragonball Evolution, and it feels like every year, we are threatened with an Americanised Akira. It’s frustrating to understand why an adaptation just hasn’t worked yet. Sure, it’s easy to blame it on a cultural difference, but at their core, the anime being adapted have still managed to make a cultural jump in the first place.

While arguably in development since 2007, in April of 2016, it was announced that Netflix would be releasing a live action adaptation of Death Note. Written by Tsugumi Ohba, and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, Death Note was a psychological thriller, with a touch of dark fantasy, originally published by Weekly Shonen Jump, between December 2003, and May of 2006. Death Note tells the story of Light Yagami, an over achieving high school student, from a loving family. The son of a police detective. During class one day, he spots a mysterious book fall from the sky. The Death Note. Upon retrieving the book, Light discovers a list of rules written inside, stating that “The Human whose name is written in this note shall die”. Finding it a sick joke at first, especially when reading through the rest of the rules. Light finds himself compelled to try it at least once. Flipping to the news, Light finds a school being taken hostage. Upon writing the criminal’s name, Light learns that the book is indeed real. Discovering the books origin, as a tool of the Death God, Ryuk. Light vows to use the book to bring justice to the world, with the Ryuk by his side, anxious to see what a human would do with that power. When his killings start to become recognised, the series becomes a cat and mouse game between Light, now known as the serial killer ‘Kira’, and the world’s greatest detective, L.

From its original manga run, the series has been adapted to a beloved anime series, four Japanese live action films, and a tie-in miniseries. So, when Netflix announced that the American film was finished, and being released in 2017, it seemed reasonable to ask why. However, come August 25th, 2017. It was released upon us, to mostly negative reviews.

Going into this new film, it’s worth saying that, I have no experience with the anime. My introduction to the series was the original manga, before diving into the first three live action films from Japan. Death Note (2006), Death Note 2: The Last Name (2006), and L: Change the World (2008). Then reading the two novels, Death Note L: Change the World, and Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. When it came to an American version of the series, I wasn’t expecting something completely faithful. In fact, I would be disappointed to get the same exact story again. What mattered to me was that it was able to live in the world the source material created. It didn’t need to stay faithful to every beat of the original story, but it had to be faithful to the tone and heart.

So, after finally watching the Netflix Death Note film, what did I find. Exactly what I expected. A bad version of the original story. Granted, I found several changes I genuinely liked, but at the end, it was still an imitation of a story we’ve already seen at its heart.

The original character of Light, is very Japanese at his core. He is a product of a Japanese culture. The need to work hard and succeed engrained in him from a young age, and it explains so much of his character. Outside of that, Light also lives in a justice heavy society. In Japan, there justice system is pretty strict. If you find yourself in a Japanese court of law, if you are accused of a crime, you have a roughly 95% chance, of being found guilty. When you take a character like Light, and place him as an American teen, you will not have the same character. However, this could have been compensated for. Instead, we got a character that better resembled Misa. In an interesting twist, the films version of Misa, renamed Mia, is a better Light, than the one we got. This does give us a twist on the original story, that would have been fascinating to see developed. However, the film suffered by not taking its own direction.

A note of praise I can give to the film, is its horror elements, and the portrayal of Ryuk. In the latter half of the film, we get this sequence set in an abandoned mansion. The director’s background in horror films, pays off completely, with the ambient and creepy tone that works extremely well. With Ryuk, he is kept perfectly in the shadows, giving off the truly creepy and other worldly tone he needs. While he was shown in full view in the Japanese live action films to a decent effect, he works wonderfully here. Especially when voiced by the equally creepy William Defo.

Overall, the film is just ok. Works as a background film, but not something to be revisited, or held to the same standard as the manga. Worth a watch, if you are curious, but don’t expect to be pleased. Die-hard fans especially, will find plenty to hate with this film.

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Posted in Anime, Book, Film, Review

Ghost in the Shell by Andrew Osmond (2017)

  • 91BSdFVo4jL120 pages
  • Release date: 11th September 2017
  • Price: £19.99
  • Published by: Arrow Books

The cult classic Ghost in the Shell, has often found itself the centre of discussion among fans. Its impact and themes. The films significance in the modern landscape. However, it’s hard to find a single work that highlights its importance, as Andrew Osmond’s Ghost in the Shell. An incredibly engaging, and well researched look at not only the cult classic film, but the franchise, and impact it has had through the culture.

Osmond approaches this book with a passion and the intention of allowing even the most novice of Ghost in the Shell viewers the opportunity to enjoy and engage with the books subject. Opening with essentially a first-time viewers perspective of the opening few minutes of the film. Noting the praise and acclaim the film achieved, even early in its life. Osmond expounds on the films infancy, by describing the culture and time to which it is born into. Citing the state of otaku culture and the Aum Shinrikyo terror attacks in Japan, and how the West viewed Anime at the time. Referring to them as ‘Manga movies’, or ‘Japanimation’. This provides a much-needed context for the reader as to why and how Ghost in the Shell gained such significance.

The film is broken down in a digestible manor, so that no reader will feel lost along the way. Osmond comments on the characters and plot points with an attention to detail, significantly towards the film’s central protagonist, Major Motoko Kusanagi.

“For example, after the ‘assassination’ prologue, Ghost’s titles show the creation of Kusanagi’s cyber-body. We see it as an anatomist’s dummy of fake skin and bone, flushed through vats of liquid, clothed in fast-setting flesh. All this suggests a Frankenstein creature, a horror film Other. But as the sequence ends, and Kusanagi is lifted up fully formed, we don’t see some lab-coated Pygmalion admiring his sculpture – ‘She lives!’. Instead, we cut to a close-up of Kusanagi awakening in darkness. We were in her head all along, as she dreamed her body’s creation. She moves the fingers of one hand slightly, as if asking, is this my hand? Is this my body?”

Osmond explores how her femininity and sexuality are put aside. Blurring gender lines, in moments of intense strengths and sacrifice. These discussions extend to comparisons of her counterparts. Such as Trinity in The Matrix franchise, and Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This also encompasses the franchises lore, such as the impact and importance or cyber-bodies in the cyberpunk genre.

The book does not limit itself to just the films themes, characters, and impact. But extends to the creative minds that birthed the film and franchise. Discussion of the film’s director, Mamoru Oshii, ranges beyond simply his filmography. Extending to popular consensus, his frequently used themes through his work, and the man himself. His diversity in mediums, interests and personal history. The chapter dedicated to Oshii, reads like a love letter to the forgotten works of a master. Overshadowed by the books subject. With a wonderful look at Oshii’s work on the Patlabor series. The only major subject that feels skipped over, is Oshii’s 1999 film, Jin Roh: The Wolf Brigade. A subject that is likely to merit its own book in a similar vain to this one.

Given how private Masanori Ota presents himself, going as far as to use the pseudonym Masamune Shirow. It’s surprising how well Osmond dives into the franchises original author. Discussing his secluded nature, themes and works. Drawing particular attention to Shirow’s playful and wacky sense of humour, something largely ignored in adaptations. Focus and time is payed to Shirow’s other praised franchise, Appleseed. Highlighting, especially, the difference in publication. Osmond breaks down Shirow’s 350-page manga, in a similar manner to his discussion of the films plot. This is a necessity, given how well and thoroughly he examines the adaptation process. Taking the world and characters Shirow crafted, but injecting Oshii’s own brand of philosophy and themes, and examining how this effects the original material.

Time and attention is given to many important, but largely unsung figures in the films creation. Figures such as character designer, Hiroyuki Okiura. Animation director, Toshihiko Nishibubo, and art director, Hiromasa Ogura. Osmond takes great care in communication the amount of work that went into the films construction. Outlining fine details from Mechanical design, scripting and music. To even the process of dubbing and localisation. Something we rarely see approached and discussed when it comes to Ghost in the Shell.

With absolutely stunning cover art by Chris Malbon, and the loving research of Andrew Osmond. Ghost in the Shell from Arrow Books, is a fantastic look at the cult classic film, and a must read for avid fans, and the curious mind willing to traverse the vast net that is Ghost in the Shell.

Available from Arrow Films here.

Posted in Anime, Discussion, History, TV

Serial Experiments Lain and McLuhan’s Global Village

Serial Experiments Lain is a series that begs to be interpreted. Premiering in 1998, Lain is a slow paced, and surreal series that many describe as ‘ahead of its time’. Written by Chiaki J. Konaka, the series acts as a look at our relationship with the internet, and Konaka’s prediction of what the 21st century will look like. Many celebrate the series for how forward thinking it is. Incorporating themes of reality, identity, and communication, while exploring computer history, conspiracy theories, and computer history. While it’s plot comes off as complex, given it’s slow pacing, unusual imagery, cyberpunk styling, and synth/electro-pop soundtrack, the series has gathered itself a cult following. With many dedicating their time, to unravelling the meaning of Lain.

coalgirls_serial_experiments_lain_04_1008x720_blu-ray_flac_260d7cf9-mkv_snapshot_03-14_2011-08-17_06-45-39The series follows Lain, a shy young girl with an inability to communicate with her peers. When a classmate commits suicide, she learns of a mysterious email going around the class from the deceased girl. Having no knowledge of computers, barley checking her emails, she finds herself driven by curiosity. She goes home and finds the email waiting on her barely used PC. Reading it, she finds herself having a conversation with the deceased girl. She tells Lain that while her body maybe dead, she still lives online in the Wired. Asking Lain why doesn’t she join her. Be free in the net. From here, the series becomes Lain’s journey exploring the net, watching the lines between reality and the Wired blur, and finding her place in both.

It’s clear, even from a cursory look at the series, Konaka had his eyes firmly set on the evolution of computers and technology. The series features multiple references to Apple. It’s slogan being “Close the world, Open the nExt”, referencing the NeXT company. It’s ‘to be continued’ slates at the end of episodes, featured a blue and red Be, reminiscent of the logo for Be Inc. The robotic voice heard throughout the series, uses Apple’s Synth Speech synthesiser, specifically the ‘Whisper’ setting. As well as the appearance of Lain’s first computer in the series, resembling a red version of Apple’s Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh. Episode 9, “Protocol”, explores throughout the episode the history of computers. Detailing figures, projects and devices such as Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Project Xanadu, and the Memex. Serial Experiments Lain is certainly a well-researched, and thought-provoking series.

What’s interesting, is how well the series can be used to explain and explore Marshall McLuhan’s theory of the Global Village. Spoken about in both the books, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964), the Global Village comes out of McLuhan’s teachings about media always extending one part of ourselves. For example, a car extends our legs, and television extends our eyes, ears and sense of touch. With the Internet, or at least McLuhan’s prediction of the internet, he describes a system that extends our central nervous system. Creating a Global Village, populated by everyone. A way for us to stretch our consciousness across the planet to communicate with others. This can be seen not only with the deceased classmate, but also with how Lain and others appear while online. The random appearances of online entities in the real world, further blur the line. Questioning how far consciousness can be spread, as well as the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds.

Lain-002-20160202Throughout the series, the humming of electricity from telephone wires, reverberates through the screen. Reminding us of the Internet’s consistent presence. Essentially buzzing all around us every moment of the day. If our consciousness is extended through this Global Village, and its existence is all around us. Then the story and strange occurrences within Serial Experiments Lain, could very well be possibilities at some point. If we could truly expand our consciousness, as McLuhan says, to the point that we could leave our physical bodies. Then, wouldn’t the opposite also be a possibility? Expanding something from the internet, to affect the real world.

This is certainly not the first time McLuhan’s work has been touched on in popular culture. A notable, and highly relevant example in this situation, is David Cronenberg’s Videodrome in 1983. The digital prophet within the films plot, Brian O’Blivion, parallels McLuhan not only in appearance, but in his teaching.

While Serial Experiments Lain spends a large amount of time explaining the history of computers and the internet. Predicting the likes of Anonymous with ‘The Knights’, and even touching on conspiracy theories. Konaka seems to have hidden far more academic influences within his work than it initially seemed. Turning what could have been a largely forgotten, and somewhat uncomfortable series. Into a highly relevant, and teachable show, that is still being spoken about and examined almost 20 years later.

Posted in Anime, British Comics, Comics, DC Comics, Discussion, Evangelion, History, Superheroes, TV

Deconstruction without reference – Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion

In any medium or genre, there are titans. Stories and creators that are looked upon as the very best examples of what that medium or genre can be. When a genre or medium has been around for a while, it’s natural to find works and creators that start to question why it exists. Why do we read and follow superhero comics? Why do we watch and enjoy giant mech anime?

To deconstruct something, is to tear it apart to reveal and expose the subject’s weaknesses. To understand and explore its flaws, inconsistencies, and tropes. To literally take it to pieces. However, what happens when the deconstruction becomes the celebrated work? What impact does the work have, when it’s the first thing recommended to new readers or viewers?

Both Watchmen and Neon Genesis Evangelion are held up as master works of their medium and genre. Watchmen appears on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Best Novels in the English Language. The BBC Culture section, even refers to the series as ‘The Moment Comic Books Grew Up’. Taking apart and examining the superhero genre. Exploring the characters, motives and world, through the lens of a murder mystery. Many regard it as one of the greatest comics ever written. While others, including the books writer, Alan Moore, see it as more than a little overrated. Regardless of the opinion you have on the series, it’s hard to deny its impact, both in and outside the medium. DC Comics have even found themselves leaning back on to the books popularity and world for their storylines “The Button”, and “Doomsday Clock”. Neon Genesis Evangelion holds a similar reputation. Praised as one of the best and most influential anime to come out of the 90’s, let alone of all time. Evangelion is a cult classic, that takes apart the Mecha genre of anime. Exploring what drives the characters, the creation of the giant mechs, the EVA’s in this case, and what it’s like to face the end of the world.

Many ‘must-watch’, and ‘must-read’ articles suggest both of these are top contenders in their fields. Giving multiple reasons for why every fan of both mediums should see them. Many also suggest them as entry level material. This raises the question, what’s the point of a deconstruction, if the audience has no idea what is being deconstructed?

To use Watchmen for a moment. Readers walking into Watchmen for the first time, who have no grasp on the superhero genre of comics, or very little. Will find themselves confronted with the story of a group of apparently former heroes who grew old. When one is killed, the rest take it upon their selves to learn why, as well as dealing with their own everyday lives. However, as Walter Hudsick puts it in ‘Reassembling the Components in the Correct Sequence: Why You Shouldn’t Read Watchmen First’, using Watchmen as an introduction to Superhero comics, is a grave mistake. Watchmen is built on the very history of comics. Its characters are stand ins for specific characters. Dr Manhattan, Nite Owl II, The Comedian, and Ozymandias acting as replacements for The Atom, Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, and Thunderbolt respectively. The world’s history mirroring real world comic book history. Superheroes coming to prominence before a war, thriving through, only to begin to fade in the years after. The in-universe comic of The Black Freighter acting as a stand-in for EC Comics horror line. Even the comics very core as a deconstruction of Superhero literature predates Watchmen’s creation. The likes of Larry Niven’s Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex, Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s Superduperman!, and Roger Mayer’s Super-Folks, are all sighted as highly influential works in the industry. The influence of Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex showing itself in the relationship of Dr Manhattan and Silk Spectre II for example. The further you dig into comic history, and the more ingrained you are within it, the more you get from Watchmen.

With Neon Genesis Evangelion, we see a slightly different, but equally valid problem. When it comes to Mecha Anime, that is the focus. The Giant Robot battles. The pilots are children or early teen. One or two of them have family who worked on the project that created the robots. There is massive destruction to cities, and the heroes are praised regardless, because they defeated the big bad that episode. That happens when we take this apart and play it as real? We get broken people. Children told that the world rest on their shoulders, that if they don’t do their job, then everyone they know or love will die. Children struggling with depression, anxiety, and inferiority complexes. Haunted by the deaths caused just to write wrongs. A father who is so focused on his work, that the very child he calls upon to save the world, he has driven away and alienated to the point of cruelty. A world population suffering due to the destruction even the battles cause. Adding to that, Evangelion takes apart even anime wide tropes of the ‘submissive but attractive girl’, and the ‘hot headed and tempremental bomb shell’ with Rei Ayanami and Asuka Langley Soryu respectively. If someone approaches Evangelion, without an understanding of Mecha anime, or even anime tropes, then how are they expected to make sense of it, on top of Evangelion’s already confusing nature?

When approaching a deconstruction, with no understanding of the base. Part of the meaning is loss. The comments the creator is making on the subject, fall on ignorant or deaf ears. While that is never meant as an insult on the audience, it’s worth wondering why we recommend such material before a proper introduction? A new reader approaching the material, can certainly enjoy it, and in many cases, it leads to them discovering the very source material they need. But why is it the first point of call?

Posted in Anime, Comics, Discussion, History

Akira—How the World Fell in Love with an Incomplete Masterpiece

In 1988, the world was treated to the stunning marvel that is Akira. Critically acclaimed, and celebrated the world over, Akira has become a staple of cult cinema and anime. Based on the seminal Manga of the same name by Katsuhiro Otomo, and more commonly referred to as the stack of phone books most collectors of such material have in the top corner of their libraries. The film has garnered much respect for its visuals, style, and compelling story. It was revolutionary in its creation, even from a technical standpoint. Having all new colours created for the process of cell colourisation, particularly in the films numerous nighttime scenes, and its use of pre-recorded dialogue, something that while standard in the west, was and still is, consistently uncommon in the east.

However, it is a possibility that you could refer to the film as an unfinished story. To those that have only seen the film, and haven’t sacrificed the necessary time to dive into 6 phone book length tomes, the film comes to a close with the discovery of Akira’s resting place, and the country in ruins, as Kanada and Kei ride off to their future. In reality, however, of the 6 books, Akira is found at the end of Book 2, and the country is brought to its knees in Book 3. While the film is written and directed by the manga’s original author, his story was not complete when the time came to turn his tale to the big screen. In fact, Akira started its publication in 1982, and didn’t publish its final chapter until June of 1990. 2 full years after the film was in theatres. At the time of the film’s release, only 4 of the 6 books had been released, leaving the audience at a similar situation in both media. While reworking his story for the big screen, Otomo found himself with the answer to how to end his now colossal saga. Essentially, what started as an adaptation became the inspiration for the material being adapted. Quite possibly one of the most paradoxical sounding feedback loops I can concoct.

For an American, or rather Canadian example, it may be best to compare it to the likes of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I don’t imagine you’ve heard too many comparisons between Akira and Scott Pilgrim before now. The writer and artist for the original Scott Pilgrim comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley, was approached for the film rights after only the first book, strangely enough also of 6 books. While O’Malley didn’t have as much involvement as Otomo, with Edgar Wright taking the lead on the film, he did help in guiding and plotting the film. However, at the times, he still didn’t have an ending for his comic. Much in the same way as Otomo did, his work on the film guided him in shaping his final book, and ending the story of Scott Pilgrim in the print format. The final fight with Gideon Graves, while ultimately different in both mediums, was a film creation that made it’s way back into the original format.

The real fun part of adapted work is the fan outcry. The arguments as to whether or not the new work is faithful to the original, or whether the original author would be happy with the changes. But with this, as I seemed to put it before, paradoxical sounding feedback loop, the barrier between the original and the adaptation blur. We are left with products that could not be created without the others existence and vice versa. At the end of it all though, we do get two versions of some great stories.

The 1988 Akira film is currently available through Manga Entertainment on Blu-ray and DVD. Both Subbed and Dubbed, though I cannot recommend the original Streamline 1989 dub to anyone due to its heavily stilted acting. If you are so inclined to listen to the English track, always indulge in the 2001 redub, starring Johnny Yong Bosch and Joshua Seth. The Manga is available through Dark Horse Comics, with a stunning new edition due for release in October of 2017.

Posted in Anime, Film, Review

Return to: Rebuild of Evangelion 1.11

I fall in and out of love with anime. Now, it’s more like that friend you see every now and then. You enjoy their visits, and you love spending time with them, but too much of them drives you insane. On a whim, I decided to revisit the first film in the Rebuild of Evangelion series. A planned set of four films, that reimagined the plot of the 1995 series and follow up films. Telling the story, the director claims he originally intended.

The series has become a cult classic, along with titles such as Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and Serial Experiments Lain. Prompting discussion of the films themes of depression, the religious allegories, and the overall meaning of the series ending. While there is a lot of debate as to whether the show deserves the praise, it’s more than fascinating to go through first hand and join the debate. The show provides countless topics of discussion, as well as examples of storytelling, as well as the story of the shows production.

Fans of the series, upon hearing of the Rebirth films, were delighted to get both another piece of the puzzle, and a fresh look at the overall story. Currently, three of the proposed four films have been released, with the fourth delayed while the director finishes other projects. The new films provided the director, Hideaki Anno, with a fresh palette to start over. Reintroduce the main characters, and define them from the start, before moving to the existential nightmares that await them in later films. The first film, Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone, essentially retells the events of the first 5 episodes. Going from Shinji first arriving in Tokyo-3, reuniting with his estranged and cold father, meeting the other members of the organisation Nerve, piloting the EVA Unit 01, and defending the world and the city of Tokyo-3 from the 3rd, 4th and 5th Angels.

While the opening five episodes work well as a self-contained arc, and an opening to the new films. When re-watching Evangelion 1.11, I couldn’t help but feel that the lack of time the film has compared to five 20-minute episodes, gives less weight to the films events. While some scenes, such as Shinji walking in on Rei are still handled strongly, with the appropriate amount of pacing given to allow the full impact of the scene. As well as the film’s climax, and the beautiful final conversation between Rei and Shinji. I can’t deny that I tear up with the line “Why don’t you just try smiling?”. However, it’s the small scenes in the original show that made the characters, and gave weight to their choices. The relationship between Shinji, Toji and Kensuke, seems generic and rushed in the film compared to series. The iconic scene of Shinji being taken away, and running back and screaming at Toji that he doesn’t blame him for hating him. That he deserved to be hit, that he feels like a coward, a wimp, sneaky, and dishonest. That moment of weakness is a defining point in their relationship, as well as the moment between Misato and Shinji at the station, when Shinji makes the active choice to stay. Aside from Shinji’s night walking the street, none of these moments are included in the film. Their lack of inclusion leads the audience to question why Shinji just doesn’t leave if he hates the situation so much. That scene of his declaration, and decision to not get on the train is his defining moment in what mater to him, and what he is willing to lay his life down for.

While the first Rebuild film is fine overall, with stunning visuals, and the return of many of the original voice actors, both Japanese and American. As a starting point for the new films, it does what it needs to, as well as introduce a few new elements early, such as Lilith’s location. But compared to those original five episodes, it lacks heart.