Quick Thoughts on Boku no Hero Academia 2

bha 7

Keeping this short and sweet. I mean it today. Genuinely pretty short.

Boku no Hero Academia 2 is a direct continuation of the first, so nothing about it has drastically changed, aside from the placement of the heroes within a school-like environment basically the whole season. What has increased, from my perspective, are two things: scope of characters and number of Shounen clichés.

It is absolutely amazing to me how well this series pays attention to its characters. There are close to twenty student characters alone, without taking into account the number of teachers, villains, and miscellaneous characters, that are established commodities. Ochaco, Mineta, Midoriya, Bakugo, Todoroki, Yaoyorozu, Iida, Tsui, Tokoyami, and others all have their merits as both heroes and characters, and it’s such a heartwarming acknowledgment to know that the series isn’t playing favorites (at least not extensively). I think this is where most of the series’s charm comes from; characters taking the forefront and distinguishing themselves from their peers in terms of personality, powers, or motivations. Amazing as this is to say, I don’t hate any characters in this series. I don’t like all of the characters, but I don’t find any of them useless, irritating, or bland. On top of that, the characters I do like, I really like.

bha 5

On the negative side, tropes are abundantly increased as the pressure is poured on. A lot more monologues, stupid resolutions, and sweeping conceptually uninteresting shit under the rug for the sake of moving things along are much more prevalent here than in the first season (outside of the first season’s last three episodes). There’s also more filler, with one example being Tsui getting her own episode seemingly out of nowhere. It’s probably the worst episode in the whole season. Still, it isn’t enough to trample a story that, despite the overuse of superheroes in pop culture now-a-days, is intriguing enough to follow from both a newbie and veteran standpoint. Todoroki gets substantial growth as a character this time around, as does Iida and others in smaller doses. These two names probably wouldn’t have progressed so smoothly if the story was half-assed fanfiction.

Otherwise, second verse, same as the first. Boku no Hero Academia remains a consistently entertaining and endearing series, and one of the first Shounen series I’ve found myself immersed with in a very long time. I only hope the third season continues to build upon the greatest strengths of the second season without destroying itself with overly cliché villain battles and deus ex machinas—or, dare I say, self-sacrifices.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Blade Runner 2049 Review

br2049 5

No bullshit.

Impeccable as it is, this film has none of it. No filler, no filibuster. It moves at paces ranging from a bird flying in the morning sky to a snake slithering in the desert sand, yet it does not stop. Always moving, elegantly presenting events that capture some underlying force or ubiquitous mood which keeps the stew boiling in the darkness. That may very well be what I appreciate most from this picture; that it does not do anything to grope you around through heaps of mindless serendipity and glamour. No distractions from some obvious flaws or cute side swipes to appeal to a wider audience. Blade Runner 2049 does what it desires to do with such automated grace that it implements the stylistic intricacy of John Wick’s action sequences and employs it to every other aspect but that. Absolutely. No. Bullshit.

This is what Disney’s Star Wars could’ve been. Had it not been for all of its profound bullshit.

The original Blade Runner was a film dedicated to asking the questions without relaying any obvious answers. Nearly everything was shown, and not once told (at least not explicitly). This created an isolating effect between the viewer and the film; such that it felt more interested in serving as a cinematic enigma of sci-fi psychology and existentialism. Like being presented with a Rubik’s cube with no colors on any side, and being asked to solve it. Intriguing as it is, there’s no context to care, and little reason to identify with the struggles of its characters, aside from what is innate within humankind to be empathetic of those who only wish to survive—and to live among their own freedom. An island’s worth of style, but substance? Debatable.

br2049 2

Blade Runner 2049 may have single-handedly convinced me that characters are the greatest asset to film or any other similar medium. As toxic as the term “linear” has become in this day and age, the narrative structure of choice here is undoubtedly so. The choice to employ a more straightforward story is something that will no doubt alienate some from this sequel film’s roots. Yet it is a choice that is one of many choices that I not only find to be a true strength, but one that I would rather not have differently, despite other possibilities. It is so that standard structures can harm the worth of creativity, but it may also compliment all that which surrounds the structure in a more fulfilling fashion.

For it is the characters that make this movie what it is. What makes it so powerful, so transcendent in its mental capacity that one can only hope to collect all that is offered in a single sitting (I needed two sittings to write this review with confidence). For the things that the original wanted to convey, it didn’t have the proper connection between viewer and character to connect that link of ultimate empathy, the key to any true experience of extravagance. “Joe” is not only interesting on his own, but his condition, his context, his origins—everything so clear-cut yet shrouded in delicate mystery—become interesting as both he and the audience discovers more as the story unravels. Deckard in the original already had the benefit of knowing so much, being within a position where it was hard for someone without that context to surmise his thoughts and actions. With “Joe,” he’s far less human, far more empty in both humanistic characteristics and input on the larger aspects of his own “soul” that to build upon his knowledge along with him creates an experience that truly puts one in the midst of the dilemma. Immersion is no issue here; even if it was, the aesthetic presentation will alleviate that by itself.

Though what helps in Joe’s development as a character and source of human connection is Ryan Gosling’s performance, which, in my humble opinion, should garner him every award. All of them. What are replicants supposed to be? How are they supposed to feel? Baseline; no distractions, no bias, no physiological or psychological fluctuations. Ryan Gosling is stone-faced for a good portion of this film, flushed in the embodiment of a character that is not expected to feel desire or passion. Yet it is the subtler movements of his face, the slow accumulation of tears flowing in his eyes, the sudden, one-time burst of ferocity, that really brings “Joe” to life. With more time comes more opportunity for him to question his capabilities and his “humanity,” masterfully performed by Gosling. His mannerisms alone provide a spark of residual intrigue into every scene.

br2049 3

Thankfully, it is not just “Joe,” but a variety of characters that allow further insight into the plot and basis around the world presented in 2049 to flourish into a sea of conflicting moods and ideas. Joi, Luv, Deckard, and those whose names aren’t even important (as ironic as that sounds given their importance) all help present the importance of character within not just this film, but films in general. There are complexities, multi-faceted personalities to every character, and the way they bounce off of one another creates not just an interesting connection, but a realistic connection. Connections that transcend the standards of machines with human clothing. And the fact that some of these connections even exist says more about the characters than the interactions themselves.

Joi, for example, is the cybernetic encoding system that projects and mimics the personality and mindset of a real female partner—perhaps the “model girlfriend” would be a more accurate description. She, as a character, is worth liking, as she is programmed to be liked and irrevocably loyal to “Joe,” but she isn’t real, and oft-times throughout the film it is shown that she is simply a projection of everything “you” want to see and hear. I’ve seen various critics criticize Joi as a self-indulgent submissive female stereotype, and that through her desire to be real to Joe, the film becomes inherently “creepy.” Through my take, all I can say is THAT’S THE POINT! Joi isn’t real, but Joe wants her to be real, because he wants something real. He’s both submissive to the idea of having someone who loves and supports him while ashamed that he may never have that feeling of genuine connection with anyone aside from a company that manipulates that. It’s. Character. Building! Further acknowledgment that his humanistic desires are beginning to envelop his cerebral duties as a baseline “retiring” machine. Joi is, in a sense, a scapegoat to further build upon the ideas of the plot’s presence and the intricacy of the lead character’s inborn desires.

br2049 1

I could go on for hundreds of thousand of words about the characters and what they mean to the story, what each line could possibly allude to or how it all connects to the larger summary, but I’ll spare the reader my uncontrolled ramblings. What this means to show, however, is that the world within Blade Runner 2049 is filled with detail and substance, something that isn’t quite as noticeable in the original picture. Every scene, every character, almost every line has some deeper meaning to it. Packed with a keen sense of direction that seems to lead to a multitude of different destinations, finding every piece of the puzzle is as much an experience as the film’s surface messaging. That, I can absolutely believe, can be a hefty and off-putting task for the casual viewer. Not quite as much as with mother!, but enough to warrant those who fear the mounting expectations that become noticeably gargantuan within the first fifteen minutes of the film a passive regard.

Profound characters, a straightforward, yet immersive story. What more can one ask for? Why, captivating visuals and atmosphere, of course! Indeed, the colors are not vibrant as, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, nor are they as focused on grabbing one’s attention. The tone of 2049 is intrinsically dark and depressing; a dystopian world full of casual pleasures and leisure, without a shred of empathy or individuality. Everything is, as already said a number of times before, clear-cut, meticulously organized, and gray. Everything is in the state of decay, the death of humanity itself, or its drive, should one prefer. It makes the more focal points of color, whether the red lights of a police cruiser, the purple-pink skin of the projection of a nude female advertisement, or the orange mist of an abandoned city full of radiation, far more instilling. What 2049 manages to do, apart from creating a visual world that shows the capabilities of current-generation special effects, is embellish the more bombastic features by showing patience. When one is accustomed to three hours of special effects, those effects are no longer special, but a norm of the visuals. Here, those pinks and oranges and reds glow with an intermittent fascination that reminds the viewer of what it means for effects to be special.

br2049 4

Last, but most certainly not least, is the soundtrack that accompanies the film, taking a fairly similar lead as the special effects. It picks its moments of heightened hostility and intensiveness. Silence is not often heard through this film, though it is most certainly very quiet. The action scenes are as far and few between as the music that accompanies them. The most scandalous realizations are accompanied by harrowing, mind-numbing impacts of heavy synthesizers and sheer volume. Not only setting the tone, it sets another course for the story’s direction, and the mood of a character, and the breaking, the recovery, the peace, the frustration, or the reconciliation of a person. So simplistic in its nature, the heaviness of the soundtrack becomes heavily embedded in the already masterfully-woven intricacy of the film’s core parts. Everything plays a part and works beautifully together to not only provide insightful think pieces, but valid entertainment as a whole.

There are things about this film that many can criticize, break apart, or question upon the logical foundations with which it means to present itself. Perhaps the pace is too slow, the violence too prevalent, the diversity too white (Ha!). For me, and the way this film evoked the inner workings of my emotional turmoil is something that cannot—and will not—go unnoticed. Much like my most treasured possessions of the visual medium, in which my memories paint the perfect, picturesque brilliance of a modern masterpiece, Blade Runner 2049 is, without any single shred of doubt—two times over—the closest a film could ever be to perfect in my mind. Production values, character intricacy, narrative potency, atmospheric sincerity; everything and more is there for me, for you, and for anyone to indulge in to their utmost pleasure. And I, as one who always clamors to share my wondrous, oft-times contradictory feelings, urge anyone reading to not only watch this film once, but twice or thrice, so that one can experience what it means to truly be in the presence of human passion.

Final Score: 10/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

I’ve Kinda-Sorta Become an Official Video Game Reviewer (And Another Update)

keengamer logo

Longer than anime, longer than football, the longest-tenured pastime activity in my life has always been video games. I started playing before I could even fathom a thought as to what video games even were. A time when I saw a screen with bright lights, a character sitting idly, and a controller in my hand, when fondled with, made the character onscreen move. It started with Donkey Kong Country, and has no end in sight. Despite the hiatuses and breaks I’ve taken to pursue other interests, video games are something I will always love and eventually come back to no matter what.

Completely on a whim, settled within a mindset of “What am I doing with my life anymore,” I decided to Google “video game site jobs.” Lo and behold, the Gods of fate smiled upon me; a listing of available jobs became available in an “Indeed.com” style of structure. Sifting through the debris with a heightened sense of urgency, I came across an opportunity that seemed almost too good to be true. An up-and-coming gaming journalism website that pays and provides various new-release games free of charge? I applied immediately (after checking out the site). Better yet, I used this blog as part of my resume. And it ended up being in my benefit! This rotten blog, which for years has brought me nothing but intrinsic self-indulgence and the camaraderie of the ani-community, actually ended up being useful in future endeavors.

I applied and I was accepted, though I started on a trial period, so I delayed the announcement until now, when everything became prime and proper. I am officially a video game reviewer for KeenGamer. I’ve had two reviews published as of today, should one be interested in how I’ve fared.

With this now established, there are a few things I’d like to provide via update. The first being that on Twitter, I will now be addressing myself by my real, full name. I contemplated giving myself a real picture, as well, but I couldn’t say goodbye to the bunny persona I had created for myself, so that will stay. Plus, it’d be rather drastic for my (INCREDIBLY LARGE AMOUNT OF) followers to suddenly see a bunny called “Kopo” turn into a real boy named “Dakota Gordon.” The entire basis behind this change is a manner of consistency, seeing as I will now be very vocal about my new job via Twitter, and any potential followers could make the connection that the “Dakota Gordon” on Keengamer is the same “Dakota Gordon” on Twitter.

The second is that this blog will likely not be as active (or lengthy in its content) as it once was. I’ve already been debating as to whether or not I should scrap my second blog, seeing as I hardly write there anymore even without this new development. Anime output will still continue, as well as various pieces from other visual media, but it won’t be as, how should I say, weighty? Or even as consistent. My focus now is on what’s more beneficial, and this reviewing job is nothing short of my dream job—I AM LIVING MY DREAM—and it takes priority. I also said this before with going back to school and all, but now it’s held twice over. I am more busy with life now than I have ever been.

Let this not be a farewell, but a greeting to a new beginning. Old things come and go, steadied by a consistent desire to hold it afloat, and I assure any follower that despite the workload, this blog will continually be updated until I say it’s done with. I thank everyone who has read any one of my hundred pages of musings on whatever topic, and have continued to support me in my years on WordPress. I’m unsure if I could’ve gotten this far, or taken this many opportunities without the aid of those who continue to interact with me here, on Twitter, or elsewhere. The times are a changin’, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier with it.

Thoughts on Boku no Hero Academia (Season One) (Spoilers?)

bha 1

I am so very tired of superheroes flooding the mainstream. Marvel/D.C. Studios seem to release a film every four months with substantial box office victories. Animated films such as Big Hero 6, the latest Spongebob film, and the upcoming Incredibles 2 are becoming more common. Even anime has gotten the hero fever with the quick green-lighting of One Punch Man and Boku no (or MyHero Academia. First hearing about it, I could only sigh and huddle into my own mindset of “Superheroes are cliché now,” ignoring something that fits the shounen tag to the dot. As the years went by and the hype of the series continued to grow ever bigger through its second season, I ended up succumbing to my curiosity and decided to watch it after completing the latest Summer of Anime. Sitting here, typing this out, I’m both impressed and cautious of what the future may bring.

Long has it been since an anime has pulled me into its world as well as Hero Academia has. Planning to watch two episodes, I would zoom through six straight without skipping a beat. If I really wanted to, I could blaze through the entire anime in one sitting, though not without difficulty, but more on that later. Though I often scoff at the notion, the aspect of one destined for great things is something that’s hard to ignore, especially when done in an endearing way. I was enthralled by Wonder Woman and I was charmed by Deadpool, though both suffer from a similar evil as Hero Academia does, which makes its whole tragically underwhelming. Hero films at their core appeal to the emotional side of a person’s heart, that in which is relegated through the psyche of characters and their ambitions. Here, this is done splendidly.

bha 3

Imperfect as it is, the manner in which Deku, as he’s so affectionately referred to, goes about his tragic life as a Quirkless is invigorating for those in a similar position. Yet, as I have said many times in the past, the weak, cowardly character is by far the easiest character in all of fiction to develop. Such was the case for The Good Dinosaur, such was the case for Yuri!!! on Ice, such is the case presently. On top of this, his crybaby persona, along with his peers’ personality quirks, feel a little too hamfisted. One can almost be justified in saying this cast is one-dimensional, as there’s a fine line between having a distinct personality and having a singular personality. Deku cries all the time, is scared all the time, has a lot of monologues with himself trying to dispel doubt, but always displays the most heroic attitude in the most pressing moments. One can easily grow tired of constantly being reminded of who he is and what he’s fighting for. We. Get. It.

What helps is that Deku, while clearly being the main character, is not the only character to receive attention. In a class full of powerful, supernatural kids, many of them receive enough attention to embellish both their powers and their temperaments. There are times when one isn’t aware that Deku is onscreen, as other characters take full control over a scene with their own power (both figuratively and literally). It really aids in making a series feel bigger than one or two characters when despite the main group’s exclusion from the spotlight, the series continues to showcase side characters and their own performance with the trials facing them. I often complain that a cast can be far too big to allow everything and everyone to be developed in a way that makes the group feel whole. Not only is the effort shown in Hero Academia, it uses that effort in the most efficient way imaginable. There aren’t many characters I don’t like.

bha 4

Pacing and progress are also good features, as the weight of situations and their accumulation feel natural, aside from a very quick ten-month montage in the third(?) episode. Perhaps I’m too used to slice-of-life flicks where a span of months can go by in only a few episodes (Looking at you, Acchi Kocchi), but Hero Academia has a smooth and consistent timer that knows when to put things to an end. Somewhat formulaic in its structure, admittedly, though I suppose that’s to be expected from a shounen flick. I almost never checked the time in an episode nearly throughout, as the key pieces were enough to hold me over on their own basis, which makes for a satisfying viewing—one I haven’t had since Berserk, and who knows since before then.

But… there is something that drags Hero Academia down to the level of my mortal enemy in anime: the typical shounen. It comes in the form of the last four episodes.

Evil. Out of nowhere. Infiltrates with ease and starts spouting garbage evil jargon for the sake of it. Heroes are caught off-guard and can’t thwart them easily. A large battle ensues. All hope seems lost, when suddenly help arrives! The situation becomes lighter, then darker as circumstances turn for the worst, when suddenly help arrives! The situation becomes lighter, then darker as circumstances turn for the wo—WHEN SUDDENLY HELP ARRIVES! This goes on for four episodes. Constant use of deus ex machinas and the most cliché quick-thinking solutions and THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! make it a very irritating experience that quickly grew tiring. Up to this point, I thought the series would only use these tools minimally. Much to my chagrin, they use them as a crutch in the most important of situations. And this isn’t to say these episodes were devoid of good, as a lot of variety in character spotlight makes the situations rich in development, but there’s far too much “Been there, done that” to compensate for the helping of character interaction.

bha 2

Perhaps I expected too much from a high-profile shounen series, but the overall animation is only decent here, with series like One Punch Man destroying it in nearly every regard. There was one particular scene in the final episode that was flashy and fun, but aside from that, I can’t recall any particular moment that really “wowed” me. One really shouldn’t complain, however, as the animation and design is clean nearly throughout, so it tops the typical romcom any day. On the topic of design, I really enjoy the way the designs speak from the characters. Bakugo’s spiky, disheveled hair and wide, fanged grin displaying his chaotic nature. Iida’s trim face, thin spectacles, and proper attire showcasing his authoritative demeanor. Ochaco’s blandness showing her no-personality character. There’s something for everyone here.

I can assure anyone that, despite the miscues, I’m excited to indulge in more heroic adventures once the second season wraps up. I’d even go as far as recommending this title to, well, anyone, as I feel the most overused of clichés won’t bother general people as much as it does me. Even with those in place, cynical viewers can latch onto the carefully planned narrative progression and plethora of likable characters. While not necessarily a challenging series, it’s simplicity done almost entirely right, and I for one applaud it.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

The Circle Review

the circle 5

One never really knows what they’ll get when they watch a film for the first time. There are reviews, trailers, interviews, and more that may influence one’s expectations going into one, but until the movie begins to play and the attention has been provoked, the quality of a given picture is shrouded in complete mystery. Thankfully, The Circle preaches that knowing is good, but knowing everything is better, and knowing everything about The Circle is a very good thing. Think of the lives that could be saved when the truth about The Circle comes into view, so that everyone with that knowledge can use it to guide people in the right direction. Really, this review is in the reader’s best interest, so read very, very carefully.

Typically, when one reviews film, they use a mental Pro-Con list of sorts to factor in the strengths and weaknesses of a particular subject. They then get a feeling of what overtakes the other, and mix it all in with their overall feelings and level of interest as the credits roll. While it sounds pretty straightforward, many different elements apply to the process of coming to a conclusion on a film’s worth, depending on the person. With all the filler context in place, the point to this spiel becomes relevant: what are the strengths to The Circle?

Absolutely nothing.

the circle 3

It’s amazing how completely wrong every aspect of this film is, whether characters, story, pacing, and most notably, logic. The effort a full team of writers must’ve taken to make this film as sound as possible, while adding in the necessities of a fulfilling cinematic experience makes the conclusion all the more bizarre. The leaps this film takes to make everything so succinct is astounding, despite never making any time to realize its full potential. If the film is in any way like the novel it was based on, then it wouldn’t surprise me if the source was written by a teenager who has never left their house in their life.

Logic, especially, is one thing that The Circle actively ignores. Points of conflict and the easy coasting of one scene to the next, despite the severity of the things being claimed on-screen, have the impression that the author simply wanted everything to be taken at face value. Much like a fantasy flick, where explosions only scratch characters and travesties are met with 100% goodwill, events are placed into the world and accepted because no one is there to question it. People are completely accepting of the things that are slowly taking over the earth, because the general populace is a swarm of braindead zombies willing to listen to Tom Hanks. Except for the one, single, sole person with a brain and is aware that people lie.

the circle 1

Through every minute, the fallacies begin to pile to the point that, by the end, one can’t help but question the entire structure of the society itself. The Circle is inherently flawed, from its very foundation of “The Circle” concept company to the ways it manages to bypass common courtesy laws to get to the point of power the likes of Google or Facebook. Even outside of these cases, which is difficult to shield from due to sheer quantity, the execution of these things are easy, inconsequential, and rushed. An enormous lack of feedback from the viewer takes place when things simply happen without any reason to believe things are actually happening. How sullen things become when halfway through, even the most benign of viewers become keen on how trivial the importance of the characters are in the grand scheme. Constructed from the most imaginative of minds, then coated with paint flung without a single care, The Circle has the literary capabilities of a drunken lunatic.

Undoubtedly, the story is worse overall than its characters and their actors’ abilities to bring them to life. Still, it is a one-two punch that could knock out Conor McGregor without effort. Emma Watson is perhaps the most bland female lead I’ve seen in quite some time, and what’s even worse, her character eventually loses her initial intelligence to the brainwashing of The Circle’s stupid “influence.” Not only bland and unoffending, her character becomes outright unlikable due to her hasty lack of common sense and outright heel turn at times most grandeur. This only worsens when considering her character’s screentime overlaps everyone else’s by a good twenty-five percent. Hanks, Boyega, Oswalt, and any others with some semblance of importance are treated as reserve players, popping up when the film feels it’s time for them to make an “impact.” Such transparency only further drags the film down into the depths of its own ambition. Never does it live up to the expectations it places upon itself, and its characters feel so jadedly simplistic and underutilized that Watson may as well have been the only actor to be given credit on the film’s cover art. Not because she was any better, but because her character’s importance rises so far above everyone else’s that the film can’t bear to show a single scene without her.

the circle 4

In terms of performances, it allows me to grieve for what little this film has to offer. No qualms should be attributed to individual performances, as as little as some are shown, they do a serviceable enough job to hold one over. Watson, despite her character’s limited array of personalities, plays the unassuming simpleton very well. Hanks is also quite the likable host, and his character, at times, doesn’t seem to embody the seed of Satan as the film adores foreshadowing. With as little experience as John Boyega has, his performance is somewhat typical, though I would note he is likely the weakest link of the bunch. Perhaps due to his very limited screentime, his charisma is little more than a whisper, leaving it easy for one to forget he even appeared in the film at all. The most natural actor of the bunch was Beck, hands-down, as his performance was just like what one would see anywhere.

At this point, it may be redundant to include that the little implementation of technological doo-dads pertaining to the opinions of the general public was fairly interesting. It gave the film a somewhat futuristic pop that its setting tries so hard to allude to in many cases. While the manner of profanity was turned down far more than it should’ve to replicate true society, it was a nice quirk to include some oft-floating text bubbles that presented life in a rather cynical light, providing comfort and self-preservation only in appropriate situations. Too little, too late, unfortunately.

the circle 2

I suppose it would be considerate to say that The Circle tries. However, the implementation of horridly exaggerated events and the zombification of every possible human being (except one) leaves only a taste of the atrocious recipe for disaster that this film represents. Borderline insulting with how easy the entire ordeal feels, cutting up the general population to their own whim for the sake of power. All because everyone seems to believe that Tom Hanks, and his signature smile and silky voice, is enough to have even the most cynical of hares groove to his tune. Not this hare.

Final Score: 1/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

Day Eleven: Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (MotM 2017)

spirited away 5

I’m going to be completely honest, because I feel I owe it to the reader to not beat around the bush. I didn’t like this film. I spent a large majority of the film bored out of my mind and wondering how I’m going to justify giving it a bad score than actually caring what was going on. Now, don’t take that as a sign that I wasn’t paying attention, as I was, obsessively so. This is something that I wanted to enjoy, knowing how legendary Studio Ghibli is and my own nostalgic value of the film, seeing it many years ago. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find any enjoyment with it, and should I rate this strictly by enjoyment standards, it’d probably be as low as a two or three out of ten. I couldn’t do that, though.

There is a lot of weight to this film that makes it more than what it seems, something that requires a keen eye for detail. Symbolism, moral messages, subtle character development, wonderful design and animation, and a fantasy world that feels vibrant and organized. An uppity cynic could watch this and say it’s nothing but a frank message of being good-moraled. That kind of viewpoint is setting aside a lot of the “magic” that hides behind the scenes, something that becomes apparent with a full analysis. All of this is technically impressive with how well it’s incorporated into the world, as most of it isn’t directly involved with the plot.

spirited away 3

Issues involved with my experience personally boils down to a single aspect: characters. That’s not to say it is my only issue, as I’ll get into more later, but for the most part, it is the characters that bore me so. They’re developed fine. They’re presented fine. Are they likable? That’s where the line becomes somewhat murky. Some could argue yes, some no; in the end, it’s a subjective point. I didn’t find most characters likable, and while some ended up more likable by the end (Zeniba), most were persistently set in stone, stubbornly similar in design from beginning to end. People praise the characters for being multi-dimensional and relatively neutral in moral standing, but when that becomes they’re only charming point, they begin to blend together. Some are snobbier, some are nicer, some are more serious; all blend in to a monotonous transitional picture that feels too safe.

Perhaps if not safe, formulated would be a good way to describe it. Indeed, something of a jumping point for my cynicism towards modern Disney films, Spirited Away has a straightforward and to-the-point narrative structure. Though not always a key issue, when combined with my already disconnected feelings towards the characters, it makes the movie move at a snail’s pace. Scenes play in slow-motion, with the only relief coming from anything out of the ordinary, such as the constant attention to dirty, stinky, vile filth from a myriad of different creatures. In addition, symbolic themes feel too blatant, bombarding the viewer with repetitive images of creatures constantly clamoring for gold and being punished for it. This is just one thing, however, as other themes are visualized wonderfully. It’s a hit-and-miss process.

spirited away 4

Something of an interesting debate is the usefulness of Chihiro as the starring character. Many will debate whether she’s a good or bad character based on personality or growth, and while I didn’t care for her but acknowledge she had development, there’s another aspect regarding her I don’t think is discussed enough: her morality. With one of the most integral aspects of Spirited Away being resisting the temptations of Earthly desires concerning greed and gluttony, I find her character somewhat disappointing. To reiterate, I think she does grow, though I feel her potential was lost by making her a squeaky-clean lead, oblivious to all the things that should at least tempt her. The starting point only paints her as being uppity and slightly spoiled, but nothing of a bad child. Her role eventually becomes the eyes and ears that the viewer can relate to coming into a new world. She doesn’t really change as much as she could’ve, and her character would’ve been a lot more interesting had she expressed anything other than the blank slate that most anime leads embody.

Does anything really need to be said about the animation? Studio Ghibli hits basically every category when it comes to this field. Animation is fluid basically 99% of the way, the design and detail of the world, its characters, and fantasy aspects are wondrous and lovely (even the disgusting images), and the way it interacts with the subtle details of character-building is extraordinary. It’s good. Very, very good. Apparently the sound is really good, too, but I hardly heard it throughout.

spirited away 2

I think I’ve said enough to make a few enemies describe why I plan to rate this film the way I plan to. There’s enough here to warrant the praise that it receives and it wouldn’t surprise me if I were to watch this again and enjoy it more, but as it stands, the film just didn’t click with me. It’s a slippery slope when a major aspect of a movie doesn’t work, tainting the rest of it (perhaps unfairly) for the worse. For me, the characters don’t hold up enough weight to keep the ship from sinking into a sea of grating time watching, along with some holes concerning the blatancy of the narrative’s structure and the role of the female lead. For many, and I mean many, this film is an unquestioned classic. Putting it lightly, I find it overrated. More acutely, I find it disappointing that it couldn’t live up to the expectations of others, and most importantly, to myself.

Final Score: 5/10

The rating for all other films can be found on my IMDb account.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

An Ode to The Original Star Wars Trilogy

star-wars-original-1

Genuine question: how many thought of John Williams’s score upon seeing the title of this post?

Like many others, I grew up with a heavy dose of Star Wars in my life. Even before the release of Episode I back in 1999, I had spent the first six years of my life being exposed to all things Star Wars, as my father was a huge fan of it. (My mother, as well!) I don’t remember a lot from my experience with the original trilogy as a kid, but Star Wars as a whole shaped up to be one of the most engrossing and exciting film franchises of my lifetime. I remember individual scenes, such as Luke’s descent into Dagobah, The AT-AT attack, the Death Star trench run, and more, but never smoothed seemly into a complete package back then. I was more enamored with the cool action and special effects. Weren’t we all?

With a recent rewatch, my fondness for Star Wars began with a bit of a tumble. A New Hope was actually fairly average in most respects, though I enjoyed the intrigue of things to come and the subtle character quirks through interaction with others. It wasn’t until Empire Strikes Back that I was able to rekindle that passion for the franchise. The scenes held more weight, the characters had pizzazz, and it all felt like a bigger-than-life adventure. A truly captivating movie experience. While not quite as good, Return of the Jedi still had a lot of what made Empire so dazzling to watch. Though it also had a number of things that would foreshadow the state of the franchise for when George Lucas decided to develop the prequel trilogy. The Ewoks, in hindsight, were kind of a stupid plot device. Nothing more than glorified teddy bears.

star-wars-original-4

Even after the rewatch, I still love all of these films. A New Hope somewhat leveled my expectations, which surprised me, as it’s typically more beloved than Return of the Jedi. There’s this sense of walking on eggshells in the first film that I don’t really like. It was definitely within those introductory stages that made everything feel little more than “Getting to the good part.” Not to mention, everything felt clumsily pieced together as if one were directing the scenes to occur one-by-one straight off of a storyboard. This may not have been such a problem had the characters been charismatic. Only few characters felt as though they shined in the spotlight, but given some props, they tried their best. The most disappointing character was Darth Vader, who played like a second dog to a mightier hound in the grand scheme of things. One could use the argument that he always has been a la Emperor Palpatine, but in A New Hope, he takes orders from a mere senior representative. Hardly the figure someone as destructive as Darth Vader should be taking orders from. This feels even more silly when in Empire Strikes Back, the first scene featuring him has him giving orders to troops in a triumphant tone and getting the plot moving. “He does so in A New Hope, as well,” you may say. My response would be to compare the tone and the mood of each scene and see how menacing Darth Vader seems in both of them.

star-wars-original-3

Of course, these are purely the negatives. A New Hope gets a passing grade despite the flaws as a means of being entertaining with its sequence of events and characters. While not as free as they could, Luke, Han, and Leia all showcase their signature bravado whenever given the chance. With signature lines such as “Aren’t you a little short to be a Stormtrooper?” to “Use the force, Luke,” it paints a picture of who these people are and what they’ve been through, along with how their influence changes those around them—Luke particularly, as the young and rising Jedi. Young Skywalker has the least personality of the bunch, but in the role as observer and “fish out of water,” he doesn’t necessarily need to have much. His role, such as the entire film, is a symbol of things to come, leading to bigger and more grander events that will shape the galaxy. And this presence, with which the movie coats itself with with every change of setting, makes the movie not only devoid of dullness, but amorously  foreboding.

This aura of bigger things pays off tremendously with The Empire Strikes Back. Things move along and the Rebel Alliance has set up a defensive against the Empire’s rebuttal. Immediately, the audience is shown something new—a distant planet full of danger. The scenes swap back and forth between good and evil, developing a story that provides insight on both sides, giving more emphasis on character than story, though the narrative progresses smoothly enough. The enthusiasm needed to care for the things happening to the characters, something that required work in the first film, is beautifully handled. Mixed with the now dark and serious transition of the story, showing the power the Empire is capable of, makes for an unpredictable outcome with every new scenario. It’s far more entertaining, far more insightful, and far more within the reach of its unreachable grasp. The only real problem? The scenes still feel a little clumsy, the characters a little one-dimensional, despite how nice it all feels at first glance.

star-wars-original-2

It all accumulates into the final film in the trilogy, Return of the Jedi. Debatably, this is the most problem-filled film, with the entire Empire being defeated by a bunch of primitive teddy bears and Jabba’s Palace being… not that important at all, outside of saving Han Solo. Despite the questionable decisions, the last film harbors some of the most emotionally satisfying scenes in the entire franchise. Luke facing off against Darth Vader for the final time. Luke’s final visit with Yoda. Leia is told of her relation to Luke. Star Wars decided to let it all out, with fantastic results. I would describe the fight scene between Luke and Vader as my favorite scene in the entire trilogy. So fulfilling after building up from the very first movie, and the fulfilling of destinies described from the prior film makes every fan of prophecies incredibly satisfied. Characters still have their charm from Empire, if only they had a story to really develop upon more of it. Luke and Vader are the big subject here, with everyone else in the background. It retains that fun and fantasy epic that the series is known for, just at a lesser expense. With teddy bears.

star-wars-original-5

It has the charm, the fantasy, and the heart to remain strong even now. The emphasis on story, character, and subtle development of both makes for a surprisingly emotional ride. I was quite surprised by how emotionally respondent I was to the film, as many would say that the series is more pragmatically satisfying than anything else. There’s a genuine spirit of adventure, and the bond between characters shows through without warning. One roots for these characters, and stay for the immersive plot developments. Despite its unnaturally futuristic setting and identity, Star Wars is a more human endeavor than anything else, showing that no matter how out-of-reality a movie can be, it’s the aspect of humanity that carries the legacy forward.

The rating for these titles and all others can be found on my IMDb account.