Faith [Drama]: Lots to love, a little to hate…

I was in the mood for something historical, having recently re-watched a couple of my favourite episodes of Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and the 24 episodes of Faith (2012) was on my shortlist. It sounded interesting, and so I decided to check it out (I swear I didn’t know it was a Lee Min Ho drama until I started watching it, honest!)

faith

What’s it about?

King Gongmin (Ryu Deok Hwan) is returning to Goryea to become the next ruler with his wife, Princess Nogoog (Park Se Young), and the Wuldalchi; highly trained soldiers captained by the infamous Choi Young (Lee Min Ho). However, the Princesses’s throat is cut when the group is attacked by enemies, and Jang Bin (Phillip Lee), the highly skilled doctor of the group, states he is unable to save her. Desperate, the King sends Choi Young through “Heaven’s Gate”, a mysterious portal that lands him in modern-day Seoul. The first doctor he finds is cosmetic surgeon Yoo Eun Soo (Kim Hee Seon); stubborn, materialistic, and straightforward, she is kidnapped by Choi Young, and dragged back in time. She succeeds in saving the Princess’s life, but Choi Young breaks his promise of sending her back, blocking her entrance to the portal. Eun Soo is horrified as she watches it close, realising that she is stuck in the fourteenth century.

The Positives

Faith is one of the catch-all dramas that pulls on many different genres to produce something to have a popular appeal. And it’s a drama that does this quite well. Of course, you have all the political manipulation and tension you’d expect in a historic drama (more on that later), but you also have the action scenes from Choi Young and the Wuldalchi as they protect the royal couple and Eun Soo, plenty of romance, and also a healthy dose of comedy. I think the series balances between all aspects really well, making Faith a very entertaining watch.

queen

Go Princess Nogoog!

Secondly, I was really impressed with a lot of the characters (and the actors who portrayed them) in this series. Starting with our mains, Lee Min Ho is the perfect choice for the moody warrior Choi Young. He’s got the screen presence that we all know and love, and pulls off the character’s epic lines and scenes with ease. I feel like if another actor had taken on the role, these aspects would have fallen flat or been corny. Kim Hee Seon did a really good job of bringing Eun Soo to life. I liked that Eun Soo was so straight-forward, loud, and funny, despite being in a time period when she should have acted “seen and not heard”. It shows that her character wasn’t going to let something small like time-travel compromise who she is! I also have to give a special shout out to Park Se Young as Princess Nogoog. I think she portrayed the young queen perfectly with the kind of emotional subtlety you’d expect to see of an actor with many more years of experience. I also really love a good villain, [MINOR SPOILER/] and Park Yoon Jae as Prince Deokheung [\MINOR SPOILER] (the villain) was really, really excellent. I haven’t seen a villain as intelligent and interesting as him for a very long time, and I was really surprised by the character. Definitely up there as a favourite villain! Finally, the host of side characters, but especially the Wuldalchi, really bring the series to like with their various personalities and interactions.

warriors

The best soldiers you’ll ever see!

 

Finally, I really like the mix of myth, fantasy, and history thrown together in this series. The only other historic drama I’ve seen was set in later Joseon era (18th century), so the setting in Goryea (14th century) was something very different. Here, we see Goryea fighting for its independence from (what later becomes) China, and I think this uncertainty of the nation’s future means that all characters are already in a difficult spot. As much as I hate politics in real life, they play out very well in this series, with plenty of twists and turns. I also liked the mix of myth, fantasy, and history throughout the series. I think there was a good balance between the three, retaining some historical accuracy but keeping things interesting with a new twist.

The Negatives

As much as I’ve praised Eun Soo’s character above, I also have a lot to criticise. For a surgeon, a seemingly prestigious surgeon, she sure is stupid. This is a problem with dramas relying too much on the damsel in distress female lead, and it clearly shows in this series. Now I don’t mind her issues with adjusting to Goryea (and honestly, who can blame her for trying to figure out what to do after being flung so far into the past), and her materialistic streak is all apart of her character.  However, I really hate that her character is compromised in certain situations so that she can be saved. My favourite parts of the series were when her and Choi Young worked together, not when he was saving her from the consequences of a stupid decision she made. While we’re on characters, actually, let’s have a quick look at Dr. Jang. Without spoiling to much, I know that there were real-life issues going on here, but I still feel that this character was meant to be much more important. In the first two episodes it’s clear that he’s more than just the royal doctor, and it’s hinted that there’s some serious back story to his character, but he then sort of fizzles off into a side character. I was looking forward to discovery more about him, but left feeling extremely disappointed.

dr-jang

Dr Jang… clearly meant to be more than a shoulder to cry on…

The second criticism I have against this series… well, I guess it’s one that I have against anything involving time-travel in general. It hurts my head. I followed everything throughout the series until we get to the last couple of episodes and everything is tied up… but sort of not really? I feel that there was a major plot hole in the end (see below) and there were implications, that, if they had been addressed correctly, could have changed the direction of the series, and made it much more interesting. The ending also felt a little anti-climatic (in terms of the “baddies” that we’ve been dealing with) as the drama rushed to focus on Choi Young and Eun Soo’s love. I can’t explain these criticisms any further without major spoilers, so if you intend to check out this series, continue onto the conclusion section of this post, and don’t read the following spoilers.

couple

Cute and all, but I feel there could have been more to this drama…

[MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]
Alright, let’s get straight into this plot hole business. It gets established early on in the series that Eun Soo has travelled to further into the past (i.e. a time period before Goryea) before her “current” travel to Goryea. Past Eun Soo leaves current Eun Soo tips about what to do and not do to keep history on course and save those she loves. Some of the instructions she leaves suggest that “Past Eun Soo” was in Goryea at a point in which Choi Young was killed. From there, she travelled further into the past and left her future self information about not letting him die for when she travels into Goryea for the first time. I’m not sure how much sense that makes, but the take away message is this: Eun Soo has travelled to Goryea on at least one other occasion from her “current” excursion there. Keep this in mind. One of the other clues Past Eun Soo leaves is how to calculate when the time portal opens. Current Eun Soo is so desperate to get to the time portal in the series because it wasn’t going to open again for another 60 years afterwards. Now, I would assume that the time portal opening is the “same” amongst all time periods that it connects to (past, Goryea, current times); i.e. you can potentially travel through the three time periods when the portal is open. Past Eun Soo, at the point in which she’s known as Hwa Ta, goes into the time portal that brings her back to Choi Young a few years after she first leaves Goryea. Where did this time portal come from because I didn’t think there was going to be one for sixty years?! How can she create time portals left, right, and centre to travel through at the plot’s convenience to make the Goryea trip at least twice?! Or am I thinking about this wrong? Do the time portals only work in certain directions, so the one Eun Soo uses to get from distant past to Goryea wouldn’t allow her to get from Goryea to the future (i.e. her main focus during the series)? Is her “Faith” in returning to Choi Young  meant to explain these random portals popping up? Did she calculate them wrong in the beginning (but she seemed to know where they are)? Would it have been too hard to explain this in the series? This is why time travel hurts my head.

Secondly, [STILL MAJOR SPOILERS] if it is the case that Eun Soo made the Goryea trip on multiple occasions (remember, we’ve established that by the end of the series she’s done this journey at least twice), wouldn’t her attempt(s) to survive in Goryea without screwing up history and her attempt(s) to get back to Choi Young be so much more interesting to focus on rather than, oh, I don’t know, her getting poisoned a second time?! Honestly, I was just about ready to get give up on the series when that happened. It makes Eun Soo look stupid and it’s just infuriating to watch when we could have something with much more substance to enjoy! [END OF ALL SPOILERS]

Conclusion

Story: 6/10. A really fun mix of everything, but some bad plot decisions leave you feeling sour.

Characters: 8.5/10. A lot of the characters are well thought out and developed, although this is compromised in a couple of moments. However, a great drama villain makes up for it all.

Faith is certainly not the best drama I’ve seen, but it is definitely enjoyable. Although I have issues with some of the characters and plot decisions, I really loved the characters and the mixed bag of different genres kept me entertained throughout. If you like the first two to three episodes, you can be reassured to stick with it. Overall I give it a 7/10.

-S

choi-young

Lee Min Ho, why are you so handsome regardless of what they do to your hair?

 

Monster Hunt [Movie]: Funny, cute, and easy to watch

I watched this movie a while ago, on a flight between Sapporo and Bangkok. I needed something light and funny to fill the seven hours, and Monster Hunt (2015) was my first choice!

monster-hunt

What’s it about?

After a civil war in the Monster Realm, the pregnant Queens flees to the human world, pursued by supporters of the new regime. Although she runs the risk of being found out by human monster hunters, she is protected by the husband-wife duo Gao (Eric Tsang) and Ying (Sandra Ng). Young village mayor Song Tianyin (Jing Boran) lives oblivious to the turmoils of the Monster Realm when he encounters the small group, disguised as humans. He welcomes them to his small inn, but when hunter Huo Xiaolan (Bai Baihe) enters, chaos ensues as she tries to capture the group. Tianyin and the Queen have a brief encounter in which she ‘marks’ him, later to return to give him her unborn baby. Xiaolan stays with the now-pregnant Tianyin, and convinces him to travel with her to sell the baby, which she suspects will go for a high price. But now with both monsters and humans after the two and the baby they carry, will they simply be able to sell it and move on with their lives?

The Positives

What I really liked about this movie is that it’s just such a light and easy watch. The plot is straightforward, slightly predictable, but entertaining nonetheless. With a healthy mix of adventure, fighting, and romance, it was very well rounded, keeping me interested the whole time. I also found it really funny. Although the majority of the comedy is of one type (see below), there are also quite a few witty lines and more subtle humour flying around. It’s the kind of movie where you can just sit back enjoy, since it’s aimed at kids, there’s not too much to think about, but it still keeps you entertained!

Another thing I really liked about this series is that the characters have a really nice dynamic on screen. Tianyin, the ‘ordinary character’ of the movie, was really likeable. I liked that he either just rolled with what was happening around him or was completely oblivious. He continuously tries his best, despite all his failings, which is always a good quality for the hero to have. I think that it’s really interesting the writers decided to give him a physical disability, but then not focus nor expand on it, and have him as the hero despite it. It’s something you don’t see often in Western movies, and it adds a nice touch. The female main, Xiaolan, was also a character I really appreciated. She’s sly and cunning, a lot more clued in than Tianyin, but proves that she’s not as cold-blooded as she’d like you to believe. Separately both characters are good, and together they are fantastic. I really liked that they were the focus of the movie; their chemistry and interactions were one of the highlights for me. As for the other characters, they were all fairly likeable (at least all the “good guys”, the “bad guys” were what you’d expect for a kids’ movie), making enough of a presence in scenes to be memorable and distinct.

otp-material

Feeling the pains of (forced) pregnancy, Tianyin? Don’t worry, Xiaolan’s got you covered!

Finally, the mix of CGI animation and live-action works pretty well together. Sure, the CGI isn’t the top-notch Hollywood quality you’re probably used to seeing, but it was better than my expectations, and I think it worked really well. Throughout the movie, the interaction between the CGI and live-action is handled very well and is very convincing, really shining in the fight scenes. Plus the baby Monster King is so cute! The sound effects, personality, and animation made me want a little Monster King of my own!

wuba

Have you ever seen a radish this cute?!

The Negatives

This movie won’t be for everyone, and a lot of that has to to do with the style of comedy. It tends to be on the more physical comedy side (although not as much slapstick as you’d expect), and tends to be a little on the odd side. There are also a lot of elements that are over-exaggerated or over-played for comedic effect. However, this is fairly typical for family movies (in which kids are expected to be part of the audience), and is especially the case for Chinese comedies. Having said that, though, it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

On another note, one thing that I was disappointed by in this movie was the fact that not all plot points are explained or make sense. I’m not sure if there was something lost in translation, or the writers just assume that the audience will either forget about it, or later figure it out. A throw-away sentence here or there would have easily solved this problem.

Conclusion

Story: 7/10. Not breaking any story-telling boundaries, but enjoyable and enough to keep you invested in the movie. Lots of fun and laughs to be had along the way.

Characters: 7.5/10. A really good male and female lead, who had a really good dynamic.

I wouldn’t consider this movie a “must watch”, but if it sounds like your kind of thing, or you’re looking for something simple and easy to entertain you for a couple of hours, you should definitely consider watching this movie. It’s funny, the characters are interesting and likeable, and it’s just a lot of fun. Overall, I give it a 7/10.

-S

family

The most adorable family of 2015!

R.O.D.: The TV [Anime]: Awesome concepts tangled up in a hard-to-watch mess

I wasn’t too sure how exactly I wanted to review the Read or Die (R.O.D.) series, considering it’s made up of a two different manga (Read or Dream and Read or Die), three OVA episodes (also called Read or Die), and then finally a 26-episode anime (Read or Die: The TV) (PLUS the light novels that they’re all originally based on!). I watched the anime series first (which occurs chronologically last), and since it has the most substance compared to the other series, I decided it should be my main focus for this review, although I will briefly mention the others.

rodthetv

What’s it about?

In an alternative future, the British Empire remains a world power due to influence the British Library, its external intelligence agency, has on the rest of the world. At the beginning of the series, famous Japanese author Nenene Sumiregawa is suffering from writer’s block after her friend Yomiko Readman goes missing. When she is bought to Hong Kong for a book-signing event, the three sisters Michelle, Maggie, and Anita are assigned as her bodyguards. When Nenene is threatened, the sisters reveal their powers; they are Paper Masters, having a unique ability to manipulate and control paper. Nenene is hopeful the three know Yomiko, also a Paper Master, and she brings them back to Japan with her. In Japan, the three sisters start doing odd-jobs for Dokusensha, a Chinese organisation that rivals the British Library, but the group soon find themselves in conflict with latter.

The Positives

Something that holds for all mediums of R.O.D. is the fact is that there are some super interesting concepts in this series. To begin with, Paper Masters are just so freaking cool. I never thought I would want a super-power that involves manipulating paper, but after watching the anime, it’s right up there at the top of my list! The Paper Masters of the series literally stop bullets with just a piece of paper! I like that within the are of paper-manipulation, there are different variations; Maggie makes familiars out of paper, Michelle uses ranged weapons, Anita is basically a ninja who uses paper as her weapons, and Yomiko does everything plus more. If you want to see some of this paper-manipulation in action watch this video (from the first episode of the anime)… It’s so cool!

Other interesting concepts in this series stem from the focus on books and literature. The fact that the British Library is an important organisation for worldwide politics is a good indication that this is a series in which books play an important role. In fact, a lot of the Paper Sisters’ early missions involve the retrieval of important books from the hands of others. As an avid reader myself, I really like the emphasis on the importance of books and the way certain books are central to the plot of the story. In this world, books are key for survival, dominance, and manipulation. We see throughout the series books (or at least texts) being “forced” into others, used to resurrect the dead, and even controlling the flow of information and power.

So many books!

Books, glorious books!

Finally, I really liked that this series is pretty much dominated by female leads. I also like that we get different types of female leads; while Michelle is incredibly feminine and confident in herself, Maggie is almost androgynous and quiet and reserved. Anita is stubborn and bratty, while Nenene is outspoken and proud. And that’s only the female characters you are initially introduced to, there’s more that follows! This series also features a lot of strong female-female friendships and bonds, almost to the point where one could argue that this title can be classified as yuri. There’s no overt romantic actions (or words for that matter), but, in particular, Nenene and Yomiko’s bond can be interpreted that way. However, I’m not a yuri expert, so I’m not too sure. Regardless of the classification, the positive portrayal of the strong friendships and bonds is done very well in the anime, and throughout R.O.D as a whole.

girlpower

Girl power!

 

The Negatives

The main issue I had with this anime is that the series just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. You have all of these awesome ideas and interesting conflicts floating around, but the series just doesn’t pull them into a steady story-line. The story fluctuates between three strains; a sort of detective-agency set up, an almost slice-of-life story, and then, for the latter half, saving the world from a big, bad secret organisation. To help with the inconsistency, there aren’t enough explanations as to what’s going on. I get that the anime is just one of many parts of the R.O.D series, but the writers’ assumption that the audience already knows the background to a lot of the events doesn’t help the audience in anyway. The mess of all of this makes the audience feel that there is too much complication packed in to the 26 episodes. At the same time, however, the inconsistent pacing also makes certain episodes drag on forever, with the well-executed action scenes too few and too far between. For a large part, R.O.D: The TV is a lot of ominous talking about world affairs and a lot of confusion. That’s about it.

 

Anything else I should consider?

Probably the correct order of consuming this series would be R.O.D. manga, Read or Dream manga, R.O.D. OVA, and then R.O.D: The TV. However, if you only want a taste of it, I’d recommend watching the R.O.D OVA first, followed by R.O.D: The TV if you liked what you saw. The manga is only worth checking out if you’re really dedicated. Here’s a quick summary of all of these bits and pieces;
R.O.D (OVA): Three episodes, set before the TV series, and following the meeting of Yomiko and Nancy, and their work together for the British Library.
Read or Dream (manga): Four volumes, following side-stories of Michelle, Maggie, and Anita. Very cutesy with not much substance, but enjoyable if you like the characters.
Read or Die (manga): Four volumes, focuses on Yomiko and her work for the British Library. Also contains her first meeting and early friendship with Nenene. Very, very confusing.

Conclusion

Art:  6.5/10: This series was created in 2003, and the older art style reflects this. However, I still found the art to be neat and quite fluid, which becomes very obvious in the action scenes.

Story: 5.5/10: I really admire all of the unique concepts in this anime (and R.O.D as a whole). But you can’t enjoy these ideas to their full potential because they’re wasted in a messy, hard to follow plot.

Characters: 7/10: I really liked the diversity of the female leads and the strength of the friendships between them. However, I feel that the series falls short on meaningful character development.

There’s a lot to like in the R.O.D series. It boasts some of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in an anime yet, and the strong female leads are a nice change.  However, the chaotic mess of the (sometimes incredibly slow) story ruins a lot of the good things about this anime. If you’re willing to wade through the confusion, you will probably come out enjoying a lot of the aspects of this series, but lamenting the wasted potential. Not everyone has the patience or care to do this, and so, overall, I give R.O.D: The TV a 5.5/10.

-S

papermaster

Paper Masters ARE SO COOL! 

Commitment [Korean Movie]: Solid, but nothing special

A couple of days late is better than never, right? Anyway, I’ve been wanting to check out Big Bang’s T.O.P in an acting role for ages. Feeling like something of the spy-action genre, Commitment (2013) was what I reached for.

Commitment-poster-27x40_sm

What’s it about?

After his father betrayed North Korea, Ri Myung Hoon (T.O.P) and his younger sister Ri Hye In (Kim You Jung) are imprisoned in a forced labour camp. Inside the camp, Myung Hoon is approached by officer Moon Sang Chul (Cho Seong Ha) and offered a way out; if he becomes a spy for North Korea, he and his sister can be freed from the camp. Myung Hoon agrees, and after two years of training he is sent to Seoul where he poses as a high-school student, meeting outcast Lee Hye In (Han Ye Ri) at his school, who shares the same name as his sister. His mission is to find and kill whoever is assassinating North Korean spies in Seoul, but he must tread a careful road between his concern for his sister’s safety, his new found friendship with Hye In, Cha Jung Min (Yoon Je Moon), a South Korean investigator of the murders, and power struggles in the North.

The Positives

The action aspects of this movie are done really well. In particular, the fight scenes are amazing! I loved the choreography of all the fights, especially the big one between Myung Hoon and the assassin. The fights show how the characters can really utilise what’s available in their environment to defend themselves, making for some very interesting (and brutal) fights. Given that the characters are meant to be secret agents or at least highly skilled fighters, it makes sense, and adds a good sense of realism. As T.O.P did his own stunts, I was really impressed with just how much of a handle he had on them!

I also think T.O.P did a really good job portraying Myung Hoon. It’s obvious that Myung Hoon is an emotionally complex character; he’s got a protective streak over a lot of other characters, but he’s been trained to be a cold-blooded killer, but he’s still only really a kid that’s caught up in a web much bigger than he is, and has a certain sense of innocence about him. I know a few others have complained that T.O.P played the character too stoic, but I think he’s got all the emotion pouring from his eyes when he acts. T.O.P’s always had puppy-dog eyes, and he knows how to utilise them; you can really see Myung Hoon’s pain and confusion as the movie unfolds.

top acting

T.O.P’ shows some top acting! (I’ll show myself out).

The Negatives

Putting aside that (then) 26 year old T.O.P is playing a 19 year old high-school student, there were other things in this movie that were lacking. For movie with an obvious focus on desperation and suffering, it just wasn’t as emotionally engaging as I’d expect. Sure, I felt for Myung Hoon, but I wasn’t shedding tears for him. I think that, as a whole, the movie was just a tad on the safely predictable side. From quite early on the movie, it becomes obvious how the story’s going to end; it’s the same thing I’ve seen countless of times in western spy movies. There was also an obvious avoidance of deep North/South issues, which could have easily been explored through Myung Hoon and his interactions with Sang Chul (representing North Korea) and Jung Min (representing South Korea). Even by the end of the movie, you didn’t know how he felt towards either country. I also think they could have utilised (friend) Hye In’s character more, as she represented the closest thing Myung Hoon could get to a normal life. There are little hints of Myung Hoon trying to understand both her, and her life, throughout the movie, but it’s still a source of wasted potential.

potential

Could have done much more with these two 😦

Conclusion

Story: 6.5/10. Solid, good action, but just too predictable and lacking strong emotional engagement.

Characters: 6/10. Myung Hoon and (friend) Hye In are the most interesting characters, but the movie doesn’t do much with them.

Commitment is a fairly solid action movie. It features a good cast and some awesome action scenes. However, it could have been much more if the writers were prepared to take it a step further. Solid, but not memorable. Not a bad watch if you like the genre or are a T.O.P fan. Overall, I give it a 6/10.

-S

gd commitment

Fellow Big Bang member GD expresses how every T.O.P fan felt after the movie.

Coin Locker Girl [Movie]: Dark and intense

I watched Coin Locker Girl (aka Chinatown) (2015) on a plane between Bangkok and Perth. While the description of the movie suggested it would be dark, I did not expect the outright brutality that played out on my little screen. Was it any good? Read on and find out…

Chinatown-p1

What’s it about?

Il Young (Kim Go Eun) was abandoned in a train station coin locker as a baby, and eventually found her way into the gang of Woo Hee (Kim Hye Soo) or “Mother”, a powerful loan shark and organ trafficker in Seoul’s China Town. Proving from a young age to be capable of surviving in even the most brutal conditions, Il Young is kept as part of Mother’s “family” as she grows up. However, Il Young’s loyalty is tested when she meets the bright, kind, and optimistic Seok Hyun (Park Bo Gum), who embodies a future she could never imagine.

The Positives

The focus of this movie is on Il Young and Mother, and the rocky relationship between the two. Both of these characters are very interesting and strong female leads, something that is commendable to the writer. Whilst Mother has survived in the underground with her manipulative and severe nature, Il Young still has a strong sense of humanity that Mother lacks. However, she still has a survivor’s nature, and she’s tough enough to keep herself alive. Il Young is very emotionally engaging right from the beginning of the movie, and I found that once I started watching, I needed to know what happened to her.

mother and il young

Mother and Il Young, the rightful focus of the movie.

Naturally, even the most engaging plot won’t mean anything if the actors aren’t capable of pulling it off. Fortunately, Kim Go Eun and Kim Hye Soo as our female leads are downright outstanding in this movie. I’ve previously seen Hye Soo in The Thieves, and I almost couldn’t believe it was the same actress, such was her transformation. As for Go Eun, her portrayal of Il Young is largely what makes the character’s story is so compelling to watch. The rest of the ensemble cast are also very memorable, particularly Park Bo Gum, and the other members of Il Young’s “family”; Um Tae Goo as Il Young’s “older brother”, Cho Hyun Chul as her brain-injured “younger brother”, and Ko Gyung Pyo as Chi Do, an antagonist.

ensemble

The family, anti-clockwise from pink-haired girl; Ssong (Lee So Kyung), Teacher Ahn (Lee Dae Yeon), Il Young, Mother, Hong Joo (Cho Hyun Chul), and Woo Gon (Um Tae Goo)

Finally, I liked that this movie portrayed a darker, more realistic aspect of gangs and human organ trafficking. It certainly isn’t a pretty aspect of human life, but it’s one that happens worldwide, and the movie provides an interesting glimpse into it.

The Negatives

Personally, I found absolutely nothing  to complain about in this movie. However, it definitely is not a movie that everyone will be able to sit through and stand, so you need to check out the next point…

Anything else I should consider?

This movie is extremely brutal, and has a number of gore elements in it. Although not a “horror movie”, it will invoke a sense of emotional horror in the audience as the film unfolds. If you really can’t stand cruelty or abusive themes, stay away from this film. If you do decide to check it out, and can’t stand the first few minutes of the movie, then don’t even try to watch through it, because it only gets worse.

Conclusion

Story: 8.5/10. The unravelling plot between Il Young and Mother is compelling and intense, and reaches a horrific and riveting climax.

Characters: 9/10. Although the supporting cast of characters is excellent, Il Young and Mother stand out as two strong, interesting feamle leads, whose dynamic makes this movie what it is.

I’ll say it again; this movie is not for everyone. It’s dark, brutal, and cruel. However, if you can stand this genre, this movie will provide you with an interesting plot based around two strong female characters that makes a very unique viewing. Although I hesitate to say I enjoyed this film, I can say it left a strong impact on me. Overall, I give it a 9/10.

-S

cute

The very adorable Park Bo Gum!

Stigma of the Wind [Anime]: Not terrible, and that’s about it…

Stigma of the Wind (Kaze no Stigma) (2007) is an anime with a pretty interesting synopsis. When I started watching it and didn’t like the older styled art, I told myself not to judge it, so I kept watching it. When I recoiled from the stereotypical characters, I kept watching it. When they started (not-subtly) hinting at the cousin x cousin romance, I kept watching it. I’ve finished it now, and I’ve learnt I should really pay more attention to those early misgivings.

Stigma of the Wind

What’s it about?

The Kannagi family is an old family of “Enjutsu” (fire-users), whose duties include protecting the world from evil spirits and demons. Ayano Kannagi is the successor to the family; a short-tempered and arrogant, but genuine, teenager. She’s able to wield the deadly fire-sword Enraiha and is proven to be quite powerful. After a four-year banishment due to his defeat at Ayano’s hand, Kazuma Yagami, Ayano’s cousin, has returned to the city. Very much the black sheep of the family due to his inability to control fire, Kazuma is now a skilled “Fujutsushi” (wind-user). Despite the grudge between the Kannagi family and Kazuma, Ayano finds herself working with him again and again to solve supernatural mysteries and keep the city safe.

The Positives

I’ll always like it when a series has some kind of magic use in it, especially if that magic happens to be elements based. In Stigma of the Wind we see fire, wind, and earth magic, and I assume that water magic also exists. We also have a number of different spirits and demons featuring, so there’s all kinds of interesting things going on. I liked that there was a type of hierarchy in the magic users (i.e. wind users were seen as lower class or servants by the fire users), and I also like that there were different types of users for each element. For example, we have Ren (Kazuma’s younger brother) who seems to just do straight fire manipulation, Ayano who summons a sword, and another Enjutsu who is introduced later to have familiar summoning abilities. I only wished all of these elements were explored more.

Go get 'em, Ayano!

Go get ’em, Ayano!

This series has some fun moments in it. I really liked the way that Ayano and Kazuma bickered the whole way through, and I also really liked Ayano’s best friends Yukari and Nanase because they were a fun addition to the series. Sadly, I didn’t like Ayano as much (see below), but I do recognise that the writers set out to develop her character right from the start, and did a good job of it. By the end, we see an Ayano who is much more confident in herself and less cocky and stubborn. Simple character development, but always appreciated when it’s done well.

The Negatives

The major problem that I had with this series was simply that it’s pretty typical of this type of shounen. The characters, particularly Ayano and Kazuma, are stereotypes, and the plot is very predictable. I also found the story-line pretty slow. Sadly, this didn’t make for a very enjoyable watch. I feel like the last arc could have been expanded out further to serve as the whole series, which would have improved this anime so much.

Now, before I explain about this, I’m going to point out that I know Japan’s culture is different to mine, and I know that this pretty common and acceptable in Japanese culture. Hell, it was even acceptable in my culture until not that long ago. However, I was personally put off by the love story between Ayano and Kazuma because they are cousins. And not “distant relatives of the same family” cousins but “our fathers are brothers” cousins. I know not everyone will have a problem with this, but I found it hard to enjoy the romance aspect of the show because of it. Also Ayano’s father is one of the most hard-core shippers I’ve ever seen in an anime series.

stigmafather

Y… you don’t ship it?!

The final things I’m going to touch on is the art and music of the series. This is quite an old series, almost ten years old, and it really shows in the art style. It’s very blocky and basic, which is very typical of the time period, although I did like the bright colour palette. It might appeal to some people, but it’s really not my style. The music is also not very catchy, and I detested the opening theme something shocking.

Conclusion

Art:  5/10: The art is pretty basic and typical of an old anime.

Story: 5.5/10: Predictable and slow, making the series not very enjoyable to watch. There were some pretty interesting ideas going into the plot, but sadly they weren’t utilised enough.

Characters: 5/10: Sadly, the characters are pretty boring and typical. There is some nice, simple character development with Ayano, but nothing else beyond that.

Stigma of the Wind is not a terrible series. It has some nice elements to it, and really could have been so much more if there had been better writing in it, expanding on interesting ideas of magic and the final arc, which, in my opinion, could have been the whole series. It’s predictable plot and stereotypical characters ultimately let it down. Not a terrible series, but very mediocre. Overall, I give it a 5/10. Watch it if it sounds like your thing, but don’t expect anything amazing.

-S

yuck

Keep an eye out for fetish fan service if you do decide to watch it, there’s something for everyone apparently…

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom [Anime]: Interesting and clever, but should have been longer

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom (2009) is a 26-episode action/thriller anime. It’s based on the visual novel game Phantom of Inferno. It has also been adapted into a three-episode OVA Phantom: The Animation, and a three-volume manga that shares the title with the anime series. As far as I can tell, both of these adaptations are based on different endings to the game. The ending of the anime series is considered to be the “true ending” for Ein. 

Phantom

What’s it about?

In the future-America, ruled only by gangs, a man wakes up without his memories. Finding himself in a kill-or-be-killed situation, he shows enough potential as a future assassin that Scythe Master, a middle-man for gangs and assassins, and currently working for the infamous Inferno, decides he wants to use him. Given the name Zwei, the man is partnered with Ein, Inferno’s current assassin, otherwise known as Phantom. Zwei is horrified at how easily he can take others’ lives, not possessing the almost-robotic, enslaved personality of Ein. However, leaving the group would mean death, and Zwei is willing to do anything to avoid that. Claudia McCunnen, one of Inferno’s top executives, takes an interest in him, but what does it mean if her objectives are different to that of Inferno’s?

The Positives

I absolutely adored the art in this series. It’s very similar to the Darker Than Black series, favouring realism over typical anime style. However, there is still a lot of emphasis on the eyes, and the series uses this cleverly, changing Ein and Zwei’s eye-colour when their “killing intent” is apparent. The animation throughout this series is fluent, and action/fight scenes are handled incredibly well. The series as a whole has a very dark atmosphere, and I love the use of the sombre colour palette, with the occasional pop of colour to enhance the moment (Ein’s dream/memory is a great example of this). I also like the use of symbols throughout the series, especially in the opening and closing sequences.

Zwei's "killing intent" as shown by his changed eye colour and style

Zwei’s “killing intent” as shown by his changed eye colour and style

I adored the sound track of this series, from the heavy-action music, to the trinket-box melody, to the opening and closing themes. The first opening, Kokia’s “Karma” has the perfect tone to set up the series, creating the mysterious-dark mood that is perfect. I love ALI PROJECT’s “Jigoku no Mon (Hell’s Gate)” and “Senritsu no Kodomotachi (Children of Fear)” as well. All of the music suited the series beautifully.

I really liked the mix of sadness, trauma, and action in this series. Ein and Zwei’s line of work was treated with a surprising amount of seriousness; at no point did any of the characters look at what they were doing and think it was “cool” or exciting; if anything, they saw it as the exact opposite. Zwei in particular saw assassination as the sole mean for his survival, but you could feel his shock and sadness when he realised what he could do to stay alive. I like that the writers really allowed the viewer to see his trauma. There were plenty of emotional-heavy scenes that really made you think. Although lacking any true sense of comedy, which in the case of this series was quite a good thing, the numerous action scenes helped to keep the series flowing and to give the viewer a break from the emotion.

Finally, moving onto the characters. This series sets up an interesting comparison between Ein, Zwei, and later assassin Drei. Although all assassins, all donning the name of “Phantom” at the some point, and all in their line of work through the actions of others, the three are very different. Thanks to the creepy Scythe Master’s experiments, each new assassin is in some key way different to the one before, allowing the viewer to watch an evolution as the story progresses. I really liked Ein, Zwei, and Drei as interesting characters in their own right. Their psychologies were very different and interesting, and I liked that the series let me understand the thought process behind their actions, from the doll-like Ein’s blind obedience, through Zwei’s confusion and trauma, to Drei’s out-of-control spiral. They kept me engaged throughout the whole series.

The Negatives

I really think the anime suffered from only having 26 episodes; it really needed a longer run. Don’t get me wrong, it tells the story quite well without feeling rushed, but there are really weird jumps between the three “chapters” of the anime, both in terms of pacing and atmosphere of the series. The last chapter is the ultimate example of this; it feels really out-of-place as the setting changes to an ordinary high-school (how old are these guys, anyway?!)… at least the last few episodes make up for this. Another reason this series would have benefited from a longer run is due to the number of tragedies and traumatic-dramatic incidences that occur throughout the plot; if this anime had more episodes, there would have been more time to explore the impact of these incidents on the characters, thus making them more salient and meaningful in the long-run. Sadly, the anime is forced to move quickly through these events, losing any chance of these events to really have a profound emotional effect on the audience. Finally, a number of side characters, especially Claudia McCunnen, feel underdeveloped and under-utilised; they would have been so much more had the series the opportunity to develop them further.

Two years? TWO YEARS?! That's even pushing it too far for anime!

Two years? TWO YEARS?! That’s even pushing it too far for anime time-skips!

The last point for me isn’t really a negative (I honestly quite liked it), but I know it’s something a lot of people don’t particularly like… an ambiguous ending. I think there’s enough hints and symbolism in the final scene to understand what really happened, but it is left open to interpretation. Admittedly, if could have been handled a bit neater to give it a nicer touch.

Anything else I should consider?

This anime has quite a lot of adult themes in it; wouldn’t recommend for someone under the age of sixteen. You’d think this is a given, considering the series focuses on assassins, but as mentioned earlier, the anime as a whole is a lot darker than similar series I’ve watched. There is a surprising amount of nudity and sexual references.

Another thing to consider if you watch anime at home; wear ear-phones when watching this series. There’s a couple of scenes and a particular song on the sound-track in the last “chapter” that sound questionable if they were overheard by somebody else.

Conclusion

Art:  9/10: Gosh I love this art so much. The colour-palette is used cleverly, the emphasis on realism is refreshing, and the action scenes are perfect.

Story: 6/10: The story itself is pretty straight-forward, but the atmosphere and psychological aspects of the series makes it far more enjoyable. However, the weird tonal change between the three “chapters” and loss of emotional impact on the audience through the story’s quick unfolding is disappointing.

Characters: 7.5/10: While I adore the individuality of Ein, Zwei, and Drei, and the way the series encourages a direct comparison of the three, many of the side characters are not given the development they deserve.

There is so much to like about this series, particularly if dark, psychological dramas are your thing; awesome art, a beautiful sound track, and interesting characters. The atmosphere of the series is created very well, and the series as a whole is engaging. However, the series does suffer from being too short; aspects of the series lose their impact as the story quickly moves on. Overall, I give it a 7.5/10, and a strong recommendation to check out if anything like Darker Than Black or Another is your cup of tea.

-S

Ein and Zwei, my latest OTP

Ein and Zwei, my latest OTP