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!

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

Death Note [Anime]: Woefully underwhelming

I’ve already mentioned how I didn’t enjoy this anime, and now I get to tear it to shreds to my heart’s content! If you’re a fan of the 37-episode psychological thriller Death Note (2006-2007), and don’t agree with my review, please let me know in the comments. Let’s get some discussion happening!

Death Note

What’s it about?

Genius student Yagami Light is bored in school one day when he sees a mysterious object fall from the sky. He investigates it and discovers that it is a “Death Note”; a book that kills anyone whose name is written in it. After confirming the note’s powers, Light meets Ryuk, a Shinigami (Japanese God of Death), who explains that he dropped the Death Note into the human world to see what would happened. Light realises that this object is his chance to change the world for the better by eradicating all evil. Once a perfect world is created, he will be able to rule over it as a god of justice. Targeting criminals and given the name of “Kira” (killer) by the public, Light attracts the attention of the mysterious L, a world-famous detective. Neither of the two expect the other to be worthy of their intelligence, and what follows is a game of cat-and-mouse as they constantly attempt to outwit each other. With L on his heels, and other Death Notes falling to Earth, Light finds himself running a narrow line between destruction and success.

The Positives

One of the first things you will notice about this anime is how it looks. The art work is amazing, especially when you consider that this anime was made in 2006… that’s almost ten years ago! There’s some interesting artistic things going on with the character’s eyes throughout the series (always great to see, considering the prominence of eyes in anime), and the overall work with faces is really well done. This series excels in work with shadows- definitely something to look out for when watching! I also liked the overall gritty, dark atmosphere of the series; something that both the art and the soundtrack (minus the awful opening songs) contributed to, and I liked how the art got darker (metaphorically) as Light continued his killing sprees.

This picture really shows how good the art was in terms of the face, shadows, and eyes. You can also get a sense of the somewhat gritty tone of the series.

This picture really shows how good the art was in terms of the face, shadows, and eyes. You can also get a sense of the somewhat gritty tone of the series.

Another thing I can really appreciate about this anime is the abundance of some really forward-thinking and cool ideas. I liked the way the creators played around with both the characters’ mindsets as well as the viewers’ mindsets, the posing of the moral question over Light’s actions, the way the characters manipulated each other, and the way the main character was the series’ antagonist- although a well-known troupe, it’s not often used as directly or as cleverly as it was in this series. However, as much as I can admire the originality of these foundational ideas, I’m sorry to say that they are severely undermined by their execution, the actual characters, and a number of other aspects of the series.

The Negatives

I’m going to start with what I easily see as the main problem I have with this anime; the characters. Death Note has taught me a very important lesson; if the writers cannot get me to care about any of the characters, they cannot make me give a damn about their series. I honestly did not care about the fate of a single character in this anime. Misa was so freaking annoying, and easily the character I hated the most. I get that Light’s arrogance is meant to be something akin to his hamartia, and his overly-dramatic flair a “quirk” of his personality, but I rolled my eyes and glazed over every time he monologued. Which was a lot. As already mentioned, his role as both the main character and the antagonist was very unique, but if that’s the only thing Light has going for him, then there’s a major problem. As for L, the writers tried oh so hard to make him a quirky oddball, but largely only achieved creepiness. And because the two main characters worked so well, we get glorified carbon copies of them in form of Mello and Near. Although, to be fair, Near accomplished more in the last five or so episodes of the series than L ever did. I actually got excited in these episodes about what was going to happen next(!). Finally, the other characters were generic and bland. I was cheering for Light the whole series, because I believe the death of all of the characters would have been far more enjoyable to watch.

Near... the closest I got to caring about a character.

Near… the closest I got to caring about a character.

I have already mentioned that this series has quite an interesting, dark tone. Most of the time. It is drama-heavy and intense, and with good reason, considering the premise of the show. However, there were many moments where the drama was so intense I had to wonder if we had crossed the bridge into parody. Was I meant to be taking this seriously? There were too many moments that were so incredibly cheesy with multiple takes of the same scene from different angles with intense music. Most series involving parody give some sort of hint that it’s a parody of sorts, but Death Note’s almost-always serious tone made me wonder if the creators weren’t quite sure what constitutes as high drama and what is just hilariously too much. And that final episode… I regularly watch Asian melodramas, but they have nothing on the overly-dramatic last episode of this series.

One of Light's finer expressions.

One of Light’s finer expressions.

Finally, the pacing. As a whole I felt that the pacing for this series was a bit hit and miss. Sure, they found enough time to make up 37 episodes, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel like all that much happens, save for a few moments. You get lots of planning, lots of talking, lots of explaining, and yet not much else. To top it all off, when the series finally manages to get me somewhat interested in it- 23 episodes in- with some thrilling suspense, the series essentially shoots itself in the foot at its highest moment. [SPOILERS/] It achieves this amazing feat through the death of one of the main characters. Now from what I understand, this is a contentious point amongst fans of the series, with many believing that this particular death degrades the series as a whole, whilst others believe that it’s still fine afterwards. I’m from a third camp- the series was awful long before this point. [\SPOILERS].

Conclusion

Art: 9/10: The art is amazing, and the work with shadows a particular strong point.

Story: 5/10: There is a lot of potential with the characters manipulating each other, but the pacing is all over the place. How did they manage to make up 37 episodes with so little happening?

Characters: 3/10: I can appreciate some of the risks the creators took with the characters, but I did not have positive feelings towards a single character.

I should have loved Death Note. On its most basic level it has everything I love, and it is one of the most highly rated and recommended anime. Considering when it aired, the series has amazing art and some innovative ideas going on in it. However, the plot of the series is hit and miss, the characters are dull or extremely unlikeable, and the ultra-serious tone feels like it unintentionally crosses into parody. I can’t help but wonder if everyone’s love of Death Note is born from nostalgia for the series’ heyday, or even worse, the expectation to enjoy the “best anime series”. Overall I give it a 5.5/10, and a warning if you plan to watch it- it may not be amazing as you expect.

-S

I thought I might try something new at the end of my review; even if you don’t want to leave a comment, I’d greatly appreciate it if you responded to the poll below 🙂

The Innocent Man [Drama]: Revenge is best served with a side of intense drama

For me, there is something so riveting about a good revenge story. The pain. The hatred. The fear of being swept up in it all.  The satisfaction, or otherwise, of getting revenge. So when a friend recommended the 20-episode Korean drama The Innocent Man to me (aka Nice Guy; The Nice Guy Never Seen Anywhere in the World), I couldn’t resist. Oh wait, Joong Ki plays the main character? Now you’re just spoiling me.

The Innocent Man

What’s it about?

Kang Maru (Song Joong Ki) and his lover Han Jae Hee (Park Si Yeon) have lived in poverty since they were young, but both are determined to make a future for themselves; Maru by becoming a doctor, largely for the sake of his sickly younger sister Kang “Choco” (Lee Yu Bi), and Jae Hee by becoming a journalist. However, when Jae Hee accidentally kills a man Maru takes the fall for her and goes to jail. Years later when he gets out, Jae Hee has betrayed him and, now a mother, is living with a business tycoon; the head of the Tae San company. Maru seeks revenge, vowing to take Jae Hee from her luxurious life and back to poverty where he still is. Through a chance encounter with the businessman’s daughter, Seo Eun Gi (Moon Chae Won), he sees a way to get it. However, Maru finds himself drawn deeper into the growing complexity of interweaving interests, feelings, and motives.

The Positives

The three lead actors; Joong Ki, Si Yeon, and Chae Won, do a fantastic job in bringing their characters to life. It was really cool to see Joong Ki in a completely different role to the cheeky playboy in Sungkyunkwan Scandal to the nice-guy-slash-bad-boy Maru in The Innocent Man. Admittedly, Maru’s character is particularly frustrating, but Joong Ki handles the different aspects of the characters very well and portrays them convincingly. I really liked how complicated Maru was throughout the drama, and how you were never quite sure what was going on in his head. I thought that Chae Won was BRILLIANT in portraying Eun Gi. She manages to pull off not only the sweet, naive side of Eun Gi, but also the extremely paranoid, almost insane side as well. Jae Hee is such a good villain throughout the series, and she’s such an interesting mixture of sadism and suffering. Si Yeon is fantastic in this role; I think my dislike of her character is a testimony to her acting skills. A number of other actors that I thought did a fantastic job in this series include Yang Ik June as Han Jae Sik (Jae Hee’s brother), Lee Kwang Soo as Park Jae Gil (Maru’s bestfriend), Lee Sang Yeob as Lawyer Park Joon Ha (I felt for this character), and Kim Tae Hoon as Lawyer Ahn Min Young.

Another thing I really liked about this drama is the way that different characters’ interests are pitted against each other. From early on in the drama, you have Eun Gi and Jae Hee butting heads over the fortune and future control of the Tae San group. You obviously have Maru and Jae Hee pitted against each other throughout the series, but as the events unfold and more people get involved, more competing wants and needs come into play; Joon Ha trying to protect Eun Gi, Min Young trying to protect Jae Hee, and Maru trying to protect everyone. It never seems to be completely “them” versus “us”.

Constant phone calls and dealings... expect to start sighing and/or panicking whenever you hear a mobile ringing.

Constant phone calls and dealings… expect to start sighing and/or panicking whenever you hear a mobile ringing.

This was my first melodrama, and it was… dramatic. I wasn’t quite prepared for it in the first few episodes, but got used to it quickly. The drama is maintained at an intense level throughout the series, but it never feels over the top. The story is quite gripping, slowing down in the last episode or two, but it always left me wanting more. Furthermore, you have Maru’s best friend (Jae Gil) and little sister (Choco) to lighten the mood throughout the series, and the duo are great for comic relief. They’re a good contrast to the main storyline between Maru, Eun Gi, and Jae Hee, and never jarr with the overall tone, nor feel out of place.

I really loved the soundtrack in this series, with everything from the sweet and delicate, to the racing, dramatic songs (although there were a couple of bizarre song choices here and there). It did have a slightly European feel to it as well, which was something a bit different. And of course, there are more than enough shots of Joong Ki (Maru) gazing into the camera and looking sad and pityful to last me a life time.

Expect a lot of Maru's tears in this drama

Expect to see a lot of Maru’s tears in this drama

The Negatives

The main negatives in this drama are really stereotypical of Asian dramas in general. So, although it’s not surprising to find them here, it’s still disappointing. The believability and plot devices were stretched quite thinly in several places; if that’s how long you spend in jail for murder, I know which country I need to take my enemies to! Furthermore, education seems to be quite good in jail, given that Maru went in as a medical student and came out seemingly an expert in all things business. I get that he’s a genius and all, but come on! You also had the typical case of the mysterious disappearing-and-reappearing-when-convenient-for-plot illness… times two (Choco and Eun Gi), both of which seem to finally disappear for no apparent reason and with little mention. And finally. Ninety percent of the drama in this show could be resolved with Maru just F*CKING EXPLAINING WHAT IS GOING ON. I get that he is going for the all-time masochist award, but a few words here and there would save everyone a lot of freaking time and effort.

Although Jae Gil does help him, Maru should really have no idea how to go through all all of the business documents

Although Jae Gil does help him, Maru should really have no idea how to go through all of the business documents

Finally, the middle of the episodes tend to drag a little bit, and, as I’ve already mentioned, the last few episodes are a little bit slowly paced where it feels like the same things repeat a couple of times ([SPOILERS/] how many times does Maru have to threaten/beg Jae Hee to go to the police?! [\SPOILERS]). And then you get to the end. I feel like the writers could have done a lot more with the ending. The final few scenes were sweet, but also confusing and left a lot of questions unanswered, as well as raising a few new ones. Personally, I would have like a more tragic ending- it would have fit better with the overall feeling of the drama, and left a better impression if they hadn’t tacked on the epilogue. You’re allowed to write dramas where there isn’t a happy ending; it’s much better than trying to force it in the space of a few minutes.

Conclusion

Story: 7/10: The drama is riveting throughout the whole season, but there are a few frustrating plot decisions, and the ending is a letdown (one could argue the ending is the most important part in a revenge story).

Characters: 8/10: Eun Gi and Jae Hee are both very solid characters, and although Maru is wonderfully complicated, he’s also incredibly frustrating. A lot of the other side characters are also really well done.

This series is a very dramatic revenge story; it’s intense, has some solid characters and some awesome acting in it. However, it does stretch believability a bit too far at times, and it is let down by the ending. If you like a solid revenge story, I strongly recommend it. Overall, I give it a 7.5/10.

-S

Apart from crying, Maru does a LOT of death glares

Apart from crying, Maru does a LOT of death glares.

Le Portrait de Petit Cossette [Anime]: A unique Gothic experimental anime

Despite it’s name, this 2004 anime actually has nothing to do with Les Misérables (although I do admit it was one of the reasons I originally decided to check it out). This romance/horror/drama is made up of 3 OVAs. 

Le Portrait de Petit Cossette

What’s it about?

Eiri Kurahashi is a young artist managing his uncle’s antique shop when he sees a girl in a drinking glass and is instantly infatuated with her. The girl reveals herself to be Cossette, a spirit whose soul is trapped because she was murdered. To be freed, someone must take on the sins of her murderer. Eiri is eager to help her, but his friends, acquaintances and colleagues having growing concerns for Eiri’s safety as he is drawn deeper into Cossette’s cursed world.

The Positives

The first thing that really stands out in this anime is the artwork. Whilst the animation itself isn’t that good (watch the movement), save for the attention to details in faces, you are bombarded by different art styles throughout the series. The art styles are all put together very well and I found myself trying to watch everything on screen at once. Throughout the anime, there is also the use of unusual angles and screen shots, giving a different take on the scenes and adding to the surreal feeling on the anime.

Seeing Cossette

Such a pretty glass!

Another thing I really loved about this anime was the music. It’s eerie, beautiful, and haunting, all at the same time. Combined with the art, it really helps create the atmosphere of the anime, and also is used well to build suspense.

Finally, the story-line is actually quite clever and complete. The fact that it’s such a short anime probably feeds into this. The use of quick cut-aways in-between scenes keeps you hooked and always just that little bit bewildered about what’s going on, much like the main character is bewildered throughout the anime. I really loved the idea of how Cossette was forced to remain in the world, and the notion that objects have souls residing in them. The concepts of the plot, excellent soundtrack and unusual art pulls together to create an overall surreal, Gothic atmosphere that makes for one hell of an experience.

The Negatives

There are a couple of things that I felt let down this anime a little bit, mainly to do with pacing and plot decisions. Firstly, the pacing drags very obviously in the middle of each episode. Secondly, it does take a while to warm up to the characters as the anime launches into the story straight away. In fact, I felt like the characters didn’t really matter that much as you don’t learn too much about them. You can understand why this happens, though, given that there are only 3 OVA episodes. Finally, the last episode gets a little bit confusing as it has an unusual twist in it involving the portrait of Cossette and Cossette herself. This twist isn’t elaborated on and feels a like it was randomly thrown in at the end.

I started to get confused in the last episode when there was this unusual twist...

A little confusing in this last episode…

Anything else I should consider?

To get the full effect of this anime, it’s better to treat it like a movie and watch it one sitting, or, at the very least, watch the episodes in close succession. Otherwise you may find it hard to keep the story line clear.

Conclusion

Art:  8/10: The use of different angles and an unusual mixture of different art styles really makes this anime a visually intensive and unique experience.

Story: 7/10: The story has some cool ideas in it and is quite clever in its execution of the plot, but does drag occasionally.

Characters: 6/10: Although the characters are well-rounded enough, you take a while to warm-up to them and not much is explained about them.

This is a pretty interesting little anime. It’s definitely an audio and visual feast, with a pretty awesome plot to match. Whilst the characters aren’t completely amazing, they’re definitely well-rounded enough to carry the plot. The surreal/Gothic feeling of the anime is pretty great, and if you’re a fan of either of these genres I recommend you watch this anime. As I mentioned though, it works better if you treat it like a movie. Overall, I give it a solid 7.5/10.

-S

....

“Who loves me so much that he would forsake his own dear life?”

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 [Anime]: Its many flaws are close to being completely redeemed by the ending

I hope everyone had an awesome Easter! Mine involved beaches, fishing, four-wheel-driving and making paper flowers. Without further ado, here is my review of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 (2008), which concludes the story-line from the first Code Geass anime. This series, like the one before it, is 25 episodes long. 

R2

What’s it about?

Continuing one year after the events of the first series, Lelouch has had his memory replaced and is living life as an ordinary student with his younger brother Rolo. However, being watched closely by both the remnants of the Black Knights and the Empire of Britannia, Lelouch is again forced into a double-life when C.C. restores his memories. Is Lelouch able to recreate the Black Knights whilst keeping the fact he has his memories a secret? Can he overthrow the Empire successfully this time? And where is Nunnally in all of this? Lelouch is launched back into the world of politics and tactics to answer these questions…

The Positives

We’ll first look at the things that continue from the first series. The action and overall epicness is maintained in some of the second series, particularly from about episode 17 onwards. Action scenes are still visually great and a lot of fun to watch. Secondly, the soundtrack is still pretty awesome, but the openings and endings remaining dull (again, I have to hold up Ali Project’s “My Beautifully Elegant Flower of Evil” as an exception) (Although, I do like the style of art in both of the endings).

Now, the aspects where the second series excels compared to the first. There is a deeper look at ideology in the second series, focusing on the importance of the past, present, and future, and their relations with each other. In many ways it reminded me of the ideas that [C] posed. Not only is there more ideology in the second series, there are some more interesting ideas and political manoeuvres that the first series lacked. R2 also builds on the different interests of the political groups from the first series, in particular expanding the Chinese Federation. Finally, the second series continues the complex relationship between Suzaku and Lelouch, and further expands on Lelouch’s character.

However, the second series’ best asset is… its ending. The second series is more emotional overall, but it is nothing compared to the final episode. There’s not too much I can say without spoiling it, but this ending is so far my most favourite ending to an anime ever. Nothing else has been able to compare to it so far. It makes peace with the story to keep you happy, but is also open-ended so that you are left to imagine what happens next. The song that plays in the background of the final scenes, Hitomi Kuroishi’s “Continued Story“, captures this perfectly.

Ending (spoiler free!)

One of the only spoiler-free images I could find involving the ending…

The Negatives

The art… I’ve addressed what I don’t like about this elsewhere, and it hasn’t changed since the first series. One thing to note is the fan service… it was bad enough in the first series, but I was still able to easily ignore it. In the second series, it’s pretty terrible.

Secondly, characters. The criticism of bland characters in the first series only gets worse when taking a look at the second. A whole bunch of new characters are introduced and then… nothing happens with them. A few had the potential to be great characters (particularly Rolo), but there was a severe lack of character development coupled with little meaningful screen time. Whilst a number are easily likeable (for me it was Gino and Anya- first half only), they are still boring. Many of the characters that carried over from the first series retain their blandness, or otherwise manage to create an indescribable amount of hate inside me, wishing they were dead already (yes, that’s you, Nina). The winning duo of Lelouch and Suzaku both suffer as well, although not as badly as the others. Their main problem is consistency; particularly Lelouch with his attitude towards Rolo and Suzaku with his moral values. I also feel that Suzaku’s character fell apart, although this may just be me turning from “I support everything this character stands for” to “why isn’t he dead yet”.

Knights of the Round

Oh hello pointless characters…

Now, where the second series really starts to lose its edge… the plot. R2 loses in terms of tactical aspects (particularly battles- reduced to who has the latest upgrade) and unpredictability. I also found it slow to warm up compared to the explosive beginning of the fist series. It manages to hold up okay for a few episodes, but gets really messy in the middle when it comes to Lelouch’s mother and psychological (?) worlds. The ideas that are thrown around are very interesting, but are too confusing to be any merit to the series. There are a few other times where the plot gets shot to pieces, but from about episode 17 onwards, it gets back into the swing of it, and leads to the awesome ending I have already mentioned.

Conclusion

Art:  6/10: Remains the same as the first series; pointy chins and not enough food, but excellent action scenes.

Story: 7/10: Loses itself half-way through, but has an ending that is beyond amazing.

Characters: 5/10: Meaningless additions and consistency problems.

Although there is a problem with characters and a loss of tactics and explosive unpredictability, R2 is still enjoyable to watch and serves well enough as a second series. If you can get through the mess of the middle episodes, you will be rewarded with what should be considered one of the best endings to an anime. If you’ve watched the first series, I strongly advice continuing onto the second and sticking to it until the very end, no matter how many times you want to turn back. Overall, I give it a 7/10.

-S

Lelouch makes a tough call

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion [Anime]: Unpredictable, intense and addictive

I decided to review the action/military anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (2006-2007). This is the first of the two Code Geass series, and is 25 episodes long.

Code Geass Full

What’s it about?

Set in the future of an alternate history, Japan has been conquered by the superpower Britannia, and renamed “Area 11”, with all traces of Japanese culture effectively erased. Due to the murder of his mother, Lelouch Lamperouge is an exiled Britannian prince living in Area 11 with his younger sister, Nunnally. After a series of events involving terrorists fighting to free Japan, Lelouch comes in contact with the strange woman C.C. who grants him the power of Geass; the power to command others to do his bidding. With this power, Lelouch is determined to find the person who killed his mother, overthrow his father, the Emperor of Britannia, and create a new, safe world for Nunnally. However, further complicating this task is Britannia’s military use of fighting robots known as “Knightmare Frames” and the re-appearance of Lelouch’s former best friend, Suzaku Kururugi.

The Positives

The plot of this anime is explosive, addictive, and unpredictable. It’s fast paced and almost every episode ends in some kind of “Ah what is going to happen now?” moment. From episode 22 onwards, the anime is brilliant in its nail-biting conclusion, setting the scene nicely for the second series. There are a number of laughs thrown in along the way, as well as a couple of sad moments. There is plenty of action and it is executed well in terms of art and intensity. What I really liked is the fact that this anime did not back down when it came to covering the gruesome acts of war and the way it affects people, both in Lelouch’s actions as part of the rebellion, and in the flashbacks to when Japan was first conquered. I also found this anime pretty realistic in terms of presenting all of the different groups that had vested interests in Lelouch’s rebellion (e.g. the Britannian royal family, the Black Knights, and the Chinese Federation, just to name a few), and also did a great job in depicting the games of cat and mouse, use of tactics, and problems associated with secret identities.

One of the things that I really liked about Code Geass was the two male leads; Lelouch and Suzaku. Standing alone, both characters are quite brilliant. Lelouch is dramatic, flamboyant, and over-the-top, to the point where I was making comparisons to Ouran High’s Tamaki and Fruit Basket’s Ayame (thankfully Lelouch is down to earth not so insanely energetic). At the same time, however, Lelouch is an intellectual and strategist to the nth degree, and is not afraid to become the ‘bad guy’ to get what he wants. At first glance, Suzaku is your standard hero. He’s brave, athletic, loyal, etc. But Suzaku is more complex than that, and his need to play a hero stems from a dark past. Separately, Lelouch and Suzaku are strong characters, but the relationship between the two is also very important. Their relationship involves many different layers, building up from their first meeting as kids, and often puts Lelouch in complicated positions. The friendship (?) between Lelouch and Suzaku is also an ideological battle-field as both characters want to change the world, but take different paths in their effort to do so. Finally, it’s nice to see is the transformation of the two characters and their relationship throughout the series.

A difficult future is ahead for these kiddies...

A difficult future is ahead for these kiddies…

Whilst the soundtrack throughout the series is good, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the opening or ending songs, with the exception of “Hero Youth Song” by Ali Project (first ending song).

The Negatives

Firstly… the art. I just found the chins too pointy and the eyes too weirdly shaped. Also… does no one in this anime eat?! I was ready to call an intervention. Everyone is also impossibly tall. Another thing that I didn’t like about the art was some of the clothes that the characters wear… some looked great, but the clothes that the pilots wore looked pretty horrid.

SO SKINNY

IS THERE NO FOOD IN THIS ANIME?!

Now, earlier I mentioned that the unpredictability of the plot was a big plus for this anime. Well, hand-in-hand with this unpredictability comes a bit of confusion. When the plot is focused it’s great, well-written and surprising. However, there are times when the story is a bit jumpy, which left me feeling a bit confused. This is particularly the case with characters who don’t get a lot of screen time in general, as well as when exploring the intentions and interests of the different groups that are involved in the politics of the anime.

Sometimes the plot is stretched a little bit in terms of believability. For example, the one that ticks me off the most is Lelouch’s “joke” to his half-sister Princess Euphemia in episode 22 that leads to the climax of the plot. I remember sitting there thinking “there has to be a better way to get this plot moving in that direction”.

Finally, a note on a couple of the characters. Some that you see frequently and play an important role are actually pretty bland; Shirley, one of Lelouch’s school-friends, being the main offender. In fact, almost all of the school members are stereotypical and boring.

Anything else I should consider?

If you’re sitting there thinking this sounds like a great anime, but are put off by the idea of giant fighting robots, you might want to read this. I’m not particularly into mecha myself, and avoided watching this anime for a while. However, the Knightmares play an important role in the action scenes; they allow a faster pace compared to using tanks and soldiers, and they also allow a lot more ‘peaceful’ violence (e.g. instead of a person’s arm being cut of, a robot’s arm is). Take the time to enjoy the visuals in the fighting sequences, which tend to focus more on the pilot and their decision’s than the actual robots, and just tune out on the rare occasions where the characters talk about specifics. All you need to know is that each new model will destroy any earlier model, unless that earlier model is piloted by a key character such as Lelouch, Suzaku, C.C. or Kallen.

Lancelot

You can’t deny that they have had a decent amount of attention paid to them…

Conclusion

Art:  6/10: A lot of hits and misses… but given the terrible-even-by-anime-standards proportions of the characters, more of a miss…

Story: 8/10: Fast paced and intense, I can’t think of an anime off the top of my head that matches Code Geass in its unpredictability and strategy, but you can easily get confused.

Characters: 7/10: Whilst the main characters are solid, particularly Lelouch and Suzaku, the majority of the lesser characters are dull.

This anime’s main assets are its explosive, addicting plot, and its two male leads; Lelouch and Suzaku. Whilst the art isn’t as amazing as it could be, you do get used to it, and it does justice to the action scenes. Whether you are drawn to strategy and tactics, or action, you will probably enjoy this anime. Overall, I give it an 8/10.

-S

Lelouch and his Geass