Time Renegades [Movie]: A thrilling watch

Although I slept for the majority of the eleven-hour flight between Abu Dhabi and Australia, I did need to keep myself awake in the few hours before landing so I could adjust to the time difference. I needed an engaging, interesting movie, and the description of the Korean Time Renegades (2016) fit the bill exactly.

title-time-renegades

What’s it about?

The movie starts with the unfolding of New Year’s Eve for two men, thirty-two years apart. In modern times, Gun Woo (Lee Jin Wook), a detective, is waiting for a sign from his superiors to arrest a much-wanted criminal. In the 1980s, Ji Hwan (Cho Jung Seok) and his girlfriend Yoon Jung (Lim Soo Jung) are celebrating the night together when her handbag gets stolen. Gun Woo chases after his criminal and Ji Hwan chases after the thief. The events that befall the two of them are paralleled; both are injured in the resulting fight, rushed into emergency surgery, and experience near death on the operating table. When they awake, another connection is made; they both have unusual dreams in which they experience each other’s life. Both men feel that the dreams are too realistic to ‘just be dreams’, but they do their best to brush them off. That is, until Gun Woo is handed a folder of cold cases from the 1980s by his chief, Detective Kang (Jung Jin Young), and discovers that Yoon Jung is the first victim in a line of serial murders. Can Gun Woo in the future and Ji Hwan in the past work together to save her, and find the one responsible for the murders?

The Positives

There is plenty of solid acting in this movie. Of course, Lee Jin Wook and Cho Jung Seok are excellent as our two main leads. They were both very convincing in their emotions and the way they struggled with being connected to each other over a time span of thirty-odd years. Lim Soo Jung actually plays two roles in the movie, and she’s able to easily distinguish the two, but keeps (plot-driven) similarities between them. Great casting choices!

time-renegades

Where the past and the present meet!

I LOVED the story of this movie. It was interesting and twisting, and kept me glued to the screen the whole time. The story unfolded at a perfect pace; starting slow and then building to a massive, dramatic climax. Not even one second of this movie is wasted; every scene is used perfectly to create the story. After the emotional journey to get to the end, the movie is finished perfectly. There’s a definite sense of completion in the story, which is just so satisfying.

The Negatives

I did have some minor issues with certain parts of the story, however. Although this movie isn’t technically time-travel, it does have the whole “changed-actions-of-the-past-from-knowledge-of-the-future-affect-the-future” aspect. This always hurts my head. In this movie, this aspect felt a little contrived at times. This is particularly the case with one character who plays an important role in both the past and the present. I feel that as the past changed, the present-version character’s personality should change as well as his memories change. This whole memory-being-affected should have actually applied to more than one character, but in the case of all of them, they stayed the same, which didn’t really make sense.

uoh

How much will saving her affect the future world…?

Conclusion

Story: 8.5/10. Thrilling, interesting, and told completely and perfectly, I absolutely adored the story in this movie.

Characters: 7.5/10. The characters aren’t anything new, but the actors portraying them are fantastic.

Time Renegades was a very interesting and satisfactory movie to watch. I can forgive some of the plot issues I had because the story had me glued to the screen the whole time. Combined with likeable characters, superb acting, and a solid ending, Time Renegades is a great watch. Overall, I give it an 8/10.

-S

so-pretty

Such a pretty movie!

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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!

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

City Hunter [Drama]: Gripping right until the end

I only recently go over the feels that come hand-in-hand with the twenty-episode City Hunter (2011). This action/thriller drama is certainly one hell of a ride. This series is very loosely based on the manga of the same name by Tsukasa Hojo.

What’s it about?

Lee Yoon Sung (Lee Min Ho) had a childhood different to most; growing up in the Golden Triangle as the son of the drug lord Lee Jin Pyo (Kim Sang Joong), he has been trained to fight and use guns since young. His world is turned upside down when his father informs him of a plot for revenge, many years in the making. In fact, Jin Pyo is not Yoon Sung’s father; his real father was killed along with nineteen other special forces members in the seas off North Korea, after completing a secret mission for the motherland. Their murderers? The very country they were serving when they completed the mission; South Korea. Jin Pyo was the sole survivor of that mission, and after identifying two of the five men responsible for the slaughter, he left South Korea with infant Yoon Sung with the promise that he would return for revenge.

Learning about his true past, Yoon Sung understands it is his duty to help Jin Pyo, the father who raised him, get revenge for Park Moo Yul, the father whose blood runs in his veins. Leaving the Golden Triangle, Yoon Sung eventually makes his way to South Korea, working in the Blue House as an elite I.T. engineer. Wearing the mask of an immature playboy, Yoon Sung secretly becomes the “City Hunter”, seeking out the corrupt politicians responsible for his father’s death. But can Yoon Sung maintain his fake identity and obey Jin Pyo’s words to not fall in love when he encounters the determined and fiery Kim Na Na (Park Min Young)?

The Positives

Starting out with something I don’t always comment on; the soundtrack. City Hunter has one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in any series. In terms of purely instrumental music, during the action scenes it gets you pumped up and ready to see what’s going to happen next, there’s suspenseful music to get you on the edge of your chairs, and perfect tear-jerking music for those sad scenes. Adding in vocals only improves the soundtrack. My personal favourites include SHINee’s Kim Jong Hyun’s “So Goodbye“, Yang Hwa Jin Band’s “It’s Alright“, and Kim Bo Kyung’s “Suddenly“. All of the music just fits so well together, and suits the emotion and atmosphere of the series.

Moving onto three things that absolutely made this series for me, and went hand-in-hand with each other; interesting characters, solid acting, and plenty of raw emotion. As the centre of the main conflict, Yoon Sung and Jin Pyo are both fascinating characters. I like Yoon Sung’s constant struggle for a normal life against his struggle to be the hero of the series. In many ways, he is a very sad character, and you can’t help but feel for him with each new revelation about the truth affecting him in some way. Jin Pyo is arguably a sadder character, once you look past the psychotic exterior. Cool and calculated, you’re never sure what he is willing to do, and who he is willing to hurt, to get what he wants. For the majority of the series, I liked Na Na’s character; she doesn’t run away when things get scary, and she doesn’t back down from finding out the truth. I like that [SPOILER/] the writers didn’t try to keep Yoon Sung’s secret identity from her for the entirety of the series, because that would have been insulting to her intelligence [\SPOILER]. One of my favourite characters, however, is Yoon Sung’s parallel and rival, the prosecutor Kim Young Joo (Lee Jun Hyuk). He is trying to accomplish the same task as Yoon Sung in pursuing corrupt politicians, but in many situations, he has his hands tied by the law, finding himself falling behind the City Hunter. Unlike Yoon Sung, Young Joo is more of an “everyday” hero, trying to do what’s right, despite everything he believes in seeming to go against him. Of course, such beautifully complicated characters can only be truly appreciated if the actors playing them do a good job… and this cast is stellar. I cannot picture any other actor but Lee Min Ho playing Yoon Sung, Park Min Young is a fantastic Na Na, the role of Jin Pyo must have been created solely for Kim Sang Joong, and Lee Jun Hyuk is ideal as Young Joo. The main cast bring so much to the table and flourish in their roles. Other solid performances include Kim Sang Ho as Yoon Sung’s assistant Bae Sik Joong, Kim Mi Sook as Yoon Sung’s mother Lee Kyung Hee, and the adorable pair Ko Ki Joon (Lee Kwang Soo) and Shin Eun Ah (Yang Jin Sung). Linked to these great characters and the actors’ portrayal of them, is the amount of raw emotion expressed in this series. Ranging from humour, frustration, anger, and anguish, the emotion is always intense, but never feels over the top. It serves to drive the plot forward and keep the viewer addicted to what’s happening, and it does this very well.

Yoong Joo (L) and Yoon Sung (R)

Young Joo (L) and Yoon Sung (R) were my two favourite characters of this series.

Thanks to the combination of interesting characters, good acting, and raw emotion, this drama keeps you hooked from the very start. I found myself quickly connecting emotionally with the characters, especially Yoon Sung, from the very first episode. This kind of emotional connection keeps you invested in the series. To add to all of that, the plot of the story is interesting, the series has a very dark atmosphere, and there are some very interesting themes explored. Again and again, you have father and son pitted against each other (and not just involving the Yoon Sung/Jin Pyo relationship), exploring just what qualifies as a son’s duty and what doesn’t. I loved that City Hunter was not afraid to go to dark places with the plot; even the deaths of minor characters left me feeling miserable afterwards. Everything was very well done.

Speaking about feeling miserable, that ending and climax of the story… sad, but so perfect. I liked that the ending was left open; after the intensity and trauma of the last two episodes, I don’t think there would have been a plausible way to tie up everything into the typical happy ending you often see in dramas. I also liked how the ending really emphasised that the drama is ultimately about Yoon Sung and Jin Pyo, and their journey as father and son. However, the final scenes were too hastily put together to have a big impact on the audience; I found myself re-writing it in my head as I watched it.

The Negatives

Perhaps the biggest issue I had with this drama is the weird, (un)balance of Yoon Sung and Jin Pyo’s gritty revenge story with the up-beat and sweet Yoon Sung and Na Na love story. This noticeable right from the start; the first episode is extremely emotional and traumatic, and then the second episode just feels like a completely different drama. I don’t know whether the love-story is too “light” compared to the revenge story, but this weird balance doesn’t work well; at times the juxtaposition of scenes feels very awkward and jarring. At the same time, however, I don’t know how they could have fixed this without obliterating the love story altogether… making it less sweet? focusing more on Yoon Sung during the romance by showing less of Na Na? I don’t really know. The drama does seem to work itself out a little bit more in the latter half of the series, whether this is because the angst is upped in all aspects of the story, or you just get used to it as a viewer, I’m not too sure.

Although Yoon Sung and Na Na

Although Yoon Sung and Na Na made a cute couple, part of me wishes there was less of them in the series…

Another issue I had with this drama was some of the ridiculous logic of some of the characters. I get the whole “noble sacrifice” crap is a staple of Korean dramas (hell, I managed to sit through Maru constantly doing it in Innocent Man), and I did come into City Hunter expecting it to happen, given the action/danger aspect of the series, but it pissed me off so much in this series. There comes a point in this series where it makes sense, thematically, plot-wise, and consistent with character, for Na Na to work alongside Yoon Sung. Do we get this? No, we get the whole “but if you stay with me, I’ll hurt you blah” crap that is frustrating and pushes Na Na back into an almost damsel-in-distress role. I know that once you boil the series down, it is essentially about Yoon Sung, but at this point of the drama, the focus had been on the love story for so long, it feels like Na Na needed to become a permanent part of Yoon Sung’s life in terms of the revenge plot line. The way they stop that happening just doesn’t fit right.

The final thing that irritated me about this series was the small details. Now, this doesn’t usually bother me too much. For example, if we see an actor taking something out of the oven without using a tea-towel or oven-mitts, it doesn’t annoy me; it’s just a small detail. Of course the oven isn’t on, what’s being removed from the oven isn’t hot, and there’s no need for oven-mitts, because they are acting. For me, City Hunter made this a big deal; the small details were so often forgotten that I started to notice it, and once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop paying attention to it.

Conclusion

Story: 8/10: The plot of this drama becomes very addicting very quickly. Driven essentially by emotion, it’s thrilling, action-packed, and gripping. It does suffer, however, from an unbalanced mix of romantic and action elements and a few poor plot decisions.

Characters: 9/10: The characters really make this series. Yoon Sung’s and Jin Pyo’s struggle is the pinnacle of City Hunter.

This drama is far from perfect. It has a lot of flaws, some of which I really had a problem with. However, the raw emotion expressed by interesting characters and portrayed by a brilliant cast is more than enough to carry you over. This series is gripping and will stay fresh in your mind long after you finish it. Overall, I give it an 8.5/10.

-S

Jin Pyo, the master of randomly appearing in scenes to give meaningful stares, before disappearing again.

Jin Pyo, the master of randomly appearing in scenes to give meaningful stares, before disappearing again.

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 🙂

[C]: Control- the Money of Soul and Possibility [Anime]: Interesting…

So, I reviewed the 11-episode [C]: Control- the Money of Soul and Possibility (2011) for this post. And, oh my goodness, what a hard anime to review. I gave it my best shot, hopefully these ramblings will make more sense than the anime… 

C

What’s it about?

This is a very good question. The basic plot is this; Japan has been recently saved from financial ruin, but its citizens are still living a tough life. The main character, Kimimaro Yoga, just wants to get through life with a stable job to ensure his survival. However, after a chance meeting with a mysterious man, Kimimaro is sucked into the world of the Financial District; what appears to be an alternate world where most real-world business is done. To enter the world, individuals, called “entrepreneurs” or ‘”entres” give their future as “collateral”, gaining an “asset” in return, which will help them fight in the weekly duels that one has to compete in to remain in the world. Kimimaro soon realises the painful real-world consequences of the Financial District duels, and joins that Starling Guild, led by Souichirou Mikuni, that attempts to reduce these consequences. 

The Positives

I really liked everything associated with the Financial District in this anime. I liked the general style of the Financial District; the buildings and their decorations, the way that entres could use their cards to transition to their own private spaces, as well as the way assets could be seen by walking alongside floating picture frames (something that was inconsistent, but oh well). I really loved the assets; they all had a unique design and had interesting attacks (especially the terrifying thing that Q, Mikuni’s asset, does during battles). The battles between the assets are intense and quite brutal, making them quite watchable.

Financial District

An example of scenery in the Financial District. The man’s asset can be seen in the frames behind him.

However, I think the major positive of this anime is that it is… interesting. It’s an interesting experimentation in anime, taking quite a unique turn. Its characterised by fast transitions between scenes, which results in abrupt changes in conversations, topics and characters. Although this takes a little bit to get used to, it gives the anime a fast pace, even if it is a little disjointed. The anime is also interesting in terms of the philosophical questions it poses; what’s the present without the future, and what’s the future without the present? The series also explores our dependence on money and the world economic system, and just how delicate they can be.

The Negatives

Whilst this anime is unique in terms of its ideas and the questions it explores, it severely lacked in the plot and character department. The plot was incredibly confusing, with a lot crammed into the eleven episodes. As a result, what were suppose to be twists in the plot did not have much of an effect, only serving to make everything more confusing, and certain sub-plots were abandoned part-way through.  The whole thing is all-over the place. In terms of characters, a couple, but certainly not all, are very bland. This is particularly true of the main character, Kimimaro. If the writers had cut a couple of sub-plots out and focused solely on the crisis in the Financial District and Kimimaro’s experience in it, the anime would be a lot more enjoyable, make a lot more sense, and would make the conclusion and the over-all philosophical exploration in the anime much more meaningful. Ah, if only!

Conclusion

Art:  7/10: The art is generally good, and the Financial District is fantastic.

Story: 7/10: The main reason the story gets such a high score is because of the ideas in it- apart from that, it’s confusing as hell, but still manages a good conclusion.

Characters: 6/10: Most of them are pretty bland, but one or two are quite interesting.

Did I enjoy this anime? I’m not too sure. I definitely enjoyed aspects of it and I found it very interesting. Perhaps I’d be able to answer better if I had been able to follow the plot (was I lacking in my knowledge of economics?). Would I recommend this anime? Yes. Despite its many short-comings, I think this anime is worth a watch because of its unique style and the philosophically-based questions it poses to the audience. This is the type of anime you have to watch and judge for yourself- I’d love to know what you think. Overall, I give it a 7/10- not a high score for me, but still highly recommended.

-S

"I'm listening..."

“I’m listening…”