Aldnoah.Zero: it finally clicks

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One thing that has bothered me about Aldnoah.Zero since episode 12 aired back in September last year was this question:

Why did Slaine shoot Inaho?

I get the feeling that most people decided pretty quickly what they thought—it can be summed up in just three letters: NTR. But that explanation, popular especially amongst viewers that really dislike Slaine, always bothered me, particularly after what Aoki (or one of the other creators) apparently said at a Machi Asobi in Tokushima talk event on October 12, 2014: Read more of this post

American Sniper: for those who have returned

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Even the deadliest sniper in the US…was human…

Whilst I have not gone looking for reviews—other than a quick skim of what’s on Rotten Tomatoes—it’s probably fair to say that American Sniper is a rather controversial film at the moment. As I write, US troops continue to fight in Iraq against the Islamic State; and whilst the war in Afghanistan has formally ended, you can be sure that US forces of some kind are still in the country. Furthermore, proven and suspected evidence of torture and unlawful killings add more blemishes to a presence that was already controversial due to the way the war began as well as the way in which it was fought. This is not an atmosphere for the celebration of a man who painted ‘the enemy’ in such a black and white manner, and who seemed unable to leave the bravado attached to his legend behind when he returned.

Honestly speaking, I feel that those commentators are missing the point, deliberately or otherwise. This is not the place for me to make a political statement about my own thoughts on the conflicts that seems so endemic to our world today: it will come out when I look at fictional stories of war, if it hasn’t already. A two-and-a-half hour movie is limited in what it can focus on, and here, Director Clint Eastwood has chosen to highlight something all too many people prefer to brush under the rug: the veterans who have come home, and who have to adapt to civilian life again. Whether or not we agree with their choice of enlisting—for reasons as varied as ‘wanting to protect my fellow soldiers and the people back home’ to actually enjoying the adrenaline rush—it’s important that the people around them try to understand what they are going through. And I don’t mean the expectations that the media cultivates. Talk to them, listen to them, find out how they really feel about their experience. More than anything, I feel that American Sniper really brings out this disjunct between the main signal I picked up from Chris Kyle as portrayed in the film—a soldier’s feeling that ‘there is more that I can do, there are more people I can bring home’—and the tendency of many to focus other things we might assume about veterans. But first of all, you really need to find out how to talk with them.

American Sniper doesn’t explicitly provide the answers to the question of how to reintegrate veterans, nor can it, for even if some things are the same, the experience of each person is going to be different. But no matter how you feel about war and the part of the US and the West in the conflicts that currently dominate our headlines, I argue that, at the very least, American Sniper should be applauded for highlighting the challenges that face veterans when they return home. Perhaps this is easier for me to say, since I live in a country with far fewer people that have served…but nevertheless, now, the challenge that faces the rest of us is how to respond.

Lawrence of Arabia: the importance of things past

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one...

Rather than the poster typically seen today, I decided to go for a slight more retro one…

When I joined the film group at my university this year, this classic was one of the films that I marked off immediately as one I had to see. I didn’t expect it to be as long as it was – I don’t really check such details anymore – and was stunned to be presented with a mid-film break! However, the challenge of sitting through more than four hours was worth it: despite some historical inaccuracies, the glimpses of politics was completely fascinating, for what happened and did not happen back in the early 1900s has huge implications for what’s happening in the Middle East today.

One thing that struck me as I was researching lightly for the purpose of writing this post is that photos of T.E. Lawrence show that the costume designer recreated what he wore with pretty darned good accuracy. Although history was indeed adapted for the needs of the theater, Lawrence’s level of empathy and integration into the groups of people he encountered was well captured. Considering how many Westerners are incredibly insular today, balking at the idea of cultural relativism and focusing on what’s in their interests without regard to the interests of others who share this planet, it’s fascinating to consider the experiences of someone who integrated himself so deeply into the Arab culture that he was deeply respected by many of them at the time.

It’s difficult to imagine such a tale today. Modern people so caught up in ‘getting results quickly’ that any seemingly impossible challenge would automatically be left by the wayside. Furthermore, the tendency today is for an ideal that is highly influenced by Western culture, which many justify by pointing to beliefs and practices that revolt us. Conversely, the practices and beliefs that make sense to us may be completely alien, even barbaric to them. This is not to say that I condone what is clearly problematic in terms of the rights of any person to life, food, shelter, education and so on, but I do have issues with the blatant condemnation of the so-called lack of rights that are not quite as ‘necessary’, so-to-speak. What I see instead is the great danger of losing all possibility of interacting with others if we do not even attempt to understand how they think. From what I have read since seeing this film, this is the argument that Lawrence tried to make for much of his life, and something that many people today would do well to learn.

Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and Do You Remember Love?: it’s sacriligeous, I know…

…but can I be different from most other Macross fans?

And so I finally come, to the original...

In the current Macross fandom, saying that one prefers Frontier to all of the older series is quite possibly a death wish. At least, I get the impression that older fans would roll their eyes and mutter about ‘n00bs’ who cannot appreciate a true classic.

The classic that introduced some of the best transforming units the world has seen…

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Whiskey Tango Fractale…?

Unfortunately, the semi-hiatus here will probably continue as long as I am studying (i.e. at least another 15 months), but I just wanted to get this one out of the way.

Controversial Director Yamamoto Yutaka caused quite a stir when, before the broadcast began, he declared that he would retire from anime should his latest project fail. Said latest project was Fractale, which fans actually looked forward to due to the pretty character designs and the interesting premise based around the titular system.

“Let’s not mince words” is what I really want to say, but I’ll be diplomatic. Quite frankly, I was disappointed. The first few episodes proved interesting enough, especially when fans identified the region that the visuals were developed from. And the middle episodes ably showed the contrast between life with and without the system. But it just didn’t have impact: the people who were unable to live without the system really weren’t sympathetic enough (though I suppose it didn’t help that one of the worst culprits sounds like Uzaya…)…

Pretty visuals and Kamiyan in episode 7 still couldn't save the series for me…

Even worse, the main characters didn’t really interest me. Clain was…annoying – and I’ve really come to dislike young boys being voiced by women – and Phryne was just weird. Nessa was cute for perhaps four episodes. I kept watching because it’s noitaminA, which usually manages to capture my heart. But not this time. Especially not with that Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ending. I get the feeling that extra materials might help me understand it a bit better, but I’m simply not interested.

Sorry Yamakan. Hope you find something interesting to do whilst you take a (hopefully permanent) break from anime.

Fullmetal Alchemist (but why “Brotherhood”?)

I’ve been wondering about that for a while, because the Japanese name for both series is simple “Hagane no Renkinjutsushi”, not even a “2” or “2nd series” attached. Was “Brotherhood” attached simply because the West is anal?

When a new Hagaren series was announced back in 2008, I originally thought it would be some kind of weird continuation of the first anime series/movie. But as news of the production wound its way through the grapevine, I was but one of many who were please to hear that they were completely redoing it. Changes in the cast were met with some skepticism, especially when I found myself hearing Lockon Stratos, but these little issues were slowly worked out. And to complete the package, Arakawa-sensei collaborated brilliantly with the anime producers to deliver a near simultaneous manga-anime ending.

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Reviews: various films

Now about some films I saw on my last few plane trips.

Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth really is something I feel that more people would watch. Not that I can say anything, I know that I have changed very little about the way I live.

I also caught the Pride and Prejudice movie, the one with Keira Knightley as Lizzy Bennett, and well, I regretted it. They cut out way too much from the story, removing most of the dialogue that made the book and the BBC series so enjoyable. Darcy may look dreamy in that proposal scene, but to me, he was reduced to someone whose developement seemed contrived and unbelievable. And let’s not talk about the costumes…when I go back to Perth for a break, I’ll gladly make myself a cup of hot chocolate, put my feet up, and go back to watching the BBC production… (There was a note of interest for me though…throughout the film, I wondered where I’d seen Caroline Bingley before…and well, I finally realised that she’s Wendy from L’ Auberge Espagnole and Les Poupées Russes…)

I saw Flags of Our Fathers because I wanted to watch Letters from Iwo Jima before it left the cinemas here. I failed in the latter…but FoOF was interesting enough. Some people criticise it for its sentimentality…but I felt that they had a point. I haven’t seen that many war movies…but I don’t know of a war movie with the same message – that many of the heroes of our wars don’t wish to be remembered as such. Rather, they were people who did what they had to do under the circumstances. Maybe it seems rather contrived since most people with sufficient education understand the point, but it is nice once in a while to have a film that doesn’t glorify what happens in war.

But on that note, guess what other movie I’m going to be talking about soon…

Review: Band of Brothers

I’m sure everyone has heard of Band of Brothers, the 10-episode HBO series based on Steven Ambrose’s book of the same name. Another thing that would have been noted is that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, director and star respectively of Saving Private Ryan, were involved as executive producers, and in the latter case, also as a director and writer.

Band of Brothers follows the soldiers of Easy Company from the day they dropped behind enemy lines to their fates upon the end of the war in Europe. The series focusses on a handful of the men, from those that remained with the company throughout, to those that missed part of the action some way or another. In doing so, it addresses many facets of the war – the losses and incompetences that unexpectedly forced command onto junoir officers and even NCOs; the effects of fear and shellshock; the tension between eager new recruits and battle-weary veterans; the insanity of commanders who’d been too long from the battlefield; the birth of legends, some balanced by human emotions and regrets…the list goes on.  

Comparisons with Saving Private Ryan seem inevitable…and I found this series more enjoyable. Being a miniseries, it could cover much more than the film did, and the characters do not come across as cliched, even though several seem impossible (Lt. Spiers sprinting across a battlefield between Item and Easy Companies in episode 7 ‘The Breaking Point’ comes to mind: “At first the Germans didn’t shoot at him. I think they couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. But that wasn’t the really astounding thing. The astounding thing was that after he hooked up with I Company, he came back.” But that’s where legends come from).

Nevertheless, there are some negatives to my experience as a viewer. The different directors (there were nine in total, if I’m not mistaken) tried various techniques, and the discrepancies between episodes were sometimes jarring. Perhaps this was largely dictated by the screenplays, but since the director of one episode in question was also involved as a writer in the series, I am unwilling to discount the importance of their influence. Also, some of the episodes became somewhat tedious once in a while, though this could have had more to do with me virtually marathoning the series (I watched it in two shifts).

Wikipedia notes that the identities of the interviewed veterans are revealed only at the end of the series…I seem to remember names popping up here in there during the course of my viewing of it, but it’s impossible for me to check atm. There’s a high chance that I’ll be adding this to my DVD collection someday though ^^.

Reviews: Schindler’s List and Shichinin no Samurai

Schindler’s List
Seven Samurai
Pretty Face
Russian Dolls
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Onegin
Ju on (The Grudge)

I’ve work and study to do, but if this list isn’t attempted, I’ll be needing to watch these films again!

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(Western) Film reviews…

Finding Neverland (2004). A film about the origins of the play ‘Peter Pan’, i.e. it’s about the playwright James Matthew Barrie and his relationship with the family who inspired his masterpiece. Recommended…