Archive for the ‘Reviews and Opinions’ Category

BLAME! — Quite a Meditative Manga

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

On the manga and anime note, I have also been reading BLAME! by Tsutomu Nihei. Vertical’s release of the Master Edition has been quite nice. I am definitely glad that I am experiencing BLAME! for the first time via the Master Editions, rather than through the smaller volumes of the defunct Tokyopop. (Holy cow, did I just type Tokyopop? That’s something I have not thought about in a long time.)

After my previous Turn A Gundam retrospective, I am tired and have less to say about BLAME!. That said, it also brings out the inner child in me, and I find it to be quite the meditative adventure with its forlorn, cylindrical landscapes. I definitely love the buddy dynamic between Cibo and Kyrii.

I’m on Volume 4 of the Master Edition now. Eagerly looking forward to finishing up Volumes 5 and 6 when I get a chance. (By the way, as of the writing of this brief post on March 13th, 2018, the whole series is on sale at Rightstuf currently during Rightstuf’s Vertical sale.) Do consider buying your anime and manga from Rightstuf rather than Amazon, just so Amazon gets slightly less of your money and data.

Turn A Gundam Episode 50 and Series Review — Oh, What a Gorgeous Ending

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

It has been a long time since I last wrote in my personal blog. A lot of things have happened in my life this past 14 months. I’ll jot down some staccato notes about that for my own personal benefit one day when I’m looking back on my 20s. Of course, I co-founded Qchain. Got my first bittersweet taste of entrepreneurship. Got seriously ill a couple of times. Went to China, went to New Orleans, went to Japan, all educational and substantive visits. Mortality and aging have now become things I contemplate daily as I have watched my parents grow older, walk slower and hear about deaths of friends and family friends at an accelerating pace. Life moves forward, and in spurts, I am able to admire the beauty of life in breaks from chaos and struggle.

A strange constant over the past few months has been my inconsistent and halting progress through Turn A Gundam. Well, I finally finished the show today, and it is definitely a special one. After several years in which I did not really watch anime or read manga, Turn A definitely reminded me about some of the imaginative and colorful magic inherent to the best of the medium. For sure, it is my favorite Gundam series. Some overall thoughts — the series was quite long, but I did not mind that. I really enjoyed the quieter moments in the first 40 episodes of the series, which really helped to endear the characters to me. Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim are wonderful characters. Loran is surprisingly not frustrating for a young male Gundam protagonist. Harry Ord is great. A lot of the more minor characters end up getting neat character arcs. The soundtrack is sweeping and gorgeous. The traditional cel animation warms the soul better than a fireplace.


The scene of Loran Cehack helping Dianna Soriel with the field hospital laundry in the Turn A Gundam midway through the series was the most indelible sequence for me with its depiction of pure, unbridled joy. It will stick with me as an example of sublime filmmaking. This scene was enhanced by Yoko Kanno’s score. Personally, I feel that this soundtrack is among Yoko Kanno’s three finest soundtracks; given the relative obscurity of the show compared to some of the other series that Yoko Kanno has scored for, it is unfortunate that a lot of people have missed out on Turn A’s soundtrack.

So, I pointed the obvious that the series was long (50 episodes), but I actually wish the show was a little bit longer. As indicated by the fact that the second opening to mark the space-faring phase of the show begins in Episode 39, I think the show would have been better spaced out over 70 episodes. Or, even 52 episodes would have helped relax the final, rushed pacing a little. When the series ended, I felt that some plot and character movements could have been built up a little higher for an even better payoff; and part of me was not ready to say goodbye to the characters just yet, which indicates how much I enjoyed the character writing.

The show aired in 1999, close to to 20 years now. It is always interesting to hear voice actors at the start of their careers in late 90s anime that would go on to dominate shows throughout the 2000s. I cracked a brief grin when I heard Takehito Koyasu voicing Gym Ghingham.

Jumping again (exhaustion has made it quite hard to organize my thoughts on a daily basis), I absurdly enjoyed the switcheroo between Dianna Soriel and Kihel Heim. Usually, switching causes me to lose my suspense of disbelief, because in real life for me, it becomes not too difficult to even tell identical twins after a short time, but the empathy of the characters made this work for me.

I did like the betrayal from Guin Rhineford at the end. I thought he was the most compelling antagonist. I do feel that Teteth Halleh was killed prematurely, as I thought she could have been a more effective voice to represent Moonrace dissent against Dianna, and I wanted to also know more about discrimination against Earthers on the Moon. Gym Ghingham was nonsensical, but Takehito Koyasu’s performance still made him entertaining, nonetheless.

Onto my thoughts about the final episode. For all my complaints about the rushed pacing of the last 10 episodes, I thought the relatively wordless epilogue was fantastic. I have become so accustomed to bad, wacky, tonally disjoint, Deus Ex Machina, sudden, exposition-heavy, and attempted-mindfuck-because-we-give-up endings in anime and manga, that I become insanely impressed with actual closure. I think the root of a lot of these bad endings is that the serialized nature of manga causes people to continue writing far after they have run out of plot ideas to advance character development, which can piss away even great characters as development becomes repetitive and circular. (People sometimes say a good cast of characters will write itself, but I am of the belief that that is just something good writers say when they struggle to describe their work process, and that effective character development requires thought in plot to earn and spur that development.) Turn A‘s epilogue was a wonderful case of show-and-don’t-tell, and there were enough visual details in there to give the audience a very neat closure and suggestion of events following the show.

Reading other people’s impressions of the episode on Reddit (see here and here on Reddit) and MyAnimeList, I was surprised by the confusion that people had over events that transpired. It is clear that Dianna and Loran did not get married, as some people seem to think. We are shown an blatant shot of Loran’s hand without a ring after we see the ring on Dianna, and with Dianna specifically correcting herself after saying “Willghem” and enunciating “Will Game” when talking about the ship (named the Willghem officially) in an earlier stretch of episode 50 or episode 49 to invoke the memory of Will Game (after his existence had become muddled and lost through all the dialog involving the differently pronounced name of the ship), I was expecting people to more universally make the connection between the silver ring and Will Game.

With respect to where the series leaves things off with Loran and Dianna, I think the visual of the cane clearly indicates that Dianna’s body is breaking down, and that she is approaching death. However, I disagree with people’s interpretation that the final shot of the series shows the death of Dianna. It could be that Yoshiyuki Tomino was trying to show Dianna’s passing, but I felt that a few too many cues were missing. We do not see the usual last breath, chest dropping, wistful look that is universally used across any medium to indicate death. Dianna does not respond to Loran, but with how she simply closed her eyes, I think the shot more illustrated a quietly dying Dianna who would still experience several more months or years, but had found peace.

Finally, I think the series clearly shows that Loran and Sochie ultimately do not end up together, even after Dianna passes. Sochie ending up with the fish and throwing it away makes it clear to me that while Loran cares deeply for her, he did not reciprocate her feelings romantically. Some people find this outcome too tragic, but I do not think so. Part of that has to do with the fact that either intentionally or unintentionally, it never felt like any two-sided romantic chemistry cropped up in the first place between Sochie and Loran. Sochie and Gavane Gooney’s relationship never got off the ground and felt “wrong” (and not just due to the age gap, but because of the circumstances in which it precipitated — Gavane feeling desperate in war, and Sochie feeling lonely and confused), but, it felt believable and natural to me with its “wrongness,” given the circumstances Sochie and Gavane were in. Following Gavane’s death, it felt to me that Sochie was desperate to fill a sadness in her heart, and pursued Loran to try to patch the pain. I found this to actually be a beautifully poignant ending for Sochie. We see that she grew to become quite a mentally tough and resilient person, and I feel that Tomino indicated that she would take time to heal after the war (still at a young age of 15) before moving on with her life.

There was a total lack of romantic chemistry in the last 20 episodes between Loran and Dianna. I do feel there was a missed opportunity there to create some emotion. Prior to their departure for the moon during the Earth adventures, I felt that some understated romantic chemistry had been built up between Loran and Dianna. The laundry scene and the scene in which Loran and Dianna dance before Dianna breaks off on her own to try to figure out a way to the Moon were very warm and seemed to point to their relationship deepening later in the show. This chemistry disappears when Loran and Dianna head into space and reach the moon (albeit not in a totally unbelievable way). Loran’s decision to retreat from Sochie and his friends and serve Dianna in her dying days still makes sense, even with the total lack of romantic chemistry, given his dutiful disposition. However, I felt that adding some romance between them could have made the implication of her impending death more wistful and additionally motivated his “rejection” of Sochie. Rejection was not the ideal word I wanted to put in the sentence, as it is a little too strong, but I could not find another more suitable word.

All in all, I found Turn A Gundam to be a wonderful series, Gundam or not, and am glad I watched it after first wanting to see it as a teenager. It is not very likely (as Turn A seems to be intended as the “concluding” Gundam show, regardless of how many future Gundam shows get made), but I do have a desire to see consequent Gundam shows set later in the Correct Century timeline.

I am always happy to see a work of art which gets me closer in touch with my inner child again, thirsting for adventure, empathy, and some loose notion of gentle justice. Consequently, I am very appreciative of Turn A Gundam‘s existence.

Cheers to 1999, what a year that was. Cheers to the privilege of being able to enjoy good art and cinema in a life.

Avatar: The Last Airbender — Belated Thoughts in 2015

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

In 2005, I watched a couple of episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and it couldn’t keep my interest.

A decade later, I liked the show enough to breeze through it in a week.
The humor and chibi-inspired shenanigans didn’t quite cut it for me, but I think this is a case for me where the cast dynamics and some incredible character arcs allowed me to forgive things that typically would induce facepalms, such as idealism, clear-cut morality, and preachy writing. (It amused me to no end by the way after I learned that Ann of Arrested Development was the voice actress for Katara.)

Zuko’s character arc is simply incredible. His decision to depart from his father was one of the finest payoffs I’ve felt from any show, up there with Stringer Bell’s demise in the third season of The Wire, Elizabeth telling Phillip to come home in the first season of The Americans, Jasper’s badassery in this most recent season of The 100. (I realize these names probably mean nothing to you, by the way.) Iroh was also a sweet supporting character.

The pacing in this show was also masterful. It helped that there were a lot of multi-part episodes, and I am wondering how they were able to schedule those because there were quite a few of them. I think many shows would benefit from having longer mid-season and season finale climaxes. The last episode did a wonderful job of tying together lose end and even bringing back bit episode characters.

I do have a major problem with how this show handled death, genocide, and collateral damage, and I’m guessing that a lot of that was just the writers trying to figure out how to get the show to meet a Y7 rating. But come on man, all the protagonists on the show are basically made to have completely clean hands, but even if they did not kill directly, you know that some of the usages of the bending had to have resulted in deaths for the cannon fodder. Throwing people off cliffs, exploding entire vehicles/ships with people still inside — it made it seem like the characters were in a state of cognitive dissonance sometimes.

When Aang was going, “Wah, I don’t kill people. Don’t want to start now with Fire Lord Ozai!” I wanted another character to say something like, “Dude — it’s ok. Remember, when we dropped that twenty ton boulder on the group of Fire Nation grunts without bending abilities or plot armor last week and you were okay with that?”

Jet fucking died. Acknowledge it!

I also laughed when Hakota (father of Katara and Sokaa) told his children that they should flee and not worry about abandoning their Bay of Pigs invasion force because the Fire Nation would simply take them prisoners and that they would survive. Given the track record of the Fire Nation, how were they that confident that their captors would abide by the Geneva Conventions?

I think Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (the showrunners) were also terrible at handling romantic relationships. They say they were setting up Katara and Aang the whole time, but the way they wrote it, it felt like Aang would inconsistently jolt out of the friend zone in spurts in between long stretches of receiving little romantic attention from Katara. Especially in the last few episodes, it felt like the showrunners were completely telegraphing Katara as Zuko’s eventual righthand woman at the throne. Feels like all around that would have made more sense. Symbolically unifying the nations, allowing Aang to keep on going on his own adventures or bang Toph (muscular blind girls need lovin too, man).

The failure of DiMartino and Konietzko to actualize Zutara, along with the failure of nation states to pass comprehensive climate and finance regulation will go down as one of the great lost opportunities of the 21st century. Hate to be a shipper, but man oh man, the setup was there for the taking! (On the note of Katara, I was disappointed that the focus on Zuko seemed to come at the cost of spotlight and action for her. She definitely deserved more than being a relief pitcher for Zuko during the climax.)

Finally, I found that the tendency to give all adult characters Asian accents while younger characters sounded more “white” to be puzzling.


Zuko just completely stole the third season, and by extension, the rest of the show. His development made the show a worthwhile time investment for me. Also, I found his lines to be the funniest. Him and Mai exchange their “I don’t hate you’s” was one of the few un-lame bits of humor in the show.

Appa is also one of the cutest fucking things ever conceived. The episode featuring the baby air bison almost killed me with its cuteness.

Praise Be to The CW

Monday, February 16th, 2015

During my grad school interviews, making fun of the CW was a go-to icebreaker for strangers as they got to know each other:


Meanwhile, people were using Marco Polo and House of Cards as a benchmark for good serials, which I think are actually quite unbearable.

Some smoke fanned up by Smallville and One Tree Hill snowballs into an easy joke. What CW shows are accused of, other channel lineups are guilty of as well though. People forget that The OC was a Fox show.

As of the last couple seasons though, I have to say that the quality of CW’s lineup matches up well with those of any other “prestige” outlet such as HBO or Netflix. For sure, I think it has a few better shows than Amazon’s Prime line (I vehemently disliked Transparent). The three CW shows I’m watching right now, Arrow, The Flash, and The 100 undeniably lack for production values. But for running more than 13 episode seasons which is incredibly tough on the writers, crew, and actors, those shows are doing a bangup job of staying consistent. Arrow‘s plotting has come down significantly from its season 2 highs from operatic comic-book fun to methodical mediocrity, but is still quite entertaining. I would describe it as a TV version of Nolan’s Batman. It shares the same showrunners as The Flash, so it looks like the creative team has just been spending more of their energy on that show instead. The Flash sits farther to the left on the goofy<->angsty spectrum and packs enough fun and pep to get you shadowboxing. It does an economic and sufficient job showing the absurd powers of its Metahumans on an apparently humble budget. Both The Arrow and The Flash have soaring, catchy soundtracks courtesy of Blake Neely, by the way.

The crown jewel of The CW for me is The 100. (Some argue that it is instead Jane The Virgin, but I have not seen that show.) Adapts a YA novel into Lord of the Attractive Mad Max Song of Ice and Fire Flies. I am still in disbelief that execs let a show this dark and gory get on The CW, but I am not complaining. Wooden first few episodes, but this show has had one of the most drastic improve curves I have seen. The three best parts of this show I find to be:

a) Its pacing. Nothing is allowed to drag on for too long. Things you think will last for a whole season instead get resolved in a couple of episodes. Confusions between characters typically get talked out and clarified very quickly, which is refreshing in a world where characters in fiction are frequently kept in the dark to keep up dramatic irony.

b) Speaking of the show’s characters, they are typically introduced off the bat as being morally ambiguous. This is sometimes obscured by overpowering musical cues, but even the people who are ostensibly dicks are immediately provided with rational reasons of acting the way they do to viewers. Characters are bothered by what happened to them in their pasts, but there is very little “faux-ambiguation” of otherwise one-note characters by the sudden introduction of childhood trauma. Complexity is not forced upon viewers but are instead added to characters as they make decisions between terrible options, react to ensuing consequences, and adapt (or die).

c) And then, this leads me to the plotting, which I personally separate from pacing. There is very little plot armor this show. There is plenty in the way of miraculous rescue and salvation, but the show kills recurring to main cast often enough that you do not take lives for granted. There is a jaw-dropping death during the second season that floored me in disbelief and relief that the writers had the balls to allow the characters to occasionally not find solutions. I also applaud the writers for not rewarding absolute pacifism as a simple, one-size-fits-all answer to diplomatic kerfuffles in their scripting.

It does appear that some of the unexpected deaths and disappearances were driven by actors’ scheduling conflicts and budgetary and negotiation issues. In the hands of a capable writer’s room, it does seem that professional inconveniences and disagreements can be utilitarian opportunities for shaking plots out of comfort zones. (Given that the characters have already been established. Kelly Hu’s disappearance after the pilot was disjointed.)

Song of the Sea Film Review

Saturday, December 13th, 2014


Song of the Sea is the cutest movie I have seen in a long time. The cute seal designs alone are worth the price of admission and runtime.

This is a gorgeously animated film, both in terms of visual style and production values. The art had this textured feel that reminded me of the art design of Japanese animation studio Gonzo’s series from 2004, Gankutsuou.

The rounded, abstracted, shimmering, and high-contrast art style suited the plot’s whimsical and ethereal nature. Magic realism is not the right word to use, but it is the word that comes to mind at the moment when I think about the story. The revelation of the existence of fairies, mythical creatures, and legendary beings are not treated with much skepticism or surprise. The world is assumed to be filled with mystery beyond human understanding, mystery to be accepted, respected, and revered by us humble humans. It is a kind of story that I cannot imagine being told in anything other than a 2d animation medium. Sure, one could attempt with CGI, but with the reduced abstraction that three dimension polygons bring, I feel that some of the sense of mystery, unknowableness, and ethereality would be lost. Anyway, that is my pseudotheory — that 2d animation more suitable for fantastic stories because us having to engage our imagination more to fill in data reduces our threshold for suspension of disbelief. What may seem otherworldly and fantastic in a 2d rendering could seem creepy, ridiculous, and alien in live action or CGI.

A gateway to the unknowable mysteries of life and the universe, a celebration of the joie de vivre that merits the sadness we experience. This is what an all-ages film should be.