Monday, September 29, 2008

Maou eps 4-11 aka I can't get Shiori out of my head!

Maou is good, there's no denying it. Kept me on the edge of my seat for 11 episodes. What more could I ask for? It is a dorama filled with multiple and facets to the story, albeit a lot of it is not really explored in depth. There's the concept of identity. Ryo is similar to Batman, due to tragedy he has dedicated his whole life to vengeance. Ultimately, he is not sure which is the mask, Ryo or Ohno? Vengeance has consumed his life that there is no existence of self. There is only purpose.

It is purpose that keeps him alive. Gives him the will to continue on. His feelings of anger have fueled his purpose for 11 years. Everything that he has done has been for the purpose of revenge. There are no personal needs and desires. Ryo's room is sparse, barely furnish. It is merely a front for his real home. His darkroom where he plans and plots his revenge. His life ended on that fateful day 11 years ago. Revenge is only serves to prolong his existence.

Naoto is the other side of the coin. Like Ryo, his life ended 11 years ago. He changed his ways and lives his life to atone for his mistakes. His life is no longer his. Because he never payed the price of his crime, he has to do so for the rest of his life. He is unable to forgive himself and is unable to receive forgiveness to free himself. He is more than aware of man's inability to run from his own past.

As I have said, I had a great time watching this show. The question now is, how good is Maou and is it good enough to go into my top 10? The crux of this show is of course, graying the lines because good and evil. Asking the question at what price should vengeance be sought. Therein lies my main problem with Maou. Ryo concocted this radical plan of revenge. Unlike most plans of vengeance, it doesn't require him to do the dirty deed.

Rather, he promotes situations where an incident causing another's death is probably. He takes problematic relationships and accelerates the conflict. Ryo does not force people to kill. Sure he increases the chances of certain things happening but nothing is guaranteed. His plans can so easily go another direction. There are many variables when participants do not know the objective and the chances of things turning the way they did are really rare.

Ryo did not hold a gun to people's head and told them to pull the trigger. He is a cause but not THE cause. Contributing cause maybe but not for murder or even manslaughter or even conspiracy to murder. Intention to see someone dead is not a crime. Ryo did not hire a hitman to take the victims out.

Take for example, the death of Naoto's father. His heart was weak. He would have gone sooner or later. If some corporation bought over his company and caused him stress leading to a heart attack, is the corporation guilty as well? Naoto's father died of because of a heart attack, not because Ryo wanted him dead. Or even Naoto's brother killing his friend. It would have most likely happened in time anyway. He did not force or coerce Naoto's brother to murder. So it is with all the supposed 'crimes'.

For someone who has seen how unfair the real world is at such a young age, I would expect Ryo to be much more cynical. I would expect him to be able to rationalise his actions very easily. Instead, Ryo for some stupid reason seems to have a black and white view of things. His vengeance has nothing to do with right or wrong. It is an eye for an eye. His inability to realise this is so perplexing. For a show with so many interesting ideas, it was so dissappointing for me to see it reduced in the end to something so simple.

Maybe its just the Shiori effect. I still can't get her out of my freaking head. Maybe Ryo got infected by her innocent sense of morality. He thinks he is evil because she does. It sorta makes sense but ffs, he had 11 fucking years to plan and rationalise and he becomes a fucking mess because of Shiori. Is her disapprovement so great that it completely overpowers Ryo's cynicism? Like when Naoto's father claimed it was an accident. Hello, how can you so easily believe him? A father will say anything to save his son. Why the sense of bewilderment?

Then again, perhaps we need to go back to the final scene with Ryo's sister. 11 years of guilt caught up with him and made him an emotional mess. Again, I refuse to accept why he could not have easily rationalise his actions. If he had not become Ryo, the sister would not be where she was. End of story. Sure anyone would feel guilty for 11 years of deception but goddamit she's better off because of it! I'm pretty sure Ryo visited her every week not just to keep up appearances. :)

I guess, my pet peeve against this show can negated by seeing the theme of this show as guilt. After all, it was what the ending was all about. Maou is not a show about revenge but how guilt can swallow someone. The fact that both got consumed by their inability to escape it is probably proof that they are good. What I probably needed to see was Ryo rationalising his actions but somehow not being able to convince himself because of the guilt. Instead, every time he has doubts, he looks at the photo and tries to use anger and hatred. We can only hate people who are evil or who we don't understand. In his plan for revenge, he got too close and realised that they are flawed human beings.

Ryo lost sight of the fact that his vengeance is not because of their character but because of their deeds. Vengeance is not about hate but payback. Again, this to me is an oversimplication of the grey morality that the show could have gone deeper into. Writing all this down has made me realise that my problem with the show may not be a big of deal as I thought. Just because I would rather the show take a different path or angle doesn't mean I cannot appreciate the story the writer chooses to tell.

I guess Ryo just lost his hatred and wanted to be unchained from his bond with vengeance because of Shiori. I guess all the actions that the characters in the show take can be rationalised like how I expected Ryo should have to negate his guilt. I think I expected or wanted to see Ryo be as cynical as I am. Maybe I just wanted to see this show delve deeper on justifying vengeance and stuff on whether morals and right or wrong exist.

I like to nitpick but I'd still highly recommend this show. Its just my exitement for the show at the end was not as good as in the beginning of it. And Maou showed me that Nino is not the only Johnny who can act. I don't feel like rereading my post cause I'm afraid it won't make any sense. That's what happens when you have Shiori in your mind. :)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Manifest 08 28/9/08

Only took one cosplay photo today. Lots of very nice looking Misa cosplayers though. There was a group of girls doing cosplay of FF9 characters. Was too tired after lunch to walk all the way back to watch the cosplay competition. I had a decent haul of two figures and a pc accessory. :) On to the goodies:

Elwing was a steal for $65! Now she and Kureha can stand next to each other.

I think the Elwing looks best from this angle.

Took me a long time to decide whether to buy Princess Clalaclan but wtf, might as well make it 3 Shining Wind figures.

Her best view? Love the details on her hair and skirt but she's gonna be a dust magnet.

Finally a mousepad to rest my sore wrists on. I'm hoping it will improve my Starcraft but the head area needs to be bigger. And yes, the wrist rest are very soft but supple...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Manifest 08 27/9/08

Went to Manifest Anime Convention today. Unfortunately, all the passes were sold out for the day. Ggrrr. Should have booked it online. Oh well. See if I can wake up early tomorrow. Need to go buy some figures. With the Aussie dollar going down against the US dollar, its not so worth buying online anymore. The cosplay was pretty good, especially compared to Supernova earlier in the year. Thanks to the girls for posing for pics!

I think I saw Chi-chan in the city earlier. Should've yelled out Hibiki Pantsu!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Yasuko to Kenji ep 3-9

Masahiro Matsuoka's overacting killed this show. There is way too much overacting in jdoramas nowadays. Its the seemingly fail safe crutch. Act like an idiot, get a few laughs and hopefully no one will notice that you can't act. Except that Masahiro can act. He was excellent in Heaven Cannot Wait and you can see it in this series after Sakuraba sensei's identity is revealed. All of a sudden, he stops pulling stupid faces and screaming like a madman. His caricature of a yakuza slowly started to act more like a person than a lunatic.

Unfortunately, its way too late for Yasuko to Kenji. Tabe Mikako tried really hard to hold this show up. Too bad Kenji was so important to the storyline because everything he does is neither funny nor cool. I don't think I've even laughed while watching this show. I know I've groaned a lot at how stupid and repetitive a lot of the show is. Every episode is basically the same. Yasuko and Kenji fight, lots of unfunny incidents happen and somehow there's a fight in some abandoned warehouse somewhere.

Hirosue Ryoko is so miscast. I think they could have made it work for her if they tried to do a smarter script instead of going after the cheap laughs. And her brother in the show can't fucking act. Its so obvious that he can't even act natural in front of the camera. Seriously, I just can't believe I watched 9 episodes so far just for Hirosue Ryoko and Haruna. Some shows are just not worth it.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Maou ep 1-3

Maou is a great dorama where there are no heroes and villains. Or rather the main characters are both the hero and villain of the story. Maou is more than just a story of revenge. Its a story of moral ambiguity. It asks the eternal question of whether the end can justify the means. It ponders what justice actually is and whether the legal system represents justice. Its nothing that we've not seen before in legal shows but I've not seen it put into such a nice package before.

Must check on librarians when I go to Japan...

For me, the lack of defined good and bad guy roles is very refreshing. As I've said before, one of the main characteristics of anime/jdorama is a villain with a sad past and sometimes they are able to redeem themselves. The problem with that is of course, its the villain that makes the hero. Its the villain's job to make the hero seem like he's in danger and to draw the audience's wrath. Plus, most of the time, it just feels tacked on and usually leads to some stupid monologing. Maou turns this around and makes the 'villain' the main character. However, he has a justification for his actions and thus has the audience's sympathy.

OMG, the Liar Game secretary actually has speaking lines!

The 'hero' has a dark past connected to the villain which promotes indifference to the character. Nevertheless tha unspoken fact that he became a cop indirectly because of his past does speak of his desire for redemption. I just love it when shows don't insult the audience's intelligence and lets you pick things up between the lines. Basically the show in not really concerned about defining the good/bad roles save to creat enough empathy for both characters to encourage interest.

If girls who look like this went to church here, I'd be there every Sunday..

This show is about the cat and mouse game between the lawyer and the cop. Its about conflict, competing interests and grudges. Its about creating tension so thick that every second cannot be missed. Its like watching a football game where you're not really rooting for either team. You just want to see a great match and this is what Maou is, a game of wills and revenge between two parties. We just want to see how Maou's plan of revenge will unfold. It doesn't matter who wins as long as the game is exciting!

The fact that Maou is from a Korean drama is surprising. I thought all Korean shows were about half siblings with leukemia/cancer. What is even more surprising is that this is the first Korean adaptation I've seen that is done well. After Hotelier and My Sassy Girl adaptation I was hoping to see the end of this Korean experiment. I guess its all right to do Korean shows as long as love is not the central theme of the story.

With Maou and Gonzo, this is turning into one very excellent season. Definitely highly recommended! Not to be missed! As long as they is not really big plot hole, I think the show will be fine. Small deficiencies in logic are acceptable. After all explaining every single thing is impossible. Every show requires the audience to make certain assumptions. If the show defies one of the assumptions or takes a huge leap in logic, then it is in trouble.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shibatora eps 1-5

I want to be a cop when I grow up...

The synopsis of Shibatora has warning signs written all over it. Ijyuuin as a cop? That sounds as convincing as Aragaki Yui pretending to be a doctor. To me, Ijyuuin is like those Kinki Kids. Girls may go crazy over their baby faces but they'll never be good actors are rather, a dorama will never be good because of them. Their performance will usually be decent but mundane. Basically Ijyuuin is destined to be pigeon holed into certain roles which isn't so bad except he'll never rise above mediocrity.

I wonder why all fights in Japan seem to be in warehouses and the people seem to magically know when and where they will occur.

I'm surprised that Fujiki Naohito is playing the supporting role this time, though he seems very uninspired. Maybe I've underestimated Iyuiin's star power? There is only one reason who I started watching this show, and that is Ohgo Suzuka who most d-addicts will remember from Sexy Voice and Robo. I always get mixed emotions when I watch her acting. Clearly, she is very fucking good. She's got that natural screen presence that many people would kill for. At the same time, there's the 'I can't believe she's that freaking young' guilt trip of enjoying her acting too much. She's got so much potential that its as if she could convince me her character were older than Aragaki Yui if she wanted to.

Only reason to watch Shibatora!

Surprisingly, the first episode is pretty good. We've got kidnapping, prostitution, abuse and murder all in one episode! Yes, anyone could see the twist a mile away but it was still executed well. Ep 1 proves that as long as Ohgo Suzuka has a meaty role, it'll be a good show. Unfortunately, as soon as her story is done in episode one, she is quickly relegated to supporting actress who is in the background and we get to the main and boring part of the series with Ijyuuin going undercover.

Shibatora descended into an almost unwatchable mess. I fucking hate all those teenagers crying, 'I don't trust adults' bullcrap. Anyone who says that should be thrown out of their house give $500 in pocket to fend for themselves and lets see how they like working for a living. The don't trust adult storyline is the most overused cliche in jdoramas and anime that its become a parody of itself. To make matters worse, a lot of the threats and dangers are really stupid. The whole Shinigami thing is so laughably bad and inconsistent.

No idea whyMinami Akina gets billing in the intro cause she does nothing in this show, except make me drool....

Like how the class could have taken on Shinigami's goons or how Ijyuiin was crazy enough to feel crazy for Shinigami for commiting attempted murder. I was ready to murder Ijyuiin right then for his idiocy. Maybe I should kill the script writer instead. Things take a turn for the better in ep 5 when we get to the main story. There's a more real and definitely more personal threat. Whether the writer can stretch it over 6 episodes remains to be seen.

Can't fucking believe she's not 18!!!

I would not touch this show without Ohgo Suzuka. So unless you've seen Sexy Voice, avoid this show. And be very careful of the beginning of ep 5. There's a scene that could turn you blind.

Proof Japan is truly the blessed country...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Gonzo: Densetsu no Keiji eps 5-7

Gonzo is so fucking good. I expressed my worry that leaving the investigation of the murder weapon so late at ep 5 would leave a gaping hole and the writers took that issue, turned it around and made an interesting tale about the murder weapon. While ep 5 had many jdorama cliches such as pride in one's occupation, fondness for post war Japan and misguided pride, it managed to present the story in such a way as to fit the main story of the hunt for Monami's killer. Not to mention giving the viewer's a glimpse of Gonzo's mental health and his past.

Kono sekai ni, ai ga aru no?

Ep 6 brings us our main suspect while giving hints into Sakuma and Gonzo's past. I was very worried when the raid on the suspect had like a small army. I had flashbacks to Koshonin which tried to compensate for its horrible 'action scenes' by having tons of police. Deployment of small armies to take down one person is not cool. Its a waste of time and resources. Tactical teams are suppose to be small. The hundreds of cops/SIT etc always end up doing nothing anyway.

Wow, Ikewaki Chizuru has grown since Taiyo no Kisetsu. She has really big eyes.

Good thing the real tension is between Gonzo and Sakuma. Sakuma's hatred is so fucking deep that the viewer cannot help but be intrigued by Sakuma's obssesive spitefulness. Ep 6 ends with a great cliffhanger that really made me wish I had waited for the whole series to finish before watching.

This isn't what it looks like.... or is it? :)

The writers decided that ep 7 was the right time for a flashback ep on Gonzo's past and what a great episode it is. Ikewaki Chizuru damn near steals the show as Saeki Kyoko, a woman who has deep ties to Gonzo's past. Its great seeing her in jdoramas again. The last show I saw her in was Taiyo no Kisetsu years ago. Her acting in Josee, the Tiger and the Fish really made her a good actress in my book. For such a pivotal but short role, I'm glad they got an actress of her calibre.

Gonzo in his moment of weakness...

I love seeing Gonzo before his fall. He is proud and reckless, seemingly believing himself invincible, that he can do no wrong. He treats Sakuma without respect, a minion to do his bidding and follow his whim. Still it hard to comprehend Sakuma's resentment. He doesn't show much emotion. Perhaps he is one of those quite ones who hold grudges and anger in until one day it explodes? However, it seems that his plan of vengeance is more cold hearted than one of emotion.

I love that Gonzo is imperfect. I love that he is faced with tough decisions in ep 7. I love that he is faced with a chance to right a wrong that he did in the past. Its obvious from his face when he found out who Kyoko is that it was something that has been eating him from the inside. Something that he had forgotten about but would perhaps present itself as an unidentifiable itch. I love how they finally explain what 'konno sekai ni, ai wa aru no' is all about. It didn't need to be a great twist, only to make good sense like pieces of a puzzle coming together.

Of course, it all ends in another cliffhanger while makes me so tempted to watch the next episode raw. Gonzo so far has met and exeeded my exspectations. It is a fucking crime that the ratings are lower than the piece of crap show Koshonin. Someone manages to write a good crime/mystery dorama and people would rather watch a pathetic excuse for a cop show starring Yonekura Ryoko? Can't the Japanese public watch a show because its good, not because it has Johnny's?

How good this show is going to be hinges so much on the ending. Especially Sakuma's hatred for Gonzo. How much influence has he had in the events in Gonzo's life? hhmm. Yes, there will be monologuing but as long as the writers try to keep it short and not allow the character to wallow in self pity like 99% of jdoramas it'll be fine. If there's one show to check out this season, its Gonzo!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Thai movie review: Chocolate

When Ong Bak came out, it was a breath of fresh air. At that time there were too many movies with wire work and non contact kung fu. Basically any actor could be in an action movie and look decent. It seems as though the old days of Jackie Chan doing his own stunts are gone. Tony Jaa showed the world that what Jacky used to do can be taken to the next level with his own brand of acrobatic Muay Tai. He did incredible stunts without wires and slow motion was used to show that the hits made contact. The succesor to Jacky Chan was here and it looked like action movies were entering a new era.

If you want to see badass Abe Hiroshi, this is the film for you..

Tom Yum Goon, the second movie was kinda disappointing but I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say, the director tried to push the envelope without realising that less is more. Then I saw Bourne Ultimatum and my opinion of what action movies should be was changed. No more stupid 1 vs 100 fights. No more idiots running around asking to get hit. Bourne redefined action as a form of storytelling, not an acrobatic dance just to build up to bullet time/slow mo/fake climax. It showed that action in movies need not be spectacular but rather make sense and have the right mix of realism and danger.

Tiger Knee!

Still, I looked forward to Chocolate. Yes, Abe Hiroshi is in it but but I really wanted to see what Jeeja Yanin, the main actress could do. First thing to note is of course, her blows don't look as powerful as Tony Jaa's nor is she as athletic. That's a given. At times, it felt like a toned down version of Ong Bak. Yes, enemies do run at her arms akimbo asking to be kicked in the face but the real reason to watch are the stunts. There's something gratifying about watching performers put their bodies in harms way for one's satisfaction. Sorta like how Mick Foley nearly destroyed his body during his wrestling career. The more injuries and risks a performer takes, the more inclined we are to cheer for him/her.

Yes, this movie is a glorified stunt-fest. I think the director learned his lesson from Tom Yum Goon and made the story facilitate the action scenes instead of drowning it out. Yes, the acting is bad but I've seen worse. Besides who judges an action film on acting? There are actually quite a few stunts in the movie which are super cringe worthy. A few stunts are too obviously wire stunts which was disappointing.

If there is one main complaint, its that she fights way too many henchmen. Its not as boring as the bone breaking sequence in Tom Yum Goon but some parts to get repetitive. There's less of a psychology to the action and its more a spot fest to borrow another wrestling term. In other words tons of enemies means lack of narrative in the fighting and more like how many different moves can one showcase? The only one on one battle was a spectacular fight with a capoera dude. I think villains in movies should limit their henchmen to single digits and make sure they can't be taken out in one blow.

I was worried about Abe Hiroshi's role and was afraid it would be a small cameo. Luckily he appears in the end and manages to kick ass. I've always wanted to see him do some action. (Sword of Alexander doesn't count) Abe playing Kill Bill and the vicious stunts are good enough for me to enjoy the movie though I have to say his English is horrible! The last action sequence is just so brutal. And the ending just makes me hope they do Chocolate 2 set in Japan. Just make sure to watch the credits!