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Rate the Last TV You've Seen #8

RachM

I'm busy. I'm brooding.
Joined
Nov 8, 2017
Messages
1,468
Location
Australia
Avatar: The Last Airbender - 8/10

I really enjoyed this series! It was very well-written, with nuanced characters and some surprisingly dark themes and scenes. A few too many filler episodes, but overall a solid series, I definitely understand the hype surrounding it.
 

Oromous

Socially Awkward
Joined
Aug 16, 2020
Messages
643
Age
30
Location
Singapore
Sineya
And here it is at last, the four reviews I've poured sweat and blood (actually just sweat) to write over the past four days (or was it three?). Let's not do that again any time soon. 😆

Note that these are incredibly lengthy reviews, so feel free to jump to the review of the show you're interested in.

The X-Files Season 5 Review
Think back to the fall of ’97. The X-Files was at the top of its game. A serial that changed the face of television forever, bringing TV sci-fi drama to new heights. A movie was even coming up due to its success and most of its production was completed. Things couldn’t have been better for the peak of the series. Right?

Back in season 4, when the X-Files movie, “Fight the Future” was being written and filmed, there was a lot of scheduling conflicts that have occurred for both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Furthermore, Chris Carter was torn between three different commitments: X-Files the series, Fight the Future, and his other baby, Millennium starring Lance Henriksen. This resulted in some drastic spikes in quality, with the season rising and falling in its inconsistency.

The production of season 5, by contrast, was a lot more relaxed.


“Fight the Future” had been written and filmed, and with the second season of Millennium handed over to Glen Morgan and James Wong, Chris was free to turn his focus back on the X-Files. But there was one little snag: “Fight the Future” had been written. The series couldn’t proceed with any plotlines that might disrupt the consistency of the canon in the upcoming movie.

The flip-side to this problem was that it allowed Chris and his writers the freedom to try out ambitious ideas for the series, leading season 5 to be quite possibly the most experimental season yet. While on the one hand, all “mythology” episodes would have to be self-contained and not have any significant impact for the rest of the season, on the other hand, you get fun episodes like “The Post-Modern Prometheus” (a tribute to James Whale filmmaking and Frankenstein) and “Kill Switch” (a William Gibson special, the father of cyberpunk and inventor of the term, “cyberspace”). It’s even host to a Stephen King script (“Chinga”), albeit leading to a somewhat disappointing and conventional monster-of-the-week storyline that didn’t meet the heightened expectations of “master of horror Stephen King writes The X-Files!”

Nevertheless, the fact that the TV series had reached the point where it’s successful enough to hire a talent like King speaks volumes about how far it had come. Alongside many other ’90s cult favorites like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Simpsons”, The X-Files was basking in its glory days as a sensational icon of television.


Of course, it’s not all fun and games down in paradise. There were times when the restraints of the movie lead to some very contrived writing in service of returning things to status quo. For example, Mulder’s newfound skepticism of his long-held belief in the supernatural proved to be not only short-lived, but arbitrary. In spite of harboring the belief that the existence of aliens was part of the government’s artifice, Mulder would constantly believe in other forms of the supernatural, be it invisible conquistadors (“Detour”) or even killer trees (“Schizogeny”). It could be argued that Mulder’s skepticism merely extended to aliens alone, but the portrayal of his new cynical attitude could also be inconsistent at times (Mulder complaining about being “monster boy” sent off to nonsensical assignments involving the supernatural during “Folie à Deux”).

There were a few other occurrences where the writers wanted to have their cake and eat it too, balancing the tightrope of keeping the lore intact for the movie while injecting potential character developments that would ultimately lead back to the status quo. The most evident of these developments was Scully’s supposed daughter, Emily, who had to be killed off because the movie wasn’t written with such a context in Scully’s character. It’s not just mean-spirited to Scully, but also led to one of the most lackluster and problematic portrayal of the character in the episode, “Emily”, where she stood around looking sad (in almost every single scene) as Mulder got to run around chasing the bad guy.


It really doesn’t help that since season 4, Scully had been written into a more traditional female role that was the opposite of what made her character so exciting in the first place: a smart, independent, no nonsense professional who could stand on equal grounds with Mulder. Instead, most of her character’s essence in season 5 boils down to her desires to be a mother, which is itself a clichéd stereotype of female roles in life. There’s nothing wrong with writing characters in appropriate gender roles like a muscle-bound male character such as Rambo, just as there’s nothing inherently wrong with a woman desiring children, especially after becoming infertile. But it’s the way that such a refreshing character was reduced to an archetype that feels like regression.

This cliché is aggravated by Mulder’s conspicuously masculine role as the action guy who gets most of the action-packed scenes full of gunfire and door-pounding. If Scully’s maternal portrayal hadn’t been accompanied by Mulder’s aggressive and dominant portrayal, her desires to be a mother wouldn’t have stood out as much. Furthermore, there were subtle hints in the episode, “Christmas Carol”, that Scully was to blame for choosing the path of a career woman, for associating with Mulder and all the nonsense that ultimately led to her infertility in the first place, as if her choices to stray away from being a traditional woman seeking motherhood was the wrong decision all along. It doesn’t help that Scully might have even been inspired by similar ’90s female characters like Clarice Starling, another intelligent and self-confident woman who wouldn’t let something so clichéd dictate her lot in life.

But like most of season 5’s faults, it’s still a relatively small problem compensated by the greatness and novelty of most episodes.


For one thing, we get a nice flashback episode to The Lone Gunmen in “Unusual Suspects”, which explores how the trio came together and how they met Mulder. As an example of how the writers creatively utilized the problematic nature of the movie schedule getting in the way, this episode only came about because of Gillian’s absence filming the movie.

For another, we get clever self-aware critique on the age of the show. “The Post-Modern Prometheus” isn’t just a great tribute to Frankenstein and James Whale monster movies, but also an allegory for Chris’ concerns about his creation (The X-Files) going beyond his control. As stated, Chris had planned to end the series at five seasons, but Fox wouldn’t consider the notion of killing off such a healthy cash cow, and so the series dragged on ‘till its zombified years. Similarly, “Kitsunegari”, an episode about the return of “Pusher” (Robert Patrick Modell) was a play on the uninspired horror movie sequels that don’t feel quite have the same impact as the original. It even invoked the classic horror trope of the villain’s family member being involved in the new killings.

Most episodes, however, seem content on playing around with the relationship dynamic between Mulder and Scully beyond just reversing the skeptic/believer role that’s most evident in “Patient X” and “The Red and the Black”. “Bad Blood”, for example, is a fun little episode with a nonlinear structure and two unreliable flashbacks from Mulder and Scully, exploring the various frustrations the two have towards one another and how they view their partner and themselves. Later on, “Folie à Deux” reconciled their differences by showing how devoted Scully can be towards her partner’s earnest search for the truth while at the same time become influenced by the madness that he sees.


But the one recurring theme that remained consistent throughout the season is the subject of children and parental relationships. “Christmas Carol”/”Emily” focus on the eponymous young girl who could very well be Scully’s daughter; “Schizogeny” is about a troubled teen accused of murdering his step-father; “Chinga” tells a tale of another young girl who might possess psychic powers; “All Souls” features four handicapped girls being hunted down by an incarnation of the Devil himself; “The End” has another kid who’s a psychic and a prodigy chess player; “Patient X” spends a good amount of time devoted to Agent Jeffrey Spender and his own frustrations with his supposedly delusional mother; “Travelers” is a flashback episode involving Mulder’s father; “Mind’s Eye” deals with a blind woman trying to rid herself of her father’s sins, and so on and so forth. Such a consistent throughline might have to do with the fact that Chris had taken on an entirely new crew of writers for the series, but the fact that they knew what they were building up to (the movie) also helped keep everyone on the same page.

The theme of children-parent relationships would also remain consistent with the larger overarching theme of the series, the sins of the father passing down to the son. Aside from being a ’90s TV show dealing with the potential corruption of the American government in the ’70s passing down its crimes to the later generations in the ’90s, there’s also Mulder’s father whose involvement in the conspiracies against the American people would ultimately affect his own children, both Fox and Samantha. More than just a supernatural drama with spooky monsters and aliens, The X-Files was also about the more personal themes like these and how the government’s cover-ups and schemes, justified by the “greater good,” would affect the very lives of its people (as seen in “The Pine Bluff Variant” and the CIA testing bioweapons on fellow citizens). It’s the reason why the series has gained such a cult following and heated debates about government conspiracies like the eavesdropping of fellow Americans, something that’s been more fact than fiction since the days of MLK.


But with The X-Files coming to the midpoint of its entire run, it’s also where cracks started to show in Chris’ capability to hold the mythology of the series together at Fox’s behest, such as his introduction of the notorious Diana Fowley.

Fans of the show would come to loathe that name due to her interference with the Mulder and Scully relationship, but she’s also responsible for turning Scully into an uncharacteristic jealous lover, another character cliché even Gillian, for all her marvelous talents, had trouble keeping interesting for the following seasons. Diana’s existence served no grander purpose other than to give Mulder a partner who shares his belief of the supernatural, and yet her introduction felt like the heavy-handed forcefulness that would come to define the ridiculous contrivance present in the rest of the mytharc. She was introduced as a fellow FBI agent who supposedly worked together with Mulder during his early years working the X-Files. It’s the kind of dumb plot convenience that would come to ruin many TV series, such as the likes of “Once Upon A Time” and “Dexter”.

In fact, the very season finale itself, “The End”, was chock-full of plot conveniences to tie together the plot threads needed for the coming of the movie and the rest of the series, conveniently bringing back the Cigarette Smoking Man (from his hideout in Canada) for this episode’s assignment due to vague reasons unknown, conveniently inserting Diana the paranormal expert in an FBI meeting prior to the revelation that their assignment was related to the paranormal, conveniently having the CSM burning down the X-Files only at this point of the series just to serve the greater plot that’s the movie, where Mulder and Scully are split up (a plot that’s been played out in the season 1 finale, “The Erlenmeyer Flask”). That’s a whole lot of conveniences enough to fill a barrel. And that’s not even considering what ultimately happened to the CSM between season 9 and the X-Files revival!


Regardless of its flaws, season 5 of The X-Files is an interesting examination of a TV production that’s building up towards a movie. It shows us what kind of serialized storytelling the series was supposed to be, how it had more freedom to explore beyond such a restrictive format when given the opportunity, and the resulting rewards and consequences from such freedom.

Season 5 is an ambitious moment in the series’ lifespan. It would solidify its status as the peak of TV storytelling for years to come long before that spark is completely snuffed out in the later seasons.

Final Rating: 8/10

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Millennium Season 2 Review
A few weeks back, while attempting to watch The X-Files season 5, I found out that there was a crossover episode in season 7 between X-Files and another show Chris Carter had created, Millennium. Being the OCD that I am, I was forced to abandon my viewing of X-Files for the moment and catch up with this intriguing series about a criminal investigator, Frank Black (played by the magnificent Lance Henriksen), who could see into criminal minds. But it was more than that that got me into watching, as I’m extremely picky about the shows I watch. I also saw the opening to Millennium’s documentary, “Millennium After the Millennium”, where they talked about how revolutionary the series was at the time, containing such a dark and violent vibe before the likes of “True Detective” and “Criminal Minds”. And I do love my dark shows.

When I finally finished season 1, I was satisfied by my experience because it wasn’t just about featuring different flavors of serial killers every week, but also the study of evil, its nature, and how it comes about in a person. I was stoked to watch season 2 and see more of the same.

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t among the few who was initially disappointed by what I saw. Even the crew and writers of season 2 were shocked to see how the new showrunners, Glen Morgan and James Wong (director/producer of the 2000 film, “Final Destination” no less), had hijacked the grounded crime thriller and turned it into a supernatural thriller far more obsessed with the apocalypticism that was subtly hinted at in the first season. Henriksen himself was even livid after reading one of Darin Morgan’s scripts. “Darin, is this what you do? Take something you really like and respect and then absolutely trash it?” Tensions were high among both the crew and the viewers.

But we were wrong. Boy, were we wrong.


It’s no exaggeration to say that Morgan and Wong sought to tear apart just about everything that made season 1 of Millennium appealing, namely the unique serial killers that dotted the entire season. Likewise, it’s no exaggeration to say that season 2 was one of the most ambitious television phenomenon that was overlooked. In spite of how much I liked the first season, I gradually come to realize something: it was sensationalizing serial killers. Much like the many procedural crime drama like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”, it was setting up evil itself as this mystical force that only exists in the criminally depraved and those with abusive upbringing, when we know very well in our tumultuous times today that it’s far from the truth. As evident in season 2, evil could also come in the form of apathy, and more often than not, evil is banal and mundane.

There’s a more solemn and somber tone to the second season as it patiently examines what “good” and “evil” really mean in the context of humanity. Immediately from the first episode, “The Beginning and the End”, the protagonist Frank Black is tainted with the crime of murdering a killer while protecting his wife and daughter, Catherine and Jordan Black. In doing so, he has lost that moral certitude that made hm so inspiring in the first season. In fact, season 2 even goes further to humanize Frank with traits of anger, humor, and even selfishness by the last episode.

Then beginning from episode 2, “Beware of the Dog”, everything changed and the usual “serial killer of the week” format was beginning to be deconstructed. The killer this time wasn’t even human; it was killer dogs. And even then, there was this moral ambiguity about which side represents good and evil. A new recurring character introduced in this episode simply known as “The Old Man” (played by R. G. Armstrong) dispels in Frank the simple notions of good vs. evil, that more often than not, humanity is about protecting yourself and your loved ones from external threats. “The Curse of Frank Black” is a Halloween episode that features a spirit messenger who implies that even the heavens would like Frank to step aside from confronting the coming evils looming over the horizon. “Goodbye Charlie” portrays someone suspected of euthanizing unwilling victims facing terminal illnesses. That once comfortable notion of morality in season 1 became a lot more cynical and murkier in season 2.


In fact, after the first five episodes, just about every single episode after is worthy of an essay examining its themes and unique structure. “19:19” implies that God would’ve killed a bunch of children with a tornado if it wasn’t for the actions of a delusional criminal who kidnapped them claiming that he predicted the looming danger. “Midnight of the Century” is a Christmas episode that isn’t about any killers or antagonists (much like a number of episodes in season 2), but is instead about Jordan inheriting Frank’s ability to bear prophetic visions. It’s also about Frank reconciling with his estranged father, whom an angel prophesized would pass in the coming year. “Luminary”, one of the most unique episodes in the season, deals with the spiritual theme of abandoning the materialistic urban world to seek out the solitude of nature, referencing the fate of Chris McCandless two years after (the book) “Into the Wild” was released. Like I said, almost every episode is an ambitious narrative that’s unprecedented in primetime TV shows. Watching this season often felt like an adventure into the unknown, never knowing how Morgan and Wong would amaze me come next episode.

But arguably, the most impressive piece of writing lies with its feminist themes. In the ’90s where dated racial and gender stereotypes were abound, one of the few shows that stood out as a “feminist show” was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Much like its creator, Joss Whedon, the writers of Millennium season 2 were also often referred to as feminist writers. This is shown in a number of episodes involving Catherine Black, but the most notable example is “In Arcadia Ego”, a well-crafted episode that features a very realistic portrayal of lesbians who are not the voluptuous supermodel stereotypes often associated with lesbians on TV. Instead, one of them (Sonny) was a weighty type whom the male characters of the show often described as “might as well be a man.”

And yet, the portrayal of this couple was filled with innocence, love, and ultimately, tragedy. While it is rather heavy-handed in its portrayal of misogynistic men ready to hunt down a couple of lesbian convicts (one of whom, Janette, was even raped by a prison guard in her sleep), it remains impressive in its endeavor to showcase the kind of abuse female inmates indeed do face in real life. Furthermore, Janette was with child, and the couple believed that it was a virgin birth due to their ignorance of the horrific act inflicted upon Janette. And even after learning the fact, there was a moving scene where Janette still had faith that her pregnancy was an act of God, not man, for her to experience the miracle of birth with the woman she loves. It was hard to watch the episode without tearing up. For such a loaded script to be aired in the ’90s was an unimaginable achievement. In spite of whatever problematic connotations many episodes might bear, it’s hard to deny the courage of season 2.

And it didn’t stop there.


“Anamnesis” focuses on the gnostic texts where Mary Magdalene was depicted with far greater dignity and innocence than within the official Holy Bible. In fact, the episode itself explicitly stated that she was the wife of Jesus, and the child who is seeing angels in the episode is their child in a long-running bloodline. This was aired before Dan Brown would come to write “The Da Vinci Code” in 2003 five years later, and there would be two entire decades before a mainstream movie was made about Magdalene herself. Furthermore, a lot of the problematic and patriarchal structure of religious authorities were called into question in the episode, portraying that religion can be a tool to exert power over others. Once again, in a country where Christianity and Catholicism are the most celebrated forms of faith, this was a loaded script that was surprisingly allowed to air. Rumor has it that the board of Broadcast Standards and Practices almost didn’t approve.

Fortunately, this season’s greatest episodes aren’t usually commendable because of shocking narratives. “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me” is impressive not because of any overtly controversial theme, but because it’s an anthology episode featuring four different tales told by demons bearing a striking resemblance with the Devil. Once again, anthology episodes were not a common trait in non-anthological primetime TV (as opposed to “The Twilight Zone” and “Tales from the Crypt”). You’re either anthological or you’re not, rarely both. Similarly, the use of long-form music sequences in TV drama wouldn’t become commonplace yet (with something niched like “Twin Peaks” being a crowning exception), but episodes like “Owls”, “Roosters”, “Anamnesis” and especially the season finale, “The Time is Now”, would feature scenes with drawn-out soundtracks playing over them, with the last example almost turning the scene into a music video due to its lack of dialogue and psychedelic imagery.

But more than its unconventional practices, the second season of Millennium is about something more intimate. While the first season subtly hints at themes of apocalypticism, the second season explores it in far deeper layers to the point where it subverts the clichéd notions of apocalypse seen in ’90s movies and television shows.


As opposed to preparing the characters for some grandiose end of the world scenario full of fire and brimstones like some cheesy B-movie, Arnold’s confrontation with the embodiment of Satan in “The End of Days” for one thing (“You’re a choir boy compared to me!”), season 2 explores a lot more personal apocalypses about the end of a world, where things a person cherish — be it a community, a loved one, or a family — are deprived from that person. Something devastating like that could very well feel like the end of the world as well, which is the underlying theme season 2 is built upon. Other times, episodes like Darin Morgan’s fantastic (and hilarious) episode, “Jose Chung’s Doomsday Defense”, dismiss entirely the common perceptions of apocalypse as stories we tell ourselves to attribute significance to our birth at such a momentous part of human history. A thousand years have passed our kind before without incident; why should the following thousand be any different? Instead, the fan-favorite character from The X-Files, Jose Chung the flamboyant writer, made an appearance here in Millennium to explain that the end of the world might very well come in the form of indifference and solitude, where life is snuffed out not with a bang, but a whimper of apathy towards one another. That is a far grimmer outlook than the more flashy ideas of zombies, Satan and extraterrestrial invasions.

The devils in “Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me” suggest that humanity doesn’t need some malevolent supernatural force to damn their soul; they’re doing a fine job on their own through their pettiness, self-destruction and nihilistic existence. The first story of the anthology episode presents a serial killer fanatic who got talked by the devil (telling the tale) into following in the path of those celebrities he worshiped so much. Another story shows a lonely man going through the maddening routines of a 9-to-5 white collar job; the tale ends with him committing suicide. In the same vein, “The Time Is Now” reveals that the apocalyptic event present in the episode is of man’s own making, though specifically the Soviet Union.

Perhaps it’s due to my own cynicism of humanity and overall misanthropy, the fact that the end of the world is a product of humanity is probably my favorite theory on how we’re going out: by ultimately destroying ourselves. It leads to the introspection of our human nature and whether if the essence of evil and all its ugliness are existent within, not without. It’s decidedly a throughline in Millennium, the examination of the everyday evil we bear witness to around us. Such an ever-present subtext is also the reason why I feel such a kinship to the subject matter, particularly in its second season.


The clearest example of the season’s cutting criticism towards humanity is probably “The Mikado”, where a serial killer sets up a live stream online showing a woman bound to a chair. On the corner of the stream is a visitor counter, and once it reaches a certain amount of ticks (displayed on the wall), the killer murders her. This concept would eventually be used in the 2008 Diane Lane crime thriller, “Untraceable”. Both works place the blame on the voyeuristic stream viewers, suggesting that people can be inherently cruel, especially behind the vein of anonymity.

But morbid musings about the banality of evil and the scourge of humanity aside, something that's as equally compelling is the ending itself. The way it ends leaves very little ambiguity for how the show would continue forward, such that the producers are fumed at what Morgan and Wong had done. A lot of the crew packed up their stuff and submitted their resume to other studios because they had assumed that this would be the end of the series. It’s certainly the most ambitious move by the duo, but they have claimed that they weren’t trying to sabotage the show, that there would’ve been a way to continue the story… just not a solution that would be accepted by the studio (and perhaps the audience) at that point in television history.

The solution offered involved an entire change in genre once again, from apocalyptic thriller to post-apocalyptic drama. Morgan and Wong proposed that they saw the ending as the beginning to a world like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. That’s something that’s literally unprecedented in TV history back in the ’90s and something audiences would most likely not accept yet ‘till a decade or two down the line, when something like “The Walking Dead” would exist. But god, I love that idea, and the real tragedy here is the limitation of the TV industry at the time resulting in the showrunner duo incapable of creating that dream TV show exploring the death of humanity that would become so ever-present today. Morgan and Wong, in more ways than one, were way ahead of their time.


However, the duo’s struggles against the studio’s actions (or rather, inaction) began much earlier when Fox refused to create publicity for the show, resulting in further decline of viewership ‘till its inevitable demise by its third season. Neither Fox nor its viewers would trust in the longevity of a show as dark and controversial as Millennium, and thus another gem was forgotten among the sea of dying stars.

When it comes to the faults of the season, it’s telling that its biggest sin is the writers’ overambition. More often than not, misfires like “Sense and Antisense” and “Siren” were a result of the writers trying to do too much with the limited time and script capacity they had. The former taps into African American racial themes that were ultimately rejected and had to be rewritten, while the latter also had racial themes (involving Chinese immigrants), but they were diluted by an attempt to tie the episode to Frank’s overarching character arc through the season. “The Hand of St. Sebastian” is a muddled episode that conveniently writes off the character of Cheryl Andrews (played by C. C. H. Pounder), but further develops the character of Frank’s partner this season, Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn). Even “A Single Blade of Grass”, a troubling take on clichéd native American stereotypes, had something meaningful to say about how the apocalypse might be a product of our overzealous imagination (in spite of the fact that this is proven untrue by the season finale).

Nevertheless, for all that it has accomplished in terms of innovative storytelling, such faults are easily forgiven. They are relatively minor faults anyway compared to far more tasteless gender and racial stereotypes over in The X-Files and other ’90s TV shows. Millennium season 2 has my highest praises for offering me exactly the kind of grim and fatalistic tale that I was hoping to find upon seeing its trailer back then.

Final Rating: 8.8/10

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Beastars Season 1 Review
First impressions are important. With our limited time, it can determine whether if we watch a show or move on to another one we’re more interested in. So when a show like “Beastars” comes along having a male canine protagonist courting a female bunny deuteragonist, when it explores the similar matter of prejudice, and when it even has a lion as a mayor as well… it inevitably draws comparisons. It makes one question its novelty, and whether if it’s really worth the time to watch something presumably inspired by an American cartoon (as opposed to presenting its own unique story). It’s why it’s taken me a good while before watching it.

Fortunately, Beastars feels more like an extension of “Zootopia” than an imitation of it. In fact… it’s not even an imitation at all. Based on a manga of the same name, the author of the manga, Paru Itagaki, had actually written another series with anthropomorphic characters (titled “Beast Complex”) that was published in February 2016, around the same time as Zootopia’s Belgium Film Festival premiere. Nevertheless, Paru had made claims that her inspiration was undeniably drawn from Disney animation, particularly the traditional kind with anthropomorphic characters like “Pinocchio”, “Dumbo”, and of course, Mickey Mouse himself.

Technical similarities aside, Beastars further developed the ideas that Zootopia touched on. Being a Disney movie, there were darker elements of a carnivore/herbivore relationship that the creators of Zootopia simply couldn’t explore; Paru, on the other hand, had no such restrictions.



For starters, while the carnivores of Zootopia have learned to be civilized and co-exist with herbivores like humans do, the animals of Beastars are all very much animalistic, retaining their natural-born instincts to hunt, kill, even surrender and die. It’s an ongoing struggle for the carnivores in Beastars to suppress their urges, and it’s the nature of the herbivores to be wary of their predator counterparts. Paranoia, suspicions and prejudice would be inevitably bred from such an uncertain relationship. The animals have implemented rules and regulations to maintain order, but just as we humans would learn, nature is chaotic by its very essence. You could only impose so much order on a chaotic force.

This futility would become evident upon the very first episode of the series, where the murder of a herbivore has occurred. This wake-up call would send a ripple effect throughout the rest of the season that leads everyone into an existential crisis over their roles in life between predator and prey. Amidst this tension, another interesting nuance between the two franchise would show up: carnivores are far more prejudiced against in Beastars than Zootopia. Given a racial context, then this symbolism becomes a lot more loaded than the movie, but even without the context, it’s a fascinating examination of carnivores becoming the victim too (unlike their more devious counterparts from Disney).

But ultimately, what truly maintains the peace between the two types of animal is something far seedier, though not necessarily evil. There’s a “black market” in the world of Beastars, and animals of age — both carnivores and herbivores, in fact — are allowed entry to either satisfy their taste for meat (extracted from morgues and cemeteries) or, for the older or penniless herbivores, exchange their body parts for cash. It’s a depressing way of living, but it’s probably the best compromise in such a world where animal urges don’t simply vanish away like they do in Disneyland.


What effectively made these themes so potent, however, are the sympathetic characters witnessing these horrors in their life while struggling against the uphill battle of subduing their vilest and most repulsive urges. In a piece of online fanart, someone drew the main characters of Beastars meeting those of Zootopia. The Beastars pair describes themselves by stating, “We’re like you, but super screwed up.” I think that couldn’t have been a more perfect description of what the two main characters of Beastars are like. Both Legosi the gray wolf and Haru the dwarf rabbit are incredibly broken animals. Louis the red deer, the second deuteragonist, is an even more damaged individual.

Such a difference in characterization is probably attributed to the culture and medium they’re from. Over the past decade, I’ve noticed that anime characters have become more flawed and uncertain of themselves. There’s a sense of identity insecurity present in many anime characters, especially adolescent student characters. In contrast, American characters have normally followed the Joseph Campbell formula of having their ideals and values challenged only after they’ve set on a journey; it is usually not their default state like in modern anime.

Likewise, Legosi bears striking similarities with other male student characters from past anime. A recent trend among male anime characters is that they’re becoming more shy, insecure, and perhaps introspective. Gone are the days of muscular or even heroic men full of bravado and recklessness that would still be prevalent even as late as the 2000s. Beginning from the 2010s, however, it’s more common for male characters in anime to be more quiet and even antisocial. Legosi feels like just one of the many incarnations of such an archetype.


Similarly, modern female characters in anime have taken a more outspoken approach, unlike their more traditional Japanese women counterparts in older anime. Haru the bunny represents a trend in Japanese media where women have become more independent and critical of their community, something that’s traditionally frowned upon in Japan. In spite of being bullied and even slut-shamed, she doesn’t wait for her Prince Charming to come rescue her like the girls of Clannad (specifically Nagisa). She’s promiscuous, but not because of the simple enjoyment of sex like many mature female anime characters who proudly display their promiscuity badge; the cause is something deeper and more personal.

Being a dwarf rabbit, Haru was treated like a fragile little thing by her peers, almost to the point of infantilizing her. It wasn’t until her first sexual intercourse that she felt like she was being treated as an equal for the first time. Her partners would finally see her as a woman worth loving and embracing. This is special. Unlike the other characters of Beastars who could be slotted into one character archetype or another, Haru feels like a far more subversive take on female anime characters, familiar, yet different, not least because of her unique viewpoint on her relationship with sex.

Louis the red deer also feels like a nuanced approach to the typical popular schoolboy who walks with prestige and dignity. He might look like a solemn animal with beauty and grace, but behind it all lies a very dark background that might as well have been an allegory to child trafficking. This leads him to bearing an immense hatred for carnivores and almost a superiority complex stemming from his past vulnerability as a herbivore. He hates being the weaker animal type and would not tolerate any sign of weakness from anyone, especially himself. He’s easily the most fascinating and my favorite character in the show.


However, all these unique characteristics couldn’t have existed without the context of the story: animals struggling with their nature and identity. While Zootopia is more interested in being a prejudice allegory (with the characters easily replaced by humans), the universe of Beastars has a kind of authenticity where the characters’ prejudice, goals and wants stem from being a wild animal who has gone through millions of years of evolution to hone such problematic instincts that they are suppressing. The black market, animals accepting the notion of predator and prey, the uncontrollable urge to eat someone, the insecurity and submissiveness of a herbivore, all the nuance of these subject matters couldn’t be easily replicated with human characters, at least not in an entirely sensible way that fits our current societal context. Beastars is through and through a story about animals being animals, not just another Disney cartoon about animals acting like humans.

One of the exceptions to this is its portrayal of social norms, one that perhaps resonates deeper with its Japanese viewers, where the public image of a citizen and traditional gender roles are taken very seriously. Romance between carnivores and herbivores is strictly taboo in the anime, and Legosi who was previously considered as a relatively normal student (even if he doesn’t embrace his carnivore side) is called a weirdo for being that intimate with Haru.

This brings us to the one element of the anime I don’t really care much for: the romance.



It’s probably weird to watch a romance without any interest in romantic elements, but as you could tell from my review so far, I’m far more interested in the anime’s philosophical and societal themes than its quirky “odd couple” romance. It’s cute and heartwarming to see two flawed individuals find someone who could accept them for whom they are without judgment, but I find that it sometimes (though rarely) distracts from the more compelling subjects that made Zootopia such a phenomenon in the first place. Occasionally, the romantic moments do return to exploring the intricate animal instincts, such as Haru subconsciously placing her arm within Legosi’s jaws, but at times, I couldn’t help but feel familiarity with other similar romance anime that plays the “will they/won’t they” card in their struggle to accept their true feelings about each other. It’s tedious and generic.

What’s more bothersome is that Legosi and Haru’s romance is part of a love quadrangle, where two other animals are involved; one of whom is the majestic Louis, while the other is a female wolf named Juno that Legosi rescued from herbivore bullies. While I understand that Juno is the voice of carnivores speaking out against the prejudice from herbivores in the same way Louis is resentful against carnivores (I could see the both of them getting together in season 2), the fact that Juno immediately falls in love with Legosi after he saves her from bullies is one of the oldest tropes in Japanese animation. But I guess that’s how teenagers are like. Hormones, I guess. One could even argue that Haru too only becomes fully enamored with Legosi after he rescued her.

Louis’ part in this romance is more interesting though, as he shares the similar connection Legosi and Haru have for each other. Both sets of romance are built upon their honesty to each other about their vulnerability and individuality. Haru is the only one Louis opens his heart to instead of covering it up with his usual armor. The difference between these two romance is that Legosi is true to his feelings towards Haru, even before realizing that he’s in love with her; Louis, on the other hand, has his head muddled by his quest for power to exact revenge against all carnivores. When a significant moment occurs late in the season, Louis chooses power (and political favor) over Haru, thus expressing (albeit subconsciously) just how much she means to him. Haru senses this restraint from him even earlier on, that he displays sadness even in her embrace. Legosi, on the other hand, seems to be wholeheartedly blissful in her company, even in his abstinence from sex.



Such a complex and delicate relationship is the reason why even a romance storyline would garner so much interest from me. Even with its flaws, Beastars manages to evoke a poignant atmosphere amidst the romance. Beyond the basic tropes of romantic turmoil, there’s a much somber struggle to overcome one’s identity to attain happiness from another person. Adding on the cool jazz opening theme song that features a stop-motion representation of Legosi and Haru’s tumultuous relationship, Beastars effectively utilizes the animal characteristics of the story to their full potential, going further than Zootopia could have dreamed of (except perhaps in Zootopia 2).

With 20 volumes and 178 chapters at hand (with the anime merely adapting the manga’s first six volumes), there’s a lot of material to cover, and it’s implied that the animal war between carnivores and herbivores would only aggravate further down the line. Here’s hoping that, unlike a number of manga-adapted anime, Beastars would get to tell its full story in animation rather than meet an untimely cancellation.

Final Rating: 8.5/10

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Banana Fish Review
Trigger warning due to mentions of sexual assault, but I won’t be going into explicit details.


I’ve been ignoring everyone
I’ve been wandering around
I’ve been deceived everything
At that time
Then you appeared in front of me
Ignited my pale heart
We’ve been looking for each other from now on
Save you
- Opening lyrics to Banana Fish’s second opening theme, “Freedom” by BLUE ENCOUNT


The above lyrics pretty much sums up what Banana Fish is about: a traumatized kid meeting someone that heals his heart with love, thus leading the two of them on a quest to protect each other.

Banana Fish is not an easy anime to talk about, not least because of its mature content about rape, child trafficking, and pedophilia. In spite of its lack of blood and gore that many anime viewers mistakenly associate with “maturity,” Banana Fish can still be an uncomfortable anime to watch because it explores the effects of the trauma the characters endure. Yes, the effect of it, not the trauma itself.

Something unique about Banana Fish that separates it from similar anime about rape is that it doesn’t really show the act itself in any exploitative manner. It shows just enough for the audience to know what happened, but it’s more interested in showing the aftermath and the way horrific acts like these would change a person.


Based on an ’80s shoujo (young girls) manga of the same name written by Akimi Yoshida, the title of the name comes from the J. D. Salinger novel, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”. The usage of this title would make a lot more sense upon its ending, but for the naming of every episode, the anime has also borrowed the titles of other famous literary works by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, William Faulkner, and Salinger once again, featuring episode titles like “The Catcher in the Rye”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Islands in the Stream”, and “The Beautiful and Damned”. I tried comparing thematic similarities between the books the episodes are referencing and the episodes themselves, but I only found surface similarities that are superficial. I could be wrong though, as these allegories and symbolism could sometimes prove challenging to analyze during the first viewing.

The anime is about a young gang leader in New York named Ash Lynx who become involved in a conflict over an eponymous drug, “banana fish.” He meets a young Japanese pole vaulter named Eiji Okumura who has come to America to recuperate from his injury. Over the course of the anime, Ash comes to appreciate Eiji’s innocence from a world of violence like his home, and he would confide in him his past trauma of abuse that turned him into a cold-blooded killing machine. Eiji feels sympathies for Ash and seeks to save his soul from damnation, and Ash in return wants to protect him from the ugly world he’s familiar with.

Beyond the gun action and urban warfare, Banana Fish is a tragic but endearing tale of two kindred spirits who find a greater purpose of living than their own trauma. Even in 2018, it’s uncommon for mainstream anime to feature romantic relationships between two men, though “boys’ love” was far more common among ’80s manga. However, Yoshida has stated that Ash is not gay, and there hasn’t been any explicit evidence that Ash and Eiji share a homosexual relationship. There is a kiss in one episode, but its context is technically not a romantic one and is done out of necessity.


The anime also features other colorful characters like Shorter Wong, Ash’s closest ally prior to Eiji’s arrival; Sing Soo-Ling, a young 14 year old forced to take up the role of a gang leader in Chinatown; Lee Yut-Lung, the youngest son of the Chinese mafia; Max Lobo, a war veteran and freelance journalist who was in the same platoon as Ash’s elder brother, Griffin Callenreese; Blanca, a Kazakh assassin and former KGB responsible for training Ash into an effective killer; and last but not least, “Papa” Dino Golzine, the American mafia crime lord who bought Ash as a child, grooming him to be his right-hand man. A number of these characters turned out to be quite morally ambiguous, including Golzine, whose viciousness and threats of enslaving Ash belies his twisted love for him as a surrogate father. Yut-Lung is your basic “dark reflection” character for Ash, having endured the trauma of witnessing his mother raped and murdered as a child and growing up seeking vengeance against the perpetrators. In fact, a number of the characterizations in the anime are in relation to Ash, such as Frederick Arthur, a former member of Ash’s gang who’s jealous of Ash’s purity and perseverance in the face of trauma, or Blanca who, even during his employment with Golzine, has a soft spot for his former student and his newfound Japanese friend.

There are less significant characters that feel more like a typical boss in a video game one has to defeat, such as Eduardo Foxx who shows up in the last few episodes of the anime without much development or build-up. His existence and the gang war storyline of the anime are some of the things I’ve found to be superficial compared to the more interesting development between Ash and Eiji. In fact, during the second-half of the anime, instead of exploring the dynamics between the two and how they affect each other’s lives, the story becomes more of a tug-of-war with one party kidnapping or attacking another party’s members, becoming something of a generic crime drama that’s so ubiquitous on American television. In its defense, some parts of this gang war are utilized to develop Ash and Eiji’s character, in that Eiji is shown to be Ash’s one weak link in spite of being this overpowered and seemingly invulnerable protagonist.

And that’s another thing I’m bothered by: the super-human skills of the characters that sometimes break my suspension of disbelief, particularly Ash and Blanca. While I could buy that some of these people were specially trained armed forces armed with top-notch military tactics, the characters sometimes feel like they’re protected by plot-armor and couldn’t die until the plot allows them to. Having seen my share of military anime like “Black Lagoon” and “Jormungand” (not to mention the many, many American military media), this familiar trend of superpowered soldiers does get a little stale over time, becoming the equivalent of a Dragon Ball character who lives and dies as the plot dictates. But to be fair, characters are written realistically enough that they do still die, and if they do survive, they become overpowered by the suppressing fire of the opposite party who has a lot more guns and bullets. They don’t really utilize the kind of brilliant strategies seen in other anime like “Death Note” or “Legend of the Galactic Heroes” (with other characters often attributing their moments of brilliance to some magical talent they have), but that’s probably expecting too much from an ’80s shoujo manga.


A more minor detail that caught my attention is that, unlike the manga, the anime sometimes exclude details that would make viewers aware that a character has been raped, which undercuts Yoshida’s intention of focusing on the effects of such trauma. For example, when a certain female character was attacked, the aftermath of the assault wasn’t animated in a clear way what actually happened until she mentioned it several episodes later (unlike the manga, which actually portrayed her in her undergarment). It’s a more minor flaw because it still feels true to the spirit of the manga in its avoidance from showing such horrific acts in any exploitative manner, even if it overdoes it to the point of excluding the audience from the conversation.

The biggest controversy, however, has to be the ending, where a certain bad thing happens to a certain character whom I shall not name. A lot of fans were left confused and even infuriated by such an action, but Yoshida’s defense was, “Because he’s a murderer that deserves to be punished.” (I’m paraphrasing to avoid spoilers) It’s an odd way to write a character that way, as if it’s some sort of propaganda to impart a moral lesson on its readers, but it makes a lot of sense in the context of Japanese culture, which encourages its citizens to put up a positive image, especially towards foreigners (and presumably media that would be accessible to foreigners like Banana Fish). On an unrelated note, it’s also where the myth of Japanese politeness comes from.

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t as bothered by how the ending turned out until I found out the context behind its execution. I thought that it made a lot of sense, that the character couldn’t have easily achieved happiness because of what he went through, and his choice appropriately mirrors Salinger’s novel, calling back to the title of the show. It wouldn’t have ended any other way. I knew of that the moment I found out what the novel was about.


When it comes down to it, Yoshida wanted to tell a story of heart, something that would appeal to female audiences. She admitted so when asked about writing it for a male demographic, claiming that “boys have such simple tastes as opposed to the complex emotions of a girl.” Ironically, the anime at least would seem to be more appealing to a male demographic with its many action sequences that overshadow the more intimate moments Yoshida speaks of. A story about healing one’s heart from years of sexual trauma can be a powerful and timeless tale, especially when paired with the loving friendship between two men, something that’s exceptionally rare compared to the more naïve ideals of friendship in anime catered towards the younger male demographic (commonly referred to as “shounen anime”). Friendship is more than just about platitudes of courage or loyalty; it can be something far deeper and personal even among children. It can be two people learning to accept each other through the worst imaginable circumstances they have to endure.

Banana Fish could’ve been something more.

Final Rating: 7.8/10

And now onto Buffy S5/Angel S2! But I'll probably take a break first. lol
 

Priceless

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Fort Salem - Witches in the modern world fighting a civil war, tons of world building, though a little cliched and over long still an interesting watch 6/10
 

vznspike

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Black Thorn
I wasn't aware Marvel's typically cynical. lol But just wait 'till season 2, and especially season 3. It definitely gets more cynical from here on.
I find a lot of the characters quite cynical, but maybe, actually, probably, I'm projecting that.
 

DeadlyDuo

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Gotham

Set before Batman becomes Batman.

I'm currently watching Season 3 as I haven't seen it yet. Season 1 tried to take a more grounded approach but when that didn't work out, the writers fully embraced the comic book element and stopped taking themselves so seriously and the show is so much better for it.

Decent entertainment to spend time on.

8.5/10
 

Mr Trick

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Umbrella Academy Season 2 - 7/10

Hit and miss overall, but if you enjoyed the first season there's still plenty to enjoy. It gets better once all the main characters are together again. Alison's plot was the best of the subplots.
 
Fuffy Baith
Fuffy Baith
I'm really enjoying season 2 more than 1. Everyone was too depressing in season 1.

Oromous

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Sineya
Hozuki's Coolheadedness, Season 1
There was a time when both anime and manga were niched forms of entertainment, even in Japan. That changed over the past two decades and anime have since incorporated much more universal themes and even western or American styles that would appeal to non-Japanese viewers. However, there are still one or two anime and manga out there that are more appealing to Japanese viewers because of their historical references, such as "Hozuki's Coolheadedness", a slice of life comedy about the eponymous aide to the King of Hell and the many other colorful employees working their 9-to-5 in the underworld.

Unlike a comedy like "Gintama" or "Nichijou", Hozuki's Coolheadedness' form of humor is more low-key and dry, kinda like if "The Office" or "Dilbert" were set in Hell. However, I found that most of its humor doesn't work for me because it often makes fun of characters extracted from traditional Japanese folk lore like the prideful Momotarō still seeking his glory days, the herbal expert Hakutaku whose real life counterpart is often worshiped as a spirit of herbalism, or the flying taxi Oboroguruma (who has a human face on the front) taken from a Japanese bestiary collecting many similarly spooky creatures from Japanese folklore. The fact that I inadvertently stumbled onto such an anime shows just how niched anime can still be in spite of their diverse genres and themes.

Oftentimes, its brand of comedy also involves the mockery of the Japanese culture like the workaholism in Japan or how bureaucratic the system in Hell is in the anime. There's a playfulness in its writing where the normal expected traits of Hell and its elements are subverted or played for laughs, such as the famous Lilith who's portrayed as an adulter that left Adam because they argued over whom should be "on top" in bed, or how the European Hell is far more subdued than the more cruel and punishing methods of the Japanese one, with Satan himself even becoming shocked at how the residents of Hell are being punished for their sins. The anime's worldbuilding in particular is quite extensive, showing the other unusual parts of Hell you wouldn't expect like the existence of paparazzies chasing after the latest pop star idol or holding sports day events and obon festivals (Buddhist event to commemorate one's ancestors) in Hell. Evidently, this can sometimes lead to the humor being too random and not having any real point. That's usually the main trait of slice of life, I suppose, though I personally find it difficult to see the appeal of watching characters doing random things just for the fun of it.

In all fairness, Hozuki's playful parody of Hell and its punishments has a charm to it. In the final episode of the second season, for example, Hozuki breaks the fourth wall by addressing the audience, "So, what did you think of daily life in Hell? Should you find yourself here one day, in accordance with your crimes, you can rest assured I will give you the treatment you deserve." Even the opening theme of the anime feels like a corporate video promoting how fun and positive the company of "Hell" really is. The anime would often show the punishment of the sinners in a comedic light, with Hozuki flamboyantly preaching about how they should repent for their sins while the minions of Hell indulge in their own vices (be it alcoholism or adultery). To them, working in Hell is just another job.

But ultimately, Hozuki's Coolheadedness feels like an acquired taste, one which you would get more enjoyment out of if you actually grew up in Japan reading these folk tale bedtime stories. Its unique aesthetic is arguably its strongest point, bearing striking resemblance with ink wash paintings of East Asia. The humor might not always land, but its animation is often beautiful and distinctive from your run-of-the-mill anime. And yet, that's another thing that you would have greater appreciation for if you grew up in Japan where such a traditional artstyle is an essential part of their culture, even today.

Final Rating: 7.3/10

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Inuyashiki: Last Hero
Whenever people think of anime, there's an ingrained impression even today that it's full of giant robots, ninjas, pirates or other crazy and fantastical elements that are, in an oversimplified manner, "cartoonish." Even nowadays, there's a communication barrier between those who got into anime and those who didn't. There are certainly many reasons for it, and I won't patronize anyone by assuming that I understand such reasons, but more often than not, anime has impressed me on just how broad a range it has in its thematic variety. Aside from the most common mainstream anime like "One Piece" and "Naruto", there have also been poignant anime about the neutrality of nature and its cyclical life and death like "Mushishi", anime that portray mental illness in a lighthearted fashion like "Kuuchuu Buranko", or even anime about the innocence of crossdressing like "Hourou Musuko". Furthermore, each anime I mentioned has a very distinct artstyle of its own, so the reasoning of "I don't like anime artstyle" never really convinced me either.

Then there's "Inuyashiki", an anime that's the equivalent of Pixar's "Up" but far more tragic and socially relevant in its tackling of ageism issues in Japan, an anime about a superhero old man.

Based on the manga "Inuyashiki" by Hiroya Oku (creator of the popular sci-fi manga, "Gantz"), the 11 episode seinen anime (anime targeted at adult males) tells the tale of Inuyashiki Ichiro, an old man dying of stomach cancer. He has lost connection with his family and even the world at large, and he feels left behind without any meaningful purpose in life. That is until an accident caused by extraterrestrials that changed his life (and body) forever, along with another teenage kid named Shishigami Hiro. Their body is replaced with a robotic one, and both of them take a different approach to their newfound life and body; Hiro chooses to kill while Ichiro chooses to save lives.

Beyond its ageism issues on the surface, Inuyashiki is also about the human capacity for both good and evil, and how people can sometimes take for granted the life and the time that they are given. There's a very clear duality to both Ichiro and Hiro with both of their viewpoints on life practically mirroring each other. While Ichiro is forgotten by the world at large, including his own wife and children, Hiro still has friends and a family that cares very much about him, not to mention a female classmate who has a crush on him. While Ichiro remains compassionate towards a society that's cold and indifferent towards the elderly like him, Hiro feels that it's logical for someone to only care about his own loved ones and friends while remaining apathetic towards the lives of others. What's similar between them, however, is that they have both lost touch with society long before they became machines; their attempts to heal and kill people are ways that they could feel alive again in their own nihilistic existence.

I haven't read any other work of Hiroya's except his most famous work, Gantz, but it was easy to tell from both Gantz and Inuyashiki that his works are very critical of the Japanese society, or perhaps even humans as a whole and how we are becoming more cold and indifferent towards one another in the digital age. While Gantz deals with this more explicitly by exposing people's hypocrisy and prejudice, Inuyashiki seems like an antithesis to Gantz, showing the humanity that still exists within what seems to be a cruel and uncaring society on the surface. It's almost as if Hiroya was calling out on misanthropic readers who have misinterpreted his works as advocating violence for violence's sake. In fact, other than a yakuza gang that committed heinous acts of violence and assault, most characters in Inuyashiki aren't portrayed as the kind of inhumane monster that Hiro definitely is. No matter how callous or selfish people act in Inuyashiki, Hiro's senseless violence feels far more sadistic every time.

There's an especially disturbing scene in episode 2 where Hiro gradually kills off members of a family while soaking up their emotions and trauma simply to feel alive again. Unlike most violent scenes in mature anime, this particular one feels harder to watch because it's more focused on the emotional pain of the family members that Hiro feeds off of like some junkie, not to mention how the entire murder is slowly drawn out as Hiro forces the father to talk about his feelings in the moment and how he feels about the death of his wife. Needless to say, Hiro is established as a complete monster from the very start, and yet he too is later shown to have people he cares about and protects, whether it's his mother, his childhood bestfriend, Naoyuki Ando, or the girl who has a crush on him, Shion Watanabe, and her grandmother. There's still love buried somewhere beneath this monster, and it's only after his loss of these few connections to the world that he goes off the deep end and goes on a rampage against the entire humanity.

In contrast, Ichiro uses his newfound powers for the betterment of humanity by going around hospitals healing terminal patients, saving people from burning buildings and helping the homeless. While it's easy to simply classify Hiro as the villain and Ichiro the hero, that's oversimplifying these characters, as they are two people trying to find significance in a life that has become meaningless for them, in a world that they feel they no longer belong to. More than just about something shallow like good and evil, Hiroya's works have often been about the contrasting subjects of nihilism and existentialism (though not necessarily existential nihilism). Even though Ichiro actively helps people, his actions are not necessarily altruistic. Rather, much like Hiro, Ichiro admits that he does what he does to feel human, to confirm to himself that he's not just a machine after the alien reconstruction, but someone who still retains empathy, kindness and that feeling of catharsis from seeing cancer patients become well again and reunite with their family happy and in peace.

Something that caught my attention was Hiro's love of manga and manga characters over people. He shows more interest in fictional characters than real people, something that's been prevalent among Japanese youths who value "virtual girlfriends" rather than going out and actually find a real partner, thereby partially contributing to the country's decline in population and birthrate. There's this pervasive feeling of disconnect between people in the anime where Hiro's mother was doxed by some kid on the Internet, or the reporters who preyed on the her after she's exposed as the mother to a serial killer, or the students who glorify Hiro as some kind of idol, discussing among themselves how sexy he is in spite of all the horrific acts he has done. Both the author Hiroya and the anime Inuyashiki tread this fine line between the apathy and compassion of people, with both Hiro and Ichirou embracing this duality of humanity. Inuyashiki doesn't paint humanity as entirely malicious or entirely loving. Instead, it tells us that there's an innate goodness in all of us, that there's potential for people to care about one another even if they sometimes need a little reminder from their elders.

Like many anime worth praising, Inuyashiki's opening and closing theme songs are noteworthy as well for their representation of the show's themes. "My Hero" by Man with a Mission is an intense battle cry signaling the two protagonists' fight for their place in life, with lyrics like "Are you losing your way, or are you lost? Where are you going? Tell me, my hero, where are you going? What do I need to end my war?" Meanwhile, "Ai Wo Oshiete Kureta Kimi E" ("To You, Who Taught Me Love") by Qaijff is a more somber and tranquil song lamenting the appreciation and love one might have wished to give their loved ones while there was still time, while they were still around, featuring lyrics like "Is there a special person in your life? They're closer to you than you think, but you probably don't see me." Both songs convey that burning need for connection people have towards the world and their loved ones, even if they're not always willing to admit.

At its core, Inuyashiki is a moving story full of heart and loneliness. There is rarely an episode that doesn't either disturb you with Hiro's violence or make you cry from seeing the people Ichiro has helped and how grateful they are for a new life, just as Ichiro has been given his. It's one of those rare spiritual journeys in anime that reflect on the more profound questions of life rather than simply entertain the viewers. Inuyashiki touches me deeply with its sincerity towards life, and while it could sometimes be heavy-handed in its preaching, it's nonetheless a unique reflection of our place in the world that I wish to see more of in the evergrowing medium of anime. If it's proven anything, it's that there can indeed be an anime out there for everyone, even the despondent elderly who have been neglected and forgotten.

Final Rating: 8.9/10
 

TriBel

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Googlebox S4 (?) (Rubbish 2/10). Jack Whitehall: Travels with my Father (more rubbish 1/10).

I didn't finish either but it's still an hour out of my life I'll never get back. I watched them because I couldn't be bothered climbing the stairs to go to bed. Sleep would have been a more productive use of my time. I should buy a flat to save myself from bad TV.
 
Priceless
Priceless
You don't like Gogglebox?!

The Bronze

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Black Thorn
Umbrella Academy Season 2 - 7/10

Hit and miss overall, but if you enjoyed the first season there's still plenty to enjoy. It gets better once all the main characters are together again. Alison's plot was the best of the subplots.
I gave up after a couple of episodes. Didn't think much of the first season but was told second was better. I'm not convinced. Just don't rate the characters.
 

Mr Trick

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I gave up after a couple of episodes. Didn't think much of the first season but was told second was better. I'm not convinced. Just don't rate the characters.
That's fair. To be honest I can't see why people are saying S2 was better. It takes at least half the season to really click into full gear and I remember the storytelling being better in S1. If you didn't like S1 this won't sell you, I did which is why this gets a pass from me. It does come down to whether you enjoy the main characters or not I think.
 

Oromous

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Sineya
That's fair. To be honest I can't see why people are saying S2 was better. It takes at least half the season to really click into full gear and I remember the storytelling being better in S1. If you didn't like S1 this won't sell you, I did which is why this gets a pass from me. It does come down to whether you enjoy the main characters or not I think.
That's a shame. I like the first season, but I did feel that it could've been self-contained, as in it could've ended there. With what happened to Vanya, having a second season to continue that storyline seems a bit redundant.
 

TriBel

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@Priceless - I used to quite like Gogglebox*. IDK, maybe I picked a poor episode but it wasn't as good as I remembered. The Mancs in it were just thick; I wanted to slap the couple from Wiltshire (Giles & Nutty?) but I quite liked the Geordie girls. On the plus side, it was better than Jack and his Daddy, which made me want to start a working-class revolution...or at least petition Australia to keep them.

*I seem to have renamed it. Maybe Googlebox and Gogglebox are two different programmes? 🤣
 
Priceless
Priceless
I've not watched any of the new series, but I usually like Giles & Nutty

Mr Trick

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That's a shame. I like the first season, but I did feel that it could've been self-contained, as in it could've ended there. With what happened to Vanya, having a second season to continue that storyline seems a bit redundant.
I'd still say watch it. If you like the first season there's still going to be plenty to enjoy with this one. The Allison subplot is really well done this season too. S3 could be when I really lose interest if they don't shake things up a bit more.
 

Oromous

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Black Jack (1993)
From an anime fan's standpoint, Osamu Tezuka is a fascinating subject of study. Even though I haven't read or seen most of his works, his name and what he has done for the anime industry evoke admiration from me in the same way names like Francis Coppola and Stanley Kubrick would fascinate a lover of American cinema.

Widely known as the "father of modern anime," the creator of (supposedly) the second anime ever created titled Astro Boy (though there has been evidence to prove that much earlier anime have existed), and also described as the "Walt Disney of anime." That last label, however, feels like a misnomer to me because of how much darker Tezuka's works tend to be. Alabaster, for example, is Tezuka's most controversial work that features a serial rapist as the protagonist. There's also Adolf, which features the one and only Nazi leader himself.

The reason I said that Tezuka is fascinating is mainly because of such heavy subjects that are present in his works. As an anime fan, I've always been more passionate about showing non-anime fans the more mature content in anime than the more mainstream and family-friendly ones, not because of some edgy and pretentious obsession of wanting to be seen as a "grown-up" or even someone with unique tastes, but because I wanted to show the depth of anime and the beauty in its storytelling range. The fact that anime itself is rooted in the works of Tezuka, "the father of modern anime," says a lot about what it could become as a medium outside the commercial market. Astro Boy, the android kid who started it all, was merely the tip of the iceberg, and even then, the seemingly innocent anime contains themes of anti-war humanism stemming from Tezuka's life experience growing up in WWII. Even as a kid, I don't think I ever bought into the idea that animation is just dumb comedy to distract children with. Ever since I watched Toy Story 2 and the many compelling Pixar productions that came after, I've held a strong belief that animation could always have something more to say about life. Tezuka's works are the representation of that depth, including the 1993 adaptation of his manga, Black Jack.

I think that when reviewing any piece of Tezuka's works, it's essential to consider his bibliography and his historical contributions as well because not only is it that many of Black Jack's themes share a connection with his other works, but they also feel like an extension to what he had to say about war and peace. Astro Boy has a closer relation to the A-bomb and WWII sentiments; Black Jack, on the other hand, has more to do with Tezuka's medical background and his deep belief in the preservation of life.

Based on the '70s Japanese comic book of the same name by Tezuka, Black Jack tells the tale of Kurō Hazama, an unlicensed doctor who will go to any extralegal measures to save a life while charging a fair sum relative to the patient's financial status (even giving a $1 IOU once to several war refugees). To say that Hazama is an unconventional hero is probably something of an understatement. In spite of his apparent altruism for his patients, he can be contrarily cynical as well, even coldly telling someone that he's free to hang himself away from his presence. Furthermore, much like the protagonist of Alabaster, his face is scarred, with half of it seeming to have been grafted with someone else's skin, a characteristic more often associated with villains or tragic figures in western cultures like Quasimodo.

Such an ambivalence in Hazama's character design feels very much in the vein of neo-noir fiction, a genre of which its style the '90s Black Jack adaptation very much emulates (as opposed to its brighter and more colorful TV series in the 2000s). Moreover, as with neo-noir fiction, the anime also features a number of femme fatales who display some level of intimacy towards Hazama (though not necessarily having that affection reciprocated). There are other neo-noir elements as well, such as its nihilistic setting and generally bleak atmosphere where the hard-boiled Hazama serves as one of the few beacons of hope. One such example of its grimness is its frequent exploration of warfare and its ensuing violence as part of the storyline. There have been at least three episodes dealing with the effects of war causing affliction on innocent victims, whether it's chemical warfare experimentations or good ol' civil war power struggles that neglect the well-being of the citizens. Hazama's outspoken resentment towards such pointless conflict caused by selfish politicians very much reflects Tezuka's body of work.

There are other elements that distinguishes the '93 Black Jack adaptation as well such as the many use of freeze frames that look like they were drawn with pastel chalk, a trademark style of director Osamu Dezaki (who started his manga and anime career working under Tezuka and would go on to direct and write Ashita no Joe). Aside from making a climactic scene look more dramatic, it also saves budget for the animation, something that the much cheaper 2004 TV adaptation later on didn't require. The '93 Black Jack, however, would probably need such budget cuts because of its higher quality music and animation details. The backgrounds are more detailed and richly colored, and it has four different unique opening and closing theme songs over 10 episodes, each a two to three minute rock ballad that reflect the show's melancholic loneliness. Such freedom of expression and high level of effort and passion are likely attributed to the fact that the '93 series is an OVA (Original Video Animation), which is a form of direct-to-video series released on VHS tapes. Unlike the American direct-to-video movies, the OVAs tend to have higher production value and allowed creators to freely incorporate mature content that they couldn't get away with in a TV production (such as the '04 Black Jack TV series). With the advent of cable TV, however, the OVAs were slowly dying out in the '90s.

One such mature content in the '93 series is also the graphic imagery of body innards. More than just a doctor, Hazama is a surgeon, and very often, the audience would witness the rather unsettling details that accompany such medical drama. However, it's not done in a exploitative or sensationalized way. Being the creation of Tezuka who had attended medical school and earned himself a license, the anime has been said to be quite accurate in its portrayal of the medical procedures, which is why I feel that its graphic scenes of surgery were necessary to showcase the details of Hazama's work. There's hardly any gratuitous blood or gore, however, only the necessary details to show which body parts Hazama is cutting open.

While often somber in tone, the anime also contains comedic moments thanks to a few recurring comic reliefs, including police lieutenant Takasugi, a criminal investigator who pesters Hazama about his lack of medical license while remaining protective of him, and Pinoko, a seemingly small child who's actually eighteen years old in age. Pinoko is undoubtedly the more controversial of the two characters due to her often questionable remarks about marrying Hazama. This is probably the only problematic aspect of the show because it's written for audiences who have read the manga and supposedly knew about Pinoko's tragic history, something that's not explained in this anime whatsoever. In 2011, however, two new episodes for the series are written using unused storyboards left behind by the late Dezaki, one of which does revisit the memories of Pinoko and her creation. While these two episodes are technically considered a part of this OVA, they are sometimes referred to as an entirely new series titled Black Jack Final. Nevertheless, western viewers without such background knowledge of the story would be reasonably confused by such a portrayal. But for what it's worth, Pinoko's maturity only extended to her speech rather than any controversial actions. Her quirkiness as an adult stuck in a child's body can be quite adorable, however, and her immaturity (despite her actual age) often ensues in hilarity that lightens the heavy mood of the series.

Pinoko's nature isn't the only fantastical element of the series either. In spite of the realistic medical procedures, there are still supernatural elements involved in many episodes, ranging from a talking tumor on one's stomach to talking trees born out of a person's body. There's even an entire episode where Hazama is transported to what looks like feudal Japan with warring samurai. However, the series is still very much a grounded medical drama that doesn't lean too much towards the unbelievable. It's interesting to note that, in spite of being a man of science, Hazama is agnostic towards the paranormal, being willing to believe that there are things in this world that science hasn't been able to explain yet.

Beyond its fascinating animation of realistic surgeries, Black Jack is an anime I'm glad to have encountered, not only because it's created by one of the most revolutionary storytellers of Japan, but also due to its unique storyline about a hardened doctor's preservation of life. Something that's been said by famed animator, Hayao Miyazaki regarding Tezuka is that he loathes the pessimism present in Tezuka's stories, pessimism that lacks any subtlety in its criticism of humanity's ugliness. Watching something like Black Jack, however, not to mention knowing that the '04 adaptation contains many cheerful elements present in the original manga, I find such a statement hard to believe. While Tezuka's stories don't shy away from the horrors of war, something that's inevitable due to his own life experiences living through WWII, you could tell from an anime like Black Jack that he's more of a humanist than a misanthrope. Hazama is fiercely protective of human life, even willing to heal soldiers who have threatened to kill him. If any of Tezuka's works might have come off as pessimistic to anyone, one should definitely check out Black Jack as it feels like the antithesis of optimism to that notion.

But more than anything else, it's just a really great medical drama.

Final Rating: 8.5/10
 
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Oromous

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 5
Season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the series at its most confident. While season 3 is usually the most consistent in quality in many series, season 5 is usually the point where the show becomes successful enough or the showrunners become knowledgeable enough to experiment with new elements in exciting and ambitious ways. Joss Whedon has reached his fifth year running his first TV series, and he's experienced enough about the identity of the series and the inner workings of a TV production to know what he can and can't do, therefore allowing him to finally introduce the Prince of Darkness (Dracula, not Ozzy) in the Buffyverse during the first episode of the season, Buffy vs. Dracula. Joss even deftly included a new recurring character in a clever way that makes it seems like she's been around all along. It involves ancient monks implanting memories in the Summers' mind and transforming a power source into a 14 year old girl named Dawn Summers (often referred to in the season as "The Key"), neither of which feels out of place in a world full of demons, zombies, ghosts and even sentient robots.

Whereas season 4 had to deal with Buffy Summers leaving high school and moving to college (with the writers figuring out what this transition means for her as a character), season 5 now has the freedom to move past all those student issues and tackle more mature issues of existentialism, mental health, terminal illnesses and death. However, it's still very much rooted in its teenage drama elements, exploring family themes and the true meaning of love. Appropriately, this means less of the schoolground backdrop and more of Summers-home (and Giles' newly acquired magic shop). It's not quite the bleak "being an adult sucks" despondency yet as we still have fun and silly episodes like The Replacement, Triangle, Crush, and I Was Made to Love You, but from what I've heard about the depressing season 6, we'll get there.

Speaking of the magic shop, aptly named "The Magic Box", it is probably one of the clearest examples of the show's focus. Much like the library in the first three seasons, The Magic Box serves as Buffy's new center for discussions of all things supernatural and hazardous to Sunnydale. Unlike the troubled production of season 4, season 5 has regained its concentration and has more consistency with its seasonal arc. The first three episodes are lighter in content as the writers get the momentum going with Dawn's arrival, but Buffy vs. Dracula does begin the first plotline of season 5: Buffy's exploration of her Slayer heritage. From Out of My Mind onwards, the arc really takes off by building up three other important plotlines: Riley's departure, Spike's affection for Buffy and Joyce's brain tumor. One episode later, No Place Like Home introduces a fourth plotline: the seasonal villain (or the "big bad"), Glorificus (or just 'Glory') the Hell Goddess. Rather than meandering around random monster-of-the-week episodes with no direction, most of season 5's episodes revolve around these five plotlines that gel together quite nicely thematically speaking. The big throughline connecting this season is family, but more specifically, a surrogate family.

While Riley's arc is probably the weakest part of the season, it serves its purpose (along with Joyce's arc) in reflecting the loss of relationships that just happen in adulthood beyond one's control, whether it's due to emotional disconnection between your friends and lover or cruel tragedies that literally take away your loved ones from this world. Giles too had almost returned to England in Buffy vs. Dracula if not for Buffy expressing her need for him as a mentor (and perhaps a surrogate father figure). Spike's arc, on the other hand, serves as the kind of unorthodox relationships one might find in times of grief, with the vampire eventually becoming part of the nontraditional family that's the Scoobies. Even the big bad herself plays into this theme, with Ben Wilkinson (the fleshly vessel that entraps Glory's subconsciousness) showing that just because a person is connected to you by blood or even sharing the same body, it doesn't necessarily mean you would become a tight-knit family. Dawn's character is the most evident in representing this message, being literally unrelated to Buffy by blood, and yet becoming as close to her as Joyce like a real family. Her character arc has been compared by others as a metaphor for adopted children struggling to bond with their surrogate family. Willow Rosenberg's girlfriend, Tara Maclay, also contributes significantly to this theme in Family, where her own family persecutes her for practicing witchcraft (accusing her of being a "demon"), but eventually, along with the vengeance demon Anya Jenkins, she too found a special place among the Scooby family.

Such a consistent theme focusing on things that are not directly related to the big bad unfortunately means that Glory doesn't get as much spotlight in season 5 as the previous big bads do in their respective seasons. While Angel, Spike, Faith and the Mayor have played major roles in the first three seasons as both side characters and villains, Glory, on the other hand, is often sidelined as she complains to her minions about not finding The Key. Even when she does confront Buffy mid-season, she would either underestimate her or simply couldn't be bothered about her petty existence to pose any further threat against the Summers family. This results in a pretty anticlimactic villain with the power of a goddess but the significance of a generic demon Buffy has beaten countless times. Buffy's eventual "defeat" this season isn't even directly caused by the villain, but another minor demon simply referred to as "Doc" (Joel Grey) whose actions in the season finale leads to an apocalyptic event that threatens all human life... much like the past two or five events in the series that posed similar threats. In other words, Glory is largely insignificant 'till the final stretch of the series.

In her defense, Glory's sole desire is merely to return home to her own dimension, not conquer or destroy humanity like past big bads, and a goddess with the maturity of a prissy drama queen like pre-season 3 Cordelia (minus the charm and sharp wit) and such an unconventional motivation should be an interesting concept on paper. She's more like a force of nature that wants to move on from Earth, no more malevolent than a tornado or a tsunami (albeit just as destructive), or heck, Death personified. And yet, in execution, Glory's unique traits just don't get played around with in any interesting manner. There's no ambiguity in Buffy's perception of Glory. She's just the latest obstacle in the way of humanity's lifespan that needs to be stopped. And with Glory being a goddess powerful beyond measure, the writers have to come up with these convoluted ways to ensure she doesn't kill the titular character of the series, and Buffy couldn't beat her 'till the last episode, leaving the big bad stuck in this perpetual role that's non-threatening or remotely engaging. Why didn't Buffy just use the Dagon Sphere she's had since No Place Like Home? That Chekhov's gun has been sitting there for 17 episodes! The entire threat of the big bad relies on the Scoobies not trying out what the Dagon Sphere does to her!

But perhaps it's not such a major storytelling problem. After all, the time spent ignoring Glory was focused on exploring intricate character development and relationships. The bigger focus here on the Scooby family and Joyce's tumor means that season 5 is more intimate and personal than the previous seasons. Rather than just have another grandiose bad guy to fight again or even fight against your shadow self (AKA Faith), this season spends more time exploring the more mundane, spiritual and less fantastical problems in life like the feeling of insignificance or the randomness of death. Joyce's big moment in The Body was definitely a hallmark of television drama that's rarely seen before, an episode that explores the many ways one deals with death, how one grieves and even become detached from the horrible reality. Its mature subject matter feels distinctly different from the more romantic (albeit tragic) elements of having your true love (Angel) or close friend (Faith) become your worst enemy. It's not a plotline that's unimaginable in everyday life, perhaps even hitting too close to home for some audiences. Meanwhile, Spike's twisted love for Buffy is equally amusing and fascinating, further expanding the Buffyverse universe by asking whether if a neutered vampire could feel true love without a proper soul. In spite of what some might feel about "Spuffy" as a relationship, Spike's character arc in season 5 was an essential one that deepens the vampire lore.

So while I fancy as much as the next Buffy fan a poetic battle against a supervillain like Angelus or the Mayor featuring loads of guerilla tactics and tormenting the good guys' loved ones, I don't really mind the more down-to-earth tone of season 5. Perhaps it's unbefitting for fans who expect a certain level of high-octane action that they're used to in a vampire-killing gothic drama, but season 5 marked a change in the series where it's gradually shifting towards darker and more depressing elements that one simply couldn't punch her way out of, Slayer strength or not. It's a bit of a downer surely, for a once bright and campy monster-of-the-week series (with a demon robot and a killer ventriloquist's dummy) to now thrust heavy topics of addiction and the inevitable silence of death onto its audience, and there's definitely a mood whiplash at work. But perhaps, at the risk of sounding pretentious, that's life. Whedon has always intended for Buffy (and all his shows really) to reflect life and all its facets. With Buffy, it's about growing up, and with Buffy season 5, the young bright-eyed girl has entered adulthood, where such unpleasant issues must be inevitably dealt with.

What I think most fans would come to miss about these darker elements, however, and perhaps the entirety of the following season, is that there's usually a bright spot at the end of it, even if it results in the death of your beloved characters. These stories are not necessarily about the darkness themselves, but overcoming darkness. In the season finale, The Gift, Buffy said one of the most memorable and probably one of my favorite lines of the series: "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it." I feel like the ambiguity of such a line, not fully knowing whether if Buffy was optimistic or pessimistic saying it, says a lot about the similarly ambiguous perception towards the darkness of the show. This final episode of the season is mostly viewed as tragic, even by myself, but I feel that there's light in Buffy's actions and there's strength in her integrity to do what's right in the face of Armageddon. While Buffy the Vampire Slayer might very well end up as a tragic tale too depressing to stomach, I still see the hope burning within Buffy, the hope that life could always become better, that darkness will always end with dawn.

Final Rating: 8.5/10
 

Oromous

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Angel Season 2 - 8/10
I'm not quite ready to write a full-length review yet because of my mixed feelings towards this season. There are a lot of things I like, but the execution, especially in Epiphany, really killed any satisfaction I had.

I'll try to compose my thoughts a little more and express my sentiments in the "Season 2: Your views before and now" thread. I might give a higher rating once I figure it out, but my head's a mess right now because there's a lot of things in season 2 that don't gel well in spite of what it does well.
 

RachM

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The Haunting of Bly Manor - 8/10

A really solid follow-up to Hill House, I enjoyed the hell out of the second installment in this anthology. I liked the gothic love story, the haunted house vibes and the endearing characters. Not as many scares as Hill House, but still several genuinely creepy moments and scenes throughout. Definitely worth staying up 'til 1 o'clock in the morning watching.
 

Oromous

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Black Jack Final - 7.8/10
In 2011, to commemorate the death of Osamu Dezaki, director of the 1993 Black Jack adaptation, Tezuka Productions produced two more episodes of the anime that's aptly named Black Jack Final. It embodies the moody neo-noir tone of the original anime, which means it also embodies the cynical tone of the original manga towards human nature and warfare.

The two new directors, Satoshi Kuwabara (for episode 1) and Masayoshi Nishida (episode 2) did a decent enough job paying tribute to the '93 anime. They used a similar animation style as well as the distinctive Dezaki "pastel-chalked freeze frame," albeit with sleeker 3-D animation shots included. Unfortunately, I'm not really a fan of the use of 3-D animation in anime; it's rarely done well the way Pixar does it. 3-D animation in anime, while allowing the appearance of the characters to have more depth, tends to look a lot less detailed than the hand-drawn animation of the '90s. In the case of this 2011 reboot, it seems like such is the case as well.

The first episode is good enough, exploring the backstory of Pinoko, Dr. Black Jack's pint-sized assistant that I talked about in my Black Jack review. I like it for what it is, explaining how Pinoko's strangely precocious personality at such a seemingly young age. As I mentioned before, Pinoko is an 18 year old "teratoid cystoma" (a made-up medical term for the manga), or in simple terms, a sentient tumor stitched together into human form. Yeah, I know. Anime is weird. This episode involves the female head of the Saionji family known simply as "Lady Yurie" whose body the tumor had come from. It is said that she's technically her biological twin sister, but because of the complications of a family curse where one member of twin infants would die in five years or less, Pinoko was born within Yurie's body instead.

I read that in the original manga, Yurie was supposed to be a lot more vain and cruel, treating her sentient tumor as an ugly thing that needs to be removed. It seems that the anime has changed that somehow by giving her more sympathetic backstory where she reluctantly removes her sister after interacting with an apparition of her for years, and she has to remove it in order to live on and perform some ritual to break the family curse. Appropriately enough, the ending of the episode is poignant and leaves Yurie with tears of regret for her actions. While I really like this tragic ending, the whole ancient magic ritual element of the story feels a little generic and distracting.

A lot of popular anime that has been catered towards the mainstream demographic (like Detective Conan) seems to have a tendency to use ancient Japanese folk lore as the backdrop for "special episodes" like this. The episode also spends a bit of time exploring the Saionji clan and its traditions of dancing to break the curse every decade. Coincidentally, there is an actual feudal-era Japanese aristocratic clan bearing the same name, but I couldn't find any mention of "dancing" in its Wikipedia article (though Hiyoko Saionji of the Danganronpa video game franchise does play the same role of traditional Japanese dancer as Yurie here, so go figure). Such a focus on Japanese traditions probably has a better appeal in Japan, but for me, I've always preferred the more grounded warfare-related stories in Black Jack that doesn't involve the supernatural as they are more relatable.

The second episode feels like the stronger half of the reboot for me as it once again puts the doctor in a war-torn country in South Korea named "Anryon". It's probably a made-up country as I couldn't find anything on it, but from the uniforms of the soldiers and its generals and the dictatorship of its political structure, it might as well be a substitute for North Korea. Black Jack is abducted this episode and forced to treat the dictator general of the country, one General Che Hyoku, and his glioma tumor (this show sure loves its tumors). There's a femme fatale involved in the form of Jack's bodyguard who goes by the moniker of "L" (who has abandoned her real name, Ajun), and ultimately, it leads to the kind of tragic ending fans of noir fiction should be familiar with by now. It's a familiar tale that once again, in Tezuka-fashion, displays the banality and pointlessness of war and political power struggles, but it does great justice to capture the spirit of the original stories, showing how pacifistic the brooding doctor can be even while under threat. To put this in perspective, he literally still proceeds to heal the general even after being told by L that she's gonna kill him.

In spite of neither stories being as impactful or memorable as the '93 anime, I feel that the reboot does a good job in capturing the character essence of Black Jack while revisiting those old poetic themes of tragedies and warfare so ever present in pre-2000s anime. It also serves as a nice farewell to the well-respected Dezaki and Tezuka. Definitely a sentimental piece for sure that leaves fans of the original anime and manga nostalgic.
 
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