Bakemonogatari review

Directors: Tatsuya Oishi, Akiyuki Shinbou

Writers: Yukito Kizawa, Munemasa Nakamoto

Studio: Shaft

Episodes: 15

Aired: July 3, 2009- June 25, 2010

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I’ve been especially struggling with how to start this review. I really don’t know where to begin with Bakemonogatari. It’s an anime that has been difficult to convey my thoughts on due to its sheer unique nature. I really haven’t watched anything quite like it. I can say it’s a very love it or hate it kind of anime. Either someone will think it’s a unique, visually amazing and atmospheric show with an unconventional way of telling its story, or someone will think it’s nothing more than pretentious harem garbage. I am the former person, because while not perfect, Bakemonogatari is an engrossing, unique watching experience.

Bakemonogatari is the first anime that is based on a popular series of light novels called the Monogatari series from Japan by author Nisio Isin. The anime covers the events of the novels titled Bakemonogatari. The plot is…well there really isn’t an overarching plot to this anime, just a series of episodic events that become slightly more interconnected by the end. The “plot” is that high school student and partial vampire Koyomi Araragi solves the supernatural oddities such as invisible snakes and cat spirits going on in his town amongst different girls he encounters. That’s it really. Story arcs will introduce a new girl with a spirit that is causing them problems, Araragi with the help of his semi-mentor Meme Oshino will exorcise it, and the girl will become his friend and/or admirer. The final arc has the closest to what the anime’s main antagonist will be. If you’re looking for a story with original ideas writing-wise or one with more singular focus, then you’ll be disappointed. Bakemonogatari isn’t concerned by what story it’s telling but how it tells a story.

Bakemonogatari’s biggest strength is its unique visual style and direction. The usage of color, especially red is extremely striking amongst often grey backgrounds. Nearly every scene in the anime is incredibly beautiful to look at due to scene being shot at creative angles that create a surreal atmosphere that you would expect to see in a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch film, which should be expected of Shaft’s famously unique visual style and director Akiyuki Shinbou would go on to create and direct the darkly beautiful and subversive Puella Madoka Magica. Many times, conversations between characters will be interrupted for brief seconds with stills of text from the original light novels. Flashbacks will have a film reel sound effect playing in the background, with some using live action stills. Settings will be entirely empty of people save for the main characters, as if the city is a ghost town. The surreal atmosphere is further enhanced by Bakemonogatari’s blending of genres, strange cast of characters and dialogue. Araragi, our protagonist is the most normal character in the anime, and he’s partially a vampire that can heal from any wound! The girls he aids have their own personality quirks, such as the first girl Hitagi Senjougahara being disturbingly cold and prone to threatening violence on Araragi. This is because Bakemonogatari is both an urban fantasy mystery and a busting of the harem genre. The character Senjougahara is outright called a tsundere in the anime, and she very much is one, she’s just a darkly comedic parody of one. The other girls are on the surface character types you’d see in your usual anime harem show, but are truly the archetypes given substance and depth. To top it all off, we are given an utterly beautiful soundtrack that is wide in range from as creepy, strange and mysterious as the world and characters of Bakemonogatari to surprisingly chipper and calming.

This is an extremely self aware and meta anime. It takes jabs and makes observations of itself and anime conventions as a whole. It straddles the line between endearing, and obnoxiously having its head stuck up its ass. It definitely flirts with the latter, but luckily has the sense to stay closer to the former. Nonetheless, the anime definitely has a huge amount of pretentiousness and smug satisfaction in its own admitted cleverness that can be a bit distracting. Less tolerant viewers will probably be rolling their eyes at its hubris.
Bakemonogatari’s other inescapable flaws are the cultural boundaries between its native Japanese and English speaking audiences and its story feels like you missed a previous season. This is because in the Monogatari series timeline, Bakemonogatari is not the first story for a number of these characters. Now the original light novels were published in an out of order timeline as well, so it is entirely possible that this problem is mitigated in its original format, but this creates a sense of confusion that can easily cause someone to turn away from the anime after the first episode. The former flaw is that Bakemonogatari has a great deal of wordplay that will likely go over some of the heads of a number of English speaking viewers, myself included. While there were plenty of scenes I understood the humor, I’m sure there were moments that I didn’t get which is both my fault and the anime’s.

As for voice acting, everyone does a very good job and brings their characters to life. There’s even one very humorous scene in one of the anime’s later episodes where one character proceeds to vaporize the fourth wall and use the fact they have voice actors and actresses to hilarious effect. Just watch it, the moment completely catches you off guard and is a moment of genuine cleverness.

Bakemonogatari would probably be a masterpiece if it weren’t for its own occasional arrogance, some of the humor being lost in translation, and being a bit too vague and hard to follow at times for its own good. Yet it’s also the kind of show that begs for a re-watch sometime in the future so you can see what you missed and dissect everything. It’s a hard recommendation due to its unorthodox nature and hard to penetrate story, but I would ask that you do watch it even if you find yourself disliking the very first episode. It’s an anime that dares to make its viewer confused and downright uncomfortable at times and if nothing else, you’ll certainly never forget it, love or hate it.

 

Berserk movie trilogy retrospective part 3: Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III: The Advent

Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi

Studio: Studio 4°C

Release date: February 1, 2013

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Warning: major spoilers for Berserk and discussion of graphic material

Now this is how you end a trilogy. It’s very rare that the third movie in a trilogy manages to be the best one, but what do you know, they managed to pull it off. After a disappointing start and an improved but still flawed second movie, they managed to end on a high note, albeit still with some flaws. Whatever you may say of the previous movies, you’d be hard press to call this final installment bad either as a movie or adaptation. Honestly I would argue this movie is worth watching the other two movies for, just so you aren’t lost and can have more emotional investment in the story and characters. This is what the previous films have been building up to. Griffith’s destiny is finally realized, the Hawks are permanently lost, and Guts swears revenge on Griffith for his abominable betrayal.

This is the movie the other ones have been building up to. Longtime fans were dreading it from the beginning, and new fans likely had no idea what was coming. Here is the plot and major, major spoilers. You ready?

Guts and the Band of the Hawk reunite after a year, and he and Casca end up fully expressing the growing feelings that had been building between them since the last movie. After making love, Guts is warned by an undead rider known as Skull Knight of a coming disaster that he will not be able to escape, but Guts is unable to understand what he means. Afterword, the Hawks go on a rescue operation to save Griffith from imprisonment, but arrive far too late. Griffith is broken in mind and body. His tendons are severed, his tongue has been cut out, and his face has been horrifically disfigured. He will never become the kind he has dreamed of being since he was a child. Once they escape, and the gravity of the situation becomes acknowledged by everyone, Casca says she’ll stay behind with Griffith while Guts leaves to become Griffith’s equal. Unknown to them, Griffith hears all of this, and distraught that the man he cares so much for is leaving him again, he breaks completely. He takes a carriage and runs away, but doesn’t get far before being thrown off and crippled further. He tries to commit suicide, but can’t even do that. Griffith completely sinks into despair, but as if destined by fate, finds his Behelit. When the Behelit comes into contact with his blood, it turns into a crying face, and he, Guts, Casca, and the other Hawks are teleported to a hellish dimension. Here, four demonic entities known as the Godhand reveal that this is an event called “The Eclipse” and this is Griffith’s true destiny, that he is destined to sacrifice his friend and comrades and be reborn as their fifth member. Griffith, rationalizing that he has come too far to give up, and if he doesn’t he will become the very sort of desperate survivor that he despises. After mulling it over for a brief period, he looks at Guts, admits to himself that he really did see him as more than just a soldier, and sacrifices them. The Hawks, save for Guts and Casca die and are devoured by demons in a horrific bloodbath. When only Guts and Casca remain, Griffith emerges from his cocoon as the new member of the Godhand named Femto. Femto descends to Guts’ level, orders some demons to bring Casca to him, and rapes her while forcing his best friend to watch. Guts tries to save her, costing him his left arm and right eye, but he fails. Just when all seems lost, Skull Knight arrives and saves them. Four days later, Guts awakens from being passed out from exhaustion and trauma, only to find the events of The Eclipse have driven Casca insane. Guts vows war upon demonkind to avenge his friends and Casca. The movie ends with Guts donning his iconic Black Swordsman getup, and going off to slay monsters.

Compared to the other movies, and especially The Battle for Doldrey, The Advent is much more subdued and less large in scope. The majority of the movie is spent with just the characters interacting with each other, as they come to grips with their horrible situation, and old bonds are both reforged and broken. This is easily the most emotional of the movies, and captures the human and tragic spirit of Berserk more than any other. Big thanks should go to the voice cast, who put in their best work yet. Everyone shows off impressive range, from anger, sadness, despair, happiness, the whole emotional spectrum. Jon Avner as Void, one of the members of the Godhand, is only in the film for a short while, but his appearance will leave an unforgettable impression. This is also has the best usage of music in the trilogy. Shiro Sagisu and Susumu Hirasawa once again deliver and then some, providing what I feel are some of the best musical tracks in any Berserk adaptation. The music ranges from epic, dark and grandiose for epic scenes like the horror of The Eclipse, to calm and understated during the film’s quiet moments. A perfect example is the love scene between Guts and Casca, with just a flute playing in the background.

It really is The Advent’s quiet scenes that where it truly shines for me. It’s these scenes that are the best done adaptation wise between it and the 90s anime. Casca lashing out at Guts for leaving the Hawks, thus inadvertently causing Griffith to act recklessly and cause the Hawks downfall, and Casca explaining to the Hawks that Griffith is crippled beyond repair and it will never get better for them, happens with absolutely no music playing at all. Now it’s not perfect, with some poorly handled CGI, but the voice acting, 2D, and sheer atmosphere of scenes like these that make them work so well.

Of course, how The Eclipse is handled needs to be touched on as well. It’s the most important event in the movie and in Berserk in general. It’s one of the most gory, tragic, bloody, nightmarish events I’ve ever seen in an anime or manga, and The Advent’s version of it is faithful in all ways imaginable. It is the bloodiest thing you will ever see. If you can’t handle intense gore and violence, then you shouldn’t even bother with this movie or series. One scene that is completely unique to the movie, and proves without a doubt proves the naysayers of the movies wrong in that these are bad adaptations, is Griffith’s metamorphosis into Femto. The animation style changes completely from the traditional into a painterly like style, meant to represent that Griffith is moving beyond the human plain and is becoming another being completely divorced from our senses. It’s surreal and genuinely creepy. Between this and the 1997 anime’s representation of The Eclipse, while the 97 anime follows events more closely to the events as they were drawn from the manga, The Advent better captures the violent and tragic nature of The Eclipse, and makes some new events that better serve its medium.

So what does The Advent do wrong? Well aside from the CGI still looking misplaced (though it is much better now and the focus is brought back to 2D animation), the romance between Guts and Casca doesn’t feel as strong as it did in the manga and 90s anime, due to the cuts made for time on scenes between the characters throughout the trilogy. One character moment between Guts and Casca that was left out that is especially disappointing. In the manga, after making love, Guts breaks down over being molested as a child, until Casca hugs him and says he can open his heart to her without shame. It’s one of the most emotional moments in the entire series, and this wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that in the first movie a flashback is shown of Guts being raped as a child. It’s a genuinely wasted opportunity on the part of the creative team. It also ends on yet another cliffhanger. Now it’s an ending with much more resolution than the original anime’s was, but like the original anime, we’ll never see the rest since due to diminishing financial returns, the other planned movies were cancelled.

The Advent is easily the best film in the entire trilogy and any fan of Berserk should watch it. So as a whole, how does this trilogy fare? Well it was definitely flawed, with its cutting of completely perfect plot threads and overuse of CGI, especially in the first movie. Adapting such a monumental manga like Berserk was always going to be a challenge, and adapting it to movie theaters even more so due to the time constraints they were under. And yet, there is still more good than bad here. By the third film they clearly has gotten a hang of adapting the source material, and even in the first film you can see the spirit of Berserk in it. There was clearly a lot of love and heart put into these films, and it’s a genuine tragedy that we won’t get to see more of them, especially in light of the 2016 and 2017 Berserk anime adaptations. I haven’t watched them in full but I’ve seen an episode and… well let’s just say you’re better off first watching the movies and then reading the manga, and if you want another adaptation, watch the 1997 anime. Warts and all, these movies deserved better than just getting unceremoniously cancelled.

Well this retrospective was a lot of fun. It was really interesting to look at these movies both on their own terms, and as adaptations of Berserk. I hope that anyone reading enjoyed and that I managed to at least convince one person to both check out Berserk in general and the trilogy.

Berserk movie trilogy retrospective part 2: Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey

Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi

Studio: Studio 4°C

Release date: June 23, 2012

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Warning: Major spoilers for Berserk

This a movie that is overall an improvement over the first movie, which was just average overall. Here we see a greater understanding of how to make a more competent adaptation and capture the more important qualities of Berserk, which is why as an adaptation Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey manages to deeper examine the characters of the cast and ends with the beginning of their end, and it’s also just a good movie on its own.

This movie covers the events titled “Battle for Doldrey”, the siege of an impenetrable castle that Griffith and the Band of the Hawk manage to capture and end the Hundred Years War between Midland and Chuder, and Guts leaving the Band of the Hawk to pursue his own dream to become Griffith’s equal and be seen as a true friend in his eyes, thus beginning events that would lead to Griffith’s and the Hawks’ downfall.
The most important improvement The Golden Age Arc II makes is deepening the personalities of its characters. We learn about why Casca is so devoted to Griffith, and her behavior in the previous movie begins to make more sense, as she was jealous of the attention Guts was getting from Griffith. Guts himself begins to stretch his wings more, wondering why he’s fighting in his famous internal monologue where he is slaying over a hundred enemies while wondering what his own motives are to fight. Griffith gets more explanation into his motives too, where after Doldrey has been claimed, it is revealed he slept with a pedophiliac lord in order to get funds so his men would get better equipment, and says that the only way he can repay the lives his men have given is to fulfill his dream. He then kills the nobleman so that his secret won’t get out. It doesn’t always work though, due to some events being cut from the movie such as the King of Midland trying to rape his daughter. When tortured by the king after Griffith is discovered to have slept with the princess, Griffith mocks with disgust how the king lusts for his daughter, but this scene is never followed up on nor does the movie explain the king’s lust, which the original manga did by explaining that the Princess Charlotte resembles his dead first wife. The original anime actually cut the subplot out entirely, thus avoiding any awkward scene placement. One subplot completely cut out by the film left in the anime and manga was the Queen of Midland conspiring to kill Griffith, until Griffith retaliates by kidnapping the also omitted Minister Foss’s daughter and blackmailing him into compliance. This showed Griffith, despite his likability is also utterly ruthless and will go to any lengths to fulfill his ambition. It also had Griffith asking Guts if he was a bad person, with Guts reassuring Griffith that it was all okay if he got closer to his dream.

One big change character wise as an adaptation this movie makes is the introduction of characters from later down the manga’s story. Characters named Farnese, Serpico, and Puck make cameos near and at the end of the movie, and are clearly shown to be important to newcomers due to their unique designs compared to the other extras. For longtime fans this is definitely nice fanservice, but it might be distracting to others. It doesn’t last long though so it doesn’t feel shoved down your throat.

The movie also feels much more complete this time around. While there are still scenes that are reduced to showing and not telling, such as when you’re only told Griffith slept with the lord, and not shown it like in the manga and anime, and Casca’s backstory is cut down more simply to tell her story of Griffith saving her life, it comes across as much more natural. The studio even had some clever ideas as to how to get around some of the changes they had to make, like when Guts is fighting General Bascogn of the Chuder army. In the original manga and anime, Zodd threw Guts a sword from the distance, like divine intervention in Guts’ favor to win the battle. They weren’t able to animate the scene properly, so they decided to change it to Guts thinking of a new strategy on the fly. While it’s a shame that the badass Zodd didn’t make an appearance and serve as very ominous foreshadowing of the larger powers at play in the world of Berserk, their solution was pretty decent. The movie’s cuts also create another issue when months after the Hawks have reached the height of their goals, Guts leaves to find his own dream and be seen as an equal in Griffith’s eyes. Guts tells both Casca and the other major Hawk members this in the anime and manga, but here Guts is just shown implying it to Casca. It’s an admittedly minor issue compared to the first movie’s timeline related plot hole, and I was able to fill in the blanks, but I’m sure they could’ve animated a scene of Casca telling the other Hawks Guts’ intentions.

More good news is that the balance between the CGI and 2D animation is much better in this film. Bad news is that it still isn’t quite right, and the quality of the animation styles individually are still the same. The 2D backgrounds and character models are still beautiful and the CGI animation still looks choppy and bad and can take you out of the film at major moments like the Gut’s fight in the forest and the titled Battle of Doldrey itself. And that goes for the rest of the movie too. The voice acting is still great and the music is still great. All these elements really become obvious during two scenes: the ballroom scene where Griffith and Hawks are granted nobility and Guts’ duel with Griffith. In the ballroom scene, the voice actors show off excellent range, the 2D is awe inspiring and the music is beautiful, but every time the CGI shows up it takes you right out of it. Guts’ duel with Griffith is easily my favorite scene in the film. It’s all in 2D, the only sound is the wind blowing in the air kicking up the snow. The two men are silent, we see their eyes meet each other and hear Griffith thinking “Do you want to leave this badly?… No. You’re not leaving. I won’t allow it.” They swing their swords, the dust settles, and we see Guts has won this time. Words can’t do it justice how well done this scene is. It’s another solid point in the movie’s favor as an adaptation, and just a movie I general. The aftermath is just as well done in its own right, where Griffith makes the tragic mistake of sleeping with Charlotte the princess, is caught and sentenced to be tortured for the rest of his life, the Hawks are branded traitors, and Guts is shown walking off on his own journey, unaware of what has befallen his comrades. It’s a way better cliffhanger than the previous movie’s.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II is definitely an improvement over the first film. The filmmakers clearly learned lessons from the failures of the last movie. It’s still not without its fair share of shortcomings though. The third film is where this trilogy finally got its groove on, and showed that more movies like these could’ve done the series justice.

Berserk movie trilogy retrospective part 1: Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King

Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi

Studio: Studio 4°C

Release date: February 4, 2012

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Warning: Major Spoilers for Berserk

Berserk is one of the most acclaimed manga of all time, from the mind of mangaka Kentaro Miura. It tells the story of Guts, the “Black Swordsman” and his quest for revenge on the man who betrayed him and their comrades and the woman he loves Casca, his former best friend Griffith. It is notoriously violent and dark, but also has some of the best artwork of any manga and the most emotional moments of any fictional story, with each character feeling like a real person with all the complexities and darkness that implies. It has been running since 1989, and has since been heralded as a masterpiece of storytelling, influenced other manga titles, and been adapted to both the big and small screen. The first adaptation aired in 1997 as a 25 episode long anime series, and save for the first episode, covered the manga’s famous Golden Age Arc, which told the origins of Guts and Griffith, their friendship, and falling out. While needing to tone down the graphic violence and sexual content of the manga for TV, having lackluster animation, and ending on a notorious cliffhanger that basically told readers to read the manga to find out what happens, the anime managed to capture the original’s spirit and themes of friendship, fate, and examination of the human spirit and many consider it to still be the best adaptation of Berserk to date and a masterpiece in its own right. Me personally, while I have watched a good deal of it and it holds up in many areas, it’s also shown its age in others. I am one of the people who got into Berserk through the movie trilogy that covers The Golden Age Arc. My hope for this retrospective is to while acknowledge their shortcomings as movies and adaptations, also show they are still worth watching and in fact can be the best gateway into the series for newcomers.
This trilogy has always been controversial amongst fans of Berserk because while boasting higher production values, being movies, many events in the manga that the anime covered either had to be cut entirely or told in another manner for the sake of time. It is certainly a flawed trilogy, as I’ll point out, and the first installment The Egg of the King is easily the weakest one.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I: The Egg of the King has the most signs of being a rough first step to establishing a trilogy. The movie’s plot specifically adapts the beginning portions of the Golden Age Arc, ending at the famous scene of Guts hearing Griffith’s speech about friendship and dreams to Princess Charlotte. At only 77 minutes, there are a number of scenes relating to characterization and motivation that had to be cut or skimmed over. Guts’ traumatic childhood for example, is only briefly shown in a dreamy flashback that lasts for at most just over a minute. It even included Guts being molested by the pedophiliac soldier Donovan. In the manga and anime, even this early on into the arc Guts’ past played a powerful motivator for his personality and actions. In skimming it over, Guts loses a sense of depth that sets him apart from other antiheroes. In fact many key characters in general are either cut or their personalities are softened. Griffith, while still retaining his charisma and ruthlessness in court politics comes off as just a little less manipulative and more sincere. His romance with the Princess Charlotte in the manga and anime was clearly shown to be completely one sided on Charlotte’s part, with Griffith just playing along to get closer to his desired throne. Here, it actually comes off as Griffith and Charlotte mutually falling in love with each other. The later movies do nothing to dissuade this idea. To some Griffith being a more overtly likable character might be a plus, but what makes Griffith such a compelling character is the fact that even though his manipulations are borderline sociopathic at times, his charisma is so undeniable, his goal of ruling a kingdom seems so pure and he expresses genuine moments of conscience with Guts so that one can’t help but root for him. Casca also comes off as even more standoffish and antagonistic towards Guts, with scenes that could’ve eased the blow not being present. Other characters, if not softened are cut entirely, such is the case with the devious Minister Foss, a character that played the game of politics against Griffith throughout The Golden Age arc in the manga and anime. The pacing is clearly rushed due to too much being cut and not enough left in. And the movie’s attempts at having both action, supernatural horror, and political intrigue are very clumsy and uneven. Which is all the more disappointing since both the source material does this extremely well and the trilogy’s writer, Ichiro Okouchi, also wrote the script and story of one of my favorite anime of all time, Code Geass, a series that I also consider to be an example of how to juggle multiple themes and genres extremely well.

All that that being said, one thing this movie does cut out that I think was a great idea, was the in media rias beginning of the manga and anime. I won’t spoil anything that is not in this first movie, but it’s always bothered me that Berserk the manga and anime began in the middle of the story and practically give away the conflict between Guts and Griffith. Here, the story just begins with Guts as a mercenary in the middle of a battle, thus making what happens all the more horrifying and tragic.

It’s a movie that is more concerned with world building and establishing characters rather than also exploring the characters. This ends up creating one annoying plot hole later in the film, when after the three year time skip we get the scene where Guts asks Griffith about his Behelit, the supernatural necklace Griffith wears around his neck. Now in the anime and manga, Guts asked Griffith about it much sooner after he was forcibly conscripted into the Band of the Hawk in one of the most subtext laden scenes ever created, which makes a lot more sense plot wise. I mean why would Guts just pop that question after three long years of being aware of the Behelit’s existence?

But being a high budget movie, it should at least have higher production values than the original anime right? Well yes. And no. Make no mistake, when the animation is good, it is spectacular. The 2D character models and backgrounds are simply gorgeous and rival the manga’s equally amazingly detailed artwork. It is undeniably a point the movies have over the 90s anime and the 2D will likely age much better than the original anime’s low budget animation has. Unfortunately the mistake was made of incorporating CGI into the animation. Now CGI is simply a tool that is only as good as the wielder, so CGI itself doesn’t inherently ruin a movie. But the attempts to blend CGI with the 2D animation and fight scenes just takes you right out of the experience. It looks choppy at best and bad at worst. The big battle at the beginning of the movie is easily the worst offender of this. Scenes of great 2D animation are then cut to scenes of clumsy, stiff CGI. It’s “what the hell were they thinking” levels of bad.

One area these movies were always consistently great in was the soundtrack and voice acting. Holy shit. This soundtrack. Is. EPIC! The original anime’s soundtrack was a masterclass in its own right and all three movies stepped up to the plate of delivering a soundtrack worthy of Berserk. The soundtrack was done by the man behind the 90s anime’s Susumu Hirasawa and Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Shiro Sagisu. The opening credits of each movie played to a song that just oozes Berserk while the credits mix movie scenes with artwork from the original manga. It reminds me of how Marvel superhero movies will open with some snippets of artwork from their comics with the logo popping up. The rest of the music range from soft uplifting piano pieces that create a calming atmosphere to bombastic for the action and more intensely emotional scenes that remind the audience that the world of Berserk is a dark and brutal place despite the beauty you can find in it. As for the voice acting, it is well above average here. I watched this and the other two movies in English. Yeah call me a plebian but the English dub for these movies is very good, better than the original anime and reaches great levels in the third one. The main characters of Guts, Griffith and Casca have their original English voice actors Marc Diraison, Kevin T. Collins, and Carrie Keranen (also the English voice actress for Satsuki Kiryuin from Kill la Kill) from the 1997 anime return, and they all show how far they’ve come since then. Collins as Griffith is in my opinion the best of the cast, managing to convey the character’s manipulative nature while also keeping him sympathetic. But if you do want to watch in Japanese with English subtitles the Japanese voices are very good as well.

So how does the first installment of The Golden Age Arc trilogy stand overall? It’s okay. For everything it does wrong it does something right. While definitely having impressive production values, the characters and rushed pacing end up making you feel like there’s a lot you’re missing out on. I can still recommend it, if only because you’d be lost if you skipped it to watch the other two movies instead. That would be an awful idea, in fact flaws and all as I said before this is probably the best way to introduce yourself to Berserk since the ending of the arc is no longer basically given away by the story.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc retrospective announcement

I am going to be doing a retrospective on Berserk: The Golden Age Arc anime movie trilogy. Unlike my normal reviews, I will be really going into detail including major spoilers for the plot of the movies, as well as the Berserk series in general. I will be looking at both how they are as adaptations of Berserk and just as anime movies in general. Re-watching them with a critical eye has certainly been interesting, as their different strengths and weaknesses compared to the manga and the classic 90s anime are much more clear to me now. These movies were my gateway into Berserk, and since then I have taken up reading the manga and have familiarity with the original anime series, but have not watched in full and plan to have a proper viewing of it in the future. I hope anyone who reads them enjoys it as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Spider-Man Homecoming review

Director: Jon Watts

Writers: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Zendaya, Laura Harrier, Robert Downey Jr., Marissa Tomei

Released: July 7, 2017spiderman-homecoming-highwaysignposter

Spider-Man Homecoming is in most ways the Spider-Man movie fans have been waiting for since the first Sam Raimi film in 2002. It captures the comic book feel, the awkward nerd Peter Parker and the cocky hero Spider-Man and standing on its own for the most part while still feeling like a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the large scale blockbusters of Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, this Marvel movie is refreshingly much more small scale, with the stakes being more personal than involving entire countries or even the whole galaxy. I’d even go as far to call it “blue collar”, and that’s not an insult in any way. Spider-Man is a working class hero with even a working class villain. It’s just about a high school student from Queens fighting basically a high tech bank robber.

Homecoming thankfully decides not to retell the origin of Spider-Man, since it’s already been told in the first Raimi film and The Amazing Spider-Man in 2013. It’s instead set just a little while after Captain America: Civil War, where Peter Parker is trying to impress Tony Stark so he can become part of The Avengers. The main antagonist is The Vulture, played by Michael Keaton who leads a group of robbers trying to earn a living. At the same time Peter has to juggle his school life and personal crush on Liz Allen. Homecoming has the tone of a lighthearted high school comedy, with homages to movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club. This also sort of works against it as at 2 hours and 13 minutes long, Homecoming’s pacing includes a couple of filler moments that don’t feel necessary. Now, filler moments in movies, books, anime etc. can be a chance to give characters some breathing time and show more of their humanity. And to Homecoming’s credit its slower scenes some of the time do just that. But, there are others that feel you can do without, and would’ve been better if they added more emotion to the film. For example, Uncle Ben isn’t mentioned a single time in Homecoming. Not once. Now as I said before skipping the origin story was a good idea, but not even mentioning him feels like a step too far. It would’ve been completely reasonable for a teen who just lost his father figure mere months ago like Peter to perhaps visit his grave, forlorn after making a mistake. Overall, it wasn’t necessary to just completely sidestep the “Uncle Ben issue” altogether, as it also makes Aunt May’s completely light hearted attitude a bit out of place.

For anyone wondering how he does, Tom Holland is great in the starring role. While Andrew Garfield will always be my favorite film Spider-Man, Holland manages to be the first to capture both the awkward nerd of Peter Parker, and the confident trash talking web-slinger Spider-Man. If Civil War was a great first impression, Homecoming manages to stick the landing and live up to that promise shown. Peter is always very sympathetic, flawed, and admirable throughout the film. His drive to prove himself as a hero leads him to making some irresponsible decisions and utterly screwing up, but he suffers the consequences of his decisions and strives to not make the same mistakes again. He’s already learned the lesson of being responsible, but the movie is about that lesson sticking and Peter interpreting it correctly.

But a hero is only as strong as their villain, and one of the MCU’s biggest flaws has been its weak villains. Homecoming manages not to fall prey to that trap, and in fact has probably the MCU’s strongest villain in Michael Keaton’s The Vulture. The film in fact begins with the origin of The Vulture, where we see what drove him into crime. He was once a normal working man who got screwed by forces beyond his control. He’s a criminal because he wants his family to be financially secure, can’t bear to let them find out his secret life, and even has a code of morals that make you almost forget he’s the bad guy. Key word being almost, as easily Homecoming’s most tense, nail biting scene comes from a confrontation between Vulture and Spider-Man in the movie’s third act. Seriously, it’s the kind of scene you go to movies to witness. Unfortunately, Homecoming’s side characters are not as strong. Marissa Tomei as Aunt May has very little going for her and I still think she’s too young to be Aunt May, and Peter’s best friend Ned really got on my nerves early in the movie, but looking back this might have been intentional on the movie’s part. He later becomes much better and actually proves to be a valuable partner to Peter regardless. Love interest Liz Allen is also rather unremarkable until around later in the movie, and it has less to do with her and more the people around her. Lastly on a more positive note, Tony Stark has a very small part in the movie despite the marketing suggesting otherwise. He’s in it for ten minutes at most and doesn’t outlast his welcome.

Homecoming as a smaller scale Marvel movie, doesn’t have the grand action sequences like the more epic Marvel movies do, but this only serves to further the movie’s down to earth feel. Everything is well shot, directed, with some nice special effects but it never gets too big or grandstanding. The only parts that really clash with this are some of Peter’s high tech gadgetry loaned to him by Tony Stark which he got during Civil War. When the movie’s action and heart really shined was when Peter can no longer rely on those tools, and must simply use his wits and pure determination to win. They all range from good to very good, but I don’t think they quite reach greatness.

Where does this Spider-Man movie rank for me on my personal list? It’s above the Raimi trilogy and The Amazing Spider Man 2, but I still rank the first The Amazing Spider-Man movie as higher for better pacing, more exciting action scenes, cast, side characters, romance between Peter and Gwen Stacy, and of course Andrew Garfield’s performance as the web slinger, even if his portrayal of Peter Parker had holes. I know some people reading that paragraph might be surprised or even disgusted that I like the reboot film from 2012 the most, and at some point in the future, I intend to do a retrospective series of reviews of every Spider-Man movie save for this one to fully give my thoughts on the movies.

On that note all end with saying Spider-Man Homecoming is good, in fact it’s one of the MCU’s better movies flaws and all. It’s not the best superhero or even Marvel movie released so far this year, in fact I think Logan, Wonder Woman, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 have it beat in terms of humanity and risk taking, it’s still a movie worth your time.

Castlevania Season One review

Director: Sam Deats

Writer: Warren Ellis

Studios: Frederator Studios, Powerhouse Animation Studios

Episodes: 4

Started airing: July 7, 2017castjlevania-netflix

When it comes to adapting video game licenses to another medium, nothing but failure seems to abound. Just last year we had the duds of the Assassins Creed and World of Warcraft movies. Hollywood and Uve Boll just can’t seem to get it right. Leave it to Netflix to show them how it’s done. Mostly.

Longtime fans and newcomers such as myself alike will be able to watch this show on equal footing, as no prior knowledge of the games is required, but with enough nods that series veterans will feel rewarded for their loyalty. This is in fact probably the best advertising for the series will get for a long time considering the state of its parent company Konami.

Netflix’s Castlevania is an adaptation of Konami’s extremely popular vampire killing video game franchise. Specifically the Castlevania III for the NES. It tells the story of monster killer Trevor Belmont, Sypho the magician, and one other character whose identity I won’t spoil. They go off to kill the vampire Dracula, who has launched a campaign to wipe out humanity after his wife is burned at the stake as a witch. Castlevania Season One has the task of setting up the world, factions, and characters of the show while remaining enjoyable on its own terms. Unfortunately, it stumbles in this regard for one particular reason you might’ve been able to guess: it’s only four episodes long.

While episodes one and four have a gripping introduction and a satisfying payoff respectably, the season’s pacing absolutely slows to a crawl in the middle. Time is taken away from the main plot in order to focus on a subplot involving corrupt church officials and the persecution of a group of magicians in a town under siege by Dracula’s demons. The one aspect it has connected to the main plot is a myth involving a savior called “The Sleeping Soldier”, which to its credit, has a very nice twist both for the plot and messianic tales in general. Our main lead Trevor Belmont has a rushed character arc in this season, going from a wandering exile who wants to stay out of the affairs of others into the man who vows to kill Dracula. Four episodes is not long enough for this not to come off as forced. Our main villain Dracula, as short as his appearance is in this season, is actually very layered and sympathetic. He is motivated by grief over the unjust execution of his wife, and if it weren’t for the fact the innocent people of Wallachia must suffer for his revenge, you’d probably root for him. Hell, even I did around the beginning. As for Sypho and the other unnamed hero, they have potential but don’t develop at all in this season. They’re voice acting is at least good across the board, with Dracula being voiced with authority and terror by Graham McTavish (the voice of Lazarevic from Uncharted 2).

What no one can fault Castlevania for however, is its animated gore and action and gothic atmosphere. When people die in Castlevania, they do not die gently. Blood fills the streets and heads start flying when Dracula’s demons come. The show’s fight scenes are even better, with easily the best one being the final duel at the end of the season finale. It is tightly directed, mesmerizing, and contains a bit of humor as well. If only there was more of it, but alas what we get is very good. The architecture of Wallachia, the show’s soundtrack featuring ominous Latin chanting and the use of lighting and shadows give a gothic atmosphere to the show that some higher budget affairs fail to achieve. All of this combined with an anime art style that captures the original artwork and spirit of Castlevania.

Overall, Castlevania Season One is good, but good is about it. It’s not great or even very good, but there is definitely potential for greatness here and it’s obvious the people behind this show love it and want to do the games justice. It’s just a shame it all feels more like a teaser for season one than an actual first season. However with a second season already planned with twice the episodes due to the positive reaction by both critics and audiences, the chance to fulfill the show’s promise is still there. All Netflix has to do is trust the team behind it to go further.