Resident Evil REmake review

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Game played on: PS4

Released: April 30, 2002, January 20, 2015 (HD Remaster)resident-evil-remake-cover-art-gamecube-box

I don’t have any experience playing the Resident Evil games, not even the wildly acclaimed Resident Evil 4. Every time I saw the trailers and gameplay for the old and new ones, I had no interest. It didn’t look scary next to say, Silent Hill. I only decided to give the series a chance once I came to terms with the two series’ differing priorities. Silent Hill is going for a subtle, Japanese horror atmosphere, while Resident Evil, despite also being made by a Japanese company, is going for more of a B-movie, George Romero style of horror. You can prefer one over the other, but comparing the two in terms of which is better horror is unfair.

Resident Evil, a.k.a. Resident Evil REmake to the fans is a remake (obviously) of the original Resident Evil from the PS1 era to the GameCube. It was re-released over a decade later to this current generation of consoles and to PC as an HD remaster. A major benefit that this version has is the choice between the old school tank control scheme and a modern one. Now while I can adapt to tank controls, if I have a choice between them and more refined ones, I’ll choose the latter. But even if it didn’t have its new features, I would still love this game because it is one of the most gracefully aged games ever made.

Resident Evil REmake follows the original’s plot near beat for beat. The elite S.T.A.R.S. unit of the Raccoon City Police Department is called in to investigate a series of grisly murders up in the woods. After contact with one team is lost, another team is sent in to find them. They get chased into the spooky Spencer Mansion by a pack of murderous zombie dogs, the mansion is full of zombies, and the activities of the evil mega corporation Umbrella are slowly discovered through the player’s exploration of the mansion and its surrounding area by solving elaborate puzzles, evading death traps, and finding keys to unlock the mansion’s doors. If you’re looking for a well written story with complex characters, go elsewhere. It’s a cheesy, B-movie plot with corny dialogue (and voice acting to match) that you have to accept for what it is. That doesn’t mean the plot is bad, in fact I’d argue it’s good within its genre. There are good twists and the remake adds a new subplot that changes how the story plays out a bit, the characters are likable, and the pacing never goes too slow that you’re begging it to pick up or too fast that you don’t have time to breathe.

You are given the option before you start the game to play as one of two characters: Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. Jill has more inventory space for items but can’t take a lot of damage, while Chris doesn’t have as much room in his inventory as Jill but can take more damage than Jill before dying. The story plays out in different ways for the characters as well. Jill’s campaign will have fan favorite Barry Burton as the main side character while Chris will have Rebecca Chambers, a medic from another team that had come earlier that can heal Chris without costing any items. I like both campaigns but I think Jill’s is the better of the two. Barry comes to her aid multiple times throughout the story, has an interesting character arc about his family, and will even save Jill’s life if you get poisoned in the first boss encounter of the game. Her campaign is also just easier for first time players and has more mystery in it on the question of who’s a traitor (even though since the original game is over two decades old I knew and so will you). Play her first, then play as Chris to get the most enjoyment since Chris will have to do some things differently from Jill over the course of the game. Depending on some choices in the game, your ending will play out differently with either a happy, bittersweet, or depressing resolution to the story.

Spencer Mansion is one of the best designed and realized settings I’ve seen in gaming. It is the setting along with Shadow Moses from the first Metal Gear Solid of how to do backtracking right.  The mansion is a character in its own right, with a history and its inhabitants history told in the letters and documents you’ll find throughout the game. The atmosphere is claustrophobic with the game’s changing camera angles that never reveal a comfortable amount of what’s next to, behind, or in front of the player, making every turn you make a dangerous one. Going through the same area never feels tedious, since the game is always throwing surprises along the way. Enemies that weren’t in a hallway before will be there later, forcing you to change your approach. Killing zombies is not always the best option, as ammo is scarce and even if you do kill them, unless you shoot the brain or burn the bodies, they will come back later even stronger and faster to make your playthrough even harder. They’re not the only enemy to worry about either, because if they don’t kill you, the mutated animals of Spencer Mansion will. Every decision you make is one that will affect you in the long and short term.

I died a lot playing this, and you can’t just die and go back to the nearest checkpoint, because there aren’t any. The game’s save system has you use type writers to save your progress at safe rooms where you can also story your items. However, to use them, you have to use ink ribbons that are of limited supply and take up inventory space, making the choice between saving your game but risking losing an opportunity to do so later, or not using your ink ribbons to save them for a later time a tough choice. If you don’t choose carefully, you’ll really put yourself in a dangerous spot like I did at one point. The mansion won’t be the only place you’ll explore, with other areas including hidden laboratories and a cabin. They all feel connected, part of a greater whole, and you’ll feel like a genuine badass as you play the game and become more familiar with the environment and the enemies’ behavior. You, and your character go from scared survivor to conquering action hero.

REmake’s sound design and music is another standout. The footsteps on the creaking stars, the thunder from outside, the moans of the undead all sound like they’re real and in your room. While I won’t rank the soundtrack as one of my favorites, it’s a good soundtrack that adds to the game’s spooky atmosphere, though I do think the game’s tensest moments during gameplay are when it has no music playing at all. Just you and a zombie slowly coming your way.

The negative aspects of this game I can name mostly have to do with when it came out. The lip synching and non game engine cutscenes haven’t aged well and the voice acting is okay if I’m being generous. It’s miles above the original’s at least and it fits with the game’s campy style. I can’t think of anything else to complain about technically wise; the game’s framerate is smooth, the load times are mercifully short, and the pre-rendered backgrounds and character models still holdup very well today. I only had one glitch that lasted for 2 seconds involving Chris disappearing in his campaign and it didn’t have any effect on my playthrough.

Resident Evil’s remake is outstanding and leagues above many games today, not just survival horror ones. People might scoff at the dumb plot, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and the gameplay, level design, and atmosphere are a cut above many horror games today. It should be played at least once by gamers and is worthy of being hailed as a classic. I recommend it highly and since it’s the scariest month of the year right now it makes for a good Halloween treat.

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Yakuza Kiwami (Extreme) review

Developer: Sega

Publisher: Sega

Game played on: PS4

Released: August 29, 2017

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Yakuza Kiwami is an interesting game to talk about because while I do like it and can recommend it overall, I can’t help but feel like it was lacking in key areas, especially in comparison to its predecessor the awesome Yakuza 0, which came out earlier in the U.S back in January of this year.

Despite first appearances, Yakuza Kiwami is not a sequel to Zero but a remake of the original Yakuza game for the PS2. I just got introduced to the series back in 2015 when Yakuza 5 got a digital only release, and didn’t even finish it because of other games taking up my time. Zero is the first game of the series I can say I “properly” played and it was an absolute revelation. It was packed with content, had great gameplay, and a thrilling story with awesome characters. It’s one of the most manly, Japanese games ever created! Manly men ripping their shirts off to fight using moves straight out of an anime like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, more than hundreds of hours of side content like karaoke and running a host club, a setting that places an emphasis on small scale detail to explore the alleyways and places of business rather than a big sandbox like Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed. So I was eager to support this series further by picking up Kiwami when it became localized in the West.

So far as I’ve been able to discern (as I haven’t played the original PS2 game), Kiwami follows the story of the original beat for beat. The playable character, Kazuma Kiryu, a former yakuza member of the Dojima Family, is released from a ten year stint in prison for the murder of his patriarch Sohei Dojima. Kazuma took the blame for his best friend and partner Nishikiyama, who really killed Dojima after he tried to assault Yumi, the woman Nishiki loved. Upon release, Kazuma is wrapped into a twisting and turning plot involving ten billion of the Yakuza’s money being stolen and Nishiki has become a cold, ambitious family patriarch making a power grab to become the new Chairman of the Tojo Clan (which is the organization that controls all of the Yakuza families) and prove himself as Kazuma’s superior. Kazuma must discover the truth of the stolen money, which is tied in someway to a little girl he meets named Haruka, all the while dealing with Goro “The Mad Dog” Majima, an insane yakuza who will stop at nothing to best Kazuma in combat.

While I can’t judge how it tells the original’s story as a remake, I can say that Yakuza Kiwami’s story is well written and engaging enough to keep you hooked from beginning to end. Kazuma Kiryu is a badass, tough guy with a heart of gold protagonist that you can easily root for, with a likable and memorable cast of side characters on his side and against his. Kiwami does take advantage of being two generations ahead in terms of graphics by adding a new set of cutscenes to the story in between chapters detailing Nishikiyama’s descent into villainy. They’re very well directed, animated, and voice acted and really help you see Nishiki’s reasons for becoming the person he is in the game proper. However, it would’ve been so much more interesting if the development team had given Nishiki his own campaign instead, which would’ve justified this remake’s existence more. After all, Zero gave us not only gave you Kiryu to play as but Majima as well, with their own cities to explore and styles of combat to fight with. The new cutscenes are also of jarringly higher quality than the cutscenes that are from the original game but with just a better paintjob, containing the same stiff animations and poor lip-synching.

Gameplay wise Kiwami, while fun, feels too much like an expansion pack of Zero rather than a sequel, which one could arguably say it really is. That excuse doesn’t hold up thought considering Kiwami was released as its own standalone title, albeit at a lower than full retail price. Kazuma can do combat in four styles: Brawler, Rush, Beast, and Dragon of Dojima style. I was easily able to fully upgrade the first three styles through just doing sidequests, beating up enemies from random encounters, defeating bosses, etc. They’re all extremely fun with different pros and cons that always made me want to experiment with them. Dragon of Dojima style is however, near useless unless you commit to upgrading it. It is upgraded by completing “Majima Everywhere” segments of gameplay that occur while you free roam the game’s setting of Kamurocho. The story excuse for this system is that Majima is trying to get Kiryu back into his prime like he was before he went prison, so he’ll attack him at the most unexpected moments as a form of training. You will inevitably have to fight Majima outside of his two boss fights in the story, it is absolutely unavoidable no matter how hard you try. While this system is a great idea in theory, and has some genuinely great moments that I won’t spoil (they involve zombies and a host girl named Goromi), it can get repetitive over time and ends up coming into conflict with Majima’s personality during his boss fights as a genuinely dangerous lunatic who will kill Kiryu if he can. Lastly, while the game always ran at 60fps for me during combat, it tended to chug for brief periods during exploration of the city, which Zero did at times but too a lesser extent. People who own a PS4 Pro may not have this issue as far as I’m aware.

Kiwami is not lacking in side content at least, and very well developed and interesting side content at that, albeit not as much as Zero. Side missions are hilarious and fun, albeit not to the same extent as Zero, and Kamurocho as a setting is fun to explore, even though exploring Kamurocho in the 80s in Zero was I think more interesting due to the time of economic boom for Japan working with the game’s themes about money and power and it also had an entirely separate district of Osaka to explore for Majima’s side of the story which had its own side activities and totally different feel and atmosphere. You may be sensing a pattern here.

I would love to give Kiwami a glowing review lavishing it with praise, but alas compared to Zero its shortcomings only become more readily apparent. Yet if this had been my first proper playthrough of a Yakuza game, I may have been even less positive than I’m being to it now. Why? Well because while Zero gives Kiwami a tough act to follow, not playing Zero before it makes it feel like you are missing out on something much grander, not helped by Kiwami having winks and nods to events from Zero. Kiwami in many ways feels like an epilogue to the events and characters of Zero that the team just decided on a whim to make in order to feed the appetite of fans who are anticipating 6’s release in December for its native Japan and March of next year for us Western fans. Which is why it gets a recommendation from me, with the caveat that you play Zero first.

Logan Lucky review

Director: Steve Soderbergh

Writer: Rebecca Blunt

Cast: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holms, Seth MacFarlane, Sebastian Stan, Hilary Swank

Released: August 18, 2017

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Well this review is here much later than I wanted it to be but here it is. Man, what a wonderful surprise this turned out to be. I’m glad this movie got made and it’ll feel nice to talk about it.

Logan Lucky is another original, crime-based film that has an emphasis placed on cars this year next to Baby Driver. Now in my initial thoughts I said Soderbergh may have created a modern classic, and well… I got a bit carried away. The movie is still really good, in fact I’d say it’s about on par with Baby Driver overall, albeit I like Logan Lucky more, but I think its similarities with one of my favorite movies ever, Ocean’s Eleven got my hopes up too much. Enough of that though. Logan Lucky is about a laid off worker played by Channing Tatum who decides to pull a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway with his brother played by Adam Driver so he can get enough money to both fight for custody rights to his daughter and get back at the company for firing him.

Logan Lucky’s two main stars for me are its direction and performances. Soderbergh has a damn well directed movie here both visually and with its performances. Despite taking place in a setting that not a lot of people would call attractive, it’s a beautiful looking film that makes you feel like you’re in Virginia as you watch it. As for performances, everyone does a great job with not a weak link I can think of. Daniel Craig in particular absolutely disappears into the role of Joe Bang, so much so that you’ll forget he’s James Bond. The two lead performances from Channing Tatum and Adam Driver are damn good as well, masterfully playing two men who are desperate, pissed off at a system that’s screwed them over, and who share a strong bond of sibling loyalty. Still not convinced? Seth MacFarlane is in it, and despite whatever I think about his comedy (I think it’s mixed at best) and whatever you may think, he does a great job in this as the slimy, douchebag British manager for Sebastian Stan’s character. It’s like how Tyler Perry was actually good in Gone Girl.

The heist crew is called at one point in the movie as “The Ocean’s 7/11”, which would be a good title for this movie too. This is an Ocean’s film with the light hearted humor and smartly paced and coordinated heist, but replace the experienced con artists with a more inexperienced crew with some exceptions and the casino with a racetrack. Not the most original film in terms of story or story elements but it’s all executed so well that you forgive it for that.

What hold the movie back for me from being a great film instead of just a very good one are two glaring issues: an underwritten romance subplot that doesn’t need to exist and an ending that drags on longer than it should. The movie was quite well paced up to that point too, which makes the ending dragging on for about 20 minutes longer than it has to that much more noticeable, and the romance subplot is so unremarkable and doesn’t really go anywhere except for a payoff at the end that I’m debating whether it even qualifies as a romance.

I’m really glad both that Logan Lucky was made and that it’s getting the positive reception and modest box office success that it deserves. By now it’s probably in very few theaters so you probably won’t be seeing it there if you haven’t already, but when it comes out on Amazon and Blu-Ray I’d say watch it then because you’ll have a really good time. It’s the best Ocean’s film not to have Ocean’s in the title.

Death Note (Netflix 2017) review

Director: Adam Wingard

Writers: Charles Parlapanides, Vlas Parlapanides, Jeremy Slater

Cast: Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Shea Whigham, Paul Nakauchi

Released: August 25, 2017

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Wow did this movie suck badly. I mean, I know people were expecting it to suck since it’s an American live action adaptation of an anime/manga series and those have a pretty long history of sucking, but WOW, they really managed to do something that no movie has done in a long time and actually make me angry, and not in a good way.

There will be spoilers in this review because this movie is so bad I don’t feel the need to keep any major plot points a secret. If you really don’t want spoilers though: it goes too fast, the cast and their performances are mostly bad, has none of the source material’s heart and spirit, has an insane number of plot holes, and manages to be incredibly boring for newcomers and disgusting to the fans of the anime/manga series.

Netflix’s Death Note is an adaptation of the popular anime/manga series of the same name. I just want to be upfront that the series is very close to my heart, I haven’t but plan on reading the original manga, but I have watched the anime. It’s an extremely engaging psychological thriller with two of my favorite characters and rivalries in anime history with Light Yagami, the diabolical villain protagonist who is known to the world as “Kira” (Japanese for killer) with ambitions of godhood and his dynamic with L, the world’s greatest detective. Their polar opposite views of justice and equally strong conviction in their beliefs leads to an intense cat and mouse game where both try to discover the other’s identity while trying to keep their own hidden.

I just want to be clear about two things: that I did not go into this movie expecting to hate it like it did or even just dislike it and that my issues with it aren’t solely due to the changes it made to the source material. Making changes when adapting a work to another medium are necessary, I totally understand that. In fact, all signs pointed toward this movie being a good adaptation of Death Note. The first trailer was good and it had a great casting with Willem Dafoe as Ryuk and a director with a good reputation in Adam Wingard. There’s no reason for this movie to have been as awful as it was, both as an adaptation and as a standalone movie. The story of Death Note is universal with its themes of the differing viewpoints of justice, so it can definitely be adapted to American audiences. Yet everything that could’ve gone wrong, went wrong. Netflix’s Death Note not only disrespects its source material in every way imaginable, but disrespects its audience as well.

In this adaptation, Light Turner is a high school student bullied and mistreated by both other students and the various authority figures of his school. On a rainy day, Ryuk, the death god or Shinigami as he’s called, drops the Death Note, a notebook with the power to kill anyone in any plausible way just by writing a person’s name in it while thinking of their face, at his feet to tempt Light to use it for his own purposes. Light uses the notebook to kill a bully and then the man who killed his mother but got off on a technicality. From there Light and his girlfriend Mia Sutton decide to rid the world of crime as the vengeful god “Kira” while avoiding his identity being discovered by the Seattle Police Department, which his father is a part of, and Interpol’s greatest detective known only as “L”.

ANYONE who has even some familiarity with the source material would know that Netflix’s adaptation doesn’t understand its source material at all. Light Yagami was a handsome, highly intelligent, charismatic big man on campus who had everyone wrapped around his little finger, which is why no one except for L suspected that Light was Kira. Light Turner is an outcast who is bullied and is not shown to be particularly smart. The only indications of his intelligence are a scene in the beginning of the movie of him doing someone else’s homework and an absolutely out of left field gambit twist in the movie’s last act where he manages to outsmart L, kill his girlfriend Mia, and completely wipe his hands clean of any evidence that has no buildup or payoff whatsoever since we’re never shown him being a genius beforehand. If anything Light is an idiot since he talks about the Death Note is public. Loudly. With people around. With his partner in crime/girlfriend Mia Sutton right next to him. Light’s motives in this movie have no consistency whatsoever. First it seems like he’s going to use the Death Note for justice like the original Light was, then he seems to do it because his mother was murdered by a criminal, then it appears that he’s doing it to impress Mia, who comes off more like Light Yagami than Light Turner does! Light Yagami was so compelling because he was a narcissist who had an extremely black and white view of justice. He didn’t have a personal loss driving his actions, he was someone totally convinced in the justice of his cause. The series was so entertaining because of his personality and his genius strategies and gambits. Not helping is Nat Woolf’s performance is completely forgettable with some unintentional comedy on his end, and absolutely zero chemistry in the relationship between Light and Mia.

Character motivations and personalities in general are completely botched. Ryuk, instead of merely being a passive observer who takes no sides in the anime, is a malevolent evil spirit who actively pushes Light towards using the Death Note to kill as many people as possible. This change to the source material wouldn’t be so bad if there were some actual meat to Ryuk’s role, and to his credit, Willem Dafoe is an excellent casting choice for the part, but there isn’t anything for him to go on. He’s reduced to being more or less a supernatural troll who only really does anything of consequence around the end of the movie. L fares by far the worst of the characters. He’s turned into an easily provoked, overly emotional idiot instead of the calm, methodical world’s greatest detective. Lakeith Stanfield is clearly trying whatever he can with the material he’s given, but he can only do so much. His introduction was very promising and gave me hope that they at least got L’s character right, but as soon as a major setback happens for him with the disappearance and death of his father figure Watari, he completely loses all ability to use logic and acts only on impulse.

I wouldn’t be complaining about the changes made for the adaptation to such an extent if the film had any merits on its own worth mentioning, but it doesn’t. At an hour and forty minutes, it tries to cram too many plot points from the original series into too little time, resulting in a rushed mess that manages to feel longer than it actually is and opens a number of plot holes. The characters aren’t memorable or well written at all, the performances by most of cast are completely forgettable, it looks very cheap for a 40 million dollar movie, the editing and cuts are extremely sloppy at times and will leave you wondering if a something was cut on the editing room floor, and other than L’s introduction features no scenes that are particularly impressive on a technical level. It feels more like a really bad teen romance movie set in the Final Destination universe, with all the deaths being laughably convoluted in execution. I can’t appreciate this movie on its own merits because it tries to use the source material as a clutch by making some winks and nods to the fans of the source material (L eating candy and sitting in an awkward manner, Ryuk eating apples and saying at the end “Humans are so interesting”) but is more concerned with jamming as much of it in as quickly as possible rather than doing it justice or making the adjustments needed to make it work for newcomers, leaving both parties unhappy. Oh, and the soundtrack sucks. It’s just generic synth music with nothing you’ll ever remember one way or the other.

Netflix’s Death Note just sucks and sucks badly. I went into this movie wanting to give it a chance, and ended up being let down at every turn and by the end I was utterly disgusted by the movie’s cliffhanger ending that leaves us with the question of whether or not L will use the Death Note to kill Light. It wants a sequel so badly but doesn’t earn it at all. I can’t even recommend this on a so bad, it’s good recommendation. This movie is so bad, it’s insulting. Instead of watching this movie, read the manga or watch the anime. Or just do anything else. If there’s one thing I’ll give this movie credit for, it’s that it gave me the motivation to stop procrastinating and finally revisit the series.

Initial thoughts: Logan Lucky

So I got back just a little while ago from Logan Lucky, Steven Soderbergh’s much acclaimed return to directing movies. I can say at this moment I think Soderbergh has created if not a new modern classic heist movie to something that may fall just short of it. Yep, this movie is just as good as people have been saying it is. It’s not a personal favorite of mine like Ocean’s 11 is, but it’s still really good. I’ll have more detailed thoughts on it posted soon enough.

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.