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Battle For Terra: doing message stories right

Battle for Terra

This 2007 animated movie was one of those films that “fell through the cracks.” It received very little publicity and has now been mostly forgotten. Which is a pity, because I feel this is one of the best “message movies” I’ve seen.

To be specific, it has two messages: a pro-environmentalist one, and an anti-militaristic one. We have seen this done, in films like Avatar (the James Cameron one) but such films tend to be very one-sided- one side is Right and the other is Wrong, period- and that’s just not realistic. Also, the message tends to be hammered into the heads of the audience, instead of letting it be evident in the story.

This film takes the old “alien invasion” plot and inverts it- instead of aliens invading Earth, it’s humans invading an alien world. But although it seems at first like the militaristic humans are evil and the nature-loving aliens are victims, we soon learn important facts: the humans have no choice- they are dying and need the planet’s resources to survive. And yet, they hesitate to take over some other race’s world. Also, not only the aliens have technology themselves (unlike in most takes on this subject) but they know about war, having suffered its ravages once; they are not innocents. I like that the issues are not presently in a simple fashion, and neither side jumps to conclusions. Of course there is a villain and things eventually escalate, but this is a movie so that’s to be expected.

But the best part are actually the characters. The main ones are a human soldier and a female alien, who become friends and try to sort things out between their peoples (and no, they don’t fall in love- their friendship is based on the admiration of what each does for the other.) There’s also a wacky robot because I guess every sci-fi film must have one, but I don’t mind because of its sarcastic sense of humor. Heck, some of the best scenes are provided by it!

I also really like the designs for this film. In particular, the “drifters” as the aliens are called by the humans, are legless beings who fly instead of walking. Everything about their world is strange, yet beautiful. I wonder if these FX are the reason the film (which was originally going to be done in live action!) was done in computer animation.

About the only part of Terra I’m not completely happy with is the ending. Make no mistake, people die in this film. It isn’t a kid’s film, it had a PG rating. And yet, I agree it made sense, and gave the film even more gravitas.

If you can find this film, by all means give it a chance. Maybe you’ll like it too.

Recommended for: fans of Science Fiction, Animation, and message movies done right.


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El Charro de las Calaveras (The Rider of the Skulls)

 

el-charro-de-las-calaveras-aka-the-rider-of-skulls-mexican-poster-dagoberto-rodriquez-1965I’ve been meaning to watch this 1965 Mexican movie for a long time now and I finally got the chance to do so. It combines several genres that were popular in the region at the time it was made: charros (Mexican cowboys), monsters (inspired by those from American movies) and masked heroes (like their own professional wrestlers.)

El Charro himself rips off Batman’s origin- he’s an orphan whose parents were killed by criminals, so now he wears a black suit with skulls on it and a mask to fight evil “because Justice has no face”. O… kay. At least Batman still has a secret identity. Not that it really matters; Charro just goes around with that thing on and nobody reacts to it at all. But that is the *least* weird thing about this movie, trust me.

The story itself is actually three separate adventures, in which Charro battles, in order, a werewolf, a vampire and a headless horseman. Why this format? I have no idea. You get the impression this was a pilot for a series of movies or a TV show. If so I don’t think it succeeded.

This is definitely a B-Movie, of the kind that’s not intentionally silly (except for a few moments with some of Charro’s friends) but because of a general lack of talent involved- and REALLY terrible SFX. It’s a pity, because there are actually a few thrilling moments that would have worked if the rest hadn’t been so bad. Still, B-Movies have their fans, who love them on their own terms. If you’re curious about what Mexican movies were like in the 60’s, check this one out. Note: black & white film.

Recommended for: fans of B-Movies, horror, westerns, and superheroes.


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Noragami: not your typical Shonen show

Noragami

An anime show currently in its second season, Noragami (“stray god”) has all the typical elements of a shonen (boy’s) show: It stars a teenager with extraordinary abilities and there’s lots of action. To be specific, Yato is the Japanese god of calamity, armed with a magical sword that he uses to kill monsters.

However, there is more than that to this show. I’d argue that it contains elements of other genres as well. For example, there are Shojo (girl’s anime) elements in the fact that the main female character, Hiyori, could arguably be considered a co-protagonist and not just Yato’s love interest. While her supernatural and combat abilities pale next to his, she’s definitely wiser and over time grows into the emotional center of the group (emotions and relationships are more a Shojo than a Shonen thing.)

You could also almost accuse the show of having Harem Romance elements, given there’s at least three female characters who have degrees of feelings for Yato. However, each is a unique personality that exists for more than romance, and Yato himself is pretty uninterested in them (until he starts to realize he has feelings for Hiyori.)

Then there’s the show’s intriguing mythos (I’m a bit uncomfortable calling something based on an actual religion that, but then again if the creators don’t care about reinventing their national beliefs why should I?) In Noragami, gods exist because people believe in them; yet, they are invisible to mortals, meaning they are sustained on faith alone. Should they be forgotten, they cease to exist (Yato is on the verge of suffering that.) Conversely, a popular god will just reincarnate if killed, though his/her memories may be partially gone. The series makes good use of these Fantasy concepts.

A really unique idea in the show is the concept of Regalias. These are souls that a god has bound to his/her service with a magical name (which appears as a tattoo on their body.) This allows the god to transform him/her into a specific magical weapon or other object (Yato’s sword is actually a boy named Yukine.) In fact binding magic is used in many ways in the series.

Finally, occasionally the show feels a bit like a horror series. The main antagonists, the Phantoms, are mindless monsters from the spirit realm. Like gods, they are invisible to mortals but come to our world to feed on negative emotions like despair or hate, often pushing people to commit acts like suicide. They can also “corrupt” gods by touch, which is like a disease. While the show has villains, it’s the Phantoms that give it its creepy edge (and are often used as minions.)

Oh yeah, the art and especially the music also help reinforce all of the elements I mentioned above. I especially like the leitmotif that sounds when things get really bad.

Noragami turned out to be a show I liked more than I expected, maybe one of my favorite Animes ever. If you like your action shows with bits of romance, fantasy and horror, I recommend it for you.


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Roleplayers! #3 and #4

Roleplyers #3

I now continue with my reviews of the comic book series about the misadventures of a group of role-playing game fans. (For the reviews of issues #1 and #2, see my earlier entries in the blog.)

Issue no. 3 is a “Special Cosplay Issue” (for those who don’t know, ‘Cosplay’ is short for ‘Costume Play’) and was actually made with help from two real-life Cosplayers. The story takes place a week after last issue, and Elliot and Sally are still mad at each other (after the latter killed the former’s character in-game for being mean to her.) The group decides to visit a Cosplay Convention, where Cassie befriends a somewhat overweight cosplayer. A sexy cosplayer insults her new friend, saying she ruins her character, but is rebuked by Cassie and, surprisingly, Elliot and Sally . Turns out the two had something in common after all: both were bullied as kids. They make up, but the bitchy cosplayer swears revenge.

Roleplayers #4

In issue no. 4, Cassie befriends a guy she likes from Acting Class and invites him over to role play along her friends. What she doesn’t know (but we the readers do, so this isn’t a spoiler) is that he’s the brother of the girl she “offended” last issue. In the game, the party sets out to find a way to resurrect Elliot’s character, and they find a female half-orc (played by the new guy- remember, all characters in this game must be women!) whom they rescue and she joins the group. Then they beat a necromancer, but she betrays the group, kills one of the player characters  and then reveals who he really is!

Opinions: Issue #3 has been my favorite so far. Not only it was good exposition about Cosplaying, but it also dealt with issues of body image, which are very important but seldom touched upon.

Issue #4, however, I found confusing. I mean, what exactly do the ‘bad guys’ think they achieved? The game characters aren’t real, killing them does nothing (in fact, in real life if a player intentionally ruined a game session, most likely he’d get thrown out of the game and the play called out as null.) The only real harm was to Cassie’s feelings, and I would be disappointed if she let it hurt her for long, she’s a smart and strong female character.

The best part of both issues, however, was as usual, the art. Derek Chua is great both at depicting the real world and the fantasy one, and while there’s plenty of cheesecake in the series, the realistic girls are also attractive.

Roleplayers is an Irrational Comics production and I recommend it for fans of RPGs, comics, comedy and drama. You can find it at: irrationalcomics.wordpress.com


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Bakuman: An Anime about making Manga?

Bakuman

(For those unfamiliar with the terms: Anime are Japanese animated cartoons, and Manga are Japanese comic books.)

To be more correct, Bakuman started as a Manga about making Manga. More curiously, it was created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the same duo responsible for Death Note, a very dark Manga about people using a magical book to kill others. Who’d though they’d create such a sweet, yet realistic series- not to mention one that makes the subject matter so interesting? Talented creators indeed!

I haven’t seen the Bakuman Manga; and I only recently started watching the Anime based on it. Yet it has become one of my favorites, despite not having any fantastic or action elements in it. That’s very unusual from me, believe it! Rather, it’s the story and the characters that have me hooked.

The story is about two teenagers, Moritaka and Takagi, who join forces to make a Manga (turns out this is unusual, most Manga are written and drawn by the same person; of course, 14-year-old Mangakas (Manga creators) are even rarer!) This is complicated by Moritaka and his girlfriend being so obsessed over romantic ideals that they swear not to marry -or even speak!- until they achieve their dreams! (She wants to be an Anime voice actress, and they agree she’ll voice a character on the show they are *sure* will be made about his Manga.) This of course proves harder than they expected, especially when the reality of how many years they will be apart from each other if they follow that plan begins to sink in. If the show has a fantastic element, it’s that; How many people would make such a vow, much less expect not to change their minds along the way? And yet, the characters are so likeable, you tend to forgive it.

Further complicating matters is their Professional Rival, Eiji. Now THIS is a quirky character. A 15-year-old Manga Genius, so talented he has the backing of the magazine Moritaka and Takagi want to work at. But the only thing he thinks about *is* Manga. He might be autistic. And yet, in a twist I didn’t see coming, he actually befriends our heroes rather than becoming a bitter enemy. They are still competitors though.

Also, Takagi has his own girlfriend, the somewhat overly-aggressive Miyoshi. She unwittingly comes between the friends by drawing Takagi’s attention away from his work.

I’m far from done watching the series. There’s about 50 subtitled episodes on Hulu and I have only seen the first dozen or so. But I intend to watch them all. I can already assure you, this is one great show and I recommend it for people curious about the process of making Manga, as well as those who like Romantic Dramas (with a touch of Comedy added.)