El Sijo's Blog

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The Best of 2016

rs_600x600-161202140354-600-best-of-2016-mhTo many people -including myself- 2016 was a bad year. But nothing is absolute; there were good things as well. And since this is a science fiction/fantasy blog (and I don’t care to remember the bad things) I present you now my favorite series of 2016:

This was a surprisingly good year in animation. In addition to expected hits like Zootopia and Moana, we had films like Kubo and the Two Strings (stop-motion, but it counts) and even Storks and Sing were much better than I expected! On television, Steven Universe continues to reign with shocking revelations both personal and cosmic; and the return of DC’s heroes in Justice League Action was long awaited. And as a Latino, I appreciated Disney finally giving us our own Princess with Elena of Avalor.

As for Japanese animation, my favorite of the year was My Hero Academia– best American-style superhero show ever done in Japan ever (I also liked One Punch Man, which was also about superheroes, but was more of a deconstruction.) Funniest Anime of the year goes to Konosuba (God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World) which deconstructed fantasy role-playing games. On the other hand, I had a love/hate relationship with Re:Zero. For one thing, it was a show for sadists, as the main characters were killed or made to suffer over and over again- but at the same time, it had an intriguing premise that begged you to keep watching to see if the heroes would ever win. (I guess I understand why people watch The Walking Dead now.) Funny how deconstruction seems to be a theme these days eh?

In live action, I didn’t see that many movies. Deadpool was another surprise in that I hate the character but I enjoyed most the film well enough. Captain America: Civil War was thankfully excellent despite being based on a terribly comics storyline. Doctor Strange was OK but I wasn’t too happy with the changes they made (I  refer more to the SFX than the ethnicity of some characters). Arrival was probably the smartest film of the year (probably too smart for its own good.) Before you ask, no I didn’t see Rogue One yet (I’m not that big of a Star Wars fan, especially when I knew the ending ahead.) I’ll catch it in DVD and tell you my opinion then.

I don’t watch much television these days -most comedies and dramas don’t do much for me- but I was hooked by two in particular: The Good Place and Designated Survivor. Both have surprisingly clever writing. And I’m quite amazed in how Good Place is effectively mocking the conventions of religion yet hasn’t gotten called in for it. As for survivor, you might wonder why its listed here. Well, since it obviously takes place in a different version of the present, I count it as Science Fiction. In any case, its a clever use of the designated survivor protocol as well as a great drama with lots of intrigue. And do I really need to say that Stranger Things is also on my list?

Finally, we had some great video games as well. Pokemon celebrated its 20th anniversary successfully with Pokemon Sun and Moon, which not only had a neat Polynesian setting (which in turn had great synergy with Moana’s) but also modernized the franchise in many ways. Final Fantasy also had a great year with both the fun World of Final Fantasy and the more traditional Final Fantasy XV. Note I don’t play shooters, so I can’t talk about Overwatch.

That’s all I can think of now, but there were plenty of other things both I (and I’m sure, you) enjoyed as well last year.

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Iron Man: Rise of Technovore

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A few years ago, Marvel produced several Anime-style movies probably in hopes of helping sell their characters in Japan. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore was done in 2013 by Sony’s Madhouse studio, and could be described as “Iron Man vs Akira” -the latter being a reference to the movie that helped introduce Anime to the Western world. (Note: I saw the film in Japanese with subtitles, I don’t know if other versions are available.)

In IM:RoT, a new character named Ezekiel, who can manipulate “technovores” -a kind of artificial microbes- attempts to hijack a satellite created by Tony Stark for anti-terrorist purposes, and use it for his own, mysterious agenda.

I found several parallels to Akira (though that might just be me, or coincidences). Akira is about some teenagers from a dystopic future who are experimented on by the military and turned into monsters with great powers who then tear the city apart. Ezekiel is also (apparently) the result of experiments who gained powers and had an apocalyptic agenda. Unlike Akira though, he’s not motivated by anger but by cold, detached logic. In fact it’s Iron Man who has the Akira role as he seeks revenge for the apparent death of a friend. Ironically Stark calls Ezekiel “a brat” but Pepper Potts points out to Tony he has been acting like a child himself.

Another Akira parallel is that, while set in the present, it had some dark moments. Ezekiel’s first attack killed 300 people; War Machine (apparently) dies; SHIELD spends most of the movie trying to arrest Iron Man (admittedly he went off to deal with the problem on his own); we see terrorist activity involving The Punisher; Ezekiel compares the human race to ants; Ezekiel monsters out; and the world almost ends. There are also moments of curious contrast to those, like Ezekiel’s all-white sanctuary and Pepper resting in Tony’s Mansion.

Overall, I find the movie very uneven. Many characters are just “off” especially Tony who goes as far as working with The Punisher -a known killer- to reach his goals, or Nick Fury who should have known better than to send his agents after Iron Man; there are several plot holes, like the fact that Tony *just happens to have* what is needed to defeat the Technovores without even knowing it; and questions are left unanswered (like, who or what was Sasha?)

On the positive side, the movie looks good; there’s a great attention to detail, especially in the scenes involving Ezekiel. And the action scenes, all of them, do not disappoint.

If you are a fan of Iron Man (and Anime) you will probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect it to make much sense.


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Why I hate Flashpoint

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I might seem to be in a bad mood lately. In my last blog entry, I picked on a little girls’ cartoon (Little Charmers) and now I’m outright saying I hate a comic book story. But at least in this case, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Flashpoint is a major story plot affecting the DC comics superhero, The Flash. It is better known as ‘‘The Reverse-Flash killed Barry Allen’s mother” plot; you may have seen it as part of the (current) version of that character’s TV show. In it, The Flash learns it was his foe who went back in time and killed his mother. So naturally, he too goes back in time and stops him. And, somehow, this ends up screwing up history. Not just his personal history- ALL heroes’ origins! Instead of Bruce Wayne’s parents dying, HE dies, and his father becomes Batman- and his mother, THE JOKER! Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s peoples fight a war that ends up sinking Europe, etc. In the end, Allen realizes he must stop himself from saving his mother so everything can go back to normal. And it does- kinda; there were differences, which is how DC explained its “New 52” reboot. (Though recently they are claiming there was another cause.) Flashpoint got adapted into an animated movie, and was a mayor plot point for the first season of The Flash, and (spoilers) the finale of the second season has brought it back AGAIN.

Let’s look at the things that are wrong with it:

-The story tries to set itself up as a ‘noble sacrifice’: Allen must allow his mother to die to save the world. Except a) she only died because a time-traveling villain killed her, it isn’t as if Allen had prevented her preordained death and b) The story doesn’t make sense!! At most, saving his mother might have prevented him from becoming the Flash (tough I don’t see how) but it definitely wouldn’t have affected the lives of everybody else on Earth unless they are saying that ANY change in history would be this chaotic (ala The Butterfly Effect) and that has never been the case before in DC (in fact it pretty much makes time travel useless.)

-The story is basically writer Geoff Johns stroking his own ego. You see, Johns is also one of the three people Warner Brothers put in charge of DC comics years ago. His obsession with The Flash is well known. In Flashpoint, he introduced an (unnecessary) tragic element into Allen’s past, and attempts to pass it off as something epic that eventually had universal consequences. And he got accolades -the most obvious of which are the multiple adaptations of the idea- for it! The fact he is effectively The Boss and What He Says Goes seems to escape many people.

-The story partially seems inspired by a previous Flash storyarc from the 1980s in which Reverse-Flash also murdered someone close to Allen- in this case it was his wife, Iris. It was one of the first major “dark”, post-Silver Age stories (for DC) as it led to Allen killing the culprit and then standing trial over it. Ultimately it turned out she wasn’t dead after all (time travel was involved) so it had a happy ending, unlike Johns’ imitation.

Flashpoint is ultimately, a poorly-written, over-hyped storyline that Just. Won’t. Go. Away. While not my most hated comics story (not even my most hated DC story) I certainly cannot recommend it to fans of good superhero stories.


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Beowulf the Movie: not quite what it seems

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There have been more than one adaptation of the ancient Beowulf poem; this review is about the 2007 movie. You know, the “animated” one. I hesitate to call it that, because it was done in a hyper-realistic style -even using motion capture for the characters- though it cannot avoid the ‘Uncanny Valley’ effect, that is, the faces never quite look real. Also, many people assume ‘animated’ means ‘for kids’- and this is MOST definitely not for kids! I can’t help but wonder why they went this route instead of doing it in live action (with Special Effects for the monsters of course.)

However, the really controversial part is that they changed the story. This is actually a reinterpretation of the poem, basically saying that certain facts were intentionally changed to hide the truth. SPOILERS AHEAD.

It turns out that Beowulf never killed Grendel’s mother. She seduced him, offering him riches and power in exchange for giving her a son. He lied about this and eventually succeeded King Hrothgar as King of the Danes (another change) but his son grows up to be the Dragon that eventually kills him (as in the poem.)

You see, this movie was used to explore the relationships between men and women, as they were in ancient times (and arguably still are sometimes these days.) Men are shown here as being driven by Pride and Lust; women must abide by this whether they like it or not, though Grendel’s Mother embodies Femininity used against men by way of seduction. The fact that those who sleep with her end up sterile is another ironic strike against men.

Also, the movie tries to humanize all its characters- even Grendel, who only attacked humans because his ears could not tolerate loud noises. And his mother was just trying to keep her species -whatever it might be- alive, since she was the last one left, humans killed the rest. So there’s tragedy going around for all characters. Though personally I could not bring myself to feel too sorry for the monsters. Especially not the Dragon, who honestly had no reason to rampage just because the “pact” between his parents was broken (by accident, too!)

While I appreciate what they were trying to do here- and it was done very well, the movie is certainly entertaining- in the end I cannot help but feel that the changes were all forced just to inject modern day values and Hollywood Drama into it. And many things simply did not make sense. Why was the horn lying where anyone could find it? Did the Mother or the Dragon leave it there on purpose to be found? After all she talked about how humans had to be left alone because they were too dangerous?

So, my personal conclusion is: nice try, but not quite good enough. Maybe some other Beowulf movie is (or will be) more faithful to the original story. Though admittedly, it would not be very long, it’s a pretty simple monster-slaying one. Maybe that was another reason they felt the need to pad it with extra stuff.

Recommended for: fans of computer animation, mythology, and adult themes; NOT recommended for children or those who dislike gore or story deconstructions.


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Heavenly Sword: The Movie

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Based on the Playstation 3 video game from 2007, this computer-animated movie came out in 2014. The story is virtually the same as the game’s.

The setting is your typical Medieval Fantasy, though with both Asian and Western elements (more Asian then Western though.) According to an ancient prophecy, long ago an evil warlord battled a warrior from the heavens; after the battle only the latter’s mighty sword was left. A warrior clan claimed it, and then awaited the year that the prophecy said the Chosen One who could wield it would be born. However, when that year came, the Clan Leader was shocked to learn that his wife gave him not a son, but a daughter. Shunned as a failure just for being female, Nariko secretly trained anyway and became a great warrior.

Eventually, their home was stormed by the forces of Bohan, a king obsessed with getting the Sword. Noriko escapes with it, and is shocked to learn that her father had slept around in an attempt to get the son he needed. With the help of Kyo, a sister she never knew she had, Noriko sets out to find the Chosen One before Bohan’s forces do.

I will not narrate any further because there are a couple of twists in the story I don’t want to spoil. Some are easy to guess, others less so. I will instead comment on the movie overall. Note, I hadn’t even heard of the game when I saw the film.

I liked the combination of Eastern and Western elements. The story is surprisingly dark- make no mistake, this is no family movie. There’s lots of violence (though the animation makes it a bit unrealistic) and there are references to (implied) rape. For the most part though it is an Action Fantasy with plenty of cheesecake as you’d expect from a video game. That’s not necessarily bad, except for one aspect- most of the villains come out of nowhere, with powers that can be confusing. Again, this is a “video game thing”- it doesn’t ruin the movie but I wish they’d given them better context.

On the other hand, the movie does address one interesting topic: family love, in particular paternal love. Noriko was shunned by her father, yet Bohan, for all his evil, apparently cared for his son (the freakish brute called Roach.) And of course, there’s the sisterly bond between Noriko and Kyo, and Noriko’s loyalty to her clan, despite how they had treated her.

Overall, Heavenly Sword makes for a good movie to watch if you’re into Fantasy and Action (and fanservice) though it’s a little bit dark.