El Sijo's Blog

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Re: Zero- Deconstructing Rpgs. HARD.

re zeroDeconstructing role-playing game cliches seems to be in fashion on Japan. For example there was the recent Konosuba Anime series that I reviewed earlier in my blog. But Re: Zero adds a twist to the idea that is both intriguing- and terrifying.

Basically, the series takes the concept of “save-scumming” -the practice of starting over a video game from a progress saving point until you win- and shows us what it would be like if something like that happened in real life. The results range from humorous- to gruesome.

Subaru is your typical Japanese teenager who finds himself mysteriously transported to a magical medieval world. He assumes things would be just like in a game: that he would have great powers and a destiny to fulfill. Nope. But at least he does meet Emilia, a beautiful half-elf girl he falls for. While trying to help her recover a stolen item, both of them get killed!

And then he finds himself right back at the beginning, just as he if had “started the game over”. He does remember everything -including his dying agony- but no one else does.

There is no explanation -at least, not in the early episodes- for why this happens. And Subaru dies A LOT. In ways varying from peacefully in his bed to TORN TO BLOODY PIECES. Honestly, if the rest of the stuff in the series weren’t so good, I would have given up on it by now.

But it is good. The characters are interesting, if quirky -even the sadistic assassin introduced early on-; some are annoying yet have their tender sides. And the animation is top-notch. But above all, the thrill of “HOW is Subaru going to avoid dying again the next time?” just keeps pulling you in.

I’m convinced this show was at least partially written for sadists (and/or masochists who fantasize being in such plights) not just because of the carnage but also the emotional suffering of the characters. I suspect many fans must scream NOOO NOT HIM/HER!! while watching this show.

I’ve decided to continue watching the series, for now anyway. But I’m on the fence; it it never rises above being a “death-of-the-week” gimmick, I may quit before its run ends. And even if I watch it to the end, I’ll definitely evaluate if it was worth the stress.

I leave it to you to decide for yourself if you want to give it a chance.


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Beowulf the Movie: not quite what it seems

Beowulf-2007

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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Dark Relic

dark_relic

Made-for-TV movies, especially those on the SyFy Channel, tend to have a reputation for low quality. This isn’t always true of course; some can have redeeming qualities. This was *almost* the case with Dark Relic, a 2010 Horror/Historical Film set during the First Crusade. The premise is quite interesting: A knight named Sir Gregory and his men find a piece of the True Cross and decide to take the relic to The Pope. Along the way, they rescue two Muslims and a slave from bandits, and they join their quest (the former two because they feel they owe Gregory a debt). However, supernatural evil forces begin attacking them on their journey.

There is a lot of potential here; I particularly liked the use of Muslim characters, showing them to be honorable in their own way; people forget that The Crusaders weren’t exactly Saints themselves. There are also two major female characters, another plus.

Unfortunately, the movie has both plot holes and stupid choices. (Warning, Spoilers ahead.) To begin with, it turns out that, while the relic IS part of the Cross, it is also cursed- why? Apparently just because The Romans put a plaque on it mocking Christ. That’s it. It wasn’t a Satanist, it wasn’t God (at least, that we know of.) The curse is so strong that it attracts evil beings, makes it impossible to remove the plaque, destroy the relic, or even get rid of it! And most holy places fail to protect them, either. Gee, you’d think that God and/or Christ would help them in some way?? You know you have a problem when the characters themselves ask these things. I eventually realized the problem: this is a Horror Film first, and a Historical Drama second. In other words they never intended to give the story a chance- just to tick off all the classic horror movie boxes: slow revelation of the monster(s?) Check. Characters do stupid things? Check. Characters get killed off until only the main ones survive? Check. Oh and (big spoiler here) the Muslim hero dies without returning the favor to Sir Gregory. Did they HAVE to do that?

And they totally ripped off the Balrog from The Hobbit. Really? Couldn’t they afford to be more creative there?

It’s a pity, because as I said, there were some good ideas here. If they had let the story go where it should logically have gone, it would have been more enjoyable, in my opinion.

Still, I enjoyed other factors of the film. Despite the obvious small budget -the special effects were fake-looking and bland at best- the acting was good and you really get caught in the story, especially the interaction between the characters; and the atmosphere of dread gets more intense as the film goes on.

If you’re into horror, historical drama, and aren’t as nitpicky as I am regarding plot details or special effects, you might enjoy this film.


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Heavenly Sword: The Movie

Heavenly_Sword_by_Sisley05

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.