July 9, 2016

Berserk (1997)


Berserk (1997)
Country of Origin - Japan
Start of Run - 10/7/1997
End of Run - 3/31/1998
Produced by Oriental Light and Magic
Cast - Marc Diraison, Kevin T. Collins, Carrie Keranen, Michelle Newman, Christopher Kromer, Jeff Ward, Mark Sebastian, Sean Schemmel, and J. David Brimmer

If you think about Japanese comics and anime there’s a lot of titles that are both well known by both the Japanese and international market and are usually long running series. And I do mean long running series. Dragon Ball started in the mid eighties and while it did technically end in 1995 it’s continued to keep going due to popularity and new entries. One Piece began publication in the late nineties and is still going on. Heck even Golgo 13, a series which started in 1968 is STILL running, making it the longest running series in Japan. The list can go on of these titles which are well known and have been going on for a long time.

But sometimes a series can go on for years and while it can be known it doesn’t quite reach the levels of a Dragon Ball or a Yu-Gi-Oh!. Perhaps the best example of this is Kentaro Miura’s medieval inspired title Berserk (ベルセルク). The story started off as a prototype in 1988 before actually beginning serialization in 1989 and continues to go on to this day. This is mostly because Kentaro Miura is a lazy teasing jerk. But I digress. Since its release Berserk has seen countless droves of fans and forms of release. From video games, soundtracks, merchandise, to the anime we’ll be discussing today, three movies (which simply re-tell the story of this anime), and new show which just began its run. So with so much material out there why does it seem like the show isn’t as well known?

I can only speculate as to why, but I’d say that it may have not helped that Berserk didn’t have a showing on television here in the States. Now while throughout the 90s and early to mid 2000s there were anime that became known if they were only released on VHS, Berserk really never had exposure or any sort of word of mouth for quite a while. After all the show aired in Japan in 1997 and while titles were being ported over more steadily at that point, it usually was the bigger names or schlock that could sell on pure violence or sexual content. Berserk really probably didn’t become more known until after its 2002 US release date due to the internet or maybe some people spreading the word. Even then though I’d say that it didn’t really get popular and a bit more known until the 2009 movie trilogy as not only were these being ported and on a bigger scale, but by this point in time sharing/streaming websites were more frequent for anime as well as sites that allowed people to read comics online.

Whatever the reason it’s pretty sad because Berserk is actually a very, very good title. Yeah, spoiling the end to a degree but this show is one of the best anime I have ever seen. Well I’ll get to that. I must state though that this will be a difficult show to talk about. Not because of content or anything of that sort but because a lot of the show’s ability to suck the viewer in and make them love the show hinges on some pretty important plot points and character moments, not to mention the fact that ending while effective is made much so when you have no knowledge going in. Because of this I can’t really go too in depth with the show. I think most people who have an interest in the franchise by this point knows all about the plot and where it goes, but for those who haven’t and are curious I’ll try to keep the spoilers down to a bare minimum. With all of this said let’s begin our look at Berserk.

Since he was a young child all Guts has known how to do is fight and kill. On his own he makes a name for himself as being such a young and effective soldier. After attacking a group of equally young mercenaries and losing a duel to their leader Griffith, Guts becomes a member of their group; the Band of the Hawk.

Taking command of the raiding team of the band, Guts, Griffith, and Griffiths' second in command Casca and company make a name for themselves over the years, eventually earning a spot in the army of Midland and joining a war that has been waged for 100 years to free the country. Rising through the ranks and with aspirations of their own, the Hawks begin to get the job done, slowly bringing Midland closer to peace. Eventually bringing an end to the war the group is celebrated as heroes. But with their place set and their name famous, what comes next for the Band of the Hawk?

All men are created equal it seems, and all have dreams and ambitions. But what will one do to achieve these goals, or to rise above equality? Or perhaps not all are created equal and destiny has already decided what will happen.

Speaking about Berserk and trying to convey what makes it so great can be a bit of challenge. One is because like I said a lot of this hinges on the viewer not knowing what happens beforehand (which leads to a bit of a misstep on the anime’s part). Second is because while I can write out and say what makes it good I can’t show you, as a lot of does get showcased by scenes. I don’t mean this in a spoilery way but in an “I could make it super clear if I could show you a scene” way. So do bear with me as I evaluate the show.

Beginning with our plot the anime adapts the Golden Age arc of the comics (volumes 3-14), and as such has become the best known part of the franchise and for good reason. While the first episode of the show is pretty pointless (it basically spoils the entirety of the show) the rest of the episodes all carry a purpose and flow naturally into each other, making it easy to marathon episodes in long stretches. Each episode provides character development for individual and group moments, a good amount of action, drama, comedy, really an episode of Berserk tends to have it all. The fun non plot elements blend in well with the scenes that are plot important and create a flow which, like I said, makes the show easy to just get lost in. It is a world that many have fallen in love with and for good reason because, despite the world of Berserk always having that darkness to it, one can find entertainment and some joy in it. Again I know I’m not saying much but I really don’t want to spoil the show. Though, as somebody who knew what was going to happen going in, the impact the show had was still really strong and gut wrenching and it isn’t hard to imagine what it would do to somebody who knows nothing about it. In the end it all comes down to a great story that immerses the viewer in the world and characters, those characters also being a really really big part of it.

Now that I’ve brought them up, I’ll now discuss those characters, those wonderful, wonderful characters. Beginning with our lead Guts we must first make known that throughout all that happens, the show is virtually the coming of age story of Guts. While the other characters are also shown growing and being developed, as a progression through the years Guts is by the far the one that is the focus of this form of story. Us as the audience watches as Guts learns what it means to be in a team and how to find and go down his own path and gain self esteem. When the viewer first meets Guts (remember we aren’t including the first episode) he is but a 15 year old mercenary who is quick to be the aggressor and has a difficult time working in a team setting and coming to terms that somebody wanted him. Throughout the episodes we see him wrestling with all of this and developing as a character and as an adult. Even as an adult he has a hard time coming to terms with why Griffith not only took him in but spared his life when Guts attempted to kill him (twice). All of this comes to a head after he (Guts) overhears Griffith speaking to Midlands’ princess and explains what he wants a person to be to consider a friend. It is this conversation that gives Guts a burning purpose and a promise to himself and by the end finishes off his development before the finale offers one final bit of extra development. Berserk is the story of Guts journey to find himself and how he grows as a person, and the show does a perfect job of capturing it from small to big moments. Guts is quite arguably one of the most well developed characters in all of anime. Equally well developed are the two other main characters; Griffith and Casca, both almost polar opposites of Guts.

Griffith is a person filled with confidence and ambition. He has his goal and is willing to do anything and everything to make it come true, even if to his comrades it makes no sense. This is shown throughout the majority of the show along with Griffith being showcased as the voice of reason in a group that can sometimes be chaotic save for perhaps Jedeau. To a degree one could say that because Griffith is so determined and set in his ways that he is essentially one note and bland. However as the show progresses the layers begin to unfold and we learn more and more about him from stories from the rest of the Band of the Hawk and even from his own actions. He’s calm, cunning, determined, and a leader with the power to inspire. And by the end of the show it all comes full circle which, like Guts, provides another perfectly developed character. This leaves us with Casca of the main three and much of the same that I described of Guts and Griffith can be echoed here. Casca like Griffith is a determined character, yet whereas Griffith’s ambition comes from wanting to make his desires happen Cascas’ come from wanting to help make those dreams happen to the point of belittling any Hawk member who questions Griffiths’ actions or could possibly harm the plans. Along with this she’s strong, strong headed, and quick to be annoyed and show aggression, with part of her development slowly showing us why this is and how she starts to become a more calm person. And as you may have just been able to tell, Casca is the only female member of the Band of the Hawk and one of only three female characters that are regularly shown and developed, she being the best developed of the three women. Again I can’t speak too much on Casca due to the risk of spoiling certain events, but take my word for it when like most of our cast you will be in love with Casca by the end of the series and have a great understanding of who she is and why she is like that. I wouldn’t call her development as perfect as Guts and Griffiths’, but boy does it come close. Now sadly we have to stop somewhere as I could sit here all day and talk about the characters in this show, and to the credit of Berserk it does a fantastic job of giving clear motivations and development for even the side characters. Every member of the Hawk is showcased, those in the court of Midland are showcased, and even the enemies get a good chunk of development. And all of it is enhanced by the fantastic voice work done. I can’t stress enough how perfect the characters in this show are, and when combined with the story and everything that unfolds Berserk creates one of the most engrossing, immersive, and best shows to ever air.

Our last stop brings us to the technical side of the show, and this is when sadly Berserk takes a few hits in terms of cons. Let’s start with the animation since after all this is an anime. Looking at Berserk immediately tells you that it is a product of the late 1990s. Warm and sometimes muted/dark colors with crisp outlines. It’s just plain eye candy to us olden folk. I would be lying however if I said that everything was great in animation land. The show can show both its age and budget restrictions at times in drops of quality as well as the frequent use of still water color/portrait shots. Now while those shots look gorgeous, the frequency used and their use of them to capture larger moments without movement can be seen as cheap and a bad move. I don’t know the budget of the show, but it is easy to understand why these had to be done, as I’d imagine trying to animate a large scale battle with a good deal of movement to be a very hard thing to down with hand drawn work (but hey, still looks better than Gundam Wing). Finally we have our music and any dip in points the show had with the animation is immediately brought back up with the music. The musical score was composed by renowned composer Susumu Hirasawa and it is quite frankly one of if not the best musical scores to ever be produced for an anime. Every piece of music is inserted into scenes when it is needed and is cut and edited in multiple ways throughout the run of the series to fit different situations. Not only this but every single track is memorable and will stay lodged in your brain long after your viewing of the show has finished. Yet an anime is not complete without its opening and ending themes. For our opening we have Tell Me Why by PENPALS and it is a great track. It’s a soft rock deal that still manages to get the viewer pumped and ready for the episode. The Engrish is indeed hilarious at parts, but the lyrics fit the themes of the show rather well. Our ending track is Waiting So Long by Silver Fins and is by far the superior track between it and the opening. Quiet, ominous, mystifying, hypnotic, and dream like, it makes for the perfect song to close out the episodes of a series such as Berserk. It is by far one of the best endings anime has ever had. As you might figure out by this point, the technical side of Berserk is great. While the animation does lower in quality and can show both its budget restrictions and age at times it still manages to be good and stand out with its medieval designs (though again I am always one who prefers the more warm look 90s anime had). And the music, by god the music is perfection incarnate. I don’t much else needs to be said.

With that here we are, at the end of our journey. I think if you’ve stuck with the review at this point you will already know how this is going to end. To put it in simple terms, Berserk is an amazing show. It manages to weave a story that envelops the audience and keep them on the edge of their seats as the plot thickens and unfolds. The characters are magnificent and feature development a plenty, the main three providing some of the best characters the medium has ever seen. We have a soundtrack which is leagues above most and animation but helps create an atmosphere and sets the scene for the story and characters to move about. But like I have mentioned, there are some negatives. The animation can lower in quality to some pretty noticeable places and the use of paintings to represent larger scale scenes can be perceived as cheap. Perhaps the biggest con of the show is the utter misstep is the first episode spoiling the majority of the show. These are without a doubt problems.

However they’re more than made up for with the main story, the characters, the music, and the snug feeling of the animation when it is working at good capacity. Part of the reason the show (and comic and movies) stick with people and resonate so many is because of how great most of the show is and handled. It is a product that can help a person watching discover things about themselves and find their own resolve much in the same way Guts does. It can give somebody the courage and confidence to pursue their dreams and do anything for them like Griffith and Casca do. Yes the animation can be bad and the first episode doesn’t need to exist, but the rest of the production is handled so masterfully that these issues can be overlooked.

So while Berserk does so much in a masterful and perfect fashion is it one hundred percent perfect? No. But it comes close, so very, very, very close. To be honest the animation is very forgivable to me as even modern animation can look cheap and drop in quality. If it wasn’t for the first episode this would be a completely perfect show. Yet even with that blemish Berserk showcases why it has staying power to those who dive into it and why many consider it to be a favorite. This is a case where critically I can’t call it a masterpiece. But on a personal, viewer point of view, and speaking as a fan, Berserk is one of the few animes I would call a masterpiece.


July 8, 2016

First Impressions: Berserk (2016)


A friend of mine does first impressions for when new shows start out whether be anime or tokusatsu or anything else. We need content. So I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring of doing it. And thus here we are.

Our subject today is that of the newest adaptation of Kentaro Miura’s Berserk. Berserk itself has been around since 1989 and originally received a 25 episode television series back in 1997 and eventually was brought back as movie trilogy in the late 2000s. The franchise is a marvelous one and to this day resonates with people for its themes of self worth, friendship, following and finding ones’ dreams, and of human nature. For me Berserk is without a doubt one of my favorites of all time and in fact I rank it as my second favorite piece of Japanese comics and animation ever. So when I heard months back that we’d getting a new show for it I lost my mind. Then when I heard Crunchyroll would simulcast the show I went full blown fanboy hype train apeshit. Sure there was something when promotional material slowly came out that I knew I’d dislike right off the back (and we’ll get to that), but my joy and hype levels were through the roof.

With that here we all. Episode one has been released and episode two just went up today on Crunchyroll. So how about we take a look at the renewal of Berserk and see how it does one episode in. Is it good? Will it satisfy the fanbase? Did I like it? Read on and find out.

Being that this is the first episode there isn’t going to be a whole lot of story. Just the usual setting up the main character, some reoccurring side characters, and a general idea of what the story will be. We do know however from press reports that the show will follow the Black Swordsman Arc and the Conviction Arc. So if you have read the comics you already know how the show is going to start and what it will do with the plot. To actually talk about the episode though, it did a good job of setting up what is going to be seen for however many episodes we get. They do a great job of setting up Guts in character and motivation, they introduce Puck and while I can’t say he doesn’t annoy rather quickly the show does do a good of introducing him and keeping him there, and it gives a good idea of what you’ll be seeing. Guts pops up somewhere, some of the locals take to Guts and some don’t, demonic creatures show up, Guts cleans house, the end. We’re also shown the relationship Guts will have with the Holy Iron Chain Knights, albeit very briefly. Overall the story and setup is pretty good and gets the show off to a good start.

  Now we come to the animation. And…I have to be honest I knew what my thoughts on it was going to be since the first few promotional videos. Like the movie trilogy the shows uses both CGI and traditional animation. However while the movie switched between the two and mostly used traditional with CGI for environments and more complex scenes, this is the opposite, but not really. CGI is the main animation style used here with traditional only appearing in the opening vignette and for close up shots of the characters. I don’t like it. To be fair though the CGI isn’t too terrible. The environments look outstanding and at times realistic as if they actually shot some nature footage outside. And it was inevitable that it had to be used to pull off the mass number of monsters and scale of Guts’ fight. But other than that? It is 100% noticeable and it just isn’t that good. Characters move rather stiffly and everything looks like it is a Telltale game instead of an anime. I can bite my teeth and deal with it to watch one of my favorite series have a new show and a production that isn’t mostly focused on The Golden Age arc. But that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy everything I see.

Also I suppose I should bring up now that we’re speaking of animation that, well, Casca’s design has been changed. She is now a very light skinned color and sports reddish purple hair. Yeah…I have no idea why they changed this. At all. It’s stupid. Moving on.

On the Left: Casca from the 97-98 anime | On the Right: Casca from the new anime
That leaves us with our music of the show. Beginning with the opening it isn’t bad. But it isn’t that great. It’s just sort of there and sounds like your average rock anime opening in this day and age. Kudos though to the production for making the video package be the entirety of The Golden Age arc and hitting all of the key points (save for Nosferatu Zodd and Doddery) in a minute and a half. What about the ending theme? I don’t like it. It is so bland and whispy sounding. Actually it sounds like just about every anime ending from the last couple years. There’s no other way to say it other than that it’s terrible. So how is the score? Well it isn’t all that bad. The soundtrack is going for more of a rocky and industrial sound and in some places it works and in some it doesn’t. However there isn’t a whole lot to get you pumped or sucked into the show. The music is decent overall. There’s some good, there’s some bad, and there’s quite a bit of meh.

So where does that leave us after one episode? Is this new Berserk worth watching after the premiere episode? Well if you’re a fan of the series the answer is pretty much an immediate yes. The Golden Age arc is the plot that we’ve seen be used the most, so seeing a new Berserk production come out that is focusing on two different arcs is a great breath of fresh air and will showcase parts of the comic some people may not be too familiar with. But what about if you’re not a fan of the comic or previous anime versions and are just now venturing into the show? Well I still think it does a good job of getting those not familiar with Berserk to be interested. The episode itself is a good opening and sets the groundwork for what will come. But I would be lying if I said there were no negatives. The music, while not terrible, is pretty average and isn’t going to probably stay with you even after the show ends. And the animation, I just can’t with the majority of it. If it wasn’t for the fact that this is Berserk I would drop it after the first episode. Afterall why watch a show when you don’t like the way it looks?

Well while that normally is the kiss of death for an anime with me, the power of Berserk is strong enough to keep me watching. Whether it be the original show from the 90s, the movie trilogy, the comics, or the games, Berserk has the power to make people invest in its story and characters across the years. So yes, there are parts of the show I don’t like. In the end though I’m willing to deal with it and keep watching a new version of one of my favorites of all time.

June 12, 2016

Quickies - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Quality film making, or quality fun? This is a tough question for a critic of my caliber. I point this out as one of my favorite films is a crappy independent film about a serial killer justifying his lifestyle in a dark comedy romp yet I can say with a passion that I dislike Michael Bay's Transformer movies (and his productions in general).So when I initially heard Michael Bay was attached to the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) movie, I was hesitant and not expecting the film to do well. As always, I was correct and the film was crap, but had SOME bearable moments and wasn't the lowest point of the TMNT franchise. That honor is held proudly by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III; that or The Next Mutation.

And its only now that I realized that the female turtle has shell tits...and like that, Lola Bunny looks more dignified

Anyway, when I heard there was a sequel to the 2014 movie coming, expectations were low once again. But then the trailer came out, and...for the first time in a long time, I felt a spark. A glimmer. A shining beacon of hope that for the first time in a Michael Bay production, they were embracing the insanity of the source material and not on the annoyingly stupid humans. I quickly doused this hope with a bucket of hydrochloric acid, expecting something to go wrong. After going through the movie at long last: I actually had fun. It's not a great film by any means, but it was entertaining and I laughed, more than what I can say for the last movie. Without getting too deep, let's actually get to the movie. 

A year after the events of the first movie, the Turtles are still hiding among the shadows when their archenemy, Shredder (Brian Tee), is finally convicted and is about to be thrown into jail for good alongside two small time criminals, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen "Sheamus" Farelly). One thing goes wrong after another, and Shredder escapes with the aide of a "surprise only if you didn't see the trailers" villain, and the four brothers Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) begin their pursuit with April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and newcomer, instructor of Pain 101, Casey Jones (Stephen Amell). Oh, and Will Arnet is back, isn't voicing Lego Batman, and Tyler Perry is playing Baxter Stockman (who I can't stop calling the Nutty Professor in my head for some reason. Tell me I'm not the only one, please...). 

 As stated before, this movie does not have a good structure. It's clunky here and there, the pacing is accelerated at a break-neck pace, and the final battle (once again if you payed attention to the trailers), takes the Turtles to fighting a mechanical being on a high-rise, just the same as the last movie. 

But throughout this film, I was entertained and having fun. Turning off your brain is an enjoyable experience. If you don't learn to turn it off every now and again, you'll just end up cynical and unable to enjoy the small things that matter. This movie is DECORATED and glorifying it's fanservice to fans of the original 80s cartoon. While I'm more familiar with the 2003 cartoon, I still rolled with the references and in-jokes. Hell, the movie pretty much won me over when the Turtles roll up in their super dumpster truck and the horn plays "Turtles in a Half Shell~" from the original theme song. You can't get dumber and cooler than that. 

And unlike previous Michael Bay productions with adaptation movies, this time the Turtles have CHARACTER and develop. April O'Neil and the rest of the human cast take a back seat as supporting cast and nothing more, focusing on the brothers and their experiences throughout this film. The freaking TITLE CHARACTERS are the focus for once, and I'm grateful. Bebop and Rocksteady were pretty funny, and I was actually surprised as Sheamus was able to ACT outside of whatever the hell WWE has up their sleeve these days. They make a great combo as dumb lackeys and fit the original characters perfectly. The jokes were solid, the action was amazing and fun to look at, and hit the marks as an entertaining movie. 

Back to the negatives, there's still some of Bay's trademarks that rear their ugly heads. Megan Fox played up for her sexiness (only for ONE scene, and a half point if you want to get VERY picky with a different scene), one fart joke, and a scene where Bebop and Rocksteady compare dick sizes. Bromances, man. Casey Jones was pretty much just reduced to being the "new guy to help audience understand things" role, but the blow is lessened if you just imagined this as a Casey Jones origin story (though I am pissed that he didn't once scream "GOONGALA"!). Shredder unfortunately was reduced to a backseat as well to the aforementioned "surprise" villain. I'm keeping him secret because unless you're familiar with the Turtle franchise, this character's introduction was key to the problem of "break-neck pacing". Shredder should've been the main focus. While this new villain is great service to the fans, they wasted Shredder after going through the trouble of re-casting him, showing his face, and also letting him have character. Brian Tee did amazingly well for what he was given. 

The film is not great on a professional level, but as a fun and entertaining movie, it succeeds and does well as just a gigantic feast of fanservice. It's a great movie to pop in if you just want some fun and a good Turtles movie if you don't have the 1990 movie on hand. I give it a solid B+, and recommend to see it. 


June 10, 2016

Duel to the Death

Duel to the Death
Release Date - 1/13/1983
Country of Origin - China
Directed by Ching Siu-tung
Starring - Norman Chu Siu, Damian Lau, Flora Cheong-Leen, and Eddy Ko

When you’re a kid you sort of fall in love with the different types of warriors. Knights, pirates, Spartans, etc. However I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that while those were cool, every kid on the friggen planet loves and is obsessed with ninjas and samurais, ninjas more so. Whether it’s by the Ninja Turtles, anime, cheesy action films, or Power Rangers/Super Sentai, we all catch the ninja bug at some point and become infatuated with them.You also tend to fall in love with martial arts due to stuff like Power Rangers or watching films about them. This rings especially true for those that come from Hong Kong and China. Whether it is wuxia tales or just plain old down and dirty fighting, martial arts films also tend to play a role of infatuation for us former kiddies (and still do for some of us). So what happens when you take ninjas, throw in some wuxia heroes, and top it off with some rather interesting scenes? You get Duel to the Death.

Released in 1983 Duel to the Death saw the directorial debut of acclaimed action director and wireworker Ching Siu-tung. Ching would later go on to direct the beloved film A Chinese Ghost Story, the Swordsman series, and multiple other films. Since its release the film has garnered a fan base and for some is one of the best martial arts films to have ever been made. Dr. Craig Reed has even listed it as his number eighth pick as the best of that genre of film. So there is a bit of a pedigree to the film. Does it deserve it? Am I ever going to think of another way of phrasing to jump into these films that have some positive feedback? Who knows, but I can get to actually reviewing this picture and offer my two cents.

Every year China and Japan meet, they sending off their best swordsman to face each other in a match to determine which country houses the best martial arts and for the honor of their country. This year China is represented by a man known as Lord of the Sword; Bo Ching-wan (played by Damian Lau), a student of a Shaolin temple who is ready to showcase his skills and to prove himself. Representing Japan is Hashimoto Kada (played by Norman Chu Siu Keung); a samurai who also has some training in the art of ninjutsu and is honored to be given the task by the Shogun.

The two head out and meet at the selected battle ground; a school led by a once prestigious clan of swordsman in China. However while the two men act very pleasant and respectable to each other it appears as if there’s some espionage going on that threatens to change the course of the duel. Adding some extra intrigue to the events is the daughter of the House of Swords master (played by Flora Cheong-Leen) forming a relationship of sorts with Ching.

What exactly is the purpose of those looking to undermine the customs of the duel? Which country will prevail? The only way to find out is to draw ones sword and fight until they no longer can.

Looking at Duel to the Death’s story reveals one that is simple yet kind of complicated and crazy. The setup is simple and the film stays this way for the majority of the running time. It isn’t really until we get close to the end that it begins to get a little labyrinthine. This comes from the motivation of the villains of the movie. Without revealing too much, there is something the two villains want that the other has, so they form an odd alliance to get what they both want. It comes out of nowhere to a degree and on one end makes absolutely no sense and could have been handled in a simpler manner. I wish I could go into more detail but that would involve spoiling a chunk of the movie. If you watch the movie you’ll see what I mean. Still while the ending gets a little confusing the stuff before it is easy to follow. I do wish it had some more meat to it, and there is stuff that just isn’t explained (such as why Ching is staying in the Shaolin temple but doesn’t have to shave his head or dress like the others). Really there isn’t much to it and save for the ending (and needing a bit more to it) it provides a simple but nice story with a few bits of poignancy. Overall some fairly decent stuff with a few moments of what the hell.

Obviously the story being pretty simple means that the characters are in the same boat. All but Hashimoto though. Strangely this Hong Kong film about China VS Japan actually gives a lot to the focus to the Japanese character and even gives a bit more time to the other Japanese characters. I say this is weird because in films like this the Japanese characters don’t really get a lot of development or are handled in a way that makes them out to be inferior, with a lot of this coming from Japan and China’s estranged history. Yet Hashimoto has the most development of the characters and comes off as a very likeable and sympathetic character. Norman Chu Siu Keung as such steals the show acting wise and delivers one of the best performances I have ever seen in a martial arts film (and thus one of the best characters). This is honestly one of the highlights of the movie. I just wish I could say the same for the rest, as the characters themselves are very simple and while the acting isn’t bad, nothing is all that great. I would say Damian Lau is the next closest to being a standout performance but suffers from only really showing off one side of the character, and while done well the other sides just aren’t showcased that well. In the end, much of the acting and characters are on cruise control, but Keung’s acting and the overall way Hashimoto is written provides one of the best characters you may ever see in a kung fu film.

This brings us to our technical side. It is here in which the film really begins to shine out in all aspects. Starting with the cinematography we are given very beautiful and well shot visual. I’ll admit some of the darker interior and night scenes can be a little sketchy, but they aren’t all that bad, with one of them being one of the best shots of the flick. However whenever we are greeted with a scene set in the daylight and in one of the many forests or at a waterfront is when the cinematography really shows. These are some amazing visuals and are up there as some of the best I have ever seen. The movie does have some grain to it, but to its defense it is a film from the early 1980s and while some films from the era can look beautiful when remastered, this one does appear to have either been remastered from a bad print or just without a lot of attention. But even with the grain the shots still look great and I think it adds some character to the piece. Another beautiful aspect comes with the music and boy is it wonderful. The best way I could describe it would be that it sounds akin to music you’d hear in a spaghetti western or a giallo. The score invokes a lot of atmosphere and emotion and is placed quite well within the scenes. But what about the fighting? It’s good…nothing that great but it’s good. A lot of the fighting in the early bits of the movie is just sort of a paint by the numbers affair (which is odd to say considering we have ninjas fighting Shaolin monks). However once Hashimoto and Ching reach the House of Swords we start seeing an improvement in quality. However they don’t get that great. A lot of this to me is due to the wirework and how over the top it is. While this is common in wuxia movies I think it goes a little overboard here. The best fight in the entire movie to be frank is the one that doesn’t utilize wirework that much, and in fact involves Hashimoto. As for the titular duel to the death it is good, but still doesn’t really reach any levels of amazingness, again mostly due to the wirework. When it doesn’t rely on it there are some great moments and the outcome was a bit of a surprise. Overall the technical side isn’t bad, but when you’re a kung fu film and your action isn’t that impressive, your film gets dragged down quite a bit.

So at the end of the day, what we have in Duel to the Death is pretty much the definition of average. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some decent parts to the movie. Some scenes are handled very well (especially one between Ching and Hashimoto in which they talk about what is to come), the music is fantastic, and Siu’s acting is very good and the character of Hashimoto is one of the best developed characters in a martial arts film that I’ve seen. But sadly aside from these cases everything else is just rather dull. The plot takes turns which are too complicated and head scratching, the rest of the characters are just sort of there with acting that doesn’t help, and the fights, rather disappointingly try to be so flashy that they kind of fail and come off as boring (save for the previously mentioned solo Hashimoto fight). While martial arts movies won’t always have great stories or great characters, the least they can do is offer entertainment value in the fights, but Duel to the Death doesn’t really do that. And with all the other issues it becomes a giant pile of bleh.

When it comes to kung fu films you never truly know what you will get. Sometimes you get gold and sometimes you get not even a medal. It’s just one of those things you have to accept when being a fan of any genre. Where does Duel to the Death fall? Sadly I have to say it doesn’t even place for a bronze. It just comes down to the fact that the story while interesting is just weak in execution and drags down most of the characters with it. The music and cinematography almost make up for it but are then brought down by how lackluster most of the fights are. I definitely wouldn’t call it one of the best kung fu films of all time or even one of the best of the 80s. Sadly I find this to a film that is simply overhyped.

D +

June 8, 2016

Dir En Grey - Missa


Dir En Grey - Missa
Release Date - 7/25/1997
Country of Origin - Japan
Number of Tracks - 6

I’m just going to say it; Dir En Grey is my favorite band. Ever. Forever and ever. I highly doubt any band will ever beat them out for that position. The only other band which comes close is Buck-Tick, but even they fall to Dir En Grey. So I thought it would be fun to turn my reviewing eyes towards them and review all of their albums. Yeah, that’s right, all nine studio albums and their first two EPs (the third is basically a re-mix album and I tend not to review those). Obviously I’ll be reviewing my fan goggles here so that we can have reviews completely 100% fair. If something isn’t good I’m going to call it out. So with that said, on to the first review.

Released in 1997, Dir En Grey’s full debut effort was the EP titled Missa. While the band was previous known (without Toshiya) as La: Sadie’s, this marked their debut on recorded form and for most of the public (though mostly an independent/underground one) under the Dir En Grey banner. While I cannot find records at how well the release did, it is more than evident that this was the first shot into the visual kei and Japanese music scene that made it clear that the band was one to be acknowledged and followed, and showcases a lot of what was to come. The EP was later followed up by two singles (Jealous and -I’ll-) before their studio and mainstream debut in 1999’s Gauze.

Looking back at the record from the viewpoint of fans who are more use to the sound of the band from Withering to Death onward, Missa is a shock to the system and definitely an oddity. Personally it was one of the first releases I listened to along with Withering to Death, The Marrow of a Bone, and Gauze and I didn’t find it that weird. Sure it was the band at their earliest, but being into old school visual kei and having heard Gauze and the aforementioned singles made it to where Missa didn’t hit me as hard as it might for others. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to say right off the bat that it’s good. Is it bad? Not really. Just what it is it? Well let’s get into the EP and find out.

Track Listing
1. 霧と繭 (Kiri to Mayu)
2. 「S」
3. Erode
4. 蒼い月 (Aoi Tsuki)
5. Garden
6. 秒「」深 (Byou Shin)

When you think of Dir En Grey you think heavy and experimental in terms of sound. True they went full blown heavy metal in the mid 2000s but the experimentation wand originality was still there (save for Marrow of a Bone). It might come as a shock then when Missa sounds…generic. I know I just called Marrow pretty bland, but I can say though that each song is clearly Dir En Grey. Honestly if I didn’t know it was Diru beforehand I wouldn’t be able to tell. Actually I’m willing to say that unless you’ve listened to the album multiple times or seen their live shows from the time it would be easy to forget most of the tracks, and that really isn’t a good thing both in general and coming from a band in which the tracks ARE memorable. Now in all fairness to the EP a lot of visual kei sounded the same at the time. But does this mean that the EP’s sound is good? Well yes and no. On one hand everything is perfectly clear for the most part (sometimes it is a little hard to hear Karou and Die playing at the same time since it seems Karou is the more dominant of the recording, and thus the most audible) on the instrumentation. As for Kyo he’s okay, he is audible but this is very clear early in their career and Kyo’s skill as a vocalist isn’t that great. To be perfectly honest he sounds congested for quite a bit of the album. Really Missa is perfectly clear that it is a debut and early piece of work. All the songs sound like other 90s visual kei songs and in some cases on the album blend together to the almost sounding like the same song that just had a short break. Along with this the technical aspects are pretty average too, with the instrumentation sounding, well generic. Kyo’s voice is easily the most noticeable part of the album, but even that isn’t really good. It is still early in their tenure so I can kind of forgive it, but the early card really only gets you so far.

So what about the lyrics? Save for the sound of the songs the lyrics are usually the most memorable part of Diru’s musical arsenal and are some of the most poetic, heartbreaking, energy providing, and poignant one will find. Well dear Diru fan you’ll be happy to know that Kyo’s lyricism is here in full force. As usual Kyo’s lyrics are poetic and pack a punch to cut into your brain and invoke emotion. The album’s words lean quite a bit towards the more reticent and lost love side of things, with some songs speaking of using cyanide to be with a former love again, not caring for a person but being with them anyways, and some are just fun gothic little randomness. Even the more almost lulworthy gothic lyrics aren’t terrible, and in one case has some of the best sounding instrumentation on the track (to me at least). This is without a doubt an album that doesn’t pack the punch Kyo can usually give, but some instances hint at what was to come and can provide some nice deep lyrics while some are just gothically fun. You could argue those feed into the genericness, and I won’t lie they kinda do, but they’re almost to the point of being over the top that it is a little fun. Overall a mixed bag of lyrics, not Kyo’s best but not his worst.

Poe’s Favorites

Conflicted on how to grade the EP would be a bit of an understatement. On the one hand it is enjoyable to listen to as both a Dir En Grey record and as some old school visual kei. On the other hand it being so close in sound to various other recordings from the scene at the time doesn’t really make it stand out short of Kyo’s voice. As such it is a bit of a tough one to give a verdict to.

I guess in the end Missa being pretty average in itself sort of sets what the grade should be. In final, this isn’t a bad release, it’s just one that sort of blends in with all the other independent bands at the time. Short of knowing about it by being a fan of Dir En Grey, you may not even know it is Dir En Grey.

Dir En Grey in 1997

May 3, 2016

Green Room

Green Room
Release Date - 4/29/2016
Country of Origin - America
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring - Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogeen Poots, Macon Blair, and Mark Webber

I don’t see a lot of horror movies in theaters. Correction, I don’t see a lot of modern horror movies in theaters anymore. Sure every so often I’ll go see a classic at a theater, but if a newer movie comes out I tend to just wait till it gets released on DVD. My reason? Modern horror doesn’t really put stuff out that I personally want to go and spend money to see in a cinema. So much of it is either predictable jump scare supernatural films made for teenagers or another Purge movie, which please, stop making them. Sure every so often comes out that catches my interest such as Tusk, It Follows and to a lesser extent Under the Skin, but really it is rare that horror movies get released that I either want to pony up the money for to rent or pony up even more for a theatrical viewing.

So I was rather shocked when Green Room caught my eye. Couple months ago I was writing down movies to see over the year to attempt to be more in touch with what gets put out and get back into the multiplex viewings being more often than they usually are. The title of Green Room caught my eye on Wikipedia and after reading about it I was intrigued, mostly because of Patrick Stewart. When the first red band trailer came out intrigue became outright interest in seeing the movie, and needing a horror film to tide me over till October (and believe me when I say I’m not really salivating and being impatient to see Rings) I decided to go ahead and see it in the theaters and on the way there decided “Hey, why not review it?” So that I will do.

Now of course this being a movie only a week old (in terms of full theatrical release) don’t expect me to get into great detail about the flick. In fact less detail than I usually do. With that said let’s get to it.

A punk band known as The A’int Rights head out for an interview a gig for a short little tour. Upon giving the interview they find out that not only will it possibly not air, but that they’ll be performing in a Mexican restaurant and make next to nothing. The interviewer as means of apology and making it up to the band for this little happening gets them a gig and his cousin’s club. There’s a catch though; it is run by Nazis. But in need of money the band agrees to take the gig and take it they do, with it going fairly well.

But it seems bad luck has decided to make them its personal bitch, as just as they’re about to leave they walk into the green room to see a dead body surrounded by a local punk band and the dead girl’s friend. Seeing the band freak out and going to call the cops two of the bouncers usher the local band out and keep the friend and our main characters locked in to wait for the cops to come. Well shit turns sour as the bouncers and own of the club stage a small incident to get the cops away. Why? Because they don’t like the idea of this out of town band paying witness to some “business” and want everything cleaned up nice and smoothly. Except as you’d imagine our main characters are rightfully pissed off about this and after they are attacked while trying to play along decide that enough is enough and begin to stage an escape.Will they escape? Will they survive? Why are those involved with the club trying to keep things hush hush? All of this will be revealed as our musical mates try to escape the green room.

This is a movie that pretty much delivers what was promised in the trailers; punk band goes to club, sees shit they shouldn’t, and then has to deal with Nazis. Not all that hard to mess up. But surprisingly the film is a little muddied. How? Where? Well I’ll tell you.

Starting with story I’ll be repeating myself when I say that it is pretty simple. Not that it’s a bad thing, after all when you have a horror/exploitation movie plots are going to get simple, and this one is as simple as it needs to be…almost. Thing is the movie has to give a reason as to why the band is basically being held hostage and while one is provided it really isn’t explained. I can’t go into too much detail but seeing as this arguably is the biggest plot point and moment of the movie that explains everything, it just doesn’t do a good job at providing clear answers. Yet while they muddled it there I can forgive it because the pacing is really good and the movie builds up and releases tension so very well. Honestly this is one of the best new movies horror or not I’ve seen in years in terms of tension in pacing. Again I can’t say much but trust me when I say that the movie keeps you on the edge of your behind and seat. Another kudos I have to give to the filmmakers is that the twist I thought was the most obvious and going happen didn’t happen. My twist/bullshit detector goes into overdrive for horror movies and it was screaming here that a predictable twist was coming, and then it didn’t. Kudos movie, kudos. So is it a good story? It being so simple does make it hard to criticize because really it needed to be simple, and the tension/pacing is executed really well. But…you can’t really shit the bed on the information that is telling the audience why all of this is happening.

What about acting and technical? Like the story I won’t divulge too much into development and what not (but needless to say simple story equals simple characters) however I will say that the acting was pretty meh. Save for Patrick Stewart but I mean, come on, it is Patrick Stewart. Everybody else is just really there. Actually the two characters considered the leads are arguably the blandest of the flick and as such worst. Moving to technical and, well, it’s an independent horror film in the modern age. The shots of the nature of Oregon are great. Talking about the interior shots though just shows some more meh. Now the lighting in the actual green room is pretty good and conveys some unease, but everything else is just standard blueish purple dark lighting. The shots themselves are just meh and really I don’t know what else to say. There really wasn’t a shot aside from the few natures one that stuck out. Now you may be thinking “This movie should have a good number of punk music in it.” You’d be wrong. Aside from the two bands there is no other punk music in the movie; actually there was barely any music in general. But what about violence, because boy did the trailer make this look like a bloodbath. The movie is pretty brutal, utilizing box cutters, guns, machetes, lighttubes, and pieces of metal and even dogs to dish out the punishment. You would then be correct in assuming it gets graphic, with anything involving the dogs being disgusting and nasty. Our injuries and kills still pack a punch outside of the dog moments, but it dribbles into your generic shooting and slashing and stabbing stuff. If you’re one of my regular readers who watch some of the more extreme types of films we look at it there is one kill in particular you’ll find pretty tame and done much better in other movies, from the 80s. Basically the acting follows in the story’s footsteps in terms of qualities (save for Stewart) and the technical side follows the overall meh quality.

So with it still in a couple of theaters in a wider fashion and a home media release set for July, is Green Room worth it? Well to be honest I was expecting a lot from this movie as I saw a couple of fellow horror reviewers hyping it up, yet I found the film overall to be pretty average. A story which while as compact and simple as it needs to be forgets to fully make motivations clear, pretty forgetful acting, forgetful cinematography, a rather sad lack of music is pretty hard to recommend to a degree. Sure you have the violence and Patrick Stewart, but I can’t really think of anything else memorable to tell you fine folk.

If you’re interested in the movie then I do say see it, as even though it isn’t as great (in my opinion) as reviews make it out to be it was still fairly entertaining, and it was kinda fun seeing a violent horror movie after a long sludge of just plain despicable gore (and trust me I’m getting to those). In the end, I say see the movie, but maybe wait until it’s out on home media or on a streaming site.

March 13, 2016

GeekFreak - Kamen Rider OOO

Well, I'm back folks. Been falling behind on things, but figured I'd make it up to you guys by taking on another Kamen Rider series! I'm gonna do these in the order I finish them, so after my initial dive into Kamen Rider W, I'll follow it up with my second dip: Kamen Rider OOO (Like saying multiple Os), the 40th Anniversary series!

As the twelfth series in the Heisei Era of Riders and the series airing during Kamen Rider's 40th anniversary AND holding the honor of airing the 1000th episode, OOO was pretty much put on a pedestal to celebrate the legacy and impact the spandex-wearing grasshopper man has had on Japan and its neighbors with dedicated translators. Once again, I'll be going spoiler free (well, BIG spoilers) with personal thoughts on everything in general. I'll be skipping the movies again, and just sticking to the "core" series (hehe, joke, there, I'm funny). No interesting cast or crew choices....in this paragraph. Well, second verse, same as the first, let's go!

Story Structure

In an unnamed Japanese city, a museum goes through the usual antics of having world destroying artifacts get damaged, opened, and all sorts of usual shenanigans that crack it open like a pinata. In this series's case, the world destroying artifact was holding the monstrous Greeed, five powerful monsters based on animals are unleashed to wreak mayhem upon the people. The Greeed are beings made of "Core Medals", three sets of medals that contain the power of the animal species they represent that give them power and life, and consume and are fueled by "Cell Medals" common silver versions of Core Medals that are mass produced by human desire and greed. To obtain power, they go out to farm the Cell Medals from humanity and ever go after each other for their Core Medals and become whole. Ankh, the red bird Greeed reduced to a floating right forearm, is the common enemy of the remaining four and is their first target until Ankh finds assistance in the ambition-less, passionless vagabond Eiji Hino and grants him the power to transform into the titular Kamen Rider OOO, using the Core Medals Ankh stole from his fellow Greeed. While Eiji wants to use this new power to protect humans from the Greeed, Ankh only cares about using Eiji to destroy the other Greeed to grow stronger himself. And so, the two unlikely allies are joined together and backed by the mysterious Kougami Foundation to combat the Greeed and gather all of the Core Medals.

With such a BIG set-up and many Core Medals to track down, OOO was definitely given enough material to keep a lasting story that can drag out through 50 episodes instead of dragging on. Once again, we don't really have "filler" episodes, something I'm actually KIND of missing from these shows as I have finished my fourth series now. The characters immediately grabbed me with their comedic antics, as this series is certainly more comedy-focused than the dramatic W.

Each two episodes show how one of the Greeed is planning on gathering Cell Medals by picking a reluctant human to be their puppet to foster their Greeed in each of their own unique ways, addressing the subject of "greed" and its many interpretations. Rather than painting greed as a black and white sin, the series actually takes it into a gray area and addresses greed more of a concept of void vs excess and how even greed and human desire can be GOOD things. Eiji and Ankh more or less stick to crazy antics being practically homeless until Eiji gets a home in the "theme of the week"-based restaurant Cous Coussier and fighting each other on morals as much as they fight the "Yummy" of the day (my favorite pun in Kamen Rider history so far). And the series keeps you from getting bored by introducing the fact that the Greeed are monsters of...greed. That is their only drive, so they are just as much each other's enemies as Eiji and Ankh's. Being comedy-based, a lot of the comedy comes from the enigmatic Kougami Foundation and how its president is a total whackjob who is a giant mastermind.

Each Greeed has their own unique way of gathering Cell Medals, somewhat matching their personality so it makes each encounter different and interesting on how Eiji and Ankh will tackle them.

Where as W eventually got tiresome with its ever tried and true motivation of the villain being "revenge" every now and then, how greed and desire are observed and addressed in each episode is new and different each time. My biggest problem and contingency on reboots these days is this: you're free to re-tell the story of the character we know today, just do something FUN and NEW with it. Be inventive, don't just either do everything step by step the same or completely botch it and miss the point. Of course, while I do like this series, I do have some grievances.

Enjoying the view, ladies~?
A minor issue I have is the driving tension between Eiji and Ankh. Its obvious what path Ankh will go down, but the number of his d-bag moments certainly outnumber any redeemable moments. Ankh constantly crosses the line, but while he is punished, I just find it irritating that they still expect him to hold up his own end of bargains. Luckily Eiji isn't an idiot, and plots against Ankh just as must as Ankh plots against him.It's an interesting relationship, to say the least. Luckily his eventual redemption made up for everything.

While greed is addressed, I will admit that it can drag a bit in that while how the issue of how it and desire are treated. Yes, the motivation for the desire is pretty much different each time, I do have to roll my eyes how some motivations do look like an ass-pull. Case and point: a spoiled daughter buys a lot on her own until her father's job is thrown to crap, so she just freaks out and just starts buying more and more and getting them into even more debt. Meh.

But my biggest issue of OOO in the grand scheme of things: the villain. I can't reveal who the ultimate big bad is, but I can say that their motivation just doesn't make any sense to me. I'm sure if you were to go into some in-depth philosophy lessons for a few minutes, I could get, but as it is the villain's ultimate goal and reasons for doing what he does not only make little sense, but WHY and WHERE he got such a motivation is just weaksauce and doesn't compare in comparison to other characters and their motivations and goals. Bottom line: the villain is ultimate the show's failing point. That's two series in a world where the villain's motivation is either too vague to get or just plain weak. Not a great way to go.

But as a whole, Kamen Rider OOO's story is strong, filled with interesting lore, and PLENTY of comedy to keep you from getting bored from the typical dragging of Kamen Rider series. The villain is the weakest point, but luckily they at least give his final battle something worthwhile and plenty of fun characters. Whom we will take a look at next!


Eiji Hino (Shu Watanabe): Meet Eiji Hino, or as he's called in some circles, Godai 2.0! I kid, but Eiji is your typical roaming vagabond who only wants to do good, get paid to get by, and doesn't carry anything beyond tomorrow's underwear (which they show him in A LOT. Fanservice knows no gender). But surprisingly, Eiji isn't a dimwitted boy scout; he's just as conniving as the Greeed are, pretty much forcing Ankh to be his partner throughout these excursions.
And, there's a lot of depth to him beyond his broken smile. I think he is the most damaged but most charming Rider I have ever seen, and that's after going through four series so far. Yeah, its not much compared to total amount of series, but it's really saying something about this man's character. This is nothing spoilery as they delve into it pretty early on, but Eiji was the son of a politician and traveled a lot and at one point was friends with a village of vaguely-middle eastern people. The village is one day destroyed by rebels that his father pretty much set up, and blamed the loss of many lives on himself, shattering whoever he was and breaking any kind of humanity on him. From there on, he goes about as a traveler with no true ambition or drive or passion; just passing through the motions of living like a zombie, but still having some hope and optimism, keeping tomorrow's underwear as his greatest concern beyond protecting others. He makes it his entire life to save others, no matter how much strain and punishment his body is put through, even if its killing him. Just as he reaches a point where his powers start controlling him and breaking his body down to the point of barely standing, he still finds the obsessive pull to go towards innocent, trapped civilians chanting "OOO!" like they're waiting for a savior to come. It's actually quite chilling just how much pain Eiji goes through. But through it all, Eiji is forced to confront his past and begin healing as a person, and becoming a new man as a result of it. Who he becomes in the end is up to the viewer to find out, as Eiji has earned the spot of my favorite Rider in the series so far. There's actually an interesting read on his PTSD that I would highly recommend reading about from this tumblr, "Henshin Posers!"
http://henshinposers.tumblr.com/post/88998476479/kamen-rider-ptsd-rider-themes-part-1 . Fair warning, there are unmarked spoilers for this and other series, but seriously give it a read sometime.
Bonus Fact: Shu Watanabe has performed several songs on the show's soundtrack for each main Core Combo. My personal favorites being Sun Goes Up and Time Judged All.

Ankh (Ryosuke Miura): The red-colored bird Greeed who just has the obsessive drive to become the most outlandish and hipster looking motherbastard I have ever seen. After being freed, Ankh was only a floating right hand that attached himself to the half-dead corpse of a detective that helped Eiji in the first episode. First off, FULL props to the puppeteer of Ankh's hand, Satoshi Fujita, because I never knew it was possible to have a hand EMOTE, but man did he do it. Ankh is the wildcard, obviously ill-intent and doesn't truly care about Eiji, his friends, or any other human so long as he can get lots of Cell Medals to be fueled and as long as Eiji can beat the Core Medals out of his fellow Greeed. Being a Greeed, he isn't exactly "whole", and is constantly wanting something to fill the void. But as all Anti-Heroes go, Ankh is a pretty cool case. At first I thought he was going to be your "typical anti-hero", with his too cool for school attitude, constantly POSING whenever he sits up in trees or high places, swishing his head back and forth, and munching on phalic objects (ice pops). But Ankh is actually THE STRAIGHT MAN within Eiji's company, which makes it hilarious since he's a monster among them experiencing things as a human. Ankh is the most NORMAL out of them, as he has to deal with the random antics of Cous Coussier owner Chiyoko, Hina's compassion and impossible strength, Eiji's own twisted brand of manipulation, and Date as a WHOLE. He's a serious man with an agenda who's surrounded by insanity and is slowly becoming just as crazy as the rest of them. This is a man who's lost his goddamn mind and wants to kill everyone in the room. Ankh's obvious path to redemption is WELL done, and I actually felt my heart turn a bit in the final 10 episodes as Ankh's heading toward the finish line of his character arc. The cherry on top is actor Ryosuke Miura just LOVING this role and just over-acting the entire time (in the FUN way). The man obviously loves the part and the flashyness, and milks it in nearly every scene.

Kousei Kougami (Takashi Ukaji): The mysterious and eccentric as hell president of the Kougami Foundation, the man celebrates the birthday of every employee in his company, spends most of his time baking cakes, and provides Eiji with such wonderful toys to play with all while screaming, singing, and just spouting random engrish "HAPPY BIRTHDAY" and "WONDERFUL"! Kougami is just fun, and the definition of the Bunny-Ears Lawyer. He acts like a loon and nutball, but is easily THE most manipulative man in the entire series who plays everyone around him like chess pieces. While he is shady and his motivation unknown, he is ultimately on the side of good. He's just not afraid to lie to our heroes because they didn't ask. Kougami's entire purpose is to remind everyone of Kamen Rider's 40th birthday by shouting it nearly every episode and having an obsession with births and beginnings, but his hamminess is just A JOY. Praise Ukaji-san because I just can't stop smiling when I see him on screen.

Greeed: The four Greeed are the main antagonists of the series, four monsters of pure desire and greed. Each of them represent a different method of obtaining what they desire that matches perfectly well with their personalities. Uva (Yūsuke Yamada), the green insect Greeed, is brash, angry, but perfectly willing to play the waiting game with his plans and desires. Kazari (Taito Hashimoto), yellow feline Greeed, is the smartest of the bunch and plays the leader role, and is on no one's side but his own and willing to use Eiji's desire to protect people against him. Mezool (human form Honoka Miki, voice Yukana Nogami), blue fish Greeed, is conniving and the one who keeps the others in check when they start getting ambitious and is the most patient of the bunch. I find it somewhat typical and odd that she desires true love and her human disguise form is that of a middle school girl with a habit of wearing shorts (her human actress being 13-14 at the time of the show's airing). Lastly, we have Gamel (Hiroyuki Matsumoto), the dimwitted large-mammal grey Greeed, who is the dumb tank of the group who just causes mayhem and does whatever he's satisfied with at the moment. These four conflicting personalities makes the tension of who's going to betray who first thrilling and actually pretty funny with how easily and soon their so-called teamwork falls apart.

Akira Date (Hiroaki Iwanaga): My favorite character next to Eiji, Akira is the Secondary Rider for this series, Kamen Rider Birth (can you guess who named it?). Date was hired by Kougami to gather 100,000,000 Cell Medals and destroy the Greeed and their Yummies in the process and be paid that much in Yen as a reward. Date is basically a bounty hunter Kamen Rider, and is hilarious in the process. He's fighting for a good purpose, but REALLY wants the payment that comes along with it. He's fun, easy-going, but really does have a bit of a practical and dark mindset. He just looks badass walking around in his flight suit, aviator jacket, and lugging around a giant jug of Cell Medals, and using a gun that can shoot Medals with enough kick to send a normal human flying. Date is a little bit of a nutter, just taking a lax look at things but with the RIGHT amount of seriousness to get down to business when lives are at risk. I also do love how his whole concept is an opposite to Eiji, as a Rider. While Eiji uses the power of nature and animals combined with the forces of what is essentially magic (okay, ALCHEMY), while Birth was purely a creation of the Kougami Foundation and uses tools and the common Cell Medal to fight. Just some fun analogies I found there.

Shintaro Goto (Asaya Kimijima): And one of my least favorite characters, former cop Goto was the survivor of a squad of Kougami security that charged at the Greeed during their release, and doesn't see Eiji as the true hero and not using OOO to its full potential. Goto is driven by pride, and is nothing but annoying when he constantly complains about not being given the power to fight the Greeed and is just reduced into a delivery boy giving OOO more toys to play with. But thankfully, the show realizes his issues and works him to basically go through an embarrassment conga-line to have his pride shattered and understand that he needs to work toward what he wants and earn it, getting some well-deserved humility served up. He's pretty much bland otherwise as a character, being a straight man to everyone else's insanity but not EMOTING his frustration with them as much as Ankh. Just bland, but he's at least given a character arc.

Doctor Kiyoto Maki (Yu Kamio): The head of the science division of the Kougami Foundation, Doctor Maki essentially creates the toys and gear for OOO to use including robot animals, motorcycle vending machines, and studies the Greeed and Yummy. Cold and emotionless, Doctor Maki holds little regard for anyone else's life, because of his obsession with "endings" and  death, believing that something's worth can only be measured and determined when it dies (very much like how the afterlife judges newcomers). Kougami's complete opposite in nearly every respect, and a master manipulator all the same. That is until you knock the strange doll off his shoulder; then he's a damn loon trying to put it back on his shoulder. This, of course, is exploited for all the comedy its worth. Doctor's Maki's history and past are slowly revealed as the series progresses. While it started off pretty interesting and enthralling, once endgame comes around he just starts falling apart. A shame too, because seeing Kamio-sans acting is really endearing and glues you to the screen as he monologues.

Hina Izumi (Riho Takada): The sister of the cop Ankh possessed, she sticks around as  funny side character with no real purpose beyond giving Ankh a morality pet and for SOME reason having super strength. They give absolutely NO REASON why she's super strong. My own theory for why involves Kamen Rider Agito, but I haven't finished the series so it's in the air. She doesn't really have much a character other than ship tease for Eiji AND Ankh (oddly) and hilariously strong. She's the worry-wort, and has nothing much beyond that. but credit to her actress, Takada-san, who was only 15 when the series was made and did her job pretty well.

Erika Satonaka (Mayuko Arisue): Kougami's secretary who eats Kougami's cakes and acts as a delivery service when Goto isn't around. She acts bland and uninteresting, but come episode 20 she's actually pretty badass, being able to take on the weaker Yummy's and even use Kamen Rider Birth's Cell Medal gun. She's more or less just there for fun as well, and the fact that most of her trope consist of fanservice-related items, you can pretty much guess her main purpose.

Chiyoko Shiraishi (Marie Kai): The owner of Cous Coussier. She's eccentric and changes the theme of her restaurant every week. Coo-coo. Nothing to see here. Move along.

The main objective of Kamen Rider OOO is to have fun, so its characters obviously have to be fun. I am disappointed that the female characters don't really have much purpose beyond being odd. But as the purpose is to have fun, I did have fun with these characters. Eiji is one of the deepest and most scarred characters I've ever seen and his journey to fixing himself is amazing and Ankh's own path to redemption. Being fun-oriented, everyone is over the top is a glorious way. Well done, actors.

Fight Scenes/Designs

After seeing how W does things production-wise, OOO pretty much followed the same pattern. The Rider suit designs are pretty awesome, with EVERY Core Medal being a piece of the suit, creating A LOT of different combinations (and toy sales!). I honeslty am curious if the suits were all designed as separate pieces, or if they're similar to the kid toys where each section could be attached and dettached for whatever combination they're using this time around. Each pure Combo of OOO is awesome looking and able to combine elements of each animal the Medals represent to make a unique design for each form, and thank god Birth is an entirely separate design. My major problem with W's Rider designs was that barring the CGI and weapons, they were literally pallette swaps. Hell, even the movie riders Eternal and Skull were the same suit with new paintjobs, different helmets, and added accessories.

The monster designs were all unique and different, and had a "character" to them with each episode and how they went about the action scenes. Once again we jump around to different terrains for the fights, but at least they're not random jump cuts like in OOO (the worst offender being the Joker/Heat Dopant fight). With all the various animals and forms that show up, they're all pretty cool. If I had a least favorite, it would have to be the Cat Yummy-Dominatrix with scalpels on her hand.

CGI is more rampant here, but its honestly not the worst I've ever seen. So long as you're better than the so-called "shape-shifting" special effect from WolfCop. Plus the final battle became a CGI-fest, but at least it doesn't become just a stupid, high octane, pointless, laser light show that certain final battles like to go. I left impressed, and not disappointed. A win for everyone.

General/Final Thoughts
OOO is fantastic. When I finished it, I kept trying to think of why I liked it so much more than OOO even though it wasn't as strong or compelling as W. And then it hit me with all the bright colors, happy atmosphere, and comedic focus that doesn't forget that its a drama and needs conflict with the characters: Persona 4. Persona 4 is my all-time favorite RPG, is a sunny, funny, and absolutely emotional journey that was such a far departure from its predecessor's tone Persona 3. Weird to bring it up, but I would call OOO "Persona 4-Lite". It's not as in-depth and as much as an emotional journey, but it's just strong and happy enough to keep you entertained and see what wacky antics our characters will go through first as the multiple factions clash and it becomes a mystery over just who will be left standing when the dust settles.

But what OOO has ultimately over W, is the ending. I have seen A LOT of arc-based shows, and I have never seen a more tied together ending. Every character who had an arc finishes it, all loose-ends are tied, and I was left completely satisfied (Giggity [these are the jokes, people; cheap but effective]). I would HIGHLY recommend OOO to any casual fan just looking to get into Kamen Rider. I do however have to add the stipulation that the episodes that celebrate the 1000th episode, and the 40th anniversary by extension, there will be A LOT of jokes and references thrown that will just zoom right over your head. So take that with a bit of caution.

Kamen Rider OOO was a great, fun, enjoyable ride through and through. I would highly recommend it, just don't expect to take it TOO seriously by the end of things. Well, with this out of the way, I shall move on to future projects and keep in touch. And remember....


Just putting this here for you to try and guess the context...God I miss Date