Saturday, 10 September 2016

Death Parade - A story about people

Death Parade's (somewhat deliberate) misunderstanding of humans and consequently, the spitefully deceptive test of judgement with a binary output left a sour taste in my mouth early on and unfortunately it stuck around way longer than expected.

Essentially the show starts off with the setting that upon death humans go to a place called Quindecim fashioned to look like a bar with an arbitrer/judge posing as a bartender. Here they will have to contest against another person in a random and 'supposed' game of death. This game is further used to effectuate an "extreme" situation that would potentially reveal their 'true' nature, the arbitrer obtains key memories of their subjects(often relating to their death) to understand them better in creating this situation - it boils down to the question(not made explicit in the show): would they put their life on the line for an ethical/moral action? the answer to which will determine whether they would get reincarnated or thrown in the void. While that sounds fine in theory, it really implied towards a belief that people can simply and inevitably be evil/bad from birth to death under the saying "bring out the darkness of the heart" which is wrong as a fact - people are mostly influenced by the circumstances of their growth and their environment. To some extent their behaviors are hereditary (which again is a result of centuries of cultural or circumstantial influence).

These things brought me to question what is the worth of a man which would've been a good thing for a show to pull off but it was a point I reached out of frustration than subtle hints the show put forth. Perhaps that's just me.

Through the course of the show, I had hoped for two things: one being its admittance to misunderstanding people which was a tad late but it was well done. Secondly, I had hoped it would question its binary output - does it really acknowledge that their current criteria for executing a person's judgement(i.e. being inherently evil/bad) implies that everyone is capable of reincarnation, heaven or what not. This was not explicit in the show at the very least and I am a little disappointed at that considering how significant it is to the overarching plot.

Despite the show later on admitting to one of those fundamental flaws which was also core to its overarching plot I was not a fan of how indulgent it was before the revelation was made. I couldn't really feel the gravity of the drama involving those being judged knowing how wrong everything already is at a fundamental level. The second episode talked about the subtleties of human emotion which was very interesting to watch and hear but that moment was brief and is undermined by the more glaring issues with the plot.

The show's excuse for their judgement system was cited to be because it was basically easier and that human empathy will only make it difficult for them to perform their role. It was also implied that they officially disregard any understanding or knowledge of how the world works from a moral/philosophical point of view. Implications are cool things to present/talk about a universe but I don't really think they are a good thing for something so fundamental to its setting. I have many questions I'd like answered which sounds cool but really, these are central to its story and not something one would leave.

The final episode left the show driving a meaningful point: what it means to be alive under the belief that people don't live just to die but people die because they live which is the root of their misconceptions about humans. Now if there's a meaning to live, there's also a meaning to be an arbitrer hence they are alive as well and not just "puppets". Whatever the meaning is, it can't be "judgement" as aforementioned, their criteria for judgement implies that everyone is fitting for reincarnation, essentially there is nothing worth judging - Quindecim is not necessary at all. The setting they built through out the course of the show is a waste.

It's possible that idea of reincarnation/void and effectively their entire little world is a plot device meant to push the narrative with a theme about people. In that perspective a lot of it makes sense but that's not to say that I am entirely happy with the way it progressed. Too much of its deliberate wrongs felt indulgent in the world to a point that it left me down right bitter - part of the reason being that at least some of the characters were were wary of the wrongs but they just played dumb until later. Secondly I am not a fan of how much it relies on the plot device even if it did end up delivering something meaningful, it could've been more minimal.

My qualms aside, I will admit to some episodes being genuinely entertaining and intense albeit they were few and I felt it really could've used more of them early on. It was nice to see Decim finally gain an understanding of humans through empathy with his experience interacting and observing Chiyuki so the conclusion was good in one sense.

Worth pointing out that the show is terrific in terms of character animation as it showcased a wide range of situations - nuanced, emotionally agitated and even during an intense action sequence. It's definitely a treat for sakuga fans.

Overall I really like the narrative goals - what it means to be alive, the worth of a person and the importance of life but I am so not happy with the way it progressed and presented. From what I had heard, I had high hopes for this show and going by what I saw, I don't think I overestimated it. It just didn't go well with me.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Exploring Idol anime: Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls Season 2

Idolm@ster series is my first foray into the Idol mayhem that's been prevalent in the community. Season 1 although little stood out for me in particular (most noteworthy the live concert sequence in epsiode 3) it was a neat and simple introduction to the main characters. I wasn't entirely impressed with the cast or the drama so I wasn't very compelled to start season 2 after watching it but it was out of my own obligation to actually give the series a "completion" that I started it. I am so glad I did that.

Cinderella Girls season 2 has been an amazing ride which hits a conclusion declaring no winners or losers despite how it started off - it was all a matter of perspective, opportunity and authority. The Director moved in her perspective aided by her authority over the production studio just the way Producer moved in his perspective by the opportunity he had to put his plan in action. Both of them had a significance but nothing is absolute. It also thematically fell into the Cinderella story - one gauged the worth of an idol with reference to the gradeur of the castle where the ball is held, the other gauged it with their earnest desires. Afterall we would not have a Cinderella if we only look at appearances. To use a simpler metaphor the director looks for potential from high places while the Producer searches from amidst them.

The series mainly revolves around the idea of fullfilling your desires and more importantly keeping it up. It makes use of the Cinderella theme symbolically and narrative-wise to convey something that's more than a layman's interpretation of a fairy tale. While season 1 dealt with the act of fullfilling your desires by putting their patience and ability to test bringing them to a "start", it was still a long way ahead for them - season 2 ups the ante with much deeper issues, effectively tackling every facet it takes to not only fullfill your desires but also to maintain or go even further than that, as it put: exploring the world of possibilities and acknowledging that they are not alone in what they think or do.

Through out the season there were character dramas that tackled on fear(Chieri, Mio), anxiety(Uzuki), guilt(Rin), self-abuse(Kanako) and existentialist dread(Mika, Uzuki, Rina) within the context of a genre/field or in the industry entirely. It did an incredible job in relaying these stories while also maintaining compelling characters in every situation. The director in particular was an excellent addition to stirring up the show and creating great drama amongst the main cast. She was the much needed entity in season 1 but her appearance in season 2 makes sense. She has also been consistently strong as a semi-antogonistic character through out the show with her sharp gaze and attitude towards her work.

Every story and underlying message is presented neatly which is what I really like about the direction in the show. Everything is made clear not only through words but also through a combination of visuals or presentation. Nothing felt underhanded. Interesting use of perspectives in every episode positioning to implicitly relay the character's feelings or the intensity of the situation and while it is not as frequent as I'd like, the occassional flair of character animation portrayed through dancing is a delight to watch.

My favorite stories were the ones revolving Asterisk and that of Rin's proposal to form Triad Primus. The former taught that your work is mostly what you make of it through Rina believing that her pop idol group was the "rock" idol of her dream while Natuski didn't believe her actual "rock" band was the "rock band" of her dreams. The latter created a very interesting but difficult predicament for Rin but I really loved how Nao and Karen handled it. Karen in particular acknowledged Rin's dilemma but also didn't entirely succumb to empathy citing that they may be unfair but it is undeniable that they have a right to make their desired choice. They do let Rin make the final call. I bloody love that honesty and forwardness, frankly it's something I don't get to see very often and it was incredibly gratifying and moving to witness. Of course there were other great epsiodes on Uzuki with the brilliantly executed scene of her breaking down with anxiety or Mio learning about her acting skills while she relays her sense of self-discovery and exploration to her friends through a stage play rehersal. Not every character had the same lime light as some of the cast but I think the show gave more imporatance to those themes or issues one has to face than the characters themselves which I am in agreement with. I've had much to think and take in for every episode, there were many details to observe and identify, almost everything I saw had a meaning to them which is a great quality for a show.

I really have little to complain about the show, it was great from start to finish. If anything I can imagine people pointing out to being too "peppy", "petulant" or "girly" but I don't think it should bother you if you're just in for great story telling through impressive production quality. I did not find it that way, those are very real issues one can potentially face should the situation arise and the show provides a great perspective on them. Secondly, I highly recommend this if you've somehow dropped season 1 or didn't even bother starting over characters being written as one-off archetypes, season 2 is your savior.

The originial im@s from what I heard is quite different from CG in that it's not a character drama but that it's good in its own way.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Millennium Actress - a film through films

After the work of art that is Perfect Blue, I was really looking forward to watching this one. Boy did it deliver.

I love Satoshi Kon's works for how well his messages and themes intertwine with the direction and the story. Miracles in Tokyo Godfathers and existentialism in Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress is no exception, it is vibrant and colorful with the theme on films or being an actress. I end up writing so much about his films more than any others because they have so much to say, some things are out right obvious and some much deeper. These are just the kind of films I cherish. 

The movie follows an actress named Chiyoko as she narrates her life story in an interview presented through specific scenes from multiple films she had acted in and memories of her past. It's so seamless that not a moment felt disjointed from the interview or her own story, there's a sense of confidence in the style but it never feels overindulgent. They do retract to reality at times but rest assured, the narrative remains consistent, the setting varies. I believe her interviewers or specifically the camera man are an audience surrogate, since he is the only person who gives a natural reaction to every change in setting and scene

The entire narrative follows her attempts to find a mysterious person she met when she was young. She makes use of films to extend her reach. Making herself known all around just for him. While the film ends with her never actually getting to reunite with him, it really made me question the contribution of this 'mysterious man'.

My theory is that he or rather the 'key' she received from him is an embodiment of her passion, the most important thing. To reach out to her audience. There were times she lost it, during which she had succumbed to the situation, be it getting married or getting old and even forgetting why she entered the film world. Towards the end of the film, as she narrates her story, she rediscovers what she always loved. It's amazing how much we learn about ourselves just by saying things out loud. Her final words admit to being in love with herself, the way she always chased him, in other words, her attempts to reach out to her audience. An epiphany she had while holding on to her key.

 With Millennium Actress I think I have covered all of Satoshi Kon's films.I will see to it that I rewatch Paprika since it's been a long time but I am nevertheless saddened that we will not see any more of his works.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Some thoughts on Perfect Blue

So glad I got around to watch this, a head on take on existentialism with a pop-idol turned actress setting and it was really well done.

One of the first questions I asked myself after finishing it: did I ever doubt myself for not being true to myself? yes I have on multiple occasions so I presume it isn't unnatural for one to doubt but what to do with this doubt, that's what Perfect Blue was about. In Perfect Blue, doubt was a result of a commitment to a decision made years ago, perhaps, it wasn't an explicit commitment but something that had been decided subconsciously. The thing about decisions for long term plans is that there's no certainty that we will stick to it till the end, it isn't a matter of difficulty/hurdles, they are meant to overcome, rather reality hitting us, obliterating what we imagined/hoped for, leaving us discontent, or in some cases, we discover something new that really resonates with us, something that you think you're meant to do.

That is what happens for Mima in Perfect Blue, she discovers acting but her subconscious commitment towards being an idol haunts her through hallucinations and nightmares. She did become an idol but it wasn't what she truly wanted or at least, it was something that she wasn't content with and that's fine, it happens, you never know about some things until you try. She makes the decision to move to a different career fully aware that she was determined to be an idol singer at an earlier point. This gave rise to a doubt, that she might not be her 'true self', she might be a fake, this dilemma was further fueled by her 'stalker' which reaches to a point that she questions her very existence. Truth is, there is no real you or fake you, there is just you unless of course, you have 'dissociative identity disorder' where a person subconsciously develops another personality without their own knowledge. This is something the movie specifies in the most natural way, it's ingenious. The more I thought about what happened in the movie, the more it blew my mind. The movie ends with Mima saying "I'm the real me" reassuring that she no longer doubts herself and boy did that line hit the spot.

This isn't a story of how she rose to the top, it's a personal battle, something that's not restricted to 'switching careers'. Changing your decision doesn't make you any less true to yourself, you will remain yourself, you are what you decide. There is no need to constrain yourself to shackles of commitment, you learn new things which can potentially change your life and that's important to remember. Not everyone is going to be happy about it but at the end of the day, it's your life, you should do what makes you content, people may not understand that initially at least. That being said, commitments are definitely a good thing but they need to know their place, it doesn't apply everywhere especially when uncertainty is involved.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Review: Dear Esther


Dear Esther isn't much of a game, there's no challenge or goals involved. All you do is press forward. Literally.

That being said, it's only the surface of things. Dear Esther manages to pull off one thing a good game is supposed to have: the atmosphere and it does that so well. The abandoned island reeks with melancholy and it certainly makes you ponder. There were times I could almost feel the wind hitting my face, it's quite an amazing experience in that regard. The tranquility of the island is further amplified by a beautiful sound track by Jessica Curry, I've slept listening to it numerous times. While the occasional dialogue makes little to no sense as a whole, that doesn't by the least bit turn me off from the experience, rather it makes the experience all the more intense, thanks to the terrific voice over work.


Considering it is lacking a lot of fundamental characteristics of a videogame, it still remains to be one of the best experiences I've had. To put it in perspective, I have replayed that 4 times so far just so I could get some alone time, where as I can mention a bunch of actual games in my library which I've left without even playing them for an hour, let alone completing them. Moreover, I certainly see myself getting back to it yet again, Oculus Rift support would make that all the more tempting. I've certainly become a fan of Chinese Room after this so I'm looking forward to checking out Everybody's Gone to Rapture.