Yatterman Night Review

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Who doesn’t love a good tokusatsu? From Ultraman to Super Sentai, the genre remains a fixture in Japanese pop culture. It unfortunately isn’t too popular in the United States. Outside of Power Rangers, tokusatsu is relatively unknown. There have been many shows throughout the years in Japan, one of which is Yatterman. The original anime aired in the ’70s, and though it’s not as popular as Ultraman, the main characters nonetheless did make it into the video game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Yatterman would go on to appear in a remake show and even a live action movie. Most recently, Yatterman got an anime cerebrating its 40th anniversary titled Yatterman Night. FUNimation released it in North America not too long ago, which is great because the show is quite engaging.

The opening scene sets up the story with the attack and now iconic quote, “It’s punishment time!” It’s amazing how this sequence connects when everything comes together in the final episode. Back to Episode One, it does a fantastic job setting up most of the main characters. We’re introduced to Leopard and her relationship to her mother Dorothy. Anime deserves a lot of credit, because in just one episode it can establish how genuine a relationship is and make us care for the characters. Here we see the mother-daughter love these two have. We’re also introduced to Voltkatze and Elephantus, where we see they are servants for Dorothy.

The story really kicks off when Leopard finds out that she, Dorothy, Voltkatze and Elephantus are descendants of the Doronbow Gang. This is fascinating because all this time Dorothy had been reading to her daughter the story of how Yatterman defeated the Doronbow Gang. Leopard is dismayed at her heritage, and she also learns that many years ago Yatterman banished the Doronbow Gang, and her descendants continue in that banishment on the island they were exiled to.

Soon Dorothy grows ill. Leopard decides to take a boat to Yatter Kingdom and ask Yatterman for help. After all, he’s a hero, right? So when Yatterman and Lady Yatterman are in sight, Leopard understandably rejoices…until her boat is blasted and the two “heroes” shout that intruders are not welcome. This moment changed everything. The show’s main plot point is the mystery of what’s happening in Yatter Kingdom. Why is Yatterman not acting like the hero of legend? It’s an engaging concept, and one the writing uses mostly perfectly. At the end of Episode One, Leopard dons a Doronjo costume, likewise Volkatze as Boyacky and Elephantus as Tonzra.

So, we have a reversal of roles. Doronjo’s gang are the good guys while Yatterman has seemingly turned into a dictator. There’s a great sense of tension among the episodes. Who can forget the Yatter soldiers chanting “Yatter!” in Episode 2? The most powerful scene showing the extent of the living hardship in Yatter Kingdom is found in Episode 4. A pregnant wife’s husband is drafted into serving Yatterman for 35 years where he’ll never be able to see her. He’s told it’s an honor to serve Yatterman. The viewer can see the terror and sadness on his wife’s face as she does the Yatter salute. This scene further cements Doronjo’s mission to “give Yatterman a forehead flicking.” It’s at the end of this episode where she says that Yatter Kingdom is a hell.

The show is mostly fantastic, but there are scenes that take away a star. Chief among the negatives is Episode 7, which was mostly filler and just not engaging. This is thanks to Ryu, a character the heroes run into. I’m all for the heroes running into people affected by Yatterman’s rule…but only if they’re actually likable. Ryu’s gimmick is that he loves fish, to a disturbing extent. He talks about being wrapped around in octopus’ tentacles. It’s a little fishy, excuse the pun. I don’t care about this guy “achieving his dream,” as the episode wants viewers to. There’s also Takeshi in Episode 5. His arc was engaging, but his gimmick of relieving himself got annoying quickly. Yatterman Night is unfortunately sometimes hit with childish and strange humor.

Thankfully, the negative things don’t usually take center stage for too long. The show also gives us two more characters, Galina and Alouette. These two would become vital and epically engaging in the final episode. In the meantime before that, they aren’t bad. Galina attempting to spy on Alouette though at a hot springs was unneeded and hurt the character. Besides that, he’s given solid development throughout the show. Oh, one more heroic character whom can’t be forgotten is Honorable Oda. This pig made for a fun animal mascot without going overboard.

One subplot that wasn’t needed was Doronjo having feelings for Galina. By the end of the show, it didn’t go anywhere. Why was it added? Back to overall characters, General Goro is the antagonist whom goes after the heroes throughout the episodes. He’s a fun villain to have around. The plot twist with him later on is brilliant and adds a sense of tragedy to his character. The music that usually plays when he’s around is awesome as well. The anime’s soundtrack is strong all around, complete with a great opening theme song.

There aren’t many one-on-one fights unfortunately. Still, when the action is there, it’s fast paced. The last two episodes did an incredible job bringing everything together. The writing is great as it explains the big plot twist. The final showdown is epic and inspirational, bringing the show to a memorable close.

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Overall, Yatterman Night is an excellent take on the Yatterman franchise. Instead of being a remake, it’s set many years into the future of the original show, making it an interesting sequel. The ongoing mystery of why Yatterman has seemingly become a tyrant is engaging. Doronjo is a great protagonist, fighting as a promise to her mother and to save the people of Yatter Kingdom. Viewers get a sense of how genuinely Doronjo cares for others. The cast is good as well, all having diverse personalities. Sadly, questionable humor and the disturbing fish lover removes a star. But, the show is still a very good addition to the tokusatsu library and a must see for Yatterman fans. Even if you’re not familiar with the character, definitely give this show a watch.

8/10

Wonder Woman Review

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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained not just the most famous female superhero – but also one of the biggest icons of pop culture. That’s why it’s shocking it’s taken this long for a movie about her to be made. Lesser known comic book characters like Electra and Steel have gotten feature films, but never Wonder Woman. Finally, that changed this year. Wonder Woman appeared in last year’s Batman V Superman, and while people were divisive on that film, many agreed that Gal Gadot’s brief portrayal of the character was solid. Now we get to see this version of Wonder Woman in a starring role. Director Patty Jenkins delivers a film full of heroism and inspiration. It’s a film worthy of the iconic character.

Wonder Woman as a character stands for justice, and the film does a fantastic job showing that. When Steve Trevor is forced to tell the truth on Themyscira, Diana’s reaction to it looks incredibly genuine. He says how the war has taken the lives of women and children, and the viewer knows at that moment, Diana is going to do something about it. From here, Diana continually showcases what being a hero is about. Two of the most notable scenes in the film are when she talks back to the government and when she decides to jump into battle to stop the oppression of the village of Veld. It’s inspiring, and the major reason why it’s so well done is Gal Gadot’s fantastic portrayal.

Diana has lived on an island away from mankind all her life, so it’s interesting how she reacts to things in the outside world. Her reaction to seeing a baby and ice cream for example are nice scenes. Her respect and love for people are evident, as seen in the aftermath of the Veld’s battle sequence. She stands on a rooftop as people clap and look above at her. What does she do then? She comes down to their level. She shakes hands and smiles – a truly touching scene showcasing the kind of character she is. This feels like the first time in a comic book film where we see such a powerful character on the same level with the people he/she protects.

The other main character is Steve Trevor. He’s had a long history with Wonder Woman in the comics, so it would be interesting to see how he would be used in the film. Chris Pine provides just the right amount of charisma without going overboard. Like Diana, Steve is portrayed as heroic, and becomes even more so because of her. The romance between him and Diana isn’t bad. Romance has a reputation in comic book films for being forced or poorly done, so it’s good to see a romance subplot actually passable.

Near the middle act of the film, the story introduces viewers to three characters that form Steve’s team to raid German High Command. There’s a problem with introducing a bunch of characters in the middle of a film. Not enough character or backstory is given here. We have Charlie, whom is supposed to be a sharpshooter. But what did he actually contribute? Then there’s Chief, but he also did nothing of importance. Only Sameer is given something to do. He mentions to Diana that it is his dream to be an actor, and later we get to see that acting ability in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Steve’s secretary Etta Candy borders on being funny and over the top. Thankfully the film doesn’t go overboard with her. There are a few antagonists. Danny Huston as Ludendorff is a bit on the generic side, but he’s not terrible. He does his job at being a sinister army general. However, Dr. Isabel Maru (known as Dr. Poison) is far more interesting. There’s an unhinged nature to Elena Anaya’s portrayal of the doctor. The real villain however is Ares, and how his character comes together in the climax is brilliant. Though he only does big things in the last act, Ares cements himself as one of the better comic book movie antagonists.

Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The early battle on Themyscira was well done. It takes a bit before the next big action sequence, but when it happens, it’s worth the wait. Diana’s stand against the German army at the village of Veld was awesome and well choreographed. It’s a nice balance between the street level Batman type of fighting and the grand Superman battles. The climax is divided into two major fight scenes, both of which are great. The showdown against Ares was a satisfying final action piece.

Though the film contains great action scenes, it’s something else that ultimately shines: the theme of love. It’s the genuine love of people that can conquer darkness and hate, as Diana displays. It’s a great message for a culture that promotes self-interest. The film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring the now iconic theme from Batman V Superman along with other quality themes. As for Themyscira, it’s a beautiful, unique setting. Though Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t appear after the first act, she leaves a lasting impression along with Atiope.

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Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film. It’s full of genuine heroism and emotion. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is perfect. She displays everything Wonder Woman is meant to be. Steve Trevor is very good as well. (Sadly, most of the other characters don’t actually do much.) The war backdrop is interesting, and provides a great sense of victory when Diana rises to combat the army in the fantastic Veld sequence. The actions scenes are well done and Ares is an excellent final boss. To love others, to do the right thing, and to be a hero is what Wonder Woman is all about.

9/10

Escaflowne: The Movie Review

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The Vision of Escaflowne was an influential anime back in the 90s. It was jam packed with content, from mechas fighting it out to philosophical themes such as the “alteration of fate.” Perhaps the best aspect of the show is how developed the characters are. Great care was put into the diverse personalities each of them had. There’s a fantastic sense of nobility to the story. Though sometimes the grand scheme was a bit vague, Escaflowne remains one of the great anime fantasy epics. In the year 2000, Sunrise released a film simply titled Escaflowne. Instead of a sequel, it was a retelling of the 26 episode series. That’s ambitious and of course liberties would have to be taken if a 95 minute film was to adapt a whole show. Sadly, too many liberties were taken. The film is still decent whether you’ve seen the show or not, but one is better off taking the time to watch the 26 episodes.

The film opens up with Van slashing his way through various enemies to get to the Escaflowne armor. It’s a typical action film opening, but it’s still exciting. The first act then takes place on Earth, similar to The Vision of Escaflowne’s first episode. Hitomi is introduced, along with her friend Yukari. It’s here where the dire changes from the show start to become evident. The writing reveals this version of Hitomi to be depressed and suicidal. It’s a sour note to introduce her character. Hitomi had inner monologues in the the show, but she wasn’t depressed.

What the writing does is give her a character arc that is similar to Folken in the film. (We’ll get to him soon.) Hitomi in the show is known for her kindness and ability to see the good in others. She becomes that person later in the film as she interacts with Van and sees how Folken is. It’s not a bad character arc in concept, but it doesn’t work as well as it could thanks to the rather short runtime. Because of the rushed pacing, major plot points like the romance between Hitomi and Van feels extremely forced. Escaflowne just wasn’t meant to be told in 95 minutes.

The world of Gaea is vast, which is why 26 episodes was needed to fully explore it. There’s too little backstory in the film. Going back to the first act, I don’t want to compare the film again, but the buildup to Hitomi entering Gaea in the show was epic. Van’s confrontation with the dragon should have been remade. Instead, we get this cheesy dream-like sequence and then Hitomi magically appears inside Escaflowne. The pacing is a bit slow from here until Dilandau and his men arrive.

Unfortunately, most of the characters are a step down from their original appearances. Allen was given great prominence in the show, but in the film he’s reduced to a supporting character. He could have actually been cut out and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was also distracted by how much his redesign resembled Sephiroth. (Seriously, they look like twins.) Princess Millerna is given a big makeover, having a more warrior-like persona. That’s fine, but what does she actually do in the film? She doesn’t really fight at all despite the redesign. That’s the problem; aside from a few characters, most are just there because of their names. Worse is that Naria and Eriya, two interesting characters from the show, are reduced to fleeting cameos.

Arguably the biggest change was completely removing Emperor Dornkirk. Dornkirk was the main antagonist in the show. Though he was mostly in the same place the entire time, he was the person behind the entire conflict. Dornkirk’s fascination with the “alteration of fate” was an engaging plot point, and gave the show a grand philosophical conflict. Once you remove Dornkirk, you remove a vital part of what made Escaflowne so great. Instead, the film uses Folken as the villain. This could have been interesting, since Folken was one of the show’s best characters. He retains his engaging demeanor, though his goal is to ultimately die. He also hates Van because the latter was chosen to be king. This wasn’t a bad plot point, but it needed more backstory and flashbacks.

All of this is not to say Escaflowne is unwatchable. The story picks up nicely when Dilandau arrives. The buildup to Dilandau against Van was epic. Though, Van and Dilandau possessing magical abilities was unneeded, and actually made the fight anti-climatic. On the positive side, there’s a cinematic quality to the battle of the mechas in the latter part of the film. The writing in the scene with Van and Ruukusu was particularly strong and gave viewers a peak of the grand backstory the film doesn’t show. There’s some excitement in the climax as Folken confronts Van. Hitomi get some good dialogue. Sadly, the “showdown” is lackluster, thanks to the silly magic visuals. The resolution is good in concept, but like mostly everything else in the film, it was rushed. Back to the positive side of things, the soundtrack is fantastic. It uses the iconic themes from the show while also adding in fantastic original music.

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Overall, Escaflowne: The movie is a disappointing retelling of the classic show. On its own it’s a decent fantasy movie with an interesting story, good (but severely underutilized) characters and some solid fights. But it fails to revamp what made the original anime a near masterpiece. The philosophical conflict is removed in favor of something more simple. A lot of the main characters are given nothing important to do. At the very least, it removes the unnecessary love triangle between Hitomi, Van, and Allen. It’s a decent enough movie, but to really appreciate Escaflowne, one should invest time into the anime.

6/10

The Vision of Escaflowne Review

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One of the best things about The Vision of Escaflowne is how it merges different genres. Mechas play a substantial part, but even more so the fantastical and philosophical themes. Romance also plays an important part throughout the 26 episodes. Though it’s not 100% perfect, Escaflowne succeeds in many different areas. The writing is almost always on point and the characters are nicely fleshed out. For those that appreciate grand action scenes, the anime delivers. The aspect this reviewer most appreciates is that the show has an atmosphere of nobility, much like Kenshin.

The Vision of Escaflowne follows a teenage girl named Hitomi. The core of the story is focused on another planet named Gaea, where Hitomi is mysteriously transported. It’s here where we learn that an empire called Zaibach is set on taking over. The first episode does an excellent job setting the stage for what’s to come. Hitomi is introduced as a normal, kind character who likes to run in the track races at school. The episode’s tone shifts drastically when a guy by the name of Van appears through a blinding light. The next part however is where viewers get a sense of the tension the story is going to have moving forward: the arrival of a dragon. There’s a great sense of danger as Hitomi and her friends try to adapt to this situation. The battle between the dragon and Van is exciting. The dragons in this show aren’t canon fodder, which is refreshing.

Episode One could be called a prelude, because it’s in Episode Two where the main story begins to take focus. Gaea is an interesting, fantastical setting, having a Medieval look. Van is introduced as a bit of a hot shot prince, which makes for an interesting dynamic with Allen Schezar later on. Allen’s introduction is handled marvelously, and he remains a great character as the show continues. Escaflowne does a good job giving its characters importance, from Princess Millerna’s medical training to Drydan being able to help rebuild Escaflowne.

Allen is a great character, but in the second half the writing doesn’t use him as well. This is primarily because of the forced romance triangle between him, Van, and Hitomi. Allen professing his love for Hitomi didn’t seem earned at that point. The show didn’t need to have this romance angle. It’s not the worst written triangle, but it can be a detractor in the show’s second half.

As for Hitomi herself, though she doesn’t participate in the fights, the writing is careful not to make her just a weak bystander. Her kindness and ability to see the good in others is prevalent throughout. One of the most powerful scenes was Hitomi offering Naria grace, despite being kidnapped by the latter. The themes of kindness, love, and redemption are there throughout the show and it’s usually thanks to Hitomi. This makes her an engaging protagonist, despite never really being in the heat of battle.

Zaibach is an intriguing antagonist. Folken is their military captain and one of the show’s best characters. He is also Van’s brother, providing a very personal conflict for throughout show’s first half. Dilandau makes for an interesting foil to the rather serious Folken, being more of a crazed fighter. Later there’s a huge plot twist with Dilandau, though it’s bizarrely explained. Zaibach’s leader, Emperor Dornkirk, is interesting. Much of his dialogue is a bit on the meta side, dealing with “controlling and altering fate.” This provides a grand, philosophical (though sometimes vague) conflict throughout the show. The final episode with most of the armies going at each other because Dornkirk says this is truly what humanity wants was intriguing. Also as intriguing was how true love can put an end to violence. It’s a great message, though Dornnkirk fading away was a bit anti-climatic.

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Overall, The Vision of Escaflowne is a quality anime. From its fantastic soundtrack to epic battle scenes, the anime is worth watching. The characters are great. From the main characters to secondary characters to characters who only appear for a few episodes, they are all handled well. The subplots and backstories enhance the story, an example being how Dornkirk was connected with Allen’s father. Though the romance triangle aspect wasn’t needed, it doesn’t take away from how much quality Escaflowne has. It’s one of the great anime fantasy epics.

9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s surprise hit. The characters were relatively unknown to the general public until the film came out in 2014. Now everyone knows “I am Groot” and Rocket Raccoon’s constant sarcasm. Though having a grand outer space backdrop, the film was about different characters coming together and forming a team – or better, a family. The concept of family continues on in the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Anticipation was high, and with Ego the Living Planet as the antagonist, one expects a grand sequel. Sadly, though it has some of the things that made the first film great, Vol. 2 is a mediocre sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has an exciting climax that ends with a  genuinely emotional sequence. The last 30 minutes makes the viewer forget about any mediocre things prior to the final act. Of course, as a reviewer, one has to look at the film as a whole and unfortunately there are quite a few negative aspects. The film does retain some of what made the first Guardians a blast. There are plenty of fun character interactions and space battles. The writing is sadly a lot weaker than its predecessor.

Vol. 2 is a prime example of the writing going to the extreme in the comedy department. The first Guardians perfectly balanced comedy and storytelling to deliver one of the best comic book films ever. Vol. 2 takes that comedic aspect and multiplies it tenfold. The problem is that the “funny” scenes are often obvious and forced. Even the character interactions at times were trying too hard to be humorous. The intro with the characters battling Sharktopus an Abilisk was fun, though Groot dancing went on a little too long. Since we’ve just brought him up, baby Groot is cute but by the middle act the viewer misses the adult Groot from the first film.

Pacing is one of the most key aspects of any film. The first Guardians had perfect pacing; the film moved smoothly. The second film unfortunately lacks that. Vol. 2 slows down drastically when the Guardians land on Planet Ego. Things happen, but they’re not particularly interesting. It felt like the scenes on the planet were just buying time until the climax. Yes, the core aspect of the film is Peter finding his father. But it’s not as engaging as a reunion as it should be. This could be because Ego isn’t the best antagonist. The writing gives him some meta motivations and technically his goal might be the grandest from the Marvel films, but the actual character just isn’t notable. To give some credit to the reunion aspect, some things worked well, such as the playing catch scene.

Something that worked really well was the Gamora/Nebula subplot. Nebula’s backstory on why she hates Gamora is fascinating, and also shows how evil Thanos is. The scenes with the sisters are some of the most well done in the film. Their last scene put an extra emotional touch to the final act. Gamora is one of the best characters, showcasing that hardcore warrior persona while also showing genuine emotion. The theme of Guardians Vol. 2 seems to be family, and while some of the Star-Lord/Ego scenes were a bit flat, other aspects were fantastic. We just discussed Gamora and Nebula; there’s also Yondu, who could be the best character. His scene in the climax might be the most emotionally well done of all the Marvel films.

Rocket is usually a highlight, but the film does one big negative thing with him. So, a major subplot is that an alien race called the Sovereign is after the Guardians. The reason? Rocket stole their batteries. This came off as petty and something that didn’t need to happen. Rocket does get some fun scenes with Yondu on the ship. Drax doesn’t have much of a character arc this time around unfortunately. He’s there mainly for comedy, and it can range from laugh-out-loud funny to forced. Star-Lord is a fun character like in the first film. Though, there’s a lack of well-acted emotion. He seems to have the same static face even when faced with the revelation of who killed his mother.

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As stated earlier, the climax is awesome. Fighting a living planet seems like something that could only be done in a comic book, but the film pulls it off. The visuals are fantastic (want to see Pac-Man chomping away in space?) and there’s quality emotion as the writing reminds the viewer that family isn’t always by blood. The soundtrack is very good, though not as notable as the soundtrack from the first film.

Overall, this review seemed to be a bit on the harsher side. That is because the first Guardians of the Galaxy set a high standard. Vol. 2 doesn’t live up to it. The writing is weaker and doesn’t balance the comedy properly. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if most of the funny stuff were genuinely funny. A lot of the dialogue just doesn’t seem like what actual people would say. That might sound silly since most of the characters aren’t human, but a lot of the dialogue is obvious comedy. This is not to say the film isn’t a good time. If one enjoyed the first movie, one should like the second. The character interactions are at times priceless and the climax is one of the most exciting from any Marvel film. It’s a shame the rest of the film didn’t live up to it.

6.5/10

KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review

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It’s been 12 years since the last King Kong film. Peter Jackson’s 2005 film is a remake of the classic 1933 story of a giant ape who falls for a woman and ends up meeting an unfortunate demise. Skull Island takes a break from this plot to tell a unique tale using elements from the original story. This isn’t the first time Kong has deviated from the usual story of course, with one example being TOHO’s King Kong Escapes where he battles a mechanized version of himself. Skull Island brings an ensemble cast to the titular setting for an adventure that feels both familiar and new. It lacks enough quality writing to call it a “great” film, but it’s still an enjoyable, fun trek.

The primary reason why people would come to watch this film is to see the title character in action. Kong himself doesn’t disappoint. The sequence with him taking out the helicopters was excellent and rivals Godzilla’s grand airport entrance in the 2014 film. The music going silent when the tree struck the first helicopter changed the mood drastically, and as one by one each helicopter was destroyed the viewer got a sense of how ferocious Kong was. This is his most violent portrayal yet, and in this early scene the viewer actually begins to think that Kong might actually be bad in this one. The story smartly destroys that thought later on. The writing perfectly balances Kong’s gentleness with monstrous ferocity.

Again, his big scene with taking down the helicopters was incredible. It featured some of the best cinematography and editing ever in a monster movie. It’s actually a shame that the very first scene in the film featured a full face shot of Kong, because the helicopter sequence later on would have been a much better way to first show the character. Kong commands a presence every time he’s on screen, and the film features him a lot, which is a nice change of pace from monster films hiding the beast for extended periods of time.

Like in the previous King King films, Skull Island is home to many dangerous creatures. Unlike the previous films, the creatures in this film aren’t ones we’d find in a book. Instead, they’re either abnormally giant (the spider) or completely brand new, such as the Skullcrawlers. The creatures are used to great effect. The spider sequence was very well done (it features one of the creepiest deaths in a monster movie) and how the characters managed to overcome it was pretty smart. There’s even a giant octopus which Kong battles. (It reminds the viewer of his encounter with another giant octopus in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla.) The Skullcrawlers are the film’s primary antagonists, and they are really well utilized. They’re genuinely creepy and also command a presence. (The quick death scene of a character turning around only to be chomped by a Skullcrawler was something straight out of a horror film.)

Of course, the climax couldn’t feature Kong simply taking on a bunch of little creatures. The final battle featured a giant Skullcrawler. It got some quality buildup beforehand, and it doesn’t disappoint. It takes what made the little ones creepy and amplifies it. The fight was very well done. The battle is brutal, the setting is used to great effect, and above all else – it’s satisfying. There are no extended cutaways, there are some surprises, and it’s just fun to watch as a moviegoer and as a longtime kaiju fan.

The main thing the story suffers from is an unnecessarily light tone. There is some seriousness to the atmosphere, namely when the music stops when that tree struck the helicopter. Despite scenes like that the story appears more on the light-hearted side at times. John C. Reilly’s character for example kinda takes the viewer out of the realism at times with his dialogue. With horrific deaths taking place on an unknown setting, it seems like the overall atmosphere should be consistently more serious than what it is. Perhaps the idea was to differentiate itself from Godzilla, since that film was completely series from beginning to end. This is not to say Skull Island is a comedy, because it isn’t. A more serious tone throughout just could have been better.

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A rather big drawback is that the Island natives don’t really do anything in this film. It felt like they were just there for tradition’s sake. (They barely do anything other than stare and nod.) An additional 10 minutes could have been added to explain more about their relationship to Kong and the fascinating backstory only briefly mentioned. Moving on to the characters, the film features a cast with quite a few familiar names. Just about all of them are fun to watch. (It could be a fun game counting how many zoom-ins they give Samuel L. Jackson.) Ultimately though, there’s no standout performance. Maybe it’s assumed that simply having these big name actors on screen is good enough. (We have Tom Hiddleston grabbing a sword and slashing like a samurai.) The characters needed to be fleshed out just a little bit more.

The pacing is solid. Some of the early scenes on the boat were a little on the boring side, but it doesn’t take too long for the characters to arrive on the Island. There’s just the right amount of Kong scenes and humans, whether the latter be talking or running away from another creature. The soundtrack has some great moments. There’s also some classic music thrown in the mix, being set in the 70’s. This is used to great effect in the helicopter sequence.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a worthy addition to the large catalog of monster movies. Director Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts’ vision of Kong is truly special. The ape steals the show, having the perfect balance of being the kind creature viewers have come to know and displaying monstrous ferocity. If Kong had a reputation of being on the weaker side before, this film changes that. The other creatures are really cool to watch, especially the Skullcrawlers. The big one made for an excellent final boss, with the actual battle being a satisfying finale to the story. The characters aren’t bad. They’re fun to watch, and are given enough personality to keep them from being dry. Still, they could have used just a bit more development. Some of the lighter elements and humor didn’t work, but they don’t ruin what is Kong’s most explosive film yet.

7.5/10

 

Guilty Crown Review

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Guilty Crown is an original piece, not being based on any previous form of media. To summarize the rather convoluted plot: the story follows a high school student named Shu Ouma. He’s taken from his normal life when he runs into a mysterious girl named Inori. From there things get interesting as the writing slowly unveils there’s something bigger at play than a simple resistance versus the tyrannic government. This is perhaps the show’s biggest disappointing aspect: there are some unique ideas but the poorly explained plot and characters stop Guilty Crown from being the science fiction masterpiece it could have been.

The first episode did an excellent job establishing a tension-filled atmosphere. We’re introduced to Inori in a fast-paced escape sequence. There’s a lot to like here, from the gorgeous animation/overall style to the interesting backstory with Japan reliant on foreign aid and having an unstable government. It sets the tone for what should be a stylistic and action-packed story. It definitely has those two things, but the characters and terribly explained plot progression stops it from being something that can be called great. Shu is one of the biggest examples of the writing going all over the place and demonstrating how not to do character development.

The first few episodes did a great job introducing Shu. It’s clear what the writing was going for: Shu is a shy, anxiety-filled student. His meetup with Inori, and then the resistance group Funeral Parlor leads him on a journey to becoming an extroverted hero. This isn’t bad in concept; in fact, it’s quite good. For a little while the writing was succeeding. (I particularly liked the inner monologue in the first few episodes.) But, he starts to go downhill in Episode Eight, which was the worst episode of the show. We see Shu attack his friend over flirting with Inori even though Shu said it was fine earlier in the episode. In a later episode Shu states to Funeral Parlor, “I’m not the one that betrays people here.” Yet in the episode previously mentioned he betrayed his friend, thus making Shu a hypocrite.

Later in arc two the writing has Shu become a tyrannical leader, bordering on being evil. This plot development comes about after the death of someone close to him. Now it makes sense something would happen to his character development, but this was just an abrupt change. Everyone falling in line with him was too sudden, and worse this character arc lasted only a couple of episodes. He goes from tyrant to being a noble hero looking out for others in just under three episodes. Does the writing expect us to forget about what just happened and be engaged with him now? It doesn’t work that way. This type of character development needed more episodes and better writing to make it work. Shu’s character was just all over the place and ended up being a missed opportunity for something truly interesting.

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Inori…where to start with her. First, the romance between her and Shu makes little sense in the first arc. Unlike an anime like Tsubasa, it takes awhile for the romance aspect of Guilty Crown to feel remotely organic. Inori is often little more than a plot device, or worse- a tool. The main character often reaches into her chest (yes it’s a strange visual) to pull out her Void. The viewer often wonders why Inori acts the way she does, because she doesn’t act or talk like a normal person. Finally in a big (and poorly explained) plot twist it turns out she is the clone of the main character’s sister who happens to be evil used by aliens(?) to bring about an apocalypse. That sentence was tough to type, but the point is made. The anime really went off the deep end in arc two, not really explaining much of anything. (So how did Shu block out all those vital memories?)

The show could have ended at the end of the first arc and it would have been a little more decent. The ongoing tension with Funeral Parlor against the government was engaging. Gai was little more than the generic tough, win at all costs leader at first. But as he got to interact with Shu and work with him Gai ended up being one of the best characters. Of course, arc two brings him back for convoluted development and throws away his sense of nobility. There are many other characters of note. Some of them are good, such as Ayase, and Shibunji. Some interesting, such as Kenji and Arisa, are unfortunately rendered an almost non-factor by the end.

There’s a lot to like in the first arc, perhaps the best part being Shu being taken into custody. Segai, by far the show’s best antagonist, shows Shu the government is seemingly not evil and that in fact Funeral Parlor is the organization that needs to be stopped. The dialogue here is brilliant, as Segai showcases deceptive tactics in an attempt to get Shu on his side. Another really well done aspect of the first arc was the hostile government takeover by Keido. It was a well written, explosive sequence. Arc one isn’t perfect however. The school scenes were painful to watch for one thing. The fan service was a major drawback. As stated earlier, Episode Eight was the worst. A major part of it is dedicated to the beach. It doesn’t end with that episode unfortunately, as even good characters such as Arisa and Menjou are victim to it. In fact, almost all the major female characters are reduced in one way or another to fan service scenes. Classiness unfortunately doesn’t often exist in Guilty Crown.

One character that needs to be mentioned is Yuu. He was an interesting antagonist, but the problem (now stop me if you’ve heard this) is that his character is poorly defined. There’s virtually no backstory as to what he is, or what Da’ath even is. His relationship to the Mana aspect was overly complex and his explanations ended up making the story more convoluted. By the time he’s gone the viewer is left wondering who he even was. The climax has some exciting fight scenes, though with a cheesy, save-the-day deus ex machina moment.

The soundtrack is outstanding, one of the best. Almost every theme is excellent and sounds like something out of a film production. The second ending’s visuals with the two main characters running against an emotional theme was very well done as well. The action scenes are often exciting and diverse. We have classic military gun fights, mechas, and of course fantasy elements with Shu being able to use Voids. At the very least, Guilty Crown is never boring. Despite the second arc being the show’s downfall, there are some well done elements. The idea of being trapped in a building part of a state on lockdown was interesting to watch.

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Overall, Guilty Crown is one of the biggest missed opportunities in anime history. There’s some great concepts that either aren’t explored properly or are just too convoluted to appreciate. Shu’s character journey is poorly written with only pieces of good writing. Inori is often just there for Shu to use as a weapon, and her character arc isn’t great thanks to -once again- horribly defined backstory. This is not to say the show is unwatchable. It has many exciting moments and a somewhat good cast with a fantastic soundtrack. As a whole though, there are better options.

5.5/10