Rurouni Kenshin Part III: The Legend Ends – Review

Today I conclude my journey through the live-action Kenshin films. This one was unfortunately the worst of the three, reflecting all of the dramatic sagginess you often end up with in trilogies. The film barely has a dramatic arc, and the plans of both its heroes and villains make too little sense to harbor much tension. Still, the fights were fun, and overall this was a pretty charming interpretation of the franchise. I didn’t watch all that much Kenshin as a teenager, but this trilogy definitely sold me on his world.

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or my brief notes below.

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Rurouni Kenshin, Part II: Kyoto Inferno – Review

Today I return to the live-action Kenshin films, for a look at the first half of the Shishio saga. This movie was definitely messier than the first film, in ways that felt almost inescapable. The first movie was just barely able to give all of its characters a reason to exist – with the second arc encountering the general character-creep of most long-running manga, this one just had too many stories to pack into one film. But being less gracefully constructed than the first movie certainly didn’t prevent this one from being a really fun time!

You can check out my full review over at ANN or my notes below.

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Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins – Review

Today I reviewed the first Rurouni Kenshin live action movie, which was a generally wonderful time! I only absorbed bits and pieces of Rurouni Kenshin back in the day, but this certainly seemed to capture the spirit of what I’d seen, along with just being a generally well-composed, exciting, and surprisingly thematically rich film. As I say in the review, Kenshin mines an extremely fertile vein of thematic territory with its dawn-of-Meiji-era setting, and this film takes full advantage of that. I hope you enjoy the piece!

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or my notes below.

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Synthetic Love and Her

Her opens with a sequence that appears to be a heartfelt confession, as protagonist Theodore Twombly addresses both an old love and the screen itself. As fond memories are extolled and warm feelings expressed, his words gradually land false – Theodore is neither the assumed writer nor recipient of this letter, and everything he’s recalling applies to a life that isn’t his. And when the screen pulls out, we see Theodore is not alone in his fabrication – in fact, he’s one in a long line of cubicled workers expressing the same thoughts, a factory producing emotional catharsis. Theodore works for Beautiful Handwritten Letters Dot Com, a company that has risen to meet the public’s need for thoughts so poignant and personal we can’t express them ourselves.

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The Dramatic Layer Cake of Inside Out

It’s interesting how fan communities often lionize the idea of “thematic depth” in stories, as if fiction with an underlying philosophical message is somehow more worthy than works that are largely concerned with having a good time. It makes sense for a few reasons – we see complexity as an inherent good, we see works that are trying to change the viewers’ minds as more challenging or morally profound, we more deeply connect with the works that taught us something new, etcetera. But it’s also a little funny to me, since there’s no type of art more prone to sermonizing than family entertainment.

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Winter 2016 – Week 2 in Review

And with preview week firmly in the past, it’s time to return to our scheduled week in review. So far, this season is actually turning out better than I’d hoped – I didn’t really expect most of the shows in my own preview post to actually end up doing well, and having two legitimately excellent shows in a season is basically all I can hope for from any season. Between Erased and Genroku Rakugo, we’re already there – both of those shows impressed with strong premieres and followed through with consistent second episodes. And even beyond the highlights, there’s a reasonable crop of middle-tier shows as well, depending on your own genre tastes. The season is strong enough that I’m currently deciding to be truly ruthless, and cut off both Utawarerumono and Iron-Blooded Orphans until I feel compelled either personally or through general fan noise to pick them back up again. There are too many good shows in the world to waste time watching things I’m not enjoying.

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Is Anime an Inferior Medium?

Question:

Many people seem extremely dismissive of otaku culture and anime in particular, claiming anime is an inferior cultural medium to books, movies, etc. How would you go about refuting this argument?

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Attack on Titan and Violence as a Storytelling Device

Management: As always, I rephrase original questions if it’s necessary to make my responses make sense out of the context of a conversation. None of these questions are meant to represent one specific person, they’re just stand-ins for the conversations that provoked my responses.

Question:

Do you believe the necessity of censorship in what can be shown on television is hurting Attack on Titan? It seems like the camera has cut away from extreme violence pretty regularly so far.

Bobduh:

I don’t think it’s really being censored; frankly, I can’t imagine they could really go much further than they currently are and not have it devolve into self-parody through its extreme nature.

I generally feel that less is more when it comes to this brutal stuff, since I’d hope the point is generally to convey the effect this violence is having on the characters involved, and not just to portray brutal stuff for the hell of it. The scene where Eren saw Misaka’s parents is a good example of this – the door opens, then there’s a quick series of cuts: blood on the windows, blood on the door, a distant, obscured shot of the room, and then a reaction shot. All the information is conveyed in a way that draws the viewer directly into Eren’s overwhelmed perspective, and tying violence to characters you’re supposed to empathize with always makes it land as more personal and visceral than just showing the viewer some gore.

In fact, I think popcorn slasher films use this truth for the opposite effect – they keep the characters impersonal and generic, and the violence hyper-visible and ridiculous, to ensure the viewer is normally at a safe, removed distance from the proceedings. Whereas truly effective horror films imply a great deal more than they reveal (getting the viewer’s imagination to do the work), and tie the viewer very closely to characters who’ve been well established, making the viewer much more personally involved and thus much more vulnerable. And there are a ton of effective spins on this mechanism – for instance, Battle Royale combines stylized violence with melodrama to create a little distance and make the viewer’s experience more akin to an adventure film than a horror film, as well as ensure the film’s underlying ideas aren’t overwhelmed by character focus.

The use of violence in media has to fall in line with that media’s goals if it doesn’t want to result in viewer disconnect, and I think that if Titan’s goal is to make you empathize with the characters, it needs to always be in control of that, imply at least as much as it shows, and save the ultraviolence for only when it’ll be truly effective. I actually think it’s gotten a lot better about this, but I think it had much less control early on, and it’s always a balancing act.