Rurouni Kenshin live-action movies: the sequels gone wrong

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To think that the poster looks promising…


Movie Info

Title: Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (Kyoto Taika-hen), Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (Densetsu no Saigo-hen)
Author/Creator: Keishi Otomo (director) adapted from Nobuhiro Watsuki’s original manga
Media Type: Movie
Genre: Martial-art fantasy, Drama

Warning: Super-spoilery breakdown of a good chunk of the movie/story. Be warned.

I’ve been debating for a while on how I should approach this review if I’m going to review these movies at all. Essentially, the problem is I can go on and on about the mess that is Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (Kyoto Taika-hen) and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (Densetsu no Saigo-hen), but that is not at all interesting to anybody. While, yes, these two movies culminate in to a giant mess, they are not all-around bad movies. They are well-acted (for the main cast at least). The production is beautiful. The cinematography is marvelous. It just doesn’t have one thing: a direction.

To director Keishi Otomo’s credit, I think he kind of knew. Then why did he not do something about it? Well, he tried at some point, but the biggest problem with these movies is actually at the story level. It doesn’t need to be fixed as much as to be redone, and there are certain complications when you’re trying to adapt a story from a franchise with a global following. You can’t please everyone, so where is the line you want to walk. The movies don’t seem to know what they want to be and where they want to go, which is the opposite of the first Rurouni Kenshin movie that came out in 2012. What they ended up looking like movies made to capitalize on the success of the first one, which is a pity considering they are made by the very same team.

That is not to say there is nothing good about the story or the script; there are. There are interesting plot points that Otomo reinterpreted with a fresh perspective. They just aren’t enough to outweigh the other messes. It’s actually better if I break away from the good list and bad list and just compare the good and the bad point by point. This is going to be spoiler-y so brace yourselves for the ride.

The Cardinal Sin: the Story

Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends are adaptations of what is now referred to in the franchise as the Kyoto arc. By this time, Kenshin Himura, a wandering swordsman who once was an assassin, has finally stopped wandering and settled down in a kendou dojo of the young Kaoru Kamiya. While students in the dojo want Kenshin to teach them some of his techniques, he insists that what he knows are outdated and not needed in the new era of peace and prosperity. He earns his keep instead by taking care of the house and of Yahiko Myojin, Kaoru orphaned student. Sanosuke Sagara the lively street fighter still comes by for food, and Megumi Takani is now working as an assistant in a nearby clinic. All in all, they are one big happy family of people who had survived the war and hardship of the Bakumatsu era and are continuing to thrive in the brave new world that is modern Japan.

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A family doesn’t have to be about blood relation, does it?

Except a shadow is cast on the bright and hopeful future of the Meiji Restoration by another assassin, Makoto Shishio, previously thought dead at the end of the war. Shishio’s death was in fact ordered by the Meiji government as the higher-ups deemed him too dangerous and untrustworthy, and his body was burnt to cover up the deed. But the man somehow survived, and now after ten years he is back to overthrow the same government that betrayed him, effectively attempting to turn the clock back to the turmoil of the Bakumatsu.

Now, if that sounds like ‘the villain wants to destroy the world as we know it and rules it in chaos and destruction’, that’s because it is. And that’s a D-grade mission statement for a villain anywhere. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of goal that every manga writer one time or the other would fall back to. I think Nobuhiro Watsuki walked right into this trap rather blindly when he started the arc. He had been writing largely about the socioeconomic effect of the Meiji Restoration up to that point, but, as tradition of the Shounen Jump Magazine dictates, the series had become popular enough that they needed a long arc, and by long I mean something that takes years to serialize in a weekly magazine. Considering Watsuki had been producing 19 pages of black-and-white artwork every 7 days on top of developing the plot and the character for a year or so, I don’t think he really had time to give his villain a solid goal at that point.

Funny enough, none of us are truly bothered by that. I think that’s at least in part Watsuki’s genius as a writer. He somehow made Shishio’s goal a non-issue by shifting our focus to the smaller stories that comprised the Kyoto arc, and he was right to do so because that was what he was good at. Therefore, the Kyoto arc is not one big continuous story line, but rather a collection of stories threaded together to becomes one story line, and that is perfect for a medium like serialized manga where there is no time limit; it is not for a movie.

The inherent problem of adapting the Kyoto arc is then how do you tie the stories together. This is made more complicated by the fact that this arc is the fans’ favorite. Changing it too much will alienate the fans. Not doing so will destroy the movies. And the movies were destroyed by the reluctance not only at the story level but at the emotional level as well.

A case to point is the first pivoting point of the arc: the assassination of Oukubo Toshimichi, one of the founding fathers of modern Japan. Being in the forefront of the Meiji Restoration, Oukubo was an easy target for people who disagreed with the changes brought about by the new era. In the story, he is the one to ask for Kenshin’s help in stopping Makoto Shishio, a request Kenshin’s friends are against. After all, this is essentially asking Kenshin to go back to be the government’s hitman, and all of them know he doesn’t want to. Oukubo gives Kenshin a week, saying he will come in person for the answer, but Shishio’s man got to him first, and he is murdered on his carriage. The carriage is then mobbed by another group of samurai attempting to take his life. The group ultimately takes the credit for killing him. Kenshin, however, knows that it is Shishio’s doing and decides that he really has to act.

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How does he know? Well, the killer’s right behind him. Soujirou Seta is played wonderfully by Ryunosuke Kamiki.

The conspiracy theory intrigue aside, the buildup and Oukubo’s death in the manga is enough for us to feel that indeed Kenshin needs to make a move. In the movie, however, it falls flat. There is not enough emotional momentum to make Oukubo’s death the tipping point. And Otomo knew this. He had to throw in a few scenes of Shishio being evil, crazy, and destructive to try to build up that tension. I am sorry to say that it doesn’t work. In fact, I think showing Shishio as evil, crazy, and destructive has more of the opposite effect. The bogey man is scarier when we don’t see him, and that was what Watsuki did. He made Shishio’s the history’s bogey man. Movie-Shishio is more like his weird cousin.

The Almost-Got-It: Makoto Shishio

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Makoto Shishio is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara, but we don’t get to see much of him.

While the villain’s goal should have been reworked into something more solid, the villain himself has some surprising layers to him, although he still feels much like a missed opportunity simply because there are too many ‘Shishio is crazy’ moments and not enough scenes that truly dive into his character. The scene that I like is in the beginning of The Legend Ends where Shishio invites the high-ranking officials of the government to dine with him at gun point. The end result is predictably pretty chaotic and violent, but Shishio asks a good question towards the end: why him? Why didn’t they kill Kenshin Himura as well? A perfectly fair question all things considered. Kenshin is, by skill and reputation, more dangerous than Shishio. What exactly did the government tried to accomplish by killing one and not the other? Unfortunately, there is no satisfying follow-up.

The movies also leave out the answer to another big question: why so many people follow Shishio? The obvious answer if we’re talking about the manga-Shishio is that he is a charismatic leader and a man who knows what it is like to be left behind as the world keeps progressing forward. People around Shishio are actually the flotsam and jetsam of history: a sex worker who watches her profession made illegal, a monk disillusioned of the human nature, an illegitimate son made orphan by the war, a transgender swordsman who has never been accepted until she met Shishio, warriors who no longer have a place to wield their swords and are robbed of their identities and dignities. He is not a good man by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t think he helped any of them out of good will necessarily, but he is smart enough to work them all like puppets on his strings, and that’s what make Shishio a very dangerous man.

Unfortunately, none of that comes through in the movie. Timing issue and character difference aside, Otomo just couldn’t seem to decide how he wanted to portray Shishio until that dinner scene, but by then it’s too late and a lot of time were wasted not building up Shishio’s character which is a shame. If Kyoto Inferno was instead Shishio-centric, it might have been a better movie.

The Bad Addition: Aoshi Shinomori

There are many characters introduced in the Kyoto arc, so obviously there are not enough time to go into the story of everyone of them. But the character that I think suffers the most from the lack of time and under-polished script is Aoshi Shinomori, the last captain of the Oniwabanshuu — the Shogun’s ninja.

While Aoshi and Kenshin have important moments in Kyoto arc, the problem of putting him into the movies is that he is largely irrelevant to the story line. Sure, he drives the character development of Misao Makimachi who becomes the next leader of the Oniwabanshuu and contributes significantly in Kyoto’s arc, but we don’t really get to see that in the movies. He helps Kenshin defeat Shishio in the end, but at no other point does his story ever get tie into either Shishio’s or Kenshin’s story in a significant way. So why bother with Aoshi at all?

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The fact that I can’t seem to find a great picture for Aoshi Shinomori (played by Yusuke Iseya) really tells us something.

Aoshi Shinomori is actually an important side character in the series. It’s just that he tends to come in and out of the arcs not quite being the main part of any. In the manga, he is in the Kyoto arc in part to up the ante but also to finish up a subplot that had been dangling since the Kanryu arc. Aoshi originally appears beside Kanryu as the leader of his mercenary along with four former Oniwabanshuu members who have been with him since the Bakumatsu. By the end of the arc, all four of them have sacrificed themselves for Aoshi to live. Seeing no way out of the grievance, Aoshi marks Kenshin’s head for revenge, which Kenshin makes no opposition to. Sanosuke even remarks that Kenshin is too kind to put his own life on the line so Aoshi can have a reason to live.

So in Kyoto arc, Aoshi returns a changed man to kill Kenshin. That is the long and short of what Aoshi does in the arc. But as fans, we were all for it, because we knew what was at stake: Aoshi’s soul and Kenshin’s conscience. Their fight is easily the best fight in the entire Rurouni Kenshin series. But from the movie perspective, that deep introspective combat is not going to happen. Aoshi’s character was taken out of the Kanryu’s plot in the first movie, so when he shows up in the sequel he is just some character wandering about in the background like a ghost of under-developed subplot. He should have been taken out. True that by doing so, the Shinomori fans would have been outraged and Otomo would have to change the story in the Kyoto arc quite significantly, but he has to rewrite it anyway. It wouldn’t be the first time that Aoshi got dropped.

The VERY Good: Kamiya Kaoru

If Aoshi Shinomori is a character done wrong, Kaoru Kamiya is the character done right. And the most important point is that the changes made to her work to foster a deeper connection between her and Kenshin even though they are barely in the same scene in Kyoto Inferno. And Emi Takei owns Kaoru in this one, so I really can’t ask for more.

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No more doubt about Emi Takei being Kaoru Kamiya, especially when she’s in the scene with Takeru Satoh.

Not only does Kaoru gets her own fight scenes in this movie –that’s hardly the most important thing — she gets a depth. I made a comment before that Kaoru is supposed to be a fighter in life, a woman that knows how to hold her own, and Otomo gives her moments of that by reinterpreting the scenes from the manga. While Kaoru in the manga worries when the news of Shishio comes in, Kaoru in the movie is clear in her opinion that Kenshin should not be made to serve the government again, and she voices it to Kenshin directly. Otomo also made an interesting choice of changing the time for the scene where Kenshin says good bye to her and leave Tokyo. In the manga, the scene happens at night. The effect is that when Kenshin turns his back and walks away, he disappears into the darkness. As much as Kaoru in the manga wants to chase after him and brings him back, she can’t, not to mention she is too shock to do so. In the movie the scene is done in broad daylight. The effect becomes the opposite. Kaoru is letting him go, is respecting his decision and letting him walk out of her life. The aftermath of that break up also turns out differently. The manga-Kaoru is dumped out of the blue, so she becomes understandably depressed. The movie-Kaoru just carries on, hiding her pain by making her life normal, as much as it irritates everyone else in her little family.

When she is persuaded to follow Kenshin to Kyoto, she doesn’t seem fazed by the fact that Kenshin is cold towards her. Slightly intimidated, probably. She knows he keeps her out of the whole Shishio business for a reason and she just basically barges in and makes his life harder than it already is. Their conversation after they meet again seems more restrained in the movie that the manga, but it fits perfectly with this interpretation of their relationship. And Kaoru isn’t just there to run around after Kenshin as he and Hajime Saito tries to save Kyoto from Shishio, she’s there to do her share as well. I love the scene where Kenshin and Kaoru meet each other by accident during the chaos in Kyoto, each was fighting their respective enemy and defeating them. When he saw her, he pauses and looks at her like he is taking her in. Even with all the blood, sweats, and tears, and not a single word exchanged, that scene is seriously romantic, more romantic than anything Watsuki has written about these two.

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“Let’s go home.” (Gif from burning-butterfly.tumblr.com) from the end of The Legend ends.

The Bad: The Action Scenes

It’s actually pretty sad that the selling point is actual a weak link. This is made sadder by the fact that the action scenes in the first movie are good. And the difference between them, I think, is the lack of drama and action-reaction sequence. In the first movie, the hits mean something. You almost wince at the impact. In these two movies, I feel like there are more arms flying around but not much impact at all emotionally or physically. They are too drawn out, too fancy, too messy, without really moving the story forward. And that seems to be an easy trap to fall into given how many action movies from either side of the Pacific have the same problem.

The Good: Cinematography and production.

One thing I definitely have to give it to the team is these movies are beautiful. Hands down.

Maybe not so much for The Legend Ends when they go a grittier look, although the production value on that movie is still high. There are scenes in Kyoto Inferno that looks like they are artistically composed and shot, so much so that a screenshot would have looked like a painting.  My favorite would be the scene where Kenshin and Misao stumble upon a small village that Shishio rules, a miniature version of what would have been if Shishio wins. The color scheme were so well-selected that it seriously looks like an art piece, but unfortunately I spent the time cringing about everything else. The story, while being a very powerful piece in the manga and an important plot point, doesn’t fit right in the movie. The story also hinges on the character named Seiji, a ten-year-old boy who loses his family to Shishio, but the role is so badly acted the story has no emotional impact. I don’t blame the child actor so much as feel bad for him. Seiji’s character isn’t as well-written as the manga to begin, and it does take a skilled actor to convey the complexity of Seiji character in that short, short time.

The Disappointing-But-Okay: Sanosuke’s and Kenshin’s friendship

So, my hope for some bonding between Sanosuke and Kenshin did not come to past. Then again, since Sanosuke’s character got toned down so much he’s basically this guy who fights a lot, a deep friendship between them would have no basis. And Otomo was probably right to not overplay it. However, because this friendship is not as strong, Sanosuke’s decision to get into a fight with Aoshi Shinomori to protect Kenshin (kind of) and almost die doing so seems a little odd. If anything it makes him look like a brainless maniac who would use any excuse to get into a fight. His decision to follow Kenshin to Kyoto also feels weaker than the manga, but within the context of the movie it is all right. If there’s any scene between these two that I have to give it to Otomo, it would be their reunion where Sanosuke punches Kenshin the very moment they meet again in Kyoto. It’s so marvelously done I couldn’t have asked for anything better.

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You know he’s your best friend when he travels across the country just to tell you that you’ve been an asshole.

The Awesome: Saito’s and Kenshin’s friendship

While the warrior-bond between Sanosuke and Kenshin doesn’t exist in the movie, Otomo pushes Saito’s and Kenshin’s friendship up to the forefront instead. This relationship doesn’t exist in the manga. There are camaraderie between them, but Saito and Kenshin are never as close as they are in the movies. And it is actually a very good decision to go with. We’ve established from the very first scene of the first movie that Saito and Kenshin both fought in the Bakumatsu. They understands each other as only people who were on the battlefield together would. The movie-Saito is also a very different from manga-Saito even though they both have the same no-nonsense attitude. In the manga, we get the sense that Saito never fully accepts Kenshin as a friend. The movie-Saito has no such reservation. He even defends Kenshin behind his back to a commanding officer at one point, something the manga-Saito wouldn’t be caught doing. And there’s no need for many words to show the warrior-bond between the two. A scene where they wait together in silence for Shishio to attack Kyoto is the epitome of that. Not only were the scene artistically beautiful with all the light-and-shadow play. The two also show the stillness that only both of them have in the middle of the unnerving situation. You can see they are in a different head-space that only they share and no other. It feels as deep as what Kenshin and Sanosuke share in the manga, and I’m grateful that Otomo keeps coming back to them through out both movies.

 

So, what is the final verdict for Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends, you might ask. If you are not a fan, don’t bother. They are not good movies in and of themselves, so there isn’t much for you there. If you are a fan and you love Kyoto arc, you’ll probably have a go no matter what I say, but be mentally prepared for the disappointments, because there will be disappointments. In the end, I think us fans still get a good rush out of it anyway. If you’re looking for something to convert your friends to the fandom or to Kyoto arc, these are not the ones. Just pick the first movie or stick with the manga. The latter is always the superior option anyway.

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Pee Mak Phrakanong and the changing script of love

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This banner sum up everything about the movie… almost.

Movie Info
Title: Pee Mak Phrakanong
Author/Creator:
Media Type: Movie
Genre: Horror, drama, romance, comedy

Warning: Spoiler-y review… again.

Is there such thing as a movie that deserves to be written about twice? Apparently, there is.

That is because the first time I wrote about Pee Mak Phrakanong, I hadn’t watch the movie yet. The excitement from Thailand, however, was too palpable to ignore, and I devoured all the material there was at the time. The movie turns out to be the highest grossing movie ever in Thailand. While the intentional audience is teenagers and young adults, the movie found fans from all demographic. Let’s just say nobody could have predicted the success of the movie, and I don’t think anybody really understand what happened either.

Part of it was probably luck. Pee Mak came out the same time as Khu Kam, both being beloved stories in the country, so the cinema goers were probably only weighting between these two movies despite having others on show. And more tightly focused the interest is, the more likely it is that either of them got selected rather than, say, G. I. Joe. Moreover, Pee Mak was marketed as romantic-horror-comedy. For people who were stressed out all week, this sounded like a better option than a romantic-tragedy that Khu Kam is.

That being said, the success of the movie didn’t just come from luck. The movie itself is actually pretty good. It is bold in the way it takes a much beloved horror folktale and put a spin to it. What I didn’t expect, though, is how bold it is in the way it discusses love.

Both Khu Kam and Pee Mak are about love. Khu Kam is about a patriotic young woman who becomes involved, unwillingly at first, with a Japanese soldier during Japan occupation of Thailand in WWII. The original novel is a classic in the way it discusses the conflict of the nation and the heart, but it also uses a very particular script for romantic relationship. The girl plays coy about what she thinks or feels and pushes the guy away, making him chase after her like they are playing catch in a forest in a Bollywood movie (cue to the Bollywood music here). In Khu Kam, it is justified because he is an enemy and she was involved with another person before she met him. Still, that script is so old and so overused (The Cather in the Rye anybody?). Sure, there are people whose relationship still follows that script, but the question is how many of us really thinks that is the way to go in this day and age.

Mae Nak, the original story of Pee Mak, uses a script for different stage in the relationship. Mak and Nak are already married when Mak has to go to war and leaves his pregnant wife behind. Nak waits for his return day and night even after she died while giving birth and scared off people who see an apparition of a woman standing on a pier holding a baby in her arms.

Nak, despite being a scary ghost, is always thought of as the symbol of everlasting love. She waits for Mak even when she’s dead. She cares for him when he is back injured. But that love is a selfish kind of love, the one that will not let go even when that love hurts both of them. In the folktale, Nak has to kill people to shut them up, so she can maintain the illusion of a happy family for her husband. Being under Nak’s spell, Mak becomes isolated from the community due to them being threatened by his wife. When the illusion is broken, Mak is overcome with fear and flee to get help so he can be free from Nak.

I have always thought that Mak is a Mary Sue in the story; i.e., that he is a character that does not actually have a character. He reacts to knowing that Nak is a ghost like he has no previous history with her whatsoever. He is also highly objectified, like a trophy that Nak has to keep to make her life complete. And that is a script used for a long, long time since before classic Disney animation came along with their highly objectified princes.

What I like about Pee Mak is that it puts character into Mak. The movie isn’t his story precisely, more of his friends’ watching Mak and Nak together and deciding how to interfere in what is potentially a fatal relationship. I think Banjong Pisanthanakun’s genius is in knowing that his audience has a preconceived notion of the story. But instead of catering to it, he runs with it. Since the beginning, he investigates the detail of the story and turns to question our understanding of it. Is Nak really dead or did something happened that people in the village treated her as an outcast? Did she really kill any of the villagers or was the death a false attribution? Is Nak the one who is dead? It is a pleasant surprise to find a horror movie that is cerebral while making us snicker along with its slapstick jokes.

To me, the biggest punch line comes at the end when Mak is dragged along with his friends to escape Nak who, by then, already shows herself as a ghost. Unlike previous incarnations, he doesn’t run from her right away and seemingly unable to comprehend that she is a ghost. I think that is a more realistic reaction than running for the hills since he wouldn’t really be able to reconcile his loving and seemingly alive wife with a spirit that easily. He still cares about her and does not want her to get hurt but at the same time being absolutely scared and can’t really look at her without crying like a baby. And Nak is scary at that point. She is furious that people destroys her chance at a happy family and now taking Mak away from her. She goes after him, but that is where the parallel to the folklore ends.

And that is about where Banjong challenges the previous script of a romantic relationship.

In the old script, Nak looks as Mak as her object of affection and would do anything to keep him with her. When he runs, she hunts him down despite knowing that she scares the living day light out of him. It is a very unbalanced, unthoughtful relationship. In this version, Nak stops when Mak faces her in tears. Even in the height of her anger, he is not an object to her but a person she deeply cares about. So, without the prompting from the monk she needed in the folklore, she decides to let him go and move on, only to be told by her sobbing husband to stay put and let him talk.

That is when I realize how much more balanced their relationship is in this movie. Mak doesn’t see his dead wife as a scary ghost but as a woman he fell in love with and married to. And he is right, because she is still as intelligent and self-aware as she was when she was alive. She is just able to extend her arms and defy gravity now, which scares him because those are not normal, but doesn’t change who she is to him at all. Mak’s confession that he has known for a while that she’s dead serves as a great tearjerker because we have seen throughout the movie how he tries to keep the status quo without even realizing what he is doing. This Mak might not be the macho soldier like in other incarnations, but he is definitely the strongest in his willingness to fight against social convention for what is important to him.

Okay, guys. Stop being adorable together already. Like, seriously.

And I think that reflects a lot of how we see love in this day and age. Before this, the ideal love has to fit the social convention and the underlying script of a romantic relationship. The ideal love in Pee Mak is more about being thoughtful to one another, which is itself a new kind of script but a much more flexible one. The end credit scenes from Pee Mak also hint at what thoughtful love can do in a larger context. When Mak is able to get over the fact that his wife is no longer human, he starts to appreciate her and even be proud of her for what she is. Nak walking the ceiling to fix the leaks while Mak chats away with the monk is one of the more adorable moments in the movie and also shows that accepting the differences is a source of power not decline. Mak’s openness is also infectious to his friends who witness their exchange and come to accept Nak as well. Of course, it is not that the whole village is suddenly 100% okay with a ghost living among them. She is still ‘the Other’, the outcast, and their love is viewed as ‘unnatural’ because it doesn’t fit the usual boundary of love. However, the movie doesn’t portray Nak as the tragic heroine who fights for and loses love but acknowledge her as having the right to love and happiness like anyone else. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that touches on marriage equality in such a powerful and convincing way. That is, of course, if anybody reads that much into it as I do, although I don’t think the message is subtle at all.

I like to think that if money can vote, the grossing of this movie shows that the people of Thailand is ready to acknowledge the right to love.

Pacific Rim as a celebration of nerds

Let's take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of those robot and Mako Mori.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of those robots and our darling Mako Mori.

Movie Info
Title: Pacific Rim
Author/Creator: Guillermo del Toro (director, screenplay co-writer)
Media Type: Movie
Genre: Sci-fi, action

Warning: Potential spoiler. Proceed at own risk.

I got a chance to watch Pacific Rim in cinema recently, mostly to celebrate part of my childhood but partly out of curiosity of what del Toro might have done to one of my once favorite past time — by which I mean the genre not that I owned any robot, fought any monster, or owned their figurine… Okay, I might have had a Godzilla toy, satisfied?

In general, Pacific Rim did okay. The storyline isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Our protagonist, Raleigh Becket, is psychologically wounded by the lost of his brother on one of their missions to stop the monsters, the Kaijus (nice nod right there, Mr. del Toro). He lives many years as a construction worker in Alaska until he is recruited back to be a part of the last stand against the Kaijus. There he pairs up with a young recruit, Mako Mori, to pilot a giant robot, or Jaeger, and tries one last time to ‘cancel the apocalypse’.

The story of Pacific Rim is dense, too dense for a two-hours film in fact, but very rich and vibrant. I would love to see this story as a series rather than a movie so to make justice to all the characters and intricate detail del Toro has created for this universe. Unfortunately, the complexity is the movie’s biggest problem. If its purpose is to intrigue, then it has done its job superbly. I am properly intrigued by every being in the film be it the Kaijus, the Jaegers — okay, especially the Jaegers — the pilots, and just how this world comes to be what it is in the movie. But Pacific Rim doesn’t quite satisfy that intrigue. The script for Raleigh is pretty sloppy. I get that he is an uncomplicated character, which is good for this already complicated world, but the script just doesn’t convey his internal life as well as it did other characters like Stacker Pentecost or Herc Hansen, his commanding officers. But because of the attention given to complexity of the story, I don’t feel offended by the sloppy parts of the scripts as much as I usually do with blockbuster movies. The writers just bit off more than they can chew not that they are particularly sloppy. I just feel… sad, mostly, because it has so much potential that isn’t fully explored.

That is not to say I don’t like Raleigh. He is a good guy. He might be insubordinate, nosy, and a bit annoying at times, but he isn’t a jerk like Herc’s son Chuck. A part of him is almost like a regency gentleman, upholding other people’s honor and such, which is not something we celebrate in the media quite enough in my opinion. I also like Mako who isn’t either femme fatale or damsel-in-distress. She is just a young Asian woman on a mission. I stress the word Asian not to emphasize her ethnic background but for the fact that she behaves according to the Asian values which she was raised in. This is a commendable attempt at true multiculturalism that I don’t think a lot of films that try to be multicultural do very often or very well. I like how del Toro intentionally clashes her value with Raleigh’s in one scene, although, unfortunately, it isn’t as satisfying as I would have liked.

But is Pacific Rim all unsatisfying executions of very awesome concepts? Not really. There is a very good part in the film that stands out even with the grand spectacles of the Jaegers and Kaijus going at each other.

It is the nerds: Kaiju biologist Newton “Newt” Geiszler, and theoretical physicist (at least I think he is) Hermann Gottlieb.

Newton Geiszler, the hipster nerd. Let's spend a moment to appreciate that tattoo.

Newton Geiszler, the hipster nerd. Let’s spend a moment to appreciate that tattoo.

Hermann Gottlieb, stereotypical nerd who talks a mile a second.

Hermann Gottlieb, stereotypical nerd who talks a mile a second.

… Okay, it’s mostly Newt and to a lesser extend Hermann. Sorry, Hermann.

Some people say they are too cartoony, too over the top for being scientists. But as a scientist, I think I can safely say those opinions comes from people’s expectation of what being a scientist is like: dry and uninteresting. And let’s be honest, most people don’t get science. They are intrigue by it and its products, A.K.A. technologies, but they are equally intimidated by it which I think is the doing of science education in the system rather than anything else. There is glass wall between the scientific community and the general public which, as usual, leads to stereotyping based on people’s perception of the subject. Scientists are perceived as dry because they deal mostly with dry stuffs like facts, theories, calculation, and experiments which require a lot of time to study and are not generally consider as fun. It is unavoidable that people would picture scientists as nerds with huge glasses who are socially awkward (in other words, not in their social group), talk funny (not behaving according to their social group), and just no fun (because science isn’t for them).

I will say now that while there are people like that doing science, that stereotype is just not true no matter what The Big Bang Theory makes you believe.

A scientist is just someone who absolutely geeks out about science so much that they want to spend their lives just geek out about it. If they don’t party as much, let’s just say that they have something more interesting to attend to.

And I think nerds in general are like that. There is just something they love so much they are okay spending time doing it than watching reality TV, or partying with so much people they don’t even know, or keeping up with the Kardashians, or whatever people who think they are not nerds or geeks do. It is called prioritizing and not necessary anti-social behaviour. Although, if they start to not make sense when they talk, you might want to make them sleep or watch international news for a while just to get their perspective straight.

I like Newt and Hermann in Pacific Rim because of their unhinged, unconcealed enthusiasm. They are both eccentric because they just don’t care what other people think about them personally. They are both extremely passionate about their work not because it might prevent world’s end but because they simply enjoy doing it. And only about their work would they care about criticism especially from each other. That is why they collide spectacularly on screen but at the same time they are destined to be best friends. Hermann is all hard math, simulations, fast talk, and cutting remarks. He likes things neat and safe and is a bit aloof like what people think stereotypical nerds are. Newt is all specimens, experiments, hand-on data, and witty comments. Newt can deal with risky and complicated stuffs like mind-melding with Kaiju’s brain and dealing with Hong Kong mafia. He is a hipster nerd, but he is still socially awkward at times because he tends to forget that his love, the Kaijus, that he couldn’t quite stop babbling about have killed people, lots of them.

Those would probably be just character’s quirk in other movies because, at the end of it, the action hero is the one who runs the show and nerds are generally in a supporting role away from limelight. But that is not exactly true in Pacific Rim. While Raleigh and Mako struggles to get their Jaeger going, Newt has been sent to secure more Kaiju brain for his experiment. That part of the movie turns into an arc of its own. Newt is tested all around. First, he is shaken by the mind-meld experiment that nearly kills him. Then, he is intimidated by the mafia, frightened into shock by an encounter with a Kaiju, frightened again by another short but terrifying encounter with another Kaiju, but Newt is relentless. He is terribly afraid, sure, but he is there for something, and he will get it no matter what.

His crazy dedication to his work earns him the respect and friendship from Hermann who, up to that point, never openly admit the sentiment. Together they manage to obtain necessary information for the mission and effectively help save the world without having to get on a Jaeger themselves. Oh, beautiful, nerdy friendship.

To me, they have stolen the show from Raleigh before Stacker and Mako steal it again in the later part which is sort of unfair to Raleigh since he is supposed to be the hero of the film. And Raleigh is a secret nerd, too. He basically drools over his Jeager inside and out and is totally a Mako fanboy (yes, the fans’ Raleigh the golden-retriever meme is 100% accurate where Mako is concerned). I find it pretty cool that del Toro creates a leading man who is super enthusiastic about the thing he does and not just consistently being cool for the girl he has his eyes on, but he falls flat in front of Newton’s much better story arc. There are times when I wonder why don’t they just make Newt the leading man when he is so obviously better written than Raleigh, funnier as a character, and his story arc much more inspiring, intense, and personal. Pacific Rim could have been about two nerdy scientists having to find a way to work together despite their differences and defeat the unbeatable, and I don’t think it is going to be too different from the Pacific Rim we’ve seen, just a bit more focused and a lot nerdier.

Considering that del Toro is pretty nerdy himself, I don’t think he would mind going in that direction so much.

But ultimately Pacific Rim is about giant robots, so the climax has to be about the pilots of the giant robots going on one last mission to defeat the Kaijuu for good. I think this is where the many vaguely connected pieces come together. The success of this mission is not solely because of Newt’s experiment, or Hermann’s calculations, or the Jaegers’ pilots awesome fighting skills, or Raleigh and Mako being great partners, it’s all of that put together. It is about coming together, respecting each other, doing their respective parts, and making something spectacular happen. I think that is the beauty of this movie. I don’t think we have seen an emphasize on collaboration quite enough on screen, and I am going to blame it mostly on the format. Movies have very limited time, three hours the longest, so only one story can ever be effectively told. Pacific Rim with its amazing vision and complex storyline could have done so much better using another format that allows us to explore, expand, and connect to those pieces. It can be a franchise that rivals other sci-fi franchises if someone gives it a try.

Now to the last big question, did del Toro do justice to the Kaiju movies of old? Well, classic Kaijus are allegories for something that is too big for human, an impending doom that is too much for any single one of us to counter alone. The original Godzilla (not the American one) is the metaphor for nuclear power, mostly for its misuse after the Second World War, but Godzilla is not the villain. On occasions, Godzilla has fought alongside human in order to protect Earth from doom-bearing space Kaijus. The stories in Kaiju movies are about fighting that impending doom by working together with our fellow human and sometimes with something that we are afraid of. I think Pacific Rim has the spirit of collaboration in it, so I’ll have to say that del Toro did fine with this movie. I may not like the execution and I won’t label it as a good movie, but I love its heart. I have no reservation in revisiting this universe again if a sequel happens.

And better yet, make the next one about the nerds.

Why Not To Be a Physicist

This is more accurate than you might think.

Every time I tell somebody I’m in physics, they would widen their eyes, tell me how smart I must be, and proceed to tell me how difficult they found physics to be when they were in school.

At this point, I would interject that I, too, find physics hard and that, no, I’m not smart or I would have chosen a career that actually makes money and not requires people to live inside their heads almost 24/7.

Physics is difficult because it requires us to look at the world in a certain way. Physicists create models of systems and try to see if we can get a correct prediction. If we don’t, start again. We also learn to do it inside our heads by visualizing the model. In a way, we are pros of making abstract simulations inside our heads (and computers) which get harder and harder to convey in human-speak the deeper the problems get.

This leads to is a reduced pleasure in watching movies, especially action and science-fiction films.

Wait a minute! How is that related? Well, actually it is the very reason. See, if you are trained hard to see the world in a certain way, that will be how you see it. Being a physicist, or scientist in fact, does not stop the moment we put down our work. It’s ingrained into how we rationalize things. Same goes for all kinds of trainings: engineering, architecture, art, history, humanity, theology, sports, writing, etc. The name of the discipline is pretty much synonymous with the kind of thinking each field uses. If you want to be really good in any one of that, you seriously need to think like them.

So back to the training of physics. There is definitely a lot of logic, mathematics, conceptualization, and visualization involved. Conceptualization and visualization, I found, takes a lot of effort to accomplish. The best people in physics can see through a problem by using the combination of logic, conceptualization, and visualization without much need to resort to mathematics to do the basic conceptual prediction. The beautiful thing about it is you get to understand things that are a lot of time beyond everyday experience. Greg Chaitin, who is in fact a mathematician, described it best. In a BBC-four documentary Dangerous Knowledge, he compared the experience with climbing a mountain and get to see the most breath-taking view very few get to see. I think that is a very apt picture of what working in science is like sometimes. In a way, it’s a transcendence of the mind, of being somewhere else in the mental landscape.

With greater understanding of how the physical world works comes the great price of noticing when it doesn’t work the way we think it should. We have to be able to do that for three reasons: to be able to see when we’re wrong, to be able to see when other people are wrong, and to potentially get a Noble Prize someday because we  happen to spot evidence that points to our current model being fundamentally flawed (or, so we hope). Suspending disbelief is incredibly hard to do after a time. There is a little voice in the back of our heads that go “wait, what?” every time something seems slightly off.

Like, sound in space (Star Wars)? There’s nothing for it to propagate effectively. Flying humanoid mobile suits the size of a building to shoot ray guns (Gundam)? That is so inefficient.  A giant spaceship for deep-space travel built on Earth’s surface (Star Trek XI)? How much energy do you need to lift that off the ground and into orbit anyway? And did I mention to mysterious source of gravity or gravitational distortion in tons of movies (Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Space Battleship Yamato, Couching Tiger Hidden Dragon, etc.)? Not to mention logical distortion of various scale (Dr. Who, Star Trek, lots)?

You do not want a physicist in your test screening. Period.

It’s not that I want to rally for a physically accurate movies. Honestly, an absolutely accurate movie has the tendency to be really boring. Movies (sans documentaries) are for fantasies no matter what “based on true story” suggests. Sometimes the law has to be broken for that dramatic twist. A good compilation of why breaking the law of physics makes a story better can be found in an article on io9 on 10 Myths About Space Travel That Make Science Fiction Better. The author of the article is absolutely right that, at the end of the day, it is the stories of people that matters. The rest is setting the stage. We just need a stage that is good enough to support the story, and that’s it.

Knowing that doesn’t, in any way, shut the physics brain up no matter how hard we try to make it please take a vacation while we chill out. Some people might be able to do that better than others. I can do that sometimes with an action movie that’s realistic enough and has a good story that can get me emotionally invested, but I still keep seeing those little illogical things that would have been better to just dismiss. It sucks because I want to enjoy a movie as a movie. I don’t want to spend a good portion of the time telling the little voice in my head to please cease to narrate how wrong the things I’m seeing are, or what the character just said is contradictory, or to go into red-alert because something is wrong but it doesn’t know what.

Yes, that sounds annoying. Most of the time that happens, it is. Other times, well, I’ll confess of being a douche and say I get a kick out of spotting those moments if I really, really hate the movie. To my defense, that might be the only kind of entertainment I have in those occasions.

So, please, take my advice: don’t be a physicist.

P.S. I really encourage you all to watch Dangerous Knowledge (link to some sample). It gives you a pretty good view into how the concept of uncertainty arrives in math, physics, and history and how we have dealt with it, which is to say not that good. It’s just a bit too dramatic for my liking, but well, what can I say.

Rurouni Kenshin live-action movie: the things they did right (and wrong)

RK_movie

Movie Info
Title: Rurouni Kenshin
Author/Creator: Keishi Otomo (director, screenplay co-writer) adapted from Nobuhiro Watsuki‘s original manga
Media Type: Movie
Genre: Martial-art fantasy, Drama

Warning: Potential spoiler. Proceed at own risk.

When news break of a live-action adaptation of a manga, the usual reception from the fans is dubious at best. I was especially terrified when the live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin, arguably one of the most beloved manga of the 1990s, was set to be released in fall 2012, and I think I had all the right to.

Where comic books, manga, and animated features differs greatly from live-action movies is how well they suspend disbelief. They are themselves fantasies where surrealism is permissible. People can stand around and analyze somebody for a good full minute without much damage to the audience sense of time when in real-life it should have taken a blink of an eye. A movement can be as fast as you want without breaking any limit of bio-mechanics. Characters can get away with fighting each other with light balls when we obviously know that those light balls doesn’t exist in real life. (I’m guessing some of you might already know which manga-turn-movie I’m talking about.) In that sense, many live-action adaptations were doomed to fail from the beginning as there is no justifiable way of connecting them to the human experience.

Then there are the grey-zone stuffs that might be possible to adapt into something believable either because they were already set in the world as we know it or in a science-fiction setting which in itself is a more believable fantasy (or it should be, at least). Rurouni Kenshin is one of those. If I have to fit the story into any particular genre, it would be martial-art fantasy which has its peak in East and South-east Asia from the late sixties to early nineties when Rurouni Kenshin series started. In a sense, the story is the last wind of the classic martial-art fantasy parade before it got mixed up with highly artistic but less realistic list of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of the Flying Daggers and so forth.

In other word, they have been pretty high on the fantasy side lately.

Rurouni Kenshin is also unique in that the first part of the story is quite political. Set in 1878, eleven years into the Meiji Restoration, Japan was just starting to adapt to democracy after the feudal system under the Shogun was overthrown in a long period of war and turmoil called the Bakumatsu. Samurai, the much esteemed sword masters of the bygone era, were stripped of their swords, honor, and prestige. Money was the new game in town. Japan, while at peace, was fighting to find its way among old and new values that came about the first contact with outside civilization in over two-hundred years.

In that complicated historical backdrop is also a complicated set of characters. Kaoru Kamiya is a young woman who just recently lost her father and trying her best to live and fight by his principle of ‘the swords that give life’. Yahiko Myojin is an orphan from a samurai family whose livelihood was taken with the turn of the tide in the Bakumatsu. Megumi Takani is a doctor and a chemist whose family served and died in the war leaving her to fend for herself from a young age. Sanosuke Sagara is a son of a farmer and a thug who seemed to brawl in every possible opportunity. The central figure of the story is Kenshin Himura a wandering swordsman who carries a curious sword with reversed edge and vowed never to kill.

Telling just how these five characters come to connect warrant a movie-length feature of its own. Essentially, this movie is about just that. The story mashed the early character arcs into 134 minutes with  multiple villains involved and a massive storyline of its own. This has the potential to go wrong in a lot of ways, but surprisingly the director Keishi Otomo had this beast under control.

And here are what he got right:

saito-hajime

Goro Fujita, A.K.A Hajime Saito played by Yosuke Eguchi. While he looks nothing like the drawing in the manga, he is startlingly similar to the historical Hajime Saito.

1.Find the core

Mashing up four volume worth of material and then some can result in a grand disaster on screen. What Keishi Otomo did was he put the focus mainly on Kenshin and his oath. This weakens some of the characters but makes the story much more tractable. It makes sense not only because he is the main character, but his motivation is much more complicated than others. Why would a great warrior who is praised as a hero by his colleagues and the Meiji government chose to be a homeless, penniless vagabond? That would make absolutely no sense if time is not properly spent on establishing who Kenshin is as a person and why he chose this life of obscurity. Otomo also made Kenshin’s oath of not killing the underlying conflict of the story by introducing Hajime Saito, Kenshin’s rival from the Bakumatsu, to be his antithesis within the first five minutes. While they are essentially on the same side, Hajime Saito is a pragmatist who sees Kenshin’s pacifism as an unrealistic and unpractical goal, pushing Kenshin to prove himself over and over that while sometimes violence is needed, killing is not. The concept is also challenged multiple times by multiple people throughout the movie.

kaoru-kamiya

Kaoru Kamiya played by Emi Takei.

2. Find the main relationship

With five core characters on screen, telling their relation in 134 minutes on top of everything else would be a mind-boggling task. Only one of the relation could be made clear in a movie and obviously, to the fans, it has to be between Kenshin and Kaoru. For someone who had been alone for a long time, wandering without a family, a friend, or a home, accepting somebody and being accepted in turn is a big deal. This also means that other relations have to stay in the shadow for the time being, namely the friendship between Kenshin and Sanosuke which is also an important dynamic in the manga. That is not a problem for me. The problem I have is with how Sanosuke is portrayed in this movie. That would actually go on the list of things gone wrong coming up below.

3. Keep it real

The backdrop of the story is very realistic. Along with that, the conflicts in the story are also relatable in the present day. In the early volumes of Rurouni Kenshin, Nobuhiro Watsuki emphasizes a lot on the conflict between cooperates and people, between the good of the many and the good of the few, between extreme capitalism and ethics, between the powerful and the powerless, between new and old ways of life, and between idealism and pragmatism. Granted that a lot of these conflicts are exaggerated either by the exaggeration of the characters who are the symbol of each value or the scenarios themselves, they still ring true to audiences everywhere. This, I think, make the drama in the story realistic enough to pass as a live-action feature.

An achievement in this movie that I must applaud is keeping the action sequences as realistic as possible. Rurouni Kenshin‘s original manga is quite well-known for the fancy sword moves and surreal techniques which in the context of a live-action movie would be awkward at best. Instead of going by the presentation style of the manga, the director went with Hong Kong style action using slings to make the movements more fluid. The emphasis is then not on the fancy moves, but the speed and accuracy in which Kenshin delivers his blows. The treat is that Otomo sneaked in a lot of original choreography and moves from the manga while making it believable. There are some movements that are awkward, but in general the fight scenes are just great joy to watch. If you don’t know what a Hong Kong action looks like, here’s a clip from the movie demonstrating just that:

4. Be original but stay true to the source

Because of the massive amount of material, the story has to be written to tie everything together. This means the scenes that are used are modified and many are written in to make the transitions smoother. Those fillers don’t actually feel much like fillers at all because the script is well-crafted enough that there is no distinction between the scenes that are taken from the manga and the ones that are not. It does not hurt either that Otomo manages to keep the scenes that are fans favorites in the movie almost word by word and frame by frame.

Another unique thing about this live-action feature is the soundtrack. They seems to deliberately avoid any sound that is typically Japanese. Some anime fans don’t like that because the anime has a certain Japanese sounds in it and that has worked very well. I’m going to take the opposite camp and say this is actually the correct decision. With a more modern and orchestral sound, the movie strikes the balance between surrealism and contemporary. If they had gone with traditional Japanese sounds, the movie will become a period piece which is not at all what it is. The story of greed, loss, beliefs, and redemption is a universal story and the sound they use only demonstrated that fact.

Now for what they got wrong:

1. Kaoru

I won’t say that their take on Kaoru is absolutely wrong, just mildly disappointing. Kaoru is still a strong young woman who had her own opinion about life and honour. She is also the gentle and innocent soul who becomes the balm to the weary and wounded Kenshin. My problem is that we don’t get to see her in action at all; i.e. she is more wimpy than the Kaoru Kamiya I remember. Although Kaoru is not even close to be in the same league as Kenshin or Sanosuke, she is still a fighter in every sense of the word and I would love to see her hold her own. There are a few places in the movie that the director could have put in a few minutes of that in but didn’t. Having that would actually help build a stronger connection between Kenshin and Kaoru by the fact that she is not just the damsel who occasionally got in distress but in a lot of ways Kenshin’s own equal.

2. Sanosuke

The characters that suffer the most from limited screen time are Sanosuke Sagara and Yahiko Myoyin. For Yahiko, this might not be too much of an issue because it would not change the dynamic between him and other characters so significantly and there is always another opportunity in a sequel. With Sanosuke, however, the way they presented him in the movie might make it a little more problematic if his character is going to be flushed out in the sequel. The reason is that his background and his personality tie in very closely to how his friendship with Kenshin develops. Otomo showed the first step of that friendship by showing us that Sanosuke, despite being a rowdy thug, has a heart of gold and maintaining that image throughout the movie. But for the fans, we know that there is more to Sanosuke than his fist and his giant horse-cutting sword. This, of course, can be flushed out in the sequel if not for the fact that Sanosuke doesn’t react to the knowledge of Kenshin being the legendary Battousai in the same way he does in the manga.

sano

Sanosuke Sagara played by Munetaka Aoki got the brashness right, but the rest…

In the movie, Sanosuke barges in and challenges Kenshin for the glory of fighting a great warrior. What that scene does is showing Sanosuke as a mere thug. In the manga, we get a sense that Sanosuke doesn’t always pick fights because he wants to, but because he will not stand down for any kind of injustice by people of any rank or background. He is a decent gentleman in most scenarios. His motivation for challenging Kenshin is not because Battousai was the strongest, but what Battousai symbolized. During the later part of the Bakumatsu, Sanosuke joined the civilian force called the Sekihotai and became the personal assistant, almost like a younger brother, to the Commander of the Sekihotai, Souzou Sagara. In Japanese history, Souzou Sagara was an obscured figure which I think is partly from the controversy surrounding his death. He was executed by the Meiji government whom he fought for during the Bakumatsu due to his disobedience. Souzou Sagara was one of the idealists who did not bend to power and had to pay for it with his life. Disillusioned by the death of his hero, Sanosuke resented the government for what he perceived as an ultimate betrayal to the ideology of a free world the Sekihotai desperately fought for. Battousai, being a hero of the Bakumatsu, is a part of that evil identity Sanosuke hates and thus someone he wants to beat.

That background is an important part of their friendship because it brings out the contrast and similarity between the two.  Both Sanosuke and Kenshin joined the same side in the war at a very young age with the intention to create a new world of peace and freedom. Both were disillusioned by the war and became outsiders. Both still believe and fight for the world they envisioned when they were younger. At the same time, they are very different. Kenshin prefers subtle and humble approach in solving a conflict, while Sanosuke is brash, loud and fearless in the face of any confrontation. The movie shows how the contrast between the two cements them as a team. Kenshin has more experience in both fighting and leading a fight. He’s more calm and analytical. Sanosuke is impulsive but smart and can keep up with Kenshin in all situations. That is why they work so well together and, despite all odds, trust each other quickly and implicitly.

Sanosuke being smart is also another point I miss in the movie. There really wasn’t much time for him to shine but the ‘use your head’ joke while headbutting his opponent really doesn’t cut it. It is actually not a surprise given that the latter part of the manga tend to portray him that way as well. I have to admit that I, too, forgot that Sanosuke can quote Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and discusses opponents and strategies over a game of chess with Kenshin.

How would the connection between Kenshin and Sanosuke be played out remains to be seen in the sequel. Sanosuke is a complicated and interesting character, so I really don’t want him to be reduced to a crazy fighting machine. He deserves some story arc of his own especially pertaining towards his friendship with Kenshin. Right now, their connection is superficial at best and formed mainly on mutual respect, but the real friendship they are going to have runs deeper than that. I do hope it will not flop in the next movie.

3. The Villains

This is almost always the weakest link in action-driven movies: the villains. The original Rurouni Kenshin has a fair share of the crazy and the surreal lining up for a beating. Otomo picked two from the early arcs to be the main villains: Kanryu Takeda the merchant, and Jin-e Udo the assassin-turn-serial-killer.

Kanryu

Kanryu Takeda played by Teruyuki Kagawa. The shoes say it all.

Jine

Jin-e Udo, the killer, played by Koji Kikkawa.

They are, in my opinion, two of the best. Kanryu symbolizes greed and power-lust, while Jin-e is the downfall of human soul. They can potentially have strong characterization, but the movie fails to do so.  Kanryu is a great over-the-top character but he isn’t effectively presented. There are too many moment spend on making Kanryu crazy than making him more realistic. Jin-e suffers a different issue. He is rather over-the-top in the manga, but Koji Kikkawa portrayed him with simmering madness that gives his character a whole new dimension. Sadly, his motivation for killing or for serving Kanryu is not clear. I can sort of see that Jin-e and Kanryu can be tied together. Kanryu, afterall, would have a use for the murderer in the age where violence is still a prevailing method. But this relationship is not conveyed at all in the movie.  Again, this is partly screen-time issue brought about by introducing two more villains who are absolutely unnecessary to the story. (There might be a little debate over this, but I think they are there mainly to allow for more action scenes). What might have been better is spending some time really establishing both characters, their goals, and just show how they work together.

Despite all the rant you see, I’ll say this movie is a treat. It is made for the fans as much as it is for the non-fans. The actors also does a great job in portraying the characters especially Takeru Sato who took the formidable task of portraying Kenshin Himura. I must admit that I was dubious about the choice at first, but after the first trailer came out, I was at ease. He nailed the balance between the comical and the serious Kenshin without difficulty. There are some scenes of him being Battousai that I feel are slightly off, but that might be just his interpretation and it does not bring down the movie in anyway. For others who are just looking for an action flick, this is a great one in terms of choreography. I have no idea how much I miss Hong Kong action flick until I watched this. But then, I might just be sentimental. Let me know what you think if you’ve watch it.

If you haven’t, I hope this trailer can entice you:

Ideas For Grab: หนังผี Worse than Dead and Hated

Ideas For Grab เป็นเค้าร่างเขียนเล่นจากไอเดียที่มันลอยผ่านมาแล้วก็ผ่านไปไม่ได้เกิดอะไรเป็นรูปเป็นร่างซึ่งเอามาขึ้นเวปไซด์เพื่อให้คนที่สนใจเอาไปใช้ได้ตามต้องการ ถ้าใช้แล้วยังไงช่วยแปะลิงค์ไว้ให้ตามไปดูจะเป็นพระคุณยิ่ง

หนังผี

เตือนได้เต็มปากเต็มคำว่า ไอเดียนี้ลูกรัก ใครเอาไปทำต่อ ขอให้ทำให้ดี ถ้าทำเล่นๆไม่จริงจังออกมาไม่เวิร์ค เราอาจตามไปหลอกไปหลอนท่านในฝันทีเดียว

พูดได้เต็มปากเต็มคำว่าเราไม่ใช่คนที่ชอบหนังผี แต่เราก็ชอบเรื่องผีที่เล่าดีๆ อย่าง Shutter หรือ หลาวชะโอน จาก ห้าแพร่ง   (จริงๆต้องบอกว่าโดยเฉพาะหลาวชะโอน) เรื่องของเรื่องคือเราสนใจเรื่องก่อนความน่ากลัว ดังนั้นถ้าเรื่องไม่โดนใจก็เชิญบิวท์ไปเถอะครับ กระผมก็ว่ามันไม่สนุกอยู่ดีละฮะ

ถ้าถามว่าเราอยากได้อะไรในหนังผี คร่าวๆก็คงตามนี้ล่ะ

1. ผีที่มองไม่เห็น แต่เล่นกับบรรยากาศ
เราเป็นคนที่ถ้าเห็นผีในหนังแล้วจะไม่กลัว (ผีจริงไม่เคยเห็นดังนั้นอย่าถาม) สำหรับเราสิ่งที่จินตนาการไปเองน่ากลัวกว่าเพราะมันเข้าไปทำให้คนขนหัวลุกในหัวตัวเอง ถ้าโผล่มามันก็ตกใจตอนนั้นแล้วมันก็จบ

2. ผีที่มีตัวมีตน
หมายความว่า “เขียนบทดีๆให้ผีด้วย” ผีก็เคยเป็นคนนะครับ ทำไมกลายเป็นผีแล้วคลานลากขาแลบลิ้นปลิ้นตาซะงั้นน่ะ หนังผีส่วนมากที่ดูแล้วเซ็งคือไม่ให้บทดีๆกับผีนี่แหละ ถ้าใช้เขาแค่มาเขย่าขวัญ เจสันศุกร์สิบสามก็ใช้ได้เหมือนกันนะ

ทั้งนี้และทั้งนั้นพวกเรื่องเบื้องลึกเบื้องหลังของคุณผีนี่ไม่นับ เพราะส่วนมากมักเป็นการบอกเล่า นั่นขัดกับกฎของการเล่าเรื่องที่ว่า “จงแสดง อย่าบอก”

3.เนื้อเรื่องดีๆ
เราเชื่อว่าเรื่องเล่าเหนือธรรมชาติมีไว้สะท้อนคน ไม่ใช่เอาไว้ทำให้คนกลัวถ่ายเดียว ไม่งั้นมันไม่ค่อยมีแก่นสาร ดูก็ไม่สนุก ดังนั้นขอเนื้อเรื่องดีๆจะเป็นพระคุณ ถ้าคิดไม่ออก มีเรื่องนึงมาเสนอนะค้าบ

Worse than Dead and Hated…

ขออภัยที่ชื่อเรื่องดัดจริตเป็นภาษาอังกฤษ พยายามหาคำแปลดีๆอยู่เหมือนกัน

จริงๆชื่อเรื่องเต็มๆ (หรือธีมของเรื่อง) คือ “Worse than dead and hated… is to live and not forgiven” แปลออกมาแบบบ้านๆ(เพราะใช้คำหรูไม่เป็น) คือ “ที่เลวร้ายกว่าตายแล้วเป็นที่เกลียดชัง คือ มีชีวิตอยู่และไม่ได้รับการอภัย”

จริงๆธีมเรื่องนี้หนักไปอย่างหลังมากกว่า เพราะเรื่องหลักเป็นเรื่องของ แอร์ สาวน้อยวัยเรียนเรียบร้อยสดใสผู้อยากเป็นสไตลิสต์ด้วยความหลงใหลในแฟชั่น เธอทำงานพิเศษที่ร้านทำผมแถวบ้านเพื่อสนับสนุนการเรียนตัวเองเนื่องจาก 1.ชอบ 2.บ้านของเธอไม่ได้ฐานะดีอะไร ก็เรียกว่าธรรมดาๆ แต่เมื่อเธออยากจะไปไกลกว่าเปิดร้านทำผมแถวบ้าน เธอเลยต้องดิ้นรนเพื่อการศึกษาในอนาคตของตัวเอง

แอร์มีแฟนหนุ่มจบการช่างอายุมากกว่าเธอซักห้าหกปีซึ่งกำลังทำงานสร้างเนื้อสร้างตัว ทั้งสองคนวางแผนจะสร้างครอบครัวด้วยกันในวันหนึ่งข้างหน้าเมื่อการงานและการเงินพร้อม แต่ความฝันแสนหวานนั้นก็มาเจอปัญหาเมื่อทั้งสองคนมีความสัมพันธ์กันตามประสาหนุ่มสาวที่ห้ามตัวเองไม่ค่อยได้และแอร์ท้อง

แต่ถ้าคุณคิดว่าเราจะใช้เรื่องนี้เทศนาเรื่องเพศสัมพันธ์ในวัยเรียนละก็ คิดผิดนะครับ เพราะส่วนตัวเรารู้สึกว่าเรื่องของคนสองคนมันเรื่องของคนสองคน ถ้าสามารถรับผิดชอบผลของการกระทำของตัวเองได้ อยากทำอะไรทำไปเถอะ อายุไม่ใช่เรื่องใหญ่เพราะคนมีอายุความรับผิดชอบต่ำในเรื่องชู้สาวก็มากมี จุดสำคัญมันอยู่ตรงคำว่าความรับผิดชอบนี่แหละ ด้วยความที่ยังไม่เข้าใจผลของการกระทำของตัวเองอย่างถ่องแท้ ทั้งสองคนเลยไม่ได้คิดจะป้องกันและทำให้แอร์ท้อง แฟนหนุ่มของแอร์ที่เป็นห่วงอนาคตของพวกเขาทั้งสองคนเลยขอให้แอร์ไปทำแท้ง

แอร์ซึ่งคล้อยตามก็ไปคลีนิคทำแท้งเถื่อนตามที่แฟนหนุ่มไปสืบหามาให้ แต่หลังจากวันนั้นเองที่เรื่องแปลกๆเริ่มเกิดขึ้นรอบตัวเธอ

(บอกไว้ก่อนว่า ส่วนตัวเราไม่ได้คัดค้านการทำแท้ง แต่เราคิดว่ามันควรถูกทำให้เป็นทางเลือกของผู้หญิง เพียงแต่มันควรทางเลือกท้ายๆเมื่อไม่มีทางออกอื่นเพราะผลเสียของมัน รวมทั้งว่าการให้คนมีความรับผิดชอบรู้จักป้องกันที่เหตุจะดีกว่ามาแก้ที่ผล)

ผีทวงแค้น

ในสายตาของคนอื่นๆ แน่นอนว่านี่เป็นกรณีคลาสสิคของรักในวัยเรียน เด็กสองคนที่ไม่รู้จักคิด รักสนุกและหลงในความรัก ผลที่ตามมาทำให้ชีวิตต้องพลิกผันและต้องแก้ปัญหาด้วยการทำแท้ง

คนที่ทำอย่างนั้นได้เหมือนจะต้องเห็นเด็กในท้องเป็นมารหัวขน ไม่ใช่ลูก

เราจะปล่อยให้ท่านเชื่อไปเช่นนั้นก่อน

ทำไมต้องเป็นแบบนั้น นั่นเพราะนั่นจะเป็นสิ่งที่วิญญาณของเด็กรู้สึก

เนื่องจากเรื่องนี้เราจะเห็นผีจำกัดมาก(นับที่คิดไว้คือสามซีนเท่านั้น และไม่ได้เห็นเต็มๆ) ความกลัวทั้งหมดเกิดจากบรรยากาศและเหตุการณ์หลอนๆที่หาคำอธิบายหนักแน่นไม่ได้ เราเลยต้องเล่าเรื่องของผีผ่านความเข้าใจของคนดู นั่นคือชักนำด้วยการเล่าเรื่องให้คนดูคิดเหมือนที่ผีคิด

สำหรับตอนนี้คือการเข้าใจว่าพ่อแม่คิดว่าตัวเองเป็นมารหัวขนที่ไม่เป็นที่ต้องการ เหตุการณ์ต่างๆที่เกิดขึ้นชี้ไปที่วิญญาณเด็กตามมารังควานด้วยความอาฆาตที่ไปฆ่าเขาเสียตั้งแต่ยังไม่เกิด เหตุการณ์แรกคือฉากแรกที่เราได้เห็นผี มันเป็นสองสามคืนหลังจากแอร์ทำแท้งมา เธอดูซูบเซียวอิดโรยแต่แข็งแรงพอจะกลับมาทำงานที่ร้าน ค่ำวันนั้นคุณเจ้าของร้านที่มีเซนส์บอกว่าเธอพาใครมาด้วยยืนเลือดโชกรออยู่ข้างนอกตรงขอบถนน แอร์หันตาม กล้องตัดมาที่ระดับขอบถนนถ่ายกลับเข้าไปที่ร้านเราเห็นข้อเท้าเด็กอาบเลือดหยดติ๋งๆ แต่เมื่อตัดกลับมาที่มุมมองของแอร์เรารู้ว่าเธอไม่เห็นอะไรอยู่ตรงนั้น แน่นอนว่าเธอทำไม่รู้ไม่ชี้ แต่ในใจเธอแอบรู้ว่าคนที่คุณเจ้าของร้านพูดถึงเป็นใคร เพียงแต่ในตอนนั้นเธอยังเชื่อครึ่งไม่เชื่อครึ่ง

แต่หลังจากนั้นแอร์ก็เจอเรื่องที่อธิบายไม่ได้เกิดขึ้นกับเธอบ่อยๆทั้งกลางวันและกลางคืน (ใครว่าผีต้องออกมาในที่มืด ถ้าผีมีจริงเราไม่เชื่อล่ะคนนึง เราจะหลอกกันกลางวันแสกๆนี่แหละ) แต่ละครั้ง เหตุการณ์พวกนั้นทำให้แอร์คิดถึงลูกและสิ่งที่เธอทำลงไป ความรู้สึกผิดค่อยๆเพิ่มขึ้น ไม่ใช่เพราะเธอกลัวเกรงบาปกรรมเท่านั้น แต่เพราะเด็กคนนี้ไม่ใช่ “มารหัวขน” แต่เป็น “ลูก” ของผู้ชายที่เธอรัก เธอไม่ได้มีโอกาสคิดถึงเรื่องนี้นักเพราะการตัดสินใจทำแท้งเกิดขึ้นอย่างเร่งรีบ แต่เมื่อเวลาผ่านไป เธอยิ่งรู้ว่าเธอไม่ได้ต้องการเอาเด็กออก เธอแค่ไม่รู้ว่าจะทำยังไงกับชีวิตต่อไปเท่านั้น

เรื่องราวที่รุมเร้าทำให้แอร์เริ่มหมกมุ่นกับการชดใช้ให้ลูกด้วยวิธีต่างๆ แรกๆก็แค่ทำบุญอุทิศส่วนกุศล แต่ไปๆมาๆเธอเริ่มซื้อตุ๊กตาของเล่นเด็กมาไว้ในตู้ที่เหมือนค่อยๆกลายเป็นศาลเล็กๆ แฟนหนุ่มของเธอเริ่มใจคอไม่ดีกับพฤติกรรมของแอร์เลยพยายามเกลี้ยกล่อมให้เธอเอาของพวกนั้นไปทิ้งเสีย ที่เขาพลาดคือบอกว่าเด็กน่ะเขาทำให้เกิดอีกก็ได้ซึ่งเขาพูดจากความสิ้นหวังเมื่อเห็นว่าแอร์ไม่ยอมฟังเหตุผลแต่กลับทำให้เธอคิดว่าเขาไม่ได้รู้สึกเด็กคนนั้นเป็นลูกเหมือนเธอ ทั้งสองคนจึงมีปากเสียงกันและแอร์ยกเรื่องที่เขาเป็นคนบอกให้เธอไปทำแท้งขึ้นมา และว่าเขาเป็นคนที่อยากกำจัดเด็กไม่ใช่เธอ

หลังจากนั้นเหตุการณ์ประหลาดๆกลับไปเกิดรอบตัวแฟนหนุ่มของแอร์แทน แต่เขาไม่เชื่อว่าเป็นเพราะวิญญาณของเด็กตามมาล้างแค้นแค่ว่าเขาคิดไปเองหรือมีคำอธิบายอื่น ส่วนหนึ่งก็เพราะเขามีความสัมพันธ์ของเขากับแอร์ที่ต้องคิดถึง เรื่องราวค่อยๆเผยว่าทั้งสองมีความสัมพันธ์ที่ลึกซึ้งจริงจังกว่าที่เราให้คนดูหลงเชื่อในครั้งแรก ทั้งเขาและแอร์ต่างต้องดิ้นรนด้วยตัวเองไม่ทางใดก็ทางหนึ่งและพวกเขาค้ำจุนกันและกันมาเป็นเวลาพอสมควร การตัดสินใจใช้ชีวิตร่วมกันแม้ด้วยวัยเพียงเท่านี้จึงไม่ใช่แค่เด็กวัยรุ่นฝันหวาน พูดตามตรงว่าเรารู้สึกว่าบางครั้งเราดูถูกความสามารถของเด็กวัยรุ่นที่จะโตกันมากไปหน่อย พวกเราไม่ค่อยคิดกันว่าเด็กวัยเท่านั้นจะสามารถคิดเรื่องแบบนี้จนทะลุได้ แต่ความคิดอ่านที่ลึกซึ้งเกิดจากประสบการณ์ ไม่ใช่มาเองตามอายุ สำหรับแอร์กับแฟนหนุ่มของเธอมันมาจากความยึดมั่นและเชื่อมั่นในกันและกันเป็นอย่างมากด้วย แฟนหนุ่มของแอร์จึงไม่ละความพยายามที่จะสื่อสารกับเธอและรักษาความสัมพันธ์นั้นไว้

ด้วยความมั่นคงที่พวกเขามีให้กันและกันแอร์และแฟนหนุ่มก็กลับมาคืนดีกันได้ในที่สุด แต่เพียงไม่นานหลังจากนั้น ในวันหนึ่งที่สองคนนั้นออกไปข้างนอกด้วยกัน แฟนหนุ่มของเธอกลับประสบอุบัติเหตุที่ไม่มีคำอธิบาย (ตอนนี้คิดว่าคงมีบางอย่างร่วงใส่ทั้งที่มันไม่น่าร่วงได้) เขาเจ็บหนักปางตายแต่แอร์ที่อยู่ข้างๆกลับไม่มีกระทั่งรอยขีดข่วน ท่ามกลางความโกลาหลนั่นเราเห็นร่างของเด็กตัวอาบด้วยเลือดยืนมองเขาอยู่ ในที่นั้นมีแต่แฟนหนุ่มของแอร์ที่เห็นร่างนั้นและเขาเดาได้เลาๆว่าที่เขาเห็นนั้นเป็นใคร แต่แทนที่เขาจะโกรธหรือกลัว เขากลับขอบใจ”ลูก”ที่”ดูแลแม่”ก่อนจะหมดสติไป

ทั้งหมดอยู่ที่ความเข้าใจ

ฉากสุดท้ายของเรื่องเกิดขึ้นที่โรงพยาบาลซึ่งแอร์นั่งรออยู่หน้าห้องผ่าตัดทั้งน้ำตาด้วยเธอคิดว่าเขาอาจไม่รอด ในมือเธอถือถุงมือเด็กอ่อนที่เธอพกไว้ เธอเสียลูกไปแล้ว เธอไม่อยากเสียแฟนหนุ่มคนนี้ของเธอไปด้วย

หลังจากเวลาผ่านไปหมอในชุดฆ่าเชื้อก็ออกมาจากห้องผ่าตัดเพื่อบอกเธอว่าสามีของเธอปลอดภัย (แอร์บอกว่าตัวเองเป็นภรรยาเพื่อให้สามารถเยี่ยมหรือไปดูแลเขาได้ แต่นั่นหมายความว่าส่วนหนึ่งในความคิดของเธอ เธอเป็นคู่ชีวิตของเขาแล้วแม้ทั้งสองจะยังไม่ได้แต่งงานกัน) และเคสของเขานั้นพิเศษเพราะคนส่วนมากที่ประสบอุบัติเหตุแบบนี้นั้นไม่รอด

เมื่อหมอจากไป แอร์ที่โล่งใจก็เหลียวมองไปที่ทางเดินโรงพยาบาลและเห็นเด็กคนหนึ่งเหมือนจะวิ่งเล่นอยู่คนเดียวไม่มีผู้ปกครองดูแลและไม่มีใครสนใจราวกับว่าเขาไม่มีตัวตนอยู่ ใจหนึ่งเธอแอบเดาไว้ว่าเด็กคนนั้นเป็นใคร แต่ครั้งนี้วิญญาณลูกของแอร์ไม่ได้มาแบบโชกเลือด เมื่อเขารู้แล้วว่าพ่อแม่นั้นรักเขาและไม่ได้ต้องการกำจัดเขาถ้าไม่เพราะความกดดันรอบด้านที่พวกเขาเผชิญ วิญญาณของเด็กจึงไม่มีความแค้นใดๆกับทั้งสองคนอีก เขาหันมาโบกมือให้เธอแล้วยิ้มหวานให้ก่อนจะหันหลังแล้วหายไปท่ามกลางผู้คน

แอร์มั่นใจตอนนั้นเองว่านั่นคือลูกของเธอ เธอหันกลับไปมองถุงมือเด็กอ่อนในมือ ดึงมากอดไว้แนบอกแล้วหันไปยิ้มในทิศที่เธอเห็นเขาหายไป

จบ!

พูดตามตรงว่าโครงเรื่องหลักๆเกือบครบแล้ว เหลือแค่รายละเอียดของเรื่อง วิธีเล่าเรื่อง และลำดับรายการเหตุการณ์หลอนๆ ซึ่งพูดตามตรงว่าเรื่องสำคัญทั้งนั้น! เพราะถ้าพลาด มันจะไม่น่ากลัว ไม่ได้อารมณ์ ไม่เก็ต รวมทั้งกลัวว่าอาจจะไม่ซึ้งกับตอนจบด้วย อันนี้อยู่เกินวิสัยของเราแล้ว เชิญท่านผู้ใดสามารถเอาไปเกลาต่อเอาไปจัดการด้วย แต่อย่างที่เตือนไว้แต่แรกว่าเรื่องนี้ลูกรัก ช่วยดูแลด้วย แล้วถ้าใครจะเอาไปทำเป็นหนัง อย่าลืมบอกวันเข้าฉายด้วยนะ!

25 Stories that Stays with me (9-16)

This is the second part of my favorite 25 stories. You can read part 1 here. The list goes more or less in chronological order.

  •  9. The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov (Book)
    I’m not as big a fan of Asimov as I am of Clarke, but I enjoy a lot of his writings. The End of Eternity is on the top of the pile for eliciting the complete opposite reaction from Childhood’s End. While the latter left me sober, I mentally ran screaming at the ending of Eternity. Asimov is a genius of plot as Clarke is of details. He twisted the plot around approximately 7 times in that small volume. No one else could have done it like that.
  • 10. Lord of the Flies – William Golding (Book)

    I didn’t have to read this in grade school, fortunately, but I came across it and loved it anyhow. (In the former context, I would have hated it. I’m sure of that.) I happened to have some help interpreting the story, so it was enjoyable rather than what I heard to be a torture. It was then that I know I am drawn to the darker and more sardonic reflection of man especially one as bold as Golding’s.
  • 11. The War – Jon Avnet (Film)

    This is the most sobering movie about war I’ve ever watched, and it doesn’t contain a single scene of war – no bomb, no bloodbath, no casualties, and even a happy-ending. But within the story is a reflection, a stunning analogy of what war and hate is about and what it has done. It is sort of sad that no one pays much attention to it in this time and age when it could serve as a reminder of why no war is worth initiating.
  • 12. Princess Mononoke – Hayao Miyasaki (Animated Film)

    Some people compare Studio Ghibli to Disney; I totally disagree on the notion and this movie is the strongest case of why. While it is an animation, children-friendly, and about a princess, the story addresses the issues that are matured and worth contemplating. Miyasaki has always been an environmentally conscious man and he dives into the topic with a cautious setting. No one is the bad guy in the Disney kind of badness, and there is no happily ever after only precious lessons learned by all. If you don’t get a goosebumps watching this, I don’t know what else would give you one.
  •  13. Spirited Away – Hayao Miyasaki (Animated Film)

    Another Miyasaki’s film because this man is awesome like that. This story is a cross between Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz with a very Asian sentiment that makes it too unique to be compared to either. Miyazaki exercises a lot of subtlety in this movie as compared to Princess Mononoke and makes it a rather humble film. It is not a teaching, no lesson, yet there is something there nonetheless.
  • 14. Ghost in the Shell – Mamoru Oshii, Masamune Shirow (Animated Film)

    Ghost in the Shell marries two things I love: science fiction and philosophy. It spawned from a comic book by Masamune Shirow in two feature films, two OVAs, two TV series and other supplementary. The first movie is a startling piece of animation even for today when we have computers to help reduce the stress of cell animation. The action is beautiful, the plot intriguing, and the existential question looms large and almost tangible the entire time. The only thing close to it is the Matrix which, not surprisingly, had drawn inspiration from Ghost in the Shell as well.
  • 15. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho (Book)
    The first Coelho book I read was  The Devil and Miss Prym which is a very fascinating view into human psyche. However, I was most affected by The Alchemist, a story about a boy embarking on an adventure for hidden treasure. The plot is more or less a cliché but there is a strange power of in this story that leads you to believe that nothing is impossible. It is a story aimed to inspire and it does the job exceptionally well.
  • 16. Daemon Hunter – Seiuchiroh Todono (Manga)

    I’ve reviewed this story in details, so I’ll keep this short and simple. I love this story because it makes me think of what knowledge and power could do without the guidance of love and compassion. While the presentation is not fantastic, the core of it is fascinating. Todono also manages to create what I think is a perfect villain who is driven by the hunger to know one last secret he could not see in the universe. I found him to be more disturbing than any power-hunger, hell-bended villain because he doesn’t care AT ALL what might come to past. Beating a guy who has nothing might just as well be the hardest thing if you have everything to lose.

On to 17-25 !