Instead of SWORD ART ONLINE, I’d rather be watching…

DARKER THAN BLACK. While the basic premises of the two series are completely different, they do share some similarities, which I’ll elaborate on.

First of all, I’ll state that I’m one of those complainers who has no experience with MMOs. So I admit that I have difficulty comprehending things like why a player would need to have the option to level-up their cooking skills in an action game, but I guess that’s just how it is. Point being: I am not the target audience for SWORD ART ONLINE.

SWORD ART ONLINE and DARKER THAN BLACK each feature an incredibly powerful male protagonist who has dark hair and likes to wear a long black coat. Both guys inadvertently accumulate a harem as they move through their respective shows, since the girls they encounter can’t help falling for them, even though they themselves seem to have no interest in romance.

So why does it work for Hei in DTB and not for SAO’s Kirito? Personally, I appreciate that Hei is an adult. His maturity, skill, and intelligence are portrayed in a convincing manner. And unlike Kirito, Hei actually has faults. His gluttony is played for laughs; and his comrades find him peculiar because he doesn’t always behave in the logical way that a contractor is expected to. Kirito, on the other hand, is just perfect and all-powerful. Supposedly, he’s battling bosses on the front lines in his spare time, but we never see it.

Both series progress in a meandering fashion, where the things that happen in most of the episodes have little bearing on the overall plot. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If handled effectively, the mini story arcs can accomplish world-building, show character development and be thought-provoking. Needless to say, DARKER THAN BLACK does it right, in my opinion, while SWORD ART ONLINE fails.

Instead of SWORD ART ONLINE, I’d rather be watching…

La storia della Arcana Famiglia. Like SAO, Arcana Famiglia is another currently-airing anime series on CrunchyRoll. Both start with a promising first episode before heading directly to filler-like material in episode two. Both are finally starting to maybe address their original storyline now, in episode 9.

The difference? I have very low expectations of Arcana. The animation is low- budget and it looks like some crappy reverse-haremy anime about an Italian family whose members are contracted to tarot cards. SAO is the opposite: slick and high-budget with promises of action and adventure. However, it is SAO that manages to offend. Female lead Asuna is supposed to be one of the strongest players in the game, and yet she needs a bodyguard? Wouldn’t she be protecting him? It would be more believable to me if the two characters had simply made a pact to watch each other’s backs instead. And then, she allows two guys to fight over her. At least in Arcana, the heroine intends to fight for herself!

Instead of SWORD ART ONLINE, I’d rather be watching…

GUILTY CROWN. Okay, no I wouldn’t. Nothing’s gonna make me want to watch that piece of crap show over again. But certainly SAO is becoming this season’s GUILTY CROWN for me. It’s nice to look at, but the story is deeply disappointing and the random fanservice shots are always gratuitous and inappropriate.

I’m in too deep to stop now, so I’ll keep watching. As with GUILTY CROWN, I will be hoping that the show will redeem itself somehow, even if I fully expect a train wreck. At least SAO is an adaptation, not an anime-original story, so there’s some reason to hope, right??

BLANK SLATE manga review

BLANK SLATE, by Aya Kanno

I picked up this manga almost on impulse. I had some money on a gift card that I wanted to use up. The art looked pretty and dark. And, the whole series is only two volumes long, so it fit my budget nicely.

Zen, our main character, is an amnesiac, cold-blooded killer who reluctantly ends up investigating the mysteries of his past. Be prepared to leave your moral expectations at the door before reading these books, because there’s a lot of senseless violence perpetrated by the “good guy”.

It turns out the first chapter is its own stand-alone story, then the rest, chapters 2 to 8, represents the main story.

Volume one (chapter 1) – brief impression

The protagonist of this first tale, Russo, bears some physical resemblance to Takumi from NANA, with lighter-colour hair. I remember Nana (Hachi) used to say that Takumi might have become a yakuza if he hadn’t found an outlet in music.

Well, imagine Takumi as an underworld hitman who meets his match in master criminal Zen. Pretty. BLoody. Good!!

Volume one (chapters 2 to 4) – brief impression

The main story starts here and it’s somewhat milder than the first chapter. There’s less violence and the relationships between the characters are a bit more predictable. The artwork continues to be attractive, despite some instances of shrunken head.

The main characters spend much of chapter 4 in military uniform, so that’s some nice fanservice right there.

Volume two (chapters 5 to 8)

Good, focused, plot developments. Some of the translation work seems a little weak, making some lines difficult to understand within the narrative. Also, Zen apparently hasn’t lost the “last 20 years” of his memory, since he can remember back almost 10 years! Don’t know if that one’s the fault of the author or the translator.

As before, all of the characters are attractive, even the bad guys. Of course, once you get familiar with this manga, you’ll know that there are very few non-villian characters to be found.

Fairly satisfactory ending, though there could have been more story still. I felt some of the deaths were a bit unnecessary and illogical; even though I originally expected an even higher body count after that first bloody chapter.

BLANK SLATE would probably make a good anime. There’s enough material for 12 or 13 episodes, maybe with room for quality “filler” like chapter 1.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises review

–Reviewed by Bini, July 27, 2012


(Spoilers within)

This was a good movie in general, but suffered by comparison with its superior predecessor, The Dark Knight.   The acting was solid throughout, esp. by Michael Caine, and there were no glaring holes in the storyline.  There were nice bits of humour, mainly in the first half of the movie.  I thought the villain, Bane, was appropriately menacing and I even thought his strange accent added to his menace (and I recall thinking that he didn’t seem to be a very scary villain when I saw the trailer).

I had some difficulty following the plot toward the end because I couldn’t make out what the characters were saying during several crucial moments (also may have been because I was sleep-deprived).  I thought the final assault by the good guys seemed somewhat uninspired –  the police officers just seemed to charge into battle without any apparent strategy.  Also, Blake’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) argument with the guard at the bridge seemed anti-climactic (esp. when intercut with the police officers being mown down in battle).

While I was watching the movie, I had trouble figuring out what the bad guys’ plan was – it just seemed weird that they would put enormous resources into keeping Gotham under siege for 3 months, when their ultimate goal is just to nuke it in the end.  I guess the whole purpose of the siege was to torture Batman?  And for 3 months they fed all the police officers trapped underground?  Even if they didn’t feed them (let’s say food was snuck to them by good guys), why wouldn’t they kill them?

I need to go back and watch the first movie because I can’t remember why Ducard (Liam Neeson) wants to destroy Gotham.  Wasn’t it because the city had been overrun with Mafia and corruption?  But at the beginning of this movie, those problems had largely been dealt with successfully…  Anyway, I’m willing to suspend disbelief on this one and chalk it up to madness on the part of the bad guys.

All in all, these were relatively minor quibbles in a creative storyline (especially for a super-hero movie).  I liked the references to the French Revolution and the statement Christopher Nolan makes by comparing current day America to pre-Revolutionary France (I certainly didn’t expect biting social commentary in a super-hero movie).  I will definitely miss the dream team of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman in the inevitable future Batman reboots.