psychological

The flower bloomed

Before you decide to watch Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) please ask yourself these questions: do I purely want bishounen, or bishoujo, characters in my anime? Am I always looking for attractive characters? Should anime always look the same? If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, forget about Flowers of Evil and watch something else. The sheer amount of invective aimed at its first episode is evidence enough that many aren’t able to see this series as anything other than ugly. I didn’t realise there was an objective example of ugliness, but apparently, Flowers of Evil is it. Thanks, anime fans.

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The end of Psycho-Pass

One wouldn’t think it to look at them, but Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass were like two peas in a pod. Both deal in dystopian futures, social commentary and rebellion, both attempt to obfuscate their commentary by presenting it through morally-questionable speakers, and both refuse to end with everything neatly resolved. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed both series, but I’ve already had my say on Shin Sekai Yori. Now it’s time to write about Psycho-Pass, too.

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The Flowers of Evil

First, imagine an alternate version of FLCL, where Naoto hooks up with the loose-canon Mamimi and revels in her pyromania, falling ever deeper into her psychosis, burning away their boring world together. This is The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) a manga series (and soon to be anime) that begins like any of the other thousands of stories written about teenagers. Bored, disillusioned and harbouring a secret crush, our main character is the whimpering Kasuga, the archetypal, spineless harem lead without a shred of pride. When he steals his crush’s gym clothes, a vortex opens through which the trouble-making Nakamura steps. She spied him stealing the clothes and blackmails him into becoming her slave.

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Broken Apple: Shin Sekai Yori

Many of us are optimists and like to think there’s an innate sense of goodness within us all, but given a God’s power, how would we react? Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) answers that question within its first 3 minutes: upon the discovery of psychokinesis, civilisation regresses into a thousand year-long dark age, where Man is subjugated by an immense, supernatural power.

One such power, the Emperor of Great Joy, marks his coronation by burning to death the first 500 people to stop clapping. It’s said they clapped for 3 days and nights.

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Farewell Satoshi Kon

It’s difficult to express the disappointment I felt when I learnt of Satoshi Kon‘s passing last week. Since then, many heart-felt tributes have been published and half-way through writing this, I started wondering whether it was worth posting at all. Alas, what is blogging if not personal? I liked his films and, at the risk of merely adding to the white noise, I just wanted to bid farewell to Satoshi Kon in my own way; on this blog.

As such, I humbly present these following, short impressions of his 5 films, written and screen-capped after I (re)watched them all last week.

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The end of Death Note: a poison, creating wicked hearts

Death Note is a “… poison, creating wicked hearts”, said the concerned prudes at Chinese schools after some ‘corrupted’ kids were discovered to be using their home-made murder pages to curse fellow students. This was back in 2005; the first time I’d heard of the now famous Death Note. Since then, I’ve always been interested in the franchise (anything with the power to blacken young hearts must be worth something), and last night, much to my dismay, I watched the final episode of the anime. I’ll miss it.

One thing we can say for certain is that by the end, Light was spiked with ‘poison’ and without a shred of mercy in his ‘wicked heart’. Power, it seems, corrupts. It’s a rather tired sentiment, and yet, Light’s abrupt fall from grace was a painful and disturbing sight to behold. Actually, I couldn’t care less about how he was defeated, it was all about that desperate reaction, the sudden loss of composure when he realizes he has been bested.

Unveiled for the first time, we see that disgusting thirst for power lurking beneath the front of sophisticated cool; a self-proclaimed god suddenly realizing he is but one man, all alone, and about to die. He gets what he deserves, but in his lonely demise, you can’t help but pity him. Suddenly you understand Ryuk’s amused indifference to Light’s lofty ambitions. People die and nothing changes, that’s it, Light-o.

To be frank, Light’s seiyuu Mamoru Miyano turns in an amazing performance for this final episode. Usually, I’m not one to pick out acting, but I must admit to being bowled over by the visceral power and epic range of Miyano’s voice. Similar to Romi Paku’s Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist), Miyano violently swings between polar emotional extremes, perfectly capturing the character’s frantic and desperate state of mind leading up to his sad end.

As befitting of such an excellent finale, Madhouse up the ante in terms of animation. One especially vivid moment sticks in my mind. Mikami stabbing himself in the heart (with a pen! Ouch!), causing his sparkling red blood to explode forth like some sick human fountain overflowing with fluid.
And I can only commend Takeshi Obata too; I’ve really fallen for the appealing gothic look of Death Note – especially the freaky Shinigami, whose odd proportions and bizarre colours capture a genuine horror aesthetic, echoing the demonic Cenobites from the creepy Hellraiser. I wanted to see more of the barren Shinigami world!

It’s amusing to think that Death Note began life in Shonen Jump, so standing alongside the ever-smiling trio of Naruto, Luffy and Ichigo was an evil bastard like Yagami Light. Moral ambiguity isn’t something we expect from our squeaky clean SJ heroes, but in Light we had a refreshingly ruthless anti-hero. You can’t blame him for wanting to change the world.

Death Note – 15 – It’s been all sorts of fun, L

It’s around about now that we realise Death Note is becoming more than a very good anime series. It’s becoming one of those “OMFG-WTF-CLIFFHANGER!?!” types. I can feel the hysteria surging within me. 15 episodes in and the twists and turns of the story are still as unpredictable as ever. Watching it makes me a frustrated anime fan. More, more, more, I feel like I need to consume it all at once, knowing full well its immediate beauty is the element of surprise. I have to ask questions, but don’t want the answers.

Episode 15 was a brilliant tease, much like a game of tennis – it swings one way then the next, the crowd silent in awe of the battle, the point eventually won with a deft touch from L, the ingenius bastard having risked it all on pure instinct alone – he who dares wins, or so they say?

L has been a loveable oddity up until now, but his heartless interrogation of Misa introduces shades of grey to his personality. Despite being the supposedly good guy, that he’s willing to squash others if it means getting to Kira leads us to question the value of his crusade to halt "evil", given his own methods can be as barbaric as his prey. This scene was outstanding; it instantly subverts everything we assumed was good or noble about Death Note’s police, any concept of moral favouritism goes out the window along with Misa’s innocence as we watch the naïve become degraded and exploited.

The intricacy of the scheming in Death Note never lets up, at one point in this episode I was ready to witness the death of L, and moments later I’m grinning ear to ear as he’s somehow turned it all around and virtually caught Light. It’s been absolutely thrilling so far, I’m surely addicted.

Death Note – 2 – Hiding behind a notebook

I’m surprised by just how fast Light is losing grip on reality. In only this second episode he coldly considers killing his family if they were ever to piece together his part in the (now world famous) mass-murdering case, while later he shows no signs of regret upon murdering (using the Death Note, obviously) a then “police detective” who is threatening him via a TV broadcast. At this moment Light loses any perceived sense of neutral justice and edges closer to outright abuse of power, killing not for the good of the human race, but merely for himself and his own twisted ideals.

Despite Light gradually growing insane, the convoluted brilliance of Death Note is in not knowing whether to cheer for or to boo at our new age dictator; he may be an idealistic bastard, but the hard truth of the matter is that he is arguably doing mankind a great favour by killing off line after line of unrepentant murderers, raining down an ultimate judgement on those criminals protected behind years of lawful bureaucracy. The issue is complex, but ultimately comes down to whether or not you feel everyone, no matter what they have done, deserves a second chance, or if murder deserves murder in return. Both ideals are paved with contradictions. There is no right answer, merely point of view. Light can make mistakes; he will kill innocent people, but does the end ultimately justify the means? Is a better world worth a few innocent lives?

As if to comment on the herd like mentality of human nature, Light pokes fun at the cult websites springing up around his mysterious murdering sprees, and even goes so far as to dub his online followers cowards; suggesting these are people unable to support his methods in public, so they turn to the safe annoniminity of the internet. Knowingly though, Light is himself hiding behind a notebook, only capable of doing the “right thing” behind a locked door.

Death Note – 1 – Wicked, manipulative and morally deranged

Death Note is a Shounen Jump anime, but forget the generic conventions those two words invoke. Just like Bleach, this is a story that depicts the soul reaping world of “Shinigami” but where Bleach’s version of the afterlife is jammed with pouting pretty boys and nothing else, Death Note’s vision is dark, cold and lifeless. The characters that inhabit this world are surreal, twisted nightmares – imagine a slightly toned down version of Hellraiser’s cenobites.

The shinigami of note is Ryuuku; a permanently smiling, razor toothed man beast. He is growing bored of his job; it seems that these days Shinigami are no longer needed since humans are happy enough killing each other anyway (see: war, murder, terrorism, execution). To spice up his eternal boredom, Ryuuku intentionally drops his Death Note (a book with the power to instantly kill anyone who’s name is scribed inside, including through instructions on usage) into the human world and it’s typically picked up by that worst kind of person, a disaffected and arrogant teenage male (name: Light Yagami) with ideas of grandeur and a clear definition of what’s right and what’s wrong.

Bursting with an obvious social commentary from the very first couple of scenes, Death Note is an involving, elegant and clever supernatural thriller with some stunning gothic artistry. By the end of the episode, Light’s lofty ambitions are bound to crash back to reality. His ideas of creating a better world are admirable but naive and ultimately pointless; to think that he can rid the world of criminals is a denial of (even his) nature, after all he is becoming the very murderous monster he strives to wipe out of society. Star of the show will undoubtedly be Ryuuku – a “wicked”, manipulative and morally deranged personality that represents our (the viewers) presence in the show. Just like Ryuuku, we’re smiling with delight in the knowledge that Death Note is going to get very interesting very quickly.

Ergo Proxy – 9 & 10 – Behemoth of confusion

Science fiction and confusion often go hand in hand, but Ergo Proxy is close to reaching the kinds of befuddling heights scaled only by behemoths like Mamoru Oshii. The dialogue, the action and even the damn visuals are so frustratingly cryptic and symbolic that only vaguely am I able to follow what is going on here – not that this is a bad thing, though certainly the viewer should be in the right (preferably coffee induced) frame of mind to get the most out of Ergo Proxy; just don’t expect answers, only more questions.

My real concern (no pun intended) is that this series severely lacks in compelling human qualities; the similarly bleak cyberpunk thriller Texhnolyze was hardly easy to follow, but at least it introduced us to a cast of interesting, dramatic human characters. Ergo Proxy has Real and that’s it- her predictable resurrection from murder is a godsend in that she is the only character in this show that I can empathise with, the rest are emotionless shells; proxies for Dai Sato’s high brow musings.

The truly great aspect of Ergo Proxy is its dark dystopian vision and pondering philosophy; I can see myself enjoying it much more once a few of the big questions have been answered and I’m able to just sit back and let the atmosphere wash over me. I love that this series has vastly decaying landscapes, a sophisticated and mature theme with proper adult characters and a really unique animation style that takes on bizarre, exciting feats of physical action when Proxies clash heads.

Ergo Proxy – 8 – Larger than life

I read a few weeks ago that somewhere along the line, Ergo Proxy gets a bit like X-Men; mutants against mutants and all that. I guess episode 8 is where it started.

This episode was just weird. The people Vincent meets, the way the monstrous finale plays out- it was just utterly inexplicable in places. What immediately struck me was how much it was like watching a full episode set in the post-apocalyptic hell of The Terminator. Cyborgs roaming the barren land, people dying all around you, skies dark and depressing, and everyone having long lost hope.

It was the most action packed Ergo Proxy has been for while, though any true excitement was offset by my utter bemusement at what was happening, combined with a darkly shrowed presentation; it’s hard to make out what is going on when all you can gather is odd flashes of light and the muffled cries of dying soldiers.

I’m looking at this like the beginning of the second arc of Ergo Proxy. Very head-scratching and frustratingly mysterious, it ends with a larger than life battle between Proxy and an unknown ‘mutant’ adversary. Visually this was a fine episode, though ultimately my enjoyment was tempered by the sheer random style of it all.

Ergo Proxy – 7 – All is full of love

Finally friends, this is the episode where we get some answers. Real’s life is saved by Daedalus. Once recovered they chat about everything, and to my absolute glee, light is shed on the mysteries of Romdeau, Proxy and even the outside world.

About a quarter of this episode is also devoted to Vincent’s flight to Moscow. His other passengers, namely the group of old men left over from the commune, die on the way there.

***

So this was the best episode of Ergo Proxy yet; despite some off-kilter character designs, the narrative is kicked up a notch and we finally get some solid information to chew over.

What is Proxy
He (or should I say, it) is described by Daedalus as a kind of god, a key to human survivial. Specifically Proxy’s genes (which were used to save Real’s life) act as a cure for the “Cogito” virus that has decimated Earth’s population outside of the Romdeau dome.

There is still the issue of why some autolaves drop to their knees and pray to Proxy; can he be the saviour for both man and machine? Why are machines praying in the first place?

What’s going on at Romdeau, Moscow and elsewhere
The government of Romdeau are biologically manufacturing their citizens inside womb-like machines. The whys are still unknown, though I’m expecting a reason along the lines of “humanity needs to be controlled”.
This leads me onto my next point- the world outside and specifcally, another dome at Moscow. I haven’t a clue where Romdeau is located, but my guess is that it’s either America or Europe. There must have been a world war at some point, in which mankind has not only almost destoryed itself, but also severly damaged the planet. The sky is constantly dark and the land is desolate, hinting at a terrible world war, one that has no doubt involved biological and nuclear weapons.

What lies in Moscow I’m not sure, though Proxy was taken from the Russian capital, so I ‘m expecting something big, or atleast spiritual, about the city.

Is Real dead?
Of course she won’t be dead, but what a cliff hanger anyway; we know that she now carries genes from Proxy- and given Vincent has shown a good ability to dodge the reaper, I’m expecting her to be resurrected or rather, regenerated in some way or another.

A three way tug of war at Romdeau
There are three important agendas being pushed at Romdeau- while Raul’s militant group are rebelling, he strikes me as a man desperate to control everything. At this point, he comes across as a clumsy idiot, blinded by his own arrogance. The shrowded government in place at Romdeau is weak, or is at least hiding it’s truth strength; they are more interested in preserving their own idea of paradise (Romdeau itself). And lastly we have the enigma of Daedalus, who is more than willing to help and share information with Real about Proxy, but to what end and why?

***

I’m convinced now that Ergo Proxy is the best series I’m watching. It’s mysterious, challenging, dark and full of brilliant science fiction. The story is moving at speed and the next few episodes are bound to be even more telling, I can’t wait to see what happens.

Ergo Proxy – 6 – Learning about death

I’ll warn you now this entry contains (literally) life-and-death spoilers, so if you haven’t seen episode 6 of Ergo Proxy yet you may want to look away.

Hude and Queen get it in the neck this time, though it didn’t leave me with much of an emotional impact. Perhaps it’s because I expect everyone in Ergo Proxy (with the exception of Real/Lil) to die sooner or later.

It was nice to see Lil when she was younger and happier, pre-blue eye paint. We’re used to seeing Ergo Proxy depicting worlds either bleached in artificial white or decaying in dark urban rubble so it was good to see a brighter, more natural scene for once.

The story is again at an important turning point. Given Raul’s furious orders, we can safely assume the outside commune has been destroyed. Lil is back in the dome, seperated from Vincent and he is still on the run from the Romdeau ‘sentinals’. What the next move will be is anyone’s guess, though Raul dropped an interesting hint about the virus that has infested the outside world- seems it may cause mutations in its victims, enhance their strength in some way?
Everyone has their own agendas too- if anyone stole the show this time around, it was the androgynous Daedalus- she/he seems to be more and more manipulative than first thought and her connection to Lil’s past undoubtedly suggests she will be an important character- whether good or bad is still undecided because like Raul she seems more out for herself than for anyone else.

I can’t totally put my heart into Ergo Proxy because something still feels quite aimless about it; since it’s is so mysterious, it’s hard to get excited about anything. Naturally, it still looks as tastefully dystopian as ever, but I hope that over the next few episodes, the larger picture starts to get clearer and I’m not consistently left with such a vacant feeling. It’s like I’m waiting for some fireworks to go off; the spectacle is bound to be great.

Ergo Proxy – 5 – Revolution is in the air

We’ve had to sit through five episodes, but it’s only now starting to feel like Ergo Proxy is settling down into a proper flow of story-telling and I’m enjoying it a lot more; on a level beyond what previously amounted to a purely superficial attraction.

I suspect I preferred this episode to it’s predecessors because it’s basically set in the world outside of Romdeau. The character’s living in the wastelands are a lot more opinionated- and hence, interesting, and their indiscretions also add a neat sense of humour to an otherwise very serious narrative. Also, we are learning more about Proxy.

Inside Romdeau; Proxy is a villainous monster, but outside, he is the opposite; a fabled legend. Now I realize I’m jumping the gun on this next point, but I think it’s fair to assume that Vincent is indeed Proxy (who only emerges during times of great danger) and when the old man of the waste lands describes him as “Romdeau’s famous revolutionary”, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vincent eventually leading a civilian uprising against the oppressive government of Romdeau. I’m still unsure about Lil’s place in all of this, though I doubt she will be fighting for the government for much longer; she doesn’t strike me as a particularly happy bunny in Romdeau and since she is presumably breaking the law by going outside of the city walls to bring back Vincent, I wonder whether even her powerfully connected grandfather will want her back?

Upon analyzing Ergo Proxy- the political commentary is particularly relevant to the viewer’s current social climate, though it’s neither forced nor particularly obvious. Episode 5 is full of good, solid story telling and ends poised on a knife edge- the robots of Romdeau have attacked the peasants, coldly killing a young boy in the process and Lil (escorting Vincent back to the city) ended up being attacked too. I’m looking forward to seeing where it all goes next; how the homeless vagrants react to this episode’s slaughter, whether or not Lil defects to the “terrorists” and if Vincent is indeed Proxy.

And I must add, I’m really loving the rousing opening sequence.

Early impressions of Ergo Proxy

As a means of grasping the story of Ergo Proxy, I decided to hold off on watching the first four episodes and marathoned my way through them earlier today; in terms of understanding the plot, I can’t say this approach ended up benefiting me. Ergo Proxy has a very fractured narrative flow, there are no handy sections of explanitory dialogue to be found here, and when something happens, it’s usually unexpected and bemusing. Basically, each episode is as weird as the last.

With that said, I can see myself really enjoying this show. As a science fiction fan I can’t help but fall in love with the premise; years into the future, humanity has been split into two distinct sections- the “priviledged few” live peacefully in an enclosed city where everything about their lives is monitored and controlled by the government, while outside the city there is nothing but a desolate wasteland; some people try to live out there though, because sometimes freedom is more important than having clean toilets. It’s an idea that breeds conspiracy, revolution and ultimately, the importance of being free.

The setting is wonderfully realised with snatches of dark post-apocalyptic animation (emphasis on dark) and a quick glace at the screencaps below will reveal that the character designs are about as stylish as they come. The heroine of Ergo Proxy; Lil, is as she looks, a strong-willed and firey female lead akin to Ghost in the Shell’s Kusangai. The other focus of the story seems to be Vincent- the man who makes the unenviable trip from utopian paradise to disease ridden hell hole.

At such an early stage, I’m hesistant to say whether or not Ergo Proxy is a clear winner, because although I really enjoyed the harsh nature of these early episodes, I wonder whether or not I’m simply over awed by the show’s more superficial elements. While it’s being directed in a fresh way, there is no denying that the plot is cliche science fiction and I’m struggling to empathise with any of the characters, but in terms of moody atmosphere, gothic charm and muddy sci-fi visuals Ergo Proxy has some interesting things to say, and as long as the character development steps up a gear, I can see myself becoming a real fan.