Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Border 1: Ghost Pain – A Conspiracy to Start the Major’s Beginnings

      “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” series is a great re-imagining of the character and series as it gives different more to each of their backstory and recruitment into Section 9 as well as giving us the story behind who the Major is and how she became the person she is. It is masterful (I’ve watched the first 2 episodes thus far, this being the first review) and I like what they’ve done. It is better than the recent live action film and the character redesigns work. If you are a fan of the anime films and the show as I am, you will no doubt appreciate this OVA. The series of films were directed by Kazuchika Kise and written by Tow Ubukata.

   “Ghost Pain’s” story involves the Major investigating the death of an arms dealer who was killed by a robotic land mine after the end of World War IV. Batou is investigating as well as he believes her to be responsible as is Detective Togusa as Colonel Kurtz of her unit the 501st is trying to stop her.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The re-imagined world is amazing! Adding the context of World War IV, and from that most cyborgs are now veterans of some sort adds a context to the character that only really came in the show later when we got character centric episode. It lended power to the world and made it interesting. It also explained the tech. as war often times leads to technological advances.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and like the show and some of the films is a mixture of 2D and 3D animation. It flows seamlessly and I enjoyed most of the character designs, even if it took a while for me to get used to the Major being in a smaller body. The characters are still themselves, they are just given a different and more context to who they are which the animation helps illustrate.

The Conspiracy – The conspiracy is fascinating and involves a member of the 501st covering up that one of their own was the one involved in the weapons dealing and in turn was infected by a “Ghost Hack,” which lead to her loss of memory, which when she realizes her unit was behind the cover-up leads to her using to gain control of her body and gain her freedom from the unit.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Ghost Pain” is no different. Each of them is given time, though what they needed was more time to make this film great.

Togusa – Togusa is the Detective who stumbles upon the area where the mines are after he is tracking the killings of prostitutes in the district. It is here he works with Batou and the Major to fight them off and take on the two officers controlling them as they than escape.

Colonel Kurtz – Kurtz is the one who repairs Kusanagi and is the closest thing she has a to a friend in her unit. There is clearly more going on with her as we learn she is behind the conspiracy at the end, so she isn’t to be trusted…but Major does because of their history. How true that will be later remains to be seen.

Batou -Batou blames Major for the death of the man who was the weapon’s dealer from her unit. He is stubborn and tough but Major is better and we see they have a history together as his Rangers worked with her unit. By the end she is proven innocent but he still doesn’t fully trust her.

Aramaki – Aramaki is the one believes in the Major and sees her potential when she figures out the trap early on, as her commander, the weapons dealer in the coffin was replaced by a living mine. By the end she somewhat accepts his help in the formation of Section 9 and we see they have a working relationship.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is a genius hacker and a bit of the black sheep in her unit as she hates being owned by them by having the artificial body she grew up in after her parents were killed when she was born from a chemical attack. She is hardened but we see her quest for knowledge as the driving force, which is the most essential part of the Major. Through the film we see her deal with the ghost pain which makes her vulnerable and freeze and the “Ghost Hack” that was done to her commander who was the weapons dealer. In finding the truth she reveals the conspiracy, which finally gives her freedom from her unit.

The Cons: Not Enough Time – Togusa and Batou both feel very underdeveloped. I put them as pros because they still feel like their characters and it is fascinating to see what they were doing before Section 9 but they could have been more fully formed. This film needed another half hour and that would have brought it to a 9.

The Need for Clearer Answers – At the end I still had questions about some of what was going on. Whether the Major’s parents had died of the chemical attack, etc. I felt we never really got that when it was okay to give a clear answer after the Logicomo was linked with the Major. The answers could have been much clearly stated.

  This animated film beats the live action film as it captures the Major perfectly, even if she is physically smaller, she still has the same personality and it is great seeing her beginnings and getting her backstory, as well as seeing that she is a hacker and that is why she is great at entering the net and dealing with giant threats later on. She is also vulnerable too and I loved the “ghost pain” idea as an inborn trauma. It gave her vulnerablity and I really loved how the episode was her quest for freedom from the 501st so she could own her own body. It was really good at the characters each feel real, even if the lack of time keeps many of them from getting as developed as they could.

Final Score: 8 / 10

“Stranger Things” Season 1 – A Powerful Sci. Fi. Coming of Age Story Reminiscent of the Best of the 80’s Sci. Fi. Films

Stranger Things Poster

   “Stranger Things” is a show born out of love and appreciation for so many great films during the 80’s. You can see elements of Stephen King, “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” “E.T.” “Goonies” and countless others that were clearly inspiration for a show that in the end isn’t any of them and clearly stands on it’s own as a drama and show. Non-spoiler thoughts, if you like any of the things I listed above you should watch this show. Netflix has once again created gold and if you are looking for a timeless and classic story, this is the show for you.

Their will be some SPOILERS coming up.

     The series was created by the Duffer Brothers for Netflix and produced by Shawn Levy.

     The story involves the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers in a small town in Indiana and what his family (his mother and brother) and friends do to find him as a mysterious entity is on the lose and government agents hunt a young girl with superpowers named Eleven, who joins Will’s friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin to find and rescue Will.

The Pros: The World – The world has the small town feel with the greater mystery as we have a small town where everyone knows everyone yet the threat from both El, the State and the alien entity making the small town threatening beyond the bullies who already inhabit the town.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures both the fun of Dungeons and Dragons when the boys are playing it, to the alien nature of the Upside Down where the alien entity comes from and is breaking through into our world.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is awesome and has wonderful 80’s songs littered through the entire show with a haunting 80’s synth for the opening. It is a film level soundtrack. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein did a great job on it.

The Writing – The writing feels real…the characters don’t speak contrived dialogue and the kids sounds like kids, teens like teens and adults sound like adults. It is surprising how rare this is in shows and films but this series doesn’t have that problem.

The Alien – The alien looks like a misshapen grey human from the back with long arms and am mouth like a Venus fly trip. It is terrifying in that you hardly ever see it fully. It is also deadly too as it kills Nancy’s friend Barb and has pumped Will full of it’s possible young even after he is rescued and it is defeated.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and each of them are more compelling than their stereotype or trope they represent in 80’s film.

Nancy Wheeler – Nancy is the nerd who joins the popular kids but after sees they are bullies leaves them. This is her trope that she goes beyond by building a relationship with Jonathan after both of them lose people to the alien and they take the fight to it. She becomes a leader and shows that she is awesome with a gun.

Jonathan Byers – Jonathan is the awkward creeper outsider who we learn is actually sensitive and respectful. That is his trope and how he goes beyond it is building a relationship with his mom when he learns she was telling the truth of talking to Will through the lights and seeing the alien. He’s also a cool older brother to Will and introduces him to great rock.

Chief Jim Hopper – Jim Hopper is the alcoholic divorced Police Chief who lost his daughter and never recovered from it. He changes in that he is the first to back Joyce when he discovers the State base and the area where the alien has made it’s home and the government wipes his memory. He is a dealmaker who doesn’t want to lose people and makes a deal for the State to get El back if he can save Will since he doesn’t want Joyce to lose a child too. For the bitter Police Chief he has a lot of compassion and empathy, and is quite good at his job.

Joyce Byers – Joyce is the main character besides Will’s friends. She is the one who is seen as crazy and in many ways did crack after Will went missing. She is also the one who sees the unknown and takes the risks and discovers the alien entity first. She is great in that she is someone who is doing the best she can with so much working against her. When she helps rescue Will we also see her begin to heal from her past abusive relationship and now having good relationships with her sons. Winona Ryder is wonderful in this role.

Dustin – Dustin is the guy who perceives a lot. He guessed the lunch lady was hiding the chocolate pudding, he knew when the State was coming and to get away and in the end it hints that he knows greater threats are on the horizon too. He is also the one who helps Lucas and Mike resolve their issues and brings the group back together. He is a pretty awesome kid with a lisp.

Lucas – Lucas is the member of Will’s friends who is the most driven and connected to those in the group. He distrusts El when they meet her partially out of fear of losing Mike but also because he wants to protect his friends. In the end he comes around though and even after he and Mike fight he warns and protects them and Eleven from the State as he sees who the real threat is.

Eleven – El is a character with superpowers who was taken from her mother in a government experiment and was being used to spy on the Russians during the Cold War before she escapes after she ends up opening the portal to the world the alien comes from. She is an amazing character who is learning how to control her powers and discovers what having friends is actually like and what it means. In the end she uses her power to hold away the entity and to keep it from our world after she and Mike basically admit love for one another. It is powerful and sad and we get the idea she is still out there fighting the entity.

Mike Wheeler – Mike is the main character and his arc is healing his relationship with his friends, his love for El and saving Will. He is a cool character and we see him willing to risk his life to protect those he cares about. He is also the DM for the boys’ Dungeons and Dragons game.

Coming of Age and Loss – This is the town’s coming of age and Nancy has sex for the first time and discovers her sexuality, Will discovers attraction, El discovers her own beauty and wants for the first time and Joyce and Jim confront their grief and loss and in it come together to heal as they try to save Will. It is powerful and these themes are always their below the surface in the many events and confrontations that take place through the show.

The Cons: The State and Their Motivations and Execution – I get they are fighting the Russians during the Cold War but beyond a faceless entity there was no depth to them at all. Even El’s “Papa” was just a monster who had no depth. This was a major con as every good show needs a good villain.

Leaving the Ending Open – The series could have ended and even though I want to see more I’m putting it as a con since they could have easily wrapped everything up and had the perfect show.

  This was a series that could have ended amazing with just 1 season and not setting up future seasons. I like that there will be more of this show, but like any story that keeps going, especially with television…I fear how it could bring around the overall quality of the show if it isn’t handled well. After defeating the alien things could have ended and it would have been perfect. Leaving it open brought it down a little for me. This is a world well worth your time though and the acting and writing is absolutely amazing. I have yet to have a bad experience with Netflix shows and this one is easily one of their best.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Thoughts on “The X-Files” Before I Review Its Return

The X Files

      After a long hiatus “The X-Files” is finally returning! This is a show that I think died for good reasons as the show had truly lost it’s way and missed so much of what made it good. I am looking forward to seeing what happens as I only made it through Season 2 before things got a bit too crazy and all the supernatural X-Files that were never brought up again eventually made it to hard for me to take seriously as a drama (“Supernatural” has a similar problem) and the fact that the answer is never answered. Part of what makes a mystery great is solving it, and we never have a false X-File, which made Scully’s role almost meaningless, especially since that is the entire point of Scully and Mulder is to find the truth. We never got that in any meaningful way.

    It was for these reasons that I stopped watching the show so long ago, even though I love the premise and am going to give it another chance. The first 2 Seasons on the myth arc were largely gold and now that this show has had to time think and re-cooperate we can continue to grow with the characters as the characters have always been the strongest part of the show.

    Whether it’s the Cigarette Smoking Man, Skinner, Deep Throat, X and Mulder and Scully…these characters were what really made it compelling as how they related to one another under both love and fear kept me watching and why I am giving it another chance. This show knew how to write characters.

   Eventually I will do a re-watch from the beginning, especially if Season 10 sells me that even the filler episodes and filler Myth arc were leading somewhere and had enough to stand on. When there was a great mystery or one shot story it really stood out and the myth arc when it worked, really worked and that is where greatness has the chance to happen again in this show. Well, the truth is out there. Let’s find out what the truth of this show is.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 6, Episodes 1-4 – “The Clone Conspiracy Arc” – When the Only Freedom is in Death

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   This was a powerful arc that showed that there really isn’t any sort of happy ending for Clones. They were made to be weapons and whenever they assert their agency their creators or the Republic remind them that they are property and within that have been made to a do a very cruel task that breaks the minds of two Clones who find out. One of these Clones is one of my favorites who we have gotten to know since the beginning of the timeline, Fives. This is a tragic story but fits the theme of the last 2 seasons that the coming of Order 66 is inevitable as well as the Republic becoming the Empire.

      “The Unknown” was directed by Bosco Ng and written by Katie Lucas who also wrote the other 3 episodes in the arc. “Conspiracy” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell, “Fugitive” was directed by Danny Keller and “Orders” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy.

     The story involves Tup killing a Jedi when the chip in his head activates early. From here The Kaminoans and the Palpatine seek to cover up what happened by killing Tup and removing the chip or discounting Fives who has begun to figure it out, especially after he removes the chip from his own head. As a fugitive he seeks to reveal the truth to Rex and Anakin when all is working against him, including his own mind.

The Pros: The Conspiracy – The conspiracy to control the Clones is brilliant and it makes sense that Palpatine would have that fail safe so that when the time came, no Jedi would survive. It also makes sense that a fluke would mess things up and that Fives would seek the truth as he has always been a rebellious Clone.

The Kaminoans – These guys are all about the bottom line and we see them talking to Dooku on multiple occasions as they seek to fulfill the Clones original programming and keep the secret safe. They know the Jedi are going to die and don’t care…this goes for just how detached this species is that the Clones are just property and assets and the Jedi are nothing to them.

Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus – In this we see that as one of the original folks who commissioned the Clones he is keeping a close eye on events. He knows what is at stake if the truth is revealed and that the fake war could end and that all the Sith are working for could be undone. To this end he goes to any end to prevent the truth from getting out.

Palpatine/Darth Sidious – This guy frames Fives for trying to kill him after he’s been pumped up full of drugs by the Kaminoan Doctors and after he sends his own special Clone Force that wears Red to take out Fives. He is brilliant in this and anytime Fives makes progress at getting the truth out, Palpatine reveals something else (a Parasite made Tups and Fives violent) that discounts their stories. This is an episode where he wins.

Fives – Fives is my favorite Clone outside of Rex and in this we see his rebellious nature work to his advantage to seek the truth as he goes against the Republic and his creators to get the truth out there (The Kaminoans pump him up with drugs) so that Clones can be truly free and not slaves to programming. He was always the more sensitive of the Clones and it motivated him to risk his life against Krell and this time too against the Republic and Kamino. R.I.P. Fives, you were one of the best. In the end he does have freedom as the chip is gone and all it was suppressing (kill the Jedi) is released so his nightmares finally end.

  This was a tragic episode as Fives and Tups never find justice as Palpatine and Dooku win and the plan for Order 66 remains hidden and ready for activation at the end of the war. Fives is the one railing against the system in a very “Brazil” like fashion and like in “Brazil” there is nothing he can do against it. He is a cog in the machine and in the end it devours him and destroys his mind, and from that the only freedom he receives is in death.

Final Score: 10 / 10