“Death Note” Season 1 – An Amazing Deconstruction of “The Ends Justify the Means”

   “Death Note” is one of those animes that comes along, like the first “Gundam” that takes the premise it exists within seriously. This show knows that it is arguing a premise, “Do the ends justify the means?” and does it in such a compelling way that one can’t be helped to be drawn in due to the compelling complex characters and the cat and mouse game that drives the plot as each of them argues the core main premise “Do the ends justify the means in regards to the killing of another?” The ends of course are justice in both cases and it is L (and his proteges) against Light. Light argues on the side of it being justified (he is given a Death Note which can literally bring about just that) and L who argues it is not justice and the one who becomes a vigilante is nothing more than a killer who must be held accountable to the law, to catch someone like that, you can go up to the line (like Batman and make your subject uncomfortable, but do not kill).

My goal is to argue a different premise than what has been argued before and what I got from the series. If you want to see another approach to some of the many themes of “Death Note,” checkout Wisecrack’s The Philosophy of Death Note. It is amazing.:

The premise and story of “Death Note” (Manga created by Tsugumi Ohba, and anime by Madhouse and Tetsuro Araki) is Light Yagami finds a Death Note that the Shingami Ryuk drops into the realm of humanity. When he discovers it’s power to kill anyone whose name is written upon it, after he knows their face he decides to become “Kira,” a God of justice to punish all those who commit crimes. This sets authorities on him lead by L who seek to end his reign and stop the killings.

SPOILERS are ahead. It is hard to argue a premise if I can’t get into the details of the premise given so much of how the line being crossed of killing to achieve justice, whether to end a vigilante or punish criminals is shown by what happens in character deaths.

In what I mean in, “Do the ends justify the means?” Or to narrow it down for the sake of argument within the series, is killing ever justified bring about a just society, or bring another to justice? The existence of the Death Note and Light’s argument is that it is justified. L stands on the other side of this, even though he pushes this premise as much as he can and it is only when he and Watari are about to pass the line of denying another’ consent that they meet the ends of all those who take life for granted in the series. In the end the show doesn’t care about the reasons the characters want to kill, killing will always lead to death and it is the closest thing the show has to an answer on morality beyond it simply being bad. To end another is to eventually end yourself, and I’ll explore this through the different characters in the show.

The first type of exploration of this premise is in our Kiras. For the sake of definition Kiras are those who want to punish criminals and corrupt people in order to bring about a just society. Mikami as the Hand of Kira and Kiyomi as Kira’s voice are good examples of this. Misa also adopts this role too, though her primary motivation is love for Kira, not justice so she falls into the next category we’ll be exploring. The followers of Kira and Light who are driven by their drive to punish bullies and criminals (Mikami is a prosecutor before Light chooses him) want a world that has no crime and wars and by the time we get to the end of the series Light has largely succeeded as wars have stopped and crime has been reduced 75%. His Task Force is even questioning whether bringing down Kira is now the right thing to do. In the end we get a clear answer though, Kiyomi is made to kill herself by Light when he puts her name in the Death Note and Mikami kills himself too when Light is revealed in the finale to be Kira, before he also meets his end. In the end their deaths show that in this instance the ends do not justify the means. The motives to bring about a just society cannot be built on murder is what we are lead to be believed and even if the ideal is peace, murder for ideals and a greater world will only lead to your own end.

One of the primary motives to kill that the show doesn’t forgive, is killing out of love or to protect another. We first see this in Misa Misa, who is the second Kira and follows all of Light’s wishes out of love for him. She never truly ends up with him though and with his end it is implied that she follows behind, killing herself because of his death. Killing for love is the primary motive of Rem as well who is protecting Misa from L, Watari and the police force. Even though she is a God of Death even she can’t survive this as by killing Watari and L she dies as it is the consequence of a Shinigami killing a human. The other person who kills for love is Light’s father who is in charge of the Police Task Force to take down Kira. When he goes to rescue his daughter from the mafia and is killing the members who are protecting Mello, he dies as a consequence (also a consequence of making a deal with Ryuk for the Shinigami eyes so that he can better kill). Love as a motive to kill could argueable be seen as moral, but that isn’t how the show views it. These characters end up dead even though they only kill to protect others and care nothing for themselves.


The other way we see killing used is in a similar way as Light, a means to an end in order to draw Light out. The people we see do this are Watari and L when they use a criminal to test out how Light can kill and again when they are testing out the fake 13 Day Rule that Ryuk wrote in the Death Note to trick L and the Task Force and bring suspicion off of Light and Misa. They die for doing this, as does Mello who teams up with the Mafia, who kill so that he can bring Light out of the shadows. It is only when he is willing to sacrifice himself that we see justice begin to happen in this world and in turn show us that the way you go about stopping a criminal is even more important than the criminal and his or your own motives. Mello pays the price as he loses himself and his friend for the deal he made with the Mafia and his willingness to kill to lure Kira out.

Near’s motives are to be better than Kira and to “win” the battle of wits against him. He at first sees L as a loser for losing to Kira but we see a difference between him and L right off the bat. Near doesn’t use killing in order to lure Kira out. He lets those around him be responsible for their actions while he himself never crosses the line. He never murders and even orders the Task Force not to kill Kira if they are given the chance. This is the closest thing we get to a clear moral answer. Killing is wrong even if it is to stop a wrong. Near manipulates people but everything he does is to protect others and keep life from being lost. This is the moral statement I found within “Death Note” and how the story executes it is why it is one of my favorite animes of all time.

I was discussing this premise with a friend who introduced me to Wisecrack’s deconstruction which inspired me to go into as much depth as I could with my premise. I love how great stories can do that as this is a series that covers so many themes that I had to narrow myself down to one to explore.

For my score of this anime series: 9.6 / 10. I don’t consider it perfect as Misa and Kiyomi lose their agency on multiple occasions and they are the only women in this series who get any exploration outside of Light’s sister and mother who are more of a presence rather than fully fleshed out characters.  If these issues had been solved I’d have given this series a 10 / 10. Regardless I highly recommend it. This was one of the shows that got me into the storytelling medium of anime in the first place, along with the “Ghost in the Shell” series.

 

Live Free or Die Hard (2007): The Dumbing Down of the “Die Hard” Franchise

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      There is a cliche that action movies are stupid. They are popcorn flicks where you can turn off your brain and watch people shoot and fight each other. The villains are simple and the characters are heroes and that is all it takes. This was not the “Die Hard” Franchise until this movie.  This movie is so lazy, the characters are barely fleshed out, none of the past films are even relevant to this one so it feels as if it is trying to erase history and make McClane into someone he never was and it does all the stupid romance and action cliches, where the past films managed to transcend them or give them depth. Seriously, this movie sucks and I’ll get into more of the why deeper into the reviews.

     The film was directed by Len Wiseman, written by Mark Bomback and produced by Michael Fottrell.

     The story involves a cyber-attack on U.S. infrastructure by a U.S. hacker Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) leaving John McClane (Bruce Willis) to protect the hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long) who holds part of the code and ability to stop him.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise of a cyber-hacker is actually pretty cool. It’s a shame the villain has no charisma and no real drive. The idea of hacking a system to cause panic is really intriguing and was done beautifully in “Skyfall,” but this is no “Skyfall.”

The Stunts – Willis still does all his stunts, so credit where it is due. He is good at this stunts and good at action even if the action is pointless.

Okay: Warlock – Kevin Smith is a super hacker who actually manages to help Willis stop the big hacker. I liked the guy since he played a paranoid basement dweller who was into all the conspiracy theories. He was fun but I only put him as okay because he doesn’t feel like a full character, he feels like the idea of a character.

John McClane – McClane has become a cartoon character. He starts out beating up his daughter’s boyfriend or at least threatening the guy, we see him throw cars at other vehicles and take on a fighter jet. There isn’t a really an arc at all and his chemistry with Matt doesn’t compare to his chemistry with Zeus.

Okay/Con: Matt and Lucy – These two have the same problem and are a part of another problem. They are written like cliches. Lucy is a flirt, Matt is a bit of a creep and they only exist to ignore and later learn from McClane. Lucy eventually loves her dad because dad saves her and Matt is given courage by McClane. If this had been done creatively I’d put those as okay or pro but they are written so cliche that it is awful to watch how it unfolds.

The Cons: The Cinematography – The cinematography looks green screened and there are so many close ups of peoples’ faces. It is lazy cinematography and directing.

Becoming a Catchphrase – He ends it with “Yippee-ki-yay mother fucker,”  and shoots himself to shoot the bad guy. Yes it is as awful as it sounds. A phrase that once had meaning as him saying “Screw you,” to the bad guys after being mocked is now just existing because. McClane is a catchphrase in this film.

The Villains – They have no depth or dimension and the lead villain is only complex in that he has a lover and wants to get paid for working for the government and creating the situation in the first place where they can hack everything. He was such a winy ass that I never felt threatened by him.

Women as Objects – Matt creeps over the phone anytime a beautiful woman is talking to him, Lucy boyfriend creeps on her and McClane with his over protectiveness comes off as a creep always getting in his daughter’s space. Seriously, women only exist as objects in this.

Contrived Romance – Lucy and Matt develop feelings for each other  and it is tacked on at the very end. God I hate this script.

Pointless Action – He fights a jet, has a car chase but none of it means anything because he has ceased to be human. He’s Bond level competency and no longer a human being anymore so we know he will survive so it no longer means anything and the villain driving the action is a bad villain. He isn’t threatening at all.

McClane is not Bond – McClane is not bond. He was a schlubby cop who often times only one because he’d notice something normal and use it, like a powerline. This film misses the fact that it is McClane’s mortality that makes him compelling. He’s supposed to be a mess and trying to get his life together, not an over-competent super cop. He never was that, he was a man who would just survive and was usually the one losing up until he could finally turn things around just barely. This film forgot all of that.

  This movie is a waste, at most of the characters are safe and at worst they are caricatures. McClane was never a secret agent or James Bond like figure so this entire film takes him out of being the cop down on his luck. He’s become an action hero when before he was a man in the wrong place at the wrong time who rose to meet circumstances. Here he is fighting jets, throwing planes into helicopters. Call him whatever you want but he is no longer John McClane, the cop who has to punch and think his way out of situations. This is what happens when Hollywood gets a hold of a Franchise and misses what made it good in the first place. They replace characters with action and turn a normal guy who happened to become an action hero into James Bond. Keep Bond in Bond films and let McClane be the cop who has grown from the past films versus the static cartoon character he is in this film. This film fell so far after the perfection that was “Die Hard with a Vengeance.”

Final Score: 3 / 10

“Gravity Falls” Season 2 – A Brilliant Animated Show That Captures Mystery, Tension, Character and Adventure

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    Alex Hirsch truly created a brilliant show with “Gravity Falls.” He described it as “The X-Files” meets “Twin Peaks” meets “The Simpsons.” From here he melded comedy, drama and mystery together perfectly as it is the characters who drive the story and who change after events happen in their lives. This season was extremely rich, even though the payoff wasn’t quite perfect…it still managed to be great.

      This is a show I will be returning back to review episodically at some point as well, it is just that great.

    The main plot of Season 2 is the mystery surrounding Grunkle Stan and the device he is building beneath the shack as the answers to this help us uncover the other mysteries surrounding Gravity Falls and the characters who live there.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Animation – The animation style is unique and flows and fits the mystery of Gravity Falls as well as the colorful nature of the characters who make up the town.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful, especially the theme song which Bill Cipher (the demon who brings about Weirdmageddon) changes. Brad Breek did a fantastic job!

The Mystery – The mystery of the Journals is a driving part of the plot as we see that Grunkle Stan has one of the journals and uses them to build a device to bring back his twin brother Ford who was trapped in another dimension. It’s a powerful mid-season finale and great payoff to the secrecy surrounding the town as all the mysteries come mostly back to the Brothers Pines.

Grunkle Stan Versus Zombies – At one point in the first episode of Season 2, Dipper summons a bunch of zombies and we see how amazing Stan is as he manages to take out most of them before performing karaoke with Dipper and Mabel which is what’s needed to cause the zombie heads to explode. It’s a great way to kick off the season. There are also two FBI agents investigating Gravity Falls too.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of “Gravity Falls” and it is how they are explored, which drives the plot. This season went in depth with all the main cast as well as a few side characters too who received some great development.

.GIFfany – .GIFfany is awesome! She is a sentient program from a Japanese dating sim who destroyed her creator and fixates on Soos. When Soos eventually ends the relationship she tries to kill him and his girlfriend but in the end is stopped. I really liked her obsessive character.

Gideon – Gideon goes through an arc over the course of the series as he is a villain serving Bill for much of it but finally comes around when he realizes that Mabel would be ashamed of what he’s doing and that her being trapped is not them being in a relationship. This leads to him with the prison escapees trying to take on Bill. Later on we see the prisoners have become his protectors.

Tyler Cutebiker – Cutebiker wins the election for Mayor of Gravity Falls and is the calmest head around. We see this in Tyler’s confrontation of Bill in Weirdmageddon to the acceptance speech. This character is a lot of fun.

Blubs and Durland – These are the police of Gravity Falls who love another and have a cute relationship as Durland isn’t bright at all but Blubs is always there for him and they make a good team in their ineptness. Them admitting their love for one another at the end is a sweet scene.

Blendin Blandin – The time traveler from last season is back and challenges Mabel and Dipper to a game of death. He loses and changes from it when he sees that they didn’t know they had ruined his life. He also comes to their aid with the Time Baby to take on Bill Cipher, though they don’t end up being successful.

Candy and Grenda – These two are wonderful! Grenda ends up with a prince because she of her blunt nature, Candy dates Dipper briefly and throughout it all they help Mabel get over her obsession with a boy band and a bunch of other things. These were great supporting characters.

Pacifica – Pacifica is a bully to Mabel and we soon learn why she is the way she is when we see her parents are high strung and emotionally abusive. She is the one to redeem her family when a past man the family wronged is turning everyone into wood and she must let the townspeople into the mansion. It’s awesome and though she puts on heirs later she shows that she has changed and isn’t the elitist she used to be. I really liked her character and hope they had done more with what came of her arc.

Mid-Season Finale – The portal opens and Mabel, Soos and Dipper have to trust Stan as we learn that his brother wrote the journals and was trapped in an alternate dimension this entire time…and that is why Stan has been so secretive as everything he’s done has been to get him back.

Old Man McGucket – McGucket was a tech guy who was brought in by Ford (Stan’s brother) who ends up going insane when he looks into the alternate dimension so he forms an organization to help the townspeople forget the weirdness of the Falls…this eventually leads to him going insane and becoming mad with power as it his his tech that’s been fought on multiple occasions. Luckily in the final he gets his shot at redemption.

Soos – Soos is the loveable nerd who is Stan’s trainee as he seeks to learn all he can to eventually run the Mystery Shack. His arc this season is finding confidence as we see him date and eventually get together with Melody (a fellow nerd) after he moves beyond the dating sim and when Weirdmaggedon hits hes the most prepared and becomes a hero to the populace, wandering and doing random acts of heroism before moving on. He is a great character.

Wendy – Wendy is a great character and in this we see her break up with Robbie (when he was mind controlling her with his music) and set down boundaries with Dipper as their friendship grows. She continues to be the trouble maker on the side and when Weirdmaggedon comes around she is the survivor as her family always sent her off to survival camp for Christmas, she is the epic hero of the new Gravity Falls besides Soos and she helps Dipper save Mabel and the town.

Ford – Ford is Stan’s twin brother who was always the genius and had the chance to get into an amazing university until Stan sabotaged it since he wanted to travel the world with him. This eventually leads to Ford exploring the paranormal leading him to Gravity Falls and a deal with Bill Cipher which costs him greatly, leading him to research on how to stop Bill. He’s never been a people person so his arc is resolving things with his brother and building a relationship with his niece and nephew. J.K. Simmons is great as his voice.

Mabel – Mabel’s arc this season is one of letting go, whether it was the boy band she was raising in her home as pets, or the paradise of never having to leave Gravity Falls (which she makes a deal with Bill Cipher over). She does eventually learn how to let go though and her grappling hook comes in handy in the final assault against Bill Cipher and his minions.

Dipper – Dipper’s arc is dealing with boundaries and masculinity. We see this when he dates for datings sake without any emotional investment and tries to be a player like Stan (both of them end up hurt) and in his sabotage of Wendy and Robbie’s relationship. In the end he keeps the friendships he built though and finds those are what matters most. He also realizes the danger of the diaries too when he summons zombies to show that Gravity Falls is supernatural to the FBI. He teams up with Wendy when Weirdmaggedon hits.

Grunkle Stan – Grunkle Stan is a liar, con man and theif whose entire life is a bunch of mess ups that is he is trying to atone for. From ruining Ford’s project, to the fight with Ford that lead to Ford falling into an alternate dimension and everything else. Stan’s arc is for redemption as we see his love for his Mabel and Dipper motivates him to be better and not a coward. He’s my favorite character in the show and I really like how they handle his story in the Finale.

Weirdmageddon

Weirdmageddon – Bill Cipher creates a hellscape of Weirdmaggedon (and gets a physical body) after he make a deal with Mabel to get what he needs to bring his dimension into ours. It’s a twisted hellscape where he turns the townspeople into stone to use as a chair and is populated by being who only want to cause destruction and mayhem. It really shows how powerful Bill is and what the town of Gravity Falls is up against to free themselves from the end. Weirdmaggedon is confined only to the falls though, thanks to smart thinking on Ford’s part and placing a barrier around the town. I really respect Hirsch for creating this nightmare in a kid’s show and changing the theme song to boot to go with it.

Bill Cipher – Bill is the big bad and eventually wins for a while thanks to Mabel making the deal. The demon loves chaos for chaos sake and we see just how powerful he is as he takes on the Resistance’s mech on his own and takes out Ford easily in the first few minutes of Weirdmaggedon. For this reason his defeat is rewarding as he won so thoroughly after Mabel made the deal.

The Resistance – The Resistance is great! There is a Unicorn, Gnomes, a Manitaur and quite a few others. When Mabel and Dipper join them they turn the Mystery Shack into a mech via Old Man McGucket (who finally uses his power for good) and take on Bill at his castle so they can free the town. They are amazing and I’d have watched an episode of just them and their interactions. The picture below is of the members of the Resistance.

Grunkle Stan’s Sacrifice – In the end Grunkle Stan saves the day and risks his mind for his kids as Ford knows how to drop the barrier around Gravity Falls so he and Stan switch places, tricking Bill so that the mind-eraser can be used on him. Thanks to Stan the day is saved and Weirdmaggedon ends.

Gravity Falls Resistance

The Ending – The ending deals with the aftermath as the mayor says that they won’t speak of the day again since no one understands what happened anyway and Ford, Mabel and Dipper deal with a Stan with no memory so share a scrapbook of the summer to help him remember everything again! After they have to say good-bye though and Dipper and Wendy swap hats to remember each other and she gives him a letter, Mabel keeps her pig Waddles and Ford and Stan go on an adventure together to fight monsters on the ocean as Stan gives Soos the Mystery Shack. It’s a sweet ending that captures the relationships of the show really well.

What I would have Changed – The fact that this happened over a summer limits the possiblities, and this is Disney and after how horrible Weirdmageddon was to the populace I get writing a happy ending. I wanted Grunkle Stan to have his memory lost though, Bill is a powerful demon and if it’d been permanent it would give the audience the chance to deal with it within their own lives in regards to family with Alzheimers. The fact that it was only a summer limited the chance to explore that though so it was still really good but I would have had it be permanent or have a character death (yeah, I’m horrible).

This is a show that is well worth your time. The animation is beautiful, there is a great antagonist, the characters change over time and the drama and mystery that drives the plot has great answers at the end. The tension never leaves the show because of the drama and mystery and in the end, the ending is touching and really shows that Dipper and Mabel have changed from their experiences at Gravity Falls, and that in the end, they always have next summer.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 (Not going to give a perfect rating to since the Dipper dating episode didn’t really work and the “Dungeons and Dragons” episode was kind of weak). The FBI agents didn’t work within the show either and felt tacked on. Besides these things, this is a show I’ll be coming back to. It is easily one of the best animated shows ever made.

Gravity Falls Characters