Afro Samurai: A Beautiful Tale on the Cost of Revenge

“Afro Samurai” is a glorious revenge drama that shows why revenge dramas are empty. Samuel L. Jackson is wonderful as Afro and Ninja Ninja and this is the kind of show that you need to give yourself time with. For what would be a mini-series, this feels long, which is a con. It also is great for what it is. This is the kind of series that does the deep dive into revenge and Afro is explored fully as a character. For the flaws I’ll explore, this is a film that is truly great but the flaws stuck out.

The anime was born out a collaboration between Samuel L. Jackson, Takashi Okazaki and Gonzo, with a music score by hip hop artist The RZA from the rap group the Wu-Tang Clan.

The story follows Afro, seeking the Number 1 headband after Justice kills his father and challenges him to come and get it as anyone who holds the Headband is like a God. We see the consequences of this quest as we flashback to his life as a child coming into his own as Afro with the Number 2 headband and his reuniting with old friends on his path to get revenge against Justice.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – The animation is the style I enjoy. We are talking about long and detailed expressions of the weapons and the wielder. This series caught all of that for me. This is also gory, if I were to make a comparison it feels very Tarantino. This is a revenge film and we see the cost of revenge in blood. For me this worked as this is something that hurts the hero, this should cost their soul, and we see that with Afro. The animation captures that as well as the intelligence and survival of Afro as he fights to be Number 1 and the body count he leaves to get there.

The World – The Headband Wars are fascinating especially as we see a mixture of powerful guns, swords and robots all in the same world. I wanted to spend more time in this world as it looks Apocalyptic but Afro’s quest gives us a limited view of it beyond those defending Justice and those tied to Afro. All of these are overall fascinating characters, which I will get into later. This is one reason I really enjoyed this anime. This is a rich world where I wanted more time with the everyday people living in it. Not just the heroes and villains.

The Characters – The characters aren’t perfect, but the ones I mention get explored to the point that I wanted to see more of where they were and this series delivers on this. The order is going to be a little strange but I did it based on who I found most compelling in the end one of the one characters is directly tied to who another character is. Sadly the women in this series aren’t explored well at all, which for me did hurt the overall experience.

Justice – This is a classic anime villain in that he is seeking Godhood at any price. He is also not traditionally human as he has a third arm that is revealed in the finale battle. I liked him as an antagonist as he reminded me of “The Man in Black” from the Dark Tower series. We have this insidious being who is only seeking domination over others and destroys so many good people Afro knew to get there. The final fight is powerful and the Number 1 headband is something I did not expect Afro to get, given the tone of the anime. I was ready for tragedy, and it still is but not in the world ending “Neon Genesis Evangelion” kind of way. It is tragic in that the price of revenge is you lose yourself and all those you knew and this series does that extremely well.

Kuma – Kuma is Afro’s former friend who joins the organization that is trying to kill Afro. Kuma only has his rage at the loss of the Dojo, his Master (when Afro killed him) and his body as he is now nearly more machine than man. He is compelling character and his pain drives him. He is defeated by Kubo but returns once more, somehow surviving his near death to challenge Afro once more. His story is tragic and he has become who Afro was before, a character who can only find peace in death.

Afro – Afro is the stoic warrior. He only exists to bring justice to Justice and his story in this film is him facing the past and losing what connection he has to his emotions and self as he creates a imaginary friend Ninja Ninja who exists as his true feelings and fears. The character he became after his father’s death doesn’t have room for those emotions so keeps them away. Everything is about revenge and revenge is business. Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t speak much in this role but he plays off the expressiveness of Ninja Ninja (also voiced by Samuel L. Jackson).

Ninja Ninja – Ninja Ninja is all of Afro’s passion and fear and he gives so much to what makes Afro interesting. He is the way that Afro is still child-like as Ninja is all about survival and escape but he still sticks around because he cares about Afro and finds the fights interesting. Their dynamic is fascinating and when Ninja Ninja sacrifices himself to save Afro from Kuma it hurts because you know at that point all Afro has now is the fight and revenge.

The Cons:

At Times Overlong Action – The action is beautifully animated but at times it goes on way too long. This was fine but when nearly every fight starts going on a bit longer than it has to be it becomes a con. This was what happened here. I wanted more character moments versus fights. The dialogue that the series has, and they usually comes with flashbacks enriches the narrative. I wanted more of that because there wasn’t enough exploration of some characters. The series was later adapted into a videogame and given Afro fighting mini-bosses on his way to the final fight with Justice it works, and might work better that way.

The Role of Women – Women in this anime exist as victims and it is more the sexism you tend to see in anime. Afro’s old friend and at this point maybe lover who betrays him when she meets him (Okiku / Otsuru) later just to be killed by the ones using her in the first place is the one woman with a name. The most complex woman in the entire film is the bartender since she isn’t being victimized. I wanted to see more with her and Afro as she clearly knows his game and has seen some fights go down.

This is definitely an amazing anime. I wish that the action had been shorter and more time had been spent to develop Afro’s past friend Kokiku because we never get enough development in contrast to Kuma where we get his hatred and why he wants to end Afro. I would have cut all of the fights in half to have develop Okiku further as well as Afro’s past between his time at the Dojo and becoming an adult. It would have fleshed out the world more and developed Afro and his former friends more as characters. Either way, still a favorite anime if you are down for a classic revenge anime. Definitively a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

Blade Runner (1982): A Beautiful Sci. Fi. Meditative Exploration of Justice and Identity

   “Blade Runner” is one of my favorite science fiction films of all time. It is also a film I had not seen for years until I saw that “Blade Runner 2049” was coming out. The last version I saw before this was “The Extended Cut” and in the future I plan on doing a comparison of all the different versions, but for purposes of this review, I’m just sticking with the original Theatrical Release. “Blade Runner” is a film that brings so much depth through ambiguity, it doesn’t tell you what to think or to believe but from character actions we can infer greater meanings and truth. This is where the film thrives and what I’ll be analyzing more fully in my review, as the larger ideas aren’t spelled out, they hinted at and let you put the pieces together.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples and produced by Michael Deeley. The story is based off of the Philip K. Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick is an author whose books have been adapted into many of my favorite sci. fi. films.

The story takes place in a futuristic dystopic 2019 where the Tyrell Corporation has invented Replicants as slave labor to do dangerous jobs or the populace and government. They were given a short life span and for those that manage to escape, police known as Blade Runners hunt them down and “retire” them. This story picks up with four escaping to Earth and their attempts to infiltrate Tyrell Corp. as Deckard, a Blade Runner, hunts them down.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Universe – The Universe is easily the richest part of it all. This is a version of Earth that could happen. We have a crowded, dirty city full of adds and neon lights where the rich live above the sky and the poor live stacked on top of one another. This is also a world of indifference as watching a replicant get killed means nothing to the everyday people, just like what we see today with how people react to shootings and usually find it justified when an authority figure of some sort (police, military, etc.) is the one doing it.

The Replicants – The replicants who escape are the best part of this film. Whether it is Zhora just trying to live her life as a dancer and isn’t involved in the plots of the other 3. Leon and his desire for justice, especially after Deckard kills Zhora, Pris and curiosity and fun nature and Roy with his desire to understand and to live, a character who wants justice and to be fixed since he was made a slave and made to die. They were the best part of this film and I would’ve have watched a full length film about any of the 4. They were complex and weren’t bad beings, they were seeking freedom and justice in a world that only saw them as monsters and treated them as slaves…and they found meaning beyond that. They were so much more than how others saw them.

Human or Replicant Ambiguity in Deckard – One of the running themes of the film is what makes a person human and Deckard is used as that base, as many times it is hinted that he might be a replicant hunting his own people…as Rachel asks if he’s ever done the test and his avoidance of it shows there is more going on with him. The fact that Rachel is able to fool the Replicant test is a good example of this too and how Deckard could have been designed simply to kill. This ambiguity lends power to the narrative at it humanizes all of those in the world and shows just how unjust what Deckard does is.

Memories and Identity – Another theme that is explored is that of memories as they relate to identity. We see this when Leon is asked about his mother in the opening scene, as he knows he’s a replicant and the memory he’s been given is false and Rachel who believes her memories to be real and shares those memories as a way of getting to know Deckard. Even after she knows they are a lie they still shape her and how she relates to others, unlike Leon who’s actions come from knowing the lie and reacting to the present.

The Means of Justice – There are a few ways that justice happens in the film. Whether it is the Blade Runner Gaff, played by Edward James Olmos giving time for Deckard and Rachel to escape, or the killing of Tyrell by Roy. Tyrell didn’t care about his creations and upheld the system where they would be hunted down. Roy killing him is around the time that he finally finds freedom in what time he has left to live.

The Cons: Deckard, Rachel and Consent – The one con that keeps this film from being perfect is the scene after Rachel saves Deckard from Leon. She is troubled, doesn’t know who she is and Deckard just forces himself on her. If it isn’t rape it is the same kind of evil. I wanted Roy to kill Deckard after this as even though I think it showed that Deckard didn’t see Rachel as a person yet, it is never called out in that way and can only be inferred. Deckard never faces any consequences from Rachel from it and they still fall in love. I hated this scene and it is the one thing that keeps this film from perfection.

“Blade Runner” is a film that has had a lasting legacy and far reaching legacy on science fiction. It helped bring about some of my favorite shows like the new “Battlestar Galactica” as replicants and cylons are pretty similar, the dirty advanced sci. fi. futures of “Cowboy Bebop” and “Ghost in the Shell,” and countless other works that explore self, personhood and greater themes. I’ll be exploring “Blade Runner 2049” after this but I wanted to go back to this classic first. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. This film is a work of genius and if you are a fan of sci. fi. you will most likely enjoy this film as much as I did.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

“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.

 

Sherlock – Special – “The Abominable Bride” – Confusing at Times but a Powerful Message

Sherlock The Abominable Bride

      “The Abominable Bride” is an episode that is a bit unfocused but comes together at the end and never stops being fun. It more than makes up for the end of Season 3 and even the overall message of the internal mystery is powerful too and is timeless, which is something Moffat usually doesn’t cover in his episodes. I’ll get into more of the details later but this episode was a trip (in more than one way) and for non-spoiler thoughts, is well worth checking out.

      The episode was directed by Douglas Mackinnon and written by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

Spoilers ahead

       The episode takes place in Victorian England where Sherlock is seeking to solve the case of the Abominable Bride who killed herself but has come back from the dead and is hunted down her husband and other evil men. All is not as it appears to be though as even the story is meta.

The Pros: Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful per usual, which one thing that has been true of even the weakest episodes of “Sherlock.” There is great use of freezing the frame and using the London fog to cast mystery and shadow and with it an element of horror which lended strength to the narrative both main and meta. Suzie Lavelle did a great job.

Soundtrack – The music continues to be one of the strongest parts of this series and plays into the mystery, horror and self reflection that really defines this episode and the series at it’s best when it is at it’s strongest. David Arnold and Michael Price did a wonderful job.

Dialogue – The dialogue is snappy, sharp and natural and fit the characters beautifully. This was an episode that didn’t drag because the writing kept things moving, especially in how the different characters interacted.

Characters – Characters have always been the strongest part of the show and the Special is a shining example of this. Though there are some glorified cameos I won’t really mention since I don’t really feel the cameos got exploration.

Mary – Mary is fighting for equality in England and she is the one who discovers the organization that created the Abominable Bride. It is wonderful seeing her front and center and I hope she becomes part of John and Sherlock and that they become a trio. Amanda Abbington once again does a fantastic job.

Moriarty – Andrew Scott is back, though it is only in Sherlock’s mind palace as we learn part of his plan was to trap Sherlock inside his head as he really did die and wanted to bring Sherlock down with him, like he did in the story of the Reichenbach Fall. In the end he fails to account for Watson though and it is his downfall as within his mind Sherlock is able to realize that Moriarty is not alive and that all of this was a ploy to trap him so that his final attack on the world could go forward.

Mycroft – Mark Gatiss is my favorite Mycroft and in this we see the tender side of his relationship to Sherlock as he was there to pull Sherlock out of his addiction and cared for him. We also see a fat Mycroft in the past (and how he looks in the stories and novels) which is a treat. He never stops being Mycroft though and we see him team up with Mary to help and protect John and Sherlock. Gatiss truly owns this role and he gets great character development this episode.

Watson – Martin Freeman’s Watson gets some wonderful character development in this as in the past we see that Sherlock uses how Watson sees him in order to solve cases and build himself up and that Watson truly is smart and has learned a lot from Sherlock. He saves Sherlock from his mind Moriarty and helps him wake up as well as solving the Abominable Bride case with him and his wife Mary. He is a great character as always.

Sherlock – Benedict Cumberbatch really owns this role and is a natural Sherlock Holmes. I really liked seeing his Victorian self solving the case and them actually dealing with the dangers of his addiction as it takes him going under to solve the case of the Abominable Bride and realize that Moriarty is dead but he put things in place in case that ever did happen. His arc is learning to accept help and letting go of his addiction to needing a case or drugs to feel alive. It’s very well done and Sherlock actually grows over the course of the episode.

Equality and Justice – The suffragette movement is addressed and the fact that some of them are using the Abominable Bride for justice against evil men. It’s really cool as it uses the sexism of Victorian society to show how far we’ve come and how far there is to go.

Letting Go and No Longer Alone – Sherlock’s arc is letting go of Moriarty in his mind and accepting his death and accepting the love from his friends….that his brother, John and Mary are there for him and that is how he can defeat and has defeated whatever has come his way. No longer the superhuman, he is now human.

Okay/Pro: The Ending – We know now that Moriarty truly is dead but he put something in place for when he does die and now it is up to Sherlock and John to solve it. I liked them talking in the past, it was some of the best John and Sherlock moments…and Sherlock did get some great monologues. I’m doing it as okay since it took Sherlock overdosing to get there.

Okay: The Bride – The organization the Bride is a part of is wonderful, but the bride is a plot device and never fully grows beyond it. She isn’t a bad plot device but a plot device is not a character. Lestrade had the same problem.

Lestrade – Graves does a good job with what he’s given but he’s just kind of there to give Sherlock the plot to solve. I would have liked to see more with him as he’s never given the chance to fully be his own character.

    This was a favorite episode and clearly showed that Gatiss and Moffat are back in their game when it comes to this show. I was disappointed with Series 3, especially in it’s treatment of Mary in the finale and how the kill was handled, as well as the villain being one note…but this got back on track. Sherlock has always been about the characters and this episode showed once more why we keep coming back to this show and what drew us to the stories of Sherlock Holmes in the first place.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Gone Home – An Amazing Game of Love, Mystery and Relationships

Gone_Home

        I’ve never been one for games that are purely exploration. Often times I find them overly convoluted and confusing and the gameplay tiring. It’s one reason I could never get into the “Myst” series…Though I am willing to give that series another chance as one of my favorite games is an exploration game, “Journey.” “Gone Home” is also a favorite after playing it last night, though mostly because of how immerse the story is. Suffice to say, if you like a good mystery and powerful story, chances are you will like this game.

      The game was developed Fullbright, designed by Steve Gaynor and composed by Chris Remo. The game is in the style of a first person interactive story adventure game.

     The story involves Kaitlin Greenbriar who has returned home after being gone for a long time traveling and studying abroad in Europe. When she arrives to the home her family had recently moved into she finds that everyone in her family is missing and must piece together the mystery of what happened as well as the mystery surrounding her Uncle Oscar who owned the house before.

From here on there are spoilers.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Chris Remo did a great job on the soundtrack! There is the haunting sounds in the house combined with punk rock music and jazz when you put cassette tapes into tape players around the house. It gives the mansion a lived in feel beyond the graphics and items you interact with.

The Graphics – The graphics are fantastic! The house is beautifu/l and it is haunting as you are trapped inside with no way to contact the outside world as the phones are down because of the storm. There are also tons of rooms that are really detailed. From the bedroom of your little Sister Samantha who is the character who learn the most about and your father’s study as well as your mother’s sewing room. Each room has a distinct personality that the graphics portray really well. This also includes the hidden rooms that have a really scary feel to them and feel like they’re out of “Silent Hill” at times.

The House – As described above, the house is wonderful and has so much personality to it. From the hidden rooms with abandoned crosses and a safe, to Sam’s rockstar room, to the ornate bedroom and study of the parents. The house feels real and mysterious and is pretty much a character all on it’s own. Wanting to learn more about what it revealed was a big part of what kept me playing.

The Story – The story is amazing! There are a few stories that you get in the overacing narrative. Your Mom has a crush on one of the Ranger’s she works with and is having marriage problems with the father who was possibly molested by Uncle Oscar and lives in shame of his father’s expectations of him as an author as he largely rights pulp…and Oscar’s store going under and his seeking redemption from his Sister for what he did.

The Prime story is that of Sam and her girlfriend Lonnie. The story involves Sam accepting she loves Lonnie and expressing that through her story of Captain Allegro and the First Mate who go on adventures together and are lovers. Her parents are religious though and they don’t believe her when she comes out to them and put her under house arrest. Later when they go to work on their relationship at a retreat, Lonnie leaves the military and runs away with Sam and you find the Journal entries that describe all of Sam’s experiences of learning how much she loves Lonnie, her being an outcast at school and her past friendship with Danny and making peace with herself enough to the point that she can leave home and make a life with the woman she loves. Katie is the one who learns all of this and we see and hear it through her experiences of discovering the mystery of why the house is empty.

The Characters – Uncle Oscar – His ghost haunts the house but it isn’t literal. He probably molested Terry (the Father of Sam and Katie) as we see Terry’s height measured throughout the years but stops at age 12 in 1963, which relates directly to the stories Terry writes about JFK and the assassination of him. He is not a good person and though he seeks redemption and has regret, we have no reason to trust him. I put this character as a pro because he reveals Terry to us in regards to Terry’s drinking and trust issues and also we see how Lonnie and Sam are ghost hunters as well as they try and get rid of what they see as his ghost haunting the house.

The Parents – Terry is insecure and drinks a lot and has a powerful artistic mind. His niche market even catches on with Time Travel and the Assassination of JFK. We don’t really know his relationship to his wife though and sadly his rejection of his daughter (whether from his experience with Uncle Oscar (not realizing that Pedophilia and Homosexuality are two very different things) or his insecurity in his marriage lead him rejecting Lonnie and Sam (or his religious belief, “Bibles” are all over the house). The Mom is pretty driven too as she gets promoted in Oregon in the Forest Service is maybe having an affair with Ranger Rick and sews and is in contact writing letters with one of her old friends. She’s also an immigrant from Canada. We see she’s supportive of her husband even though she is exploring another option. The marriage is complicated but I get her doubts given the amount her husband drinks and his doubts and we don’t know if he ever shared what happened when he was 12. They are off at a Marriage Retreat when Katie returns home though.

Sam and Lonnie – Sam and Lonnie are pretty distinct and awesome characters. Sam is quite and an artist who finds her voice both in coming out to her folks and when she runs away with Lonnie. Lonnie is tough and independent and is a singer in a band and is all about self improvement via her nearly joining the military. They are pulled apart at one point as Sam is looking at Reed College since she has a scholarship and Lonnie is joining the military. After Sam comes out to her parents though they choose each other. They are reckless but committed and it makes them very human and my favorite characters in this.

The Message – The message is one of equality and love and it is powerful. We see two people who are willing to risk everything for one another since who they are has been rejected by their parents. It’s powerful and shows just how rejected they were. The time period is the 90’s but in some families in the United States an LBGTQ relationship would still be seen as wrong and be rejected and not seen as love even when love is there. This message speaks to the affect that has on people. If Lonnie’s or Sam’s parents had accepted their relationship, they would not have run away as they’d feel they had a safe space to be together and themselves.

Okay/Pro: The  Gameplay – The gameplay is good but not great. There were many times I wish I could have explored more objects or learned more of what each object meant. For example, your father’s novels about the “JFK Assisination” where a Time Traveler goes back in time to stop it and later on wants to save himself was a story I wanted to read. This story is a glimpse into your Father’s life just as “Captain Allegro and the First Mate” are glimpses into who your sister Sam is. I also wish you could go outside so there would be more than just the feel of danger as you explore the house.

Okay: Katie – Katie is a cipher and we don’t get much of her personality beyond her love of adventure and her family. I wish we could have got her thoughts about Sam and Lonnie running away and if she accepted them and loved them the way her parents never could. Still we get some characterization, I just wanted more.

   I played the game in full with my partner playing a few places in it. She had played it earlier and I am extremely grateful she introduced this game to me and that I got to play and discuss it with her. It was a story we could relate to in many ways and the characters were so real. When I started to play it was hard for me to put down, which is one reason I consider it a favorite game. The gameplay was good enough that it didn’t interfere with the story and it was still a puzzle and discovery game rather than an interactive movie. I highly recommend this game and not because of the story message, it is a great game and one of the beset I’ve finished in a while.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Retrospect – The Losses That Drive Us

 Book_1_-_Volume_2

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” had a great Book 1. There was only one episode that I considered weak was “The Great Divide.” The rest of the episodes were at the very least good even if there were some things that could have been explored more. What made Book 1 “Water,” so great were the characters and their arcs and the themes that certain episodes explored as well as the overarching theme of the Book.

Zuko_begs

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The Track Team did a fantastic job with the soundtrack to the series of Book 1. From the ending theme, to the haunting sound whenever loss or death was faced or the drum beats during chase sequences…the music only ever added to the story.

The Animation – I really liked the animation for this show, it was one of the first things that drew me in as each character has a distinct style and the world is all the richer because of it. Bryan Konietzko and his team really did a great job on this series and Book 1 highlights this.

The Action – From the first fight with Zuko and Aang to the Siege of the North and all the smaller fights and duels inbetween. Every fight Zuko was in was one to see and seeing Katara become a Master Waterbender was great too as she continued to get the point of besting her enemies.

The Writing – The writing was amazing, this is a kids show and the characters were real as well as whether they were complex or static…the reasons behind what they did or believed were mostly explained. There was also so much showing rather than telling which made it so great.

The Characters – The characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” are amazing and we see that all of them are complex in different ways or at the very least compelling on their own. Whether it’s the strength of Suki, the wisdom of Iroh or the pride of Zhao we see characters who may not change but who give us so much in how they interact with Team Avatar. This even goes for the minor characters as well like Jet, Chief Amook and Master Pakku as well.

The Character Arcs – The character arcs of Book 1 are powerful and mean something. So much of it is dealing with trauma and growing from the loss. Whether it’s Aang’s abandoning his role to embracing it over the course of the Book and his learning responsibility, Sokka learning compassion, Zuko learning to depend on more than anger and Katara learning humility. These are just some of the changes that happen in our characters and their arcs.

The Themes – There are quite a few themes that Book 1 covers, genocide in the destruction of the Air Nation, colonization Earth Nation’s relationship to Fire Nation cities upon their land, equality and justice and the fight for it in relationship to Kanna and Katara in regards to the Northern Water Tribe and countless others in regards to justice and war and what it means to be good. This themes go throughout the series but are introduced really strongly here.

Gan_Jin_vs._Zhang

The Cons: Simplifying Cultures or Characters – “The Great Divide” was the worst at this which is why I used the image from it above, though the non-existent Northern Water Tribe politics and the existence of the character Hahn also fit this description. This was the only thing that really brought down this season.

ATLA 1 19

        The first season of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” ends strong and is solid all the way through. Throughout the drive from loss humanizes the characters as we see Aang deal with the loss of his people, Katara and Sokka with the loss of their mother and so much of their tribe and Zuko with the loss of his Nation. All of them are driven by these losses to try and write the wrongs as best they see fit, all the while striving towards good. They lose more in the process and all the while grow. The ending of Book 1 is one of the more tragic endings in any animated series and really captures what makes this series so great. Loss is never seen as something to be avoided when it is tackled and the important themes like genocide are at the forefront of the series and the First Book. If you like great animated shows, you won’t be disappointed by “Water.”

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with the weaker episodes.