Juni Taisen: Zodiac War – A Solid Battle Royale Anime That Tackles Meaning and Purpose

    I’m a fan of complete stories, and stories with consequences. This goes for shows, books, films, etc. If I start something, I want to finish it. That is what lead me to this series, and one of the reasons I love Battle Royale animes. Battle Royale is a style of anime where a group of characters are in a tournament, fighting to the death, and there can only be one team or one person left alive. Think “Hunger Games” in terms of scale.

“Juni Taisen: Zodiac War” is an anime based off a light novel (interactive book), by Nisio Isin, which was illustrated by Hikaru Nakamura. It takes place in the modern day where a war rages between 12 families, named after the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac fight (Ox, Dragon, Snake, Monkey, etc.). World Leaders bet on who will win, and the winner has a wish granted as their reward.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is full of magic and technology, and each family has a power or ability that is passed down through blood. This makes the wars between them fascinating and adds a darker element to it all, as each ability is used to maximize killing. The world is full of constant war and political intrigue, and this plays into the characters chosen to fight in the tournament.

Characters – Not all the characters are strong or interesting. I couldn’t stand Snake and Dragon as they were just like Beavis and Butthead. Horse needed more character development. How women are objectified ends up taking away from a few backstories, too. There are a few characters that do manage to carry this 12 episode series though.

Boar – Boar is our introduction to this world. She is the daughter of the winner of the last tournament. She wants to be the best more than anything and to be loved by her father. This leads to her driving her sister insane when her father chooses her sister over her. The reasons behind this are never fully explored, but given how sociopathic her father is, he turned sister against sister to see who he could make the most ruthless. She’s a broken character, but she loves the rage of battle. We see how her father’s views shape her, making her vulnerable, which is contrasted by the hard, collected exterior she presents to others.

Monkey – Monkey is the peacemaker, driven by the desire to bring about world peace. She is a planner and has a way of disarming people with her kindness. She is one of the most powerful members in the tournament, as she controls the elements. She only dies when Rabbit uses the others he has killed to catch her off guard. Monkey is the only good person in the tournament, as many are driven by much more selfish means.

Tiger – Tiger fights in a drunken rage. Having to fight in the wars that the families take part in breaks her spirit, and makes her a nihilist. This leads to her drinking and fighting, which leads to her forgetting herself, getting kicked out of her family and living by instinct. Her arc is about finding herself again, as when Ox rescues her one of the days she is drunk prior to the tournament, and that drives her to be better. Her story is touching. In the end she sacrifices herself to save Ox from Rabbit, and is the only member of the tournament to die happy.

Ox – Ox is the Samurai archetype. This is a man who fights for honor and in defense of others. He has no abilities, but is methodical in his killing, becoming known as the “Genius of Slaughter.” He chooses not to kill in the end, in regards to Tiger. We see him as someone who has lived his entire life killing and found no purpose beyond how he kills. It is in his final act of risking his life, so Rat can defeat Rabbit, that we see that he finally finds purpose, just as his friend Tiger did.

Rabbit – Rabbit is an insane necromantist whose soul desires to make everyone his “friends,” as in kill them and make them his minions. He is unpredictable and the main antagonist of the series, as he outmatches every single character. His winning means the end of the world. It takes multiple characters working together, starting with Monkey and ending with the actions of Ox and Tiger, that lead to Rat finally being able to defeat him. The final fights are amazing, and that is mostly due to just how impressive Rabbit is as an enemy.

Shaped by Trauma – One of the major themes of the series is how trauma shapes you. Chicken was abused as a child so they learn to use vulnerability as a tool, Tiger’s trauma shapes her into a weapon, Horse’s trauma leads to him pumping himself full of drugs to be the strongest, and Monkey’s trauma drives her to try and bring about peace. These are a few examples of what makes the characters, who drive the story, so compelling. All of them were born out of conflict and their actions are shaped by it.

Character Contrast – Each of the characters has another aspect about themselves that is contrasted with the face they wear during the tournament. Ox is a brutal unfeeling killer, yet dies for another. Tiger is reckless and violent but her final actions are driven by love, Rabbit brings people back to life because he is lonely and wants to be with people, Horse is a powerful soldier but in the end dies afraid and trapped, unable move past his fear.

The Cons:

Dragon and Snake – I hated Dragon and Snake. These two are thieves who present themselves as helping the poor, but will take any contract, even killing the very people they were helping. We never find out why though. They have no clear motivation in their actions, and it just makes them bland. These characters just act bored or crazy, and it does nothing to develop them. These two received two episodes to explore their backstory, which really should have gone to Ox or Rabbit. The writer didn’t care about these characters, and in the end, we don’t either.

How the Show Presents Women – Women in this are presented as victims only. Monkey is a victim of failed treaties she made, Chicken from abusive parents, Tiger from War, and Boar by her father. On top of this most of them are presented as sexual objects. Where the men get outfits that would function in combat or cover most of their body. With the exception of Boar and Monkey, everyone else is in underwear or less. This was so stupid, especially in regards to Tiger, who is a soldier, and Chicken, who is a spy. This is a common trope in anime and one I really hope is changed. Every character deserves full development and respectful presentation. Objectification does nothing but cheapen the character.

The Ending – Rat wins because of his ability to see up to 100 different possibilities and choose the best path to take. So what does he do? What did he learn from all these characters, their motivations, and wishes? Nothing, seriously… the ending is awful. Rat chooses to forget he ever took part in the tournament, which is problematic given it makes all the deaths meaningless, and it doesn’t keep him from being put back into another tournament. He doesn’t help anyone and he doesn’t solve the problem of the tournament’s existence. I hated the ending, and it is one reason I can’t really call this series good.

If you are fan of Battle Royale animes you should check this one out. It is entertaining and there are some great character moments, the animation and action are fantastic too. What brings it down is the common anime trope of the objectification of women, and certain character arcs having no payoff; as well as, an ending that isn’t worth your time. Seriously if you want the best of this anime, watch everything but the last episode, and skip the Dragon and Snake episodes. Besides that, this was entertaining but extremely flawed.

Final Score: 7 / 10

 

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The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 10 – “The Eaters of Light” – Connection in Conflict

     “The Eaters of Light” was an episode that the trailer made look terrible. Giant monster hunting soldiers…it didn’t look like it was going to be deep in any way and the monster looked uncreative as hell. Suffice to say I was gladly disappointed. This episode deals with similar themes as “Empress of Mars” and Capaldi’s Doctor excels as the peace Doctor. Without getting into spoilers, this is an episode worth checking out, as it gives justice to it’s characters, story and theme.

The episode was directed by Charles Palmer and written by Rona Munro.

The story involves Bill, Nardole and the Doctor investigating the disappearance of the Roman Ninth Legion in Scotland. They are separated and discover a creature is hunting the people in the region.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Factions – The native faction and the Romans are given a lot of humanity in this. You get why each is in the situation they are in, whether it was the tribe leader summoning the best to protect her people from the Romans or the Roman soldiers who had to follow orders or die. It is a bad situation and shows the tragedy in conquest as the people we meet are the few surivors from the war.

The Characters – I enjoyed the characters in this…we have some wonderful moments with Nardole becoming part of the trible, Bill helping the Roman soldiers find courage again and the Doctor as the peacemaker getting the two factions to stop fighting so the creature won’t kill them all and the world.

Coming Together in Conflict – There is hate and rage that has to be worked through by our characters as fear is what released the creature and since there are so few left of the tribe and Romans that they can only build it by coming together. It is very well done as they choose to fight the beast rather than let the Doctor do it in their place. It is a powerful scene and showed that even though the past wasn’t erased, to save the future the soldiers could come together. They even stop the Doctor from doing his heroic sacrifice as they realize that this was their battle to face.

Okay: The Magic Elements – There is music around the stones where the battle happened. I thought this was alright but also wasn’t needed. I wouldn’t call it a con though.

The Creature – The creature is kind of boring. It fears light and kills quickly and has a reptile mixed with an insect look. Apparently it is a space locust as they feed and eat across universes as they jump through dimensions. I would have liked to know more as what we’ve got is okay, but not great.

This is an episode worth checking out. I thought it would be a boring survival story with a misunderstood monster, but I’m glad that wasn’t the case. The minor and main characters get fleshed out and the Doctor doesn’t get to save the day. Capaldi’s Doctor is one who excels as the Peacemaker as some of the greatest episodes during his run have been like this one where he helps factions come together. I’m going to miss him after he regenerates.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10. Only reason it isn’t higher is the monster wasn’t all that interesting and the magic elements brought it down.

 

“House of Cards” Season 4 – Chaotic at Times but Recaptures What Makes the Underwoods Great

House of Cards Season 4

    “House of Cards” Season 4 recaptures a lot of what made Seasons 1 and 2 so great, while recovering from the mistakes of Season 3 and refocusing the Underwoods, while still taking the bad writing of Season 3 into account and not retconning anything that happened or the characters and how they change. Seriously, this was a really enjoyable season. This was a season of consequences and if it is the last we will get of this show I like where it finally ends up.

    Beau Willimon created an amazing show and it is amazing to see everything get back on track again and use the problems of Season 3 to some purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Jeff Beal’s soundtrack continues to create great tension in this series and is easily one of the consistently great parts of this series. This was the series that got me into this composer in the first place and he continues to play on the dark and tension that so define this series.

The Cinematography – Tim Ives, Igor Martinovic and Eigil Bryld did a fantastic job with the cinematography once again. The visuals are great at capturing the isolation and paranoia of the different characters as well as the internal and external wars they all face.

The Politics – This is the heart of this show and there are some great political circumstances in this. From Russia holding back it’s oil and the U.S. sending a political refugee from Russia to China forcing Russia to deal with both of them, the election and primaries of 2016 and the war with ICO (The ISIS of this show).

The Characters – The characters are fantastic, and a lot of them complete their arcs in this season, which for me left them needing another season up in the air.

Catherine Durant – Jayne Atkinson is wonderful in this role as we see her character use her political savvy to keep herself from being stabbed in the back by Frank (after she learns that their support for her is a ploy for Claire to be nominated VP) but in the end Frank brings her in line as she got where she is through the illegal back door dealings that so define the way the Underwoods deal.

Leann Harvey – Leann is Claire’s second who helps her deal with Frank and eventually becomes both their campaign manager. She is an awesome character and shuts down Doug Stamper and his need ton control and blackmail. She’s one of my favorite minor characters and Neve Campbell is fantastic.

Seth Grayson – Seth is wonderful in this as we see him work with the Dunbar campaign as an out before he becomes fully loyal to the Underwoods again. He is a complex betrayer who in the end is fully in the boat with the Underwoods, he has a vulnerability and ruthlessness that makes him compelling.

Remy Danton and Jackie Sharp – Remy and Jackie are back and after Hammerschmidt compels him to come forward he and Jackie come forward with their relationship in order to bring down the Underwoods, as their character finally gets his redemption and out of control of the fear they have over others.

Victor Petrov – Petrov is back and Claire puts him in his place as we see that a lot of the control he claimed to have is much thinner as his people are suffering from his dying economy. He eventually realizes this and helps Claire rise to power as he respects her and Frank for their strength and power they come from. Lars Mikkelsen is fantastic once again.

Will Conway – Conway is the Republican nominee running against Frank and he is amazing. His “life” is all recorded and he has a beautiful wife and ttree kids and owns a google analogue that puts him high up on the search engine. He’s also a narcissistic and sociopath and is shown to be no better than Frank in how he treats others. Frank is actually shown to be the better person in the end as Frank and Claire are true partners, where Conway dominates and rules everyone he can’t fool with his charisma.

Tom Hammerschmidt – Tom is the reporter who pushes the house of cards to bring the Underwoods down. He’s a true believer and it’s in investigating all the deaths that he discovers how deep the Underwoods sins go. Boris McGiver is wonderful in this role and plays the genuine and awkward reporter really well who won’t cave to anyone. Sadly (but for the betterment of the story) the teeth behind his story get removed when the Underwoods declare war on ICO and use the fear of ICO to make people forget the truth that was put before their eyes.

Doug Stamper – Doug is seeking redemption on this as Seth and Leann are there for him to call him out on his controlling and fascist nature. This leads to him donating to the fund of a man whose never received a liver as he was knocked off the list so that Doug could save Frank. Michael Kelly continues to give threat and intimacy to this very dark role and I like that his character is seeking more as he is the most broken character in this series.

Claire Underwood – This season is all about how Claire deserves to rule. We see her negotiate a treaty with Russia and China and continue the Underwood power when Frank is in the coma. The Claire of Season 1 and 2 is in full force and Frank and his stupidity in 3 is finally done as they work together and even run together and President and VP against the Republicans. Robin Wright truly owns this role and she is part of what makes this show so fantastic.

Frank Underwood – Kevin Spacey is playing Frank as Frank is written out of the rut the writers put him in last season where he was only ruled by ego for self and not alliances and savvy and truly doing what it takes to dominate. In this season he starts doing that again and acting in coordination with Claire as they did in the beginning. Can’t wait to see what they do in Season 5 as he sets up ruling through fear as he brings full on war against ICO to distract from Tom’s article on the level of darkness he’s committed to get to where he is now as President of the United States.

Frank’s Coma Visions – The coma visions are haunting as we see Frank haunted by the people he’s killed and being hunted down. There is an element of violence and sex to all of it which captures the character and the show really well.

Means to an End – Claire and Frank are all about means to an end, both in their partnership and in how they rule. We got to see this again as they got over acting chaotic selfish stupid rather quickly, which in the end made this season great.

The Cons: Underwood v. Underwood – This was stupid, both of them were way to smart to not work together and help each other rise in power. Season 3 Frank is still around for the first few episodes though and they address this with him going into a coma after an assassination attempt from one of the journalists he wronged and from that he and Claire going for the President and VP together and back to the old partnership they had before.

Obvious Manipulations – Frank has some obvious manipulations that blow up into his face and this was the only writing issue that came up. His manipulation of his Secretary of State was a bit too obvious.

Getting Back on Track – The cons of Frank realizing that Claire is his partner and her leaving really wasn’t needed. They were both supposed to be smarter than that and seeing them acting stupid for drama to make this happen (the reason for having to get back on track in thef first place) was a con for this season. It shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

   It was really dealing with the filler and problems in Season 3 that slowed down the Season early on as the first 4 episodes were dealing with the consequences of having written Frank Underwood as stupid and not even having social savvy to deal with the partnership with his own wife, which had been a partnership in Season 1 and 2. All my cons nearly all directly relate to correcting those issues that were in Season 3 that had to be fixed in order to get on track. I highly recommend this season and if this ends up being the end, it will be great way to end it all…though I would like to see the Underwood Triumphant, which we are on the way to with them playing their nuclear option at the end, making sure that no matter how the chaos and fear unravel, they will come out on top. This season could have been the end, but I’m glad that the show was renewed for a Season 5. The Underwoods can still win it all.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

The 3rd Doctor – Season 7, Episode 2 – “Doctor Who and the Silurians” – The Vices of Conflict

Doctor_Who_and_the_Silurians_DVD_US_cover

         “Doctor Who and the Silurians” is a great episode of “Classic Doctor Who” and one I’d recommend. It is good at exploring the different factions that are at play and each of the characters gets exploration in their slow descent to become the worst of themselves. This is something the current version of “Doctor Who” has never been able to do as well, partially because it doesn’t have the 7 Part format of this era that the new era lacks.

     The episode was directed by Timothy Combe, written by Malcolm Hulke and produced by Barry Letts.

     The story involves the awakening of the Silurians from their hibernation from the energy that is being used by the Wenly Moor Nuclear Research Facility. It is up to the Doctor and Liz to discover what is going on as they work with UNIT and the Brig and soon find themselves pulled into a conflict where Silurians and Humans work to destroy one another as the Doctor strives for peace and the survival of both species.

The Pros: Building Tension – This is a 7 Part story and it does a great job at building tension. We don’t see the Silurian for sometime but we do see the world through it’s eyes and the fear it feels and fear it makes other feel as it is running away wounded, this perspective lends the story power and shows the fear and confusion on both sides of the conflict while also presenting some good B Grade Horror tricks.

The Research Facility – The Wenley Moor Nuclear Research Facility is a place of drama, mysterious things keep pulling the power and making the reactor unstable which leads to the government and leader of the facility always at odds. Eventually his paranoia gets the better of him and we see just how much fear has destroyed everyone. The facility is also used to trick the Silurians who are attempting to destroy the humans after a Warmonger Silurian takes over after killing the Peaceful leader. The Doctor uses the facility to force them into hibernation and ends up preventing it from exploding.

UNIT – UNIT is on top of things this episode, for better and for worse. We see them dealing with the Silurian threat, stopping the Silurian bacteria that is infecting the population with the help of Liz and the Doctor and later they mount a counterattack and commit genocide on the Silurian population, fearing another attack after having being held hostage at the research facility.

The Brig – The Brigadier is a great character! We see him dealing with government politics and ethics as the Doctor does things like talk to the Silurians that put him in a compromised position. He trusts the Doctor up until he sees how humanity is turning on itself from Silurian threat so the Silurians must be destroyed…also after nearly being killed by the Warmonger Silurian he had had enough and decided to wipe out the population. He isn’t a good guy as we know all Silurians were not bad but all he had was his experience to go off and that was witnessing two attempts by the Silurians to wipe out the Species of humanity. Nicholas Courtney is great as always.

The Silurians – The Silurians are complicated and we see a rich culture in the times we meet them. We also see that there are those with superiority comlexes ruled by fear who want the Earth back and not to coexist. This political dilemma leads to a coup and the disposal of the peaceful Leader, which spells the end of the Silurians as the attack by Morka and K’to leads to a UNIT counterattack which leads to the wiping out of their species and any chance for peace. We know they aren’t all bad as shown by their leader it was simply the few awake were ruled by fear because every interaction with humans had been hostile…showing the tragedy of the Silurian experience after their awakening.

Liz – Liz is a great companion and Caroline John is fantastic as her! She is an active companion who doesn’t take crap from the Doctor. We see her in scientist mode and she discovers that the Silurians are reptiles and large and from their helps the Doctor discover their possible origin. She is the only one not to die of fright when she sees a Silurian and we see her on the side of peace the entire time and against the actions of fear by UNIT and the government.

The Doctor – Jon Pertwee is wonderful as the 3rd Incarnation of the Doctor! In this we see him fixing his car Bessie and later using it to get around in investigating the attacks in the mine and around the countryside. He is the only one who truly understands the Silurian experience and wants peace and coexistence. He is willing to go to any lengths to do so, showing just how alien he is…where humans react with fear he reacts with understanding and asking questions and it is at the end where the sadness of humanity wiping out an entire species is only felt by him and the failures of all his attempts to reach a peaceful solution as his last regard of reasoning with the Silurians one at at time after awakening them from hibernation was ignored as UNIT destroyed the Silurians instead. Pertwee is the gruff and gentlemenly Doctor who defines himself in how he is not like humanity, even if at times he helps them.

The Vices of War and Destruction – The reason humans die from the Silurian bacteria and the Silurian species is destroyed is because of the vices of fear, anger and greed. It is greed that makes the members of the facility want nothing to do with the Silurians or the conflict only running the machine, it is fear that leads to the peaceful Silurian leader being killed in a coup and anger and fear that lead to the bombs being placed that destroy the Silurians. In this way peace was a lost cause the moment the cycle started with the Silurian injuring the miners and being injured in turn (unknown who started it though, both were in self defense most likely)..and this fed the conflict that could only have one resolution since no one wanted to listen or understand except the Doctor and Liz. The desire for control of land by the humans and Silurians is another major problem that fed the conflict. There was no sharing involved, it was all or nothing for the war parties.

The Ending – The ending is sad and powerful. It is true to reality as well as many cultures are no longer around today because of conflict and war that was started from the need for land and the people who do work for peace in conflict today are usually on the losing side since war breeds war and hate breeds hate, resolution only happens after enough people have died to get one faction to surrender. This ending illustrated that the Doctor isn’t a superhero either. He won’t always save the day because the choices of humans and Silurians are not his to make.

Okay: The Human and Silurian Antagonists – The antagonists are alright, I would have liked more on why they felt so strongly on things though. The men at the research station wanted money and knowledge and losing that drove them mad and the Silurians wanted their old home back (a good drive) but they also never experienced harm from humans first hand. If K’to or Morka had I would have put them as a pro since their fear would have greater reason behind it and not simply look cruel or for political ends.

    This was an episode that showed that there isn’t always a happy ending and the Doctor can’t always save everyone…sometimes people will act whether he wants them to or not and they may or may not be right depending on the situation. This is something the New Series of “Doctor Who” lacks. It is still a favorite show but I think the longer format of the episodes of the past allowed for great exploration of the different factions and worlds and provided great rising tension rather than having everything at a break neck pace. Sometimes a story wants you to get to know the characters first before they are put in mortal danger. This is a huge reason this episode works and why it would not have worked if it had only had an hour to tell the story. This is also a story that is true to reality and just how difficult it is to make peace as well as showing us the Doctor is not a Superhero and he cannot always save the day since it is the choices of everyone that affect a conflict and it’s resolution, not just one person.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episode 11 – “Pursuit of Peace” – Populism to Bring Change

EpGuide311 Pursuit of Peace

     “Pursuit of Peace” is somewhat connected to the peace arc but is far more focused on internal affairs, which is why I am giving it it’s own review. It is in this we see inside the Republic and how terror is being used to force votes in favor of keeping the war going, to the point that those who are against spending more money on the war are fighting themselves beaten by thugs. It’s a powerful episode and the ending scenes are some of the best this series has offered thus far.

     The story involves Amadala and the Peace Faction (Mothma, Organa and Farr) working to bring about an end to protesting the War Bill and turning the public against it after Mina is killed by “Republic” forces though it is mixed as far as information goes since rumor has it Dooku was involved. From here they chose to stand for her legacy as the final vote approaches in regards to the Bill. Padme and her faction must face threats of violence and the public that has turned against them to stop the Bill from passing.

The Pros: Robonino and Chata – These two guys are a great and they nearly stop Padme, they critically injure Organa and keep him from making his speech forcing Padme’s hand and they injure Farr. These two cause such an uproar that many of the Senators are living in fear for their live and don’t want to vote against the Bill.

The Peace Faction – Padme, Organa and Farr are the most vocal and Farr fights on even with his injury while Padme’s idealism really comes through while Organa is good at hiding his idealism as he is so popular he is a celebrity of the Senate. Seeing their dynamic is wonderful as each has distinct personalities.

Padme – Padme fights for her life on multiple occasions and in the end stands up when her servant tells her story as Padme speaks for the people who the Bill will affect negatively. War makes all the people suffer and the people need to be remembered if the war is ever to be won since they are the reason people fight. It’s a powerful speech and this one really shows how strong Padme’s empathy is, as well as her populist power.

Palpatine and Mas Amedda – These two are working together and Amedda knows where things are going with Empire as the final goal. Together they consider how one voice can change the public and Palpatine decides to wait before taking things to extremes as he knows the nature of the senate.

The Cons: The Banking Clan – These guys are only ruled by greed and I would have liked to see a more logical justification on why they planned to hike interest rates. These guys weren’t handled well, it felt like money for the sake of money with no rational explanation of how loans actually work.

  This episode really showed the power of populism and how one person can direct fear in a different direction, or to remind people why they fight and from there use it to support the Thesis. Padme is a master of words and it is great seeing her idealism contrasted with the ambition and manipulations of Palpatine.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 1 “Water,” Episode 11 – “The Great Divide” – Trickster Aang

Gan_Jin_vs._Zhang

        This is the weakest episode so far this season. It feels way to much like a message episode and the two Earth Kingdom tribes only exist as stereotypes of their given regions. Given these issues going against it, and the fact that Katara and Sokka are used as a metaphor for the warring tribes (which is cliche) it still manages to be an enjoyable episode.

    “The Great Divide” was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by John O’Bryan.

     The story begins with Sokka and Katara fighting over their responsibilities in the camp during their time at the largest Canyon in the World called “The Great Divide.” It is here they run into two tribes who hate each other because they are different and because each believes the other wronged their ancestor. All are soon forced to work together though when they find themselves trapped in the Canyon after the guide is injured who is helping them all to reach Ba Sing Se, the capitol of the Earth Kingdom.

The Pros: Aang – This episode shows Aang’s devotion to ending conflict…be it between Katara and Sokka or the Zhang and Gan Jin. He goes so far as to make up a fake story so that they can get over the past since he can rightfully claim to be over one hundred which is when the event was said to have taken place. It is seeing him trying to do this with his Team and the tribes that really show why he was such a memorable Avatar.

Canyon Crawlers – These creatures look like a mixture of bugs and a crocodile which gives them a very cool look. They are great monsters to deal with this episode.

The Tribes Designs – The Zhang look like step nomads whereas the Gan Jin look like Han nobles. The Zhang are also Matriarchal whereas the Gan Jin are Patriarchal. Sadly they don’t get beyond stereotypes and they made the Zhang messy and the Gan Jin clean and proper. Their designs are great though.

The Cons: The Siblings Conflict/The Tribal Conflict – These stories both could have been handled better. The fight Katara and Sokka were having was just small ways that they bothered each other…the Zhang and Gan Jin had arrested and presumably killed others of the opposing tribe. This issue is never dealt with since they are refugees and the Canyon Crawlers are the threat that forces them to cooperate. Peace comes to easy in their conflict and tying it to Katara and Sokka just cheapened the history that is implied to exist.

   This was an okay episode, but it is skippable. It doesn’t lend anything to the story beyond showing that Aang is willing to lie to reach peace as he says he knew the people long ago and that the event they are all fighting over was a misunderstanding and it was just a game so both were in the wrong to a degree but neither was truly wrong. I liked seeing Aang think on his feet and it was interesting seeing a lie that wasn’t presented as a negative as even Katara praises Aang at the end.

Final Score: 6 / 10.  A little above average in quality.

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (1997): Freedom Isn’t Free

Gundam Wing Endless Waltz poster

    “Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz” solved some of the issues I had with the series. That is awesome considering they could have just repeated the same story again and not had any of our characters grow, in the beginning of the film it looks like they might be going that way, but they soon change things and tie the past to the present and most of the characters transform in some way. Suffice to say, it became a favorite anime film after watching.

     The film was directed by Yasunao Aoki and written by Katsuyuki Sumisawa.

      The story begins where we left off, with victory declared and all weapons being destroyed. Things soon change though as the narrator brings up that true peace hasn’t come yet and that people are needed to stop incidents before they arise. From here we see flashbacks of what Project Meteor was first about (dropping a Colony of the Earth and bringing the Gundams to occupy the Earth) and how each Pilot stood up to it in different ways, showing their nobility from the beginning. In modern time a new colony founded by the original founder of Project Meteor named Dekim Barton declares war on Earth via Treize’s daughter Mariemaia who is supporting their cause and wishes to rule by any means necessary. From here it is up to the Gundam Pilots and their allies to stop them.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is really beautiful. The Gundams are upgraded in how they look and look both beautiful and more threatening than before. It is part of what makes this work, especially since Wufei as an antagonist to the Gundam Pilots feels like a threat, partially due to how they designed Shenlong Gundam.

Dorothy – Dorothy has a small role and is there to remind the people that if they want to be free that they should fight for it, she has grown where she is no longer someone who lives for battle, but now believes there is a time and place for it…especially when it involves facing tyranny like Mariemaia’s government.

Relena – Relena grows in this and is the one who changes things again. In this she helps Mariemaia see that tyranny is empty and that only when one experiences fear can one truly learn to appreciate life. After Heeros cares Mariemaia with Gundam Wing it is Relena who brings her out of it towards the light of peace and stopping the war and occupation of Earth. She still remains one of the leaders of the world after which is great, we also see that she doesn’t take the Peacecraft name anymore but the name of her adopted father who she realizes saw the bigger picture and path to peace.

The Preventors – They are run by Sally and I’m glad they exist as we see them being the equivalent of World Police. It is their goal to stop war and terrorism before it happens. They are almost in the OZ role but have awareness towards others too and seem to only be for extreme situations.

Sally – Sally is the leader who is the one every character goes to when changed…Zechs does when he becomes a Preventor and takes one the name Wind in order to stop Mariemaia. Wufei also finally joins and treats her with respect. She is one of the most badass minor characters in this series.

Noin – She is mostly their to remind Zechs she is there and loves him and has his back but we also see her fighting with the Gundam Pilots against Mariemaia’s forces and is one of them in all but name and lack of major Gundam.

Lady Une – Une is another leader of the Preventors and is the one primarily located on Earth versus Sally who is space. She is the one who helps Mariemaia come around too as she told her that Treize cared about those who fought and why they fought, it’s why he always fought losing battles because he saw a bigger point than dominance. This wins Mariemaia over to the Father she hated, never knew and never recognized her.

Mariemaia – She is the evil child at first but we really get her motivation at the end. She never knew her Father and has been brainwashed by the Bartons to be a tyrant. It takes all our heroes but she does eventually come around and realize she isn’t invulnerable and that was she was doing was wrong. She loses the ability to walk in the process to when a standoff at the end, ends up with her shot.

The Gundam Pilots – This is the good-bye to the Gundam Pilots and we see how they’ve grown as people since the war as well as what they are fighting for in peacetime and who they are when they no longer have to fight.

Quatre – Quatre is the one who frees the Gundams for the final fight against Mariemaia’s forces and is the unspoken leader of them when they are all together. He is confident in his abilities too and we see him stepping into the thick of every fray with joy and awareness. The sadness has gone away as he fights to prevent his mistakes.

Duo – Duo is once again the jokester and a bit of the glue but we see that he’s learned not to do overkill or kill. He fights as the God of Death but not to kill men but to kill war. It’s a great evolution of his character. He is the social one and we see that he was fighting to be with Hilde again and to have a life.

Trowa – Trowa is the taken name of the real Trowa who was Dekim Barton’s son who wanted to drop the Colony on Earth and occupy with the Gundams. He was the was no-name soldier and takes the name because he realizes he can make a difference in it as he understands why soldiers fight and wants to fight to end that endless slog of suffering. We also see how much his life at the Carnival means when he helps rescue them by infiltrating Mariemaia’s faction as a loyalist.

Wufei – Wufei’s Colony supported Operation Meteor which leads to Wufei going Paladin and stealing it so that only the guilty will be killed by him. In this one he is still fighting Treize as he sees Earth as passive and stops fighting the moment they fight for their freedom. He realizes that this is what he wants after he fights Heero who is peace and Wufei realizes he is becoming like Treize.

Heero – Heero is the wise nomad in this and we see him help Wufei grow as a character as well as Mariemaia as he attacks the facility with all his energy in Gundam Wing which destroys Gundam Wing in the process. It is that destruction that wakes up Mariemaia to her mortality and actually makes her care about herself and others beyond domination. He is the nameless soldier still too as at the end we see him as a face in the crowd.

Zechs – Zechs like to take different names, though in the end he’s always Zechs. In this he becomes a Preventor and defeats Dekim’s ship. He also fights with the Pilots against Dekim’s forces and we see how he has changed. His past as Miliardo the tyrant willing to kill for peace is dead and he is the man dead to himself. He is the zen soldier in a way and it is great to see how he’s grown. In the end he leaves with Noin to work on terraforming projects for Relena.

The People of Earth – The people of Earth rebel after Dorothy talks to one group where the Presidential headquarters are and after Relena’s call to action. It is great as it is gradual and we see how the symbol of the Gundams became more.

The Cameos – We see Hilde, Quatre’s men and visual callbacks to characters (the scientists also appear in the flashback). It’s a nice way to connect to the past and show this is a direct sequel to the tv series.

The Message – Pure pacifism doesn’t work and sometimes you have to fight to stop tyrants from taking away freedom. Freedom is something that can’t be given by a ruler but has to be recognized and lived by the people.

Okay: Mariemaia’s Colony X-18999 – We never get the motivation of why they are following Mariemaia fully. I get there are soldiers still holding onto battle (which was Zechs’s problem in the series) but there doesn’t seem to be an identity to them beyond Wufei…so maybe they’re Colonists and not Treize faction members from Earth? They were confusing.

The Cons: Dekim Barton – The guy was a meglomaniac and I didn’t understand why anyone would follow him. He was too crazy all the time, even in flashbacks when he fights with the scientists.

This was a great anime film! If you like Gundam and have watched “Gundam Wing,” you should see it. It was originally an OVA in 1997 and film in 1998, so I chose the 1997 for the original time it was made. It is a powerful film that really shows the writers knew what they were doing in the shows. Fighting doesn’t end when wars end and you can’t give people peace…peace is something realized within and is something that you fight for, it is in that fight for anything that something is truly valued through one’s action. This was the action lived by the characters in this film and one reason why it is now a favorite film.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. Better than the finale of the show.