crap i have watched recently #23

attack on titanNot sure why my entertainment choices have taken such a dark turn lately…but oh well. SPOILERS ahead, chickadees, SPOILERS!

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Death Note I & II (live action; 2006):  This pair of live action films is based on the manga and anime (mangime?) series of the same title.  I never got very far  into either of these (they got sort of boring) and I’m not exactly sure why I decided to give the live films a go but I’m glad I did.  They turned out to be smartly done and occasionally moving, although I suspect that they do not actually track the sources very closely.  Light Yagami is a college student, the son of a respected police captain, and a bored genius with a healthy sense of self esteem and entitlement.  One night he finds a notebook and when he opens it he finds a series of complicated instructions on how to use the book to kill people.  The book belongs to a shinigami (“death god”) named Ryuk who dropped it to earth.  Once Light has it he is not shy about using it.  First he kills criminals who have escaped justice, then he broadens it to include those waiting on death row, then he starts to kill those who are merely suspected.

Because most of these people die from heart attacks the police are a little slow to catch on.  Once they do they establish a task force to catch the killer that the media begin to call Kira.  Light’s father leads this task force and he brings in a brilliant crime-solving prodigy named L, a young man about Light’s age.  L is a jumble of quirks: a never-changing outfit of baggy shirt and pants, an addiction to sweets, and a habit of holding everything by its corners with two fingers.  He is shaggy, rarely wears shoes, eats constantly, wears way too much kohl under his eyes, sits on his feet in chairs, and chews  his thumb when he’s concentrating.  It takes him about five minutes to figure out that Kira is in Japan and is probably a student.  After another five minutes Light is on the suspect list.

To draw suspicion away, Light changes up how he uses the Death Note.  He constructs elaborate scenarios in which his victims die at odd times in accidents or by their own hands.  Eventually Light begins to kill off those who suspect him, including FBI agents and policemen.  He can’t kill L though because he needs to know L’s real name and what his face looks like to use the Death Note.  When Light kills off his sweet girlfriend Shiori in a complicated murder/suicide plot in order to get onto L’s task force we understand that his transformation into an amoral jackass of the highest order is complete.

About this time, another Death Note comes into play.  A man about to rape and kill Misa Amane, a young pop singer, dies of a heart attack at her feet and a Death Note drops beside him.   Misa is also not shy about using it, calling herself Kira II.  Eventually she joins Light and the two plot how to discover L’s true identity so they can kill him.   From there the plot is a baroque game of cat and mouse.  More people die.  There are disturbing scenes of psychological and physical torture, with a scantily clad Misa chained to a chair in constant view of police detectives for weeks.  Despite evidence to the contrary L continues to believe that Light is Kira, even when Light is locked up and starving and a third Kira has appeared on the scene.  Eventually Ryuk and Rem (the shinigami attached to Misa’s Death Note) decide the game is no longer amusing and take matters into their own hands.

Although it’s a more than a bit of a mess and painfully obvious in its symbolism I liked this version much better than either the manga or the anime.  Perhaps this was because compacting the events into a couple of films heightened the tension and sharpened the many moral paradoxes.  Light (who is actually dark) is unlikable from the first frame of the film and it’s no surprise when he kills without compunction those he considers lesser than himself (which is everyone).  Yet he is assured of the moral righteousness of his actions and eventually takes to calling himself the “god of the new world.”  L, who despite his dark eyes and shaggy black hair is very much the point of light in this drama, comes across as a damaged child hiding behind his native talent and his odd behavior.   He is extremely likeable, in the way that a puppy is.  That grown policemen follow his instructions to the letter would be funny if it didn’t get so many of them killed.  Misa is just annoying, a squealing pop star infatuated with Light and willing to kill for him.  She blackmails him into dating her, convinces herself they are boyfriend and girlfriend, and scythes her way through a hell of a lot of innocent bystanders.  Yet, once she loses her Death Note and forgets all about it she’s just a love-struck little girl who lost her parents in a horrible crime and it’s possible to feel sorry for her.  The two shinigami are surprisingly well done for CGI demons, enough so that Ryuk’s consternation when he realizes he’s released a monster is palpable.  Only people who touch the Death Note can see the shinigami and there is a funny little scene where the task force members touch the note one after another and greet the smiling 7 foot tall demon in their headquarters.  The backstory to Rem’s Death Note is quite sad and provides a touching context for her loyalty to Misa and her sacrifice on Misa’s behalf.

Throughout the films there is a conflict between different concepts of “justice”.  Light is horrible but a substantial number of people, including police officers, journalists, and politicians approve of what he does, even when he kills the innocent.  Light believes that he is creating a new, crime-free, better society.  The police department is never portrayed as anything but honorable and dedicated but they are often shown with their hands tied, forced to release criminals or to watch the courts release them.   Misa’s love for Light is at least partly based on his murder of the criminal who killed her entire family and then went free.  Although good, L seems unanchored by the usual moral concerns.  He is, in some respects, as willing to sacrifice lives to stop Light as Light is willing to kill for his vision of a perfect world.  The two actual gods in this situation find events almost entirely out of their hands.  That L eventually puts his own life on the line and Light never once doubts the purity of his own intentions doesn’t really mitigate the fact that a whole lot of innocent people die on their battlefield.  Which I suppose is usually the way with gods.

Score:  Meh.

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Attack on Titan (2013):  Attack on Titan is usually included  near the top of any list of 2013’s best anime.   I was finally able to watch it (thanks Netflix!) and I’m sorry, but I don’t get the attraction.   In the future (or alternate history?) the few surviving humans have withdrawn behind 100-foot tall walls to avoid the attacks of the giant Titans.  How to describe the Titans?  Big, naked, pudgy, sexless teenagers who subsist entirely on a diet of humans?  Does that cover it?  They appeared out of nowhere and nearly destroyed humanity but for the past 100 years or so, people have dwelt in relative safety behind the three concentric walls:  Wall Maria, Wall Rosa, and Wall Sina.  Our young hero Eren Yeager (get it?)  dreams of joining the Recon Corps, the only branch of the military that ever goes outside the walls.   Their mission is to research the Titans in the hope of discovering a way to destroy them.   Troops use 3-D maneuvering equipment (essentially retractable wires, grapples, and two big-ass swords) that allows them to fight the monsters whose only known weakness is the nape of their neck.

One day an abnormally large Titan appears and destroys the outer wall in Eren’s district and Titans pour into his village.  In the ensuing carnage Eren watches his mother eaten alive by a grinning Titan.   He, his adopted sister Mikasa, and their friend Armin are evacuated with the rest of the survivors to the middle district and the outer ring is abandoned to the Titans.  The three join the military, eventually are accepted into the Recon Corps, and are posted to an outlying village within Wall Rosa.  Five years after the first attack, the giant Titan again shows up and smashes open a way into the town.  During the ensuing battle Armin is almost eaten by a Titan but Eren rescues  him, only to be eaten himself (wait, what?).   Mikasa is also about to be killed by a Titan when another Titan shows up and kills it.  This is unusual behavior for a Titan and the new Titan goes on a rampage, killing all the others before it collapses.  To everyone’s surprise a disoriented Eren emerges from its body.

Eren turns out to have the ability to turn  himself into a Titan when he is hurt or enraged.  This is very alarming to the military and they are about to kill him, Mikasa, and Armin as traitors.  After Eren transforms again to protect them, Armin manages to convince the military that Eren is not a traitor but is instead an asset they can use to defeat the other Titans.   After using Titan Eren to block the hole in the wall, Eren is allowed to join an elite unit within the Recon Corps under the morose Captain Levi, who intends to use him to retake Wall Maria.  On a special operation, a female Titan appears and devastates most of Levi’s force.  She appears intelligent and focused and Armin believes she is a shifter like Eren.  It is also immediately clear that she is after Eren.  After a failed attempt to capture her, what remains of the squad limps back inside Wall Rosa and Armin becomes convinced that the female Titan is someone they know.

I can see why the show appeals to many.  The animation is decent.  The soundtrack is excellent.  The cosplay opportunities are legion.  The internet is full of people shipping various characters, quite a few of whom are already dead.  The theme of a short, cruel life is constant.   There is a great deal of bravery, sacrifice, comradery, and many complicated fight scenes.  Humanity is about evenly split between those who have given up hope and those who will fight to their last breath.  The government is venal, religion is inane, the military is corrupt, refugees are expendable.  Eren and the Recon Corp have to fight not only monsters but bureaucracy and fear.  There is a traitor in their midst.  There is a lot of yelling, a lot of crying, a lot of vowing to kill all Titans.  There is fierce loyalty and unspoken love.  Everyone has suffered horrific losses.  Everyone is scarred.  The Titans themselves are deeply creepy, with blank eyes and the inane grins of the mentally feeble.  They are pure id and an insatiable and mindless enemy.  No one knows where they came from or why they attack.  Unfortunately, none of this ever congealed into anything I could care about.  At its center the show has no real heart.  It is noisy and bloody and sad but it is also essentially empty.  When the identity of the female Titan is revealed there is no emotional resonance at all and we are given no clue as to how or why she became a Titan or why the Titans are so interested in Eren.

In the end AoT is painfully, painfully repetitive.  Titans show up, brave kids go out to fight them,  and nearly everyone dies.  The show is unrelenting in its brutality.  In almost every episode young men and women shiver with well-placed fear, watch their squad mates graphically smashed and eaten, get a pep talk, go out to fight, and get graphically smashed and eaten themselves.  In one scene a mutilated and dying Eren floats in the stomach of a Titan and watches as other still-living victims succumb.  There is no point to learning the names of any of the characters; they don’t live long enough to make much of an impression.  There are so many of them and they come and go so quickly that you just get numb to it.   There are also some weird detours into darker territory.  One of the Recon special ops members is a woman who tortures and experiments on captured Titans and who gets rather excited about the prospect of bringing on the pain.  Her sadism is, by the way, played for laughs.  Both Titan Eren (who has chiseled abs and a nice Titanic ass) and the busty and muscular female Titan are sexualized and some of their fight scenes mime rape (female runs in terror, Eren chases her, brutally beats her, pins her to the ground, mounts her…the scene ends when she eats his head.  Please.)

I really wanted to like this anime.  I kept thinking there would be more to it, something deeper, and that is basically the only reason I slogged through all 25 episodes.  It was, more or less, like watching the same episode 25 times.  If this is your thing, more power to you.  I personally am retiring to the safely cute and cutely safe Princess Jellyfish.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on March 18, 2014.

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