The nail that sticks out gets hammered in.
— Japanese proverb
Some of the best movies are about nothing more than the look on someone’s face. Bashing works like that: in its many moments of deep emotional discomfort, it zooms in on the face of its main character, Yuko Takai (Fusako Urabe) and unblinkingly watches her suffering. Here is a woman who wants nothing more than to work at her job, go to her local convenience store, order a bowl of noodles — in short, do all of the things we take for granted every day that should have no repercussions. She’s not that lucky.
We learn about her a little at a time, much as we learn about anyone. She was a relief worker in Iraq, where she was held hostage for a time and eventually released. On returning home, she was not greeted as a hero or even as a curiosity, but as a pariah. In the very first scenes, she loses her job as a maid in a hotel, all because a co-worker got on the Internet and posted scurrilous things about her. Her boss doesn’t need this sort of hassle, he tells her. Callous bastard, we think. We soon realize he’s one of the less malicious people we’ll see. Read more
The good news about Darker Than Black continues unabated. This has shaped up to be one of the best shows coming out in 2009 — not just a great anime, but a solid TV show even for people who would never label themselves as “anime fans”. So, yes: those of you thinking of using this as a gateway drug for that special someone, do it. You (and they) may need to stick with it for several episodes at a time for it to really click, but that’s actually one of the best things about DTB: it builds its impact cumulatively. The longer you stick with it, the more rewarding it is.
Disc three’s four episodes are actually best thought of as two double-length installments, and are in fact billed that way: “When One Takes Back What Was Lost Within The Wall…” and “A Heart Unswaying on the Water’s Surface…”, each with parts 1 and 2. In the first half, Li’s new assignment is to infiltrate the PANDORA research base that’s in the Hell’s Gate forbidden zone. There’s no way he can just waltz in there and use the full gamut of his powers, and for two reasons: a) the PANDORA people would skin him alive if he pulled a stunt like that, and b) Contractors, him included, tend to have serious trouble keeping their powers on a tight leash when they’re in or near the Gate. To that end, he’s given a cover story: he’ll apply for a job with the janitorial team and hide in plain sight. His ultimate goal is to recover an artifact from within the Gate that might have game-changing consequences for Contractors as a whole. Read more
It’s been said that TV’s matured to the point where long-form dramatic shows (The Sopranos, The Shield, The Wire) provide the kind of depth of character and scope of story that we’d normally get from a novel. In a novel you can stretch out and explore at your leisure; you can create a whole world, populate it, examine each corner of it in turn, and allow the reader all the time he needs to do the same thing. We’re getting to that point now with episodic TV, too — thanks to DVD sets, video-on-demand, and round-the-week reruns, a good TV show can be savored just as thoroughly as a book you re-read and get that much more out of each time.
There’s been few anime that reach the same heights. The few that do are as good as anything else on TV, live-action or animated: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex; Berserk; and a select handful of others. Darker Than Black is slightly shy of that category — but only slightly. Even before its first volume was released Stateside, I’d seen a few fansubbed episodes and been enthralled, and when FUNimation snapped it up for a domestic release I stuck my neck out for it and was not disappointed. It’s not just the intriguing concept or the broad roster of characters, but the consistently intelligent writing and storytelling. The premise, convoluted and complex as it is, has been subordinated to the needs of the characters. Usually it’s the other way around. Read more
The third volume of Claymore brought home something that I’d been thinking about through the previous two volumes of the series. When you have a show with a premise that’s simple and bold, it lends itself to becoming a multifaceted metaphor in the viewer’s minds. Already I’ve seen analogies for the war between the sexes, the superiority (true or alleged) of the male or the female of the species, the difficulty of keeping personal discipline under pressure … and at least a few others I forgot to write down ‘cause I was caught up in the drama of the whole thing.
Is that bad news? I don’t think so. If the mere act of watching a show doesn’t hold our interest on a basic entertainment level, then it’s probably not going to spark much of anything else. But Claymore’s a solid show because it remembers to entertain first, and lets its deeper meanings suggest themselves naturally through the action. I hope they keep that balance through the rest of the episodes, and from what I’ve seen they seem to be on the right track. Read more