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Thursday, 30 June 2016

Dreamworks Dragons S5: Race to the Edge, Part 3


Dreamworks Dragons
Series 5
Race to the Edge, Part 3



Okay, wow, hey, I actually had no idea this was even meant to be coming - I should have, really, because it was around this time last year that we got part two, but it completely slipped my mind, and I only realised when I saw people talking about it. I am glad, though: I have enjoyed basically all of the Dragons television shows thus far, almost as much as the films (and both How To Train Your Dragon and How To Train Your Dragon 2 are some of my favourite films, so that's saying a fair amount), so I was more than happy to marathon another thirteen episodes.

Picking up shortly after the end of series four, series five follows Hiccup, Toothless, and their fellow dragon riders and dragons, as they explore the archipelago they live on, searching for new species of dragon. But they must still contend with the Hunters, led by Viggo Grimborn, an astute and cunning businessman whose mind effortlessly outmatches Hiccup's. To complicate matters, Dagur shows up on the Edge to reveal that he's attempting to redeem himself for his past crimes, and Heather joins the group as a full-time member.

So, we'll get the technical stuff out of the way first, because that's all - basically exactly the same as in the last two series, actually. 

There are a few points where you can tell that they've maybe slightly increased their animation budget, as they give a few characters some alternate costumes, throw in a few impressively animated sequences, and generally make things look a bit more detailed and fluid. 

The Buffalord.

At the same time, though - were the Dragon Hunters always composed of endless clones of the same dude, all dressed exactly the same way (actually, that's not true, sometimes he has a bandana on his face)? I don't remember them being, but it's really obvious this time around, and kind of jarring - and especially when there are multiple Dragon Hunters in the same shot or, arguably even worse, two separate groups of (totally identical) Dragon Hunters engaging in different plot relevant activities in different places.

The music is more or less the same - simplified riffs on the film's soundtrack, but it's also gotten a slight upgrade, managing to even achieve something like greatness at a few points (there's a somber, bagpipes version of the main theme that plays during episode eleven that I would kill to get on a soundtrack), and being, on the whole, a pretty fun listen. I mean, I'd buy a soundtrack if they were selling it, but apparently that's not something Dreamworks wants to do.

The voice-acting remains very strong, and in a nice turn, we get to hear a little bit more of Alfred Molina as Viggo this series. He's always a joy to listen to, with just the right mix of earnestness and smarm. 

The - the something, I don't recall.

Which leads us nicely onto the story itself. My big problem with the last two series was that after a while, every episode felt like variations on a theme: Character has interpersonal problem, dragon or Hunters or both are encountered, character overcomes interpersonal problem and saves the day - the standard formula, with a slightly grating conservationist rhetoric hammered in.

This series varies things a little more, and it largely does that by peppering a couple of pure adventure stories in, such as the auction episode, the 'Astrid is sick' episode, and the finale; and through the character of Dagur, whose redemption arc (which only shows up in two episodes, but out of thirteen that's a not insignificant number) keeps us guessing as to whose side he's on. 

The - somewhat inevitable, especially when you consider that the team has a new member - downside to that is that some characters never get their time in the limelight at all. Neither Astrid nor the twins get focus episodes, and new member Heather gets only one focus episode (and a bit part in one of Dagur). The others don't fare too much better either: Snotlout gets one focus episode, and arguably shares his with Hiccup; while in a slightly baffling turn, Fishlegs gets two. The result is that the series is broken down into two Dagur episodes, two Fishlegs episodes, one Snotlout episode, one Heather episode, three pure adventure episodes, and then three Hiccup episodes, and that feels - incredibly unbalanced.

We also don't make a huge amount of progress on the plot. By the end of the series, the team still has no idea that Viggo's activated the Dragon Eye; much foreshadowing is made of someone worse than Viggo, with a mysterious cloaked man attempting to buy Toothless, and Viggo meaningfully remarking that unlike some people, he doesn't want to rule the world, but nothing ever comes of it; and in a slightly odd turn, the series ends on a strange cliffhanger episode that introduces dragon-worshipping ninja English people, but never really explains who they are or why they're there. 

You might have thought I was joking. I was not. I was not joking.

It feels like a rather incomplete series, and that was true of the two before it. Possibly it'd just be better to wait until they're all out and then marathon them as one fifty-two episode series, since that's clearly what they're being made as, with very little thought as to whether each individual part works as its own story. 

Still, I enjoyed this series a lot. Apparently Netflix likes to space them about six months apart, so I guess we'll be seeing part four some time around December or January. Neat, cool, looking forward to it.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Orphan Black S4


Orphan Black
Series 4.



I'd actually entirely forgotten that series four had finished already, which is why this review is moderately late. It's also late because I have absolutely no idea what I'm even supposed to say about this series. The usual thing with Orphan Black is that it starts off slow, and then by the end I'm completely enthralled, but that isn't what happened this time.

Picking up shortly after the end of the third series, the fourth series of Orphan Black sees Sarah and the other clones drawn back into the fray, as Neolution, under the control of Rachel's mother Susan Duncan, seeks to re-establish their control over them. Through a combination of subterfuge, violence, and diplomacy, Sarah and the others manage to establish an uneasy truce with Neolution to cure Cosima's sickness, only for an internal struggle within Neolution to thwart them, as Evie Cho, a rival scientist and leadership candidate to Susan, violently takes control.

To be honest, I don't have many thoughts or opinions on this series. It was just kind of - there. I didn't hate it, certainly, in fact, I'm fairly sure I enjoyed it, but for the most part I could have taken or left it. It failed to rouse any particularly strong emotions in me, failed to really keep my interest over a sustained period of time, failed to really leave any kind of lasting impression.

I think I remember this scene, very vaguely.

(In fact, it failed so much to make a lasting impression that at one point, Helena, Allison, and Donnie contact Sarah from out in the wilds of Canada, and despite it being a major plot point that they'd gone out there, I found myself totally baffled by it, because I'd completely forgotten that that had happened.)

I think part of that is that Orphan Black has played all of the cards it has, and now it just feels like it's rehashing the same storyline again and again. How many times now have Sarah and company formed an uneasy pact with their enemies, only to discover some new enemy working behind the scenes? The answer is a lot of times, enough so that I rolled my eyes a little when it happened part way through the series, and rolled my eyes again when it happened at the end of the series, with the founder of Neolution being revealed to be immortal and still controlling the movement.

More than that, though, the storyline felt like it was always either rehashing old plotlines, or throwing new ones in out of the left field that have never been foreshadowed before. Cosima is trying a revolutionary new treatment, but then something thwarts her doing so? Old plotline. Worm-like things that attach to the side of people's mouths and alter their DNA? Never foreshadowed. Neolution and/or Dyad controlled law enforcement cause trouble for Allison and Donnie? Old plotline. Immortal Neolutionist leader secretly controls everything from behind the scenes? Never foreshadowed.

Don't remember this one, though.

But maybe even more than that, I feel like this series led the audience around in a circle. The Evie Cho storyline ultimately doesn't amount to anything, because the bots (aforementioned worm things, although I guess they're more like leeches?) are a totally unrelated scientific endeavour to the clones, as is Evie's experiments on fetuses, and by the finale, both scientific endeavours have both failed to become at all relevant to the overarching storyline about the clones and basically vanished into the aether. All it really seems to be there for is to create drama, keep the clone-sickness plot going, and give Rachel a push to go axe-crazy - a push she never really needed, because Rachel's always been characterised as quite violent and unhinged, and it would've made plenty of sense for exposure to Susan (a woman she believed was dead) and her mechanical-eye-induced hallucinations to be the thing that pushed her over the edge.

(On the bright side, the acting is still A++. Tatiana Maslany's ability to effortlessly slip into other characters remains quite awe-inspiring, and this series even introduces a new clone to demonstrate that. I've lost count of how many there are now.)

Oh, I do remember this one, though.

So I'm disappointed, and left in the position that I seem to always eventually end up in with television shows: Having to say that Orphan Black has gone on too long and should probably consider finishing. I think they're kind of easing that way anyway, since there's not really any kind of villainous step up from 'evil immortal geneticist,' and to be honest, I'm fine with that. Five series is a good stopping point for any show.

That's Orphan Black series four then - not bad, but not especially good either, and visibly running out of ideas more and more with every series. Oh, but on the bright side, Delphine was brought back, thus making Orphan Black one of the few shows this year to not only not kill off any of its queer female characters, but also to bring one killed off in a previous series back from the dead. That's nice, at least. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse


X-Men: Apocalypse.



If I hadn't already decided to do only five reviews last week, I would have had this go along with Civil War and Batman v Superman, as an interesting third option - it's another superhero film, after all, coming out in a similar timeframe, and it's sort of similar in that it involves usually heroic superheroes fighting each other (since Storm, Psylocke, and Angel are all usually good guys). The similarities aren't nearly so drastic as those between Civil War and BvS, but you could probably make a case for it being like them, if you really wanted to.

I'm - not especially inclined to do that, though.

X-Men: Apocalypse, the third in the prequel-y-reboot X-Men films (the film continuity is now as gnarled as comics continuity, and that is wonderful), sees an ancient mutant, En Sabah Nur - or Apocalypse - awakening from a long sleep. Equipped with a massive arsenal of mutant abilities, and a desire to remake the world in his image, Apocalypse gathers four other mutants to act as his horsemen, and kidnaps Charles, intending to transfer his essence into Charles' body and thus gain his telepathic powers. Under Mystique's leadership, a new team of X-Men, including Jean Grey, Cyclops, Beast, Nightcrawler, and Quicksilver, head out to rescue Charles and defeat Apocalypse.

This film's gotten mixed reviews from critics, but I actually really enjoyed it - in fact, I'd go so far as to say this is the X-Men film I've enjoyed most since X2, which remains the series' highest point. Part of that is because while in the previous prequel films, I've always been kind of waiting for the penny to drop and for them to go back to the original trilogy's cast (and doing so kind of felt like it would've been a bit of a disaster), this feels more like it's setting us up to continue with this group of younger characters.

Who are all pretty well cast, tbh.

A lot of that is because the film's now worked in the franchise's core characters, giving us young versions of Jean Grey, Storm, and Cyclops, along with a young Nightcrawler - which both definitively splits it off from the continuity of the first trilogy, and means we now have a team predominantly composed of fan favourites and important, recognisable faces, which really is a must have if they're going to continue with this timeline.

Technically, it's also pretty okay. I say 'pretty okay', because the quality of its technical aspects can vary quite dramatically: It has an okay soundtrack, good special effects, a very strong cast (including McAvoy reprising his role as Charles Xavier, and with the addition of Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops, a terribly underused Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse), but, also, some fairly so-so writing choices.

The plot's a pretty predictable one, to the point where audiences will always know exactly what's going to happen, because they've all seen this exact plot with basically an identical structure in about a dozen other action films. It's a pretty tried and true action film plot, the kind that crops up in superhero films - and hell, just X-Men films - a lot, and has more of a focus on spectacle and set pieces than actual story.

Despite being the same Angel from X-Men 3, this is also a completely different
Angel with a different backstory.

Which is fine, actually, and it sums up X-Men: Apocalypse perfectly: It is a very safe film, utilising a lot of very well-established structures and tropes. But then, I said the same thing about Civil War, and unlike Civil War, I actually enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse. The spectacle of it was fun, there were enough emotional moments to keep me satisfied, the humour was very often on-point. The film has some genuinely brilliant sequences (most of them courtesy of Quicksilver - fairly early in the film, we have a sequence where he speeds about rescuing people from an explosion, and it's great), and the all-round strong acting performances were pretty good for keeping my attention even during the slower parts.

One part that did make me roll my eyes was the Standard Wolverine Cameo, where Wolverine shows up for about two minutes, then leaves and is never mentioned again. Yes, we get it, we understand, you want to have Hugh Jackman in every film for - some reason, possibly it's in his contract, but good god, the constant random cameos basically throw me out of the film every single time. 

Quicksilver and Mystique.

So that's X-Men: Apocalypse, a film that sits somewhere between Civil War and Batman v Superman in how technically strong it is, but was definitely more enjoyable than either of them, as far as I was concerned. As for the future of the film series, we apparently have an Old Man Logan film coming up (which should be legitimately terrible), a New Mutants film looming (might be good), and - eventually - another X-Men film. Should be good. Well, hopefully, at least.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Game of Thrones S6E10: The Winds of Winter


Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 10
The Winds of Winter.



Wow, they are really streamlining the cast this series, aren't they? Whether for budgetary reasons or just to make writing easier - or either, or both - we've seen a metric ton of characters die or get written out. Hodor, Doran, Osha, Rickon, the Blackfish, Alliser Thorne, Ollie, and the Waif were all killed off prior to this episode, with Jaqen being non-violently written out. In this episode alone, meanwhile, Margaery, Tommen, Lancel, Loras, Unella, the High Sparrow, and Maester Pycelle were all killed off in the first twenty minutes, with Walder Frey and his sons following shortly thereafter, and Benjen and Daario being non-violently written out (along with, it would seem, the entirety of Essos).

So the cast has been trimmed down a lot. That's not a bad thing, but I admit, it did make me laugh when the show just casually murdered nearly the entirety of the King's Landing characters before the episode was even halfway done.

Anyway, our viewpoints for this episode are: Cersei in King's Landing, Jaime and Walder Frey at the Twins, Daenerys in Meereen, Bran beyond the Wall, Jon and Sansa at Winterfell, and very briefly Olenna in Dorne, and Sam in the Citadel. A pretty good spread there.

In this week's episode, the finale of series six, Loras and Cersei's trial arrives - but Cersei doesn't arrive, as Qyburn and the Mountain set in motion her plan, resulting in the Great Sept exploding in a burst of wildfire as they ignite the caches beneath the city - but her plan has a consequence she didn't foresee. In Meereen, Daenerys tells Daario to stay in Meereen while she goes to Westeros, much to his chagrin, and sets out on her new fleet. Beyond the Wall, Meera and Bran part company with Benjen, and Bran has a vision of the past, revealing the truth about how Lyanna Stark died. At Dorne, Olenna forms an alliance with Elia and the Sand Snakes - and with Varys, there to represent Daenerys. At the Twins, Walder hosts a party for Jaime, but encounters someone he didn't expect. At Winterfell, Sansa has a confrontation with Littlefinger, Davos confronts Melisandre, and Jon is crowned the King in the North.

Hey, Davos.

So, we'll start with Cersei's section, because it takes up something like the first twenty minutes of the episode, and it's kind of glorious, a beautiful example of a slow build of tension, up to a pretty much perfect pay-off (and one that sees Cersei beat Daenerys' record for 'most destruction caused in a single moment'). I thought the whole sequence from the start of the episode to the explosion of wildfire was nearly flawless - and I say 'nearly' because ideally, I would have liked to see Cersei have some kind of confrontation with the High Sparrow. I recognise that would've been logistically difficult, though, so never mind.

The aftermath of the explosion is handled a little less well. Tommen's suicide is clearly meant to be kind of chillingly understated, but it's so understated that it crosses the line into just being funny, as he stands on a window ledge and just tips over. Septa Unella's death, meanwhile, feels - I don't know, a bit off. This has been a storyline all about misogyny and violence against women, so having it end with Cersei enacting what might be the worst act of violence against a woman in series six, and possibly the entire show so far, feels like a strange way to end it.

Maybe that was intentional, because this episode was clearly meant to show us Cersei transitioning from an anti-villain, or at least a tragic villain, into an out-and-out villain - and the final shot of her sections in this episode, as she takes the Iron Throne as a queen in her own right, in a dark throne room with a gaggle of terrified people watching, and Jaime horrified some ways away, was clearly meant to hammer that in.

More of these two next series, please.

I don't - think it was intentional, though? I think it's just that Benioff and Weiss had a writer's meeting where they thought it'd be super-shocking if Zombie Mountain raped someone, and didn't quite think through how that would gel with the rest of the story.

Moving on to the smaller storylines, at Dorne and the Twins, and beyond the Wall: I enjoyed seeing Olenna, our last surviving Tyrell, at Dorne, and while I was kind of expecting Varys to arrive, him striding in and saying nothing but 'fire and blood', with the scene fading on the implication that now both Dorne and Highgarden will be throwing their support behind Daenerys, was a pretty cool moment. The Twins storyline meanwhile - eh, it was fine. I did really enjoy seeing Arya tricking Walder into eating his own sons, and then killing him. Also, Arya now appears to have the shapeshifting powers of a Faceless Man, so I - guess she got them after she killed the Waif? I mean, we don't know exactly how they even work, so there's that.

(I'd forgotten Sam even had a storyline in this episode until someone reminded me. He found a library. It was - fine, I guess, excuse me, I have to edit an earlier paragraph to account for his two minutes of screentime.)

Bran's vision, meanwhile, was pretty predictable. Come on, we all knew it was going to be revealed that Jon was Lyanna and Rhaegar's son, let's not even pretend that a single soul among us was shocked by this revelation. To that end, the fact that they spent a good five minutes building it up just felt unnecessary, because we all already knew, so they might as well just have had Bran shut his eyes, open them twenty seconds later, and go 'heck, Jon's actually Lyanna and Rhaegar's kid.'

Man, the Sparrows are all terrible.

Daenerys in Meereen, meanwhile, finally sees her heading off towards Westeros. I couldn't quite keep myself from cracking up during her scene with Daario, because it was so obviously just a combination 'wrapping up the Meereen plotline' and 'writing out an extraneous character' moment, and the show practically acknowledges that, having Daenerys remark to Tyrion that she feels absolutely no strong emotions about it, basically telling the audience 'okay, we had to have that scene, but you don't need to care about it anymore.'

The conversation between Tyrion and Daenerys was nice, though. I do kind of adore all of their interactions, so I would obviously enjoy that scene. Not to mention, Daenerys is finally going to Westeros! After six series! Yay!

Which leaves us with Jon and Sansa's storyline. To be honest, I'm a bit miffed that Jon's taking centre stage here and becoming King in the North, because I'd much rather prefer Sansa did, but other than that it was a very rousing scene, and I am always here for Lyanna Mormont making angry speeches.

More interesting to me was Sansa's ongoing - I don't know, political power-playing, I guess, with Littlefinger. Basically, every single time Sansa snarks at Littlefinger, or makes it clear she's not going to fall for his shenanigans, I gain a year of my life back, it's brilliant. That moment at the end was interesting, though: Sansa smirking at Littlefinger, him smiling back, and her smile slowly fading, indicating that even though he said he didn't want Jon to become King in the North, the fact that he is still plays into his plans.

I actually really enjoyed this episode - it's definitely one of my favourite episodes of the show so far, and the best series finale we've had in several years. Now we have the long wait for the next series, which I'm gathering might be the last, and is at the very least the penultimate series? It's also going to be only seven episodes long.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E11


Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 11



So, in theory, this episode should be a high point for the series. The gang is finally arriving at Kongokaku, Biba's getting to see the Shogun again (and enact his revenge plan), and with Ikoma lobbed off a train, he's presumably going to be meeting up with Kurusu, who is still the best character in the show.

It - didn't turn out quite like that, unfortunately.

Picking up shortly after the end of episode ten, episode eleven sees the trains arrive at Kongokaku, where Biba forces Ayame to help him gain entrance to the station. As Biba personally sees to the downfall and murder of his father, the Shogun, the rest of the Hunters release kabane into the station - along with Mumei, who has been injected with the black plasma, beginning her transformation into a Nue, one of Biba's artificial Black Smokes. Elsewhere, Ikoma encounters Kurusu and a captive scientist.

That captive scientist does have a name, incidentally, it's just that it was only mentioned once, last episode, and I didn't bother memorising it.

On the bright side, Kurusu is now prettier than ever.

So, a lot of this episode is focused on Biba and the Shogun, and on both establishing more reasons why Biba's so keen to see him dead (you know, apart from being left to die on a battlefield along with a metric ton of soldiers), and establishing them both as legitimately awful people. The way they do this, though, is with a slightly confusing cutscene where the Shogun attacks Biba as a child, only to then babble that it wasn't him that did it, it was 'fear.'

Which actually is a pretty powerful image, and one that contextualises Biba's contempt for other people's fear (along with contextualising his own complete hypocrisy in that regard) in quite a nice, poetic way. It also doesn't make any sense, because we're never told why the Shogun would be afraid of Biba as a child, we're never shown what led to him snapping and attacking him - the whole scene is set up as if we're meant to think that the Shogun just did it out of the blue for no real reason, but even the most fearful, terrified person doesn't act like that.

(I did wonder if this meant that Biba was a kabaneri, but since it's never brought up again, who even knows.)

In all honesty, 'a neat idea but it doesn't make any sense' could describe a lot of the plot turns in this episode. 

Seriously, get a haircut, though.

Biba's method of killing his father is to give him back a dagger that rapidly turns him into a kabane as soon as he touches it, but -- what? Huh? We've only seen the infection transmitted by biting so far, and the only hint we get of what was done with the dagger involves the Shogun looking at his hand and seeing a spot of blood, so did -- what? It's not like Biba covered the knife in blood or anything, because the hilt is white and that would be incredibly obvious, and there's nothing to suggest getting kabane blood on your skin will instantly infect you (in fact, Ikoma handles kabane organs just fine in the first episode). Did he somehow get it to prick him or something? Why did he change so quickly, when every other infectee we've seen has turned over the course of hours or days? I'm very confused.

Equally confusing is the scientist's claim that only female kabaneri become Nue. Okay, um - why? We've been told a lot that this is a scientific disease, not magic (even if it sure acts like magic), so I'm really going to need some kind of explanation as to why the black plasma turns women into Nue, and men into non-Nue super-kabane. We've never gotten any suggestion that the kabane sickness affects men and women differently, so -- why? Is it just because of plot convenience, because having Ikoma as a tiny super-kabane fighting Black Smoke Mumei is more interesting than two Black Smokes duking it out like crumbly Godzillas?

Also, Ikoma, why are you injecting the black plasma into yourself now, after just being told you'll burn out quickly? Why not wait until the three of you reach Kongokaku?

Ikoma, looking weirdly shiny.

Apart from that - ehhh. Apart from Mumei's transformation, which was legitimately beautifully animated and involved her growing wings of blue fire (but sure, show, this isn't magic at all), this episode kind of lacked any spectacle, and spectacle-heavy episodes is always where it's at its strongest.

I did, however, really like Ikoma just breaking down and crying - not because I don't like him (although I don't, really), but because it came across as a genuine, relatable human reaction in a series and genre that is so often devoid of them. Like, it wasn't a single tear sliding down his face, it was ugly, noisy sobbing, which is exactly how crying is in real life and never is in fiction. It's a small thing, but I did like it.

(Also, did Ikoma lose his hand? I don't remember him doing so, but then he apparently strapped and bolted his nailgun thing to his arm like a poundland Guts.)

Next episode is the finale, I think, unless there's actually thirteen episodes. Should be incredibly spectacle heavy, so that'll be fun. I'm rooting for Ayame to stab Biba to death. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice


Batman v Superman
Dawn of Justice.



Yeah, I know, it sounds like a court case. We've all heard that joke before, might as well get it out of the way early.

So yesterday, I reviewed Captain America: Civil War, with a view to comparing these two films, and in all honesty, I wasn't keen. While a technically very strong film, its premise just made me more irritated than anything else, and there wasn't enough that interested me about it to make me forget that one. To be honest, it was always pretty doubtful that Batman v Superman would do any better: For starters, I hold that Zack Snyder is one of the worst filmmakers currently in the business, and David S. Goyer has a rare talent for mangling comic book properties to the point of unrecognisability. Perhaps more to the point, I hadn't liked Man of Steel, pretty much at all.

Picking up a few years after Man of Steel, Batman v Superman sees the deaths of numerous people pinned on Superman, after he rescues Lois from an interview with terrorists gone wrong, starting an international debate over whether Superman is good for humanity. Against this backdrop, a conflict starts brewing between Batman, angry with Superman for the deaths caused by his battle against General Zod and concerned about Superman's intentions, and Superman, who takes issue with Batman's brutal treatment of criminals. The flames of their conflict are fanned by Lex Luthor, who has his own plans for Superman, that involve either publicly making him into a killer or seeing him killed.

The glowing red eyes are not helping you seem less evil, Clark.

I'll start with the idea of universality, since I spent a lot of time talking about that in the Civil War review: Batman v Superman is a lot more anchored in the US and US politics than Civil War is, in a way - the US political process factors into the plot at one point, and Lex Luthor and Senator June Finch quite often talk about American politics and culture, and how that relates to Superman. Its focus is a lot narrower, with the only time another country really factors into the storyline being when Superman intervenes in Nigeria, setting off the events of the story, and much like Civil War, it ties into predominantly American cultural narratives. 

(Incidentally, while Civil War makes almost a concerted effort to dehumanise the victims of the explosion in - again, Nigeria, wow, these films are more similar than I thought, Batman v Superman has a scene where we actually get to see a grieving relative, kind of starkly humanising the civilian casualties. It's not a lot, but it's a difference I did notice.)

I can see some people arguing that that narrower focus would make it even less viable for international audiences, but it doesn't: For starters, none of the cultural narratives it utilises are of the 'scary foreigners want to control us' type, which already gives it a head start, but also, it overtly acknowledges the narratives it's using, in a way that Civil War doesn't. In fact, sometimes it overtly acknowledges them to the point of distracting monologue, and that's less good, but nevertheless, it and Civil War make for good examples of the difference between 'a story grounded in a particular time, place, and culture' and 'a story whose writers don't quite realise the political and cultural climate they're writing in isn't universal.'

Technically, it is quite a weak film, though. 

That batsuit really looks awful. It's not the one he uses for most of the film, but still.

Stronger than Man of Steel, certainly, and in fact has some truly inspired moments: The opening sequence involving Bruce making his way through Metropolis, giving us a ground's eye view of all the destruction and panic caused by Superman and Zod, was a particular delight to me, because after griping about how Man of Steel had no sense of weight or substance to it, getting that kind of vivid look at how awful the final fight was for the people of Metropolis made me quite happy. Similarly, the fights between both Batman and Superman, and the trio and Doomsday, were both actually really good, with a weight and a sense of real tension behind them. Moments such as the Senate hearing were also very well-pitched, with plenty of suspense.

But its pacing is awful: The film's never sure how much time to spend on set-up of each individual plot point and how much time to spend on action, leading to odd situations where some plot points are rushed through and some are dragged out to torturous length. 

Not to mention, its scriptwriting could use a lot of work. While it's sometimes masked by the fact that it has, as a whole, a very strong cast of actors, dialogue is very, very often clunky and awkward, bordering on Lucas-esque levels, and quite often there's not any particular difference in how the individual characters talk - with Lex Luthor and his over-the-top, hammy, can't-quite-organise-all-of-his-thoughts schtick being the notable exception, and actually despite that being panned by critics, I didn't hate that. 

Doomsday. Or Zombie Zod. Some people were miffed at this change, but since
Doomsday has always had the approximate personality of a plank of wood, who really
cares if his backstory gets changed.

Not to mention, there are turns of writing that just do not work. I'm thinking of the now-infamous 'Martha' scene - and a few more things, like Barry turning up for all of six seconds (even though 'Barry Allen tries to sort things out with time travel and only makes things worse' is the distillation of the man's entire comics career), but we'll focus on the 'Martha' scene, since that's by far the most infamous part of this film. The film tries to set it up near the beginning, by showing us that Bruce has a very distinct memory of his father whispering his mother's name as he died, but that never gets brought up again, and moreover, I'm not sure any amount of set-up in the world could have improved it.

I kind of feel like the spirit of that particular writing turn could have been preserved while making it rely less on 'our mothers have the same name' coincidence by having Thomas Wayne (or even Bruce as a child, that might have worked better) yell 'help her' or 'she's going to die' or something else of that ilk as Martha was dying, and then setting those words up over the film as something Bruce is constantly hearing, and then having Clark yell it. 

Which leads me onto character writing: It's - somewhat all over the place. I'm going to say now, I don't think the 'Bruce has gone dark and brands people and uses guns' things works for the character, because while I can see what they were going for, I think the end result has a lot less to do with 'exploring what Bruce could have become' and a lot more to do with Zack Snyder's weird fantasies. Moreover, I think Bruce's decision to kill Clark would feel a lot more weighty if he had to agonise over it, if it was something he really didn't want to do, that ran counter to all of his morals. Ultimately, the only thing his brutality is really used for is to make Clark hate him, but that feels poorly fleshed out, and moreover, isn't really necessary, because Lex convinces Clark to fight by taking his mother hostage anyway.

Wonder Woman's in this film too, for about five minutes.

As for the rest of them: Lois is written really well, actually. Clark comes off as a bit cardboardy, and I think more time focusing on him as Clark Kent as opposed to Superman would have done him some real good. Alfred is wonderful, as is Perry. Lex is - interesting. I understand why they made him a bit more unhinged, because I'm not convinced that comics!Lex, who is quite serious and urbane and suchlike, would have worked in a film already filled up with people being very serious - he probably wouldn't have stood out much at all, and like I said before, I don't hate the Lex in this film. I'm not sure if I like him either, though.

All in all, this was a film which took a lot more risks than Civil War, and a whole bunch of them really didn't pay off. Despite that, I think I actually enjoyed watching it more. It's definitely the technically weaker of the two, but for me, at least, it was also the more enjoyable one.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Captain America: Civil War


Oh, before I start, there's not going to be a review this Friday. I've actually known that for ages, I just completely forgot to let you guys know until now. Let's Play part should go up as normal. Also, while we're at it, no review on July 20th, because I will be having drugs injected into me for medicine purposes and will probably spend most of the day asleep.


Captain America:
Civil War.



Today and tomorrow's reviews, together, are probably going to end up being controversial. People get surprisingly hot under the collar about comic book films (to date, a good ninety-percent of angry comments on this blog, or on social networking sites, have been about one comic book film or another), and people have been getting exceedingly worked up over whether Captain America: Civil War or Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the better film. 

It's kind of understandable that people would draw comparisons between them: They're superhero films produced by rival (or 'rival') companies, both revolving around a conflict between  a rich gadgeteer and a US-themed superhuman, with various other superheroes having bit roles. It's a bit reductive, I'll grant you, and in light of that, I've decided I'm going to do the daring thing and completely not buck that unhelpful and reductive trend in the slightest - which is why tomorrow we're doing Batman v Superman, and we're going to be directly comparing the two.

Captain America: Civil War picks up with our new team of Avengers as they chase down Crossbones, a former member of Hydra. When Crossbones reveals he has an explosive vest on, Scarlet Witch attempts to levitate him away from a crowd, only to have him explode near a populated building, killing several people. In the aftermath, the UN prepares to pass the Sokovia Accords, laws that will establish UN oversight over the Avengers - only for a bomb to explode during the ratification of the accords, with the blame pinned on Bucky Barnes. Intent on finding Bucky before he can be killed, and later on proving his innocence, Captain America, along with Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye and Antman go rogue, and end up clashing against the now government-backed team of Iron Man, War Machine, Black Widow, Vision, Black Panther, and Spiderman. 

Spiderman.

In the interests of full disclosure, let me start by saying that I absolutely hated the comics storyline this film was loosely based on. That might be biasing my opinion here, but I don't think it is.

So here's the thing: I don't think this film works particularly well for audiences outside the US. That's an odd thing to say, because I think the comics storyline it's based off actually works fine for non-American audiences, despite being legitimately terrible, but this film's narrower focus means that, in almost every instance I've encountered, it's kind of critically failed to resonate with watchers who aren't Americans. There's that kind of fraught element of international appeal at play with Batman v Superman, too, but I think it handles it a lot better, for reasons I'll get into tomorrow.

The reason I don't think it works for worldwide audiences is thus: The filmmakers clearly want you to sympathise with Steve. There aren't really shades of grey there, you're meant to see him as the good guy in this, as a kind of lone soldier standing up against an unfeeling, bureaucratic machine - and you're meant to see Tony as not thinking straight, as siding with the government not out of any rational need for accountability, but because he's just overwhelmed with guilt.

Black Panther is pretty great.

For American audiences, that a pretty easy sell: Steve's design and character ties into centuries of cultural narrative, meant to set audiences up to see him as wholly trustworthy, wholly good, and as inherently more competent - I mean, he started off as a propaganda character, 'playing off cultural narratives' is literally their raison d'etre. Similarly, the treatment of the UN and the pro-registration (pro-accords, whatever) side ties into another longstanding cultural narrative about scary foreigners coming to take away people's freedoms. It's kind of key that all of the acts of violence that are meant to drive the plot forward towards the accords happen outside America and primarily to non-Americans, which is something of a trope in films meant to kind of create a sense of detachment from the victims.

(Again, this trope is going to be a relevant talking point tomorrow, as well, but for slightly different reasons.)

For audiences outside the US - I don't think I've encountered anyone who's wholeheartedly pro-Steve. Most countries outside the US are part of larger organisations of countries, after all: The Commonwealth, the EU, the UK, and a few other blocs (quite often, they're part of multiple blocs, like how any country in the UK is also necessarily part of the EU and Commonwealth), so the idea of oversight from other countries isn't as scary and alien to them. Similarly, most people outside the US aren't primed to always see Steve as trustworthy - in fact, they're kind of culturally primed to see him as untrustworthy, because most of the world is uncomfortable with the idea of overt patriotism, and especially uncomfortable with the idea of overt patriotism while engaging in violent actions in another country, and especially uncomfortable with both of those things when it's America involved.

What I'm getting at, basically, is that every time Steve and his allies were on screen I wanted to reach through and throttle them. 

Speaking of, Chadwick Boseman does not look 39. He looks like he could pass for
twenty-something.

Moreover, what I'm getting at is that the whole premise of this film lacks universality, and that means that a lot of characters who we're meant to see as good end up looking very, very bad. When Hawkeye comes out of retirement to help Steve, we're meant to see that as an awesome moment, but it was just irritating to me. When Wanda throws Vision through the floor, we're meant to see it as tragic - but for her, not him, as if she's making the only choice she can in an impossible situation, when actually, all I saw was a grown woman (and I feel the need to clarify that, because the film consistently treats her as if she's a child) violently attacking someone so that she could run away from taking responsibility for her screw-up. We're meant to cheer when Sam calls Tony egotistical, even though that just felt self-righteous to the point of, ironically, egotism; we're meant to be happy when Natasha switches sides, even though that felt kind of weirdly out of nowhere; we're meant to see Steve and Bucky beating up Tony at the end as sad but necessary, when it actually just feels like needless brutality.

Which is a shame, because technically this film is pretty strong. It's not a particularly daring film, if I'm being honest: It relies on pretty tried and true film techniques, a pretty well-worn story structure, and some fairly safe and well-loved story tropes - but I've always said on this blog that a film doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to be good, so despite the fact that I'm a little disappointed (because Marvel always does their best work when they are pushing the envelope a little), it doesn't make it any less of a technically solid film. The acting is all very good, literally across the board (I even managed not to hate Martin Freeman! This has never happened to me before!); the soundtrack is great; the special effects are good; the fight scenes are well-choreographed; yadda yadda nearly every technical aspect of this film was good.

Also, the fact that the whole 'war' was just a scuffle in a carpark with lots of pushing
and shoving wasn't that great.

I might not have enjoyed it much (because in the parts where I wasn't actively seething with hate, I was just bored), but I understand why it was critically well-received, because with the exception of a few gaping plot holes (how did Zemo know Tony would be coming to that super-soldier lab? He had no way of knowing that, unless Ross is secretly working for him, which he's not), and a few terrible choices (no, go on, Marvel, just - shoehorn a random, kind of creepy romance with Sharon Carter there, literally days after her aunt, Steve's first romantic partner, has died, I won't stop you), it's very nearly a technically perfect film.

Hilariously, in a film where they're really only meant to be supporting characters, Spiderman and Black Panther steal every single scene that they're in. That was my big take away from this film: That I want to see the MCU's Spiderman and Black Panther films. I want to see them as soon as possible, and I will probably go out and watch them in their first week in cinemas.

So, that was Civil War. A very technically strong but also very safe film that I just didn't enjoy at all. I think the last MCU film I reviewed was Ant-Man, and I pretty thoroughly panned that as well - and before that was Age of Ultron, which I gave a pretty positive review at the time, but which the shine has kind of worn off of since. But hey, maybe the next MCU film will be another one I really enjoy!

- Oh, right, it's Doctor Strange, with Benedict Cumberbatch and whitewashing. I honestly don't even know if I'm going to watch that one.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

E3 2016


E3 2016

It's that time again. E3 was a bit lacklustre this year, but there are still a few games I'm pretty excited about, so here's me rambling about them.


Dishonored 2.


The game I was personally really excited about seeing, and man, Bethesda didn't disappoint, giving us a gameplay demo with Emily showing off her new powers (as well as showing off some of a time-manipulation mechanic where you can hop between two eras, Zelda style, and some dynamic weather) and a trailer which seemingly confirmed that Delilah, the Outsider-empowered witch of the Daud DLCs, will be the main villain, having somehow survived whatsoever Daud did to her (presumably, in canon continuity, trapping her in the Void).

The power of Emily's that really interested me? Domino, where you can link multiple enemies to have them all suffer the same fate. Useful for a murder playthrough, but also pretty useful for stealth, if you can choke out or sleep dart one guard and have two or three more fall unconscious. We also found out at E3 that it's possible to reject the Outsider's powers and go through the entire game completely powerless, which is an interesting twist no doubt meant to increase replay value.

So consider me pretty thoroughly hyped. We have a release date too - hopefully, one that's slightly more realistic than the previous 'March 2016' release date they put out and then quietly never mentioned again - for early November. I will most definitely be buying this one on release day, because I adored Dishonored, and if I'm very lucky, I'll like the sequel even more.


Horizon Zero Dawn.


So, first thing: Horizon Zero Dawn's been delayed from 2016 to early 2017, but we do have a solid release date: It comes out on the 3rd of March for the UK, a few days earlier for the rest of Europe, and the day before that for the US.

Horizon Zero Dawn might actually be one of the most interesting games we've seen this year: A vibrant, unique open world game that combines a post-apocalyptic, caveman-y aesthetic with giant robot dinosaurs, not to mention having a pretty awesome looking female protagonist. 

The trailer actually gave me massive hopes for the story, as well, telling us about how protagonist Aloy became the best hunter in her village of outcasts, in order to pursue information about her mysterious, outsider mother, and to find out what the great crime of the 'Old Ones', the humans who created the robots, was.

I also really love all of the design decisions. Every time you see the huge, towering, megafauna-esque robots, there's a Jurassic Park like sense of awe. They're clearly mechanical, but they feel like actual prehistoric animals, and that's an interesting balance to have struck.

Definitely one of the more refreshing looking games this year.


Scalebound.


Scalebound offends my sensibilities a little, because it looks really cool, but I don't have an Xbox One (and I never will) and I doubt my PC is powerful enough to play it. Still, it looks very cool, a kind of Devil May Cry/Bayonetta with dragons, with a vaguely Dark Souls-esque co-op schtick thrown in.

Ah, Hideki Kamiya, I do love you. I do. I wish you produced games only for consoles that I own.

If my PC is powerful enough to play it, then I definitely will, otherwise I'll just watch wistfully from afar.

That's out some time in 2017.


Final Fantasy XV.


I feel like I've already said everything I can possibly ever say about Final Fantasy XV on this blog, but, er, we have a release date now! Worldwide release on the 30th of September. 

We also got confirmation of just where in development Final Fantasy XV had been when Tetsuya Nomura was moved off the project, seven years into its so-far-ten-year development cycle: It was still in the planning stages.

Jesus Christ, Nomura.


The Last Guardian.


Not actually much that was new about The Last Guardian was shown to us. We got some glimpses of the gameplay in a gameplay preview, and we got an absolutely awesome trailer - but what is probably most key is that we got a release date.

For a game that's been in development for over a decade, and is most certainly one of the most anticipated titles of the year - because why wouldn't it be, it combines the joyful wonder of having a giant griffon-cat-dog-bird for a friend, and the melancholy tone and quiet mystery of ICO and Legend of the Colossus - that's a pretty big deal.

I'm looking forward to it, although it's maybe not an instant buy-on-release-day title like some of these are.


Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.


Breath of the Wild is probably Nintendo's most anticipated upcoming game right now, especially as we've waited so long for it without really any information, bar 'megalolz, it's delayed.' It's been delayed again, by the way, we're currently looking at a 2017 release, after it was originally slated to come out in late 2015, and then some time in 2016.

Pulling a bit of a Square-Enix there, Nintendo.

But Breath of the Wild does look genuinely amazing. It's beautiful, vibrant, seems to have a really interesting plot (involving Calamity Ganon, an eldritch shadow pig that I'm told is Ganondorf's version of Dark Link, and which seems to have caused the apocalypse in Hyrule), and takes the series in a new direction, with open world gameplay and a few survival game elements.

Nintendo rather put a dampener on the hype by peddling some truly bizarre lies as to why Link couldn't be a woman, including 'having two women would upset the balance of the Triforce' (agender/genderfluid Ganondorf confirmed?), but excitement seems to be running pretty high for the game anyway.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Game of Thrones S6E9: Battle of the Bastards.


Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 9
Battle of the Bastards.



Speculation was understandably rife that this would be an episode entirely focused on one area, like how Blackwater was focused entirely on King's Landing, and The Watchers on the Wall was focused entirely on Castle Black. I desperately hoped it wouldn't be, because despite the fact that Blackwater remains my favourite episode, this episode just didn't have enough angles to make that same kind of storytelling interesting: Blackwater had Davos and Stannis on the ships, Tyrion leading the defense of the city, and Cersei and Sansa in the Red Keep, and it managed to ramp up tension while also keeping things interesting by switching between those three viewpoints. That's not something you can really do with this episode.

Luckily, it wasn't all Winterfell all the time: We also got some sections with Daenerys in Meereen, wrapping up the 'siege of Meereen' storyline introduced last week.

In this week's episode, Jon and Sansa march on Winterfell. After Ramsay turns down an offer of single combat from Jon, and murders Rickon on the battlefield, the battle begins, with Ramsay seeming to clearly and decisively beat Jon's army, before help comes at the eleventh hour. Meanwhile, in Meereen, Daenerys return sees the tide of the battle for Meereen change drastically, and Yara and Theon arrive in the city to appeal to her for help.

Worst mosh pit ever.

So, we'll start with Meereen. A few people have been speculating that Daenerys is going to go mad, as her father did, and I didn't buy that until this episode: As Daenerys proclaims that she'll execute not just the Masters but their entire army, and turn their cities to dust, Tyrion overtly draws a comparison between her and Aerys - and the episode continues to hammer in that comparison, even after Daenerys relents and takes Tyrion's slightly less bloody option instead, as she remarks to Yara that both their fathers (and Tywin as well) were terrible people, and that they're going to be better.

It's the most we've gotten to hint that Daenerys might end up going all Mad Queen, and it ties in well with the fact that Bran's visions have given us our first glimpse of Aerys, as well as Daario's remarks that Daenerys is a conqueror, not made for sitting on a throne (despite the fact that that's what conquerors do when they're done conquering.)

It was nice to see Daenerys and Yara flirting, though. I'd like it more if I wasn't still kind of reeling over Yara's whole 'oh my god stop being traumatised' speech to Theon, but details.

The battle scenes with Daenerys are brief, but all pretty dramatic, as she soars around the city setting fire to boats, with music swelling in the background, and occasional cuts to Tyrion talking very softly to the Masters. It showcases both of those characters' strengths pretty well, and after nearly a whole series of them being apart, helps cement them as the Game of Thrones Dream Team. 

Team Dragon.

Winterfell, meanwhile, is somewhat - less interesting to me. Sorry, I don't care all that much for Jon as a protagonist, and I care even less for Ramsay as a villain. The moment where Rickon dies is effective, but I almost feel like it would be more effective if it was Sansa, not Jon, who had to hold Rickon while he died. Ramsay has more ties to Sansa, after all, and it would hammer in the idea of 'Ramsay can't stand to have a trueborn Stark heir', which is more relevant to Sansa, since Rickon being dead means that it's just Bran before her now - and she has no idea that Bran's alive.

The Battle of Winterfell also doesn't feel that dramatic. It's very one-sided in Ramsay's favour, but there's no tension there because we all know what's going to happen. We know Littlefinger is going to show up with the Knights of the Vale. We know that the Knights will immediately just wreck Ramsay's army. We know that because of that, the battle will end with Jon and Sansa victorious. 

So the battle was mostly just waiting for that, and wondering if they'd manage to pull some kind of surprise, like Karstark betraying Ramsay, or Melisandre doing some magic shenanigans, or Jaime arriving - but none of those things happened, so it was just a waiting game.

Sometimes Ramsay looks like a frog.

What I did like, though, is that when the Knights of the Vale do arrive, it's framed as Sansa's victory over Ramsay. A lot of emphasis is put on Sansa and Ramsay acknowledging each other from across the battlefield, of Ramsay's confidence fading, and so on, and we're pretty clearly meant to take it as 'Jon lost against Ramsay, but Sansa won, because she outmaneuvered him.' That almost redeemed the entire battle for me.

Thankfully, Ramsay also died, in what might be one of the most gruesome deaths of the series - and gratifyingly, Sansa gets to be the one who kills him, by way of mauling him with his own hands. Good doggos. Good doggos.

Next episode, we're getting Cersei's trial, Daenerys finally properly joining the game (apparently), Jon and Sansa having trust issues with both each other and with Melisandre as Davos reveals that she had Shireen burned, some stuff with Bran, and what looks like Jaime being just about ready to murder Walder Frey. Please, Jaime. Please murder Walder Frey and redeem yourself in my eyes.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress E10.


Okay, full disclaimer: I've had almost no sleep. I think this review is coherent, but it's entirely possible I'll look at it later and realise that none of it makes any sense. My apologies in advance if this is all just gibberish.


Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress
Episode 10.



I have no idea if I enjoyed or hated this episode. I've been staring at this blank document for the past ten minutes trying to figure out what my angle was going to be on this review, and I can't, because I literally have no idea what my overriding opinion of this episode was. It was kind of an episode of extreme highs and lows, usually at the same time, as the show (pretty effectively) attempted to appeal to its audience's emotions while at the same time making absolutely zero sense.

In this week's episode, the crew of the Koutetsujou have been imprisoned by Biba and his Hunters, who are tapping them for blood to feed to the Kabaneri. As Ikoma and Takumi plot to escape and take over the train before it can reach Kongokaku, Biba tests Mumei's loyalty.

A lot of this episode is devoted to showing us how the crew of the Kokujo treat prisoners, with the heavy implication that they've taken over trains before in order to use their passengers as blood donors, and the episode actually does a fairly okay job of creating a pretty shocking contrast: The Hunters as a whole are portrayed as pretty efficient, direct, and workmanlike, and the episode takes pains to show their infirmary and the doctors working there as a clean place with a relatively painless process (even if it is horrendously inhumane to take blood from unwilling donors) - right up until the point where a random extra foolishly remarks that he'll give four times as much blood if they spare his wife, and we're treated to a moment of extreme, needless violence.

This was actually a surprisingly sweet, well-written moment.

The contrast works pretty well on an emotional level, luring the viewer into a false sense of security before shattering it, but it does raise some questions about Biba - are we meant to see him as someone running a tight ship who avoids needless cruelty, or as someone who's only barely in control of a pack of barbarians? The show's flipflopped between those two extremes before with Biba, but it's never been quite as stark as in this episode, and for the life of me, I cannot figure out if it's intentional or not.

That really sets the tone for the entire episode: Emotional, but also deeply confusing. For instance, a big part of the episode is Biba attempting to compel Mumei to attack the crew of the Koutetsujou, using the same manipulation tactics he's used on her before - except we already established in the previous episode that Mumei knows he's not been being honest with her now. That doesn't necessarily mean he can't manipulate her anymore, but the fact that Mumei has figured out that he's an inveterate liar is never referenced. Not even once. 

In fact, there's a moment where Mumei is shocked that he would take blood from the crew of the Koutetsujou, despite the fact that literally the episode before, what can only have been days ago in-show, she discovered that he'd lied to her, engaged in the premeditated murder of hundreds of people, used and then murdered one of her friends, and then taken the rest of her friends prisoner.

Apparently Biba is twelve here. Between him and Mumei, I'm not entirely convinced
anybody on staff has ever met a twelve year old.

So, while I was having an emotional 'oh no, that's terrible' reaction to Mumei being manipulated, part of me was waiting for the point where anyone would acknowledge everything she's learned about Biba. But it's never brought up.

The other big emotional beat is Takumi, Ikoma's best friend, dying. I've seen some people wondering why we should care about that, saying that Takumi wasn't a character we've seen enough of to grow attached to, but I don't really agree: While he's never been all that influential on the plot, he's been a constant presence, and we've learned enough about him, his personality, his history, and his hopes and dreams that I did feel a little sad when he died. I wasn't exactly crying my eyes out, but I don't think there's a single character in the show who I'd actually shed a tear for, so that was hardly a shock.

But again, we hit upon the same problem as all the other big emotional moments of this episode, in that thinking about it for twenty seconds reveals that it doesn't make any sense. For starters, I don't quite buy that Takumi's body can stop a bullet that's meant to pierce through the iron cage surrounding a kabane's heart, but even if I did, it was a pointless gesture, because Ikoma can survive being shot.

Have I mentioned that I love this show's use of colour? I really do.

Moreover, Takumi explicitly references in his dying moments a previous time when Ikoma was shot and survived. It's a moment that's meant to tell us that Takumi's been carrying a lot of guilt around with him for not protecting Ikoma. It's meant to be quite a sweet, sad moment, and it probably would have been if not for the fact that it was also a very loud reminder that Ikoma can survive being shot, and that there really wasn't any need for Takumi to toss himself in front of a bullet.

In fact, he does survive being shot a moment later, because just after this whole exchange, Biba shoots him, just to hammer in the utter futility of Takumi's sacrifice. If I thought this was intentional, I'd probably be praising it, but it never comes off as intentional - it comes off as the writers wanting someone to die and not being too fussed about whether it makes any sense.

We also get Mumei stabbing Ikoma, and that's also meant to be a big emotional moment, and it's kind of - not. I don't feel any particular attachment to either of these two characters, let alone their burgeoning sister-brother relationship, so one of them betraying the other doesn't really bother me.

Also, Ikoma falls into a river, and as we all know, people who fall into rivers in fiction always survive. The only thing that would make Ikoma more likely to turn up alive next episode is if Biba had thrown in a remark about how nobody could have survived that.

Next episode, it looks like Biba is murdering everyone in Kongokaku, and also Ikoma's on a beach somewhere, and his - hair is falling out? Or he's cutting it? Something's going on with his hair, but I have no idea what.