Blame! – A gothic cyberpunk dystopia

Blame! is pure science-fiction goodness. It doesn’t contain a coherent story nor does it have the most thorough characterization, but when it comes to creating a unique setting, it does a perfect job. This manga is very much like the sentiment, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. There is very little dialogue and not much exposition. Instead, these elements are replaced by worldbuilding and pure action.

Blame! is a perfect example of how creative and imaginative a science-fiction world can be. Instead of focusing on its societies and individuals, it looks more at the building blocks of the world itself, comprising of massive monoliths and structures that stretch out far beyond the human eye can see. The angles, scaling, and shading are all done brilliantly in order to capture the dystopian beauty of the world. The amount of detail is just insane. But while Blame! works to highlight its environment, it also contains various amounts of interesting characters that all contribute to the story. The characters do take more of a backseat, but they are still given proper amounts of characterization.

Blame!’s protagonist is the perfect vessel for a story like this. We can immerse ourselves through his silent journey through endless amounts of steel and beams. It is through his eyes that we are able to get a feel of the bleakness and darkness of the world, and his lack of dialogue allows you to take everything in without needing to really think. Just taking in the sights as if you were there yourself, standing atop those massive platings and pathways. The gothic atmosphere the manga creates is an encaptivating one, and it only highlights how great it is at immersing you in the manga’s environment. The structures and buildings are filled with detail from both afar and near, showing bits and pieces of the world’s history as the protagonist navigates through the robust landscape.

The protagonist also stumbles upon an assortment of machine lifeforms that lead to many action-packed exchanges. The action in Blame! is short and sweet but also come by frequently. The action is consistently amazing, and it ends up being right up my alley. Action within a gothic backdrop is just pure bliss for me. The lack of dialogue within these scenes also makes them more engaging as you can take in the weight of the action without really working your brain all that much. The action is completely unfiltered and comes in short bursts, but its consistency is what makes it loveable.

Blame! is the type of manga that seeks to show rather than tell. It contains a perfect dystopian, science-fiction world with an equally enticing atmosphere. The story is absolute bonkers, but it was also perfect for something like this. The presentation of the story itself was well done, keeping the engagement levels to a high despite its disorientating nature. While Blame! is nowhere near being the pinnacle of storytelling or creating complex characters, it manages to instead be one of the coolest and most fascinating depictions of a science-fiction setting. Blame! oozes style with its cyberpunk dystopia, creating an experience that speaks louder than words.

My Girl – Exploring parenthood

Masamune reminisces over his late girlfriend. He feels a lot of emotions. Regret. Resent. Hopelessness. These feelings flood his mind, causing him to reconsider everything he’s wanted in his life. He lives on, but he can’t move forward. That is until he meets his daughter, Koharu. Masamune decides to roll the dice with this encounter and together, he and Koharu form a precious bond as they navigate through the world of families. My Girl tells the heartwarming tale of a man trying to become a father and a daughter trying to understand the world of parenthood.

The biggest strength of this manga lies in its benevolent view of parenting. Masamune struggles to give the best for his daughter as a single parent while simultaneously wrestling with his own inner conflicts. He’s not a perfect parent. He’s also not a perfect person. He makes mistakes, and he learns from them. That’s what makes him human and very relatable. Even if you have no experience being a parent, it’s still easy to relate to a lot of Masamune’s struggles. We’ve had our own fair share of regrets in life, and it’s something that will stay with us for a long time. We’ve all juggled with loneliness, aimlessness, and the fear of uncertainty. These things are what make Masamune such an endearing character and it also makes his development all the more fulfilling.

Little by little, with the help of the people around him, Masamune learns to become a true father for Koharu. Koharu, on the other hand, attempts to understand her own complicated emotions. She holds a surprising amount of maturity for a girl her age, and she strives to help Masamune in any way she can. Both Masamune and Koharu have lost someone precious to them. In a way, they’re not just family but also kindred spirits. It’s through this similarity that they’re able to support each other on an equal level.

Masamune, while being the grown-up of the two, still has a lot to learn about the complexity of a child’s mind, and he finds himself relying a lot on Koharu in order to find meaning in his own life. Koharu, while striving to move forward, realizes throughout the course of the manga her own desires and ambitions and what she wants for both herself and her father. These conflicts play out naturally, and the way they maneuver through other sides of the parenting spectrum highlights the grounded nature of the manga. The father-and-daughter duo go through loss, regret, and finding the courage to move on. They do so in the most tender way possible, which makes their journey incredibly endearing to read through.

My Girl explores different forms of parenting, through various perspectives and circumstances. The manga addresses divorce, the anxiety of pregnancy, the fear of not being a good enough parent, and it explores these ideas in a responsible way. The manga never strays away from the cold hard truths, creating a sense of melancholy and desolation. But while the manga does have its depressing moments, it also adopts a positive and optimistic outlook on the themes of parenthood. While the bleak reality is there, there is also a sense of hope and happiness that sprout alongside it. The author perfectly conveys the fact that, while challenging, parenting can also be deeply rewarding and satisfying for all parties involved. Having an overtly depressing manga may appeal to the realism, but having a complimentary amount of joy and wonder is also just as realistic.

The manga’s art style greatly compliments the themes and tones of the story. The illustrations give a sense of comfort that emphasizes the story’s fleeting sense of time, creating a unique sense of atmosphere that elicits the feeling of solace. Characters are drawn beautifully, and their facial expressions perfectly convey their own emotions in a delicate manner. The shading and linework are meticulously outlined and illustrated. Things such as a gentle smile or a straight face may seem like simple things, but they elicit deep emotions; pictures are worth a thousand words after all. The author knows exactly how to evoke certain feelings at just the right time with their understanding of these subtle gestures. There are also specific panels and scenes that are just stunning to look at, the scenery evoking a warmth that matches the manga’s tonal direction. The author’s illustrations breathe life into the manga, strengthening its emotional weight and depth.

My Girl presents a profound portrayal of parenting and what it truly means to develop a relationship with your children. It doesn’t shy away from the bleak and fleeting moments of life, but it also accompanies it with positive and optimistic messages that are sincere and genuine. With its endearing cast of characters, its heartfelt style of art, and its mature story, My Girl provides an experience that will leave a touching and long-lasting impression on your soul.

Aria the Natural – Its hauntingly beautiful 20th episode

It’s rare that I ever get genuinely terrified of things in anime. It’s even rarer that I expected my fear to be from the Aria series. The 20th episode of Aria the Natural is genuinely unnerving, bringing out ominous foreshadowing that builds up, tense and even more tense, to an effectively scary climax.

The Aria series shows just how versatile it can get when it comes to creating atmosphere. There are a few instances in the second season where the supernatural is built off of that feeling of dread, with the way the series utilizes its music and animation that manage to create an unparalleled level of fear. It may not be as scary compared to actual horror-related media, but it’s the fact that the Aria series can turn a complete 180 degrees and create something truly terrifying is what makes the 20th episode of the Natural that much more terrifying. And considering that most horror anime is not that scary is also what makes this episode refreshing. Not just refreshing in terms of the series but also in terms of anime as a medium. It’s refreshing to watch something that I can actually be scared by. And I loved it.

There’s a lot of great sequences in this episode. From the foreshadowing spawned from Akari’s witnessing of a woman dressed in black which is followed up by Aika’s ghost story, to the series of events that happen at night. The first half of the episode is fairly playful besides the foreshadowing elicited from Akari’s glance at the lady dressed in black and Aika’s ghost story, and the music that Aria is known for is always pleasant to listen to. It’s when Akari parts ways with her friends that the episode truly starts to crank up its ominous and dreadful nature. The lack of ambience, the barren streets, and the natural light of night create a feeling of being alone, and that feeling is particularly scary when you’re only able to listen to Akari’s voice and the sounds of waves as she drifts towards home. It’s unnerving because you’re so used to being enveloped by Aria’s warm atmosphere.

There are a lot of amazing shots, in particular, Akari and her gondola slowly stopping beside the barren and dark street of Neo Venezia as Akari stares at the lady dressed in black. There’s another sequence of Akari slowly travelling to the destination the lady requested. Akari’s truly uncomfortable and anxious state made me uncomfortable as well. It’s like I was there with her. The quietness of these sequences are what makes them so frightening, and when the background music does play, it makes the creepy atmosphere more enveloping.

The episode ends on a lighthearted note, but it also leaves its mystery of the ghost story unexplained. The fear of the unknown is the scariest thing to man. The episode perfectly handles this sentiment, creating something both haunting and beautiful.

Take care.

The fourth episode of the second season of Re:Zero made me tear up. And that’s enough for me to say it’s one of my favorite episodes from the series.

Amidst all of the physical and psychological torture that Subaru has experienced throughout the show, it’s a breath of fresh air when it delves into the more human aspects rather than its supernatural elements.

The fourth episode of Re:Zero Season Two expands on Subaru’s past, establishing his relationships with his parents and giving a warm sense of closure as Subaru grows from this trial. This is also where the anime explores a more grounded side to the Isekai subgenre. Subaru suffers not only from his current situation, but he also suffers internally from his insecurities stemming and building off of his childhood. He hates himself for living under his father’s shadow, and it translates into the acts of desperation he succumbs to during his time in the new world.

We didn’t have you because we wanted you to do something for us. We had you because we wanted to do something for you.

Despite this, his upbringing isn’t in anyway an overly tragic one. He has loving parents that care for him in the most genuine way, not questioning his own actions and watching over him more than he realizes. They don’t judge him. They don’t force him to do things he doesn’t want to. They never bring up issues that make him retreat further into his shell. Subaru’s insecurities come off naturally, and it expands his character in an extremely realistic manner. His depression and his insecurities feel real, and it adds a meaningful amount of depth to his character. The animation and music orchestrate this episode perfectly and emphasize the development shown in this episode, presenting what seems like a simple template for a “confront your past” type of episode but executing this concept beautifully, making this episode feel sincere and genuine.

Speaking of the aforementioned grounded side to the Isekai subgenre, I’m pleasantly surprised that the show acknowledges the fact that there is an entire world that the main character is leaving behind. They don’t brush off that fact, and they also don’t give a half-assed reason why this new world is better. Because it’s really not. Sure, this new world gives Subaru the much needed reason to grow as a person, but it’s also compensated by endless torturing both physically and psychologically. Imagine seeing your friends die over and over again as you desperately try to save them during each roll of the dice. Imagine yourself dying over and over in order to save these friends. Would you have done the same?

Subaru’s parents (as confirmed by the author of the web novel) are still waiting for him. Subaru still has another world to come back to. These thoughts of not being able to reconcile with his parents offer the cherry on top of his current torture, and not being able to find closure up until this point must have been extremely hard on him. It’s what makes this episode so meaningful for him, and it shapes the show to be more grounded and genuine than it lets on.

White Fox delivers a stunning and heartfelt 30 minutes that captures the essence of Subaru’s character, and it gives him the much needed closure to effectively deal with the issues of the new world moving forward. Starting, again, from zero.

Un-Go – An underappreciated mystery gem

Someone has been murdered in cold-blood. No one knows who did it. Suspects are named, the innocent are in shock. Two quirky individuals, Yuuki and Inga, set out to find out just what is going on.

Un-Go is mystery done right. The mysteries themselves are fairly straightforward, but its execution is where the show really excels in. Un-Go is great at engaging its audience, presenting what may seem like a simple murder mystery into something much more fascinating. The set-ups for these investigations are always gripping, and the music and animation do a great job at making the stories triumph. Un-Go knows perfectly well what it wants to convey, and it capitalizes on its strengths in order to realize it. While the execution is straightforward, there are twists and turns along the away that misdirect the audience without giving away too much. These moments are tasteful and add a little more flavor to the mysteries.

Un-Go adopts an episodic structure with different arcs up until its second-half where it ramps up the engine and produces a well-executed mystery in its last arc. Un-Go’s individual stories are pleasantly introduced and conclude nicely, but they are not entirely separated from each other. Each story connects with each other in clever ways, and it gives the anime a much smoother and steady sailing.

The cast of characters in Un-Go are an interesting bunch of individuals; Un-Go doesn’t add much depth to these characters, but their personalities play off each other nicely and the characterization is enough for the show’s concept to be pulled off. Yuuki, the detective of the show, alongside his assistant, Inga, make for an interesting pair. They are fun and enticing enough to follow around, and for what little growth that Yuuki does develop throughout the show’s course, makes his deductions that much more entertaining to witness.

While the anime succeeds in its sole purpose, there are still things that are worth addressing.

Un-Go feels short-lived. There seems to be a lot of material to be explored from its world-building and the philosophical moments the show touches on. There’s also the fact that the show can be pretentious at times, referencing certain aspects about the nature of society which doesn’t amount to much considering how short the show is. Even the recurring themes about the desire for truth feel underutilized for a show that wants to convey these topics a lot. The specific philosophical subjects that are touched on briefly give the anime a nice flavor, but it also gives it potential that it would have benefited from exploring more thoroughly. I would have loved additional content for more interesting detective stories that delve into other facets of society and its relation to the individuals that make it up.

The most apparent issue, however, is Inga’s part in solving these mysteries. It feels cheap, and the series uses a lot of his “abilities” in order to steer the investigation in the main characters’ favor. The ability feels like a gimmick (you’ll know what I mean when you start watching), and it doesn’t help the show at all. The fact that the anime doesn’t explore the background behind this character also makes him feel more out-of-place. There is a prequel movie which apparently does, but the actual show itself could’ve incorporated just the main characters’ past in little doses. The tidbits we do get aren’t enough to give them proper depth.

Un-Go isn’t a special anime by any means. It has its fair share of issues, and while the execution is great, it doesn’t leave much for people to leave it up there alongside the “greats”. That being said, Un-Go never wants to go above and beyond. It knows where its strengths lie and capitalizes on them, producing a perfectly serviceable detective mystery that makes the time well spent. If you want a fun, little mystery show, then Un-Go may very well do the trick.

Tension in The Lighthouse (2019)

The blazing foghorn pierces through the cloudy sky and enters into the cavity of primal fear. The first time you hear it, you can’t help but feel unsettled. After what may be the 100th time of hearing that hellish, otherworldly sound, you are swept alongside the madness of the main characters as they drop into a downward spiral of nightmarish imagery and psychological tension.

The Lighthouse is set all in black & white with an unusual aspect ratio that creates an exceptional claustrophobic atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with the film’s isolated setting. It makes the foreboding dread that much more impactful. The story itself is drenched with hallucinatory imagery and dreamlike sequences that are never concrete; all of it is ambiguous. It is intended for multiple interpretations, but it never lends itself as pretentious or overbearing as the presence of the light from the lighthouse, the piercing foghorn, and the character dynamics are executed well and create a nightmarish experience.

The unconventional chatter between the two characters is both uncomfortable and lighthearted, and it translates well into the later half of the movie. The two characters’ contrasting personalities help in creating an interesting dynamic between them, creating heated arguments that can boil into joyful rebound or intense exchanges. It also helps that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe both play their characters exceptionally, delivering phenomenal performances and meticulously capturing the downward spiral of their characters.

The sound design, jarring and disconnected, helps make the chaos that much more terrifying. The music is otherworldly, mysterious, playing off of the Lovecraftian feel alongside the setting; it is extremely uncomfortable to listen to. The foghorn and the other delirious sounds, especially the distorted scream near the end of the film, help capture the nightmarish atmosphere that wraps itself around both the characters and the audience. The film’s format – black and white with a more claustrophobic aspect ratio – compliments the sound design and music very well, creating tension that penetrates your ears and eyes even during the quieter moments.

The Lighthouse establishes a fresh and profound aesthetic and atmosphere that creates a wonderfully nightmarish experience through the perspective of two men working in an isolated island with a lighthouse. It’s a meticulous movie through and through, and its affinity for rewatches because of its ambiguous nature helps in keeping its legacy clawing at the back of its audience’s mind long after it has finished.

Bone Tomahawk – Review

Night sets in. A woman tends to the aid of a suspicious stranger while the deputy stands by watching. Another man, checking out a commotion in the stables, unfortunately comes into contact with unknown individuals. A kidnapping ensues. Four individuals are forced to make a journey through the western plains in order to rescue their own, coming into the land of a merciless and violent tribe.

Bone Tomahawk is quiet. Even during its climactic moments, the film never exaggerates the intensity of its scenes; instead, it lets the actors’ performances speak for themselves. The film moves slow, but it never lets itself drag. Much of the journey is made while getting to know bits and pieces of the protagonists as they partake in their rescue mission. The conversations they have with each other are fascinating as their own conflicting ideals and beliefs lead to confrontation and growth. At the end of the day, they make a good team as they trek through the landscape filled with many dangers besides the tribe.

The lack of ambience creates a perfect atmosphere that feels grounded and real. It also makes the suspense that much more tense and nerve-wracking. Sequences are never overblown through loud music or special cues to signify their importance. The build-up and frequent usage of the horns of the tribe are executed brilliantly, providing a hook of tension that wraps itself around the audience, never once letting itself loose. Even when shit hits the fan, it happens so abruptly and strikes you out of balance but it makes perfect sense given the grounded nature of the film. The film plays off the realism of the relationship between the Natives and the settlers of America, which makes the exchanges that much more convincing.

What Bone Tomahawk lacks on a grand scale, it executes perfectly in a more refined, subdued manner. It’s a raw western thriller that pulls off its simple premise exceptionally, with a band of interesting protagonists setting upon the barren landscape of the western plains. Accompanied by expert displays of suspense and tension and a gruesome last thirty minutes, the film will linger on in your mind a long while after you’ve finished it.