Monday, April 22, 2013

Ramblings of Madness - Not A Weekly Blog?


Yeah cause that happened....


Hey everyone... wait...
Hey to the people who regularly read this blog... er... well screw it

Hey Dave, Seth, Hillary, and potentially Daman, Zach and Angel!

Obviously as you have seen just from looking at the monthly breakdown of this thing, I'm not doing something every week and you may be wondering why that is.  Actually you probably are thankful I'm not spamming up Facebook with randomness but I digress.

Usually when someone hasn't been posting something regularly after they say they have it's because they have been planning something big, or life has gotten in the way.  While I HAVE been working on my book, I must report that...well... neither of those reasons are why.

Here to answer why is the most cliche thing i can think of.  A Top 10 list!!   So without further ado I give you...

THE TOP 10 REASONS
I CAN'T COMMIT TO A WEEKLY
BLOG...APPARENTLY


10. My interests and focus come in waves - As anyone who knows me for any length of time my interest in a certain topic of activity comes and goes like the seasons.  I have no idea why it happens but it just does.  I'll be completely on fire for something then just suddenly be bored and do something else completely unrelated.  Even the book I'm writing is on the shelf so to speak and has been replaced by wanting to play Team Fortress 2 and watch independent film (hoping my Paranoia DVD comes in today).  This seems to be the winter for my blog but maybe it'll come back around to summer.  Who knows

9. I'm not as funny as I hoped I would be/think I am

Besides "just wanting to" there were 2 other reasons that I wanted to get in to reviewing and starting this blog.  The first being that I am a great fan of comedic internet reviewers such as The Nostalgia Critic, The Cinema Snob, The Blockbuster Buster, and Todd in the Shadows.  They never fail to entertain me and were positive influences in how I started to look at things in life and examine why I liked things and why I disliked things.   Their works inspired me to do my own.   My second reason, however was to entertain and possibly do for others what those mentioned above did for me. 

A great part of being entertaining is being funny.  People have said that I am moderately funny and tend to laugh often when I'm around however that doesn't oven fall well in text form.  I have examined my own humor and it tends to come either from me being incredibly irritated/annoyed at something, or it's comments i can make as a reaction to something going on in the moment.   Neither of those types of humor translate well to reviews so while they may be enjoyable to read or to see something you haven't before, they aren't funny which was my initial hope leaving me running dry on ideas and motivation.

8. I'm lazy


So there you have it,  My Top 10 reasons why I can't seem to post something weekly on this blog.   I'll catch you next week, or next year or whenever I think about it.

Wes

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ghost in the Case - Afro Samurai

Ghost here, thanks for joining and I welcome you to....




As anyone who reviews anything will know, it's easy to review something you love and even easier to review something you hate.  It's an entirely different ball game when the material in question is something mediocre, or makes you feel completely undecided or ambivalent, and that's where Afro Samurai falls.  I've watched it multiple times and at the end of my time with the show I'm not entirely certain if I actually like it or not.  To me, it's like Food City brand Pineapple Soda.  It's unique, bizarre, yet somehow works in a way that you don't fully understand and even after drinking the entire 12 pack, you don't know if you ever want to drink it again yet you buy it on a whim after a few months.

So what makes this mini series so on the fence?  Let's take a look!

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"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a teddy bear is supposed to be walking around in a kimono strapped with blades.  I got a baaaaad feeling bout this.  You don't want to be messin with this guy, Afro!  I'm tellin you man, that **** ain't natural."

Afro Samurai was originally a Japanese manga created by Takashi Okazaki which stemmed from his love of soul and hip-hop music as well as American media.  This manga was adapted into a five episode mini-series in 2007 by Gonzo studios and stars Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman and... wait a minute.   Samuel L. Jackson and Ron Perlman???  These are two amazing actors!  Even if they are only lending their voices this ought to be good!

The Story
On top of a mountain, a young Afro (yes that's his name), and his father are confronted by a shadowy figure with pistols.  The man identifies himself as Justice and is here to take the "Number One Headband" that Afro's father is wearing.  Justice is wearing the Number Two headband.  After a brief battle, Justice is victorious and takes the Number One Headband for himself claiming that he now has the power of a god and leaves behind the Number Two Headband for Afro to find him later and avenge his father.

Cut to several years later, and Afro is being confronted by a multitude of assassins who are wanting his Number Two Headband.  Needless to say he makes easy work of them.

It is after this fight that we see a man watching Afro from a tree but also meet another character, Ninja Ninja.  HOLY CRAP is he annoying.  Imagine every incorrect or offensive black stereotype you can imagine all being personified into one individual with all the grace and charm of Jar Jar Binks.  Ninja Ninja is something of an oddity aside from his extreme exuberance of annoyance.  He is the personification of all the thoughts, emotions, cowardice, and stereotypes of his race that Afro no longer wishes to associate with on his quest for revenge, and thus we have this annoying butt munch who never shuts his face.  Don't get me wrong he has a couple of funny lines but most of the time I'm just cringing.

We later learn of the legend of the headbands.  That the one holding the Number One Headband is the strongest warrior in the world and cannot be touched or challenged by anyone other than the one who holds the Number Two Headband.  However the curse of having the Number Two is that anyone can challenge you to it.  Eventually Afro begins heading to the mountain where Justice waits for him and we meet The Empty Seven.
The Empty Seven are a group of villains who want to kill Afro, take the Number Two Headband, so that they and their army of cyborg minions can attack Justice and gain ultimate power.  Since it's called the Empty Seven, then I'm guessing that means there are Seven leaders....  What?  Only six of them?  What the??   Ok well that's a bit confusing but whatever.  So there are six leaders to this all with apparel or tattoos of their rank on them.  This has so much potential to be awesome.  Let me see, so each of these guys is going to have their own strength and weakness with different styles that Afro is going to have to use all of his skill and cunning to defeat and it's going to be glorious and..... wait who am I kidding.  They're going to be stupid, pointless, and easily defeated right?
 *sigh*  why am I even surprised

Afro encounters Brother 6 and gets knocked unconcsious by an explosion.  He later awakens being cared for by a woman, Otsuru, who it turns out grew up with Afro in an orphanage/dojo under the Sword Master.  She now however is working for the Empty Seven and is extracting his memories for them.  However, after spending time with Afro, and a night of love making, she turns from her ways only to get killed by Brother 2 for her betrayal.  After using the data collected from his dreams by Otsuru, Brother 1 creates "Afro Droid"

Afro Droid is an exact replica of Afro and knows all his moves that he has trained for, so by simply being unpredictable he was able to defeat his robotic double, or so he thought.   After a few more minutes Afro Droid reappears with most of his disguise removed and fights Afro for several more minutes using all of his technical advances to win but is ultimately defeated and the chip containing his memory and fighting style is destroyed.   Now in between the fights, and immediately after the fight, Afro is confronted by the Brothers of the Empty Seven all except Brother 3 who is left alive even at the end of the series.  During this time he first battles Brothers 6, 4, and 5.  All three of which are defeated in a matter of ONE MINUTE OF SCREEN TIME WITH NONE OF THEM LAYING A FINGER ON HIM.  Brother 2 is killed without even being able to lift a finger to attack Afro in under ten seconds, and Brother 1 is defeated off screen after only twenty seconds of screen time seen attacking. THAT'S AN ENTIRE EVIL ORGANIZATION OUT TO KILL THE HERO DEAD IN LITERALLY 2 MINUTES OF ACTUAL SCREENTIME!!

Making his way up higher the mountain, Afro runs into a ninja with a cybernetic teddy bear head who plans to kill Afro.  It turns out to be Jinno, a young man who also grew up with Afro at the Sword Master's side. In several flashback sequences, we see how Jinno and Afro were good friends and they both became full samurai at the same time.  However, it turns out that their master, the Sword Master, had the Number Two Headband after it was stolen from Afro years before.  Afro confronts him and they decide to meet at a tree.  With the Sword Master placing on the Number Two Headband, he and his students are attacked by a large group of people wanting the headband and in the end all except for Jinno, Afro, the Sword Master, and Otsuru die.  The Sword Master says that Afro has chosen his path (despite Afro not even having attacked the Sword Master) and challenges Afro, simply closing his eyes and allowing Afro to kill him and take the Number Two Headband for Himself.  Jinno blames Afro for the death of their family because of this.... even though Afro didn't instigate the mob attacking the master nor the rest of the kids, and the only one Afro killed was their master who allowed his death to happen so....  Jinno
 Eventually Afro begrudgingly defeats Jinno and makes his way up to where Justice is waiting.  After some dialog Afro goes in and slices off both of Justice's hands rendering him unable to fire his gun but that is when Afro learns how Justice defeated his father.  From Justice's back comes a third arm holding a knife that he goes in for the kill but thanks to a hair pick from Otsuru, the blade's attack misses and Afro is able to slice off justice's head and eventually after more dialog about how Justice needed both the Number One and Number Two Headbands as well as the other numbered headbands to become a god, Afro slices Justice into multiple pieces and attempts to live in peace with the Number One Headband.

What's Good About It?
The style of artwork this mini series has is very unique.  It's very different to look at and although it's uglier than sin it's something fresh and new.   Despite how ugly the world is in this series I still found myself caught up in it's design.  It's kind of what I would imagine a collaboration between a graffiti artist, a traditional Japanese artist, and Tim Burton would be. 
I liked the character of Afro just because he's not what you would normally see in a protagonist.  He's dark, and doesn't seem to care for human life.  He is in all aspects what would make a great villain yet we can sympathize with that.  By having the character of Ninja Ninja to siphon off all the mistakes that the direction could have taken with this character they were able to make a character that might not be unique exactly but not something you would expect, and especially not someone you would think you would be rooting for.

Despite all it's bad points that I'm about to get into, I still can't bring myself to say that it is a bad series.  I know this seems silly to bring up as part of what's good about it, but it's something I feel necessary to bring up.  The faults are many with this thing yet there's something hidden deep within that makes it still work and doesn't allow me to say that it is a "bad" series.  I'm not even certain why.

What's Bad About It.
oh boy....
There is one big and outstanding problem with this series that is seen throughout it in many forms.  Hold on to your butts cause we're about to experience...

 And I'm not talking one plot hole, I'm talking a laundry list of confusion littered throughout the entirety of the series.  I'm going to break them into subsections for ease of complaining

1. Headband Shenanigans - Nothing is explicitly explained about these headbands.  Why are they powerful?  What do they do to make you a better warrior after having worn them?  While I may simply accept them as the all powerful MacGuffin there's even more confusion buried beneath it.  At the end of the series Justice is surrounded by the skulls of other warriors having different numbered bands and that all he needed was the Number Two Headband to have them all and become a god.  First off he had the Number Two Band when he killed Afro's Father.  Why didn't he just keep it and the Number One Band so he could move ahead with his plan?  For the sake of argument let's say he didn't realize he needed all of them till after he gave Afro the Number Two Headband.  That's not the only bit of confusion.  There are several numbered headbands.  They say that only the number 2 can challenge the number 1.  Given that logic shouldn't the number 3 be the only one to be able to challenge the number 2 and so on?  Shouldn't all these people who are attacking Afro have been looking for the Number 10 Headband instead and move their way up?  

2. What's Up with this Setting?? - Each story needs to create a believable world with it's own rules, I understand that.  However sometimes you get thrust into a world that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially when they combine very old things with new or even futuristic things.  It's a very dangerous line to tread but if you integrate it properly it can work in your favor.
However it worked in treasure planet because the world was futuristic it was only their clothes and the DESIGN (not function) of their ships were from an older time.  What doesn't work with Afro Samurai is how random bits of technology are shoved into areas that they shouldn't.   If the design is different it will work but once the design changes the functionality and the rules of what is allowed in the world the whole thing becomes a mess if not a complete non sequitur to the rest of what we are shown.  In a world where most of the area we see is in the style of ancient Japan with simple wooden houses, lighting by fire, doing all things the old traditional ways, why do we suddenly have cyborgs, cell phones, bazookas, and a android version of Afro??  All these random bits of technology just seem shoehorned in to make something with the story move a little faster or make things more menacing rather than having legitimate threats from naturally occurring things within the OLD WORLD style of everything else.  When we have Otsuru wearing period attire, living in a traditional wooden house, catching fish from the stream, using old fashioned herbal remedies then pulling out a cell phone and downloading his memories??? It makes no sense.

3.Wait... He's Imaginary??? - Ninja Ninja as I've said before is an annoying character almost on the level of Jar Jar Binks.  He shouts things constantly, won't shut up, runs from fights, and helps Afro in absolutely no way.  That is until Jinno goes to kill Afro.  As Jinno runs and slashes his swords, Ninja Ninja jumps in front of Afro and takes the blow dying in the process.  He takes a few moments to talk to Afro before bursting into a green light and disappearing.  When Afro reaches Justice however, Justice says  "I see you've gotten rid of your imaginary friend."   THAT MAKES NO SENSE.   It was shown earlier that Brother 2 could actually physically see him.  He stopped Jinno's attack but yet he never actually existed?  What was it that Brother 2 saw then?   If Ninja Ninja was just an Imaginary friend then what actually stopped Jinno's attack?  Did he just slam his swords into the snow and stand there for a moment doing nothing?
WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU???
4. Sword Master and Jinno are idiots - I've touched on this already but seriously, these guys are idiots.  The Sword Master had the Number Two Headband and was going to confront Afro about it.   Sword Master gave Afro the chance to let his revenge go so that the headband could fall into nothingness but it was at that time a band of fifty some guys came to try to take the headband away, none of which having any association with Afro.   Sword Master ordered Jinno to take the rest of the kids and run to safety to live a full life.  What does he do?  Pull out his swords and fight the rest of the guys resulting in him being stabbed and sliced till he was almost dead as well as the deaths of every single one of his friends who only jumped in after he did. Afro even tried to save him but was too late.  After the only ones standing were Afro and the Sword Master, Afro didn't even begin to charge at his master or anything.  Sword Master just was like "OK you've chosen your path" after Afro gave the slightest look of disdain and challenged Afro thus allowing Afro to kill him.  Jinno saw all this.  Saw that Afro attempted to help him and saw that he didn't kill the rest of the kids but yet years down the road Jinno wants revenge for all of them on Afro.  What an idiot.

5. THREE ARMS?? - This world, with the exception of Jar Jar Ninja... i mean Ninja Ninja, is filled with your average everyday human beings.  Nothing particularly special about any of them other than their skills and motivations.  Every random minion he encounters is a human.  Despite some cybernetic additions, the Empty Seven are all human (granted some of them look like they have a brain tumor that's gone wild but still not that big of a stretch.)  Afro Droid is something that despite my earlier complaints about technology can easily be made by humans with advanced knowledge of technology.   So WHY DOES JUSTICE HAVE THREE ARMS???  Nobody in this world has shown any sort of mutant abilities.  There are no aliens, no super humans, nothing of the sort yet this guy just randomly has a third arm and skin that looks like it's an attempted camouflage.  Everything else is either human or could be created by a human with the technological advances present in this world (as messed up as they are.)  YET this exists?  Why?  Why does he need to have a third arm?  Why can he regenerate limbs?  Why is he the sole mutant in a world of regular people and cyborgs??

Final Thoughts
Afro Samurai still sits in a weird spot for me.  I can talk all day about how there is a lack of logic in the writing process because both writing and logic are big in my book for me to like something however for some reason I still can't say it's bad.  It has a unique art style, lots of mindless violence, a good old fashioned revenge tale, and even some likable characters even if most of them are poorly used.  I like the ideas presented and perhaps if this were a longer full-length series that was given time to breathe, mature, and fully utilize it's cast then I could truly say that I liked it.

If plot holes are a big problem in your book, or you dislike a lot of bloody violence then you might want to skip this one, but if you like to see some samurai action that you can sit back and enjoy without really putting any thought into it then you just may enjoy this mini-series.

Afro Samurai is rated TV-MA and is available on DVD from Funimation.
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If you want to see my other Movie and Television reviews/recommendations then simply click here!