Category: Ryan Reviews


Humans, have you ever started watching a movie or television show and, right from the opening scene, recognized it as something you will enjoy greatly? Not something that is a masterpiece, but merely something that you will find rather entertaining from start to finish? I have, very recently in fact; during the opening moments of Sherlock’s second season.

This is a fun episode. That’s really the simplest way to put it; Sherlock season two captured that elusive element known as fun and pinned it down, stretching it to easily fit the entire running time. It very successfully entertained me, to the point where I couldn’t point to a particular scene and say “this was boring.”

It’s so entertaining that it actually makes me want to reconsider my stance on Steven Moffat’s writing abilities. He’s clearly still got some chops, which seemed to be fading over the latest season of Doctor Who, which makes me want to ask: was the Doctor’s sixth season just a momentary misstep? Or is this a demonstration of the different approaches in writing that these two shows have?

See, the reason Sherlock succeeds so totally as a story is that it has a singular purpose and vision; it seems like a smaller, more personal story. I think this is pretty much the difference here; whereas a season of Doctor Who has many writers, a season of Sherlock has one or two- only Moffat and Mark Gatiss have their hands in this pie. Too many cooks spoil the broth, I suppose; each writer will have a different idea of what the characters and world are, and though an ideal creative collaboration melds each of these views together, occasionally they come out at cross purposes. And that leads to me being able to rip the Silence apart like I did late last year. Don’t get me wrong, I find the many interpretations and reinterpretations of the Doctor to be one of the franchise’s strengths, but the truth is that these need a showrunner with a singular vision to unite them all. Moffat is a great writer, but I don’t think he has that quality of leadership, in high enough doses to consistently succeed like he does when he’s just writing.

Happily then, Sherlock is a reminder, a demonstration of where Moffat’s true strengths lie; in creating singularly impressive, self contained stories that bend the mind and can be, I am happy to report, fucking funny whilst doing so. I don’t laugh out loud much when viewing things, but this script continually drew the laughs out of me. It was great fun to behold. In fact, it’s really clear to me that everyone involved in this production must have been having a great time; it really does seem like a labor of love.

I’ve felt for a while now- and there’s a very good chance I’m not the first to make this comparison- that there’s a number of similarities between new Who and Sherlock; both feature a misunderstood genius too smart to really bother with society as their nominal heroes, with a capable if less showstoppingly intelligent companion as backup. Both feature an antithetical version of aforesaid genius- the Master, or perhaps Davros in Who, Moriarty in Sherlock- and if one were to strip the more adult elements of Sherlock away, the way the scripts are constructed would bear more than a passing resemblance to the Doctor’s adventures as well. So I guess it’s good that these writers are sticking close to what they know.

Another thing that these two franchises have in common are strong performances from their lead actors. Benedict Cumberbatch is a fine Sherlock, playing him as an uppity and antisocial nutcase who nevertheless has a sensitive streak that he’d prefer to keep a secret. It’s a fun character, complimented well by Martin Freeman’s Watson, who is built up to be far more capable than the generally (rather offensively) useless Watson’s of the past. I like Martin Freeman, he’s got an affable, easy to like quality about him that hasn’t been lost from the first series. Though he suffers from standing in Cumberbatch’s shadow a little too much, he has a lot of potential on his own.

There’s not a lot of Lestrade this time around, but his absence is more than made up for with the addition of more of Mark Gatiss’ (yes, I know) Mycroft Holmes. I dunno, I feel like there’s more to this character than we’ve been shown so far, but he’s a little more interesting this time, pushed beyond the cool composure of his initial appearance last season.

Disappointingly, Moriarty isn’t around quite as much as I’d hoped either, though his presence casts a shadow that is occasionally felt throughout. His character has a lot of potential, and I look forward to seeing more of him, especially in his interactions with Sherlock.

Rounding out the cast for this episode is Irene Adler, a dominatrix that, for once, isn’t the same ice queen dominatrix we see in every other show that attempts to be edgy by including my beloved BDSM subculture. She’s interesting enough, and actually very alluring throughout. In fact, her introduction into the episode? Wow. Just… wow. Go watch it, it’s real sexy. She attracts every eye available, and keeps them there for the rest of that scene. The fact that Sherlock can’t read her at all during this scene is humorous, but it’s hard to fully appreciate humor at that moment.

Or maybe I’m just being lewd. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Since I’m talking about the moments where my visual centers were… engaged… yes, now might be the time to talk about the way Sherlock looks. What really struck me about this episode was just how visually interesting it all was. Sherlock has always been a playground for this team to experiment with visual styles, and this has thankfully carried over to season two. Individual shots are subject to some dynamic gimmicks and angles that really make this an episode to sit up and pay attention to. Even the more standard camera angles display a better than average grasp of shot composition, lighting and color that all add up to a treat for the eyes. Seems like the budget for Sherlock is bigger than Doctor Who’s, or at least better spent, as this one episode crams in more visual punch that the entirety of the Doctor’s last season.

Aurally, it doesn’t fare quite as well; the score sounds like a more subdued version of a Murray Gold score, meaning that it doesn’t really stand out when experienced in conjunction with everything else that’s going on.

The plot, revolving around Irene and a camera phone, is a nicely complex little headscratcher that, while maybe not quite as conducive to actual crime solving as the cases presented in the first series, fares much better as a character piece; it’s Sherlock’s show, and by god does he ever run it this episode. We get to see him in a few new modes that may only have been hinted at previously, and these moments are generally the standouts here; my personal favorite is a mid-episode scene where we see him experiencing protective anger, much to the detriment of the fool American who got in his way. It was nice to see the composed and all around leader Sherlock getting a little flustered, too. Thanks, Irene.

There is a little late episode silliness revolving around Sherlock’s ability to transport himself to a foreign country without being noticed, but in the main, this is an episode with real heart, and it serves to make the antisocial and generally asshole-ish Sherlock into a more relatable, human character, which was certainly a good move. It’s the interplay between Sherlock and Irene that sparkles the most, although Watson gets his fare share of the laughs too; it’s a fine example of what a solid script and a great cast can do to elevate a production. If it weren’t for that unfortunate Moffat tendency of wrapping up every little thing in a neat little bow, the ending would have been nicely downbeat and rather fitting, but unfortunately it was not to be, and silliness wins out.

One little nitpick: Sherlock is the master of reading people. Are we really meant to believe that even Watson thought that lying to him at the end of the episode would be a good idea? The episode itself never seems to pick up on this, which sort of bothered me.

But that’s the only nitpick I have! I had a great time watching this episode, which is actually kind of a bummer; when I enjoy a feature as consistently as I did this episode, it’s hard to accurately review it. I had to really work to deconstruct why I liked it, and what I didn’t like; a vague sense of “this is good,” wouldn’t have made for a very good review, now would it?

I recommend this heartily. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the first season of Sherlock, and frankly I’ve forgotten a lot of the events within. I promise I’ll go back over it, but it probably serves as a point in season two’s favor that I could jump in, practically fresh, and still enjoy it as much as I did. This is good.

It’s fun, alright?!

Kurokami, signing off!

Humans, I’m kind of a proponent of subjectivity when it comes to films. That is, I feel that there’s usually some enjoyment to be gleaned out of pretty much any movie out there, so long as you’re willing to be open about it. However, I also know that there are good movies, and there are bad movies. The Transformers movies are bad movies. They’re bad. And dumb. And stupid. And bad.

Seriously.

Yet, I find myself coming back to them, time and again. To give y’all a little background, I’m a film junkie; I watch a lot of movies, and I like to think of myself as pretty well informed on the subject. One would think I would have been stung by the first Transformers movie, and then stopped. Well, no: I paid money to see the second one in theaters. Though, as a consequence I avoided the third until it came out on DVD. I know they’re all terrible movies, so… why do I keep watching them?

Actually, I do know why: sheer spectacle. When it comes to pure, brain-turny-offy action, it’s really hard to beat a Transformers film. You’ll have to note how I qualified that, there: I’m well aware that there are plenty of smart action films out there. In fact, I’m aware that, in the same year Revenge of the Fallen came out, District 9 also hit screens, and that’s one of my favorite movies. It does action well, whereas Transformers just does action large. And damned if that isn’t worth a look.

Also, I like giant robots. A lot. In fact, I like robots in general a lot. And I like Transformers; I grew up watching Beast Wars, I got into the original cartoon when I got a little older, and liked that for what it was. I’m not one of those diehard fans, but I know my Soundwave from my Shockwave. So, there’s at least some tertiary interest for me there.

But here’s the thing: the Transformers movies are fucking atrocious, as movies. The fact that I can review all three at the same time without breaking stride is pretty fucking telling. And as far as I can see, there has been literally no effort, throughout the entirety of this trilogy, to make them good.

I’d like you to imagine that you’re standing on train tracks. You can see a train approaching, but instead of hopping off the tracks like a sane person, you make the conscious decision to square your shoulders and walk right up to the train. And you are crushed. This, gentlehumans, is an accurate representation of the creative processes invoked in the production of the Transformers trilogy.

I say this because there are things in these movies that are fucking inexplicable. Like, basic things. Things that are so obvious they had to have occurred to someone in power, but nobody changed them. Things that these movies would have been much better without are left in, despite it taking less effort to simply not include them. It almost seems headstrong, validating my suicide metaphor above.

I won’t go into too much detail about the main ones here, because other reviews have covered that when these movies were just coming out; the characters are boring or annoying, the Transformers are sidelined in their own movies to make way for Michael Bay’s obsession with the US military, the plot is often an incomprehensible wash. Shit like that. However, I will go into the things that I just don’t understand.

For instance, why does Sam have parents? I get it the first time, because he was a high school kid, and so that makes sense. But why do they take up so much screentime? Like, why do they have any screentime? They’re fucking awful characters; annoying wastes of space without any value to the plot. Is there a single reviewer out there who liked this pair of walking intellect vacuums? If there is, I haven’t seen him. And reviews mean something, people do read them. Is there a person alive today that finds these two characters funny? Do the actors that play them enjoy doing so? What the fuck is going on?

In fact, there seems to be an insistence on bad comic relief characters all over these things: John Turturro, that fucking kid from the second one, John fucking Malkovich in the third. Why do that? Are the writers, the director, and the actors all stupid, or just misinformed about what comedy is? Or even where comic relief should be deployed in a narrative, because if we’re being really honest, Sam himself is comic relief. And he’s just as bad as the rest of them.

I… ugh, you know what? I’d get exhausted if I went through all the reasons why these films are bad. I’d exhaust myself, possibly you out there reading this, and certainly this isn’t something I want either of us devoting much time to thinking about, dear reader. We have better things to do.

Sure, I could rail on the outright baffling decision to turn the Transformers into side characters in their own films, but if I were to think about it, it wasn’t like original Transformers was any better. Remember the animated movie, where Optimus dies (fucking love Optimus Prime) and goddamn Judd Nelson’s character, Hot Rod, becomes the replacement Prime? Rodimus Prime (Yes, really.) Jesus Christ.

And yes I could blink in disbelief at the number of awesome guest actors in the third movie; why are Frances Mcdormand, John Malkovich and Alan Tudyk in that movie? But everyone makes a bad movie at one point. Yes, it’s a bit weird they all decided to make this bad movie, but we can’t have all the answers in shit like this.

I could rant angrily about the racist portrayals of certain Autobots in the second film, because it’s truly baffling that a film crew in the year 2009 could spend so long making something like that without stopping and thinking “hold on…” But then, Skids and Mudflap were removed from the third film, so at least that incredible lapse in judgment was temporary.

I could even go on about how most of the Transformers in these films are throwaway characters that don’t even have names, but then, why bother? The key Autobot and Decepticon figures aren’t characterized in a way so as to make me want more of that, and besides, the original series once had two characters that looked exactly alike due to an animation error that wasn’t changed, and nobody cared then.

Yes, these movies are all of them, fucking terrible. The first one had a bit of heart, but that heart was removed and replaced with stupid. So, why do I keep seeing them? Why do I keep enjoying them, at least until I think about it a little? Well, it’s because I’m accepting of the fact that every movie has faults. Some more glaring than others, sure, but I want to find the things a movie does well, and enjoy it on those terms. And shit blows up good in Transformers. Part of me feels like I’m betraying my inner film buff here by liking them at all, but my wife said something very smart to me once, that I’ve sort of held close ever since. She’s tired, she said, of hating things just because dumb people like them. Just because something is reviled by the culture at large doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it on my own terms, as weak and sickly as those terms may be. In the end, I guess I like liking stuff more than I do hating it, though in some cases my rage boils over, like it has in some previous reviews. But then, I’m allowed to be internally inconsistent, too. I’m only (almost) human, after all.

You might have noticed I haven’t gone into any detail about the acting, script, score or plot, or anything like that. Well, that’s because I needn’t bother; it’s all about as generic as you can imagine, if you haven’t seen the films. And if you have, you already know it’s bad. You don’t need me to reiterate that any more than I already have.

I promise I’ll be reviewing something more worthy next time, humans!

Kurokami, signing off!

Okay humans, listen up: I haven’t been posting in a while, but then it was Christmas. And I know I missed my latest review, but I thought I could seize upon the opportunity to actually review something of Doctor Who, considering that, for me, I’d be given the chance to see the new Christmas special on Boxing Day. Having now seen it, I thought I’d give my thoughts:

I didn’t like it.

I can’t even say I hated it, because I didn’t. I can’t hate it, because there’s nothing to hate. The whole affair just comes across as hollow and a tad silly; there’s no real plot, no atmosphere, no emotional growth and, above all, no interest. Things just happen, and we come along for the ride. This is actually what I imagine the Doctor’s version of a dull, rainy Sunday must be.

This is even less interesting than it looks.

What there is of the plot can be summed up like this: In world war two era Britain, a family of four loses their father in a plane crash and go out to the country for some reason. And the Doctor is there. And then there’s Narnia, only the trees are alive. So, Narnia plus Avatar. Wow.

Really, I just don’t feel like describing the plot because, when I go to analyze it in my head, I literally can’t. There’s nothing to describe. Or at least, no cause and effect, merely effects. See, looking back, I can’t think of a single thing in this episode that is influenced by other things, trivial things, like characters. Rather, we just hop from thing to thing, completely ignoring the basic framework of a goddamn plot.

And that’s my main issue with this story, I think; there’s no plot. Or at least, there’s no conflict or escalation. Don’t get me wrong, the story of a child lost in a forest, and the subsequent race to retrieve this child, is fine as a story arc, if that’s where you want to go. In fact, as a new father myself I could certainly get behind this concept, no problems. The problem is, this story never goes there; it’s one big fake-out. Additionally, this is not the main plot of the episode, but then… what exactly was?

Here’s the thing Doctor Who has never really seemed to get, especially lately; the audience does not automatically owe it an emotional connection to what is going on. That’s something that needs to be worked at, and built up over the course of the story. It’s not done that way, here; the children- ostensibly the emotional heart of any narrative like this- have no character to speak of aside from “children,” and the mother is… oddly characterized. Strangely manipulative at times, she distrusts the Doctor upon his introduction into the story for… no readily apparent reason aside from the fact that he’s fun, hold off on telling the children their father is dead because… Christmas is coming, and is generally just a bit naff.

So what we have here is an emotional center that really doesn’t exist; the kids aren’t cute or interesting- in fact there are large swathes of the story where they have nothing to do- the mother, despite being played by the generally kind of awesome Claire Skinner, is uninteresting, and the potentially meaty themes of loss and family dealing with grief aren’t really explored at all.

Yet there’s an odd sentimentality to this episode. Maybe because it’s the Christmas special, but every little piece of this plot is built up into a kind of sentimental montage. The problem here is that it can’t really decide which kind of sentimental story it wants to be, and so it flips constantly and jarringly between somber meditation on the loss of family and the containment of emotion, and a whimsical, cheerful adventure in the Doctor’s usual style, only with a healthy injection of eggnog. Neither works particularly well, mainly due to the presence of the other. The happy sections are burdened with the lingering shadow of sadness, and the sad sections are less than impactful because the writer (it’s Moffat himself, here) doesn’t seem to really care enough to dedicate the story to It, despite what the rules of emotional realism would say. Frankly, I think this story could have benefited from a lack of whimsy, in favor of sticking to the emotional core of what could have been a great episode; the bonds of family in the face of danger, and the grief of losing a loved one. This could have been so much better than it turned out being.

But the problems in execution here go deeper than merely, y’know, the backbone of the entire plot. Is it just me, or has Doctor Who gotten into the habit of completely wasting awesome guest stars lately? It happened with Bill Nighy in Vincent and the Doctor, and it happens again here with the excellent Claire Skinner and the out of this world freaking amazing Bill Bailey (I’m a fan.) Skinner fairs a little better of the two, but her character does seem terribly false, after some initial interesting characterization (more on that in a moment.) But Bill Bailey? Where my Bill Bailey at, humans? This man is a gem; he’s a great comedian, a damn fine actor- though admittedly he hasn’t exactly been stretched dramatically in the roles he’s had so far- and he’s all around awesome… so where is he in this episode?

Frankly, he’s wasted here; of the very small amount of screen time he’s afforded, he’s given almost nothing to do, beyond getting outsmarted by the bloody housewife from the forties. This wouldn’t tick me off so much, except for the way it was done; it’s tacked on. Bailey has no purpose, aside from being an extra name for the credits. Really, the limits of his use in the story is to explain the nature of the final act’s ticking clock; an engineered shower of acid rain designed to melt down all the trees in a sentient forest to be used as fuel. Those of you who are paying attention might have noticed that this role could have been filled equally as well by a bloody sign posted outside their ship have stumbled upon my main problem here: Bailey’s role could have been fulfilled by a sign.

C'mon: Bill Bailey in power armor should be way cooler than this!

Which is a pity, because his brief appearance, along with his equally entertaining partners, provide some of the highlight lines for this episode, and are genuinely funny. While they appear. And frankly, I would have liked it if Bill freaking Bailey could have had an episode all to himself, here. Wouldn’t be hard to write, the man looks pretty unearthly anyway.

… Oh man, I just thought of something: How awesome would it be for Bill Bailey to be the next Doctor? Oh god, so cool.

More than this, what was the deal with the trees? That was just strange. These are beings apparently capable of not only transferring their consciousnesses into a new receptacle, building a spaceship despite being immobile (read: trees) and building a time machine, not to mention transforming themselves into a transcendent form of life… why is it they needed a human, exactly? It’s not like they’ve ever seen one before (and I’m being charitable in avoiding the obvious “trees have no sensory organs” discussion) aside from, perhaps the loggers, and that doesn’t really count. I don’t feel that “it was foretold,” is an acceptable justification for this plot point. This is a throwaway line to justify something that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Also, if consciousness is all it takes to pilot their bulb ship, why not just do it themselves, given that all the trees were was consciousness, at that point.

They can grow themselves into this, but they still need human help?!

In fact, why even use the ship at all? We’ve seen the tree-minds flying, and they clearly have no need for air in this form; why not just fly out into the time vortex themselves? And to be clear, the ship wasn’t necessary for their survival, because at the end they were flying around in it without a problem. The only reason I can see for the ship is perhaps access to the vortex, but even if we’re treating the bulb ship like a key, how could the trees know how to develop this technology?

For that matter, why was Bill Bailey and his crew even on the planet if they were just going to acid bath the entire forest? Did they need to be there for something? Like growing the sentient trees? Like, the trees- that are sentient, remember- don’t have an agenda toward growing themselves? What was the walker mech for? Why did they leave the keys in the ignition? Why was Madge able to pilot the bulb ship to her husband’s plane? The thing works on memory, not projection; she wasn’t even there to see that, how could she remember it?

Hey! Fuck! If the Doctor was planning to use this forest planet as a special gift to the family, an outing to another world, shouldn’t he have picked a day when, y’know… the forest wasn’t about to be melted down and harvested for fuel? Think about it: at best, this family would be walking into an almost certainly toxic, very certainly acidic lake of chemical sludge, if not the middle of the actual harvesting operation. At worst, they’d be traipsing right into the acid rain itself! Not a very nice Christmas, then. Honestly, you’d think after Girl Who Waited, the Doctor would have thought to open a history book.

Uh, the process of transportation between earth and the forest was also very definitely time travel, so the fact is the Doctor chose that day specifically. Was he trying to kill them, or did he make a mistake? Asshole, or idiot? Which is it, fans?

Also, and I can’t take credit for this one: Isn’t there an injured British soldier sitting in the back of the father’s plane, after it suddenly appears on Christmas day? What happened with him?

I could go on, but I think you get the point: there are a lot of elements to this story that don’t seem especially well thought out.

It’s a pity, because there’s potential here; the Doctor’s tour of the family’s new home is pleasantly madcap and fast-paced, and the concept of the Doctor repaying an old debt is a cool one. As is the nice touch of being called Caretaker for the entirety of the episode, a nice tip of the hat to the fact that “the Doctor,” as a title must be retired in order for him to lie low following the events of the series six finale.

In fact, my personal thumbs up to Matt Smith this entire episode, actually. He seems to really be having fun, and it shows; much of his performance here hits just about right, and he’s really a shining light in what is a pretty bad episode otherwise. He makes me laugh, something the Doctor hasn’t really done in the last few seasons. But importantly, he can also hit those serious moments out of the park when he needs to, which is his best skill in this role, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, these distinct moments are overshadowed by the overall poorly thought out structure of the story, which seems to get caught up in itself more than in what works. I get this feeling a lot, lately, but Doctor Who seems to get pretty wrapped up in its own cleverness, which in some cases is only assumed. There are entire episodes that seem to disregard what actually works in favor of “look how clever I am,” time travel theatrics. Sometimes this works.

Here, it does not.

Finally, I’ll talk about the beginning and the end of this episode, as specific grievances I have. We begin with the Doctor blowing up a spaceship about to obliterate the earth, and frankly this was fun, if a little visually unconvincing. My main problem here is that… wasn’t the Doctor supposed to be in hiding from the Silence? Saving the earth is, in fact, not hiding.

As for the ending, I’ll leave aside my attachment to Amy and Rory as companions, and that I’ll miss them when they go, and say that it was very awkward when they finally made an appearance. I’m serious; I get the point of the scene, and parts of it were well executed, but why do it? Why not just make them a more integrated part of the story? Or instead of focusing on characters we’ve just met, why not bring them back as the focus of the story? We actually care about Amy and Rory by this point; they’re known quantities. For that matter, where’s River? Why not the Caretaker and his wife? That was a bit of continuity just begging for an expansion, and frankly the comedy interplay might have worked better if the Doctor had had his Wife to play off of.

Really, I think I’m just hungry for something to happen here (and dinner. It’s dinnertime, here.) There’s the constant threat of quality in the writing, without ever reaching it, or seeming to bother to reach for it. It’s an adventure without weight, without significance, or heart, or… anything, really. It’s just there. I’ve got no problem with that, a little random fun is perfectly worthwhile, especially at Christmas, but that’s not what this episode seems to want to be, because it keeps striving for emotion. It seems to be making big statements about the way the Doctor feels things- especially at the end- but it doesn’t go anywhere, or do anything with them.

And without a conflict- and there isn’t one to be found here- there can be no tension. No tension, no urgency, no story worth looking at. It’s just…

It’s just there, humans. Except that where there is is in no way interesting or worth exploring. Except for the visual of wood taking off into space. That was… that was surreal. Assuming we ignore the rather horrifying image of the trees using their own bodies as fuel, let alone the question of how they figured out how to do that. Trees aren’t known as good scientists.

See what I mean, here? Kurokami, signing off!

Okay… Um… I- I just… Shi-… Fu-… Why is-… This-…  I can’t…

What?

What the fuck happened to Red vs Blue, humans?

This is going to be one of those posts where I’m all irritable and pissed off, humans. Sorry, but this time I really can’t help it; I fucking love Red vs Blue, and this latest season was such a disappointment. The problem is that I can’t even properly pan it, because there are truly some pretty fun moments in it. It’s just that they’re cloaked in baffling design decisions and a segmented narrative that does the entire series a disservice.

Anyone remember the last genuinely classic Red vs Blue line? Not the last funny line that works well on a t-shirt, but the last eminently quotable, laugh out loud line? No, me neither. Maybe a couple in Reconstruction, huh? Well, let me save you some time: there’s no such lines to be found in Season Nine. In fact, well…

So anyway, the story goes that after the events of Revelation, Church is left trapped in a virtual representation of his memories contained within the Epsilon unit. Essentially he’s Groundhog Day-ing his life until he can reunite with Tex and hopefully figure out a way to end it all. Meanwhile, years ago, Project Freelancer is about to launch its most important mission to date, which will stress the team almost to breaking point. And that right there is the point in which I start saying “Oh noooooo…”

Oh yeah, and the helmets come off for the first time. It's pretty rad.

Well, when the pre-release trailer was shown, I admit I was pretty fucking excited; a fully computer animated Project Freelancer prequel? Fuck yeah, I’m in. But there were hints that, aside from showing just how the Freelancer corps got to be how they are in the present timeline, we would also be seeing a return of the Blood Gulch crew, in the present day. It would be a dual-narrative, declared series scribe Burnie Burns. And only the Blood Gulch crew would be depicted using machinima. “But wait,” the practical minded Ryan piped up. “Won’t that be really hard to do in the standard twenty episode format?”

Well, I was right. This is a series of two halves, and neither of them reaches their full potential. Really, we haven’t seen a series of Red vs Blue this unfunny since the latter stages of Blood Gulch season three: the prequel side of things is dry and near humorless, and the Blood Gulch crew in the sequel side are reduced to spinning their wheels and waiting for the ending to happen. This series has next to no narrative drive; things happen, but you’d be hard pressed to say that the characters were a part of any of it, In fact, this resembles a holding pattern more than it does a legitimate season.

Neither storyline, sequel or prequel, is given the time to unfold and breathe; in fact, any downtime the dual narrative does have is just long enough to be boring, yet short enough to preclude any kind of character development. I don’t really understand why this is; over the past three seasons the Rooster Teeth crew has proved themselves entirely capable of running an action-packed, narrative driven piece that’s simultaneously fucking hilarious and interesting. Here, everything falls flat.

Moments like this are too few.

I think my main problem is that there are no stakes in season nine. There’s never a sense of danger, or that the characters have anything significant to lose should they fail in their objectives: the Freelancer side falls victim to the standard prequel trap of foreknowledge, in that we already know what’s going to happen. When Maine gets fucking brutalized toward the end of the series, we know he’s going to survive, because he doesn’t die until he becomes the Meta in Reconstruction. In fact, we know the eventual fates of every single Freelancer agent, so there’s no sense of peril, even with the situations they find themselves in. As for the sequel parts… It doesn’t even matter; aside from Tex and Church, none of the characters here are real. They’re virtual artifices, facsimiles of the characters we know and actually care about. If they die, who cares?

The reason Reconstruction is widely regarded as one of the best seasons of RvB ever, is that it’s so fucking different. It presents a darker, more plot based take on the Red vs Blue world, expands on elements we haven’t seen before, and most importantly, it provides plot points and narrative twists that make sweeping, series-wide changes to our perspective on previous events. It widens the world, forces us to see certain characters in a new way. Recreation did the same thing, albeit with less focus on narrative, and Revelation went some way to explaining the Church/Tex relationship in greater detail. In short, they work because they go somewhere.

I think that the series had been written into a corner at the end of the last season; Revelation was good and all, but the decision to separate the central narrative drive- Epsilon- from the rest of the world, and to keep him there for the next season, meant that this is truly a case of sitting around and waiting for the next adventure to come knocking. And the twist ending meant they couldn’t just free E-Church in the opening moments of the series, despite my firm belief that skipping the present day side of this series and just moving on to season ten would have made a far more interesting season. Instead, we get… a whole lot of nothing. I constantly get the feeling that the writer got bored with whatever story he was trying to build, and moved on to something else.

Case in point: in the beginning, a big deal is made of how the Red Team’s personalities have changed- Grif is a neat freak (okay, that was pretty funny), Sarge was more caring and empathetic, and Donut was all gruff and manly. This could be interesting, I thought. Nope, in the space of four episodes everyone reverts back to the way they were. Toward the middle, Lopez is reintroduced into the series after a year long absence (unfortunately, his humor did not return) and he ends up kidnapping Simmons and taking his place. Cool, thought I. Oh wait, Tex just shoots him. Pity.

On the Freelancer side, a big rivalry is set up between Tex and series newcomer Carolina which goes nowhere. As the series wraps up, a subplot begins about a big heist the Freelancers are planning (wait, we’re starting the major conflict in this story with less than half the season to go?) and for a while that seems cool. But there isn’t enough time devoted to it, and we never get to see what it was they actually stole during the mission (I’m being fucking serious here. They’re after this big box, and a huge deal is made over it… but we don’t see what’s in it. Ever.) The brewing dissatisfaction with the entire Freelancer program similarly goes nowhere, despite it being the primary character trait of deceitful C.T and violent, unrestrained South Dakota. In fact, the entire Freelancer narrative comes across as a bunch of starting points for other stories; can anyone tell me what was the point of that scene where C.T is all depressed about failing a mission, and Wash comforts her? Because that didn’t really go anywhere that wasn’t explored later and earlier, anyway.

Reconstruction, Recreation and Revelation worked as a trilogy, and so the endings were, naturally, cliffhangers leading onto the next part. And let’s be clear, the cliffhanger endings for the first two were devastatingly effective twists that left me salivating for the next season. The problem is, it’s happening again, only this time Season Nine’s ending seems like it belongs in the midpoint of a trilogy, not the beginning. It just ends, with a big moment that was genuinely surprising, but ignored the major draw of a cliffhanger; to tantalize and tease the audience for what comes next. Insofar as Season Nine does this, it’s not a part of the design, but rather my own fanboy-ism.

Also, is this what Red vs Blue is, now? Just a continuous tease for the next season? How about you work on this season, boys? I get what you’re doing, but just because a show’s going to be good in future, that doesn’t compel me to watch it now. It compels me to get irritated because of shitty come-on tactics.

This season is schizophrenic in the extreme, bouncing from sequel to prequel and back again with no sense of continuity, the changes so sudden and jarring that I get the feeling they were struggling to fit it all in. I said earlier that I thought it would be hard to fit in two complete, satisfying stories into the usual twenty, seven minute episode format, and it seems I was right; everything leaps around so much, just to fit everything in without having to go overtime or continuing into next week’s episode. But there’s no real reason that they needed to go for twenty episodes exactly (yes, I know they went for twenty one, but shut up.) The great thing about production on the internet is that you aren’t beholden to editors or networks; you can write and produce exactly what you want, with very few restrictions. Hell, if these guys really wanted to do a dual storyline, why not do forty episodes, or whatever number that was necessary to give both stories the time they needed? I doubt the fans would have complained, honest.

In fact, a lot of this season seems hamstrung by tradition; the decision to set the sequel part within memories of the original Blood Gulch Chronicles means that a number of beats that were already covered, and covered better, in earlier seasons come around again here. And the longstanding convention of Tex being reintroduced into each season in episode ten really doesn’t work here, given her overall importance to this story. She’s really the central figure, so why not break that rule, rather than only giving her half a season in which to exist?

Okay, that’s enough negativity. The truth is, there are some fun moments here, for however long they last; Sarge’s “plan to kick the planet’s ass,” is hilarious, as is Tucker’s stint as “Doctor Fuck,” in attempting to educate Church in the finer points of lady-wooing. And the Freelancer side, freed from the restrictions of machinima, produces some pretty great visuals; Tex’s introduction- a multi-tiered, one on three brawl with the other Freelancer agents- is a bombastic fight scene showcasing main animator Monty Oum’s true talent for fight choreography. Similarly, a late fight scene played out on the back of a moving truck is a freewheeling joy to behold, as the camera spins and pans around the action in a single, unbroken shot, giving the audience one of a few chances to see the Freelancers really strut their stuff on the battlefield. It’s just a pity that there’s no ultimate pay off for any of this, just a promise of more to come.

The voice cast is as fun as always, in that special loose, amateur way the show hits so well. As usual, the Blue Team steals the show, with standout performances from Caboose (Joel Heyman, mugging to death and clearly enjoying every minute of it) and Tucker (Jason Saldana, just as sarcastic as always). Oddly, Church is less consistently awesome than usual, and his delivery toward the end of the series is stilted and a little flat. The Red Team seems to have fun being back again, the true standout being the new tough, double entendre-prone Donut (It’s great to have Dan Godwin back in this role, although we don’t see enough of him). On the Freelancer side we have a number of newcomers, with North Dakota (a laid back Jon Erler) and C.T (Samantha Ireland) being the most immediately noticeable. Kara Eberle’s agent Carolina is nice enough, and the tenth season promises to take her to new places, but as usual Kathleen Zeulch isn’t heard nearly enough as the tough as nails Tex, and while we’re at it, more Wash and South, guys!

Oh! And we get to hear Maine speak, for the first time! It’s badass, though he’s a little quiet, and there’s no credit for who does his voice, there.

No fucking joke, Maine is the best thing ever.

It’s just a pity none of these guys are given anything hugely interesting to say. I’m left with a lingering feeling of incompleteness after watching this season. It’s not awful, in that there’s still reason to watch it if you’re a fan. If you aren’t, this isn’t the thing to convert you, and in fact it’s more likely to put longtime fans off, for the most part. The truly memorable scenes are thin on the ground, and anything fun is even rarer. I watched this week by week, when it was posted online, and I actually found myself wishing that we could skip the Blood Gulch crew– and let’s be clear, these guys were the reason to watch in prior seasons- in order to get to the next fight scene, because those are at least visually interesting, for the most part. It fares better on DVD, though. Marginally.

I was so excited before Season Nine began, I really was. Even with my lingering doubts, I didn’t think it was really possible for a bad RvB season to be made. But this? This has a plot suitable for a couple of miniseries, stretched out over the main product. It goes nowhere, and what plot there is, is predictable and messy. I want to see where it’s going, but I find myself asking: is that just because I’m such a diehard fan?

Kurokami, signing off!

 

 

Humans, there was a lot of negativity from me this past week, wasn’t there? I admit, I was kind of down on things in general back then. But this? This is the second installment of Ryan Reviews, and I’m aiming for a little more positivity, okay? To that end, I’m reviewing The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

I freaking love this movie. There’s no way to get around saying that without ruining any illusion of non-biased reporting I might have had, so I might as well go out as say it from the beginning. I love this movie, and here’s why: I did not have a very good childhood. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was a piece of shit, littered with swearing and frequent broken bones. My favorite escape, during that shitty period of my life, was anime. My older sister would spend a portion of the money she earned at her low paying job to buy new releases on VHS, and all my siblings would flee our home on the weekends, go over to our grandparent’s place, and we’d watch them together. I think it’s why I love anime so much in general; the time I spent with Evangelion, or Slayers, or Gunsmith Cats, constitutes some of my finest childhood memories.

And Haruhi Suzumiya- whether it be Disappearance, or Melancholy, the series that spawned it- reminds me a lot of those shows I watched as a kid. It’s got the same whacked out plot, the same interesting characters and insane bullshit that nineties anime used to have, and on top of that, Haruhi is good. Really good, and you couldn’t say that for every released churned out during the nineties. In fact, my first viewing of the original Haruhi series was done in that same room we used to watch in as kids, with my sisters with me. For us, saying that an anime we’d bought was “to be watched at the grandfolk’s place,” means “I can’t wait to see the look on your face when I bust this shit out.”

This image encapsulates what's awesome about this show, and also ninety percent of the show.

To speak of the actual movie itself, it’s a real testament to how good it is that it can spend the majority of its (lengthy) running time with most of the interesting elements of the Haruhi franchise stripped away, and still come out this entertaining. The story goes that in mid December, main character (technically sharing double duty with the title character) Kyon wakes up to find his entire world changed; Haruhi has disappeared, the SOS Brigade no longer exists, and his faithful fellow brigade members appear to be normal humans- instead of time travelers, aliens and espers, you see. Worst still, Ryoko Asakura, responsible for some of the more chilling scenes in the original series, is back from the dead and is sitting at Haruhi’s desk! With no idea what’s going on, no clues as to how to proceed and no talent for the supernatural, Kyon must find some way of restoring the world to the way it was… or even decide whether that’s what he wants.

It’s an interesting set up that’s based upon one of the more epic of the original Haruhi novels. However, what it functions as in animated form is a great big love letter to the fans of the series. Remember how last week I said that Trigun Badlands Rumble suffered for not knowing what its audience was? Well, Disappearance is the opposite; it knows exactly who it’s targeting: the devoted fans who know each episode backward and forward. Happily, I fall squarely in that camp, and so this movie works for me like a well oiled machine… of quality.

Once the movie has picked its target audience, the production team apparently decided to go whole hog on this, and a large part of this movie plays out like a checklist of awesome moments the fandom has wanted to see. More Kyon? Fuck yeah there’s more Kyon! In fact, for the most part, Kyon is carrying this movie; with Haruhi’s exuberant self absent for much of the running time, and the other brigade members transformed into alternate, normal versions of the characters the viewer actually knows, it’s really only Kyon that carries over from the series we know and love into this production. The reason this works because, frankly, Kyon is awesome. He’s the same snarky, well-read slacker as before, only placed in a situation that finally allows him to blossom as a character. This isn’t the same deadpan Kyon we’ve seen in the past; now we get to see him emote, we get to see him afraid and angry, and more importantly, we get to see him happy.

Okay, this isn't happy, but honestly, how often do we see Kyon angry, anyway?

And that’s really important, too; this isn’t a disposable anime movie that doesn’t have any effect on the characters going forward. There’s some major character development here; mainly Kyon’s conclusion that, no matter the trouble the SOS Brigade puts him through on a daily basis, he really does enjoy it. By the end of the movie, Kyon is a full fledged member of the brigade, happy and willing to join his fellow brigadiers in their cause. It’s quite a leap for the character to make, but it’s written entirely convincingly and in a way that’s cleverly natural for Kyon.

Of course, Kyon isn’t the only character to catch some well deserved development in Disappearance; this is really Yuki’s movie too. There’s some great material here for Kyon/Yuki shippers; in the alternate world, Yuki is a shy, almost painfully adorable high school girl who attaches to Kyon, and their interactions take up a lot of the movie and are super cute. There’s a moment where she grabs hold of his sleeve to stop him which made everyone in the room I viewed it in squeal in delight, and that’s really saying something because we’re a jaded lot.

… It’s worth mentioning that I totally ship Kyon and Yuki myself, at this point…

D'awww!

But no matter how cute, any character development in that alternate timeline is meaningless, since reality’s status quo is returned by the climax; the real joy in Yuki’s character this time around is in the way the plot delves into her motivations and slowly developing emotions. In fact, one of the finest scenes in this entire franchise is a very quiet one, with Kyon and Yuki on the roof of a hospital, that’s just so well shot and animated, it’s a real treat. Yuki emotes in such a subtle, yet immediately noticeable way, marking a definite contrast to her manner when we first see her.

All the other characters appear in varying amounts, and generally speaking they’re all deployed to maximum effect; Mikuru gets a moment of genuine gumption that was sorely needed for our resident moeblob, Taniguchi and Kunikida (“those two guys”) are just as funny as usual, and when Haruhi does appear she steals the show. I’ve got some bad news for all the Koizumi fans out there (read: me), since he’s got about two minutes of screen time total, though. It’s a mystery to me why the anime adaptations of Haruhi seem so happy to relegate this character to the sidelines, because he’s actually pretty cool.

The film version also sees the return of 'classic Haruhi' from the first episode of the series.

In fact, the same can be said of all of the characters here, especially the way they move. The level of detail in character and background animation is fucking amazing, almost to the point of showing off, at times. Even background characters move freely and fluidly, and the main cast emotes with a level of charm that’s almost obscene. It’s great.

Special mention must also go to the music, which is performed by Australia’s own Eminence Orchestra, and is freaking amazing. Beginning with a rearranged version of series opener “Boken Desho Desho?” the soundtrack is pure Haruhi magic, just rendered in far more epic style than anything the series could produce. It’s a score that know when to remain silent, but key moments play host to a sweeping orchestral pieces, filled with piano and violin that enhance the atmosphere to no end. I particularly liked the lonely a capella version of “Tender Oblivion,” that plays over the credits; a song that becomes so much sadder when heard while keeping in mind that it’s Yuki singing it.

Really, this movie sounds great all over; all the original voice actors have returned, and they each bring their A game. Crispin Freeman is still the perfect English Kyon, bringing the same wit and sarcasm to the role that the amazing Tomokazu Sugita did in Japanese. Wendee Lee is also a great choice as Haruhi, though it’d be hard to recommend her over the absolutely showstopping performance Aya Hirano gives in the original. Stephanie Sheh still does a better job as Mikuru than the original actor, and Michelle Ruff improves markedly once given a chance to show some emotion as Yuki. Happily, Bridgette Hoffman returns in my personal favorite of all her roles, Ryoko Asakura, and she’s just as creepily happy as she was in her (underrated, small) appearance in the series. All in all, the dub is one of the better ones released this year, and well worth taking the time.

Here’s the really interesting thing about this movie; it’s long. I mean, it’s really long. This is a 164 minute running time, equivalent to seven episodes of the series (you could get bored watching the Endless Eight arc and watch six real episodes in that time!) However, if you can muster the time to commit, I don’t think this is a bad thing at all; even as long as it is, I don’t feel there’s any one scene that sags enough to be cut. Not all of them are exactly integral to the plot, but each of them at least enhances the mood. The Haruhi franchise has always taken a hands off, non-traditional approach to storytelling, and they pull it off again, albeit in a longer form, here. Scenes are given the time they need to unfold, camera angles linger long enough to wring every last drop of emotion from the shot, and the whole story plays out with a relaxed feel that knows when it needs to speed up during more dramatic moments. However, there are some scenes in the middle of the movie that could have done with a little more stringent editing, a few more shots cut out, a few less lines from Kyon’s meandering narration of events. At times, it does come close to becoming tedious, though thankfully it never quite goes over that line.

Actually, can we talk about Kyon’s narration for a while? It’s pretty interesting stuff, actually. For those who haven’t seen a Haruhi episode before, in the series (and the books that spawned it) Kyon is an unreliable narrator, often directly contradicting what’s happening on screen. Mostly, I think that this is a framing device; that he’s talking directly to the audience and that his unreliability is a part of his character. The show often cuts around his mouth when he speaks so that we viewers can’t tell if he’s narrating or talking out loud; at times it even seems like Haruhi is responding directly to Kyon’s narration, like she’s telepathic, which wouldn’t be outside her range of ability at all. Oddly, despite Haruhi’s absence, this style of narration continues despite its sudden lack of utility. It’s spun in some interesting new ways this time around, though; Kyon actively apologizes to the audience for the length of the prologue- which seems to me emblematic of the whole length issue this movie has- and a scene towards the end in which Kyon questions himself about how attached he really is to the SOS Brigade gets a welcome does of introspection courtesy of a sudden visualization of his commentary, with an imaginary Kyon conversing with himself almost as if he’d suddenly been transported into Evangelion. This is different from how this story plays out in the novel, and representative of the effort Kyoto Animation has put into making the movie stand on its own as a part of the Haruhi franchise, instead of simply retreading what went before.

This is probably one of the best, if not the best movie based on an anime ever, tied in my mind with Evangelion 2.22 and the Cowboy Bebop movie (and you bet your ass I’ll be reviewing those sometime in future) It’s just quality, from beginning to end, with very few reasons to gripe. But you really need to be a fan to appreciate, even understand this movie. There are many unexplained references to the events of the series, and a truly mind bending time travel plot towards the end that occurs concurrently with a similar time travel storyline that takes place at the beginning of the second series. It’s practically impenetrable to newcomers; you’d be far better served showing your non-fan (why you gotta be non-fans, people?) friends the series, preferably from the beginning. Just… Maybe not starting at episode zero, because ironically that kind of has the same problems.

But if you are a fan, there’s simply no reason to miss Disappearance. From what Kyoto Animation has been saying lately, it seems that a third season of Haruhi might not materialize, and if that’s the case, then it’d be a pity, but the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya serves as a fitting send off to a modern anime classic. It says a lot about a movie when my main complaints are “it’s a little long,” and “some of the awesome characters are sidelined so we can focus on other awesome characters.”

… God damn this movie is fun.

Kurokami, signing off!

 

Hello, humans! Welcome to the first installment of what I’m hoping will be a weekly segment here on this blog: Ryan Reviews! The segment where I review stuff. Might be a movie, a TV series- even just one episode– or a comic or what. Doesn’t really matter, the point is that I’ll review it. Why? I think about this stuff anyway, I may as well write it down. For this first one, I’ll be reviewing a film I watched recently. I shall be reviewing Trigun: Badlands Rumble.

Just a warning, before we begin: there will be spoilers, both for Badlands Rumble and the original series, even though the statute of limitations on that thing should have passed years ago. Fairly warned, be ye, says I.

Trigun the series was one of those gateway anime that’d attract newcomers in, mostly by being pretty prototypical and representative of the action-comedy anime genre as a whole. It was a gentle introduction; a likeable, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes serious show that contained all the comedy, moralizing and badassery that the viewer could expect from most other shows of the genre. It was fun, is what I’m getting at.

Mostly, that sense of fun came down to the protagonist, Vash the Stampede. He was an idiot hero, a bumbling, Crazy Awesome character who could flip from smiling comic relief to all around badass in the space of seconds (although notably he didn’t need to stop being the comic relief to play the badass, either). He was also immediately recognizable in a crowd, being that he’s basically entirely composed of distinctive visual elements: that long red coat, spiky blond hairdo, cool orange sunglasses and big gun all contributed to a character that, at least to me, is a classic anime hero like Spike Spiegel or Goku. Show an anime fan a picture of Vash and you’ll generally get at least some reference to Trigun out of them.

Ain't he cute when he's determined, kids?

In fact, the same could be said of the other main characters too; they’re all a little like that, though granted some are more than others. There’s Meryl (what was her last name? Strife? Wonder if she’s related to Cloud…) with her short stature and white coat/cape thingy, under which lies her weapons of choice, truly earning her the name Derringer Meryl. There’s Milly Thompson, tall and dim, with that enormous Stun Gun of hers and a long, earthy colored coat that only makes her seem bigger. Finally there’s Wolfwood, good old Nicholas D. Arguably the other easily recognizable character in Trigun, Wolfwood is basically awesome, all dark suit and glasses, with that too cool cross armory he carries with him. These four principal characters are visually distinctive and, really, the reason Trigun works so well… And that’s where we reach a major hurdle when talking about Badlands Rumble.

It’s been over a decade since Trigun last graced our screens. As a fan from way back- I was introduced to the series as many Aussie kids were; through Adult Swim reruns at around twelve or thirteen years old- I was actually really excited to hear that one of my favorite older anime was returning. I know that movies based on series anime tend to be big adventures with little bearing on the plot of the series that spawned them, but I had high hopes for a Trigun movie set after, perhaps immediately after, the end of the series that would further the story of Vash and his brother Knives, which was left hanging at the end of the final episode. In my head played visions of Vash attempting to rehabilitate Knives from his genocidal ways, and the tension between the two brothers as he did so. Maybe even some further information on the SEEDS program that brought them to whatever-the-hell-their-planet-was-called, with some background on what, precisely, the two brothers are.

Instead, we get a movie set mid-season, chronologically, that isn’t so much a Trigun movie as a fairly interesting sci-fi western movie that just happens to have Trigun characters in it. And that’s a little disappointing.

Badlands Rumble starts off in fine form, with a bank robbery pulled off by new villain Gasback. This is a pretty cool new character in fact; a big bulky genius bruiser with an interesting moral philosophy, some neat weapons and a gravelly voice (in the English dub that I watched he was voiced by the always entertaining John Swasey, basically doing his gruff older male voice. Think Huang from Darker Than Black.) Gasback seems to think that all people are consumers, and the resources they consume are taken from the mouths of others. He likens the entirety of life to a competition over resources, and thus turns to robbery because screw it, he might as well be honest about his thievery. All up, he’s an interesting character, and a fine villain for Vash to play off of.

Also? One of his arms in an electro cannon. That's just cool.

The man himself (still played- thankfully- with aplomb by Johnny Yong Bosch, returning to one of his more famous roles.) is introduced in this opening robbery, as Gasback’s henchmen, including Kent William’s slimy rendition of Cain Kepler, turn against him in an attempt to take all the loot for themselves. Vash’s introduction is played how you’d expect it to be; he’s the series’ most famous character, the one we’ve all be waiting to see again, and when he enters the scene it’s a slow reveal- first his shadow, then his voice, before finally the man himself appears. Though oddly, the Humanoid Typhoon comes into play as a comedy character, rather than displaying his combat chops. The scene does a good job of establishing Vash’s character right away; as he slapsticks his way through the scene we can see this willingly goofy hero has some serious skills, dodging numerous attacks along the way, while simultaneously cementing his moral code of not allowing anyone to be killed. It’s plenty of fun, and I’ll admit that I cheered when Vash reappeared after a decade of absence.

The rest of the movie doesn’t fare quite so well. It’s a pretty standard story, really; Gasback is out for revenge on Cain twenty years after his betrayal at the bank, and Vash gets caught up in the middle after rolling into a town that Cain now runs, having become quite successful in the intervening years. Along for the ride is Amelia, a bounty hunter with an axe to grind against Gasback and who is almost certainly his daughter, which is evident very early in the piece.  My main issue is that I have trouble figuring out who this movie is for. All the fan favorite characters are present, and generally Badlands Rumble does a good job of giving the long-waiting fans what they want from a Trigun movie; Vash is fun, Wolfwood is cool, Meryl is just as shrill as usual, and Milly as charmingly dense and sunny. But none of these characters are ever explained, nor are their relationships with each other or their place in the world, which seems to assume that this is a movie for the fans, which is certainly the path I had expected this movie to take. Except that if this were the case, why is so much time devoted to Gasback and his new target- and former Judas- Cain? Why is newcomer-though admittedly fun, in an underdeveloped kind of way- Amelia given such large billing? She’s given almost as much screen time as Vash, for god’s sake. This indicates a move to make a film that’s friendly to newcomers, in direct opposition to the assumed foreknowledge of the main cast the script has.

Guess which of these characters has the least screentime, humans!

It makes this movie really weird, to me. Some characters- I’m thinking of Meryl and Milly, here- seem almost like cameos, appearing at points for a bit of comedy before almost permanently disappearing before the climax. Wolfwood is reintroduced to us in a scene highly reminiscent of Vash’s original introductory scene, way back in episode one of the series. In fact it’s almost a shot for shot remake of this scene, with a bar being decimated by a hail of bullets in very impressive fashion; it’s a nice little shout out for the fans, but why then align Wolfwood with Gasback for the first half of the movie? That seems really out of character for him, though maybe I just haven’t seen the series in a while and I’ve forgotten.

But the part that really sticks out for me is a scene with Vash towards the end of the movie, where he’s shot and seemingly killed after a rather fun car chase through the desert. It’s played off in a very serious way, as though Vash has actually been killed, even though any fan of the series knows that he hasn’t; he needs to survive in order for the rest of the series to happen. And we know it takes place mid series because Wolfwood is still alive. For a fan it lacks any kind of tension, and actually comes across as a little silly, given the lingering seriousness that’s given to a scene with such a predictable conclusion. It comes across as another plot point thrown in for the newcomer audience, but again, are non-fans really going to be watching a movie based on a decade old anime?

It’s this split in priorities that really drags Badlands Rumble down. Newcomers aren’t going to get why Vash looks exactly the same on both sides of a twenty year timeskip, or what the Bernardelli Insurance Company is. At the same time, longtime fans aren’t going to appreciate Amelia and Gasback obscuring the old favorite characters in their own movie. Put simply, these two new guys aren’t nearly as interesting as Vash and Wolfwood, and being given equal billing means that neither set of characters is enough to fully carry the plot. It’s such a bizarre creative choice given the kind of goodwill and recognition the Trigun brand still has with older anime fans. Why not just make a Trigun movie, guys?

This is a pity, because there’s actually a lot to like about Badlands Rumble. The action can be very entertaining, especially the scenes of Gasback storming towards Cain’s mansion through an entire town of distinct and visually interesting bounty hunters all out for his head. The animation is appealing too; the desert world and the people within it are animated with detail and charm, evoking the same atmosphere as the original series, and it was a real rush to see old Vash and Wolfwood return looking as stylish as ever, but with a new visual cleanliness that the nineties series could never hope to match. In fact, the animation in the series kind of sucked, when you get right down to it; it’s really awesome to see these characters reanimated so nicely, when they deign to appear.

We get less luck with the script and voice acting, at least in the English dub. Johnny Yong Bosch returning is a real relief; he was one of the better parts of the original series, imbuing Vash with such innocence and charm it was hard to dislike him, and I was a little worried that he wouldn’t be coming back when Funimation got the license for the film. And it’s important that he did return, because his Vash is just as fun to listen to as he was back in the nineties. But he’s the only returning cast member; Meryl and Milly are voiced by Luci Christian and Trina Nishimura, respectively, and Wolfwood’s sporting a new voice too (he’s played by former country singer Brad Hawkins, who sounds fine). Now, it’s nothing against Luci and Trina, I actually quite like both of them and they’ve done numerous roles that I’ve really enjoyed in the past (Luci just works as Soul Eater’s Medusa, and Trina makes a great choice for Evangelion’s Mari Makinami) but they’re both miscast here. Meryl’s original VA (Dorothy Elias-Fahn) had a depth and deadpan-ness to her voice that suited the character, which Luci’s portrayal (which seems very close to her young boy voice, actually) doesn’t quite capture. Milly too (that’s Lia Sargent in the series dub) is lacking some of the dopeyness and charm that made her character bearable when she could easily have become annoying. Wolfwood fares better, he sounds pretty cool really, but in my heart he will always have Jeff Nimoy’s voice. Though I recognize that’s a personal choice. The rest of the cast- Swasey’s Gasback, Williams’ Cain, and Colleen Clinkenbeard’s deep, Hawkeye-ish Amelia- do fine, but there’s nothing particularly amazing about their performances. It’s just… workmanlike, I guess. The dub script suffers from quite a bit of awkwardness, too, probably due to the way the mouth flaps work here. Lines like “I’ve killed more idiots like you than I can remember to count,” don’t really flow the way they should. I get what the translators were going for, but having to lengthen out the line like that spins it down some odd paths, and it’s not the only line like that in the film.

All in all, this is a fun little film that nonetheless has its share of problems. I’d normally have no problem recommending it to anyone looking for a bit of mindless action with a few laughs. But this is Trigun! We fans have been waiting years to see these characters back in action! Come the fuck on! I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity for something really special to happen. In every shot, every moment, every line, I can feel the potential, the fond memories I have of this franchise fighting to get out. Maybe it’s just nostalgia getting the better of me, but the least I wanted from a Trigun movie were the Trigun characters, doing Trigun things. And some of the time I got that. But it’s completely mystifying to me why I didn’t get it all of the time. Why make a Trigun movie if you weren’t going to focus on the Trigun world?

Actually, I know why: the name “Trigun,” still carries quite a bit of weight, and ensures an audience even if the production crew no longer really knows how/ wants to make a Trigun story. At times it feels like a completely original movie with the characters I know and love appearing as guest stars. But at other times, like Vash’s semi-fight with a couple of idiot bounty hunters on board a sand steamer, I feel the old magic and start really liking the damn thing. Though actually… This scene I’m talking about, it’s Amelia’s introductory scene, and Vash steps in to defend her from these two bounty hunters… Yet for whatever reason that conflict starts with an attempted rape. It doesn’t get even close to the act, and I’ve got no issues with depictions of that personally, but it seems so ill fitting for Trigun. Unexpectedly dark, in fact, even though the scene is played for comedy. Just another oddity in an all around pretty strange little movie.

But it is fun, sometimes despite itself. There’s cool scenes for the fans, and I think non-fans could still get some entertainment out of it too; there’s nothing boring or dull about it, is what I’m saying. I just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been so much more. I’m not even saying that the original Trigun series was amazing, or anything. It was just fun, more fun than anything to be found here. We waited for over ten years for something new from this franchise, and when it finally arrives it’s just… there.

Not “hey look, new Trigun!” but “hey look, a movie!”

And Vash deserves more than that, really.

*gasp!* "I do? YAAAY!"

Kurokami, signing off!

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